Keep in Mind the Things of God

Jesus has just listened to Peter’s confession. He has responded that he will build his powerful church on that rock. But, what is the rest of the story? Just how will Christ build his church? Matthew 16:21–23 tells you.

Understand that Jesus had to suffer, die, and be raised. The suffering of Jesus is how he builds his church. Although this is not the beginning of Jesus’ own awareness of his coming suffering and death, and Matthew has already hinted at its approach, it marks the start of Jesus’ intensive instruction of his disciples on the subject. Jesus says, “He must,” indicating the necessity of what he was about to do. This was not an option, not a possibility. Rather, he was about to fulfill what God had ordained and had prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. Significantly, Jesus waited with this instruction until Peter had made his confession. Perhaps doing it earlier would have confused the disciples about his Messianic work. Peter has now made his confession, but his concept of what the Messiah would do needs to be drastically revised. Jesus is telling you how he will build his church. It’s construction will involve his own suffering, betrayal, and death. Jesus tells you the location of his suffering: Jerusalem, the place where God had caused his name to dwell, The place where the temple stood, the city of the Great King. Those inflicting the suffering would be the religious leaders, the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law. (This combination of the three groups apparently refers to the Sanhedrin.) If there was any group that should have been ready for the coming Messiah, that should have welcomed him, it ought to have been the Sanhedrin. But they will reject him, and cause him to suffer. Ultimately he will be killed. The gates of Hades will not prevail against the church he is building, but he will enter the realm of the dead.

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The Rock-Solid Confession

Do you have a friend you would describe as “rock-solid”? What does that mean? Does Peter fit that description? Yet, in Matthew 16:13–20 Jesus uses Peter’s name, and says, “On this rock I will build my church!”

Share Peter’s confession. Who do you say Jesus is? Jesus had gone with his disciples to Caesarea Phillipi, a town to the north of the Sea of Galilee. He asks his disciples who the people, the crowds that had been following him, said that he, the Son of Man, was. The disciples recount the various opinions expressed by the crowds. Then Jesus ask the who they say he is. Matthew records the question because it is one you and I need to answer. In fact, it is a crucially important question with eternal consequences. Matthew is not just informing you of a bit of history (though indeed this happened). He records Peter’s confession so that you can join in that same confession. He wants you to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the great King in David’s line.

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The Power of the Resurrection

You cannot separate the resurrection from any part of your life as a Christian. The resurrection is crucial to worship on every Lord’s Day. Sometimes people say, “It’s as quiet as a tomb.” The sabbath rest had been disturbed only by the sealing of the rock entrance to the tomb, and the posting of the guard. But, as you read in Matthew 28:1–9, suddenly that peace is shattered!

Appreciate the uniqueness of Matthew’s Gospel. There are differences among the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. The differences can be harmonized. Appreciate the difference in perspective which each witness brings. They have in common the empty tomb and the presence of angelic beings who explain that. Each Gospel assures you that the Lord is risen indeed!

Matthew has his own emphasis. He alone mentions the earthquake. He alone describes the guard, their reaction, and the ensuing cover story. Matthew, more than any of the other Gospels, emphasizes the appearance of Jesus to his followers in Galilee. This is in fulfillment of Jesus’ words to his disciples on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 26:30–35.

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The Son of David and His Donkey

As the Gospel describes the entry of the King into Jerusalem, why does Matthew 21:1–11 focus so much on the donkey that Jesus rides?

Worship your humble King. The crowds herald the Son of David as King. Jesus is arriving at Jerusalem. The remainder of the Gospel is concerned with the final week of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem along with the crowds coming to celebrate the Passover. The need for secrecy is gone, and Jesus allows the crowds to hail him as the Messiah. The confrontation with the leaders of Israel will take place, and will culminate in the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Crowds (plural) join in hailing Jesus as the Messiah. The acclimation, “Son of David” identifies Jesus as the Messiah. “Of greater significance perhaps is [Matthew’s] report of the employment of this title [‘Son of David’] in the acclimation which Jesus received as he entered Jerusalem, which may be compared with the records of the other synoptists [Mt. 21:9, 15; Mk. 11:9f.; Lk. 19:38]. In all these reports there is the same expectation of the messianic kingdom and of the coming king, and Mark as well as Matthew recalls the promise made to David, but only Matthew’s quotation centers attention explicitly on Christ as Son of David.” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, pages 223–224) The very route that Jesus takes into Jerusalem retraces a path, walked the other direction, by his ancestor: 2 Samuel 15:23, 30. Hosanna (literally “save now”) became not only a prayer, but a shout of praise. The blessing upon the one coming in the name of the Lord is taken from Psalm 118, a Psalm used in connection with the Passover celebration. The crowds have their own notion of who the Messiah is and of what he came to do. The palm branches and carpeting of cloaks, along with the shouts, indicate the presence of a king. The crowds welcome Jesus, but have little time for him as the Christ. The Galilean pilgrims identify him a prophet from Nazareth. They are concerned that shouts of praise be sounded in the heavenlies, but they pay scant attention to what he would really do on earth.

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Forecasts, Signs, and Faith

How good are you at forecasting the weather? Better than the weather person on the news? In Matthew 16:1–12 Jesus talks about recognizing weather patterns as he is challenged to produce a sign. But he goes on to rebuke his disciples for their lack of faith and to warn them against what he calls the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. What does he mean by yeast, and does it still threaten the church?

Don’t demand signs. Demanding signs betrays a wicked heart. The Pharisees and Sadducees, though usually opposed to each other, came together to test Jesus by demanding a sign from heaven. They could not have been unaware of the many miracles performed by Jesus. But these were earthly miracles. Did they want some powerful sign from heaven, a plague of darkness, the sun and moon to stand still, a hailstorm to drive out their enemies? Even when Jesus cast out an evil spirit, they attributed the miracle to the power of Beelzebub! Matthew 12:24. Their motivation is clearly not to seek an aid to faith, rather, they are trying to put Jesus on the spot, to embarrass him. Although they could forecast the weather, they ignored the presence of the Messiah, the greatest sign that God could give. (The reference to the weather is not included in some old copies of this Gospel, but is probably original.) The “signs of the times” is not primarily a reference to the details surrounding the second coming of Christ, but rather to what should have been obvious—his first coming, the presence of the Messiah in their midst. Their forefathers, as Zephaniah points out, had longed for the day of the Lord, anticipating God’s judgment on his and their enemies, but not realized that they too fell under condemnation. So these people refused to recognize the reality of God’s presence. Their problem lay not in a weak faith, but in unbelieving and rebellious hearts. Jesus, using strong language, calls them “a wicked and adulterous generation.”

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