Gen 17:1-7, 15-16. Ps 22:24-32. Romans 4:13-25. Mark 8:31-38
Today marks the second week in Lent. We have been exploring the theme of Wilderness this Lenten Season. So I want to ask, how is your wilderness journey going? Or put another way, how is your walk with the Lord? We may only be in the second week of Lent, but for some of us, it may feel like we have been journeying in the wilderness all year! As I suggested last week, the wilderness is a dry and dusty place, a place that does not bring life, it is a place that where it is easy to grow weary. So I ask the question this morning, how is your walk with Jesus really going?
The pandemic has affected us in several ways, we wait for news from the media to inform us what we can do, when and where. And no doubt, it has had a wearing effect on us. The world tells us to be smart, to be winners, to be on top. But this is not Jesus way. Jesus teaches a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the worlds ways. For us that means instead of trying to get ahead of others, Jesus calls us to put others first, of making ourselves vulnerable to suffering.
That’s a tough call. But what do we discover when we get to Easter? That Jesus does indeed have the last say, ‘the last laugh on death and sin’. It is no wonder or surprise then to discover that Maundy Thursday falls on April Fool’s day this year. On Maundy Thursday we gather to celebrate Jesus last supper with his disciples, remembering that Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was to happen next.
And what is the message to the disciples in the gospel reading today? That Jesus will undergo great suffering, be rejected by the Chief Priest, the elders and the scribes. That he will be killed, and in three days, rise again. The news was so shocking that Peter felt the need to take Jesus aside and rebuke him. Jesus, in the face of such opposition, turns to face the disciples and commands Peter to ‘Get behind me, Satan’. That must have also been a shock to Peter. Peter had no other choice but to listen, ‘You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’.
Jesus then calls ‘the crowd with the disciples’ continuing to teach them. And here we come to the crux of our gospel reading today. Jesus says to the crowd, ‘if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’. Following Jesus means these three important things, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus’. But what does that mean to us today? We live in a world where people’s needs seem to come first before any others. In fact, I heard a recent observation that service groups are dropping in numbers because some of the s younger generation do not hold that same sense of volunteering for community good. However, let’s examine that word deny a little further.
Did you know that the word ‘deny’ only appears twice in the New Testament. That’ right, twice. In Mark 8:34 and the second instance is when Peter denies knowing Jesus in Luke22:57. But what does it mean to deny Jesus? Bruce Maples puts it this way, ‘To deny yourself like Peter denied Jesus is… to state that, in effect, you do not know You, and since you don’t know You, you also have no idea what that You person would want. Thus , you are ready to do what God wants’. 
Jesus says, ‘Deny yourself, forget that you even know yourself.’ Jo Anne Taylor says ‘this sounds like foolish talk’, but Jesus doesn’t stop there, Jesus say’s ‘Pick up your cross’.
Jo Anne Taylor continues saying she was confused for a long time about Jesus asking the disciples to ‘take up your cross’ and I can understand her confusion. What did the disciples understand Jesus meant by that statement? The cross or taking up your cross meant death, a vile and disgusting way to die. And yet this is what Jesus says to the disciples and to the crowd listening in.
In Australia and other parts of the globe, to sacrifice oneself for a cause is a form of last resort. And yet, taking up your cross requires a personal choice to live the way God has called us to. Many of our hymns have the words, I surrender all, or other forms calling for a life of surrender to God. One only needs to google hymns about surrender or sacrifice to find a very long list.
Jesus continues to speak to the disciples and the crowd saying, ‘for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. … Those who are ashamed of me and my words… of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels.’ (Mk 8:35-38). Ira Brent Driggers states, ‘For Mark, discipleship is not some comfortable affiliation with Jesus but a life-changing – and potentially life-threatening – commitment to him. Many have died for Christ, even today in countries where it is not safe to claim Jesus Christ as saviour and Lord, people are tortured and put to death for their faith. Christian’s are not committed to an idea or a set of beliefs but rather, are committed to the person of Jesus Christ.
This lent, in a season of wilderness, what does it mean to you to take up your cross and follow Jesus? What does it mean to be committed to Christ? Following Jesus is a life journey of faith. During this Lent, we recommit ourselves to following Jesus through sacrifice, whether it be fasting, taking up or laying down somethings, a time of prayer and a time of giving to others lest fortunate than ourselves. May we bring our lives to God and to his Son Jesus Christ afresh this morning. Committing to live faithful lives, to take up our cross, whatever form that may take and follow Jesus.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Jo Anne Taylor http://pastorsings.com
- Brent Driggers, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-mark-831-38-5