March 1, 2015 - Mark 8.31-38

“Not the Way I Would’ve Done It”

Mark 8.31-38

March 1, 2015


31Then he began to teach 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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”


I know this guy.  I am going to call him “Buford.” (NOT his real name.)  He is an interesting character.  He has real Southern…um…charm is not the right word…ODOR.  He was not the sharpest light bulb in the drawer.  I was his pastor for 4 years.  He had this way of always offering his opinion, even when it clearly had not been requested. I noticed that he had two phrases he used a lot.  1) “That ain’t hard.  Not like its brain science.”  He meant “brain surgery” or “rocket science” and got mixed up somewhere.  2) “That ain’t the way that I would’ve done it.”  I heard him say that so many times I lost count and he would say it about any topic the men were going on about.  I heard him declare he had better ways of cooking grits, cutting tree limbs and destroying fire ants.  Buford’s favorite way of destroying a fire ant colony in his yard was to drive a six foot iron rod into the middle of the colony making a hole, and then pouring gasoline into the hole and then lighting it.  This is also why Buford rarely had eyebrows.


One Sunday morning during Sunday school, Buford’s class was studying Judges 7 when God picks Gideon’s army.  Gideon started with 32,000 men and God trimmed that number down to 300.  Gideon won a tremendous victory.  But despite that, Buford declared “That ain’t the way that I would’ve done it.” When asked by his classmates what he would have done, he declared: “One word, boys: Ninjas... Either that or explosives strapped on the backs of a flock of sheep.”


The fact that neither explosives nor ninjas existed back then was not important to Buford.  He had it all figured out.  He had his idea and he was going to go with that.


In today’s text from Mark, Jesus runs into people with ideas not too different from Buford. (Not the ninjas).  The people around him had a certain idea that they were going to go with.  It worked for them.


But Jesus did not come to earth to do things the way we would do them.  If we are to going to follow Jesus, we have to let go of our way of doing things and do things the way that Jesus wants them done.

Our victim this morning is the disciple Simon Peter.  I love Peter.  Peter is a wonderful screw up.  He is always messing up.  I love him so because I can identify with him.  When Peter messes up, he really messes up.  He doesn’t just blow it in a noticeable way, when he messes up he just leaves a Peter-shaped hole in the wall, like in a cartoon.  >CRASH< 

Peter hears Jesus say, “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.” Well that doesn’t fit well with Peter’s idea of what Jesus needs to do, so he rebukes JESUS.  Let me repeat that.  Peter rebukes Jesus.  Peter is essentially saying to Jesus, “That’s not the way that I would do it.”

Then Jesus drops a real bomb on Peter.  “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  “Satan” – Is Peter Satan?  Did Jesus really just call Peter the Devil?  Yep. 

This is about the will of God versus the will of man.  I expect that had not dawned on Peter when he opened his mouth and swallowed his foot.  Earlier in the gospel of Mark the Devil had tried to get Jesus to take a detour from his path to the cross and now Jesus was hearing that same satanic voice coming out of Peter’s mouth. 

“Get behind me.”  The literal word here is to get behind as to fall into line behind, as if in a military marching order.  “You follow me!  I don’t follow you.  You follow me” In a way Peter is saying, “of course I don’t have my mind on the divine, I’m NOT divine.  I’m human.”  Jesus is responding, “Well, I’m both divine and human, so trust me, shut up and get in line.”

Can we blame Peter?  Peter was just being reasonable in rebuking Jesus.  Why die?  Why suffer?  Why not just ride in on a white horse and save the day and snap your fingers and make everyone love you and see the light?  Come on Jesus, you can do it, be reasonable!  Be reasonable!


Dr. Will Willimon is one of the preaching gurus that I read a lot on the subject of preaching.   Willimon once said that “sometimes, our preaching failures are not due to our preaching, but due to Jesus.  Jesus says some things which people just don’t like.  If you pay attention, you will see some stuff you don’t like.”  He talked about the time someone came up to him after preaching a difficult text and said, “Pastor, I really didn’t like your sermon very much today.”  Will responded, “You know what, I really didn’t either.  Sometimes Jesus is just very unreasonable.”[1]  Willimon is right.  Sometimes Jesus just doesn’t listen to reason – at least, what WE think is reasonable.


But Jesus shouldn’t listen to what we think is reasonable.  Who are we?  We’re stupid.  We watch reality TV.  We’re stupid.  We keep Britney Spears and Nickelback in platinum albums when people with genuine talent can’t get a record deal.   We’re stupid.  We would rather spend the effort to drill petroleum out of the ground, refine it, and shape it into a plastic spoon just so we don’t have to wash the metal spoons in our drawer.  We’re stupid.  Should Jesus or anyone else listen to us? Do we really think that we might know better than God?  Really?


