Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Matthew 16: Confessing & Following Christ


Matt 16:13-28 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"  And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?  For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

The moment we confess Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God", Jesus gives us the "keys of the kingdom." These keys grant us both the access and the authority of the kingdom to bind and to lose. Believers have the authority to restrain evil spirits and the power to set captives of depravity, diseases, demons, and death free from their stranglehold. Jesus himself has said, "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you" (Luke 10:19).

But this is only half the story of Christian discipleship--which is kingdom authority and power. This is the part all Christians like to hear. But not everyone like to hear the second half of Christian discipleship.

The other half is given in the verses following. Jesus then told the disciples that he "must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (v.21). Peter immediately raised objection and rebuked Jesus for engaging in such negative talk: "Far be it from you, Lord!" In modern parlance, "Jesus, don't talk nonsense!" Jesus had to turn the rebuke back to Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan!" I can imagine Peter looking behind himself and muttering, "Me, Satan?" While Peter might not have two horns on his head, he was doing the work of the devil in opposing Jesus' journey to the Cross. For Peter (and possibly the rest of the disciples too), such talk about suffering and death didn't gel with their victorious and glorious confession of Christ as the Son of the living God. They were engaging in positive confession while Jesus was engaging in negative confession. Singaporeans would say, "Touch wood!"

It's bad enough Jesus said he's going to suffer death on the Cross. Now he's saying whoever "would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (vv.24-25). If the former saying is nonsense, this one is madness! How can following the victorious and conquering Christ be an invitation to self-denial, suffering and death?

That's why it's far easier to preach confessing Christ than obeying Christ. And many believers are happy just following Peter's confession, and probably echoing his objection to talk about self-denial, suffering and self-sacrifice. How can preachers preach such sermons to a congregation seated in cushioned seats in an air-conditioned hall with the state-of-the-art sound and light systems? Someone has said that the medium is often the message. If the "church" ambience conveys creature comfort, opulence, and ease, it nullifies sermons that call for self-denial, suffering and self-sacrifice. Such "negative" message won't get through in such a self-affirming and self-pampering environment.

However, for the majority of believers around the world, they have to live out their faith in hostile environments. John Allen, author of The Global War on Christians wrote: "The truth is two thirds of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world today live… in dangerous neighbourhoods. They are often poor. They often belong to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities. And they are often at risk."

While we thank God for the peace and prosperity of our nation, we should not think that what we've experienced here is normal Christian discipleship. We haven't experienced the second half yet.

Father, open our hearts to live in simplicity as we follow Christ our Master who defined for us what Christian discipleship is through his suffering and self-sacrifice. Amen.

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