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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But 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.” – Mark 8:31-33 (NRSV)
The Messiah people hoped for, and Peter professes, is the Messiah of old expectations. The Messiah was expected to be the deliverer of the people. He would reclaim the kingdom and restore the land to the Jews. They expected this to be a physical and political redemption of their land – similar to the kingdom under David and Solomon.
The Messiah was to be the “promised deliverer of Israel who would establish God’s rule.” The Messiah was not the one who would be unrecognized by the religious leaders and killed. We can appreciate why Peter is confused. This helps us understand why Mark tells us Jesus began to teach them rather than just telling them what was going to happen. Jesus calls them to listen so that they might understand the truth.
Peter listens, at first. But like most of us when we hear something with which we disagree, Peter begins to formulate his response — making me doubt if he even heard Jesus’ final words that after three days he would rise again. After Jesus finishes his teaching with the disciples, Peter pulls him aside to privately correct him.
We don’t know exactly what Peter said. He might have been worried about protecting Jesus, not only physically, but also his reputation. Who is going to follow him if he says he’s going to die? Peter might just be unsuccessful in communicating his feelings, in his confusion, rebuking Jesus as he tries to assure him he’s not going to die. Or maybe, Peter just can’t believe it. Out of fear of what this might mean for him, he tells Jesus he’s wrong.
It may seem extreme that Jesus calls Peter Satan, but we know about Jesus’ temptation when he was fasting in the wilderness. We remember as well that these temptations weren’t simply about rocks, bread, and angels. Satan was tempting Jesus to take a path that didn’t involve suffering and death.
Satan wasn’t trying to prevent Jesus from establishing an earthly kingdom, but the eternal Kingdom of God. Much like when Jesus told the tempter we don’t live on bread alone but the very word of God, Jesus tells Peter and the others to set their mind on godly things rather than those of this world.
They cannot understand him, so Jesus calls the crowd to join him and the disciples and listen as he tries to teach them about who the Messiah truly is.
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. For 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those 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.” – Mark 8:34-38 (NRSV)
We use language about taking up our cross rather casually today. However, in the 6th century, 2,000 Galileans were crucified by the Roman Empire for insurrection. This teaching is taken just north of Galilee. Those who first heard Jesus’ words would remember this, probably even have witnessed it. “In the first century… crucifixion was one of the strongest forms of deterrence against insurrection or political agitation in Roman provinces.
It was scandalous enough for Jesus to suggest he would need to take up his own cross, but to suggest we should do the same? This was more than just “go sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.” Jesus was actually talking about humiliation, suffering, and death.
This was not the message Peter, the disciples, or the crowd wanted to hear. We don’t like it either. Our discomfort, or even outright rejection, reveals our struggle with the god we want and the God who is. Martin Luther called it the theology of glory versus the theology of the cross.
The theology of glory is how we expect God to act in the world, what we want God to accomplish. It is a theology that wants to join Peter in building dwelling on the mount of transfiguration or those who go from Palm Sunday to Easter without the passion in between.
The theology of the cross is God’s revelation of self in suffering and death. As ones who seek to be disciples of Jesus, we are called to accept this for ourselves as well. This doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate glory. The theology of the cross holds Good Friday in tension with Easter morning, understanding that they cannot be separated.
The Messiah that was expected was one of glory.
The Messiah who Jesus was required the cross as well.
This isn’t simple atonement theology: Jesus as the lamb that was sacrificed. The theology of the cross also proclaims that Christ is with the humiliated, the suffering, the murdered. We see the truth of this in Jesus’ life. While he may have attended a few dinner parties by the important people in town, he spent most of his time on dusty roads and in rural villages with broken people whose names are not remembered by history. But I promise, each one is known by God.
Earlier in Mark, Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Jesus still calls us to listen, even though sometimes we don’t like what we hear. Jesus’ call to deny ourselves and take up our cross is only following his example. This is radical discipleship. There is no promise of an easy road. Rather, we will choose whether we walk the same one Jesus did.
This doesn’t mean that there is an expectation that we will be tortured and murdered. The expectation is that we are willing to preserve the life of the soul over the life of the body. It requires us to die to things we want because they stand in the way of living in Christ.
One story we share at Heritage is the decision to die to what we were as Heritage Presbyterian Church. We’re still a church, with mostly the same people, but we realized that we weren’t going to be able to follow Jesus if we held onto our building. Our building wasn’t a bad thing; it caused no harm. But it represented our past. To go where Jesus was calling us to go in this season of our lives together, required us to leave the building.
We chose to deny ourselves the comfort of a place to call our own. We chose not to turn back to a past that would have been impossible to get back to. We chose not to preserve our own life over Christ’s call.
This wasn’t easy. At times, we still grieve. But if we hadn’t chosen to die to that life, we would not have the one we have now. I’m not saying we won our salvation by moving, but I do believe we have renewed life as a congregation. We are not ashamed that we are small or “well-aged.” We are proud to bear witness to Christ’s Good News in the world through generous giving to our mission partners — even if it means our life as a congregation ends sooner than if we kept all the money for ourselves.
We lost our life so that we could save it.
We died to live.
If we reflect on our individual lives, we have our own stories to tell. Some of these stories remain difficult, and we are still waiting for some new life. Regardless, as we reflect on them and listen to God’s call, they will help us recognize what we still need die to in order to truly live.
Again and again, as we hear Christ’s call to listen to God’s Word, let us hear not only the call to sacrifice but the promise of resurrection. Amen.