September 13, 2009
Proper 18
Mark 8:27-38

Every follower of Christ wants to sing and mean the gospel song, “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart.” We are hungry for meaning, and nothing in life can be more meaningful than being on a pilgrimage with Him.
But how do we follow Jesus today? Is our age so different that we can’t really relate to Him? Today’s text helps us see that following Jesus has always been difficult. We will need several things if we are to go with Jesus.

I. Right Belief (vv. 27-30)
Jesus gave His disciples a pop quiz: “Who do people say I am?” Their answers show that they were not prepared. The question elicited several responses. They repeated what they had been hearing along the way: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others one of the prophets.” They must have thought this was a multiple-choice test.
Current popular opinion informed their answers. It influences opinions today as well. Over the past two decades Jesus has been interpreted as being everything from a superstar to a delusional fraud. But the question still remains: Who is Jesus?
Getting a proper answer to that question is vital. Simon Peter finally got it right. “You are the Christ.” The anointed one. The Savior. The One sent by God.
Our efforts to follow Jesus involve right belief but also something more. They involve attitude.

II. Right Attitude (vv. 31-33)
Jesus gave the test and then taught the lesson! Simon Peter had been right. He was the Christ. But the common notion of who and what the “anointed One” was did not stand the test of truth. Some wanted the Messiah to be a conquering military hero, riding in like some ancient Patton to drive out the enemy and restore Jewish nationalism.
To counter that, Jesus explained to His disciples that, far from being welcomed and cheered by everyone, He would actually be rejected and killed. That explanation was too much for some, especially Simon Peter, who thought he had just gotten an “A” on the test. After hearing Jesus speak about what was to happen, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” What a scene that must have been-Peter wanting to have a theological debate with Jesus! Peter did not want to hear all that talk about rejection and death. He wanted victory.
Jesus had to put Peter in the remedial class. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” In order to understand, Peter would need to change his attitude about himself and his Lord. Following Jesus today often entails a change of our attitudes about many things.

III. Right Action (vv. 34-38)
Since the disciples were not very good with subtle teachings, Jesus spoke more openly. He explained exactly what being His
disciple would mean. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Take up a cross, an instrument of death and shame? Who wants to wear electric chair jewelry? That is precisely what we do when we wear crosses. Taking up the cross and denying ourselves takes ourselves out of the center of the universe and places God there. To be right, we need to do right.
Puccini was an Italian opera composer. He wrote Madam Butterfly among others. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1922. Even so, Puccini wanted to write one more opera, so he began work on Turandot. Asked if he thought he could finish it, he said that if he did not, his disciples would.
Puccini died in 1924. As he had foreseen, his students finished the opera. At its premiere in Milan, Italy, the conductor was one of Puccini’s disciples, Arturo Toscanini. The opera began and proceeded to the point Puccini had reached before his death. The conductor paused, put down his baton and turned to the audience, saying, “Thus far the master wrote…then the master died.”
Then Toscanini picked up the baton and said, “But his disciples finished his music.” A great feeling of joy swept over the musicians and the audience as they completed the performance.
Jesus asked His disciples to take up His work and finish it. That is the action of every follower of Christ. As a line in an old gospel hymn puts it, “Though none go with me, I still will follow.”

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