The Messiah’s Kingdom Citizens
Read Matthew 15-16 out loud.
After highlighting Jesus’ compassion, power, and divinity in chapter 14, Matthew shifts his focus onto the hypocrisy of the religious elite in the beginning of chapter 15. In verses 1-20, Jesus underscores the importance of maintaining a heart-level loyalty to the Lord rather than keeping the external traditions of men. Against the backdrop of the hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership, we are introduced to the authentic faith of a Canaanite woman. Long considered the enemy of the Jewish people, Canaanites were the last people one would expect to trust in the Jewish Messiah. And yet, this Canaanite woman was rewarded for her humble, persistent faith. In the remaining verses of chapter 15, Jesus goes on to heal and feed many in Gentile regions, signifying that the citizenry of the Messiah’s Kingdom is not made up of Jews only, but of all who trust in the universal lordship of Jesus Christ.
As chapter 16 opens, the Pharisees again take center-stage. This time they test Jesus by demanding a sign from him. Jesus responds to this demand by calling them out for their evil intent. Afterward, Jesus turns to his disciples and warns them that the teaching of these religious leaders is like leaven which continues to spread and grow. In contrast with the falsehood of the Pharisees, we find the truth of Jesus’ messianic identity disclosed in the testimony of Peter in verses 13-20. This messianic identity does not conform to the preconceptions of man, however. After rebuking Peter for believing otherwise, Jesus instructs his disciples that true citizenship in his kingdom involves the kind of self-denial and sacrifice that Jesus, himself, will soon embody.
- Why do you think it’s so easy to become, as the Pharisees were, preoccupied with the condition of the external and neglect the internal condition of the heart?
- What are ways you struggle with this today?
- How did Jesus show kindness to the Canaanite woman? How does this story encourage you?
- How did Peter set his mind on the things of man rather than God? In what way(s) does Jesus’ instruction in Matt. 16:24-28 correct that kind of thinking? How do you need to put into practice the kind of discipleship we read in this passage?
Ask God to give you grace to focus on the inward condition of your heart rather than on external appearances, and that by doing so, you would be drawn into a deeper level of discipleship and self-denial for the sake of the Messiah’s Kingdom.