THE REALITY OF SUFFERING
The story that we are focusing on this week from the gospel of Matthew comes immediately after the story that we read last week. In that story, Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was and Peter answered that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter nailed it. That’s exactly who Jesus was and still is. The lesson that we took from that story is that until we know who Jesus is, we really can’t follow him faithfully. He is more than a prophet, more than a healing, more than a teacher. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
The disciples now know who Jesus is and the story continues in Matthew 16:21 (NIV): “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
The phrase, “From this time on,” is significant. It point to a shift in the way that Jesus treats the disciples. They have acknowledged that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That knowledge has changed things. Because the disciples now know who Jesus is, he is beginning to take them to a deeper level of faith and telling them things that they didn’t know before, perhaps that they weren’t quite ready to hear. One of the things that Jesus tells them is that they will be going to Jerusalem where he suffer many things at the hands of the religious leaders, that he will die and be raised to life on the third day.
We hear those words with an advantage that the disciples did not have. We look at those events through the eyes of history and know that they actually occurred. On Good Friday, Jesus died on the cross at Calvary. His lifeless body was laid in a tomb and on the third day, Easter Sunday, he rose from the dead. We get that because we have 20/20 hindsight.
That is not true of the disciples. They are not looking at things in the past but they are anticipating things in their future. And one thing that they have not expected is that Jesus would be talking about his death and resurrection. In the first place, they’re just figured out who is. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. They’d like to sit with that thought for a bit and try to figure out what it means. And one thing that they don’t want it to mean is what Jesus just said.
It makes absolutely no sense. How can he be the Christ, the Messiah if he’s dead? Besides, he’s their friend and none of us want our friends to be treated in such a way. And furthermore if your friend told you that he was going to die soon but not to worry about it because he would rise from the dead on the third day, what do you think your reaction might be? I don’t expect it would be positive. You’d probably encourage them to find a good therapist.
If you roll all of those doubts and concerns together, you end up with Peter’s response to Jesus’ predictions about his death in Matthew 16:22 (NIV) where it says, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘Never, Lord!’ he said, ‘This shall never happen to you!'”
And we say, “Wait a minute. Isn’t this the same Peter who just a few verses earlier in verse 13 said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God?” Yes, it is the very same guy. Which means what? It means that while Peter realizes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, he does not yet know what that means. It’s one thing to know who someone is. It’s quite something to know what it actually means.
Rebekah and Ruth are not in worship today because Rebekah is moving into residence at the University of Western Ontario this morning. It wasn’t really their choice. The university has so many students moving in this weekend that they send the students appointments when they can move it which they are expected to meet. I get that. Most of you also know that Rebekah has been dealing with concussion since January 2015.
The reason I raise that is because she received the most help from people who had titles that I never would have associated with the treatment of concussions. One of those people was Sarah Dupuis who is a speech therapist. I had no idea that some speech therapists deal with concussion but they do. As Sarah explained, our speech centres are in the brain. Concussions happen in the brain too. So speech therapists know a whole lot more about the brain than I thought. I thought I knew what speech therapist did but I really didn’t know but I do now. The other person was Dr. Lemmo who is a chiropractor in Windsor. I had no idea that a chiropractor could help with concussions. But he’s also functional neurologist. “What’s functional neurologist?” you might ask. I asked the same thing because I had no clue what he did but now I do. I now know what both of those people do but initially I didn’t.
That’s the place Peter’s at. He knows that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God but he’s still figuring out what that means. That’s why, in verse, 21, Jesus begins to explain it to him and the other disciples. He tells them that the Christ must travel to Jerusalem where he will suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, be put to death but rise again on the third day. Jesus wants to let the disciples know what being Christ is all about because clearly they really don’t yet know.
A STRONG REBUKE
Jesus tells them that he is going to suffer and die in Jerusalem. Peter says no way, that will never happen. Jesus’ reaction to him is rather strong. Matthew 16:23 (NIV) says that, “Jesus turned and said, ‘Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'”
Jesus says, “Out of my sight, Satan.” Those are pretty strong words. But Jesus has used them before. Back in Matthew 4, there is the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan just before he began his earthly ministry. After the third temptation in which Satan told Jesus that he would give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if only he would bow down and worship him, in Matthew 4:10 (NIV) Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan!” Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter? He said, “Out of my sight, Satan!” Even though the words are a bit different in the English translation, they are exactly the same in the original Greek. So Jesus says to Peter the exact same thing as he said to Satan.
Why is that? It’s because both of them were trying to dissuade Jesus from doing the will of God. Jesus’ mission was to save the world and reconcile it back to God. Satan wanted no part of that and so tried to tempt Jesus away. Peter is doing the exact same thing. He is trying to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross but, if Jesus doesn’t go to the cross, he doesn’t save humanity. So while perhaps Peter’s intent was somewhat more benign that Satan’s the end result is the same. Both are trying to tempt Jesus away from fulfilling the mission for which God placed him on this earth. From that standpoint, it’s no wonder that Jesus gave them both the exact same retort: “Away from me, Satan! Out of my sight, Satan!” And with that retort, Jesus is declaring that he will not be dissuaded. He will fulfill his mission no matter the consequences or the cost.
