A matter of death and life

28 Feb 2021 by Richie Dulin in: Sermons

Welcome to the Church

Hymn: Crown him with many crowns

Call to worship and welcome

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
And as we are his people, let us praise him!

Prayers of adoration and confession

 “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”   (Rev 4:11) 

You are holy and righteous and just, deserving of praise, honour and glory!  Your name is great and greatly to be praised. We honour You and give You the praise you deserve. You are good and your mercy endures forever, from generation to generation. 

Your nature is revealed in the wonders of creation.
Your love and mercy are revealed in your Son.
Your inspiration is revealed in the Holy Spirit. 

We adore you, and magnify Your name.  You are the only true God and there is none like You. We worship You in spirit and in truth. 

Lord, faithful and true, how excellent is Your name in all the earth. We bow down to You and worship You in the beauty of holiness.  Let all the people praise You! The heavens declare your glory and from our lips we offer you the fruit of praise, and bless Your Holy Name, our Lord and our God, forever and ever. Amen 

We confess, Lord that we have gone astray. We have left the paths that you desire us to follow. We have sought our own ways, and followed our own desires. 

We have spoken rashly, unwisely and wrongly.
We have trusted in material things.
We have exploited the blessings you have given us, and not been generous to others. 

We pause for a moment of silence, to open our hearts to your mercy, to lay the burdens of our lives at the foot of Christ our saviour.

Have mercy on us, we pray;
for the sake of Jesus Christ forgive us all our sins;
cleanse us by your Holy Spirit;
and enable us to forgive others;
so that we may serve you in the newness of life,
to the glory of your holy name.


Assurance of forgiveness 

The prophet Ezekiel (37:26-27) tells us God says:
I will make a covenant of peace with you;
my dwelling place shall be with you,
and I will be your God. 

And John tells us (1 John 1:9) that:
If we confess our sins,
God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

So hear Christ’s word of grace to us all
“Your sins are forgiven”

Thanks be to God.

Hymn: O for a thousand tongues

Bible readings

Mark 8:31-38

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man 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 and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Romans 4:13-25

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

A matter of death and life

Today’s reading from Mark’s gospel begins with the words “Then he began to teach them…” – so it’s absolutely tied to what happened immediately before.

And what happened is this hugely significant moment in Mark’s gospel. Reading from verse 27… “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”.

Jesus admits he’s the messiah… or maybe confirms he’s the messiah. There’s lots of speculation about who Jesus is, then Peter says to him “You are the messiah”.

And Jesus effectively answers Peter “Yes, but don’t tell anyone”.

Verse 30: “And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him”.

Next, at the start of today’s gospel reading, “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, … and be killed … and rise again”.

I think we get used to knowing the story of Jesus. You know the baby in Bethlehem, the baptism in the Jordan, the calling of his disciples, the teaching, the healing and so on. And of course his betrayal, death and resurrection. We know all these details – we might struggle to remember all the details or the right order… but the central message of Christianity is that Jesus died. That Jesus died to reconcile us to God. That Jesus died as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. And we know that he rose again on the third day.

If we’ve been coming to church for a while, we will have picked up those basics. We can’t really not know those things.

But sometimes we miss that the disciples didn’t know those things.

Those things had been prophesied, of course, but the disciples didn’t know. They were fishermen, mostly, not theologians. And even if they had heard those prophecies, they probably wouldn’t have understood. We can understand them because of Jesus, and crucially, because the Holy Spirit dwells within us.

And so what Jesus told them would have come as bit of a shock. Yes, I am the messiah, but I’m going to have to die. Yes, I am the one that the whole nation of Israel has been waiting for, but I’m not going to lead them to victory over Rome, rather, they’re going to reject me.

It would have been a bit of a disappointment.

And so Peter, who may not have been the smartest disciple, nor the wisest disciple, but is recorded as the one most likely to speak up, took Jesus aside and rebuked him. And given all that we know about Peter, that’s quite a measured response – he usually just blurted things out. This time, though, he took Jesus aside, and rebuked him.

We can imagine what he might have said “No! You don’t have to do that! You can cast out demons and heal the sick and miraculously feed thousands, and you can walk on water, and you can calm storms… surely you can save yourself!”

How does Jesus respond? He says “Get behind me, Satan!”

That’s a bit rough, isn’t it? … Peter had good intentions, didn’t he? He was just looking out for Jesus, wasn’t he?

“Get behind me, Satan!”

I think to properly understand why Jesus said that, we need to go back to earlier in the gospel. The first mention of Satan in Mark’s gospel is in Mark 1:13 where we read that Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” – which was in our gospel reading last week.

But that’s all that Mark tells us – that Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. But if we turn to the gospels of Matthew and Luke we get a fuller picture of how Jesus was tempted.

