Matthew 16:21-28— 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Son of Man is coming with his kingdom.”
In the name of Jesus, the Son of the living God. Amen.
Poor old Peter. What had he done to get wiped out like that from Jesus? He had just confessed about Jesus to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” You can’t get a better confession than that. Jesus even said so, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
Peter’s confession was so solid that Jesus said He would build His church on it. I wonder how Peter was feeling as Jesus said, “On [the rock of this confession] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
But Peter went wrong – diabolically wrong, satanically wrong. Peter went wrong when he decided that he knew better than God how things should go for the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus, the Son of the living God, says the way He should go as Messiah is to Jerusalem to suffer, to be killed, and to rise again after three days. Peter didn’t like all that, not one bit. In Peter’s mind, that is not what the “living God” should do. The living God should not die. The living God should not be killed by the hands of men. No way. Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but when Jesus says that He isn’t going to be the type of Christ Peter wants, Peter says as much. “God have mercy on You, Lord. This shall never happen to You.”
But what does Jesus say? “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus certainly doesn’t beat around the bush.
Peter wanted a Christ who doesn’t do Maundy Thursday or Good Friday or Holy Saturday – the sort of Christ who doesn’t do the Passion. And Jesus wanted nothing to do with that sort of Peter.
As Matthew records this, there were only a few minutes between Peter’s good, faithful confession and his denial, his anti-Christ. Where did it all go wrong? Jesus’ words offer us the answer. When Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus says, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” But when Peter says, “God have mercy on You, Jesus. You will never suffer and die. That will never happen to You.” Jesus responds, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Do you see what flesh and blood does? Do you see where the things of man get you? Left to yourself, you end up in your own devilish design, your own satanic scheme. The fallen thoughts of man and flesh and blood leave you in your sin. Without a Christ who does the Passion, Peter is still lost in his sin. And so are you, so is everyone. You fallen sons of Adam and fallen daughters of Eve, “To set the mind on the flesh is death…. The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Ro. 8:6-8).
We are all like Peter. We think we can tell God how things ought to go. It is called sin. We think we can do a better job of being God than God can. We place ourselves above God in all we think, say, and do. We see the most selfless act of love, the crucifixion, and say that it isn’t necessary because we can’t be all that bad. Could it really be that we are so evil that God would have to die for us to make us right? Yes! Absolutely, yes! We are that bad. We are that evil. We are that rotten. There is no limit to our wicked thoughts and actions. Because of that, we deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.
And yet God simply does not want that to happen. God has chosen to take our sin from us. Jesus took our sin – your sin – and the punishment we deserve – that you deserve – and placed it upon His only-begotten Son, killing your sin and His Son.
You cannot doubt that Peter loved Jesus, but love can certainly get things wrong. Probably, Peter’s love for Jesus led Peter to not want Jesus to have the rough road of the crucifixion that Jesus said was before Him. And Peter let his love for Jesus get in the way of his faith in Jesus. You can confess using all the right words and have a heart full of love and still be the mouthpiece of Satan (Nagel). Your misguided love for Jesus can bring you to place where you stand with the crowds saying to Jesus, “Come down from the cross, if You are the Son of God” (Mt. 27:42). But out of His love for you, Jesus simply will not.
Jesus says that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and rise again, there is no getting around it. And He has done all of that for you. And you, believer, follow after Him.
To follow after Jesus is to deny yourself, to turn away from your lives of trying to be your own god. When you try to save your own sinful life, you lose everything, but when you lose your life of sin, you will find a life, an eternal life, with God. Only when you lose your life do you find another. A new life of taking up your cross and following after Jesus. Following Him through suffering. Following Him to His death and to His tomb. But also following Him to the resurrection and eternal life.
The disciples did not taste death, they did not die, until they saw the Christ come in His glory. The cross, that humiliating place of pain and death, is the place of Christ’s glory. And the cross is the place of your glory. For on that cross, you were made a child of God. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 I am thankful for a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel on this text as inspiration for this sermon.