The Second Sunday in Lent
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 8:31-38

THE STORY OF THE TEMPTATION, OR TESTING, OF THE CHRIST ENDS IN ALL THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS THE SAME WAY; WHEN SATAN FAILS TO TRIP UP JESUS, HE LEAVES HIM TO WAIT FOR A MORE OPPORTUNE TIME. OUR GOSPEL FOR TODAY IS THE ACCOUNT OF ONE OF THOSE OPPORTUNE TIMES. THE SETTING IS ON THE ROAD NEAR PANIAS, NORTH OF GALILLEE, WHEN JESUS ASKED HIS DISCIPLES WHAT THE PEOPLE WERE SAYING ABOUT HIM. THEY REALLY DIDN’T COMMIT TO ANYTHING, SAYING SOME THOUGHT JESUS WAS ANOTHER ELIJAH, OR EVEN JOHN THE BAPTIST. WHEN HE CHALLENGED THEM AS TO WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM, PETER BURST OUT WITH, “YOU ARE THE MESSIAH; THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD!” JESUS GAVE PETER THE HIGHEST PRAISE, “BLESSED ARE YOU, SIMON BEN JONAH; FOR FLESH AND BLOOD HAVE NOT REVEALED THIS TO YOU, BUT THE FATHER IN HEAVEN.” IN OTHER WORDS, YOU DID NOT COME TO THIS BY HUMAN REASON, BUT BY THE REVELATION OF GOD. JEJUS EVEN CHANGES SIMON’S NAME TO PETER, “THE ROCK.” BECAUSE GOD HAS REVEALED THIS TO SIMON, JESUS TELLS THEM EXACTLY WHAT IT MEANS FOR HIM TO BE THE CHRIST; AND HE DOES THIS QUITE OPENLY. HE IS GOING TO DIE AND RISE AGAIN.

THIS OPEN PRONOUNCEMENT THAT JESUS MUST UNDERGO GREAT SUFFERING, BE REJECTED BY THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES, BE KILLED, THEN RISE AGAIN, REALLY UPSETS PETER. THIS KIND OF TALK WASN’T WHAT HE SIGNED UP FOR WHEN HE FOLLOWED JESUS TO BECOME A FISHER FOR PEOPLE. THIS ISN’T WHAT THE MESSIAH IS SUPPOSED TO DO. WHAT ABOUT THROWING OUT THE ROMANS AND RESTORING THE THRONE OF DAVID? SO HE GRABS JESUS, TAKES HIM ASIDE, AND REBUKES HIM. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT HE SAID, BUT IT WAS PROBABLY ON THE LINES OF, “LOOK, THIS IS CRAZY TALK. GETTING KILLED WON’T GET US ANYWHERE; BESIDES, WE WON’T LET THAT HAPPEN.”

NOW, JESUS HAD JUST PRAISED SIMON PETER FOR BEING OPEN TO THE REVELATION FROM GOD, SO WHEN HE SAYS, “GET BEHIND ME SATAN! FOR YOU ARE SETTING YOUR MIND NOT ON DIVINE THINGS BUT ON HUMAN THINGS,” HE IS SAYING THAT JUST AS SIMON PETER WAS OPEN TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD, HE IS NOW OPEN TO THE SPIRIT OF SATAN. A MODERN WAY OF SAYING WHAT JESUS SAID WOULD BE, “GET OUT OF MY WAY!” HE THEN IGNORES SIMON PETER, AS HE CALLS THE CROWD TO JOIN HIS DISCIPLES, AND TELLS THEM WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE ONE OF HIS FOLLOWERS. IF ANY WANT TO BE MY DISCIPLES, LET THEM DENY THEMSELVES AND TAKE UP THEIR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME.”

