Day 58: ‘Get behind me, Satan!’

Mark 8:27-9:1 (AD 29)

This is arguably the hinge passage in Mark’s gospel, marking the transition between establishing the identity of Jesus (chapters 1-8, covering about 34 years), and charting the consequences of that identity (chapters 8-16, covering less than a year).

One can’t read too much into it, but it’s notable that the disciples’ reading of the crowds gave only three primary responses to the question of who Jesus was: John the Baptist, a prophet, or Elijah (i.e. one of the most important figures in their history). No mention, for example, of any general view that maybe Jesus was a demon, a hypocrite or some other kind of terrible person. The idea that Jesus was evil seems to have been a view restricted largely to the religious élite, who were jaundiced by their desperate desire to hold on to power.

We also see Jesus’ model of a gradual approach to teaching and discipleship, including great patience. He spent three years in public ministry, of which the first two were focused on helping the disciples understand who he was, and less than the last year helping them to see – from Scripture – what that meant he would do and what would be done to him. Teaching, helping and discipling people is not an easy or quick job, and it certainly isn’t the job of the Sunday sermon. Sermons kick off trains of thought, re-energise, challenge, correct and encourage, but it isn’t effective without intentional discipling and spiritual self-care during the week.  

There was no point telling them what would happen to him until they had some grasp of who he was, even though they didn’t seem to progress in their thinking until after the resurrection.

This passage contains one of the more puzzling verbal exchanges of Jesus’ ministry. Peter, obstinately failing to understand who Jesus was, had the temerity to rebuke Jesus for the predictions of suffering and persecution. To him it sounded pessimistic, horrible, fatalistic and he wanted no part of that; far better, he thought, to maintain a positive outlook. Jesus could have responded with something like, ‘No, you don’t understand – this is what the prophets said needed to happen’. Except Jesus did tell them those things, many times.

On this occasion, it wasn’t merely a teaching moment with Jesus lecturing from a distant and aloof position. Rather, this was Jesus facing a very real temptation to not go through with his mission. That temptation came from Satan, and was manifested through the words of Peter. This doesn’t mean that Peter was momentarily possessed or had become in some other way a literal mouthpiece for Satan. Rather, that his well-intentioned and friendly words unwittingly represented a dire and real temptation for Jesus.

Jesus did what we all need to do with temptation: recognise it for what it is and deal with it quickly. Because whilst he could have given Peter a theology lecture, the most important thing right then was to deal with temptation. Satan wanted Jesus to rationalise sin as being something nice, something that would benefit him and please others. Something understandable, even inevitable. Jesus was having none of it and neither should we.

As we reach this hinge in Mark’s gospel, do you have a firm grasp of who Jesus is?

Do you understand what the implications are of that reality? Like as not you already know the implications for Jesus (spoiler alert: they killed him), but do you appreciate the implications for YOU, that Jesus is God?

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