OPEN: I read once the story of a young black man in the ghettos. He was fortunate in that he had both of his parents, and they struggled to make ends meet. But for his birthday that year they had scraped together enough money to pay for a brand new bicycle. A few days later someone stole it. Enraged, the boy went looking for the thief and in the process of his search he encountered a policeman. The policeman asked him what he was going to do if he caught the boy who stole it and the boy said that he didn’t know.
It was obvious to the cop that if this boy ever did find the person who stole his bike, he might not only lose the bike but be beaten terribly in any fight that ensued, so he asked the boy if he would like to go the gym with him. The boy agreed and they went together to a nearby sports center where the policeman began teaching the boy how to box.
That boy was named Cassius Clay. Later he changed his name to Mohammed Ali and became one of the greatest fighters to ever enter the ring. But while Mohammed Ali was similar to many of the fighters of that time – he worked out just like they did, he boxed, and sparred and ran for miles in preparation for every fight – he had one distinguishing difference that gave him the edge whenever he put on his gloves.
Ali said, "To this day I never found my bike, but every time I got in the ring, I’d look across at my opponent and say to myself, that’s the guy who stole my bike!"
APPLY: What Ali was saying was this: He was prepared long before he stepped into the ring. He (like other prize fighters) had always prepared for the fight physically for weeks ahead of time, but what gave him his cutting edge was this: he had prepared himself mentally long before he stepped into the ring.
I. As we read Matthew 16 today, it helps to realize that (for the last couple of years) Jesus has been training His disciples for a fight that they don’t even understand as yet
His disciples knew they were being training for something. Jesus had been working with them for over two years by having them follow Him wherever He went. For months, these disciples had listened Jesus as He taught. They had watched as He healed people, and fed the crowds. They had trembled as He walked upon the water and stilled the storm on the sea.
Physically, they had begun to get into shape. But, they needed something else. They needed an edge. They needed to be trained in how to think.
What we read about in Matthew 16 was a critical part of that part of their training. For this session Jesus takes them out of the familiar world of Galilee and Judea and into an unsettling world just across the border - into pagan territory.
He takes them to the capital of the Roman province in Judea, the seat of the governors or procurators that ruled their land, and the headquarters of the Roman troops.
Caesarea Philippi was the heart of the kind of pagan worship God had always condemned.
As Jesus stood there, He was surrounded by numerous idols and pagan that populated the region (14 temples to Baal, one to Caesar and a nearby cave was rumored to have been the birth place of the Greek God of Nature: Pan)
This is was unsettling atmosphere for “good” religious Jews, for this was indeed the gateway to Hell.
Embodied in all those idols and temples was the power of paganism, the wickedness of ungodliness, the dominion of Satan himself.
It was a scary place for good Jewish men to be. And it’s here that Jesus takes His disciples to prepare them mentally for the fight that will lay ahead of them.
II. He begins this part of their training with a simple question
Who do people say the Son of Man is?
Like school children in a class room, the disciples begin to shout out their answers
“Some say you are John the Baptist”
“Oh, teacher, there are others who say you are Elijah”
Another one raises his hands and says “I heard someone down at the market say you were Jeremiah or one of the prophets”
(pause…) As I visualized this in my mind, I could see Jesus nod in approval as he saw his disciples warm to the discussion. I can almost see Him smile as He then asks the real question He had in mind.
Ok… now, who do you say that I am?
His question is met with silence… (pause…) they weren’t used to thinking about Jesus that way. They had walked with Jesus for some time now. He was their constant companion, their teacher, their friend. They worshipped Him… but they had never thought about this question.
But then, Peter (perhaps frustrated by their silence or ignorance) jumps right in: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Matthew 16:16
Jesus pats Peter on the back –"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” Matthew 16:17
And you almost find yourself thinking…
At least you know what’s going on
At least you understand who Jesus is
You are plugged in
You’re mentally focused –
You’re ready for the fight that lies ahead
BUT THEN, as Jesus proceeds to tell His disciples that “…he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Matthew 16:21
Peter shows that he doesn’t really get it. He doesn’t really understand.
He jumps right in again and objects: Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Matthew 16:22
Just a few moments before Jesus had complimented Peter… but now He rebukes him:
"Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Matthew 16:23
III. What’s Jesus saying?
Jesus is telling Peter that unless he changes his thinking, Satan will have the edge
He’s telling Peter, that right now he’s not prepared for the real fight that lies ahead
Now I’ve said all this to introduce you to something we don’t often think about. I’ve retold this story of Peter’s confession and rebuke to introduce you to the fact that you and I are ALSO called into the very same fight Jesus was preparing His disciples for.
Paul writes Timothy and tells him: "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12
Again Paul writes and tells Timothy "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs— he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules." 2 Timothy 2:3-5
God is telling us… there is a fight shaping up, and you need to be ready for it.
Paul understood that, because when he found himself in prison, facing imminent execution, he wrote: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" 2 Timothy 4:7
In other words… I did my job… I was successful. I competed and I’ve won my battle.
