Following the Master

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By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy

“There will be many dangerous twists and turns in the tracks, but I promise you it will never be dull. It will mean putting someone other than yourself first, being concerned not so much with what YOU want, but what God wants for you. It won’t be easy and sometimes it won’t be much fun, but it will never be boring.” (Johnny Dean, Life on the Roller Coaster)”

From 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, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For 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 they have done.
Matthew 16:21-,27 NIV
If you recall our Gospel reading last Sunday, it recorded the strong, clear, correct and confident confession of faith made by Simon Peter when Jesus asked the disciples, “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 Jesus explaining to his disciples his ultimate destiny, “… 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). And Peter contradicts his earlier bold confession that Jesus is the Christ by vehemently protesting, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter and the other disciples’ understanding of Christ (Messiah) is not who Jesus the Christ. Their perception of the Messiah is one who would come as a mighty warrior – coming as an earthly savior to liberate them from the tyranny of the Roman rulers. But in few but powerful words, Jesus revealed to them 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. Jesus knew who He was and why He had come. Jesus rebuked Peter, “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.”
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One of the early church fathers, a man named Origen, suggested that when Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” what he actually meant was, “Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It’s your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go.” Certainly what Jesus said immediately after his rebuke of Peter would support that interpretation. He told all of his disciples, including Peter, that not only did HE have a task that was set before him by God, but that THEY also had work to do. “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me,” Jesus said. “Get on this new thrill ride with me. There will be many dangerous twists and turns in the tracks, but I promise you it will never be dull. It will mean putting someone other than yourself first, being concerned not so much with what YOU want, but what God wants for you. It won’t be easy and sometimes it won’t be much fun, but it will never be boring.” (Johnny Dean, Life on the Roller Coaster)
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Jesus told the disciples and is now telling us the requisite of a disciple, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 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 willingly 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; and many other ways. The demands that Jesus makes upon those who would follow him are extreme. Christianity is not a Sunday morning religion. It is a hungering after God to the point of death if need be. It shakes our foundations, topples our priorities, pits us against friend and family, and makes us strangers in this world.
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To “take up the cross” is not an invitation, for disciples then or now, to start going around looking for crosses to bear. The logic of the kingdom does not have to do with plotting the way to success. Instead, disciples are called to an obedient-humble-giving of self for the neighbor in which hearing and doing are brought into conformity (see Sermon on the Mount; 7:12, 21) and the whole of the law is fulfilled. Such conformity comes only by the transforming model and power of God’s blessing and presence in this Messiah, who promises to be with his followers to the end of the age. Just as this Messiah did not have to seek the cross; so we are called to the unselfconscious love and care for those in need. Crosses will be provided. To follow the Master always calls us to that sacrificial living beyond ourselves which calls us to die and be raised again in lives that are lived for the sake of the neighbor. Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, again in a unique parable, says much the same when in the so-called parable of the last judgment those who gather before the master are commended for their unconscious serving of the needs of others: “As you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.” Such hidden service is rewarded with an invitation to “enter the kingdom” which has been prepared (25:31-46).
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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 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 us “eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts filled with compassion” as we “Take up our Cross” to follow Jesus.
Let us pray.
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Proper 17 Collect, BCP)


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