February 28, 2021
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But 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.”
He 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. For 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those 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.”
| Centering Prayer |
Gospel means “Good News.”
Our Gospel for today,
Our Good News for today,
Is a passage that should be quite familiar
To many of us lifetime Christians.
Though familiar, I’m with many of you
Listening intently for what God is saying new.
If this text is new to you, or
You are not a lifelong Christian,
Hold on to your saddle,
Because today’s Good News is about to give
Your spiritual journey
Quite an exciting ride.
According to Mark
Jesus recently traveled through the region of Tyre,
A Greek, non-Jewish, gentile city
Northwest of Galilee on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
From Tyre, he travels South East to Bethsaida, on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Today, Jesus travels due North
To Caesarea Philippi,
Which is located on today’s Golan Heights,
At the base of Mt. Hermon,
On the border between Syria and Israel.
Geography and local history are important here.
1. First, Caesarea Philippi was the northern most extension of Israel
When it was in its greatest period of expansion and prosperity
Under the rule King David,
One thousand years before Christ.
Though it was ruled by Jews,
No Jewish culture stuck after they withdrew.
At the time of Jesus,
Caesarea Philippi was only populated by Roman and Greeks gentiles.
2. Secondly, Speaking of Romans, Greeks, and gentiles
This village was named after …
… Caesar, the Roman Emperor,
And, Philip II, the son of Herod the Great,
Who earlier named it Paneas,
In honor of the 3rd century BC Greek cult
Who worshiped the pagan god Pan,
A goat-footed god of victory in battle.
The Greek temple can be seen today,
Carved in the side of the mountain.
Pagan worship to Pan was actively taking place
In this location
At the time of Jesus.
3. Thirdly, located at the base of Mt. Hermon,
Caesarea Philippi is the source of the Jordan River.
The south flowing Jordan
Starts as a mountain spring that gushes forth from a mountain cave.
It is this cave that pagans had carved out their temple to the god of Pan.
The source of the Jordan River,
The water that baptized Jesus,
Springs forth from a pagan temple in Caesarea Philippi.
There is no place in the Holy Lands
That is more diametrically opposed to Yahweh,
- Our God of creation, covenant, and law,
- The God of our Jewish ancestors,
- The religion of Jesus and most of his disciples,
Then Caesarea Philippi.
Jesus walked into a pagan temple
Takes center stage,
Surrounded by pagan worshippers,
Lifts his voice
And publicly, loudly asked his own disciples in trail
“Who do people say that I am?”
– Mark 8:27
Akin to today?
This isn’t simply like saying,
“One day Jesus walked into a bar.”
This is like saying,
“One day Jesus walked into a wiccan of witches.”
Jesus takes his disciples with him.
Jesus asked them publically to identify himself,
within earshot of everyone present.”
“Who do people say that I am?”
– Mark 8:27
Think to yourself:
What is the most non-Christian setting
You can imagine
or have recently visited?
Where is the voice of the Church,
Not only silent,
In your mind’s eye,
Put yourself there.
Place yourself in the center of opposition
And make a public declaration:
Jesus is Lord!
Jesus is the God I serve!
Be prepared to escape and evade like your life depends on it!
You better run, run!
Our Good News for today asks every serious disciple of Jesus
If we are prepared to identify Jesus by
Making a public declaration of faith
In those places in life where Jesus is most opposed.
Where is Jesus most opposed?
Is that where you work?
With family, neighbors, or friends?
Is that with colleagues or collaborators,
Supervisors or staff?
How about the bully on the school bus?
Be they an atheist cousin?
A devilish member of the community who thrives on disruption and destruction?
Or terrorist with a knife in their hand?
Are you and I prepared to
Stare them down and
Make a public declaration that
I serve the Lord and only follow Jesus!
Even amongst his faithful disciples
There was a bunch of mumbling, looking down, avoiding eye contact, and kicking dirt hoping the moment would pass.
‘Well, you could be John the Baptist.
Or maybe Elijah?
Heck, I don’t know.
Maybe you’re one of the prophets?’
It is Peter who speaks up.
Peter is the only one with the courage
To stand up and speak out!
“You are the Messiah!”
– Mark 8:29
Son of God,
The first use of the title
Since the opening chapter of Mark.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
Messiah is the correct answer!
Jesus has publically outed himself as the Son of God
On stage front and center
Of a pagan temple.
So why in the world does Jesus use this opportunity
Of his public identification
As an opportunity to speak the first of many occasions
About his forthcoming
Suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection?
