The Interests of God
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You." But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's.” (Matthew 16:21-23).
Why did Jesus have to die such a brutal death? Can’t God just forgive us? What’s the point of God demanding atonement for our sins and justice for breaking His law? Can’t God just get rid of evil and create a new world without sin and death?
All important questions, but do we really want the answers or are we just testing God?
Many people question God but don’t seek genuine answers, because they’re not concerned in following God’s interests, but their own.
When the apostle Peter was just a disciple, he had his own thoughts and ideas about God. He had plans about how life with Jesus would play out. So when Jesus announces that He must suffer at the hands of ungodly men and die and rise again, it didn't fit with Peter’s plans, and Peter tries to steer Jesus in a different direction.
But Jesus sharply rebukes and warns Peter of the fatal error and eternal consequences of placing our own interests above God’s.
We think we have a handle on life and what makes us happy. We plan for the future and set out to accomplish the desires of our hearts. But do we take into account the interests of God in our plans? Surely as our Creator, we should consider what He thinks about how we should live?
Our journey in life ends in death. Death will one day come and take us away, whether we are ready or not. The day and the hour of our death is unknowable, but the certainty of the event is absolutely guaranteed.
The real questions we need to ask are:
Who am I? - Am I born again and an heir of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus?
Where am I going? - Am I going to heaven?
How long do I have to live in this life?
This last question has no answer, but if you are certain you are going to heaven, it will disarmed this last question of its sting (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).
The majority of people living in the 21st Century, in a Western democratic culture, hardly ever seriously consider these questions. For one reason or another, the concept of the wrath of God and atonement for sins seems primitive and not in keeping with modern scientific knowledge or philosophical views which dismiss the very existence of God.
But God is not mocked, and these questions will become critically relevant for everyone at some stage in life.
Evil touches all people at some point. Incurable sickness, cancer, HIV, mental illness, disabling accidental injuries, genetic disorders.
For some, evil comes in suffering financially, socially, politically, through abuse, rape, violence, war or injustice; some evil will be self-inflicted through addiction to drugs, gambling, sex, alcohol or food.
And for others, the disappointment of reaching their goals and finding a lack of fulfillment, and some people will prematurely end their own life because of disillusionment or lack of purpose and meaning.
Some will hide as spectators through life in a haze of boredom, indifference and apathy, or fear of failure, injury or shame.
Some openly and without excuse just don’t care, and will indulge in all sorts of heathenism and constant pursuit of pleasures and entertainment to numb and distract their consciences; and finally, some people will experience many evils in one life time and welcome death as an end to their torment, not knowing that their eternal torment in hell will begin without any hope of escape.
Sin is real and impacts everyone in some way or another. The guilt of sin is a reality we face every day through the manifestations of evil, and the consequences of our actions, which originate in the thoughts and intentions of our heart, and have eternal repercussions.
The interests of God are to deal with sin and death, for this is the root cause of evil in our lives. Sin and death have been unleashed as a consequences of our rejection to obey God, and to be the people God created us and designed us to be.
So why can’t God just forgive us and why did Jesus have to suffer the wrath of God for our salvation? The answer is clear when we look at the vile nature of sin in the manifestation of evil in our lives.
Many people are enraged or significantly annoyed by simply being cut off in traffic by inconsiderate drivers, and when we are hurt, offended or violated, we find it almost impossible to sincerely forgive people in our hearts. We feel justified not to forgive when we are the objects of injustice. Why? Because sin carries real guilt and real loss to the person offended and violated.
Do we not realize that God is deeply hurt and offended by our sin, and violated by the evil of the thoughts and intentions of our heart? The fact we disregard Him and His purposes after He has created us and provided us with all the good things we enjoy in life. That we commit evil acts against each other and not take into account how it affects God.
The guilt of sin is real just as the manifestations of evil are real, and so is the justice that is required to deal with the reality of sin. Without justice, God would cease to be God, and there would be a continual imbalance and unresolved tension, like a violent murder that steals a loved one. No amount of justice will appease the senseless death of a loved one, and our sin is so grievous in the eyes of God, that it can only be compared to the most imaginable horror of loss and injustice.
But it is against this terrible setting that the character of God so perfectly shines and the glory of God is revealed in His righteousness and love. God cannot commit any act of evil, and sin is infinitely repulsive and unthinkable to God, which makes Him completely worthy of our trust and of our deepest adoration.
He can do no wrong and is full of compassion, mercy and grace. He is slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness. He is love, and the shepherd who loves His sheep, and the lover of our souls. He is our redeemer and the One who justifies and reconciles us to Himself. He is the One who chose to sacrifice His Son, His most precious possession, so that we can be forgiven and He can be perfectly righteous in meeting the demands of His own justice, to reconcile us for our injustice and offence toward Him.
God has set Jesus as the atoning sacrifice that has taken the full punishment of the wrath of God so that we can be completely and forever forgiven and God can remain righteous, holy and just.
The atonement for our sin is absolutely necessary because it is the justice and righteousness that God demands Himself, and God Himself provides the atonement for our guilt as a free gift and a demonstration of His great love for us.
God proves His love and faithfulness to us through the cross of Christ and offers us terms of peace with Him, so that we can approach God without fear and He can accept us without wrath.
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our sins against us but died in our place and took upon Himself our punishment, so that we could escape the consequences of sin and death, and inherit His righteousness to gain access into eternal life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
The cross of Christ is the greatest manifestation of the love of God. It is God’s way to completely forgive and reconcile us to Himself in perfect love and justice. To clean away all our sin and evil, and purify us to love God and love people.
The transforming power of faith in Jesus comes from seeing the character of God in proving His everlasting love for us by giving up of His most precious possession to save us. It is a gift which has no equal in this life and in this world. It is a supernatural event that can only be received by faith.
The atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the interest of God, and this is what we need to take interest in as of first importance in our daily lives. Our own interests are not only temporary, but are often misdirected desires which will lead us away from the good and the glory God has for us, and into paths of eternal darkness.
As Jesus rebuked Peter for not setting his mind on the interests of God, so Jesus rebukes us today.
It is a warning of impending danger, and a call to chose life instead of death. Our sin will lead to our eternal death, and the salvation of Jesus is the only way to be free from the slavery of sin, and to escape the penalty of death, because Jesus is the only sacrifice that can atone for our sins.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to die an atoning death for our sins so we can be forgiven, and God will one day create a new heaven and new earth for all those who are saved in Christ.
Sin and death have already been defeated, and eternal life has been guaranteed to all who will place their trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).