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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Satan, Get Behind Us (Mark 8:31-39)

Satan, Get Behind Us (Mark 8:31-39)
Sunday, March 1, 2014 - 2nd Sunday Lent

            Jesus, in a private session with his disciples, explained that he, their teacher, the one they had watched calm storms at sea and conquer demons, must suffer.  The religious leaders and legal experts would reject him.  He would be killed.  It was coming.  It was inevitable.  Mark says in verse 32 that Jesus said this openly.  Throughout Mark’s gospel people heard Jesus but did not know what he was saying.  Misunderstanding was a consistent theme, but not here.  This was not cryptic.  Nothing was left for interpretation.  They would have no trouble getting the message, just difficulty swallowing it.
            Especially Peter.  It was too much.  He heard Jesus say, “the son of man must undergo great suffering … and be killed,” and that is all Peter heard.  Jesus said more, but Peter could not hear any more.  I imagine he grabbed Jesus by the arm and pulled him off to the side for a one-on-one session.
            Lord, you can’t say stuff like this.  You can’t lose your nerve, not now.  You’re scaring the other disciples.  I just stood up among everyone and put myself out there.  I have thrown my lot in with you.  I declared you the Messiah.  The Messiah restores Israel.  Don’t you know the stories, Jesus?  The Messiah makes things right.  The Messiah does not die.  We’ve followed you this far.  Now don’t lose the message.  No more talk about suffering.  You are Israel’s Messiah.  You can’t die. 

