By Mark D. Roberts
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34).
In the previous passage in Mark's Gospel, Jesus was identified by Peter as the Messiah. Then Jesus, much to the consternation of his disciples, predicted that he, as the Son of Man, would "suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead" (8:31).
In today's passage, Jesus connected his experience as the suffering Son of Man with that of his followers. If you want to come after me, Jesus said, "you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me" (8:34). When we hear Jesus speak of the cross, we naturally and rightly associate it with his sacrificial death. But his first disciples would not yet have made this association. For them, the cross was a symbol of cruel death and Roman domination. Crucifixion was reserved by Rome for the lowest of the low, most of all for those who dared to oppose Roman power. The disciples must have wondered if Jesus was calling them to literal death as they fought against Rome.
Of course, many of Jesus' first followers did literally die because of their commitment to Jesus. Yet as the rest of our passage makes clear, he was not calling for literal martyrdom so much as a surrender of one's whole self to him: "If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it" (8:35).
You and I have the opportunity to take up our cross each day as we live, not for ourselves, but for Jesus. This call to self-denial is not a popular one, but, as Jesus explained, it is indeed the way to a life of maximum meaning and eternal significance. As we go through the day, we have dozens of opportunities to choose to put our desires in second place as we give Jesus first place. As we do this, we discover new purpose in living, and we extend the kingdom of God into every facet of our lives.
Questions for Reflection: How have you denied yourself in order to follow Jesus? Where do you struggle with giving up yourself for him?
Prayer: Dear Lord, you know that I do not find it easy to follow Mark 8:34. I do not want to deny myself, even to "die" to myself so that I might live to you. It is natural for me to ask, "How does this help me?" or "What would be best for me in this situation?" Living for you does not come naturally.
But it does come spiritually, as your Spirit guides me. It comes as I reflect upon your self-giving sacrifice for me. It comes as I begin to live each moment in gratitude. It comes as I offer myself to you more fully, surrendering my desires, my agenda, my dreams, my whole self.
Help me, Lord, to take up my cross each day and follow you. May I follow you at work, at church, and at home. May I follow you when I'm with my friends and when I'm shopping at the grocery story. May I follow you when I spend my money and when I give it away. O Lord, help me to give up my life to you so that I might receive your abundant, full, fruitful life in return. Amen.
Mark D. Roberts, as Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, is an advisor and frequent contributor to TheHighCalling.org. A Presbyterian pastor, Mark earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard University. He has written six books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer (WaterBrook, 2005). He blogs daily at www.markdroberts.com, and the meditations he writes for The High Calling will be featured at the Evangelical Portal every Thursday.