The Way of the Cross
On February 17 there was a special day marked on my Rosenort Credit Union calendar called Ash Wednesday. I suspect that for most of us that day passed by without us even noticing it. For other people in the world, it is a significant day because it marks the beginning of a season of fasting and repentance in preparation for Easter. It is called Lent and extends for 40 days, not including Sundays and concludes on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. Many people mark this season with some type of fasting – either from meat or something else. We have traditionally not marked it at all. This year, I would like to mark it not with fasting, but with focus. Beginning today and over the next 4 Sundays, whenever I am preaching, I plan to preach on some aspect of the story of the death of Christ. Today we will begin with Mark 8:27-9:1 and then go to Mark 14 and continue through the entire Passion story until we conclude on Easter Sunday with Mark 16. After Easter I plan to return to the rest of Mark and complete the series on this gospel.
So, this morning, please turn to Mark 8:27-9:1.
I discovered an interesting thing in Mark the other day. The word “boat” appears 17 times in Mark 1-8 and then never again in the entire book. The reason for this is that the ministry of Jesus took place around the Sea of Galilee in the early chapters of the book. In Mark 8:27 we read that, Jesus was in Caesarea Philippi, which is in the northern part of Israel, at the head waters of the Jordan River, near Mount Hermon. From there he took a journey, making one more brief stop in Capernaum in Mark 9:33; going down into Judea, the southern part of Israel in Mark 10:1, and then on to Jerusalem in Mark 10:32. The rest of his ministry from that point on takes place in the area around Jerusalem. Mark does this very deliberately because the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem is not only a journey across physical geography; it is a journey to the cross. That journey begins in the section we are looking at today. Until Easter, we will join Jesus in this journey to the cross in order to prepare our hearts to understand the gift which was given to us at the cross and to prepare our hearts to truly rejoice in the message of the resurrection. But we will also join Him in this journey because we are called to follow Him. It is a journey to the cross, but for us it is also the journey of discipleship.
I. The Way of the Christ
A. Who is Jesus?
Throughout Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, we have already noticed that His popularity increased greatly. People came not only from the region around the lake, but also from the entire country, as we saw a few weeks ago. As they observed Jesus teaching with authority, healing without hesitation, casting out demons with power the question on everyone’s mind was, “who is this?”
Jesus asked this question of His disciples and they reported that the people had certainly recognized that there was something special about Jesus. They identified him with some pretty significant people. Some thought He was John the Baptist. As we know from Mark 6, John who had had a significant ministry that impacted the entire country, had been beheaded by Herod. Some people heard the preaching of Jesus and saw His power and wondered if perhaps John the Baptist had risen from the dead. Others thought that perhaps He was Elijah. As you may remember, Elijah was probably the greatest miracle worker in the Old Testament and he had not died, but had been taken to heaven in a chariot. Still others identified him with one of the other prophets.
In all of these conjectures, they had recognized that Jesus was special, but they had not really understood. They had identified him as a forerunner to the Messiah, but had not actually perceived that He was Messiah.
B. You are the Christ!
Then as Jesus asked the disciples the same question, they responded with the right answer. Peter, quite clearly said, “You are the Christ.”
What are we to make of this identification? Because we have understood the whole gospel, we have a lot of New Testament ideas about what this means, but what did the disciples understand?
“Christ” is the Greek form of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Both of these words mean “being anointed with oil.” Being anointed meant being set apart for service and being recognized by God and others as called. In Exodus 28:41 we read, "After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests." King Saul was also anointed to serve God as king.
Anointing implied a call from God and a special assignment from God. Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed the coming of a special person who would be called of God to redeem His people. David heard God promise the coming of an eternal king in his family. This promise was repeated in Jeremiah 23:5 which says, "“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. " With this background, the Jewish people were expecting an anointed one, a Messiah, a Christ to come and redeem them and reign eternally. This concept is reflected in Daniel 7:13,14 where we read, "“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 peoples, nations and men 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."
Peter identified Jesus as this one – promised by God and anointed by God to reign forever. How amazing! And yet how puzzling when Jesus warned them to keep silent about this identity. Why would he do that?
C. The Path of Suffering
After this warning to keep silent, Jesus went on to teach them what being Messiah would mean. In Mark 8:31, Jesus announced to his disciples, for the first time, what was going to happen to Him. He was going to suffer. He was going to be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law. He was going to be killed. Then after three days he was going to rise again.
In Mark, there are three times when Jesus announced to His disciples that he was going to be killed. This is the first time. Then he made another prediction in Mark 9:31 and a third in Mark 10:33. These announcements are all part of the path to Jerusalem, the path to the cross.
