Let’s continue with our reading of Matthew 16:21-28. As discussed in yesterday's blog, this passage marks the beginning of Jesus’ movement toward Jerusalem where he would suffer, be killed, and be raised on the third day.
Vv. 22-23 describe Peter’s attempted rebuke of Jesus, and Jesus’ response to Peter:
NIV Matthew 16:22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “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.”
Peter’s response to Jesus’ mission is stunning. He rejects Jesus’ words about his suffering, death, and resurrection with some of the strongest wording possible in Greek - “may this never be!” This response is particularly stunning in light of Peter’s confession just a few verses earlier - “You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God!” (16:16). Peter goes from heroic (and correct) confessor of Jesus’ true identity to goat in the face of Jesus’ revelation about the true meaning of his Messiahship.
Why does Peter do this? How is it possible for Peter to be dead-on right in his identification of Jesus and so wrong about the meaning of Jesus’ identity?
Jesus’ response to Peter helps to answer these questions. Jesus responds to Peter in a manner reminiscent of his rebuke of Satan during Jesus’ wilderness temptation in 4:1-11. In 4:10, Jesus orders Satan away from him in a similar fashion (this is somewhat obscured in English translation of both verses but is very close in the original Greek). By calling Peter “Satan”, Jesus implies that by his words Peter is aligning himself with the forces of evil who desire to thwart Jesus’ mission. Furthermore, Peter functions as a stumbling block. In Matthew’s Gospel, this term describes those persons/things that have the potential to cause others to sin (see 13:41 and 18:7).
Why is Peter a stumbling block? Jesus focuses on Peter’s motivation or intentions. Peter’s motivation arises from his focus on the things of humanity rather than on the things of God. In other words, Peter is living his life from a human perspective rather than a divine perspective. Peter wants to follow Jesus, but he wants to do it on his own terms rather than on God’s. In God’s economy which Jesus courageously and steadfastly embodies, Jesus must go to Jerusalem. Peter cannot accept this.
What does It mean to live life from a human perspective? In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches on a variety of topics that challenge our all too human inclination toward self:
Reputation versus Character
We have a tendency to go to great links to protect our reputation. Yet when we read Matthew, Jesus does not seem a bit worried about his reputation. In fact, Jesus is reviled. The Pharisees are scandalized by Jesus’ dining with “tax collectors and sinners” (9:11). He is accused of casting out devils by the power of the “prince of demons” (9:34). We could go on, but this serves to illustrate the point that if Jesus were to have worried about his public reputation, it is unlikely that he would have had the impact that he did.
Jesus fulfilled the mission that God gave to him without worrying about his reputation. What does this mean for us? We need to worry less about what others say about our actions and worry more about whether or not we are living faithfully and obediently for God. God will not be able to use us to our full potential if we are afraid to risk our reputations. We will not be able to interact with and reach those who desperately need the Gospel if we are afraid to lose our reputation by associating with those on the margins of society.
Instead, we need to focus on allowing God to shape our character after the image of Jesus Christ and then obediently following Jesus into the world to reach those who need God. Those who focus on the things of God understand the difference between godly character and public reputation.
Peter was no fool. He understood that a trip to Jerusalem would end in Jesus’ death and perhaps his own in the process. In his three-fold denial of Jesus later in the Gospel, it is clear that Peter is committed most profoundly to saving his own skin. Those who live life by the “things of men” rather than the “things of God” privilege their own security over the completion of God’s will in the world. Ultimate security is found in God alone (see Matt 16:27-28). The future of the disciple is secure. This doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed security and safety in this present age - rather it suggests that claims of security in this age are an illusion and ultimately a hindrance to living the unbelievable life that God calls us to live on behalf of God’s kingdom.
Jesus teaches extensively on the dangers of wealth (Matt 6:20-34; 13:22; 19:16-30). I think that it is incorrect to read these texts as suggesting that we should not work and provide for our loved ones, but we do need to hear the warning: wealth and possessions can lure us away from living whole heartedly for God. Those who focus on the things of God place God’s mission above the personal accumulation of wealth and possessions. Furthermore, when resources are acquired, they are good stewards of these and use them primarily to fuel the advancement of the Kingdom rather than the satisfaction of their own comfort.
1) How are we like Peter?
2) In what areas of our lives do we need to turn away from a human focus to a focus on God’s mission?
3) If Jesus were on earth today, what would hinder us from following him to Jerusalem?
© 2015 Brian D. Russell
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