Mark 8:31-37 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
“What are you giving up for Lent?” This is a common question this time of year, and it often results in a conversation about how I’m giving up chocolate, my best friend is giving up wine, and my neighbour is going to stop smoking. That is, until Easter, when we can finally indulge, satisfied that we have fulfilled our Lenten duties. After all, 40 days of sacrifice is what it’s all about — giving up wine and chocolate for Jesus, right? Well, nothing could be farther from the truth. While non-Christian friends join in by giving up candy for 40 days in hope of losing a few pounds, we must look at the season of Lent as a time in which we are encouraged to evaluate our lives in light of God’s plan of salvation for us. And in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus actually tells us what we must give up.
Mark recounts a conversation between Jesus and His disciples. From our vantage point we can understand exactly what He was telling them. Jesus asks who they say He is, and Peter answers that He is the Messiah. Peter seemed to understand and apparently so did the others.
Jesus continued, predicting His death and resurrection. He spoke of suffering and rejection, which confused them. After all, the Messiah was supposed to come in glory, not to be executed the Romans. So, Peter took matters into his own hands. He pulled Jesus quietly aside to rebuke Him. Mark does not record what Peter said to Him, but Matthew tells us in Matthew 16:22 that Peter said, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter’s intention was to remind Jesus that He was the Messiah, God’s Son, triumphant and glorious. He spoke from love and meant no harm, but in any case, here was he – Peter – actually rebuking the Son of God!
Jesus must have shocked Peter with His words, “Get behind me, Satan!” After all, didn’t Peter mean well? Satan often uses the words of well-meaning friends and the people who are closest to us to get us to disobey God. Jesus recognized the voice of Satan using Peter to tempt Him. By setting his thinking on the ways of man, Peter was in opposition to God’s plan for redemption, and brought his thinking into agreement with Satan, who wanted the plan of salvation to fail.
Naturally, Jesus did not want to suffer and die, but He was following God’s agenda, not his own. He knew that he could destroy Israel’s enemies with one command to Heaven’s army. But God’s plan was much more than that. In order to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for all of us, Jesus knew He had to die. He realized that although Peter and the others claimed to understand, they didn’t really get it after all.
In his next words, Jesus tells Peter – and us – what He requires of His followers, not just during Lent, but always. He told Peter, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Peter’s concern for Jesus came from a genuine love, but it came from a human perspective.
Our tendency to think of human things – THAT is what Jesus wants us to give up for Lent, not chocolate, or coffee, or wine.
What Jesus told the disciples next was both disturbing and confusing. He told them to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him. He told them that they must lose their life to find it. They must have puzzled over what that could mean.
To deny ourselves means to put Jesus first and to have our priorities in harmony with His love. Although He was God’s own son, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus denied himself and followed God’s will. He was an example for His disciples to follow. He never asked of them – or us —anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself. He promised us a way to God, but He didn’t promise that it would be an easy way. As He hung on the cross in denial of himself, Jesus could have saved Himself, but He didn’t. He was vindicated by God in the resurrection.
In an attempt follow His example, we deny ourselves chocolate during Lent. But that isn’t the complete picture. Rather, must we deny ourselves by giving when it is easier to take; by loving when we encounter hate; by healing when we see hurt. We deny ourselves when we offer kindness instead of revenge, or forgiveness instead of condemnation. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by denying ourselves.
We are often tempted to listen to Satan in order to receive instant gratification. Sometimes we may put an emphasis on material things. Sometimes we may be willing to sacrifice our honour, integrity or values for material gains, popularity or acceptance. Are we following God’s agenda, or our own? How any times have we received an answer to prayer, only to say, “Wait a minute, God… that wasn’t what I asked for. I don’t think you understood…” God understood perfectly, but we didn’t. Some things, people, thoughts, and ideas are not for us. Sometimes we must be willing to let them go.
To take up one’s cross has become a cliché meaning to bear the hardships of life. But to those listening to Jesus that day, it would have meant something very different. The condemned criminal carried his cross to the place of execution. Crucifixion was a tortuous and dishonourable death, reserved for the worst criminals. It was death that even the Bible calls “accursed.” To be crucified meant that one didn’t just lose one’s life. It was also the loss of dignity, honour and pride. Although all but one of His disciples would eventually be martyred, Jesus wasn’t asking them to give up their physical life, but the human and earthy parts of it. To us, “taking up our cross” means to commit to living a God-centered life.
Jesus said that if we save our life, we lose it. This was a prediction of the resurrection, but the disciples didn’t understand until it happened. Just as His human life would be lost on the cross, Jesus was revealed as God’s Son and gained His glory. It is the same with us. We are not being asked to give up our physical life, but to live a Christ-centered life instead of a self-centered life. When we live for divine things, we gain everything, because we gain glory for eternity!
God will not be angry if we enjoy a sweet treat during these 40 days, so give we can them up if we like but let me repeat what Jesus actually told us to give up: Our tendency to think of human things and not divine things.
As Paul wrote, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” By giving Him control, we gain freedom. By dying to the ways of the world we become fully alive. There is no crown without a cross.