Topsy-Turvy Chrisitanity

Posted: February 24, 2014 in Mark

Mark 8:31-38, “Topsy-Turvy Chrisitanity”

When things get turned upside-down, we often call it “topsy-turvy.”  Sometimes ideas and expectations need to be turned on their heads, and the result can be wonderful.

That’s what Jesus does at the end of Mark 8.  He takes the expectations of the Jewish Messiah and all who follow Him, and turns it upside down.  He goes topsy-turvy, proclaiming something so one expected, but is true nonetheless.  Although the expectation for the Messiah was to re-establish the kingdom of Israel and reign over all the earth, that’s not what Jesus said He would do…at least not yet.  In His 1st coming, the Messiah would surrender His life – and His followers were to do the same thing.

Contextually, the book of Mark just showed us an incredible mountain-peak in the lives of the disciples: Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ.  This was a turning point for them.  Jesus had finished up His Galilean ministry, and was about to head to Jerusalem to ultimately go to the cross.  For three years, the disciples had witnessed momentous miracles & authoritative teaching from Jesus, and yet their faith still wavered back & forth.  They were slow in sight, gradually coming to grips with the foundational truth of who Jesus truly is.  The final miracle Jesus performed in Galilee seemed to illustrate this as He gives sight to a blind man, but the sight comes slowly in stages.  Likewise with the faith of the disciples – it came in stages, but it did come!  After asking the disciples what the people thought about Jesus’ identity (and none of the guesses were correct), Jesus made the question personal & turned it to the disciples.  Who did they say that Jesus was?  Peter answered for all of them & said (according to Matthew’s full version) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Peter was absolutely right & blessed for his faith!  Yet that confession needed to stay silent for the moment.  There was more to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah than Peter & the disciples could fathom, and that’s what Jesus was going to go on to share.  Yes, Jesus is the Christ, but His role as the Christ involved denial & death – and His followers would be called to do the same.  It was all topsy-turvy, but it was worth it!

