We all have our crosses to carry.

Matthew 16:21-28

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

 

 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

 

 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

 

   28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

 

            Our text for this morning picks right up where we left off last Sunday.  Verse 21 begins with “From that time on…”  That time is when Peter made that great confession of faith that Jesus is the anointed one, unique, different from every other person to ever walk the face of the earth, hand selected by God for the redemption of the world.  Peter got a question right and he was given praise by Jesus for doing just that and he got the nickname “Rock”.  The problem with rocks is that sometimes you can trip over them.

            So “from that time” Jesus began teaching his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem where he would suffer greatly at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then be raised from the dead on the third day.  Which makes me wonder just how slow the disciples were because they didn’t seem to expect Jesus to suffer greatly at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and rise again on the third day.  You might think that at some point after the crucifixion of Jesus they might say, “Oh yeah, this is what he was talking about.”  But I guess that I am just glad that they did get it at some point.

            So Jesus has been trying to explain to his disciples the things that are going to happen, and Peter goes and says the wrong thing.  Different versions of the Bible translate it slightly differently.  The NRSV says, “God forbid it, Lord!”  The NIV, “Never, Lord!”  And the KJV, “Be it far from thee, Lord.”  When you see these discrepancies, you can assume that you are working with some sort of Greek saying or idiom translated into English.  And what Peter is essentially saying is “Over my dead body.  I’m not going to let this happen!”

            It is clear that Peter still doesn’t get it.  He doesn’t fully understand Jesus’ role on earth.  He doesn’t get that death is supposed to be a part of Jesus’ role.  This is one of the things that he came to the earth to do.  Peter still seems to think that Jesus is going to lead some sort of rebellion against the Romans that involves swords and spears.  He seems to think that Jesus is going to lead his people out from this oppressive rule and into freedom.  He seems to think that Jesus is going to be a powerful political leader, and he isn’t about to let Jesus be taken, tortured, and killed by the leaders in Jerusalem.  “Over my dead body,” he says.

            Peter must have felt so good about himself after making that strong statement.  He probably thought that Jesus was going to thank him for his dedication.  But Jesus’ response, and this is priceless, in verse 23 “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Like I said, sometimes we trip over rocksJ.

            Now I don’t think that Jesus was really calling Peter Satan.  What Jesus did was he recognized the temptation present within Peter’s desire to keep Jesus safe.  We often don’t think of Jesus being tempted with the exception of the 40 days that he spent in the wilderness, fasting and praying.  We know that Jesus was tempted there by the devil and given three distinct temptations (in order, according to Matthew).  1. Turn the stones into bread.  2. Throw yourself off the highest point of the temple.  3. Bow down to Satan and worship him.  Each of these three temptations had their reward.  If Jesus would have turned the stones into bread he would have been able to eat.  If he would have jumped off the temple people would have seen him fall out of the sky only to stop inches above the pavement, and they would probably assume that he was at least someone special from God.  And if he would bow down and worship the devil, Satan says that he would give him all of the kingdoms of the world and all of their power.

            When Peter tells Jesus that he won’t let the authorities take him and kill him because he believes that Jesus is going to be a great political leader for his people and lead Israel in battle to take the Promised Land back from the Romans, he is tempting Jesus with the third temptation that Satan tempted Jesus with.  Jesus is being tempted to take the shortcut to power.  Jesus is being tempted to skip the cross altogether.

            In 1988 there was a movie released that I guess was more than a little controversial.  Directed by Martin Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ caused Christians to boycott, picket, and make public statements discouraging Christians and probably all Americans from seeing this film.  I was eight years old at the time, so I don’t remember any of this.  But I can only assume that it was a lot like the concern that was raised in 2003 when Dan Brown released his book The Da Vinci Code. 

            The reasons for the protest of The Last Temptation of Christ make sense to me.  The movie really made no effort to stay with the Biblical storyline and in the opening credits it even makes the statement that the movie and the book before it were intended to be a work of fiction.  So don’t go and watch The Last Temptation of Christ if you are looking for a historical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  I also wouldn’t encourage you to watch the movie if you want to see a good movie.  Jesus and his disciples all seem to have New York accents; Pilot is played by David Bowie.  Like I said, it is a weird movie.

            But in spite of all of its weirdness and proclivity to stray from the biblical text, The Last Temptation of Christ seems to make a point that I don’t think I have heard or seen made as well before.  This movie shows the struggles that Jesus had, knowing that he was going to Jerusalem to be crucified.  He knew what was to come, and he sure didn’t want to experience the pain that was before him.  Like in the Bible, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that if any other way was possible that God would choose that way instead.

            In the movie Jesus is arrested, comes before David Bowie, and is condemned to die on the cross.  But as he is hanging there, a young girl appears to Jesus, and only to him.  She tells him that she is his guardian angel and that he does not have to die on the cross.  Instead she tells him that she can make the people believe that he died there and he can live out the rest of his life as a regular human being.

            The movie then shows how Jesus’ life might have played out if he did not die on the cross.  He got married, had children, and worked as a carpenter.  He lived a full and happy life, looking just like any regular person would have looked, living in an average home with his average family.  The only thing lacking was that he knew that he had not been faithful to his calling by God.

            As Jesus’ nature life is coming to an end, he feels that he needs to tell his disciples what really happened.  So on his deathbed, he calls in the living disciples and reveals to them the truth.  He didn’t die on the cross, but instead he lived into his 70’s and lived a good life.  But it is then that it is revealed to Jesus that the guardian angel that had been with him the whole time, the one who told him that he really didn’t have to die on the cross and could instead live a life as a regular human being was in fact not an angel, but Satan.

            At this realization, Jesus drags himself out of his bed, to his knees and prays that God let him do it all over again.  And the movie ends with Jesus, hanging on the cross, uttering the words, “It is finished” as he breathes his last and drops his head.

