Friday, February 26, 2010

Matthew 23

The Pharisees—good teaching, bad examples (vs. 1-12)—The battle between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders reaches its climax in this chapter with the Lord’s severe denunciation of the hypocrisy of those leaders. He is speaking here “to the multitudes and to His disciples,” (v. 1), so these words are not just for the scribes and Pharisees. Not all that the Pharisees did was wrong: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do” (vs. 2-3); the problem was “they say, and do not do” (v. 4). If they teach the Law as it is written, listen to them. Just don’t follow their example. “All their works they do to be seen by men” (v. 5); “they love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues” (v. 6). Phariseeism is a self-aggrandizing religion. It cares nothing for others. They loved “to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi’” (v. 8). Then Jesus makes an interesting point about religious titles: “But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (vs. 8-9). Notice: “you are all brethren,” and thus no one should exalt himself above others with a special title. I don’t know how the Lord could have been clearer on the subject, especially the use of “father” as a religious title (He obviously doesn’t mean our physical fathers). In verse 11, He concludes with a point He’s made many times before: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” That is the exact opposite of Pharisaic doctrine, which taught that they, as the leaders, should be served by others. A more contrary conception of God’s true religion could not be found. It was never that way, even under the Old Testament. The Jews were given the wonderful privilege of serving mankind by having the Scriptures and being the people through whom the Savior of the world would come. It wasn’t enough. And it isn’t to this day. And Jesus will let them know the penalty in chapter 24.

The “woes” (vs. 13-36)—Here in a series of scathing denunciations Jesus exposes scribal/Pharisaic hypocrisy. There are eight “woes” here: they “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” and aren’t going in themselves (v. 13). They “devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers” (v. 14). They do everything they can to convert others, but when they do, “you make him twice as much as son of hell as yourselves” (v. 15). They actually believed that the “gold” in the temple was more valuable than the temple itself (v. 16). They were scrupulous in their tithing, even going so far as to donate one of every 10 leaves of their mint, anise, and cummin bushes, but ignored “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (v. 23); Jesus adds a rather humorous analogy, though I don’t think He was laughing and I’m sure the Pharisees weren’t: “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (v. 24). The Pharisees made sure the “outward” man was clean, but did nothing for the inward (v. 25). Does this sound familiar, as in “blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God”? (Matt. 5:8). “You are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness” (v. 27). The final “woe” is perhaps the worst of all: they claim to honor and laud the prophets, “and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets” (v. 30). And yet, they were about to kill God’s Son: “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt” (vs. 31-32), which again they would do by crucifying the One Whom the prophets spoke of. And then we have what is probably the strongest condemnation by Jesus anywhere recorded: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (v. 33). Folks, this is what got Jesus crucified, not “love one another.” Not only would they kill Jesus, but His messengers as well (vs. 34-36).

“Behold, YOUR house is left unto you desolate” (vs. 37-39)—In verse 37, Jesus expresses a tender lament over the city: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” The Jews had had their chance. God had been so merciful to them for 1,500 years and they rebelled against Him constantly; remember the parable of the vinedressers in Matthew 21:33-44 about the servants being beaten and the son killed. And indeed, now they were about to do the latter. What else could He have done that He did not do? Their condemnation is just: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (v. 38). The temple. And notice, it’s not God’s house any more. The Lord is coming (and it’s a temporal judgment), but it will be too late then (v. 39).

All of this sets the stage for one of the most misunderstood chapters in the Bible, Matthew 24.

Matthew 22, Part Two

The Sadducees and the resurrection (vs. 23-33)—Next, it was the Sadducees turn to try Jesus: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother” (v. 24). This is true. In fact, it was culturally true even before the Law of Moses. God killed a man named Onan in Genesis 38:10 because he wouldn’t do it. But then the Sadducees came up with an absurd example. A man marries a woman, but dies with no children. His brother marries her, but then he dies with no children. There are seven brothers. They all marry her, in turn, but none of them have any children. So, “in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her” (v. 28). Interesting question.

To understand their question, we must know that the Sadducees were the “modernists” of their time. They did not believe in angels, a spirit world, or in a resurrection after death. Hence, the conundrum they propose to Jesus. If there is a resurrection, since all seven brothers were married to this woman, who’s she going to be married to in the next life?

Jesus responded, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (v. 29). There were two things wrong with the Sadducees’ position. Number one, “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (v. 30), so there will be no problem about whose wife that woman would be. But the real point Jesus wanted to make was in opposition to the Sadducees’ doctrine of “no resurrection,” and it’s a very remarkable argument Christ makes: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (vs. 31-32). Who did Jehovah say that to? He said it to Moses in Exodus 3:6, at least 300 years after Jacob was dead. And yet, “I am the God of Abraham,” etc., not “I was.” In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive in Moses’ day—though they were, of course, dead to this earth. Jesus’ argument is based on the tense of a verb. No wonder, “when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching” (v. 33).

The greatest commandment (vs. 34-40)—A lawyer, i.e., one who was knowledgeable in the Law of Moses, not an attorney, then asked Jesus a question, “testing Him” (v. 35). We get an indication from Mark’s account of this conversation (Mark 12:28-34), that maybe the “test” was simply to discern Jesus’ understanding of the Law; the lawyer seems to have a good turn of mind and Jesus commends him. The question was, “Which is the great commandment in the law?" (v. 36), to which Jesus answers, “'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (vs. 37-40). Read Mark 12:32-34 for the rest of the conversation. In brief, the lawyer (or “scribe,” Mark calls him) agrees with Jesus and acknowledges Christ’s wisdom. Jesus responded, “You are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34). It’s a great conversation.

Jesus asks the Pharisees a question (vs. 41-45)—Christ had answered all of their queries, now He throws one at them: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" (v. 42). “The Son of David" (v. 43). Jesus then poses a perplexing problem: "How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying: The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool? "If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his Son?" (vs. 43-45). Nobody knew the answer, which is found in the dual nature of the Messiah. In His human nature, He was descended from David, which the Jews well knew. But in His divine nature, He is obviously David’s Lord. What this whole chapter demonstrates, as Jesus takes on all comers and puts them to flight, is Christ’s superior understanding and wisdom. None of His opponents could match Him. The multitudes saw it. The Pharisees couldn’t handle it. They had two options: join Him or kill Him. And we know which choice they made. Especially after chapter 23...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Matthew 22, Part One

The parable of the wedding feast (vs. 1-14)—The battle between Jesus and His opponents continues throughout this chapter. In these verses, we see another parable aimed at the Jewish rejection of Christ. A king prepares a marriage feast for his son. He sent out some servants to tell those who had been invited that everything was ready, but “they were not willing to come” (v. 2; they wouldn't come to a feast prepared by the king??  What kind of person would turn down such an invitation?). So “he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding’” (v. 4). But the invitees still refused to come. We should recognize that the “king” is God, the “servants” were His prophets, the “son” is Christ, and those first invited were the Jews. In the parable, some of his servants were seized, “treated spitefully, and killed” (v. 6). This is a reference to the Jewish treatment of God’s prophets. And so, “when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (v. 8); this may be a veiled allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but I’m not going to press that interpretation. More than likely, it’s just a general, well-deserved punishment against the Jews being pictured. “Those who were invited were not worthy,” so the king sent his servants “into the highways, and as many as you can find, invite to the wedding” (v. 9). The Gentiles are meant here. A large gathering was brought in, “and the wedding hall was filled with guests” (v. 10). But there was a man among them “who did not have on a wedding garment” (v. 11). Among the Orientals, a special white robe was to be worn by each guest on such occasions, and not to wear it was a sign of disrespect; such a one was worthy of punishment. And that is what happens here. The king asks the man why he did not have on the appropriate clothing; when he received no answer, he commanded “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 13). Just being invited to the feast is not enough; if we do not clothe ourselves properly, we will be ejected and punished. “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). We must be clothed with His humility and righteousness if we wish to partake of the great feast God has prepared for us.

