“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” [Matthew 16:13-15 ESV]
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness suggests righteousness is necessary for life and is either withheld or missing. While righteousness is absolute, based upon the eternal character of God, our relationship with God is based on more than mere righteousness. “Mere” is the wrong word for God’s “mere” is eternal and inexhaustible. Straining His righteousness through our selfish thinking and self-centered feelings leaves us with a wrong understanding of what is missing from our spiritual diet or withheld from our spiritual existence.
Many Christians, because of personality, think in black and white. There is no room for gray or color. Binary thinking is either “yes” or “no”, “right” or “wrong.” We can assert everything we do is done within in His will or outside of His will. Within His will is eternal flexibility and freedom. Each person lives with a desire to control God. It is the thinking of our hearts which tell us if we do not do His will perfectly then we fail. In the thinking of our hearts we must hit the bull’s eye of His will otherwise we miss. Is not sin characterized as missing the mark? Bull’s eye theology suggests if you somehow miss God’s will you can never go back, or start over. You cannot take the shot over or act life it never happened. We either hit it and win or miss it and lose.
This theology holds the absurd belief God’s will for a person is changed by the person’s disobedience and that God must then settle for second best. So much influence is placed upon the person’s behavior and accomplishments God can do little or nothing once that person deviates from the stated course. Since an event did not happen within a specific time frame God is forced to modify His plan in order to get the person back on track. How arrogant.
There are many places in Scripture where God explicitly states His expectations. Though clearly stated every person in every part of their life, under every worldly circumstance, misses the mark. Yes, there are great successes followed by even greater failures. God’s ultimate standard is absolute righteousness which none but His Son can achieve. It is His righteousness which is missing from our spiritual being and withheld from us because of the corruption of sin.
Once sin corrupts every man and all of his world no one is capable of standing before God in righteousness. God, because He is God, judged every sin according to His righteousness and found every person, except His Son, wanting. God’s laws, commands, statutes, and explicit demands are meant to force each person to recognize sin, to realize the consequences of sin, and to relinquish control back to God. These laws, commands, statutes and explicit demands of God are never meant to offer a means for any to attain righteousness with any effort. Again, this does not mean we cease trying but that we recognize or efforts as worthy but unable to achieve the result of righteousness.
In Matthew 16 we witness the see-saw of success-failure working in Peter. He has followed Jesus for some time. He has seen the evidence of Jesus’ miracles. He has heard Jesus’ words. Now, Jesus drives home a point we all need to hear, understand and incorporate into the thinking of our hearts. His point to Peter is not about who He is but about how all can know who He is. Up until this time everyone who followed Him saw the evidence of His life and words. He spoke with authority. He healed the sick and raised the dead. He performed miracles like feeding thousands of people. All of the evidence pointed to Him being very God for only God could do what He was doing.
He asks His disciples what people speculate about Him. Who do they say He is? Some say they think Him just another person or a reincarnated Prophet from their past. Peter, on the other hand, declares who he is. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Matthew 16:16 ESV]. Jesus’ response is telling. Peter’s statement of fact was not thought through or deduced from the evidence. God had to reveal this to Peter. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” [Matthew 16:17 ESV].
God reveals Himself to people. We can study and pray, seek with all diligence, say all the right words and phrases, act like the perfect Christian, but unless God has revealed Himself to us all we do and think and feel is enslaving superstition.
Jesus then tells His disciples what must happen, alluding to God’s ultimate reason for sending His Son. There is no compromising His mission. “From that time Jesus began to show 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” [Matthew 16:21 ESV]. These facts were predetermined by God from before the creation of the world and the fall of man. Moses, Job, David, Isaiah all talked about Him and what He would do. All of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scripture known by the Jews Jesus spoke with, knew these Scriptures. They knew the Scripture but did not believe the Scripture.
Peter’s response to Jesus’ statement is completely understandable. He was a corrupted human who did not, could not, believe the truth of Scripture, or even his own statements. “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you’” [Matthew 16:22 ESV]. His statement are inconsistent. When Peter succeeded it was because of God succeeded in and through him. When Peter failed it was because he lived in his own strength.
Notice Jesus did not rebuke Peter. He rebuked Satan. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” [Matthew 16:23 ESV]. Jesus loved Peter, even knowing he would miss the mark, and accepted him in grace. Peter thinking malfunctioned. He was a failure according to the standards of the world. He failed according to his own standards. He failed because Satan, the Deceiver, wants all to fail. But in God’s eyes Peter was a success, only because he was covered with the blood of His Son, Jesus. Jesus condemned Satan. Jesus redeemed Peter.
There is no such thing as a successful Christian when measured against the standards of the world, or self and those around self, and especially Satan. Jesus does not ask us to be perfect. He demands it. He does not ask us to be holy. He demands it. We fail. He must succeed for us. Here is the Object of faith delivering what is promised. He loves those who are His because He has decided to, not because we are lovable.
If only we would recognize our poverty of spirit and mourn our failures while recognizing His righteousness and enjoy Him. If only we would be weak and rest in His strength. If only we would hunger and thirst for His righteousness like our very lives depended upon it. We cannot change ourselves. God changes people, preparing them for eternity with Him.