Knowing the answer, and knowing the Answer
Do you ever get that feeling of gratification when you know the right answer? You get affirmed by a teacher when you say the correct answer in class. You know the right answer on Jeopardy when the contestants don’t, you get the daily wordle right in less than three tries, you know how to solve someone else’s problem with their car, refrigerator, computer, etc. My point is that we all have acquired knowledge on some things, even if we are deficient sometimes in others. It gives us a good feeling though when we know the correct thing. Peter must have felt the same way, except the question was coming from Jesus about who he was.
Matthew 16:13-20 tells us of a declaration or confession of Simon Peter where he knows the right answer. Jesus asks two questions “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you [disciples] say that I am?” In the first question the disciples respond that some say he is John the Baptist (since maybe they shared such similar area, time-frame, and message), Elijah (since maybe they also had a similar ministry healing and preaching), or Jeremiah (maybe since he opposes the religious leaders the way Jeremiah did). But Jesus turns the question to the disciples and Simon Peter hits it out of the park: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Can you imagine how Simon Peter must have felt? This is only the second time in Matthew’s account that the disciples have attributed this to Jesus (the first was Matt 14:33 when Jesus calms the storm). And Jesus confirms Simon Peter’s answer and says, however, that this was not something he would have known from any earthly knowledge, but it was revealed to him by the Father in heaven. And Jesus makes wordplay off Peter’s name (“Peter” = petros, derived from petra = rock) and says upon this rock I shall build my church.
Peter was right and knew the answer, only because it was revealed through the Father. He knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but he doesn’t yet get what all that means. In the next 3 verses, right after Peter’s great confession, he strikes out. Jesus began saying how he would have to go to Jerusalem and suffer, die, and be raised from the dead.
“Oh no Lord, this will never happen to you” was Peter’s response. You most certainly know what comes next from Jesus “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter defends Jesus and Jesus rebukes him harshly.We should suspend what we know of the Messiah for a second so we can understand why Peter might say such a thing.
The Jews for years and years, since the time of exile, were looking for the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah. All these names mean the same thing. They were waiting for the one who would deliver the people of God out of their plight. Then, Jesus comes onto the scene and has divine powers, preaches against the oppressive Jewish leaders. He looks like he would make a great leader. Jews like Peter would jump at the chance to install this kind of superhero as a military and governing leader. Why not? Who better to rescue God’s people than this? He has all the qualities. Peter would think he is doing best to keep Jesus alive so he can restore God’s people (Israel at this time) to a nation, to a people of power, and to fulfill what he understood as the role of the messiah.
Peter’s declaration of who Jesus was, juxtaposed with his lack of understanding for the mission of Jesus, shows how much we need God to speak into our lives, even when we think we understand. We are humans with our own selfish desires even though they may be as noble as Peter’s desire to have Jesus remain alive. We need to know the one who is the Answer more than we need to know all the answers. Jesus was the messiah, but he was restoring God’s people to be more than a Jewish nation. He was establishing an eternal kingdom, built on the rock of the Church.
Lord, help me to see where I depend on my own understanding. Lead me into further trust of your Spirit. Let me not exchange my soul for knowledge, talent, wealth, acclaim, fame, power, skills, comfort, or anything this world has to offer. Nothing can benefit us more than knowing and trusting you.