Sunday, June 19, 2022

Happiness through Conformity or Freedom through Suffering? (Mark 8:27-38)

Miraculously freed to discern and affirm our savior

“And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ’ (Mark 8:29, English Standard Version). 

Peter is right. Jesus is the Christ (the Greek word), the Messiah (the Hebrew word), the one chosen by God to save God’s people from all the powers of evil and penalties of sin. 

We might rightly marvel at Peter’s answer. The Twelve, including Peter, have heard all the words and seen all the signs indicating the saving presence of the Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus. Yet Jesus had recently complained of them, “‘Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts heartened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?’” (8:17b-18, ESV). 

Peter, then, did not discern and affirm the significance of Jesus all by himself. He did it solely by the grace of God; that is, only through a miracle.

We come to this knowledge of Jesus in just the same way. We discern and affirm Jesus as our savior, and that of the whole world, only by the grace of God; that is, only through a miracle. 

Our relationship with Jesus is not something we decide to have on our own and then automatically continue. It is something possible for us to participate in only through a miraculous word from Jesus and by the miraculous power of Spirit. And this relationship with Jesus only remains possible for us each day on this same miraculous basis. 

As with Peter, are you and I able and willing to discern and affirm, today, that Jesus is the only one who continues to save us from our bondage to the six false, conventional, but malicious gods of Olympus? And from the lying promises of happiness, security, justification, and meaning they wrongly make? Then let us rejoice. For this joyful relationship with him is ours only through the daily renewed miracle of God’s unmerited favor.

The suffering of our savior

“And he began to teach them that 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” (8:31, ESV).

Once Peter miraculously discerns and affirms who he is, Jesus shares with the Twelve the surprising truth that, just because he is God’s man in a world dominated by false gods, he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed before rising again (8:31). No! “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him” (8:32, ESV). Peter does not understand. Peter still thinks in terms of the gods. The gods promise happiness. If Jesus truly is God’s man, then Jesus—and those with him—should know nothing but happiness. Peter wrongly imagines that being a Christian means being guaranteed happiness here and hereafter. 

Even more surprisingly, Jesus states that those who will have him put to death are none other than the leaders of the people of God. The leading theologians, pastors, and council members of the conventional church of his day will be the ones who reject him and hand him over to Olympian leaders to be crucified. 

Suffering with our savior

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (8:34, ESV). 

Still more unpleasantly, Jesus says that walking with him means picking up a cross. This cross is not suffering in general. To endure cancer and its unpleasant treatments is not to pick up the cross of Jesus. This cross, at its crudest, means public humiliation, torture, and death for doing good. More generally, it means all the false accusations of arrogance and stubbornness, all the stony indifference or flaming hostility, we will experience for nothing more than speaking Christ’s truth and sharing Christ’s love with others.

The conventional church is just that—conventional—because it has chosen to compromise, to make its peace, with the gods of Olympus. It has joined the rest of our Olympian society on the wildly popular highway of power. It has hoped to slow its steady losses of members and money by blending in. By doing so it has, ironically, increasingly lost its vitality by severing its vital relationship with Jesus. 

It is Jesus alone who speaks life-transforming words of truth to us today, and each day, and in so doing frees us from the gods of Olympus. By the power of Spirit, burning brightly inside our Tufluvian hearts, Jesus continues to speak the truth we need to walk with him on the path of freedom that leads through love to eternal life (unbreakable, unshakeable, companionship with him). 

Through today’s passage from Mark, Jesus reminds us anew that walking the difficult path of freedom with him means accepting hostility from those busy on that wildly popular highway of power with the Olympian gods. That’s what makes our path the difficult one. He especially reminds us that this hostility will come not only from the world but from our painfully conventional brothers and sisters. 

Copyright © 2022 by Steven Farsaci.
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