Alfred Place Baptist Church

8:31-33 “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan!”

Mark 8:31-33 “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said, ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'”

The Lord Jesus has just asked his disciples for their own personal assessment of him. “Who do you say that I am?” How would you answer that? Everybody has to come to some decision concerning Christ, who he is, the Son of God, a deluded good man, a fine but imperfect teacher, or even an outright megalomaniac? Whatever conclusion you have come to about him should be an educated response to what you have read about him in the New Testament. You have gone to the fountain-head. You have visited the primary sources before coming to a conclusion. The jury in the trial of the two people accused of the murder of the two little girls from Soham have had to be there in the courtroom these past weeks to have heard all the evidence, and seen the accused and listened to the witnesses and their cross-examination. It wouldn’t be right to take away the liberty of a man and a woman because of some hearsay and rumour and gossip. It wouldn’t be right to dismiss the Lord Jesus Christ before examining his life and claims in the light of the Bible.

Peter had a brother named Andrew who had actually heard the Lord Jesus before Peter had ever met him. Immediately Andrew came to the conclusion that he was the Christ. Andrew had hurried to Peter and he’d cried in excitement to him, “We’ve found the Messiah” (Jn. 1:41). Those are the exact words he used, and then he dragged Peter to Jesus. But that had been two years earlier, and Peter had taken all those months to come to the same conclusion which his brother had reached in one day. People are converted at different speeds. Andrew’s response was the confession of instinct and hope. Peter had had two years to listen and evaluate before he made his confession. It was a more mature and discerning affirmation, but you don’t spend the rest of your life trying to make your mind up about Jesus. The evidence is overwhelming! You need to listen to Christ and evaluate him in order to make a real confession, and you can only do this if you read the New Testament writers, because they had all met Christ, or hear New Testament preaching.

Here in Caesarea Philippi Peter has replied to Jesus’ question by saying that he is the Christ. It is a break-through in Mark’s gospel, and the disciples of Jesus have reached a summit of enlightenment. What was long dormant has finally woken up; what had failed hitherto to enter their understanding is now proclaimed aloud, clear, undisguised, in the language of Christian testimony: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

It was at this point, Mark tells us in our text, the Lord “began to teach them” (v. 31). What do we have in this section? We are presented with our Saviour in his three offices as prophet, priest and king.

1. JESUS CHRIST IS GOD’S LAST PROPHET.

Jesus “began to teach them” (v.31), and it was as a teacher that Christ made the greatest impression on people. They might have remembered many of the details of his miracles, but his words lived on in their minds long after he had moved on. They remembered the authority with which he spoke, his great originality, the freshness in which he addressed them, how he applied his teaching to every one of them – its implications were inescapable. The beauty and cogency of his messages was unforgettable. No other speaker they’d ever heard was like him, except for the raw spiritual power and awakening ministry of John the Baptist. But unlike John, the Lord Jesus made staggering claims about himself, that he would be the judge of the whole world, that he actually went back before the very beginning of creation, before Abraham and the patriarchs; Christ claimed that he was one with God. What manner of teacher was this? Then he made such promises that he would give rest to those who came to him, that he would raise his people from the dead, that he would give them eternal life and they would never perish. The greatest of the Old Testament prophets, Moses, Elijah and Isaiah had never made such promises. Who is this prophet?

Here we are invited to sit at his feet and learn of him as he speaks to the twelve outside Caesarea Philippi, in the shadow of its temple to the Roman emperor and its shrine to the Greek god Pan. Here the Lord Jesus sets up his own pulpit and starts to preach to his disciples, these unlearned men. While he is preaching a “satan” appears, a satan in the form of flesh and blood, yes, but a satan nonetheless. He leaves the congregation and he climbs up the steps of the rostrum putting his interfering hand upon the very pulpit from which the highest prophet of God is giving his instructions. The human satan interrupts the sermon, and he makes a diabolical statement and a satanic gesture by which he hopes to thwart the spirit and the influence of Jesus’ teaching. He strikes at the very heart of the gospel message, and he seeks to hide the cross which Jesus is holding up before the disciples’ eyes.

