My wife and I enjoy going to Northern Iowa basketball games. Sitting in a crowd of eight thousand fans is very exciting. Another great evening for us was when we attended the high school orchestra concert and listened to the young people, including our granddaughter, make beautiful music.
We have many great experiences where people entertain us. Sometimes we forget these events did not just happen; many hours of hard work went into preparing for the event. Athletes practice shooting and spend many hours running, learning the plays, and working in the weight room to strengthen their muscles. Musicians spend many hours practicing their instrument.
It is like that for Jesus’ disciples in every age. Our peace and joy, which comes from experiencing His love for us, comes at a great price. We were bought with a great price Ð Jesus’ suffering and death at the cross. Christianity brings us the promise of an abundant and eternal life, but these gifts come at a great cost. Today I want to visit with you on the general theme, “The Other Side of Christianity.”
The twelve disciples were on a three-year training program with Jesus. These were great days with many inspiring and joyous moments. What a shock to see Jesus turn water into wine! What an experience to see the friends of a sick man cut a hole in the roof so Jesus could touch him and make him well! What would happen next?
One evening Jesus really confused the Pharisees by going to Matthew’s party. Matthew, who was a new disciple, wanted his friends, who were also tax collectors, to meet Jesus. So he invited them and had Jesus as the guest of honor. “How can he eat with such sinners?” was the Pharisees’ question. Jesus had the answer: “Only the sick need a physician.”
Then we see the other side of the story. In verse 21, we read, “From then on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
He went on to describe the next few days. One disciple would betray him and another would deny him. The Roman soldiers would arrest him and try him unjustly. Jesus would be falsely accused by his enemies, mocked and beaten. All of this would happen before his crucifixion.
This was too much for Peter, and he said to Jesus, “Never, Lord! This will never happen to you” (22).
Jesus answered Peter sharply, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (23).
Satan was using Peter to be Jesus’ tempter. He had tough days facing him, and he did not need someone to talk him out of what had to be done for humankind’s salvation. If Jesus did not die, Peter would have to die eternally for his own sins. Friends can sometimes bring us temptation when they are trying to protect us from discomfort.
If you are not a Christian, this text has a word from God for you: If you are seeking to learn more about the faith, Jesus Christ offers you the abundant life while here on earth. Then, when death comes to you, he will receive you into a heavenly home prepared for you. It is his gift to you. It is free. This salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ.
Christians also find some words in this text that raise some questions. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” This does not mean just giving up dessert for Lent. It means giving up those things in life that might destroy your relationship with Jesus or your relation for him.
Jesus uses an example: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” A real temptation exists that the false god of materialism can, and often has, made a relationship between God and the person impossible. Material ease, and all that goes with it, can be the idol that stands between Christ and the person who otherwise might like to be a Christian.
This was Judas’ problem. While salvation is free, if you worship money, it might have to be put in its right place in your life. This is the denial that Jesus is talking about in his words to the disciples.
Another word is ashamed. Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory” (Luke 9:26).
Is it because we are ashamed of him that our behavior does not identify with his will in a given situation? Is it because of him that we are mute when there is a marvelous opportunity to tell others what Jesus is doing for you? Those are difficult questions to answer for another person. Only we have the answers in our hearts. Peter was ashamed of Jesus the night he was on trial. To be identified with him was the kiss of death, and that was a price too high for Peter to pay at that particular time.
“Take up your cross and follow me,” were Jesus’ words to his disciples. To identify with him could have meant death. The Romans believed in capital punishment. Suffering means different things for different people in different times and places. It is good for us to ask ourselves from time to time what have we suffered for Christ during the past year. If we find no suffering, does it say something about the closeness of our relationship with the Savior?
There is no question that to be a Christian is a glorious experience. But that does not mean that difficult hours will not come. They will. A sinful world does not accept Christianity with open arms. It is possible for us to emphasize the glory of Christ so much that we have a distorted view of the faith. We dare not forget the other side of Christianity, or in theological language, the theology of the cross.
If you want to know more about that subject, read some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s books on the subject. He was a Christian theologian who left a comfortable livelihood and a promising future to go home to his native Germany and die at the hands of the Nazis for the cause of Christ and his people.