Thy Kingdom Come: The Son of Man and the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 16:28: “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.”

This verse has confused many a Christian, myself included, throughout the years. Jesus is speaking to his disciples immediately after Peter confesses him to be the Christ, Jesus calls Peter “Satan” for telling him he didn’t need to go to the cross, and then Jesus basically says, if you want to follow me, you’ve got to die.

But he ends with the encouragement of verse 28: “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

That sounds good. Sounds great even, if you’re one of the ones he’s referring to who won’t be dead when the kingdom comes.

The difficulty in interpretation comes when we look around and say, “Wait a minute! The disciples are all dead and we don’t see the kingdom anywhere! Jesus lied to us!”

May I submit that the problem isn’t with Jesus, but with our reading. Because Jesus is simply setting up what’s coming next. In Chapter 17.

The chapter and verse division throw us off, but we need to remember those weren’t part of the original text. They were added later to make it easier to navigate the massive tome that is the Bible, but they can get in the way if we are not careful.

Because in Matthew 17, Jesus’ prophecy is fulfilled, at least in part, only six days later. Not all of the disciples see it, but three do and they’re not dead. Starting in verse 1 of chapter 17…

[1] And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. [2] And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. [3] And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. [4] And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” [5] He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” [6] When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. [7] But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” [8] And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

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Throughout the gospel of Matthew, we have seen references to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Sermon on the Mount described what life looked like in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus demonstrated the power of the Kingdom of Heaven, and now these three disciples see the Kingdom of Heaven come.

But it comes in a surprising way. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed not as an earthly kingdom with geographic boundaries, flags, and fortresses: it’s Jesus, finally fulfilling all God’s plans and prophecies. Jesus only!

The Kingdom of Heaven is Fulfilled in Jesus (1-8)

If we don’t see Jesus as Lord, we won’t understand him as the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven.

Our text points us to the need to see Jesus as the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven:

Matthew 17:5b “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Listen to him. Why should we listen to Jesus? Why should we acknowledge him as Lord? Why is He the fulfillment of the kingdom?

Three reasons:

1. Jesus is the ultimate revelation from God

We are told in scripture that in the former times, God spoke in various ways and through various people, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son.

Peter missed this. And I think that we do as well.

Peter wanted to build three tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. He was essentially equating the three. He was honoring them, elevating them above him and James and John. But he was wrong. Jesus was not the equal of Moses and Elijah but was their Lord. He was not another prophet leader sent from God: he was the ultimate revelation from God.

[17] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

Peter assumes that Moses and Elijah are equal to Jesus: Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, point to Jesus. We are to point to Jesus as the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“This is my beloved son, listen to him.”

We don’t believe that we should stone disobedient children, but that’s what the Law said. We don’t believe that anyone who dashes a Babylonian baby’s head against a rock is blessed, but that’s what the Psalms say. We don’t believe that we have to keep the Sabbath day, but that’s what the Prophets say.

We’ve got to be careful as Christians to not be so in love with our moral code, picked and chosen from passages of Scripture that we like and ignoring the ones we don’t, that we miss the truth of the kingdom: Jesus. We can’t love our system of morality more than we love the master of our souls.

Jesus is sent from God as the ultimate revelation of what God is like and how we ought to live and everything we think we know needs to be filtered through him.

But, that’s not the only reason we ought to see Jesus as Lord…

2. Jesus is the ultimate authority as God

When Jesus was transfigured, his face shone like the sun

This scene is, I believe, intentionally reminiscent of a scene on another mountain many years before. Mt. Sinai. As the children of Israel waited to receive the commandments of their God. Moses went up on the mountain and asked to see God and then his face shone for days afterward.

What is different about the scene in Matthew is that Jesus wasn’t reflecting an external light, but was revealed to be the source of the light. He was transfigured before them. He was and is and will be God.

“But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’” Hebrews 1:8

The Son of God is God. Jesus is God. That’s remarkable. Peter thought that Jesus was like Moses and Elijah, but Jesus made Moses and Elijah.

And Jesus made you.

Believe it or not, Jesus has the authority to be Lord of your life, not because he was a good teacher, not because he was a righteous man, but because he created you. He molded you and formed you and knit you together in your mother’s womb. He does not have the right of ownership over you as if his authority was purchased: he has the right of creation of you.

Do you see what a shameful thing Peter did in talking of three equal shelters, albeit in ignorance? It’d be like you inviting me to thanksgiving dinner and then me thanking the turkey for the fine hospitality!

Jesus has the ultimate authority not just because he reveals God to us, but because he is God over us.

3. Jesus is the ultimate standard for His people

Every year, around Easter, I hear people who say, “I just can’t believe Christianity because how could a dead man raise to life?”

And Christians get bent out of shape when people question the resurrection.

I don’t. Because that’s not even the crazy part! What’s more amazing than the resurrection to me is the incarnation. That God, the creator of the universe, the sovereign Lord, took on flesh. That the second member of the trinity came to earth as a baby. He was a man. Because he was God he could pay the price for our sins. Because he was a man, Hebrews tells us, he could identify with us in our weaknesses. In those two facts, we have redemption.

And we also have a life plan. We have the example that we needed showing us, as frail humans, how to live before God.

