This chapter begins with Jesus performing a repeat of the miracle of loaves and fishes that we saw in chapter six. The crowds followed Jesus into the wilderness and the disciples want Jesus to send them away because it is getting late. There are too many to feed. But Jesus has compassion on them.
It is important to remember here that Jesus behaves exactly as God the Father does. Hebrews 1:3 says: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” John puts it this way: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus is the perfect example of what God would say or do. We can see the heart of God in Jesus.
Sometimes people get a skewed view of God reading the Old Testament. There are many passages in which God is executing judgement and wrath on humanity, and it’s possible to use those passages to create a picture of what God is like. But that would be incorrect. It is so easy for us to take things out of context and get an image of God that is not like him at all. Jesus remedies that situation. He is the clearest expression of God. He is a revelation of God’s heart towards us. Keep this in mind as we continue through the book of Mark.
And he is compassionate on the crowd. When Jesus sees them, he is moved by their needs. The Father’s heart is one of compassion towards us. He is not indifferent towards your needs. He cares. And when you come to Him, he takes care of you. The scriptures say He “longs to be gracious to you” (Isaiah 30:18).
Later in this chapter, we see the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign. They want something to prove that he is from God. What exactly were they looking for? He had already performed a host of miracles practically everywhere he went. He had healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and feed the masses. What more evidence did they really need?
The Gospel of Matthew gives some further details of this encounter. Jesus says “a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign”. They already had all the evidence they needed. They weren’t looking for a chance to believe, they were just trying to find faults.
The picture Jesus paints of the Pharisees is clear in the scriptures. They were hypocritical, concerned with appearance, and not truly holiness. They claimed to be the closest ones to God, and yet they couldn’t recognize Him. Here was Jesus, the exact representation of God, and they wanted a sign. It just shows how far away their hearts were from Him. Jesus warns the disciples about the teaching of the Pharisees. They cared about the outside, the regulations, the traditions, but not the condition of the heart.
Jesus later takes them to Caesarea Philippi, the furthest most north part of the nation. This was a place full of gentiles, a place full of idolatry. And in front of a cave called the “Gates of Hell” he asks the disciples this question: who do you say I am? This is the focus of the entire book of Mark. Who is Jesus? Peter makes the inspired exclamation, “you are the Messiah”. Matthew records him adding, “the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). God has revealed himself to man in the person of Jesus Christ.
At this point Jesus changes gears. He begins to explain what would soon happen to him. He would suffer, and be rejected, and be murdered, and then in three days be resurrected. This was difficult for the disciples to accept. How could the Messiah die?
Peter cannot take it. He rebukes Jesus. This is odd considering that he just confessed that Jesus was the Son of God. His preconceived notion of the Messiah didn’t fit Jesus version.
Jesus rebukes Peter in no uncertain terms. He calls him Satan. In just a few minutes, Peter has been the voice of both the inspiration of the Father in heaven, and of the devil. In a worldly sense, Peter’s rebuke makes sense. How could the messiah be rejected? How could God die? It was surely improper. It was scandalous. But is was true.
Jesus death and resurrection were absolutely essential to his mission. He was going to be the sacrifice that “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This is the ultimate expression of love. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). This is the heart of God. He gives his very life for you.
Jesus goes even further. He has described his death, now he goes on to describe the death of his followers. Pick up your cross and follow me, he says. In those days, criminals would be required to carry the heavy crossbeam of their cross to the place they would be executed. What Jesus meant would have been perfectly clear. You would carry your cross to your execution. No other reason. When Jesus said, pick up your cross, he meant that following him was a death sentence. There are consequences for following Jesus.
Let’s not water this down. Jesus didn’t say, you’ll have to give up some stuff to follow me. He didn’t say, you’ll lost some of your spare time when you choose to be my disciple. He didn’t say, it’s going to be burdensome to follow me. He said you’d have to give up your life.
He told them he was going to die and be resurrected. “If we die with him, we will also live with him” (Tim. 2:11). To be resurrected, you first have to die. Jesus is not interested in half-hearted devotion. Your faith is going to be tested. Either you give him everything or nothing. You have to decide what he is worth to you. Is he worth your life?