The Gospel of Matthew

Prologue: The Christmas Family

Imagine it’s Christmas Eve, the celebration of the Messiah.  You're sitting in a church singing the lovely, timeless carols, candle light illumining enraptured faces young and old, the fresh smell of pine wreaths red and green.  Now someone stands and reads the long list of names at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew.  The genealogy?  What could be more boring and what in the world has it got to do with the Christmas story?

We know God never wastes anything, especially words, but what significance could we possibly find in this?  Yet there must be some significance because these are the opening words of the New Testament.  Matthew begins the Christmas story by naming the human ancestors of Jesus.  What's the point?

My first thought is that maybe God wants to impress us with the remarkable heroes and saints in the family tree of Jesus.  After all,  the birth of the Son of God on earth is such an incredible story.  Surely His ancestors are worthy of the story.  But no, when we read the list, not so many heroes and saints.  Some of them we know nothing about.  Some are quite ordinary.  Some failed terribly, all sinned.  Yet when Jesus left the glory of heaven, He intentionally entered a human family with these ancestors. 

What is this list of names about?  

First of all, this is God's way of saying to Jews, "This Jesus is the Messiah, the royal Son of David, the King you've been waiting for".  Jews of that day were strict about family lineage.  God honors that tradition by demonstrating the kingly descent of Jesus.

But some of these folks, kings and commoners alike, were fool and failures.  Some were righteous, to be sure, but some were unrighteous, downright evil.  They represent times of national failure and destruction.  Maybe that's God's way of saying, "No amount of human foolishness and failure, of evil and destruction, can prevent the outworking of my purpose in history."  God purposed the birth of His Son in human form.  Nothing could prevent that.

Notice also the number of fools and failures whose lives were redeemed, common folk who encountered uncommon grace.  One is reminded of Hebrews 2:11 which says in reference to all redeemed fools and failures, that Christ "is not ashamed to call them brethren."

We find four women mentioned, which is odd because women were not usually mentioned in genealogies.  In this we hear Jesus saying, "I am not ashamed to call you my sisters, to include you in my family."

It's a big family.  The doorway is grace and a Savior stands at the threshold calling to all who will hear, "Come in, I'm not ashamed to include you in my family."

In my first church there was a man named Jim.  He stood just inside the front door of the church every Sunday morning handing out bulletins, greeting people.  Greeted them without shaking hands or speaking.  He would grunt, smile a crooked smile, nod.  With his one good hand he offered a program.

Jim had been a soldier during a long ago war, had received a head wound, suffered brain damage.  For the remainder of his life he had not been able to speak; his right hand and right foot were curled in, useless.  He appeared to have trouble reasoning, remembering.  Didn't know any sign language, had no job skills.

Well, none that paid money.  But he did have one magnificent skill.  Jim loved God's creatures -- ducks, dogs, cats, birds.  Sometimes he brought them to church with him and from time to time released them in the sanctuary.  They almost never stayed for the full service.  But then neither did Jim.  He'd usually hop up early to mid sermon, wander around the church, sometimes came up to talk to me.

 I would say, "Please sit down Jim," or "Gimme a break Jim, I'm just getting to the good part."  I didn't get it — Jim was the good part.  But I didn't see that right away.

Sometimes we'd pray together.  I was kind of embarrassed by him, at first.  Then, slowly, I began to realize God was saying something to me through Jim and his dogs and cats and ducks.

Jim had his own special place in the family of God, just like all God's creatures, just like the rest of us in that church.  The tragedy and destruction which he had experienced in the past could not limit or prevent his entrance into the family of God.  God had an everlasting future stored up for Jim and his past could not destroy God's future.

That's what Christmas is about.  Christmas is the story of a God who came to earth to include us all in His family.  And whatever our personal history, our family history or our national history, He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.  You and I are members of the Christmas family.  It's an everlasting family and all those fallen yesterdays will not destroy God's everlasting tomorrow. 

This is where Matthew's Gospel begins.  Think about that.  This first book of the New Testament, the Good News according to Matthew, begins with our family and some wonderful news about yesterday, today and tomorrow.  

What follows is not an academic discussion.  These are sermon notes, an attempt to trace the path of Jesus as He walked through the lives of folks in first century Palestine; an attempt to recall His teachings and conversations with real men and women who rejected Him or accepted Him, who hated Him or loved Him, who failed and fell and some stood again by grace. 

It's Good News because we can experience this same Jesus walking through our lives, today, and speaking with us as we fail and fall and stand by grace.

Matthew 1

The Ancestry of Jesus

1:1 The New Covenant begins with a list of the ancestors of Jesus.  God chose to be born in human form, chose to be born of Mary.  This has to do with the fulfilling of promises to Adam and Eve in Genesis, that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15); promises to Abraham in Gen. 22:18, “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed”; and to King David, a promise of dominion, “I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations”  (Psalm 89:4).  It was to human beings that God had given dominion on earth.  When the rule of God through humanity was lost to Satan, God promised to be born in human form and through this God-Man to restore the rulership of God in the earth.

Matthew opens with this genealogy in order to establish for his readers, especially  for his Jewish readers, that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah and King.  He was descended through Abraham, through David’s royal family and through Zerubbabel, who led the Jewish people after the return from exile.  This is a Jewish lineage, through Abraham and a royal lineage, through David.

But there is more to the genealogy than meets the eye.  You see, there are some terribly failed people in this list: Rahab the harlot, Bathsheba the exploited; David, a man of moral failure; Manasseh, a king involved in demonic activity.  Why were they not left out?  If God were a modern day politician, He would have been advised to put a better spin on His family.  Yeah, but God is not a politician.  God is God and amazingly, perfectly honest and open with the truth. 

The genealogy is God's way of saying, "I'm not ashamed to include redeemed sinners in my family."  In fact, Hebrews 2:11 says in reference to all redeemed people everywhere that Jesus "is not ashamed to call them brethren.”  Jesus is not ashamed to be associated with failures.  The New Covenant begins with a list of them.

1:2 The list begins in verse two with Jacob, Jacob the schemer who lied to his father, manipulated his brother and stole his brother’s birthright and blessing.  But later, Jacob had a life-changing encounter with the living God, was broken by God and then blessed by God.  He became a new man by the grace of God and was given a new name, Israel.  Today, we remember him, not as a thief who fled for his life but as the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

1:3 The list includes women, which is odd, because women were not usually mentioned in genealogies.  The first woman is Tamar who was a daughter-in-law of Jacob’s son, Judah.  She suffered the loss of her husband and unjust treatment by her father in law.  In desperation, she then seduced Judah and was made pregnant by him.  When the community gathered to punish her for her immorality, the full truth of her life was revealed and Judah declared her to be more righteous than himself (Gen. 38:26).  It was difficult to be a single woman, a widow, in that culture as it has been any time and in any culture.  The fact that she was neglected and abused by her family does not excuse the immoral choices which she made.  But whatever adversity she faced, whatever poor decisions she made, there must have been some change of heart which God recognized.  Now, there is room for her in the lineage of our Lord: neglected, abused, repentant, restored by grace and included in the Christmas family of Jesus.

1:4,5 Rahab was a Canaanite and a prostitute, separated from Israel by birth, born outside of the covenant family of Israel.  There is no mention of a husband, brothers or sons.  In that culture, if a woman lost her husband and had no male relatives willing to care for her, then her only options were begging, slavery, prostitution or starvation. 

But she, and all the people of Jericho, had heard about God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery, had heard of the mighty miracles, the defeat of the Egyptians and the Amorites.  When the Israelite spies came to Jericho, faith was quickened within her and she said, “The Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11).  By faith she welcomed the spies and cast her lot with them.  When Jericho was conquered, she was spared and lived thereafter with the people of God (Joshua 6:25).  Matthew says that she was the wife of Salmon and an ancestor of Boaz who was the great grandfather of David the king.  God is not ignorant of the social forces that may have led Rahab to her life of prostitution and He is not excusing her self-destructive choices.  But God saw her change of heart, the birth of faith in her heart and includes her in the grace that delivers and saves.  He includes her in His family.

We also read the name of Ruth in verse five.  She was a Moabitess and a widow, reduced to abject poverty and homelessness with her widowed mother-in-law, Namoi.  But she chose to remain faithful to Naomi and to Naomi’s God, accompanying her to Bethlehem, the city of Naomi’s deceased husband.  Although in the Jewish law it is stated that, “No Moabite shall enter into the assembly of the Lord”  (Deuteronomy. 23:3), nevertheless, God rewarded her faithfulness, had mercy on her poverty and rewarded her with an Israelite husband, Boaz.  Ruth’s story is a narrative of loss, grief, desperate poverty.  But her past cannot exclude her from the Christmas family.  Do you hear this?  A woman who was once homeless, destitute, the poorest of the poor, became the great grandmother of David and is included in the lineage of Jesus.  

1:6  We read of David, “The father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.”  We know that story well: adultery, contract murder, an unexpected pregnancy.  But in Psalm 51 we read about the brokenhearted repentance of David and a repentant, restored David is included in the family of Jesus.

Bathsheba is included.  Talk about sexual harassment and exploitation.  When the king of an ancient culture summoned a woman to his bed, she had no choice but to yield or die.  When King David summoned her, not surprisingly, she yielded.  The result was the death of her husband, an unwanted pregnancy, the death of her baby with David and later, war in the family and chaos in the nation of Israel.  

One can only wonder at the remorse which this tragedy produced in Bathsheba; the broken and tender heart which opened to God.  But we do know this — she is included in the Christmas family.  

1:7 Consider Solomon, a man of great wisdom and also great foolishness, a man of extravagant wealth and yet such poverty of spirit that at his life’s end he declared “all is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2).  There are fools in the family but they cannot prevent the outworking of God’s glorious purpose.

1:8,9 Righteous and unrighteous stand side by side in the lineage of Jesus: Ahaz, who committed terrible abominations; Hezekiah, a Godly man.

1:10 Manasseh is included, a king of Judah.  He was twelve years old when he began to reign and reigned for fifty-five years.  Five and a half decades to do good or evil.  He chose evil.  He built altars to Baal and the female goddesses and worshipped the stars, built altars for all the host of heaven in the house of the Lord.  He participated in child sacrifice — killed his sons with fire, offered them to demon gods and practiced every form of witchcraft.  "He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger”  (II Chron. 33:6).

This was not a matter of private sin: he was misleading the nation.  And not just misleading the nation to sin, but "to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed ..."  (II Chron. 33:9).  Though God called to him, he did not listen and so God brought judgment on  Manasseh: he was bound with hooks and chains and taken to a foreign prison.

As he suffered in prison, Manasseh came to his senses and “entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (II Chron. 33:12).  In humility, he prayed to the Lord and God "was moved by his entreaty"  (II Chron. 33:13).  

What amazing grace!  The king had committed abominations against God, had led his nation, the covenant people, into national sin, calamity and destruction, and yet God was moved by his humble prayer.  Let us not underestimate or misunderstand the grace of God.  Whatever sin a person may have committed, and Manasseh did it all, God is moved by humble prayer.

God not only heard him but "brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom" (II Chron. 33:13).  Manasseh then removed the idols from the temple and restored holy worship.  God brought him out of the dungeon, back into relationship with Himself, back to the place where he began, to the city of God and into the family lineage of Jesus.

Truly, this is the God who  is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6).

1:11-17 “After the deportation to Babylon” refers, in a passing phrase, to the defeat of the nation of Israel, the complete devastation of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, the slaughter of countless thousands of Jewish people and the forced deportation to Babylon of many survivors.  Yet in spite of this indescribable tragedy, the genealogy continues through the deportation to the time of Joseph and Mary.  The family history of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, is a history of saints and sinners, holy and profane, the righteous and the criminal, the defeated and deported.  

To those who failed, fell and called out to God, Jesus says, "I am not ashamed to call you my sisters and brothers, to include you in my family."  To the unrighteous, who died in their evil, God says, “You cannot prevent the outworking of my purpose in history.”

Notice these themes throughout the genealogies:

1. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and exile in a foreign land did not destroy the purpose of God.  God had promised in Eden that from the seed of the woman would come One who would bruise the serpent’s head.  The prophets and Psalms foretold His birth.  In the fulness of time Jesus the Messiah was born and no power on earth, no force of history, no demonic strategy, could prevent that birth.  

Consider this incredible truth:  the destruction of the holy city, Jerusalem, the destruction of the covenant nation, Israel, the destruction of the holy places where the sacred memories and traditions were recalled, did not destroy God’s purpose.  It continued to wind its way resolutely, relentlessly, through history.  The cataclysmic forces and failures of the past did not determine the possibilities for the future.

Does this truth have relevance for our lives?  There have been sins and failures in our national history, destructive social and historical forces that have unleashed powerful demonic forces against the generations that came before us and against us.  But this is a Good News principle: neither military defeat, nor the destruction of political institutions nor the corruption of religious foundations will in any way resist the establishment of God’s purpose in history.

This is also true on a personal level: God will not allow our past to determine our future, if we will surrender control of our life to the One who is Lord over all of time.

2. Notice that women are included in the lineage.  Normally, only men are listed in  the genealogies of Jews.  But in the lineage of Jesus, women are listed alongside men.  Throughout His ministry, Jesus treated women with the same respect and compassion with which He treated men and in this He demonstrates that His purpose for their lives is as profound and as relevant as is His purpose for any man or any nation.

3. Notice the inclusion of Gentiles.  A true Jewish genealogy did not include Gentiles, indeed, Gentile lineage would have disqualified a man from the rights and privileges of the congregation of Israel.  But the lineage of Jesus includes those who were born outside of the covenant family.  There is a wideness to God’s mercy which has not always been recognized, but it has always been present.

4. Notice there are those who were quite wealthy — David, Solomon —  and those who were desperately poor, such as Ruth, a homeless woman.  But rich and poor are welcomed into the family of God.  Neither wealth nor hard circumstance can bar anyone’s entrance into the kingdom purpose of God, if we will enter through the doorway of repentance and faith.

5. Notice there were people who failed but who repented and were restored to the family of Messiah, restored to a heritage which they would never have dreamed.  In the dark depths of their sin and even in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness, they would never have imagined that Messiah would someday be born from their family. The lineage of Jesus reveals the Good News of grace.

6. Notice there were evil people in the lineage, sinners who, as far as we know, refused to repent and who died in their sin.  Nevertheless, the purpose of God was accomplished.  The frailty, failure, evil and rebellion of our ancestors cannot prevent the outworking of God’s salvation purpose on earth or in your life.  Neither can the failure of  multiple generations of your family destroy the purpose of God in your life.  We have a choice: surrender to our past and its recycling into our future; or surrender to the God who determines the future, who makes all things new.  We can lay down in the failure of our family past, or kneel into the future of the Christmas family.

7. Notice the outworking of God’s plan across many centuries and generations.  There is a purpose to history, a design to this universe.  The dream that haunts the souls of men and women, a dream that dimly echoes of some eternal wisdom behind this brief and violent absurdity and chaos, a dream that pleads for ultimate justice, peace, reconciliation and meaning, that dream began in the heart of God.  And notice that neither the sin and failure of individual men and women nor the failure of nations, could destroy His purpose. 

God will not allow our past to determine our future if we will surrender our time into the hands of the everlasting God who makes all things new.  Whatever our personal history, our family or national history, Jesus in not ashamed to invite us into His family and all may enter by grace through faith.

And so we come to the Christmas story, 

the new beginning of time and the springhead 

of our journey toward time’s end.

The Birth of Jesus

1:18 In Joseph and Mary’s time, betrothal meant something more than what we mean today by “engaged but not yet married.” The betrothal could last for as long as a year, during which time the couple were known as man and wife, though they did not live together nor enter into the intimacies of married life.  In this state of betrothal, Mary was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  This is reiterated in verse 20, “For the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”  Matthew is very clear on this — Jesus had no earthly father.  His conception was an act of God.

Let’s take a moment and discuss three promises concerning the birth of Jesus Christ.

1. A Redeemer will be born of the seed of a woman (Genesis 3:15)

Before Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden, God revealed that Someone born of the seed of the woman will someday bruise the head of the serpent, though He would be bruised on the heel.  We don't normally speak of  the seed of a woman.  This would be a special birth not involving the seed of a man.  This uniquely conceived Man will crush the head of the serpent (a mortal wound) though He would be bruised on the heel, that is, He would be wounded.  Interpreting that passage from our perspective we see Jesus, conceived without the seed of a man, who, though He was wounded, broke the power of Satan.

2. Jesus would be descended from David.

It was necessary that Jesus was descended from King David because the Messiah had to be of royal lineage. As Isaiah prophesied, He will sit on the throne of David and “the government will rest on His shoulders” (Isa. 9:6,7).

Jesus was of royal descent genetically because Mary was from David's line (the genealogy in Luke 3 is considered to be Mary’s lineage). He is the Son of David legally because His father Joseph, though not His father by natural birth but His father by human family identity, was also a descendant of David (Matt. 1:6,16). So Jesus inherited David's royal line from His father, David's royal blood from His mother. This is why the angel could say to Mary, “And the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,” (Luke 1:32,33).

Jesus was the Son of Mary in His humanity, Son of Joseph in the legal sense, Son of David in royal lineage and Son of God in His divine nature and essence. Son of God and Son of Mary. Great David’s greater Son. God in human flesh.

3. Jesus would be born of a virgin  (Isaiah 7:14 ) 

It was necessary that the Redeemer be born of a woman so that He could share the same human nature as those whom He came to save. But it was equally necessary that He be perfectly God. Thus Jesus, pre-existent Second Person of the Trinity, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin: Son of Man and Son of God, perfectly human and perfectly divine; two natures, one Person. 

God revealed this through the prophet Isaiah 700 years before the birth of Christ. In context, God was calling the Israelite king, Ahaz, to trust Him during a time of adversity. To bolster the king’s faith, the Lord said, “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God,” (7:11). The king replied, self righteously, “I will not ask nor will I test the Lord,” (7:12).

God responded by providing a sign that would not come into being for seven centuries, “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call his name Immanuel,” (7:14).

There are those who argue against the virgin birth of Christ by reminding us that the Hebrew word alma can be translated maiden, which would read, “A maiden will be with child.” But how would that be a sign from God? Young women, maidens, have babies every day. The word alma is usually translated virgin and must mean virgin in this context or it makes no sense that God would use this as a sign.

God would not say, “Behold, a maiden will bear a son.” That is not a sign. It is a normal, every day occurrence.

Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, testifies that Joseph and Mary, though betrothed (engaged), had not yet come together in intimate union. Yet, “She was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit,” (1:18). 

The angel of the Lord then testified, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit,” (1:20). The clear testimony of Scripture is that the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb. 

Matthew then writes, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son,’” (Matt. 1:23). Because Matthew was quoting from a Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14, he used the word parthenos, which means an unmarried daughter who has not had sexual relations -- a virgin.

Luke, writing in Greek, testifies that the angel Gabriel came “to a virgin ... and the virgin’s name was Mary,” (Luke 1:27). Luke also uses the word parthenos, which, as we have said, is normally translated virgin. The angel tells her that though she is a virgin, she will conceive and bear a son.

Mary then asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Mary cannot possibly mean, “since I am a young woman.” Young women have babies every day. She is testifying of her virginity.

The angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God,” (Luke 1:35). In other words, you will conceive, even though you are a virgin, because God the Holy Spirit will conceive this life in you.

There is nothing ambiguous or unclear about the testimony concerning the virgin birth.

How did God do that?  It is a mystery but God is able to create by the Word which He speaks.  The Word of God contains the revelation of His purpose and the dynamic, creative power needed to bring that purpose into being.  When God speaks, He not only is revealing His purpose but releasing the creative power needed to bring that purpose into being.  Thus in Genesis chapter one we read repeatedly, “God said” and that which God spoke then came into being.  So also in Romans 4:17, we read that God “gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist (or calls those things which are not as though they are).”  

In Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel, recorded in Luke chapter one, the angel said, “For nothing will be impossible with God,” (1:37).  That could also be translated, “not any Word will be impossible with God.”  Just as an acorn contains in it the life needed for the beginning of an oak tree, so God’s Word contains in it the creative life and power needed to birth that which God has spoken.  Matthew does not attempt to explain, defend or justify this.  He simply states it as a matter of truth. 

In summary, Jesus Christ was both God and man.  The traditional, orthodox position on the nature of Christ, first formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, states that Jesus was truly God and truly Man, possessing two natures, both human and divine.  As the Son of God, He existed with the Father before time and as the Son of Man, He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit.  Both divine and human natures are distinct but united in one Person.

1:19 Joseph was a righteous man, that is, a man who observed the Mosaic Law.  That law permitted him to bring Mary before a Jewish court or to break their engagement privately.  His righteousness obviously was tempered by mercy, “not wanting to disgrace her,” so he chose the latter course of action.

1:20,21 But his plans were interrupted by God.  In a dream, an angel of God spoke to him.

  

1. The angel reminded him that he was a son of David, that is, of royal lineage.

2. The angel encouraged him to refuse fear and to follow through on his engagement to Mary.

3. The angel revealed to him that this child’s conception was miraculous, an act of God.

4. The angel commanded him to name the child Jesus, which means “God saves.”

5. The angel promised him that the child would save the people, not from Roman rule, not from foreign armies, but from their own sins.  Sin is that which separates us from God and brings about the death of God’s purpose in our lives, destroys our relationship with God, destroys life itself.  The saving act of Jesus, then, would have to do with people being reconciled to God.

1:22,23 Matthew was writing, first of all, to convince Jews that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah and King, fulfilling hundreds of years of promises and prophecies recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.  So he is quick to remind us that this divinely conceived birth is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

It was necessary that Jesus be conceived by God and yet born of a woman, that is, that He was born of a virgin whose pregnancy was an act of divine creation.  In this way, Jesus, who preexisted as the Son of God, remained God but became the Son of Mary.  It is a mystery that Jesus could be both God and Man at the same time but this is the truth revealed in the Bible. Because Jesus was perfectly man and perfectly God, He could die a substitutionary death for humanity, taking our sins upon Himself as the holy Lamb of God.

1:24,25 When Joseph awoke from his dream, he “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”  What does this tell us about Joseph?

1. He was a spiritually sensitive man, able to hear from God, able to sort through the noise of the world and hear the voice of God.  

2. He was a devoted man, devoted to Mary, devoted to God, seeking the best interests of those whom he loved even if this entailed hardship for himself.

3. He was a strong man, willing to persevere, to endure, even when it cost him dearly.  No doubt there was misunderstanding in the community — gossip, disapproval, rejection.  There was a price to pay in choosing to be loyal to Mary.  Joseph bore up under all of that.

4. Joseph was a hard working man.  We read later that he was a carpenter.  The word is tekton, meaning builder.  There wasn't much wood in Israel so he probably worked with stone more than lumber.  The point is that he was a builder, a working man, a blue collar worker, a man who came home every night tired from the job.

5. Joseph was a faithful man, willing to obey what he understood to be God’s will even if he did not understand God’s purpose.

The proof of faith is obedience, doing what we understand to be the will of God even if we don’t understand what God is willing and doing.  The further proof of faith is commitment, perseverance, endurance, being willing to follow through no matter what the cost.

There are men and women today who will not accept the cost of being responsible for the life they create; will not accept responsibility for the spiritual or material well being of their family.  But Joseph accepted responsibility for a family which he did not begin.  We never read that Joseph understood what God was doing.  It does say he was faithful to accept his role in God’s purpose.

There are men and women who sincerely desire for God to use them in the time and place where they live. But they think, "Surely God could not use me. There's nothing remarkable about me."  God's response is that He doesn’t need an extraordinary person to show His glory.  All He needs is a faithful person.  Three principles to remember here:

1. Joseph surrendered his need to understand.  

We may miss being part of God’s purpose if we demand to understand everything, if we walk away from what we don't understand.  Jesus said to Thomas, "Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe,”  (John 20:29).

2. Joseph surrendered his right to possess, before God’s time, what God had given him.

He surrendered his right to take Mary as his wife and consummate the marriage until after the birth of Jesus.  That is, he refused to put his hands on any aspect of God's purpose until God's time. There would come a time when he would marry her and have normal relations with her.  But he refused to take what was his before God's time.

3. He surrendered his right to walk away from something that involved shame.  

There were certainly people who gossiped and slandered, who tried to make Joseph feel ashamed.  But he refused to walk away from the shame.  He resembled Moses in this, who chose “to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater than the treasures of Egypt”  (Hebrews 11:24-26).  How like Jesus Himself, “Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebr. 12:2).

It would be dangerous, a few months later, traveling to Bethlehem with an expectant wife, fleeing Bethlehem before the wrath of Herod.  Though Joseph could not have known all that lay before him, he wasn’t naive.  And he refused to walk away.

In every generation God is conceiving kingdom purpose and birthing kingdom life.  He wants us to experience what He is doing but more, wants us to share in it as instruments of His purpose.  

God invited Joseph, not just to experience His purpose, but to partner in it.  So today, God is looking for people who want to share in His creative work.  We will, if we will be men and women of faith, making a fresh surrender of our lives day by day.

Matthew 2

The Journey of the Magi

2:1,2 Matthew establishes the birth of Jesus in a historical setting of time and place: in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of King Herod.  Then these mysterious visitors enter the story.  There is much we do not know about them.  We don't know exactly where they were from, only from the East.  We don't know how old they were, what their names were.  We don't know exactly what they did for a living, though Magi denotes a class of  learned men.  

We sing "We Three Kings" but it does not say they were kings and it does not say there were three.  We do not know what kind of lives they had led or where their lives led after this.  They simply ride into the story and ride out and we never hear of them again.

There is much we do not know about these visitors.  But this we do know: they came to worship the King of the Jews, they were wise enough to discern the time of His birth, they were humble enough to follow directions to the place of His birth, and they were willing to seek Him despite a long, dangerous and taxing journey.

Notice their discernment.  Based on their study of the stars, they believe that somewhere a great King has been born.  God does not work in secret.  "The heavens declare the glory of God," (Psalm 19:1).  Genesis 1:14 talks of lights in the heavens for signs and seasons.  Romans 1:18-20 informs us that God's eternal power and divine nature are clearly revealed through His creation.  God's works are visible for all to see but not all see because not all are looking.  Only discerning people look for the things of God.  

It's one thing to believe that God is doing something somewhere, it's something else to go and search for it, find it, participate in it. God wants to be found by all but not all find God because not all will seek.  Not all seek because there is a cost: we must let go of lesser kings and lesser gods if we would find the greater.  

We must let go of our comfort zones, our safe answers and familiar traditions.  We may have to let go of our reputation, there may be those who will ridicule our journey.  Being a seeker after God does not mean we always must leave our home, jobs, traditions and treasures.  But we do need to let go of them.  There is a difference.

The Magi left the familiar safety of home and family to go and search for the King.

They show wisdom in seeking the King with the light they had.  They were not Jews and though they may have had access to the Old Testament Scriptures, which are a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our pathway, they did not have the advantage of worshipping in the Jerusalem Temple or hearing the priests teach daily.  Further, there was only one Scripture that referred to the birthplace of the coming Messiah.  And there was only one star leading them.  In other words, they had a limited amount of light.

The point is this: whatever light God provides us, that will be enough for our journey.

Not everyone has the same light, the same advantages of learning and experience.  But God is not expecting us to walk by someone else's light.  He is expecting us to walk with what we have and that will lead us to our destination.  The wise men did not have all the light that some possessed but as they followed the light they did have, they found the King, they arrived at their journey's end.

The light led them to Jerusalem where they inquired, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?"  In one sense, this shows wisdom, for it is a wise person who seeks guidance and direction.  This is a trademark of wise people — they are teachable.  God never anoints a teacher who is not teachable.   God will never call anyone wise who does not seek wisdom.  They followed the light they knew but admitted what they did not know, asking direction. 

However, we could also say that it was reckless and dangerous to turn aside from God's light to seek light from men of mixed motives.  Later in the story we will see just how dangerous.  Yes, it's a good thing to be teachable but we must be very careful who we open our lives to, who we share our visions with, who we listen to.  Not everyone has a Godly word for us, not everyone is walking in enough light to share light.

2:3 King Herod was disturbed by the news that a rival king had been born.  The arousal of his jealousy disturbed all of Jerusalem.  News of the birth of a king was exciting to wise men from another culture but not to the power structure of Jerusalem.  The ungodly political  system headed by Herod was troubled by the news of God acting in history.  But so was the religious power structure — "all Jerusalem" was troubled.”   Why?  Because the religious structure was so closely tied to the political structure.

2:4 Herod called together the chief priests and teachers of the law, the leading men of Jewish society, and asked them where Messiah was to be born.  Herod deduced that this king might be the long awaited Messiah.  In his conceit and pride, he believes that Messiah is his rival and that he can use the well honed muscle of his military to eliminate this threat.  What arrogance, that the Messiah, God's anointed servant, prophesied in Scripture, could be destroyed by a mere man.  Such is the deluding, deceiving arrogance of power.

In this, Herod reflects the arrogance and delusion of Satan, who thought he could overthrow the throne of God.  This resulted only in Satan's expulsion from heaven.  Evil always over reaches, as if drunk with grandiose dreams.  Napoleon, Hitler — the list is endless.  Self seduced, they were destroyed by their own impossible reach.  Deception always results in loss. 

In Psalm 2:2-4 we read,

"The kings of the earth take their stand 

and the rulers off the earth take counsel together against the Lord 

and against His Messiah, saying, 'Let us tear their fetters apart 

and cast away their cords from us.'  

He who sits in the heavens laughs." 

2:5,6 The educated men reply that Bethlehem is to be the birthplace of Messiah.  This is clearly prophesied in Micah 5:2.  The scribes and priests knew the Scriptures, knew where the Messiah was to be born but were not seeking Him.  They could see the star but did not recognize it as a sign in the heavens.  They had knowledge but no revelation as to the time or season for their life.  They knew what God had said but had no idea that it applied to that moment in history.  Nor were they motivated to act on the knowledge they had and seek the Messiah.  The Magi, men from an ungodly culture, were acting with greater wisdom than the scribes and priests who worked and worshipped in the Jerusalem temple.  

2:7 Herod asks for the "exact time" when the star appeared.  He has already formed his murderous plan.  By obtaining the time of Messiah's birth, he can deduce the possible age of his rival.  It would be helpful to learn the child's identity but not necessary.  He only needs to kill all the children within the parameters of the day of this meeting with the wise men and the first appearance of the star.  In our generation we have seen genocide used as a political tool.  The practice is ancient.

2:8 Herod pretends to be a worshipper.  He asks the Magi to search carefully for the child and to let him know when they find Him, that Herod too might go and worship.  Satan can cloak himself in the robes of a worshipper, can hide himself in cathedral incense and candle light, even "disguises himself as an angel of light," (2 Cor. 11:14).  Though it is politically expedient for kings to kneel at altars, not every king who kneels and not every bishop who stands behind the altar has been a worshipper of God.  Sometimes, what appears to be holy may truly be profane, even demonic.

2:9 "They went their way."  The Magi were committed seekers.  

1. Notice that the star went on before them but only after they went their way.  God provided light after they committed to go.

2. The star went before them.  Light shines in front of them, not behind them.  Forget those things which are behind you.  Press on toward the upward call of God in Christ.

3. The light continued before them until it stood over the child: God leads us to the end of the journey.  The journey's end is Jesus.  The Holy Spirit, the light of God, seeks to glorify Jesus, to reveal Jesus.

Which brings us to the question, why did the Magi stop in Jerusalem to ask directions?  When they resumed their journey, the star continued to lead them "until it stopped over the place where the child was."  Consider how far they had traveled, yet the light of God's leading brought them precisely to their journey's end.  We are awed by the precision of God's direction in their lives.  

There was no reason to ask directions from the disinterested, spiritually complacent, politically compromised priests and scribes.  They were learned religious people who knew the Scriptures but not the season; who lived within walking distance of Bethlehem but whose hearts were an eternity removed from God. All the Magi accomplished was to momentarily break their focus, interrupt their journey and tragically endanger the innocent children of Bethlehem.

In Psalm 32:8, the Lord said, "I will instruct and you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and lead you with my eye upon you."

God is able to speak His guiding Word to all who follow after Him.  If we will listen for that guidance and follow His direction, we also will arrive at those destinations, those Bethlehems which God has planned for us.  Yes, we should always be teachable but not everybody we meet is qualified to speak into our lives.  Be careful not to break your focus by listening to spiritually compromised teachers or endanger your journey by associating with evil in its various disguises.

2:10 The Magi rejoiced to see the star again.  They had been in the company of complacent religious folk and a demonically driven king.  How refreshing to find again the pure and peaceful light of God in their lives.

Are we being unfair in calling those priests and scribes complacent and compromised? Jerusalem is only seven miles from Bethlehem and though the religious community knew the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, they would not make that short journey to investigate the report of the Magi.  When we know the truth but will not act on it, something has been lost.  In fact, "To him who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin," (James 4:17).

2:11 Coming into the house and seeing the child, the Magi bowed down and worshipped. Notice the purity of their motive.  They were not seeking political leverage, not lobbying for access to money or position or power.  They came to worship.  Wisdom is revealed in the purity of their motives.

Wisdom is revealed also in knowing when the journey is complete.  They recognized the king and bowed in His presence.  God has placed in our hearts a desire to know Him and life is a restless searching until we do.  When we arrive at journey's end in the presence of the Lord, the wise heart bows in the presence of the true King.

Wisdom is revealed in the way they honor the King.  "And opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts."  They had gone out expecting to meet royalty, carrying gifts to share when they did find Him.  How foolish it would be to seek God and not expect to find Him.  How foolish to find God and not be prepared to honor Him.

Through Jeremiah the Lord said, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,"  (Jeremiah. 29:13).  Wisdom seeks the Lord expecting to meet Him, prepared to give the worshipful gifts which our God is due.  These were not fools.  They were wise men.

However, their gifts reveal the wisdom of God, not human wisdom.  The Magi could not have known the true identity of the God-King they would find, but God prepared them.  

They brought gold, gift for royalty.  In the ancient world, when an ambassador came into the presence of a king, he brought gold, thereby recognizing the king's majesty. With this gift, the wise men proclaimed the Kingship of Jesus.  They had no way of knowing that this baby was born a King, but God prepared them beforehand.  Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus this was prophesied:

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;

and the government will rest on His shoulders;

and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

There will be no end to the increase of Hs government 

or of peace, on the throne of  David and over His Kingdom, 

to establish it and to uphold it with justice 

and righteousness, from then on and forevermore"  (Isa. 9:6,7).

The wise men brought gold because the little baby in the manger, Mary's child, was born a King and He shall reign forever and ever.

The next gift was quite unusual — they brought frankincense.  This was a sweet smelling incense used in the Temple.  As the sacrifices were offered up, as the people worshipped, frankincense was burned and its sweet smoke mingled with the prayers and praise of the people and priests.  In bringing this gift to Jesus, the Magi could not possibly have known that they were recognizing and proclaiming the Deity, the Lordship of this child.  

The gift of frankincense announces, "This is more than an earthly king.  This is God in flesh."

None should have been surprised.  Hundreds of years before, the prophets had said, 

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Emmanuel, which means God with us"  (Isa. 7:14).  

The magi brought frankincense for the little baby in the manger, Mary's child, was born the Son of God, Lord of Lords.

The other gift seems strangely out of place, might even appear to be a mistake but God makes no mistakes and prepared the Magi with perfect gifts.  The gift is myrrh, used in the embalming of bodies.  It was a burial ointment and as a gift for the child, proclaimed the climax of divine purpose for the child's life.  He would be the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world.

As these very wise men knelt before the Christ child, worshipped and laid their gifts before Him, they proclaimed far more than they understood.  They proclaimed the birth of the King, the Lord, the sacrificed Lamb.

2:12 One closing note.  As we have said, though it is wise to be teachable, the Magi had not acted wisely when they left their guiding light and asked directions from people who were neither led by God nor seeking God.  They opened their journey to the religious and political powers of that region and in doing this, they exposed themselves and the people of Bethlehem to those powers.  God mercifully warned the Magi of the danger to their lives and they returned home by another way.  For the innocent babies asleep in the cradles of Bethlehem, there would be no escape from the reality of this evil world.

Into such a world, Jesus the Messiah was born, and we also were born.   The Good News is that in the midst of this violence and tragedy, God is with us and someday His peace will be established across the earth.  The star of Bethlehem not only reveals people who seek God but also, a God who beckons to us, calling us to Himself and to that day when the kingdom of this world will have become the kingdom of our God and of His Messiah.

Fleeing Bethlehem

2:13 Again an angel appears to Joseph, this time to warn him of Herod’s murderous intent.  Does God warn everyone or only some?  Was Joseph more deserving or more discerning?  I don’t know the answers to those questions but I do see two truths here:

1. Jesus escaped death in this instance, and did on other occasions.  The reason is because He had an appointment with death.  Before His birth, the angel said to Joseph, "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).  He would provide salvation from sin by dying in the place of sinful humanity, as the sacrifice for sin.  Jesus knew He had an appointment with death.  In fact, He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).  That means that He always knew that He would die an atoning death for the sins of the world.

The point is that no one took His life from Him, He gave it, but only in God’s time.  Jesus  escaped death as a child so that He could give His life on the cross at the appointed time. 

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life 

so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from me, 

but I lay it down on my own initiative” (John. 10:17,18).

2. Mary escaped heart breaking grief here, but not forever.  It had already been prophesied to her that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2:35), not a literal sword but the sharp pangs of grief.  And so it was, thirty-three years later, when she saw her Son crucified.

2:14 Joseph obeyed without any delay.  It says that he arose “while it was still night” and fled with the child and his mother.  When Joseph hears from God he is quick to obey.  

1. He does not question the command or direction of God: “Did God really say ... ?”

After all the prophecies and testimonies of angels, Magi and shepherds, wouldn’t it be  tempting to ask, “Can’t God protect us where we are?  If God is God, and this child is who we think He is, why should we flee?”  But Joseph did not question.  He obeyed.

2. He doesn’t pause to meditate on the command:  “Hmmm, let me think about this, maybe there’s a deeper truth here.”  

It is sometimes easier, more convenient, more comfortable, to pause and meditate on truth than to act on it. We do need times of reflection but the angel seemed to speak with an urgency, indicating the necessity of quick, decisive action.  There’s a time to meditate on truth and a time to act and if we miss the time for action, it can cost us terribly.  Joseph did not pause.  He obeyed, immediately.

3. He does not rationalize:  “Did God mean what he said, does this really apply to me?”

It’s easy to evade truth by rationalizing it, to persuade ourselves that it applies to someone else but not to us.  This is especially tempting when responding to truth will require that we step out of our comfort zone, leave our familiar surroundings, go where we’ve never gone before mentally or spiritually, culturally, racially or even geographically.

Joseph did not evade the truth by rationalizing it.  He obeyed and went where he had never been before.  

They journeyed to Egypt.  This was no small journey.  Though there were large communities of Jewish people in Egypt, they were aliens in a foreign land.  It’s not likely that Joseph or Mary had family there.  In a time and culture where the roots of family, kin and clan were tightly woven, it was no small act of courage to leave everything and everyone.  

2:15 The family lived there until the death of Herod.  Matthew records their return from Egypt as a fulfillment of prophecy, 

“When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son,”  (Hosea 11:1).

2:16 Herod, psychotic, enraged murderer that he was, sent his executioners and killed all the male children in Bethlehem, from two years old and younger.  His bloody mathematics was based upon the length of time that the Magi had seen the star.  That glorious star, for a band of seekers, was a golden guide post in the sky illuminating their journey toward this greatest mystery, the wondrous birth of a God-King in human flesh.  But for Herod, the star was only a cold, essential factor in his deadly political equation.  The light has been visible for two years, then every male child in Bethlehem two years and younger must die.  Thus he would eliminate any potential rival to his royal throne.

A lovely light shining in a clear winter sky causes some to seek God and another to commit unspeakable savagery.  There is no logic in this, no explanation.  It is the reality of a fallen world, where one man’s political agenda is more precious than a baby cradled in his mother’s bosom; where some souls worship while others conceive bloody plans; where political, personal and career expediency is more sacred than the life of an innocent child.

In our time, more than a few despots have used genocide as a political tool to establish their power.  The massacre of innocent civilians, including children, has too often been rationalized as a strategic instrument of political policy and national security.  And how many politicians, who would not dream of mass murder, have excused or ignored the extermination of millions of unborn children because their election seemed to require it?

2:17,18 Again, Matthew hears the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in this.  Truly, there was no comfort for the mothers of Bethlehem.

2:19,20 Again, the angel speaks to Joseph in a dream, assuring him of safety in his native land.

2:21 Again, Joseph obeyed, unquestioning, immediately.

2:22,23 While he was traveling, the angel spoke again and Joseph continued his journey into Galilee, to a city called Nazareth.  Sometimes God does not give us all the directions for our journey, only enough to begin.  In fact, it didn’t make sense to settle in Judea because the son of Herod, Archelaus, was even more violent and dangerous than his father.  So the plan to leave Egypt may not have made sense at first.  Joseph didn’t have the whole plan but he obeyed what he knew.

1. Notice that God added to the plan while Joseph was moving.  God speaks to us while we are obeying what we know.  But if I’m not even doing that, why would God tell me more?  It’s easier to steer a moving vehicle than a stationary one.  Let us walk by the light we have and trust God to shine more light as we need it.

2. Obedience does not require that we understand everything.  Obedience is an act of faith based on surrender to God, trusting that God has our best interests at heart and is able to guide our lives.  Since God’s directions may not be entirely complete to start with, it’s only natural that we may not understand the whole plan.  But as we obey what we know and follow the directions that we have, God continues to speak and our understanding grows.  If we refuse to begin because we don’t understand, then we will never understand, never begin and we will never arrive at journey's end.

Any journey with God, any act of obedience, does not begin with understanding everything God is saying or doing.  It begins with an act of surrender.  The principle here is to obey what we know, walk according to the light we have.  As we live and walk, God will shine more light.

Matthew 3

The Ministry of John the Baptist

Matthew chapter three introduces John the Baptist. We know several revealing truths about Him.

3:1 We know where he preached: in the wilderness of Judea.  This was rugged country, hot, dry, forbidding.  It was a lonely place, lacking in comforts.  His willingness to lay aside all distractions, to embrace the sacrifice necessary to answer God’s calling on his life, speaks of his discipline and commitment.

3:2 We know what he preached: repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.

1. Repent

Repentance is a turning of mind and heart.  It is sincere remorse for the sins of the past and an equally sincere refocusing of hope and faith in the God who opens new tomorrows and new possibilities to us.

There are many ways to avoid repentance.  The secular mind denies that we have sinned, indeed, denies the very category of sin, saying, “We only make adult choices.”  The hypocrite condemns the sins of others while accepting and rationalizing one’s own sin. The falsely religious trust in ritual to dispose of sin, rather than humble confession to God.

True repentance is a gift from God (2 Tim 2:25) and an expression of God’s mercy to creatures who could not turn from sin except that God leads us to turn (Romans 2:4).  But it is a gift which God bestows on those who are willing to listen to the Word of God which cuts through our masks, our denial, our self-righteousness (Acts 2:37,38).  And it is a gift which must be received and acted on (Acts 2:38-41).  

Notice the subtle difference between John’s message and Jesus’ message.  John said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,”  (Matt 3:2).  He was preparing hearts for the ministry of Jesus by calling people to take ownership of their sin, confess and turn from it.

Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel / good news”  (Mark 1:15).  Jesus announced the Good News that not only is the kingdom coming — it is here — time is fulfilled, it is now the season of God’s grace.  Only Jesus could do this.  “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,”  (John 1:17).

2. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  

Though there are no details as to John’s concept of the kingdom of heaven, we know he was expecting the imminent appearance of the Messiah.  A kingdom is where a king rules and John was obviously expecting Messiah to come, overthrow earthly governments and establish God’s rule on earth.  

We know John recognized Jesus as the long-awaited Savior, the holy Lamb of God (John 1:29).  But it also appears that John was surprised, maybe even disappointed, at the delay in the establishing of the kingdom. He sent word from prison, “Are you the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:18,19  Matthew 11:2, 3).

However, if John misunderstood the timing and nature of the kingdom of God, he was right in proclaiming its closeness.  Jesus said, “The kingdom is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is’ or ‘There it is.’  For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst,”  (Luke 17:20,21).  The kingdom was as close as the presence of Jesus.

(We must note that Matthew seldom used the phrase, “kingdom of God,” preferring to use “kingdom of heaven.”  However, the other Gospel writers never use “kingdom of heaven,” always using “kingdom of God.”  While some Bible scholars delineate a difference between the two terms, they are in fact synonymous.  Matthew was writing primarily for a Jewish audience who considered the name of God too sacred to write.  Out of respect, Matthew substituted the word heaven.)

3:3 As is often the case, Matthew sees the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 40:3).  John also applied Isaiah’s words to himself (John 1:22,23).  He recognized that the purpose of his ministry was to call people to prepare an entrance in their hearts for the Lord, to make straight paths for Him.  The full passage in Isaiah calls for the low places to be lifted up and the mountains, high or exalted places to be brought down.  We are to change those attitudes and habits in our lives that prevent or hinder the Lordship of Christ.  

The kingdom or rule or Lordship of Christ does not begin with outward signs, it is not a military conquest, not a regime changing event.  It is a heart changing event.  The Lord enters our life when we turn from that which would refuse Him, pull down that which would exalt itself against Him, lift up into the light those things of darkness which are unworthy of Him and open our lives to Him.

Repentance is not a one time prayer.  It is a lifestyle.  John shows us this life in exaggerated detail.  He renounced anything that would hinder God’s access to his heart, anything that would hold him back from fulfilling God’s calling on his life.

3:4 Again we have a glimpse into John’s commitment.  Though his life is an example in the extreme — not many are called to live in a desert, wear camel’s hair or eat locusts — there is a valid principle here.  The principle is that commitment is about focus; focus is about simplicity, refusing the clutter that would break our focus.  If we would complete a journey with God, we must learn to refuse the journey that is not ours.  If we would use the gifts and resources which God has provided us, we must refuse the gifts that are not ours.  John’s life is the life of simple focus, free from the clutter which would diminish his ability to fulfill God’s calling.  This is a principle we would do well to learn.

3:5 John’s ministry might not have played well in today’s religion business.  His ascetic lifestyle, so contrary to the prosperity Gospel; his uncompromising call to repentance surely would offend people.  He’s not seeker-friendly at all.  Yet we read that people were flocking to him.  In every age there are people who respond when someone speaks truth empowered by God.

3:6 Notice that they were not simply baptized but baptized as they confessed their sins.  Baptism is an outward sign of an inner work of grace.  Confession of sin demonstrates repentance and faith toward God; that is, demonstrates that God is performing a work of grace in the heart of the person being baptized.  Apart from this inner work of grace, the mere water of baptism means nothing and avails nothing.

There was no historical precedent for Jewish people being baptized.  Converts to the Jewish faith (proselytes) were baptized but not Jews.  Baptism was a ritual for the cleansing of sins but Jews were children of Abraham, participants in the sacrificial system proscribed by the law of Moses. 

That system was instituted by God for the covering of sin and most Jews believed that they needed no further cleansing.

Yet now, for the first time in their national history, multitudes recognized the inadequacy of the sacrificial system, recognized the reality of their sinfulness before God and were flocking to John, confessing their sin and submitting to the cleansing waters of baptism.  Soon, the inadequacy of the temple sacrificial system would be revealed and a holy Lamb, the Lamb of God, would be sacrificed for the sins of the world.  The old covenant would be superseded by a new covenant with entrance through repentance and faith in Christ  (see Hebrews 9:8-14, 24-28,  10:1-4, 10-14).  In fact, the temple would be destroyed in A.D. 73, the priesthood and sacrificial system would be disbanded.  

John ministered between the old and new covenants and how symbolic that he stood in the Jordan, as if one bank represented the covenant age that was passing away and the far bank signifying that which was coming.  The people, hearing the call of God through John, entered into the waters, as if pressing forward into the season of the new covenant.

3:7 The most religiously scrupulous people of Jewish society were the Pharisees.  The most powerful were the Sadducees, who were wealthy, conservative, politically connected.  These were the parties which would later pursue Jesus to His death.  (Jesus would later say of them that they were outwardly religious but inwardly corrupt, speaking religiously correct words while their hearts were far from God.)  

They were coming for baptism but evidently, trusting in the ritual without truly repenting of their sins. As we have said, there is nothing magical about the words or water of baptism. It is an outward sign of an inner work of God. Participating in external religious ritual apart from a sincere work of God in the heart is futile, useless. 

John was not afraid to speak truth to these powerful men, calling them a “brood of vipers.”  He didn’t accommodate himself to power, didn’t compromise.  He spoke truth to power.

3:8 John’s message to them and to us is that we must bear fruit in keeping with the repentance we have professed.  Repentance is a change of mind and heart.  If I have truly been changed by the grace of God, then this change will be reflected in our lives.  Jesus said that the tree is known by its fruit.

There is an old rabbinical saying, “If a man is carrying an unclean thing, all the water in the world will not cleanse his hands.  But if he throws away the unclean thing, a little water will suffice.”  John’s message was that it is time to turn and be cleansed and be right with God.  It is not the water that cleanses and makes us right with God, it is the inner work of God that makes us right with Him and that work is evidenced by the throwing away of the unclean thing.  

The Apostle Paul spoke of putting off the old life and putting on the new (Colossians 3:5-14).  The fruit of our living demonstrates the reality or repentance.  We can’t see the roots of a tree but we know about the health, depth and strength of the roots because of the fruit which we can see.

3:9 There was a tendency among the people of John’s day to presume on their religious heritage.  They would say, “We’re children of Abraham — of course we’re righteous.”  The same is true in our day: “Our ancestors were Godly, therefore we are Godly.”  People are guilty of this, nations can be guilty too, saying, “God has blessed our nation in the past; surely then, God’s blessing is on us today.”  This is presumption.  

Our relationship with God must be current and fresh, based on our own repentance and faith.  Praise God for the Godly inheritance of righteous ancestors.  Their righteousness may inspire and motivate us, may teach and nurture us.  But we will stand before God, righteous or unrighteous, based on our own response to the call, “Repent and believe the Good News.”

3:10 John proclaims in stark language the reality of judgment: the axe is already laid to the root of the tree. Unless there is good fruit, the tree will be cut down.

Jesus taught this too.  In one of His parables, He told of a man who planted a fig tree that bore no fruit for three years.  He told his gardener to cut it down.  The gardener asked permission to care for the tree for one more year and if it then did not bear fruit, he would cut it down (Luke 13:6-9).  Notice the grace — give it another season of preparation.  Notice also, that though Jesus proclaimed grace, He also said clearly that there will be judgment.  There will be accountability.

3:11 John contrasts his baptism and ministry with the baptism and ministry of Jesus.  John’s is preparatory, calling people to repentance, to prepare hearts and minds for the Messiah.  The baptism which Jesus will bring, the Holy Spirit and fire, does not necessarily refer to final judgment but to present cleansing.  When we receive Jesus as our Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within the believer for the purpose of guiding us into truth, cleansing us from sin and preparing a people holy unto the Lord.

3:12 Likewise, the image of the winnowing fork and the chaff burned in the fire, do not only refer to final judgment.  The winnowing fork speaks of the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, separating out of our lives those sins, habits and characteristics which are as useless as chaff, while confirming the wheat, which speaks of the life of Christ in us.  The fire refers not merely to final fire of destruction but the purifying fire of the Divine Refiner, that is, the present work of the Holy Spirit cleansing us of sinful habits and attitudes which work death and destruction in us.

However, there is an end time meaning to these words.  When Jesus returns to earth, it will not be to offer salvation but to gather His people and pour out judgment on those who have rejected Him.  The fire of that judgment will be all encompassing and everlasting. 

The Baptism of Jesus

3:13 Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan for the purpose of being baptized by John. 

3:14 John tried to prevent Jesus, instinctively recognizing the perfect holiness of the Lamb of God, “I have need to be baptized by you ...”

3:15 Jesus’ response is that His baptism fulfills all righteousness.  It’s not that Jesus needed to be baptized for sin — He was sinless but He was identifying with sinful humanity. 

Jesus was publicly submitting to the calling of God on His life to be the holy Lamb who takes upon Himself the sins of the world. This was the first step in the outworking of the redemption plan, whereby “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” (2 Cor. 5:21). 

Here, at the Jordan River, at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus surrendered to His calling to be the Lamb for sinners slain. At the end of His ministry, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He would surrender again.

Notice that the holiness of Jesus never caused Him to recoil from humanity.  Perfect holiness was expressed in perfect love.  The fulness of His love drew Him to those who knew nothing of holiness, who were lost in sin.  In baptism, Jesus was submitted to His Father and identifying with, standing in the waters with, sinful humanity.  It is a portrait of the way He lived His life.

3:16 As Jesus came up out of the water, He saw the Spirit of God descending on Him as a dove.  Matthew does not say that anyone else saw this though it may have been visible to all.

Doves were used in sacrificial rituals in the temple, especially by the poor who could not afford a lamb. It may be that the Holy Spirit was depicting the someday sacrifice of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit may also have taken physical form to provide visual confirmation to Jesus of the anointing of God that came upon Him at His baptism. That anointing represented empowerment for service, as we read in Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted (humble); He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord,” (Isa. 61:2a). 

Jesus quoted that passage at the beginning of His ministry and applied the text to Himself (see Luke 4:18,19).

3:17 God spoke, though there is no indication that anyone heard this but Jesus.  It would be consistent with the life and ministry of Jesus that no one else saw or heard.  Three years later, as He went to the cross, few understood Him or stood by Him.  Though a public baptism, it is a solitary moment for Jesus, in preparation for a solitary ministry.

It’s important to note what God said.

1. “This is my beloved Son,” is a quote from Psalm 2:7.  Psalm 2 is a Messianic Psalm, a Psalm which refers to, looks forward to and describes the coming Messiah.  With these words, God the Father identifies Jesus as His Son, the long awaited Messiah.  Son also refers to the Deity of Christ. This is God in human form.

2. “In whom I am well pleased” is a quote from Isaiah 42:1, part of a prophetic reference to the Servant of God, the coming One whose kingly ministry would establish the justice of God on the earth (Isa. 42:4).

Whether anyone other than Jesus heard God speak is irrelevant.  With these words, God is commissioning and confirming Jesus in His Messianic call. 

Matthew 4

A Season of Testing (4:1-11)

4:1 “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

1. First of all, Jesus was led by the Spirit.  (Luke adds that Jesus went into the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit.  Mark adds in 1:12 of his Gospel, "And immediately the Spirit impelled (drove) Him to go out into the wilderness.”  We sometimes assume that when we go through times of temptation or testing, we must be out of the will of God.  But Jesus was led by the Spirit specifically into a season of testing, immediately following His baptism.  

2. Secondly, He was led by the Spirit specifically for the purpose of being tested.  One of the great truths of life is that often, following any great victory, there comes a test. 

Jesus had just been baptized by John and when He came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit had descended upon Him.  He had heard the voice of His Heavenly Father affirming His Sonship.  He was fully conscious of His divine mission, His sacred humanity was filled through and through with the abiding presence and power of God.  It was in this context of strength and confirmation that Jesus was led by the Spirit into a confrontation with Satan. 

It was a satanically initiated and God-approved confrontation.  Satan wanted to tempt Jesus in this moment of victory and God appointed this test for His Son. 

Notice the word tempted in verse 1.  In the Greek language of the text, this word is peirazan, from the root word peirazo, meaning to tempt or test.  A peirasmos is a temptation, trial or testing, a proving of something or someone.  The word is neutral in meaning.  It can be used of something evil, a temptation; or something good and valuable, a test.

 

In English we make a distinction between tempting and testing, in fact, we use two different words, one word carrying a negative connotation, the other word holding a more positive meaning.  But in the Greek it is one word which can be positive or negative depending on the context. From God's viewpoint, this is a test. From the devil's viewpoint, it is a temptation. 

From God's viewpoint it is a way to prove that Jesus is worthy. From the devil's viewpoint it is a way to tempt Jesus into unworthy actions.

God wants to demonstrate the victorious power of Jesus, the true King, over Satan. Satan wants to demonstrate his victorious power over the King.

Satan's temptation in your life is God's test.

When you overcome Satan's temptation, you pass God's test.

God wants to demonstrate His righteousness in us.

Satan wants to demonstrate his evil and malice through us.

What Satan determined for the demonstration of your weakness,

God allows for the demonstration of His power at work in you.

What Satan released against us to prove the superiority of his strategies to destroy us,

God allowed to prove the reality of His promise to perfect what He has begun in us.

What Satan intended to cause us to fall, God intended to cause us to stand.

The Apostle James exhorts us, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2,3). The word trials is peirasmos, certainly not temptations with a negative sense — we don’t rejoice at temptation; but we can rejoice in our trials for the following reason: 

“Knowing this, that the testing (dokimion: a test or trial for the purpose of proving) of your faith works patience. And let patience have her perfect work." 

God allows tests in our lives so that we may have the opportunity to prove what is in us and so that we may grow.

On the other hand, the same word is used in James 1:13,

"Let no man say when he is tempted (peiraso), I am tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any man;  but every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed.  Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death." 

Temptations are not from God.  They occur as the devil or the fallen world around us stimulates our own unredeemed desires which arouse our lusts which then lead to sin.  However, some temptations will be used by God as tests to reveal our strength or weakness, our true motives, the reality of our true character.  And God allows tests as a means to strengthen us and perfect His virtues in us.

God will allow a test to prove righteousness, but God will never entice anyone into sin.  Certain events come into our lives, which, from Satan's viewpoint are enticements to evil.  But from God's perspective, they are proofs of our righteousness.

Jesus: was led by the Spirit / tempted by the devil.  We can say this about tests:

1. They are times and places of spiritual confrontation.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness of confrontation.  He was not out of the will of God.  He was led by the Spirit of God into this season.  The word led is anago: lead up, sail away, launch, loose, depart, set forth.  

2. Confrontation is inevitable and necessary in this life.  

Everyone wants the victory without the battle but there are no victories without battles.  If we are led by the Holy Spirit, the battles are a point of departure for victory.  Confrontation with evil is an opportunity to see truth about ourselves and the world around us, to be strengthened and confirmed in righteousness, to overcome and move on to something higher and better. 

 

What do we need to confront and overcome?

1. We need to confront and overcome the flesh: our unbalanced desires, our immaturity, our experiences from the past which left us feeling inferior, depressed, guilty, corrupt, vulnerable to sin or motivated by false pride.

2. We need to confront and overcome our attraction to the world in ways that compromise our discipleship; confront and overcome our tendency to glorify creation instead of the Creator.

3. We need to confront and overcome the strategies of Satan who desires to seduce, mislead and destroy our lives.  Satan goes about like a roaring lion seeking open gates into our lives.  In the life of Jesus, we see confrontation and victory.

Before we leave verse one, let’s notice the place of confrontation — the wilderness.  That was quite a different setting than the place where Satan met the first Adam, wasn't it?  The first Adam was confronted by Satan in an absolute paradise, a beautiful, peaceful, sinless garden but Jesus encountered Satan in a desolate wilderness located in a sinful world.  The first Adam abandoned his calling for a piece of fruit. The second Adam was tempted to abandon His mission for a piece of bread. What the first Adam lost in a perfect environment, Jesus, the second Adam, won in an imperfect world, and the difference was the character of the individual. 

4:2   After Jesus fasted forty days, when He was hungry, then the tempter came to Him.  

After His baptism and commissioning, Jesus needed time alone with His Heavenly Father to prepare for the ministry ahead.  When this time of communion was over, when He was hungry and weary, the tempter came to Him.  Satan confronts us in our vulnerable moments.

Jesus was vulnerable in two ways.  As we have said, He had heard the commissioning voice of His Father affirming His identity as the Son of God; He had received the commissioning anointing of the Holy Spirit poured out upon Him.  There is a vulnerability in moments of high triumph.  And secondly, He was physically and emotionally vulnerable after forty days of fasting.

However, He had just spent forty days communing with His Father.  His discernment was sharp, He may even have been anticipating an attack from the devil.  Temptations which have been seen in advance, temptations which have been anticipated, temptations which have been watched for and prayed against, have less power.  This is why Jesus taught His disciples, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation,” (Mark 4:38)

4:3 The first attack.

"And the tempter came and said to him,  ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’”  Notice the first word Satan spoke: "If.”  

“If you are the Son of God," if you are who God testified that you are (3:17).  The tempter is trying to entice Jesus to doubt His identity which had just been verified by the voice of God.  

Remember in Genesis 3:1, the serpent (Satan) approached Eve with these words, “Indeed, has God said ...”  Satan knew what God had said and Eve knew because Adam had told her.  But Satan began the conversation by casting doubt on the truthfulness of God’s Word.

In the same manner he begins his conversation with Jesus, trying to create doubt about the reality of God’s conversation with Him.  Satan comes to us breathing doubt into our souls, doubts about who we are in Christ, doubts about the trustworthiness of God's Word, doubts about God's power, His love for us, doubts about our faith.  Satan’s approach is through doubt.  

Now let’s look at the temptation itself.

“Command that these stones become bread.”  The first Adam abandoned his calling for a piece of fruit. Jesus, the second Adam, was tempted to abandon His mission for a piece of bread.

1. Satan is suggesting that Jesus’ hunger is incompatible with His being the Son of God.  It’s not about being hungry.  It’s about doubting the Father.

“God said that you are His beloved Son — well, then why are you hungry?” 

“God poured out manna in the wilderness — why is He letting you be so hungry?”

“You're the Son of God — come on, you're living beneath your true station in life. You can't trust a God who would let you be this hungry.  You better second guess God because He’s not fulfilling His promises to you.”

 

Does the devil whisper that to us also? “You’ve suffered enough — you should be a little bit irritated with God for the way things have gone in your life. If you are a child of God, how could He let this happen to you?”  

Recall these words of Jesus, recorded in the Old Testament and quoted in the New Testament,  "Lo, I come, O God, to do thy will," (Hebrews 10:8). Jesus came to do the Father’s will.  To allow seeds of distrust to be planted in Him would have prevented Him from perfectly accomplishing the will of His Father.  

The climax of God's purpose for the Messiah was the cross and how often there were temptations to doubt the wisdom of that plan.  Peter said, "Surely not, Lord."  Jesus rightly attributed those words to Satan.  When He was on the cross, the crowd hurled the temptation of Satan at Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, come down and save yourself."

Hours before the cross, in the garden, Jesus prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not as I will but as you will,"  (Matt 26:39). The willingness to deny Himself and trust His Father's will began in the wilderness when Jesus was hungry.

2. A second point of temptation is for Jesus to use His gifts and power to serve Himself rather than His Father.  We may translate the word if with the word since. In this case, Satan was saying, “Since you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 

Satan was saying, “We both know who you are — you’re the Son of God. We know you have power and we know you are hungry. Use your miraculous power to serve yourself.”

Satan was suggesting to Jesus that He would need to use His power to take care of Himself because His Heavenly Father would not. It is as if the tempter was saying, “God led you out here into this desert and you are hungry, thirsty. But I don’t see any food or water. God has forgotten about you. You’ll have to do this on your own.” 

The subtle temptation here is for Jesus to fulfill His mission apart from His Father and use His gifts and power to serve Himself. If we don’t know who we are in Christ, it will be easy to misuse the talents and gifts which He gave us. The Lord was hungry after a forty day fast but He would not serve Himself. He was God in human flesh, but He came to serve, not to be served.

The servant may trust in the goodness of God: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  Here’s the principle: spend yourself for God and God will provide.

4:4 “But He answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’"

Jesus is directly quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, in which Moses reminded Israel of God's tender care for His people during the wilderness journeys.  Jesus applies the Scripture and the principle to Himself: God cared for Israel in the wilderness, God will care for me in my wilderness.

This means that obedience to the will of God, prioritizing the will and Word of God, submitting to the purpose of God, is better than meeting my own needs.  Waiting for the timing of God is better than setting my own schedule.  Waiting for the provision of God is better than grabbing my own provision by my own means. We don't need to doubt God or use our giftings to serve ourselves.

Satan was saying, "Never mind what God has said to you — what is important is your hunger — so use your power to make bread."

Jesus replies,  "No, what is important is what God has said because His word is creative, powerful, sustaining.  It expresses the power of God and establishes the purpose of God.  God's purpose in my life will be established as I seek first His kingdom and obey His Word.  He created a universe with that Word.  He can surely meet my needs.”

This universe is upheld by God's Word of power (Hebrews 1:3).  What keeps us alive is the sustaining power of God, not our bread.  It is by God's creative power and wise purpose that we are alive, that we are redeemed, that we are kept and sustained.  It is good to affirm our trust and our thanks for the Father's gracious care in our lives.  When we take matters into our own hands and seek our prosperity apart from God's plan, we are in effect declaring our distrust of God.

Jesus here affirms His confidence in the Father's care and declares His refusal to pursue His own satisfaction at the expense of disobedience, distrust or self-serving.  He declares that the governing motive of His life is to do only the will of God, to use His gifts and power to serve and bless others and trust His Father to provide for Him. 

Jesus offers us a gracious example in responding to temptation with the Word of God, for it is in the Word that we remember who God is and who we are.  

How does Satan attack?  With lies and deception.  How do we respond to lies and deception?  With absolute, transcendent truth: the Word of God. 

When we are tempted to place our own needs ahead of the kingdom of God, to seek our way before we seek God’s way, a good truth to remember is this, “And God is able to make all grace abound unto you so that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

4:5,6 Second attack.

"Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you and on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Notice again the lead word of Satan’s conversation, “If (or since) you are the Son of God.” 

Notice the subtle play on the last temptation: If or since you are the Son of God and if you trust God so wonderfully as you said, then cast yourself off the pinnacle of the temple, for it is written.  Now the devil quotes Scripture.

Notice 

1. The temptation is based on Jesus' previous response, that He would trust God.

2. The devil quotes Scripture in response to Jesus' reliance on the Word (the devil actually quotes Psalm 91:11, 12).

The devil is saying: “OK, you won’t act independently of the Father, then jump from the highest point of the temple (the drop was about 450 feet) and force the Father to save you, thereby demonstrating that you really are His Son. Trust God to reveal who you are, to protect you from all harm.  Do something spectacular and trust God to validate you, force God to establish your prestige.” The devil did not need to add that the people of Jerusalem would certainly have been drawn to such a spectacular demonstration of Jesus’ identity.

This is like someone quitting their job, sitting in a chair quoting Scripture and trying to force God to drop manna through the chimney.  But that isn't trust — it's presumption, presuming on God.  Or it’s like a ministry constantly employing spectacular events to establish prestige and credibility, asking God to validate their ministry through the spectacular.

In the first temptation, a legitimate need existed because Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to fast.  He was hungry, not because He was irresponsible but because He was obeying God.  He rightly trusted God to meet His needs.  In the second temptation, jumping off the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus would be creating the need.  

There are times when needs arise as we try to serve God and live a righteous life.  But there are other times when irresponsibility creates the need and looking to God to meet that need is not an expression of faith or trust but presumption.  The Psalmist said, "Lord, keep thy servant back from presumptuous sins," (Psalm 19:13).

By the way, false Messiahs and false prophets are always claiming or attempting something fantastic as a way of gaining prestige.  One of the simple ways to distinguish a false messiah from the real One is that the false ones have spectacular dives but not such good landings.  

Meanwhile, the true servants of God live quiet lives of faithful obedience.

Jesus’ response is again to quote Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:16): “Jesus said to him, ‘On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God, to the test.’”

Jesus was well aware of the Old Testament portrait of the Messiah. He understood from Isaiah chapter 53 and other Scriptures that He would be despised, rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, that He would die for the sins of the people. 

Jesus understood that He must not tempt God with His own plans or presume on God to come and fulfill plans that were not God's plans.  How often people, nations, even churches, devise plans, blueprints, purposes that are not God’s will and then whistle for God to come and bless them, presuming in self righteous vanity that God will bless.  

Far better to discern the purpose of God, the plan that God is blessing, and committing to serve and obey God in the fulfilling of His plan. God's plan for the Messiah was a cross, not a carnival; self-sacrificing, servant love, not sensational, self-serving displays of power.

Besides, if we use carnival means to legitimize our ministry or build "our" church, we will need ever greater carnivals to hold whatever attention we've gathered.  We always need to ask, "What is it that people love about this ministry or this church?  Is it the sensations, the emotions that are aroused?  Is it a particular personality or preacher?  Or is it God Himself who is loved first and foremost?”  

We have failed if people love our preaching more than the One we preach about.  We have failed if people love our worship music more than the One we worship.

In John 6, Jesus fed five thousand people but we read in verse 15, "So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone."  Later, He rebuked the people for loving the food but not seeking eternal life through faith in God (John 6:26-29).  

Jesus would not receive adulation for the wrong reasons.  He would never use the Father's power to exalt Himself, only to serve and bless others and glorify God.  He would not allow His ministry to be established or legitimized by anything other than servant love which glorified the Father.  

We do not need to pressure God to act like God.  God is perfect love.  He loved us while we were yet His enemies.  He poured out His love in gracious blessing upon us when we knew not His name.  He will express His love where, when and how He chooses.  We need never force God to be who He is.  We cannot and we will not.  Rather, we can live responsibly and trust God to be God in our lives.

4:8,9 Third attack.

"Again the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to Him, ‘All these things will I give you, if you  fall down and worship me.’" 

Look at the subtle linkage of the three temptations.

1. Don't trust the Father’s purpose (make your own bread).

2. Presume on the Father's purpose (make God act).

3. I'll give you the Father's purpose (but not by the Father's means).

The first temptation was an inducement for Jesus to serve Himself, “Turn the stones to bread.” The second temptation was for the purpose of making the Father serve Jesus, “Force God to rescue you.” Now we arrive at Satan’s true objective, “Serve me. Worship me and I will give you what you came for -- the kingdoms of this world.”

Regarding this third temptation, let’s recall an important promise of the Father to the Son:

"Ask of me, and I will surely give the nations as your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as your possession,” (Psalm 2:8).  It is a promise of God the Father to His Son that someday, Jesus will rule this world as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Satan says, “OK, I’m not denying that the Father has promised you the kingdoms of the world.  Just compromise and do it my way.  You want to inherit the kingdoms of the world?  Worship me.  No cross, no offering of yourself for the sins of the world, no rejection, no agony.  Just bow down and worship me.”  

If Jesus had done this, had refused to be the Lamb of God, instead becoming the Messiah who worshipped Satan, that would have been nothing other than the Lamb becoming the Beast and the entire salvation purpose of God would have been destroyed.  Satan offered glory without the cross, kingship without suffering, Lordship without first being the Suffering Servant.  That would be an empty glory, a hollow kingship, a false Lordship.

Had Jesus surrendered to this temptation, He would have disqualified Himself from ruling anything other than a fallen world. He could not have redeemed the world; rather, He would have been the sinful king of a sinful world.

Satan was tempting Jesus to avoid the cross, to take what was rightfully His in a manner contrary to the plan of redemption. If Jesus had established His kingdom on earth without first redeeming sinners, there would have been no one who could have entered the kingdom.

Notice that Jesus does not argue the point as to whether Satan can provide these things.  He later referred to Satan as the prince or ruler of this world in John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11.

Here’s how this temptation looks in our lives:

1. Satan offers power, glory, wealth, fame within the context of the world system.  

This is always the devil’s offer: “Submit your talent, your creative intelligence, your sense of purpose -- submit it all to me and I will give you the success you desire. You can have everything you wanted, just bow before me.” He offers success, promotion, as long as we work within the boundaries of the kingdoms of this world and outside the boundaries of the kingdom of God.

2. The price: worship the devil.  

Conveniently, he doesn’t require a literal act of worship. He simply requires that we abandon God’s way and have it our way, that we seek fulfillment outside the context of God’s Lordship and purpose in our lives. When we enthrone our own self will above the will of God, we have worshipped at the devil’s altar.

