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Proper 17A Gospel

Matthew 16:21-28

Ryan Quanstrom

Sometimes, I stand in God’s way. I never intend to stand in God’s way. I try my best to listen to the Holy Spirit, but there are times that I talk to much. And other times I don’t say enough. Perhaps I am a poor preacher, but I imagine that others encounter similar struggles. We know that God’s ways are higher than our own[1] but sometimes we do not see them. At other times, if we are honest, we think to ourselves all kinds of self-satisfying thoughts. “God I don’t want to give this person time, I’m too busy.” “I barely make any money as it is, do I really need to pay for their lunch?” “They need to know that they hurt me.” “Why do they call to ask about the hotdogs on Sunday after 10:30?” And on and on.

Occasionally, holiness christians can be quick to self-defense. We know that God is capable of sanctifying us entirely. Many of us have claimed that God has already sanctified us entirely.[2] Still others must confess that they are going on to perfection.[3] Those of us who have confessed these things know that there is still work to be done. But we also know a few who who claim to be entirely sanctified who do not want to confess sins. Sometimes they don’t admit that they do not deny themselves.

Still others can use the commands for sabbath rest as an excuse for following Jesus’ command to deny ourselves. We call it “mindfulness” or “self-care.” Many in our pews have become self indulgent. I would not be surprised if more than one joined Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle in a day to “treat yo-self.” This self-indulgence is not limited to any generation, and has probably existed in every generation.

Martin Luther understood how self-centered and defined original sin as a heart turned inward. Augustine defined it as concupiscence, or too much self love. Other theologians have defined original sin as a mis-ordered self love. Some even say that selfishness is simply natural. Self-preservation is the way of the wild. Evangelists have even used the desire for self-preservation for decades. “You don’t want to go to hell, do you?! Repent!” Of course this concept is no stranger to preachers. We know that for many people being a Christian is a method of extending one’s life into the next.

I do not want to be too hard on Christians. I know they are lovely people, but when we read this passage in its larger context we see how quickly one can go from hitting a bullseye to being the devil. In verses 17-19 Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”[4] And then in verse 23 say, “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.” We can believe Jesus is the Messiah, we can call him Lord of our lives, we can believe in Christian Perfection and Entire Sanctification and still stand in Jesus’ way. Not because we are evil, but because “No one then is so perfect in this life as to be free from ignorance.” [5]

When Peter stood in Jesus’ way, it was not because he wanted to stop Jesus’ mission. Peter did not yet fully understand what Jesus as messiah meant. The apostles have had Jesus confirm that he is the messiah, so their expectation is probably that this is now the time for revolution. Now is the time that they would liberate Jerusalem, establish the kingdom, and rule with Jesus. N.T. Wright reminds us, “Yes. We’ll be going to Jerusalem. Yes, the kingdom of God is coming, coming soon now. Yes, the son of man will be exalted as king, dispensing justice to the world. But the way to this kingdom is by the exact opposite road to the one the disciples… have in mind.”[6]

Jesus as Lord means methods that are unlike our own, after all, “The King reigns from the tree. The reign of God has indeed come upon us, and its sign is not a golden throne but a wooden cross.” [7]

We too can know Jesus. We can be set free by God’s love. We can have newness in Christ. We can trust that the God of peace will sanctify us entirely. More often than not, however, God chooses methods that are unlike our own. God may take us through a slavery in Egypt and forty years of wandering in the wilderness. God may send the Assyrians to raid our country. God’s ways are higher than our own. We may not always like the method, but we know that God will bring us through to victory.