In the next few weeks we are arriving at the major turning point of the gospel of Mark. While Jesus has faced opposition from the religious authorities, the populace has seemingly embraced his ministry enthusiastically. Both Jews and Gentiles have experienced healings, exorcisms, and gathered en masse to see, hear, and perhaps even touch Jesus.
There have been a few somber moments along the way, but for the most part in the first act of Mark Jesus seems to be fulfilling Messianic expectations to a point. Everything is as it should be.
But all that is about to change. After Mark 8:22 the story turns, big time. Jesus makes three predictions that he will have to suffer and die. More than that, Jesus calls his followers to embrace this dark and dangerous road. The way of the cross is not, it would seem, the ticker-tape parade the disciples expected. His kingdom is a “kingdom in reverse.”
I have borrowed the phrase “kingdom in reverse” from the OC Supertones (poet scholars!): “where the least are most, and the last will be the first.” It fits. Jesus’ kingdom, the way of the cross, Christianity, is the opposite of what people expected it to be. Nothing has changed.
If anyone 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, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Mark 8:34-35 clarifies expectations for followers of Jesus. He gave his life, and he calls us to give ours as well. The world’s concept of a kingdom involves a strong king who decimates his enemies and asserts himself boldly. The kingdom in reverse involves a humble king who gives his life for his enemies and meekly serves. This is not easy to understand, let alone embrace.
Have we embraced the kingdom in reverse? Will we? The laying aside of self-interest, the adoption of a servant’s heart, and the abandonment of worldly glory all run against the grain of our hearts. At the end of the day life doesn’t turn out to be about being wealthy, happy, comfortable, at peace, or popular. Life is about breaking the grip that all of those idols have on our hearts and embracing our King… whose kingdom is the kingdom in reverse. His way is not easier. His way is best.