“Who do you say that I am?”

Matthew 16:13-20

Jesus and the disciples came to the region of Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked them who people were saying that He was. They responded with several things He was being called. Then Jesus asked them a fateful question: “Who do you say I am?”

It was Simon who responded for the group:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (16:16)

That was it, the missing piece of the “who is this guy” puzzle: He was the Son of God (14:33) and now they have seen that He is also the Messiah.

Throughout this section, Jesus has been intent to educate the disciples on His true identity, to educate them concerning the Kingdom of heaven, and to teach them about His true mission. They have come a very long way indeed, but there is still much for them to learn, and so in verse 20 Jesus tells them not to discuss this Messiah business with others, at least not yet. As we will come to see, they aren’t yet ready to tell people He is the Messiah, because they do not yet know what the nature of His messianic mission is, for if they went out at that moment telling people He was the Messiah, it is very likely that they would, along with everyone else, think He was there to destroy the Roman occupation and restore Israel to its place as a powerful Nation among the nations of this world.

Jesus is on a very different mission.

Yet Jesus congratulates Simon on his insight, revealed as it was by none other than God Himself (16:17). Their recognition of Jesus as both Son of God and Messiah was a game-changer, for with this knowledge in hand, everything would be different, both for the disciples and for the world in general, as verses 18 -19 indicate, yet these two verses may well be the most controversial two verses in the entire Bible… and doesn’t that just figure!

The very simple version is this: In recognition of his statement, Jesus changed Simon’s name to “Peter” which in Greek means “rock”, and on “this” rock, Jesus would build His church, but then is the “rock” Peter personally or is it the acknowledgement that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This question is battleground number 1.

Peter would be given the “keys of the Kingdom” and “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This is battleground number 2.

For now, I will just leave this as a game changing moment. In the next post, I will remind myself that I am a theology professor, and we’ll tackle 16:18-19; this one may not be for the faint of heart… see you then!

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Pharisees, Sadducees and… yeast?

Matthew 16:5-12

After the scene in which the Pharisees and Sadducees set aside their contempt for one another to attempt to trick Jesus into offering a sign, Jesus and His disciples once again head off across the lake. This time, the disciples forgot to bring the bread along; they have nothing to eat. Randomly it would appear, Jesus told them to “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

The disciples, thought this remark was a reference to their having forgotten the bread, but Jesus seldom concerned Himself with such details. Reminding them of the manner in which He fed the five thousand and the four thousand, He wonders why they are thinking about bread; He was warning them against the teachings of the religious leaders. In a sense, He was summing up in one line the lesson He has been trying to teach them since chapter 14. By the end of this brief passage, they get it: Beware the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

I have an editorial decision to make at this juncture: Should I remember that I’m a theology professor and launch into a discussion of the theological and apocalyptic significance of yeast in Scripture… or just keep it simple and real?

Let’s just keep it real; Jesus knew that like all good Jews of that time, His disciples feared their religious leaders and consequently there was a very real danger that they would be swayed by their teachings, or at least intimidated by their teachings. In a sense, these leaders were much like our “politically correct” leaders of the present day who insist that everyone either agree with them on every issue at all times in public and private, or at least that we never voice a disagreement. To do so is to incur wrath, persecution and ridicule.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Knowing that He would be handing the baton off to the disciples soon, Jesus set about to teach them, 1) to have no fear of the religious leaders, and 2) to reject entirely the things they taught, for 3) the disciples would soon become the real teachers about the things of God.

By the end of this passage, they comprehended what He was talking about, but did they comprehend the mission yet?

We are about to find that out…

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Strange Bedfellows

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 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.

Matthew 16:1-4

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were bitter rivals, and for these two groups to work together against Jesus is a bad sign. They came to Him demanding a sign from heaven to confirm His authority to preach, as though they didn’t already know about the miracles and signs He has provided. Can anyone be foolish enough to think that if Jesus performed one more miracle, these groups would change their minds about Him?

Of course not, they’d just demand another sign!

Apparently both groups saw Jesus as a serious threat; so serious in fact, that they were willing to stop fighting each other to team up against Jesus.

Jesus isn’t giving them a sign. Of all of the people of Israel, both the Pharisees and the Sadducees should have known who He was, and my guess is that they did know who He was. There would only be one sign for their wicked generation, the sign of Jonah.

Jesus used this same language in chapter 12, and here is the explanation:

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

Matthew 12:39-41


Jesus has performed many miracles for those who had faith in Him; for those who refuse, there will be only one sign: He will rise from the dead, and that is their only chance to respond. Jesus is not going to play their games.

Of course, He has more to say in the next section…

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Feeding the Four Thousand

Matthew 15:29-39

After the incident with the Canaanite woman, Jesus moves back to the shore, and a crowd follows. He has just come back from Gentile territory, and the crowd from there is still following; this is important for us to keep in mind, for it is a predominantly Gentile crowd. Although Matthew uses language similar to that of the feeding of the five thousand, this is a different scene, a different feeding.

Pharisees don’t appeal to Gentiles, they don’t eat with Gentiles, they want nothing to do with Gentiles, and you will no doubt remember that in this section, Jesus is teaching the disciples about His identity and purpose, and in this chapter, He is demonstrating the difference between the toxic teachings of the Pharisees, and the inclusive teachings of Jesus.

The people bring everyone who needs healing of whatever kind to Jesus’ feet, and having compassion, Jesus heals the lot of them.  Now the Pharisees were righteous men; just ask them, and they’ll tell you. They are motivated by the written code of the Law, and by their traditions; what do you suppose a Pharisee would do in Jesus’ place− have compassion for a crowd of Gentiles?

