Legend says that as Shoeless Joe Jackson was leaving the courthouse during the trial of the Chicago Black Sox, as they were known, a young boy begged of him, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
Well, Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.
And Peter said, “Say it ain’t so, Lord.” Peter was smart enough to know what Jesus was saying. Peter was slow at times, but this time he got it. A cross would mean no earthly kingdom. Before Peter ever agreed to carry a cross, we know that he carried a sword. He was a clumsy swordsman, but he managed to slice off the ear of a guard in the garden before Jesus said, “Put that thing away, Peter, before you hurt yourself.” Instead of a sword Jesus took up a cross. Christians have never resolved our love of swords and crusades with the only thing we were ever commanded to take and carry – a cross.
Look at Peter standing there between Jesus and the cross. Peter wanted nothing to do with a Messiah hanging on a cross. I am tempted to believe that we are right there with him. The cross makes us face that good people, well-educated people who are affluent and live in nice suburbs and come from the best families can be responsible for some of the ugly cruelty in the world. The people who are going to hang Jesus on a cross were the rich and the powerful and elite. They were the political and religious leaders of the time and we should face up to the reality that the religious and political leaders are always capable of cruelty and disobedience to the will of God. The Supreme Court of Israel, the court of Pilate and Herod, and the establishment were in cahoots to hang Jesus on a cross. The people who have all the power can’t always be trusted to do good.
Peter gets in front of Jesus and blocks his way forward. “A preacher I once talked to in Washington, D. C. / told me nobody wants to play rhythm guitar behind Jesus / it seems like everybody wants to be the lead singer in the band.”
Or maybe Peter was just plain scared of suffering, rejection, and death. Can we blame him? When the news report came out that a Broward County deputy at the Florida school didn’t not go into the building and engage the shooter, how did you feel? Did some part of you know that fear is a dominant force in our world? Maybe Peter was just scared. People often are paralyzed by fear.
Well, Jesus was tough on Peter. Listen to what Jesus says to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!” If anyone knows Satan, Jesus knows SATAN! Jesus faced a forty-day full-court press of temptation. Every crowd gave him a push to make him king. All the polls favored Jesus becoming King and wiping out Rome. In the garden, he faced temptation. Down to his last breath on the cross, there was Satan.
Satan is the umbrella term for everything and everyone, every entity, every power, every institution, every organization, every nation that opposes the will of God. Whatever opposes Jesus is Satan. If Jesus says that Peter, our representative, the leader of the disciples, is Satan, then we are all capable of being Satan. Evil is always parasitical on the good. Augustine said, “Evil is nothing but the removal of good until finally no good remains.” Down South we have this weed called Kudzu. It spreads everywhere, covers everything, sucking life and breath out of every living thing. This is the face of evil – taking life and joy and purpose from you. This is some of what it means to say SATAN. And we can’t afford to let the devil get a toe in the door. “If you let the devil become a major character in the drama, the devil threatens to become the main character.”
Let’s see if we can learn how not to be Satan.
Well, it takes a cross to beat the devil at his game. As soon as Jesus rebukes Peter, Jesus starts teaching us how not to be Satan. If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
How could we have missed the lesson? The answer to not being Satan is the cross. The shadow of the cross was already looming over the wilderness where Jesus was tempted by Satan. “When Jesus was told by the devil that we would be given power to turn stones into bread, he refused; when Jesus was offered authority over all the kingdoms of the world; he refused; when he was offered the possibility that we would not die, he refused. He did so because Jesus knew that God’s kingdom could not be forced into existence using the means of the devil” SH, Working with Words, 120). On one side there’s popularity, success, wealth, and power; on the other side there’s a cross with sacrifice, suffering, and love. There’s the cross and there’s Satan.
