Faith In Real Life Blog

“Revelations of the Messiah”

Sharing in Christ’s Love Series

Decatur Presbyterian Church

August 30, 2023



Matthew 16:21-28

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of 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, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must 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 setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’  24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

1 Corinthians 1:21-23

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…


This scripture follows closely on the heels of last week’s passage in which Peter confessed that Jesus “is the Messiah, son of the living God.”  This confession becomes the foundation of the church and Peter is given the Keys to the Kingdom. Then this week we discover that Peter was clueless about the sort of Messiah that Jesus understood himself to be. What I realized for the first-time last week is that our faith always begins with this confession whether or not we have any idea what we are signing up for. Most of us spend the rest of our faith journeys trying to viscerally grasp what it meant for Jesus to “take up his cross and follow God’s will.”  Understanding what Jesus was about is key to our ability to follow him. 

​This is not an unfamiliar reality in real life.  Very few of us understand our marriage vows and certainly do not know what we are signing up for.  We have conceptions and misconceptions but making a marriage work takes a lifetime of learning.  As a marriage counselor I can assure you that premarital counseling is usually only helpful after the fact. The same is true about the difference between planning to be parents and then finding out what parenting really requires. Only after real life bumps us around do we begin to do the hard work of sustaining love and respect.  

I believe this was Peter’s predicament.  He had preconceived notions about the word Messiah.  The Messiah would save Israel.  The Messiah would remove the Roman yoke. So, he was appalled at Jesus’ revelation that the Messiah would “undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Not one bit of that teaching made any sense to Peter.  Messiahs are supposed to be victorious, not humiliated and crucified.  Likewise, Jesus predicted that he would be raised from the dead after three days.  No rational person could believe that anyone could survive crucifixion. ​Faced with the contradiction between what Peter believed and what Jesus was teaching, Peter tried to ‘correct’ Jesus into thinking like he did. Peter acted like he ‘knew’ what Jesus needed when in reality it was what he needed. 

This is another predicament in real life.  We often ‘know what is best’ and get upset when the very people we are trying to help dismiss or ignore our sage advice.  Young adults usually do not respond well to unsolicited parental advice about how to manage their careers, their children or their marriages.  Nor do older adults respond particularly well when their children start suggesting it is time to stop driving.  The advice might be sound but when we present it as if we know what is best, we are more likely to attempt to convince without actually listening.  Our attempts at counsel become attempts to control.  

In this case, Jesus meant what he said.  The way to new life is not through power and control, it is through vulnerability and connection. It often includes suffering, loss and rejection.  Peter could not imagine such a Messiah.  So, he didn’t listen. Jesus’ response seems quite severe.  “Get behind me Satan” certainly seems to be a caustic characterization of Peter—the same Peter that had just been given the Keys to the Kingdom.  But I have come to see the rebuke as more for Jesus instead of against Peter.  

Jesus was in the midst of teaching a radical concept about what it means to save and be saved.  His teaching was, and is, counter intuitive and defies secular, as well as religious expectations. Paul wrote (before this Gospel passage was written): “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…”  The Jews had a concept of a savior but certainly not one who suffered and died.  They had the category but not the substance of what Jesus taught.  The Gentiles did not have the concept of Messiah, but they certainly had a set of values that said ‘me first’ – then, maybe, I’ll consider others.  The idea that anyone would intentionally defer their needs on behalf of another was foolish and the idea that anyone would choose to offer their life for others was stupid.  For the Gentile (that would be us) a life well lived is one centered on self, one based upon accomplishment and acquisition.  Jesus, however, taught that such a life could only end in death.

None of us want to take it very seriously but Jesus taught that we will lose everything we love, our children, our parents, our friends.  We will lose everything we possess—including our reputations and memories.  We will lose our vitality, mobility and finally our lives.  It is hard to find good news in that teaching.  But facing those harsh realities is the ‘narrow gate’ which leads us to a new understanding of what a life well lived is.  All these things are important but if we insist on making them our focus, we will miss what is eternal.  Our faith is that, even through grievous losses, it is possible to discover what cannot be destroyed—what is eternal.  Jesus had to give up all the earthly things that we think give meaning to life—even his biological life—to show us that love can prevail through all of those losses.  Such a thought is almost unimaginable from a secular point of view.  It is the epitome of foolishness.  

Jesus said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” We cannot make ourselves the center of the universe.  And worse, all of us must endure losses in life in order to find what is eternal.  Jesus knew how terribly difficult that would be. Jesus knew that the way the Messiah saves is to show us—by doing it—that he could lose everything earthly and still live.  That is our resurrection faith.   He could not afford to be tempted by Peter’s words— “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord!”  Peter wanted a Messiah who fixed things.  The path Jesus was called to follow was way too difficult without someone like Peter suggesting there was an easier way.  I read Jesus’ words to Peter, as Jesus building a guard rail for himself more than a rebuke of Peter.  Every person that has ever been tempted—sexually, financially or in any part of our lives, knows how easy it is to rationalize bad behavior.  There is always a ‘good’reason to go ahead.  There is always a ‘good’ reason to make an exception.  Jesus simply could not afford such rationalizations if he was going to continue to be obedient to God.  

Jesus offered a Messiah who could be present with us in every human predicament—including death on a cross.  It is a gift beyond human imagination.  God had been around a very long time before Jesus.  Jesus came to reveal the nature of God because in all that time before his coming, humans could not grasp who God is. 

We, like Peter, make our initial confession.  We, like Peter, hold fiercely to what we think we know.  We, like Peter,must be told not to repeat rationalizations and misconceptions about who the Messiah is. Only then can we, like Peter, take up our own cross and follow Jesus.  It turns out that we can learn this lesson before we die—”Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’  The second coming is the experience of Jesus’ presence with us in the here and now.  It is the experience that God loves differently and bigger than all the things of this life that we are so attached to.

The lesson is a hard one but it leads to life.  That is our faith.  

Let it be so.