Romans Chapter 12 verses 9 – 21
Matthew Chapter 16 verses 21 – 28
Maggie Cogan - Reader
To me the most beautiful bridge in the whole world is the Humber Bridge – the structure looks so fragile yet it endures thousands of cars and lorries every day. Underneath that bridge lies the Humber River. A river that at times looks like a mill pond and at other times the raging waters rushing can be seen beneath the bridge on its way to the estuary at Spurn Point. The power of the water has slowly eroded the land away and many people have lost their lives thinking that this river does not hold any dangers. It has a sort of splintered existence, the safety of the bridge and the dangers of the waters below.
You may be wondering what on earth the Humber Bridge and the river have to do with todays’ readings. The bridge for me is a safe place to be – the place of good, whereas the river is the danger and where the battles we have to face in our lives take place and where death can loom and be a force of evil.
And here we have Jesus telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to complete his God-given mission to save the world by dying on the cross.
Naturally this comes as a shock to the disciples. After all, why would God send someone to do something as ungodlike as dying? And if dying was necessary, why couldn’t it be done on the battlefield instead of on a cross. It’s no wonder Peter rebukes Jesus. After all, here he was; a fisherman who believed Jesus, but who could not understand the true purpose of Jesus’ mission. He, like many of the Jews, thought that the Messiah would be a military ruler who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel to the glory days of the reign of King David.
Jesus told his disciples that he was going to lead them into battle, and that they should not expect to come away unscathed. In fact, they should not be surprised if they died on the battlefield. They would be facing the forces of evil, and those forces were strong enough to wreak havoc. God would win the ultimate battle against evil, but in the meantime his disciples could expect the fight of their lives. It is a fight we are still involved in today.
Peter rebuked Jesus because he took seriously his new role as the rock on which the church was built. He took his role so seriously that he thought he had a responsibility to make sure that Jesus’ ministry would be successful. He thought it was his duty to rebuke Jesus, but Jesus put him in his place. His place was behind Jesus as a follower, a role we also have to play.
Peter, like Satan, tried to deflect Jesus from the way of God, and Satan tries to deflect us from God’s way today. Satan has lots of traps to put in our path, and because he is smart, he knows that the best time to trap us often comes after some great victory. In Peter’s case, it was just after Jesus told him that he was going to be the rock that the church would be built on. Peter wanted Jesus to follow the wide, smooth road of a worldly life that leads to death and sin. Jesus knew he had to travel on the narrow, rough road of life with God, and it is the same road we as Christians have to travel today.
Jesus wasted no time in dealing with Satan, and neither should we. Peter had fallen for the enemy’s temptations of allowing his thoughts to turn inward to himself and his desires for the nation of Israel. So Jesus moved quickly to put an end to Peter’s wrong way of thinking. We must never allow the thoughts of pride or sin to linger. We must keep our focus set on God, and ask Him to reveal His perfect will to us. He knows the plan and outcome of our lives. We can trust him fully because He knows exactly what the future holds for us.
Jesus knew the road he would have to travel would lead to self-denial and the cross, and he urges his followers to be prepared to pay the price and suffer the consequences if they want to follow the same road of life. We as his followers have to sacrifice our own interests in favour of serving Christ. Our personal goals and interests have to take on a secondary importance if we want to receive eternal life. When we do, we will fulfill God’s purpose of giving life. Jesus often motivated his disciples to love and good works by reminding them that He would return one day in great glory to reward all His faithful servants for whatever they had accomplished in His name.
This concept isn’t easy to understand. Spiritual growth takes place slowly. It takes a lifetime, and even as we reach the end of that journey, our understanding is far from perfect. For example, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples about the suffering that awaited him in Jerusalem, but they did not understand until after the Resurrection. The Holy Spirit had not yet come, and their eyes and minds were blinded to the eternal things of the Lord. However, after they saw the resurrected Christ, they knew He was the Saviour. God’s Word always bears fruit at the right time.
When Jesus said that those who want to save their lives will lose them and vice versa, he was right. Our world is full of examples of people who have sold their souls by using sex, drugs, money, careers, possessions or alcohol to find happiness in life, only to be disappointed. Whatever a person is or becomes in his outward life, the particular quality of his or her soul will be the deciding factor in how he or she lives and how others experience him or her. With God, though, there is another way. Through his life, suffering, death on the cross and resurrection, Jesus saves us by showing us the way to a life of God’s forgiveness, love and grace-given with no conditions and no strings attached. God provides for us the chance to live a life with a full range of the possibilities potentially present everywhere.
As Jesus said, death lurks in the darkness of life. Whatever we hope to find outside God’s plan proves elusive and temporary. Only by walking with Christ on the path of goodness will we find the security and contentment we are seeking. If our lives are more important to us than our faith, our lives will be over. If our faith is more important to us than our lives, we will be rewarded with eternal life. Our Christian life involves sacrifice because Jesus must come first in our lives. We are to be like Jesus, selfless and obedient, even to the point of death to self and life in Christ.
Our crosses might not lead to death as here in our little corner of the world, our persecution might not be as severe. It could be in the form of rejection by friends or family. Our careers might be affected. All of these are a small price that we must be prepared to pay as we take up the cross of Christ on the road of life, just like Christ and Simon of Cyrene had to carry the cross to Golgotha.
What that will require will depend on our calling. We can discern that calling through prayer, reading the Bible and keeping our eyes and hearts open to see the challenges Christ sends our way. The cross that Jesus commands us to carry is the cross of obedience to His will, even when it includes suffering and hardship and things we really don’t want to do. When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we will bring life to those he calls us to serve. In return, he will give us abundant, eternal life.
The church also needs the challenge of the cross today. The church as the body of Christ and his followers also has a cross to bear as it fulfills Christ’s mission. It involves making decisions that will not please everyone especially in today’s turmoil and Covid 19. Do today’s churches offer a faith strong enough that it can command a sacrifice? Can a church in today’s “Me first” culture ask its people to sacrifice something for the sake of the gospel?
The pain and suffering of the cross and the spending of self for Him are a part of the Christian life. The life of self-denial and sacrifice of which Jesus spoke has been real enough for those who have followed him throughout the last 2,000 years. It has filled the meditations of saints and martyrs as well as offering rich and sacred poetry and hymns to the church.
Today we are reminded that our confession of faith has consequences and shows itself not only in public worship, but through our words and deeds in our daily lives. Peter’s story reminds us that it is not one incident alone that makes a life. Though we fall again and again, it is the getting up that marks the true child of God. So, we offer our lives in surrender to Christ’s purpose. The waters of our baptism still bubble up inside us and enable us to confess with Peter that Jesus is the Son of God. They also constantly renew in us the willing spirit that says, “Yes” to our own taking up the cross to follow Christ.
In the words of the hymn by Charles William Everest:
Take up thy cross, the Saviour said
If thou wouldst my disciple be;
Deny thy self, the world forsake
And humbly follow after me.