I wonder how you gauge the value of something? Value as a concept is both subjective and objective. You can have a piece of art worth millions on the market, yet, in front of someone who has no knowledge of art, or appreciation of the style it is just another painting! In fact, they would find the £20 print from the tacky shop more exciting and useful in the house. We are people who are forever looking for value somewhere. We want to be valuable, and we do know and hold valuable things, whether it is a possession, person or position. We all find value in something, and we all want to find useful items. In the moments before these verses in Matthew 16, Peter seems to have recognised the importance of Jesus. Standing before him and the disciple’s Peter responds rightly to a question of value: Who do people say that I am? – “the Messiah.”
It is not just a name or title that Peter is speaking over Jesus. It is at its heart a recognition that with this man he has been following there is something more to him. Something that sets him apart, something that makes him valuable. It is a recognition of an aspect of Jesus identity and in a way, a declaration about what he has come to do. Peter recognises that the objective value of Jesus is in something beyond Him – that he is the Messiah. Yet, Peter does what Peter does best: “One Step forward, two steps back…” As in the same moving forward, he seems to stumble back down the hill of recognition. Whether it is stepping out onto the water, and then sinking into the waves; being a presence for the Transfiguration and then suggesting the placement of some tents; or recognising Jesus as Messiah, then being named as a rock on which God would build his church before swiftly being aligned with Satan… How quickly things can change! Why? Because the right words do not equal correct recognition.
What Peter had spoken was right: Jesus was the Messiah, Peter knew there was value in what Christ had come to do, yet, he was still to come to terms with that value. What Peter meant by that name was radically distorted to the truth of Jesus’s Messiahship. He had the right word but a distorted understanding of what that word meant in the context of heaven. Thus, Jesus corrected him, by outworking the meaning of Messiahship in his context, and what it would mean for them and all who choose to follow him. It is teaching that draws a reaction from Peter because it confronts Jesus, and where we focus for now is on the beauty of Jesus rebuke to Peter at that moment as he responds with the authority of a king.
How Do We See?
I love hiking, especially in our local mountains, the Mournes. One of the best things about climbing is that progressive reward: that with every step and glance, there is something to see… It is the perspective that gives meaning to the journey. Hence, once of the worst things on a hike is fog! It ruins it because you can see nothing. As you climb, you have little sight of what is ahead or behind, and as you scan the horizon, you can only imagine the view! I remember being out for a hike late evening and from the top, we watched as clouds drifted in beneath us, it completely changed our view, but it also changed our descent as every reference point for the journey back was hidden under that evening mist. Peter seems to have reached the pinnacle of his progress in recognising Jesus as Messiah, yet, we learn as the passage develops that there is still some fog in his vision blurring some of his persecutive which in turns influencing his climb. Hence, Jesus begins to teach and outwork what it means to know him as Messiah, how this has to be understood not through earthly notions of power and authority but through the lens of the Kingdom of God – only that perspective gives it true value.
This is our challenge today, amid the constant changes this season brings we need to make sure our perspective of Jesus is the right one. We need to be confident in our declaration of who he is, that we see Jesus as He reveals himself and not as we want him to be. Thus, our challenge as we consider this passage is to grasp the wonder of Jesus as Messiah and also its reality, not just for Jesus but for those who chose to identify with him. Like Peter, at this moment, we all need the beauty of a rebuke if it helps us grasp the reality and wonder of what it means to follow Jesus. The challenge: How Do We See Jesus, and how does that affect how we see the world?
As Jesus begins to teach in this section of Matthew 16 in response to what Peter has declared, there are three main things to take note of. Today we see that this passage challenged us in three ways:
- We see that life is made available for all (through faith) by the death of one (21)
- That the hope of the Cross is offensive to the world and those stuck in it (22)
- A Beautiful Rebuke (23)
1 – LIFE FOR ALL THROUGH THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ONE (21)
It is one thing to say something, it is another thing to know what it means. Think of how we throw about the word Love. Imagine the first time a child speaks it to someone, they might mean it with the fullness of their being, but they have little sense of what it means until time teaches them what love indeed looks like. Something is ever only genuinely known by experience. Imagine you were sitting chatting to someone who was able to tell you every insignificant detail of the latest Range Rover Sport. They described it with precision and passion that makes you marvel and consider buying one! Then you ask them how long they have owned one and suddenly they seem to look confused, startled even… they respond by telling you that they do not own one and have yet to drive the car! They have just been speaking based on some youtube videos… It is one thing to know all about something, yet another thing to know it by experience and reality.
One Perspective that Leads to Life
Peter’s messiah perspective was not that of God’s. He was still to grasp what it means for Jesus to be Messiah. Sadly today this remains a problem in the church as people preach a false gospel based on a fake Jesus for their sake and not the sake of the Kingdom of God. They preach a view of Jesus that leads not to life, but to death because the Bible makes clear there is only one way to truly know life with God. It requires the right view of Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Let us make sure our view of Jesus is the right one, and not some watered down counterfeit Gospel: Jesus the wisdom teacher, Jesus the guru, Jesus the hippy, Jesus the champion of whatever social cause is trending on Twitter. Sadly, this is what we do we create Jesus in our image or in an idea that we like and whatever Jesus it might be it is not the Jesus of the Gospel. Furthermore, when you dig into it, you will find that it is Jesus minus everything that makes him so valuable to us. The worldly safe Jesus is one stripped of what we need the most; his divinity, eternality, and redemptive world. It is Jesus without the Cross, and it is not Jesus the Messiah.
The Cross Perspective
Peter had got the right word, now Jesus would teach him the fullness of what it means to speak and know him as Messiah. Jesus wants these men who have been following him to have the right perspective. The whole session here could be summed up in one word – the Cross! Yet, you can imagine how hard it must have been for the disciples to hear as Jesus begins to explain “that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Moreover, how hard it must have been for them to comprehend as every word he speaks confronted their fleshly notions of Messiah. These are not words of victory, conquest or overthrow. They are words of defeat. Yet, they are the reality of the Kingdom of God and the way that God words.
A Reminder of how God works
Nothing about Jesus’s ministry ever conformed to earthly notions: he came in humility, and he would die in shame. Yet, God would use that which was the mockery of the world to be the ultimate display of his power, authority, mercy, Love and Glory. What an excellent assurance for us as we commit our lives to God’s cause and work, and commit ourselves to live by way of the Kingdom that this way does not conform to the world. The Cross is our hope and perspective; it reminds us that there is nothing God cannot and will not use for his purposes.
The Cross was always the Plan
One thing that Jesus seems to be made clear before it happens is that all that he speaks has been set in motion by God. The Cross was always the plan. Jesus speaks in a way that makes clear that God is at work, it is not that God knows the plans of men and then tries to use them for his own cause. No! God uses men in his plans, as through his sovereign rule and reign, he works all things to his cause. This is the God we worship – one who is in control and confronting the world and enemy at every point. God’s hand1 is over every detail of what Jesus speaks: the going to Jerusalem, the suffering at the hands of the political and religious authorities, and his death. Flemming Rutledge capture’s the heart of God and verse 21 when she rights:
”The Sacrifice of Christ was not God’s reaction to human sin, but an inherent original movement within God’s very being. It is in the very nature of God to offer God’s Self Sacrificially.” (Flemming Rutledge, The Crucifiction, 263)
The Cross is the revelation not just of God’s Love, but the way the Kingdom of God works. To follow Jesus is to see the world through the lens of Cross, and to be willing to live the course of the Cross. To know Jesus as Messiah is to Known him as Jesus of calvary. Jesus confronts all our notions of power and victory. We see this in how Peter reacts to what Jesus has just spoken because he was still to recognise the otherworldly nature of that Messiahship. He is Still to recognise that Jesus had come to restore that broken relationship between God and Humankind – an offer of life for all through suffering and the Cross.
The Cross, which is the supreme display of power and Love, is both our way of salvation and the example of what it means to live in the Kingdom. We are a people of the Cross, something which Jesus works out in the second half of this passage, and something we will look at later.
”It is through the Cross we understand God’s Heart and way of working in the world.”
2. The Offensive Hope of the Cross is Offensive(22)
Peter reacts to what Jesus has spoken because it confronts so many of his idols and ideals about how God will work in the world. Think about their context, a people who have known nothing but oppressive and restriction for hundreds of years. What Peter longs for is what he thinks is best for him and his community, then when Jesus speaks what he hears is of defeat at the very hands which he thought where about to be overthrown. His vision of God’s redemptive work was too limited, the evil’s he wanted to be overthrown to small. He thought only in earthly reality while Christ came to fulfil an eternal one. Thus, you can understand as Peter is offended as he takes Jesus aside because it confronts not only his expectations but also his understanding of what victory and power would look like, as he rebukes Jesus:
“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
We are Peter at this moment, as we come to Jesus and know him as Messiah his way of working, being, and saving should confront our way of seeing the world. It should confront us to such a point where we are offended, because the Good news of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom is not of this world, thus, every of this world in us is confronted by it. If the Gospel has never confronted our lives, our way of seeing the world: If we are not challenged in some aspect by the call and way of the Cross then we must consider is that which we knew truly the Gospel? O have we been deceived by some pathetic version of it? So we must consider today where is the message of the Cross, the way of the Kingdom confronting us today? What is Christ beautifully rebuking us over?
