Follow Jesus in the Way of the Cross

Today’s reading is Mark 8.31-38Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

Who do you want to be like? Who is your hero? Who do you think is great? I wonder what sort of person comes into your mind? Generally in life, most people tend to follow someone who is strong, and who ‘will win’. Just look at the confrontational and competitive, personality driven nature of our national politics over the ages. People want a ‘winner’, in the way that the world understands a ‘winner’. This is a culture that infects all parts of life, including the Church.

This was also true for the disciples. They wanted to help ‘King Jesus’ rule the world. Going the way of the cross with him was not part of their plan.

So as we think about our reading, can you understand Peter and his shock reaction? If Jesus is God’s king, how can he fail? How can he die? That’s not what we expect as a strategy for being a triumphant winner. We live in a world where everyone and everything seems to be driven by competition and achievement on the ladder of life. Sacrifice, self-denial and following Jesus on the way of the cross didn’t meet these expectations. But this is the way of God. This is the way of Christ, of truth, meaning and of course love. This is what it means to follow Jesus.

Our passage today has quite a build-up, which helps explain Peter’s shock reaction to Jesus’ explanation about what it would mean to follow him as their king, to be a Christian, a follower of Christ.

Who of you have watched the Vicar of Dibley? At the end, we are always in the church vestry vicar Geraldine, and best friend / verger, Alice. Geraldine tells a joke—usually a really obvious, unsubtle joke. Every time, Geraldine—and we, get this joke. But poor Alice just doesn’t quite work it out… She sees parts of it, but the penny just doesn’t drop for the whole meaning.

Throughout chapter 8 of Mark, the narrative has been moving inexorably towards the revelation of Jesus’ true identity to the disciples. The chapter also marks the end of this series on the first part of Mark’s Gospel, when we discover who Jesus is, with the rest of the gospel, chapters 9-16, showing us why Jesus came. And much of chapter 8 shows us the disciples still not quite getting it.

But remember, Jesus attracts, he doesn’t compel. So for those present, and for you and me, we can observe and engage, but Jesus will never force us into any decision about who he is and whether to follow him. The God of love gives us the freedom to choose.

At the beginning of chapter 8, Jesus has just fed four thousand people from seven loaves and a few small fish, and seven basketfuls of leftovers were collected. This is an act of compassion as well as a godly miracle. Still the Pharisees ask him for a sign from heaven. No wonder Jesus sighs deeply.

The disciples then misunderstand his warning to them about the hostile motives of Herod and the Pharisees towards Jesus. Like Alice, they take some of his illustrative references too literally, and miss the meaning. No wonder Jesus says. ‘Do you still not understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear…’ and then he references the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand, and says, ‘Do you still not understand?’

I note a degree of loving frustration in the Word of God here, to both his disciples, and perhaps also the world he loves so much!

So God in his ever loving nature and infinite patience, in Jesus, tries to help again—this time with a less than subtle reference to our inability sometimes to see and understand what is standing in front of us—Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida. ‘Can you see now who I am?’

Jesus attracts, he doesn’t compel. Love doesn’t involve coercion. Relationships of good, whole and beautiful love grow from deep acceptance, understanding, and surrender of our all to each other. God’s love is about grace, which infects and impacts on every single part of how we treat, speak to and care for others. This is the heart of God, who is Love.

Just before our passage today, Jesus finally asked his disciples directly, who they think he is, and Peter at last answers, ‘You are the Christ’ (the anointed one of God). Clarity has come. The penny has dropped… or has it?

Do you know who Jesus is… for you, and what it means to be a follower of Christ?

I sometimes do training across our diocese in the field of managing and transforming church conflict. One section of training involves us trying to understand what the real situation is. What may be behind people’s behaviours, their fears, hopes, the words they say?

