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YOUNG PEOPLE – TAKE UP THE CROSS!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, July 12, 2009

“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).


This is a text you will seldom hear from the pulpits of our day, here in the Western world. If it is mentioned in passing, it is generally assumed that Christ was only referring to His twelve Disciples. Yet this was not the case. Christ was speaking to the whole crowd.

“And when he had called the people [the multitude, NASV] unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Luke makes this even clearer,

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”
      (Luke 9:23).

Now it must be made clear that this multitude of people were nearly all unconverted. Even among the Disciples themselves, Judas was unconverted. Certainly Thomas could not be counted as a “believer.” Even after Christ’s resurrection he boldly said, “I will not believe” (John 20:25).

It is a fact, that most of this multitude – nearly all of them – was made up of unconverted young people. It is well known that His audience was mostly young. Peter was only about 30. The rest were younger. John was only 17. It is interesting that a recent study of my website shows that about 56% of those who read my sermons are under the age of 34. I believe this shows that my sermons appeal more to those in their youth. Just as the hard-hitting sermons of Jesus did, my sermons appeal to young people who are looking for a challenge!

How strange it sounds to many American preachers that Jesus should begin a sermon to lost people by saying,

“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Christ gave no explanation of what He meant by taking up the cross. He gave no explanation because none was needed. As Dr. Ryrie said, concerning Christ’s first mention of the cross,

This reference to a cross needed no explanation, for the Jews had seen thousands of their countrymen crucified by the Romans (Charles C. Ryrie, Ph.D., The Ryrie Study Bible, Moody Press, 1978; note on Matthew 10:38).

Again, concerning the parallel passage in Luke 9:23, Dr. Ryrie said,

The cross was well-known as an instrument of death, so it represents here the death [of] the old life… (ibid., note on Luke 9:23).

“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

No, Christ did not explain what He meant to this crowd, made up mostly of young people who were unconverted. He gave no explanation because none was needed. They all knew what He was talking about – that they would have to deny themselves and die to “come after” Him. Would any modern evangelist dare to say such a thing? And yet Christ said it – without apology or further explanation!

“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

We learn at least two lessons from this text.

I. First, young people must be confronted with self-denial and
cross-bearing at the beginning.

I believe that cross-bearing has a special appeal to those who are 18 to 34 years of age. That’s who Jesus was talking to that day, and that’s who I am speaking to this morning. I believe that most sermons today are watered down to fit the prejudices of the older people in our churches. What a mistake! If we don’t reach the younger generation, our churches are doomed. And most of those who are young are fed up with the baby food that is given to them in our churches. They want to be challenged. They want a tough Christianity. They want a Christianity that is daring and brave, a Christianity that requires them to live uncompromising lives in a world that is growing ever more hostile toward real Christianity. And that is exactly the challenging death-defying, self-sacrificial life that Jesus calls you to, just as He did in the first century. Rise up, O youth of God! Take to heart the challenge Jesus gave to you!

“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

I am a sixty-eight-year-old pastor in an inner city church in Los Angeles. Our church is made up of blacks, Orientals, Hispanics, and a number of wonderful white people. I know, by fifty years in the ministry, that the youth of our nation are fed up with the hypocrisy and deadness of many of our churches. I know you want something more in a sermon than just another pep talk – aimed at the older women and men in the church. I am not against these older people. Not at all! A good percentage of them also want a more dynamic, challenging message than they have been given in our time.

But to meet the revolutionary challenge Christ gave, you must be crucified with Christ – right at the beginning, right during the first evangelistic sermon that you hear. The Apostle Paul said,

“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Those words defied the pagan world, and called the young converts, to whom he spoke, to a life of cross-bearing, self-renunciation, and absolute death to the shallow pagan standards of a world that has gone wrong. Paul gloried in the Cross of Christ. That meant Christ’s death on the Cross was a thing to be honored and praised. You cannot be truly converted if you do not see the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross as the most important focal point of history. It was on that Cross that Jesus died a horrible death to pay the full penalty for your sin. It was on that Cross that He shed His Blood to wash away your sins, and make you clean from sin in the sight of God. Young people must be confronted with the awesome death of Jesus as a substitute for their sins, “and not for [their sins] only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). Paul gloried and honored the crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross, because it was there that He gave His life to redeem sinful man from sin, death and the flames of Hell! But Paul also said that he so identified himself with Christ’s Cross that it became his own when He said,

