If you were to summarise what we’ve read in Mark’s gospel up to now using only one word, or if you had to pick one word to characterise what we’ve read so far in Mark’s gospel, what word would you use? Perhaps you’d use the word ‘power’; or perhaps the word ‘authority’. And you might use one of those two words, because throughout the previous chapters, the Lord Jesus has revealed by word and deed that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, with the power and the authority to teach the people about God’s kingdom and to cast out demons and to heal the sick.
We’ve seen his power and authority time and time again. Back in chapter 1, he was teaching the people in the synagogue; and the people were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority. And then, on the same occasion, he drove out an evil spirit from a man in the synagogue; and the people were again amazed. ‘Who is this?’ they asked. Who is this who is able to teach us with authority and drive out demons with authority? That was the start of it, and we’ve seen the same thing, again and again and again: by word and deed, by what he said and by what he did, the Lord revealed his power and authority. We’ve seen his power over demons and over sickness. We’ve seen too his power over nature, for he was able to speak and silence the wind and the waves when he and the disciples were trying to cross the Sea of Galilee. We’ve seen how he multiplied bread and fish in order to feed crowds of men and women. We’ve seen how he even brought Jairus’s daughter back from the dead. Up to now, we’ve seen the Lord’s power and authority. And so, when the Lord asked the disciples ‘Who do you say that I am?’, Peter answered:
You’re the Christ.
In other words:
You’re God’s Anointed King with the power and authority to deliver God’s people from their sin and misery and to give them everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom.
The Suffering of the Son of Man
And so what a surprise, what a surprise to hear what the Lord went on to say to Peter and the other disciples in verse 31 of Mark chapter 8. Yes, he’s the Christ, but he — the Son of Man — must suffer many things; and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the teachers of the law; and he must be killed; and after three days rise again. Yes, he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King with power and authority. But here he is, announcing to his disciples, that he must, he must suffer many things and be rejected by the religious leaders and he must, he must die before rising again.
These things had to happen to him. It was necessary for these things to happen to him. There was no way around these things, but he must he must suffer these things.
So, he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, sent by God to deliver his people from their sin and misery and to give them everlasting life in his everlasting life. But in order to deliver his people from their sin and misery, in order to deliver us from our sin and misery, and to give us everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom, it was necessary for him to suffer many things, to be rejected by the religious leaders and to be killed before rising again. In order to deliver us the Lord Jesus had to suffer and die.
This is a vitally important verse for us, because this is the first time in Mark’s gospel that the Lord has referred to his suffering and death. Up to now, we’ve only seen his power and authority. But this point on in the gospel, the Lord is going to make clear that the only way for him to save us and to give us eternal life was by suffering and dying for us.
And so, he announced it here in verse 31 of chapter 8. Later on, in verse 31 of chapter 9, he told his disciples that he was going to be betrayed into the hands of men who will kill him.
Then in verse 33 of chapter 10, he told his disciples that they were going to Jerusalem where he would be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law who will condemn him to death and he will be handed over to the Gentiles who will mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him.
And in verse 45 of chapter 10 he said that he — the Son of Man — did not come to be served, but to serve us by giving his life — and he meant ‘giving his life to death on the cross’ — as a ransom for many.
Then in chapter 12, he told the parable of the wicked tenants who kill the son of the landowner. And he told that parable, because it was a picture of what would happen to him and how the people would kill him, the Father’s son.
And in chapter 14, he commended the woman who anointed him with oil, because she had prepared him for his burial. If the first half of Mark’s gospel is all about the power and authority of the Lord Jesus, the second half is all about how he had to suffer and to die for sinners. If there was any other way to save us, then the Lord Jesus would not have suffered and died for us. But since there was no other way, then it was necessary that he should die for us.
Why was there no other way to save us? Well, it’s because someone has to pay for our sins. Someone has to pay for what we have done wrong; and someone has to pay for all the ways we have fallen short of doing God’s will. Someone has to pay for it. God is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably just. That’s what we say about him in our church’s Catechism: he’s infinitely and eternally and unchangeably just. And it wouldn’t be just, it wouldn’t be right for him to ignore our sins or to disregard them or to treat them as if they didn’t matter. If a human judge sets free someone who is clearly guilty, then everyone complains that it’s not right and that justice has not be done. We expect human judges to do what’s right and just so that the innocent are set free and the guilty are punished for their crimes.
