Saviors Say the Strangest Things
"Saviors says the Strangest Things" is the sermon title. Of course, there's only one Savior. I use the plural to play off the 1998-2000 Bill Cosby show, "Kids Say the Darndest Things" which itself was a rip-off of a segment from a 1942-1969 Art Linkletter show. Everyone has been surprised at what a child comes up with, but a Savior? Yes, this Savior.
He says, "He must." What? What must' God do? When a child takes a "you must" tone with a parent, no good parent will let that stand. A child is not to tell a parent what he must do. With God who or what can tell Him must about anything? There is no one above Him. So if God in flesh and blood is speaking in terms of what He must do, you know there is a divine necessity involved. The insert doesn't help you see the real picture when they translate "Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must." No, Jesus doesn't tell them the why, how come, or the way of these things that must happen. No, the Greek says Jesus "began to show the disciples." This is significant. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus foretelling His Passion, Matthew alone says that Jesus "began to show" His disciples what must happen. So Jesus paints it before their eyes. Unfolds it before them. Plays it like a movie.
And just what's the it that Jesus shows He must do? "He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third say be raised to life." A few things. The elders, chief priests, and scribes are one group. They are the leaders of the OT church. This order, however, is unusual, unattested elsewhere (Davies, II, 657). Second, there is no second "must" with "be killed" in Greek. No, the initial must drives all the parts. Third, to say that He, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, must suffer many things at the hands of the OT church leaders and that they must kill Him is strange, but adding that He must be raised to life is mindboggling.
If you're head ain't reeling, you ain't listening. Don't you remember last week's text? There the heavenly Father revealed who Jesus really was, God the Son, the Christ promised thousands of years before. There He said upon this rock of confession He would build His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it, and He gave keys to the kingdom of heaven to men here on earth. Don't you remember we were high stepping to "Onward Christian Soldier" marching with the Church Triumphant out to war? And now this? The Christ of God, God the Son must suffer many things how vague, how scary at the hands of Church leaders, be killed put to death, executed, terminated - and yet on the 3rd day be resurrected. You can't hear this without remembering Easter joy and victory. Peter can't hear that at all. All he hears is the OT leaders are going to make the One he just confessed to be Lord and Christ suffer many things and kill Him.
Saviors say the strangest things. Speaking of things He must do and undergo is strange enough. Then comes the memorable but strange words, "Get behind Me, Satan." Jesus calls the person who just confessed Him to be God the Son and the Christ of God, Satan. He didn't say Peter was Satanic. He didn't say that he was acting like Satan. He said He was Satan. What? Where's the fire? Where's the brimstone? Where's the cloven feet, pitchfork, and pointed tail? How is Peter Satan? All he does is take Jesus off to the side, sure the description in Greek is condescending, but Peter thinks Jesus is confused, is giving in to a moment of weakness and doubt. So, Peter, lovingly, takes Him aside, and corrects Him. Here are 6 translations of what Peter says: , "Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You" (HSB)! "Heaven be merciful, Lord! By no means will this happen to you" (CJB)! "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee" (ASV). "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you" (RSV, NASB)! "Impossible, Master! That can never be" (MSG)! "May you receive mercy, Lord! This will never happen to you" (EHV).
Quite a variety, right? It's a strong Greek expression conveying concern for someone but denying what they just said. That right there is what Satan does. In Eden, Eve says what God says, and Satan says, "That's wrong." Here God in the flesh says these things must happen to Me and Peter rebukes Him saying, "Mercy will be to You such that this will no way be to You." And Peter is Satan for saying this? Strange but true. God sent His only beloved Son, born under the Law to redeem them under the Law (Gal. 4:4). So Jesus was under all God's Laws. But wait a minute. He was perfect, without sin. He didn't get angry like you do. He didn't take the name of the Lord in vain like you do. He didn't lust like you do. He wasn't greedy, gossipy, prideful, or untruthful, like you are. But you are.
