2010-03-07 (pm) Matthew 16:21-28 Your Will Be Done
How is it for you? Do you consider yourself to be more like Peter during his confession of Christ, only to discover that by your behaviour the reality is that you’re like him after his confession?
Picture it. Peter and the disciples are with Jesus in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus casually asks them. “People are talking about me, about us. What kinds of things are they saying?
“Well they say that you’re a great prophet or something. They say you’re Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist.”
“How ‘bout you. You’ve been with me for a while. Who am I?”
“Then Peter pipes up: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
Jesus encourages Peter saying, “This confession is true, and it was revealed to you by God in heaven. You didn’t just make it up on your own.”
Then, because of Peter’s confession, because the truth was spoken plainly, Jesus began to prepare them for his death.
But in the short time between Peter’s confession and Jesus’ beginning to teach what must happen for scripture to be fulfilled, for the world to be saved, for God’s great rescue plan to happen, Satan began to whisper his lies.
And again it is Peter who speaks. “No way, Jesus! You’re wrong! We’ve been taught all about the messiah. We’ve been waiting centuries for this moment! Come on now! You’re going to be king! You’re going to get rid of the Romans! You are the hope of our nation!
But Satan doesn’t have the plans of God in mind. Like his temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, he wanted Jesus to compromise. Jesus, you don’t have to suffer. You don’t have to go that hard road. You can still do what you came to do if you follow my plan. You can get the kingdoms of earth easily. You can do what you came to do at no cost to yourself. Just accept this plan instead of your Father’s plan.
But, as Jesus showed in the wilderness, he’s made of stronger stuff than that. He rebukes Satan’s work in Peter. He sticks to the plan. Oh, what that must have cost him. Every single temptation, every moment of weakness was overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ firm determination to do the right thing. Not the right thing according to people, but the right thing according to God.
And we are called to do the same thing. I confess, when I re-read the explanation of this line of the catechism, I thought, “No way. I don’t want to preach on that. I don’t do that.”
It forced me to rethink the way I’d been praying. When I say the line, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I think grandly. I think of the world, not of me and my life. Yes, change the world, do what must be done in the world in order to govern it as you govern heaven. Yeah, those are good thoughts.
But the catechism makes it personal, the catechism brings it home. Capturing the spirit of Christ in our passage, the catechism states: Begin in me, begin in my life, reign in me as you reign in heaven. Have your way with me. Break down my walls. Break down my rebellious spirit. Break my chains, transform me, bend my will to yours.
And you know that it isn’t a pleasant thought. It hurts; it is costly.
C.S. Lewis vividly describes this bending of the will in his book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In it he describes a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Eustace didn’t believe in God. He was a dirty rotten scoundrel, for a boy. He hated the situation he was in, hated being in Narnia, didn’t want to like anyone. One day he goes for a hike. He falls asleep in a dragon’s cave, and turns into a dragon. Thinking dragonish thoughts, he became a dragon.
If we think the thoughts of Satan, and are not corrected in our thinking by Christ and his word, we’ll become like Satan. We’ll follow Satan’s plans.
Well, it was quite a shock for Eustace when he woke up and realised he was a dragon. He suffers for quite a while. He is in pain because of a man’s bracelet that he’d slipped onto his arm before falling asleep. As a boy, it was too big, so he’d pushed it far up his arm. As a dragon, it was too small. He was bound but good.
Then, in his agony, seeing the truth, seeing the truth of how he’d behaved. Seeing the hopelessness of his situation, he calls out to God to save him. And God does. Appearing in the form of a lion, he invites Eustace to meet him in a garden. In the garden is a pool whose water looks healing, inviting and invigorating. Eustace longs to soak his sore arm in the water.
Jesus tells Eustace that he must first undress, he must take off his dragonish clothes. Three times Eustace scrubs his body, three times he sheds his skin, but no sooner has it come off, than the skin underneath looks old and scaly again.
