Nothing but Jesus Christ and Him Crucified – a Sermon on Mark 8:27-38 (Year B, Proper 19).
Tonight is my last preaching engagement at Zion, in the Bristol Circuit and in the UK. As you may know, we emigrate to Australia at the end of October [I originally preached this in 2012]. (When we prayed about emigrating in church the scripture reading turned out to be Genesis 12:1 “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”!) However, I am pleased to end on this passage of scripture.
Scripture – Mark 8:27-38
‘Who do people say I am?’; they say a precursor of the Christ. ‘Who do you say I am?’; Peter says ‘You are the Christ’. Peter argues with Jesus about his passion – his public suffering and humiliation. Jesus rebukes Peter, harshly, saying Satan has led him to say that. He warns his disciples that they must accept suffering, and to finishes with a stern warning – if we are ashamed of Jesus he will be ashamed of us in his glory and judgement.
Meaning at the Time
When Jesus fasted in the desert, the Devil tempted him and failed.
“When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13, NIV.) Now the Devil returns to tempt Jesus with a way out of his suffering.
Peter means well, he wants his friend the Messiah (my friend the Messiah!) to be spared suffering and humiliation, but behind these human feelings, pulling the strings, as it were, is Satan trying to keep his hold over humanity. We shouldn’t really blame him, he’s doing his job as accuser, trying to ensure that we get what we deserve. But he enjoyed his job, his status, a little bit too much. Perhaps he got carried away in his proud rebellion against God and wanted us to do the same, to think that it was all about what we wanted, that we could choose the kind of God we wanted. Perhaps he wanted some company, some like-minded subjects to rule over.
Meaning for Today
Today we are offered all sorts of alternatives, options, wisdom, advice and choices. We live in a pluralistic marketplace, where we are constantly offered more for less, or so it seems. In this context, isn’t it unreasonable of us to say that there is only one God? That Jesus had to be crucified to save us sinners? That Jesus is the only way to God? Aren’t we asking for trouble by saying these things in public? Shouldn’t we shut up, or at least water down this unpopular message? Shouldn’t we avoid displaying the cross, that most provocative religious symbol? Perhaps we should keep quiet for our own good: for our convenience.
Without the cross, Jesus would be just another superior offering wisdom. With the cross, Jesus is the one who made the sacrifice, who did not grasp for equality with God, as the Devil did. Instead, he made the sacrifice that gives him the authority to call on humans to do the same. We do not choose him, like breakfast cereal from the shelf of a supermarket, but he calls on us to choose discipleship and a costly discipleship at that. He calls us to accept the cross he has chosen for us and pick it up. It’s the only option he offers.
When I became a local preacher I, very modestly, misquoted St Paul. ‘For I resolved to know [preach] nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ (1Cor 2:2, NIV.) Throughout history, this was never a popular message and it’s never going to be, but we haven’t chosen to be popular, we have chosen Jesus, the Messiah, the cross and surrender to God. God bless us all. Amen.