“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” 1 John 2:6

So many of us evaluate our spiritual growth by comparing ourselves to those around us: I’ll never be as good as her, at least I’m better than him. The trouble with comparative Christianity is it always misleads us because people are always changing. I can always find somebody that I’m better than if I want to feel good about myself. If I want to beat myself up, I can always find someone better than me. But what Jesus shows us is that we need to quit focusing on ourselves or comparing ourselves to those around us.

Only when we fix our eyes on Jesus will we have a sure guide for how we ought to live and a vision of what we ought to be.

Jesus is Lord. That means he tells and shows us how to live. Proclaiming Him Lord is not merely an intellectual exercise: it affects every single area of our lives: mind, soul, and body.

It’s not easy.

The scene on the mountain showed the three disciples the Kingdom, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But that wasn’t all they needed to see or hear or do to understand the kingdom…

The Kingdom of Heaven is Revealed in Suffering (9-13)

[9] And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” [10] And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” [11] He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. [12] But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” [13] Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

It is no accident that Jesus turns the conversation to suffering after the disciples had just glimpsed heaven

Elijah suffered.

John the Baptist suffered.

Jesus will suffer.

The implication is obvious: the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed in suffering.

All of Scripture recognizes this:

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21

The hard truth of the kingdom is that people who are satisfied with the things of this world cannot appreciate the promise of heaven. People who are drunk on the wine of this world cannot appreciate the promise of new wine at the banquet of the lamb. People who’ve cultivated a self-centered vision of a personal heaven will find that they have no desire for a Christ-centered vision of a corporate heaven.

Suffering forces us to relinquish our reliance on this world, on self-fulfillment, on a privatized religion of mental appeasement.

Suffering wakes us up to the reality of the gospel. Suffering is the tool that God uses to wean us off this world in order to use us in inaugurating the kingdom of heaven.

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” CS Lewis The Problem of Pain

We shouldn’t seek suffering in this life, but when it comes, don’t lose heart. It’s not that God is picking on you; he’s preparing you for two things:

1. Living in the kingdom of heaven.

2. Demonstrating the good news of that kingdom to others.

A comfortable person speaking of a suffering savior will not be heard, but a suffering person speaking of a conquering savior will.

The Kingdom of Heaven is expressed by serving others in faith (14-20)

[14] And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, [15] said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. [16] And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” [17] And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” [18] And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. [19] Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” [20] He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew knew what he was doing by presenting the trio returning with Jesus and immediately coming face to face with suffering that they could do something about after having had a foretaste of heaven.

This passage has been used and abused for people to think that if they have enough faith they can get whatever they want for themselves. That is not at all what is in mind here.

The disciples were condemned for their lack of faith in God, “why couldn’t WE cast it out” – they thought they could attain the desired result apart from the power of God.

The faith that Jesus has in mind is never centered in what we get, what we do, or what we are recognized for. The faith he is speaking of here is the faith that God will work in spite of us, not because of us. That God will use our feeble efforts to accomplish healing and restoration in this broken world

When we serve in our own strength, we fail. When we serve for our own advancement, we fail. When we serve for our own gain, we fail. We fail to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven through efforts in our own strength.

But, when we serve through faith in God’s power, we succeed: the kingdom of heaven is made real. This theme resonates throughout the gospels: don’t seek power for yourself, but exercise the power of God for his glory and the good of others.

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28

The reason faithful, selfless service is so important is because of what the Kingdom of Heaven costs, both Christ and us…

The Kingdom of Heaven is grounded in the agony of the cross and the victory of the resurrection (22-23)

[22] As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, [23] and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

The disciples hear of the coming cross and they are distressed. They freak out.

They couldn’t understand it then, but we understand it now: What the disciples heard as the worst news possible is actually the best news ever! Why? Because “he will be raised on the third day!”

We need to live as if the cross were actually good news. Not just good news for us because of Jesus but good news because the cross in our lives is good news.

To die to self is the goal of Christianity. To have no thought of personal gain or personal power, but to joyously own Jesus as Lord, to willingly suffer for his kingdom, to faithfully serve others, and to boldly die to self all because the Kingdom is seen in resurrection – and in the eternal life that flows from that resurrection.

The Apostle Paul got it: 

[8] Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—[10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV)

He’s talking about the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus as the Lord of that Kingdom.

Jesus showed us, told us, reminded us, that the kingdom of heaven starts now. That means owning Jesus as Lord to the point that we are willing to suffer for him, to serve for him, to die for him.

And yet, in America, we’ve made our faith about managing the discomforts in the world as best we can so that one day, we can get to “heaven.” I’m not saying that’s not good, but it’s certainly not all we are supposed to be about.

I’m afraid that as I’ve walked through Matthew the past few months, I may have done a poor job of explaining what the kingdom of heaven is. When you hear heaven, don’t think about clouds, and harps, and wings. Put that out of your mind. Instead, when you hear heaven, think about Jesus, glorified on the mountain, think about his followers gladly suffering for him, think about serving tirelessly and thanklessly, think about death and resurrection. Take your hope of heaven off the shelf, put it on your feet, and go live it out now. Go befriend the person at work that everyone else makes fun of. Turn off the TV, make cookies with your kids, and take them to the widow next door. Quit bashing your neighbor’s theology and start demonstrating the love of Christ to them. Make gathering with fellow believers a priority, not something governed by your desires or whims. Don’t say how excited you are for heaven and then spend every dollar you make on yourself trying to create a little personal heaven on earth

When do we, church, when do we, Christian, begin to stand and fight, here and now, because of the glory that awaits? When do we cease to pretend that the gospel is good news because it eases my conscience and begin to see that the gospel is good news because it lays claim to my every breath, my every decision, my very life?

