Matthew 16-17 6/25/23

Kingdom   •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:00
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Matthew 16-17

Saving Private Ryan is probably not the first thing that would rise to the top of anyone’s mind while reading through the book of Matthew. It sure wasn’t for me. Extra-violent war film and all that. But one of the characters from that movie is, I think, of some relevance to the portion of Matthew that we’ll be considering today.
Timothy Upham is a very well-intentioned young soldier who is also several miles out of his depth on what amounts to a suicide mission to bring one soldier home. And this is going to cause some problems as the film progresses. At risk of spoiling a 25 year old movie, his naive idealism is going to get at least one of the other American soldiers he’s with killed [explain].
Getting back to Matthew 16, we’re going to see something very similar. Not Omaha Beach, but there is someone on a mission that is going to end violently, a bitter opponent, and a few people not quite getting it.

Matthew 16:1–4 NET
1 Now when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.2 He said, “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be fair weather, because the sky is red,’ 3 and in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, because the sky is red and darkening.’ You know how to judge correctly the appearance of the sky, but you cannot evaluate the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away.
And so the opponents show up right away.
We’ve seen the Pharisees and Sadducees before. They didn’t get along very well, so them cooperating against Jesus is noteworthy. They were both just about as political as they were religious, so I think comparing them to Republicans and Democrats today isn’t too far-fetched. The list of things that our political parties will genuinely work together on is, well, easy to count. Imagine a preacher in Lisco or Broadwater causing such a stir that the Senate sends a bipartisan committee to check out what he’s doing, and you can start to see the kind of attention Jesus is getting in Jerusalem.
Something else here is that the religious leaders here didn’t just happen to be in the area; they came out specifically to test Jesus.
Remember, we’ve already had two very public demonstrations of Jesus’ power in the last chapter: the feeding of the five thousand and then the four, in addition to the myriad healings that he’s also done. They already know what Jesus can do.
What they’re asking for is not that Jesus prove himself- he already has. This is, in the words of one of my commentaries, trying to make Jesus into “a puppet on strings to perform at their command.”
And he’s having none of it. The Pharisees and the Sadducees are the most highly educated people in Israel, but can’t see what’s in front of them for all of that. One more sign piled on top of the mountain will do nothing for them. So Jesus leaves them. But keep the sign of Jonah in mind, we’ll get to that in a moment.
Matthew 16:5–12 NET
5 When the disciples went to the other side, they forgot to take bread. 6 “Watch out,” Jesus said to them, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”7 So they began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “It is because we brought no bread.” 8 When Jesus learned of this, he said, “You who have such little faith! Why are you arguing among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand and how many baskets you took up? 11 How could you not understand that I was not speaking to you about bread? But beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” 12 Then they understood that he had not told them to be on guard against the yeast in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
It’s kind of reassuring for me that even Jesus’ own handpicked squad was liable to have collective failures to engage brain. If they were idiots, maybe there’s a chance for me too.
But in all seriousness, I want to take a moment to dive into just what the Pharisees and Sadducees were teaching and why Jesus might have warned against them.
And one of the big things we’ve already seen in Matthew is that they don’t seem to have any concept of grace: In Matthew 12.1-14, Jesus’ followers pick some green wheat out of the fields to eat on the Sabbath. To the Pharisees, this is just outrageous. Nevermind that the disciples must have literally starving for this to be something they would be willing to do; no, to the Pharisees, the real problem is that they won’t just quietly starve so that the Pharisaical fence surrounding the Law can remain undisturbed. Then when Jesus heals a man with a withered or shriveled hand immediately after, the Pharisees are still so wrapped up in their obsession with keeping everyone else’s behavior confined within their walls that they seem physically incapable of celebrating this man’s healing. It was on a Sabbath, so it must be bad.
A further issue is hypocrisy, and just last week we saw an example of this.
Matthew 15:1–4 NET
1 Then Pharisees and experts in the law came from Jerusalem to Jesus and said,2 “Why do your disciples disobey the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.”3 He answered them, “And why do you disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’
Matthew 15:5–9 NET
5 But you say, ‘If someone tells his father or mother, “Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God,”6 he does not need to honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said, 8 This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, 9 and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”
They will condemn others for violating any tradition of theirs, but do not follow God themselves. And if you remember anything from Josh’s sermon last week, this washing of hands doesn’t really do much in the sanitation department.
So, the yeast of the Pharisees condemns other people for violating ornamental “laws”, but has no heart- for others or for God. Keep your thumb here because I want to take another look at this in a moment, but for now . . . if you’re a parent [I am not, but I’ve heard a lot of stories], you’ve probably had something like this happen. Say your kid is learning the ABCs and has a real breakthrough. Something like figuring out handwriting without even being taught. You’re all proud and go to find your phone or a camera to take a picture, only to come back to that very same child putting their newfound writing skills to work on the walls. With a permanent marker.
Jesus is going to have that same kind of moment here.
Matthew 16:13–16 NET
13 When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Matthew 16:17–20 NET
17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! 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 overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” 20 Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
This is the proud parent part.
And if we look in the book of Acts, it’s clear that Peter really did get the keys.
Acts 10:28 NET
28 He said to them, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, yet God has shown me that I should call no person defiled or ritually unclean.
Without getting too deep into the weeds, Peter in Acts 10 is going to open up the church to the Gentiles- which hadn’t happened before. Any non-Jew in the church up to this point would have converted to Judaism first, and then Christianity. And it also shows something else I want to emphasize. The binding and releasing Jesus references here isn’t a license for Peter to just make whatever he wants into a binding law on God’s people. Rather, it’s an appointment to be the mouthpiece for what God had already decided to do.
