Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28

Matthew 16:21-28   Don’t Lose It!

There was a little girl who was spoiled by her parents.  Whatever she wanted she got.  And when her parents hesitated about giving this little girl whatever her heart desired, the little girl would throw a loud, obnoxious fit.  One day the little girl got up for breakfast and announced that she wanted a worm for breakfast.  When her parents asked why, well then the tempestuous tantrum began.  So the father went outside and dug up a worm.  “I want it cooked in butter,” the child demanded.  So mother cooked the worm in butter.  When the worm was presented to the little princess she declared, “I want daddy to eat half.”  So daddy cut the worm in half, held his breath and swallowed the half of the worm.  The little girl let out with a fit of screaming and stomping and throwing whatever she could get her hands on.  “What’s wrong,” the mother pleaded.  We cooked the worm and daddy ate half of it, mother cried.  Thelittle girl, in between screams declare, “Yes, but he ate the wrong half.” 

At an early age most of us became initiated into the reality that we don’t always get our own way.  If we don’t have this experience at an early age, the fact is that eventual it will happen.  Still, the fact is that we are born with a desire to get what we want.  But our desires cannot know what the ultimate outcome of their results and our wants are often corrupted by selfish nature that can get us and others into trouble.  And whether we realize it or not, our human nature and the desires it generates are often at odds with the loving desire of our creator, our God.

In this account of the life of Jesus we find such a struggle between the will of humanity and the purpose of God.  The account tells us how Jesus has decided to begin preparing his disciples for what is to come.  Peter has (in the previous verses) declared that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.  Now Jesus explains what this means.  He lays out for the disciples what was spoken by the Prophet Isaiah in the 53 chapter about the one who would be the Messiah of God.  It is not a pretty story.  It is a story of pain, anguish, of punishment and suffering and being crushed.  But Jesus adds the hope to the end of the story.  He speaks of resurrection.

But Peter most likely doesn’t pick up on the resurrection part.  He hears the other stuff.  He hears things that he does not like, that he does not want.  Peter doesn’t think Jesus should be saying these things.  Peter responds.  The account says that Peter rebukes Jesus.  Peter tells Jesus this must never happen.  I doubt Peter was ready for Jesus response.  Jesus calls Peter Satan!  Suddenly Peter who was called the Rock in verse 18 becomes the stumbling stone of verse 23.

But Peter just wanted the best for Jesus.  No, Peter wanted what he perceived was the best and in doing so acted just like Satan did in the wilderness when Satan tried to get Jesus to pervert his purpose.  Jesus had become human for a divine purpose.  Jesus came to fulfill justice.  Jesus came to be a sacrifice of reconciliation.  As it says in Isaiah, it was our sickness and sufferings he bore, it was for our rebellions he was pierced, crushed because of our crimes.  His life was a restitution that would make many righteous as he bore our guilt. 

But that sounds so negative.  That story just doesn’t fit how we think today.  We want a more positive religion.  I guess this just goes to show how much like Peter humanity can be.  People still want to only hear what they want to hear.  Too many people still do not grasp just how serious our situation really is.  Too many say, “I don’t need a savior.  My sin is not that bad. Jesus didn’t need to go through the suffering he when through and die on the cross like he did for me.” 

This story is not about speculation.  This story is about revelation.  The Gospel is not about stories of being good, it is about the sacrifice of God.  It is not about speaking to morality but about our mortality.  It is about how a fallen, foolish, frail figures called humans were so loved by their creator that God would lose his life to give us ours.  It is a terrible tale that would be the ultimate tragedy expect for the fact that its end is really its beginning.  Listen again to what Jesus says at the end of verse 21, “and raised on the third day.”  This is what Satan did not want.  This is what Peter did not understand. 

It is said that most people are terrible listeners.  The reason for this is that when we listen to other people, after a few words, we begin to think about how we are going to respond and thus do not really hear what they have to say.  After Jesus responds to Peter, he then takes the time to put into perspective the reason for his words.  It is very important that we understand this.  Listen again to verse 24.  This verse is about understanding this life.  This life is not the way things were intended to be.  No matter what you gain in this life, you will lose.  What you have will be taken.  In this life there will be sorrow, but that is not what God wants for us.  In this life will be pain.  In this life there will be suffering.  Why would we want to hold on to this life?  Why, because we have been deceived.  We think we can make this life worth it by grabbing a little pleasure here and there.  We seek to live in moments because the reality rushing at us is just too overwhelming.  We try to cling to this existence but no matter what we do we cannot escape from the certainty of death.  We lie to ourselves and say death is a natural part of life.  No it is not.  Death is death.  It is not natural, it is consequential.  It is the result of our being separated from our original purpose of being joined to God. 

