An lll-Conceived Rebuke
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

An lll-Conceived Rebuke

Mark 8:31–9:1  (ID: 2502)

Expecting power, glory, and triumph, many were initially eager to follow Jesus, but they quickly turned away when His teaching predicted His suffering, death, and resurrection. Even Peter rebuked Jesus because His teaching was inconsistent with what he’d anticipated. As Alistair Begg points out, many Christians today also trivialize the message of Jesus in favor of what appeals to our expectations. Following Jesus means embracing the difficult message of the cross.

Series Containing This Sermon

They Just Don’t Get It. Do We?

Mark 8:31–9:1, Mark 9:30–37, Mark 10:32–45 Series ID: 25601

Encore 2016

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25907

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn to Mark chapter 8.

Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you for the privilege of turning to its pages. Thank you for the promise of the help of the Holy Spirit to understand and to believe and to obey its truth. We look to you in humility now. In Christ’s name. Amen.

All of us at some time or another have known the embarrassment of being in a group setting, and somebody in the group has either spoken or acted in a way that is so incongruous that it has brought the collective response “I can’t believe he just did that” or “I can’t believe she just said that.” Or, if we’re very honest, the issue in our minds is not in the third person, but it is in the first person, and we have to say that it was just this morning, earlier on, that we said to ourselves, “I can’t believe I just said that.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a number of these this week, and it is a salutary reminder of how easy it is for us to take our foot out of our mouths so we’ve got plenty of room to put the other foot directly in.

Now, I mention this because in the three Sunday mornings, including this morning, leading up to Easter, we’re going to look at the three occasions recorded for us in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus announces his passion—his suffering and his death. And on each of these occasions, we’re going to discover that it introduces us to one of these “I can’t believe he said that” moments. It will become clear as we go along. A couple of weeks from now, in chapter 10, we will look at an ill-timed request; next Sunday, in chapter 9, at an ill-advised argument; and this morning here, in the verses that we’ve read in chapter 8, we begin by looking at an ill-conceived rebuke. An ill-conceived rebuke. If it’s helpful to have an overarching title for our miniseries, for these three studies, then I’ve given it this title: They Just Don’t Get It. Do We? They Just Don’t Get It. Do We?

The Context of Peter’s Rebuke

Now let’s get straight to our business by looking at the context in which this unfolding story takes place and in which we discover this strange moment and this ill-conceived rebuke.

We could start many places, but let’s just begin with the question that Jesus is asking in verse 18: “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” Now, the context you can read for yourselves: there’s been the feeding of the four thousand, the preoccupation of the disciples is with bread, Jesus has warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees, they haven’t fully grasped just why he said what he said, the discussion continues along the lines of bread, and in verse 17, “aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: ‘Why are you talking about having no bread?’” It’s really quite humorous. And then he says, “‘Do you still not see or understand?’” Now, that is then followed in verses 22–25 with the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida. Jesus acts mercifully in the response to some people who brought this blind man, who was begging Jesus to touch him. And that healing is then followed by the confession of Peter that Jesus—verse 29—is the Christ.

So, immediately before this prediction of his passion, we have the question he asks: “Do you actually see what’s going on here?” He then heals a blind man, who can’t see anything that’s going on there physically. Peter then makes a staggering statement concerning the identity of Jesus, which reveals the fact that God in heaven has opened his eyes to see something that he’d never noticed before.[1] And you don’t have to be particularly astute to recognize that there is a line that is running through this. And it would seem so very straightforward that the healing of this man at the behest of those who cared for him provided not only a radical transformation in this man’s circumstances, but it also provided a sign to his disciples. They were seeing but not actually seeing. They were, if you like, like the man in the early part of the healing, where he is asked, “How are you seeing now?” and he says, “Well, I can see men as if they were trees walking.” And Jesus says, “Well, let me just clear that up a little more,”[2] and “his eyes were opened,” and “his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”[3]

