The Contradiction of God
“Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Matthew 16:22.
It was sin that brought contradiction into this universe. If there had been no sin there would have been no contradiction and no occasion for contradiction. Everything would have been after the pattern of that perfection that characterized God’s handiwork when he created it. This contradiction is the contradiction between good and evil, between truth and the lie, between love and hate, between mercy and judgment, between justice and injustice. This contradiction began with the sin of the devil and his angels. The sin of the devil and his angels preceded the sin of the human race. This contradiction appeared first of all on the scene of this world when the serpent as the instrument of the devil said to the woman, first by way of insinuating doubt: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Then it appeared in blatant contradiction when the serpent said: “Ye shall not surely die: For God does know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” You see how sin appeared in the contradiction of God and it entered into the human race when the woman acceded to that contradiction and believed the tempter rather than God.
This is the essence of sin, the contradiction of God. It is implied of course in that definition that is given of sin in the scripture: Sin is the transgression of the law. The law, of course, is the transcript of divine perfection. Sin is therefore the transgression of that which is the transcript of divine perfection and therefore the contradiction of God. Because sin offers contradiction to God, God must offer contradiction to it. It belongs to the very holiness, the perfection, of his being to offer contradiction to that which is the contradiction of himself. This contradiction which sin offers to God appears in our text. We might not suspect it, but it appears in the very indictment that our Savior brought against Peter when he said: “Thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” That is, thou mindest not, thou hast concern, not for the things of God but the things that be of men.” That is what our first parents did when they fell at the beginning: they began to mind the things of the creature rather than the creator, and became preoccupied with human things instead of being completely absorbed in the divine will.
Here is a question for us: What is the governing pattern of our thought? It is a question that each one of us must ask, a question that the most sanctified of you must ask of yourself. What is your paramount interest? What is your paramount concern? Is it the things of God? Is it the interests of his glory, of his kingdom? Is it the interests of his counsel? Or is our governing pattern of thought that which is dictated by our own imaginations? Is it dictated by human things or is it dictated by divine things – God’s glory and kingdom? This is a question that comes to me and it comes to you. My friends, here is a criterion by which we must interrogate our own consciences, hearts and minds. Do we mind the things of men or do we mind the things of God?
Our Savior was holy, blameless, undefiled and separate from sinners. There was no sin in him. Because there was no sin in him he was completely governed by the things of God. It was because of the contradiction that there was between himself and sinful men that he brought the indictment against Peter: “Thou mindest not the things that be of God but those that be of men.”
Contradiction appears in this chapter in other ways. It appears in a most striking, almost unbelievable way. Peter had made the great confession at Caesarea Philippi: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There was the corresponding benediction: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” There is not only the corresponding benediction on Jesus’ part, but there is also the corresponding investiture: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Just observe the elements of the situation: the confession, the benediction and the investiture. What a contrast but a short time after! Peter began to rebuke Jesus, to rebuke the person whom he had confessed: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” When he confessed him as the Son of the living God, he confessed him in his divine identity as equal with God and as himself God. Is it possible, you might say, that in a very brief period of time Peter began to rebuke the Savior? – “Be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee.” Presumptuous! – to rebuke the living God.
You have also the corresponding response on the part of the Savior. What a contradiction between the benediction that Jesus had uttered a little before then: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona,” and now, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” So you see these two elements which we shall focus attention upon for a little while. First we have the contrast in the case of Peter between noble confession and presumptuous rebuke, and then second we observe the contrast between Jesus’ benediction, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona,” and the devastating reprimand, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling block to me.”
First of all, in Peter you have contrast and contradiction, between confession and presumptuous rebuke. It might seem impossible for Peter to entertain such contradictory sentiments. Remember that they were not separated by a long period of time. We read in this chapter, after the great confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi: “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him . . . .” So there was not much of an interval, and we might think it impossible for Peter to entertain such contradictory sentiments within such a brief period of time.
