March 8, 2009
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
“Skedaddle” is an uncouth, ugly word, with an ugly meaning. It means “to run away quickly”--as in, “When the police showed up at the party, the teenagers skedaddled.” As in, “He skedaddled faster than a roach when you turn the lights on.” Or, as former CBS anchor Dan Rather might put it: “He skedaddled faster than stink from dead skunk run over by a rusted-out Ford pickup on a hot Texas highway.”
In the garden of Gethsemane, Judas led an armed posse to Jesus, and they laid hands on him and arrested him. And what did the disciples do? According to the gospel of Mark, they skedaddled. Actually, Mark says that they “deserted him and fled” (14:50), which is the same thing.
I will give you a bit of Civil War trivia. The word “skedaddle” was first used during the American Civil War. It describes a headlong flight from the battlefield. In the early months of the War, the poorly trained troops of both sides would sometimes be overcome by panic and fear and skedaddle.
Many words in our civilian vocabulary have a military origin. Almost every outbreak of war spawns new words, and this terminology quickly slips into everyday use. According to mental_floss magazine (May-June 2008), warfare is responsible for words such as:
“Undermine.” Today you might complain that your colleagues are undermining you, and this can certainly be frustrating and damaging, but in the fourteenth century, undermining was a military term for digging a secret passage under a building to sneak up on the enemy, or to bring down a castle or some other fortification.
Another word is “Basket case.” Today, a basket case is simply a deeply troubled person, but during World War I, it meant a living soldier who had lost all his limbs and was carried home in a basket. By the way, the United States military denies that real baskets were ever used for this purpose, but the gruesome image remains.
Then we have “Flak.” We complain of catching a lot of flak for things we do or don’t do, but when the word originated in the 1930s, it was short for an unpronounceable 19-letter German word for anti-aircraft guns. The bursting shells from these guns were a lethal threat to airplane crews, and were infinitely more damaging than the words hurled at people today.
Even the war in Iraq is contributing new vocabulary. “Hillbilly armor” is a term for the scraps used by resourceful soldiers to armor their vehicles against IED’s. IED is another term we get from Iraq. An IED is an improvised explosive device — a homemade bomb created by a terrorist or insurgent. A recent article in GQ magazine about inappropriate office-party behavior included this sentence, “The workplace minefield is hard enough to negotiate without planting your own IEDs.” I guess what GQ is saying is that if you go to an office party, don’t forget your hillbilly armor.
In the eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus predicts his suffering and death, rebukes Peter, and challenges his followers to lose their lives for the sake of the gospel. We usually think of Jesus as gentle, kind, and loving, but his vocabulary here is not at all peaceful. He calls for self-sacrifice, he predicts suffering. He shouts, “Get behind me, Satan!” He emphasizes that to be his disciple is a life-and-death battle — challenging, stressful and painful.
Before we fall into formation behind Jesus, we need to count the cost. We do not want to be like the original disciples and skedaddle. Mark tells us that Jesus began to teach the disciples “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31). These words set the stage for the drama of the remaining chapters of the gospel of Mark, right through to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The vocabulary of this verse is a violent shock to the disciples. They cannot believe their ears when Jesus says that the Son of Man must suffer.
In their eyes, Jesus is the Messiah. They know him by the powerful titles “Son of God” and “Son of Man.” They expect that he will exercise authority and establish the kingdom of God on earth. They see him as their divinely chosen leader, and they are anxious for him to show his power as God’s anointed king — maybe even by overthrowing the hated Romans who rule the land.
However, Jesus says that he must undergo great suffering. This is totally unacceptable to his disciples. To use an example, this would be like the newly inaugurated president of the United States, in his first address to the nation, proclaiming, “I will spend the next four years cleaning toilets in Washington.” That would be completely unexpected and unbelievable.
Peter thinks that Jesus is insane, possessed by a demon, in need of exorcism. According to Mark, he took Jesus aside “and began to rebuke him.” The Greek word for “rebuke” is “epitimao,” which is the same word that is used in reference to silencing or exorcizing demons. The gospels speak of Jesus “rebuking” demons. So Peter is hitting Jesus with some serious flak.
Jesus responds by rebuking Peter with the words, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (vv. 32-33). Jesus hits right back at Peter, because he is convinced that Peter is charging in the completely wrong direction, toward the earthly instead of the heavenly.
So this passage of scripture is filled with fighting words—words of challenge and rebuke, silencing demons and scolding colleagues. This is the vocabulary of spiritual warfare.
