27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
What I am learning:
N. T. Wright has taught me that many people in Jesus' day expected the messiah to heal the sick, raise the dead, make the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the mute to speak, the lame to walk, to preach good news to the poor AND to lead the Jewish people in a military revolt to kick out the Romans. The messiah's role was to be a general/priest/king to restore the nation to independence and to faithfulness as God's holy nation.
Many people have wondered why Jesus would ask his disciples to keep his identity a secret. This is commonly called the "messianic secret." Since I have read NT Wright and understood better the role of the messiah, it hasn't been such a mysterious thing. If the people expected the messiah to be the general of a revolutionary army they might well form army and expect Jesus to lead it. So he asked them to keep this secret so that a common expectation of the messiah didn't get ahead of him.
It makes sense to me, anyway.
So then he talks about taking up your cross. The Romans typically only crucified revolutionaries. To take up your cross is to engage in revolutionary activity, knowing full well what the consequences might well be. One of his disciples would need to engage in such revolutionary activity.
But revolutionary activity with a twist. Jesus himself would reject violence as a method of revolutionary change. He would even reject the idea that the revolutionary change is only for the people of Israel. He would be killed in his innocence, but would love his enemies and so reveal both the violence of the Romans. His resurrection would reveal God's love for him, and for all people. This, I think, he thought would embolden ever increasing numbers of people to participate in God's reign - courageously engaging in nonviolent public leadership until all are included in God's love.
While the cross is no longer a tool used to intimidate populations, there are still tools being used in this way. While the Romans are no longer in charge, empire still worms its way into our societies. While we are not in an occupied territory, we still do not live as we might. Jesus is not just calling people to believe a few words about him, but to join him in nonviolent public leadership–trusting that the God of life and love will have their back.
Trusting this is the key to a joyful life.