Matthew 18:15-20; When a Brother or Sister Sins

Given the severity of the final solution, it seems to me that Jesus is here discussing sins that can harm the entire fellowship of Christians. We have already learned about the severity of sin. Now Jesus talks about what to do about serious sin in the church. (And it does seem that Matthew has the church in mind in this paragraph.)

In our individualistic times, we are reluctant to get involved with what other people are doing. But professing Christians who sin without inhibition have caused great problems in the church and in the world, and it ought not be. I guess there is a time to get in somebody else’s business.

Jesus and Matthew provide something of an SOP for how to handle this sin and this sinner. I suppose there would have to be variations based on circumstances; I’d be reluctant to insist that things must always be done in exactly this way.

After the procedure in vv. 15-17, Matthew follows up with sayings of Jesus that seem to apply to the situation.

  1. The binding and loosing speech of Jesus to Peter is repeated here and applied to the church. This is a responsibility, not a power to be wielded. Pastors who wield such authority are usually abusive and they usually don’t follow anything like the given procedure. They forget about the “two or three” part.
  2. When Christians come together to try to manage situations like this, they can be assured that they are not alone. Emmanuel is with them. They stand in solidarity with one another and with Jesus if they are truly gathered in Jesus and are listening to him through one another. It takes a (small) village.
  3. This is how a group of Christians can determine God’s will for their immediate ticklish situation. Agreement with one another and with God. Like a small jury. I guess it needs to proceed to unanimity.

The end result may be putting people out of the fellowship. Obviously, this should not be done lightly. And it is not to be done by the pastor alone. (Rulers of the gentile Lord it over their people; it shall not be so with you.)

Still, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. So the missionary work goes on.

Matthew 18:1-14; Little Ones

Jesus has a question from his disciples: how can we achieve status in the kingdom of God? We need to be careful to not read into this Mark’s description of the disciples discussing who is greater than whom. Matthew presents this as an honest question.

Jesus’ answer starts with putting a youngster in front of the disciples. He tells them that the entry requirements to the kingdom include becoming like a child.

I’ve heard lots of explanations through the years about what this might mean, but I’ve come to believe that it is all about status. Children in the time of Jesus did not enjoy the exalted status that children have today. They were low on the totem pole.

Jesus is saying that one must take on a low status to come into the kingdom. Not just an attitude of humility but an actual status and behavior. This is not low self-esteem. It is true humility. I am no better than anyone else.

Paradoxically, once one meets the entrance requirement and enters the kingdom, he finds that he has been given the status of “greatest”, which is what the disciples were asking about. If you think about that for awhile, you can see that everyone in the kingdom will be the same status as everyone else: truly humble, no better than others, and also the greatest.

There are no levels in the kingdom of God. We are all little ones.

As we are received as little ones, so we must receive one another. There are implications for the church here.

  • Everyone should be treated in the same manner. People who are leaders and who contribute more heavily to the budget are not to be seen as better or greater than someone of lowly station in life with little money and no leadership skills.
  • If one of these people does not feel welcome at our church, it would be better for us to be drowned in the ocean. Really!
  • Causing one of these people to be led away from Jesus is the worst possible thing we could do. We should go to any lengths to avoid causing them to sin.
  • When a lowly person comes to our church, we have an immediate and forever obligation to that person. We cannot just shrug our shoulders when they slip out the back door. They are not there just to pad our statistics.
  • If one of the sheep is lost, the other 99 become temporarily less important and all effort must be made for the one. This is not just a familiar parable. It’s the way God the Father works and it is how he expects us to work.

In an era where church growth trumps all, we are used to thinking like a business. If we lose a customer because of what we are doing, but gain two or three, we are ahead of the game. God does not see it that way. We need to reorient.

There are no levels in the kingdom of God. We are all little ones.

Matthew 17:22-27; Death and Taxes

Matthew starts a new section with a reminder to the disciples and to us that the destination is Jerusalem and death. And resurrection. But the disciples apparently like the idea of a glorious kingdom more than one bought by suffering, And it seems that the idea of resurrection has not yet registered with them. They are distressed. I feel a little queasy myself, and I know how the story ends.

Then we have a little teaching about taxes, kind of.

Jesus teaches that in the kingdom, the king takes care of his children rather than taxing them.

This temple tax was at least a little controversial. It certainly wasn’t part of the Mosaic law, although there are some parallels to a census tax. Some people just didn’t pay it, as some don’t pay taxes today. Some were conscientious objectors. Some were just lax. And for some, two days’ wages was too much to give up.

In the kingdom, we will give because we want to, not because we have to.

And Jesus gives Peter an object lesson in how God takes care of his children.

Matthew 17:14-20; The Boy with Epilepsy

Matthew doesn’t mention that the boy with epilepsy has a demon until Jesus casts it out and heals the boy. I suppose there is a relation between the demon and the illness in this case, but we must not extrapolate to every case.

The man expresses his faith in Jesus in three ways: he comes to Jesus, he addresses him as Lord, and he kneels before him.

