Dear Radio Friends,
In connection with our commemoration of the suffering of Jesus Christ, I ask you today to take your Bibles and open them to the book of Mark, chapter 8. We will be considering verses 27-38. There are three sections in this passage and I will read each section as we go.
In the first section, we have the beautiful confession of Peter in which the identity of Jesus Christ is established. That is Mark 8:27-29:
And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.
Jesus is coming towards the end of His earthly ministry and this event marks a turning point in the instruction that He gives to His disciples. It was exciting, up to this point, to be a follower of Jesus. He was the miracle-worker and great crowds followed Him.
It was especially great to be with Him as one of the twelve disciples who were very close to Him. As the disciples spent time with Jesus over the years of His ministry, they begin to realize more and more that He is more than just an earthly rabbi and teacher; that He is more than just a man. They come to understand this gradually. We read the Scriptures from a different perspective, we see the complete picture. When we look at the birth and the life and the suffering and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see these as one, as a part of the entire person and ministry of Jesus Christ. That helps us also to understand the Old Testament Scriptures and see the parallels to the Old Testament Scriptures and Jesus as the fulfillment. The disciples, however, walk with Jesus daily throughout His life as these things develop. They are captivated by the personality of Jesus, His popularity, His miracles, His wonderful teaching—there is an excitement about being with Him. In all these things they do not fully understand who He is; and they do not understand what it means to be a disciple and a follower of Jesus. That is what Jesus, at this point in His ministry, begins to teach them. As they begin to realize who He is, He begins to teach them of His identity and what that will mean for Himself and for them—why He came into this world and what His purpose is and where He is going.
He takes them to the towns of Caesarea Philippi. This is north of Galilee. He goes with just His disciples. When He is alone with them, in a place where He is not known by the crowds, He asks them this question: “Whom do men say that I am?” This is an unusual question. It is the first time in His entire ministry that Jesus shows any interest or concern in what other people think about Him. He asks His disciples, “What do you hear, what are people saying about Me?”
It is not only an unusual question, but also an important question. This is really the question of the life of Jesus, it is the question of the gospel accounts. As we read through the gospels, this is the question that they are answering. In Mark 4:41 Jesus has just calmed the storm. And the disciples look at each other and they say: “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Early in His ministry, this is the question, “Who is this?” Then, in Mark 14:61, at the end of His ministry, this question comes up again. Now Jesus is on trial before the high priest, and the high priest asks: “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Who is He? That is the important question.
It is important, not just for those who lived during the time of Jesus or who first received the gospels. It is also important for us: Who is this, who is this that came in Bethlehem? Who is this that was the carpenter in Nazareth? Who is this that became a teacher and a miracle-worker and who suffered at the hands of the Jews and the Romans and was crucified and buried and rose again the third day? Who is He? We have to answer that question. Is He just a great teacher and prophet? Is He merely the historical Jesus as some like to think of Him? Who is He? How do you answer that question? We must have the correct answer or we will miss the gospel and the good news of the suffering and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The disciples answered Jesus: “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elias, and others one of the prophets.” The Jewish leaders recognize that there is something unique about Jesus. He is a great prophet. He is as great as the prophets, perhaps as great as John or Elijah or Jeremiah. But then Jesus asks the disciples: “But whom say ye that I am?” And Peter blurts it out: “Thou art the Christ.” I say he blurts it out because this is the first time that the disciples have expressed this. They are starting to realize it, but now Peter expresses it. And this is a monumental confession: “Thou art the Christ.” “Christ” is the Greek word for “the anointed.” It is the Old Testament word “Messiah.” Anointing is the ceremony in the Old Testament to make someone either a prophet or priest or king. Those ceremonies in the Old Testament looked forward to a prophet who would come who would be greater than Moses. They looked forward to a priest who would come who would be greater than Aaron the high priest. They looked forward to a king who would come who would be greater than David.
In Jesus’ day, many of the people were looking for a political Messiah to deliver them from the tyranny of Rome. In fact, at one point in His ministry these people tried to take Jesus by force and make Him their king. You can read about that in John 6. But Jesus did not come as the Messiah to be a political deliverer. He is not that kind of Messiah. That is what Jesus begins here to teach His disciples. Peter says, “Thou art the Christ, the Messiah.” And Jesus takes this as the opportunity to begin to teach His disciples what kind of Messiah He is. That is what we have in the second part of this passage in verses 31-33.
