Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent (3/1/15)
Text: Mark 8:31-38
Theme: Jesus – the Buyer of Souls
The Devil went down to Georgia, he was lookin’ for a soul to steal. He was in a bind ‘cause he was way behind, he was willin’ to make a deal. He came across this young man sawin’ on a fiddle and playin’ it hot. And the Devil jumped up on a hickory stump and said, “Boy, let me tell you what. “I guess you didn’t know it, but I’m a fiddle player too. And if you’d care to take a dare I’ll make a bet with you. Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give the Devil his due. I’ll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul ‘cause I think I’m better than you.”
– Charlie Daniels Band
Making a deal with the devil for your soul – it’s a popular cultural image. The characters, situations, and outcomes differ, but the general story is the same, you get some earthly gift or treasure, the Devil gets your soul. It makes for good stories, good movies, good fiddle proficiency proving songs. And it would just be good entertainment if it weren’t so stinkin’ true.
This world is full of people making very real deals with the Devil for their souls. Exchanging temporary earthly gifts or treasures for their eternal souls. Unfortunately, all too often (unlike the stories) they are not even aware that it is happening.
In our Gospel for today from Mark 8 we see another one of those moments that seemed to happened so often in the life of Peter, a moment when he takes his foot out of his mouth just long enough to stick the other one in. Pet has the nerve to take Jesus aside and rebuke Jesus. Think about that! Think about the nerve it would take to say, “No, no, Jesus. You have it all wrong. Let me tell you how it really should be.”
Jesus makes clear in his response to Peter that what we see Peter doing here is more than just a gaff, more than just a slip-up. Peter was trying to make a very real and very dangerous deal with the Devil.
Try and put yourself into Peter’s shoes…
For years now you have been following Jesus’ every move. And in all of that time has convinced you of one thing – Jesus is God come to earth to live with men. You’ve spent years hearing him preach, sitting in Jesus-led Bible classes. You’ve spent years watching him heal anyone and everyone of every disease and ailment you’ve ever heard of. There is no doubt in your mind that Jesus is the promised Savior from the Old Testament.
We know Peter believed this because in the verses right before Mark 8:31 (what we just read) we heard that beautiful confession of faith that Peter is so famous for. Jesus asks his disciples what people are saying about him. They list off all these nice, but ultimately inaccurate, things that people are saying about Jesus (that he’s John the Baptist or Elijah come back from the dead). Then Jesus asks, “What about you, who do you say I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” is Peter’s beautiful reply.
Peter’s on cloud nine. He is the happiest, most confident and comfortable he has ever been in his life. He wakes up every day with a mission and a purpose that fills him with joy and contentment. He is following Jesus. He is one of Jesus’ right-hand men, part of his inner circle. The Kingdom of God is here in the person of Jesus, and he is sitting in the front row enjoying all of the amazing blessings that come with Jesus.
And from Peter’s perspective, it’s just getting started! Jesus is only in his low 30’s! As far as Peter can tell, there is nowhere to go but up from here. It’s only going to get better from here because why wouldn’t it? What could possibly stop Jesus? What could possible stop God incarnate? So far, nothing has come even close! Even death itself was in all-out retreat before the Kingdom that Jesus was ushering in!…
And then all of a sudden Jesus started saying things like, “This is great guys, but I’m going to suffer soon. I’m gonna be handed over to those enemies of mine, and I’m going to have to die.”
And just like that, this amazing Kingdom that Peter’s imagination had been building started to crumble down around him. Try and imagine what Peter must have been feeling when he heard Jesus say those things.
This would be like being one of the first investors in a guy named Bill Gates as he’s building computers in his garage at home, and right when you are starting to really see a return on your investment, right when you are starting to realize how awesome the future is going to be, that the sky is the limit, Bill calls it quits, “we had a good run, but I’m liquidating the company, this is the end.”
Peter was backing a horse that by all indications was going to bring him an amazing life – nothing could stand between Jesus and success. And now all of a sudden, Jesus is talking about quitting on Peter, giving up, suffering, dying…
And so Peter drags Jesus aside and rebukes him. “This isn’t how this is supposed to work, Jesus. What do you mean you are going to die? That’s now how this is going to play out! It can’t be that way! You’re God! You can’t die! Things are just starting to look up. There is still so much work to be done. You can’t leave us! You can’t leave me!”
