Most commentaries suggest that this passage marks a turning point in Mark's gospel. Everything up to this point builds to the unlikely conclusion that this strange wandering prophet is actually the Messiah, sent by God to liberate His people. And the narrative from this point on centres around the cross - both as Jesus' objective, and as our choice of lifestyle.
People have seen in this a model of the distinction made between the two chief areas of doctrine concerning Jesus: The person of Christ and the work of Christ. The person of Christ reveals Him to be the Messiah and the incarnate Son of God; and the work of Christ involves Him dying for our sins and being resurrected on the third day.
It's a neat structure, but it can be very misleading.
The cross is not just a destination for Jesus, but a principle in the life of His followers, as He makes clear in this passage. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
And in the early chapters of Mark, we also see the work of Christ. We see Jesus travelling around, meeting people. We see Him feeding and healing and restoring broken lives. We see Him call disciples to Himself with the words, "Follow me."
When Jesus says, "Follow me," He is not telling us to walk behind Him and don't get lost. If you become His follower - if you become His disciple - it is because you want to become like Jesus, and you want to become a part of His ministry and mission. You want to join in His work.
Jesus both preached the gospel and fed the hungry, and if we are to follow Him, we must do the same. Not as individuals. We are together the Body of Christ, and together we are called to do the works of Christ. Together we are to teach and feed and heal and proclaim the Kingdom of God, so that people can see what we do and recognise that Jesus is present.
Part of our core conviction at Crisis Centre Ministries is that we must hold together social action and evangelism. God loves people. Every part of them: body, soul and spirit. Nobody is called to do everything: we each have our own specific gifts and calling. But working together we seek to reflect Jesus as fully and completely as possible.
When I talk about our work, I do not want to suggest that everybody ought to be doing the same. God loves everyone. It is right for Christians to be involved in promoting fair trade, campaigning against third world debt or for restrictions on the arms trade. But it is especially important for Christians to be involved in helping the people on their doorstep.
If you do not love your brother whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen?
The need is vast, and it is increasing.
My conviction is that the church is failing to act as salt and light in our society, and we are reaping the consequences in damaged lives, broken families, people coping with increased pressure to deliver on the one hand, and a disintegrating social network on the other hand. Many either fail to cope, or decide it is just not worth the effort.
The immediate cause may be drink, drugs, marital breakup or nervous breakdown, but the end result is the same: people end up on the street, unable to access the help they need.
The most important thing we do in the Crisis Centre is to get to know people, to build a relationship with them. Relationships change lives. People who have no hope, who feel themselves to be worthless and failures, come and meet people who are interested in them, who care about them, who are willing to support and encourage them. And time and time again we find that this opens the door to change in peoples' lives.
We do this through the Coffee Shop, where homeless people can receive cheap or free nutritious food.
We do it through the LITE Course, where people are given the skills and experience they need to make a new start in life.
We do it through Bridgehead Church, where we make the gospel culturally relevant to people who often feel uncomfortable in a normal church.
We do it through the outreach work, going to where people are on the streets, or in the hospitals and prisons.
And we do it through an increasing level of cooperation with the other ministries helping homeless people in Bristol, and through building relationships with the statutory services.
Jesus never promised it would be easy. But He calls us to follow Him on the way of the cross - the path through death that brings life to others.
The path He calls you to follow may be very different from the things we find ourselves doing. What He calls you to do will be appropriate for you, and will release the gifts and desires He has already placed within you.
What matters is not whether you get involved with the Crisis Centre, but whether you play your part in the work of the Body of Christ, to see God's name be made holy, to see God's Kingdom come as a practical reality in the lives of the people around us, to see God's will being done on Earth, here and now perfectly, just as it is already being done in Heaven.
That is what we pray for, and what we have committed ourselves to do when we promised to follow Jesus, and what we can do because He gives us the Holy Spirit to bring into reality what would be impossible for us on our own.