Get Behind Me Satan
Jeremiah 15:15-21; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Today’s gospel lesson has Jesus rebuking Peter with some very strong language and ironically this exchange between Jesus and Peter comes on the heals of Jesus informing Peter that on his faith Christ will build the church and that Peter will hold the keys to heaven. How can a mere few verses change a relationship so drastically? How can Peter go from being the “Rock” which that church will be founded to “Satan?” Is Peter really that schizophrenic or is Peter just that human?
If you recall from last Sunday’s lessons and sermon Jesus called Peter “Son of Jonah” and I pointed out how fitting a title it is for Peter. First, Peter is not the son of Jonah he is the son of John and the name sake Jesus bequeaths to Peter is both telling and accurate because Peter and Jonah have so much in common. Both Peter and Jonah believed they understood God’s character and will and both Peter and Jonah thought they knew what was best for God and tried to sway God’s plan by their actions. Neither Peter nor Jonah were successful in their endeavors, but the both gave it their best shot. In today’s lesson we are given a little taste of Peter’s expectations of what it means for Jesus to be the “Messiah the Son of the Living God” and where Peter wants Jesus to lead them.
Peter has expectations for the Messiah, and they are not only Peter’s expectations they are the expectations of a whole nation. The Messiah is to be a military leader who will wear the crown of a king and warrior not unlike King David. Peter’s understanding of how the Messiah will reign is not based on propaganda, or fake news, but rather centuries of biblical scholarship, teaching, preaching, and anticipation. Peter’s expectations are the same expectations of the other eleven disciples, which are representative of the whole of Israel. This is a nation that has waited for hundreds of years to cast out the foreign empires that have controlled Israel since King Cyrus allowed them to return from exile in 538 BCE. 500 years of foreign oppression, which means it has been 500 years of anticipating the arrival of the Messiah who would finally regain control of Israel and establish independence. 500 years? Can you even begin to imagine what that kind of expectation and anticipation looks like? Hold that thought because I think we can.
When Jesus congratulated and rewarded Peter for his profession of faith in declaring him the “Messiah the Son of the living God” Jesus understood exactly who he was building his church on. Jesus new that Peter had great faith, and that he was impulsive, strong and weak all at the same time. However, Jesus didn’t size Peter up for the person he was at that moment, but for the person Jesus always knew he could and would be. So, when Jesus told Peter that it would be upon his faith that he would build his church he meant it, but Peter’s faith was not complete at that precious moment, because Peter’s expectation of the Messiah had to die and the death of those expectations don’t come with a strong rebuke, but rather with the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in today’s gospel reading.
In response to Peter’s declaration of faith Jesus goes on to explain just how the Messiah is going to reign and it won’t be anything like King David. Rather, Jesus explains that the Son of man is going to be betrayed, humiliated, mocked, abused, put to death and three days later rise from the dead. I can wager to say that Peter never heard the “Three days later” part of Jesus declaration because Jesus lost him by “put to death.” In that brief sentence Jesus destroyed all of Peter’s expectations in regards to what the Messiah of God would come to do in the world. 500 years of teaching, explaining, preaching, waiting, and Jesus has destroyed it all with one sentence. Is it any wonder that Peter took him aside to set Jesus straight? Can you really blame him for trying to talk reason into Jesus and put Jesus on the right path?
Jesus’ response to Peter seems harsh doesn’t it? “Get behind me Satan!” Now, don’t get me wrong it is harsh, but not harsh in a way we think. “Satan” here does not mean the devil. Jesus is not referring to Lucifer, or Diablo, or the reigning demon of hell. In Jewish terms “Satan” means one who obstructs, opposes, or accuses God. So, when Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan” what he is saying is you are obstructing the will of God with your expectations. Your mindset is hindering God’s will and you need to get in line. Peter being called “Satan” is not unlike Peter being called the Son of Jonah, because Jonah obstructed and hindered the will of God when he refused to tell Nineveh to repent and decided to catch of boat to Tarnish and ended up in a the belly of a great fish. Peter too will spend three days in the depths of despair because even up to the arrest and crucifixion Peter couldn’t let go of his expectations of God to the point that he denied Jesus even when Jesus’ words were being fulfilled. So, the title “Satan” was and is an appropriate name. Peter had great faith in the Messiah, but wasn’t ready to accept just what God’s will for the Messiah looked like, and to be fair neither do we.
