DAY 1 (Sunday of 2nd week)
PREPARE TO LISTEN. Be still for as long as you need, then pray: All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord. (Psalm 22:27)
READ: Mark 8:34-38 ‘Deny yourself and follow Jesus’
Because these few words have so much in them, we’re reading them again. Please scroll to previous day’s devotions for the Mark text and read it as if for the first time.
What it means to follow Jesus (the 3rd command in these verse) is highlighted in the first two imperatives. In the previous reflection we considered the 2nd imperative—‘take up your cross.’ Today we reflect on the first—‘deny yourself.’ This one is the center command for a reason. The only way we can take up the cross and follow Jesus faithfully is if we deny self.
We often think of Jesus’ command to ‘deny yourself’ in personal spiritual terms and so embark on practicing denial of certain personal desires. Which is precisely what some of us are doing this Lent—denying ourselves something we desire, such as chocolate, coffee, alcohol, whatever. Don’t get me wrong, I believe this is good for us. It can help us control inappropriate desires and even reveal an addiction in our life. But, we must ask: Is this all Jesus had in mind? Let’s be honest, most of us ‘give up’ something that costs us very little and certainly doesn’t threaten our lives.
Jesus’ command is much more radical than merely giving up some personal desires, as Ched Meyers (1991, p. 246) suggests. What Jesus demands could lead to physical (not merely spiritual) death, as is implied in verse 35. Obeying his command could threaten or lives. Jesus had already warned his followers they’d be hauled before religious and political leaders and would be commanded to deny Jesus and reject his teaching (see Mark 13:9-13) or risk their own lives. ‘Deny yourself’ meant taking the risk, refusing to deny Jesus. To deny yourself is to lose your life and thereby save it. Jesus states this in his paradoxical claim—those who save their life will lose it while those who lose their life will save it.
Denying self means saying ‘no’ to idols and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time. Idols aren’t merely visible images people make and bow down to. Idolatry is distorting the gospel of Jesus in order to make it conform to our particular views, whether political or religious. It’s idolatrous, for instance, to accept a political leader who promotes policies that are the antithesis of Jesus’ teaching—‘me first’ rather than servant of all; rejecting aliens rather than welcoming them in Jesus’ name; promoting self (or country) interests rather than others, etc. The call to follow Jesus is both radical and costly and may pit us against the status quo of popular political and religious opinions, making us unpopular. But, if we do stand up and ‘lose our lives’ we will discover we have indeed ‘saved’ our lives.
Perhaps what we need to give up for Lent are our opinions about the Christian life and what we think Jesus desires of us. Instead, sit with an empty screen and let Jesus write on it what it takes to lose our lives in order to save them, for his sake and the gospel.
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
May I live today, Lord Jesus, with the cross before me as a reminder to deny myself and not you by faithfully following you wherever it takes me. Amen.
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST, practicing denial of self and loyalty to Jesus.