21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance  to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:21-28 (ESV)
“Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
A hindrance, the Greek reads scandalon, a scandal, it means stumbling stone, a stone that causes one to trip and fall, lose their way, lose their faith. It is the term used for that stone that seems to be placed perfectly in the midst of the path to catch travelers unaware and send them tumbling to the ground. It’s a play on words really. The rock, Peter who was just so named for his confession of Christ, has become the stumbling stone the scandal in the way of the Christ, who is on his way to become the great stumbling stone set in Zion. “as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33 (ESV)
And already we see the scandal of Christ that shocks Peter and the rest of the disciples. So much so that Peter becomes a stumbling stone to Christ. The scandal is all this talk of death. Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, and now Jesus decides it is time to let them all in. They know who he is, now they should know what this means. And this, they were not prepared for. It had never occurred to them that to be the Christ would mean to suffer. And suffer at the hands of the very men who should be following the Messiah, the Christ. The very men who should recognize Jesus for who he is and fall in line, the elders, the priests, the scribes. The entire Sanhedrin the highest court in Israel. Why should the long expected Christ suffer from such people? And be killed?
Never mind this “be raised” bit. That must have seemed like pure fantasy to the disciples. The gospels indicate they never knew what he meant by that. No matter how much he told them about it, they could never conceive of what he meant by be raised
But to suffer and die? The disciples knew what that meant. We all do. No one living in this world is confused as to the nature of suffering. It doesn’t matter how rich you are or how poor you are. Suffering and death they are part of this life as we know it. And they are regarded as things to be avoided. The great draw for so many religions of the world is the promise of escape from suffering. The manipulation of the gods to get you what you want, sex, money, power. Or in the case of Buddhism an opportunity to detach from the world, to avoid suffering by avoiding pleasure. Even Christianity in its popular forms, placing scandalons before the people as it becomes about this avoidance of suffering that Peter is so vehemently arguing for. So much of it is about making deals with God to avoid trouble, to avoid pain, to avoid suffering. If we pray hard enough perhaps God will cure me of my cancer miraculously. If I go to church perhaps God will clean up my marriage and save it. If I tithe, perhaps then God will give me the promotion. And when Christianity becomes about this, then a scandalon has been left in the way, as Christ says about the one who has no root, he endures for a while but when tribulation comes he falls away. (Matthew 13) He stumbles, he is scandalized because he doesn’t expect tribulation.
And Peter knows that Christ’s choice of the cross means a cross for his disciples. A student has no choice but to walk in the ways of his teacher. To pick up his cross and follow him. It’s the great scandal, the word of the cross, folly to the wise, but to us who are being saved the power of God. Because we all then know also that this life is lost. Oh, it isn’t that we can’t enjoy this life for what it is. It isn’t that this life will be nothing but pain and misery. Or that we should actively pursue suffering. But we know that this life is lost already and so we should not be so afraid to lose it for Christ’s sake. Because losing it for him we will save it.
Of course, this is what happens in Baptism. This is what happens when we confess Christ to be the messiah, the man who was crucified. This is what happens when we receive the forgiveness of sins and partake of the Lord’s Supper. We lose our life. We lose this life that was already lost. Already lost, I mean is anyone of the delusion that they will live forever. That in the end they will not die? Does anyone really want to live forever in this world? Where others die? Where we suffer from broken marriages, and estranged kids? Where there is so much potential for a pleasant life, and yet for all the moments of happiness, it never seems to be grasped? This life is lost already and there is nothing you can do to save it. This is why Jesus says he who tries to save his life will lose it. What can we do to save it?
We try to live a good and decent life. This is the answer that most people give, even unconsciously. Live a life that is honorable in the eyes of men. Perhaps if I can impress them I can impress God. Maybe if I just live as decent a life as I can and give to charity, God will overlook my past sins, or even my present sins. But what is it that you do that you are not already obligated to do with the commands to love God and love neighbor? What is it that you do that goes beyond what you are obligated to do as an unworthy servant of the Lord? No, this path to saving your life is a lost cause. And that is what Christ knew. The only one not obligated by the law. The only one who was able to do anything beyond the demands of the law. And what he did is suffer the law, and suffer your sin at the hands of the elders, the priests and the scribes. What he did is go to Jerusalem to pick up his cross. What he did was lose his life for your sake, that you could save your life by losing it for his sake. To count your life forfeit and let it die in the flood of forgiveness as the baptismal waters wash over you in daily repentance. To count your efforts at righteousness before God as folly and believe in the great stumbling stone of Zion as he holds out the bread and wine saying “take eat this is my body, take drink this cup is the new testament in my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And then pick up your cross realizing that you no longer live to yourself, but to the lord, and whatever you suffer in this life at the hands of this world, well now you suffer these things to the Lord who suffered for you. Now this suffering, so much a part of this life is suffered that you might live for his purposes that his will would be done in and through you in this world. The will of him who went to Jerusalem and suffered at the hands of the elders, the priests and the scribes, and died, and rose again so that baptized and buried into his death we could rise again to live in his resurrection.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.