3. The cost: 

There will no longer be any possibility of fulfilling God’s purpose in our lives.

4. The trap:

In giving worship to Satan, Jesus would break relationship with the Father and would bring Himself under the judgment of the true God who alone possesses authority over this world.  Jesus would thereby remove Himself from the possibility of fulfilling the Father’s redemptive purpose or reclaiming true dominion over this world.  The same is true for any who surrender to Satan.

This temptation speaks to the true motive of Satan’s rebellion against God.  He wanted to overthrow the throne of God, replace God.  He wanted to be the object of worship in place of God.  Throughout history, he has attempted to deflect worship of the one true God and become the focus of worship himself.  He does this through the institution of false religions; by seducing the creative arts for his own glory; through persecution of and violence toward true worshippers of God; through enslaving delusions and by offering power and riches to coerce and seduce true worshippers away from God.

Satan doesn’t care whether people worship at the altar of a false religion or a celebrity or a political messiah or their own success.  All idol worship is demon worship, satanically inspired.  And this is Satan’s consuming passion, to deflect worship from God Almighty and ultimately, to draw worship to himself.  His worshippers may experience a measure of this world’s riches and power or they may fall into abject slavery and curse.  But all will come under the judgment of God in this life and the next.

There are many ways to sell our souls, to destroy the purpose of God for our lives, but they all come down to worshipping the evil one rather than God.  When we compromise with evil, we have worshipped Satan.  Jesus focuses on the heart of the matter.  He replies,

4:10, 

"Go Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’" 

The most important reality in all of the universe is that God and God alone is to be worshiped and Jesus would never compromise that.  Notice also the link between worship and service.  We will serve whomever we worship.

In maintaining His focus on worshipping and serving God, Jesus insures that He will inherit the kingdoms of the world.  So will His followers.  In the new heaven and the new earth, all of the  universe will be our inheritance with Christ.  Who inherits the earth?  The meek, the humble, those who have bowed before the true and living God, who have worshipped God in a lifetime of holy service.

Satan is a liar.  When we compromise with evil, whatever we gain is temporary and the loss is everlasting.  When we submit our lives to God, whatever we lose is temporary and the gain is everlasting.

Remember James and John?  They sent their mother to Jesus, petitioning Him that her sons might sit on the right and left hand in the kingdom (Matt. 20:20-23).  But the Lord already purposed to give them a place of rulership in the kingdom.  They would gain that place as they submitted their lives to Jesus in humble worship and sacrificial service.  They did not need to seek by ambitious scheming that which God had already purposed to give them.

Satan understands the hunger of the human heart for food and shelter, for meaning and fulfillment, for a sense of power over our circumstances and so he says:

“You're hungry, employ your gifts for yourself and fulfill the hunger.” 

“You want meaningful identity, fulfillment?  Go for the spectacular and force God to validate you.”

“Power, wealth, glory?  I'll give you the kingdoms of the world.  Just bow down to me.”

With Jesus, the temptations failed but the test succeeded.  Jesus proved that He is worthy to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords who receives the kingdoms of the world as His inheritance; proved Himself to be the second Adam who overcomes. 

4:11, 

"Then the devil left him, and, behold, angels came and began to minister to Him." 

Surely the angels’ ministry included spiritual renewal and the nourishment that Jesus required after His long fast and spiritual conflict with the adversary. His needs were met by the God to whom He was submitted in humble obedience.

This is the reason humanity was created — to worship and serve God.  It is the reason for our existence.  It is the eternal destiny of the redeemed, what we will be doing forever and ever.  The worship and service of God brings us into the realm of God’s kingdom.  It is where we experience God’s presence, power and provision.  We don’t need Satan’s promise of bread or prestige or power or riches when we are actively worshipping and serving God.

God allows seasons of testing in our lives because they reveal our faith, reveal our weaknesses and bring about the possibility of deeper faith and greater strength.  When we overcome, when we move faithfully through the season of temptation, testing and spiritual conflict, we find the provision of God, the present ministry of God, abundantly poured out.

Luke adds an important truth to this narrative.  He says that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14).  He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness but having overcome Satan, He returned in the power of the Spirit.  When we overcome the devil in any area of life, when we move faithfully through the season of testing, we come back walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in greater measure than before the testing. 

Again, what are the lessons here? 

1. Satan will tempt us to distrust the providential care of God: solve your problems and struggles by centering your talents and gifts on your own needs, grab your own satisfaction, get happiness your own way. 

2. Satan will tempt us to presume on God's care, act irresponsibly, establish identity and meaning by forcing God to validate our lives through the spectacular or irresponsible.

3. Satan will tempt us to fulfill our ambition for ourselves in submission to his means, to fulfill the purpose that God has already promised but on our terms (Satan’s terms).

Some points of exhortation:

1. Watch for temptation at the high points of your spiritual life, or when you just embark on the beginning of a new ministry.  No sooner was Christ out of the water of baptism than He was in the fire of temptation. 

2. Secondly, be careful of times of vulnerability and times when you're in evil surroundings. Jesus was in the wilderness and He was hungry.

3.  Watch for the subtlety of temptation.  Watch  and pray, lest you enter into temptation. 

4. Know the Word, the truth revealed in God’s holy Word.  Truth is referred to in the Bible as the sword of the Spirit because it cuts down to the heart of the matter in our own soul and in the world around us.

5. In times of temptation and testing, look more at Jesus than at the temptation or test.  We look to the Lord in worship, in His Word, in prayer.  In the light of His truth, deception is revealed for what it is, darkness melts away.  In worship and prayer, the everlasting beauty of Jesus overshadows the temporary allure of this world’s enchantments.

The Ministry of Jesus Begins (4:12-25)

As Matthew records the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, we see four major themes: Jesus, The Fulfillment of Prophecy;  Jesus, Proclaimer of the Kingdom;  Jesus, Fisher of Men; Jesus, Revelation of the Kingdom.

A. Jesus, The Fulfillment of Prophecy (4:12-16):

Following the season of testing in the Judean wilderness, Jesus moved north into Galilee. Matthew quotes a prophecy from Isaiah.

Prophecy:  

“The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light,”  (Isaiah 9:2).

Fulfillment: 

“I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life,”  John 8:12.

We read in John 8:20 that this statement was made in the temple treasury, located in the outer court of the temple.  Some have suggested that this was at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles.  During this Feast, a massive array of candelabras was set up in the temple and each night during the feast, the temple was illuminated by these candles.  This was to commemorate the pillar of fire that led their ancestors in the wilderness.  

Jesus stood in the midst of it all and said, "I am the Light of the world.  He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life."  

The Bible is very clear about the darkness of this world and of the human heart.  In Ephesians 2:1 we are told that all are dead in sin.  To be dead in sin is to be separated from God and that is a place of darkness.  In Proverbs 4:18,19 we read,

“The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.  The way of the wicked in like darkness.  They do not know over what they stumble."

There is a life and power behind that darkness.  The Apostle Paul reminds us, 

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” (2 Corinthians 4:4).  

He adds in Ephesians 6:12,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

This world is dominated by satanically infused darkness, a darkness that has infected every corner of the human heart and every aspect of human endeavor.  World finance, business, creative arts, political systems, world religions and philosophy — the darkness incarnates and expresses itself in and through all human institutions and every manner of communication.

Since humanity has been unable to deliver itself from the darkness that blinds this world, God took the initiative to shine His light into our hearts — the light of the glory of Jesus.

“For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

God, in Christ, has delivered us from spiritual death and darkness by revealing Jesus to us, literally, shining the light of the glory of Jesus into our hearts.  Again, Paul says,

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of  His beloved Son,”  (Colossians 1:13).

This is why Jesus was born: 

“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me will not remain in darkness,”  (John 12:46).

If you’ve ever wondered, “Why didn’t I see the truth for so many years?” Because we were spiritually blind.  Why don’t others see the truth?  Because they are spiritually blind.

Actually, some light is available to everyone through creation.The Apostle Paul said,

“Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without  excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:19-21).

God has revealed Himself, His eternal power and divine nature, through creation and there is something within the human heart that is still capable of recognizing this. While this is not  sufficient revelation to bring a person to salvation, God has promised that any person who acts on the light they have and seeks after God with all their heart, will find Him, without exception. Some people have more light than others but when we act on the light we have, God will reveal Himself to us:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jere. 29:13).

The problem is not lack of light but the fact that sinful humanity prefers to suppress the light and embrace the darkness:

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (Jn. 3:19,20).

  

The human heart refuses God’s revelation, blows out the candle, as it were, and chooses the darkness. Because we have an instinctive need to worship something or someone, humanity exchanged the glory and truth of God for lies and idols (Romans 1:22-25).  The result, without exception, is humanity gathered into the darkness of spiritual death and deception.

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied that someday, a great light would shine into the darkness and death of this world.  Matthew proclaims that Jesus is the fulfilling of that prophetic word.  Jesus is the Light of the world.

B. Jesus, Proclaimer of the Kingdom (4:17): 

“From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (4:17).

(Note:  Matthew uses the phrase kingdom of heaven while the other Gospel writers use kingdom of God.  See Matthew 3:2 for notes.)

The kingdom of God was Jesus' central theme.  According to Matthew, Jesus began His ministry preaching the Gospel of the kingdom (4:17).  Mark says that Jesus came into Galilee preaching, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). 

On one occasion, when the people tried to keep Him from leaving them, Jesus replied, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose," (Luke 4:43).   We have more than 100 recorded statements about the kingdom from His lips.  He told parables to illustrate the kingdom: its like a mustard seed, a pearl, treasure in a field, seed sown, leaven.  He taught principles of kingdom life.

1. Kingdom Defined: the rule of God  

For Jesus, the kingdom of God is more of a verb than a noun.  It is far more than an idea or place somewhere, someday. It is the dynamic, present rule and reign of Almighty God.  It is not institutional religion: not the church, its wealth, its power nor its possessions.  It is not the heaven we go to when we die.  It is God's rule of redeeming grace, forgiveness, liberty, healing and deliverance breaking into the life of each person who receives Him through repentance of sin and faith in His Son Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God is where God is ruling; it is the order or sovereignty of God.

“Thy kingdom come” is not a prayer for the second coming of Jesus.  It is a prayer for the rule of God to be established in the affairs of people today:  in my home, in my heart, my life. 

Yes, there is a future fulfillment of the kingdom at the end of history but that future reality does not fill up what Jesus meant by kingdom. The kingdom is also the active, dynamic rule of God here and now.

2. Kingdom Presence: at hand

a. The kingdom is at hand (eggizo).  Eggizo means “approaching, drawing near.”  But the same verb is used in Mark 14:42, as Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, said to His disciples, “Rise ... he that betrays me is at hand."  We see in the following verse that the mob which intended to arrest Him had arrived in the garden, so it is not that they were near but that they had arrived, were present.

The kingdom of God has entered history in the person of Jesus: 

“The kingdom of God is in your midst”  (Luke 17:21), in the person of Jesus.  That can also be translated, “within you” as we submit to the Lordship of Jesus.  But the kingdom is also at hand in the sense of coming, pressing into history but unfulfilled.

The kingdom of God is at hand: within the grasp of your life, within reach of where you are and when you are.  Not someday / somewhere.  This is not the concept of the someday rule of God in a millennial kingdom nor in Heaven.  It is present to function here and now.  Wherever people acknowledge with faith the presence and rule of God in Christ Jesus, the power of God is released to break the power of the kingdom of darkness.

The kingdom of God is present, even if no one recognizes or receives it, because God has entered human history in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  People can refuse to enter the kingdom but they cannot destroy its presence nor prevent its final consummation someday when Jesus returns.

b. Time is fulfilled: 

Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15).  Fulfilled is a perfect tense verb, pleroo, meaning filled to the top. From God's point of view, time and history were filled up when Jesus was born in human form.

“But when the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Philp. 4:4).  There is a sense here of God’s perfect timing as He orchestrates the events of history.  But also, time was filled up with the presence of God.  God entered into time and history in a special way in the birth  and life of Jesus.

What God enters, God fills.  God spoke and the world was filled up with light and life.  God wants to speak His fulness into our lives, where we live, in our time.  Receiving the kingdom of God means letting God enter in His fulness where we are.

3. Kingdom entrance: repent and believe

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  (In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus said, “Repent and believe,” Mark 1:15).

a. The kingdom of God is established in the souls of people.  The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, for behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst / within you (Luke 17:20,21). 

b. The kingdom of God is established spiritually, supernaturally: ”Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,” (John 3:3).  Entrance into the kingdom of God requires a spiritual birth.  We enter turning from whatever has separated us from the Lordship of Jesus, turning to Him in faith and surrendering to Him the lordship which we formerly exercised over our lives.

c. The kingdom of God is established intentionally.  Like all births, we must be intentional about it.  If we wait passively for this inbreaking rule of God, we will never see it.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6)    

d. The kingdom of God is established as we repent and believe the Good News.  Repentance and believing are intentional actions.   Repent means we take accountability for who and where we are, letting our mind be filled and dominated by the new possibility that God has filled up time with Himself and is at hand, within the grasp of my life and faith.  Believing means we accept with faith this Word of the kingdom which declares Jesus to be Lord and Savior. 

Sons of the kingdom are those who receive the good seed of the kingdom (Matt. 13:38). That seed is the Word of God which pierces our hearts, convicts us of our need for a Savior and convinces us that Jesus is that Savior.

Entrance into the kingdom is humbling. I must admit that there is something wrong in me, that I have believed false truth and am heading in the wrong direction.  “There is a way which seems right to a man but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25).  I must turn and reorient my belief.

Repent: turn, change, make room in my heart and mind for Jesus to break in upon me and convict me of my sin.

Believe: choose to place my faith in the person, presence and promise of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Mark adds that this is Good News, “Repent and believe the Good News” (1:15).  Why is this Good News?  Because the rule of God means the overrule of that which is not God.   

Early in His ministry, Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the prophet Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me” (Luke 4:18). He was anointed “to proclaim release to captives.” How? Because the powers that had bound them were being overruled.

Jesus was anointed to bring “recovery of sight to the blind.” How? Those who formerly could not see truth are being set free to know truth.

Jesus was anointed to “to set free those who are oppressed (bruised).” How? Those who have been bruised are being healed, have the liberty to come out from the rulership of whatever has bruised them and enter into wholeness and abundant life.

Jesus’ ministry constituted a binding and plundering of Satan (Matt. 12:29).  This does not mean that Satan is powerless.  He still tempts, steals the Word of God from hearts, oppresses and invades human souls.  But Jesus in His earthly ministry and now through His church continually nullifies Satan’s evil purpose and recovers human lives from his rule.

This is Good News.  

Yes, someday the kingdom of God will be consummated, fulfilled, perfected, will cover the earth and every eye will see the glory of the King but there is a present tense to the kingdom. Though that someday is not today, the King is present now and is ruling and reigning in and through the lives of those who receive Him.  

He wants to establish His kingdom presence in us so that He may manifest His kingdom presence through us.  He wants to establish His kingdom rule in our circumstances sos that He can release His kingdom rule through us into the circumstances of others.  

C. Jesus, Fisher of Men: 4:18-22

1. A Savior who searches: 4:18

Jesus said He came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  He told many parables about a Savior who searches but He’s not just seeking the lost.  He also seeks those who are seeking Him, those who have a heart to follow Him.  

In John 1:35-42 we read that Andrew and Peter were actively seeking the Messiah.  Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, Peter may have been.  They were spiritually hungry, ready to follow and be involved in whatever God was doing.  

God knows every heart, knows who is hungry for Him, who is seeking Him.  Jesus is seeking those who seek Him.  “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13,14).

2. A Savior who calls:  4:19-21

a. Jesus knows where to find those who are looking for Him.  He found these men at their work place.  They were seekers and as Jesus walked along the shore of Galilee, seeking those who were seeking Him, He called to Peter and Andrew, to James and John, called them to follow and they left their boats and followed Him.  Many years later, John remembered Jesus saying, “You did not choose me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit and that your fruit would remain”  (John 15:16).

b. Jesus knows how to communicate with those who are listening for Him.  He called in a voice they could hear, in a manner they could respond to.

c. Jesus has a ministry for each of us but it can only happen as we commit to follow Him.  He chose them that they would bear fruit, that they would be fishers of souls even as He fished for souls.  He calls us to be His hands reaching out to the lost, His voice calling, even as He reached and called to us.  These were His first words to His first followers, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  These were His last words, according to Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:20).

3. A Savior worth following: 4:22

So many people, events and causes clamoring for our attention.  Only One is worth following.  We follow, not because we chose Him but because He chose us, set His love upon us and called us.  "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (appeasement, satisfaction) for our sins” (I John 4:10).

D. Jesus, Revealer of the Kingdom (4:23-25)

“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.”

1. As we have noted, the kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus. He preached the Kingdom, taught principles of kingdom living and taught parable to illustrate the kingdom. He also revealed the kingdom with miracles.  Jesus went about proclaiming the inbreaking presence of the kingdom while showing what it looked like in deeds of mercy and power, healing diseases and casting out demons.  

The very meaning of the word "salvation" reveals the purpose of God to heal.  The New Testament word for salvation, sozo, means to save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve or make whole.  Matthew says that the healing ministry of Jesus was in fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases,”  (8:17).

It’s as if Jesus was saying, “The kingdom, the rule of God is breaking into history and this is what it looks like: lives set free from demonic rule, broken bodies made whole, sins forgiven, relationships reconciled.”

It was the same when He sent His disciples out.  In Luke 9:1,2 we read,

“And He called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.  And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing.”

2. Healing every kind of disease and pain: 4:23

There was nothing too trivial, difficult or complex for Jesus then and so it is now.

3. Casting out demons:  4:24

In addition to healing their diseases, Jesus also ministered to those who were demon possessed.  Those whose lives had been invaded by Satan to the extent that they no longer had control over their choices or will, whose lives were ruled by Satanic impulses — these were set free by the authoritative command of Jesus. 

Jesus considered this ministry in particular to be a sign of the inbreaking kingdom, “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

4. Epileptics and those who were paralyzed:  4:24

“The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.” 

Whether the infirmity was located in the brain or nerve endings, Jesus healed them.  Great multitudes came to Jesus and He healed them all.  

5. Multitudes were drawn, even from beyond Israel:  4:25

Now we begin to get a glimpse of the ministry of Jesus expanding beyond Israel.  Crowds were flocking to Jesus not only from Galilee, Jerusalem and Judea, but from the Decapolis (Greek cities east and south of the Sea of Galilee), from beyond the Jordan and as related in the previous verse, from Syria.

People of different cultures, races and nations were coming to Jesus and they continue to come.  Today, Jesus greets them through His church but His message is the same, “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe.”

One final note.

The Old Testament prophet, Malachi, prophesied of the coming Messiah,

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze, says the Lord.  But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.”  (Malachi 4:1,2)

Malachi did not see the time gap between the first and second comings of Jesus.  He saw only the brightness of His appearance in history, saw the glory of the Lord rising in the world like a furnace, a righteous sun burning up evil.  He also saw the healing that would flow to those who humbly reverence the Lord.  

What a paradox.  God will step into history in a glorious way and His presence will be like the sun of righteousness with healing in His wings, and like a fiery furnace.  Some will be burned up like chaff, some will dance in celebration and thankfulness for the healing power of God breaking into their lives.

From our perspective, we understand that the first coming of Jesus displayed His healing grace, mercy and power.  It was not the year of God’s vengeance, rather, the year of God’s favor, good news to the afflicted, the binding up of the brokenhearted, liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners, as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 61:1,2).  The second coming of Jesus, at the end of history, will reveal the fire of His judgment and rising from that fire, the kingdom of God will be established on earth.  

Today is still the day of light and grace.  The kingdom is present in the lives of those who have received the King.  We shine forth His light, share His grace, and show what His kingdom looks like in deeds of truth and mercy.

Matthew 5

The Blessed Life (5:1-12)

During the many centuries between the ministry of Jesus and God’s gift of the Law to the Israelites through Moses, thousands of non-Biblical traditions had been added to God’s Word.  These traditions obscured the Law and deadened the hearts of the people to God’s true intent.  In the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings, Jesus did not intend to nullify the Law but to abolish the unBiblical traditions and point people back to God’s original purpose in giving the Law. 

The Old Covenant condemned murder and adultery.  Jesus condemned the hidden attitude of violence or lust which create the visible or outward action.  The Old Covenant established acceptable boundaries for justice.  Jesus taught that we should love our enemies. 

The Old Covenant proscribed rituals and outwards acts of piety.  Jesus focused on the inner motive that produces piety.  It is good to fast and pray and worship God but what is my motive —  to be seen by people or to love God and commune with Him?  It is good to give to the poor.  But what is my motive, to be merciful and generous or to impress people?  

All that we do should be done unto God, for His glory and not our own.  Doing the right thing for the wrong motive is to do no good thing at all.

What does God want from us?  An intimate, love relationship.  But in order to enjoy relationship with a holy God, we must be holy.  Therefore, the teaching of Jesus is intended to open our hearts, expose our motives and produce true holiness and sincere love which lead to the blessed life.

The word blessed which Jesus uses in these teachings is makarios. It has to do with happiness, joy, a state of being which only God can bestow and is not dependent on the world or our circumstances. It is His gift to His children, to those who love Him and are faithful. Makarios is in stark contrast to the world’s definition of happiness which is based on power, fame, riches, pleasure, all of which are temporary, easily diminished and eventually lost.

True blessedness is celebrated in the realization that we were born for a high purpose designed by God from eternity; in the realization that this wise, loving God chose us, called us and redeemed us; in the realization that the combination of gifts, talents, personality and opportunity which the Lord designed for each of us will never again be duplicated, that we are entirely unique, a once in a universe event.

True blessedness is rooted in our regeneration from dead sinners to spiritually alive children of God who experience transformation into mature, holy men and women who can fulfill the purpose which our Lord has designed for our lives. 

Sadly, many people today, even Christians, seek their happiness from the world. They are like the women who stood outside the empty tomb on that first Easter. The angel asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). 

Indeed! Why do we persist in seeking blessing from a tree which is rooted in cursed soil? The root of true happiness cannot be planted in a garden that is corrupt and passing away. But there is a kingdom which will not pass away and in that kingdom, present now and enduring forever, we may pick the fruit of blessing.

Well would we heed the exhortation of the Apostle Paul,

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).

In the following verses Jesus expands on the concept of true blessedness.

5:1-3 Blessed are the poor in spirit. 

Jesus does not say, “Blessed are the poor.” Financial poverty is not a blessing. If that were so, why would God commend giving to the poor? (In Proverbs 19:17, Isaiah 56:7,8  and many other passages, we are exhorted to acts of kindness and generosity to the poor.)

It is the poor in spirit who are blessed.  Who are they? 

The poor in spirit are those who are awakened by the Word of God and the Spirit of God to realize that they are spiritually dead and separated from God by their sins; who know that they stand condemned before God, stand under the weight of God’s righteous judgment and will be separated from God forever in hell.

The poor in spirit recognize their spiritual poverty, realize that there is no work which can be done that will reconcile them to God, rather, it is entirely by the riches of God’s grace that any are saved.  In this teaching, Jesus is stating the eternal truth which the Apostle Paul declared to the Ephesian church, that salvation is entirely a work of God.  As Paul said,

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins ... But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus ... For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:1-9).

Those who confess to God their condemnation and separation from Him, who confess their spiritual poverty, that they are bankrupt and helpless to change and are entirely dependent on the riches of God’s mercy and grace, will be blessed, will be made happy with a happiness which only God can bestow: 

“For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Through faith in Christ, the poor in spirit inherit the true riches of the kingdom: forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God and everlasting life when this life is over.

Having been reconciled to God by faith, the poor in spirit are those who, day by day, realize their continued dependence on God, that true riches are always and only a gift from God to His children.  In their poverty, they come to God daily seeking what they lack: wisdom, holiness, strength of spirit, courage to stand in the evil day, humility, lovingkindness, peace that endures through storms and trials, joy from a deep well which the fires of this world cannot burn away.  Those who seek these gifts from God will be filled and blessed, for God pours out the riches of His kingdom into their hearts.

“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is the rule of God, a rule which reflects His infinite qualities of holiness, wisdom, mercy and grace. Blessed are those who know that the greatest riches of life cannot be obtained by self-effort, who come to God seeking what only God can give, who humble themselves before God.  God will rule over their lives with perfect wisdom expressed through perfect grace.

Jesus left the riches of heaven, forsook popularity with the masses, endured the loss of His friends. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, sweat drops of blood in the garden. Abandoned, forsaken, rejected, He gained the blessedness of fulfilling the kingdom purpose of God.

5:4 “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Of the numerous New Testament words for mourning or sorrow, this is the strongest, pentheo, which speaks of the deepest possible grief. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is used for Jacob’s grief over what he believed to be the death of his son Joseph. It is used in Mark 16:10 of the disciples mourning the death of Jesus. 

Sorrow is something the world attempts to avoid, obsessively pursuing happiness. In fact, in the United States, the pursuit of happiness is a constitutionally guaranteed right.  Yet the more people chase the shallow, temporary happiness of this world, the more mournful and unfulfilled they become. 

In contrast, Jesus says, “Blessed are they that mourn.”  Blessed, happy are those who mourn.  Mourn over what?

 

We mourn our sin and self-centeredness; we shall be comforted with forgiveness.  We mourn over our spiritual lostness, our separation from God; we shall be comforted with salvation, reconciliation with God our Creator. We mourn over the lost souls around us, the condition of a fallen, suffering world; in this we share in the sufferings of Christ and shall be comforted by His fellowship now and by His reward in heaven.

The mourning that results in blessing is a God-centered sorrow. The Apostle Paul reminds us that there is a self centered, worldly sorrow which results in death but the sorrow that the Holy Spirit produces in us leads to life (2 Cor. 7:10). What he means is that the unbeliever is sorry only for the result of sin, the consequence, but not for the sin itself and so the sinner continues on the path of self destruction. But when the Holy Spirit produces genuine sorrow for sin as an offense against God, this leads to repentance which results in forgiveness and life.

5:5 “Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth.”

 

Jesus does not say, “Blessed are the aggressive, the self-centered who stand up for their rights, who go for the gusto, who have it their way.”  Rather, He says, “Blessed are the gentle.”

The word which we translate gentle is praus which can also be rendered as meek. Jesus used a related word to describe Himself in Matthew 11:29, “For I am gentle (praos) and humble in heart.”

Gentleness or meekness is considered almost a weakness in our culture today. But it has nothing to do with softness or weakness. It is a quality of the character of Christ which God produces in the inner being of a growing disciple and which expresses itself first toward God in humble reverence and toward other people in self sacrificing love.

Gentleness, praus, is closely related to the concept of humility, though these are different words. Humility, tapeinoo, is used to describe Jesus’ attitude in leaving the riches of heaven to be born in human form, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phlp. 2:8).

Jesus uses the same word, tapeinoo, to describe the attitude of heart that is consistent with our citizenship in the kingdom of God, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). Jesus implies that humility is necessary even for our entrance into the kingdom of God, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (18:3).

Gentleness, meekness, humility -- these are primary virtues. If pride is the root of all sin and rebellion against God, then gentleness and humility are its opposites. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. The proud resist the Lordship of Jesus and refuse His grace. The gentle and humble submit to their gracious Lord and celebrate the lavishing of His grace upon their lives.

The gentle and humble trust not in their own wisdom but humble themselves before the Word of God. They put to death their own self will and humble themselves to the purpose of God.

The gentle and humble do not debase themselves before God with religious rituals of self-humiliation. Rather, they recognize the truth that their sin has already debased them but the Lord has graciously chosen to lift them up. 

Gentleness and humility are not qualities that we can produce in ourselves. Rather, the Holy Spirit cultivates them in us as we submit and cooperate with His sanctifying work.

Peter’s exhortation, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (I Ptr. 5:6) demonstrates that there is a human side to every command. The Holy Spirit produces the life of Christ in us as we commit ourselves to the discipline of the holy life.

What does Jesus say that these gentle, humble ones will inherit?  The earth.

The power brokers of the world build their mega-empires but ultimately, their empires perish and they perish. In the end, they gain nothing and lose their souls. The humble follower of Jesus inherits the earth and everlasting life with God.

In the thousand year reign of Christ on earth and afterward in the new heavens and the new earth, those who humbled themselves in repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, will reign with Him.  They will literally inherit the earth.  Indeed, when we humble ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we then become joint heirs with Him, that is, we stand to inherit that which Jesus inherits: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16,17).

There is also a present tense reality to this inheritance.  Jesus promises to resource the lives and ministries of those who in gentle humility commit themselves to fulfill His kingdom purpose on earth. This is not a pretense for greed or covetousness. In fact, in Proverbs 30:8,9, the writer asks God to protect him from riches, lest he be full and deny God, saying, “Who is the Lord?’’  He also asks the Lord to protect him from poverty, lest he be in want and steal and profane the name of God.  

We don’t want money / resources to become an adversary to us but neither can these things become a god or idol.  Just as poverty can rob us of the resources needed to fulfill the purpose of God, so riches can rob us of our dependence on God, thereby also denying us the ability to fulfill His purpose. Blessed are those who in gentle humility depend on God for the resources needed to fulfill His purpose and who then choose not to use their gifts and resources to glorify themselves.  They will inherit all that God intended to pour into and through their life.

The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian church with these words:

“And God is able to make all grace abound unto you, so that always having all sufficiency in all things, you may have an abundance for every good deed ... Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in everything for all generosity” (2 Cor. 9:8,10,11).

Why does God pour abundance into our lives?  So that we will “have an abundance for every good deed.” God supplies seed for bread but also seed for sowing, so that we can give into the lives of others. We are enriched by God, “for all generosity,” — so that we may be generous with others.

The gentle, humble followers of Christ inherit, now in this world, later in the Millennial reign of Christ and finally in the new heavens and new earth.

5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Every day we experience a multitude of appetites which demand fulfillment.  Jesus says we are blessed if we hunger after righteousness.

People are hungry for so many different kinds of experiences but there is a God shaped emptiness in each of us which demands to be filled, to be satisfied. Only God Himself can fill this deepest longing; it is the way we were created. The world is filled with frustrated, anxious, angry, unfulfilled people because they are trying to fill this hunger for God with everything except the true and living God.

Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord asked, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good and delight yourself in abundance” (Isa. 55:2).

What does it mean to hunger after righteousness?

It means first of all, to hunger for a right relationship with God. Humanity is separated from God because of sin against God and we will never experience true fulfillment or lasting satisfaction while living apart from God. People pursue wealth, fame, power but arriving at their goal, they still lack the peaceful sense of having arrived at the journey’s end.

The beginning of a meaningful, fulfilled life is in being reconciled to God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, the holy Lamb of God, bore our sins and paid the death penalty which our sin demanded. Through repentance and faith in Christ’s atonement on our behalf, God by His grace restores us to righteous relationship with Himself.

Though we were spiritually dead because of our sin, God rebirths us in Christ. In that act of spiritual regeneration, God declares us to be righteous. This is the beginning of the satisfied life. 

Then begins the process whereby God imparts His righteousness to us, progressively transforming us into righteous persons. If we are truly alive in Christ, we hunger and thirst to grow in righteousness. We gladly submit to the disciplines of life lived in relationship with Christ.

We hunger and thirst for His presence in worship. The Psalmist understood this craving:  

“How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts. My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord ... The bird also has found a house and the swallow a nest for herself ... even your altars O Lord of hosts … How blessed are those who dwell in your house … For a day in your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold (be a doorkeeper) in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord is a sun and a shield, the Lord gives grace and glory and no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (from Psalm 84).

We hunger and thirst for God’s holy word. Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

The Apostle Peter adds, “Like new born babies, long for the pure milk of the word so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,” (I Peter2:2).

The Psalmist said, “As the deer pants (longs for) the water brooks, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God” (Ps. 42:1,2). It is our responsibility to hunger and thirst. It is God’s responsibility to satisfy. 

Mary rejoiced in God’s outpouring into the lives of those who hunger and thirst after Him, “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior ... He has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1: 46,47, 53).

David testifies, “You prepare a table before me ... My cup overflows” (Ps. 23:5).

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for a right relationship with God.  Blessed in what way? God will draw us into an ever deepening relationship with Himself, wherein is true blessedness, true fulfillment and satisfaction.  And in this righteous relationship with God, all other things that are needful shall be added unto us (Matthew 6:33).

5:7 “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

All of God’s redeeming work in our lives is an expression of His mercy. God, in turn, requires us to share the mercy we have experienced from Him.

God’s mercy has been generously poured into our lives but we cannot continually receive from God what we will not share with others.  If we live in His kingdom, we must act in a way that is consistent with the values of His kingdom.  Jesus said,   

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).

“Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap.  For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).

When we share mercy with others, we prove that we have experienced the mercy of God.  As God pours His merciful blessings into our lives, we must allow Him to pour through us into the lives of others.  Freely we have received, freely give.  The measure we share is an expression the measure we have received.

Of course, the typical attitude in Jesus’ day, as in ours, is that we share mercy with those who are merciful to us. But this in no way reflects the character of a Savior who loved us while we were yet His enemies (Rom. 5:8,10).  

This is not a merciful world. It is a savage world fallen from grace, exercising brutality everywhere. How unlike Jesus, who wept over the city that rejected Him; who looked on the multitude with compassion; who ate with sinners and forgave the sinner who turned to Him; who lifted up the fallen and healed the sick; who held babies in His arms and blessed them; who touched the untouchable leper and set at liberty the demon bound outcast; who forgave the condemned criminal dying next to Him as He forgave the self righteous priests and calloused soldiers who crucified Him.

Yet the more Jesus lavished mercy on the world, the more the world hated Him. He who forgave the guilty was declared guilty. He who healed the wounded was beaten. He who raised the dead was put to death

Because Jesus was committed to lavish mercy on a fallen world, He was obedient to His Father’s purpose, dying on a cross as a holy offering for the sins of the world. Therefore God highly exalted Him, raising Him from the dead and giving Him a name above all names.

Jesus’ outpouring of mercy and grace on a fallen world did not result in the world pouring out mercy on Him. Rather, it was His Father who rewarded Him. So with us. We are commanded to share mercy with the world around us. The world will not repay mercy with mercy but our Lord will. It is the Lord Himself who blesses the poor in spirit with their reward, the kingdom of heaven. It is the Lord who comforts those who mourn, who blesses the gentle and satisfies those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. From whom? From God.

Be confident that we will never exhaust the storehouse of God’s mercy, as Jeremiah reminds us, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22,23).

God’s mercy flows out of God’s love for us, His fallen sons and daughters. The mystery of God’s love is hidden in the heart of God, but that love is the wellspring of all mercy that He lavishes upon us.

However, God’s mercy is not unrelated to God’s justice. God cannot offer mercy to a sinner without first dealing with sin’s violation of His justice and mercy. On the cross, God shows Himself to be both just and merciful. There, Jesus bore the wrath of God’s violated justice, enabling the outpouring of God’s abundant mercy on repentant sinners.

On a smaller human scale, the Good Samaritan purchased the cost of the wounded man’s healing. That act of mercy was not free -- the Good Samaritan used his own wine, oil and money. On a universal scale, Jesus bore the cost of sin which was the wrath of His Father against sin, separation from His Father and death. He did that so that mercy could be poured out on the repentant sinner.

Keep in mind that when the Apostle Paul said, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19), he did not say that God did not count our trespasses. He says that God did not count our trespasses against us. Paul goes on to say, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). 

God counted our sins against Jesus. Jesus bore the cost of mercy. When we turn from our sins and place our faith in Christ, God then releases His mercy to us.

We, in turn, are commanded to share mercy with others, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

How can I show mercy in such as brutal, violent, unforgiving world? “We love because He first loved us” (I John 5:19). “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5).

It is God’s mercy toward us that enables us to share mercy. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in us and an expression of the character of Christ, a fruit of the Spirit, which the Holy Spirit cultivates in us (Gal. 5:22,23).

Mercy is shared as we pray for our church, our adversaries, our leaders, the people groups of the world. But mercy is also action -- we show mercy, share mercy, release, lavish mercy on the world around us. We share mercy with those who have sinned against us by forgiving them and acting toward them in a manner consistent with forgiveness. 

We share mercy with those separated from God by proclaiming and living the Gospel. We share mercy with those who lack worldly goods by sharing our abundance. We share mercy as we lift up the fallen and encourage the weak; as we minister powerful deliverance to those who are helplessly bound in addictions.

Blessed are the merciful. The promise is that they shall receive mercy from the heart and hand of God.

5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The Jewish religion of Jesus’ day emphasized obedience to the Law and the performance of ritual. The Law had come to include not only the Law of Moses but thousands of rules added over the centuries by rabbis and scribes, what Jesus called “the traditions of men.” The result was a religious system that bound men and women in guilt and frustration. They could not keep all the laws and the rituals could not cleanse them of their guilt.

In contrast to this religion of external conformity to Law and ritual, Jesus emphasized the inner reality of holiness, of a heart undivided in its devotion to the Lord. This was nothing new. Centuries before, Solomon had said, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).

David understood this. After he was convicted of his sin with Bathsheba, he confessed to God,

“For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16,7).

It is not that God rejected the sacrificial system and its rituals. It was God who had given this to Israel. But offering sacrifices for sin without true repentance is empty religion. David knew that what God wanted from him was not the performance of mere ritual but a heart sincerely broken by the realization of his offense against God. 

Therefore he confessed, “Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4).

What David brought before God was a broken heart. What David desired from God was true cleansing, “Purify me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7).

What God desired from David was “truth in the innermost being” (Ps. 51:6). A truthful heart is honest about sin, repenting of sin and open to the cleansing, restoring grace of God.

“Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus said. Blessedness is the state of happiness and well being which God bestows on the redeemed.

Pure translates the word kathores from which we derive catharsis, referring to that which has been cleansed. It was used in reference to metals that had been refined of impurities; what remained was unmixed metal.

Applied to a person, this is a heart which is undivided by conflicting motives or contradictory desires, singleminded, devoted, uncompromised. It speaks of integrity, that which is integrated, in which all the parts are functioning as a whole. It is a heart with one focus, whole, wholly committed to know and love God.  It is a cleansed heart, undiluted by darkness, transparent, clear as light.  

There are many people today who are pure hearted in their devotion to the wrong god or expressing their devotion to the right God in wrong ways. Before the Lord redeemed us, such were we all. But when we surrendered our lives to Christ, the Lord began a work of cleansing and new creation in us (Acts 15:9, 2 Cor. 5:17).

Only God can create a pure heart but He does so only as we participate in the discipline of holiness. This discipline includes honest accountability for our sins and failures. John exhorts us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9).


This discipline also includes refusing to practice the old ways of our fallen nature while continually practicing our new life in Christ. Paul refers to this as putting off the old and putting on the new (Col. 3:1-17).

This  discipline includes daily presenting ourselves to God as living and holy sacrifices, refusing conformity to this world and accepting God’s work of transformation (Rom. 6:12-14 12:1,2) as we meet Him in His Word.

What is the blessing obtained by those who have a pure heart? They shall see God. This speaks of daily, intimate communion with God. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Pursue peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).  

If we would draw near to a holy God and have fellowship with Him, then we must be cleansed of that which would separate us from Him. David clearly understood that it was against God that he had sinned (Ps. 51:4) and it was this sin that would continue to separate him from God if that sin was not dealt with (Ps. 51:11). Therefore David says,

“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord and who may stand in His holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3,4).  

The Apostle John points out that if we say we have fellowship with God while walking in darkness, we are liars, but if we confess our sins and ask God to cleanse us, He will forgive and cleanse (I John 1:6-9). It is that holiness, that purity, which will allow us to enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with God.

5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”

The Lord who spoke peace to the storm offers us His peace,  

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).  

This peace is Jesus’ gift to all who come to Him in humble repentance and childlike faith. Since it is His gift to us, the world can neither take it from us nor diminish its reality within us.  The world cannot take from us that which the world did not give.

This peace is, first of all, peace with God, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). The purchase of peace with God was costly; Jesus “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20). The judgment of God which was due to us because of our sin was laid upon Jesus, the holy Lamb of God, who made a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sinners. Now instead of wrath, the grace of God is lavished upon us and we are at peace with God.

Secondly, it is the peace of God, a living peace established within us by the God of peace who indwells us. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you so that in me you may have peace,” (John 16:33). As we said above, it is Christ’s own peace which He shares with us. This peace of God cannot leave us for God will not leave us. Because it is of divine origin, it transcends our mind, surpasses our limited emotional resources and is infinitely more mighty than our most terrible storms and trials.

The peace of God will guard and over-rule our unruly thoughts and feelings, if we will allow this.  God quickens His peace within us every time we call upon Him: “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 4:7).

Whatever storms we encounter, we know the peace of God. Now, the God of peace, who has planted His peace within us, calls us to be peacemakers.

This ministry of peacemaking begins by maintaining peace in our own lives, then sharing our gift of peace with all around us, “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom.14:19).  

The ministry of peace extends even to our enemies.  We are directed by Jesus to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44) and to forgive those who have sinned against us (Matt. 6:14,15). 

We are to pray for peace among the nations, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (I Tim. 2:1,2).

We are exhorted to maintain peace in God’s church.  Jesus prayed for unity in the church (John 17:11-23) and that is a labor of peace.  Paul entreated the church to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).  He reminds us that the ministries of the church are for the building up of the church until we all attain to the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:11-13).  That is a labor of peace.  

Jesus asked, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).  If we are sons and daughters of the Prince of Peace, we must be about His business -- we must be peacemakers.

Remember the context, though. We are to be peacemakers in a fallen world which is in violent rebellion against its Creator and burning in its self destructive rebellion. A peacemaker is someone who disturbs the natural order of things in a world at war with itself.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). The peace which Jesus brings is rooted in righteous relationship with a holy God who speaks only truth. To be at peace with such a God results in conflict with those who hate God, profane holiness and make war against truth.

To live in peace is to live in the light of God’s presence. This brings us into conflict with a world which hates light and loves darkness.

The sword which Jesus brings is the sword of God’s word, the sword of truth and light. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, 

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do,” (Hebr. 4:12,13).

When the truth of the Gospel confronted our sin, we were convicted, we repented and placed our faith in Christ. But this confrontation was not an act of peace. It was an act of war resulting in peace.

Just as God brought peace to our souls by confronting us with truth, so it must be with the world around us. The world is not at peace. It is at war and the primary cause of conflict is that people are separated from God and from one another. The root of this separation is sin. What robs the world of peace is sin.

What delivers anyone from sin? Confrontation with truth.

The Bible reveals clearly that there will be no lasting peace in this world until sin has been finally and conclusively dealt with. The rule of peace will not be established until the Prince of Peace returns and establishes His kingdom on earth. 

However, even in a world at war, we may still be at peace with God and through God, we may be at peace with ourselves. We may then be used of God in establishing peace in our communities. Peace making begins as we speak the truth in love. Truthful, loving confrontation will bring peace to those who are willing to receive God’s gift. We must temper our expectations, though, in the light of reality. Whatever peace we build in this world will be transitory and imperfect.

Our state of peace with God and our peacemaking in God’s name gives proof that we are His children, “They shall be called sons of God.”

Faith is displayed by its works. The tree is known by its fruit. 

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,” (John 1:12). If this is so, that we are indeed children of God by faith in Christ, then there will be visible manifestations of our relationship with the living God. Peace with God, the peace of God and peace making in God’s name demonstrate that we are who we say we are.

5:10-12 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Living the blessed life in fellowship with God does not bring about the friendship and approval of the world. The world loves its own but it hated Jesus. When He multiplied bread and fish and fed the multitudes, the people loved Jesus.  But when He shared hard teachings, they grumbled and abandoned Him. When He forgave sinners and healed on the Sabbath, the religious folk despised Him. When He raised Lazarus from the dead, the power-brokers began to plot how they might destroy Him.

If we are living by the righteous principles outlined in the preceding verses -- exercising mercy, walking in purity, making peace, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, shining light in the midst of darkness, speaking truth in a context of lies, loving in a sea of hatred -- these actions and attitudes are confrontational. They generate hostility. 

We should not be surprised at the response. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

A church that is not persecuted may not be confronting anything. It may only be reflecting its culture. We try to avoid confrontation and hostility but Paul, who suffered such great hardship as a follower of Christ, had an interesting perspective on suffering. He said,

“To you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phlp. 1:29). 

The word which we translate granted is charizo which is from the same root as the word for grace, charis. Charizo means to give, to grant in grace. The opportunity to suffer for Christ is a gift from God.

Suffering is also an inevitable reality when living a righteous life in an unrighteous world.

Jesus said, “You will be hated by all because of my name” (Matt. 10:22). Notice the verb: will be. The disciple is not above his teacher; if they slandered Jesus, how much more will they slander his disciple (Matt. 10:24,25). 

Jesus reminds us of the reason for the world’s hatred,

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:19).

James reminds us that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).  Jesus came to His own and they did not receive Him (John 1:11).  So we should not be surprised at the world’s rejection, at persecution. 

However, we may rejoice because our reward is great. What is that reward? 

“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

Jesus does not mean that we gain the kingdom of heaven through persecution. We do not gain eternal life with God in His kingdom through our own works or the works of our persecutors. Rather, persecution proves that this world does not have a claim on us, does not call us its citizens. Persecution demonstrates that the kingdom of God is our true home.

The kingdom of heaven is the rule of God in our lives now and forever.  It is a rule of grace in place of judgment; a rule of peace in the midst of strife; a rule of joy while the world mourns its passing pleasures, its decaying idols and its corruptible wealth.  The kingdom of heaven is the guiding rule of a Shepherd who will not forsake or abandon us; it is the rule of a great High Priest who always prays for us; it is the rule of the Divine Beloved who chose us, pursued us, redeemed us from slavery and made everlasting covenant with us that we might enjoy intimate, loving communion with Him forever.

The Apostle Paul viewed persecution as a form of communion with Jesus, a means of deeper fellowship with Him. Paul wanted to know Jesus, not only in “the power of His resurrection,” but also “in the fellowship of His sufferings,” (Phlp. 3:10). Persecution, ridicule, slander, insults, these are but a few of the ways that we share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.  

The Apostle Peter wrote to believers who were being persecuted for their faith:

 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed but is to glorify God in this name” (I Ptr. 4:12-14, 16). 

1. Peter says, first of all, “Do not be surprised.” Persecution is not some strange event. It is normal that the follower of Christ should be reviled, ridiculed, persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.  As we have noted, if the world hated Jesus, why would it love His followers?

2. Secondly, we are not to retaliate when we suffer for Christ’s sake. Rather, we are directed by God to rejoice because of the reward that awaits us “at the revelation of His glory.” That will be when Jesus comes again to conclude history and establish His rule on earth.  

3. Also, rejoice because we are blessed and the Spirit of glory rests on us. Consider this awesome truth: when we are reproached, ridiculed, insulted for the name of Christ and we bear it humbly, patiently and joyfully, God’s glory is resting on us, is manifest through our lives. Peter says, “Consider yourself blessed — the Spirit of Glory rests on you.”  

How is the glory of God manifest in the persecution of His people? God is displaying His mercy, His patience, humility and kindness. Isn't this illustrated in the cross? While hell was having a carnival and Jesus was bleeding and many were mocking and spitting and reproaching, God was being glorified in this open display of His humility, goodness, mercy and grace.

When we are content to bear Christ's own reproach, content to suffer no matter what the cost, we are glorifying God.

Also, persecution is a testing of our character and God will use any test to further refine and purify our lives.  In Psalm 105:19, we read of Joseph, the Old Testament saint: “Until the time that His Word came to pass, the Word of the Lord tested / refined him.”  

God had given Joseph, at a very young age, a clear sense of destiny, of the purpose of God in his life. Yet Joseph endured years of mistreatment as a slave and then as a prisoner unjustly accused. But this was not wasted time.  God used this time to prepare Joseph for his years of crucial service as Prime Minister of Egypt.  Joseph had an important role to play in the redemption plan of God and his years of persecution did not prevent the outworking of God’s purpose.  Rather, it was a time of purifying.

When Paul needed to defend his credentials against those who were questioning his apostolic authority, he did not list his revelations or the miracles God had worked through him. He recounted his suffering and persecution (2 Cor. 11:23-30). His was a resume' of suffering. The fire of persecution did not destroy or even diminish Paul. Rather, because it was an expression of kingdom fellowship with Jesus, persecution became a means of transforming grace.

So with us. God will use the test of persecution and ridicule to further refine and purify us for service.  In fact, this process of purification or consecration is very deeply imbedded in the definition of a disciple of Jesus.

One of the most common New Testament words for a follower of Christ is saint (hagios) which means sacred, blameless, consecrated (implies set apart). The word is found in the salutation of many of Paul’s epistles to the churches (Romans 1:7,  I Corinthians 1:2,   2 Corinthians 1:1).  It is not limited to those whom the church designates as saints because of their exceptional deeds of service or devotion to Christ.  It is used of all who have believed in and followed Jesus. 

We consecrate a person for sacred purpose — that is, we set the person apart and dedicate him or her to a holy purpose.  That is the New Testament sense of a saint but it is used of all who have believed in and followed Christ.  Persecution is one of the ways that God more deeply consecrates / purifies / refines His saints for service that will glorify His name.

So rejoice, Jesus says, when you are persecuted, reviled, insulted for the sake of His Gospel. If we bear this with grace, it will be a means of great blessing. We demonstrate our citizenship in the kingdom of God; we enter into deeper partnership and fellowship with Jesus; the glory of God will rest upon us and we will experience deeper consecration, fitting us for greater service on earth.

Notice also in verse 12 that Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great.” The rewards that we earn in this life are temporary, they fade away, they perish or if they remain until we die, we will not take them with us. But the reward which we store up in heaven will be waiting for us and will endure forever.

Therefore the Lord exhorts us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matt. 6:19,20).

Jesus promises the persecuted that their rewards are great. Surely they are, for these rewards are forever and because they are given from the heart and hand of God.

Finally, in verse 12 Jesus reminds us that the prophets were persecuted before us. When the world exercises hostility against us, we stand among that glorious multitude who spoke God’s life giving Word to a scornful generation and suffered for the truth.

Salt and Light (5:13-16)

5:13 “You are the salt of the earth.”

Jesus says that His followers are salt. Salt is used to preserve food from putrefying and is used as an antiseptic, a purifier. The analogy for the church is obvious. The work of the true church, through the centuries, has had a purifying and preserving impact upon every civilization with which it has come in contact. It is not by its own power that the church preserves and purifies. It is God Himself releasing His truth and wisdom, His power and authority, His mercy and grace, through His true church.

There have been times, though, when religious institutions have been co-opted by greedy, oppressive power brokers who knew nothing of Jesus; times when unredeemed men and women have seized the cathedral, profaning holy altars and sacred rituals. In these times the church has lost its identity as an instrument of God’s redeeming purpose in history. These religious institutions may be called “the church” but they are not God’s church when they cannot be distinguished from any other worldly power.

Jesus reminds us that salt, by nature, is distinct from whatever it is sprinkled on.  But if salt has lost its distinctiveness, it is good for nothing and will be thrown out and trampled.  The implication for the church is, again, obvious.  A church that is no longer distinct from the world around it is a church that has nothing to offer the world and that church will be rejected by God. 

5:14 “You are the light of the world.”

Jesus says that the church is light, light that must not be hidden, light that must be released for the purpose of illumination.  The question is, what does the church illuminate?

The church is commanded to let its light shine in such a way that God, and God alone, is glorified (Matt. 5:16). We are not to spend our light glorifying ourselves or the corrupt culture around us. 

Light is surely distinct from darkness, just as salt is distinct from whatever it is sprinkled on.  The church carries the life and truth and presence of the living God and so by nature is distinct from the world. The church represents a God who is just in an unjust world; a God who is loving and merciful in a violent, vengeful world; a God who speaks only the truth in a world of lies and deceptions; a God who is holy and pure in an evil, twisted world; a God who creates life in a death-infested world.

The Apostle Paul expresses this truth with these beautiful words,

“But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:14-16).

We are the fragrance of Christ. He releases His purifying life and saving light through us. Jesus is able to do this because He has planted His purifying life and His redeeming light in us. He is able to release through us only that which He has first established in us. In this regard, the Apostle John warns us, 

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I Jn. 1:6,7).

A church that has rejected the guiding authority of God’s Word, led by unredeemed leaders, filled with unredeemed members, leading lifestyles as corrupt and immoral as the world outside the cathedral, is a church that exists in darkness.There is no light of Christ within and so there is no light of Christ shining out. The words of Jesus to the Pharisees of His day would apply to such churches, its leaders and its members. They are nothing more than “blind guides of the blind” (Matt. 15:14).

God is distinct from, separate from, other than, this world.  Yet God is present in this world.  The presence of this transcendent God is the church’s gift to the world.  But if we try to accommodate ourselves or our message to the compromised standards of a lost and dying world, we will only hide the light and cause the salt to lose its savor.  When we lose our distinctiveness,  as we have said, then we have nothing to offer the world and God Himself will reject that church.

There are many ways that a church can cease to be salt and light.  One is through the seduction of relevance.  The idea that we must make Jesus relevant is absurd.  Jesus is the One by whom, for whom and through whom all things were created.  He is the One in whom all things consist; who upholds the universe by His Word of power. In Christ’s birth, God was incarnating Himself in human form.  His death was God redeeming humanity from sin.  His resurrection was God releasing the world from the power of death. He began history, will conclude history and while transcending history, has never been absent from history.

Jesus does not need to be made relevant.  He is the most relevant Person in all of time and creation.  It is we who must ask:  Is our church relevant to Christ and to His purposes?  Is our theology, our worship, our preaching and the witness of our lives relevant to Christ?

If we are rightly related to Christ, then we will be rightly related to the world.  But many churches, in a vain attempt to conform to that which is politically correct and culturally acceptable, have reduced their witness to silly irrelevancy.  

There are so many ways to fall into the trap of irrelevancy. 

1. There is the subversion of the political left or right which would deceive us with the lie that if we will vote “the righteous” way, if the right legislation is passed, if the righteous candidate is elected, God’s kingdom purpose will be advanced.  How we vote and who we elect are important issues, but the sad truth is that many churches have been co-opted by the right or the left and the salt has lost its savor, the light has been hidden.  These churches are scarcely distinct from any other political instrument of the right or left and render themselves irrelevant.

Today, the religious left and the religious right are declining as political forces but both are being replaced by less religious, more extreme factions; less characterized by a love for Christ, more characterized by hatred of people; less informed by a Biblical world view, more informed by anger, bitterness and resentment.

Our goal as a church is not to become politically indifferent. But too often, politically active saints are becoming spiritually and Biblically indifferent. Insofar as we demonize our opponents, hate our adversaries and use the Bible as a proof text for the smashing of opposing ideologies, we have allowed our politics to seduce our faith and reduce our faith to irrelevance.

Jesus reminded His listeners that we are to love the Lord our God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot love God and despise our neighbor.  Who is my neighbor, some patriot asked Jesus? Someone as different as a Samaritan from a Jew, Jesus replied. Today’s version of the parable might say that my neighbor is a Democrat or Republican; an immigrant or a descendant of the Pilgrims.

The point is that I cannot love God and smash my neighbor with political expressions of my religious doctrine.  The goal is to win people for the everlasting kingdom of God, not to win arguments for the temporal kingdoms of the right or left.

Related to the seduction of the right and the left is the seduction of “leadership idolatry.”  God does gift some men and women for political leadership and we are told in the Bible to honor leaders, obey them and pray for them.  But the kingdom of God is not breaking into history through any senators, presidents or prime ministers. We must guard our hearts, lest honor and obedience become idolatry.

We are not called to forfeit our political responsibilities but we must place our politics within the proper relationship to Biblically formed faith.  The questions is, will my faith form my political activism or will my activism, and the ideology that undergirds it, shape my faith?  Again, if our political beliefs and agenda cause us to hate, demonize and smash, then our faith has been subverted and we have become irrelevant. 

2. There is the subversion of the culturally / morally popular.  When society has been aflame with racism, have fires of hate broken out in the church?  When society is immoral, has the church become morally compromised?  Have we in the church, imitating the world, soiled our garments and seared our souls?  Insofar as we are conformed to a fallen world, we are irrelevant to God’s desire to redeem this world.  How ironic, that the church can become captive to its desire to be relevant.  We cannot preach a message of salvation to our culture while we imitate that culture.  When the church becomes captive to the culture it seeks to imitate, then it is reduced to irrelevance.

3. There is the subversion of artistic giftings.  God has gifted men and women with profound artistic talents with which to glorify Him but often the artist is glorified and that which the artist creates becomes an idol. We give glory to the artist and to the creation instead of the God who gave us the gift.  When does the artist or the gifting become an idol?  When the person or the gift receives glory, displaces God, and steals our affection.

When creative giftings and gifted people replace Creator God, God becomes an enemy of our gifts and removes them or removes His presence from them.  Godless giftings are irrelevant to a lightless world.

If the church is just another political action committee, compromising itself with the political left or right; if the church is so intent on acceptance that there is no longer a moral distinctive transcending time and culture; if we make idols of our creative gifts and artisans, have we not lost our salt and light?

Centuries ago, when the church began to baptize people as a social / political ritual, whether or not they had entered into relationship with Christ through repentance and faith, the salt began to lose its savor and the light began to set.  When the church has attempted to conquer nations rather than convert hearts, employing armies rather than truth and mercy, the salt has lost its savor and light was lost.  When churches hide, dilute or compromise the Gospel, we become salt that has lost its savor, we become a hidden light.

In Revelation chapter 2, Jesus speaks to the Ephesian church, founded and nurtured by no less a luminary than the Apostle Paul.  But half a century after its founding, Jesus warns the church, “Therefore remember from where you have fallen and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place, unless you repent”  (Rev. 2:5).

Today, Ephesus is an archeological dig, an ancient ruin.  There is no church there, no light.  Jesus removed the lampstand.

There are cities in the world today in which you will find beautiful, empty cathedrals, religious museums testifying of bygone light.  Few people attend the services and why would they?  The sermons are dead, devoid of truth, preached by religious professionals who believe little or nothing of the testimony of Jesus.

The world around these dark cathedrals has not been salted or illumined with any truth that would purify or enlighten because the salt lost its savor and the light was hidden. Having denied Christ, having compromised and diluted His Gospel, Jesus cast out the worthless salt and removed the darkened lampstand.  The cathedral is empty because God rejected it and most people will, ultimately, abandon a church that is devoid of the presence of Christ.

There is the ultimate irony.  A church that sought relevance to the world rather than faithfulness to Christ, will have no impact on the world, will be Christ and abandoned by the world it sought to imitate.

Yes, we can be politically engaged; we are artistically gifted; we must be culturally responsive, but only as followers of Christ, faithful to Christ, transformed by Christ, proclaiming and reflecting Christ.  We are called to represent Christ in the market place of ideas, in every arena -- in politics, the arts, business, government.  But doing the work of Christ from a worldly motive, with a worldly mindset in a worldly way, accomplishes nothing of relevance.

The values and priorities of the kingdom of God must inform and shape every aspect of our life, including our politics, our art, our business dealings.  Every aspect of life must be submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the values of His kingdom.

We are called to present Christ, present His life and truth in a way that shines His light on the choices that people are making, and delineates the consequences of those choices.  We worship Christ, demonstrating His rightful enthronement over every ideology.  We join in Christ’s intercession for a lost world, praying that hearts and minds will open to the light of His truth and the power of His love.

In our lifestyle witness, in our proclamation witness, in our artistic giftings and political witness, in our worship and our prayer, we offer salt and light to a lost, dark and dying world.

Relationship With God and People (5:17-48)

5:17,18 There is in the teaching of Jesus a continuity with the Law of Moses and the words of the prophets.  He respected every word in the Old Testament because it was and is the inspired, revealed Word of God.  Jesus, the Word made flesh, had existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity and had, with the other members of the Trinity, inspired Moses to write and the prophets to speak God’s Word.

Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the prophets but to fulfill every truth and every prophecy. He fulfilled the Scriptures by keeping them perfectly and by satisfying every prophetic word concerning His birth, life, atoning death and resurrection. Those prophecies which are future will be fulfilled and Jesus declared that nothing of God’s word shall pass away, not the least letter of it, until all is accomplished.

5:19 In fact, whoever annuls even the least of those words will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever keeps and teaches those words will be great in the kingdom.

5:20 However, as we said in the introduction to this chapter, by the time Jesus was born thousands of non-Biblical traditions had been added to God’s word. These traditions obscured the Law and deadened the hearts of the people to God’s truth. In the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings, Jesus did not intend to nullify the Law but to abolish the non-Biblical traditions and point people back to God’s original purpose in giving the Law.

He called His disciples to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and said that unless we do, we shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.  How will Jesus enable us to surpass the righteousness of those religious puritans?  By calling us back to the truth of God’s Word and liberating us from those enslaving religious customs and traditions which had attached to the Scriptures.  

Jesus called us back to the truth of God’s Word and what does that truth reveal?  It reveals that the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was a self-righteousness which can never satisfy God.  They were trying to justify themselves before God by keeping the Law, but no one can obey God’s Word with the standard of perfection which God requires of us.  

The Word of God reveals that we are separated from God by our sin and cannot save ourselves by keeping the Law because we do not keep it. The Law reveals that we need a Savior. Those who respond to this revelation by repentance and faith in Christ Jesus will be forgiven of sin, declared righteous by God our righteous Judge and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us.

In the following discussion of the Law, Jesus often begins with these words, “You have heard it said, but I say to you ...”  At no point will He deny what had been taught in the Law of Moses but He will  break the Scriptures free from centuries of interpretations which resulted in codes and customs and traditions which have the appearance of holiness but in fact bind people in religious slavery.  

Secondly, He will apply the Scriptures to our thought life, our attitudes and motives.  Whereas the rigid holiness of the Pharisees was based on external obedience, Jesus will demand inner obedience, the conformity of our thoughts and desires to God’s Word.

The result will be intimate, covenant relationship with God and more transparent, truthful, loving relationship with people.  

5:21,22 Teaching on murder:  “You have heard ... But I say to you”

Principle: The internal thought or motive is the beginning of the outward act.  

Jesus does not nullify or contradict the Old Testament teaching on murder but He reminds us that what we conceive in our hearts has life and power and will be expressed in some form, in words and actions.  A desire, an idea or concept is the beginning of an action.  

In other words, sin is not merely an outward act but a progression of acts which begin in the mind. James, in his epistle, shows the obvious influence of Jesus’ teaching: 

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lusts (strong desire). Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death,” (James 1:14,15).

Before we proceed with the Lord’s teaching on this matter, let’s briefly examine the progression from desire to sin.

1. Sin begins with the conception of desire within us for something. 

The desire may be initiated by some outer sensory stimuli, something we see or hear or smell. For instance, when we pass by a bakery the smell may stimulate a desire for fresh baked bread. For the sake of this discussion, let’s say that this bread is harmful and therefore illegal. But having smelled it, we begin to think about the bread. It becomes a part of our imagination.

2. Desire conceives reasons to satisfy the desire.

We now begin to reason, to explain to ourselves, to justify, rationalize why it would be good to buy and eat the bread. At this point, our desire is conceiving the act of purchasing the bread. Any prohibitions such as health or legality are being pushed aside by our desire. We have justified buying and eating the bread no matter what it may cost or how it might harm us.

3. Rationalized desire begins to conceive an action. 

We now begin to formulate a plan to act on what we have desired and rationalized. Our will is involved now. We do not merely desire the bread. We do not simply rationalize buying it. Because we have justified having it, we now will to have it. It is not now a matter of being tempted by the smell of it. We are drawn to it by our own will.

4. Finally, we exercise our will.

We purchase the bread and eat it. The fact that it is illegal and harmful means that we have violated the law and our own personhood. We have sinned.

5. Sin always results in the death of something.

By the time we purchase the bread and are holding it in our hands, it is virtually impossible to resist the temptation of eating it. It would be somewhat easier to resist the temptation while we are formulating a plan to purchase it; somewhat easier during the process of rationalizing why I need that bread. But the best place to resist is when he desire first occurs.

The earlier we begin to resist temptation, the easier it is to overcome it. The longer we allow the process to continue in our mind the less likely that we will overcome it.

Better still to avoid the neighborhood where we smell the illegal bread. If the battleground of sin is in our mind, then what is more important than controlling the gates that lead to the mind? Don’t go where the bread will impact your senses. There are a thousand baited hooks that will not entice you but there are a few that will. Guard the gates that lead to the mind.

If “illegal bread” is your problem, then we don’t watch movies about illegal bread. Don’t read the book. Don’t stand outside the bakery. Don’t go to the neighborhood where that smell fills the air. Don’t position your life in ways that expose your particular vulnerability to that temptation.

Instead, we must saturate our minds with the life and truth and light of Jesus. How valuable the exhortation, “Watch over your heart with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life,” (Prov. 4:23).

Returning to Jesus’ teaching on murder: 

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty.”  

The thought itself, not just the doing of the thought, is holy or unholy, pure or sinful and God holds us accountable for the invisible reality of our thought-life just as He holds us accountable for the visible reality of our actions.  Jesus begins with the traditional teaching, “You shall not commit murder,” and links it with the internal thought process of anger that can lead to murder and then calls for a higher standard of thought and action.

Jesus then warns against words that condemn, accuse and ridicule, “And whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing’ shall be guilty.’”

 Why?  Because words have life and power; they represent ideas which have life and power.  With words we bless and we curse, we tear down and build up, we create and we destroy, we lead and we mislead, we shine light and we create darkness.  Jesus’ teaching is rooted in Proverbs 18:20, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”  But He carries the Old Testament truth to a deeper level of fulfillment, linking our thoughts and our words with murder and warning of the judgment of hell. 

In summary, Jesus says that to think or speak evil of anyone is the beginning of the doing of evil toward that person.  The outward, visible act of evil is only the birthing of the sin which was conceived in the inner, invisible realm of the soul.

Does this teaching have relevance today in our divided society, where public debate and the conversation of political and religious dialogue is filled with condemnation, ridicule and lies, where the demonizing and belittling of opponents is the norm? 

5:23-26 Teaching on Relationship and Gifts

Principle: Our relationships with people, who are created in the image of God, is more important than our gifts to God.  

Jesus said that if we are alienated from a brother, someone with whom we are in spiritual or family relationship, and we realize this alienation while bringing an offering to God, we should lay down our gift, go and first be reconciled.  Then bring our gift to God.  

It is not that God despises our gifts; He invites our offerings of worship and treasure, time and talent.  But God places the highest priority on our relationship with Himself and those around us.  The Apostle John reminds us, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (I John 4:20).

In Matthew 23:23, Jesus pronounces woe on the scribes and Pharisees for tithing the herbs out of their garden while neglecting “the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”  Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t tithe, don’t give.”  He says, “Learn mercy, get right with God and people, then bring your tithe from the garden.”

5:27,28 Teaching on adultery:  “You have heard ... but I say”

Principle: The internal thought or motive is the beginning of the outward act.  

In God’s sight, the will to sin is the beginning of the actual doing of the sin.  C.S. Lewis said, “If you look at a muffin and cup of coffee with desire, you have committed breakfast in your heart.”  That’s the idea Jesus is articulating.  Holiness is not merely abstaining from an outward act; holiness is when we do not wish to commit that act.  This is purity of heart, as opposed to abstaining from sin because we do not have the opportunity or fear the consequences.

5:29,30 Teaching on self-discipline

Principle: It is better to do without something than be destroyed by its misuse.  

Jesus did not mean that we should literally cut off members of our body. This would cure nothing, since ungoverned desire arises from the soul, not from the individual parts of the body. He is using exaggeration to demonstrate the seriousness of unregulated desires which conceive and give birth to sin and which then bring forth death.

Jesus is commending a disciplined ruthlessness in gaining mastery over thoughts, attitudes, activities, relationships, appetites and habits that could cause us to destroy our own life or others.  Anything that would gain mastery over us and thereby diminish our ability to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, even if it is not evil in itself, must be cut off, denied.  

Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:23,24). This is about bending our will to the Lordship of Jesus, loving what He loves, hating what He hates, refusing to allow anything to exercise destructive lordship over our life.

The cost of compromise is that we grieve the Lord and invite his chastisement. We miss answers to prayer which the Lord wants to pour out upon us. We quench the flow of His power and anointing and grace. We limit the outworking of His purpose in us and through us. We turn away the blessing which the Lord desires to lavish upon us and through us into the lives of others. 

Paul often used the example of an athlete or soldier in referring to the discipline required to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives. How sad that we admire the strenuous training, sacrifice and self denial of athletes and soldiers while tolerating self indulgent, destructive habits and thoughts in our own lives. While we should avoid making our own personal prohibitions into laws for others, we must understand that the habits and preferences which become ingrained in our heart will shape our character and character will determine destiny. Therefore the Bible says,

“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).  The very course of our life, insofar as we can control that course, begins in our heart, our soul (see also Matthew 15:18-20  and  Luke 6:45).  

The Psalmist prayed, “Search me O God and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way,” (Psalm 139:23,24).  That same Lord who said that He came not to bring peace but a sword will search our hearts and remove from us that which would destroy us, if we ask and submit.  

There is a process, a holy discipline, through which the Lord examines us and performs spiritual surgery. The writer to the Hebrews said,

 “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than a two edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

As we read the Bible carefully, thoughtfully, as we ask the Holy Spirit to apply what we read to our lives, as we surrender to the Lord in prayer and worship, He will show us every attitude, every habit, every desire that grieves Him and resists His good purpose in our lives. Then as we confess this to the Lord as sin (confession is not telling God what he does not know; it is agreeing with what the Lord shows us) He will then begin the process of removing this from our life and giving us the power to resist it.

5:31,32 Teaching on divorce:  “It was said ... but I say”

Principle: Covenants and vows which God has blessed are sacred.  

God takes seriously the vows we make and the covenants which He blesses. When we ask God to bless something, if it is within the parameters of His will and purpose, God will bless and He regards as sacred that which He has blessed. “What therefore God has joined, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6).

However, because of our hardness of heart produced by the fallen world around us, because of our fallen human inheritance and fallen human nature, and because of our own sins and the sins of others, we are sometimes unable to rise to the level of God’s blessing. Therefore, in the Law of Moses, divorce was permitted for the cause of indecency (Deut. 24:1-4). 

Jesus interpreted indecency as sexual infidelity. He taught that if a marriage has been broken by immorality, a man and woman may divorce (Matthew 19:7,8). In other words, given the reality of our sinful world and our sinful hearts, there are times when sacred covenants are broken beyond repair and God recognizes that. 

  

This is not to say that God condones or approves divorce. In Matthew 19:7, the Pharisees spoke of divorce as a command of Moses. Jesus corrected them saying, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way,” (Mat. 19:8). God permits divorce because of the reality of sin, but it is certainly not His perfect will for any man or woman.

The teaching of the rabbis, which allowed casual divorce, was in contradiction to the word of God given through Moses and certainly a denial of God’s original purpose for marriage. In the beginning, the man was to be joined to his wife / cleave to her (Gen. 2:24). The Hebrew word which we translate cleave, dabaq, carries a sense of bonding, glueing, clinging. It also carries a sense of following closely (as in Joshua 22:5, referring to Israel holding fast to the Lord).

Cleave speaks of a permanent attachment. The man and woman were intended by God to become one flesh (in Matt. 19:5 Jesus is quoting Gen. 2:24). This carries the idea of physical, spiritual and emotional union, a blending of two lives. In calling the Pharisees back to the Scriptures, “Have you not read?” (19:4), Jesus was calling them back to God’s fundamental intent for marriage -- the joining of two into one.

