The Lord's Day Evening
January 16, 2005
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now we turn once again to the Gospel of Mark. We picked it up last Sunday evening after a short break during the month of December, and we came to the enormously important section that's a turning point in the Gospel of Mark, as it is in the Gospel of Matthew, to the ministry of Jesus in Caesarea Philippi. We saw last Sunday evening the question that Jesus puts to the disciples: “Who do men say that I am?” And various responses to that question had been given. Some thought He was Elijah, and others John the Baptist, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. And Jesus turns to Peter and says, “But who do you say that I am?” And you remember Peter's astonishing and extraordinary reply: “You are the Christ.”
Now, that's only half of the discourse, and we need now this evening to turn to the rest of this exchange between Jesus and the disciples in Caesarea Philippi. Before we read the Scriptures in Mark 8 and beginning at verse 31, let's come before God in prayer. Let's pray.
Holy Spirit, we ask again for Your enlightening ministry. Come and illuminate these words that You caused to be written. We ask that as we read the Scriptures that we might read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. And we ask it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now, before I read the Scripture, let me just point out a verse that occurs right at the end of the section, and in some of your Bibles it's printed along with the paragraph that ends chapter eight, the first verse of chapter nine. It's not altogether clear whether that verse belongs with the section that we're dealing with this evening or whether it's sort of preliminary to what is going to go next, namely the story of the transfiguration. I'm going to read that verse. I'm not going to expound it this evening. I'm going to wait until next Sunday evening to comment on these remarkable words, that “there will be some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” And I think Jesus is actually referring to His coming with power and in the transfiguration event that immediately follows.
Hear the word of God in Mark, chapter 8 and verse 31:
“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 was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's.’ And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever 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.’ And He was saying to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.’”
Amen. May God add His blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Perhaps the most famous author of the early part of the twentieth century was William Somerset Maugham, a novelist and a playwright, and a short story writer. Some, though I'm not one of them, but some will say that he was perhaps the greatest in the twentieth century. His novel Of Human Bondage is a classic. His play, The Constant Wife, was performed for many, many years. He was a man who lived for his own tastes and comforts and sexual perversions. In 1965 he died at the age of 91, a fabulously rich man who lived in France. Although he hadn't written a word in years, he claimed he was still getting over 300 fan letters a week.
Several years later, a nephew of his, a man by the name of Robin Maugham, wrote in the Times newspaper, and he was recalling this relative of his, William Somerset Maugham:
“I looked round the drawing room at the immensely valuable furniture and pictures and objects that Willie [as he called him]...Willie's success had enabled him to acquire. I remembered that the villa itself and the wonderful garden I could see through the windows, a fabulous setting on the edge of the Mediterranean worth millions. Willie had eleven servants, including the cook, Annette, who was the envy of all the other millionaires on the Riviera. He dined on silver plates, was waited on by Marius, his butler, and Henri, his footman. But it no longer meant anything to him. The following afternoon I found Willie reclining on a sofa, peering through his spectacles at a Bible which had very large print. He looked horribly wizened, and his face was grim. “I've been reading the Bible you gave me, and I've come across the quotation, ‘What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ I must tell you, my dear Robin, that the text used to hang opposite my bed when I was a child. Of course, it's a lot of bunk, but the thought of it is quite interesting, all the same.”
And this nephew of his, Robin, goes on to describe an empty, bitter old man who repeatedly fell into shrieking terrors, and crying, “Go away! I'm not ready! I'm not dead yet, I tell you!” He was a man who had gained the whole world, and had lost his own soul.
Jesus is talking to His disciples about gaining and losing your own soul. He's speaking to them at this location, right up in the north of Israel, some twenty miles, maybe a little more, north of the Sea of Galilee in Caesarea Philippi. And Jesus has asked Peter as to “who do men say that I am”, and then he went on to ask Peter himself, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter has answered, “You are the Christ.” You are the Messiah, the divinely anointed One promised in the Old Testament Scriptures; the promised Prophet, Priest, and King. And Jesus is continuing now in His conversation, and He's suggesting to His disciples that we can lose our own souls if we fail to grasp what it is that Jesus has come to do. And Jesus takes the disciples to the very heart of His ministry: that He has come to die; that He has come in order that He might be crucified, and be raised again.
