Monday, March 20, 2006

Following Jesus to the Cross - Sermon

Today we are in the season of Lent, the theme of Lent is a wonderful journey to Easter, and we begin our journey through careful disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We do these disciplines not out of mechanical routine or out of dieting reasons but rather in intentional obedience to following Jesus. The spiritual preparation of Lent has a special aim; its purpose is to entering into the death of Jesus so that the resurrection to new life may be a truly physical experience, not just an intellectual meditation.
Through self denial we enter into the suffering and prepare for the resurrection. This season of Lent allows us to physically connect with Jesus by denying self and preparing to follow Jesus himself on the journey to the Cross.
Similarly today our sermon is the beginning of a series entitled: Following Jesus to the Cross! Jeff has asked me to begin this series, and as those of you that were at the annual meeting in February you heard me talk about the Synergy Jeff and I have, and after hearing this Jeff decide for me to begin his series to perhaps test this synergy. Today’s Passage is found in Mark 8:27-30 A lot of my reading and preparing for this sermon has come from Tim Geddert’s Commentary on Mark so I will be using a lot of his language if you permit me, and if you don’t I suppose you don’t really have a choice. but before we begin reading let us have a bit of a back ground. So a bit of back ground: Prior to our passage Mark introduces us to Jesus’ public ministry, his teachings and miracles. In chapter 7 and 8 we are given a collection of diverse incidents. Jesus begins to perform an unusual healing, he also repeats a great feeding miracle by feeding four thousand people as he fed five thousand in chapter 6, Next after doing these miracles he rebuffs the Pharisees for desiring to see some miracles and then confuses and embarrasses the disciple, who cannot understand what this all means, they are clearly missing the point as Jesus sternly asks them: “Do you not yet understand?”. And finally prior to our passage Jesus restores sight to a blind man The blind man needs two touches, after one the blind man sees fuzzy and after the second he sees clearer. It is important to understand that these five occurrences are not randomly placed side by side in Marks writings these are part of the preparation and teaching that Jesus wants to convey to the disciples about who he is. We begin on the way to Caesarea Philippi in our passage today in Mark 8:27-30.
Jesus begins the dialogue by asking the disciples, who do people say that I am? I think this was an easy question I imagine the disciples being very quick announcing to Jesus, well some say that you’re John the Baptist, others that you’re Elijah, and some yet that you are a prophet… It’s always easy to answer on someone else’s behalf. It is clear from their answer that there were mixed reviews, people knew that Jesus was important that He was special, but the reviews were mixed, its clear that although Jesus preached and taught, rebuked Pharisees and performed miracles some people still did not understand who he was. So the disciples easily answer Jesus. But then Jesus sharply turns the table and asks BUT who do you say that I am? I believe there must have been a bit of a hush, as the disciples have earlier given indications that they have not understood who Jesus is, and so they probably don’t want to get it wrong, and Peter answers and an amazing thing occurs Peter gets it right he says: You are the Christ! Meaning you are the Messiah. Peters answer exclaims a lot, Peter’s answer here draws us to understand that He sees Jesus as their savior, he understands that this is the Christ that was promised and although he doesn’t understand what that fully means, and we know by reading ahead that he doesn’t, as he rebukes Jesus for wanting to suffer. . and so although he doesn’t fully understand what kind of Savior Jesus is, he does understand that Jesus is the Savior.
The reason the healing of the blind man is so important in the prior passage, is that is the way it was with Peter and the disciples. At first their understanding, their insight, was not clear. It was fuzzy. They had some idea of what Jesus was up to, but they weren’t quite sure. Jesus had to impress upon them again and again who he was and what he was up to. Jesus wanted to open their eyes and make them see. Our passage today is a hinge on which the second part of the gospel begins. It is here that the disciples and reader begin a journey with Jesus from the North and the popularity of Jesus to the South to Jerusalem and ultimately to the cross, just as the season of Lent that we are in now the disciples begin the journey with Jesus following him… now Caesarea Philippi is the most northern city that Jesus visits and it is in the height of his popularity. And it is from this height that Jesus begins to go against what we normally would consider the right action, after all the people are following Jesus, they are intrigued by him they are willing to travel distances to hear him, this is great, right? The disciples would have thought so everything is going right, right according to plan they would thought, what I mean by that is that we must remember that the dominant Jewish understanding and hope was that a Messiah would come as a conqueror, as a liberator, as one that will establish his earthly kingdom who will dethrone Caesar and his Roman Empire, and would slay his enemies. Although Isaiah does present a suffering servant, it was the conquering hero that had the grip of their hearts. Throughout their existence the Jews never lost sight of the fact that they were God’s chosen people. They always regarded the greatest days in their history as the days of King David, and they dreamed of a day when there would arise another king of David’s line, a king who would once again make them great in righteousness and in power. As time went on, it became clear that this dreamed-of greatness would never come about naturally through the passage of time, for they came under Assyrian rule and Babylonian rule and Persian rule and Greek rule and Roman rule. They began to believe that it wasn’t likely that someone would simply emerge politically. More and more they began to dream of a day when God would intervene in history and unveil the Messiah. They had dreams of a Messiah being ushered in by God in a nationalistic, conquering style, in which the perfect reign of God would come about through a great military struggle. And as Jesus’ popularity rises, and with miracles performed Jesus must have been perceived by some and his disciples as THIS kind of Savior, the one that they wanted, a political hero that has arrived to dethrone Caesar and the Roman regime.
