Bruce Lowe

Should Christians be Revolutionaries? Mark 8:27-38

It is Satan who would have Jesus to be something other than the king he is really meant to be. And straight away we can begin to see what is at stake in Mark 8. This passage is incredibly relevant today because it gives us a picture of the issues that have always been at stake when it comes to the son of man. People have always wanted to make him into the king that they want, the king who stands in direct parallel and therefore opposition to earthly kings. But what must be realized over and over again throughout history is that while Jesus is parallel to earthly kings, he is not the same as any earthly king. He is absolutely different, and it is satanic to suggest that he can simply be like an earthly king using earthly powers.

This is a somber article to write, simply because its issues are very close to home. January 6th has just passed, a second anniversary of when rioters stormed our nation’s Capitol building, something that continues to be a highly politically charged issue, still being investigated today. Nor is the issue limited to the United States, as Brazil suddenly attests.
Why is this relevant in an article about Mark 8:27-38? Why is this important? It is important because Jesus’s words, his exchange with Peter in this passage, speak to the issues of how Christians should see ourselves in the midst of revolutionary situations when we possess of limited human powers, the questions of what we should do and think about Jesus and his kingdom in its relationship to kingdoms of this world. Of course, Mark 8 will not be the final and exclusive word on these questions—other passages must be brought into the mix as well. Nor is this article at all intended to be the final word on how Mark 8 is understood. But what I hope to do is at least alert readers to some things Jesus says here, very relevant to us, as we ponder how Christians should think and act when it comes to the power of governments and the way Christians respond.
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:27–38, ESV)
Here Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Here he makes his famous grand statement about who Jesus is. But what comes next exposes Peter’s misunderstanding of what his own confession actually means. To the extent that we may share Peter’s misunderstanding, this passage powerfully challenges us to reflect further.
Note the way Jesus responds to Peter. He affirms the good part of what Peter has to say. And this is an affirmation we must hear too. But he also challenges Peter, a challenge that must be heard loud and clear, a challenge to the wrong ways of thinking about Messiah and kingdom. Only as we fully understand who Jesus is, not just potential “political revolutionary” but as the true king, can we understand all this in its fullness, appreciating what we must do also.
A strong case can be made that the whole of Mark’s Gospel is about the identity of Jesus. This book is written to suffering Christians living through Nero’s persecutions in the 1st century, Christians having to wrestle with how they will respond not just to the general vague suffering that surrounds them, but also to the suffering that occurs via the power of the political regime over them. Even as the Christians suffered under the hands of this great tyrant, they were wrestling to understand how their leader, their ruler Jesus, would be greater than Nero and yet not like him at all.
Our story begins all the way back at the beginning of Mark with a discussion of how Jesus will be the king envisioned by the prophet Isaiah, a king who does not rule over simply a worldly Kingdom, but instead a king who rules over an eternal Kingdom, yet paradoxically an eternal kingdom that is already here. But Jesus rules this already-present kingdom not with an iron fist but with gentleness.   Isaiah 41 says he will not break a bruised reed, not snuff out a smoldering wick. This is Jesus the powerful and yet compassionate king. Isaiah 40 indicates he leads captives back gently, leading those who carry their young quietly, close to his breast.
The picture of Jesus is the picture of a great and yet compassionate king, unlike Nero in every way. But as well as being great and compassionate, he is also a king who suffers. The disciples had been trying to understand and needed to understand that Jesus is all of these things – and therefore the kingdom that he rules must be like this as well.
As we reach Mark 8:27-38, we have come to the climax of Mark’s gospel. This exchange is the middle of the book, not just spatially, but conceptually, the place where everything comes to a head. Immediately preceding this passage, Jesus heals a blind man, something that will recur in 10:45.
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You’re Taking My Grandkids Where?: Mark 6 and the Cost of Discipleship

This wonderfully expansive chapter of Mark has many challenging pills to swallow, the call to exhaustion and even death in Christian ministry. But what a neat finish Mark gives! Our labors are not in vain. Even if we do not see all God is doing through others, he is preparing the way. He is making the path straight. And though the labor he calls us to is challenging, the outcome is huge!

