By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
September 13, 2020
Matthew 18:21–35 (ESV)
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
I want to be as honest with you all as I possibly can be. The past few months have been extremely hard on me as a pastor. I try to be encouraging through the stay at home ordeal, and I often feel like the messages I have given were just adding more of a burden. And there is just so much negativity within the various forms of media that I feel as if I have gotten in a negative rut. I say this because the first few times I read through this week’s passage my mind went directly to news reports. I do not even consume much news. My average news consumption is under an hour, yet when I read about the parable of the servants my mind goes to the news reports. I think that this tells me a great deal. The first thing that it tells me is that our culture has been infected with the disease of discontent. We are allowing things of this world to distract our attention away from true life with Christ.
Peter asks Jesus an important question today. Last week we spoke about the process of reconciliation. First, we should go to those that have wronged us and speak to them personally. If that conversation did not lead a mutually beneficial conclusion, we should then bring some trusted friends to join us in the conversation. This is incredibly wise counsel, because when tensions are high sometimes the words of a mediator can allow us to see where both parties are being unreasonable. The third step if the situation is still not resolved is to bring the matter before the assembly or in our case the church. I find this to be interesting because I have had to work through things in the past. These steps are like the steps that our court systems take people through.
The teachings of Christ are often practical regarding interpersonal relations. They give us a good picture as to how to approach many things, but like many things if we do not continue to practice, we become rusty. If we do not continuously practice the methods of reconciliation daily; with our children, our spouses and family members, with our coworkers, and our friends we will continue a cycle of unrepentance and disunity. But if we practice these things, they become second nature to us.
Peter says, “OK, I get this process Jesus, but how long do we really do it. How many times do we have to go through this process?” I have been there. I understand where Peter is coming from. Those in my family are probably right there with him too when they consider all the times, I have not been at my prime around them. Peter is basically asking Jesus, when can we stop?
The last step in Jesus’s process is to treat the offending person like a tax collector and sinner. Have you really thought about that? How is a follower of Jesus supposed to treat those that are not part of the church around them? We are supposed to be bearers of the light of Christ, we are supposed to live our lives before them as examples of a different type of lifestyle than the one the world lives, so that they will at some point slow down and answer the great question of Who is Jesus and why should I care.
This is where Peter is. He knows the people he is being encouraged to forgive. He has lived in the same community with them since he was a child and some of them live in the same house. How long do we have to keep this process up? And Peter gives a number, seven. It sounds like a good number. It has great spiritual significance with the seven days of creation and all. And if we think of those people that have wronged us in a significant way, it might even be a number that is filled with a great deal of grace. Imagine forgiving an adulterous spouse not once but seven times, in my mind that would be significant. I could not even imagine extending grace to that extent to someone that took the life of a loved one. Those are the things that we are thinking about when we are presented with the issue of forgiveness, and why we often struggle.
Jesus responds to Peter’s question and personal response with something that floored the disciples. “I do not say to you seven, times, but seventy-seven.” Some other translations will also say seventy times seven times. The thing about this is that the ancient understanding of numbers is a bit different than we have today. Often in scripture the term 1000 does not necessarily mean a number but could mean infinity, so when John speaks of a thousand year reign of Jesus after the second coming he might be meaning a literal thousand years or he might be expressing the concept of eternity. I am not saying that we should disregard the numbers mentioned in scripture, but we need to recognize that at times numbers can be used as an expression especially when they are large numbers. In this case, the concept of seventy-seven or seventy times seven is not literal but is an expression of continuation. I say this because seventy times seven is four hundred and ninety, so if we are focusing on the literal number of seventy-seven or four hundred and ninety what are we doing? If we are counting the amount of times, we have forgiven someone are we focused on reconciliation or are we focused on when we can start kicking them out? If we are looking forward to that last time we have not reconciled with our brother, our sister, or our friend we are not putting in the work. We are allowing behavior to continue without consequences, we are letting people walk over us without expressing our concerns, and we are letting the situation get out of hand to the point that you and not them will blow up and cause a rupture in the relationship that is more difficult to mend.
