The Things of God
The pastor was making his rounds of the nursing home when the nurse approached him and asked, “Pastor, would you please look in on the man in room 7. He is not doing very well and has asked for a pastor.” The pastor stepped into the room and found a man of about 80, struggling for breath, but still very alert to his surroundings. Leaning over his bed, the pastor asked how he could be of help. As he visited with the man, the pastor learned that he had been baptized and confirmed in the faith, but had been removed from the church rolls because of his inattention to worship. His wife had died a number of years before. As the man struggled for breath the pastor asked him if he believed that Jesus suffered, died on the cross, and rose again for him and his sins. He then told him that all he had to do is ask for forgiveness. Leaning closer to the man he asked, “Do you believe this?” As tears ran down the cheeks of both men, the man made the confession, crying out that a burden had been lifted from his mind and heart.
Over the next few days the pastor continued to minister to the elderly man, talking to him about the things of God until Jesus took him by the hand and led him through the valley of the shadow of death.
In our Gospel lesson, the place is just outside of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus has gathered his disciples in this secluded place for some real hands-on, face-to-face instruction. They had been with him nearly three years and had witnessed the miracles and heard the parables. They had watched as the situation continued to grow uneasy for Jesus and his ministry as the Pharisees and Sadducees became more aggressive in their testing of him. Were they ready? Jesus asked a first question: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13) Then, after various responses, the much-needed question was asked: Who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:15).
A young man had a real aptitude for sales. He enjoyed the work and liked to be with people. After the first few weeks of visiting his clients he was talking to one of the older salesmen. He told him how many calls he made and how many people he had visited. The young man went on to explain how he conducted his meetings with his clients and how he had only a few sales. The older man looked at him and told him, “It sounds like you are doing a good job of educating the people. You seem to connect with them. It sounds like you are doing everything right except for one thing.” “What is that?” the young man asked. “You have to ask them to buy!”
This is a question Jesus needed to ask. This is a question that must be asked of pastor and people. “Who do you say that I am?” (16:15). Because, you see, the reality is that there are many people who call themselves Christians who have never answered the question. And sadder still, they have not been asked the question!
After Peter’s response, Jesus began to focus the disciples’ attentions on what he, as the Christ, must do—go to Jerusalem to suffer, to die, and then to rise again—to continue to carry out the Father’s plan of redemption for humankind. Peter took him aside and rebuked him: “Never, Lord! . . . This shall never happen to you!” (16:22). Here is the very man who just moments ago had made that magnificent confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16).
After all the time they had spent with Jesus, the disciples still didn’t get it! Is this not also true in our lives as struggling children of God who are following the Christ, the Son of the living God? Do we miss something important because we are still thinking about what has just been said? Do we not also slip into that mode of confessing, “You are the Christ,” but don’t think that there is anything more involved?
This is the thing of God, that Jesus must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and on the third day be raised to life. This is the uniqueness of the Son of God that he would die and then be raised to life, for your sins and my sins—our sins.
But what does Jesus mean when he said we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him? Are we moving into that area of our spiritual life that involves “the things of God”—not just a knowledge and confession of Jesus’ work of salvation, but also of the work He calls us to do?
Well, for starters, taking up our crosses to do the things of God involves the greatest battle a Christian faces—the battle with one’s own sinful nature. The apostle Paul so beautifully speaks of the sin within us and the combat that is continually being waged between saint and sinner. The biggest concern we have as children of God is that we may become complacent. And yet we have the beautiful confession of Peter and almost in the next breath he tries to pull Jesus away from doing “the things of God.” One can become confused about “taking up the cross.” Some people, when they refer to “bearing the cross,” meaning putting up with and accepting sickness. But to bear the cross of Christ is to undergo verbal and even physical abuse because of your confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God—your willingness to lose your life for Christ Jesus.
We rejoice this morning and every day because Jesus was willing to do “the things of God”—to suffer and die and rise again. And he willingly did all this because he loves us. Even while we were sinners, he willingly died for us (Rom 5:8). And God, our Father, accepted his willing sacrifice for us by raising him to life.
May each and every one of us to be involved in confessing and doing the things of God as we answer the question “Who do you say I am?” with a Spirit-directed answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And then graciously allow God to direct our lives with the joys and opportunities to share in the life of Jesus by “taking up our crosses daily.”