“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – I Corinthians 1:18
The disciples never liked the idea of the cross.
Peter, a former zealot, especially hated the suggestion that Jesus would suffer at the hands of the Roman Empire and the Jewish religious leaders Peter so detested.
When Jesus predicted his impending suffering, Peter rebuked him, saying “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus responded by telling his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Still convinced that Jesus would lead some kind of political uprising, the disciples argued amongst themselves about who would reign beside him when he became king. Time and again Jesus reminded the disciples that his kingdom belonged not to the powerful or the violent, but to the gentle, the peacemakers, and the least of these.
But Peter fought against this idea until the bitter end.
When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, Peter took a sword and began fighting Jesus’ enemies, even cutting a guy’s ear off. But Jesus stopped Peter, and in a truly subversive act, healed his assailant instead. It was at this moment that Matthew reveals “all the disciples left Him and fled,” leaving Jesus to face his execution alone.
They were frightened and embarrassed.
Jesus showed no sign of fighting back, no sign of returning violence for violence, no sign of “acting like a man.”
Peter famously denied even knowing him.
In fact, Scripture reveals that it was the women who rallied around Jesus during his crucifixion, and consequently it would be women who would first witness his resurrection. Because of their faithfulness, they were the first bearers of the good news.
As the Apostle Paul would later write, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” The cross is counter-intuitive for all people, but it can be especially hard to carry for men whose instincts and culture reinforce the old way of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Traits like gentleness, peacemaking, self-control, and non-violence are considered by our culture to be feminine qualities, not masculine ones, and so it should come as no surprise that the life and message of Jesus can be a turn off to men who consider such a lifestyle foolish.
As we have seen this week, there is even a push among some Christian groups to make the Church more attractive to men by celebrating violence and purging from the church any qualities or people that might be deemed “effeminate.”
But as Jesus tried to explain to his disciples, the cross is not about indulging oneself, but about denying oneself. Rather than conforming Christ to our notions of masculinity, we must conform our notions of masculinity to Christ.
And after the resurrection, the disciples did just that.
According to tradition, Peter would be crucified upside down.
Stephen was stoned.
Paul was imprisoned.
And Phillip not only welcomed the effeminate Ethiopian eunuch into the Church but also baptized him and sent him out to share the gospel with other people.
As Dan has often said to me, “Following Jesus doesn’t always feel natural to me…but isn’t that the point?”
We all have our thorns in the flesh that make us embarrassed by the cross. We all have times when we want so badly to introduce other people to Jesus that we try to downplay the radical nature of his teachings. I am as guilty of this as anyone else, and the fact that I hate to lose an argument makes me identify with Peter more than I care to admit.
But Jesus never promised that following him would be easy. He only promised that it would be worth it.
We are not charged with changing the gospel; we are changed with changing ourselves.
So what’s your thorn in the flesh? What instincts and desires do you struggle to let go of in order to take of your cross and follow Jesus?