Run! (Part 1)
So I’ve been reading through the book of Matthew, which has been quite the enjoyable experience. My goal has been to really examine the familiar passages it contains within the larger context of how they all fit together and flow along and impact each other in presenting a cohesive message. As I read through chapter 16, I couldn’t help but see some connections that I had previously overlooked between some seemingly unrelated passages. It reminded me that there is always room for more spiritual growth in our lives. We never arrive at a place where we are done growing or being sanctified and molded into the image of Christ. What we need to strive for is teach-ability: to always be apt and willing to learn.
But there are hurdles that we all face that threaten to trip us up in our quest for continual spiritual growth. If we don’t watch out for these hurdles, then when we stumble over them and fall down, we will be tempted to stay down, to say “I’ve come far enough in my spiritual walk; I’m going to take a breather and stay put.” This is contradictory to what Paul wrote about running the race set before us with endurance (Heb. 12:1). I think the thrust of what Christ is trying to teach us in Matthew 16 is the following message:
We can be continually ready to learn & apply God’s Word in our lives by understanding the hurdles to spiritual growth that we face.
I believe that there are 3 hurdles to be found in the course of these stories, hurdles that the 12 disciples themselves faced in the process of being personally trained by Jesus Christ.
- The 1st Hurdle we face is growing lazy in listening to God’s Word.
As chapter 16 begins, the disciples are coming off a roller coaster of experiences they have had with Jesus. They had seen plenty of miracles over the course of the past few years following Christ: people healed of various diseases, sight restored to the blind, demons cast out, etc.. But they had witnessed nothing on the scale of Christ feeding over 5000 people with just a few small fish and loaves of bread, then immediately after that, seeing Jesus walk on water (Matt. 14). And yet in spite of these displays of power, they were starting to take Christ’s miraculous feats for granted, falling more in line with the crowd that was just gathering for the spectacle rather than focusing on what Jesus was trying to teach them. They were getting lazy in their faith. How else can you explain one chapter after Christ fed the 5000 that they encounter the exact same situation again, this time with 4000 people, and when Christ point blank tests them by asking them to feed the people, the disciples are clueless as to how to handle it? They forgot completely about the power of God that they had witnessed just prior to this. Frankly, they were missing the point and were no longer learning.
Then as we enter Chapter 16, some Pharisees and Sadducees from Jerusalem confront Christ, challenging His authority. Later in private Christ issues a warning to his 12 closest followers in verse 6: “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” But the disciples have not been paying Christ their full attention, and the mention of leaven immediately reminds them that they forgot to pack food for their trip. It’s as if they were only half-listening to Jesus. This happens with Nikki and me sometimes. She will be trying to tell me something and I am only partially listening to her, distracted by something else as I try to multi-task (usually the TV or the computer). As she continues to talk to me and I nod along with assent and sometimes throw in a mmhmm for good measure, I hear one word of what she is saying and when it becomes my turn to respond, I run with that word, discussing what I thought she was saying to me. Turns out, I wasn’t even close to being on the same subject and I just got myself busted. It seems to me that the disciples are doing the same thing here. They are so focused on their physical needs and hunger pains that they are distracted from learning spiritual truths from the Son of God. The whole purpose of their trip is to be learning from Him. They forgot that their physical needs were inconsequential when compared to the power of Christ.
Christ is persistent though. He rebukes them and tries to break through their thick-headedness to get them to listen to what He is saying.
8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then [emphasis added] they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Simply put, the disciples here are getting lazy. They missed the point, focused on their forgetful mistake. The worries of life were choking out their spiritual life. Jesus has to reiterate for them what He was trying to teach them for emphasis, and it finally starts to sink in. This time, because they are listening, they understand. Doesn’t the very same thing happen to us all the time? We hear the sermons every week, we read from our Bible regularly, and it all begins to become a blur of familiar sayings that go in one ear and out the other without any analysis or application. We take the Bible for granted, forgetting to keep seeking spiritual growth in our lives.
I can’t help but reflect back on my last trip to the Philippines back in 2007, teaching for a block of classes in Baptist Bible College Asia. I was greatly challenged during that summer to really take a look at the Bible with a fresh perspective. You see, most of my students had never read the Bible, had never heard the stories of Abraham, Moses, and David, had never listened to Christ’s teachings and applied them to their lives. For them, it was all brand new. And to teach them, I had to push aside everything I knew and get back to the basics, thinking of things from their perspective as uninitiated in God’s Word. Things I took for granted when I would read the Bible, skimming over passages because I already “knew it all”, they were eager to learn and they ate it all up with such a hunger. It challenged me to renew my own passion in my own Bible reading and recommit myself to seeking to grow spiritually every day. I realized that I had come along way as a Christian, but I was by no means at my destination. The same is true for all of us, and it is easy to forget the longer we have been saved and in church.
Solution: Pay close attention to what God is trying to teach you.
Listening anew to God’s word requires us living in the tension that exists between trying to approach it from the fresh perspective of awe and wonder we had as new believers and trying to approach it with the seasoned wisdom that comes with years of routine examination of Scripture. We need to be alert and ready at all times, looking around for what God wants us to learn, because there is always something more for us to pick up on. Ultimately, we can’t grow if we don’t listen and learn.