The Christ and the Cross

Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Mark 8:27-9:1 | December 27 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
December 27
The Christ and the Cross | Mark 8:27-9:1
Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Well, Christ Covenant Church, it’s a privilege to preach this morning here on this Sunday between the holidays. We’re turning this morning in our Bibles. Please turn with me to Mark 8 and we’ll be reading together verse 27 through the first verse of chapter 9. Mark 8, verse 27 through chapter 9, verse 1.

We’re thinking today about the Christ and the cross. What Jesus has to say about the cross here in the middle of Mark’s gospel.

Before we read this together, let’s pray and ask for God to shine His light into our hearts so that we might see Christ.

O God, unveil Yourself, God of glory. Wake us up to know You, Savior King. Enlighten the eyes of our hearts, drive away the darkness that blinds, chokes, and shrinks us, and make us see. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark chapter 8, beginning at verse 27, as we read remember that this is God’s Holy Word.

“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?’ And they told Him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.”

“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. And He said this plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 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.’”

“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. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? 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.’”

“And He said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.’”

Well, dear people of God, John Piper a few years back wrote a book that you might be familiar with. It has this title, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. I think he wrote that for the Lenten season, fifty reasons why Jesus came to give His life, and the first sentence of that book goes like this: “The most important question of the 21st century is why did Jesus Christ come and die?”

The most important question that can be asked in this century: Why has Christ come to die for us? It is not what is a cure for the coronavirus? It is not how can you be happier in 2021 than you were in 2020. The most important question is what did Jesus Christ come and die.

There are two separate words in that question that are important and related to each other. Here’s the first word: Come. Why did Jesus Christ come?

We’re just coming off Advent and Christmas. Why was Christ born? Why did He come? Why was He sent? Why is Christmas so critical for us? What is its purpose?

So that first word, come, the second word is die. Why did Christ, Jesus Christ, come to die. And the answer to why He came is in the question. He came to die.

He was born to die. The cross was already in view at the manger. Christmas and the cross are so intimately connected you cannot understand Christmas without going to Calvary.

The angel said it already at His birth, didn’t he? “Call Him Jesus.” Why? “For He will save His people from their sins.”

He has come to save, He has come to go to the cross.

Or the angel to the shepherds: “I bring you good news of great joy. Today a Savior has been born to you and He is Christ the Lord.”

Well, this morning we’re fast forwarding, not to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but to the middle of His ministry, to the pivotal point in the Gospel of Mark. This is the central text of Mark’s gospel. This is the centerpiece of what Mark has been proclaiming in his gospel. Everything in Mark’s gospel builds up to this point before this passage, and everything after this passage builds on what Jesus says here.

And this is the first time in Mark’s gospel that the cross comes into full view. Jesus has alluded to it in the earlier chapters of this Gospel, Jesus has been pointing to it, Jesus has tried to keep people from believing the misconceptions about His ministry, that He’s going to bring some powerful reign over an earthly empire, that He is a miracle worker, that He has come to lead a Roman rebellion.

Jesus points that out here in the middle of our text. He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him, because Jesus understood that there were so many misconceptions about why He came.

But now here in this passage, for the first time, Jesus clearly explains that rejection, suffering, dying on the cross, and resurrection are at the center of His mission as king. It is why He was born. It is why He came.

He is a different kind of king. He did not come to be served, but to serve. And He adds if we would serve Him, then we must be ready for suffering as well.

Listen to the way two different authors put it. Kent Hughes says it like this: This passage tells us what we must confess and embrace about Christ and what we must understand and embrace for ourselves if we are to be His disciples.

Or Tim Keller says it like this: Jesus says two things here. I am a king, but a king going to a cross. And if you want to follow Me, you have got to come to the cross, too.

Three things that Jesus says are central about the cross in this text. First of all, the cross is central to Christ Himself.

So we pick up here. Jesus, traveling with His disciples in the region around Caesarea Philippi, Caesarea Philippi, north of the Galilee, and Jesus asked this question: Who do people say that I am?

It’s really the critical question of the entire gospel of Mark. Who is Jesus? Who is this man? Jesus has been casting out demons. Jesus has been healing diseases. Jesus has been claiming to forgive sins. He calms the wind and the waves. He feeds the thousands. Who is this man who does all of this?

And Jesus now directs that question at the disciples. And He says, “Who are people saying about Me? Who are people saying that I am? What is the word on the streets about Me?”

And the disciples respond. They say some say You are John the Baptist. Some are saying you’re Elijah. Others are saying you’re one of the prophets.

Those are some pretty big identifications, aren’t they? Rooted in the Scriptures. Rooted in the Old Testament. People looking for the Messiah.