The fall of Adam and Eve from grace resulted not only in separation from God but also a breaking of the perfect union between themselves. Though God has continued to bless the union of those who seek His blessings, the fallenness of men and women and sin’s continuing destructive impact creates imperfect union.

When Jesus said, in Matthew 5:27, “It was said  ... but I say,” He was not nullifying the Law of Moses. He was setting aside the non-Biblical traditions, teachings and customs that had attached to that Law. However, in saying, “What God has therefore joined together, let no man separate,” Jesus reminds us that it is God who joins. It is people who separate.

In addition to covenants broken by adultery, we also need to acknowledge that there are circumstances today wherein a spouse, a woman in particular, may need to exit, for her well being and / or the well being of her children. Physical abuse is a form of unfaithfulness -- a spouse is being unfaithful in caring for, nurturing and protecting other members of the family.  Certainly, if sexual abuse is taking place, this is adultery.

But to restate the principle, God does not excuse or condone the casual, frivolous breaking of sacred covenants.  In Jesus’ day, a woman could be divorced for any reason that caused displeasure to her husband. In fact, he was not even required to name a reason, only to present her with a certificate of dismissal and this placed her life in jeopardy. There were no financial safety nets, other than family.  If a woman had no family, divorce was a sentence to a harsh life of poverty, begging, slavery, prostitution or starvation.

Even today, though there are programs in place that ease the burden of poverty, the single largest class of poor people in America is single working moms. In less developed countries, divorce is still often as dangerous for the woman as it was in Jesus’ day.  Given the displacement and suffering that divorce creates, we should never condone the frivolous breaking of covenant.  People suffer because of it, especially women and children.

Jesus’ teaching here is a call for men and women to return to the original intent and purpose of God in marriage. It is an expression of mercy for women who were being exploited by frivolous divorce. This is not an example of Jesus being harsh or cold toward divorced people. Rather, it reveals the compassion of Jesus for those who suffer and it reveals His reverence for the blessing of God on covenants.

For whatever reason men and women have divorced, one basic reality of their lives is the same as with those who have not experienced divorce: all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus told a parable of a man who stood in the back of the temple, “Unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner,’” (Luke 18:13).  That repentant sinner experienced the mercy of God. That should be a portrait of each of us.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all who with humble repentance and faith have sought refuge in the shelter of God’s grace, have been welcomed.  The same mercy that was lavished upon us when we called out to God, this very same mercy should be poured out upon this multitude of broken families.

We must continue to recognize the sanctity of marriage while providing compassionate communities of grace for those whose covenants and hearts have been broken by sin.

5:33-37 Teaching on vows, oaths: “You have heard it said … but I say”

Principle: Let your yes be yes, your no be no.  Tell the truth as if you are standing before God, which we are at all times.

Satan, the father of lies, has created a world culture in which distortion of truth is normal. For this reason, when anyone testifies in a court of law, they are required to take an oath in which they swear to speak the truth. Lying under oath, perjury, is a crime. 

Because of the human tendency to lie and the distrust which this produces, God made allowance under the Law of Moses for oath taking in His name. In Deuteronomy 5:11 we read, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” but in 6:13 we read, “You shall fear only the Lord your God and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”

In other words, there were times, under the Old Covenant, when it was permitted to take an oath in the Lord’s name as long as it was not in vain, that is, insincerely or falsely. This would hopefully promote a greater reverence for the truth and a greater credibility for the one taking the oath. 

The prohibition was not against making an oath but against swearing falsely in God’s name and thereby profaning God’s name (Lev. 19:12). There are, in fact, examples throughout the Old Testament of saints using the name of the Lord when making an oath (for example, Gen. 14:22-24, I Saml. 20:16, Psalm 132:1-5). 

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul called on Jesus and the Holy Spirit to bear witness of his truth (Rom. 9:1). Even the Lord Himself has sworn by His name (Gen. 22:16,17  Luke 1:73  Hebr. 6:13-17). 

As was often the case, what the Law of Moses commanded and what was actually taught and practiced, were two different realities. The problem in Jesus’ day was that people were making non-binding, insincere, frivolous oaths. They were not swearing in God’s name but swearing by heaven or by the earth or by Jerusalem or by their own head. They were swearing by the temple or its gold or by the altar or the offering on the altar (Matt. 23:16,18).

The command, “You shall not swear falsely by my name” (Lev. 19:12) had been perverted to mean that if people do not swear in God’s name, then they may swear frivolously or falsely by any other name and this is acceptable.

Admittedly, Jesus said, “But I say to you, make no oath at all.” However, not all commentators interpret these words as unconditional condemnation of all oaths at all times. Jesus had said that He did not come to abolish the Law and that not even the least letter or stroke of the Law would pass away until it was fulfilled (Matt. 5:17,18). Given the history of righteous saints invoking oaths, not to mention God Himself swearing by his own name, it seems reasonable that Jesus is not specifically prohibiting all vows in God’s name.

Rather, it is more likely that He is prohibiting frivolous vows, non-binding vows and dishonest vows in names other than God’s name. He is forbidding vows intended to impress others or to justify a lie. Those vows are not only dishonest but, in a sense, they are taking the Lord’s name in vain, for He is Lord of heaven and earth and of the city and watches over our heads and our lives.

What Jesus commands instead it simply telling the truth. When we say “yes” or “no,” our word should be trustworthy. All that we say is said in the presence of God. Therefore, every word is sacred and binding. There are no half truths or white lies.

“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,” (Prov. 12:22).

James admonishes us to rise to a height of integrity that eliminates the need for oaths, “But above all, my brethren, do not sear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes and your no, no, so that you many not fall under judgment,” (James 5:12).

When Jesus returns to establish His kingdom on earth, He will be mounted on a white horse and He will be known as Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11). If we are His people, redeemed by His blood, called by His name, we should then be people of truth in all we say and do.

5:38-42 Teaching on revenge: “You have heard ... But I say”

Principle: The goal is justice, not vengeance

5:38 The battle cry in our society today is, “Demand your rights, assert yourself, protect your interests.” The dominating principle in relations among nations is self interest and retaliation. But if everyone is clamoring for their rights and retaliating every time they think they have been offended, many will be trampled and the rights of all will be diminished. Rightly does James remind us,

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1,2).

Society begins to disintegrate when self interest dominates. Where selfishness and jealousy prevail, justice is perverted and mercy is forgotten. A just and merciful God seeks to establish a balance of justice and mercy in human society.

The principle, “An eye for an eye,” was just because punishment was equal to the offense. It was also merciful in limiting the offense and preventing revenge, which usually exceeded justice. God’s justice and mercy never contradict, always being exercised in perfect balance. The same God who says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” (Rom. 12:19), also says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,” (Prov. 25:21).

Justice in Old Testament Israel was carefully prescribed and regulated (see for instance, Exodus 21) and was carried out by judges and elders, that is, by civil authority.  The Law permitted fair and just compensation for the victim, punishment for the perpetrator while denying the barbaric excesses that often accompany personal retaliation or revenge. The principle of “an eye for an eye,” (Exodus 21:24,25), means that the person responsible for injury will either provide compensation or be punished in like manner. But the victim cannot exact unrestrained vengeance, for instance, cannot kill his opponent, destroy his family or burn down his house.  Justice was dispensed with limits, regulated by law and administered by civil authority, not by individuals or families.  

The Law of Moses was clear. Justice was administered by the state as God’s representative. But gradually the tradition developed which interpreted “an eye for an eye” as license for personal vengeance. What the law prohibited, man’s tradition perverted.

Jesus responded by saying, “You have heard it said ... but I say.” He was not rewriting or nullifying the word of God. He was calling people back to God’s original intent revealed in holy Scripture. Then, as was His custom, Jesus call us into a deeper, spiritual interpretation of the heart of God behind His word. Jesus calls us back to true justice and authentic mercy.

Principal:  Confrontation and retaliation are different responses (5:39)

“Do not resist an evil person” sounds strange. We need to carefully understand what Jesus means and what He is not saying.

Jesus is dealing with matters of crime, punishment and justice between individual persons within a society.  He is not saying that a government should never resist evil. At no time does He, or any New Testament writer, prohibit the state from exercising authority against criminal or military threats. God has established governments for the purpose of maintaining justice, order and peace (Rom. 13:1-7  I Ptr. 2:13,14). Because of sin, and the evil and chaos that sin generates, governments are necessary for the restraint of evil and the establishing of peace.

Further, Jesus is not advocating an entirely personal pacifist stance against evil. He continually confronted and resisted evil whenever it diminished others and when it diminished His Father. In His teaching He confronted the evil of wrong thinking. In healing the sick He confronted the evil of broken creation. In casting out demons He confronted the evil of demonic intrusion into human personalities. In confronting Pharisees and in cleansing the temple, He confronted the evil of false, perverted, enslaving, oppressing religion.

Jesus also taught the church to resist evil by carrying out necessary discipline (Matt. 18:15-18). James also exhorts us to “resist the devil” (James 4:7  also I Ptr. 5:9).

So we know that Jesus’ commandment here applies neither to civil governments nor to churches nor to individuals as we see evil impacting the lives of others or profaning God.

What Jesus was addressing is the evil that impacts our own life. 

When Jesus was ridiculed, beaten and spat upon, He spoke not a word. When the mob came to arrest Him and Peter drew His sword, Jesus commanded him to put his sword away, saying, “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). 

Jesus did not ask His Father for legions of angels. He did not retaliate or defend Himself. Peter, no doubt inspired by that memory, exhorts us to follow Christ’s example,

“Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (I Ptr. 2:22,23).

The command, “Do not resist an evil person,” applies to our own personal experience of evil. Jesus carried the Mosaic principle of personal non-retaliation to a deeper level. Far more than limiting or regulating the violence of our response to sin, injury or evil, Jesus calls us as individuals to confront evil by abandoning our rights and disarming evil with mercy.  

Jesus is not counseling us to ignore evil.  He calls us to confront and disarm evil with complete self abandonment and mercy.

One of the dangers in meeting evil with force, is the possibility that we will become as evil as the threat we are fighting.  In Gethsemane, when the mob came to arrest Jesus and Simon Peter drew a sword and wounded a man, Jesus immediately healed the wounded man (Luke 22:50,51, John 18:10).  It is unlikely that the recipient of His kindness was able to mistreat Him later.  

Whereas the human impulse is to meet evil with equal force, Jesus disarmed evil with mercy and self-sacrificing love. Who won the sword fight in Gethsemane? The man without a sword, Jesus.  On the cross, Jesus, surrounded by armed guards and demonic armies, “Disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:15).  Jesus disarmed the powers of darkness with the gift of His life.

Another issue here is Jesus’ definition of our identity as His followers.  He calls us servants and slaves, neither of whom have any rights and therefore cannot demand their rights.  On one occasion, when Jesus’ disciples were arguing as to which of them was greatest, Jesus gathered them to Himself and said, 

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant (diaconos: waiter, attendant), and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave (doulos: 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” (Matt. 20:25-28).

Jesus said that if we want to be great in His kingdom, then we are to be self-abandoned servants.  He used Himself as the supreme example, who came, “not to be served but to serve and to give His life” The Apostle Paul further exhorts us to imitate Jesus in this:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave (doulos) ... Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Phlp. 2:5-8).

Jesus abandoned His rights as the Son of God, humbled Himself to serve His Father’s purpose and confronted the evil of this world with self-abandoned mercy. God’s response was to exalt Jesus, as Paul continues:

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phlp. 2: 9,10).

Jesus defines greatness in servant terms. This is in direct contradiction to the prevailing view in all societies, that greatness is defined by power, by the acquisition of wealth, fame, leverage over others.  

We should not fail to note that this radical call to self abandonment and mercy has seldom been applied by followers of Jesus. The institutional church has often bought into the world’s definition of greatness, has often confronted the world through the exercise of political and economic power, rigid controlling dogma, the manipulation of armies and governments. But we wonder, how would this world be changed if it were confronted by a church denying its rights, laying down its life as a servant and showering mercy on its adversaries?  

In abandoning our rights and exercising mercy, are we then abandoning the principle of justice?  No, we are affirming that only God can establish true, lasting justice.  

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay saith the Lord,” (Romans 12:19). That doesn’t mean evil goes unpunished. It means we place matters of justice and judgment in God’s hands. God may execute justice through ordained authorities and we have the right to appeal to the governmental authority as Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:10-11). Or we may appeal to God directly as did the apostles when they were threatened (Acts 4:23-31).

If we are God’s servants, we must give our desire for justice over to Him.  Jesus set an example for us, who, “Being reviled, did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously”  (I Peter 2:23).

Again, this does not require us to be silent in the face of injustice. We are servants of Jesus but our Lord is not silent and He uses His servants to speak His truth.  But we must speak the truth in the proper context, humbly and in love.

Within the church, Jesus gave clear direction on the resolution of disputes. He said that if a brother sins against you, go to him and discuss the matter.  If he will not listen, take witnesses and go again.  If he will not listen, then go to the church (Matt. 18:15-17).  If he refuses to listen to the church, then he is removed from the church and is no longer a brother.  Therefore he can be dealt with either by the hand of God through God’s ordained authorities or by God directly. We are not to ignore evil. Rather, we confront it, but the goal, Jesus says, is to win our brother, not to win our case against our brother. 

Regarding matters outside the church, Jesus spoke up when unjustly struck (John 18:22,23) but He spoke reverently to those in authority. Paul spoke with more emotion (Acts 23:1-5) but apologized for any disrespect. When dealing with matters of social justice, we have not only the right but we have a mandate to speak the truth publicly. But we should do so in appropriate times and places, without demonizing our opponents, with humility and love and without a spirit of vengefulness.

Principle: We disarm our enemies with generosity (5:40)

Jesus is not speaking of robbery. We are not to give way to thieves. Rather, He is speaking of an adversary in court, “If anyone wants to sue you.” The implication is that if we have incurred a debt, we should freely surrender our goods in excess of our debt rather than resist the one to whom we are indebted. In doing this, we manifest the unmeasured kindness of our Lord whose desire is to lavish the riches of His grace upon us (Eph. 2:4-7).

Principle: We win souls with humility (5:41)

Roman law gave a soldier the right to require a citizen to carry his pack for a mile. It was a demand on the liberty of a Jewish citizen and an affront to his pride. Carry the pack of a despised enemy? Never! 

Rather than respond with anger or resentment, Jesus calls us to respond by giving even more generously than what is demanded of us. In our humility and selflessness, we show forth the heart of our Lord who came to serve and to give. In our humble service, the Lord may use us to draw a lost soul to Himself. Isn’t that more important than our  pride?

Principle: We demonstrate Christ’s living presence in our giving (5:42)

Whereas our society extols the virtue of acquiring and possessing, idolizing the rich and famous, and even the church has overvalued wealth and possessions, throughout the Old and New Testaments the Lord extols generosity: 

“One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord and He will repay him for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17).

 

“It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

In saying, “Give to him who asks of you,” Jesus is not referring to every selfish, foolish request made of us. We have been given discernment and wisdom in the Holy Spirit. But when confronted with legitimate need, we should not turn away, as the apostles exhort us,

“But whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I Jn. 3:17).

“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so, faith without works is dead, being by itself” (James 2:15-17).

A tree is known by its fruit. The presence of Christ in us is revealed in the way we live and never more truly than as we give into the lives of others. Jesus said,

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception (banquet), invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).

I know a small group of men and women who meet in a home for prayer, Bible study and fellowship. Once a month they cook a lavish meal for 150 homeless people. It is a bountiful, nourishing meal and they spare no expense. What a clear, loving, gracious proclaiming of the heart of Jesus to people who are enduring a difficult time in life.

5:43-48 Teaching on relations with enemies: “You have heard ... but I say” 

Principle: Loving my neighbor will require that I love my enemy.

5:43,44 “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” In the first half of that statement, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18. The second half was a rabbinic interpretation of Scripture but not the word of God.

The Old Testament was not silent on the issue of  showing mercy to enemies. For instance, in Exodus 23:4 we read, “If you see your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.” In Proverbs 24:17 we read, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

While it is true that God commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanite nations which inhabited the Promised Land when Israel entered, it was because of the complete spiritual, moral and cultural corruption of the nations. They had sunk so low in their deceived , perverted misunderstanding of God that they sacrificed their children and infants to the false gods. God commanded their destruction lest they pollute and pervert Israel’s worship of the true and living God. In fact, Israel’s failure to eradicate those nations did lead to the corruption of Israel.

In those holy wars, Israel was an instrument of God’s righteous judgment. The goal of those campaigns was the preservation of Israel’s purity and did not negate God’s command to love one’s enemies. But the rabbis and Pharisees reinterpreted “love your neighbor” in the light of those wars and so they excluded enemies from their love.

The teachers of Israel also allowed certain verses of the Psalms to color their response to enemies. There are Psalms in which the writer pronounces curses over his enemies or the enemies of Israel (Ps. 69:22-24  137:9). But again, these verses were not personal expressions of hatred. Rather, they expressed the righteous judgment of God against those who were unrepentant in their opposition to Him. 

The words, “hate your enemy,” do not  appear in the Old Testament. Instances in which God sovereignly punished His adversaries, or used Israel as an instrument of divine justice, do not provide an excuse to hate.

The word of God’s impending judgment on the world was both bitter and sweet to the Apostle John (Rev. 10:10). It was sweet to know that God would establish His sovereign, righteous purpose in this world. It was bitter to know that so many would perish under divine judgment.

God’s mercy and judgment are never in opposition. The same God who loves us perfectly also exercises perfect judgment on evil. We are called to proclaim His judgment and manifest His love. Many of the rabbis and Pharisees of Jesus’ day had lost that balance. They loved heir neighbor, whom they defined in very narrow ways, and hated their enemies. There was no Scriptural justification for this.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus defined a neighbor in the broadest terms and exhorted us to love even the needy stranger who passes within the circle of our influence (Luke 20:25-37). Here, He extends the circle even further: “But I say to you, love your enemies.” 

The word which Jesus uses for love is aggapao, which is the love of God for people and of people for God. Why should we love my enemies with God’s love? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Godly love is how we show the presence of God in our lives.

 

Principle: We are called to love our enemies with God’s love, thereby giving God the opportunity to change them.   

What kind of love is God’s love?

a. It is faith-love, love that sees by faith the humanity of our enemy; sees through the bitter words and actions, through the propaganda and passion of the culture around us, and sees a human being for whom Christ died. We are not called to demonize our enemies or win a culture war in which we crush them with our arguments. We are to manifest God’s love to them with such reality that they may be drawn to Christ.

b. It is sacrificial love, which gives up its own will and even its own life for the visionary hope of introducing our enemy to Jesus. The Good Samaritan expressed compassion in the life of the wounded man but compassion was costly. He sacrifice his time, his oil and wine and his money. By definition, sacrificial love costs us something.

c. It is redeeming love, love which not only sees the possibility of the enemy becoming something more, something other than enemy; sees not only the possibility of our enemy being reconciled to Christ, but because it is God’s love in us flowing out to our enemy, it carries the power to redeem those whom it touches.

d. It is, ultimately, conquering love. In the Old Testament, Israel was called to conquer its enemies by force of arms, by the violence of warfare. In the New Testament, we are called to conquer our enemies with God’s own love.  This does not mean that we excuse their crime, their evil, their sin.  Rather, we disarm them in their evil purpose by loving them with God’s own love.

Principle: If we love our enemies, we will pray for them.

Not only are we to love our enemies; we are also to pray for our persecutors.  So Jesus did on the cross and so Stephen did as he was being stoned.  Stephen’s prayer was answered in the conversion of Saul and God only knows which of our persecutors may someday be turned to righteousness through the prayers and the Godly witness of Godly people.

Didn’t we see this acted out in our own nation?  A generation of African-American pastors and saints disarmed a generation of violent bigots through love and prayer and a nation’s heart was transformed.

It’s not easy to love enemies, to pray for people who are seeking to destroy us.  It requires that we crucify our natural desire for revenge.  But it was at the point of their greatest pain that Jesus and Stephen released such great grace.  Only the love of God in us can inspire such selfless prayer.

Principle: we show ourselves to be children of God when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. 

5:45 We are to pray, not just for enemies, but for enemies who persecute us. What greater expression of love for anyone could we possible share than this — to bring them before the throne of God in prayer. In prayer we are standing beside our enemy in the very presence of God, interceding on their behalf. This serves also to remind us of why we love them — certainly not because of their hatred for us or their sin but because they are lost and in need of the redeeming love of Jesus breaking through into their lives.

In loving our enemies and praying for them, we show visibly that we are truly children of the God who showers His mercy on the righteous and the unrighteous. And we are showing people what this God is like. The Lord Himself sets the standard and example for this, loving each of us with redemptive, sacrificial love while we were His enemies. 

If we would be God’s children and live in His kingdom, then we must be like Him, loving even our enemies and praying for our persecutors.

Principle: If we love only those who love us, we have failed to show any sign of God’s redemptive activity in our lives.

5:46,47 If I love no one outside my family or my group of friends at church, then I have shown no more evidence of God’s redeeming work in my life than any lost sinner. Even evil people are capable of loving those who love them and greeting / embracing those who are friends. We are to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom of God not only in words but especially in our lives.  If we show nothing more of love than those who do not acknowledge God, how can we expect them to see the presence of the kingdom of God in us? If they cannot see the presence of the kingdom in us, how will they hear the message of the kingdom?

Principle: The goal of salvation is to be like our Father in heaven

5:48 Jesus says that we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. The word perfect, in the language in which Matthew wrote, is teleios. It has to do with completeness, reaching the end point or fulfillment of something. It is often translated as maturity, for instance in Ephesians 4:13, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.”  

There is a level of maturity in Christ that is appropriate to each stage in our journey of discipleship. There is a fullness of maturity which is appropriate to a five year old who has come to know Jesus and there is a maturity which is appropriate to a fifty year old who has known the Lord for many years. 

There is also an ultimate goal in attaining the measure of the stature which belongs to Christ, a someday aspect to this truth, an ultimate fullness and completeness of God’s purpose in us. 

In I John 3:2, we read,

“Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.  We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

Someday, we will be perfected in the image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ because we will be with Him and will see Him as He is. As we cooperate with the sanctifying work of the Lord each day, we will surely arrive at the ultimate goal, complete and perfect in Him.

I would like to summarize this teaching on loving our enemies and praying for them with a story from the life of Corrie ten Boom.

Corrie was raised in a Christian home in Holland.  She grew up loving God and loving God’s people, especially Jews. When the Nazis invaded Holland during World War II, her family helped to hide Jewish refugees. They were eventually discovered, arrested and a number of her loved ones died in Nazi prisons and concentration camps.  

Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent to the women’s death camp known as Ravensbruck.  Though they endured terrible cruelty and humiliation, they gradually came to see Ravensbruck as a divine appointment. God met them there, faithfully pouring out grace in that darkness and the barracks became one glorious prayer meeting. Many hundreds of women came to know Jesus Christ and entered eternity with God through the gates of that camp.

Corrie was released from the camp by a clerical error only days before all the remaining women were put to death. In the ruins of Europe she traveled from city to city telling the story of God’s grace and mercy, inviting people to come to know her Jesus.

At one service in Germany, after she spoke and gave a call for salvation, a man stood in the back of the church and began to walk forward, tears streaming down his cheeks. Corrie froze with horror. He had been the cruelest of the guards at the death camp. As he walked toward her, all the unspeakable memories of that place flooded into her mind.

When he came near to her, he held out his hands, and asked, weeping, “Is it true that your Jesus can forgive me? Can you too forgive me?”

 She said later, “I realized that I had no forgiveness for this man. I also realized that if I could not forgive him, then I could not go on preaching the Good News of God’s forgiveness toward me.”

She prayed a silent prayer, “Lord Jesus, I cannot lie to you. I have no love or mercy for this man. Would you please pour out some of your mercy into my heart?” As she prayed, a warm current of love began to flow through her, melting the cold hardness of her heart, washing away the bitterness and grief that still throbbed in her soul. She stood there for several moments, eyes closed, then slowly held out her arms, embraced the man and as her tears mingled with his, she whispered, “Yes, Jesus forgives you and so do I.”

In that moment, the war was finally over for the guard and the prisoner.

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 6

Teaching on Giving

6:1-4 Principle: Giving is a private act of communion between God and the giver.

  

We are not to practice our spiritual disciplines in front of people as a way of impressing them.  This robs us of our reward.  In particular, offerings for works of mercy should never be given in a way that draws attention to ourselves. Practicing our righteousness before people, to be noticed by them, is really worship of self. We are not glorifying God; we are glorifying our own person.

God has stated emphatically that He does not accept praise, sacrificial offerings or the exercise of sacred rituals when they are offered insincerely. Through the prophet Amos the Lord said,

“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:2-24).

Who gave Israel those rituals, festivals and songs?  God did. Who called them to bring those offerings and celebrate those solemn assemblies? God did. But when people come before God insincerely, covering unconfessed sin with religion, glorifying themselves in front of others, God does not call this true worship. He calls it hypocrisy.

The words to be noticed are a translation of theomai, from which we derive the English word theater. Jesus is saying, “Beware of practicing your righteousness as a form of theater,” a performance for the purpose of impressing others.

There is a reward for insincere givers -- the praise of those whom they fool. But Jesus warns, “You have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”

In verse two, Jesus calls such givers hypocrites. The word is hupokrites which was the Greek word for an actor. In order to play different roles, the actors in Greek theater wore a variety of masks. Such is a hypocrite.

Jesus counsels us to give secretly, as if we are giving to our heavenly Father. God sees and He will repay. In Proverbs 19:17 we read, “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord and He will repay him.”

This is fundamental in the teaching of Jesus, that all of our works should be done unto the Lord.  We live for God, not for people.  Our primary motivation is pleasing God, not people.  All of life can be an act of communion with God. All giving is really giving unto God Himself.

How beautifully did the poet express this truth:

“We give Thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be;

all that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord from thee”

(William W. How, 1823-1897)

However, not all righteous works of mercy can be hidden, any more than light can be hidden. Jesus did say,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).

We cannot hide every good thing we do and that’s not the point. What matters is the motive. The purpose of mercy and giving is to bless others and glorify God.

Jesus closes by reminding us that God will reward the pure-hearted giver. He does not say it is wrong to want reward or approval or praise. Those are normal desires. But it is wrong to seek reward or praise with a wrong motive or to seek it from the wrong hands. In fact, that can become a dangerous snare. If our motive in giving is to please the Father and our gift is given to the Father, then our reward, our praise and approval will come from the Father and this is certain. 

Whatever rewards we receive from the Lord in this life, we may be sure that in the resurrection we will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).

 

Teaching on Prayer

6:5,6 Principle: Don't pray to be heard or seen by people.

If the proper focus of prayer is God, then prayer that focuses on anything else is false. If we are trying to impress people, then obviously our focus is self and not God. Prayer can become just another expression of pride but pride-motivated prayer will have no impact anywhere in the world. 

Jesus says that people who pray to impress others with their spirituality will not be rewarded by God because God does not listen to or respond to insincere prayer. They do have a reward: it is the admiration of the few shallow people who are fooled by false spirituality.

True prayer should be an expression of our communion with God, the conversation of two beings, creature and Creator. The “inner room” can be any place that we are -- it is the secret place of communion with God. It is a place of intimate fellowship and conversation.

In that secret place, “Your Father who is in secret ... sees what is done in secret.” What is it that our Lord sees? Our heart, our true motive in praying.

He “will repay you.” What is our reward? 

God Himself. It is God who meets us in the secret place and opens His heart and mind to us. He opens the storehouse of resources which He has stored up us. He lavishes upon us His wisdom, His grace and kindness and mercy. He heals the broken and sets at liberty the captive. He cleanses the guilty and restores that which was lost.

In the secret place of prayer, the Lord flows His life through us like a river. The greatest answer to prayer is God Himself.

6:7 Principle: Don’t try to impress God with words.

“Meaningless repetition” can mean using more words than are needed, embellishing with flowery phrases, religious sounding words.  It can also mean repeating ritualized phrases over and over or memorized prayers.  Jesus assures us that we will not be heard because of the multitude of our words. Yet how common the practice, in world religions and in Christianity.

The priests of Baal, when opposing Elijah, leaped about their altar “and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, ‘O Baal, answer us,’” (I Kings 18:26). They actually continued into the evening, hoping to be “heard for their many words.”

Buddhists spin their prayer wheels endlessly, believing they are launching prayers into the universe. Roman Catholics count their beads, reciting the assigned number of Hail Marys and Our Fathers. For many Christians, prayers are pre-written and prescribed for every possible circumstance, requiring only that we read them at the proper time.

It’s not that it’s wrong to read or recite prayers, as long as we are sincere and engaged from the heart but God is not impressed by the multitude of our words or any words recited without a conscious engagement of the heart. Think about it: how could our words impress a God who created a universe with His spoken word? 

God is impressed by the soul that truly, deeply longs for communion with Him.

6:8 “Your Father knows what you need before we ask Him” 

Principle: We pray to an all-knowing God. 

Pray in the assurance that God knows us perfectly, none of our needs have surprised Him.  We’re not telling God what He does not know. Then why pray? 

1. We are accepting accountability for the need He has revealed to us.  Any truth we see about ourselves is a revelation from God.  Accepting accountability for that truth is a necessary precondition for the meeting of that need by God as we pray.

2. We are expressing faith that God cares enough to listen, hears us, and will act based on perfect wisdom and perfect love.

3. We are entering into conversation, communion, with a personal God who desires to have personal communion with His children.

4. We are opening our innermost being to God in such a way that God can change us in conformity to the answer that He desires to release in response to our prayer.

5. Prayer, then, becomes a partnership between God and the one who prays.  

6. Prayer reveals a paradox: only God can answer prayer but God only answers in response to prayer.

6:9 “Our Father who is in heaven” 

Principle: Pray to a God who is both personal and transcendent.

We pray to a God who has invited us into personal relationship with Himself, adopted us into His family, calls us His children and invites us to call Him Father.  He is present in all places at all times and is responsive to the prayers of His children. 

But He cannot be controlled, conned or manipulated by prayer, religious ritual or any other means. He is our Father who dwells in heaven. He transcends my culture, my ethnicity, the age / era I live in.  Indeed, heaven and earth cannot contain Him; He fills all of creation and yet transcends creation, time and eternity.  He is holy, other than, more than, distinct from, all created things.

6:9 “Hallowed be your name.”

Principle: Worship is an essential aspect of prayer.

God’s name represents His being, His attributes. His name is the summation of His glory. To hallow God’s name means we reverence God as the Holy One. It is good to move into our prayer time through worship, confessing our adoration, our awe at the majesty, greatness, wisdom, mercy, power and beauty of God. We are saying, "Lord I recognize your holiness, I bow in worshipful surrender before your loving, holy authority."

6:10 “Your kingdom come”

Principle: Pray for the kingdom purpose of God to be fulfilled.

Before we pray for daily bread, we should widen our focus and pray that the kingdom purpose of God will be accomplished on earth as perfectly as it is in heaven.  Our prayers should include whatever we know about God's purpose on earth, whether it touches our life or not.  "Thy kingdom come" is not a prayer for the return of Jesus and the end of history (that prayer is "Come Lord Jesus" Rev. 22:20).  This is a prayer that the dynamic rule and reign of God will enter the lives of people and the affairs of nations.

Also, since my body is composed of the stuff of earth, praying for the kingdom of God to come on earth is a prayer that God’s kingdom purpose will be accomplished in and through me this day.

6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread.” 

Principle: God invites us to pray for our own personal needs.

a. Praying for daily bread means I accept accountability for my needs.  I confess that I have needs and I know what they are.  I am accountable before God.

b. I am opening myself to partnering with God.  It is God who provides, gives and blesses as I work, give and receive.

c. I am inviting God to search my heart, to make sure I have pure motives and to change my heart, if necessary:  "You have not because ask not.  You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, to spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:2,3). 

d. Praying for daily bread means knowing the will of God for my circumstance and believing that God is willing and able to meet my needs.  The Bible is filled with promises of God's care (see Matt. 6:28-33, 2 Cor. 9:6-8).  We may believe these promises. 

6:12,14,15 “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Principle:  Seeking and granting forgiveness is part of the discipline of prayer.  

In order to partner with God in kingdom work, to receive daily bread and fellowship with God, there can be no unconfessed sin separating us from God.  We need daily to confess sin, asking and receiving forgiveness.  But we also need to be willing to grant that same forgiveness to others.  In verses 14 and 15, we read that our forgiveness of others impacts our experience of God's forgiveness to us.

We must understand the cost of refusal.  Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping my adversaries get sick.  They may but the greater sickness will be mine.  Unforgivness has a binding effect on our lives, shutting off avenues of blessing, closing doors of opportunity.  

Sometimes God's best for us is bound, not by outward circumstances, but by the inner reality of our unforgiveness.  Forgiveness is an act of loosing someone from their sin against us and in doing so, loosing our own heart from the binding reality of bitterness.  As we are released in our spirit, there is a release of God's purpose and promise toward us.

It is not that God is waiting to release grace upon a believer’s life, based on our work of forgiveness.  His blessing was released through the finished work of Christ on the cross.  My act of forgiveness does not earn God’s forgiveness toward me.  None of my works, including forgiveness of others, will earn or merit any of God’s grace toward me.  Every expression of God’s grace toward me, including forgiveness, is an act of unmerited favor released through the blood of Christ on the cross.

But lack of forgiveness can block or resist the grace that God has released toward us.  A little tadpole swam into a water pipe, fed on the algae and grew to such a large frog that the flow of water was stopped.  There was no lack of water but it could not get through the pipe.  So with our unforgiveness —  it will stop up the flow of grace which God has already released toward us.

If I am living in the kingdom of God, a kingdom characterized by mercy and grace, I must be willing to share that same mercy and grace which canceled my debt and opened my entrance into the kingdom.  Insofar as I deny kingdom blessings to others, I deny them to myself. 

Remember that unforgiveness is sin.  Any unrepented sin in the life a child of God grieves God, interrupts our fellowship with Him and brings His chastisement.  Unforgiveness, or any unrepented sin, resists the outpouring of God’s grace into our lives.

The Apostle Paul exhorted the church, "Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you," (Ephesians 4:32). This attitude breaks the cycle of hate which breeds more hate and releases kingdom possibilities.  

This teaching on forgiveness is given by the Lord who washed the feet of Judas on the night Judas betrayed Him; who forgave those who crucified Him during the agony of the cross. That's what God’s forgiveness looks like and it was released to all of us.

I cannot possibly repay to God what I owe and God does not ask that I do.  He asks that I be willing to respond to others as He has responded to me.  As I release mercy, I find the door is open to God’s mercy flowing in to me.

6:13 “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever, Amen.”

Principle: Pray to a God who delivers us from evil by His power and for His glory

How we understand God will determine how we pray to Him. If we believe God to be the source of the tragedy and temptation that comes our way, that will produce one kind of prayer.  If we understand God as the Lord our Deliverer and Savior, that will produce another kind of prayer.  

If I believe that God is the source of the temptation or hardship or evil that comes against me, then how can I pray to Him at all?  The Bible teaches emphatically that God does not tempt anyone:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13).

The word which we translate temptation may also be translated testing, putting to the proof, discipline, trial. God does allow tests in our lives.  We may ask Him not to lead us into particular trials, even as Jesus prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done," (Luke 22:42). However, it is often God's will that we do encounter tests.

Why? Because tests reveal areas of weakness or immaturity in our personality, areas where we are vulnerable to temptation.  The Lord wants to reveal those areas so we can confront them, call upon Him for grace and grow.

Jesus never taught us to pray, "Lead me not into discipline or testing" because tests and trials are part of the reality of living in this world and God allows them for His purposes.

Then what was Jesus teaching us to pray? Jesus is saying that when we pray, we may pray with confidence that God is not the source of tragedy or temptation in our lives but there will be situations that challenge and test us and our Father will allow these so we can grow. There will be other situations that the evil one has designed to destroy us and God will meet us there to bring us through as we call upon Him.

This is a prayer of thanksgiving:

"I thank you Father that you will never lead me into any situation that violates your love for me but you will deliver me from the evil that comes against me and you will sustain me in every test, by your power and for your glory.”

6:14,15 (These verses were covered along with 6:12).

Fasting

6:16-18 Principle:  Fasting requires a right motive.

Jesus warns against fasting merely for the sake of making a religious show. However, He does not question the practice. He says, “When you fast,” not “If you fast.” But why do we fast?  What is the motive? Is it merely ritualistic, because someone said it is time to fast? 

Fasting is primarily for the purpose of pushing away the clutter, the noise, the distractions of our lives so that we may enjoy greater intimacy with our Heavenly Father, so that we can hear from Him more truly and serve Him more whole-heartedly. It may involve abstaining from certain foods or all foods for a time. It may mean putting aside the television or radio or internet for a season. The point is not that we do without something.  It is so that we may obtain something far more precious than food or entertainment: regaining and protecting intimacy with God.

Fasting is not about cutting out chocolate, as if that earns points with God. It’s about the tuning of our heart. We sing that old hymn, “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.” Fasting allows the Holy Spirit to tune our heart to the voice and presence and purpose of the Lord. It’s not that God’s presence or voice drifts, like a radio signal that fades in and out. It’s not God who has the problem -- it’s me, my mind, my heart. I tend to become so busy, so distracted, allowing so many voices to flood my heart. I need times of retuning.

The manner of this tuning may differ from person to person.  What dulls my awareness of God’s presence may not be quite the same as in your life.  The Holy Spirit is our spiritual director and will show us the what and when and how of fasting.

As with most things spiritual, it is easier to ritualize fasting, to make it into a law, doctrine or seasonal ceremony, than to actually practice the spirit of it. But we will find it immeasurably precious to learn the skill of pushing aside whatever really is dulling our sensitivity to God’s presence in us and among us.

Jesus says that if our motive for fasting and prayer is to be seen by people, to impress people with our spirituality, then we have our reward from people, at least from those whom we fool. But if our desire is communion with God, God will reward us with Himself.

The New Testament church practiced fasting as part of their spiritual discipline (Acts 13:1-3). Paul fasted during his conversion experience (Acts 9:9) and as he established churches and raised up leadership (Acts 14:21-23). 

It is not that we impress God or change God’s mind when we fast.  It is we who are changed from stubborn, self willed, self indulgent persons who resist and ignore God to spiritually disciplined, discerning servants who can hear and obey God. 

Although God will not be manipulated by anything we do, including fasting, we also know that, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). When we humble ourselves before the Lord, we are touching the heart of God.

True Wealth

6:19,20 Principle: Establish your treasure in heaven, not on earth.

1. Treasure on earth is vulnerable / insecure.  Where are the riches that people fought for centuries ago?  It was gained and lost, passed from hand to hand and then it perished, corroded, corrupted.  Those who lost and those who gained the treasure perished with their fame, their ambition, their greed, their gold and their power.

2. Treasure in heaven is eternally secure.  Every prayer, every kind deed, every gift of mercy, every righteous tear, is recorded in heaven.  Cornelius was told that his offerings and prayers had ascended as a memorial before God (Acts 10:4).  The prayers of the saints, mixed with heavens incense, rise before God (Rev 8:4,5).  A cup of cold water does not go unrewarded (Matt. 10:42).

6:21 Principle: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.

Our heart is connected to our treasure: treasure on earth causes an earthward focus.  Treasure in heaven causes a heavenly focus.  Therefore the apostle exhorts us, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).  Where I invest my treasure will influence how I live my life.

Money is not the root of all evil.  Love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10).  Poverty is no virtue.  As long as we live on earth, we will need to use resources.  We exercise God-given skill and wisdom to acquire resources so that we can live peaceably and serve the purpose of God. But that purpose is not that we simply acquire; rather, that we acquire so we can give.

Resources are neither evil nor good.  It is the way we use our resources that is evil or good.  Selfless use of resources can result in great good.  Our problem is that resources tend to attach themselves to us.  When God has a steward who is detached from his treasure, then that treasure can be a valuable instrument in the kingdom of God.

6:22-24 Principle: Love and serve God with single-hearted devotion.

1. A single eye (single: haplous, but can be translated: clear, sound, whole) speaks of single-mindedness, purity of heart, a life fully consecrated to God.  Eye, as used here, refers to more than the physical organ.  It also refers to the way we look at life, the perspective that rises out of our spirit and soul.  A single-minded perspective to love and serve God with all our heart will enlighten our whole being.

2. Likewise, the lack of that single-minded perspective darkens my whole being.  The unfocused life, or the life focused to the exclusion of God, is a life lived in darkness. 

3. We cannot serve God and any other master.  That is by definition, the unfocused or unconsecrated life.  The unfocused life is listening to too many masters speak too many words.  In particular, Jesus says that we cannot serve God and wealth.  It is God who gives us resources so that we can proclaim His Gospel and advance His kingdom.  But resources tend to attach deeply in our heart and speak loudly in our souls.  This makes it hard to hear and obey God.

We are not to serve our resources.  We are to serve the God who gives us resources.  We are not to listen to our treasure.  We must listen to the God who gives treasure for His kingdom purpose.  Right service and right listening require a continual renewing of our minds.  

This world seeks to transform us and conform us in its own image and this causes us to be useless in service to God.  The Apostle Paul exhorts us to be renewed by the transforming of our minds (Romans 12:1,2).  The entrance or unfolding of God’s Word brings light (Ps. 119:130).     As we allow the light of God’s Word to penetrate into our inner being, it will work God’s purpose of consecration, purifying and focusing us on God Himself.

6:25-30 Principle: The single-minded life is free from anxiety.

“For this reason” (6:25) refers back to the previous discussion. If my treasure is secure in heaven, if I am focused on serving one master, then I will not be anxious about God’s provision.

1. Our life in Christ should amount to more than striving to meet basic needs.  There is an eternal, God-ordained purpose for our lives.  If we will commit all of our heart, soul, mind and strength to glorifying God by fulfilling His purpose, God will guide our steps and resource His purpose.

2. Anxiety will add nothing to our life.  Anxiety about the future reveals a lack of faith in God.  It is not that we should not plan for tomorrow.  Using the wisdom and administrative skills that God has given us, we strategize and plan and pray.  But it is God who forms our plans by revealing His purpose, who undergirds our plans with His strength, releases His resources for the fulfilling of His purpose and guides our steps. 

3. Nature reveals God’s merciful provision: birds, lilies, grass of the field.  Of course, birds are not passive recipients of God’s mercy.  They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns but they do nest and gather what God provides them.  Lilies neither toil nor spin but they do blossom where God’s nature plants them.  So with us.  Refusing anxiety does not mean we refuse to work.  We labor with the talents and skill God has given us, work where God has placed us.  But our labor is not undergirded with anxiety; rather, with faith.

4. Refusing to be anxious does not mean that we cease praying for daily bread or deliverance from evil. We pray over the needs of the day trusting that our Heavenly Father hears us and will respond in ways that bring Him glory.

6:31-34 Principle: Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

  

1. The single-minded life, focused, consecrated to God, yielded to God, dead to self and alive to God, will believe God for the promise of provision.  Martha was anxious and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needful, Jesus said (Luke 10:41).  That one needful thing? To sit at His feet and hear His Word (Luke 10:39).  

2. God’s promise is that if we are seeking first His kingdom purpose, all these (necessary) things shall be added to our lives.  Therefore, we are not anxious.  Simon Peter must have recalled this teaching many years later when he wrote, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you,” (I Peter 5:7).  Good advice for living.

Matthew 7

Judging and Discerning

7:1,2 Truth Principles

1. We do not have the right to exercise self righteous, hypocritical judgment over others.

People love to develop codes of morality based on their personal habits and preferences which, conveniently, ignore their own sins and weaknesses. This enables them to justify their own life.  When they apply their code to other people, they are able to judge and condemn everyone who falls short. Self justification always results in condemnation of others.

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees did this. They had replaced God’s standard for holy living, revealed in Scripture, with thousands of rules, regulations and rituals based on external performance rather than internal purity. This enabled them to justify themselves because, after all, they kept the rituals, obeyed the rules. This also allowed them to condemn everyone else, since it was exceedingly difficult to satisfy such an oppressive system. 

The result, for the Pharisees, was a self-satisfied, self righteous view of oneself combined with a highly critical, judgmental attitude toward others, completely lacking in compassion, forgiveness or kindness. Humanistic systems of morality always result in the dual sins of self justification and condemnation of others.

It is this that Jesus is speaking against. He is not saying that we should never exercise discernment, that we should never judge between good and evil, light and darkness. He is calling us back to a God-centered perspective of ourselves and others.

Only God, in perfect righteousness, is able to truly discern unrighteousness. Only God is perfectly wise and able to know all possible truth and fact in any circumstance. Only God is perfectly patient and merciful with sinners. Only the righteous God has the right to judge sin.

2. We reap what we sow.

Our judgment and mercy are measured back to us.  As sinners worthy of judgment, we ought not to sow judgment if we hope to reap mercy. 

3. Every time we judge, we reveal something of ourselves.  

The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same things.  And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.  But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of  God?” (Rom. 2:1-3).

If I judge someone as ignorant, I confess that I know something about ignorance.  If I judge someone as greedy or immoral, I reveal that I know greed and immorality.  One of the psychological issues in judgment is transference — we judge in others those qualities which we abhor in ourselves and we transfer the judgment to them.  Who is less trusting than a thief?  Who is more skeptical of the credibility of others than a liar?  Who is more sensitive to criticism than a person with a critical spirit?

4. Refraining from judgment does not demand moral neutrality.

“Judge not” is not a command to be morally neutral, to tolerate destructive choices, to wink at evil.  We must be able and willing to define and discern evil so that we can refrain from evil personally and restrain evil socially.  There are times when we need to deal with an issue regarding another person in the church (Matthew 18:15-18); we have been given specific directives for responding to heresy (2 John 1:10,11).  But as a daily principle for living, I am not to set myself up as judge over anyone.  Rather, I must tend to my own heart and seek God for my own holiness.  This is a warning against being hypocritical and self-righteous, harsh and unfair in our treatment of others.  We are reminded that ultimate, eternal judgment is in the hands of God.

7:3-5 Truth principle:  We must deal with our own sin first.

We cannot respond to sin in anyone’s life until we have first dealt with the sin in our own  life.  If my eye / heart /  spirit is not focused in holiness, then how can I see to deal with the fault in someone else?  In fact, what better way to cover my own sin than the disguise of the reformer, the crusader, the righteous judge?  God may use us as instruments of loving correction in someone’s life, but only if our own life is free from the same dominating, corrupting influences.  

7:6 Truth Principle:  Don’t judge but do discern.

We need to discern the spiritual readiness of others to hear and respond to the Gospel.  We are not to waste the holy treasures of God’s Word on those will only trample it under foot.  Jesus taught those who were ready to hear and receive but to others He spoke in parables (Matthew 13:11-16).  When He stood before King Herod, Jesus “answered him nothing,”  (Luke 23:9).  The same Lord who said that we should not worry when we stand before authorities as to what we shall speak (because the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say), this same Lord, when standing before the piggish Herod, spoke not a word.

Even within the fellowship of the church, there are varying degrees of spiritual maturity.  After three years with Jesus, there were truths that even His disciples were not ready or able to receive (John 16:12).  If someone is not ready to hear, then sacred truth will be trampled, we will be ridiculed and our time and resources will have been wasted.

Persevering Prayer

7:7,8 Truth Principles:  

1. God has invited us to press into Him in prayer.

The Creator of the universe has issued an invitation: ask, seek and knock.  He invites us to be aware of our needs and unashamed to share them with Himself.  This invitation is a journey and God would have us to embark on this journey without fear.

Ask:  The journey begins in asking in the humble, secret place of prayer, a conversation with God that spans heaven and earth.  What may I ask of God?  He searches our hearts, reveals needs beyond even our own knowing, calls us to, “Draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Seek:  Seeking is a pilgrimage inspired by our conversation with God, 

a pilgrimage of the listening ear: what is God saying to me?

a pilgrimage of the discerning eye:  what is God doing in my life?

God invites us to seek Himself, not mere answers to prayer.  He is the gold that we would mine in prayer.  He will disclose to us far more than wisdom — He will disclose Himself, the Source of all wisdom.  He calls to us, “Seek my face” and “I will be found of you.” 

Knock:  Knocking is a journey of doorways.  The pursuit of God continually opens into everlasting gates and doorways, urging us on with the still, small voice that says, “I have set before you a door which no one can shut.”

2. There is a certainty in dealing with God.  

The promise is that the one who asks will receive; the seeker will find; the one who knocks discovers that the door is opened.  Notice the certainty:  everyone who asks receives; the seeker finds; to him who knocks, it shall be opened.  

3. There is mystery in dealing with God.

It is certain that when we ask, we receive, though it may not be the gift we asked of our Father.  It is certain that when we seek, we find, though we may not always understand what we have found.  When we knock, doors open, though not always the door we expected, and quite often, not as we expected nor exactly when.

7:9-11 Truth Principle:  The gifts of God are as certain as the righteousness of God.

Jesus says that if we, with natures corrupted by sin, know how to do good to those whom we love, how much more does God?  David the Psalmist understood that God did not bless him because of David's righteousness but because of God's righteousness, not because David is faithful but because God is faithful, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3).

When the adversary says, "God won't bless you because of your sin, because of all the evil you have done,” the response is to repent of sin and trust in the goodness of God who is faithful because He is righteous:

"Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications.  Answer me in your faithfulness, in your righteousness.  And do no enter into judgment with your servant, for in your sight no man living is righteous.  For the sake of your name, O Lord, revive me.  In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble and in your lovingkindness cut off my enemies" (Psalm 143:1,2,11).

The love of God is rooted in the righteous, faithful heart and character of God and that cannot change.  Therefore, whatever we have known of God's love in the past, we can confidently expect in the future.  This confidence in God's love for him gave David the confidence to be a lover of God, a seeker of God throughout all the seasons of his life.  As the deer panted for the waters, David yearned for God.

 We too can be confident of God’s loving, faithful response to our prayers.  If we have responded to His love by entering into covenant relationship with Him through faith in His Son, then God calls us “my beloved,” He betroths us to His Son and will someday present us to His Son as His Bride.  

We press into God in prayer for He has invited us.  We ask, we seek, we knock and with the confidence born of childlike faith, we expect to meet God in this secret place of prayer.

Relations with Others

7:12 Truth Principle:  Treat others the way we would have them treat us. 

All that we say and do impacts the lives of others.  Our words and deeds are like seed.  Why not sow into the lives of others the good seed we would like for them to sow into our lives?  Jesus says that all of the Old Testament Law and all that the prophets spoke, can be summarized in this: treat people as we would have them treat us.

Two Ways of Life

7:13,14 Truth Principle: There are two gates, two ways, two destinations in life.

Every day we make choices and our life is defined by our choices. Our ultimate choice has to do with eternal life. Jesus says that there are two gates, two ways. One is broad and wide. One is small and narrow. One leads to destruction. One leads to life. 

One is the way of self righteousness, attempting to build righteousness through one’s own works. All the religious systems of the world except one are built on the attempt to establish righteous relationship with God through one’s own efforts. The narrow road is the way of righteousness through faith in Christ.

Truth Principle: The entrance to true, abundant, everlasting life is narrow.

Jesus says that if we want to get on the road that leads to life, we must enter by the small gate and the narrow way. This gate is Jesus, who said, “I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved and go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” (John 10:7-10). 

1. Narrow does not refer to limited access. Peter reminds us that God “is not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Ptr. 3:9). Jesus’ invitation to enter is infinitely great with grace, mercy and opportunity. Narrow refers to the reality that there are not multiple choices leading to everlasting life with God. There is only way, one door, one gate and that is Jesus, who said,  “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).

The narrow way is wide enough to include the vilest sinner who repents of sin and turns to Christ in faith. However, it is small enough to exclude the most respectable person who refuses to turn from his sin and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

This narrow entrance opens into abundant life, the unmeasured depths and heights of reconciled relationship with God. Through Jesus, the narrow gate, we enter into life redeemed from sin and from the slavery produced by sin, into the joyful freedom of the life set free.  We enter into the purposed life, the fulfilling of the grand purpose that God planned for each of us. We enter into eternal life which is the quality of life God enjoys. We enter into abundant life.

2. Narrow is not about God trying to bind us, enslave us in this one narrow way.  It is about God offering us freedom through this one door, freedom from the counterfeit ways and words of religious impostors who deceive us and ultimately, lead to our destruction. God in His mercy has offered one door, one way.  We don’t have to spend our lives trying door after door, guessing, being deceived by counterfeit entrances.

3. Narrow is not about God trying to limit our happiness by restricting us to this one door.  It’s about God offering us abundant life and deliverance from the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy.  It’s about God opening the one door that leads to true, lasting fulfillment in this life and eternal life after death.

4. Narrow means we must enter on God’s terms, through faith in Christ and Christ alone. Neither our religious rituals nor our works can earn or merit salvation. We do not enter because we were baptized, joined the church, attended holy communion, gave our time, talent and money to good works or because we were ordained and licensed and pastored a church. We are saved, redeemed by the grace of God working through faith. Faith in whom? Faith in Christ, the crucified, risen Son of God, Lord of lords and King of kings. 

“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

“For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (I Tim. 4:5,6).

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me,” (John 14:6).

5. Narrow means we must enter one at a time. We do not enter the kingdom of God because we joined a church with a thousand other people or because our family attends a church.  We enter alone through our own personal encounter with Christ.

6. Narrow means we enter intentionally. Jesus said, “There are few who find it” (Matt. 7:14). Few find it because many seek it on their own terms, according to their own good works or religious rituals. Few find it because many are distracted by pleasure, wealth and a multitude of other self indulgent behaviors. Few find it because many are self deceived, being wise and righteous in their own estimation. Few find it because many are misled by false prophets. 

Few find it because it must be sought with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Those who enter the narrow gate are passionate seekers of God, fervently desiring to know Him, to experience His forgiving, restoring grace. 

Luke recorded Jesus’ statement about the narrow door in response to the question, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” (Luke 13:23). Jesus answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (13:24).

The word strive is agonizomai from which we derive the English word agonize. It means to fight, to struggle, to labor fervently. In Luke 16:16 Jesus spoke of those who are pushing their way into the kingdom of God. He was speaking of those who are desperate seekers of God, hungering and thirsting after true righteousness, mourning the poverty of their lost spiritual condition, fighting against the current of a world that is running from God.

Through Jeremiah the Lord said, “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart” (29:13). Whole hearted seekers of God are striving to enter by the narrow way.

However, striving to enter is balanced by the truth that it is God who approaches us, opens our spiritual eyes to our lost condition, draws us to Himself, brings us to repentance and gifts us with saving faith. But whom does God draw to Himself? Those who are seeking Him. Whom does Christ feed with the bread of life? Those who hunger and thirst after Him.

It is Christ who comes to us offering the free gift of salvation but there must be a human response even to the gifts of God. It is a narrow way in the sense that we must intentionally turn from our sinful life which the world approves and accept the gift of faith in a Savior whom the world despises.

7. “There are few who find it” implies that the narrow way is a way of discipline. 

1. The discipline of the narrow way involves self control: I can’t give in to every desire, every appetite. I can’t have instant gratification. I may have to wait (delayed gratification) for some of the reward. The narrow way leads to life — some of the life reward is later, not instantaneous.

2. The discipline of the narrow way involves self denial: to fit through the door, I’ll need to lose some baggage, in particular, my self-centeredness. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must first deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it;  but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24,25).

In Luke 18:18-23 we read of Jesus’ encounter with a rich young ruler who asked how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to give away all of his wealth and follow Him. The point is not that everyone needs to give away their wealth to enter the narrow way but this was the young man’s baggage: riches and self righteousness. If he wanted everlasting life, he had to leave his baggage at the gate. The call is to follow Jesus. Whatever keeps us from answering that call needs to be thrown away.

3. The discipline of the narrow way involves child like dependance on God for the grace to enter and the grace to endure along the way. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).

Truth Principle: The entrance to everlasting destruction is wide.

There is a broad way: it is popular, socially acceptable, feels good, it is crowded and so we have much company and there is pleasure in that way for a season but its end is destruction. 

1. It is the gate of self indulgence: all sins, all lifestyle choices are welcome. 

2. It is the gate of self righteousness: all the proud rituals and religions of human invention open wide to those who would establish their own righteousness. 

3. It is the gate of self deception, opening wide to those who are wise and righteous in their own eyes. 

4. It is the gate of false religion, opening wide to the smiling invitation of the false prophet and the counterfeit messiah.

The wide gate leads to a multitude of doors that are easy to fit through, appear to be pleasing, may be the popular choice, but these doors lead to destruction:

 

“There is a way which seems right to a man but its end is the way of death,” (Prov. 14:12).

7:15-20 Truth Principle: Not all prophets speak the truth.

7:15 “Beware of the false prophets.” Jesus issues this warning in the context of narrow and wide gates because false prophets are dangerous. They deceive people into the harmful choices and the destructive paths of the wide gate and the broad way. They pervert the pathway and poison the streams along the way.

The word beware means to hold your mind back from something. Jesus means that we should not expose our minds to false prophets. Instead, we expose our minds to the Word of God which is able to build us up, restore and transform us.

Paul exhorted Timothy, “You however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14,15). 

He goes on to remind Timothy that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (3:16).

“Beware of the false prophets,” Jesus warns us. Don’t open your mind to them. Instead, open your mind to the Word of God.

How do we know and recognize the false prophet? That’s not a simple matter because Jesus says they come to us in sheep's clothing (which doesn’t mean they look like sheep). Shepherds wore garments made from wool, gathered from sheep. To be dressed in sheep’s clothing is to look like a shepherd. This refers to the outer appearance of false prophets which seems to be righteous. They have the right certification. They may say the right things. But inwardly they are wolf-like: predatory, ravenous. 

The word ravenous means to snatch or to seize. These are people who prey on God’s church, whose agenda is self centered, not Christ centered. 

Truth Principle: We discern false prophets by their fruit.

7:16 Though they look like shepherds, Jesus says that we know them by their fruit. What does He mean by fruit?

1. Fruit includes what a shepherd says. 

Is their message truthful or untruthful? Jesus rebuked the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira for tolerating non-Biblical teaching. However, relatively few false prophets are complete heretics (teachers of false doctrine, flagrantly proclaiming lies). Few are absolute apostates (knowingly denying the truth and turning from the faith). 

The lie is not always in what they say but in what they do not say. It’s a comfortable message — they omit the offense of the cross. It’s a compromised message, accommodated to the beliefs and customs of the surrounding culture.

Most false shepherds are not outright liars. They are deceivers, mixing truth and lies, hiding lies inside a package of truth. They may quote the Bible and talk the talk. They may sound like a believer. So our discernment of a false prophet must involve more than their preaching.

2. Fruit includes how a shepherd lives.

Certainly we cannot discern false shepherds by their academic degrees, licenses, certification or ordination. All of these are attainable by anyone. We cannot discern them by their popularity, wealth, power, prestige, accomplishments, testimony or their seeming success, for they may be highly acclaimed by this fallen world. As impressive as their visions and revelations may sound, we cannot know them by these because visions and revelations cannot be verified.

In 2 Corinthians 12:6, the Apostle Paul was defending himself against false apostles who came into the church boasting of their visions, revelations, gifts and accomplishments.  Paul says that he has had visions and revelations too, but that he does not want anyone to “credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me." Yes, he had visions and revelations but he will not build his apostolic defense on things that are not verifiable. Establishing his apostleship on something that nobody could prove would set a precedent for every deceiver to do the same. 

So Paul says, “Don't credit me with anything other than what you see or hear in me.” He is saying that if we attach any credibility to his ministry, it is because of the truth he speaks and especially because of the way he lives that truth. He then talks of his weakness, the insults, distress, persecution and difficulties he has dealt with (2 Cor. 12:7-12). He speaks of his perseverance, of the signs and wonders that God performed through him (12:10).

In that same letter, when defending his credibility, Paul said,

“But in everything commending ourselves servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown and yet well known, as dying and yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor and yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:4-10).

Later in that letter, when defending himself against the accusations of false prophets, Paul spoke of his imprisonments and beatings, stonings and shipwrecks, the dangers and deprivations he endured (2 Cor. 11:23-29). 

Paul says, as it were, “Here is the fruit that reveals the authenticity of my ministry: my willingness to suffer and endure hardship; my willingness to live sacrificially that others may be blessed; my love for Christ and my purity; my commitment to speak Scriptural truth whatever it costs me.”

He would say to the false prophets, “Don’t tell me about your visions and your revelations, your popularity or your success. Let me see the truth of your words revealed in the living of your life.” What can be seen in our living is the only credible proof of the authentic nature of our ministry. 

7:17 Jesus reiterates: the good tree bears good fruit, the bad tree bears bad fruit. So with people. The works that we do, the life we live, the words we speak, reveal the inner life of faith. The inner reality of our heart is revealed by the outer reality of our living. That’s why it is so important that we cultivate a healthy spiritual life. The roots of our invisible, inner life will determine the fruit of our outer, visible life.

  “As he thinks in his heart, so is he”  (Proverbs 23:7).  

“Guard your heart with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

“For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matt. 12:34).

“But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart and those defile the man.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders”  (Matt. 15:18,9).

“For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.  For each tree is known by its own fruit.  For men do not gather figs from thorns nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fill his heart” (Luke 6:43-45).

What is in us will be revealed in the living of our life. In Galatians 5:19-21 we read about the fruit of the flesh — that’s a life lived apart from God. In 5:22,23 we read about the fruit of the Spirit.  That’s the life and character that God produces in the person who is submitted to God.  A healthy faith produces healthy fruit.  This is how we know people —  by the fruit of their living which is determined by the roots of their faith.

7:18 It is impossible for a good tree to bear bad fruit or a bad tree to counterfeit good fruit.  We may have to wait a few seasons to see the fruit: it takes time for fruit to grow and it takes time to discern character. But if we watch long enough, we will see true character revealed.

I moved into a house once that had an orange tree in the yard. One day I picked the oranges, squeezed them, took a big drink and it was about an hour before I could unpucker my mouth. The fruit was orange and round, the leaves and branches were the color and shape of leaves and branches on a cultivated orange tree. I didn’t know it was a wild tree until I tasted the sour fruit.

In the same way, false prophets may have the same appearance as truth speakers. We should not be surprised by this. The Apostle Paul, who fought false prophets throughout his ministry, said,

“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan himself disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

To help us identify the false prophet, Peter described their lives in 2 Peter chapter two. 

In 2:2 he says that they will be sensual (following the lusts of their flesh while denying the Lordship of Jesus over their lives). In 2:3 he says that they will be greedy, motivated by love of money rather than love of truth. Peter says that they will exploit people with their lying doctrines. In other words, they use clever but false teachings to manipulate and exploit the flock for their own financial gain.

In 2:10 he emphasizes the tendency of false prophets to indulge the corrupt desires of their flesh. But then Peter also exposes their rebellious nature — despising authority, self willed. They do not recognize any authority that would limit their self indulgence or resist their exploitation of the flock. We may assume that their disdain for authority includes not only church leadership but also the very authority of Scripture itself. Obviously then, they despise the Lordship of Christ over His church and their lives.

In 2:14 Peter describes them as “having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children.” In 2:19 he describes them as “promising freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption.”

 

In summary, false prophets are false teachers but since lies are often disguised in wrappings of truth, we discern these counterfeit workers best by the way they live their lives. They are typically guided by a proud desire for prestige and popularity; hucksters of the word of God, greedy, self willed, self promoting, sensuous, jealous, self indulgent, rebellious.

7:19 A tree which produces bad fruit will eventually be cut down and thrown into the fire.   Lives that consistently bring forth evil will eventually come under the judgment of God. Of course, God will offer grace, season after season, patiently calling, drawing, offering opportunities for the cultivation of repentance and faith. But if they refuse grace, then as Paul said, their “end will be according to their deeds.”

The Apostle Peter warned the church of false teachers “who will secretly introduce destructive heresies ... bringing swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Peter 2:1). He says that “Their judgment from long ago is not idle and their destruction is not asleep” (2:3).

They may appear to be successful and may build impressive religious empires but Peter says that they are being kept “under punishment for the day of judgment” (2:9).

Peter warns of their eventual damnation, “For whom the black darkness has been reserved,” (2 Ptr. 2:17). And we must keep in mind that the greatest false prophet of all, he who will partner with the antiChrist, will also be thrown into the lake of fire with the antichrist (Rev. 19:20).

Jesus told a parable about the owner of a fig tree — this was really a parable about Israel but it is applicable to individuals (Luke 13:6-9).  For three years the owner found no fruit on the tree and he ordered it to be cut down.  The vineyard-keeper asked for one more year of cultivation and the owner agreed. This reveals the patient mercy of God. But ultimately there will be an accounting. If the tree does not bear fruit, it will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

God warned the world of Noah’s day of coming judgment. But God waited for 120 years while Noah testified. The lack of response resulted in complete destruction.  God warned the people of Nineveh of coming judgment but they repented at the preaching of Jonah and God spared them.  God warns of judgment while offering mercy. But if mercy is refused, then judgment is released. 

The bad tree is thrown into the fire. The false prophet and all who follow through the broad gates are judged.

Notice the connection between these two teachings. Jesus followed His teaching on the narrow way and the broad way by warning of false prophets who come to us in sheep’s clothing. The linkage is obvious: beware of false prophets because they deceive people into self destructive choices. They seduce people through the wide gates and broad ways of destruction.

Yet in this we see the sovereignty of God, not in preventing false prophets, but in allowing them for His own purposes. In 2 Thessalonians 2:11,12, Paul is writing about the appearance of the anti-Christ but this truth applies to all deceivers. Paul says,

“For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they may all be judged who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness.” 

God has given freedom to humanity, freedom to love and obey Him or despise and disobey Him. He allows false prophets as magnets to draw away those who refuse the truth but take pleasure in rebellion and disobedience. 

So the warning is for those who hunger and thirst after true righteousness: don’t open your mind to religious deceivers. But for those who despise God, the deceiver leads them into the wide gate of their desire.

Narrow gates, wide gates. Truth speakers and false prophets. We make our choices, we enter the gate. Ultimately there will be an accounting.

There are seasons within history and in each individual life when, after seasons of grace, God requires accountability and establishes justice. Finally, there is a time when time is no more, the season of cultivation is complete, history is ended and God’s justice is revealed.

The unfruitful tree will ultimately be exposed, chopped down and thrown into the fire.

7:20 Until that day, you will know them by their fruit.  Notice how emphatic Jesus is: you will know them. The Holy Spirit will give us discernment as we wait and watch and pray patiently.

How do we discern that fruit? Again, it is revealed in the life they live. Jude said,

“For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).

The ungodly, shameless, Christ-denying life of the false prophets unveils their true identity.

7:21,22 Truth Principle: Obedience to God reveals eternal destiny.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.”

A friend of mine bought a beautiful apple. Grocery store apples are coated with a preservative which adds sheen to the fruit and slows the corruption process, so it was bright red. However, when she bit into it, she discovered it was rotten at the core. It looked good on the outside but when she got down under the skin, it was corrupt.

Jesus rebuked those who “are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27,28).

Usually our words and our works reveal the truth of our relationship with Christ but just as it is possible to hide lies inside truth and rottenness inside a bright red apple, so it is also possible to hide corruption inside a skin of religious works, at least for a season.  The tree is known by its fruit but as that apple revealed to my friend and as the sour orange tree revealed to me, it is possible to counterfeit good fruit on the outside. 

Jesus says that there are people who will say, “Lord, Lord” who, in spite of their profession of faith, don’t know Him. There are people who seem to perform miracles, who speak with prophetic eloquence and seem to exercise authority over demonic powers, yet they do not know the Lord.

In spite of their words and works, they are frauds. Then how do we discern them? Jesus says that the truest revelation of character and relationship to God is obedience to God.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father.” He is not saying that our entrance into heaven is gained or acquired by our works. He is saying that our obedience to God reveals the truth of our relationship to God and our place in His kingdom.  

The obedient disciple is defined simply as, “He who does the will of my Father.” Obedience to the known will of God reveals the heart of a true disciple of Jesus.  

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  He lived that life in front of His disciples, preferring the will of his Father to His own will.  In Gethsemane He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will”  (Matt. 26:39).

That’s how Jesus lived His life, doing the will of His Father. That’s how we reveal our relationship with God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  "If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word" (John 14:23, see also 14:21). 

John recorded those words in his Gospel and years later, in his first epistle, said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (I John 5:3).

Our love for God is revealed in our willingness to obey Him, to live His truth. A person may say the right things, they may even do some of the right things (or seem to do them) — miracles, casting out demons, prophecy. But watch for this simplest of all fruit — are they obeying God day by day? The Lord is not expecting perfection of anyone. But are we attempting to practice righteousness, are we attempting to walk in the light, day by day?

7:22 “Many will say to me on that day.” Which day? The day when God concludes history and establishes His kingdom on earth, when His justice is exalted against all that is evil and ungodly, when every false prophet is exposed, when every false believer and every unfruitful  tree is revealed, judged and cast into the fire. On that day, many will say, “Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, cast out demons, perform miracles in your name?” 

Didn’t we say the right words and do the right works?

7:23 Jesus will declare to them, “Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness, I never knew you.”

These who are rejected by Jesus are saying the right thing, “Lord, Lord.” And they appeared to do some right things — they cast out demons, worked miracles, prophesied. This is not to say that all of their works were legitimate. Signs and wonders can be counterfeit or works of darkness. In 2 Thessalonians 2:9, as Paul unveils the future appearance of the antiChrist, he says that the deceiver will come “in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” or “lying signs and wonders.”

There have often been false prophets who knew their works were an expression of the powers of darkness. Other were truly deceived, they thought they were representing God but were not. But whether they are deceived or sincerely evil, their words and works were accompanied by a lifestyle of lawlessness — the opposite of obedience. 

The verb tense, “you who practice lawlessness,” indicates continuous, habitual, established patterns of sin and reveals an unrepentant heart that is set on disobedience and does not seek forgiveness. Jesus is saying that we cannot profess Him as our Lord and continually practice lawlessness. Profession of faith in Christ and the habitual practice of sin are mutually exclusive. We cannot be a disciple of Christ and a disciple of sin both at the same time.

What is it that reveals the truth of a vine? It’s the fruit on the vine. What is it that reveals who we really are? The fruit of our living. Though the fruit may look impressive on the outside, though there may be some impressive and noble works of charity or power in a person’s life, disobedience to God reveals that at our core we do not really love Him or know Him. 

“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.”  Obedience reveals a true relationship wth God.

Notice that Jesus says, “Depart from me.” He is speaking of the ultimate destination of these deceived deceivers: everlasting separation from His presence. He is speaking of hell.

These whom Jesus rejects have an impressive sounding ministry — they say the right things. They have an impressive looking ministry — they do the right ministry works. The problem is that they do not really know Him. “Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness, I never knew you.” The absence of true relationship with Jesus is revealed in their lawlessness and Jesus declares the reality that He does not know them because they do not know or love Him.

Works of ministry — miracles, prophesy, deliverance from demonic power — these are not the works which gain entrance into heaven because they don’t gain our entrance into relationship with God. It is our relationship with God that opens the entrance into heaven, not our works.  Our works reveal that we do have relationship with the Father. 

The only work that gains entrance into relationship with God and thereby into heaven, if we would call it work, is that we know Him.  How do we come to know God in a personal relationship?  By turning from our sins. This is repentance. And by believing with our heart and confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord. This is saving faith.

Once, some people asked Jesus, “‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’” (John 6:28,29).

The work of repentance and faith, which is really a work that God produces in those who seek Him with all their heart, is the work which brings us into relationship with the Father.  It is that relationship, knowing the Father through His Son Jesus, that brings us into the dimension of life which the Bible calls the kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven and qualifies us for entrance into heaven when this life is over.

