As a young child, my mother would tell me to “Put on your thinking cap” when I had to solve a problem. Jesus says something of the same thing to Peter, but much more directly. How do we develop Kingdom thinking? This brief look at the an encounter between Peter and Jesus might give us some clues.
Developing A Kingdom Mindset
Matthew 16:21-28 NIV’84
21 From that time on 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.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
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.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life[h] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” — Matthew 16:21-28 NIV’84
From Demonstration to Decision
During these summer months we have been looking at various passages from the Gospel of Matthew, thinking together about the Kingdom of God; or, as Matthew calls it, the Kingdom of Heaven. We have looked primarily at the words and actions of Jesus that demonstrated the kingdom of God.
We have seen Jesus teach about the kingdom. Matthew in chapters 5-7, records the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is the compendium, the substance, of the Jesus’ Kingdom teachings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins to lay out the ethical and spiritual distinctives of the Kingdom. These are characteristics that distinguish the Kingdom of God, which he has come to both announce and inaugurate, from the current practice of first century Judaism.
But Jesus does more in Matthew’s Gospel than just teach about the Kingdom.
We have seen him demonstrate what life will be like in the Kingdom of God by healing the paralyzed man by first forgiving his sins.
We have seen Jesus call disciples to follow him, to learn from him, and to embrace life in this Kingdom, which will stand in contrast to the world in which he and they now live.
We have seen Jesus describe the Kingdom of God using parables like the sower and the soils, the wheat and the weeds, and the treasure in the field.
We have seen Jesus demonstrate the abundance of the Kingdom of Heaven by feeding 5,000, and then on another occasion by feeding 4,000 people.
We have seen the King of the Kingdom, Jesus, exercise his dominion over the created elements by walking on water.
And last week we saw Jesus prod the disciples to verbalize who he really was. And it was Peter who got it out first with his confession – “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
So we have seen Jesus gently, yet persistently teach, demonstrate, and clarify the ideas and actions of the Kingdom of God before his disciples.
But today we come to the hinge point of Jesus’ ministry – the point at which he moves from demonstrating the Kingdom of God for his disciples, and begins to push them toward their own decision regarding their place in the Kingdom.
As I just mentioned, Peter’s confession of Christ was the first public acknowledgement by the disciples that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. But an acknowledgment is one thing for even Satan recognized who Jesus was.
No, Jesus needed for the disciples to do much more than acknowledge him as the Christ. His teaching and demonstration of the Kingdom was to lead them to a point of decision, a point of commitment that heretofore they had not made.
I am sure the disciples were intrigued with Jesus. I am sure they found his teaching amazing in its clarity and stunning in its restatement of the Law.
But, they needed to do more. They needed to decide for themselves not only that Jesus was unique, but that they would link their lives with his, that they would follow him not only on the dusty roads of Galilee, but in the way they lived their lives, too.
What does that have to do with us today? Just this – it isn’t enough to believe that Jesus is extraordinary, or even to believe that he is the divine Son of God.
In 2008, the Pew Forum on Religious Life reported that their surveys indicated that 92% of Americans believe in a higher power, a being that most would call God. But, is that enough? Is it enough to believe that God exists, or does that knowledge, that belief lead logically to the next step – a decision to live in accordance with God’s will?
That’s why this passage today is so important. It is the point at which Jesus pushes the disciples past the stage of acknowledgement, past demonstrations of the Kingdom, to a point at which they must make a decision regarding their place in the Kingdom themselves.
Exposing Peter’s Mistaken Mindset
But before Jesus can push them to a decision about the Kingdom, he first has to expose the earthly mindset of the disciples. Peter, as we might suspect, gives Jesus that opportunity.
Matthew says that after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the conversation changes:
“21 From that time on 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.”
Now Jesus begins to explain what is going to happen to him. He is headed to Jerusalem and there he will have a showdown, a power encounter with the religious rulers of first century Judaism.
I think it’s interesting that Jesus says that he will “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed…”
In truth, it is the Roman Empire that imposes the death penalty on Jesus, and carries it out. But Jesus recognizes that the Roman Empire, with the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate as its representative, will only be carrying out the desires of the leading religious leaders of his day.
