Matthew 28: “The Great COmmission”

Matthew 20 is famous for a couple of things:

  1. The women going to the tomb
  2. The guards account of what happened at the tomb
  3. The Great Commission

Today I want to focus on the Great Commission. This was the time and place when Jesus instructed his disciples on what they were to do after he was gone. Now, I don’t particularly like how Matthew ends his gospel, because he doesn’t include the fact that Jesus stayed with the disciples for 40 days after his resurrection. Not only do we know that Jesus told them to “go and make disciples,” he also taught them how! But before we get into all that, the first thing we need to do is answer the question, what is a disciple?

The biblical understanding of a disciple is someone:

  • Professes to receive instruction from another
  • Adheres to the doctrine of another (in this case, Jesus)
  • A follower or someone who follows his or her master

Following your master was something that the disciples took quite seriously. In fact, there was a sage in the Mishna that read, “may you be covered by the dust of the Rabbi”…may you follow so close that you would be covered by the dust that would come up off the road.

That’s what a disciple is, but that’s not the only thing a disciple does.

It’s important that we realize that discipleship is not a program, or a class, and it’s not education. Discipleship is an attitude, a philosophy, a way of thinking, and especially a way of life. Discipleship is following so close to your Rabbi that you become covered in the dust that comes up off his feet.

While we understand that Jesus’ words here is the Great COmission, in many churches it ends up being the Great Omission!

It’s amazing to me how many churches are filled with Christians but lack Disciples. You’re thinking, “What’s the difference?” You see, Jesus had disciples that he taught, they were believers, they were followers, Jesus taught them, encouraged them, sent them out on missionary journeys. But then something happened…Jesus left. He spent 40 days with them to teach them one last time about what they were supposed to do after he was gone. What did he say for them to do right before he ascended?

Matthew 28:16-20 (NLT)

To break it down:

  • Make disciples.
  • Teach them to obey
  • Oh, and while you’re doing that, I will always be with you.

Here’s the main difference that I found between a Christian and a Disciple: A CHRISTIAN HEARS THE WORD AND DOES WHAT IT SAYS… A DISCIPLE HEARS THE WORD AND TEACHES IT TO OTHERS!

Remember the words found in Colossians 3:17 (NLT) 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

I know I’m talking to two different audiences today. I’m talking to those who are at a further point down the road in their spiritual maturity…to you I say, we need you to become disciples and begin to teach others.

Now, to those who are new in your walk and are just starting out. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes time and you struggle to fully grasp it right away. Every person who’s accepted Christ has gone through a growing process in their relationship with Christ. Your goal is to walk so close to Christ you become a disciple… THEN TEACH IT TO SOMEONE ELSE!

Think about this: What if the 11 disciples that Jesus entrusted with His mission said NO? Would we be standing here today? NO! The Great Commission is about Planting Churches and Discipling Christians! It’s clear through His instructions that Jesus desires every Christian to be a disciple maker.  

Praise the Lord the disciples didn’t say no! Now it’s your job to not say no! So stop reading, get out there, and make disciples of all the nations… baptize them, teach them to obey God’s words, and oh, by the way, Jesus will be with you as you go.

Matthew 27: “At The Cross”

At the Cross

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

[CHORUS] At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

[CHORUS] 

“Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” Isaac Watts (cr. 1707)

A Little Church in Anderson, Indiana

Bill and Gloria Gaither live in Anderson, Indiana where Bill grew up. Amazingly, Bill actually grew up in the Nazarene Church there in Anderson where I’ve had the privilege of singing with my college choir in 1999.

While sitting in the sanctuary of this little farm church in Anderson, Indiana, a man told stories of how Bill would get up on Sunday nights and ask permission to play a song that God had laid on his heart. Sometimes they would be original songs like, “He Touched Me,” or “Because He Lives,” but to man’s recollection, one of the most powerful times was when Bill got up to play the great Hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed.”

Later Bill would record a popular version of this song entitled, “At the Cross.”

Because in the reflections we will encounter the cross four times in the Gospels, I would like to do something unique each time. Today I simply want you to watch/listen to the words and reflect on the power of this song.

