LENT THRU THE EYES OF PETER…
FROM THE PENTHOUSE TO THE DOGHOUSE
March 15, 2014 … 4th Sunday of Lent
Someone once commented that you know you are having a bad day when…
- You call suicide prevention and they put you on hold.
- Your twin sister forgets your birthday.
- Your 4-year-old tells you that it’s almost impossible to flush a grapefruit down the toilet.
- You wake up to the soothing sound of running water…and remember that you just bought a waterbed.
- The bird singing outside your window is a vulture.
- You call your answering service and they tell you it’s none of your business.
- Your blind date turns out to be your ex-wife/ex-husband.
- Your income tax refund check bounces.
- You put both contact lenses in the same eye.
- You need one bathroom scale for each foot.
- Your kids start treating you the same way you treated your parents.
- The gypsy fortune teller offers to refund your money.
- Your mother approves of the person you are dating.
- You are floating in your kayak on a cold spring day. You decide to build a fire, which creates a hole, which causes you to sink. Which goes to prove you can’t have your kayak and heat it, too!
But no matter what bad day you or I might be having, it pales in comparison to the roller-coaster day Simon Peter experiences one afternoon in Caesaria Philippi. In the course of just a few hours, Jesus will refer to him using three different and quite descriptive names:
SIMON – SAND Matthew 16:13-14
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Yes, Jesus and his disciples are taking a break from their mission and ministry. They have headed up way north of Galilee to the region of Caesarea Philippi for a little R&R. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place—rolling hills, cliffs, springs and waterfalls that form the headwaters of the Jordan River.
Caesarea Philippi is very much a center of worldly power, the location of the capital of a Roman province where King Herod’s son Philip rules and has an ornate palace there. The roadways are filled with Roman chariots and Roman soldiers.
Caesarea Philippi is also known as a melting pot of pagan religions. There is a temple devoted to the Greek god Pan carved into the side of a mountain, along with dozens of other shrines throughout the area dedicated to a who’s-who list of Greek and Roman gods.
Caesarea Philippi is not unlike Harrisonburg and Rockingham County—a place enveloped by natural beauty, yet also very much near centers of worldly institutions and dozens of pagan gods that strive for our attention, though they are much more material in nature than mythical.
Against this diverse backdrop Jesus calls his disciples to a moment of personal reflection. He asks them, “Who do people say the I am?” It’s a good question to ponder. They’ve been with Jesus for over two years. They’ve mingled in and out of crowds as he has taught and ministered. They’ve heard the comments of many. “Well, Jesus, some say you are John the Baptist, others say Elijah or Jeremiah.”
Now, it’s interesting that their answers to Jesus’ inquiry all involve dead prophets. Persons from bygone eras. And sadly, our understanding of Jesus is often past tense as well.
You ask the average person on the street about Jesus, and they’ll tell you they believe he was a very good fellow….and a captivating teacher….and even a revolutionary hero.
They have nothing against Jesus….they’ll even hum that old Doobie Brothers tune, “Jesus is Just Alright with Me.”
Such persons may even know a lot about Jesus…they can articulate quite fluently the various theories of atonement surrounding his life, death and resurrection…and produce movies and author books about his historicity. They can quote you his parables chapter and verse. They like Jesus…at arm’s length, in archeology class, past tense. And yet, that is simply not good enough.
Now let’s switch gears a moment…focusing on a name:
Simon, Peter’s given name, has certainly reflected his nature. Simon means sand – an unstable or shifting substance. Simon is a gregarious good ol’ boy-probably someone you’d enjoy watching a Redskins’ game with- but he’s probably not the most dependable tool in the shed. He’s easily distracted, just meandering wherever the winds of life takes him.
Yes, Jesus calls this young man Simon – sand!.
But in just a few moments we’ll hear something quite different…
PETER-ROCK Matthew 16:15-20
As Jesus, Simon and the other disciples sit there under a shade tree enjoying a cool fall breeze, he suddenly fixes his gaze upon them with an intensely personal question: “What about you? Who do you say I am?”
They fidget. They squirm. They hem. They haw. They clear their throats.
But Simon does not hesitate nor equivocate. He stands up. “I know who you are, Jesus—you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”
He needs no further convincing….he’s seen the miracles, he’s heard the teaching, he’s felt the love. And that is enough for him to believe…and to testify.
And notice that the rightness of Simon’s response lies in the adjective living. Yes, Jesus is the embodiment of a living God, not some dead philosophy. He is not some historic relic of an ancient past….he is a dynamic reality of the present!
And Jesus responds with overwhelmed amazement!
