Lent 2 – February 28, 2021

“Jesus’ Ministry – Getting Things Straight” – Mark 8:27-38


Introduction… not getting things right

Last Sunday, as we considered the temptation of Jesus, we talked about it as the bookend which formed the beginning of His Kingdom of God ministry. Throughout Lent, we will use the appointed Mark readings to explore the content of what Jesus’ ministry was all about. Today will be our first look at what that means – getting things straight.

At the beginning of the service I asked for examples of not getting things right, and then having a mess on your hands. Thanks for your comments. [Refer to one or two examples.]

Let me tell you about one from my life experience:

It was the fall of 1997. We had just moved from Winnipeg to Calgary, and although Calgary winters weren’t generally as cold as Winnipeg winters, we didn’t want to go through a winter without a garage to keep our cars warm. So, a newly retired member of our new congregation – Ken Willing – lived up to his name!! He was WILLING to be the foreman – orchestrating other young retirees – to build us a two-car garage while I began my role as pastor. I paid for everything and was consulted about decisions, but these guys did the work. In fact, they did the work so well, that more than once they were asked by passersby to build a garage for them. The one thing we hired out was the pouring of the 24 foot by 24 foot concrete floor. Once that was done, my workers started erecting the walls, putting on the roof, etc. When it came to installing the overhead door, the opening wasn’t wide enough. After some investigation, we discovered that the concrete pad was only 23 feet 11 ¼ inches wide. Now I’m not a carpenter, but even I can notice a ¾ inch mistake!! The concrete guys didn’t get it right, and then we had a mess on our hands. I can’t even remember what Ken and the guys did, but those old guys – oh, sorry, those EXPERIENCED guys – came up with a solution, and got it fixed so that whenever we pressed the remote control we never did have a problem with that overhead door!

Another example would be not getting the directions for baking or cooking straight, and coming up with a salty cake because you mixed up the salt and sugar, or a stunted loaf of bread because you had the water too hot or too cold for the yeast to start working appropriately. In fact, earlier in Mark 8, we hear Jesus multiply 5 loaves of bread to feed 4,000 people, and we also hear Jesus talk about the leaven, the corruption, of the Pharisees. So, bread was a topic in Jesus’ ministry.

In a lot of things in life, it’s important to get things straight, to do things in the right way.


1. Getting things straight in the Kingdom of God

   a. Who Jesus is

Our Gospel reading from Mark 8 is all about getting things straight in the Kingdom of God. There are three aspects of getting things straight in those twelve verses.

Getting things straight in the Kingdom begins with getting things straight regarding who Jesus is. 

That’s what we find in the first 4 verses. Now, we are fully half-way through Mark’s Gospel in Chapter 8, so a lot has happened already. Jesus has healed a LOT of people: the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law, lepers, a paralyzed man, a man with a withered hand, a woman afflicted with bleeding for 12 years, and many more unnamed sicknesses. Jesus has cast demons out of a handful of people in specific stories, and more – in general comments about His ministry. He has raised back to life a young girl who had just died. He performed a couple of nature miracles: walking on water, calming a storm on the sea, and feeding crowds of 5,000 and 4,000 with meager supplies of bread and fish. He had called twelve men to committed discipleship and mentorship with Him, and they had seen it all.

As we begin the Gospel reading, we find Jesus and the disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi. That’s a predominantly Gentile region, some 40 km. north of the Sea of Galilee – the northernmost area that Jesus ever visited. It was not a stronghold of Jewish faith and life. So, it’s somewhat curious that Jesus would ask this question  – “Who do people say I am?” – regarding His own identity, a question designed to give Him a read of the pulse of the common people. Perhaps Jesus chose this Gentile region for His question so that the disciples would be able to think about the question objectively, without the presence of those Jewish people and how their very presence may have coloured the disciples’ answers. Their answer to Jesus’ question indicated a variety of opinions – from Elijah, to another Old Testament prophet, to John the Baptist raised from the dead. Of course, none of those answers got it straight… too much salt, not enough sugar in that recipe for Jesus’ identity.

Then Jesus made the question personal: “What about you guys? You’ve been hanging around me for a while? Who do you think I am?” They might have considered Jesus to be a political or military leader, or maybe a doctor or magician/miracle worker, but the most logical answer from their perspective would have been that Jesus was a rabbi, for that would explain His own teachings, and their following of Him and learning from Him.

But Peter – often the spokesman for the disciples – reached deep into his minds’ pocket, and, referencing everything he had heard and seen in his interactions with Jesus, made this bold proclamation and confession: “Jesus… I believe you are the Christ / the Messiah / the Promised Saviour.” The Jewish faith and the Jewish Scriptures – our Old Testament – were filled with pointers to and prophecies of a Messiah who was to come. Jesus was that long-promised Saviour. Peter got it right. He correctly understood the full 24-foot-wide breadth of Jesus’ identity.

We could make Jesus’ question personal, too. Who do I say that Jesus is? Who do you say that Jesus is? And there are lots of 23 foot 11 ¼ inch skewed or incomplete assessments of who Jesus is floating around in our world, even among Christians – assessments that leave people with a mess on their hands, a mess in their hearts, a mess of their faith. If you simply believe Jesus to be a Rabbi, a teacher, one whose teachings you are meant to abide by, you’ve got a mess on your hands. If you consider Jesus merely to be a new Law Giver, and that His interpretation supersedes the Jewish laws in the Old Testament, you’ve got a mess in your heart. If you think of Jesus only as some kind of miracle worker meant to answer your every prayer or as Santa Claus – giving you everything you want because you’ve been nice this year – then you’ve got a mess of a faith.

