“Caution: Engage mind before engaging mouth” might be words of warning every person should review, before speaking in any situation. Jesus declares in Matthew 12:34 that our words reveal our inner man, and then goes on to emphasize that one’s actions are consistent with his thoughts (vs. 35, which echoes the basic point of Proverbs 23:7). Our Lord follows this with a warning, that each of us will have to account to God for every idle word we speak (vs. 36)! “Idle” denotes emptiness, or carelessness,and its root can even signify laziness in some circumstances. The cautionary words of verse 37 should “seal the deal” in motivating Christians to mind our speech; even our words will be considered in the day of judgement!
Chapter fourteen records the gruesome death of one of God’s greatest servants –the prophet, John the baptizer. John had been imprisoned by order of Herod because he spoke boldly about the king’s immoral relationship with Herodias. This wicked woman had deserted her legitimate husband (Herod’s brother Philip) in order to marry Herod, whose political “star” was rising. John had told the king plainly that he violated God’s law by marrying her (historically, both Jewish and Roman societies were scandalized by this event). Herodias hated John for this, and he paid for his boldness with his freedom. Matthew reveals that this venal woman seized an opportunity to ensure that John ultimately paid for his courage with his life (vv. 6-8), and Herod reluctantly gave the order to behead him (vv. 10-12). John’s sterling example of courage, and determined faithfulness to God and His message ought to inspire every Christian to maintain our dedication to the Lord in every circumstance and at all costs!
When the Pharisees and scribes challenged Jesus about allowing His disciples to violate their traditions (Matthew 15:1-2), our Lord used the opportunity to illustrate a very important point about what “counts” in religion. They had placed greater emphasis on the traditions of their ancestors than on keeping the Lord’s commandments (vv. 3-6): Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 to show that they had negated the value and purpose of their own worship by doing this. Not all “traditions” are bad or wrong (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15), but when we substitute things that we want or like for things that God commands, we have “dethroned” Him in our lives by replacing His will with ours. One of the basic points Jesus taught in the model prayer is to pray “thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10), not “my will be done.” In every aspect of life, it is vitally important for Christians to remember Who is ultimately in charge and control of all things (and it’s NOT us!).
In many ways, the conversation in Matthew 16:13-20 is the pivotal teaching of the entire book of Matthew. Through simple questions, Jesus guided the disciples to acknowledge His own identity, to grasp His fundamental purpose in this world, to comprehend the power He was bringing to bear in accomplishing that purpose, and to envision their own role in building His kingdom. Peter’s forthright statement in verse 16 (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”) settles once and for all the question of whether or not Jesus and His disciples knew “Who” He was before the cross. The word “Christ” is the Greek counterpart to “Messiah” in the old testament, and in the Jewish mind “Messiah” would be the fulfillment of all God’s promises from Abraham forward. Peter further cements his understanding of the Lord’s identity by describing Him as the “Son” of the living God –the One who is directly related to Him, entitled to share in His glory.
Many mistakenly infer from the Lord’s response to Peter’s confession (vs. 18) that Peter himself is the “rock” on which Jesus would build His church. This interpretation is the basis of Roman Catholicism’s claim that Peter was the original pope, and it overlooks the wordplay that is very obvious in the original Greek language. “Petros” (Peter) is the word for a pebble or small stone, while “petra” (rock) is the word for a bedrock, a large boulder or mountain ledge. The “rock” on which Jesus promised to build His church was the fact that Peter confessed –that Jesus is the Messiah –not the man Peter himself. Jesus also equates the church and the kingdom here, connecting the existence of one (vs. 18) with the other (vs. 19).