Jesus looks Peter in the eye, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Peter, what you are proposing is a deal with the Devil. What you are proposing is an earthly treasure, an earthly kingdom, earthly comforts, and joys. And we could have those things. I could make that happen for you, but we would be giving up your soul in the process. And “what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
We can understand where Peter is coming from, though, can’t we? After all, we are all too familiar with making deals with the devil. That’s not a very comfortable way to think about sin, is it? Yet each and every day we seek earthly, temporary blessings, but to get them, sometimes we have to make a deal with the devil for a piece of our souls…
Maybe for you it’s those minutes and seconds of absolute pleasure you get as you stare at those images on your computer screen… those little moments of absolute carnal pleasure as your mind and imagination run wild with lust… but to get that pleasure, you have to give up a piece of your soul…
Maybe for you it’s the thrill of winning an argument, that chest swollen feeling of pride because you were better than that person that you you’ve been bitterly angry with for a while. You were stronger, you were smarter, you may have lost your temper a bit, you may have hurt his feelings, but at least your won, you feel good now… but to get that thrill of victory you have to give up a piece of your soul…
Maybe for you it’s that sitting on the edge of your seat, barely contained excitement over that juicy bit of gossip. It feels so good to talk about someone else behind their backs. It feels so good to build yourself up while you tear other people down. It feels so right to assume the worst about people because then you look and feel better by comparison… but to feel that rush you have to give up a little piece of your soul…
Maybe for you it’s the materialism – that euphoria when you buy something new and better, that almost-happiness feeling of surrounding yourself with things that you and everyone else knows cost money and prove how successful and smart you are. The things you own make you comfortable, they make you smile, they fill your life for a time… but to have them, and to feed that never satiated desire you are going to have to give up a piece of your soul…
I get it. I really do. It’s hard. What the devil offers us in these little deals we make with him every day is instant gratification. He plays off those base sinful desires in us: do this and it is going to feel good right now, and it’s what you want anyway. Jesus on the other hand demands sacrifice, commitment. The crux of following Jesus is denying myself and carrying a cross.
It’s all too easy to get into Peter’s shoes, isn’t it? It’s scary how easy it is for us to concern ourselves with human concerns instead of God’s concerns. And the really disgusting part… the devil doesn’t have to offer us the whole world for us to give up our souls… no, we give it up for much less than that (five minutes of pleasure, 30 seconds of gossip, 6 months tops of happiness with what we own) ….
Friends, this exactly is why Jesus said he must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed… because we have sold our souls to the Devil… and he came to buy them back!
That has been God’s concern from the very beginning, buying back what we so willingly, so cheaply, and so often have sold.
Jesus had to suffer. He had to die so that he could pay for all those dirty rotten deals we have made with the devil. He had to do it because he loves us. He had to do it because it was the only way our souls could ever be bought back from the devil because we could never do that by ourselves – not in a million years.
He had to suffer and die so he could look at us after convicting us of our sin (like he did to Peter in Mark 8) and say to us: I forgive you. He had to die so he could look at us, broken and empty, and disappointed because the devil didn’t come through on his end of our dirty deals, he could look at us and say: I forgive you. I forgive you for looking to the devil instead of me to bring you happiness. I forgive you for chasing after what you desire instead of what I desire. I forgive you.
This – Jesus’ suffering and death – was the only way he could buy our souls back from hell. And Jesus wants us so deeply that this is something he had to do.
Did you notice what else Jesus said he “must” do? He must suffer, he must die, and after three days, he must rise again.
Peter looked at the suffering Jesus was predicting and it terrified him because he saw his hope for the future disappearing. But Jesus knew better. Jesus knew that beyond the cross, beyond the suffering, and the self-denial was real pleasure, real joy, and real happiness. Jesus endured the suffering so he could give us forever what we vainly chase after today – eternal and enduring joy.
He had to endure the suffering and death to buy our souls back. Then he had to rise again so he could take us to be with him in heaven forever, a place where the devil and his dirty deals can’t tempt us ever again.
When you really stop and think about it, it’s a comforting thing to realize how much we have in common with Peter. Just like Peter we know what it is like to be tempted by the devil. Jesus like Peter we know what it is like to be intimidated by Jesus’ call to deny ourselves and follow him with a cross on our shoulders.
But, just like Peter, we also know what it like to be forgiven and loved by Jesus in spite of all our deals with the devil. Just like Peter we know that Jesus lived and died and rose again to buy us back. So friends, like Peter, let’s take up our crosses and follow him, keeping our eyes pinned on the one who willingly took up his cross for us.