Have you ever been rebuked in a way that surprised and shocked you? I have, and the memory of it has never left me. I was in the third grade, and we had a substitute teacher for one of our classes. I was always a good student, eager to please, and always tried to do exactly what the teacher asked of me. I’m sure I wasn’t perfect, but I generally did very well. At the beginning of class, I heard the teacher say, “Get out a sheet of paper and write your name on the top.” So, I did exactly that. As I immediately found out when she sharply called me out, she had said, “Do not write your name at the top.” She thought I was deliberately disobeying her and brought me up to her desk as an example to the class. She pulled out a stack of wooden rulers bound together with a rubber band, and “disciplined” me by smacking the palm of my hand several times.
I. Was. Crushed. And embarrassed. So much so (full transparency here), I peed my polka dot tights. I was so humiliated I don’t remember what happened afterward; I guess I’ve blocked out the trauma!
I wonder if Peter felt a similar humiliation in Matthew 16 when Jesus rebuked him so strongly.
Matthew 16:21-23 – 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 be raised up the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But He turned to and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
Just a few verses earlier, Peter had soared to the top of the “discipleship” class. Jesus had asked the twelve who the people (crowds) believed Him to be. They named Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Then Jesus asks the disciples themselves, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers first: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-17)
Jesus commended Peter, assuring him that only God the Father could have revealed that to him, and goes on to explain that this sure belief and confidence that Jesus was the promised Messiah would be the foundation for the church He would build. Peter had to feel good about himself at that point. His faith was affirmed; Jesus said that the Father was speaking to him and that he understood spiritual truths.
Imagine how he felt when their next conversation led to a striking and serious rebuke; Jesus even called him Satan! I believe Peter truly loved Jesus, and the thought of His rejection and crucifixion was unbearable. He spoke out of love and concern, but in reality, he had fallen prey to the temptation that his need for Jesus’ physical presence was more important than God’s plan for Jesus, which was far far greater. In fact, this plan would determine the fate of all humanity.
My little incident in the third grade was so shocking because I never thought I would be singled out and disciplined in front of everyone. I was a “good girl.” (And, while Jesus’ rebuke of Peter was completely justified and righteous, I don’t agree that the teacher was right in her response to me.) The point is, we are all susceptible to seeing things through the eyes of “our interest,” rather than God’s perspective and plans, no matter how spiritually mature we might be, or what we know already of God’s word.
Self-Interest = Stumbling Block!
Satan seized on Peter’s self-interest to throw a stumbling block in Jesus’ path. Jesus was determined to finish His mission. He knew what was ahead. He understood the cost of what He had to do, and He also knew what the result would be. Our interests never override God’s interests. His plans are always good even though they may lead us through the valley of the shadow of death.
Peter learned a hard lesson, and as we know, will have to learn a few more before he becomes the Spirit-filled, fiery preacher on Pentecost Day. This incident teaches us to remain humble and consider carefully whether or not we are concerned about our own interests more than God’s. It’s easy to be deceived. Jesus went on to explain true discipleship – we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). When we do put our foot in our mouth as Peter did, let’s be quick to apologize to Jesus, and submit to whatever He has planned for us, knowing there is glory and victory and joy in the end.