Jesus came to the cross to set humanity free – free from all the systems and powers, free from all the oppression and poverty and imprisonment. Satan is called “the ruler of this world.” John calls Satan the “prince of this world.” I John says that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19). Jesus died on the cross to set the world free from bondage. If we preach Jesus as savior of our souls, and there’s nothing about politics, nothing about economics, nothing about sociology, we are preaching an empty gospel, a Bible with a black leather cover and no pages in it, an empty gospel with a hat and some shoes and no body in it.
The cross is God’s answer to violence, and we don’t want to hear it. When I tell folks that we are called to carry a cross and that requires of us non-violence, they get agitated. They rush to their Bibles and drag out every verse they can find to show me that Jesus was ok with people acting in self-defense, and that Jesus believed in swords.
So we need a few minutes of Bible study to help us discern the truth. In Matthew 26:52 Jesus says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” “Do not think that I have come to impose peace on earth by force; I have come neither to impose peace, nor yet to make war. But I have come to divide the just from the unjust.” The word “sword” is used here in its meaning of the two-edged sword of God’s word – dividing and slicing. This is not a saying that justifies the disciples of Jesus using violence. He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.” This appears as the strongest argument for swords, but a few verses later Jesus tells his disciples not to use swords to defend him. So the context doesn’t give us permission to stockpile weapons for self- defense. Jesus has this strange statement in Luke where his disciples tell him they have two swords and Jesus says, “It is enough.” Well, if you are trying to make the case that Jesus endorsed, embraced, taught, believed in violence, that is not enough. In fact, let me tell you something: “You got nothing.” “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.‘ Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath.’” These words of Jesus, coupled with his actions of non-violence and peaceful surrender are far more powerful arguments.
There’s too much violence in this nation. Too many school shootings. Too many young people gunned down in the streets. Too many drive-by shootings. Too many domestic acts of terrorism. Too many murders. Too many family members killing family members. 9,855 Americans were murdered in 2016. What are we going to do about it church? The church doesn’t need more guns; we need more guts. We need the prophetic guts that insist that righteousness fill our land and that violence be stopped in it tracks. Our politicians want to give guns to teachers at schools and give guns to deacons in churches. But I want to know what Christians, who follow Jesus, are going to do about the violence. When are we going to get serious about creating a culture where killing others is no longer an option? Violence is the devil’s playground and we play right into it when we ignore violence or we enjoy watching and reading about violence. We play right into it by soaking up all the stories about violence we can watch. Among the moral foundations of any nation: “THOU SHALL NOT KILL.” But in the face of violence, we shake our heads and say, “That’s just awful,” or we say, “Ain’t that a shame?” That’s right I’m asking the church because in the judgment God is going to ask the church. To whom much has been given, much shall be expected. Judgment will be more severe for us than for some, because when we know to do right and do it not, there’s trouble for us.
But it also takes a church to beat the devil. And here is where we struggle. We are no longer convinced that the church is essential to our salvation, our power, our ability to stand against the powers and the principalities. “What Christians have to offer is not an explanation of evil, but rather a story, and a community formed by that story.” Name that community CHURCH. We need the church because God has chosen the church as the rebel force that takes on the darkness and death of evil. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.” And our weapons are our Christian practices – the actual display of the material practices that make up the church. The development of these practices requires great effort but it is a joyous effort because we then see Satan fall like lightning from the sky.
Put in simple terms: We are to be the good people. Every act of goodness, hospitality, helpfulness, charity, love, kindness, and generosity explodes like a bomb in the kingdom of Satan. We are a people of Good News called to do all the good we can for all the people we can for all the time we have been given.
The cross and the church and then there’s obedience. Following Jesus is obedience to his teachings. Jesus has given us a manual for fighting Satan. It’s called the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount insists that we are the people who have learned to live without vengeance, because revenge is darkness. This assumes that the Sermon is to be followed, and lived out by all the disciples of Jesus. The Sermon is a description of the virtues of a community that embodies the peace Christ has made possible among those who have been baptized into his death and resurrection.
So there’s Jesus out in front carrying the cross. Let’s get behind him and go where he goes. Here take the cross, love the church, practice the faith, obey Jesus. Be the good people!