Take It To The Lord In Prayer!
Gospel Reading Mark 8:31-38
Vicar Brian Henderson
Grace, Mercy and Peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. [Amen.]
Introduction: I remember my first time on a “big kids” ride. It was at the Wisconsin State Fair, on a warm August evening. I was eight, and it was my birthday. I sat in my Father’s arms as we entered the ominous “Tilt-a-Whirl.” It was a ride that flipped, tilted and whirled as its occupants went around in a circular wheel that reached some 100 feet into the air. I was afraid, but my Dad assured me that I would be safe in his arms. My mother told me that I should pray if I became frightened. As the ride began, I became terrified and began to scream to my Father, begging him to stop the ride; I wasn’t such a big boy after all! But he told me, “I can’t do that son. You will just have to trust me and hold on to me tight.” And I did. I immediately felt the comfort of his big strong arm wrap around me, and that made me feel better. But each time the ride would complete a revolution, it would do something new. First it tilted; and then it whirled. Each time I moved closer to my Dad and he renewed his grip. Then on the last spin around, it went into something my Father called the “grand finale.” It did all of its movements at once. I began to scream at the top of my lungs. And then I remembered my mothers advice, “If you become afraid, just pray.” So I began the only prayer that boys at that age can remember, “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take!” My father, having heard what prayer I was reciting began to laugh one of the most happy laughs I had ever heard come out of him. Before I knew it, I forgot about my fear and I was laughing right along with him! As the ride stopped, we both were laughing so hard, my side hurt. As we stepped out of the ride, I looked ant my father and said, “CAN WE DO IT AGAIN!” That ride, long ago on a warm Wisconsin evening, happens to be one of my happiest childhood memories! And it was from that ride that I learned that the fear of something never negates the benefit of the experience.
I. Please take out your Bibles, or your bulletin and turn to our Gospel lesson this morning, Mark 8, starting in the 31st verse. Our Gospel begins right after Peter’s wonderful faith-filled declaration about who He said Jesus was. “You are the Christ, the Messiah!” Peter’s answer was in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus then warned the disciple that they must not yet reveal this truth to others, until it was the right time. He began teaching them, and in doing so he revealed a truth that would literally ROCK THEIR WORLD!: He was to be a suffering Messiah. 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. And he said this plainly. (Mark 8:31-32a)
Now the Apostles were at the point in their training where Jesus could no longer conceal His true mission. He laid it all out for them, a detailed plan up until the bitter end. He intimately described his future painful sufferings. His specific mention of "the elders, chief priests and scribes" was a clear reference to the three groups in the Jewish Religious Court called the Sanhedrin. These men would later officially examine him, and would reject him like a counterfeit hundred dollar bill. Even his resurrection was mentioned, though it would remain incomprehensible to the disciples until after the glorious fact. What a ridiculous revelation it was to them at the time!
To speak truthfully, they were disgusted, confused and disappointed, but they all kept their silence—all except one: "Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him" (Mark 8:32b). The language here suggests that Peter did this with an air of protective superiority, almost like a father putting his arm around his son and whispering, "Come here, Jesus. Now certainly I believe that you are the Messiah, but you’re not thinking clearly! If you don’t stop talking like this, you will lose all of your credibility."
Now it was the Savior who was disgusted and disappointed! As Jesus spun around to face Peter, he saw that the rest of His disciples appeared to be approving of what Peter was saying. His powerful scolding was for all of them as well. "Out of my sight, Satan! . . . You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Mark 8:33). These were the harshest words that Jesus ever spoke to a devoted, well-meaning heart! He did not even speak to Judas this way! Why?
The answer is that Peter had unknowingly become the ambassador of Satan, declaring a demonic doctrine known as the Theology of Glory. It is the very same doctrine that Satan used to tempt Jesus during his 40 days of testing and tempting in the desert. It was here that the devil tempted Jesus to accept an easy Saviorhood, one that would make him “feel good” about his ministry. "Command these stones to become loaves!" - "Throw yourself down from the temple so the angels can lift you up on their wings!" - "Fall down and worship me, and all the kingdoms of the world and their glory shall be yours." In other words, Satan was saying: "Look what's in it for You." And now - as our Lord's cross and suffering were drawing closer – Satan’s temptation was once again echoed in Peter's words. "You don't have to suffer," he told Him. "Messiahs don't suffer! You can have it all. There's no need for You to go to the cross!" So Jesus again responded to Satan's words - even though they were coming from the mouth of beloved Peter - "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men."
