This text comes shortly after Saint Peter made his Great Confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!" In tonight's text, Peter uttered these words: "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" Peter said these words when he was confronted with Christ's prediction of suffering and death.
Here, Peter fumbled the ball. Even though he gave the good confession before, this time Peter became satan's pawn and representative. Peter tried to stop Christ from reaching the Cross.
It seems amazing that Peter fell so far, so fast. From the height of a confession that the gates of Hades cannot overcome, from there Peter sank down to assisting those gates of Hades.
Peter should have understood from the Scriptures that Christ had to die. Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, that is, the Messiah, the One anointed by God and specially chosen for a purpose. But Peter did not see what that purpose was: that Christ shed His blood for all mankind.
Now, Peter had talked and lived with the loving, pure Son of God. Who would expect that God's plan was to kill His innocent, holy Son? Christ deserved death less than any man. But God's plan was so different from what Peter expected, and what we would have expected in his place.
We would like to say that his error in rebuking Christ was due to his impulsive personality. Perhaps he only spoke before he thought. But Christ said, "Get behind Me, satan!" Peter had no mere slip of the tongue. Peter actually took the side of satan against Christ. The devil was pulling Peter's puppet strings, so that Peter scolded the Son of the Living God. The magnitude of what Peter did can only be described as blasphemy, because he placed himself above Christ.
Horrendous as Peter's sin was, are we better? We confess Christ in our Creed every Sunday. Yet we are just as prone to stray into blasphemy.
You see, it is not so much that Peter was giving answers and one answer was right and the other wrong. The problem was in Peter and in us. We are by nature sinful and unclean. Our sinful flesh is ignorant of the things of God. More than that, our sinful mind is at enmity with the mind of God. We are naturally opposed to God's ways and plans and grace.
Most Christians will admit that before they were converted, then they were against the things of God. But now that they have the Holy Spirit, they understand God, and they are on His side, they say.
But look at Peter. He confessed Christ one minute, which can only happen through the Spirit's work. The next minute, Peter was rebuking Christ. The Spirit was there in Peter, but satan was there also. Peter was saint and sinner at the same time, as are we all.
Like Peter, there is no time in our earthly lives that we can say, "I have made it. I will never slip." Our nature loves to slip. There is a part of us that wants nothing more than to get away from the Gospel and rely instead on self-righteousness.
Self-righteousness makes so much more sense to us. We do not want to think that we are all that bad. It seems that we are loving and good. We are at least not as bad as some people we know.
But when we think we are basically good, then we are rebuking Christ who condemns sinful mankind. When we think we are not that bad, then we deny that Christ's death was necessary for us. When we say that we are loving, then we join Peter who thought he was loving when he tried to prevent Christ from going to the Cross.
Our love, no matter how good it seems to us, is shallow and misguided. We are not, by nature, in tune with God's love. Yet Christ does not therefore cast us away. When He told Peter, "Get behind me!" it was both a rebuke and an invitation. "Fall into line, Peter. Repent, and you will remain My disciple." Consider the mercy Christ showed. Peter became the tool of Christ's mortal enemy. Yet Christ does not crush Peter as he deserves.
Nor does Christ crush you, but He gives you mercy and grace. When you repent and confess that you are sinful, Christ responds with His Absolution. He does not cast you out into darkness, even when His mortal enemy tricks you into serving evil.
We are so easy to trick because our flesh does not understand the things of God. They make no sense to us, even when the Spirit reveals them clearly to us. The things of God are these: that Christ suffered and died and on the third day was raised for you, so that through Word and Sacrament you receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.
This way of God includes suffering. That does not sit well with what human nature wants. But that is the way of Christ. He chose suffering and gave up His own life to gain the whole world. He delivered His soul up to the agony of punishment that you deserved. So He took it all and removed it. Your punishment is gone and your payment is made, in the person of Jesus Christ.
In this life, each Christian suffers by taking up his cross. Martin Luther said, "To take the cross ... means: for the sake of the Word and the faith voluntarily to take and to bear the hatred of the devil, of the world, of the flesh, of sin, and of death. Here it is not necessary to choose a cross. Just begin the first part of the life and deny yourself, that is, rebuke the righteousness of works, and confess the righteousness of faith, and immediately the other part will also be there, namely, the cross which you then shall take upon yourself, just as Christ took His upon Himself."
The Spirit give us patience and longsuffering for this task.
The fact that we belong to Christ in the Gospel does not sit well with the devil and the world, who despise the Gospel. But also our own flesh despises it. So we fight against our flesh the only way possible: by pummeling and beating and crushing our sinful nature with God's Law and repentance. As long as we live, we will have this sinful nature. We will be putting it to death. But that hurts, as long as we live, because our nature is us. It is our sinful heart that refuses to die, no matter how many times we kill it.
When repentance and sorrow and the stubbornness of your old Adam chafe you, then keep your eyes upon Christ. Because of the Cross, the pain you suffer in this life as you fight your own flesh will result in eternal life. Of course, you are not earning eternal life by your struggles. But you know the ending. You know that your toil will turn to joy. Or as Christ said, "He who loses His life for My sake will find it."
God grant this unto us all. Amen.
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