Peter is the consummate enigma. There is ever the "good news - bad news" air about him. He was the great apostle, making the declaration, "Thou art the Christ;" He was the wimp in Pilate's yard, denying he'd ever seen Jesus. Peter thundered on Pentecost day, seeing thousands added to the church; he trembled with fear over his reputation when the delegation from Jerusalem found out he'd been eating with Gentiles.
Why such a roller-coaster spiritual ride? It's hard to say, except for the two side-observations on this text:
A. Jesus called Peter "son of Jonah." His father may not have been named Jonah, but rather Jesus is playing on the name, unmasking the character of Peter. Just like Jonah, Peter was to have a career of incredible failures and mountaintops.
B. Peter became the spokesman for the disciples. His leadership was not attributed to brains, but heart! Jesus declared that Peter had a heart in tune with God (16:17). The other apostles observed what others thought about Jesus (cp 16:14)...but Jesus needed a leader who wasn't a follower when it counted most.
This text displays great spirituality, human dullness, and God's mercy...all in the same lovable, bumbling and magnificent apostle, Peter.
The aspect of this incident that makes it so very relevant for you and me is that we see ourselves in the humanity of Peter. We see:
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And 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. 18And 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. 19I will give you the keys of 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.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Jesus searched the hearts of the disciples. They gave Him an answer (v.14). But Jesus probed deeper, "Who do YOU say I am?" It didn't take Peter long to make his announcement. Although this was not the first time the subject of Jesus' divinity had come up, this response was the most definitive. Peter said, "YOU are THE Christ, THE SON of THE living God."
The great debate of verse 18 has always been - Did Jesus mean Peter would be the foundation of the church? In at least one way, YES! Peter was the first one to make his profession of faith. Old Simon was the charter member of Jesus' church. It was his leap of faith that opened the books, and Jesus laid some pretty heavy responsibility on Peter to be the leader of the early church (16:19).
More accurately Jesus was not referring to Peter’s character as the foundation for the church; that character was fickle or short-sighted at best! Rather, Jesus was referring to Peter’s confession – the truth that Jesus was indeed Messiah – THAT would be the bedrock upon which the church would be built and stand!
Having a heart in tune with God provided the power that the early church needed to turn the world upside-down. Jesus said (16:18) that the gates of hell would not prevail. Gates keep things out or in....Jesus was saying, "I'm going to preach to the captives in Hell - those gates can't keep me out...But in three days, those gates aren't going to keep me in either!" Beloved, if the gates of Hell can't keep Jesus penned-in, they're not going to hold the church either...Jesus said so!
Now, Peter wasn't always a saint, sometimes he came "crossways" with Jesus' plan, and he was:
21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But 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.”
The name "Satan" literally means "the adversary." Peter spoke from the heart, but sometimes the Lord just wants us to sit, and listen to Him, and keep our mouths shut. That was never Peter's strong suit. Jesus said, "I'm going to be killed, and then raised." Peter reacted; Jesus rebuked him.
There's an interesting lesson in this exchange. Peter was interested in keeping Jesus healthy. He'd left a fishing business and family behind to stake it all on following this carpenter from Galilee. It just didn't sound like a good thing for the leader to die. What would happen to the movement then? What Jesus said to Peter unmasked the fact that Peter was more interested in his own agenda, and what would happen to him, than following Jesus. Hence the lesson:
When we leave revealed heavenly truth for the comfort of human reasoning, we become a stumbling block for the kingdom.
You and I do it all the time. We pray, "God, I don't like this thing that is happening to me. Change it." Like Peter, we tend to instruct God rather than listen for the instructions He is trying to give. Sometimes we just need to hush-up!
There is redemption in this however. Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind." Like Peter, we need to learn the lesson that Satan has always tried to push God towards HIS plan/agenda. God has always said, "No…following is done from behind; I do the leading here."
We have a choice in the church. When we are demanding our rights, our way, our plan, we are not following, we're out front. Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind, get in line; I will lead, you follow." If we follow as God's children, God will bless. When we insist on our own ways we often pay the price - lost spiritual power - lost blessings.
We've seen the great spirituality of Peter, as well as his spiritual dullness, but note the mercy of God as Jesus shares the great principle of following...
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
One of the principles of the kingdom is that everything works the opposite of the way the world sees things. If you want to be first, serve. If you want life, die to self. If you wish to receive, give.
Peter had made an important connection with heaven in recognizing the divinity of Jesus. He'd made the incredible blunder of thinking he would change Jesus' mind about the cross. Now Jesus laid-out for them the one consistent demand of discipleship:
YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW JESUS!
There is no such thing as serving two masters. If you will be a follower of Jesus, you must give up your own life.
The disciples knew what Jesus was saying. Twenty years before there was a rebellion against Roman authority in a little town called Sepphoris. It was only about 4 miles from where Jesus lived. A man named Varus, a farmer of Galilee, organized the farmers of the area into a rebellion army. They attacked and killed all the Roman soldiers of the garrison at Sepphoris. Rome sent in the armies, and disbursed the armies of Varus, about 10,000 men. Most of them went back to farming. But the Romans captured about 2,000 of them.
The historian, Josephus, records that they were going to teach the rebels of Galilee a lesson not to be rebels. They took them, one by one, along the road out of Sepphoris, and crucified them. They would put one on a cross, and then walk down the road until almost out of sight, and then crucify another. They went in every direction out of Sepphoris, all over Galilee, until they had each of the 2,000 rebels on crosses.
As you walked the roads of Galilee you were never out of sight of a crucified rebel. None were allowed to be taken down. They were to rot there on the crosses. If anyone took one down, another Galilean citizen would take his place. Jesus was about 10 years old when this happened. He knew the cost of carrying crosses and still He says it to you and me today:
“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me…”
What does it take to change an adversary to a saint? Everything you've got. Are you willing for this? Are you really willing to step up and offer your life in exchange for His? That's Jesus’ plan; that’s Jesus’ demand if you would be His follower.
He is coming back. I pray that you have answered Jesus' question, a most personal question: Who do YOU say that I am? If you haven't, DON'T BE AFRAID...DO IT! In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!