Rev. Sandy Johnson
September 13, 2015
“During a battle a soldier was frantically digging in, trying to avoid the shells that were falling around him. Suddenly his hand felt something metal and he grabbed it. It was a silver cross. Another shell exploded and he buried his head in his arms. He felt someone jump in the foxhole with him. When he looked, he saw an army chaplain. The soldier thrust the cross in the chaplain’s face and said, “I sure am glad to see you. How do you work this thing?”
Isn’t that a question we have all asked ourselves at some point in our lives? How does this cross thing work? What does it mean to take up the cross and follow? Jesus attempts to tell his disciples, and us, what carrying His cross entails, we just don’t always “get it,” do we?
Jesus had gone with the disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi and while they were traveling he asked his disciples who people thought he was. I don’t know if he was testing them or just trying to see if they had any inkling who he really was. It was no surprise that they suggested John the Baptist, Elijah or perhaps one of the prophets – Micah or Daniel.
Then he asked them “who do you say I am?” It’s one thing to repeat the gossip around town, but Jesus asked them directly, “Who am I?” Peter answered him directly and with conviction, “You are the Messiah.” Peter identified this “homeless Galilean carpenter” as the Son of God. What we don’t realize in this day and age is that Messiah in first century Judaism was something very different that the Messiah we know today as Jesus, the Christ.
It was presumed that the Messiah they were waiting for would be even greater than King David. They trusted God to deliver another king from David’s line “who would make them great in both righteousness and in power.” They had come to accept that the greatness they desired would never come by natural means. “The ten tribes were carried off to Assyria and lost forever. The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and carried the Jews away captive. Then came the Persians as their masters; then the Greeks; then the Romans…For centuries the Jews never even knew what it was to be completely free and independent. So another line of thought grew up.” Since David’s line never entirely vanished there were some that began to “dream of a day when God would intervene in history and achieve by supernatural means that which natural means could never achieve. They looked for divine power to do what human power was helpless to do.”
The apocalyptic literature of that time period showed that they believed before the Messiah appeared there will be a terrible time of tribulation. “Every conceivable terror would burst upon the world; every standard of honor and decency would be torn down; the world would become a physical and moral chaos.” The time before Messiah would be fraught with a world in disarray, torn to pieces, the physical and moral order would collapse. Elijah would come again and be the precursor to the Messiah. He would attempt to bring healing and to pave the way for the Messiah. They knew that when Elijah showed up, the Messiah would follow closely after.
Then the Messiah would arrive. The Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ. It was thought the Messiah would be of David’s line but most thought he would be a “great, super-human figure” who would crash into history to remake the world and “in the end vindicate God’s people.” Some thought that the Messiah would be a great warrior and would fight a mighty battle to destroy the nations who had opposed and held the Jews captive. The Messiah they waited for would be the “most destructive conqueror in history, smashing his enemies into utter extinction.” Following the desolation there would be a rejuvenation of Jerusalem. The city would either be purified and remade, or the “new Jerusalem” would come down from heaven. And with a new city the Jews in exile would return home. “Palestine would be the center of the world and the rest of the world would be subject to it. All the nations would be subdued.”
These ideas were foremost in the minds of Jesus’ followers when the talk of Messiah came up. Messiah was “violent, nationalistic, destructive, vengeful.” Jesus had his hands full, he had to educate his disciples and followers that he was not that type of Messiah. That is why Jesus sternly asked his disciples not to tell anyone that he was Messiah. If they did they would misunderstand Jesus’ mission. He needed time to teach them what Messiah meant. He had to give them the preview of coming attractions.
So Jesus told them that the Son of Man would have to undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes. He told them that he would be killed but after three days he would rise again. “When Jesus connected Messiahship with suffering and death, he was making statements that were to the disciples, both incredible and incomprehensible. All their lives they had thought of the Messiah in terms of irresistible conquest, and they were now being presented with an idea which staggered them. That is why Peter protested so violently. To them the whole thing was impossible.”
You see, Jesus was a member of the local carpenters union. He was not what they were expecting. Jesus had to teach them what Messiah was. Not from a place of what it might be, or as prophesy might foretell, but as a matter of fact. Jesus stood before them and told them what he was. Who he was. He was Messiah. The guess work was done. The fact of Messiah stood before them, and he was no warrior.
But Peter wasn’t having it. He knew that Jesus must had lost his mind and took him aside to rebuke him. I think this is one of the reasons I love Peter so much. He loved Jesus so much and wanted only the best for him and he was totally missing the point. So he confronts him anyway. Imagine his confusion and surprise when Jesus rebukes him in response: “Get behind me, Satan!” Sometimes we are tempted, aren’t we? Lured away from our faith journey by well-meaning friends. Peter meant no harm, but Jesus saw through his attempt and called it what it was: a little spiritual warfare.
