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Father, we thank you for the great privilege of gathering in your holy name today, that we might gather to seek you, the God who is. Father, we now ask that these words would be as the scriptures say, living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword; that your gospel might do in us, that for which you sent it on this day, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, good morning. It’s an interesting task to go through the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, to see all the different ways that Jesus is titled, all the different ways that he is called a different name by different types of people. For you will see that some people call Jesus a prophet, some a teacher, some rabbi, some possessed by a demon, some Messiah, some the Christ. It’s all based off of what those individuals who call Jesus the name are actually hoping to get from Jesus in return.
What’s interesting is that in Mark’s gospel, the most common way that Jesus referred to himself was as the Son of Man, and that title Son of Man wasn’t something that Jesus invented for himself. Instead, that phrase Son of Man comes from the book of Daniel, in Daniel 7. Daniel had a prophetic vision in which he saw the Son of Man ruling as a heavenly figure with great power and authority on the earth. And if you were to read the first eight chapters of Mark’s gospel straight through, Jesus is in the midst of building a very strong resume to be the fulfillment of what Daniel saw in that vision. In Mark chapters 1-8, Jesus is growing in popularity and prominence and power. He was proclaiming and demonstrating that a new kingdom had arrived. Jesus was teaching with authority, he was healing the sick, he was casting out demons, the lame were walking, the deaf were hearing, the blind were seeing, and he was multiplying fish and bread for thousands of people to eat.
It seems that with each day, Jesus was one day closer to ascending to an earthly throne of power in which he could lead God’s people and deliver them from the oppression of their enemies. Remember that the Jews at the time were actively looking for the Messiah to come. And one of the ways that they would identify who the Messiah was, would be from the Old Testament predictions or prophecies about the Messiah.
As one example of that, Psalm 2 is considered a messianic song. Its words are meant to help identify the Messiah from two verses:
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
If those words sound familiar, they are the words that the Father spoke over Jesus at his baptism: “you are my beloved Son.” And the Jews who were looking for the Messiah would have connected the words of Psalm 2 as they were declared over Jesus at his baptism, that Jesus was the Son, and that he was going to be the king that Psalm 2 wrote about. So we have to understand how this looked to Jesus’s disciples at the time. Up to this point, in Mark 8, everything pointed toward Jesus ascending to an earthly thrown. That was the plan, and the disciples were there to help make it happen. Even just prior to our reading from today, we have this great interaction where Jesus says to his disciples, “who do the people say that I am?” And they say, “Well, some say, John the Baptist, some Elijah.” And then Jesus says, yeah, but who do you say that I am? And Peter steps forward and says, “you are the Christ.”
The Father’s Plan
So we have this pinnacle, this build up of who Jesus would be. So when you come to our gospel reading today, you can imagine how the disciples were thrown off by what we read in Mark 8:31.
Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and the scribes and be killed.
You see, from the disciples’ perspective, this was the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen. Jesus wasn’t supposed to suffer. He wasn’t supposed to be killed. That wasn’t the plan. So Peter pulls Jesus aside–it says, “He rebuked Jesus.” Now, we don’t exactly know what that conversation was like, it was probably something like Peter saying, Jesus, what are you talking about? You’re not supposed to be suffering. We’re here to protect you, Jesus, keep your eye on the prize. We’re doing well, keep building up, keep gathering, you are supposed to be the king. And when you are the king, none of those religious leaders will be able to touch you.
But it’s at this point when Jesus looked and saw that the other disciples were witnessing this conversation between he and Peter that Jesus then turns and rebukes Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” To our ears that sounds incredibly hard.
But notice the connection between Peter’s attempts at correcting Jesus and the temptations that Jesus faced in the desert. The third and final temptation that Jesus faced in the desert was Satan showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And Satan said to Jesus, “all these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” You see Satan was trying to tempt Jesus away from the plan of the Father. Satan’s offer was for Jesus to be the king without having to endure the suffering of the cross. So realize, both Satan and Peter were saying essentially the same thing, ascend to the throne and avoid the suffering. And that is why Jesus rebuked Peter the way he did, because Peter’s plan for Jesus was the same as Satan’s temptation of Jesus. And that is what Jesus explained to Peter.
