Today’s Bible Reading

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”—Matthew 16:21-23

More thoughts for meditation

“People reject the cross because it contradicts historical values and expectations—just as Peter challenged Jesus for saying, The Son of Man must suffer: Far be it from You; this shall not happen to You. But Jesus rebuked Peter: Get behind me, Satan! (Mt 16:21; Mk 8:31, 33). In the course of a few moments, Peter went from being the mouthpiece of God to a tool of Satan, because he could not connect vicarious suffering with God’s revelation. Suffering and death were not supposed to happen to the Messiah. He was expected to triumph over evil and not be defeated by it. How could God’s revelation be found connected with the worst of deaths, the vilest death, a criminal’s death on the tree of shame? Like the lynching tree in America, the cross in the time of Jesus was the most barbaric form of execution of the utmost cruelty, the absolute opposite of human value systems. It turned reason upside down. In his sermon-lecture The Transvaluation of Values in Beyond Tragedy, [Reinhold] Niebuhr turns to Paul to express what it meant to see the world from a transcendent, divine point of view.”—James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Cone is right to say that the cross upends our expectations. How can life come from death? How can liberation come from death? It seems like, indeed, Christ is defeated by evil, and hasn’t overcome it? But Cone channels Niebuhr, one of the most influence American history, to see this upside-down suffering from a divine point of view. Salvation through death seems contradictory, and unsatisfying. But this is why it is so powerful. In the most unconventional fashion, even in a way his disciples disbelieved, Jesus saved the world.

Suggestions for action

Many theologians have speculated about how the cross works and why. We’ve listed out the atonement theories on our Way of Jesus website if you are interested in an intellectual point of view. But I think rationalizing about the apparent irrationality of the cross has some limitations. Meditate on the impossibility of the prospect of Jesus saving us through death, and allow that to give you faith, that Jesus can do more things that we consider impossible.

Today we celebrate a very influential convert and subsequent evangelist of Christianity in China, Xi Shengmo on our sister blog, Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body