Reading for Monday, July 2: Matthew 16
Well, we’ve made it halfway through the year with our reading project. Hope you all are getting as much out of this as I am. I know some have told me they’ve fallen behind, but that’s okay. Reading and discussing this together is such a blessing. Hop in and join us, even if you’re a bit behind.
As the chapter begins, the Pharisees test Jesus for a sign to accompany his work. They’ve asked him this kind of thing before, but Jesus refuses to cater to them. Instead, he refers to them as a “wicked and adulterous generation”. Their evil and corrupt spirits serve as a warning to the disciples. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” The takeaway for us is to always be on guard against these corrupting influences, a la the Proverbs (see Prov. 9:6; 13:20, for example).
But Jesus uses this as an occasion to do a little testing of His own. He asks His disciples the ultimate question: Who do you say that I am? Peter confesses Jesus as “the Son of the Living God” and Jesus confers the following blessing upon 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 tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
I love the language Jesus uses: the gates of hell will not withstand the advance of God’s Kingdom. Too often, we think in different terms — that the powers of darkness are pressing in against us and it is our task to retreat into our holy huddles, awaiting the day when Jesus returns to lift us out of this nightmarish existence. But Jesus gives us a better image, an image of darkness receding as the power of God’s light advances in the world, step by step reclaiming God’s good creation once more. It’s high time we put the power back in God’s court, recognizing that the gates of hell itself stand little chance against God’s full-on Kingdom assault. This is the promise of Jesus here!
But this moment of glory is short-lived for Peter. Seemingly in the next breath, he is pulling Jesus aside and rebuking Him for all the “death and dying” talk. But Jesus chastises Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” I challenge you to find a more pointed and haunting statement in all of Scripture. Jesus equates Peter’s earthly-mindedness with Satan himself. But even this statement leads to a deeper teaching, one that deserves to be heard again in our time:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (16:24-26)”