Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Modest Servant (Steps)

Over the past five weeks, we have looked at the first five words of Jesus promise as recorded in Matthew 16.18 - “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH.” Having concluded that phrase, we still have a couple of weeks to conclude the series – this week and next. So we will continue to look at the promise as it extends to the rest of the verse and the rest of this direct passage. This week, we see the first half of two gates that Jesus juxtaposed together. He speaks of the “gates of Hades” (covered below) and then the keys that unlock the kingdom gates (next week’s focus).

To properly understand this significance, we need to not only know what has happened in the preceding timeframe, but also where Jesus is teaching. So, once again, let me set the stage by giving some background. I have covered this in brevity a few times thus far, but seeing the entire picture, now with the location, should bring clarity to the passage.

Identity & Identification

You will notice below that in points 1 and 8, the word identity is used. That is because Jesus is the One revealing Himself. In the other points, it is about identification. Identification is how others know who you are, but identity is who you really are. This is true for each person, and this is true for the church (which was part of my dissertation to be covered elsewhere in the months to come).

1. Jesus displays His true identity.

In Matthew 13, Jesus teaches about the Kingdom. He is rejected in His hometown for this teaching. (Keep this rejection in mind for a few minutes until point number 3.) Then John the Baptist is killed. Then we have a series of miracles recorded. Feeding 5000, walking on the water, healing the sick, a little teaching, but then more healings and finally feeding 4000. In this process, Jesus is showing everyone who He really is and the authority He truly has.

2. Jesus is asked for some identification.

So, after all of these miraculous signs, Matthew 16 begins with the religious leaders asking for a sign from heaven that Jesus is who He says He is. Basically, the question is: “Can we see some proof of ID, please? Matthew 16.1 says they asked for “a” sign. He had performed many, but they wanted one. Jesus’ response is that they will be given just one – the sign of Jonah.

3. Jesus asked how He is identified by others.

After some teaching about how the teachings of Pharisees and Sadducees were dangerous, Jesus asks His disciples what others think of Him. The answer, as I have mentioned several times, is flattering. He is compared to John the Baptist – who has just been killed, to Elijah, to Jeremiah, or perhaps another prophet. Again, this is high praise. Very high praise. And the question comes after He has been rejected in His own boyhood home. Furthermore, the question comes after He has been rejected by the religious leaders of the day. But it also comes after the masses have seen great miracles. In many ways, the response of these people reminds me of the modern day election process. Give the people what they want (even if just in the form of a promise) and the people will vote for you and call you great. But ask something of them – discipleship, taking up your cross, which is just a few more verses ahead – and they will turn on you fast! But, for now, the masses love Jesus, and can’t wait to see what He will do next. The disciples obviously love this too because they are like stars in the people’s eyes.

4. Jesus asks His followers how they identify Him.

Again, as I have said many times in this series, those who are with Jesus the most, should know Him the best. The disciples have seen and heard things that many others have not. They have spent most of the last three years with Him. They should know Him best. And Peter’s response shows that in spite of all their missteps as a group, they have figured this out. But as Jesus said, this knowledge was not just by deduction, it was by divine inspiration (Matthew 16.17).

So, the scene is now set for our focal verse of this series. After Peter makes the great confession, Jesus makes a stunning promise. But first, let me remind you of point 3. It is significant in this process. The disciples may know the truth, but it doesn’t mean that they have properly internalized its truth. We know this to be true because:
  • Judas was disappointed that Jesus didn’t rise up to be the military leader Judas wanted Him to be.
  • The disciples argued who was (or would be, talking about themselves) greatest in the Kingdom. (See Matthew 18)
  • The disciples knew more would one-day come. Consider the passage read earlier today – that Jesus would make His Kingdom fully known one day.

Building a Kingdom or a Church

So with that understanding in place, let us begin to consider what happened next in the minds of the disciples. As Jesus begins to respond to Peter’s confession, the disciples would have inched forward as Jesus declared: “I will build my Kingdom.” Wait, what? “Did Jesus just say church?”

We look on this passage with such familiarity of the word church. The word church is so entrenched into our vocabulary, even if we are misusing the term, that we don’t think a thing about Jesus statement. (See last week's post about what Jesus meant when He used the term church.) But given all that had happened in the previous days, weeks, and months (most of Matthew 13, for instance, is Jesus teaching about the Kingdom!) the word church – or ekklesia, in the original Greek, would have been the last word the disciples would have expected to hear. That is true in part, because this is the first time Jesus has used the word, at least as recorded in Scripture.

