New Testament Weeks 13, 14, 16: “Help Thou Mine Unbelief” – Matt 16-18, Luke 9-10, Mark 9

This week’s lesson is a combination of three manual lessons. However, what I have realized during the preparation is that the information in these chapters really work quite well for one lesson. We are going to finish up Jesus’s ministry in the north, experience His formal founding of the Christian Church, and see him set up camp in an area just outside of Jerusalem. At the end of these chapters we will be less than 6 months from the culmination of Christ’s ministry.

I felt like it would be appropriate to ask everyone how they feel the focus on studying the scriptures with your families and loved ones is going. I think you should ask yourself and those you study with what is working well, what isn’t working well and potentially make some adjustments.

For my part, I have found the more devoted study and preparation an enormous blessing. I feel as though I have been getting closer to the Savior and feel more love for Him. I also feel like my children are more interested in the scriptures, they ask great questions and love to participate. They haven’t really been reading the scriptures each day or anything, but they look forward to the discussions and they have been taking many of the lessons to heart. The other day my oldest boy had his head down while we were at Disneyland and I thought he was pouting so I said, “What is wrong?” and he just looked up and replied, “I was just saying a prayer.” It made me feel guilty for thinking he was pouting, but it also made me proud that he would say a prayer in a place with so many distractions. I like to think that our family discussions and focus on the Savior has been affecting our family in a positive way.

As a reminder, this lesson will cover the next few lessons, next week I will just be posting an essay on the Savior with it being Easter. Then we will be back on schedule for the last months of the Savior’s life.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 13, 14, 16 – Matt 16-18, Luke 9-10, Mark 9

– We all need to seek and obtain a spiritual witness that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

– Christ established a church when he was alive with the intent to bring more people into His fold, but not as a rigid structure meant to exclude and ignore those who are not in the fold.

– Faith and Doubt are both part of our discipleship. The one that grows is the one we feed.

Context and Timeline:
– Caesarea Philippi was the capital city of Phillip the Tetrarch’s domain. He was the brother of Herod of Antipas. It was a large and diverse city with many different ethnic cultures represented. There were many lavish temples built to Roman and Greek gods.

– There is great debate among scholars about the location of the Mount of Transfiguration. For centuries it was traditional to believe it was Mt. Tabor. More recent scholarship believes the mount needed to be closer to Caesarea Philippi and therefore many believe it is Mt. Hermon. There are other mountains and hills in the area that could be the site.

– Transfiguration is something we believe happens when the Holy Spirit alters our mortal bodies in a way that makes it possible to endure the presence of the Glory of God. The translation of the word transfigure confirms that it was a physical change to the Savior. Luke’s account is the only account that confirms a conversation between Jesus and the messengers regarding His mission to Jerusalem that is to follow. There was probably many things taught and learned in this experience that Peter James and John would keep sacred for themselves.

– When Jesus confers authority on his apostles and the seventy, it would have been done with his hands. Anciently conferring authority must be done through placing hands on the person who would be receiving the authority by the one already possessing it.

– Temple Tax was a half shekel fee that was paid for the upkeep and maintenance of the Jewish Temples.

– In the King James translation of the scriptures Matthew 18:6 the scripture reads “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck.” I think we have interpreted this in our times as some kind of abuse against children, and that is probably part of it. However, the actual word that was rendered “offend” is skandalizo which is better translated as putting a stumbling block in front of someone. So the actions that could cause little ones to stumble and lose their faith in Jesus Christ are much greater than just abuse. If we put stumbling blocks in the way of people’s faith, especially little ones, then Jesus will not be pleased. I think this is something we should think through in our lives.

– Myriad of Talents in the Unforgiving Servant parable is actually depicting a sum of money close to 3B dollars in their money, or more money in all the world.

– The actions of Martha when she is busy serving is the word diakonia. This word is the root word for a later word in the bible called Deacon. A deacon was meant to serve the way Martha served. So even though Martha seems to be called out by Jesus for her wishing Mary was helping her, Martha’s efforts to serve and prepare the house for the Lord are a lasting example of the service that Deacons provide for the church.