When do we stop seeing heaven as the reward for our useless spirituality and start seeing it for what it is: the joy of our Master into which we are called but into which we dare not come empty handed?

We don’t get whisked away to heaven immediately upon getting saved because God is purging us of selfishness! He is guiding us towards Christlikeness, not for our glory but for His, not for our benefit alone, but for those around us. The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus Christ, changes everything.

 

The Cost of Confessing Christ

Everything about Jesus inspired curiosity. Everyone had questions:

“Where did he come from?”

“How can he teach like that?”

“How can he heal like that?”

“How can he talk to the Pharisees like that.”

The question that everyone wanted an answer for was, “Who is this guy?”

Jesus puts the question to his disciples in Matthew 16:13:

[13] Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” [14] And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

The disciples have answers, lots of them. People had no clue what to make of Jesus so they started comparing him to prophets, miracle workers, even his cousin, John the Baptist.

This question resonated with people and everyone had an opinion. But Jesus wasn’t stopping there. Asking “who do other people say that I am?” wasn’t his goal – he was setting up his next question:

[15] He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

This is a more pressing question. Jesus moves from general information to personal application. The difference between “Who do they say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” is the difference between information and salvation. And Jesus knows it.

The trouble is that people want to answer the question of “Who do you say that I am?” however they want. Consider the following examples from Adam Ford:

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The trouble is that none of those caricatures of Jesus work. There’s always an embarrassing passage to contradict an individual version of Jesus. Cool Dad Jesus really struggles with Christ Jesus saying to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin. John Lennon Jesus is offended by Jesus saying that he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. Richard Simmons Jesus would pass out at what Christ Jesus says about the cost of discipleship.

All of these answers, all of the answers the people of Jesus’ day fell short. But Simon Peter gets it right:

[16] Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus isn’t who we want him to be: Jesus is who he is. We don’t get to pick and choose which version of Jesus we like best, expecting him to conform to our wishes. He picks and chooses us and then has the audacity to expect that we would conform to his wishes. That’s what all his talk about the kingdom of heaven is meant to help us understand. That’s why we have an Old Testament and a New Testament: because we need to be brought to the point that we see this life isn’t about us – it’s about Jesus being the Christ, the Son of the living God. Nothing else matters outside of that. Nations rise, nations fall, people are born, people die, but that – that confession, that Jesus is the Christ, is a rock we can cling to!

And we don’t get that answer on our own – God has to reveal it to us:

[17] 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.

Christianity is not based on human logic. Note that I don’t mean it doesn’t make logical sense: it does. God is not a God of chaos but of order and we see that order in everything true. What I mean is that Christianity does not arise merely from human logic. In other words, if you sat down to create a logical religion, using human intellect, Christianity is not what would come out. People accuse Christians of making it up, of using religious logic to control people. They say that Jesus’ disciples invented this religion after Jesus was crucified in order to gain power over people.

Not so! But assume for just a second that it is true…

…If the disciples had made it up to gain power, let’s just conclude that they weren’t very good at it. What kind of power comes from asserting that when someone strikes you on one cheek, you turn to them the other as well? What kind of power comes from saying that the greatest among you must be the servant of all? This isn’t a religion of power, it’s a religion of weakness! And if that makes you cringe or repulses you, good! Because our human nature loves power and runs from weakness. The only way any of us would know the truth of the gospel, of Christianity, a religion of weakness, is if it was revealed to us not from our flesh and blood, but from God.

Some people take this reality of divine inspiration as a carte blanche that whatever they “feel” spiritually must be correct. Not so! The work of God’s Holy Spirit is not generic revelation but specific: he reveals the truth of salvation through the truth of the Father’s revealed Word and Son, Jesus Christ.

Several things happen when we recognize and make this confession that Jesus is the Christ:

1. Identity redefined and defined.

[18] And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock

This passage has been interpreted and misinterpreted throughout church history. Catholics claim that Jesus was saying that Peter was the rock and would be the first pope and that the succession of popes is the mark of the true church. Others say that Peter wasn’t the first pope, but that this instituted the bishopric and that without the bishopric, you don’t have a true church.

But there is a crucial distinction in the original Greek that is not so apparent in translation. Many know that Peter means rock and conclude that since Jesus says “on this rock” he is refering to the same person. But there are two different, though related words used here. Jesus says “And I tell you, you are Petros, and on this petra.” Petros was used to denote a chunk of rock hewn from a larger mass and petra was used to describe a mass of “living” rock, i.e. a mass of rock rising from inside the earth. In other words:

Petros: “You are Peter,” you are a piece of the living rock”

Petra: “on this rock,” on the confession of Christ that makes the scattered peoples of the earth into a mass of living rock, the confession that changes individuals from self-centered, self-seeking, self-deceived egos to God-loving, others-loving, disciple-making world-changers, no longer separate, but united.

The confession of Christ simultaneously redefines individual identity and defines the church.

And just like the confession is revealed not by flesh and blood, so this mass of living rock, the church, is being build not by flesh and blood, but by Christ…

2. It’s Jesus’ work, not ours.

I will build my church,

It’s Jesus’ church. It’s not my church, it’s not your church, it’s Jesus’ church. That means that our congregations aren’t something that we get to control, they’re something that Jesus is sovereignly in control of.