In that relationship, the Lord works His holiness in us: breaks the power of sin, changes our habits and attitudes — changes us from the inside out.  That doesn’t mean we are perfect but we no longer practice unrighteousness, lawlessness.  We still sin but this not our practiced lifestyle and when we sin we repent, confess and receive God’s outpouring of cleansing, restoring grace.

In this new relationship with the Lord, He establishes His rule in us. The kingdom of God is the rule of God.  How do we know if we have entered the kingdom, the rule, of God? Not by our words, "Lord, Lord" and not necessarily by our works of ministry. Relationship with God is revealed as we do the will of our Father, day by day, season after season. If God is ruling in our lives then we are obeying God because we love Him and love His gracious, wise rule.  

In this intimate relationship, Christ gives us grace and power to resist sin and to repent when we fail. When we sin, our sincere repentance reveals a living relationship. Confession and repentance are the obedient response of a sincere follower of Christ. But if I am not obeying God, if  I continually practice disobedience and lawlessness, then Christ cannot be exercising Lordship in my life. If He is not my Lord then I do not know Him and He does not know me.

Jesus asked, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not what I say?” (Luke 6:46). That is a very simple, direct question.

On the day of judgment, Jesus will say, “I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”  These lawless ones may have done some good works of ministry but their continual commitment to do evil works and their disobedient, rebellious life style reveals that they have no relationship with the Lord. Therefore they are not living in His kingdom and have no hope of heaven.

“I never knew you” does not mean that Jesus is unfamiliar with these false prophets. He knows all truth that could ever be known about all people and all events. But one of the New Testament word for know, ginosko, has to do with relationship between the person knowing and the object that is known. 

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know (ginosko) them and they follow me” (John 10:27). As He prayed to the Father, Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know (ginosko) you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is to know the Lord as He knows us. It is to share in His life as He shares in our life.

In the same way, the Old Testament word, yada, has to do with intimacy: “Now the man had relations with (knew, yada) Eve and she conceived” Genesis 4:1). Through the prophet Amos the Lord said, “You only have I chosen (known, yada) among all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:1).

When Jesus says, “I never knew you,” He means that he never had an intimate love relationship with that person. They ministered in His name but their ministry was not an expression of relationship with Him. Rather, their continued works of lawlessness revealed a life lived in separation from Christ.  If our life does not back up our confession, then our confession means nothing.

We must also recognize that relationship with Christ does not result in sinless perfection, not in this life. It is not our perfection that proves our salvation. It is our direction — what we desire to be as we live in relationship with Jesus.

Jesus tells a story to illustrate the truth:

7:24 He who hears my Word is the person who listens to God with a receptive heart. He who acts on them refers to the person who is actively living the Word, obeying it.

This is a life built on an unshakeable rock. The Word of God is acting on the heart, changing the person on the inside, transforming.  In fact, it is Christ Himself who is building this person’s life, building by His Word.  As this person reads the Word, meditates on the Word, lives it, speaks it, the Lord is working transformation in their inner being. There will be outwardly visible fruit reflecting and revealing this transformed inner life.

7:25 The storms of life do not destroy that life built on the rock.  There are storms —  no one can escape testing, trials — but these cannot destroy the life built by Christ.  The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but we are in relationship with the God who brings life and who has overcome the evil one.  

Jesus reassures us, “In the world you have tribulation but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith.  And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (I John 5:4,5).

7:26 Then there is the one who hears but does not act on the Word. Jesus describes him as a foolish man. He is a fool because he listened to the Word of God but did not listen with a receptive heart and therefore the Word of God did not have any life-changing impact. That Word did not bring him to repentance and faith; did not break his trust in himself and his self righteousness; did not lead him into relationship with the God who redeems, forgives and transforms all who know Him and love Him.  

He heard the Word but did not open his heart to it, did not bend his self will to it and therefore the Word did not bring him into a place of entrance into the kingdom of God. His life remained unchanged and he was unable and unwilling to live that Word.

7:27 As a result, storms destroy his life. God's Word must be acted on to bring results.  God's Word is not something we merely listen to. We receive it and it acts on us, changes us, transforms our lives. As the word acts on us, we are able to act on it, able to live it.

The Apostle Paul said to a church, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thes. 2:13).

Because the word of God is alive, powerful and dynamic, it performs its work in us. God created a universe by speaking it into being. The word of God contains in it the power needed to bring about the reality which that word reveals.

A good example is the word which the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary, when he revealed that she would conceive the Son of God. He said, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Another translation could read, “For no word of God is without power.”

Just as an acorn contains the DNA necessary to bring forth an oak tree, so the word of God contains the life and power needed to bring into being the purpose of God. One of the more common sayings of Jesus was, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15).  He also said, “Therefore take care how you listen” (Luke 8:18).  

Why? Because what we hear will establish the inner reality of what we believe and what we believe becomes who we are and how we live. What we believe forms our motives and produces our works and it is the reality of these actions, the outward and visible life, which reveals the reality of the inner life. 

Notice that both builders hear the word of God. We might say that both attend church, are part of the visible church, may even serve in the church. Also, both are building a life. And both build in the same way except for the foundation but you can’t see the foundation once the house is built so you can’t see a difference until a storm comes.

However, one is a foolish builder and one is wise because one built on sand and one on rock. The word rock is petra, a rock bed. The other man builds on sand. That’s what the false prophets are selling — sand. The problem with sand is that it shifts with the wind and the tides. A storm will undermine that foundation. 

So what is the rock? It is the Lord Himself. The Psalmist said,

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge” (Ps. 18:2). When Simon recognized Jesus and confessed Him to be Messiah and Lord, Jesus said, 

“I also say to you that you are Peter (Petros, small rock) and upon this rock (petra, rock foundation) I will build my church” (Matt. 16:13).

Recognition and confession of the Lord leads to intimate relationship with the Lord which results in transformation which is visible in a life of obedience. Mere confession, followed by a life of lawlessness, reveals a false confession.

In John 8:30 we read that many came to believe in Jesus. But Jesus said to them, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine” (John 8:31). It’s not just hearing the words of Jesus or speaking the name of Jesus or doing religious works in Jesus’ name. It is a life of continual obedience, living His word. It is a life of continual repentance when we stumble and sin. 

It is in living Christ’s truth that we reveal a living relationship with Christ. James said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). If we are only listening to the truth but not living it, we are deceived.

John said, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” (I Jn. 2:3).

Paul said to Titus, speaking of unbelievers, “They profess to know God but by their deeds they deny Him” (Titus 1:16).

Obedience is the validation of our salvation. It shows that Jesus Christ is exercising Lordship in and over our lives. He speaks His word into our hearts and those who hear God’s truth with a listening ear, a receptive ear, will be changed and that change will be reflected in motives, words, actions, our handling of money, our relationships — the outward life. That changed life does the will of God and overcomes the storms of this world.

The true follower of Christ recognizes the divine standard for living and grieves how far short we fall. We cry out to God for mercy and receive grace to live the life.

On the other hand, it’s easy to build on sand. It’s like the wide gate and the broad way — popular, quick, simple. The foolish builder, like the false prophet, has no regard for the inner life of intimate relationship with God or of personal holiness and integrity. Their’s is a religion of externals, whitewashed tombs filled with corruption.

Luke adds an interesting note to this parable. He leads off by quoting Jesus, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (6:46). He then tells of the wise man who build on the rock but adds that he “dug deep” (6:48). He dug deep, through the shifting sand, down to the bed rock. He was not in a hurry, not looking for a quick religious fix, counted the cost of full surrender to Christ and living the disciplined life.

The storm did not shake his life.

We close this section with three thoughts.

1. In every life there are storms, trials which test the foundation on which we have built our life. Finally, at the conclusion of history, there is a day of reckoning which will reveal the core truth upon which we have built. What is your foundation? 

2. The Lord who chose in eternity past to save lost sinners, will build in us that which we ask of Him.  “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 1:6).

3. Don’t let your failures destroy your confidence or your peace in the Lord. It is not our perfection that proves our salvation. It is our direction — who we desire to be in Christ. If you truly and sincerely seek to follow Him, He will shepherd you through the narrow gate, into the fruitful life, a life built on an unshakeable foundation.

7:28,29 The crowds were amazed at Jesus’ authority.  Authority revealed in what?  Not only in His words but also in His works.  In the following chapter Jesus reveals the power of God in His works. 

Matthew 8

The Authority of Jesus

Matthew chapter seven ends with these words:  "The crowds were amazed at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one having authority" (Matt. 7:28-29). 

 

What was the source of the amazing authority that echoed through the words of Jesus?  Surely we hear divine wisdom in His teaching but there was something more. Notice that chapter eight, beginning with verse one, records one miraculous demonstration of power after another. It is the works of Jesus that demonstrate the authority of His words.  

Jesus preached the inbreaking presence of the kingdom of God but the message of the kingdom was revealed in works of power and mercy.  The miracles validated the message. His works authenticated His words. The works of Jesus included authority over nature, authority over disease, authority over demons, and authority over death.

Jesus preached the Good News of God’s rule and showed what that looks like: 

“And Jesus was going about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of  disease and every kind of sickness among the people,”  (Matthew 4:23   9:35).

The inbreaking of the rule or kingdom of God in powerful signs and wonders is what gives authority to the preaching of the kingdom.  The kingdom of  God is at hand.  The kingdom message is demonstrated in kingdom works.

We may not always understand how God is present or how He is answering our prayers.  We may at times feel that there has been no demonstration of kingdom signs and wonders. Nevertheless, God is present, His kingdom is breaking into history and He invites us to open our lives to His mercy and power.

8:1,2 Notice the accessibility of Jesus.  Lepers were considered unclean and were prohibited from social contact except with other lepers.  They were outcasts, separated from family and vocation. Yet this man was drawn to Jesus, as were multitudes and Jesus’ response was the same to one and all, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Notice the humility of the leper’s approach: he bowed down. The word bow, proskuneo, means to worship by prostrating oneself. He came to Jesus in an attitude of worship.

Notice his trust in the power of Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” He’s not sure if Jesus is willing to heal a social outcast but he does not doubt the Lord’s power.

8:3 Notice the compassion of Jesus: “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched Him.”  In that society, one did not touch lepers.  Jesus could have simply spoken a word of healing but He touched the man.  Whatever distance there was between the leper and Jesus, Jesus bridged the distance.  The love of Jesus cannot abide distance.  He is always crossing the canyon, the divide.  He seeks us, He reaches out to us.  Under the Old Covenant, God thundered from Mount Sinai.  In the New Covenant, God is born in human form, stretches out His hand and touches, stretches out His arms and dies, all for His beloved.

Notice the willingness of Jesus to heal.  The leper said, “Lord if you are willing.”  Jesus responded, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 

 

Notice the immediacy of Jesus:  “Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

Jesus did not comment on the leper’s faith.  It appears that the man had great faith in the power of God.  After all,  he approached Jesus with this request and violated strict social custom.  But his question suggests that he may not have been entirely convinced of the Lord’s willingness to heal.  The point is that Jesus was accessible, compassionate, willing and immediate in His response.  Faith includes not only confidence in the Lord’s power but also in His merciful willingness to exercise that power in our lives.  

We are invited to have faith in God’s desire to do good in our lives.  We will not dictate to God, will not tell God what to do.  But we may approach Him with confidence that He is good and does all things well.

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,”  (Hebrews 4:16).

Truly Great Faith

8:5,6 Notice again the accessibility of Jesus: a Roman centurion, an officer in the army of occupation, hated by the majority of the people, felt he could approach Jesus and ask for the healing of his servant.

8:7 Notice again the willingness of Jesus to heal:  “I will come and heal him.”

8:8 Notice the humility of the Roman officer: “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come.”  Humility is often the companion of great faith.  Great faith does not need to trumpet itself  but cloaks itself in humility and gentleness.

8:8,9 Notice the faith and insight of the Roman:  

“Lord, you don’t have to come to my house, just speak the Word and my servant will be healed.”  He understood the power of God’s Word when it is released.  God created the universe with His spoken Word, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’” (Genesis 1:3).  He is the God who, “Gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist,” (Romans 4:17).  That same dynamic, creative Word sustains and upholds the universe. God  “Upholds all things by the word of His power,” (Hebrews 1:3).  The Word of God is living and active, creative, powerful.

The centurion understood that if Jesus spoke a Word of healing, it did not matter how close or how far He was from the object of that Word.  It would be done. Where did the Roman learn that?  From his own experience with soldiers under his command.  He gave them orders and they obeyed.  If Jesus is who He says He is, then when He sends forth His Word,  all creation must obey His Word.  The Roman officer extrapolated what he knew about command and applied it to Jesus. That’s great faith.  Or rather, that is simple, childlike faith in a great God.

8:10 Jesus marveled at the Roman officer’s faith and commented that He had not found such great faith in all of Israel.  This Gentile entered into the miracle, not because he was a child of the Mosaic covenant, not because he was circumcised, not because he was keeping the Old  Testament Law, but because he believed.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is not the racial descendants of Abraham who are his children but those who live by faith, as Abraham did (Galatians 3:6-9  and Romans 9:6-9).  This Roman had become a child of Abraham because he walked by faith and therefore, experienced the blessings of the inbreaking kingdom of God.  

 

8:11,12 Jesus says that many will come from the east and the west, desiring to sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but instead will be “cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  This outer darkness is the state of everlasting separation from God; it is hell.

“Sitting at the table” with the great patriarchs is a way of speaking about the kingdom of God.  Many of those who seek entrance into the kingdom are “sons of the kingdom,” Israelites, those chosen by God and called into covenant with Him.  Why are they denied entrance and instead are cast into outer darkness, everlasting separation from God?  Because they are trying to enter through the works of the Law, through self-righteousness.  But the Law cannot make us righteous, cannot save us; it serves only to reveal that we are not righteous and cannot save ourselves.  Entrance to the kingdom of God is not based on the keeping of the Mosaic Law but on the life of faith.  Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). 

8:13 Jesus said to this man of faith, “Go, it shall be done for you as you have believed.”  The Roman’s servant was healed that very moment.  The moment that the living, creative, dynamic word left the mouth of Jesus, the servant was healed. 

The Compassion of Jesus

8:14,15 When Jesus arrived at Peter’s house, He found Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever.  Jesus touched her hand, she was healed and she rose up to serve Him.  What a tender story.  Jesus touched her hand so that she could use her hands to serve Him.  Isn’t that what we want?  We want Jesus to touch our lives so we can serve Him.  

When we invite and allow Jesus to touch our lives at our point of need, we are then enabled and empowered to serve Him.  This is our commission, our reason for living.  The kingdom of God (God’s rule), is breaking into history.  We who have experienced this inbreaking are also called to proclaim it.  We proclaim the kingdom in words and in works which reveal and release the power and mercy of God into other lives. Freely we have received, freely we give.

8:16 “When evening came, they brought to Him many.”   He cast out demons, healed all who were sick.  No one was excluded from His touch — He healed all who came to Him.  “Come unto me,” He says.  

8:17 Matthew reminds us that this healing, delivering, restoring ministry of Jesus is fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases” (Isa. 53:4, from a longer prophetic passage, 53:3-12, clearly delineating the suffering, atoning work of the Messiah).  On the cross, Jesus bore our sins and our infirmities, carried our grief and our diseases.  He is acquainted with our weaknesses because He bore them on the cross and because He knows us perfectly.  It is His blood, His mighty act of redemption, that releases the power of God to save, to heal and to deliver.

Peter, who was surely present when his mother-in-law was healed and when the multitudes were being healed and delivered, proclaims the healing power of Christ released from the cross,

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, for by His wounds you were healed” (I Ptr. 2:24). 

The Cost of Discipleship

8:18-20 Here is an amazing incident: a scribe, a teacher of the law, is ready to follow Jesus.  A ratings-conscious television preacher would have responded, “Great, follow me and from now on everything will be easy for you.”  Instead, Jesus said, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  In other words, Jesus counsels the man to first count the cost.  The Lord is unwilling to gain followers without first confronting them with the cost of that decision.  

What is the cost of following Jesus?

1. Repentance: turning away from whatever has captivated us to the exclusion of Jesus and turning to Him. Repentance is a changing of our mindset resulting in a change of life.

2. Faith: believing in all that Jesus says He is — our crucified, resurrected Savior.

3. Surrendering all that would prevent us from fully following:

In one case, Jesus said, “Sell all you have, give it to the poor” (Luke 18:18-27). Jesus doesn’t say that to everyone but He did to a man whose wealth was preventing him from following.

To Matthew, Jesus said, “Leave your tax table, your livelihood” (Matt. 9:9). He doesn’t call everyone to leave their job but He did with a man whose job preventing him from following.

To some fishermen, Jesus said, “Leave your nets and boats” (Matt. 4:18-20). To all He says that we must love Him more than our own family (Matthew 10:37). 

Salvation is God’s free gift to all who come to Him in humble repentance and faith but there is a cost to following our Savior. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke  9:23).

Following Jesus does not mean that we must give up all our possessions or change professions.  But all who repent, believe and commit to follow must count the cost and let go of anything that would hinder our following.  Taking up our cross is about self denial, putting to death our own plans and purposes and committing to the plans and purposes of Jesus.

Surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus is an act of the will, not an act of emotional excitement.  There’s nothing wrong with emotion but emotions fade and if our decision to follow Christ is based on nothing more than an excited response to a sermon or song, then when the emotions fade, so may our decision.

Many are called but few are chosen: the chosen are those willing to pay the cost.

Many want to play on a team: few pay the price of discipline and practice.

Many want to play an instrument: few are willing to pay the price of practice.

The way of the cross is not an easy way:

it is a narrow way of discipline, of consistently choosing Christ’s purpose over our own. 

We will have trials and persecutions.

However, there are two greatly liberating truths in these words, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head”:

 

1. These verses speak of the freedom of letting go, of leaving  behind anything that would hinder the ultimate fulfillment that we find in following Christ.

2. As Jesus was dependent on His heavenly Father for all things, even for the words He spoke, so are we to be dependent on Jesus, abandoned to His care.  Jesus compared our relationship to Him as a branch to a vine (John 15:1-7).  The branch is connected to the vine, draws all of its life from the vine and there is great liberty in this.  The branch is free to bear fruit, to reach its fulfillment without any concern over the issues of survival.  The branch prospers because the vine prospers.  

Every picture of the church in the New Testament is the picture of an organic unity, not an organization but an organism, a living thing.  Jesus is the vine, we are the branches.  Jesus is the Head, we are the Body of Christ.  When we commit our lives to Christ, we were joined to His life.  His life flows through our lives.  It is a source of great comfort and confidence that we can abandon everything to the Lordship of Jesus.

8:21,22 Another man, a disciple of Jesus, says he would like to follow but makes a request of Jesus, “Permit me first to go and bury my father.” Jesus responded, “Follow me and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” 

The Lord does not intend disrespect.  He means that we should not be bound to the past in ways that restrict our commission to preach the Gospel.  In Luke’s account of this we read,

“Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God”  (Luke 9:60).

A missionary was talking to a young man once about a journey.  The young man  replied, “I must first bury my father.”  The missionary expressed sympathy whereupon the young man explained that his father was still alive.  What he meant was that he needed to fulfill obligations to his parents.  

That may be what this man meant: “I will follow you someday but first I must fulfill my obligations.”  There is honor in that, fulfilling responsibilities to his family.  But Jesus may have looked into his heart and seen that if the man delayed, even for honorable reasons and obligations, he would never follow.  This may have been a divine appointment for that man, a cross roads moment that would never come again.

Also, in that culture, a man would gain inheritance following the death of his father.  This man may be saying, “Lord, I want to follow you but first let me receive my inheritance.”  The problem is that he does not know when his father will die. He wants to answer the call of discipleship after all of his business affairs are in order, after his bank account is set up.  That may be tomorrow or it may be ten years from now.  

He says he will follow someday.  But “someday disciples” usually never leave home. 

There are moments in life when Jesus calls us to follow and we must respond in the moment and must not allow anything to hold us back.  Yes, we always need to pray and count the cost.  But we need to be aware of the tragedy of the unseized moment.  There are lives made poor by robbery, by foolish choices and sinful indulgence.  But there is also the tragedy of the life made poor by the unseized moment, destiny unrealized, the road not taken.

When Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John, to be His disciples, we read that they left their boats and nets immediately and followed (Matthew 4:18-22).  When He called Matthew to leave his tax collector’s booth and follow, Matthew got up and responded at that moment (Matthew 9:9).  Jesus calls us to count the cost but follow, follow now.

Lord of the Storm

Jesus had been teaching and healing all day, continuing into the night. He must have been exhausted but the crowds continued to come, bringing “many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were ill” (Matt. 8:16). As the multitude increased, Jesus directed the disciples to get into a boat and cross over to the other side of the sea (8:18). It was the only way He could rest.

8:23 This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  The Lord got into a boat and His disciples followed Him.  The purpose of the church is not to call God to come over where we are, follow us and bless what we are doing.  We are called to discern what God is doing, where God is moving and what God is blessing.  Then we commit ourselves, our time and talent and resources, to the purpose of God, to the advancing of His kingdom, the proclaiming of His Gospel and the glorifying of His name.

8:24 As they sailed, “a great storm” arose. It is not uncommon for storms to break suddenly upon the Sea of Galilee — it is nearly 700 feet below sea level.  There are mountains to the north and east of the lake which rise thousands of feet above sea level.  Cold winds from the mountains sweep down on the warm air of the lake and create fierce squalls.

Matthew, who was present, recalls that, “the boat was being covered with the waves” (8:24). Mark described it as a “fierce gale of wind,” and records that, “the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up” (4:37). 

The Greek word which we translate storm is seismos which can also be translated earthquake. In Matthew 28:2, the same word is used to describe an earthquake outside the tomb of Jesus as an angel descended to roll away the stone. Jesus used the word seismos to describe events during the last days (Matt. 24:7).

Seismos is also used in Revelation 16:18 to describe the greatest earthquake in history, occurring during the tribulation, which will rock the city of Jerusalem. A related word, seio, is used in Matthew 27:51 to describe the moments after Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross and the veil of the temple was split as “the earth shook and the rocks were split.”

So this was more than just a storm. The waves may have been generated, not just by wind, but by some seismic activity. The boat was covered (literally hidden) by the waves.  The picture is of a boat that is being violently tossed by wind and wave. 

8:25 Several of the disciples were experienced fishermen who had spent a lifetime on that body of water and yet they believed they were in imminent danger of death. Meanwhile, Jesus was asleep in the stern, oblivious to the danger, so great was His exhaustion and His peace.

Above the shrieking of the wind and the crashing waves, the disciples awakened the Lord, shouting, “Save us Lord, we are perishing,” (Matt. 8:25). “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). “Master, Master, we are perishing,” (Luke 8:24). They were all yelling at the same time, using every title for Christ that they knew, “Lord, Teacher / Rabbi, Master.” When veteran sailors call on a carpenter to deliver them from a stormy sea, you know they are out of answers.

8:26 Awakened, Jesus stood up and according to Matthew, He first questioned the disciples, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26). Jesus’ first priority in every storm, every crisis, is to disciple us. We are the first priority. He will deal with the storm later.

Actually, Jesus answered His own question. They were afraid because they were men of little faith. They had seen marvelous examples of the Lord’s awesome power. Could they not apply what they had seen to their own circumstances?

He would ask this of each of us. What you have experienced with me and what you have learned of me — can you apply this to the storm you are dealing with today?

I don’t believe Jesus questioned the disciples for their fear.  It is only human to be afraid but they thought they would perish with Jesus close by.  What He questioned was their lack of faith. They had made a commitment to follow, they got into the boat with Him but did not understand or trust His care for them.

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me

and I give eternal life to them and they will never perish; 

and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27,28).

This does not mean that the follower of Jesus will not suffer hardship or persecution.  The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked, arrested, beaten, stoned, ridiculed, imprisoned.  Paul and all the apostles, except for John, died at the hands of persecutors.  Yet in all things, Jesus provided, defended and delivered.  His final act of deliverance is to bring us into His presence forevermore.

Hardship, adversity, persecution, do not deny the presence and care of Jesus.  They prove His strong presence and merciful care, for it is in those times and places that we experience most truly the pastoral ministry of our Good Shepherd.

I heard a pastor from a foreign country testify that he was often arrested for preaching the gospel and spent years separated from his family.  Many mornings he would awaken on the floor of his cell, having been beaten the night before by guards.  But as he awakened, he would hear the voice of Jesus saying, “I’m here.  If you want to talk or if you don’t want to talk, I’m here.”

The disciples committed to follow Jesus, they got into the boat with Him and found themselves in a life-threatening storm.  But when Jesus is present, storms will be mastered.  

A little girl enjoyed spending time with her father on their pontoon boat.  The first time they went out on the lake together, her father said, “If you ever fall overboard, stay calm.  I’ll come get you.”   One day his attention was focused on the far shore line when he heard the engine sputter and die.  He turned to the back of the boat and his daughter was gone.  He desperately rushed to one railing, then the other, eyes frantically searching the water, but she was nowhere to be seen.  He dashed to the stern and there she was, beneath the water, her sweater tangled in the motionless propeller.

He paused for a moment and their eyes met.  She stared at him with such perfect peace, completely still.  Fearing the worst, he grabbed a knife, dove into the water, cut her loose, wrapped her precious body in his arms and pulled her back into the boat.

He held her close as if willing his life into hers and he gratefully realized she was still breathing.  Minutes later, when they had both regained their breath, he whispered in amazement, “Honey, how could you stay so calm?”  He knew that’s what saved her.

She looked at him as if she were amazed at the question.  “But Daddy, you told me if I ever fell off the boat, to wait for you and you would come get me.”

Childlike trust and faith, that’s what our Lord requires of us.  Peter may have been thinking of this stormy night when, many years later, he wrote, “Casting all your care on Him, because He cares for you,” (I Peter 5:7).

The Apostle Paul,  who may have endured more adversity than any follower of Jesus in history, wrote these words,

“Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 4:6,7).

8:26 Jesus arose and rebuked (admonished) the wind and the sea “and it became perfectly calm.” Mark records the very words of Jesus, “Hush, be still” (4:39). At the command of Jesus, millions of gallons of water and colossal units of wind power melted into perfect calm. This happened instantly.

Because of the enormous amount of energy generated by a storm, its turbulence diminishes gradually. Slowly, over a period of hours, the wind dies down and the water becomes smooth. But Jesus exerted immediate Lordship over the very energy that was moving the wind and water. He didn’t just still the wind and waves. He stilled the forces that produced the wind and waves causing an immediate, perfect calm.

Creation responded to the voice of its Creator. Jesus not only created the molecular structure of air and water but also created the laws of physics which move and govern air and water. He who created with a mere word can surely govern His creation.

In fact, Jesus continually sustains that which He created: 

He “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebr. 1:3b). 

“In Him all things hold together (endure, consist)” (Col. 1:17).

Air and water responded to the command of their Creator.

8:27 The disciples were amazed that creation responds to Jesus.  It still does.

Interestingly, Mark says that when the storm ceased, the disciples “became very much afraid” (4:41). They were afraid of the storm but now they are very much afraid. What is more frightening than a storm outside the boat? The dawning realization that the Man in the boat is more than a mere man.

Creation bows before Him! 

They asked one another, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water and they obey Him?” (Luke 8:25).

Later, in another storm, they would answer this question (see Matt. 14:22-33)

Authority Over Demons

8:28   Two men who were demon-possessed met Jesus.  What do we know about these men?

1. They live among the tombs.

a. This means they lived a solitary life, cut off from family and friends, from work and worship, from the common activities and rituals that bring pleasure and meaning to life.  They have no one and nothing, except each other and both are equally enslaved.  

b. They live in a place of death.  The past is dead, they can’t go back. They’re cut off from all the relationships and memories that connect us to the present.  The future is dead, they have no hope of any new possibilities today or tomorrow.

Notice Satan’s destruction. He destroys time -- past, present and future. He destroys the bonds of meaningful connection to family and friends, hopes and dreams, accomplishments, trade and tools, intellect and talents.

2. They were driven into desert places. Wilderness is a solitary place with no provision, no community of love or care, no purpose, no meaning, no reason to live the day.

3. They were so violent, no one could pass by.

a. Violence directed toward others: they are unstable, unpredictable, dangerous. 

b. Violence directed at their own lives — self-destructive.  In a similar story, in Mark 5:1-20, we read in verse five that the possessed man was constantly screaming and gashing himself with stones.  Crying out and hurting himself — a portrait of the self-destructive son or daughter of Adam, overpowered by the kingdom of darkness.

However one defines the phrase “demon-possessed,” we can certainly say that the possibilities of a fulfilling, blessed life have been entirely possessed by the powers of darkness.  Have you ever been there?  Was it an addiction or an event that was so grievous, so traumatic that you could no longer function?  

There would be no hope except for this: Jesus arrives.

8:29 The men cried out to Jesus but really, it is the demons crying out:

1. The demons recognized Jesus, understood who He was while educated, religious people were refusing to recognize Him. They call Him, “Son of God.” They know who He is but it’s one thing to know facts about Jesus. It is something else to love Him, worship Him and surrender to His Lordship. James, in his epistle, rebukes those who believe there is a God but refuse to submit their lives to Him. James said, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe and shudder” (James 2:19). A person who holds orthodox doctrine but refuses to worship or love God is no better off than a demon.

2. The demons know that the Son of God is Almighty, that He has the power and authority to command them. In Luke’s account of this incident, the demons begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss (8:26-37). That is the place of imprisonment for demons awaiting the final day of judgment. They know that their future will be everlasting torment in hell. They understand God’s purpose and power to carry out His purpose.

3. Jesus’ holy presence is a source of torment to these utterly evil beings. “Have you come to torment us before the time” refers to the future day of judgment. They understand that they will spend eternity in hell and the presence of Jesus reminds them of that coming day.

Notice that the doctrine of the demons is excellent. They know who Jesus is, the Son of God. They know that Jesus has the right and the authority to judge them, destroy or incarcerate them. They know that the day of judgment is certain. But as we have said, knowing the truth while refusing to obey or live it results in condemnation. In the parable of the two builders, Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them (do them) will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matt. 7:26).

8:30-32 The demons begged Jesus to cast them into a nearby herd of swine. Why do they want to stay nearby? They don't want to leave the region because it is Gentile, which means that the people live in a context of multiplied false religions, false gods and dead idols devised by demons. All false religions are designed by demons to seduce, entrap and enslave people. The demons don’t want to leave such vulnerable people. It’s a good place to operate.

Why doesn’t the Lord destroy this host of demons? For that matter, why does God not destroy all the demonic legions operating in the world today? God allows evil to express itself so that He can manifest His mercy to sinners, His power and compassion to the captive and His wrath on demons and human beings who persist in evil.

Jesus spoke one word of command, “Go!” and the demons instantly obeyed. When they entered the swine, the herd panicked, ran into the sea and drowned.  (Note: this was a Gentile community, on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. This explains the herd of swine. Obviously, a Jewish village would not be raising pigs.)

Why did Jesus send them into the pigs? This gave visible proof that they had left the man and demonstrates the power and Lordship of Jesus. It also puts on display the destructive power of demons. The pigs become as self destructive as the man once was. 

Someone objected that the Lord was cruel in allowing the pigs to drown. But if they had lived longer, they would have been bacon in someone’s frying pan. There was no question that they would die. The question was whether they would die to provide pork or to bring glory to God.

Matthew doesn’t comment on the two men but they are obviously set free. Luke, recounting the story from the perspective of one of the men, reports that the people came out “and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35).

 8:33,34 The herdsmen rushed back to town “and reported everything.”  In response, “the whole city” came out to meet Jesus.

You would think the people would have rejoiced to see the men set free from demonic torment, their lives changed and blessed.  You would think that the revealing of God’s mercy would inspire gratitude.  Instead, they ask Jesus to leave.  It’s as if they’re saying, “We don't want that kind of mercy or power operating in our neighborhood.”  

Think of it: two men whose lives have been destroyed by demons, who terrorized the entire community, are now clothed and in their right mind.  And the people are afraid.  How could the love of God, displayed in changed lives, make anyone uncomfortable?   

1. Casting out demons is disruptive to a demonically infested culture.  When an entire society is influenced by darkness, then the breaking of the power of darkness is more frightening than the darkness itself.   The power of God revealing the compassion of God is unsettling to people who know little of divine power or love but who know a great deal about broken lives.   

They had accommodated themselves to the kingdom of darkness, had made their peace with darkness but light?  Light was unsettling.  Familiar slavery was, to those people, preferable to unfamiliar liberty.

2. Casting out demons is bad for business — they lost a lot of pork. Evidently, pigs were more important than people. They lost a herd of pigs but gained two souls. In their value system, this is not profitable. What does that tell us about their values?  

Pork futures were more important than people futures. But let’s not pass over our own history as a nation.  For many years, cotton was more important than the lives of Africans enslaved.  Coal and textile profits were more important than the withered lungs of coal miners and textile workers.  And so the story goes.

In Revelation, as the judgment of God is falling on a world that has rejected Him, the merchants mourn, “Because no one buys their cargoes any more — cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen ... and slaves and human lives” (Rev. 18:11-13).

How much of our economy is rooted in the kingdom of darkness?  What do we value most, our profit margins or the souls of people?

3. Such a visible work of power calls the people to decide regarding Christ’s Lordship.  What will we do with this Jesus?  They did not want to make that decision.  They wanted to get on with business as usual.  Better to tolerate broken people than risk the great unknown of healing, deliverance and wholeness.

We don’t know what happened to the two men.  But we do know this: now they are free to live the life God purposed them to live.   They are free to move out of the tombs, out of the place of death and loneliness where they were disconnected from the past and the future.  The God of new tomorrows, the God who makes all things new, has redeemed them.  They are free to walk in peace, leaving behind the violence of the past. 

The church has been given authority by Jesus to touch people at the point of their brokenness:

“And He called the twelve together and gave them authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.  And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing,” (Luke 9:1,2  see also  Luke 10:17-19;  Mark 16:15-18).

The kingdom of God is breaking into history, one broken life at a time.  Jesus never intended that the church preach this message with mere words.   The word of the kingdom is accompanied by the mercy and power of the kingdom.  The presence of the kingdom is revealed in transformed lives.  Transformed lives result in transformed cities, new ways of valuing the people around us.  New values transform everything, from economics to the arts.

By the way, there’s an interesting story in  Acts 19:13-16.  Some men were trying to take authority over the power of darkness by using the name of Jesus.  But they did not really know Jesus and the Lord was not present in their lives or in their ministry.  The demons overpowered these religious counterfeits.  Demons know who has authority and who does not.

I was on a missions trip once in a communist nation, in the years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Our bus driver worked for the secret police — it was his job to keep an eye on us.  We all knew that and we welcomed him — we wanted him to experience the reality of Jesus.  We preached and sang, we prayed for those who responded and he watched it all.  He saw our translator, a member of the communist party, commit her life to Jesus.  He saw people hungering and thirsting to know the Lord.

Our driver had encountered the church before, but not always the presence of Christ in the church.  Thinking back over some of those experiences, he commented, “Your Jesus is different from their Jesus.”  We assured him that there is only one Jesus but His presence, and the presence of His kingdom, is obvious to anyone, even a bus driver who had never really encountered the Good News before.

Matthew 9

The Authority of Jesus

9:1,2 “And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed.  Seeing their faith...”

Often, but not always, Jesus met people at the level of their faith, releasing ministry into their lives at the point of their ability to believe Him for that ministry.  In this case, it is group faith — Jesus sees their faith —  and releases healing into the man.  

The friends of the paralyzed man are like a church, a community of faith.  They bring their hurting friend to Jesus when he could not bring himself and they joined their faith to his.  In fact, we don’t know what, if any faith, the man had.  Maybe over the years his faith has grown weak through disappointment.  No matter; he’s part of a community.  The faith of his friends will cover what he may lack.  Their mercy and kindness, expressed through the strength of their hands, will carry Him to Jesus. 

Notice, though, that Jesus does not say, “Rise and be healed.”  He says, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus always cuts down to the heart of the matter, diagnoses the problem with perfect discernment and prescribes the exact remedy.  Possibly this man had some spiritual / emotional issues which were impacting his health. 

This is not to say that any time we suffer from sickness or affliction, the problem is related to sin and guilt.  There are numerous factors responsible for disease but this man may have needed healing on a spiritual / emotional level before it could manifest on a physical level.  

I read a book by the dean of a medical school who said that a high percentage of the patients he had seen over the years were dealing with diseases which began as emotional or spiritual problems:  guilt, fear, shame, bitterness, anxiety.  These issues manifested in physical symptoms which he treated with varying degrees of success.  But treating the symptom is not the same thing as treating the root cause.

Jesus always deals with the deepest issues in anyone’s life.  He says that this paralyzed man needs forgiveness.  We know that relationships can be paralyzed by guilt.  Our ability to experience the blessings of peace, love, joy and fulfillment can be paralyzed by guilt.  Is it so hard to believe that the body can break down due to long term, overwhelming guilt?

Jesus forgave the man, released the grace of God into his life.  

However, it may not be that the man’s paralysis was rooted in any spiritual / emotional disorder. It is quite likely that Jesus was simply responding to the most pressing need in every human being. More than healing, the man needed to be forgiven of the sin that had separated him from a holy God. All healing is temporary but separation from God is forever unless the sinner is reconciled to the Lord.

Jesus will deal with the physical problem later. First, He deals with the spiritual need.

Knowing the man’s greatest need and sensing his heart’s desire, Jesus forgave his sin. According to the angel Gabriel, this is why Jesus was born, “To save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus said that He came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

The Lord was expressing His primary reason for ministry when He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”

What a fire storm was ignited in that room when He spoke those words!

9:3 The religious folks accused Jesus of blasphemy. In Luke’s account we read: 

“The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, ‘Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Luke 5:21). 

The scribes and Pharisees did not doubt that God could forgive the man’s sin but they understood clearly that Jesus was claiming to be God. Since they did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God, doing the work of God on earth, they considered this claim to be blasphemy.

Notice their fatal mistake. They said, “Who is this?” They saw only a man, not Messiah and certainly not the Son of God. In claiming to have authority to forgive sin, Jesus was either deceived, insane or truly God.

9:4 Jesus, by His divine omniscience, was aware of their thoughts and says that their lack of faith in Him is evil.

9:5 Jesus asks, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk?’”

9:6 Jesus states the case clearly:  “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He says to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.”  

If Jesus is a deceiver, He will now be exposed. If He really does have authority to forgive sins, that too will be evident. How so?

Because there can be no outward evidence, no proof, that a man’s sins are forgiven. But if this paralyzed man gets up, picks up his bed and walks, who could have accomplished that except God? This would prove that Jesus really is God and if He is God, then He also has authority to forgive sin.

What happened?

9:7 “And he got up and went home.”

Luke is even more dramatic: “Immediately he got up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home glorifying God” (Luke 5:25).

The man’s response is a visible demonstration of the authority of Jesus.  He stands up and walks home, praising God. He recognizes that it is God Himself who has touched him and surely he did glorify God for it was not merely his body that was renewed. He was forgiven of sin and thereby his spirit was raised from death to everlasting life, reconciled to God. 

Not only did that man glorify God:

9:8 The people “were awestruck and glorified God.” 

There was no question — God was in their midst performing wonders which only God can do.

In this miracle, Jesus gives evidence that He is truly God in human form and the kingdom of God is breaking into history. God’s kingdom is where God rules. It is a rule of grace, forgiving the guilty, setting the captive free, restoring the broken. Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom and showed what it looks like in mighty works of compassion and mercy. 

Matthew includes this story to demonstrate the authority and mercy of Jesus.  But he is also reminding us of the responsibility of the church that bears Christ’s name and commission.  We are the community of faith and mercy.  With faithful witness and prayer, with deeds of loving kindness, we carry broken lives and broken cities to Jesus.

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

9:9 As Jesus was walking down the road, He saw a tax collector named Matthew.  This was probably not the first time Jesus had seen him — this must have been a main road for a tax collector to set up his table.  More than likely, this was not the first time Matthew had seen Jesus.  But this occasion was different from any other.  Jesus stopped, looked at Matthew and called to him, "Follow me."   Matthew arose, left everything and followed.

A tax collector in Israel, in Jesus' day, was hated for two reasons.

1. If he was Jewish, then he was a traitor, because Israel was an occupied country.  The Romans had conquered Israel and set up an occupation government, imposing their own laws and worst of all, a system of taxation.  Anyone who cooperated with the conquerors was a collaborator with the enemy and was hated, as traitors are always hated.  

2. Tax collectors were also hated because the system lent itself to abuse.  The Romans would assess a region or city an annual tax, then sell the right to collect that tax to the highest bidder.  The tax collector could charge whatever he wanted, above and beyond what the Romans demanded.  At the end of the year, he would turn in the assessment and keep the rest.

Robbers, murderers and tax collectors were classed together.  One ancient Roman writer tells of a monument to an honest tax collector.  It was such a rare event, they built a monument.  Tax collectors were banned from the local synagogue, which meant they were excluded from the religious and cultural life of the community.  Matthew was an outcast among his own people.

Jesus didn't wait for Matthew to come to Him.  The Lord went to him and spoke two words: "Follow me."  Matthew left everything and followed.

Then Matthew did what people always do when they have truly encountered Jesus.  He shared Jesus with His friends — he gave a banquet for Jesus in his house.   Who did he invite?   

9:10 Matthew invited "tax collectors and sinners."  Notice, as always, the accessibility of Jesus.  Just as the hurting, the broken, the demon-possessed, the leper and the lame crowded around Jesus, so did the sinner and the outcast.  They were drawn to Jesus for He was the mercy of God in human form.  The only people who were repulsed by Christ were the power brokers and the religious elite.

9:11 As they ate, the Pharisees gathered outside the house, peeping in.  They began to harass the disciples of Jesus, asking, "Why is your Teacher eating with sinners?"  The Pharisees, hyper-religious folk that they were, could not understand what Jesus was doing — associating with people who were separated from God and lost.  They believed that keeping company with common sinners would make them unclean, not realizing that they already were unclean, separated from God by their sin and in need of a Savior.

9:12 Jesus replies, "It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.”  He's not saying that there are some people who need a Savior and some who don’t.  Jesus is saying that this is why He came — to seek and to save the lost, to call to all who are willing to hear.  

Jesus told a story once of a shepherd who had a hundred sheep and though ninety-nine were safe, he went and searched for the one that was lost (Matt. 18:12-14).  That story reveals the heart of God and the motive for the ministry of Jesus.

9:13 "But go and learn what this means, 'I desire compassion and not sacrifice.’”

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is a quote from the Old Testament prophet Hosea (6:6). God instituted the religious / sacrificial rituals practiced in the Jerusalem temple so that His covenant people could live in right relationship with Him.  The essence of a right relationship with God is love, as the Lord revealed through Moses: 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).

When a lawyer asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment, Jesus quoted that verse (in Matthew 22:37-39), though He substituted “mind” for “might.”  Then Jesus added another verse from Leviticus: 

“The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Lev. 19:18).

More than anything else, God wants us to know and love Him intimately, as He knows and loves us.  Sincere love for God is reflected in love for people.  Without such love, religious ritual is meaningless, empty formality. 

Isaiah expressed the heart of God with these words later quoted by Jesus: “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far away from me” (Matt. 15:8). God is not interested in outward forms of religion divorced from the inner reality of devotion to Himself, expressed in kindness to others.

In quoting Hosea, Jesus is saying, in effect, "More than offerings, rituals, sacrifices on the altar, I desire that you learn compassion.  You've learned religious law and  ritual.  Now learn about love, love for God and love for people."

Love is a learned response.  The best way to learn love is to experience love.  When we experience God’s love, we have encountered perfect, everlasting, unconditional love.  How could Jesus speak two words and Matthew,  a traitor, an outcast, stand up, let go of his life and wealth and follow?  Because he had met the beautiful, overwhelming, transforming love of God in Christ Jesus.  It was that compassion, that mercy, that irresistible, hard-heart-breaking grace which caused Matthew to get up from the tax table, leave everything and follow.  

9:14 Why do your disciples not fast, when others do?

The scribes and Pharisees fasted, partly out of piety and partly out of religious slavery, trying to gain approval with God by doing good works.  They hoped also to demonstrate their spiritual superiority to common folk who were able to fast so often.

The disciples of John fasted, partly out of devotion to God and partly because John had been arrested, they were grieving their leader’s imprisonment.  However, at this time the disciples of Jesus did not fast.  This was not because Jesus did not believe in fasting.  

1. During His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus fasted.  At that crucial time as He began His ministry, He set food aside so He could focus on His relationship with God and obtain a clear sense of the calling and direction of ministry.  

The principle here is that during times of crisis or new beginnings, when we need to obtain direction from God clearly, fasting is a way of removing the clutter from our lives and a way of humbling ourselves before God for the purpose of obtaining spiritual clarity.  Fasting is not necessarily about food.  It‘s about laying aside distractions so we can hear God more truly and serve Him more fully. (Refer to the notes on Matthew 6:16-18 for a more complete discussion of fasting).

2. When He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration and was confronted by the father whose son was so oppressed by a demon, Jesus said, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21).  The principle here is that in certain instances of spiritual warfare, fasting seems to bring about a greater release of spiritual power or anointing as we pray.

3. When Jesus was speaking with the woman at the well and His disciples came with food, He said, “I have bread that you know not of” (John 4:32).  The principle here is that there are times, for the sake of kingdom work, when we abstain from food or other necessities or pleasures,  simply so we can accomplish the work.

So it’s not that Jesus does not believe in fasting.

9:15 Jesus compares his disciples to friends of the bridegroom.  When a couple married in that culture, their friends came not for a two or three hour ceremony but for a week of feasting, dancing and celebration.  In a culture where most people were poor and lived quite simply, this might have been a once in a lifetime festival of abundance and joy.  They certainly would not eat that well for the rest of the year, maybe not ever again.  They would never again be so carefree, so untroubled by the storms of life.

Jesus is saying that this is how it is for those who are close to me in this day —  a time of great joy.  But there is coming a time, Jesus says, when the Bridegroom will be taken away and then His followers will fast.  And how surely they did fast in sadness, grief, fear and discouragement when Jesus was arrested and crucified.

Their sadness turned to joy when the risen Christ met them there in the Upper Room and at the Sea of Galilee.  In the Upper Room He broke the fast by asking for something to eat, surely inviting them to join with Him.  At the sea shore, He invited them to bread and fish.

There are times today when Jesus calls His followers to fast, for the same reasons that He fasted: in order to hear from our Heavenly Father more clearly; to join Him in grieving the destruction that lays waste to so many lives; to join Him in intercession for the overthrow of the kingdom of darkness and the release of His kingdom breaking into the lives of the lost. 

More often he calls us to celebrate the presence of the Bridegroom, to rejoice in Him and feast at the table of His delights.  “In thy presence is fulness of joy,” the Psalmist exclaims in Psalm 16:11.  Walking with Jesus should be a walk of great joy.

New Life, New Wine

9:16 Jesus did not come to patch up Judaism but to bring a new garment.  He was not a reformer of the Old Covenant.  He was the long-awaited Messiah bringing the promised New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31-34).  

He was not a reformer of the priesthood or the sacrificial system.  He was and is the great High Priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1), a better High Priest (Hebr. 7:23-28), bringing a better covenant (Hebr. 8:1-6), offering a better sacrifice in a greater temple (Hebr. 9:11-14, 23-28,  10:11-14).  Jesus is the High Priest who offered Himself as the holy Lamb of God, the one true redeeming sacrifice for all people for all time.

In the early church, there were those who tried to fit Jesus onto the old, worn out cloth of Judaism.  They insisted that converts to Christ follow the Mosaic law regarding circumcision, dietary restrictions and on and on, submitting to the Law.  But the Old Testament law cannot save us, cannot make us righteous before God; it serves only to reveal our sin and our need for a Savior.  It was a yoke which none could bear. Jesus did not come to repair that yoke but to break it off of our lives. We are saved, not by keeping the Mosaic law, but by placing our faith in a holy, unblemished Lamb who bore our sin.

There are times when it is appropriate to sew new cloth on an old garment, when the old church is renewed in beauty, holiness and passion.  But across the centuries, there have also been many occasions when the church has refused renewal and God has created something altogether new and beautiful.

This parable of new cloth / old cloth also has a personal application.  There are those who try to put a patch of Christian teaching or religious ritual and respectability onto their old sin nature but their hearts are unchanged.  The transforming grace and power of God has not penetrated their inner being.  They have simply placed religious cloth over their former life of sin but in essence, nothing is different.  

The problem is that our lives have been entirely corrupted by sin and evil.  This evil has separated us from God, the Source of all life, and has released the power of death within us.  I don’t need a patch of cloth over my death.  I need to be regenerated from the inside out.  

Jesus said, “Unless one is born again (or from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He came to give us a new life recreated in His image.  When we confess our sinfulness to Him, confessing our inability to save ourselves and cast ourselves upon His mercy, inviting His Lordship into and over our lives, He brings us new life, everlasting life.

The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold the new” (2 Cor. 5:17).  Paul said that as we look to the Lord,  we “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory”  (2 Cor. 3:18).  The word transformed is metamorphoo from which we derive the English word, metamorphosis, which describes the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.  

A butterfly is not a reformed caterpillar or a highly motivated crawling bug.  A butterfly is a new creation.  A Christian is not a reformed sinner or a patched up failure or a junkie with wings.  We are new creatures in Christ, being transformed in His image.

9:17 In the time of Jesus, wine was poured into goat skins, not bottles.  As the wine fermented, it gave off gasses which caused the skins to expand.  If the skin was old and hard, it would lack the flexibility to expand with the wine and might burst, spilling out the precious contents.  New wine required a new, flexible skin or an old skin that had been massaged with olive oil and made pliant again.

The Judaism of Jesus’ day was an old wineskin and could not contain the Gospel of the kingdom of God.  The dynamic power and presence of God was pouring into history through the ministry of Jesus: forgiving grace outpoured into the lives of guilty sinners, delivering power breaking demonic bondages and setting captives free, healing mercy lavished upon the sick and the broken, truth washing away blinding lies and deceptions.

Many gave thanks to God for this outpouring of grace, power, mercy and truth.  But many of the religious leaders were outraged at the manifesting of the kingdom of God in their midst.  In other words, the Judaism in Jesus’ day was an old wineskin that could not contain this Good News of the inbreaking kingdom. 

After Jesus rose from the dead and the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church, it was not long before arguments arose in the church.  Religious traditionalists argued that the church should be subject to the Mosaic law and the traditions of the Old Covenant.  They were opposed by those who rightly understood that the old wineskin of Jewish form and ritual could not contain this Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered church.  The  kingdom of God was breaking into history and breaking out of every religious restraint.  What was required was this new wineskin, the Spirit-birthed church of Jesus.

In the history of the church, there have been times when it was entirely appropriate to rub olive oil into the old wineskins of sacred forms, ancient, holy rites and revered ministries.  But there have also been times and seasons of new beginnings, new wineskins. 

The Protestant Reformation was a Holy Spirit-inspired response to the spiritual deadness and apostasy of the existing church.  No doubt God’s first choice was to revive and reform that church.  But when reform was refused and persecuted, a new church was born.

One of the leaders of the Evangelical Revival in eighteenth century England was John Wesley.  He was an Anglican priest and never left the Church of England, instead, laboring and praying for the renewal of that church.  But when renewal was refused, new churches were born.  

There are times when it is entirely appropriate to rub the old wine skin of the church with the oil of the Holy Spirit. We do this as we make fresh surrenders of our lives and ministries to the Lord of the church, inviting the Holy One to recreate His church as He recreates in us a pure heart. The Spirit of the Lord gladly infuses the old wineskin with the oil of His presence and we see the church renewed in beauty, holiness and passion. But across the centuries, there have also been many seasons when the church has refused renewal and God has created something altogether new and beautiful.

This is true of people, individually.  When God is doing something new in any generation, there are many people who reject the new direction, the new form, the new idea.  They are hard, rigid, inflexible.  They can’t contain the new wine. 

  

The only people who can contain the new work of God are those with a fresh, flexible heart and spirit.  They are pliant in God’s hands (able to be stretched).  They are malleable in God’s hands (able to be molded).  If we have become hard, we need to ask the Lord to massage the oil of His Spirit into our lives and make us soft again.

This is also true of the forms and instruments which we use to carry and proclaim the Gospel.   The Gospel will never wear out but methods and programs wear out.  It is not disrespectful or irreverent to set aside a wineskin that is no longer useful.  

Someone said, “The best way to kill a church is to do a better job of what worked ten years ago.”  That does not mean that everything old is useless or that everything new is good.  But whether old or new, we need to constantly discern and ask, “Lord, is this form, this instrument, a new, fresh wineskin in your hands?” More importantly, we need to ask, “Is my life, my heart, a new, fresh wineskin in your hands?”

The Silence and the Word of Jesus

9:18 A synagogue official came to Jesus and  bowed down before Him.  The word bowed is proskuneo which is often translated worshipped. He is a ruler of the synagogue and in Mark’s gospel we are told that his name is Jairus.  What do we know about him?

1. He must be a devout man.  It’s unlikely he would have been promoted to a position of authority in his synagogue unless he was devoted to the Godly traditions of the Jewish people.

2. He’s a leader.  Being a ruling officer in his synagogue, we know that he is a man of some standing in his own community, a spiritual leader.

3. He’s humble. He’s in leadership but he knelt or bowed before Jesus.  His attitude of worship reveals his humility.

4. He’s a man of courage and conviction. The religious authorities were becoming increasingly hostile to Jesus and yet here is one of their number, kneeling in humble confession of his need.  He sees Jesus from a perspective that other religious leaders do not share.  So we know he is a man who is capable of thinking for himself, a man of courage and conviction, capable of new insights, able to stand against prevailing opinion.

  

5. He’s a man of extraordinary faith, not merely believing that Jesus is the Messiah, he believes that the touch of Jesus will raise his daughter from the dead.  In Matthew’s account he says, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her and she will live” (9:18). 

Mark reports him saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay your hands on her so that she will get well and live” (5:23).

How did he arrive at this faith?  The people of Capernaum were certainly familiar with the miraculous ministry of Jesus. The Lord had cast a demon out of a man in their own synagogue (Luke 4:33-35) and it is likely that Jairus had personally witnessed that event.

However, it is one thing to know that Jesus has power to do mighty works. It is something else to believe that He can overpower death. This represents a radical departure from the traditional faith of his community.  There might not have been anyone else in his synagogue, his community or his family with that level of belief.  

This is resurrection faith, the same kind of faith which Abraham possessed, faith that God can give life to the dead and call into being things which are not (Romans 4:17).  We don’t know how this came about, but faith is always God’s gift to those whose hearts are open.

9:19 Notice the immediate and humble response of Jesus.  He was so instantly motivated by love.  He is the Son of God, He is the King of kings and Lord of lords but He “got up and began to follow” Jairus.

9:20 On His way to minister, Jesus is interrupted by ministry.  A woman with a hemorrhage, an issue of blood (some kind of chronic internal bleeding), approached Jesus from behind.  She approached in this manner because she was considered ceremonially unclean, due to the flow of blood, and would have been breaking the law in touching Jesus.  (In touching a rabbi, a Pharisee or any religious leader, she would have rendered him ceremonially unclean).

Notice how long she had suffered: twelve long years.  Mark adds that she “had endured much at the hands of many physicians and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse” (Mark 5:26).  Luke, a physician, does not specifically mention the futility of the medical practice but adds that she “could not be healed by anyone.”  In other words, her condition was incurable by the standards and practices of that day.

Whereas the ruler of the synagogue was a leader in his community, the woman was an outcast.  Her affliction would have excluded her from synagogue and temple activities, from many social and community occasions and she might have been shunned by her own family.

9:21 But notice her faith.  She does not believe that Jesus needs to touch her or even pray over her.  She has faith that if she can only touch Him, she will be healed.

She has faith to believe against the testimony of twelve years of affliction:

“You don’t think this is ever going to change, do you?”

She has faith to believe against the testimony of social custom and law:

“You are unclean, you can’t touch this rabbi”.

Where did she get that faith?  Again, all we can say is that faith is God’s gift to willing hearts.

How like Abraham, of whom we read,

“Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about  a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform”  (Rom. 4:19-21).

Abraham could hear the testimony of his own body, 

and the testimony of Sarah’s womb 

but he believed the testimony of God’s promise.

That’s how this woman is:

she hears the contrary testimony of her body and of society and religious custom 

but somehow God’s promise to her speaks with greater authority.

Notice that her faith is not just theoretical belief but she acts on her faith: she went looking for Jesus and touched Him.  She got up from where she had been, left her place of prayer and went searching for Jesus.  Of course, she did not have to search far and wide.  When we truly desire to find the Lord, the Holy Spirit will grant us a divine appointment:  “‘You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13,14).

But the Holy Spirit cannot grant me a divine appointment if I will not step out and seek and knock and ask.  Faith must lead to action.

She acted on her faith and she spoke her faith: “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.”  Where did she learn that?  We don’t know but her confession reveals her faith. How often Jesus said, “Be it unto you according to your faith.”

I’m grateful that God meets us before we have faith, meets us when we have little faith, plants faith in our hearts like seed, cultivates our faith and then meets us at the level of our faith.

She believed, searched for Jesus confessing her faith and finding Him, she reached out and touched Him.

9:22 In Mark’s account (5:30), Jesus sensed the release of healing power or anointing and asked who had touched Him.  In Matthew, He turns and sees her.  Sees her.   Surely there was a great crowd pressing about, so great a multitude that in Mark’s account, when Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” His disciples replied almost disrespectfully, “You see the crowd pressing in on you and you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (5:31).

Yet in the midst of the crowd Jesus sees this one woman, felt the touch of her faith, knows her need and knows that God has already answered her need.  He said, “Daughter, take courage, your faith has made you well.”

Notice, her faith has connected with the mercy and power of Jesus.

Notice she was made well “at once.”

Notice the words of Jesus, “Your faith has made you well.”  Made well could be translated made you whole or saved you.  It is the same word used in reference to salvation from sin.  This suggests that the woman’s encounter with Jesus led to the placing of her faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, resulting in her redemption from sin, her reconciliation to God as Creator and Father and the gift of resurrection into everlasting life as a daughter of God.

Her affliction led her not only to encounter Jesus our Healer but also Jesus our Savior.

Notice the amazing love of Jesus, picking this one woman out of the crowd.  He sees us and hears us as individual persons even as we live surrounded by millions of others.  Are we reaching out in faith, stretching our faith to touch God?  He sees us and He hears us.

9:23 Jesus continued on and came to the official’s house.  A crowd had gathered quickly, since burial could not be delayed in that climate. There would have been professional mourners present — they may have already been on notice, waiting for a final word from the family. This was normal in that day. The heartfelt emotions of grief and anguish were amplified by professionals. Family and neighbors would also have gathered.

It was in “noisy disorder.” Surely the scene would have been chaotic — loud wailing, screaming, dissonant flutes adding to the confusion. Mark says that they were greeted by “a commotion and people weeping and wailing” (5:38). Jesus allowed no one to accompany Him inside except Peter, James, John and the child’s father and mother (Mark 5:37,40).

9:24 Jesus announces that the child was not dead but sleeping.  He was not denying that a physical death had taken place.  He was prophesying that her death was only temporary and would be reversed by the power of God.

Jesus then dismissed the crowd.  In Mark’s Gospel, it says that He put them out and there is a sense of forcefulness in that.  For several reasons, Jesus removed the professional mourners from the room.

First of all, God does not work in the midst of noisy confusion or disorder.  Also, Jesus was never a performer, never tried to impress the crowds with His power.  Many of His greatest miracles were done with few onlookers.  In our lives, much of what He desires to do is best done in the secret place of communion and prayer.  The secret place is never a place of disorder or confusion.

There is another reason why Jesus put them out — the mourners laughed at Him.  There is a sense of scorn or ridicule in their laughter and there is certainly unbelief.  When anyone ridicules the power of God and scorns the possibilities of faith, they may exclude themselves from the wonderful revelation of God’s mercy and power.  God delights in releasing His possibilities into our impossible circumstances, delights in exploding His power and mercy into our hopelessness.  This brings Him glory.  But unbelieving ridicule may exclude us, disqualify us from the experience of that miracle.

9:25 Only when the crowd had gone out, only then did Jesus begin to minister.  Very simply, He took the child by the hand and she arose.  In Mark’s Gospel, we read the very words that Jesus spoke, “Talitha, cum” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, get up”  (Mark 5:41).  The word little girl, talitha is related to the Hebrew word for lamb.  It’s as if Jesus said, “Little lamb, arise.”

What tender mercy Jesus is able to release into the midst of our grief.  You have not seen the instantaneous resurrection of the little lamb whose death broke your heart nor of the elderly loved one who died full of years.  But in this child’s miracle there is great comfort, for in it we are reminded that every soul in the universe will be resurrected someday, every loved one whose death grieved us and every stranger we ever passed on the street.  

All souls will be raised, clothed in a resurrection body and will be invited to everlasting fellowship with God in the joy of heaven or consigned to eternal separation from the presence of God in the torment of hell.  This truth should inspire us to build healthy churches where the Gospel is preached, to send out evangelists and missionaries who will proclaim glad tidings to every nation, tribe and tongue. This truth should inspire the passion of our prayers and our witness on behalf of those who do not know and love the Lord of resurrection.

Notice that in Mark’s gospel Jesus spoke to her.  In death we do not lose our personhood.  God knows us as persons in this life and the next.

Notice also that Jesus took her by the hand and raised her up.  Resurrection is always by the hand of God upon our life.  Multitudes will be raised, every soul who ever lived, but still it is a personal event.  It is the hand of God raising us up.

9:26 The news spread across the land.  In this violent, dangerous world where we are constantly assaulted by the ear-shattering clamor of fallen, grieving humanity, it’s impossible to restrain the Good News.  Dictators and tyrants, skeptics and cynics, atheists and priests of false religions, all have tried to bury the Good News beneath their noisy deceptions.  But they cannot.

Even the silence of God resonates with more clarity than the tumult of this world.  In Matthew’s account of these miracles, Jesus spoke not a word to the girl and spoke to the woman only after she had touched Him.  It was only the touch of His garment that one needed; the touch of His hand raised the other. But the unspoken word of Jesus was enough to heal one and resurrect another.

And what of us?  If we never hear the audible voice of Jesus, is it not enough that He would touch us, silently, and allow us to reach out in prayer and touch Him?  Communion does not always require words.

If His silence releases miracles, who can measure the explosion when God speaks?  He spoke and a universe burst into life and light.  And when God shouts?  The Apostle Paul says,

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God and the dead shall rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the air and thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore, comfort one another with these words”  (I Thess. 4:16-18).

A leader and an outcast, encountered the silence of Jesus and the word of Jesus.

A leader and an outcast, both welcomed by Jesus.  

A man of power and a powerless woman, both humbled by crises and needs beyond their ability or resource.  Jesus loved them both, met them at the point of their need and released into their lives the mercy and the power of God.

He is the same Jesus today.

The Mercy and Power of Jesus

9:27 As Jesus left there, two blind men followed crying, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” They ask for mercy. A Pharisee would not ask for mercy, he didn’t think he needed any. In his self righteous opinion, God already approved of him. And if he had sensed a need for mercy, he would not have asked Jesus, since most Pharisees did not believe either the words or the miraculous works of Jesus. 

How ironic that the most highly educated, religious men of that generation did not recognize Jesus.  But two blind men see Him clearly. How do we know? By their manner of address, “Son of David.” That is a Messianic title. They believe they are encountering the long-awaited Messiah and they boldly ask for a gift of mercy which only God’s Anointed One can provide.

Notice their boldness. They know that Jesus is the holy Messiah sent from God, yet they are bold to approach Him and though they do not ask outright for the miraculous restoration of their sight, we know that is what they desire. Or maybe this is not boldness.  Maybe it is just simple, humble, child-like faith. Maybe they already understood the invitation which God extends to the humble faithful, though it was years later that the writer to the Hebrews expressed the invitation, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebr. 4:16).

Notice also their persistence. They followed Jesus, who, evidently, did not stop immediately. This required that they press on. We don’t know how far they followed but this was not a momentary encounter. Perseverance reveals true faith. 

So we see their spiritual perception. They believe Jesus is the Messiah. We see their boldness and their perseverance.

9:28 Jesus enters a house and they follow. Notice again, boldness and perseverance, motivated by faith.

Why did Jesus not stop and minister to the men in the street? Maybe so they would follow and enter the house with Him. Now the setting is private, personal, intimate. This is where  Jesus’ greatest ministry is lavished on all of us, in the intimacy of prayer, worship and His written Word. In this holy communion, He is able to pour His infinite riches into our yielded hearts.

Jesus does not ask their need, though sometimes He did, even when it was quite obvious. Evidently, there were times when He wanted to know if the person was ready to take ownership over their need. But in this case, He does not ask what they need. He does ask if they believe that He is able to do this.

Not always, but often, Jesus releases ministry according to the level of a person’s faith. In the previous encounters, the grieving father said, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and she will live.”  The woman with the issue of blood said, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well (be saved, be made whole).”

Jesus asks them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Their reply, “Yes Lord,” reveals not only their faith but also their reverence, their respect for Jesus.

9:29 Jesus then touches their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.”

9:30 Their eyes were opened. Dysfunctional eyes were recreated in the moment that Jesus spoke and touched. Creation responds to the voice and hand of its Creator.

Notice the mercy of Jesus. He did not turn them away; He touched and spoke and healed. 

Notice the power of Jesus to recreate dead flesh and send light pouring into darkness.

Jesus then sternly warned them not to tell the news of this miracle. Why? Probably for two reasons.

First of all, the crowds were becoming so great that it was difficult to find any time to be alone for prayer and prayer was the heart beat of Christ’s ministry. Jesus would rise long before dawn and go to a quiet, private place to have fellowship with His Heavenly Father. Once the sun came up, the multitudes pressed against Him in the streets, pushed into whatever house He was staying in.

Secondly, the multitude completely misunderstood the nature of His Messiahship. They were looking for a military hero who would conquer the Romans, drive them out of the land and restore the kingdom of David. They had no concept of the true salvation which they needed and which Jesus came to offer. They were blind to their sinfulness, their separation from God, their need for a sacrificed Lamb. Miracles only served to inflame their misguided passion to force Jesus to play a role of their own making.

So Jesus warned the men against sharing the news.

9:31 The men disregarded the warning and spread the news “throughout all that land.”

9:32 No sooner had the two men gone out than another needy soul was brought to Jesus, a mute, demon possessed man. This in no way implies that the inability to speak is demonic in its origin. However, this man’s demonic possession was so severe, it had rendered him speechless (and probably also deaf).

9:33 We have no details of the encounter, only the result and the response. The result is simply that the demon was cast out and the man’s ability to speak was restored. Matthew reports this with the simplest of language, as if to say, “Of course the demon was cast out and the man spoke.   After all, this was Jesus ministering. Could there be any other outcome?”

The people were amazed and rightly exclaimed, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” No one had ever exercised authority over the demonic realm. This was visible authentication that Jesus was God in human form, Deity, Lord of lords and King of kings. He exercised Lordship over the natural realm and the supernatural realm. No storm, no diseased human flesh, no demon, not even death could resist His power.

9:34 The Pharisees could not deny this supernatural demonstration of power in the ministry of Jesus. So they attribute His power to Satan, saying, “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.” It is not that they were ignorant or unaware. They had, by this time, seen enough and heard enough to have a clear idea as to who Jesus was. They refused to recognize Him as Messiah and Lord, not out of ignorance, but out of self righteous pride and jealousy. 

In attributing this miracle to the devil, they were committing an unpardonable sin. In fact, in Matthew 12:22-37, when the Pharisees again attributed a miracle to the power of Satan, Jesus confronted them with their blasphemous sin. He said that this was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and was unforgivable.

Why is this sin against the Holy Spirit and why is it unforgivable? We will cover this more fully in chapter 12, but here is a brief summary.

Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit. Everything Jesus said and did was empowered by the Spirit of God.   As people saw the miracles, heard the preaching and teaching, there was no question about the evidence, about the manifestation of divine power.  But the leaders attributed this power to Satan.  When they said that, they blasphemed the Holy Spirit, since it was the Holy Spirit who empowered all that Christ did.

This is unforgivable because we can’t be forgiven apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  Since it is the Holy Spirit who brings us to repentance and faith, if we reject His ministry, then there is no way we can repent of our sin and believe in Christ. There is, then, no way to be forgiven.

Further, there is no other means to be forgiven than through faith in Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God.  Peter said, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18,19). If I reject this only means of salvation, if in fact I say that this Savior is only an instrument of Satan, then there is no other way to salvation. This sin, this rejection of Christ, is unforgivable because there is no other Savior, no other means by which I may be cleansed from my sin and delivered from the righteous wrath of God.

The writer to the Hebrews said, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebr. 10:29).

The Pharisees, seeing clearly the works of Jesus and hearing His words, were knowingly rejecting God’s Messiah. They were entering in to the unpardonable sin. This would come to a critical confrontation in the coming months (see Matt. 12:22-37). For now, Jesus makes no reply.

Lord of the Harvest

9:35 Notice the three fold ministry of Jesus. He was teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Good News of the kingdom of God breaking into history, and performing miraculous demonstrations of the power and the mercy of God. His ministry was never in words only.  It was words and works. The truth that the kingdom of God is at hand was visibly demonstrated through works which validated the presence of the King before whom creation, disease, death and demons and all other petty princes must bow.

This is how the church must present the Gospel. We proclaim the presence of the kingdom, we teach principles of the kingdom and we show what the kingdom looks like as we meet a broken world with the lovingkindness of Jesus.

9:36 When Jesus saw the multitudes coming to Him, He saw them as they truly are — distressed (literally, harassed, bewildered), dispirited (literally, thrown down) like sheep without a shepherd. The sight moved Him with compassion. Compassion is the common response of Jesus to the human condition. Over and over again in the Gospel accounts, we read that He was moved with compassion. When our Lord sees a lost soul dead in trespass and sins, a soul enslaved to self destructive habits, a heart broken by grief, a child pressed down by poverty and hunger, a widow oppressed by injustice, God’s reaction is an outpouring of love which demands to be expressed.

Jesus expressed His compassion by preaching the truth, healing the sick, casting out the demonic source of enslavement. This is why He was born in human form and anointed by the Holy Spirit, “To preach the Gospel to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18,19).

9:37 Jesus saw this multitude of humanity as harvest for the Father’s kingdom, not wretched refuse or garbage. They were individual persons of worth, each a sheaf of wheat worthy of the Father’s compassion. But Jesus knew that someday He would return to the Father and His followers would need to carry on His work. 

9:38 So he directed His disciples to “beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Jesus still wants to speak words of truth to this bewildered multitude. He still wants to touch this oppressed multitude with healing, delivering hands. But the body in which He was incarnated while He walked on earth has ascended to heaven. Now He speaks and touches through the church, rightly called the body of Christ.

Notice that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Have you taken your place among the harvest folk?

Notice that though multitudes are lost, God is still “Lord of the harvest.” God claims this harvest, it is “His harvest.” But if they would be reached now, they must be reached by those who have been redeemed and brought into this living church, the body of Christ on earth. 

Our first responsibility is to pray to the Lord of the harvest. It is God’s harvest and only God can save those who are lost. Only God can raise a spiritually dead soul into resurrection life. Only God can break the demon-chains of destruction. Only God can release the captive and lift up the down trodden. He does so as we pray.

Somehow, our prayers become an instrument of partnership with God in His kingdom work. When Paul reminds us that we are in a spiritual war with powers of darkness, he exhorts the church, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). Peter exhorts the church, “Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12). 

