Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 16:21-28; Acts 25:13-27; Psalm 45; Leviticus 1-3
Matthew tells us that the mission of Jesus is moving on to another phase when he says, ‘From that time on …’ (also in Matthew 4:17). Suffering and eventual death will characterise his remaining time. The disciples cannot believe that this is Jesus’ mission. They wanted a victorious ruler, not a suffering Messiah.
Peter jumps in with both feet to rebuke Jesus for this notion. Jesus must have really shocked Peter by stating that his ideas were coming from Satan, not God. What can seem to make perfect sense to us, may sometimes arise from purely human concerns. Well-meaning friends may sometimes offer alternatives that draw us away from God’s path for us. Jesus hints that he is struggling with the way ahead of him when he calls Peter’s approach a stumbling block. Even when we know that God is asking us to take a difficult or painful path, we may not be happy about it. in Gethsemane, Jesus reveals that he would prefer another way, though he ultimately submits to God’s plan (Matthew 26:36-46).
Jesus turns from Peter to all the disciples and expresses one of his more famous sayings (also found in Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23). The way of discipleship involves taking up our cross and following Jesus. Today, this expression usually means something like accepting a challenge or difficulty. We are weighed down by conflict or illness and say, ‘This is my cross to carry.’ However, this is nothing like what Jesus would have meant by the expression. Carrying your cross in his time meant you were about to die a horrible death. Jesus is saying that following him may lead to the loss of everything in your life, even life itself. He then addresses those who want to save their lives. If you focus on saving your life and gaining everything this world has to offer, you will lose what is most important: your soul. Following Jesus may cost everything in this world, but what is gained is far more valuable.
Discipleship addresses our willingness to trust that God knows what is best for us better than we do. Peter thought he knew what a messiah should do, and he went from being Peter the rock to Peter the stumbling stone. Taking up our cross is a decision to follow God’s plan for our lives and not our own. This involves self-denial because God is more concerned about the health of our souls than the weight of our riches. We are born with nothing; we die with nothing. Only our soul and other souls will go into eternal life. So while on earth, what matters most is how our soul (our character) develops and what we do for other souls (our relationships). Both of those require a close walk with Jesus, listening for his direction not our own plans.
As we face difficulties, illnesses and eventually death, this perspective makes a big difference. The one who seeks to save his life will worry about how to overcome the illness or difficulty, or how to escape death. The one who seeks to follow Jesus asks what God wants and what he can do through the challenge. This does not mean that the disciple does not address the worldly dimensions of the situation. Jesus worked, ate, slept, expressed his disappointments, and talked through conflicts. But underlying the practicalities, following Jesus includes a confidence that God is working through the circumstances to change us and empower us. In that way, we have hope even if we lose the world.