Then Jesus enters this world and tells us he came to seek and save that which was lost.  He tells us he came to give us life that will not end in death.  He came to restore that which was broken.  He came to be lifted up in order to draw us to God.  He tells us that when we are ready to let go of this life, this life that ends in death, and are willing to lose this life in order to gain the life to come we will understand the truth and this truth will make us free.

Our culture is consumed with the idea of success.  If you can just be successful you’ve got it made?  But what is success?  Is it money?  Is it fame?  Is it power?  What do you call a successful person who dies?  You call them a corpse, a dead person.

The cross is not about being successful.  It is about being faithful.  The cross is not about a burden.  The cross is about belonging.  The cross is not about death.  The cross is about deliverance.  This cross does not limit.  The cross offers liberty, it offers us life.  So let us listen to what Jesus has to say about what is to come.  Let us listen to every word.  Let him prepare us.  Let him guide us.  Let him lead us.  For where he is taking is us is resurrection.  What he is offering is a new heaven and a new earth.  He is tell us how we can begin to live it now.  Don’t lose it.  Don’t let it be taken.  Let’s not given in to thinking in the limitations of human thoughts but allow God’s thoughts to fill our minds. 

Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20

This event in the life of Jesus is recorded in all four of the Gospels.  What is happening is a discussion, a discussion about two questions.  The first question asked for a report, “Who do people say that I am?”  Jesus does not ask this question because he is going through an identity crisis or because he feels insecure of how he is being perceived.  Jesus ask this question to allow the disciples to gather their thoughts, bring together what they have discussed, heard, or imagined concerning the true nature of Jesus in light of his miraculous actions and authoritative words.  This question is a set up for the next question, a very personal question, “Who do you say that I am?” This question is the critical question.  Why, because God wants the disciples, God wants us to deal with this issue, “Do you really know who Jesus is?”

This question is the most important question we will ever be asked.  Every human being is asked this question in some way and is offered an opportunity to answer on the bases of what their heart tells them.  It is a answer we dare not get wrong.

The setting of this passage takes place with Jesus gathering his disciples together for this discussion.  Jesus brings it up.  Who do people say that I am?  This discussion was being held throughout the land.  Jesus actions, his preforming miracles, his insightful and impactful teaching, in fact his very presence could not be ignored.  Something amazing was happening.  Who is this man?

If it were today, the evening news shows would be asking the question, “Who is Jesus?”  All of the afternoon celebrity shows would be trying to get him to be on their show.  The late night hosts would be competing to see who could do the best jokes, monologues on “Who is Jesus?”  There would be background checks, theories, speculation and experts brought in.  Everyone would want to know “Who is Jesus?”

At first the disciples give a list speculations.  Some say you are John the Baptist reincarnated.  Others say you are Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet. 

Now they knew that he could not be John the Baptist because they were with him before John had been killed.  He did not act like a prophet because he did much more than any prophet had ever done.  He knew the Spirit of the Law as well as the letter of the Law.  The disciples knew that speculations were wrong.  Each of these individuals had made a decision to follow Jesus when he called them.  Each responded to him not because of speculation, but because there was a reality about him which went far beyond the power and presence of this world.  But still there was the question. 

I can just imagine Jesus looking at them (you can picture the seriousness of the moment).  It was time to move beyond hearsay, beyond rumor.  Now it is time to deal with the real issue.  Jesus speaks.  Who do you say that I am?  It is decision time.  A choice must be made. This is still the critical question everyone must answer and must continually answer by the way we live our lives.  Who do you say that I am?

Some might think that this is just a passage for reaching out to people who do not know Jesus.  No so.  This is also a message for the church, a decision to be made by the church and we need to be careful and reflective how we decide.  Who do you say that I am?  Some would say you are the liberal Jesus who makes me feel good with moral teaching about love.  Some would say you are the fundamentalist Jesus who makes things black and white, right and wrong, fire and brimstone.  Some would say you are the political Jesus of my particular political persuasion who supports my political agenda, my idiomatic idealism.  Some would say you are the Jesus of convenience, a mythical, mystical master whom I find useful in times of crisis or conflict, a kind of God when I need one.  Who do you say Jesus is?