Mark 8:31–38
31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

  1. It’s in light of Peter’s previous confession, and Jesus’ command to keep things a secret that Jesus “began to teach” the disciples about His mission.  Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and the disciples needed to understand what all that entailed (at least in their immediate future).  When thinking of the Christ, the disciples likely had all of the victorious prophecies of a world-wide peace and kingdom in mind.  If they were going into Jerusalem with that kind of mindset, they were about to be severely disappointed!  (Looking back, knowing how much Jesus prepared them for His suffering and death, the disciples still didn’t handle things well in Jerusalem.  Imagine their reaction if Jesus had never said a word!)  Jesus knew that they needed to be prepared, and He takes the time to patiently instruct them. “He began to teach…”  This wasn’t a quick moment, or a one-time off-the-cuff mention.  This was something Jesus taught the disciples in detail, because it was so important for them to know.
  2. In the process, Jesus calls Himself “the Son of Man.”  This is another way of calling Himself the Christ (the Messiah) – it’s merely Jesus’ favored title to refer to it.  It’s ambiguous enough to use in public among the masses who may or may not understand – at the same time, it’s a specific reference to the Messiah being none other than the Son of God.  Other kings of Israel in history had been thought of as the Lord’s Anointed (which is what “Messiah” means); none had themselves been considered divine.  Yet that that’s exactly the implication of this title.  Daniel 7:13–14, "(13) “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. (14) Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed." []  The Son of Man comes on the clouds of divine glory, standing before God, receiving the eternal kingdom of God.  This is no ordinary Man!  He is indeed a king of Israel as a descendent of David, but He is so much more than that – He is God Himself!
  3. The Son of Man will have dominion over all the earth, but not just yet.  Jesus went topsy-turvy on His disciples and told them something else was coming first: suffering.  Actually, suffering was just part of the overall equation.  Jesus told of four aspects: (1) suffering, (2) rejection, (3) death, (4) resurrection.
    1. The Son of Man would “suffer many things.”  It’s not that the Messiah would have a bad day – it’s not that the King of the Jews would have a single solitary trial – He would “suffer many things.”  Jesus’ suffering started long before the nails were pounded into His hands and feet.  Jesus suffered the moment He was betrayed by one of His trusted friends/disciples.  He suffered as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood.  He suffered as He was beaten in His trials, had a crown of thorns shoved into His scalp, endured the mockery of men, bore the terrible Roman scourging, and as He stumbled through the streets of Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa carrying His cross.  On top of all of this was the suffering Jesus endured when He became all the sin of all mankind, and His own Father God had to place the full measure of eternal wrath upon Jesus as punishment.  Truly Jesus suffered “many things.” He suffered in ways we may never fully understand.
    2. The Son of Man would be “rejected.”  Again, this was the opposite of their expectation.  The Messiah was supposed to be received & rejoiced over – how could He be rejected?  Those who rejected God’s anointed kings in the past were despised characters.  They were men like Shimei, who threw stones at King David and cursed him as David fled Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam 16:6-8).  Those were the rogues; not the respectable.  Yet Jesus tells them the exact opposite.  The Messiah would indeed be rejected, and rejected by the most respected people in all the nation: “the elders and chief priests and scribes.”  Every possible leadership faction is covered.  The civic leaders – the powerful priests – the experts in the law & Scriptures – all of them would reject the One they should have recognized.  They would knowingly shut their eyes to the One to whom they ought to have bowed their knees.  Note: by the national leaders rejecting the Messiah, Jesus is teaching that the whole nation would reject Him.  Obviously there would be some Jews that had faith (all of the apostles were Jews!), but by & large, the nation of the Jews would reject the King of the Jews. (His own did not receive Him – Jn 1:11)
      1. The Jews had no excuse to reject Jesus as their King, and neither do we.  We actually have less reason to reject Him.  We’ve seen the historical proof of Jesus being the Son of God – we’ve had the witness of the Holy Spirit among us – we’ve had the witness of the historical Church – and we do NOT have the spiritual blindness of the nation, as does Israel.  To know who Jesus is and still reject Him is a terrible sin…one that will inevitably lead a person to eternal death, apart from repentance and faith.
    3. The Son of Man would “be killed.”  As bad as the other descriptions were, this was surely unthinkable.  After all, the Messianic prophecies spoke of the King whose kingdom would never end.  Of course, death was not the end for this particular king (as Jesus goes on to say), but suffering unto death was a terribly hard concept for the Jews to grasp regarding their Messiah.  It’s not that the Scriptures didn’t speak of it – they did!  The Jews just had a hard time reconciling the Messiah’s suffering with the Messiah’s victory.  On the one hand, prophecy made it clear that the Messiah would rule the world (Ps 2), yet also made it clear that He would die a horrendous death for the world (Ps 23, Isa 53).  The Jews had such a tough time reconciling these two things that they imagined two Messiahs to come: one that would suffer, and one that would reign.  Yet suffer unto death is exactly what the Messiah had to do.  Why?  Because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).  The Messiah would reign over the Jews as King, but He would also reconcile them (and the rest of the world) to God.  The only way to do that is to atone for their sin – and that means that someone had to die on account of the people.
      1. Jesus had to die for the sins of the Jews, and He had to die for you too.  Think about that for a moment: what greater sacrifice could have been made? The Son of Man died for your sins.  Not a sheep or bull – not even a really good guy – but God in the flesh died…for you.  That is amazing grace to the infinite degree!
    4. The Son of Man would “rise” after three days.  The Messiah would suffer, be rejected, and die…but it would not be in vain.  All of it had a further end: resurrection from the grave.  The Messiah would die, but He wouldn’t stay dead.  He would stay in the grave for 3 days (per Jonah) and then He would rise in victory.  This is an incredible display of power that goes far beyond the hopes of a national kingdom.  Not only does the Messiah have authority over Israel, but over death itself! … The resurrection proves that Jesus is God in the flesh, and also shows that the wages of sin have been paid in full.  The required death is done, and there is no more death to pay.  That’s what Jesus saw to in the resurrection.  Our death is wrapped up in His death, and our life is wrapped up in His life.  The resurrection changes everything!  It’s topsy-turvy once again: the Son of Man is rejected instead of reigning – He dies for the sins of the nation instead of restoring it – but then He does not stay dead after death…He rises to new resurrected life.  Once raised, THEN He lives to reign according to all the other prophecies.  This is glorious & gloriously beyond expectations!
      1. Keep in mind that a resurrection is impossible without a death.  If Jesus did not die, Jesus would not be able to rise.  He would not be able to provide forgiveness and life to others unless He first Himself suffered and died.  It ought to change our perspective quite a bit.  The death of the Son of God seems impossibly tragic until we see it in the eternal plan of God.
  4. This is why Jesus needed to teach these things to the disciples.  This was so beyond the boundaries of their expectations that they would have been utterly lost without any sort of preparation from Jesus. How amazing is it that God wants us to know His mind and plans?  Not only did He give it to the disciples, but He gives us something similar in the pages of Scripture.  He tells us of the abundant life we can have with Him now – He tells us of His 2nd coming in power and glory – He tells us of the future kingdom and eternity.  All of that is available for us to learn…we just need to pay attention to it and read His words.

