Offense Intended

“Get Behind Me” by James Tissot

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And Jesus went on with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told Him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.” And He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.

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 He called to Him the crowd with His disciples and 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 life? For what can a man give in return for his life? 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 8:27-38).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!    

The Passion of the Christ opened in American theaters on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004. It was produced, co-written, and directed by Mel Gibson and stars Jim Caviezel as Jesus of Nazareth, Maia Morgenstern as the Virgin Mary, and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene. The film primarily covers the final 12 hours before Christ’s death. It begins with Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, continues with the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, the brutal scourging at the pillar, and the crucifixion and death of Jesus and ends with a brief depiction of His resurrection. Rated R, the film was criticized by many as too violent, too graphic. The scourging and crucifixion scenes were considered too long and gory. It was certainly intense, inappropriate for children and too much for many adults to handle. It was just too offensive.

Many who watched The Passion of the Christ were upset at the brutality and violence. They were even more shocked when they realized that it was not simply Hollywood exaggeration, but a realistic portrayal of events according to the biblical texts. Many Christians admitted, it was the first time that they considered how much Christ suffered to atone for our sins. The world was offended that someone would even suggest that such a price was necessary to be paid for saving people from sin. “It can’t possibly cost that much!” “There must be a mistake!” “There must be some way around it.”

But this was not the first time that offense has been taken at God’s plan of salvation. Our Gospel reading is a textbook case.

During all the time spent around Caesarea Philippi at the northern end of the Jordan River valley, Jesus continues to instruct His disciples. Now it is time for a test. How well have they learned what He has sought to teach them?

Jesus’ first question is preliminary: “Who do people say that I am?” The answers vary. Some say He is John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets. All these answers imply a resurrection from the dead and thus are not answers the Sadducees would give. They are answers given by those who are at least taking a serious look at Christ. For them He is more than just another teacher; He is clearly bringing a message from God Himself. Yet all these answers make  Jesus out to be a mere man and no more. They are inadequate and miss the big picture.

So, Jesus proceeds to the next question, the vital one: “But who do you say that I am?” Since they have lived with Jesus on an intimate basis, they indeed know He is a true man. He needs food; He needs rest. However, they have also heard Him claim the authority on earth to forgive sins. Over and against that, they also have seen how the people of His hometown and the religious leaders have rejected Him. The disciples remember what they themselves had asked when He stilled the violent storm on the Sea of Galilee: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41). Have they now come to a conviction as to whom He is? They have, and Peter speaks for them all: “You are the Christ.”

Mark keeps Peter’s response short. God’s people had been expecting the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, for centuries. Now He has arrived! I imagine Peter is bursting with excitement as he makes this good confession. Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior!

However, the people of Jesus’ day and for centuries before had added a political connotation to the office of Messiah. They expect His Kingdom to be an earthly one, even as the millennialists do today. Therefore, Jesus avoids using the title Christ for Himself until He accomplishes His mission. Even the disciples have not rid themselves of these erroneous ideas, as we see shall soon see. So, although Jesus joyfully accepts Peter’s answer as valid (see Matthew 16:17-19), He nevertheless warns the disciples not to tell anyone else He is the Christ.

The answer of the Twelve, as given by Peter, is the very one for which Christ hoped. It is also our answer. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man—our Christ, our Savior, and our Redeemer.

But then, before Peter and the other disciples have a chance to enjoy this heady new insight, Jesus hits them with a heavy dose of reality. He begins to teach them He “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed” (Mark 8:31).

This is the first time, as recorded by Mark, that Jesus explicitly predicts His coming passion. Before this He has only spoken about it in a veiled way (Mark 2:19, 20). From now on, however, He speaks plainly and repeatedly about it (Mark 9:9-13, 31, 32; 10:32-34). He does so in order that His disciples might understand that His being the Christ, does not make Him an earthly king—a false hope that continues to linger in their hearts until His ascension. That’s why Jesus does not as a rule speak of Himself as the Christ but as the Son of Man.

