A man named Fred inherited a huge land grant, but the will provided that he could choose land in either Chile or Brazil. He chose Brazil. This turned out to be an unhappy decision, because if he had chosen Chile, he would have received his inheritance in land on which they had recently discovered uranium, gold and silver. When he arrived in Brazil he had to choose between receiving his inheritance in a coffee plantation or land with Brazil nut trees. He chose the nut trees, and immediately the bottom fell out of the nut market, but coffee futures went up two dollars a pound. The government took control of the nut farm for back taxes, and Fred was left destitute. Fred pawned his Rolex watch for the money he needed to fly either to New York or Boston. He chose Boston. When the plane for New York taxied up, he noticed it was a brand new jet with red carpets. After several hours delay, the plane for Boston arrived. It was a twin engine plane that seemed to be held together with bailing wire…and on top of this, it was filled with annoying people and crying babies. Over the mountains one of the engines quit working, and Fred, frightened by his earlier bad choices and fearing for his life, asked for two parachutes. He jumped. As he fell through the air, he tried to make up his mind which ripcord to pull. He pulled the cord on the left, but nothing happened. He pulled the cord on his right, but it broke. In desperation the poor fellow cried out, "St. Francis, save me!" A great hand from heaven reached down, seized him by the wrist, and left him dangling in mid-air. Then a gentle but inquisitive voice asked, "St. Francis, Xavier or St. Francis of Assisi?" (From Dick Meyer, An Anchor in a Sea of Change)
This is funny, but we get the point. Life is risky, because it’s full of choices where we don’t always know the outcome. Faith provides us with choices. We can choose the easy route and receive its reward, or the challenging route that yields the most to us. When we choose to follow Christ, there is risk involved, but in most cases the results are going to be significantly better than poor Fred’s. At least we know that the Lord can and will ultimately work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28)
Matthew 16:1ff, is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. He begins speaking openly about the cross and the church in an effort to grow the faith of his disciples…and for Jesus this is risky. The Pharisees and Sadducees may have been opposing Jewish religious groups, in many respects, but they now join together to try to silence Jesus. They challenge Jesus by asking for a sign…some miracle that would confirm who He is. This is the fourth time they have done this, (see also Matthew 12:38ff, John 2:12, 6:30). Jesus tells them that “Jews are always looking for a sign.” Yet, signs are only to confirm the faith of believers. They are not going to help those who engage in willful unbelief. These guys had no faith…this was their choice. True to form, Jesus responds to their testing by…talking about the weather. Why? (By the way, I love the way that Jesus communicates – He always makes His point). He seeks to reveal the Jewish leaders’ own dishonesty and stubborn blindness. They have plenty of evidence concerning Jesus in order to be able to accept him, but no humility in order to be able to do so. Their demands reveal their sad heart conditions – evil and spiritually adulterous, worshipping their own religiosity…which is a false god. Had they been worshipping the true God, they would have recognized His Son when He came. Still, there is a sign…the sign of Jonah that had been given (also seen in Matthew 12:38-41); it is a sign of the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which was actually a sign to Israel that Jesus was their Messiah!
Many other disciples are following Jesus at this time -- thousands of folks. Jesus uses the feeding of the 4000 and the feeding of the 5000 to teach some spiritual lessons. Among these lessons is -- the people need to beware of the Pharisees and Scribes’ false teaching, which Jesus describes as “leaven”. Jesus has already used the word “leaven” as a symbol for evil (Matthew 13). But, His close disciples…the twelve…misunderstand, thinking that he is using the word, physically, as in Wonder bread. They believe that Jesus is cautioning them not to buy unclean bread. Jesus calls them, literally, “little faith ones,” or as it translates in English, “you of little faith.” This “little faith” keeps them from understanding His teaching and depending upon His power to meet needs. Jesus truly wants them to see the subtle, evil effects of the Pharisees and Scribes.
He and His disciples go on to Caesarea Philippi, a place where there are many different religions. Once He gets there, Jesus asks, “Who do others say that I am?” Now, if anyone else asks this question, he would come across as arrogant or crazy! The irony is that, concerning Jesus, a right confession is the beginning of salvation’s road. One thing is clear – no one can ever make a true decision about Jesus Christ by taking a poll of the people…though some might try. Peter steps out in and speaks from the heart -- “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” His response is truly a response to the revelation the Father has given him. It is not some emotional response, but the studied, sincere statement of a man who has been taught by God. Jesus accepts this confession and builds upon it to teach His listeners a new truth…Jesus will build His church, and He Himself will be the foundation. It can be a bit confusing, but the Rock, Petra, here, is not Peter, although this is his name, but it is Peter’s bold confession that is the true foundation for faith. Peter and his fellow disciples soon be given the keys, that is, have they will have authority and charge to build upon this foundation…and nothing will overcome it ‘til Jesus comes again. This is Good News! We see Peter and the other disciples being stretched and grow, because Jesus wants them not to settle for a faith in Him that is not really going to make a difference. They are going to meet some resistance, but this, in turn, should help their faith to grow.
Ian was telling me about how they do some of their weight training over the summer (which I remember from my own football days). But, I was just a lowly option quarterback. I did not do the things that these linemen do, and this involves moving large tires, pushing against sleds and other things that provide a significant amount of resistance. Why is this? It is in order that they will build muscles and gain strength. It is the same with the Christian walk. We need to some resistance in order to gains some great spiritual strength. Some people are content to exercise just enough faith to idle by, but not enough to make any real difference. The reward for little faith may be little place in heaven -- I don’t know. But, I do know that there are some who are willing to exercise great faith, like that experienced by the Gentile centurion and Syro-Phoenician woman. Such people are not afraid to grow and develop their faith as the Lord desires. The challenge and goal to all of us in the Christian walk is to continue on the better path…on the way to exercising great faith in your life. This requires putting aside the weights and distractions that so easily entangle us, as the Hebrews writer shares, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in paths of grace and service. Jesus tells his disciples in John 10:10 that they have the ability “to live life abundantly.” Remember, the decisions that you and I make from day to day determine and reveal where we are in our faith.” I close with this thought from Oswald Chambers in Run Today's Race – “Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.”