I recently presented a vision plan to the church that I pastor and it was affirmed by a nearly unanimous vote. But that “nearly” gave me pause. I shared with those gathered that, while I understood that the proposal passed by our constitutional rules, I recommended that while the Vision had been affirmed, we would wait to implement it until we had given more time to share and discuss it as a church. Many were shocked and saddened that we weren’t going to implement it straight away.

But I saw the hand of God in this vote because I had failed to communicate the vision adequately. I made the mistake of assuming that just because I had talked about it a lot that others would have heard it a lot. But the more I think about it, I realize that most of my conversations were with small groups within the church, not with the entire congregation. I didn’t give enough time for people to ask questions or seek clarity on it.

So taking some time before implementing the vision gives me and gives the church time to remember this: it’s Jesus’ church. He doesn’t need a cool logo, catchy name, or a vision plan. Those things are great as tools, but rotten as essentials. If the goal is simply to pass a vision, I shared with the church, we aren’t on the right track. Instead, the vision has to be subservient to the goal: Jesus using us to glorify God by expanding his kingdom through our loving efforts. I do think the vision is helpful and right, but I’d rather scrap it than move forward without the guidance of Christ.

A vision is simply a tool, a way to help a church get to the point where it is not run by a pastor, or by special interest groups, or by power players, or by anything or anyone other than Christ. How does Christ build his church? He does so through his teachings, by his example, by his death and resurrection. He tells us to Love God, Love Others, and Make Disciples. It’s that simple.

Jesus will build his church. It has a common confession, he promises to build it, and he assures its success.

3. Assurance of mission success

Let’s be honest, I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect. That means that our churches will never be perfect. The only way it would be is if none of us were a part of them, which kind of defeats the purpose, right? But the amazing thing is that when Jesus builds the church, (not the building, not the programs, but the people) even when we’re imperfect, we are assured that we will succeed in our mission. What is the mission? Make disciples everywhere we go in defiance of Hell.

and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The strange thing about this statement is that Jesus uses active language to speak about a passive defense. If you talk about something prevailing, it is usually an active thing: i.e. one army prevailed against another. But here the term “gates” is by nature a passive defense, not an active offense. So for this passive object to prevail, all that would be required is that the active object, the church on mission, cease to attack. Jesus says that won’t happen. Yet we see it happening everywhere in our own country. We see churches get so wrapped up in pettiness, so concerned with making sure that certain individuals are mollified, so concerned with making sure that no one disturbs the status quo, so concerned with comfort and ease and making sure that church “feels right” that they will ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and let the gates of Hell stand unassailed.

A church that fails to engage in the mission of Christ doesn’t make Christ a liar, but it does make itself not a church. In other words, failure to engage in the mission we’ve been given doesn’t mean that Jesus was wrong: it means that we are.

After all, he gives us the mission and then gives us the authority to carry it out:

4. Authority to engage on behalf of Christ

[19] 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.”

People get hung up on this statement, but I think there is a simple way to understand it: Jesus gave us commands, he gave us a mission, he assures us that it will succeed, and he gives us the authority we need as a church to make sure that it gets done. If there is something in the church that is bound that would help the church, Jesus says we have the authority, his authority, to loose that, to set it free to do the work that he has given. And if there is something that would hinder us from fulfilling the mission, Jesus says that we have the authority to bind it, to keep it from getting in the way of the mission.

It’s a simple statement of mission authority: Do whatever it takes, within the mission parameters, to complete the mission.

Think of what Jesus has entrusted his church with: finishing the work that he started. Fulfilling the Great Commission. And he’s not holding us back: he’s saying, “You have all the authority that you need to make this happen.”

Which makes this next verse potentially confusing:

[20] Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Why? He just praised Simon Peter for the right confession, he just told them they couldn’t fail in assailing the gates of hell, and then he says, “Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone.”

Why? Because the Jews were expecting a christ. First century Palestine was rife with supposed messiahs, men who would make extraordinary claims about themselves, gather a group of followers with promises of restoring the glory of Israel, crushing the Roman occupiers, blah, blah, blah. And followers would come, deceived by the promise of worldly power and glory alongside this latest messiah. And then the leader would say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or make an attack on a Roman outpost, and the next thing you knew, he and all his followers were beaten and hung on crosses.

Jesus tells his disciples not to say anything about his being the Christ, because Jesus wasn’t a charlatan like those others. He didn’t want to attract people with vision of grandeur, he wanted them to see the whole picture. And they couldn’t get the whole picture yet. Because as important as Jesus’ teachings and healings were, Jesus’ mission as Christ wouldn’t be complete until after his crucifixion and resurrection.

So he tells the disciples why they can’t share the good news about him being the Messiah yet.

[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.

This doesn’t sound good to the disciples. Peter especially doesn’t think so.

[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.”

Peter, who just made the confession of Jesus as Christ, who just had Jesus exclaiming with excitement, who has been given this new identity and this new assurance, that same Peter, says, “Um, Lord, you need to cool it with the whole dying thing. We ignored it the first couple times you mentioned it, but it’s getting embarrassing. Stop it.”

And Jesus calls him Satan.

And we want to as well: “How dare you, Peter?”