To focus on the literal number is to distract our attention from what is most important. Jesus is using the numbers to illustrate the foolishness of the concept. If we have gained a brother through the process of reconciliation, we have spoken to that individual, we have let them know what transgression they have caused, we brainstormed ways to prevent further harm, and we have moved forward from that point because the problem should be solved. We do not need to keep track of that transgression any longer because in theory if both parties are honestly seeking mutual good of each other there should never be an additional transgression in that area. To keep track of a number means that we did not approach that first conversation with any desire to forgive or work things out, instead we approached that conversation with an agenda.
I say this knowing full well that when trust if broken it is difficult to move forward. It may take years to come to a point where trust is restored. That does not mean we should give up. Scripture tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If we really wanted to be honest, we could say all sin every day and fall short of the glory of God. Every day I do something that will irritate someone in my family. Every day I will annoy a customer or a coworker. Every day I could live better. Every day the opposite is true as well, I get annoyed by customers, I am irritated by family members to some degree, and I have been on the brink of quitting many times. This week reality hit me. I realized that I have not been the best example of living the love of Christ with others. And that realization came in the form of my son’s schoolwork. The assignment was that the student would draw a picture and write a sentence about the picture. And the sentence was, “My dad is always grumpy.”
That sentence got to me. It is not who I am. I love to laugh; I love to play games and goof off. At times it would be embarrassing for people to know just how unserious I can be. Yet something happened somewhere last week where the goof became a grump. I realized that I was not practicing the life I claim to be living. I was not promoting good conflict resolution with someone that means the world to me. I was neglecting true discipline and allowed grumpiness to displace love.
What do we do when that happens?
Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wishes to settle his accounts with his servants.” Jesus often presents his most profound teaching in the form of a story. This is because we often remember the story long after we have forgotten the facts. And wrapped within the words of stories can be the most profound truth we can find. I love a good book. I am a quiet person and I find a day where I can sit and read about as close to heaven as one can get on earth. And I think part of the reason I have been grumpy is because I have not had enough time to relax in that way. But story comes in many forms, the movies we watch, the video games we might play, or even a sculpture or painting is a story. It is some creative aspect within our mind that is being used to express some truth or observation of the world. Stories are powerful, they make their way into our minds and we process them layer after layer. They reveal something to us we did not see before, and prompt us to confront it. Well at least a good story does that, some stories might just be entertaining.
Jesus uses story to drive home his teaching on forgiveness. A king wants to settle his accounts. He calls in his subjects that have debts with him and demands payment. We are told that one of those servants has a debt of ten thousand talents. Again, we have a number here, and it is a really big number. A talent is basically the amount of money an average person would be able to live on in a year. One talent would be the basic income to survive, and this man had a debt of ten thousand talents. Jesus told this story about two thousand years ago, so this guy’s family would still have a debt of eight thousand talents if they gave their entire salary to the king. The number here again is not so much literal, but outrageous. There is no way a common person would be able to pay this debt off. I think it is a bit crazy to have a debt that large. Imagine having that size of a debt hanging over your head and getting that call. You know you have nothing that will even come close to satisfying the debt yet the call came. We know it is just a story because if this were reality that man would have probably died on the spot, but instead he stands before the king. He begs the king for his life and for the life of his family on bent knees. He claims that he will pay everything back if only he would grant him time.
The king is unlike any king or ruler on earth. The king looks at this man with a debt that would be held over his head and the heads of his family spanning a hundred and fifty generations, and the king had pity for him. The king was moved deeply, and the ancients would say it moved him deep in his bowels. I am glad we no longer use that expression. Today we would say heart or soul, it shook us to the very core of who we are. The king looked at this man and he saw such potential in him that instead of ruining his life and that of his family, the king decided to forgive the debt. Imagine waking up one morning getting the mail and looking at a stack of bills, opening them up and reading the amount due as being zero, and in a panic you see that their was a credit added to the account that payed it off completely. And you see it on every bill, even the thirty-year mortgage paid completely. What would you do that day?
