Jesus' Bucket List

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“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Are you familiar with the term “bucket list”? It was coined by Justin Zachman, a screenwriter, who created his own list, which he first called “Justin’s List of Things to Do Before I Kick the Bucket.” The first item on his own bucket list was to have a screenplay produced at a major Hollywood studio. Realizing that a “bucket list” could itself be fodder for a film, he wrote a screenplay about two dying men racing to complete their own bucket list. The film, “The Bucket List” was released in 2007, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.
Since that time, a lot of people have created their own bucket lists. Maybe you have one yourself. Visit Paris. Run with the bulls. Swim with the dolphins. Sleep in an igloo. Those are all great things, but notice what they all have in common: each one of them is only thinking about me, what I would like to do. Thankfully, when Jesus made His bucket list, He was thinking about you! (HT: Peter J. Scaer)
What was it? What did Jesus want to accomplish before He died? You just heard it. “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). Jesus’ bucket list: 1) Show His disciples, 2) Go to Jerusalem, 3) Suffer many things, 4) Be killed, and, oh yes, 5) Be raised on the third day.
Not exactly the most fun bucket list, is it? No wonder Jesus’ disciples had problems with it. But a more important bucket list there has never been, or ever will be. For in it is your salvation, indeed, the salvation of the world.
Up to this point, Jesus’ ministry has stirred up many reactions, including the hatred and opposition of powerful and influential people in Israel. Arrayed against Him are the likes of Herod Antipas, the Pharisees and scribes, and the Sadducees. Always before, when the opposition had arisen, Jesus had chosen to withdraw and defer the moment of final conflict. Now, however, He declares that He must face His enemies in Jerusalem, the city where God’s Son should be rightly received with faith and exclaimed with joy, but where He must die. Sin and rebellion will have its way, even as that way is brought into submission and used for God’s plan of salvation. Jesus will die as He gives His life as the ransom payment for many.
Death will not be the end, however. Jesus will be raised to eternal life on the third day. Judging from Peter’s response, the disciples are not able to get past the words about Jesus’ suffering and death. Their religious sensibilities simply do not allow for such a thing, and so they give no evidence here that they have even heard what Jesus has said about being raised from the dead.
Even if they had heard it, however, the disciples would not be able to understand it. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Jesus’ words about being raised on the third day are not predicting that, like a few before Him, He will be revived to physical life only to die once more. No, the promise here is that Jesus, after His death, will be restored to full life in which death has been undone and removed from any contact with His person forever.
No doubt Jesus’ disciples share with the Pharisees and other Jews the belief in the Old Testament teaching that on the Last Day God will raise the dead for a universal judgment—believers to eternal life and unbelievers to everlasting death. But they cannot envision such a thing happening to one man, alone, ahead of the end time. Though they believe in some sense that the end time reign of God is even now coming through the words and deeds of Jesus, they cannot grasp that the full and everlasting resurrection will take place for Him and in Him.
Peter’s response to Jesus gives evidence of something key, both historically and theologically. Historically, Peter’s refusal to accept what Jesus has begun to show them must happen indicates that, whatever the Jewish messianic expectation at the time, it seems to have no room for a suffering and dying Messiah.
Theologically, Peter’s response arises out of the natural way that sinful humans think God would choose to work in the world. God’s way in the world and His reign as King should obviously entail what looks like success, shouldn’t they?
To be sure, Peter does not consciously realize the full implications of what he is saying. He says it with good intentions. But you know what they say: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Realizing the danger, Jesus’ rebuke is savage and unyielding. In the wilderness temptation, Satan had tried to lure Jesus into a path of power, toward the goal of seizing glory, away from lowliness and obedience. Now Jesus’ disciple is urging Him to follow a similar path. Much as Jesus had dismissed the adversary with “Be gone, Satan,” He now tells Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!”
