Readings for the day:
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Remember in last week’s gospel lesson, Peter made this wonderful confession saying to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And at the end of that reading last week, Jesus sternly ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the messiah. On its own, that command doesn’t make much sense. Why would Jesus not want his disciples to make it known that he indeed is the Messiah, the one that Israel has been waiting for, for centuries? The answer to that question can be found in the beginning of this week’s gospel text (which picks up right where we left off last week). The whole thing reads, “Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus didn’t want a lot of people to know his true identity; that he was the Messiah because if enough people knew that he was the Messiah, the one Israel had been waiting so long for, then the cross, the crucifixion may have never happened. Jesus needed people to hate him and desire to kill him. Otherwise his whole purpose, his whole mission would not have happened. The only way that God could forgive all of our sins was for God’s only Son to die on the cross and be raised three days later. The disciples’ silence was the only way to keep the mission on track.
After Jesus tells his disciples all that is going to happen when they get to Jerusalem, Peter again needs to speak his mind. Last week if you recall, Peter actually got it right in declaring that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Five verses later and the tables have turned on Peter. He hears the prediction of what is about to happen to Jesus and Peter says, “No, this must never happen to you!” Now Peter is not actually listening to Jesus. Jesus is trying to tell Peter that the only way for him to actually save Israel is by being crucified and raised from the dead. All Peter is thinking is that Jesus is giving up and deciding not to start a revolution to regain control of Jerusalem from the Romans.
Peter was focused on the short-term gain. Jesus was more concerned about the long-term gain. I’ve been told that if you’re going to invest in the stock market, invest for the long-term; very rarely will a short-term investment work. Peter was focused on the current time period that he was in. Jesus was thinking about the entire span of time from beginning to end. Or another way to put it, Peter was concerned about making this little 10×10 tent look like a million bucks. Whereas Jesus was thinking about the mansion that will be waiting for Peter after his time on earth is done.
We do this too don’t we? We want things to look like a million bucks now. Sometimes we’ll think that we’ll probably never get a mansion anyway, so we might as well have the best possible things now. Or we look for the get rich quick schemes (that never work). We focus on the here and now instead of the better things that are to come. That’s what Jesus is talking about when he said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” If you only focus on the here and now, not looking to the future, then you are trying to save your life and you will lose it. But if you lose your life for Jesus sake and the sake of the gospel, then you will find life, find purpose.
I have found that this is hard to do most of the time. It is really hard when it comes to money. Money is a big thing in this world and it’s necessary in order to live in this world. But I think that it’s easier to look beyond the here and now when you don’t have to worry about money; you know that you will be able to live. Because of our student loans, it is challenging for us to save a lot right now. It’s hard to hear “plan for the future” when you don’t have a lot of extra at the end of each month.
I think of people who don’t have enough to live on or who struggle making it from paycheck to paycheck or even those whose paychecks have stopped coming. How are you able to see beyond the here and now; looking to the future? Or what about you farmers who lived through the farm crisis in the 80s. Were you able to see beyond the here and now; looking to the future?
For Jesus, here and now is not just the next month, or this next year, or even this next decade. No, he is talking about something much bigger than our short little lives that we live here on this earth. The here and now that he is talking about is our entire life span. The future that he talks about is the paradise that is waiting for us after our span of life is done. In order to get to that paradise, Jesus says that we must deny ourselves (meaning our sin will cause us to disown ourselves). And we are to take up our own cross and follow Jesus. For if you think that this life is wonderful, wait till you see what is in your future. Your investment into your spiritual life and your relationship with God will pay out huge dividends. The little tent that you live in now will turn into a glorious mansion when you meet Jesus face-to-face. This life is only a moment in time as compared to the rest of eternity that we get to spend with God.
Peter was focused on the present time and situation. Jesus is focused on the entire world for all of eternity. Which sounds better, a small investment that turns into a short-term gain or a large payout for all of eternity? Or which sounds better, a top of the line, fancy 10×10 tent for a weekend or a large, glorious mansion for all of eternity? Jesus promises to those who follow him by denying themselves and taking up their cross that they will receive those large payouts and live in a glorious mansion for all of eternity. That place is called heaven. And none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the disciples keeping their mouths shut about Jesus’ true identity until after he rose from the dead. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God! Amen.
© 2014 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.
 Matthew 16:16, NRSV
 Matthew 16:20-21, NRSV
 Matthew 16:22, NRSV
 Matthew 16:25, NRSV