Sep 16, 2018

“Who Am I? What Do You See” - Mark 8:27-38

“Who Am I?  What Do You See” - Mark 8:27-38

            One day, a married lady went out to do some shopping.  When she returned home, she brought with her a beautiful dress.  She proudly showed it to her husband.  But he almost had a stroke when he heard how much it cost.  She agreed that it was very expensive.  But she said when she tried it on, she looked so beautiful in it she just couldn’t resist the temptation to buy it.  Her husband told her that she should have said, “Get behind me, Satan.”  She replied, “That’s exactly what I said.  But then Satan said, ‘You look fabulous from back here, too!’”

            Believe it or not, that’s what our Gospel reading for today is about.  “Get behind me, Satan” are the exact words that Jesus speaks to one of his disciples.  He says it to Peter of all people.  The very disciple who had a reputation for not holding back.  Who was known for speaking the truth no matter how hard it was to hear.  And for saying what his fellow disciples were sometimes too hesitant or too fearful to put into words.

            So, let’s see what’s going on.  Let’s see what Peter says that causes such a reaction from Jesus.  Let’s see what causes Jesus to utter such a strong rebuke.  In other words, let’s see why Jesus lets Peter have it.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

          Throughout his ministry, Jesus was known for his ability to open people up.  To open up their lives.  He did it last week with a man who was deaf and mute.  He opened him to hear and to speak for the very first time.  Not too long after that, Jesus came across a blind man.  He opened up his life, as well as his eyes.  Allowing him to see for the very first time.  And Jesus had also opened the lives of other individuals.  People who went on to be his closest followers.  The twelve disciples.

          Our text opens with Jesus and his disciples traveling around Caesarea Philippi.  They are in the foothills of Mount Hermon.  We know the area as the Golan Heights.  It is just a few miles from Lebanon, and about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee.  From that vantage point, the view stretches south across Galilee toward Jerusalem. 

            There, they pause to reflect on their ministry there.  Jesus decides it’s a good time to test and to teach his disciples.  To prepare them for what lies ahead.  They had said, “Yes” to his call by the sunny Sea of Galilee.  Now they will need to say, “Yes” in the shadow of the cross?

            Jesus starts off with a general question.  He wants his disciples to be open with him.  To be honest with him.  “Who do people say that I am?  What have you heard?”  His disciples answer without hesitation.  “John the Baptist.  Elijah.  One of the prophets.”

            Let’s face it, these are all good answers.  John the Baptist was not only a relative, but he was also a forerunner of Jesus.  He helped to prepare the way, and Jesus had great respect for John.

            And Elijah was another great one.  He was thought to be the very forerunner and herald of the Messiah.  He was to heal the broken places, to bring order out of chaos, and to prepare the way for the Messiah.  That sounds like an incredibly important job to me.

            And “a prophet.”  Prophets were seen as God’s representatives.  God spoke to them and had them warn the people of the consequences of mistreating their fellow human beings.  The prophets had the monumental task of trying to get God’s people back on the right track.

            John the Baptist.  Elijah.  A prophet.  These were powerful men of God.  They were respected and held in high regard.  The spirit was strong in them.  They were God’s messengers.  They preached about the importance of staying on the right path.  The fact that the people think that Jesus could be one of those great men of faith shows how highly they respect him.  But they were only forerunners.  Only forerunners.

            Jesus then poses a tougher question.  A more personal question.  “Tell me what you think.  Who do you say I am?  Not what other people think.  What do you think?”  Now, that’s where the rubber meets the road.  You see, so far in Mark only demons have correctly identified who Jesus is.  But now, Peter has the answer.  “You are the Messiah.”

          Yes, Peter is correct when he says Jesus is the Messiah.  But there’s a lot he doesn’t know.  He doesn’t yet know what it means for this Jesus to be the Messiah.  Up until now, Mark’s accent has been on the authority and power of Jesus.  From now on, the accent will be on his rejection and death.  Jesus breaks the harsh news to them.  “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, and be killed,”

            Of course, to their ears, these words sound downright scandalous.  For when Jesus connects Messiah with suffering and death, he’s making statements that strike them as both incredible and incomprehensible.