Peter would soon learn that our Lord’s ministry was not fulfilled in glory, but at the shameful cross; salvation could only come through a suffering Messiah. There could be no other way. So why were the disciples rejecting Jesus as a suffering Messiah? For the same reason many reject Him today; because the idea is completely wrong according to human reasoning. Who would design a method of saving the world that included suffering, pain, despair, and death? No one! And that is why Israel misinterpreted its own Scriptures which told of the coming suffering Messiah. Natural reason says a Savior must come with position and power! But Jesus said if you think that way, "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Mark 8:33b).
If we are to embrace Jesus, we must confess a suffering Messiah. But more than that, we must model His example. Confessing Christ means we must follow him to crucifixion. “And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
Today, we will answer these two questions: First, “What are our crosses?” And, “How can we bear the cross we have been given?”
II. What Are Our Crosses? First, let’s be clear, for a true Christian, bearing the cross is not a possibility, it is a certainty! Jesus makes it clear, that if we are truly following Him we will encounter the cross and our lives will be forever changed because of it! "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it." (Mark 8:35).
A cross then, comes from specifically walking in Christ's steps, and embracing his life. We don’t get to choose our cross, because it is given to us by the Lord and it is realized while we are walking with Him and because we are walking with Him. Another truth about our cross is that its size will always be proportionate to our dedication to Him.
ILLUS: The Cross Room
There once was a young man was at the end of his rope. Seeing no way out, he dropped to his knees in prayer. "Lord, I can't go on," he said. "I have too heavy of a cross to bear." The Lord replied, "My son, if you can't bear it's weight, just place your cross inside this room. Then open another door and pick any cross you wish." The man was filled with relief. "Thank you, Lord," he sighed, and did as he was told. As he looked around the room he saw many different crosses; some so large the tops were not visible. Then he spotted a tiny cross leaning against a far wall. "I'd like that one, Lord," he whispered. And the Lord replied, "My son, that's the cross you brought in."
The moral of the story? Difficulties are not an indication of cross-bearing; but difficulties for Christ's sake are. The crosses that we bear then are experienced within the difficulties we encounter when we try to lead a Holy life according to God’s Word and when we are faithfully giving our witness to Christ and His Gospel. When we are dong these things then we must expect trials and the attacks of the devil to come.
Let me give you an example. After you hear this message, your heart will be glad to put God’s Word into action. Perhaps you will pray and ask God to give you strength to bear the cross of this message. At this point, if you are not already, you will become a fair target on the devils war board. In essence, the devil has declared you “public enemy number one”. From that point on, he will try to trip you up and make you fall, hoping that you will abandon your cross and loose the message.
Perhaps the greatest weapon that the devil uses against us is our own complacency. Just when we think that God has greatly blessed us with family, friends, employment, and every spiritual blessing we could ever want, trouble will eventually come our way, AND THEN HE ATTACKS! Your teenager is on drugs. Your marriage is falling apart. You’ve lost your job. The doctor says that it’s cancer! You are confronted with an addiction! All of these painful life issues are common to everyone; sinner and saint, because we live in a sinful world! But because we carry the cross of Jesus, the devil who is prowling within these life circumstances, is waiting for a chance to pounce on us at the very moment when our fears and worries begin to over take us. And when he does, he begins to sow the seeds of doubt, taunting us with the voice of our own conscience, “Where is your faith now?! Where is your faith now?! You are a fake; God has abandoned you!” All this, just so we will drop our cross and abandon our hope in what Jesus has done for us. And when we fall, and we will fall, Satan is there to discourage us. “Don’t pick up the cross; it’s much to heavy! Don’t pray; He won’t help you. You’ve never been good at praying any how! You don’t even like reading your Bible! Why don’t you take a break from going to church? Don’t you think you need some time to sort things out?”
Dear friends, why do you think the devil and this wicked world trouble us so? It isn’t because we are weak sinners; they aren’t angry with us because we stumble and fall now and then. In fact, they’re delighted when we sin, and they even approve of it. No, the reason they attack us is because even when we do sin, we don’t loose hope, but instead we continue to put our trust in God’s Word, and in His forgiveness and love.
The devil wants us to look at God and see Him as one who is angry with us and out to punish us when we sin. He is encouraged when we ask ourselves, “Why is God punishing me?” because this type of thinking is what he uses to get us to abandon our cross. But if we see God this way, then we don’t see Him correctly, but instead “we’re looking at him as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face. God’s Word tells us that if we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love; and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart.”