Well this man had just witnessed the king forgiving a debt that his family would still be paying off today, and he like anyone that has good sense went directly out of the royal courts and he finds a servant that owes money to him. This man has no debts, he literally owes nothing to anyone. He sees this man and he demands that he pays off the debt that is owed. This servant has a debt of one hundred denarii. If a talent was equivalent to a yearly salary, a denarius was a day’s wage. This man owed the other less than a third of a years’ wages. If we were to put this into perspective the 100th day of the year is April 10th, which is almost tax-day. This man if he wanted to could survive on a half of a loaf of bread a day and suffer for a bit and have his entire debt paid off after two hundred says, so on July 19th he could be debt free and back to full rations. He has a debt, a large debt looming over his head, but it is a debt that is manageable. With careful planning his family could be free and clear within one year. But it will take time. I am not able to pay a third of my salary to a debt today. Very few people could pay that amount of money off at a moment’s notice.
We have a man whose family would be continuing to pay off the debt even a hundred and fifty generations after his death, and another man who could pay it off within a year. And the man that was given grace of one hundred and fifty lifetimes, looked at the other and was enraged. The amount of the other man’s debt was insignificant in the greater scheme of things. Where the first man’s debt is beyond our comprehension. It is like comparing the average credit card debt American’s hold to the national debt.
What does Jesus’s story have to do with reality? All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, St. Paul tells us. And he also says that the wage of sin is death. Each of us has a debt that we cannot pay no matter how hard we work. In the eyes of our God, our king we are like that first man. We have no hope of paying it off, even if we gave everything more would be required. So much more is required that God sent his Son to take on that debt for us. Jesus was born as a baby and lived in a family of construction workers for thirty years before entering ministry. He then spent three years walking around Israel with his disciples while he taught, healed, and showed us a lifestyle of true holiness. He experienced a complete life with us. And he experienced the gross injustice humanity can perpetrate on another. He who was without sin, became sin for us. He took our sin, our debt, on himself when he died on that cross. And he released us from that debt when he rose again. A debt that would be impossible to pay like asking me to personally pay off the national debt tomorrow, Christ took on himself.
We got ourselves into that mess, and Christ frees us from it. Now we are asking, how many times should I forgive my brother? Jesus is telling us what to do, work it out. Ok your friend wronged you, let them know what is going on and come up with a solution so you do not have to have the same conversation again, and move on. And guess what you might have that same conversation again, because maybe we got distracted or stressed out. Start the process over again, stop being a grumpy dad and start living life again. We have been forgiven much, by the one that had nothing to be forgiven of, who do we really think we are?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
September 6, 2020
Matthew 18:15–20 (ESV)
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
The past few weeks we have been with the disciples and Jesus in the region north of Israel, where they visited the countries we now call Lebanon and Syria. These nations that we often hear about in the news are significant to our Christian heritage. We often disregard them because a thousand years ago a conquering force came into those nation and converted them to Islam, but they are still significant. Even today there are Christians that live in those areas, even in Israel some of the people known as Palestinians are Christian, and many of them can trace their spiritual heritage back to the very pages of scripture. We cannot imagine that in our culture because we do not live in the lands Jesus walked. And very few of us have even visited those lands.
We hear about these lands in the news and we hear only the items that make the news. News is filled with the sensational, the violent, the riots and protests, and the attacks. News is rarely filled with the common things of life, families raising children and teaching them to follow God, individuals that go out of their way to assist another for no other reason than to encourage them. We do not hear these things in the news because that does not sell. What sells is the feud between Israel and Palestine, what sells is the violent conflicts between religious zealots, what sells is the pain of others. We look at these lands and we see them as uncultured and uncivilized, but those same conflicts happen all around us even in the United States. And people in those areas we often look down on are watching their news and they are wondering what is wrong with us.