“I think he’s John the Baptist,” some are saying, and “I think he’s one of the prophets,” or “He’s Elijah.”

And Jesus ultimately directs it to the disciples. And He says to them, “Well, what about you? Here’s what all the crowds are saying, but disciples, what about you?”

You see, what’s important isn’t ultimately what the crowds think.

Young people, what is important is not ultimately what your friends think of Jesus.

Jesus points the question to the disciples, and He points it at us and He says, “But what do you think?”

It isn’t just important what the crowds think about Me or say that I am, but who do you say that I am?

You see, it’s not an opinion question, it’s a worship question. It isn’t what is your opinion about Christ, it’s really a lot more fundamental than that. What does your heart say about Christ? Who do you worship?

And Peter gives this great confession and he says this. He says, “You are the Christ.”

What a huge statement, because Christ isn’t just another name for Jesus, it is a title for Christ, it equals as you are well aware Messiah, the Anointed One. Jesus is the King to end all kings. Jesus is the One who fulfills all the promises of the Old Testament, that central promise that was given to David in 2 Samuel 7, that the Christ would be One who comes and He would have a kingdom that would never end. David would have a son who would forever sit upon the throne. All of this wrapped up in that acknowledgement and confession by Peter that Jesus is the Christ.

In some of the other gospels, of course, Jesus goes on to say, “Peter, upon you the Church would be built,” and it’s not upon Peter the man. There’s no kind of papal reference here. This is upon Peter’s confession upon the confession of Peter, the church is built that Jesus is the Christ.

And Jesus responded to this confession of Peter was revelation of His own. You see it in verses 31 and 32: “And so Jesus 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 and He said this plainly.”

Upon Peter’s confession, Jesus began to explain what it meant that He was the Christ.

Peter, you said I am the Christ. Here’s what it means that I am the Christ. Never before had anyone in Israel connected suffering with the Messiah as Jesus did here. Kingship, reign, they don’t go together very well, do they, with rejection and death. And yet Jesus brought them together here.

And Mark says this is what Jesus began to teach them. He began it at this point. Jesus begins to teach that this is what it means that He is the Christ. And verse 32 says He spoke plainly about this. It is not concealed any longer. It is not cryptic. It is not veiled. But Jesus now puts it out in the open, and this is what Jesus keeps bringing His disciples back to again and again and again.

You can see, for example, that in chapter 9 verse 30 and 31 and 32, Jesus says the very same thing again. He’s going to suffer, He’s going to be betrayed, He’s going to be killed and in three days rise again, repeatedly. This becomes the theme of Jesus ministry all the way to the cross.

So you see how central the cross was to Christ.

Secondly, the cross is also central, as Mark paints it here, to the gospel, to the gospel itself.

Peter didn’t like hearing what Jesus had to say, did he? When Jesus began to plainly teach about His suffering and about His death, verse 32, Peter took Jesus aside and he began to rebuke Him. The word “rebuke” there is an important word. It’s important in Mark’s gospel. The word “rebuke’ isn’t just a slight criticism, it is to criticize severely, it’s to admonish someone, and the word “rebuke” here, what’s important about this word, is that this is the word that is used for how Jesus dealt with demons.

So in Mark’s gospel, when Jesus comes and speaks to the demons, He rebukes them. But now Peter, he turns it on Christ and he rebukes Jesus.

You see, suffering and death was not in the picture for Peter. When Peter thought about what the Messiah came to do, when he thought about what the Messiah’s purpose was or mission was as he saw it in Christ, suffering and death was not in it for Peter. It was not, simply just not in the picture, it could not be in the picture.

You see, this is Peter not simply saying, “I cannot see that happening.” But this is Peter saying, “I will not allow it to happen.” Jesus, this is not going to happen to you. Jesus, never, ever could this be the case for you.

It’s like it was demonic to Peter. Something from the devil. But really it’s Peter who’s reflecting the demonic, isn’t it? Jesus says it to him, verse 33: “Get behind me, Satan, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God.”

Peter [sic], of course, is not identifying Peter with Satan or saying Peter is Satan, but like Satan, he has like Satan who wanted Jesus to take a detour around the cross. You remember that’s what the temptations in the wilderness are all about. Jesus, there can be some other way. If you, if you just bow down, you could have all the kingdoms of the world. You don’t need to go to the cross… And that was on the mind of Peter here. To avoid the cross, to skirt the cross, to take a detour around the cross.

And you see, people of God, that is demonic. To go some other way than the cross is demonic because if there is no cross, there is no Gospel, there is no salvation, there is no hope. This is the way that Jesus must go, and Jesus says that here.

