Get Before Me, Jesus!

Get Before Me, Jesus!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Thy kingdom come; MY will be done.”

He might never have used those explicit words, that impetuous, strong-willed Galilean fisherman. But in his actions and by his words, it is pretty clear that sometimes Peter thought that way. He was fine with Jesus ushering in a new kingdom of peace, stability, power, plenty, and health, but he had his own peculiar notions about how it should look.

“Thy kingdom come; MY will be done.”

Much of the world’s population has a similar attitude. It’s prevalent at least in the portion that believes in any sort of all-powerful supreme being or perhaps just some type of governing, balancing force in the universe. Jew or Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu, even many who hang the Christian label on themselves, all want a god that will make things right. They just want to define what is “right” themselves.

I’m sure you’ve also heard the following statement, or one similar to it: “I could never believe in a god who would do something that I can’t agree with.” These folks can rattle off a whole list of those things, many of which I’m sure you can probably predict as well: A god who would allow evil to exist in the world; a god who would let so-called ‘innocent people’ be slaughtered; a god who would allow them or a dear relative to suffer illness, injury, or death; a god who would let hunger or disaster come upon thousands or millions.

Many people, religious and atheists alike, want to insist that any god worthy of their belief, loyalty, and respect must play by their rules, and conform to their wishes and designs. It’s not enough that the final outcomes meet their goals or are objectively good; even the methods by which those outcomes are achieved need to meet their approval.

And, if we are willing to admit it, we sometimes have the same sort of blasphemous attitude. We might not be guilty of exactly the same sin as Peter, rejecting the Lord’s news that He was to suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and be raised again on the third day. We can’t very well do that, for we have just confessed that we believe that exactly those things did indeed happen. We have an historical perspective that Peter did not, and we have the Scriptural and creedal testimony of the Christian faith that atheists and believers in false gods do not, too.

We can, however, find ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter in his overall attitude toward Jesus that day: Belligerent. Rebuking God for doing things differently than what we want or expect or believe to be right. Thinking we know better what we as God’s creatures or what the world as God’s creation needs to have happen. And it happens every time we ask that question, “Why, God?”

We ask it at the global level: Why is there so much suffering? Volcanoes and tsunamis; earthquakes and hurricanes; droughts and floods. Why is there so much evil? Crime and corruption, war and persecution, immorality and hatred.

We ask it at the personal level, too: Why do I have this illness? Why can’t I get or keep the sort of job I want? Why can’t my family get along better? Why do I keep struggling with my addiction? Why doesn’t my spouse love and respect me anymore?

Our doubts and our contradictions, our arrogance and pride, sometimes even infect our prayers, don’t they? We strive to put things into God’s hands in prayer, to say with our hearts as well as with our mouths, “Thy will be done,” but in the end we often end up wanting to tie God’s hands instead. To maneuver His hands like the slide on the Ouija board, pushing Him toward the results and the methods we think are best.

“Thy kingdom come, Lord; but MY will be done.”

It is here in Matthew’s gospel account that Jesus first reveals the true implications of His coming and His kingdom. His earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, had been given glimpses and hints of the purpose for His incarnation: To save His people from their sins; for the rising and falling of many in Israel, to be the Son of the Most High, and to reign as David’s heir forever. Yet they didn’t know exactly how it was to come about.

Even John the Baptist, the one who had declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, was unaware of just exactly what sort of path and straight way he was preparing in the wilderness for the Lord.

So, at this point, Jesus has been confessed by Peter and the other disciples to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. And now Jesus reveals to them the sort of Christ He is going to be. He tells them that His anointing as God’s chosen One and His coronation as King of the Jews is not to be quite so glamorous and glorious as they may have imagined up to now.

Peter rebels against this, violently and vigorously. He pulls Jesus aside and tries to talk some sense into Him. “Far be it from You, Lord. This shall never happen to You!” In other words: “Don’t be talking like that, Jesus. You’re going to ruin everything. Can’t you see that we’re all convinced of your divine connections? More and more people are hearing about your power and wisdom every day! Just give it a little more time, and you’ll have enough popularity and support to take back the kingdom from the Romans and their Edomite lackey, Herod.”

This was Peter’s sinful nature talking, questioning God’s wisdom and God’s thoughts and ways. It wasn’t the same Spirit-led Peter who a short time before had confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Peter had been conditioned by the culture around him, by its temptations and its values, to see God in a way other than how God would have Himself revealed—a way that suited man’s wishes and the devil’s purposes.

Peter lived in that same spiritual tension that we do: Confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior in one breath, and turning around a moment later and questioning—or even denying—that He really knows what we think and feel and suffer and need.

Peter needed a purging, an exorcism, a driving out of that evil that had taken hold of His likeness and image of God. Jesus summons His divine power and speaks the evil right out of Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.”

This was no ordinary demonic possession, one which leads regular people like us into temptation and astray from God’s Word. This was the Prince of Darkness himself, hell-bent on interfering with the work of God in Christ; it was Satan once again trying to deter Jesus from following the path to the cross that the Father had laid out before Him.

Peter certainly had his mind set on the things of men, and not the things of God, when He rebuked Jesus. The things of men are corrupted through and through by sin—by the rejection of God’s ways and God’s will, replacing them with our own desires and conjectures. We continually think, in the dark recesses of our hearts:

“Thy kingdom come, Lord; but MY will be done.”

It’s why Jesus goes on to say in His next breath, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

To deny is to reject, to turn away from, as Peter would do to Jesus on that fateful night in the high priest’s courtyard. But the denial Jesus speaks of in this passage is a healthy one, not a sin. It is to set aside our own thoughts and notions and ideas, to realize our ignorance and our limitations, and to throw our lot in with Jesus, for better or for worse in this life. It is knowing and trusting that all that befalls and besets us here is no match for what He has promised will be ours forever if we cling to His cross.

Peter received his exorcism that day, as the word from Jesus drove Satan out and put that wretched serpent behind Him on his path to Jerusalem, trampled underfoot as had been promised to Adam and Eve.

So, too, did Peter live to see the kingdom of God come: In the suffering and death of Jesus to atone for his sins, and ours. In the empty tomb, which sealed God’s promises to all believers that their trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection would provide us the victory over sin and death. In the ascension, which took Jesus from Peter’s sight but not from his heart, returning his Lord and Savior to reign forever at the right hand of the Father. And in the miraculous power provided by the Holy Spirit to Peter and the other apostles at Pentecost, enabling them to set aside their own notions about God’s will, and to faithfully proclaim God’s Word so that others might deny themselves and follow Jesus, too.

And so you came here to church today, led by the same Holy Spirit as was Peter when he confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. Tormented, too, by the same devil, world, and sinful flesh that caused Peter to resist God’s will, rebuke his Lord, and insist on having things another way than that which God had spoken and revealed to him. You struggle daily between trust and belief and surrender on the one hand, and doubt and unbelief and resistance to God’s holy and perfect will on the other.

It’s a good thing for you, then, that Jesus is here. He’s done His exorcism, speaking Satan out of you when He declared, “I forgive you all your sins.” He’s heard you confess Him as the Christ, the Son of God in the creed, too, and blessed you for not having had this revealed to you by flesh, but by His Father in heaven by the Holy Spirit.

And soon He will invite you to His holy table to partake of yet another blessing of His kingdom—His very body and blood, the breaking and shedding of which has secured for you the kingdom that has indeed come, though it is not yet fully seen. For now, He offers you a foretaste of the eternal heavenly banquet that still provides you the fullness of His grace and the infinite power of His forgiveness.

Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me. Stay always before me, Jesus. Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. Thy kingdom come; THY will be done. Amen.