By Josh Bundy
“Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Matthew 16:20
One of the most important ideas in the book of Matthew is that knowing the truth about Jesus does not give license to represent him. In a famous event, the most important verse might be the most overlooked.
In front of the pagan temples at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter speaks truly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus says, “Right on Pete!” (Well, he says a little more than that, but generally he agrees that this is the right answer. Good job Peter!) Everything seems to be going well, the disciples are catching on to who he is, we expect the next thing Jesus says to be a great commission “go tell the world” kind of thing. (For example, we might expect Matthew 28:16-20 to be said right here). But that is not what Jesus says. Jesus, as usual, surprises the disciples and surprises us as well. Jesus says, keep it to yourself.
I have talked about this at least once at Covenant, but in case you missed it let me summarize: Jesus has good reason to tell the disciples to zip their lips. Almost immediately after Peter speak this one truth, he tells Jesus not to go die in Jerusalem (oops), and days later the firebrand brothers, James and John, try to destroy an entire Samaritan village for nothing more than disrespecting Jesus. (Read about these in Matthew 16:21-25 and Luke 9:51-56, respectively). Clearly, these guys are not ready to represent Jesus.
This simple, important, idea shows that knowing who Jesus is, is not the same as knowing what Jesus is for. Knowing truth about Jesus is not the same thing as being developed by Jesus. Peter, James, and John knew the truest truth of all time (Jesus is God’s anointed savior of the world) and still knew it wrongly. Or maybe we should say, they had the facts and timeline right but drew the wrong conclusions.
Here's an idea about discipleship, being an apprentice of Jesus and imitating him, that I stumbled into the other day while reading Dallas Willard:
"In order to become a disciple of Jesus, then, one must believe in him. In order to develop as his disciple one must progressively come to believe what he knew to be so. To enter his kingdom, we believe in him. To be at home in his kingdom, learning to reign with him there, we must share his beliefs." (Divine Conspiracy, 319)
Willard strikes the nail home with a single blow. Karate Kid style. He identified that believing in Jesus is not the same as believing Jesus’ beliefs. Believing in Jesus gets us saved/started/launched. Believing Jesus’ beliefs grows us up, matures us, brings us home. What is the difference between the two? Everything!
Believing in Jesus means trusting he is the way. Even if we don’t know how. Even if we don’t know what Messiah is for, or what Messiah does. Believing in Jesus puts us under his saving grace and into his apprenticeship program.
But like Peter, James, and John we are nowhere near ready to represent Jesus and speak for him simply because we believe in him and can articulate the truth about his identity. Jesus wants us to believe his beliefs. What are Jesus’ beliefs? Well, a very oversimplified sketch might help:
- Jesus believed in blessing enemies (and he did)
- Jesus believed in eating with opponents and respecting them (and he did)
- Jesus believed in simplicity (and he didn’t take many possessions with him)
- Jesus believed in God’s direct guidance (and he spent enough time praying to make his friends question his productivity)
- Jesus believed in dying for enemies instead of crushing them (and he did die for them)
- Jesus believed in spending quality time with non-influencers (and he welcomed the children into his lap and stopped for one-off conversions)
Jesus believed in many things that are only beliefs if they are enacted. They are not beliefs known to the mind, but to the heart and hands. Jesus wanted Peter, James, and John to know these beliefs from their hearts and hands before they represented him and made copies (followers). Jesus did not want them to just believe in him, but to see the world his way and make choices like his choices and go all-in for his way of being. This was apprenticeship to Jesus.