From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from
the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him
aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he
turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your
mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and
follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For
what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return
for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will
repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will
not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:21-28 ESV)
Numerous sections of Scripture can be labelled as ‘hard’. Think of the killing of babies in Exodus or of war
and slaughter in Joshua and Jeremiah and Ezekiel. You have individual shocking scenes such as the Levite’s
concubine and Jephthah’s daughter (Judges); you have psalms that speak of utter destruction and cries for
vengeance. You have what has been called the “hard sayings of Jesus” – such as our gospel (and remember
‘gospel’ means ‘good news’). So I begin my thoughts today with the observation that if we’re
uncomfortable, uneasy, or wanting to edit or censor sections of Scripture, it is because the text somehow
isn’t right, appropriate, proper, or relevant for us – and hence people might choose to ignore it, apologise for
it, reinterpret it – because, at the end of the day, God doesn’t fit our image.
If a person believes God should be nice then anything that suggests he’s not needs work. If a person believes
that God is only interested in love then anything outside of whatever that means is a problem. If someone
thinks that religion and God are all about morals and being good then anything extra to that is really
superfluous. Our text is hard today because it succinctly but clearly challenges all human perceptions about
God and about being religious.
Peter was called ‘Satan’ when he put his own spin on what God and religion should be about. ‘Satan’ is more
of a title than a name – meaning Adversary. Left to our own devices, we – even those who know Christ –
would be called the same. I can imagine Peter and the disciples listening to Jesus and his talk of denial,
taking up your cross, losing one’s life and thinking “Um, this isn’t what I signed up for!”. Today Christians
can think likewise when they are confronted with the clearest symbol or message of Christianity – and it’s
not ‘I love you’ – it’s the message that makes the ‘I love you’ worth listening to – but it is a shocking and
scary foundational message upon which ‘I love you’ is built – and it is the cross.
The hallmark, the lifestyle of Christianity is death – that is where we start – don’t be fooled or deluded –
look at the font / imagine the font – there is drowning (baptism) – look at / imagine the Bible – there are
words that kill and then make alive (that is what happens with Law and Gospel) – look at / imagine Holy
Communion through which we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. We are dying to live – death to sin,
death to fear, death to self, ultimately death to death – all because we stand under the cross and Jesus’ death
Many of you will have heard this type of message for most of your life. I have; and I’ve been preaching it for
over three decades! And yet there are times I’d be happy to take Jesus into a side room during morning tea
and say “Um, Jesus, I know you died for me – and I am grateful – truly – but um, look do I really have to
take up my cross? Can’t I have a sack of sadness for a little while or um carry a candle of your light into a
tough neighbourhood or something?”.
It’s not too far a stretch for us to understand Peter’s response – having had Jesus acknowledge that he was
the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus then went on and showed his disciples that this meant that he
would be executed by the religious leaders and then raised to life. I don’t know how Jesus showed this to the
disciples but I am intrigued that the Devil showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and he responded to that
temptation with ‘Begone Satan’ and now Peter takes Jesus aside and advises Jesus not to take this path of
rejection and death and we hear a similar response ‘Get behind me Satan’. And then Jesus goes on to clarify
discipleship – for those who follow him – this is the fine print – the detail – what life with Jesus is all about –
fundamentally it involves death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described discipleship in this way: When Christ calls a
man, he bids him come and die.1 Jesus challenges the world to offer life, to give life and it can’t do so. This
world can maintain life for a while but the end product is death and if you gain the whole world then you
ultimately gain death and that is before the final judgement when people are also repaid by God for what
they have done – remembering that the wages of sin is death. Jesus’ words are tough, hard, even harsh and
they stand for the world to hear and then respond. They cannot be hushed by time or death because Jesus’
tomb is empty and these words challenge each generation with life and death. Live according to one’s own
agenda or follow Jesus? Both involve death.
Those disciples who heard those words were left with a promise: Truly, I say to you, there are some standing
here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. I don’t think this is
referring to the end of the world as some have suggested. I think there is a break in thought between v.27 and
v.28 – between the big picture and the promise to the disciples – and Jesus is saying ‘you will see this to be
true’. And they did for they were turned by the risen Jesus from death defeated disciples into death defying
disciples who from Pentecost onward took on the world – not by force of arms but with words about Jesus as
Saviour of the world and a discipleship that must follow Jesus rather than people (Acts 5).
Even when ‘people’ are our own selves! Jesus’ words in our text and Christianity today stands or falls on
Jesus Christ. If he is God who died for us and rose again then his salvation and life through death is worth
everything. If Jesus isn’t God, even if he said all the words that are recorded, and yes, that means that the
resurrection is a hoax or fraud – then Christianity is a waste of time. No matter how much Christians or the
world might like Christianity to be good morals or a place of power whether over demons, sickness, poverty,
whatever or an impetus and programme for social change or a community of tolerance and equality, Jesus
sticks a big cross in front of us and every church programme says “It’s all about this!”.
But what does this mean? A good Lutheran question. That Jesus places a cross in front of us? Of course this
is not literal, nor is Jesus’ call to take up one’s cross and follow him. But it is real. It involves hearing God’s
Word through the lens of the cross. It involves not picking and choosing God’s Word for the ‘easy’ passages
or our favourites or the ones we agree with but standing under all of God’s Word especially the verses that
confront us, rattle us, scare us even. What helps us is standing under the cross for Jesus’ death for us because
now we have the proper perspective on how to listen and wrestle with God’s Word for we have in the cross,
in Jesus’ death, the clear message of what God wants us to know: you are rescued from your sin – I do love
and care for you – I am good – pain, troubles, suffering are not punishments from me – I will never abandon
you. What dies here is our pride, our view of what God and religion should be, and we discover that we live
on God’s terms – and they are gracious – and trying to live on our own terms only ends in death.
Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus is a good description of our attitude to each day. Without wishing
to be flippant, if you get death over with first thing then the rest of the day is a bonus! So daily repentance,
death to self and selfish sin, struggle with pet sins and habits that hurt and harm others is part of each day not
out of fear of death or hell but because the cross of Jesus gives us strength and motivation to live an obedient
and sanctified life. The cross provides us with the promise and the reality of forgiveness so we can live with
Christ and follow him each day.
Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus also gives us an orientation for living – bent over, close to the
ground. Again, a metaphor I would suggest for service. You see, we can serve others with pride, arrogance,
smugness, superiority – in fact that is what often happens without Jesus! – but with Jesus we then seek the
other person’s best interests, we try and not count the cost, we turn the other cheek when appropriate, and we
would do all this even for our enemy. The death of self is so hard but left unchecked each person seeks to
make the world in their own image – or at least the people around them – and even if you gain the whole
world, all you have is death.
Jesus’ words today sound tough, are tough, but offer and give life because of his own cross. Facing death is
always hard – whether it is daily – whether it is physical – whether it is a metaphor for repentance and
change – but with Jesus it is the environment of life for death never has the final say when Jesus is near.
1 D Bonhoeffer (1937). The Cost of Discipleship. p.79
- Matthew 16:21 - 28