And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
I think that today’s Gospel message summarizes the truth about Christianity quite well. And at first sight it may not seem to be the most pleasant summary for our ears.
I propose that as we meditate upon Jesus’ words we try to answer two very important questions. First, what Christianity is about, how Jesus explains it here? And, second, why would anyone want to be a Christian?
So, what Christianity is about? It is an important question. We need to know the answer if we want to share our faith with others. And it is not that easy as you know. We want to look good in the eyes of others.
We want to present our faith in a way that is acceptable and attractive to people around us. Therefore, we may try to show how many benefits there are if only you are a Christian.
“You will be a part of a loving community”, we may say. Except, broken sinners gathered in the Church isn’t necessary the most loving community. And that is fine, we are not perfect, we are here because we all have our burdens and we need Jesus to help us. There is no need to hide it and to pretend that everything is fine. This is one place where we should be able to be honest.
Others may say things like: “We have such fun events happening, they are awesome, come and join us!” Except our awesome events often is nothing else that mimicking after the way the world entertains us. But so often people need a shoulder and a friendly face much more that we need fun in the worldly sense. And this we can offer, as one imperfect person to other.
Christians may say things like these with the best intentions, hoping that the world will not reject us and maybe will give us some attention. And we would hope that at least Jesus would affirm and help us in these efforts. But as we read, He is of no help at all. Just listen to Him, how He announces His future.
“I must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes [that is by all important people whose view really matter] and then be killed in the most brutal way.”
Doesn’t sound like a great way to advertise your movement. Who would like to follow that guy? So, Peter takes things in his hands and does the best to correct the unfitting ideas that Jesus had said. He goes ahead and rebukes Jesus. Peter rebukes Jesus… Wow!
Jesus looks and sees the other disciples and people around and what does He do? All political correctness aside. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
So much about how to maintain good relationships with those who teach against the word of God. We can see that Jesus is of no help if we want our message to be popular, if we want to appeal to what people desire: good life, fun, happiness, well-being, self-esteem.
Jesus doesn’t invite us to set our minds on the things of man. He silences Peter. And then He makes things even worse. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
What a great line … if you want to get rid of everyone. But Jesus doesn’t stop there, He continues: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
These are some hard words, and we can make better sense of them if we start with what Jesus said last. We could rephrase what Jesus said and put it this way.
If we are ashamed of Jesus and His words now, in this evil generation, then Jesus will be ashamed of us when He came in the glory of the Father. And if we are ashamed of being Christians because we want to have better life here and are afraid of being rejected or of losing something because of our commitment to Jesus, then think about what is at stake.
We may hope by shying away from Jesus to gain something in this life. But by doing that, we risk losing everything in the life to come. That’s what is at stake. So, what are we to do? The word is very clear.
Turn away from your selfish desires, deny yourself, be faithful to Jesus and the message that He has entrusted to us, even if it makes our lives more difficult, and follow the example of our rejected and suffering Lord.
We can see that the main thing that Jesus expects from His disciples is – don’t be ashamed of Him. What is the opposite of being ashamed? Being honoured to be His disciples and, if needed, to suffer rejection together with our Lord.
Being honoured, being proud, being grateful for the unbelievable privilege that is given to us, that we are called children of God. These are not only good news, these are great news. Wonderful news.
We are chosen by the holy God before the creation of the world. We are called to be members of His family. We all have received this God’s gift that surpasses our understanding.
While being a part of this wicked generation, we already are made heirs of the New Heavens and the New Earth, where God Himself will dwell among us. Why would we be ashamed of it? It doesn’t even make sense. We can only overflow in joy and gratitude, praising our Lord Jesus whenever we can.
But sure enough, this generation doesn’t know this gracious and generous God and can be very hostile to His messengers. They don’t want us to honour and praise the name of Jesus.
They want us to keep it to ourselves, to be no different than the rest of the unbelieving world. To live as everyone else lives, to do things that everyone else does, and most importantly, – not to bother others with this name – Jesus.
And sometimes we are too weak to resist this pressure. Too often we desire things of this world more that we desire to be with Jesus. We want to fit in. We don’t want to lose anything just because we are Christians. Thus, we got many so-called Christians who are no different than anyone else in this evil age.
This is what Jesus calls our cross. The cross is nothing else than inconveniences and sometimes loses that we need to suffer because of our Christian faith, because we want to honour and praise Jesus and follow Him, instead of living like this adulterous generation.
But what does this ‘deny yourself’ mean? A few examples. Don’t try to satisfy what your sinful heart desires, instead, learn what Jesus expects from you, learn to love and to desire what is truly good and beneficial for you and others.
Follow Jesus’ example, serve people in your life, pray for opportunities to tell about Jesus and the Father. Don’t be obsessed with entertaining yourself, less TV, less Internet, instead, spend more time listening to Jesus, the Word of God.
Rethink your stewardship, don’t wasting money on luxury, on things that you don’t need. Rather give to the Gospel, so that more people can come to know Jesus. Don’t use your holidays for meaningless parties, or hobbies that only boast your ego, but come and support God’s saints as we all worship together.
How appealing does that sound? Much gain or fun? No? Sounds a bit like a cross… The fact is, we can’t live thinking first about ourselves and being followers of Jesus at the same time.
The truth about Christianity is that it is not about us trying to satisfy ourselves. It is about following our rejected Lord, about honouring and praising Him, about learning to love what is truly good.
This is challenging. That’s why our second questions – “why would anyone want to be a Christian?” There are very good reasons. Remember, what happened after Jesus’ crucifixion and death? He rose from the dead in new, resurrected, glorified, imperishable body.
More wonderful and beautiful that we can imagine. And He promised that He will raise us as well. That all His people, whatever weak or imperfect we are now, whatever broken or hopeless our lives may be, we will have such new, resurrected, glorious and beautiful bodies.
More than that, the whole world, the heavens and the earth will be restored, so that there will be no more sin, nor pain, nor suffering, nor death. Instead, the Holy God Himself will dwell among us, and we will see Him face to face.
It will be a life of never ending joy and blessedness, where all our deepest longings are satisfied. It will be a life for which our God has created us. This wonderful hope, as Paul the apostle said, is what makes the challenges, rejection and suffering of this life look insignificant. It makes following Jesus easy.
If you were listening, now you should say – AHA! We got you! You said that following Jesus is not about desiring something for ourselves, but now you are saying that the main motivation, the main hope for Christians is all these promises in the life to come. What about that? Isn’t that selfish?
The thing is, that all these mind-blowing and humbling promises for the life to come are not something that we desire for ourselves. They are the very opposite. They are what your Father and your Lord Jesus desires for you.
This was His intention from the very beginning. You all are created for much, much more than even the best experiences in this age. You are created for the life in God’s very presence. He desires to be with You. He desires to bless you.
He desires that you receive everything that He as our loving Father in His generosity and creativity has prepared for you. He wants you to be there and to overflow with joy and praise. This eternal hope is not what we naturally desire.
This is what our God wants for you. This is what He will deliver when Jesus returns in the glory of His Father with His holy angels. It is about our Father’s eternal will being fulfilled.
This is, why we are Christians. This is what keeps us going even when we have our crosses to carry. And you know it from your own experience, that even the things that our old self may see as crosses, can become the most joyful and uplifting experiences when we carry them together with Jesus.
This is the truth about Christianity. It is not about our gains in this worldly sense. It is not appealing or popular according to the worldly standards. But properly understood it is about us according to the plan of our generous God.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, don’t be ashamed, be honoured to bear the name of Jesus. Bear it proudly. Deny your sinful desires with joy, carry your crosses gladly, for you know what awaits you when Jesus returns. Amen.