Imagine your kids and grandkids “need” to move away, such that you no longer get to see them regularly, that you miss seeing them grow up. This is never easy, but at least there is payoff. Often such a move is because of a career choice, making the medicine go down. Grandparents can bear some of the pain because there is a future to this: “At least our sacrifice will be worth it! The grandkids will attend great school because of extra income. And one day family, since the family will be cashed up, will have money to be with us, they will have a big enough house to have us stay!” These are some of the pros and cons a grandparent will be able to weigh up, Christian or not.
But what happens when none of these benefits exist? What happens when everything (apparently) is negative? What happens when Christians travel overseas to dangerous countries (for example) with little hope of any financial reward? “What on earth were they thinking exposing our grandchildren to this? How selfish! How thoughtless!” Or when it comes to our own kids as they enter the prime of life: “I really wanted my kids to follow Jesus.  But no way am I going to have them waste such a good education on this. They are too smart for Christian ministry. Let someone else do it—someone with lower earning potential anyway!”
What about following Jesus into the dangerous or unstable? Particularly in the West we say we value life highly. But what this often means is valuing our own lives so highly that it diminishes our view of sacrifice for Christ.
How do Jesus’ kingdom demands impact our expectations of friends and family? This is a huge question, one Mark has been subtly developing, now unpacked in Mark 6.  Prior to Mark 6 many of these themes have already been mentioned. We know, for example, from Mark 1:14 that John the Baptist was arrested. That must’ve shaken everyone up. But what happened to him? In Mark 6 we find out, in what Donahue and Harrington in their Sacra Pagina commentary on Mark describe as “one of the great stories in world literature,” the story of John’s beheading:
The cast of characters includes the scorned woman (Herodias), the charming and seductive young dancer (Herodias’ daughter), the powerful and elite members of the Galilean society, the righteous prophet (John), the weak-willed king (Herod Antipas), and that ruthlessly efficient executioner. (p. 201)
Mark 6 is a long chapter.  Why would Mark go into such detail here? Mark wants to prod and poke on something we all must stop to ponder, the cost of discipleship. The most brilliantly written parts of Mark, meant to draw us in, focus on the cost of being a disciple.
Mark has been writing about the cost of discipleship since the beginning of his gospel.  Craig Blomberg, in his book on the Gospels, reminds us how the gospels as biography work:
Ancient Middle Eastern writers were not as bound by logical, linear thinking as modern Western ones are. The Gospels, like most documents of their day, would have been written to be read aloud… so writing had to include repetition for emphasis and rhetorical markers that would make connections between section clear. The modern commentator always runs the risk therefore, of imposing too much structure or symmetry when trying to outline these books. (p. 115)
Mark is not a scientific journal, covering bullet-points: one, two, three. It is a narrative, rich and free flowing, a narrative with wave after wave of parallel teaching designed to hit us enough times to eventually knock us over. And in Mark 6 we encounter the biggest wave in the set!
This theme, the cost of discipleship, begins right at the start of Mark’s gospel, chapter 1:
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:16-20)
This would have been hard, leaving family business with only the hired hands, a huge financial hit to their father as well as a painful personal loss!
Later in the same chapter Jesus is kind to Simon’s mother-in-law who was sick, with the result that the family home of Simon and Andrew is overrun by the crowds and turned into a mobile hospital for sick and demon possessed:
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. 32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
I wonder how Simon’s father-in-law was feeling (if he was alive and lived there, too)?
This theme reaches its climax at the start of Mark 6, when Jesus goes back to his home town.  His disciples follow him (6:1), an echo of the first disciples, when Jesus called them away from their families to follow him; this was a call to go anywhere with him. But a very complicated dynamic faces them here:
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The people cannot believe in Jesus because of family dynamics! They almost freeze him in time: “Remember ‘little Jesus’ who grew up here? Remember Jesus who was just like his siblings!” Now the locals still see those siblings and cannot believe that Jesus could go beyond the norm they have created in minds.
Such are the deep complexities of family! We can get so tied up within our families–which is not bad in and of itself–and end up limiting our future because of another’s perception. “This is who you are, not that. You are not a missionary; you are not a Christian worker. You are one of us, so stay like one of us!”
How does one navigate pushback if he or she becomes a Christian out of a non-Christian upbringing? How does one cut through expectations? Verses 5 and 6 paint quite a sad picture. The very power of God was restricted because of unbelief.  Jesus could not do any miracles (verse 5)! There is really no tying up of this mini narrative. It is simply left hanging.
Next…in a bonanza of vivid stories, the apostles are sent out on mission. The shift in storyline could not be more powerful: the narrative moves from the possible ‘stability’ of ‘home’ to utter instability, exactly the kind of issue that makes it difficult for those closest the called one to understand:
7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. (Mark 6:7-13)
The history of the day helps understand these instructions.
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Does God Care What We Wear at Church?

In Revelation 19:8, we are told that it is not our physical cloths that Jesus sees, but our righteous deeds. The righteous acts of the saints are the clothes of the Church. So with every motive of love that is exercised in choosing what to wear, whether casual or formal, we are putting on the true clothes of the church. This, remember, is what Jesus sees.[1]

I was born and grew up in Australia, saved in my teens, attending a church on university campus, a church planted by a pastor from the States. This last detail is important, because I would marry his daughter one day, explaining why we now live in America. But such details also help frame a cultural faux pas, a fun story, I would love to start with. “Flip flops” are called “thongs” in Australia—an important detail—because when a pastor and his wife visited from America and came for dinner, the question was asked by her: “How casual do college students dress for Sunday Night Church?” Someone fired back: “Casual! The guys wear thongs!” Judging from the look on her face, only one thing was on her mind: men in G-strings! We had some explaining to do.
Fortunately, I have never been part of a church where the dress code was that casual. But I have been in situations, and I have also heard of them too, where one might think a person has turned up in a G-string, given the reaction. What this seems to demonstrate is the importance of this topic. With a new wave of culture wars emerged in the U.S., we can ill afford to be fighting the wrong things as Christians.  So what do we say? Is dress code a hill to die on? Here is a question we will now address.
Clearing the Air
First, let me clear the air a little (I hope), by noting one verse used to argue against casual dress: Exodus 19:10, where Israel was about to receive the ten commandments, and where they were told to wash their cloths in preparation. This was a holiness affair. The mountain could not to be touched, lest people die. And in conjunction, people needed to make sure they were physically clean. But what needs to be noted is how Hebrews 12 actually quotes this passage, but by way of contrast: “ “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest… But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering.” The contrast here is between physical external elements of holiness, key to establish in the early days of God’s revelation of himself, at times when symbols were needed, compared with what the writer concludes of the current era, i.e. that it is an era where ultimate realities are unseen.

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