IV. Now many of you are “physically” ready for the battle…
Some of you have gone to church for years. Attended Bible Studies and Sunday School. Some of you may have “perfect attendance” pins from your youth. Some of you can recite all the Bible books in their order or find any passage you want in a matter of moments.
Physically, you may be in shape… But the question you need to ask yourselves now is this: are you mentally ready. Do you know what you need to know to give you the edge when you enter the ring?
V. You see, Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi for a reason.
He wanted them to understand the seriousness of what they were getting into. He wanted them to realize that this wasn’t a game… This was going to be a deadly struggle for the hearts & minds of mankind. And so, He wanted them bring them face to face with Hell itself
I have noticed that some of the most powerful witnesses for Christ have been those who have been to the gates of hell, and they haven’t liked what they have seen. They’ve been the drunks, the drug users, the sexually promiscuous. The type of people Jesus associated with: the prostitutes and tax collectors. The dregs of society, the sinners who everyone despised.
These people know what hell looks like, and they don’t want to live there anymore… and they don’t want anyone else going there either.
ILLUS: The problem for many of us Christians, is we don’t have a clue what hell is really like. Because we’ve not been to its gates and seen the emptiness and evil that lies on the other side. We’ve not been there, and frankly most of us have no desire to go. Years ago, anti-Pornography speakers were intent, not only on rallying people to the cause, but in exposing their audiences to stark images of the sexuality that is often so disgusting you have to turn away before its shame overtakes you. Their reasoning was, the more you saw of their depravity, the more opposed you’d become to the evils associated with porn. But I and many others had no desire to go and wallow in the wickedness of viewing this perversion. We felt that we would end up tainted by that which we already opposed.
So also, most Christians don’t need to go all the way into hell’s territory to know they don’t want to go there or have others go either. A wise man is someone who learns from the mistakes of others. Someone who doesn’t feel he has to hit his head against the wall to learn that it hurts! That’s a smart man
VI. Realize Jesus didn’t ask His disciples to LIVE like the pagans…
He just wanted them to see what Hell was like – so they would know what was at stake
He wanted them to realize they were in a struggle with an ungodly world.
So also, Jesus wants us to understand: we are in a struggle with an ungodly world. A world that didn’t think like we do. A world that doesn’t act like we do. A world that is held captive by Satan, by the power of guilt and shame and selfishness.
(pause…) A world that doesn’t know God.
It’s into this “ring”; into this arena of struggle and blood…that you & I have been called by God. To fight the good fight, and contend for the faith.
You and I have been called by Jesus to change the world around us
In the sermon on the mount Jesus told us “You are the salt of the earth…”. Matthew 5:13
What does that mean? It means the world doesn’t taste good. It is fouled by the bitterness of sin. You and I are called by God to flavor this world, to change its taste.
“ You are the light of the world…” Matthew 5:14.
What does that mean? It means the world is a dark and dismal place. Filled with forbidding corners where evil lurks in the shadows. You and I are called upon to shed the light of Christ into those corners and expose the harshness of wicked men.
You and I are called upon by God to make a difference. To storm the very gates of hell itself an take captive those who are bound for hell. We’re called to get into the ring and fight the good fight.
Now, I’m here to tell you, if you’re going to win this fight… if you’re going to accomplish what God has called you to do. Then, you’ve got to come to grips with what is at stake. You need to realize that people may very well go to heaven or hell depending on how they see you conduct yourself in the ring.
When you first became a Christian, you recited the same confession Peter made at Caesarea Philippi… “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God…” (have them repeat it with you).
And you were commended for that. In fact, the very foundation of your salvation is the realization that this is exactly who Jesus was. You cannot be saved if you are unwilling to make this confession.
But now, it comes down to – what does that confession mean to you?
When you made that confession, were you saying you expected to come and sit down and have God meet your every need? Cater to your every whim? Did it mean you got sit back and let God be your servant and come you beck and call?
Or, when you made that confession, did it mean you wanted to be His champion? The fighter for His cause? That His enemy (Satan) was now your enemy? And that you wanted to step into the ring and fight the good fight, making a difference in this world?
CLOSE: In the late 1800’s into the days of the Great Depression, there was a great evangelist that caught the imagination of the people. He was known not just as a great speaker but a great baseball player... his name was Billy Sunday.
One wouldn’t say that he stood in the pulpit, for he would range the stage pleading with people to understand the power of God and the grace of Christ.
At one point, he slid across the stage as if sliding into home plate to illustrate that becoming a Christian was much like sliding into home and God calling us safe.
Speaking on sin, Sunday said:
"I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve a foot, I’ll fight it as long as I have a fist, I’ll butt it as long as I have a head, I’ll bite it as long as I have a tooth. And when I’m old, and footless and fistless and toothless... I’ll gum it (pause…) until I go home to Glory and it goes home to perdition!"
SERMONS IN THIS SERIES
Rocky – Preparing for the Fight (Matthew 16:13-28)
Rocky II – The Real McCoy (Matthew 17:1-9)
Rocky III – KO’d (Luke 22:31-62)
Rocky VI – The Comeback Kid (Acts 4:1-31)