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 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.” (Mark 8:31-38 ESV)
Have we glorified the cross to the point that Jesus words in this encounter no longer have any meaning for us? Bonhoeffer makes a point about the crucifixion that I know I haven’t thought enough about. Yes, there was physical suffering beyond anything I can comprehend. Beyond that there was rejection. That the leaders of the Jews rejected Jesus is no surprise. That the people who marveled at His teaching in the temple called for his crucifixion is a little surprising. That all the male disciples, except for John, ran away and hid is somewhat surprising, but not if we hear what Jesus says in this passage. Physical suffering comes in many forms and most of them have nothing to do with taking up our cross. We live in a fallen world and pain is a part of our existence. Taking up our cross involves making a choice to join with Jesus and leave the community of the world. This was incredibly scary for the disciples, as it is for many of us who claim to follow Jesus.
Just as Christ is only Christ as one who suffers and is rejected, so a disciple is a disciple only in suffering and being rejected, thereby participating in the crucifixion. Discipleship as allegiance to the person of Jesus Christ places the follower under the law of Christ, that is, under the cross. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I agree with Bonhoeffer, even though there have been too many times in my life when my actions or words have communicated to the world around me that I fear the rejection of the world and am ashamed of Jesus. I’m in good company, but that provides little consolation. Here is what Bonhoeffer has to say on the impact this had on the church in Germany.
A Christianity that no longer took discipleship seriously remade the gospel into only the solace of cheap grace. Moreover, it drew no line between natural and Christian existence. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This is the quote that really caught my attention. There was a time in our history as a country when it was difficult to distinguish American secular culture from American church culture. If you were an American, then you must be a Christian. American values became Christian values. What could get you rejected in a community was opposition to those common values. The cross to pick up had a chicken in every pot and two cars in the garage. Think about this, Jesus offered the world a cross at a time when the world understood what crosses meant. His community of followers grew at a rate that has never been seen since. We too often try to make ourselves look like the world to attract the world to Jesus. It should not be surprising that the American church looks more like the world around it than it looks like Jesus.
The cross is not the terrible end of a pious, happy life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I think this is what Jesus was saying in the passage that I opened with. What would our churches look like if the cross was the beginning and not the end?