daily biblical sermons


GOD'S PLAN OF SALVATION THAT PETER OPPOSES
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, 22nd Sunday of the Year, September 03, 2017
Jeremiah 20:7-9, Psalm 62, Romans 12:1-2, Matthew 16:21-27


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted

 

"From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.' But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men'" (Matthew 16:21-23).


Peter has just proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), and in response Jesus told Peter that he would build his Church on the rock of Peter. These are indeed two glorious proclamations, namely 1) that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and 2) that Peter is the rock on which Jesus will build his Church.


But now in the very next verse all this glory seems to fade as Jesus says that he will be killed in Jerusalem and rise on the third day; and as Jesus rebukes Peter, saying, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Matthew 16:23). Jesus rebukes Peter so harshly because Peter opposed Jesus' announcement of his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, which is God's plan for the salvation of the world. Peter, horrified to hear that the glorious Messiah would be killed, had said to Jesus, "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you" (Matthew 16:22).


What a contrast! We go from glory to death for Jesus, and from Peter being the rock on which Jesus will build his Church to Peter being Satan, an adversary and an obstacle to God's work of salvation in Jesus Christ. 


But this is Jesus' way of teaching his disciples. Jesus is the glorious Messiah, but he must suffer at the hands of the Jews and be killed and rise from the dead. And Peter is the rock on which the Church will be built, but he will also at times be Satan, that is, an adversary, a scandal, an obstacle to Jesus, and a hindrance to him, who is "not on the side of God, but of men" (Matthew 16:23).


We see Peter as an obstacle and a scandal to Jesus, doing the work of Satan rather than God in today's gospel passage and in other places in the New Testament, both before and after Pentecost. Today he opposes God's plan to save the world through the death of Jesus on the cross. Later he will deny three times that he even knows Jesus, and, after Pentecost, St. Paul will have to publicly rebuke and correct St. Peter for refusing to eat with Christians of Gentile origin, thus giving them the false message that following the full Mosaic law is necessary to be a full-fledged Christian worthy to eat with Christians of Jewish origin who follow the full Mosaic law (Galatians 2:11-12).


But in today's gospel reading, where did Peter go wrong so as to deserve such a harsh rebuke and condemnation by Jesus as being Satan, an adversary, a scandal, and an obstacle to him, who thinks the thoughts of men, not of God? Basically Peter denied God's plan of salvation for the world by the violent death of Jesus, the Messiah, on the cross.


Jesus first says that "he [Jesus] must (dei) 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" (Matthew 16:21). This is an absolutely necessity in God's plan to save the world. This is the way God will save the world from its sins. Jesus announces this plan for the first time in today's gospel reading.


Jesus will later explain why he must die to redeem the world. In just three more chapters he will say, "The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). And at the Last Supper he will say over the cup of wine, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28).


In these two sayings, Jesus identifies himself with the Old Testament figure of the Suffering Servant of the Lord (of Isaiah 53) who would offer his life, dying vicariously in substitutionary satisfaction for the sins of the world. The Suffering Servant is a human sacrifice for the sins of the world. He is a human sin offering who suffers and dies vicariously for the sins of the world, just as a lamb of sacrifice dies vicariously for the sins of the one who kills and offers it to God as a substitutionary victim, substituting for himself and dying in his place in punishment for his sins.


The Old Testament sin offerings and Isaiah's figure of the Suffering Servant are, of course, only symbols and prophecies of Christ, the only one who is really capable of offering his life in reparation for human sin to make full and just atonement before God for them, thereby enabling God to justly forgive and declare righteous all who put their faith in Christ.


So Christ fulfills these Old Testament sacrifices and the Old Testament figure of the Suffering Servant, about whom Isaiah prophesies, "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Carrying all our sins, this Suffering Servant was then "wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).


In other words, our sins, which needed to be punished, were punished in Christ's flesh on the cross. The result of his death is that my debt of punishment for my sins has been paid, and this payment is credited to my account by God when I put my faith in Christ.


This is why St. Paul so often insists that we are justified by faith, not by works (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9), since our faith enables God to credit to our account the merits of Christ's redeeming work on the cross, whereby he made full and just reparation for our sins.


God therefore justly declares us forgiven and righteous before we even do a single good work. We were only sinners, destined for hell for our sins, when we genuinely repented of our sins with a firm purpose of amendment and put our faith in Christ for our forgiveness and justification, and by our faith God declared and made us righteous, because Christ's death paid the debt we owed God for our sins. Thus we don't justify ourselves by our works, but rather Christ justifies us by his work on the cross, and our faith in him connects his work on the cross to us and credits the reparation he made for human sins to our account.


We must then enter a process of sanctification by living a good life of good works. If we don't live a good life of good works, we were not justified. We only thought we were justified, but we were deceived. We underwent a false conversion.

 

This is why Jesus must (dei) go up to Jerusalem and be killed. He must be killed in reparation for our sins, because this is God's plan to save the world. This is what Jesus means when he says that the Son of man came "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Jesus giving up his life frees me from eternal death for my sins, that is, he ransomed my life from eternal death. And this ransom is applied to me when I put my faith in Christ.


The word "ransom" is used here in the sense of Christ paying a ransom price (his blood) to ransom or free me from my bondage to sin and from eternal death as the just punishment for my sins. Christ pays the ransom price not to the devil, but to God, to whom I owe eternal punishment for my sins. His blood pays my debt with God for my sins, and so God releases me, forgives me, and justifies me, that is, declares and makes me righteous, for my sins have been justly paid for by Christ's death.


It is because Jesus' death pays our debt of punishment with God for our sins that Jesus says over the cup at the Last Supper, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28). Christ's blood, shed on the cross, is shed to make reparation before God for my sins by justly paying my price for my sins that I owe God in just punishment for them.


This is God's plan for our salvation that Jesus presents to his disciples today and that Peter objects to and opposes, thereby playing the role of Satan, making himself an obstacle and a scandal to Jesus, thinking the thoughts of men, not of God.

 

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