Like Peter in today’s gospel lesson we as Lutherans find ourselves at the same crossroad. Peter was the beneficiary of 500 years of teaching what God’s will looks like and who the wonderful gift of God’s promises were meant. Peter was trained to view his faith and the world through a certain lens and was incapable of seeing God’s mercy at work beyond his limited view point. Granted, the faith Peter had inherited was, and is, amazing and beautiful and awesome, but the over the centuries the beneficiaries of those promises had put walls around God’s grace and will. Peter, and Israel as a whole, couldn’t see beyond their cultural realities and accept that God’s grace was for all and that God was able to extend God’s grace in beautiful and exciting ways. Peter was stuck in his expectations and it took death, resurrection, and forgiveness for Peter to change his expectations and because a disciple and not “Satan”
I think we as Lutherans have a lot in common with Peter today. We are the beneficiaries of 500 years of history. For the past 500 years we have understood our traditions and faith from a culturally exclusive vantage point. The founder of our denomination was German, the denomination grew and spread throughout northern Europe and as our Lutheran faith moved west it spread with immigrant ion and not through mission work. What I am trying to say is that Lutheranism immigrated to America is wasn’t sent to America. When the Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, and Finns came West our denomination came with it. And, with the immigration of our faith came the expectations of what the Lutheran faith looked like and how it would be lived out in America. Quite honestly the expectation was that the Lutheran church in America would look, sound, and be like the Lutheran church in Northern Europe. Furthermore, our Lutheran tradition is full of grace, forgiveness, love, and mercy everything that the world needs to hear today. So, why isn’t our denomination growing by leaps and bounds? I believe it is because of our expectations of what it means to be Lutheran which we have inherited for the last 500 years.
I want you to honest ask yourself how you would like to see the Lutheran Church, Good Shepherd specifically, move into the future? How do you picture the church? Who do you picture sitting in these pews? What does worship, Sunday school, mission work, outreach, you name it, what does it look like? Does it look like the Lutheran church of the 50s, 60s, and 70s? What is your expectation for the success of our denomination and our congregation? Are our expectations hindering God’s will? Are we conflicted about God’s will in light of our Lutheran culture and traditions?
I feel as if we are in the midst of a huge shift in our denomination and our congregation. Like Peter we are blessed with the most awesome and amazing tradition; which is justification by grace through faith. The power of our Lutheran tradition can be, and is transformational, but we have to change our expectations. Our church is not just for people like us, who look like us, and have backgrounds like us. Rather, grace and the promises of God are for all. Jesus says that to be his disciple we are to pick up our cross and follow him and that if we lose ourselves we will find ourselves. Jesus is saying let our expectations die to him so that he can reveal to us the true mission and vision of God for us.
We are at a crossroads. We can move forward holding on to what we expect from our church, our pastor, our congregation, our denomination and we can die. Or, we can trust that God has wonderful and exciting ministries in store for us if we only get out of our own way and let God lead us.
Peter couldn’t imagine God outside of his expectations and his expectations were hindering the work of Jesus Christ. Sometimes I think we can’t imagine a church outside of our expectations of what is essentially Lutheran and it is hindering out ability to do God’s work through us. We have to figure out what is the will of God and what is our will and which will do we want to follow. Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds for us as a denomination or a congregation if we let our expectations lead us and not the will of God. I do know that Jesus sees something beautiful in and wants to lead us in ministry that is bold and exciting we just need to get out of the way.