17th Sun. after Pentecost, September 13/16, 2018
… 34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.
This week I heard a story about a soldier on a battlefield. The battle is kicking into high gear. The soldier frantically jumps into the trench as the shells start falling all around him. He starts grabbing for something anything to help him out as the explosions rock his position. Suddenly he feels something metal between his fingers. He grabs it and pulls it up: a silver cross. Next thing he knows, someone’s jumping into his trench, an army chaplain. The soldier tells the chaplain, “I’m glad you’re here!” Holding up the cross, he asks him, “How do you work this thing?”
Kind of reminds you of Peter and the rest of Jesus’ disciples here. As Jesus spoke to them and told them about the cross that He would have to bear, they didn’t know what to do with it. They didn’t know how to bear what Jesus was telling them. And yet later on, look what happened. Each and every one of those disciples, with the exception of Judas, all learned to bear the cross of Christ. They all learned what Jesus was getting at when He told them that the Son of Man had to suffer. They didn’t figure it out on their own; it was all the work of Christ for them and in them.
And He did this not just for the Twelve—but for all of His disciples, even us. Christ is our all in all. He is our everything. He is our life and our salvation. And because of that, He makes us cross-bearers in Him.
1. By clearly showing us who He is.
He makes us cross-bearers first by clearly showing us who He is. That is what He did for His disciples that day. On that day, Jesus didn’t mince words; He didn’t speak in parables. He spoke plainly to them about who He was and what He had come to do. As they walked the outskirts of Caesarea Philippi, a city that was the seat of Roman power and might in Palestine, Jesus asked His disciples who everyone else thought He was. They answered with all the ridiculous rumors: “John the Baptist,” they said, “but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (v. 28).
Then Jesus put the question to His disciples personally: “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered for the entire group when he said, “You are the Christ” (v. 29). From everything they had seen Jesus do and heard Jesus say, they had come to the conclusion that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the one anointed to save all Israel.
But that word, “Christ”, Anointed One, it was a loaded word. For hundreds of years, ever since the kingdom of Judah was hauled off to captivity in Babylon, the Jews had always been ruled by someone else: the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians, the Greeks, and now the Romans. They’d begun to see the promised Messiah as a political Messiah who would throw off the shackles of outside rulers and restore the kingdom of Israel to her former glory, establishing an earthly kingdom that would last forever. If they thought Jesus was that kind of Christ, they would try to make Him their king—and in doing that, keep Jesus from completing His mission. So, that was why Jesus told them not to tell anyone who He was (v. 30).
And that was also why Jesus went to great trouble to clearly show that He is the Christ—but maybe not the kind of Christ they were expecting. He starts teaching them that “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v. 31). The Christ is anointed—not for glory, but for suffering. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 point to the kind of suffering that the Messiah would face, how His clothes would be divided up before Him, how He would be pierced for our transgressions and carry in Himself all our iniquities. How the punishment that brought us peace with God was upon Him—and by His wounds we are healed. To be the Christ means to be the One who bears the cross.
Frankly, it’s something most people don’t understand: why would the promised Savior of the world choose to suffer? That’s what Peter didn’t get at the time. He took Jesus aside to quiet Him down (v. 32), basically saying, “Don’t worry, Jesus, our Messiah’s not going to suffer; just put it out of your mind.” Human beings naturally connect God only with the good things in life, with success, good health, prosperity, and happiness. People think God’s working in your life only when good things are happening. How many times have you heard someone say, “If God is such a loving and caring God, then why does He allow people to go through a hurricane? Or why does He allow children to starve in Africa? Why does He allow so much suffering in the world?” And the truth is you and I can’t figure it out either. Our problem is often the same as Peter’s.
Remember what Jesus said to him? “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (v. 33). For Peter those words had to sting. But this was how Jesus ultimately made Peter into a cross-bearer—by clearly showing Him who He is.
It’s how He made us cross-bearers too. By His cross, He has clearly shown us who He is, the kind of Savior He is. That He is the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God in human flesh. And at the same time, He has shown Himself to be a Christ who was willing to suffer for us and our salvation. A Christ who hides His glory in weakness and pain. A Christ who wins—not by a flashy battlefield victory, but by laying down His life as a sacrifice for us all.
And knowing that is what makes us cross-bearers in Christ—people who bear the cross of Christ in this world of suffering. We don’t have all the answers. But we know that if Jesus was willing to suffer for us, He’s also willing to be with us in our suffering too. This week was the 9/11 anniversary again—people think about the horrible suffering of that day. Yet one of the most powerful stories of that day was when rescue workers digging through the rubble found six huge steel crosses that had been formed by the collapse. In that moment, all of them stopped to pray. For them it was a reminder that, even in the midst of all the carnage, God was right there with them, working to heal the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds (Ps 147:3). And that’s the comfort we can share when someone we love is hurting. We can bring the cross of Jesus to bear and point to His great love and mercy.
2. By clearly showing us how to follow Him.
And as we carry the cross of Christ in our lives, it changes us. It changes how we look at things; it changes what we do. As our all in all, Christ makes us cross-bearers in Him also by clearly showing us how to follow Him.
Jesus wasn’t finished speaking openly about the cross. After scolding Peter, He gathered the crowd together with His disciples and told them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (v. 34). If you want to bear the cross of Christ, then you need to pick up and carry your own cross.
So, what is your cross? Well, your cross is anything that you suffer on account of being a believer in Christ, for bearing Christ’s cross in your life. Sometimes it takes the form of persecution—being ridiculed for actually believing in Jesus! But more often your cross isn’t going to come from outside; it’s going to come from inside. A cross isn’t something that happens to you; it’s a choice that involves following Christ—doing His will. The crosses you carry are inward struggles. It’s the struggle to change the channel on the T.V. when something bad comes on instead of thinking, “Oh, well, this stuff is normal.” It’s the struggle to stand up for what’s right, instead of giving in because “it’s hard” or “It won’t do any good anyway.” The struggle to speak well of your boss—even though your boss is a jerk. The struggle to tell someone about Jesus—even though your mind can come up with 30 reasons not to. It’s the struggle to say no to yourself—and yes to Jesus.
Christ makes us cross-bearers in Him by showing us exactly what following Him is all about. To lift that heavy cross—it’s hard! To bear the cross is to suffer and fail time and time again. We often stumble and fall under the weight of it. And yet, it’s worth it! “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (v. 35). If all you care about is this life, then, well, you can have it—but that’s all you’re going to have. But for those who by faith choose to bear the cross—His cross as well as our own—Jesus makes this promise: Remain faithful to Him unto death, and Jesus says, “I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Your life will be saved eternally—not because you suffered, but because He suffered and died for you. You will be saved—not because you carried your cross, but because you’re following in faith the one who carried His cross perfectly to save you. You will rise from the grave and have eternal life—because Jesus Himself died and then rose again, having won your place in God’s eternal family.
That’s the beauty of the cross of Christ. There’s no secret to making it work. It works all on its own to forgive us when we fall, to comfort us in times of grief and suffering, and to give us the hope of everlasting life—all for the sake of the One who bore it. As we carry Christ’s cross in faith, by the Spirit’s power, Christ helps us to carry our own crosses, fighting our battles—leading us to eternal victory. Amen.