Every person can understand faith in Christ by discerning the two focuses that Jesus mentions in this passage.
A number of years ago I spent a summer teaching in Mexico. Both my children went with me. To pass the time as we drove, my 3-year-old son Larry watched for license plates. The trip to Mexico netted him plates from 24 states, and while we were there he saw four more. So when we started back, he was over halfway to having "collected" all 50.
Our return trip was during the peak vacation season, and to top it off, we went through Yellowstone National Park -- a license-plate collector's paradise. By the morning of the second day there, he had just one more state to go: Delaware. Larry became obsessed with finding a license plate from Delaware. When we stopped to see Yellowstone's magnificent sights, he didn't glance at them. He preferred to run up and down the parking lots, looking at license plates. Talk about stress! Talk about anxiety! You would have thought that his whole life depended on finding a Delaware license plate!
When we stopped to eat in a cafeteria near Yellowstone Falls, my son begged me to let him look for license plates. Please, I don't want to eat," Larry said. "Can't I just stay here in the parking Lot?" "No," we told him, "you have to eat." So he went inside and ate as quickly as he could get the food down and then headed out to the parking lot. No sooner had we finished our meal, however, than Larry came bounding across the parking lot. "Come here! You've got to see it! You won't believe it if you don't see it!" All of us went running out -- and there, just pulling out of a parking space, was a blue Volkswagen bus with Delaware license plates. In fact, we got a picture, and even today, a decade later, when we look at our Yellowstone pictures, that's the picture that tells more about what we did in Yellowstone than anything else.
Signs of the Times, August, 1992, p. 12.
This could be construed as missed priorities. While you are in Yellowstone you might like to catch a glimpse of the sights. For this young man it was more important to accomplish his goal. Peter is missing something in this passage. It is relayed in the focuses Jesus points out.
Focus I. The things of men
A. Peter does something really outrageous in this passage, even though it is very much in character for Peter. He pulls Jesus aside and he rebukes him. This is the same word that is used by those who are driving out demons. Jesus had come close to the end of his earthly ministry and he had started talking about how things were going to happen. This is what had motivated Peter to rebuke Jesus. The picture that Jesus paints for himself is a pretty grim one. He talks in v. 31 about suffering, rejection and execution. But he also mentions in this passage that he will rise again after three days.
B. I believe that Peter had problems with this because he had come to accept the Jewish religious leader’s notion of what the Messiah was going to be. He had not completely bought into their ideas, but he certainly held to some of the ideas that they had. For Peter the idea of suffering, rejection and execution were not signs of strength. They instead were marks of weakness. In the mind of Peter, in order for Jesus to be the Messiah these things could not happen to him. The Messiah was to be a symbol of strength. So, Peter like the religious leaders was having problems with Jesus as the Messiah, if things happened the way Jesus said they would.
C. I would guess that there was also the emotional attachment that Peter was suffering from. Whenever we grieve over the death of a Christian we were close to we tend to be a little selfish. There is that part of our mind that wants that person back. We have accepted the fact that when they died they went into the presence of Jesus, but we still tend to want to have that person. I think that peter was suffering from some of this at this moment. He was being selfish and did not like the thought of seeing his master and friend suffer and die.
D. Through these and probably other ideas Peter pulls Jesus off to the side and he rebukes him. He is really trying to stop Jesus from doing this. He is correcting his teacher. Jesus responds to the rebuke with the statement in v. 33, “Get behind me, Satan.” This really seems pretty severe, but he follows it up with the statement, "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Peter was thinking about the things of men.
E. Peter was placing on Jesus the expectations of what he thought Jesus ought to be. Jesus however did not tolerate it. This had to be humiliating to Peter, and it must have been hard to swallow. Eventually, Peter learned that Jesus had in mind greater goals and objectives that Peter never did grasp.
F. It is so easy for us to place our expectations on Jesus of what we expect him to be like and what we expect him to do. Probably Jesus rebuked Peter publicly because he was dealing with others who were not as open in their rebuke. Perhaps it would be wise for us to open ourselves up to a rebuke from the Lord. Not because we enjoy punishing ourselves, but because we want to learn who Jesus really is. We want to know what he is about. We don’t want to go through life thinking of Jesus only in the terms that others have told us about Jesus, but really learn who he is.
Focus II. The things of God
A. I believe that Jesus begins addressing what some of the things of God are in v. 34 and following. The first indication is that a person is to deny himself. That means that we are to have no other affiliations. In other words our full devotion is to the Lord God almighty. Some people believe they can serve any God they want to. When we deny ourself we are giving up those other affiliations to give ourselves fully to God. Erwin Mcmanus described this like a woman telling her husband; in your name I love all men. Not very flattering for that husband. Yet many people like to live their lives in this way. They are not willing to deny themselves and give themselves fully to God.
B. The second way we follow the things of God is by taking up his cross. In the day in which this was written, the cross was not a pretty symbol hanging in a church or something that people would wear around their neck. It indicated execution. When a person was found guilty of a crime and the punishment was the death sentence, the cross was the way it was accomplished. In the old west it was hanging. In years past it has been the electric chair, the gas chamber and most recently a lethal injection. Jesus was warning us that there are sacrifices included in following him. We give things up in order to follow Jesus.
C. When Jesus said follow me, he was indicating a disciple, master relationship. This word is so over used in our society I think it is easy for us to lose sight of what a disciple is. It is literally a student who would learn from the master, and learn to be like the master. My cousin is working on becoming an electrician. Before he can be certified he has to spend a certain amount of time under a master electrician. He will learn from this person and become like this person so that he can one day be an electrician and perhaps have someone who learns from him. This idea of learning from a master is the idea behind being a disciple. So when Jesus said to take up your cross and follow him, he was telling the students to learn from him and to become like him.
D. In v. 35 Jesus makes a statement that seems to really contradict itself. He says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mr 8:35 NIVUS) In order to save your life you must lose it for the sake of Christ. The Message version of the Bible gives us a little different look at this verse it says, “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.” Mark 8:35 (MSG) This gives me the picture of someone who is really working hard to make things good for themselves. It is like the parable of the farmer who had a great year. He had a very good harvest. So he built bigger barns to store his wealth. He was going to hoard this all for himself. In the end he died and never had a chance to enjoy any of it. He was only concerned about himself. He did not have in mind the things of God. Our willingness to give for the sake of others and for the sake of Christ will give us benefits in this life but more importantly in the life to come. The farmer got more than he wanted, but his focus was only on himself.
E. Just recently a person used 911 to complain about a McDonalds not having Chicken McNuggets. I know that there is more to the story than that, but it illustrates the direction that our society is headed in. We have decided that there are things that we should have. We want to be able to go into a restaurant and order and they will always have what we want. If they don’t, then we believe that somehow our liberties have been violated. As a society we want what we want when we want it, and if we don’t get it we might just call the police or file some kind of a complaint. This is really contrary to what Jesus was saying. He wanted us to think of others first. He wants us to be able to lay aside the things we think we need to focus on God and on others.
F. As you focus on things in your life what are thinking about? It would not be uncommon to find that we are thinking about getting ourselves ahead. Probably most of us, if not all of us have made some level of commitment to Jesus Christ. This idea of denying ourselves seems to take us to a different level.
We need to remember there is a difference between what is important to us and what is important to God. Therefore we need to constantly examine what we do, what we say, and what is happening in our life from the perspective of making sure something is really important to God. As I say this I realize that people have assigned things to Jesus that are not true. If we are going to say that something is important to Jesus maybe we should be able to back it up with proof.