The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesare′a Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Eli′jah; and others one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he charged them to tell no one about him. 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” 34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37 For what can a man give in return for his life? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Get behind me Satan, Ilya Repin 1895
The difference between a conviction and a belief is that a conviction is something you would die for. It is something to which Jesus would ask you to carry your cross.
Traditional, biblical numbers include the numbers 1, 3, 7, 10, 12, 40 and 70. There may be others. Then, there are two numbers, not biblical but certainly memorable. They are the numbers 9 & 11. Whenever an American hears those numbers, there is a deep sense of regret and sadness, mixed with respect and gratitude. We regret and are sad over the loss of 2,977 souls who within minutes after four commercial aircraft were used as explosive devices to crash into the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvanian field. 2,977 people died on 9/11. They included people who were travelling to see their families, businessmen and women, mothers, fathers, children, policeman, firemen, doctors and nurses, and even a chaplain. 9/11.
Those two numbers put together are also the call sign for an emergency. Whenever you get in a dire situation, you can always call 911 and someone will be on the other side to help. When there is pain, suffering and death involved, we need help. Do you ever wonder if we are living in a time when we need to call 911 to our Lord and Savior to give us a hand? Who do we believe he is? Superman? Can he really save the world? Many question the presence of God during times of great historical consequence such as 9/11. God could have prevented the terrorists from driving those planes and all those people to their death. God could have kept the building intact until the last person was evacuated safely. God could have helped those passengers pull up after they stormed the cockpit. He did not, but did He give us warning?
In the Bible, there are epoch moments where God allowed death and destruction and the warnings He gave in advance. He warned the people in Noah’s day about a flood. He warned Pharoah that he should let his people go. He warned the rulers in Jerusalem what would happen if they did not receive His Son. What do you believe? Do you believe God creates such death and destruction or does God simply stand by, giving us warnings if we do not trust in Him?
In Proverbs, the author King Solomon addresses this question. He talks about God’s wisdom in this way. “Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the gates she speaks: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?’ Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; Because I have called and you refused, and because you have ignored my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity.”
Who knows the number of people who have called out for help; who sought wisdom, but died anyway in the street, the building, the field? Believing God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient is one thing. Convicted by God’s presence, power and knowledge in all places and in all things is quite the other. You can believe that someone loves you, but are you convicted that they would die for you?
There was a lot of love on 9/11. Many saw the opportunity to help another in distress. It would cost their life. They called for help and people came to rescue. Was it all in vain? Was it necessary? What do you believe? National unity and even church attendance rose in strength and power, the likes that our country has not seen since WWII. Is it possible that God works in such moments to quicken not only our belief in Him, but places conviction in our hearts as well? Monuments have a way of making us believe in the sacrifices of others, but until you let that memory turn into reality, there is no conviction. The architects of the reconstruction of the World Trade Center could have built new buildings that were taller and bigger than before, but they chose not to do that. Instead, a hole, where water perpetually flows into but never quite fills it. Everything we live for; we may have to die for. We may have to empty ourselves in order that God can renew us. God warns that belief without conviction is like a building, always in peril and subject to fall.
Jesus asks the legitimate question to his disciples. Who do you say that I am? Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” This is what he believed, but Jesus wanted more than belief. He wanted conviction. This is why he spelled out, gave warning for what was to come. There will be an assault, a hijacking by those of misplaced religious zeal, who do not walk in covenant with me. They will make every attempt to destroy my body, my temple, my building because of intolerance, anger and envy. They will bring me to the ground where there is only blood, tears and dust. There will be an ashen hole where a cross was planted. They will wonder how someone like me, who became so elevated, so endeared with great promise for our future, could be lowered in a short period of time. But I will be raised up. Death will have no hold on me, and I will ascend once more. Peter believed in the high tower, the sure defense of what he saw in Jesus presently. He would not be attacked. Peter would not let that happen. We speak bolding during times, prior to calamity, when warnings are given. “That isn’t going to happen. Not on my watch.” “Oh, it’s going to happen,” says Jesus. “You can count on that.”
We are so much like Peter. We believe that God is held in our Bibles, but what happens on the day your Bible is burned? We believe that Jesus will overturn tyranny, but what happens when freedom is taken? We believe the Holy Spirit will heal us, but what happens when we hear those words, ‘It is terminal?” Your beliefs had better turn into convictions, because there will be times when you have to die for them.
Will you pick up your cross and follow Jesus or will you refuse to listen to God’s wisdom? Peter did and Peter was rebuked. We are under attack by the spiritual warfare of good verses evil; righteousness verses sin; life verses death. When we can come to the understanding that we are already dead, dead in Christ Jesus, marked for everlasting life, then we live with conviction. Never be ashamed of Jesus and for who he is. There will be more attacks and there will need to be more heroes. That is simply how God has created it to be. It is a field of crosses, which mark those who not only believed in sacrifice but were convicted to carry out the mission God gave them.
Sometimes your cross will be too heavy to carry, but God’s wisdom and mercy will prevail during your time of need. When those 2,977 cries for help went out on 9/11 God heard them all. They forfeited their lives in order for God to show them the eternal world designed for all who believe; for all who at that brief moment were convicted that there would be more. Those who took life thought they were going to go to heaven, but they did not. No one goes to heaven by taking the life of an innocent, defenseless and unsuspecting soul.
If you want to follow Jesus, you must deny yourself and have the conviction to die for another who is in harm’s way. Would you run into danger or away from it? What would you die for? What do you believe? What are your convictions? Live the life that Christ showed us. If you love the other, for them, you must pick up your cross.