The Messiah Must Suffer
Topic: The Sufferings of Christ Passage: Mark 8:31–8:33
THE MESSIAH MUST SUFFER
An Exposition of Mark 8:29-33
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: February 21, 2021
Series: Mark: Knowing and Following God’s Son
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Good morning. I invite you to turn to Mark 8 as we continue our journey there. In just a moment I'm going to read verses 29-33. Our focus this morning will be on verses 31-33, but I realized after last week's sermon that I neglected to say anything about verse 30 in that sermon – I had intended to, but I didn’t. So I wanted to take the opportunity to do that this morning. Looking at verses 29-20 will also help to give us a little context for verses 31-33.
Before I read, I just want to remind us that when we come to the Word of God, we are standing on holy ground. We cannot presume to have Moses’ ‘burning bush’ experience. We cannot presume to have Isaiah's ‘vision in the temple’ experience. But when we come before the written Word of God, it is the same God who is speaking to us. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the text is also at work in our hearts and minds to give us understanding, and to transform us. It is good to be reminded of this when we come before the Word.
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Holy Scripture says:
29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 31 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.32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 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.” (Mark 8:29-33)
This is God's Word, and it is for our good. Let's pray:
Father, our desire is to be confronted, helped, encouraged and transformed by our encounter with your Word. We pray that your Holy Spirit would enlighten the eyes of our heart this morning, and give us instruction. Open our eyes to see the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. In his name we pray, amen.
TELL NO ONE! (v. 30)
In verse 29 Jesus asks the twelve disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter rightly confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. And as I said last week, the basic meaning of Messiah from the Old Testament is that the Messiah is the one appointed and anointed by God to be the true King who brings righteousness, justice and peace to the world. Peter's confession is right, but Jesus immediately says to “tell no one” (v. 30)! Don't tell anyone!
We've seen that kind of thing before in the gospel of Mark (for example, Mark 5:43, 7:36). The reality is that it does very little good to go around proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah, if no one understands what it means! It is pretty obvious that Peter doesn't understand what it means – because after Jesus (in v. 31) begins to unpack his mission and how he is going to accomplish his purpose, Peter gets up the nerve to rebuke the one he had just confessed to be the Messiah (v. 32).
You see, there was this popular conception of a Messiah who would mount a warhorse, brandish a sword, gather an army, route the enemy, save Israel from the Romans, and usher in the Golden Age. Therefore, the notion of a Messiah who would suffer and lay down his life didn't fit their conception. The disciples appreciated what Jesus had done in the early chapters of Mark. Casting out demons, healing diseases, performing miracles, walking on water – these things fit with their conception of the Messiah. But at the heart of Jesus’ ministry was his death and resurrection. Who Jesus is as the Messiah cannot be rightly understood apart from his death and resurrection of Jesus. And so Jesus doesn't just want them to get the right answer (that he is the Messiah) and then to go around declaring the right answer when they really don't understand what the answer means. Instead, Jesus wants them to see everything clearly (Mark 8:25). And until they understand and can then correct the misconceptions of their audience, they shouldn't go around preaching.
But they will understand in due course – they will, the book of Acts is coming!
WHERE IS YOUR MIND SET? AN OVERVIEW OF VERSES 31-33
In verse 31, Jesus began to teach the disciples about the great suffering that he would have to face. He speaks of “the Son of Man” – the Son of Man was Jesus’ favorite self-designation. He referred to himself often as the Son of Man. If he had referred to himself as the Messiah, it would have been a very charged and loaded term. The phrase “the Son of Man” was a little bit more ambiguous, which served his purposes for this season of time.
So he teaches the disciples “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected… and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v. 31). And verse 32 tells us that “he said this plainly”. The word translated ‘plainly’ means freely, openly, confidently, without hesitation. Jesus hadn't spoken about this until now, but now he speaks very freely about his journey to the Cross.
