Sunday, March 22, 2015

"The Way of the Cross" (Mark 8:27-34)

1.     Overview

(a)  Verse 31 gives us the first clear statement in Mark’s Gospel of where Jesus is heading.

(b) It is preceded by the conversation about who people are saying that Jesus is.

(c)  And it is followed by Peter’s reaction to what Jesus has said about his death, which is in turn followed by Jesus’ rebuke of Peter.

(d) So these verses not only inform us that Jesus knew where he was heading, but also reflect on how we might respond to this! Who do we say that Jesus is? Is this who Jesus really is? Can we possibly get it wrong? Are we thinking of “divine things” or “human things”; and why does this matter?? When Jesus chooses the cross, what significance does that have for us?

2.     To speak or not to speak

(a)  Verse 30 compared with verse 32a … why the silence, then the publicity?? This is explained by what follows. There was a real possibility of misrepresentation here. Even though Peter could identify Jesus as the “Messiah”, he clearly did not understand what this identification really meant. Verse 30 could be rendered, “Be quiet about this Messiah business, because you don’t understand it”!

(b) When we talk about Jesus, it would be good for us to know who we are talking about. Is it the convenient Jesus that we might conjure up for ourselves, or the real Jesus? Peter would need to learn to talk about Jesus, not in terms of power, but rather in terms of love.

(c)  We should hasten to add, that this was all part of a process for Peter, that culminated in a very positive beneficial way – soon Peter would know exactly what he was talking about. Sometimes though, to get where we need to be, we have to be confronted.

3.     The “Messiah” (v.29)

(a)  Peter to his credit was willing to speak up. Jesus asked all the disciples the question “Who do you say that I am?” – it was Peter who was prepared to answer. And he got it right, in a way. Peter said the religiously correct thing – he identified Jesus as the long-awaited ‘anointed one of God’. However he clearly did not understand what this title meant. Peter had fallen into the common belief that the “Messiah” would be a politically commanding figure who would automatically solve Israel’s national problems by over-throwing the Romans. Humanly thinking, this was the sort of “Messiah” Peter wanted. This would be a quick fix for Peter’s immediate concerns and desires. In this view of ‘Messiah-ship’ there was earthly power, which these disciples might just be able to share in (giving them special status). Thus Peter found it impossible to believe that Jesus would simply be killed. This is not how ‘leaving everything’ was meant to turn out. [And thus, the “rise again” bit … also did not resonate at all with Peter.]

(b) Peter lived on the edge and reacted! We would not doubt Peter’s love for Jesus, nor his sincerity as a disciple. It’s just that this suffering and death thing did not make any sense to him. ‘Great suffering’ … “pardon me”! “No, this can’t be”! But Peter had missed something! Prophets from seven centuries earlier, especially Isaiah, had talked about this “Messiah” (the One whom God would send) in terms of being a ‘suffering servant’. For example, Isaiah 53:5 … “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed”. Why did Peter miss this? Maybe he wasn’t open for it.

(c)  First and foremost, Jesus would have deal with the depths of the human heart. Israel as a nation had been liberated many times, but still the human heart lagged behind where God would have it be. If the world was going to be better … if the will of God was going to be done on earth as it is in heaven … if injustice was going to be defeated, and if love was ever going to be the controlling dynamic, then the human heart would have to be changed. There would have to be spiritual transformation on mass. Thus there would have to be a new path toward repentance and forgiveness. Jesus’ way was not the way of privilege or status, but rather the way of the cross … the way of (costly) sacrificial service.

4.     The “rebuke” (v.33)

(a)  Let’s consider how Jesus responded to Peter’s objections. This was a strong ‘rebuke’ … brutal you might think – “Get behind me, Satan”! Clearly Peter’s words had impacted Jesus, with this level of response. [When anyone says something to me that takes me by surprise or presses one of my buttons, then there can be a bit of an edge to my immediate response.] We also read that Peter had the temerity to actually ‘take Jesus aside’ (v.32b) and tell him off. Matthew’s Gospel gives us more details of the words Peter used (16:22), “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you”. In Matthew’s telling of the incident, Jesus also calls Peter “a stumbling block” – “you are a stumbling block to me” (16:23). Not great … being seen as a hindrance like this! “Satan” is the opponent of God’s will – obstructing God’s best intentions – distracting people from the main game – seeking to disrupt God’s plans. As a disciple, this is not how Peter should have been described … far from it!

(b) Peter here was actually behaving like the ‘devil’ had previously when tempting Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). This ‘devil’ was seeking to disrupt and divert Jesus from adhering to the plans and ministry set before him by God. Jesus also successfully resisted this temptation, saying, “Away with you, Satan”. The rebuke for Peter was not quite as strong as this, but not far away. Peter wanted Jesus to fit into his own desires and expectations (which would not include suffering and death). Peter may have liked things the way they were … not thinking of the big picture at all.

