“But turning around and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever gotten more than you bargained for? Sometimes this feels like a very good thing. I once dropped four tokens on a Kung Fu Panda video game at an arcade where you had to punch these pads in the right sequence…and won it. The whole thing. Right in front of my kids. I was super dad. We got so many tickets all three boys went home with playground balls. If you know how arcade reward transactions go, you’ll understand we hit the jackpot. Maybe you’ve hit an actual jackpot. You put that one last nickel in the slot, pulled the handle, and filled up your bucket. (Disclaimer: I’ve never actually been to a casino, but that’s how it looks like it works on TV.) Sometimes, though, it doesn’t feel so nice. You playfully tease someone after a day that’s been much harder than you realize and instead of playfully teasing back, they bite your head off. What Peter experienced here was a bit more in line with this second situation. His getting burned, though, offers a lesson we do well to learn (spoiler alert: it’s not that we shouldn’t argue with Jesus).
As my friend Thomas commented on yesterday’s post, Peter had been on a pretty wild rollercoaster of emotion in the last few minutes. He passed Jesus’ midterm exam with flying colors. He received incredibly high praise from Jesus. Depending on which religious tradition you count as your own, Jesus was either praising Peter’s confession or else putting him in a permanent seat of leadership over the church. Then, when Peter thought he had it all figured out, Jesus yanked the football out from under his foot like Lucy always does to Charlie Brown. Lying flat on his metaphorical back, Peter was shocked to hear Jesus was going to die. He was so shocked, he couldn’t stop himself from responding.
If the whole group was shocked at Jesus’ beginning to tell them about how He was going to suffer and be killed (and again, He also included His rising on the third day, but they mentally never got past His death until they saw Him standing in the upper room with them on that fateful Sunday morning), that shock was nothing compared with this. Maybe they had overheard what Peter said to Jesus, but Mark goes out of his way to note that Peter took Jesus aside, so maybe they didn’t. Maybe Peter really was trying to keep that just between the two of them.
Jesus didn’t play ball. He listened to Peter’s rebuke, looked at the other guys who were still trying to wrap their brains around what He had just told them, and gave Peter a verbal beatdown unlike anything he had ever received before.
Get behind me, Satan!
He didn’t just call Peter demonic, He called Peter the chief of the demons. He associated Peter with the accuser, the one who led the people of God into temptation in the first place. He linked Peter with the archenemy of God. This was about as harsh a rebuke as Jesus could have given. Why? Why turn things all the way up to eleven? And with such drama. Why couldn’t Jesus simply have responded to Peter in the context of their aside, saying something like, “Peter, I know this is really hard for you to understand, but I’m going to need you to trust me on this one”? Peter had at least done Jesus the decency of rebuking Him in private.
Jesus responded the way He did here because the situation demanded it. Jesus knew His enemy. He had already faced him down personally in the wilderness. He understood his tricks and temptations. He knew how subtly he could weave his lies and invitations to leave behind the path of God in favor of something else. He recognized that in this moment, Peter was not the one speaking. I mean, yes, from a sheer physical standpoint, it was Peter’s brain that produced these thoughts and his vocal chords that produced the sounds coming out in the words he had spoken to Jesus. But Jesus knew Satan was behind this. It was his whisperings in Peter’s ears that took the spark of uncertainty over Jesus’ talk of suffering and death and fanned it into a roaring inferno of doubt and fear. And although He was speaking to Peter, He was speaking past him as well. Peter had inadvertently taken on the role of Satan in Jesus’ life and at the moment, Jesus was rebuking the devil.
Jesus needed the group to understand that all such talking and thinking was antithetical to the plans of God. He knew the path He had to walk. He knew just how difficult it was going to be. He was not looking forward to it in even the remotest sense. Their telling Him He should be walking a different path only served to make things harder on Him. The Father’s plans were good. They weren’t easy. But they were good. Jesus was going to walk them because He was absolutely committed to the path of obedience regardless of what it cost Him personally. He was absolutely committed to His love for us. All calls to the contrary, in whatever form they happened to take, were invitations to disobedience. His disobedience for the sake of His own convenience meant death for the world. It meant Satan would win. It meant the path to life would not have been open, and we would have remained permanently separated from God. That was not an outcome He was willing to entertain.
Jesus wanted nothing to do with the subtle invitation to escape the painful road ahead of Him. That road was in line with the plans of Satan himself. He didn’t want anything to do with it and He didn’t want His disciples to have anything to do with it either. The simple, but tough, truth is that if we’re not on board with the plans of the Father, we’re on board with the plans of someone else. To put that in perhaps even starker terms: Either we’re with Jesus or we’re against Him.
God’s plans aren’t always easy. As we’ll see next week, His plans are an invitation to a life of suffering and hardship. We are wise to count the cost carefully before we head off down that road because there will be a cost to pay in this life. We are likely to lose much along the way. We do it, though, because of the promise of rewards rich beyond what we can fully imagine. But if we’re not willing to go along with those plans, then we are necessarily working against them. There’s really no middle ground here. If we’re not moving in God’s direction, then we are necessarily moving away from Him. If we are not moving someone else in God’s direction, then we are necessarily moving them away from Him. This really is an all or nothing game. Half-hearted commitment is no commitment at all. Peter learned this rather dramatically. Let’s learn from his experience vicariously rather than personally.