Mark 8:34-38 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
To follow Jesus; to come after Him, is the greatest thing that any person can do in this life and yet it is the hardest. A young child can hear the Gospel message and believe and yet it is impossible to follow Jesus without the Spirit of God actively at work in them. Just prior to these words, Jesus had asked His disciples while on the outskirts of Israel who they thought that He was? In spite of the fact that the disciples all were looking for the Christ and had given up everything to follow Jesus of Nazareth, He did not act in the manner in which they expected as the Christ. Instead of restoring Israel, Jesus revealed to them the Kingdom of God in which He reigns and He manifested the Kingdom of God in their midst and through them. He also revealed that this kingdom would not be just for the Jews but for people from all the Gentile nations of which the Jews considered as wicked and beyond salvation for their ways were evil and far below the high standard of morality as shown in the nation of Israel and demonstrated by the Pharisees and the religious leaders. And yet Jesus gave them examples of Gentiles who demonstrated genuine faith and Jesus also condemned the hypocrisy and false faith of the religious leaders who were supposed to lead the people to the Christ but rather they desired to kill Jesus. When Peter confirms that he still believed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus then makes known to the disciples, for the first time, that He will suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders. Peter then rebuked Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” The irony is that while Peter reinforced his belief that Jesus is the Christ, by his very next actions he is showing that he doesn’t yet fully believe in Jesus as the Christ. Peter denies the actions that were necessary for Jesus as the Christ to perform. To claim to believe that Jesus is the Christ and yet to misunderstand what He did upon the cross is to follow a false Jesus. The remainder of Jesus’ ministry upon earth was used to prepare His disciples to understand the significance of the cross but the disciples would not understand and believe until after Jesus rose from the dead. They would remain in confusion until then.
It is at this point that Jesus introduces another significant hurdle for the disciples to overcome in their understanding of this new Kingdom of God that Jesus was establishing. This would be a kingdom that requires suffering in this world. Nobody likes suffering. Nobody chooses to suffer. If there is an easier walking path through a forest, that is the one most taken even if the route may be longer. This new teaching on suffering in relation to the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ final act in providing for our salvation through suffering was difficult for the disciples to hear.
This teaching was contrary to what the Jews would have expected. The Old Testament is filled with passages that promise temporal blessings (blessings in the physical world while still alive). As long as the Israelites were obedient to God, God promised them prosperity and wealth and protection from their enemies. But this Kingdom of God that Jesus was establishing uses suffering as a mark of blessing. There is a cross to be carried by every born again Christian in the Church. Just as Jesus carried a cross and died upon the cross, so too do we need to be willing to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ. None of us can provide for the salvation of others as Jesus did through suffering, but our suffering for His Name will reveal our love to Him. As those who do not believe in Jesus Christ oppose us and condemn what we believe, we show Him that we love Him above all others. A sacrificial love is greatly esteemed. It is the highest form of love as demonstrated in Jesus Christ’s love for the Father and His love for us. This goes far and above loving someone for the blessings you may receive from them. To love through your own sacrifice shows a much deeper love and commitment. It is real and genuine and it cannot be faked. You will not sacrifice yourself for someone who you do not love. This call of sacrificial love applies to anyone who would come after Jesus. Anyone who will follow Jesus and enter into the Kingdom of God must enter in through the cross: through Jesus Christ’s personal sacrifice unto death but also acknowledging and agreeing to their own sacrifice that is necessary.
This is not like the suffering of those who are living in sin. People continually die in their sin. They continually suffer temporally (here in this world) because of their rebellious actions against God. Many see frequent death and suffering not because they are following Jesus but because they will not. They do not know of the suffering that Jesus is describing here. They are among those who are ashamed of Jesus Christ and His words. They condemn God for the suffering that they have had to endure but fail to recognize the reason for their suffering. Suffering in sin is absolutely different from suffering for God. There is no peace for those who suffer in sin. There is no hope. But for those who suffer for Jesus Christ there is peace and hope in the midst of suffering. The Christian suffers because of faith. They believe and are willing even to die to show their love to God and to Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit enables them through love to God to suffer for His Name. The Christian will not forfeit their soul. Their soul has been redeemed and they know it. They will not deny Jesus Christ but they will deny themselves. The Christian will actively oppose the wicked desires that they once pursued as their first love. Their love for God is real and deep and passionate. Their life has been saved by hearing the Gospel message and believing. Their life now belongs to Jesus Christ who died for them.
Do you understand what it means to come after Him? Do you know what it means to follow Jesus? Have you counted the cost? Are you living even now in the reality of His call, “Come after Me.” Do not become dismayed and discouraged if you are enduring suffering for His Name. This is a part of being in the Kingdom of God here and now. It is the mark of those who are His. You have been willing to lose your life in order that He could save it. The Son of Man is pleased with you! Jesus Christ is pleased with your love for Him! But how terrible it will be for those who deny Him! How terrible it will be for those who suffer now in their sin to suffer for all eternity! How sad it will be to see those who have forfeited their soul for the cares of this world! Are you forfeiting your soul for what can only give you temporary pleasure? Turn to Jesus!
Pastor Murray Hack