Sermon Feb 25, 2018

“Satan Finds An Opportune Time”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Mark 8: 31-38
February 25, 2018

“But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  – Mark 8:33i

Right after Jesus was baptized He was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. How many temptations did Jesus face? And do you remember how it ended? The Gospel of Mark doesn’t say much about the whole thing. It doesn’t mention how Jesus was tempted – what He had to face – and it moves from those forty days spent in the wilderness to tell us that after enduring temptations Jesus goes to Galilee. So, if you are looking only at Mark, you wouldn’t even know that Jesus faced three temptations. Matthew gives a much more detailed description of each of the three temptations faced by Jesus. In Matthew Jesus overcomes each temptation and then tells the Devil to be gone and that’s the end of it. But Luke is different. Luke tells us about the three temptations faced by Jesus – turning stones into bread to assuage His hunger; trusting God to suspend the law of gravity and protect Him if He were to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple; becoming the ruler of the world. But it is how the section ends in Luke that fascinated me. Here is how the evangelist puts it: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” For Luke, the temptations in the wilderness are not the last time Jesus is going to face Satan.

It’s never “one and done,” is it. I have served five churches. In each one I have come to recognize Christians whose faith has both humbled me and inspired me. Not a one of them would tell you they were not tempted daily. The sirens of this world are all around us with their seductive lures. How easy it is to lose our way.

A few verses before our reading the disciples were asked by Jesus who they thought Jesus was. It is Peter who confess Jesus to be the Son of God, the long awaited Messiah. And Jesus praises the spiritual insight shown by Peter. Now in a group that is constantly bickering about who was the greatest among them, Peter had just pulled off a coup. He was the alpha male, the leader of the pack. But this was to be short lived. Jesus now tells the disciples that the Messiah must suffer many things and be put to death.

Well, how can that be? It is Jesus who talked about the kingdom of God having come near. It was Jesus who challenging the political and religious order of His day. It was Jesus who seemed posed to pull off the long awaited revolution. And now, right after Peter proves he has bought in to the vision of Jesus, Jesus twists the vision! Jesus talks now of defeat, of an ignoble and anguishing ending of His life. In fairness to Peter, how can the cross be seen as anything but defeat?

Maybe that’s why we avoid the cross of service, the sacrifice of self. We are still not sure that suffering is a necessary component of following Jesus – that justice, compassion for the lost and the least, being a voice for the voiceless, that speaking truth to power is the way to faithfulness. We, too, may want to stand with Peter and rebuke the Lord of Heaven. How easy it is to want to craft God in our image, to make the Divine bend to our image of success. Not only does it lift the burden of the cross, it helps lift our image in the world.

This may have been what drove Peter to rebuke the very One he had just confessed as the incarnate Son of God. Peter not only wanted Jesus to restore the fortunes of Israel, he wanted to share in the glory. Peter’s vision of the Messiah was not the vision of Jesus. Peter wanted to be seen as a person of power. I can hear him saying, “Jesus, stop this nonsensical language about suffering and death. You are the Messiah. Act like it! Overthrow the yoke of Roman oppression. Let justice rule. Be the Messiah we all want that we, your closest followers might bask in the fame and glory of your reign. That Jesus, is what it means to be the Messiah.”

I wonder if Jesus found this tempting. The text is silent. We don’t know. It appears that Jesus didn’t even hesitate, that Jesus turned to His disciples and told Satan to get behind him. But one thing is clear, Satan had found an opportune time.

So I ask us in this time of Lenten reflection to let the Messiah be the Messiah. To see the folly of the cross as the way to the world’s salvation, and to see that Jesus expects His followers to carry their own.

At the very minimum this would mean a willingness to place love ahead of vengeance. There are some who hold onto their anger, whose anger consumes them and whose sense of self righteousness will not let them forgive. They would rather wait for the one who wronged them to ask for forgiveness. And so they refuse to carry their cross.

There are those who so fear the judgment of others that they bend their principles in order to please the crowd. There are those who, like myself, find it easier to talk about the cross than to carry it.

To all of us the ringing words of Jesus come, “Get behind me Satan…” Satan’s opportune time is no longer a threat to Jesus. He has triumphed. It is you and me who are at risk. Lent asks us to look with stark clarity at the reality of the cross and rather than avoid it, lift it and carry it into the world. May it be so. Let us pray….

i Mark 8:31-38

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”