SABBATH SCHOOL INSIGHT #8
"Peter and the Rock"
May 21, 2016
Our lesson from Matthew this week focuses on Peter's interaction with Jesus in three settings, the question of who Jesus was and His destiny of the cross (Matthew 16), the transfiguration on the mountain, and the challenge of Jesus paying the temple tax (Matthew 17). The core issue in all of these stories is the character quality of humble giving that Jesus as the divine Son of God came to earth to reveal. Seeing and tracing this principle brings the "insight" we need to learn our lessons from this week's studies. What we will cover has been extracted from the series "Peter and Forgiveness" that are being serialized in the 1888 Message Study Committee Newsletter.
But before we share those, let us set the stage for our considerations by some observations by A. T. Jones and Ellen White on our core principle, as shown by Jesus in His work of redemption.
...What is the meaning of "forgive"? The word "forgive" is composed of "for" and "give," which otherwise is give for. To forgive, therefore, is simply to give for. For the Lord to forgive sin, is to give for sin. But what does the Lord give for sin?--He declares "his righteousness for the remission of sins."
Therefore when the Lord forgives--gives for--sin, he gives righteousness for sin. And as the only righteousness that the Lord has is his own, it follows that the only righteousness that God gives, or can give, for sin is the righteousness of God.
This is the righteousness of God as a gift. As all men have only sinned, and, if they are ever clear, must have forgiveness entirely free; and as the forgiveness of sin--the righteousness of God given for sin—is entirely free,--this is the righteousness of God as a free gift "upon all men unto justification of life." Rom. 5:18. (A. T. Jones, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 14, 1899, p. 168, paragraphs 7-9)
In giving righteousness, God gave faith and love through Jesus to the human race (1 Timothy 1:14; see also Ephesians 6:14 compared with 1 Thessalonians 5:8 for righteousness connected to faith and love).
The spirit of liberality is the spirit of heaven. This spirit finds its highest manifestation in Christ's sacrifice on the cross. In our behalf the Father gave His only-begotten Son; and Christ, having given up all that He had, then gave Himself, that man might be saved. The cross of Calvary should appeal to the benevolence of every follower of the Saviour. The principle there illustrated is to give, give. (Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 339)
It was this principle of giving that Peter was struggling with, its implications for Jesus and for Peter himself. That is why Peter did not understand that Jesus' being "the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16) was inseparable from Jesus' obligation to "go to Jerusalem, ... and be killed" (verse 21). Peter clearly thought that "the Son of the living God" had come down, down, to this earth, to be lifted up, up, in worldly glory, and that he and the other eleven would be exalted with him. And just maybe he, Peter, would be exalted the highest by Jesus. Of course, they all harbored that secret, selfish desire.
There was no thought in Peter's mind, apparently (yet), that this Son had come down to earth, to humble Himself even further in the ultimate act of giving--giving His life for sinful Peter and all the other sinners who have ever lived. And that when He said to the twelve, "Follow Me," He was calling them as well to join Him in giving all, giving self, even giving one's life if it came to that, in the witness to the unselfish love that is the only solution to the sin problem. That mission and that lesson Peter and the others had yet to learn. And one would refuse to learn it. Do we still need to learn it? Will we refuse like Judas?
So when Peter confessed Jesus' true identity--that this humble man from Nazareth named "Jesus" was also "the Christ, the Son of the living God"--he was unknowingly affirming the great condescension at the heart of Jesus' character and mission. But that confession was not from any earthly source. The "Father which is in heaven" (16:17) had impressed Peter with that reality, the reality that was "this rock" (16:18). Peter would later use this same word to describe the foundational identity and accomplishment of the crucified and risen Jesus (1 Peter 1:19-21; 2:4-8). It was "the precious blood of Christ" that made Him "elect, precious."
But at this point Peter's denial that Jesus would "be killed" showed he not only failed to see where that condescension would lead, but that he would actively try to prevent Jesus' from going there and doing that. Thus Jesus had to identify the source of that confusion--the opposite of the Father. It was from the arch adversary himself--Satan (16:23) who still had Peter confused over what the core principle of God's character and kingdom was. Are we still confused as well?
