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Sermon for February 25, 2024 — Second Sunday in Easter Preparation

Welcome to this week’s episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 3014 | A Dead-End Road
Heber Ticas

Have you ever had the experience of following someone in a car when you didn’t know your way around? Before the days of GPS this would be an exercise of trust. When I’m driving, I like to make the decisions. I feel confident in my sense of direction and how to find my way around. So, when I must follow someone else, it is easy to second guess their choices. Especially when the person turns down a road that I think will lead in the wrong direction. For example, what would you do if the person you were following suddenly turned down a road that was marked “Dead End?” I would probably start honking at them and flashing my lights in protest.

In some ways, this is our experience in following Christ. Being a disciple means we follow him because we trust him. But then he leads us down roads that are clearly marked “Dead End.” Surely Jesus knows better than to go in that direction! So, we start honking our horns and flashing our lights to warn him of his mistake. Have you ever been there?

Jesus’ first disciples reacted in much the same way when he told them he was going to travel down a dead-end road to Jerusalem. The long-awaited Messiah made it clear that he was going to travel the road of suffering, rejection and death. For Peter especially, this was a hard road to follow, yet he did. As we follow Jesus, we too will have to follow him down roads that we would rather avoid.

Listen to Jesus’ description of being his disciple:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.” 
Mark 8:34b-35 (NRSV)

That’s not exactly the road map I would draw up for myself. But as we follow Jesus, we come to trust that he knows the way far better than we do, even if it looks like a dead-end road. In fact, he tells us that he is the way. Because of who he is, we can follow him no matter where he leads. And that is especially true when he travels down a dead-end road.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de la Vida.

Psalm 22:23-31 • Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 • Romans 4:13-25 • Mark 8:31-38

We are in the second week of the Easter Prep (Lenten) season, a time when we examine ourselves, seeking to prune the things that no longer serve us so God can grow new life. This week’s theme is trusting in God’s faithfulness. The psalmist writes about God’s faithfulness and his supremacy over all. In Genesis, we read about the unbelievable promises God made to Abraham. In Romans, Paul writes about how God kept his promise to Abraham, the Father of the Faithful. In the passage in Mark, Jesus speaks about the suffering he will faithfully endure in order to redeem humanity.

The Gift of Suffering

Mark 8:31-38 NIV

A father brings his one-year-old daughter to the pediatrician for a checkup. The doctor informs the dad that it is a good time for the little one to get her first vaccination for measles. The father loves his daughter and wants to protect her, so he agrees to let his daughter receive the injection. When the nurse comes in with a little tray, the little girl feels like something is going on and begins to get upset. When the nurse administers the injection, the daughter screams out in pain and cries miserably. She looks to her father and uses her simple words to ask for help, but all he can do is hold her; he can’t stop the pain of the injection. A look of confusion comes across the little girl’s face. She cannot understand why her father would allow this to happen to her. Although the vaccination is good for his daughter and could save her life, the father knows that his little girl has to suffer in order to receive it.

Does this scene sound familiar? If you are a parent, you’ve likely experienced something like this. If you want to become rich, open a candy store or ice cream shop right next to a pediatrician’s office! There would be a continual stream of parents treating their children to sweets to help ease their guilt. Deep within the wiring of human beings is the desire to avoid suffering — both our own suffering and the suffering of those we care about. Even when the suffering serves a good purpose — like protecting us from a disease that still kills thousands of people globally every year — we would rather avoid any pain or discomfort. Of course, it is wise to avoid pain when possible, however, it is unwise to think that we are able to avoid all pain.

Despite the fact that suffering is part of the human condition, many people, to some extent, have distanced themselves from God because he “allows” human suffering. For most of us, if something feels bad, it is bad. It is hard for us to accept that something good could cause suffering. If we are honest with ourselves, all of us would probably admit to sometimes looking at God with the same confusion as the little girl in the doctor’s office. There was a time when in our pain, we turned to God for relief, but the relief did not come when or how we wanted it. We asked God, “If you love me — if you are truly good — then why would you let this happen?” Perhaps you are feeling this way as you hear (read) this sermon.

