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Matt 16-18: Our Relationship to the King and His Followers Print E-mail
Monday, 05 September 2005

When I was in college I was obsessed with the idea of getting married.  Lee, my former pastor and I, would sit around all the time talking about how we wanted to find the perfect girl and make her our wife.  When Lee was married a week after our graduation, needless to say, I was left wanting marriage even more.  I had received teaching on marriage.  I had seen good examples of great marriages.  I had friends who were getting married left and right.  All this left me anxious about marriage and longing for such a relationship.

Yet, in reality, my longing was seemingly for an abstract ideal.  I wanted the perfect wife and the perfect marriage.  I wanted friendship and companionship and love and all that goes with marriage.  But at that point, the longing was not for a person in particular but simply for the general idea.

After years of longing and waiting, one day it happened.  I was supposed to go to a basketball game with a friend of mine but it turned out that he could not go.  Since I had been thinking about asking Glenna out for a while and since she was sitting in the store where my friend worked, I figured now was as good a time as any.  Now, I will not go into all the details of what followed, but I tell you the story to make this point: until that trip to the basketball game and the courtship that eventually followed, my longing for a relationship with a wife was general and abstract.  From that time forward, she had a name (which later, by the grace of God, I would change).  The idea of marriage became a relationship with a real person.

Our relationship with our Lord can at times remain on the level of an abstract ideal.  We talk about him, we pray to him, but sometimes we fail to really know him.  Yet, the Gospel of Matthew, and the other Gospels and all the Scriptures, are an invitation to truly know the Lord.  God has made himself known through the words we read in the Bible and he has done this most clearly in the life and ministry of His Son.  As we have seen, and will continue to see, much of the book of Matthew deals with our relationship with the King.  And he is not just some abstract ideal, he is a real person, full of compassion and love, power and might, truth and grace. 

As we consider Matthew 16-18 together this morning, I want to point out five truths concerning our relationship with the King.

First, the relationship begins with revelation and responsibility (16:1-20).

The problem with the Pharisees continues in chapter 16.  They come to Jesus looking for a sign from heaven (v. 1).  But Jesus refuses to grant them a sign other than the sign of Jonah, which refers to his resurrection.  He points out that they have failed to recognize the signs of the times (v. 3).  They could not understand that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and Jesus rebukes them for seeking such proof and warns the disciples to beware of their teaching (see v. 5-12).

Yet, in verses 13-20, we see the great confession of Peter.  Granted, the disciples are still struggling in their faith.  In verses 5-12 we see that they still had trouble understanding a basic teaching of Jesus concerning the Pharisees.  As we will see in a moment, they are still grappling with their faith.  Nevertheless, in 16:15, after asking them what others were saying about him, he turns the question to them: But who do you say that I am?  To this question that is posed to all the disciples, Peter gives their response: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Wow!!  What an incredible confession.  Even though they continue to struggle, it seems that they are beginning to understand who Jesus is.  Buy how have they come to such an understanding?

Jesus tells us in verse 17: Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  It is this statement that makes it clear that our relationship with the King begins with revelation.  No man can simply figure out who Jesus is, flesh and bone will not reveal this.  But, as we have seen in weeks past, the Father is pleased to reveal the Son to the weak and the lowly.  Thus, we see with the Pharisees that responsibility is involved in our relationship with the King.  And we see with Jesus’ comment to Peter, that revelation from the Father is the beginning of our relationship with the King.