But as I said earlier, this did not fit with the popular conception of what the Messiah would be. So Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him (v. 32). Can you just envision the silliness of this picture? It’s as if Peter was saying, ‘I know you're the Messiah – I know you're the Anointed One – but you don't understand your own mission. Let me instruct you. Let me correct you. I know how it goes.’ And this earns Peter a sharp rebuke from the Lord: “Get behind me, Satan”! (v. 33)
This phrase “Get behind me, Satan!” can actually mean a couple things, and it might imply both. On the one hand, it can simply mean ‘Out of here, Satan; get out of here, be gone, get lost.’ But on the other hand, it can also mean to literally get behind or line up behind. Keep in mind that Jesus knows that he is talking to Peter and not to Satan, although Peter is thinking under the influence of Satan. Peter is thinking in a worldly and man-centered way. But Jesus knows that he is speaking to Peter and he wants Peter to get back in line behind him. It is not the disciple’s place to be out in front of the Lord telling the Lord what to do and functioning as a hindrance. Instead the disciple – as Jesus is going to tell us in verse 34 – the disciple belongs behind the Lord, coming after the Lord, following the Lord. So Jesus’ rebuke to Peter could also mean, ‘Peter, get back in your proper place!’
As it happens, Peter has a mindset that is opposed to God's plan: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (v. 33) Peter has fallen into the role of adversary and he is actually opposing the will of God – he is opposing the mission that God had entrusted to his Son.
With verse 33 in mind, we must realize how high the stakes are in life. We are either setting our mind on the things of God, or we are setting our minds on the things of man. We are either setting our mind on the will of God and of God's kingdom, or we are setting our minds on the will of man operating under the kingdom of darkness and under the influence of Satan.
In the context of verses 31-33, verse 31 communicates to us the things of God, the will of God, the plan of God, the intention of God – specifically with respect to the Messiah. And Peter's attempt to rebuke the Lord in verse 32 represents the things of man – man's willingness to stand in the way and to oppose the will of the Lord.
As we're looking at verse 31 this morning, because that is what we are going to focus on, we need to understand that this is an opportunity for us to set our mind on the things of God and to enter more deeply into his plan. There are four things I want you to join me in seeing in verse 31, these four things of God. I'll introduce each of the four things with a key word, and then go on to explain it.
THE NECESSITY OF THE MESSIAH’S SUFFERINGS
The first key word is necessity. Verse 31 is the plan. The Messiah must suffer! Notice the word “must”. The Messiah will not triumph apart from suffering. He will not avoid suffering. Instead he must triumph through suffering. And after he suffers and dies, then he will rise again.
When Jesus says that the Son of Man must suffer, what he means is that this is God's plan as it was written down in the pages of the Old Testament. For example, in Mark 9:12, Jesus says in the second half of the verse: And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” And then after his resurrection, when he was talking with his disciples in Luke 24, we read: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:45-46). So Jesus knew and understood that the plan of God for him to suffer was written in the pages of the Old Testament.
Last week I referred to a number of passages that talked about the glorious mission and accomplishment of the Messiah to bring justice to the nations. Well now what I want to do is to refer to other passages in the Old Testament that told us that the Christ was going to suffer.
The Old Testament is like a wonderful puzzle. If your eyes are veiled – if you're blind – then all you can see are isolated pieces and you don't really understand what they mean and how they fit together. But if you have eyes to see, then you come to understand that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together beautifully in Christ. So here we go on another journey through the Old Testament!
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis – which refers to things that took place at the beginning of time – we are told in Genesis 3:15 that a descendant of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent, but that he himself, the serpent-crusher, would be bruised on his heel. In other words, the dragon-slayer was going to be wounded.
