take up your cross: a sermon on a reading from mark 8

take up your cross

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

February 25, 2024

the reading

Mark 8:31-38

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

the sermon

We’re all delusional. Our story-seeking, narrative-loving selves just can’t be bothered with Truth.

We’re simply blinded by the false narratives we create in order to live in a comfortable world centered around our “hero” point of view.

But these worlds we create for ourselves can be dangerous places to live. They can foster negative thinking patterns, interrupt positive growth, and destroy relationships.

peter’s messed up thinking

Our Gospel reading today from Mark is a fascinating story with an interesting twist where Peter ends up getting the dreaded, “get behind me Satan,” rebuke from Jesus… all because of a false narrative he created for himself.

The disciples knew that Jesus was different. They even believed that he was actually the Messiah.

In fact, this story is also recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, and just before this is when Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”

And Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

After which, Jesus calls Peter “the rock” on which He will build His church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it!

So these disciples know what’s going on. They are living and walking with the Son of God. They have this front-row seat to watch what He’s doing in everyone’s lives, including their own.

But even they got stuck in the disease of better than.

Maybe it’s that they’re so convinced that nothing could possibly go wrong when they have God in the Flesh walking literally right next to them. But for whatever reason, they started creating their own internal narrative of what life in the Kingdom of God looked like.

So when Peter kicks back at Jesus for talking about the suffering He’s about to go through, it just doesn’t make sense to him. How could this even be remotely true?

Willful blindness is a legal term that essentially means you’re responsible “if you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see.”

Margaret Heffernan, a successful businesswoman, writer, speaker, and professor at the University of Bath School of Management in the UK wrote a book on this idea of willful blindness, and she says in her TED Talk on the subject

It is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large. We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs.

This is what Peter was struggling with! The idea in his head was of this incredible life now that the Kingdom was here. He couldn’t comprehend that there could possibly be any pain or suffering.

He’s witnessed too many healings, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, to think that suffering could be in the realm of possibility anywhere around the Son of God.

our messed up thinking

Don’t we do the same thing, even today?

We have this same kind of willful blindness in our lives with all sorts of things. But as it relates to our Christian faith, many people get stuck in the “I’m a good person” trap. I might argue that most of us carry at least some level of this ideal in our heads.

And it makes sense.

We look at what Jesus said about loving God and loving our neighbor as the two greatest commandments, and it’s easy to see how we quickly translate that into how important it is to be a “good person.”

The problem is that John 3:16 doesn’t say…

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever is a good person should not perish, but have everlasting life.

No… it says whoever believes in him.

That’s different.

And it hints at the willful blindness we have and the narratives we create in our heads about the Christian faith.

I’ll even take this to another level, perhaps an even more dangerous one.

The prosperity gospel is no gospel at all. The idea that your health and your wealth are connected to your holiness (and/or sin) is heretical, and promotes greed and self-advancement… which is actually dealt with in Jesus’s response.

what Jesus has to say about it

Jesus says…

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush here, at all!

This directly dispels any possible notion that life was going to be easy now that the King has arrived.

Not only did he reinforce the idea that he’d have to give it all for the sake of others, but that it would be the same for anyone who wants to be his follower.

He’s not looking to gather up all the people who just want a good and comfortable life.

He wants followers who are passionate about the things he’s passionate about (like peace, and hope, and justice), and who are willing to give their all to ensure others experience everything God’s Kingdom has to offer too.

what it means to take up your cross

But what does it mean to “take up [our] cross”? What does that really look like in our lives today?

It looks like self-denial. Sometimes we need to recognize that our own plans and desires may not completely align with God’s will. So we need to honestly examine our motives, and possibly lay down some things that we might want.

It might also look like embracing a life of service to others. Just as Christ did for us, it’s important for us to prioritize the needs of others, in big ways and in little ways.

It also looks like not living as a slave to sin. It’s time to break free from the shackles that keep you from living life fully in the freedom of Christ.

Then, it looks like imitating Jesus. Listen to the way he talks to people, watch how he handles challenges and difficulties. And then go and do the same.

And, focus on the goal, despite the cost. The Apostle Paul once said,

“I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)

Listen, this journey may not be easy. Jesus never promised that it would be. In fact, quite the opposite.

But it is worth it.

The closing hymn (for the Rite 2 service today) is #675 in Hymnal. It’s called “Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me.”

It was written by Charles William Everest, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Hamden, Connecticut, originally published in 1845 as a poem. Stirring hearts everywhere, it wasn’t long after that before it was adapted into a hymn used across denominations in the United States and in England.

I want to read it to you in its original poem format…

Take up thy cross ! The Saviour said,
If thou would’st my disciple be :
Take up thy cross, with willing heart,
And humbly follow after me.

Take up thy cross! Let not its weight
Fill thy weak soul with vain alarm ;
His strength shall bear thy spirit up,
And brace thy heart, and nerve thine arm.

Take up thy cross ! nor heed the shame,
And let thy foolish pride be still :
Thy Lord refused not e’en to die
Upon a cross, on Calvary’s hill.

Take up thy cross, then, in His strength,
And calmly Sin’s wild deluge brave :
‘T will guide thee to a better home,
It points to glory o’er the grave.

Take up thy cross, and follow on,
Nor think till death to lay it down ;
For only he who bears the cross,
May hope to wear the glorious crown !

final thoughts

I could honestly almost just close with that! But let me wrap things up with this final thought.

All of this is really about being intentional about seeing Jesus for who he is and where he’s at work in the world around us.

We need to be careful to not be blinded by our own ideas and creations of what it means to live a Christian life. And we need to seriously consider what it means to live the kind of selfless and dedicated life we’re called to live.

It doesn’t mean that we drop everything to become a hermit monk living in the desert. But a surrendered life is a glorious one, making an impact for generations to come.


May we shed any hint of our own willful blindness, so as not to create false narratives in our heads about what God’s Kingdom is supposed to look like. Rather, Lord help us to pick up our crosses and selflessly follow You into the glorious lives you’ve called us to live, that we may bring honor and glory to you, Jesus our Lord, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

take up your cross: a sermon on a reading from mark 8

by Dan King time to read: 9 min