Last week, the reading in Mark ended at the end of chapter 7. Let’s take a quick look at the first 26 verses of today’s chapter. First comes the feeding of the 4,000; often debated as some misunderstanding of a single feeding account. There are so many differences between the feeding in chapter 6 and this one in chapter 8 that they are likely two different events.
The Pharisees again seek a clear sign that Jesus is the Promised One. ‘You will have no sign because you cannot see the many signs I have already given.’
The disciples fail to understand the dangers of becoming as obtuse as the Pharisees. Jesus tells them, ‘Read the signs.’
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. NIV
We generally read this event in Matthew 16:13-20, where Jesus praises Peter and gives him the keys to Heaven. Mark, as is generally the case, has a shorter version. Mark’s Gospel is half the length of Matthew and Luke. Ninety percent of Mark’s accounts appear in Matthew. Mark’s Gospel fits on a standard half scroll, making it popular with early churches because it was cheaper. While the early church decided to list Matthew first, few modern scholars agree.
What that means for the account of Peter calling Jesus Messiah, is that Mark could have included the additional statements, but he had to fit the scroll. Think of Mark as the condensed version. We used to say the Reader’s Digest Condensed version when the magazine sold over 16 million copies instead of the 60,000 today.
Peter gets the credit, but it is likely that others were getting the same feeling. Peter was outspoken and willing to stick his neck out while the others were willing to let him. Don’t forget that just three verses later in Matthew, Jesus said to Peter; “Get behind me, Satan!”
Mark includes the exchange.
31-33 And he began to teach them that it was inevitable that the Son of Man should go through much suffering and be utterly repudiated by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He told them all this quite bluntly. This made Peter draw him on one side and take him to task about what he had said. But Jesus turned and faced his disciples and rebuked Peter. “Out of my way, Satan!” he said. “Peter, you are not looking at things from God’s point of view, but from man’s!” Phillips
Notice first that Jesus accepts the title of Messiah, but never uses it himself. He mostly called himself the Son of Man, likely to stress his humanity. Had he not done that we might never have heard of him because he would have been taken as just another god. Jesus lived on earth as a man, not as God. He accepted being the Messiah, the Chosen One, but he insisted that he was a man. He never denied that he had a close relationship with God the Father. In fact, we can call it a perfect relationship.
Peter had no idea what it meant to be the Chosen One, he just believed Jesus was the Messiah. When Jesus began to tell his disciples (not the crowds) that he would suffer, Peter could not stand the idea and let his outspokenness get him into trouble.
I like Mark’s version of Jesus rebuking Peter. We see Jesus turning his back on Peter and saying to the other disciples, ‘Peter, you are a Satan.’ We are also prone to ‘get it wrong.’ Many in the past centuries have distorted the Gospel beyond recognition and many of us today do as well. It is a challenge to follow a person who was not willing to fight for his own life, to carry the battle to his enemies. Turn the other cheek? You must be joking.
Still, the words of Peter stand as the ultimate statement that all Christians should be able to agree with; “You are the Messiah.”
34 Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and because of the gospel will save it. 36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” NET
Jesus speaks to the crowd, including you and me. To follow Jesus, our Master, we must deny self. We can disagree about what he meant about taking up the cross, but we cannot misconstrue the notion of denial. We have no record of Jesus being self-centered. He first listened to God, then did what God wanted him to do. He also never complained, even when he was praying to God about his instructions to die in a few hours.
We Americans do not believe in denial. In the 1990s, China’s hottest selling book was, To Get Rich is Glorious. It could have sold well in the US. We—including we Christians—follow the thinking of the farmer in Luke 12.
16-21 Then he gave them a parable in these words, “Once upon a time a rich man’s farmland produced heavy crops. So he said to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have no room to store this harvest of mine?’ Then he said, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll pull down my barns and build bigger ones where I can store all my grain and my goods and I can say to my soul, Soul, you have plenty of good things stored up there for years to come. Relax! Eat, drink and have a good time!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this very night you will be asked for your soul! Then, who is going to possess all that you have prepared?’ That is what happens to the man who hoards things for himself and is not rich where God is concerned.” Phillips
We live now in the decadent age of the American Empire where we worship gladiators—football, basketball, baseball, hockey, Olympics, movie and music stars—we seek fun, hang the expense; we believe we are God’s gift to the world—and it’s savior.
None of that is found in the Gospels.
Jesus did not just decide one day to tell his disciples that death was to be his future. He told them because God said it is time to get them ready. They will not believe you and you will have to say it over and over, but now is the time to start.
And so, Jesus must tell us over and over to give up being selfish. Share from our wealth, and perhaps from our poverty.
Be righteous and do good.