In On a Hill Too Far Away, John Fischer wrote about a church with a ten-foot wooden cross in its sanctuary. Bolted to the ground, it stood between the pulpit and the pews. The crossbeam blocked the preacher’s face. He had to come down to be seen clearly by the congregation. This is the way it should be. The cross should be intrusive and obtrusive. Unfortunately, the cross is no longer central to our worship. It is ignored and unnoticed on the back wall.
“The hill was far away to begin with,” Fischer wrote, “now it is so far away that the old rugged cross tends to be forgotten.”
Mark 8:31-33 strategically places the cross at the center of our understanding of Christ.
As Jesus and the disciples walked from Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi, he asked, “Who do people say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”People viewed Jesus as a prophet. They did not consider him to be the Christ. Jesus then asked, “But who do you say that I am?” This is the all-important question.
- People have different opinions about Jesus.
- Disciples have clear convictions about Jesus.
Peter answered: “You are the Christ.” This is the Great Confession. According to Matthew 16:18, this confession is the rock upon which Jesus builds his church. After the Great Confession is declared, the Great Commission is delayed. Jesus will send his disciples to proclaim him in all nations. But not yet. Mark 8:30 says: “And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.”
Jesus ordered people he healed not to tell it because he did not seek to attract crowds by miracles. Jesus stopped demon-possessed people from identifying him because he did not want the witness of unclean spirits. Why did Jesus charge his disciples not to proclaim that he was the Christ?
Our text answers that question. The disciples understood that Jesus was the Christ. They did notunderstand that being the Christ meant dying on the cross. 1 Corinthians 1:23 says, “We preach Christ crucified.” “Christ crucified” is an oxymoron. To preach Christ without crucifixion makes sense. To preach crucifixion without Christ makes sense. Christ crucified was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. Yet it is the heart of the Christian message.
Christ is the central figure of history. The cross is the central factor of history. The two are inextricably tied together: You do not understand the Christ if you do not understand the cross. In Mark 8:31-33, the centrality of the cross is revealed, rebuked, and reinforced.
The Cross of Christ Revealed.
Verse 31 is the first of three times Jesus predicts his death in Mark (9:31 and 10:33-34). Verse 32 begins: “And he said this plainly.” Jesus often spoke of his death in figurative language. Now Jesus spoke of his death in no uncertain terms.
The Purpose of the Cross. Jesus called himself “the Son of Man.” This Old Testament title had messianic implications without the geo-political expectations. It affirmed his identity without confusing his mission. Verse 31 says, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer…” “Must” is the keyword of this verse. John Phillipscalled it “one of the mysterious ‘musts’ of the Bible.” When soldiers arrested Jesus, Peter drew his sword to fight. Matthew 26:53 asks, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” The death of Jesus was voluntary. He chose the nails! Yet his death was compulsory.
From a human standpoint, Jesus must suffer. The rejection of the elders, chief priests, and scribes would ensure it. From a divine standpoint, Jesus must suffer. God hates sin. Yet God loves sinners.How can God demonstrate his love and not violate his holiness? Jesus is the answer. After the resurrection, Jesus walked with disciples whose hopes were dashed by the cross. Luke 24:25-26 says, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Yes, it was necessary that Christ suffer for our sins.
The Passion of the Cross. This prediction describes the passion in three ways.
Jesus predicts his great suffering. Verse 31 says, “The Son of Man must suffer many things.” This was hard for the disciples to comprehend. They witnessed the authority of Jesus over the elements of nature, pain of sickness, world of demons, and finality of death. Yet the one who overruled suffering would suffer many things.
Jesus predicts his official rejection. Psalm 118:22 says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Stones for building were selected carefully. Some were chosen; others were rejected. Verse 31 says Jesus would “be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes.” Jesus was not dismissed without consideration. The three power groups that made up the Sanhedrin examined the claims of Jesus and rejected him.
Jesus predicts his violent death. Verse 31 says, “The Son of Man must… be killed.” Jesus would not be lynched by a mob. The municipal senate of Jerusalem executed him. The death of Jesus was man at his worst but God at his best. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
The Power of the Cross. Verse 31 begins in defeat but ends in triumph. Jesus will suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again. Every time Jesus predicted his crucifixion, he predicted his resurrection. But it was as if the disciples never heard him say he would rise again. Or maybe they misunderstood what he said. Hosea 6:2 says, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” This was read as a promise to restore Israel. No one thought the Christ would be killed, much less rise from the dead.
Acts 2:23-24 says, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” The resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. Jesus declared he would rise again on the third day. The resurrection proves Jesus to be a prophet and more than a prophet. John 10:17 says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”
The Cross of Christ Rebuked.
Verse 32 says, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” As Jesus predicted his death, the disciples looked at one another in disbelief. Peter took it upon himself to say something. Considering it best to speak privately, he took him aside. This is strong language. R. Kent Hughes notes it has “an air of protective superiority.”
