Sunday Reflection: Part 2: The Teaching of the Cross
Part One of this series is here
As we began our voyage last month, the first port of call brought us to the predictions of the Cross.
David gave us a vivid description of the crucifixion of Christ one thousand years before it actually transpired. Psalm 22 is a remarkable testimony of the foreknowledge of God.
With our sails reset, we are now going to consider the teaching of the Cross. As our voyage brings us within view of the crucifixion, we want to study the events preceding and following this great historical event. We are now sailing with Peter, as the drama of redemption continues to unfold. As we sound the depths of the Word of God, exactly what did Peter and the other apostles of the kingdom understand and teach about the Cross?
“From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt. 16:21).
Approximately one year before the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry, He began to teach His disciples about His impending death. This is another noteworthy reference to the Deity of Christ. Who among us can predict the place, time, or manner of our death—Christ did! Once again, the Spirit of God demonstrates that both the sovereignty of God and human responsibility were key components in the crucifixion. The term “must” here is a clear indication that Christ’s death at Jerusalem was unalterable according to the plans and purpose of God. This intersects with the foreknowledge of God, which permitted the leaders in Israel to carry out their diabolical plan to have the Lord executed.
After the Lord foretold His death, Peter received them as unwelcome words, therefore he took Him aside and began to rebuke Him: “Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee” (Matt. 16:22). If Peter were around today, he would be the last one chosen to head up a high profile national ministry. In the eyes of many, he was impetuous, ignorant, unlearned—a mere lowly fisherman. But the Lord saw something in Peter, as He does in all believers. In Peter’s case, his greatest asset was a willing heart. The clay was pliable! Thus, the Potter could fashion him into a vessel of honor, fit for the Master’s use. As Peter matured in the faith, he, on more than one occasion, disarmed his critics and left them speechless (Acts 4:13).
As we return to his formative years, Peter couldn’t believe his ears regarding what would soon take place at Jerusalem. It engendered this response, “Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee.” In essence he is saying, “You are the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel. We will defend you with our last breath, if need be.” Peter’s actions proved the sincerity of his love when he drew the sword, the night the Lord was betrayed, and attempted to separate the High Priest’s servant’s head from his shoulders. Malchus apparently took evasive action, or an unseen hand protected him, which resulted in only his ear being cut off. There is no record of anyone ever dying in the presence of our Lord (John 18:10,11).
For one reason or another Peter failed to understand that, according to prophecy, the sufferings of Christ must precede the glory of the kingdom. This first part was partially veiled, therefore he only saw the brilliance of the crown before him. Peter had a classic case of tunnel vision! He was looking forward to the Golden Age—that time of peace and righteousness when Israel’s enemies will be subdued and the faithful will reign with the Messiah upon the earth.
“But He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt. 16:23).
Moments earlier Peter had been the mouthpiece of the Father, when he announced the Master was the Messiah, the very Son of God. How quickly things changed, now he had become the mouthpiece of Satan when he declared, “be it far from Thee Lord,” which demonstrated his indifference to the will of God. Simply because we are believers does not preclude us from being an instrument in Satan’s hand. There is nothing more pitiful than a child of God who’s caught in the snare of the devil. Sadly, those who allow themselves to become ensnared in his web of deceit are usually the last ones to be aware of it.
Peter fell into Satan’s trap by failing to savor the things of God. In this context, the “things of God” speaks of the rejection and suffering of His dear Son to accomplish the plan of redemption, even though this was not fully understood at the time. Rather than accepting God’s word by faith, Peter followed in the footsteps of Satan by relishing the things of men; that is, glory and honor and recognition. The kingdom was just too close to entertain the thought of anything happening to the Master. As we follow this line of thought, it helps us to better understand the Savior’s next statement:
“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24).
This passage has suffered greatly at the hands of those who apply it devotionally to believers today. Many say, for example, that “your cross” may take the form of financial reversals, loss of health, or whatever other burdens you may be bearing. But, dispensationally, the Lord is speaking about what the kingdom saints may be called upon to endure for the cause of Christ. Those who denied themselves and followed Him would be rejected and, in all probability, pay the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. According to Church history, all the apostles of the kingdom died a martyr’s death. In the case of Peter, it is said he requested to be crucified upside down out of respect for His Master’s sacrificial work.
AN AMBITIOUS REQUEST
“And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death. And shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again” (Matt. 20:17-19).
Now, in the shadow of the Cross, the Lord takes His disciples aside to give them a more detailed account of the events soon to unfold at Jerusalem. He confirms the words of the prophet, that He would be betrayed into the hands of ungodly men who would condemn Him to death. It should also be noted that the Gentiles would bear the responsibility of carrying out the will of the leaders of Israel. This is the first time that the Lord specifically states the manner of His death. He would suffer death by crucifixion, as foretold in Psalm 22!
What exactly did the disciples and the kingdom saints understand about the death, burial, and resurrection at this point in time? Nothing! Clearly the disciples did not grasp the significance of these events, nor did they place their faith in the coming death of Christ at Calvary to be saved, although this would be the means by which they would be redeemed. According to the biblical record, these things were hidden from them (See Luke 18:31-34).
This sheds more light on why the disciples seemed oblivious to our Lord’s words. They were more interested in the glories of the kingdom and the positions they would have when they reigned with Him. This is substantiated by what follows.