Place Yourself At the Cross

While you listen, place yourself “At the Cross.” Imagine Jesus hanging suspended between heaven and earth as a man who at that moment had no home. Picture as he agonizingly stretches upward against gravity just to capture what little air could enter his lungs. Look over to see and hear the mocking voices of the Pharisees, Governor’s Guards, and the crowd.

Don’t miss the moment or opportunity today to be reminded of the lengths Jesus’ went through for you. He didn’t die on the cross for himself. As we read yesterday, Jesus could have called twelve legions of Angels to come and rescue him at a moments notice… but he didn’t. He didn’t call in the angels. He didn’t walk away in the Garden. He didn’t numb himself to the pain and agony of not only the cross, but the brutal beatings of the guards even before making the journey to Calvary. No, he went to the cross, and that is where we meet with him today.

At the Cross

Even though the Gaither Vocal Band only does two verses, there are more verse to this great Hymn by Isaac Watts.

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in
When Christ, the mighty Maker died
For man the creature’s sin

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness
And melt my eyes to tears

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe
Here, Lord, I give myself away
‘Tis all that I can do

Matthew 26: “I’m Doing This For You”

Festival of the Unleavened Bread

It was the Festival of the Unleavened bread in Jerusalem and there were tons of people in the city excited about celebrating this special Passover meal. Jesus looked at his disciples and said, you know we need to find a place to celebrate the Passover meal.

When the disciples and Jesus entered the Upper Room they would have found the room already prepared to celebrate the Passover Meal. Tables would be low to the ground in the shape of a squared off “U.”

In this particular shape it would have been custom for the disciples to lean on their left elbow and eat with there right hand. Because we know that John reclined in Jesus’ bosom…weird, we know that he would have sat at the right hand of the father. In our Western culture, this is hard to imagine, but if you realize the way they ate, this wouldn’t have been unusual cause it’s the only way you could actually talk to someone at the table.

But where did Jesus sit? We would think in this setting that he would be at the head of the table or right in the middle. This is actually wrong. Da Vinci in his depiction got this fact wrong and single handedly ruined our understanding of this critical event. Jesus would have sat at the far left side of the table, at the seat of honor. To his right would have been the youngest disciple to ensure that the young disciple wouldn’t miss anything and the Rabbi could use the opportunity to teach his young student.

But the question becomes now, who would have sat on his left? The seat to the left of the guest of honor was the seat of trust and confidence. It actually would have been even more honorable then the seat to the right. Because of the way people would have sat the seat on the left symbolically would have been a seat to represent that the person in that seat would have the guest of honors back, no matter what.

“Am I the One, Lord?”

Jesus is sitting with his disciples walking through all the ritual of the Passover meal, retelling the story of the Exodus out of Egypt. He would have been passionately helping the disciples remember that because of the blood on the doorpost the angel of death Passed Over the homes of the Israelites. As He’s saying all this, he stops and says something interesting, peculiar really, He says, (v. 21) “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”

Matthew 26:23-25 (NLT) 

“This bowl…” The particular bowl Jesus was referring to was the one sitting between Jesus and Judas. There would have been no confusion as to who Jesus was referencing, it was the bowl shared with the person sitting in the seat of trust.

I’m Doing This For You

Jesus continued with the Passover meal, even after exposing Judas as the betrayer, he offered him the same promise he offered to every other disciple. No matter what, “I will always be there for you.” He said to Judas, “this is the new covenant that I make with you.”

How often in our own lives do we realize that we truly don’t deserve God’s love and forgiveness, but he gives it to us anyway? Are you like me, do you realize sometimes that we are seated at place around his table that we don’t belong? That’s the beauty of what God was communicating to the world through Jesus… I’m doing this for you…

You don’t deserve this, but I love you so much that

He invites us to sit at the table, the table of forgiveness, the table of mercy, the table of redemption. The table of, “I know you’re going to betray me, but I’m doing this for you.”

 

Matthew 21: “Behold, The Lamb of God”

Picture this with me: The city would be packed with people; pilgrims from all over the area are descending upon Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast. They started arriving the Friday before with anticipation of the weeklong festivities to begin on Sunday.

