November 16 – Red Letters – “…deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Me.”

Read Mark 8:34-37

Large crowds were following Jesus.  He was healing the sick, bringing life to the dead.  Even at the touch of His clothes, a woman had been healed.  He had fed over 5,000 men miraculously and shortly after had miraculously fed over 4,000 men.  I’m sure it would have been amazing to witness these miracles or to have food in your stomach and be part of this crowd.  But Jesus was about to separate those who were fans from those who were His followers.  The fans wanted to witness and experience.  If you wanted to be a disciple, a true follower of Jesus, there was a cost involved.

In today’s reading, Jesus calls the crowd, along with the disciples, to Himself and drops a total game changer on everyone.  In Mark 8:34, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

It was more than being part of the crowd of spectators.  It was more than partaking in His miraculous feast.  It was more than simply hearing His amazing sermons.  It was total and complete life transformation.  First, He says to deny yourself.  Cease to put yourself as the object of your life and your actions and make following Him your priority.  And that is not all.  “Take up your cross”.  The Romans made the condemned criminals carry their own cross piece, on which they would be nailed, to the place in which they would be put to death.

Taking up your cross included being willing to suffer and possibly die for the sake of following Jesus.  Here in the United States, we do not face much, if any, persecution for our faith. However, all over the world, people have faced beatings and martyrdom since the very beginning of Christianity.  Following Jesus may result in costing us our very lives.  And there is one more thing:  Jesus says, “Follow me.”

Think for a moment about being somewhere you have never been.  There is just one guide, one person who can lead you where you need to go.  You cannot take your eyes off of them as they lead you on the path to where you are going.  You have no idea what you may pass on your journey to where you are headed, but, if you don’t follow closely, you can easily get distracted or even lost along the way.  Follow Jesus in such a manner that you don’t let Him out of your sight.

The great pastor Billy Graham once said, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you everything.”  German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed right before the end of World War II, wrote in his powerful book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”.  These things may seem harsh but, as Jesus tells us in today’s reading, “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it (their life)”.

Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him.

Nate Mills

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