The little baseball game was in full swing when a certain young boy came to the plate. The coach gave him the signal to sacrifice bunt — a player needed to be moved along the base lines for the sake of the team. The pitcher bore down and rifled a pitch toward the plate. With a mighty swing that took everything he had the boy missed and the umpire cried, “Strike one!” The pitcher repeated his motion, as did the boy at the plate, two more times. Finally the umpire yelled, “Strike three! Yer, out!” The coach ran up to the boy on the way back to the dugout and none too pleased asked, “Didn’t you see me give you the signal to sacrifice?” The boy responded, “Yes, but I didn’t really think you meant it!”
The Gospel accounts reveal that Jesus three times plainly predicted He would die and rise again. The disciple’s simply did not get it (Lk. 9:45). They didn’t think He really meant what He was talking about. What made them miss the significance of the cross? What makes us miss it? Probably the same things.
The Cross of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most misunderstood event in history. So over the next few days lets examine the three accounts in Mark’s Gospel and discover why it is we fail to understand the cross of Jesus Christ. The first (Mark 8:31-9:1) tells us that erroneous assumptions are often what make us miss the meaning of Jesus’ cross. Look at Jesus’ first prediction of His sufferings.
“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 was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’ And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.'” (Mark 8:31)
Jesus was stating the matter “plainly” (v.32). Previously He had taught in parables (4:33-34) and had to explain things later to His disciples. He uses no such enigmatic language here. There are no cryptic codes, no subtle shades of meaning. He says plainly, “I am going to die!”
What’s not to understand?
Yet we read that “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (v.32b). “Rebuke” is the same word used earlier to Jesus’ rebuke of a demon (1:24-25; 3:11-12). But note that Peter’s rebuke brought Jesus’ rebuke of Peter: “But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.'” (v.33)!
What’s going on?
Peter got it right a minute earlier, when he confessed that Jesus was the Christ. What happened in the span of those few breaths? Nothing, that’s the point. Peter said the right words, used the right title, but His assumptions about what those words meant, and what that title signified were all wrong.
Philip Yancey, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, tells of a story from before the years of WWII that illustrates the problem. He says: “Nazi storm troopers . . . seized an elders Jewish rabbi and dragged him to headquarters. In the far end of the same room, two colleagues were beating another Jew to death, but the captors of the rabbi decided to have some fun with him. They stripped him naked and commanded that he preach the sermon he had prepared for the coming Sabbath in the synagogue. The rabbi asked if he could wear his yarmulke, and the Nazis, grinning, agreed. It added to the joke. The trembling rabbi proceeded to deliver in a raspy voice his sermon on what it means to walk humbly before God, all the while being poked and prodded by the hooting Nazi, and all the while hearing the last cries of his neighbor at the end the room. When I read the gospel accounts of the imprisonment, torture, and execution of Jesus, I think of that naked rabbi standing humiliated in a police station. Even after watching scores of movies on the subject, and reading the Gospels over and over, I still cannot fathom the indignity, the SHAME endured by God’s Son on earth, stripped naked, beaten, flogged, spat on, struck in the face, garland with thorns.” (p.199)
Peter could not understand this either. That is why he protested so. That the Messiah, whom he has now recognized, should suffer at the hands of the Roman enemies on a cruel and shameful cross was unthinkable.
Here’s the point: Our assumptions about Jesus can make us completely misunderstand the cross.
By now you may have formulated a pretty good idea of what you think God, Jesus, sin, church, and Christianity mean. You have gathered bits and pieces of those assumptions from various places like Sunday School, the church you grew up in, the things your parents said, and other things you have read. You are just like Peter. He had a whole set of assumptions about what “Christ” or “Messiah” meant. None of them had any room for this talk of a dead Messiah! Peter thought “Messiah” or “Christ” meant triumph over oppression, the overthrow of Rome, glory, power, the rise of the state of Israel, and fall of all her enemies. There was no room for a grizzly death on a splittered cross in that picture. His assumptions about Jesus were causing Him to entirely miss the whole point of His arrival among humanity!
Do you see the point?
A disciple of Jesus Christ is more than someone who has gotten the titles right. A disciple is more than someone who can reply with the correct theological words when asked about Christ. A disciple of Jesus Christ is one who understands and embraces what Jesus means by the title’s He takes to Himself and the words He uses to describe Himself.
Don’t play down the difference. It is not a slight difference in nuances of meaning. It is, according to Jesus, the difference between being in His camp or Satan’s!
What is the answer to such misguided assumptions?
“And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.'” (Mark 8:34-38)
That answer is found in denying the self-interest that is inherent in the way you may have defined Jesus. It is found in taking up your cross (which is not some temporal burden you might need to endure, but an instrument of death). The answer is found in follwoing Jesus in death to self-interest, no matter what assumptions get stepped on.
What assumptions have you held concerning “believing in Jesus”? Maybe something along the lines of: He’ll make me happy? “He’ll make my marriage work? He’ll make me rich? He’ll make me successful?
Remember, our assumptions are the first thing that can cause us to miss the meaning of the cross.