“He spoke plainly about this (his suffering and death in Jerusalem), and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:32,33 NIV).
Just when Peter is on a roll, he puts his foot in it. Badly. What in the world is he thinking? Is he really “rebuking” Jesus?
He had just given his wonderful confession of faith against all odds, against the theology of the scribes and pharisees, against public opinion. Jesus is the Messiah and he is the Son of the Living God. That was his confession. He is not to be manipulated, nor forced to be King. He will find his own way, set his own agenda. He will lead and I will follow. And all of the other disciples (except for Judas) felt the same way apparently.
So Jesus tells them his agenda. He will be a suffering servant, a lamb led to the slaughter and therefore he will go to Jerusalem, confront the forces of darkeness, suffer, be killed and will rise again in three days. Who’s with me? Let us seek Jerusalem together.
And the first thing that Peter does is take Jesus aside and rebuke him. He does it quietly, out of earshot of the other disciples, but they know what’s going on. They feel the same way, no doubt. This is crazy talk. Jesus wanted to walk into the lion’s den as if the lions were not hungry for his blood. Worse, he was saying that he would be killed. He wasn’t even promising a “Daniel event,” where God would keep him alive by closing the mouths of the lions. He was going to get eaten alive. And they might not survive either.
Let’s put this all in context a bit, shall we? Peter rebukes Jesus. Nowhere else in all of scripture does this happen. No one rebukes Jesus, ever. To be rebuked is serious stuff in the Bible. In I Timothy 5:20 we are told that “those who sin are to be rebuked publicly…” and in Luke 17:3, Jesus himself says “if your brother sins, rebuke him…” A rebuke is an important part of our walk with God and the Word of God, itself, is necessary for “rebuking, correcting and training” (II Timothy 3:16).
Peter wasn’t just telling Jesus that he disagreed with his decision to go to Jerusalem (which was bad enough given his recent confession that Jesus was divine). He was telling Jesus in no uncertain terms that he was in the wrong, that he was going against God’s will, that he was “sinning” and needed correction. Really!? No one ever claimed that Peter was a pushover. This guy has guts. Telling “the Son of the Living God” that his plans are against the will of God and he should cease and desist immediately takes a certain kind of bravado (or stupidity).
What in the world possessed Peter to take such a reckless course of action? Was there some pride (and perhaps arrogance) still lingering in his heart after his confession and Jesus’ unexpected but pleasant blessing on him? Was it really so easy to go from speaking revelations from God to being the voice of Satan in the span of a few minutes? Apparently so. Jesus doesn’t take his rebuke lightly, especially when he looks around at the other disciples and sees the same doubt in their eyes.
“Get behind me, Satan” Jesus says to Peter, no doubt quite sternly. What are we to make of that? Was Peter possessed by Satan at that moment? Could be, I suppose. More likely Jesus was connecting Peter’s attitude and mindset with the same unbelieving (even “Satanic”) mindset of all those disciples who had chosen to stop following him. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” No doubt. But there is more here, I think.
Just before Jesus rebukes Peter it says that “Jesus turned and looked at his disciples.” They, too, were waiting for an answer. This wasn’t just about Peter and his “Satanic” mindset, it was about his actions also affecting the other disciples and influencing them not to follow Jesus. Not to seek Jerusalem. The Devil decieves others and involves others in his deceptions. Then he accuses the very ones he decieved. He trips them up and then laughs when they are down. He distracts, blinds, cajoles, tempts, shames the people of God, doing whatever it takes for them not to follow Christ in the way of the cross. The cross is his achille’s heel. It is his doom, his destruction, his demise. He works hard to keep the heart of the gospel out of the hearts of God’s people. And to the degree that we help him with this task, even unwittingly, we are also “Satanic.”
Jesus called it “Satanic.” That is how important it is. That is how fierce the battle is right at that point, the point of humbling oneself in transparent confession, the daily struggle of faith to live a life of repentance, to forgive others who have wronged you and don’t even care, to fight, fiercely, for reconcilliation with others though they aren’t interested. The ministry of reconciliation is true spiritual warfare and in the heat of battle we must ask ourselves continually whether or not our words and actions are “Satanic” or “Divine” (and not be too quick to answer).