He tries to distract the congregation by erecting a wall of satanic perversity between the pulpit and the pew. But Jesus has not finished preaching. He pushes that interfering hand aside and silences that interrupting voice with the strongest words, and he continues to preach the sermon, calling to himself his other followers, asking them to join this congregation. He then preaches one of his mightiest sermons on the nature of Christian discipleship uninterrupted now by any satan. The sermon contains some of his most unforgettable sayings. That is the scene that Mark presents to us in this passage.

2. JESUS CHRIST IS GOD’S FINAL PRIEST.

What was the theme of this interrupted sermon? We are told that Jesus began to teach them “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected to the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this” (vv.32&32). This was the next stage in their education. They have made the confession as to who Jesus is, now our Lord began to teach them what Jesus Christ would do. It is like a teacher who can proceed with the next stage of a subject when the class has learned certain basics about it. The next lesson was not that there might possibly be danger ahead, but that Jesus was determined to walk straight into it. He was going to certain death. What a crushing message! How flat they must have felt hearing these words . . . “must suffer . . . be rejected . . . must be killed . . . and after three days rise again” – what could that all mean?

Tom Wright says, “You might as well have a football captain tell the team that he was intending to let the opposition score ten goals right away. This wasn’t what Peter and the rest had in mind. They may not have thought of Jesus as a military leader, but they certainly didn’t think of him going straight to his death. As Charlie Brown once said, winning ain’t everything, but losing ain’t anything; and Jesus seemed to be saying he was going to lose. Worse, he was inviting them to come and lose alongside him” (Tom Wright, “Mark for Everyone,” SPCK, London, 2001, p.111).

It was absolutely stupefying. This was not the Messiah they’d imagined. It was not the Messiah that Peter’s father, Jonas, had spoken to him about when he was a little boy, with awed expectancy and hope. That Messiah would have royal dominion reigning from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee, and then spreading his reign over the whole world so that the kings of the Gentiles would come to Jerusalem bringing their offerings, bowing to him and suing for peace. That Messiah would purify the Temple and the services there would be filled again with the shekinah glory of God. Isaiah’s sight of the Lord high and lifted up filling the Temple so that the mighty door-posts shook at his presence would be commonplace when the Messiah suddenly came there. The Gentiles who now ruled over them would be expelled for ever, and the Torah would be established in all Israel. That was the vision of the reign of the Messiah that Peter and the others had received by tradition from their fathers.

But that was not the coming of the Messiah to Jerusalem that the Lord Jesus spoke about. What he said was in scandalous contrast to all of that. This Christ wasn’t going to achieve victory and success. He was going to meet rejection, pain and death itself. How did Jesus sum it up? “The Son of Man must suffer many things.” A suffering Messiah! It was all going to end in tears. That wasn’t what Jonas their Daddy had told Andrew and him lying in their bed together when they were little boys. That was not what Jonas’ father had told Jonas fifty years earlier. Triumph and glory were going to characterise Messiah’s appearance, but Jesus in Caesarea Philippi, in the shadow of a temple to the worship of the Roman emperor, teaches something entirely different.

If Jesus had said, “Yes I am the Christ, and there’s going to be a tremendous fight on our hands in the next few years, but let me tell you this, lads, the end of it all is going to be triumph!” then Peter could have accepted that and remained sitting in the congregation murmuring his Amens. Godless and wicked people opposing the Messiah you could understand, it was bound to happen, but that is not what Jesus predicted. He would be opposed by every level of moral and religious Jewish society. The elders would reject him – they were the wealthy aristocrats who owned land and were the judges of disputes all over the country. The chief priests would reject him – that is, Caiaphas, who ruled from A.D. 18 to 36 and his father-in-law Annas who had ruled before him from A.D. 6 to 15 as well as their successors, and the top echelon of temple staff, they were all going to utterly oppose Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. The teachers of the law – the preachers in a thousand synagogues all across the nation, the cream of the 300 year-old Pharisaic movement, would utterly repudiate him. All the influential religious figures in the country would disdain the claim of the carpenter from Nazareth to be the Messiah. They would accuse him of blasphemy and kill him.

