Mark 8:27-9:1, NRSV
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’
Preached Sunday, November 26, 2017 at Westfield Church by the Rev. Jonathan Chapman
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples after inquiring who others said he was. His ministry was growing and along with it, his reputation. Jesus was something special, but what exactly was that something? Some said he was John the Baptist, others Elijah, or one of the other prophets. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks.
“Who do you say that I am?” Peter replies steadily, “You are the Messiah.” “Don’t tell anyone,” Jesus commands. “Not yet.”
During the second World War, the US office of War Information was printing all sorts of propaganda, one of the most famous of which featured a red top over, light blue waves with a battleship sticking out of the water at a 45 degree angle. And over the image were these words “Loose lips might sink ships.”
Of course then we were worried about spies and treason, not really what Jesus was concerned with. But the emphasis was the same. For Jesus, it simply wasn’t time to reveal who he was yet.
Shortly after Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah, he learns from Jesus about how the last days of Jesus’ life will end. And frankly, he doesn’t like what he hears. He doesn’t want to hear about Jesus’ death. He wants things to stay the same, to not change. They’ve got a good thing. So Peter, emboldened by his accurate identification of Jesus, rebukes him.
And Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter: “Get behind me Satan. For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Loose lips are gonna sink this ship.
All week long, I’ve been thinking about change—about how sometimes you can anticipate it, how sometimes you can fret about it—how sometimes it’s planned and sometimes it takes you by surprise. About how it’s rarely easy.
Today, we’re halfway through the Year of Mark—our yearlong journey through the Bible’s oldest gospel. We’ve witnessed the start of Jesus’ ministry. We’ve seen his healings and miracles—the way he cares for the outcast and strangers, the way he feeds people—not just their stomachs, but their souls, too.
And finally, after eight chapters of people claiming they know who Jesus is—that he’s God’s son, the Messiah—he finally admits to it—but only to his closest followers, his disciples.
I can imagine their relief—that it was true, what everyone had been saying about him. I wonder which one of the was the first to lean over to the guy next to him and say, “See! I told you so!” The disciples were definitely not above a hearty “I told you so!”
But their celebration in finally knowing, finally getting who Jesus is turns out to be short lived. Because you don’t get to know who Jesus is without hearing about what it means to follow him.
And here’s where Jesus draws a line in the sand. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.”
And there it is right there at the end of chapter 8—the summation of the first eight chapters of Mark and the thesis of final eight. For eight chapters, Jesus has proven this—that to follow him is to lose one’s life. And he’ll keep proving it for the next eight.
But nestled deep in these iconic verses is this phrase: take up your cross. You’ve heard it before, right? Or maybe a version of it like, “well, that’s just my cross to bear.” Have you ever thought what that actually means? The cross was an instrument of execution. To add humiliation into the torture of a such a death, Romans would make you carry your cross to the place where you’d be crucified—it’s like making someone dig their own grave before killing them. I know, I know, you didn’t come to church to think about such gruesome things so we can move on, but the fact remains that when Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me,” it’s not some happy-go-lucky turn of phrase. He’s asking for a life-or-death commitment. Jesus is asking his disciples—and us—to follow him to the end.
But before we get too overwhelmed with what taking up our cross literally means, let’s boil it down to what Jesus intends us to know here: The life of faith isn’t easy. Being Christian, being faithful, isn’t easy.
It’s not always the Romans or the pharisees who are out to get you. Sometimes, it’s anxiety. Sometimes, it’s disappointment. Sometimes, it’s dread or pain or fear or anger or loss or uncertainty or despair or worry or unexpected change or…or…or…That’s to say, living the life of faith is hard.
At Westfield, we love the happy things: we love confetti cannons and rollicking music and baptisms and Christmas. We love kids singing and jokes and hearing how much Randy and Evelyn made on can day. We love joy and hope and promise and elation.
But you know and I know—that life isn’t always those things, nor is our faith. We know that carrying a cross sometimes lands you on a hill far away—a hill we call calvary. We know that if we follow Jesus, if we take up our cross and follow him—that we might end up nailed to that cross next to Jesus some dark Friday. It’s not the part we like to talk about, but it’s a part that’s true nonetheless.
But here’s the thing: we also believe—and I do, I do believe this. I know this.—the world didn’t end on Good Friday, and the story of Jesus didn’t end on the cross. I believe—we believe—that Sunday’s coming, that resurrection is real—that that which was once dead and hopeless can live again. And that taking up the cross of Jesus isn’t just about the pain of this life, but about the triumph of it, too.
So on this Christ the King Sunday, when we proclaim Jesus as the sovereign of this world—we celebrate the pain of faith and it’s triumph. It’s disappointments and it’s victories. And we name that it’s not always easy, in fact sometimes it’s downright hard. But that it’s always worth it.
So friends, let’s do it—let’s take the cross as our own, let’s lose our life and find it in Jesus, let’s look for the coming day when all will be well—when every tear will be dry, when every sword will be beaten into a plow and every gun into a shovel.
And let’s be faithful, together.