Tag Archive: Satan

This is the first sermon (September 13) in our sermon series, “The Way of the Cross: Our Journey with Jesus,” at Community Lutheran.


Today is a huge day! We’re kicking off the Program Year with Rally Day, we’re giving blood, and we’re even training Sunday School and Confirmation teachers.  It’s also the day we’re kicking off our sermon series, “The Way of the Cross: Our Journey with Jesus.”  Over the next six weeks, we’ll be exploring more what it means to be a disciple of Christ by taking a closer look at Jesus’ encounters with others in the Gospel of Mark.

This discussion in today’s text between Jesus and the disciples, and especially Peter, is a great way to start off our series.  Jesus and the disciples are traveling through Caesarea Philippi, an ancient town, with a strong cult to the Greek deity, Pan.  As part of worshiping Pan, there were frequent sacrifices made.  It’s in this area that Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say that I am?”  They tell him what they’ve heard – that he’s John the Baptist come back from the dead, or the prophet Elijah returned to earth, or maybe one of the other rock star prophets of Israel’s past.

The Ruins of Caesarea Philippi (Banias/Panias) - January 2014

The Ruins of Caesarea Philippi (Banias/Panias); The cave for sacrifice can be easily seen even from a distance – January 2014

I can see Jesus nodding thoughtfully, taking it all in.  And then I see him looking at them and asking, “But who do you say that I am? Thanks for reporting what you’ve heard – that’s well and good, but I want to hear who you say that I am.”  Silence falls over the disciples as they wonder what’s going on.  Slowly, Peter clears his throat and says, “You are the Messiah.”  Jesus tells them to keep quiet about his identity and they continue walking.

I always imagine Peter smiling, truly pleased with himself for coming up with the right answer and thinking, “I’m in good cause I’m with the Messiah.”  Maybe he was even thinking “YES! I AM AWESOME!” Or whatever the Aramaic equivalent of that is.  But, of course, the story doesn’t end there! Nope, unfortunately for Peter’s ego, they keep walking.  Mark’s Gospel tells us, “Then Jesus 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.”

In this area where people sacrificed animals to satisfy a half-man, half-goat god, fully human and fully divine Jesus reveals that he will suffer and die.  He reveals openly that he will offer himself as a sacrifice, bridging the gap between God and humanity once and for all.  This is too much for Peter.  It messes with his image of who a god should be and what a god should do.  It’s not at all what he thought the Messiah should be about.  Jesus’ teachings about a suffering Messiah are completely the opposite of God who is glorious, mighty and worthy of praise, aren’t they?

Peter can’t take it and so he speaks up, being the bold and the brash fellow that he is.  Maybe he was thinking he’d get two right answers in a row.  No such luck, because Jesus tells him “get behind me, Satan.”  Zing! From all-star disciple to major failure in a few verses.  That’s why I love Peter! We all have those moments where we feel like we’ve got it and we’re moving in a great direction and then … BAM! We realize we don’t have it at all.  It’s like a scene in the 1980s comedy, “The Three Amigos.”  Steve Martin’s character is chained in the enemy’s prison, but he realizes he can move the chains by pulling his arms and legs forward toward the chain release lever.  He slowly creeps forward, saying, “gonna make it.  Gonna make it. Gonna make it.  Gonna make it.”  He reaches the release lever, and shouts, “I made it!” Then is slammed back against the wall with an “Ow.”

This exchange between Peter and Jesus is just like that – Peter thinks he’s figured it out and Jesus clarifies pretty strongly that he hasn’t.

I find Jesus’ words interesting and not just because he just told Peter that he’s acting like Satan, the accuser and tempter.  I find his words interesting because if I had an enemy, the last place I would want the enemy or the adversary or the accuser to be was at my back – I can’t see him, I don’t know what’s going on.  These words are a form of rebuke for sure because they also appear in the Old Testament, but I think it’s also saying something to Peter.

If you’re behind someone, most likely you’re following them.  Jesus tells Peter to get in line – “get behind me.”  Stop setting your mind on human things – the things everyone in this world thinks are important.  It’s like Jesus is saying, “Peter, don’t you see? Those aren’t the things that God cares about.  God has something else in mind – something that involves dying and rising, sacrifice and new life.”  So Jesus tells Peter “get behind me” and to all who are gathered, “take up your cross and follow me.”  It’s a lot harder to follow someone else, the ways of the world, or our own evil hearts, if we have our eyes firmly set on Christ and we are carrying our crosses.

Ok, but what on earth does it mean to deny ourselves and take up our crosses to follow Christ?  Does it mean saying of annoyances we experience, “I suppose this is my cross to bear.”  No.  It means turning away from the things that would lead us away from God and seeking to live out our lives in a Christ-like way.  Carrying our crosses is a constant reminder of whose we are and what he has done.  It is a reminder of God’s sacrifice on our behalf – a sacrifice made out of sheer love.  Who do you say that Jesus is? And what would it look like to live formed by Christ’s sacrificial love, so that we might share that same sacrificial love with those around us?

