By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 28, 2021
Mark 8:31–38 (ESV)
31 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. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Over the past few years, I have seen a great deal of tension among many of my friends. This is not really that surprising because it resembles the tension that is felt throughout our culture. We live among people, and we are people that have strong opinions and personalities that do not like opposition to those opinions. We struggle with our nation and our communities with ideas and philosophies and while we are struggling, we sometimes forget that those that hold opposing ideas are not enemies but our neighbors and our friends.
Over the past week during our daily meeting for prayer, which you can participate on our YouTube channel, the focus of the scriptures and queries have revolved around these sorts of struggles. The struggles between ideas and where these ideas come from and how we should respond to those with opposing ideas. And as I have prayed through these scriptures, I have noticed something profound. We are all wrong. We fight for control; we struggle with conflicting ideas but while we struggle have, we lost sight of what is most important?
Jesus, in today’s passage, I imagine is sitting around a campfire with his disciples as they rest from their travel. They are near Caesarea Philippi, which is in the far northern area of Israel. I have spoken a great deal about the uniqueness of this area and the cultish practices that surround it. But that is not what I want to focus on today. Jesus is talking to his disciples. They had just been through some of the most profound and miraculous events anyone could possibly imagine. They had watched Jesus feed multitudes, they had seen people healed of various diseases, they had seen those held in spiritual bondage released from the grip of evil and demonic forces. And they had just stood near what they referred to as the gates of hell, and Jesus proclaimed to them that nothing not even the vilest infestation of evil thought would stand against the kingdom.
And he encouraged them with a simple question, “Who am I?”
They discussed what people outside of their group thought. Some said John the Baptist, Elijah, or a prophet of old. We run through this exercise today as well. The various media outlets all like to proclaim what they think, especially about Jesus. The people we work with like to throw in their opinions while we discuss things at break. Our various political parties like to proclaim that they are the ones that are truly following the dictates of Christ, yet if we were to look very deep for every item on their platforms that supports Christ there is one that completely denies him. For over two thousand years humanity has discussed who Jesus is, it does not matter where we are in the world, if a community relates to others outside their own tribe, they have some opinion as to who or what Jesus is.
We can get caught in a vicious cycle of what do people say. We can go around and around for years, but the truth about it is that what people say really does not matter. I say this because they are probably wrong. The people of Jesus’s day were saying that Jesus was people from their history or even John the Baptist who had only recently died. For these things to be remotely true it would deny so much of their accepted theology that they could not even call themselves faithful while believing it. Yet it was common enough among the people for the disciples to quickly respond to Jesus’s question as to what people say about him. What people say is often wrong. It does not really matter who it is saying it. If someone is speaking about someone else, we should be skeptical because the only person that knows the truth about someone is the subject of the conversation. You might be my closet friend, but unless I personally told you something, you do not know anything about me. You might have some good ideas but the only thing you can really speak about is what you have seen me do or heard me say.
We can only speak to what we observe. Jesus asks the disciples what people outside of their group say about him, and then he asks them what they think. “Who do you say that I am?” This is a completely different questions, because the disciples have observed a great deal more than the others. The disciples say without the slightest hesitation, you are the Christ.
This statement is filled with a great deal of history and passion. Everyone had an idea of who the Christ was going to be. And with each of those ideas there would be sub sections depending on the ideas of the individual. If someone were to say the Chris is to be king, how many different views would there be? Like David, the warrior king? Like the wise king Solomon? But even those kings had aspects that were less than ideal. Maybe the king would be like a blend between a Gentile and Hebrew king, the next phase of human evolution. They may not have used those words but even the seemingly unified understanding of king is filled with personal interpretations.
Jesus and the disciples are discussing all this. And while they are talking Jesus tells them what being the Christ entails. He tells them that he will suffer at the hands of the religious leaders. He informs them that he will be put to death because of the rejection of the leaders of the religion. He even tells them that he will rise again after three days. He tells them these things, but they did not listen.
They like us had their own ideas and their own agenda. Jesus was going to be king. If not, a king he would at least be a political religious leader that could hold sway over the people in concert with the Roman governors. The suffering Jesus spoke about was not in their plans. Jesus was annoying the disciples with these words. They did not appropriate his attitude. The guy that could feed multitudes and heal the sick was not going to suffer.
Jesus had something to say about our agendas. “Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” I want us each to think about this for a moment. I want us to think about everything we have posted on social media, every stance we have taken on a social or cultural issue, think about the plans you are making and agenda you are supporting. Where is God in it? How does it promote Christ?