I thought about this as I contemplated this week’s passage. I thought about this because we like to call ourselves a Christian nation. We call ourselves this, but what do those outside of our boarders really see? I thought about this and I lower my head because what is seen in the media is not Christ. I have urged you all often to turn off the news, to stop listening to the radio for a reason, because what the media is doing to us is causing a continuous cycle of anger that is drawing us deeper into darkness. It is distracting our attention from what is most important and focusing it to things that overwhelm us. We are allowing the opinions of the news channels to place wedges between our friends and even cause division between those within our family. But I want us to consider something, how much does the things we hear about on the news really affect your everyday life? Yes, at times it is important to know, but are we using the information to encourage those around us or to cause greater tension?
Today, Jesus and his disciples have returned to their home base by the sea of Galilee. And Jesus is still trying to get his disciples to understand what his ministry really is. We often look at the disciples’ lack of understanding and laugh but we are seeing them on this side of history. We know the outcome, the history we know had yet to occur for them. Each of them had perspectives and opinions that were being derived from their current events. They were attempting to understand what was going on around them while only knowing a small portion of the total story, and they were interpreting that story through the ideas they hoped for. When Jesus told them that he was going to die at the hands of the religious and political elites, they did not want to hear those words because they were hoping for something else, they were hoping for a kingdom and a nation of their own.
What is a kingdom or a nation? When we look at a map, we see a world filled with nations. Each different nation or state has a different color that is set off with a dark line. We know the reality of those lines because one of those lines is just a few blocks to the west of our Meetinghouse, the only reason there is a line on that boarder is because there is a road, without that road we would be unable to distinguish where Missouri ended and Kansas began. If you were to download the Google Earth app on your phone you would see this expanded to the entire world. Where are the nations on our satellite images? You cannot see them because nations and boarders are concepts that humans develop and are recognized by consent. Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the other central American nations are one land mass the boarders that we recognize were agreed upon by mutual consent of governing bodies of people made an agreement at the end of a war. And those boarders are maintained as long as the people continue to agree. When one side chooses to stop recognizing that boarder peace has been broken.
But what is a nation? A nation is simply a group of people that have been unified or brought together under a common system or form of order. A nation like a boarder is nothing but a concept within the minds of humanity held together by the consent of the people within. How that consent is obtained and maintained is different. The majority of nations garner consent with the use of force, but there are other organizations that are built by voluntary consent. This is the difference between that kingdom that the disciples are wishing to gain and the kingdom that Christ is ushering in. The kingdoms of men use force where the kingdom of God is voluntary.
A kingdom or nation can also be a scope of influence and not merely geography. We consider ourselves part of the United States, but we are also part of other nations as far as influence goes. The organizations of NATO, and the UN offer avenues that allow influence to extend far beyond the boarders of one geographic nation. And in these voluntary unions of nations seemingly small nations hold an influence that is greater than their collective might. This idea causes many to become fearful of the future.
I want us to think about nations, not as geography, but as people. When I was in school we would often go on field trips and our teachers would tell us before we got off the bus that we represent the school. I always found that annoying because I was an individual not the school, but as I have matured I have come to realize that it is true. We are more than mere individuals, but we are part of a community. Our position and influence within that community can be positive or negative, and it can inspire a community or promote feelings of despair. When the read the words of the prophets we can sometimes be confused by some of the wording because they speak as parts of a community and not just as individuals. When Isaiah says, “I am undone for I am a man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips.” He says this because he knows that he is part of a community that has not always done the things that it should. He knows that he personally had not contributed enough to his community to move them to righteousness, so he held some of the blame. Spiritual directors across Christian traditions recognize this phenomenon, even among Protestant groups. Dallas Willard, in his writing on the Renovation of the Heart, recognizes the community as part of an individual’s soul, because the community can influence the individual and the individual can influence a community. You are Willow Creek Friends, you are Kansas City, you are Kansas or Missouri, you are the United States. You might seem insignificant, but you are important.