“By whom [by Christ] the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Spurgeon, great prince of preachers, said of Paul,

The world and everything that belonged to the world, had become a corpse to Paul, and he was a corpse to it…Let [the world] be dead, be buried out of sight…and henceforth be buried out of sight…The Christ that took human form on the cross…has taken possession of our souls, and [from now on] we live only in him, for him, by him. He has [taken over] our affections [and hearts]. All our [love burns] for him. God make it be so with [all of] us…Amen. (C. H. Spurgeon, “The Cross Our Glory,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1973, volume XXXI, p. 501).

I am convinced that every unconverted young person hearing or reading this sermon should examine himself deeply and make sure that he has truly been converted, for the Apostle says,

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (II Corinthians 13:5).

But to become a real convert to Christ you must do more than just repeat the words of Paul in a Sunday School lesson,

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Sing that chorus, "In the Cross"! 

In the cross, in the cross,
    Be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find
    Rest beyond the river.
("Near the Cross" by Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915).

You young people who are not truly converted must be confronted with the cross of Christ and your own need to bear the cross the first time they hear Gospel preaching. You should, in one way or another, be challenged with the words Christ gave to the unsaved crowd that heard Him preach that day,

“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself [die unto himself], and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

This is the first thing that must happen to you, or you will not experience a real conversion. You must “die unto” yourself, and “take up [your] cross, and follow [Him].”

If you are not told this at the beginning, it will seem like a cheap trick, when some preacher tells you later that you will have to die to yourself, and pick up your cross. Your heart will say, “Why didn’t they tell me it would be so hard to be a Christian when I first came to church?” It will seem like they tricked you. And, indeed, they often do just that, to fill another chair in the church – for awhile – for you will certainly fall away into sin, and ultimately leave the church, if you are not told this difficult truth when you first come to church. No wonder we are losing nearly 90% of the young people in our churches today in America! You can’t trick a young person into being a Christian by hiding from him the fact that Jesus said,

“Let him deny himself [die unto himself], and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

So, I say, this is Christ’s challenge to you! If God is speaking to you about being converted, die to your own plans and wishes and sins. Come to Christ and be washed clean from your sins by His Blood. “And take up [your] cross and follow [Him].” No one is ever truly converted who does not deny his own wicked heart and life. No one is ever truly saved who is not willing to pick up his own cross and follow Christ. Sing that chorus again, "In the Cross."

In the cross, in the cross,
    Be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find
    Rest beyond the river.

Is this salvation by works? It is not! It is salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone! No one will die to himself unless God gives him grace to do so! No one will pick up his own cross and follow Christ to Calvary unless God gives him the grace to do so! As the Apostle Paul put it,

“For unto you it is given [granted by grace] in the behalf of Christ [for Christ’s sake], not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).

Come to Christ and be saved by Him. But remember that this “coming to Christ” includes a desire to “[die unto yourself] and take up [your] cross and follow [Him]” (Mark 8:34). As Dr. John R. Rice put it so well in one of his heart-touching songs,

What shall I give Him? What shall I render?
   How shall I repay my Lord’s sacrifice?
Not all earth’s riches, not all its treasure,
   But heart’s devotion and love beyond price!
All my heart’s love, all my fond dreams –
   Make them, Lord Jesus, only for Thee.
All that I am, all I could be –
Take me, Lord Jesus, Thine e’er to be.

Why should I murmur, hold back from sorrow,
   Dread to lose money or friends in His name?
Oh, I should welcome prison or scourging
   If I might thus have some part in His shame!
All my heart’s love, all my fond dreams –
   Make them, Lord Jesus, only for Thee.
All that I am, all I could be –
   Take me, Lord Jesus, Thine e’er to be.
(“All My Heart’s Love” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980;
   music available from The Sword of the Lord, P.O. Box 1099,
     Murfreesboro, Tennessee 37130).

But there is one more point I must touch on in the text.

