Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
- Mark 8:34-37
This past fall, our household was joined by a new puppy. She is an American Bulldog-Boxer mix. Today, Zuri is nearly 7 months old. She is very friendly, loves to run, and play and is very smart, having learned many commands. Also, typical to her breed, she is stubborn! As we come out of the Manitoba deep freeze, she is graduating from walking and running on our acreage, to learning to walk on leash on the road with us. It’s a whole new world! So many smells, so much to see, so little time. Our little puppy, is now a barrel-chested, muscular, nearly 70lb pulling machine! The first week or so of leash training has been a workout. We are to be the pack leader, and she is to either be beside or behind us, following. Easier said than done. Following is really hard to do when there are so many distractions. Rabbits, squirrels, cats, other dogs, oh my, we could all be friends! I love watching Zuri run. She has such energy! But we also live in an area where big trucks, and tractors drive past our yard and the last thing we want is for her to run onto the road. ”Look both ways” is not a command she knows! But through all that, we continue to be firm, she is to trust us, to obey our voice and our commands; understand we are the pack leaders, and she is to follow, not the other way around. She’s learning and with practice she’s improving, slowly.
Following is not easy. Do we understand our masters’ voice, do we trust his path? How often are we like my puppy? Distracted by the things of this world, chasing our own earthly desires, stubbornly thinking we are in the lead and ignoring our Lord, our Savior, our King Jesus. Taking our eyes off the One who is the sustainer and giver of life.
When Jesus called the disciples to Follow Him, they did so, seemingly willingly. Matthew 4:18-20 tells of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”. Vs. 20 says, and at once they left their nets and followed him. A little further on, he did the same with James and John, they were mending their nets with their dad, and they dropped what they were doing and followed. Did they know the cost, did they know what following Jesus would come to mean?
The disciples had a front row seat to Jesus’ ministry. They were taught by him, ate with him, saw the miracles and watched as others followed him. For the most part, life was good, they didn’t always understand, but they were learning. Jesus was starting to send them out on their own, teaching, and performing miracles. All the while, the disciples were returning, sharing with Jesus of when it went well, and when it didn’t, and Jesus continued to teach them. So far, the cost wasn’t that high, yet. Yes, they had left their past lives, but they were filled with a new purpose, fishers of men, following the Messiah!
Then came the reality check. Jesus telling about being rejected, his death and resurrection, the fulfilment of God’s ultimate plan. The GREAT EXCHANGE. But Peter took issue with this. In Mark 8, it says Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. In Matthew’s account in Matthew 16:22 it says Peter rebukes Jesus saying: “Never Lord! This shall never happen!”. After everything Peter has observed, after everything he’d learned and experienced, what was he thinking? God’s plans did not match Peter’s plans, so Jesus must have gotten it wrong. Jesus met Peter with a stiff rebuke “Get behind me Satan!”. Mark 8:33.
For a moment, Peter was tugging on the leash, thinking he knew the way. Jesus’ correction was swift. Peter’s concerns were not God’s concerns. Peter was to follow, to sacrifice, to trust, to obey…God’s way, not Peter’s way.
Jesus then used this as a teaching moment with the rest of the crowd following him. Many of them had seen the healings, the miracles and the thousands fed. It wasn’t always going to be this way.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” - Mark 8:34-37
Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow me, you have to lose your life to save it. There is a cost. The Great Exchange was coming, did the disciples understand what was at stake? Did the crowds understand … do we? Do we understand the level of surrender Jesus is asking of those who want to follow him?
Following Jesus is easier when life is good and running smoothly; but what happens when life gets hard, when the distractions of this world come; pride, unforgiveness, discord. Then what?
How hard will you pull on the leash if:
If following Jesus means losing your reputation?
If following Jesus means losing your family?
If following Jesus means losing friends?
If following Jesus means losing your job?
If following Jesus means losing your life?
I’ve posed these questions before and I know they are jolting questions that some of you may have had to answer at one time or another. During Jesus’ ministry, he asked these questions quite regularly in various ways. He wasn’t looking for half-hearted, lukewarm commitments.
So, when we consider our willingness to “count the cost” of discipleship, the real issue is not the costliness of following Jesus—it’s our willingness to follow him regardless of the cost. How big or small the cost for each of us is not the point, because all of our life is to be surrendered to Him.
In the same way that I don’t want my puppy pulling on the leash, leading me, Jesus isn’t looking for us to compete with him. He is King Jesus, He wears the crown, he’s on the throne, not us. He is asking us to put our primary focus on Him and His way – surrendering our life for His.
This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 60 No. 2