Action movies normally follow a typical plot. You are introduced to the hero, tension arrives through a villain or through circumstance, and in the end it is overcome. The most difficult part of the movie is about 2/3 through right in the middle of the tension. Spiderman has a trolley full of people in one hand and his girlfriend in the other. What will he do? Who will he drop? Both. And he still saves the day! But what if he drops the trolley and drops the girl and he runs to save them both, slips on a banana peel that wasn’t in the script and SPLAT! He falls and they all die. The credits roll and everyone picks their jaws off the floor. “Hey! That’s not how it is supposed to end! The hero isn’t supposed to die like that!” “We didn’t pay to see that!” “We sat here for three hours to end like that?!?”
There is predictable outcome in our movies. The hero is supposed to follow certain pattern. When he doesn’t we are devastated.
Jesus was a hero to his disciples. He was a miracle worker. He had great power and they had expectations for how the story was supposed to go. When Jesus began to preach about his death, they didn’t want to hear it. It didn’t fit the schema of what they thought was supposed to happen.
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”- Mark 8:31-32
How would you react? “NO!” “Are you sure?” “Is there another way” You are the Lord. You must be talking about some other guy. You healed the sick and restored sight to the blind. You, die? No! You raise the dead, who could kill you? Peter rebuked Jesus. Why? Because Jesus had reversed their expectation of what the Messiah was supposed to be. Annointed, yes. But to a different purpose than they had understood. From the disciples point of view Jesus had good reasons to stay:
- More blind people healed
- Morelepers cleansed
- Years of hearing Jesus teach.
- On and on the list could go
Often we hear no more than we expect to hear. If something is different than we expected we want to make it fit our cognitive maps and schemas. Peter did that at the cost of elevating his plan over God’s. The Words of Jesus challenge us, like Peter to question in what ways we “correct” Jesus’ teachings to fit our own prejudices and predetermined outcomes. What has God said that challenges you? Are there directives from God that we have distanced ourselves from and failed to take ownership of because they don’t fit the way we would like for things to be?
Like end of the first Lord of Rings movies or a Paul Harvey radio program cut short, if you don’t have the sequels or the rest of the story in hand it leaves you kicking and screaming. But knowing there is more to the story and being let in on the glory that is ahead changes everything. And now, the rest of the story,
“But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” – 8:33-37
Jesus’ response has several important elements that help us learn how to adjust our expectations of God to fit his plan rather than ours. You can view this as a prescription for better spiritual vision:
- Self denial – you gotta be crazy, the world says
- Take up a cross – a call to be among the despised
- Follow Jesus – even to death? Yes.
Have we taken up the mantle of discipleship, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Or have we bought into status quo Christianity that puts our plans for what Christianity should be and what the Christian life should look like ahead of God’s?
In Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the hero Santiago sets sail alone for the biggest catch of his life. He hooks no ordinary fish and gets entangled in an epic struggle between man and beast. He spends several days at sea under the unbearable sun. With an aching stomach, spots in his vision and cramping hands he fights the fish. After many days at sea with the Great marlin at the end of his line Santiago finally senses the end of the struggle. In a moment of frustration for this fish he holds in such high esteem he says, “Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too?”
There may come a time in our lives when we dread what it is we have on the end of our line. Epic struggles never come without great committment. What the Old Man had failed to realize was not that he had the fish, but that the fish had him. In our walk as Christians, we are in for a great struggle and even the loss of our own lives for His sake. If Santiago were to ask this question of our Lord, the answer would be, yes. How often do we as Christians ask God the same question, “God, you already had to suffer and die. Do you have to take my life as well?” His answer is, yes. This struggle demands our very lives. It demands a grueling labor and fervor that is only matched by the paradoxical blessing of the laying down of one’s own life only to receive a better one.
And we are called back to the words of Paul to the Romans, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Imagine if Romans 6 ended there. Imagine if there was no rest of the story, no sequel, no “raised to walk in newness of life.” But praise God that is not the end of the story for Jesus or for us. The story doesn’t end, as Peter was thinking in defeat – “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” – Romans 6
Or in the words of Jesus, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” What do you have on the end of your line and what does it demand of you? What cost are you willing to pay to follow Christ? How have your own expectations of what Christianity is all about conflicted with God’s and what can we do to straighten out our priorities?