Last weekend’s Gospel reading recorded the strong, clear, correct and confident confession of faith made by Simon Peter through the power of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?… Simon Peter answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Matthew 16: 16)
This week we continue to read, “From that that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16: 21)
In these few, powerful words, Jesus revealed the whole purpose of His earthly ministry, the Father’s divine plan for the salvation of all humankind and the good news (Gospel) that He, the Christ, had come to suffer, die and be raised again for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of the whole world!
Poor Peter couldn’t comprehend all that Jesus was revealing to them and he responded, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” (Matthew 16: 22) He, and the other disciples, were looking for “another kind of Christ,” one who would come like a shining knight on a white horse – coming as an earthly savior to free them from the tyranny of their Roman captures. But Jesus knew Who He was and why He had come! Looking “through” Peter, Jesus said to the devil, “Out of My sight, satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16: 23)
Jesus knew that He had come to “take up His cross” and follow the will of His Heavenly Father. It was absolutely necessary that He must go to Jerusalem; suffer unjustly at the hands of wicked, hateful men; die a cruel death on the cross and three days later be raised again to life by the power of Almighty God. By doing so, He took on my sins and yours, and through this forgiveness restored our relationship with the Father.
Just as He did for us, so He calls us to “take up our cross” and follow Him. So often, however, it seems that we misunderstand what a cross is. Our “cross” is not something common to all people – Christian and non-Christian alike. Difficulties at work, illnesses and disease, struggles in relationships are not necessarily “crosses” because they are common to all human beings. Rather, our cross is something He places before us to willing endure (suffer) because we are His followers, because we are believers, because we are His disciples. Loving the unlovable; caring for the lonely and forgotten; sharing a hug with the “untouchable;” volunteering to help those in need; providing a ride to worship for a newcomer in our community; giving to the Lord “over-and-above the tithe” to help us meet unusual ministry challenges at this time; and many other ways listed in Life at Holy Cross this week may be ways in which God is calling you to “take up your cross and follow Christ.”
A beautiful corporate example of taking up our cross can be seen in our sister Lutheran church, St. Paul, Duluth, Kansas as they cancelled their Sunday worship service, and traveled – taking their Sunday offerings with them – to support another neighboring congregation (St. John, Easton, Kansas) who tragically discovered the recent loss of nearly every dollar from their congregational treasury and savings! What a wonderful way to show the love of God in Christ to their brothers and sisters in need!
Finally, Jesus said, “the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what He has done.” (Matthew 16:27) We know that He doesn’t promise eternal life because of what we do, but rather what we do – how we willingly take up our cross to follow Him – demonstrates the faith in our hearts and our loving response for all that He has done for us. It is this faith which He promises to reward with the gift of eternal life.
So, how is the Holy Spirit working in you? What cross is Jesus placing before you today? How will you respond in joyful service to your Savior? How will you “Take Up Your Cross” to follow Jesus?
May God graciously give you “eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts filled with compassion” as you “Take Up Your Cross” to follow Jesus!
Blessings in Christ, Pastor Snow