And then consider the life of David, which you can read about in 1 and 2 Samuel – and you also get great snapshots of his life and sufferings in the Psalms, many of which he wrote. God so orchestrated the life and sufferings of King David that they foreshadow the life and sufferings of the Messiah. For example, in Psalm 2. the rulers of this world plot and scheme against the Lord's Anointed One. Psalm 3 begins, “O LORD, how many are my foes!” (Psalm 3:1) In Psalm 18 – and in many other psalms, there are these death-like and resurrection-like experiences that David had, even though he didn't actually die. It was as if he was in the grip of death (Psalm 18:4-5), and he called out to the Lord (Psalm 18:6), and the Lord came down and lifted him up out of deep waters (Psalm 18:16-19). In Psalm 22 we read, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) This man was “scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6), and “all [his] bones are out of joint” (Psalm 22:14). In Psalm 23, David “[walks] through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). In Psalms 41 and 55, he is betrayed by a close friend (Psalm 41:9, 55:12-14). In Psalm 69, He is hated by numerous foes and attacked with lies (Psalm 69:4). In Psalm 118, which may not have been written by David himself, we are told that the rejected stone becomes the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22). In other words, mankind has a building project going on – and the man that the builders rejected, this rejected man is the cornerstone in God's building project.
In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the same servant of the Lord who would be light to the world and bring justice to the nations would also suffer profoundly. In Isaiah 53, we learn that he would be “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). This righteous servant bears our griefs and carries our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4), is “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5), and “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:6). And so we remember the Old Testament sacrificial system – the Passover Lamb and the blood of bulls and goats which were shed to atone for the sins of the people under the Israelite Covenant, but the blood of animals could never suffice to take away the sins of men. There had to be a better lamb, a better sacrifice! And when John the Baptist came onto the scene and “saw Jesus coming toward him”, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
In the 6th century BC, the prophet Daniel foresaw that God's plan “to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness” involved an Anointed One who would be “cut off” (Daniel 9:24, 26).
Later in the 6th century BC, the prophet Zechariah recounts the Lord's promise. The Lord said, “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me” – remember that this is the Lord talking – “so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10) How can this be, that God would be pierced by his people? “Amazing love! how can it be / That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!”
In the next chapter – Zechariah 13 – the Lord awakens his sword against his shepherd – and the shepherd is struck, “and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7). But ultimately through the shepherd, the sheep are gathered into the fold of God.
All of these Scriptural passages – and more – show us that the Son of Man, the Messiah, “must suffer many things and be rejected… and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
The promise of the Messiah’s resurrection is also in the Old Testament. The sufferer of Psalm 22 lives to proclaim the greatness of the Lord (Psalm 22:22-24). The Lord God Almighty delighted in the afflicted one and delivered him (Psalm 22:24). The sufferer of Isaiah 53 dies, but he rises again to see the fruit of his suffering (Isaiah 53:7-12). As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so shall the Messiah be three days in the belly of the earth. And then, as on the third day Jonah emerged from the fish onto dry land, so shall the Messiah emerge from the grave unto resurrection life (Matthew 12:40). In Psalm 16 – which the Apostle Peter drew upon to proclaim the resurrection of Christ in Acts 2 – in Psalm 16 David prayed, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” (Psalm 16:9-10)
The suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ is the plan of God, and always was. And this is why the Son of Man “must” fulfill these things.
THE MESSIAH’S PATHWAY TO GLORY IS THROUGH SUFFERING
The second key word is pathway. I'm referring to an ordered pathway. Yes, the Messiah will triumph. All of those glorious promises in the Old Testament about the glory of the Lord filling the Earth and there being peace and shalom and righteousness in the world – these things are going to happen. The Messiah is going to triumph gloriously. But the question is, how is he going to achieve that? What is the pathway to victory?
Mark 8:31 gives a very clear answer – suffering is the pathway to glory. The cross is the pathway to the crown. Death is the pathway to resurrection life. Rejection by the world is the pathway to a grand welcome in the halls of heaven.
The truth about this ordered pathway is going to have profound implications in next week's sermon – and in many other of the sermons that follow in Mark 8, 9, and 10. This is huge and I can only introduce it briefly now, but we've got to understand that this is the order – that suffering is the pathway to glory. This is God’s design.
We are trained and tempted to dislike this design. The temptation that we have is that we want the glory, the power, the triumph, the success, the victory – however we conceive of it – we want it now. We want it on our terms. We want it easy. We want to pursue it, if we must, with gusto, charisma, and strength. We want to minimize suffering and maximize comfort. We want the glory now – and this goes right along with Israel's conception of a triumphalistic Messiah. Whether you think of a triumphalistic Messiah as a great military general, or as a political figure, or as an entrepreneurial Messiah, or as a wellness Messiah who has the appearance of greatness and success and who delivers the goods today.
