Read Matthew 16
Anyone have New Year’s Resolutions? Or are you just seeing 2020 out the door and hoping for the best?
Resolutions—goals with some degree of commitment, at least in one’ mind—usually include things like losing weight, quitting smoking, getting a better job, finishing school, kicking foul language to the curb, and others that you might think of.
I know that some of you have New Year’s Resolutions that all include an essential oil or some LipSense or Scentsy product. Yes, this is Oklahoma, so some resolutions may be all about John Deere.
I checked online to see what were popular resolutions for the year ahead. Here’s one list.
Drink less alcohol.
Try a new diet.
Increase water consumption.
Join a gym.
Do more chores around the house.
Give yourself a new look.
Get more sleep.
Pack more healthy lunches.
These were not too far out there. There were plenty of things we had seen before in one form or another. But not all lists were the same.
Commit to only doing exercises that you like.
Hide yourself on Zoom. We didn’t see that one in years gone by.
Examine your relationship with alcohol or marijuana or whatever you use to self-medicate.
Purge your social media feeds. Get rid of the stuff that causes you to act impulsively.
Be more intentional about your food—where it comes from, how you cook it, how you eat.
Reduce the clutter in your email inbox. Get rid of stuff you don’t need to see.
Implement the topless test. Stop hanging out with people that you wouldn’t take your shirt of in front of. This one is not for everyone.
Rearrange, declutter, decorate your workspace. When I was in the Marine Corps, we called this painting rocks.
Start therapy. Everyone needs to be in therapy.
These were not the New Year’s resolutions that I grew up with.
I looked at others. Didn’t find anything about saving money. That’s a lost art. In fact, you are probably a hater or a racist or just a bad person if you suggest such a thing these days.
Didn’t see a single resolution about getting closer to God, serving God more, reading the Bible more, or being known by your love.
It’s 2020 about to be 2021. The focus is on you. Be selfish. Be self-centered. It’s all about you.
Enough for New Year’s Resolutions. Let’s get to chapter 16.
Jesus gave the Pharisees a dose of the chewing out that would come in a few more chapters.
Jesus warned his disciples against the teachings of the Pharisees and how they could pervade the truth to which they should hold fast.
Peter professed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God! On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Things were coming together. Things were looking up.
Jesus explained that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the religious hypocrites, and die. Jesus didn’t do the sign of Jonah thing with his disciples. He told them outright that he would rise from the dead.
That last part surely did not resonate with the disciples. They heard suffer and die.
Peter, yes, the same Peter that Jesus said lived up to his name as the rock, interjected: Not on my watch! OK, the translation of the original words goes more like this.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
I’m partial to my own rephrasing. Not on my watch!
Remember John’s account of the foot washing of the disciples and Peter said: Ain’t no way? Again, that my rephrasing. Peter was all in with Jesus but surely did not understand the mission of the Messiah, at least not yet.
The reply of Jesus to Peter probably rocked Peter’s world more than anything else he had heard to date.
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Get behind me Satan! That’s ouch. Double ouch. Triple ouch!
Venture into Peter’s mind for a moment. But I’m Peter. I got out of the boat and walked towards you. I professed you as the Christ. You were giving me the keys of the kingdom, remember? I love it whenever you chew out the Pharisees, but now you look at me and address Satan. What the…
Let’s retreat from Peter’s mind and return to the scripture. Jesus chastised Peter for having the mind of man and not the mind of God. How much more teaching and how many more miracles would it take for Peter and the others to see him and his mission from his Father’s perspective.
The Hebrew people wanted a Roman Relief Package but Jesus came with a total healing package. The people wanted a military victory. Jesus brought victory over sin and death. The people wanted someone to sit on David’s throne and rule with justice. Jesus would do that one day, but at this time he was headed to a Roman cross to atone for the sins of the world.
The disciples were still people of human hearts and minds. They still had their own expectations. Their feet followed Jesus, but their hearts and minds lagged behind.
They wanted to please their Master but they thought he could be gratified by the things of the world. They still didn’t get it.
“You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Try it this way.
Peter, if I listen to you, it would be the same as if I listened to Satan when he tempted me in the wilderness when my body was as weak as a human body can get. Satan could not tempt me face-to-face. I will surely not be tempted by your subtle entreaties through my disciple.
If you want to be my disciple then be my disciple. Set aside your goals and expectations and follow me. Don’t look where I am headed and see if you approve. Follow me.
This is trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding stuff.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Did you catch those two words? Deny yourself—that’s some stuff right there. Our human nature is to gratify ourselves. We want the basics and some nice things and an easy life and the same for our kids.
Jesus tells us that everything that we put ahead of him must go. If he is not first in our lives, we are not following. It’s not as if we will do without. He told us that everything that we need that the godless seek after and make into their gods will be given to those who give up everything and seek the one true God.
That giving up—denying ourselves—includes our human expectations. That includes our control over what lies ahead. That includes building our own towers of Babel, whatever they may look like in our modern world.
Did you ever wonder what would happen if you followed through with all of your New Year’s Resolutions? What would happen if you accomplished everything that you set out to do?
What if you gained the whole world? Satan stood before Jesus and offered him the world if he would just bow down and worship him.
What good is it to gain the whole world if you lose your soul?
Jesus had been tempted by the Tempter himself. Jesus saw the Tempter subtly coming for him in the human mind of Peter.
Jesus challenged his disciple to choose this day whom they serve. He challenges us as well. Will you seek the things of man or the things of God?
We have previously discussed how the expectations of the Hebrew people got in their way of seeing the Son of God performing miracles in their midst. Do our own expectations get in the way of the things of God?
What if we got everything that we wanted but became disconnected from God? What good is it to gain the whole world, yet lose your soul?
Do not let the things of man get in the way of following Jesus. Do not let our own understanding get in the way of receiving and embracing and continuing in the way of God.
What if you lived up to every New Year’s Resolution that you ever made but lost touch with God? Jesus told us that he would come in his glory and reward those who had produced good fruit—our deeds that bring glory to his name. That day is coming but for now, we set aside our human desires and seek the things of God.
In this age in which we wait upon Jesus to return in all of his glory, claim his own, and establish his kingdom—the exact amount of time between those events makes for good discussion; we deny our selfish instincts and put his words into practice. We take up our cross and follow him, even when our own understanding tells us otherwise.
We seek God first in an age that is tired of God. We are known by our love in a time when the love of many has grown cold. We wait for a time when we hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” but we are receptive to getting chewed out, even with the words, “Get behind me Satan!”
Nobody wants to hear that! But it is better if God’s Spirit that lives within us chastises us early and as often as necessary if we become fixed on the things of man at the expense of the things of God. Better a good chewing out now than to put some more miles behind us going the wrong way.
The proverb tells us:
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but whoever hates correction is stupid.
The fear of the Lord
is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and discipline.
We grow when we have a teachable spirit that listens to the Spirit of God. We stay the course of following Jesus when we set aside our own expectations and receive the expectations of God and pursue them with passion.
Here is our New Year’s Resolution for the year to come. It’s simple. Some tasks are implied. You don’t have to join a gym or eat only organic vegetables. You don’t have to take off your shirt. Here it is.
We will pursue the things of God.
Write that on a piece of paper and stick it on your refrigerator.
Pursue the things of God.