Why Did Jesus Say “Pick Up Your Cross”?

Jesus Carrying the Cross

In Mark 8:34-9:1Jesus called the crowd to Himself, along with His disciples, and said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple, must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life, will lose it. But whoever loses their life for Me and for the Gospel, will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? If any of you are ashamed of me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, (then) the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when He comes in His Father’s glory with the Holy angels. Truly, I tell you, some who are standing here won’t taste death before they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power.”

I must admit, these qualifications have often caused me to wonder. Not the qualifications themselves, for such make total sense to me:

  1. Deny yourselves
  2. Take up your cross
  3. Follow me

But let’s look at #2 for a moment: “Take up your cross”.

Granted, much of what Jesus said was confusing to the people then, but for Jesus to even talk about the cross before first going to it is just odd to me. For until Jesus’ crucifixion, the cross was known as the most torturous, painful and humiliating way to be killed. And most often, only murderers, thieves, political threats and people with whom the Roman Empire wanted to set an example to others, were crucified. To hear something today would be like hearing “Strap yourself into your electric chair, (or the injection table)”. The natural response would be, “huh?”

So I’m wondering, since the gospels were all written after Jesus had already been resurrected and ascended into Heaven, if maybe this one was added later by Mark? I mean, obviously it was added later by Mark, for Mark probably wrote the gospel sometime around the time of Paul’s ministry, so obviously it was later, but I guess that what I’m wondering is if Mark may have either added, or just translated the cross’ mention, or simply included it as a means of emphasizing how to follow Jesus (#3)? For the next part after that, Jesus talks about losing and saving our lives for His sake.

On this also, I look at Jesus’ mention of “the gospel” in verse 35, for I had understood that the term (εὐαγγελιον) to have been a post-resurrection term. Also, theologically-speaking, there was no εὐαγγελιον (gospel) until Christ’s resurrection anyway. His resurrection was the “oomph”; the exclamation point; the season finale of the Old Covenant; the element that gives Jesus, His ministry, His mission, the Mosaic Law and everything from Genesis 1, meaning. It’s the spoiler to Revelation; the Word of hope, the “Good News” that we’ve all been waiting for, and now it’s finally here! But the curtain to the main event, so to say, wasn’t raised until Easter morning. So to call it “the gospel” before the main event makes me wonder if Jesus really used that word, or if it was added as a scribal commentary later?

Understand though, even if Mark did use a post-resurrection word pre-crucifixion, that doesn’t mean it has any less meaning, nor that it doesn’t apply. It just simply means that Mark explained Jesus’ words with emphasis that his Roman readers would best understand. And by mentioning the cross, his Roman audience needed no other explanation, for they knew what taking on such would require.

If you wanted to be Jesus’ disciple, it was imperative that you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. If you follow Him some ways but decide instead to live your life for yourself instead of for or under your Master, then you’ll lose your life. Check this out:

  • If you decide to live for yourself → you’ll lose your life.
  • If you live in order to gain the world’s favor → you’ll lose your soul
  • If you’re ashamed of Jesus and His Words in this life → Jesus will be ashamed of you in the New (next) life.

But

  • If you lose your life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel → eternal salvation
  • If you focus on God’s favor in this life → you will be favored by God in the next life.
  • If you defend Jesus / the Gospel against the world’s judgments → Jesus will defend you against God’s judgment.

Here’s the thing: Notice that just before Jesus brought everybody to Himself:

  • Simon had acknowledged Jesus as the promised Messiah. Before that:
  • Jesus healed and taught a blind man that if he wishes to continue to “see clearly”, that he must keep his focus on Jesus and obey what He tells him to do (which was to go home, don’t return to the village). Before that:
  • Jesus got into a heated discussion with some Pharisees who basically fit the profile of what Jesus warns us not to be like in verses 34-38.  Before that:
  • Jesus fed the 4,000 +
  • Jesus healed a blind man who chose to disobey Him
  • Jesus met a gentile woman whose faith was greater than that of His 12 combined
  • Jesus talked about defilement
  • Jesus asked who they say that He is, and Simon answered correctly.

But now, Jesus explains that it’s one thing to know, but it’s another thing to respond to what you know. If you don’t respond in faithfulness to Christ, then even your knowledge of Him is worthless.

The Bible says that even demons know who Jesus is and they acknowledge Him as such when commanded to submit to His authority. But they neither praise Him, nor do they serve nor live for Him. So to know is not enough. To acknowledge to yourself is not enough. Now you must acknowledge Him before others.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when Jesus calls us to take up our cross’, He’s bidding us to come and die. If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it. If you lose your life for the sake of Christ / Good News, you’ll save it.

Understand, losing your life for Jesus’ sake is not like the Muslim Jihad, where if they die in battle, they’ll receive eternal life. It sounds similar, but it’s not, for only Christ can promise eternal life. Plus, Muslims battle people of other beliefs (even fellow Muslims). Christians battle not people, but the evil spiritual forces that influence people, and these forces focus on concerns not of God.

To follow Jesus and be His disciple, our minds must be focused on God’s concerns, not the world’s.

Thirdly, I find it interesting that in verse 38, Jesus first mentions Himself in the first person, but in the 2nd part, the consequences of being ashamed of Him, He then talks of Himself in the 3rd person. I believe this is for the sake of emphasis (the serious offense of rejecting Jesus before others), as well as proclaiming His authority.

Remember, so far, all who recognized Jesus as more than a healer, noble teacher, or prophet were told to keep it quiet. Most likely, if He had revealed Himself before His trial, they would have either killed Him before the Passover, or made Him king. So to say, “I will be ashamed of you when I go into My Father’s Glory with all the Holy Angels” would have made many wonder and others push towards blasphemy.

Emphasis and Authority: By saying such though also puts Jesus and His Words in the position of divine authority. He’s claiming that either rejection of Him is the same as rejection of God, or that He’s so connected with God that by rejecting Him, God will reject us. Strong Claim! And to be claimed by anyone other than the Messiah of God would be a direct sin against God. For by saying so, Jesus is not only claiming connection with God, but claiming equality to God, or Godship Himself. If you reject Me, God will reject you.

So look at this: when people reject us and our message, they’re in fact rejecting Jesus/God → them = toast.

This is NOT to say that we’re anywhere near being equal to God, but that by knowing Christ, we’re also knowing God…fellowship with Him is that close. If somebody rejects God’s servants, they reject the Son, and also God.

So by mentioning Himself in the 3rd person, Jesus is proclaiming His authority, as well as the seriousness of His Words and that He was sent to them by God.

Now, what do we make of verse 9:1?

  • Mark 9:1 = Some of you will not die before seeing that the Kingdom of God has come with power
  • Luke 2:26 = Simeon: The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Messiah.
  • Me: I fully believe that Jesus revealed to me sometime in the past that He will return in my lifetime (He also confirmed this to me by telling the same to others who I know).

Simeon was old by the time he finally saw Jesus the baby.
How old will you or I be when Jesus returns? We’ll see. But until then, if we wish to be His disciple, we must first deny our selves, follow Him, and “pick up our cross’.”

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