Mark 8:31-38


Just exactly how do we lose our life so that we get it back? The key is to not skip over the crucial qualification: "for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel."

Year B

Lent 2,
Alternate Reading A

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 8:31-38, The Message   or   Mark 8:31-38, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required. Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart,"


When a passage begins with "Then," it is usually a good idea to check back and see what the time / space reference is. In this case, the "then" refers to 8:27-30, where Jesus seeks confirmation from his inner group of disciples of what the gossip is about him - "Who do people say that I am?" And then of their assessment - "Who do you say that I am?"

When Peter says, "You are the Messiah," he confirms the authority of Jesus - as seen by others - to now take his show on the road to Jerusalem. In a very real sense, up to now Jesus has been working the small town stages to build up his street cred's. And having made a name for himself, he is now ready to tackle the big leagues - Jerusalem and the Roman authorities.

The rest of Chapter 8 and all of Chapters 9 and 10 are the road trip to the big city - and Jesus' teachings and actions are now all focused on preparing his followers for the actions that will happen there as Jesus brings his proclamation of the Kingdom of God into direct, face-to-face, confrontation with the Empire of Rome.

Poor old Peter. In verse 30, he calls Jesus, the Messiah. Three short verses later, Jesus is calling Peter, "Satan."

Poor old Jesus. In verse 30, his core inner followers affirm that they have "got it;" that they understand his authority and his mission. Two short verses later, Peter reveals that they are still mis-understanding and/or unwilling to follow the logic of what he has been teaching them.

The prediction of his suffering and rejection by the religious authorities is actually not rocket science, nor does it require any special divinity on Jesus' part.

Given the exalted status now being attributed to Jesus by the people, and given his challenge to the authority of the elders, chief priests and scribes, everyone alive then would know that this could only end badly.

The prediction of his resurrection is a different matter. That adds a whole new, completely novel twist.

As the one who proclaimed the new honour status of Jesus in Verse 30, Peter is quite unnerved by Jesus' teaching in Verse 31.

In Verse 30, Peter was not only affirming a high honour status for Jesus, but was also affirming his loyalty to Jesus. And as such, Peter was also anticipating participating in sharing the rewards of Jesus' honour as Messiah.

Although the teaching in Verse 31 is only about what will happen to "the Son of Man," Peter and the other disciples know that their loyalty to Jesus demands that they share this fate - just as they had earlier expected to share a quite different outcome. Peter would be surprised, shocked and made fearful by Jesus' teaching in Verse 31.

Peter rebukes Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter. Calls Peter - or at least Peter's rebuke - Satan. That is, Tempter, Snake in the Garden, Introducer of Hesitation, Mixer of Motivations, Flaunter of Red Herrings, Side-Tracker of Mission, Setter of One's Mind on Human Things. Well, fear of pain and death will do that to most people, and Peter was no exception.

Having spoken to the disciples in Verse 31, Jesus now calls "the crowd" and teaches them explicitly what Peter had understood implicitly before: Those who want to be followers of Jesus must follow him!

That is, they must go with him where he is going. They must share the consequences of his way. They, and we, must find the courage to put our money where our mouth is; to be true to our values, and to make choices that are worthy of the Gospel, knowing that pain and loss will be an unavoidable consequence.

In a very ordinary, middle class, Canadian way, it is actually very easy to understand what Jesus means by losing our life while we have been busy building it. Career burn-outs, mid-life crises, and marriage break downs all testify to that.

But just exactly how do we turn that around and "lose" our life so that we don't just lose it, but get it back?

The key, I think, is to not mentally skip over the crucial qualification: "for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel."

Okay, so just how does one lose one's life for Jesus' sake and for the sake of the gospel?

That, I think, takes a life-time to answer, and is best done in a community of friends seeking the same thing for themselves. But at a minimum, it means recognizing that there is no pain free way to live, and finding our life will mean saying, "No," to false hopes for happiness.

Whatever we understand, "taking up our cross" to mean, surely it means more than a self-centred - or even a family-centred life. It must mean living a Gospel-centred life - taking up the calling of living now as citizens of the coming Kin_dom of God - which is in fact already at hand.

Verse 38 kind of returns to poor Peter since the opposite of being loyal to someone is being ashamed of them.

Peter's earlier rebuke of Jesus was breaking his loyalty to Jesus. Done openly and in public, such a rebuke would have shamed Jesus. Jesus' comments here are not a threat; they are a simple statement of logical consequences.

There are some significant challenges in this passage for those of us who seek to be faithful / loyal followers of Jesus. About the only "easy" thing in it, is that if being a follower of Jesus means behaving like Peter, then I think I can manage that!

David Ewart,,
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.

Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 182-183; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al.

Mark 8:31-38 (NRSV)

   31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

   34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Mark 8:31-38 (The Message)

   31 He then began explaining things to them: "It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive." 32 He said this simply and clearly so they couldn't miss it.

         But Peter grabbed him in protest. 33 Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. "Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works."

   34 Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. 35 Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. 36 What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? 37 What could you ever trade your soul for?

   38 "If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.".

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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