During lent, we consider the Messiah's path and the requirements of those who desire to follow him.
1. Recognize the Context:
In the context of Mark 8, Peter answered Jesus’ question of identity by proclaiming him to be the Messiah. Jesus knew this declaration would create confusion and hinder his mission, so he instructed the disciples not to tell anyone. It was the wrong message at the wrong time.
Jesus then predicted his death and resurrection for the first time. Peter took him aside and rebuked him, which only confirmed Jesus’ concerns about people misunderstanding the Messiah's role. He then rebuked Peter.
2. Read the Scripture: Mark 8:34-38
34 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. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 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.”
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
After this awkward exchange between Jesus and Peter, he gathered his disciples and the crowd together. Jesus wanted to make sure they knew, anyone who desired to follow him must to do three things. True disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him.
But what is self-denial? In his commentary on Mark, Walter Wessel explains, “By denial of self, Jesus does not mean to deny oneself something. He means to renounce self—to cease to make self the object of one’s life and actions. This involves a fundamental reorientation of the principle of life. God, not self, must be at the center of life.”
Next, a disciple needed to take up their cross. Jesus’ First Century Greco-Roman hearers had a vivid picture of this horrific process. Roman rulers forced convicted criminals to carry their cross beam to the place of execution. His meaning was quite clear, and in a short time, these words would be Jesus’ reality.
Finally, disciples of Jesus must be willing to follow him continually. The verb “to follow” is in the present tense identifying the command's continuous and ongoing nature. Luke's parallel passage brings this out more clearly with the word "daily" (Luke 9:23). True discipleship calls for a constant life of devotion patterned after the Master.
For Jesus, not following the way of discipleship now might preserve this present life, but it will lead to loss in the future. However, the opposite is also true. Surrendering your life now will lead to future salvation. Ultimately, nothing in this present world is worth forfeiting eternal life.
To be ashamed of Jesus in this present age, the equivalent of saving one's life (verse 35), will lead to Christ being ashamed of that person at the final judgment. However, the inverse is also true (Luke 12:8-9). A shameless proclamation of Christ now in this present age will lead to a proud acknowledgment of his followers before heaven at the final judgment.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Theologian, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, summarized the ideas in this passage by writing,
“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully reflect on what it means to deny self, take up your cross, and follow him.
Today, prayerfully consider the opportunities this day, and this week, you might have to confess Christ by words and actions.
To do: (Actions with the Holy Spirit's help)
Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.
Can you be specific and proactive (with the Holy Spirit's help) to confess the gospel of Christ to someone who needs to hear it? For an intense look at discipleship, read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, The Cost of Discipleship. Maybe you can find someone to read it with you this lenten season.
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
Read and study the passages listed above.