            Again, The Last Temptation of Christ is a fictional movie, and I don’t even think it is a good movie.  To even suggest that Jesus sinned is wrong.  But what I think this movie got right is that Jesus was tempted.  As Hebrews 4:15 tells us, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, yet he was able to resist temptation.

            So in our text for today Jesus has been telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer, die, and rise again on the third day and Peter responds by saying something like, Never, Lord; over my dead body.  Jesus must have felt tempted.  Tempted to forgo the cross.  Tempted to forgo the pain.  Tempted to live out his life like any other person might.  That is why he says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

            Jesus then continues in verse 24 of our scripture for this morning, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

            Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  We hear this paraphrased from time to time in our society.  People often times talk about the cross that they have to bear.  Often times this is something that causes them discomfort, something that they would like to change, or just something that they don’t like about their life right now.  I can’t seem to lose that last 15 lbs.  I guess that is my cross to carry.  My mortgage is too high.  I guess that is my cross to carry.  I can’t find shoes to fit my feet.  I guess that is my cross to carry.  I know that these things can be inconveniences, some even major inconveniences.  But I think we need to stop calling these things our crosses.  I think it belittles Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to compare the pain and suffering that he had to experience to not being able to find shoes that fit.

            Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder probably wrote more about this subject than anyone else that I am familiar with.  Yoder wrote, “The cross of Christ was the price of his obedience to God amid a rebellious world; it was suffering for having done right, for loving where others hated, for representing in the flesh the forgiveness and the righteousness of God among humanity, which was both less forgiving and less righteous. The cross of Christ was God’s overcoming evil with good.”

            When Jesus instructs his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him, he is inviting them into a life of obedience to God in this rebellious world.  And in Jesus’ day, such obedience to God could get you killed.  It might not seem that extreme to us in our land of religious tolerance, but Jesus forgiving those who had done him wrong, eating with those who were considered unclean or unacceptable, and overturning the money changers tables when he believed that they were making a buck at the expense of the poor, these things led to Jesus’ cross.  Jesus was killed for questioning the authorities, both religious and civil authorities, of his time.

            Our cross may not lead to death, but it will lead to us being different.  It is clear as I walk down the street that there are no two people exactly alike.  We have different hair color, eye color, and skin color too.  And what we choose to do with these physical attributes is different from person to person as well.  Some will cut their hair short, others will let it grow long.  Some will cover their bodies with ink and others with sleeves.  We have distinctive styles where we try to dress so as to be associated with a certain class, group, or individual.  We are all different; like snowflakes, no two of us are alike.

            I see people who make a special effort to be different from time to time.  I have no problem with this and at times I applaud people’s creativity.  The Mohawk haircut seems to be making a come-back (if it was ever in style).  Dreadlocks, hair dyed bright colors.  I even saw a young woman this week who appeared to get her sense of style by observing Amish men.  All of this seems to me to be out of an effort to be different from everyone else, even more different than other people are.

            We as Mennonites have historically done this as well.  We have tried to stand out from the broader culture by dressing a certain way.  We know that we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world.  So Mennonites wore a certain kind of head covering, a certain type of dress.  Men wore a plain coat to church and a certain kind of beard without a mustache.  Mennonites knew in their hearts that Jesus wanted them to look like Abraham Lincoln.  And not only look like Honest Abe, you should chose the same method of transportation.

            If you were to ask one of our spiritual ancestors why they did the things that they did, I believe that most could give you a good reason.  I remember a conservative Mennonite man being asked why he wore a beard and he said, “It shows the world that I am different.”

            Romans 12:1-2 tells us this, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

            I greatly respect those who dress differently than the dominant culture around us.  I respect those who want the world to know that they are different, especially when done for a religious reason.  We are not to be just like the rest of the world.  We are to be just like Christ.  And that begins not by growing out a beard or throwing out your blue jeans.  It begins with a change of heart.

            I was trying to think of people this week who I believe have exemplified what it means to bear ones cross, to follow Jesus to the point that you will stand out from the rest of society and often be rejected by society.  I thought of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.  Clearly, these are two people that made drastic changes in their lives, sacrificing a normal life for a life of following Jesus.  I thought of my in-laws who are living in a one-bedroom apartment in one of the poorest areas in our nation, working for just a few dollars a day.  But then I thought of someone whose life I think shows well what it means to bear one’s cross.  The Reverend Harold Camping.

            Harold Camping became rather famous a few months ago when he predicted that the world would come to an end when Jesus came back on May 21, 2011.  Camping invested a lot of money, put up billboards, printed articles, and broadcast his message across radio waves throughout the nation.  People mocked him; I mocked him.  He was socially rejected as a crazy Christians and many Christians tried to separate themselves from even being associated with Camping.

            Obviously Camping was wrong.  And I do think that he did more to harm the image of Christianity in the United States than he did to help.  But the thing that I respect so much about Harold Camping is that no matter how many people mocked him and jeered him, no matter how rejected he felt by society and probably by even members of his own family, Camping held strong to what he believed.  He was wrong, but he didn’t allow popular opinions to change what he believed.  Harold Camping believed he was being faithful to God, and Harold Camping was rejected, mocked, and jeered, even by Christians.  That is bearing one’s cross.

            When we act out of a changed heart we begin to look more and more like Jesus.  This doesn’t mean we need to grow a beard and wear sandals, or make end-times predictions.  We look like Jesus in the way that we love those society has deemed un-loveable.  We look like Jesus in the way we stand up for what we believe, even when it is the unpopular thing to do.  We look like Jesus when we make the unpopular decision because we know that it is what God desires of us.  We look like Jesus when we go into Jerusalem and raise some tail feathers, even though we know it will lead to the cross.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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