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AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED? — Wait….What??   Mark 8:27-9:8   Pastor Yvonne Biel  (2nd)

It is well with my soul.  Sometimes when I’m singing this song, I want to take that truth and I want to push it, infuse it, into the inward parts of my soul.  Sometimes I also look around and I know those people that are singing it from the overflow of their heart.  You know those people.  The ones who are sitting in the midst of their storm.  Maybe they’ve been diagnosed with cancer and in the midst of treatment, they’re able to have a beautiful smile on their face and say, “It is well with my soul.”  I have some friends who lost a child—a stillborn birth.  They never got to meet their child.  And yet, on their blog and social media posts they said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Right now, I’m following my sister’s updates on my dad.  Currently he has something in his foot that needs to be removed.  Over the last couple of years, he’s been having eye issues—there’s an amoeba that got stuck in his eye.  Over this last week it started to act up and he’s in extreme pain in both his eyes.  He’s been getting medical help and is sometimes there at midnight.  On his way home, they went to get his car from valet parking and they lost his keys.  Midnight turns to two in the morning and the hospital decides to send them home via Uber.  My sister says that in the middle of the Uber ride home, my dad is telling the driver about Jesus!  In the midst of his pain, he’s still able to say, “It is well with my soul.”  What’s the secret?  How do we get to the place where we are able to have that phrase overflow from our soul?

It’s my privilege today to continue our series on the gospel of Mark.  As we read through the gospel of Mark, it seems like Jesus has a secret too.  It seems he entered a series of wilderness wanderings with forty days—no food, no drink—and he comes out the other side and he’s ready to grab a whole bunch of followers.  It’s like that didn’t even happen.  There are all these people sending rumors about him.  People think he’s demonic or some type of crazy fanatic.  Even the religious and the political leaders are trying to scheme against him.  And yet there’s this calmness, this confidence, that Jesus has.  What’s his secret?  As we open up to Mark 8 today, I think that John Mark, in his gospel, is finally unveiling the secrets.  Today I would love to share with you three secrets of the kingdom of God.  These secrets might be very familiar to you, but my prayer and my hope is that you can receive these secrets of the kingdom and you can allow them to permeate into your soul as an anchor in the times of the storms.  But I’m not trusting my own wisdom to tell you these secrets, I’m going to pray and ask that the Lord and the Spirit of the Living God would help you to receive these secrets and let them become an anchor for your soul.

Let’s pray.  Father God, King Jesus, Holy Spirit, we ask that you would be present with us right now.  As we read your Holy Scriptures and you make the truth real to us, Jesus, may your Spirit sink down these secrets, these mysteries of your kingdom, into the depths of our souls.  May they become anchors for us in the time of storms. I pray this in Jesus’s name and in the power of His Spirit.  Amen.

A few month’s back, I was hanging out with my two little nephews.  A four- and a five-year-old.  They live in Colorado Springs.  They are both learning the ways of the world and the ways of secret telling.  My four-year-old nephew David was really enjoying this.  He jumped up on my lap and gets really close into my ear—so close where they’re tickling the hair on your ear lobs and you can hardly hear what they’re saying.  David says, “Aunt Yvonne, I want to tell you a secret.”  He says, “Do like candy?”  “Yeah, David, I like candy.”   He says, “I’m going to tell you another secret.  Do you like coffee?”  “I love coffee, how did you know?”

As I was preparing for this message, I felt like the Lord reminded me that sometimes His secrets come in the form of a question.  Sometimes he lets us discover the secrets by just probing and asking.  We’re going to see several questions today.  Open your Bibles to Mark 8:27.  Here we have Jesus walking on the road with his disciples.  They’re in the middle of the earthly kingdoms.  Here they’re walking in Caesarea Philippi.  This is a place where Philip the Great went back and reestablished this place to be a place of the kingdom of the world.  It was like Rome wanted to show how amazing they were.  He made a little Caesarea and he dominated and wanted everyone to know that this was the center of the kingdoms of this world.

