I recently came across a list entitled “The World’s Thinnest Books.” These are books whose content is so sparse that it fills but a few pages. See if you recognize any of these titles:
Burger King Items That Start with “Mc”
Female Driving Heroes
Intelligent Things Men Say69
Tic-tac-toe: A Strategy Guide
Bin Laden’s Tips on Personal Hygiene
Things I Can’t Afford by Bill Gates
What I Wouldn’t do for Money by Dennis Rodman
Al Gore’s Wild Years
Dr. Kevorkian’s Collection of Motivational Speeches
EPA Recipes for the Spotted Owl
The Amish Phone Directory
O.J. Simpson’s Plan to Find the Real Killers
I have another title that I would like to add to this prestigious list of thin books:
The Disciples’ Guide to Understanding Jesus [taken from the Gospel of Mark]
It’s true! As much as any other chapter in the Bible, the denseness of the disciples will be highlighted Mark 8:27 – 9:29.
Jesus predicts His own suffering and crucifixion in three famous passages in Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). In this lesson, we will encounter the first of these. It is important to note the improper response of the disciples when Jesus predicts His own suffering and death. They have an improper view of Jesus as the Christ. Because of this misunderstanding, they also misunderstand their role as followers of Christ. In today’s passage, Jesus is going to clarify His role as the “Messiah,” while clarifying the role of those who wish to be called His followers. He does so by delineating the cost of discipleship.
8:27 Then Jesus and his disciples went to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 8:28 They said, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.” 8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”71 Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 8:30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
8:31 Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 8:32 He spoke openly about this. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 8:33 But after turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”
8:34 Then Jesus called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it. 8:36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 8:37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 8:38 For if anyone 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.” 9:1 And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
Reading Mark 8:34-37 in Eugene Peterson’s The Message (published by NavPress), offers some additional color:
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
You just read the price tag of discipleship. How much does it cost? Everything.
Jesus asks who others say that He is only to create the opportunity to ask the disciples who they think He is. Most people had a misguided view of who Jesus was (see also Mark 6:14-16). The theories about Jesus (John the Baptist, Elijah, some other prophet) all involve preparatory roles. Jesus was not preparatory; He was the real thing. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew, Messiah, meaning “anointed one.” Mark 8:29 is the first time the word has resurfaced since Mark 1:1 (and it will appear 5 more times in Mark after 8:29). Those in the Old Testament that were anointed were prophets, priests, and especially kings. Jesus was all of the above. The disciples had the vernacular right, but still didn’t fully understand what was meant by “Messiah.”
Most (including the Twelve) were expecting a victorious Messiah by conventional means. The Jewish understanding of the Christ (i.e., “Messiah”) was that He would bring deliverance through conquest. Here, Jesus explains that He will bring deliverance through the cross. He would achieve victory through suffering. He would take up the cross, not the crown. Thus Jesus requires His listeners to adjust—and raise—their expectations of the Messiah. He is more, much more, than they had anticipated. God’s means of deliverance was through suffering and death. Jesus knew that His followers still viewed His Messiah-ship incorrectly, thus He immediately sets out to correct their mistaken view.
He is met with disapproval and rebuke by Peter. Peter “rebukes” Jesus—the same strong language that is used of Jesus elsewhere to silence demons. Why Peter’s negative response? Because the identity and destiny of Jesus will determine the identity and destiny of His followers. What will the disciples receive in return for following Jesus? If He is going to reign, they will partake in His glory. But if He is going to die, they will partake in His suffering. If your military commander predicts that he will suffer and die in an upcoming battle—how willing would you be to enter the battle with him? If your basketball coach declares that he will not be victorious in the upcoming game—wouldn’t that discourage the players? That’s why Jesus tells Peter that he is interested in the things of men (namely himself) and not that of God. Peter is interested in saving his own neck! The “things of God” indicates that God’s plan includes Jesus’ suffering.
Mark 8:34 is the only time in this Gospel that Jesus calls the crowds together with the disciples—he is about to say something important. In fact, what he says is the hinge to the entire book. How much does it cost? What is the price tag for discipleship? You must deny yourself. It means treachery or disavowal of oneself. The closest opposite of the notion of “self-denial” is “self-allegiance”—concerned ultimately for one’s own good, looking out for number one. Discipleship, Jesus informs us, costs everything. Jesus had challenged many of his disciples to follow him prior to this (see chapter one), but they were evidently not clear on what was required.
Are you aware of the personal cost of discipleship? What has it cost you personally? Are you willing to pay such high tuition? Is there an area of your life that you are refusing to submit to Him? Then you are delinquent on payment. What are you holding back from God? Write it down, put it in an envelope, and give it over to Him. Does it hurt? Absolutely. But there is comfort on the other side, and peace because you know you’ve done the right thing. What are you holding on to in allegiance to yourself? Jim Eliot spoke some famous words that continue to challenge us today: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
If allegiance can no longer be paid to ourselves, then who does it rightly belong to? To put it another way, “Who do I pay?”
9:2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John and led them alone up a high mountain privately. And he was transfigured before them, 9:3 and his clothes became radiantly white, more than any launderer in the world could bleach them. 9:4 Then Elijah appeared before them along with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.72 9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 9:6 (For they were afraid, and he did not know what to say.) 9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is my one dear Son. Listen to him!” 9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more except Jesus.
9:9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 9:10 They kept this statement to themselves, discussing what this rising from the dead meant.
