Sunday, 28 February 2016

Correct and Restore - Matthew 16:21 - 23

In this series we have been looking at how Jesus did discipleship - his way of bringing followers on a journey of growth, eventually to be released to go and do the same. We have seen how this happened life on life in the context of the unfolding story of Jesus, amidst his ministry.

In each of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke there is a distinctive turning point in that story. A point where Jesus sets a course for Jerusalem which he knows will lead to his arrest, death and resurrection. Jesus spells it out, but Peter takes Jesus aside and says 'No Way!'. Hardly surprising, since they had seen enough of Jesus and his ministry to become convinced that he was the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Like others they figured that meant someone who would go to Jerusalem and be victorious, liberating the people from Roman rule and much more. That thinking doesn't square with arrest and death!

As we saw earlier Jesus developed a relationship with his disciples enabling them to question. Here it even seems to allow Peter to rebuke Jesus, such was their closeness. In V23 Jesus responds with equally forthright words: 'Get behind me Satan!'. Was their relationship strong enough to take this kind of harsh exchange?

Interestingly back in v16 Peter had affirmed Jesus as the Son of God - words Jesus recognised as inspired by the Spirit. Yet now (just a few verses later!) Peter seems to be a mouthpiece of Satan. Can both the Spirit and Satan speak through Christ-followers? If we take the answer as 'yes', then we must learn to discern the difference but also ask how we should deal with it.

In v24f it appears to be business-as-usual with Jesus. He teaches and continues the ministry with more healings & teachings, albeit on the way to Jerusalem. Clearly he didn't cast Peter aside or refuse to talk to him. Peter continues with the group, the relationship is still there. Jesus still trusts him and will pray specifically for protection for him ... Peter denies him ... and in John 21 Jesus restores him. Yes the exchange had involved harsh words, but in the big picture it is part of a loving action: they were words intended to correct and restore. Discipleship is life on life, and will need to include this kind of thing. The good news is that when we go wrong the desire of Jesus is always to correct and restore.

As a community of Christ-followers, can we lovingly correct and restore when necessary? Correcting will mean challenging, but with a desire to get the person back on track. The encouragement for everyone to organise themselves into prayer partnerships or triplets ties in with this, since a trusted relationship is typically the best place for such challenge and positive correction to come.

The big picture is the contrast of 'concerns of men' versus the 'concerns of God'. Both ways appear to promise victory, but one is the way of asserting human might and will prove deceptive, whereas the other is a path of laying down, even to death, for God to raise up to true victory. Peter couldn't see past that death to the ultimate victory, but we can fix our eyes on Jesus who is now in victory. Yet with our eyes fixed on him, we are called to tread the hard path that leads towards him. Doubtless we will be distracted off it from time to time, which is when we need our discipling friends the most ... to lovingly correct and restore.

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