Mark 7:24-31 & 8:31-36 Hebrews 12:1-3
We have been looking into Mark’s Gospel and have noted the early sequence of events where we move from the Baptism of Jesus, to his being tempted, to choosing co-workers, to performing miracles and teaching wherever he went.
But I can see Mark shaking his head! I think I hear him saying,
“but you missed the main point! I spend such a little part of my story on the things you have talked about, though they are important in their own way. But if you read my book you would see my attention was elsewhere. I spent my time describing Jesus on as journey: a journey from Galilee in the North to Judea in the South, a journey that started in Nazareth and ended in Jerusalem, a journey that began with popularity and ended on a cross!”
And Mark is right, of course. His book is a story that has a plot, with a beginning and a middle and an ending.
And those who know this Gospel well, tell us that Mark’s story is “A passion Story (the story of a death) with a long introduction.” The cross looms increasingly large as we read through the story. It is clear that Jesus has come to give his life a ransom for many. Let me skim over the details in the story:
Opposition begins early in his ministry
Mark 2:6-7 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “why does this fellow speak in this way? It its blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Mark 2:23-24 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
Mark 3:5-6 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Ch 4 to 14. The officials are always testing him. Trying to catch him in his words
Betrayal in Mark 3:16-19
And Mark is not trying to hide the way the story ends. Listen to his words when he first introduces his apostles to us: “So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. There it is. Early. This is a tragic story from the very start.
1 8:31-33 “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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.”
2 9:9-10 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
3 9:31-32 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
4 10:32-34 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; but after three days he will rise again.”
The Plot Thickens
11:18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.
12:12 When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
And you know the rest of the story!
The theme verse: Mark 10:43-45
“But whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Our Journey Too
But those same scholars tell us, that Mark is not only telling us of Jesus’ journey to the cross, but ours as well. His Gospel has also been called ”The Persecution Gospel.” It was written to serve as a Handbook for Fellow Sufferers. For Mark says, just as John the Baptist suffered, and Jesus Suffered, so will we if we follow Him. For we are chosen early in His story to follow him, and like him to set our faces for the cross that awaits us.
This coming week we enter the season of Lent. And the early Church suggested that we learn from Christ how to walk the way of the cross by using the 40 days before Good Friday as a training session for the rest of life.
This morning may I re-introduce us to this season that lies ahead of us. I would like to be your tour guide this morning.
This coming Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday. It is the day before Lent officially begins. The word comes from the word “shrive” – an ancient word meaning, “to be forgiven.” On the Tuesday before Lent begins, those who wanted to take spiritual renewal seriously, started the season a day early. As the people of Israel removed all leaven from their houses before Passover, earnest Christians wanted to cleanse their hearts and lives before they even entered the door to the season of Lent. On Shrove Tuesday they came to the church to confess their sins, receive absolution, and ask for counsel on how to use the coming days to better strengthen their faith.
In our Consumer Culture we changed the name to Pancake Tuesday. Eggs and meat were seen as delicacies which a person might give up during lent as part of fasting during the ensuing forty days. Eating a hearty pancake breakfast on Tuesday was a good way to use up these items before Lent began. (This is also one of the reasons we have Easter Eggs. Most of the eggs not eaten over the forty days of Lent ended up being good only for games.)
The day is also called Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. This is the day when some pile every excess on every excess to have one good (or bad) splurge of every appetite before the fasting begins. It is strange that those who think of splurging themselves on Mardi Gras hardly ever think of purging themselves over the following 7 weeks!
The day after Shrove Tuesday is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the day when Lent officially begins. The day begins by being marked upon the forehead by the dark ashes of the charred remains of last year’s palm branches. The ashes are applied in the sign of the cross to remind us of the words of our Lord, “If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” These ashes also remind us of the darker elements of human life: sin, guilt, grief, and mourning. The ashes remind us that our sins brought about the death of our Lord. As the ashes are applied we “repent in sackcloth and ashes” because of our participation in his death.
On this day we are also made aware on this day of our own mortality. On such a day we hear the words “From dust you come and to dust you return.” At a funeral we hear the words “Dust to dust and ashes to ashes.” We are reminded of those words, not to make us morbid, but to help us face the reality of our own mortality. Those words help us face the brevity of life and our need to use time wisely.
Forty Days of Lent
Arriving at Ash Wednesday means we have also entered into the season of Lent, where for the next forty days we enter into a time of spiritual reflection and renewal.
Why do we call it Lent? It refers to the lengthening of the days as we approach Spring. The nights are getting noticeably shorter and the days are getting longer. We can now look forward to new growth and renewed life.
Why forty days? It was a long a tradition in the Christian Church to have people baptized on Easter Sunday. Baptismal candidates were called upon to fast, search their hearts, pray and prepare themselves for the 40 days prior to their baptism. It also became the practice for the rest of the church to share with the candidates in this time of preparation with a renewal of their own baptismal vows.
It was also the time for the church to focus upon the sufferings of Christ. Jesus began his sufferings for us in the wilderness experience when he fasted for 40 days. The church recognized the supreme importance of his suffering and death and wanted to share with Him in his sufferings. It is too easy to forget important issues in the face of urgent issues and so the church guarantees 40 days of focus each year on His passion & death.
This time was seen as a time for spiritual renewal. Jesus fasted 40 days before he began his ministry. Moses and Elijah did the same. These 40 days are for the deepening of our lives and the deepening of our commitment to God in order that we too can effectively do the work of God.
The ancient church gave advice on how to use this season well. They suggested Fasting:
- Fasting is an intentional act of identifying with the suffering of Jesus for us, as Paul says. “I want to share in the fellowship of his sufferings.”
- Fasting is also an intentional act of identifying ourselves with the suffering of the world.
It is to feel hunger as others experience it. It is to experience desire with no chance of fulfillment.
But many of us are too timid to attempt fasting, so lesser disciples are offered to us.
- First we are called at least to deny ourselves something that we value. We do not give up a particular sin, those we give up as soon as we discover them. In Lent we give up something we value. We deny something that pampers our life, to share intentionally in his sacrifice. Some give up meat, deserts, coffee, TV, tobacco, alcohol, or miss certain meals of the day or the week.
- Second we take up our cross. A cross is what we bear on behalf of another. We take on the sign of the cross at the beginning of the Lenten season, but we also take on something that we might not normally do, but that will help others. We might find that thing difficult and demanding. But some of the great saints were convinced that the chief way of experiencing the grace of God is to do something for those who could give nothing back in return. In fact surrendering something of value will often make it possible to take that time or money to relieve the suffering of those who were always poor and hungry.
Prolonged sadness, however, can be damaging. Continued penitence can make us morbid. To prevent this, Lent is punctuated with six Sundays prior to that seventh and greatest of all the Sundays of the year which is Easter Sunday! The six Sundays are to remind us that celebration, not sadness, is to mark the life of the believer.
The words of Jesus still echo down the years, “If you really want to be my disciple, then learn to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”