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That Little Voice Inside

Date: May. 29, 2016

Author: Bob Henkins

Matthew 16:13-28

Key Verse: Matthew 16:24

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”

In 2011, Psychology Today published an article based upon research titled: “Women’s Intuition: Myth or Reality?” In the article they ask “We've all heard the term "women's intuition," but is it real, or just a myth? What does the research evidence suggest? Do women have some sort of "psychic" ability to discern others' feelings and what they are thinking?” What do you think? Have you ever had a gut feeling about something? Do you usually trust your instincts and go with your gut feeling or do you second guess yourself? How often are you right or wrong? In today’s passage Peter give Jesus two responses. One he is blessed and the other he is rebuked. What’s different in his responses? Is he following his gut feeling or not? Is it because he lacks a woman’s intuition? After we pray, we’ll take a closer look.

After rebuking the religious leaders Jesus and his disciples headed north. Verse 13 tells us, “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”” It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t question his disciples about his teachings, miracles, or ministry, but in regards to who he is. Why? The reason is because at the core of our Christian life is a personal relationship with Jesus. Some people think that various activities like going to meetings, rituals, ceremonies, good works, etc, is the heart of Christianity. But their wrong, knowing Jesus and having a personal relationship with him is what it’s all about.

The first question Jesus asked was, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” What’s the word on the street? The disciples “replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets" (13b-14). To me it’s interesting that everyone the people mentioned, was already dead. It’s weird that John the Baptist was Jesus’ contemporary; did they think Jesus somehow morphed into him? Taking a look at who they thought Jesus was, we see that at the time, John the Baptist was well respected by the people of Israel and Elijah was a powerful and courageous prophet and Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, as he cried out for his lost countrymen. The people of Jesus’ time compared him to many great prophets of God, even though the religious leaders did their best to slander him. However, the people didn't completely understand who Jesus was because in reality he was much more than just a great prophet. He is God.

I imagine Jesus expected more from his disciples, so he pushed them further, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” This question was different from the first. The first was objective, they could simply state the facts about what people said but this one required them to give their personal point of view. They would have to reveal something about themselves and sometimes people are not so ready to do that. Peter being Peter stepped forward representing the group and according to his inner voice said, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (16). This short moment is pivotal in the life of the disciples, and for all people throughout history for that matter. It’s easy to let it go by, but what does it mean? The Messiah was the unique, central figure in God's redemptive history who had been promised by God and prophesied about. Until this point, the Israelites had been waiting for the Messiah for more than two thousand years. And here he was, and for the first time, it was spoken out loud. At that moment, Peter realized that the long-awaited Messiah had finally come. Peter called Jesus "the Son of the living God." This meant that Jesus was more than a man; he was God in the flesh. The Messiah had to be fully man and fully God because he came as our mediator. Paul told Timothy, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim 2:5) And to be our mediator, Jesus would have to understand human beings in our weaknesses and temptation (Heb 4:15). And as the holy God, he has the power to save us from our sins and death (Heb 2:14-15). The basis of our Christian faith is to believe in Jesus as both the perfect man, and perfect God. Jesus had to be both in order to bridge the gap to understand us and bring us salvation.

Peter's confession was significant in at least four different ways.  First of all, it brings salvation. Romans 10:9 says, "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Salvation can only come from a confession of faith in what Jesus has done for you. All other religions emphasize doing good works to compensate for our misdeeds. And in the end you have to hope that your good outweighs your bad. However, when we understand how offensive our sins are to the holy God, we know that there is nothing that we can do to compensate for them. Our works are like menstrual pads in God's sight (Isa 64:6). Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ to those who believe in him.

Secondly, Peter's confession was a commitment to Jesus. Jesus is the Son of the living God. He is the author and source of life. Jesus is the true vine and we are like branches (Jn 15:5). Commitment to Jesus is just like a branch being grafted into a vine. Just as a branch cannot survive without the vine, no one can receive God's life without commitment to Jesus. A lot of people like the idea of being saved from their sins, but they don't want to make a commitment. However, without making a commitment to Jesus, we can’t even begin to grow. Committing to Jesus is the starting point of our life of faith. First we commit to him and then we live our lives based upon that commitment. (Colossians 2:6-7 say, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.")

