Sunday, February 28, 2021
Scripture: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 & Mark 8:31-38
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

We are continuing our “Pictures of Jesus” sermon series this Lent as we walk through the book of Mark. The hope is that you see yourself interacting with Jesus just as the people in Mark did.

In our passage this morning, Peter had what I would call a hard interaction with Jesus. But as with all things, Jesus did it out of love for Peter.

To really understand what’s happening here it’s helpful if we revisit what happened a few verses earlier.

Earlier in chapter 8 Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is Peter was the only one to get it right. He answers: “You, Jesus, are the Messiah.” While Peter was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and was praised by Jesus for this, just a few verses later Jesus rebukes him and says: “Get behind me Satan.” 

How did Peter go from being so right to being so wrong about who Jesus is and what Jesus must do?What I’m learning about Mark is that events Mark describes shed light on the events that follow. For example, when Jesus heals a blind man earlier in chapter 8 it sheds light on how Peter doesn’t clearly see who Jesus is.

The blind man was healed by Jesus in 2 stages. After the first time Jesus puts his hand on the blind man’s eyes he asks the man if he can see anything. The Blind man replies that he can see people moving around, but that they look like trees. While he has some of his vision restored it’s still blurry. After the second time Jesus puts his hands the man’s eyes the man’s vision is fully restored. 

Peter is like the blind man in the first stage of healing. While Peter sees and recognizes Jesus as the Messiah his vision is still blurry. We know this because Peter won’t accept that Jesus has to suffer and die. He has a different idea than Jesus of how the Messiah would exercise his authority and power. He believed that Jesus would usher in God’s kingdom by conquering the current Empire.

Before we get down on Peter for not getting Jesus right, It’s understandable why Peter would think this. He’s witnessed Jesus feed 5K with just a few loaves of bread and a few pieces of fish. He witnessed Jesus restore vision to a blind man. How could Jesus who demonstrated such power not be destined to be welcomed into Jerusalem in a blaze of glory? Why would Jesus need to suffer, be rejected, and die when he’s able to perform miracles and silence a crowd of religious elites with profound theological arguments that are beyond all human understanding?

But Peter determines what Jesus will do based on his understanding of what he thinks the Messiah should do. In doing so he is not understanding what Jesus must do based on what Jesus says he must do as the Messiah. 

Peter is coming at it from a human perspective instead of from God’s perspective. Peter and the rest of the disciples don’t yet understand why Jesus is destined to suffer. It’s why Peter pulls Jesus aside and takes it upon himself to rebuke Jesus. 

I like to think that even though he’s doing so for wrong reasons that Peter rebukes Jesus because he loves him as his friend, teacher and Lord and can’t stand the thought of such terrible things happening to his beloved teacher. But in doing so he has left his place as a student and put himself in the place of the teacher. And Jesus is having none of it.

Jesus rebukes Peter by saying: “Get Behind me Satan!” it’s not to say that Jesus is calling Peter pure evil and rejecting him completely. He does want Peter to know that he’s wrong in trying to tell Jesus that he can’t suffer. Jesus wants Peter to go back to his rightful spot as a student and let Jesus be the teacher.

Peter is out of line and in doing so has put himself and the rest of the disciples in danger. 

He’s like the mountain climber who leaves their place in line, endangering the rest of their climbing team. If you haven’t scaled a mountain lately let me tell you what I mean by that. 

Extreme mountain climbers who want to scale glacial peaks are roped together like you see here. This is a team attempting to scale Mt Everest. It’s important that they’re roped together and stay in their place in line or on the rope for several reasons. 1. If someone falls into a crevasse they’ll be held up by the rest of the group. 2. If they encounter blizzard conditions they’ll remain connected to the rest of the group even though they might not be able to see the person in front of them. The person at the front of the line is usually the most experienced of the climbers. He/she knows the terrain much better and can determine the safest route. They also place the anchors where the rope will be connected and depending on how many are connected together the next person unclips the rope from the anchor and connects it to the next anchor the leader has placed. 

In order to reach the summit and keep each other safe climbers need to stay in their place on the rope and allow the lead climber to lead them.

Again, Jesus is not rejecting Peter when he yells: “Get Behind me Satan!” Out of love and for Peter’s and the rest of the disciples’ safety he wants Peter to go back to his rightful place as a disciple and allow Jesus to lead them all. 

This is discipleship. When allowing Jesus to lead us, we like Peter, need to let go of who we think Jesus is and what we think Jesus must do. By doing so we free ourselves up to pick up our cross as Jesus commanded us to do. 

Carrying our cross may mean denying who we think Jesus is and what we think being a Christian means. More often than not we’ll accept the road of discipleship only if it’s convenient. Essentially as long as we don’t have to venture too far out of our comfort zone…sure we’ll follow you Jesus. 

But that’s not what this passage is saying. Following Jesus is hard. It is not convenient. There will be suffering. Discipleship won’t make us popular. It is at times lonely. (Picture 1) There will be times when we’ll have to hear Jesus say to us: “Get behind me Satan!!” Not because he doesn’t love us, but because he loves us. 

The life of discipleship is not easy because it goes against the status quo. Christ wants us to live an abundant life, but that looks different in God’s kingdom than it does to the rest of the world. It’s not filled with comforts, constant approval from others, nor is it free of suffering or hardship. But it does mean we live life knowing to whom we belong and in whom we are held together in the midst of our brokenness and the brokenness of the world. In Christ we know that we’re worthy of love even when others, ourselves, or unjust systems tell us otherwise. In Christ we receive hope that is bigger than any of us, but at the same time is for all of us. It is worth losing what we lose when compared to what and who we gain.

The Christian life is not easy, but because of Jesus Christ it is worth it. While the Christian life is not free of suffering it doesn’t mean we suffer alone. The only reason we’re able to carry our cross is because Jesus (Picture 2) carried his, suffered and died on it, but rose back to life. Christ will give us others who carry their own cross alongside us for encouragement, but he also gives us himself who helps and at times takes the full weight of our cross for us so that we can continue to follow him.

It’s also important to know that while denying ourselves may include suffering Jesus ultimately doesn’t want us to suffer. Jesus approached his own suffering and death with fear and trembling. Also, Jesus’ death was like none other. We cannot conquer death like Christ did.

What we can do is live out of God’s all encompassing and radical love. A love that challenges anyone or any system that deems someone as unworthy of value, respect, well being or in a word love. Christ’s radical love brought in the most despised. It didn’t matter if  they were rich, poor, disabled or a different ethnicity, Christ brought them into the fold of God. And he was deeply criticized for it.

How is Christ calling you to carry your cross and follow him today? Like Peter, what preconceived notions about Jesus Christ do you need to let go of in order see him more clearly? What injustice may Christ be calling you to resist even though it may make you unpopular or uncomfortable? In Mark’s gospel when Christ calls people to discipleship they’re not called to do so along, but rather in the context of a loving community. The disciples relied on Christ first and foremost, but they did so together. My hope is that as a Christ centered community we are able to travel the difficult, but life giving path of discipleship together so that together we see Jesus Christ more clearly.