Gospel

A Crisis of Identity

2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

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

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

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

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:2-12 ESV

Before we dig into what Jesus is saying in these verses, take a close look at the list of those whom He refers to as approved by God:
…the poor in spirit
…those who mourn
…the meek
…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
…the merciful
…the pure in heart
…the peacemakers
…those persecuted for their righteousness
…those reviled, persecuted and slandered because of their association with Him

Now think about how His audience would have reacted to that list. Most, if not all, of those descriptions, would have been off-putting to his listeners. What would have been remotely attractive to these oppressed and, oftentimes, impoverished people about spiritual poverty? How in the world were they supposed to see mourning as a form of blessing from God? And within the culture and times during which they existed, meekness wasn’t exactly a handy asset. It got you nowhere and achieved nothing.

Then there’s his mention of hunger and thirst. For what was likely a crowd made up predominantly of farmers, shepherds, and other common laborers, the mention of hunger and thirst stirred up fairly negative connotations. They knew what it was like to suffer both and would not have viewed either as a blessing from God.

What about mercy? These were people living under the cruel and sometimes crushing rule of Rome. The Romans weren’t exactly known for being merciful, so what possible good could come out of showing mercy? And peacemaking wasn’t exactly an attractive option for Jesus’ listeners either. Peacemaking meant giving in and compromising with your enemy. Once again, the average Jew didn’t want peace with Rome, they wanted their destruction. For hundreds of years, ever since returning to the land of promise from captivity, the Jews had been without a king and at the mercy of virtually every nation that wanted to enslave them. They had become easy prey to anyone who wanted what they had. And the last thing they wanted was peace.

And how would they have reacted to His mention of purity of heart? For a people raised on the belief that a strict adherence to the Mosaic Law was their only hope, the idea of purity of heart would have been foreign. Theirs was a behavior-based society. You had to live up to certain rules, laws, and regulations. You had to keep the prescribed holy days, feasts, and festivals. You had to do what the law required. It was your outward actions that mattered most. The heart had nothing to do with it.

And then Jesus ends His list by bringing up persecution, reviling, and slander. In other words, He tells them that those who suffer for His sake will be approved by God. Now, would that have been great news to his listeners? Probably not. Persecution, reviling, and slander would have been the last things these people wanted to experience – for anybody’s sake.

Can you imagine the murmurs going through the crowd as Jesus spoke? Can’t you just see people in the crowd turning to one another with looks of confusion and even disgust? Who is this guy? What is He talking about? If He truly is a rabbi trying to attract followers, He isn’t getting off to a great start. Maybe He should give up public speaking and stick to doing miracles.

I believe there were many in the crowd that day who, after hearing Jesus’ opening remarks, began to have serious questions about not only His subject matter but His sanity. But He had their attention. And He was just getting started.

One of the things we must remember is that John the Baptist and Jesus both showed up on the scene preaching a message of repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). The Greek word for “repent” is metanoeō and it means “to change one’s mind for the better.” It entailed changing how you believed about things. We tend to think of repentance as turning from our sins and heading in another direction. But before you can turn from your sins, you have to have a change of mind regarding your sins. For the Jews in Jesus’ audience, they were going to have to experience a change of mind about everything from the Law and works to the kingdom of God, and who was qualified to be a citizen of it. They were going to have to change their minds about what it meant to be approved by God. And they had been indoctrinated by hundreds of years of teaching that taught them that they were the chosen people of God. They were the descendants of Abraham. And to receive the blessings of God, they simply had to obey the commands of God. But Jesus called them to repent. And now He was giving them an explanation of just exactly what their repentance or change of mind should look like.

First, they should be marked by poverty of spirit, a personal knowledge of their own spiritual bankruptcy. For a people who prided themselves on their status as God’s chosen people, this would have been difficult to hear and comprehend. But Jesus was telling them that, in order to be approved by God, they would first have to become conscious of their own unworthiness before God. Jesus would later tell the Pharisees, who took great pride in their spirituality, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). It is not until we recognize our spiritual unworthiness that we will see our need for a Savior.