Jesus then went to a high mountain and took Peter, James, and John. Here, on this mountain, they would experience the continuity of the two things Peter thought totally incompatible. Jesus' divinity would be revealed--He would be transfigured in majestic glory, and would be visited by two human beings from heaven who had been delivered hundreds of years before from this sinful world, Moses and Elijah. But why had they come, and what did they say to Jesus? Luke recorded this vital piece of the story.
Moses and Elias ... appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.
They were encouraging the divine Jesus to go through with His death. But what of Peter and the other two?
But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him (Luke 9:28-32).
It was the topic of conversation between Jesus and His visitors from heaven--"his decease [death] which he should accomplish at Jerusalem"--that Peter and the other two missed. Their failure to watch and pray, and giving into sleep, kept them from hearing the vital encouragement these two glorified humans gave Jesus to go through with the ultimate act of giving. The three did awaken, but they had missed the key point of the encounter. When the brilliant cloud of the Father's presence came, with His voice repeating the words given at the Jordan River, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," the Father added the commanding plea, "Hear ye Him." On the core issues of Messiah's mission, the disciples were failing to hear Him. Their response to these words was to become "sore afraid" (Matthew 17:5, 6). The adverb "sore" describes an exceedingly large amount of fear. Their self-focus led them to be thus fearful.
Their failure and sleepiness would be repeated not too many days in the future, this time not on a mountain but in a garden--Gethsemane. The same three would still be out of touch with Jesus' struggle to go through with the "decease"--the final gift of Himself.
Right after the mountain experience Matthew recorded Jesus again telling them of His soon-coming betrayal, death, and resurrection. Their response was similar. "They were exceeding sorry" (Matthew 17:22, 23). The adverb "exceeding" is the same as the "sore." Again the clash of visions must be highlighted. Jesus was moving further down the path of giving motivated by the "joy that was set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2). Failing to see the glory of giving, the disciples saw nothing but great sorrow in such a future. And this not only unfitted them for the great test toward which the events were moving. It also confused them on other lesser forms of giving, as Peter's next story shows.
The religious leaders came specifically to Peter with a trick question on giving, of all topics! Did Jesus pay tribute? (17:24). This payment was for the support of the temple. The question put to Peter was designed to place Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. If Jesus were not to pay it, it would be used as evidence that He was disloyal to the temple. However, if He were to pay it, He would deny His divinity and prophetic role, as prophets were exempt, and for sure also was "the Son of the living God" whose house the temple was.
Peter's hasty response to the question was not a simple "yes" but an emphatic affirmation better translated "assuredly" or "indeed" (17:25). Did he see the inconsistency with his earlier declaration that Jesus was "the Son of the living God"? Perhaps Peter was beginning to see the importance ofgiving, and of Jesus' embodiment of this principle, and the devil crafted the circumstance of givingthe tribute to catch Peter into affirming a superficial act of giving that would actually testify against the enormous act of giving that Jesus' true identity indicated--that the incarnation of the Son of God witnessed to the amazing path of giving He had already embarked on, and was steadily treading to the ultimate act of giving.
Jesus purposely avoided conflict and controversy. He had no desire to "offend them" (17:27). His mission of giving was to remove offenses. The word "offend" echoed what Peter had done in attempting to block Jesus' path to the cross. (The verb "offend" corresponds to the noun "offence"--both sources of our words "scandalize" and "scandal.") Jesus' simple but miraculous solution destroyed the dilemma, by giving what Peter's boast had foolishly promised, but in a way that affirmed that He was not just another human being. For the gift is measured not simply by its being given or by its size, but by the One giving it, and the manner in which it is given.
The forces of taking can hijack the heavenly principle of giving, so it takes divine wisdom to give in a way consistent with the principle. Jesus would promise such divine aid--we would be guided "into all the truth" (John 16:13). Though we don't know what the truth of giving looks like, "the Spirit of the truth" for sure does. Was Peter learning to listen to that still small voice, as Jesus Himself did (John 3:34; see Isaiah 50:4, 5)? Are we?