Scripture: 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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 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.” Matthew 16:21-23 ESV
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Observation: In yesterday’s Daily Focus (click here to read it), Jesus asks his disciples who the people say the Son of Man is. Reporting that some say he’s John the Baptist or one of the great prophets of old, Jesus then questions them directly about his identity. Peter immediately responds beyond full understanding that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” So Jesus clarifies that his heavenly Father has revealed this to Peter. Nevertheless, Jesus foretells that Peter will play a foundational role in establishing the church.
In the subsequent passage above, Matthew tells his readers that this marks a significant turning point. From this time forward, Jesus will keep reminding his disciples of what lies ahead for him (his crucifixion and resurrection) to prepare for the birth of his church. But Peter, still holding out for a military Messiah who will raise Israel to world prominence, audaciously reprimands his Master. So Jesus curtly responds by rebuking Satan (who is infiltrating the thoughts of Peter) and announcing that Peter is not aligning with the will of God but with his human desires.
Takeaway: This pericope marks the first of four times Jesus predicts his arrest and crucifixion (16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19, and 26:2). In each instance, the disciples cannot psychologically and emotionally absorb the reality of his mission—and will not until infilled with the Holy Spirit. But Jesus fully embraced his mission as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecies, as would be implied when he informed his cousin that he needed to receive water baptism to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-15, click here to read). And even though Pilate and his Roman garrison would administer the sentence of crucifixion, Jesus makes it clear Israel’s religious leaders are the instigators. But not all hope is lost in Christ’s pronouncement because he also predicts his resurrection (v.21). As theologian Michael Wilkins notes, “the passive voice used here testifies to the Father’s activity in protecting his Son from the ‘gates of Hades’ (16:18)” (NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, p.570).
Our takeaway? Indeed, the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church, thanks to Christ completing his mission as he breathes his last breadth from his cross and pronounces, “It is finished” (John 19:30, click here to read). And along with his first disciples, we will do well to keep this in mind when tempted like Peter to presume knowledge of God’s will based on our sympathies for ourselves or our loved ones. In his devotional, My Utmost for His Highest (August 10), Oswald Chambers contends, “The saint who satisfies the heart of Jesus will make other saints strong and mature for God. But the people used to strengthen us are never those who sympathize with us; in fact, we are hindered by those who give us their sympathy, because sympathy only serves to weaken us. No one better understands a saint than the saint who is as close and as intimate with Jesus as possible. If we accept the sympathy of another saint, our spontaneous feeling is, ‘God is dealing too harshly with me and making my life too difficult.’ That is why Jesus said that self-pity was of the devil (see Matthew 16:21-23)” (Click here to read the entire devotional).
So how should we avoid this pitfall and rise above our sympathies? As Chambers suggests, satisfy our hearts with Jesus. Peter, Paul, and the other apostles will grow in their love and affection for their Lord and Savior and mature their understanding of Christ’s commission to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them all that Jesus taught them (Matthew 28:18-20, click here to read), which includes daily dying to our sympathies and rising to the purposes of God. And, thankfully, Jesus will be with us each step of the way as we fellowship with his suffering (Philippians 3:10, click here to read).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who did not let sympathies with the world skew his following your will. We confess, however, that we are prone to imposing our sympathies onto your will—particularly when it involves our loved ones. So would you please help us grow in our love and affection for your Son so we might rise above our sympathies in discerning your will and providing the divine guidance others need? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling