Matthew 16:21-28 (Pentecost 14A)
St. John, Galveston 9/3/2023
Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Get behind Me, Satan!” Can you imagine Jesus saying those words to you, His disciple, His follower? More than that, can you imagine Him saying those words to you in public, as a public rebuke for something you said, or something you did? “Get behind Me, Satan (Satanas, Diablos, The Dragon).” For Peter, it must have seemed as if time stopped, as everyone glared at him and began to mumble among themselves. “Get behind Me, Satan!”

Peter was probably caught off guard and shocked by such a harsh rebuke, since Jesus had just praised him for his marvelous confession of the faith. “Who do you say that I am (Jesus asked)?” “You are the Christ (Peter said), the Son of the Living God.” It was a huge moment in Peter’s life and in the life of the Church. Jesus lauded his response, saying,“blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And, on this rock I will build My Church.” How could Peter go from uttering the words that would be the very foundation upon which God would build His Church, to being called out as Satan in such a short period of time?

Well, fortunately for Peter, and for all of us for that matter, Jesus didn’t stop with His harsh rebuke. He went on to explain how Peter had gone wrong, how he had taken such a turn that He should rebuke him as he did. Verse 21 of chapter 16 marks a turning point in Matthew’s Gospel. From this point on, Jesus begins to speak openly about His coming death and resurrection. “(He) 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.” Peter heard Jesus say that He must suffer many things and apparently that was enough for him. His conception of God left no room for such talk; perhaps because his people had known suffering firsthand for so many generations. That was bad enough, but a suffering Messiah? That was too much for him to consider and bear. And so, he vowed to protect Jesus from suffering and shame, and even from death itself. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

O Peter, Peter, how could you say such a thing? Our problem, you see, isn’t with a suffering Savior. We know He had to suffer and die. In fact, we confess it every week. “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” Our problem is with the implications, which may have been on Peter’s mind, too. Jesus is clear about what His suffering meant for His followers in verses 24-26. If we are to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses, too. If those words of Jesus weren’t clear enough, He removed any question of what He meant in verse 25. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Follow Jesus and lose your life. That’s Jesus call on our lives.

In trying to protect Jesus, Peter’s problem was that he was setting his mind on the things of men, rather than on the things of God. The two are often quite different, you know. We’ll see that this morning with Peter and his view of suffering. We’ll also see it in the Gospel readings for the next three Sundays, when we contrast the mind of God and the mind of men in three other areas, namely, in Greatness, Forgiveness, and Justice. But today, we’ll stay with Peter’s struggle with Jesus’ impending death, namely with suffering.

I would say, for Peter, the thought of Jesus’ suffering, just didn’t fit His concept of the Messiah. Jesus is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. He came to usher in God’s everlasting Kingdom. It’s difficult to associate suffering with Kings and Kingdoms.

For us though, suffering has seated itself in a rather unique position in our lives. I’ve said it many times in Bible Classes and other times too, suffering has unseated death, as the most feared and loathed aspect of life. What I mean by that, according to the thoughts of men, is that, given the choice, we sometimes find death to be preferable to suffering.

According to the thoughts of men, suffering is meaningless. It’s also demeaning, even beneath human dignity. And, worst of all, it seems to deny the very existence of a merciful and loving God. In fact, many people have established themselves as atheists reasoning that they simply can’t believe in a God who allows suffering to exist. In the words of Sam Harris, a rather outspoken atheist, “Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes, or He doesn’t care to, or He doesn’t exist. God (he concludes) is either impotent, evil, or imaginary.” So go the thoughts of men regarding suffering in the world.

“Get behind Me, Satan. For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Clearly, God views suffering differently than we do. Not does He view suffering differently, it takes on a different meaning in Him. Perhaps the best way to say it is that, through the suffering, death and resurrection of His Son, God has sanctified suffering. He has made it holy. He has given it a divine purpose and meaning. In ordering of His grace and mercy, He has even enabled us to see His hand at work in suffering. “Pain insists upon being attended to (says C.S. Lewis). God whispers to us in our pleasures. He speaks to us in our consciences, but He shouts to us in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Having gotten our attention, God leaves us with a profound message through suffering, especially the suffering of His cross, that we could have never otherwise have even fathomed. While we expect to find God in His glory, in those moments in life when His power and supremacy are most clearly seen, He reveals Himself to us, as our merciful and loving God, in moments of seemingly unimaginable defeat.

Nowhere is that more clearly revealed than in the cross of Jesus. Though he didn’t really realize it, Peter tried to keep Jesus from reconciling the world to Himself. It’s hard to fault Peter. After all, who would expect Jesus to reconciled the world to God through suffering and death? Who would expect God to work His greatest, His most marvelous work through such torture and shame?

The things of God and the things of men. C.F.W. Walther, the first president of our Church body, wrote of hymn called “He’s Risen, He’s Risen.” There are two verses in the hymn that I think speak well of the contrast between the things of men and the things of God.

Verse says,

“The foe was triumphant when on Calvary
The Lord of Creation was nailed to the tree.
In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer,
For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.”

“But short was their triumph; the Savior arose,
And death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes.
The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high;
He lives, yes, He lives, and will never more die.”

“Get behind Me, Satan, Indeed.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +