Preparing to Receive Christ: Something More Than Flesh and Blood
How Do You Make Room in Your Heart for Christ?
One of the favorite Advent hymns that we sing during this time of year makes a connection between Christ's coming into history, and Christ's coming into our hearts:
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me,
But in Bethlehem's home there was found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus:
There is room in my heart for Thee!
As I pondered what focus our Advent messages should have this year, the question I asked was, How do you make room in your heart for Christ? How is the heart prepared to receive Christ? This is a very basic and important question.
The Importance of the Question
It is important for those of you who do not yet have Christ dwelling in your heart. Romans 8:9 says, "Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." And not to belong to Christ is the greatest tragedy of this life and the next.
It is important for those of us who do have Christ dwelling in our heart but do not yet have a full and clear understanding of how he came to be there. When you read the letters of Paul, all written for professing Christians, it is amazing how he never tires of telling us how we got to be Christians.
In Romans he says, "We know that our old self was crucified with him so that . . . we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
In 1 Corinthians, "Consider your call, brothers; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards . . . but God chose what is foolish in the world."
In 2 Corinthians he says, "You are a letter . . . written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."
In Galatians he says, "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?"
In Ephesians he says, "You who were dead in trespasses and sins he made alive"
And so on!
Paul never tires of telling us how we became Christians. He reminds us again and again who we are by telling us how we got to be this way. And so it must be very important that we be reminded again and again how we came to have Christ dwelling in our hearts. From my own experience I can say that there are at least four effects of being reminded (as I have been in preparing this message) of how Christ came to dwell in my heart:
- it elevates Christ in my affections,
- it endears the Holy Spirit to me,
- it deepens my security in the love of God,
- it humbles me and makes me more eager and ready to entreat others to receive Christ into their hearts as well.
So I want to ask the question in the next four weeks: How do we make room in our hearts for Christ? How is the heart prepared to receive Christ? Each of our four advent messages will give part of the answer.
Recognizing Jesus for Who He Really Is
Today's answer to the question how the heart is prepared to receive Christ comes from Matthew 16:13–20.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
In this text Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" So I am going to observe first of all that we prepare our hearts to receive Christ by recognizing who he really is. It's very important that we know what it means to receive Christ for who he really is.
Christ Not Honored by Our Ignorance
Suppose your doorbell rings and you answer it and discover there a famous person, say Billy Graham, and you swing the door wide and give him the best seat and serve him on your best china and generally make a big fuss over him—and then discover that it isn't Billy Graham at all. And suppose he asks you why you are making such a big affair out of his presence, and you answer, "O I thought you were Billy Graham." What have you done to your guest? You have belittled him. He thought your honor was for him, but it was really for someone else because you didn't recognize who he really was.
That's the way it is if we try to receive Christ into our hearts not knowing who he really is. He is not honored by our ignorance. You can't honor someone by bestowing favors on them when you mistake them for someone they really aren't.
So in order to receive Christ in a way that honors him, in a way that saves, we must recognize who he really is. We must see his glory and agree in our heart that he is indeed worthy of all our trust and obedience.
How Did Peter Know Christ's True Identity?
In this text Jesus queries the disciples to see if they have arrived at that kind of knowledge of who he really is. Verse 15: "Who do you say that I am?" Peter answers for the group in verse 16: "You are the Christ [the long-awaited Messiah] the Son of the living God."
Jesus says Peter is blessed for giving that answer. So now the question becomes, How did Peter come to have this true insight into the identity of Jesus Christ How did he know who he really was? That is our main question this morning. How is the heart prepared to recognize Jesus so that he can be received for who he really is?
Verse 17 gives the answer of Jesus:
Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."
So the answer to our question is that to recognize Jesus for who he really is, you need something more than flesh and blood. Or to put it more positively, to recognize and receive Christ for who he really is, God the Father must reveal it to you.
What Everyone Should Ask Themselves
To make this text and this message very personal this morning, every one of you should now ask,
- "Has God done this for me?"
- "How did he do it?"
- "What was it like in my experience when God revealed to me that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God?"
- "What difference has it made in my life that God the Father has revealed to me the true glory of his Son, Jesus Christ?"