It is easy to label as “Satanic” a cult which sacrifices chickens (or perhaps even humans) and which reads from the Satanic Bible and worships the Devil directly. And rightly so. But what about the “Satanic cult” which exists in our own churches, when fellow believers both decieve and accuse their brothers, causing them to sin and then bringing it to light as if they had nothing to do with it.
What about spiritual leaders who withhold their blessing from some people because they disagree with them, or simply don’t like them or they don’t feel their undying support for their ministry.
Pastors who tell someone that they won’t pray for them anymore as if prayer is a weapon to be manipulated by those in power.
Leaders who decide that the homeless, the difficult, the ones asking for money aren’t allowed in church and who threaten to call the police if they show up again.
Pastor’s wives who complain that no-one respects their authority when their authority is not positional but spiritual and relational (and cannot be demanded but earned).
Elders who don’t trust someone based on hearsay or because of character traits they find uncomfortable, not realizing that a lack of trust is a lack of reconciliation and cannot be allowed (especially at the leadership level).
What about the numerous times that people, like Peter (a leader in the early church), get in the way of the other disciples who want to follow Jesus but are afraid and need to be encouraged, but the leader lacks the courage himself to follow and justifies it by blocking the entire procession or leading them off on some distracting side path, away from Jerusalem.
And it wasn’t the last time that Peter did this. A close reading of Paul’s letter to the Galatians will reveal more of this drama. Paul tells us, “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all. “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ….if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2: 11-16a, 21b).
This was a big issue in the early church. Can someone be a Christian and follow Jesus without first becoming a Jew? Many Jews (who called themselves Christians) thought that the Gentiles had to become Jews first through the ceremony of circumcision before they could become Christians. Circumcision was a visible sign of the covenant between God and his chosen people in which their acceptance by God was based on observance of the law (including the sacrificial laws). The whole point of the gospel is that we are no longer under law and therefore circumcision is unnecessary. Paul goes so far as to say that if you submit yourself to circumcision, you are not a Christian. “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5: 2-4 NIV).
This is a big deal and Peter is clearly in the wrong. His actions, as a leader, were influencing others, even Barnabas, to deny the gospel and prevent others from following Christ. Paul rebukes him in public. We don’t know what happened next but you can imagine. Peter may have had flashbacks to this rebuke by Christ himself. He may have remembered his own denial of Christ at the trial on that fateful night. In any case, reconciliation must have happened at some point. Peter in his second letter to the churches, written most probably near the end of his life, says, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (II Peter 3: 15,16 NIV).
Wow! What a story! Even Peter can screw up big time and needs to be rebuked (more than once). The miracle is that he responded correctly, admitting his wrong, repenting and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.
That isn’t all that common, you know. Especially among teachers and leaders of the church. Some pastors simply cannot be told anything, or taught by anyone else (unless they are a famous author or international speaker). Some pastors are simply blind to the implications of the gospel. They are wonderful orators and can speak eloquently about biblical truth but when they get off the pulpit, they can’t see how the gospel is applied to their daily life (other than as a general focus on morality).
Still others are unclear, unfocused, blinded to the gospel (yes, even pastors). They simply do not understand the simplicity of the ministry of reconciliation, of the power of the gospel to heal relationships (especially with God but also between believers). They do not understand that the purpose of the worship service is to facilitate reconciliation, that the purpose of every spiritual conversation is encourage people to take the steps necessary to follow Christ down the path, seeking Jerusalem, seeking the new Jerusalem, the spiritual unity that comes from the ministry of reconciliation and results in the anointing that makes ministry and growth and transformation possible. Not many pastors have that focus and the church is much weaker because of it, lacking spiritual power and wondering why things are so difficult, dead and defeated in the community of disciples who are believers but not followers.
