Come and die…

4 September 2013

Last Sunday we came to a crucial and rightly famous part of Mark’s gospel. Jesus says,

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?

On the surface of things, Jesus is calling for self-denial; an idea which is nothing new. For centuries people have (and had) denied themselves particular foods and lifestyle comforts – often with some broad spiritual purpose (as many still do today).

But Jesus is actually saying something far more shocking: take up your cross and follow me. We forget what this really means, since this phrase – in the UK at least – has become watered down into a shallow way of dismissing life’s inconveniences; ‘I’m on late shifts all this week, but I suppose we all have our crosses to bear’ (and so on). But in Roman times, crucifixion – public death by public torture – was an abhorrent thing to talk about. The Roman statesman Seneca remarked that even the idea of crucifixion should be ‘far away’ from the thoughts of a Roman citizen.

What Jesus is saying is more like, ‘bring some rope to be hanged with’, or ‘bring an axe for your neck’: truly shocking. Come and die, and give your life to me. This is far more than mere self-denial; this is self-death. Self-death with suffering along the way. How can Christians call this good news? Because of the rest of what Jesus says:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?

In dying to myself and entrusting myself to Jesus, I gain life. Life that is really life. Life that is full of meaning, fulfilment, and joy – even in the midst of terrible suffering – on this side of death. And after death, life without suffering, disappointment, and death. Life guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus. Any other basis for my life will, in the end, utterly disappoint me: ‘whoever would save his life will lose it’.

 

This blog post was written by Dan Martin.