31 August 2014Matthew 16:21-28
“You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (v. 23)
Peter, who can almost certainly be regarded as acting as a spokesperson for all the disciples, has just declared Jesus to be the Messiah, God's promised chosen agent of salvation. As a result a new phase of the gospel story begins, indicated by the opening words, "From that time on" (v. 21). Up till now Jesus has addressed the crowds; now his focus is on the disciples as he speaks of the necessity of his suffering, death and resurrection.
Peter's strong aversion to the idea of a suffering Messiah - and we assume the others are equally askance at the idea - leads to an equally forthright response from Jesus, who "turned" (v. 23) to make sure that they understood he was speaking to them all. But he perceives that it is the devil, for whom "Satan" (meaning 'opponent') is a common name, that is prompting the view Peter expresses. At no point until he dies is Jesus free of the temptation to look for an easier way than the one he knows that God has determined for him.
Jesus then reminds his disciples (for, along with the wider crowd, they have heard it before - see Matthew 10:38-39) how they cannot follow him without likewise setting aside their own interests and taking up their cross. That language derives from the fact that condemned criminals were required to carry the cross-bar of the cross on which they would be crucified to the place of execution.
The passage ends with Jesus looking beyond his cross to his future glory. "Son of Man" (v. 28) is the self-description he prefers. He will judge at that time the quality of the allegiance of everyone.
- What aspects of Jesus' message make you inclined to say, as does Peter in this episode, "God forbid" (v. 22)?
- What does 'deny yourself' (verse 24) particularly require from you? What is your biggest struggle to put your own interests second to what you know Jesus expects of you?
- Peter's reaction to Jesus' life-plan was to think it disastrous. Concerning what "disasters" in your own life have you found it hard to accept that they may be God's purpose?
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