Suddenly an odd little parade started to form outside Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and the people can be heard chanting a familiar prayer:

Matthew 21:9-10 (NLT) 

“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!”

10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

Now when we stop here, we pause to look the original reference of why they were saying these words. These words are the words from Psalm 118:26, but Matthew is actually a little incomplete here because they would have been singing the words of verse 25 as well. When we read it all together it reads:

Psalm 118:25-26 (NIV) 25 O LORD, HOSANNAH, which means, save us; O LORD, grant us success. 
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. 
   From the house of the LORD we bless you.

Zealots Create a Buzz

This is known as the Sukkot prayer, or the Hosanna, and it was a Zealots war cry. A Zealot was someone who had great Zeal for being a Revolutionary. These were the people who were seeking freedom from the oppression of the Romans… at any cost. They were sword happy crazy men who would do anything for political freedom. Peter (the other Peter) was a Zealot!

Haven’t you ever wondered why there were so many people at the parade and how they got there? Maybe you’re like me and thought, how did they know to bring palm braches, and why Palm Branches?

Well, many believe it was the Zealots who were trying to create a buzz in the city. They were supporting this Revolutionary Rabbi and his call for freedom. And the palm branch was the historic symbol for the Jews to proclaim freedom. It dated all the way back to the Maccabean revolt for freedom.

The Zealots knew the Romans, as well as the Pharisees and Sadducees, would hate a person who claimed to be the Messiah, especially during the Passover feast. So they went out and created a buzz…

  • Did you hear he raised a man from the dead?
  • I heard just a touch from Him can heal someone!
  • He restored site to two men on the Jericho Road!

In fact, we know those two men where with Jesus as he entered into the city. Matthew points to the fact that there were many people with Jesus, mostly the lame, the blind (or former blind), and children.

Who Jesus traveled with was an indication of why he came! While Pilate would have entered the Western Gate with great power and fanfare, Jesus was entering on the Eastern side with great humility.

  • Jesus didn’t come for the perfect, he came for the broken.
  • Jesus didn’t come with great military power, he came as a humble servant.
  • Jesus didn’t come for the healthy, he came for the sick.

The Lamb of God

He didn’t even enter Jerusalem through the Gate called Beautiful, he turned and walked all the way down to the Sheep Gate. He did this to proclaim, that I am the Lamb of God, who comes in the name of the Lord!

ALL, not some, but ALL the lambs that were used for sacrifices during the time of Passover had to come from one place… Bethlehem. According to the Jewish sacrificial system, NO other lambs could be used, except those that came from Bethlehem.

And where was Jesus born? That’s right, Bethlehem.

Did Jesus have a choice where he was born? No. But God did. Go knew that in order for the final sacrifice to be made it had to be done right from start to finish. Just like he knew that Jesus would enter Jerusalem declaring his role as the Messiah and proclaiming that he could provide them the one thing they were so desperate for…PEACE.

 

Matthew 20: “Parable of the Vineyard Workers”

 

Let’s start by reading The Parable of the Vineyard Workers from the Message.

Matthew 20:1-12 (MSG) 

 

Okay so up to this point in the story you’re probably thinking, this is okay. Its not bad that he is paying the last first because it shouldn’t be hard to calculate how long they worked and how little they should get.

Now if you’re the guys who started at 5am, and you see the guys who showed up at 5pm get the same amount, what are you thinking?

You might think they were getting mad, but maybe the truth is they were getting excited. Maybe they were seeing the land owner raising his wages and by the time they get to you at the end of the line you are going to make way more than a $1. Shoot, the guys who showed up an hour ago got a $1 and I started earning my $1 at 5am in the morning.

So the people who started earlier were probably getting excited, but as we will read, this is not how the story ends.

Matthew 20:12-15 (MSG)

  • So looking at this in order, how is this whole thing shaking out?
    • The 5am crew is getting angry

Don’t be fooled by this next question.

