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“That’s Not How the Story Ends”

February 25, 2024 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: Mark 8:31–38


February 25, 2024 Second Sunday in Lent The text is Mark 8:31-38.



31[Jesus] 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.”


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Poor Simon Peter!  It seems that at every turn Peter doesn’t quite grasp what it is that Jesus is saying or doing.  From offering to build three huts on the  mountain so the disciples can remain there with the transfigured Jesus, and Moses and Elijah; to sinking when Jesus calls to him to walk on the water; to eventually denying Jesus three times when Jesus is arrested.

And this morning we read that Jesus is telling Peter to basically ‘get out of the way’ when he explains what is going to happen to him.

But let’s not judge Peter too harshly, after all he has been through a lot already in his travels with Jesus, and it’s only going to get worse.  In the verses immediately before today’s gospel reading Jesus asked the disciples accompanying him who the people thought Jesus was, and Peter was the one who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, the long-awaited, promised leader of the Jewish people.  The Messiah was to be a warrior king, a mighty hero who would return the Jewish people to their former glory and would free them from the oppression of Roman rule.  The gospels refer to Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One of God, a holy warrior whom God appoints as the peoples’ redeemer.  And there have been many occasions that Peter and the others have been witness to that would lead them to believe that Jesus was in fact the Messiah.  His teaching is with an authority that could only come from God, he has healed people in miraculous ways, he has matched wits with the religious authorities and put them in their place.  It seems that all the requirements to be the Messiah are present in Jesus of Nazareth, and that if anything other than this were to come to pass, well that just isn’t possible.  Peter is absolutely certain that this is the truth of who and what Jesus is.

Nevertheless, shortly after Peter blurts out his acknowledgement of Jesus as Messiah, Jesus tells him and the others that he, “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”.  Hearing this, Peter protests, for this news from Jesus is simply not possible.  There is no way that the Messiah, the great king, mighty warrior, divinely-anointed savior of the Jewish people could be made to suffer and die at the hands of his own religious authorities!  At this point, it’s evident that Peter only really heard the ‘suffer and death’ part of Jesus’ pronouncement and the promise to ‘rise again’ in three days simply didn’t register for Peter.  The truth is, it’s difficult to assign too much blame to Peter, considering what had happened just prior to this announcement by Jesus.  “You are the Messiah” Peter exclaims and Jesus doesn’t deny this, he simply instructs the disciples not to tell anyone.  And a moment later the news of his impending death is disclosed.  I imagine Peter, stopped dead in his tracks, staring open-mouthed at Jesus and defiantly shouting ‘No way!”  “It just isn’t possible that the one who has just been identified as the Messiah is going to be put to death by priests and scribes”.  “That’s not how this is supposed to happen”.  “The Scriptures are crystal clear on this!”


Let’s for a moment step into Peter’s sandals and try to imagine what he’s feeling.  He, along with the other disciples has left everything behind to follow Jesus, who now tells them he is to suffer and die, rather than free the people from oppression.  Peter has witnessed thousands fed with a few loaves and fishes, he has witnessed Jesus walk on water and cure the sick.  He simply cannot come to terms with this earth-shattering news of Jesus’ impending execution.  Again, if we were Peter, how would we react to this news?

And to add to Peter’s confusion and distress at hearing that Jesus was not going to be the great king of the Jewish people, we will read later in Mark that Peter and some of the others find themselves arguing about which of them is the greatest among the disciples.  It’s clear that they are hoping for positions of authority in the Messiah’s coming earthly kingdom, even after Jesus has already announced his impending demise.  Fishing boat, nets, and family all left behind to follow an itinerant preacher, who although admits to being the Messiah is going to be tortured and killed, rather than liberate the Jewish people.  No wonder Peter is freaking out!  This complete reversal of everything he thought to be true has caused him to plead with Jesus; “Say it isn’t so!”  I’m certain each of us would have had exactly the same reaction as Peter did, realizing that we have abandoned our entire lives to be part of something that was going to end in death, not freedom and glory.

But the two most important words in Jesus’ announcement, and these are very core of our Christian faith are the ones Peter didn’t hear.  Or perhaps he did hear them, couldn’t rationally process them, chose to ignore them, or maybe even didn’t believe them; “rise again”.  In spite of everything Peter and the others had been witness to as they accompanied Jesus, talk of rising again three days after being killed isn’t the type of thing that sinks in immediately.  We’re talking ‘resurrection’ here; the return to life after death isn’t something easily comprehended.  So again, we ought to cut Peter a little slack for not grasping right away what Jesus has just told him.  If Peter felt that it wasn’t possible for the Messiah to be killed rather than become a king robed in glory, he surely felt that rising from the grave was even more impossible.


But if he stopped for a moment to recall what the Hebrew Scriptures taught about the impossible being made possible through God, he would have remembered what was written in Genesis regarding Abraham and Sarah.  God promised the nearly 100-year-old Abraham that his 90-year-old wife Sarah would give birth to  who would become the “father of many nations”.  This would have been deemed impossible, for human biology simply precludes this from happening.  Peter likely also forgot about Moses parting the Red Sea, the Passover and the Ten Plagues in Egypt, the burning bush, Noah and the Flood.  All these fell into the category of the impossible, yet any first century Jewish person accepted them as truly happening, just as Peter would have. 

So, perhaps it was just the shock of Jesus’ announcement of what awaited him in Jerusalem that caused Peter to discount the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection.  Again, I think we ought to give Peter the benefit of the doubt.  After all, he did choose to remain with Jesus all the way to the cross, even if he did continue to falter from time to time.  What Peter did was to take up his own cross, to become the disciple that Jesus called him to be.  And when Jesus challenges the crowd gathered as he scolds Peter to take up their cross, he is calling them to faith, to belief, to trust in the promise of his rising again.  And this is the crux of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, to be a disciple, to take up our cross.  Like Peter, we are all called to set our minds on divine, not human things. 

Peter and the others expected Jesus to be raised up in earthly glory as a revered king, not tortured and be killed in order to be raised up to life again from the cross.  Martin Luther wrote concerning two distinct concepts which he called “theology of the cross” and “theology of glory”.  These opposing doctrines speak quite clearly to Luther’s understanding of the concepts that Jesus strives to explain to Peter and the other disciples.  Seeking human glory is not what they, and we are called to do; they and we are admonished to “take up our cross” of discipleship.  To acknowledge that we do believe and trust in the promise of God, as demonstrated by Jesus’ rising.  To have faith that the impossible is made possible by God, that the miracle of Jesus’ rising at Easter is the ultimate divine thing that we must set our minds on. 

Lent is when we focus on reconnecting with and reinforcing the part of our being that acknowledges this need to focus on the divine things Christ represents, and not the human ones that would restrain us.  To live our lives as believers in “cross” and not “glory” theology.  To recognize that it is our calling to pick up the cross of discipleship and serve as Christ served.  As we act as disciples of Jesus, we find ourselves in the constant struggle to behave in ways that seem in opposition to how the world would have us live.  Yet, even as we are called to pick up our cross and follow Christ’s commands in this world, we know that our discipleship will result in our ultimate rising to follow Jesus into the kingdom to come.  For this is God’s promise to us all and we know that with God all things are possible.                

Will you pray with me?  Good and gracious and Holy God, guide us as we set our hearts and minds on your divine things and not the human ones that draw us from you.  Renew our trust in you as we travel with Jesus toward the cross; steer us away from our need for earthly glory.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who secures heavenly glory for those who follow, believe, and trust that nothing is impossible with God.  Amen.

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is GoodAmen.