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Who Do You Say I Am?
The Gospel of Mark
Ashamed?

 On a hot and windy night in July of 64 AD a fire broke out in a crowded suburb of Rome. It burned for 9 days.   The fire spread through the narrow, twisting, closely packed together apartments.  In this lower area of Rome there were no open areas so, the fire spread out of control.  Nearly half of Rome was destroyed. 

 

Nero heard the news from his Palace at Antium.  Nero rushed back to Rome just in time to see his Palatine Palace in flames. His newly built mansion, the Domus Transitoria, was nothing but a pile of smoldering ashes. Nero immediately organized a team of firefighters and provided shelter for the panic-stricken people who had been left homeless.

 

--Some said Nero ordered the fire so he could build a new palace. 

--Some said arsonists started the fire to be able to loot the city.

--It was, most likely, an accident.

 

But, it didn’t matter, Nero needed a scapegoat. Nero needed to blame someone because the Senate was suspicious. The people pointed their fingers at Nero.  So, Nero pointed his fingers at the… Christians.  Nero rounded up Christians. Some he imprisoned.  Some he tortured.  Some he executed. Nero persecuted Christians in Rome from 64 to 68 AD.  Accounts differ, but evidently there were a number of Christians killed during these four years. 

--Paul was among those killed. Paul was a Roman citizen, so he was beheaded.

--Peter was crucified upside down around 68 AD.

--Just after Peter’s death, because he could not change people’s belief that he had set the fire, Nero, at age 30, took his own life… with a knife to his own neck.

 

The Gospel of Mark was written during this period for these Christians.  This year, as we have been studying the Gospel of Mark, we keep reminding ourselves that the first to read Mark’s Gospel were those Christians who were blamed for the fire.  The first to read our Gospel were Christians who faced death on crosses.

 

This morning we are at the heart of the Gospel.  We are at the end of chapter 8.  We must hear Jesus words through the ears of those Roman Christians in 64 AD, as they faced Nero’s blame.

 

Let’s begin where we stopped last week.

 

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Mark 8:27-31 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"  And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; 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 strictly charged them to tell no one about him.  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.

 

 

In Caesarea Philippi, a major Roman city; named after a different Caesar, Jesus announces to his disciples that… “Yes, I am the Christ!  But this does not mean what you think it means.  It means I must die on one of the despised Roman Crosses”. Jesus began in Caesarea Philippi to explain that he must suffer many things and be rejected!

 

Listen to a long excerpt from N.T. Wright… from his commentary on Mark. 

 

But this was different. This was something new. Mark says Jesus ‘began to teach them’ this, implying that it was quite a new point that could only be begun once they’d declared that he was the Messiah – like a schoolteacher who can only begin the next stage of mathematics when the pupils have learnt to add and subtract, or a language teacher who can only start on great poetry when the pupils have got the hang of how the language works. And the new lesson wasn’t just that there might be danger ahead; the new lesson was that Jesus had to walk straight into it. Nor would it simply be a risky gamble that might just pay off. It would be certain death. This was what Jesus had to do.

 

You might as well have had a football (soccer) captain tell the team that he was intending to let the opposition score ten goals right away. This wasn’t what Peter and the rest had in mind. They may not have thought of Jesus as a military leader, but they certainly didn’t think of him going straight to his death. As Charlie Brown once said, “Winning ain’t everything, but losing ain’t anything.” and Jesus seemed to be saying he was going to lose. Worse, he was inviting them to come and lose alongside him.

 

This is the heart of what’s going on here, and it explains the strong negative reaction of Peter, so soon after telling Jesus that he and the rest thought he was the Messiah. Messiahs don’t get killed by the authorities. A Messiah who did that would be shown up precisely as a false Messiah. So why did Jesus say that’s what had to happen? Mark will explain this to us bit by bit over the coming chapters. But already there is a hint, an allusion. “The son of man’ must have all this happen to him,” declares Jesus; only so will “the son of man come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Only so will the kingdom of God come… Jesus thinks that evil will be defeated, and the kingdom will come, precisely through his own suffering and death.

