Cast your mind back to the days of birthdays as a child, when party games were commonplace. I wonder if you ever played a game where you all had to copy the leader, and someone who didn't know who the leader was had to guess their identity. If the leader crossed his legs, everyone crossed his legs. If the leader folded his arms, everybody folded his arms.
But imagine if the leader unveiled an electric chair and sat on it. Would everyone locate electric chairs and sit on them? Unlikely. It's a grotesque image, when the leader takes up an instrument of execution - especially if he knows that he is setting an example. But the shocking discovery from Mark is that that is in fact the gospel pattern.
Not that we should hunt down electric chairs - it's not a call to suicide. But at the same time, it is living life with that expectation, that preparedness, to lose our life entirely now. Just as Jesus went to the cross, so also Jesus' followers are called to expect death for the sake of the gospel. Some of us may find ourselves arrested and executed because of proclaiming the gospel. And even if we don't die, there is a call to ‘deny self'. In a world that puts such an emphasis on doing what ‘I' want, these words are penetrating. But if we recognise our eternal destination, it transforms our perspective (Mark 8:35-38).
Three things to notice, then.
First, this is necessary. This is the gospel pattern. Jesus didn't just say that He might die - He said he must (Mark 8:31-33). As He makes clear in his statement to Peter, this gospel pattern of death before glory is "of God" (8:33). This is the way that God has designed it.
Second, it is for Jesus' sake. Jesus doesn't call for us to randomly make life hard for ourselves, but to deny our self, take up our cross, and follow Him. His call is to lose life ‘for my sake and the gospel's' (Mark 8:35). And the confidence is that, as those who have faced denial of self, loss of life and ridicule for aligning ourselves with Jesus, we will enjoy the glory of eternity in the future.
Third, we're following Jesus. This isn't a way of earning salvation. This is following the example of our King, who suffered many things, was rejected by the elders and chief priests and the scribes, who was killed, and after three days rose again.
Questions to ponder
- What kinds of things do we think we have a right to? What does it mean to "deny self"?
- What stops you proclaiming Jesus in the office? What if the office was allowed to set the death penalty for ‘religious intolerance'? How would this passage help you still to proclaim Him?
- How can we make sure we don't forget about the future perspective? What can we do practically to stop ourselves thinking that ‘this life is all there is'?