Get Behind Me Satan

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  December 27, 2014

            “Get behind me Satan!” When Jesus barked out those words to Peter it must have taken Peter and all of the disciples by surprise. When the Gospel writer first told that story to Christians as it is recorded in Mark 8:33, it must have taken them by surprise as well. Perhaps it should jar 21st Century Christians just as much!
            The start of Jesus’ ministry was filled with healing, teaching, and radical compassion. From the moment he was baptized by John in the Jordan River and Jesus resisted the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, he went directly to work for God.
            It was natural to see Jesus as the fulfilment of the long-awaited and promised Messiah. He clearly held powers beyond imagination and was not afraid to use them in the heralding of God’s realm. The more he traveled, the more attention he gathered, and the more excited his followers became. Never in living memory had one so wonderful graced the land. The excitement was genuine as lots of people hoped and believed that this Jesus of Nazareth would be the one to overthrow Rome and reign in God’s peaceful realm.
            The religious teachings and common theology of the day generally reinforced the notion of an apocalyptic battle led by God’s triumphant warrior. Leading up to this epic battle, many believed they were soldiers in a spiritual warfare against the forces of Satan and were ready to take up arms behind the Messiah. With Jesus showing such wonderful promise, talk of war and victory must have been on the lips of many—including Peter and the disciples.
            Then Jesus changed the expectations. Instead of military victory, he started to speak of brutal death. Rather than vanquish the tyrants of Jewish apostasy, he spoke of those very sinners gaining triumphant advantage over the Messiah of God. Rather than the destruction of Rome, he spoke of the death of God’s anointed one.
            Peter would have none of this. He knew his Bible. He was well versed in the teachings of the synagogue and the prophesies he had learned from childhood. Since he fervently trusted that Jesus had to be the Messiah, he was quick to correct the Son of God and re-direct Jesus down Peter’s preferred path of victory, not God’s. For this, Jesus called him Satan.
            Those are some very strong words from the man who proclaims a message of love, grace, and forgiveness—some of the harshest words Jesus ever said! Christ’s meaning is critical.  Following the path of evil is a very subtle thing. In fact, it may even mask itself as holding fast to the accepted teachings of the day rather than prayerfully listening to the voice of God.
            Peter wanted power and control. Peter wanted to use the ways of the world to achieve the victory that put him on top right along with his beloved Jesus. Peter wanted to see the ones he deemed as evil to suffer the pain of brutal defeat and know the scorn of an angry, vengeful God. Peter wanted the justice of the world to prevail and presume that it was God’s justice; and Jesus was pointing down a completely different path.
            Jesus speaks of surrender and sacrifice, humility and grace. Jesus preaches a gospel of loving acceptance and faithful service that surrenders control, power, and authority in the name of God’s ultimate sovereignty. It was a message that Peter had difficulty hearing because it was not Peter’s way and clashed with Peter’s understanding of God’s will.
            As we transition from the joy of Christmas and prepare for the New Year on the horizon, let us also remember that God’s ways are not our ways and to force our ways onto God may just get us called Satan.