Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”Matthew 16:23
Before I dive into this coming Sunday’s sermon, I wanted to offer one more note on last Sunday’s gospel reading (Matthew 16:21-28), something that I was not able to address in my sermon, but which is very important to me. And it has to do with the famous rebuke that Jesus gave to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!”
When we hear that harsh rebuke from Jesus, we often think of Peter being called Satan (because he is tempting Jesus to abandon his mission, just as Satan did), but the more interesting part of this, to me, is the first part: “Get behind me.” In Greek, this is “hupage opiso mou.” Most of the time, the Greek phrase “opiso mou” is translated “Follow me.” In fact, in the very next verse, Jesus says (in the NRSV), “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” In the Greek, Jesus is saying, “If any want to opiso mou, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and akoloutheito me.” (akoloutheito, where we get the word “acolyte,” also means to follow).
When Jesus rebukes Satan in the wilderness, he says: “Away with you (hupage), Satan!” Do you see the difference? Jesus is not commanding Peter to go away, as he does with Satan, but instead is telling Peter to get back to following him, which can only be done by getting behind him. Jesus does not ask Peter to go away, but to get behind him. And the difference between these could not be more significant.
Again and again, Jesus tells Peter (and us) to follow him. In fact, he does this very thing in his last conversation with Peter, recorded in John 21. After Jesus has been raised from the dead, he has a conversation with Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Remember that one? When Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” At the end of that conversation, Jesus says to Peter one more time, “Follow me.”
I suspect that we all need constant reminders to follow Jesus, to get behind him, and to trust that where he is leading us is for our good. Even when we face challenges in life – especially then? – we need to remind ourselves to get behind Jesus again, and to trust him. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” as Proverbs 3:5 reminds us, “and do not rely on your own insight.” Why would we ever think that we are smarter than the Lord? But isn’t that the mistake that Peter made? It is one that we are all tempted to make. And when we do, we could do worse than to remember this rebuke from Jesus to Peter, and apply it to ourselves. It is a rebuke that does not command us to go away, but to return to the place where we are most safe in all the world, behind our Savior. Trust him. Follow him. Stay behind him. There is no better place to be, in heaven or on earth, than behind Jesus.