But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 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 – Mark 8:33-34
The goal of Satan is to steal the identity of believers, hence, we live in a time the world is experiencing an identity crisis (Jn 10:10). In our post-truth culture, many have lost their true identity thereby searching for a sense of belonging to someone or something and Christians are not exempted. Truly, the state of the world and the church especially suggests we do not know who we are hence, the call to take up the cross. The gospel reading from Mark 8 for the second Sunday in Lent summons us to carry our cross, our identity in Jesus Christ as his followers. It is a call to discipline and discipleship in other to save our life without losing your soul. Steve Garnaas-Holmes explained that “the cross in Jesus’ day was not a logo or a metaphor…The cross was an instrument of pain, shame, absolute loss and death. It was a real weapon: the only way to, ‘take it up,’ was to become its real victim.” In following Christ in our cross bearing, we set ourselves ‘against the ideology of the world that oppressed and shackled God’s people, and against everything that hindered the in-breaking of God’s kingdom to come.’
Christians are called to cross-bearing in love and truth as our way of life and true identity. We can carry our church constitutions and gun rights and still loose our soul and body. Billy Graham carried his cross for 99 years and he testified to his cross identity by saying, “My home is in heaven, I am just travelling through the world.” His identity is higher than American identity. In a generation and culture that is full of people who are lost, a world where national identity and political tribes transcends our identity in Jesus Christ, Lent calls us to identity renewal, a summon to personal brokenness. In a culture that is –deep-rooted in divisions with racial and tribal identity driving our choices and demonising the others on the other side, God is calling us to take up our forgotten Christian identity beyond our democratic constructions and national identity.
Life as an unfolding story lived in the presence of God and the universe, lived in the presence of the people you love, the people you hate, the people who are casual acquaintances, the people who – generations from now – may not know your name and yet will somehow be affected by your cross bearing legacy like Billy Graham and Wesleys. To deny yourself is about self examination, honesty in the living and telling of our stories, denying the impulse to overlook the hard stuff, and realising that suffering and wilderness are part of every human story – even me and you.
In our contemporary culture which I called Peter’s culture that deny brokenness and pain, ‘we only imagine that grief, loss, betrayal, suffering, and death were things to avoid at all costs because they seemed to him to be, quite literally, God-forsaken.’ Just as Jesus rebuked Peter, to put down his sword for his cross, I believe God is saying to America to put down their guns for Jesus’ cross. The lesson is that in the cross God demonstrates that there is no place God refuses to go in the quest to love and redeem us. There was a way that seems right to Peter but not right as followers of Jesus. The way of the cross, is a way of brokenness. The gospel reading for today summons us to guard against the temptation to abandon the Way of the Kingdom to follow another “way”, an easier way, a false way. The question for you and me on this second Sunday of Lent is: ‘Which Jesus will you follow—the suffering Jesus who travels the Way of the Kingdom, or the glorious, triumphant Jesus whom the disciples want him to be?’
Jesus’ call for us to take up our cross is in expectation that ‘God is most clearly and fully present in the suffering and brokenness of the world. We are called to take up our cross by being honest about our brokenness and thereby demonstrate our willingness to enter into the brokenness of others. We are called to take up our cross because we follow the One who not only took up his cross but also revealed that nothing in this world, not even the hate and darkness and death that seemed so omnipresent on that Friday we dare call good, can defeat the love and light and life of God.’ To the young generation, God is saying, your identity is not from the latest fashions, trends or popular expectations from the peers. God is saying to the church and Christians generally, your identity is not just from your family background or national identity, your identity is from who you are in Christ.
Closing with the words of Apostle Paul, remember, Christ chose you and me before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation (Eph 1:1-13).
Prayer: O Lord help me to carry my cross and not to be ashamed of you and of your words in this adulterous and sinful generation in Jesus name.