Following the Discomforting Jesus

Mark 8:27-38 is one of my favourite passages of Scripture. One of the things I love about it is that, after years of reading it and re-reading it, studying it and preaching it and teaching it, I’m not sure how well I actually understand it.

Why does Jesus want to know what people are saying about him? Why do so many people think he’s a long-dead (or recently dead) prophet? What does Peter mean by “You are the Messiah”? What might Jesus have meant by this? Why does Jesus order the disciples not to tell others this?

Why does Jesus switch from “Messiah” language to “Son of Man” language? Where did Jesus get these ideas of a suffering, rejected, murdered, and resurrected Son of Man from? How does this connect with the confession of Jesus as the Messiah? Why exactly does Peter rebuke Jesus for this? Why does Jesus see in Peter “the Satan” who had previously tempted him? What exactly was it about Peter’s rebuke that reflected “human ways” as opposed to “God’s ways”?

Where does “the crowd” suddenly come from, and why are they invited into the conversation? How does Jesus’ call to discipleship connect with Peter’s previous confession and Jesus’ Son of Man teaching and his rebuke of Peter? What does it mean to “deny yourself,” to “take up your cross,” and “follow Jesus”? How in the world can we save our lives by losing them?

Over the years I’ve developed what I think are good answers to most of these questions. Nevertheless, I am never fully comfortable with my answers.

And maybe that’s as it should be. These words of Jesus should always be discomforting, perpetually pulling us out of our comfortable ways of believing and thinking and living, drawing us ever toward the peculiar magnet that is Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah and Lord. Somewhere deep down we’re all like Peter in John’s version of this episode: “Lord, where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

As we return to the rhythms of fall set against the drumbeat of COVID, may we be prepared to encounter Jesus afresh. And may we be prepared for some “holy discomfort” in this encounter, a sacred unease that compels us to follow Jesus in new ways into the uncharted future before us, a future filled with life even through death.