[bl]I[/bl]f my image of Jesus changes and I stay the same, it would mean I wasn’t following him. Walking in his lead, in the places he’s going. A new image of Jesus demands a response. I continue in the gospel story of Mark with the hope of understanding how a suffering Jesus calls his followers into uncomfortable places. Enter the story again with me.
After Jesus rebukes Peter, he calls together a crowd and begins to explain what it really means to follow him.
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.
This is the point in Mark’s gospel where the issue of identity shifts from that of Jesus, to that of his disciples.
In these words of Jesus, we find that at the heart of discipleship is death – the taking up of a cross. And in this moment I see more clearly that the cross we anticipate this Easter is a living cross. Yes, it’s a death that will never have to happen again. But the cross that this life giving death happened upon is a cross we must bear on this earth.
The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t mean that death is no longer. Rather, it’s the hope that after death there is always life.
The cross is living because it ought to continually and actively shape who I am and how I live.
We know (sort of!) what this looks like in terms of our physical death and resurrection into eternal life – a forever fellowship with God. But what does death and resurrection look like in the life of one who claims Jesus as the Christ?
The last 8 chapters of Mark focus on discipleship –the central ideas that shape the identity of a disciple of Christ. We learn in the story of Peter’s confession that his expectation of who Jesus should be, and his self-understanding as a disciple, conflicted with the reality being revealed in Jesus. It is for this reason, that Mark spends the rest of his gospel emphasizing how the identity of Jesus shapes the identity of his disciples – how they should live and relate to God, to others, and to themselves.
So how must a disciple die? What does death look like in the living? What does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus?
Chapter 9:33-37 — Reject the world’s notions of who is great. And receive children. For welcoming children is like welcoming Christ, and welcoming Christ is welcoming God. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as children. Dependent, creative, innocent children. Don’t exploit them, abuse them, abandon or rebuke them. Receive them and bless them as Christ did. Take up your cross and follow me.
9:38-41 — When people speak and heal and serve in the name of Jesus – even those who are different than us — we are not to judge or hinder, but receive. Take up your cross and follow me.
9:42-50 – Whatever causes you to sin, cut it out of your life. Period. For it’s better to enter Heaven empty, than keep it all and be separated from God. Take up your cross and follow me.
10:1-12 – Relationships are meant to be whole. Restored. Abandonment and brokenness are not of God. Take up your cross and follow me.
10:17-29 – Be willing to give up everything to follow Jesus. Money, land, home, family. And give. Take up your cross and follow me.
A death of social order and status. A death of religious pride and judgment. A death of temptations. A death of broken relationships. A death of possessions.
I read these words and teachings in Mark and I begin to understand a little bit more. Discipleship is little personal deaths that strip away our natural instincts, our sinful responses, our inherited social values, our habits that hinder faithful living. And in our dying, God resurrects new life in us. New life that brings him glory and makes us more alive than we’ve ever been.
And this way of living through dying is God’s way of shaping us. Making us more like him.
And here’s what the living part looks like:
A death of social order and status. Humility resurrected.
A death of religious pride and judgment. Unity resurrected.
A death of temptations. Faithfulness resurrected
A death of broken relationships. Community resurrected.
A death of possessions. Abundance in Christ.
As you anticipate the death of Jesus, consider the ways you are called to die with him. To step into the quiet each day I have to give something up. These are relatively easy surrenders. To follow in the ways of Jesus, there is some hard giving up to do. True fasting. Dying to self. Sacrificing the things that feed our flesh in order to participate in the redemptive ways of God.
Blessings on all of you who are giving up in order to embrace more of Him.