A Christmas Reminder
Been pouring over According to Mark lately. Mark 8 is the key turning point in that Gospel. That observation is not unique with me. All agree that the focus of Mark's Gospel is on the cross. It will climax in Jesus' pronouncement in chapter 10 that he did not come to be served but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many (10:45). But it is in chapter 8 where Jesus first reveals to his follows that his Messiahship is not going to be a warrior kind of rule that would defeat the Romans and establish God's rule on earth. No, Jesus came to conquer much greater foes than Roman soldiers. He came to defeat sin and death itself. "The Son of Man must suffer," he said, "and be rejected and be killed and after three days be raised." Peter then rebuked Jesus because he couldn't understand how Jesus' death could be part of God's sovereign purpose and plan. So Jesus rebukes Peter and adds: "If you truly want to be my disciple, Peter, you have to deny yourself and take up your cross as I must take up mine, and you must keep on following me."
The cross is at the very heart of Jesus' Messiahship, and it is to be at the heart of our discipleship. That's the message of Mark's Gospel in a nutshell. It's the very essence of Jesus' teaching. Bonhoeffer puts it beautifully this way: "When God calls a man or a woman, he bids them die." There is a cross at the center of our Christian life. Moreover, it is only in denying ourselves, our self-centeredness, that we can discover ourselves. If you are determined to live a selfish life, you will lose yourself, says Jesus. But if you're willing to lose yourself, to give yourself away in the service of God and of others, then you will find yourself.
It might be that some of us need this reminder at Christmas time. Some of us are asking for a Christianity without a cross. But there is no Christianity without the cross. And what I need constantly to do is to read and reread Mark's (that is, Peter's) portrayal of Jesus' life, at the very heart of which is the cross. For both Christ and us, the very same principle operates: Self-denial is the only way to self-fulfillment. There will be no reign without pain, no crown without a cross, for suffering is the path to glory. Without Christ's suffering, and without ours, the salvation of humankind will not be accomplished.
Are you familiar with the name Calvin Stowe?
He was a professor of Greek at Dartmouth College. But he was best known for being the husband of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom's Cabin became one of the most poignant denunciations of slavery ever written. Once, when his wife was touring England, he preached to a large crowd on Anti-Slavery Day. He rebuked his listeners for being hypocrites. You are proud, he told them, because although you abolished slavery years ago, 80 percent of the cotton picked in America is bought by you English. Slavery would die out, he said, if only you would boycott its cotton. He concluded his message by asking his audience a simple question: "Are you willing to sacrifice one penny of your profits to do away with slavery?" The crowd booed.
You've heard me say this a thousand times before, but I believe with all my heart that unless we in America divert the majority of our resources directly to the 10/40 window, selflessly partnering with local churches there and encouraging indigenous missionary movements, another year will come and go and nothing will have changed. My mind boggles. How could we possibly fail such a calling. The most unreached areas already have a host of missionaries recruited and trained for evangelism and church planting. They are ready to do this work intercultural, near-culturally, and cross-culturally. Yet the majority of work is yet to be done. This Christmas, I am determined to move forward as never before, believing the Lord will enable me to send out many more workers into the ripe harvest fields of Asia.
At this season of the year, might I encourage you to seek the Lord and see if he's asking you to help support one or more of these native missionaries. With as little as $30 per month you can begin to help support one of them, sending them to an unreached village that's waiting to hear the gospel -- the "Wonderful News" that Mark mentions in the opening verse of his Gospel. What better way to obey Jesus Christ's directive to evangelize all the world (Mark 16:15)?
Messiah, Son God,
Break me of the need to busy myself pursuing a life of ease and a sense of self-worth based on my accomplishments. Make me secure in who you are and who you have made me to be. Teach me what it means to truly follow you, to take up my cross, and to deny myself. I desire to be characterized by generosity. Give me the grace to see the needs of the lost billions and to share with them the many good gifts you've given me.
In your holy name, amen.
December 20, 2020
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.