“Then he began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke openly about this. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever really had your mind blown? The disciples thought they were really starting to figure some things out. After all the doubts and questions and misunderstandings, they had finally gotten their minds around the truth: Jesus was the Messiah. They were certain of it. Everything He had done pointed them unavoidably to this conclusion. There was just one problem? They didn’t have any idea what that actually meant. They thought they did. But they were wrong. Learning the truth was something they were not prepared to do.
As we talked about yesterday, as Jesus and the disciples were making their way through some Gentile territory on what amounted to a vacation/leadership retreat, He asked them a question that was intended to be a kind of mid-term exam for them. “Who do you say that I am?” After a bit of uncomfortable silence, Peter spoke up: “You are the Messiah.” That was the right answer. They had passed. And with flying colors. Matthew’s telling of this episode includes Jesus’ following up Peter’s response with some awfully high praise. He told him that God Himself was the one who revealed this truth to Peter and that his confession of faith would be the foundation for the movement He was going to create to advance His kingdom. Not even the gates of Hell would be able to prevail against this movement.
You know the guys had to be feeling pretty high on the world in that moment. Especially Peter. Jesus was the Messiah! The Messiah, the one who had been the subject of the prophesies and hopes of the people of Israel for countless generations was finally here. God had not abandoned or forgotten them. He was moving once again to restore His kingdom. Life was about to change and for the better.
In addition to the religious excitement, the disciples were probably all internally salivating at the opportunities this was going to mean were coming to them. They were the Messiah’s inner circle. For Peter, James, and John, they were the inner, inner circle. When you’re that close to the man, you get to share in his prestige. You share in his influence. You share in his power. They could see themselves ruling over various territories as the emissaries of the Messiah. They would be kings in their own right. Perhaps one of them would be given Rome itself as his fiefdom. They could see themselves sitting on the throne while the Emperor himself was forced to kneel at their feet and kiss their boot. Such visions of grandeur would have been potent images indeed.
Then Jesus started to talk again. It took a second for His words to shake them out of their glorious reveries. He said He was going to suffer. Not just that, He was going to suffer many things. Wait, what? Suffer? The Messiah doesn’t suffer. The Messiah makes the enemies of God suffer. The Messiah is victorious. He decimates His enemies until they are all under His feet. That’s what the prophecy said. In fact, that prophecy (Psalm 110:1) is the single most quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament. What does Jesus mean He’s going to suffer? No!
Then came the bit about being rejected by all the religious authorities. That wasn’t so much of a surprise. I mean, they had already rejected Him. But they were the corrupt ones. Surely the righteous leaders would turn and accept Him for who He is. After all, He’s the Messiah. They’re waiting for the Messiah to come so they can give Him their allegiance. No, they won’t really reject Him at all. What’s He talking about? They just need to be told who He is. But He had just told them they weren’t supposed to tell anybody yet. Maybe He’s just waiting for the right moment.
But then Jesus said something about being killed. That was a bridge too far. The Messiah doesn’t get killed. False Messiahs get killed. In fact, that had become the major measuring stick for whether a Messiah claimant was the real guy or not. Did Rome capture and kill him? If so, he was a fake. If not, he was the guy. They believed – they were convinced – that Jesus was the guy. That meant by definition – or so they thought – that He wasn’t going to die. So, what on earth was He talking about? Sure He said this thing about rising again after three days, but that part just kind of washed over them. You could only rise again if you died and the Messiah wasn’t going to die and Jesus was the Messiah so that meant Jesus wasn’t going to die and that was that.
Peter finally had had enough. All the other guys were just standing there looking utterly dumbfounded. Peter finally said, “Umm, Jesus, can I talk to you a second?” Then he pulled Him over to the side and started to rebuke Him. Imagine that for a minute. He was rebuking Jesus. He was rebuking God. The God who created the world and everything in it including Peter himself was being rebuked. By one of His creations. You have to wonder what exactly Peter said to Him. “Jesus, you’ve got to stop this. I just said you were the Messiah and you didn’t deny it. The Messiah is not supposed to die. You know that. You’ve got to quit talking about all this dying nonsense. You’re going to discourage the guys. Just look at their faces. They don’t even know what to do with the things you’re saying. I mean, we usually don’t know what to do with the things you’re saying, but that’s especially true this time. Just can it about the dying stuff and let’s focus on the good news that you are the Messiah. Let’s talk about how you’re going to bring glory back to Israel and defeat Rome. No more death talk.”
You have to think that at some moment in the future Peter reflected on this moment and realized how utterly ridiculous it was. He probably thanked God many times over the next several years for not striking him down with a lightning bolt on the spot. He marveled at the incredible mercy and patience of the Lord to allow Himself to be rebuked by one of His creations. He laughed at how utterly small his perspective was on who Jesus really was. It was just crazy.
But don’t we sometimes do the same thing? Don’t we sometimes think we know better than God and try to tell Him what He needs to do in our lives or in the lives of the people around us? When was the last time you tried to tell God what was best for your kids or your spouse? How often have we told God we didn’t like or agree with what He was doing?
I was doing some sermon research the other day and I revisited a website I discovered a few years ago. It’s called Scale of the Universe. It goes through and allows you to zoom way in to see the smallest things in the universe and way out to the biggest. Did you know there’s a star so big that if you placed it where our sun is located in the solar system, it’s surface would be about where Saturn is? It would take a plane about 1,200 years to fly around it. If you zoom out as far as it goes, it gives a perspective on the observable universe versus what astronomers think may be the size of the universe we can’t see. You can see if for yourself, but to put it as simply as I can, as far as we can see into the universe and as big as that is, there’s several times more of it that we can’t see because it’s just so big. And it’s getting bigger all the time.
Here’s the point: God is bigger than that. A lot bigger. It’s really not close. We can’t process how big that is. Objects that are so large that they have a circumference roughly the size of Saturn’s orbit are beyond what we can imagine. Our own sun is a million times larger than the earth. That star is trillions of times larger. And it’s barely a blip in the overall scope of what exists. And just as big as God is, His knowledge and wisdom are equally vast. He knows everything there is to know. If a thing can be known, God knows it. We don’t even scratch the surface of knowable things in the sum total of our knowledge as a people. And just as vast as are God’s knowledge and wisdom, His goodness is equally expansive. His goodness and love are infinite. His righteousness stretches on into eternity.
So, what’s the point here? The point is that this is a God we can trust. When things happen that we don’t understand, He does. He understands them perfectly. He has a grasp on all the ins and outs, the whys and ways. He knows why they are happening the way they are. He knows if and why they need to happen that way. Sometimes He’ll share this with us. Much of the time He won’t. And when He won’t it’s not because He’s just being mean or stingy with His knowledge. He knows that the full picture of why is going to be beyond what we can grasp. In those times, His request is simply that we trust Him; that we trust He is big and smart and good enough to take us to where we need to be when we need to be there. The path won’t always be straight or smooth. Sometimes it will twist and turn in ways we find to be unthinkable – like the death of the Messiah. But if we will trust Him and keep going along the path He is stretching out before us, He will take us to a place of life and abundance like nothing we’ve ever known before. We just have to trust and obey. There is indeed no other way to be happy in Jesus.