And in the middle of this kingdom of the world, a place that Rome had its fingerprint, Jesus started whispering his questions, whispered his secrets.  On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”   The secret revolves around “Who do you say that I am?”  If Jesus were to whisper that to you, I’m wondering how you might answer him.  In the reading of the gospel of Mark, we should know who Jesus is.  That’s actually not a secret to us.  Mark 1:1 says:  The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”   He comes right out of the gate and says this is Jesus, He’s Messiah, he’s the Christos, the Anointed One, the One who is to come.  We should know who Jesus is when we come to this question.

As you can see by the way the disciples answer him, there are lots of rumors around of who Jesus is.  The crowds have rumors; they’re saying, “This guy is pretty cool!  He’ll heal you.  Maybe we should check it out.”  They’re trying to figure out where his power and authority come from.  The rumors are spreading and they’re trying to figure it out.  Even the political leaders and the religious leaders are trying to figure it out.  They don’t know who He is.  They don’t know where His power is coming from.  Many are accusing him of having demonic powers.  A couple weeks ago, Josh talked about even Jesus’s family hadn’t a clue.  He wasn’t even received in his hometown.  And now his disciples don’t have a clue either.  Earlier, in verses 17-19……Do you still not see or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you haves eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?  And don’t you remember? (v 21) Do you still not understand?  They’re suppose to understand the secret, but they don’t get it.

Jesus takes it a step further and says okay, that’s who people say I am, but he turns to his disciples and says:  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”    Hooray!  He finally gets it!  The mystery is revealed.  Peter, one of the disciples, finally gets it!  We’ve reached this point in the middle, in the hinge passage in the gospel of Mark where they get it.  Jesus says, “That’s not the only part of my secret.  There’s more.”  It’s not just that Jesus is Savior, or the Anointed One come to save, but he begins to speak to them plainly it says:   then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this.

THIS is the secret:  Jesus is the suffering Savior.  Maybe you need to hear that today.  That’s a seed of the secret of the kingdom of God.  That Jesus is not the kind of God that comes blaring and blasting in and says, “You need to believe me.  You need to do XYZ.  You need to follow the rules and somehow make your way to figure out how to be good enough to reach me.”  Instead, Jesus WILLINGLY, voluntarily, comes and says, “I’m going to come to you.”  I’m going to suffer, be rejected.  I’m going to experience the pain and the agony, the suffering, the grief.  Maybe your soul needs to be reminded of that secret today.

Sometimes we don’t want to resonate with a Suffering Savior.  Imagine if you were in a dire situation (an accident) and somebody comes to save you, to help you, to rescue you, and they come bloody, and beaten, and frail, pierced.  Does that look like someone who could save?  I don’t know if I’d have a whole lot of confidence if my EMT has a bloody nose and is keeling over and suffering himself.

This was difficult for Peter as well.  With his Jewish lens, he didn’t want to receive a Suffering Savior.  In fact, that was very unexpected.  When Jesus was talking that the kingdom was near and that he was going to reestablish himself, Peter’s like yeah, I’m in!  Let’s reestablish this kingdom.  Let’s set up our power and authority and let’s take back what is good!  Let’s set the prisoners and captives free and the oppressed.  Let’s make and set up a new kingdom.  He didn’t want to hear that Jesus was coming to suffer.  Of course, he responds very adamantly.  Peter took aside and began to rebuke him.    This is a very strong word.  He’s correcting Jesus.  Saying that’s not a true secret.  No, no, no, no, no.  This word rebuke is ‘to forbid.’  No, I forbid you from saying that you’re going to suffer.  No, you’re the King of kings.  You’re the Messiah.  That doesn’t make any sense.  Wait!  What???

