Summary: Be alert to the wiles of the devil. Be ready to deny self, and follow Jesus.
AN ANSWER TO THE TYRANNY OF SELF
The first half of the Gospel of Mark tells of Jesus’ presentation to the people as an authoritative teacher who also happened to use healing (and exorcism) as a teaching device. In the second half the Lord started to prepare His inner circle of disciples for His Passion, Cross and Resurrection - a message which they were slow to receive. The hinge between the two halves is Peter’s recognition that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29).
Immediately prior to the conversation which led to Peter’s famous confession of faith, the writer tells us of a blind man whose healing by Jesus took place - somewhat unusually - in two stages. First, the blind man was anointed by Jesus, had holy hands laid upon him, and received sight - but could not discern what he was seeing. So Jesus laid hands on him again - and told him to ‘look up’ - and now the man could see clearly (Mark 8:23-25).
This earlier incident informs the course of the conversation between Jesus and Peter. The no-longer-blind man was sent home, and told not to go into the town or to tell anyone about what had happened to him (Mark 8:26). Similarly, the disciples were strictly warned not to tell anyone about Jesus being the Messiah (Mark 8:30).
# These exhortations to secrecy were necessary because of the divergence between the people’s perception of what Messiah should be, and Jesus’ own agenda.
When Jesus began to openly teach the necessity of the Cross, Peter - of all people - took Him aside, and began to rebuke Him. This brought to the lips of Jesus what is perhaps the sternest rebuke that He ever gave (Mark 8:31-33). Jesus' rebuke of Satan echoes His response to His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:10).
Jesus' rebuke of Peter warns us all of the danger of becoming too puffed up by our spiritual experiences. From 'flesh and blood hath not revealed this to you, but my Father which is in heaven' (Matthew 16:17) to "you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men" (Mark 8:33) takes just a few unguarded moments.
# The enemy would use even Jesus’ closest friend to deflect Him from the Cross!
Of course, the Cross is the bit which we all like to leave out - ours, if not His. It is amazing to observe as well, that the shock of learning that Messiah must die rendered the disciples deaf to the “after three days” at the end of the lesson (Mark 8:31). So Jesus called the crowd to Himself, along with the disciples, for further instructions.
1. If you wish to follow Jesus, you must learn self-denial. You must “deny yourself” (Mark 8:34). The Christian life involves choosing the way of God rather than our own path. You must follow the example of Jesus, who surrendered Himself to the will of His Father (Luke 22:42).
2. The follower of Jesus is called to a life of self-sacrifice. You must “take up your cross” (Mark 8:34). Those who lived under the tyranny of Rome would have understood this! You should die to self, and live for God.
# For some disciples, this does involve following Jesus to physical death. Such should be the level of commitment for those who are serious about being Christians.
3. If you would follow Jesus, you must be willing to walk with Him, and to go wherever He leads. Jesus has walked the road of rejection before us. He will also be with you when you follow in that lonely path (Mark 8:34-35).
4. There are many ways in which a person can ruin their eternal soul (Mark 8:36-37). What use is worldly gain if it causes us to forfeit our soul?
# Until we recognise that there is no short cut to the reward of our faith, we will all - like Peter, and like the man who saw “men as trees, walking” (Mark 8:24) - be left floundering about with a limited vision of what God is trying to show us.