The second Sunday of Lent features Jesus speaking openly to the disciples and others who have gathered. He teaches a powerful truth about his future and what it means to follow him. It is a message the Peter has trouble with and for which Peter receives a stern public rebuke. What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Text: Mark 8: 31-38
To Follow Jesus
I was in grade five and was participating in the school musical. I had a minor role which required me to learn about a dozen lines or so. I thought everything was going along fine. I was attending rehearsals, reading my lines, everything was going great.
We were about two weeks out from the performance when the teacher in charge, who happened to be my teacher pulled me aside. My friends were about twenty feet away, wondering what Mr. Henderson had to say to me.
I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to pull up my socks and do better. I hadn’t memorized my lines and there was concern that I wouldn’t be ready for the show. I was told to learn my lines or I would be replaced. All this in full view and earshot of my classmates. I’m sure I was all sorts of shades of embarrassed, but there it was.
Now, you might think that doing such thing to a ten year old wasn’t the kindest way to go about things. You might even be right. But I’ll tell you that I went home that night and I memorized my lines. The following day at rehearsal I did not need a script or any prompts. I had received a very public dressing down or as we might frame it as our gospel lesson does, I had been publicly rebuked.
I also got the message that was being delivered to me. Rather, than sulking about it or being mad that I had been treated that way, I decided to do what I had committed to do. So, I learned my lines. I have kept that story to myself for over thirty years, my parents don’t know about that incident. My friends who were there that day probably have a sense of what was said, after all they knew I hadn’t memorized my lines up until that part. I have used that experience, gained when I was ten year’s old as a reminder to try to do the things I’ve committed to doing. And I will credit Mr. Henderson as being one of the best teacher’s I had the pleasure of learning from.
Peter receives a very public dressing down in our passage this morning. For Peter it’s a bit of a rough ride. In the passages preceding our reading Peter has proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and been affirmed in this declaration. Then in his next breath he is rebuking Jesus, only for Jesus to rebuke him with those powerful and stern words, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”
Ouch. All this in site of the other disciples and those others who have come to learn from Jesus.
Jesus then teaches about what is necessary if you want to be a follower. To deny yourself, take up the cross and follow Jesus. To save your life you must lose it, for those who lose their life for Jesus sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
In the Greek there is an interesting play on words. The words for behind me in Greek are opiso mou and as you might imagine they are used twice in this passage. The first instance is when Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”
The second instance of opiso mou in the Greek is when Jesus says if you wish to follow me pick up your cross. However, in the second instance from a grammatical perspective in using the Greek, it is not necessary to use the words opiso mou in conjunction with ‘to follow’. In Greek, ‘to follow’ automatically carries with it the sense of ‘behind me’. The only reason that Mark uses opiso mou twice is to make a point.
Mark has Jesus repeat opiso mou creating a parallel to Peter in the previous verse. Perhaps Mark is saying that there are two ways to get behind Jesus: Either as one who seeks to hold onto this life seeking to find solutions by grabbing more of the same life.
But if you are willing to let go, if you can die along with Jesus, then you can get behind Jesus as a disciple. Then you can behind Jesus as a follower who is back there with a clear view of what Jesus does so that you can imitate him. One way or the other everyone ends up behind Jesus (reference).
A reminder that Christian faith is not a life-style choice, it is a vocation. If we lie about Jesus and the truth of the gospel, we deny the truth about ourselves.
But let’s get back to why Peter does what he does. Jesus has been talking about how the Son of Man, who Peter now realizes is Jesus, must suffer and be rejected by the temple authorities. That he will be put to the death and will rise up to life three days later.
Imagine you are Peter and you have just learned that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. Jesus swears you to silence and then goes on to teach about how he will die, expect that no one but you knows Jesus is talking about himself. Jesus is the Messiah, he is supposed to restore the throne of King David and drive the wicked Romans from the land. Instead, he says he will be killed by the temple authorities. What would you do?
The teaching in this moment isn’t for the crowds, it’s for Peter. It is for Peter to realize the cause he has aligned himself with and for Peter to fully understand the depth of God’s plan.
Commentator Clifton Black writes the following about this passage, “Jesus speaks ‘quite openly.’ There is little in this teaching that requires deep-sea exegesis. It is plain, hard, and inescapable.” He also includes the following quote from Mark Twain, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand” (reference).
The message of this passage is not difficult to understand. To live out, perhaps, but not to understand. The cross is Jesus’ destination. We know this. To save our own life we must die to the cross and that can be difficult. But Jesus is clear, we are to lose our own lives for him and for the gospel. And when Jesus refers to the gospel, he is referring to the Good News and also to the scriptures as he knew them, the Old Testament. What do we find there? To love God, to love your neighbour as yourself. To care for the widow, the orphan and the alien amongst you.
To love and do these things is to lose our lives for the gospel. I don’t know about you, but those things sound like they are worth losing my life for. That they are ideals and goals which are worth making a sacrifice for.
In a little while we will go down stairs and we will hold our annual general meeting. I hope we will discover that as a community of faith we have carried the cross and followed Jesus. That we will realize how we have done the work Christ has called us to do.
That in doing so we will not receive a stern rebuke, but instead find ourselves lined up with Jesus and the goals of the kingdom. Amen.