The Confession of St. Peter
18 January 2016
The Redeemer Conference Divine Service
St. Mark 8:27-9:1
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Peter becomes the rocky, arch-apostle because of his confession: “You are the Christ.” Mark leaves it out, but we know it well enough from Matthew. Jesus says:
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Then the Lord begins to tell them of His passion and Peter falls into himself. It could be that he does not want the Lord to suffer. That is how I have usually taken it. Peter is a theologian of glory, puffed up from the praise that he just received.
Our translation says that the Lord made this prophecy “plainly.” That makes a certain amount of sense. The Lord isn’t using any figure of speech. He doesn’t talk about being “lifted up from the earth” or His “exodus from the world,” His Baptism or His glory. It is clear. He says right out that He will suffer many things, that He will be rejected and killed by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes. But don’t worry, He is Divine. He will rise from the dead.
The word translated “plainly” doesn’t quite mean plainly. The King James translates it as “openly.” That is better. It means boldly or confidently.
This is probably why Peter is upset and rebuking Him. The Lord is antagonizing the very people that He says are going to kill Him. Now I know a few things about antagonizing people and saying “You are going to reject and then murder Me even though I am holy and you should worship Me” is a pretty antagonizing. It is almost as though Jesus wants them to do it, and in a sense He does. More on that later.
In what surely seemed to Peter to be the height of discretion, he takes the Lord aside privately and rebukes Him: “This is no way to treat people in power.” Peter is chief apostle now. He feels some call to warn the Lord about how He will be perceived, to help Him rule the church and get along in the world.
We get a detail from Mark that is missing from Matthew. Mark carries a certain authority with this account since, according to tradition, he is the disciple of Peter. In Matthew, the Lord simply rebukes Peter directly, but in Mark we are told that Jesus turns from Peter’s corrective advice and sees the disciples. Seeing the disciples, He rebukes Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you have in mind not the things of God but the things of man.”
If Peter had been a private citizen or even an ordinary apostle, the Lord might have rebuked Him privately, or even gone along with him, but Peter had an office. He was to serve the other apostles. What he does in private matters. Hypocrites should not be pastors. But even more important than what he does, is what he thinks and particularly what He thinks it means that Jesus is the Christ. Ideas have consequences. Peter’s theology matters.
There is no more satanic impulse than that which would keep Christ from making atonement for the world and there is no better acolyte of Satan than the one who would mislead the Church down the wide path to Hell by attempts to soften the Gospel and make it less drastic and harsh to the itchy ears of men.
Of course, from Peter’s perspective, he is just trying to help. He doesn’t see this as a doctrinal issue. He thinks that he agrees completely with Jesus when it comes to doctrine. He is all about saving the world just like Jesus – maybe even more so because he is thinking about how to do it better, more effectively. This is the idolatry that is just under the skin of Church growth and Arminianism. Now that he is the chief apostle he doesn’t want to make the priests feel bad. You capture more flies with honey than vinegar. Peter would almost certainly accuse anyone who called him “Satan” of escalating things and making a mountain out of a molehill. Peter just wants the Lord to be little less brash and bold.
Jesus rebukes him nonetheless. And to Peter’s credit, he accepts it. He repents. He has Mark write the whole thing up. And the hilarious thing, of course, is that throughout the Gospels Peter is bold one.
But Jesus didn’t rebuke him merely for his own benefit or because his boldness was generally mis-placed and confused. He rebuked Peter for our sake. “Seeing the disciples,” Jesus rebuked him. Attempts to repackage the Gospel or the Law into something inoffensive cannot go unchallenged. It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the world and by what passes itself off as the “church” and by the seemingly good and wise people of the world. It is necessary that He be killed, not simply murdered but executed as an enemy of the state, according to the Law, in order to fulfill the Law. It is necessary that He submit to the government and end the Law’s accusations in order to uphold good works and the life of service to which we have been called. It is necessary that after three days He rise again, vindicated from the accusations, proving that His Word is true and trustworthy, and showing that His sacrifice has been accepted by the Father. He rises for our justification. It is necessary. There is no other way, no nicer way, no way more winsome or successful or cleaner. It has to be this way: the way of the cross, the way of rejection, the way of weakness. And Peter, like us all, has to get out of the way.
That is why I say that Jesus almost wants the elders and the chief priests and the scribes to do it. He doesn’t want them to sin. He wants them to turn and repent, to confess their sins and believe in Him, to see Him according to His mercy and grace. He has come to make atonement for them, to rescue them, to forgive them – whether they will have Him or not. And there is no way to be nice about that. He doesn’t want them to reject Him, but He does wants to be sacrificed for the sins of the world. There is no way to just forgive and forget and try again. He must die. He lays down His own life, no one takes it from Him, knowing that this is the only way to redeem the world. He wants to fulfill His Father’s will, to ransom the world, to cover our sins, to remove our guilt. He is the obedient and faithful Son. He trusts that His Father is good and will be good to Him. Even in His agony, He is faithful and obedient, never flinching from His duty. He goes as a Lamb to the slaughter without complaint because it is necessary and because His Father’s command must be good. He goes then, knowing that He will rise from the dead and the world will be won back to God and that it is worth the cost – even if most never receive the benefit of it.
He is bold in this proclamation: the world is dying and men are evil, there is no way out except by the cross. If this makes Peter nervous, he can get a new job. The Lord can raise up confessors from stones. So it is for us. Let it not make us nervous that the Church is shrinking, that the world is hostile, that virtue is rarely found. Let us repent and rejoice. Let us be bold in the proclamation of God’s love for sinners. These are the things of God.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.