Exhortation for Sunday 14 January 2007 Reading: Matthew 16 Bro Garnet Alchin
Dear Brothers and Sisters.
Loving greetings in Jesus Christ our Lord.
We have come together today in a spirit of thankfulness and joy to remember the death and resurrection of the son of Almighty God, the son of His love. This serious mental exercise of necessity draws us to reflect upon our own lives. It moves us to review our direction and purpose in life. It asks us frankly in the light of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, is our life being aligned with his?
The purpose of exhortation from the scriptures at this time is to endeavour to advance our comprehension of the greatness of the Master, to help us see ourselves in our weakness by comparison and then to encourage us in prayerfully seeking to more fully follow our Lord. What a wonderful blessing we have in the word of our God! It is able to make us wise unto salvation.
To assist us let’s take some thoughts from the New Testament daily reading in Matthew 16.
We could summarise the sections of this chapter as follows:
We are well into the Lord’s ministry by the time we come to Matthew 16. There was probably less than a year to the crucifixion. The religious leaders were increasingly mounting their opposition against Christ. In every possible way they challenged and sought to discredit him in the eyes of the nation. They used every human reason the flesh could muster in their endeavour to weaken his influence on the lives of men and women. Without realizing it they were really simply attempting to justify their own position. This is what is always happening when men and women question the teaching of the Bible. It is a practice not beyond disciples either as we shall see in our chapter.
As the scripture unfolds this record it is really calling on us to stand back and see what is being enacted. It is clearly the thinking of the flesh as it attempts to overthrow Godliness in the lives and minds of men and women. The challenges made by the Pharisees and Sadducees are really the same natural thoughts which can spring so readily into our minds. We should note well that their thought patterns and behaviour arose even from those claiming to be religious. These men presented as Bible teachers. This must truly warn us how vulnerable to wrong thinking and behaviour the human mind is. It can so easily delude itself.
In Matthew 16:1 the Jewish leaders called on Jesus to use the Holy Spirit to prove his claim to being the son of God. They tempted him to show them a sign from heaven. They were not genuine about their request either. That is why Jesus saw them as hypocrites in verse three and a wicked and adulterous generation in verse four. All they really wanted to do was embarrass him in the eyes of his listeners. In their view if Jesus didn’t or wouldn’t demonstrate to them who he was on their terms they could claim he was not truly the son of God. It would then follow that if he was not truly the son of God that one ought not follow what he taught, especially what he said about them!
Jesus had resisted this kind of trial back in the wilderness temptation at the commencement of his ministry. He was resolved not to use the power of God to justify himself and would not therefore yield to their request for a sign. Neither should we try to use the things of God to advance ourselves in this world. However he warned that God would give them a sign, the sign of the prophet Jonah, in verse 4. There is an earlier reference to the Jonah sign in Matthew 12:39-41. There we see it refers to Jesus’ death and resurrection and to the repentance of Gentiles.
Many people today suggest that if God would only show them a sign of some form or other they would believe in Him. We may even find doubts in the back of our minds as to whether God is truly advancing His plan in the earth. At times it may look as if everything seems to be continuing as it always has. In our reading today we see the Bible’s answer. The discerning mind will perceive that the death and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent repentance of Gentiles on this basis is a remarkable witness to the truth of God being at work in the world today. Who else could have developed such a way of redemption which demonstrates Divine wisdom and righteousness?
The Lord in verse three of our chapter observes that humans are more able to read the weather than they are to see the significance of the times in which they live. This may really be saying that as humans we are more likely to place more concern on present issues (like the weather) than those of the future (like being a part of the Kingdom of God). Our Lord truly challenges our priorities when he taught, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). This is where we must reverently have our focus.
The Lord chided the Pharisees and the Sadducees when he called them a wicked and an adulterous generation. The name Pharisee means a “separate one” and Sadducee means “righteous”. So here we learn it is not what we claim or what we call ourselves that matters but what we really are in our heart before God. The inspired comment of Solomon teaches us, “For as he thinks in his heart so is he” Proverbs 23:7. It is what we are truly within our heart that our Father in heaven sees.
So it is little wonder that the Lord in verse 6 warned disciples against the leaven of the leaders of the Jews. Verse 12 explains that he was referring to the doctrine or teaching of these men. Jesus likened their philosophies to yeast which silently works within a lump of dough and brings about its change. In Luke 12:1 he called this hypocrisy. It is where one puts on an act but it is not really the true actual person. Hebrews 4:13 teaches “No creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account”. So the words of Jesus to his disciples so long ago remain vital to us today. God knows whether we are true brothers and sisters. Now all of us will slip from time to time however we need to be aware that the philosophy which suggests that God is there just to save us no matter what our attitude towards Him is wrong. These events are recorded to encourage us to allow sound Godly principles to motivate us in our development towards being a follower of Christ.
