In my study of Mark, I have come to the passage on denying self and taking up our cross.
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 8:35-38
I’ve studied this passage so much with others, I really wanted to skip over it. But I trusted the Spirit, and held the course.
And it has been awesome! I’ve found so much inspiration.
First, I looked at the chronology. Although I’ve heard that Mark is a piecemeal composite of stories of Jesus, there is a definite time line in this part of Mark 8.
- Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah.
- Then, Jesus begins to teach his disciples that he must suffer, be rejected and die.
- Peter rebukes Jesus, and Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan. You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
- Then Jesus calls the crowd to him and teaches them they must deny self and take up the cross.
It helps to know the timeline, because it has bearing on what Jesus is saying here. When he tells them to deny self, the Greek word for deny is much stronger than simply disregarding something. The word is aparneomai. The Greek word arneomai already means deny, so adding a prefix to it makes it stronger. You STRONGLY REJECT something, disown it, repudiate it.
It’s just like what Jesus does when he says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus is repudiating everything about what Peter is telling him. Jesus is wholly rejecting the “human concerns” and embracing the concerns of God. He maintains his identity as a spiritual being, God’s child.
How different this makes me see this verse! I don’t just deny myself, push away that selfish desire. I REJECT it, turn my back on it, push it far away! It is not for me as a child of God.
And what is for me as a child of God? Taking up the cross.
What? That is a sad destiny. Aren’t we supposed to have the abundant life?
It really struck me here Jesus was telling people to follow him to death, and then to resurrection in heaven. Our destiny is to go to heaven. This earth is just a way station.
As much as I want to focus on the positive things, being grateful, and seeing the many ways I am blessed here on earth, I can’t forget that all that is rubbish compared to what I will have in my TRUE home in eternity, wrapped in the arms of God.
And so, Jesus says, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” What good is it for me, even if I got ALL the things I want — a comfortable conflict free existence? The cost for this is a mind that becomes focused on human concerns, and not Godly concerns. I lose my spirituality, my very identity as God’s child.
And here’s the real kicker. I lose the power of the resurrection. Jesus isn’t telling us to follow him in some kind of funeral march, so we should be glum and dressed in black as we contemplate our sad fate.
No! He is helping us to go through death, including death to self, so we can go through the resurrection. Totally cool! He’s trying to take us to be most amazing place there is. It’s an epic journey.
Not only that, but by dying to self, we can have the power of the resurrection right now in our lives. We can become new. We can overcome that character infirmity that is a like a dog on our back. The church can blossom and grow. The impossible is possible!
But Satan wants us to believe the lie. He paints this picture of a dreary life as a Christian. We see our trials and think that will be our life. We lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.
Here’s how I can relate to this. Last night I went to House Church with some emotional baggage. It was at Mike and Marge’s house, and the last time we met there I was still going through my menopausal depression. I remembered the struggles I had with my attitude. So even though now things are different, I couldn’t help dreading going back to the site that reminded me of my struggles. It was great to see everyone, but as the discussion started, my heart was heavy and I couldn’t get past that. I kept on, and finally the darkness lifted. The emotional baggage left me and my eyes were opened. Now I could see light, not darkness! We were discussing the resurrection, and I saw each person there as a miraculous product of the resurrection. I saw that my dreams of the church growing in the future would be accomplished by the power of the resurrection. A huge weight lifted from me.
Satan wants to put a darkness and a dread upon us. But our eyes can be opened to see that God is light and His way is good. Satan wants us to fear self denial and the cross. God says they are the way of giving us the very best.
Yesterday I went to visit Marge on her “cruise ship.” That is what she calls the Cancer Center where she’s staying. It’s something you have to see to understand. Usually when you think of being treated for cancer, you think of this miserable existence of bleak antiseptic clinics, brusque doctors, and bored receptionists who make you wait hours for your procedure.
The Cancer Center changes the paradigm. It’s like a resort — a beautiful carpeted colorful facility, with people who are nice to you at every turn, and good food, and options to take excursions to take in local sights.
Let’s change our paradigm. Self denial and taking up our cross is a good thing. It’s leaving the emptiness and lies of the world behind, and embracing our rich destiny as children of God.