… and I’m not just talking about the White Stripes album.
Today I was reading Matthew (if you haven’t already noticed, I’ve been reading through this book for a while now), and I was startled by the words “Get behind me Satan!” coming from Jesus’ mouth. The surprising part wasn’t so much that he said them, but rather who he said them to:
“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering, be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it Lord! this must never happen to you!’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’. “ Matthew 16:21-23
The weird part about all of this is in this same chapter, Peter (at the time he was ‘called’ Simon) totally impresses Jesus with his faith and understanding in his divinity that Jesus renames him to “Peter”.
At this point, Jesus has been getting all kinds of annoyed at his disciples because they just aren’t getting it!
They freak out when they don’t have enough bread even though Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into food for over five thousand men (not including the women and children). Then, when Jesus is trying to warn them not to listen to the Pharisees, they misunderstand him entirely and get paranoid that Jesus is mad at them because they didn’t pack any food (which is silly because Jesus actually tells them not to bring anything with them when traveling).
But Peter is the one who passes the test.
Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they say, “Some say John the Baptist, but other Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus says toe them, “But who do you say that I am?” And it’s Simon/Peter who answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Paraphrased from Matthew 16:13-16)
Jesus is elated– someone finally gets it! Quite honestly, I don’t think most of his disciples really understood this fact about Jesus’ divinity up until after his death. They knew he was special, but why would Jesus respond so enthusiastically to Peter if all his followers were also aware that he was divine?
“Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'” Matthew 16:17-19
This description has a lot of heavy language in it. I mean look at it! Peter, first of all, gets his new name, then he’s got Jesus telling him that God himself revealed important information to him, that he’s the rock that the church will be built on, that the Devil will not prevail against said church, and that he’s going to be giving Peter the kingdom of heaven!
Talk about some heavy stuff!
So how does Jesus go from praising the heck out of Peter to then calling him “Satan” and a “stumbling block” that stands in his way?
The truth of the matter is that we all are just like Peter.
Sometimes we totally impress and excite our God…. and other times we annoy him to no end. He still has patience with us, just like Jesus does with Peter even after this last encounter (and then later when he denies him three more times), but we do have the tendency to, as Jesus puts it, “set our minds not on divine things, but on human things.”
This human vs. divine thing is kind of clutch.
Jesus tells Peter that whatever he gains and looses here on earth, he also will gain and loose in heaven. But then he also tells Peter that his mind is not focused on heaven; which is a big problem!
Paradoxically, Jesus is the perfect blending of both of these things; he is fully divine, but also fully human.
So what does all this mean?
Well, it may not be so easy to say. However, I believe this verse’s purpose is to put the fear of God back into our hearts and to get us focusing on heaven rather than earth.
Sometimes people like to paint this pretty picture of Jesus as this meek, mild, accepting person, but just from the initial passage– (the “Get behind me Satan!” passage)– you can clearly see that his man is nowhere near meek!
Jesus has a mission, and it’s a tough one, the toughest one that any man has ever faced: to take on the wrath of God and die for the world’s sins.
Jesus knows he must do this, and yeah, it looks crazy (as many times Jesus’ missions do), but he’s got to do it, and any person who says otherwise is clearly not supporting the mission of God. If you’re not for him, your against him.
We are evil. And God hates evil. And it sucks, because we have Satan working to turn us into stumbling blocks to God’s mission 24/7 and the rest of the world is not helping us out in the least.
Jesus told Peter that he came about his wisdom not by the world, but by God– divine intervention, if you will. And the same is true for us; any understanding we may have of Christ, any truly selfless act or piece of truth we receive or give comes from God.
Like Peter, we are capable of incredible good, but we also are capable and highly susceptible to disdainful evil. Even our closest, dearest friends.
If God is calling us to his mission, then anyone or anything that tempts us to stray from that divine path is a stumbling block to Jesus.
What would it be like if we reacted the way Jesus does in these situations? ….
“hey man, I know you trying to quit smoking and like, take care of your body or whatever, but you want to step out and share a smoke with me?”
“GET BEHIND ME SATAN!!!”
“…Woah, chill out dude…”
Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme. But maybe we’re called to see things this way. Maybe we’re called to see ourselves this way.
Have you ever felt Satan at work in your life?
What are stumbling blocks in Jesus’ mission for you, and how can you recognize them when they may simply look like Peter, a concerned and protective friend?
What do you think is the balance between focusing on divine things and earthly things?