This is a copy of a talk I gave at Saint Mary Magdalen, Billericay, at our midweek Communion service on Wednesday 16 February 2022. The Bible Reading was Mark 8:31-38.


One man I admire greatly is Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941).  

Kolbe was a Catholic priest, who was put in a Nazi concentration camp because of his faith. On May 28, 1941, he was transferred to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. During his time there, he would share his meagre rations of food with those around him.

One day a man from Kolbe’s block escaped. All of the men from that block were brought out into the hot sun and made to stand there all day with no food or water.

At the end of the day, the man who’d escaped wasn’t found and so the Nazi commandant told the prisoners that ten men would be selected to die – in the starvation cell – in place of the one who had escaped.

One of those ten selected was a polish sergeant (Francis Gajowniczek). He begged to be spared because he was worried that his family would not be able to survive without him.

As he was pleading with the commandant, Maximilian Kolbe silently stepped forward. The commandant turned to him and said asked, “What does this Polish pig want?”

Kolbe pointed to the polish sergeant and said, “I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”

The commandant stood silent in disbelief for a moment. He then allowed the sergeant to go back to his place in the ranks and Kolbe took his place in the starvation bunker.

Each day the guards used to remove the bodies of those who had died. However instead being greeted by the usual sounds of screaming, all they would hear was the sounds of Kolbe and the others in the bunker singing hymns and praying.

When Kolbe could no longer speak due to hunger and lack of energy, he would whisper his prayers. At the end of two weeks, the cell had to be cleared out for more prisoners. Only four prisoners were left alive, and Kolbe was one of them.

The guards came in and gave each a lethal injection and on August 14, 1941, Kolbe paid the ultimate price for following his Master.

Max Kolbe

In this reading, we can see what Jesus himself had to say about discipleship. If anyone will follow me, let him take up his cross and follow me (8:34). That’s a challenging invitation isn’t it?

I doubt any of us will be asked to pay the ultimate price – as Maximilian Kolbe did – in taking up our Cross. But I do wonder how “taking up one’s cross” might be relevant to us today.

We live in a post Christian culture. Choosing to lead a Christian life runs contrary to our culture. Jesus recognised this when he said: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Mathew 7:13-14).

Those of us who are Christians have, in some way or another, have chosen to follow the Christian way of life. So, I would like to ask the question: Having decided to follow Jesus, what is the level of our commitment? In other words, what does it mean to “take up our Cross and follow Him”?

To explore that conundrum a little further, I would like to suggest that we have three choices in our level of commitment – so far as the will of God in our lives is concerned.

  1. We can decide to put His will foremost in our lives some of the time.
  2. We can decide to put his will foremost in our lives most of the time.
  3. We can decide to put his will foremost in our lives all of the time.

I believe Peter made each of these choices at different stages of his Christian life.

1. The First Choice

We can decide to put God’s will foremost SOME of the time in our lives. In today’s reading we see Peter rebuking Jesus, when Jesus told his disciples that he (Jesus) must suffer and die.

At this point in his life, Peter wanted a comfortable Christianity to follow.  He loved Jesus and wanted only the nice things associated with Christianity – for example he liked the miracles Jesus performed Jesus’ beautiful teachings (such as the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon in the Plain) and being around Jesus as his follower.

These all fitted Peter’s theology – but the Cross didn’t. 

Today we can be like Peter at this time of his life. We can have two spheres of life. A Christian life and a secular life. How often do we fear being thought of as too fanatical by our friends and neighbours?  Are there times when we are ashamed of being Christians.

Yet Jesus said in Mark 8:38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.

2. The Second Choice

We can put God’s will foremost in our lives MOST of the time. Matthew records a little scene between Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin and his trial before Pilate.  Peter has just denied knowing Christ three times and Matthew records this: Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the words Jesus had spoken; ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times’. And he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:74-75).

Peter wanted to follow Jesus totally, but when it came to the crunch he bottled out. I am sure we’d have bottled out too. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

There are areas in all our lives, which we cannot completely give over.  And it is a sign of our Christian life, that we find the Holy Spirit coming back to these areas time and time again until we surrender them.  We find ourselves wanting, like Peter to be totally committed, yet holding back.

3. The Third Choice

We can decide to put God’s will foremost in our lives ALL of the time. Before the Crucifixion, we read of Peter denying Jesus before a servant girl of the High Priest. After the Resurrection and following the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, we see a totally different Peter.

He was bold to preach the risen Lord, even before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. When they threatened to beat him and made veiled threats, he replied: Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have heard (Acts 4:19).

Here we see a very different Peter, perhaps having reflecting Jesus own words in the Garden: Father , if you are willing, take this cup from me ; yet not my will but yours be done (Luke 22:42).

Maximilian Kolbe gave his life so that one man might live. But this wasn’t a momentary act of bravery. Kolbe’s life was exemplary. A Protestant doctor who treated the patients in Kolbe’s block had this to say about Kolbe: “From my observations, the virtues in the Servant of God were no momentary impulse such as are often found in men. They sprang from a habitual practice, deeply woven into his personality.”

When we make a wholehearted commitment to God’s will in our lives – then prayer and reading our Bible will become central to our daily lives. We will search the Scriptures to know more of the will of God. Whichever choice we make, whichever level of commitment we have – will affect the type of Christian we become.

I Have Decided To Follow Jesus Anonymous

I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, I still will follow;
Though none go with me, I still will follow;
Though none go with me, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me,
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.