By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 30, 2020
Matthew 16:21–28 (ESV)
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 on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 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.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would 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 shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 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. 28 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.”
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that this section of the Gospel according to Matthew is a transition period within Jesus’s ministry, he is moving into the next phase of his ministry. He had been teaching in Judea, and he had moved past the northern boarder into the areas of modern day Lebanon, and last week he was in that currently disputed region where Syria, Israel and Lebanon meet around Mount Hermon in the city of Caesarea Philippi. I mentioned that this area is unique because of the religious and cultural diversity.
Imagine being one of his disciples on this journey. He had taken you completely out of your comfort zone. This is an area where those that call themselves Jewish are a minority, yet this is the area the man you consider to be the Messiah takes you. The excitement around Jesus is probably at the highest point in Judea. Not long ago you had witnessed Jesus feed over five thousand people with a small boy’s lunch of five rolls and two fish. Then shortly after that again Jesus fed a multitude of people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. In each case the disciple filled several baskets with what was left uneaten. No one had seen such a thing since the days of Moses. Jesus had healed diseases, cast out unclean spirits, he had even raised a girl who had died back to life. The excitement surrounding Jesus could not be greater.
But there is an issue that remains. Those that held power and influence over the people were becoming jealous. Jesus would come into a town and begin to teach and restore life, and those that were from the established religious orders would begin to challenge Jesus over matters of religious practice. Jesus would then tell parables that would illustrate the truth of the law they used to challenge him. At times, the parables would be easy to interpret, and in those cases, Jesus would publicly expose the hypocrisy within the established practice. At other times, the parables seemed to confuse even those that knew Jesus the most.
These challenges were coming fast and hard. John the Baptist had also challenged the religious establishment. John called the religious leaders a broad of vipers, which was likening them to the very pestilence that represented the weakness and rebellion of the children of Israel in the desert. By calling the religious leaders vipers, John was saying that they were the source and cause of the problems in Israel. And John had lost his head for his public challenges to the sinfulness of those that held seats of power.
Jesus was in cooperation with John. While John was still ministering along the banks of the Jordan, Jesus would often be seen in the same area. They complemented the other’s ministry and they promoted what the other had to say. Jesus said that of the men born of women none is greater than John, and John said that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. They did not compete for followers or disciples. They did not poke holes in the other’s theological understandings. They did not discredit the other’s approach to ministry or even expression of faith. Even though they seemed to have opposite expressions, John lead a lifestyle of abstinence where Jesus would be seen at the parties of those considered sinners.
The people of Israel were excited. They saw the signs, they heard the teachings, they had eaten the miraculous bread and they had ideas. The people began to think the Messiah has come and they were beginning to prepare themselves for the next steps. The one they saw as the Messiah could heal injuries, he provide food enough for an army with scant supplies, and they had heard stories that he could even walk upon the water as if it were land. They were excited. They were going to throw off the oppressive hand of Rome and restore the glory of Israel.
The disciples were among those excited people. They had not only seen what Jesus could do, but Jesus had given them the power to do the same. They had provided healing to those that had illness. They had liberated people from demonic bondage. They had brought people to join team Jesus, and every day it seemed to grow.
Then seeming out of nowhere Jesus turns north. They should be marching to Jerusalem, yet Jesus instead goes out of province of Judea, he leaves Galilee, he even turns away from Samaria, and he goes into the region of Tyre and Sidon. The disciples are in a holy frenzy of Messiah devotion, they are ready to take on the world and Jesus takes them to the land of the Gentiles. They are confused, they do not know what is going on and there is a woman that keeps crying out to them. They look at this woman in tears and they can tell that she is a Canaanite woman, yet she is pleading with their Messiah’s for favor. It was one thing for Jesus to help a few of those God-fearing Romans in Judea, at least they were in Israel, but this woman is a complete outsider. She continues to cry out, and you are increasingly annoyed so you plead with Jesus to just tell her to go away. In their self-righteous pride they turn with Jesus to look at this woman, and they get excited when Jesus begins to speak words that support their nationalistic pride. And they glance at Jesus and see something in him that confuses them. His displeasure and the words he uses are not directed at the woman, but them. And while they converse, Jesus commends this Gentile woman for her faith and he heals her daughter just as she asked. What is going on?
Then they go the city that is dedicated to idolatry. The city that in their faith tradition is where the fallen angels take wives and breed a race of giants that eventually lead God to such anger that he destroyed the world with a flood. The city that praises false gods and worship at the very gates of hades. And Jesus in this place asks a strange question. Who am I?
The disciples are in confusion. Jesus is opening the door to the kingdom to the gentiles, without even encouraging them to become Jews. And he is asking them who they think he is while standing at the gates of Hell. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Imagine pretty much everything you hold as being important to you identity being offered to those you deem unworthy, and the Messiah your culture had waited so long for instead of going to the city of God asking you who he is at the place of complete debauchery.
Then Jesus tells them the complete purpose of his ministry. He commends Simon for his statement of faith. He even renames him saying you are no longer Simon but Peter. Because Peter said that Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God. And Jesus tells the disciples that it is on that statement that they will build an assembly so powerful that even the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The disciple hear those words and they look at the world around them and they see that they are standing in a Gentile land, and they begin to think now we get it. The kingdom is more than just Israel, this kingdom will challenge even the foundations of Rome. Jesus goes on to say what ever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. That statement is weird, but it basically means that they will have power. They will be able to dictate how those within the kingdom will live. And they are even more excited. Jesus is about to take his stand!
Jesus looks at the excited eyes of his disciples. They are ready to take on the world. With a single word he could have them marching to war. Then he tells them, we are going to Jerusalem. And I imagine they all responded with a hooah like a good soldier would say. But then Jesus says that when they get there, he will suffer many things at the hands of the religious leaders, and that they will kill him. Imagine what would be going through the disciples’ minds. Jesus said that he would rise again on the third day but I seriously doubt they heard him say it. Their minds were probably stuck on the statement that he would be killed.
Jesus had just worked them up into a righteous excitement where they were ready to march on Jerusalem as a conquering army and then he tells them that nope that will not be how it will happen. We are going to Jerusalem but when we get there, I am going to suffer. Peter, the rock, the one upon whom the church will be built pipes up and say, “NO WAY!” Matthew says that Peter rebukes Jesus. We do not fully grasp the intensity of this word in English. Peter is not just becoming cross with Jesus; he is threatening Jesus. To rebuke is to express strong disapproval, it is the same word used about actions taken against the demonic forces that were holding people in spiritual bondage. Peter is getting in Jesus’s face and demanding him to rethink what he has said.
Do you see this scene in your mind? Peter and Jesus facing each other. Peter’s face is skewed in almost hatred and anger as he speaks to Jesus. Peter’s finger pointing at Jesus, with the other hand clenched into a fist ready to strike. In Peter’s mind, Jesus is speaking like a crazy man, this is not at all how things are supposed to be. Jesus is not going to die. Jesus is going to Jerusalem and he is going to be king. That is it. Stop with this dying talk because that is not going to happen. You see Peter, now look at Jesus.
Jesus’s closest friend is Peter. Jesus’s closest friend is in his face ready to start a fight and Jesus knows that Peter does not understand the complete story. Jesus sees that each of the disciples are with Peter in this. Each of them is ready to force Jesus into the royal throne because they have a high and holy call to conquer the world in his name. They have that call because just a breath ago he had given them that notion. Jesus looks Peter in the eyes and says, “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.”
Can you feel the air being sucked out of your lungs? Peter, the rock upon which the church will be built is no longer the conquering hero, but the embodiment of Lord of the Flies. In a word Jesus took the disciples from their spiritual high and body slams them into reality. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
I want us to think about that statement. We all get worked up into righteous fervors, we get caught up in ideas of holy importance and when we get in that state, we put blinders on. Our attention is so focused on this one idea that we are unable to see anything else around us. In the early twentieth century the Temperance Unions got the nation worked up in the righteous frenzy that every social ill of America could come to rest on one thing, liquor. They drove our nation not only make laws prohibiting the sale of intoxicating drink, but to ratify a constitutional amendment prohibiting the sale. It is difficult to get a constitutional amendment, not only does congress have to accept it with a super majority, but three-fourths of the states must also accept it. The temperance unions gathered that much support for their righteous cause and I do not oppose their cause, my mother was a member of the temperance union in my home church, and the temperance union bought me my first study bible when I entered high school. I am all for temperance, but while they were so focused on keeping liquor from the masses people were being denied basic human rights. At that time, women did not have the right to vote and Jim Crow laws were suppressing the voting rights of others. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” How often can we get caught in misplaced passion, where Jesus might have to yell at us as he yelled at Peter?
Jesus then goes on to speak about taking up the cross and following him. We have become too comfortable with the image of the cross. We are so comfortable with it that we forget what it is. I once read that if Jesus had come in our contemporary age instead of the first century we would not be wearing crosses around our necks, but little miniature electric chairs, because the cross was an instrument of execution. I thought about that for many years and I realized that is not it at all. The cross is more than a tool of execution. The cross was in instrument of torture, humiliation, shame, and cruelty. It was a visual threat to anyone and everyone that you do not oppose the will and authority of the ruling class. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus is telling them that they must speak out about the injustice of the state. They must stand up for those that are oppressed. They must sacrifice their reputation, careers, families, and everything that they think is important to them to say, “You cannot treat people like this!” Jesus is telling his disciples to stand up with those that are being oppressed, marginalized, and overlooked and demand justice in their place. He is telling his disciples that if they truly follow him, they would be willing to endure the most brutal form of state sanctioned murder for someone other than themselves.
They wanted Jesus to rush to Jerusalem to conquer. Jesus is telling them that they are going to rush to Jerusalem to participate, in what we would call today, a peaceful protest. Jesus is telling them that if we want to make real change, we do not use force against the oppressor, but bring light to the injustice and we take the blows as they come. I mentioned the ratification of the 18th amendment earlier, which prohibited the manufacturing and sale of alcohol within the United States. I mentioned that it is amazing that the Temperance Union was able to get so much support for that when so much injustice was occurring around them. There is a reason that they were able to get that attention. The temperance union was seeking more than just the prohibition of liquor. The Temperance Union was seeking justice mainly for women and children who were the ones that suffered the most by those that abused strong drink. The 18th amendment was something that many hoped would appease a mob, if we take away alcohol then maybe they will be quiet about women’s suffrage and the other things. In just over a year after the ratification of the 18th amendment occurred the women continued to press and they were given the right to vote in 1920.
Take up the cross, Jesus says. He does not say take up a sword or a gun, but a cross. If we see injustice being perpetrated on those without a voice, we need to stand with them willing to endure whatever cruelty the oppressing agents deem necessary. Jesus came to bring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, to loosen the tongue of the mute. He came to set the captives free, and to bring rest to the weary. Jesus came to restore Israel, but not Israel as a nation in the concepts of men. He came to restore Israel as a light to nations. He came to show us restored humanity where mankind can walk again with God without fear or shame. He came to give life. But what good is our life if what we enjoy comes at the expense and exploitation of others? What good is our life is the things we enjoy are corrupted by injustice. Jesus said blessed are the poor, the ones that mourn, the meek, those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those that are persecuted for him. Jesus calls them blessed because they are the ones that have his attention. They are the ones that need the hand of God. Are we focused on the things of men or the things of God?