Imagine with me tonight at you are with Jesus when he asks you the question: “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus had asked this question to his disciples and they replied with the usual answers; John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, perhaps one of the prophets. Jesus then made the question more personal. Then he asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replies (knocks the ball out of the park) , “You are the Messiah, (the anointed One, the Christ,) the Son of the living God.” Yes! Peter gets it right and wins the $64,000 question. Jesus tells him that was a great answer and that God had revealed it to him. Yes, Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter was probably feeling pretty good about himself at that point. But then we pick up the story in Matthew 16:22
21 From then on Jesusbegan to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.
It appears from the scriptures that Jesus is beginning to reveal who He really is and why he came to earth to his disciples. From the scriptures, we can gather that Jesus told his disciples not only why he came to earth but what was going to happen in the coming days, weeks, and months. While the scriptures don’t tell us if he told the disciples that he was going to be crucified, it appears from the response of Peter and then Jesus that Jesus at least gave a hint of how his death would take place. I’m sure the disciples were none too pleased to find out that Jesus would be killed on a Roman cross. From the way I understand it, a Roman cross with its crucifixion was and is about the most torturous way to die devised by man. It was a slow, agonizing suffocation. Criminals could hang on a cross for days before they died. The criminal was stripped of his dignity by being executed publicly and naked. Not only did Jesus tell his disciples he was going to die, but he told them how it was going to happen. No wonder Peter responded they way he did. Take a look at verse 22:
22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”
Jesus and his disciple had grown close. There is no way they wanted their leader to die in such an excruciating and humiliating manner. Peter was in a state of denial. Apparently, he didn’t hear the part about being raised from the dead on the third day, and the fact that all this had to happen so Jesus would fulfill the purpose for which he was sent to earth in the first place. Jesus responds: “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
This is a danger that all of us face when it comes to being followers of Christ. It is easy to see things from a human point of view because we are human. It is much more difficult to see things from God’s point of view, because we are not God. This is where we have to pray for God to help us through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is where we have to lay everything on the line. That’s exactly what Jesus told his disciples as we continue in verse 24:
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.
Jesus makes it very clear that if we are going to be a Christ follower – a disciple, then we must deny ourselves – in other words, turn from our selfish ways. Ouch! I sure don’t like to think of myself as selfish. I sure that you don’t like to think of yourself in that way either. Jesus was talking to the men that he had been teaching for the last two years – Sometimes I think it would be so easy if I had been one of Jesus’ disciples. But yet, knowing the nature of humans – the sinful nature – I know I probably wouldn’t have fared any better than they did. Peter says, “Jesus, you don’t have to go through all that.” Jesus reminded Peter, “that’s the way it was planned.” Jesus reminds his disciples right then and there that they had to give up their selfish ways. Jesus is reminding us right now that we have to give up our selfish ways – and not only that – but we have to take up our cross and follow him.
We often think that Jesus carried the whole cross from the court to Golgotha. But he didn’t. Criminals only carried the cross beam to the place of crucifixion. Not that it mattered, because the crossbeam was still heavy. Jesus had been beaten within an inch of his life. Carrying a cross is heavy duty work. Jesus reminds us that those who try to hang on to their life will lose it and those who lose their life will find it. One thing that became very clear this week is that we who serve Christ – we who serve the Kingdom of Heaven live in a very backwards Kingdom. By giving our life to Christ we gain the world – By holding back our life from Christ, we lose everything. Jesus’ asks the question, “What good is it if you have everything you need in life and yet lose your soul? Is all this stuff you’re trying to gain more important than your soul? (PDV — Pastor Dale Version)
So what does that look like? Let’s go to Paul’s letter to the church at Rome – the 12th chapter.
9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
This is a tough scripture. We often think that Paul was more faith and not so much works. Paul reminds us that living our lives as living sacrifices involves hard work. He reminds us that we are to love each other and we are to love others. He emphasizes that we should really love them and not just to pretend to love them. Wow! Then, he tells us what we really need to hate and that is to hate what is wrong. Catch that, not the people who do wrong things, but the wrong things that people do. We must hate the darkness, but the people – we are to love them – the scripture is quite clear about that. Not only are we to hate what is wrong, but we are to cling to what is good. What is good? God is good – Christ is good. We are to love each other with genuine affection.
“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Paul, you can’t be serious – but Paul is serious – this is what it means to be a Christ follower. Yes, it goes against every fiber in your body, but that is what Christ means when he says to deny yourself and follow him. Paul gives us just a few more – be happy with those who are happy – weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. I think he’s covered that one already.
- Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people
- Don’t think you know it all
- Do all that you can to live at peace with everyone.
Are these tough or what? Jesus reminds us, “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.”
My challenge for us during this Lenten season is for us to prepare our hearts for the Easter celebration – to take up our cross – to follow Jesus – serve Jesus – with everything that you have.