Throughout the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, often we see Him foreshadowing certain events that will soon be taking place. When He spoke of His impending death, His disciples never quite understood. Like every other Jew in the 1st century awaiting the prophesied Messiah, the disciples certainly would've expected that the Messiah would use military power to conquer those who were wreaking havoc on the Jews. The message in that day was ruthless, imperial, military power. Join or die, was essentially what the Romans had to offer. So this long-awaited King was to be the One to finally conquer the oppressing forces of the Romans!
BUT JESUS HAD A NEW IDEA.
He had a radical, subversive and counter-cultural way of spreading love and hope, in an era that used oppressive power. (It seems like the world today, too, right? Which is why the message of Jesus and the hope He brings is more relevant and so much more needed than ever.)
Let’s look at Mark 8. Here is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection. (It must be noted that this teaching came right after He predicted His death). This is also another prime example of a very counter-cultural teaching that would've rocked anyone in the day:
34 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. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
So what is going on here? Tons of things! But let’s just look at a couple. First, let’s look at how Jesus made a stark foreshadowing of His own death and resurrection, what that means for each of us, and how such a teaching like this would've completely swam upstream from the notions and practices of the day.
THROUGH DEATH THERE IS LIFE.
Jesus showed us that through death, there is life. What does this mean? For Jesus, in order for Him to rise again, and conquer the grave, He first had to die a very, brutal death on a cross. Jesus went from death to life. He was reborn, in a sense, through first having to die. So how does this find itself in Mark 8? Again, the teaching in Mark 8 is coming before Jesus would go on to die on the cross. It’s coming before He would ultimately rise from the grave. So, He is foreshadowing a beautiful concept here, that He fulfilled himself. When Jesus says to deny ourselves, or how we must first lose our life to find it, Jesus is teaching us the kind of death that we each first must die in order to find life: true, full, abundant life. This kind of life first comes through death.
WHAT KIND OF DEATH DO WE HAVE TO DIE?
Death to what? Ourselves. How? Death to pride, worry and stress. Death to control, selfishness and hate. Death to gripping too tightly onto an area (if not the whole) of our life, and instead opening up the clenched fists so we can let go, and let Him receive. When our hands are open, we’re in a posture to receive. To receive His comfort, His peace, His joy. To receive His guidance and to receive His love. When we die to ourselves, we find life. When we let go of trying to be lord, and let Him be Lord, we find life to the full. There is a death that we all have to die. It’s death to ourselves. Then, we will come to life and truly live.
Lastly, check out the weight of this teaching in light of a culture and time that was all about being the first; that was all about the first being the greatest; that was all about in order to be king, you better use your power over people. (Again, sounds a lot like today, huh?) What Jesus is saying here is completely subversive to what being great is all about in the world. Culture teaches be served. Jesus teaches to serve. Culture teaches hate your enemies and crush them. Jesus teaches love your enemies. Culture says that the first is the greatest. Jesus teaches “the first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Jesus’ words are forever timely because Jesus is the face of God in the world. His words are forever counter-cultural.
And so this begs the question: Are we truly living? Are we dying the death that we need to die so we can live the life that we are meant to live - life in the here and now. Jesus is inviting us into His kingdom. He is inviting us into a new way to live that will greatly help God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And all are welcome to this table. All are welcome to join this subversive, counter-cultural, “flip everything on its head” revolution.