The Divine Necessity
His body broken and his blood poured out for our salvation. And as He gives Himself and all the benefits of His sufferings and death to us, we in turn give ourselves to Him, singing, "Here Lord I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.
by William H Smith
"I have to go to the grocery store." "I must have that house." "I need a new car." We have lots of ways to express necessity. When I was a teenager there were many necessities in my life – things I just had to do. My Dad had a stock reply to all of the have to’s I expressed. "There are only two things you have to do," he would say, "die and live until you do." Of course, if he had had the unhappy conversation I had with our accountant this week, he might have added, "And pay taxes."
When we get right down to it there are not all that many have to’s, not many musts in this live. We think that there are many necessities and we treat a lot of things as necessities, but few are necessities of the absolute variety.
But for Jesus there was one necessity that controlled His whole life, the necessity of doing God’s will. I want us to explore that wand do it in terms of three things that are made clear to us in what we read from Mark’s Gospel.
I. The Clarity of Peter’s Confession
On first read we may not realize what a momentous event is the confession which Peter made concerning the identity of Jesus in response to Jesus’ question. But this turns out to be what Mark sees as the turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
If you have ever run a staff meeting, you know that there are two different kind of questions you can ask. You can ask, "What are people saying?" That can often get some good discussion going. The staff member does not feel threatened by this question, for, when he answers, he is only telling you what others think. He can even disguise an opinion of his own as something that "people are saying." But then you can ask a more pointed and potentially more threatening question. "OK, that’s what you’re hearing, but what do you say?" That puts the staff member on the spot, because he now must identify himself with the answer he gives.
Jesus asked the non-threatening question first: "Who do people say I am?" The disciples told Him that people thought of Him as a prophet. Some thought He was John the Baptist and others that He was Elijah. Whether they thought He was one of these men resurrected, or reincarnated, or a prophet of like spirit we cannot say for sure. Others were not ready to say which prophet He might be, but only that He was one of the Prophets.
Then Jesus asked the "stand up and be counted" question: "But who do you say that I am?" Peter, as we so often find him, spoke up to say what he thought, and it turns out that his answer is both true and profound. "You are the Christ." If, with our knowledge we could have looked in on the scene, we might have said, "Binnggg-go!"
You may know that Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It is His title, and it means The Anointed One, and is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. The Christ is the one who is appointed, anointed, equipped, and empowered by God for a mission. The Messiah concept, by Jesus’ time, had become the focus of all the as yet unfulfilled promises God had made to Israel. He was the divinely sent and divinely appointed deliverer who would redeem Israel from foreign oppression, reinvigorate Israel’s spiritual vitality, and restore Israel to glory. More He would take God’s people where they had never been – to the full realization of all the things the Old Testament lead them to hope for.
Peter had it right. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one God chose and sent, and He is the One in whom all the ancient promises are focused and through whom they will reach their fulfillment. Peter has answered the fundamental question about the Person of Jesus. That is where we must begin, too. We must answer the question, "Who is he?", before we can go on to ask, "Why did He come?" Being a Christian begins with clear concept and confession of Who He is. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen and anointed One, the One who fulfills all the promises God has made to His people.
II. The Clarity of Christ’s Commission
The clear confession of who Christ is is the turning point that leads to a new clarity about why He has come – a new clarity about His commission as Messiah. We find the first of three predictions by Christ of what lies ahead for Him. "And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again." Mark underscores that "he said this plainly. There was nothing subtle or obscure about the way He said this. Sometimes you walk away from a conversation wondering exactly what the person intended to say. This was not one of those occasions. Jesus spoke in a straightforward manner.
Jesus chooses to speak of Himself as the Son of Man rather than as the Christ. He had already warned His disciples not to tell anyone their conclusion that He was the Christ. The reason is that the Christ or the Messiah had strong political and military overtones. People thought that all the ancient promises could not be fulfilled apart from Messiah’s establishing a political regime and exercising military power. Jesus, knowing that even His disciples are not free of these ideas, chooses to call Himself "the Son of Man." We do not have time to explore fully this interesting title. It is enough now to say that its background is the the seventh chapter of Daniel where the Son of Man is presented as a mysterious, yet glorious person who comes before God, the Ancient of Days, and is given a kingdom and authority. Jesus is this Son of Man.
Now He says, that as the Messiah and the Son of Man He must suffer many things – a very general prediction of what lies ahead that will be filled in by future announcements and by the unfolding of the events. Then it becomes more specific. He will be rejected by the Jewish authorities – the elders, the chief priests, the scribes. They will not receive Him and recognize Him as Messiah but will reject Him. As the prophet Isaiah had foreseen, He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53:3). But more than the rejection, He will be killed. Again the prophet predicted it: By oppression and judgment he was taken away; as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isaiah 53:8). But, though He will be killed, He will rise again. This is Jesus summary of what lies ahead – suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.
