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The Things of God, Man, and the Devil

Matthew 16:21-23

By Daniel A Mayfield




21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must 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. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” -- Matthew 16:21-23


There are three chief components of this Scripture, namely, the things of God, the things of man, and the things of the devil. We will explore each of these in turn, but first notice the gravity of Peter’s self-governed will. 


To Jesus, Peter did four things: he took him aside; he rebuked him; he said the Lord should be far from that which he must do; and he said what Jesus must do will never happen—he won’t do it. 


We spent last week exploring why he must do these things in order that we would see more blatantly the grave presumption and folly of Peter in this passage. The promises from God’s inerrant mouth to both Abraham and David were that one future figure would be a source of blessing for all people groups and would reign as an everlasting king. If Jesus is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, he must die as a sacrifice by which all could be blessed, and he must die to gain an imperishable body, which would be suited for an everlasting reign. If he must die to be the fulfillment of God’s promises, then if he doesn’t die, every man is damned and God is a liar. 


So Jesus’ reaction isn’t an overstatement. He’s not exaggerating to look in Peter’s face and say, “Get behind me, Satan!” 


There is within this text a solemn warning to all who have been commissioned by God unto his service—which is every person in this room who claims to follow Jesus. The potential for your gravest error in leadership may peak soon after the honor of that commission. 


In the preceding verses, we learned that Peter recognized Jesus as the Christ because his ears were tuned to the Father, rather than the chatter of men. For that reason, Jesus blessed him with a marvelous position of leadership in the early church. “I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom by which you will open the way for Jews and Gentiles to the reign of Jesus! Blessed are you!” And only a short time beyond the blessing received for ignoring man and hearing God, Jesus sharply rebuked him for setting his eyes on things of man, not things of God. 


The Christian’s frame of mind should be like a divinely guided hot air balloon, such that if we are meddling at an altitude of 20m, along with the rest of mankind, God could crank up the burner flame and lift us to an altitude where his revelation is visible or to an altitude where he would like us to fulfill a commission. And if he needs to ground us with a difficult word (something outside of our will/desire), we would gently float down in order to hear him. Every ascent and descent should be by the hand of God. 


But many have been exalted by God to great heights—perhaps forgetting why God put them there (His Glory). The danger in such heights is to forget God’s will and purpose. Peter was blessed with great privilege, and thus condescended the plan of Almighty God—“This shall never happen!” And God through Jesus reached up with one thrust of his sword and sent Peter spiraling back down to earth. “Get behind me, Satan!” 


The Things of God


Dismissing a Word of God with an attitude of “This shall never happen!” is the work of the devil and a hindrance to God’s mission. And such things happen when we set our minds on the things of man rather than the things of God.


So what are the things of God? They are the things God must have. I simply get that from verse 21: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must 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.” Jesus must do them because God willed them—they are things of God.  


Now, the things of God may be described by an outsider as judgmental, cumbersome, bigoted, exclusive, closed-minded, dictatorial, and probably many other things; but consider why God must have them. He wanted for mankind to be blessed with an everlasting and perfect leader, who would restore the intimacy and union lost in the fall. 


The things of God—no matter their form (cumbersome, exclusive, etc)—are always the things that must be done to restore the unity of creation to the Creator. I was doing a good bit of pondering this week on these particular things of God—that Jesus must suffer and die and be raised. And I thought, “You know, when man sins, he’s saying, in essence, ‘I believe a bite of this forbidden fruit will be more satisfying than my union with the Creator. I’ll trade God for the knowledge of what it’s like to be illuminated to darkness.’” 


The smack that must have been in the face of God for his beloved Creation to choose a piece of fruit over his consuming glory and eternal security! They deserved from the first bite to be damned! But the things of God are not first concerned with damning—they are first concerned with restoration. That’s why when we traded God for a piece of fruit, he didn’t say, “All of you be damned!” He said, “I’ll give my Son to restore this union.” 


The things of God are—I want communion with my creation! Now as I meditated over this idea, I first wrote down a summary of what I thought might capture God’s thinking behind putting Jesus on the cross, and I wrote, “I’ll give you my Son if you’ll come back to me.” But I immediately thought, “No. That’s not right—because that sentence makes God seem like a desperate person who would betray family to satisfy some insecurity or complex. That sentence does NOT capture God AT ALL! 