What a marvelous thing it is to be invited, by the great God of heaven and earth, to such a feast. Get the point here: He—the great God of heaven and earth—invites us--wicked, miserable sinners against Him, we who are so unworthy. It is a privilege beyond human words to be invited by God into His feast, i.e., kingdom. So yes, punishment is well decreed for those who mock the invitation or refuse to show proper reverence once allowed in.

“Render unto Caesar…” (vs. 15-22)—The Pharisees sent some Herodians to Christ “that they might entangle Him in His talk” (v. 16). The “Herodians” were a political party following the Herods, who were Roman lackeys governing parts of Judea. The question they ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17), was a trap—the Jews didn’t believe they should pay taxes to a foreign power. They got this from Deuteronomy 17:14-15, which says, "When you come to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,' you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.” Some of the Jews deduced from the last sentence that they should never pay tribute to another nation, which, of course, they had been required to do, frequently, in their history, and were under the same compulsion in Jesus’ time because of the Romans. Still, the question was ingenious. If Jesus took the common Jewish view that “no, you shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar,” then He would be in trouble with the Romans. If He said, “yes, do pay,” then He could lose influence with the masses who hated the Romans. So, frankly, the Pharisees/Herodians didn’t care how He answered. Except they got the one answer they didn’t expect: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (v. 21). How could anybody argue with that answer? Incidentally, Jesus knew it was a trap and exposed it as so: “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?” (v. 18). He wanted others who were listening to understand what was going on.

One last thought here on this section: Jesus did not come as a political agitator or a “community organizer.” He came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10), and “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Politicians and political empires come and go, rise and fall, wax and wane, and Jesus knew it. But there is only one chance at eternal salvation, and that’s what Jesus died for. If Christ were in America today, He would not be stirring up support for Obamacare or marching in “tea parties”; He would be doing the same thing He did in the first century—preaching the gospel, trying to save the lost. Because 100 years from now, there aren’t very many of us alive today who are going to care if Obama’s health care plan gets passed or not. But we will care about the location of our eternal spirit.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Matthew 21, Part Two

The parable of the two sons (vs. 28-33)—This chapter concludes with two stinging parables, aimed at the self-righteous, hypocritical Pharisees. In the first, a man has two sons. He tells the first to go work in his vineyard. The response was “'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went” (v. 30). The father then told the second son to go work, and the response was “'I go, sir,' but he did not go” (v. 30). Jesus then lets the religious leaders hang themselves. Rather than telling them which son was obedient, He asks them, “Which of the two did the will of his father?" (v. 31). Obviously the first, and that was the answer Jesus received. Then He stuck in the knife: “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him” (vs. 31-32). The first son in the parable represents the “tax collectors and harlots,” the second son is the religious leaders. That Jesus would put the chief priests and Pharisees lower than prostitutes obviously wasn’t going to endear them to Him.

The parable of the vinedressers (vs. 33-46)—A landowner planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country. At harvest time, he sent his servants to the vinedressers to receive the fruit. The vinedressers abused them all—“beat one, killed one, and stoned another” (v. 35). The landowner sent more servants, but “they [the vinedressers] did likewise to them” (v. 36). Finally, the landowners sent his son, “saying, ‘They will respect my son.” (v. 37). But the vinedressers killed him, thinking they could receive the inheritance. “Therefore,” Jesus asked His listeners, “when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do with those vinedressers?” (v. 40). And the response was the expected and correct one: “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons" (v. 41). Jesus then made the application: “Have you never read in the Scriptures, 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD'S doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (v. 42). The kingdom of God would be taken from them and “given to a nation bearing the fruits worthy of it” (v. 44). The parable is pretty clear. The “landowner” is God, the “vinedressers” are the Jews, and the “servants” are the Old Testament prophets. The “son,” of course, is Jesus. Since the Jews never heeded God’s message through the prophets or Jesus, they would not be the leading citizens in the kingdom; the "nation worthy of it" would be the Gentiles. And that “stone” which the builders rejected is Jesus, of course. The religious leaders got the point: “Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them” (v. 45). But there was nothing they could do at the moment, “because they [the multitudes] took Him for a prophet” (v. 46). Jesus never lost His popularity with the masses; that’s why He had to be tried at night, illegally, and put on the cross before the people found out what was going on.

Matthew 21, Part One

The “triumphal entry” (vs. 1-11)—Jesus makes His final trip to Jerusalem. He sent His apostles after a donkey and colt, and rode into the city. A great multitude thronged Him and “spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (v. 8). They shouted praises to Him as well: “Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!" (v. 9). The word “Hosanna” means “save now,” or “save, we pray.” Jesus' entry into Jerusalem in this manner was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9: “Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey” (v. 5). Interestingly, some people didn’t know Him (v. 10), but Jesus hadn’t spent much, if any, time in Jerusalem the previous two years.

Jesus in the temple (vs. 12-17)—The Lord was quite upset at what He saw in the temple—people making merchandise of those who came to offer sacrifices. Jesus ran them out. “It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves’” (v. 13). This is actually the second time He did this; He had done it earlier in His ministry (John 2:13ff.). While He was in the temple, He healed a number of people (v. 14), but upset the religious leaders (vs. 15-16). Little children had been crying out, praising him, and that’s what led to the indignation of the chief priests and scribes. But Jesus silences them with an quotation from the Old Testament: “Yes. Have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise'?” (v. 16). Babes knew Him, but the religious elite did not. Jesus then left and went to the town of Bethany, which was about two miles from Jerusalem and He stayed there (v. 17).

The naughty fig tree (vs. 18-22)—As He and His disciples headed back to Jerusalem the next day, Jesus was hungry and saw a fig tree with full leaves—indicating it should have some fruit, though the season wasn’t appropriate. Still, Jesus makes an object lesson out of it: the tree looked good, but proved barren--hypocrisy.  He cursed the tree and it died. And once again, He tried to encourage the apostles’ faith: “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done” (v. 21). Mark actually tells us that they didn’t see the fig tree as dead until the next morning (Mark 13:20), but Matthew simply condenses the story. That the "hypocritical" fig tree withered and died so quickly from an act of faith is the point.

“By what authority?” (vs. 23-27)—The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders ratchets up significantly now; the rest of this chapter and the next two are given to this theme. As He went back into the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people asked Him by what authority He did His deeds (v. 23). Jesus turns it back on them: “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John--where was it from? From heaven or from men?" (vs. 24-25). He had them trapped. They had not submitted to John, either, so if they replied, “from heaven,” then Jesus would ask them “'Why then did you not believe him?'” (v. 25). But if they said “from men,” then “we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet" (v. 26). So they answered “We do not know” (v. 27), to which Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (v. 27). A key point in this section is to indicate to us that there are only two sources of religious authority: from heaven and from men. Obviously, we must have heaven’s approval for what we do. We must be careful, in all that we do, that we are not following the “commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9), for such constitutes vain service and worship to God.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Matthew 20

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard (vs. 1-16)—Peter had asked the question in Matthew 19:27, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?" This sounds more than a bit self-serving: “Ok, Lord, look what we are doing for you. Now what are we going to get for it?”—in other words, is Peter serving solely out of self-interest? Jesus provides two answers to the question. The first, in 19:29, informs us that, indeed, anyone who leaves all to serve Him will be truly blessed. But Peter’s self-serving mentality cannot be left untouched, because our service to God simply must be deeper than that. So Jesus relates this parable at the beginning of chapter 20. A landowner goes out in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. He finds some men, and “he…agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day” (v. 2). But he needs more workers so a few hours later he hires some more and tells them—and this is crucial—“whatever is right I will give you” (v. 4). Do you see the difference between the two groups? One, with Peter’s attitude, bargained with the landowner—“ok, we’ll work, but what are we going to get out of it?"  In other words, working just for the wages they could obtain. But the second group went to work and trusted in the goodness of the landowner to give them “whatever is right.” They didn’t bargain with him; they appreciated the opportunity to work in his vineyard and knew he would reward them fairly. The landowner (representing God, of course) went out a few more times during the day and hired more laborers. At the end of the work period, each group, including workers who had labored only an hour, received a denarius. The men that were first hired didn’t think that was fair: “'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day'” (v. 12). But the landowner said to them, “'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you” (vs. 14-15). They had gotten what they had agreed to; they had no reason to complain.

