The Psalmist in Psalm 27 paints a beautiful picture of a desire to be in God’s presence all the days of one’s life and what that might be like. The Psalm begins with confidence; the Psalmist declaring that there is no need to fear because the LORD is “my light,” “my salvation,” “the stronghold of my life.” Because of who the LORD is, the Psalmist has no fear even if “evildoers devour my flesh” or “an army encamps against me” because the Psalmist’s confidence is in the LORD and not in personal might. And in the midst of this world of turmoil the Psalmist asks just one thing of the LORD:
“One thing I ask of the Lord—one thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.” – Psalm 27:4
It is a beautiful picture of security, a beautiful picture of an ideal situation. What would it be like to dwell in the house of the LORD for all days? How wonderful to spend time gazing on the beauty and majesty of God? How life changing to spend hours meditating in God’s temple, around God’s throne, in the presence of God? It is an ideal life. It is a life we all want. It is a life of calm, a life of beauty, a life of peace. It makes sense that the Psalmist does not fear the impending struggles of enemies or war. One can have confidence to face the oncoming tide knowing that their dwelling is with God.
Near the middle of his account of the Gospel Mark begins to retell the story of the first time Jesus tells his disciples that being Messiah means going to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the people. It happens right after Peter’s great declaration of faith when he looks at Jesus and says, “You are the Messiah.” It is the first time in scripture someone has recognized Jesus for who he is. At this moment, Jesus knows the time is right so he starts to tell his disciples plainly that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected and be killed, but that he will rise again. After telling his disciples this news openly, he calls the crowd together and says:
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. What gain, then, is it for anyone to win the whole world and forfeit his life? And indeed what can a man offer in exchange for his life? For if anyone in this adulterous and sinful generation is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:34-38
Jesus wants his disciples to know that following him is serious business, that it is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who wants to be a disciple has to be willing to lose everything, even their own lives, because it is only in losing life, in dying, that one is able to live.
At first glance these scriptures don’t seem to flow well together. While not polar opposites, they seem to be emphasizing different things. Psalm 27 paints a pristine picture of peace and serenity that is found in the presence of God. Mark 8 shares a harsh critique about the difficulty of following Jesus and in many ways challenges the reader to count the cost before joining. And maybe that is why they should be read together. All Christians, and possibly even all people, desire to dwell with God all the days of their lives, to spend the day gazing on the beauty of God. And yet that reality is only possible when we learn to submit to God’s rule in our lives. To kill off our selfish attitudes and to die to our compulsion to control every aspect of our lives and to instead embrace God’s will, God’s plan, God’s ethic. It is only when we crucify our sinful desires that we can be raised to new life. If we want the end goal of dwelling with God we must be willing to take up our cross and die.