Sometimes We Get It Wrong

September 3, 2017 – Pastor Doug Stratton

Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

CCI: To follow Jesus is lose our lives and our belief systems for God.

Intro: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. You are now Rocky and the rock I will build my church. I give you the keys to the Kingdom, use the well!”

Can you imagine being Peter and hearing words like that spoken to you???? To use a phrase from days gone by, that “Would be heady indeed!” Peter, you have insight from God himself! You are the man! You are Rocky!

It was my 8th grade graduation. I attended Ambassador Christian Academy in Richwood, NJ. I had just moved into the area a year before. To get to school I had to ride a bus for almost 2 hours every day each way. The school was poor, it was not well staffed, it struggled in many ways, but I liked it. Anyway, at my 8th grade graduation, the teacher was giving out the awards for student excellence. After all the academic awards were presented, she said, now we have the most important award of all, it comes with a cash award (I don’t remember how much). This is the award that will be presented to the student “Best showing Christian Maturity.” And the award goes to Doug Stratton.”

I gotta tell ya’. I think I felt like Peter in the moment! I best demonstrated what it means to be a mature Christian as an 8th grader! That was heady indeed! I knew that meant I was supposed to humble as well, and obviously I was good at that! However, it was not long before the pride of being so mature crashed all around me when The lies I told crashed in in top of me. I think I believed I could not do anything wrong, after all, I was spiritually mature, even my teacher could see it. Obviously, I could even tell others what to do.

And that is exactly what Peter thought about himself. Our scripture this morning tells us that after Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus began to reveal what lay ahead. Matthew writes, “From that day on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

After hearing this a few times, Peter decided he needed to have a little talk with Jesus, literally, after all, he was Rocky and he had divine insight. So he pulled Jesus aside and said, “Stop this talk, this will never happen to you, Jesus, you need to get back on message, stop this death talk.” Peter was angry! This was not the way a Messiah was supposed to talk.

Just what was it that Jesus said that made Peter so angry? To find out, we need to understand the Jewish concept of the Mashiach or Messiah. Tracey Rich from Jews for Judaism has summarized what Jews believe about their Messiah this way: “The mashiach will be a great political leader descended from King David (Jeremiah 23:5). The mashiach is often referred to as “mashiach ben David” (mashiach, son of David). He will be well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5). He will be a charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example. He will be a great military leader, who will win battles for Israel. He will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions (Jeremiah 33:15). But above all, he will be a human being, not a god, or a supernatural being.

“It has been said that in every generation, a person is born with the potential to be the mashiach. If the time is right for the messianic age within that person’s lifetime, then that person will be the mashiach. But if that person dies before he completes the mission of the mashiach, then that person is not the mashiach.”

For the Orthodox Jew of today and for the Jews of Jesus day, Messiah is to be a military and political leader from David’s line, one who will restore temple worship and inaugurate a new age of peace and prosperity where Messiah will reign on David’s throne over all the kingdoms of the world. While Messiah will be a military leader, his kingdom will not be the result of force or arms. Rather, people will know the truth of God just as surely as they know that 2+2=4, it will be obvious and none will try to avoid the truth.

So when Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, he meant that he could tell that Jesus was a great military leader, one who would draw many followers and overthrow the Romans. Peter believed that Jesus would defeat all Israel’s enemies and bring back every one of the exiles. He knew that Jesus would be victorious and rule the nations from the throne of David. This was the Messiah Peter expected.

When Jesus instead said he would be arrested, he would be tortured and he would be killed, Peter objected! It says he began to rebuke, that implies a repeated action, Peter was hounding Jesus, “That is not what will happen to Messiah! God’s anointed one is a victorious king who will rule all the kingdoms of the world.”

And Jesus’ response to Peter came in the strongest of words, “Get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Now I have been reprimanded for my preaching at times. “You need to be more practical. . . Stop preaching all this justice stuff and stick to the Gospel. . . or I think you are getting a bit too political, preacher.” While I learn from these comments, they sting. But never have I had someone say to me, “Get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block to me.” That must have been a kick to the gut for Peter. He was Rocky! He had divine insight! And now, Jesus was calling him the personification of evil.

Peter was sure of what he believed, and Peter was dead wrong. He had interpreted the message of the Messiah through the eyes of a national Jew who longed for his nation be on the top of the pile. Sometimes the historic church has gotten it wrong as well.