The power of forgiveness rooted in the cross is something that the world desperately needs but cannot have without first making a confession about who Jesus is and then following him. The power of the cross is rooted in the person of Christ and there are no shortcuts. If confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation are not recognized as the way of the cross and does not make up the focus and the application of the preaching of the gospel and the daily work of the ministry, then the Pastor is simply spouting hot air, or worse, distracting the people of God from following Jesus and seeking Jerusalem. The heart of biblical discipleship is the ministry of reconciliation. That is the road to God’s favor and anointing and He will bless nothing less than a ministry focused on the cross.
Have you ever been rebuked? I have. It wasn’t pleasant but it was necessary. Have you ever rebuked a leader publicly? I hope not (for the leader’s sake) but I have when the gospel was at stake. That was also not very pleasant but it was necessary. I simply could not let it go. Throwing the poor out of the church (or anyone else for that matter) just because they are difficult or uncomfortable or smell bad cannot be allowed. It is Jesus’ church after all, not yours or mine (or the Pastor’s).
And isn’t the Word of God clear about such things? In the book of James, it tells us what we should do in these situations. “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2: 1-4 NIV).
I guess the answer is “Yes!”
Even when it is not the usher but the pastor or a preaching elder, they have become “judges with evil thoughts.” It is worse when the leadership does it because they influence others to follow their example. Are you surprised that a leader can preach the gospel one moment (with true revelation from God) and the next moment say something or do something totally inappropriate and against the gospel (which is, according to Jesus, quite “satanic”)? Don’t be surprised. We are all capable of that duplicity, that deception, that kind of evil. Even as Christians. Even as leaders of the church. Even Peter.
The beautiful thing about a rebuke is that it is an act of grace. In the Old Testament as well as the New, the Bible tells us that “God disciplines those he loves” (Proverbs 3,12 and Hebrews 12:6,10). To think that we don’t need to be rebuked is naive. To assume that we don’t need to be corrected or trained in righteousness, in the gospel, in discipleship is simply arrogant. In humility, we need to recognize that our righteousness is of Christ and not of ourselves and therefore we still need work, maybe a lot of work. We are sinners made righteous by Christ through the cross and therefore confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation are the daily steps of our walk in the way of the cross.
It is what Christ meant when he said, “Take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NIV). So why are we surprised that leaders fall, that they are tempted, that they miss the boat and sink into the water? Why are we so quick to condemn Peter who was the first one out of the boat, the first one to speak up and share his confession, the first one to claim that he would die for Jesus (though he ended up betraying him three times). Peter is just like you and me. A sinner made righteous. Loved enough by Jesus to be rebuked (and to take it).
Do we need to be rebuked this Lenten season? Have we influenced people negatively in their walk with the Lord either through our words or actions? Will we respond to the rebuke with humility (or throw the person who stands up for the poor out of the church as well)? Are we seeking Jerusalem or are we too committed to our own egos, our own social standing, our own righteousness. The way is dangerous. Humility and confession may make you look bad, may get you fired, or even divorced. Transparency is a scary thing and people avoid it like the plague. Jesus didn’t say it would be easy. He just said, “Come and follow me.”
The Desert Warrior
P.S. If you have been rebuked (through words or circumstances) by Jesus because of something that you have done or said, it’s time to talk to him about it…
“Lord, you are in the right and I am in the wrong. I know it in my heart. Forgive me. It was my arrogance, my blindness, my stupidity that made me do it. Your rebuke was what I needed. I know you love me too much to let me wallow in self-pity and doubt. I know that you love me to death. You are excited that I am part of your family and I am excited to be here too. It’s a bit of a miracle, frankly, because I know myself and I can be quite stubborn. Sorry about that. Lord, help me to make it right with the person(s) that I have offended (even if they didn’t realize it). I don’t care what it costs me to confess and I don’t care whether they accept it well or not. I want to follow you. Seeking Jerusalem. Give me a band of like-minded brothers and sisters that can help me along the way. In your name I pray. Amen”