            Peter missed a key part of what Jesus said.  He mentioned being rejected, suffering, and being killed.  Right after that he said the Son of Man, which is how Jesus refers to himself in Mark, would rise from death.  But none of them expected the Messiah to be resurrected prior to the last day.  So novel was the idea of the Messiah’s resurrection preceding the general resurrection of all people the disciples simply did not hear it when Jesus said it.
Peter’s worldview demanded that he see everything in existence as it related to God’s selection of Israel as of his special people.  Sure, Peter wanted God to heal the sick, bring justice, and make the world right.  But that would happen when God set things right in Israel through the Messiah.  The world would be redeemed after Israel was established as the center of all human activity.  The Messiah would do this.  Peter believed Jesus was that Messiah.
            In fact Jesus was going to make the world right, but not in the way that Peter and most people in first century Israel anticipated.  The crucifixion was absolutely necessary.  Jesus had to die for us so we would not be eternally separated from God by our sins.  The resurrection was absolutely necessary because it was the signal that the death of our bodies would be a prelude to our resurrection.  Jesus gave the disciples the entire plan so that after he rose, they could understand the gospel and carry it throughout the earth.
            By sharing the plan with the disciples, Jesus was giving them a part in it.  Satan could not prevent this, but Satan could distract the disciples so that they failed to receive the invitation they had been given. 
Oh, you have been invited to follow this guy and to tell everyone that their sins can be forgiven when they turn to Him, give their hearts to Him, and follow Him.  Don’t believe it.  That’s the lie the enemy, the devil, whispered in the disciples’ ears.  He’s telling you the Messiah has to suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders?  Whoever heard such nonsense?  That’s Satan.  He can’t hurt Jesus or those under Jesus’ protection.  But the disciples still had free will and could freely walk away from Jesus or impede Jesus’ progress in carrying out God’s design.  Satan could not get to Jesus, but could he derail Jesus’ followers?
Can he do so today?
We live as Christ followers in a family, a church family.  We don’t just come here because we like coming.  We come because we are invited by God.  God has purposes for us that are the same as those he gave the disciples.  We continue the work begun in them.  Our mission is to announce that Jesus is Lord and to help people become His followers.  We are to follow Him and help others join us as His disciples.  We are commissioned by the same Holy Spirit that formed the church in Acts chapter 2.
Our focus has to stay on who we are in Christ and who He is calling us to be and what He is calling us to think, say, and do.  Satan can’t stop us, but can put other thoughts in our minds.  We have to say to whatever distraction arises, “Get behind us, Satan!  For you are drawing our minds not to divine things, but to Human things.”  We need to keep our minds on the divine work God has given and the holy lives to which God has called us in Christ.Satan is right now trying to seduce HillSong into ignoring God’s word for us and instead focusing on human things.  We have to agree to say together, “Get behind us Satan.”
An example of Satan’s tactics can be seen in our church’s finances.  The report is in the bulletin each month and if you read that then you know we are way behind for January and February.  HillSong’s receipts are made up your tithes and we also have income from students who rent parking spaces, and outside groups that use our facility.  From these receipts we pay salaries, fund missions, pay the light bill, and any other costs that arise.  Currently our receipts are behind our costs.
The leaders of our church need to know this and pay attention to it and we are.  Satan wants our leaders to obsess about it.  Satan tells the truth, but manipulates it.  You know, since the beginning of last summer, eight families have left the church and they are all faithful tithers. [i]  That is true.  And our giving is down and it is quite simple to put the two together and say, we can’t hire a youth pastor right now.  We can’t fund a mission trip or expand our ministries right now.  We need to focus on belt-tightening. That’s what the enemy wants.
Yes, focus on the finances.  And the enemy wins. 
Our focus is on our mission to help people to become disciples of Jesus.  That’s our focus.  That is our mission.  It involves doing what we need to do to have a high quality youth ministry because we know that most people who make a decision to follow Jesus make that decision between the ages of 11 and 25. 
Part of doing our work is taking care of our money.  So, we stand before God and name the concern – our receipts and tithes are low.  We ask you, the church family to join the church leaders on our knees before God in prayer.  Together we ask Him to provide and to lift the anxiety we feel.  Number 1, we pray. 
Second, we make short term decisions without compromising our big-picture calling.  Heather and I are going to meet and discuss how we can tinker with the missions and ministry budgets.  We’re not going to change anything but we might put off spending until later in the year, after we have prayed and involved you, the church family in the process.  First is prayer.  Second is the leadership acknowledging the issue and keeping our eye on our calling – to make disciples.
Third we appeal to membership.  If you have given 10% of your income to church budget, could you give 12 or 13% this year?  If you can give more, we ask you to do so.  If you cannot, OK.  We want every member to join us in earnestly asking God to bring in new people who will participate in ministry and help us in our work of making disciples.
Prayer, leadership making short term decisions and keeping the focus on the big picture, and an appeal to members to pray and to give; this all leads us to the biggest step, number 4.  We believe.  We believe God can provide and will.  We believe God has given us a picture of our church, a safe space where people come to Jesus, are made new by Him, and sent into the world on mission for him.  We believe this is who God wants us to be.  We believe and we tell Satan to get behind us because our mission is the product of what Jesus did when he suffered and died.
We and churches like us around the world exist because Jesus was able to put Satan’s temptations behind Him and behind his disciples.  Those fishermen and tax collectors who are cowards and bumblers in the gospel become heroic in their witness in the book of Acts.  Jesus did not just defeat Satan.  He taught his followers how to put Satan behind them. 
Being reminded of who Peter becomes helps us keep our focus.  He moved past his initial difficulties and we can.  We have. 
Recall the years, 2008-2012.  The United States went through a recession and millions were hit financially.  Someone recently told me of a church they know where the members were so devastated by loss of income that they could not tithe as much and the church had to sell its building.  Now that church did not lose its focus.  It is a church called to lead people to Jesus and still does, but it had to carry on holding services in rented space at a fitness club.  They made changes and did what they needed to go to continue answering God’s call.
Now think about HillSong and how God has been at work here.  For the other church, it may be that God’s best for them in the recession years was to close the building but the keep the congregation alive.   
Our focus is on what God has done here and continues to do among us.  Since the recession of 2008, one way Satan has tried to get churches off track is to get us to obsess about belt-tightening.  In that period time, we hired an associate pastor and added expenses, and increased our mission giving.  Then we hired a youth pastor and began doing annual youth mission trips.  Along the way, we had to make cuts, but we never sacrificed.  The ministry work has only grown. 
Since the 2008 recession, we have increased the number of local mission projects we do.  We raised well over 1000 dollars for relief after the Haiti Earthquake, and our members went there on medical teams and construction teams.  We also saw over 40 of our members become sponsors for kids in Kombolcha Ethiopia, and we are about to make our 4th trip there. 
More pastoral staff, new mission trips, annual youth group mission trips, expanded ministries, and new local missions, all in a time of financial crisis; why could this happen?  It happened because God enabled us to say, “Get behind us Satan.  We don’t want to look at the temptations you’re dangling before us.  We won’t give in to the anxiety you’re suggesting.  Get behind us. We want to see what Jesus has for us, so get out of the way.”
Our deacons and our treasurer Kent Stone are key leaders and their work of raising concerns is vital to our church life.  I appreciate them and our deacons, pastors, and elders are going to take this information, pray over it, and pour our hearts out to God for His protection, and provision.  We’re going to make responsible choices. What drives us is what God has called us to do.  We are called and we are sent to make disciples.  Nothing is going to stop that work or even slow it down. 
Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For 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 gospel,[i] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Is there some distraction in your life? If that distraction were moved out of the way, would you be free to follow Jesus wherever leads? 
You are invited to a time of silent prayer.  Ask God what it means in your life to take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Ask God what it means for you to deny yourself and to lose your life for the sake of the Gospel.  And ask God to help you say, “Get behind me Satan,” so that you can see and embrace God’s plan for redeeming the world and to live your part in that plan. 
We will pray and sing.  At any point, you are invited to come for prayer.  We will have people at the front and back to pray with you.

[i] Ginger Burkes, The Driggers, Matthew Lawrence, The Neumans, The Mooneys, The Parkers, The Sodens, and Sarah Stanley have all left the church.