From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” **************************
Depending on the situation, sometimes Peter 'gets it' and sometimes Peter is as clueless as the rest. But he never tires of being outspoken! Like when Jesus asks the disciples, “who do you say that I am” Peter the only one with the guts to hazard a guess! And when he answers “You are the son of God… the Messiah,” Jesus looks at Peter and says “You are blessed! You’re a rock! In fact, I’m building my church on this rock!”
Peter was willing to risk; to "get out of the boat,” to answer whenever Jesus called… without fear of having the wrong answer, the wrong interpretation, or the wrong theology. In the classroom of Christ, Peter was the antsy kid in the second row with his hand in the air saying "Ooo! Ooo! Pick me! Pick me!"
And although Peter (at times) may shoot from the hip; we can also see that he has the kind of radical trust in Jesus, and the kind of chutzpah, (daring, spunk), faith, that the church was built on. (Oh that we could have such faith!)
But Peter was also a big picture guy. And in today’s passage, Peter had noticed that as much as Jesus has been attracting crowds through his preaching and teaching, and especially his miracles, Jesus has also been attracting (and annoying) the Pharisees and Scribes. They had been getting more and more vocal in their opposition to Jesus; word had spread to the big guys in Jerusalem.
Peter pieces all of this together; and knew that the government was seeing Jesus as a potential threat. Peter gets it… danger looms on the horizon, possibly even death if they continue this way.
Of course, Jesus isn’t letting up; he began to show the disciples that he was heading straight for Jerusalem. Notice it doesn’t say that Jesus was telling the disciples he was going to Jerusalem, it says that he was “showing them that he must go to Jerusalem, and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (vs.21)
He was showing them… Jesus was living out his message to an extent that it was visibly infuriating the religious leaders. And it wasn’t just that he was continuing to heal and preach and teach; but Jesus was challenging the system… the religious system, yes… but also the Roman government… the system that kept a few in power and the rest in oppression.
Peter understood that when you add anti-government rhetoric to massive crowd appeal, it doesn’t take long for you (and those around you) to get into serious trouble… and understandably- he sees all these things happening and he gets concerned, and being Peter, he feels the need to say something about it.
So that night, after they’ve all checked in to the Holiday Inn and half the disciples go to take a dip in the pool and the other half settle down for a nap, there’s a knock on Jesus’ hotel room door… “Hey Pete, come on in…”
And Peter hot, tired, and visibly frustrated, hands his friend a cold one and says “can we talk for a few minutes?” And they go out on the patio and after a few sips, Jesus asks “What’s on your mind old friend?” And Peter, trying his best to be diplomatic, begins…
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others… but look... have you noticed what’s been happening lately? Have you seen that this thing has gotten… well… a little out of hand… I mean, I knew we were going to be preaching and teaching, and I was even OK when the healings started happening… even though some of the other guys started freaking… I was OK with the miracles… the fish and bread thing- great! I couldn't believe it at first but I saw the storms you calmed… I walked on water for crying out loud! And I’m not arguing about any of that with you… I’m fine with the 'preaching peace and God loves you and love your neighbor' stuff… but this new stuff… the talking and acting out against government... against the system… buddy… it’s going too far. You have to knock it off or you’re going to get yourself killed, and where will that leave you? … you can’t do anything for people from 6 feet under… you know what I mean? This can't happen! So maybe just back off a little…”
And Jesus takes another sip of his beer and stares at the panoramic view of the sunset… And then, without turning his head away from the orange and purple landscape of God’s artistry… he answers softly…
“Get behind me Satan…”
Peter is stunned… “Satan? Did he just call me Satan? I thought I was blessed… I thought I was the rock… Satan?” “Excuse me J did you just call me Satan?”
And Jesus turns to look Peter in the eye and says “Let me say it again.... Get behind me Satan! You’re trying to trip me up or what? That kind of thinking is how the world thinks… not how God thinks! Geeze Pete, it’s like you’re slipping right back under the water again, when you know God has the power to let you walk on top of it… come on Man!”
And the next morning at breakfast in the lobby, as he spreads cream cheese on his bagel, Jesus gives a quick glance to Peter, sitting by himself at the opposite corner of the table. Peter is still upset from last night and he hasn’t touched his waffle.
And Jesus says to the group… “Listen, if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…” crickets… (NRSV) “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (The Message)
I don’t know what I would have thought had I been sitting around the breakfast table that morning. Jesus talking about 'taking up a cross' and following… Remember this is pre-resurrection. People weren’t wearing crosses as jewelry and crosses weren’t hanging in every church. To the disciples, a cross was a stake for execution- a particularly gruesome and painful method of death, reserved mostly for those who committed crimes against the state. So Jesus says to the disciples. “Take up your cross”… they had to be wondering what Jesus may have meant. Do they pick up the thing that is death to them? Or the thing that leads to death? Or suffering?
