Why Does Jesus Say, ‘Get behind Me Satan?

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Matthew 16:17-27

Jesus blesses Peter in Matthew 16:18 saying, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it!” Yet, five verses later in Matthew 16:23, Jesus rebukes this very rock: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!”

What happened?

After blessing Peter, scripture tells us that Jesus began to “explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21). As Christians, many of us are impartial to this news. “Of course he needs to do this,” we think. “How else can the world be redeemed?”

To the disciples, however, this news was catastrophic.

During this time, Jesus was conducting his ministry in northern Israel. He was healing the sick, calming storms, raising people from the dead and speaking about the Kingdom of God. Many believed him to be a prophet. The disciples believed Jesus to be the Messiah. Peter even believed that he was “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)!

The prophets had given the Jewish people a certain set of expectations for their Messiah. The Messiah was expected to release the Israelites of their burdens and break the rod of their oppressor (who, at this time, was Rome) (Isaiah 9:4).

Therefore, when Jesus told the disciples that they would be travelling to Jerusalem, the disciples must have been ecstatic.

“Jesus is going to deliver our country from the hands of Rome,” they must have thought.

But Jesus did not talk about overthrowing governments or winning hearts. He told the disciples that he would “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).

How could this possibly be? The prophets said that the Messiah would come to free Israel—not to suffer and die. As for being raised from the dead, this didn’t make any sense to the disciples.

The disciples thought that they were following the Messiah into the glory of God’s kingdom… only to find that their Messiah was leading them into death and suffering.

This couldn’t be right.

At these words, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.

“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).

The Bible does not specify exactly why Peter says these words, but it does give us Jesus’ response: “Get behind me, Satan!”

If we are honest with ourselves, we might admit that we can understand Peter a lot more than we do Jesus. Peter has just confessed Jesus to be “the Son of the Living God” and he, along with the other disciples, has vied for a position in Christ’s coming kingdom. He has seen Jesus preform all sorts of miracles and has left everything behind to follow Christ.

If Jesus dies, so do Peter’s own hopes and dreams.

Knowing this, we might think that Christ’s response was unwarranted or harsh. After all, Peter’s protest might be misguided—or even sinful—but it certainly does not seem Satanic!

When we become confused by the scripture, we do not need to turn to lexicons or seminaries; the text, itself, often provides the answer. Often, what confuses us isn’t the difference in language or culture; it’s the difference in focus.

Every time we open the scriptures, the first thing we should look for is God’s actions. Once we find God’s actions, everything else falls into place. In this passage, for example, God’s major action is not explaining, rebuking, or commanding—it is coming.

In verse 27, Jesus says that “the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” God’s action, then, is to come at a later date (a date which, it is later revealed that, even Jesus does not know).

How do we know that the title “Son of Man” is referring to Christ? Two ways. First, the scripture itself reveals this truth to us (in Matthew 16:13-16, for example). If we had not read these scriptures, however, we could also come to the same conclusion. How? Through the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed acts as a quick summary of the entire Bible. This means that we can turn to the Nicene Creed whenever our own knowledge of the scriptures falls short. In this case, the Nicene Creed tells us that “Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”—a clear parallel to Jesus’ claim about the “Son of Man.” Therefore, Jesus must be speaking about himself.

One important thing to note is that God’s command to us is always given in response to his own action. In this passage, for example, Jesus does not tell his disciples to “take up their cross” without first taking up his own. This passage begins with Jesus’ explanation that he will have to suffer and die. His command to suffer does not take place within a vacuum, nor is it a task that he’s given us to do to prove our worth. Instead, we take up our cross because he has done so before us.

But what does all this have to do with Peter?

“You do not have in mind the concerns of God,” Jesus scolds Peter, “but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23). Although he may not realize it, Peter is tempting Christ away from God. Instead of fulfilling the words of the prophets by having Christ suffer and perish at the hands of the world, Peter would have Christ be successful, powerful, and safe—the three sirens of this world. In fact, Peter’s words echo those of Satan in the wilderness: All power and all authority has been given to you, therefore, command obedience from all the kingdoms of this world as I give them to you. Just as Jesus refused Satan in Matthew 4:10, he is refusing Peter in Matthew 16:23.

Many of us become Christians because we realize that Christ has been given all power and all authority on heaven and on earth and, like sycophants, we want to please him in order to obtain our own goals. Try as we like to dress-up our worldly desires as godly desires, these desires are still largely our own. We might pray earnestly for a spouse claiming that this person will help us to fulfill the godly calling of marriage—rather than asking God if marriage is actually in his plan for us or not. We might pray earnestly for wealth to share among God’s people—rather than asking God how to invest the little that we already have. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all done this at one time—and continue to do it to this day.