Jesus goes on to say something very pungent. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up hos cross and follow me.”
Think about this. Let the words seep deep into your soul and really listen to them. What does it really mean?
It means your agendas no matter how good they might seem could be opposed to God. If we want to follow Christ we cannot think about our agendas, or how it might affect our standing in any social circle. It means we follow Jesus even if following him might be the end of everything we think is important.
What does this loom like? It is standing up for those that are marginalized. It means we must say Black Lives Matter. It means if we say we are pro l8fe we will go down to the social services office and apply to house foster children because or if we cannot or are unable to, we encourage those that are. It means we should be making attempts to come up with solutions within our own community to alleviate potential problems, and we should be part of that solution. It is not the government’s responsibility it is yours. I know that those words have stepped on a few toes mine included. But the real8ty is that following Jesus is uncomfortable and it is opposed to the world.
Everything we do. Everything we have should be used to serve the kingdom of heaven. If you have a business your profit is the kingdom. If you work for someone, you work for the Lord by serving your employer. If you are retired your time is still of value for the encouragement of the kingdom and those that serve. If you are a parent your job is to raise up servants of Christ. If you are a customer your purchases are assets of the king.
If we are to follow Christ, we must deny ourselves and take up the cross and follow him. Why? What is the point? This is exactly where the disciples were in their thinking. It does not make sense to not take care of yourself first. It does not make sense to support governmental action that goes against your best interest. It does not make sense, that is until you look at the larger picture.
What good was it for Jesus to provide healing to the lepers? They were not contributing to society, to be honest they were a waste of resources. Yet Jesus spoke to them, he even touched their unclean bodies. He made them clean, he made them whole. What good was it for Jesus to cast a legion of demons out of a man and into the pigs? He was not contributing to society; he was keeping the people from properly morning their lost loved ones and was desecrating the cemetery. Yet Jesus released him from bondage and clothed him. Why do these things when there is no gain?
Each of those that were touched by Christ, were provided an opportunity to extend the kingdom. The man freed from the bondage of demons asked to follow Jesus, yet Jesus told him to stay in that region. He remained in that area so that he could serve God there, so he could restore the relationships that were once broken and provide a testimony that God can change lives. Each of those restored individuals have a new perspective in life. Each of those individuals can now serve just as Peter’s mother-in-law served right after Jesus lifted her from her bed of fever. We are restored so that we can assist in the work of God.
But we can only assist in that work if we stop trying to do things our way and begin listening to God. God promised Abram that if he would follow him, he would make him the father of nations. He held on to that promise, his wife held on to that promise for many years. They walked by faith yet did not see the profit. Sarai knowing that God had promised an heir, decided to make her own plans and she gave her husband her servant as a surrogate for her. When the child was conceived this caused tension between the women. It caused tension because Sarai did not remain steadfast in her faith. It caused tension because Abram did not hold tight to his faith. They turned from God’s ways and began to make plans according to the ways of humanity. There was nothing morally wrong with what was done according to the traditions of that era, but it was not what God promised. When we stop listening to God, we become obstacles to his purposes.
We can know the ways of God. Scripture tells us this. Our faith tradition is founded on that revelation from Jesus’s own mouth. He tells us that we are his friends if we do what He commands. No longer are we servants because servants do not know what the master is doing, but he calls us friends because he has made know to us what the Father has said. We can know if we listen. We can know if we stop focusing on our own desires and instead focus on the desires of God. This is God’s desire: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Does this mean we need to go out of this building and give every dollar we have to the first person we see in need? No. That is not laying one’s life down for his friends. We need to first invest in the lives of those around us. We need to develop relationships with people, get to know them and encourage them in the ways that they should go. And as we encourage, we tell them what we have heard and what we know. We give our lives for them. My purpose as a father is to invest my life into my children. My purpose as a pastor is to invest my life into the ministry of this church. But those are the things I am directed to do. I cannot speak for you. Only you can speak for yourself. I cannot tell you what you should do I can only speak of what I must do in my life.
We can listen to the world and speak to their perception of who we are, or we can just focus on the truth. Who does the world say Jesus is? Who do you say He is? If we are focused on the world we are not participating in the kingdom of God. The world does not matter. Let the world do what the world wants. Instead, you focus on what is most important. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. If we were to make that our only desire in all of life imagine what this little Meeting could do. But that all begins with each of us denying ourselves and taking up our crosses to follow him.