Like a father disciplining his son, Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. This is stronger language. Peter rebuked Jesus the way Jesus rebuked demons. Matthew 16:22 reports that Peter said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Peter’s Concern. Peter’s inappropriate behavior was the strange result of good intentions. Peter loved Jesus. He rebuked the idea that Jesus would suffer and die because he did not want this to happen to Jesus. He was determined to prevent it. During the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples he was going away, and they could not follow him. In John 13:37, Peter responded, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Peter would deny Jesus three times by the next morning. But he was sincere when he said he would die for Jesus.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Mark 14:46-47 says, “And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.” That unidentified assailant was Peter. Peter rebuked Jesus because he cared about Jesus. Before you criticize Peter, examine yourself. Does your life reflect a loving concern that nothing harms the name of Jesus?
Peter’s Contradiction. Peter made the Great Confession. Three verses later, Peter rebuked Jesus. One minute, Peter declares Jesus to be the Son of the living God. The next minute, he treats Jesus like an unruly child talking out of turn. Peter confessed Jesus is the Christ. Then Peter challenged the instruction of Jesus. This is why the disciples were not ready to proclaim Christ.
- They called Jesus the Christ. But they sought to determine his mission.
- They called Jesus Lord. But they tried to tell him what to do.
- They called Jesus the Son of God. But they treated him like their peer.
Alan Cole said, “Natural man never objects to the concept of a Messiah, provided it be a Messiah who commends himself to natural man.” This is not how Christianity works. Romans 10:9 says: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Salvation by Christ involves submission to Christ. The Great Confession that affirms Christ’s identity must not become a great contradiction that rejects Christ’s authority. Warren Wiersbe wrote: “This is a warning to us that when we argue with God’s word, we open the door for Satan’s lies.”
Peter’s Confusion. Peter did not rebuke Jesus because he rejected his authority. He was confused about his purpose. The disciples were clear about the divine Person. They were confused about the divine plan. They expected Christ to be a charismatic figure, master politician, and military hero who would overthrow Rome, restore Israel, and bless Jerusalem. Jesus was an obvious candidate. His miracles proved he was a man of the people, chosen by God, and greater than Caesar. The disciples bought the hype. They were eager to share the glory of Christ. They did not understand that suffering was the path to glory.
This is the irreconcilable differencebetween the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. It is the religion of human achievement versus the religion of divine accomplishment. The theology of glory is false Christianity that proclaims salvation without the cross. The theology of the cross is true Christianity that proclaims salvation by the cross of Christ alone. Peter got it right in 1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”
The Cross of Christ Reinforced
Verse 33 says, “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter.” Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Jesus whirled around and looked at his disciples. They did not know what Peter said to Jesus. Jesus knew they agreed with what Peter said. Then Jesus counter-rebuked Peter before them all. It is the most severe rebuke Jesus ever gives. It was not to hostile religious leaders. It was to the disciples who had just made the Great Confession. The way of the cross was the will of God. Jesus refused to abandon it under any circumstances. The Lord’s rebuke reinforces the cross of Christ.
The Lord Rebukes Satan. Verse 33 says, “He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” Satan means “adversary.”Commentators suggest this is how the term should be translated here. It is a feeble attempt to avoid this awkward situation. The unavoidable fact is that Jesus addressed Peter as Satan. Peter’s words reminded Jesus of Satan’s ways. After fasting forty days in the wilderness, Satan offered Jesus the world’s kingdoms if he bowed to him. Matthew 4:10 says, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
Luke 4:13 says, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Satan found a strategic opportunity. It was not the pressure of the crowds, the opposition of religious leaders, or the attack of unclean spirits. It was the ungodly advice of a well-meaning friend. James Edwards said, “When disciples play God rather than following Jesus, they inevitably become satanic.”
The will of God may call you to do something hard. It may not be a call to martyrdom. It may be a call to faithfulness in loss, hurt, fear, grief, or need. The counsel of loved ones to avoid suffering may sound like the voice of God. It may be the voice of Satan. J.D. Jones wrote: “When we bid our friends to think more of comfort than of duty; when we bid them consider their own interests rather than God’s call, we are committing Peter’s folly and sin over again.”
The Lord Rebukes Peter. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter was not a personal attack. He was not calling Peter Satan himself. It did not suggest the devil possessed Peter. However, by rebuking Jesus’ teaching about the cross, Peter was unwittingly doing Satan’s business. So Jesus rebuked Peter by banishing Satan. Jesus then explained to Peter where he went wrong: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
- His mind was on man, not God.
- His mind was on material things, not spiritual things.
- His mind was on the present, not eternity.
You cannot understand the Christ if you don’t understand the cross. The cross does not make sense to the worldly mind. Isaiah 55:8-9 reads: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The gospel is not what you already think. The cross is the weak power and foolish wisdom of God.
To embrace the scandal of the cross, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. What is your mind set on? Colossians 3:2-4 says, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”