ROAD SIGNS TO THE CROSS
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
March 17, 2019
TEXT: Matthew 16:20-28
(This sermon begins with a 2-minute video segment from the youth called, “On the Road with Jesus”, talking about Jesus and the Pharisees and them seeing Jesus as a troublemaker.)
We are traveling on the road this Lent – looking for the road signs along the way to the cross. And our youth will be joining in on the journey and sharing reports about Jesus and His activity that last week of His life. Stay tuned for more reports to come as we draw closer to the cross of Good Friday and the wonderful celebration of Easter.
We began our journey on Ash Wednesday as we saw the U-turn sign, calling us to repent and turn around, to go the right way of Christ. And last week, we saw that there are Speed-bumps along our journey, like the temptations that Jesus faced as He wandered in the wilderness those 40 days after He was baptized. We discovered there are some good speed bumps we need along our journey of faith that will help and protect us. We need that time of stillness and Scripture and prayer to be able to overcome the temptations of the Evil One.
Today we turn to the Stop Sign – a sign we need in our lives if we are to be faithful disciples of Christ.
Stop signs are so important to keeping our roads safe! One of the biggest problems on our streets are people not obeying the road signs…especially stop signs. Many times, people just don’t want to come to a complete stop - so they do a sort of “rolling stop”, so that they can hurry on and keep going.
The Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn had a problem with motorists who weren't coming to a complete stop at stop signs. So, in 2007, the Mayor came up with a creative solution. He added a second, smaller octagonal sign to the town's 50 or so stop signs that read things like:
“STOP…and smell the roses!”
"STOP…Or I’m Telling Your Mom,"
"STOP…In the naaaame of love."
And – it worked!!! People stopped at the stop signs. The additional signs were so imaginative and humorous people laughed and obeyed the Stop sign. Everybody laughed… except the Illinois Department of Transportation which deemed the signs violations of the Federal Uniform Traffic Control Act and threatened to withhold funds if the signs weren't removed. Sadly, the Mayor had to comply.1
Now the Apostle Peter, in a way, posted a sign before Jesus that read “Stop in the name of love”! But that was one sign that Jesus could NOT obey. Turn with me to Matthew 16 and let’s see how the stop sign played a role on the road to the cross – both for Jesus and for ourselves.
As you turn to Matthew 16, beginning at verse 13, you will find Jesus asking the disciples who they say the Son of Man is. After the disciples answered with various incorrect responses – saying people like John the Baptist or Elijah - it was the Apostle Peter who finally said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter had given the right answer! It wasn’t an answer he came up with on his own. It was an answer revealed to him by God. And this is the great confession of faith that we all are called to make! Jesus praises Peter for his statement of faith saying: “I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’) and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” It is with this kind of faith that the church will be built. How wonderful Peter must have felt to have received such praise from Jesus – and to have known the right answer about who Jesus was.
But it wasn’t long before Jesus would be condemning Peter for giving the wrong answer.
Look at verse 21: “From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem, and the He would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day He would be raised from the dead.” Now this was the first time Jesus had spoken of His suffering and death so very clearly to His disciples. Can you just imagine how they must have felt hearing that the one that they loved so dearly – the one who they had given up everything to follow – was going to die? Look at how Peter responds – at verse 22: “Peter took Him aside and began to reprimand Him for saying such things. ‘Heaven forbid Lord, this will never happen to you!’” The prediction of the death of Jesus was not at all what Peter wanted to hear! And so Peter put up a stop sign in front of Jesus: “This will never happen to you!” But that stop sign was not one that Jesus could obey.
What Peter and the other disciples did not yet understand was the Jesus had come to die for the sins of the world. Peter was thinking about his own plans for Jesus – and was not thinking about God’s plan. God loved the world so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world and no one could stop Him from doing that. It was “necessary” for Jesus to go to Jerusalem and suffer and be killed. It was God’s plan for Jesus to go to the cross to accomplish our salvation! And nothing was going to stop Him!
And so, Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Get away from me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.!” In just a few minutes, Peter went from being Peter, the blessed to Satan, the adversary! From being Peter the rock to Peter the stumbling block! Why did Jesus react like that?
I think Jesus was remembering those temptations He had when He began His ministry and was in the wilderness for 40 days. Satan had also tried to put a stop sign in front of Jesus – tempting Him to not follow the way of the cross. He tempted Jesus to escape the cross and go for sensationalism – “give them wonders like jumping off this pinnacle of the Temple, and when they see the angels catching you…they will follow you.” Jesus told Satan to go away – begone! He would not give into that temptation.
