Saturday, December 15, 2012

Distraction and Precision - Matthew 16:1-19

Quest for Signs
1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.
2 But He replied to them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.'
3 "And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.'  Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?
4 "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah."
The absurdity of the Pharisees and Sadducees asking for a sign is apparent when we consider all that Jesus had done - healing tons of people from all sorts of serious ailments, casting out demons, then miraculously feeding somewhere around 10,000-20,000 people (once you count in women and children).  These stories were obviously circulating throghout Israel (given the large crowds that sought out Jesus), so the Pharisees and Sadducees had surely heard of them - and some of them had certainly witnessed these miracles themselves!  But the fact of the matter is, they were ignoring the proof right before our eyes.  If we refuse to believe something, we can trick ourselves into thinking the most convincing of evidence doesn't exist.
Jesus's example of how they're blatantly ignoring what's right before their eyes is an old nautical trick you might have heard of before - "Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky at morning, sailor's warning."  These Pharisees and Sadducees not had heard testimonies of (and likely witnessed themselves) Jesus's miracles, but they were the Scripture scholars of their day - of all people in Israel, they were the experts on God's Law, which meant they were familiar with all of the Messianic prophecies.  They should have been able to immediately recognize the Messiah, yet they refused to, essentially blinding their own eyes.
The problem wasn't that they wanted a sign; it's that they ignored all the obvious signs they'd already seen, always asking for one more, one more, one more.  Even though it had already been proven, they wanted more proof.  They had absolutely no faith!  1 Corinthians 14:22 states that some types of signs (tongues, in that verse) are to open unbelievers' eyes, but others types of signs (prophecy, in that verse) are for believers - basically a reward for the faith of those who already believe.  God's not out to convince us of anything - He will persuade, but we have to have faith and believe.
Let us ask ourselves:  What is God trying to tell me right now that I'm ignoring?  And what amazing revelations or experiences am I missing out on because I refuse to "step out" in faith?
Okay, so what's with the sign of Jonah?  Well, Jonah was an Old Testament prophet who, while running from God's plan for him, was swallowed by a large fish and stayed in its belly for three days.  Just the same, when Jesus was killed, He stayed in the tomb for three days before rising from the dead.  His resurrection was His ultimate sign to unbelievers - something so huge, it's nearly impossible to turn a blind eye to it...but it's up to each individual to decide whether to believe it or not.
A Dozen Distracted Disciples
5 And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread.
6 And Jesus said to them, "Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
7 They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, "He said that because we did not bring any bread."
8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, "You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread?
9 "Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up?
10 "Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up?
11 "How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?  But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Here, we find the disciples quite distracted by their hunger, causing them to completely misunderstand what Jesus is trying to tell them.  When we get focused in on and obsessed with this world, whether that be genuine needs or worldy pleasures, we can become oblivious to the eternal truths God is communicating - we can even twist what He says!
I think Jesus was quite angry at the disciples in this passage, and (obviously) rightfully so.  They had so little faith - they become obsessed with the very thing He had told them and shown them they didn't need to waste time worrying about.  It was essentially a god to them - because I hold that any obsession or addiction is an idol.  They had allowed their hearts to ignore and "forget" all that Jesus had taught and demonstratred to them - in this, they were doing exactly what the Pharisees were doing.
Their "Ah-ha!" or "Ohhhhh" moment is when they realized He was warning them against the religious leaders' false teaching (because, remember - it's possible they still saw them as genuine leaders appointed by God), but it's possible that what He demonstrated to them by their own response (what we just saw above) was another, potentially greater lesson.
Peter Totally Redeems Himself
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets."
15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17 And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
18 "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
When Jesus asks the disciples to list off different peoples' views as to His identity, it becomes clear to us that many Jews of that day thought He was a prophet back from the dead (or back from the non-dead, in Elijah's case) - that would certainly explain His miraculous powers.  But while they're all quite responsive to His first question, only one man is bold enough to say who he thinks Jesus is, the Messiah.  And he says it bluntly and unabashedly - he doesn't qualify it with "maybe" or "perhaps," he confesses it out of faith.
The Gospels' recordings of Jesus's interaction with His disciples are so comforting for us, because they demonstrate how, no matter how rocky our own walks with Christ our, He still loves us.  In our last record, Simon Peter was among those scolded for being so obsessed with getting supper he wasn't even listening to Jesus speak, and as we read through the Gospels, we see that Simon Peter messes up prettymuch the most of any disciple.  And yet, despite his many failings, he also has many successes - just because he's trying to follow Jesus.  One such example when he is honored is here in this passage.  Even when we fall into sin or fall away from the faith for a time, God still loves us and is willing to use us for great things the moment we return to Him.  The fact that his willingness and faith were rewarded with God revealing Jesus's identity to him and using him in such great ways harkens back to what we discussed above.
Let's talk about names really quickly.  Jesus calls him "Simon Barjona" - Simon was the name his parents gave him, and Barjona just means "son of Jonah" (one way the Jews referred to each other).  But Jesus renames him Peter, which is a name meaning "rock."  It's sturdy, stable, a foundation - as in, something you could build on.  The point is that Peter represented genuine faith, even though he was in the minority - one of the basics of Christianity, as Matthew 7:13-14 tells us.  So, it's not exactly that Jesus is building His Church on Peter himself (although Peter on of the very top church leaders after the resurrection), it's that He's building the Church on the principle that Peter had just expressed in that moment.
Wondering about the Gates of Hades thing?  We'll get to that in our next study post, when we address the convoluted of Binding and Loosing. :-)
Questions for You
Has there been a time when you've blinded yourself to a truth God was trying to teach you?
Has there been a time when you've been the only one in a crowd to unabashedly proclaim God's truth?
Any other insights to this passage you'd like to share, or questions you'd like to ask?
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image Number One: Sunrise on Sea, by Stig Nygaard.  Wikipedia. Used by permission.
Image Number Two: Brot und Backwaren, by Klaus Hopfner.  Wikipedia. Used by permission.
Image Number Three courtesy of Sweet Publishing.

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