Bible Reading: Mark 8
Mark 8:34 “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”
Jesus had some tough words for any would-be followers when He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). It’s important to understand the context of Jesus’ challenging invitation.
When Jesus asked His disciples who they thought Jesus to be, Peter responded with the correct, Father-revealed truth, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29; Matthew 16:16-17). Jesus then began to teach them about His pending sufferings and death (Mark 8:31). He was stating the matter plainly (Mark 8:32). Peter was correct about Jesus’ identity, but did not understand how Jesus, the Christ, could suffer. “Peter took (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him” (Mark 8:32). In a dramatic turn of events, Peter, having just been proclaimed “blessed” by Jesus (Matthew 16:17), was rebuked, and called “Satan” (Mark 8:33). Jesus went on to explain: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).
Peter had his mind set on the things of man. He was thinking of things in “man” terms. He had thought that Jesus had come to soon establish His Kingdom (Luke 24:21). He couldn’t comprehend how His suffering and death could possibly fit into God’s plan. Peter was not alone, none of the disciples could understand Jesus in His “cross-talk” (Mark 9:31-32).
How foreign was the life and ministry of Jesus to our natural way of thinking about things! As Martin Luther once said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.” That Jesus, the Divine Son of God, would purpose to be born in such lowly circumstances, that He would live the life of a servant, that He would allow Himself to be betrayed, arrested, unfairly tried, and brutally beaten, scorned, and crucified—these matters transcend our understanding because they are foreign to our way of thinking about things and about God and His ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
It is in that context that Jesus offered His invitation, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Adam’s kin are all, by nature, “broad-path” travelers. “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). The broad way is easy. Travelers face few obstacles and little opposition. The gate is wide, no limitations are put upon the wayfarers. They can believe whatever they want to believe and behave however they want. Broad way travelers encourage one another along the path in a hell-bent pursuit of fame, fortune, and fun (Romans 8:32, 1 John 2:15-16), naïve as to the path’s ultimate destination—destruction.
Jesus was a narrow way traveler. He marked out the path for others to follow. The “way is hard,” but it “leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). It is contrary to man’s way, and therefore “those who find it are few” (Mark 7:14). Jesus’ invitation to His disciples and the multitudes was to join Him in the path He was on.
The narrow way is not an easy path, it involves self-denial. To deny self is to disown or disassociate self with regards to one’s own prerogatives. It is to abandon self-effort, self-confidence, self-agendas, and self-will. This hard way also involves suffering. The people of Jesus’ day knew about crosses, they’d seen many of them. To follow Jesus is to embrace the prospect of suffering, with the realization that to lose one’s life in the physical sense is to find one’s life—spiritually speaking—with God (Mark 8:35; Philippians 1:29). The cost of discipleship is high, but what is the alternative? A man’s soul is of such value that nothing on earth should hold him back (Mark 8:36). The demands of the narrow way are difficult, but Jesus died and rose again to save and empower His followers to walk in the same manner in which He walked (1 John 2:6; Galatians 2:20). It is in losing one’s life, in following Jesus, that true life is found (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Romans 12:1-2).
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”—Jim Elliot
Embrace the cross
Where Jesus suffered
Though it will cost
All you claim as yours
Your sacrifice will seem small
Beside the treasure
Eternity can’t measure
What Jesus holds in store
Words and music by John G. Elliott. Copyright 1989 LCS Songs (a div. of Lorenz Creative Services)/Charlie Monk Music/Pamela Kay Music.