THE TEMPTER SPEAKS IN THE VOICE OF A FRIEND
He began to teach them that it was necessary that the Son of Man should suffer many things, and should be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and rise again after three days. He kept telling them this plainly. And Peter caught him and began to rebuke him. He turned round; he looked at his disciples; and he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan,” he said. “These are not God’s thoughts but men’s.”
It is against the background of what we have just seen of the common conception of the Messiah that we must read this. When Jesus connected Messiahship with suffering and death, he was making statements that were to the disciples both incredible and incomprehensible. All their lives they had thought of the Messiah in terms of irresistible conquest, and they were now being presented with an idea which staggered them. That is why Peter so violently protested. To him the whole thing was impossible.
Why did Jesus so sternly rebuke Peter? Because he was putting into words the very temptations which were assailing Jesus. Jesus did not want to die. He knew that he had powers which he could use for conquest. At this moment he was refighting the battle of temptations in the wilderness. This was the devil tempting him again to fall down and worship him, to take his way instead of God’s way.
It is a strange thing, and sometimes a terrible thing, that the tempter sometimes speaks to us in the voice of a well-meaning friend. We may have decided on a course which is the right course but which will inevitably bring trouble, loss, unpopularity, sacrifice. And some well-meaning friend tries with the best intentions in the world, to stop us. I knew a man who decided to take a course which would almost inevitably land him in trouble. A friend came to him and tried to dissuade him. “Remember,” said the friend, “that you have a wife and a family. You can’t do this.” It is quite possible for someone to love us so much that he wants us to avoid trouble and to play safe.
In Gareth and Lynette Tennyson tells the story of the youngest son of Lot and Bellicent. He has seen the vision and he wishes to become one of Arthur’s knights. Bellicent, his mother, does not wish to let him go.
“Hast thou no pity on my loneliness?” she asks. His father, Lot, is old and “lies like a log and all but smouldered out.” Both his brothers are already at Arthur’s court. “Stay, my best son,” she says, “ye are yet more boy than man.” If he stays she will arrange the hunt to keep him happy in the chase and find some princess to be his bride. The boy has had the vision, and, one by one the mother, who loves him dearly, produces reasons, excellent reasons, why he should stay at home. Someone who loves him speaks with the tempter’s voice, all unaware that she is doing it. But Gareth answers,
“O Mother, How can ye keep me tethered to you–Shame. Man am I grown, a man’s work must I do. Follow the deer? Follow the Christ, the King, Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King– Else, wherefore born?”
So Gareth went when the vision called.
The tempter can make no more terrible attack than in the voice of those who love us and who think they seek only our good. That is what happened to Jesus that day; that is why he answered so sternly. Not even the pleading voice of love must silence for us the imperious voice of God.
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