The Great Exchange
Have you ever stopped to wonder what impact Jesus’ statement had on the crowd and the disciples? What if you were in the crowd, would you have understood what was happening, what Jesus was talking about? Even today, with the benefit of having all of scripture, do we fully understand this exchange of life Jesus speaks of … The Great Exchange?
In today’s world we understand exchanging as giving something and getting something back of similar value. I can purchase something in a store, find it doesn’t fit or it’s the wrong colour and bring it back and exchange it for the right one. During the Christmas season that is upon us, many of us will be part of grab boxes or gift exchanges with our families or places of work. Bring a gift, get a gift.
But this exchange is not a small temporal gift exchange, this is the Greatest Exchange of all time. It is amazing to understand that God loves us so much that he would send His Son to earth, to live with us, disciple us and ultimately be sacrificed for our benefit, exchanging his Son’s life for ours. Jesus willingly did His Father’s will, but before he did, Jesus gave the crowd and the disciples a bit of a reality check.
In this portion of Mark’s letter, he describes Jesus teaching his disciples of how He would be rejected, suffer and die. Mark also recounts how Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him, to which Jesus responded (ensuring the disciples could hear) in vs. 33 “Get behind me Satan!” he said, “you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Until this time, the crowd and the disciples had witnessed his teachings, his miracles: feeding large crowds, the healings. It was EXCITING. But, now it was time for a reality check. Jesus gathered the crowd and the disciples around him and began to teach them. He lets them know he expects total commitment in a way that would be counter-intuitive to their human nature, as it is for us today.
Jesus starts by telling them “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves … “Jesus was telling us as potential followers to make the choice to renounce “self” as the guiding principle of our lives. To make the commitment to no longer be the captain of our own fate, but completely hand the wheel over to Jesus. Self-denial? Sacrifice? In a world that has become increasingly self-righteous, self-focused, self-exalting, and individualistic, self-denial and sacrifice have become repulsive words today. Jesus gives us this invitation - to turn from chasing after the futility of ourselves and this earthly kingdom, and exchange it for following Him and seeking His Godly kingdom. As followers, we go wherever He goes, to walk as He walks, to speak as He speaks, to believe as He taught, to give as He gave, and to do as He does. Our very ‘selves’ are to be crucified. Our very lives are to no longer be our own.
Take up their Cross
Stop and imagine for a moment what it must have been like for people living in those days to see someone literally ‘take up a cross’. For Jesus to say that whoever followed Him must “take up their cross”, it meant that they had made the decision to die completely to themselves. This word picture would have been shocking!
The Roman cross was a dreadful form of execution. When Roman soldiers dragged a convicted criminal, beaten and humiliated – out into the street to where a cross was placed, and commanded the criminal to ‘take it up’, it was because they were going to carry it to their death. To take it up would have involved a tremendous physical act and for that criminal, there would be no setting the cross back down. To “take up the cross” was to, with absolute certainty, take up one’s own death.
To take up the cross, means to follow Jesus even to the point of ‘crucifying’ our own desires, or our own plans, or our own purposes; even to follow Him to the point of laying down our lives for Him physically, if need be.
Jesus is not merely saying that we should embrace some particular trial or cause for suffering—as when we say, “Oh well; it’s hard to deal with this trouble in my life, but it’s the cross I must bear.” He’s saying something far more startling than that.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus' words here suggest an ongoing, every-day, continual, habitual reality of relationship. “Follow Me”, He says. In that, He means that we are to keep on following Him in a relationship of love and obedience—day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. As people who have died completely to self and have taken up their cross, is it possible for us to continually and obediently “follow” Him as He wants. How do we follow Him?
First, we follow Him in obedience to His Word. The Scriptures say “If you love Me,” He said, “keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
Second, we follow Him by submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit He has sent to indwell those He has saved. He said that “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Third, we follow Jesus by looking carefully to the example of His life and others who followed Him; and who lead the way for us. “Imitate me,” the apostle Paul once wrote, “just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Lose your Life to save it.
Jesus went on to say, “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” (v. 36). What a remarkable claim He makes upon us! What a tremendous choice He calls us to!
So, if we refuse to ‘deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus’; if we hold on to our own life as something so precious to us that we will not forsake it all and follow Him—then we will end up losing it!
But, if we lose our own “life”—for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of His gospel; if we are willing to lay down all that we are and have at Jesus’ call—then we inevitably end up “saving” our lives. That is a GREAT EXCHANGE!
Jesus asks; “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (vv. 36-37).
A growing number of people believe there to be no God, and humans are devoid of souls. Still others place a low value on our souls. In contrast, Jesus puts a high value on our souls.
What if someone counted things up, and found that it just costs more to follow Jesus than they are prepared to pay? What if they decided they wanted to cling to their own life and build it up as they wished, and got everything their selfish heart desired? It still would be a bad deal! Nothing—not even the whole material universe—is as precious as our souls. God has already told us in His Word that He plans to allow this present universe to burn up and be destroyed, and that He will replace it with a new heaven and a new earth. What a loss it would be, then, to gain the whole material universe—scheduled as it is for destruction—and lose one’s own soul in the process.
The Great Exchange – Gathering 2023
We have chosen Mark 8:34-37 and the theme “The Great Exchange” for The Gathering 2023. Our speakers and workshops throughout that weekend will help us come to understand that Jesus wants our total commitment, our whole lives. We live in a broken and changing world; not of it, but in it. How are we responding to the brokenness and lostness around us? Does it break our hearts enough that we are willing to reach into it? Are we relevant or at least willing to make changes to be relevant to share the Good News with those around us? Will we exchange our rights and our ways to be obedient to Christ, His leading and His path?
Leading up to The Gathering 2023 - The Great Exchange, we will be using The Recorder and other communications to further explore the leading themes:
Deny Yourself (November/December)
Take Up Your Cross (January/February)
Follow Me (March/April)
Lose Your Life to Save It (May/June)
Join us on this journey and may we be open to the transformation of God's love as we willingly deny ourselves and give our lives in obedience to him.
Acts 20:24 (NLT)
But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus - the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 59 No 6