When we focus on prosperity preaching we are only in entry-level Christianity. Jesus first teachings were entry-level. It was only as the cross drew nearer that his disciples were ready to be taught a more mature Christianity, taking up their cross and following him.
Let’s explore what Jesus meant by the message to “take up your cross.”
We will look at Mark 8:27-38 and the message of mature Christianity.
Mark 8:27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.” 29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” 30 But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. 33 Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” 34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Who do People say Jesus Is?
Jesus asked who people thought he was (vs. 27-28). The disciples replied John the Baptist, Elijah or a prophet. Today, according to Gallup, 80% of Americans believe that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Only about half of them hold the traditional belief that Jesus was God with us. Most of them also admired Jesus’ love, forgiveness, kindness and compassion. They also believe that Jesus was a strong and warm person, brave and sinless. Many believe that he was easy to understand, strong, practical, handsome, divine and not dictatorial. People believe that Jesus helps in difficult times, is a role model, compassionate and gives hope. Only 12% claim they make great efforts to follow Jesus' example, though 80% claim to be part of the Christian tradition and over 90% say that Jesus had some impact on their lives.
Who do We say Jesus Is?
Jesus asked his students who they said he was (vs. 29). Like Peter, most Christians would correctly call Jesus the Christ or Messiah, the anointed one. Many would understand that anointing was for his suffering and death on the cross. Too many would miss the real meaning behind calling ourselves Christians. Most would guess correctly that it means a follower of Christ, but would avoid like a disease the rest of that meaning. It means a follower of Christ who is willing to suffer like he did. In the self-centered and materialistic false gospel of health and wealth there is no suffering like Christ, there is no cross to carry. Peter did not want Jesus to suffer, but Jesus rebuked him strongly for it. Jesus’ example is one of totally giving up the self in order that others may live.
What are Jesus’ Two Messages?
So far, Jesus has only taught his disciples entry-level Christianity, his authority and power. Now it’s time for deep Christianity, his suffering and death. Prosperity preaching is stuck on Jesus’ entry-level message. We must make the transition to Jesus’ deeper, core message, his call to sacrifice for others. The greatest threat to Jesus was believers? Is the greatest threat to him today among believers? Are we just like Peter? Do we understand the message that Jesus is Messiah, but miss the message of taking up our cross? Do we miss the message that we are called to self-sacrifice, sent into the world to save the world and that means that we must follow him into suffering? This is our Christian calling: Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).
How do we Follow Jesus?
Do we reject Jesus too or do we truly follow him? He gives two simple steps to following him: turn from selfishness and take up our cross (vs. 34). Follow him! But, follow him where? He took up his cross and went to Calvary. Must we also go to our own personal Calvary? Our society tends to focus on self, either self-esteem or self-abasement. We are so selfish that even when we give we do it for selfish reasons. The cross teaches us that real life is not about ourselves at all, but about dying to selfishness in all its forms. Just as Israel’s leaders described Jesus as blasphemous and evil, so too do our national leaders call real Christianity a desecration of the nation’s ideals and wicked. Nationally, we are not willing to take up the cross of self-sacrifice.
May we Continue our Selfish Ways?
Notice that Jesus addressed not just his disciples, but the crowd in calling for a turn from our selfish ways. Though selfish politics, Hollywood, business and advertising may all say with one voice that we deserve to be selfish, the true Good News to any nation is to turn from our selfish ways. Selfish politics says let’s kill our unborn children and let the sick die without healthcare. Hollywood says let’s idolize fiction not love neighbor. Business says let’s idolize greed and not love neighbor. Much advertising says let’s pamper ourselves not love neighbor. Even many Christians are fooled by these deceptive messages. Jesus says let’s be unselfish (vs. 34-35). Trying to hang on to our souls is an expression presuming the life lived on earth. You will lose it is from an ancient expression meaning to trifle away our lives.
What Really Profits?
Words like profit, gain, loss and exchange (vs. 36-38) are business words that we still use today. They refer to Psalm 49 where those who trust in their riches cannot pay God enough to escape the grave. It is like trusting in the sand to save us from the flood when the only salvation is on the rock. The approval of the whole world cannot make up for the denial of Jesus and the Gospel. The approval of Christ is what we need for eternity. This world is summarized by the words “adulterous and sinful generation.” Many Christians would like to point to some other sexual sin because it makes them feel superior, but from the Ten Commandments to this day, adultery is the sexual sin most often mentioned. In the Old Testament disloyalty to God is also called adultery.
Where do we Find Mature Christians?
Entry-level Christians only know who Jesus is. Mature Christians have met him at the cross. Mature Christians carry their own cross. They sacrifice for others, loving their neighbor. They are feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty. They are hospitable to strangers and have a more welcoming attitude towards most immigrants. They give clothing to the naked and fight for the sick to get health care. They are at a local prison visiting prisoners. If they have an unwanted pregnancy they choose to give the defenseless life instead of death. They come to the aid of the helpless. They sacrifice for others. While others take advantage of them, they know their real inheritance is in God’s kingdom. These wonderful Christians have seen the cross and live it every day. They have learned what it means to live sacrificially.
Many will call Jesus Lord, but that alone is only entry-level Christianity. The cross teaches us mature Christianity. When we take up our cross of self-denial then we are truly following Christ.