This section of the Gospel of Mark is one of the climaxes of the entire narrative. So much of what Jesus taught and modelled before his disciples up to this point culminates in his foretelling of his death and resurrection. That Christ would need to suffer and die at the hands of the authorities was so scandalous that Peter, who had been with Jesus for some time now, attempted to rebuke him. But Jesus would have none of it, calling Peter Satan for setting his mind on things of man rather than things of God.
Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection were the “things of God.” In other words, these events were all part of God’s plan, all part of Jesus’ mission in the world. Peter, however, was more concerned with this life. He may have had good intentions and may have represented all of Christ’s followers in his thinking. But what he wanted would ultimately keep Jesus from the cross, which was a necessity.
After rebuking Peter, Jesus then tells everyone that following him means self-denial. Following Jesus involves a cross. Following Jesus may even result in losing one’s life for his sake. In one sermon, Jesus dropped a bomb on his disciples. He would suffer and die, and those that follow him will, too. Wow.
This provocative truth comes on the heels of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. What intriguing timing! We’ve seen throughout our studies how time and again the disciples missed the point about who Jesus truly was, but here, we have Peter finally giving the right answer. It was only after this confession that Jesus adds this drastic stipulation. The connection between these two truths – that Jesus is the Christ and that he and his followers will lose their lives – is not incidental.
Jesus didn’t teach, preach, heal, and cast out demons just so his followers would answer the questions correctly on a test. He did these things to reveal who he was. And finally understanding who Jesus is does not bring discipleship to an end. Rather, following Christ has only just begun. The truth is, faith in Jesus is more than a mental assent to a set of facts. Faith demands something.
Faith in Jesus demands that “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.” Faith in Jesus demands “whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Faith in Jesus demands “whoever is ashamed of me and my words . . . of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed.” Faith is a whole-hearted, self-denying commitment to Jesus as Lord. This is a truth that many deny, reject, or attempt to water down; but the church must be faithful in telling the truth. If Jesus is Lord then he is worth following with our lives.