Do you understand? Jesus Christ wouldn’t leave the world in some brave death in the thick of a battle as he headed his troops driving the Roman army out of the land. The scene of his dying would not at all be like Nelson dying at the battle of Trafalgar surrounded by his grieving men while his fleet gained their great victory over the French. Jesus’ death would be the result of the united reflected judgment of the top leadership of Israel deciding unanimously that he was a criminal who deserved to be executed on a cross. Do you understand? The Messiah’s death wouldn’t be the result of a momentary explosion of depravity in human nature, shown, for example, by the action of a hateful assassin, or a suicide killer, or some paid thugs. Nothing at all like that. There would be careful deliberation by the elders of Israel, the High Priest and the leading Pharisees gathered in the Sanhedrin – the Jews’ highest court of appeal where there were seventy lay members – all listening to the evidence, examining Jesus’ life and coming to the conclusion that they were doing God service by ending his life there and then. You understand? He would not be lynched by a mob, or beaten to death by an angry group of people whom he’d offended. He would be officially arrested and tried by the Roman governor, the Jewish King, and Israel’s Supreme Court. He would be found guilty in the eyes of the law and sentenced to death. That was what Jesus told them, before him lay rejection by the most respected men at the top of Israel’s religious and legal life, followed by the ugliest slow execution. The Lord wanted there to be no confusion about this. “He spoke plainly about this” (v.32), that is, he spoke boldly and confidently to them. He didn’t drop his voice and speak in parables about his end, so that they turned to one another asking what was Jesus getting at. “Is he saying he is going to be condemned by the chief priests and put to death?” No one asked that question. That was exactly what they understood him to be telling them. He made his fate spectacularly clear.

More than that, Jesus was making it plain to them that he believed that this was God’s plan for his future and for his death: “the Son of Man must suffer many things” (v.31). In other words, Almighty God had ordained it. Let us unpack that for a moment. Jesus first takes this title, “the Son of Man”, to refer to himself. You know that that phrase does not mean the true man, and the archetypal man (though he was that). Our Lord is referring to the book of Daniel, not the section where Daniel is in the lion’s den (which is the section most people know about), but Daniel chapter 7 where there is an account of the appearing of a glorious and august figure coming in the clouds of heaven at a time when the saints of the Most High are suffering. There is going to be some solidarity between their suffering and his, but it will be followed by a glorification which also they are both going to share. Listening to that title on the lips of Jesus caused alarm bells to ring in Peter’s mind, and they were ringing in all that congregation’s thoughts. If the Lord Jesus Christ had to suffer, then the future wasn’t going to be so rosy for his followers either, was it? Didn’t it mean they too faced the likelihood of bidding farewell to their families and homes for his sake and the gospel’s? Were they being confronted with a brutal death rather than triumph and fame in following him?

So there were those notes of Daniel’s prophecy of the Son of Man in Jesus’ sermon, but there was also this, the prophecy of Isaiah. A passage studiously avoided in all the messianic expectations of Israel, Jonas, Peter’s father, had barely mentioned the suffering Servant to Peter because no father did. In chapter 53 when the servant of God comes forth he has to suffer at the decree of the Lord. That is the prophecy: “we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted . . . the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all . . . it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer . . . the Lord makes his life a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:4, 6, 10). Why was this good man suffering? It was for others, for his people. The Lord was laying on him the iniquity of us all. He was their substitute. The servant of the Lord had become the Lamb of God. God’s anointed High Priest was making himself the sin-bearer. The righteous one is offering himself to God in the place of the unrighteous ones. This is the way redemption is going to come. What did the Old Testament affirm? Wasn’t it this, that without the shedding of blood there would be no remission of sins? Something in the very nature and being of God himself requires that.

“Behold a scene of matchless grace,
‘Tis Jesus in the sinner’s place;
Heaven’s brightest glory sunk in shame,
That rebels might adore his name.” (William Gadsby)

Once William Gadsby was preaching on these words of Isaiah, “For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.” In the sermon he paused and said that he was persuaded that there was a despairing sinner in that congregation who imagined he had come there for the last time. “I tell you,” cried Gadsby, “these garments were rolled in blood for you! Yes, I say, for you!”

There was a dissolute young man in the congregation named James Chambers who was addicted to gambling and so on, who heard that word. He had entered that church hard, guilty and bound, but when he heard the sermon, and especially those words, “for you” they were powerfully used by God to deliver him from his sin and he left the chapel that night as a different person to live a new life in Christ for another 60 years. How does deliverance come to Jew and Gentile? Not in the garments of brave young Roman and Jewish soldiers rolled in their blood but by Jesus’ special blood. We know that his dying was a different death from any other death because it was followed in three days by resurrection from the dead. Jesus speaks clearly of this too: “and after three days rise again” (v.31).