It would appear
That Jesus is grasping defeat
From the mouth of victory.
The argument could be made
That Jesus is throwing in the towel
Even before he begins to get started.
It is as if Jesus was staring down the pagans
– first stunned into silence
– now growing in rage for having their temple hijacked.
It is as if the pagan crowd surrounded Jesus and his disciples,
Become restless and start itching for violence.
It is as if Jesus threw up his hands and said,
“You win. I give up. Just take me away.”
You and I, like Peter, would have responded with disbelief.
“What the heck?”
“What in the world is going on here?”
“You’re the Messiah one moment and
The next moment you’re telling us you are going to die?”
Christ’s rebuke is hardly surprising
When one considers
The fact that
Jesus’ suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection
Is as much a part of his identity,
As the fact that he is the Son of God.
There would be no Son,
No Bethlehem’s baby.
Without Christ dying,
There would be no point to his immaculate conception.
Without the resurrection,
There would be no reason for God to send us his son to save the world.
It is much easier for us,
Looking through the lens of hindsight,
To better see this reality of Jesus
Then did his own followers.
Time and again,
They get it wrong.
It is only after the resurrection,
When the Holy Spirit fills the Church,
Do the disciples turned apostles
Understand Christ’s complete identity:
- Who Jesus is: Messiah, Son of God
- Why Jesus came: to suffer, die, and rise from the dead
- How Jesus changes everything: that the world might be saved
God’s greater plan
Used Jesus as a principle interdiction into humankind,
For the greater purpose
Of a more expansive kingdom.
This surprised the first century Church, and
Has been stunning generations of Christ followers ever since.
How does this revelation of Christ’s greater identity
Impact us today?
Suffering is a shared experience.
It is never alone.
For even when alone,
One is with God.
Even when alone,
One can associate personal suffering
With the suffering of our Lord at his crucifixion.
To suffer as a Christian
Is to allow yourself to crawl upon on the cross,
Let nails be driven into your hands,
And be crucified with Jesus.
Suffering is not to be sought;
But neither is it to be shunned,
For suffering opens new avenues
That can deepen the relationship
Between ourselves and our God.
Death is a shared experience.
We may not like to think about our mortality.
Yet, we all die.
Death is the great equalizer.
It is the final earthly act that unites us.
It is the final act that unites us with Jesus.
As in baptism we put on Christ,
So, too, in death, we are greeted by Christ.
We take his hand
And step through the divide between heaven and earth
Into God’s heavenly kingdom.
Resurrection, likewise, is a shared experience;
For all those who believe in him
Shall have eternal life.
As Christ ascended to the right hand of his Father,
So, too, are we lifted.
Jesus welcomes each of us
“your faith has made you well.”
We are more than healed of our earthly disease,
Our mortality is healed,
Such that we will know death no more.
Crying and mourning will be passed away.
In the final act of today’s Good News,
… which, in my opinion, has been really GREAT News thus far,
Is Jesus challenging those who follow him:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For 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.”
– Mark 8:34-35
Jesus is attempting to recruit a pagan crowd on their home turf!
He’s casting his net for new disciples.
Jesus set’s the terms:
First, deny yourself.
Make Jesus the priority of life,
Subjecting self, family, and tribe to him.
Secondly, pick up your cross.
In other words,
Be prepared to die with Jesus.
Thirdly, follow Jesus.
Learn his words.
Speak his words.
Teach his words.
Behave the way he behaved.
Live as he lived.
Love as he loves.
Others may kill your body,
But no one else can kill your soul.
The risk of not sharing the Gospel,
The risk of not witnessing to the world
about our relationship with Jesus Christ,
is that we will lose our life,
our eternal life;
that our final disposition
will be nothing more than a box in the ground
at Pine Hill cemetery down the road.
The risk of not sharing Jesus Christ with the world
Is that the church today will close tomorrow.
We will all die off
And the property will be sold.
Speak up! Jesus is proclaiming.
Discipleship means you’re
Willing to risk all things mortal for all things eternal.
Witness to Christ,
Share the Good News,
And you’re making an investment
Not only in your eternal life
But also in the next generation of the Church
And every future generation.
Take courage, people of faith!
There is much opposition to Christ in today’s world.
When confronted by those who would oppose our faith,
Make your witness public, loud, and proud.
Wear Jesus on your sleave and make no apologies for him.
God as our Lord
And Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Be prepared for the consequences.
Others may kill the body.
But, only we can surrender our soul.
Live for Christ.
Witness for Christ.
And let God take care of the eternal.