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 (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.
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.”
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. 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.