We understand a Nebuchadnezzar or an Alexander the Great or a Napoleon who conquers nations with the power of the sword. We understand political factions jockeying for position. We understand the young upstarts who pursue success early and long, so that they can amass wealth and shore up their future. But what do we do with the king who does not broker in power, status, or wealth? “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58) He “came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). He doesn't conquer with the power of the sword, but through the weakness of the cross.
The world pursues worldly aims with a worldly mindset and with worldly resources, and there's a lot of world in you. But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and he pursues God's aim with God's mindset and with God's resources. And he's not the first one, though he's the best one. But just remember God’s design for suffering on display in the Old Testament. Through suffering, Job had a spectacular encounter with God. Through suffering, Joseph became Prime Minister of Egypt who delivered his people from famine. Through suffering, the children of Israel were brought out of Egypt through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. Through suffering, Naomi returned to Israel empty, but God filled her cup as her daughter-in-law Ruth married Boaz and gave birth to his son who was an ancestor of King David. And through suffering, King David ascended to the throne. The question in all of this is very simple from the Lord to us: Do you trust me? Do you trust me to work through unconventional and uncomfortable methods to accomplish my purpose?
Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses”. That's the world's trust system for you – show me the goods, show me the wealth, show me the power, show me the security. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” (Psalm 20:7-8)
In this fallen world, trusting God typically means abandoning shortcuts to glory and embracing his design that suffering is the path that leads to exaltation. That pathway will be our pathway too, if we follow Jesus. But Jesus is the perfect embodiment of it.
THE MESSIAH’S UNIQUE VICTORY
The third key word is victory. Jesus’ victory is utterly unique, which I'll talk about in just a moment. But think about this. It's one thing to overthrow the power of the Roman Empire. It's one thing to eradicate a disease. It's one thing to achieve limited success in the pursuit of public justice – the abolition of the slave trade, for example, or the passage of child labor laws during the Industrial Revolution.
Yes, the Messiah will enjoy a global triumph, as I've already said. He will bring righteousness and justice to the nations. But I ask you – what kind of victory is envisioned in verse 31? Do you see it? The Messiah’s victory in Mark 8:31 is this: he conquers death!
We may win a great conflict like World War II or the Cold War. We may succeed at eradicating a disease like polio – we've nearly succeeded at that. We may make great strides in racial harmony, literacy, access to health care, or equipping people to overcome poverty. But every one of us has an appointment with death – generals die, presidents die, millionaires die, New York Times bestselling authors die – and to date billions of people have died. Some of these billions of people have, before they died, conquered lands, cities, empires, industries. Some attracted quite a following. But no one has conquered death, except for one: the Messiah.
The Messiah suffered. He was rejected. He was killed. And then he rose again, thus vanquishing the power of death. And notice how he conquers death. He conquers death from the inside. He could have made an executive decision in glory above to abolish death. But that's not how he did it. He didn't just speak victory over death. Instead he entered into death – he became man, surrendered to death, and entered into the realm of the dead – and from the inside of death’s power he broke its bonds, loosened its grip, walked out of the grave, and offers life to the world. This is the Messiah’s victory.
The first chapter of 2 Timothy tells us that God's “purpose and grace” have “been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9, 10).
THE MESSIAH IS FULL OF MERCY
The fourth key word is mercy. It may not be obvious, but there is a lot of mercy in verse 31. You see, we live in a very painful world – painful, broken, confused, sinful at the root, and under the judgment of God. The question is: Where is the Messiah? Where is the God-appointed King in the midst of this picture of a broken world? Is he far away? Is he calling shots from an ivory tower? Is he telling us to rush into battle as his mercenaries? Is he bidding us to die in order to save his own skin? No. He himself has skin in the game. Do you understand?
