ON THE WAY WITH JESUS
When we look through the Gospel of Mark we find our text in the middle of his Gospel. He has put it there for a reason. Our text today marks the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem. It describes a transition period, a time of reflection, a time of learning, a time to gather strength and move on.
We read from verse 27, And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am? Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he charged them to tell no one about him. Jesus and his disciples are moving away from their familiar territory around Lake Galilee. It was in this area that they carried out much of their ministry. Here, Jesus gathered his disciples, healed the sick, fed the hungry, taught the people about the Kingdom of heaven, and gave them peace and hope in their lives. Now, Jesus and his disciples are on the way, they are moving north through the villages of Caesarea Philippi and into the foothills of Mt. Hermon. From there they have a view back down into the region around Lake Galilee, and still further on lies Jerusalem.
They are on the way, a time to reflect back over on their ministry in the region of Galilee. It is also a time to seriously come to terms with their faith in Jesus and what it means to be his disciple. They are experiencing a change in their life. They are moving away from what they know, from what they feel comfortable about, and into the unknown. Jesus is calling his disciples to follow him to Jerusalem. He is calling them to change, to be on the way together with him.
As a congregation we are people on the way too. We are in the midst of change. It has also become a time for us all to reflect back over our ministry, and to examine our faith in Jesus and our relationship to him. Change can be a difficult time. It doesn’t matter who you are whether a student moving from primary school to high school, high school to university or employment, or whether you are moving house, entering the hospital for an operation, or perhaps losing a friend, change involves moving into the unknown. As with all changes brought to us in our life we need to reflect on the pass, draw strength from it and move on. The last sentence makes it all sound so easy, but it’s not.
God is aware of the difficulties that people have when they are faced with the need to change their life. And so, in our text we find Jesus helping his disciples, preparing them to move on into new experiences. It appears that the disciples don’t really understand what is before them, but none the less, Jesus is on the way with them helping them where they need strength.
It is easier to cope with change for example, when there is a friend at the new school, a friend in the new neighbourhood, a friend at the new sports club, or a friend at the church where one is going for the first time. It is easier to cope with change when a friend has gone before you that can show you the way, the obstacles to avoid and the benefits available.
Jesus is this friend not only for the difficult times but also for every part of our life. How well do you know your friend Jesus? This is the question that Jesus posed to his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter confessed on behalf of the disciples and answered, “You are the Christ.” Like Peter, there is only one confession, “You are the Christ” but behind it there are so many different meanings depending on one’s personal experience and knowledge of Jesus. For all of us Jesus wants us to have a fuller understanding of him as the Christ so that we can trust him wholeheartedly in all circumstances through life.
Children trust their teacher and open their books to learn. We open our mouth at the dentist because we trust him to remove the toothache. Some people take lessons from the golf professional in order to improve their own game. People generally go to experts for help, and they usually accept it without argument or trying to tell the expert how to do their job. In the same way we all need to trust Jesus, as the Christ who is our saviour. He is the expert in life matters. So when we confess, “You are the Christ” it needs to be a child-like confession that shows trust in Jesus and a willingness to let him take charge of our life.
We have seen Jesus through his Galilean ministry of how he has taken control of shattered lives and given life to all that reached out to him. He can do this even for you and me because he is God. Jesus reveals the true nature of God, a God that loves and cares for the well being of all people and considers every one of your needs.
We read in verse 31, And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.
This is what it means to be the Christ. God has given his total self for us. He has come down from heaven to earth. The Creator has allowed himself to suffer at the hands of his own creation. He has walked the path of change and suffering. In all humility he was crucified, dead on the cross. On the third day he rose from the dead to be in heavenly glory. Yes, Jesus the Christ has gone before us in all suffering only to teach us, to show us that there is life after death, that he has the power to give life, to give life abundantly, and to give eternal life.
We read from verse 32, And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
When change comes upon us that threatens to move us away from our comfort zone we can react in a similar way to Peter. In one way we try to deny the truth of the matter, to pretend that such a possibility does not exist. In another way we try to take control of the situation in order to maintain it or to reduce the pain of the change. And like Peter we reveal that our faith in Jesus, in our own expert is very shallow. God is fully aware of our weaknesses, and so continues to teach us, strengthen us, guide us, and to call us into a new beginning, a new life.
We read in verse 34, And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
God does not call everyone to be crucified on the cross, nor a missionary in a strange land, nor a pastor, but he does call everyone together for one thing. We are all called to give up our wanting self. It is our self-centred nature that resists the way of Jesus and a change for the better. That is, a change that will allow the person to reach out to others and provide life to them. This is a hard thing to do and is usually associated with struggle and pain. But Jesus has gone before us on the way and from it we can find reassurance of new life and blessing. As Jesus led his doubtful disciples through a time of change so he will lead us through this time of uncertainty.
Jesus is the Christ. Let us therefore seek him in prayer, and take comfort in knowing that he is in control, and is with us on the way through life. Amen.