Now, again, Jesus plainly told Peter that those who left all would be rewarded; and in the parable, the laborers who made the agreement indeed received their reward. But what Jesus is attempting to do here is put our service to God on a higher plane, i.e., that we should labor simply for the privilege of doing so and trust in the beneficence of the Master. If we work only for the wages, then chances are we aren’t going to do much more than is necessary to obtain them--and miss the great blessings of joy in serving God and others. Where is the appreciation to the Lord for what He has done for us? Where is the trust in Him? Will we not serve Him better if we serve Him out of love and gratitude than simply for what He will give us in return? Indeed, “the last will be first and the first last” (v. 16). Those who serve Him out of love and gratitude will be far more blessed than those who simply serve for the rewards. A marvelous parable.

Jesus again announces His coming death (vs. 17-19)—This is the third time He has done so, but so contrary was a crucified Messiah to the expectations of the disciples that the repetition is necessary. And they still won’t get it until after His resurrection.

Greatness in the kingdom (vs. 20-28)—The mother of James and John had a special request of Jesus: “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom" (v. 21). Well, a mother certainly wants the best for her sons, but this does sound selfish. And, again, she has an earthly perspective—Jesus will literally reign from Jerusalem, and sitting at His right hand and left hand would obviously be a place of honor. Jesus responded “You do not know what you ask” (v. 22). He would suffer, not reign on this earth, but James and John did not realize that—even though He had just told them again (vs. 17-19) of His coming death. The other apostles, not surprisingly, were indignant at the request (v. 24). Jesus informs them all that true greatness in His kingdom lies in serving others: “'Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many'” (vs. 26-28). And again, this just did not fit the apostles’ conception of an all-conquering Christ. But they’d learn.  Have we?

Jesus heals two blind men (vs. 29-34)—As He went on His way, two blind men shouted to Him, asking for mercy. The crowd told them to hush, but honest persistence has a way of paying off with the Lord: “But they cried out all the more, saying, ‘Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!’" (v. 31). Jesus stopped and asked them what they wanted. “Lord, that our eyes may be opened” (v. 33). “So Jesus had compassion on them” and healed them (v. 34). He never lacked compassion, and He was never too busy to help people in need. After the previous discussion with His apostles, it was a lesson they sorely needed.

Matthew 19

Returning marriage to its pristine state (vs. 1-12)—The Pharisees, “testing Him,” asked Jesus a question about divorce: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” (v. 3). In His answer, Jesus goes back farther than Moses, all the way to creation. God made male and female, a man leaves his father and mother, cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (v. 6). Then why did Moses allow it? the Pharisees asked Him. “Because of the hardness of your hearts,” (v. 8). A couple of things here. The Law of Moses was actually protecting the female here; lest she befall a worse fate by having to stay with an abusive husband, the marriage could be broken. But God, as we know, also tolerated polygamy before Christ; Abraham, Jacob, David—many Old Testament heroes had more than one wife, or several concubines. From the creation, man’s morality had simply deteriorated to where God’s original plan for marriage had been corrupted; He “overlooked” multiple wives (Acts 17:30), because He was slowly trying to bring mankind back to His perfect law—as revealed by Jesus. And of course, Abraham and Jacob, for example, lived over 400 years before one word of the Law was written. But now, with Christ, God’s revelation will be finalized; here is the last message. And so, Jesus brings us back to what God intended in the first place. Thus, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (v. 9). One man, one woman for life; the only exceptions are death (Rom. 7:1-4) and sexual immorality (fornication). If a man (or woman) gets a divorce for any other reason and remarries, that is an adulterous relationship. Why? Because that person is having physical relations with someone who is not their lawful mate. “What God has joined together, let not man separate,” and if man “separates” what “God has joined together,” He’s not going to recognize or accept it. We have no authority from God to break what He has put together. So it’s adultery, and it must cease. The apostles, in verse 10, respond, in effect, “that’s a tough teaching.” Yes, it is, Jesus responds, but we must make whatever sacrifices are necessary “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (v. 12). Hell isn’t worth an adulterous marriage. Yet, “what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

Jesus blesses little children (vs. 13-15)—This is very similar to what happened in the first part of chapter 18, but obviously is a point worth emphasizing, and perhaps even more so after what the Lord had just said about marriage. We must humbly accept God’s teachings. And it was obvious, from verse 13, that the disciples hadn’t gotten the message the first time.

The rich young ruler (vs. 16-30)—This story actually continues into chapter 20, as we shall see. A young man, rich, and a ruler (according to Luke, though he doesn’t say a “ruler” of what; probably a synagogue) asks Jesus what he had to do to have eternal life (v. 16). What a great question. More people ought to be asking it. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments of the law he was living under (Moses). The young man responded that he had done that; “What do I still lack?” (v. 20). Jesus, “beholding him, loved him,” (Mark 10:21), and then told him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matt. 19:21). The young man went away sorrowfully because he had great wealth; he loved his money more than he loved his God. Jesus then said, “I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 23) This astonished the disciples: “Who then can be saved?” (v. 25). They were operating under the Jewish assumption that the rich were the blessed of God; they must be the righteous because Jehovah had dealt so bountifully with them. It’s the poor who must be out of favor with God. So if the rich can’t be saved, who can? Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly; they’ll understand eventually. Peter then asks a rather self-serving question: “See, we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have?” (v. 27). Jesus gives him two answers: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (v. 29). And the apostles actually will have a special place (v. 28). So, indeed, if we leave all and follow Jesus, we will be well taken care of by the Lord. But…”many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v. 30). Jesus’ second answer to Peter’s question is found in chapter 20, and we’ll look at it in that chapter summary.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Matthew 18

“Who then is the greatest in the kingdom?” (vs. 1-5)—The apostles ask Jesus that question and are surely surprised at His answer. He calls a little child to Him and said, “’Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (vs. 3-4). The humble, trusting, pure-hearted nature of a child is something we must be “converted” to.

Offenses will come, but woe to him through whom they come (vs. 7-14)—“’But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea’” (v. 6). A solemn warning, indeed, but the Lord is reminding us to be very careful of our words and actions. In an extreme hyperbole, He says, “’If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire,’” (v. 8), and repeats the same warning regarding an eye in verse 9. In other words, nothing is worth going to hell over. Whatever the cost, avoid sin. Verse 10 has been taken by many to mean we each have our own “guardian angel”: “’Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.’” If we all have a special angel watching over us, this is the only verse in the Bible that alludes to it. And if we do have a special angel watching over us, what’s he doing? Why doesn’t he keep us from sinning? Or dying in accidents? Or getting blown up in a war? And what are they doing up in heaven if they are supposed to be helping us down here on earth? Angels do a lot of things in the Bible, but whether there’s one up in heaven with my name on him is problematic at best.  Yet, there is no doubt they work in providence for the accomplishment of God's will:  "Are [angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).  But that's not the same as saying we each have one.

