Scripture: Mark 8:27-38
This week yet again our nation was in mourning. It seems that over the past few months the flag that flies over our government buildings and homes seems to have been at half mast more often than it has been fully raised. The past week we remember a dark day a day where religious fervor and cultures clashed. On the very day of remembrance yet again there was a clash of two cultures and our hearts weigh heavy in our chests.
We do not understand why people would act the way they do to our nation. We have such great respect and pride in our heritage. A heritage that was earned by blood, sweat, and tears carved out of virgin ground to be lifted up into a place of honor. We question why anyone would disrespect the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet our embassies are burned and our countrymen threatened, harmed, or killed. We sit in a state of shock because everything we hold collectively sacred is threatened. Our very lifestyle is challenged.
What would drive a person to such fervor? Why would they risk so much for something so seemingly small in our definition? It really is not so difficult to consider if we were to just contemplate it for a bit. Religions around the world have been acting out in similar ways from the dawn of time. Even our spiritual heritage as Christians has shared in this sort of religious fervor several times in our 2000-year history.
The first century Palestine region, the region we know as Israel, but to the government of that day up until the 1940’s this region was Palestine, was a place of unrest. It was a place of clashing ideals in many areas but the greatest was in the area of religion. Many things could spark a religious fire that would threaten to burn across the nation faster than fire can spread across the wind blown prairie. If the flag of the United States of America would have even entered the city of Jerusalem in that day riots would have broken out which would have been endured till the last person breathed their last. Every day an outside force threatened the shared values and religion of the Judean culture. Some in the culture opposed everything about the Latin and Greek influence, others embraced the potential wealth this vast empire offered.
They lived in a constant state of flux. The common people, the middle class so to speak, were caught between opposing views. One that wanted to keep the religion and culture pure to the letter of the law, while the other strove to adapt to the changing times. It is a story that is not all that different in our own world today. We often speak about liberal and conservative values the right and the left. On both hold strong and often times correct views of religion, and both are equally wrong.
Right in the middle of this crazy and often hostile environment we find a group of disciples led by a rabbi not trained by either of the opposing sides. This rabbi took a route not held by the others, not that it was a wrong or opposite route. It was a unique route. They sat in a city built in honor of an emperor. A city built by a king wishing to gain favor and wealth through flattery. Sitting in this city Jesus, this unique rabbi asks a question. “Who do people say that I am?”
This seems like an odd question, but Jesus was unique. Because of this people were talking. He did not teach, or preach as the other rabbis taught. He did not act as others acted. They had a history of unique teachers, they where honored by some and despised by others. These teachers were known as the prophets. Who do people say I am? The question comes because people did not quite know what to make of this unique teacher. He was similar to the contemporary rabbis, similar to the prophets of old, yet unlike both.
Some say John the Baptist. This man was one that taught strict religion, going above and beyond the letter of the law. He baptized not only the God fearers, but also the hereditary Jews. By doing so he was saying that all people are equally wrong in the eyes of God, that none is pure. And that because of this none is worthy to enter into the temple of the one true Living God, not even the high priest.
Others say Elijah. This is a unique man that spoke in the face of a culture at odds with God. They no longer worshiped the true God but embraced the sensual erotic religions of the world. They thought that the ways of their ancestors were old fashioned and out of date and wanted something new and exciting. Yet this prophet called fire from heaven to embarrass the priest for Baal and prove which god was true. He then beheaded those false teachers and ran for his life into the wilderness.
Or one of the other prophets. Each of the prophets had a specific message one that called judgment. They used images unique in their own ways. One was called to marry a wife that sold herself for profit instead of remaining faithful to her husband. One was called to lie on his side for a number of days, some faced lions and exile. Each spoke of judgment to come if people did not turn to God. Some boldly proclaimed that it was mercy not sacrifice that God desired.
The people that spoke about Jesus focusing on a different aspect of His ministry, and each were unique. It differed from the contemporary teachers just as much as it did the prophets. They could not fully explain or describe Jesus.
So Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” The answer to this question changes everything. Who is Jesus? How we answer this question determines how we live our lives. Is he a great teacher, a prophet, a king, or something more?
Jesus goes on to teach about the days to come, how He will be rejected and killed. This surprises his disciples. You see they answered his question by saying, “You are the Messiah.” This statement to them held a very deep meaning. The Messiah was the one that they were waiting for, a king that was to restore Israel to a place of honor among the nations. This figure was to unite the tribes yet again and cause the nations to tremble at the name of their God. This man was to lead the charge against all others, to reject and kill, not to be rejected and killed by them. The disciples would proclaim and serve this man with all their life could give. He was their king. They had in their minds a vision of who and what the Messiah was to be, but in their religious fervor they were wrong.
