Sermon 28 February 2021


Genesis 17:1-7,15-16, Psalm 22;23- end, Romans 4:13 to end, Mark 8:31 to end.

Sermon Sunday 28th February 2021 Revd Tudor V Roberts.

So, the Prime Minister of the UK has set out his road map to enable the Nation to emerge from Covid 19.Already it seems to have had a positive effect, and people have more hope than a month ago, that is not surprising, we all need something to hope for.

In the Bible, men and women and children frequently had to put their hope in God with no road plan to help them at all, just faith in Yahweh, in the living God.

I love verses 30 and 31 from our Psalm this morning, Psalm 22, which reads:

“future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness declaring to people yet unborn, He has done it” Right at the end of this difficult psalm, one that Jesus himself quoted from the Cross comes saying “The yet to be born will proclaim Yahweh’s name” What hope these words inspire, and it shows God’s concern for the unborn, their protection is a subject we often avoid talking about in the UK.

In Genesis 17 we get God’s word for Abraham and Sarah. He is old, in fact very old, and yet Abraham is the patron saint of all those who hope against “the odds”. God specifically says to Abraham  “ As for your wife Sarai, your wife will no longer be called Sarai, she will becalled Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she wil be the mother of Nations, Kings of people will come from her. Right at the moment in their lives when this couple could so easily have despaired, they are given fresh hope by God. God gave Abraham and Sarah fresh hope; and I believe that is a message for you and me and the world in Covid weary Britain  God is a hope giver, but as we will discover  as we dive into Mark 8 the route to that hope is not always easy, and sometimes not without suffering.

So, with all these promises in the Bible ,surely thought the disciples of Jesus, this miracle working, healing, teaching Rabbi, he was destined to lead his triumphant disciples from success to success, and even greater things, is not that why he had come to restore Israel to its King David like fame.? He had fed the 5,000, made a deaf and mute man hear and speak, healed a blind beggar, and that in just the last chapter. The first chapters of Mark are a veritable highway replete with healed, happy people. Now to cap it all Peter had by divine inspiration declared Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ of Israel, the long awaited anointed one, what could stop them now?

And then Jesus gave them an utterly shocking message. He told them that he had to die first. Mark says he began ( in Mark 8.31) to teach,  suggesting Jesus was saying something new. The Son of Man said Jesus must go on a death march. Peter though, tried to dissuade  Jesus from going to the cross. Jesus foresaw his death  and resurrection but Peter and probably others could just not compute that this was the road map that Jesus the Messiah should take.

Rejection by all three major strata’s of Jewish religious society, death and then resurrection. That was what Jesus told them was ahead. Now I think Peter missed the bit about resurrection,  so shocked was he by the mention of death by execution on a Gibbet by the Jewish rulers, so Peter took him aside and rebuked him.

As the Baptist Minister David Hewitt said “It was a shock to Peter’s system and surely his words to Jesus were born of well-meaning concern. Peter had not yet grasped that fact that you do not rebuke someone you have just acknowledged as God’s Messiah. How quickly someone who is the mouthpiece of God’s spirit one minute can become a tool in Satan’s the next., The reason that Jesus spoke so sternly to Peter was that this was the temptation that Jesus faced throughout his ministry. The lure to take an easier path and to avoid the cross. It was the test of the wilderness again, this time through the lips on a friend”.

Yet Jesus said in Mark 8 I must go the Cross or It is neccesary that I go.

The impersonal verb Dei for it is necessary is used here in Mark, and it comes with apocalyptic determinism; these events that lead to the Cross will take place according to the will of God .In a sense the good news of Christ’s death was bad news for Jesus he HAD to go through the bad for our good. Jesus will go first down this road and then over some time nearly all his disciples will face their own martyrdom in the cause of the Gospel.

CS Lewis says repentance is hard. “It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death., In fact it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent only a good person can repent. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person and he wouldn’t need it”.( Broadcast talks 1944)

Now Jesus is the perfect person who went to the cross ahead of us, he has solved the conundrum CS Lewis posed by becoming “bad” by dying a criminal’s death on the cross, even forgiving a criminal on one side of him on the adjacent cross while he was nailed there at calvary.