Redeeming a brother (vs. 15-20)—Jesus gives a procedure here for correcting a brother (or sister) who sins against us. First, go to him alone. If that doesn’t correct the problem, then take two or three witnesses with you to try to rectify the matter. If there is still no repentance on the part of our brother, take the matter before the church and “’if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector’” (v. 17). Withdrawal of our precious fellowship from a brother or sister is a sad thing, but is commanded and, at times, must be done (I Cor. 5:13; II Thess. 3:6). We simply cannot let the church be filled with ungodly people who live like the world; if we do, then how will those outside the body see any difference between us and them? “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (I John 1:7). But if one of our brethren is no longer walking “in the light,” then he has broken that fellowship and it must be recognized by the church. But not as an act of vengeance: “Do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (II Thess. 3:15). The two ideas behind church discipline are: one, to save the soul of the one who has sinned so grievously, and two, to keep the church pure (I Cor. 5:6). It’s painful, but must be done for the good of all.

Verse 20, "'For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them'" is not an excuse to skip worship services on Sunday as long as some other saint is with us.  Actually, in this context, it has to do with apostolic authority, not the Lord being with two or three Christians meeting.  The latter is true, of course, but that's not the meaning here.  And "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25) is a grievous sin:  "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26).  That principle is true regarding any sin, but it's put in the context of deliberately absenting ourselves from our worship assemblies.

How often should we forgive our brother? (vs. 21-35)—The discussion of forgiveness continues. Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’" (v. 21), and no doubt thinks he is being extremely magnanimous. It was a maxim among the Jews not to forgive one’s brother more than three times. Peter doubles that number, and adds one more just to show how “loving” he is. Of course, Jesus replies “seventy time seven” times (v. 22); in other words, there should be no end to our forgiveness. He then relates a parable about how merciful God has been to us. A king was going to settle accounts with his servants. One of them owed him 10,000 talents, a figure probably equal to the national debt of this country; or at least, that’s the idea. In other words, a debt he could never pay. He asks for time and mercy, and the king compassionately forgave the whole debt. But then this same servant was owed a pittance by a fellow servant who, as servant number one had done, asked for time and mercy. The first servant refused, and threw his fellow servant into prison. The matter got back to the king, who rightfully rebuked and punished the servant he had forgiven. The lesson is clear. We owe God a debt we can never pay, and yet He has forgiven us. We, to be like God, must have the same spirit of mercy and forgiveness towards those who sin against us.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Matthew 17

The transfiguration (vs. 1-9)—Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a high mountain for an event we call the “transfiguration.” “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (v. 2). Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, appeared and talked to Him. Peter spoke up, suggesting that three tabernacles be built, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But in Mark’s account of this event, we learn that Peter didn’t really know what he was saying because the three apostles “were greatly afraid” (Mark 9:6). Apparently the point of the transfiguration is found in verse 5: “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’" The authority of Jesus, above that of Moses and Elijah is established—hear Christ, not Moses.

Elijah and John the Baptist (vs. 10-13)—The disciples asked Jesus, “’Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’" (v. 10). The Lord had already told them (11:14) that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was promised—prophesied in Malachi 4:5—but He tells them again here. Or at least implies such and they got the point. All the Old Testament prophesies had to be fulfilled, of course, and Malachi’s prophesy about “Elijah” is that last one. The Old Testament closes on that note—that “Elijah” is coming. When you see him, you’ll know ”the great and dreadful day of the Lord” is coming (Mal. 4:6). John was that promised “Elijah.”

Jesus cures an epileptic (vs. 14-21)—His disciples had been unable to cure this demon-possessed boy, and Jesus is a bit frustrated at them: “’O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?’” (v. 17). Jesus casts the demon out and the disciples asked Him why they had failed. They didn’t have enough faith, Christ told them, then tried to encourage them by saying, “’for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you’” (v. 20). Jesus obviously is speaking in hyperbole here, but His words are designed to let us know the power of faith. He also comforted the apostles by indicating that the demon He cast out was apparently an especially tough one: “this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (v. 21). We have no real clue, practically, of what that means because the age of literal demon possession is over.

Jesus speaks again about His coming suffering, death, and resurrection (vs. 22-23)—Matthew’s only comment about it was “And they were exceedingly sorrowful” (v. 23). Perhaps they felt it would be better to keep silent, given Jesus’ stern rebuke of Peter the first time He mentioned it.

Jesus pays the temple tax (vs. 24-27)—Someone asked Peter if Jesus paid the temple tax, to which the apostle replied “yes,” though he probably wasn’t sure, given the subsequent conversation with Jesus. The Lord uses the incident as an indication of Who He is: “’What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?’ Peter said to Him, ‘From strangers.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free’” (vs. 25-26). In other words, Jesus didn’t really have to pay the tax since His Father owned the temple and Christ was His “free” son (I find it interesting that not having to pay taxes makes a person “free"). But lest Jesus cause any needless offense, He paid the tax. Peter found the coin in a fish’s mouth, according to Jesus’ instructions (v. 27).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Matthew 16, Part Two

“Get thee behind me, Satan” (vs. 21-23)—And there is pretty good evidence for the “muck it up” theory above in this section. “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (v. 21). The apostles simply did not yet understand His mission, so entrenched were they in the Jewish conception of an all-conquering Christ. How could He be killed? So Peter “took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (v. 22). But Jesus has some stern words for him: “’Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’" Jesus’ language is strong, but then He had just told them what was going to happen; Peter, in effect, was calling Him a liar. Satan, of course, would love to have kept Jesus from the cross, as would the Jews who, again, wanted their Christ to lead them in glorious victory over the Romans. But “the things of God” pertain to the salvation of man, and that was what Jesus’ mission was all about.

“Take up your cross and follow Me” (vs. 24-29)—Following Jesus did not mean marching in an army; it meant being prepared to die on a cross. Self-denial, not personal aggrandizement. In verse 26, Jesus asks two of the most piercing questions of the Bible: “’For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” Having the whole world for a few years will not be worth an eternity in hell. And what is it that we want so much that we’re willing to sacrifice eternal life to have it? Very, very thought provoking. Verse 28 needs to be understood: “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." Note a few things: some of those standing there would be alive when it happened. So whatever it was was going to happen in the first century. What’s going to happen? The Son of Man (Jesus) was going to come “in His kingdom.” This cannot be a literal “coming” of Jesus, because He didn’t literally come back in the first century while the apostles were still alive. So this is a figurative coming, and it almost assuredly has reference to the church He mentioned earlier in the chapter, which was begun in Acts 2, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, and during the lives of the apostles. The “coming” of verse 27 does appear to be the literal Second Coming; but not verse 28. Context must determine because not all “comings” of God in the Bible are literal manifestations. Some are figurative, and that must be the case in verse 28, or there are going to be some awfully old apostles around at the Second Coming.

Matthew 16, Part One

The Pharisees want to see a sign (vs. 1-4)—We’ve already been down this road. The Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign in Matthew 12:38, and Jesus didn’t give them one then, either. Jesus rebuked them: you can read the weather, why can’t you read the signs of the times? He mentions again the “sign” of Jonah (v. 4), but they no doubt didn’t understand or care to.

The leaven of the Pharisees (vs. 5-12)—The disciples didn’t have any bread with them (v. 5), so Jesus uses the occasion to teach an object lesson: “’Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees’" (v. 6). The apostles, obtuse as usual, thought He was talking about real bread. Jesus, seemingly frustrated, censures their lack of faith and understanding, referring them to the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000. If the Lord could feed that many miraculously, why were they worrying about food? “Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (v. 12). They finally got it.

