Tuesday Re-mix –
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. Matthew 16:16-17
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 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 16:22-23
I was the baby in my family. That means I got to learn from my older sibling’s mistakes (sorry, Sis)…not that there were THAT MANY mistakes there to learn from…but there were a few. And I did learn from them. That, it seems to me, is a huge benefit of being the younger brother.
I think of Peter that way…an older brother from whom we can learn. For me, Peter’s spiritual pilgrimage has always served as a great illustration of the human frailty of the church. Just like a local body of believers, there are times when Peter got it so very right, and there are times when he got it so very wrong. Looking at his pilgrimage in Matthew 16 raises for me a couple of important lessons for the church.
1. Celebrate when we get it right, but don’t get too cocky…we may just get it wrong tomorrow. My church happens to be one of the really healthy churches in our community right now. I like that. It makes me feel good. Even though people coming from other, less healthy, churches do not constitute “kingdom growth”, I am not going to lie and act like it doesn’t make me feel good. My church is getting some things right in this particular season, and that makes me feel…well, maybe a little superior. In a slightly sinful kind of way. That sin is foolishness on my part. Because there are cycles of health and dysfunction and health and dysfunction for churches, just like there are for individuals.
For Peter, Jesus’ praise of his childlike faith in Matthew 16:17 was short-lived. With almost neck-breaking speed, Peter followed it quickly with a huge fail (Matthew 16:22). Such is the Christian walk. And such is the cycle for churches as well. Once I get past the preliminary feelings of superiority for all those people coming from other churches to mine during this season, I humble myself by remembering that my own church has been the one everyone was leaving before…and may well become that church again one day. That is an important understanding for us all.
2. As important as the doctrine of Salvation is to us, the doctrine of Lordship better also be in our curriculum.
Peter’s humiliation in this passage stemmed from the fact that his paradigm for “the kingdom of God” did not square with God’s truth, and when confronted with that problem, he had a hard time letting go of his paradigm. I think that issue is reflected in the American church as well. We believe in God, we believe in Christ, we believe in the Holy Spirit, we believe in a whole host of things (“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”), but we also have our own ideas about how that should play out in our lives, and we have a hard time giving up on those ideas. Our intellectual constructs of God become our idols, the things we truly worship. Our hearts become hard with arrogance, rather than soft to His Word and to His will.
Our communities call us hypocrites…because we are. We say we believe in God’s Word, but then we twist it and strain it and ignore it and slant it to meet our desires. We interpret scripture based upon our life experiences…rather than interpreting our life experiences up against the plumb line of God’s Word. In short, we often do not really allow God’s Word to reflect honestly back to us and to shape and mold our hearts. Wasn’t that Peter’s problem? Peter, it seems, BELIEVED IN Christ…he just didn’t necessarily BELIEVE Christ. Sadly, that version of Peter would fit in just fine in our culture.
We must teach salvation, for sure. But then we must teach Lordship, i.e., actually following Christ, and we must teach it well. We must hold the Word of God in the highest of regards and teach our people to love it and respect it and BELIEVE IT. If we are bringing our people into a relationship with Christ but then leaving them there as infants, we are missing what “church” is supposed to be about! The great commission is not about going and making converts…it is about going and making disciples. Discipleship matters.
So as I reflect on this passage, I see some important points here for the church. And we get the benefit of our older brother, Peter’s mistakes. For that, we say, “Thank you, brother.”