Bearing the Heavy Things in Life Series – Part 3 of 8: Our Internal Resistance
Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church
March 26th, 2017
Matthew 16:21-28 (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, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[f] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their 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 they have done.
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
So were working on this series of bearing the heavy things in life. The premise that I’ve been making now two weeks running — this will be the third — is that its things that we are not even aware of the really drag us down. The way we understand things that pulls on us. Today I want to offer you a theology that will help you when life falls apart. I know our cultural religion wants to sell us: cheap and easy. If you just say the right prayer then you’re in with Jesus and all of life will be good. And then when life falls apart, what is the message of the church? The message of the cultural church is well: you must not have enough faith, otherwise life would be good for you. Some of you are nodding your head because you left that church and you’re here. And the problem I have with that kind of theology is: I have a really hard time seeing the full life of Jesus and thinking life is always going to be good. Because Jesus walked through suffering; Jesus engage the last, the lost, the outcast; Jesus brought back from the dead those who had died. Jesus healed children who had suffered and died.
The message of the church must be: Christ comes to us and resides with us in those moments. If that’s all you remember from today, great, but there’s a little bit more.
I was a pastor in Tucson for sixteen years and it was at Reid Park one afternoon. I’d gone to watch a friend’s kid play soccer and we were standing on the sidelines watching this game and my friend’s kid did fine and that was neat. But it was another little kid, a little boy that was on the field that caught my attention and still kind of has my attention. He was absolutely the most enthusiastic player on the field. He wasn’t all that good. I’m sure he had a position that had been assigned to him by the coach but by watching him you would have no idea what that position would be. He was everywhere on the field. If the ball was there he was after the ball. What made him remarkable were his physical characteristics. One of his legs was about four inches shorter than the other and this is on a little kid. That foot was turned inward at about a forty-five degree angle and he turned it farther and he used it kind of as\ a peg to run down the field but it wasn’t really running it was hobbling. And it looks to me like the left side of his body was shorter than the right side of his body.
His parents stood on the sidelines with us and they would shout things like: atta boy, get that ball, go for it, dive for it; encouraging their son on the field. At one of the breaks one of the other parents turned to this boy’s parents and said: your son is really amazing; I really admire him. What I was thinking at the time and still kinda ponder now is: you parents are amazing; I really admire you. If you have been a parent, I think you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever engaged a parent, you know what I’m talking about. With a left side of his body that is shorter than the right, a misshapen foot, if I had been this boy’s parent I would’ve thought twice about urging him to participate in team sports. I think I would’ve encouraged him to stay home and take up something like the cello.
Standing on the sidelines and urging him to expose his disability for everyone to see, to risk further bodily damage as he ran up and down that field and I would think for the amount of teasing I endured just for being tall and skinny, I would think a boy like that would be mercilessly teased. I’m wrestling with this notion that I have and I think a lot of us have that our job is a parent is to protect our children. And maybe that’s the biggest challenge to being a parent is to get over that tendency to protect our child. By the time most of us have had kids, we’ve lived enough of life we suffered enough of life to know that life isn’t fair. Life can be tough and sometimes people are mean. We as parents feel a responsibility to shield our children from some of that pain and if by my experience I can pass on somehow protecting a child from suffering, why not? Well, maybe this is why not. Maybe this boy’s parents have it right. Obviously they had an intentional conversation at some point about how they were going to raise this child and they made a specific decision that they were going to be with him as he went through what ever came.
If you love someone it is only human to want to shield them from pain. Let me give you an example: we are riding now in my parent’s 1967 Ford Galaxy 500. It has seatbelts across the lap in the front seat. I’m now old enough to sit next to my Mom as she drives. We are driving; a ball rolls into the street. She slams her foot on the brake and uses her arm to stop me from flinging forward. The desire to protect is strong. Some of you are nodding. You obviously had the bloody nose that followed too. [laughter] That’s what happened, no not really.
