According to the Youtube videos that somehow evade my ad-blocker and the various news articles I reluctantly read, there is one thing on which all political parties and candidates agree: these are dark and dangerous times, and we need a strong leader to deliver us.
The power of this marketing strategy is obvious. We’ve lived through months of pandemic. We’ve watched as protestors fill our streets. And we are currently holding our breath as first wildfires and now hurricanes rip through small towns and large, leaving destruction and grief in their wake. It doesn’t matter if you belong to the political Left or Right: We all know that these are indeed times of deeper darkness than many of us have ever experienced.
Which is why we want our political champions to be models of strength, of purpose, of promise—because we can’t tolerate the thought of 2021 being a 2020, part two. Our hopes are built on nothing less . . . than the victory of one of two men. Or so they want us to believe.
More than ever before, the presidential nominees want us to see them as our Savior. They want us to believe that they are our only hope. But that is a false assertion, regardless of how poignant it is at this point in time. Because we already have a Savior, a man who, if he was to be represented by a full marketing team and millions of dollars worth of TV commercials would be so exactly the opposite of a strong candidate that no one in their right mind would vote for him—because his entire platform is based on what the world can never understand.
Jesus is our Lord, but he is a Lord unlike any other.
Just moments after Peter identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things . . . and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And Peter, alarmed at the turn the conversation had taken, grabbed Jesus by the shoulders and said, “this shall never happen to you,” which prompted Jesus’ gut-wrenching reply: “Get behind me, Satan. . . . For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Confused silence greeted his words. Our Messiah was planning to do what? The disciples’ hopes had only just been confirmed. Jesus was the promised one, the Savior of Israel who would bring injustice to an end and re-establish communion with God, not to mention crushing the armies of Rome and freeing the Jewish people from foreign tyranny forever. That he should die was most certainly not on the agenda. And if Jesus thought they would let go of that hope, that they could really trust a leader who was walking toward his death . . . It wasn’t even an option. He must be mistaken.
Thousands of years later, we thumb through our Bibles and can feel awfully tempted to judge these men for their sheer obtuseness. But Peter’s reaction and the disciples’ failure to understand Jesus’ words shouldn’t surprise us—because we, like them, are so often blinded by what we can see.
The photographs, the news reels, the catastrophic projections, the memories crowd our minds and make the world—in all its fallenness—more apparent and more apparently powerful than the God who has saved us. At times like these, we want power, not sacrifice. Dominance, not submission. We want a leader like Peter and his fellow disciples wanted: a man who will strike down our enemies and accomplish our goals.
But what we have is a crucified Messiah. What we have is a God who has chosen—on his own terms—to dwell with us. He doesn’t look polished or important. In fact, his hands are cracked and his robe frayed. He is an unassuming Jewish man who grew up the son of a working-class family; who wandered through deserts and country towns, feeding the hungry and healing the sick, urging those he helped not to tell anyone what he had done. He is a Messiah who will speak with Gentile women, who will bring tax collectors and prostitutes into his fold, who will continue to love and lead his disciples even knowing that they will abandon him in the end.
He is the Messiah we need as we walk through life in a world that is fallen. He is the one who will get down in the dirt with us when we trip, the one who will hold us up when we have no strength to stand. He is the life, the true life that we crave, the only life that can lead us into eternal glory—because he lives with us.
Jesus’ call to us today is to follow him, a crucified Messiah, a man who will guide us through the lowest of lows and carry us into the highest of highs. “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We will not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.” AMEN.