It was what we call “Palm Sunday”, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was the beginning of the last week of His life as a man. Jesus chose to ride into the city humbly on a donkey, rather than a mighty steed, as would be expected of the king. As he rode through the streets accompanied by his disciples, the people waved palm branches, and laid them on the ground before him. They also removed their outer garments and laid them in the street. Children and people of all ages lauded Jesus as their King and Messiah, crying “Hosanna (which means “Save now!”) to the Son of David! Hail to the King!”
I want to focus for a moment on these people. Why were they celebrating? Let’s look at their lives.
1. They were subject to the evil Roman Empire.
2. They were ruled by their king, Herod Antipas. He was, at best, a sell-out suck-up to the Romans. But many likely knew of his immoral life. He was a wicked man and a terrible king.
3. They were poor. And if any of them should have some success in business or a windfall, their increase would be devoured by greedy tax collectors.
4. Their faith taught them that God would send the Messiah to deliver His people. The common interpretation was that a man, especially anointed of God, would crush the Roman Empire and reign as the king over the free nation of Israel. The people understood the Messiah’s work to be military and political.
So, how could it be that many of these people who rejoiced, believing Jesus was their Messiah, would in less than one week, cry out for his crucifixion? We may shake our heads and marvel at how their hearts could be so quickly turned. However, are we so different? I want to share with you what I believe God has taught me about this.
I often use myself and my experiences as examples for two reasons: 1) I’m pretty familiar with me. And 2) God teaches me through my experiences and self-examination in the light of His Word. I try to faithfully share what I’ve learned, including how I learned it. And I hope and pray that you can relate to something I say (or write) and be blessed. That being said, allow me to introduce myself:
I am Raymond Michael Mattice. From birth, my parents called me by my middle name. My dad had always been called by his middle name, and I don’t believe that it had ever caused him any problems. But I grew up in a different era, one of more official record-keeping. To avoid confusion, I sign important documents, timesheets, etc. with my full name.
But most people know me as Mike Mattice.
To God, I am His child, hopefully resembling His own Son.
I’ve been husband to two wives, and we won’t discuss what they have called me.
To my stepdaughter, Angie, I’m the only “dad” she’s ever had.
To my daughter, Mindy, when she was a teenager I was (rolling eyes) “daaad!” Now that she’s a grown woman, wife, and mother, I’m “Dad”.
To three of my five beloved grandbabies, I’m “Pa-Pa”. Unfortunately, I rarely see two of my granddaughters, so to the older one, I am “Kristen’s Pa-Pa”
To my brother, Larry, I am a mystery. He wonders how we could have been raised in the same home by the same parents, and yet I am so different. I call it “an ever-increasing difference of blood”. The blood of the Lamb of God has changed me!
To my friends, I talk a LOT. My longtime friends have seen my struggles and surrenders, my strengths and weaknesses, my flaws, and well… more flaws.
To the church, I hope I am a good brother and servant.
To my employers, I am mostly a pain in the neck. I’m the one who always works hard, but also always voices opinions about the way things “should be”.
Some know me as a musician, singer, author, teacher, and a student. Some know me as a middle-aged over-weight man who wears glasses, drives old vehicles that constantly need repair. They know I don’t have much money, and I don’t dress fashionably. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m opinionated and out-spoken.
For all those who know me, their perspectives of me, with the emotions and expectations that go with them, are mostly based on who I actually am.
Outside of those who know me are others who know of me and those who think they know of me. These people also have emotions and expectations accompanying their perspectives of me. Their understanding of me is largely based on generalizations, and may have little or nothing to do with who I really am.
I believe one of the reasons that Jesus chose twelve disciples was to give each of them a distinct perspective of Him, twelve different views of the same man, the same words, and the same actions; yet, each brings their own interpretation. For example, Matthew, called Levi, was a tax collector. When you read his gospel, you may notice more references to money, records, and measurements. So Jesus was surrounded by people who knew Him, and those who knew of Him, and also those who thought they knew of Him.
