Last week, we were in Caesarea Philippi, where Peter was, no doubt, on a high. After proclaiming to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, Jesus responded by blessing Peter.
Still in Caesarea Philippi, at Matthew 16: 21-28, Jesus now shocks the Disciples by explaining that He must go to Jerusalem: He will suffer at the hands of the religious authorities: He will die, but from death will rise.
Although they didn’t really comprehend what He meant, they knew it didn’t seem right. And Peter will have none of it.
He probably meant well and wanted to protect his friend. So, he took Jesus aside and challenged this plan of action. “Never, Lord!”, he said, “this shall never happen to you!” (16:22)
We can imagine him saying, “No! You cannot do this. You can’t bring about God’s Kingdom by allowing yourself to be arrested, suffer and die. Trust me, I’m speaking as a friend”.
But Peter’s intervention, even though well intentioned, is met by, “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”. (16:23)
Now, while we may have sympathy for Peter at Jesus’ rebuke, do we always have in mind the things of God?
Like the Disciples, we may put too much reliance on our own understanding. Like Peter, we may be well intentioned.
We have at heart only what we think is right. We work away thinking we are doing God’s work, but perhaps we have never sat down and really sought to discern God’s will.
Peter, like others, had been brought up with the idea that God’s Messiah would sweep to power, unite the country, lead an uprising, depose the King, sort out the religious leaders, drive out the occupying Romans and bring freedom.
Instead, this Messiah came as the suffering Servant. Jesus would be King, but his reign would come through love and not a sword.
Why? The only way to relate fully with people is to share their experiences. It is to become one with mankind. And he did that.
The only way to overcome the evil of the world and overcome human sin, was to take it upon Himself. Even though it would cost Him His life in the process. But from that sacrifice, came reconciliation with God for us. From that, came the way to new life.
That is what Peter couldn’t see! That is what the Disciples couldn’t comprehend! But it is that from which we benefit.
Then Jesus said to them, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. (16: 24)
Jesus is brutally honest. Anyone wishing to follow Him, must be prepared to make their priorities secondary to discipleship.
The simple fact is that Christ will make demands on us. He gave His life for us and He asks us to make our life available to Him in His work.
Whether that is helping by our labour, our finances, our prayers, giving up our time to help someone else, whatever, it is all part of our service to God and his Church.
When Jesus calls us to take up that cross, He calls us to be part of His work in the world.
This episode reminds us to ask ourselves from time to time, “Whose path am I following? God’s path, my own or the world’s”?
Like Peter, there can be times when we make mistakes. Our service to God, our understanding, even our faith can go off the rails. But despite Peter getting it wrong, Jesus never gave up on him. He never let him go. And He never lets go of us!
Caesarea Philippi was a watershed. It was there Jesus was recognised as Messiah. It was there the Disciples began to realise how God’s Kingdom would come about. And it was nothing like they imagined.
Caesarea Philippi reminds us that we have to choose between the world and Christ. It makes clear to us that following Him is costly. It reminds us there is temptation. We may fall, make mistakes and get things wrong. But it also shows us there is forgiveness.
It tells us that when we give up our life to Christ and His work in this world, it is the start of new life: A new life in the here and now, and a new life to come.
Loving Lord, you know us so well. And you know that when we accept your invitation to deny self, to pick up our cross and follow you, we can struggle from time to time.
You call us to be your voice in this world, and we stay silent.
You call us to be your hands in this world, and we keep them hidden.
You call us to be your feet in this world, and we go our own way.
When we meet those who are doubting and say nothing, forgive us.
When we meet those who need your helping hand and we do nothing, forgive us.
When we are called to take up your cross then quickly put it down and carry nothing, forgive us.
And so, as we meet with You in prayer, make us eager to hear your voice and seek your will. Remind us, that when we follow you, you will give us the strength to continue on the road with you and not give up.
Amen, and as we go, may we go knowing God’s blessing.