Mark 8:27-37; Romans 6:1-4
Today, a man came to the church where I pastor to bid on some painting work that needs to be done. He expressed concern regarding the different denominations our respective churches belonged to. I decided to assure him that my goal was not making more “Baptists” but making sure that everyone had a chance to hear the gospel message—that the only way to God was through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
There. I had done my pastoral duty and inserted spiritual material into an otherwise mundane conversation. His reply caught me off guard: “Yeah. He’s quite a guy, isn’t he?” Quite a guy? This attitude is one of the greatest challenges that faces individuals who choose to follow Christ. Who is it that we are following?
Jesus queries his motley group of disciples about who people think he is. Is he “quite a guy”? Or is he something more?
The popular view of Jesus in that day shouldn’t have surprised anyone. “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets’” (Mark 8:28). Obviously a religious figure. Apparently having some significance. But when Jesus probed deeper, we find Peter’s confession “You are the Christ” (v. 29).
If Jesus is just a religious figure, then there’s no need to panic. But if Jesus is the Anointed One, the Messiah, then he has reason to call us to a commitment others simply cannot.
Call to discipleship
In Mark 8:34, the twofold call of discipleship is issued. Jesus calls his closest followers and the members of the crowd to (1) deny themselves, and (2) take up their cross. These are the two aspects of following Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian, pastor and martyr, wrote in his book, Ethics, “In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things, the figure of him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger.”
Jesus’ view of success was radically opposed to even first century standards. How much more in today’s world. Self-denial and acceptance of personal death were the hallmarks of Christ’s earthly ministry. We are not exempt from that call.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes: “Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as the ones you think are wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours.’”
Christ’s call for complete surrender and following is utterly dependent upon who he is. Our salvation is utterly dependent upon who he is. It is amazing that much of what we see today that passes for discipleship is simply a convenience-oriented lipservice.
Take away the material blessings—do you still follow? Take away the good health—do you still follow? Take away the ease of finding a place to worship (or the programs that “scratch where you itch”)—do you still follow?
Our passage this week concludes with a sobering question: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:37). I like the way The Message askes the question: “What could you ever trade your soul for?”
If Jesus is just a marginal religious figure, then don’t worry about following him. Don’t waste your time denying yourself and taking up a cross. But if Jesus really is the Messiah, then how can we offer any less than our total commitment to him?