Mark 8:31–38 (NRSV)
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
(Mt 16:21–28; Lk 9:21–27)
31 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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
This past week has been one that has held a great deal of conflicting feelings for me. Last Sunday before our Meeting for Worship began I heard that a man I respect passed away. This man was someone common around Kansas City Hockey circles, and he had a charity hockey game called “A Skate with Bob”. For several years this game was organized along with auctions to raise support and awareness for pancreatic cancer. I liked Bob for one very important reason, he loved what he did. He loved to play hockey and he put his heart and soul into he charity work because his wife was one that died of this form of cancer. He loved what he did and his love caused those around him to become interested as well. Bob, or as Albert called him “My purple goalie,” was a great encourager. Nearly every game he would talk with Albert because they had a common interest.
But the loss of the purple goalie was not the only thing that caused me to pause. As we all know we lost the great evangelist this week as well. I am sure that most of us if not all of us have been encouraged in our faith in some way by Billy Graham. From his evangelistic crusades, his radio programs, or his various publications, probably the most important is the magazine Christianity Today, this one man has done a great work for the kingdom.
Both these men poured their lives into the things that they loved. And their love for what they did was infectious. They held nothing back when it came to the challenge set before them, and they gave it their all. It makes me stop and wonder. Do I live my life in such a way? Do I live my life with such loving passion that I draw people in to participate in the cause?
As I dealt with these emotions, as I endured the news, and contemplated the scriptures for this week, I found myself caught in a snare. The perspective of my state of mind and emotions caused things in this passage to come out that I had failed to recognize before, and quite frankly it drove me to prayer.
Leading up to this passage Jesus was in Caesarea of Philippi, and he had asked his disciples a couple of very important questions. “Who do people say that I am?” and “But who do you say that I am?” I say these are important questions because these questions are the very questions each of us have to answer every day of our lives. And the answer we give, reflect our faith and shape our actions. Who is Jesus?
Peter, the rock, boldly answers Jesus’s second question saying you are the Messiah. Implying that Jesus is the anointed, chosen, appointed, and even predestined king of kings and lord of lords. He was the one that would bring restoration to Israel and hope to the nations. But how was he going to do this, what would this coming kingdom look like? Everyone had ideas and theories as to what this would mean, some were even based fully on scripture, but none were complete. Every concept that the religious leaders had of who and what the messiah was were interpreted through some cultural, political, and religious ideology and each of those were lacking in some way.
As they were walking Jesus started this discussion, and I am sure the disciples were getting into this discussion deeply, because If we were to look at their backgrounds we would see that they were diverse. We had common laborers, we had business owners, government officials, there were religious zealots and potentially religious apostates. Each having some opinion based on the teaching experiences that they had throughout their lives. Could you imagine how intense some of those conversations could have been?
Jesus eventually is able to get a word in and he begins to teach them. He says, “the son of man is going to endure great suffering. He will be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Mark makes a point to say that he said this quite openly, meaning he did not mince his words and the meaning behind the words was very clear. Very soon Jesus, and his followers were going to face something very intense. They are going to experience something that will challenge and shake their faith to their very core, yet will also provide great hope.
Notice who will reject Jesus. The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes the complete spectrum of the religious leadership were going to reject Jesus. I want us to just let this sink in for a moment. The entire religious establishment from the community rabbis, the ones standing in the offices between God and humanity, and the interpreters of the law were going to deem Jesus unfit, and unworthy. They will look at their interpretations of faith and look at the teachings and actions of Jesus and will proclaim that this man is not only wrong but completely opposed to their religious teachings.
Imagine what you might think about this teaching if you were walking along that path with Jesus that day. You had left everything to follow this teacher. You had left great careers, family even homes and have just spent years living a nomadic life, mimicking the teachings of this man. You had watched him do things that you cannot explain, blind eyes are opened even eyes that were closed from the very day of birth. People that had lain on mats for years, unable to walk at a word were standing up, walking and even dancing on limbs that were withered to nothing yet restored to health. You had seen men rejected by all of society because of a skin disease restored to health and welcomed back into the community. And this teacher is telling you quite frankly that all of this has gone on and the religious leaders will all come to say that it is all void because they were performed in a manner contrary to their accepted traditions.
