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A young lady once came to me very confused. She had been going to church and got the impression from what she heard at church that if you believe in Jesus your life will be great. All your troubles will disappear. But that’s not what she was experiencing. A young man came to me very distraught because he had been bitten by the neighbor’s dog. He wasn’t as concerned about being bitten as he was about the circumstances. The neighbor was sick, and he was delivering some food, doing something good, doing a good work when he was bitten. He wondered why God would let a dog bite him when he was just trying to help someone.
Our sinful nature loves what the prosperity preachers teach. “If you really believe then your life on earth will be great, there will be healing for illnesses and relationships, and you will do well financially. Your life will be filled with joy and peace.” It sounds great. They even make it sound Biblical. But it’s a very dangerous teaching because when hard times do come, when an illness isn’t healed, when relationships are troubled, you will conclude one of two things, either God is a liar, or your faith isn’t strong enough. Either conclusion leads to despair.
Jesus is the opposite of a prosperity preacher. He makes it very clear, over and over again, that those who put their trust in him and strive to follow him should expect hard times. We need to instill this fact in the hearts and minds of our children. Not only will following Jesus not bring you fame and fortune, it will very likely bring you trouble and persecution.
When Peter boldly confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah, Jesus immediately made sure that he didn’t get the wrong idea about what that meant. He knows how prone we are to set our minds on the things of men, on fame and fortune, peace and safety, more than on the things of God. And why wouldn’t Peter think that being the Messiah meant fame and fortune, peace and safety. That’s what he had been taught all his life, and he had witnessed the power Jesus demonstrated in his miracles. Jesus had to be very blunt and clear with Peter and the disciples, and it still took them until his resurrection and Pentecost to fully understand.
Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things; be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the experts in the law, be killed; and after three days rise again.
Just as it was foretold in Psalm 2, the rulers, Jewish and Roman, Pharisees and Sadducees, would conspire against the Messiah, God’s anointed one. The Jewish leaders didn’t like Pilate the Roman governor, the Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t like each other, but they all had to work together if they wanted to have Jesus executed. Pilate and Herod had been enemies for years, but after dealing with Jesus and the accusations of the Jewish leaders they became friends.
Usually, we think of love as the thing that unites people, but so does hatred. Professor Deutschlander commented in connection with this verse that all the groups in Jerusalem at the time who hated each other united against Jesus. Their hatred of Jesus was stronger than their hatred for each other. And, he said, it’s likely that the same thing will happen to us. As you look at the climate in our world today, it seems to be going that way. The hatred of Christianity, or at least what people perceive to be Christianity, continues to grow. Sooner or later the hatred that different groups have for each other will be overcome by their hatred of those who follow Jesus, and they will unite against us. We should expect hard times.
Jesus wanted to make sure that Peter didn’t get the wrong idea about what it meant that he was the Messiah. He had not come into the world to set up an earthly kingdom of fame and glory. What good would that do? You could follow Jesus and live in a glorious earthly kingdom in riches and peace, the things of men, but what would happen when you died? As Jesus says in another place, what good is it if you gain the whole world and end up losing your soul.
Jesus wanted Peter and the disciples to understand that he did not come to give us a comfortable earthly life. He came to give us eternal life. In order to do that, Jesus says, it was necessary, required, that he suffer. It was necessary that he fulfill everything Scripture foretold, including the suffering pictured in Isaiah, and the Psalms, that talked about piercing hands and feet, and being beaten, having people pull out his beard and spit in his face. It was necessary for him to endure these unjust hardships without giving in to sin. And that’s exactly what he did. He did not commit a sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was insulted, he did not insult in return. When he suffered, he made no threats. Can you imagine that! We today are so quick to retaliate, to fall into making personal attacks and name calling when someone simply disagrees with us.
Because Jesus was without sin even in what he said, he could offer his life, his perfect life, as a sacrifice in our place. He himself carried our sins in his body on the tree so that we would be dead to sins and alive to righteousness. By his wounds you were healed.
That’s why it was so important for Peter and the disciples not to see Jesus as someone who came to set up an earthly kingdom. That’s why Jesus rebuked Peter and called him Satan. Unless Jesus endured these hard times and suffered and died in our place, no one could be saved.
Jesus also wanted Peter and the disciples to know that not only would he have to endure hard times, so would they. On another occasion he told them you will be hated by everyone because of me. Anyone who follows Jesus will have to take up their cross.
What does Jesus mean by the cross? For some, for Peter, it was literal. Tradition says that Peter was executed on a cross but requested that he be hung upside down so that he would not be confused with Jesus. James was beheaded. Every apostle except John was executed for following Jesus. Tradition says that he was poisoned, but the poison didn’t kill him, so he was exiled to the prison island of Patmos.
For Martin Luther, it meant being declared an enemy of the church and the state and seeing his face on a poster that said, “wanted, dead or alive.”
What does it mean for you? Every Christian faces the cross of the daily inner struggle described by Paul, the struggle between our sinful nature and our new man of faith. Maybe you experienced it this morning when the alarm when off. Your sinful nature provided all kinds of good reasons to stay in bed. Your new man of faith said, “I rejoiced with those who said let us go to the house of the Lord.” Since you are here, it seems your new man of faith won the battle, but it was a cross, a struggle.
Every Christian faces the cross of walking the narrow middle road between the ditches of self-righteousness and despair. When we do something good, we struggle against the temptation to brag about how much better we are than others because we have not committed the sins they have, or at least we go to church. When we fall into sin, we struggle against the temptation to think that we are too bad, too sinful to be forgiven. It’s a struggle to keep listening to the word so that we are reminded that we are just as sinful as everyone else, but that Jesus has paid for our every sin.
People in our world today seem to be willing to give up more and more freedom for what they think will give them safety.
Every Christian faces the cross, the challenge, of giving up safety for Jesus. Jesus put it this way, whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
Daniel, the Apostles, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego carried that cross. They were all faced with the very real choice, stop following Jesus or die; continue following Jesus and be killed. There may be some of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Afghanistan who are facing that very real cross right now. It is said that the Taliban may be going door to door looking for Christians.
Right now, none of us face that particular cross, but we might be faced with losing our lifestyle, our access to social media, our job, our reputation if we continue to follow after Jesus. This is something families need to talk about so that, when the time comes when you have to give up peace and safety in order to continue to follow Jesus, and that time will come, you are better able to resist the temptation to have your mind set on the things of man, on earthly things, rather than on the things of God, eternal things.
Keep studying the word so that you are not misled by those who say that if you really believe your life will be happy and safe and peaceful. Keep studying the word so that you are reminded of what Jesus had to endure to pay for your sins. Keep studying the word so that you are prepared for hard times, to carry your cross no matter what. Let these words of Jesus ring in your ears daily – the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.