Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’
Mark 8:34-38 (NIV)
Read: Mark 1:1-20
Consider: When Jesus called some of his disciples who were fishermen, he told them that he would use them to fish for people. When all of his disciples first started to follow him they would have had little idea of what it really meant to be his disciple. While they did leave their homes, families and their jobs, they would not, at least in the early days, have witnessed any opposition to Jesus’ message. Yet barely three years later, they had become aware that the Jewish religious leaders had grown to fear Jesus and were seeking to put him to death.
Comparing Mark 8:34-38 with 8:31-33 it is clear that Jesus’ words are addressed to the crowd as well as his disciples. What Jesus says about the ‘way of the cross’ is clear and unequivocal and applies to us all. He wanted to lay out clearly and plainly what it meant to follow him, so that those who followed him understood what they were doing. In this passage we are told that following Jesus involves:
– denying yourself – as we approach Easter many people will be giving up something for Lent. This is not what is meant by Jesus as denying yourself. What it means is putting God’s wishes before our own. What it also means is putting the needs of others before ourselves;
– taking up the cross – many people talk about something in their lives as being ‘the cross they have to bear’. This might be another person, an illness, financial circumstances, etc. While these things test our faith, they are not what Jesus has in mind as taking up the cross. We must remember that to a Jew at this time they would have seen many people being crucified by the Romans. When Jesus talked about taking up their cross, they would have understood that they might have to suffer and even die for their faith. Interestingly, church tradition would indicate that most of the apostles died violent deaths for their faith and a great many believers were persecuted and martyred because they refused to deny Jesus;
– following him – this does not mean tagging along behind Jesus. What it means is to follow his example and his words. The only way we can meaningfully do this is to spend time reading and studying the Bible, then putting what we learn into practice in our daily lives.
When you are sharing the gospel with others, how do you paint a picture of the Christian life? Are you honest about the demands that will be placed upon those who follow Jesus? While Jesus spoke about new life, forgiveness of sins and the real joy to be found in believing in him, he also was clear that the Christian life was not the easy option.
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
Pray: Father, help us to be truthful and clear when telling others about the Christian life. May we show through our lives that we are prepared to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow you each day. Amen