My guess is that many of you, as you sit there, are saying, "I can't answer those questions. I've never even thought of my conversion in those terms." Well, don't panic, because every person who has ever been converted to Christ was converted on the basis of a very limited understanding of what was happening.
One person might say, "I believed on Jesus."
Another might say, "I prayed to receive Christ."
Another might say, "I confessed Jesus as Lord and believed in my heart that God raised him from the dead."
Another might say, "I was born again."
Another, "I was crucified with Christ and now walk by faith."
Every person who has ever been converted to Christ was converted on the basis of a limited understanding of what was really happening. So don't be surprised that there may be biblical descriptions of what happened to you that you may not yet understand. It takes a lifetime to grasp the depth and wonder of the miracle of conversion to Christ.
So I pray that what you will do with the rest of this message is first test yourself to see if this has really happened to you, and then, if it has, let your trust in God ripen into a deeper affection and zeal because of his tremendous love to you described in this passage.
Two Questions About Matthew 16:17
Let's ask two questions to unfold the meaning of Matthew 16:17:
- What is being denied when Jesus says, "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you"?
- What is being affirmed when Jesus says, "My Father in heaven has revealed this to you"? In other words, how does God reveal the true identity of his Son to an individual person?
Let's take these two questions one at a time.
1. What Is Being Denied?
What is being denied in verse 17 when Jesus says, "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you—flesh and blood has not revealed to you that I am the Messiah and the Son of God"?
"Flesh and Blood"
The phrase "flesh and blood" is use four other times in the New Testament.
1 Corinthians 15:50 (speaking of the resurrection body), "I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable."
The meaning seems to be that ordinary human nature will not be raised. There will be a change. There will be a spiritual body, similar, yet different. Flesh and blood is man in his present limited, ordinary state.
Galatians 1:15–17 (Paul speaking of his own conversion), "When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem."
This is an amazing parallel to Matthew 16:17. God "reveals" the Son to Paul and Paul does not confer with "flesh and blood," that is, he does not confer with man. He goes away to Arabia.
Ephesians 6:12, "We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
So flesh and blood is the merely human non-supernatural forces in the world. These are not our real enemies: the real ones are supernatural.
Hebrews 2:14 (concerning Jesus' incarnation), "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature."
In other words, Christ took on human nature and became man.
So my conclusion from all these uses of the phrase "flesh and blood" is that it is simply a way of referring to ordinary humanity, finite, limited, natural.
The Inability of Mere Human Power
So when Jesus denies that "flesh and blood" has revealed his true identity to Peter, he is saying that mere human powers by themselves cannot recognize the true glory of Christ. Neither your humanity nor anyone else's has opened the eyes of your heart to recognize the truth and beauty of Christ.
This was the teaching of Jesus that Paul unfolded 1 Corinthians 2:14,
The natural man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
The "natural man" in 1 Corinthians 2:14 is basically the same as "flesh and blood" in Matthew 16:17. "Flesh and blood" cannot reveal the true spiritual reality of Christ and the "natural man" cannot know the gifts of the Spirit of God.
Why Flesh and Blood Cannot Reveal Jesus' True Identity
Because (as Paul says) apart from the Spirit of God we inevitably assess heavenly things as "foolish." Apart from the work of God in our hearts we don't like the humiliating implications of Christmas:
- that we are under a curse and need a Savior,
- that we are dirty and need a Purifier,
- that we are lost sheep and need a Shepherd,
- that we are sick and need a Physician,
- that we are rebels and need a Mediator and Reconciler.
The inevitable reflex of our natural antipathy toward this truth is blindness. Why can't flesh and blood see the light of the glory of God in Jesus Christ? Jesus said in John 3:19, "Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." We inevitably love darkness; that's why we can't see the light. No one is blind against his will. The blindness of fallen flesh and blood is simply this: fallen flesh and blood hates the light.
And so Peter did not own up to the truth of Jesus by means of his own powers. Flesh and blood could never reveal such a wonderful thing as the true Messiahship and Sonship of Jesus. Something more than flesh and blood would be required in order to recognize Christ for what he really is.
