The Unexpected Way

Sermon 1734 Mark 8.31-38 February 28, 2021

If you were God, how would it go? How would you save the world? It might seem crazy, but in spite of all our different backgrounds and different ways of looking at things, I think we’d all go about it the same way. We’d show overwhelming power to strike fear in everyone. We’d have a “come to Jesus meeting” to set them straight and then we’d demand they fall in line. Shock and awe. Repeat as necessary. We could lighten up a little later on. Yes, you have to break a couple of eggs to make an omelet, but getting them to heaven justifies cutting corners. Easy on the love and trust. Heavy on the fear.

That’s why Jesus’ words before us today come as such a shock both to Peter and the other followers of Jesus (and that includes us). God took

The Unexpected Way

1. Suffering (31).

2. Humility (32-33).

3. Fellowship (34-38).

“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again (31).”

Jesus began to teach his disciples the part of the Apostles’ Creed, “he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. On the third day he rose again from the dead.” It was the Gospel! God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us. That’s Gospel, the good news that, for the sake of Jesus’ suffering and death, God no longer counts sins against us. We, everyone, the world, is forgiven. Amen!

If that were the way we expected things to go, I could sit down right now. But this is the unexpected way. Why should Jesus have to suffer?

He had to suffer because of my sins. He had to be rejected because of your sins. He had to be killed because of the sins of the world.

Sin is rebellion against God. Sin says, “I don’t care what God says, I want to do this.” If there is a violent riot or uprising going on, say, in Moscow, the government is not going to like it. It views those riots as challenges to its authority. Don’t be surprised if the tanks are called out to roll over protesters armed with but rocks and bottles.

That’s what sin is, rebellion against God. As Americans, we sort of sympathize with protests against autocratic or corrupt governments. Those governments are not treating their people the way they should. Protests are understandable. But there is no reason in God’s green earth to rebel against him. Our sins even amaze God. “What have I done to you? How have I burdened you? (Micah 6.3).” “What more could have been done (Isaiah 5.4)?” “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing (Luke 13.34)!”

There is absolutely no reason to rebel against the Lord. He is the giver of life. He created us and sustains this wonderful world we call our own. Giving us our daily bread is too small a thing for him. He satisfies the desires of every living thing. He has a home in heaven waiting for us.

And even when sin stood in the way—your sin, my sin—that did not stop him. He reached out his arms to us again and again. He sent his prophets. He sent angels. He sent his Word into our world. And if that were not enough, he sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we would believe he had sent his Son to take away all our sins.

I would not have done that. You would not have put up with generation after generation of rejection, either. Nobody wants to be treated like a doormat. But that’s the unexpected way of Jesus. Suffering.

We can see another aspect of the unexpected way, humility, when we look behind Peter’s outlandish reaction to Jesus’ words.

“Jesus spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men (32-33).’”

Peter is having none of it. While Mark’s account (legend has it, it was the remembered life of Jesus through Peter’s eyes) doesn’t disclose the reason for Peter’s objection, it is not hard to guess. When the day of Jesus’ suffering and death is around the corner, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. That’s the lowest job of the lowest slave. None of the disciples volunteered to do it, so Jesus did it. He comes to Peter and Peter objects. “Lord, you will never wash my feet!” Jesus was too good to wash Peter’s feet. It was beneath Jesus. Peter would be ashamed to have such a Lord as his Savior.

Why do junior high kids want to be dropped off a block or so away from school? Have they discovered a sudden desire to get some physical exercise? Are they worried that dear old dad will get caught up in the traffic around school and be late for work? No! They are ashamed of their parents. They don’t want to be seen with them. It is not cool. And the car they drive!! Why worry about which college you would like to attend when you are going to die of shame if your mom drops you off in that bucket of bolts right in front of the school door!

The unexpected way is shameful to Peter. He wants glory. He wants power. He wants to follow a Lord who displays victory after victory. But Jesus seems to have accepted the unexpected way of suffering. He humbles himself under God the Father’s almighty plans. Jesus has in mind “the things of God.”

In this day of self-promotion, boasts and downright falsified resumes, what is humility? Humility is a down-to-earth nature, an attitude that no one is unworthy of your attentions and efforts, that we are all equals. You are here to help. Jesus repeatedly showed that. I already mentioned him washing his disciples’ feet. He welcomed children. He did not treat women as second class citizens, even if they were foreigners or caught in a flagrant scandal. He upheld the rights of tax collectors and sinners, those marginalized by the self-righteous religious elites. He touched people others might shy away from. The blind, the lame, the sick, even a dead little girl, whom he takes by the hand as he calls her back to life.

