I'm leaving on a trip for Indiana next week for a teen conference, and one of the opportunities there is to present a short sermon as a competition for a partial scholarship. Anyhow, as I've been reviewing verses on the topic I'll be speaking about, I've been struck again by how radical Jesus' call to follow Him was.
Mark 8:34-35 says, "And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, 'Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.'" Is that comfortable or what?
Think about it. That's not a normal motivational speech. I've heard some motivational talks from coaches in the past, but think about if this one came from a coach. "Anybody who wants to be My disciple has to deny what he wants, take up a symbol of torture and humiliation, and abandon anything standing in the way of our relationship. Oh, and it's not so bad to die." Really?
That's what Jesus said to the apostles. That seems just a bit on the radical side, doesn't it? So let's look at it a little bit at a time, and really think about what Jesus was saying.
Let's look at the first part, "let him deny himself". Seems pretty clear-cut on paper, but acting on it sure isn't easy. Just a couple chapters over in Mark 9:35 Jesus says, "...If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and the servant of all." Deny what you want, what's comfortable for you. Deny the desire to be first.
But look what his suggestion is to replace your desire to promote yourself: a cross. A cross didn't used to be a symbol of Christianity. It wasn't something you hung around your neck. It was the absolute most painful way to die, a sign of Roman occupation of Israel and their cruelty. The Jews absolutely despised the cross. That's the symbol Jesus chose to personify ideal self-denial.
Lastly, Jesus finishes with a demand I've posted about before, to follow Him. We are to imitate Him and follow His leading and commands. That's what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
I'm going to close with this thought. In thinking about what I was going to say next week, one of the things that came into my mind was this. When we think about counting the cost of following Jesus (Lk. 14:26-33), it doesn't come naturally, because honestly, we don't have persecution in America. What cost are we counting?
In Jesus' day, counting the cost was a necessity, not an option. To follow Jesus was not figurative; it was a literal following of Jesus around the country, and doing it involved abandoning what held you back. To some like the disciples, the cost might involve having to abandon family and jobs, for the rich young ruler it would have involved the forfeiture of his wealth and titles, and for Nicodemus it probably cost him a lot of prestige among his associates on the Sanhedrin. Any way you looked at it though, there was a cost, and it was pretty obvious.
For the first 300 years after Jesus, the cost was pretty clear cut too. You accept Jesus, you become lion food, or a torch for the emperor's garden, or sawed in two, or something like that. Again, accepting Jesus naturally caused you to count the cost since following Jesus might literally mean picking a cross.
But what is the cost today? Because as much as many Christians say we are persecuted in America, let's be honest and admit that what we experience doesn't qualify as persecution. The Chinese church would beg to differ with anyone who considered America a persecuted church. And the lack of an obvious cost has made us believe salvation is cheap.
And in a way it is. In fact, it's completely free, devoid of any needed works from you. But the cost of following Jesus after salvation, and the relationship we want to have after our conversion is exactly what Mk. 8:34 said. To deny yourself. To put other's needs above your own. That's the cost of following Jesus today, and before you say, "wow, that's easy", go try it first. It's not as easy as you think (although easier than being lion food)!