So Jesus Christ set up his pulpit here in Caesarea Philippi and preached to these Twelve the gospel of the cross, telling them of the absolute necessity of his dying that horrific death in order that redemption should come. This is the heart of Christianity. William Gadsby’s wife lost her reason and spent the last thirty years of her life as a confused woman, not dying until she was 79 years of age, seven years after her husband’s death, and scarcely communicating at all with people. Gadsby loved her and cared for her faithfully throughout those years. His successor in the Manchester church was A.B.Taylor and he visited her throughout those years but he never got a glimmer of spiritual conversation from her. Then on the last occasion, just days before her death, he said to her, “What do you think of the Lord Jesus Christ now that you are so poorly?” She looked up at him sharp-eyed and alert. She replied, “What I have thought for many years.” Then she paused and she said to Taylor, “Mr. Taylor, I have thought much lately about the difference between Christ and the beasts that were slain under the law. The beasts were dragged with ropes to the place where they were killed, but when my Saviour came to die, he laid down his life himself. No man could take away his life, because he is God as well as man. You know Mr. Taylor, they cannot drag God with ropes, and it was Christ that was an offering for sin.”

Her minister looked at her with surprise and the deepest pleasure, and he said to her, “Yes, Mrs. Gadsby, God the Father is well pleased with that offering for sin. The blood of bulls and goats could not put away sin.” Mrs. Gadsby looked back at him, and she replied, “Not likely!” Then she added, “My husband used to talk a great deal about that.” Then she paused for a while, and further said to Taylor, “There’s nothing else worth talking about.” Within a day or two she was dead, and Taylor said about her that at the end she was as right in her mind as ever he was. Though confused she never lost her grip on the heart of the gospel, Christ suffering in our place. This was the great message the Jesus began to unwrap and teach his disciples. He is the Christ, but the Christ must die in shame on a cross.

3. JESUS CHRIST IS GOD’S APPOINTED KING.

We are told that as he was telling them those things Peter went to him, and took him aside and began to rebuke him. Messiahs don’t get killed by Israel’s chief priests. Messiahs to whom that happens are false messiahs, charlatans and liars. The Christ of whom Jesus was speaking was deeply objectionable to Peter. He anticipated a Messiah whose garments were rolled in the blood of his enemies not in his own blood. Peter was scandalised at the concept of a crucified Saviour and suffering with the Saviour. That was not the future that he had in mind.

How common a mistake that was, and it remains so today. The Christ of Peter and his friends was not the Christ of the Bible. His messiah was a handsome leader who owned an extensive wardrobe and rode a stallion. He was self-assured and had learned man-management at the equivalent of the Harvard Business School. Peter’s hands were indeed the hands of Abel, but his voice was the voice of Cain. The Messiah of the Bible was taken as a lamb to the slaughter, but Peter’s Messiah took admiring multitudes to the rostrum for the victor’s crown and the music of triumph. The Messiah of the Bible was condemned by God, but Peter’s messiah acted like a god. The Messiah of the Bible was meek and lowly of heart; Peter’s messiah had ‘personality’ and chutzpah. The Messiah of the Bible called for his followers to deny self and carry their cross; Peter’s messiah called for his followers to affirm self and wear 28 carat crosses on gold chains around their necks. The Messiah of the Bible prepared for the climax of his ministry by the agony and bloody sweat of Gethsemane; Peter’s messiah prepared for the climax of his ministry by warm-up men and loadsamusic. The flesh, smiling and confident, preaches and sings about Peter’s messiah; before him the dancers dance with carefully staged histrionics, and the confident promises are made by this messiah of old age without disease, and two Cadillacs in the garage. But of a Messiah despised and rejected of men, dying outside the camp, around whom we are encouraged to gather and with whom we are exhorted also to die Peter’s messiah knows nothing at all. It stubbornly refuses to hear of the cross of the Messiah of the Bible.