As we pray to the Lord of the harvest, we discover that it is we who are thrust out into the fields. The Lord changes our hearts from hard indifference to discerning compassion, enlarges our hearts to contain His weeping and His mercy. We no longer see a nameless mob of desperate poor and ruthless rich. We see precious, individual souls with names and everlasting destiny, captive slaves to sin and death but beloved by their Creator.

It is for this harvest that Jesus lay down His life. 

We pray to the Lord of the harvest and we become His voice, His hands.

Matthew 10

10:1 Jesus summoned His disciples and sent them out with authority.  

The word which is translated authority, in the language in which Matthew was writing (he wrote in Greek), is exousiaExousia is delegated power.  In that day, when a Roman emperor sent an ambassador to another country, the diplomat spoke and acted with the authority, the delegated power, of the emperor.  There might not have been any Roman soldiers with the ambassador, but in fact, the entire might of the Roman army stood behind him.  That is authority.   

Here’s an example of the difference between power and authority.  A police woman is directing traffic and an enormous bus is moving toward her.  She holds up one hand, blows her whistle and the bus stops.  The bus has great power, an enormous engine moving several tons of weight.  The police woman only weighs one hundred pounds but she stops the bus.  The bus has power, but she has authority.

Jesus has all power, all authority in heaven and on earth.  He delegates His power, His authority, to His church for the purpose of fulfilling His ministry on earth.  

In this instance, the disciples were given authority in two areas.

1. They had authority  “over unclean spirits, to cast them out.”

Unclean spirits are demons and they bring the controlling influence of evil into the lives of people.  Remember the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Luke, 

“I have given you authority to trample upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy”  (Luke 10:19).  

The church has authority to trample upon, to pull down, to undo the work of Satan in the lives of people.  Wherever the Gospel is truly being preached, it is accompanied by the breaking down of enslaving evil.

2. They had authority “to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.”

In Luke 10:9, Jesus told the disciples to heal the sick and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  In other words, proclaim the kingdom of God and show people what that kingdom looks like as broken lives are made whole. The works of the kingdom are part of the message of the kingdom.

Did you know that the first hospital was founded by a Christian community?  In a time when  unwanted infants were abandoned and left to die, a Christian community founded the first orphanage.  Jesus gave the church authority to touch human suffering with the merciful hand of God.

10:2-4 The apostles are named.  Other than Peter, James and John, we know very little about any of them.  That’s because God’s purpose in calling them was not to exalt their names or proclaim their accomplishments.  They were called to exalt Jesus and proclaim His Gospel.  It is not the called who are glorified but the Christ who calls us.  There is, in our day, a multiplying of high profile pastors and evangelists, a tendency to use media to glorify the messenger.  This is not God’s way.

1. Note that there were 12 apostles and there are 12 foundation stones in the heavenly Jerusalem inscribed with the names of the 12.  Even as those stones are the foundation of the new Jerusalem, so the 12 apostles are the foundation of the church.

2. These were ordinary men who found their greatness in Christ.  None of them had an extraordinary background;  none had been famous.  As the Apostle Paul reminds us, 

“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the wold to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised; God has chosen the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God”  (I Cor. 1:26-29).

3. Though we do not know much about these men, we do know that they were diverse in background, talent and temperament.  One is named Simon the Zealot.  Zealots were ultra-nationalists, insurgents, partisans, committed to overthrowing the hated Roman government by any means, including assassination and guerrilla warfare.  Some might call them patriots.  Others might call them terrorists.  

Notice also, Matthew the tax collector, a man who collaborated with the Romans, viewed by his own people as a traitor.  The zealots would not have hesitated to murder anyone who cooperated with the Romans, especially a fellow Jew.  Yet we find the zealot and the tax collector serving in the same band of twelve.

Notice Simon Peter, a bold, aggressive, hot-tempered man.  On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, Thomas, pessimistic, often fearing the worst.

They were diverse in personality and giftings but found their unity in Christ.  We are reminded of Jesus’ statement, “If two of you shall agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 18:19). 

The word agree is, in the Greek, sumphoneo from which we derive the English word symphony.  Sumphoneo has to do with that which is harmonious.  A symphony orchestra is composed of a variety of instruments with a diversity of shapes and sounds but tuned to a common pitch and playing diverse notes in harmony.  

If all the instruments were identical and made the same sound, playing the same note, the music would be quite monotonous.  And if all played out of harmony, the result would not be music.

So with the disciples of Jesus and the church today.  We are all unique but find our point of unity in Jesus.  He tunes us to His purpose and releases the song of His kingdom through us. To paraphrase Jesus, if two of you shall pray harmoniously, in concert, the purpose of God is released on earth.

The success of Christ’s church is based, in large measure, on our ability to pray, worship, minister and proclaim in unity with one another.  But how can such a diverse church work in unity?  In fact, what is more divisive than religion?

Only Jesus can create true sumphoneo.  Whereas religion divides, Jesus reconciles.  He called disciples with a variety of talents and personality traits and was constantly dealing with their arguments and disagreements.  But He called them to Himself and in Christ they found their point of unity.

4. They were chosen.  In Luke’s Gospel (6:12-16) we read that these men were chosen after Jesus spent a night in prayer.  They were, for whatever reasons, God’s choice.  Jesus reminded them, and reminds us in John 15:16, that we did not choose Him but He chose us.

5. They were called.  Jesus does not draft people, does not force us to serve Him.  Though we are His chosen, He calls us, leaving us the freedom to accept or reject His call.

6. They were appointed (Mark 3:14) to kingdom tasks.  Jesus calls us so He can appoint us to whatever work fits His purpose for our lives.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that our place in God’s church and our giftings are based on God’s sovereign choice and calling  (I Cor. 12:11,18).  

Paul said, “For we are His workmanship (His craftsmanship), created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). The Lord prepared works for each of us, designed a life of gifted service.

He chooses us, calls us, appoints us, gifts us, crafts us and places us according to His sovereign will.  The greatest liberty we will ever know is to live and labor in the fulfilling of God’s purpose.  When our will and our talents are submitted to God and His life is flowing through our life, energizing our talents, focusing our will — what fulfillment and freedom!

7. They were appointed from among the many disciples who followed Jesus (Luke 6:13).   Disciple means learner, someone being disciplined.  But the apostles were appointed “that they should be with Jesus” (Mark 3:14).   They were to be not merely learners but companions, called to fellowship with Jesus.  That is the essence of the Christian life.  Our labor with Christ flows out of our communion with Christ.  Indeed, communion with Christ is our greatest work on earth or in heaven.  It is good to learn of Christ.  Far greater to be with Him, for then there is no limit to what He can teach us.

8. They were sent by Jesus. We are called to Jesus and appointed by Jesus so that we may be sent out from Him.  Apostle means “one who is sent out.”  Our communion with Christ is not broken when we go out and do kingdom work because He is in all places at all times and indwells us by His Spirit.  He literally goes before us, walks beside us and lives within us.

Communion is not broken when we labor with Christ, but if communion does not result in kingdom work then there is something lacking in our communion.

9. Matthew does not say how they were sent out, but normally He sent them out in some form of community (either all together or two by two).  There are several truths about community which we need to remember.

a.  We need relationship with other believers.  Our relationship with others may be in the context of a house church or mega-church, traditional liturgy or contemporary, cathedral or coffee house.  But we cannot grow in Christ apart from other believers.

Paul reminds us, “Now you are Christ’s body and individually members of it” (I Cor. 12:27).  The church is not an organization but an organism, a living entity in which the members are dependent on one another.  To fulfill our ministries and our potential, to realize God’s purpose as individuals and as a church, we need one another.

b.  Relationship is not based on uniformity, where everyone looks the same and acts the same.  True relationship is built on unity in diversity.  All the parts retain their God-given uniqueness but find a point of gravity.  That gravity-point, the place of unity must be something more than politics or doctrine.  It can only be Jesus.

There were some profound contradictions among the apostles, as we have mentioned (for instance, Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector).  These men were enemies but Jesus called them to be brothers, members of this small community of faith, disciples.   Their brotherhood was created in mutual devotion to Jesus. 

Again, being in relationship doesn’t mean that we’re all cut from the same cloth.  God created all of us with different talents, personalities and passions.  But only in community — common unity, can our true talents and callings be realized.  And only in Christ can community be created.

10:5 Jesus prohibited them from going to the Gentiles or Samaritans.  It’s  not that God did not care about the Gentiles.  But there is a season, timing and purpose in all that God does.  The Gospel was preached first to Israel, then to the nations.

However, this command was only temporary.  Even during the earthly ministry of Jesus we see Him working among non-Jews.  He ministered grace to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob (John 4:7-30).  He ministered healing to the daughter of the Syro-Phonecian woman (Matthew 15:28).  Before he returned to the Father, Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church in which He said that the gospel is to be carried into all the world (Matt. 28:19,20).

But Jesus was keenly aware of the Father’s timing and priorities.  There is a season appropriate to everything.  Doing the right thing at the wrong time does not serve the purpose of God.

10:6 He sent them “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

1. We see the purpose of Jesus in this.  He came to seek and to save that which was lost.  He is the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go and find the one that is lost.

2. We see the heart of Jesus revealed in this.  Note the difference in Jesus’ view of people and the Pharisee’s view, who said, “This mob knows nothing of the law; they are cursed,”  (John 7:49).  But Jesus never saw a multitude or a mob.  He saw individual persons and looked on them with compassion.  His heart is revealed in the parable of the king who prepared a great banquet and sent His servants into the streets to invite “as many as you find” (Matt. 22:9).  Similar parables reveal the guest list to include the lame, the blind, the outcast.

Who are the lost sheep?

1. They are those who are lost through sinful self will, choosing to be lost.  The Prodigal Son was one of these.  But he was still redeemable. 

2. They are those who are lost through the sin, neglect and carelessness of others, like a coin tossed aside thoughtlessly.  These are the children and youth whom family and society have cast off, lost for lack of love or care or purpose or guidance.  But they are still redeemable.

3. They are those who are lost because of personal disability, unable to overcome addiction and craving, or grief and bitterness; unable to overcome emotional dysfunction or trauma and abuse.  Their deficits leave them helpless and hopeless like sheep unable to find their way without a shepherd.  But they are still redeemable.  

10:7.8 The apostles were sent with a specific commission:

1. “Preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”  The kingdom of heaven / kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus, the basis of His first sermon (Mark 1:14,15), the subject of many parables and teachings.

2. Show people what the kingdom of God looks like: 

a.  “Heal the sick.”  Pour out the mercy and compassion of God.

b.  “ Raise the dead.”  This happens in every church that is alive in Christ.  Paul says that we were dead in trespasses and sins, “But God, being rich in mercy... made us alive together with Christ”  (Eph. 2:4,5). Wherever the Gospel is preached with clarity and power, spiritually dead sinners are being raised up into everlasting life.

c.  “Cast out demons.”  Those who have been mastered by evil are to be mastered by Christ.  Jesus came not only to forgive sin but also to break its power, as Charles Wesley said, “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free.”

10:8-11 He sent them out with a specific lifestyle:

1. Give as freely as you have received from God: “Freely you received, freely give.”  We do not have the right to withhold from others what God has lavished upon us.  

What had they received from God?  Christ Himself: “For of His fulness we have all received and grace upon grace” (John 1:16).  This is the unspeakable gift for which Paul gives thanks  (2 Cor. 9:15).  We cannot hold or hoard the gifts of God.  They are ours only to share.  In the liturgy of Holy Communion, the celebrant holds aloft the bread and the cup and announces, “The gifts of God for the people of God.”

2. Don’t let your life become cluttered with things: “Do not acquire gold or silver.”  We need resources to fulfill the purpose of God and to live our lives.  We are invited by God to pray about daily bread and to expect His provision as we work.  We should ask for wisdom in the acquisition and spending of resources.  But resources should not be the focus of our lives. Christ and His mission are our focus.

3. Trust God for the resources needed to fulfill your ministry, as Jesus said, “For the worker is worthy of his support.”  That doesn’t mean we sit back passively and wait for God to provide like some Santa Claus sliding down a chimney.  Jesus said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  This means that the kingdom purpose of God is our priority and we serve that priority with all our being.  As we do, we can expect God to be faithful.  The Apostle Paul, exhorting the church to be generous and faithful in giving, reminds us,

“And God is able to make all grace abound unto you, so that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work ... Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” ( 2 Cor. 9:8,10).

4. Be content with the resources God provides: “Stay at his house.”  Whose house is this?  Where they are “worthy,” not where they are wealthy.

In summary, though it is permitted to make one’s living from the Gospel, we must not misuse the gifts of God nor cease trusting in God as our Provider.

10:12,13 Jesus sent them to bless: speak shalom to the house, if it is worthy.  If not, take back your blessing.  We are not to waste kingdom resources but whenever we are able, we speak blessing and spread the fragrance of Christ into the lives of those around us.

10:14,15 Prioritize your ministry.

There were places and people unready or unwilling to receive the message of Christ. The disciples were not to waste kingdom time or resources. They were to move on.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs and do no throw your pearls before swine or they will trample them under their feet” (Matt. 7:6).

This is not to discredit those who have labored many years in what appeared to be unfruitful works.  Sometimes, in some mission fields, the fruit does not ripen for generations.  But in Jesus’ day there was a sense of urgency.  Villages and cities were being prepared for the entrance of Christ.  There was no time to waste.  

Twice Luke records Jesus mourning over Jerusalem (13:34, 35 and in 19:41-44) because the people did not know the time, the season of their visitation from God.  Rejecting the Prince of Peace, they would embrace war.  Rejecting the blessings of the kingdom of God, they would embrace the curses of the kingdoms of this world.  Rejecting the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit, they would reap the whirl-wind at the hands of the Romans.  Forty years later, Jerusalem was a pile of rubble and the nation ceased to exist for 1900 years.

Even in our day, there are seasons in the lives of individuals and societies where Christ has been preached and rejected and the rejection is irrevocable.

3. When that happens, shake off the dust of that city.  Don’t even take their dust with you because that city is destined for terrible judgment and you do not want any association with that.

‘It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” Judgment is based on the light and the truth we have had access to. The greater the light, the greater the judgment.

Later, Jesus would pronounce condemnation over the cities that had heard His message, seen His miracles and yet rejected Him. Again He would repeat, “ It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matt. 11:24). To whom much is given, much is required.

10:16 When Jesus sent His disciples out to minister, He said they were like sheep among wolves.  Note three simple truths here:

1. Sheep are dependent on a shepherd.  They’re not aggressive, not able to defend themselves or flee quickly; not the smartest animals, unable to navigate their own way.  Sheep need a shepherd.  It is so with the followers of Jesus.  We cannot fulfill His purpose for our lives, cannot share in the building of His church or advancement of His kingdom, without continually submitting our lives to His power and wisdom.  He is the Good Shepherd and we need to follow closely.

2. There are wolves, adversaries, enemies of the Gospel.  Some are within the church, as  Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15).   The Apostles Paul and John, in their letters, often reminded the churches that there would be false shepherds, false prophets, false workers coming in to deceive and divide the church.  

Some wolves are outside the church, bringing persecution through political, military and economic weapons.  

The Apostle Peter rightly reminds us, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Ptr. 5:8).  In every generation there has been persecution from without and heresies from within.  But whether the wolf attacks in the disguise of a godless emperor or a godless bishop, as Jesus warned, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). 

3. Jesus is very particular about the character or heart of His sheep.  We are to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.  A shrewd heart is wise, discerning, discreet, thoughtful, strategic and practical.  An innocent heart is pure, unmixed in its motives, childlike in its simplicity and harmlessness.

In other words, we are to be discerning, not naive in our dealings with others.  We are to be strategic in our planning, not disorganized.  But our motives must be untouched by the base elements of hatred, jealousy, greed and such.  Our wisdom must flow from a holy, gentle heart.  We must have the mind and heart of Christ.

10:17 Jesus promised His disciples that they would be persecuted by religious authorities (courts / councils) which were located in the synagogues.  As the deceived fathers of these religious authorities had persecuted the prophets of the Old Testament, so these deceived sons opposed Jesus and His apostles.  In every generation there are religious people who think they are serving God as they attempt to destroy the work of His people on earth.

10:18 Jesus promises persecution by governors and kings: in other words, by the state.  From the first century to this present day, secular governments have felt threatened by the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.  Why is this?

1. Because secular rulers tend to make gods of themselves, or at least to see themselves as more exalted than they are.  But the church proclaims and worships a God who is truly exalted and who stands in judgment over false gods and deceived kings. It is God who establishes governments and authorities but God is Lord over that which He establishes.

2. Because nations tend to see themselves in absolute terms: absolute in righteous motives, absolute in policy and goals, absolute in power.  But the church exalts Christ the King whose kingdom is breaking into history and whose truth, with searing light, reveals the lies and self deception of nations; a Christ whose true Kingship stands in judgment over the selfish motives, flawed policies and  abused power which characterize earthly kingdoms.

3. Because nations tend to see people as masses to be dominated, seduced, conquered.  But the Good Shepherd sees individual persons created in the image of God who, though they are lost, may be redeemed, reconciled to God and reclaimed for God’s purposes.

These radically different perspectives create a continual tension between kingdom people and the kingdoms of this world.  This tension leads to persecution.  But nearly two thousand years ago, John heard a voice from heaven shout, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).

Throughout the New Testament, the Lord is clear about this dual promise of trouble and triumph.  He said, “In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

10:18-20 Responses to persecution:

1. Testify

Though in verses 14 and 15 we are advised to move on if people do not receive our witness; and in verse 23 we are advised to flee persecution; nevertheless, there are times when we cannot avoid persecution and must not; times when flight would be a denial of the faith.  In those times, when we have an opportunity for testimony, for witness, we are not to be anxious but trust that our Father will speak through us.  

We do not seek martyrdom but neither do we evade divine appointments to bear witness. In the life of Paul we see a willingness to escape when necessary and stand when called.  He was lowered from the wall of Damascus in the night and escaped a plot against his life.  Later, knowing that his return to Jerusalem would place him in peril, he returned because he believed he had a witness to make there and before Caesar in Rome.  

2. Stand firm, endure.  

How do we do that?  Only by God’s strength.  

“Therefore be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  

Put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand firm 

against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10,11)

In the strength of God’s might, the church is able to stand and endure.  The church not only has endured seasons of trial and tribulation, but has prevailed and emerged stronger.  

Persecution does not mean that God is not in control of history, that the powers of darkness are somehow prevailing.  Not at all.  Though God does not send persecution on His people, He allows it for His own purpose. 

1. God uses persecution to perfect His saints, as the Apostle James exhorts us,

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).

2. God uses persecution to prove and purify His saints, as the Apostle Peter exhorts us,

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:6,7).

Times of proving, of testing, serve to purify the heart and soul.  We read of the Old Testament saint, Joseph, that, “Until the time that His (God’s) Word came to pass, the Word of the Lord tested him” (Psalm 105:19).  God had a purpose for Joseph’s life, had given Joseph a clear sense of that purpose, but until it came to pass, Joseph was tested.  The word tested can also be translated refined.

3. God uses persecution to spread the Gospel.  In Acts 8:4, we read, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”  When Satan attempts to destroy the church anywhere in the world, it is like crushing a flower when it is in bloom.  The only result is to scatter the seed into the wind.

10:21 Persecution will arise even from one’s own family.  In the past century, children in communist countries were taught in school to inform on their parents if there was any Christian activity in the home.  Even now, in Muslim and Hindu cultures, if a son or daughter comes to Christ, the parents are required to disown the child and often will attempt to take the child’s life.  In a culture of persecution, wherever faith in Christ is a violation of the law, the home can be a dangerous place.

This is why Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple,”  (Luke 14:26).  He meant that our love for Him must be so much greater than our love for anything or anyone else that,  by comparison, it would seem like hate.  If this is not the case, if our affections are set more on earth and less in heaven, then in times of persecution our faith may fail.

10:22 Who will be saved?  Those who endure, who persevere to the end.  That does not mean that our perseverance earns salvation.  Rather, perseverance demonstrates or proves that our salvation is real and true.  Salvation is God’s gift to the faithful and so is endurance.  God keeps those whom He has redeemed, gives us strength and grace to endure.  Those who fall away during times of persecution prove that they were never truly saved.

In Matthew 13, Jesus told a parable about the preaching of God’s Word.  One of the characters is a hardhearted person who hears the word and “has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction of persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matt 13:20,21).

Why is there a falling away during times of persecution?  Those who are not truly saved cannot endure, for endurance is a gift from the God who saves us.  There are always those who attach themselves to the church for whatever benefit they suppose they may derive.  But the self-attached will be shaken loose when the wind blows.

The Apostle John reminds us, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (I John 2:19).

10:23 “You will not finish ... until the Son of Man comes.”

Jesus was not referring to His second coming because He was still with them.  He was referring to the entrance of the Son of Man into the hearts of men and women who received the message of the kingdom of God.  He had begun His ministry preaching, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The kingdom was at hand because the King was present, inviting all to enter the rule of God’s grace.

As Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed... for behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst (within you)” (Luke 17:20,21).  This was the day of the inbreaking kingdom of God, the day of Christ’s enthronement in the hearts of those who would turn from sin and believe in Him.  Before the disciples finished this tour of preaching, this glorious day had begun, was in their midst, was pushing into hearts.

This was also a reference to Jesus’ personal entrance into the villages and cities of Galilee and Judea.  Before the disciples finished their work of preparation, Jesus would personally enter and proclaim the inbreaking kingdom of God.

In 10:13,14 Jesus had taught that if people would not receive the disciples’ witness, then they should leave and shake the dust off of their feet.  And so in verse 23, they are not to waste their time preaching to those who are not interested nor throw away their lives needlessly.  Martyrdom is not to be courted or sought after.

10:24,25 Jesus reminds His disciples that the goal of discipleship is to be like the Lord.  We are not merely to learn of Him but to become like Him.  This is the great privilege and blessing of discipleship, that we would grow “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ”  (Eph. 4:13). 

But there is a note of gravity in this too.  We are called not only to share in the ministry of Jesus but also to share in His suffering, His reproach and rejection.  Paul’s goal was, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death”  (Phlp. 3:10).

10:26 We should never be afraid of lies cloaked in darkness.  The hidden things will be made known.  The light of God’s truth will eventually penetrate every lie, every shadow of deception.  The lies of evil people and wicked nations will eventually be uncovered.  The temporary, passing darkness of this world will ultimately be shattered by the searing light of God’s eternal truth.  So fear not.

10:27 We are commanded to speak truth and speak it boldly.  Whatever truth Christ has whispered to our hearts in the secret place of communion, shout it from the highest rooftop.  We can speak boldly because it is not our word, not our opinion, not half truths influenced by the theories and attitudes of the world around us. It is the word that Jesus has revealed to us through His written Word. 

The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Word also interprets that Word to us. It is a dependable Word spoken to us by a Truth-Giver who transcends our culture, our generation. We have only to listen with humble hearts.

If we would be bold speakers, we must be reverent,  discerning listeners.  

10:28 Again we are commanded not to fear.  In our truth speaking, we are commanded not to fear the response of those who can only kill the body.  Rather, we are to fear the God who can destroy both body and soul.  Proverbs 9:10 reminds us that proper fear (reverence) of God is the beginning of wisdom.

If we reverence God, we will never need to fear people.  As John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, was being buried, it was said, “Here lies a man who feared God so much that he never feared the face of man.”

Listen well.  Speak boldly.  Fear no person but fear / reverence God.

10:29-31 Even as we are commanded to reverence God, we are reminded of the tender care and mercy of God.  Sparrows were bought and sold for a penny, yet not one could fall to the ground without God knowing.  In Luke we read a similar statement, “ Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God”  (Luke 12:6).

The Word fall can also be translated light or set.  Not a sparrow lights on the ground without God knowing.  In fact, the hairs on our head are numbered; that is, every conceivable truth that could be known about us is known by God.  So be not afraid.  God knows us, loves us and we are worth more to Him than many sparrows.

Psalm 136 speaks of the God who created the world, who redeemed Israel from slavery, “Who gives food to every creature”  (Ps. 136:25).  It is this God we are commanded to reverence / fear.  In Psalm 31:15 we read, “My times are in your hand.”  This God who creates, who redeems, who provides, who sees every sparrow light upon the ground, who holds the moments of our time in His hands, who has numbered the hairs on our head, who knows us perfectly and loves us beyond imagination or measure — this God we are commanded to reverence / fear. 

The Psalmist said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?”  (Ps. 27:1)

  

The answer is, that if I properly reverence God, there is nothing else to fear.  The courage of discipleship is founded on the certainty of God’s everlasting love for us.

10:32,33 A very straightforward statement: if we confess Jesus in front of this world, Jesus will confess us before our heavenly Father.  If we deny Jesus, He will deny us.  In other words, He will reflect back to us the truth of our confession.  But confession is more than mere words; it is the life we live.  

In Matthew 7:21-23, we have a picture of final judgment.  Jesus says that those who enter His kingdom will be those who have done “the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Many will boast of their prophecies and miracles but Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”  Two important truths here: 

1.  The life that confesses Jesus is a life that knows  Him and is known by Him.  The worst thing that Jesus can ever say about anyone is, “I never knew you.”  Obviously that’s not referring to intellectual fact — Jesus knows all fact and all truth.  

The word knew (ginosko) indicates relationship and value — the thing or person that is known is valued, held in a relationship of value.  The word can be used in a context of intimacy.  For instance, it is the same word used in Matthew 1:24,25, where it says that Joseph “took Mary as his wife but kept her a virgin (literally, “knew her not”) until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”  

Jesus desires a faithful, intimate, loving relationship with each of us.  He knows everything about us but wants to know us relationally and wants us to know Him as intimately as we can in this life.  The life that truly confesses Jesus is the life that knows and values Him, deeply, intimately.

2. The life that confesses Jesus is a life that does the will of God, lives the will of God, serving and obeying God out of love, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, also 14:21).  They will enter the kingdom

The lawless ones will not enter.  The lawless boast of their religious works (Matthew 7:22) but are excluded from the kingdom because they did not know Jesus.  They knew about Him but were not in relationship with Him, did not value relationship with Him and their lack of relationship is made evident in their lawlessness. 

The life that confesses Jesus in front of the world is a life lived in loving relationship with Him and the depth of this love is revealed in obedience and service.  The testimony of our living speaks far more loudly than our words.  

Those deeds which we do or fail to do will confess or deny Christ.  Bitter unforgiveness is denial of the Christ who forgave us.  Refusing to love and accept those who are different from us is denial of the Christ who loved us while we were separated from Him.  Likewise, feeding the hungry, caring for the orphan, widow and the homeless is confession of that merciful Savior who lavished grace and comfort on our souls before we knew Him.

In Revelation 12:11 we read that the church overcomes persecution and adversity over the centuries by the blood of Christ and the confession of those who prefer death rather than deny their love for Christ.  

Though it is true that our living speaks more loudly than mere words, confession does include the words that we speak.  We confess with our mouth what we believe in our heart.  Paul said, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”  (Rom. 10:9).  If my testimony is to deny Christ, then that is what is in my heart, in which case, I am not in a saved, reconciled relationship with Him.  Therefore, Jesus cannot confess me before His Father.

There is also the testimony of silence.  Refusing to join in the venomous, condemning shouts of the mob is righteous silence.  Refusing to speak a holy word in the profane conversation of heresy and blasphemy is unrighteous silence.  Every day brings the opportunity to confess or deny Christ.  We will do either or both with our words, our deeds and our silence.

We are to be not only hearers of truth but also doers, not only loving truth but living it.

10:34 Jesus has already warned His followers that there will be persecution, opposition.  Now he states the reality again.  Though He is the Prince of Peace, bringing peace to every heart that receives Him, creating the peace of reconciliation between a holy God and forgiven, redeemed people, nevertheless, his presence in this world and the inbreaking of His kingdom will incite violent reaction from counterfeit kings and worldly kingdoms.

10:35,36 Again, Jesus warns that the enemies of the Gospel may be as intimate as our own flesh and blood family.  

10:37 If we love our family more than we love Christ, then we are not worthy of Him because this love may cause us to deny Him.  We may not deny Him with blasphemous words but if we are called by Christ to costly tasks and our loved ones do not hear our call or they do hear but will not share the call, then they may cause us to refuse the call of Christ.  Thereby, they become our enemy.  Families can be a marvelous source of love and mercy.  God forbid that love and mercy would tempt us to deny our Lord.

10:38 How do we  overcome the natural temptation to love those around us whom we see and touch, more than the Christ whom we cannot see or touch?  How do we, as Paul exhorted us, set our “mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth?” (Col. 3:2).  We must take up our cross.  The cross is an instrument of death and represents self denial, the dying of that self-centered life which demands to live apart from Christ.  We live the cross as we intentionally deny our own will and way, choosing Christ’s will and way.

10:39 Jesus reminds us that in seeking to preserve our life, we only lose it.  What we grasp, slips out of our hands.  But as we let go of our life, in the sharing of our life, in the outpouring of gift and time and breath, only then do we find life.  Life is truly found in the giving.

A soldier-poet once wrote to his lady  (quoted in William Barclay, Matthew vol. 1, p 406)

True, a new beloved now I chase:

the first foe in the field

and with a stronger faith embrace 

a sword, a horse, a shield

Yet this unfaithfulness is such

as you too shall adore

I could not love thee, love, so much

loved I not honor more

10:40-42 “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who sent me.”

This is true on a natural level.  To receive or reject an ambassador of a government is to receive or reject that government itself.  Those who receive the messenger of Christ not only receive Christ, but also the God who gave His only begotten Son to the world.

There is also a sense here of hospitality and offering.  When we receive ministers of Christ by supporting them with our prayers and our gifts, though our gifts be as humble as a cup of cold water, God will remember our gift and we will share in the reward of that ministry.  The angel said to Cornelius, “Your prayers and gifts of charity have ascended as a memorial before God”  (Acts 10:4).

The story is told of a poor village cobbler who learned that a young man of the village had been called to preach.  The cobbler said to him, “Many years ago I was called to preach but was unable to pay the cost of study.  I know this is a struggle for you too.  But here is one expense you need not pay.  I will cobble your shoes throughout the years of your preparation.  I only ask that when you preach your first sermon, will you stand in the shoes I have made for you.”

Not all are called or able to stand in a pulpit or carry the Gospel to another culture but we may support those who do.  Notice that Jesus refers to His disciples as “little ones.”  Whatever storms of persecution break upon our pathway, whatever difficult or humble tasks we are called to perform, we are the little ones of Christ who find our refuge in the shelter of His mercy.  Could there be any greater reward than this?  “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God”  (I John 3:1).

Matthew 11

Matthew 11

Who Were You Expecting?

11:1-20

11:1-3 John the Baptist is in prison and he sent some of his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the Expected One or shall we look for someone else?”  

Years before, when John first saw the adult Jesus, he had said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).  John denied that he himself was the Messiah, testifying, “It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27).  John rightly recognized Jesus as the long awaited Messiah and Savior.

John understood his own ministry as being the forerunner to the Messiah, preparing the hearts of the people to receive Jesus. He quoted the prophecy of Isaiah and applied it to himself, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23). That’s why he said, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance” (Matthew 3:1).

John also correctly understood the cleansing, saving ministry of Jesus, “But He who is coming after me is mightier than I and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in His hand and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather up His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11,12).

Now John is in prison and it’s as if he is thinking, “If Jesus is the Messiah, why am I here in a dungeon?  Where is the kingdom of God?”  John may also be wondering, “If Jesus is the Messiah, why is He allowing and enduring such fierce opposition to Himself?”  

It’s not that John lacks faith. He doesn’t have a faith problem; he has an expectation problem.  John may have shared the common, nationalistic expectations of the Jewish people concerning the Messiah and the kingdom of God.  They were expecting a conquering, victorious King who would drive the hated Romans from the land and restore the glory of King David’s rule.  They were expecting a kingdom breaking into history visibly through political / military means.

John rightly understood his own ministry — he introduced the Messiah and he prepared people’s hearts to receive the Messiah.  But he may have believed that the cleansing, saving work of Jesus would immediately usher in the glorious kingdom of God.  This false expectation caused him to be discouraged as he languished in prison. So he asked, “Are you the One?”

11:4,5 Jesus replied, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight 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.” 

Jesus is referring to two Old Testament Messianic Scriptures (Isaiah 35:1-10 and  61:1-4). But the Messiah of Isaiah’s prophecies was not the conquering hero of popular expectation.  This is the Messiah who heals, who lifts up the downtrodden, who sets the prisoner free from spiritual slavery, who ministers the compassion of God to hurting people.

What people saw and heard in the ministry of Jesus was the rule of God forcefully overthrowing the violence of hell's destruction in their lives. Jesus considered these signs to be proof of the presence of the kingdom, "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come near you" (Matthew 12:28).

Yes, a kingdom is breaking into history but not through military / political processes; not breaking in through a series of highly visible photo ops.  God’s kingdom enters history through the hearts and souls of those whose lives have been pierced by the truth of God and in response, repent of sins and in faith, receive God’s ministry of mercy through Jesus the Messiah.

Those who hear the kingdom message and turn and submit to Jesus’ rule are living in His kingdom now. God has, “Rescued us from the domain (authority) of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). We are living in this world and nominally citizens of particular nations but we are not of this world. We are citizens of the kingdom of God.

To answer John’s question, “Yes, Jesus is the long-expected Messiah. Yes, His kingdom is breaking into history now. But no, not in the way you expected. Governments are not being overthrown; rather, hearts and lives are being transformed.”

Jesus, in this conversation with John’s disciples, is asking John if he needs to reconsider the kind of Messiah and the type of kingdom he is expecting.  Is this also true in our day?  Are we waiting for God to manifest His kingdom presence in ways compatible with left wing liberal or right wing conservative expectations?  Are our preconceptions of the kingdom based on Democratic or Republican or evangelical or denominational or Protestant or Roman Catholic agendas?  Is Jesus asking us if we too need to reconsider the kind of Messiah we are expecting and the way we believe His kingdom will break into history?

11:6 “Blessed is he who does not take offense (or “does not fall away” or “is not scandalized” or “is not caused to stumble”) at me.”

The Pharisees and Sadducees, the priests, the hyper religious folk of Jesus’ day, missed the kingdom of God because of blind, rigid unbelief.   However, John was missing the heart-by-heart entrance of the kingdom of God because of his preconceived notions of the kingdom. It’s not just unbelief that causes people to fail to recognize Jesus or fall away from Him.  Sometimes it is our inability to give up cherished preconceptions as to what God ought to be doing or our impatience with God’s timing.

God’s response to us is the same as to John: “Here is what I am doing.  Do you recognize the presence of my kingdom?”

There is an implied question here to John’s disciples and to us: “Would you like to join in what I am doing or will you allow your preconceived ideas about me to render you irrelevant?”

11:7,8 Jesus praises John and asks the people what they witnessed in the ministry of John:

1. A reed shaken by the wind?  No, John was unmoved by the winds of public opinion and unbowed by King Herod’s stormy threats.

2. A man clothed in soft garments?  Those people live in king’s palaces.  John was no pampered pretender to royalty.  At that moment he was in the king’s dungeon for the crime of speaking prophetic truth to power.

11:9,10 Did you go out to see a prophet?

Yes, a prophet and more than a prophet, John was the forerunner to Messiah, prophesied by Isaiah.  His was the voice crying in the wilderness, now imprisoned in Herod’s dungeon, but not silenced.  John was a prophet and more than a prophet.

11:11 But here is a paradox:

There is no one born of woman greater than John but the least person in the kingdom of God is greater than John.  

John was a prophetic messenger linking the Old Covenant age with the New Covenant age. And we may say that he was greater than any prophet who came before him, for he saw with his own eyes that which they had only prophesied — the Messiah.

However, John’s ministry took place before the atoning death and resurrection of Christ.  John died before Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed for the sins of the world, before Jesus was raised from death as a visible proof of His triumph.  Those who have placed their faith in Jesus are thereby forgiven of their sin, reconciled to God, are reborn, recreated and indwelt by the Spirit of God and have experienced the inbreaking presence of the kingdom of God.  They have experienced greater privilege and blessing than even the greatest men and women who came before, including John the Baptist.

Put another way, John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets because he not only pointed the way to Jesus, he saw Jesus, the long-expected Messiah.  But the least in the kingdom of God is greater than the greatest before the kingdom of God, for all of the reasons listed above and many more.

11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force.”

There are alternate readings of this verse:  

From the days of John the Baptist until now  

1. the kingdom of heaven is pressing in  

2. the Kingdom of heaven has been coming violently 

3. the kingdom of heaven exercises its power

4. the kingdom of heaven is forcibly entered

and men of force 

1. enter in forcefully

2. seize it for themselves

Luke uses these words, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the Gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached and everyone is forcing his way into it” (Luke 16:16).  

To help us understand this verse, let’s remember the context. People were asking, “If you are the Messiah, where is your kingdom?” Jesus responded, “Watch what is happening.”

Watch as a woman thrown down in the dust, accused of immorality, is raised by grace to a new beginning. Watch as I meet a man whose personality is so demonically bound he cannot live in human society — watch as I restore him to sanity. Watch as I calm a storm, heal the sick, raise the dead, forgive the guilty.

Yes, Jesus was introducing the kingdom of God and yes, entrance was violent, but not the kind of violence people expected. It was the violence of grace penetrating the hearts of hopeless men and women; the light of grace casting down the prevailing kingdoms of darkness which oppress and enslave; the power of grace trampling the rule of sin and guilt, establishing the rule of God.

People were saying, “We don't see a violent invasion.” Jesus said, "Watch, go and tell what you see and hear.” What they saw and heard was the rule of grace forcefully overthrowing the violence of hell's destruction in the lives of hurting, broken people. The power of God's grace doing violence to the binding power of deception and hate, liberating the captive and setting free those who were bound.

And yes, the kingdom suffers violence. John was arrested and killed, Jesus was opposed, ridiculed, arrested and crucified. His followers were brutally persecuted.

Matthew 11:12 may also be translated, “The kingdom of heaven is pushing forward and people are entering it by force.” God is pushing into history one heart at a time and people are entering by force. We are born into the kingdom and birth is a forceful, intentional event. 

A life bursting into this world is not a casual affair — physical birth is attended by travail, pain, struggle, tears, sweat, blood. It is the same when a life bursts into the kingdom of God. Spiritual birth is a struggle which God initiated in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God forcefully entered history and confronts men and women with the truth of the gospel of grace.

When anyone is birthed into the kingdom of God, this new birth is attended by conviction of sin — Godly sorrow, and repentance — an intentional turning from the values and powers of this world. It is attended by the gift of faith bursting through the tombs of spiritual death — an intentional turning to a Lord whom we cannot see but believe.

At that moment in time, the kingdom of heaven, that is, the rule and reign of God, was exercising its own spiritual dynamic, pressing into history in the person and ministry of Jesus. Those who opened their lives to Christ, submitting to His Lordship, would then be joined to Him and press in with Him. As men and women entered the kingdom, they would also share in the explosive entrance of the kingdom into the lives of others.

We do not build the kingdom.  We press into the kingdom by faith and proclaim the glad tidings of our God who Himself is pressing into history through our lives and witness and thereby is shaping history and bringing history to the fulfillment of His purpose.

Those who respond and turn and submit to God’s rule are, in fact, living in the reality of His kingdom.  Since the King and His rule is now being rejected by many, those who enter find themselves in conflict with the rebels and with the world system that expresses their rebellion.  But rather than lift us out of this conflict, the King leaves us in it because it is His purpose to proclaim and advance His kingdom through those in whom His kingdom is established.

The greater the conflict, the more we turn to Him and the more completely we submit to His rule.  The more we submit to His kingdom authority, the more He can teach us about exercising kingdom authority.  This is a primary purpose of God in history: to have a people walking in His dominion and exercising dominion in His name. 

11:13 John’s ministry was the hinge point of history.  Before John, the writers and prophets of the Old Testament promised the Messiah.  John introduced the Messiah.  The writers and prophets spoke of Messiah’s someday appearing and the signs of His coming kingdom.  John stood at the threshold of the door and pointed the way in. 

11:14 In the last chapter of the last book of the Old Testament, God spoke through the prophet Malachi and said, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:5,6).  

When the angel appeared to John’s father, Zacharias, he quoted this passage, saying in effect, that the child who would be born to Zacharias and his wife would  be a forerunner to the Messiah and would minister “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). That does not mean that  Elijah would physically return before the time of Jesus.  John was not literally Elijah (he denied that in John 1:31). But his ministry was a fulfillment of the prophetic ministry of Elijah.  There was a likeness of spirit and power in the ministries and personalities of Elijah and John.

(Note: Malachi’s words, “The great and terrible day of the Lord” may refer to a physical appearance of Elijah during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 11:3-12). Some believe that he will be one of the two witnesses who testify in Jerusalem but we do not know with any certainty. Elijah did appear with Moses and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3).

11:15 God’s truth  is hidden to the heart and mind of the unbelieving (2 Corinthians 4:3,4).  The god of this world has blinded them and they cannot perceive truth about God.  Only God can open our eyes and ears to perceive spiritual truth and God does that only with those who seek and ask.  If our spiritual perception has been opened so that we can recognize God’s self-revelation, we must exercise the gift.  It is one thing to be spiritually blind and deaf because we are dead to God.  But woe to us if God has opened our eyes and ears and we intentionally choose not to see and hear.  “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

11:16,17 Jesus was speaking figuratively of John’s ministry and His own.  John’s ministry, figuratively speaking, was a dirge, funeral-like in its stern call to prepare for the coming of  Messiah by putting to death the deeds of the flesh and showing works worthy of repentance. Jesus’ ministry is compared to a wedding dance, joyfully celebrating reconciliation to our Heavenly Father and entrance into His kingdom and all of its blessing, privilege and purpose.  

Like children playing in the market place, the people had refused both John and Jesus, refused to mourn, refused to dance.  No doubt the people saw themselves as anything but childish.  They surely regarded themselves as orthodox believers, gate keepers of the true faith.  But in fact, they were self deceived, hiding from God behind the fig leaf of their religion, even as Adam and Eve had hidden.

Jesus’ words were not intended to demean children at play.  With innocence and passion, children abandon themselves in their games, believing the game with all their heart.  This child-like heart, innocent and passionate, is part of what Jesus meant when he said, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of God”  (Matt. 18:3).

However, in every generation, those who reject God’s truth are considered by God to be, not child-like but childish, immature, deceived, fatally clinging to their religious deception.

11:18 John’s stern call to repentance offended some and was attributed to a demon.  How convenient and comforting to religious sensibility to condemn the offending prophet rather than face one’s own sinfulness and repent.  Far easier to say, “Yes, John must be of the devil; because if he’s not, if he’s really from God, then I will have to face the reality that my rejection of him is an offense to God.”

11:19 Jesus’ readiness to befriend  sinners, to eat with common people and join in their daily joys and griefs, was a scandal to the narrow, religious mind of His day.  God’s love for failed people is a grievous offense to the self-righteous and proud.  They trivialize Jesus, “How unspiritual of Him to eat with sinners.  He must be a glutton.”

That which was intended as a criticism of Jesus is, in fact, glorious praise. He is indeed the friend of sinners. It is to our everlasting blessing and benefit that He came, “To seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Jesus closes with these words, “Yet wisdom is known by her deeds.”  He is content to let the future, to let history, judge His life and ministry.  

In this passage, Jesus reveals three ways to miss God:

1. Because of our rigid preconceptions (expecting something other than what God is doing).

2. When we are offended by truth tellers, rejecting the prophet so we don’t have to listen to his words.

3. When we are offended by God’s love for sinners, which reveals our self-righteousness.

A good prayer might be:

“Lord, deliver me from doctrines and expectations that limit, bind or restrict my experience of you.  Deliver me from self-righteousness religion that causes me to be offended by you and to reject you.”

The Danger of Light

11:20-24

11:20-22 On the day of judgment, it will be better for pagan cities that never witnessed the mighty works of Jesus than cities which experienced His ministry but did not repent.  Why?  Because judgment is based on the light revealed to us.  Greater light incurs greater accountability.  

Chorazin was a village near the Sea of Galilee and Bethsaida was located along the shore of that famous lake.  Both were blessed by the presence of Jesus, by the teachings and miracles of Jesus, yet refused to repent and turn in faith to their Messiah.  Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities located in present day Lebanon.  Jesus says that if those foreign cities had experienced His ministry in the same way as the people of Galilee, they would have turned to God.

Jesus is not saying that Tyre and Sidon will escape judgment.  Everyone who fails to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior will be condemned and that will include the pagan unbelievers of Tyre and Sidon.  But judgment will be worse for those who saw and heard Jesus and refused to believe in Him.  All unbelievers will be condemned to eternal separation from God, eternity in hell.  But hell will be worse for those who had greater light.

11:23,24 Sodom, the immoral city which God destroyed with fire in the days of Abraham, will fare better on judgment day than Capernaum, the city in which Jesus based His ministry in Galilee.  Why?  Capernaum had the witness of Jesus.  Sodom had only the witness of Lot, a righteous but compromised man.

Capernaum had more light, therefore, judgment will be greater.  In fact, Jesus said that if the miracles done in Capernaum had been witnessed in Sodom, Sodom would still have existed in Jesus’ day.

Again, this is not to say that the immoral population of Sodom will escape hell.  They will spend eternity in hell.  But hell will be worse for the respectable people of Capernaum who heard the words and saw the miracles of Jesus but did not believe in Him.

It was not that the people of Chorazin,  Bethsaida or Capernaum persecuted Jesus.  Nor were they particularly immoral, hateful or idolatrous. By the standards of their day, they were good, respectable, religious folk.  But they were indifferent to the ministry of Jesus.  How terrible, that indifference can send respectable people to a hotter place in hell than the most immoral, wicked people.

What produces spiritual indifference?  What can cause a person to be so calloused to the power and presence of God, the truth and light of God, the kindness and mercy of God, the holiness and righteous justice of God, that they could listen to God in the flesh, see Him perform miracles, pass Him in the street, and not be moved to repentance and faith?

We might understand the indifference of the pagan people of Tyre and Sidon, captured by idols, false religions, all of which dulled their senses to God.  For the people of Sodom, it was their perverse immorality, oppression of the poor and selfish ingratitude toward God that made their hearts hard (Genesis 19:4,5   Ezekiel 16:49,50).

But the people of the Galilean cities where Jesus lived and ministered were not idol worshippers or immoral revelers.  They were, for the most part, devout Jews who were living in expectation of the appearing of the Messiah.  The problem, as we have said before, is that they had a false expectation of the Messiah and they misunderstood the kind of Savior they needed. 

They were awaiting a conquering warrior / king, not a humble servant who saves by dying on a cross.  They were awaiting national deliverance from foreign occupation, not personal deliverance from indwelling sin.

Their true enemy was not Rome or any other foreign nation.  Their enemy was the sin which corrupts the human heart and separates us from God.  But they failed to realize their sin because of religious pride.  “We’re children of Abraham,” they said,  “caretakers of the covenant, the holy Scriptures and the temple.  We have the sacrificial system and the priesthood.”

“National deliverance from Roman occupation?  Yes, we’re waiting for that Messiah.  Personal deliverance from indwelling sin?  No, we’re God’s chosen people.”

There were obvious Messianic qualities in Jesus, undeniable authority revealed in His teaching and His miracles.  But with few exceptions, the people felt no need for salvation from sin by any other means than the religious system that was already in place.

False expectations of the Messiah and religious pride created indifference, dulled their hearts to their own need and to the saving ministry of Jesus.  

Also, for a privileged few in Galilee and Judea, comfortable prosperity dulled their senses to the God who had blessed and prospered them.  The Bible does not say that money is evil.  To the contrary, Psalm 35:27 says, “God delights in the prosperity of His servant.”  But we are also warned that, “The love of money is the root of all evil” (I Timothy 6:10).  

Resources are not evil but unbalanced love of resources can lead to great evil.  We are warned of “the deceitfulness of riches,” (Matt. 13:22).  Wealth, comfort, prosperity can deceive us into the false security of self-dependence.  We might not be so bold as to say, “I don’t need God.”  But our wealth might cause us to live like we don’t need God.  

False expectations of the Messiah, religious pride, comfortable prosperity — these conditions created spiritual indifference in Jesus’ day and still do.

The people around the Sea of Galilee had been greatly blessed by God but had grown indifferent to God and missed the presence of God in their midst.  They were people of the covenant, but the old covenant was passing away and a new covenant was at hand. The priesthood would soon be replaced by a Great High Priest. The temple sacrifices would soon be unnecessary, for a perfect, holy, unblemished Lamb, the Lamb of God, would be sacrificed for the sins of the world.  

And a generation would miss this season of fulfillment and new beginnings.  Their judgment would be far greater than the judgment of pagan cities, for their light was greater.

One final note.  

People ask, “How could God judge the people of Tyre, Sidon, Sodom or any other city where the people have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus?”

The Apostle Paul says that there is enough light for anyone, anywhere to know that God exists.  The problem is not that the truth about God’s existence is unknown, but that it is known and suppressed and exchanged for idols.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-21).

Paul says that God has planted within each human heart the knowledge of His existence and has revealed His eternal power and His divine nature through creation.  His power is revealed through the awesomeness of creation and His mercy and grace are revealed through the everyday kindness of a creation that sustains life. 

The problem is not that God has hidden the truth of His existence but that people have suppressed or hidden the truth (Romans 1:18).  Paul goes on to say that having suppressed the truth about God, people then exchange that truth for a lie and invent systems of idolatry, replacing the worship of the true God with idols fashioned after their own imaginations.  This has led to every form of corruption and wickedness and God has given them up to their darkness (Romans 1:22-32).

There is light enough to know that God exists and to know something of his character.  This is not saving revelation.  It is the general revelation that God exists but God holds everyone accountable for their response to His revelation of Himself.  When people refuse, reject and suppress the revelation of God, God gives them up to the blindness which they have chosen and they cannot perceive truth about God.  The Apostle Paul said,

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3,4).  

However, when anyone responds to general revelation with a sincere hunger to know God, to enter into relationship with Him, God will always find a way to reveal the ministry of Jesus Christ to that soul.  When anyone acts on the general revelation that God exists, God will bring them to saving revelation — the knowledge of Christ and His redeeming work on our behalf.

“For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  

The people of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom had enough light to turn to God and if they had turned, the Lord would have responded by revealing the way of salvation.  On the day of judgment, God will hold them accountable for their failure to turn to Him.  

The people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum will be judged by a far greater standard because their light was greater.  God visited them in the flesh, they saw and heard the ministry of Jesus and were indifferent.

The Easy Yoke

11:25-30

11:25 Jesus thanks the Father that “these things,” i.e., the good news of the kingdom, His true identity as Messiah, have been hidden from the wise and revealed to infants.  In fact, the good news of God’s kingdom breaking into history through a crucified Savior was “to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness”  (I Corinthians 1:23).  They not only did not see the truth in Jesus, they were offended by what they did see.

Who are these intelligent ones who fail to recognize God’s truth incarnated in human form?  They are those in every generation who are learned in religion but know nothing of God; who are skilled in business, arts and entertainment, enterprise and technology but have not obtained even the beginning of true wisdom, which is the awed reverence of God (Proverbs 9:10).  

They are astute in the exercise of power, in the manipulation of information systems.  Creative, knowledgeable and skilled, they gain knowledge, wealth and influence but lose sight of their own helplessness and need.  In the end, having gained their hopes and dreams, wise in the ways of the world but ignorant of God, they lose their souls and gain nothing of ultimate value.

What does Jesus mean that God has hidden kingdom truth from the so-called wise?  Does God hide the truth from anyone?  As we have seen, God reveals the truth of His existence to everyone:

“That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them ... His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20).  

But when people suppress the truth, exchange the truth for a lie, God gives them up to their sin (Romans 1:24,25) .  That is, God removes His restraint and allows them to run as far as their sin will take them.  For instance, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart after Pharaoh hardened his own heart.  God confirmed Pharaoh’s choice to oppose God, to reject God’s purpose.  

When people suppress the truth, God hides the truth by giving them up to the darkness they have chosen, allowing the god of this world to blind them to spiritual truth.

God also veils truth from those who despise truth.  This is why Jesus taught in parables:  “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because seeing they do not see and while hearing, they do not hear nor do they understand” (Matt. 13:10-15). 

Those who hunger after truth will push aside the veils of the parable, seeking diligently the desire of their heart, which is to know God.  Those who consider God’s truth as nothing of value will turn away from the veil and fail to obtain that which they have already rejected.  (Parables, then, reveal the heart of the listener, motivating the seeker to seek; further hardening the heart of the hard-hearted.) 

The Apostle Paul said that God has called, “Not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God”  (I Corinthians 1:26-29).

Truth is hidden from the wise and revealed to babes.  Babes are the childlike who listen to Jesus, the simple ones who act on His truth, who believe in and submit to His Lordship, who are now children of God and translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13,14).

11:26 It was God’s will that those who are wise in the wisdom of this age would neither recognize nor receive Jesus.  That is, those who reject and suppress the truth about God, who exchange the truth of God for the lies which pass as wisdom in this world, will find themselves abandoned by the will of God to the darkness they chose.

But God ordained that the child-like would recognize Him and believe in Him.  “To those who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12).  God has purposed that the simple and child-like who place their faith in Christ are reborn as children of God.

11:27 Faith in Christ, the capacity to recognize Him as the Son of God, Messiah-Redeemer, the capacity to believe in Him and surrender to his Lordship, is a gift from God.  Only God can reveal Himself to us.  Why?  Because in our natural state of separation from God, we are spiritually dead — blind, deaf and unresponsive to God’s revelation of Himself (see Romans 3:10-12,   2 Corinthians 4:3,4,   Ephesians 2:1-3).  Though God has revealed truth about Himself, and though we will be accountable for our response to that truth, we are unable to respond except as God enables us.

This is a paradox.  God has revealed truth, we will be held accountable for our response to revealed truth, but we cannot respond in faith unless God enables us.  But God has done this in Christ, as Jesus said, “No one knows the Son except the Father nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Through Jeremiah, the Lord said, 

“You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13,14).

When we act on the light that we have (the general revelation of God’s existence), when we desire to know God and seek for Him with all our heart (when we seek saving revelation), no matter what century or culture we live in, God will find a way to shine His light into our heart.  Where do we find the full revelation of God?  Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9).  

In Jesus, we see, not just the truth that God exists, but that God is gracious to save and redeem us from our sin.  We see how God does this, through the atoning death of Christ on the cross, whereby he bore our sins and satisfied the justice of God.  We see how God proves this, through the resurrection of Christ.

In summary, God reveals the truth of His existence and has revealed two of His attributes through creation — His eternal power and His divine nature.  His power is revealed through the awesomeness of creation and His mercy and grace are revealed through the everyday kindness of a creation that sustains life.  This much truth or light is available to everyone.

This is not enough light to be reconciled to God and saved from sin but God knows the heart of every person.  When anyone responds to truth by seeking more truth, God will reveal the saving ministry of Jesus to that soul.

11:28 These words constitute the great cathedral bell of God’s invitation:

1. “Come unto me:” 

Jesus, God in flesh, is the revelation of God’s salvation purpose for all humanity.  He said,   “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).  

“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). 

In Him are hidden the riches of salvation, “Who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30).

2. All you”: 

Who is invited?  All who have ears to hear the invitation; all who have eyes to see that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.  How many are included in all?  All who hear the invitation and respond in humble faith:  “Whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”  (Romans 10:13)

3. “All who are weary and heavy-laden”:

 

weary and burdened with the weight of sin and guilt

weary and burdened with the weight of futile human religion 

weary and burdened with the weight of bitter failure and empty success

weary and burdened with the weight of grief and trauma and harsh circumstance

weary and burdened with the weight of everyday cares and unending labor

weary and burdened with the weight of cold fear and dread

4. I will give you”: 

The greatest gifts in heaven or on earth can only be given by God and these are given through His Son: “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

5. “I will give you rest”: 

The word rest means refreshment.  It is the word used in Revelation 14:13 of the saints who die in the Lord, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.’”

How does Jesus give us this rest?  By breaking all the unholy yokes that have bound us slave-like to unholy masters, and then yoking us to Himself.  He is the Prince of Peace and to abide in Him is to abide in peace.  “In Him is life” and to abide in Him is to abide in true life, abundant life, everlasting life.

He breaks the yoke of false religion and yokes us in love to God our Father.

He breaks the yoke of guilt and sin and yokes us to God’s forgiveness.

He breaks the yoke of false freedom and yokes us to a life of liberating service.

11:29 Jesus calls us to be yoked to Himself and to learn of Him.  He reminds us that the goal of discipleship is to be like the Lord.  We are not merely to learn of Him but to become like Him.  This is the great privilege and blessing of discipleship, that we would grow, “To the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). 

Being yoked to Jesus means being joined to Him, abiding in Him as He abides in us.  This happens through the supernatural miracle of new birth — Christ comes to indwell us and our life is joined to His life.   In union with Christ, He begins to cultivate His life, His character, His mind and heart in us.

“Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4,5).

The yoke of Jesus is a yoke of labor and service — we are joined to His ministry, His kingdom purpose.  It is a yoke of empowered sacrifice and self denial, sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings and in the power of His resurrection.  It is a yoke of overflowing joy, sharing in the joy of our Master.  

Again He reminds us, His yoke is a yoke of rest.  

11:30 It is an easy yoke and the burden is light because we are yoked to Christ Himself and He upholds us as we share His ministry.  Confessing our weakness, He pours into us His strength. Confessing our lack, He releases His abundant resources. Confessing our limitations, He shares His wisdom.

“Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you,”  (Psalm 55:22).  Yoked to Christ, He not only bears our burden but bears us up, sustaining, leading, renewing us in His image.

Matthew 12

Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath

12:1,2 Israel was commanded by God to keep the Sabbath as a holy day of rest and remembrance (Ex. 20:8-11). However, over the centuries, the rabbis had added countless rules and traditions to the Word of God. Instead of a day of rest, the Sabbath had become a burdensome day of binding regulations, defining how many steps you could take, how much you could lift, how many stitches you could put in a garment.

The first mention of a Sabbath is in Genesis chapter 2:

“By the seventh day, God completed His work which He had done and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 2:2,3)

There are four reasons why this seventh day is unique:

1. "God completed His work" (2:1). 

This day reminds us of the completeness of God’s creation.

2. “He rested” (2:1).

The verb rested is shabath in the Hebrew (sabbath in English).  This does not imply any kind of weariness — God does not diminish His energy or power in anything He does because His power is perfect and cannot be diminished.  God does not need to rest because God does not grow weary, “He faints not, neither is He weary" (Isaiah 40:28).   

Because God is never weary, He never sleeps.  “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). 

.

The word  shabath simply means not to do work.  God completed His initial creative labor, there was nothing more for Him to do with regard to that task.  Though God continues to sustain His creation and works His redeeming purpose in history, He completed His original work.

3. "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it" (2:3).

The Hebrew word translated sanctified is the word holy. The word is related to the concept of being removed from, elevated or exalted above the usual level. This is the first time the word holy is used in Scripture.

4. There is also a sense of delight in God’s sabbath.  "In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor and was refreshed" (Exodus 31:17).

The Hebrew word refreshed carries the idea of satisfaction or delight.  God saw everything He made, it was very good and as a result of that, He found joy, delight.  This is not unlike a master painter when he finishes his masterpiece and steps back to delight in what he has accomplished.

God blessed the seventh day and declared it to be a day set apart from the other six days — elevated, lifted up, exalted.   God designed and declared it to be holy, sanctified, a set-apart day, a unique day. 

There is no mention of a Sabbath rest for Adam in Genesis.  He was without sin, a perfect man in every sense, living in a paradise in which there was no depletion of his energies as he loved God and cared for a blessed creation.  Nothing is said about this day being a day of worship because all of Adam's life was an act of worship and communion.  

The Sabbath, originally, was in relation to God, not Adam.  God designed the seventh day to be a special memorial to His creation and its original perfection.  It is a day exalted above all other days as a memorial to the glory of God's perfection in creation. Every seventh day from here on out would be a reminder that God in six days created the universe in perfection.

The first time the Sabbath is mentioned in reference to people is in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus. God is providing manna from heaven as the people move through the wilderness. The manna comes every day except on the Sabbath. On the day before, the people gather enough for two days so that they don't have to work on the day which God declared to be holy (16:22,23).  

This previews Exodus 20 in which God gives the Ten Commandments, one of which concerns the Sabbath day. 

God gave the Sabbath to Israel for two reasons. First, because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, people are living in paradise lost, a fallen, cursed creation. We gather bread through toilsome labor, from thorns and thistles, by the sweat of our brow (Genesis 3:17-19). We need a day of rest from hard labor.  

Israel also needed a day to remember and worship the God who had called them into covenant relationship with Himself.  Every Sabbath, the people rested and were reminded of God's original paradise and paradise lost through sin.  And the Sabbath was a reminder of paradise regained through covenant relationship with God, pointing to the future kingdom of God and a new heaven and a new earth.

So the Sabbath law was an expression of God’s merciful desire that all people should rest from their labors one day a week and reflect on and worship the God who had acted in history to judge and redeem fallen humanity.  

However, a body of man-made traditions had developed alongside the God-given Sabbath laws, binding people in increasingly restrictive rules that robbed them of the peace and blessing God wanted them to experience on the Sabbath.  It had gotten to the point where even taking a bit of grain, rubbing it between the palms and eating it, would bring condemnation from the religious authorities.

One Sabbath day, Jesus and His disciples were passing through some grain fields. They were not there to harvest but because foot paths often wound through fields and because the disciples were hungry, they began to pluck and eat the heads of the grain.

According to the Law of Moses, picking a handful of grain while passing through a field on the Sabbath was permitted. This was not stealing and was not a violation of the prohibition against working on the Sabbath.  

But the Pharisees considered this to be work — plucking even a handful of grain was said to be reaping and rubbing the husk away was threshing.  They considered this to be a violation of the Sabbath law of rest. As we have said, the Law of Moses, the Law which God had given Israel, did not prohibit this.  It was the religious traditions of the scribes which had been attached to the Law, which were being violated. Technically, it was the Pharisees who were committing sin in placing their religious traditions on the same level as the Word of God.

12:3,4 Jesus points out that when David and his companions were running for their lives and were hungry, they ate the holy bread from the tabernacle.  This broke the Sabbath traditions concerning holy bread but God was not offended because of David’s hunger.

12:5 Further, the priests in the temple, in carrying out their duties, labored on the Sabbath but they were considered innocent.  So there was legal precedent for the breaking of Sabbath law when necessary.

12:6 Jesus reminds the Pharisees that something greater than the temple is in their midst (and by implication, greater than their Sabbath traditions).  He is in fact claiming to be God and therefore, Lord over the Sabbath.  He returns to this theme in 12:41,42 when He reminds them that people repented at the preaching of Jonah and something greater than Jonah is here.  People journeyed to hear Solomon and something greater than Solomon is here.   

The problem here is that the Pharisees are aware of their religious traditions but not at all aware of the identity of the One in whose presence they stood, the One of whom the fourth Gospel testifies, 

“All things came into being through Him 

and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being.  

In Him was life and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3,4).

They reverence the temple and its rituals but they are so distant from the God who gave them these gifts. They reverence their man made religious traditions more than the Word of God and cannot discern the presence of this God who has been born in human form and is standing in their midst.  

12:7 Jesus quotes from the prophet Hosea (6:6), in which God reprimands the people of Hosea’s day for engaging in religious ritual while becoming distant in their relationship with Him and wicked in their relationships with one another. In other words, their religion had become nothing more than external form divorced from internal substance. They were carrying on an outward form of piety while their hearts were corrupt; worshipping God with their words while their hearts were far from him.

That is nothing other than religious hypocrisy and God condemned it in Hosea’s day as He does in every generation.

Jesus is speaking to Pharisees, religious zealots who were living at a distance from God, who had lost touch with God’s priorities.  God gave Israel the sacrificial system, the Psalms and prayers and rituals so they could celebrate Him and serve Him.  But if ritual becomes a substitute for knowing God; if we practice our ritual while tolerating sin and compromise in our lives; if we use our rituals to cover our sin, then our religion is only a means of separating us from the God whom we profess to worship. 

When we become more devoted to our rituals than to the heart and mind of God, then we may well hear a prophetic voice proclaim a disturbing message:

“I hate, I reject your festivals, 

nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.  

Even though you offer up to me 

burnt offerings and your grain offerings, 

I will not accept them; 

and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings;  

take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen 

to the sound of your harps.  

But let justice roll down like waters 

and righteousness like an ever flowing stream”  

(Amos 5:21-24  see also Isa 1:11-17).

Neither Amos nor Hosea nor Jesus advised the people to abandon the sacrificial system (though only a few decades after Jesus’ resurrection they would, when the Romans destroyed the temple and the priesthood was subsequently disbanded; of course, a better sacrifice had been offered once and for all time — the holy Lamb of God, rendering the temple, the priesthood and the Old Covenant sacrificial system irrelevant).  

Jesus is not counseling these Pharisees to abandon the rituals which God had given them. Rather, He is exhorting them to know the heart of this God in whose name they exercise their rituals.

The heart of God is a heart of mercy.  Rightly exercised, our worship and our prayer exposes our need for God’s mercy, creates in us a craving for mercy and drives us in our humbled need to the honey in the rock for which our soul craved.  Having experienced mercy, we then become instruments of mercy.

 In God’s system of values, mercy and love are the fulfilling of the Law but too often the learned men and women of established religion are ignorant of this truth.  Religion often only educates us into ignorance.  God forbid that our religious insight only serves to darken our eyes to God's truth, only dulls our sensitivity to God's priorities.  God forbid that our worship of Him would become such dry religious exercise that we would neither taste mercy nor come away bearing any for others.

12:8 Jesus, co-Creator with the Father and the Holy Spirit of all that was and is and shall be, created the Sabbath.  He is therefore Lord over that which He created.  How absurd that we would attempt, with religious chains, to restrict and bind the One who created us and created our Sabbath day and our Sabbath songs and liturgies.  Rather, we should ask Him to break our bondage that we might know Him and enjoy Him and that our Sabbath rest of abiding in Him and He in us would be unendingly joyful and recreative.

By the way, there's not one New Testament command to keep the Sabbath.  All the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament except the one about the Sabbath. There is  no mention of Sabbath rules or Sabbath behavior anywhere in the New Covenant.  In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian church,

“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day”  (Colossians 2:16).  This was in response to Jewish believers who were attempting to force Gentile believers to observe the law of Moses and the weight of religious tradition that had attached to that law.  Paul says, “No.”

In Acts 15, when the Jerusalem Council decided what would be required of Gentile believers in the church, there were no requirements to observe the Sabbath.  In fact, Jesus violated extra-Biblical Sabbath regulations repeatedly.  He didn't have to heal people on the Sabbath or command a man to pick up his bed and carry it away.  But He did it and He did it purposely.

Jesus never violated the Word of God.  He fulfilled it by living it perfectly. But He violated the man made traditions that had been attached to God’s Word because He is Lord of the Sabbath, greater than the Sabbath. The Sabbath will be what He designed it to be. 

God gave the Sabbath to be a blessing to humanity:

to give us rest from our wearying work in a fallen world; 

to give us a taste of paradise where everything was rest, before the Fall; 

to give us an opportunity to thank God for creation; 

to reflect on our covenant relationship with Him, in which covenant we are redeemed and prepared for the wonderful day when paradise will be regained.

A man once said, “I cannot do everything expected of me in seven days but I can in six.”  There is something about holy rest that multiplies our strength.

Sabbath is a gift from God, not to be used in sinful ways but as

God’s gift to the worshipper who is renewed while praising God; 

God’s gift to the lover of truth who is renewed as God’s Word is studied and taught; 

God’s gift to the weary who are refreshed as they rest; 

God’s gift to the lost who in Sabbath seeking, are found by God.

Sabbath keeping is a discipline of joy

a discipline of peace

a discipline that renews us for the coming week

Sabbath keeping is a celebration of family love,

a holy time for doing good and sharing mercy.

In Mark 2:27 we read that the Sabbath was made for man, 

it is God’s gift but the wealth of the gift is only enjoyed in the Giver.

Sabbath separated from the Giver is no Sabbath at all.

We should avoid the secular rejection of the Sabbath.

We should avoid the religious legalist’s enslavement to the Sabbath.

The New Testament church provides a good model for us.  They gathered together to worship and pray, to listen as God’s Word was taught, to eat together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a community of faith. 

12:9,10 The controversy now centers not on grain but on a man with a crippled hand.  However, the underlying issue is the same: keeping the Sabbath law.  The opponents of Jesus ask, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

There was no Old Testament law which prohibited the practice of any medical or healing skill on a Sabbath. There was certainly no prohibition against doing good, working mercy. It was the thousands of mad-made regulations that had been attached to the Law which had obscured the true meaning and intent of the Law and certainly had blinded people to God’s heart. 

How contrary to the heart of God, that a day set aside to rest and reverence Him, would become a day when works of mercy would be declared illegal!  

When the Pharisees saw the disciples of Jesus plucking heads of grain, when they saw a man with a crippled hand who was unable to work, what was aroused in their heart was zeal for the Law.  When Jesus looked at human need, He was moved with compassion.  The Pharisees were motivated to argue, to rebuke.  Jesus was motivated to do works of mercy.

Is it lawful to do good, to exercise mercy on a holy day?  God's priority is always the exercise of mercy and love and kindness.  His holy Law is never in opposition to His mercy. How ironic that anyone’s religious activity can blind them to the needs of others and the yearning of God to touch them.

12:11,12 Jesus reminds them that if one of their sheep were in danger, they would rescue it even if this happened on a Sabbath.  He concludes that since a man is of more value than a sheep, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

12:13 Jesus then commands healing and it is done. He speaks to the crippled hand and it responds to the voice of Creator God.

12:14 Whereas the man’s affliction motivated the Pharisee’s religious legalism, Jesus’ act of healing motivates their rage.  Jesus' act of mercy, in violation of their religious law, so infuriated these religious men that they went out discussing how they might destroy Him.  They did not seek the man’s healing but they do seek the destruction of Jesus the healer.  How terribly bound they were by the very religion which was supposed to bring them into covenant relationship with the living God.

When our religion deadens our heart to human need, causes us to rage against mercy and separates our heart from God’s heart, then God deliver us from our religion.  When we look at human suffering and see only the rule of religious doctrine and law, then God deliver us from the tyranny of doctrine and law and may God cleanse our eyes.

12:15 Jesus withdrew from there, from that place of religious bondage.  "Many followed Him" in this withdrawal “and he healed them all.”  They withdrew from religion and entered into healing.  

Three truths about the ministry of Jesus are revealed:

1. Jesus withdrew from and avoided needless controversy.  

He did not back down from confrontation with evil, hypocrisy, disease or any work of the devil that blinded and oppressed people.  Scripture says, “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38).  But he did not allow unnecessary entanglements to steal His time or energy or break His focus.  

Neither did He seek publicity or self promotion.  His truth was not trumpeted from street corners but veiled in parables; His divine nature was humbly hidden in human form.  How strange Jesus appears to our times, when promotion, profile and publicity are such huge priorities in so many self-glorifying ministries.

2. “Many followed Him.”

People were drawn to Jesus, no matter where He went or how He veiled His ministry.

3. “He healed them all.”  

When did Jesus not heal or deliver those who came to Him?  Human need mixed with faith pulled mercy from the heart of Jesus.

12:16 Jesus avoided notoriety, often asked people not to reveal His miracles. He did this for several reasons.

1. The people were in a continual state of expectation, looking for a political Messiah who would overthrow the hated Romans. They were always one match away from the fire of violent rebellion. Jesus avoided fueling that fire.

2. Jesus never used His power to self-promote. His motivation was pure compassion.

3. Miracles attracted crowds and Jesus was not attempting to build crowds. He was attempting to make disciples. That is best done in small groups.

