I like going one exit farther than what I need in order to get off the freeway for my house. It doesn’t make sense. With the extra lights, the ride takes three minutes longer. I could say I prefer the fewer stop signs on the southerly route, or that I like the drive that takes me by the pasture on the ride side of the road. But the hidden truth is Lane Avenue has a Speedway convenience store with a larger variety of candy (sigh) than the Get-Go on Fishinger Road. Once you know this secret, my travel habits start making sense.
Everybody operates according to an apparent truth that overlays an actual truth. We unconsciously or semi-consciously act with the desire and hope for something bigger, better, nicer, more fun, and more fulfilling. None of that is a problem. Get it if you can.
But as Christians, we’ll want to keep a caveat in mind as we go for the gusto. The very things we want—even if they’re good and noble—can eclipse the things of God in our lives without our even being aware of it. We won’t get any warning bells, just a vague sense of reduced spiritual vitality and an increase in darkness.
Look how it played out for Peter. Jesus told the 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” (Matt. 16:21).
When He said, must He meant it was not optional—His pathway had to head into suffering, death, and resurrection. Then Peter pulled Him aside and started rebuking Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22).
Jesus could have said, “Thanks, Peter. I appreciate the pep talk.” Instead, in a stunning moment, He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (Matt. 16:23). He had looked into His disciple with divinely penetrating intelligence and had seen an agenda of self-preservation.
Hiding somewhere behind positive words, perfectly camouflaged from human sight, was the devil. Jesus spoke straight to him, saying “Get out of my way. You’re blocking my route to Jerusalem and the cross and my resurrection.”
Peter had become a sluice for the devil’s words because as Jesus said, “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
The things of God were clear. They involved suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus had clearly spoken them. What were the things of man? We don’t really know. They’re hidden inside of Peter. Opaque. Dressed up and complicated. All we know for sure is that they had to do with avoiding the things of God.
Peter never actually comes out and tells us what his secret desire really is. We don’t know if it’s a vacation home on the Dead Sea, or a wardrobe of the finest Grecian styles or just a top-level post in the coming kingdom cabinet. Maybe Peter was thinking those things. Then again, maybe even he didn’t know. Such is the nebulous nature of our desires—sometimes we can’t exactly say what we want.
It doesn’t matter anyway. Peter’s “concern” for the well-being of Jesus collided with God’s intentions. But what if Peter’s personal happiness was on the line? All this talk of cross and resurrection sounds terribly Spartan. No fun, whatsoever.
Looking at the whole thing from another angle, though, our happiness is exactly what hangs in the balance here.
Think about what would have happened if Peter had convinced Jesus to give up on dying for us and rising from the dead. What if he had gotten his way? Subtract the cross and resurrection from the gospels and look at what you have left: Good works. Good teaching. Good living. That is, another world religion.
What a tragedy. Apart from the cross, there’s no possibility of reconciliation with God. Every day would be a story of our trying harder, failing, and condemnation. If you give me a week under those circumstances, I won’t be able to even think about God. I’ll be Adam in the garden hiding, disappointed in myself, blaming everybody.
And without Jesus rising from the dead, there’s no new life, only me trying to act “new,” pretending to be transcendent over life’s problems. Not to mention any hope of mine beyond the grave would be a pathetic illusion, a placebo.
As it stands, Jesus did make it to Jerusalem to the cross and into resurrection. Now we can look God in the face every day, knowing that when He looks at us in return, He sees us through the blood of His Son. We’re justified. We’re valued and loved. We’re wanted.
We’ve also received resurrection life—one that can’t be held by death. It can’t get sick or depressed or fade. It rises, no matter what goes on around it.
Peter was in danger of eclipsing all that, because he wanted…?
On the next clear day, hold your hand up in front of the sun. You can eclipse it—a blazing ball of hydrogen-helium half a million miles in diameter. You can cover it up with a measly piece of skin and bone barely sixteen inches square.
Please remember that illustration the next time you decide, “Oh, I’ll never stop doing such-and-such” or “I don’t care how many verses there are about this topic in the Bible, I don’t agree.”
A blazing sun is within you.
Don’t get in His way, because that would be getting in your own way.