How often in our lives do we want to do the same thing to Jesus.  When our lives are going on and we hit a moment and we think, “Wait….what???”  You want my story to include WHAT??  Maybe it’s a health diagnosis that you never saw coming, and Jesus changes your story.  Maybe it’s difficulty in your relationship and it’s a divorce that you’re looking at.  Maybe it’s those places that you don’t want to go, like finances.  Maybe your life has taken a transition and it’s not gone the way you expected it to go.  Or even in your journey with God and you’re hitting a wall and He’s silent for you, and you think, “Wait….what?? No, I forbid it!  I don’t want this in my life!”  I think sometimes our rebuke comes in the form of anger or frustration.  Sometimes it comes in the form of resistance—No way, Jesus, I’m not going there.  Sometimes it comes in avoidance.

I think sometimes we do the exact same thing like Peter does and we want to say, “No, Jesus, this isn’t my story.”   We start to listen to a different kind of whisper.  A whisper that says, “Did God really say that you have to go through this?”  Did God REALLY say that this is going to be your new story.  That whisper started a long time before this moment.  Because that whisper originates from the pit of hell.  Satan himself is the one who said, “Did God really say not to eat of the tree?”  That whisper has been over and over in many of our stories.  I think this was what Peter was whispering and Jesus saw straight through it.  John Mark says it this way:  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.  “Get behind me, Satan!” he said.  “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Peter is listening to the lie of the enemy and in this moment, Jesus pulls back the curtain and says THIS is a war, and it is not between Jesus and Peter.  It is a war between Jesus and Satan.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12) 

In this moment as Jesus turns to Peter, Jesus is calling him out.   I love how Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn puts it:  “The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every human.”  Peter has just gotten it right.  He said, “Jesus, you’re the Messiah.  I get it!  We’re in!  I’m going to follow you!”  Then he says, “No way!  I’m not going to follow you.  Did God really say you had to suffer?  No way!”  He is tangled in between his story of good and evil.  I think this is where we often stand.  Sometimes when Jesus turns to us and he shows us and reveals to us those places that we’re listening to the whispers of the evil one, we think, “That’s painful! Ouch! That helps.”  Maybe, just maybe, Jesus wants us to be released from those places that we’re believing the lies.  It’s not that we’re a victim of Jesus’s confrontation, but it’s that we are a participant in his life.

Jesus keeps going on because he wants people to understand what this invitation is, the invitation from the Suffering Savior.  So he not only grabs his disciples, he grabs the crowds.  This is so important that he wants more people to know.    called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple {Whoever wants to participate in this journey and even in the struggle.} must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”    This is the cornerstone of discipleship.  Volumes have been written on this, and I am not going to be bold enough to speak much about it, but I do think that some of us need to hear that the secret invitation from the Suffering Savior is to voluntarily surrender in solidarity with Jesus.

This invitation is a voluntary action.  That means that we are free to decide that we can surrender.  That’s like the most free thing that we can do….that we get to volunteer ourselves and say yes to God.  The type of yes that Jesus wants and is inviting is a yes to surrender.  It’s like bowing down before a king and we have no idea what he’s going to do to us, and if we bow down our head, he just might slice off our head.  Or we can trust that he’s good and that he will bless us for surrendering to him.  This invitation is solidarity.  I love this word because it’s ‘union.’  It’s we’re in this together.  Union with Jesus, the Suffering Savior.  So we voluntarily surrender in solidarity with Jesus.

