Rev Dr. Samson Parekh, Senior Pastor
Devotional Verse: Matthew 17:14-21
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE
Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain was glorious. Peter was so enamored by the sight that he wanted to prolong his stay up there and even build three booths at the location. But Jesus still had work to do among the people down below – in reality. Therefore, he had to come down from the glorious experience to the ground reality.
This distinction between the heavenly and earthly is found today among Christians. As God’s people we enjoy the glorious experience of being in his presence through worship and studying the Word. But then, we also need to move out into the world to perform the task of fulfilling the Great Commission. Susanna Wesley prayed, “Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in thy presence.” Real spirituality is to behold the face of the Lord in a closet and also in the nooks and crannies of reality.
But the task of being among people is demanding knowing that the world, the flesh, and the devil constantly assert their influence (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus is the ultimate source of spiritual power and authority. Therefore, a disciple of Jesus needs faith in the Lord in dealing with the issues of this world. A biblical proof of this needed dependence upon Christ is the disciples’ failure at casting out the demon afflicting the young boy. Only when Jesus was called upon, the most impossible things were made possible. The demon left the body and the boy was healed completely.
By an unwavering faith in the Lord, a disciple of Jesus can resolve the difficult situations of life no matter how daunting they might seem, even if like a mountain. William Barclay reminds us, “Faith in the Lord is the instrument which enables man to remove the mountains of difficulty which block their path.”
The gist of the matter is that if a disciple of Jesus has “faith as small as a mustard seed,” no mountain is impossible to be moved. Only by such faith, the disciples would be able to go through the events of the betrayal, death, and ultimately resurrection of their Master (vv. 22-23). This was an impossible thing for them to believe but if they had faith, they would see them happen.
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to have a constant fellowship with you in our closets, receive the spiritual strength, and use that strength to reach out to people with the good news of salvation. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Matthew 17:1-9
THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS
The life of Jesus does not end in his suffering. Rather, it extends into his glory. While on earth, he demonstrated such glory when he was transfigured in front of his three close confidants on a mountain top. The glorification was a representation of his coming kingdom (Mt. 16.28), and a reminder of the glory he left behind when he was incarnated as a man.
Moses and Elijah appeared with the transfigured Christ. Moses was a deliverer for the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. He was the Law-giver and the one who spoke with God face to face. He held a highly esteemed position in Israel’s history and God’s divine plan. The prophet Elijah had power over nature and death. Before he could physically experience death, he was taken into heaven alive. David Guzik asserts, “The sum of Old Testament revelation came to meet with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration.” Jesus is accompanied by the embodiment of the Law in the person of Moses and the message of the prophets in the figure of Elijah.
However, Moses and Elijah are not equal with Christ. Jesus is the only beloved Son to God the Father; thus he is placed above the two. Moses and Elijah, even with all their achievements, were only the servants of God, not his only begotten Son.
No matter how popular or respected someone can get, even if it is for doing the Lord’s work, that person can never be compared to Jesus. As the Son of the living God, Christ is unique and matchless. No one can be placed on par with him. Therefore, Jesus deserves our special attention and honor.
Now, Jesus is seated at the right of God the Father in his divine glory and sovereignty. Therefore, let us follow the hymn: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face. And the things of the world will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full in his wonderful face every moment so that the material things of the world like power, position, property, prominence, etc., will grow dim in the light of his glory and grace. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Matthew 16:24-28
DENIAL AND CROSS
These verses describe three requirements for becoming a disciple of Jesus:
- A disciple of Jesus must deny himself or herself. The verb used in the verse is in an imperative mood meaning that such a statement is not a mere suggestion but a mandate. And commands are meant to be followed without excuse. To deny oneself is not just to be abstinent from worldly pleasures, nor is it just to give up the entertainment of flesh. Denial of self is to abandon the human “ego.” William Barclay correctly asserts that denial means dethronement of self, the “I,” and enthronement of God, the one and only I AM (italics mine). It is to sacrifice our own interest in order to serve the interest of God, his Kingdom, and his Church at any cost.
- A disciple of Jesus must take up his or her cross. After the Christ Event (life, death, burial, and resurrection) the cross gained the significance of suffering and selfless sacrifice for the salvation of humanity. However, during the time of Jesus, the image of the cross embodied shame, rejection, insult, and mockery. It was also the cruelest and most painful form of capital punishment for criminals. That is the cross Jesus bore for the salvation of humanity and mandated it to his disciples to follow.