Peter once again enters the scene. Peter takes Jesus aside and has an intense conversation. Mark says that Peter rebukes Jesus for saying these things. I want us sit with this for a moment. Peter rebukes Jesus. For many years I have read this and just passed this off as Peter disagreeing and letting Jesus know his feelings. But that is not what the word rebukes implies. This word is the same word used in regard to the silencing of demons. Peter rebukes Jesus. He gets in Jesus face and commands him to be silent. He tells the very messiah that this is absolutely not what will happen because it goes against everything that everyone knows, and Jesus is mistaken. Peter rebukes Jesus, and becomes the first to reject Jesus’s teaching in the very manner Jesus claimed would happen. Peter then endures the most heart-breaking statement ever uttered by Jesus. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
I want us to take a moment to imagine this scene. Imagine yourself as Peter. I want us to really do this because we are all passionate people. We are people striving to be righteous we truly are. We are people who pray with power. We are people that are zealous for what we believe to be right. We will stand firm until the end if we believe it to be true. And you know I love that. That is one of the things that attracted me to this Meeting when I was a young confused single dad not knowing if I would even be accepted in a church, not even knowing if I wanted to be accepted. As a man who was wrestling with God about my calling and if I really wanted to become a minister or not. This Meeting accepted me. This meeting encouraged me to embrace that work that Christ was doing in me. And this meeting called me back. We are a righteous people. But in our zeal can our focus get skewed?
In our righteous zeal can we grab hold of ideologies that we deem right yet may originate from places other than the Spirit of God? May we hold to these ideas so tightly that we would stand in the face of our savior and tell him that he is wrong?
This scares me. It terrifies me. Because I know that I can easily fall into that snare. I have read historic accounts of generations past and the atrocities that they have committed and I think how could they do that and call themselves Christian? And they did, they were people like us wanting to be righteous. They were people seeking to make their communities and their nations righteous and in the name of God they boldly acted, only to have history show that their actions resembled Satan more than Jesus whom they claimed to follow. Today we call them Godless. But do we examine ourselves?
I read the first two verses of today’s passage and I could barely move forward. I examined my life and my actions and found myself questioning everything. Have I been an instrument of Satan more than a servant and friend of Jesus? If Jesus called arguably his best friend Satan what would he say about me?
Thankfully Jesus tells us how to answer this question. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Let them deny themselves. Jesus is telling us in this statement that our focus must not be on our own self-interest. Our entire life should be focused on one thing, the encouragement of others to the kingdom of God. Jesus goes on to say:
“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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Deny themselves…how often do we oppose this concept. Even within the church we all too often think of ourselves. Even with the best intentions at times we as a community can be selfish. We want our church to survive so we focus on ourselves inside the walls we have built instead of focusing the encouragement of others. I say this knowing full well that there are times we must look at ourselves and our personal and corporate health. But are we doing this with the intention of going out to serve others. At times even, Jesus took care of himself, we read often that he withdrew to isolated places to pray alone. There is a place for self-care, but the goal of that time alone is so that we can then go out to the community to worship and minister to the needs of others.
Deny themselves and take up the cross…Jesus is telling us that to truly follow him is to be totally and completely opposed to this world. The cross was an instrument of torturous execution. It was used to provide the greatest form of suffering publicly and it was used to force the submission of non-romans to their rule. It was illegal for this form of punishment to be used on anyone who was a citizen. Jesus is telling us that we need to take up the cross and follow. Reject our rights, deny ourselves the benefits of citizenship to this world and to take on the shame of the oppressed. Everything in this simple statement tells us exactly what God is calling us to do as a society of Friends.
We are to find injustice in our world and we are to claim it as our own and minister to it selflessly. I saw this in the two people who passed to the next life this week. One saw and experienced the pains of cancer and he took that on himself and used everything available to him to do what he could ease the suffering. The other would travel the world sharing the Gospel, and inspiring people where ever he went to turn from the lives they once lived and to return to God through Jesus Christ. Deny themselves and take up the cross and follow. Encourage and inspire each and everyone we meet to embrace the life and lifestyle of Christ and deny themselves and to in turn take up the cross and follow him.
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, let us examine our lives and let us reflect on this interchange between Jesus and Peter. Are we reflecting Christ in our lives or are we reflecting the adversary? And are we willing to endure the cross for the benefit of others?