We fly in an ancient, imaginary time machine to a place called “Caesarea Philippi”. This place contained every variety of religion that existed in Jesus’ day. It was probably a lot like Boston is now… where Harvard professors like Dr. Diana L. Eck have begun “the pluralism project” as an answer to the growing diversity of nationalities and religions in the U.S. New England, much like in Caesarea Philippi, is a very diverse religious, spiritual and cultural setting. We can’t turn a blind eye to it and make ignorant statements about traditions and cultures we don’t understand! We need to know what we’re talking about!
And on the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus begins a conversation with his disciples about his identity. There were all kinds of rumors flying around about Him… was He a prophet? A demented crazy whacko? A decent hippie revolutionary dude, and nice philosophical teacher? A scheming religious fraud? His closest buddies believed that He was the Son of God.
This is where Jesus starts to explain that He’ll be rejected by the corrupt, religion-addicted, power-hungry leaders. They’ll sentence Him to be killed and He’ll rise again three days later.
But Jesus’ disciples don’t get what He’s talking about. They can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls who they’re dealing with here! It’s funny, they’ve left everything to follow Him and still don’t totally understand who He is.
And that may be you as you read this… You’re a person who saw something in Jesus that seemed worthy of believing Him, so you did, or maybe you didn’t. But you still don’t totally understand who He is! You’re in good company! Jesus’ closest followers spent three years with Him, and didn’t get it until after He had left this earth, and they received the Holy Spirit. You can be a believer in Jesus without having the Holy Spirit living and alive in you… but more about that later… back to our story.
Peter, our favorite impulsive loudmouth, actually takes Jesus aside and begins to correct Him! He’s like, “look Jesus, You’re not going to do this! Don’t be crazy man!” Peter has great intentions here, but deep down he’s hoping that Jesus will be who a lot of people of this time thought he would be. Peter is hoping that Jesus will take over Israel, and restore them to being “God’s nation”, so that they’ll wipe out all other nations and have power, rule and authority. Friends, you need to know that throughout history, this has never happened. There is no perfect entity with the title of “God’s nation”, and if there ever has been, it has been corrupted by the people within it. The church is “God’s nation”, and is to reflect the perfection of God, though we stumble and bumble in our effort to do so. There will never be a perfect nation or regime that reflects God’s Will. Jesus knows this, and replies to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Now I don’t recommend ever saying “get behind me, Satan” to anybody! In fact, my grandparents told this to my Dad when he was 13, and it contributed to a rebellion against Christianity that would last for 44 years, until my Dad would truly follow Jesus at the age of 57! Guess what guys, you’re not Jesus! So please, don’t act like you are!
Jesus had the right to say it though, and was setting Peter straight… in love. He knew what He had to do. He had come to rescue an evil, desperate world, and was to lay down His life. Jesus goes on to say;
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 and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.
Jesus isn’t saying that we ought to have a pity party and be a doormat available for everyone to take advantage of. He wasn’t saying we should have a martyr complex, that we should seek to get killed for our faith. He was saying that we need to lay down our agendas, our rights, our comforts, our “plan”, and let Him completely take control of our lives, our direction, our location, our standard of living, the way we’ll die, if we’ll marry or not, who we’ll marry, where we’ll spend our money, how we’ll use our talents and passions. He wants it all to be for Him! Why? Are Jesus and His Father a couple of self-centered freaks? No! They are loving and perfect! They created us and knew us before the beginning of time. They want us to be aligned with their roadmap for us because it will bring us great joy, great peace, great meaning, great understanding, great patience, and great confident reliance. Through Jesus we can become the husbands, the fathers, the sons and daughters, the students, the employees, the justice doers, the philanthropists, the leaders, and the human beings that we were meant to be!
But “if anyone is ashamed of Jesus and His words in our adulterous and sinful generation, Jesus will be ashamed of us when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.” When Jesus returns, He’ll judge the whole world and set up a perfect Kingdom. This Kingdom will be filled with the love, joy, truth, peace, purity and freedom that we are to live out in Him right here, right now in this age. If we are ashamed of Jesus’ words we are ashamed of God Himself in all His perfection and goodness. It just makes no sense! It’s all or nothing friends! Give Jesus your all or ignore Him!