We saw the amazing confession that Peter made in Matthew 16:13-20 about Jesus.But now I want to look at some areas in Peter’s life that needed correction. The good virtues in Peter were just part of who he was. Peter also had selfish tendencies and pride that needed to be addressed and dealt with in his journey as a disciple of Jesus.
This is how it is with us too. We can be absolutely sincere when we admit our sins and boldly proclaim Jesus as our Messiah. But we might still seek to justify ourselves at times, or seek to do our own will, and don’t want to listen and be told what to do.
And we see this in Peter right after his grand revelation of who Jesus is. Jesus was quick to heap praise Peter in Matthew 16:17- 19. But Jesus was equally strong in His rebuke of Peter in verses 21-23, when He saw Peter being influenced by Satan.
Now why did Jesus rebuke Peter so strongly? Because Peter in his human love didn’t want Jesus to go to the cross. How would we respond if someone we deeply esteemed spiritually told us that he was going to be brutally killed by religious leaders?I would be like Peter. But I think the reason Peter was rebuked so strongly was because he tried to use a theological (spiritual) argument to change Jesus’ mind. So Jesus responded very strongly.
From Blessed to Satan
Peter was probably proud of the unique praise that Jesus had given him. He must have though himself as anointed now, and most spiritual of the twelve. Jesus had tried to remind Peter that his name meant small stone/pebble. So his own relevance was a small pebble (petros) when compared to the LARGE ROCK (petra) of TRUTH that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And it was the large rock that would be the basis of the church.
But Peter missed that. So the devil probably used Jesus’ very words of praise of Peter to tempt him with pride and spiritual self confidence. So much so that Peter even felt worthy of correcting the very One He had just called Messiah! He was so proud that he felt he was equal to the Son of the Living God – that he could rebuke Jesus.So is it possible that a revelation from the Heavenly Father to us can be the very cause of our pride? Yes! We must deeply fear it, because it can wreck our pursuit of holiness.
Let us also remember that Judas Iscariot received the authority from Jesus to cast out demons and heal the sick (Matthew 10:1). So Judas Iscariot must have healed the sick and cast out demons. Yet, the devil entered him later on and he betrayed Jesus (John 6:70-71).So we are no different. We are susceptible to being led by the devil, despite all the gifts we have for ministry (Matthew 7:21- 23).
This should serve as a warning for all who desire to be disciples. Let us permanently reject the lie (even though it feels spiritual) that a flourishing ministry, or even seeing fresh revelation of truth, is proof that we are spiritual. Like Peter, we can be called blessed by Jesus one minute and the devil a few minute later!
God be merciful to You, Lord! This shall never happen to You
The phrase “God forbid it” literally translates into this, “God be merciful to You, Lord!” This gives me a better idea on the subtle heresy that Peter was buying into.
Peter was claiming the mercy of Almighty God to convince Jesus that He should never go to the cross. Peter was basically telling Jesus that God, being the compassionate and merciful God that He was, would never let this happen to Jesus.
Now Peter was theologically correct in seeing God as infinitely merciful. Mercy is fundamental to who God was. When Moses asked God to reveal His glory to him and called up on the Name of the Lord, God revealed Himself as merciful (Exodus 34:6-7).
So Peter was confident that the mercy of God would help Jesus avoid the painful cross. But Jesus rejected this, because He recognized a human concept of mercy. Peter was using God’s Word to justify his own human logic and emotions. And we see that divine truths mixed with human logic and ideas will be pure evil.
Peter’s words to Jesus here could probably be seen as a fourth temptation by the devil to Jesus. Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days (Luke 4:1-2), but only three of them are recorded in that chapter. These words by Peter are clearly another attempt of the devil to get Jesus to mistrust His Father. And that is especially dangerous.
There are some temptations where we choose to live according to our passions and desires (e.g. the temptation to turn stone into bread). But the more dangerous temptations are when we use God’s Word or some truth about God to justify our own self-interests (e.g. the temptation to jump down from the top of the temple).
This is the dangerous pit that many Christians fall into when they use God’s Word to justify seeking financial riches.They use verses about the blessing of God in Scripture to justify their lust for lavish lifestyles. God, who looks at the intents of the heart, is not fooled. He sees that the primary reason for such prayers are selfish – so that they can live a selfish, passion-satisfying, carefree life. And God abhors it.
Avoiding the cross
While most serious Christians know that using God’s Word for personal gain is evil, there are many others who preach the mercy and grace of God to the point that it diminishes or even eliminates the perpetual necessity of the cross (and certain death) to root out all sin that rises up within us.
In Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, He stresses the need to deny oneself and pick up one’s cross in following Him. And in the parallel account of this in Luke’s gospel, we read this: Luke 9:23 –And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.
The word “daily” tells me that the cross here is not a physical cross. It is the one on which our selfish interests, passions, and desires that go against God’s will, must be put to death (Galatians 5:24; 6:14). Not all ambition and human desire is sinful by default. But any interest that distracts us from our wholehearted devotion to Jesus must be treated as utterly deadly.
Now sadly, the message of death to all selfish interests has its greatest opponents among professing Christians. Many sincere Christians never find the secret of living a life of consistent victory over sin. Or they find that a persistent attitude to guard against every temptation is just too hard to keep up. They try to live right for a while, but back into sin and eventually get tired of getting up. And rather than persisting with seeking God, they lower God’s standards and goals for them. They settle for a “do your best” philosophy in fighting sin rather than an utter opposition to all sin, even in thought and motive. So they see the Sermon on the Mount as the greatest sermon, but never embrace it as the permanent standard by which they evaluate their lives.
Such Christians often separate the loving Father from the Holy Spirit. They don’t embrace the perfect unity between the Infinite Love of the Heavenly Father and the Infinite Holiness of the Holy Spirit.
This is devilish. God is one. There is simply no way to separate God’s love from God’s hatred for sin. Our awe for God’s love over us must equal our reverence for God’s hatred for all sin in us. Therefore, justifying our selfish interests because of God’s infinite love, is from the pit of hell itself.May we learn the important lesson from Jesus’s rebuke to Peter: It is devilishly evil to leverage God’s Word to suit our own personal interests and thereby avoid the cross that Jesus asks us to bear.
One last point: Faith is to believe that God can solve all my problems, even the ones I see no possible solution for. If Jesus paid for my sins with His very life, then every last sin that springs up within me is most serious. When I stand before the judgment seat of Christ, God will hold me responsible for every time I chose my own will over His. It is this simple logic should cause all us Christians to judge ourselves radically. We cannot be a disciple and avoid the cross on which our selfish interests have to die.