For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.
You see, in a sense, Peter was guilty of making Jesus who Peter wanted Jesus to be. Peter wanted Jesus to ascend to the throne, because Peter was in the inner circle. This was a good move for Peter. Peter wanted Jesus on the throne, because Peter had plans. And it wasn’t just Peter, it was the rest of the disciples, too. How many times did Jesus interrupt an argument among the disciples about which of them was the greatest? How many times did Jesus get requests about who was going to sit on his left and on his right? You see, the disciples had in mind that Jesus was ascending to an earthly throne, and they wanted to claim their territory. Peter and the disciples embrace Jesus as the Son of Man from Psalm 2. They wanted Jesus to be the king, God’s chosen one, the savior of God’s people.
Exalted Savior, or Suffering Servant?
But the disciples had forgotten that in the Old Testament, the Messiah wasn’t just going to be a Savior, the Messiah was also going to be a servant. The Son of Man was absolutely going to be a fulfillment of Psalm 2. Jesus began to clearly teach his disciples that the Son of Man must also be a fulfillment of Isaiah 53, of the suffering servant.
So consider again the words we just heard read by Ryan in Isaiah 53:3:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Beginning here in Mark 8, Jesus makes clear to his disciples the real purpose for which he came. He didn’t come to gather crowds, he didn’t come to win an election or to be popular. Beginning in Mark 8, Jesus plainly told His disciples on three different occasions that he was going to die. And if you want a mission statement about what Jesus’s ministry was all about, it’s Mark 10:45, where he said, “for even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Another example of Jesus calling himself the Son of Man. But here he brings clarity to what that title really means: that the Son of Man came not to sit on an earthly throne to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. You see, the disciples wanted Jesus to be the exalted Savior, but Jesus said he came to be the suffering servant.
So which is it? Was Jesus the Savior? Or was he a servant? And on the cross, we get the answer. The answer is, yes.
You see on the cross, we understand the Son of Man was to be both servant and Savior. Through the ultimate expression of a servant laying down his life, Jesus became the Savior of the world. Now consider how on the cross Jesus the Son of Man became the servant spoken of in Isaiah 53:5, he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquity upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. He was wounded, he was pierced for our transgressions, for our sins. He took the punishment upon himself that would bring us healing and peace, he took your sins and mine that we might be forgiven and set free.
In this season of Lent, isn’t that what we’re so grateful for on Good Friday–that Jesus the Son of Man became our Savior, as he offered himself as our servant. What appeared to be defeat in the eyes of man on Good Friday was actually victory in the eyes of God. And what was humiliation in the eyes of man on Good Friday was actually exaltation in the eyes of God.
Consider again, Psalm 2, this messianic Psalm that would point toward the Savior. As for me, “I have set my king on Zion, on my holy hill.” God’s promise was to establish the king by setting the king on a holy hill. And on Good Friday, on a hill just outside of Jerusalem, Jesus’s kingdom was established. It was on a hill called Golgatha, where Jesus was crucified with a sign that hung over his head, King of the Jews. It was there on the cross, that Jesus’ mission was complete, where he did give his life as a ransom for many. It was there on the cross for you and for me, that the Son of Man was both our servant and our Savior.
So how do we respond to the good news of the gospel? How do we practically apply the good news that Jesus came, and he ransomed us back to our God who offers us eternal life? Well, there are many ways to respond but this morning I want you to consider two ways.
The God We Want
The first way we respond to the good news is we must guard against making God who we want him to be. In the midst of Lent we tend to say words like those in Psalm 139: “Search me, O Lord, and know me.” We’re asking the Lord to expose us for who we truly are.
But Lent is also a season for seeking who the Lord truly is; a season for growing in our understanding of who the Lord is. Author Patrick Morley once wrote, “there is a God we want. And there is a God who is. They are not the same God. The turning point in our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is.”