Then Jesus took his lesson to the crowd. He was ready to share what it meant to be a disciple of his. He wasn’t pulling any punches, there was no sugar coating the truth. To be a follower of Jesus meant denying yourself and taking up the cross and following him. It meant being willing to die to follow the Christ. It meant being willing to be known as a criminal, taking the death penalty as a consequence of discipleship. Jesus never called upon us to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself. Jesus called them to deny themselves, to say no to themselves and their dreams for the future. “If a man will follow Jesus Christ he must always say no to himself and yes to Christ. He must say no to his own natural love of ease and comfort. He must say no to every course of action based on self-seeking and self-will. He must say no to the instincts and the desires which prompt him to touch and taste and handle the forbidden things. He must unhesitatingly say yes to the voice and the command of Jesus Christ. He must be able to say with Paul that it is no longer he who lives but Christ who lives in him. He lives no longer to follow his own will, but to follow the will of Christ, and in that service he finds his perfect freedom.”
Here the paradox sets in. “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.” That is how life is – any talent we have must be used so it can be developed into something greater. If we refuse to utilize our gifts we lose it.
Have any of you watched the movie Finding Nemo? There is a scene in the movie when Marlin, Nemo’s father (they’re fish) is stuck in the mouth of a whale. He has been searching and searching for his lost son Nemo and along the way befriended another fish named Dory. Dory is sometimes a little spacey, a little unreliable and when she says she can talk to the whale to find a way out, Marlin has had it. He is sure he is going to die at the hand of the whale. Hanging on to the whale’s tongue for dear life as the water rushes down toward the big fish’s belly, Dory lets go and begins to fall. Marlin reaches out and catches her and yells at her, “What are you doing?” Dory tells him that the whale has told her that to live, she must let go. To live she must let the whale eat her. Marlin argues but then responds to Dory’s insistence to have faith. They both let go and in an instant they are shot out of the whale’s blow hole and are safe in the ocean again. Only by letting go and seemingly losing everything did they gain their freedom.
“God gave us life to spend and not to keep. If we live carefully, always thinking first of our own profit, ease, comfort security, if our sole aim is to make life as long and as trouble-free as possible, if we will make no effort except for ourselves, we are losing life all the time. But if we spend life for others, if we forget health and time and wealth and comfort in our desire to do something for Jesus and for the men for whom Jesus died, we are wining life all the time. The very essence of life is in risking life and spending life, not in saving it and hoarding it.”
What good will our lives be if we only do for ourselves, if we “gain the whole world and forfeit our life?” What coming attractions have you ignored? What things do you feel Jesus calling you to participate in that the devilish part of you says, no, I don’t have time; I don’t have the money; I don’t have the skills to do “that!” What cross have you ignored or refused? What crosses have been dropped along the roadside, abandoned and left for someone else to pick up? How does this thing work again?
It is a choice we have to take up the cross daily and be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It requires sacrifice, discipline, hard work, obedience and commitment. It means putting my needs aside for someone else. I promise it won’t be easy, but it will draw us all closer to Christ and we will become more Christlike.
“Some women who live near Washington D.C. wanted to show God’s love to a special group of people. They heard about a group of babies who were rarely held and destined to live and die in hospitals because they had AIDS. The babies didn’t get much attention, so they began to cry silently. No one had responded to their crying out loud so they stopped doing it. But they still shed tears.
“Even though these children would die by their second birthdays, the women took a number of the AIDS babies home. The women would respond to the silent tears by holding and rocking the babies. Soon these unloved, cast-off AIDS babies began to cry out loud again. They had been spoken to in the only way they could understand. They had been spoken to in the language of love by women willing to deny themselves and take up their cross.
“To experience life in Christ requires feeling the weight of his cross in our daily discipleship. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. When we say yes to the cross, we don’t have to bear the load alone. Deny yourself by giving yourself for others in Christ’s name. Sisters and brothers, let your coming attraction be “taking up your cross and following him.”” Amen.
 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series. The Gospel of Mark, Revised Edition. The Westminster Press, 1975. Page 192.
 Ibid, 193
 Ibid, 194
 Ibid, 196
 Ibid, 197
 Ibid, 198
 Ibid, 199
 Ibid, 203
 Mark 8:34-35
 Ibid, 205
 http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/3065/sermon-options-september-13-2015 Accessed September 6, 2016