The call to follow Jesus as Messiah is a not an easy one. It is a costly and challenging invitation. Why? The call to follow Jesus is a call to die to self and to take up one’s cross. Then, and only then, can one truly began to follow the Messiah. We would be wise to hear and heed the heart-cutting, soul-penetrating, life-giving words of the Messiah Himself:
“If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34b-35, HCSB).
The radical call to follow Jesus only makes sense in light of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. In other words, apart from the person and work of Jesus, the call to live a selfless and sacrificial life sounds a bit scandalous, counter-cultural, and altogether, impossible for one to live out in his or her own strength or wisdom.
It is important to note that Jesus’ call to follow Him comes right after Mark 8:27-30 and Mark 8:31-33—two important passages that share a light on the identity and mission of the Messiah.
In Mark 8:27-30, we see Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (v. 27). After the disciples respond by stating the various opinions of the day, Jesus goes on to ask them directly, “who do you say that I am?” (emphasis added). Peter, standing up and speaking on behalf of the group, expressed the following: “You are the Messiah!” (v. 29). Peter got the right answer, but he—along with his fellow disciple buddies—misunderstood the Messiah’s God-given mission (at least during His first coming).
The predominant Jewish belief in regards to the Messiah was that he was to be a military/political leader, whose very coming meant the liberation from Roman oppression and the restoration of Israel’s kingdom.
But the Messiah had something else in mind. His primary purpose was not to bring about Rome’s demise, or the restoration of Israel’s earthly kingdom for that matter, but to bring about spiritual restoration. If this spiritual restoration was not going to come through military conquest, then how exactly was this going to be accomplished? The second passage will give us insight to this question.
In Mark 8:31-33, we read that Jesus began to teach His disciples the real purpose for His first coming. What was it? Mark puts it this way:
“Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days” (v. 31).
The Messiah was supposed to suffer and die? That cannot be right. This was God’s great plan? Yes, that is correct. Jesus taught His disciples that He must suffer and die at the hands of Israel’s religious leaders. This is what the disciples did not understand, let alone believe. The Old Testament alluded to the Messiah’s suffering (look at Isaiah 52 and 53, for example) but the majority of the people—including His disciples—was not able to discern what this meant.
Jesus is, as Peter exclaimed, the Messiah and His God-ordained task was to suffer and to die. But it did not stop right there. Jesus was going to rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus was going to conquer the grave through the resurrection. And this was the way in which He was going to bring about spiritual restoration to His people.
God, through the person and work of Jesus, was restoring people to a right relationship with Himself. And this was only made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Having said all of that, the call to follow Jesus, then, is a call to restoration; a call, indeed, to life—but life through the way of the cross. The call to follow Jesus is a call to be restored and to be part of the kingdom of God. For this, one must, as mentioned above, deny himself, take up one’s cross, and follow the Messiah.
But this is hard. We would be fooling ourselves if we say otherwise. It is our natural tendency to be self-centered. Jesus’ call to follow Him is a direct attack at our selfish nature. Jesus’ call to abandon our selfish way of living does not only sound outrageous and unappealing, but also foolish and out-of-this-world crazy, especially in today’s self-absorbed, self-obsessed society.
A call to die is not an easy pill to swallow. But following Jesus is also a glorious call. How? The fact that Jesus gives an open invitation to follow Him as Lord is an expression of God’s amazing grace. When was the last time you and I saw the call to die to self, take up our cross, and follow the Jewish Messiah as an expression of grace? But this is exactly what it is! The call to follow Jesus is an opportunity to experience the undeserved grace of Almighty God.
Many Christians today can testify that choosing to follow Jesus as Lord has been the most important decision they have ever made. The truth is one cannot be drawn—by the power of the Holy Spirit—to accept and follow the Messiah and not have his or her life radically transformed.
To follow the Messiah is—as challenging as it may sound and be—the single, most important, heart-changing, worldview-shaking, spiritually-satisfying, and life-transforming decision/commitment one can make in life.
The invitation is open. The call is challenging, yet glorious. Let’s follow Jesus as Messiah for the glory of God and for our joy. Amen.