And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying , Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”
What we see here is Peter, and he speaks for all the other disciples as well, we see Peter struggling with the idea that the Christ must suffer. He does not struggle any more with who this is, but with what kind of Messiah this is. What is Jesus, anointed as the Messiah, to do? You see, that is faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus is not only an acknowledgment of who He is, but also of why He came into this world and why, from my point of view as a believer, He had to suffer. That is Peter’s struggle. And this struggle of Peter uncovers something in him, something that also needs to be uncovered in us.
Peter’s motives for following Jesus were not pure. That is what Christ addresses when He says, “Thou savourest the things that be of men and not the things that be of God.” Peter is following Jesus for carnal and earthly reasons. Knowing this, Jesus begins to teach His disciples here that He, as the Son of man, must suffer many things. That is the issue at this turning point in Jesus’ ministry. You say that I am the Messiah, the Christ. Now, what this means is that I must suffer. From now on in His ministry, as Jesus goes towards Jerusalem and towards the cross with His disciples, this is the message He will bring to them.
In Jesus’ teaching here we see a striking contrast. He says: “The Son of man must suffer.” “Son of man” is Jesus’ favorite title for Himself, and it refers to Him as the promised Messiah. This is not just a self-deprecating title in which He refers to Himself as a human being, but, if we go back to Daniel 7 where this name is first used in Scripture, we see that it refers to the glory and the exultation of the Christ. Daniel sees there the Son of man coming before the throne of the Ancient of Days, and there the Son of man receives a dominion and a kingdom over all the nations of the earth. This title, “Son of man,” refers to His exultation and to His rule over all peoples and all things as the Messiah-King. That was very clear in the mind of the disciples and also in the mind of the Jewish leaders who did not like Jesus to use this title for Himself. But the disciples could accept this title. They trusted that their Christ would become this great ruler prophesied in Daniel 7. But now, Jesus says, “The Son of man must suffer.” And that is the struggle of Peter and the disciples. The word “must” points to something that is inevitable. Jesus is saying that there is only one way, there is only one thing. This “must” refers to the fact that God has determined it this way in His counsel. Jesus is saying, “This is the way, the only way, to My exultation and glory and kingdom—through suffering. The Son of man must suffer. This is the will of the Father for Me. This is what I am willing to do.” This is why Jesus is willing to go up to Jerusalem and to suffer, because He knows that He is the Lamb that would be slain. This is why He came into the world. He understood that when the prophet spoke of the suffering servant of Jehovah, that was about Him. He understood the cross and He was willing to follow the Father’s way. He must suffer. He will be obedient. This is the way to His glory. The Son of man must suffer.
But this is what the disciples do not understand. They do not understand it at all. In the next chapter, right after Jesus tells them that He must suffer, James and John come to Jesus and they ask Him, “Can we sit one on your right hand and the other on your left hand in your glory?” Jesus says, “Well, that’s the wrong thing for you to be thinking about. What you need to do first is to be baptized with My baptism and to drink of My cup,” and He means by that that they would have to enter into His suffering with Him. They do not understand this. All they can think of is the glory of the Messiah.
Peter’s response here shows the same thing. After Jesus says He must suffer, we read that Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him. Matthew tells us that Peter said, “It shall never be,” and he means by that, “I won’t let this happen.” Peter wants to protect Jesus against the attacks of the Jewish leaders.
But, as Jesus points out to Peter, this is carnal, this is earthly thinking. Peter, like James and John who want to sit with Jesus in His glory, is being earthly-minded. His motives for following Jesus are selfish. He wants the excitement and the popularity of Jesus to continue. He wants Jesus to become this great political ruler and he wants to be close to Jesus in that high position. That is what it means that he savors the things of men rather than the things of God. Yes, he wants Jesus as the Christ and the Messiah, but he does not want Him to suffer.
