One of the features of Australian politics over the past 10 years has been the instability of leadership. In the past 10 or so years we have had the deposing of the Rudd, Gillard, Rudd Government of the Labor Party and the Abbott Turnbull deposing in the Liberal Party. In recent times we have seen the dispute in the Coalition between the Prime Ministry Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party Barnaby Joyce. Many in society believe that we are lacking leadership and hence we tend to see more and more one term governments as people become displeased with the leader and demand change. But it’s not easy being a leader because everybody wants you to lead them in the way they want. And as a result leaders are trying to please everyone but find when they do that it leaves people disgruntled and also lacking respect for leaders. Good leaders sometimes have to make unpopular decisions for the good of people and hope that people see that despite the hardship they are experiencing, their leaders are looking out for their best interests.
Jesus began to teach his disciples what he was leading them into. It is very different to what they were perhaps expecting. They and all Israel were waiting for the new leader that God had promised – a King both in the line of David and a mighty warrior like King David who led his people to success over their enemies. With Roman domination over their land they were hoping that Jesus would once again re-establish Israel as a mighty nation. But now Jesus reveals what his plan is;
Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, Peter, acting on behalf of the other disciples is mortified: Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Mark doesn’t have what Peter said but Matthew does: Never Lord – this will NEVER happen to you. Peter doesn’t like what he is hearing and refuses to allow his leader to even think about it. But it is a decision that Jesus MUST do. Jesus too was concerned about what was going to happen and prayed to his Father to take the cup of suffering from him – but closed his prayer with “Your will be done”. Jesus accepted his Father’s decision. As much as they do not like Jesus’ decision – without it they are doomed. But now comes the difficult part of following Jesus: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For 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.” That’s the moment that Peter and the disciples realized that the Messiah they wanted was not the Messiah made known in Jesus Christ! The disciples wanted a leader, a Messiah, who would be a political and military leader, leading the charge to put the Romans in their place once and for all. They wanted someone who would raise them up to a position of power and importance. They wanted someone so powerful that their enemies would cower and flee. They were convinced that the keys to a good life were strength and power. Instead, they got Jesus who taught about loving others, feeding the hungry, and foretold his own impending death at the hands of the very same powers he was supposed to overcome. This was not what they had signed up for!
It’s easy to understand why Peter was so upset; If we had been standing there we might have been upset, too! But then again, who among us hasn’t wanted a God who is there at the first sign of trouble and sets things right? Maybe we have asked God for a good parking spot; a better job, a new car or the bigger house. We believe that if we can just get a little bit ahead and become just a little more successful, our lives would be much better. Doesn’t God owe us that? The disciples weren’t the only ones who believed that the keys to a good life were strength and power. More often than not, we believe it too. But it’s not only physical possessions we expect God to provide. When tragedy strikes, we pray for a different outcome, and yet God seems far away from us. Those who have been at the bedside of a friend or family member who died much too soon often find ourselves staring into the cold, dark silence of death, feeling abandoned by God. They are among the crosses we have to carry. Many situations cause us to wonder about this God we worship. “Why doesn’t God just fix all of this?” If God loves us, why do we suffer so terribly? What sort of leadership is that? But Jesus says that the life of a Christian is not about living a life that we desire but about trusting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. He says – whoever wants to save his life will lose it. In fact Jesus says – If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
In our world today no one wants anything denied. We believe we have a right to everything. To confess Jesus as our Lord means standing at the foot of the cross as he is crucified. Having Jesus as our Lord is more than fixing our lives. Having Jesus as our Lord is about laying down his life so we may find ours. It is then that we realize that the suffering we see around us—in the hospital bed, in the prison, on the street, in the mirror—is none other than the crucified Christ laying down his life again and again. In the midst of our suffering Jesus fulfils his Baptism promise – I am with you ALWAYS. “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus said, “Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” That’s why Jesus rebuked Peter – get BEHIND me Satan. Stop taking the leadership role and follow me. But it is not all about doom and gloom and suffering as a follower. As we follow Jesus we know that he is leading us to a better place – our eternal home in heaven. We cannot understand the fullness of Christ’s resurrection unless we are willing to know Christ crucified.
Easter morning finds its true meaning and hope only through Good Friday. So, as we continue our journey through this holy season of Lent, may we walk alongside one another but behind Christ, bearing our crosses and proclaiming the faith of Christ crucified with our hearts filled with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and the assurance that until he has led us home “I am with you always till the end of the age”.