32 He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.

  1. That Jesus “spoke this word openly” is to say that Jesus taught all of this plainly.  Whereas before Jesus taught in parables and spoke some things that seemed mysterious, this was not a clouded teaching at all.  Remember that Jesus had just gotten done teaching something that seemed mysterious: the idea that the disciples were commanded not to tell anyone about Him (8:30).  Jesus had commanded other people to be silent as well.  Scholars often label this as the “Messianic secret.”  That secret provides a huge contrast with Jesus’ plain, open teaching now.  His identity as Messiah was to remain somewhat closed for the moment, but His coming suffering as Messiah was taught openly to those who needed to know & be prepared.
  2. There is great irony in Peter’s rebuke of Jesus!  The Son of Man is teaching, and the pupil takes it upon himself to “rebuke” the Teacher.  Peter just got done confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Even if Peter didn’t quite understand all that was included with this, he still had no place or role to correct his King & God.  To borrow a Yiddish word, the Jew Peter had a lot of chutzpah!
    1. Before we come down too hard on Peter, we need to remember how often we do the same thing.  Whenever we start thinking of God, “How could You allow this?  Why would You do such a thing?” we’re doing the same thing as Peter.  We’re calling God’s plan into question, telling Him that His plan is no good.  We need to remember that God is God & we’re not!  Jesus is the King, and He is the one with authority.  We need to trust Him – even when we don’t understand everything about His plan.

33 But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

  1. Peter may have rebuked Jesus privately, but Jesus in turn rebuked Peter publicly.  No doubt Peter spoke what was in the mind of all the disciples, and surely all the disciples knew what Peter said to Jesus as he took Jesus aside.  None of them could comprehend what their Teacher was telling them, confessed Christ or not.  Peter spoke on their behalf now, just as Peter had done when he said Jesus was the Messiah.
  2. Peter’s rebuke from Jesus was well-earned.  Peter had been doing the work of “Satan” – which goes to show that even the best of us can unwittingly be used as a tool of the enemy when we start doubting Jesus.  Peter loved the Lord Jesus, and truly thought of Jesus as his Master.  He just lost sight of that for a moment, thinking that he knew better than his Lord.  That was Satanic mistake #1.  Satanic mistake #2 was attempting to persuade Jesus away from the cross.  That is what the devil attempted to do with Jesus during the wilderness temptation, only to fail three times.  Subtly, Satan tried once more here, through one of Jesus’ most devoted disciples.
  3. The problem was that Peter’s vision was shortsighted.  His mind was on the wrong things.  When Peter though of the Messiah, he thought in earthly terms: “the things of men.”  He thought of earthly success, prosperity, and victory.  The things of men do not often include suffering, rejection, and death.  And because they don’t, they also do not include resurrection & eternal life!  The things of man would leave us in eternal damnation, just where the sins of man have already placed us.  The things of God are so much greater!  The things of God would send His Son to the cross, but it would also take Him to true victory in resurrected life.  It would place the sin of the world upon Him, and also give the whole world the opportunity to be saved.  The things of God may be tough to understand, but they are glorious!
    1. What is it you are mindful of?  Do you look at the temporary things you can grasp, or are you seeking after the ultimate plan of God?

