WHEN KNOWLEDGE EXCEEDS UNDERSTANDING
Spiritually, we create an enormous danger when we have sound knowledge of
God's facts and truths, but have little or no knowledge of God's purposes. That danger
has existed from the time of Adam and Eve's rebellion against God in the garden of
Eden. That same danger intensified and rose to a new level when Jesus was born.
That danger was clearly evident in Jesus' ministry. The Pharisees knew God's facts, but
they did not know God's purposes. The twelve disciples understood new facts from
God, but they did not understand God's purposes. This same danger intensified again
and rose to still a higher level when Jesus died and was raised from the dead. That
danger is as real and powerful today as it has ever been.
I want you to understand that danger and consider how it exists for us personally
and as a congregation by studying Matthew 16:13-23.
- In Matthew 16 we find Jesus in one of those rare moments when just he and
the twelve disciples were together.
- They were in the northern most section of the area of Palestine in the region of
- Jesus' work, miracles, and teaching generated lots of conversation.
- Jesus was a main topic of conversation among the Jewish people.
- How did you explain this unusual man who did all these things that had
never been done before?
- Were these the acts of Satan as the Pharisees claimed, or were these the
acts of God?
- Jesus asked these twelve men, "What are people saying about me? Who
do they think I am?"
- The twelve: "Oh, they say that you are several different people."
- "Some say that you are John the Baptist" (who was dead, executed by
one of Herod the Great's sons --Matthew 14:10,11).
- "Others say that you are the prophet Elijah" (who had been dead for
- "Still others say that you are Jeremiah" (who also had been dead for
- "Some just say that you are one of the prophets."
- Jesus asked a second question: "What do you say about me? Who do you
think that I am?"
- Peter answered very specifically: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living
- Peter said that Jesus was the person God had promised Israel that He
would send from the time of Abraham.
- He was the living God's Son.
- Jesus responded to Peter with a very impressive statement.
- "You are blessed."
- "You don't know this because some other person told you this; you
know this because my Father in heaven revealed it to you."
- This was not knowledge through instruction; this was knowledge
through revelation--Peter knew something that God caused him to
- "Peter, upon this rock I will build my church."
- This is my understanding of that statement: "Peter, upon the truth
that I am the Christ, the living God's Son, I will establish my called
- "Death won't stop me; it will not keep me from bringing into
existence my called out people."
- "I am giving you the keys to the kingdom to bind and loose on
earth." (He made the same statement to all twelve in Matthew
- That is an astounding statement for Jesus to make to any person.
- "Peter, you understand something the other eleven do not understand."
- "You understand it because God Himself reveled it to you."
- "You understand a fact, a truth so important that I am going to use this truth to
create my own people who will submit to me as their king."
- "Nothing will stop me from creating my own people, not even death."
- "And Peter, I am giving you the keys to open the doors to those who would
become my people so they can be a part of my kingdom."
- "What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; what you free on earth will
be freed in heaven."
- If Jesus made those statements to you, would it mess with your mind?
- Would it make you feel more important than you are?
- Would it make you feel like you knew more than anyone else, more
than you actually knew?
- Would it cause you to believe that you understood things that others
were not able to understand?
- It affected Peter like it probably would affect most of us--since God had
revealed something to him, since Jesus had given him the keys to the
kingdom, he concluded that he knew and understood more than he did.
- Immediately after this conversation, Jesus began to explain to his disciples the
sequence of events that would happen.
- He would travel to the city of Jerusalem.
- The Jewish leaders would cause him a lot of suffering.
- He would be killed.
- He would be resurrected from death on the third day.
- The Peter to whom God had given a revelation of knowledge, to whom Jesus
gave the keys to the kingdom now was certain that he understood what God
would do better than Jesus did. God had revealed to him who Jesus was, so he
knew what God wanted to do.
- He did not like Jesus saying these things--this was not what God had planned
- He knew what was supposed to happen and what was going to happen--God
revealed to him the knowledge and truth about Jesus being the Christ.
