Mark records fewer words of Jesus than any of the other Gospels. The first half of Mark (1:1-8:26) is about the person of Christ. Jesus moves through Galilee with power and compassion. He is almost constantly active and his growing popularity is met by growing opposition. Jesus is frequently telling people he has healed or helped to keep his identity hidden or secret (see Mark 1:34, 43; 3:12; 4:11; 5:43; 7:24, 36; 8:26, 30).
March 4, 2012
Mark 8:31-38, Losing Your Life Before You Die
Doug Scalise, Brewster Baptist Church
Then at Mark 8:31 where the Gospel for today begins, Mark commences the second half of his gospel which is about the purpose of Christ. We learn that the reason Jesus has been urging silence is because only he understands his destiny as a suffering servant who conquers through death. He will explain this to his disciples three times (8:27-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-45), but they will not understand fully until after the resurrection. Today’s passage includes the first prediction of Jesus’ passion – meaning his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. This passage is at the very heart and center of Mark’s gospel.
“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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 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.” 34 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.
35 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.
36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 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.”
The ancient tradition is that Mark’s gospel reflects the “memoirs” of Peter (who is mentioned 17 times) and that it appeared shortly after his martyrdom, at a time of great suffering among the Christians in Rome where the first great persecution of Christians had taken place in 64 A.D. under Emperor Nero. Mark appears to be written for a community that feels profoundly threatened and increasingly helpless. Mark doesn’t include any of Jesus’ teaching on discipleship until after this first explanation of his own suffering. The implication is the signs of genuine discipleship are the path of servanthood, suffering, and the cross that Jesus experienced. In Mark 8 Jesus gives the first of three predictions of his passion. All three of these passion predictions are misunderstood by the disciples. Their lack of comprehension gives Jesus the opportunity to teach them and us about the nature of discipleship.
Upon hearing Jesus talk openly about what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” The language here is like that of a parent taking a child who has misbehaved and of a superior correcting an inferior. Jesus looked at the other disciples and was concerned about their reaction to Peter’s words so he rebukes Peter in the strongest possible terms, ““Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus says this because it is a temptation of the Adversary to take a path that doesn’t include suffering. Jesus says that Peter’s rejection of the path God has laid out is based on thinking about life from a human point of view rather than from God’s perspective. Mark wants to fix our attention squarely on the importance of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus doesn’t preach a prosperity gospel; he preaches a gospel of self-denial, service, and suffering.
Jesus is the model of God’s power, of compassion for the needy and penitent, and of faithfulness to death. Jesus says to the crowd that is around him as well as to his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 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.”
Denying ourselves is not something that is advocated a lot in our culture, there seem to be far more fans of self-indulgence than self-denial. How many commercials can you think of that feature self-denial? This can be as true inside the church as outside the church. What are some ways you practice self-denial in your life? Can you identify one or two ways?
Jesus says we can lose our life before we die. As someone observed, none of us wants to spend our life climbing what we think is a ladder to success only to find when we reach the top that it was leaning against the wrong wall the whole time. Many people lose or squander their lives on things that are of little or no eternal consequence. It is not fun or enjoyable to lose something; whether keys, a note, or more valuable things like a purse or wallet. The more valuable something is, like time, the more it hurts to lose it. Nothing is more valuable than one’s life. These words of Jesus are a challenge to us all to be ready to face even our death and still stay loyal and close to Christ.
The paradox is that the true way to self-fulfillment is the way of self-denial. The Apostle Paul understood this and wrote to the Galatians (2:19b-20), “I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Reformation leader John Calvin understood losing our life for Christ’s sake and wrote,
“We are not our own; therefore neither our reason nor our will should predominate in our deliberations and actions.
We are not our own; therefore let us not propose it as our end, to seek what may be expedient for us according to the flesh.
We are not our own; therefore let us, as far as possible, forget ourselves and all things that are ours.
On the contrary, we are God’s; to him, therefore, let us live and die.
We are God’s; therefore let his wisdom and will preside in all our actions.
We are God’s; towards him, therefore, as our only legitimate end, let every part of our lives be directed. (Institututes III, 7.)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer grasped what Jesus was saying in these key verses and that is why he wrote, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die” Jesus was on a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, it was a dangerous trip, and he invited his friends to travel with him. It was a trip that Jesus took in the company of his disciples and even though they didn’t understand at the moment, I’m sure he appreciated having their companionship.
