The Self Interest of Man

The Self-Interest of Man

Matthew 16:21-23

“You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”


            Peter was flabbergasted.  Instead of Jesus talking about how they were going to go to Jerusalem to establish his messianic reign, Jesu started talking about how they were going to go to Jerusalem, and Jesus would be arrested and put to death. Jesus had just commended Peter for his insight in faith for rightfully identifying Jesus as the Messiah.  Peter had rightfully affirmed that Jesus was the Son of God.  This confession fit their expectations and understanding of the Messianic king who would come.  However, the Idea of Jesus being the suffering servant was outside the realm of his expectation.  Like the rest of the disciples, Peter had not grasped the significance of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, that the Messiah would be the substitutionary lamb who would die for the people's sins.  Thus, when Jesus mentioned that he would go to Jerusalem and be put to death, Peter was flabbergasted.

            In strong language, Peter rebuked Jesus for predicting his death.  Peter wanted Jesus to establish his kingdom without the cross.  This was the same temptation that Satan had used in the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:6.   Peter’s viewpoint reflected the viewpoint of unredeemed humanity (that we need a king but not a savior) rather than an understanding of God’s redemptive plan.

            In Jesus' rebuke, we often focus on the first part, where Jesus uses strong language to rebuke Jesus.  The statement “Get behind me” has the idea of the English phrase, “Get out of my sight.”  It was the same language in response to Staten’s temptation in 4:10. Instead of being the instrument of God that Jesus had predicted in verse 18, Peter was an instrument of Satan.

            Having rebuked Peter, Jesus then goes to the heart of Peter’s problem.  Peter was not focusing on God’s interests but on the interests of unredeemed humanity.  This goes to the heart of our sinful nature.  We do not want to approach God on his terms but our own.  We want God to conform to our perspective and do what we want rather than come to him in humble submission and surrender.  In his commentary, Matthew Henry describes our attitude: "The things that are of God, that is, the concerns of his will and glory, often clash and interfere with the things that are of men, that is, with our own wealth, pleasure, and reputation.  While we mind Christian duty as our way and work and the divine favor as our end and portion, we savor the things of God, but if these be minded, the flesh must be denied, hazards must be run, and hardships are borne; and here is the trial which of the two we savor.”  We desire a god who conforms to our perspective and brings us promises of happiness and prosperity, but not a God who leads us to the cross of suffering and self-denial.  We want the king who brings love, not the savior who confronts us with our sins and the necessity for repentance and self-denial.  

            To surrender to Christ and receive his salvation involves setting aside our interests and taking upon ourselves the shame, suffering, and death of the cross.  It is to recognize our need for salvation and to surrender completely to his rule in our lives.  It is to submit to his sovereign rule in every facet of life.  How often are we like Peter?  We only affirm the truths of the Bible that we find pleasant (love, grace, and our happiness) but reject the teaching of scripture that we find offensive (the reality of divine judgment for sin and for complete surrender to Christ.  We do not want to take up our cross and follow Christ to our death to ourselves and our desires. But herein lies the irony.  Only in death can we find life, while in the pursuit of our life, we will only realize death (Mt 10:39).  Are we living to set our mind on God’s interest, or are we only pursuing our own?


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