Sunday, February 8, 2009

What Does it Mean to Confess Christ?

We have arrived at the hinge point in our study of Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s story through 8:30 reveals Jesus the sovereign servant. Beginning in verse 31 the story transitions into Jesus the suffering Savior. It is here that Jesus began to instruct His followers that His ministry would end on the Cross. Jesus Christ did not come to be served but to serve, and to be offered as a willing sacrifice for all those who would repent of their sins and believe in Him. The “hour” of Jesus’ passion is fast approaching, and from this point forward His face is set towards Jerusalem and all that awaited Him there: betrayal, abandonment, injustice, being mocked, beaten, and humiliated. The Cross.

This transitional text clarifies what it means to confess Christ. The famous confession of Peter is located here. This test explains what it means that Jesus is the Christ, and it clearly explains and vividly illustrates what it means to follow and be identified with Jesus. In other words, we learn, not only theologically but practically, what it means to confess Christ.

Jesus is the Christ - Mark 8:27-28

Up to this point in the narrative Mark has recorded several groups of people who have wondered at the identity of Jesus. The Pharisees, the people of Nazareth, King Herod and his court, and even the disciples have all asked in one form or another “Who is this man?” In this passage the roles are reversed; it is Jesus who asked the disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?”

Then, just as now, all kinds of opinions existed as to who Jesus was, and then, just as now, they were all wrong. Word on the street was that Jesus was no ordinary dude, but as to His true identity most were clueless. The speculation abounded despite the massive reservoir of evidence that clearly revealed Jesus as the Messiah.

It is one thing to talk about the convictions and beliefs of others and another thing to share what one’s own beliefs and convictions are. Jesus was not content to only hear the opinions of others regarding His identity. He wanted to know who His followers thought He was. So He asked them - Mark 8:29-30.

“You are the Christ,” was Peter’s answer, and this was indeed the correct conclusion; a momentous and magnificent affirmation!

What was Peter doing when he called Jesus the Christ? For starters, he was not simply stating the last name of Jesus. “Christ” is not Jesus’ surname; it is His title. Christ is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Messiah and it means “the Anointed One”. This was truly a tremendous profession, one which we should not pass over lightly. Peter and the rest of the Twelve were Jewish men who from their birth had been taught the “Shema” of Deuteronomy 6:4. In confessing Jesus as the Christ he was saying something revolutionary, not just about Jesus but about the very nature of God. This was no easy or trite confession. It was a bold declaration that they believed Jesus was not just a wonderful teacher, an Old Testament-like prophet, a super-rabbi, a political activist, national hero, or magic-man. They believed that Jesus was the promised Savior, the true Prophet greater than Moses, the predicted and long hoped for Messiah.

We should not think that Peter alone thought this of Jesus. He alone had the courage to answer the point blank question, but we may be sure that the others also recognized Jesus as the Christ. Bear in mind that Andrew referred to Jesus as the Messiah from the very beginning of His ministry (John 1:41).

It is also worth mentioning that this confession was made despite the fact that Jesus was materially impoverished and despised by the leading men of Israel. The Apostles’ confidence in Jesus was not shaken by any of this.

But as with the blind man of Bethsaida their spiritual sight was gradually increasing. While they recognized that Jesus was the Christ, they did not know what all that meant, specifically in regards to the Cross; a topic about which they were not only confused but totally oblivious. That is why Jesus strictly warned the Twelve not to tell others that He was the Christ, because the messianic mission of Jesus cannot be understood apart from the cross. While the Jewish nation would have gladly received a political/military Messiah, one who would lead the nation to cast off the Roman yoke and establish a new Jewish Kingdom, very few were interested in a suffering Savior.

The Twelve had enough spiritual understanding to answer the question of Jesus’ identity, but they did not yet understand the nature of Jesus’ ministry. He was about to make that unmistakably clear.

