The Expository Files



Mark 8:34-38

For our understanding and application today, here is one of the clearest statements of discipleship anywhere in the New Testament. It is packed with teaching each of us can apply, to be certain we are authentic disciples of Christ.

34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” - Mark 8:34-38

Whoever is meaningful as it reflects the universal scope of this invitation to be a disciple of Christ. Are you Jewish or Gentile in background? Male or female? What kind of sins have you committed? “Whoever” you are, you can believe in Christ, repent of your sins, obey Him and be His disciple, if you really want to.

“Desires” takes us to the heart of the individual; to the matter of choice and will. Do you want to follow Him? It is this simple: If you want to follow Him, you can, but you have to want to! The basic teachings of the bible about man and God are simple – and do not require lengthy academic analysis or theological positioning. If you want to walk away from sin, into a righteous relationship with God, you can. You can come to Christ. “Whoever desires…”

“Come after me” is the direct essence of this invitation. If you want to, whoever you are, you can come to Christ, come after Him and follow His perfect leadership. Now, it is “after” Him, not ahead of Him. You cannot walk your own way, and just have Him accompany you. You walk behind Him, live under His authority, that is, “after” Him.

Someone, hearing this much, might say: “Ok, I’m ready. But I am not ready to give full control to Him. I want to hold on to some control; I want to retain some independence, and sort-of see what this is like as I go along. I’ll make a partial commitment now and see how this works. Maybe I can do just a test-drive?”

No. Jesus said, “let him deny himself.” We often call this “self-denial,” and it is simply this – when you come to Christ, you come to Him completely; you give yourself to Him fully. If you are determined to affirm yourself, please yourself, exalt yourself and assert yourself, you are not ready to be a disciple of Christ. You can’t just “see if discipleship fits.” It is a full commitment of self to Him; no holding back.

“And take up his cross, and follow Me.” This is a stern demand, to be willing to suffer; self-sacrifice is the idea, even to the point of giving one’s life, rather than disobey or deny Christ. This is where many stumble, who want to find an easy way, a broad path.

“Unlike some contemporary peddlers of the gospel, Jesus does not offer His
disciples varieties of self-fulfillment, intoxicating spiritual experiences, or constant intellectual stimulation.” He presents them with a cross. He does not invite them to try the cross on for size, to see if they like it. He does not ask for volunteers to carry one for extra credit. Disciples must do more than survey the cross, glory in the cross of Christ, and love the old rugged cross, as beloved humans have it. They must become like Jesus in obedience and live the cross.” (David Garland, Mark – The NIV Application Commentary, #336).

The message here is, If you want to follow Christ, you can, but the requirements of discipleship cannot be dismissed or downplayed. Desire. Obedience. Taking Up Your Cross. Following Him in your daily life.

We may face the temptation to hold on to what we have here and become wedded to our worldly existence. When that happens, if we yield to it, we may in some sense “gain the world,” but we suffer the greatest possible loss.

Jesus is saying – If you try to hold on to what you have, you will miss what I
have to give you!! And when the final accounting is made, you will have gained the world, but lost your own soul! These are the words of Christ, describing to us the terms of being a follower of Christ. It is full commitment.

“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

This takes everything we’ve been talking about – to another level – of gravity. Removing the modifiers for a closer look: Jesus says – if you are ashamed of Me, I will be ashamed of you, when I come in glory. You cannot back away from Jesus now, then expect Him to be close to Him later! Better is Christ not being ashamed to call us His people (Heb. 2:11).

This is what we can be called An Eternal Imperative. Meaning – what you do about this now, has eternal consequences. I’ll pause again – before my wrap-up. You know – Jesus was just not welcomed by the sinful, unbelieving generation – the leaders who held power, especially. He was too unique, too big, too oddly shaped to fit into his contemporaries’ traditional pigeonholes.

The real Jesus – described in the New Testament – just doesn’t fit the modern idea of denominational religion, or secular religion or traditional religion. What we must do is – not try to make Him fit what we want . . . but take up His cross and follow Him.

“Jesus has many who love His Kingdom in Heaven, but few who bear His Cross (Luke 14:27). He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to suffer for His sake. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of His Passion. Many admire His miracles, but few follow Him in the humiliation of His Cross. Many love Jesus as long as no hardship touches them. Many praise and bless Him, as long as they are receiving any comfort from Him.” -Thomas a Kempis

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 20.1; January 2013