Peter has cast an image of Jesus that offers him the most hope, not the hope that he needs, yet, this interaction reminds us not just of the power of the Gospel but also its offence. The Message of the Cross is one that declares that God works in ways contra to worldly norms, and often in ways that will offend the sensitives of the world. The hope of the Cross offends this world because it offers hope beyond the limits of the world’s power and reaches. Yet, while Peter has glimpsed something of the Kingdom, its way and powers he worldview and values are still those of the flesh. He has seen something, but as early morning, there is still much fog on the horizon, and it will take time for it to lift. Let us consider the beautiful rebuke of Jesus?
3 A Most Beautiful Rebuke (23)
But He turned and said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (23)
How must Peter have felt in that moment, no sooner had he finished was he being rebuked in the strongest possible terms by Jesus. These are words that are hard to read, partly because our constant image of Jesus is one of meekness and majesty and this moment is so out of step with that. Yet, when we consider the gravity of Peters words and their implications, then we realise that this is not a scornful rebuke from Jesus but a beautiful one that is simply stating reality. There are two things aspects to consider: Our Kingdom Allegiance and The Seriousness of Sin.
1 ) Our Kingdom Allegiance: Who do you Serve?
A major component of discipleship around the time of Jesus was an identity: To follow a teacher was to identify with that teacher publicly. It was not a case of going to a class a day and seeing if you liked their philosophy and ethic of life. To become a student of a teacher was to follow them, to sit at their feet and learn their way of thinking and living and then to model it. Discipleship was learning through belonging and allegiance. Thus, to be a disciple of Jesus was no different. Today, to know Jesus as Lord is to Identify with him publicly. In essence, to declare our allegiance to him as King over any authority or power of this world.
Our Saviour is our King
Consider the imagery of salvation within Christianity. We talk about Jesus as Lord and Saviour to establish that his work is more than just paying some owed debt on our behalf; knowing Christ today is not just a matter of accepting the saving work of the Cross and then getting on with life by your own philosophy and ethic. Thus, if we are his really his disciple it means we accept his rule as the only rule, it means we trust him and seek to live by his way not out of duty or guilt, nor even to earn from him, but because we have grasped, it is the only true way to live. To come to him is to trust his work-eternal and enter his Kingdom today. When we are his disciples, we are publicly declaring our citizenship of the Kingdom of heaven, a Kingdom that stands against the forces and ethics of this world and confronts it with the Glory of God. As disciples of Jesus, we are citizens of heaven here and now and declare our hope and confidence in the King of the Cross boldly. Furthermore, when we consider a biblical worldview, there really are only two identities: you are either a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven or a citizen of the Kingdom of this world.
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:12
Thus consider Peter at this moment. Just a few moments before our passage he had declared Jesus as Messiah, yes, he had a wrong understanding of what that meant, but he was still correct and even then for him it was a declaration soaked in royal imagery. The Messiah he was expecting might have been a military one, but it was still one who would sit on the throne of David and rule. Now, as his Messiah explained just how God was going to work, Peter decided that he did not like the sound of it and had a better idea. At that moment, he disavowed his belonging to Christ and the plans of the Kingdom, and that leaves only one other identity of belong – Satan. Thus, Jesus in his rebuke of Peter identifies him with Satan because if he is not aligned with the plans of God, he is in that moment an enemy of God and akin to the plans of Satan.
Who Do We Serve?
God is active in the world today, often in ways that confront the world and its way of working, often in ways perhaps that we struggle to see or comprehend, yet, as citizenships of his Kingdom we must trust his rule and reign and declare it else we are choosing to trust in different power and authority – the power of this earth and age. Perhaps today we need to consider the allegiance of our lives, do we truly belong to identity with the Lordship of Christ or have we trusted his saving work and Lordship. Then, if we are his disciples, citizens of another kingdom then let us consider how we are living out that citizenship today, where are we compromising the Gospel and its outworking our world and lives because we do not want the hassle of making our allegiance known. Let us set off all that hinders us and look to the King who can be trusted inspire of whatever we are going through, then as we consider his goodness as we marvel and the gift of Grace through the Cross let us live out that citizenships as we follow Christ down the cross-road as we model our lives on him and make known our allegiances in this world today, even amid the Chaos of this pandemic. Let us make know our hope that passes all understanding as the world and our culture is losing hope in the old things and trying to understand again all that is going. let us declare the reign of King Jesus
2 The Seriousness of Sin
Sin is a serious thing when we grasp that the Cross becomes more beautiful and Grace all the more amazing. We all sin, no matter our status, wealth, influence, titles or power, we all stand before God in sin and need of saving. Yet, our sin is the one thing we cannot deal with, even though we try to find ways (even without realising it) we try to live moral lives, we become pious, religious or zealot, and that is as Christians. Sin is our most serious problem, and often as we walk with Jesus, we lose sight of its seriousness and the wonder of Grace. We start to trust in our own efforts, desires, and designs rather than lean on God. This is the struggle of living out our faith in a fallen world, we keep falling back into old habits and practices. Maybe you read this as disciples thinking your sin is not that bad, you have been quite good. Maybe you read this as someone who does not yet know the Lordship of Jesus over your life and relatively speaking you have lived a non-bad life: you have no murdered, stolen, or actively been dishonest… You are just going about your day today. All of that is true whether we are Christian are not, relatively speaking most people are just trying to survive, yet we must not minimise the seriousness of sin we must see it as it is.
