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Self-giving: the only surefire way to save your life

February 21, 2023

Daily Scripture

Mark 8:34-38

34 After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. 36 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? 37 What will people give in exchange for their lives? 38 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One [or Son of Man] will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Daily Reflection & Prayer

We know the story too well to fully feel how Jesus’ words shocked his disciples. “They may not have thought of Jesus as a military leader, but they certainly didn’t think of him going straight to his death…. God’s kingdom, coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, will challenge and overturn all normal human assumptions about power and glory, about what is really important in life and in the world.” * And this isn’t optional. Jesus said, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves.”

  • Scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “Calling Jesus ‘Messiah’ doesn’t mean calling him ‘divine’, let alone ‘the second person of the Trinity’…. The disciples… were longing for a king. And they thought they’d found one…. In Jesus’ day there was a prominent temple in Caesarea Philippi to the newest pagan ‘god’–the Roman Emperor. A Messiah announcing God’s kingdom was a challenge to Rome itself.” ** What made this feel horribly risky to the disciples? Is it still risky today?
  • Jesus said his followers needed to “take up their cross.” At that time, only convicted prisoners did that! He added that if his followers were ashamed of him, he would be ashamed of them when he came in glory. Today you’re not likely to face a death sentence for following Jesus. What might make you ashamed of Jesus in the pressures of your daily life? How might you face a choice between “gaining the whole world” (or at least that raise or relationship) and following Jesus?

Lord Jesus, these verses remind me that you weren’t just a genial, mild-mannered storyteller. Give me the courage to take your call seriously, even in the different conditions of my time and culture. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Leawood's modern worship services, as well as at the West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

One interesting thing about today’s passage is where it falls in the Scripture. Earlier in Mark chapter 8, Jesus asked Peter who people said he was, and then, famously, who Peter himself thought he was. Peter responded without hesitation, “You are the messiah.” That’s when Jesus reveals to his disciples that his lot was to suffer and die—a far cry from what Peter expected of a Messiah. Peter pulls Jesus aside to correct him, and Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Knowing the full story as we do now, it’s easy to see Peter as somewhat foolish, working to distract Jesus from his true mission. Peter was waiting for the conqueror Jesus, but Jesus was instead going to be the sacrificial lamb—the antithesis of the conqueror many expected. In Peter’s defense, giving up your life to join a conqueror is understandable; giving up your life to follow a martyr is a much more risky endeavor.

Though it’s easy to see Peter as foolish, I wonder how often we also expect the conqueror Jesus instead of the martyr Jesus. I play in several of the worship bands, and it’s amazing how many worship songs use battle terminology. I grew up singing, “I’m in the Lord’s Army”—which is actually a leftover World War II propaganda song—but many worship songs today speak of God winning the battle, with some even talking of his empire overtaking all others. To be fair, there are numerous Bible passages that say the same thing, including some Psalms of praise. But I wonder how that reflects on our image of Jesus, and our image of ourselves reflecting Jesus.

I grew up in the Evangelical church, where battle methodology was the norm. We were always pushed to fight for our faith and defeat “the enemy,” who ironically usually wasn’t the devil, but was instead other people. Since joining the Methodist church in 2005, I’m very relieved that I’m no longer doing metaphorical combat drills, but I still see this methodology creep up in many parts of our lives.

If I ask whether we expect Jesus to be a conqueror or a martyr, I think we all know the correct answer; but if I ask whether we expect ourselves to be soldiers or martyrs, that’s a tougher question. We can proclaim Jesus to be a martyred savior, but if we’re marching on like soldiers fighting a war, it’s clear we’re going on with our lives as if Jesus is the conqueror. Many of us want to fight a war, and we want this world to be our battleground. But that’s not what Jesus did.

We so often look at everything around us as a battle to be won, where we are the force of good and the forces of evil must be defeated. But following Jesus’ example means choosing not to fight, and instead changing the world by giving and sacrificing so much of ourselves, as a whole group of people, that it hurts. As much as we want our bravery and ferocity to be what changes the world, what’s more likely to be remembered is our sacrifice and charity. That’s the part of Jesus’ message that takes true courage to accept.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Wright, N. T., Mark for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 111-112). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
** Wright, N. T., Mark for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 107-108). SPCK. Kindle Edition.