God, however, can see right through our facades. Furthermore, he knows something about us that we don’t: As human beings, our desires are completely disordered. The very things we think we desire—love, money, food, sleep—will never make us happy. Once acquiring these things, we may be happy for a while. However, we will always fall back into desire. Whether it’s a more understanding spouse, a larger bank account, dessert, or five more minutes of shut-eye, our desires are limitless. It is only our happiness that seems to be limited.

Even though God must lower himself and be made human to pay the hefty price for every dumb thing, every wrong thing, every sinful thing that we have ever done, he will always do what is right and best for us. Nothing can distract him from this mission or change his mind—not even Peter.

Problems in this world are far greater than politics or our own desires. We are little less than a speck in a constantly expanding universe—and a sin-drenched and subjective speck at that. Our fallen nature, and our creatureliness, prohibits us from understanding the world as it actually is. We could never understand how broken the world is or what is truly needed to fix us—only God knows this.

And God, as the Christ, tells us that for the whole of creation—not only ourselves—to be set right, we must join him in bearing the one cross—his cross. If we do not question our own doctors about prescriptions to our colds, why do we question our Lord and creator about the prescription to our brokenness? Why do we look at our Lord and say, “You don’t understand. That’s not how the world works.”

He was the only one around before the world fell into sin.

Jesus does not say, “I’ll die so that you do not have to.” He says, “Whoever would seek to save his life will lose it, whoever loses it for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

What is wrong with us goes to the core of our very being. We need a new heart, and this heart can only be given through baptism. Only God knows whether we will only die to our desires, or whether we will physically lay down our lives in echo of his death.

However, we all know that God will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead—this is the reality which God cannot—and will not—be distracted or bribed away from. If we rebuke God and tell him what is right for us, like Peter did, then we will pay the price, eternal torment in hell, upon his return.

Now is the time of mercy; it is the time when we must choose whether or not we will follow Jesus in his suffering. However, this time will not last forever. As the Nicene Creed says, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” The one who loses his life for Christ’s sake will be approved. The one who has sought only to preserve his life will be condemned.

Following him will cost us everything—respect, wealth, health, life—but as Christ says, anyone who gives up something will receive a hundred-fold return through his church—both now and on through eternity.

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Should Christians Ever Be Re-Baptized?

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Mark 16:9-19

Pastor and Dr. Foley share the essentials of baptism, in this message that preceded the baptism of Pastor Tim’s children. If you’re interested in seeing the prepared text of the message, click here. However, in the live version Pastor Foley adds a lot of new material, including his own experience of being baptized, as well as answers questions about whether Christians should ever be re-baptized, and what changes we can expect to see in the lives of the baptized. So enjoy watching Pastor and Dr. Foley go “off script” as they share the basics of baptism!

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Why Does Jesus Say That Peter Has Little Faith?

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Matthew 14:22-33

During their journey across the Sea of Galilee, the disciples find their boat at the mercy of a savage windstorm. Waves toss the boat and a wind threatens to capsize it. In the midst of the chaos, a ghastly figure emerges from the darkness: a man who is walking on water.

The disciples are terrified.

“It’s a ghost,” they whisper to one another.

“Take heart; it is I,” the figure, Jesus, says. “Do not be afraid.”

Despite the thrashing waves, Peter calls out to Jesus, saying, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” Jesus says.

So, Peter leaps out of the boat and onto the tumultuous waves. He walks across the waves to Jesus—only to notice the wind biting into his flesh. Stricken by fear, Peter begins to sink. He reaches out to Christ, who, true to his nature, saves Peter. However, Christ also has some harsh words for Peter: “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Why does Jesus rebuke Peter in this way? After all, Peter leaps out of the boat and onto the waves; many of us would be too fearful to do even that much! Shouldn’t Jesus say, “Nice try! You did much better than the other eleven disciples; they just stayed in the boat!”

Many of us have heard the following explanation from pastors, church members, and leading Christian authors: “This story is a metaphor about the Christian life: Peter began to sink when he looked away from Jesus; therefore, we must always be sure to keep our eyes on Christ regardless of the storm that rages around us.”

However, this isn’t what scripture says about this passage.

As Christians, we need to be careful of the tool we use to interpret scripture. In the free world, we have many tools available to us: churches, seminaries, best-selling Christian authors. Turning to these is fairly simple and painless. However, in many countries these tools are scarce—the very act of owning a Bible is dangerous in and of itself. These Christians may not have a church to attend, or a seminary from which to graduate. Does this mean that they are disadvantaged?