What smooth arguments are gathered in support of Peter’s messiah. He could list them out one by one to Jesus. Would there be converts and thousands of new disciples if they heard those terrible words of Jesus? Wouldn’t Peter’s messiah win the nation and draw the young people in their droves to follow him? Shouldn’t Jesus adjust himself to the times in which we live? Haven’t we heard the slogan, ‘New days, new ways’? Surely only someone old before his time and very ‘traditionalist’ would insist on death as the way to life? Who today is interested in such a gloomy message that talks of the establishment turning against him? Let’s win the establishment with our message of success and triumph. Who could recommend poverty of spirit, and mourning, and hungering after righteousness, and purity of heart as the programme to win the world to our cause? Those were Peter’s arguments, along with many that were more flippant still, brought forward with an appearance of earnestness, to endorse his hollow and superficial image of a messiah whom he sincerely believed his age demanded. Nothing has changed in two thousand years. The choice is still between the false messiah loved by Peter and the true Messiah of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus knew it, and here we see him exercising his kingly office: “When Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (v.33). When Peter acknowledges that Jesus is the Christ then he is the rock on which Christ builds his church – the apostolic confession that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of the living God – that is the rock. That is the foundation for every gospel congregation. But when Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes our Lord for speaking about his death then Simon is Satan’s voice. There are men in many pulpits today who are excellent on certain truths, utterly orthodox, and to be commended, but when they speak on other subjects they lay themselves open to deserved rebukes. We may speak only what is found in the Bible. Let me ask you whether you have a place in your understanding of a Christ who takes a friend aside and rebukes him and calls him ‘Satan’ and tells him to get behind him? Would your ‘Jesus’ do that? Because there is no other Jesus than this one. There is no place for us to have a sentimental vision of Jesus. We should never say the words, “Well, I think of Jesus like this . . .” We have no right of thinking of Jesus in any way but what these eye-witnesses to him in the New Testament tell us about his words and deeds. Peter’s words were the father of denominationalism and every error that has come into the church in the last 2,000 years, when people who are disciples of Jesus have disagreed with Jesus’ teaching in his very name. So let us ask this question, why does Jesus use this strong language.

i] Coming from Peter, of all the disciples, the words were very unexpected and forceful. Nothing like this had ever been said by one of his disciples before this time. Peter had been there all the time watching, listening, learning, appreciating everything Jesus did. Now suddenly this man, not Judas, but he who was his closest friend, turns on him and rebukes him. I have a friend who pastors a church and there is a man in their congregation who constantly grumbles about the church. He is always going to my friend with criticisms and complaints. One day recently Ian said to him – after listening to one more outburst of unhappiness, “Don’t you think that I’d pay more attention to you if at times you spoke some words of appreciation?” The man had never thought of that and he was silent for a moment before saying, “But you know how much I support you and appreciate you.” But he never says anything except his flow of grumbles, so that now that man has no weight in the congregation at all. He is known by all as the complainer, the melancholic, and people feel sorry for him and his wife. My point is this, that it was not like that with Peter. He had never criticised our Lord before. He had shown him constant love, respect and admiration, and so these words were particularly painful for the Saviour. But that was not the main reason for the strong language.

ii] The words struck at the very heart of Jesus’ mission. It was Christ’s love that brought him to this world. It was his love that caused him to spend those months in the womb of the virgin, and be born in a stable. It was his love that made him accept the home of a carpenter in Nazareth for thirty quiet years. It was his love for us that made him choose Gethsemane, and the lash, and the nails, and the spear in his side, and the tomb. And the pain which he endured our salvation has secured. He satisfied God’s justice in his condemnation of sin. Here was the greatest exhibition of humility and patience that this world has ever seen or ever will see – he waited thirty years for that! By his death the entire church is saved. By his death the kingdom of darkness is destroyed. By his death we see the glories of God’s righteousness and mercy and grace as never before. By his death salvation can be preached to the whole world and that death itself is preached to every creature: “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” In his death all the church glories world without end. It is his death we remember in the Lord’s supper. It is his death that the hosts of heaven remember – “unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood!” And Peter was pleading with Jesus to turn away from all of that! Who did not want this to happen? Satan and his hosts, and here Peter was being his mouthpiece, and Jesus knew it.

