Mark 8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
The cross has always been a stumbling block and symbol of contention. The cross was employed by the Roman imperialists to squash any perceived threat of sedition or rebellion against the complete power and domination of the empire. Anyone who languished on the bottom of society, anyone whose flesh was ripped and whose bones were crushed in the cogs of the Roman imperial machine were utterly terrorized by the constant threat of crucifixion. Still, there is in the human spirit a desire for freedom and liberty that is so great that no threat of terror can squelch the desire to fully be all God has created us to be.
Deep down, we have this sense that the image of God in us is so powerful that He cannot be covered up, hidden by any fear or threat of danger. Yes, people rise up to claim the promise of God no matter what threat ensues. But this cross looms so large and is so heavily weighted down with certain meanings and fears and sensibilities that folk practice ignoring it. They try to have Christianity without a cross. They set about to remove the stumbling block….
Delores Williams, womanist theologian and author of Sisters in the Wilderness was my teacher when I was in seminary. She argued that the cross is an horrific and tragic symbol which represented pain and suffering and that Christianity could have another central symbol. To this, she offered the loaves and the fishes as a possible substitute for the cross as the main symbol for Christianity. I heard her and hear her even now. But, the longer I live and walk this particular walk with the Lord in this particular skin, the better I know that there can be no Christianity without the cross. I do believe I have some understanding of what Dr. Williams’ concerns are: that a central symbol of suffering is sure to beget suffering. Certainly, when one reads the history of Christianity, one must admit that it is a long and bloody history, littered with oppression and hate. But the failure of some who have worn the cross cannot negate the power of the cross as a symbol. The cross stands to remind us that though suffering exists in the world – the sufferer still has power.
The cross reminds us that though you may be vilified, maligned and hated, you can still have the victory.
The cross stands to remind us that God has put power in us to turn the world upside down.
The cross represents a reversal of values, what Velma Love called, ‘an inversion of prestige’ in which the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The cross is the undoing of oppression from the very seat of ultimate oppression and devastation.
The cross shouts throughout the universe that no matter how much hate gathers against you, LOVE WINS!
The cross is the undoing of systems of oppression.
The cross is to take the very tool of torture from the hand of the torturer and transform it into an instrument of Glory.
The cross is the ultimate symbol of transcendence.
The cross renders the fat and makes it lean.
The cross (note I am using the definite article here because there are many crosses but I am speaking of THE cross of Christ) exposes hidden motives.
The cross is not about you, the cross is about someone else, the other ones.
The cross is not your burden, the cross is to carry the burden of another.
Your sickness is not a cross
Your debt is not a cross
Your relationship trouble is not a cross
The aftermath of a ridiculously bad decision is not a cross…
If it’s yours, then it’s not a cross
The cross is characterized by its ownership by the other.
If it’s yours you’re carrying, it’s just a burden.
If it’s mine you’re carrying, it’s a cross.
You see the cross Jesus was hung on was not for Him, it was for us. He was innocent. Without sin and yet, He became sin for us that He might redeem us, buy us back, pay the sin debt we incurred through our wanton pride, selfishness and hatred. It was our cross. He carried our sins… You can’t have a Messiah without the cross. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.
As Jesus traveled with his followers to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, who seemed to serve as both spokesperson and collective ear of the disciples, answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
It was a moment of revelation. Peter got it. Jesus was not just an itinerant preacher nor just a prophet or miracle worker. Jesus is, in fact, the Christ of God – the anointed one of God. It is a central question which is posed to each of us at various crucial seasons in our lives: Who is Jesus to you? Or, as Bill Withers put the question (albeit for other purposes): “who is he and what is he to you?” This is the question every follower of Jesus must answer for themselves. No one can answer this question for you… for it is central to who you are and how you live your life. You have to know for yourself who Jesus is. Your understanding of who Jesus is in your life determines the authority He receives over your life.
Are His teachings just good or do they lead to world transformation?
Is Jesus just a good man or is He the way, the truth and the life?
Who is He and what is He to you?
Do you merely read His teachings or do you strive with all your heart, soul, mind and strength to obey His teaching?
Who is He and what is He to you?
Do you just admire Him or do you actually serve Him? Do you worship him? Do you obey Him? Do you adore Him? Do you honor and reverence His name? Do you seek to emulate His glory? Do you lift Him up? Do you give Him uninhibited praise?
Who is He and what is He to you?
Do you give intellectual assent to the teachings or have you given your heart to Jesus?
Have you added Jesus to your life or has Jesus become your life
If Jesus is your Christ, then He deserves your all.
If Jesus is your Christ, then no stone in your life will be left unturned.
If Jesus is your Christ, then you must go the way of Christ.
If Jesus is your Christ, then you have to be sold out.
If you believe that Jesus is the Christ of God, then you have to surrender your life to Him, your WHOLE life.
If Jesus is your Christ, then you ought to show some sign.
