July 11, 2014

Gospel Stories: Death, Then Life

Matthew 16:21-28

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
—Matthew 16:22


Have you ever noticed how certain kinds of stories tend to follow the same pattern? Romance stories involve two unlikely people falling in love. Mystery stories involve a criminal who needs to be stopped. That’s how categories, or genres, of stories take shape.

In the Bible there’s a genre that we might call gospel stories, involving a death and renewal (resurrection) story line. Tragedy is eventually followed by restoration. Sorrow lasts for a night, and joy comes in the morning. In the Bible we see this pattern again and again.

All of these episodes point to Jesus and his ultimate example of this story type: he was crucified in our place, and then he shocked everyone when he rose again from the dead. Before doing that, however, he invited his disciples to follow the same story line: to take up their cross and follow him.

Many of us have trouble with this aspect of gospel stories. We don’t like the idea of being called to face suffering. We like the idea of new life, but we want no part of the death that inevitably precedes it.

Jesus found that to be true with his disciples. They bristled at his announcement that his victory would require his death. “Get behind me, Satan!” he rebuked them. They didn’t understand his story.

If you’re interested in having your story follow Jesus’ gospel, be prepared for a few surprises.

Jesus, we fear giving up what we are comfortable with, but you invite us to find our life in you. Help us to follow you. Amen.

About the author — Ron Vanderwell

Ron Vanderwell recently became the senior pastor of New Life Church in New Lenox, Illinois. He has been a pastor for 22 years, serving as a church planter for the previous 12 years at The Gathering in Sacramento, California, and before that as a pastor in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Ron and his wife, Deb, have three sons: John, Adam, and Jake. Ron shares more of his reflections on “squinting” for God in his blog at www.squintforgod.com.

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