27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 31 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. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Death is a terrifying prospect to most people. John Stott offers two examples of non-Christians who acknowledge this fact.
[Woody] Allen’s angst in relation to death is well known. He sees it as a total annihilation of being and finds it “absolutely stupefying in its terror.” “It’s not that I’m afraid to die,” he quips,” I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Another similar example is given by Ronald Dworkin QC, the American legal philosopher, who has held chairs in London, Oxford and New York universities. He has written: “Death’s central horror is oblivion – the terrifying absolute dying of the light…Death has dominion because it is not only the start of nothing, but the end of everything.”
It is even terrifying, it would seem, to many Christians. This is evidenced in the way that Christian ministers have occasionally wielded the threat of death and judgment abusively as a weapon of fear over their congregations. Timothy George provides two historical illustrations.
A Franciscan friar, Richard of Paris, once preached for ten consecutive days, seven hours a day, on the topic of the Last Four Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell. He delivered his sermons, appropriately enough, in the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents, the most popular burial ground in Paris. Hardly less dramatic was his contemporary, John of Capistrano, who carried a skull into the pulpit and warned his congregations: “Look, and see what remains of all that once pleased you, or that which once led you to sin. The worms have eaten it all.”
Similarly, in Umberto Eco’s novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Yambo reflects on the time he experienced this same kind of approach when he spent time as a boy in a monastery.
Spiritual exercises, in a little monastery out in the countryside. A rancid smell from the refectory, strolls through the cloister with the librarian, who advises me to read Papini. After dinner we all go into the choir of the church, and illuminated by a single candle we recite the Exercise for a Good Death.
The spiritual director reads us the passage on death from The Provident Young Man: We do not know where death will surprise us – you do not know if it will take you in your beds, as you work, in the street or elsewhere; a burst vein, a catarrh, a rush of blood, a fever, a sore, an earthquake, a bolt of lightning – any could be enough to deprive you of your life, and it could happen a year from now, a month, a week, an hour, or perhaps just as you finish reading this passage. In that moment, we will feel our head darkened, our eyes aching, our tongue parched, our jaws closed, heavy our chest, our blood cold, our flesh worn, our heart broken. When we have breathed our last, our body, dressed in a few rags, will be thrown in a ditch, and there the mice and the worms will gnaw away all our flesh, and nothing of us will remain save a few bare bones and some fetid dust.
Just think: that was children’s church!
Yes, the certainty of death is a jarring thought. Though it should not be for the people of God, sometimes it is even for us. We do not like to think about death and we do not like our friends to talk openly about it.
As a young pastor I came eventually to see the folly of denying the reality of death. When, for instance, elderly church members would be told that they did not have long to live because of, say, advanced cancer, I would oftentimes rebuff their acknowledgements that they were going to die with denials. I felt at the time that it was somehow obscene to agree with a person who said, “I am going to die soon.” However, I came to realize that this was somehow frustrating to these dear people who had done the hard work of coming to terms with this fact and of being at peace with it. Even so, there is something within us that does not want to agree with a friend’s assertion that he or she will die.
I think the disciples went through something like this as well. In our text, the disciples hear for the first time a plain pronouncement from Jesus that He is going to die. Their reaction was understandably one of shock. They had to grow in this area. They had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus not only had accepted His coming death, He had come precisely for this death.
The crucifixion of Jesus was a necessity for the forgiveness of man.
We first see Jesus’ plain pronouncement of this unpleasant news. The occasion for this pronouncement was a rather surprising one and, from the disciples’ perspective, certainly an unlikely one. Jesus’ announcement of His coming death comes immediately on the heels of one of the great spiritual breakthroughs for the disciples: the recognition of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
Here we see a truly beautiful thing! Peter, blessed Peter, finally gets it right. And not only does he get it right, he hits the ball out of the park. After recounting the various theories about Jesus that the disciples had heard, Peter makes bold to answer Jesus’ question about their personal beliefs. And…he…nails…it! “You are the Christ!” Peter gets it! He now understands!
