St Barnabas, October 18th 2009
This week is our penultimate look at Mark’s gospel … our final week, next Sunday is actually entitled ‘A Fresh Start’ so I thought I’d take this opportunity to look back and bring to a close our studies in Mark. We started right back in the New Year, and read how Jesus gathered his disciples around him, and at how the opposition against him grew in strength and determination. Then, over Easter we took a detour and read the end of the story … the crucifixion and resurrection accounts, before going back to where we’d left off to read more about Jesus’ teaching and miracles.
Mark is a carefully crafted account of Jesus’ life … the shortest of gospel stories, with lots of movement and action, and none of the extended teaching narratives … Jesus is never in one place very long. John tells us at the end of his gospel that there were so many stories about Jesus, and so much that he taught his disciples, that it would be impossible to include them all. So the gospel writers each had a different purpose in writing, and possibly a different audience in mind, as they wrote their individual life stories of Jesus. So their accounts are rather different … but that doesn’t make them inaccurate. In fact, it’s evidence of their truth … just as in a crime, if all the witness statements agree in every detail the police would rightly become suspicious, so with the gospels. A friend of mine used to say all histories are incomplete … because none of them mention his Grandma … she would feature large in any history written for or by his family, but doesn’t get a mention in any of the histories written about the 20th century.
So the gospel writers were selective about what they included … guided by the Holy Spirit to record some incidents and not others. Therefore, it’s sometimes helpful to get the bigger picture, and that’s what I hope to do that this morning.
Our reading begins with Jesus leading the way to Jerusalem … why were the disciples astonished while others were afraid? Because they knew that by now, Jesus was hated by those who had the power to do something about him. The fact that the disciples were astonished rather than afraid indicates that they had finally understood something about Jesus, that he was the Messiah – the one sent from God to rule his people. They knew now that one day soon Jesus would be king … they just weren’t expecting him to pick a fight to prove it!
So for a third time, Jesus tells them plainly,
“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and 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.”
Now, that’s the bit they still didn’t understand … how could Jesus be victorious if he was going to be killed? They’d had various reactions each time he told them …
The first time was immediately after the penny dropped for Peter … read Mark 8:27-33 … Peter was so sure that Jesus was the Messiah, and so sure what that meant, he takes Jesus aside to talk to him – you can imagine it, can’t you … ‘Jesus, don’t say that, don’t worry, you’ll be fine!’. Dear Peter! Poor Peter – because Jesus isn’t gentle in his reply – he makes sure all the others hear it too … it is so important that they are prepared, that when Jesus is killed yet comes back to them they have this implanted in their memory, that Jesus told them exactly what would happen so that there would be no doubts left … and they would be ready to tell the world!
The second time, they weren’t going to risk the same reaction again … read Mark 9:30-32 … they still didn’t understand, but were afraid to say anything, though I’m sure from what follows that they discussed it among themselves.
While this third time … they simply ignore it, and pretend he didn’t say it at all! Instead we have this request from James and John … “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Or perhaps they’re not ignoring it, but they decide to reassure Jesus that they have every confidence in him … while at the same time making sure they will reap some of the benefits of the power they are so sure will be his one day!
Jesus isn’t exactly reassuring about the situation … go back again to Mark 8 and read on a bit … Mark 8:34-38
‘… whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel, will save it.’
How might we lose our lives for Jesus and the gospel?
We may not be called to martyrdom, to literally lose our lives for the sake of following Jesus, though even today across the world many do so. But it’s all too easy to live as if we were ashamed of him … to be half-hearted about our allegiance … to keep quiet when it might be awkward … to be unwilling to lose face among our sceptical friends or colleagues, or to risk our jobs, our income. That’s what it means to deny ourselves and carry with us the cross of Jesus … and it is costly. Whether in terms of reputation or money or time or effort, or our very lives, following Jesus is about putting him first …
‘… whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel, will save it.’
And again, the second time he tells them about his death, let’s read on in Mark 9, from verse 32 …
If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.
We heard something similar in our reading this morning from Mark 10, only this time he’s upping the ante … listen to the difference, Mark 10:43-44 …
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
Following Jesus is costly … and perhaps this aspect of service is one of the hardest … giving up our lives can be an abstract concept when there is no open opposition or persecution. But to seek to serve, and to give real value to that service is to turn our worldly values upside down.
There’s one other loss that Jesus highlights for those who will follow him … and we read about it last week. Look again at Mark 10 from vs 27, Jesus has challenged the rich young ruler (we called him Fred, if you remember!) to give up his wealth for the sake of following Jesus, and he goes on to say how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God … which amazed the disciples who had always understood wealth to be a sign of God’s blessing. And indeed it may be, but the point is that anything that comes first in our priorities over our relationship with God should be put aside … let’s read from verse 27 now …
Three times Jesus tells his disciples about his death and resurrection. And three times he warns them about the cost of following him … are we prepared to put Jesus first above our our own needs, our reputations and our families.
But in case that all sounds a bit too much to ask … it is after all, only what Jesus himself did for us.
Right back in Mark 3, while Jesus is teaching in a house in Galilee, his mother and brothers come and call him out to them … Jesus replies,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” … Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)
That doesn’t mean he gave up his responsibilities to ‘honour’ his family … John’s gospel tells us that even while on the cross Jesus made sure that his mother would be cared for by John. But it didn’t stop him doing what he knew had to be done … when he called one man to follow him the man replied,
“Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)
It’s very easy to miss the point of church … especially when sometimes it’s just not very special or a bit of a bore … but when we see what we do on Sundays as a family gathering in order to proclaim the kingdom of God … declaring the praises of God not only to the surrounding community but also to unseen spiritual powers … then it becomes rather more significant and the cost to us less important.
Jesus knew what it was to put obedience to God above the needs of his family. He also knew what it was like to have no reputation worth having among those who should have been his friends … read Mark 6:1-5
Those who had known him from a boy, who knew his family, who heard him teach, who knew that he had never sinned, ‘took offence at him’. One of the reasons we often find it hard to tell others about our faith, is fear of their reaction. It may be that as friends get to know us or family see us grow in faith, that they will wonder and ask … but it’s just as likely that they will take offence. So we hold back. And rather than talk to them about something so important as their eternal destiny, we let it go … what will it cost us to speak up for Jesus? And what it is worth to those who might just understand?
Family, friends and future … whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. Jesus demonstrated his greatness by giving up his life for us, just as he’d told the disciple on those three occasions. He came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (vs 45).
So following Jesus is costly … yet as we read in Hebrews 4:15, ‘ …we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are’.
Jesus has not asked anything of us that he didn’t go through himself. Nor does he ask anything of us that he does not then repay in abundance …
For the cost of our family … a new family. For the cost of our status and reputation, and for the cost of our service to him in giving up our lives … eternal life, the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer, the power of his presence here and now …
The message of Mark’s gospel, which we’ve been reading for the whole of this year, is simple. Have you got it yet?! It’s this … following Jesus will cost you everything … family, friends and future … but in return, he gives us … well you decide!