In earthly terms Jesus’ ministry was a huge success. His preaching, teaching, and healing had attracted large crowds. His reputation had spread even beyond Israel to the Gentiles.
Now was the critical turning point. As they were headed south through Caesarea Philippi heading gradually to Jerusalem Jesus asks his disciples a simple question. Who do people say I am? “Jesus: the people are really impressed. Some are saying you are the return of John the Baptist, others the OT prophet Elijah who has returned to announce of coming of the Kingdom of God; and others say that you are one of the prophets.”
Next is a very difficult question, one that takes thought and reflection. Who do you say that I am? Peter immediately spoke up. You are the Messiah. “Peter, you are right, but I don’t want that answer to get out from this group.”
Next, we begin to realize why Jesus did not want the word to get out. Peter had the right answer but did not know what that meant to Jesus. He knew what it meant to the outside world. It meant that Jesus had come to restore the former greatness of Israel, starting with kicking out their conquerors the Romans.
So, Jesus begins to speak of what being Messiah meant to him. I will be rejected by the religious leaders, and be killed, yet I will rise in three days. For the first time Peter began to rebuke Jesus. He had the vision of a great nation led by a powerful leader, not a leader who would be executed. Notice, Peter did not even mention that Jesus had also said; “I will rise in three days.” All he seemed to be reacting to was “I will be executed.”
Jesus really rebuked him and said, “Shut up Peter, you are a tool of Satan and have been sucked in by the expectations of the world.”
Then Jesus said, “If anyone is to be my disciple, they must pick up their cross and follow me.”
Anyone who seeks to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel, will save it. What would it profit a person to gain the whole world and loss their soul.
You know that I love the Opera “Jesus Christ; Superstar.” There are several parts in the drama on Holy Week I really like. One is the crowd singing to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. “Christ you know I love you. Did you see I waved. I believe in you and God, so tell me that I’m saved.”
Many Christians over the centuries have seen Jesus as the hero who goes to take away their sin. It is described as cheap grace. When Jesus went to the Cross, he was saying we are disciples if we follow him in a life of sacrificial service. One pastor recently said; “We should be so closely following Jesus that we taste the dust from his sandals.”
Martin Luther King was such a follower. It was while he was supporting the garbage workers In Memphis in their strike for humane treatment that he was assassinated. Yet it was his sacrifice that inspired the passage of the Civil and Voting Rights.
The firefighters who went into the twin towers after they had been hit by the airliners to save as many people as possible from the burning buildings is an example of suffering servanthood. Yet many knew as they went in they probably would not come out alive.
The health care workers who started to treat victims of Covid-19 without yet being properly protected from the disease were suffering servants. Many of them died from the selfless service.
An airplane crashed into the East River of New York in 1982. A man who was terrified of the water overcame that fear and helped five people out of the sinking plane; drowning saving them.
How many parents have you seen gave the very best of their time and their resources so their children could have a better life? How many children have been selfless caregivers for their parents as they declined and died knowing they were loved?
Yet watch out for the world. A few years ago, stylish boutiques were selling decorative crosses for people to wear as a fashion statement. When some of their customers asked where the stars of David were, they were told Crosses were the big deal that year.
If you and me are going to wear a Cross, it had better be because we have taken on the cost of discipleship and are not making a fashion statement.
Jesus came that all humanity would have life and have it more abundantly. He suffered on a Cross to absorb the power of sin and death and to inspire his followers to mimic his concern for the poor and disenfranchised.
I have never known a person who followed him and picked up the Cross who felt that they had experienced anything less than the abundant life. The cost is your earthly life. The gift is eternal life. Amen.