The influence of the individual within a nation, or group of people, is the kingdom that Jesus is concerned with. When he stood in trial before the people of great status they asked him if he is the king of the Jews, and he responded you say so. It seems like an odd response, but it is accurate. When the Roman official made that statement, he was forcing Jesus to represent the entire population of the Jewish people. At that moment the behavior of this one individual was seen as the response of the masses. This is also why Jesus also said that his kingdom is not of this world, because the nations of the world use force to influence where Jesus uses voluntary response. The kingdom of God is beyond the borders of earthly nations because the kingdom of God includes all people.
The disciples, like many of us, were unable to see the difference. They have a desire to make Jesus their king, but they do not understand the manner of which Jesus will provide influence. Jesus told them that he was going to suffer, and they responded in a manner that prompted Jesus to call them sons of Satan because they had their eyes set on the things of man instead of the things of God. Today Jesus is explaining to us the true kingdom.
“If a brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother.” If someone sins against you, what do you do? The natural response is often to hold a grudge against the person. They have wronged you, so the response is to withdraw from that relationship, to stop talking to them until they realize how they have wronged you. There is a problem here, and that problem is that we as humans are stupid. We do not always realize what we have done and we will never know until we are told. If we train someone to do a job, we show them how it should be done and then we let them do it. As they are doing the task, if they transgress we quickly correct them. In some cases we do this because if they do not perform the task in a certain way they can cause harm to themselves and others. We again show them the proper way to do the task and we let them try again. We do this in a work setting but when it comes to our relationships we often withdraw. We leave those we often care about the most blowing in the wind. They are doing something that threatens the community, threatens our friendship but instead of speaking to them and building a stronger community we often let the transgression cause division.
Jesus urges us to speak to them, let them know how their actions are causing harm within the community, and maybe if we speak together, we can build understanding and a compromise that will be mutually beneficial. Jesus says when we do this, we gain a brother. We have gained someone in our community that will assist and promote a common goal.
But personal relationships are tough. There is an entire industry within our culture devoted to assisting others talk with each other. If we are unable to find a way forward individually, we are charged to seek counsel with others. And if we are still unable to find a mutually profitable way forward we are to take it before the community. This very specific counsel from Christ points to something deeper and more pressing. The kingdom is not about force. The kingdom is not about power over others or even power within a nation. The kingdom is about how we interact with each other.
You are the church. You are our nation. You are the world. And you are the kingdom. We can look at everything going on around us, we can even cast blame upon a specific generation or political ideology if we want to. But what does this actually gain? If we do not personally get involved encouraging the people around us to enter a different type of lifestyle, we have done nothing and are just as equally at blame as those on the other side of the issue. That is a very sobering reality, but the reality all the same. What are we doing to promote peace in the Middle East? The reality is that that process does not start in Israel or the United Arab Emirates, it starts right here in our own community. Peace begins in your own interpersonal relationships. It begins with how you respond to your family and your friends.
What we bind on earth is bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loose in heaven. Again we this weird saying comes to us in the words of scripture. Before it seemed like power over others but when it is spoken in this instance it takes on a new form. We are actual instruments of binding and loosening, and more accurately we are the one bound or loosed. If we refuse to initiate the acts of reconciliation we bind not only those that offend us but we bind ourselves. They are bound on earth, but we are bound in heaven. We are bound because we know the truth and by refusing to participate in the call of the kingdom, we close the gate on ourselves.
There is much at stake in this passage. How we respond to something as small as a seemingly insignificant slight of another can build into quarrels between nations. Am I being a bit overly dramatic, sure, but there is truth in the words. If we do not practice conflict resolution with those around us, how can we expect it on a global scale. If we will not encourage those within our community that seemingly fall away from faith, how can we expect to legislate faithfulness on a national scale? Are we a Christian nation? The answer will not be found in the media, the answer is right here. Are you? Today we have an opportunity to adjust our course and repent. Today we can take steps of reconciliation and promote faithfulness. Today we can become instruments of healing, by speaking to our brothers and sisters. We can encourage those around us to turn from a life of pain and destruction and embrace an abundant life with Christ. We can loosen the gates of heaven and it all begins with how you respond to the ones God has by his grace allowed you to live among.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 30, 2020
Matthew 16:21–28 (ESV)
21 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. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 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.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 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. 28 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.”
