Christianity 201

December 18, 2022

Peter’s Alternative Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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“Get thee behind me, Satan.”

At least, that’s how the old King James Version has it.

Seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Especially to say that to your supposedly “team leader” disciple, and presumably in front of everyone else. (Matthew, one of the two disciples who wrote a gospel account, must have got the story somewhere if he wasn’t there in person.)

So what led up to that moment?

It was actually a study in contrasts, for just moments ago (as we have it recorded) Peter received a gold star and was named Disciple of the Week:

NIV.Matthew.16.13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.

This is a bold and clear declaration of the divinity of Christ. Another time we get something as unmistakably clear is at the beginning of the gospels:

NIV.Mark.1.23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The man is undoubtedly interrupting the teaching session Jesus is doing (see the previous verse, 1:22) but most commentators agree that Jesus doesn’t want this full and complete revelation to be stated so early on in his ministry. It’s too soon for this type of preemptive announcement. Rather, Jesus wants people to discover his Messianic identity. (Even today, people we share our faith with might respond better if instead of just telling them who Jesus is, we let them meet Jesus in the pages of the gospels and see his divinity for themselves.)

Back to Peter.

In the very next scene in Matthew’s gospel it all ‘goes south’ for him.

NIV.Matthew.16.21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Peter wants a storyline that doesn’t involve Jesus having to “suffer many things” or “be killed.” Do you blame him? That’s not how the whole Messiah thing is supposed to work, a few hints in Isaiah and Psalms notwithstanding. The words of Jesus would have been shocking and I can picture any of us blurting out something similar.

The “Satan” part seems rather strong, though, doesn’t it?

Not when you consider something that Matthew recorded much earlier, in Chapter 4.

Besides the cross, the greatest physical endurance challenge Jesus faced was the 40-day time in the wilderness, just before he commenced his public ministry. So we can say that his ministry is bookended by suffering.

We see in the text of Matthew 4 that Satan, referred to this time as “the devil” confronts Jesus with three specific temptations. It is the third and final one which of interest here:

NIV.Matthew.4.8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

There are many avenues of exploration we could follow with this text, but what we wish to note is that Satan’s offer would thwart plan of God, a plan set in place “before the foundation of the earth.” The devil’s apparent concern for Christ’s hunger, physical safety, and the building of the Kingdom; are also instruments to undo God’s plan.

Just as Peter doesn’t want to see Christ suffering, the devil also envisions a Christ without the cross. In both cases the response is “Away from me!” or “Get behind me!” (The NLT, CEV, and others simply echo “away from me,” alluding to the wilderness temptation scene.)

Is there a Christ without a cross?

It’s an alternative gospel, but a gospel without the atoning sacrifice of Christ for our sin is hardly good news, is it?

February 10, 2022

Afraid of God? Yes or No?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Thinking Through Luke 5:1-11

by Clarke Dixon

Does the thought of God terrify you?* Maybe it should? Maybe it shouldn’t? Simon Peter had a moment of terror early in his relationship with Jesus which will help us think through our response to God.

Peter’s Scary Moment

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”

Luke 5:1-5 (NLT)

Let us remember that Simon Peter was a professional fisherman. Jesus was a a carpenter turned teacher. The fishermen knew better than to let down their nets. Yet,

…this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.
When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.

Luke 5:7,8 (NLT)

When Simon Peter tells Jesus to “Go away from me, Lord, because I’m a sinful man!” we should not think of this as an affirmation of a Christian statement of faith. At that point in time there was no Christian statement of faith to affirm. Rather, this is the recognition on Simon Peter’s part that Jesus is no ordinary human being, that Jesus somehow represents the divine. Simon’s natural response to the divine is terror.

“Go jump in a lake!” or “don’t throw me overboard!”?

When Simon Peter told Jesus to go away, we should remember they were on a boat. Where exactly did Peter think Jesus was going to go? Yet we should probably should not think of Simon as telling Jesus to go jump in the lake. Rather, this is a statement of humility, of saying “don’t throw me overboard. Don’t let me die.”

Which of these two sentiments do people hold toward God today? Some respond to the thought of divinity with fear, like Simon; “please don’t throw me overboard, don’t throw me away!” Others respond to the idea of God, Jesus, and Christianity with a fearless kind of attitude, with “I don’t need God or Jesus, and anyone pushing that on me can go jump in a lake.” Some speak as if they would tell God to go jump in a lake given the chance.

