Do We Pursue the Things of God or the Things of Man?
Jesus’ words of rebuke to Peter, “Get behind me Satan,” are so well known that they have been a part of our vernacular for centuries—maybe since they were first canonized. What is less oft spoken, though, is what Jesus said to Peter next, “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:24).
Peter, like the other disciples, was determined that his King would reign in this world. He believed Jesus would conquer the ruling authorities and sit on his throne right then and there in Jerusalem. And Peter would be with him, part of his court, also victorious.
Sure, Peter studied the scriptures and pursued a godly life. He was a religious man. He had faith and wanted to please God. He believed that his efforts would culminate with success in this life. So when his king foretold his own death, it sounded like heresy, not to mention Peter himself following in those footsteps. How could you suffer when you follow the king?
Peter had his mind on the things of man, not the things of God. And Jesus’ strong words of rebuke are for us, as well. Are we not like Peter? Are not our godly pursuits intermingled with worldly means and ends? Do we not seek the good life now?
Our books and banners and beliefs—even in the church—are a hybrid of Bible and best-life-now. We don’t have to be adherents to the health and wealth gospel to be susceptible to a theology that waters down the things of God with the things of man.
Popular preachers and authors tell us that Jesus came to give us life, so we should do what excites us, look inside ourselves and determine our purpose, empower ourselves and celebrate ourselves, because as children of the King, we are worth it. We tell each other that this is our moment, let’s be our best selves, let’s lift ourselves up, and do this thing that God has called us to do. We drive ourselves on our own energy that we conjure up in feel-good worship services and through best-selling books that pump us up with the enthusiasm to face another week.
These attractions are in stark contrast to Jesus’ proclamations that his followers would have to deny themselves and carry their own crosses (Mark 8:34), as he did. He didn’t say anything about being our best selves or us doing what makes us happy. He didn’t tell us to look within to have it all. He said nothing of our destiny being greatness. He asked us to be faithful. To walk with him. To abide in him. To search the scriptures for him. To lose our lives and find ourselves in him.
This calling is displayed when Jesus drew near to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:15). On the day that Jesus conquered death for all the world to see, he chose to facilitate a quiet faithfulness in two of his followers. These two disciples, like Peter, had expected Jesus to reign victorious in the here and now—they had their minds on the things of men, not the things of God. They were despondent that the Messiah in whom they hoped had been defeated, crucified. After they expressed their bitter disappointment, Jesus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets…interpreted to them all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
Then, when Jesus “was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:30-31). Now seeing Jesus with the eyes of their hearts, they realized that their Messiah had indeed conquered death and rose again. They rejoiced saying “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). In their jubilation they rose and went right back to Jerusalem—another seven mile walk on the same day!—to share the good news with Jesus’ other followers.
Having encountered Jesus and after interpreting all the Scriptures concerning Jesus, the two disciples were on fire. Jesus had simply drawn near to them and revealed himself to them throughout the scriptures. The risen Savior chose to facilitate a quiet, but deep and intimate encounter, changing the two disciples.
This encounter caused the two disciples to drop what they were doing and run seven miles back to Jerusalem in the dark night, courageously risking attacks with wild dogs, bandits, and Roman soldiers. They could not contain their joy. They had a purpose—proclaim Christ whom they now knew personally.
And it’s the same today, for us disciples 2,000 years later. When we encounter the risen Lord and when we pursue him in the Scriptures we see him and we find ourselves. Like the two disciples from Emmaus, we find our purpose, we find courage, we find joy. This pursuit of the things of God—namely Jesus himself revealed in his word—rather than the things of man, is where we find ourselves—in Christ crucified, who rose again, and is revealed in His scriptures.
Author’s note: Many thanks to my husband who first preached a version of this message at Redemption Parker. As often happens, the truths of the sermon encouraged and edified me such that I could not help but share them through my writing.