LIKE SIMON PETER, THE CROWD ALSO HAD IDEAS ABOUT WHO AND WHAT THE MESSIAH WOULD BE, AND AS LONG AS JESUS WAS HEALING THE SICK, CASTING OUT DEMONS, FEEDING THE MASSES, DOING ALL SORTS OF EXCITING STUFF, THINGS WERE GREAT.THEY LIKED THIS JESUS, AND FOLLOWED THIS JESUS AS THEIR LORD AND SAVIOR; BUT NOW, JESUS IS TELLING THEM, IT IS GOING TO GET REAL. HERE IS THE CHOICE; WE EITHER CHOOSE OURSELVES AND DENY JESUS, OR CHOOSE JESUS AND DENY OURSELVES. SELF-DENIAL IS THE FIRST STEP ON THE ROAD OF DISCIPLESHIP. IT IS OFTEN DIFFICULT TO REALIZE THIS; OH, WE HEAR IT OFTEN ENOUGH, BUT IT GETS LOST IN THE JOY SURROUNDING THE BAPTISMAL FONT, IN THE GREAT CELEBRATIONS OF FESTIVAL SUNDAYS, IN THE BACKGROUND NOISE OF DAILY LIFE. IT IS GOOD THAT WE HAVE A SEASON OF EMBERS LIKE LENT, TO CALL US TO DAILY DENY OURSELVES TO FOLLOW THE CHRIST.

SIMON PETER WAS TO LEARN THAT TO FOLLOW THE CHRIST IS NOT ABOUT THE ELIMINATION OF RISK, PRESERVATION OF OUR LIVES, OR BEING IN CONTROL. NO; CHRIST CALLS US TO RISK IT ALL, TO GIVE UP OUR LIVES, AND HAND CONTROL OVER TO GOD. THAT IS WHAT JESUS IS DOING, AND, IF WE WANT TO FOLLOW HIM, IT IS WHAT WE MUST DO AS WELL. THE WAY OF CHRIST, THE WAY OF THE CROSS, REMINDS US THAT OUR LIVES ARE NOT OUR OWN; THEY BELONG TO GOD. WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL; GOD IS. OUR LIVES ARE NOT ABOUT OURSELVES, BUT ARE ABOUT GOD.

AS LONG AS WE BELIEVE THAT OUR LIVES ARE ABOUT OURSELVES, WE WILL CONTINUE TO TRY TO EXERCIZE POWER OVER OTHERS, TO SAVE OUR SELVES, TO EXCUSE OUR FAILINGS, TO JUDGE OTHERS AGAINST OUR STANDARDS, TO GATHER WHAT WE THINK WE NEED TO KEEP US SAFE AND SECURE AGAINST THE WORLD, TO CONTROL OUR CIRCUMSTANCES AGAINST LOSS. WHY, WE MIGHT EVEN REBUKE GOD FOR NOT DOING THINGS THE WAY WE WOULD. JUST LIKE SIMON PETER, EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE BEEN GRACED WITH THE REVELATION OF WHO JESUS IS, WE ARE NOT IMMUNE TO THE QUIET WHISPERS OF THE TESTER WHO TRIES TO CONVINCE US THAT, JUST MAYBE, OUR WAY MIGHT BE BETTER THAN GOD’S WAY.

THE ONLY WAY TO SAVE OUR LIVES IS TO LOSE THEM TO GOD, AND, IN THAT, THERE IS A GREAT FREEDOM FROM ALL THE TIES AND CONSTRAINTS AND BURDENS OF THIS LIFE, FOR IN DYING TO THIS LIFE, WE ARE RESURRECTED TO THE LIFE IN GOD. SELF-DENIAL IS NOT ABOUT BEING POWERLESS OR OUT OF CONTROL; IT IS ABOUT CHOOSING GOD OVER OURSELVES. LIKE JESUS, TO CHOOSE LOVE IN A WORLD THAT HATES, TO HEAL IN A WORLD THAT INJURES, TO FEED OTHERS IN A WORLD THAT SAYS THERE IS NOT ENOUGH, TO CHOOSE LIFE IN A WORLD THAT KILLS, TO CHOOSE HOPE IN A WORLD OF DARKNESS, TO DENY OURSELVES SO THAT GOD WILL BE PRESENT IN US.
AMEN