“‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself.” The disciple must say to himself the same words Peter said of Christ when he denied him: “I know not this man.”‘ – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship)
Many of us know the passage of Mark 8:31-38 where Jesus tells his disciples that if anyone would follow him he must first take up his cross. I’ve heard and read that passage many times. I’ve used it in sermons I’ve preached. But, what does it really mean? What is discipleship? Is discipleship merely me spending time with an older person who teaches me the Bible, tells me when I do bad stuff, and buys me lunch once a week? Is it something more?
When I was in High School I had the privilege of being discipled by my youth minster, Brian. Brian took myself and one of my closest friends, Taylor, and began pouring into our lives. We would study scripture together, spend time together, we even went on a few road trips together. Brian is one of those guys who’s pretty honest with people. His emotions show on his face, even when he tries to hide it. I can relate to him. What I appreciated about Brian is that he was always honest with me. I would have to say that I am in the ministry today because Brian taught me how to listen to God’s voice and answer his calling.
Discipleship is honesty. It’s the desire to lead someone to be more like Christ. It’s us, pointing others to the cross. That’s where we should end up, the cross. It’s at the cross that we find Jesus.
Jesus said that we should take up our own cross if we are to follow him. We should share in his burden. It’s only when we carry our cross that we are truly following Jesus.
I think this is a truth that the church must relearn. There are many of us in the church who think we are following Jesus, when we really aren’t because we are to afraid to carry our cross. To share the burden of Christ, and carry our cross, means to endure what Christ endured. Jesus endured rejection, suffering, and ultimately death. Most of us are unwillingly to partake in that. We’ll stand up for values in the work place, as long as it doesn’t cost us our job. We’ll share Jesus with our neighbors, as long as they bring it up. We’ll go as far as Christ wants us to go, until it hurts.
That’s not what Jesus was teaching his disciples. To truly follow Christ means to obey him fully and literally. When Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector, to follow him, the gospel of Marks says, “he arose and followed him.” While some hesitated and tried to create their own terms, Matthew heard the call from Jesus and responded in obedience. There was no altar call, someone playing “Just As I Am”. Matthew didn’t make a “profession of faith” and start serving as a deacon at his church. He picked up his cross and followed Jesus, having no idea what his cross was really going to be.
When Peter denied Jesus it displayed his own unwillingness to suffer, and many of us can relate. That means that Satan has pierced the door of the church and gained entry into her as he tries to tear her away from the cross.
Jesus gives us this first opportunity through salvation. He calls us to first cut ourselves off from our attachments to this world. The rich young ruler had a problem with that. When the young man asked Jesus what he must do to be saved (as he was more concerned about perfection) he let Jesus know that he had not broken any of the commandments. Jesus responded by saying, “go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” The man walked away frustrated. He was unwilling to accept the call to die. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ.”
It wasn’t money that kept the young man from grace, it was his attachment to it. It had become what defined him. He was unwilling to be defined by Jesus rather than his wealth. His attitude toward his money kept him from obeying Jesus and experiencing true salvation.
So, I pray I am willing to take up my cross daily. I have no idea what my cross will be for tomorrow or the next day. I just pray I have the will to surrender, to die, and claim about myself, “I know not this man” and follow passionately after Jesus. Where I fail, I pray that I forgive myself as Jesus renews me, corrects me, and leads me to my cross. We all bear different crosses. Some are led to die, others are led to suffer, and some are led to sacrifice. It’s Jesus that chooses our cross for us, and he leads us to it. As we share in Jesus’ burden, as the world still looks for someone to bear it’s own burden, the church bears that burden for them. May we find joy in the cross, and may we see the promises of heaven and the glory of God as we suffer with Christ.