You see, the disciples wanted Jesus to be Psalm 2, not Isaiah 53. They wanted one; but what they truly needed, were both. Seeking the God who is and submitting our lives to his authority is what it means to be a follower of Christ. The study of Scripture is how we best set our mind on the things of God. The study of Scripture tells us both who God is and who he says we are.
Just as with a loved one over time, when you continue to learn more and more about them, you get a greater sense of the depth in the midst of that relationship. The same is true with our God. That is, we study scripture and pray and worship and spend time with other believers. God continues to reveal Himself to us in new ways. The Lordship of Christ demands that we submit to who he is, not to attempt to make God who we want him to be. So in response to the good news of the gospel, we must first guard against making God who we want him to be. And second, when we receive the gospel, we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. As we read in Mark eight, Jesus was very clear about what was going to happen to him. He was very clear that he was going to die.
But Jesus, beginning in Mark 8, is also very clear about what is expected of those who call themselves followers, or disciples. He said in Mark 8:34, “If anyone come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Now we tend to read those words poetically today, but realize what Jesus was actually calling his disciples to: he was calling them to lay down their lives, voluntarily pick up a cross, and die.
Is there a message that is more counter-cultural than to deny yourself? Think about that. Every aspect of our culture today tells us that we are to indulge. Every ad you see on TV says you are to pursue what makes you happy. Culture says whatever makes you happy in that moment, that’s exactly what you should do. There is no need for delayed gratification. Be satisfied to the fullest in the moment. the world says that you are at the center of the universe, and the most important thing in your life is your own personal happiness.
But taking up your cross means that you are no longer at the center of your life. To be a follower of Jesus means that worldly happiness takes a backseat to personal holiness.
Taking up your cross means that it’s no longer about you. In every decision you make, it’s now about him. You see, to be a follower of Jesus means that your relationship with God is the lens through which you understand every other aspect of your life, that you are not at the center of life that has components around you. You have a faith component, and a wealth component, and a physical fitness component. No longer do we understand life that way.
Instead, at the center is the Lord, and He is the lens through which we understand every other aspect of our lives. Taking up our cross means that our lives are not to be lived unto ourselves anymore. They are no longer about our personal resumes or mission statements. It is now about us honoring the Lord.
Paul says it this way beautifully in Romans 12: “In view of God’s mercy, offer yourself as a living sacrifice to God.” As a living, ongoing sacrifice. C.S. Lewis said the problem with the living sacrifice is that it always wants to crawl back off the altar.
And that’s our reminder that every day we begin by being reminded of God’s mercy and His grace. And when we begin our day by saying, “God, thank you for what you have done on my behalf that I did not deserve, how can I repay you?” He will say, “just walk with me today and be obedient to the smallest of things that I bring to you.” And that’s what it is to be a living sacrifice, that in view of God’s mercy, we would offer ourselves back to God.
Friends, as we move throughout Lent closer to Good Friday, and then that great celebration as new life on Easter Sunday, let us be honest and ask ourselves, do we worship and seek the God we want, or the God who is?
For the God who is–that God has ransomed you. He has brought you back to himself. And he says, if you want to be mine, the offer has been made, the price has been paid. I have demonstrated My love for you in the sending of my Son on your behalf. And all that I ask in return, is everything–that you would deny yourself, that you would take up your cross, and you would follow me.
Would you pray with me?
Father, I pray that your Holy Spirit would come now, that those words which are so familiar to us, would actually penetrate deeply our hearts and minds of what it is for us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow you. Father, I am so grateful that doing that is not what earns us our standing with you, but that we have been saved by grace and it is now in response to the life that you freely offer us in Christ, that we choose to pick up our cross and follow you. And I thank you that in the following of you, there is that great promise that you will never leave us or forsake us. Father, would you set us ablaze with love for you, that we might honor you, in the way you were first our Savior and our servant. Iin Christ’s name we pray.