My Inner Redneck
Pardon me while I channel my inner redneck. Back in my high school days back during a previous millennium and living in a small midwestern town, I loved me some Lynyrd Skynyrd. Yeah, I admit it.
These guys pretty much invented southern rock while they cranked out one hit after another. Sweet Home Alabama. Call Me the Breeze. And of course, Free Bird.
But my personal Skynyrd fave is a little ditty called Gimme Three Steps. It’s all about a dude needing to make a quick escape from local establishment after an encounter with a jealous boyfriend.
Did you know that the title of that tune are basically dance lessons Jesus gives His own disciples (Mk 8:35-38)? A commitment to Christ consists of three moves. Putting down your life. Picking up your cross. Following your Lord.
Gimme three steps.
Simple, Not Easy
Three simple steps. But don’t mistake simple for easy. And that’s exactly Jesus’ big point. Following Him won’t be easy. But it WILL be worth it. So VERY worth it.
If you’ve been following along in Mark’s bio of Jesus, we’ve reached a huge turning point here in chapter 8. Not surprising, it comes as part of another three pack. Noticing a trend here?
Another Three Pack
First of all, the radical Rabbi/Carpenter from Nazareth has finally admitted He’s the Messiah, the Hero from heaven everyone’s been waiting for (Mk 8:29).
Second, Jesus announces He’s NOT the kind of Christ the people are expecting. Instead of leading a revolution against Rome, He’ll wage war against sin through suffering, rejection, and execution (Mk 8:31).
Which brings us to point number three: The characteristics of a Christ follower. This is kinda like watching Seth Curry and the Warriors lettin’ ‘em fly in the NBA Finals. Splash!!
Before you think the crowd is just going wild watching Jesus drain threes, think again. His own righthand man checks the Lord and gets a hand in His face (Mk 8:32-33). Peter tells Him to stop all this death talk.
The next thing you know, Christ tells Pete that he’s playing for the wrong team and goes so far as to call his buddy “Satan.” Note to self, trying to hijack God’s agenda for my own purposes is a big mistake.
Rocky and the rest of the posse just don’t get it. It won’t be long before he turns his back on the Lord three times (yeah, another three…I told you it’s a running theme) and a rooster crows twice. At that point, Peter will know EXACTLY what Jesus is talking about!
A Deeper Lesson for a Larger Audience
Which brings us to Jesus’ three steps of discipleship. The Lord begins by assembling everyone. “Then, calling the crowd to join His disciples” (v34). Several big time Bible experts say Christ is turning His rebuke of Rocky into a deeper lesson for a larger audience.
Just who’s in this crowd? They could be the folks who followed at a distance when they left Bethsaida (Mk 8:22). They could locals from the villages near Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8:27). Chances are, it’s both.
Accepting All Comers
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Jesus makes it clear this applies to ALL of us! “If ANY OF YOU wants to be My follower…” (v34 emphasis added). It doesn’t make a hill of beans where you call home, your ethnic background, your financial situation, or religious tradition. If you want to follow Christ, you can. He doesn’t care what boxes you check. He accepts all comers.
Junk in Your Trunk
Maybe you’ve got your doubts about all of that. Maybe you think there’s no way the Lord can look the other way after what you’ve done. I’ve got news for you. VERY Good News. He’s a WAY better Savior than you are a sinner.
Don’t believe me? Did you know that Jesus’ top spokesperson in the First Century was a guy who used to arrest, torture, and kill the followers of Christ? I’m not making that up. Before he became Paul the apostle, he was Saul the assassin. If the Lord can forgive him, He can handle any of the sinful junk in your trunk.
A Spiritual Seal Team Six?
The other big idea here is that disciples aren’t some sort of spiritual Seal Team Six for Jesus. God doesn’t give you that label when He calls you up to the major leagues of faith. He makes it clear. To simply follow Him is to be a disciple.
The Lord’s previous announcement that He’s the Messiah who will suffer, die, and rise again was just for those closest to Him. This next announcement concerns everybody. He wants everyone to know what it will cost to follow Him.
NOT Seeker Sensitive
Jesus calls everybody in. Y’all need to hear this. He’s about to drop some very important knowledge. Everybody listen up. What He’s about to say is NOT just about more free food, another miraculous magic show, or the First Century version of a TED Talk.
What He’s about to say will probably clear out a good bit of the big crowd. I’m pretty sure no one would classify His announcement is seeker sensitive. You see, following Jesus may be free, but it does come with a cost. A cost with three moves.
Gimme three steps.
Step one. “You must give up your own way” (v34). Whatever was at the top of your life goals, cross it off. As a matter of fact, wad up that list and toss it in the trash. Then take out the trash. Bury the trash. And then bury the shovel.
The Greek verb the NLT translates as “give up” (Gr. απερνεομαι/aperneomai) describes to deny strongly, totally reject, and completely disown. It’s the very same word the Gospel writers use when Peter rejects Jesus not once, not twice, but three times in His hour of need (Mt 26:34-35, 75; Mk 14:30-31, 72; Lk 22:34, 61; Jn 13:38). Yup, another three.
A Kung Fu Grip
We can easily read step one as “reject yourself totally.” Let’s be honest. Most of us have a kung fu grip on our personal agenda. From the outside, we may look humble and holy but deep on the inside we’re constantly trying to manipulate our circumstances to get what we want.
My problem is that my hands are full. Full of myself! Jesus has something WAY better for me than what I think I want. He has what I really need. And God can’t put something better in my hands if I won’t put down all the crapola I’m carrying.
