The Fair Service last week created a break in our series. Therefore, let me remind you that our system for the month of August is the endocrine system. This system controls the hormones in the body. The glands produce chemicals that are used throughout the rest of the body to keep it functioning properly. These glands include the adrenal and pituitary glands, the thyroid, the pancreas, and others.
As long as these glands are functioning properly the rest of the body is well-regulated, at least chemically. A well-regulated body allows for growth, a consistent metabolism, sexual function, the ability to sleep and avoid fatigue, digest foods properly, etc. But factors such as infections, injuries, and certainly stress can cause the hormones to become out of balance, and thus cause your body to struggle to function properly. In essence, when the glands are not able to communicate with each other and with the rest of the body, the communication within the body breaks down and the hormones (the messages sent throughout the body by the glands), lose the ability to help the body function at its best, and maybe even to function at all.
And that communication within the body is our link from the endocrine system of the human body to the communication within the body of Christ. The glands might be considered the leadership as they produce the chemicals for the rest of the human body, but they do so based upon the messages received from the rest of the body. Thus, if the body is in danger, a signal is sent to the adrenal gland to produce epinephrine (i.e. adrenaline) so the person can respond. But what if the adrenal gland does not respond or does not respond quickly enough? Then a problem occurs.
Likewise, what if leadership does not function properly? What if the communication within a church is broken or has a bottleneck? Oftentimes, many will not notice for a while, but eventually the impact will cause the entire organization to struggle. That is, lag may occur before it is noticed, but eventually, a problem will be noticed. Watch this short video. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
This experiment was done by Mike Wheatland, a professor of physics at the University of Sydney in Australia. I want you to watch it again. The top of the slinky recoils, but the bottom does not fall (or does not appear to fall). But eventually the whole slinky falls together.
Again, this video represents how a lack of clear and consistent communication can impact an organization. And that certainly includes the Church…and this church. Jesus may not have had a slinky, but He knew the importance of communication. In today’s post, I will show how Jesus ensured His closest followers were clear on what needed to be communicated. Because if they did not clearly understand, then the message – the entirety of the gospel, could be compromised.
Our text today is a familiar one to us. The passage is from Matthew 16 in which Peter makes the Great Confession – that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). I have covered this passage a few different times in various ways over the past five years especially. Two weeks ago, we looked at Peter’s statement in particular as we discussed Jesus and His communication. Today, we look at the broader context.
Let me briefly re-establish that context. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a set of parables about the Kingdom of heaven. In chapter 14, Jesus feeds 5000 (men), walks on water, and heals the sick. In chapter 15, he confronts the religious leaders, heals a demon-possessed girl because of the faith of a woman (who is Gentile), heals many others, and feeds 4000 (men, Gentiles). And that leads us to Chapter 16.
What happens in this chapter? We have a leader communicating with others. First, the human leaders come to challenge the Leader. They asked for a sign. Now, if you just read my previous paragraph, you are aware the Jesus did far more than one sign. What did they not like? The feedings? The healings? The walking on water? Certainly, they did not understand. And they did not like what Jesus had to say so they departed.
It is during this sequence that Jesus communicates with His closest followers. First, we have a story about their lack of understanding (see 16.5-11). But that story concludes with the fact they now began to understand.
And then, we have the story before us today. A story of listening. A story of sharing. A story of clarifying. In other words, it is a story filled with communication. I do not have space here to share about Caesarea Philippi, but the place where Jesus had this conversation was a place the rabbis said that “no good Jew would go.” Yet, Jesus chooses this location to make sure the disciples understand the truth of who He is and what that will mean for the future.
Listening to Others (Matthew 16.13-14)
Jesus begins by asking what others were saying about Him? Indeed, the others placed Jesus in pretty significant company – John the Baptist (who died in Chapter 14), Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other great prophet.
But the problem is when we listen to others who do not know the truth, we may be impressed, but we will miss out on the truth. It is not that we are not to communicate with others; but only listening to others, particularly those who are not “in the know,” can be misleading.
Jesus likely knew what others were saying. But Jesus was interested in something deeper. Jesus wanted to know if those who were close to Him saw a difference in what others thought and said versus what they had experienced first-hand.
And so, Jesus asks another question. “But who do you say that I am?”
Listening to Each Other (Matthew 16.15-16)
Peter is the one who answers this question. But the question was not just to Peter. The question of “Who do YOU say that I am?” was to all of the disciples. The Greek word for “you” used is in the plural. If we were in the South, the word might be “y’all” or “all y’all.”
So, yes, Peter answered. But based upon spending three years with Jesus, I am certain His answer was not just His own. What do I mean? The disciples spent a lot of time together. And that means they talked to one another. We know they argued with one another about which of them was the greatest. But we can also assume that they had conversations such as, “Can you believe He did that?” Thus, in talking to one another as followers of Jesus, they were better able to discern the truth of Jesus.
Now, Peter did provide the answer – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Again, that statement is loaded with significance that I do not have space for here (but have unpacked before). But what Peter said shows that in listening and communicating with one another they were beginning to understand what they truly needed to know.
And that leads us to Jesus’ response.
Listening to Jesus (Matthew 16.17-20)
The main message of this sermon is that we must communicate with others. As humans, we were made to connect with others. But, especially for the church, communicating is not enough. It is important to communicate the truth. And if we are going to communicate truth, then we must know what the truth is…or should I say, who the truth is…because, after all, Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14.6).
In this week’s passage, Jesus revealed the tool for His grand vision. That tool is the Church. The goal is the Kingdom, but the Church is the tool He has chosen to build in order to advance His Kingdom. Upon hearing Peter’s declaration, Jesus announced this idea for the first time. Take a moment to read Jesus’ words.
Read Matthew 16.17-19
The fact that the Church exists today shows that the apostles listened to Jesus, learned to understand what He meant, and carried on the task of helping to build the Church. Without a doubt, Jesus is the architect AND the supreme laborer of the task, but He wants us to partner with Him to build what He has promised to accomplish.
But just like the first disciples, we can only be effective at this if we also listen to Jesus.
Before I tie these three thoughts together, let me state that the order of these points is the reverse order for our lives. I have presented these ideas – that we should listen to others, to each other, and to Jesus – in the order they are found in these verses. But if we find ourselves listening in that order, we will become dazed and confused. Let me share what I mean based upon a vacation Susan and I took earlier this year.
For years, one of my bucket list items has been to drive 1 Hwy along the California coast. This past January, the Sons, Susan and I flew to LA to spend a few days and then drove to SF for a few more. Getting from LA to SF provided the opportunity. As we drove north it got cooler (which was expected), but the clouds increased and it started raining periodically. We were able to see the shoreline and got out occasionally, such as to see some sea lions right next to the shoreline. However, by the time we got to the ideal part of the drive the fog was so thick we could barely see the ocean below. We had been cruising along at the speed limit (or a little more), but once the fog hit, we had to slow down to maintain our bearings. Seeing the ocean became secondary, because seeing the road more than 20 feet in front of us became a challenge for somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes. The reality is that I can say that I have been along the coastal highway, but I did not get the full experience.
The same is true for many in the church. They come to church. They may even be a church member. But they miss the vision because of the fog…that is, the communication is not clear. Many factors can contribute to this, but when we have a vision, the fog will clear. That happened to us…we had two beautiful days in SF because that was our goal…we were able to withstand the fog because the overall goal was clear. We had communicated that we wanted to go to SF, and we had to navigate through some challenges to reach that goal. But we made it because we knew what the goal was.
The same is true with this story from Matthew. Jesus goal was to build His Church. The goal was not to build any church…it was to build His Church. Sometimes, we can get off track or we can get lost in the fog because we begin to listen to ourselves, or worse, listen to others. But when we focus on listening to Jesus we can keep the true vision in front of us to make sure that any fog is just a momentary challenge. When we focus on listening to Jesus, we can know that we will see the sunshine after the fog. How can we know? Because Jesus is the light of the world and so the Son is always shining. And He wants to shine through us.
Let me tie this back to endocrine system. The body works well when the glands receive the proper information and are then able to dispense the hormones properly. But when the glands are damaged or the information is damaged, the body suffers.
The same is true for the church. We must listen to others, and we must certainly listen to one another, but when we allow our focus to be on anything or anyone other than the one who promised to build His Church, then we will become unhealthy and begin to break down.
Thus, communication is key. Our primary focus is to communicate the Word of God with each and to others. But to do that, we must communicate about how and when we will meet, what we will do, how we will do what we do, etc. As I mentioned two weeks ago, everything – EVERYTHING – in the church relates to communication, from what we say to how we present ourselves and the building.
But for communication to be effective, understanding must take place. And that understanding begins with what we think about Jesus. And that is why…
Our JOURNEY letter for today is: Y – YOU.
Who do YOU say that Jesus is? That is the only question that really matters. But the related question is this – If you believe Jesus is who He said He is, then what are you doing about it?
PRINCIPLE: Effective communication creates understanding, which is key for the success of any organization.
QUESTION: How can we, as a church, improve our communication with Jesus, with one another, and for the benefit of others?
OPPORTUNITY: Be a part of our post-renewal conversations on Sunday evening.
NEXT STEP(S): LIVE: Communicating effectively includes speaking, but it also includes listening. As Stephen Covey said, “We should first seek to understand, and then to be understood.”