Get Behind Me, Satan!
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Last week I used several Bibles as sermon props to illustrate the scribes being scholars of Holy Writ. One Bible was especially old. I had not handled it in many years, and couldn’t remember its significance. Handwritten notes on its front page confirmed an old family legend that has been passed down to me.
“Charles P. Marshall bought this Bible from Paul Higgins, Associational Missionary of Charleston Baptist Association, in Sikeston, Missouri, for $7 in 1951. The original owner’s name, Grady Anderson, is on the front. I visited a man at a cotton gin for church. When I came back to the car, one-year-old John E. Marshall had torn out Matthew 23-27. I was furious and spanked baby John hard. I shouldn’t have spanked him at all. I gave this Bible to John E. Marshall in April 1984 because he tore out part of Matthew when one year old.”
I checked. The pages are missing. I’m preaching through Matthew partly because it is Dad’s favorite Bible book. It is an honor to preach today from his most favorite book, using the Bible with my least favorite Matthew memory.
Matt. 16:22 (Holman) Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke
Him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You!”
Peter had been right about Jesus being the Christ — “You are the Messiah” (v. 16) — but now was wrong about the cross — “This will never happen to you!” For Peter, believing Jesus is God wasn’t as baffling as believing Jesus will die.
Notice the blatant oxymoron. Peter called Jesus “Lord,” yet rebuked Him. The disciple accused His Master of being wrong. Peter had scaled the heights in verse 16, but now fathomed the bottom.
Was the problem pride? Maybe our Lord’s prior praise in verse 17 made Peter proud. “There is no safety without humility” (Pulpit Commentary).
Was the problem impulsiveness? Anyone who responds out loud as quickly as Peter did will often be wrong. The Bible is clear on this. “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19b). In other words, zip it.
Don’t be too harsh on Peter. Many of us have tried to thwart the prompting of God in a loved one’s life. Friends and family often want to intervene and keep their acquaintances from making spiritual sacrifices in life.
Our most intense temptations often come from an overprotective love our friends and family have toward us. “None are more formidable instruments of temptation than well-meaning friends, who care more for our comfort than for our character” (Bruce). Beware being tempted or being the tempter.
Don’t try to discourage others from following what they believe to be God’s will. Don’t let others deter us from what we believe to be God’s will.
Satan loves to entice us through the unsuspecting words of our closest acquaintances. Adam was tempted by Eve, Job by his wife, Ruth by Naomi, Jesus by Peter, me by my friend’s family who volunteered to secretly take me to parties Dad was keeping me from, Polycarp the Martyr by the executioner who pleaded with him to have mercy on himself, Livingstone and Carey by beloved family and friends who tugged at their heart-strings, begging them not to go.
It is possible to love a person a lot, but unwisely. Love by its very nature causes us to want our loved ones not to suffer. Christians should care, but the very compassion Christianity produces easily morphs into a sentimental mush, becoming a source of misguided affection encouraging others to faithlessness.
The Christian life is a warfare, a strenuous adventure, and sometimes love, to be real, has to surrender the beloved to greatness rather than to ease. Don’t hold people back from the honor and privilege of being used by the King.
Parents and teachers, don’t discourage young people in their spiritual pursuits. If a teen says, “I want to be a missionary,” don’t squelch it. It may be the Lord’s prompting. By putting our hand on a youth’s ambition we may be putting our hand on the holy. We don’t want to do this. Uzzah died when he reached out to touch the Ark of the Covenant. Nadab and Abihu were struck dead when they offered strange fire. David, though, would not touch Saul.
When our children express a desire to serve God by giving generously or by doing something for God that seems reckless, don’t stifle them. They will become cold, chintzy, and cautious like us soon enough.
When a youth comes to you with a stirring about the spiritual, gently say, “We’ll pray, and talk about it more later.” Allow time to ponder and pray.
Matthew 16:23a But He turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!”
Jesus’ blunt instant reply almost takes our breath away. His voice had an uncharacteristic sharp edge to it here. In Peter’s words, Jesus again heard the voice of the wilderness tempter, the Devil who had departed from Jesus “for a time” (Luke 4:13). Satan was back.
Be wise. Anyone who seeks to woo us from the path of right, no matter how attached they are to us, is Satan to us. In the words of others, whose voice are we hearing? When a gentle mother, a kind father, a faithful brother, a sweet sister, or a life partner speaks, is theirs the voice we’re really hearing?
Peter touched a tender spot, a raw nerve, in our Master. Few events perturbed Jesus more than did this temptation from Peter. Our Master was struggling with thoughts of the cross. Its shadow was looming larger and darker. The burden was growing. His flesh, recoiling from the agony, blurted out, “Peter, this is hard enough to endure without you trying to stop me.”
Peter was playing the Devil’s part, trying to keep Jesus from going to His appointed crucifixion, the means of our salvation. Without knowing it, Peter was asking for his own condemnation, and for ours.
In a matter moments, Peter went from being God’s mouthpiece (16:17) to being Satan’s. He was not the first to fill this role. Jesus had called Judas a devil (John 6:70). Both tried to seduce Jesus into seeking a crown without a cross. Peter tried to block Jesus. Judas betrayed Jesus.
Our Master’s retort seems rude, but underneath was mercy. Jesus interrupted Peter before his impetuousness went too far. We can speak boldly with God. We would have to go a long way before we would be guilty of going too far, but do at some point need to show reverence by acquiescing.
I painfully recall the hottest words I ever spoke to the Lord. At midnight, after my daughter broke her neck in a car wreck, I was told to leave ICU while nurses tried to move her for the first time. She was sore, hurting, tired, hungry, and afraid. I was not in a mood to cooperate. They wisely forced me out. As I walked to my rented hospitality room, I could hear her crying out.
I laid down on a bed in the dark and spewed a furious tirade against God. It was awful. God should have taken me on home. After a while of venting, God seemed to drop a huge black wall in front of me, as if to say, don’t come any farther, John. For some reason, I stopped, my anger receded. I felt myself coming back away from a dangerous precipice. I don’t know what would have happened had I continued. I don’t want to know. Thank you, God, for grace. Thank You also for my daughter. I tell her often, “Every day is a good day.”
The Lord is gracious. He bears the weight of the world, He can carry the weight of our frustration. Peter was impertinent, but Jesus did not banish him. Instead, our Master put Peter in his proper place. He reminded him he was a Christ-follower, not a Christ-leader; his place was behind, not in front of, Jesus. Always send Satan far to the rear. Keep Jesus frontmost. Always let Him lead.