Peter pulls Jesus off to the side and rebukes him. Peter willing to give his life for his rabbi and king. Not for this man to be killed. He followed so that he could lead the armies of Israel, yet Jesus said that he would be rejected by the nation. Jesus then says to him, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Get behind me, Satan. Get back adversary, you enemy of God. The religious around the world are gearing up for a fight for their god. They defend the honor of their prophet; they defend the honor of their God. I ask a question, does God need a defense? Do we honor God by screaming and protesting? Do we honor God by declaring war on those that hold a different opinion than ours? Do we honor God? Many sit worried about a threat from another religion, yes they may kill the body but do they hold power over the soul? Jesus says GET BEHIND ME SATAN.
People across the ocean are protesting because some man made a movie that questioned a religion. Some of those protesters brought deadly force. Who are they defending? Do they defend their God or their political control over people? In our own country we are not much better. We drag God into the courts of law, but whom are we defending? We believe that we are defending our rights and expanding the kingdom, but do we need to fight for God or can God defend Himself? Enemies surrounded Elisha and his disciple on all sides, they were a remnant of people faithful to God, and now they were about to meet their doom. The disciple was scared and questioned his teacher; Elisha prayed a simple prayer that God would open the young man’s eyes. And suddenly he saw an army of heavenly hosts surrounding them both, God does not need us to defend him. He has an entire army poised to defend Him. Yet he does call us to do something.
Jesus says, “to be my follower you must take up your cross and follow him.” Take up a cross, not take up arms, not to take up lawsuits, but a cross. The cross is a symbol of suffering and oppression, not of strength. The cross is a symbol of opposing the status quo and receiving the judgment for it. He is calling us to stop thinking of our own ideas and selfish ambitions and to put others first. To follow Jesus we are to strive to live life according to His ways not our own. Peter was called Satan because he was in pursuit of his personal idea of messiah and not God’s idea. What would Jesus be saying to us?
This is why the Quaker business meeting is set up the way it is. We do not just take a vote and let the majority rule. Instead we strive to find a sense of the meeting. This gives voice to all people. Sure at times the majority does rule, but there are also times where the minority rule. If done correctly we are to seek the Spirit in our decisions as a group, believing that if we all seek God’s will that He will provide the direction we need. He will lead us to love Him with all our hearts, all our strength and will all our minds, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We are called to love. Love people that seem to hate everything we stand for. We are called to love the people that oppose our God. Jesus says that we should love our enemies and do good to those that persecute us. This is the opposite of the ways of the world. To love is to take up the cross, to love is to take up the cause of the oppressed and lift them into God’s grace. How should we respond to radical Islam, with fear, anger, or despair? No we should respond with love. Is this hard to do? You bet it is. When I heard of the embassy fire I was furious. But we cannot let anger and fear rule our lives, we cannot let hatred control our actions. We must love the one that persecutes us. If you say anything other than that you are not a true follower of Jesus. Do not get me wrong I am not saying they are right. They are wrong; they are following a god that is opposed to ours. They follow a false god. We should not hate them because of their ignorance but love them for being made in the image of God and love by God. Jesus came for them just as much as us.
Who do you say Jesus is? Does your response and actions reflect your answer? Are we seeking the true God and responding in His love or are we letting the world around us dictate who our god is? To be a disciple of Christ is not an easy thing. It requires us to completely give our ambitions, our hopes, our dreams, and ourselves to God. It is a scary proposition, but in God all things will be made new. If we let the dreams we have in ourselves die with Christ on that cross, He will give us new dreams. If we let our hopes die with Christ on that cross, He will give us a new restored hope. These are things built not by worldly standards but on the supernatural power of God who humbled Himself to become man for us. He took on the shame of our sin, and died on a cross that was meant to place fear and hopelessness into the lives of those who saw it. He was buried in a tomb meant to separate the dead from the living, but after three days He rose from that grave to bring a new restored hope to all who believe and follow him. Death and fear no longer rule us but we have been raised with Christ, we no longer fear those that can kill the body, but cling fast to the one that preserves the soul.
As we enter into this time of holy expectancy let us ask ourselves are we is Christ, and who are we with Him? The next question is how are you living your answer?