Loving God as we meet with You here today from our different homes and different circumstances, we ask that by Your Spirit You would unite us all together now as one. Help us to set aside all the busyness of the world around us and to be at one with You and with one another, that as individuals and as a community we may know the power of Your Spirit among us and may know You calling for us in the days and week ahead. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen.
Read Matthew 16:21-2
We’ve all no doubt heard the story of the young child at Sunday School, sitting quietly drawing a picture. When asked what she was drawing, back came the answer – a picture of God. And when it was suggested that no-one knew what God looked like, the response was almost immediate – well, they will now after I’m finished my picture!
Whether we perhaps think too much about it or not, the fact is that most of us have some picture, or some image, or some idea of who or what God is – and it’s a picture we carry with us as we walk with Him in faith. For the most part they are unvoiced and remain somewhere in our own sub-consciousness. But they are there and they help to shape our faith in terms of our actions and expectations.
And in a sense we begin to see this take place in our Gospel passage as we continue from where we left off last week. Because although last week we saw that Peter acknowledged Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God and that this revelation was given to Peter by God Himself. We now begin to see that maybe Peter didn’t fully understand just what that actually meant.
Maybe deep down Peter too was looking for Jesus to be another King David, another warrior, champion for the people. Someone who would not only stand up to the authorities, but possibly lead some form of rebellion against the occupying Roman forces and reclaim Israel for the people. I say maybe because the fact if that we don’t know for sure.
Yet in this exchange today what we do see is that the one thing that Peter didn’t expect Jesus to be was a weak and fragile Messiah who would ultimately be killed by the authorities. Indeed so upset was Peter by this that he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. And just pause for a moment to consider that. Peter rebuking His Saviour!!
However, maybe we can’t blame Peter too much for thinking as he did. Because let’s be honest with ourselves, have there not been times where all we want is a mighty and powerful God to make things right for us at that moment in time. And not just for us in our own lives, but for all we see wrong that is happening around us. Thankfully, however, neither Peter or we get the God that we want.
Instead what we do get is the God we need – not the God we want – the God we need.
We don’t get a God who will remain in heaven, distant and aloof from all of our pain, heartache and suffering. Instead we get a God who will abandon all pretext of glory and majesty, a God who came to us in grace and humility in order to take on our lot and our life.
Because the reality is that our God favours mercy over strength, forgiveness over judgment, and grace and vulnerability over power and glory. Our God not only understands us but also loves us. And, lest we forget, this God also is raised on the third day, promising that at the end of our struggles is peace.
But still the question many may ask, is what does that mean for us here and now, and how should we respond to this.
Well perhaps the first thing we can take from our passage today is that if we wish to be Disciples of Jesus, seeking to follow and to serve him as we live out the gospel message in his name, we need to be in it for the long haul. Being a Disciple of Jesus is not something that we can start and stop whenever we choose to do so or whenever the fancy takes us. It is a way of life. Indeed, it’s the only way of life…
Everyone and everything else around us may be living in a different way altogether but we have to learn to imitate Jesus as best we can at all times and in every situation. The Christian faith and the discipleship it entails is a constant following of our Saviour and a constant obedience in thought, word and action to Him. Walking in his footsteps, wherever He may lead us and whatever the cost may be to us.
There are no shortcuts at all if we are to be a Disciple of Jesus. Nor can we pick and choose where and how we want to follow Him and where and when we would choose not to. It’s all or nothing – a total commitment to Him for the rest of our lives here on earth. That’s what Jesus was speaking about when he tells His Disciples they must lose their own lives and take up their cross and follow Him.
However, there is more to it than this because this passage also serves to remind us of the sacrifice of discipleship.
Just as being a Christian Disciple means being in it for the duration as we seek to follow and serve our Lord and Saviour, so it also means having to be prepared to make sacrifices to do so – sacrifices that may come in all shapes and sizes. Yet ultimately what it means is losing our own life in order to give our lives to Jesus. Not in the final, physical sense but in the lives that we lead each and every day.
In essence we are to abandon our own self as the dominant principle in our life in order to make God that dominant principle.
In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul tells us that we must be transformed by God for that to happen. We are no longer to conform to the ways of the world we live in but instead allow God to transform us from within. Love, kindness, compassion – these are all the kind of virtues that should dictate how we live our lives. Focussing not so much on self and our own selfish aims and desires, but on other people looking to the needs of others before ourselves.
And we should not aim to behave in this way out of any sense of duty or obligation. Nor should we do so in expectation of any gratitude or admiration from others. Instead we should be happy and willing to live this way in joyful hope because by doing so we know that we are living as best we can in the way that God would have us.
And with all that is happening in our communities today how important is it that we do seek to live in this kind of way and to continue to pray for those most affected by this virus at this time.
Of course we may say that we do – and as I said last week, throughout these past 5 months I have seen and heard of many examples of this. Yet, still we should not be complacent because living in this way isn’t always easy, especially when we have so many things impacting on our own lives and especially when we see and hear of things that test our own faith.
And yet Jesus makes it quite clear here how He expects us to live. However, not only did He tell us how we should live – He showed us how we should live. He led by example and He now calls on us to follow in His footsteps.
The way of Jesus may be tough and arduous. It may involve sacrifice and putting others before ourselves. And there may be times when we will come up short and when we stumble and fall. Taking up our cross and following after Jesus never has been and never will be the easiest thing for any of us to do. Yet it is the life we are called to if we would be a Disciple of Jesus. Indeed William Barclay once said that Christian witness is not one moment’s profession of our faith, however brave that moment may be…Christian witness is a whole-time job every day.
The only question we perhaps have to consider is this – is it a job that we are prepared to take on?
Eternal and loving God as we reflect on this passage and what it means to be Your Disciple, we have to confess how often we fall so far short of Your standards and expectations. Yet even as we do so, we remember that You have called us in all of our weakness and failing, not to live as You would have us by our own strength and merit, but by the power and guidance of Your Spirit. So help us we pray to look to Your Spirit each and every day and allow it to inspire, encourage, empower and equip us in Your name that we may indeed live our faith as the Disciples You have called us to be.
We continue to remember all in our own community who have fallen ill to Covid 19 and ask that You would be with them and all their loved ones, that You would lay Your healing hand upon them and keep them safe in Your love and tender care. We think of the impact this has had on the wider community and remember those who now feel that wee bit more vulnerable and anxious and we ask that You would embrace them too in You tender loving care. And as we look throughout our land we think of all whose lives have been affected by this virus, especially those who have lost loved ones to it and those who are still seriously ill and we ask that they would know that peace and comfort that only You can give.
And we remember those whose livelihoods, work and businesses have been so affected over these past months, those for whom the future seems so insecure and so uncertain, and we lift them before You too. As we do all our school children, students, teachers and staff who are now back in classrooms and about to head back to colleges. Watch over them we pray and be especially today with all in those schools where some have contracted this virus and let them know that we are thinking of them at this time.
So go with us now, Lord, and be with us and all of our loved ones in the week ahead. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen