The Cruciform Life – Mark 8:29-38

If you ask 3 people walking in Boulevard Park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, “Who is Jesus?”  You are likely to get at least 4 different answers.  One might call him a miracle worker; another just a disillusioned man.  There would probably be a reference to a great teacher of morality somewhere in there and you might even hear that he is the Jewish Messiah.

It is this last answer that we are going to explore this morning, for the context of our passage is set immediately after Jesus asks Peter the very same question we just imaginarily explored.  “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked?  Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29).  But who is the Christ?  To Peter and the other Jews of the day, the Christ was the one who would restore Israel to its former glory.  The word Christ is the Greek version of the Old Testament word messiah, which means Anointed One.  The Messiah, or Christ, was the one anointed by God to kick Roman you know what.  The Messiah was anointed to instill the right worship of God in the world.  He would extend God’s reign and his proper worship across the face of the globe.  Every nation would become subservient to the Messiah and submit to the Lord.[1]  This was Peter’s understanding of the Christ.

But such an understanding was entirely wrong, at least in relation to the Messiah’s first coming.  And Peter finds that out rather quickly when Jesus rebukes him.  You see, as Jesus started spelling out who he was and as Jesus’ understanding came into conflict with Peter’s understanding, Peter was outraged.  He disapproved of this kind of talk.  It just wasn’t right.  He wanted to censure the Lord.  Our passage says, “Peter…began to rebuke him” (Mark 8:32b).  You have to remember that the only places in the gospel where anything else has been rebuked is when Jesus rebukes the evil spirits or the unruly wind and waves upon the sea (Mark 1:25, 4:39).  Both rebukes occur when something in the world is in opposition to the coming of God’s Kingdom.  And so for Peter to take Jesus aside and rebuke him is tantamount to saying, “Jesus this cant be.  It is opposed to everything we know about the Kingdom of God.  May this never happen.”


Peter wanted the Messiah to reign triumphant and to usher in the end time kingdom.  But as Jesus astutely observed, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33b).  Humans always shoot for glory and grandeur, wonder and magnificence right away.  We want the finished diamond without having to do the cutting and polishing.  We want the prize without the training and hard work.  Thankfully, Jesus understood that God’s ways are not our ways.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).


So who was the Messiah to be?  How did God intend the Messiah to act, if it wasn’t to usher in the greatly expected earthly kingdom of the Jews?  Verse 31 clearly lays out God’s intentions for the Christ.  Let me read it to you again, [Jesus] then began to teach them that 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 (Mark 8:31).


God intended that the Messiah would be a person who would do four things:  The messiah would suffer.  The messiah would be rejected by the Jewish leaders. The messiah would be killed.  Finally, the messiah would rise again.  At every point, the Messiah the Jews expected was wrong and the Messiah God planned to give was the exact opposite of their thoughts. Let’s look at these four characteristics for a few moments.


The Messiah would suffer.  I believe Jesus is drawing on the image of the suffering servant in Isaiah 52-53. His suffering would include being despised and rejected by men (Isa. 53:3), pierced…crushed and wounded (v5)He would be oppressed and afflicted inwardly as well as outwardly (v7, 11).  He would be crushed (v10).  We have come to interpret Jesus’ suffering mostly from his passion week experiences like the ones mentioned above, but I believe that Jesus as the Messiah suffered in many more ways than just at the end of his life.  Consider the suffering he would have endured by being tormented and tempted by Satan in the desert.  Consider the suffering of being embodied and all the limitations that would exert upon the Messiah – tiredness, finiteness, for example.  Consider the suffering of being misunderstood by your family and friends.  Consider being spit upon and mocked, falsely accused and punished as an innocent (Mark 10:32-33).  Think about the suffering that comes from taking all the sickness, disease, and sorrow of the entire world into your own body.  Then add to that all the sin of the world, but remember that you were perfect and holy, never having disobeyed God and now you find yourself consumed by all the disobedience of the entire world and its inhabitants – past, present and future.  Consider that for emotional and spiritual suffering.  Isn’t that what it means when Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5:21).


Then there is the suffering that comes from being rejected.  It is one thing to be spurned and cast aside by people who don’t know any better, but to be rejected by those who are entrusted with God’s word is another thing entirely.  The educated elite of the Jewish world, those charged with feeding the people of God with the word of God were looking at Jesus and saying – He has a demon.  He is a blasphemer.  He is an agent of Satan.  He is unfit and useless.  The gospel of John paints a picture of rejection that is much broader than just being rejected by the authorities, but it seems appropriate anyway, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:10-11).


