- Praying the Scripture, Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
- Kids, Exodus 3.1-15 (Moses, the burning bush, God’s desire to save, Moses’ objections)
- Message, Matthew 16.21-28 (take up cross, get behind me Satan)
- Share a story of being at cross purposes with someone else. How did you handle the pressure and conflict?
- How has your experience (of pain, loss, conflict, or doing what you would rather not do) helped you become who you are? How has Jesus been present in your pain?
- “God forbid!” Why do you resist the cross personally?
- How does the choice between being “comfortably inconsequential” and the departure necessary to “become great” work out in your life?
- How do your own purposes get in the way of God’s purpose in your life?
This week’s theme: “Cross-Purposes.” It was one of those uncomfortable heated conversations. I was the head coach of a travel team. He was a former assistant. His son wasn’t starting anymore and, frankly, wasn’t good enough to start. It was my fault, apparently, that I hadn’t coached him well enough. The possibility that other players had developed faster than his son was not considered. I responded in line with his questions: This is where your son needs to improve, this is what I told him personally, this is the specific work I gave him to do.
What I didn’t do: I didn’t say, “Come on, man!” I didn’t promise to play his son more. I didn’t tell him how his evaluation was in error. I didn’t say “Get behind me, Satan!” Yes, I’m a volunteer coach, but when you say yes to coaching at that level you also open yourself up to criticism. My purpose was to help every player develop and to help the team win games. Dad’s purpose was for his son to start and play more time. In this instance, our purposes were “cross purposes.” That is, they were mutually incompatible. And, I was the one on the hot seat.
Who knew that signing up as a volunteer in a youth sports organization meant signing up for criticism and conflict and pain? How often do we tell our young people – and we have nine young people making vows today – that a life of following Jesus involves a cross? How often do we tell our young people that we don’t get to win all the time? that sometimes, the path forward lies through loss, even great loss? How often do we tell parents that they will have to navigate conflict with their children, even if their children are perfect in every way? How often do we remind kids that doing what you don’t want to do – clearing the table, cleaning your room, doing your homework – is part of growing up to responsible adulthood? (On second thought, we probably say that last one a good bit.)
Message: God’s purpose is to save Israel. Moses has already “been there, done that” and gotten rejected by his own people and put on a hit list by Pharaoh. So, despite the presence of a bush that burns without burning up, he’s got some objections. Cross-purposes.
Peter has just given witness to who Jesus is: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But he has some clear ideas of what the deliverance should look like and, to give you a hint, it doesn’t involve losing, it doesn’t involve death. It’s winning, it’s victory, over Rome, over the oppression of evil spirits, over religious systems that reject and marginalize. And Peter will get a front row seat and some special authority as one of Jesus’ besties. Peter ain’t thinking about losing.
Yet, Jesus says, that he “must” go to Jerusalem and suffer, be killed, and be raised (16.21). The force of this “must” says “it is necessary” for the Christ to suffer. It is “inevitable.” It is “the will of God.” (LEB, Bruner). Later in this gospel, Jesus makes his purpose clear: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (20.28). For Jesus, it’s not all about him, it’s all about his purpose, it’s all about giving his life for us. For Jesus, pain is part of the process: “Narrow is the gate and hard is the road that leads to life” (7.14). And Jesus is not about to bypass that hard road, not about to short circuit the process. He knows what Israel’s teacher said, hundreds of years prior, “There is no discharge from the battle” (Ecclesiastes 8.8).
Peter’s problem is that he rejects Jesus’ purpose. He wants the winning without the pain, the victory without the battle, the success without the sacrifice. He seems to have entirely overlooked that Jesus also said that he must “be raised.” So he rebukes Jesus, privately out of respect, “God forbid! Surely not, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (16.22).
Peter’s problem is that he’s all about me, all about Peter. He’s not thinking about this from the perspective of Jesus or Jesus’ purpose. He’s only got his own agenda in mind. “Get behind me, Satan! You are concerned with your own purposes, not with God’s purposes” (16.23). We are at cross-purposes, Peter.
And here’s the kicker: If the purpose of Jesus Christ is the cross, then the purpose of his followers is the cross. So, Peter, not only are you wrong about Jesus and Jesus’ purpose. You are also wrong about your purpose, about the will of God for you.
Back to Moses… After fleeing for his life, he finds life and love and a family. And God just has to show up in that burning bush and inject uncertainty, risk, and pain into that comfortable life. Those who hear the call of God are invited, in the words of Miroslav Volf, to “either belong to … country, … culture, and … family and remain comfortably inconsequential or, risking everything, … depart and become great” (38).
“Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow” (16.24). “There is no discharge from the battle.” It’s a wild life, and totally worth it.