Jesus was telling them that, in order to be approved by God, they would first have to become conscious of their own unworthiness before God.

Next, Jesus mentions an attitude or mournfulness, a personal grief over personal sin. Paul will later refer to this as “godly grief.”

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV

Our mournfulness stems from an awareness of our spiritual poverty. It is the emotional reaction to our impoverished standing before God. We react with sorrow, which leads us to salvation.

Jesus then mentions meekness, the controlled desire to see someone else’s interests advanced ahead of our own. Meekness is not weakness, it is a life of willing selflessness and sacrifice. It is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest. In a world where everyone is out for themselves, Jesus was teaching that selflessness was what God was looking for in His people. And Jesus would go on to model this very characteristic throughout His life, all the way up to His selfless, sacrificial death on the cross.

Meekness is not weakness, it is life of willing selflessness and sacrifice. It is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest.

When Jesus mentions a hunger and thirst for righteousness, he is speaking of having an insatiable desire for conformity to the will of God. Righteousness becomes the objective and our primary obsession. But righteousness on His terms, not ours. To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to desire a life lived in conformity to God’s will, not our own. It is a longing for life as He has planned it.

What about mercy? What is Jesus saying? Mercy is the gracious and generous response to the mercy we have received from God. We are to extend mercy to others because we have received mercy from God. And just as the mercy we received from Him was undeserved and unmerited, so we are to show mercy to those around us who have no right to it.

The Christian forgives because he has been forgiven; he forgives because he needs forgiveness. In precisely the same way, and for the same kind of reasons, the disciple of Jesus Christ is merciful. – D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

What does Jesus mean by purity of heart? Is He calling for perfection? The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). So how can we be pure of heart? But Jesus has something else in mind here. When Jesus was later asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” – Matthew 22:37 NLT

Purity of heart is not outward conformity to rules. The Greek word for “purity” is sometimes translated as “blameless.”  In the Old Testament, purity was associated with the idea of wholeness, completeness, or integrity. God called Abraham to walk before Him and to be blameless. We are to live our lives with integrity before God and man. It is a wholehearted seeking after God that impacts all of our life. No compartmentalization. No holding back.

Purity of heart is a wholehearted seeking after God that impacts all of our life. No compartmentalization. No holding back.

Again, the prophet, Jeremiah speaks of the heart.

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 29:13-14 NLT

Jesus is calling for a wholehearted desire for God, not just a half-hearted attempt to keep His laws. Obedience is possible without love, but that is not what God requires or desires. In fact, later on in His ministry, Jesus would quote from the prophet, Isaiah, in order to make a point to the Pharisees and religious leaders.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

Peacemaking is ultimately the desire for reconciliation between God and man. It has less to do with being at peace with those around me, than desiring that they have peace with God. And this desire will come from having been made right with God ourselves. The apostle Paul will later write, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Romans 5:1 NLT). And he will go on to say, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT).

Peacemaking is ultimately the desire for reconciliation between God and man. It has less to do with being at peace with those around me, than desiring that they have peace with God.

We prove our status as sons of God by seeking what God desires: reconciliation between God and man. Once again, Paul provides us with insight into what Jesus is saying:

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. – Romans 12:17-19 NLT

Finally, Jesus speaks of persecution, reviling, and slander. But His primary point is that those who are approved by God had a future focus that sees them through present suffering. Jesus would later tell His disciples:

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:18-19 NLT

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NLT

We can endure suffering in this life because we are confident of Jesus’ promises regarding the next life. As Paul reminds us, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

All of this was difficult to hear and even harder to comprehend. Remember, these people were on the opposite side of the cross from us. Jesus had not yet died. He had not yet been resurrected. He was speaking of life made possible by His death, burial, and resurrection. He was describing a life available only through faith in His sacrificial death and empowered by His indwelling Holy Spirit. But He was preparing them for what was to come. It was not what they were expecting, but it was exactly what they needed.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

King of the Jews

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. – Matthew 2:1-12 ESV

If you compare Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth with that of Luke, you quickly see that Matthew only provides those details that support his attempt to prove that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews. So, unlike Luke, Matthew does not include background information such as the census that required Joseph to take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem. There is no mention of the visit of the shepherds or the presentation of Jesus at the temple. 