Jesus is working with his disciples here, recognizing that just as he’s led this man by the hand and brought him to a place of physical sight, so he is leading his disciples by the hand, bringing them gradually to an understanding of who Jesus is and what he’s done. And when you think in those terms, then you realize that Peter’s confession here in verse 29 is a breakthrough moment. Indeed, it is a pivotal moment in the story of the Gospels. “You are the Christ,” he says. “Who are people saying I am? What’s the word on the street? Yes, I know that,” he says, “but who do you say I am?” And then, in this great moment of insight, Peter says, “You are the Christ. You are the Messiah.”[4]

Now, those of us who have been reading our Bibles for a while, we say, “Oh yes, we know that part of the Bible. Nothing very striking about that.” But that’s because we’re not thinking. Peter was a Jewish boy, brought up in the orthodoxy of Judaism, reciting routinely the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”[5] The monotheism—the strict monotheism—of his upbringing was shattered by the expression out of his own lips. Because he was saying something not only revolutionary about Jesus, but he was saying something revolutionary about the nature of God himself. “You are the Christ,” he says. “You are the Messiah. You are, in fact, God.” Well, it’s as dramatic a moment as was the previous moment, when the blind beggar sees what’s going on around him.

But the drama of that confession by Peter is not followed then by a call on the part of Jesus to go out and tell everyone. Well, we might have expected that he would have said, “Excellent, Peter! Now we’re off to the races! Now we can make a go of this! Why don’t you get out, get your friends here, make sure that you’re all on the one page, and go and tell the world what you’ve just professed to me?” No, verse 30: “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.” It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it? I mean, it should be of interest. “You are the Christ”—a breakthrough, a spiritual perception, opportunity now to take this message out. And Jesus puts the brakes on, and he says, “I don’t want you to go out and say anything about this just now.” Why?

Well, of course, if we read on, as we’ve done in our reading, we know why: because Peter’s great confession is about to be followed by his ill-conceived rebuke. And Jesus knows that while Peter and the rest of them were in a new place in terms of their understanding of the identify of Jesus, he was going to have to teach them about the nature of the ministry of Jesus. If you like, they had made a breakthrough concerning “Who is he?” but they still were not clear as to why he was saying what he was saying, and they certainly weren’t clear about what it was he was planning on doing.

The Subject of Peter’s Rebuke

And so you’ll notice that Mark very carefully points out, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, … that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

Now, let’s just look at the content of what Jesus is doing here. It was “then” that he began to teach them. Now they have identified him as the Messiah of God; now he says, “Let me explain to you what it means to be the Messiah of God: the Son of Man must…” The word here in Greek is a little word, d-e-i, and what it’s referencing here is a sense of necessity that is grounded in the will of God. What does it mean, he “must,” “the Son of Man must”?

It’s not an unfamiliar phraseology. For example, in Luke’s Gospel, when Luke records for us the arrival of Jesus with his family in Jerusalem, then the family leave, he stays on unbeknown to them, they then find him with the scribes and the teachers of the law in the temple precincts, and as they say to him, “You know, Jesus, we’ve been looking everywhere for you, and we don’t really understand why this has unfolded in this way,”[6] and then he says to them—and I have never forgotten it since I was brought up in the King James Version, and it rings so well in the King James Version—he says to Mary and to Joseph, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”[7] In Scots, it would be, “D’ye no ken that it has to be this way?” Well, they didn’t! Indeed, Luke tells us that “they did not understand what he was saying to them.”[8] How could they? “Do you not know that I have to do this?” “No, we don’t.”

No surprise that we find Peter and his colleagues in the exact same boat. Because after all, look at what Jesus explains to them. He explains that “the Son of Man must suffer many things.” He picks up the Old Testament pictures of the Suffering Servant. For example, in Isaiah 52:13—and I’ll only ask you to turn to this one cross-reference this morning. Isaiah 52:13. It will be of help to you to see it. (And the rustling of the pages is a far better indication of the fact that you’re awake than any other thing. So you can at least rustle a little and fake it.) Isaiah 52:13. (Or have your wife rustle for you.) Isaiah 52:13:

See, my servant will act wisely;
 [and] he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
 his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
 and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so [he will] sprinkle many nations,
 and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
 and what they have not heard, they will understand.

