Resurrection Sunday: At the Table with Jesus

October 21, 2019

On Resurrection Day, nearly 2000 years ago, two disciples, according to Luke 24, were transformed by their experience of the risen Messiah at a table in Emmaus.

While walking to Emmaus, they heard the story of a Messiah who must first suffer and then enter glory. The stranger who walked with them expounded Scripture, and their hearts burned within them as they saw the story of God in new ways. As the Scriptures were opened, so were their hearts.

At a table in the city of Emmaus, the stranger took the bread, blessed God, broke it, and gave it to the two disciples. In that moment, the risen Messiah was “made known” to these disciples “in the breaking of the bread.”

What happened in the “breaking of the bread?” What continues to happen “in the breaking of the bread?” At the table, the living Messiah is “made known” within the community of disciples. When disciples of Jesus are gathered around the table, Jesus is present, and—more than present—Jesus is revealed.

Jesus said as much earlier in Luke: “This is my body” and “This cup…is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20).

Of course, the problem is the meaning of “is”? It depends on what the meaning of “is” is, right?

Paul expands the “is” in 1 Corinthians 10:16: is not the breaking of bread a sharing in the body of Christ and “is not the cup a sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we participate or share in the blessing of and commune with the one who gave himself for us. We share in the benefits of God’s work in Christ; we experience the reality the body and blood of Jesus procures for us. We experience peace with God, and at the table we are not only assured of God’s grace but God also gives grace there.

Luke also provides his own explanation in Luke 24:35. At the table, the living Jesus is “revealed” or “made known.” The relationship between the sign (bread and wine) and the thing signified (body and blood) is not merely symbolic or representative, but neither is its nature or substance changed.

The bread and wine become a means by which the living Christ is revealed. It is an “epiphany,” which reveals and visibly communicates the reality of the living Christ in the community. The table becomes more than a cognitive remembrance where we learn something about Christ. The table becomes a means by which we experience the living Christ and participate in the reality of the new creation, inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus.

At the table, Jesus reveals the future, we remember the future, and we experience the future. The table is an “ephipany”—we see the future! Death will not win; Christ has already won!

Every resurrection day, disciples all over the world gather around a table, and there the living Christ is “made known.” We not only learn about Christ, we experience Christ. We not only learn about the new creation inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus, we taste it!

Blessed be the name of the Lord, who did not leave us in the dust of death but has given us new life through Jesus, who is our life.


Resurrection: The Vindication of Jesus

October 17, 2019

The early preaching of the apostles in the Book of Acts has a rather consistent refrain. The Roman and Jewish authorities, the powers that ruled the world in Palestine, crucified Jesus, but God raised him from the dead. They condemned him, but God vindicated him. They rejected him, but God chose him as the chief cornerstone of God’s new temple. In Jesus, God sided with the innocent, the oppressed, and the persecuted. God justified Jesus in the flesh through his resurrection.

According to the apostle Paul, Jesus was delivered over to death for our offenses and was raised for “our justification” (Romans 4:25) so that we might be saved by “his life” (Romans 5:10). But first it was the justification of Jesus himself. When God raised Jesus from the dead the judgment of death (curse) was reversed and the just, innocent one was vindicated. This is the “mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16). Death did not win. The resurrection of Jesus destroys death, and his resurrection became our resurrection. When Jesus was raised from the dead, it was a pledge of our own resurrection. We were, in effect, raised with Jesus.

This is a significant event in the life of Jesus and in our lives because his resurrection is our resurrection.

First, our resurrection with Jesus is the presence of God’s transforming Spirit. The life we now live is not our own–it is the resurrected life of Jesus (Romans 6:11; Galatians 2:20). We live in the power of the life-giving Spirit who has given us “new life” in Christ. The presence of the Spirit is God’s gift by which God transforms us into the image of Christ. Thus, the present experience of the transforming power of the Spirit bears fruit in us and is a foretaste of our full redemption by the power of the Spirit in the future resurrection (Romans 8:11-12).

Second, our resurrection with Jesus also transforms our experience of death. 
Since God has defeated death, we no longer fear its hostile grip. Consequently, our experience of death is transformed from hopelessness, fear, and despair into hope, expectation, and anticipation. Though we no longer fear death we hate it as it defaces God’s good creation.

