Friday of Lent II – Mark 8:27-38 

27 And 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?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

There is much excitement lately about a TV version of Cixin Liu’s Sci-Fi novel “The Three Body Problem.” I read the whole trilogy and found it interesting. The novel starts out with a problem. Many of the physicists in the world are dying, often at their own hands. It turns out that someone, somehow, is messing with the basic laws of physics. The force of gravity or the speed of light measured one day is different the next day. In the novel, this rocks their world so much that physicists are jumping out of windows.

Jesus rocks our world today. We do not jump out of a window, but we do something equally incomprehensible, we take up a cross and follow him. He bore that cross to a hill outside of Jerusalem where they nailed him to it, and he died. Where will they plant our cross in the ground and nail us to it? The physicists in the novel had their world turned upside down because the natural constants upon which they relied were shifting before their very eyes. They could not bear a world in which gravity or light changed. Peter, like us, had basic assumptions about what it meant to be the Messiah. He assumed it was about glory, defeating the enemies, victory, and rewards. Jesus calls that thinking the way of mankind. Jesus has something else in mind, the way of God. God’s way involves suffering, death, defeat, and shame. He rewrites the spiritual rules for Peter and us. We must lose our lives to save them. We must die to live.

Much later in the novel the characters run into a phenomenon which I find quite suggestive. Cixin Liu is not a Christian. He is a pure materialist in his thinking, yet he cannot escape the metaphysical and hopeful eschatology which God has written into every heart. In his novels, the whole universe is decaying, set on this course by the foolishness of those beings who live within it. (Does that sound familiar to anyone who has read the first chapters of Genesis?) The characters come to realize that the decay of the universe will eventually reach its end and then, through the instrument of one outside the universe, it will be restored. The characters get a brief experience of that better world, and that better world eventually calls them to their own dying so that the world may be restored. In the Gospels God has written for us a far more compelling narrative than Cixin Liu which speaks a far clearer truth. God has come into this broken and fallen world, He has borne its death and corruption in his own body, and set it on the path to redemption and ultimate victory. Given this roadmap of the future, we are called to day to join him. Take up a cross and follow him. The world will not understand, but you do.

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