The Gospel Lesson for Sunday 2/28/21.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Get Behind Me Satan.
I don’t think I can imagine a harsher rebuke than the one Jesus gave Peter in this week’s gospel lesson. Peter tried so hard. He loved Jesus. He thought he understood. I’m sure that in his own mind he was saying loving words to his dear friend that any of us would say if a loved one was talking about his impending death. And then Jesus said those famous words. “Get behind me Satan!” To be fair, Jesus did explain. Peter was thinking like a man who didn’t want to lose a friend, rather than like God whose interests are far greater.
It is interesting to me that this gospel lesson is set alongside the Old Testament story of God changing the name of Abram to Abraham and the name of Sarai to Sarah. Name changes occurred several times in the Bible. To change a name was to change one’s identity. Will we see something like that in the gospel lesson?
Let’s get a little background from history and the book of Matthew. The disciples and Jesus had traveled to Caesarea Philippi, a pagan city who worshipped the god, Pan, at a cave in the cliffs. From this cave a spring of fresh water poured forth in its season. This very cave, the center of worship in this beautiful setting, was known as the Gates of Hell. It was here that the pagan residents of the city believed the gods entered and exited hell and where they worshiped their god. Whether Jesus and Peter were standing in view of this cave, or just in the city that revered this spot, Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” And Peter confessed, “You are the Christ.” A bold and amazing and radical profession of faith. This was only moments before the rebuke. Peter was faithful. Peter believed. And maybe Peter understood.
But even more striking is Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession.
“And Jesus answered and said to him “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” So Jesus did know that Peter’s heart was in the right place. He credited Peter with some understanding. And then he blessed him, saying, “I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail.” (Mt 16: 17-18).
Did you notice the name switch? Jesus specifically used Peter’s common name, then switched to Peter to emphasize the meaning of the name.. “Rock.” In John 1:42 we find the passage where Jesus changed Simon’s name to “Cephas,” which means rock, or Peter in the English. To repeat, to change a name was to change one’s identity. Abraham and Sarah who faithfully believed in God’s promises were, indeed, God’s own to name as he pleased. He gave them new names to represent their new lives changed by the promises he had made. It took Peter some time to grow into his new identity, but he did so in a very big way, becoming a pillar of the church and a preacher par excellence. This moment was a turning point as he recognized the truth about Jesus’ identity.
Why then does Jesus speak harshly at Peter’s probably well-intentioned words? Maybe it was a lesson inspired by the setting. As if Satan had crept out of his cave and was tickling Peter’s ear, telling him to cling to the worldly, the present, to express his selfish desire to keep Jesus alive on earth, away from the cross where Jesus would defeat Satan in fulfillment of Genesis 3 in the garden when God said that the seed of the woman “shall bruise you on the head and he shall bruise you on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Just maybe Jesus was actually speaking to Satan himself, just out of our view but in Jesus’ sights.
It is, of course, pure speculation on my part that this was the case in front of the gates of hell that day. But it is not speculation that Satan does that very thing. He tickles our ears with the temptations of this world. He wants to keep us here in this place. He wants to stall us at the gates of hell, and prevent us from entering the gates of heaven. He wants to win. Perhaps Jesus’ words were meant to protect Peter. To call him back from the abyss. To remind Peter and those with them that God had a plan all along, revealed in Scripture and revealed in his Christ, Jesus his Son. He reminded Peter that God will win. After all, that was what Jesus had been talking about in the first place. He would suffer and die on the cross, and through that seemingly unpleasant event that Peter decried, Jesus would be the victor.
e-Devotion author: Bobbie Tomasek.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602.866.9191.
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website.