In the next section of Matthew 16 in verses 13-15, Jesus asks his disciples who they understood him to be. It is dear Peter, who in his forthright way proclaims, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Peter had put together that Israel’s Messiah was indeed the son of the God who lives! All too few of Peter’s contemporaries had come to see this doctrinal truth. Peter truly recognized this having been with the Lord now for some years. He had witnessed Jesus’ teaching, he’d seen the miracles, and he’d observed the way in which the scripture was fulfilled in his Master. He openly acknowledged what he’d come to believe.
Jesus responded by advising Peter that what he had confessed was an understanding having its origins with God. Not all men would come to this conclusion. Most would reject it. To believe this is to say that one will honour, heed and follow this man knowing he is destined to be Israel’s king and deliverer, the very son of the living Almighty God no less.
So it is in verse 18 Jesus says effectively, “On this truth I will put together the body of believers who belong to me. When men and women believe and understand this truth I will add them to the company of those who will be made immortal when I come to establish my Father’s kingdom”. Peter was also told he would be given the keys of the Kingdom. Thus in due time it was Peter who first preached the gospel message of the risen saviour to the Jews in Acts 2 and to Gentiles in Acts 10.
However when in verse 21, Jesus began to teach his disciples that he would die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and be raised the third day, Peter had the audacity to take Jesus aside and admonish him. Peter had not come to understand the need for Messiah to die to become the saviour of the world. It didn’t fit with his understanding. There was a giant gap in his knowledge. He saw no place for the death of Messiah as a basis for the forgiveness of sins in God’s plan. He spoke up accordingly. Doubtless he did not wish the anguish of death upon his Lord. The flesh tends to be repelled by such a concept. Peter saw Jesus’ Messiahship in a different way to the divine plan. He failed to realize that the flesh must be crucified as a declaration that God is right. So he opposed the Lord’s teaching. He challenged God’s way. He thought it would be better his way.
Jesus countered Peter’s thinking. He warned that Peter’s way represented human thinking. It was adverse to Christ’s submission to do his Father’s will. So the Lord who had earlier praised Peter now finds he must severely reprimand him.
“Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Peter had become an adversary to the Lord all in the matter of a short time.
How is it that a man such as Peter can at one moment confess wonderful truth and at another prove to be against the things of God? We are here let into the fact that no man is perfect. Here we see the potential we all have to inconsistencies. But Jesus continued to work with Peter. There were more encounters ahead for Peter by which we can be encouraged. We are on a continuum of development. All are in need of correction from time to time, to ultimately be fitted for the kingdom. God was not finished with Peter’s development as further incidents in Peter’s life show. So Jesus spoke very firmly to Peter calling on him to be a follower (“get behind me”) and not to think he could set forth a softer more humanly acceptable route to the kingdom for Messiah. What a warning this is! God’s way is the only way to life. We must come to realize that the human mind is deceitful and so readily looks to water down God’s ways.
In verse 24 Jesus follows up his correction for Peter by spelling out the real implications of true discipleship. It is all about truly following Christ. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers (“get behind me” same expression in the original Greek text as in verse 23 to Peter) let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.
To deny oneself literally means to lose sight of oneself and one’s own interests, to forget oneself. Here it teaches us that the things of God must come to be the all encompassing motivation in our lives. Our affairs and desires are to be placed in subservience to the will of our God. The Lord has modeled to us the way when in Gethsemane he said, “Not my will but yours be done”. In our chapter today Jesus said to any who would follow him they must take up their cross and follow him. He is saying one must be prepared to crucify or put oneself to death if one desires to truly be a follower of him. This is the same concept that we demonstrated in our baptism. It is not new to us but we need to be reminded of it regularly because our nature so readily reverts to its own ways. It needs us to reflect upon and ponder what this means in practice.
Jesus expands his teaching in verses 25 and 26. He is saying disciples who wish to be saved will surrender their lives because they know and understand their Lord’s ways and in so doing they will find life for evermore. He says there can be absolutely nothing greater than such life. Life everlasting, brother and sister, is the greatest of gifts. Nothing can be compared with it. Nothing can be more important than it.
In verse 27 Jesus taught his disciples that the gift of immortal life will be made when he comes again in his Father’s glory. It will be determined he said on the basis of every man’s practice in the days of mortality.
So as we come today to remember the sacrifice of our Lord we do well to also reflect seriously on the kind of life we practise as disciples. Each of us must come to be ever more aware that we are disciples at all times. We are followers of our Lord 24/7. We ought not to be as the Pharisees and Sadducees who believed they could use their own thinking to justify their own wilful ways for their own present benefit. Being a disciple of Christ is not playacting the role. Nor is it sufficient to, like Peter, wonderfully true as it was, acknowledge Jesus is God’s anointed. One must also be prepared to follow the King’s example and submit in denying ourselves and taking up our cross. This is God’s way to life. It is the way that elevates Him as supreme and humbles the flesh before the Lord of the entire universe. This is the way set forth in the sacrifice of Christ which we have come to remember today.