Mark 8:34 – “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.”
In a meeting with his disciples, Jesus spoke clearly about the necessity of his death and resurrection (8:32-33, see also Matthew 16:21-23). The disciples understood his words but could not fathom how the Messiah could suffer. Wasn’t he supposed to restore the kingdom to Israel? Peter unwittingly became a spokesman for Satan, but Jesus avowed that his purpose was to fulfill the will of the Father, which was the way of the cross. The implications of Christ upon the cross quickly turned into propositions for his followers. The main statement of allegiance (8:34) is followed by four explanatory instructions (8:35-38).
Jesus summoned all who would listen to understand two requirements of following him. Just as Jesus previously paired “repent” and “believe” (Mark 1:15), he now couples “deny” and “take up.” To “deny” oneself is to say no to selfish interests and human securities. Self-denial rejects the idolatry of self-centeredness, and it disallows life to be oriented around self-interest. To “take up” the cross is to say yes to God’s will and way. The mention of the cross brought to mind the sight of a condemned man submitting to the power of Rome while publicly carrying the instrument of his death through the streets. Likewise, to take up the cross was to demonstrate obedience and submission to the authority against which one had previously rebelled.
Jesus, of course, was no rebel, but his submission to God’s will was the proper response to God’s claim over any claim that self could make. Those who follow Jesus take up their own cross to publicly demonstrate their acceptance of God’s will and their allegiance to God’s word.
The command, “Follow me” was the imperative directive in which Jesus noted that saying no to self and yes to God is the only way to continue as his follower. If someone wanted to preserve their earthly life they would forfeit eternal life, but those who gave up their earthly life would avoid eternal ruin (8:35). There are no earthly pleasures or possessions that are worthy of our lust and worship for all of their value combined is still not equal to eternal life with God (8:36). There is nothing that can be exchanged for the soul because there is nothing on earth that can compensate for it (8:37). To be ashamed of Jesus is to reject him and to declare allegiance to the unfaithful and sinful world. The consequence of this allegiance is to see Jesus as the Judge upon his return. Jesus will claim his own, those who followed him, and he will refuse those who rejected him to their own shame (see also Matthew 7:20-23, Isaiah 28:16, Romans 9:33). Mark continued his story with a distinct preview of Jesus’ glory (9:1-8). Jesus’ transfiguration into glorification was the guarantee that he would make good on his declarations. The preview of his glory also assured his followers that allegiance to him was the only way to glory. Yet if Jesus’ followers would go with him into glory they must also deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow him.
Denial of self and allegiance to God are hallmark features of a follower of Jesus. Self-centeredness and self-interest will expand your own kingdom, but it will keep you from serving in and expanding Jesus’ kingdom. There are many who have pledged allegiance to the offerings of this world and rebel against the will and ways of God. Such rebellion is seen in the poverty of character, emptiness of integrity, confusion of virtues, and lifestyles of me-first decisions. Jesus’ way is the way of the cross unto the glorification of himself. May we, too, deny ourselves and take up the cross as unashamed followers of Jesus who live and model his will and ways.
Daily Reading: Mark 8:34-38
Bible Reading Challenge: 10 Days on Discipleship