During his ministry on earth, Jesus often spoke directly to those with him with words of instruction intended specifically for those individuals. Less frequently he spoke to all who would listen to him, using words of universal importance. Over these few weeks we reflect on some of the instructions from the Gospel of Mark that Jesus intended we, and all who follow him, should receive and obey.
Gospel of Mark 8: 31-38 (NIV)
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
The statement with universal application in verse 34 refers to “anyone”: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The opposite is equally valid: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
The alternatives are clear. We can choose to “come after” Jesus, to follow him – not for just part of the way but for all of the way – or we can reject him (be “ashamed of” him). The consequences of rejecting him are to be abandoned by him when he returns in glory.
What is it to lose one’s life for Jesus and the gospel? “Losing” one’s life might not mean surrendering it to die a physical death but will certainly mean surrendering the self-will to enable God’s will to be done through that person.
This is exceedingly difficult because of the innate focus on self that is part of the human condition. I suggest none of us can achieve it alone. We are to invite God to help us to surrender, daily and even hourly, so that our “self” can be subordinated instinctively to his “self” in us. As Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22: 42).