Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
34 After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. 36 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? 37 What will people give in exchange for their lives? 38 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Discernment is extremely important in any marriage. I might say to Janna, “Would you like to go to a movie?” And she might say, “Sure, fine.” (Her tone of voice is flat, without expression, and you can tell she either does not want to, or that there is something much more important on her mind.) Her words said “Sure, fine,” but her non-verbal clues said “not really.” Maybe even more to the point this morning would be: There is something that Janna has always liked (or I thought she liked), so I keep doing that thing. But somewhere along the line things have changed. Maybe she liked it because of a circumstance back then which no longer exists. Now it could even be an irritant. It is important to have discernment of the now.
Think about the Disciples for a moment. In the Gospel of Mark they have already seen Jesus feed five thousand. They have seen him walking on water. They were present when he cast the demon out of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. He cured deaf man in their sight. He had feed and additional four thousand. He cured a blind man at Bethsaida. All that, and Peter has just proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am.” Then comes Mark 8:31. “Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.”
Peter showed his lack of discernment by his reaction. It is quite possible that Peter’s prior understanding of Jesus as the Messiah clouded his ability to hear this new turn … the Messiah’s suffering and death. It seems to have clouded it so much that he did not hear “rise from the dead” at all.
At issue here is not so much Peter’s faulty Christology (the awareness of who the Christ is), but more of how he was in relationship to Jesus.
Hear Peter’s response again. “But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him.” “Rebuke” (scolded) and “took hold of” (began to correct him) – these are indications of his needing to mentor or guide Jesus, maybe even protect Jesus. Peter was trying to take the lead. Can you imagine trying to take Jesus under your wing and impart wisdom or direction?!
In Jesus’ response we experience the essence of the problem. Jesus “Rebuked” Peter (sternly corrected). This was not an angry outburst, but stern correcting. It harkens back to temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness. Both Matthew and Luke give the three-fold temptations of the devil. It is interesting that Mark just says he was tempted (1:12-13). “At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.” It is here that Mark defines temptation for Jesus. The temptation was that the Son of Man could avoid the suffering ahead of him if he so chose. Much like the three temptations in Matthew and Luke, Jesus blocks the devil’s schemes. Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” I don’t believe that Jesus just called Peter, Satan. But I do believe he perceived Satan’s temptation in Peter’s words and actions. What it indicates is a placement of the temptation behind him. In doing so, it also indicates where the disciples should be in relationship to Jesus – behind him. In other words, “following him” not leading him.
“Disciples are not to guide, protect or possess Jesus; they are to follow him!” We are to discern our place in God’s plans and listen for the movements of the Spirit.
But HOW? Discernment is not an easy process. Verse 34b is the crux of the way for us to discern.
“All who want to come after me… ” (note the ‘position’, after not before!). Then Jesus gives three actions or attitudes: 1) say no to themselves ... 2) take up their cross, and 3) follow me.
First, those who want to come after Jesus, that is walk in his ways, “must say no to themselves…” Max Lucado, in his book entitled, “It’s Not About Me,” spends a good deal of time talking about getting ourselves out of the center of the universe. My needs and wants do not have a higher priority that God’s intentions for me. Yes, God wants the best for me … But it should be, “his will, not mine.” Maybe Peter’s reaction to what Jesus had said was centered in his reluctance to upset his view of how things should be. ‘I can’t allow this because it would hurt me too much.’
Second, “to come after Jesus” we will have to “take up [our] cross” … Jesus said, “say no to themselves, take up their cross …” We don’t take up his cross, thankfully! None of us could bear up under that weight. But we each have a burden to carry for God. Jesus took up his cross to accomplish God’s purpose. We must take up our cross in order to accomplish what God wants us to do. It will be centered in who he has created us to be. It will match our gifts and talents. It will be uniquely our own, and uniquely tied to God’s plans for this world.
And third, “to come after Jesus”, he says, “follow me.” We follow behind our leader, not going out before him. We listen for his direction and guidance. Do you remember in the Transfiguration, the voice of God said, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love, listen to him.” To follow Jesus is to listen (discern), and do what God is calling us to do. We need to be clothed in discernment in order to be true followers.
Discerning and following is not an easy road, however. But it is the only road. Jesus gives examples of this process next. Look at verse 35. Jesus says, “All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.” If we want to save our life – that is preserve, protect, and be self-centered about our life, we will lose it. Our life will be empty. Self-centered living ultimately results in being alone in life.
Then Jesus says, “But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.” This is not necessarily that we are to physically lose it, as in death, but lose it in the sense that we give it over to Jesus. Our focus is life lived for Jesus and not for ourselves. God wants a full life for us, in fact has promised it through Jesus Christ. “I came that you may have life and have it in all its fullness.” (John 10:10) Fullness comes, however, when we discern the focus our lives have to have. We need to have a focus on God in our daily life.
To be clothed in discernment, is to allow God to lead us in life; our decisions, our reactions, our priorities.
Notice that Peter’s discernment really sharpened after his denial of Jesus in the courts of Caiaphas during Jesus trial. He discerned his own stubbornness and pride, yet he also discerned that Jesus wanted to reclaim him through forgiveness and a charge to lead the people in following God. Peter truly discovered discernment and allowed himself to be clothed in that discernment.
So, what are your usual ways of getting in touch with God’s thoughts – listening for discernment? Do you believe we are ready to discern in the now what God has for us? Remember my challenge of “5-5-5 for Lent?” That might be a place to start. Ask questions of God. Seek understanding. Listen for guidance.
Your challenge for this week is, “How, specifically, will I improve my discernment of God’s leading and my following in this next week?” Seek to be clothed in discernment. Amen
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Pastor Paul Grossman