From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
Last week we were able to sing the praises of Peter the Rock. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. It is the work of God that Peter believes and it is the work of God that you believe. But what does it mean that Jesus is the Christ?
After Peter’s confession, Jesus foretells his Death and Resurrection. From that time forth Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…be killed, and on the third day be raised.
In today’s reading, mere moments after Peter’s confession, he desperately tries to convince Jesus that it doesn’t need to me this way. Jesus, You are the Messiah! The Savior, who will save Israel! Surely, not suffering and death. Not for the Christ, the Son of God. “Far be it from you Lord! This shall never happen to you.” It is hard to imagine exactly what Peter had in mind for the Christ. Maybe they thought Pilate and the Roman emperor could be overthrown by Jesus. Maybe they thought Jesus could give them power, fame, and better control of their lives. Maybe they thought Jesus could give them success and a better lifestyle. It is awfully hard to say exactly.
Nevertheless, Peter refuses the idea that the Christ should be tried and crucified by the authorities. I am unaware of anywhere else in the Gospels where Jesus seems more disturbed and upset than here. He turns to Peter “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
It seems easy to poke fun at Peter for trying to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross. But in modern Christianity we see common trends. Indeed we see the marks of a Christ-less, cross-less, pain-free, Christianity. It is common for false preachers to speak about Jesus as just a moral teacher – a guru for self help - interested in social justice crusades – or to co-opt religion for political ends.
When we in this country talk about “in God we trust” and “I believe in one nation under God” do we have the crucified Christ in mind – or some other god? Are we talking about Jesus born of the virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius pilate? The God raised to life and present in the sacraments of the church? I am unsure.
But there is something of a Christless, Cross-less, blood free Christianity that permeates American culture. There is a little Peter in all of us who thinks that God ought to have nothing to do with going to a cross to die the death of a criminal. Like Peter, this is against our reason and basic common sense. It’s disturbing and offensive. If we are honest with ourselves. That the same God who made the heavens and earth should be stripped naked and nailed to a tree.
Therefore, we should surely sympathize with Peter. Can’t God just give us prosperity and success, health and happiness? Can’t he do likewise. Blood, nails, suffering, death – good heavens, why! Can’t he just zap evil forces with a snap of his fingers. Anything but a cross.
Get behind me Satan, is what Jesus says. To look for God apart from his bitter passion and death, is for Jesus, at least, a trick of the devil.
Jesus describes following Him as taking up our cross, whereas the apostle Paul explained those words by saying, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," Many today describe the Christian life as one continuous success story, with never a setback. Some claim that God doesn't ever want His children to get sick. Others maintain that God wants Christians to be wealthy. And still others promise certain and sure success in God's kingdom if only we use the right methods and programs, and implement the proper committees.
As Jesus took up His cross of suffering, so His followers have their cross of suffering to take up. It is by no means the same cross of suffering; His far surpasses ours. But there is a similar cross that we are to carry as followers of Christ crucified. Just as Jesus' mission as our Savior was not accomplished in the way in which the Jews expected it to be accomplished, so also the life of Christ's followers is not what we would expect. If you seek to find God apart from his bitter suffering, passion, and death, you are not dealing with the true God but a false god.
Even the secular world understands a basic truth here. As the saying goes, “There is no gain without pain.” As the Lord says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
God reveals his very nature in going to Jerusalem. Reveals his character and His heart in going to the cross. It is God’s nature – his personality – his will to suffer – specifically for your sins. It is for the sake of self-sacrificing love and self-giving love that Jesus goes as a lamb to the slaughter. That is who God is.
God, the true God, cannot be found apart from his suffering, death, and resurrection. That is where God desire that you find him. The religions that seek to find him elsewhere are all frauds. There is no other religion on earth that has a god that suffers, for they are all false religions. There is no other religion that offers the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The only true religion is the religion of the cross. The suffering servant.
Then Jesus told his disciples, "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 will find it. We are promised suffering. Saint Peter writes in his first letter “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Pet. 4:12-13)
Job asked, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10) Earthly suffering is used by the sovereign God to His purposes. “I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.” (Isa. 45:6-7) Indeed, the only path to glory leads us to the cross. And God is found in the cross. You have a God that suffers, and therefore a God who identifies with you and your sufferings.
He too was betrayed by a disciple and friend. They had gossiped against him. He too had lies told about him. God too toiled and did sweat blood in the garden. If you suffer in your body, aches and pains, and disease, consider the sufferings of the Christ.
Holy Scripture says “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jas. 1:2-4) “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Pet. 4:1-2) The cross is ours in this life, and glory shall not be ours until our perfection is complete through Christ the Lord.
He will do whatever it takes to make us holy. But for now, continue to take up your cross and follow him. Fulfill your callings. Be steadfast and vigilant in your station in life. Work hard at your employment. Suffer well and be kind in a marriage that is less than always happy. Care for your family. Love them. Children honor your parents, even if they are at times unbearable. Deny yourself for their sake. Lose your life for His sakes and you will truly find it. The way of the cross, after all, is filled with joy.
It is fitting that we finish with Luther’s Small Catechism. Deliver us from evil. What does this mean? We pray the following: “We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
In the name of Jesus.