#53: The Big Turning Point

Matthew 16:13–23

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

This is one of the big ‘change in the direction’ moments in the ministry of Jesus. Together with the Transfiguration which comes in the next chapter we have two stories which are all about the disciples seeing and recognising who Jesus was. The two stories belong together like salt and pepper and together they form a huge double cairn, a great big swerving bend in Jesus’ pathway. From here he changes direction. ‘The Galilean Spring time’, with its healings and joyful crowds, is over; the journey to Jerusalem and to the cross outside the city walls is now beginning.

First however, we have to discover what actually happened in both of these critical incidents. This story is all about the disciples, led by Peter, fully recognising and declaring their recognition of who Jesus really is. They had begun by seeing him as the best rabbi or teacher in town. In the course of the year or so that they had been following him around they must have increasingly realised that he was far more than a rabbi. They had serious twinges of disclosure with incidents such as him walking on the water and the feeding of the five thousand. Sometimes the utterings of demons and of odd people along the way had stretched their thinking. In all this time Jesus had never actually taught them much about who he was, he seems to have been waiting for them to ‘get it’ for themselves. Now on a gentle retreat in the hidden away beautiful location of Caesarea Philippi he suddenly puts them on the spot and asks them right out in the open the big question. The spiritual game of blind man’s bluff is over now, it is time for recognition, declaration and for the nailing of colours to masts.

In saying, ‘you are the Messiah, the Son of God’ Peter is not just making a comment about Jesus, he is also saying something about himself. In effect he is offering his worship and obedience. In declaring Jesus to be the Messiah he is signing himself up to be the first of the Messiah’s Men.
From a distance it looks as if the disciples, led by Peter, have suddenly passed their driving test. The ‘L’ plates are off and it’s full speed ahead. A church will be built, Peter is the rock, and hey presto here are the keys to Heaven.

But it is full speed ahead to Jerusalem, the suffering and to the chief priests. No more Galilee, no more crowds, no more great feastings and rejoicings.

Once again Peter speaks up. Now the same voice which had made such a declaration has become the voice of a tempting devil. It is not that Peter is such a devilishly bad person but that the words he utters in a ‘trying to be helpful’ sort of way are just the sort of words that Jesus didn’t need to hear at this key time. This is the second of the three great temptations that Jesus faced during his mission. The first was in the wilderness and the third will be in Gethsemane. On this, the occasion of the second great temptation, it is almost as if Peter is the dummy and the devil is the ventriloquist.

As with Jesus so with us, we are about half-way through on our 100 day journey. Perhaps this is a key moment for you. A moment of recognition of who Jesus really is. Or of publicly declaring what you think about him. Maybe it is time for a change of direction or tempo as you seek to follow and become like him. Right now could be the perfect time for you to think about the question – ‘Who do I say that Jesus is?’ and ‘What am I going to do about it?’

Lord Jesus,
I am half way on my journey.
Help me to find who you really are,
To follow in your footsteps,
And to become like you,
Every day.