SON OF MAN Mark 8:31-38

A Sermon with the congregation of St. John's, Portsmouth, Kingston, Ontario, March 19, 2000

by Robert Brow (

When Jesus talked about himself in his preaching he did not call himself the Messiah or the Son of God. He usually called himself the Son of Man. Earlier in Mark's Gospel we read "So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he said to the paralytic "stand up, take your mat and go home" (2:10). "The Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath" (2:28).

In our Gospel today we have the first of three announcements about his imminent death and resurrection. "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" (8:31). Similarly in the second announcement he said "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" (9:31). The third occasion is even more specific, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priest 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; and after three days he will rise again" (10:33).

You can see that Peter found this such an upsetting idea that he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said "Get behind me, satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things" (8:32-33). In Hebrew the word satan means an adversary (as in Psalm 38:20; 109:4; 1 Kings 11:14). Jesus did not mean that Peter was satanic, or possessed by Satan, only that he was opposing what the Messiah had to do. And Jesus explained that Peter's mind was set on human reasoning instead of the mind of God. At the time Peter must have felt severely rebuked, but he eventually came to understand the huge implications of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection (Compare what he preached and wrote :Acts 2:31-33; 3:18; 4:10-12; 10:39-43, 1 Peter 1:3-5; 2:23-24).

What was the logic of Peter's very human reasoning? It is based on the assumption that suffering is always bad. But Jesus went on to explain the logic of the way of the cross. Here we might think of a cross as pain accepted voluntarily for a greater cause. Obviously some suffering is involuntary, as when you get hit in a car accident, cancer, or a genetic disorder. But taking up one's cross is a voluntary commitment to a course of action that could be very painful. When a woman voluntarily decides to have a baby, she is nailed to a nine months' cross, and that is only the beginning of raising a child.

As a fully human Son of Man Jesus was talking about taking up the cross, which is an essential part of any worthwhile human life. We could distinguish three kinds of voluntary cross bearing:

The Cross of Challenge Mountain climbers are those who joyfully accept the cross of challenge. If he or she decides to climb Mount Everest there will be months of hard training and giving up the freedom to do other things. Then there is the pain of extreme exhaustion and cold. There is terrible risk. Often there will be the temptation to quit and leave the mountain as others mock us for not going through with our commitment. As Christians we don't have to earn our forgiveness, and we are not excluded from heaven by choosing an easy way. But going with Jesus is a challenge far greater than climbing Mountain Everest or walking to the North Pole.

The Cross of Loving If we voluntarily choose to go the way of loving, we are going to get hurt. There is much joy, but also a cross in loving children. When Mollie said yes to me 47 years ago she took a very big risk. Every marriage includes cross bearing. And Jesus invited even us to love enemies. Loving the other church members in a congregation like this can be very hurtful. You can get nailed and crucified. But Jesus explained the paradox. "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 good news, will save it" (8:35). That means a life is not worth living unless you are willing to risk losing it.

The Cross of a Great Cause There are many ways of engaging in a great cause here in Canada and in serving the Lord overseas. Mollie and I served eleven wonderful, costly years in India.

Martin Luther King took up the cross of civil rights for his black brothers and sisters in the United States. There are many bad causes like serving the Mafia, or the IRA, or Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Those causes all turn sour. But Jesus invites us into his cause that never turns sour. I never met anyone who regretted serving Jesus the Son of Man.

As you come and receive his Body and his Blood, thank him for his costly sacrifice, and tell him you want to share with him in the way of the cross. That is what real human life is about,

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