Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, “Who do the people say I am?”
“Some say ‘John the Baptizer,’” they said. “Others say ‘Elijah.’ Still others say ‘one of the prophets.’”
He then asked, “And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I?”
Peter gave the answer: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.
But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.”
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?
“If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.”
Then he drove it home by saying, “This isn’t pie in the sky by and by. Some of you who are standing here are going to see it happen, see the kingdom of God arrive in full force.”
Mark 8:34-38 is the first passage that I memorized in the Bible. This is how the NIV renders it,
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Reading Peterson’s rendering hits a little different and has me thinking about some things.
Over the last number of years in conversations that I have had with other followers of Christ what I find is that we are really a bit ashamed of Jesus. We don’t like the way he does things. We really aren’t OK with his calls to gentleness, kindness, love of enemy, turning the other cheek, welcoming the other. We intellectually ascend to such lofty ideals but then we always follow it up with a “but.”
It turns out that Christians of today by and large are rarely different from their secular counterparts. We like violent retribution as much as the next guy. Political power and might is what we desire. Fame, wealth, and glory is what many of us scramble for.
One of the conversations that I have with my father-in-law, Dennis, is about how gullible Christians are. We so desperately want everything we believe confirmed empirically that we embrace any news that even begins to hint at something. We put celebrities in our pulpits at the mere possibility of faith.
It turns out that for many of us Jesus isn’t enough. Jesus isn’t just alright with us. Jesus it turns out is embarrassingly weak for the times that we face. At least, that’s what it appears so many of us believe.
We read through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and then create all kinds of fancy ways to get around living it out. We listen to his teaching about self-sacrifice here in Mark 8:34-38 and come up with reasons that it couldn’t possibly mean what it appears to mean.
Oh brothers and sisters, how I pray that we would no longer be a people who are so weak that we trust in violence and strong men. How I pray that we would place our faith in the Christ above all else. How I pray that we would be light in the darkness shining a path towards loving well.
Let me share with you a few of these verses again from the Message and let them sink into you. I know I will be meditating on them for a while. They just hit different this morning in this time…
Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?
Who or what is leading for you?