Jesus only publicly rebukes Peter because Peter has caused a public stir. Jesus can see it in the eyes of his disciples. They are confused. They are uncertain. They are scared. The record has to be set straight. The unexpected way demands suffering and the humility to accept that suffering.

The unexpected way also demands fellowship.

“Then Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels (34-38).’”

We are increasingly becoming a spectator society. Our music teachers (and we have an extraordinary number of them in our congregation) are struggling mightily to show our youth that making music is more rewarding than simply listening to it. Lots of couch potatoes like to watch sports. Their blood pressure and other readings would be a lot better if they banged a basketball against the backboard or ran a few laps once in a while. I always get a rise out of my confirmation class when I am teaching them what church fellowship is, what it means to belong to a church. I proudly tell them I have a gym membership. This year one of the girls gave me the stink eye. I asked her why. She didn’t want to say. I told her we had been in class for almost two years—we could be honest with each other. She ventured, “You don’t look like you belong to a gym. You’re…” “Fat?” I suggested. “Yeah! You have to go to a gym. You can’t just pay them money every month.”

You can’t just mail your Christianity in. Following Jesus is to participate in his sufferings, to share in his sorrows. Fellowship means a sharing.

Our fellowship with Jesus means we will deny ourselves. “The good I would I do not, but the evil I do not want to do, that I keep on doing. What a wretched man I am!” lamented the Apostle Paul. He knew the battle between good and evil rages within us as our sinful human nature, the Old Adam, fights with the Christian, the New Man, within us. That’s why it is so hard to do what is right. That’s why it is so easy to let things slide. That’s why our children look blankly at us and tell us “I don’t know,” when they have done something beyond the beyond. They are telling the truth. Their sinful human nature got the better of them.

That’s what we have to deny. That’s what we have to starve out. To take advantage of others, to use others, to get our way by force or lies, that is what we are to give up. If we are looking for something to give up during the season of Lent, give up on that. Give up sinning. Give up losing our temper. Give up the potty mouth.

And take up our cross. That’s what got Jesus into this whole situation to begin with. The cross was casting its shadow across his life. He was going to suffer and die on the cross. He was going to be arrested and condemned to die on the cross. He would pay for the sins of the whole world by his death on the cross. So if we have fellowship with Jesus, if we have sharing with Jesus, the cross casts its shadow across our lives as well.

We started to carry that cross the day we were baptized. “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6.3, 7).” My sinful human nature was nailed to the tree when I was baptized. My old self was crucified, put to death, by the washing of water and the Word. The Holy Spirit freed me from a life led only to sin and sin and miserably sin some more. We carry that cross every time we confess our sins, every time we ask for forgiveness. We’ve been doing it so long, it doesn’t seem like it is such a big deal. Good for you—godly habits are the best habits. Don’t break them. But in our little ones, for a four year old in our preschool to admit what he did and say he is sorry? It usually means he dissolves into a puddle of tears. It kills him. Or her. How can you not give them a big hug and tell them they are forgiven and we love them?

And then Jesus tells us what else that fellowship entails. “Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

To live for Jesus is to give up the life lived for the flesh, the life lived with me as the highest good. You don’t have to be fed to the lions for Jesus’ words to apply to you. You don’t have to face a North Korean firing squad for smuggling Bibles. Living the Christian life will be graciously rewarded by God with life eternal. You will live forever. I will be in heaven.

I think Jesus is talking about Alexander the Great. His father, Philip of Macedon, conquered Greece. Alexander conquered the world. His troops defeated the Persians and burned their capital. Alexander was welcomed as a son of the gods in Egypt. He surmounted the Hindu Kush range and entered Afghanistan. He fought against elephant armies in India. And at the age of 33 he died of malaria, leaving a pregnant wife whose child would be poisoned before he could ever claim to be king of an empire fallen apart.

What good did it do Alexander? Where is he now? What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? What can Alexander the Great give in exchange for his soul?

A man who conquered the world is a pauper when it comes to buying his way into heaven. Yet we, we, who have the merits of Jesus Christ, his holy life, his innocent sufferings and death, we who have the righteousness of Christ credited to our account by faith, we have preserved our lives for all eternity. Never would have seen that coming. It is

The Unexpected Way

1. Suffering (31).

2. Humility (32-33).

3. Fellowship (34-38).

Good thing none of us is God, huh?

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