…Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!… (read the whole passage)
This is the halfway point of Mark’s gospel. The end of chapter 8 with 8 more chapters to go… and Jesus is taking a moment to see what his disciples have actually learned so far. And as we continue through Mark’s Gospel it won’t get any easier. Not that Mark is ever really easy on us during this long season of Green… yet as we head into the home stretch of the season, the challenge to what it means to be disciple will only get more pointed with Mark as he asks what it means to give up our lives for the sake of the gospel.
Jesus ask his disciples a question that is both normal and odd. Normal because we all want to know what others think of us. Odd because it should be obvious given what we have heard about Jesus so far. What are people saying about me? Who do they say that I am?
And Peter steps up, as usual, to speak for the group. He knows what people have been saying, “Elijah, John the Baptist or a prophet.”
Then the real question comes, who do you say that I am?
“You are the Messiah” Peter says, sounding like he passes the test.
But within moments, Jesus is calling Peter “Satan”, and telling Peter to leave the circle of disciples.
Peter doesn’t actually get it, even though it seems he passed the test just moments before.
Peter is living in a crisis… a crisis of identity and purpose. He didn’t really pass the test and he doesn’t really know who Jesus really is or what Jesus is doing in the world. You see, when Jesus asks the question, Peter knows all the answers, he knows what all the people out there are saying, which means he has been listening and trying to figure out Jesus is for himself. And when Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, it is hardly a specific answer. The people of Israel have many different and varied understandings of who the Messiah actually was. The judges who were the first protestors of Israel followed by Kings. But then also foreign conquering kings had been called Messiahs, and prophets like Elijah, but also the suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophecy, and of course recently John the Baptist. Peter doesn’t give a conclusive answer to Jesus’ question.
Yet, the fact that Peter (and the other disciples) don’t have a specific answer really points to the fact that they don’t really know what is coming next for Jesus and them. So when Jesus tells them what comes next – that Jesus is going to suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests and elders – Peter doesn’t like that idea at all. He might not have a specific idea about who the Messiah is, but knows Jesus’ idea isn’t his vision of following the Messiah.
And so when Peter rebukes Jesus for his silly ideas about dying, Jesus turns his back on Peter… sends him out of the group, away from the community. Now, Peter is back and part of the group only two verses later… so what is Jesus really banishing from the circle? Peter’s self-concern and vision of discipleship. Peter doesn’t want Jesus to talk about dying… Peter is thinking about himself, how he can continue up the mountain towards the goal as Jesus’ disciple.
In fact, it is up a real mountain, the mountain of Transfiguration, that Jesus and Peter are about to go, where Peter will want to build an altar and stay believing he has finally arrived at the pinnacle of discipleship. And again Peter will miss the point and not fully understanding what comes next.
As readers of Mark’s gospel today, we share in common a few things with the first readers of his gospel nearly 2000 years ago. Mark was writing to a community of Christians for whom their visions and hopes for what they would become were not realized. It had been about 30 years since the crucifixion and resurrection. The early church community eagerly awaited the return of Jesus, yet the first witnesses were beginning to die off. The ones who remembered Jesus first hand were getting to be fewer and fewer. The community was beginning to wonder, what comes next? If Jesus wasn’t going to return any day now, what were they to do?
We might not be waiting for return of Jesus any day, but we too are at a moment for Christians where we don’t know what to do next. Our hopes and dreams for the future have not been realized, and if this is where Jesus is taking us… we might want to rebuke him too.
We surely don’t like the idea of giving up our lives for the sake of the gospel… we have been waiting for a return to the mountain top, for a seat back at the table of power, to be important and respected in the world again… taking up a cross and giving up our lives does not sound like what we have been waiting for as Christians in North America, Lutherans in Manitoba, a Shared Ministry in the Interlake.
We are as confused and frustrated as Peter is about who Jesus is and what is means to be followers of his. And we just want know what comes next for us.
Yet as Jesus banished Peter’s self-concern… Jesus is also stripping us of all the things we think are part of the vision of discipleship, numbers and power, in order to get us to see what is really coming next.
Peter wants to hold on to vision of grandeur, discipleship that comes with perks… but Jesus is giving things up, giving everything up, giving up his very life for the mission.
Because the thing is, Jesus has come to offer Peter so much more than a home on the mountain top or a place of power and influence or the adoration of the crowds. Jesus is coming to give Peter, the disciples, the people of Israel and all of creation new life.
If only Peter could get over himself and his vision to see it. But he doesn’t. Peter gets rebuked by Jesus today, only to be rebuked again on the mountain of transfiguration and then again at the Last Supper and then even again after the resurrection.
But it isn’t just Peter, no one gets it for the rest of the gospel of Mark. The Gospel ends with the women fleeing the empty tomb and telling no one because they were afraid.
No one gets what Jesus is doing… and just maybe that is what Jesus is coming to understand. We aren’t able to let go of our visions for ourselves, we aren’t able to stop dreaming of the numbers and the power and then importance. We aren’t able to get out of our own way. We hold on to that stuff at all costs.
And so Jesus gives it all up for us… Jesus gives up all power and importance for the sake of love, in order to come near to creation, in order to come close to us. And Jesus gives us up too.
Jesus comes down to us in order to give us up.
To give up our sin and suffering and death because we cannot.
To give us up to new life.
To give us up to God.
To give up on our old sinful selves, in order to make us the new creations that God intended.
For those who lose their lives for my sake… will save it.
Jesus tries to send away Peter and his self-concern, his holding on to the wrong things. But Jesus can’t… because that is not who Jesus is… Jesus is THE Messiah, the one who has come to save… to save us by giving us up to God.
And so when Peter doesn’t know what is coming next and doesn’t like what Jesus has in mind, and when we don’t know and don’t like what Jesus has in mind for us either…
Jesus goes ahead with us anyways. And Jesus goes to the cross for us anyways… and Jesus transforms us anyways, from sinners into forgiven, and from dead into alive.
Jesus doesn’t Peter twisting in the wind, even if Peter doesn’t like what is coming. And nor does Jesus leave us twisting in the wind, even if we don’t like where we are these days.
Because Jesus does know who he is and Jesus knows who we are.
And Jesus does know what comes next for us… New Life in the Kingdom of God.