In my casual reading of the Gospel of Mark, I noticed a theme developing from Jesus’s teachings and the interwoven narratives. Starting with Peter’s confession of Christ (Mark 8:29), the theme shifts to the upside down expectations of the Messiah’s kingdom. Usually a great king gathers to himself a large army to acquire power, spreads the word and begins an uprising. The Jews had seen their fair share of uprisings in the time before Jesus, some successful, some not. Upon Peter confessing Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus strictly charges them not to tell anyone (Mark 8:30).
Importantly, Jesus doesn’t say, “No, Peter, you’ve got it all wrong.” Jesus admits to being the Messiah, the one promised in the Old Testament. The Jewish people under Roman rule were desperate for the coming Messiah to rescue them from the injustice and oppression surrounding them. In this political and social environment, it only took one spark to ignite the explosion.
There are certain similarities (yet vast differences) between our cultural situation in the United States today. We currently live in a flash point society, ready to blow up in certain areas of contention. People are consumed with power. Who has the power in our society is less clear than in first century Roman society. People have come up with theories about who really holds power in our society. Is it the government? Which branch? Is it powerful corporate entities? Is it Hollywood fame? Is it social media influencers? Is it the cultural hegemony?
And if you don’t know what that last term means, it’s becoming more and more an important part of the conversation. “Hegemony” has to do with social classifications that give people power based on how society views them. So for example, since American government, major religions, and most powerful corporate entities were created by white, male, cisgendered (i.e. you identify as the gender you were born as), able-bodied; therefore, they are the ones who wield this hegemonic power. In this system, you are either oppressor or oppressed depending on this societal and anthropological categories (most of which are out of your control).
Our society is in an all out fight for who could wield the scepter of power. The disciples believed they were in the same power structure, vying for power. When Jesus announces to them not to tell anyone his Messianic identity, they most likely assume that he is worried about Roman authority catching wind of their little rebellion. But how is Jesus going to ascend to his throne and gain absolute control?
“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Mark 8:31 ESV
Jesus’s message shatters the power structure the disciples are anticipating. And for the Christian, this should shatter the power structure for us as well. Power, much like wealth, is in the Lord’s hands. He loans it to whom he wills. Christians must focus on self-sacrifice (Rom. 12:2) more than worldly power structures to protect the unity of the church and build Christ’s kingdom. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil 2:3-4 ESV
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that you’ve got to stop building your business, running for president, or starting your “influencer” status. The world seeks power for their own ends and selfish gain. If the Lord should grant us influence, we must die to self and build his kingdom not ours. Whether the Lord grants you power and cultural influence or not, sacrifice your selfish desires and serve him.
In this society more than ever, we may lose our authority and influence because of our biblical commitments. We will be shamed calling sin what it is. We may be shamed for something out of your control (e.g. the color of our skin). My encouragement to us all is to stand firm on biblical principles. Don’t give in to the worldly power structures and what they promise. We may have to use influence and our position in society for in order to build Christ’s kingdom. But the serpent slithers to the believers with status and whispers, “if you just change your position on abortion. . . if you just acknowledge cultural hegemony. . .if you just bow to this image. . .” and on and on the temptations go.
Peter, in this same manner, took Jesus aside and rebuked him! This was the same temptation slithering up to Jesus saying, “just give in to how our world works and you can have the power too.” Jesus’s response? “Get behind me Satan.” Why? “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Cultural power and influence are not inherently sinful, but sin is crouching at their doorstep waiting to pounce on you. Whether you are a popular student or a nobody, whether you have 10,000 social media followers or 10, the principle remains true: set your mind on the things of God.