Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, May 26, 2018
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The Voice of Satan

Mark 8:31-38

Have you ever heard the voice of Satan? I think we probably all have, but maybe not in the way most people would think. I think most people would expect the voice of Satan to tell us to do something horrible: Cheat on a spouse, murder our enemy, steal from work, and so on. And no doubt, sometimes that’s just what he says. But I think it’s just as likely the voice of Satan tells us to do the very thing we want to do.

And maybe the voice of Satan comes in the well meaning advice of a trusted friend or family member. I don’t think Jesus would have been upset about Peter’s words if Peter had not voiced the exact thing Jesus was already wrestling with in his mind.

Jesus didn’t want to endure the cross. It wasn’t for nothing that prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me.” But in the end, he was obedient. “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

Here in Mark 8, Jesus is enduring the exact same temptation he did in the wilderness at the hands of Satan. In the wilderness, Satan said, “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world if you will just bow down and worship me.” The temptation is to choose the ways of the world over the ways of God. If Jesus had wanted to, he could have used his miracles to gather a following, turn them into an army, and conquered. But to do so would have been to choose a worldly way over a godly way.

We might experience the same temptation in our lives. We might have in our mind to do the thing God is calling us to do: To accept that position in the Church, to quit our job and pursue our divine calling, to start that new ministry. And a well meaning friend or family member will say, “Come on now. Be reasonable. Think of your future. Think of your family. You’re already over-committed; let someone else do it.” No doubt, the advice is reasonable, but in the end, to accept it is disobedience.

I’m reminded of the story of Francis of Assissi. He was born into a wealthy family and early on, he enjoyed the lavish lifestyle of wealth. But he felt guilty when he saw the suffering of others. He began to give money away. His friends and his father reprimanded him for it. At one point his father locked him up until he regained some sense. But in the end, he left his father, his home, and his wealth to serve God. No doubt, his family and friends assured him he was being unreasonable. But in the end, he was being faithful to the calling of God on his life.

Let’s look at our text:

It begins with Jesus calling himself the Son of Man. This title comes from Daniel 7, and it refers to a heavenly figure who is granted divine authority over an eternal kingdom. This was Jesus’ preferred self-description. In first century Judaism, this title was not typically associated with the Messiah, which is probably why Jesus chose it for himself. It didn’t have all the baggage that went with “Messiah,” so Jesus was able to fill it up with his own meaning.

And then he tells the disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and ultimately be killed. Many people believed holy men and women were able to see and predict their own death. For example in 2 Kings, the prophet Elijah knows that he is about to be taken up to heaven. Not to mention, given all the antagonism of the religious elites toward Jesus, it would be no surprise that they might try to kill him, especially, if he went back to their home territory of Jerusalem.

The problem, in the minds of the disciples, is that Jesus just acknowledged to them that he IS the Messiah. And this is not what Messiah is supposed to do. Now there were some passages, like Isaiah 52-53, that described the suffering of the Messiah. But in the first century, most Jews explained those away by saying they were really about someone else. Or they just ignored them altogether. They wanted a heroic, conquering Messiah, one who would crush their enemies and bring in a new, golden age of peace and prosperity. A dying Messiah just didn’t fit.

So Peter takes Jesus aside to set him straight. No doubt, Peter is motivated by his love for Jesus, as well as his messianic hopes. The problem is that he is out of place. He is in front of Jesus, rebuking him and correcting him. The place of a disciple is behind the teacher, following him, learning from him, and imitating him.

“Get away from me, Satan. You are only seeing things from a worldly point of view.” The great lie of the world is to say that we can have it all, if we’re just willing to make a few, small compromises. If we’ll just compromise our integrity, our honor, our faithfulness, our sense of compassion; then we can have it all. And it’s a lie.

So Jesus calls the crowd to come and hear what it takes to follow him:

First, deny yourself. Say “no” to yourself. Don’t indulge your self-centered desires. Seek God’s will and not your own.

Second, carry the cross. This means to accept the death penalty. The Romans forced criminals condemned to death to carry their own cross to the place of execution. Accept the death of yourself so that you too can say, “I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

“If you try to keep your life, you will lose it.” Here’s the thing about life: We can’t keep it. We can’t save it. We can only spend it. The question is, “How are we spending it? What are we pouring it into? Something that will last or not?”

“Even if you gain the whole world, what good is it?” You can’t take it with you. The most precious thing we have is our eternal soul. It is a wise transaction to give up one’s life in this temporary world if it means we can keep it in the eternal world to come.

If we deny Jesus in this life, then he will deny us in the life to come. If we’re ashamed to stand with him now, then he will be ashamed of us when he comes in his glory.

I think it’s important to remember that Jesus is not asking us to do anything he did not already do. When we do these things, we are “following him,” that is we are imitating his example. Jesus denied himself and carried the cross. He may have wished for that cup to be removed from him, but in the end, he said, “Your will be done.”

And Jesus deceives no one about the cost of discipleship. In the first century, many Jews knew there were prophecies about great suffering for God’s people before the Day of the Lord. But again, those prophecies were often overlooked or explained away. Jesus makes it clear that to follow him may mean to suffer and even to be killed. Many of the first readers of Mark’s Gospel were Roman Christians who died in the persecution carried out by Caesar Nero. Even those who did not die often lost family connections or their means of income for belonging to a “strange and foreign religion.”

Jesus makes it clear that there is a cost to follow him. In the darkest days for Britain in World War II, Winston Churchill told the nation that under his leadership, he could offer them nothing but “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian general who led the nation in its war of independence, said to those who would follow him, “I have nothing to offer you but hunger and thirst, hardship and death; but I call on those who love their country to follow me.”

Christ has far more to offer us in the life to come. But to follow him in this life means self-denial, and possibly rejection, and maybe even suffering and death. But he calls on those who love him to follow.

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