Written By James Bunyan
James Bunyan is a bit of a fidget, to be honest. His inability to sit still tends to spill over into all sorts of areas of his life: he loves travelling, good writing, all sports (except Frisbee), the sense of purpose that the gospel gives him, exotic teas and the satisfaction of peeling off a sticker all in one go. He lives in Twickenham (London), where he works as a Christian Union staff worker for UCCF: The Christian Unions, a student mission movement, and he recently married his best friend, Lois. That was a good move.
Having decided to follow Jesus while away from home studying at Edinburgh University, Matt was looking forward to sharing his new faith with his family.
They didn’t react as he had expected.
His parents’ reaction was, at best, cool. “We hope this doesn’t mean you’re going to stop taking your studies seriously,” they commented. His sister laughed at him and told him that she had been through that phase once, whereas his brother reacted angrily and told him that he was becoming a “judgmental jerk”.
Over time, their scathing comments subsided, but what came after was even more difficult to face: their pity. They were constantly suggesting better ways for him to spend his time—than at church—and it reached a point where they would take the car on unnecessary journeys on Sunday mornings, just so he wouldn’t have it in time for church.
It wasn’t long before Matt was wishing he hadn’t told his family. Actually, maybe he should never have started following Jesus at all. This wasn’t what he signed up for. Was it?
If we want to believe that being a Christian will make our lives easy, we should probably avoid reading Mark’s gospel. In fact, the reason Christians throughout the centuries have found Mark comforting is his brutal honesty. He teaches that if we want to be a Christian, there will always be people who oppose us.
And why believers will suffer opposition gets really obvious when we get to the heart of Mark’s story at Mark 8:22–9:1. There, as Jesus takes a break on His journey to Jerusalem in order to gather His closest followers, we get to overhear a couple of truths He wants to teach them about the persecution they will face one day:
1. Jesus has been there
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…”—Mark 8:31
Jesus suffered opposition. Because this would surprise His disciples, Mark tells us that Jesus told them plainly about it three times before it happened. And, somehow, when Jesus was eventually arrested, it still managed to catch them all unawares.
We often fall into the same trap as the 12 disciples, in that we forget that not everything was easy for Jesus. As the rest of Mark’s gospel shows, Jesus was rejected, mocked, betrayed, abandoned, isolated, judged, and executed by the people He came to save. Therefore, Jesus is not only someone who can sympathize with our sufferings, but He is also someone who actually went through a lot worse than we ever will.
2. Jesus tells them to expect it
“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 8:34
If that sounds painful, we’ve understood it correctly. Christians seek to follow a guy that people hated enough to kill. For this reason, Jesus told His disciples that anyone who follows Him will have to deny themselves (cease putting themselves first), take up their crosses (follow Jesus even to the point of death), and follow Him. It seems that opposition is part of the package of being a Christian.
This may not sound encouraging, but in a way, real opposition can be a confirmation of our identity as belonging to Jesus. Plus, there is the comfort of knowing that, in suffering for Jesus, we stand within the rich heritage of a Church that has endured all kinds of persecution for Christ’s sake.
Now, we could be forgiven for wondering where the Good News in all this is. We may be wondering with Matt: “If it’s this hard to follow Jesus, what’s the point?”
Well, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He also gives Matt three reasons why persecution is worth enduring.
- There is much to gain
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” —Mark 8:35
The gains are massive. If we hold our own life and priorities lightly enough to trust Jesus, we will actually be doing the most eternally sensible thing we can do. We will be entrusting our eternal destiny to the only one who is eternally qualified to guard it. Put like that, it’s a no-brainer.
Notice that Jesus says that the cause for which Christians suffer is Himself and the gospel. Christians don’t suffer for the sake of it but suffer opposition to prove the truth of the gospel, the Good News about Jesus. Yet, they’re not just suffering for the sake of abstract truth; they are doing it for King Jesus Himself, a King kind enough to reward His own wonderfully. And the Bible is clear that if we’re prepared to follow Jesus to death, we’ll also follow Him into His resurrection.
And when we realize all this, the cost seems tiny.
- There is little alternative
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” —Mark 8:36
Jesus is happy to talk straight. There is an alternative. We don’t have to suffer opposition for Him if we don’t want to. In fact, we don’t have to follow Him at all. We could live for ourselves and have a life full of reputation, money, power, comfort: everything the world has to offer! But if we don’t follow Jesus, we’ll die at the end of it. Because Jesus is the giver of life, if we don’t want Him, He’ll take back what’s His. And what’s good about that?
- If we don’t yet, Jesus will help us see that opposition is worth enduring
“Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” —Mark 8:25
This part of the Bible starts with Jesus healing someone from blindness. Mark is saying that our big problem is that we can be blind, unable to see who Jesus is and what He offers. It can be really difficult to see that following Jesus is worth it when it’s blocked by a cost in front of us.
Jesus is in the business of helping people see clearly.
If, like Matt, you find it difficult to believe that following Jesus is worth it, then you need to ask God to do the same in your life as He did in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. He will open your eyes to Jesus’ majesty and the joy of following Him through anything.
Because, I promise you, it is worth it.