Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
My text for next Sunday is written in Mark 8.36:
36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
It would appear that Mark starts a whole new section of the Gospel with this passage. Up to this point, Jesus has spent time saying and doing things; and it is all this that has caused people to ask the question: “Who is this man, who can teach as he teaches and do the things that he has done?” Jesus knows this and so puts the question to his closest disciples. Peter gets it right – and proclaims Jesus as the Messiah. One would expect Jesus to meet Peter’s answer with some enthusiasm, but we see in Mark’s account that Jesus’ response is ambiguous; he swears them to silence. It is also apparent that Jesus – at first – avoids using the word ‘Messiah’ for himself. This is probably because Jesus knew, all too well, that there were so many ideas about Messiahship going around that there was a real danger that many would have a misconceived idea of what this meant for him. There is a sense that – as most people expected the Messiah to be a military or political leader that would liberate them from earthly oppression – Jesus was not willing to accept the title and so he forbids (indeed rebukes) the disciples from using it for him. Jesus chooses instead the title ‘Son of Man’. At the time, this would have been less militaristic or political. He also makes haste to define more closely what this meant: ignominy, defeat and suffering – indeed the opposite to what popular views of the Messiah were.
This leads the disciples to rebuke Jesus in return and they try to dissuade Jesus form speaking in this way. This leads to Jesus using even stronger rebuking language because it is vital that the disciples understand. Denis Nineham writes:
“The blistering severity of Jesus reply is evidence enough that what is at stake is a matter of quite central importance …”
In the first instance, what Jesus was predicting was something that ‘must’ take place; there was no choice in the matter. To persuade Jesus to try to avoid these things was to tempt Jesus just as Satan had done in the desert after his Baptism. In short, it was to tempt Jesus to disobey the will of God.
In the second instance, it would appear that the disciples did not want Jesus to suffer because they would feel embarrassed to be seen as a follower of a Messiah who suffers. (This was a time of many different ‘Messiahs’!) It would go against the grain. Spectacular victories would seem ‘better’; suffering brings no kudos and offends the pride of natural man who would ask: “What is the point?” Nineham suggests that the reaction of the disciples reveals that “… their minds and wills are governed by the standards of this world, of the unredeemed natural man …”
They need to be taught that “God thinks otherwise …” and in ways that are often in complete reverse of the standards of the world. This truth needs to be known by everyone, and so here, there is no need for secrecy. The path to true ‘life’ comes through trusting in God and being obedient to His will. This can imply suffering in this world – even death. Our behaviour will often not make sense to those in the world. But, while this life is precious, it is nothing compared with the life to come.
Jesus being the Messiah means him being the ‘Son of man’ and this implies redemptive suffering and death. The disciples’ failure to understand was a sign of their hardened hearts and their domination by the standards of this world. The purpose of this passage is not to explain what happened when Jesus was first recognised as the Messiah, rather, to show all what is involved and demanded whenever this recognition takes place. To see Jesus as he really is and to know how to respond “… is always a gift of God in Christ …”
Jesus being the Son of man has implications for his followers as well.
We rejoice because our salvation is all of grace; unearned and undeserved, God’s gift to us. But as J C Ryle rightly suggests: “… all who accept this great salvation, must prove the reality of their faith by carrying the cross after Christ.” Part of this means upholding the faith which the world despises and a lifestyle which the world ridicules as too strict and too ‘righteous’. We need to crucify the flesh, mortify the deeds of the body, to fight daily with the devil, to come out from the world, and ‘… to lose their lives, if needful, for Christ’s sake and for the Gospel’s …’ Ryle rightly understands that these are hard sayings (he was writing in the 19th Century, it is even more so in our world of today). Or is it?
Our ‘credit crunch’ has made people realise that the so-called easy life is not that simple, and that having an abundance of ‘things’ is not the path to fulfilment and happiness. Our Lord knew that being one of his disciples would be difficult, but he also promises to give us the strength to life the life that will bring us blessing and fulfilment, beyond measure. Because what matters is not only the body, but also the soul – what the translators of the NRSV refer to as ‘… life …’ (verse 36)
Our ‘life’ is made up of more than things; it is made up of relationships – with others but especially with God. Being in relationship with others is sometimes going to mean facing difficulties, it is certainly going to require selflessness a denial of our selves; it is also going to mean sacrifice. Being in relationships - those that bring blessing and fulfilment to ourselves and others – certainly requires sacrificial living, a sense of giving of ourselves. When we do this, we discover what real living means. Mother Teresa discovered this, as did countless others. I prefer the translation ‘life’ rather than ‘soul’ in verse 26 as the latter sometimes distracts us thinking that what matters here is our eternal lives. Even Ryle suggests that these verses should be seen in the light of going through things becoming worth it, because in the end our souls will live on in eternity. While this is all true, there is a danger of living for eternity only and not now also. There is a sense that one might miss out on what it means to live ‘now’ – but living according to the way of Christ and not of the world.
Verse 38 also poses an interesting challenge. Many believe that they need to bring Jesus into every situation and conversation, for if they don’t it means that they are being ashamed of him. This, for me, leads to much embarrassment when this is wholly inappropriate, and in my view, brings our faith into ridicule especially when over-simplified solutions are suggested to complex problems – e.g. ‘… the Bible teaches …’
The bottom line for me is that this sort of behaviour has done so much harm, that people in Britain, i.e. those outside the faith, automatically switch off when they hear the words ‘Bible’ and ‘Jesus’ and so we need to opt for different tactics, indeed more challenging and even more costly ways. We need to live the life – walk the walk – in order to earn the right to talk the talk. Words can be easy, but I believe our Lord is calling us to carry of Cross of sacrificial living.
Words come easy, living the life is more of a challenge, but, especially in today’s world it is vital that people see how sacrificial living, the way of the cross, leads to fulfilment and real ‘life’. We need to show that we are not ashamed of Jesus’ words, by living them. As St Francis put it: “Take every opportunity to preach the Gospel, and where necessary, use words!”
It is quite possible for a person to make a massive success of their lives but in another sense to be living a life that is not worth living; the difference lies where one puts one’s values. Barclay offers the following thoughts:
(i) A person can sacrifice honour for profit. This can happened when people desire material things and when one is not over over-particular about how we get them. People used false scales in the ancient past, but there are a number of different ways in which the same principal applies still today. The question is: “How does life’s balance sheet look in the sight of God?
(ii) A man my sacrifice principle for popularity. Barclay writes: “It may happen that the easy-going, agreeable, pliable man will save himself a lot of trouble.” But in the end the question we will all have to face will be: “What does God think of it? It is not the verdict of public opinion, but the verdict of God that settles destiny.”
(iii) A person may sacrifice the lasting things for cheap things. It is always easier to have a cheap success. Authors can sacrifice writing a real masterpiece for the sake of cheap success. There are many other examples. Barclay concludes: “But life has a way of revealing the true values and condemning the false as the years pass on. A cheap thing never lasts.”
We may sacrifice eternity for the moment. We can avoid all sorts of mistakes if we always looked at things in the light of eternity. Barclay concludes: “There is many a thing pleasant for the moment, but ruinous in the long run. The test of eternity, the test of seeking to see the thing as God sees it, is the realist test of all.” If we see things as God sees them, we will never spend our lives on the things that lose our souls. Jesus put it this way as recorded in Mark 8.36:
36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?