It is a huge understatement to say that I am not a social media influencer. I have Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts that I rarely use. I think I might even have a Snapchat account that I used to keep tabs on my son when he was younger. Beyond that, I have very little online presence. I am not a big “follower” and do not have many following me.
However, I do find it interesting that on the world wide web we can be “friends” with people we’ve never met, and we can “follow” people, meaning we occasionally receive algorithm-influenced updates from their lives. This is a far cry from what Jesus meant when He invited first-century individuals (and now us) to follow Him. To follow Jesus means more than just “kind of keep up with what’s going on in one’s life from a safe distance.” In Mark 8:31-9:1, Jesus corrects the disciples’ misunderstanding of discipleship, and we continue to profit from that conversation today.
Messiahship before Discipleship
In all three synoptic gospels, just before famously saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” Jesus predicts his death and resurrection. And in Matthew and Luke, Peter is recorded as rebuking Jesus for it, denying that Jesus needed to die. In fact, in the first century, dead messiahs weren’t real messiahs after all. So how could Jesus die? This misunderstanding of what it meant for Jesus to be Messiah naturally led to a misunderstanding of what it meant to follow this Messiah—a misunderstanding that Jesus subsequently corrected in each of the synoptics.
For us, we must accurately understand the messiahship of Jesus before we can appropriately follow Him. His death and resurrection inform and inspire our following Him.
Radical Submission in This Life
What does it look like, then, to follow a Messiah who will die? The answer is by dying yourself. “If anyone wishes to follow behind me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Christianity isn’t following a set of rules, following long-standing traditions, or following a religion. Christianity is simply following a person. His initial call to these disciples, “Follow me,” was still in place and still defined the essence of discipleship. He used two verbs to explain what that meant–deny yourself and take up your cross. Grammatically, denying yourself doesn’t have any other object complements. That is, Jesus didn’t primarily mean that we deny ourselves things in order to follow Him, as if we tell ourselves “no” to certain vices or possessions as the cost of following Him. No, this is saying no to ourselves. We dethrone self and enthrone Jesus. We disown ourselves as the sovereigns of our lives and acknowledge Jesus’ right to rule and reign over every aspect of our lives. Secondly, “take up your cross” was not a familiar Jewish metaphor that merely meant enduring the difficulties of one’s life. Instead, this brought to mind images of a horrific death march that would have been all too familiar to Jesus’ hearers. In light of the previous verses, Jesus is calling his disciples to follow Him, even to death.
Do not skim by the sheer audacity of Jesus here. Not only is He defining in clear terms what kind of Messiah He will be, but He is claiming the rights over the lives and deaths of those who will follow Him. Our radical submission is part of appropriately responding to this Messiah.
In Light of the Life to Come
Again, all three synoptics record Jesus further explaining the rationale behind a call to such radical submission. The next four verses all begin with an explanatory, “For…” “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it . . . For what does it profit a man . . . For what will a man give . . . For whoever is ashamed of me . . .” In this way, Jesus reminds his followers that, in light of the life to come, following Him is how to save one’s life, how to get profit and gain instead of forfeiture, a wise investment of one’s soul, and the way to avoid the Father’s shame and judgment. When viewed from that perspective, if there is a life to come, our “radical” submission isn’t all that radical. In fact, it makes perfect sense.
Assurance of the Reality of Life to Come
Once again, all three synoptics follow these statements with a prediction by Jesus that the Son of Man will return in glory and there are some present who will see the glory of the Kingdom of God. Then the gospel writers each give their account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
To these disciples who were being prepared to suffer and die for following Him, Jesus graciously gives them a glimpse into the reality of the coming Kingdom.
For us who follow Christ today, what evidence do we have? We were not with Peter, James, and John on the mount. First, Peter later writes that even though “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty . . . [and] we ourselves heard [the] voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain . . we have something more sure, the prophetic word.” Peter says the Scriptures we possess are a better, more sure testimony to the life to come than even his mountaintop experience. Let us live in that book. Second, Scripture regularly points us to the resurrection of Jesus as the evidence of the work of Christ on the cross, the genuineness of the faith we believe, and the reality of the return of Christ.
At its simplest level, following Christ means going where He goes—to suffering, to death, but also to resurrection life. In Jesus’ last conversation with Peter in John 21, after His death and resurrection and just before His ascension, Jesus repeats His call, “Follow me.”
Let us follow Him in life, and in death, and in new life again!
Dr. Jason Mackey
Adjunct Instructor of Greek
- Continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who face constant and intense persecution for their faith in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. For them right now, the call to discipleship is very costly.
- A significant number of Afghan refugees are headed to Memphis, and other cities across our nation. Pray for opportunities for Bethlehem students and staff to share the love and good news of Jesus with them.
- Ask God to grant students grace as the newness of the semester wears off, and they persevere in their studies. Pray they will have a humble dependence on God to sustain them as they continue preparing for ministry.
- Pray for the full funding of the Serious Joy Scholarship such that every student is supported.