But before we come down to hard on poor Peter, let’s think about why he said it. For one thing, it didn’t fit his expectation of what the Messiah would do and who he would be. Peter was a Jew. He expected the conquering hero just like everyone else in his country. And Peter wanted to be a part of it. That’s the second, and related, concern. Peter wanted to be the faithful disciple who serves in the revolution and is richly rewarded in the kingdom that comes. He wanted the position, the power, the comfort, the ease that comes with being on the winning side.

But he didn’t understand that those things don’t come immediately. They come, the kingdom comes, but not on our timetable.

Peter didn’t understand that the rewards of Jesus’ Kingdom are only available to those who have paid the price of discipleship.

If we’re honest, we don’t want Jesus to suffer and die either. Because we know that if Jesus suffers, we will suffer. We are like those Jews running after false messiahs. We want the blessings of the Kingdom without the pain of crucifixion. We don’t want a crucified messiah because we don’t want to be crucified disciples.

But the joy of resurection is only available to those who have been crucified.

[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.

We don’t want to go through the painful process. We don’t want our service in God’s mission to involve change or pain or discomfort. False messiahs promise the kingdom but end up leading their followers to the cross.

Jesus promises the cross and ends up giving us the kingdom.

Persecution, sacrifice, even death are going to come. Following Christ costs you everything or you’re not following him. But the flip side of the coin is the blessed truth that in giving up everything for Christ, you are really gaining everything.

If your confession of Christ hasn’t cost you anything, you haven’t confessed Christ. And if you haven’t confessed Christ, you won’t see the kingdom. But if you have, even though that confession costs you everything, the kingdom is yours and you will see it.

Oh for the day when that’s all we see!

A Bible Mistake? Two Dinners: Jews, Gentiles, And The Bread of Life

Two Feedings

All of Jesus’ miracles are, well, miraculous. But some seem to invite more reflection than others. Two of the miracles that have always stood out to me are incredibly similar: the feeding of the five-thousand-plus and the feeding of the four thousand-plus. These have appealed to me both for their physical and spiritual import, but also for the debate that they spark.

A Bible Mistake?

And there is a lot of debate. And not entirely unwarranted. Why are there two mass feedings recorded in Jesus’ ministry? As I studied in preparation, I found that some say that Matthew mistakenly wrote the same story twice. Other people say that one of his sources included a story about Jesus feeding five thousand, and another source included a story about Jesus feeding four thousand. Matthew couldn’t figure out which was correct, so he just threw them both in. Others say that someone copying Matthew accidentally included the same story twice, with minor changes. Still others say that both stories are just fictionalized attempts to make Jesus seem greater than he actually was.

All of these attempts at explanation miss some critical elements:

  1. Matthew wasn’t an idiot: It’s exceedingly unlikely that Matthew would have either mistakenly wrote the same miracle twice in such a short span and with the differences entailed. Nor would he have just thrown two similar stories in if he was working from the source material. No, Matthew was meticulous in his writing, always pointing each subsection towards the main theme: Jesus is different, the kingdom he rules over is different, Jesus changes everything you thought you knew about God and his people.
  1. This isn’t just Matthew writing, but the Holy Spirit inspiring: It is important to affirm what Scripture itself indicates: the Holy Spirit had a direct role in the writing of the Bible. 66 books make up the Protestant canon. These books were written by about 44 different human beings, with their individual personalities, backgrounds, and styles coming through. But, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 affirms, they were also written under inspiration by the Holy Spirit. God himself, guiding, directing, breathing, guarding the words that were being written.
  1. There are too many differences between the two stories for it to be a copying error: It is easy to make a mistake when you’re copying large sections of text. Remember, no printers, not printing presses, no means of reproducing text than by hand-copying it. And there were mistakes made in copying. Sometimes, when we look at ancient copies of Scripture, we see where a scribe omitted a letter. We see a repeated word. In one instance, we see a scribe who copied the same line three times in a row before moving on. Copying errors did happen. But not like this in Matthew, not similar stories but with different details.

Errors In The Bible?

Let me interrupt this post by briefly talking about the issue of errors in the Bible. There were copying errors in the Bible. But that doesn’t disprove the accuracy of the Bible. Why? Because scholars can compare the different copies we do have, note any errors, and by putting all the similarities together, know with almost one hundred percent certainty what the original said. Look at it this way: people have no problem accepting other ancient books even when they have copyist errors. Why? Because they can compare the copies to other copies and figure out what the original said.

All it means is that you have to have multiple copies. Maybe people reject the Bible as accurate but accept other ancient works. Let’s look at some works that people have no trouble accepting, and then let’s look at the Bible:

  • Plato: We have 7 manuscripts. That’s enough for scholars to compare them and present the text as historically reliable, accurate, and worthy of study.
  • Aristotle: 49 manuscripts. That’s like seven times as many as Plato.
  • Homer’s Iliad: 643 manuscripts. That’s like 92 times as many as Plato.
  • The New Testament: 5686 manuscripts. 812 times as many as Plato.

And the copying errors in the 5686 copies are minor: 99.5% of the text is the exact same.

So, while copies of the Bible sometimes have errors, we can compare the various copies and thus trust that what we read is accurate to the originals and that the originals were without error.

Back To Two Feedings:

Which brings us back to Matthew. If Matthew wasn’t an idiot, and the Holy Spirit was inspiring what he wrote, and there’s no reason to think that a copyist botched up by sharing the same story twice, so we have to determine why both are there. Why did Jesus feel the need to feed one group of five thousand and one group of four thousand? Why did Matthew feel the need to record both?