34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

  1. Jesus had rebuked Peter among the disciples, and now “called the people” to Himself along with the 12.  We aren’t told how large of a group had gathered, but it seems likely that Jesus spoke not to a vast multitude, but to the more devoted small crowd that followed Him in addition to the 12.  What He said applied to any and all who would “follow” Jesus as a disciple; not just to 12 men at the time.
  2. What would it take to be a disciple of Jesus?  3 things: (1) desire, (2) denial, (3) death.  To “follow” Jesus would be the culmination of all of it.
    1. Desire.  No one can follow Jesus unless he/she desires to do so.  God does not force people against their wills.  God does not force anyone into eternal salvation.  He willingly receives anyone who willingly surrenders him/herself to Jesus.  The first step to be saved is to desire it.  Do you desire it?  Ask yourself: do you want to be saved?  Do you want what Jesus graciously offers?
      1. More than salvation – do you want to walk as a true disciple of Jesus.  Not a Christian “in name only” – but do you want to experience all that Jesus has for you?  This is something you’ve got to willingly step into.
    2. Denial.  To deny oneself is another thing that seems so topsy-turvy.  We expect to look out for “number 1”.  We want to better ourselves, and to seek our won.  That is the stuff of the things of men.  It would seem as if those things would lead to life, but in reality they lead to death.  The things of God are far different.  Like our Jesus, the person who follows Christ denies himself & the worldly definitions of success to submit to the will of God – whatever that may be.
    3. Death.  That God’s will leads to life does not meant that death is not included.  It was included for Jesus, and it is included for His disciples.  Jesus took up His cross and went to death, and we must take up our cross as well.  Keep in mind that to bear our cross is not to put up with some inconveniences.  It’s not to endure difficult people or minor circumstances.  There would have been no doubt in the minds of the people listening to Jesus that to bear a cross meant to bear one’s own death.  It would be like us carrying our own electric chair, or executioner’s needle.  It’s to carry one’s own imminent death.
    4. The whole idea here is self-denial to the extreme.  There are many people who might deny their own self-centeredness for a while, but go right back to seeking their own again.  How many would give up the remainder of their lives?  An equivalent is to submit oneself to total slavery, where nothing you have is yours any longer – it all belongs to your master.  That is Jesus.  He is our loving Lord & Master.  Those who desire to follow Jesus as a disciple must give their whole lives to Him in a similar way.
  3. Keep in mind, this is to “follow” Jesus.  We are not travelling down a road that Jesus Himself never went.  We deny ourselves because Jesus denied Himself.  We die to our flesh because Jesus died for our flesh.  Everything we have is surrendered to Jesus because He surrendered everything for us.  If Jesus is to truly be our Lord & Savior, than He must also be our ultimate example as well. [Philippians 2:1-11]  Jesus is our example in humility – in self-sacrifice – and also in glory.  We humble ourselves now, and let God lift us up later – that is the way of discipleship – that is the way of the cross.

35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.

