Disillusioned and losing sleep over the election? Randy Harris has some thoughts that may help you sleep, but also wake up. This post is part 2 in a series that will help us stay sane leading up to and following the election. Stay tuned for more posts each week, and find the rest of the series here: part 1, part 3, part 4, part 5.
The biggest threat to the cause for which Christ died is never his enemies; that’s too easy. It’s his friends that are the problem.
I call them frenemies. People who love you and appear to be on your side, but they’re pushing for an agenda you want nothing to do with.
There are two fundamentally different understandings of the gospel wrestling for the dominant view in the church today. But the struggle is nothing new and in fact goes back to Jesus and his apostles. The two gospels could be described as “The Gospel of Peter” and “The Gospel of Jesus.”
You may assume you believe and live the Gospel of Jesus. I may make the same assumption, but it would be a bad assumption to make, because we are all so likely to misunderstand and mishandle the gospel that Christ is putting into us.
In my travels, I used to quote alarming statistics about church attendance, but the problem is not about having too few Christians. The problem is that we follow the wrong gospel.
Mark 8:27-36 paints the most vivid contrast between the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Jesus. There’s arguing and lots of name-calling. It’s pretty bad, and the one doing most of the name-calling is Jesus. I don’t recommend you use the word Jesus used when in a heated argument with someone.
Remember the first article about our political baggage? Well, Peter had some baggage! What follows are my imaginative thoughts, from Peter’s perspective, about what happens when the Gospel of Peter meets the Gospel of Jesus.
Hello, my name is Peter, and I’ve got to tell you, we’ve got this.
We’ve been in a few hundred years’ slump here, but we’ve got this now, because finally, we’ve got the guy. We had this conversation and he says, “What are people saying about me?”
“They’re saying all sorts of things about you.”
“But how about you? What are you saying about me?”
And I’ve got this one. “You are the Messiah.”
How do I know? I’ve been following this guy and he’s got the goods. Got demons? He’ll cast them into pigs, and over the cliff they go. Disabled? This guy heals people who couldn’t walk. Blind see. Even the dead are raised! This is our guy! We’ve got this.
Now I’ve gotta tell you. He’s a little strange. He sometimes tells stories and it’s not altogether clear what they mean, but we’ve gotten used to it, and I know that later on, people are going to write about this in their Bible, and they don’t really write our reactions in there, and that’s a shame, because there’s this ancient Greek phrase that we have learned to use when he tells one of those stories: “Okie dokie.”
“Hey, you’ve got to be born a second time.”
“God is like this unjust judge.”
He does these kind of mind games, I mean, just earlier today, there was this blind guy, and Jesus takes two cracks at healing him. He touches him, says, “Do you see?”
“Yeah. I see people. They look like trees walking around.”
Jesus touches the man again and POW! He sees. You know what we said?
Okie dokie. But we’ve got this.
We’ve been waiting for centuries. The empire is over. The hated Romans are going to get kicked out of Palestine. God is going to put the Son of Man on the throne. He’s going to put us on thrones around him. The Kingdom of God is going to come fully into this world, finally, after centuries of abuse. We’ve got this!
But then he has one of those moments, Jesus does, and he says, “Oh, you need to know this. The Son of Man is going to be taken and killed.”
And I’m sorry, I cannot “okie dokie” that. What is this? I have a Messiah that doesn’t know the Bible. That is not the way the story goes. Messiah doesn’t die. Messiah kicks the hated Romans out of Palestine, restores the kingdom of Israel to the throne, and reigns and put us on thrones around him. That’s the way the story goes, and I tried to explain to him, but he turns on me and says–are you ready for this?–Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
I’ve got to tell you, I was sort of used to being corrected by him. Yeah, I was that student, but it’s pretty hard not to take that one personally. Get behind me, Satan?
Then he calls the crowds around, says, “Okay, if you’re going to follow me, you’re going to have to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. Because if you’re interested in saving your life, you’re going to have to lose it, and by losing your life, you’re going to save it.”
And I’ve got to tell you, I’m not buying it. He is a wonderful Messiah, but when it comes to placing the Kingdom of God in the world strategically, he is clueless. This will never work. There is one and only one thing that works in this world, and that thing is power. These Romans will never give up their power unless we force them to, unless we take it away from them.
