Sermon; Lent 2B;Mark 8:31-38
Today's gospel passage comes at approximately the halfway point of Mark. There are sixteen chapters in that gospel, and today's passages comes from the end of Chapter 8. Now you might be tempted to think that's just a bit of bible trivia (being the halfway point), but besides being at the halfway point, today's passage is also a turning point in Mark's gospel.
Up until now, if you're reading the gospel from beginning to end, Mark has been focused on the power and authority of Jesus. Remember a few weeks ago when we heard Jesus heal the demoniac from Chapter 1 when the people exclaimed, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority!” That focus on Jesus' power and authority continues throughout the first half with other healings, miracles, teachings, and challenges to the religious authorities that run all the way up to today's passage. Some translations even include an obvious break between verses 26 and 27 to signify this shift in focus.
The turning point, or shift in focus, changes from emphasizing Jesus' power and authority to emphasizing the rejection and death of Jesus. From here there are three Passion predictions by Jesus that mention his rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. From here, Jesus is forward looking to where the Spirit is driving him. From here he is bound to the will of God and that understanding will threaten the religious and political leaders of the day.
Today we hear the first of those Passion predictions. Jesus understands that this is what the future holds for him. But right now Peter is more in line with the religious leaders. In other words, he has his own ideas about God and the Messiah. What Jesus says about his betrayal, suffering, and death runs counter to Peter's convictions. So when Peter heard these words of Jesus, he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.
This is Peter attempting to define who Jesus is. This is Peter attempting to use his authority. Mark has Jesus rebuke demons/evil spirits and the winds of the storm as an example of his power and authority. And the word “take” also exemplifies power and authority. People take what belongs to them. Sometimes people take what doesn't belong to them. So by taking Jesus aside, Peter is performing an act that elevates him over Jesus. Or, rather, is designed to “put Jesus in his place,” to submit him to a place that Peter can control.
As a side note – this is why we don't take Communion, we receive it. But that's a whole other discussion. So . . . back to Peter and Jesus.
If you remember last week's sermon, I said that Mark's version of Jesus' wilderness and temptation experience was my favorite version because Satan never leaves. And then I pointed out a variety of ways in which Jesus may have possibly been tempted, not just during the 40 days in the wilderness, but throughout his life. Today is one of those days.
Jesus has just given his disciples the first of three Passion predictions, and Peter responds by not only attempting to exercise his authority over Jesus and control him in a way that meets his own Messianic expectations, but in a way that tempts Jesus to bow to and follow the desires of men rather than the will of God. Not only is Satan, through Peter, tempting Jesus to use his power to become the Messiah we all deep down desire – a Messiah who conquers our enemies and elevates us to a position of privilege – but he is tempting Jesus to walk another path.
The path Peter and Satan lay before Jesus is the path of glory without condemnation. It's the path of joy without pain. It's the path of Easter without Good Friday. This is the path of which Jesus says over in Matthew, “the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.”
But Jesus is on a different path. Jesus understands that obeying the will of God will put him in direct conflict with the will of man. He understands that there is no joy without pain, no glory without condemnation, no Easter without Good Friday. Jesus himself is entering through he narrow gate and taking the hard road that leads to life.
Jesus handles this temptation as you would expect – by rebuking Peter and exerting his own authority over both Satan and Peter.
“Get behind me Satan.” With that statement Jesus does a couple of things.
First, as I said, it exerts Jesus' authority. It reinforces that Jesus will follow the will of God, not the will of self, others, or Satan. It reminds us that following God is not an easy path, but that it requires going through Good Friday before getting to Easter. It reminds us that the reason this path is so hard is because it is in direct conflict with how people choose to operate.
Second, Jesus is reminding Peter, the disciples, and the crowd, that if they want to be his disciples, they must follow him and deny themselves. That sounds basic, but we need to be reminded that disciples don't lead, protect, or possess Jesus. We need to be reminded that disciples are not in charge. We need to be reminded that disciples follow, and that following Christ requires us to put aside our selfish desires and deny ourselves.
Jesus lays this out in the second half of today's passage.
To follow Jesus means to take up your cross, remembering that we die on crosses.
To follow Jesus means the way to save your life is by losing it to Jesus and the gospel.
To follow Christ is to recognize that you can't serve wealth and the gospel.
To follow Jesus means to choose your priorities and proclaim whom you follow.
From here on out in Mark the emphasis becomes the Passion. From here on out, we, like Jesus, are driven by the Spirit to that horrible day when the will of God comes in direct opposition with the will of man. Ultimately we know that Easter comes, that God wins. But let us never forget, like Peter did, that there is no easy path. Let us always remember that to get to Easter we must go through Good Friday. And let us pray that one day that journey won't be necessary.