It might mean spending time working with the hungry children in our area, getting to know them, hearing their stories, and ensuring that they have food.  It might mean welcoming refugees, offering up your resources and maybe even your home so that someone might have a warm, safe place to stay.  It might mean journeying with someone as a Stephen Minister and providing a listening ear and a loving heart.  It might mean sitting with a friend who has lost a job and being there for them.  It might mean spending time tending the gardens of the church so that it looks welcoming for those coming inside.  The possibilities are endless.

The crucifixion, and indeed all of Jesus’ human life, took place in the midst of a period of oppression, poverty, suffering, despair and difficulty.  And the fact that we are called to take up the cross as well means that we are called not to run from the difficulties, the ugliness, or the pain of the world, but that we are called to journey with those who suffer.  Anglican N.T. Wright even described prayer in this way: “Prayer stands cruciform at the place where the world is in pain to hold together Jew and Greek and slave and free. To hold together male and female, to hold together a battered and bleeding world and say, ‘No, there is a different way to be human.’”

Yes, there is a different way to be human.  And ironically, it looks like letting go of the things society upholds in favor of the cross.  It means that in order to pick up our crosses and follow Christ, we sometimes have to say, “get behind me, Satan.  I want nothing to do with you” to the things that tempt us to despair, to give up, to fear, or to forget God’s love for the entire cosmos. So to what do you need to say, “get behind me?” Is it the rat race? Is it to taking on more work in order to seek some kind of esteem? Is it spending money on things you don’t really need? Is it that dread feeling of hopelessness when you look at the world? Is it the voice of scarcity that would tell you to safeguard everything you have and not share it with others because there might not be enough? Is it that nagging voice that says God cannot or will not forgive?

Today, I want to invite us to say to those things what we need to say – to put them in their right place in our lives.  Behind Christ.  Not before Christ.  To say, “get behind me.  I follow Christ.”  As Jesus says in the reading, “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.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” The way of the cross is hard.  It’s arduous and often times it’s not as glamorous as the life of those we see on TV or in movies.  But ultimately it is the way of true life – of life that is lived for something bigger than itself.  For the sake of God and for the sake of others.

Peter may have thought he won the prize with his first answer about Jesus being the Messiah.  And he was right.  But it was actually his mistake that led to the life-giving lesson.  Jesus is the Messiah, but it’s the kind of Messiah he is, and the people we are called to be as a result, that is truly life-giving.  God chooses to work through the weak, the imperfect, the foolhardy and often confused disciples, the brutal cross, and ultimately, the surprising, in order to being about abundant life for all people.  As followers of Christ, we are not perfect, but God has seen fit to work in and through us for the good of the world.  It may not be what we were expecting when we set out on this journey to follow Christ, but it is good indeed.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

The sermon I preached last Sunday on Mark 1:9-15 at Community Lutheran!

The first Sunday in Lent is always the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  But all of the details that we have in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, the dialogue between Jesus and Satan, the specifics of Jesus’ temptations, are all absent in Mark’s Gospel.  Mark’s Gospel spends two brief sentences on the temptation before moving on.  Why doesn’t Mark spend more time on this epic showdown between Jesus, the Son of God, and Satan, the adversary?

I think there are two reasons.  First, Mark is more interested in the fact that Jesus has the power to resist Satan’s temptations and to conquer the ruler of this world, then spending time dwelling on details.  Second, Mark’s Gospel is constantly on the move, driving us toward the cross.  Part of Mark’s frenetic, no frills telling of the story is inviting the hearer into the action, asking the question, “how would you respond to this situation?”  Mark wants each of us to become part of the story.  Will we respond with our minds on the things of this world, or on the things of God?

The text begins as Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan.  As he comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends like a dove into him.  The Spirit fills Jesus and then immediately drives him out into the wilderness.  We heard that Jesus drove out an unclean spirit a few weeks ago and, here, the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness.  It’s Mark’s way of saying Jesus is prepared for his mission in baptism and thrown out into the field.

Stanley Spencer - Christ in the Wilderness Driven by the Spirit (From: http://uploads6.wikiart.org/images/stanley-spencer/christ-in-the-wilderness-driven-by-the-spirit-1.jpg)

Stanley Spencer – Christ in the Wilderness Driven by the Spirit (From: http://uploads6.wikiart.org/images/stanley-spencer/christ-in-the-wilderness-driven-by-the-spirit-1.jpg)

The wilderness is the place where the Israelites wandered for 40 years.  It’s the place of danger where wild beasts and bandits roam, but it’s also a place for meeting God.  It’s a place of terror and testing, as well as a place of learning, growth and insight.  Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus goes to the wilderness to find solitude, rest, and to spend time in prayer.  And now, Jesus finds himself in the wilderness, being tested by Satan.  He’s surrounded by wild beasts, which could be life threatening, but he is unharmed.  The coming of the Son of God, now filled with the Holy Spirit, brings order to the wild places and the beasts that inhabit them.  Angels wait upon Jesus, and at the end of 40 days, Jesus rejoins society to proclaim that God’s rule is breaking into the world.  That people should continue turning toward God and having faith and trust in the news that God has won a victory for their sake – and for ours.