And then, of course, it leads into the more familiar words of Isaiah 53: “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[9] and so on, into that great Easter work that many of us enjoy when we go down to Severance Hall. “No,” he says, “you need to understand that the Son of Man must suffer, must be rejected, must die, and must, after three days, rise again.”

Now, in verse 32, Mark then points out that Jesus spoke very “plainly about this.” “He spoke [very] plainly about this.” He on most occasions spoke in parables. Earlier in his Gospel, in Mark chapter 4, Mark says that “he did[n’t] say anything to them without using a parable”—that is, to the crowd. “But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”[10] He used the parables as a kind of filtration system, but when he was alone with the disciples, they got together, and he said, “Now, let me give this to you in ABC terms.” He’d done it again right here. “Who do people say I am?” “You’re the Christ.” “Okay, don’t go out and start saying anything. But now I want you to understand that the Son of Man must suffer at the hands of cruel men. He must be rejected, he must die, and he must rise again.”

The Mindset of Peter’s Rebuke

Now, here we are at our “I can’t believe he did that” moment. Here we are at our ill-conceived rebuke. “He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

Well, what’s wrong with Peter? Some of us are immediately up on our hind legs. The insipient Pharisee in us, the bright spark in us, says, “I can’t believe Peter. I just can’t believe he would say something like that. I honestly can’t believe he would do anything like that at all.” Haven’t you heard yourself lately? Do you ever hear the thoughts of your minds when you’re driving in the car? When you’re awake in the middle of the night? When you’re wrestling with the implications of the identity and ministry of Christ?

Now, his action can’t be explained in terms of a lack of clarity, because Mark has made it clear that Jesus has spoken with absolute plainness. And indeed, it is the very plainness of the speech of Jesus which has given rise to the rebuke, albeit an ill-conceived rebuke, which Peter issues. Let’s think about it from Peter’s side of the fence for just a moment. Think about from where Peter was standing. It’s always easy to be clever if you’ve read the end of the story.

I knew the end of the England-versus-Ireland rugby match last week because I went online while we were watching it by delay on TV. I was in the company of two Scots, and I actually—it was Scotland versus Italy, I think; I’ve watched so many rugby games—but I was watching it, and I said to them, “I think how this is going to go is it’ll be tied up at halftime, there’ll be a couple of more penalties in the second half, and then, in the dying minutes, you know, we’ll clinch the victory.” And, of course, the whole game went through, and that’s exactly what happened. And my brother-in-law said, “You don’t think for a minute that we believed you. We know that you knew the end. You’re not that bright.”

It’s the same thing I get from my wife when I’m doing the crossword on Continental Airlines. It’s real easy to do the crossword on page 94 if you keep your finger in page 96. She looks across at me, mystified at the speed with which I’m filling in all these blanks! Actually, she’s long since given up being mystified. She always says, “Any fool can do the crossword the way you do it, because you read the answers, and then you just fill in the blanks.”

Well, we have the benefit of seeing the end of the story. Peter didn’t. So don’t let’s be too hard on Peter. He’s clueless, having been given a clue, but he’s no more clueless than we would have been. Because now he’s processed the information so far: Jesus is the Messiah. Then he says, “Messiahs don’t die. Messiahs don’t get killed. So, Jesus, if I could have a quiet word with you, I just want to say to you that, you know, what you’ve just said sounds all very well, but I don’t think we should be going at it in that manner.” The idea of a rejected Messiah didn’t fit the picture.