If we expect human judges to do what’s right, then we should expect the Lord God Almighty — who is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably just — to do what is right and just. And that means someone has to pay for what we have done wrong. And the reason the Eternal Son of God came into the world as a man was in order to suffer and to die in our place to pay for our sins in full, so that by believing in him we will not be condemned for what we have done wrong, but will be pardoned by God for the sake of Christ who gave up his life on the cross as a ransom to pay for our sins. The reason he came into the world was in order to pay for our sins by his death on the cross. And by believing in him, we’re forgiven by God. Whoever does not believe in him, will — on the day of judgment — by found guilty by God and will be condemned by God for what they have done wrong; and they will spend the rest of eternity paying for their sins by being punished by God. But whoever believes in the Saviour will be pardoned by God, because all their sin and shame and guilt is covered by the blood of Christ who died to pay for our sins.
If there was any other way to save us, then the Lord Jesus would not have suffered and died for us. But since there was no other way, then it was necessary that he should die for us. And the Lord Jesus knew this; and so he told his disciples that he must suffer many things; and by rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the teachers of the law; and that he must be killed. These things had to happen to him, because there was no other way to reconcile God and sinners than by the death of Christ the Saviour. And so, he died to pay for our sins; and then, on the third day, he was raised from the dead, to live for evermore; and from his throne in heaven — where he now rules over all things — he gives to all who believe in him the forgiveness they need and peace with God and the hope of everlasting life.
And so, we’re to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re to believe in him and in him alone, because there is no other Saviour of the world; and the only way to receive forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of everlasting life is by believing in the one who suffered and died as a ransom to pay for sins. And so, I say to you: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Believe in him and keeping believing in him. Let nothing cause you to stumble and to fall away from him; let nothing distract you; and do not be tempted to trust in anyone else apart from him; do not trust in yourself and in the things you do for peace with God, because even your own best deeds are spoiled by sin. Look away from yourself and look away from any other created thing; and look only to the Saviour, the Eternal Son of God, in whom is found full redemption, peace with God and the hope of everlasting life.
This is marvellous news. But Peter could not accept it. Though he had come to see and to understand and to believe that Jesus is the Christ, he did not yet understand that the Christ had to suffer and die for his people. Peter was like that blind man we read about last week who could see, but not clearly. So, Peter could see that the Lord Jesus is the Christ; but he could not see clearly what that meant. And so, we read in verse 32 that Peter took the Lord aside and rebuked him. Imagine that! He thought he knew better than the Son of God, which is something which men and women have been tempted to do ever since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve thought they knew better than the Lord what would happen if they ate the forbidden fruit. We like to think we know better than the Lord. But we don’t know better than him. And so the Lord Jesus rebuked Peter severely. He said to him:
Get behind me, Satan.
He called him ‘Satan’, not because Peter is Satan and not because Satan had possessed Peter. No, the Lord called Peter ‘Satan’, because Peter was acting like Satan by opposing the Lord Jesus Christ and by rebuking him.
And then the Lord went on to explain that Peter was wrong because he had in mind, not the things of God, but the things of men. Isn’t that interesting? The things of God and the things of men are diametrically opposed to one another. They are the opposite of one another. ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts’, the Lord God says in Isaiah 55. My thoughts are not your thoughts; and neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. The way that God thinks is very different from the way that we think, which is why the psalmist prays in Psalm 25:
Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me.
We think we know better than the Lord, but we don’t. And so, we need to turn to God’s word again and again to find the truth about God and about the world he has created and about our salvation. We need to turn to God’s word and believe whatever he has said there, because he’s the one who knows all things and who knows the way things really are. And he knows the way things really are, because he’s the one who made all things and who determines all things. Peter needed to understand this and to believe it. And so do we.
And so, when we turn to the Bible, what do we discover? We discover that the Lord Jesus had to suffer many things and he rejected and be killed before rising again in order to save us from our sins. But we also discover that whoever believes in him and follows him must be prepared to suffer many things as well. That’s what the following verses are about.
Suffering for Christ
Look with me at verse 34. The Lord called the crowd to him. So, he’s not talking only to the Twelve Disciples, but he wants everyone to hear this. And he said:
If anyone would come after me….
So, this is an invitation which the Lord makes to all. He invites anyone and everyone to come and follow him.