  • Who is the 5am crew yelling at?
    • The manager
  • Who answers the disgruntled workers complains?
    • The owner of the vineyard (This will be important later)

 

Hiring Practices During this Time

A manager, or foreman would go into the nearby town and find guys, literally men, standing around waiting for people to show up so they can be hired to work. These guys would go to the field and work gladly because it meant that they would earn a full days wage for their work. Basically, if they didn’t get hired all day, they wouldn’t be able to provide for their family that day and probably meant their family wouldn’t eat.

 

If you remember our reading from yesterday, there’s a connection between Jesus’ instructions to the Rich Young Ruler and the disciples.

Matthew 19:23-30 (NLT)

 

(19:30) 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.

What does all of this mean?

Here’s a quick breakdown of what our parable means…

  • Who is the estate manager in the story?
    • Jesus
  • Who does he call?
    • Believers and Non-Believers alike
  • How often does He go to get workers?
    • Up until the final hour
  • What is the final hour?
    • Judgement day
  • What does everyone get paid?
    • The same amount
  • In understanding God and his generosity, what do we receive even though we don’t deserve it?
    • Grace
  • So if the payment is grace then who will be more grateful?
    • The people who were last

Think about the implications that are very evident here. How many times have you known people, good “Christian” people who are upset when people get extra or better treatment.

  • Society tells us you have to put in your time, Jesus tells us, the last will be first.
  • Society tells us if you work harder you’ll get rewarded better, Jesus tells us, that’s not up to you.

In fact, he says, “Can’t I do what I want with my own money?”

  • Society tells us that the first will be first and the last will be last, but Jesus tells us that the last will be first, and the first will be last.

At the end of the day we are challenged to make a choice. Listen to Jesus who extends grace to the most unlikely of people, or listen to society and allow ourselves to be tainted by a view that doesn’t include grace.

 

 

Matthew 19: “The Rich Immature Ruler”

Matthew 19:16 (NLT) 16 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

The million dollar question, “What must I do to have eternal life?”  After some conversation with the rich young ruler, Jesus answers the question.

Matthew 19:21 (NLT) 21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Go and sell ALL your possessions and give the money to the poor? But wait, that goes against conventional wisdom. That doesn’t sound smart, nor safe, but since when is Christianity safe?

Is the purpose of Jesus and His Church to arrive safely at a place of death? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up in a church that was safe. I didn’t grow up in a church that minimized the risk of what it means to really follow Jesus. The unfortunate thing about my experience is that for many of you, it’s not your experience.

For many of you, you’ve grown up in churches that minimized the risk of following Jesus, and even eliminated the element of danger. Most churches have been good at producing safe Christians. You need to know: There is nothing safe about being a Christian.

 I love the quote by Mark Batterson in his book, “All In,” Jesus didn’t die to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous.

Empty Inside

This is exactly what Jesus was saying to the rich young ruler! He heard the rich young ruler tell him that he was keeping all the commandments, but look at (v 20): the Rich Young Ruler basically says, I’m keeping all the commands, so why do I still feel empty inside?

This is the amazing thing about this story. The Rich Young Ruler could have stopped there and been satisfied with the fact he was keeping all the commands, but the rich young ruler realized that following all the rules is only part of the journey. It is almost like we can hear the rich young ruler saying, I’m doing everything right, I’m rich, I’m young, I’m powerful, I’m a ruler who has everything, so why do I still feel empty inside?

Is that you today? Do you feel like you have everything but still feel empty inside? Or maybe this morning you don’t have anything and still feel empty! You have to know: The feeling of emptiness doesn’t have anything to do with what you have or don’t have. It’s bigger than that.

The text tells us that the rich young ruler kept ALL the commandments. He did nothing wrong, but listen: You can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right.

Be Perfect?

You know what I think? I think the rich young ruler was lacking that rush of holy adrenaline you get when you follow Christ with everything you’ve got. But there was good news coming for the rich young ruler. You see, Jesus was about to offer the Rich Young Ruler his “All In” moment. Read (verse 21.) 21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Here’s something worth noting here in the story. Jesus tells the young ruler, “if he wants to be perfect…” interesting, according to what we’ve already established about the ruler he was perfect, he was keeping all the commands.