4. Crowds made it difficult to eat, rest, pray. In order to function, Jesus avoided drawing crowds whenever possible.

12:17,18 Though people and nations resist God, reject His purpose, persecute and oppose His church, God is not surprised nor defeated.  He knows in advance all possible outcomes and has prepared contingencies for every conceivable circumstance.  The result of Israel’s rejection of Jesus has been the salvation of the Gentiles, as prophesied by Isaiah.

12:19 Jesus does not coerce people into serving Him.  His is not the voice of earthquake, wind or fire.  It is the humble voice of mercy, the voice of the servant who suffers for His beloved.

12:20 In contrast to the indifference and violence of the religious authorities,  Jesus is so gentle with us in our infirmities.  His gentleness is such that He does not break that which is bruised nor quench the sputtering flame.  Where some would see only a soul bruised beyond remedy, Jesus sees a life waiting for His redeeming touch.  Where some would say that the light of our vision is only a smoldering ember, Jesus sees a candle waiting for His breath, His restoring light.  We can trust Him with our brokenness, our lost vision, our fears and hopes.

12:21 That which so offended Israel, this Messiah revealed as a suffering servant, this Lord of the Sabbath who violated Godless religion in order to set free those bound by religious law, this Messiah rejected by Israel, became the hope of the Gentiles.  

Though many in Israel were beginning to express violent opposition to Jesus and though the nation later rejected their Messiah, God is not finished with Israel, as the Apostle Paul said,  “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15).

The Presence of the Kingdom

12:22,23 A man, demon possessed and afflicted with blindness and loss of speech, was brought to Jesus and Jesus healed him. The people were amazed (existemi, to be totally astounded, beside yourself with astonishment) and wondered if this could be the Son of David, that is, the Messiah.

However, it sounds as though their astonishment is tempered with doubt, ambivalence: "This man cannot be the Son of David, can He?"   It was impossible to deny the power of Jesus —  it was evident but they were reluctant to accept Him as Messiah because His ministry did not fit their preconceived ideas as to what the Messiah would do.

They were expecting a warrior-king, overthrowing the power of Rome and establishing the visible kingdom of God in all of its glory.  How could this humble, merciful, friend of poor people, healer of the sick and preacher of grace to sinners possibly be the Messiah?  They did not recognize the many Old Testament passages which painted exactly this portrait of the Messiah.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem power brokers dispatched representatives to keep an eye on Jesus: Pharisees and scribes (experts in religious law) and Herodians (political allies of King Herod).  They were not only enraged by Jesus’ disrespect for their unbiblical traditions, rules and regulations. They also sensed a rising threat to their domination of the common people.

They were witnessing one miracle after another and a rising tide of interest in this preacher from Galilee. Although the fickle public was unstable in their loyalty to Jesus,  the possibility remained that they would cast their allegiance with Him and this motivated increased jealousy, hostility and opposition from the religious authorities. People turning to Jesus would be a threat to the religious / political power base of the rulers.

12:24 In an attempt to discredit Jesus, the Pharisees attributed His miracles to the power of Satan (they had made this charge before — see 9:34).  They could not deny the reality of His miracles nor the supernatural power behind the miracles.  So they attempted to discredit the source of His power: 

 “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.”  

Beelzebub was the name of a Philistine god.  Beel comes from Baal (an ancient Canaanite word for lord).  Zebub or zebul  has to do with the word flies.  Lord of the flies.

They are saying that Jesus’ power is not from God but from the devil.

Again, they are not denying the supernatural character of what Jesus does. But there are only two categories for supernatural work: God or Satan, because those are the only supernatural kingdoms that exist.

12:25,26 Jesus’ response is that it makes no sense for Satan to oppose the work of Satan.  Satan’s goal is to gain control of human lives and through those lives to influence and manipulate the world in destructive opposition to the purposes of God.  But if Satan is casting demons out of people, breaking demonic control where it has been established, then how can his kingdom stand?  To suggest such self-defeating action by one who seeks only to do evil is absurd.

That’s not to say that everything which occurs in the kingdom of darkness is always reasonable or logical.  Evil always produces chaos.  In chaos, there will be inconsistency.  Further, Satan is not omnipotent, so he can't control everything; he is not omniscient, so he doesn't know everything and he is not omnipresent.  So there will be chaos in his kingdom but not to the extent where Satan is subverting his own purposes. 

There may be times when Satan disguises himself as a worker for God and appears to be casting demons out as a way of validating a counterfeit ministry.  But he will not attempt to destroy his own kingdom with the consistent opposition and authority which Jesus exercised.

12:27 Evidently, Jesus was not the only person casting out demons. “Your sons” may refer to disciples of the Pharisees.  Possibly, some of their disciples were involved in exorcisms.   A later example of this is found in Acts 19:13-16, where Jewish exorcists were trying to use the name of Jesus without any relation to Him and were spectacularly unsuccessful.  The demons said to them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?" (Acts 19:15,16).

Though those men were unsuccessful, the fact that they were attempting to cast out demons demonstrates their belief that casting out demons is a righteous thing to do, not satanically inspired.  Jesus is saying, "If your disciples are attempting to do what I am doing, then how can you attribute this to Satan?"   

Or “your sons” may be a reference to the disciples of Jesus who, in a general sense, were sons of the temple and synagogue.  Jesus had commissioned them to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, to heal and to cast out demons (Matthew 10:5-8   Luke 9:1,2  10:17).  He points out the foolishness of the assertion that some were doing this work from righteous motives while He was motivated by demons.

The enemies of Jesus were so prejudiced against Him that they were making absurd claims.  How absurd to suggest that Satan would attempt to cast out Satan.  But prejudice drives people to absurdity.  It is not for lack of evidence that people reject God or His Messiah.  It is because they reject the evidence, because their hearts are hardened by preconceived notions, because they love darkness more than light, dead idols more than the living God, lies more than truth.  

In this case, the Pharisees, scribes and other religious leaders loved their power and their positions of authority more than they loved God. They, like all people of prejudice, will always find reasons to support their bias, even if their reasons are unreasonable.

12:28 Having demonstrated the absurdity of the Pharisee's objections, proving that He could not be working by the power of Satan and must be working by the power of God, Jesus then states that if His miracles are being accomplished by the power of God, then that means that the presence of God’s kingdom is upon you.

The casting out of demons was and remains a sign of the inbreaking kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is where God is ruling and where God is ruling, God is overruling the claims of counterfeit kings and false gods.  When people invite the Lordship of Jesus into their lives, God destroys demonic kingdoms and establishes His kingdom within that person.  

This is what Jesus meant when He said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is’ or ‘There it is.’  For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst (or within you)”  (Luke 17:20,21).  

In establishing His Lordship within the life of a believer, Jesus breaks the rulership, the dominion of Satan off of that life.  When we submit to the Lordship of Jesus, we are rescued or translated “from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His (God’s) beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).  

Every act in the ministry of Jesus was an act of confrontation with Satan’s kingdom.  Jesus proclaimed the presence of the kingdom in His teaching and in works of mercy and power. With truth, grace and authority He demonstrated, visibly, what God’s kingdom looks like.  

“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil”  (I John 3:8).   

“He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil”  (Acts 10:38).

In forgiving the guilty, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising the dead, releasing those bound in demonic slaveries, in teaching truth, in all these acts of ministry Jesus was confronting and overcoming the kingdom of darkness.  He was saying, in effect, “This is what it looks like to live under the rule of my grace.” 

When He sent His disciples out to minister, He invested in them the same authority to proclaim the kingdom and do the mighty works which prove the presence of the kingdom:

“And He called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.  And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing”  (Luke 9:1,2).  

On another occasion He said,

“Whatever city you enter... heal those in it who are sick and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:8,9).

“The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name’ ... And He said to them ... ‘Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy’” (Luke 10:17-19).

Destroying the kingdom of Satan was and remains a sign of the inbreaking kingdom of God.

Jesus raised only a few people from the dead but He demonstrated His authority over death.  In healing the sick, in forgiving those bound by guilt, in casting out demons, He revealed the authority of the inbreaking kingdom.  In all of these acts of ministry, Jesus was proving the power of the presence of the kingdom of God and showing us a picture of that future day when His kingdom will be established on earth.

Someday, the kingdom of God will be fully, gloriously, visibly established on earth.  But today, the kingdom of God is in our midst, established in the hearts of those who repent and confess their faith in Jesus, Lord of the kingdom.  His kingdom is expressed through our lives as we, the gathered church, carry on Christ’s ministry under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

12:29 Having demonstrated the absurdity of the Pharisees' accusation, Jesus then reminds them that the reason the kingdom of God is pushing into time and history is because the kingdom of Satan is being overcome.  

Jesus asks, "How can you plunder a strong man's house unless you first bind the strong man?"  The “strong man” being bound is Satan.  His property is far more precious than gold and silver.  It is human souls (Rev 18:11-13).  It is this treasure, presently captured and enslaved in chains of darkness and depravity, that the Son of God intends to plunder.

Demonically bound personalities are being set free, bodies broken by disease are being healed. Minds overwhelmed by guilt are being restored. Sinners are being called to repentance. Forgiving grace is being poured out, lavished on all who call upon the name of the Lord. How could this happen unless the power and rule of Satan is being bound and destroyed?

Jesus, in His birth and in His life, has entered “the strong man’s house.”  In His preaching He bound the strong man’s power in the sense that light exposes darkness and truth disempowers lies.  His miracles demonstrated that One stronger than Satan is present.  But most of all, it was on the cross that Jesus bound the “strong man’s” power.  Satan’s power is released against humanity through our sin but the holy Lamb of God on the cross removed our sin and therefore, destroyed Satan’s power over us.  The Apostle Paul said,

“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him,” (Colossians 2:13-15).

On the cross, Jesus rendered "powerless him who had he power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrew 2:14).  In the resurrection, He seized the keys of death and of hell (Rev. 1:18).  We who once were dead in trespass and sin have now been made alive together with Christ.

12:30 Jesus says that if we are not actively working with Him in ministry, then we are working against Him.  There is no neutral ground.  To do nothing in a time of evil is to do evil.  If we are not acting with Jesus in gathering harvest, then we are as those who scatter.

Jesus has committed to His church the power to bind Satan and plunder his house and the world yearns to hear and believe the Good News that chains are broken in Christ.  The message of the cross contains the liberating power of God to save and deliver all who repent of sin and turn to Christ. But more than mere words, we also do those works of mercy and power which show visibly and undeniably, the presence of a greater kingdom and a mightier King.

We are able to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and do the works of the kingdom because God has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son  (Colossians 1:13).  God has broken the power of the kingdom of darkness off of our lives.  This is the biography of every believer.  We were children of wrath, ruled by the powers of this world, but Christ set us free.  Freely we have received, freely we give.

There is a thought here also about prayer.  Our prayers are a way of participating in Christ’s binding of the strong man.  There is a spiritual war going on, a conflict of kingdoms.  As we pray in union with Jesus, the power and rule of darkness is continually being broken, the works of the kingdom of God are being released and our prayers become a partner to the preaching that brings in the harvest.

There is also a calling, in these verses, to personal commitment.

While it is true that a kingdom cannot exist divided, neither can a human soul.  We are living in a conflict of kingdoms and must choose which king we will serve.  We cannot serve the true and living God and serve lesser and false gods.  The Psalmist prayed, “Unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).  Only God can bring us into this unity of being and He does so only at our invitation.  

The early English word hal is the root of later words holy and whole.  The holy man or woman is whole, undivided, united in heart and soul.

Only we can ask this.  Only God can grant it.

Last, there is a note of encouragement here.

Though this world is filled with violent signs of the kingdom of darkness, nevertheless, the prince of darkness is bound and being bound, his kingdom is broken and being broken, his treasures are being plundered.  During the millennial reign of Christ on earth, Satan will be bound for a thousand years, then loosed for one final act of rebellion, then cast into the lake of fire for all eternity.  Today, he works his evil purpose on earth but his power is contested everywhere, his everlasting doom is sealed, and his time is short.

The tears of grief which you have shed, the prayers of faith which you lifted up at midnight when there seemed to be no hope of light, the works of mercy which you performed amidst a seemingly endless tide of evil, the truth you have proclaimed and lived while surrounded by lies and deceptions, none of this was in vain.

John heard this triumphant shout in heaven, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever”  (Revelation 11:15).

The Unpardonable Sin

12:31,32 There is sin which God cannot and will not forgive: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  But before we look at this, don’t overlook the mercy in verse 31: “Any (other) sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven.”  

God is a forgiving God.  Truly, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psalm 103:8). What is it that releases the Lord’s forgiving grace? It is the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. 

“But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us of all sin” (I John 1:7).

On the cross, Jesus our great High Priest offered Himself as the holy Lamb of God, taking upon Himself our sin and the Father’s wrath poured out against sin. Now, our sins are forgiven when the conditions are met, and the conditions for forgiveness are very clearly stated in the New Testament:  repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  When we confess our sin, turn from our sin to Christ in faith, believing in and receiving Him as Lord and Savior, then God forgives our sin, even our blasphemy.

The classic illustration for that is the Apostle Paul, who said, 

"Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor, yet I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are in found Christ Jesus.  It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all" ( I Timothy 1:13-15).

Paul says that he was the worst of sinners, a blasphemer, a violent persecutor of God’s church, but he was forgiven because he acted ignorantly. God’s forgiveness is stated clearly throughout Scripture:

"I acknowledged my sin to you and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin"  (Psalm 32:5).

 

Psalm 103 says God forgives our sins and removes them as far as the east is from the west.  Micah 7:18,19 says that God casts our sins into the depths of the sea. 

The Apostle John reminds us, "If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness"  (I John 1:9).

“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”  (Romans 10:13). 

God is a forgiving God when we repent and turn to Him.

What then is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?  And why is this sin unpardonable?  

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is attributing to the devil the work of the Holy Spirit.   

Remember that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit.  At the beginning of His ministry He said,

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18,19).

When Jesus was born into this world, He set aside His divine glory and power and was entirely dependent on the Holy Spirit to lead and anoint all that He did in ministry, from baptism and temptation through every act of teaching, preaching, healing, and deliverance. Everything Jesus said and did was empowered by the Spirit of God.   

By the time we arrive at Matthew 12, people had seen the miracles, the deliverances, heard the preaching and teaching.  There was no question about the evidence, about the manifestation of divine power.  The people, including the leaders, had seen unmistakeable evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. They had seen and heard the power of God manifesting through the ministry of Jesus. Yet the leaders attributed His power to Satan.  When they said that, they blasphemed the Holy Spirit, since it was the Holy Spirit who empowered all that Christ did. 

Jesus said, "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man (that is Jesus) it shall be forgiven him."  But these people were not merely rejecting Jesus.  They were rejecting the Person, presence, power and ministry of the Holy Spirit.

This is unforgivable because we can’t be forgiven apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who shows us our sin, brings us to a place of conviction that we have sinned, moves us to confess our sin, enables us to turn from sin in true repentance and then gifts us with faith to believe in the saving work of Jesus. If we reject the Spirit’s ministry, then there is no way we can repent of our sin and believe in Christ.  There is, then, no way to be forgiven.

Accepting God’s gracious offer of forgiveness is an act of faith and faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  The entire process of realizing my sin, confessing it, repenting of it and accepting forgiveness is a work of the Holy Spirit. But if I believe that the work of the Spirit is actually the work of the devil, and I therefore reject the work of the Spirit, then how will I repent and believe?

Further, every time we resist the Holy Spirit, every time we refuse His gentle voice, it becomes progressively more difficult to hear and respond to the next encounter.  We become gradually harder, more calloused as we resist God.  Over time, the soul’s capacity to respond to God can become deadened to the point that we cannot and will not respond.  

If we refuse light, there is only darkness.  If we refuse truth, there is only deception.  If we can no longer hear or see truth about ourselves or about God, then we cannot respond to truth.  At that point, any and all sin is unpardonable.  There is no pardon where pardon is not sought, where there is not even recognition of the need for pardon.  This is the sin against the Holy Spirit, that we have quenched His light, refused His voice, resisted His work and hardened our hearts so completely that we can no longer respond to His work.

There is also an aspect to the unpardonable sin which was unique to the people of Jesus’ day.  They had seen, with unmistakable clarity, His authority over Satan, over disease and death, over the very laws of nature.  They had heard Jesus teach and preach, had witnessed the clear resonance of divine authority in Him.  Some of the leaders, having seen and heard all of that witness, declared that Jesus’ authority was from Satan.

They were not ignorant, as was the Apostle Paul when he blasphemed. These blasphemers had seen the evidence yet they willfully, knowingly attributed Jesus’ ministry to the work of Satan.

There was nothing more that they could see or hear.  Again, forgiveness is based on repentance and faith in Christ.  They had seen all the evidence and refused to confess that Jesus was the Messiah.  They could never be forgiven because they would never believe. 

There was nothing more God could do to save them.  If people have as much light as God can give, and they reject the light, then there is nothing more that can be done for them.  

Salvation comes by faith in Christ, the Christ who confronts our sins, the Christ who calls us to repentance and to place our faith in Him.  If we believe He is of the devil, then we have not only rejected Him; we have also rejected the Holy Spirit who anointed Him for ministry and minsters salvation to us.  There is, then, no other means by which we could ever be redeemed or forgiven.  

Sometimes people ask, “Have I committed the unpardonable sin?” They obviously have not.  The fact that they are concerned about the state of their soul and their relationship with God reveals that they are still redeemable.  They could not experience that concern except that God had stirred it in them.  Their spiritual anxiety is a gift from God, evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit in their life.  I can only see what God shows me and if I see a spiritual need in my life, then there is still light, God is still working and I am still responding.

For the sake of argument, people will suggest a particularly evil person and ask, “Did he or she commit the unpardonable sin?”  For instance, they ask, “Could Adolph Hitler have been forgiven of His sin?”  They are really asking two questions.

1. Does the blood of Jesus avail for the forgiveness of Hitler’s sin? 

 

The answer is yes, absolutely, the blood of Jesus cleanses sin, all sin.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).  

John tells us, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7).

Yes, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin and reconciles us to God if we meet the conditions  The conditions are repentance and faith in Christ.  If we are walking in enough light to allow the Holy Spirit to bring us to conviction of sin, repentance and faith, then we will be forgiven of our sin.  

This leads to the second  question.

2. Was Hitler capable of sensing any conviction of sin, capable of repentance, of accepting by faith God’s forgiveness?  Or, was Hitler capable of any response to the work of the Holy Spirit?

Judging from his actions through the final years and months of his life, it seems clear that Hitler was incapable of responding to God in any way.  He could not be pardoned of sin because he would not seek pardon.  He could not experience convicting grace or saving grace because he denied any need for grace.  Evidently, he had rejected and blasphemed the Holy Spirit for so long and his heart was so hardened, so calloused, that he could no longer respond.

Don’t gloss over these words of John,

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us”  (I John 1:8,9).

The person who denies committing sin and therefore does not confess sin, is deceived, is a liar and cannot receive or experience the forgiveness which God offers.  At that point, any and all sin is unforgivable.

The Tree Is Known By Its Fruit

12:33 The fruit on a tree reveals truth about the tree.  Apple trees produce apples.  Healthy trees produce healthy fruit.  It is unnatural that a tree would bring forth both good and bad fruit.  

Taken in context, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees about the fruit in their lives. They said that they worshipped God, loved God, obeyed God’s Law, yet they were rejecting and blaspheming the ministry of the Messiah whom God had sent them. What does that reveal about the true fruit of their lives?

Jesus may also have been asking them to examine the fruit in His life. If sickness, demon possession and death are works of the devil, and Jesus was healing the sick, casting out demons and raising the dead, then how could He be doing the works of Satan? Satan’s destructive fruit is obvious. Jesus’ restoring fruit is obvious. “Examine the fruit,” Jesus is saying.

There is also truth for our lives.  We must decide what fruit we will bring forth.  The double minded, trying to serve two masters, will always be frustrated, unfulfilled, unfruitful.  Will we serve the god of this world or the true and living God?  Will we enthrone our self-will as lord or enthrone the true Lord of lords?  Jesus calls for decision.   When we decide who we will serve, we have determined the kind and quality of fruit we will produce. 

12:34,35 What determines the kind of fruit a tree produces?  The seed.  Peter reminds us that we “have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God”  (I Peter 1:23).  Seed carries in it the attributes, the blueprint, of whatever produced that seed.  The seed that regenerated our lives is the Word of God.  That seed is imperishable, incorruptible, everlasting, because these attributes are true of God.

Conversely, when Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44),  He was identifying the spiritual seed which had produced their hostility and unbelief toward Him and their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

What determines the quality of fruit?  The roots — their depth and health.  So with people.  The issues of our lives are determined by the purity, health and depth of our heart, our soul, our inner being.  Therefore we are exhorted, “Guard you heart with all diligence, for from it flow the issues of life”  (Proverbs 4:23).  

However, even if the seed is good and the roots are deep and strong, a healthy tree requires a skilled gardener.  So does a healthy human life.  Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener ... I am the vine, you are the branches,”  (John 15:1,5).  As we abandon ourselves to God, He is able to cultivate His life in us.

Likewise, if we have abandoned ourselves to the gods of this world, they will cultivate their life in us.  That inner reality is revealed in our living and in our words.  Jesus called His critics vipers because they were spiritually conformed to the serpent, the devil, and He asked them,  “How can you, being evil, speak what is good?  For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”

Whatever is in us, our true motives, will eventually be revealed.  The mouth speaks what is in the heart.  We don’t see motives any more than we see roots.  But just as the health of the root is revealed by the fruit, so our motives are revealed in our living and in our words.  

The Pharisees spoke blasphemy, slander against Jesus and the Holy Spirit because that’s what was in their heart. Their fruit revealed their seed and their roots.

12:36,37 Jesus says that we will be held accountable for our words — not just our actions but our words are judged.  Why?  In Proverbs 18:21 we read, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”  Just as our actions reveal what is in our heart, so do our words.  We speak life and blessing or death and cursing, depending on what is in our heart.

Further, as we speak life or death, blessing or cursing, we are determining the course or direction of our life.  The Apostle James compared the tongue to the rudder of a ship (James 3:2-5).  And he added, “With it we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.  Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?” (James 3:9-11)

Those who speak death and cursing will be judged, just as those who do deeds of death and cursing.  There is power in our words.  Likewise, if we speak life and blessing, we will be rewarded, just as those who do deeds of life and blessing.

  

Our actions have living and powerful consequences.  So do our words.

12:38 “Show us a sign,” the Pharisees demanded.  Jesus had just healed a man who was blind and mute but they called this a work of Satan (12:22-24).  He had recently healed a man with a withered hand and they conspired to destroy Him (12:10-14).

If we have no faith in Christ, miracles will not cause us to believe.  If our hearts are not tuned to truth, we can listen to the voice of Jesus and hear nothing of consequence.  If we love truth, we will hear truth whether we see a miracle or not.  Truth does not need a miracle to validate truth.

Jesus did not perform signs to prove Himself or to impress others, as though He were a magician or religious showman.  This was one of Satan’s temptations, “Throw yourself down (off the pinnacle of the temple)”  (Matthew 4:5,6).  Jesus refused — He did not perform signs on demand.  He did only those things which He saw His Father doing.  His miracles were the Father’s merciful response to human need and humble faith.  

12:39,40 Jesus called them an adulterous generation, that is, spiritually unfaithful.  He gave them no sign except from Scripture — the sign of Jonah, which He interpreted as His future resurrection.  Actually, He performed many more miracles before His earthly ministry was concluded.  Possibly the greatest was the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Yet this only intensified the rage of His enemies and they plotted His death (John 11:45-50).  Concerning His own resurrection, Jesus said, “If they do not believe Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

12:41 On the day of judgment, the people of Nineveh will arise and condemn the people of Jesus’ generation because the Ninevites repented at the preaching of imperfect, reluctant Jonah.  They heard less of God’s Word from less of a messenger, yet they repented.   But those who saw the perfect Son of God, heard Him preach and saw His wonders, did not repent.  Judgment is based on the light we have.  Greater light incurs greater judgment.

12:42 The Queen of the South traveled a far distance in response to the limited, human wisdom of Solomon.  She will arise in judgment of those who stood in the presence of more than wisdom, who witnessed the very Word of God in human flesh. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”  (John 14:6). He was truth incarnate, yet they rejected Him. They will be condemned by those who sought wisdom from a lesser source.

12:43-45 When people have no faith in God, they will not believe nothing.  They believe anything.  When a human soul is empty, when a nation becomes spiritually bankrupt, spiritual powers of darkness will rush in and fill the vacuum.

People who attempt to reform their life apart from the recreative, life-changing power of Jesus Christ, will only succeed in creating an empty space which will soon be occupied by the demonic influences of this fallen world.  Their methods of reform may be non-religious or quite religious but only God can deliver us from spiritual death and slavery to the gods of this world.  Only God can give us new life, everlasting life.

If God cleanses us of demonic bondages but we are not then filled with the presence of Christ, the old slaveries will rush back upon us in greater measure.  There is no lasting liberation without commitment.  If Christ has set us free, we must let him bind us to Himself and fill us with Himself.  Nature does not respect a vacuum.  Neither do demons.

12:46,47 Jesus’ mother and brothers called to Him.  We know from Mark’s Gospel that they thought He was out of His mind and they had come to take Him home (Mark 3:21).  In John’s Gospel we read that His family did not understand His ministry.  Nevertheless, Jesus loved His family and was devoted to His mother, even commending her into the care of a disciple as He was dying on the cross.  But Jesus would not allow any human relationships to interfere with the accomplishing of His Father’s purpose.

12:48-50 So it was that He defined His family in terms of shared commitment in ministry.  Relationship with Jesus is revealed, proven and defined by obedience — doing the will of the Father.  The family of God is joined in eternal covenant more certain than these death-broken covenants of blood and marriage.  Precious is the love of home and hearth but more precious is our kingdom calling and everlasting reward.  Joined to Christ in new birth, we are joined to the family of faith that spans the centuries and bridges the canyons of distance between this life and the next, between time and eternity.

Matthew 13

Veiling the Truth 

(13:1-3, 10-17)

13:1-3 “He spoke many things to them in parables.”  

Before we proceed, we need to answer the question which the disciples asked:

13:10 “Why do you speak to them in parables?”  

13:11 “Jesus answered them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.’” Jesus says that the mysteries of the kingdom have been hidden to some and revealed to others.  

To whom has the kingdom been revealed?  Jesus says, “To you,” His disciples. In 11:25, He calls them infants, that is, those who are childlike toward God — simple, humble, trusting.  These are the ones who accept God’s revelation of truth in Christ Jesus and humble themselves before that truth.  After the death and resurrection of Jesus, these are the ones who will trust in a crucified and risen Savior as God’s means of providing redemption.

However, Jesus says, “To them it has not been granted” to know the mysteries of the kingdom.

Who are those to whom the mysteries of the kingdom are hidden? 

Jesus is referring back to chapter 12, to those who were increasingly hostile, rejecting and blaspheming Him. Until that point in His ministry, He taught truth openly but now, as opposition increased, He veils the truth in parables as a form of judgment against those who hated the truth.

Parables were a form of judgment on those who despised the truth.

Jesus had said, “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to babes (Matt. 11:25 ). The mysteries of the kingdom have been hidden to “the wise and intelligent.”

To those who are wise in their own eyes, the message of a crucified savior is foolishness (I Cor. 1:18-25).  People who reject the cross may be creative, knowledgeable, skilled and powerful as the world counts power. They may be respectably religious but they know nothing of God. They may gain wealth and influence but they lose sight of their inability to save themselves.  In the end, respectable and wise in the ways of the world but blind toward God, they lose their souls and gain nothing of ultimate value.

Those who trust in the truth as God reveals it, the world calls them fools.  God calls them wise.  Those who trust in the wisdom of the world, whom the world calls wise, God calls fools.  The question is not, “Will you be a fool?”  The question is, “Whose fool will you be?”

13:12 Jesus now speaks what sounds like a paradox: to those who have, more shall be given but those who have not will lose even the little that they have.  What does He mean?  Taken in context, He’s speaking about the mysteries of the kingdom.  Those who love kingdom truth will try to acquire it, grow in it and obtain more.  Those who despise the truth of the kingdom will eventually lose any capacity to understand that which they despise.

This is obvious in the physical realm.  Those who value their health will practice careful stewardship in diet and exercise and will likely see an increased level of health.  Those who possess an artistic gifting and who practice and use their gift will see their gifting grow.  Those who neglect their health or talent will eventually lose what little they have.

13:13-15 So why speak in parables?

“Therefore I speak to them in parables because while seeing they do not see and while hearing, they do not hear, nor do they understand.”  Parables are an act of judgment on those who despise truth, who hate the truth, who suppress and deny the truth.  Wanting nothing from God, they receive nothing.  Having rejected the truth, God denies them the truth, hides truth within the veil.  

At the same time, parables are an act of self-revelation to those who love Christ and love the truth of His kingdom. For these, the purpose of parables is to unveil the truth by veiling it.  Those who are seekers will push aside the veil, search out the meaning  and come to a deeper revelation of truth. But to those who are indifferent to truth, the veil serves only to hide truth.  

Those who consider kingdom truth to be a pearl of great price, will seek and find the treasure they desire.  Those who consider God’s truth as nothing of consequence will fail to obtain that which they have already despised and rejected.  Parables, then, reveal the heart of the listener, motivating the seeker to seek while hardening the heart of the hardhearted. 

   

Jesus taught and preached clearly,  performed miracles openly.  His Messianic identity was as clear as light to anyone who had eyes to see.  But in spite of the evidence, many had rejected Him, opposition had mounted to a violent degree.  The lines were drawn and so we read in Matthew 13:34 that there came a time when Jesus spoke to the multitudes only in parables, veiling the truth to those who would not see or hear.  From that point on, those who preferred darkness would be given no light. 

Those who love the light would find, in parables, a passageway of light.

13:16,17 But blessed are your eyes because they see and blessed are your ears because they hear.  Those who love the truth, who humble themselves to God’s revelation of truth in Jesus Christ, will push aside the veils and will see, hear, understand.  The result of hearing and seeing the truth of Christ is blessing.  His words are eternal life and healing and wisdom.

 

The Parable of the Sower (13:3-9, 18-23)

13:3 Jesus is the sower (see 13:37) and the seed is His Word (the Word of the kingdom, 13:19).  It is that Word which creates worlds, explodes light into darkness and gives life to the dead.  By that Word we are born again, “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding Word of God,”  (I Peter 1:23).  The field is the world (13:38), specifically, the people groups of the world, tribes and tongues and nations.

13:4 Some seed fell beside the road.  Road side soil is hard packed, it has not been turned, plowed, softened and therefore the seed cannot penetrate, it remains on the surface.  Birds then come and steal the exposed seed.

13:19 Jesus says that these road-side hearts are people who hear but do not understand.  They may attend a church service, listen momentarily to a radio preacher. They hear the Word of God, but it does not sink down into their innermost being, does not open and germinate and take root and shine light and give life.  Then, the evil one comes and steals the seed that has been sprinkled over their lives.

What can make a heart so hard, so indifferent, that the living Word of the living God cannot penetrate it?  First of all, people with “road-side hearts” have not surrendered to the preparing work of the Holy Spirit, have not allowed God to do the necessary plowing, penetrating work in their lives.  They are not aware of the presence of God in their lives and would not value His presence if they were aware.  Their heart is preoccupied with the things of this world.

Further, they are not seeking the Word of God, it’s just falling on their lives and it is of such scant value to them that they do not try to understand what little they hear.  They should run and find someone to explain it to them, someone who can open it to them.  But they delay, it’s of such small value  This allows the evil one, Satan, to snatch the word away from them — they soon forget what they heard.

(What would a good, merciful God do to reach that hard soul?  God loves us too much to abandon us, if we truly desire to be found.  If there is still any opportunity to reach that person, wouldn’t a loving God try to break through the hard heart, thereby making room for His seed?  There are worse things than a broken heart.)

 

13:5,6  Some seed fell on rocky ground.  There is a thin layer of soil that receives the seed but not enough to protect and nurture the roots.  When the sun comes up, the seed is scorched.  This is superficial faith, shallow faith, spiritual life with no depth.

13:20,21 Jesus says that these are people who receive the Word with joy but have no root within and cannot endure affliction and persecution.  They received the Word with joy, it was emotionally stimulating, but it was just a temporary spiritual high.  The preaching was really nice, the preacher had a great smile, the music was good.  So they make some kind of spiritual commitment based on the emotion of the moment but there is no depth. 

This is superficial faith, spiritual life with no depth. Shallowly rooted, they fall away in the heat of the day.  They did not count or anticipate the cost of following Christ.  They are not willing to endure disapproval, rejection, persecution.  They are not willing to take up the cross of self denial and surrender to the values and priorities of Jesus.  Their own reputation, agenda and well being are more important than relationship with God.  

The Apostle Paul considered the momentary, light affliction of this life to be nothing compared to the coming glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).  Persecution only deepened his roots of faith in the unseen reality of Christ.  But for some, the demands of self and the opposition of the world are stronger than their commitment to follow Christ.  

Their lack of endurance proves that their faith was never authentic.  If they had been truly born again of imperishable seed, if their faith in Christ had been the genuine faith that is the gift of God to all who come to Him in true repentance and faith, if their faith had sprung from that imperishable seed which God plants in His true sons and daughter, then God would have kept them in faith; they would have endured to the end.

13:7 Some seed fell among thorns.  

13:22Jesus said that this is the person who hears the Word but the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word and it becomes unfruitful.  You cannot have wheat and thorns.  One will choke out the other.  Thorns will crowd in, choking out the light, its roots robbing the wheat of water and nourishment.  What grain survives will be stunted, producing only a fraction of its promise.

So with people whose heart is crowded with the cares of this life.  Worldly cares, both great and small, concern for material things and the riches of this world can deceive us, seduce us into serving them, placing our affections on them, investing all our time and energy in them.  We serve God with what little remains of our being and time.  Do we then marvel at the small harvest?

I’ve prayed with people as they come to the end of life and none have ever asked me to give them the stock market quotes for that day.  But how many people look back with remorse, amazed at how insignificant their legacy.  Rightly did the Apostle Paul exhort us to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2).

13:8 Some seed fell on good soil.  

13:23 “This is the man who hears the Word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit.”  Luke says, “These are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart and hold it fast and bear fruit with perseverance (Luke 8:15). 

Notice it is “an honest and good heart.”  Work has been done in that heart, just as soil must be prepared for the seed.  Unplowed soil becomes hard soil, unable to receive the seed.  So the Holy Spirit works to prepare us to receive God’s gift of life.  

The greatest gift of the Spirit in preparation for new life is conviction of sin (the capacity to realize that we have sinned against God) and repentance (the capacity to turn from our sins).  True, godly faith follows true, godly conviction and repentance.  But, though conviction and repentance are gifts of the Spirit, we must yield our lives, must cooperate with the work of the Spirit.  When God show us our sin, we must be willing to take ownership.  When God enables us to be released from the power of sin, to turn away, we must turn.

“Good soil” — Jesus says that these are the people who hear and understand the Word.  They listen to good teaching, they read and examine the Word, they seek out Godly teachers to explain the Word to them.  They give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to open it and apply it to their lives.

The Spirit of God applies the Word to our hearts like a plowman turning the soil.  The Spirit opens to us the experiences of life and shows us how our sin has grieved the Lord. He softens our hearts, breaks open our hard hearts, shines the light of the Word into our hearts.  We are brought to the place where we confess our sins to God and we call out for mercy.  Now the Good News of mercy and grace can be applied to us, it will sink in, take root and bear fruit. 

These are the people who hold on to the Word because the Word takes root.  They bear fruit with perseverance, because it is the nature of God’s Word to communicate life, to produce fruit.  “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples”  (John 15:8). 

Notice that the sower is the Son of Man (13:37).  The seed is good seed, the word of the kingdom (13:19).  But the yield varies so dramatically.  In some lives, there is no yield at all (the unfruitful person, choked by the cares of the world and he deceitfulness of riches (13:22).  Even among the good soil there is a difference in yield — thirty, sixty, a hundred fold.  What is the determining factor?  It is the soil, the heart of the listener.  

What kind of soil / heart are we offering the Sower?

13:9 If we have ears to hear this, that is, if we have the spiritual capacity to discern truth, we had best give heed to it.  Someday we will stand before the Lord and be rewarded for the fruit that we have borne in His name.

 

Parable of the Tares and the Wheat (13:24-30, 36-43)

13:24, 36-38    The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sows good seed in his field.  

The sower is the Son of Man, a Messianic title which Jesus frequently applied to Himself (Matt. 13:37). The field is the world (13:38).  In the parable of the sower, the seed is the word of the kingdom (13:19), the imperishable seed which is the living and abiding word of God (I Peter 1:23). In this parable, the good seed represents the sons of the kingdom (Matt. 13:38). However, we may also say that the seed of God’s word produces sons of the kingdom.

Notice that the Son of Man is sowing into “His field.” This world is the Lord’s own field twice over: once because He created it and because He redeemed it with His blood, the blood of the unblemished Lamb.

Notice also that the Lord sows His seed, the sons of the kingdom, into the world. Someday the Lord will remove His church from the world but that day is not today. We have been placed into the world to shine the light of God’s presence. We are His voice speaking His truth, His hands performing His works of mercy and grace.

13:25,38,39    But there is a second sower, an enemy, who sows tares in the night.  That enemy is the devil (13:39). The enemy works in darkness, hidden, subtle, away from the light that would reveal him.  The tare is darnel, a worthless weed that resembles wheat but is not wheat. These are the sons of the evil one (13:38). They are sown into the world even as the sons of the kingdom are sown into the world.

The devil has been producing tares since he seduced Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The world is filled with sons of the evil one. Isn’t it true that we all began life as tares? The Apostle Paul reminds us,

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:1-5).

Every child of Adam began life as a tare. It is only by the grace of God that we were redeemed and transformed into wheat.

The sons of the evil one are often obvious, exposed by demonic values and ungodly lifestyles. But if we will be consistent with this parable, we must keep in mind that a tare, darnel, is a weed that resembles wheat. Even as the evil one hides his sowing in the night, so he sometimes conceals his children in the disguise of righteousness.

These sons of the evil one may be members of the visible church, may even be ordained as priests, pastors and bishops. But they have never been redeemed from slavery to sin and death, have never been spiritually regenerated and reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. 

They may have an appearance of righteousness but it is not the true righteousness that comes through the blood of Christ. It is a self-made righteousness, the product of works and rituals.  Satan plants these tares among the redeemed and they do far greater damage than those secular powers that persecute the church.

False religions are another example of tares. For all of their impressive ritual, doctrine and philosophy, for all of their promises of enlightenment, the world’s religions bring no one into relationship with the true and living God. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the truth and the Light; no one comes to the Father but through me”  (John 14:6).

Wheat serves to nourish people. The church offers Jesus, the bread of life to a spiritually hungry world.  Weeds nourish no one and neither do false religions. Most cults have at least some appearance of truth and some have, at a glance, a superficial similarity to Christianity.  But a cultist is not a Christian any more than a weed is wheat.  

The same can be said for counterfeit Christians and counterfeit ministries. The preaching may be powerful and the ritual may be seductively beautiful, the outward appearance may be quite believable, but the reality is as far from truth as a weed is from wheat.

There is a subtle point here. The Son of Man sowed the good seed but the seed of the enemy was sown while people were sleeping (13:25). In times when the church has been spiritually asleep; undiscerning, indifferent to the Holy Spirit and seduced by the spirit of the age; compromised by false doctrine and sin; when those who should have been watchmen have been dulled or deceived by spiritual illusions or bought off by denominational bribes in the form of salaries or positions of influence; in those times of sleep, the enemy has sown evil seed amongst the good.

A seed contains in it all the qualities that the plant will be someday. God's seed, like God, is righteous, everlasting, destined to produce sons and daughters who resemble Him in glory. The seed of the evil one is as lethal as the good seed is alive.  The bad seed produces nothing other than children of the devil and can never produce anything other.

From the time of Cain and Abel to this present day, there have been, as the Apostle John said, the children of God and the children of the evil one (I John 3:10). The children of the evil one may have some of the characteristics of the children of God, just as tares have some similarities to wheat. They may be members of a church. There were righteous prophets in the days of Israel, but also false prophets. In the early church there were apostles but also false apostles, true shepherds and false shepherds. There have always been Godly bishops, pastors and church members but also ungodly.

There have always been sheep and wolves in sheep's clothing. John says the difference is obvious, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (I John 3:10). Righteousness and brotherly love validate the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord (also I John 4:2,3).

Righteousness refers to our relationship with Christ, a spiritual union demonstrated through obedience to His word. Love for those around us is a visible, tangible expression of our union with Christ. He establishes His loving rule in us and releases His love through us.

Jesus Himself said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Our obedience to His teaching demonstrates our love for Him and submission to His Lordship. How can we say that we are living in His kingdom, the sphere of His rule, while disobeying His word?

The Lord clearly warns us,  

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name cast out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me you who practice lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).

“In that day” refers to the day of God’s judgment at the end of time, that day when the truth will be clearly seen. On that day men and women will be exposed who were actively involved in the work of the church but were not in a redeemed relationship with the Lord Jesus. He will say, “I never knew you.” Jesus does not mean that He does not know the truth about someone’s life. He means that they were never related to Him in a holy communion of intimate love.

What is the proof that they did not know the Lord? Their disobedience. They may have confessed the Lordship of Christ with their words but their deeds, the living of their lives, denied His Lordship. Profession of faith is not a matter of words but lifestyle. 

The Apostle John says that our confession of faith in Christ, or our denial of Christ, is evidence of our true spiritual nature, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming and now it is already in the world,” (I Jn. 4:2,3). True wheat lives that confession. Tares may speak that confession but they deny it with their lives.

13:26 Jesus says that when the wheat sprouted, the tares became evident. That is, when the wheat became mature, the tares became obvious. As the true children of God grow into the likeness of God, that which is of the devil becomes apparent. The implication is that if the wheat does not mature, the tares remain hidden.  In the company of immature believers, the children of the devil are not so obvious.  

In those times and places where the church has been compromised and worldly, it has been hard to discern the difference between the children of the kingdom and children of the evil one. As we have noted, tares and wheat look alike and often, so does the spiritual counterfeit resemble the authentic, until the authentic matures. 

The remedy is not that we should waste our time trying to identify and pull up the counterfeit. Rather, the true children of God must be diligent to grow in Christ. True Christ-likeness will expose that which is false.

Therefore the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “To attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ ... but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:13, 15a).

13:27,28  The servants of the landowner wanted to pull up the tares. They may even have questioned how the owner could have allowed this to happen. So do some people accuse God, “How could God allow so many false, seducing religions? Why does God allow such corruption and hypocrisy in the church? Why does God allow so much evil and tragedy in this world if it is, in fact, His field?”  

The answer is two fold.  First of all, it wasn't the landowner (God) who fell asleep; God does not sleep. It was the servants who slept.  Secondly, God does not corrupt anyone or anything.  All people are free moral agents and as such are free to submit to God or to the devil, free to receive Godly seed or demonic seed, free to become children of God or children of the devil, free to do good or evil. 

As long as God allows freedom, there will be tares among the wheat. Evil is the cost of freedom.

13:29 The owner denies the servants’ request to pull up the tares because, as we have said, that which is false is not always so obvious to the human eye.  Further, some of the wheat may not have matured yet and might be mistaken for tares and thus, uprooted. 

Also, growing close together might mean that some roots are intertwined — pulling up the tares might injure the roots of the wheat.  Rooting out that which is false is a violent act and we cannot destroy evil with violence. In those times that the church has tried to overpower false religions, convert unbelievers by force or purge itself through violent means, it has only committed and created greater evil. 

Most tragically, the church, in its zeal to root out tares, has at times put to death true believers.  At other times, guided by tares — false shepherds — the church has persecuted the true wheat. Thus the owner denies their request, “Lest you pull up the wheat.”

13:30, 40-43  Jesus urges patience; the wheat and the tares will grow together. There will come a time of separation, at the end of the age (Matthew 13:29,30, 39-43). God will send His own angelic reapers who will gather the tares, “Those who commit lawlessness” (13:41) and they will be consigned to the fire, to eternal hell (13:42). The true wheat, “the righteous," will shine like the sun in the kingdom of God (13:43).  

The Lord’s prohibition against pulling up tares reveals the largeness of God’s grace, who is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” (2 Ptr. 3:9). The purpose of the church age is evangelism. This is the age of grace, not judgment. We are not called to pull up tares and neither are we qualified. Further, many of the tares may be redeemed and converted into wheat, as we were.

One of the last acts of Jesus on the cross was to forgive His enemies. It appears that the Roman officer in charge of the crucifixion, and possibly some of his soldiers, made a profession of faith in Christ (Matt. 27:54  Mark 15:39  Luke 23:47). We know that later “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith,” (Acts 6:7). Possibly some of them heard Jesus’ words of forgiveness from the cross. Tares became wheat.

Later, as Stephen was being martyred, he forgave his murderers. One of those standing by was a young man, Saul, who later become the great Apostle Paul. By the exercise of God’s grace, a tare became wheat.

Jesus began His ministry proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Gospel means good news. The good news is that though there is a day of judgment coming, God offers forgiving grace to all who repent and believe in Jesus, the holy Lamb and risen Lord. The church has been commissioned to go into all the world, preaching this gospel and making disciples.

It is not our place to judge sinners but to call sinners to repentance and faith in Christ. There is a day of judgment coming when the tares will be consigned to hell. Hell is real and terrible beyond imagination, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But the Lord says that the day of judgment is at the end of the age. This is the day of grace.

In this present season of grace, the kingdom of God is hidden among weeds and neither false believers nor false religions nor ungodly pagans are uprooted. Because of this, the kingdom of God is sometimes obscured, even hidden among the weeds of the counterfeit, the unbelieving and ungodly. 

As we have said, this should motivate the true church to seek maturity, “The measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ,” (Eph. 4:13), since it is the mature wheat that reveals the tares. This should inspire us to pray for those seasons of revival, renewal and cleansing which God sovereignly pours out upon the church, driving us to the mercy seat of Christ, where we cry out for the purifying of our own hearts, that we might visibly and truly be pure sons and daughters of Christ. 

This should drive us to the altar of intercession for a world of lost tares living heedlessly toward eternal fire. But how dare we pray for sinners within the church or outside in the world until we first have received the cleansing, restoring refreshment of God in our own lives!

Someday we will “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom” of our Father. Even now may our light shine before the world in such a way as to illuminate the true and living God and draw sinners to the mercy and grace of our loving Lord.

At the end of the age, God will separate the wheat from the tares. Only God is wise enough and just enough to do this. Jesus closes this teaching as He implores us, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matt. 13:43).  

Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-35,  44-58)

13:31,32 The mustard seed was smaller than other seeds found in Palestine at that time and therefore served as an accurate illustration of the kingdom of God. As Jesus shared this parable, there were few true disciples committed to Him, many of the  people were indifferent and an increasing number of the Jerusalem power brokers were opposed to Him. 

The King of the kingdom was Himself, in His first coming, something of a mustard seed. He was born in a barn and placed in a feeding trough, completely ignored by the spiritual leaders who were waiting for Messiah’s birth. He grew into manhood, lived and ministered in an unimportant, back water province of the Roman Empire. He died the death of a criminal and though He rose from the dead, His resurrection was witnessed by relatively few.

Even today, the presence of the kingdom of God often appears weak and insignificant compared to the visible and invisible forces arrayed against it. The people of the kingdom are regarded as “the scum of the world, the dregs of all things” (I Cor. 4:13). The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are “not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are” (I Cor. 1:26-28).

A mustard seed indeed!

But even as the tiny mustard seed grows into the fulness of a tree, so do kingdom seeds grow into the fulness of the kingdom. There is a personal truth here: the tiny, humble seed of kingdom life in you, seeming at times to be so weak compared to the forces of this world, will grow in you and you will mature into the fulness of God's purpose.  The Apostle John said, “Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (I John 3:2).

There is also a universal truth here. The kingdom of God was planted in history like a tiny seed but that seed is the dominant force in this world. It has pushed into history even as the sprouting of a tree pushes up through hard packed dirt and even cracks rock.  

Though a Savor born in a manger and put to death on a cross may appear to be foolishness, though at times God’s purpose and presence seem to be overshadowed by the armies, economies and technologies of the world, God will complete what God has begun.  When Christ returns, the kingdom of God will encompass the entire earth.  In that day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phlp. 2:10,11).

While we await that day of kingdom fulfillment, we offer to the world the blessings of the kingdom.  Jesus said,  “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest”  (Matt. 11:28)  There is a place of rest for each of us in the kingdom of God.  

Notice that the birds of the air find their nesting place in the branches of the mustard tree. We are reminded of Psalm 84:1-3, 10,11

“How lovely are your dwelling places O Lord of Hosts

my soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord ...

The bird has also found a house and the swallow a nest for herself, 

where she may lay her young, even your altars,  O Lord of hosts.

I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God

than dwell in the tents of wickedness.  For the Lord is a sun and a shield...”

Even as the birds of the air find a resting place in he branches of a mustard tree, so do all who confess Christ find in Him the peaceful rest of God’s forgiving grace. Who can measure the blessings which God pours into the lives of men, women and children, cities and nations, as He ministers grace through His kingdom present in the lives of kingdom people?

Let us also remember that a seed grows because God designed it to grow. It is so with the kingdom of God. It grows and is preserved by the power of God “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).

 

Parable of the Leaven  (13:33)

13:33 People in Jesus' day were expecting the kingdom of God to enter history with the violent, visible overthrow of every human empire and government. The problem they had with Jesus was that He proclaimed the presence of the kingdom, yet the world went on as before.  He told this parable to explain the seeming contradiction.  

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like leaven hidden in dough. What does leaven do?  It transforms the loaf from within. In the same way, Jesus brings the rule and reign of God into the heart of a believer and transforms that individual from the inside out. Transformed men and women then are like leaven in the world. Wherever Christianity has spread there has been a gradual transforming of the world.

Keep in mind that only a very little leaven is needed to make the dough rise. The influence of the kingdom of God in the world is not related to the number of church members or size of a ministry budget or grandeur of the cathedral or the political clout that  religious organizations exercise. None of those factors advance the kingdom nor do they have any significant influence on the kingdoms of the world. Whatever impact the kingdom of God has on the world is due to the life of Jesus, the truth of His word and the power of the Holy Spirit established in His disciples and then expressed through them.

Notice that Jesus said the leaven was hidden in the dough. It works from the inside out. A man had experienced multiple revolutions in his nation, none of which had changed society for the better. In exasperation he said, “We don’t need a new government. We need new people.”

We are new creations in Christ. Transformed people transform their world.

The first asylum for the blind was begun by a Christian monk named Thalasius. The first recorded hospital was begun by a Christian woman, Fabiola. The first orphanages were begun by the church in response to the common but cruel practice of infanticide (abandoning unwanted infants). An English believer named Wilberforce launched the movement that abolished slavery in the British Empire while the holiness movement in early 19th century America fed directly into the abolitionist movement in this nation.

Jesus began His ministry quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18,19, from Isaiah 61:1,2). Wherever true Christianity has spread, the voice of Jesus has spoken and the hand of Jesus has reached out to touch and to redeem through people who have been touched and redeemed by Jesus.

In the early days of the church, a Christian was living in the desert. Like many, he had left corrupt society for a life of communion and solitude with God. But he heard the call of God to return and go to Rome. Rome by then was nominally Christian, but still greatly infested with pagan influence.

One of the crueler features of that time was the gladiatorial games, where slaves fought to the death for the entertainment of the crowd.  This humble follower of Jesus went to the Colosseum and was outraged at the slaughter. He leaped into the arena, placed himself between the two combatants. The crowd booed, the warriors shoved him back. Again he stepped in, interposing his own body.  

A command rang out, a sword flashed, the holy man was cut down. Suddenly a hush fell over the stadium. A holy man lay dead and the Spirit of the living God convicted the crowd.  A sense of shame rose up in many hearts and that day, the slaughter of the gladiators was ended forever.

One person, insignificant, small, humble as a mustard seed

communities of men and women, hidden like leaven in a loaf

transforming lives, nations, empires.

The next time you are planting seeds in a garden 

or preparing to bake a loaf of bread, remember, 

that is a picture of what God is doing in you and through you.

 

The Reason for Parables (13:34,35)

From this time on, Jesus spoke to the multitudes only in parables, veiling the truth to those who would not see or hear.  “Things hidden” are being unveiled to the seeker of truth but these mysteries remain hidden to those who suppress and deny the truth.  From this point on, those who preferred darkness would be given no light.

 

Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price (13:44-46)

The two previous parables illustrate the reality of the kingdom’s presence and power in the world. Though the kingdom of God is hidden like leaven or seemingly small and insignificant, like a mustard seed,  it nevertheless will grow to encompass the whole earth (when Christ returns) and until that time will have a powerful, transforming impact on the whole world.

The next two parables illustrate the immeasurable value of the kingdom of God, a priceless treasure and yet, paradoxically, it is a treasure which many people do not value.

13:44  “The kingdom of  heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field.”

The kingdom of God is a priceless treasure and entrance into it is a most precious gift from God. Entrance is through faith in Christ as our holy Lamb and risen Lord. The cost of entry is the precious blood of Jesus. To enter is to experience salvation — the forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, the gift of eternal life with God. This salvation is a treasure beyond conception, a treasure that is incorruptible, unfading, everlasting. 

Jesus says that the treasure is hidden. What does He mean?  

In Jesus’ day there were no banks, which meant that valuables had to be hidden. In many cases they were buried. Because of the instability of the times — marauding armies, famine, plagues — the owner could die suddenly or be taken prisoner and never return. In that case, the family treasure might lay beneath the ground for years. 

At some point a flood might wash away the soil, exposing the treasure to a passerby. Or a farmer might be plowing the field and chance upon it. Though these were not common events, they were within the realm of possibility and Jesus’ listeners could relate. The Lord then used this analogy to illustrate the reality of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like this.

 

It is like a treasure hidden in the sense that it is present but not visible to people who will not seek it. It is a treasure of inestimable value but not all value it. The gospel of a crucified Savior who opens our way into the kingdom of God is, “To Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles, foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23,24).

The Apostle Paul says, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

In our natural state, we are all spiritually dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3) and blind to the value of God’s treasure. In our natural state, “There is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). The kingdom is hidden to our fallen senses and we would all have perished in our sins except that the Lord came to us and awakened us, removed the veil of unbelief.

The kingdom is hidden not only by our natural spiritual deadness but also in the humble birth of its King in a stable, in His death as a common criminal and His burial in a borrowed tomb. He rose from the dead but did not appear to the Roman governor, the High Priest, the Sanhedrin or the multitude of the people. He appeared only to those who believed in Him, loved Him and were committed to follow Him.

The kingdom is hidden because of the spiritual blindness of humanity and the humility of Christ in His first advent on earth.Blind to the value of the kingdom, dead to its presence in the world, we are entirely dependent on  the God who comes to us and awakens us. 

The man in the parable was not seeking the treasure but when he stumbled upon it, he immediately recognized its value and joyfully sold everything he owned to obtain it. He unexpectedly encounters the gospel of the kingdom, its light penetrates his darkened senses, he is spiritually awakened by the Christ who came seeking him. As the veil of blindness is lifted from his eyes he recognizes the treasure of the kingdom of God and now every other aspect of his life pales in value beside this treasure. 

An example would be the Apostle Paul who thought he was right with God, thought it was God's will that he kill Christians. How far could anyone be from the kingdom of God and still believe they are in it?  But God knocked him down, blinded his outer sight and unveiled his spiritual perception, spoke to him, redirected his life to recognize the true treasure. 

Paul then considered all of his past accomplishments, his reputation and standing in the Jewish community, his great learning, to be rubbish compared to the priceless treasure of knowing Christ,

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,” (Phlp. 3:7,8).

Having discovered the treasure of Christ and His kingdom, Paul walked away from all that he had for the joy of serving Jesus.

Consider the thirsty Samaritan woman who went to the village well, not to enter the kingdom of God but to get a drink of water. She was not seeking the treasure; she stumbled upon it. But at that well she met Jesus who opened the eyes of her understanding to the value and the presence of salvation and she went home with the greatest treasure in the world (John 4:7-30).

There is a sense in which we all stumble upon the treasure. We were not seeking God but are awakened by the God who comes seeking us, who awakens us to recognize the worth of salvation and to abandon everything so that we may own this treasure. 

The man, upon finding the treasure, “Sells all that he has and buys the field.” Jesus does not mean that we purchase entrance into the kingdom of God. In fact, He said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

The Apostle Paul adds, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).

Entrance into the kingdom is God’s gift of grace to all who, awakened by God, repent and place their faith in Christ. But the man, having found the treasure, “Sells all that he has.”

If we will receive the treasure, the cost is full surrender, complete self abandonment. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24,25).

When we make this full surrender, Jesus establishes His kingdom in us and now the treasure of His presence is hidden in the field of a human heart. Those who have received Christ carry the treasure of His life and His gospel in the earthen vessels of our lives. The kingdom of God is within us, expressed through us, but not always valued or recognized by the unbelieving world.

Not everyone is willing to be awakened to the presence of the treasure. Not everyone looked at Jesus and saw the glory of God. Not everyone listened to Jesus and heard the wisdom of God. Not everyone who saw the miracles of Jesus recognized the power of God. The treasure of the kingdom was so hidden that even though, “He came to His own ... His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,” (John 1:11,12).

In summary, the kingdom of heaven is a treasure of inestimable value but not all value it. This priceless treasure is hidden to the spiritually undiscerning, that is, all of humanity. But when awakened by Christ, we joyfully abandon all of our life to God for the precious, inestimable treasure of entering His rule of grace.

13:45, 46 “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls.”

In the parable of the hidden treasure, the man who found the treasure stumbled upon it. He discovered something that he was not looking for. That is the everyman who has been spiritually awakened by the Christ who comes seeking us, though we were not seeking Him. He is the man from whose eyes the veil of blindness has been lifted by the grace of God.

In this parable of the pearl, the man who acquired the pearl of great price was intentionally seeking it. This a later stage in the salvation process. He is not stumbling along with no awareness of a hidden treasure. He is already awakened and seeking the pearl. He has been awakened to his spiritual poverty, awakened to the reality that there is something more to life than what he has discovered, earned or purchased with his meager treasures. There is a greater treasure awaiting his discovery.

Jesus is contrasting two perspectives on the way that people enter the kingdom of God. For instance, Simon Peter and Andrew were actively searching for the Messiah. That’s why they had left their home in Galilee and traveled all the way to southern Judea. They were seekers of God and so were attracted to the ministry of John the Baptist. While following John, Andrew met Jesus. He then sought his brother Simon, who must have been nearby, and said, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:35-41). 

They were seekers, willing to leave everything for the pearl of great price.

The Ethiopian official of Acts 8 had journeyed to Jerusalem to worship and as he rode in his chariot, was reading from the prophet Isaiah. He was reading from Isaiah 53 which describes the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah. By divine appointment he met Phillip and asked him to explain the passage, resulting in his salvation.  Talk about a seeker with a prepared heart!

Another example would be the Roman officer, Cornelius, in Acts 10, who invited Peter to his home for the purpose of explaining the Gospel to him. He was seeking the pearl of great price. The merchant is the picture of a true spiritual seeker who knows what he is looking for.  

It is not that Andrew and Peter, the Ethiopian man and Cornelius were living on a different spiritual plane than everyone else. They too had been spiritually dead and blind. But the God who comes seeking souls had awakened them and they responded, became seekers of the Lord who came seeking them.

The merchant of this parable is an awakened seeker who knows what he is looking for.

On the other hand, Matthew (Levi), was siting in his tax booth when Jesus said, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27,28). He was seeking nothing and found everything. In reality, though, the Holy Spirit was already at work in his life. 

Matthew must have been deeply convicted of his spiritual poverty and the inadequacy of his wealth to fill the aching emptiness in his soul. He was already awakened to the reality that in spite of his material prosperity, there was a treasure of far greater value which he did not possess. When he met Jesus, he knew instantly that he had found the pearl of great price. He then left everything and followed.

The same could be said of the woman at Jacob’s well. She was looking for water. Jesus gave her eternal life (John 4:7-30). But once awakened to this treasure, she grasped it with all her might.

In the parable of the hidden treasure, the kingdom is not sought but discovered. This illustrates the truth that it is God who comes seeking us, that salvation is the sovereign work of God who awakens dead, blind sinners to the reality of His kingdom breaking into history. 

In the parable of the pearl, we see the human side of salvation. We must be responsive to the presence of the Lord of the kingdom. God, seeking us, awakens us to seek Him. He removes the veil of spiritual blindness from our eyes, quickens our spiritually dead heart to seek His presence, surrender to His rule of grace, yield to His inbreaking kingdom, value the treasure, the pearl.

The cost is the same in both parables. When the seeker in this parable found the pearl, “He went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  This is the same response as the man who found the treasure in the field.

Though the treasure, the pearl, is God’s gift to us, and though we cannot earn or purchase this gift, we must respond and our response is costly.  We must give up all we have and all we are to obtain all God has for us. 

 

In Luke 9:57,58 we read of an encounter between Jesus and a man: "It came to pass that as they went on the way, a certain man said to Him, ‘Lord, I will follow you wherever you go.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head.’"  

It’s as if Jesus was saying, “Give me your comfort and I'll give you my kingdom.” Does that mean that we must give up all comfort to enter the kingdom of God?  No, but if our comfort is more important to us than the pearl of great price, we will not obtain it.

Another man said, "Permit me to bury my father" (Luke 9:59,60)  That does not mean his father was dead.  What he was saying was, "Permit me to wait for my inheritance."  Jesus replied, in a manner of speaking, “Leave your inheritance behind and go preach the kingdom of God.”  

The implication is that the man valued his inheritance more than the kingdom of God.  That doesn't mean that we all must give up all inheritance to enter the kingdom of God.  But if our inheritance is more important than the pearl of great price, we will not obtain it.

Another said, "I will follow you, but first permit me to say goodbye to my family" (Luke 9:61,62).  Jesus said that if you put your hand to the plow and look back, you're not fit for the kingdom of God.  

This man valued his family more than the kingdom.  That does not mean that we all must leave our family to enter the kingdom of God.  But evidently, that man’s family was more important than the pearl of great price.  In order to rightly love and serve the Lord of the kingdom and his family, he needed to place his family on the altar. 

We cannot purchase the kingdom of God with our money or our religious rituals or our charitable works.  But we must give up all that we have and all that we are in exchange for this treasure in a field, this pearl of great price.

"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.  He who has found his life will lose it and he who has lost his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:37,38).

Taking up the cross does not mean we share in the atonement of Jesus.  We are not called to suffer and die as payment for our sins.  Jesus did that once and for all.  But the cross is an instrument of death and what we must die to is our self will. It is in this dying to self that we find this treasure of everlasting life in Christ.

If we try to hold onto life, we lose everything.  But if we will abandon all that we have and all that we are to gain this pearl of great price, God will give us all that He has, this gift of immeasurable value -- salvation, forgiveness, everlasting life.

 If there is anything in life that is of greater value than our everlasting relationship with God, we must give it up.  There is no treasure of greater value than this.

In Matthew 19:16-22, a man came to Jesus (Luke in 18:18 calls him a ruler, a man of authority) and asked, "Teacher what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?"  Really, he was asking, “How can I enter the kingdom of God?”  

Jesus tested him by saying, "Keep the commandments." The man said he had done this.  First of all, he is in denial.  No one has kept all the commandments. They were given to reveal how desperately we need a Savior.

But he believed he had kept them and yet he knew that he was still lacking something.  In other words, he knew that by religious works alone, by self-righteousness, by his own religious law-keeping, he could not enter the kingdom of God.  Believing he had done everything possible, he knew he still did not possess eternal life.

Jesus then told him to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor and follow Him. “Sell your possessions” is secondary.  The key to this encounter is found in these words, “Follow me.”  

Does Jesus tell everyone to sell everything?  No, but he does command everyone to follow Him and evidently this man’s possessions were a greater treasure than the pearl of great price.  His possessions were keeping him from the one act that would enable him to enter the kingdom of God — complete abandonment to Jesus.

The message to us is the same. Abandon yourself to Christ and God will give you this treasure of all treasures. At the moment of salvation we may not understand all of this. There will be a progressive unfolding of the Lordship of Christ in our lives and a progressive surrender through all the years of our life. We begin by surrendering as much of our being as we know to all of Christ that we know.

The Apostle Paul said, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ and may be found in him ... that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings"  (Phlp. 3:8).

Paul was willing to sell everything, leave it all behind, surrender all, for the surpassing wonder and glory of this pearl of great price, knowing Jesus.

Some people seem to stumble upon this treasure while others are seeking it. In reality, the Holy Spirit is at work awakening hearts to the hidden treasure of the kingdom. Awakened from spiritual death, we must seek it with all our heart, as a merchant seeking fine pearls. God has prepared for each of us the opportunity to find it. He plants the treasure in the path of the one who stumbles upon it and plants the awakening desire for it in the heart of the one who seeks it. 

Upon finding the treasure, the pearl, we must lay all that we have and all that we are at the feet of Jesus. In the act of surrender, we find the gift of the kingdom already purchased by the blood of Christ and freely offered to all who come by repentance and faith. Truly, “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

How beautifully Isaiah expresses this, 

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isa. 55:1).

Among the closing words of the Bible are these, 

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17).

How is it that the treasure, the pearl of great price can be purchased without silver or gold or religious works or rituals? How is it that we may obtain this treasure simply by laying down our lives? Because the cost has already been paid:

“Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18,19).

If we will abandon everything for the sake of the kingdom, we too will possess the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price.

 

Parable of The Dragnet (13:47-50)

13:47 Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a dragnet cast into the sea and gathering fish of every kind.  He came preaching the Good News of the kingdom and sent out His disciples preaching this message.  The Gospel of the kingdom is cast like a net into the sea of nations, people groups.  It gathers souls from every tribe and tongue and nation.

13:48,49 Just as fishermen divide good fish from bad, so at the end of the age the angels will divide the righteous from the wicked.  This implies that the true catch and the counterfeit will continue together until the end of the age.  The visible church contains a mix of good and evil people, sons and daughters of the kingdom and sons and daughters of the evil one.  Even the small band of twelve apostles contained a traitor.

The visible church is not the same thing as the invisible kingdom of God. Those who truly share in the life of the kingdom share in the life of the church; but not all who share in the life of the church will share in the life of the kingdom.  When the visible kingdom comes on earth, that is, when history is complete and Christ returns and the kingdom appears in glory and power, there will be judgement not only for those outside the church but also within the church, there will be a separation of the good from the evil.

Contrary to the lie that all people will be saved, surely there are fish which never swam into the net and not all in the net will be kept.  We are not commanded to convert the world but to offer Christ and whosoever receives Him will be saved.

Why is it that some fish never swim into the net?  Referring to the two previous parables, there are some who are not seeking the pearl of great price and others who stumble across the treasure buy do not consider the kingdom of God to be anything of value.

God plants the treasure of the kingdom in the path of the one who stumbles upon it and God plants the desire in the heart of the one who seeks it.  But not all seek and not all value what they find.  There are souls that will not be found in the dragnet of the kingdom.

Why is it that some fish in the net are thrown out? They are defined as wicked, whereas those who are kept are righteous (13:49). The wicked are those who have not received the only righteousness which God will accept, the righteousness of Christ, which we receive by faith. They trusted in their own righteousness, established by religious ritual or religious works. They are present in the net for a season of time, but they have not been made righteous in Christ and will be separated at the end of the age.

Notice the similarity of this parable with the resurrection appearance of Jesus recorded in John 21:1-6.  The disciples were weary, having fished all net but caught nothing.  Yet at the direction of the Lord, they let down their nets and drew in a catch so great it almost broke their nets.  But the nets did not break and the Gospel writer recounts the exact number of fish, one hundred and fifty-three, implying that not one fish was lost.  

We might take that as a prophetic picture of the end time church: weary but laboring on, then receiving supernatural anointing and direction from the Lord of the Church and bringing in a harvest so great as to nearly overflow the discipling instruments off the church.  But not one elect soul will be lost, not at the end of time, not now, not ever.  

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and I give eternal life to them and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand,” (John 10:27,28).  

Jesus calls to us, based on God’s eternal choice to set His love upon us, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,”  (Ephesians 1:4).  He chose us and calls to us in a way that we can hear.  Enabling us to hear His voice, He enables us to follow Him.  And as we follow, He holds us, keeps us, and will not lose us.

On the night before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed to His Father, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in your name which you have given me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled” (John 17:12).  Not one perished, not one was lost.

“This is the will of Him who sent me, that of all that He has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life and I myself will raise him up on the last day”  (John 6:39,40).  This is God’s will, that of all whom He calls to Jesus, not one is lost.

Our Lord is able to keep all who come to Him.  Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, as hundreds of heavily armed Roman soldiers and temple guards pressed in on Jesus and His eleven remaining disciples, Jesus said, “’I told you that I am He; so if you seek me, let these go their way,’  to fulfill the word which He spoke, ‘Of those whom you have given me, I lost not one’” (John 18:8,9).

13:50 Notice the similarities with the parable of the wheat and the tares. Both parables emphasize the coexistence of believers and unbelievers. The wheat and tares, the good fish and bad, exist together in the same world, even in the same churches. Both parables emphasize the certainty of end time judgment. In fact, Jesus uses similar words to describe the separation and judgment of the unrighteous. Angels will separate the wicked from the righteous “and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” (13:41,42) and 13:49,50).

We cannot leave this parable without noting Jesus’ emphasis on God’s judgment at the end of the age. Our Lord had much to say about hell, more than any other person in the Bible. To summarize His teaching:

1. To be in hell is to be separated from the presence of God. Jesus describes this separation as “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30). Whereas in this life the unrighteous enjoy the common grace of God shed upon all, outer darkness is a state of being in which the sinner experiences the absolute absence of any gracious expression of God’s presence — His light, His kindness, His mercy and truth.  As the Apostle Paul said, “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thes. 1:9).

2. Because God is absent, hell is a place of absolute darkness. This is true physically, morally and spiritually. There will be no light of truth for those who have rejected the ultimate truth of God in human flesh, who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). There will be no inner light of conscience for those who have rejected “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9). There will be no light of any kind for those who finally and irreversibly rejected the One who said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12).

3. Hell is forever, eternal, everlasting. Jesus spoke of “eternal punishment” as well as eternal life (Matt. 25:46). He spoke of a “resurrection of life” as well as a “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). In describing hell as a place of “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41) and a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48), He was describing the everlasting nature of hell.

4. Hell is a place of unceasing torment, of unending “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:42,50), which speaks of relentless sorrow. Jesus used the concept of fire to describe the torment of hell: “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41), “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). Those condemned to hell are conscious of shame, contempt, an accusing conscience and the wrath of God. Because resurrection bodies are designed for eternity, the torment of hell does not destroy the body. 

5. The torment of hell is experienced in varying degrees, depending on the light a person has rejected. To the scribes and Pharisees who heard His teaching, saw His miracles and yet rejected Him, Jesus said, “Therefore your will receive greater condemnation” (Matt. 23:14). To the people of Capernaum who had witnessed His ministry and yet had refused to believe in Him, Jesus said, “Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matt. 11:24).

Why?  Capernaum had the witness of Jesus. Sodom had only the witness of Lot, a righteous but somewhat compromised man. The scribes and Pharisees and the people of Capernaum had more light, therefore, judgment will be greater.  In fact, Jesus said that if the miracles done in Capernaum had been witnessed in Sodom, Sodom would still have existed in Jesus’ day. 