You see, this is what is of God. The “things that be of God” refers to the suffering of the Messiah. This is the way of the Messiah to enter into His glory—through His suffering. Peter misunderstands suffering. He views it as defeat. He does not realize that the glory of Christ must come through His suffering. He did not see that the suffering of Jesus would be the atoning sacrifice and payment for sin. Peter missed the fact that his own way to glory was only through the payment of his sin, through the suffering and the death of the Messiah. When Jesus rebukes Peter for this, He is really saying, “Peter, I must suffer because, without it, there is no salvation; without the cross there is no way for you or James or John or any other to partake in My glory.” You see, the obstacle here for the disciples is this suffering. And Jesus, in His rebuke of Peter, tells them that this is from the devil. He says, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He does not mean that Peter himself is Satan, but He means that what Peter expresses when he rebukes Jesus for this comes from the devil—that it presents a temptation to Jesus. In His strong rebuke of Peter, we see that Jesus will not even entertain the thought of foregoing His suffering. This is the only way. And in His willingness to go this way, He shows His love, His resolve, His obedience to the Father. Ah, the Savior’s love. He will go the way of suffering for these disciples, for us.
What this passage teaches is that the Christ who saves is the One who suffers for sin. The cross and suffering of Jesus Christ are not merely an example of love or of obedience. They are not just an illustration of what commitment looks like, but the cross and the suffering of Jesus Christ are necessary for sin. This is why Messiah must suffer. And the way to glory for Him and for us is only through the removal of sin by His death and suffering.
So, why did He come? He came because He must suffer for sin. And the sinner who realizes his own need, his own sin, understands that there is only one way to God, only one way to be accepted with God, only one thing that will satisfy the requirements of God’s wrath against man and deliver one from hell and damnation. We cannot make ourselves acceptable with God by being good or by doing something. No, Jesus must suffer to pay for my sins. And faith in Jesus Christ means complete trust in His death as the only sacrifice and payment for sins. Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling. As we think of the suffering of Jesus Christ and commemorate it, this is what we must confess: there is no other way for our sin to be paid than by the death of the Son of God, the Messiah.
Is that your faith? Or are you inclined to think of yourself as acceptable with God because of what you yourself have accomplished? As you think of yourself in comparison with others, do you see yourself as more worthy, more acceptable than others because of the good things that you have done? Or, when you think about the suffering Savior, do you ask yourself: Why did He have to suffer? Then do you say, “He had to suffer for me. He had to suffer for my sins. This is the only way. My sins deserve hell. I deserve hell. I deserve death and Jesus took my place. This is why Messiah must suffer. This is why God anointed Him and appointed Him to die for my sins.”
That means something for us as Christians, too. It means this, that, as disciples of Jesus, we, too, must expect to suffer. That is what Jesus adds in the remaining verses of the chapter, verses 34-38. He says,
Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
What is discipleship? What is it to be a follower of Jesus Christ? As we conclude, we note these four things.
First, discipleship means a cross: “Whosoever will come after me, let him…take up his cross, and follow me.” A cross is a life of suffering. Christianity is not the easy religion. Being a disciple of Christ brings with it great demands. Do you see that as a Christian? Discipleship is a cross.
Second, discipleship is self-denial. “Let him deny himself and follow me.” That is sacrificial living. Not just being deprived of something because you are a Christian, but giving something up. What have you given up to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Is it your job, your father, mother, wife, children, lands, Jesus asks? Are you willing to give up your wealth, your home, perhaps your life for the sake of Christ?
Third, discipleship is losing your life: “Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake.” This refers not just to death through persecution, but it means dying to self. A person who dies to self subjects his will to the will of Jesus, to the will of God. He says, “My life is not for me; my life is not about me; but my life is for my Savior and about my Savior.” A person who dies to self, lives sacrificially. He serves in the body of Christ.
Fourth, discipleship means making a confession that identifies myself with Christ. Jesus speaks of that in verse 38 when He speaks of being “ashamed of him and of his words in an adulterous and sinful generation.” We live in an adulterous and sinful generation, and the temptation is to be ashamed. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must be willing to bear reproach for Him. This is what the disciples begin to learn as they follow Him to Jerusalem. And Jesus says in Matthew 5: “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.”
So, in this passage, we see a movement. First we see that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed of God. Second, we see that the Messiah must suffer and that this is His way and our way to glory. And, third, we see that being a disciple of Jesus Christ means that we also can expect suffering. And that, dear Christians, is a privilege and, for us, the way to glory.
Let us pray.
Lord, help us, as disciples of Jesus Christ to walk with Him on the way, the way to glory, which is also a way of suffering. We marvel at His love. We marvel at His willingness. We marvel at the price He paid. And it shows us the depths of our own unworthiness. How grateful we are, Lord, for Thy grace. Fill us with gratitude, we pray, as we contemplate the suffering of Jesus Christ. We ask it for His sake, Amen.
Dear Radio Friends,