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I added some new tabs at the top of the blog, one for sermons. And I realized there was a message that I never shared on the blog. Here it is, both transcript and audio. It is from September 2017. It is based on: Matthew 16:21-27

Audio here. It is about 20 minutes. It was my 3rd time preaching, and I think my presentation is a little stilted in this one, so if you have never listened to me before, maybe pick another one.

My message today is on Matthew 16:21-27. As you heard, the passage begins with “From this time on” and Jesus predicts his death, rebukes Peter, and says that his followers must deny themselves and take up their own cross. But we need to back up a little.

So far in Matthew, Jesus has developed quite a ministry. Crowds follow him. He’d given the now famous Sermon on the Mount, healed the sick, raised a dead girl back to life, fed the 4,000. And people were speculating about him – who is this Jesus?

As we get close to today’s passage, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?”  The disciples answered that some say you are a prophet, or someone like Elijah or Jeremiah. And Jesus replied, “But what about you?” – “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Peter got it exactly right. He received high praise from Jesus, and Jesus called him a rock. Things appear at a high point or at a pinnacle of success for the ministry of Jesus, and for Peter as a disciple.

And then we get to verse 21, where things take an abrupt and startling turn – with the words “from this time on…” – Jesus says he is going to suffer and die. Peter rebukes Jesus, and then Jesus rebukes Peter.

This is some of the harshest language Jesus ever used. He calls Peter Satan! Jesus did use some very colorful language with the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders who were opposed to him. He called them hypocrites, blind leaders of the blind, and even a brood of vipers. But he did not call them Satan!

The Bible says that Satan entered Judas, but Jesus never called Judas Satan.

Peter is the only person Jesus called Satan.

Why did Jesus say this? What was it Peter did to deserve such a rebuke?

Peter expressed concern for his friend and master Jesus. Peter did not want him to suffer and die. On the surface, this appears an admirable concern. But note that it says that Peter rebuked Jesus. That is a strong word. Peter’s intentions may have been noble, but rebuking the Son of God is never a good idea! Just fyi. Friendly tip of the day.

Praise and success can build our confidence in a healthy way, but it can also go to our head. I wonder if … the praise that Peter had earlier received for recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, went to his head – and made him presumptuous. Perhaps this offers some words of caution for each of us:

Our victories and defeats in life can come back to back. Our rising can lead to our falling. We get praised or experience success, and it inflates our ego. The Bible also warns us that pride goes before a fall. And the opposite way of wording that could be “Humility keeps us safe.”

Peter shouldn’t have rebuked Jesus, but his attitude of rebuke was only a small part of the problem. Why did Jesus call him Satan? (pause)

Because without realizing it, Peter was speaking for Satan.

In Matthew chapter 4, remember how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? In one of the temptations, the Devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor, if Jesus would only fall down and worship him.

Satan offered Jesus glory without the cross. He offered Jesus the end result without taking the path to get there. But the cross was a critical part of God’s plan. The cross is why Jesus came to earth for us. And Satan was doing all he could to prevent the cross.

Also remember when Jesus was a small child, and King Herod ordered all the boys in Bethlehem under age 2 to be slaughtered? It is part of the Christmas story. Satan was at work behind the scenes, and influenced Herod in this terrible act, which would have killed young Jesus, if an angel hadn’t appeared to Joseph, warning him to flee to Egypt.

Mark 10:45 says that Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. And Satan was desperate to stop this plan of God.

So when Jesus, in today’s passage, explained to his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, and Peter replied “Never, Lord!” – “This shall never happen to you!”

–Peter, without realizing it, was speaking for Satan.

–Peter, unwittingly, took the side of the Devil by attacking God’s plan of salvation.

I’d mentioned that Jesus never called the Pharisees Satan, although Jesus did have unpleasant words for them. But in their very opposition to Jesus, they were unknowingly helping to fulfill God’s plan.

They pushed Jesus towards the cross, and that is exactly why Jesus came. They were not a stumbling block to Jesus.

While Peter, a follower of Jesus, was unknowingly hindering God’s plan. Peter became a stumbling block to Jesus.

Think about that. Really think about that. (pause)

The enemies of Jesus were helping him to accomplish his very purpose on earth, while Peter – a friend and follower of Jesus – was hindering him.

