Choosing the Cross: Mark 8:27-38

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As we continue moving through Mark’s gospel, we come to an event where Jesus asks the disciples a question, and then when Jesus hears the right answer, He tells the disciples to keep the real answer a secret. However, this is only the first sliver of this event, and what comes afterwards is both amazing and it clashes with what they believed about the Messiah.

With that said, let’s dive in to our passage for this episode. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 8, and we will read from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 27, Mark tells us:

27 Then Jesus and his disciples went away to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Tell me, who do people say I am?”

28 “Some say that you are John the Baptist,” they answered; “others say that you are Elijah, while others say that you are one of the prophets.”

29 “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Then Jesus ordered them, “Do not tell anyone about me.”

Pausing briefly, this point in the passage is where most people might stop reading. And I can understand this because what Peter has just declared about Jesus is amazing, and what Jesus responded is also amazing.

Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Messiah that had been predicted throughout the whole Old Testament, and specifically the Messiah God promised to send humanity when Adam and Eve sinned and were banished from the garden.

Equally amazing is Jesus’ response. Jesus does not deny being given this title, but He challenges the disciples to stay quiet about it. While some might think the Messiah would want to stand up, shout, and be recognized for being this person, Jesus knows that there is too much baggage with this role at this point in history.

To illustrate this, we need go no further than the next few verses. Continuing reading in verse 31:

31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life.” 32 He made this very clear to them. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But Jesus turned around, looked at his disciples, and rebuked Peter. “Get away from me, Satan,” he said. “Your thoughts don’t come from God but from human nature!”

Pausing our reading again, in these verses, we discover Peter, who Jesus praised for his earlier response in at least one of the other gospel records, is now being called out as Satan. Looking back on this event from a world that can see Jesus’ journey to the cross, and His death leading towards His resurrection and return to heaven, it is easy to look down on Peter and judge him like it appears Jesus does here.

However, while Jesus clearly told the disciples that He is the Messiah, and He emphasizes the Messiah’s death at the hands of the religious leaders, I wonder if Peter ignored or simply didn’t hear Jesus predicting His resurrection. Pushing back against Jesus’ declarations and predictions about Himself, we have a whole religious culture built on centuries of seeing the Messiah lead a revolt against Rome, and clear predictions that when the Messiah comes, He will last forever. The Messiah dying is something that simply could not happen to the true Messiah in the minds of those in the first century.

Also included in the mix of beliefs is the belief that the Messiah is God’s Son. While this wasn’t a belief on the forefront of culture, it is one that formed the basis for at least one of Jesus’ debates with the religious leaders. With Jesus being God, and God being immortal, it would also logically be impossible for God to die.

Everything culture told the disciples about the Messiah was focused on overthrowing the Romans and on living forever, while everything Jesus told the disciples about the Messiah was focused on a crucifixion, death, and a resurrection. In the minds of more than just Peter, what Jesus was telling them clashed with culture, with logic, and with everything they had previously believed about the Messiah and His kingdom.

Peter simply has the guts to speak what many of the disciples are likely thinking. Peter tells Jesus to basically stop focusing on His death because God’s Messiah will live forever. This temptation echoes some of Satan’s temptations in the wilderness when Satan challenges Jesus with the promise that God would not harm Him if He jumped from the highest point in the temple, and when Satan offers Jesus a shortcut that avoids the cross.

It does not surprise me that Jesus calls out Peter for representing Satan in his rebuke.

However, it also appears that the disciples were uneasy about how openly Jesus spoke about going to the cross. The cross was both the most humiliating way to die and it was one of the most painful ways to die as well.

Because of this, Jesus finishes off this passage by calling everyone present together to tell them a message. Continuing in verse 34:

34 Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If any of you want to come with me,” he told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me. 35 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it. 36 Do you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not! 37 There is nothing you can give to regain your life. 38 If you are ashamed of me and of my teaching in this godless and wicked day, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

In this concluding challenge, Jesus directly calls attention onto the idea of the cross – the most uncomfortable part of Jesus’ whole message – and He challenges everyone present that to be His follower, they must give up their own lives and carry a cross along with Jesus.

This challenge Jesus gives is powerful: You can try to keep your life in this world and lose out on eternity, or you give your life in this world to Jesus in order to gain eternity.

The big truth in this conclusion aimed at all of Jesus’ followers is that we should never be ashamed of Jesus and what He taught. If you think our world and culture today are godless and wicked, know that Jesus’ calls out the first century culture for being this way as well. If we choose to reject Jesus because culture has a louder megaphone, then we will ultimately forfeit the rewards God has promised His people.

Satan wants the whole world to reject God, to reject Jesus, and to live in rebellion of everything God stands for. Know that choosing Jesus is easy to say, and difficult to do. However, laying self down at the foot of Jesus’ cross, and picking up our own crosses – which means dedicating our lives to spreading the gospel message regardless of what culture thinks of us – is how we lose this life but gain eternity. Jesus didn’t focus on building His kingdom through force, but Satan is more than willing to use any type of force necessary to stop us from choosing Jesus and spreading the great news of salvation!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, seek God first and choose to give up a focus on self in your life in order to focus on giving Him glory. If the world is hostile towards us for choosing Jesus, know that you have made the right choice. Never be ashamed or shamed out of choosing Jesus, because Jesus is the only way to experience eternity! Everything else is a lie Satan uses to trick or confuse people.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Culture speaks its messages loudly and frequently, and the best way to stay grounded in truth is to focus personally on studying God’s message through the Bible. What God has preserved for us in the Bible teaches us how to have hope, and how to live for God in sinful, godless, dark times. Studying the Bible for yourself is the only way to be certain what the Bible teaches because too many people today have twisted the Bible into teaching only half-truths.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or be shamed out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 22: When Jesus asks the disciples a direct question, discover how one disciple is praised for His response, before only a few verses later being called out for being Satan. Discover how Jesus challenged the cultural expectations in the first century and how we are called to live out our faith over 2,000 years later!

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