So I reworked it and wrote down, “I’ll give you my only Son so that you might have me again!” That’s it. God did not give Jesus because he needed us—he gave us Jesus because we needed God. So here’s how I picture it: God giving Jesus to die is not like a weak mother who exposes her children to another abusive drunk she brought home, saying, “Sorry kids, but I need to feel wanted by a man!” God giving up Jesus is not like that at all. It is the furthest thing from that. 


God giving Jesus to die is like a father sending his boys out into a stormy gale to rescue their mother who sailed off with another man. “She needs us, boys. Go get her and bring her home.” That, to me, is an astoundingly beautiful image. Those are the things of God. The things that must be done to rejoin the Father in communion. 


The Things of Man


Now the things of man, surprisingly, are not altogether unlike the things of God. Let me explain. God willed for Jesus to die because he is overwhelmingly concerned with our well-being. And it’s not that men are opposed to caring for the well-being of others. There are secular organizations that exist entirely to aid those in need. 


Therefore, the contrast between the things of God and the things of man is not necessarily that God cares for our well-being and men only seek ill of each other. The contrast is that God knows perfectly—impeccably—what we need and what must be done to satisfy that need, and man says, “This shall never happen because we have a better way to meet each other’s needs.” 


Do you think Peter’s intentions were purposed for evil? “Jesus, I don’t want you to die! You’re the Messiah! No way!” Was Peter trying to be evil? Of course not! But it was evil to its very core—not because he wanted ill for mankind but because he doubted what God said must happen. God said it must happen, and we say, I know a better way. That’s the contrast between the things of God and the things of man.


Therefore, the things of man are the things that fail to believe the things of God. 

The Things of the Devil


Now the reason I’m discussing the things of the devil is because Jesus called Peter, “Satan.” In fact, this segment of the text is part of the reason why I divided last week’s and this week’s message. I wanted some more time to chew on this. 


According to Jesus, it was the devil’s attempt to lure him away from the cross. “This shall never happen! The cross shall never happen!” And Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance (stumbling block) to me.” So the devil is influencing Peter to hinder Jesus from going to the cross. 


Now compare that with John 13:2: “During supper…the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him. Then verse 27: “after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’” 


So the devil was at work behind the crucifixion and he was at work in luring Jesus away from the crucifixion. So he wanted both the cross and for Jesus to avoid the cross. The devil’s frivolous indulgences are nonsensical, which should be no surprise to us—that the deceiver would have his cake and eat it, too. 


Here’s why I think the devil tempted one group to crucify Jesus and another group to keep him from death. The devil’s target in every demographic is disobedience to God. So to those who didn’t believe in Jesus, the devil enticed them to continued unbelief, betrayal, and murder. And, of course, he delighted in the suffering and death of his greatest enemy. That was his goal for Judas, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, and the general population. The devil wanted the cross for those reasons. 


But for those who did believe in Jesus—like Peter—the devil enticed them to sway Jesus away from what he said he must do. For every demographic, whether to unbelievers or believers, the devil wills disobedience. That’s why he had a follower of Jesus say, “Don’t go!” But he had unbelievers say, “Crucify him!” Both groups were operating disobediently. Those are the things of the devil—don’t do what God says you must do.


Properly Looking on God’s Things—the Cross


God willed the cross—though he willed it for entirely different reasons than the devil. The devil willed disobedience, betrayal, suffering, and death, and God willed all of the glory that would become of Jesus and his followers if he remained obedient despite those horrible side effects.


So the proper perspective of the cross neither says, “I will not permit this to happen!” nor does it say, “I hate you, so let me drive in this nail.” But it grieves in the pain of Jesus and it exults in the love of God. For the pain also made God grieve, so it is the will of God that we should also grieve. But the cross was God’s greatest act of love, so we should not grieve to the point of rejecting it. 


If you would otherwise live for and follow Jesus, the devil’s greatest work in you would be an attitude that says, “No, I can’t accept this gift from you. I’m not good enough, and I never will be.” 


Biblically, the things of God would demand that you, in faith, receive this gift of the cross thankfully, in grief. I’m eternally grateful for this marvelous gift, God! Bless you! But oh how I grieve for what Jesus had to do because of my unbelief. 


We must be concerned with the things of God. Set your minds on things of God. Look to the things of God. Trust that the things of God are always for your eternal well-being. 

© Finding Canaan. All rights reserved. "Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another" -- Jeremiah 23:30 

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