There came a time in Jesus’ ministry that He took the disciples off by themselves to instruct them. To get away from the crowds Jesus left Jewish territory completely and went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. (Mark 8:27) Jesus drew a smaller crowd in Gentile territory and it was easier to get the disciples alone. Jesus was ready to tell the disciples about His upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection, and He wanted to tell them in a more private setting.
Jesus took advantage of the walk to the villages of Caesarea Philippi and began teaching them as they walked. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) This was a very typical teaching method in that day. Many teachers still use this method today. Ask a question. Then guide the discussion as the students struggle with their answer. You can teach many things as you guide students to the right answer.
The disciples responded with the answers they had heard as they traveled with Jesus. They told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:28) While these answers are all wrong, they do show a high respect for Jesus. All the names that the disciples gave were men that the people respected. The names were wrong, but at least they were honorable names.
This first question had been a warmup question. It is the next question that is really important for the disciples … the disciples then … and the disciples today. He asked them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) It is very important that the disciples have the right answer to this question. Not only the disciples back then, but the disciples today. It is important that you have the right answer to this question. You, who do you say that Jesus is?
Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29) Peter’s words are exactly right. But did he understand them? These are simple words to say but understanding these words can take a lifetime. Peter said the exact right words, but he will soon demonstrate the he didn’t have a clue what they meant.
[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32And he said this plainly. (Mark 8:31–32) Now that we have Peter’s answer, “You are the Christ,” (Mark 8:29) Jesus began to teach them exactly what it means to be the Christ. Jesus began teaching them how He would pay for the sins of the world. He would suffer many things, the Jewish leaders would reject Him, He would die, and He would rise. This is Christ’s work of salvation, not only for the disciples, but also for you. This is His work. This is the work that defines what it means to be the Christ.
How did Peter respond to the very heart of what it means to be the Christ? Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8:32) The word rebuke is not a word that we use a lot. It means to scold. It means that Peter took Jesus aside and began to criticize Him. Peter, the fisherman, was scolding the Son of God.
Peter didn’t know it, but He was acting as the devil’s agent to tempt Jesus. The heart of the devil’s temptation was all about getting Jesus to avoid the cross. Peter was actually scolding Jesus for talking about suffering and dying. Since the suffering and dying are how Jesus earns our forgiveness, Peter was trying to convince Jesus not to do the work that forgives our sins. Peter was doing exactly what the devil wanted.
Jesus recognized the temptation immediately. He would have nothing to do with it. Turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:33) Jesus recognized the words of Satan coming out of Peter’s mouth. He stopped him in no uncertain terms.
Here we see Jesus demonstrate the proper way to be judgmental and stern. Jesus loves Peter. He does not want Peter to be an agent of Satan. He wants Peter to be His apostle. He loves Peter enough to warn him of the danger that he is in. He loves Peter enough to pull him back from his sin. Jesus loves Peter enough to use stern, strong language to bring him back into His fold.
Jesus had a warning for the rest of disciples and the crowds as well. Calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37For what can a man give in return for his soul? (Mark 8:34–37)
These words teach the exact opposite of the words you hear from the popular preachers of our day. They will tell you that God wants you to be rich … God wants your children to get good grades … God wants you to advance at work … God wants you to have a life of victory in this world … and so forth. You can find plenty of people who will tell you that if you truly believe, then you will get all these things. You will become healthy, wealthy, and wise … your children will rise up and bless you … You and your spouse will have a relationship that is just marinated in love … and so forth. It is as if they have never heard Jesus when He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Jesus promises eternal life in the presence of God and His mercy and grace. This does not mean that we will live lives of luxury in this sin-filled world. Instead, Jesus compares the life of this world to carrying a cross … an instrument of torture and death.
How often are we like Peter? How often do we make decisions based on what appears successful in this world instead of checking the Word of God? How often do we assume things about God without checking the words that He Himself gave us? How often do we, like Peter, proceed in the way that we think is best and forget that God may have something totally different for us? How often do we follow in Peter’s footsteps by following our own thoughts instead of the Word of God?
How glad we can be that Jesus didn’t listen to Peter. Jesus followed up on His promise. He went to Jerusalem and there the elders and the chief priests and the scribes did exactly what He said they would do. They arrested Jesus and held a mock trial. Then they took Jesus to Pontius Pilate and used political pressure to have Him crucified. Jesus died just as He said He would and then He also rose … just as He said He would. Jesus did all this to take away our sin and give us His righteousness instead. Because Jesus did not listen to Peter, but followed through on His plan, we now have forgiveness, life, and salvation.
It is interesting to recall that the Mark who wrote today’s text was a disciple of Peter … the same Peter in today’s Gospel. It is interesting that Mark’s account of these events left out a few things. According to Mark: [Jesus] asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29) According to Matthew: [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:15–17)
According to Matthew, Jesus praised God the Father for revealing the right answer to Peter, but Mark’s account does not include Jesus’ praise to the Father for giving Peter the right answer. I wonder, and here I am speculating, did Peter leave this out when he told it to Mark because of what happened next? I wonder. Did Peter tell Mark to focus on Peter the sinner and agent of Satan. That way, those who heard this Gospel account would better understand the generosity of Christ’s salvation. That despite Peter’s great sin, Jesus suffered, died, and rose for him anyway. That if Jesus can redeem Peter, the agent of Satan, He can certainly redeem you.
Mark’s account is very clear. [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32And he said this plainly. (Mark 8:31–32) This is what it means to be the Christ. This is what it means to be your savior. Jesus suffered all these things for you.
When we talk about Jesus, it is very important that we talk about the right Jesus … the Jesus who suffered many things, was rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and died and after three days rose again. The only Christ who can save us for eternity is the true Christ … the Christ crucified and risen from the dead. It is in this Christ and this Christ alone that we have eternal life. This is the Christ we confess to each other and to the world. Amen
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