Recently, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, John Boehner, described Ted Cruz, a presidential aspirant then as “Lucifer in the flesh.” Many people were appalled and outraged by the unsavory description and vehemently criticized the former speaker for such a severe censure of his colleague. Why the uproar? Lucifer was a powerful angel who degenerated into Satan and became associated with ultimate evil; a heartless source of all that pertains to wickedness and an enemy of all that is good. To label as someone Lucifer is to imply that they are synonymous with evil.
When Jesus told 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 (Matt 16: 21 ESV), one of His closest disciples, Peter, drew Him aside and rebuked Him and said “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall never happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22).
Peter had been Jesus’ disciple for slightly over 3 years now. He had left the fishing business he had built over the years to follow the itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth. He had recalibrated his dreams, goals and career, and had wrapped them around Jesus’ ministry. This was a radical ministry that was undergirded by unprecedented signs and wonders including the epic miracle in which Jesus had raised back to life a dead individual who had already started decomposing! Disease fled from Jesus and so did death. Congenital deformities such as blindness were corrected instantly. He had even walked on water and had multiplied a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish to feed thousands of people. Word had it that Jesus had even had a one-on-one encounter with Satan and had prevailed. He had also turned water into wine at a feast of one of His relatives. Jesus fascinated and attracted the general public, the outcasts, and the marginalized unlike the church leaders who had cloistered themselves into a cocoon of feigned piety. As the Scottish Theologian, James Stewart once remarked, Jesus “was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at his coming, yet he was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with him… No one was half so compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red hot scorching words about sin…. He was a servant of all, washing the disciples’ feet, yet masterfully He strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another to get away from the mad rush and the fire they saw blazing in His eyes.” Peter was glad to be part of this revolutionary Rabbi’s ministry; the power of being close to power gave life meaning and purpose-even a new identity. An insignificant individual formerly immersed in the mundane activities and rigors of a village fisherman’s life had become a significant component of a thriving and apparently divinely-endorsed ministry.
And now Jesus was talking about His demise!!! What a crashing blow to Peter and his family that would be! Just how would he start picking up the shards of a shattered life and build his image again? How would he find his place again and be re-established in the community as a credible business man? He had invested so much in this ministry and now it was slipping through his fingers…. Hope was dissipating before his very eyes. What about his life??? He had sacrificed all the components of his life: energy, time, talents, and money for the ministry. What would happen to the little band of disciples that Jesus had recruited and trained? No, Jesus must not talk about voluntary death. It would be too costly for Peter and the other disciples.
Jesus did not only hear Peter’s rebuke, He recognized the words Peter used, too. He had heard them before, in the grueling wilderness temptation. They were once again threatening the very core of His ministry; the very purpose of His Incarnation. It was another Mephistophelean ploy aimed at severing the jugular vein of His earthly mission, and He needed to respond immediately and decisively with a stern rebuke to silence His foe forever not only for Peter’s sake but for the sake of the rest of the disciples and the rest of humanity. True, Peter had spoken out of concern, love, and reverence for his Master. But he had also spoken out of ignorance and presumption. Misdirected love and care can be disastrous. Peter did not understand the implication of his words. This was a re-enactment of Eden where Satan had succeeded through a medium to move Adam and Eve to disobey God, and plunge humanity into an earthly nightmare of sin, disease and death. Now he desired to separate the entire creation from God forever by derailing God’s plan to reconcile the world unto Himself through Christ’s sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus’ sacrifice was the catalyst event that would defang Satan forever and restore mankind to their rightful place with God. This is what was at stake. Everything hung in the balance and Jesus could not afford to pander to the Enemy’s suggestions. Not now, not ever.
…to be continued…