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.

  1. In Matthew 16 we find Jesus in one of those rare moments when just he and the twelve disciples were together.
    1. They were in the northern most section of the area of Palestine in the region of Caesarea Philippi.
      1. Jesus' work, miracles, and teaching generated lots of conversation.
        1. Jesus was a main topic of conversation among the Jewish people.
        2. How did you explain this unusual man who did all these things that had never been done before?
        3. Were these the acts of Satan as the Pharisees claimed, or were these the acts of God?
        4. Jesus asked these twelve men, "What are people saying about me? Who do they think I am?"
        5. The twelve: "Oh, they say that you are several different people."
          1. "Some say that you are John the Baptist" (who was dead, executed by one of Herod the Great's sons --Matthew 14:10,11).
          2. "Others say that you are the prophet Elijah" (who had been dead for centuries).
          3. "Still others say that you are Jeremiah" (who also had been dead for centuries).
          4. "Some just say that you are one of the prophets."
      2. Jesus asked a second question: "What do you say about me? Who do you think that I am?"
        1. Peter answered very specifically: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
          1. Peter said that Jesus was the person God had promised Israel that He would send from the time of Abraham.
          2. He was the living God's Son.
        2. Jesus responded to Peter with a very impressive statement.
          1. "You are blessed."
          2. "You don't know this because some other person told you this; you know this because my Father in heaven revealed it to you."
          3. This was not knowledge through instruction; this was knowledge through revelation--Peter knew something that God caused him to know.
          4. "Peter, upon this rock I will build my church."
            1. 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 out people."
            2. "Death won't stop me; it will not keep me from bringing into existence my called out people."
            3. "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 18:18).
    2. That is an astounding statement for Jesus to make to any person.
      1. "Peter, you understand something the other eleven do not understand."
      2. "You understand it because God Himself reveled it to you."
      3. "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."
      4. "Nothing will stop me from creating my own people, not even death."
      5. "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."
      6. "What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; what you free on earth will be freed in heaven."
        1. If Jesus made those statements to you, would it mess with your mind?
        2. Would it make you feel more important than you are?
        3. Would it make you feel like you knew more than anyone else, more than you actually knew?
        4. Would it cause you to believe that you understood things that others were not able to understand?

  2. 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.
    1. Immediately after this conversation, Jesus began to explain to his disciples the sequence of events that would happen.
      1. He would travel to the city of Jerusalem.
      2. The Jewish leaders would cause him a lot of suffering.
      3. He would be killed.
      4. He would be resurrected from death on the third day.
    2. 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.
      1. He did not like Jesus saying these things--this was not what God had planned for Jesus.
      2. 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.
        1. Why shouldn't he believe that what he saw in the future for Jesus was not also a revelation from God?
        2. For centuries God had promised Israel a Messiah, a Christ.
        3. Israel was God's chosen people, the people God promised Abraham.
        4. Jesus was the Christ that God had promised Israel.
        5. Jesus would become the ruler, the king of Israel, and bring Israel to a new level of existence and power.
        6. Then God would do with Israel whatever God planned to do through Israel and through Jesus as Israel's king.
        7. That was how it would happen; Peter had it all figured out; Peter was sure this, too, was God's revelation.
        8. I can see Peter thinking to himself, "I know this just like I knew Jesus is the Christ."
      3. 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.
        1. 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."
        2. "This will not happen! God will not let it happen! You are not going to be killed!"
        3. The one to whom God had made a revelation had spoken.
      4. Then Jesus, who told Peter that he had received a revelation, had something else to tell Peter.
        1. "Satan, get behind me."
        2. "You are a stumbling block (literal meaning, "the bait stick in a trap") for me."
        3. Peter's rebuke was a serious, agonizing temptation to Jesus.
        4. The thought of not having to die was powerful and appealing to Jesus physically.
        5. "Peter, your mind is not focused on God's interests, God's concerns."
        6. "Peter, your mind is on human interests, human concerns."
        7. There is no way that Peter regarded his concern a human concern instead of a divine concern.

  3. This whole incident takes my breath away and deeply sobers me.
    1. "David, what is it about this incident that shakes you up?"
      1. 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.
      2. Second, when he spoke for Satan, he did not know it; he sincerely believed that he was speaking for God.
      3. 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.
      4. Fourth, he thought that he was 100% focused on God's purposes and objectives when he actually was 100% focused on human purposes and objectives.
      5. 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 interests.
    2. I don't know about you, but that sobers me deeply.
      1. We can know facts and truths about God and fail to understand His purposes.
      2. 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.
      3. 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 God planned.
      4. 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.
      5. We can be totally confused about God's purposes and never realize it.
      6. I do not have the words to tell you how sobering that I find that--for myself, for you, and for the church.
      7. 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 and simple.

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 purposes.

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.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 30 November 1997
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