Summary: When a cross or trial comes our way we’re often left wondering like Peter, "What was He thinking when He allowed this to come on me?" However, Jesus’ own cross story helps us to see that in the midst of it all, He’s still thinking of you and me.
Pentecost 15 A
What Was He Thinking?
There’s a television commercial currently running that shows a guy going off a tall waterfall in a kayak. He’s screaming all the way to the bottom as he bounces off rocks along the canyon wall and finishes his plunge into the waters below. Then the camera pans off to a couple standing by their go-anywhere, climb any mountain, cross any river sport utility vehicle that has been watching this strange sight. The fellow then turns to his female companion, shakes his head in utter disbelief and says, “What was he thinking?”
I’m quite sure that pretty well summarizes what Peter was saying to himself when Jesus got done describing what He was going to endure as the Christ. “What’s he thinking? He’s the Christ. I just confessed Him to God’s chosen one. What’s all this talk about going to Jerusalem? Why that’s crazy. His enemies are there, lying in wait; and yet He seems so set on going there to suffer rejection, brutal beatings, humiliation and death. This can never happen. It can never happen to him. What’s he thinking?”
And yet it’s clear. In his shock over the bitter things that Jesus was to endure Peter missed the good news, but it was there. Yes Jesus would be rejected. Yes He would suffer many things at the hands of the chief priests and the elders of the people. Yes, they would succeed in taking His life. But on the third day He would rise again. On the third day Jesus would be declared the victor over sin and its death. On the third day forgiveness, new life and salvation would be guaranteed to all who looked to Him and His cross in faith. God’s plan to right Satan’s wrong that had been wreaked on His world would be complete. What was He thinking? As the writer to the Hebrews wrote in He was thinking of the joy set before Him, the joy of heaven for you and me. He was thinking of you and me.
He has from the beginning. When he created the world with all its splendor and beauty, when he created the animals, the trees, the oceans, the mountains, the birds that fly, the sun and the sky, He was thinking of you and me. When He issued His laws explaining right from wrong, rules designed to make life better, He was thinking of you and me. When He entered the hearts of men and gave them words to write that help us know the mind of God, He was thinking of you and me. When He sent his only son into the world to show us how to live, He was thinking of you and me. It’s no wonder then that when this same son carried a cross up a lonely hill and died for the sins of the world that He was thinking of you and me again. When they laid Him in the tomb, when He rose up from the grave, when He invited sinners to lay their burdens down and find rest in Him; He was thinking of you and me again. He’s always thinking of you and me, of Peter, of the 12, of all of His disciples.
He was thinking of them and all of us in the text today, even though the words He shares are tough to bear. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of me… If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
These words were certainly tough for Peter. Not only were they contrary to His expectations for Jesus but they were also deflating for him personally. Peter had visions of glory. Not only did he imagine Jesus as a great earthly power to be reckoned with around the world; he had great expectations for himself. After all, he had been the first to recognize Jesus as the Christ and Jesus had called him “the rock” upon which he would build the church. Being a member of this crowd he had great potential for gaining influence, power, and personal well-being. Now all of this was taken away. All of his dreams of grandeur were being replaced with nightmares of a shame filled cross. And he, who had been hailed “Rocky” among the disciples, was just as quickly afforded the title of “stumbling, bumbling fool.” Tough words, but let’s not forget that they’re tough words of grace.
What we see here is not scorn. It’s not ridicule. It’s tough love. It’s tough grace, poured out and dispensed on Peter and through Matthew’s Gospel it’s also dispensed on me and you.