Inserting ourselves and protecting our friends is something that we do. We want to protect one another from pain. None of us has been out with our friends and we found the person who was supposed to drive has had too much to drink and we say: yeah, go ahead and drive, if you get an accident it will be a learning environment for you. It will be a moment for you to learn. No that’s not being a friend. That’s terrible! Friends constantly intervene for one another, we reach out, we shield, we protect. I say all of this because I really do sympathize with the disciples in the text today. They are at Caesarea Philippi; it’s sort of a resort area. It’s right next to a really tall mountain, beautiful area. There’s trees there; the wind blows off the sea. The Romans had made it into a resort and this is where Jesus was with his disciples. We don’t know but maybe Jesus decided I’ve got to get away. We’ve got to get away from some of the demands of our work. So many crowds had been just pressing in on Jesus and the disciples. Maybe Jesus said: let’s get away from it all. Why don’t we take a few days off up at Caesarea Philippi. And it was in this pleasant, serene, beautiful setting — without distraction — that Jesus dropped a bomb for his disciples.
He said I must now go to Jerusalem, I will fall into the hands of the authorities, the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees. There I will suffer and there I will die. BOOM. The shock is almost greater than the disciples can comprehend. No doubt Peter starts thinking of ways to shield Jesus, to protect his friend. Peter speaks for all of us: God forbid. If that’s the sort of thing that awaits you in Jerusalem, then why not go in a different direction? You know, if you go north you could end up in Damascus and there’s a beautiful river in Damascus, we can hide out there; we can look at the water; we can rewind; we can refocus; we can renew and you can start your ministry again. Or if you are going to Jerusalem fine, head south. Keep going, go back down to Egypt where you spent all those years growing up, hang out with some old friends, spend some time walking around the old towns and discover your childhood again.
Jesus responds to his friends in their attempt to protect him, saying: get behind me Satan you are a distraction for me. His friends are trying to protect him and he calls them Satan. If Jesus had followed their advice, he probably would not have die the death that he did. He probably would’ve died in a semi-comfortable bed somewhere other than Jerusalem. He might be remembered as Jesus, a great moral teacher, like we honor other moral teachers of history; people like Marcus Aralias or Aristotle or George Washington Carver or Eleanor Roosevelt. People who are loved for what they said but not for how they died. Jesus by this time had said enough to assure his fame for at least a few generations. Now in this moment, he tells his disciples: I must go to Jerusalem. He said I must go. I look at this and I didn’t see anybody standing there with a sword on his neck saying you must go. What is this all about?
One time in my childhood. I made a decision that I was going to speak correct and it was a decision on my behalf because playground talk wasn’t cutting it anymore. I kept getting corrected by the adults in my life. So I made the decision to talk correctly and then talking correctly kind it became an obsession of mine for a while. After that decision I could no longer say words like: ain’t got no. And in writing any time that somebody replaced you’re with your and even now but still bugs me. You kind of learned a new way as you go. Are you equated with learning to speak well you kind and then you almost can’t talk poorly. I think this is what’s happened for Jesus. Jesus is made a decision to follow this discipleship that God has called him to and he’s realized this is where it’s headed. And this is what is ahead for me and I can’t not dothis. Jesus simply could not walk in the other direction.
This is an opportunity for us to ponder our discipleship and maybe to take this as an opportunity to say: I’m making a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. I will imitate him, which means I can’t not imitate him, which means some things about how I handle my anger; it means some things about what I do with my frustration; it means some things about my free time and what I do or don’t do on the computer and it means some things and it means some things and it means some things. We simply can no longer do some of the stuff we’ve done. In a sense this is a debate over so who is Jesus? I got this idea from paying attention to the text because the text that we didn’t read it actually started with this question that Jesus asked his disciples, who do people say that I am? Who am I to you? His disciples respond and some of them say: well, we hear that you are reincarnation of John the Baptizer or perhaps you’re one of the great prophets come back from the dead. Yes, Jesus certainly is a great prophet, and he spoke truth to power, no matter what. And like all of God’s prophets, Jesus is less concerned with public opinion and a whole lot more concerned with what God might say to him. Yes, Jesus was a wonderful teacher and he’s a healer, he’s a physician. That’s a lot of what people said about Jesus because that’s where people were comfortable labeling him. Because if Jesus is a great moral teacher, we all know how to respond to teaching, right? We listen; we take notes; we study the notes; we prepare for the test; situation handled; not a problem. And yes, Jesus did lay some fairly high moral standards on us.