It’s interesting to me that we (moderns) haven’t changed much in our interpretation of that phrase… 'Take up your cross and follow me,' since then. For the most part, we equate the cross with suffering… and we have taken this verse and made it almost a cliché.
We use it as an anchor and excuse when there is suffering in our lives… when we have a problem or situation that won’t go away, a sick loved one who won’t get better… a mental illness or unhealthy relationship... chronic financial trouble, a bad job, or any number of things that we refer to when we say the words, “well, I guess that’s just my cross to bear.” And what we really mean when we say that is “this situation is something I am stuck with so I may as well get used to it.” (Is that the truth?)
So I wonder, why we look at this verse the same way. I can understand the disciples having that interpretation, cross=suffering... even though the text says, (look at verse 21 again) Jesus was showing them he would "undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." (How did that get there?)
But for us… looking back on this passage 2000 years in the future… surely the cross means more to us than suffering and death. Last time I checked, the cross, in Christianity was the symbol of resurrection. And while Jesus surely suffered on the cross and died… three days later his tomb was empty! From that suffering and because of his death, new abundant rich eternal life sprang forth!
And let’s add one more truth that we tend to forget when we use this verse as a way to blame God for our suffering… (Because that’s really what we do when we say…it’s my cross)
Next time you want to scapegoat and hold God responsible for putting this giant burdensome ‘cross’ on you, remember this… Jesus took on the burden of the cross voluntarily. He suffered, not because he had to, but willingly. He freely gave up his earthly life so that he could demonstrate to the world just how far God is willing to go to show us how much we are loved!
Jesus used the cross to bridge the gap between God and humankind… between God and us…. between God and you… So there would be no more separation; nothing keeping you fearful of judgment, or fearful of being condemned or doomed by God. Jesus took up the cross so that you could begin to see yourself as valued and loved and cherished by God… to begin to see yourself the way God sees you…
That’s why we can’t look at this verse… can’t look at the cross, without including resurrection! This passage isn’t about enduring suffering for suffering’s sake, or because you feel like you have been cursed with something and if you can make it through, that maybe God will find you worthy to have some reward at the end. Taking up the cross means following Christ by living out the principals of his teachings. Will that lead to suffering? Well, you tell me…
There are those in the world that are being oppressed, there are those who are poor, who are hungry, who are sick, there are those who are being treated unjustly by government, or non-government… amen? And, as followers of Christ we have a responsibility to do something about that. Can we agree on that? Then we have choices then, as to how we can help the victims.
1. We can give them what they need… we can write a check, or go on a mission trip, or go visit them, and meet the needs of today. And that’s cool. Pastoral care is a beautiful thing. 2. We can choose to go beyond pastoral care and fight the system that is keeping people oppressed, or sick, or impoverished. We can choose, as Jesus did, to challenge the system that divides people into have and have nots…that quantifies and sells even the basics of human survival for profit. Opposing those systems is what Bonhoeffer called being a ‘spoke in the wheel.’ When, as part of discipleship, as part of being a follower of Christ, it becomes our responsibility to fight the powers and principalities that have become wheels of oppression crushing human beings that get in their path. Bonheoffer said, "We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself."
This is what Jesus was doing…what he was acting out! He was becoming a spoke in the wheel of the system he could not condone… the systems that bled corruption even into the leadership of the faith and it was ticking them off.
That kind of discipleship- standing up for the weak; the least of these without compromise… comes with a cost. No wonder Peter was worried! Is this the kind of thing that Jesus expects in being his disciple? Absolutely…
But here’s some good news. We are not put here to do this alone. God, in infinite and glorious wisdom, put us here in the midst of other disciples... and in the midst of other groups of disciples (churches) so that we could do this together- so that we could work together, and perhaps, if it comes to it, suffer together. We don’t have to carry our cross alone. God has made a way for us to bridge our crosses by taking them up together…to encourage each other to follow the call of Christ in our lives… and by sending Jesus to walk right beside us as we do.
And yeah, it might be scary to think that one of us, or all of us, could end up in Jerusalem, and it’s easier (and far safer) to just deal with things the way they are, do what you can from a safe distance and keep under the radar… don’t trouble the waters. Jesus could have done that… he could have listened to Peter’s advice and backed off. I thank God every day that he didn’t.
I thank God that he was willing to lay down his life to save ours… to not just pick up the cross, but to make it a bridge between us and God- a place of surety and confidence on which to stand when there is none to be found anywhere else. A bridge that comforts all, redeems all, connects all of us… a bridging cross that leads to resurrection and new life!