Poor Peter! He’d just affirmed his belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah. But Jesus had not risen to the occasion; rather, he’d told his disciples not to tell anyone else that he was the Messiah, and then gone on to say he would suffer, die and rise again. Not what the Messiah should say, Peter felt. But when he rebuked Jesus, Jesus called him Satan! And told him his concerns were not those of God but merely human.
At that point Jesus calls the crowd to them and tells them to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. God’s concerns and human concerns are so far apart that human concerns have to be banished from our minds. Yet Jesus goes on to say that God’s concerns and human concerns ultimately coincide: humans want life and we want to save our souls, and that is what God wants for us. But the way forward is the route of self-denial and sacrifice – taking up our cross and following him. What does that mean in practice?
The most obvious thing about the call to take up our cross is that it is a call to suffer. Jesus had just told his disciples that he was about to undergo extreme suffering; those who follow him must also expect to suffer with him. What exactly that means will differ for each person. Not many of us need expect to be tortured and cruelly put to death for our faith, at least if we live in the UK. (Christians in some other parts of the world can have no such assurance.) But following Christ, far from being a way of avoiding suffering, will involve some kind of suffering for all of us – not just the kind of suffering anyone might expect, but a suffering that comes because we are following Christ. We can expect to be poorer than others, because we are being more generous. We can expect to be mocked and despised because of our faith. We can expect circumstances to conspire against us, as the ‘prince of this world’ (Satan) tries to make life as hard as possible for us. Our change in priorities will mean difficult decisions will have to be made. In many ways we will have to deny ourselves, giving up our ‘rights’, as we follow Jesus and seek to serve him and put God’s concerns ahead of our own.
What is at stake is nothing short of eternal life or death. We could play lip service to God’s concerns, and concentrate on our own interests. But Jesus warns that however successful we are, in the end we will have wasted our lives. Amazingly, putting God’s concerns first will be well worth it, even if in this life we seem to be losers!
1) Jesus told people to ‘count the cost’ of following him. What is the cost to you? Is it worth it?
2) What are God’s concerns?