The message of the cross is very difficult to convey. We can understand Peter’s rejection of Jesus’ announcement of his death and resurrection. Peter focused on the death.
How many ways might we look at the cross of Jesus? at the crosses borne by people in all parts of our world who are suffering now? at the crosses we carry? at the crosses we fail to carry for others? at the joy of the cross?
The preacher’s task on this Second Sunday in Lent is to talk about losing one’s life in order to save it without telling people how to live and thus imposing a law on them. We cannot bear the burden without also having received God’s promises. Setting the story of God’s incredible gifts to Abraham and Sarah next to the story of Jesus’ hard teaching about losing life to save it, we see that the struggle to live gratefully has everything to do with hope for what must be impossible.
Among the many different claims about the Messiah in Jesus’ time, none of them would have called for the Messiah to suffer and be rejected the way Jesus describes in this passage. It should be no surprise then that Peter would question Jesus’ statements and likely he would have been shocked at the sternness of Jesus’ rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” . . .
Some commentators have suggested that this passage is intended to encourage Jesus’ followers when they experience similar rejection, so that they can identify with Jesus in his reward as well as his suffering. Thus those who identify with Jesus and his gospel will save their lives, even if they lose them, but those who focus on earthly things, as Peter was doing, will lose everything. – Jonathan D. Lawrence
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
With Abraham, we walk in hope and faith, not knowing how the promises of God will be manifest in our lives or whether we will recognize them when they come.
One of last week’s readings described God’s covenant with Noah and all living things. This text focuses on God’s covenant with Abraham and through him with all of his descendants, promising land, descendants, and a blessing in return for Abraham’s willingness to be circumcised and to “walk before me, and be blameless.” . . .
Abraham and Sarah were too old to even imagine having a child. Yet as often happens in the Bible, God’s promise of a son is fulfilled, as proof that with God all things are possible. – Jonathan D. Lawrence
In Romans, Paul contrasts faith and law, although his view of law differs from the views of many Jewish writers from his time to our own. Paul suggests that the promises to Abraham were fulfilled not through the law but through “the righteousness of faith.”
. . . He speaks of Abraham’s unwavering faith that God would fulfill those promises, which could refer indirectly to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac at God’s command. This deep faith is presented as a model for Christians who put similar trust in Jesus and his death and resurrection. – Jonathan D. Lawrence
Much of the current literature on how to make a church grow and attract members emphasizes helping people discover their individual gifts and then allowing them to use those gifts. The writers make it all sound so upbeat and pleasant.
When do we tell our seekers that we are called to follow a LORD who gave his life rather than deny the good news of God’s grace that he came to proclaim? When do we make the case that it is that serious a thing and not just a way to make friends and have a “church home” and feel more spiritual? When do we tell them that joining the church means taking up a cross?
We would drive people away if we did not also tell them that there is priceless joy in serving God in this way. . . . You can have all the world’s goods and pleasures and it means nothing compared to the value of being in partnership with God. To live as a cross bearer is to be on God’s side. – Judith E. Simonson
Jonathan D. Lawrence, an American Baptist Church ordained minister, teaches Religious Studies and Theology at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York.
Judith Simonson is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Homily Service 39, no. 4 (2006): 22-32.