I was once talking with a couple who were asking about having one of their children baptised.
Together, we explored and talked about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. As we did so, I remember the father's jaw starting to drop in amazement as recognition dawned upon him about the nature of Christian discipleship.
'You're trying to start a revolution!' he exclaimed in shock. I replied: 'You are absolutely right. That's what following Jesus is all about.' Well, their child was duly baptised – but after that service I never, ever saw them again in church. The challenge of Jesus Christ was just too much for them, at least for now. I still think of them with great sadness.
As Dr Reginald F Davis – pastor of the historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg – has written in his recent book, A Dangerous Journey: 'If you are going to follow Jesus Christ and advance the Kingdom of God, then you must embrace inconvenience... This inconvenient journey is not easy because it entails following an inconvenient Saviour, practicing an inconvenient love, drawing inspiration from an inconvenient Bible, teaching an inconvenient ethics, preaching an inconvenient gospel filled with an inconvenient Spirit, living an inconvenient lifestyle, being an inconvenient servant to others, singing inconvenient songs and praying some inconvenient prayers.' And that's putting it mildly!
As we continue our fortnightly pilgrimage through Mark's gospel we come to some breathtakingly revolutionary words of Jesus. As he faces the accusations of the massed religious leaders (Mark 14:53), the high priest takes him to task for his silence in the face of the many charges against him. 'Have you no answer?' he says. But Jesus remains unspeaking.
Then the high priest presses him further, and asks: 'Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?' This time, Jesus responds: 'I am,' he says, 'and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.' That reply is absolutely explosive; Jesus is applying Old Testament messianic prophecies to himself, claiming divine sonship and an exclusive position at the right hand of God.
And he is not making some abstract doctrinal statement for us to repeat in church every Sunday while wondering what's for lunch. His statements about his identity are radical and require a revolutionary response in the lives of those who hear clearly. The apostle Peter later sums it up like this: 'He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name,' (Acts 10v42-43). Rightly understood, these words are disturbing, unsettling, inconvenient – and dramatically transformative.
In much of the world today, the church faces pressure – sometimes subtly – to lose that revolutionary edge. Melanie Phillips writes in today's Timesnewspaper of her fears the Church of England 'wants to replace sin, judgment and repentance by "good disagreement". Thus it would give good and bad equal status. In other words, it would vitiate its role as moral arbiter altogether.' Rightly or wrongly, her perception is of a denomination which has lost its gospel salt.
And because people generally recognise there is something wrong with the world, and that change is needed, this means that when Christians lose their edge then other ideologies will act as a substitute. In the UK, many who would find in Jesus Christ what they are really looking for, if only they knew, instead embrace another 'JC' – the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. In the US, perhaps Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have fulfilled that function for some too.
So hear, again, the claims that Jesus makes in these verses of Mark, which former Bishop Tom Wright describes as 'explosive'. Geoff Thomas, former pastor of the famous Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales, said when preaching on this section of the gospel in 2005: 'Have you pondered on the challenge of Jesus' reply? There is never going to be a more important question to rise up and confront you during your whole life. It will never go away... Christ claimed to be God, and if that is true it commands, and it deserves and it compels my allegiance.'
Pete Greig of the 24-7 prayer movement has written about his desire for 'the transformation of individuals to the transformation of nations and the liberation of entire communities, through the power of concerted prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ our returning Lord!'
As we read Jesus' words that about seeing 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven' let us pray for his revolution of repentance and faith to change us, our nation, and the world. Or, as Jesus taught us to pray so simply and yet so earth-shatteringly: 'Your kingdom come'.
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A The Rough Guide to Discipleship is a fortnightly series.