  1. Note Jesus is not speaking in general philosophical terms.  He’s not talking about general self-sacrifice.  So often, Jesus’ words are taken out of context.  People will look at self-sacrificing individuals & quote John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  To be sure, this general truth applies to soldiers, firefighters, and others who willingly put their lives on the line for others…but that’s not the context of Jesus’ statement.  At the time, Jesus was directly talking about the cross – how He was about to die for the disciples, and how the disciples were now His friends & would be forever made friends of God.  Context is everything!  Likewise here.  When Jesus talks about denying self & dying to self, He’s not talking about general self-sacrifice.  He’s talking about giving all for HIM. “For My sake and the gospel’s…”  To follow in the footsteps of Jesus is not to simply use Jesus as an example of how to be a better person (though one will be a better person).  It’s not just to know how to be a more selfless mom or dad (though that will result).  It would be easy to take what Jesus says out of context & apply it to anything.  “Deny yourself & die to yourself to be a better American – a better human being – a better ____”  That much could almost apply to any religion.  Is that not the justification for Muslim jihadists?  How much more of their lives could they actually surrender than by blowing it up?  That’s not what Jesus is saying at all.  Jesus’ teaching comes in a very specific context.  To give one’s life for something that is meaningless is itself meaningless.  For selfless sacrifice to matter, it’s got to mean something – it’s got to have a greater purpose.  Only Jesus gives that.  (And only Jesus proves that…again, takes us back to the resurrection!)  We don’t just give our lives, we give our lives for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the gospel.  We don’t do it to glorify ourselves; we do it to glorify God.  We don’t do it to promote our own name; we do it to lift up the name of Jesus.  Again, we give all for our Savior, because He gave everything for us.
  2. How much do we give?  All.  Our very “life.”  Not simply the physical stuff of air & heartbeats – the word here speaks of our soul. (ψυχὴν)  Anyone can walk through the motions, but you can’t fake your internal motives & mind.  It’s not about ritual; it’s about reality.  The person who truly surrenders everything to Jesus now will find his/her life saved later.  And again, it seems so topsy-turvy.  When we think of someone saving their life, we think of them doing whatever it takes to grab hold of that which would lead to life.  A drowning man grabs hold of the life-preserver & hangs to it with everything he’s got.  Jesus says that self-effort is exactly what would lead to death.  What we don’t realize is that we’re the drowning person & there is no life-preserver – there is only a Lifeguard who has come to save us.  If we don’t release ourselves into His hands, we will surely drown.  Our efforts to save ourselves are just useless flailing. 
  3. Jesus doesn’t sugar-coat anything.  It costs everything, but the cost is worth it.  See vs. 36…

36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

  1. How much is a soul worth?  If souls are eternal, then is not the price infinite?  The “whole world” could not compare with the gift of eternal life.  We’re not talking about temporary things here – we’re not talking about the temporary shortsightedness of the things of men.  When Peter focused on Jesus’ suffering, he focused on what would last (relatively) a moment.  If Jesus did not suffer unto death at the cross, then Jesus would not rise from the grave, and all the world would be lost.  All humanity would be doomed to eternal death, without hope of forgiveness and peace with God.  The devil had offered the kingdoms of the world to Jesus, if Jesus would but bow down and worship Satan.  Jesus would have gained “the whole world,” but their souls would have been lost.  It’s a similar thought here, on the individual level.  Those who seek to save their lives might do so for a time, but they end up losing everything.  They could give all they had to their religion, but if they trust in the wrong religion, it’s all in vain.  They could spend every dime they had, but they cannot buy extra days for eternity.  The richest man in all the world cannot purchase heaven, even with all the best medical care money can buy.
  2. Is the price of discipleship steep?  Yes.  It costs our lives.  We have to desire to follow Jesus, deny ourselves to follow Jesus, and even die to ourselves in the process of following Jesus…but the cost is worth it.
    1. Are you willing to pay the price?  Do you understand the cost of eternity?