- A disciple of Jesus must be ready to lose his or her life. Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint were speared to death in their prime youth during “Operation Auca,” an attempt to evangelize the blood-thirsty Huaorani tribe of Ecuador. Before his martyrdom, Jim Elliot jotted down in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” That is the true discipleship. Since the horrific deaths of Elliot and his team, the entire tribe has come to the Lord.
These three requirements reveal the fact that discipleship is costly. One has to make a constant sacrifice of his or her self-interest in daily life (italics from Luke 9:23). But then, to be a disciple of Jesus means more than just sharing in his suffering. We get to also share in his glory and receive reward. As Romans 8:17 promises. “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” When Jesus comes with his glory, his disciples will receive the heavenly rewards (Mt. 16:27).
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so that we may glorify your name and become a blessing to others. Amen.
Devotional are not published on Sundays.
Devotional Verse: Matthew 16:21-23
Paul explains the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as Jesus’ death for our sins, burial, and resurrection after the events took place. In Matthew 16:21, Jesus explains the gospel as his vicarious suffering, expiatory death, and glorious resurrection predictively (italics are mine). Jesus affirmed such facts not as a mere possibility but rather as a necessity. The Greek verb he uses is dei and such a word implies inevitability. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer, die and rise again. This he must go through for the forgiveness of sin and eternal life for humanity. To bring about peace between God and sinful man, he had to become an atonement in the City of Peace, Jerusalem.
Right after Jesus was identified as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” by Peter, it would have been shocking for the disciples to hear about his forthcoming death. It would have seemed illogical for the one who had just revealed his Messiahship and divinity to segue into the events of his death. Therefore Peter began to rebuke Jesus attempting to emphatically stop him from going through such a death. And in another unforgettable exchange between the Christ and disciple, Jesus perceiving that Satan is using Peter tells him, “Get behind me, Satan.”
For the one who was just called “the rock” by Jesus, how could Satan use Peter in rebuking his Master? David Guzik sheds insight into this question, writing, “Peter is a perfect example of how a sincere heart coupled with man’s thinking can often lead to disaster.” Peter, like many other Jews, thought of Jesus as the mundane and political Messiah rather than the spiritual one. Therefore, Satan was able to play upon Peter’s thoughts, doubts, and expectations. When we too set our minds on the earthly things, there is a possibility that Satan can use us.
At one instance we see Peter’s mind settled on divine things and he is able to make a profound confession: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” The true identity of Jesus is boldly affirmed. But in another instance, we see Peter’s mind trip and fall upon earthly things that distract him from the world of Christ. Satan is able to use Peter in hopes of hindering Christ. Therefore, let us follow the exhortation of Paul in Colossians 1:1-2, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above … Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to keep our mind settled on the things above and not on the earthly things so that we may be used by God and not by Satan. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Matthew 16:16-19
CHURCH ON SOLID ROCK
When Jesus’ disciples were clueless about the true identity of Jesus, God the Father revealed it to Peter who rightfully confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The importance of such a confession cannot be overstated. The epithet ‘Christ’ (meaning “Messiah” in Hebrew) was bestowed upon a person who had been specially chosen and consecrated by God to achieve a God assigned task. Towards the end of the Old Testament period, the term was used for God’s ideal and anointed king, one who would deliver God’s people and establish his righteous kingdom (NIV Study notes).
The other epithet that makes up this confession is “Son of the living God,” which conveyed the notion that Jesus carried in Him the character and nature of the living God. The three persons of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) share the same essence. In this confession, there is a rock-like, unchangeable, immutable, and eternal truth.
When Jesus stated, “On this rock, I will build my church,” the church was not formed yet. So, Jesus was prophesying that His church will come into existence and no power would stand against it because it was going to be built on the immovable, immutable, imperishable, and eternal rock Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Thus, Jesus is the foundation and the founder of His church.
In v. 18, the Greek term petros is used for Peter. The term is a masculine noun and means a boulder, stone, or pebble. But for “rock” the Greek term petra is used. This term is a feminine noun and means a large mass of rock or a large cliff like the one at Caesaria Philippi. This incident was taking place in its vicinity. The confession Peter made was like petra on which the church of Jesus will be built. And those who are members of this body will have no fear of death or hell. The validity of this truth can be succinctly summed up in the famous lines of Edward Mote’s 1934 hymn, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
After Peter made this confession that truly identified Jesus as Christ and Son of the living God, Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon.” Just as Peter was called blessed because of his genuine confession, so too is everyone else who believes Jesus as the Savior and Son of the living God.