You see, Peter, like the rest of the disciples, was struggling with these concepts. He and his colleagues, if you like, in the reading of the end of Isaiah 52, were clearly reading all of the plus-side words. They were hearing the words “raised,” “lifted,” “exalted,” “the kings will shut their mouths”; they were missing “appalled,” “disfigured,” “marred more than that of any man.”[11] In other words, they had a kind of selective listening, which in part they could be forgiven for, because their expectation of triumph and of victory and of the overthrow of oppression beat within their hearts down through the centuries of their Jewish thinking. But for Jesus to stop in the middle of the proceedings and say, “So far, so good, but the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, die, and be raised again”—they didn’t have categories with which to process this information.

For example, the concept of the resurrection itself. If your Bible is open at chapter 9—you can look without turning to anything—but in verse 9, after the transfiguration, “as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen”—see, here we go again—“until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” And “they kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.” It’s so good, isn’t it? It’s so real!

Faith is not in the disengagement of thinking, but the very thinking of things is a fundamental part of what it means to come to trust.

The idea that the Gospels were all put together by people three hundred years later, trying to make Jesus and themselves and everybody else look good, a fabrication of the minds of weird people! No, Mark has it here, warts and all! If this Gospel was an invention, he would have had “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” full stop; go to the next good part. But he doesn’t. He has, “You are the Messiah,” and then he has, “Oh, I have to rebuke you, Jesus, for what you’re saying.” He has the Mount of Transfiguration, where they have this great encounter with God, but he also follows it by saying, “And when they came down from the mountain, they all sat around saying to one another, ‘What does “rising from the dead” mean?’”

Incidentally, for those of you who are here, and you don’t believe in Jesus yet… (I mean, you believe he existed. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be here. But you’ve never come to really lay your life down before him.) I want to encourage you by the very activity of these disciples, by the way you see the unfolding drama—getting a glimpse and missing a part and coming back to it again, the great journey of faith seeking understanding—that faith is not in the disengagement of the thinking part, but the very thinking of things is a fundamental part of what it means to come to trust.

No, you see, Peter was totally unprepared for the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching. Totally unprepared for the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching. Totally unprepared for the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching. Doesn’t sound so long ago and far away now, does it? Here we have a well-heeled, twenty-first century congregation, contemporaneously, listening to the story from two thousand years ago. We stand in the same place as Peter, and we know the end of the story! I suggest to you this morning that we are totally unprepared for the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching! If we had a long time this morning, I could show you reasons why I believe that, but many of you won’t need to be convinced, because a bell goes off in your head, saying, “I think that’s right. I think I am totally unprepared for the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching. I think I am completely on the side of the pluses. I’m on the side of the triumph and the victory and the glory and the ‘shut the mouths of kings.’ I quite honestly don’t like this stuff about disfigurement, suffering, rejection, taking it in the chin.” Oh, we’re just as unprepared, aren’t we?

There’s going to come some time before Peter would reach the point where he is able to write to the scattered Christians of his day, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”[12] Then the penny had dropped post-Pentecost. He had been there; he had heard the story of the recounting of the message again after the resurrection of Jesus at the end of Luke chapter 24. But at this point, Peter sees the statement made by Jesus here not in terms of a mission accomplished, but he sees it in terms of a mission defeated. The whole notion was inconceivable to Peter. He didn’t get the “must.” He didn’t get the sense of divine necessity. This was a comprehension that was only there grounded in the will of God and made clear in the minds of those who would submit to that same will.

The Answer to Peter’s Rebuke

But we need to hasten on. And you will notice that Jesus does not answer Peter by saying to him, “Oh, come on now, Peter, let me explain all of this to you. Let me explain how it works.” No, he responds with a sharp rebuke himself: “[And] when [he] turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’”

Wow! What a change in such a short period of time. Peter: “You are the Christ.” “Well done, Peter. Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.[13] Therefore, don’t get a fat head. You are the mouthpiece, but God is the revealer of all truth. Just take your chest down a couple of notches, Peter. But nice work, Peter. Peter? Get behind me, Satan.”

