Study | Distance & Denial

Mark 14:27-31, 66-72

How we act when we feel distant from Jesus shouldn’t be different from or contradict how we act when we feel close to Him

Immediately following the Last Supper, and prior to his time in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus speaks to his disciples about their impending denial. What a confusing thing, that just after spending an intimate night together, Jesus would simply state that, “You will all fall away.”

Naturally, Peter denies his denial. “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

Jesus corrects him, warning Peter that before the rooster crows twice, he will fail Jesus three times. Three times! Incredulous, Peter declares he will stand by Jesus til death. While this would be true eventually, Peter’s heart falls far away from Jesus later that very evening.

Peter is with Jesus in the Garden as the Sanhedrin and other religious leaders come to arrest him with Judas. But as soon as Jesus makes his decision to follow God’s will and fulfill the Scriptures with his sacrifice, Peter runs.

As Peter stays outside the courtyard of the high priest where Jesus is tried, he fails to stand with his Lord in the face of adversity and rejection. Jesus is condemned to death by crucifixion without a friend beside him.

Outside the courtyard where the Savior of the world is being beaten and scorned in preparation for the cross, Peter is recognized and questioned about his knowing Jesus of Galilee not once or twice, but three times. And he denies Jesus every time.

He disowns Jesus that third time, and the rooster crows a second time.

Peter breaks. He breaks and weeps, realizing what he has done to his Lord, his Teacher, his Friend. Ultimately, when Peter seems to be close to Jesus on that fateful night, he is furthest away spiritually.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What do you learn about Jesus through this story?
  2. When do you feel closest to Jesus? When do you feel far?
  3. What do you personally need to do to remember to stand with Jesus during difficult situations?

Study | Experiencing Glory

Mark 9:2-13

Jesus is amazing – be amazed

This Bible story finds Jesus and his disciples still on their journey to Caesarea Philippi. Jesus has just spoken on who he is as Messiah and how every disciple is called to take up their cross and follow him. Jesus has already turned the disciples’ world upside-down, but he is just getting started.

Jesus selects Peter, James, and John to go with him up a high mountain where an incredible thing happens. Jesus appears bright and shining, his clothes a dazzling, perfect white purer than any human has ever experienced!

That’s not all – Jesus is not alone after this transfiguration. He is accompanied by two heroes of the faith, Elijah and Moses. This shocks the three disciples, frightening them beyond words. They know in their hearts who these men are, and they are dumbstruck to share space with them!

It’s important to remember the legacy of Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament Scriptures. Moses was a major leader who provided Israel with God’s original law (Exodus 20). Yes, the same law that Jesus came to fulfill. What Moses began, Jesus completes in dying on the cross for our sins and overcoming the grave in his resurrection.

Elijah was a prophet who worked to restore Israel to God after they strayed from his laws. Specifically, Elijah stood against Baal-worship when the Israelites adopted Canaanite customs, and showed the glory of God when his faith was challenged (1 Kings 18).

Back to our current story. Our man Peter is the first to pipe up before these heavyweights. He declares that it is good that he and the other disciples are there to witness their presence, and that he will build three shelters, one for each person.

Peter, busy Peter, wants to do something for such worthy visitors. And yet, God calls out to him and to all present. A cloud descends on them and says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

These words confirm Jesus’ identity yet again. More than that, God gives a simple command for the disciples to listen to him! How often we busy ourselves for the gospel, and forget to abide in the presence of his glory, soak him in, and heed his words.

After God speaks through the cloud, Jesus is alone. He warns the disciples not to say anything about this event until after he rises from the dead. This confuses the disciples, as always.

The disciples accept that they don’t understand Jesus’ words, and instead ask why Elijah must come first. Jesus alludes to both Elijah and his spiritual successor John the Baptist when he says that it is because all things need to be restored to God first. Elijah already came, and people did what they wanted with his message. And so it will also be with Jesus – people will do what they wish with him.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Why does it matter that Moses and Elijah disappear and leave only Jesus after this miraculous event?
  2. When was the last time you sought Jesus’ presence and focused on him alone?
  3. Do you struggle to follow God’s command to simply listen to Jesus? How can you be more intentional about listening?

Study | Arguing with Jesus

Mark 8:31-38

Jesus doesn’t conform to our expectations of him; he asks us to conform to who he knows himself to be and follow his example of self-denial

This story from the Bible picks up where we left off last week. If you recall from the previous study post, this Scripture directly follows the passage where Jesus declares that Peter has correctly named him the Messiah. Peter has a deep understanding of who Jesus is – and yet, here we are. How quickly we see our man abandon his Heavenly perspective for shortsighted, human understanding.

Jesus and his disciples are journeying to Caesarea Philippi. He wants to make something very clear to his followers, his friends. Jesus speaks plainly, saying that he must suffer, be rejected, and be killed so he can rise from death after three days.

Peter isn’t having this. He pulls Jesus aside, and tells him that he will not allow this to happen to his Lord.

Jesus calls Peter out on this. He turns Peter’s rebuke on its head with words that are so well known today: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus says that if Peter refuses to conform his will to God’s, he is working directly against God!

The next thing Jesus says cannot be divorced from the context of Peter’s rebuke. Peter had presumed to tell Jesus what is and is not in the very will of God. So Jesus makes this a teachable moment where he delivers one of the most important messages on what it means to be a true disciple.

To gain a deeper understanding of the full ramifications of what Jesus says, let’s read this backwards (more details here). Being ashamed of the ransom I [Jesus] paid for you cuts you off from me (38), so that there’s no ransom that can be paid for your soul (37), not even if you gained the whole world (36). You will only have your life forever if you treasure me enough to lose it for my sake, for sake of the gospel (35). Treasure me more than your own comfort and safety. The opposite of self-denial is the idol of self-gratification, and the opposite of cross-bearing is self-preservation (34). 

Wow. I am humbled by Jesus, his self-denial, and his invitation to follow. Jesus, help us set our selfishness aside and be sold out for you. Help us to see we can’t limit you, or tell you what to do. Help us understand who you are as our self-sacrificing savior, and reflect that love in our relationship with you and with others.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What does Jesus mean when he says Peter only has human concerns?
  2. Why does Jesus distinguish that a person should suffer for him and the gospel?
  3. Self-denial shows life isn’t about us or our control, but about God and his control. What does it mean for you to deny yourself?
  4. Have you ever felt like you were arguing with God? Was it over a piece of Scripture, or a conviction, etc.? What did you learn?