Many scholars teach that Mark’s gospel can be split into two sections… The first 7 chapters show Jesus in action… healing, teaching, traveling and performing miracles. We are now entering the 2nd half of Mark’s gospel where Jesus narrows his focus to the training of his disciples.
We see Jesus begin this hard work in his disciples, and just like us, they are blind, hard-hearted and not easily changed. As I mentioned yesterday, today’s passage begins a section in Mark that contains a pattern. We see Jesus predict his death three times. Each time, the disciples refuse to believe, and Jesus responds with a discipleship lesson. This section in Mark is book-ended by two episodes of Jesus healing a blind man… highlighting the disciples’ spiritual blindness.
Let’s look at Jesus’ lesson in Mark 8:
“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? (Mark 8:34-36)
This is the essence of discipleship… of being a follower of Jesus. He demands our all – our very lives. This isn’t just a one-time surrender. Rather it is a daily battle with the self. Will you follow your self’s desires or Jesus’? Will you walk in the way of self sufficiency and self satisfaction or will you give up your rights and freedoms to walk in the way of the Savior?
This battle is impossible to win alone. We need the power of the Spirit to do something as gut-wrenchingly hard as sacrificial obedience. But let me tell you something. Something that isn’t intuitive – that’s paradoxical and hard to believe unless you’ve lived it…
At the bottom of the deep well of obedience is inexpressible, unquenchable – JOY. A joy that is other-worldly and powerful. It wraps you up in its warmth and lifts you effortlessly. It sustains you and fills you in a way that following your own will can not. But it takes work to find it…hard, painful sacrificial work. “Is it worth it?” you might ask… Oh yeah. It’s worth it.