Monday, March 2, 2015

Real Temptation

March 1st, 2015                           “Real Temptation”                   Rev. Heather Jepsen

Mark 8:31-38

          The season of Lent is a time of reflection about the choices that we make in our lives.  Will we follow God and consent to go where God leads us?  Or will we simply be content to follow the pathways of human desires?  In our gospel reading for this morning Jesus is faced with a similar choice. 

          Right before our reading in Mark, is the highlight, the highpoint of Mark’s gospel.  Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Messiah, but then the disciples are ordered to keep this quiet.  This is a moment of triumph, a moment of truth, the Messiah truly has come and he is Jesus.  Now is the time for him to intervene and change the world.  The disciples would have really been on a high, but they are about to hit rock bottom.

          Verse 31 opens with the phrase, “then he began to teach them”.  Although this may seem like filler, it is very significant to Mark.  This phrase signals a new teaching, something has shifted, and now Jesus is going to tell his disciples what his plan really is.  Jesus tells them that he is going to suffer, that he is going to be rejected by the religious institution, that he is going to be killed, and that after three days he will rise from the dead.  Unlike the secret word that he is the Messiah, Jesus speaks of these things openly.  It’s like he said to the disciples, “don’t tell anybody that I’m the Messiah, but go ahead and spread the word around that I am going to get killed.”

          Now it’s not hard to imagine that the disciples might have a problem with this teaching.  “What are you talking about?” they would ask.  The Messiah was the one who was to come and change their world.  At this time the Jews are living under Roman occupation.  They are not a free people, but are captives in their own homeland.  The Messiah was supposed to come and take back the throne of David.  The Messiah was supposed to overthrow the government and bring in a new age when the Jews would possess their own land again.  This was a political battle, this was what was promised, this was why Jesus had so many followers.  The Messiah was supposed to change the world.  The Messiah can’t die now, that doesn’t make any sense.

          Mark doesn’t tell us what exactly Peter said in his rebuke but I imagine he takes Jesus aside and begins to explain all this to him.  How this dying thing is not part of the plan and how if Jesus wants to keep this revolution moving forward he better be quiet about that stuff.  While it may seem shocking to us that Peter rebukes Jesus it actually makes good sense.  Peter is the one that has declared Jesus to be the Messiah and suddenly Jesus isn’t being the Messiah that Peter envisioned.  Of course he would take him aside and set him straight.  Peter speaks for all the disciples and for all of Jesus’ followers.  Just what was this movement about if it’s going to end in this way?

          You know well Jesus’ response to Peter’s rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!”  Whoa.  Not a moment after Peter proclaims Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus calls Peter Satan.  I think all of us cringe at those words, but Jesus is so harsh because he is so serious, this matter is very serious.  For the choice that Jesus has to make is crucial to his mission and ministry.  Jesus could very easily become the Messiah the people wanted and expected, the political Messiah who would restore Jewish leadership to the land.  That of course, would be the easiest path to take, rather than the path of suffering and death.  In fact, who wouldn’t be tempted to take the path of power and prestige; that is what true success looks like.

          Jesus calls Peter Satan because the temptation Peter presents is so very real.  Last week we read about Jesus temptation in the wilderness, and in Mark’s telling of the story we have no details as to what exactly tempted Jesus there.  But here in Mark’s gospel we find a very real temptation.  Jesus is at a fork in the road, the path of suffering and death or the path of power and success.  Jesus must choose and I believe the temptation is real. 

          We see this in Jesus’ second look back at the disciples in verse 33.  He looks back at them a second time, he thinks about it, he is genuinely tempted.  Just like when we take that second look at the dessert tray or that hot girl, Jesus takes a second look at that path of power the disciples so want him to go on.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus is tempted.  In fact this won’t be the last time Jesus considers the other way.  We all remember his words in the garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, remove this cup from me.”  Jesus doesn’t want suffering and death any more than you or I would.  The temptation Peter offers him is so very real, so his rebuke is equally very real, “Get behind me, Satan!”

          Jesus then goes on to open this teaching not only to the disciples but to the crowds that are gathered, and Mark implies to the reader.  If you want to be a follower of Jesus, you must undergo this temptation as well.  And you must choose the way of suffering and death.  As we read here, anytime you see the word “life”, substitute “soul” because that is what the Greek word as Mark uses it really means.  Those who want to save their soul must loose it for the sake of the gospel.  For what profit is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul?  Jesus is talking about the core of who we are, the essence of our being at creation.  If we want to save our souls, then we must follow him on the path of suffering and death.  We must follow him on the path of self-denial.  We must choose his ways, the ways of divine things, over human ways of power and success.

          This Lenten season is a time to consider how we have been tempted by this choice in our life.  In many ways we are tempted by the voices of this world that want us to follow the path of power and privilege.  It is certainly the easier path to take, and it is the most gratifying up front.  This is the easy path that strokes our egos and rewards us for our selfishness.  In our nation’s political culture we see this path everywhere everyday.  So much of our modern political rhetoric is nothing but lies that candidates tell in the search for votes.  They are so far from the path of Christ, the path of self-denial and suffering; that it makes me cringe every time I hear them refer to their faith.  I find it hard to believe that there is a true follower of Christ among them.

          Jesus teaches that if we are to be his true disciples, we must choose a different way, the other path, the path of self-denial.  We must choose the path of giving things up for the sake of the gospel.  We must choose the path of loosing the life that we want to live in order to save our own soul.  To deny oneself is to remove oneself from the center of one’s concerns.  To follow the path of Christ is to have greater concern for the needs of your neighbor then for your own needs.  So contrary to our “It’s all about me” American culture, the mantra of the Christian should be “It’s not about me.”

          The truth is that this doesn’t happen in one fell swoop of giving our lives to Christ, but in little ways throughout the whole of our life.  This is a choice we must make over and over.  The great preacher Fred Craddock illustrates this well when he writes, “We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table – “Here’s my life, Lord, I’m giving it all.”  But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters.  We go through life putting out 25¢ here and 50¢ there . . . Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious.  It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25¢ at a time.”

          The choice to follow Jesus is made daily for each of us.  It is a choice we face all the time.  The path of power and success leads us to cut corners on our taxes, drive aggressively, eat a little more than we need, and lust after others in our hearts.  The path of self-denial leads to cutting out excess in our lives, letting others go first, sharing what we have, and being faithful in our hearts.  Giving our lives to the Lord happens in the little every day decisions we face.  We will face this same fork in the road, the same temptation Jesus faced, over and over and over again in our lives.

          Jesus teaches the disciples and the crowds openly that the way to self-fulfillment is the way of self-denial.  Jesus faced the temptation to take the path of power and success over the path of suffering and self-denial.  If we are to be his true followers, we must face this test as well, and we must choose the path of suffering and sacrifice.  In the final verse of this passage, Jesus warns that the choice we make will have cosmic consequences, for this is the choice of saving our souls.  This morning I want to remind you that life is all about choices, and sooner or later our lives will reveal the sum of our choices.  It is upon this which we will be judged.  Amen.

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