Studies in Mark’s Gospel, Continued

Two Confessions

Walk into any Christian bookstore and look at the most popular books, and something becomes immediately apparent: modern Christians want easy answers to every situation in their lives. Got a problem in your marriage? There are dozens of Christian books that give you step-by-step solutions. Got a financial problem? There are Christian financial counselors who can give you step-by-step solutions. Got an emotional problem? There are Christian counselors who can give you step-by-step solutions. You wouldn’t know that every single problem in your life can be solved in 40 days or less simply by following a few steps.

Mark would have been a flop as a modern Christian writer. Mark paints a picture of life—Christ’s life—as one that is not smooth and ironed out. He pulls no punches in showing what the real message of Jesus is. It is not what we are used to today: “Come to Jesus and He will solve your problems!” Indeed, the message of Jesus is a message of complete abandonment to God. It is not a message of self-help or self-fulfillment. It is a message of self-denial, not a message of getting all your needs met. In short, Mark demonstrates what Christian life should be by using Jesus as the example. Jesus came to die and He expects the same level of self-sacrifice from those of us who claim to be His followers.

As we have learned previously, Mark is a gospel of action and things happen very fast in it. As early as the third chapter, Mark alludes that the opponents of Jesus wanted Him dead and nothing less. Thanks to this gospel, we know that the death of Jesus was not an accident; it was not something that Jesus fell into because He ruffled some of the wrong feathers. Indeed, the death of Jesus was in God’s mind from eternity past, it was in the minds of religious leaders from the first days of Christ’s ministry, and it was in Jesus’ mind at least as early as His 40 days in the wilderness before actually beginning His work.

1. Peter’s Confession, 8:27—30

Mark’s gospel is a masterpiece of construction. This section is the exact midpoint of his gospel and begins the most important and tumultuous time in Jesus’ life. His crucifixion is a mere six months away, but while Jesus was ready, He knew well that His disciples were not. Much had to be done to prepare them for this traumatic event. The ministry of Jesus up till now in this gospel was almost exclusively among the crowds that followed Him from place to place. But from now on, the work of Christ would be chiefly with His friends.

The resemblance between Mark’s account of this event and those of Matthew and Luke is very close, and except for two verses in Matthew (16:19—19), the sequence of events and even the language used is almost identical. There is, however, enough variation in each account to show that the gospel writers were not just copying each other’s work, but rather, each man wrote the story as the Holy Spirit guided Him, using each man’s temperament and personality.

The healing of the blind man at Bethsaida (8:22—26) is an apt prelude to this section; the opening of the blind eyes symbolize and foreshadow the opening of the understanding of the disciples as to who Jesus really was and what His mission really involved. Even so, their understanding was not complete, but they did have a glimmer of the truth.

Jesus asked a question in verse 27 designed to test their spiritual insight (Sanner). The answers given are telling—

Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets. (verse 28)

The “some” referred to by the disciples were the crowds who had been listening to and following Jesus during His almost three-year ministry. What is so telling is that despite the many miracles, including the resurrection of the dead, the life-changing teachings, not one person even wondered if this Jesus could have been the Messiah. Part of this was by design; Jesus took great pains to prevent the crowds from making the connection. But part of their ignorance was human nature; they had certain preconceived notions about what the Messiah would look like based on their interpretation of their Scriptures and the tradition they had grown up in. How often do we miss moves of God in our lives or in our churches because He moves in an unexpected or surprising way?

Jesus’ next question is far more searching, and even though He addressed it directly to His disciples, it is a question no human being can avoid when they come into contact with Jesus—

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (8:29)

The Greek is powerful. The emphatic pronoun hymeis (“you”) is used by Jesus to find out what was in the hearts of His friends. He wasn’t at all interested in the people thought about Him, even though that was His first question. His concern was what those closest to Him thought. It is not enough to know what other people think about Jesus, whether they are right or wrong. Jesus’ question was intended to show that the responsibility rests with the individual to know Him themselves.

True to form, Peter was ready with an answer. It was personal answer, but he was also the spokesman for the Twelve, and his confession would form one of the themes of this Gospel (see 1:1).

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” (8:29b)

The Greek word, Christos (“Christ”) comes from the Hebrew masiah (“Messiah”) and really means “the Anointed One of God.” In the Old Testament, oddly enough, masiah was used of anyone who was anointed with the holy oil, like the priests and kings of Israel. The word is meant to convey someone with a special relationship with God; a very close relationship and consecration to serve only Him, and an enduement with God’s power to do that. Near the end of the Old Testament era, the meaning of masiah became much narrower and came to refer to, not a living king, but the ideal King who would be chosen, anointed, and empowered by God to deliver His people and to establish a righteous kingdom. Indeed, the many ideas that swirled around masiah were far more political than spiritual, which probably accounted for the reason that Jesus almost never used that term. That, of course, does not mean that Jesus did not believe that He was the Messiah, but that He was not merely the masiah of Israel, but of the entire world.

Peter’s confession, which is much fuller in Matthew’s account, showed that Peter had a depth of understanding into Christ’s nature and mission that set him apart from the rest of the crowd, but it also showed that he had not yet grasped exactly Jesus’ messiahship entailed. He still had so much to learn about the Messiah’s suffering, rejection, and death.

