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03.27.11 True Followers Part One, Mark 8:22-38 Sermon Summary

by on March 29, 2011

Summary Points

  • Jesus teaches all his disciples, including us, how to see him more clearly
  • In our own way, we are all “satanic”
  • This story presents to us the way through the universal longing of humanity
  • Challenging questions for further reflection

Even though Jesus fed the multitudes, his disciples still had enough doubt that Jesus became frustrated with them. As Mark’s tells the story, Jesus says to his disciples, “Do you not perceive? Have eyes but cannot see?” And being the master story-teller that he is, Mark follows this episode with a healing of a blind man.

In Mark’s narrative, Jesus takes the Blind Man by the hand and leads him away from the village. He then heals him in stages. After the first attempt, the Blind Man sees people, but they “look like trees.” After a second attempt, the Blind Man sees “everything clearly.”

This story is unique to Mark, and he has placed it to tell his readers that, from this point forward, Jesus will walk the disciples through various stages in order that they may see everything as “clearly” as the healed Blind Man. The journey begins at Caesarea Philippi, and ends in Jerusalem, where Jesus’ true identity will be revealed.

On this tutorial, Jesus will answer two questions: (1) What does it mean to be the Messiah? And (2) What does it mean to be his followers?

Peter is the perfect example. He has witnessed enough to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah. But he has a faulty understanding of what the Messiah is all about. Peter’s Messiah is the triumphalist heir of King David’s throne, someone who will bring political liberation and restore national pride. When Jesus describes what he as Messiah must do, namely suffer, it has no place in Peter’s understanding.

So Peter takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him. I appreciate Mark’s parallelism between Jesus leading the Blind Man by the hand, and Peter taking Jesus aside. Another parallel is that the word for “rebuke” is the same word used by Mark to describe Jesus binding demons. In other words, Peter attempts to bind Jesus as Jesus bound demons.

Jesus responds with his own rebuke. And just as he had bound Satan on previous occasions, so he does so again now. He calls Peter “Satan” and directs him to return to the rightful place of a disciple, namely, “behind him.” Peter had tried to lead Jesus rather than being led by Jesus. That is satanic.

The temptation to put “the things of this world” ahead of Jesus, the “satanic” temptation to lead Jesus instead of following him, isn’t unique to Peter. As Matthew and Luke tried to teach us, that temptation is universal to all disciples. We are all, even Jesus, tempted to put our own interests before God’s.

We’d like to think we’re immune to such temptation, except for the “foundational” nature of this scene as depicted by Matthew. There, Jesus commends “Peter” as “the rock” upon which he will build the church. In other words, in the church we are happy to confess Jesus as Lord, Savior, Messiah, Son of God. But our enthusiasm for following the Suffering Servant is as Peter’s was. Plus, when Jesus says, “You have in mind not the things of God, but of the world,” the “you” is plural; he is addressing the group, not just Peter. We’re all part of that group.

Next Jesus teaches the crowd and the disciples what it means to be a true follower. He says those who would follow him must deny themselves and take up their crosses. The opposite of self-denial is self-preservation. Jesus warns his audience, “What does it benefit you to gain the whole world if you forfeit your soul in the process?” It makes me think of the desperate actions tyrants are taking in the Middle East just now, trying to preserve their power. They are modeling the self-preservation of “satanic” thinking, not the self-denial of a follower of Christ.

We fail to take up our crosses and be Christ’s true followers because we are “ashamed” of Christ’s cross. And when we are ashamed of his cross, we are ashamed of him. In Matthew 5:10-12, part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

“Prophetic righteousness” consists of living according Kingdom standards—standards revealed by Jesus Christ, which is why people mistook him for “Elijah or one of the prophets.” They are standards of self-denial. These are the standards true followers of Jesus Christ will aspire to and manifest in their lives.

Living as a true follower is a struggle for most of us. It’s part of our brokenness to want to lead Jesus instead of being led by him. We inherited this nature from “Adam,” the first human who was expelled from Paradise because he put his own interests before God’s. We’ve been yearning to return to Paradise ever since. Jesus came as the new “Adam,” the full human who showed us the path back to Paradise. Peter represents each one of us as we answer the questions Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?” (The question about the Messiah.) Will you follow me on my path?” (The question about being a follower.)

Questions for Further Reflection

  • Will you let Jesus take you by the hand and lead you outside of your “village” in order that you may see him more clearly?
  • When Jesus critiqued his disciples for seeing, he also accused them of not remembering. How does our remembrance of Jesus at the Lord’s Supper keep us mindful of who Jesus is and how we are to follow?
  • Will you let Jesus rebuke the “satanic” in you, and will you listen to him and get behind him?
  • In what ways are you ashamed of the cross of Christ? What price are you willing to pay to cover that shame? Even the forfeiture of your soul?
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