From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matt 16: 21-23)
Peter had just affirmed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. He had also been told that he, Peter, would build the church. But when Peter’s ideas of what the Messiah would be and do were turned upside down, he reacted by rebuking the Son of God. Instead of moving into line with God, Peter wanted God to move into line with him. Surely it couldn’t be a good thing for God’s Son to suffer and die! He may have been so horrified by this announcement that he didn’t even hear the part about being resurrected.
How often do we have the arrogance to rebuke God when what we think is the obvious good doesn’t happen? Or when we blithely proceed with what we’re sure God would want, without asking or involving Him in our plans?
When we do these things, we put ourselves in God’s place and presume we know more than He does. When we don’t put ourselves into God’s hands, we become tools of Satan, who knows that taking our focus off what God wants and putting it on what we want is the best way to derail us.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)
Carrying crosses is what we who follow Jesus are called to do. It’s when we don’t shoulder our crosses because of human concerns, and instead leave them lying on the ground, that we stumble over them.
Stumbling can lead to suffering, but not all suffering is because of stumbling. Jesus suffered on the cross to bring about my salvation. His suffering wasn’t outside of God’s plan, but an integral part of it. His suffering had the highest purpose possible, and brought about the greatest good for humankind. It came about because Jesus followed God’s plan, not because he veered from it.
If I can learn to accept God’s leading, to depend on His divine purposes without questioning the wisdom of the mechanism, then He can bring about the good things for which the suffering is designed. It may be a closer walk with Him, a building of the character He desires for me, a lesson in empathy, or any of a thousand beneficial outcomes. I may not be aware of them, but I can be assured of them.
I’m not eager to suffer; far from it. But I pray that when suffering comes — physical, emotional or spiritual — I will lean hard on Jesus to help me to suffer in a way that seeks His strength, His presence, and enables me to fully engage with His purposes.
When I think of what He has done for me, can I do any less for Him?