After the challenging parables of earlier chapters in Matthew, Jesus brings forth some thought-provoking words about tradition, righteousness, and a couple of confusing exchanges with a Gentile woman and with Peter about his new name and authority. This sermon clears those up, and connects them directly to us today.
Matt. 15:1-6 (Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God” – then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.) brings up the issue of tradition!
What traditions do you have? Traditions can function as easy, imitation wisdom…holidays, who gets married when, Sunday with Grandma, birthday parties!
We need to stay open to God’s changing of our traditions, and if any tradition is counter to God’s will it has to go!
The question is: What is your heart set on? If it’s your heart to seek and find God’s will in every situation, and then do it, that’s what God wants.
Then His disciples came to him and told him He’d ticked off the Pharisees:
Then “meek and mild” Jesus answered them: Matt. 15:13-14 (But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”). It’s not about what goes in – and by that He means what we do externally – but what goes on in our heart that will inevitably come out.
Jumping to chapter 16 first, a confusing story – the first of two! Matt. 16:13-20 “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.”
Matthew 16:13-15 Who do YOU say that I am? The question of the ages!
It’s a question that Jesus KEEPS asking us: Who do you say I am? First, the one who died for my sins, my savior, my forgiver. Then He keeps asking, and depending on how we grow spiritually, we answer, my Lord, my Consoler, my Rock, my Helper, my Comfort, and finally, MY ALL!
Then verses 16-19 “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah.” Jesus was setting up a big contrast here. Blessed by God, with a revelation from heaven, down to a lowly humble man – that name Simon Bar-Jonah pointed out his lowly human origins. This is grace!
“And you are Peter, and upon my rock I will build my church.” One of the most contested passages in the New Testament, and one that has been fought over bitterly at times! Jesus is giving Peter a new name here, right after calling him Simon Bar-Jonah! If it weren’t for the misunderstanding and misapplication of this in the past, it would be easy to see that Jesus is referring to Peter here.
Jesus does say I will build MY church. But what rock would He build it upon? Some say that it was the revelation, FROM HEAVEN, to Peter that was the rock of the church. That could be true, and it could be just part of the picture.
“And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” This means two things. One is that the church will continue to survive! How easy it would have been to snuff it out–not just in the beginning, but in times of intense Roman persecution! If not for God’s protection, the church would have been annihilated years ago.
The second is that we are to be the aggressors in this spiritual battle.
Then it gets even more confusing! Keys to the kingdom, binding and loosing…
First of all, let’s get back to the context, and what is going on! Jesus is talking to Peter, and here he uses the singular form of YOU, not the plural. So he is speaking just to Peter first. What Jesus says to Peter is something that is often later extended to the rest of the apostles, but let’s keep this in its historical context for a moment!
Let’s look at the phrase “will be bound” and “will be loosed.” This is actually better translated in “will have been bound” and “will have been loosed,” which makes a lot more sense in this passage. (Most newer translations at least have that in their notes section.) What this says is that what Peter will do is based on what has already been decreed in heaven!
Peter is given the authority to extend this revelation of who Jesus really is to others. And that’s exactly what He did! After Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter preached to his fellow Jews, and 3,000 were saved. This is where Jesus said to begin. In Acts 8, he successfully brought the same message to the Samaritans. Then in Acts 10, Peter brought the gospel message to the Gentiles.
Acts 1:8 (But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.) is being fulfilled in Peter’s life. What Peter was being given was the authority to proclaim the revelation of who Jesus really was, which provides entrance into heaven, a revelation initiated by God. The rest of the disciples followed his example, and now we have that same power and authority: to declare who Jesus is, sharing the gospel, which results in people either receiving it or rejecting it.
Now to another confusing story. Let’s double back to Matthew 15:21-25 and 25-28! “Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”
Remember, Jesus came as the Jew first, and His early ministry was to the Jews and within a Jewish context. Remember He told the Samaritan woman in John 4:22 salvation is of the Jews.
The fact that Jesus helped the Canaanite woman, even though His mission was to the Jews, is significant. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus gave other indications that His power and compassion reached to all people. He healed a Roman centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1–10). He traveled through the Gentile region of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1). He ministered in a Samaritan city (John 4).
But let’s look back at that conversation. It’s a model for us!
When she first asked him for help, Scripture said his response was not saying a word. Jesus was getting something going here. Saying either yes or no at this point would have stopped what God was doing!
His silence kept her going. When she was finally bold enough to keep going after an answer, He spoke and told her a truth: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Though it must have been a blow to her national pride, she acknowledged that.
Very humbling, but it put her in a place where she could receive something. When she humbled herself, she realized that she had no right to have any expectation from a Jewish leader, even the Jewish Messiah. Any sense of entitlement had to go. Once at that place, she was ready. She was finally rightly related to the Lord!
She asked for mercy, hoping to benefit from the overflow of His ministry to the Jews.
Her success is that she stayed connected to Jesus! She stayed in the conversation. She didn’t give up! She also didn’t assume that silence meant “No!”
How about you? Do you have some situation like this woman? You’ve prayed and prayed, and God, like Jesus here, has been silent. Something needs to move, to change! And it’s not Jesus!
The next time you hear silence, be glad it’s not a “NO!” And the next time you hear something from the Lord about your prayer, don’t assume it’s to stop the conversation with Him. It might be just to get your head and heart where they belong so that He can answer the deep desires of our hearts.