But this word perfect doesn’t mean what you think it means. The word perfect here is the Greek word telios, meaning, to be mature or full-grown. Basically Jesus is teaching the young ruler about Holiness.

Closing

In closing: You may be keeping the rules, but it doesn’t mean you’ve reached full maturity in your faith. Jesus isn’t just asking just the Rich Young Ruler, but he’s asking us, are you willing to go ALL IN with and for me today?”

 

Matthew 18: “Forgiveness”

If you were to look up the word “forgiveness” on the Merriam-Webster website you wouldn’t just find the definition, you would also find the popularity of the word. Currently the word forgiveness is scoring in the bottom 40% of words. Now I don’t think there’s a scientific algorithm attached to that number, but I do think there’s something we can learn about the drop in people’s desire to forgive. Well, don’t worry if you have a hard time forgiving, it seems Peter was interested in learning how to forgive as well.

Matthew 18:21 (NLT) 21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

So as we stop here for a moment there’s a little flushing out that needs to be done. The first question we naturally have is, where did Peter get this number seven? Well, there is speculation as to why Peter chose seven, especially since Jewish Rabbis of his day limited opportunities for forgiveness for a given sin to three times.

So maybe in typical Peter fashion he’s showing his desire to go big or go home. He’s also probably referencing seven because it is the number that communicates completion. Either way, it’s not Peter’s question that garners attention, rather it’s Jesus’ answer that shocks the disciples.

Matthew 18:22 (NLT) 22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

Now, as you can imagine, Jesus is not suggesting keeping track until you reach 490! Rather he’s communicating, “Never hold grudges.” They would have expected an actual number, but by saying 70×7, Jesus knocked them for a loop. Not giving the disciples the opportunity to catch their breath, He goes right into a parable.

Matthew 18:23-35 “Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor”

You have to know, the last line of the parable is one of the most important in our reading. Matthew 18:35 (NLT) 35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”  

Forgiveness is a serious topic in God’s word, just look at a few references from the book of Matthew:

Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT) 23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT) 14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Remember, the Lord forgave you, SO YOU MUST FORGIVE OTHERS. How soon we forget and become like the servant in the parable. We experience forgiveness but we stop offering it to others around us. There is power in forgiveness. Think about the difference between saying I’m sorry, verses asking for forgiveness.

Anyone can say I’m sorry and not mean it. Look at how many ways kids can say “I’m sorry” (under their breath, not making eye contact, rolling their eyes, etc). You can say sorry with zero conviction or repentance in your heart. Truthfully, “I’m sorry” is meaningless without more context. Now think about the power of asking for forgiveness. These verses don’t reference accepting an apology, they say, extend forgiveness!

The Heart of the Matter

In closing, Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo put it beautifully in their book, On Becoming Childwise“Why is this forgiveness thing so powerful? Simply, it gets to the heart of the matter. Our hearts. When you say ‘I’m sorry,’ you’re in control of that moment. You control the depth and sincerity of your sorrow. But when you seek forgiveness, the one you’re humbling yourself before is in control. You’re asking something of that person that you cannot get without his or her consent–forgiveness. It is this humbling effect that so wonderfully curbs a child’s (and a parent’s) appetite for going back and doing the same wrong thing again,” (p. 139)

 

 

Matthew 17: “A Great Place to Be”

There have been many moments in my life when I could say, “This is a great place to be!” It’s typically with my family, and it typically involves weather that’s, you know, perfect. I can remember one such event when my wife and I met my in-laws at Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas. I couldn’t tell you how we found this particular restaurant, but we were on the water, the sun was setting in front of us, the weather was perfect, and it truly was, “a great place to be.” The thing about great places is the fact they’re typically associated with great experiences.

In our reading today we come across one of those such events that would even lead Peter to say, “(v. 4) Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here!” The event was the Transfiguration and according to many scholars it was the event that began the end of Jesus’ life/ministry on earth. As I was reading the details of the transfiguration, I couldn’t help but look at it from the perspective of the three disciples who were there. Although there’s a lot of research regarding the spiritual significance for Jesus, and especially the connection between Jesus’ and Moses’ transfiguration in Exodus 24, lets consider the connection this moment had to Peter, James, and John.

