August 28, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You!”
Rebuking the Lord puts one in a precarious position. This morning, you have heard the accounts of two individuals who have done so: Jeremiah and Peter. The Old Testament prophet suffered affliction, active persecution from those who were opposed to him and his message. You heard Jeremiah’s statement to the Lord: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by Your name, O Lord, God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because Your hand was upon me, for You had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will You be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” The prophet’s statement puts the blame for his affliction on the Lord. He is saying: “You put the words in my mouth that have everyone upset at me; You gave me the way of life that made me alone. Now when I am suffering all this, You won’t attend to me. You are nowhere to be found, but are a failing help.”
So how does the Lord respond to Jeremiah? What is His answer to such rebuking? He calls Jeremiah to repentance: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.” The Lord calls out Jeremiah’s sin of unbelief in order for him to turn and be forgiven. He points out the problem with Jeremiah’s thoughts: he has made the vain and worthless things of humanity his delight. The prophet has turned to the people, instead of abiding in the way that the Lord had laid out for him, given him, called him to. Jeremiah’s mind had turned to the flesh and blood, not what the Father in heaven has revealed.
Fast forward six centuries or so, and another man does the same thing. Jesus speaks of what the Father in heaven has laid out for Him. He makes known His fate to His disciples, those who were to be the witnesses of His death and resurrection: “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” The fate of Jesus was to be similar to Jeremiah: He would be opposed by the civil leaders, the worship leaders, and the teachers of the people. He would suffer many things at their hands, even to the point of death. But to Peter, one of those called to be Jesus’ witnesses, this is too much; it cannot be: “And Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You!”
So how does the Lord respond to Peter? What is His answer to such rebuking? He calls Peter to repentance: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the thing of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus calls out Peter’s sin of unbelief in order for him to turn and be forgiven. He points out the problem with Peter’s thoughts: he has made the vain and worthless things of humanity his delight. Peter has turned from what the Father in heaven had revealed to him, now rejecting Jesus’ identity as the Christ. Instead, Peter has set his mind on what flesh and blood considers good, right, and salutary, even when they stand in opposition to the Lord’s will. Peter the rock has now become Peter the stumbling block.
For both Jeremiah and Peter, restoration is the goal. What they find offensive, what they reject, what they rebuke the Lord for is actually what brings them salvation. But that salvation will not be theirs should they continue in their unbelief. So the uncomfortable rebuking words need to be spoken to the prophet and the apostle. But when they hear and turn, the Lord presents the way of salvation to them again.
Note what the Lord says after correcting Jeremiah, after bringing the prophet back to fear, love, and trust in Him: “And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” This is the promise to the restored prophet, to him who is moved from unbelief back to faith. It is the gospel for Jeremiah. He is not abandoned by the Lord. The Lord is not “a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.” Just the opposite: the Lord is the source of salvation for Jeremiah, even if the prophet must suffer persecution and opposition.
Likewise, Peter is presented again the way of salvation after being corrected by Jesus. The blunt words of Jesus stick in the apostle’s ears. But then his Lord says: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” There is the way of salvation for Peter. Jesus does not exclude him, but makes him a part of it. Being a disciple of Jesus will mean denial of self and taking up the way of life that He has laid out for Peter, James, John, the rest of the Twelve and even you. Attempting to save one’s life, to be in full control of it, to be truly autonomous and self-governing is a path to losing what is truly life, what Jesus has to give. But being under the direction of Jesus, abiding by His will, losing control over oneself to be ruled by Him, that is the way to gaining one’s life—for this world and the next.
That is the message that both Jeremiah and Peter needed to receive. It is the same message given to you. Fulfillment of the Lord’s will is what brings life. Faith in Him brings life. Receiving what He gives brings life. It is not what you accomplish. Rather, it is done for you. The Lord acts for you, calling you, giving you a new identity, making you His people. The source of that life is found in what Jesus does, in the fate that He endures: “He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
The problem that faces Jeremiah and Peter and you is their refusal of that. That is the ditch into which they fell and into which you fall. Jeremiah did not believe that the Lord was giving life to him, that the Lord was a failure—unable to heal, a deceitful brook, waters that fail. Peter demands that Jesus never go to Jerusalem to suffer and die and be raised: he would prevent Jesus’ actions that will bring him and all sinful humanity life. Then there are the issues that drag you away from faith in the Lord, His actions that benefit you, and the way of life He has established for you. Like Jeremiah, you turn to the people. Like Peter, you set your mind on the things of man.
What does that look like? It varies from person to person. But some common traits can be seen. Think again about what Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, the practical directives of leading the life that belongs to the Lord’s people. Look at the exhortations in the first verses. Now take the opposite of them: being hypocritical in discipleship; loving what is evil; loosing the grip on what is good; hating one another; showing no honor; being slothful; having an apathetic in spirit; serving oneself; losing hope; being impatient; irregularly praying; closing your pocketbooks to fellow believers in need; refusing to show hospitality. All these are the actions of those opposed to the Lord’s will, of those who have no faith in Him, of those who are on their own direction. It is what you are by nature. It is the way of flesh and blood. It is the way that leads to death: “Whoever would save his life will lose it. . . .”
As you fall into that way of life, which is actually the way of death, you are called back. Like Jeremiah and Peter, you receive the corrective statements from the Lord. He says: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me.” He says: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.” The shocking and jarring words must be said. But as it was for Jeremiah and Peter, the Lord then speaks the words of promise to you: “I am with you to save you and deliver you. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless. . . . Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” These are the promises of salvation, promises rooted in the Lord’s steadfastness and trustworthiness. The promises are established in what He does: He suffers, dies, and is raised to life again. Jesus’ fate of taking up the cross leads to everlasting life for Himself and for you: “The Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.”
Salvation for Jeremiah and Peter and you will never be found in rebuking and refusing the Lord. But it is given in receiving His actions and will for you. The Lord reveals this to you. He allows you to see the necessity in what Jesus had to undergo, so that you don’t say: “This shall never happen to you.” He allows you to know what Jesus’ resurrection has accomplished, so that you don’t call Him “a deceitful brook, waters that fail.” And He renews your hearts and minds, so that you are no longer “wise in your own sight,” but rather see the wisdom in taking up your cross and following Jesus. That is what will give you the courage to walk in faith wherever Jesus leads.
Hearing and turning like Jeremiah and Peter, you follow the way of life that the Lord establishes for you. You shall no longer rebuke and refuse the Lord, but receive His actions and His will for you instead. Sharing in the way of life that He gives, you shall speak the words of faith, the words that flow from the mouths of people who have been restored like Jeremiah and Peter: “But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.” That is your fate, as you lose your life and receive again for eternity as disciples of the Crucified and Risen Christ.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.