February 20, 2020 (Thursday) - The Road to Hell - A Reflection on Mark 8:27-33

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

A few years ago, when ISIS was reigning supreme, I began making arrangements to go to Syria. I believed that God had asked me to go there. Many people thought I had lost my mind, and several who were close to me begged me not to go. “What can you hope to achieve by dying when there is so much more you can do by living,” was the argument I heard most often. The reason for trying to dissuade me from going was because they loved me and couldn’t bear the thought of losing me.

So, when Jesus tells his apostles that he is going to undergo great suffering and be killed, it isn’t really surprising that Peter takes him aside and tries to talk him out of it. Peter loved Jesus. And one can almost hear him argue: “Jesus, what’s wrong with you? You are the Messiah. You are the one we have all been waiting for! Stop being so negative and start talking like a conqueror. Let us go beat up some bad guys.” What IS surprising is Jesus’ sharp rebuke. “Get behind me, Satan!”

Whoa! That’s heavy! Just a few minutes earlier, Jesus has called Peter “blessed”, told him that he was the rock on which he would build his church, and given him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and now he was calling him Satan! Why? Because although Peter meant well, his words were not godly. He was being influenced by Satan, who used two things about Peter’s nature to manipulate him.

First was his lack of understanding about the need for Jesus to die. Thinking from purely a worldly perspective, Peter didn’t see God’s plan for the salvation of mankind, just the establishment of an earthly kingdom. Second was Peter’s self-conceit. He arrogantly believed that he knew better than Jesus, and I am fairly certain that if it was up to him, he would have done whatever he could to prevent Jesus dying on the cross. 

We are often guilty of making the same mistakes, looking at things from a worldly, rather than a spiritual viewpoint, and believing we can make better decisions than others. Consequently, although we mean well by the things we say, they may not be the things that God wants. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is a true saying. Let us learn from the mistakes of others like Peter and be more discerning about the advice we give to others who might want to do seemingly crazy things. 

Like going to Syria. The visit didn’t happen, by the way, but that’s a story for another time.