There is the even more staggering concern, and apparent impossibility, regarding the different sources from which Peter derived inspiration. When he said “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” it was from God the Father that he was inspired and actuated. When he said “This shall not be unto thee,” it was from Satan that he was inspired and actuated. Could there be within such a brief period of time the inspiration and the actuation of such diverse sources, God the Father in all his immaculate holiness and majesty, and Satan in all his unspeakable malignity and iniquity? It is well for us to consider this. I fear that my limitations are such that I cannot elicit from this by way of exposition or by way of suggestion all that is involved in it. But I do not think that it is useless to mention a few lessons that we should derive from the contradiction in the case of Peter between holy confession and iniquitous rebuke.
The first lesson is this – that in the people of God, and Peter was a man of God, there is the morally, the religiously, contradictory. That is the only explanation of this apparent impossibility. Because there is in a man of God that which is morally and religiously contradictory, you can have contradictory sentiments, contradictory actions and contradictory sources of inspiration and instigation. It is for our warning and also for our consolation that the apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to give us his own autobiography. You find it in Romans 7:14-25: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. . . . . For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Even in the final word of that autobiography there is placed on record by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”
There is the explanation of Peter’s contradiction. The apostle Paul has given us, in very brief summary, his own autobiography of the contradiction. When we find this contradiction in the people of God, we must remember that it arises from the fact that there are two laws in our members and they are warring against each other.
But a second lesson is this. When Peter began to rebuke our Lord, he was actuated by what he considered very high and noble motives. To a certain extent he was actuated by love for the Savior. Oh, what a warning! These very motives, however noble and worthy they were in the esteem of Peter himself, induced diabolic opposition to the counsel and will of God. Think of it: they offered diabolic opposition to the highest wisdom, the highest counsel, the highest will of heaven. It teaches us this great lesson: not to measure by our motives, but to test our motives by the revealed will of God, the law of God. Oh, what a lesson! We are so liable to think that because our motives appear to be worthy, we can resort to all sorts of methods by which to fulfill the design of these motives. But here is a devastating indictment against the deceit of the human heart, even the deceit that resides in the hearts of the people of God.
The third lesson that we may derive from this contradiction in Peter is that we may attain, my beloved friends, to the summit of noblest confession and momentarily lapse into the deepest unfaithfulness. Let us never put our confidence in past achievement. Let us never even put our confidence in the divine investiture with high office. Peter attained to a great height of noble confession when he said: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” With came Jesus’ corresponding benediction, and also Jesus’ investiture: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” Of course Peter was the spokesman of the apostles. When he received the benediction, Peter received what belonged to all of the apostles except Judas. When Peter received the investiture it was not for himself alone but as a representative of the apostles. What high office is accorded to these apostles! But here is the great lesson: you may never trust in achievements of the past. We may never trust even in God’s investiture of us with high office. This is because our only refuge at any moment is complete reliance upon the grace and the wisdom and the power of God. Whenever our thoughts get focused upon even that which God has given to us, or upon that benediction that God has bestowed upon us and upon that very office with which he may have invested us, in that very moment we are ready to be the prey of the great archenemy. It is when we are weak, then we are strong. There is not a moment of our lives to which that does not apply. You see how confident Peter was in his past achievements, when he said: “Though all should deny thee, yet will not I.” It was Peter that denied him with cursing and swearing. What a lesson for us! – that our lives, moment by moment, must always rely upon the all-sufficient grace of God, and not upon past achievement or past investiture.
We come to the next contrast that appears in this chapter: the contrast in Jesus’ responses. We might well say that it is impossible in the psychology of our Lord himself, for him to have given such benediction and investiture to Peter, and then such devastating reprimand: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Apparently impossible! And that apparent impossibility is only accentuated in our Lord’s case because there was no sin in him. In the case of Peter, there is an explanation of the contradiction between noble confession and presumptuous reprimand, because there was within Peter that which was morally and religiously contradictory. How are we to explain this in the case of our Lord? There are one or two lessons here. There is also a grandeur here.