The narrative continues in Northern Galilee with Jesus being challenged by Pharisees and Sadduces to produce a sign from heaven. He responds that the sign of Jonah (his resurrection on the third day) is the only sign they will get. The group then heads toward Caearea Philippi and on the way Jesus compares the teachings of the Pharisees to bad leaven in bread. This warning from Jesus is misconstrued at first by the disciples traveling with him. They ask where the bread is going to come from, and He reminds the hungry disciples that they already witnessed the feeding of five thousand and four thousand from a few loaves of bread, so if He wanted bread that wouldn’t be a problem. He then repeats the warning to be wary of the leaven (teachings) of the Pharisees.

Eventually they arrive in Caesarea Philippi and Jesus asks the disciples who the people say that He is. The let him know that some people think He is John, others Elijah, and some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. At this point Jesus seems to be getting frustrated that so many people are not understanding and so He asks the disciples who they think He is. This sets up a very crucial moment in the ministry of Jesus.

Peter famously declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus can tell that something has changed with Peter and tells him that this knowledge has come from God as a revelation. Jesus then proceeds to address Peter, and tell him that “on this rock” I will build my church and the gates of hell will have no power over it.

The question that has been debated for ages is what is the rock? Is it Peter, as traditional Catholicism holds? Is it the declaration that Jesus Christ is the Savior as protestant Christianity holds? Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe the rock is the revelation that Peter received and that revelation is the foundation for Christ’s church.

I actually have a slightly different take, although it more closely aligns with LDS thinking. I believe the rock is the Apostolic witness that Jesus is the Christ declared by Peter. It isn’t so vague as just revelation, even though Apostles are clearly called to direct the church through revelation, but more specifically the rock is revelation regarding Jesus Christ to Apostles who have been given authority to declare their witness to the world. These will always be men who have weakness, make wrong decisions, come from diverse backgrounds, but that have received a certain witness that Jesus is the Christ and that He is the Son of the Living God from God. That they will seek to bring the gospel message of hope and joy to all the world.

Jesus goes on to introduce the fact that He will give Peter the “Keys of the Kingdom” and that these keys will bind heaven to their leadership of the church. He will discuss this again later, but at this point the baton has been passed. Peter and the apostles who have been given authority are now tasked with growing and leading the newly formed church. The chapters we are studying cover a number of different topics where Jesus teaches the disciples and apostles about how they should lead the church. I am going to address all of those in one section, so for now, we will continue with the narrative.

Six days after Peter, and apparently James and John, have received their witness that Jesus is the Christ they follow Jesus up a mountain. In past times, Jesus had went in the mountains by himself to commune with God, but now that they are ready He takes them along. They then witness something even more spectacular than anything they have seen before. Jesus is transformed spiritually before their eyes and visited by Moses and Elijah. In Luke’s account they discuss with Jesus his pending mission and journey to Jerusalem. The apostles, unsure of what to do, ask if they should make three monuments to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Making monuments in places where people commune with God was a common practice of Israelites through the generations. Before Jesus can answer an even more astonishing things happens and they hear the voice of God the Father, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am pleased; hear Him” The apostles are stunned and fall to their faces in fear, but Jesus comes to embrace and comfort them.

I can scarcely imagine their feelings at this time, but Jesus asks them to keep their experience secret until Jesus is resurrected. He then explains that Elijah has both come and will still come to restore all things. They realized the Elijah who has come was John the Baptist but the Elijah yet to come is not discussed.

As they are speaking they come to a scene with the other disciples being questioned by some local scribes and citizens. Apparently a man had brought his son to be healed by the disciples and they were unable to heal him. The man begs Jesus to heal his son. Jesus first rebukes the disciples for not having the faith to heal the boy. He then asks the man if he believes that his son can be healed. The man says he believes, but asks Jesus to help his unbelief. It is easy to relate to the man, after disciples failed to heal the boy there is no question that he doubted whether a miracle was possible. Jesus has compassion and heals the boy and then follows up the healing by explaining that sometimes miracles require fasting and prayer.

At this point Jesus conveys the urgency that the disciples need to increase their faith by more explicitly letting them know that when he gets to Jerusalem He is going to be delivered into the hands of men who will kill Him. He reiterates that He will rise again from the dead on the third day, but they were sad and afraid at his words.