Should we be fearless?

What if such fearless people, instead of merely entertaining thoughts about God, found themselves fully in the presence of God? Would have a different response? Ideas are easy to dismiss, manipulate, and misunderstand. When God, or Jesus as God the Son, is just an idea to us we can easily say “go jump in a lake, for I am self-sufficient, good, capable, and have all I need.”

However, if instead of merely entertaining ideas about the divine, we were confronted with the presence of the divine, our natural response would be closer to that of Peter: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful person.”

We see this with Isaiah when he has a vision of God:

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies!
The whole earth is filled with his glory!”
Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.
Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.”

Isaiah 6:1-5 (NLT)

Isaiah had the same reaction to a vision of God as Simon Peter did to Jesus. Both were confronted with the awful reality that a sinful person does not belong in the presence of a holy God.

If we can go from thinking of the divine as an idea to an experience of the reality of the divine, we will go from “go jump in a lake, God,” to “please don’t throw me off the boat!” Perhaps we should not be fearless.

But should we be afraid of God?

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!”

Luke 5:10 (NLT)

Not only does Jesus tell Simon Peter to not be afraid, he goes even further in boosting Simon’s confidence by telling him he has something for him to do. Far from being afraid of being thrown off the boat, Simon could have confidence that Jesus had made space for him on the crew.

The apostle Paul had a similar experience. If Peter could say “I am a sinful man,” Paul could say that even more so! Yet he also was invited to be part of the crew:

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:15,16 (NLT)

We could sum up the response of God to Isaiah, Simon Peter, Paul, and many, many others with “though you are very aware that you do not belong here in my presence, you do belong here in my presence and I have a purpose for you, for though it is not what you deserve, it is what I want.”

That is the Gospel message, the Good News message, that God has made a place for us in his Kingdom, and further, that God has a purpose for us in his Kingdom, in this world. The cross makes that possible as we experience the reconciliation required for a sinful person to be in the presence of a holy God. We are called to take our place on the crew, in God’s presence, and in God’s Kingdom. We are called to a purpose.

Peter, Paul, and many others took their place on Jesus’ crew:

And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Luke 5:11 (NLT)

As we read of the adventures of the apostles following the resurrection of Jesus, and as we read their letters, they don’t seem scared of God. They seem thrilled to be serving.

So should we be afraid of God or not?

Are you scared of God? Maybe you should be? Maybe you shouldn’t? It really depends on what we are thinking when we are in the boat, when we are in that Simon Peter moment of finding ourselves confronted with the reality of the divine.

If the thought of God terrifies us, there is good news; in moving beyond mere ideas about God, to actually knowing God, who reveals himself and his desires for us in Jesus, we can trade in being terrified of God for being joyful, confident, and fearless in serving God.

*Watch an 18-minute sermon on which today’s reading is based at this YouTube link. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

March 22, 2018

Would Jesus Have Been Betrayed, Condemned, Denied, Mocked, and Beaten Today?

by Clarke Dixon

Betrayed, accused, condemned, denied, mocked, insulted, and beaten. Would this treatment of Jesus prior to his execution have happened today? Let us consider this question as we follow the path to crucifixion as told in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus was betrayed by a close companion and disciple; Judas (14:43-46). Mark does not tell us why Judas betrayed Jesus, but in John 12:2-8 we learn that while Judas seemed concerned over waste, as treasurers often are, he was really more concerned with padding his own pockets. Jesus did not fit his agenda. So Judas kept to his agenda and sold Jesus to the authorities for a sum of money. Would this have happened to Jesus today? Jesus is betrayed by people, even Christians, who prefer to set and keep their own agenda. Jesus is betrayed today.

Jesus was accused by authorities bent on finding evidence against him (14:55-59). However, there was none that would hold up. Eventually they use Jesus’ own words against him since there was no other evidence to be found. Apart from his own admission of being the Messiah, the authorities could find nothing. Would a conspiracy against Jesus have been made today? Authorities still try to find evidence against Jesus. There have been many books written (and therefore much money made) featuring this or that theory as to who Jesus “really may have been”. However,  evidence against the reality of Jesus as Lord and Saviour is still hard to find. In fact the diversity of such theories is evidence in itself that none of these theories fits the evidence well. Often the simplest explanation is the best. The explanation that Jesus is the Messiah who died and rose from the dead fits all the evidence the best. Jesus is often dismissed, not because of the evidence, but because people simply do not want it to be true. There are conspiracies against Jesus today.

