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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Mark 8:31-38
“Getting Saved”
March 1, 2015 - Second Sunday in Lent

         “The Messiah will be successful.” That’s what Rabbi Jonathan Seidel said Wednesday night at the University of Oregon as part of his answer to the question, “Why do Jews not accept Jesus as the Messiah?” A person who died without establishing a kingdom on earth would be a failure and not the Messiah. A real Jewish messiah would come in power and glory and win a great military victory.

         Another participant in that dialogue was a Muslim imam, Yosof Wanly. As he talked about Islam’s view of Jesus, he never mentioned their belief that Jesus did not die on the Cross. Either the crucifixion did not happen or Jesus did not actually die there or someone else died in Jesus’ place on the Cross. Muslims explain it in different ways but almost all of them believe that God would not have allowed Jesus to be dishonored by dying on the Cross. Instead, He was taken up alive to heaven.

         If after all these centuries of Christianity, the crucifixion of the Messiah or the Word of God is hard for these other two major religions to swallow, it should not really surprise us that it was hard for the disciple Peter to swallow as it was spoken “openly” as it says in verse 32 by Jesus for the very first time.

         This is the crucial turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus. It’s literally crucial because “crucial” derives from the word “crux,” which is Latin for “cross,” which is where He was headed. At this pivotal moment the Lord began to explain that His mission was not at all what His followers might have expected or what some people still want from Jesus if they are going to follow Him.

         Before then, Jesus was what you might call “positive.” He announced the kingdom of God. He blessed the crowds with the gracious words of the Beatitudes. He told parables demonstrating how God’s kingdom would grow from tiny beginnings. He called His followers to be salt and light in the world, to go out and make a difference.

         Jesus’ miracles were fantastic. He cast out demons and healed lepers, paralytics, the blind, and the deaf. Twice He fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. He called up a great catch of fish, calmed a storm, and  walked on water. The twelve must have been sure that their master’s power was going to take over the world. They were ready to follow Him into a glo­rious kingdom.

         They were stunned and upset, then, when Jesus started painting a more negative pic­ture, as verse 31 opens our text, that He had come to die. It was no parable, no earthly metaphor for some spiritual reality. The plain simple truth was that Jesus was going to die.

         Peter couldn’t handle it. In the verses just before, he was the star pupil in Jesus’ classroom. When asked who Jesus was, Peter’s hand shot up before the question was even finished. Jesus let the others answer first. They reported what was said. John the Baptist risen from the dead. Elijah, the prophet who had never died and who was ex­pected to return from heaven one day. One of the other prophets. Through it all, Peter bounced up and down in his seat, hand waving in the air. He knew the real answer.

         Jesus finally gave him a chance. In verse 29 we read, “Who do you say I am?” The others quieted down and lowered their hands. Jesus nodded at Peter grinning from ear to ear and about to burst from having to hold it in this long. “You are the Christ!” Peter had it figured out. Their teacher was none other than the Messiah, the “Anointed One,” foretold by the prophets and expected for centuries. Peter had put the pieces to­gether and worked it out correctly. He had the answer. The Messiah had arrived and the twelve of them would ride His coattails into a glorious future.

         In just a moment, Peter turned from star pupil to political manager. Campaign managers say “stay on message,” keep it simple, make it positive. Tell people what they want to hear. In verse 32, Peter took Jesus aside. He gave him a lesson in politics. All this death talk won’t play in Peoria. It’s too negative. Peter “rebuked” him, we read.

         In the very next verse, we read that Jesus turned around, and in front of all the disci­ples, rebuked Peter. The star pupil flunked the real test of his understanding. He may have known Jesus was the Messiah, but he had no clue about the real mission of God’s Messiah.

         Remember the temptation of Jesus? Satan offered Him easier routes to spiritual success. No need for suffering. Conjure up some miracle bread when you’re hungry. No need for unpopularity. Let all the world bow at your feet. No need for dying. God’s angels can always protect you. Take the easy way out, Jesus. That was the devil’s offer.

         Jesus rejected Satan’s temptations once. Now He was hearing it again from His own disciple, the one who knew Him best. “Forget the dying business, Jesus. That will never happen to you,” he told Him. Jesus heard Peter’s voice, but He knew where the thought came from. So in verse 33 we hear, “Get behind me, Satan!”

         Peter’s mistake was an easy one. Jesus said he did not have “in mind the things of God, but human things.” We see from the human point of view. Promise people life and happiness and you suc­ceed. Offer them pain and death, and you don’t get far. Bing Crosby sang, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative.” God’s perspective is different. In spiritual life, accenting the positive is not always the way to go. This passage teaches us that if you want life, if you want to be saved, then die.

         The rest of the text is about salvation, about getting saved. That question was also asked Wednesday at the University. “What do you have to do to be saved?” The rabbi said everyone already has an immortal soul. You don’t have to do anything. I was surprised to hear the imam say much the same, though Islam at least requires belief in God in order to be saved. The Christian spokesperson said what you or I might expect, that to be saved you need to believe in Jesus Christ and accept His grace as forgiveness for your sins.