With these words, Jesus is making his position clear. He is not like the United States Secretary of Defense making decisions about military matters from a position of safety thousands of miles from the fighting. Instead, Jesus is down in the trenches with us, on the front lines of the spiritual battleground. When he says, “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering,” he is speaking in a very matter-of-fact way about what lies ahead for him. The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes will reject him. That is inevitable for someone who is willing to buck the religious establishment and show people a new way to God. Even death makes sense when you are determined to march into a hostile city, upset the tables of the moneychangers, and predict that the temple will be destroyed.
Jesus is willing to put his life on the line as he moves toward his destiny in Jerusalem. He is not a basket case, but a person determined to devote body, mind, and spirit to the work that God has called him to do. He is not interested in satisfying the expectations of others, not even the dreams of his closest friends. All that concerns Jesus is doing the will of God.
There is a message for us here, as we struggle to find meaning and purpose in a world that often seems to be without meaning or purpose. We sometimes feel that we are consumed with activity but not getting anywhere. There are all these demands on our time and energy—demands from family, work, community, friends and even church, and we have to sort out from all this what we are about as disciples of Jesus.
Jesus has a vocabulary, if you want to call it that, for us. He tells us to set our minds on divine things, not on human things—and be willing to suffer. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering,” says Jesus, and so must those who follow him.
Now this is not what we want to hear. This is not pleasant or desirable. We do not want to suffer; nor did Jesus, but Jesus knew that some things are worth suffering for — and so do we, if we think about it. A soldier on the front lines, fighting for freedom and justice, a mother in a delivery room, giving birth to a baby, a student, staying up all night to read a textbook—these are all kinds of suffering that produce good results.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that tries to avoid suffering at almost any cost. We want our military to be successful without any sacrifice from civilians. We want more social services without higher taxes. We want to lose weight without cutting calories or increasing exercise. We do not want to suffer.
This is not a uniquely American attitude, so much as a human attitude. When the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci went to China in the 16th century, he could not speak the language at first so he brought along samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian story for people who had never heard it. The Chinese liked the portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but when Ricci produced paintings of the crucifixion and tried to explain that the Godchild had grown up only to be executed, the Chinese reacted with revulsion and horror. They much preferred the Madonna and child to the crucified God [Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan,1995), 33.].
Most of us feel the same, but the vocabulary of discipleship includes suffering, and Jesus sees suffering as an important part of marching on the pathway to God. “There can be no love without suffering,” insists Pope Benedict, “because it always involves an element of self-sacrifice.” If we skedaddle away from suffering, we simply cannot mature into the loving and sacrificial people God wants us to be.
Jesus illustrates this life of loving sacrifice by lifting up the image of the cross. Calling to both the crowd and his disciples, he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (vv. 34-35).
Let us think about these verses a little. What does Jesus mean when he says, “Take up your cross and follow me”? On Good Friday, Jesus literally took up his cross and carried it through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of execution. This carrying of the cross was part of the process of a Roman execution. The point was to publicly display that he had been condemned. Every bystander would see his suffering. Many would ridicule him and scorn him. When Jesus tells us to carry the cross maybe part of what he is saying is to publicly display our faith and willingly suffer the consequences. That seems simple, but it is hard to do. For many people, the greatest fear they have is the fear of what other people think and say about them, what we might call the fear of social consequences.
In America, we are not likely to suffer physical punishment for our faith, but if we stand forth and carry our cross publicly so to speak, yes we are very likely to suffer social consequences. They will say, so and so is a religious fanatic, she actually believes it.
Well that is what Jesus calls us to do, actually to believe the gospel. This is not a call to skedaddle; this is a call to suffer. This is a Christian call to arms, in which followers of Christ are asked to take up a cross instead of a weapon. Our struggle will involve both love and suffering, and it will certainly include self-sacrifice. But if we set our minds on the things of God, we will receive the riches of everlasting life, and we will know how to answer the question of Jesus, “What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself?” (v. 36, CEV).
Jesus does not want anything to undermine our life with God. Jesus knows that deep conviction can only come out of struggle and conflict. And the result is worth the struggle. The result is yourself as you are supposed to be. You are created for life with God. Jesus says, focus on that. Nothing else matters. It does not matter what people say or think. Your life with God is ultimately what your life is and all that your live is. Never forget that.
Acosta, Jude. “Be happy: The American refusal to deal with suffering.” American Thinker, May 2, 2008. americanthinker.com.
Peters, Mark. “How violence increases our vocabulary.” mental_floss, May-June2008, 16.
Quinion, Michael. “Skedaddle.” WorldWide Words, February 7, 2004. worldwidewords.org.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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