Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. We run life's race to please Jesus. Sometimes, though, like Peter, we resist going in the direction toward which God is pointing.
That resistance comes with a high price. Today, we learn about the cost of avoiding the cross. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, we're learning about the life of Peter, a man chiseled by the master's hand. For Peter, the cross was an unthinkable end to his master's life, an end he tried unwittingly to prevent.
Dave, you're absolutely right. It's a remarkable passage of Scripture, because in context, Peter has just declared that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. And Jesus said to him, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but rather my Father in heaven. So there he was, speaking the words of God, and then moments later, speaking the words of Satan, trying to keep Jesus Christ from the cross. Because you see, in the minds of the disciples, a crucified Christ was a weak Christ.
They didn't understand that through this experience of the terrible experience of crucifixion, tremendous victory would arise. I want to thank the many of you who have joined us today, and we've been praying that this broadcast will be a great blessing. And we want to thank you in advance for helping us. We've entered the time of year when we have what we like to call a matching gift challenge. If you give a gift today to Running to Win, that gift will be doubled, thanks to some of our friends.
Would you consider doing that? At the end of this broadcast, I'll be giving you information as to how you can become a very vital part of this ministry. All of us know that the cross is a symbol of Christianity. What we sometimes forget is that crosses lose their significance because we wear them on gold chains, and we look at the cross as an ornament. And we forget that the cross is not really an ornament. The cross is a reality as it stands at the center point of the Christian message. But we romanticize the cross, don't we?
We have all kinds of ideas. There's a mystique connected with the cross. And we forget that it was a horrible, terrible, awful, excruciating death. In fact, it was so bad that Cicero once wrote that those who died on crosses became mad before they died as their bodies wrenched with pain.
And he says sometimes their tongues were cut out so that they could not cry out, hanging on that hard piece of wood, often with nails through the palms of their hands or their wrists. Cross is terrible. And yet the cross is a symbol of Christianity. Today we have people who complain about people dying in electric chairs. They don't want criminals electrocuted.
They don't want criminals being taken to the gas chamber because it is cruel and unusual punishment. Think of the cross. And yet the cross stands there as a reminder of what God has done for us. And what I'd like you to do is to take your Bibles, because we are in a series on the life of Peter. If you turn to the 16th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we want to see here how Peter unwittingly became a stumbling block to somebody whom he dearly loved. Jesus had commended Peter for saying, thou art the Son of God. This is in chapter 16, verse 16. Jesus answered and said to him, blessed are you, Simon, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. Peter is speaking as a mouthpiece of God Almighty. And then it says in verse 20, he warned the disciples that they should tell no one that he was the Christ.
We may say, why that? After all, wouldn't Jesus want people to know? Well, understand that the disciples knew who Christ was.
They understood his person, but they did not understand his work, as we shall see in a moment. For them to have proclaimed the messiahship of Jesus without understanding what the messiah was going to do would have been to leave people confused. And so Jesus said, be quiet. But Jesus did begin to tell his disciples what was going to happen, and we're going to move very quickly today through three scenes of conversation, as recorded here in the text.
It says in verse 21, first of all, Christ's teaching. From that time, Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem. Why Jerusalem? Because Jerusalem, remember, was the city of sacrifice, and he's going to give his life as a sacrifice for sinners. He must go to Jerusalem, underline that little word must, and must suffer from the elders and the chief priests. What a shock that was to the disciples. These were the people who were admired and honored.
If you wanted to have a profession where you would receive respect, it would be to be a chief priest, an elder, a member of the Sanhedrin. I want you to know that official religion has always been an enemy of Jesus. In fact, even official Christendom is an enemy of Jesus, and here official Judaism nails him to that cross. And notice it says, thirdly, and he would be raised up on the third day. There would be a resurrection. Now why did Jesus tell the disciples these things?
A couple of reasons. First of all, he wanted them to understand that his impending death was not a tragedy. It was a tragedy only through the eyes of men, not through the eyes of God. It was actually the fulfillment of the will and the purposes of God, if you please.
Later on, the apostles are going to be praying in Acts chapter 4 verse 28, and they say, Pontius Pilate and Herod gathered together with all the Gentiles and the nation Israel to do, O Lord, what thy hand predetermined would be done. If you remember, perhaps a year ago, I preached a sermon showing that the death of every single Christian who walks in obedience is just as meticulously planned as the death of Christ. Even though we know that death awaits us, like a concrete floor awaits a falling light bulb, whether it is by accident or whether it is by cancer, it is within God's providential care. So Jesus said, I don't want you to be discouraged because I am going to die this terrible death. Furthermore, he wanted to remind them that his kingdom was not a political one, as they had been thinking, but rather he came first to die and then he would come back later in glory to capture the world as his kingdom.
