Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

April 4, 2014

An incredible moment before the race

By Marilyn J. Koehler Team pastor at Fairview Church of the Brethren
The Daily Iowegian

---- — Spring is the time for green grace, beautiful flowers and track meets. Runners train to do their best by following the coach’s instructions, practicing proper form of running, running and training in preparation for the big race. Just before the race, the coach quizzes the runners to make sure they remember what to do and reviews strategies for winning the race. At the starting block, the runner visualizes the race and remembers the coach’s instructions. At the race, the runner focuses on the job ahead to be first to the finish line.

We can see the story in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8 as a way Jesus prepared his disciples for their role after the crucifixion. Like a good coach who gives the runners a day’s rest before the race, Jesus had taken his disciples away for a rest to an area not frequented by Jews. Caesarea Philippi was 35 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee in a region of pagan worship. Jews avoided the area; there, Jesus could be alone with his disciples to check their learning and help them focus on the upcoming race of discipleship.

As the disciples viewed the excesses and pagan worship in the distance, Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?”

The disciples remembered that people had come to hear Jesus’ stories and to see his miracles. People knew Jesus was someone special. “The crowds were amazed at his teaching because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Matthew 7.29.

The disciples answered what they had heard the people say. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.”

Jesus pressed his disciples further…”What about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered. We love Peter who always seemed to have answers. He often spoke for the group. Peter spoke boldly “You are the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah.”

In Matthew’s account of the story Matt. 16.17, Jesus gave Peter a blessing…”Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in Heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church….”

Jesus could look into the future. He knew what was in store very soon, and in the time to come. Peter would indeed be instrumental, but more importantly this confession of faith — this rock solid confession would be the necessary foundation for belief — the foundation of belief for everyone who would come to faith.

Yes, YES! Peter was definitely on the mark….at the starting block, ready to go. The race ahead would not be easy. Jesus told them what to expect — he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Whoa, Jesus! Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “Never Lord! This shall never happen to you!”

Just when we thought Peter was ready…Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Jesus knew their ideas — to make him King, to drive out the Romans — those were men’s ideas!

Then Jesus told them…”If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life, will lose it. But whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it.”

Yes, Peter was on the mark — the starting block...and just beginning. Peter immediately made an error; Jesus corrected him so Peter could continue the race. Here, Peter, is the track ahead: Deny yourself! Take up your cross. Follow me. Use your life for the gospel. Never be ashamed of me and my words. Share the gospel wherever you go and save your soul.

It was an incredible moment in Peter’s life. Peter would make more mistakes, repent and be forgiven. Peter would preach a great sermon at Pentecost and 3,000 would be saved; Peter would indeed begin the church; Peter and other disciples would be persecuted and scattered, just as Jesus had told them; Peter would go out of his comfort zone to preach to Cornelius, a Gentile.

Yes, Peter had many more miles to go in the race. Every race has a starting point…the mark…the starting block. Peter’s confession was only the beginning point — an incredible moment.

Peter was commissioned to do more than make a confession. Jesus had a plan for Peter’s future, just as he has a plan for each believer. Once we begin the “race” of being a Christian who denies self, picks up a cross and follows Jesus’ teaching, there will be many challenges AND many rewards on the way to the finish line. Get ready, Get set. Go!