Jesus warned his disciples a number of times that he would be arrested and crucified, and promised them that he would rise again. But they didn’t hear because their hearts had still not grasped that his was a different kind of kingdom and he was a different kind of king than they had imagined. Maybe they still had ideas of a warrior king, a militant Messiah, a political leader. In this passage, he challenges this thinking directly and invites them into the way of his different kingdom. This involved taking up a cross and dying to live.
Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.
33 Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul] 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? (Mark 8:31-37)
In John’s gospel, Jesus compares his physical death and, by extension, our spiritual deaths – our dying daily – to a seed falling to the ground and dying (John 12:24). In order to put our ‘roots down’ we have to be willing to die to self. This is what Jesus means when he speaks of ‘taking up our cross’ and ‘giving up our life’. It was giving up the thought of ‘gaining the world’ in order to save our soul and experience true life.
This principle of death and resurrection, of dying to live, is at the heart of discipleship, of following Jesus. The implicit promise in what Jesus says is that when we let go of trying to control and determine our own life, but follow him in trust and obedience, then we will experience resurrection life, the life that is truly life (1 Tim.6:19). Then the ‘walls are down’, the stone is rolled away, and we are free to express the life and love of God to others without fear or attempts to control. The seed that fell to the ground produces a new creation garden in the wilderness of our world, and we get to partner with God in seeing his kingdom garden fill the whole world.
Questions for Discussion
- What do you think it means to die to self?
- What does it look like when we try to gain the world at the expense of our soul?
- How do we know when we are living in resurrection life rather than just ordinary life?
- Let your imagination loose and talk about what God’s new creation garden filling the world will look like.
Read the crucifixion account in Mark 15 and the resurrection account in Mark 16 – thank God and recommit to take up your cross, in the hope of resurrection life.