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.
While I was in college, I will never forget all the news and coverage about Operation Desert Storm. It was the code name for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1991. Have you heard about Operation Moolah? It was a genuine military operation in the early ‘50’s aimed at enticing North Korean pilots to defect during the Korean War. It was called Operation Moolah because the first pilot to defect with his Soviet-built MiG-15 fighter plane would be offered $100,000; A lot of moolah, or money in those days.
If we look up the names of other military operations, we will notice that most describe the mission’s objective or the mode in which the mission was to be carried out. Desert Storm, for example, was called that because the U.S. military was intent on whipping up a storm as it raced across the Iraqi desert to capture Baghdad, the capital city.
In our post text today Jesus defines the divine mission for both himself and for us, Christ followers. Had he given the mission an operational name it could have been the “Cross.” The Apostle Peter, however, objected to this.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Why would he do this? Everyone still expected the Messiah to come as a conquering king, to remove their enemies the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom. Peter certainly found it most unnerving that the King would soon be put to death. His actions show that he really didn’t know what he was saying. If Jesus were going to die, what did this mean for the disciples? If he were truly the Messiah, then what was all this talk about being killed? So Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. The word for “rebuke” is a strong term meaning that Peter was rejecting Jesus’ interpretation of the Messiah as a suffering figure.
Peter, Jesus’ friend and devoted follower who had just eloquently proclaimed Jesus’ true identity, sought to protect him from the suffering he prophesied. But if Jesus hadn’t suffered and died, Peter would have died in his sins. Great temptations can come from those who love us and seek to protect us.
Be cautious of advice from a friend who says, “Surely God doesn’t want you to face this.” Often our most difficult temptations come from those who try to protect us from discomfort.
Peter felt that the divine mission should instead be called something less frightening than “Operation Cross” like “Operation Couch.” He would help rule and make decisions not watch his leader die. But it is the cross, and not the couch, that defines the divine mission for Christ and Christians. Those who don’t accept this are allies of Satan and will lose their life for eternity.
Jesus replies 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.”
Cephas was now a Satan? Wasn’t Jesus overreacting? Hadn’t Peter meant well by insisting that Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die? He may have meant well but Peter had inadvertently lobbed at Jesus one of the temptations Satan himself had used in the wilderness after Jesus’ baptism. At that time Satan had told Jesus that if he wanted to receive glory and honor from all the nations, he didn’t have to bloody himself on the cross. He could just bow down to him instead. Satan was offering Jesus a crown without the cross. But Jesus knew that there would be no crown for us if he did not endure the cross.
“You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” Jesus told Peter. That’s still true of those who are offended by the cross of Jesus and think that a suffering savior is overkill. Why, “Just be good!” Isn’t that enough to gain entrance into heaven? Did you notice, however, that Jesus equated “the things of men” with the thoughts of Satan?
Whenever someone thinks that he just needs to follow the Golden Rule and “do unto others as he would have them do unto him,” these seemingly pious thoughts cause great delight in hell. Satan’s goal is not to make this world a living hell where murderers and child molesters roam the streets uncontested. He’s quite content to have a world full of law-abiding citizens who mow the lawn for the shut-in down the street and who return dropped $20 bills instead of pocketing them as long as these people think that by doing these good acts they don’t need the cross of Christ.
But telling Jesus that he didn’t need to suffer and die would be like telling your insurance company that it doesn’t need to pay for the damage you did to your car. If the insurance company isn’t going to pay, then who is? Someone has to if your car is going to get fixed. Likewise if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross, we would still be on the hook for our sins. Ditch the cross and leave us sinners to fend for ourselves? Aren’t you glad Jesus put Peter in his place? Aren’t you glad that Jesus understood well that the divine mission outlined for him was defined by the cross and not the couch?
The cross, not the couch! That’s the divine mission.
Back to Desert Storm, I read about young man who’d been called up to go to Iraq, because our nation had declared war on Saddam Hussein.
The problem for this young man was – he didn’t want to go. He explained that he hadn’t joined the army to go to war, he’d joined because of the benefits: the pay, the college tuition, the insurance, etc. How does that sound to you? To me, I understand that one of the primary functions of the military is to prepare for war. Surely it’s somewhere in the job description.
Armies do not only exist to pass out benefits, those are perks. Armies exist to deal with conflicts, to defend their people, to fight the enemy. But there are people who actually join up hoping for a free ride. And that kind of mentality undermines the military of any nation. That same kind of mentality can also undermine the mission of the church.
Too often believers sign up for the benefits. They expect Jesus to “be there” for them… but they don’t expect to “be there” for Him. But’s that’s not what Jesus has called us to do.
We’ll look at this in more detail in the next post.