Tara Beth Leach

Oh, how He loves us.

Misery or Discipleship?

Posted on February 8, 2013 | 4 comments




Sounds like a recipe for misery, doesn’t it?  These are not what dreams are made of, unless you’re talking about nightmares, not the American dream.  These three words play into some of our biggest fears, even my own.  Truth? I have an unhealthy fear of rejection and suffering.  We are taught to seek acceptance, avoid suffering, and climb the top of the ladder into leadership.

What if I told you these three words might be linked to Christian discipleship?

I have to be honest, just a few months ago I studied the Gospel of Mark and it ruined me.  At the heart of Mark’s Gospel is a very radical thread of discipleship.

Today, the word “discipleship” might mean many different things to different people.  Discipleship to some people might mean an 8 week bible study after one becomes a Christian.  To others, discipleship means Sunday school or some sort of program and some might see it as a lifestyle.  What do I think? I think if you love Jesus, and submit to Him as your King, then you are called to live as a disciple.

The portrait of discipleship in the Gospel of Mark is deeply embedded in the Christological understanding of Jesus.   Hold up, the Christowhat?  Christological.  Basically, it’s a fancy way of saying “Jesus’ own understanding of himself.”  How did Jesus view his mission? His purpose? Himself?  Jesus’ understanding of himself directly impacted his call to the disciples.  In other words, if Jesus believed he could jump over the moon, he believed his disciples could do the same.

Everything Jesus taught in the Gospel was intended to make a deep abiding impression on the Christ follower to live a life of radical obedience and discipleship.  This portrait is clearest in Jesus’ discipleship instructions found in Mark 8:27 – 9:1, Mark 9:30 – 9:37, Mark 10:32 – 45, also known as the “Way of the Cross” teachings.  These teachings express Jesus’ own Christological understanding and the direct application to our calling as disciples.

The Gospel of Mark begins with a bold claim of Jesus’ role in God’s coming reign here on Earth (Mark 1:15).  Jesus places himself as one who has ultimate authority and power which calls the follower to live a life of submission, obedience, and allegiance to Him as king.  This immediately sets the tone of urgency in the Gospel where Mark presents a narrative of Jesus as the one who calls all who follow him to join in his mission.  This is evident in Mark 1:17 as individuals respond to the call of Jesus and follow in his footsteps and inviting them to become “fishers of men.”  All throughout the Gospel, Jesus calls disciples to share in His mission in which was distinct in being a disciple of Jesus[1] (compared to the teachers of the day)  (Mark 6:7).

Mark begins and ends the Gospel with the Christological title of “Son of God.”  This title was probably not much of an issue for the audience as many did not oppose Jesus as divine.  Many of the readers accepted Jesus as a miracle maker full of knowledge and power.  Another Christological title used by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is “Son of Man.”  Jesus is not only divine but is the representative human figure for all humans.  This is the same title used in Daniel 7 and is seen as a figure who will be raised and vindicated before the ancient of days through suffering.  Mark’s Christological title, “Son of Man” is used as a corrective Christology for those who could not believe Jesus would suffer on the cross.

In the confession of Peter and the first passion narrative, found in Mark 8:27-9:1, Jesus warns his disciples to be prepared for suffering and rejection.  In this passage, the disciples come to knowledge of Jesus as Messiah, however, they are drawing all the wrong conclusions by assuming they will achieve extraordinary success in this world and be given considerable honor.

Sound Familiar?

There seems to be a false notion in the American Church that a life with God should equal extraordinary success.  We seem to think that just because we love Jesus, he should give us wealth, health, and astonishing achievement.

Not so fast.

The disciples’ failure to understand the nature of Jesus’ Christology causes Jesus to flip their understanding upside down by a series of predictions.  Jesus repeatedly proclaims that just as he must suffer, die, and face rejection, so must they.  The Christology of Jesus here leads the disciple to a deep abiding call which ends in suffering. James Dunn writes, “To follow Jesus necessarily involves following him and to the humiliation and suffering of the cross; disciples must be prepared to lose that which is of irreplaceable value to them – their very lives.”[2]

Another important point in discipleship which is deeply rooted in the Christology of Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, is service.  Jesus poignantly proclaims in Mark 10:41-45, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve.”  So then, we can ascertain that being a disciple calls for a life of radical service to God and others.  We can also see Jesus putting forward his own sense of vocation and priorities in the narrative recorded in Mark[3].    The Kingdom lifestyle Jesus requires is one of a servant.

