“Stop the ride! I want to get off! I didn’t realize it was going to be like this!”
That is what I wanted to say as the Screamin’ Eagle rattled and shook and threatened to jump off the rails into the wooded hills of central Missouri. Against my better judgment, and despite my utter disdain for roller coasters, I had agreed to ride along with my 6-year-old daughter on our family trip to Six Flags. She desperately wanted to take her turn on the iconic wooden coaster, but she was too short to ride by herself. No one else in the family would bite, so I agreed. I could not resist the paternal impulse to play the hero.
During the slow climb out of the gate, it did not seem so bad. The view was impressive. The pace was easy. The mounting excitement and the shared experience almost made me glad to be there. But then we hit the crest and all hell broke loose. Well, it was not that bad. But I am pretty sure my shrieking relieved her of any illusion she was sitting with super-dad.
This vivid memory of my desire to stop the roller coaster came to mind as I read the appointed gospel reading for the second Sunday in Lent. Peter did not shriek quite as loudly as I did, but his words to Jesus were no less embarrassing. He did not like where things were headed. He wanted off.
The text begins with Jesus asking His disciples an important question. “Who do people say that I am?” Then He asked it again, but more personally. “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter stepped up and answered like a hero. “You are the Christ” (29). Mark keeps Peter’s response short. But do not miss the narrative significance. Peter was confessing Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, and the one promised by the prophets of old. God’s people had been expecting the Messiah for centuries. I imagine Peter bursting with excitement as he made this good confession.
But then, before he had a chance to enjoy the view, the wheels started to come off. Jesus began to teach them He, “...must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed” (31). That was not what Peter had in mind. He took Jesus aside and told Him to stop the ride. Hell may not have broken loose (yet), but Peter found himself in league with Hell’s prince. “Get behind me, Satan!” said Jesus to him in front of the disciples.
As if this were not humiliating enough, Jesus proceeded to make an example of Peter to the crowd, too. He called the crowd together with the disciples (34) and made sure everyone understood how mistaken Peter had been: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it” (34-35). In other words, the ride was not going to be smooth. Following Jesus would not be comfortable. Indeed, it would require losing your life.
Following Jesus would not be comfortable. Indeed, it would require losing your life.
Mark does not tell us how many people left that day.
The ride is not smooth for us, either. Losing your life, denying yourself, bearing your cross; this is no spin on a carousel. It is the problem we, as Christians, constantly struggle to accept. Life in Christ is a life of sacrifice and suffering. Period. We wish it were not so. We wish it would be different, but Jesus is crystal clear. Following Him faithfully is a life of humble submission, not only to His rule as Lord, but also in a sinful world that rejected Him. Prepare for difficulty. Do not be surprised when life shakes and rattles and jumps off the rails.
Our discomfort with suffering leads us to all manner of unfaithfulness. It leads us to instruct God as to what He should really be doing, and to question Him when he does not obey us. It leads us to take matters into our own hands, to fudge on His commands, and to imitate the world’s deceitful and dishonest ways. It leads us to abuse power, serve ourselves, and plug our ears to the parts of Jesus’ message which do not conveniently fit with our programs.
That is what happened in the text. Peter’s inability to accept what Jesus said about suffering prevented him from hearing what Jesus said about resurrection and life. “The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (34). Death was coming, that is true, not only for Jesus but also for anyone who followed Him. But that would not be the end. Resurrection was also coming. Those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake would find it (35).
Death was coming, that is true, not only for Jesus but also for anyone who followed Him. But that would not be the end. Resurrection was also coming.
That is the promise you get to proclaim on this second Sunday in Lent. Resurrection is coming for us. Salvation is coming for us. It is coming for all who, in Christ, lose themselves. It is for all who give up their privilege, who sacrifice their preference, who surrender their position, who relinquish their power. Make no mistake, the life to which Jesus is calling His disciples is radically other than what our world preaches. If people in your congregation are not a little offended, you probably are not proclaiming the fullness of Jesus’ commands. But if you do, and if they are, then they are ready to hear and believe and be transformed by the incredible promise of resurrection life in Christ.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 8:27-38.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 8:27-38.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 8:27-38.