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Mark 8_31-38

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TITLE:   Our Worm's-eye View        SCRIPTURE:    Mark 8:31-38

For longtime churchgoers, our Gospel lesson today is familiar -- so familiar that it tends to go in one ear and out the other.  "I've already heard that one," we think -- and we are tempted to daydream.  But this story has the power to transform our lives -- but it requires that we really hear Jesus -- that we struggle with the difficult things that he is saying.  So I invite you to listen carefully this morning.  Listen to what Jesus says.  Listen to determine what it means for your life.  Listen so that Jesus might turn your life to a new direction.  Listen for a word from God aimed directly at your heart! 

To understand this story, we must first understand what has just happened.  Peter has just proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah -- the one for whom Israel has waited for so long -- the one who will save Israel.  That was the turning point in the Gospel of Mark.  Prior to that, Jesus taught and healed.  After that, Jesus starts his journey to Jerusalem, where he will die.  Peter's confession was the hinge -- the turning point of the story. Peter, so often wrong, got it right!  Jesus is the Messiah -- the one who will save Israel.

But what happens next?  What happens next is that Jesus begins to teach the disciples what it means that he is the Messiah.  He begins to teach them that he must suffer and die. 

Now listen to what Peter does next.  Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.  Peter, who just said that Jesus is the Messiah takes the Messiah aside and rebukes him.  Mark doesn't tell us what Peter said, but it isn't hard to imagine.  He said something like, "Jesus, that talk about suffering and dying is not what we need to hear.  That is crazy talk!  Pull yourself together!  YOU ARE THE MESSIAH!  Got it!  Now start acting like the Messiah!  Tell us about the good things you're going to do.  Let's not hear any more talk about suffering and dying!"

Doesn't it seem odd that Peter would confess his faith in Jesus as the Messiah in one breath and then criticize Jesus in the next breath?  It seems odd to me!

But perhaps it isn't odd after all.  Peter had been seeing Jesus heal people and work great miracles.  He had heard teaching so profound that it had to come from God.  We should not be surprised that he was having trouble coming to grips with the idea that the Messiah should suffer and die.  To be honest, we have heard The Rest of the Story a thousand times -- the story of Jesus' death and resurrection -- and sometimes we still don't get it.  Like Peter, we expect certain things from Jesus -- and sometimes what we get is very different from what we expected.  That happens in every generation of Christians, because Christ says things that we don't want to hear.  For instance, let's look at how Jesus responded to Peter's criticism.  First, he said:

      "Get behind me, Satan!

      For you are setting your mind not on divine things

      but on human things."

Jesus was trying to show the disciples the world from a God's-eye view, but the disciples were used to seeing the world from a worm's-eye view.  It was like trying to explain electricity to someone who has never seen a light bulb -- who has never heard a radio or seen a movie.  How do you explain electricity to someone like that?  It isn't easy.

Jesus was trying to explain something even more mysterious than electricity.  He was trying to explain how things look from God's vantage point.  He was trying to tell the disciples that he, the Messiah, would have to suffer and die.  He was trying to tell them that they, too, would have to suffer and die.  That did not sit well with them.  They did not get it!  Who can blame them!

Once again I will remind you that we are familiar with what Paul Harvey calls "The Rest of the Story" -- the part about Jesus dying and being raised from the dead -- but very often we fail to connect the dots -- fail to recognize what that means for us.  Let me give you some examples.

A few years ago, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, a reporter interviewed a Princeton student for her opinion about possible American intervention.  The student replied, "There's nothing worth dying for."

"There's nothing worth dying for."  Don't be distracted by the military context of that statement.  Let's just look at the student's words, "There's nothing worth dying for."  Is that what you think?  Lots of people think like that -- but Jesus did not.  Jesus said:

          "If any want to become my followers,

          let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

          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."

That is quite different from "There's nothing worth dying for" -- isn't it!

When Mark wrote this Gospel, he and his friends knew what it meant for Christians to take up their cross and follow Jesus.  Rome was persecuting Christians.  The first readers of Mark's Gospel would have known Christians who had died for their faith.  They would have been in danger themselves.  But they believed that Jesus had accomplished something through his death that he could not have accomplished any other way -- and they knew that they might find themselves in a situation where they would have to choose between Christ and death.  They understood the cost of discipleship.

But Peter, not yet having seen the open tomb, did not understand.  Jesus announced that he would have to suffer and die, so Peter took him aside and rebuked him.  Peter didn't get it, and I can't say that I blame him.  All too often, we don't get it either.  Just listen to some of the things that we say.

We say, "Look out for Number One" -- which is just another way of saying, "Love yourself.  Take care of yourself."  But Jesus says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31).  He calls us to "agape" love -- the kind of love that God has for people -- the kind of love that takes care of the beloved -- the kind of love that cares more about the beloved than about oneself.  That is quite different from "Look out for Number One" -- isn't it!

In fact, Jesus goes even further.  He says:

      "You have heard that it was said,

      'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 

      But I say to you,

      Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

      (Matthew 5:43-44).

That is especially different from "Look out for Number One" -- isn't it!

Another example!  We say, "If I don't take care of myself, nobody else will."  But Jesus says:

      "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,

      what you will eat or what you will drink,

      or about your body, what you will wear.

      Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

 

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,

      and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

      Are you not of more value than they?

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? ...

 

      But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,

      and all these things will be given to you as well"

      (Matthew 6:25-27, 33)

That is quite different from "If I don't take care of myself, nobody else will" -- isn't it!

So what's my point!  My point is simply that Jesus was hard for Peter to understand because Jesus was showing him something even more mysterious than electricity.  He was showing him how things work in the kingdom of God.  He was asking Peter to shift from a worm's-eye view to a God's eye-view.

And my point is that we often find it difficult to understand Jesus too.  We want to tame Jesus -- to domesticate him -- to make him harmless and comfortable, like a lapdog.  We want to look to Jesus for easy solutions to our problems -- for a way to believe and grow rich.  Jesus responds by saying:

      "Get behind me, Satan!

      For you are setting your mind not on divine things

      but on human things."

But the good news is that lots of people do "get it" -- do try to live as Christ would have them live: 

-- I see Christians paying their own way to go on mission trips to help needy people. 

-- I read about Christians who have given up the comforts of hearth and home to go to foreign lands where they live uncomfortable lives -- often dangerous lives -- to help people and to proclaim the Gospel. 

-- I see our denomination in support disaster relief, building houses, mission trips to other countries. 

-- I see this congregation doing a soup mission, providing an emergency fund. 

-- I see people in this congregation who give sacrificially of their time and money to keep this church going -- to keep our witness to Christ alive in this community -- to help children grow in faith.

Those are the kinds of selfless ministry to which Christ calls us.

Jesus says:

      "If any want to become my followers,

      let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

      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."

This is the word of God.

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