If any of us in this room has recognized in Jesus the glory of the Son of God and acknowledged him as the fulfiller of all God's promises—the Messiah, then something more has been at work on us than flesh and blood. That leads us to the second question.
2. What Is Being Affirmed?
What does Jesus mean in Matthew 16:17 when he says, "My Father in heaven has revealed this to you"? How does God reveal the true identity of his Son to an individual person?
Not Something Other Than What Is Seen in Jesus
What happened in Peter's heart and your heart that can be called a revelation of the Son of God? Did God speak to you in a dream and tell you to believe the Bible? Did thunder strike when you were reading a certain verse about the deity of Christ?
I would be very suspicious of such things because in themselves they do not honor Christ—if Christ knocks at your door and you don't recognize him and welcome him as Christ because of his own glory, but you only let him in because someone calls you on the phone and tells you that he is coming and that you better let him in, then you have not really recognized Christ for who he is. It's no honor to him to be admitted on the word of another.
Is this the way God revealed the Son to Peter? Was Peter looking at the work of Jesus and the listening to the teaching of Jesus and seeing nothing but a prophet and a rabbi and a friend until God came to Peter in a dream or a vision and said that, contrary to all appearances and evidences, this Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God? And was Peter's confession then based on this new information so that it meant something like this: "Jesus, personally I don't see the marks of divinity in you and I don't see the works of a Messiah or any evidence that you are the Son of God, but on the basis of last night's dream I believe it anyway. You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God"?
If that is what happened, then the confession of Peter is not much credit to Jesus, is it? If the recognition of Jesus' true dignity and glory as the Son of God is based on some separate information than what we see in him, then our confession doesn't glorify Jesus.
I don't think this is what Jesus meant when he said that his Father had revealed Jesus to Peter. What did he mean?
Opening Our Eyes to See What Is Really There
We only have time to give one illustration from many possibilities (11:21; 14:33; 15:13–14; 21:38; 23:16; etc.) of how Jesus expected people to recognize him for who he really was. In Matthew 11:2–6 John the Baptist is struggling with doubt about Jesus in the prison. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" In other words are you really the Messiah?—the very question that Jesus says you can only answer willingly if God reveals it to you.
But how does Jesus answer John's question? Does he say, "Pray, John, for a special revelation, and God will tell you if I am the Christ"? No. He says, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me."
Now if you can only recognize Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God by means of a divine revelation of God, why does Jesus answer John's desperate question with a human report of his power and his preaching?
My answer is this: the absolutely indispensable work of God in revealing the Son both then to John and Peter and now to me and you is NOT the adding to what we see and hear in Jesus himself, but the opening of the eyes of our hearts to taste the true divine glory of what is really there in Jesus.
When people have doubts about the truth of Jesus, don't send them away to seek special messages from God. Point them to Christ. Tell them what you have seen and heard in his life and teachings. Why? Because this is where God breaks in with his revealing power. He loves to glorify his SON! He loves to open the eyes of the blind when they are looking at his SON!
God does not reveal his Son to me by coming to me and saying, "Now, John, I know that you don't see anything magnificent in my Son. You don't see him as all glorious and divine and attractive above all worldly goods. You don't see him as your all-satisfying treasure, and you don't see his holiness and wisdom and power and love as beautiful beyond measure. But take my word for it, he is all that. Just believe it."
NO!! Such faith is no honor to the Son of God. It cannot glorify the Son. Saving faith is based on a spiritual sight of Jesus as he is in himself, the all glorious Son of God. And this spiritual sight is given to us through his inspired Word. And the eyes of our hearts are opened to recognize him and receive him not by the wisdom of flesh and blood but by the revealing work of his heavenly Father.
The apostle Paul said,
It is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
How shall you prepare your heart this Christmas to receive Christ? Fix your gaze on him in his Word. Look to Christ! Consider Jesus. And pray, beyond your own flesh and blood, that God would give you eyes to see and ears to hear that you might cry out with Peter, "You are the Christ the Son of the living God!"
For further reflection on this great subject see Matthew 11:25–27; 13:10; John 6:44, 45, 65; 6:37; 17:6; Romans 8:8; 1 Corinthians 1:21–30; Acts 16:14; Luke 24:45; 1 John 3:6; 3 John 11.