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that this section of the Gospel according to Matthew is a transition period within Jesus’s ministry, he is moving into the next phase of his ministry. He had been teaching in Judea, and he had moved past the northern boarder into the areas of modern day Lebanon, and last week he was in that currently disputed region where Syria, Israel and Lebanon meet around Mount Hermon in the city of Caesarea Philippi. I mentioned that this area is unique because of the religious and cultural diversity.
Imagine being one of his disciples on this journey. He had taken you completely out of your comfort zone. This is an area where those that call themselves Jewish are a minority, yet this is the area the man you consider to be the Messiah takes you. The excitement around Jesus is probably at the highest point in Judea. Not long ago you had witnessed Jesus feed over five thousand people with a small boy’s lunch of five rolls and two fish. Then shortly after that again Jesus fed a multitude of people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. In each case the disciple filled several baskets with what was left uneaten. No one had seen such a thing since the days of Moses. Jesus had healed diseases, cast out unclean spirits, he had even raised a girl who had died back to life. The excitement surrounding Jesus could not be greater.
But there is an issue that remains. Those that held power and influence over the people were becoming jealous. Jesus would come into a town and begin to teach and restore life, and those that were from the established religious orders would begin to challenge Jesus over matters of religious practice. Jesus would then tell parables that would illustrate the truth of the law they used to challenge him. At times, the parables would be easy to interpret, and in those cases, Jesus would publicly expose the hypocrisy within the established practice. At other times, the parables seemed to confuse even those that knew Jesus the most.
These challenges were coming fast and hard. John the Baptist had also challenged the religious establishment. John called the religious leaders a broad of vipers, which was likening them to the very pestilence that represented the weakness and rebellion of the children of Israel in the desert. By calling the religious leaders vipers, John was saying that they were the source and cause of the problems in Israel. And John had lost his head for his public challenges to the sinfulness of those that held seats of power.
Jesus was in cooperation with John. While John was still ministering along the banks of the Jordan, Jesus would often be seen in the same area. They complemented the other’s ministry and they promoted what the other had to say. Jesus said that of the men born of women none is greater than John, and John said that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. They did not compete for followers or disciples. They did not poke holes in the other’s theological understandings. They did not discredit the other’s approach to ministry or even expression of faith. Even though they seemed to have opposite expressions, John lead a lifestyle of abstinence where Jesus would be seen at the parties of those considered sinners.
The people of Israel were excited. They saw the signs, they heard the teachings, they had eaten the miraculous bread and they had ideas. The people began to think the Messiah has come and they were beginning to prepare themselves for the next steps. The one they saw as the Messiah could heal injuries, he provide food enough for an army with scant supplies, and they had heard stories that he could even walk upon the water as if it were land. They were excited. They were going to throw off the oppressive hand of Rome and restore the glory of Israel.
The disciples were among those excited people. They had not only seen what Jesus could do, but Jesus had given them the power to do the same. They had provided healing to those that had illness. They had liberated people from demonic bondage. They had brought people to join team Jesus, and every day it seemed to grow.