In our passage it is once again Peter who is quick to speak.  Peter, the common everyday guy who seems never to be at a loss for something to say, stands up and says, you are the Christ, the son of the living God. And for once, Peter got it right the first time.  This is who God revealed Jesus to be.  The only way this could be known, the only way it can be experienced, the only way it can be lived is through the power of God. John 6:44 states: No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day

Here is the irony, everyone who encountered Jesus had the same chance to make this decision.  They all had the evidence of Scripture, the opportunity to witness Jesus miraculous power, to encounter the same sense of Jesus’s authority, but they would not accept this revelation.  Why, because they closed their minds to the truth.  God does not force, God reveals. 

Have you ever heard of the parable of the foolish fish?  Not a biblical parable.  A fish swims up to another fish and asks him where he can find water.  The other fish replies, “It’s all around you!”  The first fish replied, “You mean this wet stuff?” Yes the other fish responded.  That’s silly the first fish retorted and then swam away in his quest to find the water he was swimming in. 

God wants people to know who Jesus is.  The reality surrounds us in God’s prevenient grace.  It tugs at our hearts and pleads with the depth of our soul.  Even before we know his name we sense a need for him.  We may learn to ignore the need, to close off the revelation, but it is there. God wants us to know Jesus is the Son of the living God. He is God incarnate. He is our resurrected Savior. He is the one who was and is and will always be. He is our blessed hope. Our chance. Our only opportunity to transcend the power of death and enter the assurance of life. 

And when we know him, really know him then (verse 18) the gates of hell cannot prevail against us.  Jesus is not a teacher among teachers, a preacher among preachers.  He is not just good, not just moral, not just a man of justice, He is God.  His life has been given to us in word and in witness of this reality.  When God gives you the chance to know this is true and you are willing to make this truth the foundation of your life, the anchor of your heart then you can make the declaration Peter made and begin to grasp the promise implied by the proclamation. 

Peter’s journey with Jesus was rather profound.  From their first encounter in which Peter said to Jesus, “Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man” to this magnificent profession of faith the Lord was with Peter.  This is a journey, an understanding we all must come to if we are to respond to the question of Jesus correctly.  There is an ancient prayer I pray and teach to people who want a closer walk with the Lord that is founded upon Peter’s confession and profession.  It is called the breath prayer, or the Jesus prayer. Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.  Jesus responds to Peter by declaring the truth of Peter’s profession.  He states this is the rock, the foundation, the meaning of life that eternal life is built.  With our understanding of this meaning comes purpose, with purpose responsibility. 

Remember, who do you say that I am is an ongoing question for the church.  It needs to define our direction.  It tells us that our identity is rooted in the confession of Jesus as the Savior, the anointed of God, the Son of the living God who has come to be part of us.  It tells us that we will be in conflict but we will win.  The gates of hell are there, but so is the power of God.  It tells us we are trusted with the keys to God’s plan for eternity.  We are the ones who unlock the door for others.  We open the way for our friends, families, and others to come to God.  If we seek to be effective we will be effective.  If we become burdens, then we will be a great stumbling block.  We have a great responsibility.  Who do we say Jesus is?  People need to know.  Look at our world, at people’s lives, at our churches, at the future.  People desperately need to know who Jesus is.  Let us joyful tell them with our words and our deeds.

If Jesus were to come to certain theological schools today and asked the professors who do you think that I am some of them might reply, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the kerygma in which we recognize the ultimate significance of our interpersonal relations.”  And Jesus would probably replay, “Do What!”  If he came to you what would you say?  This is the answer that counts.

Sermon on Matthew 14: 13-21

Matthew 14:13-21

 

The passage we read is preceded in the Gospel by bad news.  John the Baptist has been killed by Herod.  The voice of the man of God who came from the desert and preached the truth was now silent.  Jesus was hurt by this news.

          What was Jesus response?  He withdrew to the wilderness.  Why, because of his grief.  Jesus and John were related.  John had the mission of preparing the way for Jesus.  John had been the instrument through which Jesus began his public ministry at his baptism in the Jordan River.  John had been an obedient servant of God and those who love God are loved by Jesus.  John 14:21 states: Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

          So Jesus withdraws with his grief.  He seeks a place of reflection, of evaluation, of remembrance. He seeks a secluded place.  He goes to the wilderness, the desert.  But why there?  What is so important about the wilderness?  The wilderness is where the Holy Spirit sustained Jesus during his time of temptation.  In the Scripture the wilderness is a place of struggle, both emotional and physical.  The wilderness was a place where Jacob wrestled with God and became Israel.  The wilderness was the place where Elijah fled and fed and tended to by God.  The wilderness is the place the nation of Israel wandered and learned to depend on God.  Jesus went to the wilderness to wrestle with his emotions, to be comforted by His Father.