Peter’s confession (vs. 13-20)—The apostles had been out on the so-called “limited commission” (chapter 10), and at times, Jesus had been alone so they had had a chance to mingle with the people. Jesus tests them now: “'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’" (v. 13). Well, some thought He was Elijah, or Jeremiah, or John the Baptist, or another of the prophets. “’But who do you say that I am?’" (v. 15). Peter spoke up immediately: “'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" (v. 17). Jesus pronounces a blessing upon Peter for this proclamation, and then says, “'On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’” (v. 18). Peter is not the rock upon which the church is built; Jesus uses an interesting play on words here, just as He had done in the previous section concerning the leaven of the Pharisees. The name “Peter” in the Greek is the word “petros”, which means a small stone. The “rock” upon which the church is built is “petra”, or a huge boulder. Surely Jesus would not build the most important institution in the world—the church—upon something as weak and frail as a human being. He does promise Peter “the keys of the kingdom,” which doesn’t mean Peter is standing at the gate of heaven, deciding who gets to see God and who doesn’t. The reference is probably to the fact that, after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, Peter preached the first gospel sermon to both Jews (Acts 2) and Gentiles (Acts 10), thereby opening the door of salvation to both. Jesus’ reference is a bit obscure, but that seems to me to be the best explanation. In verse 20, Jesus commanded His apostles “that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.” Why? Probably because He didn’t trust their level of understanding yet, and feared they would muck it up.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Matthew 15, Part Two

The Canaanite woman and little dogs (vs. 21-28)—This is a great story. Jesus was in the region of Tyre and Sidon and a local woman—a Gentile woman, that’s very important—comes and asks Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus ignores her and the disciples want Him to run her off. The Lord is not being cruel here, not at all. He is trying the woman’s faith—and persistence. More than once, Jesus taught doggedness in prayer—how badly do you want what you are asking for (cf. Luke 18:1-5). He responds to this Gentile woman, “’I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,’” meaning the Jews only (v. 24). But she does, indeed, persevere: “Lord, help me!” (v. 25). Jesus continues to test her: “’It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (v. 26). That could be taken as an insult; the “children,” again, are the Jews, and the “little dogs” are the Gentiles. “I came to the Jews,” Jesus said, “and I shouldn’t take what I’m supposed to give them and give it to Gentiles.” But once more, there’s no insult intended; it’s a test of faith. And the mother passes: “And she said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table’" (v. 27). Jesus praises her faith and heals her daughter. You gotta love that woman, who knew what Jesus could do and just wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Feeding the four thousand (vs. 29-39)—We’ve seen a similar story in chapter 14 where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 (men). Now the number is 4,000, and this time there are seven loaves of bread and “a few little fish” (v. 34). And, when finished, there were seven baskets full of leftovers. Not surprisingly, the disciples show some obtuseness. In verse 32, Jesus said to them, “’I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.’" And the disciples asked Him, “’Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?’" Didn’t they remember the feeding of the 5,000 men (excluding woman and children)? But let’s try not to be too hard on these fellows; it’s just not every day you see somebody feed over 10,000 people with a handful of food—and have more left over than you started with. It takes time for faith to grow; it doesn’t spring up overnight.

Matthew 15, Part One

Conflict over traditions of the Pharisees (vs. 1-9)—I at least appreciate the honesty of the Pharisees here in their attack on Jesus: “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” by not washing their hands when they eat bread (v. 2). They aren’t claiming that Jesus and His disciples were disobeying the Law of Moses. The Pharisees equated their traditions WITH the Law and that was the problem. Jesus then points out that their traditions actually contradict the Law of Moses with an example regarding honoring one’s parents. In an age without Social Security, Medicare, etc. etc., children were expected to provide for their parents in old age; the parents took care of the kids when young, now the children were responsible when their parents were aged. But the Pharisees wouldn’t take care of their aged parents: “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God” (v. 6), they’d say. So instead of “honoring father and mother” by taking care of them, they would give the money as a “gift to God.” In one sense, this makes the crime even more atrocious—refusing to honor a command of God in the name of God. No wonder Jesus called them “hypocrites,” and the fulfillment of prophecy: “’Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”’” (vs 7-9). The fight between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day grows. And that is very important, as we shall see. Very, very important.

Offending the Pharisees (vs. 10-20)—Jesus then explained to the crowd that it’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out; may I remind the reader “blessed are the pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8). The disciples then said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" (v. 12). Well, boo hoo; that didn’t bother Jesus at all. “But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch’" (vs. 13-14). We don’t want to offend people if we can help it, but the truth will just do that sometimes. If we quote Genesis 1:1 to an assembly of atheists, they are going to be offended. What’s important is, if people are going to be offended, let the Word of God do it, not our attitude or demeanor. Now, as the Jews did with Jesus, people will often attack our character; many times after a convicting sermon, I’ve been called “unloving” or “uncompassionate.” I know my own heart and I know the motivation behind why I preach. But if an unwilling hearer thinks he can find an impure motive in the messenger, then that supposedly frees him from any responsibility to obey the truth that is preached. Folks, we’re obligated to obey the truth even if the devil preaches it; truth is truth. But again, let us make sure our hearts are pure and then if others are offended and belligerent, we can rejoice in the knowledge that we have been persecuted, at least in a small way, for righteousness’ sake.

The apostles did not understand Jesus’ “it’s not what goes in but what comes out” teaching, so they asked Him about it. Jesus explained that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man" (vs. 19-20). That seems simple to us, but we must remember that these disciples had grown up all their lives being taught, mostly, Pharisaic doctrine. Thus, the ritual was what was important, not the heart. And, again, I refer the reader to Jesus’ opening blast of a sermon in Matthew 5-7 where He forcefully exposes and denounces such a shallow doctrine. But it hadn’t sunk in on the apostles yet. It takes a while if one has been taught something else all one’s life.

Matthew 14

The death of John the Baptist (vs. 1-12)—This superstitious Herod (he thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead, v. 2) was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, of Jesus’ birth fame. Antipas wasn’t much better than his old man, and ended up dying in exile. John the Baptist, with his typical straight-forward approached, rebuked Herod for stealing his brother Philip’s wife. It takes great courage to stand up to wicked men of power like John did, and it cost him his head. There is an interesting story about Herod and Herodias (the wife he stole) and I’ll include it at the end for those interested in the history.

The feeding of the 5,000 (vs. 13-21)—When Jesus heard about the death of John, He departed to a deserted place, but the multitudes followed Him. “He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick,” (v. 14). But when evening came, His disciples suggested that He had best send the people away to find something to eat (v. 15). Jesus responded that such wasn’t necessary, that the disciples could feed them (v. 16). "And they said to Him, ‘We have here only five loaves and two fish’" (v. 17), which Jesus then used to feed the throng. When all the food had been divided up, there was 12 baskets full of leftovers (v. 20). The number fed was “about five thousand, besides women and children” (v. 21). So Jesus fed probably at least 10,000 people miraculously. A notable miracle indeed.

Jesus walks on water (vs. 22-33)—Jesus sent the multitudes and His disciples away so he could go to a mountain to pray (v. 22-23). The apostles were in a boat, but they were being ”tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary” (v. 24). Jesus then went to them, walking on the water (v. 25). It was late at night—or early in the morning, depending upon perspective, I suppose. Matthew says it was the “fourth watch of the night” (v. 25), which would have been between 3 and 6 AM. The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost (v. 26), but Jesus calmed them. Impetuous Peter replied, “’Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water’" (v. 28). Jesus bade him to come, and Peter started towards Him. But when he took his eyes off the Lord, he lost his faith: “When he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’" (v. 30). It will happen every time—lose sight of Jesus and lose your faith. Jesus, of course, rescued Peter with the mild rebuke, “’O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’" (v. 31). The disciples “worshiped Him, saying, "’Truly You are the Son of God’" (v. 33). As we shall see, their faith was still not strong, and they yet remained ignorant—obstinate?—regarding His mission. But their conclusion on this occasion was correct. Remember when Jesus stilled the storm, their response had been “’Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’" (Matt. 8:27). Now, they had at least progressed to believing that He was the Son of God.

