************ Sermon on Matthew 16:23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 1, 2007
Title: Perseverance of the Devil
A lady was known around the community for never saying a cross word about anyone. No matter who it was, she always managed to say something good about him or her. Seeing her one day two men started talking about this and the one said to the other, "I bet if we asked her about the Devil, she would even find something good to say about him."
"What do you think of the old Devil?" they asked her. "I'll say this for him," she said, "he never stops trying."
If there is one good thing we can say about Satan, it is this: he never stops trying. In fact, it would be wonderful if God's people were as persistent as Satan. It would be wonderful if God's people were as persistent at prayer as Satan is in attacking Jesus. It would be wonderful if God's people were as persistent at witnessing as Satan is in persecuting the church. It would be wonderful if God's people were as persistent at fighting sin as Satan is at tempting us with sin. It would be wonderful if God's people were as persistent as Satan.
We see the persistence of Satan in our Scripture reading. When we study the Gospels we see that Satan tries anything, absolutely anything, to keep Jesus from going the way of the cross and the grave. He tries anything, absolutely anything, to keep Jesus from being Savior and Lord. He tries anything, absolutely anything, to keep Jesus from fulfilling God's eternal plan for our salvation.
I Persistence of Satan
A Think of what happened shortly after Jesus was born. Satan, through Herod, attempted to kill baby Jesus in Bethlehem. That was an awful day, an infamous day, in Israel's history. Mothers had their baby sons torn from their breasts and cut to pieces in front of their eyes. Fathers clenched their fists helplessly as they watched their sons being slaughtered. Blood flowed through the streets. The sound of wailing filled the air. Satan's plan was this: kill Jesus as a baby with the sword so He cannot die as the Savior on the cross.
B Do you remember Satan's next attempt? Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. Satan tempted Him after forty days of fasting. First, Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. Second, Satan tempted Jesus to throw Himself from the highest point of the temple. Third, Satan tempted Jesus to gain all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor by bowing before Satan and worshiping him.
In this third temptation the devil throws all his cards on the table: if Jesus would – just once – worship Satan, He could have the whole world. That would save the Lord a hard road of obedience, a long way of sorrow, the pain of the cross, and the terror of death. But there is no shortcut to glory. Not for Jesus and not for us. Jesus will indeed become the Master and Lord of "all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor." All of the universe is His to claim. But He will get it not by bowing before Satan, not by doing half a job, but only by a life of obedience – an obedience that includes the way of the cross.
In all three temptations, in fact, Satan attempted to move Jesus from the road of obedience. What He was saying was this: "If you are the Son of God, you shouldn't have to suffer. Make bread out of stones. Let the angels carry you rather than fall to the ground. And, bow before me rather than die on the cross. Go ahead, Jesus, take the easy way. Go ahead, Jesus, and do half a job."
I repeat, Satan was persistent in trying to keep Jesus from going the way of the cross and the grave. We see that same persistence in the passage in front of us this morning. But, thank God, Jesus was as persistent in going the way of the cross as Satan was in trying to stop Him from going that way. It was, so to speak, a battle of the wills. At stake was heaven and earth and everything in them.
II Recognizing Jesus
A When we look through the Gospels only the demons and the Devil recognize the man Jesus as the King of the world and the Son of God.
Remember how Satan addressed Jesus in the wilderness temptations? He said, "If you are the Son of God ..." (Mt 4:3,6).
Remember the two demon-possessed men who met Jesus by the tombs of the Gadarenes? "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" (Mt 8:29). In fact, Mark tells us that "Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God" (Mk 3:11; cf Luke 4:41).
B By way of contrast, when ordinary people recognized Jesus as the Son of God they did so only because it was revealed to them by heaven.
Think of the old man Simeon. He knew by the Spirit that the baby in Mary's arms was the promised King (Lk 2:27).
Think of the wise men from the East. They were led to Bethlehem by God's direction (Mt 2).
Think of the disciples after Jesus walked to them on the water and calmed the storm that had them fearing for their lives. They worshiped Him saying, "Truly you are the Son of God" (Mt 14:33).
Think of the Roman Centurion standing before the cross. Only after he witnessed the signs associated with the crucifixion – the 3 hours of darkness, the tearing of the temple veil, the resurrection of many holy people who had died, the earthquake – did he testify, "Surely he was the Son of God" (Mt 27:54).
Now it is Peter's turn to recognize Jesus. Jesus asked, "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." But it took more than Jesus' flesh and blood for Peter to come to this conclusion. The only reason Peter made this confession, said Jesus, was because it was revealed to him "by my Father in heaven" (Mt 16:17). By the grace of God, Peter recognized and acknowledged Jesus for Whom He was and is. Jesus praises and blesses Peter for this confession.
C But there is more to Jesus than meets the eye. Peter made a beautiful confession but he didn't know what it all involved. Peter didn't really know what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. So right after Peter's confession Jesus let His disciples in on a secret. Says Matthew:
(Mt 16:21) Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
This is the first prediction Jesus makes of His own suffering and death. He lets His disciples know that He, the Messiah, the long-expected Liberator of Israel, would suffer and die in Jerusalem. He lets His disciples know that He, the Son of God, would suffer and die.
D The Devil knew this secret. And he hated it. As I said before, Satan stopped at nothing to keep Jesus from going the way of the cross and the grave.
