Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 7
We have been studying concerning Peter’s expectations of the Messiah and his confession of Jesus to be not only the Messiah but also the Son of God. Christ has placed his approval on Peter’s confession and promised to set up an everlasting kingdom. He has also promised that Peter shall hold a very pivotal position in this great kingdom.
Dreams of Grandeur
It is a glorious moment for Peter. With all his Jewish dreams alive, he sees in his imagination a great temporal kingdom rising. His great Lord, with miraculous power, shall throw off the Roman yoke and build the greatest kingdom the world has ever seen. Peter himself shall be one of the most powerful officers in this proud monarchy. Can you imagine the dreams of grandeur swimming in his head. He has been right. He has cast his lot with the Carpenter; and now this wondrous Carpenter has admitted, nay insisted, that he is indeed the great king of prophecy. He has promised that he will certainly set up an unconquerable kingdom and that Simon shall truly be one of the world’s great men.
But Jesus, who ever knew what was in men’s minds, saw this working in the mind of Simon Peter. It had to be corrected. Peter must consider the darker prophecies concerning the destiny of the Messiah. He begins to tell the disciples how he must go to Jerusalem, be taken prisoner, and suffer death at the hands of his enemies.
This was the signal for Peter’s revolt. He revolted not because what Jesus said differed from prophecy. He was surely aware of the darker prophecies. He revolted, not because he thought it couldn’t happen that way, but because he didn’t want it to happen that way. We turn loose of our dreams most stubbornly, because they are woven from the obstinate material of our own self will. Peter preferred the dream he had been dreaming to the reality Jesus predicted.
Peter believes in Jesus. He follows Jesus. But he has not yet surrendered his will to Jesus. He thereby renders himself incapable of adequately understanding Jesus. Jesus has told him the truth. Peter cannot understand it because he will not understand it. He prefers to have it Peter’s way.
I am afraid it is very easy for me to sympathize with Peter here. I too believe in Jesus. I believe in his kingdom. I believe in his divinity. But I still find myself wishing sometimes that he would do things my way. I want to see church grow statistically and be big and prosperous. I want the singing to be thrilling, the preaching irresistible, and the architecture grand. I want to see a movement sweeping millions in a wave of popular approval. I want to preach to great multitudes and convert them all at once. I want to be a great spokesman for God, swaying ever greater crowds into a mushrooming army of saints. Yet, through the years, I have seen a large majority of men turn away. I used to think, as a boy, that the kingdom might cover the earth in my lifetime; that it might include all men. I did so long to be one of the great men of God instrumental in accomplishment of such a proud goal. I dreamed dreams of whole cities, then states, then nations won for the cause. But through the years God has made it increasingly apparent that such is not his way with me. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” Here I have seen the Lord touch the heart of one man, here a family, there two or three, but always quietly and unobtrusively. Of all the hundreds I have seen walk down the aisles, many have had a very superficial experience of Christ. With me at least, God has moved individuals over periods of time rather than masses suddenly.
Insisting on Our Own Course
It is hard not to insist upon the course we ourselves believe to be best. Who could have seen that the way of the cross was a better way than the way of empire? Jesus could have dethroned the Caesar. Peter knew this. Why then should he suffer and be rejected and crucified? It didn’t make sense to Peter. It didn’t make sense because he didn’t want it to make sense. At last he can stand it no longer. The whole thing boils out of him. He faces the Lord and a hot flood of argument pours out of him.
The change in Jesus is such as to cow a braver man than Simon Peter. I like here the Phillips translation. “Out of my way Satan.” It is a lightning flash of indignation. Simon is here confronting Jesus with the same temptation that he withstood in the wilderness. There is nothing tactful or wishy‑washy in the blaze of righteous wrath that answers him. But Jesus doesn’t just condemn; He also explains.
“. . . Thou savorest not the things that be of God but the things that be of men.” In other words, Peter is looking at this thing from the earthly, human viewpoint. He will have to learn the larger, longer view. He will finally have to understand the things that be of God.
This is our great trouble too. We look at things from a human standpoint and try to force our conclusions on the holy wisdom of God. We see what we think would be best for the Church, for our friends, for ourselves. So we seek to serve God by attempting to please ourselves. We still judge our success in numbers; our power in dollars; our chances of salvation in human righteous deeds; our claim to truth on the number smart men who agree with us. We must at last come to the point where we actually believe that one with God is a majority. Where we can say sincerely, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Only then have we reached the point where we can begin to savor “the things that be of God.”