- Why shouldn't he believe that what he saw in the future for Jesus was not
also a revelation from God?
- For centuries God had promised Israel a Messiah, a Christ.
- Israel was God's chosen people, the people God promised Abraham.
- Jesus was the Christ that God had promised Israel.
- Jesus would become the ruler, the king of Israel, and bring Israel to a new
level of existence and power.
- Then God would do with Israel whatever God planned to do through Israel
and through Jesus as Israel's king.
- That was how it would happen; Peter had it all figured out; Peter was sure
this, too, was God's revelation.
- I can see Peter thinking to himself, "I know this just like I knew Jesus is
- Since he was a disciple, he certainly did not want to be disrespectful to Jesus
in front of the other disciples, so he took Jesus aside privately.
- He began to rebuke Jesus: "Lord, you are wrong about this. You are not
helping anything by making statements like that. That kind of talk has got
to stop. You must stop saying things like that."
- "This will not happen! God will not let it happen! You are not going to be
- The one to whom God had made a revelation had spoken.
- Then Jesus, who told Peter that he had received a revelation, had something
else to tell Peter.
- "Satan, get behind me."
- "You are a stumbling block (literal meaning, "the bait stick in a trap") for
- Peter's rebuke was a serious, agonizing temptation to Jesus.
- The thought of not having to die was powerful and appealing to Jesus
- "Peter, your mind is not focused on God's interests, God's concerns."
- "Peter, your mind is on human interests, human concerns."
- There is no way that Peter regarded his concern a human concern instead
of a divine concern.
- This whole incident takes my breath away and deeply sobers me.
- "David, what is it about this incident that shakes you up?"
- First, this same disciple, within a few days, was both God's spokesman who
recognized that Jesus was God's son and Satan's spokesman opposing God's
purpose in Jesus.
- Second, when he spoke for Satan, he did not know it; he sincerely believed
that he was speaking for God.
- Third, he was so certain that he had God's plans for Jesus figured out that he
dared rebuke the son of the living God.
- Fourth, he thought that he was 100% focused on God's purposes and
objectives when he actually was 100% focused on human purposes and
- Fifth, he was 100% confused and did not know it: he believed that he was
devoted to God's interests when the truth was that he was devoted to human
- I don't know about you, but that sobers me deeply.
- We can know facts and truths about God and fail to understand His purposes.
- Even though we understand facts and truths, even though we are devoted
disciples, we can be religiously speaking for Satan when we think we are
speaking for God.
- We can be so certain that we have God's desires and purposes figured out
that we can still take Jesus aside and tell him that what he said is not what
- We can think that we are 100% focused on God's priorities, God's plans, and
God's purposes when in actually we are focused on our concerns.
- We can be totally confused about God's purposes and never realize it.
- I do not have the words to tell you how sobering that I find that--for myself, for
you, and for the church.
- Think about it.
Understanding what God wants us to be is simpler than understanding what God
wants to accomplish through us. Knowing what God wants me to be is simpler than
understanding what God wants me to do. Know what God wants the church to be is
simpler than understanding what God wants the church to do. It is easy to come to the
conclusion that God's greatest concern or God's only concern is what God wants us to
be. It is easy to conclude that it is not as important to serve God's purposes as to it is to
be what God wants us to be. It is easy to conclude that God's purposes are obvious
But I don't think you will draw that conclusion if you look at Jesus' life, look at
Jesus' ministry, and look at the people Jesus helped and the way he helped them. If
Jesus teaches us anything, he teaches us that you cannot divorce God's will from God's
Israel never really understood that. They thought God loved only them.
Understanding God's purposes is not simple--it never has been.
May we never forget the danger of knowing facts and truths about the will of God
without understanding God's purposes.
God may someday point out ways in which you were an obstacle to His purposes.
We can hinder His purposes when we don't understand His purposes.
We must study. We must grow.
A major purpose of God is to save your soul.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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Evening Sermon, 30 November 1997
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