Let’s look at the two:

The Feeding of the Five Thousand-plus (Matthew 14:13-21)

[13] Now when Jesus heard this [the death of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. [14] When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. [15] Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” [16] But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” [17] They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” [18] And he said, “Bring them here to me.” [19] Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. [20] And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. [21] And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Then next…

The Feeding of the Four Thousand-plus (Matthew 15:29-39)

[29] Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. [30] And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, [31] so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. [32] Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” [33] And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” [34] And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” [35] And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, [36] he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. [37] And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. [38] Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. [39] And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

So why two stories? Because Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is revealing that Jesus wasn’t just a Jewish Messiah: he is the king of a kingdom that is offered to people of every tribe and tongue and nation. Jews and Gentiles are both the recipients of his provision. Consider:

The Number of Baskets:

  1. The five thousand-plus: 12 baskets gathered up = 12 tribes of Israel
  2. The four thousand-plus: 7 baskets gathered up = the seven nations (Deut 7:1 – “When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you,”)

The Words Used:

  1. The five thousand-plus: “The hour is late” was a common Jewish phrase used to remind people it was time for evening prayers.
  2. The four thousand-plus: vs. 31 “They glorified the God of Israel.” These are people whose praise of Israel’s God is noteworthy, i.e. these people typically worshiped other, Gentile gods.

The Canaanite Woman:

Another helpful interpretative key is found in verses 21-29 of chapter 15, immediately preceding the feeding of the four thousand-plus:

[21] And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. [22] And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” [23] But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” [24] He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” [25] But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” [26] And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” [27] She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” [28] Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Matthew takes pains to note that Jesus goes to a Gentile region and meets a Gentile woman. Many are shocked by Jesus’ response (or lack thereof) to the woman, but what would have shocked the Jews of his day would have been his willingness to even go to the region and risk running into a Gentile.

Jesus is doing a little bit of theater for the disciples’ sake (and for ours). He uses the parable of the master’s bread and anticipates her response about master’s dogs to connect the encounter to both of the feeding miracles. He is illustrating the truth: He is the bread of life for all the lost sheep of Israel, whether they are native Jews or elect Gentiles (Romans 9:6-7). The disciples interpreted his statement of ministering only to the lost sheep of Israel in an ethnic sense: Jesus intended it to be interpreted in a spiritual sense.

The Disciple’s (Apparent) Forgetfulness

[33] And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?”

Much homiletic hay is made at the disciples’ expense: “Can you believe how dumb they are?” “You’ll never guess what the disciples forgot this week!” But, in this instance, it’s misplaced. The disciples, for all their failings, are not simpletons. They would have had no trouble remembering the previous feeding when Jesus asks them about food for the second feeding.

The logical explanation is not that they forgot, but that the context of the second feeding led them to imagine that the same miracle would not be performed in this instance. They couldn’t imagine Jesus performing the same miracle, one that harkened back to God’s provision of bread from heaven for the Israelites, for the Gentile crowd in front of them.

Their doubt was not founded in forgetfulness but in a failure to see the scope of Jesus’ kingdom. They knew from prior experience that Jesus could do it, but they doubted that he would do it. But Jesus was not just a Jewish Messiah: he is the King of Kings, sovereign of a nation of people drawn from every nation.

Jesus’ Injunction Against the Teaching of the Pharisees

Particularly noteworthy in this discussion is Jesus’ reminder to his disciples in chapter 16 of Matthew:

[5] When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. [6] Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [7] And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” [8] But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? [9] Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? [10] Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? [11] How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [12] Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

What was Jesus reminding them of? His two miraculous feedings. And, he is explicitly connecting the symbolic numbers of each miracle with his own teaching and warning them to avoid the Pharisees’ teaching.

What was the teaching of the Pharisees? In short:

  1. God didn’t care how you treated other people so long as you mask it with religious promises and rules.
  2. God needs some strong men to exercise power over others for him. The Pharisees volunteered. They had to make sure other people kept the rules.
  3. God loves the Jews. Avoid Gentiles at all costs, don’t interact with them: they’re inferior.

Jesus tells his disciples: “Don’t buy it. Don’t buy the teaching of the Pharisees. I am the Bread of Life.” He warns his disciples not to be fooled by false piety. He reminds them that these two miracles demonstrate how his own teaching was the polar opposite of the Pharisees’. This is why, for all the debate about why there are two feeding miracles, we need to come back and simply own his message for us today:

  1. Don’t think that you make God happy by keeping rules. You don’t. You make God happy by accepting His Son as the Bread of Life. God doesn’t care about the religious promises you make or the religious rules you keep: he expects you to love him and love others. Heart, not words. Character, not pragmatism.
  2. Don’t think that you make God happy by making sure other people keep rules. You don’t. You make God happy by sharing His Son as the Bread of Life. God doesn’t need strong men in power: he loves to use the weak things of the world to demonstrate his power and salvation.
  3. Jesus is the Bread of Life for all people. He fills those who know him and invites those who don’t to be filled by him. God doesn’t love one ethnicity, gender, or “tribe” more than another: he offers love and acceptance to everyone who submits to Jesus as Lord, regardless of their ethnicity.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Jesus is the Bread of Life for all people.

 

Two Big Dinners: Jews, Gentiles, and the Bread of Life

All of Jesus’ miracles are, well, miraculous. But some seem to invite more reflection than others. Two of the miracles that have always stood out to me are incredibly similar: the feeding of the five thousand-plus and the feeding of the four thousand-plus. These have appealed to me both for their physical and spiritual import, but also for the debate that they spark.

