On 1st March 2015, the second Sunday of Lent, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 22:23-31, Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, and Mark 8:31-38.
God is a God of promises, and when he promises he means what he says. Jesus is the promised one, the one God sent to save his people. In order to save them he had to suffer on our behalf. When Peter, Jesus’ disciple, heard this he was shocked. This did not fit with God’s promise of a king to reign on David’s throne forever. Peter sought to deflect Jesus from his chosen path, but Jesus knew he had to keep on the way, God’s way.
Last week the Old Testament passage told of God’s covenant with Noah. God put his rainbow in the sky as a reminder that he would never again destroy the earth with a flood. His covenant, his solid promise, was going to stand to the end of time, for all generations to come. Never, NEVER, would God send a destructive flood of that magnitude again.
This week we hear how God established a covenant with Abraham. This is the second time that God had spoken to Abraham on the matter of a covenant. At this time, Isaac’s birth was not far in the future. God confirmed that Abraham would be the father of nations and of kings. God promised that he would be God of Abraham’s descendants for the generations to come. This was to be an everlasting covenant.
Later still, God made a covenant with King David that he would establish David’s dynasty for ever: ‘Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established forever.’ The Jews understood the fulfilment of this covenant to rest in the person of the Messiah, who would be born of the tribe of Judah and the house of David.
There is a pattern in God’s covenants. They are designed to last forever. God is serious about his promises. He is dependable, a for ever God, for everlasting, for all generations to come.
Imagine, then, Peter’s shock when he heard Jesus say that he would be killed. Peter had only just stated that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. The Messiah was going to last for ever to fulfil God’s covenant with David. That was the expectation of the teachers of the law. How could he be killed? That would undermine God’s covenant completely. Is there any wonder that Peter rebuked Jesus? Perhaps it was obvious to him that Jesus had got things wrong and needed setting straight. Perhaps Peter was afraid to lose what he had only just found.
Jesus’ response to Peter seems extremely harsh, calling his disciple ‘Satan’. Misguided perhaps, but the devil? Surely Peter was not that bad? The trouble was that Peter’s rebuke meant that Jesus should not walk the path he was determined to walk, to the cross. That is exactly what Satan was attempting to achieve in the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. Satan’s role has always been to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of those who try to follow God’s ways. He’s done that since he tempted Eve. He’s always suggested there is a better way, a more pleasant way, a more rewarding way.
Peter was a huge danger to Jesus at that moment. We know from how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that this path to the cross was something that Jesus would far rather have avoided. Peter was encouraging Jesus to do what part of him would have loved to do, to find another route. Jesus had to stop this temptation in its tracks before it deflected him. What Peter had overlooked, but Jesus kept before him, were God’s words through Isaiah about the suffering servant:
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Like Peter, we too tend to flinch at the idea of suffering, our own or that of others. We would rather avoid it if at all possible. Our human thinking cannot easily see a purpose in suffering. Jesus made it absolutely clear that suffering is part of the package of discipleship, just as it was essential to his messiahship. As disciples we cannot hope that there is one rule for our Saviour and King and one for ourselves.
In the upside down world of Jesus, trying to save your life results in losing it. Offering your life as a sacrifice results in your gaining a better kind of life. Suffering leads to glory, ease and comfort leads to Jesus being ashamed of us at the final judgement.
Just like Peter was commanded to do, we need to get behind Jesus rather than in front of him with our own bright ideas. We need to place our feet where he places his, carry our cross as he carries his, knowing that, unlikely though it may seem, God’s plan is far better than our human plan. God will keep his covenant for all generations as he promised, but he will do it his way, not ours.
Helene Milena (Lay Pastor)