Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Way of the Cross- Matt 16

It is a great privilege to be here with you here at St. Leonard's and to serve Christ with you.

 The lectionary gives us a bit of a rough reading for my first Sunday with you. Peter Rebukes Jesus and Jesus in turn calls Peter “Satan”. That is a hard Gospel reading to ignore.

You might remember that just last week Peter declared Jesus was 
“the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). And Jesus gives a glowing response to Peter’s decoration of who he is- 
"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter [which means Rock], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:17-18).
Any of us would be thrilled if Jesus said this kind of thing about us. Jesus declares Peter to be receiving insight directly from God and is then called the rock upon which the Church is built. That is a big deal!

The gospel of Matthew then tells us 
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt 16:21).
Peter experiences a kind of whiplash here. Immediately after declaring Jesus is the much awaited messiah, Jesus says he is going to die.  Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. “Rebuke” isn’t a word we use very often. It’s not something you want someone to do to you. Peter is basically scolding Jesus. Jesus rebukes a demon in the next chapter (Matt 17:18). So this is a pretty strong way for Peter to speak to Jesus.  Peter is obviously shaken up.

There are a few reasons this has hit Peter so hard. One, is that Peter just loves Jesus and doesn't want to see him suffer and die. 
But another reason is that it doesn’t fit the traditional ideas of the messiah that Peter has grown up with. In Peter’s culture the messiah was the Son of David and so he was a warrior king like David was. He was supposed to raise up an army, kick out all foreign oppressive forces and unite the people of Israel under one powerful king. 
The idea of suffering and dying was in direct contradiction with Peter’s understanding of the messiah. The messiah was a superhero who beats the bad guys, he isn’t someone who dies by their hands. A cross is not needed in Peter’s understanding of the role of the messiah. 

Jesus receives Peter’s rebuke as a temptation to live out his calling without the cross. It has the ring of an earlier temptation in Matthew chapter 4, where the devil offers to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world without having to go to the cross. Jesus’ response to Peter “Get behind me, Satan!” (16:23) is an echo of Jesus’ earlier reaction to the temptations of the Evil One. Peter, unknowingly, is filling the role of Satan, God’s adversary.

We shouldn’t be too quick to scold Peter here. It is a presumptuous way to treat his master, yes. But, this is the way disciples have often treated Jesus throughout the church’s history. (you may want to look to the Grand Inquisitor by Dosteovsky-
The followers of Jesus often have a vision that is too small. Peter sees the Roman Empire and a unified country of Israel. Jesus is looking to the defeat of Sin and death (not just the Romans) and to the salvation of all humanity (not just the people of Israel). Peter’s idea of the messiah was too small. 

So one reason Peter rebukes Jesus is that he doesn’t conform to the traditional image of messiah. But, it might also be that Peter understands that if his master is supposed to suffer then he is going to suffer as well. Jesus confirms that this is the case because right after rebuking Peter he says, 
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:24-25).
This is bad PR for a new movement. If Peter is going to be the rock on which this new movement is built, then it is his responsibility to help direct it. Jesus should know that this is no way to build a church. Who is going to join a movement where you are promised a cross? … Paul recognizes this when he says that they “preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23).

The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, 
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship).
 The church is often with Peter in rebuking Jesus for his hard call. Bonhoeffer spoke about churches that offer “cheap grace”. It is an easy Christianity where we are never challenged. He says, 
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without … discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate”.
 Bonhoeffer recognized that you can’t chose to be a Christian without being a disciple. And being a disciple requires picking up your cross and following Christ.

For many in the early church this was a literal death. The tradition tells us that all except one of the original apostles were martyred (see CT article). We are told that John was exiled to an island. For the early believers picking up your cross and following Jesus could have been a literal possibility. And we should not forget that it is a literal reality for some of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world- we have seen a vicious example of that under ISIS.

This call of Jesus confronts our desire for a comfortable life. A Jesus that doesn’t expect anything of us is a pretty attractive Jesus for many in our culture. A Jesus that allows me to live the way I like, but then grants me an afterlife in paradise is a pretty attractive Jesus. A Jesus that gives me comfort in the midst of my trouble, but never expects anything from me is an attractive Jesus. ... However, that is not actually the Jesus we have. The Jesus we have is the Jesus who calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him. He expects that there will be a cost to our discipleship. We don’t want burdens that Jesus doesn’t actually want us to carry, but he does call us to follow him. And the path he calls us down… well, he almost promises that suffering is awaiting us.

And that is where Peter inside us wants to pull Jesus aside to rebuke him. “Jesus, you want these people to come back next Sunday don’t you? They aren’t going to if you keep talking like that! Say something about you being the good shepherd and how you take care of them! Don’t talk about them having to pick up a cross and follow you!”

That is a hard message to hear. It is an even harder message to try to live. What does it even mean in Red Deer to pick up your cross and follow Jesus? It doesn’t just mean suffering of any kind. It means suffering because of Jesus.

I met a man who became a Christian in Iraq. He was being trained to be an imam and take over the mosque from his father that had been in his family for generations. He was kicked out of his family and was on the run for fear of his life, but didn’t deny Christ.

I know a woman who inserts herself into a family to help care for children who are living a very difficult life. She has become a kind of aunty. She could have ignored this family and done all kinds of other things with her time that her peers are doing, but she has decided to love these kids by being a part of their lives. Even though it is emotionally difficult and messy.

I know a man who owned a garage. Being a disciple of Jesus made him operate with integrity and to give people help who needed it who sometimes had a hard time paying. He would sometimes volunteer his own time to help people out with his skills.

There are many other examples of people around us sacrificing for their love of Jesus. It is not easy work. It requires effort. It sometimes means not making as much money as you could. It sometimes means being involved in the emotional drama of the people you are around, but could easily ignore and walk away from. It might mean being wronged. They do these things in Jesus’ name and the suffering attached to it is in his name too (as big or small it seems).

Picking up our cross is important. It is essential, even. It is so important that Jesus attaches these questions to his statement to amplify his direction to deny ourselves- 
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” 
Jesus says it is so important that it is like gaining or losing your soul. In a sense, picking up your cross and following Jesus is the most important thing you can ever do.

There is a cost to being a disciple, but we should never forget that there is also a cost to not being a disciple, and that cost Jesus seems to imply (frighteningly) is our soul. So as intimidated as we might be about picking up our cross, we should be even more intimidated by the alternative.

Jesus doesn’t ask this without some sort of promise. He says, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:25). There is a death needed for our false self, so that the true self can live. The false self that is deceived by the ways of Sin must die and give way to the self that reflects the ways of Jesus. Jesus wants our joy to be full (Jn 15:11). Jesus wants nothing less than a full life for us, but to get there requires self-denial.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this message. It is one that needs to be a constant reminder of how I will have life in Jesus.


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