Mark 8: 27-32
Jesus says two things: I am a King, but a King going to a cross; and If you want to follow me, you have got to the cross too.
Jesus’s first important statement here is “The Son of Man must suffer.” Never before this moment had anyone in Israel connected suffering with the Messiah. The notion that the Messiah would suffer made no sense at all, because Messiah was supposed to defeat evil and injustice and make everything right in the world. How could he defeat evil by suffering and dying? That seemed ridiculous, impossible.
By using the word must, Jesus is also indicating that he is planning to die — that he is doing it voluntarily. He is not merely predicting it will happen. That is why the minutes Jesus says this, Peter begins to “rebuke” him. Why would it be absolutely necessary for Jesus to die?
A Personal Necessity: Nobody can give anyone else the kind or amount of love they have starved for. What we need is someone to love us who doesn’t need us at all. Someone who loves us unconditionally. Someone who loves us just for our sake. Who can give love with no need? Jesus. Remember the dance of the Trinity — the Father, the Son, and the Spirit have been knowing and loving one another perfectly for all eternity. Within himself, God has forever had all the love, all the fulfillment, and all the joy that he could possibly want. He has all the love within himself that the whole human race lacks. Why did God create us and later redeem us at great cost even though he doesn’t need us? He did it because he loves us. His love is perfect love. When you begin to get it, when you begin to experience it, you have got the patience and security to reach out and start giving a truer love to other people.
A Legal Necessity: When someone really wrongs you, a debt is established that has to be paid by someone. What if a friend of yours accidentally smashes a lamp in your apartment? One of two things can happen as a result. Either you can make him pay or you can say, “I forgive you, that’s okay.” But in the latter case, you have to pay it yourself or get used to a darker room. Either your friend pays the cost for what was done or you absorb the cost. When someone robs you of an opportunity, robs you of happiness, or reputation, or takes away something else that you will never get back, that creates a sense of debt. Justice has been violated — this person owes you. One thing you can do is to try to make that person pay: You can try to destroy their opportunities or ruin their reputation; you can hope they suffer, or you can actually see to it. The alternative is to forgive. But there is nothing easy about real forgiveness. True forgiveness always entails suffering. The only way God can pardon us and not judge us is to go to the cross and absorb it into himself. “I must suffer,” Jesus said.
A Cosmic Necessity: Jesus’s death had to be a violent one. The term blood in the Bible means a life given or taken before its natural end. A life given or taken is the most extreme gift or price that can be paid in this world. Only be giving his life could Jesus have made the greatest possible payment for the debt of sin. Jesus’s death was not only a payment, however; it was also a demonstration. The Jewish chief priests, teachers of the law, and, of course, the Roman rulers should have been standing up for justice but instead conspired to commit an act of injustice by condemning Jesus to death. The cross reveals the systems of the world to be corrupt, serving power and oppression instead of justice and truth. In condemning Jesus, the world was condemning itself. Jesus’s death demonstrates not only the bankruptcy of the world, but it also reveals the character of God and of his kingdom. Jesus’s death was not a failure. By submitting to death as penalty, he broke its hold on him and on us. When Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins, he won through losing. He did not “fight fire with fire”. He did not take power; he gave it up. On the cross, the world’s misuse and glorification of power was exposed for what it is and defeated. The spell of the world’s systems was broken.
Mark 8: 34-9:1
Jesus is saying, “Since I am a King on a cross, if you want to follow me you must go to a cross.” What does it mean to take up our cross? What does it mean to lose our life for the gospel in order to save it?
Every culture points to certain things and says, “If you gain those, if you acquire or achieve those, then you will have a self, you will know you are valuable.” Traditional cultures would say you are nobody unless you gain the respectability and legacy of family and children. In individualistic cultures it is different; the culture says you are nobody unless you gain a fulfilling career that brings money, reputation, and status. Regardless of such differences, every culture says identity is performance-based, achievement-based.
Jesus says that will never work. No matter how many of these things you gain, it is never enough to make you sure of who you are. If you are building your identity on “somebody loves me.” or if you are building your identity on “I have got a good career,” and anything goes wrong with that relationship or that job, you fall apart.
Jesus is saying, “Don’t build your identity on gaining things in the world.” His exact words are, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Jesus says, “I want you to find a whole new way. I want you to lose the old self, the old identity, and base yourself and your identity on me and the gospel. I went to the cross — and on the cross I lost my identity so you can have one.” Once you see the Son of God loving you like that, once you are moved by that existentially, you begin to get a strength, an assurance, a sense of your own value and distinctiveness that is not based on what you are doing or whether somebody loves you, whether you have lost weight or how much money you are got.
Note from King’s Cross: Understanding the Life and Death of Jesus