“Oh, how could that possibly be?” You haven’t been there? You haven’t walked out of the middle service on Sunday morning with this great affirmation of faith and sinned your soul within forty-five minutes of walking out the door? You haven’t found that even in your expressions of praise, some of the foulest thoughts can come into your mind simultaneously, as if you were involved in “a continual … irreconcilable war”[14] that was satanic in its impact?

No, Peter represents something here. And it’s almost as though Jesus is saying to him, “You know, Peter, I’ve heard this kind of stuff before. You’re sounding a lot like someone else who tried to tempt me to think wrongly about the kingdom.” That’s the satanic element, isn’t it? You don’t need to turn to this, ’cause I promised you you wouldn’t have to. But at the end of Matthew chapter 3, following the baptism of Jesus, there’s an announcement from heaven, remember? “This is my beloved Son.”[15] “A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”[16] So you have this great declaration from heaven concerning the identity of Jesus followed immediately by the activity of Satan to try and divert Jesus from his progress in the fulfillment of the kingdom plan of God.[17] Once again, Mark chapter [8], in the progression of things, you have this great declaration from heaven because the Son of Man has been revealed to Peter by the Father in heaven: “You are the Christ. You are the Messiah of God.” And what do you have immediately following it? The exact same thing. You have the activity of the Evil One to hinder and to thwart the unfolding plan of God’s kingdom.

That’s why when Jesus told the parable of the sower, and he said the seed is the word of God, and the hard path, and the birds of the air come along, and he said, “And this is similar to the activity of the Evil One, who seeks to come and steal away the seed of the word of God even as it is falling into the soil.”[18] That’s why you may be finding yourself in a battle—in a strange battle; you think it may be a psychological battle—as you listen to the Bible. You just seem to be moving towards it, as if somehow laying ahold of its truth, and as if from nowhere, it’s gone, and your interest is gone. Somebody said something, or somebody asked a question, and your mind was diverted, and you went out and into another week or into another month. And you remember fondly the tenderness of that moment, when the word of God seemed to fall like seed into the soil of your heart, and it was gone in an instant. What happened? The Evil One stole it away.

You see, this is not an exercise—the preaching and teaching of the Bible—this is not an exercise whereby a man who has a product seeks to overcome consumer resistance by the forcefulness of his personality or the power of his language so as to bring consumers who are reluctant to buy into a position where they reluctantly acquiesce and say, “Okay, give me the encyclopedia. Just shut up.” That would be relatively easy. I’m prepared to go with most in terms of the challenge of getting encyclopedias into the houses of people that don’t really want them. I’ll take on that challenge, and we’ll go and see how we do. That would be easy; this is impossible. This is impossible. Because the Evil One comes, snatches up the seed.

“Now,” says Jesus—and we must move to a close. “Now,” says Jesus, “the fact is, Peter, that you’re not thinking God’s thoughts; you’re thinking men’s thoughts. If you were thinking according to the mind of God, you would realize that my suffering, my passion, my death, and my resurrection are in the very will of God. But as it is, you’re not thinking that way; you’re thinking absolutely wrongly.” And then, as it were, while that is settling in the mind of Peter and the disciples, he says to the crowd, “Why don’t you come here along with the disciples and let me say something to all of you while you’re within earshot? Let me just let you know something.”

And then he does this dramatic thing—a shocking statement from Jesus. This is not in the small print, as it were, at the bottom of the document in terms of the kingdom of Jesus. This is right in bold letters, right at the head of the material: “If anyone would [like to] come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Do you see what Jesus is saying? He’s saying, “If the way of the cross, the way of suffering, the way of rejection is my way, then that’s the way for my followers too. If you’re going to come and march with me, then it is a march into death. I’m not inviting you to take a pleasant afternoon stroll. I’m asking you to walk into death’s door with me.”

