“‘Follow Me’: The Cross of Discipleship” (Mark 8:34-35)

Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 17, 2021

“‘Follow Me’: The Cross of Discipleship” (Mark 8:34-35)

“Take up your cross and follow me.” Today in our series on discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, we take up the cross. We take it up, not just as a topic for a sermon, but we take it up as a way of life. Because in our text, Jesus tells us what being his disciple will be like: “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.” And so our theme today, “‘Follow Me’: The Cross of Discipleship.”

“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says. But what does “taking up your cross” mean? And what does it have to do with following Jesus? You know, we have kind of sanitized the cross. We have smoothed away the shock and horror of the thing. But the cross was an instrument of death, of suffering, of putting someone to death. And here Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.” He’s saying that each one of us should willingly take up something that will inevitably bring us suffering and put us to death. For that is what you can expect when you follow Jesus.

The cross means suffering, but not just any suffering. All people suffer. Many people talk about “bearing their cross” when they just mean the various afflictions of life they endure. But that’s not the suffering Jesus is talking about when he says “take up your cross.” No, the cross is that specific suffering which we endure because we belong to Christ. It is the putting to death of the old Adam, the sinful self with its desires, that comes with following Jesus. It is the suffering and persecution we endure from others, because we belong to Christ. Suffering for the sake of the gospel, dying to sin, crucifying the flesh, denying yourself–these are what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

And Jesus leads the way. His cross gives meaning to our cross. His cross is unique. It’s one of a kind. It is unique in that only the cross of Christ can atone for our sins. The cross of Christ accomplishes our salvation. His cross is one of a kind because of the one who was crucified on it: Jesus, the holy Son of God. He died on the cross of Calvary for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous. The Lamb of God takes up his cross and, in so doing, he takes away the sin of the world. Only the cross of Christ can do that. Because Jesus took up his cross, because of his suffering and death, we have life in his name.

This life was given to us in our baptism. In Holy Baptism, our old self, the old Adam, was crucified and buried with Christ. The new man arises, alive in the Spirit. But day by day that old man, the old sinful nature, must still be put to death. As St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” So taking up our cross means a baptismal dying and rising on a daily basis: dying to self, dying to sin, dying and rising with Christ.

To follow Jesus, then, means taking up your cross. Now again, the cross of Christ is unique. It alone is the basis for our salvation, totally apart from anything we do. But at the same time, the cross of Christ also is our example. It is the model for our cross-bearing.

The author of Hebrews puts it like this: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame.” And then it says: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” The cross of Jesus is our example, it is our inspiration–more than that, it is the power source for enduring the cross in our own lives.

Taking up the cross of discipleship means suffering for the sake of the gospel. It means moving forward in the Christian faith and life, in spite of that suffering. Looking to Jesus all the while, drawing your life from him. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Moving forward with the gospel, in spite of suffering–even the threat or possibility of suffering, whether it comes or not. Oh, you could play it safe and avoid the risks that come with being a Christian. Or you can move forward in faith, trusting God, no matter what may happen to you. That, too, is taking up your cross and following Jesus.

Because of the gospel shining in and through your life, you will face risks and dangers as you encounter the people of this world. Maybe it won’t be as extreme as the threat of death–although, in some parts of the world today, Christians are indeed being killed for the faith. Some are being imprisoned for speaking the truth. In our society, suffering for the sake of the gospel may mean the risk of rejection. It can mean the loss of friends. Your family members may think you’re weird, because of your commitment to Christ and his church. Whatever form the suffering takes, you will have your own cross to bear as you follow Jesus.

And Jesus says you are blessed when you suffer persecution for the sake of the gospel: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”

Always remember, Jesus leads the way. His cross of death is your gateway to life. The cross of Jesus is unique, it is one of a kind. His cross forgives your sins, allays your fears, and covers your failures. The cross of Christ is that which gives you life. And on top of that, it will give you strength in the midst of hardship, courage in the face of danger, and hope in the depths of despair. Jesus leads the way with his cross. And so we are enabled to take up our own cross and follow him. And following Jesus is the best way to go. As Jesus himself says: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Published in: on March 17, 2021 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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