Peter gets it right. Then Peter gets it wrong. Well actually God first works faith in Peter to enable him to get it right and say of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. (Matthew 16:16) Peter believed Jesus was the Messiah, that he was the Christ. But he sure didn’t understand what that meant. Nor did he understand what faith had done within him; he had no idea what made him say what he said.
Because Peter didn’t understand what and why he said what he said, Peter turned to pride after Jesus replies, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19)
Put yourselves in Peter’s place. You have just been blessed by the Son of God. He tells you that on you the whole church will be built. To you the keys of the kingdom of heaven will be given. To you is given a new name, the name of rock, you will be the foundation of something new. Even the gates of hell will not overcome you, and therefore on you the whole church will be built.
Can you understand what happened here? Can you see what would happen to you if Jesus said these things to you? Placing ourselves in Peter’s shoes, and hearing these words from Jesus, it’s as if we can almost feel our backs straighten up, our heads are raised up lifting just a bit higher, so we look down our noses, feeling just a little more distinguished, as if we were chosen by something that we ourselves did.
Now that you are the rock, now that Christ is going to build his church on you. He then tells you he is going to die and be raised. Imagine that! Nothing would seize up the wheels of glory quicker than hearing the one who blessed you go on to say something so ridiculous.
Could it have been that Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him because he now believed the church would be founded on him through his actions to defend the church? Could Peter have taken Jesus aside to rebuke him, because he saw in Jesus’ death, a whole bunch of trouble for himself? Perhaps he just saw death as weakness; and this being raised again, was just crazy man talk! And if Jesus is crazy or his authority is undermined by death, then perhaps Peter saw his being blessed somewhat weakened?
We will never know what Peter was really thinking. But Jesus knew exactly what was going through his mind and came down on him like a ton of bricks, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:23) If hearing Jesus say he was going to die and be raised didn’t confound Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ blessing and leadership, his reprimand as being Satan, would have completely stopped him in his tracks and brought him back to earth.
Jesus then explains, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24-27)
Whatever Peter was thinking as a result of hearing Jesus bless him as Peter “the rock”, Peter’s hidden response was one that would have left him on a trail towards the loss of his soul, and his reward would not have been good, since what he’d done was accredit Christ’s words of blessing as words of glory for himself.
Similarly, we all struggle with the same thing as did Peter. God had done something wholesome in Peter, yet Peter’s pride grabbed it and moulded it just enough so that he believed it was he who was the catalyst for receiving the blessing, rather than God. God has also done something wholesome in you and me, but the same thing Peter is guilty of, we are guilty of too. In short we derailed God’s glory for ourselves.
We too, struggle with the same pride issues. We love to be seen. Either by advertising ourselves for what we’ve done “Look at me, boy I’m good.” Or by going the opposite way and marketing ourselves in the negative, “Nobody’s ever had it as bad as me!” Either way it’s exactly the same thing! It’s the same pride as Peter, which received Christ’s call for Satan to get behind. Jesus’ harsh words to Peter are understandable since through pride Satan became Satan, one hundred percent anti-God or antichrist.
Although we are God’s very own children, still present in our nature is our sinful will pushing and pulling us away from God and his Son Jesus Christ. Even as we remain with Christ and he stands right beside us, our antichrist nature, like Peter’s, underhandedly seeks to work its ways.
In Romans 12 we have heard we need to use sober judgement of ourselves, not thinking we are loftier than we are. Even though we are a part of the body of Christ, just as Peter was the foundation of the church, Christ and the church would have survived despite Peter, and it will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ despite you and me.
In this light, Paul then tells us love must be sincere. Or, let love be genuine. Or, the New King James translates it best, let love be without hypocrisy. Paul is telling the church in
Luther comments on the verse from John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” saying: What else is Jesus saying to us here but this, “Through me you now have in faith everything that I am and have: I am your very own. You are now rich and fully satisfied through me. For all that I do and love is not for my sake but namely, how I can be useful and helpful to you and fulfil all that you desire and need. Therefore never lose sight of me as your example. Do to one another as I have done for you. Consider also henceforth how you can live for the benefit of your neighbour and do whatever you see to be useful and of good benefit to him. Your faith has enough in my love and goodness: therefore you should now give your love to others.” (SL.XI.1580,18)
We might see how short we fall in loving our neighbour as God loves us by cutting out love and grafting in pride in Romans 12.
Pride is not sincere. Pride cleaves to evil and hates good. Pride is devoted to nobody in brotherly love except the self. I honour myself above everyone else. Pride is never slack on zeal, it’s always spiritually fervent. Unfortunately it serves itself. It’s joyful in itself, impatient in affliction, and has no time for prayer or just forgets about praying altogether. It doesn’t share with anyone, but rather pride demands we get, get, get! And it only practices hospitality, if there is something in it for pride’s sake. Pride says it’s ok to be proud, and not associate with people of low position. After all they’re getting what they deserve! Pride knows everything; therefore, pride never says sorry!
However, despite the foolish, despicable ways that thrash and convulse within, something better is happening within by a holy power that comes from God, despite pride and the suffering it causes the self and those it seeks to make suffer. It’s the power of love, the power of faith, the power of Christ, the power of forgiveness; calling us to stop making excuses to justify ourselves and be sorry before God and each other.
This power comes from the Holy Spirit and it wills us to see Jesus and see his forgiveness. Now having been caused to see Jesus in you, see to it that same forgiveness flows onto those who have wronged you. Learn the lesson that Peter had to learn. The glory is God’s, it comes from him, and works in us, and returns to him, despite all the things we do to keep it for ourselves and hinder it from returning to God.
Jesus is love. Jesus is sincerity personified. He is the perfection of anti-hypocrisy. Yet he judges righteousness from evil. When he walked on earth as man, he clung to that which was good. Jesus was devoted like no other in brotherly love, honouring all above himself. He was zealous, fervent, and always hopeful despite facing death. He was patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. He didn’t repay evil, but suffered unto death. He was not proud or conceited, bearing the diseases of sinful humanity. Jesus overcame evil, by his goodness. He suffered death for sins he did not do, overcoming both sin and death by his humiliating and sinless death on the cross.
Although this is the greatest template and example for each of us to follow, Jesus did all this because of you. He did this because we could never hate evil enough; we could never love perfectly without even just a bit of pride entering in to do its disruptive work. And he still walks with us today in our struggles and suffering calling us to see it’s sin within causing us to stumble.
But he still walks with you, picking you up and calling you to trust him, so you joyfully walk towards sufferings and death knowing you will be raised to rejoice in him in glory forever. Amen.