Can we stand there with Peter? Can we hear what he hears and see what he sees? There’s Jesus, a man you respect. A man whom you’ve seen do some, some, well, impossible things – miracles! He’s your leader, your hero even. You’d offer your life for him, and, little do you know, one day you will say that to him only to deny him instead. So then to stand there and hear Jesus speak in this way to say things like “I must suffer and be rejected” and I must be killed” it is just too much. Never. Never. This will not happen. You pull him aside, you tell him, the Son of God, that this kind of talk must end. “No one is going to harm you Jesus! Stop with this nonsense!” “Get behind me”
“Get behind me.” Jesus, he didn’t have to say it loud. The words alone were powerful enough. How stinging to hear those words from someone you’ve looked up to and followed. But it gets worse, doesn’t it? “Get behind me, Satan!” (Clap) It must’ve been like a slap to the face for Peter. How his anger and frustration with Jesus must’ve suddenly turned to shock. “What, what did I say?” Then to embarrassment as he remembered whom he was talking to, whom he rebuked. “Get behind me, Satan!”
Now, it wasn’t that he, Peter, was Satan, but it was what he was trying to get Jesus to do. Peter didn’t want Jesus to suffer. He didn’t want Jesus to die. But he didn’t understand what he was trying to stop. Peter was rebuking God’s plan of salvation; tempting Jesus to walk away. A temptation very similar to what we heard last week in Pastor Kolander’s sermon as Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan. There Jesus used Scripture to send Satan packing as angels then came and attended him. Here Jesus spoke with speed and finality rejecting the temptation of one of his own disciples, using three words he showed his desire to go forward with God’s plan. “Get behind me!”
And it is in this embarrassing and shocking exchange between teacher and student, Savior and sinner, that we find an even more unpleasant truth. The reason for the suffering Jesus spoke of and the subsequent reason that led to Jesus’ rebuke of Peter was because of him, because of Peter, but not just him. Jesus had to suffer. Jesus had to be rejected. He had to die…for us. That’s the ugly truth. That is the price tag of salvation, that is God’s answer to our serious sin, a suffering Savior. And it was that salvation that Peter was rebuking – his own salvation. And it was for this he was rebuked. Jesus said to him, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
And it is within this sentence that Jesus points out something so basic, yet so complex. The suffering of Christ is offensive. This cross before us is offensive. Why? Because it means getting behind Jesus. It means hearing that rebuke from him the very moment we start to think that his sacrifice wasn’t needed because we start to believe, as so many others do, that God wouldn’t dare send me to hell or that there are other ways to earn or win salvation.
Because you see deep down we like to think of ourselves as strugglers – “if anyone knew what I go through, they wouldn’t blame me for the things I do and God won’t either.” But what that thought, that idea, misses is that all sin, even those sins we think are justified, are a rejection of God himself, an act of insane defiance. It’s us pulling God aside and rebuking him. Saying to him “Leave me alone. I don’t need you. I don’t want you. Don’t tell me how I must be.”
And if that remains our attitude and, if after a lifetime of sun and rain, endless grace, and endless chances, we will hear him say: “All right. I will leave you alone.” This, this is hell. To rebuke and reject God’s free salvation…well, what else can he do? He must remove his love and life-giving blessings. He must leave us to suffer forever.
But let’s go back and stand with Peter. Let’s hear again Jesus’ rebuke, “Get behind me.” There is an invitation there, an invitation of grace and mercy. “You find my plan of salvation offensive? You think this cross and the suffering I will endure on it is unacceptable? Come walk behind me and see; this is the only way. I will do it for you.”
And with that invitation to get behind him and marvel at his suffering and our salvation he gives directions; we see them in verse 34. He says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Let’s start with that first direction: we must deny ourselves. What does that mean?
Imagine you are an unlit lightbulb and you are looking, seeking, someplace, someone to plug into to be lit up. You plug into friends, spouses, or family, looking, hoping, for joy and happiness. But ultimately a demand is made by you in those relationships. “Someone do something for me! Make me happy! Fulfill my need!” You then try to plug into success, money, pleasure, or possessions to feel alive and special, but death creeps forward on you and you realize there is nothing in this world that can save you and your fingers are slowly peeled away until you grasp nothing and you are left unplugged, unlit, forever.
But there is another plug, another place to find life. By nature I can’t plug myself into this outlet, it’s covered by those annoying, but necessary, plastic child-proof inserts. But then he’s revealed to me. Then I see him. I see Jesus, forgiveness in his eyes, pierced palms spread over me in blessing. His feet nailed to the cross I once found so offensive. I’m called to trust him and him alone. Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist once said, “Life itself is not about a ‘plan to follow,’ that is, a plan to fix whatever is wrong here, on this earth. It’s about a person to trust.” That person is Jesus. “Remain in me” he whispers. “Deny yourself, stop looking for salvation in the things of this world and by faith be plugged into my will and my desire for your life and salvation.” And now that you’re plugged “take up your cross and follow me.”
Have you ever thought about that? You have a cross to bear. It was placed on you the moment those baptismal waters washed you clean of your sins. You are a marked child of God and that makes you the enemy of this world and even and enemy of yourself as that sinful nature in each of us rages like a bull to try and trample the precious china of our faith as it sits there prominent in our heart. That battle for your soul, that battle to get you to take that cross off of yourself, to cut it out of your soul and toss it aside will last everyday of your life. But we don’t battle against sin and its temptation alone. We’re walking behind him. We’ve placed our trust in the one who “while we were still sinners, died for us.” He has given us hope – he is the hope!
We have seen the cross he bore. There it is! It is not offensive to our eyes. His suffering for our sin is not something we are ashamed of. Instead, we are proud! We are thankful! Because we know there is nothing we can give in exchange for our soul. But we know the name of him, who offered the only exchange that could remove the mark of sin burned deep into our flesh, he offered his life. And his name? It’s Jesus, he who saves; he who saved us, he who saved you.
He won the battle with sin, he defeated Satan. And so we take up that cross, that mark of his victory, our salvation, and we gladly, willingly, bear his name and all the suffering and mockery that comes with it in this world. And we smile as that Savior, in whom we put our trust, calls to us “follow me.”…and we follow.
That’s what we see here as we stand next to Peter. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about him. Jesus says, we can gain the whole world, you can be King or Queen of the Earth, but you won’t save yourself. You can offer up all the riches of the world in exchange for your soul, every gem, every mineral, but it won’t be enough to keep you from suffering for an eternity in hell. But with three words Jesus shows us another way, the only way, “Get behind me! I must do this for you.” And he did. His suffering brought us salvation.
But Peter missed that truth, the plain words Jesus spoke directly to him. He was too focused on the here and now, frustrated and offended by his teacher’s prophecy of suffering and death. And so, he missed the best part of Jesus’ words “after three days he would rise again.” A victory.
So look at your life today, right now. What has left you frustrated and upset in this world? How have your thoughts and attention been turned from the simple gospel of Christ and the life he offers? What keeps you bound and weighed down from enjoying the joy of your own salvation?
Now look at the cross, really look at it. What do you see there? The answer. The cure for all the things that rob you of joy every day, the cure of sin. What else do you see? Hope. A heavenly home, where everything is just as it should be. We are homesick for a place we’ve never been and aching for a face we’ve never seen, but as we walk behind Jesus, as he leads the way for us, we can know with certainty that we will stand in that place and see that face at last.
So say it with him. Speak it boldly, don’t hold back. Join Jesus in having in mind the things of God and cast aside anything in this world that might cause you to lose your life, to lose your soul. Here is what we say to those things: “Get behind me, get behind me because, I, I must, and by God’s grace will, follow him.”