Do you remember playing the game “Follow the leader” as a child? It is a simple game; One person is the leader, and everyone behind them is to “follow”. This often included marching, patting your head, hopping in line or whatever else the “leader” chose to do. Everyone always wants to be the leader, but there could only be one. If you were not the leader, you had to “follow” (imitate the leader) or be disqualified.
Being a disciple of Christ is a grown up game of “follow the leader”, with eternal consequences. We see Christ’s call to his disciples, and thereby to us, to “follow me” in today’s verse from Mark. This verse is surely familiar, so let’s take a look at it in a less common translation, to help us “rethink” our way through it. Here it is in the Amplified Bible translation: “Jesus called the crowd together with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].
Jesus asks 3 things of us. He asks us to deny ourselves, to set aside selfish interests. Have you or I ever had to say no to something we actually wanted to do? We said no because we knew it would be displeasing to God or that it was sin. That is “denying yourself”. He asks us to take up our cross, or be willing to endure the path he puts before us-no matter how hard that path may get. Sometimes, this may be an enjoyable path but other times, it may require endurance. Think of the apologist Nabeel Qureshi, who it appears will not be healed of his cancer, but is praying to have a strong faith to the very end. That will be true endurance. Have you or I ever had to “endure” something for Christ? He asks us to follow him, conform to His example-even if that requires suffering or death. Of course, for some people as we see in the middle East, being a disciple and following Christ has required their death. For us though, in the times and place we currently live, I believe we will mostly struggle with conforming to Christ’s image instead of the world’s, if we truly want to follow Him. We will be asked to be different, to choose to prioritize our lives differently from friends, like not staying out late Saturday night so we are awake and ready to worship on Sunday in church. Perhaps it might mean making a serious commitment to Bible reading daily that our friends would never choose to do. This is true following.
The fact of the matter is, we actually never stopped playing “follow the leader”, even though we are no longer children. Our everyday life is a real-life version of “Follow the leader.” The question is, are we our own leader, or instead, are we a follower, with Jesus as our leader, to whom we are committed no matter the cost?