On the 5th June 1989, a University student stood in front of a column of four tanks in Tiananmen square in Beijing. As the tanks advanced, the student remained in front of them. And as they moved to manoeuvre around him, he moved to block them.
One young man was willing to stand against the almighty power of the Chinese army, just before the brutal massacre of his fellow protestors that followed.
A person has only discovered something worth living for if they have discovered something worth dying for. What would you be willing to die for?
Where did that willingness come from? Someone, somewhere once said that “a person has only discovered something worth living for … if they have discovered something worth dying for.” These student-led protestors were willing to die for the cause of democracy. What about you? Is there a cause you would be willing to die for?
The first disciples were willing to die … not for a cause, but for a person—for Jesus.
They took his words seriously:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34)
Remember, the disciples lived under the imperial might of rulers who crucified up to a thousand people a day in order to enforce the Pax Romana, the so-called “peace of Rome”.
So when Jesus said that following him meant taking up their cross, they literally expected to die.
Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. (Mark 14:29-31)
However, events soon proved the weakness of that conviction. Peter is the bravest of them. He follows Jesus right into the courtyard of the high priest. (Mark 14:54). But by the end of the same chapter, he is swearing that he doesn’t know Jesus. The rest of the disciples have already fled—one leaving his clothes behind him:
And a young man followed him (Jesus), with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. (Mark 14:51-52)
Why are we told that he fled naked? Why is this story here? Describing God’s judgement upon his people, the prophet Amos says:
“Even the bravest of warriors will flee naked on that day” declares the Lord. (Amos 2:17)
The disciples said they were willing to die for Jesus. But in fulfilment of prophecy … they fled! Even the bravest of them (Peter) denied Jesus despite his emphatic protest that he wouldn’t. Only Jesus had the strength to follow his own command—to deny himself, and take up his Cross. And that’s the point! Even the bravest of us needs Jesus to go to the Cross … for us.
Great Distress … Greater Desire
How does Jesus do this?. Before his arrest, Mark describes how:
… he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” (Mark 14:33-34)
Jesus is beside himself. Unlike his disciples who boast of their willingness to face death (before running away), Jesus is in emotional agony. His sorrow is killing him.
And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:35-36)
The destiny of “the many” hangs in the balance at this moment. The future of the world (our future) is wrapped up in this passionate exchange between the Father and his incarnate Son.
But why is Jesus so desperate to have this cup removed from him? What is this cup? Again the Old Testament helps us.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8)
The cup is a metaphor for the just anger of God poured out on the wicked. It is the wrath that would drive you and me to hell. And we deserve it: hell is the separation from God that we all seek in one way or another.
But Jesus was never wicked. He never ignored his Father. He was the perfect son. He knew it. And his Father knew it! He had never sought to live apart from God—which is why he is so scared to face that wrath and separation. That’s why he prays: “Father take this cup from me” three times.
But Jesus’ desire to do his Father’s will is greater than his desire for self-protection. And so he prays “Yet not what I will, but what you will”. In the end, Jesus is willing to take the cup for us; willing to do the impossible to save us.
Graeme Goldsworthy points out that there are three important stages in Jesus’ ministry to us:
- What Jesus did for us … at the Cross
- What Jesus is doing in us now by his Word and Spirit
- What Jesus will do with us when he calls us home to share in his glory.
Because Jesus is in charge of the future, we know that there is something far greater to live for—and, if necessary, to die for.
Because Jesus died for us on the Cross, we need not fear his wrath anymore.
Because Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of his Father, he is now Lord of heaven and earth. And from there, he has poured out his Spirit on us to enable us to live for him. Until he returns, he will work in us by his Word and Spirit to take up our cross to follow him.
Finally, because he is in charge of the future, we know that there is something far greater to live for—and, if necessary, to die for.
1. Do you trust Jesus alone as the one who went to the Cross for you?
- Only he can save you from the infinite horror of hell that we all deserve.
- It’s not our good deeds. It’s not our religious actions. It’s not our sacrifice.
- It’s only Jesus who can save us.
2. If you do trust Jesus alone as the one who went to the Cross for you, will you live your life and die your death (by his Word and Spirit) for his glory?
- Will you live as if Jesus is there to serve your identity, your reputation, your career? Or will you live for his plans and purposes?
3. Will you live your life and die your death by his Word and Spirit so that others might be saved for his glory?
And a Final Challenge
In 1989, the students in Tiananmen square were willing to die for a free democracy because they believed in the great cause of democracy. Are you willing to live and die for Jesus (by his Word & Spirit)?
- He is the Christ
- He rules as the Son of Man at his Father’s side in glory
- He rules as the King (not of a democracy) but of a Kingdom that will last forever.
- He is the King who so loved us by dying for the many
- That’s why as we survey his wondrous Cross, we can sing …
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all
 Peter denies Jesus three times in the very same chapter (Mark 14:68, 70, 71).
 Peter Orr, “Exalted Above the Heavens”, quoting Goldsworthy – p2