Third, our resurrection with Jesus in our “spiritual” bodies enables full communion with God in the new heaven and new earth.
 Since God has raised Christ with a “spiritual body,” we yearn for our spiritual bodies when we will experience the fullness of God’s Spirit in the new heaven and new earth. Indeed, the indwelling Spirit is our promise that we will be raised, and the power of the Spirit that now works in us to transform us into divine glory will transform our broken bodies into the glorious body of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:21). Our present mortal, weak, and broken bodies will be transformed into immortal, powerful, and glorious bodies. We will have bodies energized and empowered by the full transforming presence of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

The resurrection is God’s pledge to perfect the world in new creation. God acted decisively to reverse the effects of Good Friday. The resurrection is God’s pledge to birth a new heaven and a new earth and liberate the cosmos from its bondage. The resurrection is new creation.


The Messiah Abandoned

October 14, 2019

Dying on that Friday afternoon, Jesus shouted to God, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). This expressed profound emotion. It gave witness to the depth of his human experience. It was an honest exclamation and an authentic question. But it did not so much accuse as it laments, and this arises from the intimacy Jesus shared with the Father.

Some hear the cry as a kind of relational abandonment where the Father “turns his back” on Jesus because Jesus had become sin in that moment. Others hear the cry as an expression of some sort of tear within the Triune God where God experiences alienation within God’s own life such that the communion between the Father and Son is, in some real sense, broken.

Certainly, the Father mourns the death of the Son, and through the experience of the Son the Father also suffers with the Son because of their transparent, shared intimacy. Also, the Spirit, who has rested upon the Son since his baptism, groans with the Father and the Son in this moment. The pathos of suffering is not alien to God. Through the Son, God suffers, and God suffers as Father, Son, and Spirit. The cross is the mourning of God; it is a divine as well human lament.

But the unity of the Trinity is not ripped apart in this moment. Their communion does not waver. The Son trusts the Father, and, quoting Psalm 31:6, the Son entrusts himself to the Father (Luke 23:46). The Father does not abandon Jesus in death, and neither does the Son lose faith in the Father. The Triune communion remains fully intact.

Rather than relational abandonment, the cross is the moment where the Son is embraced by the Father’s love and the Spirit continues to rest upon him. This is wonderfully depicted by Mashacho’s Masaccio’s fresco (1425-1426) in the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, Italy.

The fresco is high on the wall. As we lift our eyes we first see Jesus hanging on the cross, then we see the Spirit, as a dove, hovering like a mother bird over the Son, and then finally the Father, facing the cross, extending loving arms toward the Son. We see the Trinity gathered—one on the cross, one resting on the head of crucified one, and one towering in the background.

The Father stands behind the cross with his arms stretched out as if embracing the Son as he hangs on the cross. Far from turning his back on the Son, the Father loves the Son, encircles the Son, and assures the Son of the Father’s love.

The Spirit, as a dove, rests upon the Son. Just as the dove descended on the Son at his baptism and anointed him with power, and just as the Spirit led the Son into the wilderness and throughout his ministry, so now in death the Spirit is still with the Son.

The Trinity is united at the cross; there is no break in the triune communion.

At the same time, the Father abandoned the Son to death, but the Father did not abandon him on the cross. The Father abandoned the Son to death, but the Father did not abandon him in death. The Father abandoned the Son, just like the Father does us, to the grave, but the Father did not abandon the Son in the grave. By the power of the Spirit, who rests upon the Son, the Father raised the Son from the dead, just as the Father by the power of the Spirit will raise us from the dead in the likeness of the Son.

The cross teaches us that God may abandon us to death, but God will not abandon us in the grave. This is our hope, and it is our comfort.


The Messiah on the Cross

October 10, 2019

The death of Jesus the Messiah is an enigma in so many ways. Something happened at the cross that changed the world. But exactly how and in what way is not absolutely clear. On the contrary, whatever happened on the cross between God, Jesus, humanity, and the cosmos lies deep within recesses of the heart and mind of God. It is a mystery that transcends our understanding, but we are not left clueless.

While there are many different ways to understand the cross, and Christian history has debated them for centuries, each Gospel tells the story of the Messiah’s trial and death. Each has their own message and emphasis. Each expresses the mystery in a particular way, and Luke’s Gospel is particularly poignant because, in part, it is particularly enigmatic. Luke’s passion narrative quotes Jesus three times, and each saying of the crucified Jesus points us to both the inscrutability and transformative nature of the Messiah’s cross.