The cross is at the center of Mark's Gospel. It's at the center of Mark's understanding of Jesus. Mark presents Jesus more than any of the other Gospels do as the Suffering Servant of the Lord, and not a little of the background is probably that of the servant song in Isaiah 53.
Strictly speaking, we're not told who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and like the other three, this particular Gospel is strictly anonymous. There's a very ancient tradition that attributes it to John Mark.
Mark was known to have a close relationship with Peter. Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis at the beginning of the second century, calls Mark ‘Peter's interpreter.’ And Mark includes, interestingly enough, Peter's foibles. Perhaps Peter wanted us to remember the follies, the daft and silly things that he did and said. And perhaps, too, Mark has included these because like Peter, Mark, too, had failed–if the young man in Mark 14 who runs naked from the Garden of Gethsemane is indeed John Mark, as tradition tells us.
That wasn't to be the first time that Mark would run away. You remember, during the course of the first missionary journey Mark would once again run away; and we read later, in II Timothy, how Mark is actually restored. He's someone who has known failure in his life, but also known the sweet forgiveness of the Lord–exactly like Peter, in other words.
Now, this passage that's before us brings together several themes. It brings together who Jesus is, and what Jesus had come to do, and what Jesus asks of us. We've already seen who Jesus is: He is the Christ. He is the Christ. But you remember that having confessed that He is the Christ, Jesus went on to warn Peter and the other disciples not to tell anyone about Him, in verse 30. He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him, and that because various of His disciples had different ideas as to what the Christ, the Messiah, would actually be. He needs to instruct them. He needs to teach them as to precisely what kind of Messiah Jesus actually is.
What form does Jesus’ Messiahship take? And the answer is “cross-shaped.” Cross-shaped. And in this passage that we read together this evening there are, in fact, two things I want us to see: the cross that Jesus takes, and the cross that Jesus demands of us. The cross that Jesus takes Himself, and the cross that He demands of us.
I. The cross that Jesus takes
We read in verse 31 that “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.....”
There's a very interesting set of phrases–it doesn't come out quite as clearly, perhaps in the New American Standard Version that I read earlier–but in some translations it comes out a little clearer than that in verse 33. And Peter is being addressed by Jesus, and Jesus is saying to Peter, and actually behind Peter to Satan, that there is such a thing as the things of God, and there is such a thing as the things of men. And Peter is having regard to the things of men.
When Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him, he's only regarding the things of men, and not the things of God. And what Jesus seems to be alluding to is that there is a logic that is altogether different about the way God sees things and the way men and women of this world see things. And Jesus is saying to Peter, there is something about Me and there is something about My coming into this world, and there is something about that which I am about to do which belongs to a different order of logic. It doesn't belong to the things of men. It doesn't belong to the way the world sees things and analyses things. It belongs to the things of God. There is a necessity to the cross that renders the cross of Christ something more than just a mere tragedy.
Now Jesus alludes to several things as He begins to unfold to the disciples the necessity of His crucifixion. He says first of all...he makes an allusion to this name, the Son of Man...the Son of Man: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer....” And He's picking up a phrase that was well known to the Hebrews, coming out of the Old Testament and coming out of the Book of Daniel, and especially out of Daniel, chapter seven: “A great vision of One like unto the Son of Man....” That is, a human figure who comes on the clouds of heaven and approaches the Ancient of Days (that is, God). And the Ancient of Days is sitting upon a throne, and this One like a Son of Man is given glory and authority, and sovereign power, so that in consequence all peoples and nations and men of every language worship Him. And His dominion, Daniel says, is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. And perhaps Peter had in mind when he said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God...You are the Christ”–perhaps Peter had in mind, as no doubt some of the disciples had in mind, that when Messiah comes, He would come like that. He would come as all-powerful, all-conquering figure, a revolutionary figure, who would banish the Roman Empire's domination of Israel and free Jerusalem, and restore the fortunes of God's people; and rule, perhaps, sitting on a golden throne in Jerusalem.
