Mark 8:27–9:1 (ESV)
This is not a typical Palm Sunday text. Christopher and the worship team helped us consider the excitement of Jesus and his disciples entering into Jerusalem in the week leading up to Passover.
In the Gospel According to Mark, the Triumphal Entry does not take place until Chapter 11. But our text is still fitting for the Sunday before Easter. In it, we see our first glimpse of Jesus’ plan to go to the cross, the main reason he came. In Chapter 8, most likely the disciples are just beginning to imagine what the Triumphal Entry might look like in Chapter 11.
We have come to a watershed moment in the Gospel. Jesus has been healing and preaching. Now, finally his disciples begin to understand that he is the Messiah. But, as we see in our text, they discover that Jesus’ concept of his messiahship is very different from their own. Jesus talks about suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.
For 1500 years, the Jews had been celebrating God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt through a Passover Feast, which was a remembrance of what God had done for his people in the past, but also a painful reminder of their need for deliverance in their present circumstances.
They were living in a time of great anticipation for messianic deliverance. Throughout the intertestamental period, there had been various political and spiritual uprisings. Then John the Baptist came on the scene preparing the way for the Lord. Then Jesus came, preaching, healing, and gathering a following (somewhat clumsily).
Within just a few verses, we will see a high point of the disciples’ understanding of Jesus, followed by a significant low point. Then, Jesus will give the disciples a radical understanding of discipleship based on his newly understood identity.
We are accustomed in Mark’s Gospel to asking the question, “What is Jesus doing?” or “What is Jesus saying?” But, now Jesus himself is going to suggest a new question, “Who do people say that I am?” This is a much more difficult question. If you’ve ever taught in a classroom or led a small-group discussion and tried to prepare and ask questions, this would be one of those difficult questions that ends up with an awkward pause.
Why is this question difficult? Here is a man who touches and heals the leper, blind and deaf. He casts out demons. He heals with a simple word. He calms a raging storm. He can feed a crowd of thousands with a few loaves and fishes.
Jesus teaches with authority but challenges and confronts the religious experts of his day. Furthermore, he speaks in difficult parables but expects his disciples to understand. He gathers a large following, but his own family and friends from his home town question his legitimacy and say he is out of his mind. He has called the twelve to follow him and serve alongside him, but he regularly questions why they don’t understand what he is doing and saying. He is clearly prioritizing his ministry to the Jews, yet he often interacts with Gentiles in ways that a respectable Jew would avoid altogether.
Jesus at least gives them the easier of the two questions first. Before he asks them who they think he is, he lets them throw out the ideas that they’ve heard from others.
Mark 8:27–28 (ESV)
These are all reasonable answers in their own right. And, I would think that the disciples were asking this question among themselves and hearing it discussed around them. We know that King Herod was inquiring who Jesus was and thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead, since he had John beheaded.
We also know that the disciples were asking this question earlier at the end of Chapter 4.
Elijah seems to be a pretty good option. There are certainly some mysterious things said about him.
No OT personality held such fascination for first-century Judaism as Elijah. The reason lay not in his deeds, for the accomplishments of other OT figures—Abraham, Moses, David, even Joshua—exceeded Elijah’s. The reason lay in the report that Elijah had been taken bodily to heaven (2 Kgs 2:11) where he was believed to oversee the deeds of mortals, to comfort the faithful and help the needy, and, above all, to return as forerunner of the great and terrible Day of the Lord (Mal 3:1; 4:5–6).
- James R. Edwards, Pillar NCT, p. 247.
And, of course, we know that Moses had predicted another Prophet would arise.
Deuteronomy 18:15 (ESV) — “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—
How would you have identified who Jesus was at this point in his ministry? You know that he is someone very special, because no one could do the miracles he could do if God was not with him. Would you have dared to think he was the Messiah, the Christ, THE Anointed One?
Jesus then takes the question from the hypothetical to the personal?
Mark 8:29 (ESV)
Up until this moment we have had very few clear declarations of who Jesus is. We have had faithful responses from an unclean woman in chapter 5, the Syrophoenician woman in Chapter 7. We’ve heard from Mark (the Narrator) and from demons that Jesus is the Son of God. But, here for the first time we hear a man confess Jesus is the Christ. Mark seems to be building his narrative up to this point. We should be surprised. It’s likely that Peter could even have been surprised.
Matthew 16:17 (ESV) — And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
We are so accustomed to hearing the name “Jesus Christ” that we may not be sufficiently aware of how big of a deal this is. Calling Jesus the Christ or Messiah was a huge statement. “Christ” or Messiah meant “anointed one.” It was not used in the Old Testament in an absolute sense, but rather as a description. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed for service. They were set apart by God and given authority for his purposes. So, they might have been referred to as anointed, but not “THE Messiah.”
Peter seems to be saying more than simply making an observation that Jesus has been anointed by God. He is saying that Christ IS THE Anointed one—he is THE Messiah.
Even here, you and I make some theological leaps that might not have been in the mind of Peter the Apostle. They were indeed waiting on God’s Anointed one. But, it seems they were much more waiting for an anointed “king” who would deliver them from Roman occupation. At the time, the Jews did not associate the Messianic title with the Son of Man passages in Isaiah.