          Henry Nouwen, a wise spiritual teacher wrote: we all need deserts, places to which we can go and wrestle with God.  Places where we can deal with our grief, our problems, and our needs.  Each of us have a need for wilderness from time to time and if we are not near one we need to create one.  Sometimes God brings us to the wilderness for our own good.  The wilderness, the desert is a place of miracles.  It is a place where God creates a burning bush, it is a place where God separates a sea, causes bread (manna) to fall from the sky, and where God can make water flow from a rock.  Yes, Jesus comes to the desert, the wilderness, a place of encountering God, of experiencing the miraculous, and more.  

          So Jesus leaves by boat and seeks a place to be alone.  But the people find out where he is going and follow on foot.  Imagine the surprise Jesus experienced.  He though he was getting away.  He though he was going to have time alone. It is part of Murphy’s Law: the amount of interruptions and pressures experienced goes up proportionally with the amount of solitude needed. In other words if you want peace and quiet, the noise will be there.  If you want to take a nap the phone will ring or the doorbell will sound.  How dare the people follow him?  How dare they be so selfish?  But this is not how Jesus responds.  Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion.  Jesus deeply cared about the people.  Jesus always has compassion because God has compassion.  God deeply cares about us. 2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, (all compassion).  When we look at the life of Jesus we find a continual pattern of compassion.  In the upper room, Jesus last night was spent preparing the disciple for what was to come.  Why because he had compassion on them.  When he was marched through the streets of Jerusalem carrying a cross his concern was not for himself: Luke 23:28 Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. Then on the cross, with the Roman soldiers gambling for his clothes he cried out, Father forgive them.  The compassion displayed by Jesus then and now and forever is more than a miracle, it is the ultimate revelation of love.

          In the passage, Jesus reached out to the people.  He would not let his own grief overcome his compassion.  In Jesus actions in this story we learn that we cannot wear God down with our problems.  We cannot exhaust God’s gracious power.  I believe God is grieved every day.  He is grieved at useless death, grieved b the disregard for the world and life he has given us.  Grieved by the suffering, pain, violence, injustice, and callousness.  God is grieved but not overcome.  God still reaches out to us with compassion.  God seeks to help us because God loves us.

          Then in verse 15, Jesus is present with another problem.  The disciples come to him and say: “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”  But then Jesus says to his disciples, you feed them.  The disciples wonder how, how can they do this?  In the Gospel of John it is record that they said: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” But this was the wrong question. 

          A man went for a walk in the park when he noticed a man sitting on a bench with a beautiful German shepherd sitting beside him.  The man walked over to the bench and said hello to the man.  The man replied, hello.  The man then asked, does your dog bite?  No replied the man.  Then the man reached down to pet the dog.  The dog responded by going after the man’s hand with a mouthful of teeth.  The man barely pulled his hand away in time.  I though you said your dog doesn’t bite!  That’s not my dog.

          The disciples did not ask the right question.  The question was not how they were going to feed the people, but how was Jesus going to use them to feed the people.  When God gives us a command, God provide the means for our success.  I am afraid to many Christians have forgotten this.  We have become a people of limited vision.  We have become a people of limited perspective.  We have allowed doubt and the world to get us to focus on what we think we cannot do instead of living in the power of what God can do. 

          Listen again to what Jesus says: concerning the loaves and the fish he states “Bring them here to me.”  If there was one theological principle, one Bible truth, one spiritual commitment I wish every one of us would make the key focus of our lives is this, bring it to Jesus.  Bring what you have to the Lord and watch the miracle he will do through you!  Bring you sins and he will multiply forgiveness.  Bring your despair and he will multiply hope.  Bring your willingness and he will multiply ministry.  Bring your mind and he will multiply understanding.  Bring your heart and he will multiply love.  It does not depend on our ability, it depends on our willingness to trust the Lord and respond in faith.  God wants to show compassion through us.  God wants to do even greater things than this. In John 14:12 Jesus makes a promise: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  This promise is ours to claim if we are but willing.

          Note what is stated in v.20.  They all were full.  All were taken care of.  This is what God desires.  This is what a relationship with Jesus brings.  This is what the Good News offers.  The question is will we accept?  Will we understand and make the commitment to do what Jesus asks?  Will you bring it to Jesus?  Why would you not?