Live recording of Lessons and Sermon:
Sermon Text: Matthew 16:21-30
Date: September 20 & 21, 2014
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Matthew 16:21–26 (NIV84)
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, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Trouble is Part of Being a Christian
1. It was Jesus’ mission
2. It is our reality
Have you ever avoided taking your car into the mechanic out of fear of what he might find wrong with it? Have you ever avoided going to the doctor for fear of what she might tell you? Have you ever avoided having a serious and important conversation with your spouse, your parents, your children, because you were afraid of what might happen during that conversation?
We don’t like to get bad news. Generally, we avoid confrontation if at all possible. We try to avoid conflict, because who wants to feel bad and bring misery or stress into their life seemingly needlessly? And yet, finding out things are wrong with the car and getting them fixed is part of owning a car. Finding out bad news about your health before it’s too late is a prudent and necessary part of taking care of yourself. And, of course, having difficult but loving conversations with those who are closest to you is rarely enjoyable, but is a necessary part of maintaining that relationship and keeping it healthy.
Jesus this morning in our Gospel tells us that even more broadly speaking, trouble is going to be part of being a Christian. If we doubt that or want to avoid that, we need only look to what Jesus was going to endure for proof that trouble is going to come. In fact, Jesus’ warnings here can help us deal with it when it arrives, because he assures us that trouble is part of being a Christian, as it was Jesus’ mission so it is our reality as well.
Our Gospel this morning picks up right where our Gospel last week left off. We’re about six months away from Jesus’ arrest, trial, death, and resurrection. Because the time is drawing near, Jesus is trying to get his disciples ready for what is to come. Last week we heard Jesus ask his dear friends who others and who they say he is. Peter’s beautiful confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” was so on-point for Jesus that he assured his disciples that he would build his church on that confession. He went on to say that nothing, not even hell itself, would be able to overcome that truth.
But Jesus shifts tones drastically. Matthew says, “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, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” He jumps from the joy and confidence of a bullet-proof church to the announcement that he would soon have to suffer and die at the hands of the religious and political leaders.
Peter is understandably disturbed by all of this. He pulls Jesus aside, away from the rest of the disciples, and actually scolds him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus’ reaction is harsh and swift. He doesn’t take time to explain why this was all necessary. He doesn’t seem to be himself. “Get behind me, Satan,” he says to his dear friend. Why? Why would Jesus have been so strict with Peter, especially when we so often see him being patient with the sometimes slow-to-understand disciples and especially to Peter, whose clear, accurate confession he just got done praising?
Think of what Peter just said. He said, “No, Jesus, you won’t go to the cross! You won’t have to suffer those things! You won’t have to die!” Wouldn’t that have been music to Jesus’ ears, according to his human nature? We’ll see him begging and pleading with his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane to take that cup of suffering away from him so that he won’t have to endure it. There, though, is the notion of God’s will ultimately having to be done. Peter has none of that in his rebuke. Peter is concerned for his friend, but Satan twists it as a temptation to Jesus to veer off course, to change the plan, and at the same time put us all at risk.
Peter may have been concerned for his dear friend, but he was missing the larger picture. Jesus wasn’t just going to go to his death because he felt like it or he wanted to be a martyr. He was going to his death because everyone, Peter, you, and me included, needed him to. We owed to God a debt we could not pay. Jesus was the only one who could pay it. Jesus had said that he “must go” to his death, and that was very true. There were no options. If Jesus didn’t follow through, all of us were doomed to hell. Jesus’ suffering would mean our salvation; his death would be our life. God’s will was that we be saved. Thus, Jesus urged Peter to think of God’s things, not man’s things.
Yet, how easy isn’t it for us to think only of man’s things, our things. Peter didn’t want Jesus to suffer and die because he loved his friend, but were there selfish motivations to his rebuke as well? Did he simply not want to lose his dear friend because he would be sad? Was there a notion that if that happened to Jesus it might happen to him and to the other disciples as well? Was Peter, at least in part, driven by selfish self-preservation when he forbade Jesus from dying?
Jesus’ words following his rebuke of Peter seem to back up that notion. Jesus had promised that the gates of hell would not be able to overcome the church at large, that nothing Satan could do could change the fact that he was in fact God’s Son, our Savior. But, that steadfastness of the message didn’t mean that the messengers would make it through unscathed. The disciples would go through unimaginable trial for the sake of the gospel. They would, as Peter might have feared, have to endure physical sufferings not unlike what Jesus is going to go through. Being a Christian in the early first century was not going to be a pleasant task much of the time.
And in many ways, being a Christian hasn’t changed all that much in terms of the crosses we must bear. Here in this country we are typically shielded from overt physical harm for our faith, but that’s not true elsewhere in the world. Pray for your fellow Christians who suffer at the hands of the enemies of the cross of Christ because they dare to put their trust in Jesus. Pray that they stay strong, even in the face of death, knowing that heaven waits for them because Jesus was willing to suffer and die to pay for their sins. Because he was raised, they too will be raised.
In America, though, we have a different problem. We have a plague of the kind of thinking that’s focused on man’s things, not God’s things, amongst many so-called Christian churches. We have many preachers out there who make an insane amount of money proclaiming a “theology of glory.” Joel Osteen and others that follow his path proclaim a Christianity free from hardship. They state that, if you believe hard enough and have a strong enough faith, you can be free from trouble. Physical health will be robust; financial health will be solid. You will be happy if you believe in Jesus because that is what Jesus wants! Or so they say.
What does Jesus actually say? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” What part of that sounds like this life will be free from trouble and worry? Jesus assures us of exactly the opposite of what these charlatan preachers would have us believe. Sure, it’s an appealing thought to be free from trouble, and to be sure, God is going to bring that about. But not here, not in this life.
We will face trouble because we live in a world of sin. We will face hardships, sometimes because of our faith. But what do we do when trouble comes knocking at our door or pushes us down? Do we run and hide and yell, “Never! This should not happen to me!”? No, we embrace it, knowing that God has a reason to let it into our life. Knowing there’s a reason doesn’t make it pleasant, it doesn’t make it easy; it doesn’t make it something that we easily rejoice in. But it is one of the ways that God helps us to focus on his things, not man’s things.
When our finances are in a free-fall, when our health is failing, when our friends betray us, when our work or school is bringing about regular failure, the goal is not to have us hide under a rock. The goal is to take refuge in our Savior who endured all evil for us, and came out on the other side victorious. Jesus died, yes, but he didn’t stay dead. He accomplished the most amazing part of his stated mission when on the third day he was raised to life. Our goals, rewards, and joys are not here; they are waiting for us in heaven. And when every earthly support crumbles, we are forced to not dwell on the temporary things that mankind values, but on the eternal things that God has planned.
Every bit of cowardice that we’ve ever displayed, ever bit of whining we’ve ever done when things were difficult, every time we’ve perhaps even, like Peter, called God out and said that his plans were bad and wrong, all of that is forgiven. And because it’s forgiven, we can be certain that we will live like he lives. And in heaven, that’s where our life of unending joy will come, that’s where the end of our worries and concerns will be, that’s where we’ll be able to finally put down the cross of trial and hardship and rest and rejoice with Jesus forever.
Until then, trouble is going to be part of our lives as Christians. Give thanks for the times it does not weigh you down completely, and when it does, find comfort in your Savior. Support one another in Christian love and encourage each other, that we may help each other carry those crosses and shoulder those burdens. Know that in everything that happens, God will work good. Trouble is here and now, but it is only temporary. Eternity will have none. Lord, hasten that day and give us strength and patience in you until it comes. Amen.