Proverbs 1:20-33; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
Wisdom cries out in the street, mostly unheard as those within earshot hate knowledge and neglect the fear of the Lord.
James admonishes us to control our tongues, asking how it is that we Christians can bless the Lord and then curse those made in the likeness of God. Jesus wants to know what people are saying about him and, more to the point, who his followers think he is. This Sunday requires some boldness on the part of preachers and teachers, because the biblical texts for the week won’t let any of us off the hook. Scripture is calling us out for failing to have ears to hear the Word of the Lord. Admonishing us for speaking in ways that don’t reflect the character or will of our God. Rebuking us for attempting to prevent the Messiah from fulfilling his mission. Whatever happened to Jesus loves me, this I know?
Well, Jesus does, in fact, love us, but that doesn’t mean Jesus commends our every thought, word or deed. Jesus loves us enough to call us out. Jesus loves us enough to call us beyond ourselves. Jesus loves us enough to give all of himself for our sake and invite us to give all of ourselves for his sake and for the sake of the gospel. How about instead we just sing a few nice hymns, put a couple of dollars in the plate and head out for a leisurely lunch and a lazy Sunday afternoon?
Who signs up to hear the news that we no longer live to ourselves, that even before a word is on our lips God knows it and expects it to reflect our love and loyalty to the Lord, that our ways are not God’s ways and therefore we need to check our instincts and see if they square with wisdom’s call? All of this sounds as if we are called to deny ourselves. Really. Deny ourselves. Put the brakes on our tongues and thumbs, our speech and tweets. Question our justifications about our status, wealth and power. Consider who we say that Jesus is and start examining if our lives reflect that confession of faith. Take up our cross. Follow. Seriously.
No wonder Peter balks right after he blurts out the truth of Jesus’ identity. “You are the Messiah,” Peter says. And Jesus begins to teach them what that will entail in the coming days: suffering, rejection, death, resurrection. He says this “quite openly.” That’s when Peter says, “No way, Jesus. Not happening. Not you. Not this. Not if I have anything to do with it.” Peter, like us, doesn’t want this kind of Messiah. Peter doesn’t want his friend to suffer and die. If this is what it means to be the Messiah, forget it. Isn’t it enough that John the Baptist was beheaded? Elijah fares OK, but most of the prophets don’t exactly get a fairy-tale ending. Surely, the Messiah doesn’t have to experience such an ignominious fate as rejection and death? Certainly the Messiah gets to skip over the suffering and go directly to glory, right?
Peter wants better for Jesus and Peter, like us, wants better for himself too. We want Jesus to be anything other than the servant Lord and the crucified Savior. We want him to be the wish-granting hero of the prosperity gospel. We want him to be the confidant cozied up to those in power. We want him to be a good example to emulate and evoke at our convenience, or maybe the nice, gentle shepherd who loves us just the way we are, no matter how we are or what we do. We don’t want a mocked, rejected, suffering Messiah who tells us to take up our cross and follow, but Jesus tells us quite openly: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
But what does that mean? Even if we want to deny ourselves, and take up our crosses and follow, what does that look like? If we say Jesus is the Messiah, more than a prophet and John the Baptist, not merely a moral teacher or a nice person or a granter of our greatest desires, but the One who was rejected, suffered, died and was raised on the third day, what does that matter for our daily living? For our church? For our world?
At base, our confession of faith and our desire to live a life reflective of the One we say we follow means that our lives are not our own. In life and in death, we belong to God. We are not the masters of our own fate or makers of our own stories, as appealing as our culture tries to make that narrative sound. Nor are we pawns in some cosmic chess game. We are children of God, disciples of Jesus, members of the Body of Christ. A royal priesthood. Salt. Light. Sheep. Witnesses. Stewards of the mystery of God. Scribes of the kingdom. Adopted. Engrafted. Members of the holy household. That’s who we are. That’s who we are because Jesus is the Messiah. Nothing can separate us from the love of God anymore. Once we’ve been found, what do we possibly have to lose? Except our lives, for the sake of our Savior and the gospel.
If we acted with just a fraction of that abandon and confidence, our lives and the world would be radically different. People would be more important than property values. Love would triumph over fear. Mercy, not retribution, would be our default mode. Humility would replace hubris. Generosity would smother greed with its goodness. Wisdom’s cries would be accompanied by choruses of praise. Even the rocks would shout out in joy. Demoniacs would no longer be relegated to graveyards. Prodigal parties would rage on every single night and no one would be left injured by the side of the road.
If followers of Christ embraced the truth that once you’ve been found, you have nothing to lose, we could really live it up together.
- How do you describe what it means to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow?
- James gives a lot of power to speech and words. Is that an accurate attribution of power? How much do our words, written and spoken, matter? What impact do they have?
- Who do we, as a culture, say that Jesus is? Who do you, through your actions and choices, say that Jesus is?
- Why does Jesus equate Peter with Satan? Where else in scripture does Jesus tell Satan to go packing?
- Proverbs says the people did not “choose fear of the Lord.” What does it mean to fear the Lord? How do we choose “fear of the Lord” or not?
- What is Wisdom crying out in our streets? Are we listening?
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