II. Second, every Christian, after conversion, must continue to deny
self and bear his cross.

“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Self-denial and cross-bearing must be life-long pursuits of every Christian. The self-denial Christ spoke of means “to deny your very own self and to enter the new relationship with Christ…The cross is that suffering alone which results from our faithful connection with Christ. And the intimation is that each disciple will have his share of such suffering…Christ with his cross leads, and all his disciples, each loaded with his cross, follows in one immense procession, like men who are led away to be crucified. Paul carries the figure farther; [he] that [is] Christ’s [has] crucified the flesh (Gal. 5:24); and…is crucified with Christ” (R. C. H. Lenski, D.D., The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, pp. 348-349).

This is ongoing self-denial. It begins at conversion and must continue throughout the Christian’s life. This is shown by the word “daily” in Luke 9:23,

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”
      (Luke 9:23).

The Apostle Paul said,

“I am crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).

And he also said,

“I die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31).

Sing that chorus again, "In the Cross."

In the cross, in the cross,
    Be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find
    Rest beyond the river.

Self-denial and cross-bearing begin at conversion, but go on throughout the life of a real follower of Christ. Speaking of the early Christians in Acts 2:42, Dr. Tozer said,

Conversion for those first Christians was not a destination; it was the beginning of a journey. And right there is where the Biblical emphasis differs from ours. Today all is made to depend upon the initial act of believing. At a given moment a “decision” is made for Christ, and after that everything is automatic…In our eagerness to make converts we allow our hearers to absorb the idea that they can deal with their entire responsibility once and for all by an act of believing…In the Book of Acts faith was for each believer a beginning, not an end…it was [a new] attitude of heart and mind which inspired and enabled the believer to take up his cross and follow the Lamb whithersoever He went (A. W. Tozer, D.D., “Faith is a Journey,” Born After Midnight, Christian Publications, 1989 edition, pp. 15-16).

      Here again is seen the glaring [difference] between Biblical Christianity and that of present-day evangelicals, particularly in the United States [where there is little physical persecution]. To make converts we are forced to play down the difficulties [to] those who accept Christ…We will never be completely honest with our hearers until we tell them the blunt truth…if they do turn to Him, the same enemies that crucified Him will try to crucify them…Those first believers turned to Christ with full understanding that they were [joining] an unpopular cause that would cost them everything. They knew that they would henceforth be members of a hated minority group (Tozer, ibid. pp. 17-18).

The way things seem to be going here in America, it won’t be long before most evangelicals will be “a hated minority group.” In some ways this is already true. To be a true follower of Jesus in this dying world, it will become increasingly necessary for every true Christian to take the words of Christ seriously,

“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

What shall I give Him? What shall I render?
   How shall I repay my Lord’s sacrifice?
Not all earth’s riches, not all its treasure,
   But heart’s devotion and love beyond price!
All my heart’s love, all my fond dreams –
   Make them, Lord Jesus, only for Thee.
All that I am, all I could be –
   Take me, Lord Jesus, Thine e’er to be.

Why should I murmur, hold back from sorrow,
   Dread to lose money or friends in His name?
Oh, I should welcome prison or scourging
   If I might thus have some part in His shame!
All my heart’s love, all my fond dreams –
   Make them, Lord Jesus, only for Thee.
All that I am, all I could be –
   Take me, Lord Jesus, Thine e’er to be.
(“All My Heart’s Love” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980;
   music available from The Sword of the Lord, P.O. Box 1099,
     Murfreesboro, Tennessee 37130).

Come to Christ. Be washed from your sin by His Blood. Be converted by God’s grace in Christ. Deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow Christ, no matter what it costs! That is what it costs to be a real Christian!

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Mark 8:34-38.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“All My Heart’s Love” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).


THE OUTLINE OF

YOUNG PEOPLE – TAKE UP THE CROSS!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

(Luke 9:23; John 20:25)

I.   First, young people must be confronted with self-denial and cross-
bearing at the beginning, Galatians 6:14; I John 2:2;
II Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 1:29.

II.  Second, every Christian, after conversion, must continue to
deny self and bear his cross, Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20;
I Corinthians 15:31.