Month: May 2016

When Death Means Life- Part II

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men,” (Matthew 16:23, NKJV).

Satan relentlessly stalked Jesus throughout His life. He had even sought to snuff out His life through Herod’s crime of infanticide.  Demons recognized Him and trembled in His presence as He drove them out of people, and shattered the fetters of death. This portended Satan’s ultimate defeat. This was a defining moment in earth’s history and the battle lines were drawn.

Jesus was not oblivious of His impending ignominious death. He told His disciples “”The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things…” (Matt. 9:22, NIV).  He knew that the hour for which He had come into the world was the very hour He would leave it. Nevertheless, He resolved to go through it all. This is one death that would tilt the scale in favor of mankind forever by providing the opportunity to be reconciled with our original family, the family of God. Eternal life was within reach, but only through the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God. That’s why Satan was desperately trying to subvert the entire plan by inducing Peter to dissuade Jesus from going through such a painful experience. Satan knows the keen aversion and natural repugnance of the human flesh to pain and death and he attempted to exploit it with the Lord.

Jesus’ sharp response to Peter’s rebuke reveals that He felt the deep barbs of this persuasive temptation that was buttressed with earthly logic from a beguiling nemesis masquerading as a sympathetic disciple.  Erring affection should never be entertained. Our most severe temptation can come from those who are unreservedly loyal and close to us. Now, was Peter the embodiment of Satan at this time? Of course not. But he was momentarily a pawn in the adversary’s grip. Jesus’ sharp vision into the spiritual world discerned the twistedness of Peter’s love in his adversarial remark and quickly silenced him. Jesus addressed Satan through the creature he had influenced. This was not the first time this had happened. When God pronounced a curse on Satan in the Garden of Eden, He had addressed the serpent, which Satan had influenced to tempt Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:14,15). Jesus’ stinging counter-rebuke to Peter’s was directed at the Enemy and was also meant to jolt the erring disciple into objective reality as a follower of the Lord and not His leader. Have you ever heard a close associate or family member say to you when things are going tough: “I cannot understand why God is doing this to you?” If you think that is from the Holy Spirit, think again. We can never love anyone more than God loves them. But we can inadvertently love them away from God’s purpose for their lives. The best of our intentions are often self-serving and, as such, they are often at variance with God’s will.

The response Jesus gave Peter matched the temptation: Stern and firm, but instructive. Jesus used almost the same phraseology He had used against Satan in the third temptation in the wilderness. Through Peter, Satan was expressing his design to distract the Lord from His Father’s will by offering Him a short cut to glory. Jesus had to repel Satan’s cruel joke of pursuing self-preservation at the expense of God’s purpose for Him. Jesus’ determination to undergo severe suffering to accomplish His mission drew a distinct line that separated the carnal mind from the spiritual. It does not suffice to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah while denying His suffering and death. There is no Gospel message in the absence of the cross and we can never hope to reign with Him unless we are also willing to suffer with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). Disciples of Jesus of every age must not only acknowledge that there is a price to be paid in following Jesus, but they must be willing to embrace that price. Watchman Nee once remarked that the way of the cross is splattered with blood. This is not masochism. It is just how the rules in God’s kingdom operate. This is a kingdom that thrives on sacrificial love. Its laws are diametrically opposed to those of the kingdom of the world. There will never be a point of intersection or convergence for the two. To attempt to interpret the events of the kingdom of God in the context of worldly wisdom is to miss the point, entirely. This is a kingdom whose rules are inversely related to those of the kingdoms of this world…where death is a prerequisite to life.

…to be continued

When Death Means Life…Part I

Recently, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, John Boehner, described Ted Cruz, a presidential aspirant then as “Lucifer in the flesh.” Many people were appalled and outraged by the unsavory description and vehemently criticized the former speaker for such a severe censure of his colleague. Why the uproar? Lucifer was a powerful angel who degenerated into Satan and became associated with ultimate evil; a heartless source of all that pertains to wickedness and an enemy of all that is good.  To label as someone Lucifer is to imply that they are synonymous with evil.

When Jesus told His “disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matt 16: 21 ESV), one of His closest disciples, Peter, drew Him aside and rebuked Him and said “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall never happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22).

Peter had been Jesus’ disciple for slightly over 3 years now. He had left the fishing business he had built over the years to follow the itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth. He had recalibrated his dreams, goals and career, and had wrapped them around Jesus’ ministry. This was a radical ministry that was undergirded by unprecedented signs and wonders including the epic miracle in which Jesus had raised back to life a dead individual who had already started decomposing! Disease fled from Jesus and so did death. Congenital deformities such as blindness were corrected instantly. He had even walked on water and had multiplied a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish to feed thousands of people. Word had it that Jesus had even had a one-on-one encounter with Satan and had prevailed. He had also turned water into wine at a feast of one of His relatives. Jesus fascinated and attracted the general public, the outcasts, and the marginalized unlike the church leaders who had cloistered themselves into a cocoon of feigned piety. As the Scottish Theologian, James Stewart once remarked, Jesus “was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at his coming, yet he was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with him… No one was half so compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red hot scorching words about sin…. He was a servant of all, washing the disciples’ feet, yet masterfully He strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another to get away from the mad rush and the fire they saw blazing in His eyes.” Peter was glad to be part of this revolutionary Rabbi’s ministry; the power of being close to power gave life meaning and purpose-even a new identity. An insignificant individual formerly immersed in the mundane activities and rigors of a village fisherman’s life had become a significant component of a thriving and apparently divinely-endorsed ministry.

And now Jesus was talking about His demise!!! What a crashing blow to Peter and his family that would be! Just how would he start picking up the shards of a shattered life and build his image again? How would he find his place again and be re-established in the community as a credible business man? He had invested so much in this ministry and now it was slipping through his fingers…. Hope was dissipating before his very eyes. What about his life??? He had sacrificed all the components of his life: energy, time, talents, and money for the ministry. What would happen to the little band of disciples that Jesus had recruited and trained? No, Jesus must not talk about voluntary death. It would be too costly for Peter and the other disciples.

Jesus did not only hear Peter’s rebuke, He recognized the words Peter used, too. He had heard them before, in the grueling wilderness temptation. They were once again threatening the very core of His ministry; the very purpose of His Incarnation. It was another Mephistophelean ploy aimed at severing the jugular vein of His earthly mission, and He needed to respond immediately and decisively with a stern rebuke to silence His foe forever not only for Peter’s sake but for the sake of the rest of the disciples and the rest of humanity. True, Peter had spoken out of concern, love, and reverence for his Master. But he had also spoken out of ignorance and presumption. Misdirected love and care can be disastrous. Peter did not understand the implication of his words. This was a re-enactment of Eden where Satan had succeeded through a medium to move Adam and Eve to disobey God, and plunge humanity into an earthly nightmare of sin, disease and death.  Now he desired to separate the entire creation from God forever by derailing God’s plan to reconcile the world unto Himself through Christ’s sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus’ sacrifice was the catalyst event that would defang Satan forever and restore mankind to their rightful place with God. This is what was at stake. Everything hung in the balance and Jesus could not afford to pander to the Enemy’s suggestions. Not now, not ever.

…to be continued…