Fun fact here is that Catholics will make this passage and its parallels in the other synoptics out to be Jesus endorsing the Papacy. We’ll get to that in just a second.
Matthew 16:21–24 NET
21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
Matthew 16:25–28 NET
25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.28 I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
And here we have Peter scribbling on the walls with a magic marker.
Jesus is starting to trust his disciples to know about his crucifixion, and Peter immediately hits with the exact same temptation that Satan himself did back in chapter 4 of Matthew: that of being a Messiah without a cross. Peter knows by this point to avoid the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but he isn’t quite understanding what Jesus’ alternative is. Remember, the Jewish expectation was for a sort of “super-David” who would drive out the Romans and everyone else the Jews didn’t like.
Jesus will now correct this mistaken idea of who he is: [verse 24]
His followers were not to be like the self-aggrandizing religious leaders who opposed him. Crucifixion was the ultimate humiliation under the Roman system, and “taking up the cross” was not a distant metaphor.
As for verses 17-20 somehow being Jesus establishing the office of Pope, it’s remarkable that on the same page Jesus also calls Peter “Satan.” The Pope is, according to Catholicism, infallible when speaking in the capacity of chief Catholic. So if Peter- who they claim is the first Pope- is infallible, it doesn’t make any sense for him to also get called “Satan”, and immediately after the alleged appointment no less.
And in Galatians 2.11,
Galatians 2:11 NET
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong.
Paul says that Peter [Cephas] “stood condemned.” For following a hypocritical teaching [yeast of the Pharisees], no less. Which is kind of weird if he is in fact some kind of super-spiritual infallible Christian Supreme.
Plus there’s the tiny little detail that Jesus never says anything here- or anywhere- about Peter’s office being hereditary.
With that out of the way, let’s keep moving. 16.28: what on earth does it mean to see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom?
Matthew 17:1–4 NET
1 Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them privately up a high mountain. 2 And he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 Then Moses and Elijah also appeared before them, talking with him. 4 So Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Matthew 17:5–8 NET
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to him!”6 When the disciples heard this, they were overwhelmed with fear and threw themselves down with their faces to the ground.7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Do not be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, all they saw was Jesus alone.
Matthew 17:9–13 NET
9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Do not tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the experts in the law say that Elijah must come first?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does indeed come first and will restore all things. 12 And I tell you that Elijah has already come. Yet they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wanted. In the same way, the Son of Man will suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
I wonder if that might not be what Jesus meant about the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
This isn’t as obvious to us, but Craig Keener points out that to Jewish people of the first century, this would have been chock-full of parallels to the story of God revealing himself to Moses on Mount Sinai- especially when his face glowed from seeing God’s glory.
Exodus 34:29 NET
29 Now when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand—when he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.
Peter didn’t quite get what kind of Messiah Jesus was going to be- and really, still doesn’t- but Matthew is showing here who Jesus is. God showed himself to Moses, but God didn’t call Moses his son.
And this is significant. In Jewish culture, Moses held a spot that we don’t really have in modern America, kind of like if George Washington had also founded religion here. Moses was the Jew of Jews, but God doesn’t say “Listen to Moses;” he says, “listen to my one son.
Elijah was probably second only to Moses in Jewish thought, and he’s here at the Transfiguration too.
The Transfiguration is not just “Jesus’ face was shiny” but a direct endorsement of Jesus as something and someone greater than anyone the Jewish people had ever seen.
I suppose in keeping with the Moses parallels it’s fitting that just as Moses had to deal with the failures of his people when he came down the mountain, Jesus did too.
Matthew 17:14–17 NET
14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, because he has seizures and suffers terribly, for he often falls into the fire and into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they were not able to heal him.” 17 Jesus answered, “You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him here to me.”
Matthew 17:18–20 NET
18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him, and the boy was healed from that moment. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” 20 He told them, “It was because of your little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.”
If you ever feel like your faith is inadequate, just remember that Jesus’ own handpicked people couldn’t always make it work, and they would go on to change the world.
Not that this means you should be content to stagnate where you are. It’s an insult to say you follow Jesus and then just sit still.
Matthew 17:22–23 NET
22 When they gathered together in Galilee, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they became greatly distressed.
They still aren’t quite getting what Jesus’ end goal is, but the disciples are finally starting to understand what “kill” means. And Peter now seems to know better than to tell Jesus off.
Matthew 17:24–27 NET
24 After they arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Your teacher pays the double drachma tax, doesn’t he?” 25 He said, “Yes.” When Peter came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect tolls or taxes—from their sons or from foreigners?” 26 After he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 But so that we don’t offend them, go to the lake and throw out a hook. Take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth, you will find a four drachma coin. Take that and give it to them for me and you.”
Jesus could exempt himself from the tax, but doesn’t. I think we could learn something from this- American culture is huge on “rights,” and “freedom,” but there are times when it might do us well to not use some of our rights. What use is it if the exercise of my First Amendment right turns someone away from God?
And that’s the text of Matthew chs 16-17.
I do want to very quickly touch back on a few points within this text.
First, the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The Gospels are not 100% of everything that Jesus said: John wrote at the end of his Gospel that the world would not contain everything that Jesus said and did.
Which means the fact that religious hypocrisy is highlighted so often in every account of Jesus’ life is not by accident- the Gospel writers wanted their audiences to understand something from that.
2- Error is inevitable [Peter, the disciples’ failure to drive out the demon]
3- But that isn’t the end [Disciples’ later successes, etc]
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