“Take up your cross and follow me.”
“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life[a] 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? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’”
A reading from the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 8, verses 31 through 38.
English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
Lent is a time of spiritual introspection, for examining ourselves, a time for teasing apart the cares and concerns for the stuff of this world and coming face to face with what really matters, our relationship with God in Jesus Christ, & our relationship with our neighbors.
In trying to keep a holy Lent let us consider that what we are a part of here is a religion yes, but it is more also a relationship.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a german theologian who was martyred by the Nazis, said that religion is perhaps the greatest enemy that Christianity has. “When Christianity is seduced into being nothing more than a religion, it loses the Gospel & turns its back on Jesus.”
I think that it is precisely that point that is being made in today’s Gospel. Jesus said that he would have to undergo great suffering, be rejected, killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite plainly and openly. Mark tells us that Peter rebuked him for it. Then Jesus rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
Jesus predicted that it would be the religious people of his day that would reject him, the elders, chief priests and scribes. It would not be the prostitutes and tax collectors, but instead the best, the brightest, the beautiful people, the people who knew all about religion.
No sooner had Jesus said this then the best and the brightest of the disciples rejected his words! And it was not because Peter did not understand what Jesus meant; it was because he did understand what was meant.
After Jesus rebuked Peter he said to him and the others, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself & take up his cross and follow me.”
Before a person would be crucified he or she would have to carry the cross beam from the place of imprisonment or torture through the streets of the city to the place of execution. Usually the streets would be filled with people, many laughing or ridiculing, insulting the person carrying the cross. To bear one’s cross was a public admission of one’s guilt. What Jesus was referring to when he said take up your cross and follow me was not just the moment of our death (though it was that), but it included the whole terrifying journey through the streets of life before we die,
In the early Church, the Apostles, Church Fathers and Martyrs took Jesus’ words very seriously. They took up their crosses and followed Jesus. Not only to glory, but to be crucified and die, naked and abused by the world.
The first Martyr, Steven, did great wonders and signs among the people. And because of his witness, his opponents, who were the religious people of the day, condemned him to death by being stoned. In the crowd that day was Saul, later to be called Paul, who would later take up his cross and follow Christ. Paul would be beaten, stoned, and abused many times on his missionary journeys. Eventually he would be beheaded in Rome.
The Apostle James, the brother of John, became bishop of Jerusalem and was beheaded by Herod’s doing.
According to Hippolytus the Apostle Philip preached and was executed in what today is eastern Turkey.
James the less, brother of Jesus, was stoned and then beaten to death with a club.
Andrew, Peter’s brother, was crucified in Greece.
Peter was crucified. Saint Clement tells us that this was only after he was forced to see his wife led away to her own gruesome death. According to Jerome, Peter was crucified upside down because he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
The Apostle Matthias was stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem.
The Apostle Jude is said to have been crucified in Edessa in 72.
The Apostle Bartholomew was beaten at length and then crucified in India.
Thomas, the one who doubted, was killed with a spear.
In response to his preaching of the Gospel, Timothy was dragged through the streets and beaten to death in Ephesus in 97 a.d.
Of the Church Fathers, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was fed to the lions at the Colosseum of Rome in 117 a.d. when Trajan was Emperor.
Before his execution, Polycarp was given the chance to recant his faith, his reply was: “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior. Bring forth what thou wilt.” Polycarp was burned at the stake, and finished by being stabbed to death around the year 155 a.d.
Justin Martyr was beheaded at Rome in l67 a.d.
Cyprian was beheaded in the year 258 a.d.
Chrysostom died while on a forced march to what would be his involuntary exile from the Eastern Roman Empire. His last words were, “Glory be to God for all things”
The list could go on and on.
It is serious stuff. And why am I telling you all of this? Certainly not because I want to send you away sad and depressed. Because THEY weren’t sad or depressed.
The book of Acts reports that as Stephen was about to be stoned he saw the heavens opened and saw the glory of God. His last thoughts were for those who were throwing the stones.
For the Apostles, and the church fathers, did not suffer and give up their lives for the sake of anything less than the Gospel, the good news of Christ crucified, dead, resurrected, and coming again.
Their concern was with the building of the Church, not church as a building but Church as the Body of Christ, a living spiritual organism. They were able to pick up their cross and follow him because what they had was not merely a form of religion. They had a relationship with the almighty God through his Son Jesus Christ. And because they knew what it is like to experience that relationship with Christ, they could endure the contempt, ridicule, and persecution of those who did not.
Jesus said in verse 36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”
This Second Sunday of Lent, the message to us is to turn away from the cares of the world. To abandon the false belief that our security lies in the material things of this world.
Ultimately we will all face our own cross, and what will matter will not be the things of this world, but our relationship with God the Father, with Jesus Christ, with our neighbor.
On judgment day all of our material things will matter not a bit. Our cars and boats, our jewelry, our degrees, our social standing, our houses, our fine buildings, endowments, trust funds, pension funds, all our money, the American way of life. It will all burn away. What will we have left?
Take up your cross and follow me, Jesus says.