An Opportune Time

The waters of baptism had barely evaporated. The breath of the Spirit's hovering presence was fresh upon him, filling him up to the fullest measure. The affirming words of his Abba Father still resounded within his soul. But now, Jesus wanders alone. 

Fresh off the heels of that triumphant, jubilant occasion in the Jordan waters, the Spirit now draws him out of the waters and hurls him into the wilderness. Jesus of Nazareth prays his way through the dusty, desolate wilderness as he makes his move toward his throne. From Israel's history, we would imagine the coming of Israel's long-awaited redeemer - that new and better Moses - to march right up to Caeser and claim the Promised Land. That's what Israel expects from her Messiah. 

But, no. 

The accuser, that ancient archenemy of humankind and yet, somehow, also a servant of the Divine council, appears on the scene. Just as he appeared before Elohim Adonai in that famous tale of the wealthiest man in the East, Job, the accuser steps into the courtroom and delivers his best attempt to divert the Messiah from his mission, to plunder the rightful King's ascent to his rightful throne. Yes, the good King is here. Yes, the serpent head crusher has arrived. 

But the earth's current prince is no slouch. Like a vassal trying to manipulate the suzerain with wily tricks, the satan delivers a threefold attempt at coup d'eta. 

Hungry? Turn stones to bread and get satisfied! 

Looking to rule the earth's kingdoms? Bow and get your throne now! 

Need to erase all doubt? Throw yourself overboard and just watch the angels show up! 

In sum: the accuser seeks to put Jesus' mind on earthly, human ways and means rather than heavenly, divine ways and means. 

These temptations were nothing new, though. The accuser's bag of tricks proves itself minimal in its scope, but deadly in its effect upon all save that one man from Nazareth. The temptations were there with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. The temptations were there with Moses en route to the Promised Land. 

So, what's new? This new Adam passes the test. Unlike Esau, he refuses the temporary satiation of vituals and salivates, instead, for the life-giving word of God. Unlike King Hezekiah, he refuses alliance with worldly power. Unlike Adam and Eve, he trusts his Abba Father and doesn't put Yahweh to the test. With the very words of YHWH-breathed torah in his mouth, he shoots down the satan's attempts to deter the rightful King from his journey to that unexpected, subversive and glorious throne on that hill outside the Jerusalem's gate. 

Thankfully, the anointed King emerges from the ring victorious over that rebel prince. The gospel writers give us an important footnote to this critical story from the Messianic narrative - "the accuser left him until an opportune time." 

Fast forward to the middle of Messianic storyline in the gospels (here, I'm thinking of Matthew's account as recorded in chapter 16). Once again, we find Jesus fresh off the heels of a triumphant moment. In Caesarea Philippi, Jesus receives a declaration of faith from the outspoken Simon. "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" Jesus asks the twelve. "But, who do you say I am?" Jesus inquires, taking the matter to their innermost thoughts. "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!" Yes, Simon. This wasn't revealed to you by humans, but by God, Jesus assures him. 

With a public-yet-private declaration of faith now filling up the disciples' ears, the annointed One then proceeds to rename Simon as Peter ("rock") and confirm that he will build his ekklessia on this very rock and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (Is the "rock" Peter himself? Is it the very rocky soil on which they were standing where pagan sacrifice rituals took place, a gate of Hades in their midst - the exact darkness upon the earth where the kingdom of light would prevail? Yes. I think it was a double entendre by the master wordsmith, Jesus.) 

This Messiah would not rule alone, though. Jesus says he will share power, restoring the dignity of imago Dei: "I'm giving you the keys to the kingdom! Whatever you bind or loosen here on earth, it will likewise be bound or loosened in the heavenly realms." 

So, what kind of Messiah is this? What does the Son of Man have in store? The disciples, being good Jews (mostly?) knew that the "Son of Man" is a title reserved for the annointed one who sits at the right hand of the Ancient of Days in Daniel's prophetic vision. For Jesus to have used this title more than any other is lost on us unless we understand the monumental significance of "Son of Man" nomenclature. The identity and destiny of Israel - indeed, all nations! - was bound up in that title. So, now that Jesus's true identity and destiny were known and named by Peter and the disciples (their full understanding still childish in their pre-resurrection, pre-Pentecost, pre-Cornelius-visitation imaginations), it's safe to say an "opportune time" had arrived. 

Sure enough, the accuser steps back into view. Matthew's record continues with a emphatic note that "from this time on" Jesus' face was set like flint to a stone. He was making his move toward Jerusalem to his cruciform throne. 

This "opportune time" was now here in the guise of Jesus' own confessor, Peter. Jesus announces that the Son of Man - the Messiah himself - must suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, and - gasp - be killed! The satan knew what the disciples did not, knowing that his own occupancy of earth's throne was threatened if, and only if, the Messiah were to ascend Golgotha onto the Roman crucifix. Weasling his way into Peter's ambitions and words, the tempter throws his A-game. "Never! My lord, Jesus, you will not die!" Peter retorts to Jesus. The Messiah, in Peter and disciples' imaginations, will surely be an earthly kind of king who will oust the Roman occupation and dismantle all the political, economic and religious oppression that were standing in the way of Israel dwelling in the land in shalom (the whole "so that the nations may stream to it" bit was lost on them until the Cornelius vision). 

Jesus recognizes the illusion; he hears the voice of the accuser. "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to my mission. You don't have in mind divine things but rather human things." Jesus doesn't mince words. Peter is a puppet for the attempted coup d'eta, and his words must be crushed immediately. Worldly power games and politics might work that way, but not in my kingdom, Jesus declares. 

But he doesn't stop there.

"If any of you wants to be my're going to have to die, to take up your cross, and follow me. Every. Day." What? Cross? Jesus, crosses are those instruments of political torture and humiliation that the Romans are lining our streets with. Do you know what you're talking about? They should be the ones hanging on crosses, not us - right? 

Jesus goes on to say that his followers, like Adam and Eve, stand before two trees. We can take the fruit from the tree of knowing good and bad and get what we want now (power, influence, accolades, false peace, safety, and an illusion of "good"), or we can choose the tree of life and wait with patience for the bearing of fruit that endures, a fruit that will bring true shalom when God reconclies all things in the Annointed One and heaven and earth are renewed and reunited in a beautiful harmonious goodness.


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