Of course not.

Scripture emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is our teacher. Through baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, along with the promise that the Spirit will open to us all of the scriptures. Through the Holy Spirit, scripture interprets itself. What does this mean? Often, it means that as we continue to read the Bible daily, throughout our lives, the Holy Spirit will bring to mind scriptures that we have read and help us to understand how they all fit together.

Take this passage of scripture, for example.

Whenever we read and turn to something other than scripture to answer our questions, there is a high likelihood that we will miss the point of the passage. Did you notice, for example, that our go-to answer for this particular passage (“Peter fell when he took his eyes off Jesus, so we must learn to keep our eyes on him in stormy circumstances”) is actually more focused on what the scripture instructs us to do rather than what the scripture reveals about Christ?
To whom should we turn, then? The Holy Spirit, of course. Allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us means that when we run across a difficult question—and no other scripture comes to mind—we content ourselves with bracketing the question for the present and continue to read. When we do this, we discover that, through the Holy Spirit, the Bible always answers its own questions. Therefore, we must learn to be patient and to trust that the Holy Spirit will eventually answer our questions.

In this particular case, the Holy Spirit answers our question in Matthew 15.

After travelling from Tyre to Sidon, Jesus and his disciples find themselves being followed by a Canaanite woman who shouts, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon!” Jesus does not respond to her plea. However, the woman continues to follow and shout. Eventually, the disciples run out of patience.

“Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us,” they beg.

So, Jesus turns to the woman and tells her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

The woman is not deterred. She kneels before him and continues to beg for help.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Christ says. This is no compliment. Such words would have pricked a sore place in any Gentile who chose to live among Jews. However, the woman’s response shows no trace of anger: “Yet, Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Jesus then praises the woman: “Woman, great is your faith!”
When we read these words, we should be reminded of Christ’s response to Peter: “Oh you of little faith!” We should also wonder about this: What is the difference that Jesus sees between the two? After all, Peter walked on water; all the woman did was continue to talk!

To understand this, we must first understand what the word “faith” means. In a Biblical sense, faith is confidence that God will always act according to his character as revealed in Scripture—action that we welcome in our lives. Faith is not only believing in God or trusting that he has forgiven us our sins, but being confident that Christ’s own character is fully operative in the world and in our own life.

Believing in God is only the smallest part of what it means to have faith. In fact, you can “believe in God” without having faith in him. You can even admit that Jesus Christ is the son of God, without having faith. Having faith requires (1) knowing God’s character, and (2) trusting—and welcoming—that he will continue to act, in the world and in our own lives, according to his character revealed in scripture.

One of the clearest glimpses we receive of this in the Bible is the Psalms. In the Psalms, children of God are constantly confessing their struggles and the great power of God in one breath. They have confidence that God is who he says he is—all powerful, all knowing, all-benevolent—and are therefore confused by the suffering that they experience. God has honored their faith by counting their prayers among his holy revelation.

You could spend all your days in church and all your days in prayer without having faith in God. In fact, our prayers can become a practice of losing faith if we pray to God for things that are contrary to his character. Like the martyrs, we should cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge those who live on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10), rather than, “What did I do that you wish for me to suffer?”

What does all this have to do with the difference between Peter and the Canaanite woman? Quite a lot.

The more faith we have, the more certain we are that the character of God (which is revealed to us in scripture through the Holy Spirit) will always be his character, and the more we welcome his acting according to that character in our lives. Furthermore, we will learn to hold God to this character—just like the Canaanite woman.

Despite possibly never having read the scriptures (due her status as an “outsider” or “foreigner”), this woman knew something about Jesus. She had heard things about who he was and of what he was capable (otherwise, she would not be quite as persistent in begging him for help). Despite being ignored and rebuffed by Christ, this woman continues to believe the little she has heard about him and his character. The woman trusts—despite all evidence to the contrary—that (1) he is capable of healing her daughter and that (2) he would be willing to heal her daughter.

And it turns out that the little this woman knows about Christ is right. Jesus not only listens to her and heals her daughter—he praises her faith. Despite knowing nothing about the Bible, this woman has faith.

Peter, on the other hand, has spent years with Jesus. He has listened to his Lord speak, watched him heal the incurable, and calm storms. Peter knows the scriptures well and has been taught God’s character. Yet when the time comes, Peter ultimately trusts the fierce wind and doubts Jesus’ character to protect him in the midst of it.

This is the difference between the two.

God is not impressed by moments of great trust or extreme risk in your life. He is not even impressed by how much you trusted him in the past. Instead, he is interested in whether you will trust him—and what the scripture has told you about his character—in the next moment.

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