Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of 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, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The Cross and Self-Denial
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, 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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”
“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer
People can change! We can change for the good or the bad, but people can change. So will say people can’t change, that they’ll always be the same. But through the cycles of life, and as we get more experiences from life, people can change!
I’m an example of change.
I’ve said I didn’t have the best upbringing. As a young person in grade school and junior high I was a hellian. I was a very angry young person but I didn’t physically strike out at people, I would hurt myself and punch things instead of people. But I had a mouth on me too. I would lash out verbally and it wasn’t nice or clean. The people that knew me then are SHOCKED when they find out I’m a pastor.
In high school, with a new family and some guidance on appropriate behavior for the household, I began to change people’s minds about becoming a better student and young man. Some people were very gracious, but a lot of people remembered who I was and I would always be that person. Those people who were gracious were still quite surprised I am a pastor.
In college I was a pretty likable guy and was quite popular. That is until I started drinking and would turn into that foul-mouthed little kid that lashed out everyone. But when I wasn’t drinking people liked being around me and those people don’t seem to surprised that I became a pastor.
To this day I have my moments when I revert back to little me that was mad at the world and wants to strike back, but I think it’s pretty safe to say I’ve changed over my lifetime.
People can change.
In this week’s readings, we see some other examples of people changing.
Jeremiah, who often gets the title of “Weeping Prophet”, could also be a bit vindictive. He prays to God to, “…bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.” Okay, but that’s not what’s on God’s mind. God is interested in Jeremiah’s faithfulness in delivering the message. God knows the people aren’t in a mind to listen. But the promise to the Jeremiah is steady and sure: “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”
Matthew opens today’s passage with, “From that time on….” This a breaking point in the narrative. There was what came before (birth, baptism, temptation, ministry) and now what comes after (heading to Jerusalem and the cross.) The call to follow Jesus will get rockier and tougher from here; denying yourself and taking up a cross is not something to do light-heartedly.
This week’s Gospel text is the continuation of last week’s text. Jesus had taken his disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi to the famous Gates of Hades. This area was a cultic site where Hades and Pan, among other Greek and Canaanite deities, were worshiped. It was in this context of people pleading for a longer life from the gods of death and chaos that Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Peter is a hero in this passage.
But then, in today’s Gospel text, Peter and Jesus both undergo shocking character changes. Jesus began to say that he would be tortured, killed and raised to life again. In Peter’s eyes, this sounded much too similar to the story of other myths in which characters descend to the underworld for a time only to rise again. Peter took Jesus aside to remind him that he was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus wasn’t supposed to die and return like the gods that were worshiped at Caesarea Philippi! Peter was filled with so much rage and disbelief that Jesus could be anything like the gods worshiped by the crowds there.
But Jesus wouldn’t be swayed from his God-given mission. He told Peter to get behind him since he was acting like Satan, or an opponent or adversary.In Jesus’s eyes Peter was the one changing. Instead of writing off the humans engaged in idolatrous worship to the gods at the Gates of Hades, Jesus called out to them to repent and worship the true God.
To those asking to be spared from death, Jesus challenged them to embrace a difficult life: take up your cross and lose your life to find it! Jesus issued a stark and unapologetic call for people in Caesarea Philippi to turn from their worshiping gods of the dead in order to gain their life. Instead, they should follow the Lord of Life to die to themselves and truly live.
Matthew’s Gospel shows us a picture of Jesus who knows that he’s on a path to rejection and death. With clear sight and clear mission, Jesus warns his disciples of what’s ahead. Peter has a typical reaction to the difficult part of the future that Jesus reveals: “That will never happen.”
Peter here reminds me of prosperity preachers, who deny the ugliness of the world, the difficulties of life, and the mission that Jesus calls us to do. Prosperity preachers lose sight of the larger arc of the Gospel narrative and say: Believe in God and God will shower financial wealth and other blessings on you. My sometimes cynical self wonders what Bible verses those preachers have been reading.
My less cynical self reminds me that I am just as likely to lose the larger arc of the Gospel narrative. If God appeared in my study this morning, and said, “But I have a larger vision for the world. I have a different definition of the word rich. I’m creating my Kingdom not just in Heaven, but right here and now, on your planet, and I want you to be part.” How would I respond to what those preachers are saying and would I be so quick to dismiss them?
We’ll have all kinds of crosses to bear in our lives, Jesus warns us, and we’ll lose our lives in all kinds of ways. But we’ll get rewarded…IN THE END.
It’s important to know that Jesus isn’t just talking about heaven, or whatever your vision is of what happens when you die. Scholar N.T. Wright stresses that Jesus doesn’t just announce a kingdom in some heaven that’s somewhere else. Quite the opposite—the appearance of Jesus means that God’s plan for redeeming creation has begun. And we’re called to help.
For many of us, the most difficult part of Jesus’ mission that he gives us will be the willingness to believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King reminded us. The arc of history also bends towards beauty and wisdom and love and mercy. Some of us are so beaten down that we forget, or can’t see this at certain times in our lives.
Some of us would have no problem being crucified for our faith, but it’s much harder to believe in God’s vision of a redeemed world and to work to make that happen. If we can do see God’s vision we’ll lose our current lives of bitterness, fear, hopelessness, and rage. But we’ll find a better one as we become agents of the Kingdom.
People can change. Flipping the script and changing the paradigm and expectations of devoted worshipers of Pan and Hades would seem to be a difficult task to all of us. Yet, Jesus liked his chances. He told his disciples that some of those engaged in idolatrous worship at the gates of death would not taste death until they saw the Human One entering his kingdom. Jesus insisted to his disciples that some of those who worshiped at the crossroads of death would find true life in him.
This week we see that people can change:
Jeremiah goes from being seen as a worried and weeping prophet to one consumed with wanting vengeance and then back to the proclaimer of God’s message that God knew he would be.
Peter, the outstanding disciple and visionary of the messiah, became a stumbling block, and then grew into the Apostle that helped build the Church after the resurrection.
Jesus, the Son of the Living God described how he would die and THEN be raised to life and give abundant life to his followers.
And (at least some of) the people who worshiped worthless gods of death and panic didn’t taste death until they witnessed the advent of the kingdom of heaven in the ministry of Jesus and his followers.
People can change. All the character twists throughout the Bible, and God stays with them and people change (and I didn’t even get into the Kings and Paul). God never gives up on us, what usually happens is we give up on ourselves and each other. Again, God never gives up on us…so why should we give up on each other? Because when we don’t give up on each other, then we help God produce the change agents God has called each of us to be. People can change, because God doesn’t give up on us and we shouldn’t give up on each other.