Thirdly, based on Peter's confession, Jesus builds his church. Take a look at verse 18. "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Here, "this rock" refers to Peter in his role of confessing Jesus as the Messiah, and it implies that the other disciples would share in that role as they made a similar confession. Jesus is the foundation of the church (1 Cor 3:11). The apostles and prophets of the early church confirmed that Jesus is the Messiah through their testimony and teaching (Eph 2:20). Through those who testify about the Messiah, Jesus builds his church. The church is not a building or an organization; it’s the people who confess that Jesus is the Messiah. Sometimes the church looks weak and pitiful, filled with wounded, foolish, sinful people (1 Cor 1:27-28). But Jesus says the gates of Hades can’t overcome it. (This kind of reminds me of the New Colossus sonnet written by Emma Lazarus which is on the Statue of Liberty, the last lines read: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" This is what our country was built upon. ) Here, "the gates of Hades" refers to the power of death, which the devil holds (Heb 2:14) and he uses it to enslave people with fear (Heb 2:15). The power of death seems to swallow everything: the rich, the famous, the strong, the intelligent, and the educated. But Jesus promises that the church will triumph in the end. (Romans 8:36-37 say, "As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.")

Fourthly, Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven to those who confess him as the Messiah. Verse 19 says, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Keys are a sign of ownership. And ownership gives you authority, free access, with the power to come and go. Even though I own our van, when I give David our keys, I am empowering him and trusting him with that authority. Likewise, Jesus is giving his disciples the authority to admit entrance to the kingdom through the preaching of the gospel. When we share the gospel, those who accept it can enter the kingdom of heaven but if we don’t share the gospel, nothing happens. In that sense we who confess Jesus as the Messiah hold the power of life and death. We’re not ordinary people, but people with great authority. This authority comes only from Jesus. Jesus ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah because the gospel was not yet accomplished through his death and resurrection (20). Confessing Jesus as the Messiah is a very significant event. It brings salvation to one's soul and leads us to a vine and branch relationship with Jesus through which Jesus builds his church and opens the way to the kingdom of heaven.

What enabled Peter to make the first historic confession that Jesus is the Messiah? Was it his gut feeling, intuition, a good guess? Take a look at verse 17. “Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” We might think that because Peter saw Jesus heal the sick, drive out demons, and even raise the dead, maybe these are what lead him to make the statement but Jesus says that he didn’t gain his understanding through his intellectual reasoning or other means but that it was revealed to him by God. In other words, it was the work of the Holy Spirit. Many years later St Paul would give us insight into this when he prayed for the church at Ephesus, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Eph 1:17). Paul also said to the Corinthians, "...no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). When someone confesses that Jesus is Lord, sincerely from their hearts, it’s evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in them and God has made them his children.

Jesus may have thought that finally his disciples were beginning to understand who he was. The next thing Jesus wanted to do was to what his mission was, why he came to the earth. Take a look at verse 21. “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Jesus uses the word "must" in reference to going to Jerusalem and being killed. This was because it was God's will and purpose for Jesus. Jerusalem was the center of Israel’s social and religious life. That’s where the temple was located and it was the place where Jews from all over the world would come for important feasts. During the Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus would become the Paschal Lamb. Jesus mission was to go to Jerusalem in order to be crucified, and to be raised to life. Then repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Lk 24:47) and his disciples would be witnesses to these events (Ac 1:8). "Must" also referred to Jesus' suffering and death. Worldly kings rule with force but Jesus would not rule that way. Rather, Jesus, even though he is the King of kings, would humble himself and suffer to die on a cross, paying the price of our sins, in order to set us free. In this way Jesus became the king who serves and saves in obedience to God's will.

Jesus revealed these things for the first time to his disciples based on their confession that he was the Messiah. Peter must have been riding high after being blessed by Jesus. After all it’s not every day that you confess the Messiah but how did he respond now? Look at verse 22. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”” Just a few moments before this Jesus had said, " Congratulations, Peter I am the Messiah! You nailed it! Blessed are you. I am the Holy One of God. I am God in the flesh, sent to take away the sins of the world. But then he goes, "…but the teachers of the law and the chief priests are going to get me. Then they're going to beat me, and I'm going to suffer at their hands, and I'm going to die, but on the third day I’m going to be raised to life. " And Peter takes Jesus aside, maybe so he doesn’t embarrass him and says, “No way, never.” If you're wondering to yourself, "How did Peter miss the raised to life part?" they never heard that part. None of them did. Jesus repeatedly tells them on the way to Jerusalem, " I'm going to be arrested and killed but I'm going to be raised," and then when he actually gets arrested and is killed, they're like, "Where'd that come from?" Listening is a skill, and all of us have to work on that skill. But getting back to Peter, in a sense, he was saying, Jesus, you’re God, how can you die? I saw you tell a dead little girl to get up and she did. I saw you tell a storm to stop, and it actually listened to you. I saw you take a couple of biscuits and fish and feed a huge crowd. Not only that, how are these guys who you are constantly intellectually defeating finally going to get the best of you?"