Jesus will be dealt with as they have already dealt with others who challenged their authority and power – they will marginalize him, and failing that, they will eliminate him.
So, we see repeated attempts to discredit Jesus. They come at him with trick questions; with implications that he and his disciples are not following the Law, the Torah; and, finally, with charges of blasphemy and speaking against the Temple.
The disciples have witnessed this tension between Jesus, whose popularity is the only thing that has kept him from the hands of the Pharisees, Saduccees and other religious authorities.
So, when Jesus begins to lay out for the disciples, now that they have acknowledged who he is, that these very same religious leaders are going to cause him great harm, even to the point of taking his life, Peter can’t take it.
Matthew says that Peter takes Jesus aside. That’s interesting because Peter ususally just blurts out whatever he has to say, just as he did with his great confession.
But, Peter takes Jesus aside to privately chastise his own teacher. We miss the point of that because we don’t understand the reverence with which teachers, rabbis, of the first century were accorded.
It was kind of like when I was in the fifth grade at Johnson Elementary School in Columbus, Georgia. In the fourth grade, I had a wonderful teacher who everyday after lunch read to us from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie book series. She was a kind and gentle teacher, who mothered her fourth graders with great care and concern.
But fifth grade was an entirely different story. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Cooksey, and Mrs. Cooksey believed it was her duty to take innocent fourth graders and prepare them for the rough-and-tumble work of junior high school. Never mind that we didn’t get to junior high until seventh grade; Mrs. Cooksey was determined to make us grow up, fast and in proper form. Needless to say, she did not read Little House on the Prairie to us, or anything else for that matter.
To her credit, Mrs. Cooksey was a good teacher. I learned a great deal in her class because I had to. I was too afraid to find out what would happen if I didn’t! But she was stern, no-nonsense, and definitely not our mother.
I would no more have contradicted Mrs. Cooksey than I would have the principal of the school himself.
So, when Peter takes it upon himself to set Jesus straight, he at least has the consideration to take Jesus aside and rebuke him privately.
After he had Jesus alone, I am sure Peter repeated what he thought Jesus had said. Something like this, I imagine –
Peter: “Lord, let me get this straight. Did I hear you right? Do you think that when we get to Jerusalem that the religious leaders are going to give you a hard time? Why that’s nothing new, they’ve been doing that to us for almost three years now.
But, this business that they’re going to kill you, I can’t believe you said that. I’m not sure what all that business about rising on the third day was, but you’re not going to have to rise from anywhere on any day! Wouldn’t that be better?
No, this will never happen to you! I promise you that as long as I’m around nobody will do you any harm.”
At this point, I am sure that Peter is feeling pretty good about himself. After all, he’s the only one, again, with the boldness and courage to knock this silly notion that Jesus is going to be killed by a bunch of effete, soft-handed religious leaders. What match would they be for a fisherman, or a bunch of fishermen for that matter?
But unfortunately for Peter, Jesus response comes as a complete surprise.
Jesus: “Peter, I’ve just called you the Rock, but now I call you Satan. Get out of my sight, quit blocking my way on the road to Jerusalem. You’re thinking the wrong way, you’re thinking like they think, like the religious leaders I’m challenging. All they know is power and force and violence and threats and intimidation. No, you’re thinking like they are. You need to think like you belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Of course, that is the Warnock Revised Version, but I think you get the point. Peter has failed to grasp that what Jesus is about is not bringing in the Kingdom of God like the religious leaders of his day, by collaborating with the most powerful military juggernaut on earth, the Roman Empire.
Jesus is again telling the disciples how different life is in the Kingdom of God, and how Kingdom living requires Kingdom thinking.
Developing A Kingdom Mindset
Listen again to what Jesus tells the disciples. I imagine that Peter hasn’t taken Jesus so far to the side that Jesus can’t turn and address them all. I also imagine that Jesus has emphatically made his point with Peter, so much so that the firm and commanding tone of his voice has already gotten their attention.
