Altered Through Stories We Don't Trust

 This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 25 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Mark 8:31-38.

Our sermon series “Altered by the Spirit” continues as we focus on being “Altered Through Stories We Don’t Trust.” I would add “or Like.” Today’s gospel is among the “hard sayings” of Jesus. The Holy Spirit will change us as we give ourselves over to these “hard words.” 

Jesus was preparing his disciples for his upcoming crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. He would no longer, physically, be with them.  


What was wrong with Peter's response to Jesus' news? After all, Peter loved Jesus and cared about what would happen to him. Peter could not imagine his messiah and friend being subjected to such horror. Wasn't Peter responding in a way any loving friend would? Do any of you wonder why Jesus is talking like this? Here was certainly a story that Peter didn’t trust. 


Firstly, this passage is right in the middle of Mark's gospel. Jesus has given his disciples plenty of lead-time to understand what was ahead for himself and ultimately for them. Here we have the first of three times in Mark that Jesus talks about his coming crucifixion and resurrection.  

This is Mark's signal that a shift in the message is taking place. Here is Jesus' new message, He must undergo great suffering, be rejected by elders, chief priests, scribes, be killed and rise after three days. 

You have to admit that's a lot to tell anyone. We have in this one verse references to Jesus' future path which would be one of suffering, rejection, and death and he will rise after three days. We like Easter and its focus on the victory of Christ over death and the grave. It's more positive and upbeat. But we cannot rush ahead to the resurrection without experiencing the pain of the cross. Mark does not want the church to use Easter to escape Lent and Holy Week. There is no crown without the cross.  

Here is the most important issue in Mark's gospel--the prediction of Jesus' passion and the fact that it is normative and definitive for the life of a follower of Jesus. Remember that Jesus “said all this quite openly.” This is intense, strong language. 

Where has Peter been? Jesus has encountered open hostility from the religious authorities. Their plot could not have been overlooked. Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist, another truth teller, had been beheaded because of his refusal to water down his message to the authorities. Given all of this, Peter's response is startling. Peter did understand what Jesus was saying. He just doesn't like what he is hearing. He wanted to alter God's plan and fix this problem. Peter could not see as far as the resurrection. He could only see as far as the cross.


 As startling as Peter's response to Jesus' prediction was, Jesus' rebuke of Peter is even more startling. Wouldn't you expect Jesus to comfort Peter by telling him that everything will be fine? The phrase “Get behind me Satan” or “Depart behind me” contrasts with the original call to discipleship.  


“Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17). By standing in front of Jesus, Peter was literally an obstacle on the way to the cross. As a disciple, he should be following behind Jesus. When Jesus is rebuking Peter, Jesus is telling Peter that he needs to set his mind on divine, not human things. Wasn't Peter thinking about divine things? Immediately prior to today's gospel, we see the divine things he has been thinking about--Jesus' power, authority and even Jesus' status as Messiah.  


Who was at fault? Jesus introduced human things into the conversation with his insistence on talking about his future suffering and death. The issue at hand is perception. Who knows better, Jesus or Peter? Part of Peter's problem was that, as the disciple, he was trying to correct the teacher. Peter was trying to correct Jesus' false theology. 


By human standards, the cross appears to be foolishness, and an awful defeat to Jesus' work, but by God's standards, it is wisdom. The cross was the plan from the very beginning. 


The way of the cross is not only for Jesus and the twelve, but for all the multitude who follow. Unlike the crowd that day, we have access to both the private and public teaching of Jesus. Jesus spells out the meaning of real discipleship. A better translation of the Greek is “one MUST deny” oneself. The cross we are called to bear is not the inconveniences or pains of life, but the suffering involved in discipleship and Christian mission. It is to accept the rejection of the world for turning to Jesus.  


If someone comes to Jesus, they will probably be rejected by many people. If self-protection is a key motivation in your life, then you will not respond to Jesus and will not be saved. Whoever is willing to risk rejection will respond and find true life. Jesus calls us to a 100% commitment to use our gifts, skills, talents and resources to share the gospel and to live in the reign of God now. It's all or nothing.  


Suffering and sacrifice for being Christ’s disciple is not limited to the first century.  Russia invaded Ukraine. Hamas attacked Israel. Israel invaded Gaza and is driving the Arab people from there. We, in America, sometimes think that the American Christian church has really experienced persecution. There are attacks on public Christmas displays. School sports take place on Sundays. There is a lack of prayer in school or at public events. However, we have not experienced the pain that our Christian brothers and sisters are going through in other parts of the world.  


So, where's the good news? Can we trust these words of Jesus? The way of the cross emphasized during Lent is the only way to true joy and fulfillment. A surrendered life, with Jesus at the center, is full of things that money, power and prestige can't buy. True love, unlimited hope, deep relationship, radical generosity and true power are the upside-down, inside-out vision of God's design for the world. That is the good news. May we allow the Holy Spirit to daily alter us into Christ’s image, through this story that we may not trust or like. Amen. 




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