Not likely. It would be more likely for them to tell the crowd that these people are afflicted because they aren’t Jews. But that was not how Jesus used His authority from the Father; He had compassion and healed every last one. I wonder what the disciples thought about all of this…

Jesus, noting that these people had been following Him for days now, thought that maybe they should have a meal so that they wouldn’t collapse from a lack of food…

To make a long story short, He saw to it that they had enough to eat before they headed back to their homes.

Remember back to the way this chapter began: The Pharisees accosted Jesus about the fact that His disciples weren’t following their tradition of hand washing before meals. Remember also that Jesus wouldn’t have any of their hypocritical nonsense; He shut them up, speaking a tad harshly about their traditions. Then He took the disciples to Gentile territory and blew up several more of the traditions and customs of the Jewish religious elite.

He didn’t do any of this to be a rebel, He did it to educate His disciples about the Kingdom, His purpose, God’s purpose, and the fact that God was not pleased with the empty forms of the religious elite, for they had ceased to follow God long ago, and the disciples needed to understand that they, and not the Pharisees, were the ones who would one day show the world how to follow God’s ways.

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Photo of the Week: November 14, 2019

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A Child’s Bread… and the Dog

Matthew 15:21-28

After His encounter with the Pharisees from Jerusalem in the last section, and His instruction to the disciples, Jesus heads into Gentile territory to show the disciples His teaching in action. Remember that in this section, Jesus has set about to “disciple” the disciples, so they will better understand who He is and what the mission is. So far, they have come to see that He is the Son of God, but that, as big as it is, is only the beginning.

A Canaanite woman appeals to Jesus to help her demon possessed daughter; Jesus does not respond. The disciples ask Him to send her away: Jesus answers, but not their request, saying: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (15:24).  That isn’t the end of the matter:

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Matthew 15:25-26

I just want to be sure that you understand that Jesus just told the woman that she and her afflicted daughter are “dogs”… right? “Dogs” is the word used by the Jews to characterize Gentiles; they were “unclean” and shouldn’t receive the time of day from a “proper” Jew. Obviously the woman caught His drift:

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (15:27)

The “children” refer to the “lost sheep of Israel”, the “dogs” are Gentiles, like this woman and her daughter, and we know who the “master” is.

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (15:28)

It looks to me like Jesus just blew up another one of those traditions that the Pharisees were so concerned about.

Here’s the lesson for the disciples, and by extension, for us as well: God couldn’t care less about our traditions and customs and ceremonies and rituals; He cares about our faith. Jesus was sent to save Israel first of all; for they were God’s chosen. Yet, in the end, they placed a higher priority on their traditions than they did on their faith that God would keep His promises. When this conflict, between faith in God and traditions of men arose, Jesus’ reaction was not all that diplomatic, for this conflict, that is still with us today, is nothing less than toxic, and in the end, the one who received God’s grace was the one with faith, not tradition, breeding, position or human righteousness. Instead it was a poor Gentile woman who loved her afflicted daughter, and was willing to put her trust in Jesus.

But wait; that’s not all! We have another whole scene to go… see you next time!

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Jesus, Disciple and Pharisee

Matthew 15:1-20

Matthew continues to move forward in his narrative, and beginning with this passage, he shows Jesus teaching the disciples to keep their distance from the Jewish religious leaders and their teachings. The scene begins with a confrontation between Jesus and some Pharisees who were sent from Jerusalem. They challenge Jesus over the issue of hand washing; His disciples don’t do the ritual hand washing before they ate. The washing of hands prior to eating was a traditional practice of the “righteous”, but it wasn’t a requirement of the Law or of any of God’s commandments. Jesus quickly takes the offensives:

“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? (15:3).

He continues in 15:4-6 to make His charge that their tradition allowed a person to not honor their parents by dedicating a possession to God, when it was needed by their parents. In order for a person to “honor” their parents, it would have been incumbent upon the person to see to the financial and physical needs of their parents when they were no longer able to work. If the person was wealthy, they might be able to “dedicate” assets to God (whatever that really means in practice) and still have resources to help their parents, but most people are not wealthy, and there is the loophole. They “dedicate” assets to God, give some money to the Temple, and fail to properly care for their parents, and yet still seem to do quite nicely themselves… all with the blessings of the Pharisees, who collect some extra cash in the process: Interesting arrangement.

Jesus equates this with “cursing” one’s parents; His reasoning is that bringing a curse (poverty) upon them as it was in language, is a capital offense and that neglecting their needs is a more serious act than saying something bad. The Pharisees’ “tradition” might have lined their cash coffers, but it negated a divine imperative in the process… and they are here complaining about hand washing?

Jesus isn’t buying it.

After reciting the prophecy of Isaiah in vv. 7-9, He calls the crowd over in 15:10-11 to tell them that it isn’t what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him (food from non-ceremonially washed hands) but what comes out of a man’s mouth (like the corrupt teachings of the Pharisees).

The disciples react with concern, for they perceive that Jesus has offended the Pharisees sent to Him from Jerusalem; Jesus’ reaction shows us that He really couldn’t care less that they are offended (15:12-14). Perhaps one of these days, I’ll write about that.

Peter asks Jesus to explain His parable, and Jesus explained it like this:

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (15:16-20)

Tradition of the Church requires that I find a spin on this that makes you think that Jesus was always nice, gentle, sweet and diplomatic with the disciples, and with everyone other than the Pharisees, and that He was never all that tough on the Pharisees, but our traditions aren’t much better than those of the Pharisees when you get right down to cases, so here’s the obvious truth: Jesus wasn’t concerning Himself with their little feelings at that moment. (“Are you still so dull?”)

The rest of what He said here really doesn’t require any further comment from me.

What happens next in Matthew’s narrative is that Jesus is going to move into Gentile territory and demonstrate this teaching in action in two different scenes, and we’ll get into the first of those next time…

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