The Cost of Discipleship - Mark 8:34-9:1
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What should we expect as those who commit our lives to being His disciples? These are important questions, and we live in a time when there are many answers being offered. There are many who draw large crowds by promising that those who come to Jesus will find success and prosperity and even physical health. There are others who promise that if you come to Jesus you can find purpose and meaning and finally learn to love yourself.
It is true that the Christian life is a life of meaning and purpose. And it’s also true that those who follow Christ and trust in Him are blessed – but maybe not in the ways many expect. Unfortunately many come to Jesus with a severely flawed understanding of what it means to follow Him.
Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder or speculate about the nature of the Christian life. Jesus has been very clear about we can expect both now and in eternity. It is a life of great hope and joy, but it’s also a life marked by self-denial, sacrifice and suffering.
Context – Peter’s Confession and a Suffering Messiah
As we come to vs. 34 we are returning to a conversation that’s already in progress. In vs. 29 Peter made a great declaration – confessing Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah. And while His confession was true, his understanding of what it means for Jesus to be the Christ was incomplete.
In verse 31-33 Jesus explains to the disciples that before He shows Himself to be the conquering King He must first fulfill the role of the suffering servant. And while the disciples didn’t understand the suffering of Jesus, there’s more: starting in verse 34 Jesus explains that not only must He suffer, but those who follow Him must also walk the road of suffering.
The Audience – A message for all who will follow (8:34a)
While the previous conversations were between Jesus and the twelve, Mark tells us in vs. 34 that Jesus called the crowd to hear this part of His teaching. It’s important to recognize that these commands of Jesus aren’t limited to the twelve; they are for anyone who would become His disciple and follow Him.
The Call – A call to self-denial, sacrifice and suffering (8:34)
- A call to self-denial – The call to self-denial isn’t a call to self-hatred or self-rejection, but it’s a call to seek Christ and His ways and His glory above our own. While our nature is to consider ourselves and our desires as supreme, as followers of Jesus we are called to pursue Him above all (Mk 10:17-22).
- A call to sacrifice and suffering –When Jesus speaks of taking up one’s cross this is command that would have been understood very literally. For the original audience the cross wasn’t a religious symbol, it was an instrument of brutal execution. The call to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus is call to walk aroad of suffering leading toward death. As followers of Jesus we must be willing to sacrifice everything in following Him.
The Motivation – Reasons for obeying the call (8:35-38)
- After giving the twofold command in verse 34 Jesus follows with four supporting statements – reasons why we should heed the call to follow.
- You should follow Him at all costs because it is the way of salvation (vs. 35) – If we spend our lives on ourselves and clinging to what we desire we risk losing eternal life. If, however we let go of our own will and lose our lives for His sake we will gain eternal life (John 12:25-26a).
- He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose. – Missionary Jim Elliot
- You should follow Him at all costs because of the value of your soul (vs. 36-37) – Often we are tempted to give ourselves to things that are temporary. We pour ourselves out for position, money or success and risk losing what’s of eternal value – our very souls. You may gain all you desire and lose what is most valuable and what lasts forever (Luke 12:16-21).
- You should follow Him at all costs because one day you will stand before Him (vs. 38) – In verse 38 Jesus points us forward to last day, the day when we will each stand before Him face to face. While we are tempted to shy away from our profession of Christ to avoid shame in this life, if we think too highly of the opinions of men we risk facing the ultimate shame when we stand before the Lord. We should be more fearful of being rejected by Christ on the last day than we are of being rejected by other people today (Matthew 10:32-33).
The Great Hope – The coming of the Kingdom of God (9:1)
- While there is much discussion about the exact event that Jesus is referencing in this verse, this much is certain – Jesus is announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God. After telling His disciples of the high call and cost of discipleship, Jesus gives this hope, the Kingdom of God will come, the suffering will end and Jesus will reign in victory.
Concluding Thoughts – The call to follow Jesus is a high and costly calling. Those who give their lives to Jesus are submitting to a life of self-denial, sacrifice and suffering, but it’s also a life that leads to joy and peace and hope. As those who are in Christ we must strive to love Him above all and be willing to suffer whatever opposition our commitment to Him may bring. But we can endure with hope knowing that there is joy and eternal life for all who are His (Hebrews 12:1-3).