The time-honoured, orthodox – and orthdox means generally or traditionally accepted as right or true, established and approved – the time-honoured, orthodox and Biblical statement of what we believe about Jesus is what we confessed a few moments ago in the 2nd article of the Nicene Creed. Jesus is the Lord, the Christ, “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” That’s getting Jesus’ identity straight. That’s our exactly 24 foot wide assessment of who Jesus is.


   b. What Jesus came to do

The second aspect of getting things straight about the Kingdom of God is properly understanding Jesus’ role, His mission. It’s not only about who Jesus is, but what He came to do. And that’s found in the next three verses.

This is the first of 3 times in 3 consecutive chapters of Mark’s Gospel that Jesus’ foretells His suffering, death and resurrection. Listen to these verses again: “[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He said this plainly.”

Just so you know, “Son of Man” was Jesus’ subtle way of talking about Himself. So, we know this prediction concerns His own fate. Then notice it says “must suffer.” That already hints at His purpose, His mission. It’s about what He came to do, what He MUST do. That was predicted not just by Jesus, Himself. It was prophesied hundreds of years earlier by the prophet, Isaiah, when He wrote about the Suffering Servant of God. “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities [on the new Lenten banners]; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

Even though He came as God’s representative, the religious leaders would ALL reject Him, and pressure the Roman governor for Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was aware of all that as part of God’s plan, as necessary for the redemption of the world. But He was also certain that death (and sin and Satan) would not win the final battle. Jesus knew that life conquers death, and He told the disciples plainly about all of that.

But here’s where Peter got it wrong. Here’s where Peter couldn’t measure anywhere near the correct measurement of what the Messiah was coming to do. Peter had a skewed version of the Messiah in his mind, a version that many / most Israelites of that time believed. Just like they couldn’t correctly pinpoint Jesus’ identity, neither could they correctly identify His mission and purpose. They looked for a powerful warrior and a conquering Messiah, not a suffering and dying one. They looked for someone to push back against Roman domination. Because that was Peter’s understanding of the role of the Messiah, He took Jesus aside to scold Him for even thinking about suffering and dying. But Peter’s measure of Jesus’ role was far short of reality. His Messiahship was not limited to earthly reality, but was truly about spiritual domination over all three of those enemies – sin, death and the devil. So, Jesus had to scold Peter back – “You are measuring by human measurements, by human ideas rather than God’s.” Peter had to get it right. So, do we! The full measure of Jesus’ role is that He came to save us, He came to redeem us, He came to forgive us for our meager and insufficient thoughts about who He is and what He came to do. And we do know that Jesus had things straight about and for Himself.  Jesus’ primary purpose and mission was expressed by Him in a variety of ways:

“I came to seek and to save the lost.”

“I came to give my life as a ransom for many.”

“I came to give you abundant life by laying down my life for the sheep.”

And even when He was deeply distressed and sorrowful, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, He knew and understood His mission and prayed that God’s will would be done, not His. That’s the full measure of what Jesus came to do.


   c. What being a disciple means

Then, there’s one more thing we need to get straight, and that is found in the last 5 verses, where Jesus talks about what being a disciple means.

When you fully understand who Jesus is, when you truly see and appreciate His purpose in coming to save you, then how do you live? You’ve gotta get that straight, too, as a response to God’s lavish love for you.

Jesus unpacks that for us a bit. First… deny yourself. This means resisting the temptation to hold yourself as the god of, the object of your own life and desires and actions. That is so natural for us in our sinful state. We want everything to be about us, for us, in our favour. Measuring the 24 foot wide garage pad of our lives, we might be entirely happy to give Jesus 10 or 12 feet, but we want the other 12 feet for ourselves, thank you very much. But if we don’t get things right, we risk making a mess of our lives. Jesus turns that upside down, to say that being His disciple means denying and dethroning yourself as number 1, and honouring Him as Lord and Master of your life.

The second phrase is to take up your cross. This is an obvious reference to that Roman means of execution. The picture image is that of carrying your own cross, your own burdens of life as a disciple of and an imitator of Jesus. If being Jesus’ disciple means that you suffer in this life – whether that be physical suffering or emotional suffering – you accept that as the cost of discipleship. If we refuse suffering as a follower of Jesus, again we risk a mess in our hearts. Jesus never promised that following Him would be easy.

And the third thing for us to get straight in following Jesus is another image of priorities. This is similar to the first one, but also directs our attention to our possessions. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” We need to get our attitude to money and possessions straight. They are not the be-all and end-all of life. If we make the things of this world and acquiring the things of this world our primary goal, oh boy, that makes a mess of our faith, and we risk surrendering our soul to the evil one for all eternity. It’s important, says Jesus that we put our full focus on Him and the Gospel. That’s getting things straight as we follow Jesus.


2. The garage door is open!

So, as we consider what being a disciple of Jesus means… does He demand a lot? You better believe it! Does He insist on much? Only our best! Does He have expectations? Just that we leave everything, deny all, and follow Him.

Even if, in our faith or in our following, we have measured Him short – 12 feet, 23 feet, 23 ½ feet, 23 feet, 11 ¼ inches – Jesus got things straight by going to the cross and rising from the dead for us, and like Ken and the other men who somehow got my garage door to fit and to work, Jesus has fixed it so that the garage door to heaven will always open for us when we press Him as our remote control!! Why? Because as the concrete pad for His expectations of us, Jesus laid down His own life for our forgiveness… as St. Paul wrote: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When? When we had His identity all measured out accurately? No! When we fully understood what He came to do? Hardly! When we mastered our Christian walk? Far from it! The truth is… Christ died for us while we were still sinners… the garage door to heaven is open! Amen.

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