On Sunday, Marlo preached from the passage in Mark 8:34-35 about discipleship. In his sermon, he highlighted the three key aspects of discipleship that Jesus emphasized: deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me. If you consider what had just happened prior to Jesus’ command, I think it helps paint a clearer picture of what Jesus was trying to convey to the crowd of people. Jesus was speaking to his disciples, preparing them of what was about to happen to him. He told them how he was about to suffer many things, be rejected by the leaders, and killed. Of course, this left them all confused and heartbroken. Peter even took Jesus aside, and actually scolded him for saying these things. But Jesus immediately replied by saying, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” In other words, ‘you are thinking and acting from a worldly perspective, rather than a Godly perspective.’
What Jesus consistently called the crowds, and his disciples, to do was not easy. In fact, it was both counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. For Peter and his disciples, they would have to accept the fact that they did not fully understand God’s plan, and they would have to trust that Jesus’ death was meant for a good purpose. Well, if they didn’t understand the plan, then imagine how difficult it would be for them to see how Jesus’ death could possibly be any good. After all, this was the man whom they had been “following” for three years, the one whom they had become quite close to and dependent upon. This was the man whom they walked with, ate meals with, prayed with, listened to, learned from, and experienced life with. They watched as Jesus spoke to crowds, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and performed many miracles, all while he stood up to the critics, confronted the religious leaders, and silenced the oppressors. So, in their minds, how could Jesus’ death possibly serve any good? It just seemed so completely out of line with all they had come to believe about Jesus, and all that Jesus had done for the people of this world, including themselves. They did not know what we know today. Jesus’ death would be tantamount to the salvation of the entire world.
When Jesus gave the command for all of us to “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me,” it still goes against everything we understand and experience in this world. Letting go of our own ideas for the sake of God’s will, enduring the pain and suffering that comes along with this, and following Jesus’ way as opposed to the world’s way can certainly feel counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. It’s not in our nature to deny ourselves of what we want or what we think is best. It doesn’t make sense when we have to endure the hardships of “doing the right thing.” And if we’re honest, it is extremely difficult to follow Jesus when the world is pulling us in a different direction. The world’s way seems so much easier sometimes. But the Bible warns us to be careful when it comes to following the world. 1 John 2:16 says that “the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” This is the promise that comes with following Jesus…eternal life. Although it won’t always be easy, and you won’t always understand where you are going, following Jesus comes with the greatest reward.