How much better it is for us to have the option of traveling the road of life with Jesus. The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote, “When a traveler starts on a trip along a road which is under the threat of robbers, he does not go alone. He waits for a friend, someone to be his escort, and then he follows him and so is protected from robbers. A wise man lives his life the same way. But there are so many troubles in this world. How can we stand all of them? What kind of friend or escort will we find on our way, so that we may pass through life without fear? Where should we turn? There is only one answer, only one real friend. That is God. If you follow God everywhere, you will steer clear of trouble. To follow God is to want what He wants, and not to want what He does not want. How to achieve this? You have to understand and follow his laws.” After Epictetus
As Christians we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus in our time and place. Choosing to be a disciple on Jesus’ terms is something we all have to decide for ourselves. One of the big stories in the sports world over the last few weeks has been that of Jeremy Lin, a three time All-Ivy League point guard for Harvard, who was cut by two NBA teams and almost released by a third. Now he’s on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated. Jeremy Lin whose parents are from Taiwan, is an Asian-American and a Christian, a rare combination in the NBA. A recent CNN story (February 21, 2012 by Steve Almasy) described how when Jeremy Lin was a sophomore at Harvard, he was struggling emotionally. A good guard on an awful basketball team – the Crimson finished the season with an 8-22 record – he needed something more than hoops. Lin, who had been baptized in an evangelical Chinese church near San Francisco in ninth grade and had come to value Christian fellowship through his youth group, was part of the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Christian Fellowship group, regularly attending Bible study. But most of his life was spent with his basketball teammates and other athletes, he later told the Student Soul, a website of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. “It’s a tough environment and if you don’t have appropriate boundaries, you’ll compromise your faith,” So, during his sophomore year, Lin stepped up his involvement in the Asian-American Christian group, gaining a sense of community that had eluded him. Lin led a small group devoted to Bible study and praying for others.
Interestingly, despite being a superstar in high school, Lin received no scholarship offers to college. And despite being a high-scoring player by his senior year in college, he didn’t get drafted by the NBA. Lin signed a free agent contract with the Golden State Warriors and seemed to get in the game only when his team was way ahead or far behind. The Warriors sent him down to a developmental league, where he fought emotional battles while on long, late-night bus rides. Lin, who until January was sitting on his third bench in his short pro career, was given a chance to play when some fellow New York Knicks were injured. He responded with a record-setting stretch of games in which he scored more points in his first five starts than stars like Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson had over a similar number of games.
Lin, who has said he may become a pastor someday, credits his rise as a professional athlete to understanding the way God was working in his life and developing a trust in God’s plan. “I’ve surrendered that to God. I’m not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore.” When he was sent down to the minor league the first time, Lin turned to his pastor, Stephen Chen, at the Church in Christ in Mountain View, California. Chen told him to spend an hour a day with God. Lin memorized a few Bible verses, including a passage from Romans 5 that reads in part: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Pastor Chen said, “It’s true hard things may come and you’re not guaranteed an outcome but through it all, there’ll be joy because you’re walking with the Lord.” Lin concluded by saying, “There is so much temptation to hold on to my career even more now, to try to micromanage and dictate every little aspect. But that’s not how I want to do things. I’m thinking about how can I trust God more? How can I surrender more? It’s a fight, but it’s one I’m going to keep fighting.”
In our own lives those are good questions for us to ask ourselves, “How can I trust God more? How can I surrender more? It’s a fight, but we can choose to keep fighting to keep the faith.”
Leo Tolstoy wrote, “The right path in life is very narrow, but it is important to find it. You can understand it, as well as we can understand it, as a walkway of wood built across a swamp; if you step off it, you will plunge into a swamp of misunderstanding and evil. A wise man returns to the true path at once, but a weak man plunges further and further into the swamp, and it becomes more and more difficult for him to get out.”
The walkway of wood built across the swamp of life is the way of the cross, and it is one we all choose whether or not we will follow.
Why do you think Peter began to rebuke Jesus when he spoke of undergoing great suffering, rejection, and being killed?
Why do you think Jesus rebuked Peter and responded so strongly?
What do you think Jesus means when he says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
How can we or do we set our mind on human things rather than divine things?
What are some ways you practice self-denial?
What does this saying of Jesus mean to you? Does it shape your life in anyway? “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.”
Point to Ponder: Discipleship is the active taking up of what could be avoided for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.