Sometimes this also doesn’t resonate with us and we really want to push back on this type of full life, voluntary surrender.  That’s because we’re in the middle of the tension between good and evil.  Jesus’s heart is so for us in this instance.  Where he says if you want to actually save your life, you’ll lose it.  If you’ll lose your life, you’ll save it.  He wants to give us hope in this, but sometimes we wrestle with what this really means.  On top of that, in our Christian world, sometimes we misapply what Jesus means by this.  Have you ever heard someone say that they’re denying themselves, and they say, “I don’t want to be selfish by asking people for what I need.”  Maybe you’ve heard somebody say, “Well, I don’t really want to be prideful and put my gifts out there.”  I think those are ways we’ve misapplied denying ourselves.  Jesus never said that we’re to deny the goodness inside of us.  He has created us in his image—We are fearfully and wonderfully made.  We have a God-given calling.  It says in Ephesians 2:10 that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.  If Jesus were to deny the goodness in Him and His God-given calling, we would never have the cross.  So we don’t deny ourselves anything that is good, we actually offer ourselves.  That’s part of it.  It’s not sacrifice out of ‘I want you to pity me….oh, I’m denying myself.’  Or to get accolades or self-advancement.  Sometimes we do that; we think we’re following Jesus, but it’s really about us.  It’s about me feeling like a good Christian.

No.  Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, and even he, as Creator of the universe, said, “This is tough. Can you just take this away?”  God, I don’t want to go through with this suffering.  In his flesh, he was crying out, but he said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”  This is denying self.  It’s saying, “It’s not my way.  It’s your way, God.”  And your way is to deny the tangle of the evil within me.  If I deny that—the sin that so easily entangles me—I can set it aside and run and flourish in the way of Jesus.  If I deny that I’m shortsighted.  I’m only human and I have a limited capacity.  I need to trust in God and align with his ways.  I need to say, “God, I don’t know the full picture, but you do.”  I can deny that I know the way.  It’s a voluntary, self sacrifice.  This word deny is kind of self-forgetfulness or forgetting.  It’s like whatever is in front of me is so much more important than my thing and my self that I’m almost forgetting myself so that I can move toward what is good and love a God who loves me.

I think we do the same thing when it comes to this metaphor of taking up our cross.  We deny ourselves and let something go in order to take up the cross.  Sometimes we do the same thing with this metaphor of the cross, because we look on Jesus and we see that this is a heavy weight, it’s a burden.  It’s a hardship.  He’s suffering.  He’s going through total rejection and pain and agony.  Sometimes we think that our burden needs to feel like pain and agony, and it needs to feel like condemnation.  Sometimes, for the reason of being good Christians and good disciples of Jesus, we get weighed down by shame and hardship, and the enemy’s lies of condemnation.  That is not what Jesus says.  In Romans 8:1, it says:  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  The carrying of our cross should not be the type of weight that oppresses.  Jesus was obeying his Father and he was obeying with the strength of the Spirit within him.

Taking up our cross is not suffering under condemnation.  It’s also not taking up somebody else’s burden.  How often do we do that?  We think,  “Oh, this is life.  This is hard.  I’m going to be a good Christian and help you carry your burden,” but then it starts to push us down.  Sometimes I think we carry burdens that are not ours to carry.  Not that we don’t carry other people’s burdens, I think we do, but sometimes it’s not what God’s called us to take up.  Sometimes we make that kind of hardship an excuse to not do what God is really asking us to do.

I have a dear friend, who I worked with on the mission field, who was going through a period where she was under this kind of weight, and shame, and pain, and oppression.  She said it was her cross to carry.  She started reading The Voices of the Martyrs and she was finding solace and solidarity with them.  What she really needed to do was deny her fear that she might have something chemically wrong in her body.  She was so afraid by being embarrassed by having her story be one of mental illness that she continued to hold under the weight of the pain, instead of denying the things that were inside of her that stopped her from saying, “Yes, God, I will embrace a new story.  It might be embarrassing and difficult, but I will take that up for you and your kingdom.”

I can’t tell you what you need to deny and what you need to take up, because it’s different in everyone’s story.  Of course we want to deny those things—the sin that easily entangles us—and we need to choose the way of Jesus.  Sometimes we’re in situations where two people are in the exact situation and it’s different for them.  They may be in a situation where the work environment is not fulfilling, not satisfying and they don’t know what to do.  One person may need to stop fearing that God won’t provide if they step out and step into their calling.  Maybe you need to trust that he will provide financially and He will carry you even though you don’t know what’s ahead.  The other person might need to die to their unforgiveness, their struggles with their boss.  Maybe they need to sharpen their character as they love the people in their working environment.  God will turn that around to have them be a witness within their workplace.

