October 25, 2016 • Life for Leaders
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.”
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 things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31).
In today’s passage, Jesus connected his suffering as the Son of Man with the experience of his followers. If you want to come after me, Jesus said, you must deny yourself and 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. Would they be martyred on Roman crosses? How would this help to bring the kingdom of God to Israel?
Of course, many of Jesus’s 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: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel 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. We can do this at work, in our neighborhood, in our relationships, at home, and in the fellowship of our church. Jesus’s 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. When we do this, we discover new purpose in living as we extend the kingdom of God into every facet of our lives.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How have you denied yourself in order to follow Jesus?
Where do you struggle with giving up yourself for him?
Gracious 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. I want to live for myself, for my family, for my work.
But living for you 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 store. 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.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: What does calling mean if you hate your job?
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.