Man of Action, Part 5

The disciples had been following Jesus for a while now. They had heard His teachings and witnessed the miracles. They had seen His confrontations with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Now, it was time for the rubber to meet the road.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27 TNIV)

Ultimately, Jesus needed to know what their estimate of Him was. Dr McGee quotes a verse in his commentary on Mark, and it goes like this:

“What think ye of Christ” is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the test,
Unless you think rightly of Him.

This is a question every human being who has heard the Gospel must come to grips with and answer. Knowledge of Jesus Christ demands some kind of response. Most people won’t. That in itself is a response – a negative one. Most people would rather ignore Jesus than decide whether or not to declare what they think of Him. If you want to live the good life; if you want to enjoy God’s blessings; if you want a home in Heaven, then you must answer that question rightly.

If we look at this conversation in the overall context of Mark’s Gospel, we see that Mark was brilliant. His Gospel is truly a masterpiece. This begins the second half of the Gospel. The first half of the Gospel was all about Jesus trying to help His disciples come to the right conclusion concerning who He was. Just before Peter’s stunning and surprising confession, we read about a blind man’s eyes opening at the touch of Jesus.

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. (Mark 8:24, 25 TNIV)

This blind man wasn’t the only one to receive sight. The disciples received spiritual insight as surely as his eyes popped open. This miracle sets up the Q and A session between our Lord and His friends.

The right answer

The disciples were just regular guys. Sometimes we get the idea these 12 men were super spiritual giants. Nothing could be further from the truth. These guys were so regular, in fact, they must have driven our Lord nuts sometimes. In response to His question, they answered just like regular people would have:

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:28 TNIV)

There was a lot of confusion as to just who this miracle-working rabbi was. It was clear that the crowds swarming around Jesus knew He was special – a messenger from God. They thought, incorrectly, that Jesus Christ was a sort of reincarnation of some prominent Jewish prophet from the past. The disciples had heard the talk for months. They knew what people were thinking. But what did they think?

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

In all three Gospels, the wording of this question is exactly the same. That’s important to note. This is the most important question in all of Scripture; it’s the most important question any person will ever be asked. And, make no mistake, every person will be asked to answer it. The emphasis Jesus used as He asked His friends looks something like this:

But you, who do you say…

It’s all about them now, not the crowd. And that’s what it will always come down to: What do YOU think about Jesus? Who do YOU say that He is? The true believer in Jesus will be the one who, in spite of what the crowd may think, stands up and declares the absolute, final truth of who Jesus Christ is. As William Hendriksen notes:

In the best sense of the term, the believer is willing to come forth boldly in the interest of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is for “vigorous people” (Matt.11:12)…

He’s right about that. If you want to be part of God’s Kingdom, you have to “vigorous.” You need to be courageous and strong and, above all, fearless. Conformity to the world and its values is condemned in the Bible time and time again. Weak believers conform to the world all the time because it’s easy; its gutless to be like everybody else. It takes no effort to blend in with sinners. But citizens of the Kingdom of God are different; they are shining lights in a dark world; they are a source of blessing to a miserable world. In Mark’s Gospel, while everybody is whispering about who this Jesus was and getting it completely wrong, there were at least a handful who knew the truth and declared it.

Within some six months of the Cross, it was Peter, forever the spokesman of the group, who stepped up and gave an answer that has echoed down the corridors of time:

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

Mark gives us the short, Reader’s Digest version. Matthew gives us unabridged version: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Peter knew the truth. His confession is emphatic, without any qualification, and it was decisive. The crowd – people in general – had a false, political view of the Christ, the Messiah. That’s why they saw Jesus as John the Baptist, Elijah, or some prophet risen from the dead. They were framing their view of Jesus around their current preoccupation. That’s always a dangerous thing to do, by the way. Never frame your faith around your circumstances. Never let your circumstances dictate what you think about Jesus. By rejecting all the false notions about Jesus, Peter and the others showed that our Lord had been successful – they really did “get” who Jesus was and what He was all about.