Peter’s reaction to this announcement was to “rebuke” Jesus. This word for rebuke is a strong word. It is the same word used by Jesus when he rebuked the demons as he was casting them out. Peter rejoiced when he heard Jesus indicate that He was Messiah. But we can also imagine his reaction when he heard Jesus talk about suffering and death. Peter had a view of Messiah that was victorious. Didn’t the promise to David indicate that this king would reign eternally? Didn’t the promise to Daniel say that He was to have everlasting dominion? How could he speak of suffering and death? Peter could not wrap his head around that at all and so the only logical thing was to rebuke Jesus. Peter’s understanding was the same understanding that most of the people had and they were not ready to hear about a path to victory through suffering and that was why Jesus told the disciples not to tell others his identity. They would have misunderstood the meaning of being Messiah, which would have closed their ears to the message further.
And yet this path which Jesus announced was necessary. The word for “must” is a significant technical term for divine necessity. It was because God planned it and God predicted it that it was necessary for Jesus to follow this path. In Isaiah 53, the path of the suffering Messiah was clearly laid out and Jesus accepted that path and was willing to follow it. It was necessary.
Therefore when Peter rebuked Jesus, it represented a temptation for Jesus. The path was not easy, but it was necessary and He had chosen it and anything that would derail him from it would be a temptation of Satan. So when Jesus rebuked Peter, using the same word Peter had used, he was not personally attacking Peter, but rather, refusing the temptation which his words represented. He explained that the path he was on was “the things of God” and the avoidance of that path was “the things of men.”
Jesus revealed that He was God’s sent one and explained that the path to victory which He was going to take was a path that led through obedience to God’s will and meant suffering and death.
II. The Way of the Disciple
In Mark 8:34, Jesus changed the direction of his comments to speak not only to the disciples, but also to the crowds. After revealing to His disciples what it meant that He was Messiah, He spoke to all about what it means to follow Messiah.
What Jesus was saying here has a very strong connection to what He has just said. These two sections are connected in the sense that following Jesus means going the same way that He went. Jesus lived in a certain way and if we want to “come after” Him, we need to live in the same way that He lived. If it is our life’s purpose to come after Christ, then we need to answer the question, “How do I walk in that way?” Jesus answered that question when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
A. Deny Yourself
Jesus denied Himself. Philippians 2 says that He “emptied Himself.” He gave up heaven and all the comfort, glory and wonder that it meant. He accepted the loss of dignity by becoming a baby. He accepted shame by being hung on a cross. Why did He do these things? He did it because He had come to accomplish the purpose for which God had sent Him. There was only one thing that was important to Him and that was not his own will, but doing the will of God.
Therefore, to deny one’s self means that, as Geddert says, “the self is denied as the controlling center.” When we accept Jesus and become His follower, the basic question of life changes and we no longer ask “what do I want” but we begin to ask, “What does Jesus want?” Are we asking the question of choosing values? What does Jesus want? Are we asking the question of where we will live? What does Jesus want? Are we asking the question of a career path? What does Jesus want? Are we asking the question of recreation? What does Jesus want?
Why do we ask this question? Because like Jesus, to deny our self means that we recognize that we are not on earth to do our own thing, but that we are on mission for God. We exist to make the name of Jesus known. Is that true in our life or have the pleasures of this life, the drive for having fun become our reason for existence?
B. Take Up Your Cross
As we follow the example of Jesus, we understand that Jesus also accepted a cross. Philippians 2:8 says, "…he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Jesus understood that He “must be killed.” He knew that it was God’s will for Him to go to death. For Jesus the form that that death would take would be death on a literal Roman cross. He walked the streets of Jerusalem carrying the cross and when they arrived at Golgotha, the soldiers nailed him to that cross and that cross became the place of his death. That is what denying self and taking up the cross meant for Jesus.
But when Jesus spoke this, the disciples would not have understood this. They barely understood that Jesus the Messiah was going to die and they had no idea that He was going to die on a cross. What would they have been thinking as Jesus told them to “take up the cross?” The picture of crucifixion which they would have understood was that rebels against Rome were crucified. These rebels against Rome would have been paraded down the street carrying their cross. The parade would have been a symbol that they had ceased rebelling against Rome and that they were submissive to the ruling powers. Perhaps what they would have understood is that cross bearing was a symbol of the end of rebellion and a picture of submission.
Therefore, to take up one’s cross describes what the disciple life is all about. What does that mean for us today? It is likely that the disciples would have understood this to mean that to be a disciple of Jesus means to stop rebelling against God and instead submit to God. How do we live in submission to God?
