In Mark 8:27-35 we get to see Peter demonstrate a supernatural faith in Jesus…and then blow it just a couple verses later.
This Gospel passage tells two familiar stories. The first story is Peter’s declaration of faith in Jesus. Jesus leads the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, a region dominated by the Romans. There was actually a temple there dedicated to Caesar Augustus. Why is that important? Because, by telling us the area, the author of the Gospel is setting up a striking contrast. Augustus claimed that he was a god who was the son of a god. Get the picture? Jesus, who actually is God, the Son of God, is standing in a region dominated by gentiles, practically in the shadow of a temple dedicated to a Roman emperor who claimed to be what Jesus is.
In this context he asks the disciples, “who do you say that I am?” Essentially, Jesus is saying “The Romans claim Caesar is a god, who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?” When Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah (and in Matthew’s account, that Jesus in the Son of God) it is not only a declaration of faith in Jesus, but also an act of rebellion against the powers of the time. The Messiah was believed to be the one who would restore the earthly Kingdom of David. It was the Messiah who would overthrow the Romans.
In the second story, it becomes clear that, while Peter knew who Jesus was, he did not fully understand how Jesus was going to do what he had come to do.
In Mark 8:31 Jesus begins to teach openly that he will be rejected by the elders, killed and then rise in three days. If you are getting ready to raise a rebellion against the strongest Empire in the world, it is not a great recruiting slogan. “Follow me cause everyone is going to turn against me and then I’m going to be killed!” Sorry, I am not joining that army.
Peter, who just verses ago declared that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, takes the Lord aside and begins to rebuke him, “Lord, your not doing it right.” Let that sit with you a second. God is openly revealing his plan of salvation, and Peter rebukes him. It doesn’t go well. Jesus, then rebukes Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Jesus then calls everyone together and says,
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it (Mark 8:34)
If I am honest, most of the time I am just like Peter. I am good at declaring who God is, “Jesus is Lord!” But, when it comes down to it, I want my plan for my salvation, not his. When God begins to speak hard truths into my life, when he calls me to pick up the cross and follow, more often than not, I pull him aside and rebuke him. “Lord, it isn’t supposed to be like this. You're letting me down. Pull it together.”
This Gospel is a challenging one. I want to think that merely knowing who God is is enough. But it is not. I am not just called to know him, I am called to imitate him. I am called to invite the Holy Spirit to move me to lay down my life like he laid down his. It is not always going to be the way I would have done it. It’s his plan, not mine.