Carrying Your Own Cross

March 12, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 8:31-38

1. "As for anyone who will follow after me, forsake yourself, carry your own cross, and follow me," (8:34). [This] is a well-known statement from Christ. But, we must take note that what is written before it says, "After that he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and spoke." Just before that, the text says Peter was reprimanded by Jesus. You could say Peter represents the disciples. This representative is scolded and anyone thinking "I am a disciple" so far was put in the same place as the rest of the crowd once again and heard the message of invitation. That's this scene.

2. This year will make the fourteenth year since I have been ordained a pastor. Since I've been baptized twenty-nine years have come and gone. That may seem long, but that's not a big deal in this church. In this church there very well may be a lot of people who have been Christians since before I was [even] born. But, whether you are somebody with a faith history of many decades or a person who has come to church for the first time today, you are standing in the same place and hearing the same message. The worship service on the Lord's Day is that kind of place. Today's passage of scripture brings this to mind in particular. Jesus is speaking in the same way to the person who has come to church today for the first time and to the person who has spent decades as a Christian. He is saying, "As for anyone who will follow after me, forsake yourself, carry your own cross, and follow me," (8:34).

As For Anyone Who Will Follow After Me

3. The Lord says, "As for anyone who will follow after me." Put another way, it is also a question addressed to somebody as, "Did you ever want to follow after me in the first place?" The important part here is the phrase of "after me." If I may mention why it is important, it will be because there is that item just before it of Peter being reprimanded. To begin, let's have a look at what happened there.

4. Jesus reprimanded Peter by saying, "Satan, back off from me." One should not think that he simply said this to Satan who was right behind Peter. The reason is the Bible clearly and factually states that he "said it in reprimand to Peter." The issue taken up here is this very matter of the way he was supposed to be, this person named Peter. The Bible here says, "back off from me" [in Japanese], but when translated literally this is the phrase, "withdraw behind me, get back behind me." It's strange Japanese, but to get to the point, he is not saying, "Go off somewhere else," he is saying, "Go right behind me." That means that Peter was not right behind Jesus but that he was in front of him. By his standing in the way in front of Jesus, he was no longer a follower, a disciple of Jesus. He was incorporating Satan into himself. Peter himself was turning into a person who hinders Jesus.

5. What does it specifically mean to say that Peter was not behind Jesus but before him? This demeanor is described as follows. "Then, Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him." This means he was not behind Jesus but before him, in front of him. So, why did Peter give Jesus a rebuking? [He did] it because just as it is written in the text before this, Jesus brought up these statements like, "I will be killed." That's why he rebuked Jesus with something like "Don't say things like that."

6. Let's keep looking in a more detailed fashion at the circumstances around this. At the beginning of this chapter is found the miracle narrative of Jesus giving bread to four thousand people. An event similar to that is written in chapter six as well, but there we're told it was five thousand persons if you counted only the men. Setting aside how he could have given them the bread, this type of record is narrating how the crowds of people surrounding Jesus and the disciples were becoming huge. That is, Jesus' missionary activity, the movement of the kingdom of God, was rapidly enlarging.

7. When his missionary work was enlarging like that, comprehending the crowd's understanding became an extremely important topic. In fact, the disciples did grasp the crowd's understanding quite accurately. When Jesus asked them, "Who do the people say I am?," they could answer right away. "They say, you are 'John the Baptist.' Besides that, there are some who say you are 'Elijah' and others who say you are "'one of the prophets,'" (8:28). They said this was the understanding of the crowd at this present time. Then, Jesus asked the disciples, "So then, who do you say that I am?" Peter answered as a representative. "You are the messiah." The other disciples' answers must have been the same, too. A blatant conceit was felt in Peter's reply. It was the conceit that we're different from that crowd. In other words, to the disciples the crowd was still a bunch of folks who didn't know what they were supposed to know and had to be indoctrinated from here on. The movement of the kingdom of God must not enlarge in that manner.

8. The disciples must have been intending to take on all the hard work they could for that such a purpose. As a matter of fact, I'm positive that a lot of hard work came along with the missionary activity as they traveled with Jesus; because it was a bunch just responding to the pushing crowds. Their toil was hard work for the purpose of the people's salvation. Of course, there's no denying that the disciples' aspirations to personal advancement was there in it because they were all the time quarreling over "Who is the greatest?" But, more than claiming it was for their own selves, fundamentally, the reason for their hard work was for the fulfillment of the messianic kingdom and for the people to be set free. It was a labor on behalf of the people's salvation. Since it was labor for that reason, they intended to take it on as much as they could.

9. Therefore, the words of Jesus were really hard for Peter to understand and take. Now that both Peter and the disciples have gone all the way to say that "You are the messiah," the Jesus under discussion commanded the disciples not to speak to anyone about him. Hey, there's no time for that. Jesus, who is supposed to be the messiah, brought up the subject of all things he could be saying that without any doubt he will undergo a lot of suffering, he will be rejected and killed by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes of the law. In essence, it sounded like everything that Jesus and the disciples had done, all the hard work, would come to nothing. Even though the movement was getting so large and many had followed Jesus, it would all come to nothing. Every single bit of hard work that he did with the disciples would all come to nothing. That's the meaning that seemed to be in Jesus' dying and ending out like that.