This is, to use the jargon of evangelical Christians, “a mountaintop experience”! This is a great Jesus moment! Imagine Peter’s elation at getting this right and imagine the disciples’ amazement at Peter getting it right! There were likely murmurs of approval and pats on the back! Matthew’s account of this scene in Matthew 16 reveals Jesus’ affirming response.
17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Now that is high praise indeed! What an “atta boy!” Smiles all around! Then, returning to our text, this happens.
31 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.
Like a punch in the stomach.
To use our evangelical terminology, “From the mountaintop to the valley!”
Wow! What a devastating time for Jesus to drop this on the disciples.
Why? Why did He tell them this now, right in the midst of this beautiful scene of revelation and joy? He chose this moment because He needed for their understanding of who He was to break through their preconceived notion of “the Christ” and to give way to a fuller definition of the Christ as the Lamb who would lay down His life for His sheep.
Their understanding of “the Christ” was frontloaded with all kinds of assumptions. When they thought of “Messiah” they thought of these words: power, victory, deliverance, freedom.
All of those words apply to Christ, but not like they thought! He needed to show them that His power, and the victory He would secure, and the deliverance He would bring, and the freedom He would offer would come through the most unlikely of ways: the cross. His wording is fascinating.
31 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.
“The Son of Man must suffer many things…must be rejected…must be killed.”
James Brooks observes that “the verb translated ‘must’ (dei) suggests divine necessity, probably as it is indicated in the Scriptures [i.e., Isaiah 52-53].” Why must Jesus be killed? Because this is how God redeems the world. The cross rests in the very heart of God. It is the way, the path His Son need walk to secure our salvation. Ronald J. Kernaghan observes:
Behind this translation is a Greek construction called the divine passive, which conveys the idea that God is the one who is ultimately responsible for the impending death of the Son of Man. Stated simply, the Son of Man must suffer because it is God’s will.
“The Son of Man must suffer because it is God’s will.” Yes. That is true. But we must be careful here: while that “must” emanates from the sovereign will of God, it does not mean there was an arbitrary law above Christ that He had to obey begrudgingly. Rather, as the second Person of the Trinity, the “must” for Jesus was the “must” of His own union with the Father. The will of the Father was the will of the Son. So, did Jesus “have” to die? Yes, but not in the way that you and I “have” to go to court if we receive a jury duty summons.
Jesus “had” to die because it was the will of the Godhead that this was how the world would be redeemed, but Jesus could still say in John 10:
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
Do you see? The will of the Son is the will of the Father. The Son must live in accordance with the Father’s will, but the Father’s will is the Son’s will. They are one.
This must happen. The cross must happen!
The crucifixion was part of God’s plan and any attempt to stop it was satanic.
This means that any attempt to thwart Christ’s movement toward the cross was ultimately Satanic in origin. Peter learned this the hard way.
Perhaps Peter was emboldened by his recent success. Perhaps that great moment solidified his leadership in his own mind and he felt compelled to voice aloud what all the disciples were undoubtedly thinking. So Peter does what most folks do when they feel that a friend has said something too dark or perhaps even self-destructive. He rebuked Jesus.
32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Throughout the gospels we see the disciples struggling to understand Jesus’ words about His own coming death. In Mark 9:30-32, in the very next chapter, we find that they react with outright confusion and fear at the idea.
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
Peter’s behavior was therefore provocative but it was not unnatural. Jesus’ response, however, was most shocking.
33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Oh my! Why does Jesus say such a hard thing? Simply because if, as Jesus said in Matthew’s account of this scene, Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ was from God, and if, as Jesus also said, His dying was necessary and the will of God, then Peter’s attempt to stop Jesus’ movement toward the cross was Satanic.
Again, the desire to stop Jesus from going to the cross is completely understandable. We recoil at the very notion that the beautiful, sinless Son of God would be killed on the cross. Stanley Hauerwas illustrates this memorably by telling of his cousin’s reaction to the story of the cross.
The stories of the Bible and the stories of the family were intertwined. The family loved to tell the story of how Billy Dick, my six-year-old cousin, reacted to the story of the crucifixion at Sunday school by shouting out, “If Gene Autry had been there the dirty [expletive] wouldn’t have gotten away with it.”
