The best advice I received when starting a discipleship school was, “Under-promise—over-deliver.” I had already done some over-promising. We like to convince people with come-ons. Did Jesus do a sales job on you? He said, “In the world you will have trouble.” Doesn’t sound close to hype.

Peter wrote, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial…” Then why are we? Words about suffering seem to go right over our heads. We expect it to be easier than it is. Then when it is hard, it’s really hard.

Did Jesus mislead you? Did anything he say to you make you think of Disneyland? He consistently calls us to a life of self-denial and taking up our cross. Crosses are meant for execution. When he told prospective disciples to take up their crosses, they most likely grimaced. They did not smile. You do not form world-changers with a sales pitch. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that when Jesus called his disciples, he called them to come and die. We are more familiar with the cross of Christ than with our cross. In fact, he talked about ours at the same time he talked about his. But we know little about our cross. It’s for dying!

He also said that he would not only die but suffer:  “The son of man must suffer many things and be rejected…and he must be killed…” (Mark 8:31). After he said this, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him” (32). Why did Jesus have such a strong reaction to Peter? Because it expressed a philosophy that runs counter to the Gospel, an easy alternative to the cross, something more positive and inviting, something we would naturally gravitate toward. Then Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Note what he did not say: “If any man would come after me, he can expect to be blessed, happy, and rich.” Nor did he say that Christ died to give us a positive self-image and a good identity. It is not about you. Right from the get-go we are called to deny ourselves. That does not mean to deny ourselves things. We deny our selves. Notice that this is not aimed at the super-elite but for anyone who would follow Jesus. We know about the cross of Christ. We know less about ours.

Suffering comes to us not as an intrusion but as a gift. Paul, who founded the church in Philippi out of deep hardship, wrote his dear friends and said, “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (1:29).  People who suffer with thanksgiving grow hope, enabling them to go the distance. When it is about you, giving up is hard not to do. When you are on a self-denying mission, you can take a lot more.

Suffering was on the mind of Jesus. He talked about His return, then said, “But first he must suffer many things” (Luke 17:25). Suffering was not peripheral. He was called “the man of sorrows.” He admonished the men on the way to Emmaus who were discouraged by the loss of their friend, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Suffering was central to the whole plan. The young man Jesus “learned obedience through the things that he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Same for us. (Part 2 next).

This entry was posted in Cross.

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