Surrounded by people who falsely accused him, mocked him, beat him, divided his last possessions among themselves, and nailed him to the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” The cross and forgiveness are an unnatural pair, but, in part, the cross is designed for forgiveness. The blood of the new covenant forgives sins, and because of the cross—somehow and in some way—we receive God’s forgiveness.

When one of the criminals crucified with the Messiah, confessed his guilt, recognized the innocence of Jesus, and asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom, Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The sign over the head of Jesus read, “The King of Jews.” The cross, as unlikely as it seems, is a kingdom moment. Indeed, it is the moment when Jesus absorbs all the evil that the powers—whether spiritual or political—throw at him. Jesus surrenders himself to the will of God through obedience for the sake of the kingdom of God. The cross is the not the victory that evil powers imagine but the beginning of their fall. Even on the cross, the kingdom of God testifies to its sovereignty over evil. Evil will not win.

When darkness covered the whole land and the sun no longer shined, Jesus, in a loud voice, cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The cross, we might think, is that last place we might entrust ourselves to God’s purposes and trust that God is able to give meaning even to the most despicable evils committed by the powers. Nevertheless, though the cross had no seeming purpose as an innocent and good person died there, its meaning was global, cosmic, and redemptive.

If we had been standing before the cross some two thousand years ago, there was nothing about that scene that announced the forgiveness of sin, victory over evil, and trust in God’s good work. Crucifixion was a place of imperial vengeance, defeat through death, and mocking by one’s enemies. Indeed, we probably would have wondered, as we often do today, where is God in this? Why does not God save this innocent one from death? Why did God abandon the Messiah?

Whatever our reasonings, the Messiah himself sought forgiveness for his persecutors, hoped in the victory his death entailed, and died with a profound trust in the God of Israel. What gives birth to such merciful love, expectant hope, and trusting faith? Jesus knew that though God abandoned him on the cross, God would not abandon him in the grave. The cross was not the final act in the theodrama; there is more to the story.


When Darkness Reigns—the Messiah Crucified

October 7, 2019

Text: Luke 22:39-23:56

Though there are several aspects of the movie that disturb me, one of the treasures I found in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” is how darkness pervades the first third of the film. He captures the mood, but not only the mood—he captures the reign of darkness on that Friday.

The account of the crucifixion in the Gospel of Luke begins and ends with darkness. As the temple guards, elders, and chief priests arrest Jesus in the garden, Jesus announces, “this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:52). Darkness reigned till Jesus breathed his last, and Jesus died in darkness as God blocked out the sun (Luke 22:44). Good Friday was a dark day, epitomizing the darkness that enveloped the world; symbolizing the darkness that has choked the world since humanity was exiled east of Eden. Good Friday was the hour of evil’s triumph. On that day, Satan’s reign tyrannized the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah.

The passion narrative provides amble evidence of that tyranny, and unfortunately, it is evident in our own world today. When darkness reigns….

• Good people fail to pray
• Friends betray friends
• Swords are drawn
• Disciples deny their teacher
• The innocent are convicted
• The guilty are released
• The law is subverted for interests of power and control
• The righteous are mocked
• Women weep over the loss of their children
• Soldiers demean and torture others
• The condemned insult each other
• The blameless are executed

Luke’s picture is shrouded in gloom from the garden to the cross, but his canvass also has rays of light. A dawning sun also breaks into the darkness (Luke 1:78-79).

Even as darkness reigns, Jesus reveals the light of the kingdom. Even when darkness reigns, the kingdom of God cannot be smothered and snuffed out. Instead, beautiful and profound colors appear.

Though darkness reigns….

• Kingdom people refuse to use the sword even when threatened; Jesus said “No more of this!”
• Kingdom people pursue the will of God despite the consequences; Jesus said, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”
• Kingdom people confidently anticipate with hope the fulfillment of kingdom; Jesus said, “the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
• Kingdom people weep for the brokenness of the world rather than over their own suffering for the sake of the kingdom; Jesus said, “do no weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”
• Kingdom people forgive their persecutors; Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.”
• Kingdom people invite others into the kingdom; Jesus said, “today you will be with me in paradise.”
• Kingdom people trust in God’s work despite the reign of darkness; Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Kingdom people follow Jesus. They, like Simon from Cyrene, pick up the cross and follow Jesus. Kingdom people assault the powers of evil by submitting to the will of God and trusting in the promise of the coming kingdom. Kingdom people follow Jesus. Darkness reigned on Good Friday, but the kingdom of God also broke into that darkness. Even as darkness reigns in our day, as kingdom people, we are called to follow Jesus, and it may take us to a cross.


