Bible Society of South Africa

Hope through the cross – 15 January 2020

Neville Turley

Bible text(s)

34Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If anyone wants to come with me,” he told them, “he must forget self, carry his cross, and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Mark 8:34-35GNBOpen in Bible reader

The Seven Helpers

1Some time later, as the number of disciples kept growing, there was a quarrel between the Greek-speaking Jews and the native Jews. The Greek-speaking Jews claimed that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of funds.

Stephen's Speech

1The High Priest asked Stephen, “Is this true?”

2Stephen answered, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! Before our ancestor Abraham had gone to live in Haran, the God of glory appeared to him in Mesopotamia 3and said to him, ‘Leave your family and country and go to the land that I will show you.’ 4And so he left his country and went to live in Haran. After Abraham's father died, God made him move to this land where you now live. 5God did not then give Abraham any part of it as his own, not even a square metre of ground, but God promised to give it to him, and that it would belong to him and to his descendants. At the time God made this promise, Abraham had no children. 6This is what God said to him: ‘Your descendants will live in a foreign country, where they will be slaves and will be badly treated for 400 years. 7But I will pass judgement on the people that they will serve, and afterwards your descendants will come out of that country and will worship me in this place.’ 8Then God gave Abraham the ceremony of circumcision as a sign of the covenant. So Abraham circumcised Isaac a week after he was born; Isaac circumcised his son Jacob, and Jacob circumcised his twelve sons, the famous ancestors of our race.

9“Jacob's sons became jealous of their brother Joseph and sold him to be a slave in Egypt. But God was with him 10and brought him safely through all his troubles. When Joseph appeared before the king of Egypt, God gave him a pleasing manner and wisdom, and the king made Joseph governor over the country and the royal household. 11Then there was a famine all over Egypt and Canaan, which caused much suffering. Our ancestors could not find any food, 12and when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent his sons, our ancestors, on their first visit there. 13On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and the king of Egypt came to know about Joseph's family. 14So Joseph sent a message to his father Jacob, telling him and the whole family, 75 people in all, to come to Egypt. 15Then Jacob went to Egypt, where he and his sons died. 16Their bodies were taken to Shechem, where they were buried in the grave which Abraham had bought from the clan of Hamor for a sum of money.

17“When the time drew near for God to keep the promise he had made to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had grown much larger. 18At last a king who did not know about Joseph began to rule in Egypt. 19He tricked our ancestors and was cruel to them, forcing them to put their babies out of their homes, so that they would die. 20It was at this time that Moses was born, a very beautiful child. He was cared for at home for three months, 21and when he was put out of his home, the king's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22He was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians and became a great man in words and deeds.

23“When Moses was forty years old, he decided to find out how his fellow-Israelites were being treated. 24He saw one of them being ill-treated by an Egyptian, so he went to his help and took revenge on the Egyptian by killing him. 25(He thought that his own people would understand that God was going to use him to set them free, but they did not understand.) 26The next day he saw two Israelites fighting, and he tried to make peace between them. ‘Listen, men,’ he said, ‘you are fellow-Israelites; why are you fighting like this?’ 27But the one who was ill-treating the other pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. 28‘Do you want to kill me, just as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ 29When Moses heard this, he fled from Egypt and went to live in the land of Midian. There he had two sons.

30“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31Moses was amazed by what he saw, and went near the bush to get a better look. But he heard the Lord's voice: 32‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and dared not look. 33The Lord said to him, ‘Take your sandals off, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34I have seen the cruel suffering of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans, and I have come down to set them free. Come now; I will send you to Egypt.’

35“Moses is the one who was rejected by the people of Israel. ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us?’ they asked. He is the one whom God sent to rule the people and set them free with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush. 36He led the people out of Egypt, performing miracles and wonders in Egypt and at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert. 37Moses is the one who said to the people of Israel, ‘God will send you a prophet, just as he sent me, and he will be one of your own people.’ 38He is the one who was with the people of Israel assembled in the desert; he was there with our ancestors and with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and he received God's living messages to pass on to us.

39“But our ancestors refused to obey him; they pushed him aside and wished that they could go back to Egypt. 40So they said to Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who will lead us. We do not know what has happened to that man Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’ 41It was then that they made an idol in the shape of a bull, offered sacrifice to it, and had a feast in honour of what they themselves had made. 42So God turned away from them and gave them over to worship the stars of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

‘People of Israel! It was not to me

that you slaughtered and sacrificed animals

for forty years in the desert.

43It was the tent of the god Molech that you carried,

and the image of Rephan, your star god;

they were idols that you had made to worship.

And so I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

44“Our ancestors had the Tent of God's presence with them in the desert. It had been made as God had told Moses to make it, according to the pattern that Moses had been shown. 45Later on, our ancestors who received the tent from their fathers carried it with them when they went with Joshua and took over the land from the nations that God drove out as they advanced. And it stayed there until the time of David. 46He won God's favour and asked God to allow him to provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47But it was Solomon who built him a house.

48“But the Most High God does not live in houses built by human hands; as the prophet says:

49‘Heaven is my throne, says the Lord,

and the earth is my footstool.

What kind of house would you build for me?

Where is the place for me to live in?

50Did not I myself make all these things?’

51“How stubborn you are!” Stephen went on to say. “How heathen your hearts, how deaf you are to God's message! You are just like your ancestors: you too have always resisted the Holy Spirit! 52Was there any prophet that your ancestors did not persecute? They killed God's messengers, who long ago announced the coming of his righteous Servant. And now you have betrayed and murdered him. 53You are the ones who received God's law, that was handed down by angels — yet you have not obeyed it!”

The Stoning of Stephen

54As the members of the Council listened to Stephen, they became furious and ground their teeth at him in anger. 55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God's glory and Jesus standing at the right-hand side of God. 56“Look!” he said. “I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right-hand side of God!”

57With a loud cry the members of the Council covered their ears with their hands. Then they all rushed at him at once, 58threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul. 59They kept on stoning Stephen as he called out to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!” He said this and died.

1And Saul approved of his murder.

Saul Persecutes the Church

That very day the church in Jerusalem began to suffer cruel persecution. All the believers, except the apostles, were scattered throughout the provinces of Judea and Samaria.

“Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If any of you want to come with me,” he told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.  For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it.” Mark 8:34-35 (GNT)

In the passage incorporating our verse for the day, the Lord was talking about his impending suffering and death. We could well have been in that crowd, for his message is binding on every one of us.

The first mention in the Gospel of Mark of the “cross” is here. If you were in that crowd, living under the rule of Rome, it would have sent a chill up your spine.

The word “cross” does not have the same stark impact on our ears today. But the meaning of what our Lord is saying is precisely the same. If you want to follow Jesus you must be prepared to place him first and foremost in your life. There is no other way. Nothing and no-one, must outrank the importance of your relationship with your Saviour. You must be prepared to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.

Thank God for the witness first given to us by Stephen (Acts 6-8:1). In every generation there have been martyrs who have endured suffering to the point of death and by so doing, brought glory to God’s name.

The persecution of Christians continues to this day. One needs only to follow the media reports to perceive how shockingly believers are treated and often ruthlessly slaughtered, because of their Christian faith.

Not all of us are called by God to make the supreme sacrifice, but all of us are called by God to lead a Christ-centred lifestyle. That means being resolute in carrying out God’s will for our life. The Holy Spirit enables us to do just that.

Prayer: We give thanks, O God, for the witness of all those who live and die for the faith. And above all else, we thank you Father for the Lord Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. We vest our hope in the one Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Bible Society of South Africav.4.18.11
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