I can imagine a look of bewilderment on the disciples' faces as they were trying to process what Jesus said. The thought, as quickly as it might have come and gone, would probably have been something like this:

“Wait, Jesus! You just told Peter that His answer was perfect. You are the Son of the Living God, and so that means that it is time for this kingdom you have been talking about to come to fruition. I mean, Jesus, you did just do a lot of teaching about that. The Kingdom is like the farmer who sowed good seed, and a mustard seed, and leaven, and a hidden treasure, and a pearl of great value, and a net, and a master of a house. And Jesus, if you are ready, we’re behind you, and we’ve got all of these others who will join us. So wait, did you really just NOT say Kingdom? And church – CHURCH!?! What do you mean by that Jesus?”

So, now we have a setting of the events that led up to this moment. But now let’s look at the significance of the location to the words of Peter and the next promise of Jesus.

The Significance of the Location

5. Jesus is identified as the Son of the living God.

The place was Caesarea Philippi (modern day Banias). The location was (and is) nearly to the northern-most point in Israel. The town itself was named by Herod Philip in honor of Caesar Augustus. Much like the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt, the Caesars of Rome were considered to be gods after their death. Thus, their sons, whether the next ruler or not, were considered sons of the dead gods. But not Jesus, Jesus was the Son of the living God.

6. Jesus is identified as the Son of the living God.

Jesus had yet another reason for bringing His disciples to this place. This location was so evil that Jews were taught that no good Jew would go to this place. But Jesus not only went there, He took His followers with Him. What would they have seen? Well, many shrines were built into the rocks of various gods or goddesses (you can see the slight insets, such as just about the small cave below). In fact because of these shrines, the cliff is often referred to as the “Rock of the gods.”
Rock of the gods
One of the gods that was worshipped in the area was the god of nature and the mountains and the wild. But this same god, Pan, also instilled fear, and thus we have the term, panic.
The god - Pan
So, this great declaration of Peter comes not only from the Father in heaven – the living Father, but also from a God that is real.

7. Jesus identifies the rock solid truth of Peter’s statement.

Just before Jesus makes the first of His promises in this passage – the one to build His church, our focal phrase over this past month – He says that it is on this rock that He will build His church. This statement, like so many in the Bible, is full of meaning. Let me provide three quick reasons.

  1. The English word rock is the Greek word petros. Obviously, this word is closely associated in both sight and sound with the name Peter. That is intentional, as Jesus previously renamed Simon in John 1.42. In the Aramaic, the word was cephas, but in the Greek, the word was petros. Either way, it means rock. But it isn't the person that Jesus would build upon, it was the truth of the statement! Upon the truth of Jesus being the Messiah (God's anointed One) the church would be built!
  2. Jesus is comparing the truth of this statement against the false worship of the rocks next to Him. In other words, He was saying, “On THIS ROCK is the truth on which I will build, NOT the false shrines that people build into this stone around us.” This is a powerful, POWERFUL truth. And the place Jesus delivered it, is quite significant.
  3. Jesus is saying that He can build His church upon such a profound truth – ANYWHERE! This is true even in the midst of the pagan worship which was all around Him, and the disciples in that place on that day. We will come back to this third idea in a few moments.

8. Jesus reveals His identity as all-powerful.

Again, I remind you that when Jesus started by saying “on this rock,” the expectation of His disciples would have been He was about to say Kingdom. Fortresses were built on top of hills to keep the advantage – So when Jesus began, “On this rock, I will build…” the disciples imagination started running rampant. “Jesus is going to rename this town and establish His Kingdom! Three cheers for Jesus! – Uh wait! Did He just say church?”

So, Jesus is with His disciples about 60 miles (about a 12 hour walk) from Capernaum, Jesus home base for ministry. He has warned His disciples on the way about the leaven of the Pharisees, and having taken the disciples to a place of pure evil, His disciples are best able to see the truth. But it wasn’t just a place of evil because of the worship of the false gods like Pan. It was also a place near the realm of the dead.

The little cave on the right was the previous picture where the shrines were. Now, just a few feet to the left, we see a bigger cave. A cave known as the “cave of the gods.” In this cave was a flowing stream. The understanding was that the god called Baal, which is often mentioned in the OT, was believed to be able to exit the underworld wherever water came out of the ground. And in that cave, water comes out from the ground. So, Jesus is claiming to build His church not only amidst the false gods, but amidst the very realm of the dead as well.

In the Greek, some suggest that the “gates of hell” is an idiom for the siege towers used by Roman armies. That may be true, but the Jewish idiom of the same expression means “realm of the dead.” Either way, for nearly 2000 years, the truth of Christ building His church has not been extinguished during the early persecution at the hands of the Romans nor by the evil powers present in this world. But given the location where Jesus made this statement, it is most likely He was referring to the Jewish meaning.

