Message                 “After Three Days”     Rev. James R. Renfrew

Mark 8:31-38

It is necessary that the Son of Man … be killed and after three days rise up alive.”    After Jesus said this, some translations say that Peter rebuked Jesus, and then Jesus rebuked Peter.  I read up on it.  There are nuances to the word rebuke, epitimao in the Greek, but one definition that makes most sense to me is that it is “a warning to prevent something from going wrong”.   Peter thought that something terribly wrong was about to happen and he was trying to prevent it.   But Jesus wanted to prevent something from going wrong, too, a misreading of his teaching, a misreading of his death, and a misreading of his life.

It is necessary that the Son of Man … be killed and after three days rise up alive.”    As an American consumer I have seen countless TV commercials, magazine advertisements and internet pop-ups that show two contrasting images:  BEFORE and AFTER.  The first is a blurry black and white photo of some a man or woman looking woeful, distressed or lost.  The second photo shows the same person in brilliant color, looking radiantly happy, surrounded by adoring admirers.  The first picture is always labeled “BEFORE”, and the second picture is labeled “AFTER”.  It is obvious, of course, that you should want to be the smiling, wealthy, healthy popular person in the AFTER image at all costs, not that sad sack loser in the “BEFORE” picture, friendless, weak, and unattractive.

Some of you are old enough to remember the before picture of the 98 pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face by a bully at the beach, and the after picture of the muscle man beating up the bully and winning the girl.  The picture of the overweight woman at 300 pounds in the before picture, and then the thin bikini woman in the after picture.   Even cats and dogs are not excluded from this, with the before view focusing on the unlucky dog or cat that is offered tasteless bland food by thoughtless pet owners, and the after picture showing the pet jumping up and down or purring with happiness at the wonderful gourmet dinner that loving owners have presented at meal time.

Jesus says, “It is necessary that the Son of Man … be killed and after three days rise up alive.”  The verse from Mark’s Gospel is just like one of those before and after ads, first describing something terribly undesirable BEFORE, and then promising something incredibly wonderful AFTER.

Whatever Jesus does or says, Mark wants you to know that there is an audience involved.  Mark always tells the story of Jesus with people close at hand: the disciples gathered around Jesus as he teaches, crowds of people trying to get close to him for healing, people lining the streets on Palm Sunday, and, finally, the large mob demanding Jesus’ death.  Mark also wants to include you in the story.  It’s not just Jesus moving from BEFORE to AFTER, Mark wants you to move from BEFORE to AFTER, too. “It is necessary that the Son of Man … be killed and after three days rise up alive.”   Yes, here’s a hint of what will happen to Jesus AFTER the Cross, and that’s a hint of what will happen to you!

No one wants to be stuck in the BEFORE picture.  When Jesus asks us to pick up our cross and follow him, we don’t usually think of this as an invitation to move from BEFORE to AFTER.  The Cross seems more like a warning that all we have ahead of us is more misery, loss and despair.  The cross reminds us of Jesus’ journey: the rivals, the enemies, the betrayal, corrupt judges, a vicious mob, torture and suffering, a crown of thorns … death.  The Cross is an uncomfortable reminder of our own journey – defeats, losses, discouragement, hurt, pain and death.  It’s a picture that we would, to be honest, like to avoid!  But to get to AFTER we have to be honest about the BEFORE that we’re in.

But, remember, we follow a hopeful faith.  This cross, which symbolizes the difficult road that Jesus took to give us new life, is not meant to be an impossible burden, it is a sign of freedom, a sign of the AFTER that waits ahead of us even when it seems like the BEFORE is overwhelming and inescapable.  It is a sign that Jesus overcame all that was set against him, to free us.  After the cross, we discover evidence of new life where no one could have expected it.

Many of Jesus’ followers could not even look at the Cross because they were deeply stuck in the BEFORE, but AFTER they discovered the empty tomb, the cross became the symbol of all that Jesus offered.  The story of Jesus did not end at the Cross.  He lives, and because he lives, we live too!  The cross, which at first was a sign of weakness and failure, is really a symbol of strength and victory over death.  That’s the AFTER.  It’s amazing!

They harassed him as he taught, they spread false rumors about him wherever he traveled, they set traps to ensnare him, they conspired to corrupt the loyalty of his closest friends, they had him run out of towns and villages, they arrested him, they mocked him, they tortured him, they ridiculed him with a crown of thorns … but he would not turn aside.  In spite of those who tried to smother his message, he offered freedom to his followers.  The cross represents his radical to commitment to people like you and me.  This is not a theoretical commitment to you, not a symbolic commitment to you, not a ritual commitment to you.  The cross represents the real power of Christ, his desire to be in your life to help you move from BEFORE to AFTER.

On this day when we honestly come before God with the unfinished stories of our lives, the big problems and the failed promises, we look for renewal and the possibility of new life.  Show us, O God, a new way forward.  Help us move from BEFORE to AFTER!

It sounds like it could take a whole lifetime to move that far ahead of where we are right now.  But notice how Jesus keeps talking about three days, only three days, between BEFORE and AFTER.  Think about what you could do, what you could accomplish, what you could change in three days.

Our church is here, you are here, to represent the power of the cross of Jesus Christ to the world.  A world that mocks the cross, a world that diminishes the cross, a world that avoids the cross, a world that ignores the cross.  In your life you have the incredible opportunity to present the power of the cross to the world.  You are a part of the after picture, you make the after picture possible.  It just takes three days.

The picture on the bulletin cover is the BEFORE picture, showing not only the dark beams of the cross, but a reminder of how we are stuck in the BEFORE.  Imagine, now, what your AFTER picture of this story would look like.  If you stay with us in all the Sundays leading up to Easter, I suspect that you will be able to draw or paint your own beautiful AFTER picture.  You know the BEFORE all too well, now it’s time to anticipate the AFTER!

It is necessary that the Son of Man … be killed and after three days rise up alive.”