The Messiah Serves the Table

October 3, 2019

On the evening before his arrest, Jesus reclined at a Passover table with his disciples. At this meal, Jesus is aware of the conspiracy to kill him. This is Jesus’s last meal with his disciples before his death.

“While they were eating,” the Gospel of Mark says, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. By this, Jesus conformed the breaking of the bread to a Passover meal and, at the same time, gave it a fuller meaning when he said, “This is my body.”

Just as the bread of the Passover represented life and liberation, so the body of Jesus does the same. Bread is what nourishes life, and the body of the Messiah nourishes believers in their shared life. Eating together, disciples share a community grounded in the gift of Messiah’s body just as Israel ate with God on Mount Sinai. In effect, Jesus says “my body” will give new life to Israel.

In the same way with the cup, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Jesus alludes to the sacrificial system of Israel, and the Passover meal gives his words special meaning. The blood of the Lamb gives life. Jesus is the Passover lamb whose blood renews covenant with Israel.

This language, “the blood of the covenant,” takes Jewish readers back to Mount Sinai in Exodus 24 when God inaugurated his covenant with Israel and ate with Israel (Exodus 24:8-11). Moreover, Zechariah 9:9-11 suggests the blood of the covenant frees prisoners; it is liberation. The King who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey is a liberator who “proclaim[s] peace to the nations.” But this king, Jesus, rides to his death rather than into military action. Jesus liberates through suffering rather than through violence.

The blood of Jesus is poured out to free the prisoners, to free the slaves. The suffering servant “poured out his life unto death” and “bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus gives life through suffering and deals with sin through dying. Jesus is the suffering servant of Isaiah who suffers the wounds of exilic Israel and brings new life through his blood. Through his suffering, Jesus ransoms Israel from exile.

The Passover meal now has a new horizon of meaning. The Passover lamb died to liberate Israel from Egyptian bondage. Jesus is the true lamb of God. Through his death, he gives new life and frees us from sin and its power. The original significance of the Passover remains (it still tells the story of Israel), but it is transformed by the new reality that dawns in the death of Jesus.

Jesus shares the cup with his disciples. It is the cup of suffering (cf. Mark 10:39-40; 14:36). They drank it that day in solidarity with Jesus as people committed to the way of suffering even though they would shortly falter in that commitment. They drank the cup Jesus drank. But they did not follow Jesus to the cross. And we, too, often do the same.

But there is more to this table. It also bears witness to the reality of the kingdom of God. The next time Jesus eats and drinks with his disciples it will be in the reality of the kingdom of God. While this includes the future messianic banquet in the new heaven and new earth, it is also about the in-breaking of the kingdom of God into the present. Jesus is the reality of the kingdom in the world, so the bread and wine are also the reality of the kingdom. In this new reality—the kingdom of God—Jesus eats and drinks with us. We eat and drink with the living Messiah whose death has transformed life. This calls us to a different kind of life—one that pursues peace and reconciliation rather than violence and estrangement. When we eat and drink together, we recommit ourselves to that way of life.


The Messiah Comes to the Temple

September 26, 2019

Malachi, one of the last of God’s messengers to Israel, prophesied that the Lord would come to the temple and judge it. On Palm Sunday, King Jesus, riding on a royal donkey, triumphantly entered Jerusalem, and he was hailed as the one who would usher in the kingdom of David. Surrounded by an expectant crowd, he entered the temple, looked at everything, and went home for the evening.

What did Jesus see? The next morning we find out. The King who came to make peace went to the temple to judge his people. Apparently, he did not like what he had seen the previous day.

He saw “buying and selling,” the exchange of money and selling animals in the Court of the Gentiles. This merchandizing, this exploitation of worshippers, profaned the temple courts. Jesus, acting out a prophetic judgment, embodied God’s justice by overturning tables.

The Gospel of Mark justifies this prophetic act of judgment by quoting Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah 65:7 reminded Israel that the temple is for prayer, including the prayers of the nations. The Court of the Gentiles, where the merchandizing was taking place, diverted the purpose of the court from prayer to exploitive money exchanges and economic injustice.

Jeremiah 7:11 accused the temple authorities of treating the temple like a “den of robbers.” In one sense, the temple had become a place for thieves because they defrauded and stole from their neighbors through exploitative practices. In another sense, the temple, as Jeremiah noted, had become a place where injustice hides, a den where robbers hide from judgment. The temple, they thought, cannot come under judgment, and therefore people are safe in the temple. But they were wrong; the temple would come under judgment.

The temple authorities understood the implications of this symbolic act. It was a political act that condemned their authority. The kingdom of God judges all other authorities, and because these authorities feared Jesus’ popularity and message, they decided he must die in order to preserve their power. Whereas Herodians and Pharisees had conspired to kill Jesus in Galilee (Mark 3:6), now the temple authorities in Jerusalem do the same. Ultimately, together, they will gather a different kind of crowd than the one that cried “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday. On Good Friday, they will incite a mob to scream, “Crucify him!” The powers of this world, led by the prince of this world, killed Jesus.

God came to the temple and judged it. When Jewish zealots attempted, through violence, to overthrow the Roman occupation and establish their own kingdom, Jerusalem, with its magnificent temple, fell under the weight of divine judgment.

In the wake of such judgment, how do disciples of Jesus respond? As the Gospel of Mark makes clear in chapter 11, disciples trust God. They pray in faith. They forgive their debtors. In the midst of judgment, disciples live by faith rather than sight, seek reconciliation with others, and pray that God would move mountains.


The Messiah is a Suffering Servant

September 23, 2019

As Jesus and his disciples headed to Jerusalem, he reminded them about what lies ahead. The Son of Man will be betrayed, condemned, flogged, humiliated, and executed though raised from the dead three days later. There must have been an ominous foreboding among the disciples, but their focus is not so much on these future horrendous events as much as it is on their role in the coming reign of the Messiah. They anticipate glory, rank, and power.

James and John approached Jesus with a request. They wanted to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in his glory. When the kingdom fully arrived, they asked for the highest honors in the kingdom. They asked Jesus for hierarchical power.

But they did not understand what they were asking for. Jesus used two metaphors to describe how one becomes great in the kingdom of God. He asked, “Can you drink the cup?” and “Can you be baptized?” Both metaphors point to suffering. Jesus, having just told them about his future in Jerusalem, asked if they are willing to suffer as he will suffer. Are they also willing to suffer for Israel?

Their request angered the other disciples. They have previously, perhaps on many occasions, argued about who is the greatest. Despite Jesus’s focused teaching about greatness and his exemplary life, the disciples still hungered for rank, power, and status in the coming kingdom.

While the disciples thought of greatness along the lines of Gentile kings who exercise power through status and even violence, this is not the nature of greatness in the kingdom of God. A different sort of power-ranking exists in the kingdom of God. It is not rooted in the exercise of power but in service. Greatness is defined by servanthood rather than status.

Jesus did not come to reign like Gentile leaders do. Jesus did not come to be served as if others bowed down to his higher rank and catered to his every need. Instead, he came to serve. He came to die as a “ransom for many.” The mission of Jesus is to serve, and through this service Jesus would become great in the kingdom of God.

That kingdom does call us to greatness through popularity, fame, or even success. The kingdom calls us to greatness through self-giving and service to others. The one who would be first must become last, and the one who would be great must become the servant of all (Mark 9:35).

This is a difficult lesson to learn. It reverses our violent, self-centered human culture; it reverses the American Dream where greatness is about success, wealth, and power. But greatness is not found in awards, honors, and pulpits. Rather, it is found in self-giving service. Greatness is not defined by how many people hear a lesson from a particular pulpit or watch a particular YouTube video; it is defined by those who visit the prisons, the sick, and the oppressed. Greatness is found in service to the least of these, service to those who are last.


God Gives the Messiah Hope

September 19, 2019

When Jesus was anointed with the Spirit at his baptism, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness in order to be tested. When the disciples finally confessed Jesus as the Messiah, they were shocked to hear that now Jesus must suffer and die before the glory of the kingdom comes into the world.

At the moment when Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem and his eventual death, he takes three disciples—Peter, James, and John—onto a high mountain to pray. The disciples, however, sleep, and ultimately Peter says or does something awkward.  These particulars anticipate what will happen in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus will go there to pray, take these same three disciples with him, and they will sleep while he prays, and Peter will say and do something awkward. Jesus now climbs this mountain in order to pray and prepare himself for the coming trials that will test his commitment to the mission of God.