As they walked together, Jesus began to teach them that he must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Just a moment ago, Peter had a revelation and had declared Jesus to be the Christ. And now, Jesus has called him the enemy. One minute inspired and the next depraved. One minute in the light and the next in utter darkness. One minute praised and the next minute rebuked! You can be spot on one minute and dead wrong the next. Peter helps us here. You see, you cannot make Christ what you want Christ to be. There is no Christ without the Cross. There is no Messiah without the sacrifice. There is no salvation without the shedding of blood. A price has to be paid. A life must be surrendered.
Peter did not yet fully understand what he had gotten himself into. Peter was beginning to learn what all of us will have to digest before we really begin to live with meaning and significance: those who accept Jesus as Christ are going to have to go the same way Jesus did. Peter rebuked Jesus for saying that great suffering was in His future because Peter had had enough! Enough suffering. Enough poverty. Enough abuse. Enough hatred. Enough racism. Enough greed. Enough war, oppression and domination. Enough is enough! Peter rebuked Jesus because Peter had accepted that Jesus had come to put an end to the suffering but refused to accept that Jesus’ suffering would be the catalytic event which would change the world. I believe Peter is like us. Peter rebuked Jesus because Peter was rejecting the notion that he himself would have to go through more than he was already going through.
Jesus said to him: “Thou savourest not the things of God!” That is to say that you are thinking about human things rather than divine things. You’ve got your mind on the comfort of your own flesh rather than on the greater purposes of the kingdom of God. My God! how the kingdom suffers because people spend more efforts, energy and time on what they want rather than striving to pursue what God wants. How the kingdom suffers because of folk who do what they think is right rather than seeking the face of God and obeying the heart of God. How the kingdom suffers on account of people who put how they feel over what God desires for all of God’s people. This is why Peter was called Satan.
Peter opposed the plan of God. Peter put himself in an adversarial position with the purposes of God. Peter put his desires before the desires of God. And whenever you put yourself before the plan of God for His people, you have put yourself in the way. Jesus could not let Peter plant this fleshy foolishness in the minds and hearts of the people around and leave it unchecked. Jesus had to correct him in the severest of terms because the very content of the teaching Jesus was delivering at that moment was the heart of what He came out of heaven to do.
And so Jesus gathered around him the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
If you want to follow me you are going to have to give up and pick up. You are going to have to give up the life you’ve planned and even the life that others have planned for you and you are going to have to pick up your cross. That is to say, you have to give up what you want for what God wants.
You want to fit in.
You want to be accepted.
You want to fly under the radar.
You want to be liked.
You want to be a part of the crowd.
You want to follow Jesus on your own terms.
You want to give up only want you are willing to get up.
You want Jesus when you need Him and you want to ignore Him when you don’t.
You want what you want when you want it.
You want admiration.
You want high men to know your name.
You want to keep company with the elite.
You want to be integrated.
You want acceptability.
You want comfort.
You want to fit the profile.
You want. you want…. you want….
But when you decide to really follow Jesus rather than just sitting up in church, you are going to have to give up what you want.
Someone is going to have to see you.
You are coming out of the woodwork.
You will be noticed.
You will not fit in.
You have been assigned to turn the world upside down; how can you fit in?
You will speak truth to power.
You will come against oppression.
You will organize to undo poverty.
You will take up residence on the fringe of society.
You will dry weeping eyes.
You will bandage the wounded and apply healing balms.
You will become a trouble maker, rule breaker and noise maker.
You will never be integrated, you will always stand over and against the ways and mores and practices of a culture of evil excesses, greed and hate.
If you love your life in this world, you will go the way of this world. But if you despise the ways, mores and practices of this world then you will learn what life is really about. You will know what joy, peace, love, power and abundance really is when you give up and pick up.
When you deny yourself, you are giving up your druthers, grudges, preferences, personal aesthetics, biases, prejudices and hatred. When you deny yourself you are crucifying your own flesh, abandoning your fears.
When you take up that cross your holy and divine purpose begins to crystallize. Forces around you get in order. The plans in your heart begin to take shape. You find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. You start salivating and hungering to serve.
When you take up that cross, though you see few if any results to your hard work, you will not be weary in well-doing for in due season you will reap if you do not faint.
When you take up that cross you are taking up the prophetic mantle – to cast the vision of a great Messianic Banquet where there is plenty, plenty and more plenty. Where the very Spirit of Hospitality woos and draws people from hedges, highways, ghettos, boardrooms, closets and alleys.
When you take up that Cross you are making a prophetic commitment to issue invitations freely and work to ensure that everyone who desires to be included is included in this Banquet.
When you take up your cross you catapult yourself onto the shoulders of Richard Allen and Jarena Lee, W.E.B. DuBois, Reverdy Cassius Ransom, Archibald Carey, Fannie Lou Hamer, Andrew White, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin! From there…. you can see Hope off in the distance making His way here while we are making our way there.
When you take up the cross you gain a new perspective!
When you take up the cross, you dream in league with God.
When you take up the cross you are dreaming for the world what God is dreaming for us.
When you take up the cross you are no longer just saying the words “Thy kingdom come,” you are become a full-fledged, fully vested participant with God in the renewal of the whole creation.