Back to Gennesaret (vs. 34-36)—This is the place where Jesus had cast the demons out of a man and sent them into a herd of swine (Matt. 8:28-34). At that time, the reader might recall, Jesus, for whatever reason, was asked to leave. But this time, “When the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well” (vs. 35-36). Why they changed their attitude I cannot say, but it certainly was a blessing to them. And if people today would change their attitudes towards the Lord, they would find their lives richly blessed as well.

Addendum: On Herod and Herodias. This from Adam Clarke’s commentary: “This infamous woman [Herodias] was the daughter of Aristobulus and Bernice, and grand-daughter of Herod the Great. Her first marriage was with Herod Philip, her uncle, by whom she had Salome: some time after, she left her husband, and lived publicly with Herod Antipas, her brother-in-law, who had been before married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia Petraea. As soon as Aretas understood that Herod had determined to put away his daughter, he prepared to make war on him: the two armies met, and that of Herod was cut to pieces by the Arabians; and this, Josephus says, was supposed to be a judgment of God on him for the murder of John the Baptist. See the account in Josephus, Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 7.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Matthew 13, Part Two

The parable of the mustard seed and leaven (vs. 31-35)—Both of these parables make the same point: the kingdom of heaven will start small, but grow mightily. The parable of the leaven indicates the subtle way the kingdom grows—we do not know how the seed works within which human heart. But, according to the mustard tree parable, the expansion of the kingdom will be visible.

The pricelessness of the kingdom (vs. 44-46)—Two parables here. In one, a man finds a treasure hidden in a field and “for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (v. 44). In the other, a man is searching for a pearl of great price, finds it, and, once again, sold all he had to buy it. The kingdom of God is worth everything we’ve got, and indeed, “for joy” we ought to give up all because what we get is far superior to what we’ll ever have to give up. Notice also that in the first parable, the man seemed to stumble upon his treasure; in the second, the fellow was looking for it. It’s the heart that matters, not how people find the kingdom.

The kingdom of the dragnet (vs. 47-52)—This is a rather simple parable, but would be very illustrative to the fishermen among His disciples. And since verse 1 says He was sitting by the sea, the parable would be even more vivid. Fishermen cast their nets and they bring in the haul. Some of the fish are worth keeping, some aren’t. You keep the good, you throw away the bad. “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (vs. 49-50). Jesus closes this section by asking His disciples if they had understood all these things, to which they answered in the affirmative. In that case, Jesus asserts, make sure you use this “treasure” for the benefit of others. I believe that’s His meaning in verse 52.

The prophet without honor (vs. 53-57)—Jesus then returned “to His own country” (v. 54), and “taught them in their synagogue.” But they didn’t accept Him. They did not deny His teaching and ability: “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?” (v. 54). But “familiarity breeds contempt”—Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?" (vs. 55-56). This is really no excuse for rejecting Him, of course. Perhaps the prejudice was against Jesus’ family’s station in life; Luke 2:24 indicates a measure of poverty. Or, as Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house” (v. 57). They simply did not want to submit to someone whom they thought they knew. Jesus didn’t waste Him time doing many “mighty works” there (v. 58). If people gave an indication they were going to be intransigent, then the miraculous would have been superfluous. The miracles were to confirm the word, not just show off Jesus’ abilities.

Matthew 13, Part One

The parable of the sower (vs. 1-9, 18-23)—After all the enmity and activity Jesus had endured in the previous chapter, this one starts out by saying “On the same day…” (v. 1). The Lord had the busiest life a man of His age ever lived. He told the people several parables, the first being what is commonly called the “parable of the sower." Well, I guess it’s called that because Jesus does (v. 18). A sower scattered his seed, and it fell on different types of soil. Not all ancient farmers plowed their land in strips, as modern farmers do. They would simply go out, throw their seed, and let it fall where it may. Some fell on “the wayside,” some on stony ground, some among thorns, some on good soil. Jesus explains that in verse 18-23. The different types of soil represent different types of human hearts. The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11). The wayside is an impenetrable heart and the word never penetrates it. So “the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart” (v. 19). The stony ground has some soil, but not much: “This is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (vs. 20-21). The thorny ground is good soil, but it’s already occupied, so “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (v. 22). This is the one so many of us need to watch out for. Interested in spiritual things, but our lives are too cluttered with the world. The fourth soil, of course, is the good ground, the good heart: “he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (v. 23). A very instructive parable--three bad types of heart, and only one good. Some self-examination would be worthwhile for us all.

“Why do You speak in parables?” (vs. 10-17)—The disciples were a little confused as to why the Lord didn’t just come out and speak openly. Parables are nice, of course, because they are easy to remember, and that’s a good part of it. But Jesus also lays a rebuke on the hard-hearted here. They have eyes to see, and ears to hear, they just won’t do either. The parable of the sower actually explains it perfectly: the honest and good heart will hear, understand, and bring forth fruit. It’s up to us to have the right kind of heart. The hardness of heart of the Pharisees was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (vs. 14-15).

The parable of the tares (vs. 24-30, 36-43)—A man sowed good seed in his field, but his enemy came and sowed tares—a weed that looks like wheat—among his crop. His servants want to know if he wants them to go and pull the weeds, but he fears that if they do, they might uproot some of the wheat as well. “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn'” (v. 30). Jesus explained this in verses 36-43. The sower is the “Son of Man” (v. 37). “The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels” (vs. 38-39). At the judgment, the wheat and tares will be separated, the “tares” (the wicked) burned up, but “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v. 43). It is important to note that, while the field is the world, the wheat and tares are those in the kingdom for, at the harvest, “the Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend” (v. 41). The New Testament does teach that the church must practice discipline and “withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly,” (II Thess. 3:6; cf. Matt. 18:15-17; I Cor. 5:13), but overzealous attempts to keep the church pure may do more harm than good. I urge the reader to go back and consider my comments on Matthew 7:1-12 for the right kind of “judgments” that must be made. We must be wise, compassionate, and truthful when dealing with others.

Matthew 12, Part Two

The Pharisees and demons (vs. 22-37)—The setting for this contest was Jesus healing a demon-possessed man (v. 22). Some in the attending multitudes asked “Could this be the Son of David?” (v. 23), in other words, the Messiah. The Pharisees couldn’t handle that, so they claimed that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of “Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (v. 23). Jesus told them that that wasn’t terribly intelligent or logical, because “every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation…If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself” (vs. 25-26). Thus, Jesus is casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit, which indicates that “surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (v. 28). You are either with Me or against Me, Jesus said, and from His language to the Pharisees, it’s pretty obvious He didn’t think they were with Him: “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v. 34). A good heart brings forth good things and an evil heart brings forth evil things (v. 35). This section ends with a very frightening warning: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Of course, in the context, Jesus is talking about the Pharisees and their blasphemy, but the principle is certainly valid and established elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. James 3).

The most difficult part of this section is vs. 31-32: “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” This statement of Christ has caused no small amount of puzzlement among Bible readers. Blasphemy against Christ can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot? Very confusing, indeed, and I make no pretense to having an absolute, final answer to the problem. My solution to the dilemma runs as follows: Each of the Godhead three, Father, Son, and Spirit, had their distinct works to perform in the plan of salvation. The Father, in effect, was the “planner;” He sent the Son. Well, if one rejects, “blasphemes,” the Father, there is still the Son Who can convict us. The Son did His work on earth, and sent the Holy Spirit. Well, if we reject—“blaspheme”—the Son, there is still the Spirit in His work of convicting through the Word of God which He inspired (John 16:13). But if we reject—“blaspheme”—the Spirit, what’s left? He’s the final hope—His word, that it might convict us of sin. If we refuse Him, and do so for the rest of our lives, there can be no forgiveness of that because there is simply no place else to go for salvation. Hence, we can “blaspheme” the Son (which the Pharisees were doing while He was on the earth) and still have hope, for the Son sent the Spirit, with His word, a hope of forgiveness, the final message. But “blaspheme” the Spirit, and remain in the state, and there can be no pardon.