“So when the Devil throws your sins in your face so that you will abandon your cross, and when he declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know one who suffered, died, and paid for my sins; His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God and where He is there I shall be also.””
III. Now that we have answered what our cross is, we must approach our last question, “How Can We Bear The Cross?” The answer of course is with God’s grace! While the journey with our cross will be long and difficult, it is necessary. You see, it is while we are carrying our cross that God will demonstrate just how much he loves us, by helping us shoulder the burden. It is His real presence with us that gives us the strength to continue. It is how we begin to know God and the heart of Christ. This kind of knowledge can’t be taught to us instantly, it has to be learned by experience, one step at a time. This is what the Psalmest meant when he said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Now I know this is difficult for many of us to accept, because we have become a nation that looks for immediate gratification, but it is through the experience of time that God provides confidence in His love for us.
ILLUS: Some of you may remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. He said when he first came to the United States from Russia, he wasn’t prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk—you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice—you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self, What a country!”
One of the most basic assumptions made about Christian life change is that it happens instantly at salvation. According to this belief, when we add water and the Word at Baptism, there will be an immediate and miraculous change in a person’s habits, attitudes, and character. Is this assumption true? If it is, then we should see all of our older children faithfully worshipping and serving God here and across this nation. Is that what we are seeing? If its not, then maybe we need to rethink this idea.
The fact is, according to a past study only 11 percent of churchgoing teenagers have a well-developed faith, and that rises to only 32 percent for churchgoing adults. Why? Because while salvation is accomplished at Baptism, true life change takes more than just time, it takes the commitment of an entire church family. It is through our collective cross-bearing that we as a church are able to reach out to our people and provide the strength, training and mentoring necessary for bearing their own cross. IT IS A TEAM EFFORT!
It is within this type of church that God calls out to His people through the real presence of His Son, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Mat. 11:28-30) It is within His church that Christian cross-bearers receive that rest and the strength to bear their cross through the blessed assurance of the forgiveness of all of their sins (Rom. 5:1–5); and it is within Jesus’ vibrant, equipping and sending church that patient cross-bearing is made possible by God’s divine grace. (2 Tim. 1:8; 2 Cor. 4:7)
But we can’t stay inside the church forever, for we have been sent out to declare this Good News to all who will hear; out into our cities and wherever God leads us. We will need help along the way; and God has thought of that as well; Hasn’t He promised that He will never leave or forsake us? Of course, and he is there beside us, comforting and strengthening us. You see, the moment we by faith entered into our new, spiritual life with Him, he began to live within us. (Rm. 8:15) This spiritual communion with God is what we simply call prayer. It is this communion that leads the Child of God with the words, “Follow me my child.” To which we answer, “But Lord, I am tired and afraid.” But then we hear his answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, follow me.”
Christian prayer, then is the result of a heart that has been made bold by the promise of God’s grace. A heart that is not afraid to hear God and speak to God. It is a heart that has heard our Epistle Lesson (Rom. 8:5-11) and reasoned “Since, therefore, I have now been justified by Christ’s blood, how much more will I be saved by him from God’s wrath. For if while I was still His enemy I was accepted by God through the death of his Son, then God really is for me, and I truly have been saved by Christ.” Christian prayer is the ceaseless communion with God. Dear Christians, we are praying even when we’re not aware of it, and God is strengthening us even in the middle of great trouble, all so that we may continue to bear our cross.
CONCLUSION: There is a story about two young brothers who were caught stealing sheep. The punishment back then was to brand the thief’s forehead with the letters ST which stood for sheep thief. As a result of this, one brother left the village and spent his remaining years wandering from place to place forever marked by disgrace. The other remained in the village, made restitution for the stolen sheep, and became a caring friend and loving Christian neighbor to the townspeople. He lived out his life in the village—and became an old man loved by all.
One day a stranger came to town and inquired about the ST on the old man’s forehead. “I’m not sure what it means,” a young resident of the town replied. “It happened so long ago, but I think the letters must stand for saint.”
We have a choice. We can lay down the cross we have been given to bear and passively live life with no challenge to change or we can take it up and be transformed, living for something greater than ourselves: The Kingdom of God. The choice is yours. But I beg you: Pick it up! May God grant you the strength to do so. AMEN!
And now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in that one true faith in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.