To most of us, what Jesus knows he has to do is not shocking news. It’s good news. We know what he means when he said, “on the third day, be raised.” But Peter and the gang haven’t read the gospel.
So, you got to hand it to him for having the guts to try to stop anything bad from happening to his beloved teacher. I mean, who among us has what it takes to rebuke Jesus to his face?
Writing on this passage, Eugene Peterson so poignantly stated, “We want to follow Jesus, but like Peter we also want to tell Jesus where to go. Jesus does not need our advice; he needs our faithful obedience.”
As so many of my atheist friends have pointed out, too many Christians like to talk the talk, but only a few are willing to walk the walk. They love to worship Jesus as long as they don’t have to do much more.
As I’ve pointed out before, nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say, “worship me.” Yet all throughout the gospels he says, “Follow me.” Watch what I do and do that.
And “From this time on, Jesus began to show his disciples…” what that entails – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, showing compassion, mercy and forgiveness. He shows the Twelve how to be the perfect embodiment of the gospel, no matter the cost. What they will discover is that real change begins with making hard and difficult sacrifices.
We have all made sacrifices… for our kids, our parents, our jobs, etc. I can’t even imagine the sacrifices my wife has made by being married to me. But all kidding aside, that’s not the kind of stuff Jesus is talking about.
It’s not so much about sacrificing dessert so you can lose a few pounds. It’s about denying oneself, for the sake of everyone else. Just as Jesus manifested divine love by sacrificing his own life, so too must we.
To gain the abundant and authentic life that Jesus offers, one must be willing to walk away from one’s self-centered ambitions, goals, and choices, if one is going to follow him truly and faithfully.
Of course, the ego doesn’t like that. In fact, it will fight hard against it. But for real transformation to happen, our heart must become one in Christ Jesus, who put aside his ego for the sake of others.
Likewise, we too must move beyond our need to be right or better than others. And the way we do that is to allow our hearts to lead the way. I think this is what it means when Jesus said, you have to deny yourself and pick up your cross.
He’s not talking about a literal cross, or a dogmatic type of cross. Jesus is talking about embracing his moral and ethical teachings, and becoming visible incarnation of God’s love, compassion, and justice in the world. And to faithfully embrace that life with your whole heart, including all the sacrifices and suffering you will endure.
We can’t call ourselves Christ followers if we are not going to actually follow his way of giving, healing, forgiving, or being.
We can’t claim his name if we are still holding on to past grudges, or ignoring another’s needs.
We can’t shine his true light if our hearts are full of darkness and deception. Jesus was pretty clear when he said, “Whoever wants to save their life will have to lose it.”
In what world does that make sense?
Paul would go on to write, “the message of the Cross seems like sheer madness. But to us who are being saved we know it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). And what is power of God if not love?
Jesus is our living example of how God’s love gives our sacrifice and suffering purpose. What we give up for others, and the suffering that may come, are keys to unlocking our true self and our true faith, because it requires us to put real trust in a God whose merciful grace overcomes death with life.
Jesus showed us that faithfulness is a daily sacrifice we all must make – a constant dying and resurrecting; always shedding the old as we step into the new. Giving up ourselves, our comforts and wants, might seem foolish or hard at first. But then we have to ask ourselves, “For what will it profit you to gain the world but lose your soul?”
We all have our cross to carry. As Henri Nouwen pointed out, “We can ignore them, reject them, refuse them, and even hate them. Or we can lift them up and follow Jesus who gives our suffering new life and new purpose.”
While the disciples are confused and scared, Jesus assures them that whatever they give up will pale in comparison to what they will gain: a foretaste of heaven, here and now. The same is true for all who choose to faithfully follow him.
Now let me say this. I’m not sure the disciples aren’t following Jesus to get a free pass into heaven or acceptance into angel university. To quote Shane Claiborne, “What good would Jesus’ wisdom be if it were meant only for the afterlife? How hard could it be to love our enemies in heaven?”
No, I believe the disciples are willing to risk losing their own lives to follow Jesus, because they know who Jesus really is. The Christ, God’s salvation and saving grace for the world. They have seen what God is capable of doing through him. And they want to be a part of that.
Jesus did not just speak about changes, cures, new life, he actually created them. He did not just forgive a person for what they did, he loved them and, in the process, transformed them, and their communities. Just as the power of God’s love moved through Jesus, so too does it move through us. (Nouwin)
If we dare to follow Christ, then our actions must be modeled after him; living without division between our words and our actions; loving without division between who deserves it and who does not.
If we live and love as Jesus taught, then our crosses will be easy to carry. If our actions are pure and purposeful like his then we too can transform ourselves and others, creating a more just and right world for all of God’s children.
For real transformation to happen, “Our faith must be alive. This implies practice, living our daily life in mindfulness. Praying not just with hearts and minds, with our actions in the world.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
This is what it means to be the church – to be the very incarnation of God’s love made manifest in all that we do. For real and authentic transformation to happen, in us and in the world, we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Our egos must step aside so our hearts can lead with purpose and passion.
I think this is what it means to love one another as God first loved us. At the end of the day, love is the ultimate cross we will bear. It’s the ultimate sacrifice we can make for, and with, and towards one another.
It’s a giving of one’s heart unselfishly that the world is able to see God in their midst. It’s in the way we love God, love others, and serve both that the kingdom of heaven comes alive right here, right now in Anamesa.
As Jesus moves towards Jerusalem, where he will endure real physical pain and suffering, the disciples will come to discover that this is not the end of the story. Death never has the final word. God does.
Thanks to God in Christ Jesus, we are Easter people. As Christ showed us on the cross with his own body and blood, out of the hardest sacrifice and the worst kind of suffering God brings new life. That has been the gospel message since the beginning. That God so loved the world, he would give his only begotten Son to become one with the world in order to redeem it back to God’s open and giving heart.
Peter would eventually discover the real power of living faithfully to this gospel, by living faithfully to God’s everlasting love in Christ Jesus.
He would go on to write, it is this love that “we have been given a new birth into a living hope; an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is in this love that we can rejoice, even if for a little while we have to suffer various trials. It is in this love that genuine faith will be praised, glorified, and honored when Jesus Christ is revealed” (c.f. 1 Peter 1:3-8).
And so in closing let me simply ask you the same question Jesus asked the Twelve.
What will you give in return for your life? What sacrifice will you make today, and tomorrow, and every day so that God’s glory will be made manifest and know in all that you do?
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol. 4. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living As An Ordinary Radical. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
Hahn, Thich Nhat. Living Buddah, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead, 1995.
Nouwen, Henri. Bread For the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
Peterson, Eugene. A Year With Jesus: Daily Readings and Meditations. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”