Yet Jesus uses the occasion for a harsh denouncement of his generation. Jesus is on earth at a time when Israel is reverting to the faithlessness of the people of the Exodus. They are not trusting God. They are trusting politics and rebellions and movements instead. (Sound familiar?)

The generation of Jesus has a distorted view of the world. They do not bow before God. This is one of the harshest moments in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is ticked.

But he returns to the job at hand, rebukes the demon, heals the boy immediately.

Jesus uses this episode to give the disciples a lesson in faith. It seems that faith has a qualitative and a quantitative component. I’m not sure how that works. I tend to think of the quality of faith, that is, to whom is my faith directed. Jesus likes to use the term oligopistos (here oligopistian), little-faith.

On the other hand, it seems to not take a lot of faith to accomplish things for God. A little dab will do you.

Two points need special emphasis.

  1. The faith itself is not powerful. It is God who is powerful and it is toward him that our faith (loyalty, commitment) must be directed.
  2. Throughout this gospel and throughout the Bible, the true measure of faith is in what we do, how we act, how we treat others. It’s in our ethics and our activity, not in the ability to work miracles.

This passage should challenge our faith, not condemn us. We need to surpass the generation Jesus ministered to.

Matthew 17:1-13; Transfiguration

This is an odd story, isn’t it? Quite different from anything else in Matthew, for sure. Three of the disciples receive a sign that should help them understand better who Jesus is.

Did it happen in actual fact, or was it a vision experienced by the group of three? Jesus calls it a vision in v. 9, but I’m not sure that precludes the event from actually occurring.

Jesus appearance changed and he was joined by Moses and Elijah for a discussion to which we are not privy. Peter’s reaction was to keep this moment alive, to keep Moses and Elijah here. Perhaps he still wants to avoid the suffering Jesus has promised.

A cloudy curtain comes down over the scene and the most important part of this experience happens: God speaks from the cloud and reiterates what he said at Jesus’ baptism, but this time for the benefit of the disciples.

And God adds a caution: listen to him.

Listen to the teachings you are blessed to hear. Listen to the plan for saving through suffering. Listen to the call to deny yourself and take up your own cross. Listen and obey.

The sight of Jesus with Moses and Elijah made the disciples giddy, but the voice of God terrified them. Throughout this gospel, people come to Jesus, but in this case Jesus goes to the three men lying on their faces in abject fear. He touches them (as in a healing) and tells them to get up.

The vision of over.

The disciples had questions about the end times just as we do. They wanted to know how Elijah fits into things. I mean, they had just seen Elijah on the mountain. Jesus confirms that little verse at the end of Malachi, but also points out that John the Baptist fulfills that role, if you have eyes to see it.

I guess it just goes to show you can’t make charts and graphs of the end times. God doesn’t always do things when or how you would think from what you read. And I guess we need to allow him that freedom, yes?

These disciples have had a foretaste of glory to come. They have seen a glorified Jesus. They have heard the stamp of God on his Son. Peter’s confession is confirmed.

Matthew 16:24-28; Following Jesus

Peter confesses Jesus as the messiah. Then Peter remonstrates against Jesus’ mission and is reprimanded.

Now Jesus talks about what truly following him looks like.

Deny Oneself

This has been over-interpreted through the centuries, resulting in self-flagellation and asceticism. Truthfully, activities like that focus on the self rather than on Jesus.

What Jesus wants is a reordering of priorities. Jesus comes first and our own needs and wants come underneath that in the priority list.

Take Up One’s Cross

Following Jesus has an element of danger and it is not lightly undertaken. One must be fearless in following Jesus, because our survival is less important than the cause we are promoting. We must be willing to put our necks in the noose. Who knows? It may come to that for some of us.

Lose One’s Life

You can’t save it anyway. The value proposition that makes good sense is to give it to Jesus.


Jesus will return and judge. Interestingly enough, the basis of judgment will not be what we have said or what we say we believe or whom we purport to follow, but our activity. It’s easy to choke on that and to rationalize it, because we are all sinners and have done stuff that deserves judgment.

Jesus seems to say that he will return in the lifetime of some of his disciples. There are many ingenious schemes to interpret this differently, but most of them sound like a foretaste of the glory and not the return of Jesus. I’d rather think that, like the prophets of the OT, these words of Jesus were put on hold as a matter of grace, to allow more gentiles to come into the kingdom. Just my take.

We are soft of discipleship these days. We are soft on taking up the cross. We are soft on denying ourselves. God have mercy.

Matthew 16:21-23; Passion Prediction

It seems that popular teaching and understanding did not prepare the disciples of Jesus for the idea of a suffering Messiah. We often look at Isaiah 53 is such light, but that is only in hindsight, knowing what happened to Jesus.

It is also apparent that the main temptation faced by Jesus was the temptation to the kingdom without the cross. Satan tried it in the wilderness. The Pharisees and Sadducees tried it. Now Peter tries it. Jesus still isn’t biting.

Jesus explains that it is necessary for him to suffer and die. He also discloses that he will be raised, but the disciples don’t seem to hear that part. (For those who are troubled by Mark’s “after three days”, you will be happy that Matthew uses the more precise “on the third day.”)

