Sunday I continued my series of sermons on Mark’s gospel. My text for the sermon (“Belief and Unbelief“) was Mark 8:22-9:29, which introduces the second part of Mark’s gospel. In wrestling with the challenging nature of Jesus’s call to discipleship, I found the following thoughts from two of N.T. Wright’s books to be quite illuminating.
First, from his fantastic book of a couple years ago, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters:
Jesus didn’t say, as do some modern evangelists, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Nor did he say, “I accept you as you are, so you can now happily do whatever comes naturally.” He said, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8.34). He spoke of losing one’s life in order to gain it, as opposed to clinging to it and so losing it. He spoke of this in direct relation to himself and his own forthcoming humiliation and death, followed by resurrection and exaltation. Exactly in line with the Beatitudes, he was describing, and inviting his followers to enter, an upside-down world, an inside-out world, a world where all the things people normally assume about human flourishing, including human virtue, are set aside and a new order is established.
Jesus would have said, of course, that it’s the present world that is upside down and inside out. He was coming to put it the right way up, the right way out. That shift of perception is the challenge of the gospel he preached and lived, and for which he died.
What this means is that . . . [human beings] are summoned to follow a leader whose eventual goal is indeed a world of blessing beyond bounds, but whose immediate goal, the only possible route to that eventual one, is a horrible and shameful death. (115)
Second, a shorter passage from Jesus and the Victory of God:
Once again, the summons (‘We are going up to Jerusalem; the son of man will suffer, but will be vindicated; so take up your cross and follow me!’) could well have sounded like the call to revolution. Those who answered such a call would have to be prepared to act in such a way that, if they were caught, they would be likely to pay for it with their lives. . . . The thought that Jesus actually intended his followers to die seems, however, no more to have entered the disciples’ heads than the thought that his talk about a cross meant that he himself intended to do so. (304)
It pains me to think that this last sentence seems to be just as true of Christians today as of the disciples in Jesus’s day. How would my life and your life change if we were to take this seriously? God help us to take this seriously.