For Jesus this submission meant going through suffering. Taking up the cross cost Jesus shame, suffering, and even His life. Are we willing to follow God wherever He leads us? What if it costs us the shame of being ridiculed for Jesus? Are we willing to bear that shame and keep speaking about Him? It may cost us the loss of job and friends. Are we willing to follow that far? It may cost us our life? If you were called before a judge and you knew that the question would be, “do you believe in Jesus?” and you knew that to answer “yes” would mean death; how would you answer? Perhaps the more difficult question is, “If you are never asked that question, but live every day in a peaceful world with good friends and many blessings; how will you answer? Will you submit to God no matter where He leads you?
C. To Follow Jesus
When Jesus said “If anyone would come after me…” He indicated that following Him is voluntary. Notice He said “If.” So the question comes to us, “Is it our aspiration to follow after Jesus?”
The word which we most often use to identify ourselves, the word which the world uses to identify us is the word “Christian.” The word Christian is made up of two parts “Christ” and “ian.” The Greek ending “ian” is a word that is used in this form in different settings to refer to belonging. For example, it could have been used about a slave as one who belonged to his master. So, for example, if I was a slave of Carla, it would be correct to call me a “Carlian.” Therefore, as International Bible Encyclopedia says, “A Christian is thus simply an adherent of Christ.” Or we could say someone who belongs to Christ.
What is your relationship to Christ? Do you only see Him as a good role model to follow? Do you simply see Him as the one who has your ticket to eternity? Or are you, a person who belongs to Christ, whose life is all about learning to be like Christ, to be one who adheres to Christ?
To follow Jesus means that we accompany Jesus. Jesus has set the path before us and walks on it with us by His Spirit. Are we walking along with Him? After Easter, we will look at more passages in Mark which will describe more clearly what some of the implications of following Jesus are.
III. It Is Gain!
Taking up our cross is a great challenge, but too often we have missed understanding what it really means. How many times have we said, “well, that is the cross I have to bear.” What are we saying? We are saying, “Poor me! I have it so hard, but that is just my lot in life and I guess I will have to suffer it.” In the Bible Knowledge Commentary, it says, “Nor does it mean stoically bearing life’s troubles.”
If we read this text accurately, we will notice that self pity was not the attitude of Jesus, nor is it what He meant for us. Denying self, accepting submission is not about embracing hardship for its own sake or accepting suffering for the sake of suffering. Rather, this is God’s path to victory.
Why was Jesus willing to die on the cross? Because He knew that it was the way God had chosen to gain victory over evil and sin and death. The path of Jesus which He explained to the disciples in Mark 8:31 concluded with the promise of resurrection!
Coming after Jesus is not an invitation to choose what is hard. “Losing our life” is not about taking the hardest path we can find in order to beat ourselves for Jesus. The path of Jesus, which we are called to follow, is intended as the way to find life, for Jesus says, “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” It is an invitation to make a choice between a few measly pebbles and the gold of the Christ’s kingdom. Even if we gain the whole world, even if we win the greatest wealth in the world, even if we could buy Dubai, we would not have what we get if we are willing to give up everything, submit to God and accept the path which may lead through suffering. Jesus sets life before us! He says, if we succumb to the temptation to deny Him now because it is so much fun living in this world, or it is so hard to stand up for Him because everyone mocks us, we may find in the end that He will deny us. So as Geddert says, “The cross is a way of living, not just a way of dying.” Look at what the text says we will gain if we follow Jesus. We will save our life, we will gain our soul and when Jesus comes back we will experience the glory of the Father! Now what do you want, a handful of dirt or glory?
The enigmatic verse found in 9:1 can be easily explained. Many have wrestled to explain what “taste death” and “the kingdom of God coming in power” means. Let me suggest a simple solution. One of the key ideas which Mark explores often is the idea of getting it. He speaks, as we saw two weeks ago, about “seeing, but not seeing” and “hearing, but not hearing.” That is what this is about. Jesus is promising that there are some who are standing there who will get it. They will understand that the path of discipleship is not about loss, but about willingness to follow Jesus because God is coming with power. They will understand that whatever we let go of for the sake of Jesus is nothing compared with the wonder of following Him wherever He leads. Are you among them?
I will let Timothy Geddert have the last word, “The disciples sometimes imagine that the journey will lead them to glory, but Jesus keeps clarifying, ‘Not without first going the way of the cross!” “Jesus’ journey led into glory only by way of the cross. Mark invites us to follow Jesus on that journey.”