We’re going to be in Mark 8 today, so you’re invited to turn there.
Through the summer,
we’ve been following Jesus around.
More specifically, we’ve been following Jesus through the gospel of Mark, and we’ve been asking ourselves, “What would it look like for us to take Jesus seriously?”
This journey through Mark is going to take us through the end of August, so we’re about halfway through the series.
And so it seems just about right that we landing would about halfway through Mark.
And what do you know, we are?
(v22-27) They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”
Jesus is doing something incredibly unusual here.
He’s doing a two-step healing.
And when I say that it’s “incredibly unusual”
I mean this is unlike any other healing anywhere else in any other gospel.
So that probably means we can get a really good taste of Mark right here.
Jesus spits in this guy’s face—spits on his eyes—and this blind man begins to see.
But not clearly. Not at first.
People look like walking trees.
It’s all blurry.
Did it not take the first time?
Does Jesus need to really get the juices going—really work up enough saliva— before he’s got enough power to make this guy completely see?
Because this blind man doesn’t see clearly at first—
he sees through a fog but it’s only with some patience and a second touch from Jesus
that this blind man finally begins to see clearly.
Mark is a genius.
We’ve got a story about someone learning to see in two-steps followed by this:
(8.27) Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
“I think you’re the one we’ve been waiting for, Jesus.
You’re the Messiah.”
Peter is starting to see.
But it’s a bit foggy.
A bit little like trees walking around.
He’s trying to take Jesus seriously,
but he doesn’t quite understand how this following Jesus thing works.
He knows that something special,
is happening in Jesus.
He’s familiar with the Bible.
He knows how the prophets of Israel had been looking forward to.
The day when Yahweh—the God of Israel—would finally make the world right.
Jesus keeps calling himself “the Son of Man” (v31).
That’s the name of that mysterious heavenly figure the book of Daniel.
It’s the mysterious figure who ushers in the kingdom of God.
“Well, come on, Jesus.
“Let’s see us some kingdom of God.
Let’s see us some things-the-way-God-wants-them-to-be.
“You’re the Messiah—you’re the king, after all.
You’re saying you’re the Son of Man.”
“Well, let’s do this thing.
Let’s turn up the volume on what we’ve been doing, and really bring the life of heaven to the world.
“Roll in the tanks.
“Let’s conquer who we need to conquer,
let’s crucify who we need to crucify,
let’s get you established as king of the world,
let’s pass the laws and legislation that will bring healing to the world.”
The disciples have been following Jesus around—
they’ve been taking Jesus seriously— and they know where this is leading:
a revolution, a military uprising, an overthrow of Rome.
Because this Jesus guy is just the guy to set the world straight.
He’s the action hero who’s been taking names and trashing evil.
This is the guy they’ve been waiting for.
The king who is here to trample down and conquer and rule.
But here in chapter eight—this is where Mark’s gospel takes a wild turn:
(8.30) Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
Suffer? Be rejected? Be killed?
What are you talking about, Jesus?
What’s going on?
You’re the hero, Jesus. You’re the Messiah.
You don’t die in the end—you win.
“This is crazy talk.
We’ve got a good thing going here—
have you been paying attention for the last eight chapters?
“We’re dominating out there—
we’re trashing evil, spreading the kingdom—
We like to win, don’t we?
We like seeing
our team winning the playoffs,
or our candidate winning the election,
or our ideas winning the debate,
There’s no two ways around it—
from the big to the small,
from national politics to Mario Kart
human beings like to win.
(8.32-35) [Jesus] spoke plainly about this [about suffering and dying], and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Of course Peter did.
Peter has got some sense about him.
“Jesus, we’re winning.
“And when you’re winning,
you don’t start planning to lose.
“That would be like Aragorn melting down his sword right when Mordor seems to be falling.
“That would be like Indiana Jones tossing away his whip,
and letting the Nazis win.
“That’s what you’re talking about.
No, no, no, no, Jesus.”
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
This is the key turning point at the center of Mark’s story.
We’re eight chapters in—we’re halfway through the story— and we’ve been getting to know Jesus.
We’ve been getting to know who Jesus is, what Jesus is like, and what Jesus has come to do—
Jesus has come to make things as God wants them to be.
Jesus has come to bring the rule and reign of God to the world.
Jesus has come to establish the kingdom of God.
Throughout the first half of the story, Jesus has been dominating out there.
All has been going well, it’s been all action—all winning.
But now—now we’re about to see what the life of heaven looks like.
We’re about to see how the kingdom comes about.
It’s like the disciples have been following Jesus long enough
that Jesus is ready to give them a second touch—
he’s ready to help them see clearly.
Jesus says that “the Son of Man” has got to suffer, has got to die, has got to lose.
That’s what the second half of Mark’s story is all about.
From this point forward in the gospel of Mark—in the entire second half of the story—
the miracles of Jesus, the action of Jesus, the winning of Jesus,
almost. entirely. stops.