Of course, if you think you are perfect and/or have no need of repentance ( we  all have such thoughts from time to time) you won’t have a clue what I am talking about here, but Peter, terrible things though he said to Christ in saying “NO don’t go to the cross”, is in fact a reflection of what I or you in all honesty might also have said ,none of us likes suffering and in Lent we get that opportunity to approach scripture like Psalm 22 and Mark 8 and ask God what are you saying to me through this your word today? ask him now.

What is unique about the Christian faith is that it’s leader Jesus says look, I will die first before you and for you. His death will be arranged by a Trinitarian grouping  of Elders, Chief Priests and Scribes ( Teachers of the Law) who will get together to have Jesus killed. It is so tragically awful, but then that is the risk of religious leadership, people who know God and yet in an instant go from Angel to Demon and  end up doing the opposite of what God wants.( NB really important! not all Jewish leaders did this of course, Nicodemos and Joseph of Arimathea famous of those Leaders who became Jesus followers as did hundreds after Pentecost see Acts)

But Jesus has no other choice he has to rebuke Peter who  demanded he turn from the cross in private. Jesus now goes public to rebuke Peter. He says to Peter “Get behind me Satan”. Jesus has already repeatedly confronted Satan’s role in men’s lives and now he exposes Satan as being behind Peters words. Satan the Tempter, the Tester and the Accuser is thus brought into the light by Jesus’s words, the principle figure of evil in the cosmic realm tries to stop Jesus doing his Father’s will so Jesus calls his bluff. For Peter has unwittingly become the Devils mouthpiece devastating though Jesus words must have been for Peter, Jesus as ever has greater things in mind, he wants Peter, the future leader of the early Church, back on course and Satan must get behind. Here in Mark 8, as we saw last week looking at Mark 1 Jesus has to confront Satan head on, and Peter must understand the difference between Messianic nationalism and following Christ on the way of the Cross. We too have to understand the difference ( viz in the USA and even in Britain too when we confuse worship of Nation with worship of God) to follow the way of the cross is never popular.

So, for us then what in our lives do we see as being an area where our first loyalty to God may get confused?

Jesus has to turn to Peter and say harsh words; You do not have in mind the things of God but merely human concerns, this must have been devastating to hear. Here in the middle of Mark’s Gospel is St Peter, by the time Mark is written he is the esteemed leader of the early Church and yet his words are recorded  verbatim, but note this, Jesus rebukes Satan, and who knows if he did not take Peter aside afterwards and rebuild him after this episode.

Having spoken to Peter and the crowds Jesus then issues his call to discipleship by way of the Cross we are called to deny ourselves to give up our place as being at the centre of things, and to act in a selfless way.

If anyone, said Jesus, would come after  me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Jesus wants his listeners to know that he is calling for whole person and whole life commitment, the word used here is Psyche sometimes translated as life and sometimes as soul. Jesus may be saying here that it is a man or woman’s whole life that is at stake, now and into eternity.

In its context Mark’s Gospel was written to the persecuted Church in Rome, and so Mark is communicating Jesus’s message where Jesus says he hopes no one is ashamed of his message in an adulterous generation. Christians in Rome surrounded by Roman idiolatry and people for whom adultery did not seem wrong, is issuing a call to radical discipleship, none of Mark’s colleague and friends wanted to be people who at the point of imprisonment and torture succumbed to denying their Lord and Saviour.

 

So, do you see the thread in our Scriptures; the same faith demonstrated by Abraham and Sarah, the same cry for righteousness in the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 22, we see that faith at work in the reading from Romans 4, and we see it being worked out in Mark 8.Its messy; real faith always is, and Peter does not come out of this smelling of roses. But scripture hints, and tradition confirms that Peter was loyal to the end of his life and died martyred to the cause of his beloved Lord Jesus, may we to dare to get messy with faith, and know that Jesus is for us not against us, and wants us to win through at the final hurdle. That message is the Gospel road map and its full of hope even when the road is steep and rocky.

 

Tudor V Roberts Lent 2021

 

Almighty God,

by the prayer and discipline of Lent

may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,

and by following in his Way

come to share in his glory.

through Jesus Christ our Lord

 

 

 

 


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