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Get Behind Me, Satan

man stopping another man

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

(Matthew 16:23 NIV)

Jesus calls Peter "Satan." How those words must have pierced Peter's heart. As usual, Peter had the best of intentions. Here is the context:

Jesus has just asked His disciples what people are saying about Him, and then what they believe about Him. Peter speaks for them all when He tells Jesus, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Peter's answer gets an A+! Jesus tells Him, "On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."

So far, so good. What Jesus says next rocks Peter's world.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21 NIV)

Immediately on the heels of Peter's great confession of faith, Jesus tells them He is going to Jerusalem to die. Now that the disciples see who Jesus truly is, they gain the perspective they will need to process what is coming. The problem is this: in their Jewish thinking about who Messiah will be, the disciples see only a glorious king. They do not see God's full plan of the redemption of humanity, yet. When Jesus is crucified, their world seems to end. They cannot fathom that Messiah and a cross go together.

Peter's response says as much.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22 NIV)

Peter rebukes Jesus for talking like that. Jesus is Messiah and He could never be put to death. Messiah is supposed to reign forever on David's throne. Messiah doesn't die - He reigns.

And so Jesus calls Peter "Satan." The throne without the cross is Satan's temptation. The cross making perfect redemption for all humanity is God's glorious plan. Jesus will have none of it. He rebukes Peter for rebuking Him.

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Later, after Jesus' resurrection from the dead, Peter and the other disciples will get it. They will understand the Cross from the perspective of the empty tomb, and their very understanding of Messiah will change dramatically. They will rock the Roman world with their proclamation of a crucified Savior and risen Lord! Peter would later write:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21 NIV)

It is by the very cross Peter wanted Jesus to avoid that redemption was won. The cross was not to be avoided - it was the central act of sacrifice at the heart of our redemption. Jesus died in our place so we don't have to die. Jesus nailed sin to the cross so sinners (you and I) could be forgiven and set free from its power. Peter's declaration that the cross will never happen to Jesus represents the same temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness when Satan took Him to a high place, showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and offered to give them to Jesus if He would worship him.

Satan tempted Jesus, in the wilderness and through Peter, with a short cut to the throne that was already rightfully His. Jesus knew He must become obedient to death to be exalted by His Father as King of kings and Lord of lords. (Philippians 2:1-11) His sacrifice on the cross was the one thing that would set us free from sin and death. And because He loves us so much, He was willing to endure the pain and the shame of crucifixion in order to redeem us. Glory to God!

Satan is the same today as he was back then. He still tempts Jesus's followers to take short cuts. He still uses the desire to avoid pain and sacrifice in all of our fallen hearts to tempt us to choose our own comfort over God's highest will for our lives. Make no mistake, following Jesus has amazing joys and rewards. We are forgiven. We have peace. We inherit eternal life. Love fills our hearts. But Jesus Himself also told us that sacrifice is part of the plan for our lives as it was for His.

The next thing Jesus says to Peter and the disciples is true truth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25 NIV)

Every time we sacrifice for others we become more Christlike. Every time we lay down our lives for others out of love for them we reflect Jesus more deeply. Every time we deny ourselves we affirm that Jesus is Lord of our lives. A disciple is to become like his Master. A follower of Jesus, well, follows in His footsteps. Love sacrifices for its beloved. And Jesus is love perfectly embodied in a human being.

So when the path God sets before us involves pain and hardship and sacrifice, we are called to embrace it by faith in the One who works for good in all things for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Jesus does not say, "Whoever would be my disciple must affirm themselves, take up their bed of roses, and follow me." Love is deeper than that. Love is tougher than that. Love sacrifices for its beloved. It's what Jesus did, and it's what Jesus' followers do.

What sacrifice is Jesus calling you to make today out of sheer love for your family, your neighbor, a homeless stranger or your church? Will you take the short cut of comfort, or deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus?


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