He casts out one more evil spirit in chapter nine,
he heals one more blind man in chapter eleven,
but that’s it.
No more miracles.
People are starting to think
that fireworks and flashiness and in-your-face-action
are the way the kingdom is going to come about.
But it’s like Jesus has got totally different ideas about why he’s come bursting onto the scene.
He’s got entirely different conceptions of how things become as God wants them to be.
Jesus has got a completely different understanding of how the world works.
No wonder Jesus has been trying to keep a low profile in Mark.
No wonder he’s trying to keep himself secret.
Jesus is on a completely different wavelength.
If suffering and dying is Jesus’ plan—if losing is Jesus’ plan—
then it’s going to be pretty hard to get anyone to follow Jesus.
Of course it is.
All of us—each and every one of us—
believe in our bones that our only hope
for our world to be restored,
for our lives to saved—
that our only hope lies in our ability to conquer.
In our ability to win.
But the life of Jesus calls all of this—
all the stress and anxiety we carry around about winning and power and greatness and conquering—
all the energy and effort we put into
beating that person or winning that argument or climbing that ladder—
the life of Jesus calls all of it into question.
Jesus decided that he’s going to die.
Jesus is not going roll in the tanks,
not going to conquer,
not going to crucify,
not going to legislate—
Jesus is going to carry a cross.
Somehow, in some mysterious way that the disciples don’t understand,
Jesus is going to give his life up for those around him.
This is the first of three times in the gospel of Mark
that Jesus is going to predict his death—
that Jesus is going to be reorienting his followers about what the kingdom of God is like.
In chapter nine, Jesus says,
(9.31b-32)“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
In chapter ten, Jesus says,
(10.32-34) They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
We hit the halfway point in Mark’s gospel and Jesus just keeps repeating,
I’m going to Jerusalem to die.
I’m going to Jerusalem to die.
I’m going to Jerusalem to die.
And every time Jesus says that he’s going to do this,
he calls anyone who will listen to follow him.
In our passage today:
(8.34-35) “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Then again in chapter nine:
(9.35b) Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.
And then the third time in chapter ten:
(10.43b-45) …whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
This is not what I expected following Jesus to be about.
We’re just like the disciples—just like Peter.
We’re trying to take Jesus seriously,
but we don’t quite understand how this following Jesus thing works.
It’s really easy for us to start thinking that following Jesus
is a different kind of way for us to win.
A new-and-improved way to win.
The ultimate way to win.
If Jesus is true, if Jesus is king, if Jesus is Lord, then Jesus is the ultimate trump card.
He’s come to help us win.
He’s come to help us conquer.
The only categories the disciples have—
for that matter, the only categories any of us have—
are the categories of conquering—or winning and power and greatness.
How much of our energy is put into winning?
Of making sure we’re ahead of THEM—
in our grades, in our career, in our finances, in our performance.
And how much of our attention goes to getting power over things—
control our body, control our future,
control that situation, control that relationship.
Oh man, I just want to get me some greatness—
I want to make sure everyone thinks that I’m talented and clever and beautiful.
Our obsession with conquering— ends up poisoning our lives.
We pretend and posture and never our let our guard down
because we’re afraid that someone might realize that we’re not great or powerful.
We refuse to apologize because we want to be a winner.
(Or we want our position to be the winner.)
It’s like Jesus is saying,
“You think life is about greatness, about winning, about conquering,
but the mysterious, glorious Son of Man you’ve been waiting on—he’s a servant.
“I’m a servant. And this is what winning looks like. I’m not going to Jerusalem to lose. I’m going to Jerusalem to love.
“And I’m going to exhaust my entire life to set you free—
I’m going to give my life as a ransom for yours.
“But you’re going to really find freedom when you surrender and follow me.
You’re going to find life when you embrace my death as yours.
“You’re only really going to understand the life of heaven when you abandon your obsession with winning and learn to embrace my life of self-giving love.”
That’s what this table is about.
This is the place where we come each week to remember and receive the love of God in Jesus.
This is the place where we come to remember that loving deeply often looks like losing.
This is the place where we remember that
the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
As we learn to truly follow Jesus, at some point we’ve got to realize that Jesus is not a new-and-improved way to win.
If we’re going to take Jesus seriously, we’ve got to surrender our obsession with winning.
Jesus isn’t here to help us win, Jesus is here to help us die.
Jesus is calling us to surrender the unbelievable burden
of always trying to be great,
of always trying to be right,
of always trying to conquer,
of always trying to save our life.
And Jesus whispers to us,
“There’s life to be found when you’ll learn to die.”
The life of heaven.
That’s what I’m offering you.
In just a few moments, you’ll be invited to come down this center aisle, to receive the bread, to dip in the cup, and then return to your seats along the sides.
As we come this morning,
may we receive a second touch from Jesus
and learn see him clearly,
may we have the courage to lay down the burden of winning,
and the strength to take up the cross,
may we realize that the life of heaven
means loving even when it looks like losing.