Sermon, Pentecost 12A, Sunday September 3, 2017
St Petri. Pastor Adrian Kitson
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
28 ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’
FROM ROCK SOLID TO SHIFTING SAND!
We can have moments of solid, immovable faith in God’s promises. But then, in an instant, we can crumble to shifting sand that has no visible presence or use. Just ask Peter! This happens to him in Matthew’s account upon which we reflect this morning.
They must have been buzzing up there in Ceasarea Philippi when Peter spoke those solid words of faith. “Who do you say I am?”, Jesus asks the group. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”, confesses Peter. That was a moment! Jesus says so. “Good one, Simon. You are now to be called “Rock” because on that confession of faith in me, a whole global, timeless, future community of fellow confessors will come to be”.
And then that amazing news that Peter and the others will be the keys to this kingdom. They will be the pivotal people upon whom those community around them either enters heaven’s gates or not.
From this great moment to the next moment that Peter would probably rather forget. Peter, the Rock, pivotal to the salvation of many crumbles to be a mere pebble that closes heaven to many – a “stumbling block” to this King’s kingdom coming. Conviction dissolves.
But let’s not get too down on Peter. There is a major shift signalled here, and the shift is so hard to fathom.
In all that has happened up to this point: the feeding of thousands, the calming of the sea and wind, the healing, the parables of wheat and weeds, sower and crops, we have been hearing what this Kingdom is. Now Jesus switches to how it comes to be. The picture is not rosy at all. The Kingdom comes with a cross.
“From that time on….”, (v21) Jesus starts to explain that the Messiah would not be embraced but rejected, not crowned but executed, not empowered by might but weakened by affliction.
DISSAPOINTMENT WITH GOD
What a disappointment! Truly baffling. No wonder Peter the Rock, disintegrates to dust!
The Messiah is supposed to be received by all, especially the oppressors and the detractors, in his glorious show of Divine power, not rejected by most in suffering and dying!
The Messiah is supposed to be eternal, immovable, un-shiftable – like that Rock, not crumbling, beaten to a pulp by mere humans.
The Messiah is supposed to be undeniable, unmistakable, irresistible, not miss-able, replaceable.
Life with him is supposed to be the same. We are always on the up and up, always winning, never sinning, always healing never suffering, always living never dying, forever young not aging, always positive and nice, not struggling and edgy.
Clearly, Jesus’ version of the Messiah is not what Peter (and we?) had imagined. Peter “takes Jesus aside” from the others to correct the Messiah about the nature and scope of his mission.
“Listen, Jesus, this cannot be what God intends for you. There must be a different way. This is not what our deliverer ought to do. Suffering and dying is what we have all endured, prophet and ordinary person alike. You are supposed to be different. You are supposed to save us from all enemies, not be defeated by them too!”, explains Peter.
Jesus’ come back is like a rock thudding into your chest. “Get behind me, Satan!”
MUCH AT STAKE
What is at stake for the response to be so harsh? You and I, that is what. The whole world and its future, that is what is at stake.
Peter’s words are THE temptation words of Satan, who already tried this one on way back after Jesus’ baptism out there in the hills of temptation. “I will give you all the kingdoms you want if you bow down to me”, says the prince of evil to the Prince of Peace. “Take the easy way out”.
No. There will be no future for the world if there is no shame of the cross. There will be no solid rock-bed of faith for us without the rock-solid love of the Suffering Servant, Jesus.
Jesus makes it clear:
‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Not too much nice feeling or ego stroking going on here for Peter or us!
This is a direct challenge to much of our belief, and my ego and my personal needs too! Common belief seems to be that you’re supposed to do all you can to make your life count. And if things go well. God is with you. When things go against you, it either your fault, you are cursed, you have done some great sin and this is your punishment or you obviously do not believe enough – your faith is not strong enough.
I also hear that if it does not make me feel good then it cannot be of the Spirit. If the music or the words or the experience ‘move’ me emotionally, then Jesus is present and working. If it doesn’t, it is just human ordinary stuff and not worth my heart.
But what a relief here! Jesus is “saving our lives” in suffering and in joy. Jesus is at work in bad feelings and harsh words we might not always like. Could it be that the Spirit is always at work in the moving times and the ordinary times, the specky things and the ordinary things, apart from what I feel or think, but including those, covering those?
Yes. Jesus is “The Rock of all ages”. He will go from here to the cross to provide the solid ground upon which any suffering sinner can stand with confidence and joy.
IN THE FRAY WITH THE CROSS
We Christians live in the fray with his cross of pain and triumph in our centre. Only his suffering, dying and triumph will guide us through, sustain us, keep us, call the chaos and bring love to bear. It is his cross that is immovable, solid, lasting, complete for all of life.
I am reminded of those telling words of a person who willingly entered the fray of Nazi oppression when he did not have to. This Lutheran Pastor paid for his courage and commitment to his Lord and the Lord’s people in that dreadful time it with imprisonment and his own life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him to come and die”.
He calls us to die to ourselves so that we live more than we ever could – in him. Jesus is not a magic genie here to fix all our problems but lead us through all joy and sorrow and work through us to call many to follow him.
Being a Christian is being saved from endless self. Being a Christian is being a Jesus’ cross bearing follower – a disciple in the dirt with the Messiah who lives in the dirt of life much more than any glory.
Bonhoeffer puts it well in his classic work “The Cost of Discipleship”,
To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only Him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. … All that self-denial can say is: “He leads the way, keep close to Him.”
“…and take up his cross.” … Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for His sake. If in the end we know only Him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed looking only unto Him. If Jesus had not so graciously prepared us for this word, we should have found it unbearable.
Jesus prepares his friends and us, his church, for what is to come – hell or high water. He calls you to come and die.
Friends, drink from the spiritual rock that accompanies you; that rock is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4), and you will have life, and life to the full in the good days and the bad, in the suffering of life and the healing of life, in the personal needs of life and the needs of others.
Give me a church of disciples who can endure with joy, stay focussed when the temptation is there to take the easy way out, who are committed to ongoing learning, understanding, who place confessing Jesus love and hope above their own needs and goals in life and I will give you a church that is a key to the kingdom of grace where God has placed it.
“Rock of ages, Cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee”.
Read the selected bible verse slowly noting who is speaking and what questions it raises in your mind. Take note of what feelings is gives rise to as well. Share these….
I noted the shift in Matthew’s gospel in the first verse of our text “From that time on….”. Up to this point we have been hearing and seeing what the Kingdom of Jesus is like. Now we are going to hear how it comes. As I mentioned, it comes with suffering, death, a cross, pain, and finally victory over all of that.
But Jesus followers are obviously not going to live in some victorious, blissful, always winning kind of life after his victory. He tells us that there will be his cross and ours. We are to embrace his cross as our very centre. How do you experience the cross of suffering with Jesus? How does Jesus’ suffering and death help you when you are coping with all the ups and downs of life? Share your experiences.
I suggested (as have many) that this call from Jesus is a direct challenge to much of hat we want to believe and do. We want him to be like Peter wanted him to be – victorious, unstoppable, always a winner, never a loser, always positive and nice, never struggling. How does this belief show itself in your life from time to time? Where or when do you come across this belief in others?
I suggested that being a Christian is receiving the promises and power for living from the Lord in both the spectacular and the good feeling things, as well as the ordinary and bad feeling things of life. How does this work for you in your life. What are the solid things you rely on when it comes to finding joy and hope in the ups and downs?
Have a read of that 1 Corinthians text about us Christians drinking ‘water from the rock of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). You might like to look it up and read around it to get its context. Share any thoughts/questions…..
Picking up Jesus cross is embracing the truth that he is in all of life – even suffering and bearing witness to him in it. We don’t need to run away fro suffering or doubt God’s grace or our faith in it. We pray for his help all the time and encourage each other on in faith all the time. A mustard seed of faith is more than enough! being a Christian is making the “Good Confession” of the grace of God in Christ that Peter first made in our own ways and words. How can we help each other do this? What helps you do this?
Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.