Apostle Barbara Childress

The Son affirms the cross: with his disciples

Roger Ellsworth

Matthew 16:13-23

A wide disparity exists between the public and private sides of some individuals.  They say one thing in public and another in private.  It was not so with Jesus.  The private Jesus was the same as the public Jesus.  The private Jesus is the one we find in the Gospel accounts of his dealings with his disciples.  The same Jesus who spoke forcefully about his death in pubic did the same in private with his disciples.

Some of the Jesus' words to his disciples about his death were not entirely private.  While they were directed primarily to the disciples, bystanders also took them in.  It was often the case when Jesus taught his disciples that several others 'listened in'.  Jesus' poignant description of his death as being consumed with a fire and undergoing a baptism (Luke 12:50) falls into this category.  After he spoke these words, Luke tells us he turned to 'the multitudes' (Luke 12:54), who had evidently been there all along.  There are, however, three distinct instances in which Jesus spoke only to his disciples.

The three predictions

These three predictions are quite distinctly marked out and catalogued by Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The first of them came at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31-33; Luke 9:21-22).  The second was in Galilee (Matthew 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45).  The third came on the Lord's final journey to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34).

Certain things leap out at us from these predictions.  One is the emphasis Jesus placed on the necessity of his death.  It was not that this might happen to him if he did not handle the religious leaders the right way.  No, it was much more than that.  There was a 'must' to it.  His death on the cross was ordained before the world began.  For that end he came to this world. 

We must also be struck by the precise detail the Lord Jesus included in these predictions.  He spoke of being betrayed, mocked and scourged.  And, although the religious leaders had attempted at various times to put him to death by stoning, the Lord Jesus specifically said he would be crucified (Matthew 20:19).

In these predications the Lord also emphasized that crucifixion was not to be the final word for him.  He would also be raised from the dead.

The varying responses of the disciples

The disciples responded to these predictions in a variety of ways.  Mark and Luke tell us they did not understand one of the predictions and were afraid to ask him (Mark 9:32; Luke 9:45).  On another occasion, Luke simply says the 'saying was hidden from them' (Luke 18:34).  Matthew says they were 'exceedingly sorrowful when Jesus predicted his death for the second time (Matthew 17:23).

The best-known of Jesus' predictions to his disciples - with the best-known of the responses - is the one that Jesus made at Caesarea Phiippi.  While Jesus had made allusions to the cross in his public ministry, they remained vague and shadowy as far as the disciples were concerned.  These were allusions that perhaps temporarily brought a furrow to their brows, but in those heady, intoxicating days of Jesus' early ministry such references were quickly dismissed.  However, there came a day when the disciples could no longer dismiss Jesus' talk about that mysterious hour and about the ransom he would provide.  At Caesarea Philippi Jesus thrust the cross upon them in unmistakable terms.

It all began innocently enough.  Jesus asked them, 'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?' (Matthew 16:13).  There was no shortage of answers, and the disciples rattled them off: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets.

But then Jesus made the questions more pointed: 'But who do you say that I am?' (verse 15).  Simon Peter was ready with the answer: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God' (verse 16).

None of the disciples was prepared for where all this was intended to lead: 'From that time Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day' (verse 21).

Evidently Simon Peter failed to hear the 'must' in that statement.  Taking Jesus by the arm, he steered him to one side and lectured him: 'Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to you!' (verse 22).

On occasions Jesus had some very strong and stinging words for the hypocritical religious leaders who were leading many astray.  We find him, for instance, referring to them as 'whitewashed tombs', 'serpents' and a 'brood of vipers' (Matthew 23:27,33).  But he never spoke sterner words to one of his disciples than these: 'Get behind me, Satan!  You are an offence to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men' (verse 23).  Why did Jesus answer Peter in such stern words?  Why did he go so far as actually to call his disciple 'Satan'?  Was he not guilty of exaggeration here?

This was no mere squabble over some fine point of obscure doctrine.  In taking Jesus aside to rebuke him, Simon Peter was guilty of attacking the very purpose for which Jesus had come.  Had it not been for that cross looming in his future, the Son of God would not even have been standing in the presence of Simon.  That cross, and that cross alone, had brought the Son of God to earth from heaven's glory.  That cross defined his mission.

J. Glyn Owen rightly says, 'Peter is trying to protect the very one whom he has recently acknowledged to be divine from what seems to him the folly of his divinity.  Peter is trying to divert Jesus from the overmastering "must" which he has just disclosed as being indispensable to the fulfilment of his mission.'

But Jesus meant that 'must'!  He was not registering his viewpoint on what was likely to happen in the light of current trends, as political analysts do today.  That cross had to happen!  God's sovereign decree demanded it.  Man's sin demanded it.  The promises of the Old Testament demanded it.  The heart of Jesus himself demanded it.

By suggesting the cross was not necessary, Simon Peter had moved from the stance he had just taken - the humble disciple confessing the truth about Jesus - to a new position altogether.  He had moved from the disciple's shoes to occupy Satan's shoes.  In the wilderness Satan attempted to get Jesus to bypass the cross, and Simon Peter was now doing the same.  When a man acts like Satan he deserves to go by that name!

In addition to pointing out Simon's new stance, the Lord Jesus also called him back to his former one.  'Get behind me!' was a scorching reminder that the place for Christ's disciples is always following along behind their Lord and never leading him.

There is much here for us to take home to heart.  Jesus' predictions of his death constitute yet another of his affirmations of the cross, and that gives us cause to rejoice.  We must not, however, leave it at that.  Our Lord's rebuke of Simon Peter give us insight into the Lord's attitude to all attempts to remove or diminish the cross.

Many churches and pastors appear to be repeating Simon Peter's error.  Thinking they know more than the one they call 'Lord', they down play the holiness of God, the guilt of sinners and the cross as the way for God and sinners to be reconciled.  How the church today needs the sober reminder that our Lord regards all attempts to diminish that cross as nothing less than siding with Satan!  We hear much these days about the need for the church to go forward.  Meanwhile her Lord calls her to go backward until she is behind him again.  And being behind him will always mean cherishing and proclaiming his cross.



JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.


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