2. Take Up Your Cross: Mark
Living a sacrificial life as a disciple of Jesus comes from first embracing His sacrifice for you
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
In most religions, gods stay at a distance from humanity, needing to be appeased with service or acts of devotion. The existence of such another god wouldn’t be big news. But Mark is bursting at the seams with excitement regarding what he has to share about God! With an almost breathless eagerness, Mark showcases in his Gospel who Jesus is and what he has done. At the heart of his message is the one, true God who came not only to serve humanity but to sacrifice himself for them.
Mark’s Gospel is composed from the eyewitness accounts of Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples. With Peter, however, the reality of a sacrificial savior did not at first sit right.
Peter could champion the displays of power at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. Jesus was bringing God’s kingdom, confronting evil and cultivating restoration. Jesus was doing something big, healing people and performing miracles!
But then, Jesus lets his disciples in on the climax of his earthly mission. He explains that he is going to suffer, face rejection, die and then rise again. Peter quickly rebukes Jesus, thinking he’s saving Jesus from humiliation. In Peter’s mind, God’s promised Savior is a king with great military strength who will defeat the Romans and liberate Israel from their rule! But Jesus cannot be deterred. He is resolved to sacrifice himself, and he claims that anyone who wants to be his disciple must do the same. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me,” Jesus says (Mark 8:34).
Shortly before his death, Jesus practices Passover, a Jewish tradition that celebrates Israel’s liberation from slavery through the sacrifice of a lamb. With his disciples, Jesus reinterprets Passover to be about him: he is humanity’s liberator from sin and death through the sacrifice of his own life.
After the conclusion of this meal, Mark records that Jesus is “grieved to the point of death,” knowing the anguish that lies before him. He cries to his Father, “Remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will (Mark 14:36).” Jesus is ready to take up his cross.
The Jewish religious leaders arrest Jesus and put him on trial before the Roman government. Jesus is accused, tortured, mocked and hung on a cross. While he has the power to free himself, he surrenders his strength.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries out with his final breath, and then he gives up his life (Mark 15:34). A Roman soldier declares, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” At last, someone who recognizes that at the heart of God is his sacrificial love.
Those of us who recognize the crucified Jesus as our king are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps and sacrifice our lives for others. But this new way of life doesn’t come naturally to us, does it?
Peter understands our struggle. When Jesus was being interrogated and tortured, someone asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’s followers?” Afraid that he might face condemnation if he was associated with Jesus, Peter denied Jesus three times.
But Peter was not rejected by God because of his denial. After Jesus’s resurrection, Peter accepted Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf, and his previous denial made him all the more grateful and passionate about God’s love and forgiveness in his life. Peter went on to be a leader in the early church, sacrificing his life to share the Gospel with others. As we see through Peter’s story, living a sacrificial life as a disciple of Jesus comes from embracing His sacrifice for you in humble gratitude.
RESPOND: Take a moment to ask God to give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice, that you might follow in his footsteps.