As I mentioned before, Mark wants us as the hearers of this story to become a part of the action.   God’s reign is bursting onto the scene and we’re invited to be a part of it.  Jesus’ defeat of Satan in the wilderness will keep playing out in the ways he casts out unclean spirits, heals the sick and suffering, confronts leaders whose hearts are in the wrong place, and finally, defeats sin, death and the devil through the cross and the resurrection.  Mark wants us to know that Jesus not only subdues the wild beasts in the wilderness, but that he’s capable of taming the beasts that dwell in us as well.

We are filled up with the Holy Spirit at baptism and sent out into the world.  And we often feel tossed and blown about by the winds and storms, like Noah with the animals in the ark facing 40 days and nights of torrential rain.  But no matter how bruised and battered we feel, the Spirit is always sustaining us, just as it did Jesus as he battled Satan’s temptations.  And as we face our own trials and temptations in life, we too, have angels, messengers of God, who serve us in the middle of our wildernesses and deserts.  If you take a moment and look at the faces around you, you’ll see exactly what the angels of God look like.

The Holy Spirit fills us up and takes us where we need to go, much as it drove Jesus to the place where he could say “no” to the temptations of this world in order to say “yes” to God.  However, I’ve found that when the Spirit of God takes us where we need to go, sometimes it’s the place we’d least like to go.  Now, please listen carefully.  I’m in no way saying that God causes us to suffer so that we can learn.  God does not wish us ill, but longs for the wholeness and the restoration of the world.  God loves us and wants us to thrive.

Even so, we know all too well that trials, temptations, and difficulties will touch each of our lives.  Jesus’ temptation shows us that the Spirit abides with and sustains us in our wildernesses.  The question is then, “how is the Holy Spirit at work in this? How might God use this situation to bring about good or transformation in my life?”

Even in the good times, the Spirit of God urges us to confront the wilderness and wild beasts in ourselves. Whether that’s examining the ways we focus too much on ourselves and our egos, meditating on our penchant for looking out for ourselves first and foremost, or admitting our unwillingness to take a hard and honest look at our flaws.  We are called to examine ourselves throughout our lives, but especially in this contemplative season of Lent, as we prepare to walk with Jesus to the cross.  As we, too, prepare to say “no” to the priorities of the world in order to say “yes” to God’s priorities.  It is at the cross that we are able to let go and crucify our sins, flaws, errors, mistakes, and hurts, in order to be resurrected with Christ into new life in which we can freely serve and give of ourselves.  Even so, that journey to the cross can be scary.

As we slow down enough to begin the hard work of prayer and reflecting honestly, we hear those voices in our minds – the whispers that tempt us to despair and to doubt.  “If people really knew who I was, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.”  “I’m not good enough.”  “I don’t know what I’m doing – I feel like an imposter.”  “I have to put on a brave face – I have to hold it together, but I’m falling apart.”  “Does God really forgive me? Does God really love and welcome me as I am?”

We find ourselves surrounded by those wild beasts, threatening our fragile, man-made security.  We hear the snarling and we’re afraid because we think we’re alone in the wilderness.  But Jesus has already defeated the temptations of this world and tamed the beasts.  In him and through him, he’s doing the same in our lives.  In Jesus’ temptation we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is always with and within us, and that God’s messengers, our sisters and brothers in Christ, are present to help us in our difficulties.  We are reminded that God’s rule is breaking in, even in the middle of the awful things we experience.  And we are reminded to turn toward God and to believe – to lean on and trust – that the good news is really for us.  For each and every one of us, no matter what we’ve done, haven’t done, or the ways in which we feel inadequate.

We may think about this text in terms of our own individual struggles and temptations, but it also has a lot to say about our life in community.  The church is drawn together by the Holy Spirit.  We are people from all different backgrounds, journeys, and experiences brought together to worship God.  And we may disagree on some things – that’s only natural -, but at the heart of who we are and what we do, we are united through our belief in Christ.

Where might the Spirit be driving this church? Is it to places we’ve never been? Places we feel uncomfortable going to because “we’ve never done it that way before?” Or might the Holy Spirit be nudging us to stop doing the things we’ve always done because we need to spend our energy on new things to which God is calling us? Today is our Annual Year-in-Review Congregational Meeting.  Rather than being tempted by individual agendas or the worries of the world, it is a time to be filled with the Holy Spirit, sustained in our work together, and driven forward into the future by the breath of God.  It’s a time for us to celebrate the ways we’ve served, learned and grown in the past year, as well as to dream about how God may be calling us to serve, learn and grow in the year ahead.  It’s a time for us to come together as the body of Christ and to spend time in prayer and discernment as to how the Holy Spirit is kindling a fire in our hearts.

Whatever your temptations and difficulties, whatever wilderness you find yourself wandering through, you are not alone.  God is with you and will never leave you, and the community is walking with you.  When I was in the wilderness of discerning where the Holy Spirit was leading me to serve my first call, there was a Phillip Phillips song that spoke to me.  Although it’s a pop song, it reminded me of God’s faithfulness:

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear

The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

May the Holy Spirit fill and sustain us as we contemplate where God is leading and calling us to serve this Lent.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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