18th Sunday after Pentecost – B LSB #’s 869, 737, 663
Text – Mark 9:30-31a NIV
They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because He was teaching His disciples.
TEACHING HIS DISCIPLES
Eighteen years ago, the USS Cole, a Navy destroyer, was struck by a terrorist bomb. With the 1st news of the attack, hundreds of family members of the sailors on board waited in agony. Hour after hour was filled with overwhelming tension. The sister of one sailor commented that she suffered with an enormous amount of anxiety.
She spent most of the 10½-hour wait outside the house, because she couldn’t stand the tension on the inside. With circumstances like that people are afraid even to ask the question: “Is our loved one dead, or alive?” For this one family, the call came at 6:45 that evening. Their brother & son was unharmed.
The result would not be the same for the Son of God. His death was eminent, but His disciples did not understand. And out of the fear brought on by ignorance, they were afraid to ask the question, “Would their Teacher live, or would He die?” Jesus had just, for the 2nd time, plainly told them that He’d be killed & then raised from the dead.
Yet, for the 2nd time, the disciples did not understand, & the prediction of His death & resurrection is not all that they had missed. The 2nd half of today’s gospel reading reveals how the disciples have completely misunderstood the main thrust of Christ’s teaching. They were arguing about who was the greatest.
Jesus was teaching that those who follow Him must strive to be the least. And if Christ’s own disciples completely misunderstood what it is to be a Christian, does it not follow that we probably misunderstand as well? And, like the disciples of Christ, we too are afraid to
ask Him about it, because we’re afraid of what the answer might be.
When Adam & Eve sinned for the 1st time, do you remember what their reaction was as God came calling? It was fear – the natural human condition since the fall. We’re scared of our Creator. That’s totally the opposite of how our Lord desires things to be. Jesus became a man & entered our time & space in order to deal with that very problem.
However, teaching people the solution to their fear is not as easy as sending your children to Sunday School. It’s not as easy as spoon-feeding children the correct information. Even the demons have the correct information about Christ, & in the Gospel of Mark the demons are calling Jesus the Christ long before any human beings are.
Rather than merely spoon feeding the disciples, Jesus often challenges them as He teaches them. In this gospel text, it’s the challenge they are afraid of. Their sinful nature prefers to strive for greatness & it shies away from a life of service.
They want nothing to do with Christ’s suffering & death, not because of their great concern for His welfare, but because of their concern for themselves. If their master must suffer & die, does it not follow that they might have to suffer & die as well? That’s a challenge that not one of us looks forward to.
Still, it is a challenge that Christians must come to grips with in order for their faith to blossom. The fear o f suffering & death has stunted the growth of many a person’s faith, but it takes far less than suffering & death to scare many Christians away from God’s calling.
Often, people are far more concerned with their reputation before men than they are with their reputation before the almighty Lord. Many Christians have a home & yard that are immaculately clean & organized, yet their soul is dusty & cluttered with false teaching. They’re afraid of the effort involved in putting their spiritual life in order, but they’re willing to work around the house or garage for 8 hours a week. The greatness they feel depends upon how perfect they maintain the outward appearances.
Other Christians think nothing of devoting 60 or 70 hours a week towards their career, yet they’re afraid that an hour in church on Sunday, or an hour in Bible study every week, will be the straw the breaks the camel’s back of their precious schedule. The greatness they feel depends upon how far or how rapidly their career advances.
College & high school students can be very focused on schoolwork or sports because their reputation with their peers depends upon their performance. But somehow, their reputation before God becomes invisible to them. They frequently learn that from those same parents who are spending all their spare time on their career or their home & their yard.
At the bottom of all these efforts to make ourselves look good in the eyes of men, is our desire to be the greatest. Years back the Army had a recruiting slogan that said, “Be all that you can be.” The Marines were looking for just a few good men. Muhammad Ali promoted himself with the claim that he was “the greatest.”
Those slogans are catchy manifestations of the same disease the disciples had, & that Adam & Eve had long before them. The desire of man’s heart is to be god. Satan is well aware of that desire. Yet mankind is satisfied to live in ignorance & blindness, too afraid to ask Jesus about it, for fear of what the answer might be.
As a result, suffering & hard times become our teacher. God uses those tools to break through our blindness & ignorance. Once He breaks through, then the lessons can begin. Hard times commonly cause us to slow down & reflect upon the question of “Why?”