At the same time, this moment on the mountain anticipates his resurrection and ascension into glory. Two figures appear with Jesus, a cloud appears, and glory surrounds Jesus. The glory of this transfiguration, this metamorphosis, is the glory of the resurrection, ascension, and the second coming of King Jesus. Suffering, though necessary, is not Jesus’s final destiny. 

When God transfigures Jesus, the appearance of Jesus changes. Though, in the present, he lived in an Adamic, dying body, his transfigured appearance was one of future glory, the glory of the resurrected Christ. This was a proleptic event in the life of Jesus. In other words, it was the experience of his future glory in the present, the experience of the glory of his resurrection, ascension, and future second coming. In answer to his prayer, the Father encouraged the Son to complete the mission. Jesus is assured that the cross will not be the final act in God’s drama, and the grave will not have the last say.

The transfiguration is a foretaste of the future. Though he will suffer, Jesus will rise again. Though the creation, including human bodies, is bound over to decay, the resurrection of Jesus promises a different future for the creation. The kingdom of God will, one day, fully come. It came in prospect on the Mount of Transfiguration; it came through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; and it will fulyl appear when Jesus returns again.

We stand where the disciples stood. We anticipate death but hope for glory. We lose our lives in order to save them. We follow Jesus to the cross, and we hope for the resurrection. We give up the whole world in order to follow Jesus that we might gain it in the kingdom of God. We believe in the promise of God, we follow Jesus as his disciples, and we wait in the patience of the Holy Spirit for a new heaven and a new earth.

His transfiguration not only promised Jesus a future. His future is our future, and ultimately his transfiguration is our transfiguration as our resurrection bodies will be just like his. Death will not win, and the graves will be emptied. That was the hope of Jesus, and it is our hope as well.


The Messiah Begins the Journey to the Cross

September 16, 2019

The ministry of Jesus generated widespread speculation about his identity. Was he the resurrected John the Baptizer? Or, Elijah? Or, another prophet in the long line of prophets? There was no consensus, but many believed God was doing something through Jesus.

Jesus, however, is most interested in what his disciples think. They had, no doubt, pondered this question many times, and at a key moment in the ministry Jesus, when Jesus is turning his face toward Jerusalem and his death, Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29). It is a bold statement; it is a political statement. It is about the reign of God in the world. God’s anointed king was on the earth. That was dangerous language in the context of imperial Roman occupation, and many claimants to the title had already been executed in the past couple of generations. Peter’s confession is courageous, but Jesus immediately silences him. The message is too provocative, and the time for Jesus’s public witness as Messiah had not yet come. The messianic secret must still be kept.

At once, however, we see a contrast between Jesus’s understanding of his messianic mission and Peter’s take on it. Peter sees glory without suffering; perhaps he sees a great military overthrow of Roman oppression and the imminent enthronement of Jesus as king in Jerusalem. If Jesus can command the demons, death, and waves of the sea, he can certainly defeat the Romans. Peter’s understanding, however, is Satanic. It is the way of violence rather than self-giving love. The political order—the way of sinful humanity—pursues violent means for safety and preservation, but God will secure peace and justice through the suffering of Jesus.

 Jesus understands that there can be no glory without suffering. The Son of Man, the one who ultimately triumphs over the enemies of God, must first suffer death before he experiences resurrection glory. The reign of God comes through suffering rather than military conquest. The cross comes before the crown.

To follow Jesus—to become a disciple—is to deny ourselves and bear a cross. Too often we trivialize this language and tend to think of the cross as only the symbol of love and reconciliation that it has become in the history of Christianity. But in Roman occupied Palestine, it was a symbol of horror, pain, and shame. Using the word cross, Jesus pointed to the manner of his own death.

Following Jesus involves a willingness to suffer for the sake of the kingdom of God. Following Jesus means taking up a cross–putting that crossbeam on our backs–and dying with Jesus. To take up the cross means to follow Jesus to a cross. If we followed Jesus into the water, we must also follow him to a cross. The ministry of Jesus has now turned a corner. His disciples confess him as the Messiah, and Jesus begins to tell those disciples how this will mean his suffering and death. They can’t fathom that, but Jesus knows what lies ahead. After several years of ministry among the Jews in Galilee, Jesus now turns his face toward Jerusalem where death awaits him.