The cost of being a disciple. 8:31-9:1

Following the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus speaks of his coming suffering. This image of humiliation serves as the basis for Jesus' call to commitment.

The passage

v31-32a. Having heard the disciples confess him as a messiah, Jesus now tells them that he will be a suffering messiah. In fact, his suffering, which will involve rejection and death at the hands of his own people, is necessary. It is necessary in that it is God's will, but because it is God's will, Jesus will break the bonds of death and rise again.

v32b-33. Peter is not willing to accept the idea of a suffering messiah and so takes Jesus aside to straighten him out - as a friend (in love) of course! The trouble is the other disciples have most likely overheard Peter's rebuke and so a public dressing-down is in order. From the beginning of his ministry, Satan has offered a way of gaining a kingdom apart from suffering and humiliation. Peter unwittingly becomes Satan's agent and repeats the temptation, and so Jesus tells him to get back with his fellow disciples where he belongs.

v34. Jesus now calls for decision. To those who really want to be disciples, Jesus calls for an acceptance that will likely bring with it embarrassment and shame. Three images of "coming after" serve to exegete the nature of a decision for Christ. It involves: i] denial - a loss of status through an association with a messiah in conflict with the world; ii] cross-bearing - the consequent shame of association with a humiliated, rather than a glorious, messiah; iii] and following - identification with a humble, rather than glorious master.

v35. Mark now gives two reasons for deciding in favour of Jesus. First, the person who seeks to protect themselves from the shame of an association with Jesus will inevitably lose life itself. The person who decides for Jesus, who accepts the gospel, will gain eternal life.

v36-37. This truth is supported by two proverbs which make the point that there is nothing more precious than life. The NIV has "soul", but "life" is the intended sense.

v38. The second reason concerns the inevitable day of judgment. A person who is ashamed of Jesus today will find themselves on his wrong side in the day of judgment.

9:1. Still addressing the crowd, Jesus drives home his call for decision by warning that the coming kingdom is close at hand. In fact, it will come within the generation of his listeners. The kingdom brings either blessing or cursing (judgment), so the hour of decision has arrived.

Take up your cross

During the 1970's the discipleship movement within Western Christianity was quite strong. It grew out of the Jesus Revolution and expressed itself in communalism and simple living. The trigger was most likely the economic downturn that preceded the boom of the 80's, along with the social division that was generated by the Vietnam war. Social upheaval, "sex, drugs, rock-n-roll", prompted a flight to fundamentals.

In the search for a firm foundation, "cross-bearing discipleship" was promoted along with the apostolic communalism of the Jerusalem church. Luke/Acts became the source text for what was to become a powerful and influential Christian movement. Personal discipline and social activism soon found expression in fundamental, sacramental and liberal faith-circles, and continued to influence these circles into the 80's (eg. The New/Liberal Evangelical Movement).

Our passage for study is one of the source texts for the discipleship movement. Jesus first explains to his disciples that he is a suffering messiah rather than a glorious one, although he will survive this humiliation to "rise again" (victory). He then turns to the crowd, including his disciples, and calls for his acceptance as the humiliated one, an acceptance which carries with it shame. For those who would like to "come after" him, accept him, commit to him, Jesus describes their decision in the terms of denial, cross-bearing and following.

There have certainly been those who have taken Jesus' words literally. Francis of Assisi is one of the best known examples of a person who has put Jesus' "hard" words into practice. Yet, it is unlikely that Jesus' words are a call to material sacrifice, a call to povity. Some people argue that these "hard" words of Jesus serve to separate the fair-weather seeker from the genuine item, but it is more likely that they serve to remind us that the only cross-bearing that is worth anything is the sacrifice of Christ. For a believer, cross-bearing entails identifying with Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. Only in Christ's perfection do we stand perfect before God, only in his humiliation do we find acceptance.

Yet, as we stand at the foot of the cross we are changed, our values change. So, what are the consequences of committing ourselves to Christ and his humiliation on our behalf? There may be some downside: humiliation, limitations, troubles and the like. On the other hand, the upside is life eternal. Nothing that we may have to set aside in this world can compare with life eternal, and the alternative to life is judgment. So remember, the judgement is now - don't delay.


Consider a "soft on discipleship" criticism of the above exposition.