Today, our gospel message comes to us from Matthew 16:21-28, “The rebuke to Peter.”
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 on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 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.”
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. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”.
Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to reveal your will for our lives and redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire us with confidence that you are with us in the midst of the storms of life, bring peace to our troubled souls, and lead your church throughout the ages. Enable us to live as your redeemed saints, that our lives may witness to our faith. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Today’s gospel lesson follows on the heels of last week’s reading were we saw Peter make his confession. Remember last week, Peter was the hero of our lesson because he confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God. Jesus had asked the disciples, “who do men say that I am?” The disciples gave him many different answers, then he asked them, “but who do you say that I am?” Then we get Peter’s great confession of faith, “Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter was a hero, he understood who Jesus really was, he understood that Jesus was no mere man, but a living part of the God of creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus was the Son of God who came to this earth to show and tell the people of God, the Israelites, about God in a very real and personal way. Peter had put it all together. For that moment, at least, he knew who Jesus was.
But in today’s lesson, Peter quickly changes from the hero to the goat, from one who is expounding some great truths, to one who is babbling and carrying on about things that he doesn’t understand, or even want to understand. Peter changes so quickly in fact that Jesus equates him with the devil when he says, “Get behind me Satan,” you are tempting me, you are hindering me you are trying to make me change my mind about the course that I am supposed to take. What did Peter do so wrong to change so quickly from the hero to a goat in just a few short minutes?
After Peter’s confession, Jesus began to tell the disciples about what lay ahead for him. Jesus told the disciples that he would suffer at the hands of the religious rulers, he would, in fact, be put to death by these rulers, but God would raise him on the third day. Jesus was explaining the concept of the suffering servant, the suffering Messiah to the disciples, and Peter out of love and respect, out of his own ideas about the Messiah, out of his own sense of glory and righteousness took Jesus in his large arms and said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Peter could not let Jesus suffer because he loved him so much; he could not let Jesus suffer because he could not believe in a Messiah that was nothing less than a conquering Messiah. He could not let Jesus suffer because that was not the dreams and the expectations he had of Jesus, and the dreams and expectations he had of himself as a follower of Jesus. No, suffering was not apart of all of this, thought Peter.
But Peter was wrong. Suffering was apart of the plan that God had for Jesus. Jesus must suffer for the sins of this world to secure our salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells Peter it is God’s will for him to suffer, He says, “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Men cannot understand the workings of God, men have their own thoughts about the plans of God, Jesus is saying, but God’s plans are that I must suffer so that you will not have to suffer. Jesus tells Peter in a sense that he must understand what the will of the Father for his son is. Peter must understand that suffering is part of this plan, not glory, not riches, not a grand army, but suffering, death, and the cross, then God will act to raise him on the 3rd day. God will bring life where there was death. God will bring glory where there was suffering. God will deliver Jesus from the hands of the devil and exalt him to the throne of glory at His right hand in the heavenly mansion in the sky. God will do all of this because he is a God of love.
Jesus then tells Peter, especially, but the disciples also, that everyone must take up his cross to follow him. Jesus is saying that being a follower of Jesus is no easy matter. There is sacrifice. There is giving up things. There is suffering. There is setting priorities in one’s life, so that those things that really do count, eternal life, have priority number one. Jesus is telling the disciples, and us this today, that whoever loses one’s life for him, will find it. Whoever forgets about the demands, the values, the standards of this world, whoever is willing to live totally for Jesus, that person will find life in Jesus, that person will know Jesus as the savior of life.
Jesus is saying that the Christian life is not easy, that it is the most difficult life to live because it is a life of sacrifice, that it is a life living for him instead of ourselves or the demands of this world. But in our day and age, we make the Christian life so easy. We continuously appeal to new members by stating how easy it is to join the church. The rigor and discipline of being a Christian have disappeared. We come to church when we feel like it or when we have nothing else to do. Our attendance usually depends on fair weather. Another person has described the Christian life in this age in a like manner. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a martyr during World War II in Germany, wrote in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, that Christians today are living by cheap grace. He says, “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.… Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Bonhoeffer describes costly grace as “the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’”
Bonhoeffer describes a life that is fulfilling the charge of Jesus when he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Bonhoeffer says we have lost sight of the grace which is so costly. We have turned the grace of God into something so simple, so watered down, something without meaning, that we don’t comprehend or fathom what it means in this day and age to be a follower of Jesus. Bonhoeffer doesn’t want to turn God’s grace into a new legalism, but he wants his readers to understand that responsibility goes along with the grace that God has given to us. He is pointing out that we have taken that responsibility to easily. We have said that God is such a loving God that he would understand and forgive when we don’t follow through on our part of the covenant he has made with us. We have taken God’s love for us for granted. It doesn’t mean anything to us that God chose to have his son die for us so that we might have eternal life. It doesn’t mean anything to us that Jesus sacrificed himself for us and our sins. It doesn’t mean anything to us that we are called upon by God to live in that same kind of lifestyle, that we are to live a life that reflects the same kind of love, compassion, and concern that Jesus had for humankind.
What we are hearing from this text today is a challenge for us to live a life that is not centered on self, nor on the world, but a life that is given over to Jesus and his demands. A life that is willing to sacrifice something, some priorities, some worldly values, some creature comforts so that we might serve our Lord and others around us.
I want to conclude with a story told by Victor Meyer. He says, “The party was changed with excitement... to which had been added a pinch of mellowness. It was the last time the graduating seminarians would be together before moving to their new areas of ministry.
Among all the conversations that night, one was most memorable. You see, Ed was going deep into the heart of Appalachia; a poor mining town to be specific. This particular field of mission would provide Ed with very little monetary compensation. He would have to be on guard to maintain his nutritional health. There would be some risk involved, too. People there didn’t like “no strangers move’ in.” He’d have to earn their trust and respect. The nearest medical doctor or facility for that matter was two hours away. Disease and sickness were common.
Ed was a guy with a lot going for him. He was skilled and sensitive and could serve the church almost anywhere. He could easily have gone to a nice suburban area; he didn’t have to settle for living in poverty. He could have opted for a classy church and thus spared himself the grief and ridicule he was absorbing from his father.
Ed chose freely to give up many things when he graduated. Why?? ‘Because,’ he said, ‘I believe Jesus meant it when he said I’d find real life, I’ll lose many things I enjoy and take for granted, but I expect to gain a fuller, richer life anyhow when I consider what Christ gave up for me and the people in poverty... well.... do I have another choice?’”
Do we have another choice as we live life???
Lord, thank You for the gift of this day. Whatever happens to me today, help me to consider today a blessing, for the mere fact that You’ve given me another day of life. Help me to carry my cross with strength, with humility and with confidence. Help me to deny my own desires and to seek after Your commandments. Help me to be a good follower. Help me to do these things today, and then tomorrow, and then the next day, for as many days as You will give me in my life to carry my cross and follow. As Your cross lead you not only to crucifixion but to Resurrection, help me to carry my cross not only in this life, but into Eternal Life. Amen.
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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Sermon contributed by Tim Zingale.
Jesus tells Peter to “Get behind me, Satan.”