Jesus then begins his journey to Jerusalem. On the way from the north they pass through Capernaum again and Jesus pays the temple tax, as is custom. The next point on the journey we experience is another Samaritan village. However, in this village Jesus is rejected because He is traveling to Jerusalem to minister to Jews. Keeping in mind the way Jews and Samaritans felt about each other, we get to see an example that even the Lord could not make everyone happy. He had ministered to Samaritans when no one else would, but because He also ministered to Jews they rejected Him. I think we can all remind ourselves that sometimes there is nothing we can do to make all people happy.

Sometime after the rejection in Samaria, Jesus arrives at the home of Mary and Martha. They are the sisters of one of Jesus’s best friends Lazarus. This episode is famous as Mary sits and learns from Jesus while Martha is busy cleaning up and doing all the chores. Martha gets upset and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help. Jesus then gently reminds Martha that Mary is choosing the right thing by being with the Lord. I think this can remind us that even though our responsibilities matter and should be attended to, they also are not a priority above our relationship with Jesus Christ and our discipleship.

At this point I want to discuss all the different teachings Jesus presents to the disciples in these chapters related to governing the church. Some of these conversations happened in the north, but many of them seem to happen on the journey from the north to Jerusalem. Some may have even been discussed after their arrival in the area around Jerusalem.

  • Taking Up the Cross
    • Jesus reiterates to the disciples that following the Savior and leading other disciples requires the same sacrifice the Lord is making. We must deal with our crosses and expect it to be difficult. We cannot give up.
  • Ministering to the Lost Sheep
    • It is never okay to despise those on the fringes of the fold
    • We must leave the 99 to minister to the 1 who is lost
    • The purpose of ministering is to reunite with the Lord
    • Joy is what comes form the reunion of the lost
  • Authority and Keys that govern
    • Keys are given so there is some order in the safe guarding of the church.
    • What is bound by keys on earth is bound in heaven
  • Judgment and Governing
    • There are times when someone sins against the fold that leaders must ask them to change
    • If the offender rejects that change and they may be a danger to the fold they can then be asked to stay away from the fold
    • Multiple witnesses is necessary for removing from the fold
  • Forgiveness and Mercy – Unforgiving Servant
    • There is no limit to the forgiveness we must show to each other especially in regards to someone’s participating in the fold
    • God forgave the servant over 3 billion dollars in their reckoning and then the servant wouldn’t forgive another man a couple of dollars.
    • We are always going to be forgiven by God when we seek it, so we must forgive others.
  • Seventies – Missionaries to organize more churches
    • Jesus calls special missionaries to establish his church and they are called and given authority.
    • They have success healing, and teaching, and spreading the word. We make the assumption they baptized as well.
    • This begins the true growth of the early Christian church.
  • Do not be a stumbling block
    • A millstone (100 pounds or more) should be hung around our neck if we seek to cause children to stumble in their journey of faith.
    • Jesus has just taught that we must all be little children to make it to the Kingdom of Heaven.
    • We must think about our actions and words and how they could cause others to stumble. It is imperative that we learn compassion and understanding for others. We can teach true things in a way that invites and loves without condemnation.
    • Jesus usually only condemns the leaders.
  • The church is needed for the Youth
    • It may just be me, but it seems that one of the primary purposes of a church is to assist in the raising and teaching of children the gospel.
    • Generations fail when they lose touch with Jesus Christ and the gospel.
    • When I read these chapters it just feels like Jesus is teaching us how to protect future generations with a church. A church may not be necessary otherwise.
  • Don’t be too tribal –
    • Some disciples complain that there are others who have not followed them casting out devils and healing in Jesus’s name. Jesus tells them that whoever is not against us is with us.
    • It can be easy to separate ourselves into “us” and “them” but the Lord is clearly telling us that is not part of the gospel plan. We can have fellowship with the saints and still love and minister to everyone else. This is best taught int he great parable “The Good Samaritan”
    • Good Samaritan is one of the greatest parables. We help because we are all God’s children, and tribalism can be a stumbling block if we allow it.
    • Here is an interesting analysis of the Parable:
      • A man = all mankind
      • went down = left pre-mortal experience
      • from Jerusalem = from presence of God
      • to Jericho = to mortal world
      • fell = fallen state
      • among robbers = Satan, trials
      • stripped him = removed his connection with God
      • wounded him = pains of mortality
      • left him half dead = first of two deaths
      • priest and Levite = those with only partial authority
      • passed by = lacked the authority to save
      • Samaritan = Jesus Christ, most despised
      • saw = knowing and seeing all
      • had compassion = the Pure love of Christ
      • went to him = succored him
      • bound his wounds = binds to Christ through covenants
      • pouring in = filling him up
      • oil = healing, anointing, Holy Spirit
      • wine = atoning blood of Christ
      • on his own beast = help of disciples
      • inn = Church, but not final destination
      • on the morrow = born again
      • inn keeper = Church leaders
      • when I come again = Second Coming
      • repay = cover all costs and debts, heavenly reward
    • I recommend having a good conversation about the Parable of the Good Samaritan if you can with your friends and family.
    • “Further, we are sometimes too afraid of going out of organizational channels. We ought to read, again and again, that story of the Good Samaritan who crossed the street to help.” – Neal A Maxwell on how we sometimes act because of the church.

