Theme: The Necessity of Personal Faith
This week’s lessons show from Peter’s confession the need for personal faith and commitment to Christ, who alone is the foundation of the church’s belief and practice.
Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20
In these studies from Matthew’s Gospel where individuals meet Jesus Christ, I’ve been trying to show how their lives were changed as a result of encountering the Lord. To meet Jesus Christ and to come to know him is to meet and know God, and inevitably to be changed in the process.
We come now in our series to the sixteenth chapter with this great story that involves the confession of Jesus Christ by the Apostle Peter. I think what we need to see as we begin to look at this section is that it stresses from beginning to end that this faith to which we are called is a personal thing, not something that we can push off on someone else, or an experience of someone else by which we are able to live the Christian life. It involves ourselves and personal discipleship.
I recall that toward the end of the events that are recorded for us in the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus Christ recommissioned Peter after he had made his great profession of following Jesus and then had fallen away and had been ashamed. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied him three times. Jesus came to him and called him and asked him three times over whether he really loved him or not. Now you recall in that last chapter of John, after Jesus had done that, perhaps because Peter was getting a little bit nervous or discouraged about what Jesus was saying, Peter tried to shift some of this attention that the Lord was giving him over to another disciple. The other disciple was probably John, though he’s not called John in the chapter. It just says “that other disciple.” It’s the disciple who Jesus loved. And Peter say, “And, Lord, what shall this man do?” And Jesus’ response to Peter at that point was “What does it matter to you even if he should abide here upon earth until I come again?”
In other words, what happens to the other disciple is really is none of your business. What you are to do is follow me. Now the lesson Peter learned there at the very end of John’s Gospel, and which John includes in order to speak to us, is that what matters is our response to Jesus’ call upon us. This is also what we find here in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew.
It comes about in an interesting way. Jesus obviously was setting aside a special block of time to teach his disciples about what was coming. The opposition to Jesus on the part of the religious leaders is intense and growing; and Jesus knew that the end was to come very shortly, and he wanted to prepare the disciples for it. So he goes away into this distant place, the area of Caesarea Philippi. It was far to the north. It’s called Caesarea Philippi to distinguish it from that other Caesarea that was on the coast that was a popular port. This is a more remote area. Jesus takes them away there, and in this remote retreat-like setting begins to teach them the most important things that concern his ministry. What he’s going to teach them is that he’s going to die. They’re not prepared to receive that. They’re thinking of him as the Messiah, as we’ll find out in the story, but not a Messiah who’s going to give his life as a ransom for many. He’s going to teach them that, and then he’s going to teach them that if they’re to follow him it has to be by the path that he has trodden.
Later in Jesus’ ministry, Peter had confidently boasted that he would remain faithful to Jesus. What happened that caused Peter to deny the Lord?
Why did Jesus go off with his disciples to Caesarea Philippi? What was his purpose?
Reflection: What excuses do people give for avoiding the need to make a personal decision about Christ?