Jesus could have responded, “Aww thanks Peter. It’s good to know that I got your support.” But instead, “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns”” (v23). According to Peter inner voice, he had his own idea about what Jesus should do. His concept of the Messiah was a glorious ruler, not a suffering servant. His response is very natural.  The problem was that Peter didn’t know the will of God. We have a tendency to think in very narrow terms or about things from a selfish point of view. But God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:8-9). God, in his great wisdom, wanted to solve the fundamental and universal problem of all people--that is sin and death. That is why Jesus had to suffer, die and rise again. At first glance, Peter's words seem reasonable, understandable, and seemed to offer comfort to Jesus. However, his reasonable ideas made Jesus vulnerable to the devil's temptation not to take the cross, but to go an easier way. So Jesus turned and said, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." Jesus indicates that Satan was working behind Peter. Although human concerns seem to be reasonable and good, when they oppose God's will they are evil and actually make people stumble instead of obeying God.

In this passage Peter responds to Jesus two times. The first time he is blessed and praised by Jesus and the second time he is severely rebuked. And each time Peter is listening to his inner voice for his response. And my question is this, how do you know which voice is right? You may have seen it depicted on TV or in the movies as a little angel sitting on one shoulder and a little demon sitting on the other shoulder each whispering in your ear. And sometime we struggle to discern which voice is right as we are being pulled in two different directions. This is a very real problem but Jesus gives us the answer in the last part of this passage. In following Jesus, we can’t rely only on our reason, we need a spiritual principle that gives us discernment. Jesus teaches this in the next part. Take a look at verse 24. "Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. " To make it simple, the way we know which voice to follow is this: are we choosing for ourselves, or are we choosing for Jesus. Does our choice make life easier for us, or does it glorify Jesus? It’s a simple test we can apply to discern which voice we should listen to.

Here is how the principle is applied. Just as Jesus used the word "must" in regards to his own obedience to God's will, so he also used the word "must" in regards to his disciples' attitude toward him. Just as Jesus denied his own desire in order to carry out God's salvation work, so his disciples must deny their own desires. Just as Jesus took up his cross, so his disciples must take up their own cross. Of course, our cross is different than Jesus' cross. We cannot die for the sins of the world, or even for our own sins. Our cross is to love and serve both God and man.

When we make our confession of faith, like Peter, we are entering into a special relationship with Jesus and we become his disciple. Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple... must...." there is no exception. Still, Jesus' way of discipleship seems to be too hard to follow. Our lives are already very demanding and hectic. How often do we have to do this, one time and then we’re done, nope it’s on a daily basis throughout our lifetime? Because if we don't deny ourselves and take up our crosses, we end up slaves of our sinful desires. Denying ourselves and taking up our crosses seems to be burdensome. But if we really do so from our hearts, we will enjoy true freedom, bear good fruit and live a meaningful life.

In verses 25-26, Jesus show us that there are pros and cons to our choices. "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? " William MacDonald, a famous Plymouth Brethren preacher, told an interesting story. A man named Pat was walking down the street in New York City. He was accosted by a robber who held him at gunpoint and said, "Your money or your life!" Then Pat answered, "Take my life. I need my money for the future." This tells us that some people value money more than life itself. However, even if we are able to gain wealth, honor, power, and everything else we want, in the end death will take it from us. If we had two lives, then maybe we could dedicate one to God and the other to pursuing worldly glory, but unfortunately we have only one life. We don't have time to experience everything and then make a decision. We must make the right decision while we’re young. If we live for ourselves, we will lose everything, but if we live for Jesus, we will gain the kingdom of God. Verses 27-28 say, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. 28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”” Jesus said that when he comes in his Father's glory he will reward each person according to what they have done. This reward is not just for the future, but it impacts our present life. When we have hope in our hearts we never taste death, but experience the kingdom of God.

So next time you have to make a decision, I encourage you to follow your instincts, but first test them to see where they may lead you. Are they leading you to choose for yourself, (Lot chose for himself) or are they leading you to deny yourself and follow Jesus. Which path you take will determine if you head toward life or death. For one leads to God’s kingdom and the other leads to hell.

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