March 19, 2017
It was 1990 and I was driving home from the church one afternoon. I was listening to Prime Time America on WMBI and I heard someone being interviewed by the host, Jim Warren. The person being interviewed was so compelling I asked, “Who is this?” I learned that it was Dallas Willard and I immediately bought his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. Every so often we find someone so compelling that we make it our business to find out who it is. That is how it was and is with Jesus. His life is so compelling that people want to know who he is.
As I have been preaching these messages from Mark’s gospel, I have grown to appreciate this book a great deal. Today we are in Mk.8. Mark 8 is pretty much the center, the turning point of the book. And as you might imagine the center of this book has all to do with Jesus. You see, Our understanding of Jesus shapes our relationship with Jesus.
I. WHO DO YOU SAY THAT JESUS IS? Mk.8:27-30
In the first 7 chapters of Mark, we find a number of questions concerning the identity of Jesus. For example, people wonder where he got his teachings from. They wonder why he ate with tax collectors and sinners. They wonder how could he forgive sins. When Jesus calmed the storm in Mk.4, the disciples were overwhelmed and said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" After Mk.8 we don’t find those kinds of questions, especially from the disciples. Mk.8 represents a watershed moment in the disciples understanding.
In v.27 we see that Jesus leaves Bethsaida with his disciples and they go 25 miles north to Caesarea Philippi which was located on the south western slope of Mt. Hermon. I read that 25 miles was a day’s walk. This is interesting because Caesarea Philippi was not a Jewish area. Mostly Gentiles lived there. What is more, there was a shrine to the god Pan at Caesarea Philippi. In Greek mythology, Pan was the god of the wild, shepherds, and flocks. Pan was half man, half goat. In other words this was a center of paganism. As they were walking Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?
What an interesting question. The disciples replied that some thought Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Others thought Jesus was Elijah. After all, in the Old Testament Elijah was taken to heaven without dying. And it is prophesied in the Old Testament that Elijah would return before the day of the Lord. Still others thought that Jesus was one of the prophets of old. In Dt.18:15 Moses said that, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen.” Maybe Jesus was that prophet. In many ways these answers are a compliment to Jesus because John the Baptist, Elijah, and the prophets were held in high regard.
But then Jesus turns the question to his disciples. “But who do you say that I am?” I wonder what the disciples will say. After all, in v.17-21 Jesus had recently rebuked them because of their hardness of heart and misunderstanding. Peter speaks for the others when he says in v.29, “You are the Christ.” “You are the Messiah.” Christ (Christos) is the Greek word for the Hebrew word “messiah.” It means “to anoint.” The Christ is the anointed one, God’s anointed king. By the time of Jesus there was no kingdom of Israel. The kingdom of Israel had come to an end when Babylon defeated Judah in 586 B.C. However there were prophecies. For example in Jer.23:5 we read, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” In the days of Jesus there was a longing, a hope that such a king would come. Peter’s answer shows that they believed Jesus was that king. By the way, up until this point the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, had not been acknowledged by any human in Mark’s Gospel. At his Baptism, God affirms that Jesus is his beloved Son. And the demons seemed to recognize that Jesus is the Holy One of God. But here in Mk.8 we find the first human acknowledgment that Jesus is Israel’s anointed King.
Anyone who is exposed to the person of Jesus will have to answer this question, “Who do you say that I am.” The reason we must answer the question is because Jesus made powerful claims for himself and he did things that no other person can do. It really doesn’t make any difference what others think about Jesus. The question is what you think about Jesus. When Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am,” the answers given were complementary, but they were completely inadequate. Those answers actually diminished who Jesus is. Jesus is not just a prophet. He is not Elijah. He is not John the Baptist. He is God in the flesh who has come as Israel’s Savior-King and the world’s Savior-Lord.
So, who do you think Jesus is? Let me ask you some questions: Do you believe that every miracle ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament is true? Do you believe that everything Jesus said is true? Do you believe that Jesus is God in the flesh who lived, died on the cross, bodily rose from the dead, and ascended to the Father? Do you believe that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus? Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to God? Do you believe these things to be true or not? If you are not sure about your answers, it will have significant bearing on your relationship with Jesus. Who do you say that Jesus is?
