[based upon a sermon by N.Nagel]
For Saint Peter, there is no lenience from Christ. Peter gets no warning, no offer of mercy. Christ immediately treats him as demon-possessed, worse, as if he were the prince of demons. “Get behind Me, satan!” He says to Peter.
What did Peter do to get treated that way?
The Confession of Peter is certainly praiseworthy and excellent. “You are the Christ!” declares the apostle. You cannot improve on that confession, although the other Gospel writers include other words that were said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” This confession leaves no room for improvement because it comes from the highest possible source. Flesh and blood had not revealed this confession to Peter, but the Father who is in heaven. This confession is so solid that Christ says that He would build His Church upon it.
Yet, moments later, the great confessor Peter is rebuked and treated as a demon.
The problem for Peter was that he had his own idea of who the Christ was to be and do. Jesus, who IS the Christ, had a different idea. The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. This itinerary did not fit with Peter’s conception of how things out to work.
Now, Peter certainly loved Jesus. Probably his love prompted him to protest against what Jesus said. Those difficult, humiliating, deadly events must not happen to my dear Lord! Love and its demands can move ahead blindly, and go entirely the wrong direction, as Peter demonstrated. In fact, it was not truly love at all. For Peter was rebuking his Lord whom he just confessed, and trying to steer Him away from the Passion and Cross and Resurrection. That goal, if Peter somehow succeeded in persuading Christ from suffering, is horrifying. There is no faith without the death of the Christ, no life, no salvation; only death and hell for us all.
So love, if left to itself, can get things terribly wrong. On the other hand, faith makes no demands, but simply looks to Christ and receives what He gives. Faith does not demand that Christ be what we want Him to be.
But our own ways of doing things are just like Peter’s. We shy away from a Suffering Christ. We are drawn towards a non-Calvary, theology of glory Christ (which is really no Christ at all, except in our imagination). Look how many more people are willing to attend Easter than Good Friday? Look how many of us want the hymns that make us feel good, but do not have the richness of our Lutheran heritage? Look how many shy away from a crucifix because it makes them feel uncomfortable?
We are all, deep down, like Peter. Even when the right confession is on our lips, our heart yearns for a different kind of Christ. Many sincere people love Christ, but the one on their mind is not the true Christ. No matter how solid our Lutheran Confessions are, we want to bend them to our will, our traditions, our images of what Christ is like which may or may not come from Scripture. We may recognize the error in others when they say, “The Jesus I know would never do such and such.” Yet we sometimes do exactly that.
When we do things like this, they are actually satanic attempts to hijack Christ toward what we think He should be. It is hard for us to recognize that we are doing this, because we assume Christ IS this way, and we assume that we got that idea from Scripture.
Christ rebukes us for our self-centered way of doing our confession of faith. As surely as He did with Peter, He says to us, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Like Peter surely did, we stand there a little dazed and confused. Not on the things of God? I was so sure that I had things right.
See, THAT is the thought that is the problem. We think that WE get things right. Deep down we think that if we try hard enough, we can grasp all this God stuff.
But the confession is always from above, never from us. Peter is not the rock because he is the guy who was so great that Jesus named him the first pope. The confession which is from God was in Peter. That confession is the rock. If we have the right confession, it was put there by the Lord.
So repent of all the thoughts that go against the right confession. You do not even know all of them. Repent nonetheless. Repent also if you have thrown up your hands in despair and said, “Well, we can never get it right, so why even try?” That also is the same error in different clothing.
The good news is not in finding some hero of the faith to grab onto, like Peter. He was as big a sinner as any of us. But our hope is in the Christ who is not the way we would think He should be. The Savior is the biggest sinner of us all. He had all the sins of Peter and all the sins of us all. He answered for every sin on Calvary. This is the real Christ, the One who is punished worse than any sinner, because He accepts every sin upon Himself on the Tree.
Instead of a Savior who shines for us, we have a Savior who is swallowed up in darkness for three hours, for us. Instead of a Christ who is loved by everyone because He is so loving, we have a Christ who is despised by the world. Instead of a Christ who lives forever because He is so deserving, we have a Christ who dies the most tragic, most scandalous, most ugly death of all, since He is the most innocent of all. He dies as a cursed Man, rejected by both heaven and earth. Our fleshly mind wants to keep Christ as far away from death as possible. Thank heavens He did not share that fleshly mind, but laid down His life for us all.
So we are sinners indeed, and most serious ones, yet Christ is the Friend of us sinners. For His sake, we are forgiven. Because of Calvary, we are forgiven.
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