In other words it is possible for a true disciple of Christ today, by his own carelessness and immaturity, to become the instrument of Satan, and to oppose the message of the cross, and when I look at churches all around me I see indeed that this is what has happened and is happening. Satan’s power is exceeding great. He tempted Eve and brought her crashing down and her husband. Satan was unafraid to tempt the Lord Jesus himself in the wilderness. He can do this still today with the body of Christ, the church, and what is more, he can do so as an angel of light. Are there not professing Christians whose words and actions have led to the destruction of other professing believers? Is that not a fearful action to take to the throne of judgment? Were it not better for a millstone to be tied around our necks and we be thrown into the depths of the sea than for Satan to use us to destroy other believers? There is one other reason for the strong language that our Lord uses:

iii] The words showed that Peter did not have in his mind the things of God but the things of men. His mind was full of human attitudes and opinions and values. That is Jesus’ verdict on Peter. His words were a barometer of the state of Peter’s mind. This was a very immature Peter. This was Peter before Pentecost. He had not yet discovered much about the state of his own heart or of the great work that the Lord Jesus had come to do. We can ask what it was that made Peter act in this way. What are the marks of someone who minds the things of men and not the things of God?

a) Peter wasn’t crucifying the flesh. Each disciple has to battle with remaining sin. All of us who profess to be Christians have an itch for fame and glory and the recognition of the world. Are we putting that to death? Peter tolerated thoughts and attitudes and imaginations that mere men in their unbelief love and admire, and Peter nourished them so that they dominated his mind.

b) Peter had too much confidence in himself, and so he had delusions concerning his own spiritual state that he was a very discerning man, that he was Spirit-filled, that he had a grasp of the things of God better than the others. So though Jesus would tell him to watch and pray Peter thought, “The others need to, but I’m OK” This got to such a degree in Peter that he felt he knew more than Jesus, and he could straighten Jesus out about the cross!

c) Peter had a limited grasp of Scripture. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus he believed some of the things the Bible teaches about the Messiah. They needed their understandings to be opened so that they could see in all the Scriptures the things about Christ. He is not only the triumphant and victorious Messiah he is also the servant of God who will offer himself a sacrifice on the cross.

Peter failed to have in mind the things of God and so he became the channel of Satan as Jesus was speaking to them about the death he would accomplish in Jerusalem. So Jesus rebuked him most emphatically. When disciples play God rather than follow Jesus they inevitably become satanic. So Jesus exhorted him to get behind him as a disciple. “Don’t you go before me as my teacher. Understand there is a distance fixed between you and me. You – always the disciple and I – always the teacher. You the servant and I your Lord and God. That is the relationship between us, always!

So the Lord Christ rebuked Peter, and there are times when he has to rebuke us, and there are times in the preaching of the word when our Saviour is rebuking us, in other words, he is showing us our sin and he is summoning us to repentance. What happens when the Spirit is poured out upon a congregation? He convicts men of their sin. The church is being rebuked by God for how it is behaving. You remember how the Lord speaks to the seven churches of Asia Minor and with most of them he points out things that are wrong. “As many as I love I rebuke,” he says. Jesus loved Peter, and so he wasn’t silent when Peter spoke to him as he did. “What are you thinking Peter? What is going on in your mind? The things of God or the things of men? Peter, that is Satanic counsel!” How courageous of Jesus to speak like that, and so must we be bold. The preaching of the word has to show people what is wrong in their lives and that it must be put right. I am not pleading for stinging preaching. When we look through the letters of the apostle Paul there is never a harsh or unloving word written. Usually the ink on the parchment was blotted with Paul’s tears. He wrote with authority and with meekness. All he said indicated a sadness at having to write such things, but write them and preach them he did! He never gave up on them. Hope resounds on every page, and so it was here. The Lord is the Lord of change. He sent his Son to the cross to effect the basis of change. It was only by Jesus going to the cross – in spite of Peter’s protestations – that Peter could be delivered from being a man preoccupied by the things of men and henceforth utterly taken up in the glorious themes of Almighty God. Peter’s richest gain he counted but loss and poured contempt on all his pride. God is the God of change, hence the transformation of Peter. In less than a year later he could address the thousands on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem and tell them that though with wicked hands they had killed their Messiah Jesus yet he was delivered up to Golgotha by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God. Peter came to see it, and this rebuke of Jesus was a step in the way to extraordinary usefulness in the kingdom of God.

14th December 2003 GEOFF THOMAS