And there is a lot of debate. And not entirely unwarranted. Why are there two mass feedings recorded in Jesus’ ministry? I walked through Matthew’s account of the two events this past Sunday. As I studied in preparation, I found that some say that Matthew mistakenly wrote the same story twice. Other people say that one of his sources included a story about Jesus feeding five thousand and another source included a story about Jesus feeding four thousand. Matthew couldn’t figure out which was correct, so he just threw them both in. Others say that someone copying Matthew accidentally included the same story twice, with minor changes.Still others say that both stories are just fictionalized attempts to make Jesus seem greater than he actually was.

All of these attempts at explanation miss some critical elements:

  1. Matthew wasn’t an idiot: It’s exceedingly unlikely that Matthew would have either mistakenly wrote the same miracle twice in such a short span and with the differences entailed. Nor would he have just thrown two similar stories in if he was working from the source material. No, Matthew, as we have seen, was meticulous in his writing, always pointing each subsection towards the main theme: Jesus is different, the kingdom he rules over is different, Jesus changes everything you thought you knew about God and his people.
  1. This isn’t just Matthew writing, but the Holy Spirit inspiring: It is important to affirm what Scripture itself indicates: the Holy Spirit had a direct role in the writing of the Bible. 66 books make up the Protestant canon. These books were written by about 44 different human beings, with their individual personalities, backgrounds, and styles coming through. But, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 affirms, they were also written under inspiration by the Holy Spirit. God himself, guiding, directing, breathing, guarding the words that were being written.
  1. There are too many differences between the two stories for it to be a copying error: It is easy to make a mistake when you’re copying large sections of text. Remember, no printers, not printing presses, no means of reproducing text than by hand-copying it. And there were mistakes made in copying. Sometimes, when we look at ancient copies of Scripture, we see where a scribe omitted a letter. We see a repeated word. In one instance I’ve seen a scribe copied the same line two or three times in a row before moving on. Copying errors did happen. But not like this in Matthew, not similar stories but with different details.

Let me interrupt this post by briefly talking about the issue of errors in the Bible. There were copying errors in the Bible. But that doesn’t disprove the accuracy of the Bible. Why? Because scholars can compare the different copies we do have, note any errors, and by putting all the similarities together, know with almost one hundred percent certainty what the original said. Look at it this way: people have no problem accepting other ancient books even when they have copyist errors. Why? Because they can compare the copies to other copies and figure out what the original said.

All it means is that you have to have multiple copies. Maybe people reject the Bible as accurate but accept other ancient works. Let’s look at some works that people have no trouble accepting and then let’s look at the Bible:

  • Plato: We have 7 manuscripts. That’s enough for scholars to compare them and present the text as historically reliable, accurate, and worthy of study.
  • Aristotle: 49 manuscripts. That’s like seven times as many as Plato.
  • Homer’s Iliad: 643 manuscripts. That’s like 92 times as many as Plato.
  • The New Testament: 5686 manuscripts. 812 times as many as Plato.

And the copying errors in the 5686 copies are minor: 99.5% of the text is the exact same.

So, while copies of the Bible sometimes have errors, we can trust that what we read is accurate to the originals and that the originals were without error.

Which brings us back to Matthew. If Matthew wasn’t an idiot, and the Holy Spirit was inspiring what he wrote, and there’s no reason to think that a copyist botched up by sharing the same story twice, so we have to determine why both are there. Why did Jesus feel the need to feed one group of five thousand and one group of four thousand? Why did Matthew feel the need to record both?

Let’s look at the two:

The Feeding of the Five Thousand-plus (Matthew 14:13-21)

[13] Now when Jesus heard this [the death of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. [14] When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. [15] Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” [16] But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” [17] They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” [18] And he said, “Bring them here to me.” [19] Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. [20] And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. [21] And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

And next…

The Feeding of the Four Thousand-plus (Matthew 15:29-39)

[29] Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. [30] And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, [31] so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. [32] Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” [33] And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” [34] And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” [35] And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, [36] he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. [37] And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. [38] Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. [39] And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

So why two stories? Because Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is revealing that Jesus wasn’t just a Jewish Messiah: he is the king of a kingdom that is offered to people of every tribe and tongue and nation. Jews and Gentiles both are the recipients of his provision. Consider:

The Number of Baskets:

  1. The five thousand-plus: 12 baskets gathered up = 12 tribes of Israel
  2. The four thousand-plus: 7 baskets gathered up = the seven nations (Deut 7:1 – “When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you,”)

The Words Used:

  1. The five thousand-plus: “The hour is late” was a common Jewish phrase used to remind people it was time for evening prayers.
  2. The four thousand-plus: vs. 31 “They glorified the God of Israel.” These are people whose praise of Israel’s God is noteworthy, i.e. these people typically worshiped other, Gentile gods.

The Canaanite Woman:

Another helpful interpretative key is found in verses 21-29 of chapter 15, immediately preceding the feeding of the four thousand-plus:

[21] And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. [22] And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” [23] But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” [24] He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” [25] But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” [26] And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” [27] She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” [28] Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Matthew takes pains to note that Jesus goes to a Gentile region and meets a Gentile woman. Many are shocked by Jesus’ response (or lack thereof) to the woman, but what would have shocked the Jews of his day would have been his willingness to even go to the region and risk running into a Gentile.

