Mark 8:31–38 (NRSV)
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
Suffering. Rejected. Killed. Rebuke. Peter called Satan. Deny. Take up a cross. Lose.
So many emotionally charged and difficult words in a few verses. And at the heart of it is Jesus’ defining word on how to be a follower. Discipleship is not for the faint of heart. And it was never meant to be that way.
Part of the reason I believe discipleship is crafted as a high bar endeavor is that discipleship, in the end, is about drawing close to God. And to draw close to God…you need to get close to God. I know that sounds like double talk…and it is in a way…it is also truth.
Jesus says deny ourselves because he knows that if left alone to our own desires (what we want) and devices (how we want it), we will lead ourselves not to abundant life but something akin to “it’s a good enough existence” at best. Peter in the above passage is a prime example of how quickly our desires and devices can get us sideways with God’s path.
Difficult, yes. I would say impossible by design.
It drives us away from our own strength and instead drives us to God’s. Discipleship is only possible with the help of the Spirit of Christ working in us through faith. It’s not about working harder – it’s about trusting more completely.