Friday, February 12, 2010

An international Sunday school lesson commentary

For Sunday February 14, 2010

(Take up your cross and follow JESUS)
(Matthew 16:13-27)

In Matthew 16:13-28, he writes of his account of the 25-mile walk, with JESUS and his other eleven comrades, from Galilee to Caesarea-Philippi. Now it is no accident that JESUS chose this particular time and area to pose the question to HIS chosen group of followers, “Who do men say that I am”? And subsequently, “Who do you say that I am”?
At that time, Caesarea-Philippi was notorious for “idol worship”. In fact, it was a “mecca” of assorted religions, as there were no less than fourteen temples of idol worship in this immediate vicinity. First of all, the Syrian Gods had their worship there. Then, there was also a mountain in Caesarea-Philippi, with a deep cavern that was said to be the birthplace of “Pan”, the “Greek God of Nature”. In fact, “Pan” is the source of Caesarea-Philippi’s former name of “Paneas”, which was changed to “Caesarea-Philippi”, by the son of King Herod the Great, Philip the Tetrarch, in honor of Caesar Augustus. King Philip had also constructed a huge white marble tower, the most imposing edifice in Caesarea-Philippi at that time, and dedicated it too to Caesar Augustus, who himself, was also considered to be a God. Caesarea-Philippi is also the place where the Jordan River begins. We all know of the Jordan River, as it is the place where John the Baptist did most of his baptizing. In fact, he even baptized JESUS there, at the beginning of HIS earthly ministry.
And so, it is against this backdrop of Greek and Syrian Gods, this place where the history of Israel also dominates men’ minds, that we see this amazing ex-carpenter from Nazareth, stand and pose the question to HIS disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” It is as if JESUS deliberately sets HIMSELF against the backdrop of all of the world’s religions, in all their history and splendor, and demands to be compared to them, and fully expect the verdict to be handed down in HIS favor! Nowhere else in Scripture does JESUS’ awareness of HIS own deity seem to shine through with a, more clear, and dazzling light.
In the Greek, the word used for “affirmation” is “bebaiosis” (beb-ah-yo-sis), and it means “to be steadfast and sure in one’s assertions”. When Peter pondered this question from JESUS, he knew that all human categories would fail to describe, just who JESUS was. This particular passage serves to show us that our discovery of JESUS must be a personal one, because JESUS also asks the question, “Who do Y-O-U say that I am?
It is an inquiry that hints that our knowledge of JESUS must never be “secondhand”, but rather, should always be “firsthand”. Christianity does not consist of knowing about JESUS, it consists of knowing JESUS personally, because JESUS always demands a personal verdict from each of us.
When JESUS asked this question, HE was not just asking it to Peter, Matthew, and HIS other Disciples. It is also a question that comes to us, from across the spans of time, in hopes that we too can answer it favorably.
JESUS CHRIST is the only true foundation, and clearly, in this passage, Peter is confessing CHRIST as such. Just like JESUS’ original disciples, all confessed Christians are commissioned to first, get to know JESUS, and then, confess JESUS before others. That confession, and, how others respond to it, is the key that unlocks the door to Heaven. A response of faith opens the door to a new life in CHRIST, while a rejection of JESUS closes the door to eternal life with GOD, and at one and the same time, confirms an ultimate judgment and eternal separation from GOD.
In verse 24 the cross does not symbolize suffering as much as it symbolizes the decision by one to do the will of GOD, no matter what the cost may be. When we deny our own selfish desires in order to choose the will of GOD, we, by doing so, are taking up our cross, the way JESUS demands to do, and personally did, HIMSELF. By making such a choice, we allow “self” to begin to wither away and die from our hearts, and begin walking in the newness of life, that is CHRIST JESUS, our LORD.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

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