Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Wednesday, January 22, Chapter 16
We would all like to see a miraculous sign from Jesus, as if three days in the grave were not enough. Jesus did not do tricks. Yes, he healed, he fed thousands, but he was only doing what any of us can do and should do, even if we do it less dramatically.
Yeast is not dangerous unless it comes from the wrong source. Jesus names two groups to avoid. The yeast image is of the words of the Pharisees causing dangerous growth in our minds that turn us away from God. Today, there are many who would lead us astray even as they tell us they are speaking the Gospel. Who are they? They go to church every Sunday. They never sin or associate with those who do. They are the good people. They are no longer awed to be in the presence of God because they have all the answers. But they are also, like the Sadducees, unimpressed with God and not even sure of his existence. Life is simply what we have now and we must make the most of what we have, even at the expense of others.
Jesus follows that with, “Who am I? Now that you have lived with me all this time, what say you?” Allow me to quote from a sermon preached in Berlin in 1933 as Hitler was taking control of all the churches in Germany. It was the last sermon preached by Dietrich Bonhoffer in that church. He was arrested and hanged during the war.
The church of Peter—that means the church on the rock, the church of confessing Christ. The church of Peter is not the church of opinions and views but rather the church of revelation; not the church that talks about “what people say” but the church in which Peter’s confession is always being made and spoken anew, the church that does nothing else but always and only make this confession, whether in singing, praying, preaching, or action…. But being the church of Peter is not only something to be claimed with unalloyed pride. Peter, the confessing, believing disciple, denied his Lord on the same night in which Judas betrayed him; Peter stood there by the fire that night and was ashamed, while Christ was standing before the high priest. Peter was the fearful one of little faith who sank into the sea. He was the disciple to whom Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” … The church of Peter is the church that shares his weakness, the church that also keeps denying Christ and falling down, being disloyal, of little faith, fearful, a church that again and again looks away from its mission and toward the world and its opinions…. But Peter is also the one of whom it is said that he went out and wept bitterly. Of Judas, who also betrayed his Lord, it is said that he went out and took his own life. That is the difference.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that Jesus spoke the words in verses 17-20 to Peter alone, making him the single source of knowledge from God. We Baptist and most other Protestants believe the words were spoken of the church, that is, all followers and believers.
Jesus predicting his death is easy for us to read because we have read the last chapter of the story, but think about what it must have meant to his followers. And then he told them, us, to take up our crosses. What does that mean? Simply put, we must give up that which separates us from God. Think about what you spend the most time on. Is it standing between you and God?
Thursday, January 23, Chapter 17
In yesterday’s reading, Jesus told his disciples that he would die. Now, three of them witness their master chatting with Moses and Elijah. They also hear and recognize the voice of God. There are several interesting questions. Why not all twelve disciples? What did Jesus talk about with the others? Why three shelters?
We do not know the answers to these and other questions. What we do know is that Jesus for a brief time appeared in his heavenly body; he was transformed. We know that God personally called Jesus his Son. As for the three disciples chosen, Peter is an obvious choice and James and John were always included in the smaller circle. It is also worth noting that James was the first of the twelve who was martyred, John wrote the two most powerful books, and Peter always remained as the leading missionary to his martyrdom. As for the shelters, Peter, still not understanding, may have thought Moses and Elijah could stay and be visited by thousands.
The healing of the boy is unique in that it has little to do with the boy but is a commentary on the fitness of the Twelve to take up the duties Jesus has prepared them for. They have everything they need, except faith. That is our lesson. God has given us what we need, we must step out in faith. Few of us are asked to drive out demons or walk on water. We are asked to show love and mercy to people in our everyday lives.
The question of the Temple tax is different from the tax paid to Caesar. Every man (13 and up, not females) was required to pay half a shekel every year, about two drachmas or two denarius. Jesus is telling his Twelve that they are sons of the King of Heaven, so do not need to pay the tax, but pay it so as not to upset the authorities any more.
Friday, January 24, Chapter 18
We know that the Twelve were concerned with who was Jesus’ favorite, who would sit on his right side in Heaven. But Jesus said we must be as innocent as a small child. In a parable, Jesus said we must go to the banquet and sit at the table far from the host, expecting to be the least important person there. If I follow Jesus for glory, I’ll get my glory in Hell.
Verse 14 is the important point of the parable. God wants to have every single human return to him. To do that, he allowed us to kill his Son. Personally, I believe that the Perfect God has a Perfect Plan of Salvation, one that may bring everyone into his arms. If He does that, the rejoicing for the lost-who-are-found will rock the Foundations of Heaven.
Jesus is still answering the question of verse 1. The greatest of these is the one who is like the child, who seeks the lost and forgives sin. In verse 15, Jesus speaks specifically of fellow Christians. We must seek to reconcile with one who has hurt us and have other church members help us in that process if need be. Verse 16 quotes Deut. 19:15. Verse 17 is often taken to mean that the other person is kicked out of the church, excommunicated. It may only refer to how we should think of that church member. Clearly though, it is based on the agreement of the several members who participated in the discussions. They must all agree that the other person was in the wrong.
The last parable tells us what can happen if we are not as innocent as a child.
Be righteous and do good.