To the question posed by our Lord Jesus Christ to his twelve disciples: “But whom say ye that I am?” (Mk. 8:29a), Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ” (Mk. 8:29b). To acknowledge him as the Messiah or Christ is to embrace him as the coming King who was promised by God through His prophets centuries ago. The Messiah will come to deliver Israel and restore the Kingdom to them. However the confession of Peter though accurate was in itself inadequate.
For Mark, the term Christ has a royal connotation. This is seen in the mocking of Jesus as King of the Jews by the chief priest and scribes (Mark 15:32, ‘Christ, the King of Israel’). Thus, for Mark at least, calling Jesus the Christ is tantamount to calling him God’s king. Thus the problem with Peter’s one-sided identification is shown in the cool response of the disciples to Jesus’ suffering mission. Kings are supposed to rule and wield power, not to fall victim to it. Somehow Peter comes to know that Jesus is the Messiah but his knowledge is only partial because he does not have the proper understanding of the role of the Messiah, which Jesus proceeds to teach him and others in Mark 8:31.
Peter has a choice –he can either be a hindrance or a follower of Jesus, in which case he gets in line behind Jesus, takes up his cross, and prepares for suffering as Jesus is doing. Jesus’ mission is to be the disciples’ mission; they are called to accept it for themselves.
What Jesus calls for is not a denial to self of things, but a denial of oneself. Best in his book, “Following Jesus,” puts it well: “Self-denial thus obviously involves the willingness not to affirm any right to life when faced by the persecutor … Self-denial is the inner attitude, cross-bearing is the outward activity which should accompany the inner attitude.”
Taking up one’s own cross is not merely a call to endure hardship with patience, but to be ready even for death. It calls for a radical abandonment of one’s own identity and self-determination, and a call to join the march to the place of execution.
To many of Mark’s original readers, taking up the cross was not a figure of speech, nor a matter of internal, private devotion. To them crucifixion meant not only slow and agonizing death, but also public and shameful humiliation.
Jesus himself, in his willingness to undergo such an end, is the exemplar of this mission of suffering. To fully know Jesus includes accepting his mission—his destiny of suffering and tragic death. And this acceptance implies the disposition to follow Jesus on his road to the cross.
This challenge is also for us today. Would we, as disciples of future generations accept Jesus’ mission and follow the way of the cross?
Rev. Mark Tay