“Then came to Him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping Him, and desiring a certain thing of Him. And He said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto Him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in Thy kingdom” (Matt. 20:20,21).
Every mother wants the best for her children, but sometimes her ambition can be a product of the flesh. Concluding that the kingdom would soon be established, the Mother of James and John wanted her sons to have the distinct honor of being seated on the right and left hand of the Master. Of course, James and John competently argued the case. After all, they were among the first who left their fishing nets behind and faithfully followed the Lord. The true intent of their request was to secure positions of authority so they could rule over others, like the Gentiles. But the Gentiles desire for such power was purely selfish.
What they failed to comprehend was, the kingdom could not be established until the Master had suffered and died for the sins of the nation. The Lord also reveals in this portion that they, too, would drink of this same cup. Then He adds, “to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.” Most likely this honor will be given to Moses and Elijah, who represent the law and the prophets (Matt. 16:28; 17:1-3).
You see, the key to greatness in the kingdom was not based upon position and power, things that the Gentiles covet, but character. They were to follow in the spirit of our Lord who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give Himself a ransom for many. Christ was the Creator of all things, yet He humbled Himself and took on the form of a lowly servant. Thus, the Master admonishes His disciples, “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister. And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matt. 20:23-28). We believe this same principle can be applied to the Body of Christ when we rule and reign with Christ in the heavenlies.
REMOVAL OF THE VEIL
“These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:44-46).
It was not until after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that the Lord opened the disciples’ eyes that it was He who was spoken of in the Law of Moses (Deut. 18), and the prophets (Isa. 53), and the Psalms (Psa. 22). The veil that once shrouded their eyes on this matter was removed. It now became clear to them for the first time that Christ was the promised Redeemer the Scriptures had foretold. But let us be careful not to assume that the disciples understood more than they did. They merely understood the fact of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Nothing more!
Armed with this new light, the disciples continued to proclaim Christ in accordance with the prophetic theme, which portrayed Him as a victim. This is confirmed by Peter’s address to his countrymen on the day of Pentecost.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).
As we enter into the bay of the Book of Acts, we are still sailing in prophetic waters. Peter is going to cautiously steer us through the dangerous shoals created by the traditions and commandments of men. It is important to remember that the early chapters of the Acts record are merely a continuation of the earthly ministry of Christ.
Luke makes this very plain when he writes, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach. Until the day in which He was taken up, after that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen.” The “former treatise” that Luke refers to here is the gospel according to Luke, wherein he introduced his friend Theophilus to “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.” But as Paul Harvey would say, “Now for the rest of the story….” “To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3).
When Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost to address his countrymen, he preached the same message that he had during the earthly ministry of Christ, with one addition—He charged Israel with the death of her Messiah!
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22,23).
As we have seen, the death of Christ was according to the sovereign design of God, referred to here as “the determinate counsel.” Peter strongly asserts Christ was not delivered into the hands of evil men due to “weakness” or that He was beyond the control of the circumstances surrounding Him. The Scriptures are unmistakably clear that Christ gave His life voluntarily (John 10:17,18).
Interestingly, Peter adds, “and foreknowledge of God.” God chose the most appropriate time, place, and manner for His will to be carried out. Simply because God foreknew the actions of those who would reject and condemn His Son does not diminish from their guilt. Some of those standing before Peter at Pentecost were the very co-conspirators who helped set up the false witnesses against the Lord. There were also those present who cried out, “Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas!” Hiding behind them were the ones who chanted, “Away with him, away with Him, crucify Him!”
Peter wasn’t one to mince words. He effectively exposed the guilt of those responsible for the death of Christ when he stated, “ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” It was as if the blood was dripping off the ends of their fingers. Incidentally, have you heard any good news up to this point? For want of a better term, Peter was preaching the bad news of the Cross. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he tightened the noose with: you crucified Him, but God the Father raised Him from the dead and placed Him at His own right hand until all His enemies are made His footstool. Let all Israel know who committed this evil deed that they are the enemies of God (Acts 2:24-36).
Suppose for a moment you and a friend planned and carried out the perfect murder. Unexpectedly, a couple of months later your friend taps you on the shoulder and says, “By the way, remember that man we murdered, he’s back from the dead and he’s looking for us.” Now that would have your undivided attention! In like manner, Peter had his hearers’ attention when he charged them with the death of Christ. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” That is, what must we do to be saved from this terrible sin we have committed?
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent….” Finally, here’s the good news, “repent” repent of what? Repent of crucifying their Messiah. This would have included belief on His name, that He was who He claimed to be, the Messiah, the very Son of God (John 20:31). “And be [water] baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, [Upon expressing their faith in this manner, they would have been saved according to Mark 16:16], and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
These were the amended terms of salvation under the kingdom gospel after the day of Pentecost. Land ho! We are most grateful to Peter who has brought us safely to our destination where he will give the first legitimate offer of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 3:17-21). Her rejection, however, of God’s gracious offer of repentance will mark a major turning point in God’s dealings with mankind.
One of the things from Peter’s message that we would all do well to remember is, we are always responsible for our actions. The greater the position, the greater the responsibility. Next month we will be sailing with Paul!