Jesus Predicts His Death
31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
34Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels."
Today’s sermon is a hard one to preach. The reason I say this is a difficult sermon has little or nothing to do with a complicated theology or confusing words in the passage. I’m not struggling with this message because it is hard to understand…..on the contrary. I found this passage difficult because it’s message is clearly understood. This is a message of suffering, rejection, persecution, hardship, and even death. I am just not comfortable talking about these things. This may have something to do with the way I was raised.
A friend of mine shared with me a conversation he had with his father some years back. My friend had recently began attending a United Methodist Church. He had grownup in another denomination. He said that during this phone conversation, he shared with his dad that he had visited a Methodist church in his neighborhood. His father responded “Aahh the Methodist…..that’s the you’re OK, I’m OK, everybody’s OK church.”
Now, I had never heard our denomination explained in that manner. I do not think that is an accurate or fair description. But I can understand where the stereotype is rooted. Modern Methodist typically gain their motivation for discipleship from the Hope, Joy, and Love that is the message of Christ.
This past week I had a talk with someone here at St Paul. We were talking about our memories surrounding the moment we accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior. My friend told the story of sitting in church one Sunday morning listening to the preacher preach, bursting with authority and confidence. The sermon was on “the consequences of Sin.” He listened to the description of what happens to people who face the final judgment without giving their lives over to Christ. He was warned of an eternity of constant pain, forever living engulfed in flames, burning in the deepest and darkest pits of Hell.
I can imagine a stampede of people elbowing their way toward the alter in order to make the commitment.
It is not my intention to lesson the validity of the saving event. I only bring this up to show a contrast in motivation.
You see, I prefer a personal relationship with Christ based on his promise of an unimaginably joyful eternity, living forever in the presence of Christ in Heaven. I want my walk with Christ founded on faith not fear.
But, I have to tell you…it took several readings and a significant amount of prayer before my fear of the challenges of today’s scripture was stripped away and replaced with faith.
So I invite you to open your bibles and follow along as we Walk with Jesus, verse by verse through the first 4 verses of today’s scripture reading.
The Gospel According to Mark – Chapter 8, verse 31-34
He taught them, predicting his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. It is obvious that the disciples understood that when he spoke of the Son of Man he was talking about himself. This is not the future the disciples had in mind for their Messiah.
This is evident in vs 32:
He spoke plainly about this. Jesus made it clear to them that HE must suffer, and be killed. Peter wanted no part of this talk about suffering and death. He must have been Methodist. More than one commentary pointed out that when it says Peter “took” Jesus aside…it doesn’t mean he politely asked for a moment. There was no gentle tap on the shoulder. This “took” likely means with force or physically grabbed Jesus by the garment and pulled him away from the others and rebuked him. Can you imagine. Let’s see how Jesus responds to this behavior of Peter.
First Jesus turns away from Peter and faces the Disciples. If you can picture this…if Christ turns away from Peter and toward the Disciples then Peter must have already separated himself from the others. Now Peter is standing, separated from the group and behind Jesus. Now Jesus does the rebuking, he says “Get behind me, Satan!” Just 4 verses earlier Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ. Now Peter challenges Jesus because Peter’s idea of Messiahship was very different from the one Jesus revealed.
But to call Peter Satan! That seems a little harsh. When we really think about what Peter did…….it is exactly what Satan did to Jesus in the desert. Peters idea of discipleship ignored the suffering and sacrifice that Jesus taught. We do the same thing in the modern church. We often try to live our faith without the suffering and persecution. A Christianity diluted into a cheerful and sensible religion, in which God’s act of redemption in Christ is dropped from notice, is emphatically of Satan. Satan offered Jesus the easy life in the desert…and Peter is choosing easy discipleship here. Jesus rebukes Peter while facing the disciples saying “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Jesus goes on to explain this in the next verse.
Then He called the crowd around Him. St Paul, we are the crowd. He is talking to us now, so listen to what He says:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Sometimes I think our practice of denying ourselves of “things” during lent is counter productive. What I mean is, if we don’t fully understand the “Why”. There can be a certain amount of pride involved when we successfully deny ourselves of coffee or chocolate. We often focus more on the accomplishment of denial instead of the reason for the denial. This scripture does not teach us to deny ourselves of things, it say deny ourselves. There is only one reason why we should deny ourselves. That is to make more room for Christ. If you have given up something for lent, and this is a really good reason why you should, every time you think about that object, every time you feel the earthly desire for whatever it is that you gave up, replace that feeling with thoughts of Christ. Remember that what He gave up for our sakes was His very life. In a very painful manner.
He gave up His life on a cross. And now he tells us that we must take up our cross. We so misuse that word. I have often heard or read people refer to a heavy burden as a cross they must bear. Or a sickness or tragedy as their cross. But bearing a cross is not related to our acceptance of unforeseen circumstances. Bearing a cross is not the result of a natural disaster or sudden illness. Bearing our cross means deliberately and voluntarily taking up something that could be avoided. It means that we choose to sacrifice ourselves for someone else. After all that is exactly what Christ did. The Cross for Jesus was his deliberate choice of giving his life a ransom for many, his deliberate choice of ministering to peoples need for the truth about God, and to their need for love…and he did this knowing that the cost was ultimately his suffering and death on a cross.
Then he says “follow me.” He just told the disciples where he was going. His walk would lead to suffering, rejection, and death. He is asking us to walk knowingly in his footsteps. To follow Christ means to love like Christ loved, and to live out the will of God as He did.
Remember near the beginning of the sermon I said that it took me a while before I got past the fear of this scripture and found the faith. Here’s what I found. In the course of this sermon I must have referred to verse 31 six or seven times. I reminded you of the suffering, rejection, and death. As I read and thought about the meaning of this message…I for some reason kept skipping the last few words of verse 31. Take a look at the words that follow “…and he must be killed” It says “…and after three days rise again”.
We will have to deny ourselves, and we will have to take up our crosses. Following Christ means we will face some very difficult times in our lives. When we follow Christ and desire to live faithful to his will, we will surly encounter many forks in the road. We will have to make some very tough decisions to the cause of Discipleship.
However, following Jesus also means that…when all is said and done we end up at the same destination. At His side, forever, in the presence of our Lord.
Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary of this scripture:
“…the happiness of heaven with Christ, is enough to make up for the loss of life itself for him.”
Let us Pray --- Amen.