Crud Compared to Christ
Take it from the apostle formerly known as Saul. He spent most of his life building up a religious resume that he thought would impress everybody…including God! There’s just one little problem. He eventually discovers that everything else is crud compared to knowing Christ.
“I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared to the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ, and become one with Him” (Phil 3:7-8).
A Big Steaming Pile
Here’s a little something something you didn’t hear in Sunday school. That word Paul uses that’s translated as “garbage” (Gr. σκυβαλον/skubalon) actually describes a big, steaming pile. That’s what you’re carrying around. That’s what Jesus wants you to put down. So drop it like it’s hot.
Jesus Take the Wheel
This is what’s called self-denial. It’s never been a popular message but in our selfie-centered, look-at-me society, it’s not exactly trending on Twitter. At best, we might allow Jesus to be our co-pilot.
But Christ says we need to scoot over. “Anyone who intends to come with Me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am” (v34 The Message). In the words of the great theologian Carrie Underwood, “Jesus take the wheel!”
That brings us to step number two. Now that our hands are empty, the Lord has something He’d like to hand us. He says you can be sure you’re one of His followers when you “take up your cross” (v34).
“Take up your cross,” you say. Hmm, I wonder what this says in the original Greek. It means exactly what it says. Jesus gives His disciples the most gruesome form of torture and execution the world has ever seen.
Too Disgusting to Describe
We see the cross today as jewelry hanging on a necklace or sitting on top a towering steeple. But in Jesus’ day, the Romans used the cross as a brutal means of capital punishment for rebels and insurrectionists against the empire.
Did you know that Mark and the other writers of the New Testament never go into great and gory detail in order to explain the cross. They don’t have to. Everybody knows what it means. It’s WAY too disgusting to describe. It’s not something you discuss in polite company.
Dying a Criminal’s Death
Jesus models the ultimate in self-denial when He willingly accepts the cross. In a letter to his friends in Philippi, Paul quotes the lyrics of an early praise and worship song about Christ to get that point across.
“Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).
A Dead Man Walking
We can’t begin to wrap our brains around all that Jesus left to come to our rescue. He gave up His life in paradise in order to come and live ours. He took up the cross that was meant for us. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Mark alludes to the fact that the condemned would have to carry their own cross to their own death. It would be no different for Jesus on that bloody Friday (Jn 19:17). Is there a more grisly description of a dead man walking?
My Custom Designed Cross
But notice you are to “take up YOUR cross” (v34 emphasis added). Christ carries His own cross to His execution. We carry our own cross to our salvation. We each bear our own cross…not somebody else’s! God has one custom designed just for you and just for me.
In other words, each one of us faces our own specific burden when it comes to following Christ. Every follower can count on some sort of suffering as a result of their faith. But my cross is different from the one you carry.
The Hard Road Ahead
This is Jesus’ way of prepping us for what’s ahead. Just like He tells His team the night before His own death, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (Jn 16:33). It’s like a Gospel Google Maps telling us there’s a VERY hard road ahead!
But our Savior doesn’t simply say, “Yeah, good luck with that.” Nope. Just the opposite. “But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Sometimes your cross is extremely heavy. Sometimes it’s not so bad. But yours is nothing compared to the crushing cross Christ carried for you and me.
NOT a Lukewarm Latte
Let’s take a moment to talk about what taking up your cross DOESN’T mean. Can we be honest? Suffering is not something the followers of Jesus face much in the United States. At least at this point.
Taking up your cross is NOT when the barista gets your name wrong and gives you a lukewarm latte. It’s NOT being asked to work weekends. It’s NOT the government mandating unisex bathrooms.
Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters around the world are carrying unimaginable crosses. In many parts of the world, publicly professing your faith in Christ will get you tortured and killed. Instead of crying in our triple venti non-fat caramel macchiato, we need to be praying for those who are truly suffering for their belief.
Jesus Tips His Hand
One other point about Jesus’ mention of how you should “take up your cross” (v34). After describing His eventual betrayal, torture, and murder (Mk 8:31), Jesus tips His hand as to how it will happen. Crucifixion.
What’s the bottom line for you and me when it comes to this cross carrying business? I think the Message paraphrase of this verse says it best. “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it” (v34 The Message).
Jesus brings us to step three, “Follow Me” (v34). The idea here comes from a Greek term (Gr. ακολουθεω/akoloutheo) which literally describes traveling down the road together. We saw the same word earlier in the verse when Christ says, “My follower (Gr. ακολουθεω/akoloutheo)” (v34).
Following Jesus means walking the road of life with Him. We go where goes. We stop where He stops. We love who He loves. We do what He does. It’s NOT carefully following a complicated list of righteous dos and sinful don’ts. It’s following His example.
Hanging around the Savior
As we said before, disciples are regular folks like you and me. They’ve simply placed their trust in who He is, what He’s done, and where He’s leading. Disciples follow Jesus. They hang around the Savior. They watch how He lives and loves. Then they do it themselves.
Gimme three steps.
Not a March
There you have them. I love how Pete Briscoe calls discipleship a dance. Too many of us mistake it for a march. It’s not. It’s a dance. Following Jesus is like taking dance lessons.
The three steps are simple. One, put down your life. Two, pick your cross. Three, follow your Lord. Like we said, it’s simple but far from easy. But the awesome thing is that Jesus also gives us the strength to make those moves.
Bust a Move
As believers, Christ calls us out on the dance floor. It’s like at a wedding reception when the DJ plays a tune that gets the crowd going. Now that you know the steps, it’s time to bust a move.
Jesus says, “Go ahead. Gimme three steps.”