Sunday 13th September 2015
Mark 8: 27-38
In each of the Gospels we see different emphases as the writers choose which events and conversations they will include. Not only are the individual scenes or stories important but their placement within the structure of the book is also significant.
Chapter 8 of Mark is the middle of the Gospel. In the preceding chapters Jesus has been keen to establish his bona fides. His miracles have shown his authority over the natural universe – stilling storms and walking on water; authority over illness – healing lepers, people who were blind, deaf and lame; even authority over demons. Now we see the most important lesson of all. We need to set the scene.
Where are They? They are on the road to Caesarea-Philippi. The symbolism here is that they are heading for the regional Capital. The seat of Roman Government for Northern Galilee. Roman power and prestige abounded. It was on the way to this symbol of all that was opposed to the ways of God and the enemies of the divine Kingdom that this most important conversation takes place.
First Declaration With his power and authority established Jesus asks for the first time, Who do you say that I am? They then share commonly held views, perhaps not wanting to reveal their own secret thoughts or wanting to see Jesus’ reaction to these ideas. He’s having none of that. Who do YOU say I am? This is important because for the FIRST time in Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus called Messiah by his followers. Remember Mark has declared his intention in writing his gospel right from verse 1 of chapter 1: The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ the Son of God. Here in the mid-point of the gospel we see the beginning of the working out of this intention.
What Does This Mean? It is now and only now that he begins to speak about his death. Peter does not understand. Having been the one who made the “Christ” declaration the thought of his death was just too much. Peter rebukes Jesus. Jesus’ response needs clear understanding. I don’t think he is calling Peter “Satan” as if he was saying that Satan had taken over Peter’s tongue. The word “satan” means “adversary”. Many early manuscripts of Mark lead to this conclusion because there is no capital S. Also the word “behind” also means “support” or “backstop”. Jesus is saying to Peter’s objection, do not support any adverse view, I am the Christ. The following part of the conversation supports this. He then begins to speak about denying self, taking up your cross and following him.
Our Adversaries He gives just one example so I take it this example is not only obvious but important. Jesus asks, What is really important to you? What are your aims in life? In another place we read, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. What is important in your life? Jesus challenges us: What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul? We may not want to “gain the whole world” but we all want things and that is OK but the issue is what you want and more importantly, what will you do to get it? When John D. Rockefeller became America’s first billionaire he was asked, “You’rethe richest man in the country. You can have anything you want. What could you possibly want now?” He replied, “Just a little bit more.” Jesus was a realist. He knows we need material things, that is not the point. The point is what will we do to achieve them? Are we willing to cheat, to bend the rules, to sail close to the legal limits to get what we want? We are Christians when we fill out our tax returns and talk to the boss about others performances just as we are when we go to Church. God not take off a demerit point when we do something good. Life is not like a balance sheet – as long as we are on the credit side when we die then we’ll be OK. Jesus says living an authentic Christian life is hard going – like carrying a cross. It’s a symbol of sacrifice and death. We may not be called upon to pay that ultimate sacrifice but it’s not going to be a bed of roses either. Doing what’s right in God’s sight. Standing up for what’s right in God’s sight is not always easy. Sometimes it costs us a lot.
Not Just Words Peter’s confession was not just an emotional outburst of faith. Clearly he didn’t understand all the implications of what he was saying but it provided a starting point for Jesus to speak of his ultimate mission. It is only now – only after we hear for the first time one of his disciples declare him to be the Christ that he begins to speak of his death. That’s what upset Peter. It came as such a surprise. All this healing and feeding and taking in the authorities was exciting to be a part of but now he’s on about sacrifice and suffering and dying. Jesus delays speaking about his death for 2 reasons. 1/ He wants to establish his bona fides. Hence the miracles. 2/ He wants his followers to understand that it’s not just about miracles and arguments with the authorities but it’s about the context of his death. This is the death of the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. God is to prove the depth of His love and His commitment to saving the world. For god loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten son. God loves is that much. What are we prepared to say and do for God? Just pay lip service? Say the right things even if our actions don’t match up? Do a few right and good things to get God on our side? St. Paul warns us that God will not be mocked. Jesus said the crowds and to the disciples, If anyone should come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. Words and deeds are the 2 sides of the same coin. All the N.T. writer say this in different ways. St. Paul tells the Philippians they must work out their own salvation for God is at work in you. St. James tells his readers, faith by itself if it is not accompanied by good works is dead.
At the same time however, the words ARE important. Being a humanitarian is not enough either. We need the words. We need to make the confession that this Jesus who is our inspiration is God’s anointed one, who came not just as an example but as our saviour. We need to confess him as our Lord. We need to understand that our good works are done in the context of God’s sacrificial love. God so love the world that he gave us his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not die but have everlasting life.
It is God and God alone who can fix the world’s mess. God works through us. It’s not just us going off and doing mighty deeds on our own but it is us working in tandem with God that will make the difference.
You are the Christ confessed Peter. Let us make the same confession again. But let us not allow any adversary prevent us from marrying the right confession with the right deeds done in God’s name. Then great things can be achieved a s God works with us, through us and in us.