As we continue in this Holy Week, I want to focus on Mark 8:31–38. In Mark, this is the turning point of Jesus’ ministry here on earth. He now turns his face toward the cross as he proclaims the first of three passion predictions in Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34).
Every person of Jewish descent living in Israel under the rule of the Romans had a particular understanding of the Messiah. They all expected that the Messiah would free God’s people from Roman oppression, rule over the people with great authority, reinstitute the Law of Moses for the land of Israel, and reestablish the temple. When Jesus finally speaks of his messianic position it is not to claim the common understanding but to redefine it beyond the people’s expectations. He taught in perplexing and penetrating parables about the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. God was nearer than they realized, and He loved and forgave sinners. Jesus reinterprets God’s commandments (2:27–28), forgives sins (2:10), has power over nature (4:39; 6:48), and speaks the very words of God.
Can you imagine the surprise of the Jewish people when they discovered his scandalous mission? He came to experience rejection, suffering, death, and finally, resurrection. Any self-respecting Jew would resent the thought of a suffering Messiah just like Peter did! It was understandable that Peter should feel compelled to correct Jesus, given the fact that the Jewish people hoped for a triumphant Messiah.
By trying to prevent Jesus from suffering, Peter opposed the mysterious plan of God. It was only by suffering that God could destroy Satan’s stronghold as Jesus made clear earlier in the Gospel of Mark (1:24; 3:27). For Jesus, Peter’s rebuke conflicted with his whole purpose for coming to earth. Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples, yet Jesus identifies him as a servant of Satan. If today, you are a follower of Christ, but your actions conflict with the things of God, you are acting as a disciple of Satan instead of a disciple of Jesus. That’s sobering, isn’t it!
Just like with Peter, a wrong view of Messiahship leads to a wrong view of discipleship. That’s the point of verse 34, where the subject turns from Jesus to his followers. Mark abruptly reintroduces “the crowd,” by which he implies that what Jesus now says he says to all disciples, and not only to the Twelve. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Disciples of Jesus follow him by denying themselves, and even suffering if necessary. A person cannot follow Jesus except that he or she “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
As we take a long, hard look at Holy Week, we must begin the journey with Jesus, not just as spectators. Yes, he ultimately took our sins upon himself, paying the price for our sins on the cross. But we have a cross to bear as we live as his disciples. The image of the cross signifies a total claim on the disciple’s life. By taking up a cross and following Jesus, a disciple acknowledges that he or she is submitting to Jesus’ authority. So basic to the Christian life is the dual act of selflessness and trust in God, that if need be, even life itself must be let go.
I pray that we will actively pursue Christ on this journey. And the journey is not just for one week out of the year, but it is a daily, life-long following in all seasons. Today, admit where you might have failed like Peter, wanting Christ to fit your plans. Acknowledge your selfishness. And now repurpose yourself as his disciple, taking up your cross and following him wherever he leads.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Eric grew up in the little town of Gibraltar, PA with his grandparents. He met his wife Cheryl while working at Good’s Greenhouse in Bowmansville, PA. He has three adult children and values watching them grow into the people God wants them to be.