Day 19: Taking up your cross
'Calling the crowd along with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life? What can anyone give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”' Mark 8:34-38
I wonder if you have ever been in church and the preacher said something you just couldn’t believe came out of his mouth. A real elephant in the room moment where you think ‘hold on, that can’t be right!’. Sure we expect the unexpected from kids (like the Sunday school kids that said “Noah’s wife was called Joan of Ark” or “Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines”) but not the preacher. Although if you’ve been around Hope Community Church Barlanark for any length of time maybe you’re used to the preacher saying something totally unexpected!
These verses in Mark highlight one of those moments for the crowds and disciples Jesus was speaking to. When Jesus told them the requirements for following him were to ‘take up your cross’ and follow him, they would have been stunned. Remember we’re now used to the idea of Jesus and the cross, but at this point only scum like criminals or terrorists would have been anywhere near a cross. It’s like saying ‘take up your electric chair’.
The truth of these verses is this; following Jesus requires a full and complete turning away from what this world offers in meaning, purpose, status, and safety. It means turning to Christ and finding all those things in him. If instead we choose to find them in this world and this life, then v35 tells us we will lose it all and spend an eternity separated from Christ.
Indeed that's the biggest challenge we find in v38. If we are ashamed of Jesus then he will be ashamed of us when he returns to make all things new! Jesus is not a get out of jail free card. We cannot be in bed with the world, enjoying all it has to offer, and still hold on to Jesus. To permanently and habitually reject the demands Jesus outlines for his followers shows shame and contempt for him and for the gospel. This rejection may well be a sign that we are outside the very Hope of salvation in Christ.
These are hard verses. If you think they aren’t I’d encourage you to read them again. They are certainly not what the crowd would have been expecting to hear when they went to hear Jesus preach. But they closely flow from the cross of Jesus we read about in v31-32. The followers of Jesus are called to sacrifice themselves for Jesus because he first sacrificed himself for them.
Let me be clear, Jesus isn’t calling us to ‘take up our cross’ in order to be saved, this isn’t some works based salvation. The gospel is clear that our salvation is full and free, a gift of grace. But as Spurgeon said, “our salvation is free, but it does come with a cost”. The cost is the laying down of our rights and wants to follow Jesus who gave everything for us. So ‘taking up our cross’ isn’t how we earn our salvation, it’s how we respond to Jesus giving salvation to us as a free gift.
Are we living out these verses 100%? No. And we won’t this side of eternity. But that shouldn’t stop us from giving our all as we try, for the call to sacrificially follow Jesus is real.
So how do we live out these verses? I think the important question is; are we growing in laying our lives down for Jesus, or are we growing in love for the things of the world instead (see 1 John 2:15-17). Living these verses out means preaching the gospel to yourself every day. It means filling your heart with the hope of the gospel, meditating on gospel verses and letting them warm your soul. Then you’ll find laying down your life daily becomes that bit easier. So let us pick up our crosses together and follow the crucified and risen King.
Written by Jim Coyle
Passage for today: Mark 8:34-9:1
A thought to remember: Jesus has not called us to be half-hearted disciples.
A question to ask: Do you see an increasing desire for whole-hearted devotion to Jesus in the light of the gospel?
A song to sing: When I Survey The Wondrous Cross