If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mark 8-34b-37)
This remarkable statement by Jesus would have been even more incredible to the original audience. He’s talking about taking up a cross and losing one’s life for His sake – all before His own crucifixion. While the disciples didn’t fully understand, they at least had heard Jesus predict His death previously. The crowd though had to have difficulty following. To them, Jesus was either Messiah or a Prophet – neither one would be expected to receive a Roman execution. And what in the world is this business about losing and saving one’s life?
I’ve got to admit, I’ve had difficulty understanding this passage as well. “If anyone would come after me” – as a Christ follower, that’s what I’m trying to do . . . “He must deny himself and take up his cross” – what does that mean in modern middle-class America? Our society tells us to “deny” ourselves to lose weight or kick a habit, but it seems like Jesus is going deeper than that. Deny our sinful nature? That’s not done in a day. Take up our cross? Lose our life?
My tendency is to want to break down instructions like these into actionable steps, but I’m not sure that was the point here. Following Christ involves sacrifice. For many in church history and in the persecuted church today that has meant death – they have literally lived this paradox out and saved their life by losing it. But for the rest of us, we’ve not been asked to make the ultimate sacrifice, so we live in a physical world with cares and desires pulling at us and are asked to be willing to give it all up for Jesus and the gospel. It’s easy to say we’re willing, but are we? If I truly am willing to give up my life, how does that change my life and my actions today?
Jesus, I want to follow you. I’m not sure I’m ready for the sacrifices you describe here, but I’m willing to learn. Help me to take my eyes off the things that the world offers and to turn my eyes towards you. Shine the light of your truth on my life and help me to see the areas in which I’m forfeiting my soul for temporary pleasures or accomplishments. Help me to deny myself and to follow you, for your glory and my good.