9:11 Then they asked him, “Why do the experts in the law say that Elijah must come first?” 9:12 He said to them, “Elijah does indeed come first and restores all things. And why is it written that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be despised? 9:13 But I tell you that Elijah has certainly come, and they did to him whatever they wanted, just as it is written about him.”
After discovering how much something costs, you then must determine who you will pay. Jesus is worth our reliance and allegiance.
Many scholars hold the Transfiguration to be the fulfillment of Mark 9:1. In fact, in each of the Synoptic Gospels (there is no record of the Transfiguration in the Fourth Gospel) the Transfiguration is immediately preceded by this prediction (Matthew 16:28; Luke 9:27). The Transfiguration of Christ was done for the benefit of the disciples—“before them” (9:2, 4), “enveloped them” (9:7), a voice addressed them (9:7). It is meant to confirm for them the true identity of Jesus as God’s Son. The voice from heaven repeats that Jesus is “My beloved Son” (compare with the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:11), but adds that the disciples are to “listen to Him,” suggesting that they had hitherto not been doing so (see Peter’s rebuke of Jesus in 8:32). Imagine how foolish Peter felt when, after rebuking Jesus in Mark 8:32, the Father instructs him to “listen to him.”
Who do you pay? Who’s receiving your allegiance? Who are you following? As you try to live this life of self-denial, who are you listening to? According the revelation of the Transfiguration and the voice from heaven, Jesus alone is worthy—follow Him! The Apostle Paul perhaps understood this more than any other writer of the New Testament. Paul understood that the suffering Messiah had indeed come, and had accomplished salvation that demands a response of self-denial and Christ-allegiance.
Paul writes in Galatians 6:14, “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
He writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Finally, in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 the great Apostle writes, “For the love of Christ controls us, since we have concluded this, that Christ died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised.”
9:14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and experts in the law arguing with them. 9:15 When the whole crowd saw him they were amazed and ran at once and greeted him. 9:16 He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 9:17 A member of the crowd said to him, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that makes him mute. 9:18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they were not able to do it.” 9:19 He answered them, “You unbelieving generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him to me.” 9:20 So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 9:21 Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 9:22 It has often thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 9:23 Then Jesus said to him, “‘If you are able?’ All things are possible for the one who believes.” 9:24 Immediately the father of the boy cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
9:25 Now when Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 9:26 It shrieked, threw him into terrible convulsions, and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He is dead!” 9:27 But Jesus gently took his hand and raised him to his feet, and he stood up.
9:28 Then, after he went into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” 9:29 He told them, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
After learning an item’s cost and purchasing it, you then take it home and try it out to determine how it works. The disciples haven’t learned to deny selves and rely solely on Him.
This text describes the disciples’ inability to cast out a demon. Why were they unable to do so? After all, they had experienced success at casting out demons when they depended upon God (Mark 6:13). Jesus informs them that the demon could only be exorcised “by prayer,” indicating that the disciples were relying on themselves instead of God. They had not yet learned to deny themselves, and they still retain a fair measure of self-confidence.
The disciples’ failure stems from their limited perspective. They simply haven’t learned their own limitations and the limitless power of Christ. They are living lives of self-dependence and self-allegiance. They have not learned to deny themselves, sacrificing their self-interests for the sake of the cross. Do you struggle to maintain the right perspective regarding the way you live your life? Perhaps this story from one man’s life—and death—will assist you in your struggle.
Charlemagne, king of the Franks, was a man who seemed to have everything. According to one of his closest assistants, “He was six feet four inches tall, and built to scale. He had blond hair, animated eyes, a powerful nose ... a presence ‘always stately and dignified.’”
Charlemagne went to Rome on Christmas Day in
Charlemagne never submitted himself to the medicine of his day. Therefore, in
He had, however, made all of his last arrangements with meticulous care and specificity. At his request, he was buried in the vault of the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle. His body was dressed in imperial purple and seated upon a throne inside the unusual tomb. With a crown on his head, a scepter in his hand, a sword by his side, and an open Bible on his knees, the great Emperor sat in all of his glory, and the vault was closed. Charlemagne had prescribed all of this in his will, and had besides given instructions that his tomb should never be opened.
But a German emperor, wishing to secure the regalia (the crown, scepter, and other royal and imperial ornaments), had the vault opened in
How does it work? How is it possible to deny one’s own interests for the sake of the cross? It’s realizing that this world is not all there is. There is more to this life than having the highest-paying job or the fastest car or the most money or the greatest reputation or the most attractive figure. We are citizens of another world. Some of you have grown comfortable here; you have grown deep roots in this world. In Philippians 3:20-21, Paul writes,
“But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.”
Can you say with Paul in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”? Did you hear that? To die is gain! The fee that is requested for this ride with Jesus—the tuition to enter into His school of discipleship—is your very life. Anything less would be a slap in the face to the Savior who bought you.
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 8:34:
Then Jesus called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
69 How true! I must admit, however, that this was a political move to minimize the pain caused by the previous title in the list. A thousand pardons to those I offend.
70 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
71 It has been said that the most important thing about a person is what he believes about God. This question on the lips of Jesus is the most important question any person has ever asked, and the answer one gives has direct eternal consequences.
72 Moses is often associated with a mountain (Sinai) as is Elijah (Carmel). Moses showing up is perhaps reminiscent of Deut. 18:15; and Elijah was popularly viewed as the one to prepare the way as the end was drawing near. Jesus claims that Elijah had already come (see Malachi 4:5-6) in the person of John the Baptist (see Matthew 11:14).