27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:27-38 ESV)
In Lent we watch Jesus journey to the cross and consider why. Christians have been doing this for centuries. We’ve been doing this for as long as Lent has been part of our lives. We’re used to the purple, the ash, repentance, Jesus’ suffering because it is the foundation of Christianity – ‘we preach Christ crucified’ said the Apostle Paul as the single message to get out to people. That is a shocking message! I’m not sure we hear the ‘shockingness’ much today but back then this message was scandalous, offensive, scary, troubling because it reeked, smelt, was full of death – and not a ‘pretty’ death of a ripe old age and dying in one’s sleep – but a painful and hard death – preceded by an even bigger problem! – can there be an even bigger problem than a horrible death?! Yes! A horrible painful life!
And let’s make no mistake that is what the world thinks about Christian discipleship – that’s what sin thinks about Christian discipleship – and that’s what the sinful self within Christians can also think about Christian discipleship – about following Jesus – that’s it’s simply a horrible, painful, hard, struggling, miserable life! If you view life as linear – one beginning and one end – then you only get one go at life – and the world cries out, ‘So live it the way you want to – fulfil your desires – work for your own happiness and fulfilment – seize the day on your terms’. Following anyone – no matter who it is – guru, political leader, celebrity, family member – is ultimately short changing yourself. Now of course we all live with compromises – you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours is a way of getting on in the world – but the trouble with Jesus is that he doesn’t compromise. Make no mistake, Jesus is challenging his disciples to see him, trust him, understand him in such a way that they follow him – even when it seems it is not in their best interests to do so!
We find Jesus and the disciples as far away from Jerusalem as he ever goes – up north, just inside today’s Lebanese – Israeli border – and Jesus is teaching his disciples about himself. Remember from last week … identity leads to relationships and relationships govern behaviour.
There is the ‘Who do people say that I am?’ question. Various answers. All of them place Jesus near God as a messenger. Jesus zeros in on the disciples’ own view and Peter says, ‘You are the Christ’. Jesus is God’s anointed One, the Messiah and where the story is now supposed to go to power and glory, Jesus talks about suffering and death. Peter’s shocked – we can imagine for Jesus – and we can imagine for himself (who am I following here?!) and so he takes Jesus aside and says, ‘Look, Jesus, you’ve got the wrong idea; you’re
reading from the wrong script!’. Only Peter says it much more strongly than that! He rebukes Jesus! You’re wrong, Jesus!
It’s a power play. The stakes are high. Both Peter and Jesus know that the disciples are around – this involves them too. And Jesus rebukes Peter! We don’t know how Peter took to being called Satan – harsh we’d say – but we’ve just come from the wilderness last week where Jesus spent 40 days being tested and tempted – What sort of Son of God are you? What sort of Son of God will you be? And we can sense that Jesus doesn’t just hear Peter but also the Satan plying his craft – niggling away – poke poke poke – ‘no, you’re wrong Peter and Satan for you don’t have the mind of God’.
Now the world is used to giving God a piece of its mind when things don’t go the way we think they should! Generally speaking the world regards God – if there is one – as either remote from us and we are its playthings trying not to attract attention to ourselves or God is just like us but bigger and then we don’t know how really to relate to him. You see that is always the problem with our view of God – we’re not sure how to relate to God because we want to have him in our orbit, rather than we be in his orbit.
And Jesus simply intensified Peter’s problem. If Peter was upset before, he is definitely challenged and at a crossroads now! Jesus addresses Peter, the disciples, and the crowds and says simply, ‘You follow me and you live; follow anyone else and you die!’. And the image of the cross makes it even harder for this following Jesus can involve struggle, humiliation, scorn and death! We recoil at such a claim – at the apparent enslavement of ourselves – at the death of ourselves, our independence, our hopes and dreams.
Normally any claim of total commitment, total following, to death needs to be avoided. We’d say that to our children if they went off to a cult. We’d say that to someone trapped in an addiction. Such commitment, such fanaticism is unhealthy! Even someone so deeply in love that they give up everything for the beloved, we say probably has a psychological problem. What sort of God demands such a commitment?! ‘A dangerous one’, says the world; says our sense of self preservation.
And that’s what it boils down to – which Messiah will they follow? Peter’s version or Jesus’ version? Glory road and power or suffering and death? Safe one or dangerous one? The disciples stayed with Jesus – they would desert him in the garden – and only one (John) with the women would be at the cross – but Jesus was right about what would happen to him. It was suffering and death.
And yet we are here because that wasn’t the end of the story and the resurrection of Jesus shines light on these words Jesus said ‘up north’ and on him. And that’s what is so critical for Peter – for the disciples – for the crowd – and for us and the world – Who is this Jesus?! And because he is alive, he is still asking the question, “But who do you say that I am?”.
And so watching Jesus, listening to Jesus we peek into the mind – even the heart – of God – and see the mystery and the wonder that God would humiliate himself to rescue us from the clutches of our sin, our death, and our sense of self righteousness and self importance. This God – this human God – this Jesus will take up a cross so that we can live for ever. This Jesus commits himself to us and he is faithful to his mission no matter what happens to him. This Jesus turns our idea of God on its head – he is not remote and he is not just a bigger version of us – yes, he is all powerful and yet he chooses to serve us by dying so we might live. That is what Peter and the disciples came to see. The sacrifice that counts isn’t ours – as controversial as that is – no, it is God who loves us so much that he has given us his Son who chose service and the cross to be his lifestyle.
And when we come to grips with such mercy and love and grace then that person – Jesus – who personifies such personal care is one worth following – for life, for meaning, and for fulfilment.
- Mark 8:27 - 38