Given the universality of suffering, Jesus taught on the topic. What Christ says about suffering provides his followers with both comfort and guidance on how to endure suffering. Let’s look at Mark 8:31-38:

He 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, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.” Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:31-38 NIV)

Jesus, understanding how hard it is for humans to grasp the concept of necessary and good suffering, wanted to prepare his disciples for what would befall the Son of Man. He taught them plainly, meaning he did not use stories or parables, because he wanted them to understand. Predictably, they did not understand. Peter loved Jesus and rejected the idea of his Lord willingly submitting to being tortured and unlawfully executed. In the disciple’s mind, Jesus’ crucifixion was easily avoidable. Notwithstanding Jesus’ miraculous power, he had enough followers to strenuously resist any arrest by the corrupt Jewish leaders. Plus, he could have simply left Jerusalem. Jesus could have easily avoided capture for years. This was likely going through Peter’s mind as he pulled Jesus aside to admonish him.

Before we start throwing stones at Peter, most of us would do the same thing. Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. Imagine if one of your closest friends told you that they were going to submit to suffering and a death that could easily be avoided. If you are like me, you would have said anything to get them to reject what they believed God was telling them to do. In the desert, after Jesus’ 40-day fast, the Tempter tried to lure Jesus into taking the easy way out of his calling. He offered Christ a crown without the cross. Out of misguided love, Peter’s words were tempting Jesus to accept the enemy’s offer. This is why Jesus called Peter “Satan” in that moment. Without knowing it, Peter was allied with the Tempter.

When we assume that the suffering endured by us or a loved one is bad or pointless, without first seeking God’s mind and heart on the matter, we make the same mistake Peter made. To be clear, not all suffering is good. For instance, suffering as a result of abuse or neglect is not good. While God can make good come out of a bad situation, suffering caused by dehumanization is simply not good. At the same time, pain can sometimes have a purpose. This is important to keep in mind, because Jesus promised that his followers would suffer for his sake. In a society that is actively trying to alleviate all discomfort for those with adequate resources, Christ’s promise of suffering is hard to swallow. Yet, if we truly try to live like Christ, we will experience suffering just as he did. When we ally ourselves with the poor like Jesus, we will suffer like the poor. When we love the stranger like Jesus, we will suffer like the stranger. When we humbly serve the powerless like Jesus, we will suffer like the powerless. The way of Christ is not the way of this world and those who follow him will suffer.

To talk about our suffering, Jesus used the metaphor of taking up our cross and following him. The cross was both horrible and beautiful. It was a source of shame and a source of glory. It is something that had to happen, regardless of any human desire otherwise. This is the image that Jesus used to describe our suffering for his sake. This should cast our suffering for Christ’s sake in new light. To those who are suffering, it is easy to only perceive the pain. However, because God is working within our situation, there will always be grace and beauty to be found. In Christ, our suffering is never pointless and never wasted.

In order to be like Christ, even in his suffering, Jesus says that we must deny ourselves. In this case, denying ourselves means resisting the natural inclination to move towards comfort and painlessness — to accept the Devil’s offer of a crown without a cross. The way of Christ will always move us outside of our comfort zone. His way will move us towards conflict with those who dehumanize our neighbor. His way will cause us to rejoice in the hope of a future reunion when our loved ones get sick and die. This is one of the keys to enduring suffering, and where Peter made his critical error in understanding. In the midst of our pain, we need to turn to God so he can help us have his concerns in mind, not merely human concerns. Instead of telling God we are in pain and asking him to take it away, we could try praying, “Father, I am hurting. Could you please end my suffering. However, if my pain has a purpose, please reveal it so that I can endure with joy and contentment.” Denying ourselves means laying aside our instinct to judge all suffering as bad, because in this present evil age the children of God will experience suffering.

There is also good news in taking up our cross and suffering like Christ. Jesus’ instructions are to follow him as you bear your cross. That means that he is with you. In fact, it means the Jesus is going before you. Whatever situation you are walking into has already been scouted by the Son. He has gone before you and removed anything that could destroy you. Jesus himself has entered your trial and ensured that there is a way out. Whatever human beings have planned for you, Jesus has already promised your victory in this life or the next. What are their plans compared to his promise? If God be for you who can be against you?

May we take comfort in our suffering knowing that Jesus is with us, and he goes before us.

Into the Wilderness w/ Brad Turnage W4

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February 25—Second Sunday of Easter Prep/Lent
Mark 8:31-38, “The Way of the Cross”

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Program Transcript

Into the Wilderness w/ Brad Turnage W4

Anthony: All right. Our final pericope of the month is Mark 8:31- 38. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the second Sunday of Easter Prep / Lent, which is February 25. Brad, do us the honors, please.

Brad: Sure.