The first lesson is about the Lord’s immaculate faithfulness. It is a lesson of truth. Our Lord, you see, reacts to each situation in perfect equity, in faithfulness to truth because he is the faithful witness. If our Lord had been, as it were, unduly sympathetic, had refrained from giving this withering reprimand to Peter, there would have been a defect. Our Lord reacted to each situation as truth and faithfulness demanded. When he said to Peter, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee,” he was responding in a perfect manner to that which was the fruit of the Father’s grace. You could say with all reverence that since this was the fruit of the Father’s grace, he could not but have responded with his benediction. He could not have responded otherwise than with complacency and benignity. But when Peter took him and began to rebuke him, Peter was instigated by Satan, and Jesus’ faithfulness demanded the corresponding rebuke, the corresponding condemnation, the corresponding reprimand.
Try to catch something, my beloved friends, of the grandeur of the contrast in the case of our Lord himself. It is the contrast that faithfulness demands. You can see it all along in the witness of our Lord – the contrast between blessing and curse. You have it very elegantly inscribed in Luke 6, verses 20 through 24, the form in which our Lord’s sermon on the mount is given in the gospel according to Luke. He turns to his disciples and says, “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. . . . .” Then he turns, in what you might call the same breath, to say, “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” You see the contrast, the contradiction indeed, between blessing and woe; but that is what faithfulness demands. This was faithfulness in the case of Peter: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona. . . . . Get behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me.” There is no compromise. The faithful witness, my friends, will be that unto you if you are his. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Remember, there will be in the reactions and responses of your Savior to you both benediction and correction, and accept both.
But then there is another lesson here in the contrast that there is in the response of the Savior. How different is the attitude of our Lord to Peter when Peter denied him in the palace of the high priest. The Lord warned Peter, “Before the cock crow, thou shall deny me thrice.” He had told him, “Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” You remember that Peter denied the Savior three times and he did it with cursing and swearing; and the cock crew. The Lord heard the cock, and he turned and looked upon Peter. It was no withering, devastating look that time. It was the look of tender compassion. It was the look of the bowels of compassion for Peter.
But on this occasion, see how different! With vehement indignation he says, “Get behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me.” What is the reason for the difference between the loving look of compassion and the withering, devastating reprimand on this occasion? There is much here for our instruction. When Peter denied his Lord, it was succumbing on Peter’s part to temptation. It was a temptation directed to Peter himself, and Peter succumbed. And our Lord looked upon him with bowels of tender compassion. But when Peter took him and began to rebuke him, and said “This shall not be unto thee,” what was the temptation? Peter was now the instrument of a plea directed to the Savior himself. He was the instrument of a plea that would have turned the Savior from the counsel and will for which he came into the world. That is the reason for the contrast between the look of compassion in the palace of the high priest, and the devastating reprimand on this occasion. What Jesus was now resisting with all the vehemence of righteous indignation was a temptation directed to him by Peter as the instrument of Satan to turn him aside from his duty for which he came into the world. There, my friends, you have the grandeur of the Savior’s commitment. He came down from heaven, not to do his own will, but the will of him who sent him. Again, he said “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straightened until it be accomplished!”
Consequently, the plea of this disciple whom he loved had to be resisted with all of the vehemence of that devastating reprimand. For it was a plea to turn aside from the highest counsel of God the Father. There was to be no truck with such a plea: “Get behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me.” Can you not see in this the Savior’s commitment to that purpose for which he came into the world? There was not to be one moment of hesitation in administering the rebuke!
Now in conclusion, may I invite you to recognize in this particular instance the disclosure of the glory of Christ? The apostle Paul says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory unto glory, even as by the Spirit of God.” Let us meditate carefully. Let us meditate prayerfully. Let us meditate persistently upon the revelation of the glorious Redeemer that is given to us in the Scripture of truth. Let us catch new facets of that revelation of glory. As we catch new facets, as we meditate prayerfully in dependence upon the enlightening of the Holy Spirit, we will be transformed more and more into his likeness. For that is the great destination of the people of God, that they shall be conformed to the image of him who is the firstborn among many brethren. We see in this chapter, perhaps in an unsuspecting way, disclosure to us of the unsurpassed glory of the Redeemer in the different reactions, the different responses, that he gave to the actions of Peter.
[The Banner of Truth publishes the Collected Writings of John Murray]
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