Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus Predicts His Death
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
The Way of the Cross
34 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. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 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.”
Last week, if you followed the lectionary, you would have heard the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus more or less says no, because He has come to help the Jews, not the Gentiles, which is very difficult for us to read and comprehend. This is not an all-loving Jesus; this is a rather harsh Jesus. He was rude to the woman, and He called her a dog. Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. His human part is still developing, and He is still learning about and understanding his ministry. Jesus is only just realising that He is not just there for the Jews, He is there for everybody. Jesus only realised this after He had met the Syrophoenician woman and heard her response to His refusal to heal her daughter. So, He changed his mind and healed the girl.
Jesus is being rude again in today’s reading. He is being rude to Peter, who has gone from hero to zero within two verses. The climax of Mark is Jesus asking, “Who do people say I am?” Who do we think Jesus is? Is He just a biblical figure and a great storyteller? Is He just a miracle worker, someone who can feed 5000 people with only a few loaves and fishes and raise people from the dead? How we respond to these questions changes our lives. If we only think that Jesus is a miracle worker, then so what? But if we believe Jesus is the Son of God, then that changes everything.
In John 6:66, Jesus’s message was not liked, and many turned back and no longer followed him. In the next two verses, Jesus asks his disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter is saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the person sent by God to save us. Jesus may not be who they expected, for instance, a warrior with a mighty army. Other people claiming to be the Messiah had appeared in this way, but they had failed.
Jesus was pleased with Peter’s answer but, as we see in Mark, His attitude quickly changes. He tells Peter to shut up and “Get behind me, Satan!” Once again, Jesus is coming across as a bit rude. What Jesus was trying to tell Peter was, despite knowing Jesus was the Messiah, Peter was wrong to rebuke Jesus for talking about his upcoming death. Jesus is saying Peter’s thoughts did not come from God, but man. Peter was right about Jesus being the Messiah, and he was right to follow Jesus, but Jesus is making him aware of what will happen to his followers. They will lose their lives.
Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, was skinned alive in Armenia. James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, had his head bashed in. Andrew was crucified in Greece. Judas Iscariot, as we know, hanged himself. Peter was crucified upside down by Emperor Nero. Thomas was stabbed by a spear in India. James the Great was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. Philip was tortured and hung up to die. Matthew was staked to the ground in Ethiopia. Jude, also known as Thaddeus, was crucified in Turkey. Simon was crucified and sawn in half. Even Matthias, who replaced Judas, was beheaded. The only disciple that we believe died from old age was John, the author of the Book of Revelation.
The disciples went to horrible deaths, and that would not have happened if they did not know Jesus was the Messiah. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a famous book called The Cost of Discipleship (1937). He says the reason Christianity is suffering is because people go for cheap grace. People think by saying that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour, they will be alright. These same people never put their beliefs into action and speak up for Jesus. But as Bonhoeffer, James and Mark say, people should show their faith through their actions. If you want your faith to show, then it has to be full of good works. It is not a cheap grace; we have to suffer for our God. Jesus is telling His disciples that they will suffer, but your soul will also be saved.
As always, it is our choice. God does not let people into heaven who do not want to be there. The only people who will get to heaven are the people that want to be there. To want to be there is to love God and to love God is to show it.
This sermon was first preached at Gants Hill URC on 12th September 2021
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon