Monday, May 12, 2014

Great Faith and Great Mistakes

Life of Christ 83

        Jesus and His Apostles have stolen away from Galilee yet again, in this, the last summer of His life. They have gone north into the uplands, and walked the gradually rising trails that ascend to Mount Hermon. Along the way, He asked them that immortal question, 'Whom do ye say that I am?', and received Peter's sublime response, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' In my opinion, we have right here the founding of the very first New Testament church (Matthew 16.18).
          As the conversation continues Jesus begins to expand on His prophecies regarding His own future (Matthew 16.21-23). He explains that He must yet do four things: 1) travel to Jerusalem, the appointed place of sacrifice, 2) suffer many things there from Israel's religious leadership, 3) be killed, and 4) be resurrected. Peter, the mouth of the Apostles, began to rebuke Him for saying such depressing and pessimistic things. After all, Peter and the other Apostles knew that Jesus, as Israel's rightful Messiah, was headed for a crown and a throne.
          Jesus' reaction to Peter's objection about His prophecy relating to His death and resurrection was both swift and harsh. 'But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men' (Matthew 16.23). Peter, of course, was wrong to rebuke God, disrespectfully and awfully, but, more than that, he was wrong because in issuing such a rebuke he was doing the work of Satan.
          Jesus was not here asserting that Peter was unsaved. After all, just moments before, Peter had made the great confession of faith on which the Church itself is founded. No, Jesus is here assigning to Peter the motives or work of Satan.
          Satan was all about preventing Jesus from fulfilling His role as our substitutionary atonement. He had tried to kill Jesus as a baby. He had tried to have Jesus thrown off a cliff in Nazareth. Even now, he was stirring up the Jews to kill Jesus. Whether Satan understood, ahead of time, that Jesus' death would atone for the sins of a lost world or not, the point was that in trying to stop Jesus from getting to it, whether out of love, pride, or ambition, Peter was still placing an obstacle in His path.
          The simple truth is that Jesus had to die in order to atone for our sins, and He had to die in a certain way at a certain time in order to fulfill the various Old Testament types and prophecies. Thus, anything that became an obstacle to Him in this He had no patience with, and this was even more true as His ministry came to the crisis point. Isaiah prophetically phrased it this way, 'I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint' (Isaiah 50.6-7).
          This entire subject was confusing to the Apostles. They believed, as the Messiah, that Jesus was going to usher in the Kingdom. In faith, they continued to believe this no matter how it looked, and no matter how much Jesus sought to tell them differently, all the way up to the end. This, the concept of the Messiah as King, was the overwhelmingly prevailing Jewish mindset of the day, and the only difference, in this respect, between the Apostles and the other Jews is that they had chosen to rightly believe Jesus was that Messiah.
          In a sense, you can understand their confusion, can't you? The Old Testament, after all, predicts a messiah that would both suffer and yet also rule as a king forever. The solution, which we now clearly see in both Scripture and perspective, was two separate comings, but the Apostles couldn't or wouldn't see that.
          Jesus, knowing this full well, constantly sought to get across to them that the time was soon to come for Him to suffer and die. He brings it up again and again. This was why He had set His face like a flint. He was headed toward the atonement, come hell or high water. He marched, consciously, toward His own sacrificial death for you and me.
          We must keep in mind that Peter had, only moments earlier, boldly professed a genuinely great faith in Jesus Christ. The very next thing out of his mouth, however, was a genuinely great mistake. In this I see a crucial lesson, one that is absolutely necessary for God's people and God's ministers in our day: men of great faith are still capable of great mistakes.
          You and I both know what it is like to sit amongst gigantic crowds, and hear a powerful preacher, clearly called and blessed of God, wonderfully explain and declaim the Word of God. We have watched these men, leaders in Christianity, launch bold endeavors in full faith, and then seen God build wonderful things. But, far too often, we have assumed that such great men, full of such great faith, were then incapable of great mistakes. Apparently, such great men have also assumed the same thing about themselves. What tragedies have flowed from these misguided assumptions!
          For seventeen years I have had the rare privilege of standing in a pulpit as the pastor a New Testament church, and preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. I know what it is like to both hear, and to speak, with some measure of boldness and power, the precious Word of God. I have tasted the heady nectar of the ability to persuade men, and to move them to action. I have done this, in sincerity, to advance the cause of Christ, to edify the brethren, and to glorify the Lord. But none of that makes my decision making process somehow immune to mistakes, and none of that makes me right all the time about everything in my ministry, my family, or my church. I am perfectly capable of preaching a tremendous message one moment, and then making a tremendous mistake the next, and the day that I forget this, or that I allow my church to forget this, is the day I step foot on the road to ruin.

          Peter rightly gets praised for his sublime confession of faith on the flanks of Mount Hermon, and yet, mere moments later, Jesus calls him out for doing the work of Satan. If greater men than you and I, with a greater faith in God than ours, can be found errant so quickly, than it behooves you and me to walk humbly before both our people and our God.

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