I think there is a message of caution here for each of us. Good Christians can sometimes do the Devil’s work – without realizing it. How does this happen?

Jesus gives us an answer in verse 23 when he said to Peter “you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Peter got it right about the identity of Jesus, but he got it wrong about the purpose and mission of Jesus. He was not thinking from God’s viewpoint. Even a person divinely illuminated with truth, as Peter had been about Christ’s identity, can fall into serious error.

This poses some questions for each of us: Where have we lost sight of God’s plan for our life, even confusing our plan for God’s plan? Like Peter, God’s plan may be the farthest thing from our mind. Our “Never Lord!” could actually be God’s plan for us.

And do we demand that God’s plan makes sense before we follow it? God can work in ways that don’t make sense to us. He can use surprising people and circumstances to bring his will to pass. Things may even appear out of control from our human perspective, but may actually be moving along according to God’s perfect plan.

When Jesus explained to his disciples in verse 21 that he was going to Jerusalem to die, their listening skills were lacking. Verse 21 ends with “and on the third day be raised to life.” –  Jesus gave them hope! After his suffering and death, there would be resurrection!

But they apparently only heard the suffering and death part, and missed the last phrase. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, a Christian always has hope. Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” – Don’t overlook your hope. Hope is the confident expectation of the future we have in Christ.

But this moves us into the last 2 verses that I want to consider in this passage. (Re-read verses 24-25.)

Satan did everything he could to keep Christ from the cross. Likewise, Satan does everything he can to keep us from taking up our cross.

Being a disciple of Jesus involves a cost. It does not mean immediate glory. Glory is coming, but we can’t short circuit the way there. We are to follow in the footsteps of our Savior. Enduring the cross was Jesus’ path to glory. Jesus humbled himself. He came from the splendors of heaven to serve humanity. He denied himself  – his rights and his privileges – so that through his wounds on the cross we could be healed of our sin.

This was a paradoxical way to save the world! It is illogical really!

The God of the universe chose to live a human life, relinquished his power, submitted to his enemies, and allowed himself to die.

We serve a humble God. Have you ever thought of humility as an attribute of God? Maybe the idea makes you uncomfortable. I mean, God is great, how could he be humble? Yet he did humble himself. Philippians 2:8 says about Jesus: “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!”  It continues with…

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.”

The Christian life is all about paradox – power is found through weakness, to live we must die to self, and to be lifted high we must stoop low. It is the way of Jesus and the way of the cross.

But Satan tempts us to focus on the wrong side of the paradox.

Satan entices us to desire power, prestige, and success. He tempts us to be self-focused instead of God-focused. A passage in 2 Timothy chapter 3 lists sins that would be common in the later days, and leading the list is that people would be lovers of self. The list ends by saying that people would be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

Satan has successfully seduced our culture.

As Christians we need to be counter-cultural.  But sadly, even some churches have been taken captive by the cult of self, and we can observe a self-focused Christianity. But that is not Christianity, my friends.

As Christians, we need to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Jesus is worthy! You can trust Him. He’s gone the path before you, and He will never leave you or forsake you.

And this will look different in each of our lives. Each of us cling to different things that distract us from what really matters. What’s distracting you?

Being a disciple of Jesus involves a cost. What are you placing too much value on in your life? Each of us need to pray that God will reveal the idols of our heart, and propel us along the path of true discipleship.

When we lose our life for Jesus, we ultimately find it.

Peter finally got it by the way. The way of the cross was initially a stumbling block to Peter. He even went on to deny Jesus, but the Resurrection changed everything and Peter became that rock. In the book of 1 Peter, a letter Peter wrote about 30 years later, he speaks of the Lord’s suffering in every chapter – and the example that it is for us. He says in 1 Peter 2:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Living in a counter-cultural way will require sacrifice, and bring challenge, difficulty, even suffering. If the Christian life is easy to us, maybe we need to re-evaluate whether we are really following Jesus.

But the book of 1 Peter is also one of hope. Suffering is a reality, but God will redeem and restore it.

I think we can all relate to Peter in one way or another. We’ve stumbled on our spiritual path, but we can get back on it. And I will close with words from Peter himself: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”