“Calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.’ ”- Mark 8:34–35
Halfhearted discipleship is anathema to our Savior. Indeed, Jesus will have all of us, or He will not have us at all. There is not one aspect of our lives that we may refuse to hand over to Jesus.
Some of the clearest teaching on the subject comes from the lips of Jesus Himself. Today’s passage gives a particularly clear description of the cost of discipleship. Peter, speaking for the disciples, rebuked Jesus for teaching that He would have to suffer and die, reflecting the common Jewish belief that the Messiah would be a conquering king to overthrow the Romans (Mark 8:31–32). Undoubtedly, Peter’s rebuke also reflected his own fears. If the work of the Messiah meant rejection, suffering, and death, surely the followers of such a Messiah would suffer as well. After all, Jesus said in another context that “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master,” that His followers should expect the same treatment from the authorities that He would receive (Matt. 10:24). Thus, it is understandable that the notion of a suffering messianic King would be unnerving to Peter, particularly when suffering via crucifixion was the most shameful way for a person to die in the first century.
But truth is determined by Jesus Himself, not what unnerves His followers. Lest Peter and the disciples be mistaken about what the Messiah’s suffering would mean for their lives, our Lord called the disciples to Himself to explain that suffering for the sake of Christ is inseparable from Christian discipleship. Note that in doing so, Jesus called a larger crowd to Himself and taught them the same thing (Mark 8:34). The point is that Jesus’ teaching on this subject was not for the Twelve alone. Bearing the cross—the shame and persecution this world heaps upon believers—is the mark of a true disciple.
True, not every believer is called to the same kind of suffering. The disciples bear this out. Some, like Peter, were martyred for their faith. Others, like John, lived to a ripe old age even though they suffered imprisonment and other trials at times. Yet both men suffered, so no Christian should expect a life free of trouble related to his profession of faith and attempts to live out the commands of Jesus. This will bring hatred from the fallen world, and at times even from others who profess faith in the Savior. Those who remain true to Jesus and are willing even to die for Him if necessary will, paradoxically, find that death for His sake leads to eternal life (v. 35).
Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark that “the Christian life is a throwaway life.” We must be willing to lose all we have now in order to gain everything in the world to come. This does not mean we merit eternal life by giving up everything or that the degree of suffering is the same for all Christians. It does mean that true faith in Jesus—the kind of faith that saves us—will renounce everything, even this life, for the sake of Jesus and His glory.
Passages for Further Study
1 Hebrews 11:24–26