One of the things that really stood out to me is that governing the church, or the Body of Christ, is not a one size fits all thing. There are principles that help govern, but in general it is a difficult thing to do. Mixing that with the imperfect nature of people will make the church, and its leaders, at the same time a stumbling block and a blessing for the followers of the Lord.

In what ways can the things we teach each other be compared to leaven? Do we teach things that help people’s hearts and minds expand and grow? Or do we teach things that box people in and beat them down?

Why do you think Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to wait until His resurrection to tell about their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration? What does this say about talking to people about our own spiritual experiences?

Why is the Good Samaritan parable so popular, yet so often unfollowed in the world around us? What can we do in our own personal lives to remove the tribalism that causes so much contention? Are we willing to admit that we have tribal tendencies?

With the church organized, and a good number of leaders to keep it going, how do you think Jesus felt as he began His journey back to Jerusalem to face His death?

Key Moment or Scripture: Mark 9:17-27
17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;
18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.
19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.
20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.
21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.
22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.
26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.
27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.

As a group of people, Latter Day Saints, are not the best at dealing with doubt. It is easy to focus so much on “knowing” things in our testimonies and expecting that everyone else “knows” the same things. This cultural expectation makes doubt an enemy. This paradigm is problematic because by definition faith cannot exist without doubt. Faith isn’t knowing, it is believing and acting even when we might have doubts.

Doubt is actually the thing that causes the choices most important to the growth of our faith. Uncertainty, fear, questions, and doubt can call into question our decisions, our beliefs, and things we may think we have to know. However, as shown in this scripture story, the man says he believes, but also admits he is afraid he might be wrong and asks for strength. This act of humbly admitting his faith isn’t knowing, is an even more impressive act of faith than many others’ certain acts of faith, and it results in the healing of his son. He chose faith rather than his doubt.

The choice between our doubt and our faith is where the war for our souls is fought. It is also the place where our faith can be increased the most. In order for this to happen though, we cannot look at our uncertainties and doubts as evil thoughts or rebellions. They must be looked at as inflection points for our faith. They are crossroads. They can inspire us to study more, have more trust in the Lord, and seek for help from the Lord and from loved ones who may have faced similar challenges. The other side of that coin is that doubts and uncertainties can, if we choose, deceive us into isolating ourselves from other believers, redefine previous experiences where truths have been confirmed by the Lord in our lives, and find reasons why belief is not worth the conflict or dissonance it might create. Satan is actively seeking for us to make these choices when we come to these crossroads. Jesus Christ does not seek to remove these crossroads, but seeks for us to choose faith and ask Him to help our unbelief.

Sometimes our faith is increased quickly when we choose faith and belief at these crossroads, but sometimes patience and trust is all we can choose. However, I have seen in my own life, and the lives of many others, that choosing belief will bring an increase in our faith in Jesus Christ. We will look back, often many years later, and see His hand in our lives while we were struggling at these crossroads of life. If you are struggling, don’t give up, choose faith and seek help for your unbelief.

Final Thoughts:
This week is Holy Week and I hope everyone takes some time to think about the final days leading to Christ’s atonement, death, and resurrection. We will discuss in more detail later in the year, but I know this week means a lot to me and to the whole world. Look for things you can do differently in your relationship with the Savior and I believe you will feel an increase of His Spirit in your hearts and minds.