Mark 8:31-38

There are three important yet distinct parts to our reading from Mark today. It begins with Jesus explaining to the disciples that he must suffer and die, then comes the interaction between Peter and Jesus, followed by Jesus gathering a larger crowd around him to give them an explanation of what it will cost for them to follow him.

The first section is a bit like one of those sneak peeks that we’ve been getting on all of the free to air channels over the summer in the lead up to the new round of TV shows like Revenge and Excess Baggage, you know the ones I mean where they tempt you by telling you that this is the new must see TV.  They give you a bit of a synopsis of what the show is about and who the key characters are going to be.  Jesus gives the disciples a bit of a sneak preview too, he sets the scene for what will be coming for him and by default for those who are his closest followers.

He told them that he must suffer many things, he will be rejected by the people most would think should be his supporters, the chief priests and the teachers of the law.  And the most shocking component of this briefing is the statement that he must be killed and rise again three days later.  It’s little wonder that when the plot is revealed one of his closest followers is shocked and horrified.

Peter did politely take Jesus aside before he began to rebuke him for saying such terrible things about his future.  But in response Jesus turned to those beloved friends and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.  You do not have in mind the concerns of God but merely human concerns.”  Poor old Peter thought he was doing the right and honourable thing by trying to stop Jesus going down this dead end path, but he was thinking about human things.  Not one of us would stand back and say nothing if one of our close friends, or teacher said that they were going to suffer and die and not do something about it.  We would be obliged to do something surely!

And it’s here that as we’re reeling from this sense of confusion at Jesus rebuke of his friend that we move to the part of the narrative that speaks to the crowd and by default to each and every one of us.  This next section reads as pure law, if you want to follow you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow.

This is where we start to say “hang on, steady up a bit, maybe that’s going a bit far.”  When we react like that it’s not so different to what Peter does, he was accused of thinking in human terms, and we do too.  We don’t like the idea of denying ourselves.  We’re number one, and we’re not real keen on changing that.  But really that’s what Jesus is asking us to do.  He’s more than happy for us to be number two, as long as he is number one in our lives.

Have you noticed in the iinet ads how happy they are to be Australia’s number two internet service provider?  The ads say “We are number two” they’re so excited about it that it’s the selling point for them in their advertising.  It’s about the only thing I’ve seen in years where someone seems genuinely happy to be anything but first.  They’d probably be even more excited to be number one, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one won’t we.

So why is it so hard for us to put Jesus first in our lives?  Are we as Jesus described ashamed of him and his words?  Do we wasn’t to be a part of this sinful and adulterous generation?  Are we even able to deny ourselves truly?  What does denying ourselves and taking up our cross really look like?

Here’s one way of looking at it.  We quite simply aren’t capable of doing it in our own, even if we have worlds of willpower and determination we are destined to fail.  We all sin and fall short, we were born sinful an unclean, and even though we have been baptised and made children of God as we have seen for Charlie and Anouk this morning the sinful nature keeps trying to win its way back.  Remember Luther’s phrase simul iustus et peccator, we are at the one time sinners and saints, we still sin but we are still saints.  It is in Jesus Christ that we are made saints through him and him alone.

So let’s get back to my earlier question, what must we do to take up our cross?  I want to share something I saw in a blog this week, it was a description of a farmer bending down to pick his dog up out of the snow.  Think about what has to be done to pick up an animal like that, we have to bend low, use both hands and scoop them up, it’s a bit like giving them a hug, then we can carry them to where they need to go, there is no more effort on their behalf, it comes purely from the one doing the carrying, the control has been taken away from the dog.

What Jesus does for us is no different.  He stoops down and gently picks us up complete with our crosses, our burdens and our failings and he carries us, there is no effort required from us.  As he does so, we are refreshed, renewed, carried to where we need to go.

I once hit a sheepdog with my car late one night.  I did just as I saw described in the blog earlier in the week.  I bent over, gently lifted the dog with both arms and carried it to the boot of my car.  Then I drove it to the farmer’s house and told them what had happened.  When I opened the boot of the car the dog jumped out, apparently I had knocked it out and not killed it after all.  What a relief that was.  We aren’t so different really Jesus picks us up and carries us too. 

In his arms we are carried to the cross with him, with our cross and our sins all bundled up there in his arms.  Then we are buried with him and rise again with him also.  As a result we can look forward to him coming again in glory with the angels, because we have been made holy through him, we might struggle to deny ourselves, but in our struggle to carry our crosses he comes and picks us up and carries us.

What a wonderful blessing it is to feel the arms of our Lord and saviour lovingly and gently picking us up, holding us when we are hurting, carrying us forward when we are exhausted and lost, and providing for our every need throughout our often troubled lives.  In this way he makes himself number one in our lives.

On this day Peter was rebuked by Jesus, in the coming weeks we will hear him fail again as he denies Jesus three times but soon after we will also hear Jesus say that through him the church will be built.  None of that was his own doing, he was forgiven just as we are forgiven, he was called by God for a special purpose despite his human failings and so are we.

What good would it be to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul?  That would be of no use at all, allow Jesus to pick you up and carry you in the way you should go.