34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
(Mark 8:34-37 NIV)
After Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is Messiah, Jesus begins the process of teaching His disciples what being Messiah really means. Jesus’ teaching about what it means to be Messiah comes as a shock to His disciples – it is the antithesis, the opposite of what they had been taught since they were children. Peter, in his shock, pulls Jesus aside and tells Him that he will protect Him from anyone doing these terrible things to his best friend. Jesus then rebukes Peter, calling him “Satan”, because Peter’s words reminded Him of His temptation in the desert. Jesus did not come to take the easy way, but His Father’s way of hardship, misunderstanding, persecution, and death in order to give eternal life.
In the previous passage, Jesus had been speaking privately to His disciples. In today’s text, Jesus takes His disciples and joins the nearby crowd. Jesus has told His disciples privately what it means to be Messiah; He now lumps His disciples and the crowd together and tells them what it means to be His followers.
Jesus never offered anyone an easy or comfortable life; in fact, He told them quite the opposite. Jesus was brutally honest about what it meant to be His follower. Jesus did not promise a life of ease, but a life of greatness, not for their glory, but for God’s.
Winston Churchill, as he took over England during the Second World War, only promised “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” to the people of Britain. Nothing worth fighting for is easy. Freedom comes at a price.
Jesus did not ask His followers to do anything that He was not willing to do first. Jesus led by example by taking up His cross in obedience to His Father, to lay down His life in exchange for ours.
Sir Ernest Shackleton, the great explorer to the South Pole, advertised: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” Shackleton was willing to put his life on the line and sought others willing to do the same. And men flocked to apply, desirous of being part of something greater than themselves.
Jesus gave His life away, saying no to Himself and living for His Father. Jesus knew that all greatness must be given away to be preserved. Craftspeople and professionals alike keep their skills and talents by giving them away to others – writers, chefs, musicians, poets, doctors, nurses, engineers, and every other learned skill is best practiced by hard work, and preserved by using their skills for the greater good.
Jesus said that while those trades and professions are honorable, what He demonstrated and called us to do as His followers is so much more. Jesus said that to preserve our life, we must give it away for His purposes, for His glory, for His calling. We are not to hoard or preserve our lives; rather, we are to consume them for Him, just as He gave His life for ours.
In verse 37, Jesus asked what His followers value – what will we give in exchange for our lives, our souls? What are we willing to trade for eternity? Will we seek immediate gratification, the quick fix, the pleasure and comfort of this life for the next? Or will we say “no” to self and “yes” to God? Nothing of value comes easy or fast. Following Jesus has a cost – not to earn our way into heaven, but to follow Him in obedience.
May we choose the road that leads to His glory, not our own, regardless of the cost.
The rewards are truly out of this world.