Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 25 2013 - Matthew 16:13-17:8 – “Who do you say I am?”

Some time ago, I attended a lecture given by Tom Wright on the relationship between the cross and the kingdom in the Gospels. He suggested that the Christian Church has generally failed to understand the connection between the two. The Evangelical churches have majored on the centrality of the cross but have tended to neglect Jesus' teaching on the kingdom. The liberal churches have preached a social gospel, majoring on the theme of the kingdom but have tended to sideline the cross1.

This is, of course, nothing new. In the passage we are reading this morning, Jesus challenges his disciples with the question, "Who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16:15). Peter responds, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Peter has got it. He has understood who Jesus is. He understands that Jesus is the Messiah, Israel's King, David’s greater son, come at last to establish his kingdom. Jesus acknowledges Peter’s insight; God himself had opened Peter's eyes to understand this truth. It is upon this revelation and upon this confession that Jesus will build his church – a movement that will lay siege to the kingdom of darkness, will capture its citadel and destroy its power.

But with his next breath Jesus goes on to speak of the cross. He tells his disciples that he must go up to Jerusalem where he will be opposed, mistreated and will suffer and die. This is something Peter cannot understand. Jesus should go up to Jerusalem to be acknowledged and enthroned. Peter therefore took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him saying, "This shall never happen to you!" (16:22). For all Peter's insight, he has not really understood Jesus mission; he cannot hold together the message of the kingdom and the message of the cross. He who was later to spearhead the assault on the kingdom of darkness is at this moment an ally of the dark power.

Jesus is seeking to teach his disciples that cross and kingdom are intimately connected. They are intimately connected in the Lord Jesus; his kingdom comes through his cross. And this is no incidental precondition for the coming of the kingdom; the cross defines the very nature of his kingdom even as the kingdom, with all the wealth of its Old Testament background and promise, shapes the meaning of the cross. When the two are separated we understand neither and are in danger of setting ourselves against the purpose of God rather than being the people through whom his kingdom comes.

The close connection between cross and kingdom not only shapes the ministry of Jesus, it must also shape the life and ministry of all who follow him. Jesus says, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (16:24). The kingdom is still cross-shaped. The agents of the kingdom are not to be conquering warriors – Crusaders; like their Master they are called to be suffering servants. Jesus’ message of kingdom and cross leaves room for neither shallow triumphalism nor pietistic withdrawal from the world.

Are we really listening to the teaching of Jesus? How do his life and words shape our understanding of what it means to be the people of God – disciples of Christ? How do they shape our understanding of the commission we have received from King Jesus?

Lord Jesus, help me not only to understand more of the paradox of your cross-shaped kingdom; help me also to live gladly as a subject of the King and an ambassador of the kingdom. Keep me from telling you what you must do – and what you must do for me. Help me rather to listen to you attentively, learn from you daily, follow you closely and serve you faithfully.

1That lecture is now expanded in his book, How God Became King

 

Jan 25 2019 - Genesis 31:1-7, 17-24, 43-55 – Jacob and his family leave Laban

Jacob proves a match for tricky uncle Laban. Laban had wanted to ensure that the best of the flock always belonged to him and that Jacob would only have the defective sheep and goats as his wages after the 14 years he had laboured for his two wives. But Jacob had managed the breeding programme so that the number of sheep and goats with black patches and stripes increased. His heard had grown at the expense of Laban's.

Laban had initially been pleased to have Jacob staying with him; his free labour would surely make Laban rich. But now he tables have been turned and Laban's sons begin to grumble about Jacob. It is time for Jacob to leave and so God tells him to "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you" (Genesis 31:3). When Jacob had fled Paddan Aram God had promised to watch over him and be with him; that promise is now echoed as Jacob gets ready to return.

Jacob, along with his wives, children, servants and livestock leaves Paddan Aram while Laban and his family are away shearing their sheep. Once again, "Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean." But as soon as Laban hears they have gone he comes racing after them – it’s a bit like a scene from a Western movie!

Laban might well have taken his daughters and their children back by force, but God appeared to him at night in a dream and warned him to do Jacob no harm. On leaving Canaan, God had promised Jacob, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:13-15). God is faithful and will ensure that his promise does not fail. Not only will he ensure Jacob's safe return, he will also ensure that Jacob returns with the large family which is the firstfruits of his descendants which will be like the dust of the earth.

So when Laban meets up with Jacob, instead of starting a fight they make a covenant with one another. Together they set up a large rock as a pillar, surrounded and supported by a heap of stones. There they eat together as a sign of peace between them. And they call on God as a witness to the covenant promises they make to each other; Jacob will not again come past this pillar to enter Laban's territory and do him harm and Laban will not pass this pillar to enter Jacob's territory and do him harm. Having offered a sacrifice to God, Jacob and his family part from Laban never to see him again.

The contrast between this covenant and that which God has made with us in the Lord Jesus Christ could hardly be greater. Jacob and Laban make a covenant together promising to do no harm to each other. God has made a covenant with us in the Lord Jesus promising to bless us beyond our imagination despite our unworthiness. The covenant that Laban makes with Jacob ensures their separation. God's covenant with us in Christ brings us into fellowship with him and promises that he will live with us and he we with him – nothing shall ever separate us from the love of God in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Father God, we thank you for the covenant promises that you have made to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. You promise to be with us, watch over us and to bring us safe to glory. You will not leave us or be satisfied until you have done all that you have promised. We rest in you faithful care and praise you for your goodness and grace.

Peter Misselbrook