I am sure the disciples were intrigued with Jesus. I am sure they found his teaching amazing in its clarity and stunning in its restatement of the Law.
But, they needed to do more. They needed to decide for themselves not only that Jesus was unique, but that they would link their lives with his, that they would follow him not only on the dusty roads of Galilee, but in the way they lived their lives, too.
What does that have to do with us today? Just this – it isn’t enough to believe that Jesus is extraordinary, or even to believe that he is the divine Son of God. We need a kingdom mindset
In 2008, the Pew Forum on Religious Life reported that their surveys indicated that 92% of Americans believe in a higher power, a being that most would call God. But, is that enough? Is it enough to believe that God exists, or does that knowledge, that belief lead logically to the next step – a decision to live in accordance with God’s will?
That’s why this passage today is so important. It is the point at which Jesus pushes the disciples past the stage of acknowledgement, past demonstrations of the Kingdom, to a point at which they must make a decision regarding their place in the Kingdom themselves.
Exposing Peter’s Mistaken Mindset
But before Jesus can push them to a decision about the Kingdom, he first has to expose the earthly mindset of the disciples. Peter, as we might suspect, gives Jesus that opportunity.
Matthew says that after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the conversation changes:
“21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Now Jesus begins to explain what is going to happen to him. He is headed to Jerusalem and there he will have a showdown, a power encounter with the religious rulers of first century Judaism.
I think it’s interesting that Jesus says that he will “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed…”
In truth, it is the Roman Empire that imposes the death penalty on Jesus, and carries it out. But Jesus recognizes that the Roman Empire, with the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate as its representative, will only be carrying out the desires of the leading religious leaders of his day.
Jesus will be dealt with as they have already dealt with others who challenged their authority and power – they will marginalize him, and failing that, they will eliminate him.
So, we see repeated attempts to discredit Jesus. They come at him with trick questions; with implications that he and his disciples are not following the Law, the Torah; and, finally, with charges of blasphemy and speaking against the Temple.
The disciples have witnessed this tension between Jesus, whose popularity is the only thing that has kept him from the hands of the Pharisees, Saduccees and other religious authorities.
So, when Jesus begins to lay out for the disciples, now that they have acknowledged who he is, that these very same religious leaders are going to cause him great harm, even to the point of taking his life, Peter can’t take it.
Matthew says that Peter takes Jesus aside. That’s interesting because Peter ususally just blurts out whatever he has to say, just as he did with his great confession.
But, Peter takes Jesus aside to privately chastise his own teacher. We miss the point of that because we don’t understand the reverence with which teachers, rabbis, of the first century were accorded.
It was kind of like when I was in the fifth grade at Johnson Elementary School in Columbus, Georgia. In the fourth grade, I had a wonderful teacher who everyday after lunch read to us from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie book series. She was a kind and gentle teacher, who mothered her fourth graders with great care and concern.
But fifth grade was an entirely different story. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Cooksey, and Mrs. Cooksey believed it was her duty to take innocent fourth graders and prepare them for the rough-and-tumble work of junior high school. Never mind that we didn’t get to junior high until seventh grade; Mrs. Cooksey was determined to make us grow up, fast and in proper form. Needless to say, she did not read Little House on the Prairie to us, or anything else for that matter.
To her credit, Mrs. Cooksey was a good teacher. I learned a great deal in her class because I had to. I was too afraid to find out what would happen if I didn’t! But she was stern, no-nonsense, and definitely not our mother.
I would no more have contradicted Mrs. Cooksey than I would have the principal of the school himself. So, when Peter takes it upon himself to set Jesus straight, he at least has the consideration to take Jesus aside and rebuke him privately.