The portion of the Gospel that we just heard come immediately after the Gospel that we heard last week. I especially appreciate how Pastor Schumm called attention to the words that God the Father gave to Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Peter got those words exactly right. Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17) Jesus was obviously pleased with Peter’s answer.
Never the less, Jesus said something very puzzling a few verses later. He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:20) Wait! … What! I thought confessing that Jesus is the Christ is a good thing. Why would Jesus tell the disciples to remain quiet? Doesn’t Jesus want us to confess Him as Lord and Christ? What’s the deal?
This is not the only time Jesus did this. There are at least a dozen instances of Jesus seeming to down play His role as Messiah after performing a miracle or revealing something special about Himself or a confession like Peter’s. Jesus gave very specific and very strongly worded instructions NOT to tell anyone about what they had witnessed. What gives? Well, today’s Gospel shows us exactly why Jesus did this.
Today’s Gospel shows us that although Peter got the words exactly right, he did not really understand what they meant. He confessed Jesus as the Christ, but he did not know what it meant to be the Christ. That is exactly how today’s Gospel begins. Jesus was explaining what it meant for Him to be the Christ.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21) Here is the essence of what it means to be the Christ. It means suffering. It means death on a cross. It means resurrection on the third day.
To be the Christ means to be the victim of the most unfair trade of the entire history of the world. The only man who ever lived a perfect life is sentenced to death. He trades His righteousness to us and we trade our sin to Him. Nothing can be more unfair than for God to take on humanity and by that humanity take the sin of the entire world to Himself in exchange for giving His righteousness to us sinners. He traded His righteousness for our sin. What could be more unfair?
In his ignorance, Peter did what any friend would do when a friend speaks of suffering and dying. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22) Peter did not know what He was saying. In fact, that word rebuke meant that Peter was actually scolding Jesus. Peter, a mere mortal, was scolding God in the flesh! Peter clearly demonstrated that he did not understand what it meant that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Peter’s ignorance ably demonstrates the reason Jesus strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:20) Their misunderstanding would cause them to proclaim a false Christ.
Jesus immediately put a stop to Peter’s scolding. He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23) Wow! Not only did Jesus put an end to Peter’s scolding, but He also accused him of being an agent of Satan. What was that all about?
Jesus had heard words like this before. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8–9) Satan had always wanted Jesus to take the short cut … avoid the cross … become popular the easy way … and so forth. Satan was always ready to offer Jesus the entire world if Jesus would worship him just once. Back then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” (Matthew 4:10)
Peter did not know it, but he was tempting his Lord with the same temptation. “Avoid the cross. Take the easy way. There are other ways to become the king of all than going to your death. This talk of death makes no sense.” It was bad enough to hear this temptation from the eternal enemy, but to hear it from a friend … that had to be tough. Jesus rebuked Peter in much the same way he rebuked the devil, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23)
There are so many people … even people who say they love Jesus … who just don’t get it. To such people Jesus’ death on the cross seems to be a great defeat. There are many who will not place a crucifix in their church because a body on a cross is too gruesome. There are even some who will not have a cross or any other symbol of Christ’s work. They do not understand that the scandal of the cross has become the glory of God through our Lord Jesus, the Christ.
How do we forget what it means to be the Christ? I know it is a few months away, but what about Christmas? Do all the decorations and the image of a cuddly little baby in a manger crowd out the real message of Christmas … that the Son of God left His throne on high and became a baby in a manger so that He could grow up and die on a cross?
What about the miracles? Do we look to Jesus to make our lives comfortable here on earth or do these miracles remind us that Jesus is the one who has the power to take away our sin? How often do we forget what it means to be the Christ?
Jesus gave His instructions to remain silent about Him because He knew that the disciples did not know what it meant to be the Christ. He knew that until the disciples witnessed the suffering, the death, and the resurrection, they would not understand. He knew that, until they witnessed these things, their teaching would be wrong.
After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to the disciples. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:45–48) It was after they understood that the Christ is about suffering, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins that Jesus sent them as witnesses … that Jesus sent them to tell the world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
This is the golden thread that forms the tapestry of God’s Word. This is the key to the right understanding of Holy Scripture. The Old Testament points forward to the Christ. The New Testament tells of the Christ. The life, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Christ are what make the Bible a love letter from God that offers forgiveness, life, and salvation.
The devil tried to use Peter’s ignorance about what it means to be the Christ. He worked through Peter to tempt Jesus. Jesus resisted the temptation and kept His appointment with the cross. Jesus suffering and death earned the forgiveness of sins for all people. His resurrection from the dead opened heaven to us all.
After Jesus rose from the dead, He gave Peter and all the disciples a clear understanding of what it means to be the Christ. On Pentecost, Peter preached the confession that he received from God the Father Almighty. He understood it so well that he eventually lost his life on earth for that confession.
Peter and his fellow apostles suffered much for this confession and they wrote this confession down so that the church could pass it down through the generations. Now that confession is ours. Because Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, all of us who trust in Him receive the gift of eternal life from Him. He will always be with us and we will always be with Him. Amen
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