Why? Why was Satan so opposed to Jesus suffering and dying upon the cross? I can think of at least four reasons:
-the suffering and death of Jesus means salvation for God's people; but Satan does not want people to be saved; he wants people to remain in their sin and misery.
-the suffering and death of Jesus means defeat for Satan; Satan saw his kingdom totter as Jesus prepared Himself for the cross and the grave.
-the suffering and death of Jesus means victory for God in the age-long struggle that God announced in the Garden of Eden; the war may continue but the decisive battle will soon be fought and Satan knows he will lose.
-the suffering and death of Jesus means a new creation – a creation with no place in it for Satan and sin and evil.
III Satan's Attack
A It is Peter who responds when he hears Jesus predicting His suffering and death. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you" (Mt 16:22). To Peter's mind it is impossible that the King must suffer. No suffering, no violent death. "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you." Peter uses strong language here – a double negative in the Greek to emphasize his words.
B As I said before, Satan is persistent. He doesn't want Jesus to go the way of the cross and the grave. So now he uses the concern of Peter, a dear friend of Jesus, just as before he used Herod, just as before he used the temptations in the wilderness. He uses the concern of Peter to get Jesus to do half a job.
Simon Peter was unaware that the Devil was using his tongue. But Jesus knew. Jesus recognized Satan's attack. So,
(Mt 16:23) Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
You might think Jesus' words to Peter were a little harsh. But anyone who opposes the will of God for His suffering servant is an agent of Satan. Anyone who opposes the plan of God for our salvation is an instrument of Satan. Simon Peter was used by Satan to tempt Jesus away from "the things of God." Simon Peter was used by Satan to put a stumbling block in front of Jesus so He would not make it to Jerusalem and Calvary, so He would do half a job!
IV Persistence of Jesus
A The Devil may be persistent in his attempts to keep Jesus from the cross and the grave. But Jesus is just as persistent in going the way of the cross and the grave. As I said to the boys and girls, Jesus did not do half a job.
When Satan tempted Him, for instance, it would have been so easy for Jesus to fall. Imagine, getting the nations of the world and all their splendor without suffering and dying. Jesus knew there awaited Him the unspeakable horror and anguish of the cross. Jesus knew there awaited Him the torments of hell. Jesus knew there awaited Him a time of great humiliation. I am more than sure that Satan's offer was tempting, so very tempting. But no, Jesus did not fall down and worship. No, Jesus did not go along with Satan's plan. Rather, Jesus committed Himself to follow God's way, God's plan.
Another time, after the miracle of the loaves and fish, the crowd attempted to take Jesus by force and make Him their king (John 6:15). Again, Jesus would have had kingdom, power, and glory. And again it would have been His without going the way of the cross and the grave. What did Jesus do? He withdrew to a mountain by Himself so the crowds could not crown Him as king.
Think too of Jesus in Samaria and Galilee. There were so many people who needed Him: so many sick to heal, so many dead to raise, so many burdens to lift up, so many parents wanting Jesus to touch their children. In the midst of all this what did Jesus do? Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51).
On Palm Sunday Jesus could have accepted the cries and praises of the crowd as an earthly king. He could have started a rebellion against the Romans. Or, He could have quietly disappeared after entering Jerusalem in triumph. But what did Jesus do? He went to the Upper Room. He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to meet His betrayer. He set Himself up to suffer and die. He did not do half a job.
Notice how Jesus put it to His disciples in our text? He tells them that He "must" go to Jerusalem and suffer many things. It is a must. It is a calling. Just as hot air must rise, just as gravity must exert a force, just as sunshine must generate heat, so Jesus must suffer and die.
Satan was persistent in his attempts to stop Jesus from going the way of the cross and the grave. But Jesus, thank God, was just as persistent in going the way of the cross and the grave. It was something He "must" do. He did not do half a job.
B Why was Jesus so persistent in going to Jerusalem? Why was Jesus so persistent in suffering and dying? I can think of at least two reasons:
-Jesus wanted to be obedient to the will of God. He told His disciples He "must" suffer and die. This was a divine "must." This was the will of God for His life. After all, Jesus did say once, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work" (Jn 4:34).
-Jesus loves us. He loves us so much that He was willing to suffer and die. He loves us so much that He was willing to endure the torments and agony of hell. He loves us so much He was willing to do anything so we could be saved.
Satan didn't turn back. He never stopped trying. But Jesus didn't turn back either. He never once tried to stop the process that could only end in His crucifixion and death.
Subtopic: Power of
Steve Brown tells the story of a British soldier in World War I who lost heart for the battle and deserted. Trying to reach the coast for a boat to England that night, he ended up wandering in the pitch black night, hopelessly lost. In the darkness he came across what he thought was a signpost. It was so dark that he began to climb the post so that he could read it. As he reached the top of the pole, he struck a match to see and found himself looking squarely into the face of Jesus Christ. He realized that, rather than running into a signpost, he had climbed a roadside crucifix. Brown explained, "Then he remembered the One who had died for him -- who had endured -- who had never turned back. The next morning the soldier was back in the trenches."
Thank God, I say. Praise God, I say. That Jesus withstood Satan's attacks. That Jesus obeyed the divine "must." That Jesus went to Jerusalem to suffer and die for us. That Jesus did not settle for doing only half a job.
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