I wonder what it would be like to write a “Help Wanted” add for church membership? I mean, if you were going to write something trying to get people to join the church, what might it look like?
Here’s my tongue in cheek version:
Come to church so that Jesus can give you your best life now.
Easy, flexible scheduling. No commitments. No pressure. Work church around your current lifestyle.
Receive irrevocable benefits with no obligation on your part. Attend when you want, involve yourself where you want, little or no financial obligation necessary.
Be comforted that you are loved and accepted just as you are with no need to change or grow, and receive assurance that the problems you are experiencing are just temporary and are caused by something outside yourself.
Okay, maybe that’s a little bit over the top, but maybe not by too much. I tend to think that we like our Christianity easy. We like our Christianity comfortable. We want it to be like that free ice cream cone some restaurants give you as you walk out: sweet, satisfying, leaving you with a pleasant taste in your mouth and a smile on your face.
But Jesus’ own help wanted ad, is far, far different from such a thing. Jesus’ help wanted ad that he sets forth today is far less sweet, far less pleasant, and far less appetizing.
It all starts when Jesus and his disciples are walking around Caesarea Philippi. Ever the teacher, ever the instructor, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” What’s the going word on the street? What do people think about all the things that I’ve done?
Jesus gets an ear-full. “Some say you are John the Baptist. Other folks think you are Elijah. Some say you are a prophet.”
It’s not much different today. All sorts of folks have their opinions about who Jesus was. Some say he was just a great moral teacher. Others put him as a founder of a religion on the par with Buddah or Mohammed. Others even say he didn’t exist. There’s all sorts of stuff going on about who Jesus was and what he really did or didn’t do. The more things change the more they say the same.
But, ultimately, the question of who Jesus is isn’t about those folks out there. Ultimately, the question of Jesus identity comes down to every single one of us in here (points to heart). And Jesus knows that. Jesus understands that greatly, and so he brings it home. “Who do you say that I am?”
I’m sure there was a pregnant silence. I’m sure the disciples sat there for a few seconds waiting. Thinking. What was the right answer? What should they say? They’d seen a lot. They’d seen Jesus feed the five thousand. They’d seen him calm the storm. They’d seen Jesus cast out demons; heal the paralyzed; and bring the dead back to life. They’d heard his preaching and teaching. They had knowledge that few others had. What could they say that would bring it all together? How could they answer and account for all of these things?
Peter finally breaks the silence, “You are the Messiah.” And Jesus sternly warned everyone to keep quiet.
Do you wonder why Jesus said this? Do you wonder why, after such a big announcement, after such an important revelation that Jesus would demand silence?
It’s really no wonder if you understand what everyone believed the Messiah was supposed to do. The Messiah was supposed to cleanse the temple. The Messiah was supposed to defeat Israel’s enemies. And the Messiah was supposed to bring God’s justice to the world. Of course, the way the Messiah was supposed to bring God’s justice was to enthrone himself as the king of Israel, and Israel would then rule the world. These were the expectations of the Messiah. This is what every single good Jew was taught about the Messiah. This is why the Jewish people longed for the Messiah. They wanted a temple free from corruption. They wanted their enemies, in this case the Romans, off their backs. And they wanted the power and prestige that came from being the world’s powerhouse. For Peter to announce that Jesus was the Messiah and for Jesus to offer him no correction otherwise was a HUGE deal.
And Jesus knew that. Jesus knew what the expectations were, but he also knew he would accomplish them in quite a different fashion. For he would cleanse the temple–but not as expected. And the enemy he would seek to overthrow was not any earthly power, but a power that enslaved every person on earth–from the most powerful king to the lowest slave. The power and enemy that must be overthrown was the power of sin. And God’s justice would be revealed in the most unexpected of places–on a cross at Calvary. Jesus knew all of these things. Jesus knew that his path was far different than the expectations of his followers and of his fellow Jews.
And so, Jesus began to break them in. Jesus began to teach them, openly and plainly. He didn’t want to sugar coat it. He didn’t want to leave them with any doubts or questions. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
This was too much for the disciples to hear. This was too off. This wasn’t right. This was unheard of. Never had this idea ever been expressed by any single teacher of Israel. Never had this idea entered into any conversation about the Messiah. This could not be the way that things would happen. Jesus must be out of his mind, and so Peter takes it upon himself to correct Jesus. In fact, it’s a bit stronger than correct. You see, the Bible here reads rebuked. Peter rebuked Jesus. This is the same word the Bible uses when demons are rebuked. Peter thinks Jesus has a demon. Think about that for just a minute. Peter speaks to his teacher in the same way his teacher spoke to demons. That’s not good.
