Sermon on Mark 8:27-38, for the 2nd Sunday in Lent 2020 (B), "Everything to Lose"
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last week we talked about the two ways of testing or temptation. Are we strengthened by God in our faith or led by the devil into doubt and failure? We talked about how attractive sin is on the surface but hides a hook; and how unattractive discipleship can be though it hides a crown of life. Mark 8 is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, where He buckles down for one of the most serious talks with His disciples. The first of three open predictions of His cross and resurrection. He told them, but nothing could really prepare them for what was ahead. He’s teaching them the true sacrifice and cost of discipleship.
We see Peter’s immediate, even outright resistance to the cross. But first, Peter correctly answers Jesus’ all important identity question: “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ!”. God’s Anointed, or Chosen Deliverer was here. Jesus was that man. But no sooner in Peter on the right track than he derails in a big way. Jesus drops the bomb on them by talking about what the Christ will do: His coming suffering, rejection, and death!
Peter is confronted by the rude reality that Jesus’ rescue work would get Him bloodied, dirty, disrespected, and dead. That can’t be! No doubt convinced he had Jesus’ best interest in mind, he tries to steer Jesus away from that path, and rebukes Jesus. Quite a bit of chutzpah. It’s like Peter wanted to shake Jesus by the shoulders and say: “No Lord! You’ve got everything to lose! You can’t suffer and die!” But Jesus shows that the way of discipleship doesn’t turn away from hardship, difficulty, and loss. It heads straight in and comes through with scars on the other side. Jesus bore down on the cross with determination and purpose, and wouldn’t be turned aside from the path. Yes, there’s everything to lose…but that’s part of the plan!
Jesus rebukes Peter. “Get behind me Satan!” Had to sting. “Can’t you see I’m trying to protect you?” Thoughts like these go through the mind. On the outside of course it looked noble of Peter to try to shield Jesus. But Peter’s attempt at deterrence was worldly thinking. Jesus comes back at Him with Godly thinking. A shock to the system, no mild correction. Because the thoughts of God don’t hide or shield Jesus from the cross or losing everything. Rather the thoughts of God are what drove Him to the cross and sacrifice. Do we have the drive and determination to face the cross, and follow Him?
Jesus pulls in the crowd for a lesson. Peter’s wrestling with disbelief, and stumbled against this huge, difficult truth. To the point, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus is heading to the cross with no escape route, no ejection button, no parachute. Everything to lose. But He’s not deterred that there’s no way out. And He’s calling Peter, the crowd, and you and me to follow Him there to the cross. Gulp! The cross is a major stumbling block for all people. A huge, difficult truth—a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Don’t we have everything to lose also? Don’t I have to preserve myself and my life at all costs? Our Lord Jesus goes to this ugly hill, this place of hate and scorn and rejection, and endures all kinds of undeserved abuse. He has no word of hate or retaliation against any of them. And we’re supposed to join Him?
Deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Here’s the unattractive face of discipleship. The undesirable part of being a Christian. Are we going to re-direct, like Peter, and say no to Jesus? Are we going to engineer an escape plan or escape hatch to get out of the trouble that following Jesus might bring? No, I want to follow Jesus…deny myself…what does that mean? Say “No” to my will, my ways? Let Christ lead, and I follow. That’s so open ended! Where is Jesus going to lead me? He will show you. Day by day, following His call, listening to His voice. Knowing His voice by reading His Word and following His call. No two of you will have the exact same path. But He is the same Lord of all. Same yesterday, today, and forever. He knows where He’s leading you.
Take up my cross… He’ll choose your crosses, and they’ll be right for you, however much you might resist it or second-guess God. Not even Peter would choose his cross. He would be led where he did not want to go when he was old (John 21:18). Thinking the thoughts of man puts us directly at odds with thinking the thoughts of God. Our thinking runs along the lines of self-preservation. Save my skin. My health and life is everything. Watch out for number 1. But God lays crosses on us that weigh down and burden our human flesh. Challenging situations in life that test our faith, that expose our humble earthly efforts, so we turn to God’s eternal strength. Take up that cross—you don’t bear it alone.
Our cross won’t compare to the cross of Jesus. We don’t need to compare it with anyone else’s either. When it comes to the weight of our crosses and burdens, Jesus said come to Him and He will give us rest. He trades heavy yokes for light ones. He carries the heavy burdens, the heavy cross, and gives us the light yoke in exchange. No one should think that Jesus has given you a cross and just abandons you to struggle and fail on your own. Worldly thinking would say that, but godly thinking accepts the crosses, the trials and tests, as part of God’s plan to make us holy. To make us battle-hardened disciples.
They say in the Army that camaraderie, or the brotherhood of Soldiers, grows out of shared hardship. Part of going through “boot camp” or the “gas chamber” or a physically demanding “ruck march”, is that it bonds Soldiers together as a unit. Even psychologists have studied this and agree that shared pain brings people together. That’s true in Christian community as well. We call it “fellowship” or the “mutual encouragement” of brothers and sisters in Christ. We call it “bearing one another’s burdens” to fulfill the law of Christ. Taking up your cross can be lonely and discouraging if we’re isolated from our Christian community. We need each other. Call each other. Write each other. Visit and pray with each other through trials and crosses. Bear one another’s burdens.
We need to share the experience of pain and hardship with each other, so that we are bonded together as a body of Christ, looking out for each other. Looking to each other to see how the other is hurting. Looking to each other for prayer and support. In order for that to happen, we need to open ourselves to give and receive help. And through our shared hardship, we will be bonded together more deeply as the body of Christ. Our crosses will forge a community that shares in Christ’s sufferings and is made strong and mutually supportive by them.
The intensity of bearing our crosses can sometimes be enough to hide for awhile what God is doing. If we’re just thinking the thoughts of man, we just see that we have everything to lose. If we listen to the thoughts of God, we see that losing everything—denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus—this is the only way to save our lives. We do have to lose everything to gain Christ. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What seems like the worst calculation ever to man’s thinking, is the only correct calculation in God’s thinking. Hidden in the cross and suffering is the resurrection and Christ saving your life. Hidden in the cross and suffering is Jesus calling you His own before the Father, because you loved Him and followed Him.
If you count out God, doesn’t matter what else is in the equation. It's broken. It won’t add up. But Jesus must break us free from the short-sighted thoughts of men, that only see that we’ve got everything to lose. Jesus sets our thoughts on God, so that we see that in His cross, there is everything to gain. The kingdom of God is in that cross. His forgiveness, peace, and life is in that cross. Everything we stand to lose in this life is temporary and revocable anyway. Nothing we seem to be holding onto is ours for very long anyway. But there is an eternal weight of glory in store for those who follow Jesus. In Jesus, Everything to Lose becomes Everything to Gain. Amen!