Recently we introduced our kids to the movie “The Princess Bride.” There’s a part or two we fast-forward through, but we’re rewarded with days of hearing our kids pause in mid-step at random moments and erupt into “Wuv, twu wuv!”
There’s a spot in the movie where the story seems to take a twist, and it looks like it will not come to a happy ending. The movie breaks out of the story of the Princess Bride as Fred Savage complains that his grandfather is messing up the story. “That’s not how its supposed to go, Grandpa! You’re screwing it up!”
In church this morning our pastor talked about the second half of Matthew 16, which tells us about two conversations between Peter and Jesus. In the first, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The answers were all over the place, depending on people’s expectations about what God would do about Israel and the Roman government. Then Jesus asked, “but who do you say that I am?”
This is one of the most important questions for each of us to answer: “Who do you say that Jesus is?” Peter’s answer was “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter understood who Jesus was. When Peter gave this answer, Jesus said “… upon this rock I will build my church.”
A few verses later, however, Peter had another conversation with Jesus. In this one he revealed that his heart understanding of the meaning underlying the fact that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” was not as deep as the previous conversation seemed to indicate. Jesus was warning his disciples about what was going to come, that he was going to be crucified. Peter rebuked Jesus, saying “This must not happen to you!” Jesus replied very strongly. He said to Peter, “you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”
Peter wasn’t understanding what Christ was here to do. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but he misunderstood what the Messiah was supposed to do. In his view, God was supposed to be freeing Israel from Roman occupation. How could Jesus be executed and still kick the Romans out? Peter, and pretty much everybody else, had a clear understanding of what they thought God had promised to do, and he fully expected that God was about to do it. On one hand, it was solid faith. On the other hand, it was faith in an interpretation of Scripture, not a faith that Jesus knew what he was doing and could be trusted as Lord. Peter’s religious agenda held a higher standing in his heart than his trust in Jesus.
I wonder how many times in our lives we do the same thing? We learn about God, and we place our trust in what we have learned. That in and of itself is an important step. However, our faith can’t be in the theology we’ve learned, or in the Bible that we’ve read and understood in certain ways. Our faith and trust have to be placed in the person of Jesus and in the Father. Knowing things about God is not the same thing as knowing God and trusting him as a Person.
In my life there are times when I think I know what God is doing. I know he’s called me to something. I know he’s brought me to a place for some purpose, some work that he has prepared in advance for me to do. I know he’s going to do something amazing. All that’s great. My problem is that I think I have got it figured out. I have the script, the outline for how this story’s supposed to go. Then suddenly the story goes off track, at least by my script. My tendency is to want to bring things to a halt, and tell God “That’s not how its supposed to go, Lord! You’re screwing it up!” Like Peter, I want God to stop doing it wrong and get back on track.
Amy Carmichael got all the way to Japan only to get sick shortly after she arrived. God had a place for her to work in India instead. This happens in ministry a lot. What God is really doing turns out to be very different from what we think he will do, or when we’re honest sometimes its what we think he should do. We think, in those moments, that we know and that God has gotten off the plan.
This brings us back to the question: Who is Jesus? Is he as a Person our Lord? Or is he a placeholder for our ideal, abstracted, carefully scripted god that will follow our plan? Is he God, or are we our own god?
I don’t think we can answer this question once and for all and think we’re done with it. I think that its all too easy to be right where God has brought you, and following his will, and then to fall into this very trap when we least expect it because after all we are serving God. He brought us here, he orchestrated events (sometimes in obviously miraculous ways) to create this situation. Surely he’ll be predictable in how he’ll play it out the rest of the way.
God doesn’t follow anybody’s script but his own. We know what God is like: that he is loving, and trustworthy, and faithful, and just, and merciful, and gracious, and holy, and kind. We know that at the end of the age he is going to take us home to a place he has prepared for us, and that those who have refused his offer of life will face his judgment and justice. We don’t know much at all about how exactly he’s going to take us from here to there, and we don’t have his perspective so even guessing is hazardous. Our situation is like trying to drive when all we can see through is a used paper towel tube angled 20 degrees from the direction we need to go. We need to give up and trust the One who can see the whole picture.
Unlike the Grandpa in the Princess Bride, God isn’t just reading the book. He wrote it. He knows what he is doing. He knows each turn, and he planned them on purpose for his purposes. We know that his plan and purpose is good, that he knows what he is doing, and that we can trust him. God is good, and all that he does is good. I must accept that every day on faith, not because I can see but because I know that he can see and I trust in him.
Who do you say that Jesus is?