But then he goes on to say what following him involves. He says you must deny yourself and take up your cross. And then, in the following verses, he goes on to explain what that means, because he goes on to speak about trying to save your life and about being ashamed of the Lord Jesus and the gospel. And so we’re to imagine a trial in a court. And the Christians are brought in and they’re questioned about their allegiance to the Saviour: ‘Are you one of his followers?’ the judge demands to know. ‘Do you believe in him?’ And the Christians are tempted to deny knowing the Lord Jesus, because they don’t want to get into trouble. They don’t want to be hurt. They want to save their life; and so, they deny knowing the Lord Jesus. They promise never again to read their Bible or to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus. They promise to have nothing more to do with the church. Well, by doing so, they manage to save their lives and the judge sets them free. But they’ve lost something: they’ve rejected the Lord Jesus who alone can give them eternal salvation and everlasting life. They’ve saved their lives in this world, but they’ve lost their eternal salvation in the world to come by giving up their faith in the only Saviour of the world.
But then another believer is brought in. He too is questioned and asked:
Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?
But this one is not ashamed to be counted with Christ. He loves the Lord and will not deny him. He cannot bear the thought of not being allowed to worship his Saviour. He cannot abide the thought of never meeting with his fellow believers again. And so he admits he loves the Lord and he declares that he will never turn away from his Saviour. And the judge is furious and sentence is passed and the Christian is taken away. Now, he may have lost his freedom; and worse, he may have lost his life; but he knows that he has something better by far: he has everlasting life through Jesus Christ his Lord.
Now, when the Lord Jesus spoke these words, perhaps no one understood the significance of what he was saying. Certainly none of his disciples had really experienced what he was referring to. But by the time Mark wrote his gospel, the situation was very different. The Lord Jesus, of course, had lifted his cross and carried it to the place where he was crucified. And already some of his followers had been killed because of their allegiance to the Saviour. Think of Stephen, the first Christian martyr whose death is recorded for us in Acts 7. And we read there also how the church was scattered: believers had to flee from Jerusalem, because a great persecution broke out against them. And, of course, in Acts 4, we read how Peter and John were brought before the religious authorities who commanded them never again to speak about the Lord Jesus. What would they do? Would Peter deny knowing the Lord as he had done before when Jesus was crucified? Would John agree never to speak about his Saviour again? Well, listen to their response to the authorities:
Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’
On that occasion, they were only threatened and let ago. Another time Peter was arrested. And John — you may recall from the book of Revelation — ended up being exiled to the island of Patmos, far from his friends and family, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. And Peter — the history books tell us — was crucified. They lost their lives in this world. They suffered for their faith. But by believing in the Saviour, they received from him eternal salvation and everlasting life. That’s what it will mean to follow me, the Saviour tells us. Suffering first. But glory to come.
The Lord Jesus commands his followers to deny themselves. It’s as if he’s saying to them: Forget about that desire to save yourself and to save your life. When the pressure is on and you’re being threatened to give up your faith in me, and when you’re tempted to save yourself by denying me, don’t! Say ‘no’ to that desire to save yourself. Say ‘no’ to that voice inside you. Say ‘no’ to self. Take up the cross. Be prepared to suffer and die for me; and you will follow me all the way to everlasting life and the glory to come.
And so we shouldn’t be surprised if people hate us for what we believe. We shouldn’t be surprised if people despise us for being a believer. We shouldn’t be surprised, because the Lord warns us that people will hate us for believing in him and for believing his words. And when he calls us to put our faith in him and to follow him, he calls us as well to suffer with him. So, don’t be surprised, but stand firm, and persevere in the faith, because whoever perseveres and follows the Lord will — in the end, in the end possess everlasting joy and peace in his presence for ever.
But there’s one more thing to say today. The Lord’s words help to see what our life is. Someone will look at their life and see it in terms of self. They think of my life and my career and my possessions and my plans and my future and my goals and my desires. They think of my family. And everything they do is about themselves. But the words of the Lord Jesus teach us that life is not about self. It’s about denying self, saying ‘no’ to self so that we can follow him. He teaches us that the most important thing in life is not saving our own life in this world. It’s about following him and remaining faithful to him. He tells us that life is not about trying to do so well that we end up gaining the world and becoming a multi-millionaire. What good is that, he asks, if we end up losing out on eternal life by forsaking him? The Lord Jesus teaches us that we’re to live our life here, conscious of the fact that one day the Lord Jesus will return to earth in his Father’s glory and with the holy angels. Once he came in obscurity and in humility; but one day he will return with glory and power to gather together his faithful people. And so our lives here on earth are about preparing for that day. He will come again; and when he comes, will he find that you have lived only for yourself, or will he find that you have lived for him and for his glory, following him and obeying him and remaining faithful to him?
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.