Growing up the oldest of three daughters, you might think I was the outspoken one, but it was my younger sister who seemed to be the one in moments of tension or crisis in the family that spoke the words I was thinking. The night my parents told us they were getting divorced it was my younger sister who said through tears “it will be all better tomorrow.” Exactly what I was thinking but was too deep in fear and confusion to voice.
When Peter speaks up in Matthew 16 and Matthew 26, he gives voice to what his fellow disciples were most likely also thinking. (See Matt. 26:35) Peter was the first to confess Jesus as the Messiah and son of God. But in Matthew 16:22, after Jesus explained his coming suffering, death and resurrection, we see Peter rebuking Jesus . . . “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Peter quickly goes from Jesus’ friend to his enemy. We can very easily do the same if we depend on our own understanding rather than what Scripture tells us. Peter and the disciples were horrified when Jesus spoke of his upcoming suffering and death in Jerusalem. They seem to understand Jesus’ identity or who he was, but their understanding of his mission was confused and influenced by the expectations of their culture.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:24-26, NLT)
What does it mean to take up our cross anyway? Paul tells us in Galatians 2:20 that even though we have been crucified with Christ, we will live on, forever changed, with Christ living through us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers are called not to be self-seeking but to serve others, daily dying to self and relying on God’s grace to guide us and bring glory to God. This is a life-long process of learning, a hard lesson to be relearned every day. Peter’s life reflected some learning of lessons the hard way. Then he met the risen Lord in Galilee and experienced restoration and ultimately had a powerful ministry that is still teaching us the importance of gaining knowledge about Jesus Christ. (Read 1 & 2 Peter)
It isn’t easy for some of us to fully embrace or understand the horrendous suffering Jesus experienced for our salvation. Even more difficult for some is the idea of taking up our own cross, doing the hard work, being willing to face persecution and trials while being completely dependent on our Savior. And to do it all without expectation of any reward or recognition from our fellow humans, but with the assurance that someday the Son of Man will come with his angels … and judge all people according to their deeds. (Matt. 16:24-27) What does that mean for you and me today? Do we want the glory of the crown without the suffering of the cross? Do we want things our own way or will we take up our cross and follow the risen Lord Jesus?
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