He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Mark 8:34 (NRSV)
Now, as always, there’s some bad theology out there in which people are led to believe that following Jesus means that He magically solves all our problems, pays for all our stuff, and makes our lives all sunshine and rainbows.
The only problem with that is what Jesus really said, and what Jesus really did.
Jesus was born into this world, which is a place in which God’s Kingdom is here, but also is “not yet.” We go through trials to refine and build us. If we follow Jesus we are going to encounter trials and difficulties just as He did. The difference is that He brings us through those trials.
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
John 16:33 (NRSV)
On one hand we are part of the Kingdom of God as we were named and claimed by Him in the waters of Baptism. Yet it is interesting that in Mark’s Gospel Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and then BOOM- he was sent into the wilderness for forty days. (Mark 1:9-13)
If you follow Jesus it means, God names you, claims you, calls you Beloved, and He is well pleased with you- then He plunks you out in the wilderness to work out what that means.
God equips us for where He sends us, which is both a comfort and a challenge.
He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Mark 9:35 (NRSV)
He does not call us to sit around and be judgmental of others, or to pat ourselves on the back for stuffy and artificial moral prudery, or to play games with who is in and who is out. He does not call us to be anything we are not. He does call us to put Him first. Jesus says to us, follow Me- serve others, love others, be that light in the darkness.