(c)  So Jesus was saying, ‘Don’t get in the way’! ‘Get with the program’! Disciples of Jesus need to be on the same page as Jesus. The horse has bolted, and there is now only one way! Jesus was saying that Peter could not be in ‘front’ with his own agenda, for he would get in the way, but rather needed to fall in “behind” his leader … where he could follow and learn! To “set our mind on divine things” is not ‘airy-fairy head in the clouds stuff’ … far from it. “Setting our minds on divine things” is to try to see everyday life from God’s perspective, asking ourselves what God might be seeking to achieve.

(d) With what sort of emotions did Jesus say this to Peter??? Ridicule … NO! Anger/frustration … maybe a bit!?! Disappointment … probably! Love … CERTAINLY! Understanding/compassion/concern – yes! Jesus understands what it is like to be us!! And we remember how Jesus lovingly restored Peter to ministry following his resurrection.

(e)  We should also note that this message wasn’t for Peter alone. The verse begins, “But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter …”. Peter’s views could have been representative of all the disciples of the time. Is there anything here for us? Is there any ways in which we oppose Jesus? Do we at all oppose his will? Do we live contrary to his ways? Do we make a bad name for Jesus? When we identify Jesus as our “Messiah” – is this authentic? Could we ever be a hindrance … maybe even through apathy or indifference!?!

5.     The ‘compulsion’ (v.31)

(a)  We can look at the death of Jesus in a number of ways. We can see it as an injustice or a crime … committed by the Romans in league with corrupt Jewish officials on the basis of trumped up charges. Isaiah 53 (v.8a) brings this out too: “By a perversion of justice he was taken away”. This certainly leads us to see Jesus’ death as an innocent sacrifice, for he was guilty of nothing. We can also see this as the inevitable outcome of Jesus upsetting the status quo like he did. But of course there was far more to Jesus’ death than this. This is best captured by John’s Gospel (10:18a): “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”. Jesus here buys into the greatest outpouring of love of all time.

(b) There is a little three letter word in the Greek text – “dei” – that is crucial here (verse 31). It is generally translated as “must”. This word indicates necessity – it “behoves” me. Jesus is compelled to act in this way … not forced; there is a strong motivation to take this path. This was according to ‘Divine will’, and would also fulfil the Scriptures (as they had always pointed toward the merciful activity of God). God was seeking to set things right – giving humanity every opportunity – bringing forward the ‘new covenant’.

(c)  So we can look at the cross (and the torture that led up to it) as something horrific … for it was. And we can also think of the reasons why it happened – beyond just the mindless political corruption … to the general declining human condition … to our own sin. But we can also see the cross as something glorious … for what it represented – Divine self-sacrifice, unparalleled self-giving, astonishing love; and also for what it achieved – my forgiveness and your forgiveness. Jesus endured suffering so that all people of all nations could be redeemed. Suffering is never good in itself, however can lead to positive outcomes, not necessarily personally, but in the big picture of what God seeks.

6.     Being on the Way of the Cross (v.34)

(a)  Verse 34 points out that our way is also ‘the way of the cross’. To say that we “take up our cross and follow Jesus” must have a direct connection to the way Jesus approached his cross. Jesus acknowledged that going down God’s path of compassionate self-giving love likely involved suffering. This should not surprise us. This should not deter us. Following someone like Jesus would most likely, in most situations in this world, be counter to the norm, and thus draw some negative reaction.

(b) People might just not quite get us because of our priorities. We might just cast a little bit of a contrast when it comes to forgiveness, peace-making, reconciliation, compassion, gentleness; or just by being positive, hopeful, encouraging and generous. We should be known for addressing injustice, abuse and cruelty like Jesus did, but this may not lead to winning a popularity contest. Having said this, integrity does often gain respect.

(c)  Where the Jesus way is lived with integrity and sincerity, there will many positive and joyous outcomes. This happened time and time again in the Gospels, as people responded to and connected with Jesus. And happily this happens today as people have their lives transformed because they come to know Jesus.

(d) We are then left with the call to the disciples (and any potential follower) to “deny themselves” in this participation in the ‘way of the cross’. What does that mean? In this context, to “deny ourselves” is to see God’s agenda as primary. And as already said, “Setting our minds on divine things” is to try to see everyday life from God’s perspective, asking ourselves what God might be seeking to achieve (through all our interactions and relationships on a daily basis). The more we focus on these “divine things”, the more we are drawn into the life of God!!!

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