Specifically, the promise of Jesus is that the realm of the dead is no match for the Son of the Living God. So when He builds His church, this realm will not prevail against Him nor His church. Furthermore, consider that Jesus reveals His plans to the “called out ones” in the very place that the pagan gods are called out from the “realm of the dead.”

But that is the key as we have found out over these last six weeks, right? It is His church. I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH are the words of Jesus. He doesn’t build a church for us. He builds His church. And if we build a church, it will not prevail. But His church will.

So, how does this teaching from Matthew 16 impact us?

Clarity in the Midst of Evil

I think we need to put mentally put ourselves in Caesarea Philippi. We may see the evil in the world “out there,” but we become often become blind to how insensitive people are to the gospel right around us. It is the principle of the leaven of the Pharisees that Jesus had to clarify for his disciples on the way to Caesarea Philippi. Many places are dark and evil with little, if any, knowledge of God. But in some areas, especially in the area in which we live , most people are “good people.” And most know about God, so we feel that they are ok. But if they have not submitted to Jesus, they are not…and, thus, are bound for hell!

We need to realize that just as the disciples were taken to Caesarea Philippi, maybe we need to go “there” as well. Again, Jesus took His followers to a place filled with evil in so many ways. And this is the same Jesus who taught these same disciples, “Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Please understand, Jesus didn’t lead them INTO temptation, He led them into a place where temptation occurs. But He also promised that evil would not overcome them as long as they were following Him. The same is true for us. James wrote that God cannot be tempted, nor can He tempt others with evil (James 1.13). But that doesn’t mean that God might not lead us to go to a place where others are bound in sin so that we can deliver the message that can free them!

That brings me to the title of this post. We are simply modest servants for a great king. We are not great, His message is. It is not for our glory that we may do great things, it is for Him. We must focus on learning and living as He wants us to (a part of last week's post). But our learning and living is so that we can then love and lead. We must focus on the message of the gospel – one that we share in love to lead others to follow Christ.

As a modest servant, nothing we can do can defeat the enemy. But nothing the enemy can do can defeat Christ. God simply asks that we do our part. We don’t walk into evil (Lord’s Prayer), but if God leads us to it, like Jesus did His disciples, we can stand firm in the truth that the truth of the gospel cannot be overcome by the powers of hell. It is our trust in Jesus that shows our modest nature. And it is that modest nature that allows us to yield to His will because we are just one part of the church He has been building for nearly 2000 years.


And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is… E - Evoke. The central verse for Evoke is Acts 1.8. God’s power was promised upon the early church. That same power is present in your life if you are a Christian. But, too often, we hold it back – usually due to fear. But keep in mind, that when Jesus made His incredible promise, He did so right in front of the god of fear (Pan). Jesus has overcome, but we still hold Him back. Let us remember the example of the early disciples. When the promised power arrived, they proclaimed God's message immediately, and they proclaimed it boldly.

For what are you waiting? You may not think you have anything left to give. You may think your church is dying (or dead) and that all hope is gone. Well, let me remind you that Jesus knows something about resurrection! Without a doubt, Jesus will remove a church that is not intent on letting Him be in control (see Revelation 2 and 3 as five of the seven churches face such a possibility). But Jesus' promise to build is as true today as it was then. He is still calling for us to join together as His agents to a dead world around us. We are to extend His offer to bring life to others, just as He has brought life to us – first as individuals, then as a body of believers. Ultimately, we must live intentionally to bring joy thru then church to the community with the message of Jesus.


So, what about our next steps?

Our next steps continue to build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?

  • Remove the obstacles. What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?
  • Create a MAP Team. Develop opportunities and see them through to completion/evaluation!
  • Pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying.
  • Commit to one another. We must be united to truly be all that God intends.
  • Find an on ramp.   We must find opportunities to grow by merging in with others who serve.
  • Be the church Jesus intended. We must learn to live together by the truth of His gospel.

And today we add:  Love. We are to love God, love others, and love one another. And a part of that love is leading others to learn and live by His gospel as well.

The truth is that if we don’t love God, we can’t love others (1 John 4.19). If we don’t love others, we can’t love one another. And if we don’t love one another, then we disregarding all elements of love that Jesus said to be important.

Furthermore, if we don’t love others, we are ultimately saying that we don’t care if they spend eternity in hell. It takes love to tell someone about Jesus. It takes love to help someone change their life. Here is the simple truth. Jesus loved you enough to make sure someone told you. He did that because He never gives up on us? So why do we so easily give up on others?

Who does God want you to tell? Who needs to know about how much Jesus loves them? Do you love them enough to tell them? More importantly, do you love God enough to tell that person for Him?

It is time for more than talk. It is time to start the walk. Or, in the title of this series, as Captain Picard, from Star Trek: TNG would say, “Engage!”

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