In fact, Matthew fast-forwards the narrative and picks up the story when Jesus was probably about one-year-old. Joseph and Mary had remained in Bethlehem, most likely to provide time for Mary to fully heal and to give the baby time to mature before they made the long and arduous trip back to their hometown of Nazareth.

But their delay in returning to Nazareth was obviously God-ordained. He had plans for them, of which they were not yet aware. And there were storm clouds forming in the distance that were going to presage the kind reception their son could expect to experience.

While Mary and Joseph had been adjusting to their new life as parents, a group of wise men or magi from a distant land had been making their way to Israel, in search of the newborn king of the Jews. These men were most likely astrologers who, while studying the stars and the planets, had seen a sign.

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:2 ESV

Matthew provides us with no details regarding how these magi received or interpreted the sign they had seen. We do not know where they were from or how they made the connection between the cosmic sign and the coming of the Jewish king. Perhaps they came from Babylon, where there was still a fairly large contingent of Jews who had chosen to remain there rather than return to Judah under the leadership of Nehemiah. It would seem that these magi had access to the Hebrew scriptures and had been able to connect the dots between what they saw in the sky and what God had predicted in His Word. One of the passages to which they could have referred was Numbers 24:17, which the Jews of Jesus’ day believed to have Messianic implications.

I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…

Regardless of how these men made their assessment of the star and its connection to the new king of the Jews, they were sufficiently convinced to make the long journey to Jerusalem. And when they arrived, they expressed little doubt as to the validity of the sign or their interpretation of it. They asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” According to their understanding of the sign, this baby was born as the official and lawful king of the Jews. Which is what led them to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, where David and Solomon had once reigned.

But the magi found another king sitting on the throne of David. His name was Herod, and he was actually an Edomite. He had been placed on the throne by the Romans and was seen by the Jews as a usurper and as nothing more than a puppet to the occupying forces of Rome. Herod was an ambitious and highly suspicious ruler who was relentless and ruthless in his efforts to protect his power. He had a well-deserved reputation for eliminating any and all potential threats to his throne. He had his own wife’s brother drowned in a pool on the palace grounds. He ordered the murder of 46 members of the Sanhedrin. His wife, two sons, and mother-in-law also fell victim to his unbridled fear and suspicion. Potential rivals to his crown were dealt with quickly and effectively.

So, when the magi showed up in Jerusalem asking about the whereabouts of the new king of the Jews, Herod took notice and instigated steps to locate and eliminate this potential threat to his throne.

Matthew’s primary focus in this section is to further promote and prove the kingship of Jesus. In doing so, he established a conflict between Herod, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews, and Jesus, Israel’s God-anointed and rightful king. And it seems clear that Herod was under the impression that this new king was also to be the Christ, the Messiah of Israel. He assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, asking them, “where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4 ESV). These learned men revealed to Herod what the Old Testament Scriptures had to say about such matters, and they quoted to him from the prophecy recorded by Micah.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days. – Micah 5:2 ESV

Herod, always devious and deceptive in his efforts, sent the magi on a mission to discover the whereabouts of the new king, falsely claiming a desire to worship him.

“Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” – Matthew 2:8 ESV

Worship is a key theme in this passage. The word itself is mentioned three different times, and the magi are described as falling down and worshiping the young child, Jesus, offering Him priceless gifts of tribute. Kingship and rule are also repeated themes, appearing six different times in 12 verses. Matthew juxtaposes the earthly and undeserving reign of Herod with that of the true king of Israel, Jesus, the Christ. One was not even a Jew by birth, while the other was the son of Abraham and the son of David. One was a tool of the Romans, while the other was the anointed-one of God, who was sent to do His Father’s will.

