As more and more Millennials walk away from the Christian faith they once claimed to hold, it’s tempting for Baby Boomer Evangelicals like me to decry this state of affairs and to worry about the trajectory of the Church in America. Millennials are leaving the Church in droves. They say they can no longer believe the claims of the Bible. And this is indeed worrisome.
But is this actually the biggest problem we face? Or is there something deeper? Baby Boomer Evangelicals like me tend to pat ourselves on the back for holding firmly to the veracity of the Bible’s claims. But it is one thing to believe that the Bible is true, and it is quite another actually to take it seriously. The real truth is that most Evangelical Christians – including me – don’t take the claims of the Bible nearly seriously enough. We don’t take the narrative accounts of Scripture seriously enough. We don’t take the worldview found in Scripture seriously enough. We don’t take the biblical perspective on the history of the world seriously enough. But above all else, we do not take the cross seriously enough.
This problem is not unique to us. It goes back a very long way. Take a look at what happens in the context of the shocking statements that Jesus makes about his coming death in Mark 10:33-34. Jesus says in v. 34 that those with religious power in Jerusalem “will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” That’s horrifying! But what do the disciples do? James and John come to Jesus and say to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” How’s that for a way to respond to the Lord’s prediction of his coming death?
Here’s what James and John want: “Let one of us sit on your right hand, and the other on your left, in your glory.” In other words, “Let us be the top ministers in your government – the most important members of your cabinet.” Wow – that’s really going for it! Just a wee little bit self-centered, wouldn’t you say? And that’s what the other disciples thought too when they heard it (v. 41). They were indignant – perhaps because James and John had gotten there first.
These men had not taken Jesus’ prediction of his death nearly seriously enough and they didn’t understand its implications. They had come to believe that he was the Messiah. They knew his kingdom is coming. And they wanted to get on with it! Yes, yes, he had been telling them some things about being killed, and they didn’t quite know what to do with that. But he was the Messiah and he was going to reign, and they were not going to get all worked up over these predictions of his death.
But we are supposed to see that there is great irony in their request. They had asked for the places on his right and on his left in his glory. But what is the coming glorification of Jesus at this point in the Gospels? It is the cross! Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). He is talking about the cross when he says that. And the very next time that Mark will record a reference to Jesus’ right hand and his left will be in connection with his crucifixion, and with those who are crucified with him – one on his right hand and one on his left. Do these two men – James and John – know what they are asking? They don’t! Do we?
Presumably these disciples would have said that they regarded everything Jesus said as true. But it was not changing their lives – at least not the way it soon would. How much has it changed mine? Is it perchance possible that I make too little of the cross? Perhaps way too little. Do I know what it means to “drink the cup” that Jesus drank or “be baptized” with the baptism with which he was baptized – something that Jesus said James and John would do (Mark 10:39) – to become vulnerable, to suffer, to serve, to die with Jesus?
No, I don’t know. And so I pray with the apostle Paul, “…that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10). If we want to see fundamental change in the trajectory of the Church in America and true spiritual renewal, this is the way forward.