Jeremiah 20:7-9, Romans 12:1-2, Matthew 16:21-27
Take Up The Cross
A man formed the habit of doing early morning walks and jogging along a Seminary School. There was no morning that you would come out without seeing him in his usual exercise.
One day, one of the seminarians who admired his tenacity, determination, and perseverance in doing this almost every day approached him and asked him the reason he was doing that without taking a break.
This particular exercise was like his daily food. The middle-aged man smiled at the seminarian and said “My brother without this, I may die”.
The seminarian could not understand comparing such exercise with life and death and went on to ask him why he made such a statement: The man further replied that the sole reason was because of his health.
A doctor advised him to do early morning exercise at least for six months without stopping if he sincerely loves his life. The man said, “Before, I do not do this but because of what I want to achieve, I have to, It has become part of my daily routine, and I now do it with joy”.
This man denied himself early morning rest for the sake of his health. This is also like being a true disciple of Jesus.
To be a true follower of Jesus is to deny ourselves what we want, what our body wants, and what the world wants and then take up what God wants.
To take the cross is one of the surest ways of discipleship, a means of salvation, a thoroughfare for breakthrough and one of the secrets of success. Many successes in life today come through the cross.
The Gain in the Midst of Pain.
In 1894, Orison Swett Marden the progenitor of Success magazine thought his whole life had ended when his hotel caught fire.
This great motivator before this fire incident took time and wrote a beautiful classic that is full of wisdom which he entitled “Pushing to the Front”.
Towards the finishing point of this book, the hotel caught fire, and the whole manuscript was burnt and everything went down to flames.
This devastated him much but remembering that He had something to achieve, he took the pains again and went into a dirty chamber with little comfort and rewrote the book from scratch. He denied himself many years of pleasure to produce the book.
This great classic exerted a powerful influence on America. Today, people are searching to read the book “Pushing to the Front”. You can search the book online or read the history.
Orison Swett Marden sacrificed his comfort to write a book amidst the pains and depression that have encircled him. The book later became what advertised him to the world.
There is a gain in pain. Many of the crosses on our path are for good and not for bad. Hence, we usually misunderstand them.
Take up the cross. In the midst of suffering, many great heroes have been born. Anyone who truly wants to become somebody or achieve something must have so many things to sacrifice to reach there.
To be a disciple of Jesus also is to accept our daily sacrifices and offer them for the love we have for God. Take up that cross. Carry your cross. Life is not a bed of roses.
To fully understand Jeremiah’s situation, we have to read from the beginning of today’s chapter.
The people at his time became so hardened to God’s law. They deviated from Him which prompted God to send Jeremiah to proclaim that the nation of Judah would suffer famine. They will suffer conquest and be led into captivity to a pagan and foreign land (Jeremiah 10, 11).
While Jeremiah was busy prophesying the destruction that was going to befall the people, other prophets were prophesying peace. Because of this, Jeremiah was seen as an object of mockery.
In the reading today, he approached the sanctuary in the city of Topheth and continued to prophesy in the temple. Jeremiah prophesied that God was going to bring disaster to the city.
Unhappy with Jeremiah’s message, A priest known as Pashur who is a temple official in Jerusalem, had Jeremiah beaten and put him in the stocks for a day. After this, Jeremiah lamented the travails and mockery which speaking God’s word had caused him.
2. Jeremiah accused God of “persuading him and making him an object of mockery.” By using the word deceived, persuaded, or seduced Jeremiah was implicitly saying that it was God who persuaded him with promises against his will. Like Jeremiah, this is how we also complain when it looks as if God has taken his back on us.
3. Jeremiah became angry because it looked as if all his predictions and prophecies were not coming forth. That was why the people were making fun of him. But despite Jeremiah’s travails, God did not fail in His promises to Jeremiah when he called him.
In His words, God said ‘They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” (Jeremiah 1:19) and Jeremiah indeed prevailed.
God may allow us to pass through some challenges but there is always victory at the end. The challenges and difficulties are always part of the journey.
Our aim then should be on the goal, not the challenges. Many goals involve a lot of crosses. To reach the goal, we have to take the crosses that are part of the journey.
3. Jeremiah’s lamentation is a sign that there were times when Jeremiah became an object of fun and mockery because of God’s word.
There were times he was insulted and persecuted. There were also times he wanted to give up.
In the first reading he says “I would say to myself, ‘I will not think about Him, I will not speak in his name anymore,” but despite these, what kept Jeremiah going was that inner desire to preach the word.
4. If we are truly in love with God and focused on our goal, despite the battle within and around us, we will always come to victory.
In God’s promises to Jeremiah, it was understood that the troubles were also part of his calling. But the desire for God and his word led him all through the travails. This is why Jesus puts it thus “If anyone desires to follow me”.
