#6 in the Series “All I have Commanded You”
Primary Text: Mark 8:34-38 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
In his book The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis describes a scene in which a man with a lizard on his shoulder comes to the gates of heaven. The lizard is constantly whispering in the man’s ear, trying to get him to make selfish and sinful decisions. The man meets a great Angel (who in the story represents Jesus). I was so touched by the scene that I wrote a dialogue between Jesus and the man. Allow me to share what I wrote:
Jesus: Can I touch your pet?
Lizard: No! Don’t let himmm touch mmee!
Man: Why do you want to touch my Lizard, Lord?
Jesus: Because I want to kill it.
Lizard: He isss getting tooo close! Don’t let him near. He hurtsss usss! He hurtsss usss!
Jesus: Does the Lizard treat you so well that you would want to protect it?
Isn’t it true that it mostly represents suffering for you?
Man: Yes, it is true. It is a big weight.
Lizard: Masster! Sweet Masster! I know that I have been mean to you, but I love you with my whole heart. If you will get me out of this one, you will sssee how nice I can be. Help! (she makes noises as if her mouth has been covered over)
Jesus: I can free you from it for ever. But I need your permission.
Man: (with anguished voice) But it has been with me for such a long time. If you kill it, you will kill me. I also feel the heat from your hands.
Jesus: I will not harm you.
Lizard (with covered mouth) ufnomfmmm!
Man: So you promise that it won’t hurt?
Jesus: I didn’t say that it wouldn’t hurt. I said I wouldn’t harm you.
Man: You’re burning me! Look, it went to sleep! You know, I don’t think it will trouble me any more.
Jesus: You know very well that if I go away, it will wake up and it will control you forever. Let me kill it.
Man: I think I can understand what you are trying to teach me and I am going to be able to dominate it myself from now on. So, you see, it is not necessary to kill it.
Jesus: That is not true. You will never be able to dominate it on your own. Let me kill it.
Man: Wouldn’t it be better to do this gradually. Can’t you deal with it a little bit at a time? At least let me think it over a little while.
Jesus: Gradually will do no good. You have to give it up now, otherwise the Lizard will be your companion, your only companion for a whole eternity of suffering. Let me kill it.
Man: (crying) Go ahead! Kill it, and kill me—I’m just a miserable loser. I’m better off dead.
Man and Lizard: (screaming) ¡¡¡¡¡AAAAAAAAAA!!!!!
Jesus: My dear son, it’s all through.
Man: It is? But what is this on my shoulder?
Lizard (in a voice changed and softened) I am your friend.
Man: But you aren’t a Lizard, you are an eagle.
Jesus: It’s a transformed Lizard. When you give me something, I kill it, but I also raise up something which is transformed.
Man: You aren’t ugly. You’re beautiful.
Jesus: So beautiful that the eagle can go with you right to heaven. Man, I will no longer be visible to you, but the eagle is a reminder that I will always be with you in spirit wherever you go.
This is the halfway point in the development of our image of the wagon wheel as a representation of the entire teaching of Jesus. The rim of the wagon wheel is Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness—the idea that we willingly submit to God’s will for our lives and our world. Spokes 1-4 are as follows:
- Ye must be born again--surrendering our lives to the Lordship of Jesus means that we are transformed, both initially and constantly.
- Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect--in which the compassion that motivates God’s every action also becomes our prime motivator.
- Forgive your brother from your heart--we do not allow our hurts to fester, but are committed both to asking forgiveness as well as to offering genuine forgiveness.
- Love one another as I have loved you--sacrificially, in joyful humble service, disinterestedly, and in having others tell us the truth about ourselves.
In John 10 Jesus says that He came that we might have life and life abundant. This fifth spoke is the narrow gate and the narrow way that lead to that life abundant.
Jesus had told Nicodemus that “ye must be born again.” Now he tells his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” This is not a one time event. Luke records the same saying as “take up his cross daily.” Jesus says in his own apparently contradictory style that the way to abundant life is daily death.
As selfish human beings we tend to have a different idea of abundant life than Jesus has. I would like to think that abundant life is pain-free, worry-free, and disappointment-free. Abundant life for me involves getting what I want and more than I want, and I want my religion to tell me that God will give me the desires of my heart ( I want Psalm 37:4 part b, but not part a!). But Jesus wants to radically transform those desires. He wants to give me a desire for meaningful existence instead of a desire for a comfortable existence, He wants to give me a desire to give great gifts instead of having great possessions, and He wants me to desire great character instead of great fame.
In other words, when Jesus speaks of life abundant, we should understand that as being very close to heroism. We are to become heroic people. Being heroic involves displaying three extraordinary qualities: 1. Heroes can run great risks; they refuse to allow fear to dictate their actions and instead freely go beyond the call of duty in serving others. 2. Heroes love the unlovable; they go to impossible lengths to care for stinking, sick, and dying people and to reach out to those in disgrace. 3. Heroes put forth great effort for great achievements; they work hard for things that are truly worthwhile.
The people of the wide gate, those who are on the path of destruction, those who refuse Jesus’s call to a heroic life, follow the path of least resistance through life. They think that the path of least resistance represents less pain, but over the long run it actually leads to slavery, suffering and destruction. In 1776 when the 13 British colonies chose to fight for freedom, that struggle represented a heroic risk. Freedom has always required sacrifice.
The path of least resistance leads to bondage. There are four aspects of each of our lives that will inevitably lead to suffering slavery and destruction unless they are denied, crucified, and taken to Jesus for his transformation. Each one of these is a Lizard that Jesus must kill if we are to be free. I am held in bondage (1) by my fears, (2) by my habits, (3) by my desires, and (4) by the care of my possessions. Let me relate each of these to parenting. Suppose I have a great fear with regard to my daughter, that she might become pregnant before marriage. From an early age I don’t allow her to play with or speak to boys, I strictly supervise all of her activities, and I don’t allow her to be exposed to any kind of sex education out of fear that it will awaken her interest in boys. Just as when one is driving one tends to head in the direction of what one is looking at, even if one’s intention is to avoid it, my fears may tend to produce in my daughter a rebellious tendency towards what I don’t want. Suppose, secondly, that early on I develop habits for relating to my daughter as a small child. As she grows and matures in adolescence, my habitual ways of speaking and behaving towards her (which were appropriate when she was a small child) begin to be a drag on our relationship. Suppose, thirdly, that I have desires and expectations of my daughter, hoping for instance that she fulfil a dream I have that one of my children would be very involved in high-school athletics. I communicate to her that to earn my full approval, she has to fulfil my dreams. Suppose, finally, that I have many things that I treasure and care for, and that from an early age I have told my daughter “don’t touch that” or “be very careful with that” or “that is very expensive.” I communicate that my possessions and their care are a higher priority than she is.
Jesus wants me to face my fears, habits, desires, and care of possessions, and He wants me to allow Him to put these attitudes in me to death. I cannot cling to any of these attitudes and still be His disciple. Jesus calls me (and you) to a heroic sacrifice, one that involves being stripped of our most cherished dreams, customs, and treasures. He wants to kill them because He wants us to be free of them.
This command to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus is a bridge between the first five spokes on the wheel of Jesus’s instruction and the second set of five spokes on the wheel. The first five commands (“You must be born again,” “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” “Forgive your brother from your heart,” “Love one another as I have loved you,” and this one) are the instruments that Jesus uses to take ordinary people like you and me to then turn us into extraordinary heroes by means of Christian discipleship. As we shall see, that heroism is the narrow gate to freedom.