In spite of knowing the truth and speaking it boldly, Jesus told His friends this:

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

They were not to tell anybody that He was the Christ. Why not? It was the truth, after all. We don’t know for sure why Jesus said this, but in all probability, these men, though knowing the truth, didn’t fully grasp it. They were simply not yet ready to go around evangelizing. The fullness of what “the Christ” meant hadn’t been revealed to them yet. To go and tell the crowd that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah without being able to explain it correctly would mislead the people. That’s why Jesus did what He did next:

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. (Mark 8:31 TNIV)

One big job was done. The disciples understood who Jesus was – they knew His divine Person. But now they needed to understand why Jesus the Messiah came. Jesus revealed His person, and now He needed to reveal His purpose: His great work of redemption. Salvation depends on both who He is and what He did. But, as men are wont to do, they didn’t want to receive the truth. Once again, it was Peter who piped up:

He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8:32 TNIV)

That took nerve. To rebuke the Messiah! Impetuous Peter was just saying what he was thinking. He got it right once, now he likely thought it was getting it right again. The timing here is key in understanding the nature of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter:

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33 TNIV)

As Lenki noted, the moment Jesus began to explain His plan of redemption, Peter began to rebuke Him. Peter wasn’t possessed by a demon, but wanting to deny Christ’s redemptive work is certainly Satanic. That’s why Jesus said what He did, the way He said it. The root of Peter’s rebuke was to be found in the heart of Satan. Jesus had already been tempted to take the easy way out when He was in the desert wilderness being harassed by Satan. And here was the temptation yet again, in the form of Peter’s words. Peter didn’t know it, but in rebuking Jesus he was standing in direct opposition to God’s will. He had in His mind the world’s idea of being the Messiah – not dying but doing something really phenomenal. That’s the kind of Messiah the crowd wanted – the kind who would do what they thought a Messiah would do. But God’s plan was different and His Messiah was different.

To this day, 2,000 years, man still struggles with this. Man still fails to see the absolute necessity of the Cross. That’s what Paul was getting at when he wrote this to his friends in Corinth:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 TNIV)

Like Peter, many people want the benefits of salvation without doing it properly.

Following Jesus: the requirements

In the face of what Peter said, Jesus cuts to the chase. The very moment Peter began to talk about what he expected of Jesus, Jesus turned the tables on him. Salvation isn’t about what a sinner wants from God, but what God wants from the sinner.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? 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.” (Mark 8:34 – 38 TNIV)

This is something Jesus told both the crowd and His inner circle. While His inner circle got part of it right, they were way off in terms of understanding what it meant to follow Jesus. It’s one thing to know about Jesus and even to have a rudimentary understanding of His mission, but it’s another thing to accept it fully, without any reservation. In this, the disciples were as ignorant as the crowd was. According to Jesus, there are two and only two requirements for discipleship: (1) denial of self; and (2) taking up one’s cross and following Jesus. Denying one’s self has nothing to do with giving something up, but rather renouncing yourself – that is, reorienting yourself so that God, not yourself, is your new and primary focus. The center of your life will now be Jesus Christ. Bearing your cross, has nothing to do with bearing with some problem or pain or situation in life that you don’t like. It involves “the way of the cross,” which is the way Jesus took. To bear your cross is to follow Jesus like a disciple– it may require suffering for your faith in Him, or maybe even your death.

If that sounds extreme, it is. But then, following Jesus as a dicsciple is an extreme act. It’s not for the faint of heart. Only serious people should even consider it. In Luke, Jesus phrased it a little differently:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25 – 27 TNIV)

It costs nothing to simply follow after Jesus. But if you want to be a disciple, it will cost you everything. And He’s still looking for disciples. Only those who are serious about it should consider applying for the position.

1 Response to “Man of Action, Part 5”

  1. 1 Vincent S Artale Jr January 5, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging and commented:
    Excellent piece!

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