I Will Build My Church

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.  (Matthew 16:13-20)

Jesus Takes Responsibility for Building the Church

“I will build my church.” These are the most important five words in Matthew 16:13-20. This passage announces the good news that Jesus is going to build a church that even the power of death (“the gates of hades”) cannot defeat. That’s the gospel in this passage.

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What’s (Not) New in Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi?

Peter’s confession at Caesarea in Matthew 16:13-20 seems like an important turning point in Matthew’s gospel. So what’s new in this passage?

Jesus Didn’t Give Peter a New Name

First, it’s not the name “Peter”.  Jesus didn’t give Simon a new name at Caesarea Philippi.

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A Sower went out to Sow

Matthew 13:1-9

Jesus sat in the boat and looked at the large crowd gathered along the shore. His heart was elated and broken at the same time. The people assembled here were evidence of the Father’s powerful work and the coming of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed. They had seen Jesus’ mighty deeds and heard him teach about the coming kingdom. Now they were moved to follow Jesus – well, at least as far as the edge of town.

Still, Jesus knew that some would really not understand. Some would fall away when persecution raised its ugly head. Still others would be drawn away by the lure of the world’s supposed treasures.

Some of Jesus’ opponents may have even asked Jesus, “Tell us about this kingdom you preach about. If it is so great, why isn’t everyone getting on board? Some of your own disciples are abandoning you!”

Thankfully, Jesus also knew that many of those who followed him would also persevere in faith to inherit the kingdom. It was to this end that Jesus came. Sometimes, Jesus’ message bore fruit in the most unlikely places.

So Jesus told a parable about a farmer who sowed his seeds, knowing that not every seed would produce fruit for the coming harvest. Some seed would be eaten by birds. Some would fall on rocky ground. Some would fall where it would be choked out by weeds. But some would produce a harvest that would bring joy to the farmer’s heart.

Now God isn’t exactly like a farmer sowing seeds. You can only take the analogy so far.

Farmers aren’t invested emotionally in every seed that doesn’t bear fruit. If farmers get a good return on their time, money and effort, that’s certainly enough. But God is not growing soybeans and people aren’t dirt. Every person for whom Jesus died is precious to him, including those who don’t understand him, those who deny him and those who leave him for apparently greener pastures. Every person matters, including those who ultimately fail to enter the kingdom.

To the people on the shore, Jesus’ message was a challenge. What will you do with this Jesus whom you have followed to the shoreline? Will you let his word take root in you and grow?  Unlike soil, human beings are not passive recipients of the sower’s seed.

Surely the kingdom will come whether you or I or the individuals gathered on the shore to hear Jesus speak are there to be a part of it. Jesus’ parable is both a word of warning and encouragement. The kingdom is coming, and those who remain united to Jesus will inherit it. Don’t let the evil one’s threats or the world’s empty promises draw you away.

Related: The Parable of the Sower

 

If the Lord had Not Revealed His Glory

Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2

The Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:2-3

What is God doing in the story of the magi? The Father is revealing the glory of his beloved Son to the nations. This is the gospel – the good news – for all of us who are not by birth members of Abraham’s family.

If the Lord had not revealed his glory to the nations, I would still be worshipping stones, statues, spirits or stars.

If the Lord had not revealed his glory to the nations, I would still be looking down my nose at those backward, narrow-minded, anti-social monotheists from Judea.

If the Lord had not revealed his glory to the nations, I would still be trapped in sin, idolatry and ignorance.

If the Lord had not revealed his glory to the nations, I would still be cut off from God’s people, bereft of the joy of the gospel and without a sure foundation for living.

In describing the gospel for the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul writes:

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:12-13

The gospel of Matthew begins with account of the magi, the story of Zoroastrian astrologers drawn by a star to honor the infant Jesus with gold and frankincense. It concludes with Jesus, risen from the dead, commanding his church to make disciples from all the ethne – the nations – the Gentiles – the non-Jewish people groups of the world.

From the beginning to the end, the gospel is the story of the God of Israel drawing the people of the nations to Jesus and his church. If he had not done so, I would be lost.

Epiphany, 2017

The Diplomatic Setting of the Magi’s Journey

Today (January 6) is Epiphany, the day on which the church remembers the wise men from the East who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. Who were these wise men – or magi – and why did they first go to Jerusalem? Most particularly, how does the evangelist understand the answer to these questions as he tells us the story In Matthew 2:1-12?

1) The visitors are magi, traditionally translated as “wise men” and more recently as “astrologers” or “magicians”. In the ancient world, the word magos was most commonly associated with priests of what has come to be known as Zoroastrianism, a religion of the Persian Empire. This corresponds with Matthew’s description of them as being from the “east”. Their interest in the stars corresponds with the practice of what we would call astrology – the wide-spread belief, common in the ancient world, that the stars controlled or revealed the fates of men and nations. The magi practiced astrology, magic and other esoteric arts, but we might also call them priests or scholars of their nation’s particular religion. The magi were, to a greater or lesser degree, representatives of the state religion of Persia.

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