And Peter, newly authorized to speak for God, speaks for Satan instead. This should show us some of the limits to the authorization Jesus bestowed on Peter. It should also show us how backwards disciples of Jesus can get things. Imagine Peter correcting Jesus.

Then imagine Peter being corrected by Jesus. It is harsh. Jesus uses almost the same language he used in the wilderness temptation. He also calls Peter a stumbling block, perhaps another play on his nickname.

Peter’s vision is not fully enough on God. He is too influenced by the world, which is to be influenced by Satan.

There are people today in the church who speak for Satan rather than for Jesus. They are set on the things of man rather than God. They are a stumbling block to those who travel with them. They want another way and want to avoid the way of the cross.

Get behind me, Satan!

Matthew 16:13-20; Peter’s Confession

Jesus takes the disciples out of Galilee again, and into gentile territory. This is what you might call a watershed episode.

Jewish messianic expectation was not and is not a simple matter. There were many different levels and types of messianic belief and hope. You would search in vain through the OT looking for clear indications of the messiah and what he would be like. These ideas became more prominent after the OT canon was written; you can find lots of messiah stuff in the non-canonical literature written in the intertestamental period, works like Psalms of Solomon and Baruch. But even there you cannot find a clear and consistent picture. By the time Jesus came, the expectations were all over the board.

In fact, they still are. I often hear it stated that Jews are still looking for their messiah. It is true that some are, but not all, possibly not even most. And the varied views of what the messiah will be like still persist. You could look it up.

Anyway, Jesus wants to gauge what people are saying about him by asking the disciples. Their response is that Jesus might be John (that’s what Herod thought), or Elijah (a popular view of the a portent of the messianic age), or Jeremiah (a more obscure view, although fitting well with Jesus’ ministry), or another OT prophet.

When Jesus asks the disciples what they think, Peter pipes up. It is unclear whether his response represents his personal view or a group consensus, but he proclaims that Jesus is the messiah (Christ) and the son of God.

This confession gets Peter a beatitude of his own and the recognition that this is a revelation from God, not something Peter made up. What follows has become one of the most divisive sections of scripture in church history.

Will Jesus build the church on the foundation of Peter? Or on the foundation of Peter’s confession? Or on the Christ (himself) whom Peter confesses?

Two things are clear. One, Jesus will build the church, not anyone else. And two, the church belongs to Jesus, not to anyone else.

Let’s get that straight, if nothing else.

I don’t see anything here about Peter having successors to whatever role he is given. This looks like a one-time designation, probably something like “chief missionary when I am gone”. I know not everyone sees it that way.

I’m not sure what to make of the keys. Certainly, the preaching of the apostles was the key to letting people into the kingdom after Jesus ascended. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with St. Peter standing at the gate of heaven to decide whether to admit people.

It also looks like Jesus gives Peter the privilege and obligation of speaking for God. That is awesome in the true sense of the word “awesome”. Imagine being given that task! On earth as in heaven.

The disciples are warned to keep this on the down low. I suppose the multifarious views of the messiah led to this warning. Jesus didn’t want to be misunderstood.

It’s ok for us to talk about it now, but the concept of messiahship probably doesn’t carry much freight, either with Jews or with gentiles. We are to proclaim the cross. We’ll move in that direction next.

Matthew 16:1-12; Pharisees and Sadducees

Pharisees and Sadducees would not have had much truck with one another. We might compare them to modern Hasidic Jews and secular Jews. Both Jews, but way different. But they came together in a common cause. They both began to recognize the danger of Jesus and his teaching. He was becoming to popular in Galilee and they could not afford an upset to the status quo.

Again they ask for a sign. Again Jesus says they have enough without another sign. He drops the mic and leaves with his disciples.

Jesus warns the disciples about the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They are fumbling about thinking about bread, but Jesus is talking about how the skeptical opposition of the two groups will grow in the populace and will eventually be a big problem for Jesus.

He calls his disciples oligopistois again. Mea culpa.

This little passage kind of closes out a section of the gospel and kicks off a new one. Things will be coming to a head and the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees will have fully bloomed by the time Jesus and his troupe get to Judea.

Will the disciples get a clue?

Matthew 15:29-39; Another Crowd, Another Miracle

The setting reminds us of the Sermon on the Mount, but this time the emphasis is on healing rather than teaching. Back in Galilee, Jesus has drawn a crowd. Again.

And again, the compassion of Jesus comes to the front. First he heals many people with intractable issues. The way the healing session is described, we are reminded of the Isaianic messiah criteria and the question asked by John the Baptist.

Then, he feeds the people. The miracle of feeding the people is pretty much parallel to the last time he did so.

The disciples seemed to be caught flatfooted again, and it is surprising, given that they had witnessed the feeding of 5000 not that long ago. But my surprise was overtaken by lament when I realized that I do the same thing. God has proven himself over and over to me, yet I have my moments of doubt. I too am flatfooted.

The people who eat are satisfied. I wonder if many of them were often unsatisfied with their available meals at the end of a day. Jesus makes them satisfied on this day. There is more than enough food.

Then to the boat and the scene changes.