It’s very encouraging to read the amount of times that Peter opens his mouth and puts his foot in it.
Encouraging I mean, for those of us with the tendency to blurt, who say slightly silly things at inappropriate moments. In Mark 8 and 9 there’s a sequence of them. First, when Jesus is responding to the public perception of his ministry, he asks his closest friends about it: “Who do people say that I am?” They give a selection of ideas: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.”
Good but no cigar. “But what about you? he asked. “Who do you say I am?” And Peter speaks out the secret that has so far remained unsaid. “You are the Messiah.” And the Bible tells us that “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.”
Why not? Wasn’t it true?
Yes, but just because something is true doesn’t mean it has to be spoken then and there. There’s a right and a wrong time to speak. There’s a proverb that speaks of “a word fitly spoken” being like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” It means that when a word is spoken “fitly,” (appropriately, at the right moment) it is beautiful and helpful.
Other times, not so much.
But the word “Messiah” was still true, even though it was not yet time to speak it. It couldn’t be spoken because it would be misunderstood. So Jesus begins to clear up the misunderstanding. He explains that “Messiah” means suffering – something they didn’t anticipate or appreciate at all! “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…”
Peter listened for a while and then took Jesus to one side “and began to rebuke him”! “But when Jesus turned and looked at the disciples (He’s making sure that everyone sees what’s going on), he rebuked Peter:”Get behind me Satan! he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
He turns from the inner group to speak then to the whole crowd, that no followers of Jesus will be able to avoid suffering, that they have their own “cross” to carry, and they will be accountable before God for their obedience in this.
But there a few among them there who will see another side of it. “Some who who standing here will not taste death before they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power.”
And this leads us into the story of the “Transfiguration” in Mark 9, when Jesus takes Peter, James and John “up a high mountain” where they see him in all his radiant glory, in a vision of power and authority, “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”
And Peter (Yes, you guessed it. It would be Peter again) said to Jesus: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” And now comes the kicker for every blurter: “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.”
But the writer, Mark, is not merely recording the misadventures of a blurter. As I said before, we all say daft things and so it’s good to roll our eyes at Peter and realise that we are in good company. But there’s a deeper point. Both bits of blurting are followed by precise explanation of the meaning of “Messiah” and the true way of Messiah’s followers.
It’s like hearing a joke, laughing, and then realising that it was about you.
Like Peter, we get it so badly wrong. We identify Jesus (correctly) as Lord and leader but shy away from following where that leads.
Where does it lead?
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’ “
And when we are blessed to actually encounter Jesus (in times of prayer and worship and fellowship) as the radiant Lord of glory, we want to put up shelters and stay there, in our cosy holy huddles, and not go back down the mountain where suffering, sighing,crying, dying humanity waits to be helped (Mark 9:14-29).
So this morning, I think that the Lord is directing me not to consider the foolishness of blurting and inappropriate speech -that’s an easy target and we have to accept that we all fail there, from time to time – but to ponder the words of Jesus that “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
There’s a comfy religious way of avoiding the challenge of those words by turning them into “churchianity.” We have to answer the questions: What are the “concerns of God?”
What are the “concerns of men”?