So, let us remember Augustus Toplady’s hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” And let us make Jesus our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to know Jesus as our solid Foundation and the Rock of Ages, and take refuge in Him. Amen.
(For four major interpretations of v. 18, see NIV Study Bible notes)
Devotional Verse: Matthew 16:13-17
REVELATION OF TRUE IDENTITY
When Jesus asked his disciples the question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, he was gently leading them to the question, “Who do YOU say I am?” because their perception of the identity of Jesus really mattered to him. In response to the first question, the disciples quoted the popular opinion of the people that he was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets as a forerunner of the Christ (Messiah in Hebrew).
John the Baptist confessed that he was the forerunner of the Messiah (John 1:7; Matthew 3:11, 14:2). According to 2 Maccabees 2:1ff, Jeremiah hid the ark of the covenant, tent, and altar of incense in a cave on Mt. Nebo. It was said that before the coming of the Messiah, he would return and take them out to bring God’s glory back in the temple. As per Malachi 4:5, God would send Elijah before the Messiah. By saying ‘one of the prophets’ people could not fix upon the particular person who they thought was risen from the dead to testify of the Messiah (John Gill). When they arrived, the Kingdom of God would be very near.
But they had no answer to Jesus’ question, “But what about YOU? Who do YOU say I am?” Since they had no clue about the real identity of Jesus, they were dumbfounded. Ultimately, God the Father had to reveal the true identity of Jesus through Peter, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. It was essential that the disciples had a glimpse of who Jesus really was in order to be prepared for the Commission they were chosen to fulfill.
Even today Jesus is construed differently by different people. In a survey conducted among the Jews, various answers were given: Jesus was a leader of a band of some Jews, the founder of Christianity, a miracle worker, a rabbi, an itinerant preacher of religious things, challenger of traditions, pious Jew, etc. but nothing more than that. People from other faiths perceive Jesus to be a good guru, a healer and at the most, he is one of the gods or incarnation (avatara). Some believe him to be a prophet and still some as a holy man. They perceive Jesus from the human perspective
But the true identity of Jesus is revealed only by God the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him and surrender their lives to him. Only they know that Jesus is the Son of the living God, the Savior of humanity from sin and death, and the giver of eternal life and the King eternal. The more they have fellowship with Jesus, the more they know him (John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10). Therefore, only they can impart a correct understanding of the identity of Jesus to the world and bring people to the foot of the cross.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to have the right perception of Jesus so that we may declare his true identity as the Savior and Lord to the world. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Matthew 16:13-15
PERCEPTION AND PRACTICE
During this Lenten season, we will look at various events that led to the passion and death of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew.
Mathew 16:13 is considered a watershed moment in the gospel. Until that time, Jesus was performing his ministry in and around Galilee in northern Israel. From here onward, Jesus turns his attention to the cross and his death in Jerusalem.
Jesus wanted to know if the disciples would carry on his work of building the Kingdom of God after he left the world. The only way to know whether anyone had a glimpse of who he was and what was his mission, was to ask them a question. If their response showed that they did not grasp his true identity, then the survival of his work on the cross would be jeopardized [W. Barclay]. Therefore, Jesus asked his disciples about who they believed him to be. The place he chose to ask the question was at Caesarea Philippi. It was located about twenty-five miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The city was under the domain of Philip the Tetrarch and had mostly a non-Jewish population.
Caesarea was the birthplace of the great god Pan, the god of nature. There were more than fourteen temples of various deities surrounding the city. In addition, King Herod built a temple of white marble to the godhead of Caesar on the mountain of Caesarea. It was called Panium, located on the top of a mountainous rock. Under it was a great cavern, the origination of the springs of the River Jordan. Later Herod’s son Philip changed the name to Caesarea Philippi. The legends of the gods of Greece and Syria gathered around Caesarea Philippi.
Surrounded by multiple deities and overlooking the mountain cliff of Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked this question to his disciples. He wanted to know before he set out for Jerusalem if they had grasped who he was. Their loyalty was dependent to how they perceived him.
The same question applies to all the disciples of Jesus Christ. Only if we have the right perception of who Jesus is, will we respond to him correctly. Our loyalty and commitment to Jesus depend upon what picture we have of the person of Jesus in our hearts.
During the Roman rule, only those who wholeheartedly considered Jesus as their Lord and Master were able to withstand the severest persecution and eventual martyrdom. Therefore, let us have a right perception of who Jesus is so that we remain loyal as well.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, open our eyes to have a right perception of Jesus and be completely loyal to him. Amen.