You can talk about the love of God all you want to, but what they really understand is when you cut off their ear. It’s the only way, and if you’ll get with it, Jesus, get out in front and bring us together, then we will win. We’ve got this. You can raise the dead, you can heal the sick, you can multiply food. You’ve got this. We will protect our way of life. We will protect our children. We will beat off those alien forces who would overcome our religion and with the almighty power of God, we will bring the Kingdom of God to the world.
That is the Gospel according to Peter. And it is to this Gospel of Peter that Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter’s way is not God’s way. Peter’s Gospel is not Jesus’s Gospel. Peter’s Gospel is the human way.
I sometimes have this nightmare in which the Gospel of Peter wins, and when Peter wins, what you get is American Evangelical Christianity.
It only took a scratch. In the history of the world, with all of the pain and disastrous wars and plagues that have afflicted the world, it only took a scratch. One supreme court ruling. One terrorist attack. One refugee crisis. It only took a scratch, and what we found underneath was fear and power. We were so afraid that we decided that Jesus’s Gospel would never work. We decided we’d take Peter’s way, and not only has Peter’s Gospel won the day, we are winning the day with Peter’s Gospel.
So in my nightmare, I walk across the battlefield, looking at the bodies of our vanquished enemies. Some are wearing turbans. Some are wearing rainbow colors. Some are atheists and unbelievers. Some are garden-variety liberals. But we’ve managed to vanquish them all.
We have protected our way of life, our children, our kingdom. We’ve won. Then in my nightmare, as I walk through those bodies, I see the hands and the feet that are pierced. As we’ve conquered our enemies, we have killed the crucified Messiah.
I jerk myself awake.
Ah, it was a dream. It was a nightmare. Wasn’t it?
It’s not too late, but it is well into the night. Darkness closes in around us, but it’s not too late. In Mark 8:34, when Jesus says, “If anyone would follow me, they must deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow me,” he’s not talking about metaphorical death or spiritual death. He’s talking about death death.
The apostles thought they were on the power boat. It turns out they were on the death ship.
The reason I am so devoted to this story of Jesus and Peter is because everything is at stake in it. There are two fundamentally different understandings of the gospel fighting each other here.
And the question is also in front of us today. The Gospel of Peter says we will kill our enemies to establish the Kingdom of God, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ says the only way the Kingdom comes in is if we are willing for them to kill us. Do we believe this? Or do we believe this will never work?
Jesus goes further to tell Peter, “If you want to save your life, the only way you can do that is to lose it, and the harder you try to save it, the more likely you are to lose it, but when you quit worrying about it and are willing to lose it, then lo and behold, you save it” (see Mark 8:35).
But what about protection? Don’t we need the government to protect us? Or do we truly believe that God protects us, regardless of how much military firepower we have around us? Aren’t there millions of Christians worldwide who live the Jesus Gospel without the “protection” of F-16s?
This way of the cross is attached to this promise that whatever you lose, God will restore, but the harder you’re working not to lose it, the more likely you are to lose it. If you spend the rest of your life trying to make sure nothing bad happens to you in this life, a lot of really bad stuff can happen to you. Is that who we are?
Or are we the people who are so fearful and have so little faith in the power of the resurrection that we are not willing to try Jesus’s Gospel?
We may well call ourselves friends to Jesus, but his disciple friends didn’t always get it right, and neither do we.
In fact, the enemies of Jesus are nowhere in this picture, because the biggest threat to the cause for which Christ died is never his enemies–it’s his friends who are the problem. Have we–Jesus’s friends–mishandled the Gospel of Jesus and turned it into the Gospel of Peter, or the Gospel of America, or the Gospel of My Rights?
Regardless of how we think it’s going in North America, our Christian duty and obligation is always the same, and that is to be faithful to the Gospel of a crucified Messiah.
What we need at this point is a bunch of faithful witnesses.
We must not play the game of fear and power, because that is not what our Savior taught us. We bear witness to the Kingdom that is coming, and we will not kill for it, but we’ll willingly die for it, because we won’t stay dead, and we won’t spend our time trying to protect our way of life, our children, our religion, because protection is God’s job.
What we will do is take up the cross and deny ourselves and follow the One we call Savior and Lord.
In the next post I’ll discuss the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Gospel of Losing. Because Christianity has always functioned better on the side that’s losing, and when we’re on the side that’s winning, we get it all fouled up.