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Foolish disciples and frightened children

Published 9:46am Saturday, March 22, 2014

by Brandon Robbins

Jesus’ disciples were not the brightest crayons in the box.

I know this sounds sacrilegious and offensive. But honestly, it’s what the Bible gives us. If you read the gospel of Mark closely, you’ll notice that Jesus’ disciples seem to do nothing but get confused and make mistakes. Time and time again Jesus will make a profound statement about himself, and the disciples will basically respond, “Huh?”

There’s even an instance in which, after feeding 5,000 people in the recent past, Jesus tells his disciples to feed a crowd of 4,000. Yet somehow forgetting the miracle he had just recently performed, they basically respond, “That’s impossible.”

In other words, the disciples just don’t seem to get it.

Imagine your surprise then, when you get to Mark 8 and witness an instance in which a disciple truly seems to understand what’s going on. In this instance, Jesus is asking his disciples who people say that he is. According to the Bible, they replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:28). Peter, on the other hand, says this: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29).

Peter gets it! He understands who Jesus is, why he has come, what he is here to do!

Unfortunately though, within moments, Peter’s status as top disciple heads south faster than an 8-year-old on her way to Walt Disney World. Because after Peter reveals that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus tells the disciples what all that would entail. He prophesies that he will be beaten, rejected, and put to death. Upon hearing this, Peter quickly rebukes Jesus, admonishing him for saying such things. Jesus’ response is even worse, barking at Peter, “Get away from me, Satan!”

Why would Peter make such a mistake? He was on a high? He was the first disciple to really get it? Why would he throw all of that away by rebuking Jesus in this moment? Did he not want the other disciples to know what was going to happen? Did he not believe it?

No. In fact, Peter’s reason for rebuking Jesus was something altogether different: fear.

You see, what Peter reveals in this moment is that while he may understand who Jesus is, he’s not ready for what that means. He’s not ready for the pain and suffering that the Messiah and his followers must endure. This is not what he signed up for!

Sadly, many Christians would probably find themselves in the same boat as Peter. We don’t enjoy hearing sermons about pain or suffering. We skip past Jesus’ teachings that call upon us to be uncomfortable and make sacrifices. We want a faith that is easy, safe, convenient. We want Jesus to improve our finances, heal our sicknesses, repair our marriages, bring us happiness. We like to believe that because Jesus loves us, he would never want us to be unhappy or inconvenienced for any reason. Ironically though, it is because of Jesus’ love for us that he asks us to endure those things.

Following Jesus isn’t supposed to be an easy road. It is a life in which he asks us to sacrifice everything (Luke 18:22), choose him over everyone (Luke 14:26). It is a life where he actually asks us to bear a cross as he did, because that is the only way we can truly follow him, truly have faith in him, truly love him. That is the only way that we can “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

The question that lingers though, for each of us, is, “What does this mean?” What does it look like to sacrifice for Jesus?  What do I have to do to fully surrender to Him?

Well truthfully, there are many answers to this question. But let me give you an example that happened at our church just this past Sunday.

One of the ministries that we have at Courtland United Methodist Church is called “Love Meals.” This is a ministry in which we take meals once a month to the homes of the sick, shut-in, and elderly in our congregation. Many of these are persons who are no longer able to leave their homes and attend church. In many ways, they feel distanced from our faith community. So through this ministry, we try to show them that they are not forgotten, but are truly loved.

One of the things that made last Sunday’s Love Meal distribution different, however, was that we invited the children of our church to be part of it. The children not only distributed meals, but also made flower pots to give to those they visited.

Now one of the things that you have to remember is that this sort of thing can be terrifying for a kid. Many kids are afraid of even entering the house of a person they don’t know; but, having to talk and visit is way outside their comfort zone!

Yet that’s exactly the sort of thing that Jesus asks us to do: leave our comfort zone in order to follow Him. And in doing so, the children got to see what an impact they are able to have on the older members of our congregation. With a small sacrifice on their part, they were able to bring incredible joy to the lives of others.

And that’s what Jesus is asking for. That’s what can happen when we choose to put Jesus and others before ourselves. That’s what it looks like to truly follow him.

So may you ask yourself if you’re willing to bet it all on Jesus. May you look for ways to do that, ways to love others more than you love yourself – surrendering what you have so that others might have what they need and struggling so that others might thrive. And may you see how such faith and dedication to Jesus changes not only the lives of those around you, but also changes your life as well.

BRANDON ROBBINS is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or pastor@courtlandumcva.org.

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