Friday, December 21, 2012

Suddenly Serious: Matthew 16:20-28

Bombshell One: "I'm Going to Die"
20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.
22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You."
23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."
There's actually a lot of material packed into these four short verses.  Let's start with Jesus's command to the disciples that they - to whom He had just affirmed that He was the Christ - not tell anyone His true identity.  I want to make it very clear that this was a very temporary command, and the opposite is true today.  As you may recall, Matthew 10:32-33 tells us, "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven."  Denying Jesus - denying that He is your Lord - means that you are rejecting His salvation.  It is a conscious decision to deny your faith in Christ because (for example) someone who hates Christians is holding a gun to your head, or your loved one's head, and you decide that physical life is more important than God.  Do not misunderstand that the same situation appears here in this passage - it's not an exception, because there are no exceptions.  His command to the disciples (a specific group of people at a specific time) did not contradict that because He had not yet revealed Himself publically as the Christ.  But now He has - that's the difference.  Additionally, the disciples were still quite literally risking their lives to follow Him, and by travelling aroud with Him, that act was a very public declaration that they believed in Him.
Next, let's look at what happened right before Peter responded.  We all know that Jesus was tortured, murdered, and rose from the dead, so the bluntness doesn't shock us, but try to imagine what it was like to be there.  These men were going to lose thier best friend and their Prophet.  They'd also just realized He was the Christ, so they probably getting excited over the prophecies they expected Him to fulfill immediately about throwing off the Jews' oppressors and reigning with an everlasting kingdom of peace (which He won't fulfill until the End, after the Tribulation) - and then He tells them He's going to die a brutal death.  Shock, sorrow, rage, and fear must have all boiled within them.
With all of that in mind, based on his later behavior, Peter probably felt protective - vowing willingness to risk his life fighting to defend his Teacher from capture.  That's noble on the surface.  But underneath, there is a radical amount of pride and selfishness.  It reveals that he thought he knew better than God, wanted something whether it was God's will or not, and thought he could "protect" God, thereby doing something tor God that God couldn't do Himself!  You can see the foolishness of that type of thinking with his logically unsound utterance, "God forbid it, Lord!"  Yes, Peter's reaction was understandable, given the circumstances, but it was still deeply sinful.
So what did Jesus mean when He said, "Get behind me, Satan!"?  Was Peter actually possessed by Satan?  I highly doubt it.  We know that Satan possessed Judas at different times, but as I have mentioned before, it is my personal belief that a believer would have to fall pretty dang far away from the Lord to be "possession material."  But that doesn't mean that we can't open the door to demonic influence (such as increased temptation) by thinking about things we shouldn't, exposing ourselves to media we shouldn't, or giving in to our fleshly nature...and I think that's what's going on here - Peter is not possessed by Satan, but he is acting "in the spirit of Satan" - being rebellious, prideful, and selfish exactly as Satan is (Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:12-18), and not banishing the devil's temptations.  Jesus is pointing out the source and character of Peter's reaction.
Finally, we see Jesus mention Peter's response being a "stumbling block" to Him.  This is a very minor point, but when you read of a "stumbling block" in Scripture, don't assume that it refers automatically or exclusively to a temptation - it can, as it appears to here, mean something more along the lines of <anything that is a hindrance to someone's walk, even if it's just something like a distraction that keeps them from "quiet time" with God or, as here, waste ministry time on something that shouldn't be an issue>.
Bombshell Two: "You Guys Need to Die, Too."
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
25 "For whoever sishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
26 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
27 "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.
28 "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
Those of you who know a bit about history may recognize the painting at the left - it's Peter being crucified, which happened long after Jesus.  It's a stirring reminder that each and every one of us are called to the same...not necessarily literal martyrdom for our faith, but plenty of other forms of "dying to self."  We may be called to be rejected by our friends and our families.  We may be called to be fired from our jobs for our faith or to give up everything we own.  We may be called to give up a life-long dream (career, marriage, whatever) and pursue the path God has planned for us.  We may be called to move to another country, or yes, even to die.  Each of us is called to do whatever God asks of us, with no looking back.  Christianity is not about feeling better about yourself and being blessed - it's a battle for the souls of mankind.

Os Guiness said, "Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service."
Please do not misunderstand me - this is not about salvation by works.  This isn't a matter of doing good things to somehow "earn" salvation of improve God's opinion of you - those things are impossible, and they both hinge on the faulty assumption that the purpose of salvation is to get into heaven.  It's not.  The purpose of salvation is to make us like Christ.  So of course we are called to live like He did - suffering and all.
Anything we have to give up or suffer on this earth is a mere speck compared to what basking in the glory of Christ will be like - spending eternity in unending fellowship with our Savior.  The apostles understood what living and dying for Christ meant on a far deeper level than any of us in the American church could ever imagine - and clearly they saw their "investment" as worth it.  We should believe the testimony of their lives.
As Jesus promised in this passage, at least one man there, John, did see Christ returning - in a vision of the End of Days.  Perhaps some of the others had similar, unrecorded experiences much like Stephen where Christ supported them with visions of what they would behold if only they endured.  Just the same, Christ will give us the strength to endure whatever "crosses" He asks us to carry.  It won't be easy (or else it wouldn't be a cross), but He will support us.  I forget who it was who said, "The cross bears those who bear the cross."
Please, believers, make time today to spend time alone with God and ask Him what your cross to bear is.  And then be faithful in bearing it.
And if you do not yet know Christ as your Savior, click here to learn how in English or here to learn how in your own language.
Questions for You
Have you ever had a time in your life when you thought you knew better than God, only to later see the wisdom of His plan?
What cross(es) do you bear today?  What cross(es) have you had to bear in the past?
Anything else you'd like to add or ask?  Leave it in the comments section. :-)
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image Number One: Matthew Illustration courtesy of Sweet Publishing.  Used by permission.
Image Number Two: Crucifixion of St. Peter, by Carvaggio.  Wikipedia.  {{PD-1923}} Public domain in the United States.

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