We can conclude the Christology of Jesus as intimately connected to suffering, rejection, and service.  Jesus requires all disciples to “pick up their crosses,” and follow him in the same path of suffering.  This, of course, is radically opposite of American Christianity.  Many in the American Church assume they are exempt from suffering.  We are geared as humans to look for the easy way out.  When faced with the storm of suffering, we tend to point the finger at God in anger and frustration.  As a result, we miss out on the deepness of trust, the strength of endurance, and in turn reap shallowness.

Here’s what I’m wrestling with: What does this look like? What should this look like? I would love your thoughts.


[1] James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003)Page 557.

[2] Dunn, page 562.

[3] Dunn, page 560.


  1. John Howard February 8, 2013

    If I have read this right.. I honestly have struggled with this thoought myself for awhile.. But in a selfish way… I know that God has called us to pick up our cross, and that He WILL lead us into the wilderness, we WILL have to face the crucible, we WILL have trials…. what has bothered me is that because we have such a weak culture when it come to suffering we also have a week culture on our churches as well. To many people give up when faces with the hard choices. If god is loving then he won’t make me feel this way, or go through all this pain. It can’t be God’s will if it hurts this much… Its when we go through the crucible and our faith is put on trial that we face the choice of growth or giving up… to many seem to be giving up. So the selfish part for me… I have fought as hard as I could through depression, loneliness, monetary bankruptcy to stay on course. Not that I haven’t made mistakes…. and fallen but I have not Given up… And it ticks me off when I see people just give up and do whats easy and walk away… I do believe discipleship means you have to count the cost, be willing to go through the fire to be purified, pick up your cross and count it pure joy when facing trials… Again Just sharing my feelings.. I am not sure I have any intellect to share

  2. Trent February 8, 2013

    Very well written, especially because it closely relates with some of my experiences. The fact that you mentioned “picking up our own cross” gives a great picture of how he tests us and makes our faith real and how he makes our faith strong. I especially like the way that you describe how some people see i, and how some people after not quite understanding it, lose faith. This post, Tara, helps to explain that sometimes we just need to stay with him for him to make our faith unbreakable. Goes great with some experiences that i’m going through, and i’m sure, so sure that this will show to those on rocky ground with their faith that God is still with them, and that he’s just trying to make their faith stronger. Great post Godmother!

  3. Jaclyn February 8, 2013

    First of all, I think I feel smarter reading this. I learned a new word. “Christo-what now”. :-) Second of all, I’m not sure if you have heard of the book I Declare by Joel Osteen, but I want to throw it against a wall. He basically promises material wealth and favor for Christ-followers. A friend of mine I’m trying to bring to the church is really into it, so I’m using it as a stepping stone for conversations with her. anyways. besides the point.

    As an American, I’m RICHLY blessed. I’ve basically won the lottery, especially as a women living here. I understand my version of “suffering” is vastly different than someone else’s. However, sometimes my suffering is an internal struggle. Although I love my job and work, I’ve waited almost 2.5 years for any kind of raise. As HR, it hurt even more processing raises and promotions for others without seeing one for myself come through. I felt mistreated, used, betrayed… but I was able to turn this to God and felt that I learned a bit of the world’s unfairness in the experience. I thought of countless others throughout history and living around the world today who are treated unfairly and unjustly. I remembered that God is my Savior and refuge and strength, not my boss and paycheck. God used my “suffering” to sharpen my focus onto him. It helped me get through it, and use the experience to deepen my faith walk. So, in some little way, I think that counts for something. :-)

  4. admin February 9, 2013

    Thank you for the great comments! I am thrilled that people are engaging with this. Jaclyn, I have heard of that book by Joel Olsteen. It’s a lot of hogwash, really. I have a lot of problems with the “health wealth gospel.” I am so glad you’re connecting with a friend about it!!!

    We are surrounded by a lot of stuff in America…good stuff. Crazy…..

    John, Jaclyn, and Trent, so glad God is teaching you lessons through suffering! Those moements are no doubt hard, but refining times.

    I appreciate your comments! Will say a prayer for all of you!!

    PS – John – You are MORE than Smart/academic to comment on this! Don’t sell yourself short!

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