Our account for this morning begins with Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do others think I am?” Jesus wanted to know if the general public knew who He was, especially since He had been showing Himself to be the Messiah through the signs, wonders and miracles He had been performing. The answer is that the public does not really know who Jesus is, but thinks, perhaps He is John the Baptist, who had been beheaded, or Elijah, or one of the prophets, in particular Moses.
Okay, so the general public does not know who Jesus is, what about His own disciples? So Jesus asks them, “Who do you think I am?” And this is where Peter answers and confesses for the rest of the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, that is He is the promised Messiah. And Jesus tells them to tell no one about Him, at least not at this time.
Jesus is the “rabbi.” He is the teacher of these disciples and every day He continues to instruction them. They have already learned many things. They have seen more than many had seen. They have, first hand, seen the signs and wonders, the miracles which He performed as “proof” of the fact that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah, even God in human flesh. Peter has confessed for himself and for the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and now Jesus continues their instruction. Jesus tells them that He must suffer many things, that He must be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed. He makes no “bones” about it. He does not talk in veiled language. He does not hold back, He tells them like it is, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be killed.
The disciples were used to Jesus speaking in parables, but of course, many times they too did not understand what He was saying and Jesus would have to explain what He meant to them. At this time Jesus does not speak in parables, but He speaks plainly, “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.”
This time, having spoken plainly, “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,” now the disciples understand what Jesus is saying. They understand so much so that Peter gets up and speaks for them, again, and this time he rebukes Jesus. ‘No, Lord, this is not going to happen. Don’t talk about suffering and dying. Suffering and dying are not what the Christ, the Son of the living God is about.’ Peter cannot think of anything good that would come from suffering and especially from death. How would your dying be a good thing? How can you teach us if you are dead? Yes, Peter rebukes Jesus.
Jesus continues the disciples instruction with a rebuke back to them. The things of God are the cross, death and forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. The price for our sins is eternal spiritual death, hell. Whether our sins are sins of commission, doing something we should not have been doing, or they are sins of omission, not doing something we should be doing. The cost, the wage, the price for our sins is eternal spiritual death, hell. Back in the Garden of Eden God had told Adam and Eve that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and we know what happened. They did eat of the fruit. The warning from God was that if they ate of the fruit they would surely die. And after they ate of the fruit they began to die. They died spiritually and they began to die physically. And we know that even though they did not ultimately die spiritually, that is they did not die an eternal spiritual death, they did not go to hell, because of God’s promise to send a Savior to take care of the spiritual punishment, they did die physically. The punishment was meted out. The price for sin is death, eternal spiritual death. We are born in sin and we daily add to our sin. And the price for that sin has to be paid. The only way we can have life is through death.
For Peter, for the disciples, for many people today, the things of man are glory, power and might. We reveal in glory, power and might. We fantasize, romanticize, and often visualize ourselves in positions of glory, power and might. This is the better way, at least in our own minds and according the ways of the world, but these are not the ways of God and they were not the ways of Jesus. The way of Jesus, the way of forgiveness, the way of eternal glory, the way of power over sin and evil, the way of might over the devil is the way of the cross.
Which brings us to the question of “What is true discipleship?” For some, maybe even for many in our world today, the way of true discipleship is to follow Jesus and His example. For some it is the way of asking the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” And for some that might be a good reminder of being faithful. However, for others, that may be simply an excuse to do it my way in the name of Jesus. I say that because as a sinful human being, I do not know what Jesus would do and even if I did know what Jesus was do, I would probably do the opposite. Thus, how easy it would be for me to answer that Jesus would, of course, do what I naturally would do, which is saying that I would do it my way and blame it on Jesus. True discipleship includes following Jesus’ example, but it also includes the realization that without the help of the Holy Spirit that we cannot follow Jesus’ example.
True discipleship, Jesus Himself tells us, is denying oneself. To deny oneself means, to not pay attention to our wants and desires, to refuse to think about what we want for ourselves, to put our own wants and desires at the end of the line, to say to ourselves, “keep quiet.” To deny ourselves, we must admit, is very difficult, if not impossible, especially in the “me first” world in which we live. How often we are told to “look out for number one.” Yet, true discipleship is just that, denying yourself.
True discipleship is taking up one’s cross. Here we must distinguish between crosses that are inflicted upon us and self inflicted crosses. Too often we put ourselves in the position to bring a cross upon ourselves. We might take a stand insisting that this is what Jesus would do and think we are suffering for our “holy” actions, when in reality we have put the cross on ourselves. I do not necessarily like this as an example, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a great example of this. They preach false doctrine, have the door slammed in their faces and count it as suffering for God. That is not true discipleship and taking up one’s cross. True discipleship is taking up one’s cross and standing firm in one’s faith in Jesus alone, even to the point of death.
The paradox of life is this, we either have life in this world and not in the world to come, or we have life in the world to come and not in this world. We cannot have it both ways. We may try to fool ourselves into thinking we can, but we cannot have it both ways. Jesus expressed it this way, “you cannot serve two masters for you will either hate the one and love the other, or love the one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
If our goal is life in this world and living it to its fullest (in all the decadent sense of that word) then our goal really is losing our life, that is losing our life in the world to come. What we are doing is exchanging life in the world to come for life in this world. Do we make decisions concerning our life based on the here and now or the hereafter? Are we like the rich fool who tore down his old barns in order to build bigger barns and said to himself, “today I will eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow I will worry about my eternal soul.” You might remember that it was that very night that his soul was required of him.
If our goal is saving our life, that is, if our goal is eternal life, that means giving up the things of this life. What is our priority? Do we live as if this world is all there is, or do we live as if this world is merely a “snap of the fingers,” compared to the world to come? Do we live as if today is all there is, or that we are living for eternal life? If our goal is saving our life, that is, eternal life, then we will live our lives with our eyes focused on the world to come. We will live our lives in such a way that all we do can be seen by others as a prelude to the world to come. Others will see through our lives that there is more to life than just this present existence.
What is our confession? What is in our heart and what do we believe? Our confession truly is our life and our life truly is our confession. Our confession is a confession of thought, word and action (deed). How we live, the way we make decisions and the decisions we make show what is our confession. There is no way around it. We live according to what we confess and we confess according to what we live.
What is our confession? What is our confession of faith? Do we confess with Peter and the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? And if that is our confession, do we really understand the ramifications of that confession? Do we understand that confession means, not glory, power, and might, but suffering, death and resurrection? Our lives as Christians are not glamorous, famous, powerful lives, they are not lives in which only good things happen to us and if only good things are not happening then we must have a problem with our faith. To confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God is to confess our sins and to live lives that are at odds with the world in which we live, to live in the shadow of the cross and even to suffer because of our faith.
What is our confession? Is our confession a complete confession? In other words, is our confession a confession of complete agreement of the Word of God, whether we like what the Word of God says or not? My confession is a complete confession when I give up myself, my wants and my desires, in order to live my life, to allow my thoughts, words and actions (deeds) to reflect my faith in Jesus Christ alone. Of course, we know that in and of ourselves we cannot have such a confession. It is only as Christ confesses His love for us and gives us faith, it is only as the Holy Spirit gives us faith and stirs in us that we can make such a confession, albeit an imperfect confession as we continually, daily break our confession, repent and renew that confession.
I cannot say it any better than Jesus said it Himself, “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 life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and 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” (Mark 8:34b-38). With Jesus’ help, we forfeit our lives in this world and we rejoice and say, to God be the Glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.