Therefore, to be a follower of Jesus must be a decision that comes from the heart. This burning desire to work for God will always help us to conquer the challenges ahead.
When we willingly decide to follow Jesus with all our hearts, we can be willing to go through the pains and sacrifices.
The gospel of today follows from that of Sunday. Jesus had just commended Peter for answering well in proclaiming him as the Messiah.
When Jesus began to explain the suffering, He was to undergo at the hands of authorities, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him”.
This is an affirmation that though Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, he did not yet fully understand the mission of the Messiah.
This puzzle also caught up with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. One of them told Jesus that they had hoped that Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel (Luke 24;13-35) but were disappointed with how he was handed down to be crucified.
They also did this before the ascension. In Acts 1:6, they gathered around Jesus, and asked him, if it was now that He would restore the kingdom to Israel.
So, a good knowledge of the political nature of that time will help us to understand what truly pushed Peter to react.
The gist is that the Jews at this time were under political bondage in the hands of the Romans.
So, they have been waiting for the Messiah whom God will send to make Israel a great nation again. How can such a powerful Messiah they have been waiting for come now to tell them that he would suffer?
Imagine, there is a powerful man of God that you know and you expect Him to showcase His power and glory.
He came to tell you that the people He meant to defeat will be the people who will suffer him. It shows a sign of weakness and defeat, so for Peter, this is unacceptable. Hence, such is the irony of life. God works in mysterious ways.
Christianity is Not One-Sided.
Peter may have thought that being a follower of Jesus is only for glory, favour, upliftment, salvation, and breakthrough.
In Peter, there is nothing like a cross, suffering, pain, persecution, etc. Just like Peter, many today see Christianity only in the light of the breakthrough, favour, and upliftment etc.
For us, suffering is never our portion. This is why we have many crusades and programs, and cross-over nights, where only blessing, salvation, and glory are promised and preached to the attendants. I have never seen anyone talk about the cross.
The truth is that God in His wisdom answers prayers in ways that we do not understand, just like the Jews have been praying for a Messiah and the Messiah came in a way they did not understand.
This is how God has been answering most of our prayers but in ways, we do not understand. In God, both the cross and glory walk hand in glove.
In Him, both the cross and crown are connected, we can never do without the two. Before Easter, there must be moments of Good Friday.
Just like Peter took Jesus aside and began to reproach him, “Never, Lord! No, this must never happen to you” but did not know that it was part of the destiny of the Messiah, is how those who think that Christianity has nothing to do with the cross will approach us in times of suffering and try to convince us that what we are going through is not part of our destiny.
Some will convince us to go and bathe in the river, that you need to settle Ndi egede na Ndi Mbu. Some of those prophets will tell you that you need to do one sacrifice or the other, while many will tell you that it must be from the devil.
Many might then begin to propose to you where they want to take you for solutions to your problems.
We have been led astray by many self-acclaimed solution bakers. Today, I want to tell you that those challenges you are trying to dip your hands in the wrong ways are there because they are supposed to be there.
In seeking solutions, many have put their hands into what they could not come out of it today. Many have joined groups that promised them fast wealth. This has led them into occultic activities which under normal circumstances, they would not have.
Take up the cross rather than allowing yourself to be misled. That cross may be necessary for you to reach your destination, just as the cross was necessary for Jesus.
Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is a sign that Jesus sees Peter as a stumbling block and temptation. Jesus is also pointing to Peter that it is not his will that will happen but the will of God.
By this action, Jesus is invariably teaching us that in everything we do, the will of God should reign supreme.
Secondly, we should choose to do what God wants not what we want, hence our Lord is directing us on how we should react when people try to mislead us at times of difficulties and suffering.
2. Jesus told Peter to get behind him, hence showing him his true position. The disciple should not be in front of the master but behind the master and following the master.
When Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him, Peter went in front of the lord to correct him, it shows that Peter then was out of his position. The master should take the lead and we follow.
3. This is also a sign that everyone has his path to follow. Any path that God has given us we should accept and follow it with faith and joy.
If Anyone Desires to Follow Me.
1. After rebuking Peter, Jesus now faces his disciples and says: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
Therefore, to be a disciple of Jesus is not by force or pressure. There should be that inborn desire to be his true disciple. This decision must come from the heart.
To make this decision is to put the self not at the forefront but behind the master. We can then be willing to offer our daily crosses as a sacrifice and can never be affected by them because within our hearts there is this burning desire for the things of God. This is what led Jeremiah through his predicaments.
2. The love of Jesus should supersede the love of the self. If we can love Jesus more than we love ourselves, we can then put the body and its desires to the check.