Matthew tells us that the devil presented three escalating temptations to Jesus: Firstly, to turn stones into bread because he was hungry.

Secondly, to throw himself of the pinnacle of the temple and let the angels catch him.

Thirdly, to become king of the world, if only he bowed down and worshipped Satan.

And the three temptations aren’t bad things: Food, rescue, and world peace.

They would have been easy. Jesus could have been king of kings and lord of lords without the betrayal, without the suffering, without the dying.

But it would have come at a terrible cost – following Satan rather than God.

Jesus, of course we know, resisted each temptation, and he responded to the last one by saying (Matt 3:10) “Away with you Satan! For it is written, worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”

And so, when Peter took Jesus aside and said to him “No, no, you don’t have to be rejected. You don’t have to die. You can save yourself…”

It goes back to that last temptation in the wilderness.

Peter is, perhaps unwittingly, tempting Jesus just as the devil had done.

And so Jesus says to him “Get behind me, Satan!”

And then he explains “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”.

As we all do. Peter’s reaction is a natural one. It is a very human one.

And of course, Peter’s expectation that Jesus could save himself wouldn’t have been unique. And I suspect that that is a major reason that Jesus didn’t want to be publicly identified as the messiah – because people would have expected him to save not only himself, but them – in fact the whole nation. They wanted, and were expecting, the messiah to bring military victory. God’s vengeance, even, on those who were outside God’s chosen people.

That was the messiah they wanted, but not the messiah they needed. And not the messiah that God sent.

So Jesus called all his followers around him – not just the close disciples, but the crowds who gathered too. And he sets them straight on what following him really means. It’s not marching to victory as the world knows it. It’s not accumulating wealth and power. It’s not even physical safety.

Verse 34: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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, will save it.

Under Roman rule, convicted criminals would often have to carry their cross – or at least the horizontal bar of the cross to their place of execution. That’s what ultimately happened to Jesus. So it would have been an image that the people Jesus was speaking to could relate to… if his followers hadn’t seen it happen, then they would have at least have known about it.

Followers of Jesus are asked to deny themselves, and give everything – their life and even their death – to God. If you don’t carry the cross, if you throw it away, you’re still going to die. So you need to trust Jesus with everything. Life and death.

If we try and save ourselves, we’ll fail. Jesus said it plainly: “For those who want to save their life will lose it”. But if we follow Jesus – even to the point of death, then we will be saved. “Those who lose their life for my sake” says Jesus “and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”.

So even if you die, you’re going to be okay. Even if the worst happens, you’re going to be okay.

New life, everlasting life, eternal life is with God. And the way to that life is through Jesus. Through following Jesus. Other ways of trying to preserve our lives are doomed.

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Power doesn’t last forever. Wealth doesn’t last forever. Even fame doesn’t last forever.

You know the parable of the rich fool? “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.  And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’  Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

Or from the sermon on the mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

It’s not all bad news for the wealthy though, Matthew 19:23-26.

“For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible”

As I’ve said before, wealth isn’t a barrier to following God, but it can be an obstacle, and its often a distraction. It’s a matter of priorities and of ensuring that wealth – or the pursuit of wealth – doesn’t become an idol for us.

Rich people have done great things for those in need, great things for the world, and even great things for the gospel. And we shouldn’t fail to acknowledge that.

But for many, the pursuit of wealth, the pursuit of power, the pursuit of privelege have taken priority and their lives have been corrupted.

Jesus says, though: “Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

I’m a fan of The Princess Bride and there’s a scene in that where Inigo Montoya has come face to face with Count Rugen, the six-fingered man who killed his father.

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”

Inigo has the count pinned to the wall, and the count tries to bargain for his life

“No!” he says.

“Offer me money” says Inigo

“Yes!” says the count

“And power too, promise me that.” demands Inigo

“All that I have and more…. Please” says the count.

“Offer me everything I ask for”

“Anything you want” pleads Rugen.

And Inigo says “I want my father back”

And runs him through.

The count, for all his wealth and power and connections, couldn’t save his life.

That’s an extreme and fictional case…. But it does ring true. We hear of people in times of tragedy, bargaining with God. “God if you save me in this lightning storm I’ll go into the ministry”, “God, if you just get my child through this operation, I’ll go to church every week”, “God, if you…. Then I will…”

But Jesus asks “Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

It’s not wealth nor power nor connections.

What people need to give in return for their lives is back in verses 34 and 35 “Let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me…. those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

It’s that simple. And it’s that hard.

If you want everlasting life, then follow Jesus. Be born again or born from above as Jesus says in John’s gospel. Follow the ways of Jesus, rather than the ways of the world.