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 wish to come after me, 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.”

Anthony: Not today, Satan! Poor Peter. This is the second time in our conversation that we see him getting it wrong.

Let’s not waste it. What can we learn from this interaction with Jesus? And why did Jesus rebuke Peter so strongly? And what does that rebuke teach us about the ways of Christ?

Brad: Before we talk about this rebuke of Peter—because it’s maybe the harshest thing Jesus ever says to Peter, and maybe he says to anybody. Get behind me, Satan.

But I want to give Peter credit. Literally just moments before this, Jesus gives Peter maybe the highest praise he’s given anyone in the Gospels. Just a few verses before Jesus says, get behind me, Satan is when Peter confesses Christ and Jesus says, yes, and this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father. And from now on, Peter, I’m going to call you my rock, and I will build my church on you and the gates of hell will not keep it out.

I want to bring that up because I just love how Jesus lets the good be the good and the bad be the bad, right? He holds onto both of these things. So, in one moment that Peter gets it, he finds this beautiful response from Jesus. And the fact that Peter’s about to blow it, does it change what Jesus just said? And I think that’s so important because we go through our life and we have these moments where God calls us into his work and says, I’m going to do something with you. And then we blow it. And we’ve got to be able to, in those moments, shake it off and go all right, that doesn’t change what else Jesus has said and what else Jesus has called me to.

But this get behind me Satan that he says to Peter, I think it’s more than just calling out Peter. I think we have to go back to the wilderness, right? I think Peter’s doing exactly what Satan was doing to Jesus in the wilderness.

He’s trying to get Jesus to use his power in a different way. Peter’s saying, Jesus, you have the power to save the world without all this death and dying nonsense. That’s Satan. So, when Jesus says, get behind me, Satan, I think he’s talking to Satan more than Peter because what Peter’s doing is that same thing that we see Satan in the wilderness doing and trying to control the way that Jesus is going to change the world.

And Jesus is not going to have any of that because the only way to fix the curse of sin—Paul says the wages of sin is death. What we earn from our sin is death. The only way we’re going to fix it is through going all the way into that death and then resurrecting it.

And for Peter, there’s no way to saving the world that doesn’t involve Jesus’ death and resurrection. And we see that moment Jesus rebukes him, but I think it’s more this rebuking of what Satan is always trying to do, which is to have us not trust the real way that God is going to change the world and change us.

Anthony: Yeah. And Peter’s going to give you a big old hug in the fullness of the kingdom for coming to his aid and reminding us that the good is good and the bad is bad.

And we all participate in it. That’s a good way of looking at it. Get behind me, Satan. So I’m looking at the verses 35 – 38, and in my mind, it’s filled with juxtaposition. Maybe you see it too. So how would you Christologically preach this portion of the text? What say you?

Brad: I think Christologically, you just point to Jesus, because this is exactly how Jesus lived, right? He says those who want to save their life will lose it. Jesus loses his.

So, everything that Jesus is saying here that feels like juxtaposition (sorry, had a hard time saying that one) is because the kingdom really is upside down and backwards. And so, you point to Jesus, you point to all the ways that it’s upside down and backwards. You point to the fact that Jesus shows up in a time of history that he has such a small—in terms of at least globally—impact, right?

How far did Jesus travel from his home? Probably not as far as we’ll travel to visit family for Christmas. It’s upside down and backwards to think that’s the moment that God chooses to send his Savior into the world. You would have thought it would have been in a time where that person would be on TV, where that person would be able to get the message out in this big way.

You would have expected that it wouldn’t have been a—Jesus was basically a homeless man for the time of his ministry. That is upside down and backwards. The fact that Jesus says, love your enemies, the fact that Jesus forgives his enemies, even on the cross is so not the way that we would assume that any God of any taste would behave, but that’s the way our God is.

And so, what does that look like? It looks like giving away our lives and trusting that though it seems upside down and backwards, that really is the place where we’ll find life. And again, I think it’s because if we’re not doing that, then we’re not giving God the room to work. We’re not giving the Holy Spirit the space to do something meaningful because we’re holding onto that steering wheel and not letting go and letting him lead.

Anthony: Yeah, and I’m looking at verse 38, Brad, and if I’m being real with myself, there’ve been times where I’ve been ashamed of Jesus and his words, especially out of my ignorance. And it says that the Son of Man will be ashamed. What do I take away from that? Where’s the good news there?

