Get behind me Satan

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Matthew 16:21-23

When people speak of God, Martin Luther said, they can take two paths. There’s the way of “glory” or the way of “the cross.”  One method builds a picture of God according to what seems reasonable to man.  The other looks to God’s revelation in Christ and Him crucified.  The one is the pathway to hell, the other to heaven.  The scary thing is that we all naturally think according to the way of glory.

Allow me to demonstrate.  Let me ask you some questions and you can monitor your gut reactions:

–  Imagine that a preacher calls someone “Satanic”.  What sorts of things do you imagine the person has said or done to earn that label?

–  Imagine that a preacher wants you to savour “the things of God”, what would you imagine he meant by “the things of God”?

–  Imagine the preacher wants you to be less mindful of “the things of men” in order to concentrate on “the things of God.”  What do you think of as “the things of men”?

Well let’s allow Jesus to confront our natural instincts.

In Matthew 16, Jesus has just been declared “The Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And in response, Jesus has declared Simon to be “Peter” (“Rocky”) and given him the keys of the kingdom.  It’s a mountaintop moment.  And it lasts just a minute or two.

Here’s what happens next:

“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and Scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.  Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.  But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”   (Matthew 16:21-23)

Here are six shocks:

1. Jesus goes from “Son of God” to sacrificial victim in the space of five verses.  Having been declared “The Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus immediately proclaims His own death.  “He must” be killed.  His identity is Son, His mission is sacrifice.  And if we don’t understand the sacrifice, we don’t understand the Son. Jesus is the Christ.  But He refuses to be known as a cross-less Christ.  If we think of Him without the cross, we have fallen for the perilous way of “glory”.

2. Peter buys into the way of glory.  And in so doing descends from “key-holder” to a conduit of Satan in just four verses.  Jesus identifies in Peter’s words the voice of the devil, distracting him from the cross.  Later Peter would write of the cross as “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence” (1 Peter 2:8).  But before he wrote of it, he tripped on it!  No sooner was he named “Rocky” than he stumbled over the true Rock.

3. The “things of men” are Satanic.   What qualifies Peter’s advice as Satanic?  He merely savours the “things of men”!  Consider on which  side humanity lies that the Son of God identifies human-ness with devilry!?

4. This savouring of the “things of men” is a simple matter of moving towards comfort and avoiding the way of the cross.  Satanism is simply the preference of comfort to cruciformity.

5. Peter’s sin is not even that he desires his own comfort but that he attempts to shepherd Jesus from the cross and towards comfort.  Peter thinks he is helping Jesus, in fact his encouragement to self-protection is demonic.  To desire a Christ without a cross is the basic definition of the way of glory.  And the way of glory is the way of Satan!

6. The “things of God” means Christ crucified.  The highest height of deity is Jesus bleeding for devils like Peter!  If we want to savour the things of God, we must look resolutely to the cross.

So then let’s overturn our “gut reactions”.

What are the things of men?  They are not neutral but Satanic!

What is it to be Satanic?  Simply to shun the way of the cross?

What are the things of God?  They are Christ and Him crucified.

I find this profoundly challenging.  I think I’m meant to.  If even Rocky can get things so devilishly wrong, then we are all in trouble!  Therefore let’s allow Jesus to redefine all those concepts we think we know so well. “Glory”, “the things of God”, even God Himself are cross-shaped realities.  We must learn and re-learn these things at the foot of Calvary.

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