Copernicus

Darwin

Slavery

The Curse on the Jews

Civil Rights

The Role of Women in the church

The Exclusion of Racial and National Minorities

The Exclusion of Sexual Minorities

All these have been defended as central to the gospel. The church has used its authority through the ages because we have been sure we knew the right answer. The sun moves around the Earth; Creation occurred over 7 – 24 hour days; dark skinned people were cursed to be slaves along with Ham by Noah; Jews were cursed because of their involvement in the crucifixion; Civil rights workers were interfering with the natural order of creation; Women must not speak in a church; God prohibits the interracial marriages as unequal yokes; and LGBT people cannot know the blessings of God’s grace.

These are things we have known! And we have been dead wrong about them all. We, like Peter have told Jesus what we know, and Jesus has said, “Stop it! You are nothing but stumbling blocks in my kingdom!”

We thought we had it right, but Jesus called us on our pride and certainty. The Church is slowly coming to understand that God’s truth cannot be held in a box. God’s plans are far bigger than our plans and God’s grace is far bigger than we can ever imagine.

But this does not only happen in the sphere of the global church, we can be, and often are guilty of this as individual followers of Jesus. Whenever we judge people on the basis of first impressions, or because of their appearance, or their political associations we become stumbling blocks for the work God wants to do through those very people. When I dismiss people because they are always looking for a handout, or when I give people greater attention because of the way they dress, I am guilty of thinking I know their hearts and I know God’s thoughts.

Peter became a stumbling block when he told Jesus he knew better than Jesus – we become stumbling blocks when we impose our judgments on the people around us. When we do that, rather than taking up our cross, we are looking out for our own interests. We do not know the stories of the people around us. We don’t know about the cancer that is strangling a parent, or the Alzheimer’s that now requires the 24 hour presence of a care-giver. We may not know the addiction that is controlling a co-worker, or the family tension that has arisen over a daughter’s sexual identity. We may not know that the person who disagrees with us politically lost a son in military service. Instead of pointing out another’s rude behavior, or false belief, or wrong position can we simply walk with them and love them? This is part of what it means to take up a cross and follow Jesus.

But Peter’s sin can be even more personal than that. There are beliefs we carry about ourselves that are a stumbling block in our relationships with God and others. Often these beliefs reveal themselves as tapes that we play in our minds. It may be the tape of the teacher who called you stupid, or the words of the parent who told you he was embarrassed of you, or the tape you created after your business failed or your marriage broke up. These self-condemning statements keep us trapped in self destructive cycles that blind us to the message of Jesus.

Max Lucado tells the story of Li Fuyan. He had tried every treatment imaginable to ease his throbbing headaches. For 4 years he had struggled with the headaches. Nothing helped. An X-ray finally revealed the culprit. A rusty four-inch knife blade had been lodged in his skull for four years. In an attack by a robber, Fuyan had suffered lacerations on the right side of his jaw. He never knew that the blade of the knife used in the robbery had broken off inside his head. No wonder he suffered from such stabbing pain. Surgery was required to remove the blade that was causing his pain.

Here is the truth, we can’t live with foreign objects buried in our bodies  or in our souls. The things buried in our souls will destroy us. What would an X-ray of your interior reveal? Regrets over an [earlier] relationship? Remorse over a poor choice? Shame about the marriage that didn’t work, the habit you couldn’t quit, the temptation you didn’t resist, or the courage you couldn’t find? Guilt, both legitimate guilt and false guilt, lies hidden just beneath the surface, festering, irritating, slowly killing. Sometimes it is so deeply embedded you don’t know the cause.

To find freedom we must take up the cross. That means permitting God to remove from our lives all those things which do not belong, both the sins, and the false beliefs. To take up our cross and lose our lives for Christ, is to lay aside all judgements but those that Jesus makes. It means to place on the line even our beliefs about God and let God teach us.

Peter believed he knew all about the Messiah, and Jesus told him he was wrong. There are many things we believe about Messiah, about others and even about ourselves, that are wrong. As we lose our lives in the life of Christ, as we take up the cross with Jesus, as we apply his call to love one another as he has loved us, then we return to place of the Rock where Jesus will build his church.

  May we find freedom from all that causes stumbling.  AMEN

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