Before we move to the next truth, I need to make a few comments concerning verses 18-19.  Read those verses with me.  First, let me say that Jesus is simply using a play on words with Peter’s name.  Peter’s name is the Greek word for rock or stone and Jesus connects this with the fact that Peter will play a critical role in forming the Church, which we see played out in Acts.  As for verse 19 and the ‘keys of the kingdom,’ it seems that Jesus is speaking of the authority that Peter will have, and others too, stemming from the confession that Jesus is the Christ.  It is this revelation concerning Christ that determines who will enter the Kingdom.  Peter, and all followers of Christ, is charged with the responsibility of proclaiming the reality that Jesus is the Christ and only those who believe such are allowed into the Kingdom.  We see Peter’s role in this as he is the one who first takes the gospel to the Gentiles.  As for the binding and the loosing, which we see again in 18:18, it involves the believer’s authority in holding one accountable to his or her confession that Christ is Lord.  The verbs in both places point to the idea that heaven acts first and not simply in response to believers. 

With that said, let me move to the second truth concerning our relationship with the King.

Second, the relationship involves suffering as Jesus suffered (16:21-28, 17:9-13, 22-23).

Up to this point in the book, we have only seen hints of the suffering that Jesus is facing.  Yet, in 16:21 we see that Jesus began telling his disciples specifically what must take place.  Look at verse 21 with me.  Thus, Jesus was well aware of the suffering that he must endure.  At this point we should note that even though one might be tempted to see Peter as having it all figured out based on his confession, we see here that his idea of the Messiah did not include suffering and dying.  Again, this is something that Jesus will continue to unfold (see 17:9-13 and 22-23) and that the disciples will continue to struggle with.

Not only does Jesus tell his disciples of his upcoming suffering, he also makes it clear in this passage that any who follow after him will suffer in the same way.  We see this in 16:24-28.  Jesus tells us that our relationship with him will involve suffering.  And be careful here.  Usually, when we read such passages in the New Testament that talk about the believers’ call to suffering we try to minimize what is being said.  But make no mistake about it, the cross that Jesus is calling us to carry is no trivial matter.  The language of the cross would have been repulsive to the disciples and Matthew’s original readers.  It was the worst type of execution known at that time and it was reserved for criminals and thieves who were not Roman citizens.  This is not a call to personal glory, it is a call to death to self.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it well when he wrote, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” 1   A relationship with the King means a call to die to self.  It is a daily dying to self and living for the King.  This will cost us dearly in our lives, in fact, it may cost us our very lives, but it will not be a forfeiting of our souls.  Hear what Piper concludes about this call to suffer for the King:

What a tragic waste when people turn away from the Calvary road of love and suffering.  All the riches of the glory of God in Christ are on that road.  All the sweetest fellowship with Jesus is there.  All the treasures of assurance.  All the ecstasies of joy.  All the clearest sightings of eternity.  All the noblest camaraderie.  All the humblest affections.  All the most tender acts of forgiving kindness.  All the deepest discoveries of God’s word.  All the most earnest prayers.  They are all on the Calvary road where Jesus walks with his people.  Take up your cross and follow Jesus.  On this road, and this road alone, life is Christ and death is gain.  Life on every other road is wasted. 2

Third, the relationship is privileged because Jesus is King (17:1-8, 24-27).

In the beginning of chapter 17, we see a clear display of the divinity of King Jesus.  Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John, walk to the top of a high mountain and before the eyes of these disciples, Christ is transformed and his face shines like the sun and his clothes become white as light.  Then, as if this was not amazing enough, Moses and Elijah appear and begin talking with Jesus.  It seems as if there presence points us to the reality that they were foreshadowing the coming Messiah and now he is here.  Look at Hebrews 1:1-4.  The writer of Hebrews points out that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.  The Law and the Prophets only pointed the way to Christ.  In fact, the writer of Hebrews will then tell us that Christ is greater than the angels and even greater than Moses and the Levitical line.  On the mountain, the disciples see this before their very eyes and hear it with their very ears when the Father says: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him (v.5). 

Again, we see clearly the identity of our King.  He is not just another King in the line of David.  He is not just another prophet like Elijah.  No, He is the beloved Son of God, even as Peter confessed earlier.  Jesus is the true King and we are unbelievably privileged to know him and serve him in his Kingdom.