That's the point. And there was hell to pay, so God gave His Son over to the powers of darkness and after suffering many things that you really don't want to know about, the Father had Him nailed to tree. God abandoned Him there for 3 hours to wrestle and lose' to Sin, Death, and Devil. Gal. 3:3 says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us...because it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'" It sounds pious, sympathetic, kind to say God's mercy will never let this happened to His only Son and Christ. But if doesn't happen to Him, it happens to you, and you, and me, and us. And if it happens to us, we won't rise from the dead. Why? Because we won't be suffering, sighing, bleeding, and dying for someone else's sins but for our own. And we can do that from here to eternity, and we won't finish paying off even one sin. So, we'll rise from the dead to die forever in an unglorified body.
God's ways and thoughts are not man's ways and thoughts. What is wise to God is foolish to men and what is wisdom to men is foolishness to God. That's why Jesus tells us to pray against our will being done and for His will to be done. That's why Jesus says that those who think they see are blind. That's why He says to go by what He says not what we think. Have in mind the things of God not the things of men. Yes, men look at Jesus and see just a man. Men look at the Bible and see just another book. Man see Baptism as just plain water; absolution as a wish not a power, and Communion as just bread and wine. Left to our own ways, thoughts, and things we will lose our soul. And that's what Peter who has the best of intentions is in danger of.
The challenge of the last paragraph of the text is to show you the strangeness of it. If you hear this as how to follow Jesus: Step 1, deny self; step 2, take up your cross; step 3, follow Jesus, congratulations you're still in the mindset of men not God. Jesus is trying to drive Peter and us back to what He, Jesus, must do for us and our salvation, to see that unless He rescues us, we're lost. So, Jesus says another strange thing: "What can a man give in exchange for his soul?" This is in the OT. Read Ps. 49:8, "The ransom for a soul is costly. Any payment would fall short." Nothing you have can be given in exchange for your soul. No amount of suffering, no amount of promising, no amount of believing, trying, or crying can get back your soul.
But in our text, Peter is more concerned with Jesus' body than he is with his own soul. Jesus lays out what must happen to Him in order to be the redeemer God's Christ was prophesied to be. Peter says the mercy of God would in no way ever let that happen to Jesus. That's Satan talking; that's minding the things of men not God. These have to be left, put aside, abandoned or your soul will be lost. You miss this laser like focus on your soul because of the insert translating life' instead of soul'. Jesus actually says: "For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses his soul will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" I think we get so caught up in what Jesus says must happen to Him and the arrival of Satan on the scene, that we lose the focus Jesus puts on our soul.
If Peter can go in a short time from a God-revealed confession of who Jesus is to such a complete denial at the expense of his soul, how much quicker can I? Before, we go on to discipleship, go on to Christian living, go onto sanctification, the redemption of our soul must be seen to; must be emphasized. It cannot be taken for granted. And Jesus doesn't. Jesus says as clear as can be later on in Matthew, "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His soul as a ransom" (Mt. 20:28). In that hard to translate phrase Peter responds to Jesus' prediction of the cross with, the first word has the meaning of God being merciful because He is propitiated, i.e. His wrath is satisfied. In this verse, Jesus says His soul is the price for buying us back from God's wrath. He, holy Jesus, sinless Jesus, gentle Jesus, is the exchange for our souls.
The words denoting exchange are all over the NT. In the above, Jesus says "give His soul "in place of" (anti) ours. In Gal. 2:20, God says the Son of God, betrayed Himself on behalf of (hyper) me. And then there's the so called Great Exchange text: "The One who not ever knowing sin, on behalf of (hyper) us was made sin, in order that we might be the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). Luther called this the Joyous, or Happy Exchange' (LW 26, 284; Hagen, K., "Luther on Atonement Reconfigured", CTQ, October 1997, 61:4, pp.251-276, 258, fn.18); Calvin called it the Wonderous Exchange' (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.17.2).
This great exchange where Jesus gets my sins and I get His righteousness is central to not just our justification but our sanctification, to not just Christian theology but Christian living. If that is strange to us, we're caught up in the thoughts of men not God. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20200913); Matthew 16: 21-26