Always nice to be back preaching at Lancing Tab, where I served as pastor for 22 years.
I was assigned the text Mark 8:22–38. This contains the first clear signal of the kind of death that Jesus was going to die. This announcement comes immediately after Peter’s ground-breaking confession, “You are the Christ.” Yet when Jesus explains how the Christ’s story will end, Peter rebukes him and tells him that he is right out of order!
Peter had his Christian vocabulary right but did not entirely understand what that vocabulary meant. He was like a tiny toddler tottering around in his mother’s high heels.
I was interested to notice that Jesus also uses the word ‘cross’ for the first time in this passage. The surprise is that he does not use it at first to describe his own cross but to describe our crosses!
“Then he called the crowds to him … If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. (Mark 8:34)
For Jesus the image of the cross is the lens through which we not only understand his death but also grasp the implications of discipleship. In the first century to take up a cross represented a one-way journey to death. It was the end of the road for our agendas, the shattering of dreams and the denial of self.
One of the inventions of the first two decades of the 21st century is the selfie. Whoever is in the picture, even very famous people, it is the picture taker who is at the centre of the picture.
Eugene Peterson reminds us that:
“In Jesus and through his cross: We enter the centre of the story without becoming the centre of the story.”
As preachers approach Easter 2022, we have the first opportunity in three years to celebrate the event without Covid restrictions.
Preach Jesus clearly.
Help people grasp the vocabulary of Christianity: Christ, Cross and Resurrection, but make sure that people know what these words mean. Christian faith is more than mouthing biblical phrases; such a confession needs to be combined with real biblical faith.
Don’t let people of the hook by allowing them to have the right words on their lips but a different agenda in their hearts.
Eugene Peterson suggests the following two prayers be used to re-centre our lives on Christ and him crucified:
“Let me, Jesus, say the name “Christ” with a renewed sense of its pivotal power: that on you is centred all the work of God for my salvation; that I need to turn to no other; that you are worthy to receive all my adoration.”
“It is not easy Lord, to relinquish my way and choose yours. I am a bundle of selfish demands and aspirations. Give me the grace to set them behind and make the choices that proclaim your lordship. You’ve been over this road before and know it better than I ever will; I want to follow you. Amen”