Gospel Lesson: Mark 8:31-38
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.”
As a reminder of where we are, where we have been, and yet where we are going, we just merely a week and half ago began a journey through this season of Lent. A journey that as we spoke about last week is often accompanied with solitude, difficulties, and yet life forming experiences. This Lenten journey is not to be taken lightly, but rather should be taken with the utmost seriousness as you seek for the Almighty God who has created you. This journey has a very clear destination. This destination is a destination that ends in glory on that Easter Sunrise Morning as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and is a destination that leaves us closer in relationship with our Risen Lord. But along that road to this glorious resurrection first has some things that must happen along the way. In order to share in the glories of the Easter Resurrection, we also must face trials, self-denial, and still a cross is ever before us.
As we begin to discuss our sermon today, I would like to begin with a riddle.
I was born out of the Persians, throughout out time my makeup has been changed, wood, brass, iron, silver, gold, and sometimes garnished with diamonds have been used to idolize me. My base is hidden beneath ground and my top points to the birds. I have been a tool used to hurt many, but am seen as something beautiful to many. What am I?
Answer: The Cross
The cross is a symbol that can be found throughout all of Christianity. It is likely for one to go into a sanctuary and looming over you or above you, there would be a cross present. Sometimes our crosses are barren and empty, sometimes they bare ministries, and sometimes it has Jesus placed upon it. Sometimes they are made of wood, while others may be made of brass. The cross sometimes is a powerful symbol that reminds us of suffering, and other times it is used as a symbol of comfort of Jesus’ love for humankind. Sometimes, and most times it is glanced upon and just thought to be a symbol of Christianity and we put no thought or reflection into what we have just gazed upon. I do believe though as we look to a cross, such as the one behind me here, we do not place ourselves upon that cross, but rather that cross is a symbol of the cross of Jesus. It is the cross that Jesus bared for us. It is the cross of our savior and rightly that is often what the cross within many sanctuaries represents. I love the symbols of the church because you see for a long time it was through pictures and symbols did the church learn the gospel story. What I mean by that is many of the common folk did not read nor write. And so still today as you go to older sanctuaries you will see beautiful pictures and murals on the walls. And whether you were only a small child or a grown adult, you would not only hear the good news, but you saw it pictured along the walls. But as many children do, and as I myself as a child remembering doing, I would look at some of the pictures found within the sanctuaries and ask “What does this mean?” I was no young child either, I remember doing a report in the 10th grade on the local UMC. I looked at all the beautiful stain glass windows, and would look at different emblems and ask what does that mean? Some of those symbols would be like IHS, If you look closely actually, here on the cross on our altar table is this very symbol of IHS. And I asked, what does that mean? Which by the way means “In His Service”. Or another one was INRI, which in Latin means (IESVS·NAZARENVS·REX·IVDÆORVM) Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews, the sign placed on the cross above Jesus’ head. But as I thought about these symbols and asking questions, I thought to myself what if someone were to come into the sanctuary and look around and ask you what is that? (point to the cross). How would we respond? Would we tell them that is the cross of Jesus, would we tell them about how it was used to put people to death, would you tell them it is just a mere symbol of our salvation? What does this gruesome cross mean to us?
While you ponder that question, let me tell you a bit about what it meant to the first century Jew. Around 6 CE put to death by crucifixion were 2000 Galilean insurrectionists to the Roman Empire. It was not merely a humane death penalty, but rather it was a death that kept the authority and power with Caesar. No one would revolt against such a government after witnessing anyone, much less 2000 people die on the cross for doing so. The Roman cross though is not necessarily how we often have portrayed it. We often think about a cross being 20 ft high and the person is quiet….no no no, the purpose of the Roman Cross was to deter anyone from revolting against the Romans. Their cross was only about 6 ft high, and fully grown adults agonized as they were placed on the cross for often days and sometimes weeks before they would die. These crosses would line the streets into the cities controlled by the Romans as a testament to any wanderer who may be coming into the city to tell them who had authority in this city. Pictured, we often see Jesus with his feet one on top of the other like so, but a more accurate portrayal of the cross the feet would be placed such as so. What this does then, is it means when someone is resting on their wrists, they are unable to breathe. And so in order to breathe they must push themselves up with their ankles into the nail and pull themselves forward so that the diaphragm would be able to take in air, and thus pulling on the nails that is placed in their wrists. Just to receive one breath. The cross to say the least has been seen as one of the most brutal and agonizing deaths anyone has suffered. So why you may ask do I speak about this on this day, and not on a day such as Good Friday. Because here in our Gospel we have Jesus telling his disciples, who had grown up knowing the purpose of a cross, for the first time, this is the future for the man they have finally and rightly professed as the Messiah. The Messiah who they believed would overthrow the Roman Emperor, the Messiah who would take back the Kingship that David had left, the Messiah who was on the road to glory. And Jesus after saying yes, I am He, I am the Messiah teaches his Disciples that the road to Glory and Kingship and salvation for the Jews from the Roman Occupiers is not going to happen, at least not in the way they had pictured, but rather he is going to be taken and undergo great suffering, rejected by elders, chief priests, and scribes, and will be killed. And oh yeah, after three days be resurrected. The Disciples must have been infuriated, confused and upset because they thought they had left their homes, their families, because they were going to be following the man who would bring Israel out of this oppression by the Romans. Peter, as we see boldly responds and pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Jesus! Can you believe it, he rebukes Jesus! Jesus rebukes evil, sin, demons, storms, and here is Peter rebuking JESUS! Jesus rightly turns, looks not to Peter but to the other disciples, he then rebukes Peter, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” You see, Peter did not see what Jesus saw. Peter was so caught up with the glories of the Messiah, the Glories of overturning the Romans, that the desires of Human SELF was in the way of GOD. And so Jesus takes this opportunity then to teach more about following Christ.
He says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” We in the 21st century often think, oh well Jesus was speaking to them, he certainly was not speaking to his Disciples 2000 years later. Certainly he does not mean for me to deny myself and my things in order to follow Christ. I can have all the things I want like my pride, my ego and still be a good Christian, Right? I would say that is a great definition for the opposite of Self-Deny and that is Self-reigns. Those who self-reign forever are looking for painless shortcuts to the Kingdom of God. And brothers and sisters in Christ, there is NO such things. In order to be a disciple of Christ, he clearly states, one must self-deny and take up thy cross. “To self-deny means to remove oneself from the center of one’s concern, relinquishing status and power in favor of service to others.” We have already discussed how the SELF-Reigns was the epitome of sin, ever since the very beginning. But WHY one may ask, to what purpose does self-denial have. It is to sacrifice, to have the mind of Christ and when one has sacrificed and has that mind of Christ do we move into the way in which God intended for us to be, redeemed, sanctified, made holy, God Focused and made perfect as we love as Christ loved. And so I ask where is our Cross today? Is it that cross up on the wall of our sanctuary? Most certainly it is not. Our cross is out there, it is outside these doors, it is to be picked up as we leave worship, it is to be bared as follow after Christ in our daily living. How more perfect is it then for you to offer your full self to God and thus to others and take up your cross, and sacrifice, self denying, in order to have the mind of Christ and show love as Christ first loved us?