But then Jesus says “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

We mustn’t be embarrassed by our faith, and following Jesus isn’t something that we can do in secret. That doesn’t mean we need to be standing on street corners wearing sandwich boards and quoting scripture, and it doesn’t mean that we need to be doorknocking to invite people to church, and it doesn’t mean we need to go to overseas mission fields.

But if we are really followers of Jesus, then it will show. If we get to know God better and love him more then it will show in our lives – it will show in our characters. And we needn’t be those stereotypical wowser Christians who say tut-tut a lot, disapprove of most things and seem to have no fun at all.

The fruits of the spirit include happiness and joy. The gospel is literally ‘good news’ – it is good. Even in the darkest times, we, as followers of Jesus, have hope – and not a vague possibility of things working out for us, but the sure and certain hope of life through him, in the new creation.

Our reading this morning began with Jesus teaching the disciples that the Son must undergo suffering, rejection and death. But we can look back on that knowing what Jesus accomplished through those things, and how what he accomplished was confirmed in his resurrection.

That was God’s plan. And Jesus knew that was God’s plan… but Peter didn’t understand.  He had other ideas about what Jesus should do, despite being one of the first to recognise Jesus as the messiah.

We need to make sure that whatever we do, we are following God’s plan. Not choosing the ways of the world over the ways of God, and not just choosing the easiest or cheapest way – or the way of least conflict.

No matter how much we try, we can’t save ourselves. Jesus said: “For those who want to save their life will lose it”. But if we follow Jesus, then we’re going to be okay. Even if the worst happens, we’re going to be okay.

Jesus’ death leads to our everlasting life. There is no other way.


Song: In Christ alone

Prayer for others

Let us take a moment to quieten our thoughts as we bring our prayers before the Lord

Almighty God,

Gracious Lord, we thank You for the richness of our lives, the peace we live in locally, the love of our friends and families, and the opportunity to gather unheeded to worship You. 

Gathered together as God's people in Christ Jesus, let us pray for the church, those in need, and all of God's creation. 

We praise You for Your creation, and all You richly provide. Not only the grand scheme of things, but also in the minutiae that we enjoy every day and too often take for granted.

Enable us to live in such a way that Your majesty and mercy are seen by all.

Remind us that all of the beauty in the world is Your work. Not just in Your  natural world, but in everything that has been created on earth through the application of Your gifts. Remind us that all of the music, the visual and literary arts, all of the buildings and all of the cars, the machines and computers, going to Mars, were all once just a dream in somebody’s head. A dream that was planted by You, Lord. Let us be inspired by creativity in every form and support those whose creative activities bring Your plans to life.

Gracious Lord we pray for the whole family of Your church here in Carlingford.  May all Your people be built up in faith and demonstrate in their lives the gospel of Jesus Christ. Help us to play our part in the life of the church through our prayers and by our gifts and service during this season of Lent and beyond. Give courage to those who find it hard to follow You. Give us the energy to bring our wishes and hopes into action and strengthen us to serve You as You wish.

Creator God we pray for those in positions of authority and leadership; that they respect their powers and show real care for their people and for the natural resources of the world. We offer these prayers conscious that the Royal Commission into Aged Care will soon release its report. Having heard some of the awful stories the Royal Commission has brought to light, we ask that each and every person who can influence the future of the way care is given do so as if every person in aged care was their own mum or dad. It HAS to be better – Lord help us all do whatever we can to make it better, in whatever way we can.

Gracious Lord, help everyone to see that if we can get space craft to Mars and drive around on its surface and send pictures back surely looking after the older people in our society cannot be beyond us.

During our Lenten fasting may we be constantly aware of those in our world who are always hungry and thirsty and of all those who have so little when we have so much.

Merciful Lord we pray for those who are ill and in pain, longing to live full lives, for those who are sad and hurt longing for comfort, for those awaiting treatment or convalescing in hospital, to see an end to their suffering.  May we always offer gentle support to those in trouble, sensitive encouragement to those in need, and strength and support to those in weakness.

We pray for ourselves and our families, that You will support us with Your love through our troubles and keep us mindful of the riches You provide in our lives - that we take for granted every day. 

Let us close with the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Lords Prayer…

Offering and prayer

Gracious God,

It is through your generosity, that we have the things we have. We therefore return our offerings of our lives to you, to be used in your service to share the good news of your Son, and to care for our neighbours, wherever they may be.


Benediction and blessing

As we finish our time together, may we all know who Jesus is, and be prepared to take up our crosses and follow him, wherever he leads us.

May the fruits of the spirit show in our lives so that we may be a witness to Jesus’ love to the world.

And me know the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in our lives today and always.


Song: And can it be?

Looking Out (28 Feb 2021)

Next Sunday: 7 March 2021
Bible Reading: Exodus 20:1-17, John 2:13-22
Theme: “The Ten Commandants” what are they good for?

Lectionary Readings for next Week:
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19,
1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22