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. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”Mark 8:34-9:1
This pericope comes on the heels of the confrontation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus had begun to teach that he “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” (Mk. 8.31). This was a affront to Peter because he saw Jesus as the prophesied Messiah (Mk. 8.29) who was to lead his people to a victorious rebellion against their Roman overlords and establish the Kingdom of God. How then could this Messiah claim he would suffer, be rejected, and be killed‽ Would this not cause a loss of confidence for his followers? So, the brash disciple confronted his master for his careless speech.
Jesus quickly rebuked Peter and inculpated him with setting his mind “not on divine things but on human things” (Mk. 8.33). Certainly, Peter’s expectation of the Messiah was not unreasonable (that was the common understanding), but Jesus was the Messiah! He knew with certitude what must happen to him and what he must do. What he must do is to go to the cross, suffer, be rejected, and be killed. Yet, it was only by giving up his life to the via crucis (way of the cross) that he received glory and honour as the true Messiah at God’s right hand.
Peter could not see that because all of us are quite naturally what the Reformer Martin Luther would call “theologians of glory.” We want to see God only in the glorious things of life but we do not “recognize… the crucified and hidden God alone.” Like Peter, we imagine following God would entail lives of honour and glory, not the ignominy and suffering predicted by Jesus. We desire to be glorified with the Messiah but we want no part in his suffering. Is it no wonder Peter quickly denied Jesus after his arrest?
Jesus warns us to give up our delusions of glory and embrace the via crucis, for it is only by giving up such expectations for our lives that we can follow Jesus faithfully through the ignominy and pain of being his disciples in a world that rejects him and his message. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1.18). Peter thought it to be foolishness, but after the resurrection of Jesus, he finally understood his message about the cross. He then suffered to proclaimed that message unashamedly, and eventually died for it, joining his master in glory.
May God grant us the boldness to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, and the joy to follow after him in the via crucis, so that when when he “comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” we too may join him that same glorious life.