The Messiah would die.  But it wasn’t going to be any old common death.  He wasn’t going to die of old age, or sickness.  No, the messiah was to be the one who is killed, betrayed, flogged and crucified.  Jesus alludes to his crucifixion in the 34th verse when he calls his disciples to take up their cross and follow (Mark 8:34).  The Messiah was going to die a gruesome death.  He was to be the Lamb that was slain for the sin of the world.  He was to be the innocent dying for the guilty.  He was to be the one sacrifice to make all that believe holy (Heb. 10:10).


But most importantly, the Messiah was to be the one who would rise again.  He was the one that death could not keep, in fact Peter declared that it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:24) because Psalm 16:8-11 declares, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”  In fact, by his cross he would triumph over death and Hades and every spiritual power (Col 2:15).  The Messiah would live out the sign of Jonah – 3days in the belly of the earth and then new life (Matt. 16:4).  Isaiah 53:11 hinted at this in these words, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied…”


Jesus understood very clearly that the Christ of God must die for sin in order to fulfill God’s plans.  His prayer in Gethsemane makes that abundantly clear, “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). But he also knew that resurrection was the culmination of the Father’s will and was proof to the created world that God had triumphed. In fact, Paul reminds the believer, “If thou shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Rom. 10:9).


This whole teaching of Jesus is partly where we get the Christological teachings in the Apostles’ Creed.  And it is so important that we know these teachings because they are the mind of God for the redemption of humanity.  The Messiah of the world was Jesus who not only knew the mind of God but who willingly and fully submitted to the mind of God in order that we might be saved.


Now it is with this new teaching that Jesus calls his disciples and the crowd to himself in order to teach them what it truly means to follow him.  This is important for us to understand.  At this point in the gospel the call to discipleship has just grown and been transformed.  Until now the disciples have been called to simply hang out with Jesus and learn from him.  There has been no demand to do anything other than experience Jesus’ ministry as they grow in their understanding of who Jesus is.  Jesus has essentially had a ministry to unbelievers.  In our modern day parlance, this has been a ministry to seekers – come and hang out, in order to come to a point where confession can be made.


But, once the confession is made, once the disciple understands that Jesus is the Christ, it is imperative that they understand what this personally means.  No longer is it sufficient for a disciple to only know that they must repent of their sin.  No longer is it sufficient to strictly believe that the Kingdom of God has come.  Those are just the building blocks so that true discipleship and kingdom living can begin.  Now the disciple must understand what it means to truly follow the Christ who suffers, is rejected, dies and rises.


There is a weird idea afoot in the world today that if one merely confesses that Jesus is the Christ then he or she is a Christian, a disciple of the rabbi.  That is false.  There were plenty of demons in Jesus’ day and since who have declared the words, “I know who you are – the holy one of God!” (Mark 1:24).  There are plenty who fell at his feet trembling but they were not saved and nor were they disciples.  Once someone understands who Jesus is, the next part of Kingdom living is walking a life consistent with one’s belief, as James declared, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:17-18). John Calvin preached these words in his sermon on this very text, “none can be reckoned to be the disciples of Christ unless they are true imitators of him, and are willing to pursue the same course.” [John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete) (trans. John King; Accordance electronic ed. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), n.p.]


Discipleship, Following Jesus, or being a Christian, as it is known in various circles, is a matter of living life the way Jesus lived.  It is a matter of living the cruciform life.  That is a fancy way of saying the Christian is called to a life characterized by 3 components: self-denial, death and emulation.  To fail to live this kind of life is as Jesus says, “to lose it.”  Those words in verse 35 are idiomatic.  That means they are a Hebraic way of saying, “to trifle away one’s life” [Lane, p305n96].  That is to waste it.  Any life that isn’t cruciform is an utter waste, and isn’t worthy of being called living in its fullest sense.  Furthermore, any life that isn’t lived as a cruciform life in the service of Christ and the gospel is a life that is destined for eternal destruction.  It is a life that puts one’s very soul and existence in danger.


So let’s explore this cruciform life a little more.  Jesus says that the life worth living is a life characterized by self-denial.  Self-denial isn’t the old monastic life or living in a hut without running water or modern heating, eating gruel and drinking water.  For some, that may be the path of self-denial, but for most believers in the modern world, the call to deny oneself is much more radical, for it will hit at the very core of our self-worth and our American sense of rights.