And then he wanted to make sure that they were aware and ready for the sorrow and the tragedy and the heartache and the tears and the disappointment that was just around the corner. That scene won Christ's teaching. Now let's look at Christ's temptation through the lips of Peter. Verse 22, he took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Visualize the picture. The disciples are walking along and Jesus has made this statement and Peter comes and puts his arm around the Lord Jesus and says, come on, I've got something to tell you. He said, Lord, God forbid it, this shall never happen to you.
Not you, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Did Peter just say this because he didn't love Jesus? Oh no, he said it because he loved Jesus very much.
Terrible advice, but it is advice born out of a heart of love. He's saying not you. Why? He couldn't, he couldn't put together the incompatibility of it all. Here is Jesus, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Son of God, and over here a terrible criminal's death. It just does not add up. Peter was saying, if this, how can it be that?
If A, it cannot be B. And so he said, not you, Lord. I want you to think about this for just a moment because Peter was thinking, surely there's another way. You could just be king. Just, just decide to be king. Avoid the cross.
Don't let them do that to you. And remember, Jesus had the power to make sure that they wouldn't if he had so desired. He said that he could have called legions of angels that could have delivered him.
Why be a victim when you don't have to be? Are you aware of the fact, my friend today, that we should stand in awe of Peter's heart because it is so much like ours? But furthermore, do you realize that when Peter suggested to Jesus that Easter be canceled, that he was in effect saying that if that were to happen, he himself would be in hell forever and ever and ever. Peter's salvation rested on the obedience of Christ going to the cross and dying. Peter didn't understand all that, but we know that to be the truth. And so in effect, Peter, his suggestion was going to undercut the very thing that God was going to do to redeem people like Peter and people like you and me so that we can belong to him forever and sing Hallelujah to the Lamb. Peter says, not so, Lord, not so.
Without the cross, though, there would be no salvation. That's scene two. Let's look at scene three, verse 23. But Jesus turned and said to Peter, wow.
Is your finger on the text because I'm not making this up? Get behind me, Satan. Another translation says, rather accurately, out of my sight. You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but on man's.
A couple of observations very quickly. First, Jesus is rebuking Satan in that strong statement, get thee behind me. He is rebuking the satanic suggestion. He's not rebuking his apostle Peter as such. Can you imagine what that would be like to be standing in the presence of the holy Son of God, the one whom you have just confessed to be the Son of God and you've been commended for it? For him to look into your eye and say, be gone forever, Peter, get behind me?
No. But Peter undoubtedly was jolted anyway. Jesus said, Satan, get behind me, out of my sight. That doesn't mean that Peter was demon-possessed. What it means, though, is that Peter's suggestion, though all meant so well, his suggestion was right in line with what the devil himself desired. Remember Matthew chapter four?
Satan said to the Lord Jesus, you know, if you bow down and worship me, you can have all the kingdoms. You don't have to go to the cross. You don't have to die. You don't have to be all this humiliation, all this pain. Avoid the cross. Grasp the crown without the cross. And now, of all things, the very same suggestion coming through the mouth of someone who dearly loved the Lord, Peter himself. Lord, no, not you.
Don't let him do it. Have you ever realized that this is scary? There are some people who, because of love, tell people other things to do and give them terrible advice, they in effect tell them they should be disobedient to God because they have these people's best interests and love at heart. And yet Jesus said to Peter, notice that he says, you are not setting your mind on God's interests rather, but you are just thinking like a natural human being who is always thinking of ways to make the Christian life convenient without crosses.
What a statement. Are you, by the way, surprised or troubled by the fact that Peter could at one moment speak as the agent of the living God and speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, and a moment later speak under the inspiration and according to the wisdom of Satan? Are you troubled by that? Are you troubled by the fact that Jesus said to Peter, you are the rock and you are going to have a place in the foundation of the building of the church? And then just a few verses later in our Bible, Jesus Christ says, in the middle of verse 23, you're a stumbling block to me and instead of being that platform, that rock upon which the church should be, if not built at least, he would have a part in introducing the Gentiles to the church, which is involved in the power of the keys as we noticed in a previous message. And now this rock becomes a stone of offense trying unwittingly to trip Christ up. Are you surprised at that?
Well, you may be, but you shouldn't be, because all of us can be like that at times. There are times when we can sing songs, we can praise God with our lips, and we can say beautiful things which are right and even say them under the inspiration and the guidance of God's blessed Holy Spirit and moments later be saying some very vile things that the devil would be very happy to hear. I'll tell you this, we're sure no better than Peter.
We may be worse, but we are no better than he, that's for sure. And you know something? It is also possible for us to nullify the cross. You see, if there's anything that Satan doesn't like, it is the cross. You say, well, yes, but Satan didn't prevent Christ from going to the cross. It is now a historical fact that Jesus died.