2. Christ’s confession, 8:31—33

Peter has just confessed that Jesus was the Christ. He was the One Israel had so long waited for. Jesus warned them not to tell anybody else—

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (8:30)

That statement is hard for some understand, but in light of what follows, it is clear that Peter’s reach had exceeded his grasp. He and the disciples needed to be taught what messiahship really meant before they tried to tell others. Of note is that Jesus does not refer to Himself as Messiah, but as the “Son of Man.” This is an important point theologically.

“Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite description of Himself throughout the Gospels. It occurs 81 times and with just 2 exceptions, no one else—not His friends or His foes—refers to Jesus as the Son of Man.

The phrase occurs many times throughout the Old Testament, sometimes of men, sometimes of a prophet, namely, Ezekiel; it is used over 90 times in his book of prophecy. This in itself is highly suggestive, however, the most significant passage in which “Son of Man” is used is Daniel 7:13—14, in which the Son of Man is shown to be a person from Heaven who, at the end time, will bring the Kingdom of God to earth—

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

This is significant because this is how Jesus is depicted frequently in Mark’s gospel—

If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (8:38)

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (13:26)

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (14:62)

But Mark adds another dimension to the meaning of Son of Man, as seen in these passages, for example—

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (8:31)

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (9:9)

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles.” (10:33)

In verses 31 and 32, Jesus taught that He would be rejected by three groups: the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law. The three groups of people were not ordinary Jews, but religious leaders, specifically; they made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court.

Although the prophets wrote frequently about a Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13—53:12, for example), the notion of an all powerful and invincible Messiah who would be rejected by religious leaders and be killed was unthinkable to Peter and his friends. Even though Jesus assured them that after three days He would rise again, we read this—

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (verse 32b)

Mark says Jesus “spoke plainly,” suggesting He held nothing back and spoke in a way Peter and the disciples could not misunderstand. But with a patronizing air, Peter had the audacity to “rebuke” Jesus.” The word epitimao (“rebuked”) is the same word used to describe the silencing of the demons. Basically, Peter was telling Jesus to “Shut up!”

Jesus, for His part, turned right around and rebuked him, Peter and the rest of the disciples, in the strongest language possible, which must have been startling to say the least. The rebuke was addressed to the Twelve because, as Jesus would have known, they shared Peter’s views.

“Get behind me, Satan!” (verse 33)

Why such a severe rebuke? Elwood Sanner offers—

With the popular view of the Messiah in mind, Jesus once more heard the voice of Satan calling Him away from the Cross (Matthew 4:3—10).

Barclay observes—

The tempter can make no more terrible attack than when he attacks in the voice of those who love us, and who think they seek only our good.

In other words, Peter did not see God’s plan, but was thinking with a “carnal mind.” Peter was literally opposing the will of God; all he could see was the Jewish notion of “Messiah.” That was the world’s way, not God’s way.

3. True discipleship, 8:34—38

In this section, a number of Jesus’ sayings are brought together by Mark, likely for the purpose of encouraging the Roman Christians who at the time were facing persecution and trials. Simply, Mark is telling them that such experiences are normal and to be expected in a life of discipleship. Lane comments—

Jesus had called his own disciples to the realization that suffering is not  only His destiny, but theirs.

Notice that the requirements for following Jesus are not only for the Twelve, but for all who would want to follow Jesus—

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple…. (verse 34a)

There are only two requirements:

  • Denial of self. “Denial of self,” strangely enough, does not mean denying yourself something, but to renounce yourself—to stop making yourself the object of everything you do and think about. For most human beings, this involves a complete shift of our habitual way of thinking, for God, not self, must be at the center of all of life’s pursuits.
  • Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus. Cross-bearing does not refer to some sickness or life-long, enduring problem. It is the picture of a condemned man having to carry his own cross to the place of his execution, as Jesus was to do. To bear your cross means to follow Jesus, no matter what, even if it means suffering, humiliation, and death. Hunter makes the insightful observation—

If you want to be [Christs] disciples, you must begin to live a men on the way to the gallows.

For some, the price to follow Jesus may be too high. To those, Jesus says—

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it. (verse 35a)

The word “life” is interchangeable with “soul” because they are both correct interpretations of psyche. A person facing trials and persecution, or even just ridicule and humiliation, may literally save their lives or their reputations by denying Christ, but what would this person gain? The whole world? Not even the whole world can compare to the value of your soul. Once a person has forfeited their right to eternal life (denying Jesus), they can never get it back. Even if a person possessed the treasures of the whole world, they could not use them to buy back eternal life.

The climax of Jesus’ stern warning is this—

If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (verse 38)

Following Jesus means the possibility of losing your life. However possible, that is not very likely to happen to us. For modern Christians, the probability is that following Jesus will result in our humiliation or ridicule. Ridicule is truly a weapon of mass destruction! It has slain many believers for no good reason. For those of us who think so highly ourselves and who consider our “reputations” and the opinions of others of greater value than our souls, the End will not be happy. Being spiritually disloyal to Christ, who gave His life for us, carries with it consequences so terrible they cannot be imagined. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, exchanged the glories of heaven to become man for you. If you prefer the present glory of man over the future glory of heaven, then that is all you have. The glory of heaven will elude you.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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