The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 8: 38 – 9:1 NIV).
The Power and the Glory
I don’t know about you, but my blood runs hot and cold at the same time when I hear these words. Think about it. On the one hand, Jesus is saying that if we are ashamed to follow him on the road to Jerusalem in true discipleship, then he will be ashamed of us on the day of judgment. Then, quick as you like, he reveals the other side of the coin and says that some of the disciples standing there would see with their own eyes, before they died, “the kingdom of God come with power.” Dread on the one hand. Excitement on the other.
There’s only one problem. It didn’t happen. All of the disciples died and Jesus did not inaugurate the kingdom of God with power. In fact, he left and he hasn’t been seen for two thousand years. What’s going on here? That can’t be right.
Think about the disciples and how they are feeling. Remember that they are Jews and have been steeped in Jewish beliefs and expectations about the kingdom of God since they were children. When Jesus talked about coming “in his Father’s glory with the holy angels,” he is definitely talking about the apocalyptic event at the end of time when we will all be ushered into the presence of God to face the judgment. The Old Testament is full of these kinds of statements. God coming in glory with his holy angels to judge the nations. The Jews looked forward to the time of God’s revealing when they would feast with him and his holy angels in Paradise.
When Jesus is teaching his disciples about the end times a bit later on, he tells them, “at that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (Mark 13: 26, 27 NIV). That’s what the angels are for, to gather God’s people together and present them at the seat of judgment in the throne room of God.
When Jesus is on trial in front of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin and he is asked a direct question about whether or not he is “the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26: 63b), we are reminded of the confession of Peter. This is the essential question. Who is Jesus?
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26: 64 NIV). Of course, they take it as blasphemy since they see Jesus only as a man. We believe that he is “the Son of the Living God” and that makes all the difference in the world. But look at his words, “sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One,” and “coming on the clouds of heaven.” They knew what he was saying. He was saying that they might be allowed to judge him now but he will come in judgment one day “on the clouds” to judge them because God, Himself, has given him the “right hand” of his authority and power to judge the nations. Every Jew knew what the power and the glory was all about. It was about judgment on the nations.
Of course the Jews would have thought of themselves as being the heros of this story. That God’s judgment would be on the Gentile sinners, the evil Romans, the heathen hords beyond the Empire, but not on them. They were the chosen of God. They would be protected because of their heritage, because they were the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Because they were God-fearing Jews. Religious people. Church-goers. Moral, law-abiding citizens. They were good, not evil, so they had nothing to fear and, in fact, expected great rewards. They would be disappointed.
Jesus came to upset the apple cart, to turn over the tables, to become the new standard by which all men, Jews and Gentiles alike, would be judged. The problem was that the High Priest and the Sanhedrin didn’t believe it for a moment. They were, in fact, engaged in a highly illegal trial of Jesus at night, without proper procedures, trying to ram a decision through before the Passover started. False accusations, lying witnesses who merely misunderstood his teachings, the list goes on and on. Not very God-fearing after all. But definitely religious. And God was not pleased.
The Power and the Glory. Because Jesus is given the Power, he will also recieve the Glory. He will come on his “Father’s glory with the holy angels” to judge the living and the dead. After his resurrection, because of the cross, Jesus is able to say to his disciples, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 NIV). This means that Jesus (and our relationship with him) is the dividing line when it comes to the judgment on the last day when we have to face our Creator. The Father will judge us on the basis of our relationship with the Son. It’s as simple as that.
Still we might be confused about the timeline of all of this. Jesus first of all warns us about not being ashamed of him “and my words” (vs 38), no doubt a reminder of the crowds who wanted to force him to become king and to throw out the Romans and then were quite ashamed of his talk of eating flesh and drinking blood. He makes it very clear that he will, in the end, be their judge and he will be “ashamed” of them. But it’s the next words that should fill you with dread: “when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” The disciples expected that to happen at any time. There was no idea of a “time between the times,” no realization of the patience of God that was inserted between the Power and the Glory in order to save as many as possible. As far as the disciples were concerned, time was up. There were no more last minute opportunities, final acts of repentance, last rites, nothing. Just judgment. The time to follow was now.
