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Monday, 21 March 2016

What is God like?

In what we know as Matthew 16, the evangelist has recorded two contrasting episodes concerning the apostle Peter.   In verse 176, we read of Peter's great confession.  Jesus has asked the disciples what people were saying about His identity.  He then asks; "What about you?  Who do you say that I am?" It is Peter who answers on behalf of them all, with what is referred to as his great confession: "You are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the living God." (v16).  

That confession was made at Caesarea Philippi, where there was a grotto at which an image of the Caesar was worshipped as a god.  The issue was clear - is the power behind the universe a Caesar-like power-force; or is it a Christ-like power-suffering love?  Once the issue of Who He was had been settled, He began to make clear to the inner band what was involved in His being the Messiah, "... the son of the living God".  It was then that Peter took Him by the arm, and began to rebuke Him!  "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to You." (v.22).  Peter obviously thought that the Messiah would be self-assertive, and forceful; conquering the world by a demonstration of supreme power. He didn't understand the meaning of Isaiah 53 and other passages that pointed to the Suffering Servant. He is then, we may safely assume, shattered by the response of Jesus: "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men." (v.23).

In other words, the Christ was making clear that, in taking the way of the Cross, He was revealing the nature of God - the way, as we have already noted, of self-surrender, and self-sacrifice.  Peter, on the other hand, was manifesting the self-assertive side of life that is, of course, the very opposite of God's intention.  Remember: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Matt 5:5); "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matt 5:9); "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt 5:11-12). 

So Jesus called Peter the "satan" - the adversary!  Was that not being very harsh?  Many would have taken great offence at such words as Jesus spoke to His friend.  But the issue at stake was great. What is God like?  Is He like the Caesar - or like the Christ?  When Peter rejected the concept of the Cross, and the suffering that went with it, the Lord had to identify the source of such thoughts - and He did so with precision!  They came from the satan, for that is exactly how he became the one he is - by seeking to put himself, instead of God, at the centre.

But Jesus went even further!  John records, in what we know as the 17th chapter of his account of the Gospel record, one of the final acts of the Saviour prior to His arrest.  "... during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside His garments, and girded Himself with a towel. Then He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded." (John 13:2-5).  How could the Christ, knowing that the hour of His greatest humiliation - the Cross - was at hand, humiliate Himself further by taking on the task of the lowliest servant, and washing His disciples' feet? 

The answer is that He had already humiliated Himself in eternity when He decided, freely, to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sin, and become "... the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world." (Rev.13:8; AV).  In that act, in eternity, He fulfilled the deepest law of the universe: "... he who loses his life ... will find it." (Matt 10:39).   Possessing all through self-surrender, He was now free to conquer all - death, hell, and the grave.  The Servant of all becomes the greatest of all.

That is the secret for you and for me as well!  As George Mathieson wrote:

"Make me a captive, Lord,
And then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword,
And I shall conqueror be."

Have you submitted your life to Him?  It's the only way to true freedom!

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