Today I read the end of Matthew 16. I purposefully stopped my prior reading after the “Good Confession” and before Jesus started explaining the next phase of the ministry.
The first half of 16 is full of puzzles that I haven’t solved yet. Who is the rock? What are the keys? Who gets them?
But the second half of 16 is pretty straightforward, albeit surprising. Jesus tells them to keep His Messiah status a secret! Then instead of victory and glory, He is preparing for suffering and death! Then Peter rebukes God! Then Jesus calls Peter Satan! Unbelievable.
I’ve always had a hard time relating to Peter in this moment. How on earth could you not only correct Jesus but rebuke Him? You’re going to put God in His place?! It carries the idea of strong disapproval, not simply correcting a misunderstanding. It feels heated. “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”
But when I read the rest of Jesus’ reply, I realize I say the same thing often—although hopefully not in the same tone.
When it’s not Jesus on His way to Jerusalem, but me, I balk. I must deny myself and take up my cross. I must be willing to lose my life for His sake. I don’t at all believe in asking for trouble, or pursuing suffering, or even use it as a test to see if I’m living a radical enough life. But it seems pretty clear that I should expect suffering. I should be loyal unto death. Or as Jesus said in Matthew 10, if they treat me this way, don’t think you’ll get any better.
And this is when it happens. This is when I start sounding like Peter. “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to me.”
I signed up for the life abundant! I signed up for brotherhood and power. I’m here to check my spirit of fear at the door. I signed up to be more than a conqueror. Suffering? Pain? Martyrdom? “This shall never happen to you.”
It turns out I, too, have in mind man’s interests and not God’s.
It’s easy for me to tell Peter he’s off-base, that if Jesus said He’s going to the cross, you don’t challenge it. But it’s much harder to confront the fact that I’m off-base, that if Jesus said I can expect the same, I shouldn’t challenge that, either.
I remember growing up reading books on the End Times and being terrified about the Great Tribulation. I remember being so relieved by the teachings of a pre-tribulation rapture, that I would never have to face that kind of scenario. And in my mind it was because God would never let those awful things happen to one of His children.
But if I understand Scripture, that’s exactly what He did: He let unbearably awful things happen to His one and only Son. The promise is not that Jesus suffered so I won’t have to; the promise is that just as Jesus was raised, I too will be raised. The promise is that God will be with me in my suffering.
I don’t know anything about suffering. The fear I’m describing is a fear of the unknown. But I need to face these fears if I want to follow Christ. (Again, not that I’m volunteering for any particular suffering.) Just as Jesus placed His life in the hands of the Father, so following Him, I must do the same. “Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me.” My life is in the Father’s hands, and He will not abandon me.
If you are in Christ, He will not abandon you either.