Turning Points, Mark 8:31-39
Jesus had reached a turning point as the shadow of the cross was cast over him. The time had arrived for Jesus to teach a new lesson about God’s love. Mark 8:31 records this new teaching by Jesus in this way:
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.
This new teaching by Jesus was a turning point as Jesus made a deliberate decision to live in God’s love. The Gospel of Mark uses an interesting phrase in describing this turning point for Jesus. Found in Mark 8:32 this phrase is:
He said all this quite openly.
While this verse may not seem to be significant, it is actually a pivotal verse, if not the pivotal verse, in Mark’s Gospel. You might call it the turning point of Jesus’ ministry as he revealed his identity as the Messiah or Savior. Prior to this verse, Jesus had been guarded about his identity as the Messiah. So guarded, in fact, that there are three times in the first seven chapters of Mark where Jesus performed healings and then commanded that those who had been healed or those who had observed their healings were to keep silent.
Mark 1:40-45 – Jesus heals a leper with this command: See that you say nothing to anyone.
Mark 5:35-34 – Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter from death and strictly charges that no one present should tell what he did.
Mark 7:31-37 – Jesus heals a deaf man and instructs that nobody who was present at the healing should tell anyone about what had happened.
There are also three instances in the first seven chapters of Mark where Jesus cast out unclean spirits and commanded them to keep silent as they attempted to identify him.
Mark 1:21-26 – Jesus casts an unclean spirit out of a man at the synagogue.
Mark 1:34 – Jesus will not permit the demons he has cast out to speak.
Mark 3:11-12 – Jesus sternly orders unclean spirits not to make him known.
Mark’s recording of Jesus’ commands to keep silent about his identity is why the Gospel of Mark is referred to as “The Secret Gospel.”
That is why Mark 8:32 is a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry as the Messiah. It is the turning point where Jesus teaching and the signs of God’s kingdom switches from Jesus’ commands for silence to Jesus’ open teaching about his upcoming suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.
In addition to being a turning point for Jesus’ ministry as the Messiah, this new teaching is also a turning point for Jesus’ followers as Jesus extends a new invitation to discipleship in Mark 8:34-35.
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.
Jesus’ open teaching about the cross was a turning point for the disciples because it meant they had reached a turning point in discipleship. It is one thing to follow Jesus as he healed, cast out unclean spirits, taught about, and proclaimed the nearness of God’s kingdom. It is another thing to count the cost of following Jesus in the sacrificial love of God. Jesus’ second call to discipleship meant that his followers allow God’s love to become flesh in their lives Jesus’ open teaching about suffering, death, and resurrection meant discipleship would no longer allow the disciples to watch from the sidelines. They had reached a turning point as their discipleship required them to walk with Jesus in open faith. The cost of following Jesus had turned deadly serious.
I have spoken about Dietrich Bonhoeffer before. He was part of the resistance movement against Adolph Hitler and Nazism that possessed Germany following the First World War. He died near the end of the Second World War by execution in a Nazi concentration camp. Bonhoeffer wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship in which he focused on Jesus’ second invitation to discipleship through the cross. A key part of this book focuses on understanding that God’s grace realized through the cross is costly. It was costly for Jesus and it is costly for Jesus’ followers. Here are some of Bonhoeffer’s reflections on the cross and how it is a turning point for followers of Jesus:
“The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
“The gift of Christ is not the Christian religion, but the grace and love of God which culminate in the cross.”
Ben Domenech gave this account of Bonhoeffer and how Bonhoeffer reached a turning point in his life as he answered Jesus’ call to take up his cross and follow.
“When it became clear that another war was imminent in Germany, Bonhoeffer was urged by his friends to leave Germany, or risk imprisonment and death. For a time, he listened and came to New York prior to the outbreak of World War II. Yet as Bonhoeffer walked around the streets of the city, he became convinced that like, Jonah fleeing from Ninevah, he had refused the call of God to fight the Nazis from within Germany. And he knew what that call meant – after all, as he once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
Reaching a turning point, ”Bonhoeffer boarded a ship and sailed back toward his homeland and his doom. He took the ship back to his Ninevah. Had he taken it to the success he imagined, we might remember him today as a man of God who averted the greatest tragedy in the history of modern man. He took that ship instead to martyrdom, to the concentration camp, to the grave. But God did not forsake him, even in death. As Bonhoeffer wrote from the jail: ‘A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes … and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.’” (Ben Domenech, 2006)
Turning points. Times when followers of Jesus decide to live in God’s sacrificial love as we take up our cross and follow Jesus to Calvary. May God bless the turning points of your life in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
February 28, 2021