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Sermon Ideas For Mark 8:31-38 Part 1

Immediately after Peter's confession, "You are the Christ," Jesus began to speak openly about his suffering. With this first prediction of the Passion (8:31 ) the gospel comes to the heart of Mark's proclamation. "...the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again." Peter, one of his own disciples, "took him, and began to rebuke him," as Jesus had rebuked the unclean spirit. Jesus responds vehemently; "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men."
Mark 8:31 does not suggest a linear view of history. It intimates a depth view of human history through Jesus who was "wounded for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53:5). The linear progression does not by itself mean purposefulness as has been generally assumed. It can mean the manifestation of the spirit of imperialism. Often Christian eschatology has deteriorated to a Christian version of Manifest Destiny which is linear concept. The image of love (hesed, agape) is hardly linear. Love labors hard, refusing to be frustrated in the ambiguities and confusion of everyday human context. The question "...why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (2:16) demands a soul-searching, not an efficient "linear" answer. Can the "linear" mind fathom the "agonizing pathos" of a five year old child's cry, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?" (Letter from Birmingham City Jail, Martin L. King Jr. 1963) Christ must suffer. He was struck, mocked, stripped and crucified (15:19-20). "He saved others; he cannot save himself," mocked the chief priests and scribes (15:31). He was forsaken even by God (15:34). It is in this radical way that Christ "saved others." This is central to Mark's understanding of Jesus Christ. Christ who is "on the side of God" walks the way of self-denial (Phil 2:7). This is the mystery of Jesus Christ from which healing comes to all creation.
Thus, Mark's theology is a theology of the cross. Paul Tillich writes; "If Christianity claims to have a truth superior to any other truth in its symbolism, then it is the symbol of the cross...he accepts the title `Christ' when Peter offers it to him. He accepts it under the one condition that he has to go to Jerusalem to suffer and to die, which means to deny the idolatrous tendency even with respect to himself. This is at the same time the criterion of all other symbols, and it is the criterion to which every Christian church should subject itself" (Theology of Culture, p. 67). It is this Christ, walking on the way to the cross, who calls his disciples and the multitude to follow him. They are called to follow Jesus, carrying their own crosses, the dreaded instrument of execution. This is the way to free themselves from self-idolatry.
In Mark's theology of the cross, as in other gospels, Christ is not a particular religious event that illustrates a universal religious truth. Not in the perspective of universal religious truth, but in focused devotion to this suffering Christ, Christian theology begins. For Christian theology "Christ crucified" (1 Cor 2:2) is the truth. Christian knowledge cannot be imperialistic. With this extraordinary dialectic the gospel disarms human ideologies and arguments. "He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him [in the cross]" (Col 2:15). "Be silent, and come out of him!"—words that cast out demons were effective because they are the words foreshadowing the cross.
Jesus was not secretly assassinated. He was publicly crucified (Gal 3:1). Christ suffered because he publicly practiced justice, loved kindness and walked humbly with his God (Mic 6:8). Martin Luther King, Jr. suffered martyrdom because he publicly practiced the saying of Micah. There is an important connection between the message of Micah and Mark's theology of the cross. This connection provides a strong theological possibility for the unity of liberation theology and theology of the cross in which ecumenical theology finds its inspiration. suke Koyama Emeritus Professor of Ecumenical Studies Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY