The Gospel of Matthew
"E. Schuyler English: The Gospel According to Matthew"
The Book of MATTHEW
Again the Pharisees, and with them the Sadducees! We have learned who these men were (see chapter iii, verses 7-10). The Pharisees and Sadducees were bitter enemies, but they met together in combined opposition against the Lord of glory. We see a similar paradox today: the Pharisees, those who profess Christianity by outward form but who do not know the Lord as Saviour, and the Sadducees, the liberals, are gradually combining their forces in various federations opposed to the Deity of our Lord. These enemies of our Lord come to Him seeking a sign, but in His wisdom He said: "When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall be no sign given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas" (Matt. 16:2-4). "You are looking for a sign?" He asked. They could see the signs in physical life, but not in the spiritual sphere, because their hearts were evil. The Lord knew that if He should give them a sign, even then they would not believe. Thus He said that no sign should be given, "But the sign of the prophet Jonas." That refers, of course, to His own death, the three days in the tomb, and His resurrection. Even then they would not believe; today, after nineteen hundred years of combined opposition to the fact of His resurrection, they will not believe.
So, said our Lord: "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (vs. 6). We learned in chapter thirteen that leaven is always used regarding evil. "Beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees," He told His disciples. They needed that warning, and so do we. Let us not be so occupied with the things of earth, with food and the events of our daily lives, that we take our eyes off the Lord. And, too, let us not become so occupied with mere doctrine as to have no time to dwell upon Him. The doctrine of the Pharisees was over-ritualism; the doctrine of the Sadducees was liberalism and compromise. It is the Lord Whom we should see; it is upon Him that we should dwell. He is ever loving and tender and gracious to those who truly look at Him, but He is fierce in His hatred of the hypocritical worship of His enemies.
The doctrine of the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ is that on which the whole Word of God is based, and upon our attitude towards Him and His work hinges the salvation of our souls. If He were only a man, a great teacher, a psychic leader, or a master magician, His death was valueless and our faith vain. He would never have been crucified had He not claimed to be God. The multitudes were perfectly willing to admit that He was a man of marked powers and wisdom; but He is God, and it was His insistence upon this fact which brought about that death which is life to you and me, the result of our heavenly Father's all-loving grace and of our Saviour's all-pervading love.
"When Jesus came unto the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"
Men did not know what to think! They replied: "Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." He claimed to be Messiah, He presented Himself as King, but men did not believe that. If He were the One that the prophets foretold, then He should have come in military power and ruled them from Rome. They were ready to acknowledge Him as unusual, perhaps from God, one of the prophets returned to them; perhaps He was Elias, the forerunner of Messiah. They wondered at His works, but they did not receive Him. Truly "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." He knew what men thought. It was not for information that He asked the question of His disciples. He was leading up to the all-important personal question that every being in the world must face. "Whom say ye that I am?" What have you done with that question? Is He to you a good man, the founder of Christianity, or is He very God? Since He is God, is He your Saviour? Have you taken Him into your heart; are you resting your only hope in His finished work? And is He Lord of your life? "And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." That was a wonderful confession of Peter's. Today our Lord has been known through centuries by His called-out people as God the Son, but at Caesarea Philippi it was not so. On all sides He was being rejected, "And Jesus answered and said, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father Who is in Heaven." It is not the natural man who receives the things of the Spirit of God, but they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). Through the Son the Father revealed Who the Son is.
Then follows a portion of the Word which is most important and which is so often misunderstood. Let us approach it prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit to lead us into the truth. "And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." "Thou art 'petros' (a movable stone, a piece of rock), and upon this 'petra' (the essential rock) I will build My Church (ecclesia -- called-out people, assembly); and the gates of Hades (the grave) shall not prevail against it." The Lord Jesus did not say He would build the assembly of saints upon Peter, but upon the essential Rock, Christ, the Son of the living God; upon petra, the Rock upon which the house which fell not was founded (Matt. 7:24, 25). If it had been Peter on whom the Church was to be built, would He not have said, "Upon thee will I build My assembly"? "Upon this Rock." "Remember, He was talking to Jews. If we trace the figurative use of the word rock through Hebrew Scriptures, we find that it is never used symbolically of man, but always of God. So here at Caesarea Philippi, it is not upon Peter that the Church is built. Jesus did not trifle with figures of speech. He took up their old Hebrew illustration -- rock, always the symbol of Deity -- and said, 'Upon God -- Messiah, the Son of the living God, I will build My Church'" (G. Campbell Morgan).
This is the first time that our Lord used the word Church -- _ecclesia. It means a selected, called-out people, an assembly; it is this, the Organism, His Body, which is established on this Rock Jesus Christ, not the great Organization. "And I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of the heavens; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven" (Matt. 16:19). From childhood we can remember seeing cartoons of the gates of Heaven, at which stands a man with a white beard and in flowing robes, with wings, standing upon a cloud. In his hand is a great ring of keys. This is Saint Peter! The authority for these cartoons, and this false conception of some special power assigned to Peter is the verse before us. Now in the first place, Peter was given no more authority than the other disciples. Our Lord was speaking to Peter in this instance for all the disciples, for in Matthew 18:18 is recorded the same promise to them all. Secondly, they were not the keys of Heaven that were given to him, but the keys of the Kingdom of the heavens, professing Christianity. What are the keys to the Kingdom of the heavens? Undoubtedly, the Gospel. It is generally conceded that Peter used the keys for the Jews on the day of Pentecost, and for the Gentiles at Cornelius' house. The Lord Jesus said, "I am the Door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved" (John 10:9). The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ alone, the keys entrusted to Peter and to every born-again believer, open the door by the Holy Spirit; if any man enter in, he shall be saved.
"Then He charged His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ" (Matt. 16:20). He had presented Himself as Messiah, and was rejected. He had to go on to the Cross; therefore He charged them to tell no man these things.
"From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised again the third day" (Matt. 16:21). "From that time forth," after He first mentioned the Church, He began to tell of those things which He must suffer. He alone knew what that meant; He had known since before the foundation of the world. See how we, as His Church, are identified with His death, burial and resurrection. Peter then rebuked His Lord! "Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee." How often we fall from the heights to the depths! But the Lord understands. His rebuke was not to Peter, it was to Satan. "Get thee behind Me, Satan." The Lord Jesus knows how Satan works in our hearts to hurt our witness to Him, and it is often when we have been in the mountain-top experiences that he overcomes us. Christians, let us keep our eyes on the Lord, not on circumstances. We cannot condemn Peter, for we too are subject to the same experiences so often. Let us remember that the Lord recognizes who is working in us, and that by His death He has empowered us against all the fiery darts of the evil one (Eph. 6:16).
"Then said Jesus unto His disciples, if any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). All religions practice self-denial; Christianity alone proposes denial of self. This is not a putting aside of some pleasure, but the crucifying of self with Christ, of which our Lord is speaking. "Take up his cross." These words are not to be understood as meaning that we should choose a cross. Begin only with self-denial and the cross will come of itself. He says "his cross;" for He does not teach that we should bear the identical Cross which He bore. Everyone's cross has been prepared according to the measure of each one's strength (Martin Luther). Identification with Himself; it is His desire for us, it should be our joy for Him. "For whosoever will save his life will lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake, shall find it. For what is man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
We will consider verse twenty-eight with chapter seventeen, for there we have the full explanation of the Spirit's meaning.