Recent piece for an advent blog I am helping to write
TODAY’S READINGS: Psalm 125, Malachi 3:16-4:6 & Mark 9:9-13
As I am writing this I can hear the traffic on the Edinburgh City Bypass roaring by. The bypass lies at the end of our garden and was built to enable motorists to avoid the inconvenience and hassle of having to drive through Edinburgh itself. It seems pretty obvious to me that in one our readings today that some of the disciples wanted to build a bypass for similar reasons. They wanted not a physical bypass but a spiritual one which would enable them in their journey of following Jesus to bypass the inconvenience of suffering.
9 As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man* had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept it to themselves, but they often asked each other what he meant by “rising from the dead.”
11 Then they asked him, “Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?*”
12 Jesus responded, “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. Yet why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man MUST SUFFER greatly and be treated with utter contempt? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they chose to abuse him, just as the Scriptures predicted.”
Peter, James and John had just been up on the mountain with Jesus and Jesus had given them a glimpse of where his journey was leading, He revealed to them His Glory, his resurrection Glory. They got a glimpse of Jesus as He would be in the Age to Come, in the Kingdom of God. It must have been like the final piece of the jigsaw for them. They now knew without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah and that He would reign over the Age to Come promised in Scripture.
There was one thing that was confusing them, perplexing them and which they would rather bypass, Jesus talk of suffering, rejection and death. Based on the passage we have read from Malachi most Jewish people of Jesus day believed that God would send Elijah to clean up the world before the Messiah would come to rule over it. That Elijah would be an all powerful reformer who would destroy evil and put the world to rights. The Messiah would then come. To them Elijah and the Messiah were both figures characterised by power. They would wield physical power to accomplish God’s mission, the forces of evil would be defeated and destroyed.
But that’s where the confusion came in. Jesus was obviously the Messiah, but as far as they could see there had been no Elijah action hero figure so far and now Jesus was talking about suffering and death and they couldn’t see how that possibly could fit into what they understood about the future. Jesus tells them that Elijah has come, in the person of John the Baptist and that he had prepared the way for the Messiah by embracing the way of suffering and sacrifice rather than by violence and victory. Jesus makes it clear He as Messiah had to walk the same way, He would usher in the Age to Come, he would deal with death, sin and the power of evil not by being an all powerful military conqueror but by being the Suffering Servant. He would defeat evil by suffering evil.
Its pretty obvious from Jesus words that “the Son of Man MUST suffer” that Peter, James and John had already recoiled from the idea of suffering being the way the Messiah would set the world to rights and usher in the Kingdom of God. They wanted the glory they had seen at the Transfiguration without the inconvenience of going through, rejection, suffering and sacrifice to get it. They certainly didn’t want a Messiah who instead of giving them everything that had been promised in the Age to Come right here and now, instead called on them to pick up their crosses and follow Him and John the Baptist in embracing the way of suffering and sacrifice for others.
Its interesting overhearing, or perhaps over reading people’s prayers on Facebook. So many Christians praying for happiness, praying for success, praying for prosperity, praying for secular glory. Yet I haven’t heard anyone praying like Paul that they would be counted worthy to suffer with Christ. Seems like many of us, like Peter, James and John here, want to bypass the inconvenience of a mission that must go through suffering and embrace sacrifice to follow Christ. But authentic Christ following cannot bypass sacrifice and suffering. Theologian Alister McGrath comments that “To be a Christian is to suffer with Christ. Real faith is about being united with Christ and sharing all that he has to offer, with glory only coming through the shame, the agony and suffering of the Cross.”
Advent reminds us we don’t get the glory here and now, this age is a time to pick up our cross and embrace the way of suffering and sacrifice. If Christ’s mission meant that he MUST suffer, we shouldn’t think we can bypass it.