We were made for Something More.
To understand the seriousness of sin, we must go back to the beginning of the biblical narrative, when Adam and Eve enter the world. Two beings who bear the image of God, meaning that in them and every human there is something that reflects the divine, and more so it means that not only do we reflect God but we were made for God. Humanity’s purpose in this world, according to the Bible, is to know God and to make Him known. Thus, a Christian worldview purports that we find all that we are looking for when we look to God for everything. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, yet, disobedience was not just an act; it was an attitude for at that moment, they decided to trust something other than God. The created rather than looking to the creator looked to something created for only that which the creator could offer them. They put their mind on the things of this world. Sin then must be understood as anything that comes between humanity and God. John Piper captures the fullness of our problem when he writes:
“What is sin?
It is the glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.
That is sin.” – John Piper
Sin is a serious issue, and in his rebuke of Peter, Jesus highlights the seriousness of his sin. Thus, the rebuke was not one motivated by anger but Love: Jesus wanted Peter to grasp just what he had done and that at that moment and every moment when we are not looking to God we are looking to something else, then we are sinning. Where are we singing right now, to what things are we looking to provide only what God can? It may not even be obvious, but let us stop and consider this lockdown season, what have we looked to for security, identity and purpose when the world seems to collapse around us – the creator or created things? Peter’s rebuke is our rebuke even as disciples we stumble back to old safety nets and desires and we are forever glancing at old idols, listening to the lies that good things can offer us all we are looking, and losing sight of God. Let’s stop and see the beauty of our rebuke and again look to God, trust God and in the power of his Spirit live for him. Let us live out the purpose of our existence, enjoying God and glorifying him rather than stumbling about between the idols of this world. Let us see the beauty in our rebuke.
Conclusion: A Stumbling or Building Block
There is much in this short exchange between a disciple and his teacher. It is an exchange that challenges us to see Jesus clearly, and then to allow that to bear fruit in our lives, it is an exchange that calls us to consider the Cross in all its wonder and what that means for our eternity and outlives today. Yet, as we finish, we are left with a very specific challenge of purpose in regards to the things of God. Jesus said to Peter: “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Meaning that in that moment of sin, he was of no use to the Kingdom work that he was called to because he has chosen the way of the world and not God. Some translation of the Bible translates this sentence as “You are a stumbling block to me;” A challenge to us to consider today just what are we in relation to the work of the Kingdom of God. A few verses ago, Peter had declared Jesus the Messiah and Jesus, in turn, had said to him “on this rock I will build my church.” Now, Peter is no more useful in the matter of the Kingdom that rock blocking a path. I wonder: did this contrasting image in two contrasting moments play on Peter and his ministry, as he challenged the church to be Living Stones:
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:4-5 NIV
The Challenge of Purpose? Simple What are we going to be? Are we going to be building stones made alive by the work of the Holy Spirit useful in the things of God? Stones committed to the work we have been called to as we live out our faith in this chaotic time, as we commit ourselves to love God and our Neighbour by looking to Christ, setting our mind on Christ and then living for Christ or are we happy being stumbling blocks causing those around us to stumble in their faith as we look not to God but earthly things, as we live not for God but ourselves and as we trust things created rather than the creator. Today, whoever we are and wherever we have let us heed the beauty of out rebuke, grasp the wonder of the Cross again, look at our lives and the places where God might be rebuking us and then choose to live for him so that as we walk this cross-road with Jesus guide might use us to build his Kingdom now, to offer people hope of something to come and to draw people to himself.
- The theological term we would use to describe the activity of God here because it is obvious as first is “divine passive.” Like in the book of Esther where God is never mentioned yet his action is obvious throughout the narrative. ↩