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.”
In Pat Conroy’s novel, The Prince of Tides, Tom Wingo describes his grandfather’s strange ritual that he would perform every Friday in their little town.
I grew up loathing Good Fridays. It was a seasonal aversion that had little to do with theology but everything to do with the rites of worship and the odd slant my grandfather brought to his overenthusiastic commemoration of Christ’s passion.
Good Friday was the day when Amos Wingo each year walked to the shed behind his house in Colleton proper and dusted off the ninety-pound wooden cross he had made in a violent seizure of religious extravagance when he was a boy of fourteen. From noon to three on that commemorative day he would walk up and down the length of the Street of Tides to remind the backsliding, sinful citizenry of my hometown of the unimaginable suffering of Jesus Christ on that melancholy hill above Jerusalem so long ago. It was the summit and the Grand Guignol of my grandfather’s liturgical year; it embodied characteristics of both the saints and the asylum. There was always a lunatic beauty to his walk.
I would have preferred that my grandfather celebrated Good Friday in a quieter, more contemplative fashion. It embarrassed me deeply to watch his gaunt, angular body bent under the weight of the cross, trudging through the congested traffic, stopping at intersections, oblivious to the admixture of scorn and awe of his townsmen, sweat discoloring his costume, and his lips moving continuously in the inaudible worship of his Creator. He was a figure of majesty to some, a perfect ——- to others. Each year the sheriff would issue a ticket for obstructing traffic and each year the parishioners of the Baptist church would take up a special collection to pay the fine. Through the years, his offbeat spiritual trek of remembrance had become something of a venerated annual phenomenon and had begun to attract a sizable ingathering of pilgrims and tourists who collected along the Street of Tides to pray and read the Bible as Grandpa Wingo huffed and puffed his way through his solemn reenactment of the single walk that changed the history of the Western soul. Each year the Colleton Gazette published a photograph of his walk the week following Easter Sunday.
When we were children, both Savannah and I would beg him to take his act to Charleston or Columbia, cities we considered to be far more gaudy and reprehensible in the eyes of the Lord than small, mild Colleton could ever be. My grandmother expressed her own mortification by retreating to her bedroom with a full bottle of Beefeater gin and a collection of back issues of Police Gazette that she had commandeered from Fender’s barbershop. When the walk was completed at three, so was the bottle, and my grandmother would be comatose until late the next morning. When she awoke to her memorial headache, she would find my grandfather on his knees, praying for her sweet, boozy soul.
Wingo goes on to describe how his grandfather once again performed this public ritual and how he struggled to understand it. He also describes, however, how the ritual was viewed differently by his siblings.
I did not know then and do not know now what to make of my grandfather’s awesome love of the Word of God. As a teenager I found his walk humiliating. But Savannah would write about his walk in poems of uncommon beauty. She would celebrate the “shy Oberammergau of the itinerant barber.” And when Amos Wingo’s walk ended that day and we caught him as he fell and carried him to the lemonade stand, where we rubbed his face with ice and made him drink a cup of lemonade, I had a feeling that sainthood was the most frightening and incurable disease on earth.
He was trembling and delirious as we laid him out on the sidewalk. People pressed forward to get Grandpa to sign their Bibles and my father filmed his collapse.
Luke and I got him to his feet, and with his arms around our shoulders, we bore his weight and carried him home, with Luke saying the whole way: “You’re so beautiful, Grandpa. You’re so beautiful.”
What is it about the cross that so radically changes people’s lives, sometimes to an extent that others would call odd? Christians understand this impulse, even the impulse to embrace strangeness for Christ, because they understand what the cross means: the self-giving and sacrificial love of God in Christ that makes it possible for us to be saved. Whether you are currently living in conflict with the call and demands of the cross of Christ on your own life or whether you are trying to embrace it, if you have accepted Christ you understand the pull and appeal of the cross.
When we read the gospels, this much becomes clear: the cross was central to the mission of Jesus and this aspect of Jesus’ mission led people to think He was insane. As we will see, it led some of his own disciples to think the same at first!
Our text is significant because Mark 8:13 marks a definitive shift toward the act and the events of the crucifixion of Jesus. New Testament scholar William Lane sums up the significance of this passage nicely:
With verse 31 an entirely new orientation is given to the Gospel. This change is defined by the explicit and new teaching concerning the necessity of Jesus’ passion and by a sharp change in tone. In the Marcan structure, Jesus’ prophecy of his rejection and suffering is his response to Peter’s confession of faith. The following section is entirely dominated and structured by this solemn pronouncement, which is repeated twice more (Chs. 9:31; 10:33 f.). In no other Gospel do the three cardinal announcements of forthcoming humiliation have as structured a function as they do in Mark. They furnish the framework, the tone and the subject of Chs. 8:31-10:52…The fact that Jesus’ solemn declaration is repeated three times within a section entirely devoted to the mystery of the sufferings of the Messiah and his people indicates its crucial importance for the theology of Mark.
Let us consider this mission-central and life-altering cross of Jesus.
The cross was the “must” of Jesus’ coming.
We must first note the essential place that the cross held in the mission of Jesus. This can be seen in the strong word “must” of verse 31.
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. 32a And he said this plainly.
Jesus said that He “must suffer…be rejected…and be killed.” Jesus’ ministry was marked by the intensity of “must.” In Luke 4:43, for instance, Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
In the course of His journey, He said He must move toward Jerusalem. In Luke 13:33, Jesus said, “I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”
What must be quickly understood is that the “must” Jesus uses does not mean “compelled against my will” but rather “essential to what I am to do.” This understanding as well as the voluntary embrace of the cross by Jesus is made abundantly clear 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.