I do not know if that is the proper explanation for what Jesus is saying here. But it’s the best I can come up with, and I certainly will not be dogmatic about it.

The scribes and Pharisee want to see a sign from Jesus (vs. 38-42)—Jesus’ frustration must have been prodigious. He had just cast out a demon-possessed man. He had been doing all sorts of miracles, things that only God could do. And yet, they ask Him for a sign! They wouldn’t have believed Him if He had done something else. He did say that He would give them one more sign—just like Jonah was in the belly of the great fish (not whale) for three days and three nights, so the Son of man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. These Pharisees were worse than ancient Nineveh, who repented at Jonah’s preaching, and “indeed, a greater than Jonah is here” (v. 41).

The restless unclean spirit (vs. 43-44)—These verses are interesting. An unclean spirit gets cast out of a man and wanders, trying to find another home. He can’t locate one, so he returns from whence he came, hoping to reclaim his earlier abode. Sure enough, the original home is available—“empty, swept, and put in order” (v. 44). So the unclean spirit goes and gets seven buddies and they enter and dwell in the empty home. Moral? When you are cleansed of sin, replace it, fill your life, with righteousness and godliness. No unclean spirit can dwell in a heart filled with God’s spirit. But leave your life empty, don’t replace what was ejected, and sin will return with a vengeance and you’ll be worse off than before.

The true family of God (vs. 46-50)—While He was speaking, His mother and brothers wanted to talk to Him. Jesus turns this into a wonderful spiritual lesson: “’Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.’” (vs. 48-50). Jesus, of course, is not denigrating physical family relations. He is simply saying that our spiritual family is, ultimately, more important than the natural. Remember: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). There is no condemnation here of loving father and mother; certainly not. Just don’t love them more than Jesus.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Matthew 12, Part One

Plucking grain on the Sabbath (vs. 1-8)—The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees, will begin to escalate from now on with the climax being Christ’s stirring denunciation of them in chapter 23. This chapter contains four such confrontations between Jesus and His opponents.

This passage regarding the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath has created a lot of difference of opinion on what it means, and some dangerous differences in my view. Quickly the story. Jesus and His disciples were walking through a grain field, plucking some of the heads to eat. The Pharisees condemned them for violating the Sabbath. Jesus then rebukes the Pharisees and reminds them what David did at one point—eating the showbread of the tabernacle, something “which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests” (v. 4). And how about the priests who work on the Sabbath? Jesus asked. Are they wrong? “But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless” (v. 7). Besides, “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (v. 8).

It seems pretty straight-forward until you look at it a bit. First of all, what Jesus’ disciples were doing was not wrong; they weren’t violating the Sabbath commandment not to work on that day. They were being condemned by a Pharisaic ritual that had nothing to do with the law of the Sabbath. And, of course, Jesus never sinned, so the plucking of grain to eat was innocent; and so Christ affirms in verse 7. But, what David did was wrong, and Jesus said so—it was “not lawful for him to eat.” So what Jesus is doing in this passage is rebuking the Pharisees. Why are you condemning Me for something innocent, yet you don’t condemn David when he openly violated the Law? The inconsistency and hypocrisy of the Pharisees is the point here. And then, what about the priests who work on the Sabbath? The Pharisees probably had no idea what to do with that. And on top of all of that, “the Son of Man is Lord of Sabbath.” He created it, so He can do what He wishes. But that does not mean that Jesus ever violated the Sabbath or encouraged others to do so. He’s announcing His deity here.

Some have claimed, and I don’t like it, that David was guiltless for eating the showbread, because there is a “higher law,” i.e., survival, that over-rode God’s command. I’ve got a serious problem with that. Are we going to let man decide when God’s law can be violated by a “higher law”? Who defines that “higher law”? In that case, every individual would then become a law unto himself, and we have opened the door to situation ethics, where again, man decides, on his own, what’s right or wrong in a given circumstance, passing judgment on what God said. I’ve got a REAL serious problem with that. And besides, where was David’s faith? Did he not believe God would provide for him without him having to eat something that wasn’t lawful for him to eat? It is important to remember that David’s actions did violate God’s law; Jesus’ disciples’ actions did not. So those two cases are not parallel. Jesus’ teaching here is not a condoning of David’s unauthorized actions, it was a denunciation of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

Jesus heals on the Sabbath (vs. 9-13)—And the Pharisees don’t like this, either. But Jesus asks them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?” (vs. 11-12). Truth of the matter, neither one of those things (healing or rescuing sheep) constitutes “work,” but Jesus again is simply showing the inconsistency and hard-heartedness of the Pharisees. The Law of Moses was not to be violated, to be sure. But the Pharisees were more concerned with protecting their traditions—which they interpreted to be part of the Law—than they were with love, mercy, and compassion.

The Pharisees plot to kill Jesus (vs. 14-21)—Jesus knew of their plans, and removed Himself from harm’s way. It wasn’t time yet for the final conflict. Matthew indicates this is all part of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (vs. 18-21).

Matthew 12, including blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, to be continued….

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Matthew 11

Jesus continues to preach (v. 1)—Matthew briefly mentions that, after instructing His disciples as found in chapter 10, Christ resumes His preaching tour.

A question from John the Baptist’s disciples (vs. 2-6)—Jesus just wasn’t acting the way the Jews thought he would. Even as great a man as John the Baptist was apparently expecting an all-conquering Messiah, which was the common, and desired, Jewish wish of that day. Jesus was running around preaching, not raising an army. So John, who was in prison at the time, sent a couple of his disciples to query Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (v. 3). Christ doesn’t answer with a direct “yes” or “no.” Any fool can claim to be the Messiah, so He points them to His works: “’Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them’” (vs. 4-5). What does the evidence say? Jesus asks them. Draw your own conclusions. Jesus didn’t want people to believe in Him just on His say-so; a lot of people will do that. Jesus wanted our faith to be grounded in something much deeper than simply human words—believe because of the demonstrations of power and good works. That would produce a greater, deeper foundation for commitment to Him. God has never asked us to believe anything without evidence, so this is in total keeping with the way He constituted man in the first place. He gave us a mind, a brain, a logical intuition, and He expects us to use it. But if we put emotion, prejudice, human reason, or desire before that, then our vision will be skewed and we will not see the truth of the evidence laid before us. God doesn’t make the evidence so overwhelming that we can’t reject it; that would deny our freedom of choice. But the proof is there if we are willing to receive it.

Jesus praises John the Baptist (vs. 7-15)—John was indeed a great man, a prophet (v. 9), and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (v. 10). There were none greater—except the least in the kingdom of heaven (v. 11). Jesus, of course, is not slapping John here, He is exalting God’s kingdom. The lowliest widow in the church is greater than John the Baptist. Verse 12 is a bit confusing: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” The Greek is clearer here. Without going into word studies, the basic idea is that those who enter the kingdom of heaven are so earnest to do so that they will let nothing stop them, even if, in effect, they must be violent about it. Jesus is emphasizing again the value of the kingdom: don’t let anything, or anybody, keep you from being right with God. Jesus then tells His hearers that John was the “Elijah” who was to come, an expectation of the Jews from Malachi 4:5—“ Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” The “day of the Lord” will be “great” for those who accept Jesus, and “dreadful” for those who do not. Some thought Jesus was the “Elijah” to come (Matt. 16:14), but John was. Jesus is the Christ.

The spiritually blind (vs. 16-19)—Yet the evidence didn’t matter to some; they weren’t going to believe regardless. They condemned John for doing one thing, then condemned Jesus for doing the exact opposite. Not much you can do for folks who have simply determined in their hearts that they are not going to believe, regardless of the evidence presented. And in this case, we have not only Jesus’ miracles but John as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Double substantiation, but not good enough for many.

