21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.
22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. 28 And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom. — Matthew 16
I don’t know of too many things worse than being called “Satan” by the Savior of the world. It’s interesting to note in the previous section of this very chapter, Jesus made a big deal about Peter realizing that Jesus was really the Son of God, and Peter came to that conclusion on his own.
Then he calls him Satan.
Peter’s heart was in the right place. He loved Jesus, and he must have been on a real adrenaline rush. Peter had a tendency to get caught up in the exciting stuff. He was one of the disciples who saw Jesus transfigured while he was still alive (Mark 9), resulting in a big argument about which disciples was going to be the greatest when Jesus set his kingdom up. Peter knew he was into something big with this guy he was following, he just didn’t know how to translate that in practical terms. He’s no different than us.
I see a lot of my brothers and sisters fall into this. I see me falling into this. God does something big, and our response isn’t worship. It isn’t falling on our face and showing God the reverence he deserves. Instead, we try to demystify the experience so we can make sure we understand it. Then we try to control the results.
That’s what Peter did in the verse from Matthew: he was riding the high. He was special. Jesus had been doing lots of big things, and Peter had front row seats for the whole thing. He realized Jesus was God. He said so. Jesus said “Good job, dude.”
Then Peter wanted to hold on to it.
The deal with possessing things
I used to work for a lady who said something to me I’ll never forget: “I don’t understand the deal with possessing things.” She was talking about the fact that her husband wanted to buy the movies he liked, something I’m also deeply guilty of. He (and I) would see something that really resonated with us, and we would want to own it for all time so that we could have it whenever we wanted it. I might have deep needs to see “The Apostle” and what would I do if I couldn’t find it? If it went out of print? If I wanted to share it with someone else? I must have it. It must be on the shelf so I can see it every time I walk into my TV room.
We do the same thing with God. We know his wonderfulness, so we try to possess it. We try to package it to give to others. Peter exclaimed that Jesus must not allow himself to be killed, because then the magic would end. That’s a valid argument. I suspect I would have said something nearly identical.
Jesus calls him “Satan” for this action. Pretty harsh words. Interesting that he chose that, because I don’t think Jesus misspoke. What does Satan do? He tries to keep the Kingdom of Heaven from taking root. What was Peter doing? Keeping the Kingdom of Heaven from taking root. Only he wasn’t doing it by destroying things that were already built. He was doing it by trying to hold on to what he had at that moment.
A house in the river
The spirit is on the move, always. Doing things around us that we can’t see. Putting things in action that have nothing to do with us. Yet here we sit sometimes, loving so dearly the things that have happened to us, we can’t seem to move on. We can’t fathom things ever being better than they are right now.
A story is told of a man who finds a scenic little spot of river. He loves the scene so much, he decides he never wants to leave. He builds a small house at the riverside, but it’s not enough. He wants to be closer.
The man tries to build a house in the river. He lays boards and puts up walls, fighting against the current. The house washes away. But the man is undaunted, he is determined to live right in the middle of the beautiful river.
He hires some men who know how to build things in water. They lay deep foundations, they pour concrete. His house stands solid. He gets what he wants and his house is finally right smack in the middle of the river.
But it’s not enough. The house is solid, but it’s not big enough. The man wants his family to live with him. He wants his friends to come stay, so beautiful is his view from right inside the river. He calls the men who can build, and they make his house larger. They add rooms and bridges, and even a little cottage for his mother-in-law. The building is massive. The man has the home of his dreams.
Something strange starts to happen. The man’s house is so big, it’s like a dam. It decreases the flow of the river. Downstream, crops aren’t getting watered. The view he fell so deeply in love with is changed because the water is totally different than it used to be. Eventually, the man is so dismayed that the river is changed, he decides to move somewhere else. His memories of the corner of the world he used to love make him sad because they’re just not the same anymore. The damage he leaves behind cannot be repaired.
That was Peter. That’s us. We want to find something that works and keep doing it until it’s exhausted and so are we. That’s not how God works, though. Things are always fresh with God because he’s always on the move. A big part of faith is recognizing that his moving may include us, but it’s not always about us. I think that’s exciting, that God has other people involved in things connected to my life and I can’t even see them.
Unlike the house in the river, we cannot actually stop God from moving. He’s going to do that because it’s in his makeup. What we can do is miss things he wants to do in us because we’re hung up on something he already did. In that case, we do dry up. We may start to question God, think that he left us. The problem is that we stopped letting him move.
Church: it’s your programs. It’s your traditions and legacies. God did not stay in the tent that Moses built, and he’s not going to kick back in a recliner in your church. He’s going to do his work in people you do not agree with or understand, and you want to be there when it happens.