Following Jesus On the Way
January 24, 2015 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
We return this Sunday to our sermon series on the Gospel of Mark. Like all of the Gospel writers, Mark was doing more than just recording the events and sayings of Jesus. Mark wanted to introduce his readers to who Jesus is and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. One of the ways he does this is through the use of certain words or phrases that communicate not only the facts of the events, but also the meaning of discipleship. One of those phrases that Mark uses in chapters 8, 9, and 10 is “on the way” (used 6 times in these 3 chapters and nowhere else in the Gospel).
This phrase, “on the way,” highlights the journey that Jesus makes from Galilee to Jerusalem near the end of his earthly ministry. Each of the Gospels speaks about this journey that culminates in the Triumphal Entry in Jerusalem. In Mark 8, Jesus begins to speak about his suffering and death in Jerusalem. This is where Mark begins to use the phrase “on the way.” So we read in Mark 9:33-34, “Jesus asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another…” And again in 10:32, “And they were on the way, going up to Jerusalem…”
At first, we may not pay much attention to this phrase, “on the way.” Mark uses the phrase during the only period of his narrative that Jesus is traveling. Jesus is on the way somewhere. Within this context, however, Jesus calls on anyone who would come after him to follow him (8:34). The word follow also contains connotations of a journey. Then Mark applies both terms to Bartimaeus, to whom Jesus gives sight. “And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Jesus on the way” (10:52).
Is this phrase, “on the way,” a mere historical fact marker, or is there more meaning connected to it? I believe Mark is intentional with his use of this phrase, wanting to teach us about discipleship to Jesus. Here’s what we learn:
1. Being a follower of Christ means we are actively going somewhere, and, hence, leaving something behind. There is no mistake in Jesus stating that if anyone would come after him they must first deny themselves. Jesus intends to take you somewhere. That somewhere is not necessarily a place, but a condition or a state of being. Jesus wants to lead you away from slavery to sin and rebellion against God the King (and all of the despair and hopelessness and death and destruction that results from sin). He wants to lead you to a right relationship with the King in his Kingdom, which involves a humbled and submissive heart that delights in Christ. Are you on that path?
2. Following Christ is a process, not an event. Notice the book-ends of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem: healing two different blind men. At the beginning of the journey, Jesus uses two touches to heal the blind man. At the end of the journey, Jesus heals the blind man instantaneously and, apparently, without touch. Mark uses these two healings to illustrate for his disciples the process involved in knowing and following Jesus. If the first healing of the blind man represents our initial step of faith in Christ and the second healing represents our arrival in the presence of Christ at death, in-between is the process of growth in seeing and understanding Jesus more and more clearly. In this life we should not be looking for an immediate or total completion of our discipleship to Christ. The Western love of “fulfillment” (in marriage, in career, in life, in our faith, etc.) is a misunderstanding that we can “arrive” in this life.
3. The way is marked with suffering. In his invitation to follow him, Jesus commands that his disciples take up their cross. He speaks this right after talking about going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. There is a direct connection for us. Jesus says in John 15:20, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” And Paul says, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). We misunderstand Christ and his way if we believe that Christians should be free from suffering.
I love the Gospel of Mark because Mark paints a vivid picture of what it means to be a follower of Christ. And he gives us hope by emphasizing the process we are in while we learn Jesus. Let us join together in following Christ on the way.