         But Jesus Himself says in verse 35, “For 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.” Jesus has something to say to any idea of salvation, including Christian ones, which make it sound like getting saved is easy or painless. It’s not. It costs. It hurts. It’s deadly.

         Over the last two or three decades evangelical Christians have taken up the marketing idea of “rebranding” with enthusiasm. Old names and labels and logos fail to communicate to new generations and they carry negative connotations. So Philip Morris became Altria twelve years ago to lose its association with cigarettes. Steve Jobs rebranded Apple Computer as just “Apple” in 1997 to set it up to sell new products like iPods and iPhones.

         Churches regularly rename themselves in order to lose some denominational label like Baptist or Methodist and any negative associations with those. We don’t have to worry about that because nobody has heard of our denomination and they don’t know what “Covenant” means anyway. But perhaps the biggest rebranding move among young evangelicals is to drop the label “Christian” and to call ourselves “Christ followers.” I think we heard David use that phrase several times last week.

         Because of where they serve and what they have given up to be where they are, David and Joy can rightfully claim that “Christ follower” label, but I wonder how many other people rushing to give up the name “Christian” and be called “Christ followers” have thought much about our text today and just what the name implies. Christ followers are, as Jesus tells us in verse 34, “cross carriers.”

         Getting saved means getting up, accepting a horrible, painful burden and walking behind a Man who came to die. Put yourself in that crowd around Jesus. He hadn’t died yet. He hadn’t risen yet. The cross was not a religious symbol. The only crosses were the rough pieces of wood on which Roman soldiers nailed criminals. Poor condemned wretches carried the instrument of execution on their own shoulders. The idea of taking up a cross sounded insane. It was like telling them to sit in an electric chair.

         Deny yourself. Give up your life. Willingly embrace a kind of death. Accept a status something like a prisoner on death row. It’s no more popular now than it was then. No wonder other major religions and some brands of Christianity want to offer something else. We want a faith that is going to help us. Jesus offers us a faith that is going to hurt us.

         Jesus is no sadist. He’s not telling us that pain is really pleasure like that sick book and film currently deceiving people. No, our Lord calls for self-denial and death because it is the way to true life. His message is not just “lose our life,” it’s “lose your life for His sake, and you will save it.” It got lost in Peter’s dismay about Jesus dying, but He also talked about rising again in verse 31. There is a great and wonderful promise in the pain, not that the pain is good, but that the pain will bring us to what is good, to a new and better life.

         We remember this truth throughout Lent. Jesus died and rose again. The way to real life is by the same route. Die to ourselves and rise to new life in Christ. As II Timothy 2:11 says, “If we died with him, we will also live with him.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

         This year as our church celebrates its 40th anniversary, we might have thought about rebranding. Some Covenant churches have gone for cool names like “The Well” in Corvallis and “Quest” in Seattle. But our little anniversary committee is suggesting something else. Instead of rebranding, let’s refocus our attention on what it means for each of us and for our church together to follow Jesus. So our 40th, as you heard this morning, is not just a look back at history, but a look forward at the path Jesus sets before us.

         Jesus called us to follow Him. He was God’s Son, but He was a human being. Unlike the Koran falsely relates, Jesus didn’t talk about His mission in the cradle. He had to grow like all of us must into knowing who He is and what He came to do. And when He did, He set out for the Cross, asking us to follow Him down that kind of path.

         Lent is a time to ask what it means for each of us to follow Jesus. What abilities or spiritual gifts has God given me? How does Jesus want me to sacrificially use those for His sake and for the Gospel? Where will being a Christ-follower lead me? Let us also ask those same questions together as a church community. Let God show us a vision for how to be a Christ-following church for the next few years.

         As we think about what it means to give up our lives for Jesus, we cannot possibly forget that His followers are literally doing just that right now as we sit here comfortably, thinking about where to go for lunch. Those twenty-one Coptic Christians in Egypt and those hundreds of kidnapped Christians in Syria know far better than you and I what these verses mean. Let’s not forget them as we’re thinking about us.

         Our following will be good, will be faithful if we will not be ashamed, not ashamed of who Jesus is, what He did for us, and what it means to follow Him. Verse 38 tells us that if it embarrasses us to have what seems to others a religion of gloom and doom, a frightful faith that asks way too much of anyone, then Jesus is going to be embarrassed by us.

          I hate the thought that Jesus might be ashamed of me, might be embarrassed by me. There are far too many news stories about embarrassing pastors and/or churches. But Jesus won’t be ashamed of us if we are do the kinds of things He did, giving up our lives in the way He gave up His. If we help the poor and share the Good News, we can’t really miss. If you spend time praying and serving, you won’t go wrong. If you do something for someone else instead of for yourself, you are on the right track. If you give rather than try to get, that’s the way to go. So how will you do that, how will we do that this afternoon and tomorrow and a few years down the road?

         If you want to get saved, follow Jesus. Yes, believe in Him, trust Him, accept His grace and forgiveness which redeems and heals all the past, but then follow Him, find your own cross and carry it, and walk into the new life He has for you. That’s salvation. Amen.

Valley Covenant Church
Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated March 1, 2015