Read: Matthew 16-17
I don’t claim to have a scholarly approach to extensive Bible study, more of an inquisitive Christ-follower method. Every once in awhile I look at the detailed notes in the study Bible of choice for clues and context. Today it seemed fitting. The NIV Study Bible describes the book of Matthew as an artistically crafted work with five discourses to mirror the Pentateuch in a particular effort to appeal to the large Jewish audience. The third discourse contains parables and miracles and leads us to Jesus’ prediction of his death as the tension mounts between established Jewish authority and the growing followers of Jesus and his disciples.
I have no desire to write posts for the purpose of writing posts! Yes, I want to read through the Bible carefully, but not for the sake of checking off my list. You should know that by now! These chapters portray tension in the middle of Jesus’ ministry and, I believe, they help us appreciate the tension we feel in our ministry (even though it pales in comparison).
Stern words from Jesus:
A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 16:4-6
I wonder how many people turned and walked away from the Pharisees? The sentence stuck out this morning, in between Jesus warning about these lost leaders of Israel. They came to Jesus to ask a question, at least that was the reported intention in order to gain an audience. Jesus’ answer left them scratching their heads and before they knew it, he walked away. I have to think the answer plus the action was powerfully significant.
The funny thing is that the disciples didn’t get it! It appears they were as confused as the Pharisees and Sadducees:
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Matthew 16:8-9
Hard words for the select few, yet I feel like this most of the time! Talking amongst friends, trying to understand, piecing clues together to make sense of what is going on in this crazy life on earth.
Following this interaction, Jesus asked His disciples who the people say He is? Peter is quick to offer the right answer–perhaps the others were simply afraid to say outloud:
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16
Here we are, practically the center point in Matthew and we read the definitive words: Jesus IS the Messiah. For those of us raised in church, this is far from an “aha” moment. But for those in A.D. 30, these were world-changing words. Question: why are these not world-changing words in 2017? Shouldn’t they be just as significant today as 2,000 years ago?
Matthew quickly walks us through Jesus’ prediction of his death and then an astounding episode where Jesus is seen with Moses and Elijah, the Transfiguration experience. Talk about a churchy word! Jesus’s physical appearance was momentarily changed into his glorified state. Mind blown, the hand-picked disciples, Peter, James and John, stumble around trying to piece together the overload of information that just erupted before them.
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. Matthew 17:6-8
They are really trying to understand, but it’s easy to appreciate their confusion. Matthew writes his gospel account well after the events, but preserves the mystery as it unfolds.
The next story Matthew chooses to include is a fantastic failure on the part of the disciples and a strong rebuke from Jesus as a result.
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:19-20
If the disciples have so little faith, having watch miracles firsthand, I wonder what excuse I have given the entire story in my hands.
I hope we can learn to appreciate just a touch of what it was like to witness the truth of Jesus’ identity revealing itself to those who are far from Christ as the Spirit breaks down walls. Lord, help us to learn from these words and paint the picture that begs the questions which show who you are to this dying world.