The circumstances here recorded are of great importance. They took place during a journey, and arose out of a conversation “by the way.” Happy are those journeys, in which time is not wasted on trifles, but redeemed as far as possible for the consideration of serious things.
Let us observe the variety of opinions about Christ, which prevailed among the Jews. Some said that He was John the Baptist–some Elijah–and others one of the prophets. In short every kind of opinion appears to have been current, excepting that one which was true.
We may see the same thing on every side at the present day. Christ and his Gospel are just as little understood in reality, and are the subject of just as many different opinions as they were eighteen hundred years ago. Many know the name of Christ, acknowledge Him as one who came into the world to save sinners, and regularly worship in buildings set apart for His service. Few thoroughly realize that He is very God–the one Mediator–the one High Priest–the only source of life and peace–their own Shepherd and their own Friend. Vague ideas about Christ are still very common. Intelligent experimental acquaintance with Christ is still very rare. May we never rest until we can say of Christ, “My beloved is mine and I am His.” (Cant. 2:16.) This is saving knowledge. This is life eternal.
Let us observe the good confession of faith which the apostle Peter witnessed. He replied to our Lord’s question, “Whom do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ.”
This was a noble answer, when the circumstances under which it was made are duly considered. It was made when Jesus was poor in condition, without honor, majesty, wealth, or power. It was made when the heads of the Jewish nation, both in church and state, refused to receive Jesus as the Messiah. Yet even then Simon Peter says, “You are the Christ.” His strong faith was not stumbled by our Lord’s poverty and low estate. His confidence was not shaken by the opposition of Scribes and Pharisees, and the contempt of rulers and priests. None of these things moved Simon Peter. He believed that He whom he followed, Jesus of Nazareth, was the promised Savior, the true Prophet greater than Moses, the long-predicted Messiah. He declared it boldly and unhesitatingly, as the creed of himself and his few companions–“You are the Christ.”
There is much that we may profitably learn from Peter’s conduct on this occasion. Erring and unstable as he sometimes was–the faith he exhibited, in the passage now before us, is well worthy of imitation. Such bold confessions as his, are the truest evidence of living faith, and are required in every age, if men will prove themselves to be Christ’s disciples. We too must be ready to confess Christ, even as Peter did. We shall never find our Master and His doctrine popular. We must be prepared to confess Him, with few on our side, and many against us. But let us take courage and walk in Peter’s steps, and we shall not fail of receiving Peter’s reward. Jesus takes notice of those who confess Him before men, and will one day confess them as His servants before an assembled world.
Let us observe the full declaration which our Lord makes of His own coming death and resurrection. We read that “He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
The events here announced must have sounded strange to the disciples. To be told that their beloved Master, after all His mighty works, would soon be put to death, must have been heavy tidings and past their understanding. But the words which convey the announcement are scarcely less remarkable than the event–“He must suffer–He must be killed–He must rise again.”
Why did our Lord say “must?” Did He mean that He was unable to escape suffering–that He must die by compulsion of a stronger power than His own? Impossible. This could not have been His meaning. Did He mean that He must die to give a great example to the world of self-sacrifice and self-denial, and that this, and this alone, made His death necessary? Once more it may be replied, “Impossible.” There is a far deeper meaning in the word “must” suffer and be killed. He meant that His death and passion were necessary in order to make atonement for man’s sin. Without shedding His blood there could be no remission. Without the sacrifice of His body on the cross, there could be no satisfaction to God’s holy law. He “must” suffer to make reconciliation for iniquity. He “must” die, because without His death as a propitiatory offering, sinners could never have life. He “must” suffer, because without His vicarious sufferings, our sins could never be taken away. In a word, He “must” be delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.
Here is the center truth of the Bible. Let us never forget that. All other truths compared to this are of secondary importance. Whatever views we hold of religious truth, let us see that we have a firm grasp upon the atoning efficacy of Christ’s death. Let the truth so often proclaimed by our Lord to His disciples, and so diligently taught by the disciples to the world, be the foundation truth in our Christianity. In life and in death, in health and in sickness, let us lean all our weight on this mighty fact–that though we have sinned, Christ has died for sinners–and that though we deserve nothing, Christ has suffered on the cross for us, and by that suffering purchased heaven for all who believe in Him.
Finally, let us observe in this passage the strange mixture of grace and infirmity which may be found in the heart of a true Christian. We see that very Peter who had just witnessed so noble a confession, presuming to rebuke his Master because He spoke of suffering and dying. We see him drawing down on himself the sharpest rebuke which ever fell from our Lord’s lips during His earthly ministry–“Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
We have here a humbling proof that the best of saints is a poor fallible creature. Here was ignorance in Simon Peter. He did not understand the necessity of our Lord’s death, and would have actually prevented His sacrifice on the cross. Here was self-conceit in Simon Peter. He thought he knew what was right and fitting for his Master better than his Master Himself, and actually undertook to show the Messiah a more excellent way. And last, but not least, Simon Peter did it all with the best intentions! He meant well. His motives were pure. But zeal and earnestness are no excuse for error. A man may mean well and yet fall into tremendous mistakes.
Let us learn humility from the facts here recorded. Let us beware of being puffed up with our own spiritual attainments, or exalted by the praise of others. Let us never think that we know everything and are not likely to err. We see that it is but a little step from making a good confession to being a “Satan” in Christ’s way. Let us pray daily, “Hold me up–keep me–teach me–let me not err.”
Lastly, let us learn charity towards others from the facts here recorded. Let us not be in a hurry to cast off our brother as graceless because of errors and mistakes. Let us remember that his heart may be right in the sight of God, like Peter’s, though like Peter he may for a time turn aside. Rather let us call to mind Paul’s advice, and act upon it. “If a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1.)
~From the commentary of Mark by J.C Ryle~