It’s hard to know how the disciples took the prediction of rising. They may have understood it in terms of a category they already had, for they did believe in the resurrection of the righteous on the last day. But obviously what jolted them and got their attention was this talk of suffering, rejection, and death, for this did not fit at all with their expectations of the Messiah. Peter felt there was nothing to do but to take Jesus aside the administer a word of correction. Do you know what it is like to be corrected in private for something you said in public? Maybe your were wrong on the facts or maybe what you said was impolitic, but you got a word of correction from a spouse, or boss, or friend. As Peter saw it this statement of Jesus was wrong and unwise. It was wrong because this was not what was going to happen to Messiah. It was unwise for it would confuse and demoralize those who were following Jesus on the conviction or hope that He might be the Messiah.
But for Jesus this is clear and it is a clear must. Not a possibility or an option, but a necessity. But why is it necessary? Because this is the commission He has received from the Father. It is the Father’s will to save sinners through His Son, and to save sinners it is necessary that their sins be paid for. All this had been foreseen in the Psalmists and Prophets who were given revelations by God of how redemption would be accomplished.
They had committed these things to writing. The will of God is written and Jesus must accomplish all that is written, for it is the Father’s will. It is divine necessity that is laid on Him. Jesus’ whole life and mission are oriented to doing the will of God, specifically to doing the will of God revealed for the Messiah.
This explains why Jesus with such consuming zeal and unswerving determination sets His path for Jerusalem. And it explains why He administers to Peter such a stern and harsh rebuke: "Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men." From the beginning of His ministry Satan, the Adversary of God and man, had tried to turn Him away from the cross, and now His own disciple would turn Him away from God’s will that He should suffer and be rejected and die and then rise again.
Jesus grasps with clarity the commission He has been given as the Christ. And Jesus will let nothing turn Him aside from completing the commission given Him by the Father.
III. The Clarity of the Christian’s Commitment
The clarity of the confession that Jesus is the Christ, let to a clarity about Christ’s commission. That in turn leads to a clarity about the commitment of the Christian. Notice that Jesus called the crowd together with His disciples. Lest we be tempted to think that what He says is for only the Twelve, this makes it clear that He is talking about what it means for anyone to follow Him. So what does it mean to follow Him?
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." In the popular use people speak of a cross as any kind of hardship or burden they have to bear. Illnesses, grumpy spouses, rebellious children, and mean bosses can all be crosses to hear some Christians speak. But the word ‘cross’ was much more pointed and challenging as Jesus used it. The cross, of course, was a Roman instrument of execution so painful and humiliating that people did not like to speak of it at all. When you saw a man carrying a cross, he was not going through some temporary unpleasantness. He was on a one way trip to death. Perhaps this saying would strike us with more of its original force if we paraphrased, "If any would come after me, let him deny himself and strap himself to an electric chair," or, let him strap himself to a gurney and insert in his arms the IV lines leading to the lethal injection drugs. Neither of these communicates the cruelty of the cross, but both get across the idea of death. Jesus clearly means that to follow Him means to accept the possibility of death, and, if we must be ready to die, then we must be willing to enter into lesser sufferings with Him as well and to die to self-determination and self-direction and, rather, submit ourselves to the will of God as He did.
Someone may be thinking, What’s all this talk of self-denial, and cross-bearing, and death? I thought salvation was by grace, that we are saved by faith alone, not any anything we do, and by the sufferings of Christ, not our own. You are right about all that. But Jesus is telling us that faith means following Him; it means attaching ourselves to Him. The best illustration I can think of is marriage. When you marry, the service makes it clear that an attachment is being established. All others are forsaken. Now the couple will live together. They will share their lives come what may. Their lives are so joined that what happens to the one will inevitably affect the other. If you don’t want your life caught up in another life, then don’t get married.
To get married is to join your life to another life. To have faith in Jesus is to follow Him, to join your life to His. And what is Jesus doing? He is submitting His will to the Father. And where is Jesus going? He is going to the cross. Do you want then to follow Him?
There are good reasons to do so. You cannot keep your life by trying to save it. You gain life by giving it up to Jesus. This is the way to have Jesus acknowledge you before the Father and to see the lasting glories of the kingdom of God. But all of us who are Christians must know what it means to follow Jesus in faith. It is to attach yourself to Him so that you die to self and are ready to surrender your life, because you know that Jesus is the Messiah who suffered and died for your salvation.
So again we are reminded in vivid terms of what Jesus did for us. His body broken and his blood poured out for our salvation. And as He gives Himself and all the benefits of His sufferings and death to us, we in turn give ourselves to Him, singing, "Here Lord I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.
Gospel Reading: Mark 8:27-9:1
WILLIAM H. SMITH
Reflections on Job 31 July 2020
The Beginning Job’s three friends could not have been more wrong. They looked at this profoundly afflicted man and concluded that by his sin he had brought all this suffering upon himself. What other explanation could there be? But there was another explanation, one that lay at the opposite pole to the one these men […]
Hope in the Face of Hostility 24 July 2020
In 1661, Elizabeth Heywood, a godly wife and mother from Lancashire, lay dying, aged just twenty-seven.1 Her last prayers were for the Church of God, for the Jews to be converted, and for the gospel to reach to all nations.2 Her vision extended far beyond her own situation, her own family and church and nation. […]