Summary: No servant is above his master, and the disciples of Christ are called to follow Him to the Calvary, however costly this may be.
Who’s coming off of a great week? Me too. But my brother made me homesick with a photo of the beach where we grew up. Living in Hawaii, I was never much of a surfer, but I did enjoy boogie boarding. There’s nothing quite like catching a wave, sliding along the waters’ azure arch. Waking up early (about 10AM), finding parking, waxing the board, paddling out, waiting for the right wave, all of these efforts are rewarded by glorious rides. Had I stayed in bed, given up on the too-full parking lot, failed to paddle out, or just taken any old wave, the experience would be…wrong. It was only through the effort, trials, sufferings, even a rejection or two, that the final moment of wave-riding beauty came. But I wouldn’t quite call it denying myself or taking up a cross.
So let’s jump into Mark 8:31. First, look just above our Gospel lesson, and you’ll see that ours is a continuation of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ; that will be important in a moment.
“He then began to teach them.” Where did Peter’s confession come from? From the crowds, from the Pharisees, high priests, or teachers of the law, from his intellect or the evidence he saw? “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Mt. 16:17). The revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Chosen One of God came first. Then Jesus began to teach the disciples what that meant. Faith, revelation, and response open the soul. And thus Jesus was able to teach.
“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.” Hear the “must” and its force in Jesus words: must suffer, must be rejected, must be killed, must rise again. Jesus is not merely foretelling what will happen in the future; He is not speaking of things that are going to occur. He did not say, “The Son of Man will suffer, will be rejected, etc.” Jesus teaches about his essential task. He speaks about the necessary mission of the Messiah. Jesus declares what must be done to accomplish the will of the Father.
The Christ’s mission was not going to be easy, not even hard; His mission was impossible and its attainment would be cloaked in failure. Let’s put it in other terms. Consider our dear Archbishop, Robert Duncan. On the occasion of his election as archbishop, what if announced that now his life would be a fraught with suffering, that the ANCA clergy would refuse to listen to his teachings and would reject lawful mandates, that we would conspire to oust him from office and then murder him, and that he’d rise up from the grave, and that all of this would be the greatest success in history, and that it would be to the benefit of the Anglican Church. If anyone can look me in the eye and tell me that it sounds natural, he’d be the finest liar since the last court case on Friday. The only thing Jesus must be…is crazy!
So thought Peter. This was no way to save Israel. Peter and the disciples heard Jesus’ obligations, and they said, “Never, Lord.” Turn this stone to bread: Give the people bread, make their bellies full, satisfy the physical needs of the masses and you’ll be their Messiah. Cast yourself from the temple: Give the people a good show, display your power, demonstrate how holy you really are with a divine rescue, and you’ll be hailed Messiah. Bow down and worship the devil: Give in and take the easy road, don’t face Calvary and its suffering and shame, detour around the denial of Peter, the betrayal of Judas, and the abandonment of all of your disciples (save one), and you’ll be given what you seek. The temptations Jesus faced in the desert, all these came rushing back.
“Jesus turned and looked at his disciples.” The twelve wanted an easier way. They understood what Jesus was telling them about his suffering, rejection, and death. “Jesus spoke plainly about this.” There was to be no confusion.
Jesus’ eyes came to Nathanael, the skeptic, to Andrew, the evangelist, to James and John, the spitfires, to Thomas, the doubter. What kind of Christ did these men need—do each of us need? Was it to be the easy way, the path of least resistance, filled with joy and triumph and glory and victory? Or was it to be the hard way, the via dolorosa? Could there be concession, or was there only an uncompromising path of righteousness? “No. There is no other hand!”
“Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Peter tried to take Jesus aside, to divert Him from this path, but Jesus turned back to his course. Jesus would not concede; He would not be deflected from His mission, or be rerouted like an airplane to a different destination. || The way of the cross is integral to Jesus’ mission as Christ, and it cannot be separated from Him. It is, likewise, expected that His followers, as Christians—as little Christs—, will follow in the way of the cross, for only in this way is one’s soul saved. ||