Back to verse 31 again: He began to teach them that the Son of Man, and notice that next word, that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected, and killed, and three days rise again. It must happen this way. This is a necessity. Every single part of it, the suffering, the rejection, and the death and the resurrection, every single part of it must happen. There is no other alternative or any other way. This is the must of the cross, the must of the resurrection, this is the must of the Gospel.

We can think to ourselves this morning, well, why must it happen this way? Why must this be the way for Christ? Why is it necessary?

Well, we can think of a couple of answers. First of all, it was the Father’s work that Jesus was given to do. This is a must because this is what the Father laid out for Christ. We know that in the familiar passage in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” And that word “gave” is so critical. He gave Him, there’s a mission behind what Jesus Christ came to do.

He must die because that is what the Father sent Him for. He must die and be raised because this is what the Scriptures predicted and foretold.

Nathan read from Isaiah 53 for us earlier, that Jesus would be a Man of Sorrows and familiar with suffering.

He must die and come to life because our salvation depended upon it. If there’s no suffering or death or Calvary or resurrection, there is no salvation for us.

So this is what the Father sent Him to do, but this was also necessary because Christ loved us and was willing to lay down his life for us.

His love, you see, is a perfect, radically-vulnerable love, sacrificial to the core. His love is what frees us to love, to be vulnerable ourselves, to love boldly without self-protection. His love is what gives us hope. It was out of love that He went to the cross.

Hebrews reminds us that it was for the joy set before Him, the joy of seeing His people redeemed that Christ scorned the shame of the cross, why could He headlong set His face toward the cross? Because He saw our redemption there and that was the joy that pushed Him forward. Even though He understood all of the shame and the scorn that would be His.

He loves you. He loves me. And it was out of love that He must go and suffer and die and be raised.

He must.

Guilt cannot be dealt with unless He pays.

He must.

Shame cannot be removed unless Christ dies.

He must.

The curse cannot be lifted unless Christ gives Himself.

He must.

God’s justice cannot be satisfied and His holiness defended unless He lays down His life.

He must.

His mercy cannot shine unless Christ gives Himself as a ransom for many.

He must.

You and I cannot live with hope, with a reality of liberation, with the assurance that our debt has been pain in full, and the opportunity and the ability to live with new power and new life for God and to His glory, unless He gives Himself.

He must. Not because He owes us anything, but He must to be true to His nature, just, holy and merciful God, God gave Christ, and out of love for God and for us, Jesus laid it all down.

Friends, you see, Peter as he thought about what Jesus came to do or what Jesus came to be, Peter could have lived with a great example. There’s so many in our world like that today. You ask them who was Jesus? What has Jesus come to do? Why did Christ come? Many people will say, well, He came to be our example. He’s our example of justice, He’s our example of kindness, He’s our example of mercy. And that’s as far as people are willing to go.

Peter could have lived with Christ as a great example of how to live. Peter could have handled a king who was victorious over His enemies, over the Roman government, if that was as far as things would go, Peter could have lived with that.

But what he couldn’t handle, and so many people cannot handle, is Jesus as a substitute and a sacrifice for sin. Because when you talk about Jesus as a sacrifice for sinners, you have to talk not only about Christ, but you have to talk about us, and you have to talk about our need for Christ, and that is the place people do not want to go.

But that is what we need. And that is what Jesus gave Himself for. The Son of Man must suffer, must be rejected, must be killed, must rise again. That is central to the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. There is no Good News without it.

And so we see the cross central to Jesus, we see the cross central to the Gospel, and finally we see the cross central to us.

Verse 34 and 35, Jesus speaks about our relationship to Himself and to His cross. He says calling the crowd to Him, with His disciples, He said to them if anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me, for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.

Friends, Jesus is a King, a suffering King, but a King who calls us to a new identity. His Gospel calls us to come, to follow Him. We must deny ourselves, we must take up our cross, to embrace Jesus means coming to the cross, too. We have to come to the cross. It means dying with Christ, to our old selves. It means dying with Christ to our passions, to our sins that do not conform to Christ, and to His Word and to His will.

It means being crucified with Christ. As Paul said it, dying with Him so that it’s no longer we who live, but it is Christ who lives in us.

It means a new way of life.

Some of us are going to set some goals, some patterns for our life in these next coming days. The first of the year is always good for that, right? How am I going to live differently in 2021 than I did in 2020?

So, I want to lose weight or I’m going to exercise. I’m going to get some good rest. And I’m going to do this all the while, while eating as I love to eat. So I’m going to set these new patterns but I’m just going to keep on eating the way that I’m always used to eating. And we know if that’s the patterns, if that’s the goal, that’s not going to work.