This is most likely why Jesus tells them not to share this with anyone else.
Mark 8:30 (ESV)
They still didn’t really know what this meant. We know this by Peter’s next response.
Now that Peter has made his great confession, Jesus is ready to share more of his great plan with them. Just like the Triumphal Entry is going to be a high point for the disciples, this first confession that Jesus was indeed the Christ would have been a high point. Think of all this means! This is what they have been waiting for. They are on the team with the up and coming ruler. THE ruler who will lead Israel back into victory over her enemies.
So, they wait with bated breath to hear what’s going to happen next.
Mark 8:31–32 (ESV)
Let’s just say this is not what they expected or wanted to hear. They would have preferred something like:
Well, that’s not what Jesus told them. And, let’s not be too judgmental about their response. After all, do we not sometimes come to Christ with similar wrong impressions about what will happen next? Have you never thought something like:
Of course, we know that this is not how becoming a Christian works because we have read more of the Bible. We know that we will still endure many trials and tribulations, and that the life of faith can be hard. But, we have learned this. And now the twelve are going to have to learn from Jesus as well.
Mark 8:31–32 (ESV)
Jesus lays out the plan and teaches them “plainly”—that is boldly or confidently. Jesus is going to tell them this news two more times in Mark’s Gospel. Each time, Jesus tells them what’s going to happen in his passion, they respond wrongly, and then he gives them some instruction about discipleship.
Though Peter just confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus does not use that title to describe himself moving forward. He goes back to the title, Son of Man, which he has already used in Mark’s Gospel.
It shouldn’t be news to the Twelve that Jesus is going to suffer at the hands fo the elders, chief priests, and scribes. They have already been confronting Jesus at many turns, challenging him, questioning him. But I dare say that the Twelve were not quite ready to hear that Jesus would be killed. This really is going from a mountaintop experience into a deep valley. We finally hear Jesus say that he is the Messiah, and then we find out he’s going to be killed.
As we’ll learn in a few moments, the impact of this statement goes beyond their theological understanding of the reign of the Messiah. It goes directly to what this will mean for them. They signed up to follow Jesus wherever he led, but they expected that he called them to be fishers of men, not to lead them to death.
This seems like a far cry from the first message they heard.
Mark 1:14–15 (ESV) — Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
They really liked the part about the Kingdom of God being at hand. But, clearly they didn’t fully understand the first phrase, the “gospel of God.” This good news which was for them is not merely that God is going to bring his kingdom to earth, but that he is going to solve their biggest problem, that of their enmity with God.
They did not realize that God’s solution for our biggest problem would involve Jesus suffering, being rejected, being killed, and rising again.
But, here it is. Jesus is telling his disciples plainly that he must be killed in order to truly bring them good news. This was his plan all along. Now that they have confessed that he is the Christ, he tells them how it will be accomplished.
It was not typical in Jesus’ day to associate the Christ, or the Son of Man with passages like Isaiah 53, where we see so clearly the parallels to Jesus’ suffering and cross. Don’t miss this Good Friday evening when we spend time meditating on Isaiah 53 together.
They seem to miss altogether the amazing statement that he will be raised from the dead—that he will rise again.
Now that we’ve heard Jesus’ plan to go to the cross to bring us good news, let’s see how Peter responded.
Mark 8:32 (ESV)
Peter does just put it all out there. He doesn’t hold back. He clearly didn’t think Jesus’ plan was a good one. He had a different idea how the Christ ought to move forward. We should appreciate Peter’s zeal. However, Jesus has a few things to say.
Verse 31 says Jesus “began to teach.” The parallel in verse 32 is that Peter “began to rebuke” the Lord. I wonder what exactly Peter was telling his Lord. “Jesus, don’t talk like that. I know we’ve had some bumps along the way. But, you’ll see. The Chief Priests and scribes have to change their mind. When they hear about all of your healings, they’ll have to believe.” And, as much as I’d like to think Peter solely had Jesus’ well-being in mind, it’s far more likely that he didn’t really think he signed up to be a martyr. We shouldn’t think that Peter was consciously trying to work against God. He simply had his own ideas about what God’s plan should be and how to accomplish it. He was depending unwisely on his own wisdom when the revelation of God was right in front of him.
We really must pay attention to what happens next. Jesus rebukes Peter in the strongest terms. But, if we look carefully, we’ll see that Jesus’ rebuke is quite broad, and if we’re honest, we’ll find ourselves falling under his rebuke very quickly.
Mark 8:33 (ESV)
Jesus seems to think that either the other disciples think the same way as Peter, or that they may be influenced by his words. What we get is a fairly awkward, humiliating scene. Jesus is looking at the other eleven disciples and rebuking Peter in front of them.
No sterner rebuke ever fell on any Pharisee than fell on this disciple of Jesus, this proto-Christian. In speaking as he did, Peter was voicing, not the mind of God revealed by his Spirit, but that ‘natural’ mind which is the mind of the enemy: and so Peter could be addressed by Jesus directly as Satan.
