Summary: The Cross (not the Couch) Defines the Divine Mission 1) For Christ; 2) For Christians
You’ve heard of Operation Desert Storm, the code name for the U.S. invasion of Iraq back in 1991but do you know anything about Operation Moolah? It was a genuine military operation in the early ‘50’s aimed at enticing North Korean pilots to defect during the Korean War. It was called Operation Moolah because the first pilot to defect with his Soviet-built MiG-15 fighter plane would be offered $100,000 – a lot of moolah, or money in those days.
If you were to look up the names of other military operations, you would notice that most somehow describe the mission’s objective or the mode in which the mission was to be carried out. Desert Storm, for example, was called that because the U.S. military was intent on whipping up a storm as it raced across the Iraqi desert to capture Baghdad, the capital city.
In our sermon text today Jesus defines the divine mission for both himself, the Christ, and for us, Christians. Had he given the mission an operational name it would have been the “Cross.” The Apostle Peter, however, objected to this. He felt that the divine mission should instead be called something less frightening like Operation Couch. But it is the cross, and not the couch, that defines the divine mission for Christ and Christians. Those who don’t accept this are allies of Satan and will lose their life for eternity. Am I exaggerating? Let’s find out.
In our Gospel Lesson last Sunday we heard how Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. Do you remember Peter’s wonderful answer? He said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Matthew 16:16) Jesus must have beamed – the way a mother does when for the first time her baby says, “Mommy.” For this rock-like confession Jesus gave Simon, as he was formerly known, the nickname “Cephas” or “Peter” which means “rock.” But in today’s Gospel Lesson the Savior called Peter, “Satan” and told him to get out of his sight! What happened? While Peter had a divine understanding of Jesus’ identity, his grasp of Jesus’ mission was diabolical.
It all derailed when Jesus told his disciples clearly for the first time that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21b). What? Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God suffer and be killed in Jerusalem? Oh, that couldn’t be God’s plan. Yet when Peter expressed as much to Jesus whom he had taken aside as if he was a little kid who needed a talking to, Jesus whirled on “Rocky” and retorted: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).
Cephas was now a Satan? Wasn’t Jesus overreacting? Hadn’t Peter meant well by insisting that Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die? He may have meant well but Peter had inadvertently lobbed at Jesus one of the temptations Satan himself had used in the wilderness after Jesus’ baptism. At that time Satan had told Jesus that if he wanted to receive glory and honor from all the nations, he didn’t have to bloody himself on the cross. He could just bow down to him instead. Satan was offering Jesus a crown without the cross. But Jesus knew that there would be no crown for us if he did not endure the cross.
“You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” Jesus told Peter. That’s still true of those who are offended by the cross of Jesus and think that a suffering savior is overkill. Why, “Just be good!” Isn’t that enough to gain entrance into heaven? Did you notice, however, that Jesus equated “the things of men” with the thoughts of Satan? Whenever someone thinks that he just needs to follow the Golden Rule and “do unto others as he would have them do unto him,” these seemingly pious thoughts cause great delight in hell. You see, Satan’s goal is not to make this world a living hell where murderers and child molesters roam the streets uncontested. He’s quite content to have a world full of law-abiding citizens who mow the lawn for the shut-in down the street and who return dropped $20 bills instead of pocketing them as long as these people think that by doing these good acts they don’t need the cross of Christ.
But telling Jesus that he didn’t need to suffer and die would be like telling your insurance company that it doesn’t need to pay for the damage you did to your car. Well if the insurance company isn’t going to pay, then who is? Someone has to if your car is going to get fixed. Likewise if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross, we would still be on the hook for our sins. Ditch the cross and leave us sinners to fend for ourselves? Aren’t you glad Jesus put Peter in his place? Aren’t you glad that Jesus understood well that the divine mission outlined for him was defined by the cross and not the couch?