Sermon Ideas For Mark 8:31-38 Part 2
Who Jesus is shapes and determines who we are as his disciples. In the immediately preceding verses (Mark 8:27-30) Peter has confessed Jesus to be the Christ, and Jesus charges the disciples to tell no one about him. Then in this text Jesus defines what it means to be the Christ. To be the Christ means rejection, suffering and death at the hands of the leaders of God's people. Jesus openly and plainly taught this to his disciples. Jesus' mission is to suffer and to die and on the third day be raised. "For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mk 10:45) In Jesus' suffering and death is the final conflict between Jesus and Satan where God wins the victory for all people.
Peter, as do religious folk all through history, rebukes Jesus for his screwball assertion of suffering and death for the Christ. After all the good, God-fearing, religious people know it is "Glory, glory Hallelujah" time when the Christ arrives. Peter tests Jesus and Jesus rebukes Peter and all who having confessed Jesus is the Christ then desire to define what it means to be the Christ rather than allow Jesus to teach what it means to be the Christ. What are the ways you and God's people with whom you minister seek to be the lord of Christ Jesus and define messiahship in ways that are compatible and comfortable for you? Is it an Anglo-Saxon Christ? A wealthy Christ? A glorified Christ who will make you healthy, wealthy and wise? In what ways do you seek to make Christ into your image and thus earn rebuke from our Lord?
Mark clearly says that who Jesus is as the suffering and dying one is determinative for who we are as disciples of Jesus. Jesus teaches the crowds, the disciples and us that to be a disciple of Jesus is to imitate Jesus' mission and ministry in our mission and ministry as God's people. There is nothing in this text concerning self-actualization or self-improvement or "I've Gotta Be Me." A disciple of Jesus is one who denies self, takes up his or her cross and follows Jesus. The cross we are to take up is not the pain and suffering externally imposed upon us but the voluntary act of serving others for redemptive purposes.11
Bill and Mary married late and had two children. Mary developed involutional melancholia which periodically required hospitalization and shock therapy through many years of married life. Bill faithfully and uncomplainingly cared for the children, supported financially and emotionally his wife and did so without self-pity or seeking recognition or reward. Who are the people you know who have denied self and taken up the cross and followed Jesus for redemptive purposes?
Our life is not ours. Our life has been bought by God with the holy and precious blood of Jesus. Our life is not ours to secure nor to hoard. The saving of our lives for ourselves can run the gamut from failure to confess Christ as Lord under the threat of imprisonment or death to the way we organize and structure our day-to-day living that puts us at the center of our world for our satisfaction and comfort. Categorically Jesus says that to secure our life for ourselves is to lose it.
There is a promise with this warning, however. The second half of verse 35 promises that if we lose our life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel then we shall save it. The promise of Jesus is that when we willingly behave in a spendthrift fashion with our life to serve others in a redemptive way then God will secure our life for us. Is losing our life exemplified by parents who keep an autistic child at home, providing care and nurturing for that child? Is losing one's life giving up one's dreams and hopes to provide care and safety for infirm, aging parents who cannot be institutionalized? Is losing one's life being a confessor, a martyr by actually laying down one's life for the sake of Jesus or another human being? God promises such lives that are lost will be saved.
And what is our life worth? Winning the ten million dollar lottery? A well-paying and exciting job? A fulfilling marriage and family life? Freedom and resources to travel and see the world? The whole world? What can a person give in return for his or her own life? Is our life really ours to sell?
The culmination of this series of sayings concerning discipleship is verse 38. Our faithfulness in following Jesus through denial of self, taking up our cross, losing our life and not selling our life rests under an eschatological word. We are encouraged not to be ashamed of Jesus and his words in our life and world now, for if we are ashamed of Jesus, then when he comes as Lord and Judge at the end time appearing of the kingdom of God he will be ashamed of us. We are called by Jesus in following him as Lord not to allow the pressures of life to make us become ashamed of Jesus, no matter how weighty and hard the pressures.
Clearly there are outstanding examples of faithful disciples in the history of the Church. There are the major league martyrs (witnesses) from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wallenberg to Mother Teresa and from Polycarp to nuns and priests in Central America. However, the sayings concerning discipleship are addressed to the crowds and the Twelve, and to each and every Christian. The preacher's struggle with this text is to people the sermon with faithful disciples who may not be the major leaguers, but the "people of the land" who daily and yearly live lives of faithfulness in following the Lord Jesus. Whom do you know who day-by-day or in a moment of gracefulness have shown they are not ashamed of Jesus in this day and time?
The One who speaks in and through this text is the One who did not seek to save his life but gave it up willingly for all people. He is Lord who calls and challenges us to discipleship and defines what our discipleship shall be. "The call, the warning, and the challenge are significant because they cut clean across the grain of conventional wisdom, popular piety, and natural inclination."2
1. I am deeply indebted to Lamar Williamson, Jr. in his commentary on Mark in the Interpretation Series for his evocative and stimulating interpretation and reflection upon this text. See Lamar Williamson, Jr., Mark. Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983), pages 150-157.
2. Lamar Williamson, Jr., Mark, p. 157.