Peter, James, and John

How incredible do you think it would have been to witness the transfiguration of Jesus? To see Jesus’ face shine like the sun, and his clothes become as white as light (v. 2). Peter, James, and John were privy to one of the most incredible moments of human history. If it wasn’t enough that they saw Jesus transfigured, they also saw Moses and Elijah; OH, and they also heard God speak! All in the same moment! But why these three?

Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying, “These three were very special persons. Some say that Peter was one of them because he loved his Master much; that John was another because his Master loved him much; and that James was the third because he was so soon to die, the first of the apostles who should become a martyr for the faith of Jesus Christ.”

We find in the gospels many accounts that point to the importance of these three apostles. It was Peter, James, and John that Jesus took in the room to heal Jairus’ daughter, and it was these three who Jesus invited deeper into Gethsemane. We just read yesterday that six days before this event, Jesus looked at Peter and declared that the church would be built on his back! Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

We would tend to think that Peter, James, and John were just lucky, but it wasn’t about luck, it was about openness.

Be Open to His Glory

Peter, James, and John weren’t lucky, they were open. Open to follow Jesus no matter where he went or what he did. There’s a difference between those who are open than those who aren’t. If you’re open to all that God has for you, then you’ll be more likely to see Him move in glory and power. If you tend to stay farther away from the Lord, how do you expect to behold him in his glory?  I don’t know about you, but I want to be as close to Him as John was at the Last Supper. Scripture tells us that John was so close to Jesus that he literally laid his head on Jesus’ chest. If I can challenge you, stop hanging back and get close to him today!

I started today by challenging you to think about how incredible it would have been to witness Jesus’ transfiguration, but the real challenge is to stay close enough to Jesus not to miss those incredible moments. Are you walking close enough to Jesus today that he would invite you to join him on the mountain?

Matthew 16: “Upon This Rock”

 

I want to introduce you to Simon, actually his full name is Simon Bar-Jonah, meaning, Simon, son of Jonah, but you may know him as Peter. Sometimes we see him listed in the scripture as Simon, other times he’s listed as Peter, and even sometimes we see him listed as Simon Peter. But the most important thing is to know that Peter’s name means everything.

Something interesting: Whenever you see Jesus refer to Peter as Simon, it is often a signal that Peter has done something that needs correction. It’s like when you’re mom uses your middle name.

Something else interesting: “Peter” was sort of a nickname. It’s literally translated “Rock.” Petros is the Greek word for “a piece of rock or stone.” The Aramaic equivalent was Cephas.

Peter tended to make promises he couldn’t follow through with. He was the type of person that would plunge head first into something but bail out before finishing. He was the usually the first one in, and too often, the first one out. But Jesus wasn’t worried about who Peter was in his past, he gave him this important nick name because he wanted Peter to always be reminded of who he should be, and most importantly the way Jesus saw him.

Caesarea Philippi

Jesus took his disciples 30 miles out of their way in order to illustrate a lesson for them. He took them to a place called Caesarea Philippi, which during this time was the epicenter of evil in all of Judea and Herod’s Cities.

This area was filled with worship to some of the Greek gods. There was a huge hole that during the time of Christ was the location of a huge natural spring. The water that came up from this area was so large that educators believed it had no bottom. It literally was the place for them considered to be the entrance to the underworld or the Gates of Hades as the Greeks called it.

Matthew 16:13-15 (NLT) 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

It’s an interesting question to ask while He’s standing in the heart of worship to foreign god’s, don’t you think? While the other disciples were thinking and fearful of answering the question wrong, who speaks out? Peter of course.

Matthew 16:16 (NLT) 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter was able to see that what the world was saying was okay or normal, was neither okay nor normal. And Peter wasn’t afraid to call it what it was. This passionate revelation from Peter was soon to become the heartbeat of the early church and early Christians who were going out into a world that literally recognized that there was at least a dozen god’s in the world.

Matthew 16:17-18 (NLT) 17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church… 

Wait, What? He’s going to do what? He’s going to build His church on top of this rock? Really? Because this rock represents everything disgusting, broken, and wrong with the world we live in.