II. HAVE YOU TAKEN YOUR CROSS TO FOLLOW JESUS? Mk.8:31-38
Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ was a profound step in the disciples’ understanding about Jesus. But they still had much to learn. Think about this. So far in Mark’s gospel the disciples had seen the amazing things Jesus did. They heard the amazing teachings Jesus gave. They even went out in Jesus’ name and it says in Mk.6:13, “And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” And yet, they struggled in their faith and understanding of Jesus. Jesus says their hearts are hard. By the way, this should be an encouragement to all of us because all of us struggle in our understanding and our faith in Jesus and yet, God desires to use us in ministry. And he does use us despite our lack of faith and understanding.
Jesus wastes no time in helping his disciples come to a clearer understanding about what it means for him to be the Christ, the Messiah. But the understanding that Jesus gives does not fit their expectations. A suffering Messiah who would be killed was not on their radar. And how could it even be possible that Israel’s religious leaders would reject the Messiah? It doesn’t make sense. In fact, it sounded like non-sense and Peter could not bear what Jesus was saying and knowing better than Jesus, he took Jesus aside to rebuke him. Jesus had begun to teach, Peter began to rebuke.
Jesus would have none of it. In front of the other disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter using strong words. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Wow! Just a bit earlier, Peter was acknowledging Jesus as the Christ. Now Jesus is calling Peter, “Satan?” Satan means, “adversary.” Peter didn’t realize that he was standing in the way of Jesus and the purposes of God. Peter was looking at things from an earthly perspective and didn’t even know it. He couldn’t know it because he did not understand the way of Jesus. Do you understand the way of Jesus?
What is the way of Jesus in this world? If you are going to follow in the way of Jesus how do you envision it? Peter had a vision of how the way of Jesus should be in the world. Peter was talking the way of the sword, the way of power, victory, success, and a restored kingdom of Israel. Jesus was talking suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.
Notice in v.34 that Jesus calls the crowd to him. In other words, Jesus is talking to all of us. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I do not have time to discuss the absolute shame and disgrace implied by the cross. It was a form of Roman capital punishment reserved for only the worst criminals. If Mark was writing Peter’s recollections while in Rome, it would have been around the time when Nero crucified many Christians, making Jesus’ words about taking up one’s cross very relevant. But the question for us is, would you come after Jesus? Would you be a follower of Jesus? And if so, what is the designated way of Jesus in the world? It is the way of the cross. It is the way of righteous living in an unrighteous world. It is the way of trust in God in a world that trusts in self. It is the way of non-violence and surrender. It is the way of turning the other cheek and going the extra mile. It is the way of suffering and death. It is not the way of political or social advantage. It is not the way of white privilege or black power. It is not the way of democracy or socialism, democrats or republicans. It is the way of love for Christ and his church in a hostile world. It is the way of the cross.
In v.35-38 Jesus gives four reasons why it is to our advantage to take up our cross to follow him. The first reason in v.35 is that taking up one’s cross in discipleship is the only way to save one’s life. Jesus is not teaching that we are saved by our works. He is teaching that the only way to receive his life is to abandon one’s life to Christ and the cause of the gospel. And abandoning one’s life to Christ and the gospel means that we are not consumed with securing our physical lives in this world. We are consumed with Christ and the gospel. Following Christ is the way to life.
The next two reasons in v.36-37 have to do with discerning the value of one’s soul. To pursue life in this world, accumulating wealth, possessions, success, status, and pleasure is to misunderstand the value of one’s soul. If you give your soul to pursuing life in this world, you will lose it. And then what will you give to get your soul back? You have nothing to give that could ever equal the eternal value of your soul. God and his Son, Jesus never undervalue your soul. Jesus died and rose for the sake of your soul, your life. Listen to 1Jn.2:15-17. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
A fourth reason for taking up one’s cross in discipleship is that it is the only way to experience the glory of God and hear his, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” To not take up one’s cross is to be ashamed of Jesus and his words in the world and if we are ashamed of Jesus he will be ashamed of us when he comes. The life that Jesus lives is the same life that Jesus gives to all who follow in his way. The compelling life of Jesus that we see in Mark is the same life that he will give to you, if you want him. And the only way to have him, is to become his faithful follower through repentance and faith in him.
So let me ask, would you be willing to die for Christ? I would like to think that I would be willing to die for Christ. But that question is difficult to answer. The real question is am I currently dying for Christ? In other words, do I take up my cross daily to follow Jesus? Do I seek to die to myself daily and follow Christ when I’m with others and when I am alone, when I am at home, at work, at church, and in the affiliations I choose to be a part of? Taking up one’s cross is to embrace a daily, ongoing death to self in order to follow Jesus. Amen.