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As we have journeyed with Jesus and his followers, we have witnessed the healing of countless people, miraculous events, confrontation with the authorities, and instruction to his disciples. These events have taken place in the Galilee region of Israel.
The dialogue in this section between Jesus and Peter marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ activity is headed south to Judea and Jerusalem. In this section confrontations with the authorities and the instruction of the disciples will be the main interest.
We read earlier in the chapter where Peter, the representative of the disciples, stated their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Israel hopefully anticipated a political Messiah.
Psalm 2 may have fueled their hopes.
I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalm 2.7-9).
The ruling power of God’s Messiah was quite a contrast to their current situation of being dominated by foreign powers. Jesus came to a nation that was ready for the fulfillment of this Psalm.
The people, also, longed for the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophesy about the Messiah.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7.14)
Because of the expectation of the people, Jesus “sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah” (Matthew 16.20). Jesus wanted to define his role as God’s Messiah, because the way he planned to conquer the hearts of people and nations was far different from the common understanding.
Matthew described Jesus’ image of what the Messiah would be like in this way: “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” (Matthew 16.21).
Jesus let his close followers know that he would not shatter oppressive powers with an iron rod. Instead, he would conquer the injustices of the world through the self-giving love of the cross.
The iron rod of revolutions and war is a tool of the thief who desires to steal, kill and destroy life (John 10.10). Rufus Moseley’s words are quite appropriate, “To use the powers of the devil to beat a devil, you must become a worse devil than the devil.”
Jesus’ government was to be characterized by justice, fairness, love and mercy. The method Jesus used to establish that kind of government was fierce and unrelenting love. He defeated his enemies by making them his friends.
“That sounds like a lofty ideal, but is not practical and won’t work,” says a doubter. At this point in his understanding, Peter was a doubter, too.
Matthew related Peter’s response like this: “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’
“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'” (Matthew 16.22-23).
Jesus identified the shadow figure behind Peter’s thoughts, Satan. When we think we can win by intimidation, threats of anger, violence and other such means, our mindset is that of mere humans and not of God. Again, to defeat the devil with the devil’s means takes a greater devil than the devil.
The Way of Self-Giving Love
The way Jesus rules his kingdom is through self-giving love. This love is by no means soft as we will see in the following chapters of Matthew. However, Jesus conquers by winning the hearts of people instead of crushing them in fear.
He expects us to do the same and instructs us with these words: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16.24).
For the past week, I have been reading a book by Paul Farmer. He is a Harvard professor, who is both a medical doctor and a PhD anthropologist. His way of conquering the ills of our world is to live and serve among the poorest people in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti.
He speaks out strongly against the injustice of the world’s health care system that is run like a for-profit business. I have been challenged by his words to re-think some of my advantages as compared to 2/3 of the world who live in abject poverty. However, the greatest impression Farmer has made on me is his self-giving love.
Farmer, and his organization Partners in Health, care for patients in a way that brings them dignity as well as medical care. They address the evils of the world with healing power through compassion, skill and medical training.
What if we approached the various troubling issues in our lives from the perspective of self-giving love. Instead of using anger, intimidation, and the like to get what we want, what if we saw ourselves as healers? What if we asked, “How can I bring healing to this situation,” instead of how can I get my way?
Learning to live by self-giving love will take time. Of all the things we have suggested about the Jesus-kind-of-life, this is most difficult. Yet, it is also the most effective. Let’s think of ourselves as self-giving and loving healers.
Dear Jesus, we praise you for your amazing self-giving love that has changed our status from enemies to friends. You have conquered our hearts and healed the sickness of our sin. Please help us to imitate your self-giving love and help us to see ourselves as joining you in your healing ministry.