“‘Cross’ Ways Living”
The Game of Life
When I was young, sometimes we would play Milton Bradley’s game of Life. Do you remember that game? You would spin the wheel of fate and move along the board. The object of the game seemed to be to acquire enough money to end up in Millionaire Acres. It was either that or the Poor Farm. As I was checking up on this game, I discovered that the newer versions have been changed. Among other changes I think the Poor Farm was turned into Country Estates. Still, from the being, the game does raise the question: What do we really want in this life? Does a rich retirement mean that we have won the real game of life? Even when I was young, I thought there was something wrong with the board game. Isn’t life more than just money, and how many people here really think that the game is over when you reach retirement? The game has some flaws.
The more important question follows: If life is not just about retiring wealthy; then what is it all about? What is truly important?
This question is relevant to our text because Peter demonstrates that he had some very definite ideas how he thought life should be. Jesus asked his disciples who do people say that I am. It was Peter who replied, “You are the Christ.” Now as you might be aware Christ is not Jesus last name, but rather the Christ is a title. Christ basically means “Anointed One.” In the Old Testament the prophet Samuel anointed Saul with oil as a sign that he was to be king. To refer to Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, was to claim that Jesus is such a king chosen by God. He is the fulfillment of God’s promise to David that one of his ancestors would forever rule.
As the Messiah he will restore Israel as a sovereign nation, establish true and correct worship within the temple, and initiate a rule of justice and mercy, and make all things right within the world. In our political world Theodore Roosevelt gave us the square deal, FDR gave us a new deal, Harry Truman proclaimed the Fair Deal, and Lyndon Johnson proposed the Great Society. I guess president Bidden wants to give our nation better infrastructure. There is always a hope that someone is going to come along and make our world a better place. Peter believed that Jesus was that person. However no sooner had Peter voiced his hope, then Jesus began to teach his disciples that he would be rejected, suffer, and be killed, and then rise again.
Life to the Cross
In Mark’s Gospel this text marks the middle of his story and is the first time Jesus speaks about his impending death. From this point on in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is seen moving ever closer to Jerusalem. Two more times beyond this text Jesus warns his disciples of what will happen in Jerusalem and each time the disciples are depicted as not understanding his words and not being ready for what was to come. The disciples were not in agreement with how Jesus saw life working out. Peter takes Jesus aside privately to set him straight. Lord, you need to consider yourself better than this, God will never let this thing happen to you. We will gather the support that you need, and with God’s help we will reestablish David’s kingdom for our people. All this talk of dying is loser talk. You just need to have a little more faith. God will see you through.
Now it is easy enough to understand Peter’s point of view. The Messiah is not supposed to be crucified. However, Peter’s insistence only drew a sharp retort from Jesus. He looked at his disciples who probably were overhearing this whole conversation. We may guess that they were showing support for Peter’s words. Maybe Peter was being a spokesperson for all of them. No one was in favor of seeing their efforts as a suicide mission. Jesus looked at Peter, and then he said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Now we may wrestle with what Jesus’ words meant, but when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, one of those temptations was to gain the riches of the world’s kingdoms. He could have led a conqueror’s life –Alexander the Great, Genghis Kahn and Jesus; except you would probably be putting Jesus name at the top of the list. This was an old temptation that crept back into Jesus’ life. No sooner did Jesus begin to voice his resolve to walk in the humble path God had given him; then someone says to him, “You really don’t have to die. God wants you to rule over all the people. There is another way. Truly be their king. Be the messiah that the people expect.” Isn’t that how temptation tends to work? Some days just try to do the right thing and see what happens.
Instead, Jesus takes this rather private conversation between him and Peter and his disciples, and he calls everyone together. He wants to make sure the disciples do hear his words and he wants everyone to know.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,*will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”
What is truly most important in life? Living in millionaire acres or is life about something else, something more? Jesus words should make us wonder. Instead of victory coming through winning, it becomes tied to self-denial and sacrifice. The thing that we fear, death and the cross, become the images that we are called to embrace. The thing that we want, our own lives, become imperiled the more that we try to hang on to them. That which we are asked to live for, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, become the foundation upon which salvation is found.
This passage draws us not so much to a death on the cross, but rather to a Christian life lived in what I have called a “‘cross’ways” manner. The word crossways is a variation of crosswise. The word means to transverse, or it is in reference to something that is contrary. As an archaic form of speech, it means to form a cross. So there really is a cross in crossways, but I use it in reference to how Jesus is telling us to live. To live the way of the cross is to live in a crossways manner that tends to cut across and against the fabric of the world around us. To follow Jesus is to be that unusual person in this life. It seems that life is not about wealth, power, or control. It’s about living the cross.
As Christians we must refocus our lives. Taking up the cross is about choosing what we are willing to live for no matter what the cost. This is what Jesus did. I do not think it was out of a desire to die that Jesus took up the cross; rather the cross was the inevitable event that came from him being obedient to the will and nature of God in his life. Jesus died because, well, he just didn’t fit in and go along with how the world thought he should be. His nature offended and irritated people. He healed people on the Sabbath. He ate with the tax collectors and conversed with the sinners. He preached to the poor and interacted with gentiles. He challenged the religious establishment of his time. He called the Pharisees hypocrites, and King Herod an old fox (as a side note, in Jesus time a fox was not a sly person, but an ineffectual person of lower authority -a pompous pretender). He told the Sadducees that they were completely wrong. He preached in the synagogues and the temple like he owned the places and threw the sacrificial system into chaos one day when he overthrew the money changers in the temple. He preached on the necessity of there being a place for everyone to come to God in prayer. He loved others with a reckless abandon, but always called people to higher understanding of love and obedience to God. Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. That is crossways living or living for the cross.
The question we are left to answer is will we follow? Will our lives be as contrary, unique, and so given over to God’s love and will, that in the end we come to realize that we have really lost ourselves in the process and truly found the real purpose and meaning of life?
Rev. Craig Gates of Jackson Mississippi has a great list of suggestions when it comes to ways of thinking about living out our Christian calling and how to live a crossways life. He says we should:
GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, “In everything give thanks.” Constructive criticism is OK, but “moaning, groaning, and complaining” are not Christian disciplines.
GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion. A few minutes in prayer WILL keep you focused.
GIVE UP looking at other people’s worst attributes. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting or to offer a smile. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?
GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! They’re too heavy for you to carry anyway. Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God’s grace be sufficient.
GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit someone who’s lonely or sick. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the “tube?” Give someone a precious gift: your time!
GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We’re called to be stewards of God’s riches, not consumers.
GIVE UP judging others by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ. (Billy D. Strayhorn, Cross Eyed: Focus)
I think maybe there is a thought in there for everyone or you can create some of your own. Live in such as way as to change another’s life for the better. There’s a great story about the artist Rodin, who one day saw a huge, carved crucifix beside a road. He immediately loved the artwork and insisted on having it for himself. He purchased the cross and arranged to have it carted back to his house. But unfortunately, it was too big for the building. So, of all things, he knocked out the walls, raised the roof, and rebuilt his home around the cross (Best Sermons 3, Harper & Row, 1990, p. 115).
This is what following Jesus does for each life. How will the cross change your life? Live a Crossways life and find the real reason that God has for your life. Amen.