We see this privilege again in another incident in these chapters.  In 17:24-27, some collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and asked if Jesus paid the tax to the temple.  In defense of his Master, Peter answered yes.  But when they came into the house, Jesus asked Peter about this.  Look at verses 25b-26.  Jesus makes the point that the King’s children is not required to pay taxes to his own father.  Thus, since Jesus is the Son of the King of the temple, he is not required to pay the tax, nor are his disciples.  But, in order not to offend them, Jesus has Peter catch a fish that has the exact amount of money required by the tax in its mouth.  Needless to say, we see again the great privilege of a relationship with the King.

Fourth, the relationship depends upon true faith (17:14-20, see 16:5-12).

As we have noted, the disciples continue to struggle in their faith.  We have already seen Jesus’ rebuke of their little faith when he is warning them against the leaven of the Pharisees in 16:5-12.  After the transfiguration, when Jesus and the others come down from the mountain, he finds the disciples unable to cast out a demon.  It seems that they had misunderstood their authority, much like the misunderstanding of the Pharisees.  When Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits in 10:1, he was not giving them the ability to impress the crowds by performing cool tricks. 

Rather, the call was to true faith.  Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith and then tells them that faith as small as a mustard seed would be enough to move a mountain (v. 20).  Great tasks involve small faith, but it nonetheless must be true faith.  Even as we have seen over and over again, our relationship with the King depends upon faith.  We must believe that he is indeed the Christ, the son of the living God.  We must believe that he did die for our sins and raise from the grave.  We must believe that he is returning to gather to himself all those who have placed their faith in him for salvation from their sins.  Over and over again the Gospels and the writings of the New Testament call for faith in Christ.  Thus, even today it is good to ask ourselves: do we believe?  It is this question that we face as we come to the table: do we really believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, rose on the third day, and is coming back again?  Before we answer that question together, there is one more truth concerning our relationship with the King.

Fifth, the relationship with the King calls for faithfulness toward one another (18:1-35).

As we have been learning on Sunday nights, all of chapter 18 deals with our relationship with one another as believers.  We are to become and receive one another as children (v.1-6).  We are not to cause one another to stumble (v. 7-9).  In fact, if one does stumble we are to run after it as a shepherd runs after his sheep (v. 10-14).  And if someone sins against us, we are to labor for their reconciliation by going to them privately, only involving others if they refuse to repent, and involving the church if they continue to be impenitent (v. 15-20).

Then, we come to the parable of the unforgiving servant found in verses 23-35.  After the teaching on church discipline and forgiveness, Peter asks Jesus how many times he has to forgive his brother, maybe up to seven times?  Jesus tells him that he should forgive his brother seventy times seven (v. 22), stressing that we should continually forgive one another.  Then, to illustrate this point Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant.  The story goes that a man owes a King 10,000 talents.  Now to us that may not mean much, but to Jesus’ disciples and Matthew’s readers, 10,000 talents is seemingly all the money in the world.  The point is that the amount is an impossible sum of money that nobody could ever pay off.  And yet, the King has compassion on the servant and forgives the debt.  Then the servant goes out and demands a much smaller amount from one of his servants who also begs for mercy.  But the servant does not forgive him the debt and has him thrown in prison.

Now the point of the story is obvious: how could one who has been forgiven so much not be willing to forgive someone else?  We must ask ourselves: if we have been forgiven all our sins through faith in Christ, then how can we not forgive others when they sin against us?  Indeed, since we have been given such a relationship with the King, how can we not forgive one another and labor for one another’s holiness?

In all this, we see how great a relationship we enjoy with our King.  By his grace we have come to know him and are allowed to suffer with him through faith.  The call to follow the King is a call to die to self, a call to labor for the holiness of the King’s children, a call to forgive one another, and indeed a call to joy and privilege.  As we come to the table this morning, may we say to one another that Jesus Christ is our King and we will follow him faithfully until he returns.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

1 Quoted in John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003), 63.
2 Ibid, 76

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 February 2006 )

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