This is no ordinary, but well-meaning confusion on Peter’s part. His words show that he is taking a stand against the Lord and against His Anointed. There are two ways to think about God’s activity in the world, and Peter has chosen to think and to articulate the satanic way, the “things of men.” As a disciple, Peter must begin to open himself to “the things of God.”
Moreover, as Jesus’ following words make clear, Peter and the other disciples are to begin to learn something new about what it means for them to follow this Christ, this Son of God. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). In a sense, it is their bucket list, instructions for Jesus’ disciples how to begin living eternal life in a fallen world that is in its last days.
This speaks volumes about the nature of the world, as well as the plan of God in Christ to reclaim the world and reign over it in grace. The world is filled with violent men. All, by nature, are such, and all such would seek to snatch away the reign of God and destroy it. But rather than fight, Jesus will yield to those who oppose Him and suffer and die. Only in so doing, by God’s design, can God’s people and all creation be saved from sin and death. Only after dying, will the Christ rise to eternal life, and this sequence can neither be changed nor interrupted.
Accordingly, those who follow Jesus will, in fact, follow the same sequence and path: the cross before the glory, death before life. The first obstacle to such following, however, comes not from the world around. No, the real enemy lies within the heart of every disciple. This reality is so prevalent and deeply rooted in the corrupt human nature that Jesus says a person must “deny himself.”
There probably is no limit to the specific application of what it means to deny oneself as Jesus here teaches and commands. There are so many sinful desires in our hearts! The context here, however, emphasizes two related tendencies that are alive and well in every fallen human being, who, by God’s gracious invitation, wants to be Jesus’ disciple.
The first tendency is to think—and insist—that God’s way of dealing with the world and its evil should conform to our way of thinking. If evil really is evil, shouldn’t God, the Creator of all things, simply come forth in power and might and overcome it? God’s mysterious answer is, simply, no. The Christ Himself will not deal with the world in that way—at least not yet. To deny ourselves means that we will not assume or believe God’s way of working in the world will conform to our expectations or definitions of success or efficiency or glory.
The second tendency is for us to insist that God work in humanly powerful ways, so that we can and must exercise authority over others, especially our fellow disciples, so that we can accomplish what we believe should be done. Living within each one of us is a tyrant who can destroy unity and do untold damage to the cause and name of Christ: “Just put me in charge and I’ll set things right.”
The way of Jesus, however, is the way of humble obedience and submission. When first confronted by the voice of Satan, Jesus set aside His own power as well as the presumption that His Father’s providence would rescue Him from reckless independence. Instead, Jesus chose the way of service and obedience and suffering for the sake of His Church and the world. Now He calls every disciple, every Christian, every one of us, to look at the darkness within, at the desire for power over others, and to deny that desire whenever and wherever it shows itself in our lives. If any of us wants to come after Him, let us deny ourselves!
In the most general terms, then, the daily struggle with sin and self-denial is a form of taking up the cross. More specifically, however, as we live our lives and speak in His name, we can expect to come up against trouble and evil. To take up the cross begins when we acknowledge that discipleship will entail hardship precisely because this is God’s way of reigning graciously in a rebellious world—not paying back evil with evil, but evil with good. Jesus’ bucket list for you and I is simple, but certainly not easy. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”
But as you do, know that the risen and ascended Lord Jesus walks with you every step of the way. Jesus took up His cross that you might be His follower. He laid down His life to gain life for you. Risen again, He has given you new life in your baptism, and He continues to grant you grace by His Word and Supper. As His way of saving the world perplexed Peter, so His way of permitting suffering will perplex you. But just as the Lord did not abandon Peter, neither will He abandon you. The day is coming when the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and many rightly fear that Judgment Day. You do not. Rather, you know that you are already innocent before God for the sake of Jesus, and you know that Judgment Day is the day when your sufferings are finally ended, and only life and glory remain.
All this is yours for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who checked off every item on His bucket list; who showed His disciples, went to Jerusalem, suffered many things, was killed, and on the third day was raised. All of this is yours because, in His name, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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