As part of a larger poem, William Ross Wallace wrote, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” A fitting tribute to mothers. But what about the God who rocks the whole world? Can we trust our souls to him? And speaking of “rocks” (a different nuance), our text today takes place at a huge “rock” about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.
Clearly this is a highwater mark in the Gospel narrative. In chapter eight we shift from the Savior who serves to the servant who saves. Jesus possesses the authority to save our souls because of who he is and what he came to do. And he challenged us to follow him. Professor Seth Wilson adapted an outline from Ernest Beam referring to three large themes of the New Testament. We will apply that outline to this text.
Jesus was well into his third year of ministry and about to conclude his ministry in Galilee before heading south to Jerusalem. It was imperative for him to secure the full devotion of his disciples. So he posed a question concerning his identity. The disciples had already confessed on their own that he was no mere man (Mark 4:41). But this time Jesus asked them for their confession. This took place at a huge rock formation near the city of Caesarea Philippi (a pagan area with an opening in a rock formation that was called the “Gates of Hades”).
Jesus asked what the word on the street about him was. This was not a case of identity amnesia. The disciples had to be “all in” concerning who Jesus was or they would never withstand the pressure they would experience later. They gave him some popular answers. There was a grain of truth in each response: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets (Matthew’s account specifically mentions Jeremiah, Matthew 16:14). Given the various streams of the Messiah in the Old Testament as well as the additions brought on by Judaism, no wonder many ideas existed about the Messiah.
But then Jesus narrowed the question, “You yourselves (this is emphatic in Greek), what do you say?” Peter’s answer could not have been better, “You are the Messiah” (Christ or anointed one). Matthew’s account is longer, fleshing out Jesus’ response with blessings and promises. We call it “the good confession” (see 1 Timothy 6:13). Jesus was not ready for his identity to be fully released so he warned (the same word for rebuking demons and used by Peter in Mark 8:32) them not to tell anyone about him. Even so, this is the most important identity issue in the world.
If we know who Jesus is, then we will embrace his mission. His mission was to die on the cross. There have been veiled statements about the cross previously in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 2:20), but Jesus spoke plainly (with boldness) about it now. He wanted to warn the disciples that the road ahead would be rough. Scholars speak about “three clear predictions” of the cross. In Mark’s Gospel they are located in successive chapters (8, 9, and 10). With each prediction additional details are given.
Jesus explained that the Son of Man (his favorite self designation) would have to (i.e. of divine necessity) suffer, be rejected by official Judaism, and be killed. The line that shot right by them was, “and after three days rise again.” Peter blew a gasket. He could not wrap his mind around a vicariously suffering Messiah. He rebuked Jesus, and Jesus returned the favor by figuratively referring to him as “Satan.” One of the most difficult concepts to accept, even today, is redemptive suffering, but it is the way of God in the world.
The New Creature
This is one of the Bible’s most powerful paragraphs about discipleship. Followers of Jesus (new creatures in Christ) actually join his mission by sharing in this redemptive suffering. Jesus called the entire crowd to three imperatives followed by four reasons for following him.
Denying self means to renounce the idolatry of self-centeredness. Taking up the cross was a Roman metaphor for death. While self-denial and taking up the cross are viewed as completed actions, following is ongoing (i.e. “daily,” see Luke 9:23). These fundamentals of discipleship are followed by a series of reasons for such radical living (each verse starts with “for” in Greek). If we want to save our lives, not forfeit our souls, and be able to stand when the Son of Man returns, then we must follow in the way of cross.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.