(A devotion based on Mark 8:31-38 for the Second Sunday in Lent and for Youth Sunday at First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald)
Here at First Baptist Church the second Sunday in Lent falls on the Sunday that we are observing Youth Sunday and therein lies something of a challenge for this middle-aged (Middle-aged? How many 100-year-old people do you know?) preacher and pastor: how to balance my wonder and amazement at the beautiful and promising lives with which our young people are gifted with my need to speak to them the truth of the gospel about what makes for a truly spectacular life—because that gospel truth is ironic.
Here is that truth, as spoken by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (vv. 34-35).
And here is that truth, as expounded upon by the late New Testament scholar William Lane: “Jesus stipulated that those who wish to follow him must be prepared to shift the center of gravity in their lives from a concern for self to reckless abandon to the will of God. The crucial thought in self-denial is a disowning of any claim that may be urged by the self, a sustained willingness to say ‘No’ to oneself in order to be able to say ‘Yes’ to God.” (Gospel of Mark, p. 307)
We are during this Lent season travelling with Jesus along the road to the cross; Jesus had at this point in his walk set his face to go toward Jerusalem and that meant that he was heading toward his crucifixion and his subsequent resurrection. In the church we tend to talk a lot about the fact that Jesus laid down his life and that he had to carry his own cross and it is all true; he laid down his life and he picked up his cross because he knew that was God’s way for him. When we talk about Jesus doing those things we tend to talk about how he did them for us, and that is true, too.
But there is another truth that we don’t talk about enough: here on the road to the cross there is a baggage allowance for we who are the followers of Jesus; there are things that we have to put down and leave behind and there are things that we have to pick up and carry with us. Jesus told us: if we want to follow him, then we must lay down our lives and we must pick up our cross.
It is a truth that is for all of us, young and old and middle-aged, who would be followers of Christ—the Christian life is a life that is first of all about loving the Lord God with all our hearts and that is second of all about loving our neighbor (and everyone is our neighbor) as ourselves; the Christian life is a life that is not about seeking what is best for us but rather what is best for others; the Christian life is a life that is not about craving security but that is about seeking sacrifice; the Christian life is a life the value of which is not measured by what we can gain but that is measured rather by what we can give up.
On the road to the cross we don’t carry our selfishness and our agenda and our plans with us; we instead carry our love and our sacrifice and God’s will for us with us. That is the baggage allowance on the road to the cross; that is the baggage allowance on the road to resurrection; that is the baggage allowance on the road to judgment.
So to our youth and to all of us I say, “Will you lay down your life and pick up your cross?” If you would follow Jesus, you will. If you would have the kind of life that really matters, you will. If you would have the life that leads to eternal life, you will.