Today’s lesson will come out of Matthew 16:13-20 (ESV).
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 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. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Who Do You Say that I Am?
If you were to go around and survey your town, door to door, and ask each person who came to the door the question: “Who was Jesus of Nazareth?” What would some of the responses be?
No doubt there would be all kinds of different responses.
Some would say “He was a great religious teacher.” Others would say, “He was a prophet of some kind.” Maybe a few would argue that Jesus was some kind of a politician who came to bring revolution. Some might say he was a myth. Perhaps some would say, “Who? I’ve never heard of him.” And some of course would say, “He is God in the flesh, come down to save us from our sins.” But rest assured there would be a variety of responses.
Believe it or not, even in Jesus’ day, this was the case. As it says in our passage above, many thought him to be a prophet, others thought him to be someone else—there were a variety of perspectives.
One wonders, why doesn’t Jesus just come forward and clarify all of this? Why doesn’t he just explain who He is clearly and definitively? Why doesn’t he call a big gathering and make a big announcement? Have a press conference and just answer all the questions that people might have? That seems like it would certainly help demystify things.
Or would it?
Would more information help people better understand his identity?
It’s doubtful that it would.
We live in the information age. Some have said that a single edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person in 1600s in England would have encountered in their entire lifetime. You and I have more information available to us at a faster pace than anyone in the history of the world. We can get the answer to almost any question in a matter of seconds. For example:
Who is the Owner of the New England Patriots?
What are the main exports of modern day France?
How far is it from here to Andromeda?
What were the main causes that
We can look up the answers to the questions in an instant. We have an unbelievable amount of information available to us yet we are more divided than we have been in a very long time. Every fact is challenged. Every opinion is challenged. Every narrative is challenged and everyone seems to have some data to back up their perspective.
So here’s what I’m saying: more information does not equate consensus. So if Jesus stood up at a press conference and told everyone exactly who he was in terms that they would all understand, it would not mean that everyone would suddenly agree on who Jesus was.
People are still going to have their own interpretations and explanations and they are going to be wide and varied.
The Messianic Secret
Even if more information would solve the dilemma, Jesus doesn’t seem interested in that approach anyway, does he? I’m sure you have noticed the command that Jesus gives to the disciples at the end of our reading in verse 20: “Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”
After the disciples have had this big realization about who Jesus is, the light bulb has gone off, they finally get it. What does Jesus say to them? “Don’t tell anyone.”
“Jesus, we finally get it! We understand who you are! But everyone else out there has all of these different ideas about who you are and what your message is, you should go out and explain to them, who you really are!”
“No, we’re not going to tell anyone about this.”
What? Why not?
Admittedly, this seems odd at first glance. Today, especially, since we all know that as followers of Christ we are commanded to go out and share and make disciples. So what is with this strange charge in verse 20?
This is not an isolated incident. There are other places where Jesus does something similar. For instance, in Mark chapter 1 verses 40 through 45, the story of the cleansing of the leper:
40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”-Mark 1:40-45
We see this also in the very next chapter of Matthew (chapter 17) Jesus reveals his glory to a small group of disciples and then tells them not to tell the others.
Scholars have at times called Jesus’ secrecy regarding his Messiaship, the “Messianic Secret.” What is with the secrecy? Why does Jesus do this over and over again? Why not just come out and make it plain who he was?
The Answer to the Riddle
Let’s look at verses 21 through 23 and we will get a glimpse as to why Jesus took the approach he did.
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”-Matthew 16:21-23 (ESV)
From this interaction here we see that Peter, after having finally understood who Jesus was, still did not understand what exactly that meant. Sure, Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but what did that mean as far as God’s plan goes? Peter obviously still does not know.
You see, Peter, like you and I and most people in that time and place, were applying human ways of thinking to God. I like the way the New Living Translation has verse 23. It says:
‘Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”’-Matthew 16:23 (NLT)
Jesus knew that if he just came out and told everyone that He was the Messiah using the words and categories of the time, they would assume all of the wrong things, just like Peter did here. Peter could not get his mind around the fact that Christ—the Messiah—was supposed to suffer and die.
When a first century Jewish person heard the word “Christ”, they heard “King.” Because the word actually means “anointed one,” so they are thinking of one like King David, who was a military man, who ruled on an earthly throne and who ruled with the sword.
So even Peter, had these assumptions and rebukes Jesus when he finds out that He is going to die. To which Jesus replies “these are man’s ideas, not God’s.”
The Incredible Power of Cultural Influences
We all do this. We take our ideas about something and apply them to God and to His Kingdom.
But this is a different kind of Kingdom and we cannot apply our worldly ideas to it. Jesus’ approach to building a Kingdom was different because He was different and because His Kingdom is different.
This is why Jesus didn’t just hold a big press conference and announce that He was the Messiah.
What can we learn from this? One very important lesson we can learn from this is just how powerful culture is. Our culture makes all kinds of assumptions about all kinds of things that influence the way we think every day. And we can’t even see them because they are just a part of the furniture of our culture.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you’re a predator and you are hunting for your prey. What’s your best strategy? Many of the best predators hide… But they don’t just anywhere, they often hide in plain sight. They become a part of the furniture and just blend in with what looks normal.
Leopards are great at this. So are lions and owls and many other predators.
The bible says that the Devil is like one of these ferocious predators.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”-1 Peter 5:18 (ESV)
Notice who wrote that book of the bible—Peter. He knew that if the Devil is going to get you, often it’s not going to be in an obvious way. He’s not going to catch you if he just comes out in broad daylight wearing black, with horns and a pitchfork. It’s going to be really subtle. He’s probably going to hide in plain sight. Like a leopard or a lion, just blending right in with the surroundings.
This is what Peter had experienced.
Back to our passage from today, Peter rebukes Jesus, why? Because the culture had led him to think that the Messiah was going to be a military man who would come in a kick out the Romans and rule with a sword. Basically every Jewish person at the time believed this. But it wasn’t true. And many people missed Jesus because of this false belief. They had been tricked.
Hiding in Plain Sight
But our Enemy is still working today. And he’s hiding in plain sight. Many people believe all kinds of things today that are not true—they are being deceived. Because the culture is lying to them.
The culture today says things like this:
“You can be whatever you want to be. Your identity is something you create for yourself.”
“Truth is relative. You have your truth and I have my truth.”
“All religions are equally valid. Just be a good person and it will all work out in the end.”
“To be happy you need to get everything you want now, no waiting, delayed gratification is bad.”
And there are many other such false beliefs that we could list here.
I want you to stop and think for a moment. Are there things that you believe merely because the world around you believes them? Or do you believe them because they are actually true?
If Jesus were here and told you the truth, would you be like Peter and rebuke him because you had believed a lie?
Be very careful because lies are often hiding in plain sight.