The Christ Must Suffer on the Cross – Mark 8:31-33

This is the turning point of Mark’s Gospel. The Lord’s disciples are firm in their understanding of who He is – the Messiah – now they must learn what He intends to do. For the first time Jesus began to “openly” – to plainly – teach that before He would wear the crown He must first suffer on the cross. Yes, Jesus was the Promised Messiah, but He was also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:1-12; the one who would be despised and rejected by his own people, executed alongside transgressors before triumphing and being honored by God.

Notice that Jesus said that “the Son of man must suffer many things.” He must suffer. He must be rejected. He must be killed. Why did the Lord say "must"? Was He unable to escape the suffering because a stronger power would force Him to die? Impossible! Did He mean that He must die as an example to the world of self-sacrifice and self-denial? That’s not it either.

Christ must have suffered, been rejected and killed because it was necessary in order to make atonement for my sin and for your sin. It was necessary that Christ endure the Cross because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22). Without Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the Cross there could be no satisfaction of God’s holy and just Law. This was why the Son of God became flesh. He was made to be like us in every respect, yet without sin, so that he might make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17; Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). Christ must be delivered up for our offenses, and He must be raised for our justification!

Stunned! Appalled! Troubled! Those emotions are what best described the apostles. We know this because of Peter’s acerbic reaction. The second half of verse 32 is a startling statement: “And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.”

As with the earlier confession this rebuke was a shared reaction by the group. Peter was just bold enough, or foolish enough in this case, to say what the rest of them were thinking. We know this because of verse 33, “But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples…” They were approving of what Peter had said, and Jesus was about to rebuke, not just the outspoken Apostle but the entire Twelve. "But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men."

These words were the harshest ever uttered by Christ to a genuine disciple. Why did Jesus explode with such a severe rebuke? Because the Gospel was at stake; Peter had ignorantly and unintentionally spoken with the accent of Satan. Satan’s final temptation of Christ in the Wilderness was to abandon the Father’s will and receive a crown by forsaking the cross. (Matthew 4:8-10) Jesus rebuked the enemy then, “Get thee hence, Satan,” and He rebuked His disciples here for mimicking the enemy’s voice, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”

The disciples were revulsed at the idea of a suffering Messiah because it made no sense; at least humanly speaking it made no sense. In his book Hard to Believe John MacArthur writes:

Crucifixion was a repugnant, demeaning form of execution for the rabble of society. The idea that anybody who died on the cross was in any sense an exceptional, elevated, noble, important person was absurd. The authorities reserved the cross for rebellious slaves and conquered people…for notorious robbers and assassins. The Romans used [crucifixion] only for the scum, the most humiliated, the lowest of the low.

This is why Peter initially responded as he did, because death on a cross was not only reprehensible but it was dishonorable to the minds of people in Jesus’ day.

Today is no different.

The message of the cross is scandalous to many folks. They view it as absurd, obscene or both. The preaching of the cross is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others. How could the Messiah, the Son of God be so powerless as to be crucified like a common criminal? And what does the death of a Jewish man on a Roman cross two millennia ago have to do with my life now and the afterlife to come?

Yes, humanly speaking the cross is foolishness, now just as it was then, but the foolishness of God is wiser than men. As we’ve discussed, Christ’s death appeased the righteous wrath of God for those who will repent and believe; just as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21.

And to knowingly or unknowingly oppose the cross is to follow the world’s pattern instead of the Godly pattern. Unlike Satan, however, Peter had the best of intentions. He meant well, but zeal and earnestness are no excuse for error. One may mean well and yet fall into tremendous mistakes.

The Twelve needed to learn this lesson, as do we. They needed to understand exactly what it meant to confess Jesus as the Christ. Because of the suffering Savior’s finished work on the cross salvation is all of grace and freely offered to all sinners, but those who receive so great a salvation must prove the reality of their faith by carrying their cross after Christ. He who will not carry his cross will not wear a crown.

