Leading – Suffering – Growing

Do you remember what it was like last time you went on holiday?

For young people it is important to take CDs, iPods, phone chargers, or reading material.

For parents it is important to make sure the mail is being picked up, gardens watered and house secure. The better the preparation the more enjoyable the time away is as you don’t have to constantly ask yourself, “Did I turn off the stove or I don’t remember seeing the cat outside before we left; or did I turn the hose off?”

In today’s reading Jesus is going on a journey.

He does not have a lot to organize domestically or in terms of possessions, but he wants to organise his friends, his disciples, so that when certain things happen they are ready.

For he knows that his journey, unlike ours, will be a one way trip.

In Mark, chapter 8, verse 31, Jesus tells his disciples something that shocks them, that soon he is going to die, then rise.

It probably came as no surprise to them that Jesus would die one day, like everyone else. But there was a complication; he said he would die “as a result of the elders, the chief priests and the scribes or lawyers.”

That is what really threw them. Those people are the equivalents of our Elders, Parish Council and Moderator, yet they were responsible for him dying prematurely and violently?

Can we imagine our Elders Council organising someone’s death?

Can we imagine church leaders trying to crush a work of God and resisting his leading into the future? Can you imagine your Moderator heading up a conspiracy to get rid of a ‘trouble-maker’?

That is what Jesus is saying about the leaders of His day,

Those who should have been leading people into seeing God’s special work through Jesus were not only resisting it, but were trying to stifle it!

This speaks of a very real danger for Christians and churches. Churches are always in danger of becoming self-preserving institutions with a memory of God, rather than outward-looking holy gathering places with a love for God.

We must always be on our guard, because like these people of Jesus’ time, we might miss God’s new work because we are so absorbed in our own activities.

The next thing we see about Jesus’ journey is Peter saying in verse 32 that what Jesus had just foretold was not going to happen if he had anything to do with it.

Peter knows better. God’s way cannot involve suffering, pain, even death. Surely faith in God means everything will go well, a house paid off, a modern car, good health, no suffering, or sickness or family rows, no heat waves or power blackouts.

To all such comments, Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan. Your mind is on the things of people and not of God.”

This is the worst rebuke Jesus ever gave, and this was one of his friends, someone he had invited to, ”Come and follow me.”

Yet at this point he has Satan’s thoughts, not God’s. Sometimes God’s ways are a great surprise to us, as to Peter.

Last Sunday night I spoke at a youth service of a local church.

It was hot, in a booming auditorium with a tired looking congregation and I was feeling pretty lethargic too. I preached and sat down, not feeling any great inspiration or exhilaration, but when the resident minister invited people to come forward for ministry and prayer, seven young people responded. The result was a great surprise to me and was good for my faith.  God showed that our willingness matters more than our achievements. He surprises us by the way He works. He may bring a greater good out of suffering, than he can bring out of our middle-class comforts. For example, He might let us have a car accident, because we will see with new eyes, the vulnerability of life, and preciousness of every one of our days.

We grow more through struggles and suffering than we do through relaxing in front of television and God wants us to keep growing. He will allow suffering in your life and deepen you through it.

As with His Son, so with us.

He wants us to be growing people even more than happy people.

We all need to hear that.

Following Jesus does not mean you will always be healthy, wealthy and wise. Life will be tough sometimes. You may get hurt, but God will be in it all, helping you to grow. He wants us to be growing people more than happy people, He wants us to be people of character.

Third, on Jesus’ journey, he tells people that the way to life is to take up your cross and follow him (verse 34). We use the word ‘cross’ lightly sometimes. We sometimes say about the heat, ‘It is our cross to bear.’ Or about that arthritis, ’it is my cross in life’, but the difference in what Jesus says is that taking up the cross is voluntary, it is something we can avoid, something we need to choose.

That will mean that because you choose to be a Christ follower, life will sometimes be tough for you. It means that sometimes you will have to stand alone, and you will need to get used to standing alone like Jesus did.

Faith and character mean that you will not go along with taking drugs for example because your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Get used to standing alone.

I never enjoyed standing alone when I was at university, but sometimes in a lecture or tutorial group I was the only Christian there. I had to speak up and put the lecturers straight on a few points. For example, it was fashionable to denounce the missionaries of the nineteenth century and it had to be said that the educational systems of much of Africa are legacies from the educational visions of missionaries and so on.

Now I say that not to point our my eligibility for sainthood, but to say a Christian will sometimes have to stand alone.

Sometimes  partners or spouses will disagree with each other because they are cross-bearers. Sometimes a parent will have to stand against a child’s action and decisions because Christ will not have it otherwise.

You see, being a Christian is not just saying we believe in God. It is obeying God and doing what he would want us to do.

“Would Jesus do this?” is a good question to ask ourselves continually.

Ultimately what Jesus is saying in this Bible reading is that he is going to have to stand alone, literally on a cross, rejected and misunderstood, paying the cost of doing His Father’s will, dying that sinners might be saved. But also that His Father will raise Him from the dead.

Jesus’ journey led him to Jerusalem. Your journey is to your homes, schools, workplaces and sports fields.

Jesus’ words today tell us:

  1. Leaders lead,
  2. God wants people to grow, and that may involve suffering,
  3. Growth will mean taking up the cross, and often standing alone.

By George Robert Iles