Jesus must have turned and addressed them all:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life[h] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
That is definitely not the way the world thinks. First, Jesus might have pointed to a man hanging on a cross to issue his challenge to them. When the Romans put down a minor rebellion in Jerusalem during Herod’s reign, they crucified 2,000 men, lining the roads into Jerusalem with their crosses on which they left their bodies to become food for the vultures.
So, the image might have been graphically before them. “Here’s what happens when you follow me,” Jesus might have said. “You take up a cross and follow me, because that’s my way.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous book, The Cost of Discipleship, contains Bonhoeffer’s comment that “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer would give his life in a German concentration camp only shortly before the Allies would crush the Third Reich and liberate that Nazi death camp.
But to help them understand the significance of what he was telling them, Jesus added,
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
In other words, the more we try to hold on to our lives, the more we seek to save ourselves, the more we operate as this sad world operates, the less chance we have of actually finding life, of being the people that God created us to be.
Kingdom thinking does not start with “I.” Rick Warren began his mega-million seller, The Purpose-Driven Life with these words, “It’s not about you.”
Kingdom thinking, a Kingdom mindset, starts with Jesus. If Jesus is not worthy of our lives, then we are not thinking Kingdom thoughts.
If we gain the whole world, and here I think Jesus meant all that the present life in this existence has to offer – fame, money, material possessions, friends, family, and so on – but have failed to understand that all of that is temporary, fleeting (a vapor as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it) then we have failed to understand the purpose for which God has placed us on this earth.
Kingdom thinking is not conventional wisdom. The reason Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek,” was because they had always heard “an eye for an eye.” The reason Jesus said, “Go the second mile,” is because they had practiced the art of obedient hostility toward the Roman soldiers who could compel an able-bodied Jewish man to carry his pack for one mile.
The reason Jesus said to “love your enemies” was because they had heard they were supposed to “love their neighbors and hate their enemies.”
But the response to this is and has always been, “But that will never work in the real world.” And yet, the individuals in history who have captured our imagination have been those who have showed kindness in the midst of hostility, love in the midst of hate, and who have given their lives for causes most of us think are impossible and pointless.
Mother Teresa who started a home for the dying, so those dying in the streets of India could die surrounded by those who loved them. She captures our imagination because we would not do what she did. We might start a hospital to help cure them, or give funds to those who build houses, but those who are dying are dying anyway, why waste time and attention on them? And, that is the difference in our conventional thinking and Kingdom thinking.
So, how do we develop a Kingdom mindset?
First, by realizing that the life and teaching of Jesus is the basis for the way we live our lives. Jesus said to the disciples that “…the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”
I don’t think that means that Jesus is going to reward folks for doing a few good deeds. What I think Jesus means is that your reward will be based on what decision you have made, what you have done, in order to live your life by Kingdom values. And, the first thing you must do in order to think Kingdom thoughts is to let your life be transformed by the King of that Kingdom.
Secondly, we must realize that there are times, quite a few of them actually, when the words of Jesus and the thinking of this world system in which we find ourselves will not agree. Our decision then has to be to stay with Jesus. Against the opinions of our friends, our family, our political party, and our neighbors. Why? Because conventional thinking, like Peter’s, is not Kingdom thinking.
Finally, we must remember that the Kingdom of God has already begun. We are not waiting for death to usher us into the Kingdom. The Spirit of God has already done that when by the mystery of God we were, as Paul said, transferred from the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of light.
We must admit things have gone terribly wrong in this world. I don’t think I have ever seen a time in my life when there is so much violence, so much discord, so much conflict, so much poverty, so much hatred, so much discontent around the entire globe, as there is today.
Without faith in Christ, without a commitment to a different way to live, one would have to despair for the future. But, there is another way to think. Not the way that Peter was thinking. But a new way to think.
That’s what Jesus meant when he would say, “You have heard it has been said…but I say unto you….” You’ve heard the old way to think and act, but there’s a new way, a Kingdom way, a way that is hard, involves sacrifice, and may lead to your losing everything. But that is the only way you’ll gain anything.
If you want to enter the Kingdom, learn to think like the King.