We are still in the region of Caesarea Philippi with Jesus and His disciples. Jesus has previously asked the question of “Who do you say I am?” and foretold of His death. Today He addresses the cost of following Him.
Before we get too deep into the reading, I have a few questions I want to ask. Why did Jesus use the illustration of the cross? He hadn’t told His disciples yet that He was going to die on a cross. Was this a common saying in Jesus’ day? Is that why He said it? What did the disciples think of this phrase? Did it confuse them? When we read it we think, of course Jesus talks about the cross because that was the instrument of His death. But the disciples didn’t know that yet.
Carrying a cross demonstrated a sentence of death. It was heavy and cumbersome. It was a symbol of extreme torture. Use of the cross as a punishment device was as cruel a way to die as anyone had come up with at this point. It was an object of horror. The stuff nightmares were made of.
Living in the US it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the kind of torture that Jesus, and then some of His disciples, had to endure at the time of death. Many of Jesus’ disciples really did follow Him to the cross. A few were killed using other methods, but were killed none the less.
Peter, during Jesus’ trial, would deny Jesus in an effort to save his life. He didn’t know that his life wasn’t really in danger. Jesus said that the Father was protecting all Jesus’ disciples during that time, except for Judas. The rest of the disciples didn’t make such a public effort to distance themselves from Jesus as Peter did, but ALL deserted Him during that time. Jesus forgave them for this too. That would be the last time they chose their own safety over proclaiming who Jesus was.
So how do we take up our cross when we live in a country that doesn’t put us to death for our belief in Jesus? I’ve heard it preached that taking up your cross for us means “crucifying your flesh.” That fits with what Paul taught. That by denying our worldly wants and doing what Jesus would want us to do instead we are killing our flesh.
An example from my life is that I currently have someone who is harassing me through electronic media. My husband keeps urging me to retaliate and engage in the same behavior she is doing. As tempting as that may be, I know Jesus would be very displeased with me if I gave in to that temptation. Instead I do damage control and inform her that I will be seeking reparations through the court system. I have also prayed for her. My most frequent prayer is that she would see how she is hurting her own children by her behavior. Her behavior towards them and her soon to be ex-husband is even more egregious. I’m just a side target because I’m helping her ex with his legal issues. (Sorry, got side tracked.)
This world has NOTHING to offer that even comes close to what Jesus is offering us. Everything of this world ends at death. You can take NONE of it with you. The power, money, fame, possessions ALL stay on this side of the grave. But your soul doesn’t. Every soul passes from this life to the next and what that next life holds depends on that one all important decision. Did you make Jesus Lord of your life or not.
If the answer to that question is “yes”, then real life begins the moment this temporary one ends. If the answer is “no”, never ending torturous death begins. Having made that decision doesn’t mean that everything her is going to be a bed of roses, but that you have an assurance that nothing can separate you from God for all eternity. Things on this Earth will be downright difficult at times if you decide to follow Jesus, but I can’t imagine life without Him. This world is a difficult and dangerous place to live in for everyone, but having Jesus walk beside you through it all can provide peace. He has overcome this world and He provides many victories and miracles as we go through it with Him. He doesn’t solve every problem for us, but walks through them right beside us every day.
Jesus promises His disciples that, in the end, He will “come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (verse 27). Everything done on this earth will be accounted for. That person bullying you may get away with it for now, but Jesus WILL hold them accountable. The man who cheats to get ahead in business may make a fortune here and now, but Jesus WILL deal with him in the end. Sometimes it’s hard to wait for justice when you have been wronged, but that too will be repaid by Jesus. My decision not to retaliate WILL be rewarded in the end. Jesus frequently gives us temporary justice in our daily life, and for that I am SO grateful, but He doesn’t promise it. As Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Jesus closes His current discourse with a promise to “some standing here” (verse 28). There would be some of the disciples who would actually see Jesus glorified before they themselves died. There is debate over what this actually means, but I believe Jesus is talking about the next events Matthew records for us; Jesus’ transfiguration. I can’t wait to sit on that hilltop!
Father God, thank You for Your promise of life after this one. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit that walks with us through this one. I KNOW I can’t walk it alone! I would make a disaster out of everything I did without You. Thank You that You promise justice in the end too. There are so many things here on Earth that goes against everything You have called good and right. So many people hurting others for their own purposes. You promised to make this right in the end.
When we are with You will we even care what passed before? Nothing can compare to being with You. If we meet up with someone in Heaven who has wronged us on Earth, will we be surprised that God would let such a mean person in, or will we be grateful that they found Jesus too and were spared an eternity of torture? I pray it is the second one for me. I have no right to judge someone else’s sin and worse than my own. You forgave me just the same as You can forgive anyone who asks. Thank You for Your great love. I am so looking forward to meeting face to face.