Jesus did not come to earth to do things the way we would do them.  If we are to going to follow Jesus, we have to let go of our way of doing things and do things the way that Jesus wants them done.


Midway through the Gospel of Mark, Jesus teaches his disciples that he must suffer many things and be crucified and die. Clearly this is counter to anybody’s expectation of how a Messiah ought to act. Mark simply says that Peter rebukes Jesus. Mark doesn’t tell us exactly how Peter rebukes Jesus or what he said.

Peter’s real problem here is that he had in his head the “popular” idea of what the Messiah was supposed to look like and act like.  Peter had to have been shocked by the notion that God’s anointed one, the compassionate figure that he has come to know through the first eight chapters of the Gospel of Mark, should be the one to suffer such a horrible fate.

What did Peter object to in Jesus’ statement? Was Peter’s objection mainly focused on the notion that Jesus would suffer and die? It is outrageous to think that God’s Messiah, the anointed one, should suffer and die. (Islam believes that Jesus is a great prophet but it explicitly rejects the belief that Jesus died in humiliation on a cross – it being unthinkable that God’s faithful prophet should suffer such a fate.) 


Christ’s death and resurrection and rejection were ideas totally foreign to the disciples.  If there is no cross for Jesus, then there is no crown.   Peter wants – and most of us want – a Messiah that is more a Super Hero than a Suffering Servant.  But if we look at Jesus, really look at Jesus with fresh eyes; we meet a God who is not the God we expected. This God loves us so much that this God doesn’t just want to be a hero to us, doesn’t want to fix things up for us, but rather to stand with us, to reach out his arms and embrace us from the cross. This is God.


Jesus goes on to state to his disciples (that’s you and me) that we have to carry our crosses if we are to follow him.  In fact, Jesus is pretty adamant about this fact.  He says it right there in verse 34:  “If ANYONE would be my follower they MUST DENY themselves, pick up their cross and follow me.”  That includes denying your own understanding of what a “reasonable demand” of you is. 


At a previous church where I pastored, as a way preparing for Easter, and a deacon named Don  built a cross and laid it on the front steps of our church.  We put it there about a couple of weeks before Easter.  It stayed there through the entire Easter season.  We wanted everyone to see it.  That was our plan.  I can’t tell you how many people came up to me to ask me, “Why is there a cross lying across the steps of the church?  Who is supposed to pick up that cross?  How long is it going to lay there?”  But there was one question I was never asked, and it was the one I was hoping to get asked.  “Pastor, is that MY cross?  Am I supposed to pick it up?”  “Yes.  It is your cross…a reminder of your cross.  You pick it up and you carry it every day.” 

“Oh I get it. Well, that’s fine for ministers and missionaries, but not me.”  Where do you think they come from?  Regardless, ALL of us are called.  ALL of us are called to give ALL.  Jesus was clear about that.


It’s because Jesus wants God’s will, not anyone else’s.  God gave us all free will, and so Jesus left it open to us and everyone to reject him if we choose.  Or we can follow him.  We can pick up the cross or leave it where it lays.  It’s your choice. 


When you leave today, I hope you will look around.  Perhaps you will see a cross lying there.  I hope you do.  Because that cross is your cross.  It is lying there for the entire world to see, plain as day.  But that cross is your cross.  If you do not pick it up, no one else will, and it will remain an obstacle in your way, each and every day.  Everyone will see it lying there.  Everyone will know what you are supposed to do, and what you are supposed to be doing.  But it is your cross.  Don’t look for someone else to carry it for you, and don’t wait for someone else to pick it up, and don’t leave it laying there.  It is your cross.  And don’t go trying to figure out an easier way to carry the cross.  That’s just another way to say to Jesus, “That’s not the way that I would do it.”  YOU pick it up. Or don’t.  It is your choice.


If I were trying to build something that would attract a bunch of people, I think I would have made this Christianity thing more attractive, with a more reasonable expectation of its members.  Jesus really expects us to be willing to deny ourselves and lay it all on the line for God and others.  Why?  Because that’s what Jesus did, and we are following him. Not only did Jesus pick up his cross, he picked it up and he died on it.  For you. 


That’s not the way that I would’ve done it.  And thank God that Jesus didn’t do it the way I would’ve done it – because if he did we all would be doomed.  None of us could have even saved ourselves, much less one another.  Jesus saves us all.  Hallelujah.


Jesus did not come to earth to do things the way we would do them.  If we are to going to follow Jesus, we have to let go of our way of doing things and do things the way that Jesus wants them done.


[1] Willimon, Will; in a lecture at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington DC, at the Festival of Homiletics, May 2004.

  December 2017  
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