So that when he talks about taking up the cross to follow Jesus, we can be perfectly certain that he isn’t thinking about giving up chocolate for Lent. I mean, do what you like about that, but the fact of the matter is—“Well, I’m taking up my cross.” “Oh, what is that?” “Well, I’m not eating chocolate between now and Easter.” Please don’t trivialize the message of Jesus. “Well, my spouse drives me nuts. But we all have to take up our cross, don’t we?” Please don’t trivialize the message of Jesus.

These folks knew what he meant. The person who took up the crossbeam on their shoulders and walked towards the place of execution said to all who observed, “I am never coming back. I am never coming back.” Everyone that saw him walk down the street said, “He is walking away from himself. He is walking away from life.” That’s the picture which Jesus employs. It is a horrifying picture. It is a march to death. How different from our attempts to offer people the gospel! The series of contrasts says it all. We don’t have time to work through them, but look at the contrast between saving a life and losing it; gaining the world, losing one’s soul; the prospect of shame now and honor later, or honor now and shame later.

You see, the disciples, not unlike many of us today, had their minds full, and understandably full in one sense, of power and glory and triumph: “Come on, we’ll get with Jesus. He does miracles. Blind people see, and lame people walk. Let’s go! We had a great afternoon the other afternoon. Everybody was starving, no food anywhere—boom! Fabulous! Five loaves, two fish—fantastic! Let’s go!”

And Jesus constantly, in the course of his ministry, arrests the crowd, and he says, “I just want to say to you: what I’m actually on about is not what you think I’m on about.” And when, in John chapter 6, he explains to them the nature again of what it means to be his disciple, the crowds begin to drift away—first of all on the fringes, then in the concentric circles coming in towards the middle, until eventually John records that Jesus turns to the Twelve (he’s down to twelve now!) and he says, “What about you folks? Are you planning on going away?”[19]

You see, we have domesticated the story of Jesus in our Western culture. You know, you don’t have to go too far back in Western culture to go back to people who are hounded and imprisoned and killed and burned for their faith. And certainly we don’t want to despise the benefits that we enjoy of freedom and opportunity such as is ours, but it is surely wrong for us to baptize them into a form of biblical orthodoxy and to say that when you get this right, as we apparently have it right, then you’re able to speak in terms of triumph and glory and victory and so on. Well, go ahead! But to whom are we unable to speak? To those who know what it is to face suffering, rejection, the reality of death, disfigurement, and the marring of their very souls.

Unless I have a Christ who knows what it is to suffer and to die and to be rejected, I do not have a Christ who knows what it is for me to experience what I am experiencing right now, this day, this week.

And is it any surprise to us that such individuals often listen to our little story, and it just sounds so twee? It just sounds so trivial! It sounds as though the invitation to the kingdom is to somehow or another just add a few little bits and pieces to your life—somehow or another just add the Jesus factor—when in fact, what Jesus is saying is this: you need to have a radical shift in the very center of gravity in your life. The move is from self to God—a sustained no to self and a yes to God.

I want to apologize to anybody who’s been coming here routinely and has picked up any notion of following Jesus as being like a very lame cream cheese—I mean eating a very lame cream cheese. If you like cheese, you have to have cheese that does something to you. There has to be a chemical reaction when you eat cheese for it to be worthwhile. There is dreadful cream cheeses with nothing in them at all—no fat, no nothing at all. You may as well hang wallpaper with that stuff as eat it. It is innocuous. It is benign. It is just as bad as you expect. But when you get the pungency of that stuff that calls to you from the cabinet, that beckons you, you know this is going to be a different kind of experience. Suddenly, this is not your dad’s cheese.

