Mark: Cross Purposes

Sermon by Derek Thomas on January 16, 2005

Mark 8:31-38

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The Lord’s Day Evening
January 16, 2005

Mark 8:31-38
“Cross Purposes”

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

“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

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

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

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

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

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
. 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
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.

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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