Yes. So you and I can't be in the position of talking Christ out of going to the cross or trying to, as Peter did, that's true, but you and I can diminish the cross too, because by nature we don't like the cross. The cross is, if it's anything, it is the weapon that goes to the depths of our being and runs cross grain to everything that we would naturally think about salvation. What I've said is true, of course, but it's also true that the Apostle Paul, who had a proper perspective of the cross, said, God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. And today, of course, we want to exalt the cross. If you're a regular listener to Running to Win, you know that the centrality of our ministry is always the gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes the cross, the resurrection, and of course his ascension into heaven. Would you consider helping us in this ministry? Here's what you can do, and by the way, this is now the period of time when we have matching gifts.
By that I mean there are those who say they are willing to match whatever you send to the ministry of Running to Win. So if you give $20, it becomes $40, $50, it becomes $100, you can help us and multiply your gift. Now here's what you do. Go to rtwoffer.com. I'm going to be giving you that contact info again, rtwoffer.com, or you can pick up the phone right now and call 1-888-218-9337. I'm so thankful to be able to share with you the expansion of this ministry as we continue to think about how God wants us to spread the good news of the gospel.
Go to rtwoffer right now, rtwoffer.com, I should say, rtwoffer.com, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Time now for another chance for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life. Is it possible to love your children more than God loves them? Beverly listens to Running to Win, and she thinks this may be the case.
Here is her story. I've always been taught that God loves all people unconditionally and that when we accept Jesus' Savior, we go to heaven. If not, then we go to hell without any opportunity for repentance. I have two children whom I love and would die for.
If they someday would turn against me or commit heinous crimes, I would be heartbroken but would continue to love them. Where does that Spirit of grace come from? Surely not Satan who only wishes ill to befall all of God's creation. This spirit of unconditional love must come from God in whose image we were created. However, God does not hold to this same standard. He made it clear that when our physical lives end, so does any hope of mercy if we've not accepted Christ. Suppose I were to tell my children that if they left me, I would punish them forever.
I could never tell them that. Why does it seem that God does that? I want to love and serve God with joy, but this point is making it very difficult for me to do so.
Any clarification would be appreciated. Beverly, I've been a pastor for many, many years. I've had many, many questions asked me. And in many respects, I have to say that what you've asked is one of the most difficult questions that I've ever had put to me. Now, the good news is that it's not as if I haven't thought about these things. I've thought about them for years, but they are very difficult. And I can only hope that I speak here in accordance with God's word.
Couple of things. I have to challenge your premise that God loves everyone unconditionally. I know that we hear that a lot, but you know, the Bible says, for example, in the book of Psalms that God is angry with the wicked every day. I don't think you could prove from the Bible that God loves everyone unconditionally. I believe that he loves his children unconditionally, and that's a different kind of love. I think Jesus made this clear in the 17th chapter of the book of John, where he talks about the love wherewith you have loved me.
That is the love with which I have loved them. But that's a reference to his children and not the world generally. So that's the first point I'd like to make. As a matter of fact, if you study the word love in the Bible, you know that there are different ways that God loves people, and I think he loves his own children unconditionally, but I can't say that about everyone. Secondly, you ask whether or not God plays by a different set of rules.
I think he does. God doesn't do the same things that we do. I could give examples of, for example, if you were beside a swimming pool and a little two-year-old fell in, and you just sat there and watched him drown, you'd be culpable, because there's something that you could do about it. God sees that kind of thing happen every day and does nothing, and yet we don't hold him culpable and say that, quote, it's his fault. So you can see here that God is God, and we aren't. So, even though you love your children unconditionally and think that you would never turn against them, a simple fact is that God loves the world differently, and yes, it is true. He has chosen that if they do not respond to him, they will be punished.
And that leads me to another point. Remember this, God deals differently with people because he not only has love, but also his justice needs to be balanced with that love. You think of your love toward the children and all that you think of, basically, is love, and you don't have to worry about the justice end of it. God does. Because of his searing holiness, justice enters into the picture, and so justice demands that people who turn against God pay for their sin on their own if they don't accept Christ, and so the justice of God is fulfilled.
When we think of the doctrine of hell, we don't necessarily think of the love of God, but we do think of the justice of God, and that enters into the picture. But Beverly, I have to commend you for wrestling with a huge issue, and I hope that you continue to wrestle with it, even as I do, and at the end of the day, we bow and simply say, let God be God. Thanks for asking. And thank you, Pastor Lutzer, for answering. If you'd like to hear your question answered, go to our website at RTWOffer.com and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer, or call us at 1-888-218-9337.
That's 1-888-218-9337. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you understand God's roadmap for your race of life. Peter could not imagine his master nailed to a cross and told him so. Then Jesus said in a stern rebuke, get thee behind me, Satan. Next time on Running to Win, why Jesus would not allow anything to stand between him and the death God had planned for him from all eternity. Thanks for listening to our series on the life of Peter. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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