Oh Lord we give thanks that we can come together and worship you wherever we are and however we see, hear or say these words.
May your Spirit be with us as we pray, ponder your Word and sing your praises
May You walk alongside us in these days to come as we try to live our lives as You would want us to be as we seek to serve and follow You.
Psalm 22: 23-31
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honour him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfil my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
Mark 8 verses 31-38
Jesus predicts his death
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.”
Jesus is in the north of Israel - close to the Golan heights and to the north of Lake Galilee - and about 100 miles from Jerusalem. After this passage Jesus, John, James and Peter ascend the high mountain for the Transfiguration and then they all continue on the inevitable journey south to Jerusalem.
Jesus has just fed the 4000, 5000 in Luke, healed a blind man in Bethsaida and Peter had just answered Jesus’s questions of who do you think I am by saying ‘You are the Messiah’
But, it seems for the first time, Jesus then tells his disciples and the crowd that he must suffer at the hands of the elders and the Chief Priests, be killed and come back to life after three days.
Peter rebuked Jesus - sounds like a brave but odd thing to do after having just named him as the Messiah - but perhaps Peter, impetuous human that he was, did not want to hear about suffering and death rather that the Messiah would rise up for freedom and victory over the Roman oppressors. Jesus was, if Peter were just to listen, proclaiming a more fundamental victory in foretelling his own death and resurrection but Peter’s response was the exact opposite of what he was expecting of his disciples so much so as to be the work of the dark side - get thee behind me Satan. Perhaps frustration at Peter’s failure to grasp what it really meant to name him as being the Messiah and to think of what God not humans wanted. Perhaps his human and Devine sides both showing anger at an easy way out avoiding his own death and pain.
So Jesus brings in the crowd and says, in verse 34.
If any want to become my followers, let them 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.
Let’s reflect on what was to come. Death by crucifixion.
Crucifixion was for criminals: a cruel form of execution designed to be painful and used by the Persians and the Romans so that the Jewish people would understand what “take up their cross” meant. It is likely that the victim would be tied or nailed to a crossbeam of wood and then they would carry this themselves to the place of execution where they would be hung with the crossbeam on to an upright pole. Death would typically be by asphyxiation as the muscles become unable to bear the weight and allow the lungs to inflate.
Today’s reading from the Psalms is Psalm 22 and, although we just hear the closing passages, it starts with the words that Christ will cry out on the Cross - My God My God why have You forsaken me. A human cry of utter anguish as he endured the extraordinary and cruel pain of crucifixion as he bore not just the weight of his own body but the sins of humanity all that had been before and all that was and is to come. For you and me.
He cried out in agony, and on the transference of human sin and because he knew Psalm 22 was about him and whilst it starts My God My God why? it ends in redemption - He has done it!
For me there is a continuous narrative in this passage. Jesus has asked who the crowd are saying he is and then, to Peter, who do you think I am? The Messiah says Peter. I’m going to die and rise again says Jesus to the crowd. You mustn’t say things like that says Peter to his Lord. Get thee behind me Satan says Jesus. Do God’s will not yours. Then Jesus draws in the crowd and, implicitly, Peter and even us. To follow me you must deny yourself - give up on what you want - and do as I would do - this may cause you to be treated badly, to endure suffering but it will save your life and your soul. Now, Peter, John, James, let’s go up the high mountain to meet God and then onwards to Jerusalem.
Over the next few days Jesus will repeat again and then again the prediction of his own death and this, together with the Transfiguration is perhaps where the focus on that inevitable journey to the Cross starts as we progress through Lent.
Luke has the same episode but he adds a word ‘take up their cross daily’. We all are wonderfully different and God speaks to us in different ways but, for me, this emphasises that Jesus is not calling us to physically cause ourselves pain in his name but rather, and perhaps harder, that every day, all the time, we should examine ourselves - what we are doing and saying, how we are behaving and perhaps especially in the little things as well as the big things, to ensure that we are following him as he would have us be.
So the disciples and the crowd would have known what Jesus meant by ‘take up your cross’ and it may even have been a common figure of speech. We today often talk about ‘having a cross to bear’ and I think we know what that means - that we may have a particular problem that we are dealing with and, by implication, this is likely to be very serious or difficult problem - a heavy burden. But, for me at least, this is not quite the same as the meaning here although undoubtedly the expression is rooted in these words. The burdens on us may well be real but Jesus here is saying to us that we must give our whole lives, each and every day, to follow him and his commandments. This may well be difficult and painful for us and Jesus is recognising this by using the language of the Cross which in those days would have meant death - giving up our lives in the sense of not doing what we want but what he wants and doing that each and every day. That may mean carrying a particular burden but it may also mean carrying somebody else’s burden particularly in these difficult times.
As we prayed earlier and from the old hymn
Our deeds, our thoughts our words must speak
All of his love for us
Follow Him, follow Him
Yield your life to Him
He has conquered death
He is King of Kings
Accept the joy that he gives to those who yield their lives to Him
To give our lives as a daily offering of service to the Servant King. Worshiping God, loving the World and following Jesus.
A time to stand in the gap between the things of this earth that are on are minds and God in heaven.
Take a moment to bring to God the concerns of those people and situations that are in our thoughts that are especially in need of prayer right now: Those close to us, our community, our nation, our world and our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
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