We are presented with a picture, and asked to say what we see. Some cannot see anything except a mish-mash of black and white spaces and blocks. Others clearly see something. Before revealing what it is, we observe reactions—from complete clarity, through ‘I think I am beginning to see something, but I need a bit more time’, to ‘Oh yes, I can clearly see what it is!’ The picture is in fact of an old person, hunched up and with a hat on. The ‘Eureka’ moment / that moment of revelation, when you can suddenly see what it is, its hugely satisfying!

Do you know, and can you see who the real Jesus is… for you… and what does this mean for you and for your life? Even if you have been a member of a church for a long time, if you have big questions, consider Alpha, which we’ll be starting again in January. Don’t just ignore them and plough on. It’s too important for that.

Running through Jewish culture and history was a strong strand of triumphalism, in the expectation of how God would defeat the enemies of his people. A more nationalistic interpretation of some of the Old Testament scriptures meant they were expecting a saviour who would be blood-stained through victory on the battle field against their enemies—not blood-stained through a seemingly ignominious death on a cross. How can Jesus possibly die if he is God’s king? This sort of view of leadership is very much the world’s view—competitive and lacking grace.

In Philip Yancey’s wonderful and transformative book, ‘What’s so amazing about grace?’. Yancey at one point powerfully shows us, with multiple illustrations, what the expectations and rhythms of our world are, and how we are all conditioned by these. One example was how Ford Motor company graded all its employees from 1 (clerks and secretaries) to 27 CEO. You must reach at least grade 9 to have an outside parking space! Whether its business, the military, politics… secular culture tells us that a person must look good, feel good and make good, when compared to the next person or place—otherwise it just isn’t good enough! This is how we are conditioned to think and act. The culture of the disciple’s time was no different—until God in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, burst into the world.

When Peter finally makes the admission that he believes Jesus to be God’s anointed Saviour (correct!), Jesus immediately moves to confront their wrong thinking and belief about the nature of our Saviour. It’s tough for them to hear… and completely contrary to their cultural expectations—that he would suffer many things, be rejected, and be killed. After three days he would rise again.

The penny had dropped so far. Peter had sufficient belief and clarity to accept absolutely that Jesus was our Saviour. But this was too much—not a suffering saviour. So he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. And our Lord immediately and very firmly rebuked Peter back—‘yours is the thinking of people and the world and not of God’.

What or who is a Christian? What or who is a follower of Christ? Many people will say they are Christians, that other people are good Christians. Jesus makes it clear here, what it means to be a ‘Christ–ian’, a follower of Christ. And at first reading, it sounds rather uncomfortable.

If anyone would come after me (follow me), says Jesus, this is what it means… Mark 8:34Open Link in New Window

This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This is what it means to be a Christian. Jesus himself says so! It is completely counter-cultural, but also beautiful, whole, for all eternity, and at its heart, the heart of a God of Grace, a God who is Love. This is what transforms churches, communities and societies—and nothing else.

To say yes to Jesus is to say no to ourselves and our driven ways of doing things. To say yes to Jesus is say yes to the way of the cross—surrender our ALL to him—time, needs, family, life, trusting in his grace, love and purposes and say no our own. True and Godly sacrifice is always full to bursting with love. That’s why it changes people. To say yes to Jesus is to say yes to the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ for everyone—salvation is for everyone, and to say no to the world.

Because as Jesus says, what good is it for a single person to gain the whole world but lose their soul. God cares about each and every person, and as Nicky Gumbel says in Alpha, ‘if you had been the only person on earth, Jesus would still have died for you’. When we say ‘Yes’ to Jesus Christ and his ways, our lives are changed for ever…we are re-born, renewed. We walk in the light…

Our purpose, our mission and ministry is to know Jesus Christ as saviour, and then to share this good news with everyone else—good news which means new life, new hope, both for now and for all eternity.

The missionary CT Studd said, ‘No sacrifice can be too great for him who gave his life for me’. Do you know this Jesus, and are you ready to commit and re-commit your life to him?

There will be a video version of the service.

Share this on Facebook