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Thursday, 3 April 2014

A complete misunderstanding: Matthew 16:21-28

It is an amazing truth that after one stands firm for the gospel it is the easiest thing in the world to fall! Elijah is a wonderful example of this; on Mount Carmel he was strong and authoritative against all of the evil ways of the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth. He was not afraid of 750 of them, nor was he afraid of Israel’s most evil king Ahab. But soon after this when he was personally threatened by the king’s wife Jezebel he had a nervous breakdown and hid in the wilderness. We are at our most vulnerable after a victory. How often we have seen young Christians stand firm in their faith until after their baptism and then for them to fail so readily. Peter displays this to us perfectly in this passage and so we can learn much about him, ourselves and the struggle that others go through!
Peter the impetuous spokesman had previously declared on behalf of the disciples that:
“Jesus is the Christ is the Son of the living God.”
In reality the Lord Jesus had set a half term exam for them, He had progressively been showing them through teaching, signs and wonders as to His person! For more than 2 years He had been their friend and teacher and now they also recognised Him to be God’s promised Messiah to the world. Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. The Jews around had all sorts of other ideas as to His person but the disciples had learned this vital lesson. It was important for them to understand this before Jesus progresses to teach them about His mission.
They had learned this vital truth that Jesus is Messiah but now they must learn the truth about what the Messiah will accomplish and how. A good maths teacher will teach the basics to his pupils before going on to more complex mathematics. I suppose we all remember the moment that a mathematical conundrum clicked and that it really stemmed from the simple truths learned earlier. There were many false hopes pinned upon the Messiah by the Jews, they hoped or expected Him to be their knight in shining armour who would expel the enemy, rule righteously and permanently over the nation of Israel, restoring their land and making it paradise on earth!
Jesus now sets about teaching His disciples:
A true understanding:
As we have said the foundation is laid, the disciples know that Jesus is God’s anointed one. We know much more about Jesus and His mission than the disciples did at that time. They had to have a complete mind-shift concerning their expectations, their faith and understanding needs to be stretched and tested in order that they might begin to understand that Jesus must die in order to fulfil the purpose for which God sent Him! That purpose is a long way from the superman figure that even the disciples would expect. They knew Jesus as a poor but clever man and I guess they must have wondered how He might become the warrior figure that they so desired. David would have been an encouragement to them as he was transformed from a humble shepherd boy to warrior king by God’s intervention. As we have said the disciples still had much to learn and so Jesus begins to build upon what they already knew.
In verse 21 Matthew tells us that from this moment on He began to show them the mission that He had. It must have come as a great shock for them to hear from the Lord that He would have to suffer many things at the hands of the elders and chief priests but that in itself would not be too surprising. After all it was the leader of Israel (King Saul) that opposed David’s rise to the throne but yet God had over-ruled Saul’s opposition and David eventually became Israel’s greatest king. If God could do that for David they would expect Him to do it for the Messiah. But to hear that Messiah would be killed would have been too much for them. How could He deal with their problems if He was dead? They had so much to learn before these events would take place at the next Passover just a few months away!
It is interesting for us to see new believers who have so much to learn. It greatly encourages us when they discover new truths in scripture and they give us the great privilege of helping them learn to   from a mistaken understanding. As with the disciples we all have many things to learn about the faith, we have many wrong expectations to deal with and many misconceptions to clear up. This is exactly what Jesus is about to do over the next period with His disciples. He begins by dropping the bombshell at just the right time.
We can learn much from the way that Jesus treats His disciples at such times. He does not blurt out a complete systematic theology or creed and expect them to have an excellent theology; but often that is exactly what we do. Jesus was gentle but firm in the way He taught the disciples, He was patient with them in their misunderstandings and in the way that He taught them. He had time for them and as any good teacher He was with them in their learning and their experience. We also must have the qualities of Jesus and help others and be with them in order that they attain a good understanding of bible truth and the Christian faith. Christianity Explored, discipleship classes, bible study and exposition are a vital part of our church life along with care and love for each other as we seek to influence all for the truth of the gospel.
To prove the point we see from Peter:
A completely wrong understanding:
Peter pulled Jesus to one side and said to Him; “Don’t you worry now you have me! I will be your saviour, I will die for you. Jesus you and I can make a difference. You will never die!” How the mighty fall; from being a great theologian Peter sinks to the Satanic. From preaching the gospel of hope he quickly preaches a devilish gospel of hopelessness! He must have been shaken to his boots when he heard the Lord’s reply. Not long ago he had been commended by Jesus for his great understanding and now the Lord speaks to him as if he were the devil himself. “Get behind me Satan.” At this point we must interpret this statement in the same way as we did the statement of Jesus concerning Peter being the rock upon which the church would be built.
Jesus was not saying that now Peter had become Satan; but that he was speaking Satan’s words. Peter was merely confused by what he heard from Jesus and so the only understanding that he had was worldly and therefore authored by the devil. Jesus declared Satan to be a hindrance to Him. That is exactly what the devil always is, he always hinders God’s truth. We need look no further than the Garden of Eden to see this in action. The devil questioned God’s word with Eve and she fell for it, he hindered her relationship with God and now that is exactly what he is doing with Jesus’ words. The disciples were to learn that Jesus would die for the sins of the world that this was God’s plan and that nothing and no-one would hinder it! Jesus was not calling Peter Satan; He was simply addressing Satan who was at that time influencing Peter’s understanding and actions. The words of God and man’s understanding at this point are poles apart.
As Christians we are also likely to have wrong perspectives concerning the gospel, we need to be like the disciples and sit at the feet of Jesus to learn the deep things of God. He will progressively teach us all that we need to know if we will listen to Him.
How do we do that?
By reading, hearing and obeying His word. The disciples were still to learn the lesson of belonging to the church, the authority of the church and the protection of the church but we are beyond that and so we know that the church has a great responsibility to its people. The church must be like Christ. He has appointed some to be Pastors, teachers and preachers in order that the words and influence of Satan amongst us must diminish and be eradicated. The word of God must replace it and reign supreme! That is our role and responsibility.
It is so easy to discount somebody because they do not quite believe as we do, Jesus never did that He educated His friends into a better understanding; in this we must become like Jesus.
We see that He does not leave it there; He grounds what He is teaching them into their own experience:
Our way forward:
It is always good to be aware of what is to come. Fortune tellers around the world are never out of work due to man’s fascination with the future. The Lord Jesus in teaching the disciples about what the future would bring Him also taught them that their future would in a way echo His. In verse 24 He tells them that they also have a cross to bear. They would at once have understood what He was saying. It was commonplace to see people carrying a cross to the place of execution. In some cases it was on behalf of a loved one because they were too weak from the punishment already dealt out to carry it for themselves! They knew that to carry a cross was a sign of disgrace and condemnation! Now Jesus is telling them that to follow Him is to become a disgrace in the eyes of all around. He expects them to up everything in order to be a disciple; they might even have to give up life itself!
This is both powerful and frightening teaching; there is no wonder that they needed the sight of the transfigured Christ to begin to take it all in. But that is for next week. For today we must remind ourselves of the cost of following Christ. It is not a breeze; it is not a walk in the park. It is a hard life that will be marked by difficulty and personal sacrifice but as we shall see in the weeks to come it is also a delight; it is a truly wonderful life!
How can it be both?
We are required to give up life as we know it for the sake of Christ and to live the Christ life which is infinitely better. It is true life; it is life to the full. Satan will hate you for it and so will his followers but for us it is life as God intends it to be.
What does it mean to take up your cross?
It means to deny self; that is to give up selfish sinful ambition and live as true disciples of Jesus, to make a sacrifice of all that is offensive to Him and to live for Him. Some ask the question “what is there left to live for?” The answer is plain and simple we live for God who lived and died for us in order that we have a restored relationship with Him and so we can live the life that He created us to live.
This is true fulfillment and true prospects!!!!

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