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

 

Peter Misselbrook