You know who I like? I like Peter. There are a lot of interesting people in the Bible but Peter is one of my favorites. Here is why I like Peter. He’s a lot like me. Not in the sense that we have similar gifts and abilities. I am no Apostle Peter, but we are alike. You see Peter, as a believer, had his ups, and he had his downs. That’s real to me. It’s authentic. That is the life of a Christian; it’s one of ups and it’s one of downs. I mean remember when Peter did this? Remember when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” And Peter said what? “You are the Christ” Amen, Peter, right? A high point!
But then there was this point. The point in our lesson – it came right after Peter’s high point. There is that same Jesus, a man whom Peter had seen do some, well, impossible things – miracles! But, right now, that man, Jesus, he was telling Peter in verse 31 how “he must suffer and be rejected…and that he must be killed.” Peter didn’t like that. He rebuked Jesus. “No, that won’t happen Jesus. Nuh-uh. I won’t let it happen, Jesus.” “Get behind me”
This was a low point. “Get behind me” This was Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, and these were serious words. Powerful words. And to hear them from someone whom you’ve looked up to and followed… and it gets worse, doesn’t it? “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. Jesus’s answer to that temptation? Three words: “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. Jesus brings us to it in his next words to Peter, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”Take a closer look at that statement from Jesus. Jesus here points out something so basic, yet so complex, and it’s this: the suffering of Christ is offensive. The cross is offensive. And it’s maybe because this way, this path, we don’t play a part in it. Then you go back and look at what Jesus said earlier in verse 31, “The Son of Man must suffer many things…” Jesus spoke definitively. This is what will happen. He didn’t ask for anyone else’s opinion or input. He didn’t check the polls or take a survey. Peter didn’t like that. It offended him.
And, maybe, we might sit back and look at Peter, and you’d think he is crazy. ‘Peter what are you doing?! Why would you try and tell Jesus what to do? What’s wrong with you?’ But then I look at my sin, and how I seek to justify it. Then I remember those sections of Scripture, that I disagree with and ignore, or I feel that holier than thou attitude creep into my heart when I look at this broken world, and I realize I’m not any different from Peter. I try to tell God what to do all the time, and it’s really all about our pride, about the things that God does that offend us.
What about God offends you? Is it his seeming demands – the ten commandments? Do you find his one path to salvation to be too exclusive? Is it the fact that some people will go to hell? Or is there something else…? These are all things that God didn’t leave open for debate. For Peter that was too much, how about you?
And, yet you see, this is why I appreciate Peter, because Peter is a lot like us. He wrestled with many of the same faith-related things we do, and he said the things that maybe you or I would have said and so, when Jesus responds to Peter, we hear him speaking to us too. And at first, sure, Jesus’ words sting. They hit our pride, “Get behind me, Satan!” But notice, what Jesus didn’t say? It wasn’t “Go away” or “Leave,” no, it was “Get behind me.” There is an invitation there – don’t miss it – an invitation of grace and mercy. “You find things about me offensive? You think this cross and the suffering I will endure on it is unacceptable? Come walk behind me and see; this is the way. I am on this path for you.”
Then Jesus showed Peter what that path was like. We hear it described for us in verse 34. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” You hear that word must again in Jesus’ words. Once again there is no debate here. God is clear. If you want to get behind Jesus and follow him, this is the path he took, and this the path then that we must follow. And that path starts first with this: “Deny yourself.”
Do you ever wonder if Jesus maybe wasn’t a huge fan of the way he was going to die? A betrayal by a close friend. Crowds screaming at him. Soldiers beating him. Hands nailed to a cross. A crucifixion, about one of the worst ways to die. Remember that Jesus did pray and did ask his Father to take this cup from him. How did Jesus end that prayer? “Not my will but your will be done.” Here in our lesson Jesus knew what that will would be. He must suffer and he must die. This must happen, and Jesus would need to deny himself to fulfill the will of his Father, of God. It took him all the way to a cross, where he gave his life knowing what it would gain, you. All of that meant having you with him. This was God’s plan for your salvation, and Jesus…he put you first. He denied himself.
To follow Jesus, we must learn to do the same. Put God first. His will above your own. And guess where that leads for you? Like Jesus, it leads to a cross, one which we are told we must pick up and carry. But what is that cross we bear? Your cross is not just the sufferings you endure in life. It’s not just sicknesses and financial hardships, or any other struggles you face from time to time. Those things can become crosses, and they do when they tempt you to doubt the love of God and trust the promises of his Word. That is your cross. It is everything that tries to separate you from your God. That was the cross Jesus faced as his friend Peter stood there in front of him and tempted him to walk away, away from his Father’s plan for our salvation. And Jesus’ response, “Get behind me.”
Good for him, right? But here is the thing, deep down we must admit that we are no Jesus. So, why? Why does God call me to a cross that I am often too weak to bear? Why does he require a self-denial when it’s clear my will is often to do the opposite? Why does he insist that I cling to his promises when all I see around me is his seeming anger at my sins and his indifference to my sighs and prayers? Why does he hammer me with grief, and hardship, and struggles – why doesn’t he take the cross away? Jesus tells us why in verse 35, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Before the soul can live, it must die. Before the Christian can rise up, he must be crushed. Before we can sing, we must cry out.
The crosses we bear in this life that challenge us, and crush us, and bring us to our knees in despair, they show us something. They reveal the way. And it’s not me; it’s not you. We can’t save ourselves. Even on our best day doing our best work, all our righteous acts, they fall short. But then we hear that invitation again, “Get behind me.” It maybe comes off sterner than we’d like – it might offend us at first – but sometimes we need our God to be firm with us, Because often there are times, we miss it, like Peter, we miss what God really wants for us. Not a cross. Well, what then?
It’s there, buried in Jesus’ words about his suffering and death, the end of verse 31 “…after three days Jesus will rise again.” A victory, one that happened on a cross. This is the way God saved us. This is what he wants for us. And he uses our own daily crosses to bring us back to that cross, the cross where his Son, Jesus, won us; where he saved you. That’s what God wants you to see. His cross brings you to your Savior’s own.
Think of that cross as you bear your own, and really look at it. What do you see there? It’s not offensive, it’s the cure for all the things that rob you of joy each day, the cure for your sin. What else do you see? Not a terrible plan but 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, today, join Jesus. Have 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 must say to those things: “Get behind me, get behind me because, I, I must, and by God’s grace will, follow him.” This is the way.