“Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33) Can you imagine how Peter would have felt when Jesus directed those words at him? Wow! If I’d been Peter, I would have wanted to crawl under a rock!
But, I fear that I see too much Peter-like tendencies in myself. Do I want “cross” and “struggle?” Do I want to “deny myself” and take up my cross?
Frankly, I’d rather not do those things! I’d rather hear Jesus say that my ministry is (and will be) successful, and joyous, and that my life will be easy and pain-free! That would be so much more pleasant, wouldn’t it be? That’s what I’d like!
Maybe Jesus needs to say to me , “Get behind me, Satan.” Ouch.
My selfish, sin-infested heart needs the regular reminder that Christianity – and ministry – isn’t about how I can be served by others, but about how I can give service both to God and to my fellow humans. And yes, that means that often I have to “deny myself.” For example, that same member who calls me with that same issue time after time, but who never seems to internalize the Scriptural guidance I give … I’d sure like to ignore it when they call me again. And yes, there are times when it’s good stewardship of your time to not answer that call. But in general, I need to deny myself, and answer the call. I might not want to make that delinquent call, because it’s likely going to be hard! But I need to deny myself, and make that call. I might not want to make evangelism calls, as they can be really hard. I might not want to attend (another!) meeting. I might not want to smile back at the person who’s criticizing me. I might not want to … well, you get the picture.
And yet Jesus calls me to deny myself, my own desires, and do what is necessary to serve him and my fellow humans. Ugh. It’s so hard! I fail at it so often!
How important it is for you and me, my fellow pastors, to hear that Jesus himself denied himself, and took up his own cross. Do you guess it was always (maybe ever?!) easy for him to be patient with those disciples? Likely not, and yet he was patient with them. And with me. Did he jump and down in gleeful anticipation of nails piercing his hands and feet? We know he didn’t feel that way! (Let this cup pass from me!) And yet he denied himself, and took up that cross.
And for whom did Jesus do that? Why, he did it for Peter! Yes, the very same Peter whom he’d had to rebuke! Jesus loved him that much!
Dear pastor, he did it for you and me, too. Yes, that cross which Jesus bore, he bore it for you. He loves you that much.
And so we’ll do it! We’ll deny ourselves, and will put ourselves to the tasks of ministry, and to the joy of being a follower of Jesus. Oh, we’ll do it in weakness. And often our sinful mind may be battling our new man and its desires. But we’ll do it! We’ll do it knowing that Jesus loved us oh-so-much that he did it for us!
And oh yeah. The cross isn’t the final word. Someday the same Jesus who invited us to follow him, to deny ourselves and take up our cross, that same Jesus will also give to you the crown! He’ll give to you the crown of life-eternal, which can never spoil or fade.
God bless you, fellow cross-bearers!