Then seeming out of nowhere Jesus turns north. They should be marching to Jerusalem, yet Jesus instead goes out of province of Judea, he leaves Galilee, he even turns away from Samaria, and he goes into the region of Tyre and Sidon. The disciples are in a holy frenzy of Messiah devotion, they are ready to take on the world and Jesus takes them to the land of the Gentiles. They are confused, they do not know what is going on and there is a woman that keeps crying out to them. They look at this woman in tears and they can tell that she is a Canaanite woman, yet she is pleading with their Messiah’s for favor. It was one thing for Jesus to help a few of those God-fearing Romans in Judea, at least they were in Israel, but this woman is a complete outsider. She continues to cry out, and you are increasingly annoyed so you plead with Jesus to just tell her to go away. In their self-righteous pride they turn with Jesus to look at this woman, and they get excited when Jesus begins to speak words that support their nationalistic pride. And they glance at Jesus and see something in him that confuses them. His displeasure and the words he uses are not directed at the woman, but them. And while they converse, Jesus commends this Gentile woman for her faith and he heals her daughter just as she asked. What is going on?
Then they go the city that is dedicated to idolatry. The city that in their faith tradition is where the fallen angels take wives and breed a race of giants that eventually lead God to such anger that he destroyed the world with a flood. The city that praises false gods and worship at the very gates of hades. And Jesus in this place asks a strange question. Who am I?
The disciples are in confusion. Jesus is opening the door to the kingdom to the gentiles, without even encouraging them to become Jews. And he is asking them who they think he is while standing at the gates of Hell. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Imagine pretty much everything you hold as being important to you identity being offered to those you deem unworthy, and the Messiah your culture had waited so long for instead of going to the city of God asking you who he is at the place of complete debauchery.
Then Jesus tells them the complete purpose of his ministry. He commends Simon for his statement of faith. He even renames him saying you are no longer Simon but Peter. Because Peter said that Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God. And Jesus tells the disciples that it is on that statement that they will build an assembly so powerful that even the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The disciple hear those words and they look at the world around them and they see that they are standing in a Gentile land, and they begin to think now we get it. The kingdom is more than just Israel, this kingdom will challenge even the foundations of Rome. Jesus goes on to say what ever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. That statement is weird, but it basically means that they will have power. They will be able to dictate how those within the kingdom will live. And they are even more excited. Jesus is about to take his stand!
Jesus looks at the excited eyes of his disciples. They are ready to take on the world. With a single word he could have them marching to war. Then he tells them, we are going to Jerusalem. And I imagine they all responded with a hooah like a good soldier would say. But then Jesus says that when they get there, he will suffer many things at the hands of the religious leaders, and that they will kill him. Imagine what would be going through the disciples’ minds. Jesus said that he would rise again on the third day but I seriously doubt they heard him say it. Their minds were probably stuck on the statement that he would be killed.
Jesus had just worked them up into a righteous excitement where they were ready to march on Jerusalem as a conquering army and then he tells them that nope that will not be how it will happen. We are going to Jerusalem but when we get there, I am going to suffer. Peter, the rock, the one upon whom the church will be built pipes up and say, “NO WAY!” Matthew says that Peter rebukes Jesus. We do not fully grasp the intensity of this word in English. Peter is not just becoming cross with Jesus; he is threatening Jesus. To rebuke is to express strong disapproval, it is the same word used about actions taken against the demonic forces that were holding people in spiritual bondage. Peter is getting in Jesus’s face and demanding him to rethink what he has said.
Do you see this scene in your mind? Peter and Jesus facing each other. Peter’s face is skewed in almost hatred and anger as he speaks to Jesus. Peter’s finger pointing at Jesus, with the other hand clenched into a fist ready to strike. In Peter’s mind, Jesus is speaking like a crazy man, this is not at all how things are supposed to be. Jesus is not going to die. Jesus is going to Jerusalem and he is going to be king. That is it. Stop with this dying talk because that is not going to happen. You see Peter, now look at Jesus.
Jesus’s closest friend is Peter. Jesus’s closest friend is in his face ready to start a fight and Jesus knows that Peter does not understand the complete story. Jesus sees that each of the disciples are with Peter in this. Each of them is ready to force Jesus into the royal throne because they have a high and holy call to conquer the world in his name. They have that call because just a breath ago he had given them that notion. Jesus looks Peter in the eyes and says, “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.”