            Peter does not like the sound of this one little bit.  So, who can blame Peter for the way he reacts to this new definition of the Messiah?  A Messiah who will suffer.  A Messiah who will be rejected.  A Messiah who will be killed.  To Peter’s ears, this is simply outrageous.  It’s unfathomable.  So Peter puts into words what the rest of them must be thinking.  He comes right out and rebukes Jesus to his face.

            Yes, Peter lectures Jesus.  He tries to set him straight.  He has the nerve to tell the Messiah how to be Messiah.  But Jesus will have none of it.  Jesus will not be patronized.  Jesus takes his orders only from God.

            Jesus then looks at the other disciples.  He knows that Peter has a tendency to say what the rest of them are thinking.  So Jesus’ comment is meant for all twenty-four of their ears.  “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

            Jesus’ words might sound harsh, and they are.  Obviously, Jesus doesn’t want to die.  And he has powers that he could use for battle if he chose to do so.  But Jesus recognizes in Peter’s voice the very voice of Satan tempting him to take the devil’s way instead of God’s way.  And this temptation is probably made more difficult because the tempter is not some stranger.  It’s one of his closest friends.

            But pursuing self, power, conquest, oppression, destruction, war, injustice, greed, and vengeance are not God’s ways.  They are man’s ways.  And these ways, says Jesus, are wrong, wrong, wrong.

            God’s ways involve compassion and love for all.  Caring for those who suffer.  Giving to those in need.  Comforting those who hurt.  Tending to the hungry and thirsty.  Offering forgiveness to the guilty.  Serving up large helpings of hope to those who despair.  Mark lets us know that when we follow Jesus, we find ourselves following God’s way.  The way of love and compassion.

            Jesus calls all of us his disciples to a life of service with these challenging words of advice.  “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.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

            Jesus is saying to the disciples and to us that if we want to join him in bringing God’s realm to earth, we need to avoid being so self centered and to stop being so grasping.  After all, all the wealth in the world cannot save our or anyone else’s human soul.

            Yes, we are called to help meet the needs of others.  In a world of hatred, we are called to show compassion.  In a world of dog eat dog, we are called to help those in need.  In a world of heartache, we are called to ease suffering.  In a world of stress, we are called to lift burdens.  In a world of fear, we are called to spread peace.  Yes, called to be givers, not grabbers and hoarders.  We are a called people.  An invited people.  We are the ones who are called and invited to follow this remarkable Jesus.

            But let’s face it, this all seems impossible.  And without Jesus it is.  But, Jesus never promised following him would be easy.  He never told us it would be a stroll in the park.  That it would all be sunshine.

            A soldier in battle was frantically digging a foxhole as shells fell all around him.  His shovel struck a piece of metal.  He reached down and picked it up.  It was a silver cross.  Another big shell exploded, and he buried his head in his arms.  Just then, someone jumped in the foxhole with him.  He looked up to see that it was an army chaplain. The soldier thrust the cross in the chaplain’s face and said this.  “I sure am glad to see you.  Please, tell me.  How do you work this thing?”

            Here’s how it works.  Jesus set the example and with his life shows what it means to deny self and serve God.  For all of us, he took it to the limit.  He suffered, was rejected, and was killed.  He chose this freely.  He opened up his life for us.  He even opened up his arms on a cruel Roman cross.  Out of love, he opened up for us.  In love, he did it for our world.

             Jesus invites us to do this as well.  To join him.  To open up our lives to others.  To do some of the things he did.  To follow his example.  To love others.  To care for others.  To help others.  To ease the burdens of others.  And to do this because we are invited to do so by none other than the Messiah.  It’s what God wants for us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.