Get Behind Jesus
A sermon based on Matthew 16:21-26
Sunday, September 21, 2014 – Pentecost 15A
Two weeks ago we heard Jesus call a woman a dog. Today we hear him call a man "satan." What's going on? Was Jesus having a bad week? Was he just out to make enemies? No. He was out to proclaim the truth. And he always showed perfect love. But today we hear how the apostle Peter was standing in the way of that truth. So Jesus confronted him sharply in love.
Peter had just made a beautiful confession: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." But he didn't understand the mission of the Christ. He needed some clarification and some correction. And often, so do we.
We too sometimes think that life should be just awesome for Christians. All of our relationships should be great if we follow Jesus (and Dr. Laura). If we work and pray and follow Dave Ramsey's steps to financial peace, all of our money problems will disappear. If we eat right and listen to Dr. Oz and take care of our bodies like he says, we'll be healthy. If we just follow a set of simple steps, all of our problems will go away.
But the problem is, this doesn't mesh with reality… or with the Scriptures. Reality is that we who follow Jesus still have problems. We still don't always get along. We still aren't all wealthy. We still get sick and tired.
But Jesus didn't come to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise—at least not in the sense most think of. He came to make us spiritually healthy, to give us the wealth of heaven, and to make us wise for salvation. But he also makes us wise to the fact that sometimes life on this planet will be hard. Often life on this planet will be painful even. Life won't be a bowl of cherries. Sometimes it will just be the pits. And that's okay. We're not called to take up a pillow and enjoy a life of luxury and ease. We're called to take up a cross—an instrument of torture—and to endure hardship, trials, and, as unpopular as it sounds—pain.
That's a tough concept for us to grasp, let alone to live with. And it was for Peter too. But listen to how Jesus lovingly corrected him and told Peter to quit stepping in front of him, but to get behind him. Our text for this morning if from Matthew 16:21-26…
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 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?"
I. Get Behind Me, Satan
There are few things that our modern society calls evil. Perhaps they'd put boredom on the list as mind-numbing entertainment consumes the lives of so many. Perhaps hunger would be there, with the idea of fasting completely foreign to our culture as we're literally eating our way to our graves with obesity being such a big killer these days.
But behind both of these are the great "evils" of discomfort and pain. Pain is evil, right? No good could come from pain. Or so we're led to believe as new drugs promise to remove that pesky problem of pain instantly and forever.
That's what Peter thought when he heard Jesus with all of his "suffering and death" talk: Pain is evil. No good could come from such pain. So he scolded Jesus: "Stop such pessimistic talk! Quit being such a Debbie Downer! Be positive. Think positive thoughts, Jesus. Good things will come your way. You just wait and see. The crowds will love you… eventually. The Pharisees and teachers of the law will change their minds too. It'll all be okay."
But Peter didn't understand the necessity of the cross. He didn't understand the necessity of Jesus' cross. Nor did he understand the necessity of his own. So Jesus would show tough love to correct him:
Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
Ouch! That must have stung Peter. It must have really hut. But can you imagine the horrible results if Peter had gotten his way?! Can you imagine if Jesus never went to the cross?! If he never died for sin?! If he never paid the price for Peter—and for us—to get out of hell?!
Yes, Peter was thinking in human terms. He didn't understand God's plan. He couldn't grasp how suffering and death could be a blessing. He couldn't understand how Jesus would want to suffer and die. And inadvertently, he sided against Jesus and his mission. He sided with satan, tempting Jesus to avoid the cross, just like satan had done in the wilderness.
So Jesus sternly rebuked Peter for rebuking him. He told him to get out of the way, to stop blocking him in his mission: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." He sternly rebuked him to get him back on the right side.
Can you relate to Peter? Sure you can. We do this all the time, don't we? We tell Jesus that we know what's best, not him. We tell Jesus that he really ought to help us avoid all discomfort and pain. We tell Jesus we'd rather not take a cross. We know better than he does. We'll lead Jesus, not the other way around.
"Jesus, I'd give more willingly and generously if only I had more to give. But if I give to a point of being uncomfortable, well… that's too much. I'll give what I can spare, but to give more would cramp my style. I like my toys, my comforts, my entertainment, my shopping. In other words, I like my life and I'd really like to keep it the way it is."
"Jesus, I would give more time to church, to service to others, to sharing my faith with neighbors and friends, to serving my family the way I know you want, to studying the Bible and growing in my faith. But… well… I just don't have that much time to give. Time for me seems to be in even shorter supply than money. And, well, if I gave you that much time, Jesus, I'd have to give up some other things that I really like doing. In other words, I like my life and I'd really like to keep it the way it is."
And we try to lead Jesus instead of follow him. We try to tell him what to do instead of just obeying. And when we do, we really side with the enemy. We side with satan. And we deserve to be left on that side for all of eternity.
But in love, Jesus calls us to repentance with his stern law: "Whoever wants to save his life will lose 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?"
