Monday, May 4, 2009

A Kingdom Without a Cross

I have been reading through Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew and one of the things that I really gleaned from his book is how Satan's temptation of Jesus kept recurring throughout Jesus earthly ministry.

The summation of the enemies temptation is this; have the Kingdom without the difficulty of the Cross. Amaze the people set up a military Kingdom on earth and do it without the pain, shame, and forsakenness of the Cross. This is what Jesus resisted and won out against in the wilderness against the enemy. And upon a cursory reading of the Gospel's we would think that fight over and done with.

But here is where Yancey's strange gaze has benefited me. This temptation is the central temptation of Jesus earthly ministry and it followed Him everywhere he went.

After the feeding miracle in John the people come to make Jesus King whether He wanted it or not, so he denies them their bread and preaches in such a manner that these Kingmakers cannot swallow. He was offered a Kingdom without a Cross.

Then he tells His disciples that He is going to Jerusalem and that He is going to suffer, die, and rise again (amazingly they don't catch that last part). Peter responds by rebuking Jesus. Jesus then does something that confuses a lot of us, He calls Peter Satan and tells him to get behind Him. Why call Peter Satan, he simply didn't want to see his friend and master suffer, right. Peter was playing the role of Satan here, once again Jesus was being offered the Kingdom without the Cross.

Then comes the strange night in the Garden where Jesus is so tortured in spirit that He literally sweats blood. How can we explain this when so many of His own followers died with courage and boasts. What do we make of Jesus asking for the cup to pass. That cup is the cup full of the wrath of God that He is about to drink in our place. It is so terrifying that Jesus expresses His horror at the Kingdom that comes with a Cross, but He never backs down. He rises from that last moment of temptation, when it appears to have been the strongest, and walks into the arms of His betrayer embracing the Kingdom with a Cross. He conquered fully.

This is a beautiful picture of our savior that should inspire our gratitude, love and devotion. But we must not think that we have heard the last of the enemy or the last of this temptation.

We face the same temptation today, we are tempted to build our churches by trusting in business models and church growth principles. We are tempted to think that our ministries should know only blessing and never suffering. We are tempted to believe that we should become Christlike overnight and not have to pay the cost of discipleship. We are tempted to expect the Kingdom to come without a cross, without suffering. Like our savior we must resist the enemy, deny ourselves, and take up our crosses and follow Him.

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