Note that as long as Peter has his eyes on the things of God, he is the rock upon which Jesus will build the church. But when he begins to look at things through human eyes – when his gaze is distracted by the things of this world, he becomes a stumbling block to the ministry of Christ.
There’s a pretty clear warning for us here. We need to be aware of where we are looking. We need to be careful about what catches our attention and where we place our focus. The things of this world can be very tempting. The messages are this world are most enticing. And for many of us, there is a daily temptation to shift our attention away from the ministry of Christ to something else. That is a temptation that must be resisted at all costs.
THE COST OF FOLLOWING
And speaking of costs, Jesus is very clear about that as well. In fact, he lays it all out in Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) which says this: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.'”
This “following Jesus” stuff is not as easy as you might think. In fact, it’s getting more difficult by the minute. If you want to follow Jesus, if you want to be faithful to God’s purpose, there is a cost. If you want to follow Jesus, then you have to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. That means more than you might think. Let’s take a few minutes to unpack that sentence and see what it means. The first thing it says is that following Jesus means denying yourself. Ooops, no one told me that. What do you mean, deny myself? Deny myself what? Deny myself who? Deny myself when?
The answers to those question are not easy and they vary with each of us because God does not ask all of us to deny ourselves the same things. So what things are we expected to deny ourselves. The answer to that can be found in the story of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22. In that story a rich man approached Jesus ask what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Note that to inherit eternal life you have to follow Jesus. The man told Jesus that he had kept all of the commandments and done his level best to live faithfully. But Jesus said that wasn’t enough. He had to do one more thing. In Matthew 19:21-22 (NIV) Jesus told him, “’If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
Some people have mistakenly taught that this means that if we want to follow Jesus then all of us should give up our wealth. But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Jesus never said that his followers could not be wealthy. Jesus never said that we could not have nice things. He never condemned people for having power, wealth or influence. But what he is saying to the rich young man is that his wealth was getting in the way of following Jesus. It had become too important to him, more important that following Jesus. So he had to make a choice. If he wanted to follow Jesus, he had to deny himself his wealth.
The question for us become this: What gets in the way of us following Jesus? Is there something in your life that you think you need or you want more than Jesus? For some people it’s wealth. Some people’s riches get in the way. For others it might be alcohol or drugs. There is nothing wrong with having a beer every now and then and you should never feel guilty about taking prescription medication according to your doctor’s instruction. But if you abuse those things, there is a problem. There is nothing wrong with hard work and having a successful career but if it keeps you from your family and prevents you from being part of the body of Christ, that can be a problem. Maybe you need to find a new job. Whatever that thing is that gets in the way of following Jesus, that is the thing that Jesus says that you must deny yourself.
God may ask you deny yourself almost anything that is getting in the way. In fact, the only thing God will not call us to do is deny Jesus. If you ever think that you’re being called to do that, then you are listening to the wrong voices. Jesus is the one person you can never deny if you want to be faithful.
The next thing Jesus says is that you must take up your cross. What does that mean? Let’s look at when Jesus took up his cross. What happened? First of all, he experiencing suffering. Sometimes following Jesus means that we have to suffer. It’s not that Jesus makes us suffer. Rather, it is other people who make us suffer. It is the world that makes us suffer. In John 10:10 (NIV) Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The thief is the attitudes of a fallen world, it is Satan. That is what causes suffering – to steal, kill and destroy. But Jesus comes to give us abundant life. That is his desire for us. That does not mean that giving your life to Christ means that life will be easy. It does not meant that you will not suffer. It does not mean that you will not get sick. It does not mean that you will not experience pain and heartache and loss. But it does mean that those things are part of a fallen world and that when we do experience those things, our faith is there to lift us above them and allow us to live abundantly in spite of our circumstances.
That’s what Paul was talking about in Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV) when he wrote: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who give me strength.” Even when going through difficult times, as Paul often did, even as he carried his crosses though life, he relied upon his Lord and he relied upon his faith to see him through and give him abundant life. And it happened. And it can happen that way for us too when we put Jesus first in our lives.
Jesus finishes off with these words from Matthew 16:26-27 (NIV): “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”
These final words of Jesus are meant to give hope and comfort to the disciples. Yes, they will face suffering and they will be persecuted. Yes, they will have to deny themselves and take up their crosses if they want to follow Jesus. But what Jesus is saying to them in these last few sentences is that it will all be worth it.