Well! We laugh, but we understand. Even so, any attempt to stop the cross from happening was ultimately Satanic in origin. Imagine the reality of what is happening here: Peter is trying to dissuade Jesus from doing what was necessary for the salvation of mankind! What if, in some parallel universe, Peter’s will had been done here. Do you understand what would have happened? We would all be doomed and damned to an eternity in hell!
Oftentimes what seems right to the flesh is actually evil in its origin! Peter thought he was speaking as a friend, but he was really speaking the words of the devil.
The crucifixion is not just the door, it is the path.
Jesus next does something even more provocative. You must get the flow of movement in this passage to appreciate what is happening. Jesus was talking to His twelve disciples when Peter gave his amazing answer and when Peter gave his ill-advised rebuke and then when Jesus responded with His stinging response. While the disciples were no-doubt still reeling from this, Jesus then turned to the larger crowd and said this:
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Stunning! No sooner has Jesus dropped the bomb of His own crucifixion on the disciples than He turns to the crowd and tells them that they too must take up their cross and follow Him. In saying this, Jesus was saying that the crucifixion is not just the door, it is the path. To follow Jesus is to accept what He has done on the cross, but it also to accept the life of the cross for ourselves.
“I am going to take up the cross,” He tells the disciples.
“You must take up the cross too,” He tells the larger crowd.
There is a difference, of course. Jesus is not telling the crowd and His disciples that they must literally do what He does, for He knows they cannot. Only the Son of God can lay down His life on the cross in payment for our sins. Only the Son of God can die in the place of guilty sinners. Only Christ has the perfection to satisfy the demands of God’s holiness. We do not.
No, Jesus is not saying that we can die as the propitiation for the sins of the world.
But we can die. And we must. We must die in order to live.
What does this mean? It means that we must die to self, lay ourselves at the foot of the cross of Christ, and embrace Him and His obedience as our own life. Thus, we must die in order to live. Jesus put it like this in John 12:
23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
Oh, dear Church: the cross is not only the gate, it is the path! Some of you want it as the gate but not as the path. To you, it is only how you enter heaven. It is the door you walk through to be saved. You want it as the gate but not as the path. To you, the cross is your ticket but it is not your life.
It must become our life.
We must embrace the life of the cross. We must die to self. If we do not, then we distort the cross into a purveyor of goods. Why? What does carrying the cross mean?
It means I am now freed to love as Christ loved.
I am now free to suffer wrong without being consumed by the self-destroying cancer of revenge.
I am now free to win my enemy with grace and love and not seek to destroy my enemy with rage.
The cross means I am now free to be last place without resenting the person who is first place.
I am now free to win through humble service and not through arrogant self-advancement.
It means I no longer have to be in charge.
The cross means I no longer have to lust after power, wealth, esteem, fame.
Why? Because the cross has redefined all of this. The cross tells me that this – this! – is what success looks like!
For the cross is the ultimate symbol of absolute selfless obedience to the will of God. The cross is the symbol that the inbreaking Kingdom is redefining the structures of power and greed and our supposed progress that is actually turning the entire world mad.
The cross, church, is our way out of the rat race. But by “out” I do not mean “escape,” I mean “freedom,” the freedom to live in the midst of a blind culture and offer sight and life and light through the blood and empty tomb of Jesus…the freedom to subvert the dehumanizing structures of the world that destroy us.
Christian, the cross is your salvation but the cross must also be your life!
Church, we will be a great church when we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow the King!
May we do so. May we do so.
 John Stott, The Radical Disciple (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), p.128.
 Timothy George. Theology of the Reformers. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, Publishers, 1988), p.24.
 Umberto Eco. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (New York: Harcourt Inc., 2004, p.390.
 James A. Brooks, Mark. The New American Commentary. Vol. 23 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1991), p.136.
 Ronald J. Kernaghan, Mark. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Vol.2. Ed., Grant R. Osborne (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p.159.
 Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Stanley Hauerwas) – Highlight Loc. 130-32 | Added on Thursday, September 16, 2010, 03:04 AM