Summary: The importance of ’denying oneself’ and ’taking up the cross.’
TAKING UP THE CROSS
INTRODUCTION... How do you work this thing?
There’s the story of a soldier frantically digging in during battle as shells fall all around him. Suddenly his hand feels something metal and he grabs it. It’s a silver cross. Another shell explodes and he buries his head in his arms. He feels someone jump in the foxhole with him and he looks over and sees an army chaplain. The soldier thrusts the cross in the chaplain’s face and says, "I sure am glad to see you. How do you work this thing?"
READ MARK 8:31-38
This passage in the Gospel of Mark takes place just a short while before Jesus enters Jersualem on the back of a donkey to praises of "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Mark 11:1-10). In this passage, Jesus is with His disciples in the area of Caesarea Philippi and several things happen that inform us about the importance of the cross.
I. THE MARCH TO THE CROSS BEHIND
Verse 27 shows us that Jesus is laying out a very important question to the disciples. This question comes at the end of everything that has come before. The Gospel of Mark is a very action oriented Gospel and shows us all the things Jesus did and all the places Jesus went before He asked this important question:
Mark chapter 1 = Jesus heals many and preaches
Mark chapter 2 = Jesus heals a paralytic and teaches about the Sabbath
Mark chapter 3 = Jesus heals the man with a withered hand, conquers evil spirits, and teaches
Mark chapter 4 = Jesus teaches parables and stills the storm
Mark chapter 5 = Jesus conquers demons, Jesus raises a girl to life, and heals a hurting woman
Mark chapter 6 = Jesus feeds the 5000, walks on water, and heals the sick
Mark chapter 7 = Jesus heals, teaches, and drives out evil spirits
Mark chapter 8 = Jesus feeds the 7000, teaches, and heals the blind
I want you to know that the disciples were witnesses of all these things and listened as Jesus taught them. In fact in Peter’s first sermon, Peter describes himself and the other disciples in that way when he says, "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact" (Acts 2:32). They were also witnesses to the healings. They were witnesses to the teachings and revelations about God’s Word. They were witnesses of His daily life. They were witnesses to all His miracles. All of these healings and teachings and days of ministry were part of Jesus’ march to the cross.
Jesus now is seeing all that is behind Him and asks the all important question of His disciples: "Who do people say that I am?" What were the people saying about Him after they had seen some of the things that Jesus had done. The disicples let Him in on the scuttle-butt and rumors about Him. But actually, that was not what Jesus really wanted to know. Jesus really wanted to know the next question: "Who do you say I am?" It was these disciples who had seen all, experienced all, and been with Him all the way. What was their opinion?
Peter confesses rightly says in verse 29 that Jesus is the "Christ." Matthew 16:13 records for us a little longer version in which Peter says, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Peter was saying that Jesus was the one promised in the Old Testament and was the deliverer for whom the Jews had been waiting. Peter was also saying that Jesus could not have done all that he had seen if He were not also God. Peter was confessing that Jesus was God on Earth (Matthew 1:23). And with this correct confession of Peter, the march to the cross was now behind Jesus and it loomed closer than ever ahead.
II. THE CRISIS OF THE CROSS AHEAD
Mark 8:31 tells us, "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again." The whole reason that Jesus was born and lived His life was so that He could die on the cross. The disciples did not understand this and even as it was happening I do not think they understood. Jesus knew that the cross lay ahead and it would not be pleasant. Jesus began to tell His disciples that Jesus must suffer and die.
The same Peter that had confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God then began to try to tell Jesus that He was wrong. The sense we get of this rebuke was that Peter was threatening Jesus and telling Him that He was wrong for saying such things. Peter tells Jesus (Matthew 16:22) that such things will never happen to Him. Jesus sees that Peter is not understanding the eternal godly plan and is only concerned with earthly things. In many ways, I think Peter was a temptation for Jesus to avoid the cross and to live a long and happy life. Peter was a temptation for Jesus to avoid the rejection, beatings, and death of the cross and to live His life the way He wanted. Peter was a temptation for Jesus to avoid the crisis of the cross ahead.