But I think what happened at Caesarea Philippi that day was that Jesus’ disciples got a clear glimpse of just what he was up to and how far it was going to take him. And it scared the snot out of them. They were urging Jesus not to go to Jerusalem. It’s like they were saying: you know Lord, these teachings you have been laying down for us have been really inspirational. You’ve given us a lot of uplifting spiritual concepts. Let’s keep things in perspective. What good is there going to be in you suffering and dying. Who’s going to keep pumping us up? Why does there have to be suffering and death? In saying: God forbid, the disciples were trying to keep Jesus in the place they had for him. Let’s keep Jesus as a truth telling prophet; let’s keep Jesus as a great teacher; let’s keep Jesus as a fine physician, although that’s a little bit dangerous for us because if you know anything about medical training, you know the people who want to become physicians go to medical school and then they go through a residency. Part of the residency is pulling 28 to 30 hour stints of being the doctor to care for the sick. This is part of the inculcation. This is part of the discipline of becoming a physician. You have to push past how you feel in the moment. This is what it means to become a doctor; it is no longer about you. It’s about taking care of your patients and being present throughout the whole process.
Jesus is definitely cranking up the role of what it means for his discipleship and he’s cranking up what it means to be his follower. So when the disciples try to protect him they are also trying to protect themselves. I think we are pretty acquainted with this. There are lots of people who want to call Jesus a wonderful moral teacher, a pragmatic life instructor, a physician, a healer. There’s a lot of people who want to go really far with that image and they turn worship into a dance of healing and that’s fine but you’re putting on a show and not really engaging who Jesus really is. That day at Caesarea Philippi, we see that Jesus really is about something larger. What Jesus is about takes us all the way to the cross. It’s not that hard to see what Jesus is about if we live this different way that he was the example of. We don’t respond to anger with anger. We respond to anger with quiet inner peace. We don’t respond to violence with retribution; we respond to violence with another cheek.
It is the religious authorities who will seize him. They were taking a profit from the vulnerable; Jesus confronted them on it. They will try to kill him for money. It’s the religious leaders who are threatened. It is power and money that comes after Jesus. It is what we encounter when we act that way too. It’s not that hard to see, oh it’s hard to do. It is a whole lot easier to go along with the crowd. You should get him back. You should put this argument; you should fight back. There is going to be suffering, there is going to be betrayal, there is going to be destruction of public reputation. There will be cruelty and tyranny for those who follow Jesus. The authorities who killed Jesus will be unmasked at Jerusalem. God forbid, this should happen to you. God forbid, this should happen to us. We are getting scary close to seeing the real Jesus. What are you going to do about it?
Here is what Jesus does about it. It is in the next breath that Jesus declares I will build my church on you Peter. You will be the rock upon which I build my church. I do not think that it’s an accident at all that Jesus introduces his church in the tension of this moment. The tension between what is best for me and mine and what I want and the larger purpose of God who calls us to live a different kind of life that requires sacrifice. This is where the church is and this is what the church does. This is really a problem. This text is really a problem for anyone who wants Jesus to be their personal savior. It is really a problem for anyone who wants Jesus to bless their prosperity. Jesus is not interested in getting you saved and tucked into heaven nice and cozy. Jesus is about including the poor and the outcast and confronting power and money and what they lead to.
Following Jesus, if we take it seriously, just might cause us to die a ridiculously embarrassing death. Yet so often what do we want from the church? We want comfort; we want assurance, we want an indifferent presence to the life that we choose for ourselves; like a good friend to we just want you to support what we are doing pastor. To be who he is, Jesus has to go to Jerusalem and he has to confront power and money and he has to stare dying in the face. And if we want to be the followers of Jesus, if we want to be his friend then we must befriend him for who he really is. As Jesus goes to Jerusalem, we have to go all the way with him. Confronting are urge to call peace when there is no peace; confronting are urge to turn the practice of faith into motivational prosperity; confronting the urge to make church into self-pleasing consumption.
You want to know how bad this gets? When he is attacked by his enemies, he refuses to defend himself. He refuses to speak a final word of argument because the final word is God’s to speak. So he also opposes our practice of trying to put up the best argument and win the fight for ourselves. He even refuses to let his followers defend him: no more of this put away your swords; rebuking us for our self-defense. Jesus was not a righteous warrior. He was not a wise government leader. Jesus was crucified as a criminal and a threat to the order. He died without lifting a hand to secure his own life; trusted only in the power of God. It is no mystery. It will not do to say Jesus is a splendid moral example. Forget things like he’s a nice teacher. To follow Jesus means that were always asking that horrible question: what does God require of me? And it is no wonder that when his disciples get a glimpse of what Jesus is really about, they say what we say: God forbid.