Saturday

‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.' (vs 34-35)

Mark 8:27–9:1 Saturday 24 November 2018

Psalm: Psalm 40:1-10

Background

Mark (from 7:24 to this passage) has taken us on a trip through healing, miraculous feeding and confrontation as Jesus moves through Tyre and Sidon, the Decapolis (Ten Towns) and finally comes to Caesarea Philippi.

At the end of this preaching and healing tour, he confronts the disciples with the coming reality of his rejection by the Jewish leaders, his death and his resurrection. As Mark tells the story, this is the first moment the disciples have heard anything like this (“he began to teach them” v 31) and they are horrified.

What’s worse is that Jesus tells them this is God’s will. Now they are scandalised that God could want his best advert – the healer and preacher who has got everyone talking – to die. Peter steps in (v 32) to try to change the plan.

After shutting down Peter, Jesus then adds to the scandal by telling his followers – any followers – that the only real path for them is towards death. It would have been a common sight to watch condemned people carrying their own cross to their execution. Now it becomes required for all those who long to live in God’s new kingdom.

What could this mean? We have reduced the phrase to a platitude: “it’s the cross I have to bear”. Jesus didn’t mean anything as simplistic as that. He was calling for total surrender to the way of the kingdom; a determination to surrender to the death of self in order to find life in its fullness.

As Donald English puts it in his commentary on the passage: “This is the way of total freedom. If you clutch your life wholly to yourself, protecting it against all others, asserting all your rights, needs and privileges, you lose it because it isn’t life any longer.” (The Message of Mark, IVP, 1992)

Jesus confronts Peter and the others with the assertion that they cannot truly be followers unless they are willing to “deny themselves and take up their cross” (v 34). The one is dependent on the first two and is the only way to live in the kingdom of God.

 

 To Ponder:

  • A God who would die is such a paradox that the disciples were shocked into arguing with Jesus. How do we communicate this to 21st-century people when care of self is made such a virtue?
  • The idea of self-denial used to be commonplace in the Church. How do we express that in contemporary culture?
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