The desires of the body at this point will not be the driving force behind our actions but the desire to make God happy with the type of life we live. Because of God, we can then be willing to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God; As Paul said in the second reading.
This type of life then becomes worship because everything we do at this point gives glory to God.
3. To follow Jesus is to freely and willingly accept our crosses and carry them with joy. The cross is that, under normal circumstances, one would not like to take it upon his life.
It is that experience that brings pain and discomfort. But because of the desire to achieve eternal life, one carries them with Joy, like the apostles who rejoiced for suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41). When we do this, no hard situation will make us lose faith in God again.
The Living Sacrifice We Have to Offer.
In the second reading, Saint Paul Admonishes us to think of the mercy of God always and worship Him as one who is always merciful. Our worship of God should be devoid of self-deception.
We have to truly and sincerely worship God as one. And of the ways is to give ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him.
Sacrifice means to give up something that could be important, pleasurable and valuable to you for the sake of something higher. It involves a total surrender.
Therefore, in the gospel, Jesus had a chance to choose the life that His apostle Peter proposed to Him, but He sacrificed all, choosing the will of God first.
Therefore, as Saint Paul admonishes us, we have to offer to God ourselves as a living sacrifice. God must be our all in all. If it is a cross, we have to take it as one for the fact God is glorified with it.
So, in the second reading, Paul is invariably saying that though we may have many other things we would like to do with our bodies, God should be the first.
We may want to enjoy the material and emotional pleasures of this world, but God must be our first choice.
There may be other things we would want to enjoy with our bodies, but God desires that we use our bodies that are pleasing to Him. Therefore, we have to live our lives in a way that must please God and not ourselves.
This is the reason, Saint Paul admonishes us not to model ourselves on the behaviour of the world around us, but to let our behaviour change, modelled by our new mind which is the one that pleases God.
Let us take up the cross of pleasing God at all times and all costs. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good. It is always the way to know what it is that God wants, and what is the perfect thing to do.
1. Sometimes, when we pray and it does not happen the way we want, we blame God and lose faith. Some will stop going to church and some will say that God hates them.
To be truly a disciple of Jesus is to accept the good and the bad. We become like the family of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who stayed many years without a child yet. They did not complain and God rewarded them at last.
We become like Mary who would have used her life to pursue many professions but she accepted to do the will of God.
Also, we become like the apostles who left their professions and put the gospel at the forefront, they passed through sufferings and persecutions and yet did not give up.
Anyone who gives up while suffering is never a Christian, for there is no Christianity without a cross. To be a Christian is not only on the part of breakthrough, favour, and upliftment.
Christianity also involves the cross. Therefore, losing your faith because of a cross is already a sign you are just a sign-and-wonders Christian. Christianity involves the cross and the crown. Take up the cross always.
2. In the world, many will go to any extreme to achieve their selfish desires. In the world, many do not care about their souls. What we care about is how to replenish and refresh the body, yet at the end of our lives, the body we try to replenish goes into extinction.
In the Gospel, Jesus asks “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?”
Hence, man does not care about eternal life, all his hope is life now. Can we pause and ask ourselves ‘What if we die without the state of grace, what would be my fate?
3. Today many hate suffering, pain, and detest sacrifice. We forget that without these, there will be no progress, there will be no success, and there will be no growth.
Many great discoveries were carried out under intensive research and work. We cannot get everything on the platter of gold. Without pain, there is no gain. Before Easter Sunday, we have Good Friday. Without crucifixion and death, there will be no resurrection.
Challenges are lying everywhere we are, to get to where we want to be. Do not run away when you meet challenges. They may be the only thing you need to get to your successful destination. So, take up the cross and remain where you are. Take the cross and follow Jesus.
4. In the gospel, Jesus tells Peter that He is thinking as human beings do and not as God thinks. When challenges come, human beings begin to think that God does not want to answer their prayers but God may have purposely allowed the challenges.
Example, when someone is yet to marry, she begins to think low of herself as human beings do, but she forgets that not many saints or biblical figures actually married.
When many today are sacked in their companies they begin to think if there is something wrong with them, but God may be pushing them to create their own business.
They may be chosen by God to be an entrepreneur. Problems come to push them to their destiny.
Many Christians today, think as human beings do that the cross is evil. But God knows that behind that cross, there is glory.
As my knowledge of spirituality continues to widen, I have learned to take things as they come. I have discovered that many things that came to me were not actually to pull me down but to set me on the road to my vocation in life.
Do you know that hatred from people or someone can be a stepping stone for you, or do you know that as someone is trying to deal with you, they end up announcing you to the world?
The way we think and the way God thinks are different. We may be thinking that our own has ended, but God is thinking otherwise. Take up the cross and keep strengthening your faith rather than losing it.
May God bless you. Happy Sunday.