Ready to die, but not on a cross.

August 14, 2016.

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
(Mark 8:34)

This past week at a bible study that the guys do on Thursday morning, my friend Jacob said something that I would like to elaborate on today. We were going over the end of Mark 8 where Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him for saying that He would suffer and die at the hands of the elders and chief priests. Apparently this news was not palatable for Peter (and probably for the rest of the disciples as well), and Peter was very confident that the plan that Jesus was describing to them was not the plan of God.

Peter is somewhat known for this type of rash speaking, but that doesn’t mean there was nothing to it. We see in the garden that Peter seems more than ready to fight and die for his master:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
(John 18:1-11)

For all of Peter’s apparent flaws, it’s hard to make a case that he wasn’t bold and ready to defend Jesus at all costs, even that of his life. So what was his issue? Why would this man, who indeed was ready to die for Jesus in battle, go on to deny Him three times as He was lead to His death?

Peter was ready to die, but not on a cross.

This might seem paradoxical, but I think it speaks to our own terms and conditions that we tend to place on our Christianity, even when we don’t realize it. Like many of the Jews at the time, Peter’s idea of the coming Messiah was one who would come to fight. One who would come to restore the kingdom of Israel. Though Jesus’ ministry had stood in stark contrast to this paradigm, the disciples still seemed to have the idea of a military Messiah in the back of their heads both during His ministry (Mark 10:35-45), and even after his resurrection (Acts 1:6). This was a concept they could all get behind. Sure, Jesus had opposed the Jewish leaders who had this concept, but that was just because they didn’t accept Jesus as Messiah, right? The disciples had, and thus they would ride to victory behind their King.

But then the unthinkable happened. Thier King, their Messiah, the One who had been sought after for so many years, was taken by an angry mob and lead away to be put to death. What’s more, He didn’t even try to defend Himself! I can see how very confusing this was for the disciples. I don’t even blame them for scattering (as was foretold). I can’t say that I would do anything different in the same situation. Yet we can (and should) learn from the actions taken here, and strive to be better.

This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the disciples, at least not fully. Jesus had clearly and explicitly told them this was going to happen. Moreover, we see from Mark 8 that Peter indeed understood what Jesus was saying, but was unwilling to accept it- even to the point of rebuking Jesus in a state of willing denial. The problem wasn’t that Peter was afraid to die for Jesus. The problem was that he was unwilling to die in the way in which Jesus had called them.

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
(Mark 8:34)

Crucifixion was a particularly humiliating execution. Though we today tend to focus on the pain and torture of the method, those in the first century seemed to focus on what they thought was far worse- the shame and humiliation of the method. Jesus was mocked, spat upon, stripped naked and shamed. His whole ministry and life was called into question by the sarcastic (yet ironic) words that hung above Him as He died. “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

The disciples fled because Jesus was pursuing the will of God in a manner that they didn’t want to do. They were ready to fight, to defend, to conquer. They were not ready to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Him. They wanted honor, not humiliation. They wanted to serve on their own terms. They wanted to die on their own terms.

They were willing to die, but not on a cross.

So how could this apply to us today? Not many of us in America are actually facing death because of our commitment to Christ. That’s not to diminish the martyrdom of Christians around the world that is increasingly prevalent. Christian’s prove daily that they are willing to die, even on a cross. But how do those of us who do not face this explicit choice examine ourselves to see if we are serving Christ on our own terms and conditions? Let’s examine three ways that we might say, “some of self, and some of Thee.”

1. Willing to serve, but in our own way. This one might be the one that hits home for the most of us. There are many, many christians in the world that are willing to serve Christ in some way, so long as it doesn’t [insert comfort zone here]. We might be willing to study, as long as it doesn’t take away from our recreational time. We might be willing to talk to someone about Jesus, as long as they seem to be receptive and there wouldn’t be tension. We might even be ready to call out sin, so long as it isn’t our own sin.

There are many ways that this point could be applicable to us personally, and there is no way that I could highlight them all. This is where you must take a personal look, a hard look, at yourself and ask “What terms and conditions do I put on my everyday christian walk?” The disciples wanted to follow Christ, but not to the point where they would have to follow Him to the cross.

Examine yourself. How far would you follow Christ? At what point is He asking too much?

2. Willing to endure persecution, but not without a fight. Pressing forward, I think this is a particular term that we as Americans place on christianity. We are willing to endure persecution, so long as we get to react to it. When we are persecuted, we almost want to take revenge. “How would you like it if you couldn’t ____?” “If we can’t do that, then neither can ____.” Even more, we feel the need to fight persecution because of the rights we have enjoyed for so long. Christians are called to “take a stand” or make loud rants on social media. We tend to attempt to be louder than our opponents because of the threat they are to us.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use the rights that have been given by the constitution to defend ourselves. That’s a discussion for another day. What I am saying is that we cannot become those who oppose us by acting like the world. When we are overly obnoxious or even vision in the public sphere, what does that say about christianity? How does the world see Christ if not through us?

This is not how the early church did it. The church was born in a time and culture that was much more sinful than the one we live in now. Yet the early church was told to be subject to the government (Rom. 13:1-7), honor the emperor (I Pet. 2:17) and live quiet and peaceable lives (I Tim. 2:1-3). So, we must ask the question, is this what we are doing?

Do we react to persecution on our own terms, or do we react in the way Christ did?

3. Willing to die, but not on a cross. Finally, we should look to the most literal application of this story to our lives. Are we willing to die in a humiliating way, if our death in this manner glorifies Christ?

There’s a song out right now that I like, specifically for these lyrics:

“‘I’d die for you,’ that’s easy to say
We have a list of people that we would take
A bullet for them, a bullet for you
A bullet for everybody in this room
But I don’t seem to see many bullets coming through
See many bullets coming through
Metaphorically, I’m the man
But literally, I don’t know what I’d do”
(Ride– Twenty On Pilots)

It is easy to say that we would die for someone. It’s easy to say that we would die for Christ. Often, however, I think we are more similar to Peter than we realize. Many christians could envision themselves dying for Christ on the battlefield, or in some honorable way. But what if we are called to die in a dishonorable way? What if we are shamed and humiliated? It’s hard enough to ask us to die in the first place, but what if it was in a way in which only few people saw it, and there was no honor involved whatsoever?

This point may indeed be lost on us, myself included, because it is very difficult for us to even fathom this possibility. However, there’s no guarantee that what seems like the impossible could very well be a reality within the next 100 years. Even if it is difficult to think about, I think it is wise to contemplate it for a while and really take a look at ourselves and what we would do if the time arose. Jesus asked His disciples to follow Him with their cross on their backs. He asked them to follow Him to, and through, death. But they were scattered.

These can be hard, uncomfortable questions. But Jesus asked His talked about this explicitly to His disciples. If we are disciples of His, we should not expect Him to ask us questions that are more comfortable than these. We should expect to be asked to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.

What would our answer be?

Suggested reading: Matthew 26-28, Mark 8, Luke 6.

Follow Him.

-Walter

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