17 “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven! 18 And 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. 19 I 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.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Did we hear Jesus correctly? He just gave Simon a shout out and a new name! Peter- petros-rock! Jesus peers down deep into Simon’s soul and sees something quite solid! Something of great fortitude! Something of unbreakable resilience!
Simon has indeed ascended to the penthouse of accolades! What greater praise could Jesus possibly give to him? He’s feeling pretty darn good about himself. “Jesus just called me Rock! How cool is that!”
It’s very true that Jesus often sees in us what we fail to see in ourselves. We are made in the image of God. As such, we each have tremendous potential for greatness in serving our Lord.
And his affirmation of us is often revealed to us in through the words of other Christian folk whom we respect and trust. Are you listening to the voice of Christ?
What happens next is totally out of the blue. We, nor Peter, see it coming. Peter is about to descend from the penthouse to the doghouse…
SATAN – STUMBLING BLOCK Matthew 16:21-23
21 From 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. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But 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.”
Geez! In one day this disciple goes from being known as Simon to Peter to Satan! He goes from being sand to rock to stumbling block!
What gives? Does Jesus have some bipolar thing going on here?
Well, we know that Jesus has now set his face toward Jerusalem. He is set to begin the final chapter—a chapter that will necessarily entail agonizing crucifixion. With steely resolve he is going to carry out his Father’s plan for the redemption of humanity.
Personally, Peter cannot comprehend a future that includes both death and Jesus. He will not countenance the possibility of life without his Master, his Mentor, his Friend.
In refusing to hear Jesus, Peter misses the hint of resurrection in Jesus’ words.
In refusing to hear Jesus, Peter also misses the chance to offer his Lord support and strength.
This situation is much like an encounter I had as a chaplain one afternoon at the hospital. An elderly man in his early 90’s was in the final stages of lung cancer, with the prognosis of just a few weeks to live. And he was highly agitated at his family. He poured out to me his frustration: “I am dying. There are things I need to say to my sons and grandkids but they won’t let me talk! All they do is act like a bunch of damn cheerleaders, saying ‘Dad, you’re doing fine….you’re going to be okay…it’s going to be alright.’ I’ve got advice, confessions, forgiveness—all kinds of stuff I want to say, but they won’t let me!”
Could that have possibly been what Jesus was feeling when Peter refused to let him talk?
Spiritually, Peter cannot comprehend the idea of a suffering Messiah. Peter’s home area of Galilee has been long persecuted by Roman oppression and heavy taxation. The people believe God is going to send a messiah to right these wrongs, to lead a military revolt over the Roman occupiers. And in Peter’s mind, Jesus is this foreordained Divine Rambo!
A suffering servant is not Peter’s understanding of the role of a messiah. The Messiah of God is not supposed to suffer and die, but to fight and win. How can Jesus suffer and die? He has cast out demons, healed the sick, calmed storms, rebuked religious leaders. How can he say he must be rejected and die?
“God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!” Peter blurts out.
And Jesus responds with terrible wrath by calling Peter Satan – which literally means adversary, or one who is opposed to me. Yes, this dense-headed disciple has gone from being sand to rock to stumbling block—all in one day!
Do we hold any misguided notions of Jesus? Are we guilty of painting him with our understanding of who and what a Messiah should be? Is Jesus our self-indulging Santa Claus? Is he a Republican? Is he a Democrat? Is he some Marxist revolutionary? Who is Jesus to you?
CONCLUSION Matthew 16:24-26
Jesus calms down a bit. He doesn’t remain angry with Peter. He will never throw Peter under the bus. But he does offer this radical statement to Peter and the other disciples and to you and me:
24 “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For 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?
Talk about counterintuitive words!
How can we experience life if we deny ourselves? Isn’t life all about grabbing, not giving?
How can we save our life if we lose it? Isn’t life about forestalling any possible hint of growing old? Isn’t it about making sure we are always locked securely behind walls, without any threat of harm or risk?
And yet, we see Jesus denying himself the easy way out, instead taking the road of the cross. And that cross becomes a pathway to resurrection as Jesus risks his life in the hope that one day you and I might behold his saving love and respond to his amazing grace.
Yes, sometimes we can gain the whole world and yet miss out on what abundant life truly is all about…the self-giving of ourselves to others as Christ gave and gives of himself to us.
This is the lesson Jesus teaches that disciple who goes from the penthouse to the doghouse. And it’s a tough lesson to learn.
So, let’s cut to the chase:
Who is Jesus to you?
And one more question:
Who are you to Jesus? Sand, rock or stumbling block?