In Luke 24, the angels reminded the women at the tomb of this “must” quality of Jesus’ ministry.
5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words
The “mustness” of the events of the cross and resurrection highlight the significance of the divine plan. This was how God would come to us. This is how God will save us! “The Son of man must suffer many things…”
At this point in the unfolding of Mark’s gospel, Jesus stresses the “must” of His ministry. But the stridency of this assertion was too much for the disciples, for whereas the cross constituted the “must” for Jesus it was the definitive “must not” for the disciples.
The cross is terrifying and offensive to the natural mind.
That the cross was counterintuitive to the point of scandalous offense can be seen in Peter’s visceral reaction of outrage to the very idea.
32b And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
“I must…” said Jesus.
“You must not…” countered Peter.
Peter is outrage, but how could the Jews not have some concept that the Messiah would have to suffer? Did Isaiah not prophecy in Isaiah 53 that He would?
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Yes, Isaiah had prophesied that He would be the Suffering Servant. Even so, the Jews had still distanced the idea of the Messiah from the idea of suffering. In the mindset of the Jews, the Messiah would be many things, but a Suffering Servant He would never be! “How difficult it was to reconcile the designation ‘Messiah’ and suffering is well illustrated by the Targum to Isa. 53,” writes William Lane, “where the positive statements are interpreted to refer to King Messiah but the sufferings to the people.”
The Messiah, in the popular mindset of the time, was to be a victor, not a victim. For this reason, the cross that Jesus spoke of was incomprehensible. But this is why Jesus came and it is to this that Jesus calls us all.
The natural mind wants anything but. The modern American mindset has no room for the cross. So, too, in the Church it is precisely at this point that we must bring our minds under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is, in other words, precisely at the point of the cross where we must stop our resistance and embrace the path of Christ.
The cross is also the “must” for all followers of Jesus.
Peter’s rebuke gives way to Jesus’ own rebuke of Peter and that which he is representing at this point.
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.”
Here we see the famous rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan!” R.T. France observes that the name “Satan” was “the familiar Jewish term for the devil” in the first century but that applying the name “Satan” to an individual, “however antagonistic, is unparalleled.” “Unparalleled” is one way of looking at these words from Jesus. Another would be “devastating.”
Peter, in seeking to dissuade Jesus from the cross, was truly doing the devil’s work. Interestingly, Jesus also rejected Peter’s attempts at a private meeting by including the greater crowd in His next words.
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.
Unbelievably…amazingly…Jesus goes even further. Not only will He take up the cross, but
so must “anyone” who “would come after me.” We must all deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Jesus.
Tragically, many of Jesus’ followers still want to distance the cross from the life and ministry of Jesus. Many in the Church today want victory but not suffering, want resurrection without the life of the cross. In this regard, the stunning first chapter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship becomes ever more crucial to our age.
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners ‘even in the best life’ as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin…
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God…
This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. Instead of opening up the way to Christ it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience…
We are called to the path of Jesus, and the path of Jesus must go through Calvary. We are called to the costly grace of cross!
This is what it means to take up our cross! We all know those areas in which we have simply refused to take up the cross, those areas we do not want to die. Those are the areas where, like Peter, we are tempted to rebuke Jesus for His call to discipleship. “No,” we say, “I will not take up the cross there! That is too much! I will not take that to Calvary!” For this reason we must unflinchingly embrace the demands of Christ.
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.”
What is it that you are holding onto that is worth your soul? Why would you reject Christ simply for that…whatever that is? If you are to move forward with Christ, you must take up your cross! We are all called to the cross! Like Peter, we too recoil at the idea. But Augustine was right when he said;
This precept by which we are enjoined to lose our life does not mean that a person should kill himself…but it does mean that one should kill that in oneself which is unduly attached to the earthly, which makes one take inordinate pleasure in this present life to the neglect of the life to come. This is the meaning of “shall hate his life” and “shall lose it.”
In her journal, a college-aged Flannery O’Conner wrote, “I don’t want to be doomed to mediocrity in my feeling for Christ. I want to feel. I want to love. Take me, dear Lord, and set me in the direction I am to go.”
Can you say that? “Take me, dear Lord, and set me in the direction I am to go.” But what if the direction we are to go is Calvary? What if the cross is the life to which we have been called? We reject this because we think we know what it means. We think it means a life devoid of joy. But what if, paradoxically, it has always meant the exact opposite?
What if, as Jesus says, it is laying down our lives that we gain our lives? What if the agony of crucifying our old lives actually does give way to the glories of resurrection? What if the cross, in the economy of the Kingdom, actually is victory, actually gives birth to inexpressible joy and peace?
In point of fact, true misery is not being able to let go of the idols that control us. True misery is not having a cause for which we are willing to die.
The cross is the path to life! It is also the path to joy. Only when we accept this can we understand the astonishing words of Jesus from Matthew 11:
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Ah! There it is! The mystery of the Kingdom! The counterintuitive paradox of the cross! Take up your cross! Do not despise it! If you take it up, you will find Christ beside you and within you transforming the emptying of yourself to the point of death into resurrection power and life!
 Conroy, Pat (2010-07-28). The Prince of Tides: A Novel (pp. 310-311, 329-330). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
 William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Gen. Ed., Joel B. Green (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p.292-293.
 William Lane, p.303.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Gen. Eds., I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), p.338.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Vol.4. Ed., Martin Kusket and Ilse Todt. Trans., Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), p.43-56.
 Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, Mark. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed., Thomas C. Oden. New Testament, Vol. II (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p.113.
 Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal. (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p.35.