Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Today’s gospel story immediately follows Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of the Living God. It seems like this is a continuation of the conversation about who Jesus is. But I think it was another conversation, for another time.
Today's text says, "from that time on...." Jesus began to talk about the plan for him to suffer and die at the hands of the leaders and be raised from death. This must have become part of Jesus' regular conversations with the disciples.
If we had been there we would probably have reacted exactly the same way Peter did! When Jesus talks about suffering and dying, he is saying something the disciples don't want to even think about. How can he establish an army and conquer the Romans if he is dead? They are so shocked to hear he will die soon that they are not able to hear the rest of the plan. They never hear the part about the resurrection, about returning in glory.
So, here is Peter, suffering from foot-in-mouth disease, thinking about human plans and not waiting to be open to God's plans. Jesus must have been very frustrated with Peter at this point because the text says Jesus rebukes him. Rebuke is a strong word; it is the same word used when Jesus stills the storm.
Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan!” I have no way of proving this, but I believe that Jesus continued for much of his life doing battle with temptations. That is why he needed to so frequently connect with God in prayer. He needed the assurance that he was on the right path, staying with the original plan.
I’d like to think that Plan A was for Jesus to come as he did, and tell everyone about God's love and forgiveness. Everyone would believe in him, and the world would change. But God knows us well enough to realize that that was not going to happen. So, it couldn't be Plan A.
It was only after the resurrection that Peter and the other disciples were able to put together what Jesus had been talking about. Plan A was the cross, Jesus' sacrificial giving of himself for us, followed by the resurrection. Because the tomb is now empty, anything is possible.
Jesus says to the disciples and to the crowds, “Take up your cross and follow me.” In order to follow Jesus, one must live sacrificially. In the first centuries after Jesus death and resurrection, many people were persecuted and martyred for their faith. Over the centuries, probably millions have died for their faith in Jesus.
While some Christians have always been persecuted, it is rare in the US. In other places around the world today, Christians are leaving Israel and Palestine because they are tired of restrictions. In Iraq and Egypt and Indonesia, it is risky today to be Christian. The Christian folks who live in such places live sacrificially.
The Apostle Paul describes sacrificial living. Instead of the self-focused lives many people prefer, Paul challenges us to live as Jesus lived. Many folks here give of themselves in significant ways. For example:
Harold and Kay spend hours each week driving the 'old people' to doctors' offices and the grocery store. We sometimes joke about that, because Harold will be 98 next Sunday.
I don't know how many hours a week Carole spends at Hope and doing things for Hope, but I do know it is significant. With a team of volunteers, she decorates tables for our parties, she purchases stuff for the shoe boxes, she wraps Christmas gifts for our adopted families, and so forth.
Others give as much, too, keeping our property looking great, replacing light bulbs, pulling weeds, caring for the memorial garden, updating our advertising, emptying and filling worship binders and booklets, and so much more.
I know that some folks give financial support to Hope which amounts to sacrificial giving. Sacrificial giving isn’t necessarily large dollars, but a significant percentage of income. I hope you have all responded to my challenge to give extra this month, and discovered how great it feels to give sacrificially.
Taking up the cross, and living sacrificially is not painful but a joy-filled experience. The more we try it, the more we will find true joy in our lives, and the more we will connect with Jesus, and experience what John calls eternal life.
Please pray with me. Jesus, we thank you for giving your life for us. Teach us to give our lives for others, and to find joy in sacrificial living. Amen