--Wright, N. T. ~ Mark for Everyone

 

What an amazing thought.  The power of the cross is the power of the kingdom.  Jesus reversed the cross.  Jesus appropriated Caesar’s cross and transformed it into Christ’s cross.

 

That was the point from last week’s sermon. Now, stop thinking like you are you…

 

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Stop thinking like an American Christian in 2017 AD.  Stop thinking of the cross as a symbol of the Christian faith.  Stop thinking of the cross as something on top of a church building.  Stop thinking of the cross as jewelry.  Instead, think of the cross as a Roman Christian in 64 AD.  Think of brutality.  Think of pain.  Think of the humiliation.  Think of the shame of dying as a failure.  Hear the words of Jesus with those ears, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed”.  This sounds entirely different through the ears of those Roman Christians in 64 AD as they faced Nero’s threat.

 

“Jesus, the YWHW; the YWHW of all peoples; our LORD; intentionally went to the cross. My Lord chose humiliation on purpose.”  The Son of Man must suffer… 

 

Keep listening as a 64 AD Christian…

 

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Mark 8:34 And Jesus called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

 

Oh, oh my, if I am a disciple of Jesus, I must follow Jesus to the cross.”  As a 64 AD Christian, you don’t hear those words without a lump forming in your throat. “If Nero’s henchmen knock on my door, I deny myself and follow them to a cross.  I am called to join Jesus on my own cross; (gulp).  When the knock comes, I will have a choice to make… follow Caesar or follow Christ.”

 

Then Jesus repeats his call.  This time in the negative.

 

Mark 8:35-38 “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but 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 what can a man give in return for 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."

 

When Nero’s henchmen knock on the door there is a choice to make; save my life or lose my life.  There are consequences that accompany either choice…

--If I save my life, I avoid the pain; the humiliation; the cruelty; I don’t go to a cross.  I could spend days dying, hanging there naked; being ridiculed.  Nails through my wrists.  When the knock comes, all I have to do is deny that I am a Christian.  If I follow Caesar, I get to live.”

               

--“But, on the other hand, if I choose Christ…

                -I get more than this life… I get an eternal life.

                -I will join Jesus for the gospel’s sake… my death will advance the kingdom!

                -Jesus will be proud of me!

                -I will join Jesus in the glory of his Father when he comes with the holy angels!”

               

When the knock came to the Roman Christians of 64 AD, there was a real choice for them to make… Caesar or Christ.

 

Now stop thinking like a 64 AD Christian, and be yourself again.

 

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The end of Mark chapter 8 is a call for your choice.  It is unlikely Nero’s henchmen will knock on your door.  But the choice is still very real for each of us.  Sidebar… Taking up your cross does not mean that you are called to bear some thorn in your flesh.   Taking up your cross is not a worrisome thing you must endure. 

 

Rather, to take up His cross is to give your whole life to following Him.  It is a choice to live every day in the power of sacrifice. It is to consistently ask…

--What is best for others?

--What is best for the Gospel?

--What is best for advancing the kingdom. 

A life sacrificed either in death, or ongoing sacrificial life is the power of the kingdom.  It is the power that advances the kingdom toward the coming of Jesus in the glory of the Father with his holy angels.

 

Here is a spectacular thought… I think this is the point of the end of chapter 8.

 

Jesus is ruling on earth now.  He is to rule until all his enemies are put under his feet.  Jesus is ruling now through his church; advancing his kingdom… when it has advanced to the ends of earth, Jesus will return to destroy his last enemy… death.

 

1 Corinthians 15:24-26 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 

We are a part of the “until”.  It is in our sacrificial lives either in death or more likely in our giving lives, that his kingdom is advanced until… we share in the putting all enemies under his feet.

 

How great is this?  We share in the power of the cross.  We share in the power of the kingdom.  We share in destroying every rule and every authority and every power to advance the reign of the Kingdom.

 

That was the choice the 64 AD Christians had when the knock came… Caesar or Christ.  We face the same choice with every knock.

 

Mark 8:34 And Jesus called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

 

 

Tim Stidham

July 9, 2017

Los Alamos Church of Christ



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