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. Mark 8, verse 34.
I hate guilt trips so let’s not take one, ok? But let’s also keep it real and acknowledge a few things. Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t have it as tough as taking up his cross and following Jesus to death. I don’t have it as tough as taking up my cross and following Jesus to death (and neither do you). The orphan child living in a broken crack house with criminal addicts for parents who has witnessed murder and overdosing doesn’t have it as tough as taking up his cross and following Jesus to death. You get the picture.
Does that seem harsh? I mean, some folks have it bad, really bad. There are folks within earshot of where I’m sitting here in Bloomington, Minnesota who are living much tougher lives than I’ll ever know. Despair, suicide, unending physical abuse, mental torture: there are friends and family in our midst, in our circles, who are going through things like these through no fault of their own. Those are terrible, awful things that I’ve never had to endure and it’s terrible and awful that they have to endure it. And it isn’t as hard as what Jesus is saying, what He is commanding us to do. You may not like hearing that (reading it actually) but it’s still the truth.
Jesus promises us more torture, more pain, more suffering, more unending unquestioned agony than anything we’ve ever known as just the first steps on a faith journey with Him. Verse 34 guarantees that. Contemplate that phrase “take up their cross.” It is a promise of that torture, pain and suffering in pursuit of Jesus and His ideal. It’s also a command for us to put to death all the things in this world that hold us back from pursuing Him. Things like guilt, our past, sexual temptations, anger, lust, greed, ungodly work, selfishness: Jesus is telling us to put them to death on that cross, then follow Him. Give them up, execute them, then turn in a radically different direction.
Keep in mind that He said these things just after Peter had selfishly insisted that Jesus was lying to him about being harassed and murdered by the Jewish priests in the time (that was then) to come. Jesus sharply rebuked His best friend about this, then speaks the words in this verse to the Disciples and others around them. In order to stand in the presence of God with Jesus by their side, these people would have to be willing to endure the most painful, shameful agony known to man and do so willingly.
Can you imagine that? What are you prepared to do about what He’s already done for us?
I’m not making light of the terrible plight some of our fellow men endure in this world. Christians savagely beheaded by ISIS, victims tortured by kidnappers, anyone being raped or mutilated, Holocaust survivors, and a hundred other examples: these are terrible things. As we contemplate the touchy-feely Jesus of contemporary Christian worship and the saccharin faith of contemporary Christian music, let’s keep it real. Remember that following Jesus might be the hardest thing we could ever imagine doing. The payoff is so worthwhile but make no mistake about the path to get to that payoff.
Lord Jesus, I need Your help to carry my cross. Encourage me to follow only You.
Read Mark 8, verses 34-38.