Brad: So, in 38, “those who are ashamed of me and of my words.” I think in those moments, Anthony, I think you’ve got to, you got to just be really honest that you still have this duality of the old and the new. And the old self, we’ve died with Christ and in one sense, the old self is dead, but it’s a ghost. It has no future, but it’s still ghosting around.

And then the new self is the self that is really alive. And we live with both of these realities. I think that yeah, Jesus is [saying], your old self is the one that’s ashamed. And that’s why we have to put that old self away once and for all, and to disconnect the real you from the false you. And every day my old self makes himself known and but as I’ve gotten older, the more that I’m able to trust that that part of me is the part of me that when I’m dead is going to stay dead.

It’s not the real me. It’s the ghost of my old self. It’s the ghost of Adam. My life really is hidden in my new self, which is in Christ. It’s easy to think that our lives are this zero sum, that as I grow in faith, I become more righteous and less sinful and maybe the good Christian life is getting to 75 percent righteous and 25 percent sinful.

But the more I’ve been honest with myself, the more I think I’ve come to understand Scripture. The truth is my old self is 100 percent dead in sin. There is nothing of real life in my old self. The darkness is really dark. The evil is really evil. And my new self is 100 percent in Christ, resurrected and righteous.

And these two things they have nothing to do with one another, except that they’re both inside this person whose name is Brad. And so, when my old self kind of leads me into falling into sin or saying that thing, I just put it in its place and I’ll say, that’s not me. That’s not the real me and I think that’s what we have to do. I think in our death, once and for all, God will get rid of that old self in our death and then we really will be in the fullness of God’s creation made manifest.

Anthony: Hallelujah that the lying Anthony won’t inherit the kingdom of God. That the one that was ashamed of Jesus’ words won’t inherit the kingdom of God. And I so liked the metaphor you use of ghosting. Wasn’t it Martin Luther that said, the old man was buried in the water, but I found out that old wretch can swim, and he keeps showing up in my life, right?

Brad: And if we have time, I would love to tell you this story. One time I was teaching Colossians to a group of high school students. Colossians 3 has this language about the old self where it says, on account of these things, God’s wrath will be pulled poured out.

And I asked my students, I said, is there anybody that you would love to see God’s wrath poured out on? And they were like, no, how can you say that? And I said, there’s somebody in this room I would love for God’s wrath to be poured out on. And they were like, Brad, how can you say that? And I was like, yeah, and it’s me. At least it’s the part of me that is still struggling with sin.

It’s that old self I want God’s wrath to be poured out on my old self because if it’s not, and my old self gets into the kingdom once and for all, he’s going to ruin it for everybody else. As I live trying to follow Christ and that old self still gets in the way and still causes me to feel ashamed and question and get lazy and gets in the way of what God wants to do, yeah, bring your wrath on that part of me, God and kill it and let it stay dead forever. I’m okay with that.

Anthony: I am too, brother. I have always enjoyed our friendship and your exegesis of Scripture. And this has just been a fun conversation, brother, around Scripture, something we both love. So, thank you for doing this.

And I also want to thank the team of people that make this podcast possible. We couldn’t do it without them. Reuel Enerio and David McKinnon and Elizabeth Mullins. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your labor of love in service to Christ with Gospel Reverb.

And Brad, it’s our tradition to end with prayer. We’d love to ask you to do it, but thanks again for being a part of this. I really enjoyed it.

Brad: Sure. And thank you for letting me just come here and talk about scripture and Jesus. I love being with you, Anthony, and I really appreciate what you’re doing here. So, let’s pray.

Father God, thank you that you’re the God that resurrects the dead, that you’re the God that brings new life, and that because of your life, death, and resurrection we can experience reality. We can experience your kingdom even here and now, Lord.

So, help us do just that, Lord. Help us learn how to die to ourselves. Help us learn how to let go of those things that we are giving our lives over to, Lord. And let go so that in Christ we might live for the sake of the world. And that the world might see you through your people, Lord.

So, use us to be your light in the world. Lord, use the people that are listening to this to be your light in the world, that their communities, that their workplaces, wherever they are, Lord, people might know you and experience your great love through them. We pray all this in your holy name. Amen.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think it is hard for us to accept that suffering is a part of the human condition?
  • Think about the important life lessons you learned. Were any of them learned through suffering? Do you think there was any other way for you to learn that lesson?
  • Can you think of a situation when you thought your suffering was bad at the time but later you realized that what you were experiencing was good?

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