Today’s Focus Text: Mark 8:27-38
By Chuck Griffin
Like most preachers, I tend to mention God’s grace a lot. This makes sense; the fact that God loves us despite our sinfulness serves as the basis of salvation.
Grace is a heart-warming joy. We need to remember, however, that while God gives us grace freely, grace is by no means cheap, having been purchased at a terrible price.
Grace comes to us primarily through Jesus Christ, of course. In Mark 8:27-38, Jesus speaks in no uncertain terms about its price.
Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter has the good sense to declare Jesus to be Messiah.
Jesus then begins to teach his followers exactly what this means. As Messiah, Jesus must suffer, be rejected by religious authorities, be killed, and rise from the dead.
Peter cannot stand it. He goes so far as to rebuke Jesus for saying such things.
“Get behind me, Satan!” is Jesus’ response. “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Despite his moment of brilliance, Peter has proven to be wilfully blind to the cross in Jesus’ future. Informed of the cross, he still refuses to see it. To Peter, half the story is better than the whole story; he wants the joy of Christ’s presence and power without the pain required to redeem the world from sin.
Even after hearing Jesus’ teachings on this matter, the disciples still refuse to understand. They never understand until after Jesus’ resurrection.
Modern Christians, myself included, are so often like the pre-resurrection disciples that I want to cringe. We like grace and the warm, secure feeling it provides us. Now, if we could just avoid the idea of the cross.
It’s particularly difficult because Jesus spoke not only about his own cross, but the cross his followers must bear, too. Our cross usually proves to be more metaphorical, but we hardly find it more pleasant to consider.
But can the requirements of a Christian be any more clear? “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus says, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
When Jesus says “deny themselves,” he is telling us to set aside our own worldly interests. When he tells us to take up our cross, he is telling us to make God’s will, the establishment of his kingdom on earth, our top priority.
Such thinking turns our lives upside down. Suddenly, even our own well-being does not matter so much as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbors as if their interests precede our own.
Fortunately, such thinking also turns the world upside down. And the more we think this way, the more visible God’s kingdom becomes.
We may even learn to like our cross, understanding it to be the proper response to the sacrifice Christ made on his cross.
Lord, show us our crosses, and may we bear them in gratitude for the eternal life we have received. Amen.
The editor of Methodist Life’s Lifetalk blog will be on vacation through the end of October, so the blog will be on hiatus, too.