The infamous phrase uttered by Simon Peter still rings in the ears of modern Christendom. Peter somehow comes up with the bright idea to to put the words ‘Never’ and ‘Lord’ together in a sentence while rebuking Jesus!
Christ’s response to Peter’s “Never Lord” comment stands out as perhaps the most pointed interaction recorded between Christ and the one He tasked with feeding his sheep. Peter did not relinquish his heresy quickly which caused him much grief and shame. But he did ultimately relinquish it. The question remains, will the modern church learn that we must relinquish our cultural optimism when it conflicts with the will of God revealed in his Word?
Matthew 16: 21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
When Peter said “Never Lord”, he was MERELY expressing and choosing optimism OVER the revealed will of God. He had the “audacity of hope” to believe that Jesus could avoid the cross. But Jesus responded by saying that Peter had was speaking on behalf of Satan and had in mind the things of man, not God. Since Jesus had clearly and repeatedly (John 2:19, Matthew 16:4, Matthew 16:21) stated that he was heading to the cross, Peter was without excuse. Even after Jesus sharply rebuked Peter, Peter continued to struggle with hoping for a good outcome as defined in human terms.
Peter had yet to realize that rejecting Christ’s words while clinging to good intentions and a hopeful attitude was actually laying the groundwork for his denial of Christ.
John 13: 36Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.”37Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.”38Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.
John 18: 10Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servantc and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
John 18: 25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it, and said, “I am not.”26One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?”27Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
Just like Peter, today’s Christians sometimes cling to optimism even when it is in direct opposition to God’s word. Like Peter, we hesitate to recognize that we too are flirting with denying Christ in the process.
We have huge cultural trends to overcome in this regard. We listen to positive and encouraging Christian radio that faithfully serves up the mainstream media newswire without a shred of critical analysis. We Americans believe in prosperity and happy endings. We have popularized a pre-tribulation end-times theology that has little root in church history and no support (that I can find) in scripture. That Jesus clearly predicted that his followers would need to endure to the end in times that would include suffering that had never been seen on Earth before (Mt 24) and would never be equaled again is explained away using fancy dispensation charts. Christians be here for the tribulation? Never Lord.
Our mega church pastors don’t slink down to the level of politicians. Most of our inspiration leaders are too heavenly minded to weigh in on the down and dirty ethical issues of our day like pornography, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, tyranny, gun control, genocide, and Christian complicity in crimes of the state. Or when they do weigh in on these items, they surrender to political correctness instead of remaining faithful to scripture. That Jesus called us to make disciples by teaching everything that He commanded doesn’t bother us. We tell ourselves to JUST preach the GOSPEL (what gospel exactly?). Teach what the bible says on political and ethical Issues? Never Lord, it would sully the pulpit or draw unwanted attention from the 501c3 audit committee.
Christian Conservatives also struggle with Peter’s hopeful heresy. When Conservatives advocate for a strong American capable of defending itself in the world and securing our prosperity, we advocate institutionalized bullying and stealing to defend our minimum acceptable standard of living. Reduce the scope and size of the federal government to within the constitutionally authorized enumerated powers? Allow people to settle their transactions in the currency of their choice, even oil or gold? Never Lord, it would ruin American prosperity.
Even Christian Preppers sometimes struggle with the heresy of unfounded hope as we contemplate our strategy for dealing with anticipated trouble. We seek wisdom to know how to get our loved ones out of harm’s way. We see danger, we turn away. But when we are surrounded by danger, when there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide; what then? We tell ourselves that there must be a way. We study harder, think more outside the box, we pledge to act more decisively. Concede that as prepared as we can get is not prepared enough? Acknowledge the scripture that says “Who can make war against the beast? (Rev 13:4) Never Lord, that would be fatalistic.
We are all very human, just like Simon Peter. Condemnation over our natural human inclinations is not beneficial but neither is surrendering to them. We must have the courage to separate cultural values from biblical values and we must choose to agree with God’s word even when we have to swallow our optimism in order to do so. When we elevate our optimism and good intentions above the word of God, we deny Christ.
When we elevate peace above principle in human relations, we deny that
a) God is the highest authority
b) Eternity is of greater value than whatever we would gain by compromise.
Our greatest hope and destiny is not long life, prosperity, peace, and freedom from conflict. Our essential calling is to answer the question that Jesus asked:
”When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18: 8
What kind of Faith is Jesus looking for, exactly? This seems to be the source of Peter’s confusion and ours.
Jesus isn’t looking for positive encouraging faith that things in this world will somehow work out fine while we enjoy the journey. He is looking for authentic faith that is willing to lose the world (Mark 8:36). He is looking for faith that trusts in and relies on resurrection power and the certain hope of eternity.
Faith in Christ doesn’t say: “Never Lord”. Faith in Christ says “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). Faith says “be it unto me as you have spoken” (Luke 1:38).