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09.13.09 Following Jesus is Wise but Tough, Proverbs 1, Mark 8 Sermon Summary

by on September 14, 2009

The universal formula for gaining and living a life of wisdom is this: observation/experience + reflection + application. The person who regularly practices this discipline, regardless of religious orientation, will benefit from the ubiquitous presence of Lady Wisdom. In the Bible, wisdom passages are among the easiest to understand and apply today. Look in Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, some Psalms, the book of James, and some of the sayings of Jesus.

What is the role of particular religious faith in relation to universal wisdom? From the Christian perspective, wisdom is God’s calling upon us, it is another name for the “way” of Christ. And more, we are dependent upon God’s Spirit to illumine us of the way of Christ and to empower us to walk in it. Following Jesus is wise, but tough, and we need God’s Spirit to be able to do it.

This is what Mark 8:27-38 is trying to teach us. This section in Mark (8:22-10:52) is Jesus’ catechism (teaching) on what it means to follow him. Three things stand out about this passage. (1) Jesus and the disciples are in Gentile country. They are not immediately surrounded by the supportive culture of their Jewish traditions. (2) Jesus starts a conversation with his disciples about popular perceptions of him. (3) He affirms Peter’s confession of him as “Messiah”, but refuses to let the disciples tell anyone.

What is God’s Word to us today from this passage? (1) We are in “Gentile” country again. America is post-Christian. No longer can we assume the culture will support Christian teaching and lifestyles. No longer can we assume our government will favor or tolerate Christianity. What Mark has to tell us about what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and how to invite others to join us in following him, may have more relevance today in America than it has had in Christendom since the fifth century.

(2) How did Jesus engage his unsupportive culture? First he listened. He asked what people thought about him. According to a recent study, the top three perceptions of people in the church by people outside the church are that we are anti-gay, judgmental, and hypocritical. Curiously, once such people actually learn about Jesus, their perceptions of him are much more favorable.

What this tells us is that our behavior as the church has made it very difficult for people to see what being a disciple of Christ is actually about, not to mention inviting them to join us. The solution in our time as in Christ’s, is to respectfully listen to what others are saying, and then to live faithfully as a disciple of Christ. This will require us to repent of our bad behavior and seek reconciliation with those we’ve hurt. Only then we can live among others in such a way that they gradually come to see the wisdom of following Christ.

(3) This is why Christ commanded silence from his disciples. They correctly identified him as Messiah, but they didn’t understand what kind of messiah he was and what following him actually meant. They didn’t understand and thus could not live the Christ message. When he tried to teach them about his suffering, torture, execution and death, they refused to believe. So he rebuked Peter in terms reminiscent of his first calling to them—he told Peter to “get behind him”, to resume the position of a follower once again. This is what we’re called to do also.

Following Jesus is not avoidance of life’s crosses, it is living through them. And the message of the Gospel is that we live through our cross-experiences accompanied by God’s Spirit in the resurrected Christ. This is the pinnacle of Christian wisdom, that we are not alone, that God is with us.

Our vision as a church is that we can be a crossroads where Wisdom invites us to the path of Christ. We want to offer opportunities for people to observe and experience God, to reflect upon it, to apply it, and eventually to become disciples of Lady Wisdom, of the Word of God, of Jesus Christ. According to our vision statement, we will do this in worship, community service, and small groups. May we grow as Christ’s disciples in wisdom.

  1. Kit permalink

    Dr. Tom, does God’s admonishment to not tell anyone about him tell us not to “spread the word” or does it mean to ‘change the word as what we have been telling has created a bad image of Christians?” As I mentioned to you yesterday, I don’t even like some of the images we have”.

  2. tomtrinidad permalink

    I take it as Jesus/Mark saying to us: until you are ready to live as disciples of the Messiah, rightly understood, you shouldn’t talk about being a disciple or about the Messiah. A bad impression is worse than no impression, and until we can offer an accurate and good impression of the Messiah, we should just keep quiet. A quote attributed to St. Francis is appropriate: preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words.

  3. Kit permalink

    Thank you, that makes perfect sense to me.

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