But what is this about a Son of Man suffering many things, and being killed? And what Jesus is doing here is something quite extraordinary. He's taking one picture from the Old Testament, from Daniel 7–the Son of Man picture–, and He's drawing from another picture from the Old Testament, the picture of the Suffering Servant of the Lord, the Servant of the Lord from the four servant songs in Isaiah 40 and 50; and he's drawing especially, perhaps, from that fourth servant song in Isaiah 53:
“He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement due to our peace was laid upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
And Jesus is saying to Peter, when the Son of Man comes, yes, He will come as the all-conquering One; He will come to do battle; He will come to gather His people unto Himself; but He’ll come as a Suffering Servant. He’ll come as one who is bruised and chastised, and disfigured and beaten and killed. And He fuses together these two Old Testament Scriptures.
But notice the language again: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer....” He must suffer. There is a divine compulsion, there is a divine necessity to the Son of Man's suffering. He begins to teach them, evidently because they needed to be taught that the only way that God can gather His people to Himself, the only way that redemption can be bought and purchased is by the death of the Son of Man figure; is that Jesus the Christ, the incarnate Lord, be beaten and tried and tested and forsaken, and crucified, and dead, and buried.
It's not altogether without warrant that the Christian church took as its symbol of Christianity, not the crib, not the carpenter's bench, but the cross–the cross of Calvary. And lying beneath these words are words of divine absolute necessity: that the only way of deliverance from sin, the only way of redemption, is that the Son of Man must suffer and be killed.
It's interesting, in the wake of what Ligon is doing on Wednesday evenings and has been doing here on Sunday evenings last fall, as we've been going through all of those sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7, sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice...if you ever have the stomach to do so, and you read Edersheim's description of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus on one of the great feast days like Passover, coming down from the beside the precincts of the temple, down into that valley below, there was a trench. And down that trench would go rivers, Edersheim says, rivers of blood. It would turn stomachs. The strongest of us could not look upon it. And yet, what is Jesus saying here? That “not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain could give the guilty conscience peace, or wash away the stain.” Or in the words of that hymn by Robert Lowery, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
And on hearing these words, Peter begins to oppose Him. He is immediately opposed first of all by Peter. Peter reflects on what Jesus is saying, and he turns to Jesus and he says, “Never, Lord!” in Matthew 16.
It's interesting, I think, that Peter would reflect on these words for the rest of his life. And when he comes to write his first epistle, he's hardly into the epistle and he begins to speak that we are purchased “not with precious things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.” I think in all of those meditative moments that Peter would have, he would reflect on the necessity of the blood-shedding of Jesus Christ. But here, right now, in Caesarea Philippi, he cannot see this, and he takes Jesus aside–think of it! He takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him! And don't you want to take Peter aside and say, “Peter, shush! Shut your mouth, Peter!”–if that's not too indiscreet a thing to say.
Oh, how the church would later see this in all of its glory, when the Apostle Paul could say to the Corinthians, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Or “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God,” Peter would say.
But not only Peter, of course, but as the text so graphically alludes, behind this rebuke of Peter lay the form of the evil one: Satan, the devil, Apollyon. There is a sense in which what Jesus is going to do on the cross is to defeat the powers of darkness, and I think Satan sensed it now, that that ancient promise given to Eve in the Garden of Eden that a seed would be born who would crush the very head of Satan–and Satan saw it now, as perhaps he’d never seen it before. It dawned on him now, the consequences of the birth of Messiah. And through Peter, his instrument now, he rebukes Jesus, because what Jesus had come to do was to spoil principalities and powers, and make a triumph over them openly in the cross.
These words are the words of doom for Satan and the kingdom of darkness: that Jesus will not only die, that He will not only be crucified, but He will rise again and the tomb will be empty, and that physical body of Jesus will pass through the grave clothes and walk into that garden and speak to Mary Magdalene, and meet Peter somewhere in the streets of Jerusalem, and two on the Road to Emmaus, and the disciples in the Upper Room, and later up in Galilee–and again, and again, and again demonstrating— do you see?–demonstrating to Satan and to all of the forces of darkness He has come not simply to die, but to die in triumph! To die in glory! To die in accomplishment of God's grand covenantal design to save a people for Himself.
II. The cross that Jesus demands
of His disciples.
Jesus speaks of the cross that He Himself must bear. But secondly He speaks of the cross that He demands of His disciples. And He goes on to speak of what is sometimes being summarized in the form of the two great demands of discipleship in the kingdom of God: cross-bearing and self-denial. It's so beautifully illustrated in John Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion, in Book Three, summarized to a large extent by these two very demands of cross-bearing and self-denial. When Calvin comes to write a commentary on First Peter, he says, “God has so instituted the Church from the very beginning that death is the way to life, and the cross the way to victory.” And what Jesus is saying to Peter and the disciples now is this: that if they persecute Me, they will persecute you also. There is a cross which Jesus takes, but there is a cross, too, that disciples must take as they follow in obedience to their risen Lord and Savior and Master. It's a cross of trial, and a cross of suffering, and a cross that is demanding–and many of you here tonight know what this cross is all about only too well, as you follow Jesus with all of your heart, as you love Him and sing His praises, and yet your hearts are heavy and burdened–trials in your home, and trials in your family, and trials in your marriage, and trials in your places of work–and you love the Lord, and yet there are these problems and difficulties and trials. And I think of those words of Thomas Aquinas: “If you will bear the cross, it will bear you.” The cross: it will bear you.
The eighth century king, King Charlemagne, builder of the so-called Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire–fighter of countless numbers of battles. We’re told that about two hundred years after his death, another emperor by the name of Otho, went to look inside his tomb to see the way in which they had buried this great and important King Charlemagne. And they discovered that Charlemagne had been buried sitting upright on a throne, a crown on his skull, and a copy of the Gospels on his lap. And he had directed that his finger be pointing to the very text, the very text, that is before us tonight. And indeed, it was. A bony finger of what had been the most powerful and wealthy man in the entire world was resting upon these words: “What does it profit a man...what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”
My friends, I've got to ask you some very pertinent questions. What will it gain you, my friend, if you gain the whole world–if you make millions in the stock market, if your business succeeds like Starbucks, and you lose your own soul?
Today, before tomorrow's sun dawns, will you turn from your service of sin and self and turn to Jesus Christ? To go to Jesus Christ this very day, and cast your soul, your heart, your mind, your everything upon Him; to do as the repentant thief does, and say, “Lord, remember me....” ? Tell Him you come to Him with nothing in your hands and you cling to His cross, and He will not despise you. He will not forsake you, and He will not cast you out; and He will not turn His back upon you. He never breaks a bruised reed or a smoking flax. No man ever came to Him and was cast out. And He asks you–He asks you, “What will it gain you if you gain the whole world...if you gain the whole world...you live so much for the things of this world! and you lose your own soul?”
My friend, have you come to Jesus Christ and to His cross and brought your sin and guilt, and confessed it there, and laid it there, and asked the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to forgive you your sin, and to bring you into a living and vital relationship with Him, and then gone forth in the wake of that with a new heart, and with the Holy Spirit, in a new and living way to live out and out for Him, to bear that cross no matter how difficult it may be, knowing...knowing that covenant promises surround you, knowing that He has promised never to leave you nor forsake you?
Do you see the words right at the end of verse 38? “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words...I will be ashamed of [you]....” Jesus says. He warns of a day that is coming, my friend. If you are ashamed of Him tonight, there is coming a day–unless you make your peace with Him, there is coming a day when He will be ashamed of you. Oh, what solemn words those are! Pray God that we’ll take them to our hearts. Let's pray together.
Our gracious God and ever blessed Father, we thank You for this extraordinary passage of Scripture with all of its solemn warnings. Now hear us, we pray from the depths of our soul. We long to be in a living and vital and real relationship with Jesus Christ, with sins forgiven, with peace with God; following after Christ with all of our souls. Hear us, Lord, and grant Your mercies for Jesus’ sake. Amen.Please stand, receive the Lord's benediction. Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.