Self-denial has been succinctly defined by one Bible scholar as “a sustained willingness to say ‘No’ to oneself in order to be able to say “Yes’ to God” [Lane 307]. Self-denial begins is recognizing that “I belong body and soul, in life and in death” (HC1) to God and he has the right to determine every nuance of my life.  Self-denial is the ignoring of my preferences in order that God’s preferences might be chosen and realized.  Self-denial is the refusal to carry out my desires so that God’s desires will occur.  For example, self-denial is to ignore my discomfort with evangelism in order to fulfill God’s desire that the Gospel be preached.  Or Self-denial is to say ‘No’ to buying another coffee in order that I can say ‘Yes’ to supporting a missionary pastor in the 3rd world.


But self-denial isn’t just in relation to God.  Denying oneself can also occur as we relate one to another.  The disciple of Christ is called to become a servant, seeking the welfare of his brothers and sisters. Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:15). He spoke these words after washing the feet of the disciples.  Denying oneself is providing water and food to the hungry brothers and sisters; it is visiting the imprisoned disciple and caring for the sickly disciple (Matt. 25:31ff).  Self-denial is giving generously to Christians in need so that “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need…” (2Cor. 8:14).  All of these are acts of denial since they cause one to forgo a worldly pleasure or benefit.  The disciple must submit to being wronged (1Cor 6:7) and must use his freedom in Christ in order to seek the good of others…not causing anyone to stumble (1Cor 10:24, 32).


And as hard as that is, the mark of a disciple extends even further.  The path of the disciple isn’t merely one of self-denial; it is also an emotional remaking of our entire life.  We are to take up our cross!  Think on that for a moment.  The disciples and the crowd who heard those words would have been stunned.  Those words implied crucifixion and death.  The cross meant extraordinary suffering.  To take up the cross was to begin a death march from which one couldn’t escape.  There was no turning back once the cross was picked up.  The only way out was through death.


What was Jesus saying?  Did he want his disciples to become criminals?  No.  But he wanted them to start walking a road that began in self-denial and culminated in the death of self.  We are to live in such a way that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).  The cross is the daily battle of denying oneself in order to live for God and doing it so long that it becomes second nature.  The cruciform life is the one that no longer thinks of its own pleasure but instead rejoices in the glory God receives when we are poured out.  The cruciform life is the life that has become an imitator of God and now lives a “life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2).  IT is a life that must be continually chosen again and again, as Luke makes clear with these words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).


Will you follow?  Will you continue to be a follower of Jesus with these radically new words?  I am sure the disciples of Jesus were confronted with a conundrum the day Jesus spoke these words.  Is this what they wanted?  Were they really willing to die to self in order to live the only life worth living?  The same question may likely be in your mind today.  If so, let me say two more things.


First, All three phrases in verse 34 are commands.  The disciple is commanded to deny himself.  The disciple is commanded to die to self and the disciple is commanded to follow the cruciform life each and every day.  These are not negotiable.  Do you hear his voice?  The command has been issued.


Second, just as Christ’s path led him to the cross and the grave, it also led him to resurrection and heavenly glory.  The Lord raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all authority, power and dominion (Eph. 1:20-21). The promise of the cruciform life is that it is also the resurrection life.  It is a life endowed with power – not earthly power, but spiritual power.  It is a life that Christ recognizes because it is his life and so he promises to acknowledge the cruciform life when he comes in glory.


Follow the Lord to the newness of life.  Follow him, dying to your self and living to his glory as a servant of the church, suffering and showing yourselves to be his disciples.

[1] According to one prominent Jewish website, the fundamental items related to the coming of the Messiah were the regathering “of the exiles; restoration of the religious courts of justice; an end of wickedness, sin and heresy; reward to the righteous; rebuilding of Jerusalem; restoration of the line of King David; and restoration of Temple service” These Scriptures are the ones related to the Messiah according to the Jew: Isaiah 2, 11, 42; 59:20; Jeremiah 23, 30, 33; 48:47; 49:39; Ezekiel 38:16; Hosea 3:4-3:5; Micah 4; Zephaniah 3:9; Zechariah 14:9; Daniel 10:14. accessed 25 Feb 2013 at 5:00 p.m.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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