This is not to say that the immoral population of Sodom will escape hell. They will spend eternity in hell.  But hell will be worse for the respectable people of Capernaum who not only had the light of the Old Testament Scriptures which pointed to Jesus but more, they heard the words and saw the miracles of Jesus but did not believe in Him. They will be judged by a far greater standard because their light was greater. Judgment, and therefore the torment of hell, is based on the light of revelation that a person has received.

Why did Jesus have so much to say about hell? Because He was the perfect expression of the Father’s love, a Father who is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the people did not know the season of their salvation, rejected the opportunity to be reconciled to God and were swept into eternity with no hope of salvation.

If we reject the reality of hell, then how can we accept as credible anything Jesus said? If we accept the reality of hell, then how does that impact our prayers for friends and loved ones who have rejected Christ? How does that impact our intercession for regions of the world bound in false gods and blinded by the god of this world? How does this impact the way we live our lives, the witness of our words and actions?

There is an end time judgment. There is a hell. But God has planted the pearl of great price in the path of all who will abandon everything for the unmeasured value of this treasure. He is, even now, casting His net into the sea of nations.

 

Treasures Old and New (13:51-58)

13:51,52 Kingdom people have treasures old and new.  We have the treasure of the Old Testament scriptures, the stories of the Old Testament saints, the celebrations of the Israelite year which foreshadow New Testament realities.  We have the beautiful songs and prayers of  Hebrew worship.  

But we have this new treasure: the presence of the kingdom and the Lord of the kingdom; we have the gift of salvation and entrance into the kingdom.  We have treasures old and new.  Our new treasure should never cause us to despise the old nor should the old prevent us from appropriating the new.

13:53,54 Jesus came to His hometown.  This must have been Nazareth, where He grew up.  The townspeople were astonished at His wisdom and His miraculous powers. 

13:55,56 But their astonishment did not lead them to give glory to God.  Rather, it sounds as though their familiarity with Jesus’ humble beginnings produced disdain, even contempt. Still today, people despise the gifts of God when those gifts are present in folks of humble background or education.  That’s why God delights in shining such brilliant lights of talent, genius and wisdom from simple, unadorned candles.  

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong”  (I Cor. 1:27).

Or maybe their problem was that they were so completely accustomed to the treasures of the Old Covenant that they were unable to discern or value the presence of this new treasure, the long-awaited kingdom of God pressing into history.  This has often been true in the history of the church.  Those who shared in the last great move of God oppose the next move.  That which is established opposes that which is being established.  The old resists the new.

13:57 Now we see their true colors.  They were offended at Jesus.   Literally, they stumbled at Him.  They could not deny His wisdom or his miracles.  Neither could they bring themselves to praise God or give honor to Jesus.  So they sat back and grumbled.  In Luke’s Gospel, an early visit of Jesus to Nazareth caused the people to become so enraged that they tried to kill this Man whom they had known from childhood (Luke 4:28,29).

13:58 Most importantly, their offense nullified their faith.  As a result, Jesus could do no mighty work there.  Unbelief robbed them of the miracles Jesus might have done.  Faith does not cause God to love us more; unbelief does not cause God to love us less — God loves us with a perfect love.  But faith connects us to that perfect love and the blessings which God in His kindness desires to pour into our lives.  Unbelief blocks or restricts what love would have given.

Through unbelief, they robbed themselves of Christ’s blessings.  They robbed their neighbors, those bound in guilt and demonic slaveries,  those broken by physical and mental afflictions — robbed them of  the wonders Christ might have worked in their lives.  They also robbed God of the glory God would have received in releasing His wonders in the lives of humble, faithful people.

God holds all power in the universe and could coerce our love and worship.  Instead, God gives us freedom to reject His love and limit our experience of His grace and power.  We are free to despise the blessings, the treasures of God and miss them forever.  But we are also free “to taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).  

Yes, we are free to miss the everlasting wonder of the kingdom of God but we are also free to sell everything for the joy of possessing the treasure that God plants in our pathway, free to seek the pearl of great price and finding it, free to abandon ourselves to God, losing our lives for the joy of finding life.  And having experienced the immeasurable, wonderful treasure, we are free to give God praise forever and ever.

Notes:

There are other interpretations of the parables of the treasure and the pearl of great price which are worth noting.

13:44 The treasure is the Good News of the kingdom.  Then what is the field and who is the man, who, for joy, sold all he has so he can buy the field?  Some would argue that no mortal man or woman has given everything for the treasure of the kingdom of God.  But we read of Jesus that He emptied Himself (set aside His glory and the riches of heaven) and that for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame  (Philippians 2:5-8   Hebrews 12:2).  Why?  So He could purchase the lives of those who would receive Him, delivering to us the precious treasure of eternal salvation.

Now that treasure is hidden in the field of human hearts.  Those who have received Him in faith carry a treasure in earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7).  The kingdom of God is within us, not visible to the unbelieving world,  a treasure hidden in human hearts.

Another interpretation is that the treasure is Israel.  Jesus came and preached to God’s treasure, Israel, but His ministry was rejected.  So Israel, the treasure, was hidden, dispersed in the field of the world.  Meanwhile, the field is being purchased as the Gospel of the kingdom goes out to all the world.  The re-emergence of Israel is a sign of the Lord’s soon return to establish His kingdom on earth.

We must add that this was probably not Jesus’ meaning.

13:45,46 Another interpretation of this parable asks the question, “Who has gone forth seeking fine pearls and, finding one, sold everything He had to purchase it?” Only Jesus gave everything to purchase anything. He gave up the riches of heaven and poured out His precious blood to purchase human souls. Only Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is continually searching for one more lost soul, valuing that one soul above all else.

Notice that the merchant can discern a fine pearl, he knows when he has found one. Presumably there were many choices of pearls, but he knows when he has found a good one, able to discern the good from the artificial. So it is with our Lord. The fine pearl is a soul that has been awakened by the Spirit of the living God and now truly desires to know Him, is thirsty for living water, ready to come and drink, prepared to turn, repent and believe.

Another interpretation of the pearl is this.  A pearl comes from the sea.  The sea, in the Bible, is often used as a symbol for the nations of the world.  So it is that Jesus is redeeming souls from every tribe and tongue and nation.  

 

Here may be the deepest mystery of the parable: the merchant sold all that He had for one fine pearl.  That may refer to one church, holy and undefiled (Ephesians 5:27), composed of many sons and daughters in glory but now forming one Body, one Bride, in holy unity.   “For even as the body is one, and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ,”   (I Corinthians 12:12).

Matthew 14

Jesus’ Response to Tragedy (14:1-21)

14:1-11 Chapter fourteen opens with King Herod’s senseless execution of John the Baptist.  Herod was the ruler of Galilee and from the descriptions of him in the New Testament we can gain a good idea of his character.

We know that he was a man who loved wealth — he was a builder of palaces.  He was skilled in the acquisition of power and deadly in its exercise.  But one of his more notable attributes was his immorality.  He convinced his brother’s wife, Herodias, to abandon her marriage vows and marry him.  This was a clear violation of Leviticus 18:16, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.”

This sin was compounded by the fact that Herod was Herodias’ uncle, which means that Herod married his niece.  That he would do this openly, without shame, outraged John the Baptist who publicly denounced Herod for his flagrant disregard of God’s holy law (Mark 6:18).

Herod’s response to John further reveals his character.  He arrested John, placed him in prison for preaching the truth.  In this, Herod reveals his cruelty and arrogant disregard not only for God’s law but for those who proclaim it.

We know also that Herod was a foolish man.  He held a banquet for the wealthy power-brokers of his society and during the banquet, his step-daughter danced before him.  In a drunken, lust-inflamed stupor, he vowed to give her any gift she desired.  Prompted by her mother, who hated John and wanted to kill him (Mark 6:19), she asked for the head of John on a platter.

Herod’s response reveals that he was not only a fool but a proud, weak fool.  He was grieved by his oath (Matt. 14:9) but followed through on the execution of John because the oath was made in front of his dinner guests and he did not have the humility or strength of character to retract it.

Yet there may still have been some spark of humanity in Herod.  Though an ungodly fool, we read in Mark’s Gospel (6:20) that he feared John, “Knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe.”  Herod was convinced of the holiness and righteousness of John, even as he imprisoned him.  In that same verse we read, “And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.”  

Evidently, Herod would summon the prophet from his prison cell and listen to him, torn between the message of truth and his own ungodly lusts.  Herod is the definition of a double-minded man.  Though he knew John was righteous and holy, and though convicted by John’s preaching, he imprisoned him and wanted to put him to death.  He did not, only because he feared the people who loved John.  

We read in Mark 6:20 that Herod enjoyed listening to John, much as an ungodly person might enjoying flipping the channels on his television and listening, briefly, to the curious diversion of a preacher.  But he never tried to understand or submit to John’s preaching.  He both feared John and hated him, kept him safe and wanted to kill him.  In the end, he rejected the message of the prophet and executed the righteous man of God.  Herod’s worldliness choked out the seed of God’s word, quenched whatever spark or light was still existent in his soul. 

However, Herod might not have executed John, except for the banquet, the dance of Salome and his drunken oath in front of his guests.  What restrained him?  He feared the people.  It might cost him politically if he murdered a popular holy man.  He was restrained by political expediency. But after his step-daughter requested John’s head, though he was grieved (14:9), he ordered the execution.  Why?  Again, political expediency.  He would have lost face in front of his guests, many of whom were powerful.  To appear weak or vulnerable in front of powerful people is dangerous.

Herod hated John and yet was grieved to kill him.  Feared John but also feared the people who loved John and feared his guests, who would have thought him to be weak if he did not fulfill his oath.  Truly a double-minded man, driven entirely by the crossing winds of political ambition and unrestrained appetites.

It is notable that when Jesus stood before Herod on the day of the crucifixion, Jesus had nothing to say to him. This is the Lord who advises us not to cast our pearls before swine.

14:12 Notice that when John died, his disciples came and told Jesus.  Even as they had carried John’s doubts and questions to Jesus, now they brought their grief.  There’s an old hymn entitled, “I Must Tell Jesus.”  We have a Savior who understands our trials.  We can carry our burdens to Him.

In the death of John, Jesus lost His cousin, friend and the forerunner for His ministry.  A fool of a king had executed the eloquent, prophetic voice of that generation.  That kind of mindless injustice can damage our spiritual heart.  Satan purposes injustice and tragedy in our lives for a variety of reasons:

1. To harden our hearts

Tragedy can harden us.  Hardening is a defense mechanism to protect us from further hurt, like a callous.  This hardening is often accompanied by a spirit or attitude of self pity in which we say, "God doesn't hear my prayer.  He's blessing others but not me.”

2. To embitter our hearts

We tend to get caught up emotionally in the passions of a tragic situation and if we're not careful, we begin to take on hatred for those who perpetrated the act, developing an us-against-them attitude.  We become judgmental of those whom we feel to be responsible for the tragedy.  

3. To plant unbelief in our hearts

We don't see our prayer answered and so we stop believing in the power of God.  God could have set John free by supernatural means — there are examples in the Bible — and so we accuse God of allowing injustice, of failing to respond to evil.  Of course, we often cloak our accusation of God in proper theological disguise, asking, “If God is all loving and all powerful, why does He allow such evil in the world?”  

Notice Jesus' response to the loss of John the Baptist:

1. He went aside with His closest friends to spend time with His Heavenly Father.  

2. He healed the sick.

3. He fed the hungry.  

Jesus positioned Himself for refreshment with His Father, then positioned Himself to release the outpouring of the Father’s mercy into the lives of others.

Let’s look at Jesus’ first response to the death of John:

14:13   He withdrew “to a secluded place by Himself.”  Jesus stepped out of His busy schedule, away from the crowds and the pressing needs and issues of ministry for a time of communion with His Father.  Time alone with God allows God uninterrupted access and opportunity to pour His compassion into our hearts.  The death of John grieved Jesus and He sought refuge beneath “the shadow of the Almighty.”

God will always meet us in the secret place of communion.  There we rediscover the God who is near to us in our grief.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

There we discover the God of tender mercies. 

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”  (Psalm 147:3).

Tragedy, injustice, can harden us, embitter us, bring us to unbelief.  In His grief, Jesus went to His Father and in this He provides a model for us.  We run to the God who is always near, who heals the brokenhearted and lifts up the downtrodden.  

14:14 But His time of communion and refreshment was cut short.  The people followed Jesus and He responded with compassion, healing the sick.  Jesus did not allow His own grief to turn Him away from others, did not allow Himself to become self-centered or self-indulgent.

  

Surely we do need time alone with God when we grieve but the healing of the broken heart is not only a matter of communion with God.  After our season of communion, we discover that as we give ourselves to others there is an even greater release of healing into our own brokenness.  The love of Christ that flows through us in ministry flows back to us in even greater measure.

Again, Jesus is our model in this.  He came out of the secret place with His Father and the comfort which He had received, He now lavished upon the crowds.  And no doubt, the comforting mercies of His Father multiplied back upon Him.

The Apostle Paul, who endured much heartbreak, also experienced great comfort and he wrote,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ”  (I Cor. 1:3-5).

14:15,16 A large crowd had gathered because of the presence of Jesus.  Evening came, it’s a desolate place and the people are without food.  The disciples suggest sending the people away so they can find provision but Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”

There were five thousand men present (plus women and children — quite possibly a crowd of 20,000 or more). Jesus knew there was not enough food on hand to feed so many.  He also knew exactly what He intended to do.  His direction to the disciples, “You feed them,” is an invitation to an impossible task. 

When God invites us to do the impossible, He is setting us up.  God invites us to the impossible task so that through our weakness and through our limited resources, God may display His power and His glory.

The Apostle Paul implored God to relieve him of  “a thorn in the flesh,” some physical, emotional or spiritual affliction which he could not overcome and which caused him terrible distress.  But God’s response to him was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7-9).  

God allows impossibilities, trials and suffering in our lives so that as we are confronted with our weakness and limitation, we will cast ourselves upon His unlimited resources.  Paradoxically, our limitations bring us into a greater experience of God’s infinite wisdom and creative might.  Truly, His power is perfected in our weakness.

14:17 The disciples report that they have “only five loaves and two fish” but the point is not how limited are our resources.  The point is the unlimited resources of God.  A multitude will be fed when Jesus blesses their meager provision.  We are about to see the glory and the greatness of God.  

The prophet Amos said, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (5:24).  In that same chapter he turns our gaze to the heavens and reminds us that the God to whom we pray for justice is the Creator of galaxies (5:8).  Finite human beings create injustice and oppression.  The everlasting God creates infinite universes.  Injustice and oppression may appear to be overwhelming but our God is greater.

Do not discount the multiplying power of God.  God multiplies galaxies.  Can He not multiply two pickled fish and five muffins?  Five loaves and two fish are not much but in the hands of Jesus, this little bit will be blessed and multiplied into abundance  Five thousand men plus women and children will be fed.  We must be careful not to judge our resources apart from the hand and blessing of God.  

After the Lord had assured the Apostle Paul of the sufficiency of His grace and the multiplying of His power through Paul’s weakness, Paul said,  “Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”  (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Paul’s weakness, his lack of necessary resources to fulfill the ministry God had called him to, drove Him to the Christ who multiplies His strength through our weakness, who multiplies His abundance through our lack.

This is why Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Phlp. 4:13).

The wonderful, liberating truth is not that we can do all things.  Rather, we can do all things because Christ shares His strength with us, causes His unlimited might to become our might.

Paul said, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 4:19).

God has called us to accomplish impossible tasks in ministry but the essential factor is not our resources.  What is most essential is God’s promise to supply out of His riches in glory.  The resources needed to fulfill the purposes of God are located in the dimension of God’s glory and not limited by my lack nor subject to the prevailing storms and cycles of human economies.

14:18 Jesus directs the disciples to bring the five loaves and two fish to Him.  The loaves are more like what we would call buns or rolls.  The fish are probably small, pickled fish.  But the point is not how few nor how small.  The point is the command of Jesus, “Bring them here to me.”

There would be no miracle if they refused to bring the bread and fish, if they tried to hide or hoard their resources.  Often, in times of scarcity, people tend to withhold gifts and offerings.  The truth is, what we offer to God will become far greater than if we withhold it.

This is the principle behind Paul’s admonition to the church,

“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully ... And God is able to make all grace abound unto you, that always having all sufficiency in all things, you may have an abundance for every good deed ... Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched for all generosity ...” (2 Cor. 9:6-11).

Notice that God not only provides bread for food but also seed for sowing.  The good farmer does not eat the seed nor hoard it.  He sows it.  This causes a multiplying of the seed.  In the same way, God multiplies back to the giver so that we may continue to give generously.

Somebody brought five loaves and two fish to Jesus.  If they had been hidden, they would never have multiplied.  What we offer to God will never be destroyed.  It will only multiply.

This is not only true with our resources of time, treasure, talent.  This is also true of our lives.  Missionaries have answered the call to serve far away fields, serving and dying alone.  But their sacrifice, offered into the hands of God, later multiplied into thousands of pastors, teachers, doctors and witnesses in that place.  God multiplies whatever good gift we place in His hands.

14:19-21 Jesus blessed the loaves and fish and thousands of men plus women and children were fed.  How similar to the celebration of Holy Communion.  In John’s Gospel, the story of the feeding of the multitude (6:1-13) is followed by Jesus’ revelation of Himself as the Bread of life.

“ I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

“I am the bread that came down out of heaven” (John 6:41)

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” (John 6:51).

Jesus, having communed with His Father, now comes from the Father and blesses the bread, breaks it and gives it to those gathered at His table.  So as our great High Priest, Jesus invites us to His table and there He meets us and feeds us with His own life, the bread of everlasting life.

Notice that there were twelve baskets of left over food.  There was more food left over after Jesus blessed it and fed the people than what they brought to Him to begin with. Notice also that there was one basket for each apostle, who had been busy serving while others ate.

Jesus' response to the loss of His friend, cousin and ministry partner, John the Baptist:

1. He went aside with His closest friends for communion with His Heavenly Father. 

2. He came back sharing the comfort He received with those in need of comfort. 

3. He performed the miracle of the multiplying of the fish and bread. 

Calming the Storm (14:22-33)

14:22,23 Jesus had fed a multitude and we read in John’s Gospel that as a result of this miracle, the people “were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king” (John. 6:15).  

The multitudes were always one spark away from exploding in rebellion against Rome, ever ready to crown someone king and Messiah. They wanted to forcefully crown Jesus and make Him the political Deliverer of their dreams, the One who would conquer Rome and establish the kingdom of Israel.

Jesus quickly dismissed the unstable crowd and directed His disciples to get into a boat and cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 14:22). It had been a long, exhausting day and the Lord remained behind so He could spend time in fellowship with His Father (14:23). Hours passed and it is well into the night.

14:24 The disciples were sailing through the nigh but as often happens in life, an unforeseen circumstance develops.  Suddenly, without any warning, a storm blew down from the mountains.  There are so many “suddenlies” in life — events we did not plan or foresee.  They break upon us with the force of a hurricane.

There are five truths which will bring us comfort and courage in these storms.

1. God is not surprised by our storms because He sees us, knows us and knows everything that could ever possibly happen in our  lives.

2. God meets us in the midst of the storm.

3. God is not limited in the ways He meets us.

4. God speaks to us in the storm.

5. Because God foresaw the storm and because God is present, He provides a solution.  His solution is to offer Himself to us.

6. God calls us to respond, to meet Him in the storm.

In John's account we read that the disciples were only three or four miles out, though they had left in late afternoon or early evening.  Mark says they were straining at the oars (6:48).  Matthew says the boat was battered by the waves and the wind was against them.

These were professional fishermen, familiar with conditions on the sea, experienced in dealing with adversity.  Nevertheless, the storm was bigger than their ability to sail and they were unable to make any progress toward their goal.  It is now between 3:00 and 6:00 A.M (14:5).  They have been at it all night long and are moving no closer to the far shore.

Sound familiar?  Have you ever been moving toward your goal and you could see it like a point of light on the horizon, you were navigating the passages of life toward the light but an unforeseen storm arises?  And the storm is bigger than you are, bigger than your professional abilities, bigger than your resources.  Though you push and strain, the shore is no closer than it was hours ago, months ago, even years ago.

How do you deal with storms?

The difference between a great athlete and a mediocre athlete is not the fiction that the great ones never get knocked down.  That’s not true.  Any athlete is going to deal with knockdowns.  The difference between greatness and mediocrity is the way we get up.

A successful person is not someone who never encounters crises, storms. We all deal with storms and when we are successful, there probably will be even more adversity.  Success does not result from an absence of adversity but from the way we encounter and resolve adversity.

How do you deal with storms?  What do you do when you find yourself in the howling grasp of one of life's “suddenlies”?  There are several typical responses.

1. One is called rationalization.  That's when we encounter a problem but we pretend we like it, reasoning that this is exactly what we wanted or it doesn't matter.  We pretend we are not concerned, everything is OK. 

 

It’s as if we are paddling our boat and the wind is lashing the boat, water splashing over the sides.  We are drenched with rain.  And we say, "Wow this is great!  Exactly what I wanted."

That's rationalization, not a denial of the storm, just a denial that it presents a problem.  We pretend it is a blessing when it is not.

What harm is there in rationalization?  Plenty.  Instead of dealing with a problem and resolving it, we are coexisting with it and it is only getting worse.  I may lose the opportunity  to respond in a healthy manner and by the time I do try to respond, it may be too late.

2. Another method is called transference.  That is the psychological process whereby we transfer our problem to someone else.  It’s as if we are paddling our boat and the storm is raging.  We look over at our friend’s boat and we say, "You'd think he would have more sense than to get out here on a day like this.  He really has a problem.”

Transference doesn't settle anything.  We have a storm to deal with and the longer we transfer our own problem onto someone else, the more difficult it will be to come up with a solution.

3. Another response is called denial, we deny that there is a problem.

We are paddling our boat and the wind and rain smash against us.  We say, "Storm?  I don't see any storm.  Wind?  Rain?  Where?"  

The problem is that ninety per cent of dealing with any problem is admitting that it exists.  As long as I am in denial, I have no opportunity to resolve the situation.

Different ways of dealing with problems: rationalization, transference, denial.  They don't work, don't result in healthy living.

So how do we deal with storms?  Remember that success in life is not based on the absence of storms.  Success is determined by the way we deal with them.

What did the disciples do?  Let's use Simon Peter while we imagine some possible responses.

He could have rationalized.  "I am so grateful for this storm.  The cold water keeps me awake and I wouldn't want to fall asleep and miss any of this.  What a marvelous opportunity to practice my screaming.  Yeah, this is great."

He could have transferred.  "If there are any Pharisees out on the lake tonight, I bet they are bailing water with both hands. They never could sail and now they'll have to learn how to row.  What idiots they are for being out here tonight."

He could have denied.  "What wind?  What waves?"  

We don't read that Simon responded in any of those ways.  In fact, none of the disciples had any other response except to keep rowing and bailing.  They didn't know what to do so they just pressed on in the storm.  But Jesus had a solution.  Here’s what happened.  

14:25 Jesus came to them.  This reveals six wonderful truths. 

1. First of all, Jesus saw them.

In Mark 6:48 we read that Jesus saw them.  He couldn’t have come to them if He hadn’t seen them.  That means He knew where they were, knew how to find them.  God sees us, knows us, knows everything about us and always has known because He is omniscient, all knowing.  When Jesus said that God has counted the hairs on our head, He meant that there is no fact, event or aspect of our being that escapes His notice.  None of our storms or suddenlies will ever surprise God. He always saw them, from eternity.

2. Jesus met them in the midst of the storm.  

Mark says it so well, “Seeing them straining at the oars ... He came to them,” (Mark 6:48).  Because Jesus saw them, knew them, He was able to come to them.

Matthew says that it was in the fourth watch of the night, which would be somewhere between 3:00 A.M. and 6:00.  He came to them, walking on the sea.  He was not limited by the storm, the wind, the waves or the water itself.

God sees us, knows us and is able to come to where we are.  

Isn't that the Christmas story? A lost and fallen world couldn't find its way back to God so God found us. Lost in our storms of sin and brokenness; terrorized by the crashing wind and wave of a fallen world in violent rebellion against its Creator; bound in our fear; unable to move toward the shore, God came to us. "God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19).

3. Jesus came to them by walking on the water. 

Jesus created the universe and upholds it by His continued word of power (Hebr. 1:3). All of creation, the sub-atomic particles that comprise creation and the principles which govern creation, all were created by Him and are held together in Him (Col 1:16,17). 

The Lord has established laws by which the universe functions in an orderly way but He is also able to subject these laws to His sovereign Lordship. Creation responds to the will and purpose of its Creator. The water supported Jesus because this was His will.

14:26,27 Here we find a fourth wonderful truth: 

4. Jesus spoke to them.

Jesus initiated the conversation.  The disciples were frightened at the sight of Jesus, thinking it was a ghost.  They didn't recognize Him, didn't expect Him to be present in their storm and their reaction was a kind of surprised fear.  They cried.  Jesus called.

How often we are surprised by the presence of Jesus in our storms.  So Jesus initiates the  conversation:  “Take courage, it is I.  Be not afraid.”

Isn’t this the history of divine revelation?  We did not know what to say, but God has spoken to us.  Adam and Eve sinned and hid themselves but God came to them and spoke to them, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9).

Israel was a slave in Egypt but God spoke to Moses, sent him to set the people free.  Israel lost their way so God sent prophets and spoke to them.  In the fulness of time God spoke this world directly, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1,2).

Not only has God spoken, but His word took human form.  The Apostle John said, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14). 

It is God who has spoken to us, God initiates the conversation.

Jesus came to them and said, “Take courage.”

"How can I take courage, Lord?  I’m in the middle of a storm, my boat is sinking."  

"Because it is I," Jesus says.  “I’m here.”

14:27 This is the fifth wonderful truth of storms: “It is I.”

5. Jesus offers Himself to us.  His solution to the storm is Himself:  "It is I.”

The phrase, “It is I” can be translated, “I Am.” What a dramatic statement! 

“Take courage, I Am; be not afraid.”

“I Am” is one of the names of God revealed in the Old Testament, often translated Jehovah or Yahweh. Jesus often applied this name to Himself:

"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."  

"I am the Bread of Life."  

"I am the Light of the world."  

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

He offers Himself.  Isn't that the story of the cross?  

"This is my body broken for you.  This is my blood of the New Covenant shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."  

Isn't this also the story of the Resurrection?  They were hiding behind locked doors and Jesus came, stood in their midst and said, "It is I, peace be with you."

Death could not hold Him, the storms of life cannot prevent Him.  He comes to us in our locked rooms and our storms and He offers Himself,  "It is I.  Take courage."

If we have met the Christ of Christmas who comes to us when we could not go to Him;  

if we have met the Christ of the cross who gives Himself against the storms of sin and evil; 

if we have met the Christ of the resurrection who says, "It is I,";  

then there is something in us that wants to say, 

"Lord, command me to come to you on the water."

14:28,29 This is the sixth wonderful truth of the storm: 

6. Jesus calls us to respond, to meet Him in faith.

Jesus comes to us, speaks to us, assures us of His presence by offering Himself.  And there is something about His presence that calls us to step out in faith and meet Him there in our storm.

“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (Matt. 14:28, 29).

Many miss it at this point.  We believe in a Christ who comes to us, who offers Himself to us.  Do we believe in a Christ who calls us to walk with Him in the storm?  It is only in letting go of the vessels of safety, the securities of the past, that we truly experience the presence of Christ today: 

”He who has found his life will lose it and he who has lost his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39).

Too many Christians experience the presence of Christ today but live in the storms of the past.  Jesus says, "Come to me."

This is the Christ of the Church who says, 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ... And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).

Jesus sends us to the nations because that is where He is.  Come to me, Jesus says.  

Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water, walking toward Jesus in the midst of the storm.  The wind and the waves were still beating against the boat, the rain still pouring down.  Nothing had changed except this: Jesus was present and calling.  

Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on the same water that had threatened to drown him.  The water which minutes before was his adversary was now his pathway to Jesus.

14:30 “But seeing the wind, he became frightened.”  

Stepping out of our security in a storm is a supernatural act. Walking on the water, striding against the wind, is an act of faith. We are able to do this only as we obey the divine command, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebr. 2:2).

Honestly though, there are times when faith falters, focus is broken. We stop acting  supernaturally and act naturally. We turn our eyes from Jesus and look to the storm.

The problem is not the wind.  The problem is that Simon lost his focus, took his eyes off Jesus.  He is “seeing the wind”.  How do you see the wind?  In a sense, this is a negative expression of faith, which is “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  He is seeing that which is unseen but felt, experienced.  He experiences the presence and terrifying power of the wind.

Simon’s experience with dangerous storms begins to inform or shape his faith.  “Yes, I believe in Jesus but I also believe in this storm.  I’ve seen storms sink ships.”

Fear broke his focus on Jesus, his faith in Jesus was usurped by his faith in the power of the storm and he began to sink.  But as he began to sink, he had enough true faith to cry out, “Lord, save me!” 

14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out and took hold of Simon.  

How soon did Jesus respond?  Immediately.  Some things God accomplishes gradually, slowly.  But He is also the God of the suddenly, the immediate.  Our storms come upon us suddenly but so does the saving hand of God.  The next time you are thinking about the suddenlies of life, remember, the hand of God is a suddenly.

Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of Peter.  The story of salvation is not the story of people finding God but of God finding people.  It is not the story of people taking hold of the unseen God but the unseen God taking hold of people.  Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” (Luke 19:10).

The Apostle Paul says that God chose us in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).  Before we existed, God had chosen to take hold of our lives.

While we were dead in trespasses and sins, God, being rich in mercy, raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-6).  We were dead but God took hold of us and raised us up. Peter was sinking beneath the waves but Jesus took hold of him and raised him up.

It is not Simon who took hold of Jesus. It is Jesus who took hold of Simon.

It is not Simon’s faithfulness to Jesus that overcomes the storm.

It is Jesus’ faithfulness to Simon that overcomes the storm.

God’s saving work in our lives is based on His faithfulness to us. The Hebrew word that is often translated kindness or mercy -- chesed -- can also be translated loyalty. Chesed is used of the Lord in Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good and His mercy (chesed) endures forever.” Chesed has to do with a loyal covenant commitment, faithful covenant love which endures, does not fail or die. It is the way God loved Israel. It is the way God loves us.

An unknown hymn writer said,

“I sought the Lord and afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me

It was not I that found, O Savior true

No, I was found of thee

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold

I walked and sank not on the storm swept sea

'Twas not so much that I on thee took hold

as thou, dear Lord, on me”

Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  As if to say, "Don't you understand?  I’m here now.  It’s not about the storm.  It’s about my presence with you."

14:32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.  Notice that Jesus did not change the circumstance until He changed the people, until He raised them to the highest possible level of faith.  He did not speak to the storm, He spoke to the people.  When the people were changed, their circumstance changed.  God doesn’t create storms but He meets us in them and uses them to transform our lives, to raise us to a higher level of holiness and faith-filled living.

Jesus spoke to some storms but He did not speak to this one.  He walked on it and when He got where He was going, the wind stopped.  As we live our lives with Jesus, there will be some storms He talks to and some where He walks with us through them.  His goal has nothing to do with the storm.  His goal is building our faith and increasing our holiness.  

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus identified Himself before getting into the boat, “Take courage, it is I (I Am), do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50). Then He got into the boat and the wind stopped.

It is almost as if the storm itself responded to the name, “I Am.”

By the way, the phrase, “The wind stopped,” can be translated, “The wind sank.” When Jesus gets into the boat, the boat doesn’t sink. The storm does.

14:33 Then they worshipped.  

When Jesus calmed an earlier storm, the disciples asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41). But at the calming of the second storm, they worshipped Jesus and confessed, “You are certainly God’s Son” (Matt. 14:33).  

In Matthew’s Gospel, this second storm is the first occasion when the disciples worshipped Jesus and their first recognition and confession of His Deity. They may not have truly understood who Jesus is, until that moment. Or maybe the worship and confession was in them but it took a storm to pull it out.

The point is this. Sometimes, when we go through a storm, the focus of our prayer becomes the storm itself rather than the Lord who meets us in it. But if we stay focused and faithful in prayer, we will not only experience the presence of the great I Am who meets us in the storm. He will also draw out of us more worship and more recognition of who He is than we ever knew before.

Every storm is an invitation to worship the Christ who exercises Lordship over wind and wave.

Have you noticed a different kind of worship rising out of you when Jesus has met you in the storm?  Where there had been chaos there is now peace and adoration of the Prince of Peace rising from our heart.  What had been a place of terror is now a sanctuary, a holy place filled with holy songs.  What had been a sinking ship filled with men crying out in fear is now a sacred tabernacle erupting with a praise service.

Surprised by a sudden storm?  

Jesus says, 

“I see you and I know everything about your suddenly.”

"I have come to you.” 

“I am not limited in the ways I can meet you.”

“I am speaking to you.”

“I offer myself to you.”

“I call you to respond, to meet me by faith in the storm."  

He will either dissipate the storm with a word.  Or He will walk with us through it.  And then we will worship in the stillness of His presence.

14:34-36 No sooner did Jesus arrive on shore than the people flocked to Him, seeking only to touch the hem of His garment.  While it is true that they were more interested in His miracles than in His truth, more willing to touch His robe than to kneel before His Lordship, nevertheless, Jesus responded with compassion.  As many as touched, even His robe, were healed.

Matthew 15

15:1,2 Some scribes and Pharisees came from Jerusalem to question Jesus.  This sounds like an official delegation sent by the Jewish leaders.  They came asking Jesus why His disciples were breaking the traditions of the elders.  These traditions carried tremendous weight in that society, though they were not Biblical, were not mentioned in the Law of Moses.  

The Law was given to Moses by God Himself and as the Word of God, its authority was binding on all Jews.  But the traditions of the elders were a separate body of laws.  They existed only in oral form in Jesus’ day and were not committed to writing until much later.  Again, they were not the Law of Moses, not the Word of God and carried no Biblical authority.  Nevertheless, one did not break them lightly nor without consequence.  

Isn’t it that way in all societies?  Godly traditions are good and helpful, they are like stepping stones into the future: walk this way, this way has been proven by those who came before you.  But human tradition is often terribly oppressive and restrictive, a millstone on our shoulders, weighing us down.  And woe to those who try to cast off the millstone.  In any society, when you break with social custom, you do incur the wrath of some people.

The religious traditions of the Jews were nothing other than man-made doctrines which obscured the true Word of God. However, the authority of the Pharisees was so great that if a person violated any of this body of non-Biblical law, they incurred fierce condemnation.

The tradition which the disciples were breaking was to eat without performing the ceremonial washing of the hands.  Really, it was more a washing of the wrists than the hands and had to be done in a carefully prescribed way.  This had nothing to do with hygiene; it was a ceremonial washing for the purpose of religious purification.  

In the Law of Moses, this ceremony applied only to priests in certain situations.  It did not apply to ordinary people as they were preparing to eat.  That might have been a good idea, we certainly do that in our society.  But in a land and a time where water was scarce, it was neither practical nor required by Scripture. The disciples were not violating the Word of God.

15:3,4 Jesus’ response is twofold.  First, he denies these so-called authorities the right to criticize anyone, since they violate something far greater than mere tradition.  They are violating the commands of holy Scripture with their doctrines. The Word of God says that we are to honor our father and mother and never to speak evil of them. Secondly, they misunderstood the nature of purification — it is not an outward process but an inward reality.

15:5,6 A tradition had developed whereby people could declare their property to be given to God or under holy vows so those resources which would have been available for the care of their parents in their old age would then be unavailable.  They were saying, “I can’t help my parents, my money is devoted to God.”  In this they callously dishonor their parents and likewise despise the Word of God which commanded them to honor father and mother.

What motivated those people? They were being manipulated by a corrupt religious system that deceived them into believing that they could purchase the blessing of God, could buy salvation, through lavish gifts to the temple, even if in doing this they left their parents destitute. In that society there was no  social safety net; children were responsible to care for their parents when they needed help in their later years.

To say, “I can’t honor my parents because I am honoring God” is to violate the commandment of God, to disobey and dishonor God. God did not give us commandments about offerings to impoverish us but to bless us. He did not give us commandments to bind us but to set us free.

God is grieved when we pretend to honor Him while dishonoring the people whom He has given into our care. The Apostle Paul said, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Tim. 5:8).

15:7,8 Jesus rightly calls them hypocrites.  They honor God with their mouths, reciting the proper prayers and rituals in the synagogue and at the temple, but obviously their hearts are far from God.  If they can ignore the Word of God, contradict the Scriptures while acting in such a cruel, hardhearted way toward their parents, surely their hearts are far from God.

15:9 Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying that their worship of God is in vain, useless, for they have lifted up their own traditions above that Word of truth which God had spoken.  If we declare God’s Word to be of no consequence, or of less consequence than our own religious and cultural traditions, what are we saying about God?  How can we say that we value God, and this is what worship is, declaring the worth-ship of God, while at the same time we despise His Word?

Centuries earlier, God had spoken through the prophet Amos to people who were acting in unjust ways, oppressing the poor, violating His commandments while offering a pretense of worship:

“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.  

Even though you offer up to me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, 

I will not accept them ... Take away from me the noise of your songs; 

I will not even listen to the sound of your harps, but let justice roll down like waters 

and righteousness like an ever flowing stream”  (Amos 5:21-24).

The festivals, offerings and rituals which God revealed to Moses, which Moses recorded in holy Scripture and which the Israelite people practiced, were given so that they could enjoy a covenant relationship with God and with one another and worship God in the manner pleasing to Him.  God did not hate the religious ritual which He had given them but God hates the exercise of religious ritual if the reality of our true spiritual condition makes a mockery of our words.  God will not receive mouth worship if our hearts are far from Him.  He will not receive our offerings if our gifts are gained through injustice or given with cold hearts.

The religious authorities were hypocrites, practicing the God-given rituals of their faith while, in their hearts, they violated God’s Word.  In addition, they had heaped thousands of man-made laws onto the Word of God (the traditions of the elders), and then condemned the common people who were unable to keep these religious traditions.

These common, ordinary folk whom Jesus loved and whose lives He sought day by day to bring to God, these folk were declared to be sinners, outcasts, living outside the Law, because they did not obey these non-Biblical traditions, because they did not pour water over their wrists in the proper manner before eating.  The religious authorities made themselves adversaries of Jesus when they positioned themselves between the Shepherd and the sheep whom He longed to save.

They also made themselves His adversary when they used religious tradition to demean the beauty of family relationships.  Jesus never ceased to care for His mother, even on the cross commending her to the care of John.  It was grievous sin to Jesus that anyone would use God as an excuse to abandon their father or mother.  The Lord wants our lives to be full of loving relationships, not full of religious tradition and doctrine that gets in the way of love.

Are there religious customs or traditions in our day which separate us from God?  We are usually unwilling or unable to see our own violations.  It was not so long ago that social custom declared people of color could not worship alongside white people, could not vote, could not attend a school or university of their choice.  Not so long ago, wealthy industrialists, robber-barons to some, built churches with money gained from the abuse of workers and consumers.

There have been textile factory owners and coal mine owners who were too hard-hearted to install air filters, while workers died of lung disease.  When they gave their money to build churches, did God receive their gift?

15:10,11    Jesus objects to these so called authorities secondly because they misunderstand the nature of purification.  It is not an outward process but inward.  That which is outside of our being cannot defile us unless we allow it the power to defile.  The words that come out of our mouth and the actions that accompany these words, these are the revelation of what is in our heart and it is this that defiles us.  It is what is in us that is clean or unclean.  By implication, mere water cannot cleanse, since the problem is not our hands or wrists but our heart.  We need a cleansing of the heart.

15:12 The disciples realized that the religious authorities were offended and this frightened the disciples.  People may trample on the Word of God with little fear of social retribution, but trample on sacred customs and traditions and society will be quick to punish the offender.

15:13 Jesus responds first of all, that whatever God has not planted will be rooted up.  He is implying that this fortress of religious law, custom and tradition, which seems to be so weighty and authoritative and which is so intimidating to the disciples, will be plucked up like a flimsy weed.  Israel itself is the planting of the Lord but those institutions of Israel which are not of God, will have no more permanence than a weed.

So in our society and in all societies: what God has not planted will be uprooted.  Customs, traditions, institutions, laws, governmental policies and governments themselves, though they may appear to be as permanent as the mountains, if they are rooted in ungodliness, will be plucked up and overturned.

15:14 Jesus says that these teachers of the Law are in fact blind leaders of the blind.  In Psalm 119:105 we read, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my pathway.”  Again, “The entrance of thy word gives light” (Ps 105:130).  When we substitute custom and tradition for the Word of God, we lose light and gain darkness.  Leaders who attempt to guide, govern or teach apart from or in opposition to the Word of God, are nothing more than blind leaders of the blind.

“Let them alone,”  Jesus advises, for they will fall and those led by them will fall with them.  The implication is that God also is leaving them alone.  There is no more sobering word of judgment in all of the Bible than this, “God gave them up” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). 

15:15 Peter asks Jesus to “explain the parable.”  This was not a parable, it was a simple statement.  But it is such a revolutionary thought, that the religious authorities are in fact blind and that the purification laws, which were so deeply woven into the heart of Hebrew society, could not change the heart of anyone.  Peter cannot begin to grasp it.

15:16-20 Jesus reminds Peter that whatever enters through the mouth goes into the stomach and passes through the digestive and elimination systems; nothing more than that.  What we eat may or may not be healthy but it does not make us fit or unfit to worship God. 

However, evil lusts,violence and corrupt imaginations arising from our heart do defile us.  Missing a point of ritual or doctrine does not. Words and actions, lack of holy love in our relationships, lack of reverence toward God and His Word, this defiles.  

Rightly does the Bible teach us, “Guard your heart with all diligence for from it flow the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).  The words we speak and the actions we take are formed in the heart.  The very course of our life, insofar as we can control that course, begins in our heart.  Outward forms of ritual cannot change our heart but God can and will as we ask and humbly surrender.

When Mark recounts this event in his Gospel, he concludes with these words, “Thus He (Jesus) declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).  In other words, Jesus invalidated Jewish dietary laws insofar as they relate to right relationship with God.  

Interestingly, according to the ancient traditions of the church, Mark received much of his Gospel material directly from Simon Peter.  In Acts 10, Peter has a vision of various creatures and he hears a voice saying, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat.”  Peter replies that he has never eaten anything unholy or unclean, that is, he has lived his life according to the dietary law prescribed by Moses.  But the voice said to him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:10-15).  

In this vision, God was preparing Peter to go to the house of a Gentile, a Roman officer, and  preach the Gospel.  This would have offended Peter because entering the house of a Gentile was a violation of Jewish law.  But God was calling Peter to let go of those traditional categories of clean and unclean and enter a new community in which there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile, but we are all new creatures in Christ.  In that vision, there was the echo of the voice of Jesus, from years earlier. 

A Woman and Her Daughter

Matthew 15:21-28

15:21 Jesus was in the region of Tyre and Sidon, in the area that today would be Lebanon.  He probably was there for a time of spiritual renewal and rest, which was impossible in Galilee.  But His reputation preceded Him and the people found Him.

15:22 A Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus but notice how she addresses Him: “Lord, Son of David.”  She’s from a pagan culture, a society that has rejected God but somewhere she has learned of Jesus and she demonstrates more knowledge of His true identity and more reverence for His Deity than many of the leaders of Israel.   

Notice also her love for her daughter.  It doesn’t say how far she had to travel or how long she has waited but she has a divine appointment with Jesus on behalf of her beloved child.

15:23 Notice her persistence.  She calls out but Jesus does not answer.  The disciples are irritated by the woman and implore Jesus to send her away.  Yet she persists.   God rewards perseverance. 

15:24 Jesus’ response reveals, not that He does not care about her but that He was focused on His mission.  His mission at that time was Israel.  He came to proclaim the kingdom of God to the covenant people first.  God’s plan from the beginning was to create the nation of Israel, call them into covenant with Himself, send the Messiah to them and then send them into the world with the message of the kingdom.  Israel was created by God to be a light to the nations, a messenger of the gospel.

Jesus’ first priority is to this mission, to proclaim the gospel “To the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  He does not respond to the woman, not out of cruelty, but because He is focused on His mission.

In our own lives, we must not misinterpret the silence of Jesus.  It is not that He does not care or hear but silence is often the music accompanying the revelation of His glory.  In the beginning, before God thundered, “Let there be light,” the Holy Spirit brooded over the face of the deep in the silence of darkness.  Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the silence of Mary’s womb as heaven gazed in mute wonder.

Jesus’ miracles and teaching, His words and works, were born in the silence of communion with His Father.  In silence He hears the fluttering wing of every falling sparrow, hears the opening of the lily’s petals to the touch of the rising sun.  

In silence He searches our hearts and hears every unuttered prayer.  There is nothing hidden from Him.  Do not despair at the silence of God.  Silence is the music of God listening and moving the universe toward the unveiling of His glory.

Indeed, creation responds to this unveiling of glory with a roar of praise not unlike a million, million waterfalls, yet to our ears this music is unheard:

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  Day to day pours forth speech and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard  Their sound has gone out through all the earth and their utterances to the end of the world”  (Psalm 19: 1-4).

Do not despair at the silence of God.  It is often only the song of His presence.

15:25 She bows before Jesus (proskuneo, often translated worship).  She is a worshipper of the Lord, crying out to the Him from a posture of humble adoration.  She knows how to approach God, “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4).

15:26 Though Jesus’ response sounds harsh, it was not.  The regular Greek word for a dog would have been kuon, as used in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to dogs.”  But this is the word kunarion, a puppy, a family pet.   

What Jesus said was, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies.”  The children's bread refers to the gifts of God for the people of God, Israel.  Jesus was intent on giving His life, the bread of heaven, for the world but first to the covenant people of God.  He was not being harsh or cruel, not speaking in a demeaning manner but was tenderly reminding the woman of His priority to Israel.

However, there is something more to His response.  Jesus is drawing out of the woman a statement of her faith.  God responds to true faith and draws us into situations where our faith is revealed and confessed.

15:27 Her response is both humble and full of faith.

In humility she admits that she is not from a covenant background.  It’s as if she says, "Yes, I’m not sitting at the table with the covenant people.  I’m from a culture and people who are separated from God.  I’m only a puppy and who am I to ask even for a slice of bread?  But the puppies eat the crumbs and just a crumb of your mercy will suffice.” 

Humility is the best way to approach God.  God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble,  draws near to the humble (James 4:6,8).

Notice how great is her faith.  She believes that Jesus is so abundant in mercy and mighty in power, that even a crumb of the life of God falling from the covenant table will suffice to heal her daughter.   She doesn't say that she is deserving, doesn't tell Jesus how to do this miracle.  He doesn't need to go and lay hands on her daughter, doesn’t even need to speak to her.  It is not for a puppy to tell the Master anything.

We read in some communion rituals, "I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table."   She agrees but she understands that it's not her worthiness that will result in her daughter’s blessing.  It's not about worthiness.  It’s about her daughter's need and Jesus' mercy and power.   

Notice how similar she is in humility and faith to the Roman centurion who sent word to Jesus that his servant was ill.  The synagogue members said, “This man is worthy for you to help him.”  But he sent word, “No, I’m not worthy that you should come under my roof but you don’t need to.  Just speak and my servant will be healed,” (paraphrasing Luke 7:1-10).

15:28 Jesus is always moved by humble faith and He responds, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” Her daughter was healed that hour.  

It's not that Jesus breaks His focus on Israel.  Rather, He sees that this woman’s faith has made her a part of the covenant people, has included her in the true Israel. By faith she has become one of the children who has a right to ask for children's bread. 

In John 1:12 we read,  “To those who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.”  As Paul tells us, we are children of God not because we are racially descended from Abraham but because of faith in Christ (Romans 9:6-8).

“Oh woman, great is your faith”  Faith has gained her entrance into this New Covenant; faith has qualified her and her daughter to eat the children’s bread.  

Notice again the qualities of this woman:

She is a worshipper, she reverences and honors Jesus for who He is.

She is persistent, presses in.  

She is humble, not demanding from God but bowing and humbly asking.

She is full of faith, believing and confessing that Jesus is able to meet her need.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  As we press in humbly but persistently, faithfully and worshipfully, we too will encounter a Savior who shares the children’s bread.

Offering the Bread of Life

Matthew15:29-39

15:29 Jesus now moves to the hills of Galilee.  “He was sitting there,” a posture of invitation; Rabbis sat when they taught.  He who is the Bread of life now offers the children’s bread to the multitude and it’s as if He says, “Let the little children come unto me.”

15:30 How the multitudes came, like the rolling sweep of the inbreaking tide.  They came bringing those loved ones whose lives were broken, maimed, afflicted and oppressed.  This congregation of the wounded lay at His feet and He healed them.

15:31 When the crowd looked at His work — the mute speaking, the crippled made whole, the lame walking, the blind seeing — they “glorified the God of Israel.”  God is revealing Himself in these works of mercy and power, showing Himself to be a God who loves them, who meets them in their brokenness and lostness.  They can only praise Him.  It is the only fitting response when God meets us.

15:32 Now we come to the feeding of the 4,000.  Mark tells this story in 8:1-9.  Just before that (Mark 7:31), he tells us that Jesus was in the region of the Decapolis, a confederation of ten Greek cities to the east of the Sea of Galilee.  If in fact Jesus is not just in the hills above Galilee but east of Galilee, then these miracles of healing were performed almost entirely among Gentiles.  This is significant.  Jesus had just healed the daughter of a non-Jew.  He was now performing many other miracles among the Gentiles.  Has He lost focus on His mission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”?   No, rather, it is the dawning of that glorious revelation which the Apostle Paul later articulated:

“For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,

nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants ... 

That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, 

but the children of the promise”  (Romans 9:6-8)

“Even so, Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to Him as righteousness. 

Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.

And the Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith,

preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will 

be blessed in you”  (Galatians 3:6-8)

Teaching and healing the broken, this is the children’s bread, and it is being shared with all who come by faith to Jesus.  Jesus  is not ignoring His mission to the house of Israel.  Rather, the house of Israel is now revealed to include all who come to Jesus in faith.

 Jesus is moved with compassion because of the physical hunger of the people.  He does not want to dismiss them until they are fed, lest they faint on the way home.

15:33-35 The disciples see no way to provide enough for so many, especially in  such a desolate place.  Jesus asks them about their resources and they reply that they have only seven loaves and a few small fish.  Jesus directs the people to be seated.

15:36 The multiplying of resources:

1. Notice that the resources did not multiply until Jesus gave thanks.  There is something about gratitude and thanksgiving that multiplies the resources of God.

“Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God”  (Philippians 4:6).

2. Notice the resources did not multiply until Jesus broke them.  This speaks of the body of Christ.  At the last supper, as He broke the bread, He said,

 

“This is my body, broken for you; do this in remembrance of me,” (I Corinthians 11:24).

God’s blessing of salvation was multiplied to the world when the body of Jesus, the Bread of Life, was broken on the cross.  As Jesus said, 

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”  (John 12:24).

In letting go of His life, in allowing Himself to be broken for the world, Jesus released the blessing and resource of God’s salvation to a lost world.  There is a word about brokenness here for the believer also.  Jesus said,

“What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected, 

this became the chief cornerstone?’  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken 

to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust”  (Luke 20:18).

Those who reject Jesus, the cornerstone, will fall under God’s judgment and will be scattered like dust.  Those who come to Him in faith will be joined to Him as to a precious cornerstone ( I Peter 2:6) but in this joining we are broken of self will, self righteousness, broken of the ways and works of the flesh.  Joined to Jesus, our old ways are broken.

There’s a mystery to this.  What we try to save is lost.  What we give away is saved: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it”  (Luke 9:24).

15:37-38 Notice they all ate.  When Jesus provides, no one is left out, all are invited.

“And the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come,’ and let the one 

who hears say,’Come,’  and let the one who wishes take the 

water of life without cost”  (Revelation 22:17).

Jesus told a parable about a king who gave a wedding feast for his son and told his servant to “Go therefore to the main highways and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast” (Matt. 22:9).  Luke recorded a similar story in which the servant was commanded to search along the highways and even in the hedges and “compel (persuade) them to come in, so that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).  

Jesus was illustrating the heart of God who is “Not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  Truly, “Whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”  (Romans 10:13).

Notice they were satisfied.  We labor for bread that does not satisfy, for treasures that so quickly lose their attraction and corrupt.  When Jesus provides, we are satisfied.

“Labor not for the food which perishes 

but for the food which endures to eternal life, 

which the Son of Man will give to you”  (John 6:27).

Notice that from seven loaves, there are now seven baskets of left overs.  When God provides, there is always a surplus, “Good measure, pressed down ... running over” (Luke 6:38).

“And God is able to make all grace abound unto you 

that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, 

may have an abundance for every good deed”  (2 Corinthians 9:8).

We are reminded here of three feasts in the life and ministry of Jesus:

1. The feeding of the five thousand, which probably included mostly Jews.

2. The feeding of the four thousand, which may have been mostly Gentiles.

3. The Last Supper, in which the bread represented Jesus, the Bread of everlasting life. This feast is still being celebrated at tables of holy communion around the world and still today, all who will come are invited.

What a beautiful portrait of Jesus in these last eleven verses of chapter 15, seated with arms opened wide, inviting the hurting, the broken, the hungry.  Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, you are invited to come in to God’s great feast and partake of the children’s bread. 

Have you accepted the invitation?

15:39 Having accomplished His mission there, Jesus got into the boat and moved on. He is still moving, still calling, present in all places at all times.

Matthew 16

16:1 After the many miracles which Jesus had performed, His adversaries ask for yet another sign.  In  response to legitimate need and suffering, especially when faith was present, Jesus willingly and always released the power of God to heal and to deliver from demonic oppression.  On three occasions, He even raised the dead.  But these men, hard hearted and faithless, are not asking out of any need in their lives or families.  They are seeking only to test Jesus and if no previous miracle has changed their hearts, no future miracle is likely to do so.

12:2,3 There are signs in the sky which reveal the coming weather.  Those who are wise know how to interpret those signs.  

There are also spiritual signs which give clues as to where we are in history, in the timing of God’s unfolding purpose.  Jesus called these “signs of the times.”  But the adversaries of Jesus were spiritually undiscerning.  They did not recognize the present season of grace and had no sense of the coming season of judgment.   

On that first Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode into the Jerusalem, He wept over the city and said,

  “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!  

But now they have been hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you 

when your enemies will throw up a bank before you and surround you and hem you in 

on every side and will level you to the ground and your children within you and they 

will not leave one stone upon another, 

because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).  

Within one generation those prophetic words exploded like a fire storm as the Romans surrounded Jerusalem, built their siege works, breached the walls and leveled the city, leaving not one stone upon another.

Destruction often seems to come speedily, unexpectedly and without warning upon the spiritually blind.  But in truth, there are always abundant warnings and seasons of grace. It is not that God does not speak.  It is that His voice goes unheard and unheeded.  

In Noah’s day, the flood must have seemed sudden in its destructive fury.  But Noah had testified for 120 years (Genesis 6:3   2 Peter 2:5).

What blinds people?

Pride. Pride of place, prestige and position, pride derived from wealth and power.  Pride of nation or race or class.  Religious pride, self righteousness, can blind us.

 

Religion devoid of the presence of God can dull our senses.  

Unconfessed sin, bitterness, prejudice can harden our hearts.

 

Whatever the reason, the result is the same — destruction.

16:4 Jesus calls these blind religious leaders “an evil and adulterous generation.”  Evil characterizes that which is opposed to God.  Adulterous, in this context, refers to spiritual compromise.  When people are opposed to God and spiritually compromised, what sign can be given to them which they will recognize or believe?

Already they had seen countless miracles which attested to the authority of God invested in Jesus.  They had heard the teaching of Jesus which revealed the wisdom of God.  They had clearly seen the mercy and power of God at work through the ministry of Jesus.  There was no question of His identity as the Messiah and as the Son of God.

What more could be said or done?  It is not that they did not see, but that they denied what they clearly saw.  It is not that they did no hear, but refused to believe what they heard.

What time was it?  It was time for the Messiah to appear, time for the kingdom of God to break into Israel’s history, time for Israel to take on the fullness of her national identity as the people of God and carry the light of the Gospel to the nations.  But having denied the obvious Messianic identity of Jesus, they were blind to the times.

Jesus says that no further sign will be given to them except the sign of Jonah, which elsewhere is interpreted as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 12:39,40).  In other words, as Jonah was swallowed by the whale but came forth again, so Jesus will be buried in the earth but will rise again.  

But even resurrection will not convince the unbelieving. Jesus warned in Luke 16:31,

”If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, 

they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

When people reject the signs in front of them, more signs will not convince them.

16:5,6 Jesus and His disciples sailed to the other side of the sea but the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread.  Jesus used this as an occasion to warn them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  The word leaven could be translated “yeast.”  

In Matthew 13:3, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to leaven.  What does leaven or yeast do?  It causes dough to rise.  A small amount permeates the dough and has tremendous influence, determines the final shape and consistency of the loaf of bread.  So with the Word of God in human hearts and the presence of the kingdom of God in human society.  In fact, anything that penetrates into our soul, whether good or evil, can have a transforming influence on our lives.

Here, Jesus warns of the permeating, transforming influence of Pharisees and Sadducees.  

16:7 The disciples misunderstand the warning, thinking Jesus is referring to actual bread.  But Jesus is referring to the silent, invisible and transforming effect that other people have in our lives.  The teaching and lifestyles of the Pharisees and Sadducees worked its influence just as subtly as real leaven in dough.  They gave the appearance of righteousness with their laws, rules and rituals.  They exercised great authority.  Therefore, they influenced, leavened the hearts of those who followed them.  Because they were unbelieving, they could plant unbelief in the hearts of others.  Because they were hypocritical, acting outwardly religious as a way of masking their inward corruption, they could plant hypocrisy in hearts.  

The disciples of the Pharisees and Sadducees would have enjoyed social prestige and power, the admiration, envy and fear of the public.  But in fact, they were just as separated from God, just as cold and hard toward God, as insensitive to the presence and purpose of God as their teachers.  How could the disciple rise to a higher spirituality than his master?  As Jesus said,

 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around 

on sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, 

you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves”  (Matt 23:15).

 So it is with the teaching and moral influence of all corrupt leaders.  If we allow their corruption to enter our own lives, how will we remain uncorrupted?  Elsewhere Jesus says, 

“Be careful what you listen to.  By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you and more shall be given you besides”  (Mark 4:24).

What we give is influenced by what we receive, what we listen to or look at, what enters us.  Therefore, we must be careful as to who we allow to speak into our lives.

  

“Guard your heart with all diligence for from it flow the issues of life”  (Proverbs 4:23).

16:8-10 Jesus reminds His disciples of the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000 and how many baskets full were left over.  In this He provides a practical example of the destructive leaven.  Why are they worrying about God’s provision while following the Christ who multiplies resources?  But the influence of faithless people will cause us to loose faith.  The influence of those who are blind to signs and wonders will blind us to miracles.  The influence of those whose hearts are hard and cold to the presence of God will deaden our own hearts.  

16:11,12 Jesus tells them plainly that He is not speaking about physical bread.  They then understand that He is warning them against the teaching of the Pharisees.  Their teaching is based on a religious life which rises out of an inner reality of corruption masked by an outer attitude or spirit of self righteousness.  Its effect, as we have said, is to create distance from God, coldness to God.  It is expressed in teaching and ritual which reduces faith, reduces dependence on God, so that its disciple no longer lives in the flow of divine communion and provision.

We all need to be taught, pastored, discipled.  We must intentionally open our hearts to some influences but there are many other influences which creep in unintentionally.  How do we guard our hearts?

Only by casting ourselves on Christ.  It is only through His power and His Word of truth that we can be delivered from evil.  We must choose every day to deny our own desire to rule and reign while yielding to His Lordship.  We must resist that which we know is corrupt, hungering and thirsting after the true righteousness of Jesus.  We must practice, act on, live out, that which we know to be Christ’s truth.  Jesus said, 

 

“If you continue in my Word then you are truly disciples of mine and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free”  (John 8:31,32).

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Matthew 16:13-20

16:13 The region around Caesarea Philippi was a wilderness place at the base of Mount Hermon, a quiet retreat where Jesus could begin to prepare His disciples for the coming confrontation with the authorities.  Though the disciples will fail, they will not be utterly destroyed.  Jesus wants them to begin to understand who He is and what is the true nature of His ministry. The first question is rather general, “Who do people say that I am?”  

16:14 The answers were various and still are today.  A rock star with some cool ideas, a politically correct social commentator, a wise philosopher among many, a prophet, angel, misguided martyr, deceived religious fanatic, good teacher. Islam says He is a prophet but did not die an atoning death for the sins of the world. One cult says He is a created spirit being. Another says He is Michael the archangel which would make Him a created being, not Creator.

There are many wrong answers. Maybe the worst is, “A good man.” 

When the rich young ruler addressed Jesus as “Good teacher,” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good?   No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19).  Jesus was not denying His Deity.  He was denying the right of that man to address Him as merely good.  Jesus is either who He says He is or He is not good at all.  He made claims which make Him either a liar and deceiver or nothing less than God in human form.

16:15 The second question is personal and requires each listener to respond unequivocally.  “Who do you say that I am?”  At some point in life, each human being must respond to this question.  Our answer will determine our eternity.

16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

1. You are the Christ.  Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, the Anointed One.  The Messiah is the long expected Deliverer, promised by the prophets.  

a. Popular expectations were so much smaller than God’s purpose.  The people were waiting for a military conqueror who would deliver the nation from Roman rule.  God wanted to deliver us from the tyranny of indwelling sin, creating “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession”  (I Peter 2:9).  Rulers transition, governments rise and fall, but unless the human heart is recreated, then nothing in this world will change at all.  God wants to create lasting change.  That begins in the human heart.

b. The popular vision of Messiah was too small on a second point.  They were looking for a local deliverer, liberating Israel only, Gentiles need not apply.  God’s heart encompassed all the world, His offer of grace embraced all of humanity.  “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

2. Simon adds, “The Son of the living God.”  The Bible reveals Jesus as divine, God in human form.  This is consistent with the revelation to Mary by Gabriel, 

“The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God”  (Luke 1:35).

This was the confession of the early church and has remained the confession of the faithful to this day.  “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  To deny the Deity of Christ is to remove oneself from orthodoxy to heresy.

16:17 Jesus calls Peter “blessed,” because it was the Father who revealed this to him.  He didn’t receive this revelation from people.  He received it from God.

Jesus had performed works which could only have been performed by the power of God working in and through Him.  His teaching had the ring of divine authority.  He had quoted Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and claimed prophetic fulfillment in Himself.  (For instance, Luke 4:18-21, when He quoted Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy and then said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”)

But Jesus had not yet explicitly taught the apostles that He was the Son of God.  Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, was the result of God’s direct revelation to him.  God opened Peter’s heart to recognize Jesus and God gave him faith to believe in Jesus.  In fact, no one can make this confession except God enables us.  

Faith is always God’s gift.  To whom?  To all who mourn their lost spiritual condition and truly hunger and thirst after righteousness, who seek God with all their heart, who ask and seek and knock.  Even as God revealed this truth to Simon and gave him faith to believe, so God reveals Jesus to all true seekers and gifts them with faith.  

16:18 “Upon this rock I will build my church.”  What rock was Jesus speaking of?

1. The rock of revelation.  When God reveals Jesus to us, we have a rock of truth on which we may build our life.  God then takes our lives, built upon the rock of revelation, and builds us into His church.

2. The rock of confession.  Revelation must be followed by confession.  Peter confessed the truth which had God revealed.  

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved ... for whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9,13).

3. The rock of Christ Himself.  Jesus said, “You are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church.”  

Petros, Peter, is a formal name but it also means a piece of rock, a small rock that can be easily moved or thrown.  How like the character of Peter, unstable, so easily moved.  But it is not on this Petros that Jesus will build his church.  It is on the petra.

Petra denotes a mass of rock.  Jesus used this word in the parable of the wise man who built his house on a rock (petra) which the storm could not move (Matthew 7:24,25).  What rock is it that stands against the shifting storms and tides of time, immovable?  It is Jesus, the very cornerstone of history.  When God reveals Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and we confess that revelation, our lives are joined to the Rock which cannot be swept away.  

 Peter may have been thinking of this moment when, years later, he wrote, 

“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men but is chosen and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood”  (I Peter 2:4, 5).

There should be a note of joyful confidence for us in this.  Peter was an unstable man who often failed, yet in Christ he could share in the building of an everlasting tabernacle, the church of the living God.  Whatever our past, whatever sins or failures have beset us, in Christ we are strong, overcomers, new creatures.  Indeed, we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Phlp. 4:13).  

In fact, God delights in taking our lives, with all of our limitations, failures and imperfections, and joining us to His everlasting life, His almighty power, His unlimited wisdom.  Why?  Because then God receives the glory.  “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong”  (I Cor. 1:27).

In summary, what is the rock?

God’s revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

Our confession of faith in Christ.

Christ Jesus Himself is the foundation stone, the everlasting, immovable Rock of ages.

Jesus says that on this rock I will build my church.  Four truths here:

1. God builds His church only on the rock of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the confession of Jesus Christ, and on Christ Himself.  If we try to build a church on any revelation other than the Biblical revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, the Lamb of God and Risen Lord, whatever we build is not God’s church.

2. “I will build my church,” Jesus says.  Christ is the builder and it is His church.  He builds one stone at a time, granting repentance and saving faith to one life after another.  

3. Because it is Christ’s church, it is everlasting, enduring beyond time into eternity.  All of the superficial church growth schemes may build crowd size and budgets (customers and cash flow) but will never build anything that will endure.

4. Church means called out ones.  God chose to save us and call us out of the kingdoms of this world, into the kingdom of His beloved Son. We are living witnesses of the life and truth of Jesus, citizens of this present social order but also citizens of heaven, carrying in our hearts a sense of eternity even as we live in time.  We cary the light of heaven into the darkness of time, the truth of heaven into the deceptions of time, the justice and mercy of heaven into the cruel oppression of time.

 Jesus says that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against His church. Hades refers to the place of the departed dead, corresponding to the Old Testament Sheol. (Some commentators say it once included the righteous dead prior to the ascension of Jesus. Then, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He took with Him the righteous dead. Other commentators reject this idea, contending that the righteous dead have always moved directly into the presence of God.) 

Whichever idea we hold, Hades is not the permanent dwelling of either the righteous or unrighteous dead. Since the atonement, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, when a redeemed follower of Christ dies, we go directly into the presence of the Lord (see Luke 23:43   2 Cor. 5:8   Phlp. 1:23). For the unrighteous dead, Hades is a place of waiting before final condemnation and separation from God in hell.

What did Jesus mean, that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His church?

1. The point of entry into Hades, the gates of Hades, is death. “The gates of Hades” speak of the deadly assaults of the devil and the world which attempt to extinguish the light and life of God’s church.  These assaults can be so subtle as to be almost invisible: the seduction of culture and custom and ideas which lead to compromise so gradually as to be almost indiscernible, but finally resulting in heresy, the loss of truth.  These assaults can also be visible, fiery and bloody: the burning of churches and Bibles, the arrest and execution of believers.  

These assaults can be from outside the church — political tyrants, militant false religions, aggressive humanistic philosophies proclaimed through art forms, media systems and universities.  Assaults can also arise from within the church, false believers, false shepherds, false prophets, deceived and deceiving, spreading their deadly infections under the guise of religious authority. 

But Jesus says that death itself cannot prevail against the church because the foundation stone is the One who rose from the dead, who conquered death, who is Resurrection, from whom all life flows, in whom all life consists, who upholds the universe with His word of power.

2. “The gates of Hades” may be a reference to the fact that in ancient cities, the leaders met at the gates to hear court cases, to make plans and devise strategies.  Jesus is saying that the strategies of hell, the purposes and plans which have been devised by hell for the enslavement of humanity and for the destruction of God’s church, cannot prevail.  

This is a church on the offensive, charging the enslaving prisons of darkness and oppression with gifts of truth and light and justice and mercy, trampling the gates and setting captives free.  

Jesus speaks of a church which cannot be destroyed.  But we must note that the church has often acted in self destroying ways.  In employing armies equipped with worldly weapons and violent methods of coercion, in substituting political power for spiritual gifts, in coveting worldly wealth while despising heaven’s riches, the church has often quenched its own anointing and nullified the presence of Christ.

Overcoming the powers of death, the gates of Hades, implies warfare.  But we must remember that, “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses“ (2 Corinthians 10:4).  Yes, we are in a war but our weapons are not the physical, military weapons of this world.  Why?  Because our warfare is not against a physical enemy.

  

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places”  (Ephesians 6:12).

Our enemy is the demonic, satanic, spiritual power that seduces and deceives human personalities and then through human personality, incarnates satanic values into human relationships and institutions, societies and cultures.  Guns and knives, battleships and fighter planes, religious political action committees and denominational power brokers, media branding and clever advertising will have no impact against spiritual powers of darkness.

God’s church overcomes the powers of darkness as the life of Jesus is released through us.  His light, His truth, His justice and mercy, operate through His church with overcoming power.  As a poet said many years ago,

 

“For not with swords loud clashing nor roll of stirring drums,

with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”

(Earnest Shurtleff,  1862-1917)

Our example in ministry is the Lord who “came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28), who humbled Himself that others may be lifted up, who poured out His life that others may live.  This church, imitating the life of Christ, overcomes the powers of darkness.  

We must also remember that a church which compromises its morality and its doctrine has diminished its own light and obscured its own voice.  Only Jesus can preserve His church against the powers of death.  Only Jesus can enable His church to move through the shadows of the gates of hell.  He alone is its Builder and Keeper but the church must choose to yield to the Lordship of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are reminded of the words of Jesus to the church at Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

Taken in context, Jesus is seeking to enter into the lives of those members of the Laodicean church who had excluded Him. Jesus had been put out of His church.  Christ's response is not to abandon them but to knock, to faithfully seek entrance into their lives.  It is love's response that refuses to abandon the Beloved, even when rejected.

Jesus stands at the door of those churches today which have excluded Him by disbelieving His Word revealed in holy Scripture; by proclaiming a false gospel which requires no repentance nor faith in a crucified and risen Savior. He stands at the door, patiently calling for repentance and offering to enter into fellowship with whoever will respond and open the door. But only we can open the door. God will not violate us with His love. We must respond, we must invite Him in.

He who “hears my voice and opens the door" is about repentance. We open the door as we take accountability for who we are, for the sinful choices we have made.  This is not merely a personal call. Jesus is calling to the entire, apostate church of every generation. The promise is that Christ will come in and fellowship with all who respond.

The church which closes its doors to the Lordship of Jesus will not overpower the gates of Hades.  That church may appear to be prosperous, may have a prominent reputation in a fallen world, but it is in fact a conquered church.

16:19 Jesus says to Simon Peter (and through him, to all believers) that He has given keys to the kingdom.  Keys denote authority, they unlock doors.  What kingdom doors did Simon Peter unlock?  On Pentecost, the Lord used Peter to preach to a crowd composed of Jews "from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5).  The doors of the kingdom opened to 3,000 people that day (Acts 2:41).  Later, Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius and other Gentiles gathered in a house (Acts 10:1-48) and they believed and were baptized.  So then, Peter, the first apostle to preach the Gospel following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, was used to unlock the door of the kingdom for the first great harvest of Jews and Gentiles.

As we have said, “I will give you” may be interpreted more broadly than merely Simon Peter.  Jesus is speaking to the church that will grow from Simon and this small band of believers to span nations and ages.  Jesus says that he has given kingdom authority to His church on earth.  

The authority of the church derives from the authority of Christ Himself.  “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:18,19).  He who possesses all authority may delegate it to whomever He chooses.