It is hard to miss that these men from a foreign land were used by God to confirm the identity of His Son. He had used a sign in heaven to direct them to Jerusalem, where they were given further details and divine guidance to find Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem.

…the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. – Matthew 2:9 ESV

And Matthew uses these men to establish a theme that will appear throughout his Gospel account. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, and yet they had gone out of their way to seek and find the King of the Jews. And when they found Him, they bowed down and worshiped Him, showering Him with gifts to illustrate their recognition of His sovereignty and glory. And yet the Jews, represented by Herod, their false king, would repeatedly reject Jesus as their Messiah and King. The Gentile magi recognized Jesus as the King of the Jews, but as the apostle John pointed out, the Jews did not.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

It’s interesting to note that, at the end of his Gospel account, Matthew records the reaction of a group of Roman soldiers who had witnessed the death of Jesus. They had most likely participated in the mocking and abuse that preceded His crucifixion. One of them may have nailed up the sign that hung above His head, which read, “The King of the Jews.” They most likely took part in the nailing of Jesus to the cross on which He died. But when Jesus had breathed His last, Matthew records that their perception of Jesus was radically altered. 

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:54 ESV

Jesus was born the King of the Jews. And He died the King of the Jews. When He came into this world, He was worshiped by Gentiles from a foreign land, bearing gifts worthy of a king. When He died, He was surrounded by Gentiles of Roman birth, holding swords and spears, but offering Him the greatest tribute they could bring: They acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God. And Matthew will spend the rest of his Gospel, defending and proving that Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews and the Son of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jesus Was Born

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:1-17 ESV

Today, we embark on a study of the Gospel of Matthew. This book is part of what is often referred to as the synoptic gospels, which also includes the accounts of Jesus' life and ministry compiled by Mark and Luke. The term “synoptic” is derived from two Greek words, syn and opsesthai, which, when combined, provide the meaning, “to see together.” These three Gospels share a great many similarities but also provide us with distinctively different perspectives on the life of Jesus, as seen from the vantage points of the three authors. Two of them, Matthew and Mark, were disciples of Jesus; while Luke was a friend of the apostle Paul, who compiled his Gospel account for the benefit of an individual named Theophilus. In the opening paragraphs of his Gospel, Luke provides the purpose behind his compilation.

“…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” – Luke 1:3 ESV

Each of these men brought their own distinct personality and insights to bear when writing their account of the life of Jesus. But each was also inspired by the Holy Spirit, who utilized their individual identities and skill sets to compile three contrasting, yet complimentary portraits of the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of Matthew, as its name suggests, was written by the man who held the distinction of being one of the disciples of Jesus as well as one of the original 12 apostles. Some of the earliest Greek manuscripts of this book begin with the words, “kate Matthaion” which means “according to Matthew.”

The list of early church fathers who believed  Matthew to be the author of this book includes Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. Because of Matthew’s close relationship with Jesus, this book carried significant weight among the members of the early church. Matthew’s former occupation as a tax collector would have ensured that he was able to read and write. And the book of Matthew contains more references to money and finances than any of the other Gospel accounts.

Matthew’s account of his own calling by Jesus is short and sweet, providing little in the way of details. Written in the third-person, Matthew described his initial meeting with Jesus in a rather pedestrian manner.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. – Matthew 9:9 ESV

After making the decision to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him, Matthew decided to return the favor by extending an invitation to Jesus and His other disciples to have dinner in his home.  And Matthew reveals some interesting insights into his life own life when he records the details surrounding this rather eclectic dinner party.

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” - Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

As a tax collector, Matthew would have been considered persona non grata by his fellow Jews. As evidenced by the response of the Pharisees in Matthew’s story, a tax collector was considered the lowest of the low, comparable to the most disreputable sinner. To the Jews, a tax collector was little more than a stooge for the Roman government, collecting exorbitant taxes from his own people and lining his own by adding fees that amounted to little more than extortion. Matthew was likely a well-to-do individual who, though viewed as a pariah by his own people, was well-liked by the less religious and socially unacceptable. Which makes Jesus’ selection of Matthew that much more significant. 

