Thursday, March 05, 2015

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty: An Unusual King

            Jesus asked his disciples the most important question in all of life: “Who do you say that I am?” This is the most important question, not because our answer changes anything for Jesus, but because it changes everything for us.

Not surprisingly it was Peter who answered for the group: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” I imagine that the disciples were all thrilled to be the inner circle of the Messiah - they had stars in their eyes.

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. (Matthew 16:21) “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Truer words were never spoken, yet there is a shocking difference between saying the right words and understanding their meaning. The word Messiah immediately brought to mind expectations in the hearts of the Jewish people: deliverance, vengeance, restoration of Israel, humiliation of their enemies. These expectation were why Israel eagerly awaited the Messiah! Yet when Jesus defined his role as Messiah, he did not reference any of these ideas. In fact, he spoke only of suffering, rejection by the religious leaders and death. To the disciples this was scandalous and very un-messianic!

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”  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.”(Matthew 16:22-23) Since Peter gave the correct answer regarding Jesus’ identity, he decided that he should be the one to instruct Jesus about what it meant to be the Messiah. Peter rebuked Jesus and informed him that these bad events would never happen to him. It was preposterous to Peter that Jesus could be Messiah and also be killed. Of course, Jesus did not want to die either, but he knew that his death was intimately connected to his role as Messiah. Jesus acknowledge the tension he faced by calling Peter Satan and telling him that he had in mind the things of men and not of God. Peter should have been paying close attention at that moment because Jesus shared with him the central struggle of all disciples, keeping our focus and energy on God’s concerns and not human concerns.  

It is hard to imagine a more difficult conversation between Jesus and his disciples because Jesus overturned their entire worldview concerning the identity and role of the Messiah! And then without pause he overturned their understanding of what they could expect as disciples. Far from the positions of authority they imagined for themselves, Jesus spoke of laying down their lives, taking up a cross and following Jesus down the road of rejection, suffering and death. This was hardly an appealing offer.

            But then, on the other side of all that suffering, pain and death – GLORY! The glory of the Son of Man coming to reward people for what they have done; the glory of the Son of Man coming in his kingdom; the glory of having made a wise choice to follow an unusual king!

   - Kenny Payne

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