Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Our idea of discipleship is dependent on our idea of Messiah ship.
When Jesus revealed that he would face great suffering, be killed, and on the third day be raised, I wonder what was going on in his disciples’ heads at that moment. I bet after hearing what was soon to come, many of them were experiencing disappointment, uncertainty, and fear. I bet some were secretly considered hitting the road and returning to their boats, tax collector booths, or whatever else they were doing before they encountered God in flesh. Peter had something in mind. He had the audacity to rebuke Jesus saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” There he went again! Stubborn, bull headed, and self-focused Peter, who once again wanted Jesus to be the kind of Messiah, Peter wanted him to be. You have to wonder what Peter hoped all along the journey with Jesus, as he experienced the healings, miracles, and teachings. I wonder did he hope Jesus would be a triumphant military leader who would oust the Romans? Maybe he hoped Jesus would be the righteous, vengeful King who would strike down the powerful and replace them with the downtrodden; maybe even he and the other eleven, who were traveling along with Jesus. Peter wanted nothing to do with the cross, but possibly had his eye on a seat of power in the triumph to come. The very idea that his Lord would suffer the fate of a common criminal was beyond anything Peter could imagine. When we consider our own discipleship, maybe we find ourselves in a quandary like Peter’s; a Catch 22 in which, we want to follow Jesus, but the true cost of doing so, seems so difficult to imagine.
Discipleship means to follow Jesus, and that means the cross.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” If I had been there that day, I probably would have been like Peter, saying, “He’s kidding right.” I would have said, “Oh that Jesus, he’s just giving us a “metaphorical example” of the cost of discipleship. Surely he was not telling us we have to literally endure the kind of suffering of the cross.” You may be asking, “So with few, if any crucifixions going on today how do we even fathom what Jesus was talking about, when he commands us to take up our cross.” The kind of suffering Jesus speaks of happens in the real stuff of life, when things are tough, when life happens unexpectedly, when others abandon us, or when relationships fall apart. That is what Jesus is talking about. Stuff happens, suffering occurs, and our response in the midst of all that is indicative of our faith; in the taking up of our crosses. The hard truth about suffering is that Christian “cross bearing” devoid of suffering is merely a futile attempt at religious sentimentality. The idea that Christian’s can somehow be about the work of “cross bearing” without suffering is an empty, false ideal. Like Peter’s, ““God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you,” it is propaganda of the adversary.
The suffering of “cross bearing” is not a path to alleviating our suffering, but by enduring it faithfully, we live into the hope that God will triumph.
When we speak of enduring suffering, I don’t believe Jesus suggests we avoid seeking treatment when we are in pain, or we should with some kind of false sense of martyrdom, fail to take those medical steps necessary and available, to reduce pain. I do believe that Jesus is telling us that suffering in this life is absolutely inevitable. Discipleship is when we face all of life faithfully, living in the great hope that God will never abandon us. John Clark, in his essay on Luther’s theology of the cross states, “Instead of endeavoring to exclude themselves from suffering, Christians must prepare for the occasions of suffering with which, they will inevitably be confronted.” 3 We endure, but we endure by faith and hope. The great reformer Martin Luther once wrote, “It would be neither good nor useful for man to know what great blessings lie hidden under such trials.”3 He added, “We should willingly endure the hand of God in this and in all suffering. Do not be worried; indeed, such a trial is the very best sign of God’s grace and love for man.”3 Sometimes, in the midst of suffering, great blessings emerge unexpectedly, and rather than avoid suffering, we are called to endure in hope.
It may be at the deathbed of a loved one, an unexpected reconciliation among two or more family members might occur, even after a lifetime of strife and brokenness. It may be that in the midst an unexpected disease, an amazing spiritual healing occurs, and through that event, God’s presence in our lives may become clear to someone else, and they are forever changed. It may be that somehow through the financial upheaval, a realignment of life’s priorities becomes overwhelming obvious, and those things which are most important (God, love, togetherness, simplicity, and family) becomes the cornerstone of life, long after the event. Somehow in the mystery of grace, God reveals God-self in the midst of suffering. It was 2000 years ago in which, God definitively acted and by the cross of Christ and his being raised, revelation and salvation came into the world. Our hope is in God revealed in Christ, which leads to a life of discipleship, oriented in this hope.
Get behind me is not “get out of the way,” but a call to follow behind!
Just before Peter rebuked Jesus and Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus declared Peter as the rock on which, he would build his church. I bet Peter’s ego skyrocketed into outer orbit at being the ROCK! I bet he thought, “Yeah, I am the man.” When that self-inflated ego revealed itself later on though, when facing the real cost of following Jesus, Peter who was the “Rock,” was re-named Satan, the adversary or one who opposes another in purpose or act. Peter, the foundation of a new community, seemed now to be getting in the way of Jesus’ mission. Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” That may sound like “get out my way,” a reprimand, a “how dare you ask me to run away from my mission.” I think in reality, Jesus is offering Peter an invitation. Jesus was literally inviting Peter to “fall in line, get behind me, and let’s go; let’s go to the cross.”
We all face those times in life where we would like to run away from life’s circumstances. When the pain and hurt is so deep, we would do almost anything to avoid it. It could be when we have to visit in the ICU a child of ours who is facing surgery, or when we find ourselves at the bedside of a parent who is declining and facing the end of their life, or when our beloved pet is lying in pain taking her/his last breath. We want to run away and hide and deny these moments are our reality. You see, we Christians must remember, we cannot celebrate Easter Sunday, without first enduring Good Friday. It is only through faithful endurance and hope, that we can ever imagine the possibilities of new life on the other side of suffering, pain, loss, and despair. Our hope is that in all things, God is with us; even in our anguish, grief, and sorrow. When we face those moments, when we want to run and hide, when denial of reality just is not possible, Jesus loving, knowingly, having traveled this road before, reminds us to carry on in hope and faithful endurance. Jesus says to us, “You can do this, just get behind me, and I will lead the way.”
1 Langle, Deanna. “Defining Moment.” Christian Century 122.17 (2005): 16. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 27 Aug. 2014.
2 Krentz, Edgar. “Living Faithfully–Nevertheless.” Christian Century 113.24 (1996): 779. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 27 Aug. 2014.
3 Clark, John C. “Martin Luther’s View Of Cross-Bearing.” Bibliotheca Sacra 163.651 (2006): 335-347. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 30 Aug. 2014.