To Be a Christian is to Be a Cross-Bearer – Mark 8:34-38

The Lord Jesus taught His disciples, and instructs us, that to confess Christ is not just to say words but to follow Him. Confessing Christ is not just words it is action. To sincerely confess Jesus as the Christ is to take up your cross and follow Him. This is the core of Christian discipleship. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a call to self-denial, self-sacrifice, and surrender; not self-love, self-esteem, and self-fulfillment. Whosever will may come to Christ and be saved, but whosoever does come to Christ must come on His terms, not their terms. Christ’s terms are these:

1) deny yourself
2) take up your cross
3) follow me

The Principle

Deny Yourself

To deny yourself is not to “be in denial”; in other words, it is not to check your brain at the door in order to become a Christian. To deny yourself is not to forfeit your unique personality and become some kind of clone. The self to which Jesus refers is not your distinct identity; rather it is the natural, sinful, unredeemed self that is at the center of us all. To deny yourself is to be convicted of your sin; to recognize that there is nothing in yourself that is commendable to God. Therefore you turn to Christ in repentance and faith, because only through Christ will you be made acceptable before God. So, denying yourself is subjecting yourself to the lordship and resources of Jesus Christ alone.

Take Up Your Cross

You would be wrong to think of normal hardships and difficulties as crosses. An unreasonable boss, an annoying neighbor, a pesky mother-in-law do not qualify as a cross. Not every uncomfortable, unjust, or unhelpful incident in life qualifies as a cross to bear. So what does?

To take up your cross means to walk in Christ’s steps, to embrace His life; it means to endure disdain because of the Gospel. To take up your cross is simply to be willing to pay any price for Christ’s sake; it is the willingness to suffer shame, criticism, rejection, persecution, and even death – the cross is a symbol of death after all – for the sake of Christ.

Therefore, if you’ve been laid off of your job because the company is downsizing that is not bearing a cross, but if you were fired because your boss hates Christians or because you’re Christian conscience would not allow you to lie in order to make the sell that qualifies. As Kent Hughes writes, “Difficulties are not an indication of cross-bearing; difficulties for Christ’s sake are.”

Follow Christ

To follow Christ to be obedient to Him; confession without obedience is a sham. Does this mean that a believer will perfectly obey Jesus? Not hardly! But as my former pastor – Darrell Sparks – was fond of saying, “Obedience to Christ is not about perfection but direction.” And as the Lord Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Hell will be populated by plenty of ethical, religious, and church-going people. It’s not enough to just think highly of Christ. You must obediently follow Him.

The Paradox

Mark 8:34 provides the principle of confessing Christ; Mark 8:35 is the paradox: whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s, will save it. In other words, losers are winners and winners are losers.

The picture of Christ crucified is hardly attractive. It’s certainly not motivational poster material. Normally it’s the losers who get crucified; not the winners. In fact, the whole concept of denying self, taking up a cross, and obediently following One who was literally crucified sounds like the description of a pathetic loser. Perhaps that is what motivated Ted Turner to declare that, “Christianity is for losers.”

Actually, Turner is absolutely right! Christianity is for losers. That’s what Christ said,“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” He also said, “If any man desire to be first, [the same] shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

If you only live for this life, you will eventually lose everything. On the other hand, if you’re willing to give up this life and follow Christ you will eventually gain everything. You have a choice. You can “go for it” now and lose it forever, or forsake it now and gain it forever. It’s all a matter of perspective. If this life is all there is then following a suffering Savior is the epitome of being a loser, but if not then “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

This obviously flies in the face of American pop culture, academia, or even what some would call common sense, but it is the plain, unvarnished, and even hard truth of the Gospel. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Losers are winners. Winners are losers. It sounds paradoxical but it is simple truth. As Paul wrote to the Galatians (2:20):
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
This is what it means to confess Jesus as the Christ: to recognize that He is the Messiah, to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him; to lose this world in order to gain eternity. Jesus said that “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” When next we see Christ, He will not be the suffering Savior but the glorified Lord and Judge. It is far better to endure the shame of this world for the sake of Christ than be ashamed of Him for the sake of the world.

1 comment:

Karabeth said...

Hooray for the losers! There are not too many areas of life that we'd be satisfied to be labeled that way, but in this case it's a compliment even if it wasn't intended to be.