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  • joelpukallus

Getting what we deserve.

Matthew 16:21-28 - NIV

21 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.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 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.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”


Jesus' words to Peter here are fascinating. He has changed so quickly from blessing to cursing! In the same chapter as Jesus congratulated Peter for saying you are the Messiah the son of the living God, and told him that this was not revealed to him from human means but from God, here only a few verses later when Peter rebukes Jesus and says that suffering and death should never happen to him, Jesus turns it around and says "you do not have in mind the concerns of God but merely human concerns. Get behind me Satan!"

Jesus had said “cross”, and Peter had thought “crown.”

It's not a very attractive thought denying yourself and taking up your cross, is it? We don’t want the hardship. We want our faith to result in the good life, the easy run, blessings and protection and good health and everything we would ever want or need.

But Jesus has promised to be everything we want or need. All that we need we find in him, in his Kingdom, and we can give up trying to get all these things for ourselves, this headlong consumerist rush that most people seem to be involved in of buying more and more.

And I certainly don’t claim to be any exception. I am sure I get frequent flyer miles with the parcel delivery people, who all know me by name.

But happiness is not proportional to how many things we own. The idea that “I'll just be happy when I get this or get that” never works.

What we need is to look at now what we need, but what we have. In other words: to be thankful.

I personally believe that Seminaries the world over have fallen a little bit into the trap of academizing the faith. In other words, making it all about what you know, and not about forming the person spiritually.

What was of far greater significance in my time at the Seminary, as it was called then, than the two languages I had to learn, or the systematic theology lectures, was what happened to me in the first two years.

And where this could be seen was not in my exam scores, or in my assignments, but it was in my prayers. And because of the very nature of prayer, it was something that was known only to me. It could not be marked or graded, and perhaps no-one else even knew it. But it was crucial in my life and faith, and in the development of what I would like to hope is just the beginning of some sort of Christian maturity.

I once had a lecturer tell me that I did not know the bible well enough. I could not quote you what chapter and verse a bible quote came from. And maybe they were right. But that did not bother me too much. Satan could do that. But it didn’t help him.

What I learned above anything else in my first two years at the Seminary was what I deserve. Or perhaps, put more correctly, how little I deserve.

My prayers before I went there, and when I arrived were all a little bit entitled. They were all about the needs I had which I wanted filled. Like many people I consoled myself with the fact that I was praying for others as much as myself, so it wasn’t all just selfish, but I still was using God as the genie in the lamp, that I could give a rub now and then and get my wishes granted. And that was what most of my prayers consisted of.

And then while I was there immersed in the life of the Seminary, a realisation came over me. I heard and studied the law in God’s word. I learned just how rebellious I was, that a loving God had made me for relationship with him, and I, along with all other human beings had decided that I was in charge, not him, and that I had broken his rules and thumbed my nose at him, and then, worse, that I had then thought I had the right to demand that he do what I wanted!

What I had the right to do, because of my sinfulness, was to die.

But I learned, and I lived the love of God. I learned what he had done to bring me back to him, how Jesus had come, as part of God’s ancient plan put in motion, how he had died, and risen again, and offered me that same life. I had been baptised into that as a baby, and in that baptism into his death, I had entered into his life.

And I realised one day all of a sudden that my prayers had changed dramatically. Sometimes there was still an element of asking God for what I needed. And that’s okay. God loves to come to the aid of his people. And he wants us to ask him.

But before I would get to that I would spend time telling God how sorry I was for everything that I had said and done that had grieved his heart, and then I had spent a lot of time thanking God that I was not a smouldering pile of ashes, or in eternal torment, or damned to be without him because of my arrogance and pride.

I would thank him for Jesus, who chose the cross instead of the crown, I would thank him for everything I had been given, and the list just didn’t seem to end.

I am not saying any of this to brag, or to claim some sort of spiritual maturity for myself. But this was life-changing for me. It was an understanding at a heart level of the law’s work convicting me, and of the glorious grace of the Gospel.

Every now and then I need a reminder.

How little I deserve!

How much I have!

And if I deserve so little, and I have so much, then I am not alone in this. Other people need this knowledge, and the hope that it brings. They need to know what they deserve, and the wonder of what they have.

The test of whether any sort of Christian maturity has grown in me, and in you, is in how we now relate to others on the basis of this knowledge.

Can I claim to understand and know the gospel of grace at all if I can’t show it to someone else, forgiving them when they wrong me, overlooking small offences, asking for their forgiveness, striving to live at peace, going to them when I have a problem with them over something to find out the truth rather than going off on the basis of gossip.

I deserve so little, and have been given so much. Do I really understand how much, if it cannot be seen to be flowing out of me? If not, I have to go back to the law and really have it imprinted on me how little I deserve. I deserve judgement. How dare I judge anyone else?

I need to forget my crown, and think cross. Not just Jesus’ cross, but my cross.

And so do you.


Lord, make us mature in your love. Let us love one another, for love comes from you. And help us to be thankful for everything you have given us. Thankyou that we are baptised into your death. And because of that, you don’t give us what we deserve.


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