31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 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.”
Last week, Jesus showed us how he never needed to turnaround from sin, because he fought off every temptation of Satan. We do need the turnaround, the repentance, because sin does find its way into our life every day. But that turnaround from sin does not happen by putting the focus on me and my work. Instead, repentance flows from faith in Christ and is focused on Christ’s love and forgiveness.
That doesn’t mean that the road will get easier when you turnaround from sin. Faith in Jesus does not mean a nice earthly existence. In fact, God’s Word leads us in faith to turn around from sin on a regular basis and living in that new direction means there will be more opportunities for difficulties.
It’s kind of like the difference between the interstate and county highways. The interstate is the road that is nice. It’s fast, it’s smooth (for the most part), it’s accessible, it provides everything you could want. Tons and tons of people take the interstate for those reasons. But the backroads, aren’t as nice. You can’t go as fast. There are not as many nice stops and amenities along the way. The road can get twisty and turny and bumpy and lumpy. There are even stop signs and those rumble strips along the way.
That’s the difference between the road to destruction and the road to heaven. Ironically, the road to destruction is so nice, and it is preferred for its ease and convenience. The road to heaven is tough and ugly. It gets bumpy, painful even.
Just listen again to what Jesus was teaching his disciples. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed…” That was the road he chose for you. Jesus was telling his disciples that he didn’t come here to make our life on earth easier. He didn’t come here to make men and women more capable of turning this world around. He came here to fulfill everything God has said about the Messiah. He came here to suffer and die for sins.
But the end result is far greater than anything our suffering or pain could ever produce. Jesus finishes by saying, “and after three days rise again.” All the suffering he would endure as he followed this road to our redemption, all of the excruciating pain he would be forced to undergo, and all of the heartache he would have from knowing the separation sin creates between God, it was all worth it. His road to winning our redemption was never going to end in a grave. This is the only way for us to have forgiveness and life in heaven.
Inevitably, when people hear about suffering and pain, we want to avoid it. Even if there is good news at the end, it kind of depends on what the good news is. Think of the pain and sacrifice that Olympians go through. Depending on the sport they train for hours a day, for weeks, months, and years to get to the top level. In order to get to that level, they give up time, they give up some relationships, they give up some enjoyment. To a lot of people that doesn’t seem worth it. Why would you do that to yourself? But at the end of it you might give yourself and your team a chance to win a gold medal. For some that is the good news that gets them through the sacrifices.
But you know what happens when you have to wait for the good news. You know what happens when any kind of hardship, a rough patch, or some personal sacrifices come up before you reach the goal? We get near-sighted and lazy. The jostles and the bumps get annoying. The pain and suffering get frustrating. The persecutions make us lose sight of what’s at the end.
That’s where Peter got stuck. He didn’t want to see Jesus suffer and die. He wanted the glory and power of God. He wanted the good life, the restored nation of Israel, the earthly peace, and all the great miracles. He wanted life to be good. I mean, if you are following the Son of God, shouldn’t life be great all the time?
I think we understand where Peter is coming from. We want to avoid the suffering and pain, too. We rebuke the idea that suffering is necessary for Jesus and for us. We look for the nice, smooth, wide, and fast road. How many people want the speedbumps that jostle you and slow you down? Who wants to be twisted and turned? Who wants to be removed from the nice amenities and easy conveniences? Who wants to deal with sacrifices?
We get caught looking for so many blessings that any kind of suffering, or speedbump, knocks us off track. How easy is it to think that if God is watching over me, then nothing bad should happen? “My life on earth should be better if God is on my side,” we say. “I shouldn’t have any speedbumps. It should be smooth sailing now and in forever in heaven.”
But then pain comes. Loved ones die. Finances get tight. Things get tough. Relationships are tested. People question your faith. “The bible says what about marriage? About respecting government and leaders? About your money? About your priorities? About putting others’ needs before your own?” You start to wonder what’s up. The jostles and hardships can make us sound like Peter. “No, Lord! This can’t happen to me. I need my life to be easier and better for me.”
To that notion that my life needs to be easier and less bumpy, Jesus doesn’t just say, “Well, hang in there.” When we start thinking too much about how we don’t want the speedbumps, these sufferings and persecutions, Jesus says this: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus says, “If you do not have the things of God in your mind, then there is only one other option.” That easy way without pain, without persecution, without any speedbumps is the devil’s doing. It makes people focus on “merely human concerns,” or to put in another way, the things that are not God’s. And how well do you think the things that are not of God can help you have a life with him?
Jesus went the road of suffering and persecution and pain because that was God’s way to save us. Jesus had to suffer for sin. He didn’t have to suffer just to experience the frailty of the human existence. He had to suffer because that is what sin deserves.
We try so hard to avoid the speedbumps in life, because they are jolting and annoying. But that is what sinners will always have to deal with because that is life with sin. God wants us to have the speedbumps. He wants us to deny ourselves what so many people would call basic human needs. He wants us to follow Jesus even when there are difficulties and persecutions.
But that is not suffering for sin. God’s punishment went on Jesus instead of you. Jesus is the one who died for sins. The Bible often refers to the kinds of crosses we carry as “light and momentary.” Jesus carried the eternal weight of guilt on his shoulders, so that we would never know what that feels like. Instead, we have these little speedbumps. We have the denial of serving our self with the pleasures and desires of this world. We have the cross of suffering and persecution to sharpen our focus on what God has already done for us in Christ and what he will do for us in heaven. We have the blessed joy of following a Savior who loved us so much that he took our punishment and death, so that we could have life with him.
That’s why these speedbumps are so great for us. The get us to slow down. They might jolt you. They might isolate you. They might force you to giving up the way you want to go. But that’s good. Because then we realize that we need help, we need strength, we need comfort that the world cannot give, we need saving from the pain, we need a place where these difficulties don’t exist, a place where sin cannot get to us.
Jesus walked the tough, grueling road to provide redemption for us. His suffering has produced the eternal reward that far outweighs any of the hardships we face on this earth. His death provides the life that is never taken away, a life that is never disappointing.
Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life, will lose it.” If you want to get rid of your pain and suffering in this world so that you can have a great life with all sorts of worldly conveniences, then you won’t have a life with Jesus. But Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.” When we follow Jesus in faith the world will say we lose certain things. Maybe the next time you can let loose and get a little rowdy will be lost. Maybe the guy, who is so great in so many ways except for his stubborn refusal to listen about your faith in Jesus, will have to be lost. Maybe the promotion will be lost because you are not willing to stomp on others. Maybe friends will be lost. Maybe the focus on all the possessions and hobbies and stuff will be lost.
It might seem like you are denying somethings that would be so nice to have. It might seem that we miss out. It might seem like people are looking down on you and making you feel worthless. But there is one looking down who is not ashamed. He is glad to call you ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’ He is glad to speak in glowing terms to the Father in heaven about you. He is glad to prepare a place in his home for you.
These speedbumps are necessary in life. We need them to slow us down and get our attention where it needs to be. Jesus is the only one who can save our life. Following him might get difficult, but he has overcome every one of our light and momentary hardships with an eternal victory that will not disappoint us. So slow down and enjoy his road, speedbumps and all. God grant it. Amen.