the BIG story: Mark 8:27-9:1

I recently came across a list entitled “The World’s Thinnest Books.” These are books whose content is so sparse that it fills but a few pages. See if you recognize any of these titles:

Burger King Items That Start with “Mc”
Southern Hospitality
Female Driving Heroes
Intelligent Things Men Say
Tic-tac-toe: A Strategy Guide
Things I Can’t Afford by Bill Gates
The Amish Phone Directory
O.J. Simpson’s Plan to Find the Real Killers

To which some wit has added:

The Disciples’ Guide to Understanding Jesus (based on their behaviour in Mark 8 and 9).

They definitely come over as dense. Jesus predicts His own suffering and crucifixion in three famous passages in Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). The inappropriate response of the disciples when Jesus predicts His own suffering and death results from their incorrect understanding of who Jesus is. Because of this misunderstanding, they also misunderstand their role as followers of Christ. In this passage, Jesus clarifies his role as the “Messiah,” and the role of those who wish to be called his followers. He does so by explaining the cost of discipleship.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message:

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

This is the price tag of discipleship. How much does it cost? Everything.

Jesus asks who others say that he is only to create the opportunity to ask the disciples who they think he is. Most people had a wrong view of who Jesus was (Mark 6:14-16). John the Baptist, Elijah, some other prophet all had a preparatory role. Jesus was the real thing. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew, Messiah, meaning “anointed one.” Mark 8:29 is the first time the word has surfaced since Mark 1:1 (and it will appear 5 more times in Mark after 8:29). I the Old Testament, people were anointed as prophets, priests, and even kings. Jesus was all of the these, and more.

Most (including the Twelve) were expecting a victorious Messiah by conventional means. The Jewish understanding of the Christ (i.e., “Messiah”) was that he would bring deliverance through conquest. Here, Jesus explains that he will bring deliverance through the cross. He would achieve victory through suffering. He would take up the cross, not the crown. There his listeners must change – and raise – their expectations of the Messiah. He is more, much more, than they had anticipated. God’s means of deliverance was through suffering and death.

Peter “rebukes” Jesus for this — the same strong word used of Jesus when he silences demons. Why is Peter’s response so negative? Because he knows that the identity and destiny of Jesus will determine the identity and destiny of his followers. What will the disciples receive in return for following Jesus? If he is going to reign, they will partake in His glory. But if He is going to die, they will partake in His suffering. That’s why Jesus tells Peter that he is interested in the things of men (really about himself) and not that of God. Peter is interested in saving his own neck! The “things of God” indicates that God’s plan includes Jesus’ suffering.

Mark 8:34 is the only time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus calls the crowds together with the disciples.  What he says is important. In fact, what he says is the fulcrum of the entire book. How much does it cost? What is the price tag for discipleship? You must deny yourself. It means treachery or disavowal of oneself. The closest opposite of the notion of “self-denial” is “self-allegiance”, being concerned ultimately for one’s own good, looking out for number one. Discipleship, Jesus informs us, costs everything. Jesus had challenged many of his disciples to follow him prior to this, now they could be clear what was required.

If allegiance can no longer be paid to ourselves, then who does it rightly belong to? To put it another way, “Who do I pay?” Jim Eliot spoke some famous words that continue to challenge us:

He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

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