Jesus is doing a little bit of theater for the disciples’ sake, and for ours. He uses the parable of the master’s bread and anticipates her response about master’s dogs to connect the encounter to both of the feeding miracles. He is illustrating the truth: He is the bread of life for all the lost sheep of Israel, whether they are native Jews or elect Gentiles (Romans 9:6-7). The disciples interpreted his statement of ministering only to the lost sheep of Israel in an ethnic sense; Jesus intended it to be interpreted in a spiritual sense.

The Disciple’s (Apparent) Forgetfulness

[33] And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?”

Much homiletic hay is made at the disciples’ expense: “Can you believe how dumb they are?” “You’ll never gues what the disciples forgot this week!” But, in this instance at least, it’s misplaced. The disciples, for all their failings, are not simpletons. They would have had no trouble remembering the previous feeding when Jesus asks them about food for the secon feeding. The logical explanation is not that they forgot, but that the context of the second feeding led them to imagine that the same miracle would not be performed in this instance: i.e. they couldn’t imagine Jesus performing the same miracle, one that harkened back to God’s provision of bread from heaven for the Israelites, for the Gentile crowd in front of them.

Jesus’ Injunction Against the Teaching of the Pharisees

Particularly noteworthy in this discussion is Jesus’ reminder to his disciples in chapter 16 of Matthew:

[5] When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. [6] Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [7] And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” [8] But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? [9] Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? [10] Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? [11] How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [12] Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

What was Jesus reminding them of? His two miraculous feedings. And, he is explicitly connecting the symbolic numbers of each miracle with his own teaching and warning them to avoid the Pharisees’ teaching.

What was the teaching of the Pharisees? In short:

  1. God didn’t care how you treated other people so long as you mask it with religious promises and rules.
  2. God needs some strong men to exercise power over others for him. The Pharisees volunteered. They had to make sure other people kept the rules.
  3. Only Jews could be loved by God. The Gentiles were to be avoided at all costs, never interacted with, and always viewed as inferior

Jesus tells his disciples: “Don’t buy it. Don’t buy the teaching of the Pharisees. Instead, recognize that I am the Bread of Life.” He warns his disciples not to be taken in by the religious teacher’s false piety. He reminds them that these two miracles demonstrate how his own teaching was the polar opposite of the Pharisees’. This is why, for all the debate about why there are two feeding miracles, we need to come back and simply own his message for us today:

  1. Don’t think that you make God happy by keeping rules. You don’t. You make God happy by accepting His Son as the Bread of Life. God doesn’t care about the religious promises you make or the religious rules you keep: he expects you to love him and love others. Heart, not words. Character, not pragmatism.
  2. Don’t think that you make God happy by making sure other people keep rules. You don’t. You make God happy by sharing His Son as the Bread of Life. God doesn’t need strong men in power: he loves to use the weak things of the world to demonstrate his power and salvation.
  3. Jesus is the Bread of Life for all people. Those who already know him should continually be filled by him. Those who do not know him should continually be invited to be filled by him. God doesn’t love one nation more than another: he offers love and acceptance to everyone who submits to Jesus as Lord, regardless of their ethnicity.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Jesus is the Bread of Life for all people. Eat, and be satisfied.

photo-1448794363755-de84d6a770bc

Three Things to Remember on Election Day

As I have watched this political season (all ten billion years of it) unfold, I have been guilty of getting wrapped up in the debates, the mud-slinging, and the hand-wringing over the candidates, the Supreme Court, and the future of our nation. However, while in a reflective mood this morning after a conversation with friends last night, I concluded that such embroilment is foolish at best and destructive at worst. Not that we shouldn’t be engaged, but that, as Christians, we should be careful in how we engage and to what ends. As important as the political process is, especially in a democratic republic like the U.S., it is not all-encompassing. Here, with encouragement from the Psalms, are three things to remember this election day:

1. Christ’s Sovereignty

No matter who is elected to sit in the White House, Congress, or any other political seat today, Christ is on his throne. Scripture is replete with reminders of this but Psalm 2 is particularly apt:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

We do not have to fret, we do not have to worry: God has set His King over His Kingdom and nothing that takes place here will ever change that. In fact, the mere suggestion that it might makes God laugh. Christian, do not fear what your Lord laughs at.

2. The Christian’s Hope

We are never told in Scripture to place our hope in political engagement or in political power. Instead, we are reminded time and time again that our hope is in Christ, in God’s plan for the ages, and in his love for his people. Consider Psalm 20:

Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.

As Christians, we should recognize the absurdity of hoping for eternally significant results from temporally limited processes and people. We can be certain that the hand of God is moving in history, guiding, shepherding, and ultimately accomplishing his goal: the restoration of all things.

3. The Church’s Mission

Many, myself included, have rushed to speak our minds on politics. There’s a place for that. But not at the expense of declaring the gospel to the world. Stumping for a particular candidate, platform, or perspective has served, in large measure, to distract many American Christians from what matters: fulfilling the Great Commission. Just look at God’s vision for his people’s political declarations in Psalm 96:

Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods…Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”

We are not called to “say among the nations (our particular political views)” but the good news that “the Lord reigns!” We can engage in political conversation, we can share our views, we can and should vote, but we should not do so at the expense of declaring the gospel. And we should not do so in a way that would harm our declaration of the gospel. Let’s keep first things, first.

After all, it’s just an election.

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