He is encouraging his friend not to sell themselves short. He is telling them to stay to course, to keep moving forward in faith even when things don’t seem to be going their way. That’s because ultimately Jesus wins. Ultimately, he will reign and his kingdom will come. It may appear sometimes that evil is in the ascendancy, that Satan is winning but that is only a sham, a shell game, a slight of hand by the enemy.
Let’s go back again to last week and what Jesus said to Peter. Remember that Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was and Peter said that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. And then Jesus gave Peter his marching orders. In Matthew 16:18 (NIV) he said, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.”
The gates of hell will not overcome it. The powers of Satan will not prevail. They will not defeat the Church because Jesus is the head of the Church and ultimately Jesus wins. Jesus showed that in his death and resurrection. Satan and his minions threw everything they could against Jesus. What he said to the disciples came true. He did go to the Jerusalem. He did suffer many things at the hands of the religions leaders. He was crucified on the cross, just as he said he would be. But that was not the end. Good Friday was not the end of the story. Easter came and he rose again victorious over sin and death. He is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father and the day will come when he returns again in glory, as he said he would, to complete the kingdom that he began when he first walked the earth 2,000 years ago. As he said, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”
The message is simple and it is
clear. Do not lose heart when you struggle with difficult times. Do not lose
faith when things don’t seem to be going the way you want them to go. Do not
despair when you are called to deny yourself and the cross seem too much to
bear. Turn to Jesus. Turn to faith. Turn to the cross and the empty tomb and
walk in hope because any suffering and hardship that we face for him is only
for a season. It will come to an end and we will rejoice because ultimately in
the end Jesus wins.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Creation, we come before you in thanksgiving and wonder. You have blessed us in abundant ways. You have given us a smooth path to walk and offered your guidance in the Holy Spirit.
We give you thanks for ripening crops and cooler days. We give thanks for the rain that fell this week to refresh the earth. As summer draws to a close, we ask for travelling mercies for those on the roads. Keep them safe and patient in traffic that can sometimes be frustrating. Remind us, O God, that you are a God of peace.
We life up in prayer the sick of our congregation, community and families. We remember Sharon, Millicent, Don, Helen, Jacqui and Ron. Bless them all with your healing presence.
We also pray for those who mourn this day. Bless the family and friends of Doug McNeely in their time of grief. May they, in the next days and weeks, find reason to celebrate amidst the sorrow of loss. Grant them your healing peace O God.
In just over a week, children, teachers and others staff will be returning to school. The new school year will bring changes with new classes and new timetables. For many, there will be new schools. We pray for your presence within the school system that your will and your purpose will ultimately be achieved.
We life in prayer the people who are affected by the ongoing tensions in the Korean Penninsula and for the people of Houston and Windsor who have experienced so much flooding this week. We ask that peaceful solutions may be found to difficult challenges. Forgive the sins of the world O God as people seek power, wealth, influence and authority at the expense of others.
Help us, O God, to honestly
evaluate our lives: our words, decisions, and actions, or lack thereof. Do our
lights shine brightly? Can others truly see you in our words and actions? Help
us to receive into our hearts the honest answer to those questions. May our
lives illustrate your character and way of living in all that we do, in every
word, every interaction with other people, so that we may clearly point others
to the light of your grace. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 3, 2017 / Pentecost 13 / Proper 16
Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Matthew 16:21-28; Romans 12:9-21
CALL TO WORSHIP
We are truly blessed to be in the presence of God.
We are honoured to be able to worship in the Spirit.
Let us lift our voices and sing our praises
and magnify the God of heaven and earth.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Loving God, we seek your presence in our worship this day. You are powerful and loving, strong and compassionate. Your wisdom far surpasses our human intellect. Still you call us your children as we gather before your throne of grace. Regardless of the struggles and distractions that we face in this life, help us to always remember that there will come a day when we will be called to stand before you, our Judge and Redeemer. Thank you that you have given us the assurance of eternal life with you. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Hear our confession, O God of the Ages. There are times when we fall victim to the sins of prejudice and narrow mindedness. Help us to recognize and appreciate the unique callings, talents, and gifts of each member in the body of Christ. Every part is important and has a needed function. When we fail to understand or appreciate a person role and ministry, help us not to reject or criticize them, because we are all part of the one whole. Forgive us when we fail to accept others as you have accepted us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
When we fail to love others, there is still a God who loves us and accepts us just as we are with all of our blemishes and sin. Not only does God forgive us, through the Spirit we also are enabled to walk the sanctified life of Christ.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our gifts we offer, our hearts we bring, our lives we give to you, O God. Use our offerings for the service of your Kingdom that all may hear your Word and seek to live the sanctified life of Christ. We ask your blessings and your grace, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Go into the world as servants of the
Living God to be a light in the darkness and a fresh scent in a lonely land.
God calls us to reach out a hand to our neighbours and welcome them as Jesus
welcomed all people. Open your heart, open your home, open your life to those
around you that the Spirit may shine through you and transform the world.