10. "You're joking me!" Peter must have thought like that in the bottom of his heart. Even though the things a totally selfish person has accumulated by working hard for one's own cause might blow away and come to nothing before one can blink an eye, it might be something one can deal with and accept. But, how do you deal with it when it is hard work on behalf of another? How about when it is hard work for the salvation of others? How about when it is hard work from love? When it comes to nothing, you're joking me, the heck with that! Who wouldn't think like that? Doesn't one basically think that the hard work done for others, done unselfishly ought to be rewarded? Doesn't one think it should bear fruit? When you hear something like this, you can't be silent any more. Peter couldn't stay behind Jesus. So, he got in front and in his way. He rebuked Jesus. Don't we understand Peter's feelings so much that we're sick from it?

Carrying The Cross

11. But, Jesus gave such a Peter a hard scolding. He said, "Satan, back off from me." What seemed to be the problem? Jesus went on to add, "You are not thinking about God's things but about human things."

12. That's how it was. Peter was not thinking about God. You can even work for other people's salvation and toil hard on behalf of love, and not even think of God's things at all, but think of only human things. What Peter and the other disciples have been doing they were able to do even without thinking of God's business, but thinking of only man's. It was probably a pretty tough job passing out bread while running around among four thousand, five thousand people. But, they must have done even that with joy. They were able to do it though not thinking of God's things, just thinking about man's. For, as a matter of fact, there have been a number of humanists who've exhausted themselves for others.

13. But, following after Jesus cannot be done unless one thinks about God's things. When one considers only human things, you will get in the way of Jesus. -- Do you wonder why?

14. Let's listen to Jesus' words again. Please look at verse thirty-one. "From then on, Jesus began to teach his disciples that the son of man will undergo a lot of suffering, he will be rejected and killed by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes of the law, and after three days he will raise from the dead," (8:31). I didn't touch on it earlier but, it is the statement that "after three days he will be resurrected from the dead" that is actually of decisive importance. Actually, strictly speaking, this translation is not accurate. Here it is written that "on the third day he will be raised from the dead." It is in the passive. He doesn't raise himself from the dead. His resurrection comes from God the Father. When Jesus died and everything turned to nothing, Jesus was raised from the dead by God the Father. Every deed of Jesus which seemed like it was for nothing at that time was alive through God. Even his death on the cross was alive. "Hard work doesn't simply bear fruit." God graciously grants life to that which is dead, to that which has come to nothing. The Son trusted totally that the Father would grant life, and because he did indeed trust him, he went the way to the cross.

15. Jesus put the act of following after him like that in this way. He said, "Forsake yourself, carry your own cross, and follow me." When you're carrying a hundred kilos of bread on your back and distributing it to others, that hard work may be rewarded by the people's thanks and smiles. But, the person given the penalty of death by crucifixion, even though he or she may carry a hundred kilo cross with all one's might and strength, will not be thanked by anyone for doing so. The hard work of cross carrying is labor that has no connection to rewards. It is hard work that has no relationship to a sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. The Lord says to carry that type of cross and follow me. You can't do that without thinking of God's things and thinking only human things. You cannot do it thinking only of the rewards that come from human beings, of the joy and of the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment that is produced from within a person. You cannot do it unless you think of God, of Jesus' resurrection, and our own resurrections. We cannot do it unless we believe that God will graciously grant us life.

16. Jesus invites us to think about God and not humanity, to forsake ourselves, to carry our crosses, and to follow me. Is it a harsh message? No, it is not. This is good news. Why is that?

17. We will understand it when we adjust to it realistically even a little bit. Is a labor of love always rewarded? Does hard work for others, the hard work itself, always bear fruit? No, it doesn't. Hatred may be returned for your love. Though you may exhaust yourself with all you've got, nothing may be rewarded out of it. Though you pile work on top of work for someone else, later nothing may be left out of it. At those times we will often grumble, "Oh, I'm a fool. Oh, I'm a loser. I'll never do that again." Yes, we do that, we grumble just like that whenever we are not thinking about God's things, but only thinking about human things.

18. But, Jesus, -- the one who was raised from the dead at the end -- says this to us when we're like that, "It's okay. You will take up your cross and follow. Take up a whole lot of unrewarding hard work and follow. Be at ease and follow after me." That's right. You shouldn't groan any more. You shouldn't grumble and complain "I'm a fool" or anything like that. You should follow after Jesus because that road continues on to the resurrection. When you think of God's things that path will always be visible to you.

19. Well, as I mentioned at the start, Jesus "called the crowd to him along with his disciples and " spoke. The disciples had to listen to this message as they stood on the same ground level as the crowd. It is the same for us here in this place. It is the same even for those with a faith history of many decades. No, much rather, just as they didn't understand it the best, the ones who were thinking, "We're disciples," pastors and veteran Christians with long histories may actually not have come to understand carrying one's cross and following [Jesus]. Passion season has come around this year, too. At this season, in which we remember the sufferings of Christ, let's get back to the basics of discipleship, I would like for us to think all over again of what it means for us to follow Christ.