So for everyone of you I can’t tell you what you need to deny and what you need to take up, but I can tell you that the secret of the Jesus way is to endure this kind of hardship with purpose.  Suffering with hope.  Using Jesus’s strength to sustain you as you obey his call to voluntarily surrender in solidarity with Him.  Maybe you need to hear today that you need to re-up your commitment to surrender your life, to give it up freely to the Lord.  Oftentimes, right before Easter, we take part in a journey called Lent.  This is a good way to actually strengthen our solidarity with Him, to recommit to voluntarily give our lives to Him, by setting aside some things that we’re intentionally denying in order that we might take up the banner of Christ yet again.

We know there are people throughout church history who have done this very thing.  They’ve denied themselves and taken up their cross, even to the point of their death.  I think about the Apostle Paul as he’s saying, “I count it all joy to take up my cross, to endure hardship and pain.”  I was reading The Seeds of the Martyrs last week and these two women stood out to me—-Perpetua and Felicity.  They had just given birth.  Even though they could have chosen saving their babies and raising them and being wonderful mothers, they said, “Yes, I am a Christian,” and were sentenced to the stadium where they were attacked by wild boars and speared to death by gladiators, in the name of Christ.  We have this happening all over our world, whether it’s a Columbine shooting, execution in the Middle East, or globally, believers who are saying, “Yes, I believe,” and becoming martyred.  That word means to witness for the sake of the gospel.  How in the world do you get that kind of resolve to fully surrender, voluntarily surrender, even to the point of death?

I wondered, “Jesus, why are you making me talk about suffering?”  I can look out and see that many of you have experienced and walked some heavy roads.  I’m thinking, “How do I get that kind of resolve to walk like the people here at South and those that have gone before me?”  I think, “Yes, it is voluntary surrender to the way of Jesus, but there’s another secret that if we miss we might just crush under the weight of condemnation.”  That secret is that there is glory on the other side of our pain.  John Mark does not stop with you just need to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.  He keeps going as we see as we begin Mark 9 — After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.  There he was transfigured before them.  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.   {This interaction of the heavenly realms coming to the earth.}  (verse 7) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”  Jesus showed off his glory.  This was not the end, it was a promise of what was to come.  A promise that there would be a hope of glory on the other said.  I love how Paul says it, that Christ in us is the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)  This is one of the secrets that maybe today your heart needs to be reminded of.  Glory is on the other side of the pain.  The pain is temporary and the glory will be eternal.  THIS is what we look forward to, and this is why we’re willing to voluntarily surrender our lives because THAT is the way that we save our souls.  We can’t gain anything in this world, whether it is power and wealth, or influence….none of that will save our soul, but trusting that these secrets and mysteries of the kingdom will ground us, will anchor us, in the time of storm.

One of the best practices we can do as believers and followers of Jesus is to be strengthened by the practice of communion.  This is a practice where we’re claiming in our hearts and receiving elements (bread and juice) in our bodies and saying, “Jesus, we want these mysteries of the kingdom to become so integrated inside of us, just like bread and juice, that they might flow out of us.”  I think this practice of communion would be a practice that can remind us of the solidarity that we have with Jesus.  As you come and receive these elements, maybe you’re receiving the fact that Jesus is the Suffering Savior, that He’s close to the brokenhearted because he knows your pain.  Maybe the secret you need to treasure as you receive communion is that this is a recommitment to voluntarily give up and surrender our whole lives in solidarity with Jesus, knowing that we’re doing it with Him, not alone.  Maybe you need to be reminded that there’s glory on the other side of the pain, and that you can go through this pain knowing that it is temporary and that glory is what Jesus bought for you.  He victoriously rose from the dead to purchase that victory so that you can say, “It is well with my soul.”

{Communion commences}