It happened during a time of increasing clarity - and conflict - in Jesus' earthly ministry. Sides were being taken, and things once hinted at were suddenly being clarified. The Biblical narrative in Matthew 14-17 seems to swing from one side to the other, highlighting the increasing divisiveness of the ministry of Jesus in a sinful, fallen world. Look at the point-counterpoint:
- John the Baptist beheaded, and Jesus feeds the five thousand, walks on water and heals the sick (Matthew 14).
- The Pharisees question Jesus' disciples' obedience to God's commandments, and Jesus responds by demonstrating the Pharisees' hypocrisy, healing a Canaanite woman and many others, and miraculously feeding another crowd (Matthew 15).
- The Pharisees demand "a sign from heaven" in order to believe (as if what has just happened isn't enough), and Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God... and Jesus then tells them that the cost of following after Him is their very lives. (Matthew 16).
The lines are being drawn, the view of Jesus - for those who love Him as well as those who hate Him - is becoming clearer. Jesus' mission is clearer, too. He tells Peter that He is going to be killed and will rise from the dead on the third day (Matthew 16:21).
But Peter then does the unthinkable, the unimaginable. He uses a phrase that men have used with God since the fall - which continues even today. It is the cry of our sin-stained hearts... listen to what Peter said: "Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him saying, 'Far be it from you, Lord!" (Matthew 16:22) Basically, what Peter was saying was this: "Jesus, what You've said has got to be wrong... You've got to be wrong. And I'm going to set you straight. In this area, I know better than You, and I'm not going along with Your program." In other words - "NO, LORD."
No wonder in the next chapter, Matthew records the startling transfiguration of Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah. His radiance is revealed, his authority over the law and prophets is visually established and, if that's not enough, an audible announcement of Jesus' position is made. The point couldn't have been lost on Peter, even after the six days since his "rebuke" of Jesus. Imagine actually hearing that voice! And the message - announcing Jesus' position from the mouth of God, coupled with the command "Listen to Him!" goes right to the heart of Peter's problem... and ours as well.
Now I'm not that smart, but Peter's reaction seems like a bad plan to me, particularly with the Most Holy Sovereign God of the Universe. I would think Peter would have understood that if Jesus was who He said He was - actually, who Peter said that He was - the idea of rebuking Him might not seem all that appropriate! But sin is blinding, and isn't this the condition of our hearts as well? Even when we acknowledge the position and authority of Jesus, we sometimes still think that we have the right - even the responsibility - to contradict Him, and to point out where (we think) He's wrong? We might not say it out loud, but do we, by action, ever say "No, Lord"? No to His plan and stated priorities for us... and even His commandments?
It's happened with me. I'll read the plain teaching of Jesus - particularly practical things that I absolutely know are true, and find a way to wiggle out of obedience - to say "No, Lord." And I know that I'm not alone. Sometimes, to say "No, Lord" is to go along with our churches' established methods of operations!
It isn't enough to have the facts right about Jesus. We need to "hear Him" - really hear Him. Peter heard the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:21, but his response indicated that he didn't really understand. A wise man I once studied under pointed out to me that, when dealing with a sovereign, you really can't say "No." To the degree that they are superior to you, in understanding and responsibility, it isn't our place to contradict - rather, its our place to obey. When you think about it, the phrase "No, Lord" is almost a contradiction, isn't it?
Is it possible that we are like Peter? Do we ever want to be on the Lord's team, but thinking that we know better than Him - and we say no to Jesus' plan and priority for us? The call of Heaven is recorded for us as well... let's not pass by the words of Jesus without really hearing Him. So, is this still a problem today? It really is. But you and I can do something about it - by going beyond listening, and knowing... to hearing Jesus. And we'll know that we've heard Him, by the way, when we obey Him. Isn't this what Jesus meant when He said:
"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)
OK, I'll give you a couple of examples of what I'm talking about... One in particular from Matthew 5 in my next post.