Shortly before He went to Jerusalem, Jesus began teaching the disciples about who He really was, and what was His destiny. Recorded in Matthew 16:13-18
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Phillipi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Jesus obviously knew what people were saying about Him, so I believe he was asking the disciples if they had been listening, maybe even pondering what was being said.
Clearly, they had. They told Him that some people thought He was his cousin, John the Baptist. Matthew 14:2 says Herod Antipas was convinced of this, perhaps haunted by a guilty conscience for beheading John.
Many Jews believed Jesus was “The Prophet”, meaning Elijah. They believed Elijah would return to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus had said in Matthew 11:11-14 that John the Baptist was Elijah. I’m not sure if that literally means they were the same man, or if the Lord meant the same Spirit who had dwelt in Elijah also lived in the Baptist. Moreover, when someone calls Jesus a prophet, they are saying He is not the Christ. Prophets precede the Messiah, preparing the people.
Then Jesus”, without answering any of the claims, asked them “But who do you say I am?” These men had lived with Him for most of three years. They saw His miracles. They had heard His public teachings, and had the added privilege of small-group tutoring by the Master. I picture them conferring with one another, trying to get a consensus for an answer.
But suddenly, impetuous Peter gets an idea in his head, and just has to blurt it out. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” I imagine they were all silent, holding their breath, waiting to see how Jesus would respond to this bold outburst.
Before we examine the Lord’s response, let’s take a good look at Simon Peter’s declaration. He didn’t say that Jesus was a Christ. CHRIST means “Anointed One”, specifically anointed to be the Lamb of God. There could only be ONE. The New Age religion teaches that Jesus was a Christ, one of many enlightened ones.
And Peter did not call Jesus a Son. In the ‘70’s, there was a poignant movie called “Oh God!” starring George Burns in the title role. John Denver played an average guy to whom God had appeared and spoken. When he told people that God had talked to him, he was considered insane. (I have a lot to say about that, but that’s another story!) He was given specific questions he was supposed to ask God. One was “Was Jesus your son?” George Burns answered with a smile, “Jesus was my son. Moses was my son. Mohammed was my son.” It may seem ridiculous for me to refer to a silly movie to make a theological point; however, its alarming how many people base what they believe, at least in part, on what Hollywood says. We’d all like to believe that everyone is a child of God. But that’s not biblical. The Scriptures say that, after salvation, we have the right to become children of God. Prior to that, we are not. Jesus, on the other hand, is THE ONLY UNIQUELY-BEGOTTEN SON (John 3:16).
Simon Bar-Jonah also said Jesus was the Son of the LIVING GOD. On Jan 9, 1966, the New York Times said: “God Is Dead”. As I see it, this begs two questions: 1) Didn’t God have to first be alive? And 2) What killed God? The NY Times article declared that the superstition of Christianity was dead. Knowledge had brought our modern culture beyond the need to believe in a supernatural being such as the churches taught. It also asserted that the whole thing had been a hoax to try to control people. Carl Marx had said that “religion is the opiate of the masses”.
If someone believes that God is a creation of the human imagination, a supernatural explanation for things not yet understood, then they can assume there will come a time when knowledge replaces superstition. God becomes unnecessary. Forty years ago, the Soviet cosmonauts orbited the Earth. They said they had entered the heavens, and if there were a god, they would have seen him. So, since they did not see the Supreme Being, He obviously did not exist. Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Yet, about sixty years prior, an atheist scientist named Charles Darwin sought to explain creation by taking the Creator out of the equation. In spite of the fact that his theory has been revised many times, its accepted by many, including Christians, as scientifically sound. And even if we don’t accept the Darwinian idea, a majority of Christians don’t believe the Bible’s literal account of creation. Some say its not important to our faith. Please consider that Genesis is the only eyewitness account of creation. After all, God was there.