What has that got to do with anything? Well, I apologize to anyone who has bumped up against some well-meaning Christian, perhaps here at Parkside, perhaps even listening to me, and the reason that you have so far rejected the claims of Jesus is just for that reason. It just seems like a very bad cream cheese. It just seems like the story is somehow or another, “Why don’t you come along and enter God’s kingdom? All you have to do is make a few minor adjustments to your everyday life.” I apologize if what it has sounded like is this: “We invite you to meet a God who has pledged to indulge you. Since you’re living in a culture of entitlement, we want you to know that you’re entitled to all kinds of things if you’ll sign up for this.” I apologize to you if that’s what you’ve been hearing, because the God of the Bible is not a God who comes to indulge us. He is a God who makes demands upon us, and he is the God who, in Jesus, turns to the disciples and says, “If you want to be serious about Christian living, take up your cross, die to yourself, lose the world, gain your soul—shame now, honor later.” It’s a radical message! Here’s something worth living for! Here’s something worth dying for!

I say to you this morning: we are as justly condemned by Jesus’ rebuke to Peter as Peter himself was. What did he say to them? “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Man-centered preaching, man-centered Christianity, man-centered singing, man-centered appeals—appealing to people’s affections, appealing to their felt needs, appealing to their sentimentality, appealing somehow or another for them just to come and join this little bandwagon: “Join the Gospel Express, and off we go!” But no, it won’t work. It won’t work if we keep reading our Bibles, and it won’t work if we keep living our lives. Because sooner or later, every last one of us will run up against at least one of those experiences which says, “Unless I have a Christ who knows what it is to suffer and to die and to be rejected, I do not have a Christ who knows what it is for me to experience what I am experiencing right now, this day, this week.”

Added to the list of our own from this morning, I got a letter this week. It arrived on Friday. It’s not an uncommon kind of cry that comes out of the radio program. This is from somewhere in Virginia. It reads,

Dearest Reverend Begg,

I lost my twenty-four-year-old son, Ben, in a car accident on March 4 and have since been in a total state of despair. I constantly ache to see his face or touch him, looking for him on the street, waiting for him to pull in the driveway, or to get a call from him.

I turned to my favorite book on suffering, Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament. You can read just about any section of it.

[Reads excerpt from pp. 34–35 of Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987)]

Isn’t it great that we have the words of Jesus, who, by the time the writer to the Hebrews takes all of this unfolding drama, he says, “And we have in Jesus a great High Priest who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities”?[20] Someone to whom we are able to go, who has walked the path of suffering and rejection and death, and has come out victoriously on the other side, and invites those who will follow him to take the same journey that leads eventually and ultimately to victory. But it might be really painful en route.

Father, it just seems so ill-conceived of Peter to rebuke Jesus in this way, and yet we recognize how quick we are to do the same—to try and explain away the hard and difficult side of things, to try and minimize the impact of the demands, largely because we don’t want to face them ourselves. Why would we tell others about them? But we thank you that the sufferings and the death of Jesus are not some meaningless, tragic destiny, but the sufferings and death of Jesus are the very means of accomplishing his mission. So then, will you help us to bow our lives before the wonder of Christ’s grace and love? Will you save us from superficialism? Will you help us to be gut-wrenchingly honest about faith and what it means to follow Jesus?

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] See Matthew 16:17.

[2] Mark 8:23–25 (paraphrased).

[3] Mark 8:25 (NIV 1984).

[4] Mark 8:27–29 (paraphrased).

[5] Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV 1984).

[6] Luke 2:48 (paraphrased).

[7] Luke 2:49 (KJV).

[8] Luke 2:50 (NIV 1984).

[9] Isaiah 53:1 (NIV 1984).

[10] Mark 4:34 (NIV 1984).

[11] Isaiah 52:14–15 (paraphrased).

[12] 1 Peter 3:18 (NIV 1984).

[13] Matthew 16:17 (paraphrased).

[14] The Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2.

[15] Matthew 3:17 (KJV).

[16] Matthew 3:17 (NIV 1984).

[17] See Matthew 4:1–11.

[18] Matthew 13:4, 19; Mark 4:4, 15; Luke 8:5, 12 (paraphrased).

[19] John 6:67 (paraphrased).

[20] Hebrews 4:14–15 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.