Can you feel the air being sucked out of your lungs? Peter, the rock upon which the church will be built is no longer the conquering hero, but the embodiment of Lord of the Flies. In a word Jesus took the disciples from their spiritual high and body slams them into reality. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
I want us to think about that statement. We all get worked up into righteous fervors, we get caught up in ideas of holy importance and when we get in that state, we put blinders on. Our attention is so focused on this one idea that we are unable to see anything else around us. In the early twentieth century the Temperance Unions got the nation worked up in the righteous frenzy that every social ill of America could come to rest on one thing, liquor. They drove our nation not only make laws prohibiting the sale of intoxicating drink, but to ratify a constitutional amendment prohibiting the sale. It is difficult to get a constitutional amendment, not only does congress have to accept it with a super majority, but three-fourths of the states must also accept it. The temperance unions gathered that much support for their righteous cause and I do not oppose their cause, my mother was a member of the temperance union in my home church, and the temperance union bought me my first study bible when I entered high school. I am all for temperance, but while they were so focused on keeping liquor from the masses people were being denied basic human rights. At that time, women did not have the right to vote and Jim Crow laws were suppressing the voting rights of others. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” How often can we get caught in misplaced passion, where Jesus might have to yell at us as he yelled at Peter?
Jesus then goes on to speak about taking up the cross and following him. We have become too comfortable with the image of the cross. We are so comfortable with it that we forget what it is. I once read that if Jesus had come in our contemporary age instead of the first century we would not be wearing crosses around our necks, but little miniature electric chairs, because the cross was an instrument of execution. I thought about that for many years and I realized that is not it at all. The cross is more than a tool of execution. The cross was in instrument of torture, humiliation, shame, and cruelty. It was a visual threat to anyone and everyone that you do not oppose the will and authority of the ruling class. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus is telling them that they must speak out about the injustice of the state. They must stand up for those that are oppressed. They must sacrifice their reputation, careers, families, and everything that they think is important to them to say, “You cannot treat people like this!” Jesus is telling his disciples to stand up with those that are being oppressed, marginalized, and overlooked and demand justice in their place. He is telling his disciples that if they truly follow him, they would be willing to endure the most brutal form of state sanctioned murder for someone other than themselves.
They wanted Jesus to rush to Jerusalem to conquer. Jesus is telling them that they are going to rush to Jerusalem to participate, in what we would call today, a peaceful protest. Jesus is telling them that if we want to make real change, we do not use force against the oppressor, but bring light to the injustice and we take the blows as they come. I mentioned the ratification of the 18th amendment earlier, which prohibited the manufacturing and sale of alcohol within the United States. I mentioned that it is amazing that the Temperance Union was able to get so much support for that when so much injustice was occurring around them. There is a reason that they were able to get that attention. The temperance union was seeking more than just the prohibition of liquor. The Temperance Union was seeking justice mainly for women and children who were the ones that suffered the most by those that abused strong drink. The 18th amendment was something that many hoped would appease a mob, if we take away alcohol then maybe they will be quiet about women’s suffrage and the other things. In just over a year after the ratification of the 18th amendment occurred the women continued to press and they were given the right to vote in 1920.
Take up the cross, Jesus says. He does not say take up a sword or a gun, but a cross. If we see injustice being perpetrated on those without a voice, we need to stand with them willing to endure whatever cruelty the oppressing agents deem necessary. Jesus came to bring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, to loosen the tongue of the mute. He came to set the captives free, and to bring rest to the weary. Jesus came to restore Israel, but not Israel as a nation in the concepts of men. He came to restore Israel as a light to nations. He came to show us restored humanity where mankind can walk again with God without fear or shame. He came to give life. But what good is our life if what we enjoy comes at the expense and exploitation of others? What good is our life is the things we enjoy are corrupted by injustice. Jesus said blessed are the poor, the ones that mourn, the meek, those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those that are persecuted for him. Jesus calls them blessed because they are the ones that have his attention. They are the ones that need the hand of God. Are we focused on the things of men or the things of God?