Jesus begins teaching the disciples by saying that “the Son of Man must suffer.” He says “must” because that is what the Old Testament taught (see Genesis 3:15; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 53). By saying “must,” Jesus informs His disciples that this is something that cannot be avoided if He is to fulfill His Father’s will that all people be saved.

Now, the Old Testament does not explicitly say who will cause Christ to suffer and die. It hints at it by saying it will be the “builders” who will reject the “cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). However, Jesus shows He knows the future and identifies those who will reject and condemn Him as “the elders and the chief priests and the scribes.” These are the men who constitute the 71 members of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin. Jesus’ suffering and death will happen through the actions of these most respected and powerful religious and political leaders.

Jesus also adds a note of final victory. After three days He will rise again. This important detail gets missed by the disciples, so shocked and offended are they by the fact that He, their Lord and Master, will suffer and die. That’s why the resurrection will take them by surprise on Easter.

Perhaps the most shocking element in this account is Peter’s taking Jesus aside to rebuke Him, that is to try to persuade Him under no circumstances to suffer and die. It shows us that his and the other disciples’ understanding of the name Christ is corrupted by false expectations.

Hell may not have broken loose (yet), but Peter finds Himself in league with the Devil. “Get behind Me, Satan!” says Jesus to him in front of all the disciples. “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Jesus’ answer at first glance seems overly harsh. It isn’t though, because Peter, in speaking to Christ as he does, is really, though unknowingly, championing the cause of Satan. This was the same temptation Satan had set before Christ in the wilderness. It agrees completely with what we usually want for ourselves—power and glory without any suffering. But it does not agree with God’s plan of salvation. At this moment, Peter is in league with Satan!

As if this is not humiliating enough, Jesus proceeds to make an example of Peter to the crowd, too. He calls the crowd together with the disciples and makes sure everyone understands how mistaken Peter has been: “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” (Mark 8:34-35). Following Jesus will not be comfortable. Indeed, it will require losing your life. Offense intended!

Losing your life, denying yourself, bearing your cross; this is no life of ease and smooth sailing, but often includes hardship and loss. It is the problem we, as Christians, constantly struggle to accept. Life in Christ is a life of sacrifice and suffering. Period. We wish it were not so. We wish it would be different, but Jesus is crystal clear. Following Him faithfully is a life of humble submission, not only to His rule as Lord, but also in a sinful world that rejected Him. Prepare for difficulty. Do not be surprised when you suffer for the sake of the faith.

Our discomfort with suffering leads us to all manner of unfaithfulness. It leads us to instruct God as to what He should really be doing, and to question Him when He does not obey us. It leads us to take matters into our own hands, to fudge on His commands, and to imitate the world’s deceitful and dishonest ways. It leads us to abuse power, serve ourselves, and plug our ears to the parts of Jesus’ message which do not conveniently fit with our programs.

That is what happens in our text. Peter’s inability to accept what Jesus says  about suffering prevents him from hearing what Jesus said about resurrection and life. “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” (Mark 8:31). Death is coming, that is true, not only for Jesus but also for anyone who follows Him. But that will not be the end. Resurrection is also coming. Those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake will find it (Mark 8:35).

That is the promise I get to proclaim to you, and you get to hear on this Second Sunday in Lent. Resurrection is coming for you. Salvation is coming for you. It is coming for all who, in Christ, lose themselves. It is for all who give up their privilege, who sacrifice their preference, who surrender their position, who relinquish their power. Make no mistake, the life to which Jesus is calling His disciples is radically other than what our world preaches. If you are not a little offended, I am probably not proclaiming the fullness of Jesus’ commands. But if I do, and if you are offended, then you are ready to hear and believe and be transformed by the incredible promise of resurrection life in Christ.

Jesus denied Himself and took up His cross. He gave up His life to gain a world of sinners. He is not ashamed to call you brother. On the Last Day, He will come in the glory of His Father with His holy angels and take you home with Him for eternity. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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