Matthew 16:21 ff Romans 12:9 ff Sunday August 30th, 2020 Revd Tudor Vaughan Roberts
In a new version of Dad’s Army with completely new actors but based on recently discovered “lost Scripts” things are all go in Walmington on Sea. Army HQ has ordered a revision of the ranks and temporarily the platoon has two corporals, Jones the Butcher and now Fraser the Funeral director. It all goes to Fraser’s head and he really gets objectionably bossy! Captain Mannering is heard saying in hushed tones “what sort of Monster have we unleashed?!” Then its Pike’s turn to come out with an utterance saying “power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely “a quote attributed to Lord Acton in the Nineteenth Century.
That is quite a good lead into today’s amazing Gospel reading Matthew 16:21ff. Prior to our reading Peter is given the keys. “I, says Jesus, will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, whatever you bind on earth wil be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” This is a reminder of Isaiah 22:15-25 when Eliakim is made gatekeeper over the Royal Household so vs22 says “ And I will place on his shoulders the key and the house of David he shall open and none shall shut and he shall shut and no one shall open”
The idea of the agreement that Jesus had with Peter is that God wil ratify and stand behind what has been agreed, it is an amazing privilege and gift that Peter is handed. But in our reading Peter’s chance to exercise power wisely goes catastrophically wrong because Peter totally misunderstands his role and misunderstands Jesus’s key mission and vision.
Stanley Hauerwas says
“The Church as well as Peter fails to be what it has been called to when Christians betray their unity, their call to holiness by killing one another, for the kingdom Jesus brought is a kingdom of peace and of reconciliation and alternative world”
Already in Matthew 10:38 Jesus has told his disciples they would be required to pick up their cross and follow him. Now he makes clear that reference to the cross is not a metaphor, this is real, unless they the disciples can walk the road of suffering to Jerusalem they need to turn around and go home he wants disciples who have made the decision to follow him even unto death.
The disciples know the end of their journey would be in Jerusalem They were not naïve, not uninformed, every king of Israel for Jews...
....had to be enthroned in Jerusalem, but despite being warned they could not fathom what sort of enthronement it would be for Jesus, enthroned on a Roman cross, between two convicted criminals, on a hill outside Jerusalem with thorns for a crown.
Jesus is very good he takes time to explain things patiently to his disciples so in Ch 16vs 21 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 the he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Maybe it is the use of the word “must” . and that every strata of Jewish Leadership have been listed here by Jesus as against him, and that death, says Jesus, will definitely happen. But Peter is deaf to what Jesus was truly implying and rebukes him.
So, Peter’s first act once as it were, he is holding the keys is to block Jesus. “Never Lord” he says. Another translation is “God forbid”
What is Jesus’s response?
In effect, he says Peter you are a stumbling block i.e. you are blocking the road
A rock is great to build a house on, but when its blocking a road it is a hazard.!
Get behind me Satan! says Jesus
Those who deny Jesus and his mission are on the side of Satan!
They have become like the tempter and opposer of Christ and we are talking here about St Peter, who has unwittingly become a mouthpiece of the Devil. Only St Matthew in his gospel gives us the details of this conversation between Peter and Jesus, underlying the magnitude of the personal failure of Peter to grasp what Jesus’s core mission was(but its recorded for our encouragement, NB Peter ends his life well)
Peter says “Never Lord” which could be translated as “Mercy on you Lord” Peter has really got things back to front by saying to Jesus “This shall never happen” meaning No Way shall this happen The man with the keys in his hand has become the man who has turned gatekeeper into gate blocker He has turned from disciple into mini - devil. Peter is never, says Jesus, demon possessed nor does he “have the devil in him,” but at this crucial point in Jesus's ministry Peter has turned from 'the one who had a revelation of Christ' into 'the one who tries to stop him'. When Jesus says 'You are a stumbling block' Jesus is saying 'Peter you have become an enticement to sin, so Get behind me' or in plain English Get lost! This is a phenomenal fall from grace for Peter. But every Christian leader (or a leader who is a Christian in his or her profession) runs the same risk. We have as leaders a privilege in leading God’s people, but it is so very easy to misunderstand Jesus, to mis-hear him and to get diverted by the world and then we have to step back ( or re-find the ancient paths) and retrace our steps. The words Jesus uses for his rebuke of Peter in Matthew 16 are the same as he uses to rebuke the Devil in Matthew 4:10.
But here is the thing: Jesus is not in the business of condemning people (see end of John 3) he is in the business of freeing people, and he doesn’t want Peter to stay in condemnation any more than Peter may have, so now the focus changes and its back to mission, back to seeing thing missionally.
In Ch 16 verse 21 Matthew says and from that time showing this is a new chapter in the Mission of Jesus.
Now in Ch 16 verse 24 we have the words: and then Jesus told his disciples he has switched the focus from his personal conversation with Peter and now he will issue his challenge to the twelve.
If anyone would come after me let himself deny himself and take up his cross and follow me for whoever would save his life wil loose it but whoever loses his life for my sake wil find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeit his soul or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Such radical discipleship as Jesus taught here is not terribly popular today, we all want a comfortable life, but it is the only way, as the Saints down the ages have proved.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said
“Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes”
He also said “To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more ask that self-denial can say is ‘He leads the way keep close to home”
The missionary to the Auca Indians in the jungle of Ecuador, in the 1950’s Jim Elliot, (a Wheaton College Illinois graduate) wrote in his diary
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” "To gain what he cannot lose" - Eternal life has lasting value.
Elliot and Bonhoeffer were only followers of Christ like John Bunyan, like the China Inland Missionaries who died in the Boxer rebellion in China, all discovered that the route to true happiness is a Cross shaped, discipleship filled life.
I mentioned in my You Tube sermon that when Bart Simpson in the Simpsons comic strip sells his soul to the Devil for $30 he does all he can to get it back and the local Pastor eventually steps in and gets Bart his soul back! We can't live without our Soul! but so easily we sell our selves out to materialism, to disillusionment with the “american dream” that Trump so passionately spoke about in his GOP address last week, but it’s all like sand that runs out of a bottle, it has no lasting value.
So, Jesus resolutely and persistently points his disciples, who will be leaders in the early church, to the Cross, to a way of life that radically says God here is my life I give it to you and the promise ? Jesus points eschatologically to the end of time when Jesus will return with his angels to give out rewards. How do we live out that life? Well, there’s not space in this sermon to explain more fully, but have a look at Romans 12:9 ff the Epistle reading for today and Paul sets a different way of living a way of life that will avoid the leadership errors that Peter made in his first days as key holder of the Kingdom. The good news as I said last week is that the Epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, and Church history show that Peter did learn his lesson and he lived the life of a faithful disciple ending it dying for Jesus in Rome, like his Saviour on a cross, but upside down, tradition tells us. But this we know for sure Matthew 16:21 ff is there so we can learn from Jesus and his interactions with Peter and therefore be disciples in our 21st century, confident that God wil help us and he does and will.
C Revd Tudor V Roberts Trinity 12, 2020