And Jesus responds in kind. Jesus rebukes Peter in the strongest of terms, “Get behind me Satan for you are setting your mind on human things instead of divine things.” Somehow, Jesus’ response is much more forceful. Somehow Jesus response puts Peter to shame. It might just be because the same voice that calmed the storm and brought the dead to life is now the one offering the rebuke. And that rebuke stings. There is no hint of softness in it. There is no hint of tactfulness. There’s no, “You might want to think about what you are saying, Peter. Your opinion might be wrong.”
No. I’m quite sure that if Jesus would have said this in a church, there would have instantaneously been a movement to get rid of him. “He needs anger management.” “He needs counseling.” “No good religious leader should ever call one of his flock Satan.” Jesus’ actions here are very, very uncomfortable.
But he’s not done. If you think his words to Peter are out of bounds, just wait until you hear what he says next. Just wait until he gives you his help wanted ad. “If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For if anyone wants to save his life, he will lose it, but if anyone loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel, he will find it.”
This is discipleship according to Jesus.
This is discipleship according to the Bible.
Deny yourself. Give up your expectations. Give up your hopes. Give up your dreams and desires. Give up all the things you wanted and what you wanted God to do for you. Put them all away. Deny your self.
Pick up your cross. Do you know how the disciples would have heard this? Do you know how revolted they must have been when Jesus said this? Jesus basically told them, prepare to die. When we think of carrying a cross, oftentimes we think of the trials and tribulations we face in life. And they are tough, boy are they tough. It’s tough to face a chronic illness. It’s tough to work at a job you hate. It’s tough to deal with broken relationships in your family. There are many, many tough things we face in life, but they are not the cross. The cross was an instrument of torture and death. If you were carrying it, you were headed towards suffering. You were headed towards pain and agony. You were headed towards death.
Give up all your hopes and dreams and desires, prepare to die, and follow me. For if you want to save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel, you will find it.
That’s discipleship. That’s the job description. There is no sugar coating it. There is no explaining it away. This is the demand Jesus puts on his followers.
And if you are like me right now, you are thinking, “There’s no way. There’s no way I can do that. There is no way I can give up all of my hopes and dreams and desires. There is no way I can die to all of these things. There is no way I can lose my life like this. This is impossible.”
And it certainly is impossible. The disciples couldn’t even do it. When Jesus was arrested, they all ran away. When Peter tried to follow and was confronted, he denied Jesus three times. None of them were willing to face the cross. None of them were willing to lose their lives. They all fell far short of Jesus’ call. And they knew it. They, like we know that we haven’t even come close to what Jesus demands.
At this point you may be sitting there thinking, “Then why am I even here? If Jesus’ disciples couldn’t do this and if I can’t do this, then why do I even bother showing up here?”
It’s because Christianity isn’t primarily about what you do. It’s about what God has done in Jesus. It is darn near impossible for us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Jesus. But guess who did deny himself? Guess who did pick up his cross?
You know the answer to that question. You know who carried his cross to Calvary. You know who was hung on that cross, and you know who suffered and died on it. He did this precisely because he knew that we couldn’t. He knew that the power of sin is too great within each and every one of us. He knew that the power of sin would keep us focused on ourselves; would keep us trying to preserve ourselves. He knew we couldn’t break out of sins power on our own. And so he died for us. When we couldn’t follow him and didn’t deserve to be his disciples, he died for us. He bore our shortcomings. He bore our sinfulness. He suffered on our behalf.
And then he gave us his righteousness. He gave us his glory. He gave us his status as a beloved child of God. We didn’t earn this status. We didn’t deserve this status, but it is given to us by sheer grace. And when we are grasped by that sheer grace; when the Gospel becomes real to us, something happens. We are changed.
This change was evident in the lives of the disciples. You know, the ones I told you about earlier who ran when Jesus was arrested; who denied him when confronted. Those same disciples, when Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection and offered them peace; offered them forgiveness; then went out into the world and suffered for him. They went out into the world leaving behind themselves and most of them dying in proclaiming the love of God in Christ Jesus. When they understood how much they were loved and how they had been forgiven, they were changed. And they gathered together to hear what Christ had done for them so they would never forget the sheer grace of God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, you have received the same love that the disciples received. You have received the same grace that the disciples received. Jesus has poured out his life for you and redeemed you. When you walk out into the world and find that you are being dragged away from discipleship; when the cares and concerns of the world try to entice you and whisper sweet words of temptation; when the Evil One tries to tell you that you aren’t worthy to follow Jesus; look to the cross. Look to the Savior who is the Messiah. Let your heart be filled with His love and His power, and you will find something surprising. You will find something contrary to the way the world works. You will find that you are denying your self. You will find that you are seeking God’s will instead of your own. You will find that you are losing your life, but that you have found something much greater. You have found the Risen Lord; you have found Jesus. And in him, you have found abundant life. Amen.