Matthew16:21-28; Take Up Your Cross; (8-31-14)

By the Rev. Bob Gochenour

 

LOOK! UP IN THE SKY!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? NO! IT’S SUPERMAN!

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive,

Able to leap over tall buildings with a single bound!

 

Like most boys raised in the 60’s; this was a familiar sound.

I spent most of my childhood with a bath towel pinned around my neck and “flying” through the neighborhood as Superman.

I was the Man of Steel.

The comic books and television shows fed my fantasy and imagination.

I would fight for good causes: justice, liberty, the American way.

I would use my super-human abilities: super strength, super vision, super hearing, and the best of all—ability to fly.

No one could defeat Superman!

Bullets wouldn’t stop him—they just bounced off his super muscles.

His legacy has continued to new generations.

When my son Timothy was 6 years old—I watched him put on his Superman cape and fly through the back yard.

It is a good memory.

The delightful and innocent childhood fantasies sometimes creep into our adult philosophy and world view.

Superman can be more than a childhood fantasy.

It is an adult hope.

The story of Superman captures a sense of our own American culture—our understanding of who we are in a mixed-up world.

Superman secures for us the American dream: he stands for goodness, fairness, and protects the innocent from evil.

I think Superman reveals a deep emotional need in our nation.

For we desire a Superman to come and rescue us from crime and despair.

We invented the perfect Super Hero to take away all our fears.

Born to parents from an advanced civilization which was crumbling because of war and violence—His wise and peace loving parents secretly send their baby in a space ship to the planet earth.

He came as a peace ambassador to show us a better life.

He came from another world to straighten out the wrongs of this world.

Superman stands as a great symbol of goodness and fairness.

Superman uses his superhuman strength as he fights all enemies.

Superman is an American icon.

Have you noticed how Superman is connected to American values?

       He works with American police;

       He is a friend with US Army officers;

       He is constantly draped in the American flag;

       His costume is red and blue; with a little yellow.

Clearly, Superman is an American Super Hero.

He is the perfect example of American patriotism.

He is the perfect expression of American values, dreams, virtues.

He is the perfect symbol to teach children the American way.

He is the perfect warrior to end the evils of the world.

The evils of the ’50s & ‘60s were very real:

Communism, the Cold War, nuclear war, Russian spies, mobsters, drugs, the Viet Nam war.

Each of these were enemies to the American way of life!

Superman was an extension of American power to rid the world of all these evils.

Herein lies a problem—Superman became an American Messiah.

A super hero is a modern word for “Savior.”

Superman as our modern savior would:

       Rescue the perishing,

       Care for the dying,

       Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave,

Superman would bring justice, peace, and salvation for modern people living in a world of insecurity.

Superman would establish a world of freedom and liberty—a physical utopia fashioned after the style of our American democracy.

 

THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME THAT PEOPLE DESIRED A SUPERMAN.

Peter wanted a Superman Messiah.

Jesus seemed to fit the bill—he healed the multitude, fed the crowds, walked on water, cast out demons, calmed the storms.

Jesus was a Super man: he taught with wisdom and authority, he unlocked the mysteries of the scriptures, he taught parables, he gave the Sermon on the Mount, and unlocked the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

So when Jesus took the disciples aside and said he was going to suffer and die—Peter could not accept it!

“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22)

Peter’s idea of “Lord” was similar to our idea of Superman.

For Peter: Jesus was Superman.

Jesus came from another planet (God’s heaven) to straighten out the wrongs of this evil, sin-sick world.

       Jesus was anointed with super human strength;

       Jesus performed miracles with super-human abilities;

       Jesus used his super powers to rid the world of evil.

       Jesus fought against all forms of oppression and bondage.

       Jesus was a 1st Century Superman.

Peter was prepared to make Jesus the Superman of the Hebrews.

He wanted to drape Jesus in the Hebrew flag of independence.

He wanted to make Jesus the perfect example of Hebrew patriotism.

He wanted to make Jesus the perfect expression of Hebrew values, dreams, and virtues.

He wanted to make Jesus the perfect symbol to teach children the Hebrew way.

Peter wanted Jesus to become the perfect warrior to end evil in their world.

The evils of the 30’s (0030 AD) were very real:

Roman occupation, Galilean rebels, Zealots, the threat of insurrection, war, Roman spies, tax collectors, Greek culture and pagan gods.

Peter wanted to make Jesus the Hebrew Superman to rid the world of all these evils.

Peter wanted Jesus to be a Hebrew Superman:

Faster than a speeding arrow,

more powerful than a Roman legion,

able to leap over the pinnacle of the temple in a single bound.

 

Jesus rebuked Peter’s Superman theology.

“But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:23)

Jesus defined his divine mission.

He was not sent to be a Superman.

Jesus’ mission was to be a suffering servant: to suffer and die.

He did not come to use his physical super-powers to defeat Rome.

He came to use God’s spiritual power to oppose Satan’s empire.

He did not come to live forever on a Hebrew throne as the new King of Israel.

He came to die on a Roman cross—with a crown of thorns on his brow.

He came to die—so that he could conquer death with resurrection power.

He came to be resurrected to God’s throne and become the King of all the earth.

Jesus made it clear: I AM NOT A SUPERMAN!

Jesus made it clear: I AM A SUFFERING SERVANT!

Jesus made it clear: THIS IS THE WAY WE MUST FOLLOW HIM!

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

This places us in a headlong collision with an American Superman Theology.

How can a dead Superman help us overcome the dangers of the modern world?

How can we follow the way of death?—that is just the opposite of our American dreams!

How can we give up our Superman Jesus? We want the miracles, healings, freedom from oppression, and deliverance from today’s modern evils!

Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow him.

This is Jesus’ invitation to the Christian life—as opposed to the American dream.

“Take up your cross and follow me” = discipleship

To live as a faithful disciple of Jesus, we must die to ourselves:

Give up on our agendas,

give up on our theology,

let our childhood fantasies die,

let out sinful desires die,

choose not to heed our selfish desires,

let our hopes for a Superman Jesus die.

To live as a faithful disciple of Jesus, we must accept resurrection and live for God:

       Understand that Jesus came to be a suffering servant;

Let Christ Jesus become your Messiah;

       Let the Holy Spirit transform your inner person;

       Let God the Father re-form you into His image.

“Take up your cross” means that we have also been called to

       Selfless living;

       Serving others;

       Persecution and misunderstandings;

       Sacrificial giving;

       Giving our time, talents, treasures;

       Allowing God to work through us.

Jesus invites us to give up our Superman theology and follow him:

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”

(Matthew 16:25-26)