Posted on Feb 25, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
I know I date myself when I do things like I am about to do, but how many of you remember this jingle: “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us, all we ask is that you let us serve it your way. Have it your way, have it your way, at ....” Yes, at Burger King! Yes, for 40 years, Burger King promoted itself with the slogan of “Have it your way!”. That notion of doing things and having things our own way is pretty much the nature of our culture today, but that notion of having things our own way wasn’t new with that 1974 slogan. We humans have wanted things our way from the beginning, haven’t we? Adam and Eve had it all, they just couldn’t do one simple thing, but that wasn’t good enough, so they tried having things their way. In our story from Genesis today, God finally is about to bring about his promise to give Abram and Sarai a son, but God had promised this before, but instead of waiting, Sarai and Abram decided not to wait and so Abram had a child with one of Sari’s concubine, Hagar. They wanted to do things their way.
And our Gospel story today shows how the disciples were really set on having things their way, as well. Up until this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been teaching the disciples and all who would listen about living God’s way. He had been healing and casting out demons and focusing on teaching the people about being part of healthy communities. But in Chapter 8, things change. In Chapter 8, Jesus finally reveals the ultimate truth about himself. In a private moment with his disciples Jesus asks them who they think he is, to which Peter says, “You are the Messiah” (8:29). And as soon as Peter made that proclamation, then Jesus told them in no uncertain terms that they could not tell anyone. They finally know who the Messiah is and they can’t tell anyone.
And then, to make matters even more frustrating, Jesus begins telling his disciples 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” (8:31).
What is this all about? How could the Messiah be rejected, especially by the religious lay leaders, the pastors, and the religious scholars? How could the Messiah be killed? How could the Messiah suffer the most humiliating death known to humankind? This had to be wrong. The Messiah was to be a great and powerful king. That is how the disciples, and to be honest, us today, want the Messiah to be.
As Christians of the 21st century, I don’t think we get the gravity of Jesus' statement to his disciples. We see the cross as a sign of salvation, but to the people of the 1st century, the cross was the ultimate symbol of shame and defeat. It was the Roman form of capital punishment that sought not only to kill the person but to strip them of every ounce of dignity. To the Romans, the very word ‘cross’ was obscene, never to be uttered in daily conversation. Death on the cross was considered such a terrible death that Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, no matter their crime.
So, it should be no surprise that Peter pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Peter had just correctly figured out that Jesus was the Messiah and Peter, as well as all the disciples, knew exactly what that meant, and they knew what they wanted Jesus to do next. But Jesus being crucified was not part of Peter’s plan, nor part of what it was thought to mean to be the Messiah, so Peter pulled Jesus aside to get this straightened out!
Again, we know the story, but as one Christian scholar notes (David Lose) today, “We have to admit that Peter’s definition of ‘messiah’ is usually the one we would prefer as well. Peter, we, and just about everyone we’ll ever know want a strong God, a God who heals our illnesses, provides ample prosperity, guarantees our security, urges our military and sports teams on to victory, and generally keeps us happy, healthy, and wise.” Such a Messiah would never allow himself to be crucified.
But that is not the Messiah Jesus came to be. Jesus came to show us a new way. Jesus came to show us a different way of being the Messiah. Jesus came to serve and to show us what it means to be one who loves the world and so to make sure Peter and the other disciples understood this he said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
To think about the Messiah as a mighty warrior, or to think about God as a God who offers justice and salvation only by the law is a human understanding of God and God’s ways. But as we know, God offers salvation through faith, not by actions and law. Such a notion can be difficult and hard to get sometimes because that means we can’t control our salvation, only God can. Our salvation depends on God’s righteousness, not ours, and as we heard in the story of Abraham and Sarah today from generation to generation, God is steadfast. God, through God's righteousness, offers salvation. No matter how many ages pass or how often we turn away, God remains faithful. This is our promised future that no matter how often we turn from God and God’s ways; no matter how great our sin, God insists on loving us. Now that’s good news!
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are bound to God through our baptism into his death. That is God’s way!
And so Jesus says, if you want to follow me you must deny yourselves and take up your cross. These are hard concepts for us to buy into because the world tells us that we should focus first and foremost on ourselves. The world, which is Satan’s domain, says we should be number one. And besides, if I deny myself, wouldn’t I be sinning because aren’t I important to God just as I am? Doesn’t God want me to be me? Of course, but what Jesus is telling us is that when our own wants, needs, intentions, or actions get in the way of Jesus working in our lives, then we need to deny ourselves and get out of the way.
There is much more we can talk about here about what means to really follow Jesus and I invite you to join me Wednesday evening for our mid-week Lenten service to discuss this further, but for now my prayer is that we get the point that this Lenten season, Jesus is inviting us into a new way of living. Jesus is inviting us not to do things our way, but to do things Jesus’ way.
Burger King might have been right about having it our way when it comes to hamburgers and fries, but when it comes to living out our faith and living lives that give glory to God, we are called to have it a different way, Jesus’ way. Amen