The Messiah is all in! We have seen this even in the earlier chapters of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is not a king who keeps a safe professional distance from the people. That's not Jesus. There he is – accessible and ministering to the sick, the dying, the lepers, the outcasts. There he is – the King of glory rubbing shoulders with sinful people.
But this merciful picture is on greatest display right here in verse 31 – because it shows us where Jesus is in the midst of the battle. Where is Jesus? He is right in the thick of it – suffering, being rejected, and being killed. The Messiah is in the thick of the battle, and we should seek to understand this on a couple of levels.
First, Jesus bore the brunt of humanity’s sin. What I mean is this: humanity sinned grievously against Jesus. If you've ever heard the phrase ‘man's inhumanity to man’ – it is horrifying what human beings do to one another. And the worst of it came out in abusing the Lord Jesus Christ. He suffered injustice, mockery, scorn. He was rejected, despised, hated, crucified. And who was leading the charge? Respectable, religious people – the elders, chief priests, and scribes – were leading the charge. I read a commentator who articulated what I had already thought, but I like the way he said: “It is not humanity at its worst that will crucify the Son of God but humanity at its absolute best.” The Messiah bore the brunt of human sin.
But there's something deeper going on. The second thing that we must understand is that Jesus bore the guilt of the world’s sin. As we see later on in Chapter 10: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Ultimately, it wasn't just that he suffered injustice at the hands of men, but he actually suffered the punishment and the judgment and the guilt and the shame that we deserved on account of our sin. And there he stood on the cross, bearing the burdens of his people, standing in our place, shedding his blood on our behalf, in order to make peace with God.
God would have us know that his heart is made known in his Son hanging on the cross for the sins of the world.
BEHOLD THE MERCIFUL MESSIAH
I want to close with this. I don't claim to be an expert on what I’m about to share, but I read some information that I thought was really interesting and insightful. There's a document associated with ancient Judaism called the Targum of Jonathan. It seems to be part translation, part commentary, and part revision of the Old Testament prophetic writings. And in the passage about the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 – actually from the end of Isaiah 52 through the end of Isaiah 53 – do you know what they do? The parts of that glorious passage that describe the Messiah in powerful terms, they ascribe those to the Messiah. But the parts of that passage that talk about the Messiah in terms of suffering, they don't ascribe those to the Messiah; instead they ascribe it to human beings. Why did they do that? I don't know all the reasons, but it shows us that it is difficult for human beings to appreciate the fact that God's appointed king would come and actually suffer and die for the sins of the people.
If you have your Bible, turn to Hosea 6. What I want you to see is that we have a Messiah – a Savior – who identifies fully and completely with his people. And I think a passage like Hosea 6 can help us to understand this. In the context of Hosea 6, God’s people are suffering, but they aren’t just suffering in general. They are suffering on account of their sin. They are experiencing the discipline and judgment of God. And this is what it says in Hosea 6:
“Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.” (Hosea 6:1-2)
And when human beings think about a passage like that, if they care to think about it at all, they would tend to think that God is up there doing the disciplining and the judging, and we're down here suffering. And so many people would think that this is just the way it is.
But when we understand the Christian gospel, what we understand is that Jesus came right down into the thick of this and identified fully with his sinful people. He was torn. He was struck. And after three days, he rose again. And in him, we are awakened to rise up with him and walk with him in the land of the living.
With a passage like Hosea 6:1-2 in the background, Mark 8:31 shows us that the Messiah is full of mercy who goes into the thick of the battle in order to redeem his people.
Father, I pray that you would fill our affections with love for the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. If there is anyone in this room who cannot conceive of a God who is near – if they can only think that God is distant, far away, abstract, and unapproachable – help them to realize that you sent your Son right into the thick of things, and that he stands ready to receive us and help us and strengthen us and lead us. We pray in his name, amen.
 From “And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley.
 James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002: p. 254.
 See footnote 43 in James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002: p. 253. Also see William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974: p. 303 (both final sentence and footnote 92). For general information see “Targum Jonathan” on Wikipedia. Available online: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targum_Jonathan
James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
Eckhard J. Schnabel, Mark (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 2). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.
James W. Voelz, Mark 1:1–8:26 (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013.
Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.