Studies have shown that significant life changes are the best time for evangelism work, because the person is then reevaluating priorities & lifestyles. Times of illness, or the loss of something dear to us, tend to open our eyes to a much larger perspective on life. They bring us out of our cozy little world. They challenge our mistaken view of reality.
Have you been dealing with any challenges lately? Do you know of someone who is? Think of them as opportunities for God to reach into your heart & instill in you the depth of His love. Place your trust in the love He has for you. Then sit back & watch how your life unfolds before your eyes. As God touches your heart you will want to reach out in response.
In the Gospel reading we don’t find Christ simply teaching His disciples about His own death & resurrection. We also find Him teaching you & me how to live with our fellow man. As Christ served us, through His suffering & death, we are to reach out & serve others. That could mean serving people other than ourselves even when the lawn needs mowing.
It might be that the extra hour studying for a major exam could be better spent in caring for someone else’s needs. There are probably even times when your career agenda should be put on hold in order to use your talents for another person’s benefit. Those people might be your spouse, your children, even your church.
Certainly welcoming a child won’t clean your home. It won’t improve your grades nor will it increase your cash flow. Nevertheless, Jesus illustrated His lesson for the disciples by taking a child in His arms. He then stated that whoever welcomes a child in Christ’s name, welcomes our heavenly Father Himself.
Jesus was talking of a very young child, one that certainly could make no claims to importance or greatness; one too young to have accomplished anything, & having nothing of which to brag about or be proud of; a child who is totally dependent upon someone else to care for them; the kind of position that no adult wants to be in.
Being servant to a child, like that, will bring no honors or reputation among kings. It’ll
gain you no position of worldly power or prestige. Yet in God’s sight greatness comes from serving those who need it, because they need it. And that is how the Son of God has served us. He served us with His suffering & death – because we needed it.
We’re afraid of getting too wrapped up in religion, because Yahweh destroys our “rose garden” view of it. He does not bring the good life or even justice to the oppressed in any worldly sense. He does not eliminate poverty, misery or crime. People still commit the most filthy & disgusting of sins, & then boast of them.
We are tempted to look at the world & say, “What good has religion accomplished?” “Why bother?” becomes the mantra of a spiritually cynical & callused world. The tension can become unbearable. To escape it all we fantasize about & dwell upon who is the greatest. Is it the Yankees, or the Red Sox? Is it U of M, or MSU? Is it me, or is it you?
Anything to avoid the real question. Are you great enough to deserve eternal life? Have you done enough to please the Creator of all that exists? That is where our real fears lie. Will I live, or will I die? Christ came that we might stop being afraid to ask that question.
Those who believe in Jesus as Savior will live. It’s that simple. The answer is so uncomplicated that we struggle in believing it. In spite of our calling to be servants, in spite of the suffering & the death that ultimately awaits us in this life, the final answer to all our questions & all of our fears is Jesus Christ & His suffering, His death & His resurrection.
Yahweh Himself guaranteed that His children will never die, but have everlasting life. Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, so shall we. Though our natural man looks at God as the heavy handed persecutor, & is afraid, the new man in us looks at Christ as our Brother & is at peace.
All the solemn, mysterious beauties of the Gospel are hidden from the heart of man until
God the Holy Spirit, opens your heart & mind to reveal the beauty of God’s assurance to His children. This morning, in the Lord’s Supper, you have the privilege of partaking of one of those mysteries. For there, Christ becomes one with you. He feeds your body & soul with His very body & blood.
Yes, it is a mystery too difficult to fathom, but through the equal mystery of faith, God works the assurance that He has forgiven your sins. It’s that very message which Messiah taught His disciples 2000 years ago, & today He’s teaching you. His Holy Spirit is at work in your heart, right now, through the power of His Word that never returns to Him empty.
If you partake of Communion today, God’s Holy Spirit will be at work as you receive Christ’s body & blood, given & shed for you, for the remission of your sins. You can stop striving for greatness & reputation. You can stop being afraid that God will discover your innermost thoughts & fears.
Your Savior has already nailed them to the cross & forgotten them. Whosoever believes in Christ will live, even though he dies. Our coming to grips with that message is the work of the Holy Spirit, & He is faithful unto the end. Amen.
Rejoice, my heart, be glad & sing, a cheerful trust maintain; for God, the source of everything, your portion shall remain. He is your treasure, He your joy, your life & light & Lord, your counselor when doubts annoy, your shield & great reward. Why spend the day in blank despair, in restless thought the night? On your Creator cast your care; He makes your burdens light. Amen. LSB 737:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet