Today’s read came from Matthew 16-18, along with corresponding passages in the other gospels. As Jesus and His disciples travel from village to village, healing the sick and interacting with the crowds, He gives them personal “lessons in discipleship” along the way. He reveals the high cost of being His disciple, for those who want to follow Jesus must deny themselves and take up their cross (die daily to self-interests). They must be willing to align themselves with Jesus publicly, unashamedly.
When the disciples are unable to cast out an impure spirit that is tormenting a little boy, Jesus teaches them about faith as small as a mustard seed that can move mountains. Later He makes a bold claim: if two or more agree in prayer about anything, it will be done for them by the Father. Of course, we have to read this in the context of other teaching Jesus did on prayer, where He taught us that we must ask “in His name” and “according to the will of the Father” (John 14:14; 16:23, 1 John 5:14).
Jesus reminds us that those who are last will be first, and if we want to be great, we should be servants of all. He teaches about forgiveness and settling offenses between Christian brothers and sisters. We are never to withhold forgiveness if the offender repents, no matter how many times. We are to extend forgiveness to others because we have been forgiven much.
Jesus also taught His disciples of the importance of not causing each other to stumble in their faith. Very often we refer to this as a “stumbling block principle” and use Paul’s teaching to guide our decisions. Paul taught us we should give up our freedom if it might cause another, weaker, brother to sin. He used examples of eating certain foods or drinking wine (Romans 14:21, 1 Corinthians 8). But Jesus takes this even more seriously, saying things that cause people to stumble will come, but “woe to the person through whom they come.” He warns that if anyone causes a “little one” (immature believer) to stumble, that it would be “better to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
By this time, the disciples were realizing that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Peter, James, and John were privileged to witness His transfiguration, glimpsing His true, glorious state. They heard God’s voice affirming Him as the Son of God and saw Him talking with Moses and Elijah. They knew they were in the presence of deity and had been called to serve the Creator of the world. Yet, service in Jesus’ kingdom was nothing like what they expected. There would be no earthly honor or wealth or prestige or position that one would expect when serving in intimate closeness to a King. Instead, they were called to the very opposite, to give up everything, consider others more important, serve as the lowest servant, set aside their own desires and rights.
Take up my cross.
Serve everyone else.
Give up my rights
Set aside my freedom.
Pray with great faith, according to God’s will.
These are a few of the marks of a disciple of Jesus. The takeaway today is to examine ourselves and ask God to show us anywhere we have forgotten what it truly means to follow Him.