Matt 16:21-28 CEB
21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." 23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
For the most part, change is not something humanity is comfortable with. Stability can give the misconception of safety even if safety doesn't really exist. Because, see, whether we want it or not, change exists and is inevitable. The only true stability that actually exists is the ever sure presence of God. Any other stability is only an illusion created by the natural order of the world. The reason we naturally fear change is not because of what change may bring but what it may leave behind. Change is a form of death.
Death of a long held idea.
Death of one of the many stages of life.
Death of a place once called home.
To move on to something new we have to let go of something else. Just like any death we are allowed to grieve and mourn what is lost. I grieved many things taken by change in my lifetime. It is a natural process.
Because change involves a death of something in our life it also usually leads to a common reaction: anxiety. Anxiety rears its ugly head when death is a topic. Much like the ever sure presence of God, death sticks around. We try our hardest to avoid the topic and ultimately it makes us anxious.* Now anxiety is really a form of fear. When we fear something we have no control over or don’t know how to overcome it takes the form of anxiety. Even though anxious people are fearful they often show their anxiety in anger. Probably because anger gives the illusion of power. Do you want to know where deception, sin, and Satan live? In anxiety. In anxiety because anxiety is built on unsure footing; the footing of believing stability comes from the natural order and not from God’s order. Peter was anxious.
His anxiety probably centered on his preconceptions of the term Messiah. Messiah is a Hebrew word for ‘anointed one.’ The Greek version of the word is ‘Christos’ or ‘Christ.’ Yes, Messiah and Christ have the same root definition. When the term was first used it was a term and not a title or a name. When kings first entered the Israelite story messiah was used for them because they were the anointed leaders from God. Years later, when kings were no longer around messiah was used towards priests. But something else happened to the term. Between end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament people began to talk about Messiah not as a term but as a person. They began to say that the Messiah was going to bring back the line of kings and rule the Israelite people. They began to say that the Messiah would be God’s anointed choice to lead. Most importantly, they began to say the Messiah could not be killed. For Peter, it was correct and right to call Jesus the Messiah but his beliefs on what that meant was different than the truth.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, “When natural things look most divine, the demoniac is just around the corner.” In other words, our understandings unfortunately tend to include the worst of us. We shouldn’t be looking for perfection in worldly things because we can’t create a perfect anything. When we put our hopes and goals on things or ideas instead of God we are asking fear to enter the picture and fear can lead to anxiety. Anxiety is what we want to stay away from. Yes, it is hard to change. There is so much in life that changes we don’t want to let go of the few things that appear to remain the same. Sometimes the things we cling to most earnestly are perceptions and ideas. Peter correctly perceived that Jesus was the Messiah but his idea of what that meant was wrong. When Jesus told the disciples he had to die because of what he was, it made Peter anxious and he acted impulsively. Instead of understanding what God’s plans were he reverted to the human plan. The human plan was, Christ could not, would not, die. Because anxiety drove those words, Satan lived in Peter’s response to Jesus. Yes, the rock that would be the foundation to a new church could be corrupted. And we all know, if Peter can be corrupted so can we.
“Get behind me, Satan.” In English it sounds like such a harsh reaction to Peter’s anxiety. By itself it really sounds as if the phrase adds more fear and anxiety. So, why would Jesus respond like that? Why would Jesus buy into Peter’s fears? Because he isn’t. The real truth is in the Greek. Something is lost in translation when we read the words in English. That phrase, “Get behind me, Satan,” calls back memories of two prior experiences. The first is a reminder. The “behind me” part of the phrase is nearly identical to the call Jesus first gave to the Disciples when they first met, “Follow me.” The first problem was Peter was not following Jesus but following popular ideas. He had to change his idea of what the Messiah was. Ah, there is that change word again, and Peter was not ready to deal with it. Also, the truth was the Disciples were going to follow right behind Jesus. Most of them would eventually be able to perform miracles in Jesus’ name and follow Jesus to their own cross. The human path feels good and appears to end well. Jesus’ path requires sacrifice and is difficult.
Second, the “get Satan” is nearly identical to when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness and Jesus told Satan to go away. Do you think that temptation ended for Jesus when he finished his 40 days in the wilderness? Nope. Think of what kind of temptation rested in Peter’s words. When you know that your life is going to end the way Jesus’ did, hearing that death could be cheated had to have been alluring. Ah, back to C.S. Lewis, “When natural things look most divine, the demoniac is just around the corner.” One of the biggest dangers of our anxiety is not what it does to us but what it does to others. One anxious person can keep an entire group of people from following God’s call. That was the power of Peter’s words. The “behind me” was for Peter, the “get Satan” was for Jesus. Even from the foundation of the church, Peter, temptation exists in the form of anxiety.
When we accept Jesus’ call we all become rock, solid and sure. After that, we determine what kind of rock we will be. Are we going follow behind Christ and trust when God leads us down a road that will help us deal with the inevitable change? In that case we will be a foundation for future generations. Or, are we going to allow the fear to make us stagnant and turn our thoughts towards anxiety? In that case we have allowed Satan into our lives and we become stumbling blocks. Are we foundations or something that just gets in the way? That is our choice. Peter ultimately chose to give up his anxiety and follow Christ. He chose to be a foundation. Yes, that path was difficult and required sacrifice but it was ultimately the most rewarding.
*This meditation was discussion general anxiety and fear. I am not a trained medical professional and cannot speak, and did not, speak of clinical depression. Clinical depression is more than a choice, it's a brain chemistry. There are some very wonderful people who follow Christ and suffer from clinical depression. My heart and prayers go out to these warriors of the faith.