In “preaching study” posts, I’m really interested in fostering a “community” approach to study and prep for the message, so please interact as much as you like. All Scripture quotes are from the TNIV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
There are basically two issues in the narrative of this text that seem to be demanding attention. First is the exchange with Peter; second is the call to discipleship addressed to the disciples and the crowds.
Jesus’ Exchange with Peter
We must give Peter credit for picking up on the scandal of Jesus’ suffering, rejection, and death, having freshly identified Jesus as the Son of God. This is the scandal of our neediness, speaking to and within the American Church of such incredible privilege and resources. Our being made right with God is utterly dependent on the grace of God, a grace that we see on display in the juxtaposition of Jesus’ social location and our own—a man of spiritual wisdom and power, a teacher among the Jews, though located within marginalized demographics: homeless, jobless, a member of an ethnic group with a tenous relationship with the military government. This Jesus is killed on the outskirts of empire in order to keep the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome. This is who we, more-or-less successful folks, need for salvation? Perhaps Peter is on to something, we think in the moments when we abandon our church training that pretties up the Gospels right before our eyes.
So, one issue for preaching this text is to re-narrate the exchange between Jesus and Peter in a way/s that points out the legitimate gripe that Peter has with Jesus that we’ve been trained to safely categorize as yet another misunderstanding of poor Peter’s part. It’s a misunderstanding to be sure. But Peter understands something about the scandal of our salvation and his response to Jesus has a distinct logic to it.
Jesus’ Call to Cross-taking
Then, Jesus’ teaching on discipleship addressed to the crowds and the disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Self-denial seems pretty accessible. Even if we don’t practice it ourselves, we understand what’s bascially meant by the phrase. We basically get the “follow me” past too. After all, we’ve been doing go vicariously through The Twelve anyway.
But this business of “take up your cross” is a little harder to get our minds, and therefore our lives, around. We have a saying, “that’s just your cross to bear,” but it seems to lack something that Jesus seemed to be addressing.
Here’s where I am at present: “Take up your cross” must be interpreted in light of the nature of Jesus’ cross. What the cross meant for him illumines what our cross must mean for us. With that in mind, Jesus’ cross was his vocation, his calling. Jesus’ cross also necessarily entailed self-sacrifice (suffering, rejection, and death) that was used redemptively by God for the sake of others.
So it would seem, if Jesus’ cross is instructive, that whatever our specific cross might be, it would be a divine vocation, a calling from God, that necessarily entails self-sacrifice used redemptively by God for the sake of others.
One of the unique challenges of American Christians, particularly those of us with exceptional resources even by American standards, is that we can afford to be quite generous without having to become self-sacrificial. It’s hard to think this way, but this text seems narrate cross-taking and not just generosity, even of the extravagant variety. But this points to an opportunity that is almost singularly ours in the American church. If we can embrace the call to cross-taking discipleship, a discipleship that insists on sacrificial living, then we can move beyond generosity concerning our wealth and all the way to prophetic living, offering a new narrative to the world concerning the use of wealth.
This is but one implication of the definition of “cross-taking” I’ve offered here, but one with powerful potential. There are other implications that bear naming and sharing, but I’m out of time for this post.