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Worship Service Message

February 25, 2024
2nd Sunday in Lent

Who or What is Satan

Mark 1:12-13 & 8:31-38

Rev. Dr. Jaegil Lee

It has been a great joy that during this month of February, Dave and other musicians have been able to honor Black History Month with singing a different song created by Black musicians. Dave, I truly appreciate your effort to make this month worship service enriched with Black musicians’ music. We know how much time and effort this this requires. Thank you, Dave. 

As part of Dave’s effort, Officer Jimmy Winter is with us for today’s service, and Jimmy will share his music gift with us. He has been so generous that he has come to a Sunday in February almost every year while I have been with you as your pastor. Also, when we had a few peace prayer/meditation circles, Jimmy has regularly participated.

This month’s special offering we have been collecting will be donated to Housing Hotline, of which Jimmy is a director.


Today’s first Gospel reading is from last week’s reading. Last week, we didn’t focus on the subject of Satan. Who wants to talk about Satan? However, Mark says that Jesus was tempted by Satan. How could Jesus be tempted by Satan as he was the Son of God? A good question! But we will not discuss it today. 

Rather, we will explore what or who Satan is in the Gospel of Mark. Not only in last week’s reading but also in today’s reading from Mark’s Chapter 8, we hear about Satan. What surprised us is that Jesus calls Peter “Satan.” 

It is clear that Jesus was not a nice person! Rather, he was an authentic person. I think I make too much effort to be a nice pastor when Jesus invites us to be an authentic person. So, from now on, if I am not nice anymore, don’t blame me, but think whom you can blame. 

Anyway, who or what is Satan? Why did Jesus refer to Peter as Satan? What was the reason that Jesus called Peter “Satan”? A simple answer could be Jesus’ words to Peter, “You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts” (v 33). It can also be translated as “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 

If this is the reason why Jesus called Peter “Satan,” I am Satan because I am unable to continue thinking God’s thoughts. I don’t know about you, but I know how self-centered I am. Almost all my thoughts, no matter what their beginning is, end with thinking about myself. It is quite amazing and disturbing to realize this. How come the destiny of almost all my thoughts always is “all about me”!!!! 

If you have not realized it yet, good for you. It would be better not to realize this because it is quite shocking and frustrating to recognize that you think about yourself too much. However, although it is painful, this realization can gradually transform our thinking pattern so that we can think less about ourselves, but more “God’s thoughts.” 

Anyway, it could be true that Peter was called “Satan” because he was “not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” However, this answer is too general and too broad, ignoring the context.

There is a specific issue that today’s main Gospel reading addresses. What is that? That is the issue of suffering. 

Mark says, “Jesus began to teach people that the Human One must undergo great suffering.” It also says, “Jesus said all this quite ‘openly’.” It means that Jesus publicly spoke that it is necessary for him to go through suffering. 

But Peter couldn’t accept this. He simply couldn’t accept that his teacher would be persecuted and killed by religious and political leaders. 

His immediate reaction resembles our reaction to pain and suffering. Our instinctual nature wants to avoid pain in our and our loved ones’ lives. Our brain and body are wired to avoid pain as much as possible. The reason that most of our thoughts are fear-driven and related to what we are afraid of is that our brain wants to avoid whatever causes us pain.

However, Jesus’ approach to pain was so different from our instinctual reaction. He didn’t run away from pain. Rather, he moved closer to the pain and even went to where the pain was. 

This was not because he was masochist, but because he wanted to alleviate people’s pain and stood in solidarity with people in pain. 

Many Christians simply believe that Jesus came to die on the cross to save us from sin. However, today’s Gospel lesson urges us to go beyond this kind of simplified Sunday school lesson. In the Gospel of Mark, the reason Jesus was killed on the cross was that Jesus lived and walked with the most marginalized people whose lives were full of pain. Jesus attacked and shook the socio-political system which perpetuated and prolonged those people’s suffering. 

He knew if he would do such things, he couldn’t avoid being killed on the cross. This was because all of his actions and ministries were political. Death on the cross was the worst punishment, which was given to political criminals only. Nevertheless, he didn’t change the direction of his life whose mission was to heal the wounded, feed the hungry, and hang out with the lowly. Simply speaking, Jesus was committed to alleviating the pain and suffering of people caused by the unjust socio-political systems. No one could prevent him from accomplishing this divine mission. 

In this context, who or what is Satan? Satan is anything that would inflict and perpetuate people’s pain and suffering and anyone would cause pain to others or ignore or become indifferent in others’ suffering. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ journey is depicted as a battle with Satan. Jesus knew his divine task and was determined to liberate his people from Satan. 

Peter was Satan because he attempted to make Jesus ignore or to prevent Jesus from accomplishing his mission of accompanying people in pain and suffering and of alleviating their pain and suffering. Peter was Satan because he indirectly contributed to the perpetuation of the oppressive systems that continued to inflict people’s pain and suffering. 

This is a difficult lesson to swallow. But we must examine our lives as individuals and as a faith community, asking these questions: Where in our lives do we follow Jesus to alleviate others’ pain and suffering? And where in our lives are we more like Peter who directly or indirectly played a role in prolonging human pain and suffering. 

During this season of Lent, we must struggle with these questions. The ultimate purpose of asking these unpleasant questions is not merely to feel guilt, but to recognize and accept Jesus’ invitation to the alleviation of human suffering. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when we think about all the human affliction and suffering. Also, it is impossible to response to everyone’s pain. 

Therefore, siblings in Christ, pay attention to whose pain and suffering more significantly challenge you and your souls and see where the Spirit of Jesus invites you to participate in his mission of alleviating human suffering. This is not a one-day task, but a lifetime-long task. Let Jesus’ words to Peter, “Satan, get behind me. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts” ring in our hearts always until the Kingdom of God has fully established on earth.

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