Jesus also speaks of binding and loosing in heaven and on earth.  What does He mean?

a. There is an interpretive sense to this.  The church interprets Scripture and doctrine according to Godly traditions, as the Holy Spirit gives light.  The resulting teaching guides the life and conduct of Christians.  Those things which are evil, which would be harmful, are bound, that is, exposed and forbidden.  That which is good and edifying, that which builds us up, is loosed, that is, taught, explained, opened to our understanding.  The wisdom of those saints who have gone before us serves to bind error and loose truth.

b. There is a sense of proclamation here.  When the truth is rightly preached, taught and lived rightly, it is loosed into hearts.  This truth is active, dynamic, creative, powerful, loosing the listener from slavery to deception and error.  As the truth looses, it also binds.  The loosing of truth binds the lie.  The loosing of light exposes and therefore binds the effective operation of darkness.  When justice is loosed, there is a corollary binding of injustice.  

c. There is a reminder here of how simple, humble ministry in the likeness of Christ binds evil and looses good.  Throughout the ages, hatred and prejudice have been bound and nullified by self sacrificing ministries of love and mercy.  Hard hearts are converted, transformed, when the love of Jesus is loosed into a receptive heart.

d. This is also about church discipline.  In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus teaches that when there is sin in the church, it should be dealt with privately with the goal of winning your brother, that is, restoring him.  But if he refuses to be restored and persists in sin, then he must  be removed from the church.  Jesus then repeats these words, “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven ... whatever you loose ... ”  In other words, the church has authority to carry on restorative discipline and the decision of the church on earth reflects that which is already bound or loosed in heaven.

This process of discipline needs to be done in humility, since we are all sinners saved by grace.  Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

This process needs to be based on God’s standard of holy discipline revealed in His Word.  We have no right to remove anyone from the church except as they brazenly and continually violate the principles expressed in God’s Word.  As we have said, the church’s authority is only Christ’s authority delegated to the church.  When we hold ourselves and all within the church accountable to God’s measurement of truth, we are merely declaring what God has said to be true.  

When someone repents of sin and the church declares that person forgiven, loosed from sin, the church is only saying what God has already said.  This person is already loosed in heaven and now is declared to be loosed on earth.  An unrepentant sinner is still bound in heaven and the church is merely declaring on earth that which is true in heaven.

Binding and loosing is nothing more than the church agreeing with what God has said. The goal, always, is to restore the repentant sinner.

e. There is also a reminder of the ministry of intercession.  Because God is sovereign, almighty, all knowing, He needs nothing from anyone.  Yet God has designed history in such a way that His sovereign purpose, that which God intends to do and will do, is unfolded, loosed into history, through the prayers of God’s people.  Somehow, the purposes of hell are nullified, bound, as God’s people humbly pray.  

Though it makes no sense to the rational mind and cannot be proven, the prayers of God’s people have loosed blessings into lives and revival into churches; have bound the strategies and powers of hell and released the purposes of God on earth.  

God has not only ordained the end of all things but also the means.  Our prayers are one of the means by which God accomplishes His ends.  We may not understand how this happens, but it does.

16:20 Jesus had previously sent His disciples out to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and do the works of the kingdom: heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead.  But though the disciples were commanded to proclaim the kingdom of God, they were likewise commanded to tell no one of Jesus’ identity as Messiah.  

The tendency of the multitude was always to misunderstand His Messianic ministry.  At one point, the people sought to take Him by force and make Him king (see John 6:15).  But Jesus needs no one to make Him king.  He already is King.  

However, His kingdom will be revealed and established in visible glory in His time and in His way.  God’s way was the way of the cross.  Not even those closest to Jesus understood the need for a crucified Messiah.

The people were looking for a secular savior, a military warrior who would deliver them from the tyranny of Roman rule and reestablish the kingdom of David.  God’s plans were far greater and vastly different: to set us free from the tyranny of sin and establish His kingdom in our hearts.  Given the instability of the region, the volatile nature of the people and the constant threat of revolution (which the Romans would have crushed with ruthless cruelty), it was necessary that Jesus not advertise His Messiahship.   

Rather, He proclaimed the kingdom of God and did those works which revealed its presence.  He healed the sick, cast out demons, lifted up the downtrodden, forgave the guilty, fed the hungry and called men and women to turn and receive forever the gracious love of God.  But for practical reasons, He did not proclaim His identity publicly.

The Way of the Cross

Matthew 16:21-23

16:21 “From that time on,” that is, from the time that the disciples confessed their belief in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, Jesus intensified His efforts to prepare them for the shock of His coming death.  He also wanted to plant within them the seed of hope in His resurrection.  He tells them plainly that He will suffer, die and rise again but they do not understand.  They had no concept of a suffering Messiah, of a Messiah who would be killed.  

Although Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament passages portray the Suffering Servant of God, there was no tradition of teaching that gave a Messianic interpretation to those verses.  There was certainly no popular expectation of anything other than a triumphant Messiah.  If they could not conceive of Messiah’s death, they surely could not imagine His resurrection.

16:22 Peter  gives voice to the popular imagination, “God forbid it Lord! This shall never happen to you.” In fact, it says that Peter “took Him aside” — an aggressive action — and “began to rebuke Him.” Only Simon Peter was capable of recognizing the Deity of Jesus in one breath and in the next, rebuke God in human form.

16:23 Jesus immediately admonishes Peter for speaking the very temptation that Satan would like to place in front of Jesus, “There must be another way to accomplish God’s plan, other than the cross.”  Jesus rebukes Peter for not being on the side of God, literally, “not thinking God’s thoughts.” 

Jesus had recently commended Peter for receiving and confessing revelation from God.  Now Peter is admonished for speaking the thoughts of Satan. This is what can happen when we’re not thinking God’s thoughts.

Yes, Messiah will someday establish His kingdom on earth and will reign a thousand years. But the way of victory was always the way of the cross.

The atoning death of the Messiah was always the purpose of God from eternity.  In the book of Revelation, we read of the beast making war on the saints and, “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Revelation 13:8).  Another translation reads, “The book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”  Either translation reveals the eternal purpose of God to redeem people through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve fell, God promised that someday from the seed of a woman, a man would be born who would bruise the head of the serpent, though His heel would be bruised (Genesis 3:15).  In other words, someone would be born who would be wounded by the serpent (bruised heel) but would inflict a deadly blow upon the serpent (bruised head).  This accurate description of Jesus on the cross, wounded, but destroying the work of Satan, was given as early as the fall of man, in Eden.

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied of the One who, someday, would be, “Pierced through for our transgressions ... crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).  Isaiah then adds, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief, if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10).  

Considering the everlasting, unmeasured love shared by God the Father and God the Son, how could it please God to crush  Jesus?  Because of the Father’s love for the lost sons and daughters of Adam.  In the death of Jesus, unnumbered sinners are redeemed and reconciled to God.

From eternity, it has been God’s plan that the Messiah would die an atoning death for the sins of the world.  As Jesus faced the cross, He said, “Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27).

Peter recognized and confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  But he could not imagine Jesus dying the death of a common criminal.  He had not yet grasped the mind and purpose of God.  Later, he understood.  

On the day of Pentecost, testifying of Jesus, Peter said, “This man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.  But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:23).  

Everything that occurred in the life and ministry of Jesus, including His death and resurrection, was according to the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God.  How necessary it is to continually open our minds to God’s purposes and thoughts.  Nature abhors a vacuum, but the devil delights in empty space.  If we are not giving place to the mind of Christ, if we are not being transformed by the renewing of our mind, then in whose image will we be conformed and whose thoughts will impact our minds?

Amazing, that Jesus commended Peter for opening his heart to the revelation of God and soon after rebuked Peter for opening his mind to the purposes of Satan.  

The Cost of Discipleship

Matthew 16:24-28

16:24 Jesus was not only preparing His disciples for His coming death.  He was also teaching them about the cost of following Him.

1. We must deny our self.   

When we were separated from God, we had no Lord but Lord Self.  If we would follow Jesus, we must give up our self-enthronement and let Jesus ascend to the throne of our lives.  He, and He alone, must be Lord.

Jesus said, “So then, none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33).  He did not mean that we must give all our possessions away.  He meant that we must give up our hold on them and break their hold on us.  Why?  Because He must be Lord, not our possessions.

Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, our ways are not God’s ways (Isaiah 55:8).  When Peter blurted out that Jesus should avoid the suffering of the cross, he thought he was an encourager to Jesus when in fact he was an offense, a stumbling block.  The way of the cross, a Savior who suffers and dies to save the lost — these are ideas which are not in harmony with our natural mind.  We must deny our natural way of thinking and be renewed according to the mind of Christ.  We must deny our purposes and adopt His.  This does not happen easily.  It is a process wherein God breaks our will and conforms us to His will.

2. We must take up our cross.  The cross was an instrument of death and though God is not calling us to die a sacrificial, atoning death for the sins of the world — that has been done once and for all by Jesus, the holy Lamb of God — we are called to die to our former way of thinking and being.  We must die to our natural instinct for self preservation and be willing to give up our lives for the cause of Christ.  We must die to our strong desire to be in control, allowing the Lord to direct our decisions.  We must die to our natural desire for self-aggrandizement and assume the mind of a servant.  The Apostle Paul exhorts us,

 

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”  (Phlp. 2:5-7).

Let this mind be in you, Paul says, the servant mind of Jesus.

16:25 Here is a paradox: if we attempt to save our life, clutching vainly at talent and time, seeking to preserve and advance ourselves, we will lose our life.  But if we will give our life away in service to Christ, then we will gain our life.  We only gain what we give away.  As a martyr said before His death, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  

Again, our example is Jesus.  He did not grasp or attempt to hold onto His glory as the second member of the GodHead but emptied Himself of glory, gave up His majesty in heaven and submitted to being born in human form.  The result was our salvation and His exaltation. Continuing Paul’s thoughts from the previous Scripture:

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phlp. 2:9,10).

It is the well-sacrificed life that gains the world.  This is true personally. We find life as we give our life away, “He who loses His life for my sake will find it.”

This is also true for the church as a corporate body.  We must never forget this — the cause of Christ is not advanced by armies or arguments, by force of weapons or the leverage of religious Political Action Committees.  It is in laying down our lives as servants of the poor, the lost and unredeemed, the broken and downcast, the oppressed, the guilty; laying down our lives according to the purpose of Christ and in His loving, gracious servant manner — in this way His kingdom breaks into human hearts and thus into history.

Note that this teaching, “Take up your cross, save your life by losing it,” occurs in various forms in all four Gospels.  It is central to the discipling ministry of Jesus.  

Let’s not confuse burdens with crosses.  We all are encumbered by burdens, the wearying responsibilities, cares and griefs of being alive on earth.  Burdens are placed on us by life.  But the cross of Christ is something we take up voluntarily.  It is not placed on us; we take it up as an act of love for our Lord.  

Christ’s passion is our cross.  That which is the passion of His heart — reaching a lost, dying and suffering world with the message of God’s forgiveness and grace — this is our Lord’s passion.  To take it up in denial of all else — that is the cross life.

Again this is true of individuals and of the church as a whole.  The church that seeks to extend its wealth and power will lose its life.  The church that lays down its wealth and power and loses itself in the passion of Christ, this church will gain its life.

The Apostle Paul said, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ and may be found in Him ... That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phlp. 3:8-10).

16:26 What will it profit any person or church if, in gaining the world, we forfeit our soul?  How many have pursued wealth or fame or power and gained more than they dreamed, but in the process lost their health, their family, their faith, and worst of all, their everlasting soul?  

How many have arrived at journey’s end, only to hold in contempt the treasure gained, longing for the simple, precious things lost along the way?  How many times has the church gained a measure of dominion in the world but lost its place in heaven?

What value is anything in the world compared to the worth of one’s soul? Even the grandest treasure corrupts in time. Even the absolute power of the mightiest king dies with his last breath. How does that compare to the value of an eternal soul and the incorruptible reward that has been lost forever?

Judas traded his place with Christ in heaven and an inheritance that spanned the universe forever and ever, for 30 pieces of silver.  What would he say now about that transaction?

16:27 Jesus, in His first advent, was born in a stable and laid in a manger.  He later died on a cross between two thieves, buried in a borrowed tomb.  But when He comes again it will be with His angels “in the glory of His Father.”  That will be a day of recompense and all will be repaid for what they have done.  Without God’s intervention of grace, these words would speak the doom of us all.  For truly, “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23).

Our sins separated us from God, the Source of all life, offended His justice and earned our death.  But the Christ who bore our sins and died our death, now offers us God’s gracious gift of forgiveness and everlasting life with Himself.  Those who reject this gift of grace will die apart from Christ and bear the recompense of justice.  Those who die in Christ will experience the recompense of grace, justice having been satisfied on Mount Calvary 2,000 years ago.

Not only that, but we will be rewarded for every righteous deed done with a pure heart and every gift shared with a motive of mercy.  Even a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name will be rewarded  (Mark 9:41).  

16:28 Jesus is not saying that there were some standing there who would see Him when He comes again to establish His kingdom on earth. The word kingdom as used here refers to royal sovereignty. More than likely, this is a reference to Jesus’ transfiguration which occurred six days after this (see 17:1-13).  In that event, Jesus stood before Peter, James and John, in heavenly splendor, surrounded by the cloud of God’s glory as he spoke with Moses and Elijah.  It’s as if Jesus and the three disciples stepped into heaven itself.   

Simply put, Jesus said that there were people standing there (Peter, James and John) who would not die before they saw Jesus as He will appear someday in the royal splendor of His kingdom glory.  Six days later, that is what they saw on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Matthew 17

Encompassed by Glory

17:1-13

17:1 “Six days later” or “after six days” refers to the promise which Jesus made in 16:28, that some who were standing with Him would not die until they had seen Jesus “coming in His kingdom,” that is, in the royal splendor of His kingdom glory.  Six days after that promise, the following event takes place.

This is also a phrase with great history behind it.  After six days God rested from His labor and now the Son of God, after laboring through Galilee, is taking a moment to step aside from the pressings demands of ministry to be refreshed in the glory of His Father.  Jesus did nothing of His own will, only the will of His Father.  He was moving resolutely toward Jerusalem, toward the cross and was, no doubt, seeking confirmation from His Father.   

17:2 Jesus was transfigured.  The same word, used in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, is translated transformed.  It is the Greek word metamorphoo, from which we derive the English word metamorphosis.  But Jesus is not transformed into something unfamiliar, rather, His true, glorious nature is disclosed in this experience.  

He originally existed in the form of God “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men”  (Phil. 2:6,7).  Jesus did not empty Himself of His Deity; God cannot change, cannot cease to be God but He voluntarily laid aside some of the rights and privileges of Deity and veiled His glory. 

Here on the mountain the veil is pulled back, “And his face shone like the sun and His garments became as white as light” (Matt. 17:2). This is the shekinah glory of God, the majestic radiance of God’s glory shining forth through Jesus. It is the glory which He had shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity. So great is the intensity of glory, even His robe shined white hot.

This is the Christ of glory whom John saw on the island of Patmos: “His head and His hair were white like wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Rev. 1:14). This is the Christ who someday will return to earth to take His rightful throne (Matt. 25:31). Jesus’ former and future glory was revealed on this mount of transfiguration.

In the 2 Corinthians 3:18 passage, Paul says that those who behold Christ are transformed in the same likeness.  This should serve as great inspiration to the followers of Jesus, to those who seek His face, who open their lives to His transforming grace, power and truth.  For in this event on the mountain, we see not only Jesus’ true identity as the God-Man.  We also see the truth of who we shall be because of His redeeming, consecrating ministry in our lives.  “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him” (I John 3:2).

Note that the face of Jesus shined, even as the face of Moses shined after he had been in the presence of God.  When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, there was a fearsome shining of glory (Luke 1:8,9).  Those who stand in the presence of God are so entirely permeated with God’s glory, not only are they transformed, but the transforming glory radiates through them with arresting, astounding brilliance.  Even Jesus’ robes shined white hot.

17:3 Moses and Elijah appeared:  Moses, the great law giver and Elijah, the great prophet; Moses, who on the mountain received the Word of God and Elijah, who on the mountain heard the voice of God.  In Luke 9:31 we read that they were speaking with Jesus about “His departure which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  The word departure is exodos from which we derive the English word exodus.  

The departure, the exodus, refers to Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection and ascension which would soon take place. Just as Moses led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus in His suffering and resurrection would lead believers out of slavery to sin and death. So it may be that these two giants of the Old Testament, who knew the word and will of God, were confirming to Jesus that His journey and His soon exodus was entirely the fulfillment of the word and will of God.

17:4 The presence of Moses and Elijah causes Peter to suggest that they build booths.  Does Peter think that the Kingdom Age has dawned, that Moses and Elijah have returned to stay?  Or does Peter wish to escape the pressures of ministry on the plains below and stay here on the mountain?  Is he troubled by Jesus’ recent disclosure that He will soon suffer and die?  Peter wants to build dwellings here, wants to establish something of permanence.

17:5 But this is not a place of escape.  It is a place of revelation.  “A bright cloud overshadowed them” and in this place of searing, transforming light and cloud, they hear the voice of God:  “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

The voice of God interrupts the voice of Peter who, in suggesting that they build three booths, was placing Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah.  But Jesus is the One to whom Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the prophet pointed, the One whom they longed to see, the beloved Son of God.  “Listen to Him,” the voice commands.

The cloud was the cloud of God’s glory.  Luke, in describing this experience, says that Peter, James and John “saw His glory” (Luke 9:32).  It is the same glory cloud that filled the Holy Place in the tabernacle and hovered over Israel in their Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 40:34-38); the same cloud that came upon Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:18-34:7.  It is the same cloud that filled the Temple of Solomon at its dedication so that the priests were unable to stand ( 1 Kings 8:10,11).  The disciples are confronted with glory.  

For some time prior to this, Jesus had been teaching the disciples of His impending arrest and death.  They have come to believe that He is the Messiah and cannot conceive of His suffering, humiliation and death.  Now they are confronted with glory.  Though they still do not understand that the way of the cross is the way of God’s glory, they will understand someday and will remember this day.

Matthew says that the bright cloud “overshadowed them.”  The word overshadow (episkiazo) is the same word used by the angel Gabriel to Mary the mother of Jesus in Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  It means to surround, to encompass.   Mary had asked how she could bear a son, being a virgin, and the angel replies that God Himself, the sovereign Creator of the universe, will surround and overshadow her womb with His glory and creative power. 

The same glory that overshadowed Mary, that filled the tabernacle and the temple, that met Moses on Mt. Sinai, now overshadows those on this mountain, encompasses them and in that cloud, the voice of God speaks.  However stunning and dazzling this must have been for the disciples, it was for Jesus refreshment and confirmation.  The glory of God was His native atmosphere.  The voice of God was the only Word He followed.  He would press on now, toward the cross.

A moment ago, Peter had wanted to build tabernacles.  God says, “Listen to my Son.”  Surely there is a time to build, a time for action.  But there is also a time to be still and to listen.  Only when we listen and hear clearly will be able to act and build with clarity.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the builders labor” (Psalm 127:1).

17:6 The voice of God fills the disciples with awe, with a terrified reverence and they fell on their faces.  They are not quite so ready to build tabernacles now, not quite so passionate to get on with their program.  They have heard from God and the only fitting response is to fall on their faces in reverential awe. 

17:7 Jesus reaches out from His glory to touch them, to comfort and reassure them, to lift them up. “Rise, be not afraid.”  How typical of Jesus , who came down from glory to touch each of us:

“Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross”  (Phlp. 2:6-8).

17:8 When they rise, the cloud of glory has dissipated, Moses and Elijah have returned to their heavenly estate.  Peter, James and John are left with Jesus, alone.  So with us.  When the glorious moments of revelation are ended, after the heart melting hour of God’s presence when it seemed as though heaven came down and we could reach out and touch the face of God, when God reached out and touched us; when the vision is over, the light fades, the glory recedes, we are left with Jesus alone.  

We are left with Him who will not fail us nor forsake us, ever faithful, always true, who has been made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, whose grace is sufficient.

We are left with Him who gives us this example, though He stood in the mountaintop cloud of God’s glory, yet He went down again into the crowded plain to minister, to suffer and to die.  Though He stood in these brief moments in the glory that had been His from eternity and would be His again, He who had taken the form of a servant again assumed the servant role.  

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).  He came down from glory and humbled Himself even to death on a cross.

They saw no one but Jesus.  “We have seen His glory,” John later testified (John 1:14).  Though no man has seen God, if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father (John 14:9).  Though the world did not recognize Him, “Yet to those who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God”  (John 1:10-12).  As His children, we will someday be transformed in His glory.

17:9 Jesus instructs His disciples to tell no one of this experience until after He has risen from the dead.  This was often the case.  Though He boldly proclaimed the Kingdom of God and did those works of power and mercy which made the kingdom visible, Jesus usually veiled His Messianic identity.  The people were so volatile, so unstable, their expectations of the kingdom were so different from God’s purpose, and the Roman response to perceived threats was so brutal, Jesus wisely hid His identity.

17:10 The disciples express the popular expectation that Elijah would come again before the advent of the kingdom age.  The next to last verse of the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5, provides the basis for this belief, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.”  

The disciples are wondering, if Elijah is to come before the advent of the kingdom of God, and if we just saw him, and if Jesus is the Messiah, then are we standing at the doorway of the kingdom?  And why is Jesus again talking about His death?  They still do not understand the timing of the kingdom nor the necessity of Messiah’s death.

17:11-13 Jesus responds that Elijah did come.  Earlier, Jesus had said, “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come” (Matt. 11:14).  Jesus did not mean that John the Baptist was the physical reincarnation of Elijah (John the Baptist himself denied this in John 1:21).   Rather, John was the spiritual representation of Elijah, who, in preparing people for the Messiah, would carry in himself the spirit and power of Elijah. 

This is what the angel had said to John’s father, Zacharias, when he announced that he and his wife would have a son: “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah ... to make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” (Luke 1:17).

Notice Jesus said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things” (Mark 9:12).  But why then, if John the Baptist fulfilled the prophetic ministry of Elijah, did he not “restore all things?”  John’s ministry was to prepare Israel for the Messiah who would then send them out across the world as God’s covenant people to bear witness of the Gospel.  Why did John not restore Israel to God’s true purpose and calling, to be a light to the Gentiles?

John the Baptist did everything God called him to do: he preached a message of repentance and preparation and invited the people to respond through baptism.  Those who responded experienced the spirit and power of Elijah preparing them for the coming of Messiah.  If the entire nation of Israel had submitted to the call for repentance, John would have fulfilled the Elijah prophecies and Israel would have received her Messiah in faith.

However, many people, especially the leaders of Israel, did not recognize the spirit of Elijah in John, did not submit to the call for repentance.  They chose instead to resist God’s purpose and reject John, just as they rejected Jesus and crucified Him.  The freedom God grants humanity may be used to resist God or surrender to God.  God cannot restore and bless those who are in rebellion against Him.  He can only call to them in grace but if their rejection is final and absolute, He will judge them.  

In Malachi 3:1-3 and 4:1, before the mention of the Elijah forerunner, we read that the day of the Lord will be preceded by an outpouring of consuming fire.  In Revelation 11:3-6 we read of two witnesses who will prophesy during the tribulation and will be instruments of God’s judgment.  “And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies.”  Some Bible scholars believe that one of the witnesses will be Elijah, returning to fulfill the prophecies which John was unable to fulfill because of the unbelief and rejection of the people.

The words of Malachi, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5) is the time immediately preceding the second advent of Jesus, which will be at the conclusion of the outpouring of God’s wrath on a rebellious, unrepentant world — truly a “great and terrible day.”  

The purpose of Jesus’ first advent was to proclaim the Good News of God’s grace.  He indicated this when He quoted Isaiah 61:1-2a and applied this to Himself (recorded in Luke 4:17-19). Notice that Jesus did not quote the entire second verse; He only read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ... to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”  

The second half of the verse reads, “And the day of vengeance of our God.”  But since the day of vengeance was not the day of His first appearing, Jesus did not read those words.  They will not be fulfilled until He comes again.

Jesus concludes by reminding His disciples that even as John was rejected and mistreated, “So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”  He is trying to prepare His disciples for the coming confrontation, though they are not yet able to understand.

Mustard Seed Faith

17:14-23

17:14-16 Jesus descends from the mountain and is met by a desperate father whose son is afflicted by demons.  The disciples, in Jesus’ absence, had been unable to render assistance.  

Notice the journey of Jesus:

1. From glory to ministry.

  

He stood on the mountain top, transfigured in glory.  Now, upon His return to the valley, He is immediately met with the press of human need.  But Jesus never resented the demands of ministry.  He was always moved by compassion to pour out God’s mercy.

2. From hearing the voice of God to hearing the voice of suffering.  

The voice of God had spoken audibly on the mountain but times of communion and revelation with God are not an escape from the valley of suffering.  They are preparation for the valley.  We listen to the voice of God so we can answer others.  We receive from God so we can give to others.

17:17 Jesus expresses His disappointment at the inability of His disciples to provide ministry.  But He does not abandon or reject them.  He continues to disciple them and prepare them for the day when they will carry on His ministry.

17:18 Jesus then casts out the demon and the boy was immediately made whole.  There is no instance anywhere in Scripture where a demon was able to resist the command of Jesus.  All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth.  He has been enthroned, “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21).  All things have been placed “in subjection under His feet” (Eph. 1:21-23). 

17:19,20 The church’s authority over demonic powers is entirely based on the authority of Jesus and the disciples don’t understand why they were unable to minister deliverance to the boy.  Jesus replies that their faith was inadequate.  This seems strange, since Jesus had sent them out to minister not long before this, “And gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (Matt. 10:1).

On another occasion, the Lord sent out seventy disciples to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and to do the works of the kingdom. They came back rejoicing, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke 10:17).

They had not simply watched Jesus perform miracles — they had successfully participated in His ministry.  Strange then, that their faith would later be too small to allow the power of God to be released.  What happened to their faith?

Truths about faith:

1. The place of faith:  faith is essential for ministry.

There were times when the person receiving ministry from Jesus expressed faith in God and times when faith was not evident.  But always, Jesus had faith that His Father would provide and that He would be the instrument of His Father’s provision in the lives of hurting people.  

When He sent the twelve disciples out to minister and when He sent out the seventy, He commissioned them to carry on His ministry of preaching, healing and casting out demons.  Contained in that commission was the authority to do those works.  Implicit in that commission was the necessity of the disciples’ faith, that they would believe Jesus to fulfill His commission, to provide them with the authority and power needed to perform His works.

 

Lack of faith will result in lack of power for ministry.  Power and authority for ministry are Christ’s gifts to His church: 

“You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). 

 “Behold, I have given you authority to trample upon serpents and  scorpions and over all the power of the enemy”  (Luke 10:19).

All gifts of God are received by faith.  If our faith is too small for the gifts God wants to give us, then our ministry will lack the gifts of God.

2. The dynamic of faith: faith grows or it diminishes.

 

Faith grows as we feed it with the Word of God, as we pray to and worship a living God and as we act on faith.  Faith diminishes as we fail to feed it or act on it.  Thankfully, a powerless church does not imply a powerless Christ.  Jesus ministered to the boy when His disciples were unable.  God is sovereign, Almighty, not at all limited by the limitations of the church that bears His name and His Gospel.  God can find a multitude of ways to break through into hurting lives even when His church is dark, lifeless, powerless.

However, the church is God’s primary instrument in this world and is constantly in need of renewal, revival, restoration.  These same disciples had previously healed the sick, cast out demons, preached the Good News.  Jesus did not abandon them when they failed but He did rebuke and exhort them.

3. The enemy of faith: self confidence.

The disciples seemed surprised that they were unable to cast the demon out.  They had previously been commissioned by Jesus to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons and had returned giving “an account to Jesus of all that they had done” (Luke 9:1-10).  The seventy had been sent out to do the same and had returned rejoicing in the  subjection of demons to the name of Jesus (Luke 10:17).

Having ministered successfully in the past, the disciples did not lack confidence.  But Jesus says they lack faith.  Evidently, there is a negative relationship between self confidence and faith.  When our confidence is in our self or the gifts God has given us, our confidence becomes an enemy of faith.  It may be that the disciples’ small success in ministry had increased self-reliance, decreased God-reliance and had established in their minds the deception that their success was rooted in their commission or their giftings.  

It’s a subtle transition, from confidence in God, the Giver of gifts, to confidence in His gifts;  from God who commissions and blesses us in ministry to confidence in the commission and the blessing.  Interesting, how a small bit of success can produce complacency, pride, loss of focus and diminished faith.

4. The focus of true faith: our faith is in God.

Confidence in God, that God is who He says He is and does what He says He does — this is a simple definition of true faith.  When Abraham needed a miracle from God, he focused his faith on the God, “Who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (Romans 4:17).  

God is merely intelligent; rather, God possess all wisdom.  God is merely powerful; rather, God is Almighty.  When Mary asked the angel how she would be able to bear a child, having no husband, the angel replied, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).  Another rendering of that verse could read, “No word of God is without power.”

True faith is focused on the God who knows no limitations and cannot be defeated.

5. The power of faith: by faith we can move mountains.

Jesus says that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we will move mountains.  What is mustard seed faith?

a. It is small. The mustard seed is the smallest of seeds.  Evidently, the least of faith can move mountains, if our faith is rightly focused on the greatness of God.

b. It is persistent.  A blade of grass continues to grow and push against obstacles if there is any light or water to nourish it.  So if we feed even the least of faith with the Word of God and the presence of God, it will grow.

c. It is powerful.  A mere blade of grass can split a rock over time.  The sprout of a mustard seed can move soil and rock as it grows toward the light.  After it cracks the surface, it will continue to crumble the rock as its roots spread.

d. It is humble, silent, working in secret long before we see its evidence in the light.  That mustard plant or blade of grass was pushing from the underside of the soil and rock, pushing long before it split the ground and burst into the light.  True faith is working long before there is evidence.  There is a force of nature empowering a blade of grass and mustard seed.  Empowering the faith of a Christian is the life of God.

e. It knows neither boundaries nor limitations.  Nothing is impossible for this kind of faith because it is focused on God and nothing is impossible for God.  The all-wise, all-knowing God knows all possible outcomes, all truth, all possible variations.  Almighty God possesses all power and authority.  When we are moving in union with this God, nothing is impossible.  Abraham and Sarah received a child though they were long past the age of reproduction because their faith was focused on God (Romans 4:20).  

f. It trusts God for the outcome.  We will not always see the outcome that we have desired nor will we always understand the outcome.  But faith does not dictate to God.  Faith prays, believes, hopes and accepts the answer that God sends.

g. It is childlike.  Really, this is the summary of everything we have said about faith.  A child’s faith is small but persistent and powerful, humble but knowing no limits, trusting what it does not understand. 

If our faith is in ourselves, our talents, our wisdom, our resources, our commission, our church, our past success or anything other than God, it will avail nothing.  But if our faith is in Christ Jesus, if it is the simple faith and trust of a child, undiluted and pure, then the gifts and resources of God will flow through our lives, our talents and wisdom will be multiplied and the mountains before us will move, must move. 

17:21 Sometimes faith loses focus, purity, vitality.  When that happens, we are inadequate to the task.  Jesus recommends that we fast and pray.  Fasting does not refer merely to abstaining from food but from anything that breaks our focus, dilutes faith’s purity or saps its vitality.  To fast is to lay aside the clutter and noise of life, to lay aside whatever it is that is distracting us, and refocus our heart on God.  The result will be measured in a renewed quality of faith.

17:22,23 Again, Jesus warns His disciples of the coming confrontation with the religious authorities, of His death and resurrection.  They are grieved but have no true sense of what He means.  They could not conceive of Jesus, who had performed such mighty signs and wonders, being arrested and put to death.  Their paradigm of the Messiah had no room for suffering and death.  Not expecting His death, they had no concept or expectation of a resurrection.  

Taxes and Government

17:24-27

17:24,25 Every Jewish male over the age of 20 had to pay a tax for the support of the temple.  Representatives of the temple asked Peter if Jesus was accustomed to paying the tax.  Peter replied, “Yes.” 

17:25-27 When Peter came into the house, Jesus knew what was on his mind and He asked if kings take taxes from their sons or from strangers.  Peter replied, “From strangers.”  Jesus’ response is two fold:

1. Sons are free, implying His own freedom from this tax.  Early in life, Jesus had referred to the Temple as, “My Father’s house,” (Luke 2:49).  Peter had rightly discerned Jesus to be “the Son of God.”  Just as an earthly king does not tax his son, neither is the Son of God required to pay a tax to His Heavenly Father.

2. But so as not to offend anyone, Jesus made provision for the paying of His tax and Peter’s.  The New Testament word which we translate offense or stumbling block  is scandolon, from which we derive the English word scandal.  It means to cause someone to fall.  People may be offended by the Gospel, by the person and ministry of Jesus — we can’t help that.  But we should try to avoid any unnecessary personal or cultural offense that might cause them to disbelieve.

Remember, Matthew’s Gospel was written first of all for the Jews.  Matthew presented Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  Though Jesus often violated non-Biblical religious traditions in doing the works of God, He never contradicted the Word of God (the Mosaic Law) and it was never His intention that anyone should fall on His account but rather, that the fallen should be raised up.  

Further, there was always a willingness among the Jews to rebel against the Romans and to retaliate violently against any Jews who collaborated with the Romans.  Such acts were ruthlessly crushed by Rome and accomplished nothing.  Jesus never approved rebellion against authorized government, be it Roman or Jewish, and His wise advice on another occasion was to, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). 

What do we owe Caesar?  Jesus was holding a coin when He spoke those words, a coin on which was stamped the image of Caesar.  In a manner of speaking, He said, “Give to Caesar that which bears his image (our taxes) and give to God that which bears His image (our lives).”

Ironic that Jesus paid the temple tax.  He had already taken a whip and cleansed the temple once and would do so again, calling it a den of thieves.  He would also prophesy its destruction.  Money would be taken from that treasury to pay Judas to betray Him.  

Jesus paid the temple tax, gave His money to support a religious system which was mired in corruption, self-righteousness and hypocrisy, which was in the process of rejecting and mocking God’s kingdom purpose and which would soon execute Him.  But because taxation was designed by God for the support of God-ordained institutions, Jesus paid it. 

The consistent teaching of the New Testament is that we must honor governments and leaders with our prayers, our obedience to the law and the payment of taxes.  God has instituted civil authority for the establishing of peace and order and though governments are usually led by unredeemed people, they are necessary in a fallen world.  Where governments collapse, the result is chaos and a downward spiral of unrestrained evil.  

Only when governments command our worship, our blasphemy, our denial of Christ or our denial of God’s Word, that is, when governments repudiate their God-given commission to rule, only then does the Bible approve our resistance to civil authority.

Notes on the Christian’s Relationship to Government

We are living in a time when some Christians believe they have a right to disobey and dishonor any government with which they disagree; a time when some Christian ministries spend massive amounts of money and time acting as political action committees, as if the kingdom of God can be lobbied into existence.  We would do well to reacquaint ourselves with New Testament teaching on our relationship to government.

In Romans 13:1-7, the Apostle Paul  taught that we are to be subject to government and we are to pay our taxes.  We are reminded that the powers that be are ordained of God, “For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1).

There is no power anywhere in existence that isn't established by God — government is by divine decree.  Just as the church is an institution of God, so is civil government.  

In Psalm 62:11 we read, "Power belongs to God."  God created the world and guides the world toward the accomplishing of His own purposes with perfect wisdom and perfect power.  God alone is sovereign, is the source of all authority and power.  Therefore, all power that exists is ordained of God.  Anyone who possess any sovereignty on earth has been delegated that sovereignty from God.

Not only governments but nations themselves owe their existence to God.  In Acts 17:26 we read that God made, "All nations of men who dwell on all the face of the earth and determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation."   God designed and created nations — the time they exist and the space they inhabit.  

The cruel abuses and injustices that nations and governments commit are no reflection of God's holiness or purpose.  In the same sense, though there is apostasy in the church, the church is still an institution ordained of God. But apostasy is no reflection of the Person or purpose of God.  People abuse all of God's gifts but abuse does not deny the sacredness nor the divine trust and authority in any of God's institutions, whether the church or civil government.  

Paul tells us that governments are instituted by God and he tells us why: for the purpose of restraining evil and preserving that which is virtuous and good (Romans 13:3,4).  

The institution of civil government is a dispensation of mercy.  Ever since the fall, when the conflict of one life against another was immediately introduced, there has been such a state of corruption, depravity and violence that without the powerful restraint presented by civil government, there could be no human society.  As soon as restraints are removed, the true human heart is revealed. When there was no king in Israel, every person did that which was right in his own eyes.  That is the way of fallen humanity.

Therefore, God instituted governments and Paul warns us that when we refuse to submit to government, we are resisting that which God ordained (13:2). Submission is not determined by the form of government, the goodness or evil which characterizes that government, the theology or absence of theology of the government.  It is strictly and simply a matter of obedience to the plan of God in which He has ordained governmental authority.  Where there is no government, the result is chaos and unrestrained evil.  

The issue is not whether it's a good government or a bad government, a dictatorship, democracy or monarchy.  It was not consequential whether the Roman emperor was kind and good or morally corrupt, just or unjust, a persecutor of Christians or a lover of Christians, elected by the people, appointed by the senate, or establilshed by a military coup. 

In fact, there is much that is objectionable in even the best government, from a Biblical perspective.  But we are still subject to its authority.  While we in the United States should always be thankful for the freedoms that we have, God is not dependent on our form of government to build His church.  China is a repressive communist dictatorship yet the church has witnessed one of the greatest harvests of souls in history.

The advance of the kingdom of God is not related to any particular political process.  While it is true that God has greatly used the United States to advance His purposes, they are deceived who believe that God must preserve American democracy to preserve His kingdom purpose.

Submission to government does not mean that we do not have the right to speak respectfully in favor of that which we consider to be virtuous or against that which we consider to be evil.  Public discourse is one of the great blessings of a democracy.  Jesus expressed righteous outrage against corrupt institutions and the corrupt men who comprised those institutions.  

We cannot take His cleansing of the temple as a pattern for our behavior, for it was His Father’s house and He was exercising divine authority as the Son of God.  But He spoke  truth to the leaders of His day and the same men that He drove out of the temple were also the objects of His love, the subjects of His prayers and finally, the potential recipients of His grace as He gave His life for them on the cross.

Paul adds that we are not only to submit to government but we are also to honor those “to whom honor is due”  (Romans 13:7).  The Apostle Peter repeats these instructions including the admonition that we are not only to obey authority but to honor those who exercise it, “Honor the king” (I Peter 2:13-17).

Paul further exhorts us to pray “for kings and all who are in authority” (I Timothy 2:1,2).  So we are not only to submit to authority but we are to honor and pray for those who exercise it.  The reality in the United States today is that there is such a spirit of disrespect in public discourse.  Even Christians often dishonor and demonize their opponents.  

The Apostle James rebukes this behavior in the church, saying, “From the same mouth come both blessing  and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:10). Are we honoring our leaders and are we praying for them?  If we dishonor them, how can God honor our prayers for them?  Blessing and cursing cannot come from the same mouth.

When is it permissible disobey government?

Not because we disagree or because we are treated unjustly.  The Apostle Paul was unjustly accused, beaten and imprisoned in Philippi.  Both his imprisonment and his beating were in violation of Roman law (Acts 16) .  But what were Paul and his companion doing at midnight? Singing praise to God.  Though he was treated unjustly by a government, he never denied his command to submit to government.  

There are times when government goes beyond its limits, times when there is injustice and inequity.  Still, the principle stands.

However, if we are commanded to disobey the known will and Word of God, we must obey God.  In Acts 4:13-20, the Jewish leaders commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.  Peter and John responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Jesus commanded them to preach the Gospel.  The God-ordained authority commanded them to be silent.  Peter declared that they would obey God.

The only time we have a right to disobey any government is when that government commands us to do something God forbids or when the government commands us to cease doing something which God commands us to do.  At that point, the governmental authority has relinquished its God-ordained legitimacy and the duty to obey God overrides the duty to obey the authority that is in opposition God.  

Even then, though, we should interact with the authority respectfully and we should be prepared to accept the consequences of our disobedience.  Daniel refused to obey the unjust law which forbade him praying to God but he did not resist the punishment (being thrown into the lion’s den). His three friends refused to worship the false idol but did not resist being thrown into the fiery furnace.  

At no time did any of them dishonor the king with their words.  Rather, they honored God and entrusted themselves to the safekeeping of the God who holds our lives in His hand. 

Later, Daniel prayed and God moved the heart of the king to send Israel back to their land and rebuild the temple. Nehemiah prayed and God moved the heart of the king to release resources and leadership for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. We are reminded in this that the power of kings is nothing compared to the power of God.  It is not kings who move the kingdom of God. It is God who moves the kingdoms of man:

“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1).

Both Peter and Paul were put to death by the governments to which they were submitted.  We have no record that they ever dishonored, or ceased to pray for, the emperor who executed them.  We certainly will not agree with all that earthly governments do or say.  We may feel some of our freedoms are encroached upon. But unless we are commanded to deny the clear revelation of God in Scripture, we are to be submissive. 

The Apostle Paul directed a leader of the church, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1).

Such humble, peaceful submission to governmental authorities does not require followers of Christ to be passive, non-participants in our societies.  When able, we should be active in public discourse, exercising our rights and accepting responsibility. But out most profound influence on the world will not be through political protest and certainly not by efforts to overthrow governments. Rather, as we live the truth, pray the truth and preach the truth, God will use us in ways which only eternity will reveal.  

Matthew 18

Entrance Into the Kingdom

18:1-14

18:1-3 The disciples, who were so often concerned with their standing, their importance or rank, came to Jesus and asked Him who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  It sounds as though they had been discussing it among themselves and there is a sense here of competition and pride.  Mark and Luke also record this and all three Gospels place the event soon after the incident described in the previous chapter, when Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus onto the mountain, witnessed His transfiguration and were encompassed in the cloud of God’s glory. 

Even though Jesus had told the three not to talk about what they had seen until after His resurrection, the other nine may have learned some of the details.  Could this question about greatness have been motivated by jealousy on the part of the nine who were not on the mountain, or pride on the part of the three who were present?  

This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that pride and jealousy would motivate the apostles to jockey for position.  Not long after this, the mother of James and John came to Jesus and asked that her sons be given thrones on Jesus’ right hand and left.  The others were outraged, not so much at the brashness of the request, but that someone else was making their request for a throne ahead of them. 

How deeply these attitudes had infected the apostles is revealed in the hours before the cross, as Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples.  There was evidently no servant available to wash their muddy feet before they reclined at the table.  Since the twelve were too proud to stoop to so menial a task, Jesus washed their feet.  Jesus, the Son of God, their Lord and Master, took the role of servant because no one else possessed the humility.

In fact, during the Passover meal, the last supper, after Jesus had blessed the bread and the cup and celebrated the first service of Holy Communion, Luke records that, “There arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:24).  While they were still at the table, they were arguing about position and power in the kingdom of God.

If the twelve were sensing some momentous event just ahead, they were correct.  But it would not be the inbreaking of the kingdom of God and the setting up of thrones.  It would be the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Looming before the apostles was not a throne but a cross and a tomb.  They did not yet understand that the way to the throne is the way of the cross.

Though they were ambitious, at least their ambition was to be great in God’s kingdom.  That’s better than spending one’s life trying to be great in the perishing kingdoms of this world.  But they misunderstood the nature of God’s kingdom, in fact, had not yet entered. 

Jesus turned their attention to a child, “And He called a child to Himself.”  It is the word for a small child, a half grown child or an immature Christian (paidion, used by the angel of the Lord in warning Joseph and Mary to take the young child and flee (Matt. 2:13; used of Jesus when Joseph and Mary were searching for Him and found Him in the temple (Matt. 2:8); used by Paul in rebuking the immaturity of the Corinthians (I Cor. 14:20).

Jesus says that unless they are converted (strepho, to turn) and become like children, they will not even enter the kingdom.  The Lord is obviously not referring to the immature qualities of a child.

a. He is referring to the utter dependence of a child.  A child has no resources, no job skills; does not possess adequate wisdom, strength or experience to cope with the demands of the day.  He or she is dependent on caregivers for the meeting of every need.  The follower of Jesus may possess skills, talent, education, a measure of resources.  But we are still entirely dependent on God for entrance into the kingdom of God.  

Entrance into the kingdom is through repentance and faith in the finished work of God on our behalf, which work was accomplished on the cross and at the empty tomb.  We neither merit nor earn our way in to God’s kingdom.  We surrender our way in.  The richest, most powerful person in the world is as dependent on the blood of Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God, as the poorest, weakest person in the world.

The Good News is, “Whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).  But who calls on the name of the Lord?  Not the proud, not the mighty, not the self sufficient.  It is those who realize their utter dependence on God for salvation.

Truly, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

b. Dependence produces absolute trust.  If the caregivers are trustworthy, the child trusts them absolutely.  How much more will our dependence on God, who is perfect in His wisdom and love toward us, produce trust?  Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him” (Matt. 7:11).

c. Another word for dependence or absolute trust is faith.  A child places faith in those who prove faithful.  Is there anything so lovely as the innocent, trusting faith of a child?  A child simply believes and will go on believing.  

Abraham had this kind of faith, believing God for a son even though his body testified that this would be impossible.  He placed his faith in the God, “Who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist ... In hope against hope he believed ... grew strong in faith ... being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:17-21).

Jesus is speaking of the dependence and trusting faith of a child.  We need that faith to enter the kingdom and we need it to live in the kingdom.

d. He is also speaking of the natural humility present in most children.  Usually, a child is not caught up in conceit and posturing until they learn such dishonesty.  Especially a little toddler has no pretense of self adequacy.  Thunder is frightening, sun beams are a mystery.  The sky is big and amazingly blue, the child is small.  There is a natural humility.  So must we humble ourselves before the mysteries of God.  

God chose to reveal Himself to us most clearly through a baby in a manger and chose to save us through a Messiah on a cross.  To the wisdom of this world, this is scandalous and foolish.  “But since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (I Corinthians 1:21-31). 

To those who humble themselves before the foolishness of a cross and an empty tomb, we find entrance into the kingdom of God.

e. Jesus is speaking of the wonder of a child, the capacity to look at the world with pure delight and joy.  The jaded heart, the cynical soul looks at the institutional church and does not see the door of wonder that opens to everlasting life.  The childlike eye looks past empty cathedrals, doctrines of division, dead liturgies, lifeless sermons, political power plays, religious wars conceived in the pits of hell, looks past it all and sees the face of Jesus.

f. Jesus is speaking of the transparent, sincere honesty of a child.  A child will tell you what he thinks and feels, unfiltered by guile and political correctness later learned.  Entrance into the kingdom requires a transparent confession of sin, an honest profession of faith in a Christ who can do for me what I cannot do for myself.

Is it possible to regain these child like qualities?  Not by our own devices but yes, if we turn.  Turn where?  The clear implication is that if we turn to the God who created us, we will meet a God who can redeem and recreate us as we surrender to Him.

  

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right (or the power) 

to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name” (John 1:12).

We become God’s children when we turn in faith and believe the One whom God has sent, Jesus, Lamb of God and risen Lord.

18:4 Who is great, then, in God’s kingdom?  Those who enter as a child (same word as in verses 2 and 3, paidion).  There is no other greatness for there is no other entrance.  And if we would live in God’s kingdom, we must live as we entered: living by faith, walking in humility, gazing through wonder, confessing and professing with transparent honesty.

18:5 Although using the same word for child as in verses 2, 3 and 4, Jesus now expands the thought to include not only those who are children in age but also those who are children in His kingdom, those who are being discipled.  It was not uncommon in that day for teachers to refer to their disciples as children.  Jesus did so, as did other New Testament writers.  

After celebrating the last Passover with His disciples, only a few hours before the cross, Jesus comforted His disciples with these words, “Little children, I am with you a little while longer” (John 13:33, teknion, an infant).  Teknion can also be translated “darlings” and is used figuratively in the New Testament, as in  I John 2;1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  And in I John 4:4, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them, because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”

A slightly different word is used in John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, children, teknon, a child).   And again in Ephesians 5:8, “Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8, teknon)

So, although Jesus is using the same word as in verses 2, 3, and 4 (paidion, toddler), He is speaking of those who follow Him, who are being discipled by Him; children of the kingdom.  When we receive a child of the kingdom we are receiving Jesus, for Jesus dwells in His children.  There are several aspects to this.

a. When we disciple those who are growing in faith, whatever their chronological age, we are doing the work of Christ and honoring the presence of Christ in their lives.

b. When we receive pastors, evangelists and other ministers (receive them in the sense of supporting them) we are honoring or receiving the Christ who commissioned them.  

The prayers we pray for children of the kingdom, the mercy we share, the gifts of time, teaching, money, encouragement, even a cup of cold water given in Jesus’ name, will be rewarded (Matthew 10:42).  Jesus reminds us, “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).

18:6 Again, “little ones who believe in me” refers not only to those who are children in age but all who are being discipled, especially those who are weaker or less mature. The word little (mikros) may also be translated least — one of these least ones. This can refer to believing children but especially, all who are young in faith. The word offend or stumble (to cause to fall) is scandalizo, from which we derive the English word, scandal. 

Luke records the same saying but precedes it with the warning, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come but woe to him through whom they come” (Luke 17:1). Offenses will come in a fallen world but woe to the one through whom offenses and temptations come.

Jesus is saying, “Woe to those who through their words or deeds, their attitudes, their manner of living, through their neglect or abuse of responsibility cause a weaker or less mature follower of mine to sin.”  Causing a fellow believer to fall into sin is a serious offense in the kingdom. Sin not only separates the sinner from God but can also cause others to sin. Sin breeds sin. 

Jesus is saying that it would be better to die a violent death than to mislead His disciples into sin and incur the judgment of God. Better to die than to cause harm.

18:7 Jesus transitions now from entrance into the kingdom to life in the kingdom.  It is inevitable that we encounter offenses, stumbling blocks, in this fallen world but Jesus warns us not to be the one who causes offense.  He pronounces woe on such a one.  We are accountable to Jesus to avoid being the source of temptation, offense or stumbling in the lives of others.  

What about those aspects of our society that cause people to stumble — racism, injustice, greed, exploitation.  If we participate in these sins, are we not sharing in the cause of someone stumbling?  What if we do not actively participate, we just tolerate racism, injustice, greed, exploitation?  What if we go on living our lives as if these things did not exist, and never react against them?  Have we not caused someone to stumble by our indifference?

18:8,9 We are also accountable to watch for the weaknesses, broken places and vulnerabilities in ourselves that would bring us into temptation.  Is it a hand that grasps dishonestly, that reaches out to commit injustice?  Is it feet that race to do evil?  Is it an eye that gazes covetously, a way of seeing that incites greed, lust or oppression in our own soul?  

Jesus does not mean literally that we should pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands.  If we did this at every impulse to sin, we would be blind and unable to pass a cup of cold water to the thirsty.  Furthermore, plucking out the eye would not cure greed or lust; nor would cutting off the hand cure the desire to steal or commit murder because these desires do not originate in the eye or hand but in the heart, the soul.

As usual, Jesus is concerned with the inner motive that produces the outer act.  He is using powerful, figurative language to impress us with the seriousness of sin and to call us to a holy ruthlessness which would motivate us to pluck out the uncontrolled desire, to put to death the rebellious will that incites our sin.  Even if an activity or interest is legitimate, respectable and causes no problem for others, if it causes me to stumble then I should cut it off from my life.  

We should avoid making our own personal prohibitions into laws for others. But at the same time, we should be sensitive regarding the weaknesses of others. 

In I Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul warned the church not to allow their freedom to become a stumbling block to others. The problem was that the cheapest place to buy meat was at the temple of an idol. So believers would purchase meat there and even eat at the temple.

Paul said that this is not a problem for those who are mature in faith because the idols represent gods which do not exist. But those who are weak or young in faith might be tempted to remember their former idolatrous days or offended at the freedom of the more mature believers. So if we esteem our brother or sister more than we esteem our lunch, we should avoid eating there. The question is, what do we love more, our food or our family in the faith? 

Paul concludes his discussion with these words,

“And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (I Co. 8:12,13).

When I sin against brothers and sisters in the faith, I sin against the Christ who redeemed us all. The point Paul was making is the same that Jesus made: do not be the source of offense or temptation for our brothers and sisters in the faith. We may be free to do something but if it causes someone to stumble, then we set aside our freedom out of love for others.

Jesus taught consistently, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses is life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24). The cross was an instrument of death and what must be put to death is our drive for self determination over against the Lordship of Christ, the natural inclination to rebel against God, to assert one’s self will against the revealed will of God.  This rebellion is the root of all sin and must be put to death.

Denying our old, rebellious nature is both an event and a process.  The cross of Jesus is the event where our old nature was put to death:

“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for the who has died is freed from sin”  (Romans 6:6,7).  When Paul says that our old self was put to death with Christ, the word old (palaios) refers to that which is ancient but as a result of that, is worn out and no longer useful.  

Our former way of living was useless and worn out on so many counts: it could not enjoy fellowship with God, could not fulfill the purposes of God or appropriate the blessings of God, could not enter eternal life with God, was in fact dying, all because of sin.  That worn out, useless life was “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).  By faith we identify with and participate in the death of Christ and His victory over our sin.

As a result, we are now dead to sin (Romans 6:2).  We are not dead to the daily struggle against sinful desires.  But through faith in the Christ who bore our sin, atoned for our sin and died in our place, we are united with Him in His death and our old nature, which was controlled by sin, is now powerless to determine the course of our life.

It is not merely that we are forgiven of our sins.  More, the power of those sins to dominate and control us is now broken.  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The old nature, which was essentially evil, has been put to death.  We are new creatures, reborn in Christ.  By faith we are now united with the resurrection of Christ.  His righteous life is at work in our regenerated, reborn nature.  The former life, useless, rebellious, no longer has control over us — the Spirit of God does.  

Paul testified, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,” (Galatians 2:20).  

It is not true that we now have two natures.  But it is true that our new, redeemed nature is still living in a body corrupted by memories of the old life, habits, temptations, thoughts that echo the former way of life, areas of weakness and vulnerability due to former failure and sin.  And so there is a continual process of putting off the old life by self denial and choosing to obey Christ. 

The cross of Christ is the event whereby the old nature was put to death and we are reborn as new creatures in Christ.  Living this new life is a continuing process of putting off the old and putting on the new.

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not be master over you” (Romans 6:12-14).

“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed, which amounts to idolatry ...  put them all aside ... You laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him ... So as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness ... forgiving each other ...” (Colossians 3:5,8, 9,10,12)

The old self is dead but we must continue to put it off — the old habits and thought patterns, the echoes and memories of the former way of living — we put it off like a torn, filthy, useless garment.  We no longer practice the old ways of living.  When tempted to respond in a way consistent with our old nature, we refuse, put the impulse away, deny it any place or practice.

We have a new nature that is in the process of being progressively renewed in the image of our Lord but we must put on the qualities of this new nature by practicing them.  How do we become forgiving?  By forgiving.  The capacity to forgive is resident in us because of the life of Christ in us.  But we must deny the old tendency to bitterness and give place to the forgiveness of Christ.

The old nature is dead and we continue to put it to death by refusing to listen to it or practice it.  Self denial is never comfortable but better by far than to compromise our life in Christ or cause others to sin.  We give place to our new life by living it.

18:10 Jesus returns to the theme of not offending fellow believers or causing them to fall.  Little ones as we have said, refers not merely to children, but to those who are young in faith.  It can also be a reference to all disciples of Christ, who, in the eyes of the world, are often regarded as small, lowly. The procession of the saints has been often comprised of the poor, the humble, the oppressed, the powerless, vulnerable — strangers in this world, whose talent, intelligence or social standing appear to be small.  

Paul reminded the proud Corinthian church of this when he said, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen” (I Corinthians 1:26-31).

The world despises the follower of Christ as small and worthless, takes advantage of their powerlessness through injustice.  But neglect is also contempt.  The world despises God’s little ones by nothing more than ignoring them in their need.

Though the world despises the follower of Christ as small and worthless, we are warned not to hold in contempt our brothers and sisters.  Despise them not, for this is how significant they truly are — their angels behold the face of God.  

This does not necessarily mean that every believer has a personal angel. Rather, it refers to the truth that all angels serve God by serving His purpose in this world. They rejoice when a sinner repents and believes. In Hebrews we are reminded that angels are ministers on behalf of believers (Hebrews 1:14).  

These angels are watching the face of God who is watching over the life of each of His children.  In the moment that God gives direction, angels spring into action, in service to the redeemed.

If the smallest, weakest and humblest saint is so precious to God, should they not also be precious to us?  God save us from contempt in all its glaring and subtle disguises.

18:11 Count them precious for this far better reason, not merely that angels serve them but also that a great Redeemer came to seek, to save and to serve them.  Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, was born in human form, died on the cross and rose from the dead precisely and entirely for this reason, to save that which was lost.  The blood of Christ shed on behalf of these little ones testifies that they are precious.

18:12 Jesus now tells a parable to describe the compassion of God for the lost.

a. Notice the inclusiveness of God’s love.  If just one out of a hundred is missing, God is moved by love to seek the one.  Ever soul is precious to God who is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

b. Notice the personal nature of God’s love.  Multitudes gathered around Jesus but He felt the touch of one woman, heard the cry of one blind man.  Surrounded by a crowds of people, Jesus knew each as a unique, individual person.  The Good Shepherd notices the absence of one sheep because He knows each sheep personally.

c. Notice the seeking grace of God.  The lost sheep has been separated from the flock by its own foolishness and cannot find its way back.  Only the shepherd can find it and only the Good Shepherd will do so.  It is the shepherd who takes the initiative, who searches.  The Good News is that God came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

The analogy to the sinner is obvious: willfully disobedient, foolish, with no sense of direction or wisdom and no ability to retrace one’s steps or undo one’s mistakes.  As the sheep is entirely dependent on the shepherd for rescue, so the sinner is helpless to effect his own rescue and entirely dependent on Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

d. Notice the motivation of God.  The sheep does not call on the shepherd for help, does not know how to.  The shepherd is motivated to search for the lost sheep by his own compassionate concern for the sheep.  The sheep wanders away in ignorance as the sinner wanders in ignorance and in willful disobedience, thinking he is better off apart from God.   But it is the very blindness, foolishness and ignorance of the sinner that arouses the compassion and mercy of God.  The shepherd seeks the sheep on his own volition and thus does God seek the sinner.

God needs no other motivation to seek us than that which He already has: perfect love.  God loved us while we were yet sinners, chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  God cannot love us more or less than He already does.  Our sin offends Him and arouses His righteous wrath and judgment but our lostness arouses His mercy and motivates Him to seek us.

18:13 Notice the unresolved ending, “If it turns out that he finds it.”  It is not certain that the seeking love of the shepherd will be satisfied.  In human terms, it is not that the Good Shepherd cannot find the sheep but not every lost sheep wishes to be found.  We are not lost in the sense that God cannot see us but we are lost in this respect, that God will not violate our choice to remain separated, will not violate our decision to be confirmed eternally in our rebellion against His love.  But if the shepherd does find the sheep, that is, if the sheep wishes to be restored to the flock and to the shepherd, there is more joy in the heart of the shepherd for this one than for the ninety-nine who did not need to be found.

Interestingly, Luke records a slight difference in words:  “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:5).  In chapter fifteen, Luke records three parables. First, the lost sheep and secondly, the lost coin, both of which feature the absolute inability of the sheep or the coin to save itself and the sovereign choice and action of the shepherd and the woman.  The third parable is the story of the prodigal son, which features the necessity of the son turning back to the father he had forsaken.

In the three parables there is an interplay of sovereign choice and human will:  God seeking and finding that which is lost, based on His sovereign choice.  But the lost person must respond to God’s choice by turning and accepting the offer of forgiveness with repentance and faith.

18:14 What an earth shaking revelation: it is not God’s will that even one should perish.  The love of God extends to each and every soul on earth.  Don’t misunderstand the phrase, “For God so loved the world.”   God’s love is not merely a general love for the massed multitude of the world.  God’s love is particular; God loves each single soul, personally.  

It is not God’s will that even one soul perish.  This is not to say that none will perish but all who perish will do so based on their choice to reject the seeking redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus.

Living in the Faith Community

Matthew 18:15-20

For the remainder of chapter 18, Jesus shares a series of teachings on forgiveness, discipline and reconciliation.  The guiding principle here is that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to live out our faith in community with other believers.  Our acts of ministry, our worship, our prayers, our life in Christ, are all carried out in a context of relationship.  

The church is never referred to, in the New Testament, as a mere organization.  It is an organism, a living thing.  “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5); members of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12); living stones built onto Jesus, the cornerstone (I Peter 2:4,5).  The church, the community of faith, is a living organism comprised of living members connected to one another in Christ.  Therefore, it is important that we learn how to build, nurture and protect our unity.

Notice that this section on church relationship is preceded by the parable of the shepherd seeking the lost sheep.  The heart of Christ is to seek and to save that which is lost, to reconcile that which is divided, to restore that which is fallen.  The church must have that same heart.

18:15 If your brother sins against you: 

a. Brother refers to someone to whom you are spiritually related, a brother in faith.

b. Though he sinned against you, you go to him.  You take the initiative.  When there has been a break or rupture in relationship because of sin, don’t wait for the situation to resolve itself.  It probably won’t.  Reconciliation occurs because someone takes the initiative.  Your brother may not take that initiative since he may be trapped, bound in his sin.

c. Go to him in private before you do anything else.  It is far easier to achieve reconciliation in a setting of quietness and privacy than in a public forum.

d. The goal is not to win the argument but to win your brother, to regain the relationship.  What good is it to win arguments while losing friendships?  Remember, Jesus taught that reconciliation is more important than gifts and offerings (“Therefore, if you are presenting your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your offering,”  Matt. 5:23,24).  If he listens to you, you have gained or won your brother.

18:16 If the brother does not listen, take one or two witnesses, not to overwhelm the brother but to confirm the truth.  The primary goal is still reconciliation but it is necessary to establish the truth.

18:17 If the brother will not listen to the witnesses, then take the matter to the church.  Ask the church to apply its authority to the matter.  The goal is still reconciliation but if this is not possible, then the brother must be put out of the fellowship.  “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector,” means the offending brother must be removed from the church.  He is to be put out, not so much for whatever sin he committed, but for his refusal to repent and be reconciled and restored to his fellow believers.  There are two reasons why this must be:

a. To protect the integrity and unity of the church, remove him.  The Apostle Paul says that we should be, “Diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  Why?  Because the church is an organism, a living thing, the body of Christ.  An organism is by nature integrated, unified or it dies.  Again, Paul reminds us, 

“No you are Christ’s body and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27).

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all”  (Ephesians 4:4,5).

The church is an organism in which all of the members are related one to another in Christ.  Therefore Paul exhorts us, “To walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love”  (Ephesians 4:1,2).

That which would bring separation or disintegration is a threat to the life and health of any organism, including the church.  The threat must be removed just as an infection or a cancer must be removed from a human body.  To understand Christ’s holy passion for His church, consider the case of Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11). Both Ananias and Saphira were given the opportunity to repent of their sin but refused. God Himself removed them from the church.

b. For the brother’s own good, remove him.  It may be that the shock of separation will restore him to his Christian senses.  This seems to have been the case in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:1-13,  2 Corinthians 2:5-8).  

Again, though the church must be protected from those who would destroy unity, the ultimate goal with the offending person is not banishment but restoration.  The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Brethren, if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).  

Jesus now reaffirms the principle of binding and loosing (see Matthew 16:19) but in the context of teaching on unity, forgiveness, discipline and reconciliation.

18:18 Notice the verb tense: “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”  

The church has authority to declare what is forgiven or unforgiven only insofar as it is submitted to the Lordship of Christ and the authority and revelation of His Word, the Bible.  When the church declares that something is sin, it is because God has said so in His Word.  

 

When the church says that an unrepentant sinner is still bound in his sin, the church is only declaring what God has said, that His judgment is released on all unrepentant sinners.  All unrepentant sinners are bound in guilt before heaven’s bar of justice and the church is merely declaring on earth that which is true in heaven.  

When the church says that a repentant sinner is forgiven, it is only acknowledging what God has said, that His forgiveness is released to all who turn from their sins and turn to Him in faith.  The repentant sinner is already loosed in heaven and now is declared to be loosed on earth.    

The church has no authority to determine standards of holiness or sin based on the shifting standards of its culture or time.  These truths are determined by the unchanging revelation of the Word of God, applied by the Holy Spirit who guides the church in interpreting truth.  The church binds and looses that which God has already declared to be bound or loosed.  It is nothing more than the church agreeing with God and acknowledging on earth what God has said in heaven.

Binding and loosing is also a function of the teaching ministry of the church.  How can we live together as the community of faith, the very body of Christ on earth, unless we are taught the truth about our relationship to God and to one another?

The church, in its teaching and preaching, warns against that which would be harmful or destructive to its members and its community.  When we shine the light of truth into that which is evil, hurtful and divisive, we bind evil.  Revelation binds darkness.

That which is good and edifying, pleasant and pleasing, that which heals, reconciles and builds us up, is permitted and encouraged, that is, it is loosed.  Revelation looses light into the hearts of the listeners.

At times, the teaching ministry of the church has been legalistic and oppressive, establishing and enforcing Pharisaical standards of conduct but it need not be that way.  When we teach the word of God in an atmosphere of love for Christ and one another, Jesus will be present in His Word and in our midst, building His church and guiding our decisions.  “But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together” ( 4:15 ).

We must also add that we may speak in love but unless we speak the truth, we have failed to minister anything of value to Christ’s church. Sacrificing truth for the sake of love is not love at all but this is what many churches have done today, accommodating the message to the shifting values and philosophies of the surrounding world. When Biblical truth is compromised, Jesus cannot and will not build His church. 

The teaching ministry of the church binds evil and looses blessing with truth.   

There is also a more personal sense to binding and loosing.

Bind has a contractual sense — we say a contract is binding, that is, it is valid and there are certain outcomes that are determined by this binding contract.  Christians are in a covenant relationship with God, a covenant made valid by the blood of Jesus.  There are outcomes established by this covenant, among which are the forgiveness of our sins, our reconciliation to God and the gift of everlasting life.  God has promised to lead and guide us, to shine light in our pathway and release the resources necessary to accomplish His purpose.

When evil comes against us and there is an attempt to bind the good that God has promised to all who live in covenant with Him, we pray and live in such a way as to bind the evil and loose the truth of God’s promises.  With our prayers and with the witness of our life, we are saying, "This evil is not what God has covenanted to do and instead of human circumstances taking their natural course, I am bringing to bear the binding promises of God's Word on this situation and everything that would resist this, I oppose by the binding authority of God's Word.  And I loose, I release, the good promises of my Heavenly Father into this circumstance."

For example, a circumstance of evil is working to limit that which God intends in your life and depression or anxiety are pushing against your mind.  But you bring those thoughts captive to the Lordship of Christ, bringing the promises of the Word of God to bear on those thoughts.  We don’t deny the problem but we deny the problem exercising lordship over our thoughts, instead focusing on what God has said, standing on the creative Word that releases God's possibilities, praying,

“Thank you Father, that though this situation is grievous, I will not be captured or bound by depression or anxiety.  Rather, the peace and joy which you have promised to me are loosed in my heart.”  Where has God promised peace and joy?

"Be anxious for nothing but in all things by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God and the peace of God which passes all understanding shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”  (Philippians 4:6,7).

"The joy of the Lord is your strength,"  (Nehemiah 8:9).

We pray the loosing of God’s resources of grace into our circumstance:  

“And God is able to make all grace abound unto you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

 Also, binding and losing, as it relates to forgiveness, is not merely a church matter.  This too is intensely personal.  Sometimes God's best for us is bound, not by outward circumstances, but by the inner reality of our unforgiveness.  Forgiveness is an act of loosing someone from their sin against us and in doing so, loosing our own heart from the binding reality of bitterness.  As we are released in our spirit, there is a release of God's purpose and promise toward us.

The phrase, “Shall have been bound in heaven, shall have been loosed in heaven,” is perfect future tense.  That means it is already accomplished but it occurs depending on whether or not we take the promises of God and bring them to bear.  Whatever we bind or loose is already accomplished, but it is experienced as reality as we act and pray.

18:19 “If two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father.”   This teaching is given within the context of protecting church unity and dealing with matters of church discipline.  Two relates to the witnesses required in verse 16.  If the witnesses are in agreement, they may pray with confidence that God hears and will answer their prayer, either for the forgiveness and restoration of the offender or for the protection of church unity through the removal of the offender.

This is also a marvelous revelation of the power released when brothers and sisters pray in unity.  The word agree is sumphoneo which means to be harmonious, to agree.  It is from the root sumphonos which means to sound together.  It is related to the word sumphonia, a concert of instruments.

When we pray in symphony, there is release of the purpose of God.  What does it mean to pray in symphony?  A symphony requires:

a. A variety of instruments.  

One instrument cannot play a symphony.  Fifty tubas cannot play a symphony.  There must be other instruments.  God has placed us in relationships so we can live and pray in concert.  A family is a concert of instruments.  A church is a concert of instruments.

b. Instruments tuned to common pitch.

The Holy Spirit tunes our hearts and lives together in harmony.  We pray for growth in a church but not at the expense of harmony.  God can do little with one thousand people out of harmony but God can do much with fifty people in unity. 

Being tuned together doesn’t mean we all sing the same notes.  It means our notes, our lives, our prayers fit together in such a way as to release the purpose of God. This has to do with forgiveness.  It means we choose not to bind one another in unforgiveness.  It means we choose to loose one another in the same forgiving grace that God has poured into our own lives.  It means we resolve our problems, honor our differences and allow the Lord to build our lives together in an organic unity.     

The Apostle Peter said, "Husbands, love your wives ... and grant her honor so that your prayers may not be hindered"  (I Peter 3:7).  Why is unity important in the family?  So that our prayers will not be hindered.  This is also true in the church.

c. Instruments playing the same song.   

We need a common word,  a common vision, common direction from the Lord.

It wouldn't do any good to have forty instruments tuned together and twenty playing the Messiah, ten playing the Star Spangled Banner and ten playing DooDah.

d. Jesus, our concert Master

From Jesus we receive direction, vision.  Praying in agreement does not mean that I pray in agreement with the person next to me and God is required to answer us.  It means we are in agreement with the Maestro, with His plan, His vision, His prayer.  God wants to flow His vision and purpose into us and through us.  Jesus is praying for us continually and our task is to know His heart and pray with Him.  He prays through us, releasing His prayer, His life, His Kingdom purpose in us and through us.

When the church prays in this manner, “It shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven.”  The church that prays in unity with itself and with Christ is a church that will experience the wonder of answered prayer.

18:20 When believers are gathered together in Jesus’ name, Jesus is present in our midst. 

In my name does not mean that we can pray anything we want, add the name of Jesus to the end of the prayer and God is required to do it, as if the name of Jesus is a postage stamp.  What a silly thought, that we can say anything we want in our prayer and as long as we put the Jesus stamp  on it, it will get to heaven and God will do what we ask. 

No.  Prayer is purposeful and powerful because of the content, not the stamp.

In my name refers to being in agreement with Jesus, with His nature, His purpose, His prayer.  It means we are praying in symphony with Him.  This may require that I change what I have been praying, take the time to be still and let the Lord bring my heart and will into union with His heart and will.

In Psalm 37:4 we read, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  As I delight myself in the Lord, that is, as I take the time to focus on the Lord, enjoy the Lord, have communion fellowship with the Lord, He will change my heart, bringing my desires into conformity with His.  Then, as the desire of His heart becomes the desire of my heart, He will satisfy my desire.

As the Holy Spirit tunes our hearts together, teaching us to forgive, to be reconciled, tunes our hearts to the heart of Jesus, as we learn to pray His prayer, He prays His prayer through