Confess your rebellion to him. Confess your love for this life—that your love for this life and the things in this world often trump your love for Jesus. Confess that you've sided with satan and stood in the way of Jesus. And when we do, when the Law has done it's work, Jesus doesn't say, "Get behind me, Satan!" anymore. Instead he says, "Get behind me, Christian."
II. Get Behind Me, Christian
You see, there's a small pun in the Greek. Right after Jesus told Peter, "Get behind me, satan!" he says, "If anyone would come after me," which is literally, "If anyone would get behind me." And that's exactly where we want to be: behind Jesus.
The family was hiking along the trail when they heard a rustle in the bushes ahead. Suddenly a great big grizzly bear emerged right in front of them, the fur on his neck and back standing up on end. As he bared his teeth at the family, dad calmly told his family, "Get behind me." You see, dad had the gun. Dad would protect his family. But he could only defend them if they were behind him.
In a similar sense, Jesus tells us to get behind him, because only when we're behind him are we safe. Jesus led the charge against satan while we stand safely behind him. That's why he told his disciples, "that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
And when Peter didn't like that idea he said, "Never, Lord!" But that translation isn't very literal. There's actually a Greek idiom here. What Peter literally said was "Mercy to you, Jesus." The expression was an abbreviation of "May God give mercy to you in sparing you from having to undergo what you just said."
How ironic that Peter who was siding with satan suggested that God be merciful to Jesus, when Jesus was describing the very way that God would bring mercy to Peter: through Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection!
And thank God that no mercy was shown to Jesus! Thank God that Jesus did go to Jerusalem to willingly take the slander, the abuse, the torture, the cross. Thank God because by that suffering, death, and resurrection he's won mercy for you and me who have too often sided with satan and deserve to suffer hell for it.
Get behind him in faith and he who conquered satan will keep you safe. Mercy to you, dear friend! God has given mercy to you in sparing you from having to undergo the hell you deserve all because of Jesus' cross.
III. Get Behind Me, Christian
And of course, Jesus meant more than just stand behind him while he fought satan for Peter. He told Peter and his other disciples and us that if we are to get behind Jesus and follow him, we will need to take up our crosses too.
The title "Christian" literally means "Little Christ." So if we are to follow our master, we will become like him. We will suffer for being a Christian just like the Christ had to suffer. That's what our crosses are: the things that we suffer because we follow Jesus. Let me say that again because I think a lot of people confuse this concept. I've heard people talk about any suffering as if it were their "cross to bear." But a cross is only that suffering which a believer suffers because he or she follows Christ.
Now that suffering may be big things: It may be the loss of your job because you refuse to lie to the customer or take advantage of a co-worker because you answer first to Jesus, then your boss. It may be the loss of your relationship because you refuse to go along with whatever the "cool kids" are doing, or whatever your boyfriend or girlfriend is doing. It may mean the loss of your life as Christians are persecuted more viciously. It may even be a literal cross.
But the crosses that we carry may not be so big. They might just be the day to day crosses that we carry. The crosses we carry Jesus explains as those times that we deny our self—that is, when we deny what our sinful nature wants. And note that these aren't crosses that are laid on the Christian. They're not crosses that are forced on us. They're crosses that we "take up." That is, we actively seek ways that we might serve Christ by serving others, knowing that we will suffer for it. Why? Why would anyone actively seek suffering? Because they love the one for whom they suffer. We love Jesus for taking on satan by his cross. And so we're eager to suffer for him! We're eager to crucify our selfishness and live for him instead of for ourselves.
So deny yourself a Saturday afternoon to lounge around the house or to get your own work done in order to clean the church or mow the lawn when your selfishness insists that you really don't want to. Deny yourself some leisure time in order to actively look for ways to serve your parents, your spouse, or your kids, without being asked! Deny yourself some comfort to knock on a few doors and invite people to hear of the good news of a Savior—who willingly suffered, was killed, and on the third day was raised to life—that they too might live with him.
"But, Pastor, I could never do that! I'd just die if I had to talk to a stranger about my faith!" Really? Good! That's what being a Christian is all about: Dying. You've already died with Christ. Your sins were buried with him. (cf. Romans 6) Now we want our sinful nature to die too. Now we want our selfishness to be slayed. We want to die to our self that we might get behind Jesus and live for him. That's what it means to take up our cross and follow him.
One day Peter would take up a cross—quite literally—and follow after Jesus. He too would be crucified just as Jesus had indicated (cf. John 21:18-19). But he rejoiced that he was considered worthy to suffer for Jesus and gladly took up his cross. And so do we. Knowing what we deserve for siding with satan and standing in Jesus' way, knowing that we're forgiven by Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection, and knowing who we are: Christians, or Little Christs, we gladly take up our crosses and suffer for Jesus to show how thankful we are!
And in the end? "Eureka!" says the Greek! "I've found it!" You'll find your life with Jesus. And that life will never be lost. So get behind Jesus, dear Christians. Take up your crosses and follow him! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.