March 1, 2015
We spent a few moments with Peter last week. Peter’s not a bad guy at all. He’s just human. And being human is sometimes the whole trouble with us. We aren’t God, never have been, but sometimes we sure like to play God. Years ago, some company had some sort of drug or medicine or snake oil for sale, and they got this fellow to pitch it for them. His opening line was, “Hi…I’m not a doctor, but I play one on T.V.” I guess the assumption was that since he used a lot of doctor-sounding words on T.V. that he was qualified to pitch the product. Lots of times in our lives, we could say pretty much the same thing. We could say, “Hi…I’m not God, but most of the time I like to pretend that I am.”
And that’s Peter’s problem in our passage this morning. He’s not God, but he’s pretty sure that he’s got God all figured out. Actually, Peter’s a pretty bright guy. He gets a bad rap in the Scriptures sometimes, because like I said last week, he sometimes speaks before he’s finished thinking. And times before, when I’ve preached on this passage, I’m pretty sure that I’ve accused Peter of doing just exactly that in these verses.
But in verse twenty-nine, which I did not read this morning, but probably should have, Peter has just come to the absolutely amazing conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah. That’s a pretty awesome conclusion for Peter to arrive at. He hasn’t just blurted it out in willy-nilly fashion. He’s said it because he believes it, and he believes it because he’s based it on a life-time of pondering just who Messiah is. Its not that he’s some great theologian, though. He’s not trained in theology, he’s trained in the capture and sale of fish. But in first century Palestine he has this tremendous advantage. He’s a man. Yup, I bet you didn’t know that. And in Hebrew culture in the first century, men were expected and required to study the Scriptures. It wasn’t an option. No matter what their trade or profession was, men were required to be fluently conversant in the Scriptures. And so in addition to catching and selling fish and making a living, Peter has been studying and discussing the Scriptures on a regular basis from the time that he was a little boy.
And Peter knows about the Messiah. He’s studied the Messiah. He’s discussed the Messiah with others: maybe even had some heated discussions about the Messiah. And as Peter has gotten to know Jesus, everything that Peter sees in Jesus, everything that Jesus does, everything that Jesus says, is telling Peter in his heart that Jesus is the Messiah. And so Peter has no trouble answering the question. Jesus is the Messiah.
But here’s where the trouble starts. As soon as Peter has made this grand and glorious announcement, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die. Actually, he tells them much more than that. He says that the “Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” And Peter cannot believe what he is hearing! Everything that Jesus is saying is completely contrary to what Peter knows in his heart about the Messiah. The Messiah doesn’t suffer! The Messiah certainly doesn’t die! The Messiah is a strong man. The Messiah is a reigning and ruling king. The Messiah takes everything that is wrong and makes it right. The Messiah is the great restorer of the nation of Israel. The Messiah will give God’s people their proper place in this world. And most certainly and most assuredly, the Messiah will never be rejected by the religious leaders. Of all people, the religious leaders will welcome the coming of the Messiah. They’ve studied his coming, they understand his role; they will welcome him with open arms, they will celebrate with great joy the moment of his arrival.
And so in Peter’s mind, Jesus is speaking gibberish. Jesus doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He needs some correction. And because Peter is the one who has just made this grand pronouncement about Jesus’ Messiahship, it can only fall to Peter to do the correcting. Its not recorded what Peter said to Jesus, and that’s probably just as well. I imagine that Jesus got a short history and a short theology about Messiahship. I imagine that Peter unloaded on him. The text says that Peter rebuked Jesus. That’s pretty strong.
But the table is quickly turned. Jesus snaps at Peter and rebukes him right back. “Get behind me, Satan!” Wow! What an insult! There is no way to soften this, no way to mitigate it. To have one’s name changed in an instant from “The Rock,” which is what Peter means, to “The Destroyer,” to the enemy of God, is as strong a rebuke as rebukes can get. And it doesn’t get any better. Jesus finishes his rebuke by saying to Peter, “You are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” That’s a deep ponderable, and a frightening one to boot. What does it mean to have one’s mind set on human things and not on divine things? Most of the answers to the trouble with being human go back to the temptations in the Garden of Eden. There, the temptation was fundamentally to deny the creator and to become one’s own God; to become the master of one’s own fate, to make an idol of oneself, and to ally oneself with Satan, the enemy of God. The temptation to do this has not gone away. It is with us daily. Jesus endured the same exact temptation in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. Fortunately for the rest of us, Jesus, unlike our human forebears, was victorious over this temptation.
Jesus spends the rest of this passage defining for us the nature of the trouble with being human. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This world, and what we can get out of it, is but a mere shadow of our true existence. The trouble with being human is that we want to believe that this world is everything; that to be truly alive, we must get everything out of it that we can get. And so we invest the bulk of our time and energy trying to gain the whole world, or at least the part of it that we sincerely believe is our due. And yet, what we don’t always comprehend, is that we are killing ourselves to do this. We are killing ourselves emotionally and physically and spiritually, all in the mistaken quest to feel as though we are more alive. That is the trouble with being human.
Jesus addresses this quest directly when he says, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” If we seek to secure our own existence by gaining as much of this world as we can get, we bring about our own destruction. We will die. We will die physically from the struggle to gain and to achieve, but we will also forfeit eternal life.
Paradoxically, if we set our minds on divine things, and not on human things, we will gain much more than this world. We will gain eternal life. If we give up the quest to feel more alive in this world, if we become the followers of Jesus, we will not just feel more alive, we will be more alive.
There is a day coming when that which truly motivates us will be laid bare. We will be asked, have you been striving for this world or have you been striving for the Kingdom of God? Have you been seeking that which is temporary and passing away, or have you been seeking that which is lasting and eternal? What has been the source of your life? God grant that the source of our lives has been Jesus the Messiah. God grant that we have set our minds on divine things and not on human things. God grant that we have pondered and understood Jesus words when he said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel will save it.” The good news is that Peter figured this out. And so can we.