Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
I remember when the film, “The Last Temptation of Christ” was released just about twenty-five years ago. It played in a theatre across the street from my parents’ Baptist church on 57th Street in Manhattan, and to say the folks in that church were apoplectic would be an understatement. Groups went out and picketed the theatre for weeks on end. It was quite a to-do.
Even though the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews assures us that Jesus “experienced suffering when he was tempted.” And, even though the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are,” some Christians could not wrap their minds around the idea that Jesus might have wanted to skip the cross and retire to an obscure Galilean village where he could be incognito, marry, have children and live a “normal” life. The film, which was based on a novel of the same name, depicted “the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust.” There isn’t a temptation on that list that hasn’t been part of my temptation repertoire, so I take heart in the idea that when the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says Jesus was tempted in EVERY WAY that we are he means EVERY WAY.
So here we are in Mark’s gospel, and three verses after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter had to take Jesus aside to explain to Jesus how this Messiahship is NOT supposed to work. It is NOT supposed to include being rejected by the Elders, the chief priests and the scribes – all those official representatives of Judaism to the Roman state. The Messiahship is NOT supposed to include great suffering. The Messiahship is NOT supposed to include dying.
And, I can’t help but wonder if, for a brief moment, Jesus considered the thought that Peter might be making some valid points. The scriptures tell us that at the 11th hour Jesus fell to his face in anguished prayer begging for the course set before him to be changed. Jesus knew that no matter how difficult his life had been to that point – constantly being tricked and challenged and hunted by the Jewish religious authorities, it was about to get even more onerous than anyone could possibly imagine.
Jesus was getting ready to take up his very own cross in obedience to God. Jesus must suffer because his understanding of God’s will ran counter to that of the religious authorities. . . the “authorized” interpreters of scripture.”
Jesus was getting ready to take up his very own cross in obedience to God. Knowing how difficult it would be, Jesus was willing to shoulder the burden of rejection and opposition and then he turned and called all men and women to do the same.
To take up one’s cross is not an easy task, and at every turn it is likely you will be tempted to put that cross down and walk away.
We often hear or say the expression, “it is my cross to bear.” I sometimes think we toss that phrase around much too lightly. The cross we bear does not refer to the burdens life imposes from outside. No. the cross we bear is the painful, redemptive action voluntarily undertaken on others’ behalf. The cross we bear will often be the burden of rejection and opposition when our understanding of God’s will runs counter to that of the “authorized” interpreters of scripture. The cross we bear is what we endure for the sake of living out what we discern to be God’s good and perfect will. The cross we bear is the rejection of the temptation to turn aside – to set down that cross and walk away.
Paul had a thorn in his side. We don’t know what it was; but, he begged for it to be taken away. It was strong enough to tempt him to put down his cross and walk away. Paul recognized it for what it was; he called it “a messenger from Satan” designed to turn him off the path of grace. It didn’t work.
Last night I was present at the Open Doors More Light Presbyterian Annual Meeting at which the Rev. Dr. Mark Achtemeier spoke. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dr. Achtemeier, for years he was one of the darlings of the Conservative Evangelical movement. Using all his knowledge and biblical acumen, he avidly worked against ordination in the PCUSA of LGBTQ persons. In his testimony he revealed that as he spoke and wrote and taught he began to realize that the fruit of his teaching was not producing love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, — the fruits of the Spirit. Rather, his teaching resulted in pain and anguish for LGBTQ individuals. This started Dr. Achtemeier on a 7-year journey that has resulted in a complete change of mind and heart. And I am sure that throughout his spiritual journey Dr. Achtemeier suffered temptation to turn aside. But as he studied, his understanding of God’s will began to run counter to that of his conservative evangelical colleagues, and he has suffered some of the slings and arrows that often come with challenging those who believe they are the ‘authorized’ interpreters of scripture. Dr. Achtemeier could have turned aside; he could have laid down that particular cross. He did not and, he has written a book entitled: The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart.
Dr. Achtemeier did not turn aside. He did not lay down his cross – even though, I am sure, there were many temptations to do so.
In the end Jesus recognized Peter’s words to be the voice of Satan – the voice of disobedience and temptation – the same voice heard three years earlier at the inauguration of his ministry when he was tempted in the wilderness by Satan – the adversary.
And so Jesus rebuked Peter and said “get behind me, Satan.” Notice Jesus did not cast Peter out. No. Jesus put Peter in his proper place. You see, the proper position of a disciple is “behind” his or her master, “following” him. “Get behind me” may have been intended to call Peter back into his right mind and into his rightful position of obedient disciple.
Then Jesus said the most curious thing: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Cross bearing wasn’t particularly part of the Jewish lexicon, but the figure was appropriate in Roman-occupied Palestine. It brought to mind the sight of a condemned man who was forced to demonstrate his submission to Rome by carrying part of this cross through the city to the place of execution. To take up one’s cross was to demonstrate publicly one’s submission to the authority against which he has previously rebelled.
To take up one’s cross is to demonstrate one’s obedience to God’s will – accepting the consequences without reservation for Jesus’ sake – for the sake of the Gospel.
To take up your cross, you have to put something down, and that something is the self-absorbed, self-centered life. It means getting behind the master and following him.
To take up one’s cross is to live out the scripture in self-giving love. To take up one’s cross is to live a Matthew 25 life: it is to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty; it is to welcome the stranger and clothe the naked. To take up one’s cross is to visit the sick and give hope to the prisoners.
To take up one’s cross is not an easy thing to do.