The Dangers of Discipleship. (A sermon on Mark 8:27-38)


Then Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he was asking his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They answered him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” Then he began to ask them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ!” Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man would have to suffer a great deal and be rejected by the elders, the high priests, and the scribes. Then he would be killed, but after three days he would rise again. He was speaking about this matter quite openly. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts!”

Then Jesus called the crowd to himself along with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me continually. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. For what profit will a person have if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Indeed, what can a person give in exchange for his life? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes with the holy angels in his Father’s glory.”

We’ve had a baptism this morning, and it’s one that most of us here probably didn’t see coming!
I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing – far from it – but I’m conscious of the fact that whereas, for the most part, we announce these things a little ahead of time, so that we can get the catering right and structure the service properly, we just sorta dived into this baptism (pun intended) without spending too much time testing the water (so to speak)..
Now, as I say, I’m not suggesting that this is a bad thing, as the tradition of fast-tracked baptisms goes right back to Biblical times. For those who remember the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch In Acts 8, there was a guy who had never heard of Jesus, but after chatting to the Apostle Philip for 10 minutes, asked, “what’s to stop me from getting baptised?”, and Philip said, “Nothing! Let’s find some water”, and so it happened!
And so it happened this morning too, though I am left with the niggling feeling that the baptismal family might feel somewhat short-changed, because they didn’t get to experience Father Dave’s 15-week baptismal preparation course – a course that doesn’t exist, of course, but which might if I gave more time to these sorts of things.

And perhaps indeed I should give more time to these things, for I am very conscious of the fact that Jesus Himself went to great lengths to warn people about exactly what they were getting themselves into when they followed Him. And indeed, that very issue was at the heart of our Gospel reading this morning!

The passage I’m referring to is from the Gospel of Mark, chapter eight, depicting an exchange that took place between Jesus and His disciples as they wandered through the villages outside Caesarea Philippi .

And it’s an odd exchange, that starts out as a very genteel discussion about the opinion polls regarding Jesus. (“Who do people say that I am?”) but then degenerates very quickly into a heated discussion, with Peter telling Jesus off and Jesus all but swearing at Peter and calling him ‘Satan’, and then the story ends in an aphorism!

I think ‘aphorism’ is the right word, isn’t It – ie. A wise saying that encapsulates some insight into life? The aphorism here comes from Jesus: “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his life”?

And I’m not sure exactly how the aphorism fits in, but what the aphorism certainly does make clear is that following Jesus is to be seen as a matter of life and death, and Peter just doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that. And I think the reason Peter can’t grasp that is because he is a teenager!

Now I know he wasn’t literally a teenager when this took place. He probably would have been around 30, but as I see Peter he was, like so many of us, something of a teenage boy in a man’s body.
For the characteristics of the teenage psyche are all there. He’s passionate, impulsive, short-tempered, and (most pointedly of all) he’s not at all good at thinking through the consequences of his decisions. That’s the teenage mind in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Now don’t think I’m not trying put down teenagers. I love teenagers. Not only do I have one of my own but I spend most of my week working with teenagers But Ange tells me that from her studies in cognitive development, theorists are apparently now saying that thet teenage brain just isn’t fully developed in those areas that deal with thinking things through properly, and that would explain a lot, wouldn’t it.

Now I don’t know really whether that’s really solid scientific fact, but what I do know from 1000 nights spent with teenagers at different police stations across this fair city is that the vast majority of young people you meet there really did not envisage their night ending up in lockup!

I remember one guy who I knew quite well (as he was a member of our Fight Club). He was being held in Ashfield Police station on serious charges. He had stolen a car, but that was only the beginning of the problems he’d got himself in to.

When things really started to go wrong was when he got pulled over for a Random Breath Test. Now he could have just taken his chances with the breath test, and told the police that he didn’t have his license on him if asked but he didn’t. He panicked, and as the officer approached his car to check his blood-alcohol level, he put his foot on the accelerator and took off, hitting and injuring the policeman as he did so.

He then got involved in a high-speed chase, eventually smashing the car into a brick wall (thankfully without injuring himself or anybody else) from which point he tried to escape the pursuing police on foot before eventually being tacked to the ground and cuffed.

And so what started out as a simple theft from a guy who was too lazy to catch public transport across town, became compounded with crimes of assault on a police officer and resisting arrest, along with criminal damage to both the car and to public property.

And I said to him, “what were you thinking?” And he said, “I was thinking ‘I gotta get out of here!'”
That’s the teenage mind, I think, and it’s sorta what I see at the heart of what was going on between Jesus and Peter on that day outside of Caesarea Philippi. Peter was full-on with his faith. He was proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He had his foot flat down on the accelerator (so to speak), but he really just hadn’t thought through where that journey was going to take him at all.

And so Jesus starts to spell it out in terms of the pain that awaits Him in particular. And Peter just doesn’t want to hear any of that, because he’s a teenager with his whole life ahead of him and somehow he’s got it into his head that he’s riding a wave with Jesus that is going to leave him at some very nice destination! But he is wrong. And so Jesus spells it out – that a comfortable middle-class lifestyle isn’t an option for him if he’s going to follow!

“If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me continually. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it.” (8:34-35)
Jesus tells it as it is, for He wants to make sure that everybody who comes on board has an idea of exactly what they are letting themselves in for! Following Jesus – taking up the cross of self-denial and following Him on the path of sacrifice and suffering will not bring many creature comforts or worldly success, and it will make you enemies, but this is what having faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is all about.

Teenagers are not good at thinking through the full consequences of their actions, which is also why I take every opportunity to take the baby with me over to the Youth Centre in an afternoon.
We deal with mainly boys, of course, and for the most part the boys show complete disinterest in the baby, but we always have two or three girls there too, who love to come and hover and dote and ask, “can I hold her?”

And I’m always very glad to let them hold her, and I listen to them say, “Oh, when I have a baby, she’s going to be just as cute as this one”, and, yes, even, “I can’t wait until I have a baby of my own.” And then the baby starts to cry and they say, “You can have her back now”, and I say, “No. Just hang on to her a little bit longer.”
This may be one of the greatest services I have to offer the young people of this community – helping teenage girls think through where their decisions might lead them. And so when the baby cries (which is something this baby is capable of doing for inordinate periods of time) I regularly take the opportunity to see if any of our teenagers are coupling up in one of the corners of the Youth Centre and getting affectionate. And if they are, I just go over and hang around them with the screaming baby in my arms, and smile. It’s a parable without words, and a very effective way of helping young people think through the full consequences of their decisions.

And maybe that’s why, in a similar fashion, our baptisms are always held in the middle of our public worship service, where the newly baptised is forced to look out upon the rest of us – the weary and battle-worn soldiers who have been fighting the Good Fight for more years than we can remember! Again, it’s a parable without words. Be warned, little one! This is where the path of discipleship could take you!

So you didn’t get the 15-week course, but you got this passage, and you got the rest of us here as sobering examples of where discipleship can take you! And you got the aphorism:

“For what profit will a person have if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Indeed, what can a person give in exchange for his life?” (Mark 8:36-37)

First Preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, September 2009.

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.


About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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