Jesus was condemned by the highest religious authority (14:63–65). Here we have a religious leader, the High Priest, who should have been pointing people to Jesus as God’s Messiah, pointing at Jesus and calling him a fraud instead. Would this have happened to Jesus today? Unfortunately, some who call themselves Christian leaders today view the Bible as being unreliable regarding the identity and reality of Jesus. I once took a multi-denominational pastoral care course where only two out of the six of us believed that Jesus literally rose from the dead. Christian leaders who should be pointing people to Jesus instead are pointing at him. Jesus is condemned as a fraud by religious authorities today.

Jesus is denied by a close friend, Peter (14:66-72). Peter means well, he does not want to deny Jesus and even affirms his commitment to him. However, he also does not want the danger present in being associated with Jesus. His commitment to Jesus is strong, but his fear is stronger and wins out. Would this have happened to Jesus today? We, who call ourselves Christian, may do the same thing. We mean well, but we don’t want what comes with being associated with Jesus. We honour Christ in his presence, in worship and in our personal times of prayer. But apart from him we go with the crowd. We fear what the crowd may think. We may even remain silent while people around us malign Jesus. Jesus is denied by close friends today.

Jesus is discarded by the people, through Pilate (15:1-15). We normally think of Pilate being the one who “pulls the trigger” in ordering the crucifixion of Jesus, but actually he allows the people to make the decision. They could have chosen to set Jesus free and crucify Barabbas instead. But they want Jesus dead. Would this have happened to Jesus today? We enjoy a secular democracy where the people ultimately decide on the values. I fully support our nation’s identity as a secular democracy. Religious perspective should never be forced and therefore being a Canadian should never mean instant association with being a Christian. That being said, our nation is founded on Judea-Christian values. However, the people have spoken and our society is slowly turning away from those values. Every society is marked by values, there is no such thing as a free nation, a nation free of values. But without God, where do the values come from? Jesus is being discarded by the people today.

Jesus is mocked by the soldiers (15:16-20). When the Roman soldiers mock Jesus, it is not really about him. Yes, he is the one they dress up as a king complete with purple robe and a crown of thorns. But really they are mocking the Jews whose land they occupy. “Your king is a weak wimp! We are great and powerful!” Their mocking is not a result of reasoned thinking about who Jesus is. Their mocking is a boast flaunting their power. Would this have happened to Jesus today? In our individualistic culture people have a sense of individual power. This is not a bad thing. However, Jesus is mocked by people today who have not given proper thought to who Jesus is. Some will utter his name all day long in cursing who have never applied their minds in an investigation of who he really is. They may just be unknowingly flaunting their own sense of power like the Roman soldiers. Jesus is mocked today.

Would Jesus have faced the same dire treatment today before his crucifixion? 2000 years have passed and not much has changed. Jesus is beaten up on a regular basis throughout our world, and right here in the nice town of Cobourg by very polite Canadians. Even the nicest Christians will do a Peter, keeping quiet to feel safe, or a Judas, keeping to their own agenda.

What can we do about that?

It begins with prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Or sometimes, “Father, forgive us, for we don’t know what we do.”

It continues with a loving defence:

So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. 1 Peter 3:14-16 (NLT)

When Jesus is maligned and Christianity is dismissed, rather than get defensive, or even worse, offensive, we can be ready to give a defence and enter into a loving and intelligent conversation. It can begin with something like, “Jesus, whom you dismiss is not easily dismissed. Their are good reasons many brilliant people are Christians”. Of course this means knowing those reasons!

It ends with helping people know the Lord:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

When we witness Jesus being beat up today, when we see society drifting away from Christian foundations, when we find ourselves being more like Peter or even Judas than like Christ, we ought not to run and bury our heads in the sand. Let us instead stick close to Jesus, helping people know the love and grace of God. Jesus has promised to be with us no matter how much He gets beaten up along the way.

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (31 minutes).