Jesus helps. He reaches out a claw, which Eustace fears more than anything, but in his desperation, he lets Jesus cut into his skin. It goes so deep. A huge, thick, gross, scaly skin is peeled off. It hurt, but as Eustace described it, it was a good kind of hurt, the kind of satisfaction you get when you pick a scab. It hurts, but it is fun to see it come off.
Tender, weak, vulnerable, Eustace gets thrown into the pool. Instantly he’s turned back into a boy.
That story is an allegory of what happens when we put to death our old selves and turn to Christ. It is the story of submitting to God’s will. When that happens, Christ peels off our old, evil, selfish selves. It hurts, but it is a good kind of hurt. And we’re baptised into Christ and we’re made new.
And a transformation happens in our hearts and our minds.
We know the difference. We can see the way of Christ. We can see the way of Satan. Before, we could only see things Satan’s way. But now we know better.
We exercise denial of things we call rights, wants, even needs.
It is interesting, people have observed that what once were considered wants are now considered needs. I need a brand new car. I need a brand new house. I need the latest fashions. The list goes on. And what were considered needs are now rights. I have a right to a car, a house, a spouse, a great paying job.
But Jesus forces us to think differently. I don’t deserve anything, in fact, I deserve death as punishment for sin, but Christ has given me life. And this true life isn’t found in the stuff of the world. Even if I gained the whole world, I would forfeit my soul if I didn’t have Christ!
So Jesus says, don’t pursue the world. Don’t give your life over to earthly gain, or what Satan says is important. Give it over and over and over to God in Christ.
The means of doing this is denying yourself. It means putting Christ first. Sometimes it is easy. Usually it is hard. It takes a dependence upon the Holy Spirit for success.
It involves a transformation of the mind. Just as Eustace had is dragon skink peeled off, so we must have our minds opened to reality, to truth, to God’s will.
Erwin McManus, in his book, Uprising, talks about this attitude. He considers Adam and Eve in the Garden. He says, what were they thinking, hanging around the one thing in the garden they were forbidden to eat? They had the whole world to explore, but they chose not to.
Erwin says, “Adam, you’re with your new hot wife, why not chop down some trees, make a raft and go for a cruise down the Euphrates. Instead, you’re staring at the tree, walking straight into temptation.
Satan tells us that we can experience all kinds of great things, but not in the way that God created them to be experienced. We must allow the Holy Spirit to rebuke us and teach us to resist, to see through Satan and his lies.
Then, we also must ask Christ to open our eyes to see life as it really is. There is much greater joy in this life, living for Jesus than living for Satan.
Once we submit to Christ we realise that the freedoms we thought were freedoms before were actually cuffs and chains. When we submit to Christ, the chains come off, and vistas of possibilities open up to us.
We find ourselves figuratively on the shores of the Euphrates, with tools and the material for a great raft. We have the means of enjoying life to the fullest. And we have the freedom to do so.
We have the freedom and the ability, in the Holy Spirit to really live. To do God’s will. To do his good, pleasing and perfect will.
He’s laid it all out before us. He’s shown us the way. He has given us this book. Be honest. Work hard. Work for God, not just your employer. Study hard, not just for yourself, for your future, for your teachers for your parents, but for God.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, what you will eat, what you will, wear, who you will marry, what work you will get. You can do God’s will in anything. God has promised all those things to you in time. Meanwhile, focus on doing what you are supposed to do. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.
Really, trying to keep those two commandments will so fully occupy your life, that you’ll wonder what you did with all your time before!
Work, and be encouraged in your work! It is for your gain to do it. You will receive blessing upon blessing. Not only in this life, but in the life to come. It may not be health and wealth in this life. In fact, it won’t be. Life is to short, death is too real to pretend otherwise. Instead, your reward will be satisfaction, satisfaction in your work, joy in your friendships and relationships, pleasure in your duties. And when Christ returns, you will receive a crown that will not wither. A reward that will not tarnish, melt or fade away. Amen.