The truth is that, whether anybody believes it or not, God is as Peter proclaimed “The Living God”. The gospel of John, chapter one (vs. 1-4, 14), referring to Jesus, says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
He is the Creator. Before He became the only begotten of the Father, He was part of the Triune Godhead- God the Father, God the Word, and God the Holy Spirit. In Him is life, and His life is the light, or hope, of humanity. Jesus said that when you see Him, you also see the Father. So it would make sense that the Son of the living God would also have everlasting life. (Luke 24:1-7)
He is the living Lord! God promised that His Anointed One would not see corruption (decomposition). Just as He’d said, as the prophet Jonah had been three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so also the Son of Man would die and remain in the grave the same duration. By the way, it was a borrowed tomb, an odd occurrence, because He wasn’t staying! And then God the Holy Ghost raised Jesus bodily from the grave.
Many have tried to disclaim the resurrection. At the time, the Jewish religious leaders warned that the disciples would try to steal the body, and so they convinced Pontius Pilate to assign a garrison of one hundred professional guards over the tomb. When the body was gone, the Jews tried to claim that the disciples were somehow able to get past the guards. They supposedly set up the hoax so they could claim the Master had raised from the dead, and could grow their religion. But, if that were so, how is it that the resurrected Jesus was seen by hundreds of witnesses, including unbelievers?
Then there are those who claim that Jesus did not die on the cross. He somehow survived the efforts of professional executioners who would themselves be killed, should they fail to carry out their duties. And then, He allegedly swooned, laying merely unconscious in the tomb for three days and nights, severely wounded, but without dying from blood loss, dehydration, or infection. Then, he supposedly revived, was able to roll away the large stone from the mouth of the tomb, and sneak past the guards. I would say that it requires a lot of faith to believe this. As the apostle Paul said, “If Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain, and we are pitiful.” Furthermore, if it had been a hoax by the disciples in order to further their religious cause, would they have willingly died for something they knew wasn’t true?
I was watching an author interviewed on TV. He wrote a book called Misquoting Jesus. He believes the crucifixion and resurrection were stories invented many years later by scribes, who each added their own interpretations as they copied the Scriptures over the centuries. He said accepting this was a liberating experience for him, leaving him feeling even more so that the Bible is a living document, because of all the freedoms to interpret.
When people say they believe in God, maybe even Jesus, but they don’t believe in the Word of God in its entirety, of course that’s liberating! They can pick and choose which Scriptures, if any, to accept as true. Much as an author creates and develops a fictional character, they can design the characteristics of the god they want to believe in. Literally, they are fashioning a god in their own image, according to their own preferences.
The Bible makes no attempt to prove the existence of God. He exists, whether we believe it or not. The Bible reveals to us Who He really is. We then have the freedom to choose to accept Him for who He is, or not. He is not defined by us. God is who He is.
The apostle Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11:4 about preaching “another Jesus”, and in Galatians 1:6-9 “another gospel”. Those who do this are accursed!
I believe it is critical to our faith to believe in God as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, which includes Jesus. Sometimes that means we’re going to be challenged to change. We don’t like change, especially when it involves us doing the changing. Many people walked away from Jesus when He challenged them. Many do today. But many also feel secure that the Scriptures are ancient, and mostly don’t apply to today. So they develop their own interpretations, resulting in many, many churches and religious organizations. Each has their own beliefs. Many of them wear the Christian tag. However, if their faith includes any concept of sin and redemption, or they’ve placed their trust in “another Jesus” or believed “another gospel”, where is their hope, their light?
For example, Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by Me.” Yet, many religions, even some considered Christian, teach other ways as well. Some trust in Jesus’ mom as another way; some trust that they can be a good enough person. Others believe we have several lifetimes to be that good, despite the Bible saying that we die once, and then there is judgment. Still others believe that everyone goes to heaven, even if you do have to be prayed out of a waiting place by loved ones who are still living. Of course, if everyone goes to heaven, then Jesus didn’t really have to die. There are some who believe that Jesus was Michael the archangel, brother of Lucifer- of equal and opposite power. Those who believe that would say that Jesus was merely a perfect example of submission to God.