Challenge

Think about what Jesus was saying to them, He’s saying, I want you to take the message and the love of God, and bring it to this crooked and depraved generation. He was telling them, I will build my kingdom here! He was telling them to build His kingdom there!

Ultimately he was saying, upon you Peter I will build by church. (v. 19) and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.  

 

 

Matthew 14: “Jesus’ Ministry of Solitude”

NO CELL PHONES, NO iPODS, NO iPADS, NO COMPUTERS… NO TECHNOLOGY!!

This was the mandate that was handed down to an unruly group of High School students back in 2011. You would have thought I was asking them to sacrifice their favorite pet! Wailing, gnashing of teeth, torture, threats of not going on this years retreat ensued. But what they didn’t know was I had a plan. I honestly didn’t know how it was going to go, but I had a plan.

You see, as a youth pastor for eight years, I had enough! I was tired of missions trips, retreats, and camp being ruined by teenage drama happening at home. Every year it happened without fail; a boyfriend who didn’t go on the trip was being dumb at home, or a friend did that one thing she said she wouldn’t do without you, either way, teenage drama is an incredible distraction. I was also tired of students not being able to “unplug.”

PARENTS: Don’t let your kids take technology on events where they need to unplug! You’ll thank me later! I know, I know, but how will they get a hold of me in an emergency (Which is code for: “How will I check and see what they’re doing while they’re gone?”)? Trust me, there are plenty of people and leaders around them that will be able to reach you in an emergency. 

I also took another major risk on this particular retreat. Recognizing that kids were over-schooled (yes, it’s possible), over worked (again, possible), and over sports-ed (I see/saw it all the time), I allowed student to go back to there cabin and sleep anytime they wanted. They had to come to the services, but other than that, they could sleep the entire retreat.

In fact, I had a rule in my youth ministry, if a kid was found sleeping during service we did the unthinkable… we let them sleep! It was obvious that they needed to rest, so my staff knew we wouldn’t wake a sleeping child, but instead allow them to rest.

I get it, you’re thinking, wait, don’t teenagers already sleep too much? Actually, no. Studies have shown that teenagers aren’t getting the proper amount of rest they actually need to be healthy and even happy.

I know what you’re thinking, “I’m glad I’m not a teenager anymore!” If you were being honest, you deal with the same thing. It may not be at their level, but when was the last time you were able to retreat without the distractions of life getting in the way.

Jesus’ Ministry of Solitude

In fact, when you look at Jesus’ ministry, he constantly tried to retreat, but was never able to really be alone. Jesus regularly tried to model the spiritual discipline of retreat, but was constantly bombarded with distractions.

  • (Matthew 4:1-11) Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and He was alone there for 40 days, except when the devil showed up!
  • (Matthew 14:13) Jesus was trying to mourn the loss of his cousin John the Baptist, so he got in a boat to be alone… but the crowds heard where he was going and followed Him!
  • (Matthew 14:23) Not forgetting the necessity to be alone, Jesus dismissed the crowds to pray by himself.
  • (Mark 1:35) Jesus would often get up early in the morning, or some would say he never slept, and would find quiet places to pray alone.
  • (Luke 4:42) Again, an example of Jesus going off to a desolate place (meaning, no people).

I tell people all the time; As much as we see Jesus wanting and desiring to be around people, we see him equally desiring to be alone and away from people. So I say to you: As much as there’s a call/mandate to serve people around you, you need to equally desire to be alone and away from people.

Matthew 14 for me has always been a sad chapter in the Gospels. Sure it holds the story of the Feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus/Peter Walking on Water, but read around those stories. Read about a man who knew he was powerless unless he “un-plugged” from the world and “plugged” into his Heavenly Father.

The Results

The Fall Retreat of 2011 holds a special place in my heart. It was a retreat where students truly were able to retreat. Afterwards, both students and parents came with tears in their eyes thanking me and my team for a true spiritual retreat. And yes, we did have a couple of students sleep the entire retreat, to which one mother said, it was the best investment she made for her son that weekend.