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The Key chapter of Matthew's Gospel, chpt. 16

We are on Thursday, and as we read thru the New Testament in a year come to Matthew 16 - a pivotal reading in the story of the Gospel. Please read the chapter first and then if you have time come back and think a bit with me about what you read.
The chapter opens as a footnote to the ending of chapter 15. Two groups of religious leaders - the Pharisees and Sadducees - traditionally enemies, but now together in their testing of Jesus. The Pharisees were legalists, using the Law to impose strict religious duties on people; and the Sadducees were liberals, who dismissed many aspects of the law to gain power and favor with the unbelieving Romans.
Jesus makes one thing perfectly clear - “I won’t play either your religious or political games”. The “sign of Jonah” is not the 3 days in the fish, but the preaching Jonah was sent to do that took him to Nineveh and therefore to Gentiles. This Jesus just did (chapter 15) and the idea of the Gentiles receiving the Gospel is the only sign Jesus leaves them pondering.
When the disciples and Jesus leave them, some forgotten loaves of bread give the disciples concern. Jesus’ concern is not about bread (he reminds them of the feeding of the 5000 and the 4000). Bread isn’t a problem, but yeast...the metaphor for the way I in which the insidious evil that is hidden is at work in the teachings of these 2 groups of religious authorities. Religion is life without the Gospel. It is dangerous because it grows in assumptions - “God is pleased in my doings, my religious actions, my life of works... none of which can merit, or obtain real salvation.” Jonah had preached repentance unto life and so had John the Baptist and Jesus. The doorway to God is not in works but in repentance and faith in Christ.
THAT is the key to the final section. Vs 13 says they came to Caesarea Philippi. I’ve been there. It’s a beautiful spot in Northern Israel today. Rich in vegetation with a waterway constantly flowing through it, at that time it was a Roman Gentile fortress. A city founded by the Romans in honor of Caesar.
Jesus’ question to them - “Who do people say I am” is a general question that could be asked by any of us today. His question to them in a personal way, “Who do YOU say that I am” - that is the great question we each must answer.
Is Jesus another religious person like a prophet, or Buddha, or Mohammed, or any other major religious figure of history? Many today would say “I believe in God, but there are many ways to him besides Jesus.” Jesus would not agree. Peter’s confession leaves nor room for Jesus to be just another nice, good teacher. He is the Messiah - God’s chosen person to proclaim God’s good news (or Gospel). It is this message that is the “Rock”, the solid foundation for the church. There will always be scribes and Pharisees with religious legalism and dismissive scripture theology; but the message of the Church is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
As Jesus himself next says, this Revelation to the disciples didn’t come because they were smart, or “got it”, but because of God the Father’s revelation to them (vs 17). The next section reminds us what the fullness of that Revelation is - (vs 21) - “I will suffer and die and on the third day be raised from the dead”.
Peter doesn’t like it and presumably neither did the others. Jesus’ rebuke of “Get behind me Satan” is as strong as Jesus ever gets in making clear the significance and absolute necessity of the death, burial, and resurrection to come.
We end as he did with them...we must deny our own rights to choose what we will do with life if we are truly to follow Christ as Messiah, Savior, and Lord. When we do that we won’t lose our lives, we will find it.
Read the chapter again...it’s a remarkable and truly important part of hearing what Jesus says to us today.
Peace

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