“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
Chapter eight of Mark’s gospel is the hinge of his book and features a turning point. There, Jesus reveals to the disciples for the first time his impending death. Mark says Jesus spoke “plainly” about it and Mark himself is equally “plain” that the disciples didn’t get it – underscoring their denseness three times between 8:31 and 9:32.
Interestingly, while they focus on the “rising from the dead” part, Jesus focuses on the “dying” part. Nearly seventy years ago one writer penned these words: “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Dietrich Bonhoffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 99).
But the call is not just to die. It is also a call to live anew. We die to who we are, that we might become the likeness of our resurrected Lord. Yet, there can be no rising without the dying.