Mark 8:34 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. 35 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.
The earliest Christians were receiving these words in the context of persecution, and therefore they would have understood that to be a follower of Christ meant to participate in suffering for His name. We certainly see this demonstrated throughout the lives of the apostles in the book of Acts. “Losing one’s life” does not necessarily refer only to the loss of physical life, but also to the potential loss of one’s position in the hierarchy of the community. As most of the earliest Christians were Jewish, their community life would have revolved in large part around the synagogue, from which they would be outcasts upon becoming followers of Christ. It was their persecutors who had “the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets” (cf. Mark 12:39). And just as Jesus warns them in another place in Mark, these early Christians (Jewish believers) would be “handed over to councils; and be beaten in synagogues; and would stand before governors and kings because of [Christ], as a testimony to them” (cf. Mark 13:9).
For us today, the “cross bearing” familiar to first century Christians may seem less relevant. However, as we reflect theologically on this passage, especially in light of New Testament admonitions regarding our communion with other believers, we will see that “cross bearing,” or the more accessible image of “burden bearing,” is the unique mark of a follower of Christ. Now, as we “bear one another’s burdens,” we “fulfill the law of Christ” (cf. Galatians 6:2). Christ’s commandment to us is that we “love one another as he has loved us” (cf. John 13:34; 15:12). And by this we know that we are his disciples: when we love one another (cf. John 13:35). And this love “covers a multitude of sins” (cf. 1 Peter 4:8) as we “confess our faults to one another” (cf. James 5:16)—in denial of ourselves and self-righteousness, silencing the voices of all accusers, either from within or from without--and “restore one another in a spirit of gentleness” (cf. Galatians 6:1), as those who are “holy and blameless in his sight” (cf. Colossians 1:22), because “he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that are now made the righteousness of God in him” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). We now bear the burdens for one another of sorrow, shame and guilt by comforting one another with the comfort of the Gospel (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2) and restoring one another to the joy of salvation in the New Creation, where all our judgments have been removed (cf. Zephaniah 3:15). This is the “cross” we now “take up” on one another’s behalf: “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), when he “removed our transgressions as far as the east is from the west” (cf. Psalm 103:12) and now “remembers our sin no more” (cf. Isaiah 43:25).