The scene in Mark 8:27-38 is the climax of the first half of Mark’s Gospel. This first half focuses on miracles and gradually reveals Jesus as the Messiah. The second half explains the nature of that Messiahship and has far more teaching and far fewer miracles.
Caesarea Philippi was located well into the heart of Gentile territory. Why would Jesus choose this location instead of Jerusalem to reveal himself as Israel’s Messiah? The most likely reason was to state that his followers were not to remain in Jerusalem but were to go to the ends of the earth and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel.
Jesus did not want the disciples to reveal his identity right away because they did not completely understand what that meant, as Peter demonstrated when he rebuked Jesus. Peter’s reasoning was demonic. He was influenced by Satan, hence Jesus’ demand to “Get behind me, Satan.”
Three times Jesus mentioned that his death and resurrection were part of God’s plan, and each time the disciples misunderstood his meaning. They thought that the kingdom meant Israel’s return to power and the end of Roman rule. Christ’s way meant suffering and sacrifice, not political maneuvering. Jesus knew that the freedom people need the most is spiritual freedom from sin and God’s wrath, not freedom from political oppression.
Christ’s death represents atonement for sin, and the beginning of God’s eternal, messianic rule. Nothing can make up for the loss of our soul, but there are many times when we exchange our souls and our lives for worldly things instead of spiritual things. Worldly things do not lead to eternal life. Those who give up their lives for the sake of Christ and the Gospel will find eternal life. This concept was very evident to the readers of Mark’s Gospel because they faced persecution and conflict. They saw this as a challenge to be faithful. We have the same challenge today. The world is still hateful to both Christians and the Good News of the Gospel.
I read a news story some time ago about a group of young people who were arrested for trespassing and attempted burglary. They drove to a car lot late at night and removed a set of tires from one of the cars on the lot. Unfortunately for them, the lot’s owner saw them on closed-circuit television. While they were busy trying to steal his tires, he picked up their vehicle with his forklift and hid it inside a building. When they finished their dirty work and were ready to leave, they had no transportation.
Many people today are the same. They spend all of their time trying to get material goods that they think will make them happy, when what they really need for happiness is a personal relationship with God. That relationship will provide us with the transportation we need to get to heaven when we die.
We must not let anything or anyone worldly take control of our lives. Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit that the apostle Paul refers to in Galatians 5:22-23. When we have self-control, we can stand up to people and things who try to tell us what we should be and what we should do.
Jesus taught that being great in God’s kingdom means self-denial and sacrificial service. These values are opposite to the world’s values. Self-denial means letting go of self-determination and becoming obedient to and depending on Jesus. Happiness comes from service, and we need to practice service and generosity today. These two things will bring more happiness to our lives than anything else, and they also define what it means to be a Christian. Jesus is calling us to carry the cross of sacrificial living. Words come easy and living the life is more of a challenge, but in today’s world people need to see that sacrificial living leads to fulfillment and real life.
Sacrifice does not necessarily mean martyrdom. It also means doing small tasks such as giving food to a hungry person or a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty. It also means doing things in the church such as teaching a Sunday school class or singing in the choir. Our willingness to do the small tasks as they are needed is more important than our willingness to die for Christ when that is not needed.
We do not have to do this alone, and we can’t do this alone. We need strength, and Jesus will give us that strength. This strength will allow us to live a life that will bring us blessing and fulfillment beyond our wildest dreams.
If we become suffering servants like Christ was, there is a danger that we might assume that the saving work of Christ is automatic. Mark’s Gospel reminds us that this assumption is false. Christ’s suffering servanthood teaches us about the Incarnation, but the passion of his suffering teaches us about his redemption. Too much emphasis today is placed on the healing of human hurts, which reflects Christ’s loving care for us when we hurt. More emphasis needs to be placed on righting of human wrongs, also known as sin.
This might makes us uncomfortable in the short term. We like our worship to be comforting and uplifting, and while this is a necessary part of worship, it must not be the most important part. The main emphasis must be on redirecting our lives, our values and our priorities. This disruption in our lives is necessary if we truly believe that the heart of Jesus’s message is change or repentance. If we accept this, we have to let go of the lives we have now, no matter how painful the process will be.
Jesus’ message of self-sacrifice won’t always fit neatly into our earthly lives. Words like “Come die with us,” or “Follow Jesus no matter what the cost,” or “Called to sacrifice for the world” aren’t heard very often in churches today. These words are the heart of what Jesus taught. He wants us to follow him by giving of ourselves so that others may know his grace. Believers have resisted this call since it was first made over 2,000 years ago, so it isn’t surprising that the same call is resisted today. How do we as Christians see it?
Our attitude as children of God must centre on a life that is lived in him. In return for his sacrifice we need to make good use of the opportunities Christ sends our way. God wants to be an active presence in our lives, and it is because God has been an active part of the lives of men and women throughout history that the church has survived and thrived. If the church is to survive today, God needs to be active in our lives today. If more people made God an active part of their lives, the world would be a better place (and our churches and offering plates would be full to overflowing every Sunday!).
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
- McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006
- Paul Estabrooks, “The Cross-Choosing to Follow Jesus.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Rick Warren, “You’re Happiest when You Give Your Life Away.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Exegesis for Mark 8:24-38. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Pastor Ken Klaus, “Let Us Follow Jesus.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Steve Arterburn, “Will You Have a Ride?” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pastor Dave Risendal, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” Retrieved from email@example.com