John Sentamu on Billy GrahamI was listening to the radio on the way home from work on Wednesday evening and Archbishop John Sentamu was saying a few words about Billy Graham who had just died. He didn’t have long and I don’t remember all he said, but the few words that struck me were that he said of Billy Graham “He just said ‘the bible says’, ‘the bible says’, ‘the bible says’, he never put his own views in the message. He was the first person since St. Paul to do that.”
Evangelist and PreacherThat is the job of an evangelist, and a preacher. When I stand here and speak to you my job is to tell about Jesus and speak the good news that his life, death and resurrection are to us, allowing us to be with God forever. Tt is not to tell you about my good ideas about how to run the world, or to explain from my limited experience about how the world could be better for everyone. I’m sure I do that from time to time, some of you may even remember an example, but that is not why I am here. I am here to speak the gospel, the whole gospel and nothing but the gospel.
We will see how that lines up with our reading this morning as we go.
Marks GospelThe reading from Marks Gospel, is the first of three sections where Jesus begins to teach His disciples about His death and resurrection. They have been with him for a while now, probably more than two years, although the time frame isn’t that clear. They have seen miracles, healings and have listened to all sorts of interactions with individuals and crowds. All that time Jesus has been teaching them about what God wants for them, and interpreting the scriptures for them.
Peter’s ConfessionIn the passage immediately before this one we hear Peter identify Jesus as the Christ – the long expected Messiah who has come to save the Jews. We don’t know how much time passed between that statement and this mornings reading, but its possible that they happened close together.
Teaching a new topicJesus starts teaching a new topic – how He must suffer and be rejected before He is killed and will then rise again. Jesus either thinks they are ready, or perhaps he knows they never will be and just decides to get on with it.
Peter’s ThoughtsWhich ever it was, it was too much for Peter, he took Jesus aside and rebuked him. There is little doubt that Peter was only saying what they were all thinking. Something like: “We’ve followed Jesus for two years, we’ve seen that he is the one God promised, now He’s saying its all over. He’s going to take us all to Jerusalem and He’s going to be executed. What will become of us – the same fate I expect. We were hoping that He would overthrow the Romans and re-establish proper Jewish rule and it would be clear that our God is in control again.” Peter assumed that that is what God wanted – it sounds right doesn’t it. It certainly did to Peter.
“Rebuke”We don’t know what he said to Jesus, but that word translated rebuke here is the same word used in Mt 17:18 “Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.”
Jesus’ reactionJesus graciously hears what Peter has to say, and then turns to go back to the rest of the disciples. Perhaps it was the look on their faces that triggered Jesus’ response, or perhaps it was coming anyway. “Get behind me, Satan!” You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Contradict a TeacherWow, talk about put someone in his place! That must have hurt, but then Peter’s outburst had been unprecedented. He had been following Jesus and learning from him. He had thought of Jesus as a Rabbi – a teacher. Even at school these days, pupils do not say to their teachers “you can’t do that, that’s not the right way to go”. Peter, even though he had just identified Jesus as Messiah, had been listening to the wrong spiritual advice, He had not yet seen that God was doing a new thing through Jesus.
Jesus continues teachingWith no further comment Jesus focusses on the crowd. I wonder how much of the exchange was overheard by the crowd? Judging by what Jesus says next I can only imagine that most, if not all of the conversation (spat) with Peter was heard. As usual, Jesus uses it as a teaching point.
Take up your cross“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Unless you have studied the Bible a bit that phrase is probably meaningless. It leads directly to the phrase “We all have our crosses to bear” - which simply means we all have our little difficulties, that we use as an excuse for poor behaviour, or as a means of not listening to someone when they’re having a bit of a moan. What Jesus said has a much more radical meaning.
CrucifixionJesus was no doubt thinking about what was coming for him. He and everyone that He was talking to would know what taking up a cross meant – it meant that you were on your way to crucifixion. That was how the Romans did it. Each of the criminals to be crucified was forced to carry (probably drag) the cross that they would be nailed to, to the point of their execution. It was not an easy thing to do, by the time you got to the place where the execution would occur you would already be exhausted, as probably scared witless of the punishment that had barely started.
Expected of followersThis, Jesus is saying is what He expects of His followers – they must be prepared to loose their lives in the following. He goes on to make it even clearer “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Jesus is not necessarily referring to physical life here, although that may be included, but mainly He is referring to the inner life, as we see from his next words.
“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
If we think of this as referring to the inner life these words could equally be translated “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit himself? Or what can a man give in exchange for himself?”
Being a FollowerJesus is saying that you cannot choose to follow Him and continue to pursue your own life, with all it’s wants and desires. The phrases ‘I want ...’, ‘I’m going to ...’, ‘I will ...’ and perhaps even ‘I need ...’ are simply no longer part of our vocabulary, or even the thought process. It is always ‘Jesus wants …’, ‘Jesus is going to …’ and ‘Jesus will ...’.
AshamedAnd this cannot just be how we think in private, we have to be open with the world about it, so Jesus ends his teaching with “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
If we’re not prepared to say openly that we are followers, then we will not be considered followers by Jesus.
Put your own life to death?Of course, we can’t just decide to give ourselves to Jesus, to somehow make ourselves go away – we need God’s help to achieve that. So Jesus’ teaching would have been very hard for those who initially heard it, but we know that the Holy Spirit was given to make that close connection to God, so that we can always hear His voice. In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells His disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Truthful WitnessAs His witnesses, we must not be afraid – or ashamed of speaking the truth we see. As His witnesses we must tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – the gospel, the whole gospel and nothing but the gospel. The same should be true whether we are speaking to believers, non-believers, or potential converts. So often parts of the gospel are left unsaid.
I found this story in one of the sermons I read which illustrates telling the whole gospel to a potential convert. The preacher is called Pat Cook, here is the link if you want to read his whole, sermon.
“I read a story about a man named Mark Stiles, who led a young man from Sweden named Andreas to the Lord. Andreas asked Mark, “I’ve been told if I follow Jesus, He will meet my needs and my life will get very good.”
Mark replied, “No, Andreas, no.”
Andreas blinked in surprise, and Mark continued: “Actually, you may accept Jesus and find that life goes very badly for you.”
Andreas asked, “What do you mean?”
Mark said, “Well, you may find that your friends reject you, you could lose your job, your family might oppose your decision – there are a lot of bad things that may happen to you if you decide to follow Jesus. Andreas, when Jesus calls you, He calls you to go the way of the cross.”
Now, Andreas had been thinking that an easier life was a selling point for the faith, but Mark had resisted the temptation to make Christianity sound better than it is. But then Andreas asked the question that stumps a lot of believers today: “Then why would I want to follow Jesus? If my life doesn’t get easier, then why would I want to be a Christian?”
Mark looked at him and said, “Andreas, because Jesus is true.”
– Truth in a post-truth world.
When I’m out visiting couples who have requested Baptism, I’m always aware that I mustn’t give them a false impression of the Christian life, that I must be honest with them, without scaring them away. That I must not be ashamed of Jesus, or the life He calls us to lead, and so present Christianity as some sort of easy ride. Start talking to them about God’s love for them, for sure, but be sure it doesn’t end there.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer – The Cost of Discipleship
I’m going to close by reading a short passage from “The cost of Discipleship” by Deitrich Bonhoeffer. In the book he says
"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
and goes on to describe the feel-good version of the gospel as cheap grace.
"CHEAP GRACE is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace "Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like chapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.... Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and Incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out his eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.... Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life...."