Reading: Mark 8
(Context: Jesus continues to travel around in Northern Israel, where he heals many, and feeds 4,000 people with bread and fish. The “Great Confession” of Peter also takes place here, when he recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Ironically, this is followed directly by a “Great Deception”, if you will–he tells Jesus not to look for death. Jesus recognizes it as a plot from Satan. He emphatically declares that His mission is to do God’s will, and that includes denying His desires and His will, in order to fulfill God’s. God first, people second, the “me” last.)
Jesus has a phenomenal set of quotes at the end of Mark 8, let’s take a look:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38, ESV)
Jesus here, aside from encouraging His disciples to follow Him and lay down their lives for Him, is also declaring the life goal which He lived-out. He denied Himself the right of eternal glory and honor to become, for a time, as lowly as the lowest of humans, who hated, despised, and even crucified Him. He took up His cross, denying Himself the right to destroy His enemies in one fell swoop. And now He asks us to do as He did, to follow Him.
I would like to let this passage sink-in by sharing an excerpt on the martyrdom of Polycarp from Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley:
In the popular mind, the early church was above all else a noble army of martyrs. In many ways it was, and none was more noble than Polycarp [he lived from AD 69–155], the aged bishop of Smyrna in western Asia Minor [modern Turkey].
The authorities brought the highly respected pastor into the crowded arena, prepared to shove him to the lions–but only reluctantly. They much preferred a denial of the charge against him. He was a Christian.
“Simply swear by Caesar,” the governor pled.
“I am a Christian,” said Polycarp. “If you want to know what that is, set a day and listen.”
“Persuade the people,” answered the governor. Polycarp said, “I would explain to you, but not to them.”
“Then I’ll throw you to the beasts.”
“Bring on your beasts,” said Polycarp.
“If you scorn the beasts, I’ll have you burned.”
“You try to frighten me with the fire that burns for an hour, and you forget the fire of hell that never goes out.”
The governor called to the people, “Polycarp says he is a Christian.” Then the mob let loose. “This is the teacher of Asia,” they shouted, “the father of the Christians, the destroyer of our gods.”
So Polycarp, praying that his death would be an acceptable sacrifice, was burned at the stake.
The scene is real. It did happen (pg. 37).