Because the historical Jesus cannot be denied, other faiths have called Him just “a prophet”. But, if He were a prophet, then He would have been a false prophet, claiming to be The Only Son of God. It has been reasoned away by experts in recent years, by saying that Jesus never made those claims of Himself. They were added centuries later, to make the martyr Jesus to be God.
Just in case I haven’t pushed on enough towers, her are some more. I’ve known people who have had bad relationships with their earthly fathers, or men in general, and so they struggle with God being their heavenly Father, as Jesus referred to Him. They substitute any masculine reference in Scripture, hymns, or other literature with neuter nouns, such as “God the Parent”, and even “God the Mother”. They say that Jesus used the masculine because the culture of the time could not accept otherwise.
The Jesus I know was not constrained by the rules of culture, nor the religious expectations. He was who He was, and said what He said. But, because He lives now, I say: He is who He is, and still says what He says!
And after a long journey, I bring us back to the original text in Matthew 16. Jesus’ answer to Peter told him and us how important it is for His church to believe in who He really is, and not who people say He is.
Jesus blessed Simon Bar-Jonah, saying that the impetuous fisherman had obviously not figured that out on his own, but the Spirit of God the Father had revealed it to him. What the Lord then said to him has been, I believe, misunderstood by many. He called him “Peter (petros)”, which in Greek means “a small stone or pebble”. Jesus then said “upon this ROCK (Petra)” He would build His church. Petra means a massive rock. Jesus was marveling how a small pebble (Peter) had revealed a massive rock. So, who or what was this massive rock?
I believe the ROCK was the truth that the pebble had spoken; that is, the revelation of who Jesus really is. The Lord said that this ROCK would be the foundation on which He would build His church. It’s His construction, a powerful church, victorious over hell. His church possesses the keys to heaven, which are the Scriptures. This church knows Jesus and therefore, knows God the Father.
Jesus is the Savior, the Lamb that God provided for our redemption, and restoration. He became sin, even though He had never sinned, and paid the penalty for our sins. He is the risen Lord, being victorious over death and hell. And He shares that victory with those who know Him and love Him. He is the Word, the Creator, the Ascended High Priest who brings our prayers before our heavenly Father. And He will return. He is coming again, not as a child, nor a man, as some would say. He already lived that necessary life. He will return as the Almighty King of Kings and Lord of Lords! He will part the eastern sky, and every eye on earth will see Him in His glory. He will take His spotless bride, which is His victorious church, and we will be with Him forever!
After this revelation, Jesus began teaching His disciples about His purpose, and how He would die. But they objected. Why would they object? I believe for the same reason that the people in Jerusalem hailed Jesus as the Messiah, their coming King, and then a few days later, wanted Him dead.
Jesus was not the Messiah they expected. He didn’t do what they thought He should do. Jesus of Nazareth did not fit their Messiah-mold. The common people trusted their religious teachers, and expected God’s anointed Deliverer. But Jesus was not the Deliverer they anticipated.
There are many Scriptural references where believers met the Lord Jesus, but because He wasn’t what they expected, they didn’t recognize Him. His disciples thought they would be entering Jerusalem triumphantly beside the Deliverer, who would swiftly crush the Roman Empire, and establish His reign as King and sovereign over Israel. But that was not His destiny or purpose. It wasn’t who He was. When Peter insisted that he would not let the Lord die, Jesus looked at him and said: “Get behind Me, Satan!” Peter, like the rest of the disciples and most of His followers at the time, and yes, even today, expected Jesus to meet our expectations.
If Jesus can be shaped the way we think He should be, then He’s not God. We are.