Jesus rebukes disbelieving cities (vs. 20-24)—Jesus had preached to people in certain cities—Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum—who had seen great works that wicked cities like Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom hadn’t seen. If those latter cities had seen what Jesus had done, they would have repented, or at least “remained until this day” (v. 23), which is amazing given the nature of Sodom especially. Thus, the unbelieving cities of Jesus’ day could expect a harsher judgment than those wicked who had gone before. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Jesus’ invitation (vs. 25-29)—The chapter closes with Jesus offering a prayer to God, thanking Him for the simple and pure hearts that receive the gospel. He extends the marvelous and touching invitation: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vs. 28-30).  No human language can improve upon that through via mortal comments.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Matthew 10

The twelve apostles (vs. 1-4)—Their names are listed here and Jesus “gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease” (v. 1). A limited power at the moment, but they weren’t ready for more yet.

The “limited commission” (vs. 5-42)—Jesus sends the twelve out on what has been called the “limited commission;” a little on-the-job training, I suppose. There are a lot of instructions here—don’t go to Gentiles, but only Jews (vs. 5-6). Preach a simple message: the kingdom of heaven is at hand (v. 7). Do good, in the form of miracles (v. 8); Jesus’ statement here is a wonderful precept for us all: “Freely you have received, freely give.” Don’t take any money, have faith that God will take care of you (vs. 9-13). If a city rejects you, then they will suffer worse torment than Sodom and Gomorrah (vs. 14-15).

Beginning in verse 16, Jesus tells His apostles that they will be persecuted. Much of the rest of His speech here pertains, not so much to the current commission, but to their long-term work. For example, verse 18: “You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.” That isn’t going to happen until after Christ’s ascension back to heaven, but they needed to know, in advance, what serving Christ would cost. Twice in the remainder of the chapter, Jesus indicates that the divisions over Him will be so sharp that it will divide families (vs. 21, 35-36). “And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 22). This is an indication that there is more to the Christian message than “love;” who would hate someone for preaching love? No, Christianity requires repentance, and if the message is broadcast too loudly, there will be those who will oppose it simply because they love their own wicked lifestyle more than they do a righteous one. The current hatred in our own country of Christianity should be an indication of this. Don’t be deceived; the vitriolic loathing that the left has for George W. Bush and Sarah Palin are much rooted in this animosity towards Christianity.

The Lord promises the apostles that God knows what they are going through (vs. 29-31), but they should have a greater fear of Him than of man (v. 28). There is only so much man can do to us; God can consign us to hell. So be strong in the face of persecution, Jesus tells them: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (vs. 32-33). It won’t be easy: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (v. 34). Yes, there is a certain element of peace that Jesus brings; but, again, there will be those who violently oppose the gospel as well. In this great war with Satan, we must have no higher allegiance than our allegiance to Christ: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (vs. 37-38). How much are soldiers worth to an army if they aren’t willing to die for the cause? The same is true of Christ’s disciples. He must be able to count on us, come what may. And whatever good we do, or do for those who are engaged in the great struggle, will be remembered by the Lord and rewarded (vs. 40-42).

Now again, keep in mind that this sermon was directed initially towards Christ’s apostles. There are some promises here than aren’t for you and me. For example, verse 19: “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak.” We aren’t given divine inspiration. And, back to the beginning of the commission—the apostles were to preach only to Jews, while today we must preach to all (Mark 16:15). But certainly, in principle, much of this sermon applies equally to you and I. Frankly, a lot of it is repeated, in one form or another, in other locations of the New Testament, so we have these instructions elsewhere.

One last rather obscure thought here. In verse 23, Jesus informs His disciples, “For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” This is not the Second Coming, obviously, because His message has gone far beyond the borders of ancient Israel; and besides the apostles are obviously all dead now. The “coming” here is probably the establishment of the church in Acts 2; in other words, His “coming” to finally establish the kingdom which was “at hand.” A great mistake that many people make is, when they see a “coming” of the Lord, they automatically assume it is a personal, visible appearance, usually the Second Coming. Actually, most “comings” or “days” of the Lord in Scripture are His “coming,” symbolically, or through another agency, in judgment against someone or some great power. More on that later.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Matthew 9

Jesus forgives, and heals, a paralytic (vs. 1-9)—Jesus was teaching in a house in Capernaum when this event took place (Mark 2:1). There were so many people there that nobody else could get in. The friends of a certain paralytic, full of faith and determination, went up to the roof, removed the tiles, and lowered the sick man down to Jesus. The Lord, perceiving their faith, pronounces the man’s sins forgiven. That caused consternation among some of the scribes who thought Jesus was blaspheming—only God can forgive sins. Which is true. Which means Jesus is God. The Lord knew what these scribes were thinking, so, in order to prove that He had the authority to forgive sins, He healed the paralytic as well. In other words, He confirmed His word with the miracle. That was largely the purpose of the miracles—to authenticate who He was. Of course, forgiveness was by far the greater of the two blessings, and that’s why Jesus bestowed it upon the man first.

The call of Matthew (vs. 9-13)—Matthew was a tax collector, a despised profession to the Jews, who hated paying taxes to the Romans. Yet Jesus perceived something good in him, and called him to be an apostle. Matthew then made a great feast (Luke 5:23), and invited some of his friends—also tax collectors and “sinners,” at least they were to the Pharisees. Those self-righteous hypocrites couldn’t figure out why Jesus would eat with sinners. Jesus very logically responded that it is the sick who need healing—sinners are the ones who need salvation. He then quotes an Old Testament passage to them (Hosea 6:6): “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” As I discussed in detail in the Sermon on the Mount, inward purity, not outward ceremonialism is what God looks for. Those who are inwardly pure will indeed be obedient in all matters, including the “ceremonies.” But “ceremonialists” are not always pure in heart, indeed, in their own eyes, they don’t need to be. That was the Pharisaic problem, front and center.

The new and the old (vs. 10-13)—“Why don’t your disciples fast?” Jesus was asked. Fasting was a vital part of the old law, but not of the new, and Jesus is trying to teach that here. Don’t try to put a new piece of cloth (the New Testament) on an old garment (the Old Testament). The same with new wine and old wineskins. They won’t match. Christianity is something new, not an extension of Judaism.

Two major healings (vs. 18-26)—A man named Jairus (Mark 5:22), who was a ruler of the synagogue, had a daughter grievously ill and begged Jesus to come heal her. The Lord agreed to do so. On the way, a woman “who had a flow of blood for twelve years” (v. 20), came up behind Jesus and touched His garment, believing that would be enough to heal her. She was correct. The Lord discovered her, and praised her faith. Then He went on to the house of Jairus, where the young girl had died. But Jesus raised her from the dead, and it is not surprising that “the report of this went out into all that land” (v. 26). He was more powerful than the spirit world (demons—Mt. 8:28-34), He was more powerful than nature (calming the storm—Mt. 8:23-27), He was even more powerful than death. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). The simple answer to that question is “no.”

More healings (vs. 27-34)—In this case, two blind men and a demon-possessed, mute man. All Matthew is doing here is piling evidence upon evidence upon evidence. Jesus didn’t do just one or two so-called miracles, and that in some hidden, dark place. He did a multitude of miracles, curing every kind of infirmity (v. 35), and He did it in public. And yet so many of the Jews were so intransigent that they simply ignored the testimony before their very eyes. The Pharisees drew the ridiculous conclusion, “’He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons’" (v. 34). They were losing their following to Christ and they didn’t like it.

The helpless multitudes (vs. 35-38)—Jesus continued His preaching tour, followed by many, many people. He never lost his following among the masses; that’s why He had to be crucified at night, and illegally, before the people found out what was happening. But He had compassion upon them “because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (v. 36). “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (vs. 37-38). So much to be done, so few to do it.