Living in the real world.
Mark 8: 27-38
On being asked how it went, the oldest man to swim the English Channel replied: “It only hurt once-from beginning to end”. Sounds like the irony of life because here we see a man that’s been given the gifts of swimming ability, stamina and a healthy pain threshold. Gifts that enabled him to purposely put himself through pain-which he could only do, because of his gifts.
Similar, Elvis Presley could never understand why he, a person such as himself was given by God the gift of his extraordinary voice. His gift that brought great admiration and riches, yet assured that he would never live a “normal life in the real world” so to speak.
Living in the real world. I have such admiration for Christians like your selves because living in the real world as a Christian takes a lot of courage. To try and witness to Christ by speaking of him causes much, much less stress if you say you’re a pastor instead of a bricklayer. As a Pastor, even if not accepted with open arms, people at least at some point know you’ll probably bring up the God topic sooner or later. But in the real world, in this day and age the rebuttal of mentioning your beliefs and faith as one in it as say a bricklayer, can bring a very sharp and cutting reply.
Some of you here today, like me may be way’d down by thoughts of not being adequate when measured against Jesus words in the Gospel today.
“You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”
“Deny yourself, and take up your Cross and follow me”
And “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this world, of them will I be ashamed on the last day”.
Words from Jesus that come back to us after those moments when down at the pub, in the supermarket or club, we had a moment to openly declare our faith or to intervene when someone was sledging God, but let it go past, and know in our fear to stand up, we have fallen short. And guess whose the one to remind us, Satan is. An old man once said: “that devil he’s tricky, in this ear he tells me to steal that loaf of bread, and then after in this other ear he tells me how bad I am for stealing it”.
He is the tempter and accuser, and the manipulator of the truth and that’s why poor old Peter after trying to talk Jesus out of walking to His death gets it hard when told “get behind me Satan”. Would we not have said the same, we would have if we were there and if we loved Jesus. It’s not heard in this account of this interaction, but in the book of Matthew Jesus continued with: “You are a hindrance to me”, which from the Greek also means “stumbling block”.
Jesus is saying to Peter; stop it your thoughts of what we should do are a stumbling block. Almost like this is tough enough as it is. In Jesus “get behind me Satan” Jesus sees who the real foe is-Satan, and right here we see him in full attack on Jesus and the truth is what we have been living though our whole lives. He says to Peter, Stop Jesus, he doesn’t have to die, but then when Jesus did bring salvation for us by dying on the cross, he says “yes of course he died on the cross, that’s a historical fact, but it wasn’t really to bring you forgiveness”.
Jesus died on the cross that those in faith in Him alone, nothing to do with your efforts is the greatest truth in the world, and the greatest truths that the foes of Christ wish for us to not fully believe, but to believe that we must have at least some part to play in our salvation. Absolute lies.
A Pastor once gave me the simplest and easiest way to understand living as a Christian. Some may think he said, that our lives are like the graph of the share market. It starts at one point, and the graph goes up and down, but if the shares are good, the line will be trending upwards. In our lives in regard to our worthiness, we start at this level, and likewise we have ups and downs, but at the end-the general line is flat, no better than we started. Our only hope is in Christ and Christ alone.
We again look at Jesus words today, his lesson. If we deny ourselves and “take up our cross and follow him” we will surely, like Jesus suffer and be scorned, and like Jesus will surely be raised on the last day.
Jesus had placed before him though many stumbling blocks, offered many alternate paths to lead him away from defeating death on the cross and bringing life and salvation. Likewise, placed before the world are many, many stumbling blocks designed to hide Christ, and to Christians, many stumbling blocks to attack Christs message of the forgiveness he has brought us.
Both of these statements Jesus said to Peter are said to us. And as Peter failed in both at times, so do we. But what has Jesus not said, he did NOT say because of this I will turn my back on you. These were not words of damning judgement but words knowing of how it is.
The damning words are the last, that if you are a shamed of me, so too will I be of you. Did Peter deny Christ, yes? Have we denied Christ at some point, in a pub or club with our silence? Most would say yes. Do we stumble like Peter, absolutely? Was Peter ashamed of Jesus, absolutely not, quite the opposite, he was ashamed of himself as to are we when we fall to our sinfulness in whatever form that is.
The enemies of the Truth would have us believe that Jesus turns his back on us. How did Jesus after His resurrection react on meeting Peter, the same as how he reacts to us: in love, forgiveness and acceptance.
The man that swam the English Channel and Elvis, did their gifts bring good things-of course. Did their gifts bring hardship-absolutely.
Those in Christ have been given a much greater gift. The swimmer asked when it hurt said: From start to finish”. In Christ, we have struggles and hurt, but he was the one who finished it for us. Even though it may hurt at the start and during, even though we continually fail from the start and during our lives-the finish is Christ, and that will not hurt for he will not turn his back on us.
Far from being ashamed: He knows the path we tread. He sees our weaknesses, He sees the impossibility of us not falling to sin, He sees us in fear of being ridiculed because of Him. He sees us fail again and again.
And he sees the lies placed before to lead us away from the truth.
But against all these odds and stumbling blocks we encounter: he sees and will meet on that last day those people who have clung to the truth, that I died for you-and will welcome you home. Amen.