- R. Alan Cole, Tyndale NTC, p. 210
Jesus uses the same words that he uses in his last temptation in the wilderness as Satan was offering another (false) plan, “Be gone, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10).
Peter’s rebuke to Jesus is working directly against the sovereign plan of God for our redemption. He finds himself at complete cross-purposes with God.
But, observe how Jesus explains his rebuke. “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Ouch! Perhaps we should not merely consider Jesus looking at the twelve when he said this. Perhaps we should imagine him looking at us as well.
If you were making a list of sins and putting them into two columns labeled “Big Sins” and “Little Sins” where would you put this one—“setting your mind on the things of man instead of the things of God?” I would wager most of us would put this one in the little sins category. Not Jesus. He can offer mercy to the Gentile Syrophoenician woman and rebuke the leader among the Twelve because he’s thinking in an earthly way. If we stop and think for a moment, Jesus is really rebuking Peter for a breach of the first commandment.
When you are working through decisions you must make, whether significant or trivial, how are you doing with setting your mind on the things of God vs. man? This could be with large decisions like your vocation or who you’ll marry. But, it’s still relevant with small questions like whether you’ll share the gospel with your neighbor or not. When you’re considering standing on a biblical conviction at work, do you consider the things of God?
Have you ever heard the criticism of a believer that goes something like: “he’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good?” Perhaps this person would rather talk about theology than do good to his neighbor for the glory of God, I don’t know. But there is a clear command to take the things of God into account, even in the mundane, earthly parts of our lives.
Colossians 3:2 (ESV) — Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Or consider Paul’s rebuke to the enemies of the cross of Christ in Philippians:
Philippians 3:19 (ESV) — Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
If we want to please God, we must set our minds on the things of the Spirit.
Romans 8:5–8 (ESV) — For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Peter’s great failure was merely considering the earthly consequences of Jesus’ plan. He wasn’t considering God’s greater plan.
It requires great faith and discipline to set our mind on the things of God, especially as life is coming at us so fast.
As an exercise, perhaps we should take some time with our Bibles open and with a prayerful heart to ask God to show us how we should set our minds on the things of God in different areas of our lives. The question is not merely one of activity, but of how we think about:
We must see the severity. We must reject this man-centered way of thinking. We should call it what it is—this Satanic way of thinking.
Jesus initially addressed Peter, then the other eleven apostles. Now he addresses the crowd, illustrating the cost of setting your mind on the things of God.
Mark 8:34–38 (ESV)
It would have been difficult for the disciples to hear Jesus tell of his upcoming suffering, rejection, and death. One reason for this would be that they might expect their fate may follow that of their master.
Consider how the difference in their understanding of the Messiah changes the understanding of their discipleship. If Jesus is coming as a royal King to establish his kingdom on earth, they are about to be installed along with him in the kingdom. They merely need to be on the good side of the king, and all will be well.
However, if Jesus is coming to suffer and die, how should they expect to avoid the same fate?
Just over 100 years earlier, and likely vivid in their memory, a Roman General had defeated the slave-rebel Spartacus and crucified him and six thousand of his followers. And, it’s very likely that around the time Mark’s readers were reading this Gospel that Christians were being crucified and burned by Nero.
I realize we sometimes use the phrase “bear your cross” to indicate merely enduring some hardship. However, one commentator corrects our understanding by reminding us:
Jesus is not using cross-bearing to describe the human experience of carrying some burden through life. It is much more comprehensive than that. ‘People carrying crosses were people going to execution.’ Cross-bearing as a follower of Jesus means nothing less than giving one’s whole life over to following him.
- Donald English, The Bible Speaks Today, p. 161.
There is certainly an aspect of discipleship which is positive—Love God with all your hear, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. But there is also a side of discipleship which requires self-denial. Going without. Doing the thing you don’t want to do.
Consider the focus that comes from the phrase, “take up your cross.” If Christ requires that we be ready to give up everything, don’t be surprised when his will is for you to give up something specific for the sake of the Gospel.
When confronted by the call to discipleship, disciples do not have a “both … and” choice—both Christ and their own lives. They stand before an “either … or” choice. The claim of Jesus is a total and exclusive one. It does not allow a convenient compartmentalization of natural life and religious life, of secular and sacred. The whole person stands under Christ’s claim.
- James R. Edwards, Pillar NCT, p. 258.
When we take up our cross to follow him, we give up our rights to get our own way. Consider how radically this could change so much about your daily life.
Do we actively deny ourselves for the Lord’s sake, and for the gospel’s? Do we deny our desires with regard to food, drink, sex? Do we order our tasks and time in a way that communicates greater commitment to our love for God and our love for others instead of our personal comfort?
A wrong view of Messiahship leads to a wrong view of discipleship.
- James R. Edwards, Pillar NCT, p. 256.
Jesus did not go to the cross so that we can have our own way, just with a clear conscience. He calls us to follow him.
The great glory in the gospel… Jesus’ plan to suffer, be rejected, die, and be raised again delivers us from our failures to put God first.
Mark 8:37 (ESV)
The answer is, “nothing.”
Romans 5:8 (ESV)
Thanks be to God.
Galatians 6:14 (ESV) — But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
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