The idea that Jesus would be a suffering Messiah was still complete opposite of what they expected. Peter gets the right answer but his motivation is unclear. In Matthew’s parallel to this passage Jesus congratulates Peter for knowing this because it was revealed to him by the Father. But I would like us to stay on the Mark account where Mark omits recording the congratulation to Peter. Peter gets the name right, but his idea of what that name means is distorted, he is looking for a liberator, for a conqueror, he is not looking for a suffering king, who is willing to die on a cross. SO Mark may simply omit this part because Peter just doesn’t get it.
But although the disciples may not fully get it, Peter’s confession on the behalf of the other disciples and him self, that Jesus is the Christ represents a major step forward, as they seek to understand who Jesus is and what motives this Jesus really has? Jesus though understands that he has to give up the popularity, and prepare to go on a journey where divine mysterious Son of God has to die. I wonder if we can truly fathom what that looks like that God creator of all and all becomes man and dies a horrible death. You can see how hard and perplexing this may have been for the disciples to understand, Jesus that calmed the storm and was able to control nature, who healed the lame and the blind, who spoke with authority, was going to die. Peter’s confession in the word Messiah captures the focus on the Jewish expectations. Like the disciples I think we also often have a murky vision of who Jesus is or where He is leading us. It is here with this passage that Jesus draws out that although many have mixed idea of who he is, the disciples are beginning to understand who he is, although not what he si going to do. Jesus begins the journey from what seems like to us, where he has finally made it, he has reached adoration and popularity, and yet Jesus again acts like a radical and goes against all that we would expect. Jesus begins to go against all that the people desired. He tells the Disciples not to tell any one about this, perhaps because of their confusion of who he is.
For Peter though it is here, at Caesarea Philippi, outside of Galilee in the shadow of Ancient Palestine, where Caesar was a God, that Peter discovered that a wandering teacher from Nazareth, whom he followed during his public ministry, is the Christ. Although Peter as we have said doesn’t fully get it, he is beginning to. I think we must be honest with ourselves that we often don’t get what Jesus is about, we too have special expectations of Jesus, as Peter and the disciples did; they were living in a time of occupation. They needed and wanted a liberator. How many of us have had the same experience, where at some point during our faith journey our faith walk, we didn’t meet the Messiah we expected? I wonder how many of us have said: “This is not what I signed up for. This is not what I expected from my Lord and Savior.”
It is amazing how truly free we really are; how completely and unashamedly God leaves it up to us, never manipulating us. We are to follow the Christ, Messiah, begin a journey with him. But as we follow we learn that one of the problems in deciding whom someone is to us and what that person means to us is that we have a habit of expecting them to fulfill our desires and wishes. We tend to see people the way we want to see them, and then expect them to live up to our picture of them. As Peter believes that Jesus is Christ, he also has an expectation of what this Christ will do. So the question I want to ask and I want us to struggle with is: who do you believe that Jesus is? Who do you say Jesus is? and what do you expect of him?. Are we following Jesus with expectations of greatness for us? Are we following Jesus with some internal motives as the disciples did hoping in a conquering hero? Who is this Jesus, the Messiah, who is this Jesus that leaves popularity and begins a journey to the south.
The passage we are focusing on today, introduces us to the second half of the gospel of Mark as the journey begins, although the disciples don’t know it yet, Jesus begins the journey to the cross, we have the luxury to read ahead and know this. But what is also critical is knowing, that this journey is a journey of discipleship. We begin to follow Jesus, learning and following, sticking to Him as he goes ahead of us, even when we are not sure where He is leading us. As Jesus is confessed to be the Messiah by Peter this confession is the beginning of the journey, the beginning of our discipleship, as we confess that He truly is our savior, and we begin a journey that does leads to the cross… Billy Graham has said, “Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have” Tim Geddert adds that “A true confession of Jesus as Christ and Son of God requires a recognition of and an acceptance of the way of the cross”…the acceptance of the way of the cross…So today we find our selves in the season of Lent, we are in a spiritual preparation, in prayer and fasting we are in a journey with Jesus to the cross and beyond. What kind of expectations are we outlining for Jesus? Or are we allowing him to lead, so we can follow? Today I want us to focus on a few things, First that proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ is the beginning, second is that once we proclaim this we begin a journey, a journey of discipleship. As we go through our sermon series of Following Jesus to the cross and learning what that means, let us today examine what it means for us to say that Jesus is the Christ? Do we know what we proclaim when we say that? And are we willing to follow Him, not on a journey of our own desires but following Him, in a journey of discipleship, a journey of learning and sticking close to Jesus…. are we willing to follow Jesus even to the cross?…

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