31[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The $64,000 Question was one of many gameshows filling the airwaves in the 1950’s, when families were buying their first televisions. As the questions became more difficult, you doubled your money with every question you answered correctly. And, like most gameshows of this era, the $64,000 Question was rigged. Contestants that the sponsors wanted to “win” were given the answers in advance; whereas contestants the sponsors didn’t like were given extremely difficult questions—though a few managed to outsmart the sponsors and walk away with the big prize—worth nearly $640,000 in today’s money.
You could say Jesus had just asked his disciples the $64,000 question, “who do you say that I am?” Peter said, “you are the Messiah,” and got it right.
Yet Peter’s answer carried rather lofty expectations: that soon, Jesus would drive out the Roman occupiers, take back the Temple, and make Israel a kingdom to rule the world. As disciples, they would be V.I.P.s in that kingdom. It would seem, the best was yet to come.
But Jesus pulls the rug out from under them: he declares that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious leaders and be killed, and after three days rise again.
For the disciples, and Peter especially, this is outrageous.
- Why would the Messiah suffer, when he can eliminate suffering?
- How can the religious leaders reject Jesus when he’s the one they’ve all been waiting for? Won’t Jesus eventually convince them that he’s the real deal?
- How can the Messiah be killed?
- And why would he need to rise again?
If, indeed, all these things come to pass, it would mean that the disciples had given up their entire lives—their homes, their livelihoods, their families—to follow a liar or a fool—which would make them even bigger fools. They thought they were following Jesus into glory—but now, Jesus says they must follow him into death.
No wonder Peter rebukes Jesus.
But Jesus immediately rebukes Peter with the harshest words: “get behind me, Satan! You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
But why are divine things and human things so diametrically opposed?
If human beings were content to let God be God, knowing full well that God is love, there’d be no difference. But it didn’t work out that way at Eden, any more than it worked out when the Israelites entered the promised land, or when Jesus ministered God’s love to God’s own people. Why is that? Because we want to be God; to determine what is right and good for ourselves—and what is right and good for everyone else. We want people to love us because we are so loving, righteous, strong, intelligent, brave, talented, et cetera. We want a God who will show us how we can rise above pain and suffering; make all our dreams come true; and never have to face death. Who needs a “messiah” who suffers, who’s rejected, and who dies?
The focus of human things is me, me, me. The focus of divine things is you, me, them, us. The cross Jesus bore was his love for you and all the world. The reason why Jesus carries his cross is because there is no greater love than to sacrifice his life to the very people who crucified him, then forgive them, be raised from the dead and proclaim, “I still love you, and nothing you do will ever change that.”
The things you acquire, the things you achieve, the things you desire—they don’t raise you up. They weigh you down. Taking up your cross means that there is no treasure or burden you can take up that will give you what Jesus gives you. It’s not an exercise in righteousness as much as it is a testament to what is more valuable to you than life itself.
It means laying aside your need to control everything; to prove yourself right to those who say you’re wrong; to have the best, do the best, be the best.
It means believing that your life is better when you do Jesus’s work to make other lives better.
Taking up your cross means trusting that Jesus abides with you in your pain and suffering. You need not rely upon you’re your own reason or strength when life is too much for you to handle, and you don’t know the way.
And yes, the cross is a heavy burden to bear because you are dying to yourself. But you must remember: it’s not God’s failure to act that keeps resurrection life from flourishing in you. It’s the things you desire, the things you hold onto, the burdens you won’t let go. It’s the crosses you refuse to bear. Even still, the cross Jesus bears changes everything.
The focus of all divine things is the love that is born in mercy and sacrifice; that abides in pain and overcomes suffering; that conquers death and evil with forgiveness and resurrection. May your focus be the cross; the love of Jesus that abides, that conquers, that overcomes.