Then Jesus switches gears and his words fill you with excitement because there are some disciples who will not taste death “before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” But it didn’t happen. Did it? It is very easy to confuse the power and the glory. The power comes first. The glory comes later. First comes the power of God to save his people from their sins. That happened on the cross and was vindicated by the resurrection. Later will come the revealed glory when Jesus will come on the clouds (his Father’s Shekinah glory) with the holy angels. The kingdom of God “coming in power” did happen and it was glorious. The disciples witnessed it first hand.
The kingdom of God came with power when they saw the Son of Man suffer and die on their behalf on the hill called Calvary. The disciples saw the kingdom of God come with power when that same Son of Man was laid in a tomb, dead for three days and then rose from the dead. They saw that kingdom of God come with power when he showed himself alive and well, eating fish and breaking bread with them and more than 500 followers over and over again for forty days and nights until there was no question of hallucinations or mind tricks or conspiracies. They saw that kingdom of God come with power when they saw him rise into the air, again in the cloud of Shekinah glory, to ascend into heaven and be seated at the right hand of the Father on a throne especially made for him (Rev. 4) from which, even today, he continues to rule the nations through his followers, his church, his new Jerusalem, his word, his spirit, his power and his glory.
His patience and long-suffering for two thousand years will continue (but we don’t know for how long) because he wants to save as many as he can. Peter tells us, in his second letter to the churches, that “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise (to come back), as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3: 9 NIV).
They saw the kingdom of God come in power when they witnessed Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. They saw it when they were emboldened to leave their fear behind and go out and preach the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ and see more than 3000 people responding in a single day. All through the book of Acts, we see the kingdom of God coming in power to change lives, to create new disciples, to spread the gospel of the love of God for his people, to heed the call to radical discipleship, to follow the way of the cross, to genuine love for the one who sacrificed everything in his love for the Father and gives us that same example to follow.
Of course “the kingdom of God coming with power” happened and it is happening still. It doesn’t get on the news much. It is often hidden away, misunderstood, trivialized, stamped out, even persecuted but it is there and it is powerful. Churches are often without that power, falling into the same trap as the Pharisees of Jesus time, having the form of religion but not the power (Matthew 22:29). You have to look closer. Often it is not the leaders that demonstrate that power but rather the janitor, the maid, the usher or the sunday school teacher. Often it is overlaid by leaders with pretensions to glory and power that are simply fake, even if well-intentioned. Take a closer look. Figure out what you should be looking for in the first place. Genuine, radical discipleship. It’s there and it is incredibly powerful, especially when a band of brothers and sisters are dedicated to spiritual unity and are blessed with the anointing of God. That is the new Jerusalem. When we seek that new Jerusalem, we will find it. Then anything can happen.
The power of the kingdom is available to change lives through the cross with the power of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Everything else can be faked. The rest can be hypocrisy. Hands raised in worship, singing with emotion, all acts of piety and care for the poor, zeal for the unborn, marches for justice, preaching with passion, it can all be faked. But there is one thing that cannot be counterfeited and that is the true humility that comes from bowing your head before the cross of Christ and making your sincere confession for all to hear, the practical faith that is necessary to truly live a life of repentance, the conviction that is essential to forgive someone who has hurt you deeply for no other reason than because the cross demands it, and the deep longing and desire for reconciliation not only with God but with your brothers and sisters which creates the new Jerusalem. Seeking Jerusalem. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Walking in the Spirit and seeking the anointing of God in spiritual unity with your family. These are the marks of genuine discipleship and Holy Spirit filled worship. Knowing the difference is crucial.
So what will you do this Lenten Season? Will you be ashamed of the radical nature of this discipleship, this way of the cross? Will you dread the judgment when he comes in his glory to judge your life? Or will you be one of those disciples, like the disciples of old, who will look for and see and participate in the kingdom of God that comes in power in your life, your relationships, your family and your church? If nothing else, Lent is about the cross, and the cross is about discipleship and true discipleship is an eternal decision. It’s time to make yours.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. It’s time to talk to your Father and tell him what you’re thinking.
Lord, I am a bit overwhelmed with your seriousness. I thought that this was just a light thing, a moral thing, a church thing. Something to add to my life as an extra, a comfort blanket, covering all the basis in case I need you. Now I realize that it is something more. It is life itself. It is radical. It changes you. Sometimes I don’t want to change but I know I have to. I can’t do this on my own. I need your help. I want to follow you. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.