Sunday, June 27, 2021

From our Gospel reading, these verses: When [Jesus] had entered, he said to them, “Why do you
make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he
put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in
where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little
girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age).
At this they were overcome with amazement.  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

This morning I’m going to piggyback on Pastor Ryan’s message last week and spend some more
time reflecting on the question, “Who is Jesus?”... a question that is at the very heart of Mark’s
Gospel. In this message I will be borrowing quite a bit from a sermon on Mark’s Gospel
written and given by one of our generation’s foremost scholars and theologians, N.T. Wright.

Wright starts off with two illustrations.*First, a quote: “This man is going to set all Europe
ablaze through his incendiary dreams of world domination.” These words are not about Hitler,
but spoken by Hitler in regards to Winston Churchill. Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?

The second is from Mark’s Gospel, chapter 10, when James and John (nicknamed on another
occasion the “sons of thunder” when they suggested Jesus rain down fire from heaven upon a
Samaritan town which had been inhospitable to them) ask Jesus that they may be honored to
have one be at His right hand and the other at His left hand in His Kingdom.

Uh… a good example of being careful what we ask for. For Mark, Jesus becomes King when
He is crucified under a sign which read “King of the Jews,” with on His right and His left two
criminals being crucified for insurrection. It becomes evident that James and John did not know
what they were asking for. Did they really want to be on Jesus’ right and left in His glory?

Hitler was projecting upon Churchill the evil which was in himself. Hitler obviously was all
about world domination… which has been true of many kings and kingdoms and nations
throughout all of history. Dare we acknowledge that the ideal of manifest destiny which is part
of our own nation’s past was a form of this same all-too-common evil human trait? Wasn’t
slavery—and isn’t modern day human trafficking—a form of this very same self-centered
hunger for power and domination over others?

Wright writes: “James and John, by their behavior all through the Gospel story, were eager for
Jesus to mount a serious Jewish revolution.… The Jews of Jesus’ day sustained their revolutionary
dreams, like many revolutionaries before and since, by painting their oppressors as totally evil and
themselves as totally pure. The problem was that to think in terms of revolution, of military revolt
against Rome, was itself a total betrayal of the purposes for which God called Israel in the first place.
Israel had been called to be the light of the world; James and John were bent on extending the dark-
ness, defeating an evil regime with the evil of a violent revolution. … When Jesus rebukes them,
therefore, it isn’t for a minor misunderstanding. It is because they have embraced an entirely wrong
vision of God and of His purposes. Instead of sharing Jesus’ vision and becoming part of the
solution, they had become part of the problem. They were like firemen who had become arsonists.”

This is just one of the many stories and teachings Mark shares in his Gospel in order to answer
the question “Who is Jesus?” In truth, Mark provides the answer in his very first verse with this
claim: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The rest of the story
demonstrates just what that meant… and what it didn’t mean. And Mark’s final proclamation is
truly quite shocking. 

With James and John and many of their contemporaries, we must learn that Jesus did not come
to deliver God’s children from their earthly enemies by wielding dominating weapons of power.
He was not that kind of Messiah/Christ, which is evident in His words recorded later in Mark 10:
"You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and
their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great
among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For
the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." As N.T.
Wright points out, “A crucified Messiah is by definition a failed Messiah. Everyone knew that the
Messiah should be the triumphant warrior king. Everyone, that is, except Jesus.”

Mark proclaims that Jesus’ ultimate title was “Servant King”, His ultimate act of power was to
allow Himself to be crowned with thorns and nailed to a cross, and His ultimate mission was to
establish a different kind of kingdom… a kingdom of servants. More from Wright: “Mark’s
message, the message of the Servant King, the message you and I have to grasp today, is that we
are called to be followers of this Servant King, so that the victory of the cross may be implemented
in the world. ‘Disciple’ means not just head-learners, not just heart-learners, but life-learners. We
have to discover, through prayer, study of the Scriptures, and above all devotion to Jesus Himself
such as we express when we come to His table, how we in our generation can implement the
decisive victory which He won.”

So… who do you say Jesus is? Do you say that He is your Savior? If so, you are absolutely
correct. But is there more to say? Do we dare say that our Savior is also our Lord, the one we
love, follow, and obey? And do we understand ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom of the
Servant King, as servants who seek to love as Jesus loved by living a Jesus lived? If not, now is
a good time to start.

To close, let’s turn the table around for a minute and ponder what Jesus might say if we were to
ask Him, “Who do You say that I am?” If Jesus were to appear right here and right now in
bodily form, and you were to ask Him that question—“Who do You say that I am?”—what do
you think He would say?

Here’s what I believe Jesus would say to you and to me: “You are what I have redeemed you to
be, a beloved child of God, our Abba. You are beautiful and I love you beyond description. You
are gifted and you are called to follow me. Come.” In a mysterious and miraculous way,
Jesus—the One who raised the dead and was raised from the dead—is here in bodily form. He
is calling us to His table, calling us to remember what He has done for us, and to remember the
extent He was willing to go to save us. And He is calling us to leave here committed to loving
as He has loved by serving as He served. That is who Jesus is. That is who and whose we are.

 
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