Peter’s big mistake was thinking like a human – wanting to escape any suffering. Peter was thinking about his own plans for Jesus. He wasn’t thinking about God’s plan. And so, because he was trying to put a stop sign on the road to the cross, Jesus calls him a stumbling block – just like Satan tried to do at the beginning of His ministry.
But what is interesting, while Jesus told Satan to go away – hupage, in Greek….he told Peter to get behind him – hupage opiso mou, in Greek. Origen, a 3rd century theologian, suggested that when Jesus told Satan to go away - he was banishing him from His presence. But when Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me!” – He was saying: “Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It is your place to follow Me the way I choose, not to try to lead Me in the way in which you would like Me to go.”2 As William Barclay describes it –Satan would never get behind Jesus – but Jesus challenged Peter to once again be a follower. It is as if he said: “At the moment you have spoken as Satan would …but that is not the real Peter speaking. You can redeem yourself. Come behind me, and be my follower again and even yet, all will be well.”3
And then, just to be sure Peter and the disciples know --- and really all of us know – Jesus tells us how important it is to bear the cross. Look at Matthew 16:24-25: 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. Now, Jesus is putting a stop sign in our path! If we are to follow Jesus, we are to stop thinking about ourselves first and think about Jesus first. We are to stop putting our plans ahead of Jesus – and put Jesus as the central part of the very heart and core of our lives. We are to stop living for ourselves – literally, we are to die to ourselves and start living for Christ. We are to stop being self-centered and become openhearted followers of Jesus who care deeply for others.
To follow Jesus – He has to be first in our lives! Jesus doesn’t take the second place or the back seat to anyone or anything! As Dr. Harold Sala puts it this way: You have to relinquish control of your life to your heavenly Father. You can’t have a parade consisting of two cars until you decide who is going to lead. When you confront the claims of Jesus Christ, you learn quickly that He isn’t content being your co-pilot, He wants to fly the plane, to be in control, and you have to relinquish control and let Him take charge!”4
When we gave our lives to Christ, making our confession of faith in Christ, like Peter did, we said we believe that Jesus died for us. In some ways it was easy to look at the cross and say, “Thank you for dying on the cross for me!” But as we grow in faith, we need to carry that cross and let it “tower” over us, every day and in every place, calling us to surrender our lives to Christ. Every day – we have to die to self and live for Christ – deliberately giving Him control and living each day for Christ, in everything we do and say.
So practically speaking, what does it look like to die to ourselves and live for Christ? Inspired from a variety of folks I read this week, let me share a few examples. To deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus – means:
Putting the interests and needs of others ahead of your own
Forgiving, instead of harboring that grudge
Loving and praying for others, even your enemies
Resisting that temptation to do what everybody else does5
Putting down the remote control and picking up your Bible
Glorifying God instead of seeking your own glory and praise
Swallowing your pride and fears and telling someone about Jesus
Doing what God wants you to do, instead of what you want to do
A man by the name of Phil Callaway I thought described it well, He said: The first three years of our marriage were miserable. Until I got a divorce. A divorce from loving myself and seeking my own way. I was reading the book of Galatians one night when I stumbled on the verse, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (2:20), and the most profound thought hit me: If I am dead, and Christ lives in me, can my wife see Him there?”6
Think about that, can people see Christ in us?
St. Patrick –-who we are remembering this day – was a 5th century monk who died on March 17, in the year 461. But really – Patrick died to self, much earlier, when he gave his heart to Christ and made a decision to live for Christ. In fact, his prayer was that people would see, not Patrick, but Christ in everything he did and said. His prayer was this:
Christ, in the heart of every person who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of every person who speaks of me.
Christ in every eye that sees me.
Christ in every ear that hears me.7
May that truly be our prayer as well!
1Bathroom Readers’ Institute, Uncle John’s Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader, p. 253. Portable Press, 2009
2William Barclay, The Daily Bible – The Gospel of Matthew, page 165.
Westminster Press, 1958.
3Ibid. Page, 166.
4Dr. Harold J. Sala, “Your Cross”, Guidelines International Ministries, https://www.guidelines.org/devotional/speaker/dr-harold-j-sala/page/113/
5Greg Laurie, “The Paradox of the Cross”, https://harvest.org/resources/gregs-blog/post/the-paradox-of-the-cross/
6Phil Callaway, Family Squeeze: Tales of Hope and Hilarity for a Sandwiched Generation.
7St. Patrick Quotes – Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/413139-christ-with-me-christ-before-me-christ-behind-me-christ