"Losing Our Lives for Good": Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

"Losing Our Lives for Good": Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

Feb 25, 2018

Passage:Mark 8:35-38

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Lent

Category: Discipleship, Forgiveness, Reconciliation

Keywords: atonement, cross, forgiveness, hope, lent, reconciliation, sacrifice, suffering


Jesus teaches his disciples that he MUST undergo suffering, be put to death, and rise again. When Peter challenges this notion, Jesus calls Peter "Satan"--the "adversary"... Then Jesus says his followers also must follow in the path of the cross and die... So what does this mean for us?


I can't help myself but feel a little sorry for Peter when I read today's Gospel from Mark.

Peter is always just "out there" isn't he?

He is willing to be the first one to speak out on behalf of the other disciples. And sometimes that pays off.

And sometimes that doesn't.

Maybe you identify with Peter and maybe you don't.

Thinking about poor Peter this week, I kept thinking about a classroom assignment I gave back in my history professor days.

Students were supposed to research different historical figures and then, for a major part of their grade, on a specific day, they were to come in and participate in a major debate about that person's life and contributions.

One young man--for the sake of this sermon, I'll call him Pete--was assigned to debate about Thomas Jefferson. Pete was a good student. Sometimes he was a little eager and didn't pay attention all the details.

He was supposed to argue that Thomas Jefferson was a good president. He was to provide evidence for his arguments. His opponent would be ready with arguments against this stance.

The day arrived. I gave Pete up to ten minutes to give his opening arguments. In that ten minutes, Pete gave an eloquent, prolonged, and point-by-point speech about how terrible Thomas Jefferson was as president.

He had mixed up his assignment. Some of his classmates were sympathetic. Some thought it was hilarious--and let him know it.

Pete was embarrassed. He had worked hard, but everything was now upside-down. He fumbled his way through the rest of the debate.

I truly felt for him... We've all been there... We've all been confused and have misunderstood what we were supposed to do.

And as we hear over and over in the Gospels, Peter and the disciples were often there as well.

Our Gospel today starts with Jesus teaching the disciples.

 Just before this teaching, Jesus had quizzed the disciples. He asks them who people are saying that he is? They tell him "John the Baptist," "Elijah," or "prophet." Jesus then asks further, "But who do you say that I am?" So Peter is the one who steps up and answers: "You are the Messiah." 

For Peter, this is a good answer! Peter is a great disciple. But, there is some nuance in the meaning of “Messiah” (or in Greek “Christos” or “Christ”). When Peter makes this statement, he is has a very specific picture in his head about what that means. He is probably thinking of a political leader who will free the people of Israel from the tyranny of their oppressors—Rome. [1]

So Jesus pulls the disciples aside and starts to teach them. He tells them a very different story than one of power and conquering. He tells 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.”

Of course, if you’re Peter and you hear this version, rather than the one that you understand, it’s rather shocking. So Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. You can almost hear him now: “Come on Jesus, that will never happen! You are the Messiah—the Anointed One. You’re gonna be just fine.”

But Jesus cuts him off. We hear that Jesus turns back to make sure that ALL of the disciples could hear what he was going to say. Then in front of all of them, he rebukes Peter, saying: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind NOT on divine things but on human things.”

“Satan!” Wow, that’s harsh. In other words, Jesus is calling Peter the “Tempter”; the “Adversary.” Peter’s version of Messiah may indeed be a temptation. Peter’s soothing words of comfort—“Oh, Jesus, nothing bad will ever happen to you”—might sound appealing. But they are not real! It is not what is going to happen. Jesus needs to make that clear! Peter and the other disciples need to wake up.

So what does Jesus mean when he says the “Son of Man must undergo great suffering and… be killed”?

Jesus is not saying that he has to be crucified as a means of “substitutionary atonement” for our sins. That theory, which, frankly has been a major interpretation in the Church for centuries, goes something like this: we rang up a big “sin debt” with God, and God sent his son to be killed as a sacrifice in lieu of all of us, which cancelled the debt. That just doesn’t fit the story of the loving God seeking reconciliation that we read throughout the totality of Bible.

A different way of reading: the “Son of Man must undergo suffering and be killed” is through the lens of God’s reconciling love. If Jesus is going to put the fullness of his humanity in communion with God, then it is necessary that Jesus undergo all human experiences, including suffering and death. In other words, what Jesus brings is the knowledge that there is no place absent of God’s love and God’s presence. God is with us even in suffering. God is with us even unto death. God is with us even after death. That is what is meant by "Christ our Passover Sacrificed for us!"[2]

Peter’s definition of Messiah and his reaction to suffering separated these things. He acted as if suffering was something that Jesus had to conquer rather than endure. But Jesus was redefining Messiah. It was not a title of power and might for Jesus, but one of humility and struggle.

And Jesus’ followers, he said, were going to have to “take up the cross” as well. They were going to deny themselves and lose their lives for his sake.

Before these disciples were truly ready to start explaining what Jesus was about, they had to work on "losing their lives" of petty jealousies and fear and suspicion and competition and anxiety and arrogance and pride and greed and envy and anger and vengeance. Their lives had focused too much on these things. Our lives focus too much on these things as well.

Along with the disciples, we are called instead to turn our attention to divine things—Love of God; Love of neighbor; forgiveness. When these things are our focus, Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one of God for us, but in a new way. Jesus shows us the presence of God, even in suffering and in death.

So, it's not a matter of debate. It's not about power or glory. In the end...

Jesus transformed the disciples lives.

He transforms OUR lives.

So that, in humility and grace, we may go out into the world to bring God's reconciling love to all of creation.



[1] Martha L. Moore-Keish, “Mark 8:27-38: Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Vol. 4, David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Gen. Eds. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 68-72.

[2] Martha L. Moore-Keish, “Mark 8:27-38: Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Vol. 4, David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Gen. Eds. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 68-72.