It has been a crazy week for everybody. We have followed the events of Hurricane Harvey with empathy, knowing how much damage the hurricane would cause on the coastal areas. That empathy was soon replaced with incredulity as we saw the damage that the hurricane was causing and then it was a feeling of total disbelief as we saw the impact of the nonstop rain and the flooding that has devastated Houston and other areas.
It is hard to watch from a distance. I know some of us in this congregation have experienced evacuation and the need to move to a new area and rebuild a life. It has made us realize “there but for the grace of God” – it could have been me.
Even with the strongest faith – we cannot stop the thoughts moving through our minds – “Why Lord? Why did it happen? Why should a first responder be swept away on his way to rescue others?” And why should a vehicle full of children suffer the same way?”
Could this reflect the way Peter was thinking? Did Peter turn to Jesus and say “Why Lord? Must it happen?” He heard the voice of his dear friend Jesus telling his disciples that his future was about to become very difficult and that he was going to make the ultimate sacrifice for their sake. It was a dark and painful future, and Peter was telling him that it must not happen. Peter very simply did not understand.
Do we understand about suffering? Do we understand how it is that God allows suffering to any extent to happen – especially to people who are innocent of any wrong doing?
We could be blunt and say that suffering is a part of our human existence. It always has been – and always will be. There are many ways that we face suffering – illness, loss, accident – even events of nature over which we have no control.
And as we look back over the religious history of God’s people, suffering was always a part. From the time of Abraham; through Jacob and Joseph; Moses; the great prophets, like Elijah and Jeremiah; through to more recent times; from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King.
And nowhere is it said that being a Christian makes us exempt from suffering. The opposite is true.
Jesus is our example. Jesus was the only perfect human being to walk on this earth. Jesus was divine, the Son of God. He was perfection, yet he suffered the worst punishment ever invented by man. Crucifixion. He was not a criminal. He had done nothing wrong. His “crime” was standing up for his faith and for his Father in Heaven.
And it was on this occasion that Jesus remembered his first encounter with Satan (which literally means “adversary”). Peter meant well. He wanted the best outcome for Jesus and his call to faith and belief. And if Jesus was going to broadcast to everybody that his life was going to end crucified as a common criminal – that was rotten PR!
It was as if Jesus was back in the desert after his baptism – and tormented by Satan for 40 days. In each of the 3 temptations Jesus’ response was basically “Get behind me, Satan”. So after tempting Jesus 3 times, we read that Satan departed from Jesus “for a season”. He was not giving up!
So Peter happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He got it wrong. He spoke out of turn. But his words took Jesus back to those earlier temptations.
Was Jesus angry at Peter? I don’t think so. Yes: He was angry at Satan for returning. Yes: He disappointed that Peter let his guard down. But I think he spoke with sorrow in his voice. Not by yelling at the person, but by a quiet, soft voice.
Peter’s mistake was that he was thinking in a human way and not in a spiritual way. Jesus tells us about the spiritual way:
- We must deny ourselves. In every part of our lives we are to say no to ourselves and to say yes to everything God’s way – to make God the ruling principle or passion in our lives. By denying our self means we give total assent to God.
- We must take up our cross. Jesus’ life was a life of self sacrifice and it led him to the Cross. His life was a life of constant self-sacrifice – so too should our lives. We should live lives of constant sacrificial service to God, and like Jesus, life lives of service to others, concerned for their needs.
- We must follow Jesus Christ. It is no coincidence that a follower of Jesus is called a Christian. And put very simply, to be a Christian is to be Christ-like. To live a life as if we were travelling each day with Jesus himself.
As Jesus sums it up:
“25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Suffering will always be a part of our human existence. It will strike suddenly. And it will be difficult for us to endure.
But we follow the example of Jesus and we know that, whatever we are suffering, he is always there:
Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you
He is willing to aid you:
He will carry you through. [“Yield not to temptation”]