And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:31-38 (ESV)
The apostle Peter gets it so right (Mark 8:27-30) then he slips up and gets it so wrong. He goes from rightly naming Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, to having Jesus call him Satan- all in less than a chapter of Scripture. Even the apostle Peter was a saint and a sinner at the same time. No one wants to hear about persecution or suffering, especially when it comes to one who doesn’t deserve it. No one wants to contemplate losing his or her closest friend, especially in the way that Jesus had to die. On the surface the thought of the Lord of Life having to die a cruel death seems counterintuitive. How can the Messiah save His people if he is rotting in a tomb? And what is this business about rising again after three days? No wonder Peter protested.
The necessity of and the reality of the crucifixion is hard to put one’s mind around. The closest we can get to understand the barbarity and sheer repugnance of crucifixion was historically accurately depicted in the movie The Passion of the Christ. The truth of the resurrection, which was not shown in that film, is even more difficult for us to get. How can the dead be raised? Better yet, how can death lead to life?
It is really easy to get tied up in the pursuit of things in this world. It is easy for us to get comfortable and to take confidence in our physical or mental ability, in our relationships with other humans, or in our possessions. The reality is that while those are good gifts from God, they are not our reason for living. All of those things, as good as they may be, are only temporary. Only God is forever.
Taking up one’s cross is not a popular thing to do. It may cost us friends or family. It may cause others to think we are silly or uneducated. Our confession of Christ may cost us material wealth or temporal security. It may cause us to go to prison or even be killed, which happens routinely in countries ruled by governments that are hostile to Christianity. For the sake of the Gospel we might be called to sacrifice for others in ways that have a heavy cost- materially, physically or emotionally. Yet we know our life is with Jesus, no matter what our circumstances in this life might attest. We cannot be ashamed of the Author of life.
We don’t take up our crosses to earn brownie points or add currency to a merit account. Nothing we do- or don’t do- can earn us salvation. It’s all on Jesus. Even our faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We follow Jesus – by faith- because we were created for the good works He planned for us (Ephesians 2:10).
Are we setting our minds and hearts on the things of God? Do we have peace knowing God is in control? The Holy Spirit is always with us and in us. We can always pray for God to give us faith, strength, hope and His peace no matter what our circumstances.