38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

  1. Tough warning – especially in the light of Peter’s rebuke of Jesus.  He had shown himself to be ashamed of Jesus’ teaching about the plan of God for the Messiah, telling Jesus that there is no way this could happen to Him.  Obviously, that’s not the place Peter would stay – Peter would later become one of the boldest witnesses of Christ in all of history.  But for the time, Peter’s earlier confession of faith was rocked by his shame and wavering unbelief…and he needed to understand how serious it was.
  2. Of course, at this point Jesus is speaking not only to Peter, but to all the people listening to Him.  Contextually, who is the “whoever”?  Overall, Jesus has been speaking of discipleship – of people dying to themselves to follow Christ.  Those who don’t (those who try to save their own lives and gain the world) are the ones to lose their lives.  Those are the ones who are “ashamed” of Jesus.  Talking about non-believers here – specifically, those who would reject Jesus as the Christ.  People who are unwilling (have no desire) to follow Jesus, and don’t believe the gospel (i.e. don’t give themselves for the gospel) are those who prove that they are ashamed of Jesus.  They chose the world (“this adulterous and sinful generation”) over the things of God, and thus they will experience the shame of Jesus when He returns in power and “glory.
  3. Note that Jesus has come full-circle in His teaching.  First He taught that the Son of Man would suffer many things, be rejected, be killed, and rise again (8:31); now He teaches that the Son of Man would come “in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” in victory and judgment.  The very thing that Peter (and the disciples) feared would not happen is exactly what Jesus promises.  The suffering of the Messiah would not end with suffering – it goes all the way through to glory.  The things of God would fulfill the eternal plan of God, and the glory of God will be known in all the earth!
  4. The question for us is what group in which we’ll be included when Jesus does come: those who are blessed of the Lord and have followed Him – or those who have been ashamed of the Lord, and will experience His shame?  The whole world is not worth the eternal shame of the Lord Jesus!  Beware that you choose wisely!

So much of this is the opposite of our expectations, is it not?  If we were designing the plan of God, we would probably write the script much like Peter would have.  Mankind is suffering, and the Messiah comes in the power and glory of God.  We behold His glory…and then what?  Unfortunately, the script has to stop there – it’s too shortsighted.  The only thing left at that point is the utter destruction of all humanity.  After all, we’ve sinned against God, and without a sufficient sacrifice for sin, God has to judge us for what we’ve done against Him.  Trying to find a short-cut around the suffering of Christ might uphold our expectations, but it leaves us doomed. 

The plan of God is topsy-turvy, but it is far better!  Yes, the Son of Man would suffer – but it is His suffering that brings our salvation!  It is His death that leads to His resurrection, and His resurrected life makes life available to all those who desire it.

Those who desire to receive that life have to follow in His footsteps.  Jesus gave all for us, so we give all for Him.  Again, it’s the opposite of what we expect.  Instead of grabbing hold of everything this world has to offer us, we let it go.  Instead of trying to save our lives with all our effort & might, we release ourselves into the hand of the Savior who is right there all along.  We surrender everything to Him, and find the eternal life that we always wanted but could never attain.

Do you want life?  Do you desire to be saved?  Then today, stop being ashamed of the words of Jesus & surrender your life to Him.  The cost is steep, but it’s worth it.  You will find Him a loving Savior; not a harsh taskmaster.  His yoke is easy & His burden is light.  But the only way you can experience it is by dying to yourself and giving all to Christ. 

Are you already a disciple?  Then beloved, we’ve got to live like disciples.  It’s far too easy for us to surrender our lives to Jesus in faith & then get our eyes back on the things of this world.  We stop looking at the things of God & start looking at the things of men.  We start seeking after the things that bring glory to us rather than the things that bring glory to God.  What would it look like if every person who confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, actually lived as how the Christ said His disciples ought to live?  How would my life & your life change if we actually lived in such a way that we gave everything for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the gospel?  What would our daily schedule look like?  Our prayer life?  Our Bible reading?  The way we related to others – even total strangers?  May God the Holy Spirit enable us to live as true followers of Jesus – to actually walk in His footsteps in total surrender to God.

  1. John Warren Jr. says:

    “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” — Jim Elliot

  2. timburns says:

    That’s one of my favorite quotes…and very appropriate to the text!

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