We live in a world of desire and consumerism. Sad to say, this mindset has invaded churches. Hype and spectacle are the order of the day. People must be entertained – if we don’t do something exciting, then people won’t come through the door on a Sunday morning. We must do something to grab their attention. We must compete with all the excitement the world has to offer.
Well, the apostle Paul had something to say about this attitude. He told the Roman believers in chapter 8 that this was hatred of God. It is to set yourself in opposition to God and to make alliance with this fallen, sinful and hell-bound world. Despite what you will see all too often in places of worship, Christianity has nothing to do with this mindset and practice.
It is sickening to see bands and wannabee rock stars ‘leading the worship’ ! What they are doing is leading the people into a version of ‘Christianity’ acceptable to sinners but disgusting to God. Such practices divert us from God – from the truth of who he is and the truth of how he demands we worship him.
We have reached the last 12 verses of chapter 8 in the Gospel account of the ministry and life of Jesus Christ as recorded for us by Mark. Those 12 verses are a neat summary of the essentials of the Christian faith, namely:
- the Person of Jesus Christ
- the Plan of God
- the Practice and Purpose of ‘the Cross’ in our lives
The Person of Christ
Jesus deliberately questions his disciples. As the Master Teacher, he asks them to articulate their understanding about him – who is he ? What are people saying ? What do you say ? And that is the question Jesus puts before us all – Who do you say I am ?
It is all very well just going along with what the rest of the world thinks about Jesus – just another religious nutter who tried to do good. But Jesus challenges each of us to come examine his claim for ourselves; to come to a knowledge and to a decision about him for ourselves.
Who is Jesus Christ to you ?
Peter of course gave the right answer in verse 29, THOU ART THE CHRIST ! That is the long awaited saviour of the Jewish people; a specially anointed and appointed person to save the Jews from their oppressors.
But, of course, Jesus did not come for Jews only, nor to deliver them from Roman oppression. He came to deliver sinners from their sin – he came to deliver the New Covenant chosen people of God from their spiritual oppressor, Satan, and from the manacles which bound them to Satan – their sin.
God himself comes in human form to be the final sacrifice for us; to deliver us from the anger of a righteous God with our sin – our wilful rebellion against his rule in our lives. That is what sin is – the transgression of God’s law [1st John, 3 verse 4]. And what causes us to transgress God’s law ? The mentality of rebellion against our Maker and King which resides in every human heart.
The Plan of God
God’s Plan was to do away with the Old Testament form of Religion based on a particular race of people doing particular religious acts of worship in a physical temple. Instead God wanted to establish a New Covenant based on the once for all time sacrifice of Jesus Christ – the perfect sacrifice because it was the sacrifice of God himself in human form. God the Son sacrificed himself in our place in order that we might go free; might be forgiven; might begin again with a new life, living now for God and not for Self and Satan.
This plan goes to the heart of the issue for every human being. It solves the problem once and for all. We appropriate the sacrifice of God by faith – not by works of observing this ritual or that law. But by faith in Jesus Christ – in who he is; in what he has done; in following his example and thereby living for God !
All this clashes with Peter’s understanding of religion, but it particularly clashes with his own love for Jesus. He does not want Jesus to die. He does not want to lose him. But God has ordained this new way, and Jesus must obey in order to achieve the New Covenant and in order set the appropriate example for his followers – that is, for Christians; the true variety of Christians.
That is why Jesus rebukes Peter sternly and in no uncertain terms, saying:
GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN ! FOR THOU SAVOUREST NOT THE THINGS THAT BE OF GOD, BUT THE THINGS THAT BE OF MEN !
Peter was opposing God’s plan and enticing Jesus to disobey God by not going through with his sacrificial death.
Jesus had to correct him, and make him see that his simple human affections and feelings did not line up with God’s plan, and that affections and feelings are treacherous.
Our one and only certain guide for living the spiritual life is the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.
The Practice and Purpose of ‘the Cross’ in our lives
The only legitimate Christian practice is to follow the example Jesus Christ lived and taught. Note verse 34:
WHOSOEVER WILL COME AFTER ME, LET HIM DENY HIMSELF, AND TAKE UP HIS CROSS, AND FOLLOW ME
The Christian LIFE is obtained via DEATH TO SELF and SIN; and that is how it is lived out.
Jesus Christ must be King. Self and the wicked ways of this world must no longer rule us; Christ’s teaching must now be the rule in all things. We cannot avail ourselves of what Jesus did for us at the cross without refusing and forsaking SELF.
When SELF says What will people think ? then our response must be What does Jesus want ?
When Jesus tells us to BE BAPTISED by full immersion in water, then that is what we do !
When Jesus says LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, and FORGIVE THOSE WHO OFFEND YOU, then that is what we will do.
And when we fail to live by the simple code which he has taught, then we will get on our knees and beg his forgiveness; beg him to enable us to obey him; then go out and obey him in the way we have previously failed him, knowing that he will give us the strength to go through with it, no matter how we may be feeling.
Because obedience to God is not about how we feel – that’s how Peter failed – but taking ourselves in hand and simply obeying. It is an act of decision, a matter of simple choice, entrusting the consequences to God’s superior grace and will.
Believe you me, God will always respond and be there for us when he specifically brings an issue to a head, and when we specifically do as he commands.
The point of all this dying to self and taking up the cross is that we learn to live by the grace and power of God’s life in us by the Holy Spirit; that we no longer live by and with our own fallen, sinful human resources.
In this way alone, we truly reflect the life and love of God to others.