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Dear Friends in Christ,
Through the Epiphany season we walked with Peter and the other disciples as they witnessed Jesus doing amazing things. With them we saw Jesus heal the sick and cast out demons and feed thousands of people with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread. With Peter, James and John we witnessed Jesus shining like the sun and speaking with Moses and Elijah in glory. There didn’t seem to be anything that Jesus couldn’t do. As Peter had confessed in the words just before our text for this morning, he and the disciples were convinced that Jesus was the real deal; he was the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God. Their mindset seemed to be, “who wouldn’t want to follow Jesus, to be with someone who could provide for all your needs, heal all your sicknesses and repulse any enemies?” Following him seemed glorious!
It’s not surprising then that when Jesus tells them in very clear and simple words, not using parables, that He must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again, that Peter objected. Where was this mindset coming from? How could such things happen to someone who was the Son of God and who had shown such great power? If Jesus talked that way too often who would want to follow him?
Jesus had to rebuke Peter, even call him Satan, because he was saying the same thing Satan had said when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness—go for the glory, Jesus; use your power to make all the glory and riches of the kingdoms of the world your own. He let Peter know that by saying what he was saying Peter had his mind set on the things of men, not the things of God.
When Peter rebuked Jesus he was a prophet of the theology of glory. There are many like him today. They have their minds set on earthly things. They tell you that if only you will follow Jesus and be really devoted to him, then all kinds of good things will happen to you in your life on earth. Your marriage will be great; your finances will improve and you will have everything you want. You will have good health. Your children will stay on the straight and narrow. If someone tries to harm you or your business they will end up being harmed. If you will only follow Jesus and be really devoted to him then he will use his power as God to make sure that you are physically blessed in this life. They make following Jesus sound very appealing. They encourage people to have their minds set on the things of men, not the things of God.
If you ever hear this kind of teaching from someone who claims to be a religious teacher or even from a friend or neighbor, do what Jesus did. Say to them “get behind me, Satan“. They are being used by Satan to try to get you to have the wrong mindset, the wrong idea about Jesus, that could cost you your soul.
You see, Satan wants you to think that if you follow Jesus everything will be great; your life will be everything you imagine it could be. (Remember, he told Adam and Eve that if they ate the fruit everything would be great. Instead of dying they would be like God.) He wants us to think this because it’s a lie. When it turns out that everything is not great he can get us to think it’s our fault, that we aren’t doing a good enough job of following Jesus. Then he can overload us with guilt and shame; or he can get us to throw up our hands and say, “what good is following Jesus anyway, things seem to go better in my life when I ignore him and do my own thing.”
It’s appealing to think that if we would only follow Jesus faithfully everything in life would be great. Who doesn’t want to have a great marriage? Who doesn’t want to live without sickness or disease? Who doesn’t want to have everything their heart desires? But that’s having your mind set on the things of this world. Jesus reminds us, if you got everything you wanted in this life, what good would it do you? If you gained the whole world, which no one can, not even Solomon did, you still wouldn’t be able to purchase eternal safety for your soul. Life on earth is short. Even if you lived every day of your life in luxury, you are still going to age and you are still going to die and you won’t take anything with you. The richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor leave this world the same way they entered, naked, taking nothing earthly with them. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Jesus says.
Unlike Satan, Jesus doesn’t recruit followers by giving false hope. Jesus never said that if we would only follow him faithfully then our earthly lives would be free from trouble and we would have everything our hearts desire. He would not have made a good politician. He realized that Peter wasn’t the only one who had his mind set on the things of men instead of the things of God and so he set the record straight for the crowd that was following him and for those of us who follow him today. He said, if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Jesus tells us that the reason for following him is just the opposite of what Satan and the world would have us believe. Following Jesus is not a way to get things and satisfy our desire for riches, safety and ease. Following Jesus isn’t having a “what’s in it for me?” mindset. Jesus makes it clear that following him means denying self. It means you are no longer number 1, Jesus is. In fact, you aren’t even number 2, other people are. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.
Following Jesus means taking up a cross. The cross Jesus is talking about is whatever bad things come into your life because you are following Jesus; because of your Christian faith. Jesus had told his disciples, all men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When
(not if) you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Today, persecution of Christians is increasing around the globe. We hear news reports of violence against Christians in Iraq, in Egypt, in India, in Africa, in N Korea, and there is certainly a lot more going on that never makes the news. And don’t think it’s only in faraway places. Here in our own country we have an organization called “freedom from religion.” Instead of making our lives easier in this world, having in mind the things of God and following Jesus often makes them harder.
Jesus’ words really hit home when he says, if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. Who of us can say that we have not been ashamed of Jesus and his words? Peter couldn’t. He denied Jesus three times in one night. Who of us hasn’t refused to take up our cross, who of us has not been ashamed to let it be known that we are Christians and that as Christians we believe what the Bible says about a six day creation, and that adultery and homosexuality are sins in God’s eyes. Who of us hasn’t kept quiet in a discussion because we know if we speak up we will either have to deny what Scripture says or have people think we are crazy? Standing with Jesus and his word (notice they go together) in an adulterous and sinful world means we will attract scorn and people will hate us just like they hated Jesus.
We have to confess that there have been times when we have had the wrong mindset, when we have not followed Jesus because we wanted life on earth to be easy. We didn’t want to take up our cross. We didn’t want to experience scorn or hatred. We didn’t want to risk losing the good life we have. Jesus’ words force us to ask ourselves what we would do if our life itself was in danger because of our faith?
Thankfully, Jesus did not compromise when it came to God and his word. In our place, as our representative before God, he spoke the truth and willingly took the consequences. Even though he always perfectly had in mind the things of God, his life wasn’t easy. All he owned were the clothes on his back and even those were taken from him when he was crucified. He willingly carried his cross to Calvary so that he could pay for all the times that we have failed to carry our cross and follow him. He had more shame heaped upon him by the world than we can imagine but the Father was not ashamed of him. He showed his approval, his acceptance of everything Jesus did in our place, by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in glory and giving him a name that is above every name—Lord and Savior.
What’s your mindset as you follow Jesus? Don’t follow Jesus thinking that by doing so you will be happy, healthy and wealthy in this life. That’s a lie of the devil and could cost you your soul. Jesus makes it clear that if you do follow him you will have trouble in this world. But, follow him anyway because he has overcome the world. He has paid for all your sins and purchased for you something better than all the wealth and power of the world. He has purchased a place for you in heaven. When he comes again in glory accompanied by his holy angels he will point at you and say, “this is one of whom I am not ashamed. This is one who has been cleansed by my blood. This is one whose sins I have paid for in full. Come inherit the kingdom that I have prepared for you.” Set your mind on things above, on following Jesus even though it brings you trouble, because he has saved your soul.