This post is one in a series of reflections for Lent. I invite you to go back and read the previous reflections.
Imagine the disciples have been studying in the greatest seminaries of all time. They have sat at the feet of the very Son of God, and been taught first hand. Their teaching is preparing them for the mission ahead of them. Ten of the disciples seated around Jesus will die for the message that they have been learning for Jesus. They have now reached a turning point of their education. In many ways, this passage serves as a midterm exam for the disciples. This is when Jesus is going to test them to see if they have caught onto what he has been trying to show them all along.
Jesus starts by asking them who the crowds say that he is. The disciples answer with John the Baptist or Elijah. Some say that Jesus may be one of the other prophets. Jesus then turns the spotlight onto the disciples. They are now in the hot seat. Who do you say that I am? You have sat at my feet. You have seen me do many wonders. You have heard me teach in a way that is not explained through my humble beginnings. Who do you say that I am?
Peter aces the test. His eagerness is so commendable, but ironic in light of his coming denial of Jesus. Jesus is not one of the prophets. Jesus is THE Prophet. The Prophet who has sent all the other prophets. Without this Prophet, then none of the others make sense. Peter sees before him The Prophet to whom all the other prophets have been pointing for ages. The very reason for the prophets in the first place. You are the Christ! You are the Son of the living God.
Jesus then turns their expectations upside-down. Ok. I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news first. The Son of Man is going to suffer. The Son of Man is going to be rejected by the religious leaders. Finally, the Son of Man is going to be killed. I can just see the look on the disciples faces. They had to be completely astonished and so confused. This is not what they were expecting at all.
The disciples pictured the Son of Man ushering in a great physical kingdom. Jesus has come to bring a great spiritual kingdom. He gives the disciples a little good news, but they still aren't seeing the plan of God. He tells them that although the Son of Man is going to be killed, the Son of Man will be raised from the dead. He is going to suffer a physical death, but he will defeat death in a physical resurrection. He promises them that some of them will witness the coming of his Kingdom. This is a spiritual kingdom. This spiritual kingdom is what we now know as the church. Not a building of stone, but a church comprising all people of all time, that have fully committed and submitted their lives and spirits to Christ. This is the Kingdom that Jesus has come to establish. A great spiritual kingdom created to bring glory to the Creator.
Peter's eagerness gets the better of him. He was doing so well. He should have just listened. He had no need to talk. He tells Jesus, don't say things like that. The Son of Man is going to be king. Jesus rebukes Peter. He tells him to stop looking at things from a human perspective. Peter does not have the ability to see things from God's perspective.
Jesus' kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. Who is going to make up this kingdom? Jesus says that first a person has to deny themselves. They have to deny that first sinful urge. Since the garden, man has been trying to place himself at the center of the story of history. It is not all about us. Deny that primal urge to be god, and let God be God. Take up our cross. We are called to trial and tribulation. The cross is also a symbol of obedience. Jesus was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. We must deny ourselves and be prepared to obey in suffering, Except that struggle and trial that we are called to by God.
Jesus brings to the disciples this radical idea to them. He tells them that they must lose their life to safe it. C.S. Lewis talked about how you never really have anything until you have given it away. If we attempt to hang onto our lives, then it will be taken from us. There is a great bit of temporal truth as well as eternal truth to Jesus teaching. Real life is truly found in service to God and to our fellow-men. There is a richness and fullness in that life that can never be found when we are only concerned about ourselves. In the eternal sense, without completely submitting ourselves to God then we will never be able to have that intimate exchange. That moment when with ever fiber of our very being, we cast all our hope and souls at the feet of the only one capable of delivering us from ourselves. If we have never reached that breaking point, then honestly everything is just a bunch of religious nonsense. If there is not that true surrender. If we have not come to that deep realization of our own hopelessness, then we are just toying with the eternal.
What would you give for your very soul? What toy or pleasure could possibly be worth more than your very soul? That part of you that has the capacity to engage with the eternal. Is their anything in this world of more value than your own soul? The call of God is a call of surrender. A call to lose all to gain everything and more.