You cannot do both of those things at the same time. If you’re going to set a new pattern for life, it has to be a new pattern. Some of the old things have to go away and take on the new ones.

And people of God, if we’re going to live for Christ, there can be no feet in two worlds. The cross has to be central for us. Taking up our cross and following Christ, doing that wholeheartedly with all of our passion, with all of our joy, with all of our desires, means everything for us.

What does it mean to take up our cross? Well, to take up our cross is different than we often think. Taking up our cross is not doing without chocolate in 2021. That is not to take up your cross. To take up your cross is not living with a chronic illness. To take up our cross is not doing without so that we can send our kids to a Christian school.

Taking up our cross means embracing the life of Christ. Embracing obedience to Him at great cost. Embracing weakness, not power. Extending ourselves in difficult circumstances. Loving those it’s hard to love. Welcoming someone it is hard to welcome. Bearing disgrace for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. This is a fundamental denial of ourselves. To show that we love Christ.

As Jesus says, this is for Him and for the Gospel. Anything that we count on, anything that we find life in, anything that we put our comfort in or we hope in, we need to die to; to our ambitions, our sinful desires, our performances, our talents, our record, our identity, our decency, our life… All of it. Laid down before the cross in order that we might find life in Jesus.

As Jesus says, verse 7:37, “What can a man give in return for his soul?”

What can you give to save your soul? What must you give Christ? You can give nothing. You have to die to Christ. You have to die with Christ. If you’re willing to find your life.

People have asked me over the last weeks, what have you been thinking about after your accident? And I said two things primarily. First of all, I think about what my testimony is now, because I have new parts. I have a new part of the story. And I think about the neighbors that live around me and people that don’t know Christ and what would I say to them now?

But the other thing I think about is this. I’ve thought to myself would I have been ready to meet Christ on the sidewalk that day? I sat for a couple of days in the hospital thinking back, that was just about the end of my life. Would I have been ready to meet Jesus?

And my answer is this: I would not have been ready to meet Christ for anything that I bring to Jesus, because what could I give to save my soul? Nothing. But I do believe I’d have been ready to meet Christ because of Christ. Because of what He has done for me.

Tim Keller asked this question, “Are you beginning to see how radical Jesus is? It is not a matter of saying I’ve been a failure, I’ve been immoral, so now I’m going to go to church and become a moral, decent person. Then I’ll know I’m a good person because I’m spiritual. Jesus says, “I don’t want you to simply shift one performance-based identity to another, but I want you to find a whole new way. I want you to lose yourself and base your identify on Me and the Gospel.'”

There’s nothing you can bring to Christ. Just lose yourself. To find yourself in Christ. Die so that you might live.

You see, radical Gospel living comes from losing everything you pin your strength, your hope, your comfort, your security in besides Jesus. And all of us have many things in our life that we hang all those comforts and hopes upon; our reputation, our position, our wealth, our health.

There’s a really wonderful Gospel paradox here, isn’t there? That if you save your life, you will lose it, as Jesus says in verse 35. But if you lose your life for Jesus and the Gospel, you will save it.

Some of us here, probably all of us here, in certain ways we’re trying to gain the world at the threat of our soul. We’re trying to gain it all, it’s what we want. But Jesus says are you willing to die and to lose your life? So that you might save it.

You’re probably familiar with those famous words of Jim Elliot, who put it like this: “He is not fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

You are no fool if you give what you cannot keep in order to gain what you can never lose.

Think about this: What if Jesus was the kind of king that Peter wanted? A king who only had a throne. If that’s the only kind of king Jesus was, you may submit to Him, but probably submit to Him because you have to, because He’s the king. You must submit to Christ.

But people of God, He is a King on a cross. That means we submit to Him not only because we ought to, but because we want to, because we do it out of love. And we love because He loved. The kingdom begins with seeing your need for Christ, acknowledging and owning your sinfulness and your emptiness, and then through Him to gain life.

So why did Christ come? Why was Christ born? Why did He come to Bethlehem? Why did He humble Himself to come to this earth?

He came to die. He came to go to Calvary and then to be raised. He came to be our Savior. He came to die so that we might live.

Let’s pray together. So we bless Your name, Jesus, for your humility, for your sacrifice on our behalf. We see how central the cross was to You, we see how central the cross is to the Gospel, that there is no Gospel without the cross. And you’re calling us this morning to make the cross central in our life, that if we want to save our life, we must lose it. We must take up our cross and follow You. And so we pray, Lord Jesus, that our life would be a response of love, of obedience, of joy, to the love that You have first given us. We bring nothing in our hands. We pray, Lord, that we might die in order that we might live, that we might love You with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and follow You, and we pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.