And when Jesus heard the judging comment from the lips of the Pharisees, He had responded by saying: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). This somewhat cryptic-sounding statement from Jesus was not as veiled as it may first appear. He was accusing the self-righteous Pharisees of misunderstanding the true state of their own hearts. They viewed themselves as spiritually superior to such people as the sinners who had gathered to dine at the home of a common tax collector. And, the believed, Jesus and His disciples had defiled themselves by choosing to associate with such scum. But as Jesus pointed out, He had come to save the spiritually sick, not those who viewed themselves as perfect specimens of righteousness.

It’s interesting to note that Matthew opens up his Gospel account with the genealogy of Jesus, in which he describes Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. These are distinctively Jewish titles that link Jesus to the nation of Israel. Matthew is claiming Jesus to be a descendant of David and, therefore, a legal heir to the throne of Israel. But he also describes Jesus as the Son of Abraham, who was the patriarch of the Hebrew people. 

In a sense, Matthew is presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of two promises made by God that are directly tied to the Jewish people. The first was made to Abraham. God had promised Abraham that He would bless him and that he would make him a blessing.

“…and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 22:18 ESV

Somehow God would bless all the nations through the offspring or seed of this one man, Abraham. And the apostle Paul provides us with Spirit-inspired insight into what this promise meant.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus was the fulfillment of this Old Testament promise to Abraham. And, when Matthew declared Jesus to be the Son of David, he was letting his readers know that Jesus fulfilled the promise God had made to David.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” – 2 Samuel 7:12 ESV

While this promise was partially fulfilled in Solomon, the son of David, it had a future aspect to it that would not be completed until the coming of Jesus. God went on to tell David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). But the day came when there were no more kings in Israel. The nation would go without a king for hundreds of years. And yet, God had told Solomon, “I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel’” (1 Kings 9:5 ESV).

A major part behind Matthew’s purpose for writing his Gospel was to reveal Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel and the God-ordained fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth. Both Gentiles and Jews would benefit by the arrival of Jesus on the scene.

Unlike Luke, Matthew begins his genealogy of Jesus with Abraham rather than Adam. He was interested in establishing Jesus’ Jewish heritage. The entire book of Matthew has a distinctively Jewish flavor to it. IT is not so much that Matthew was writing with a Jewish audience in mind, as much as he was trying to establish Jesus’ credentials to serve as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people and as the Savior of the world.

It is interesting to note that Matthew closes out his genealogy by referring to Jesus as “the Christ,” the Greek word used to translate the Jewish word for Messiah, which means “anointed one.” This Greek appellation carries the full weight of the original Hebrew title of Messiah.

The Messiah is the same person as "the seed of the woman" ( Genesis 3:15 ), "the seed of Abraham" ( Genesis 22:18 ), the "Prophet like unto Moses" ( Deuteronomy 18:15 ), "the priest after the order of Melchizedek" ( Psalms 110:4 ), "the rod out of the stem of Jesse" ( Isaiah 11:1 Isaiah 11:10 ), the "Immanuel," the virgin's son ( Isaiah 7:14 ), "the branch of Jehovah" ( Isaiah 4:2 ), and "the messenger of the covenant" ( Malachi 3:1 ). This is he "of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write." – M. G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson. 1897. Public Domain. copy freely

As we will see in tomorrow’s post, this genealogy was intended to illustrate and accentuate Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah of the Jewish people and their rightful king. But, even more importantly, He was the God-appointed Savior of the world. In sending His Son in human flesh, God was revealing His divine plan to redeem and restore that which was damaged by the fall. So, Matthew reminds his readers: “Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Impressive, Yet Offensive.

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. – Matthew 13:53-58 ESV

After completing this series of parables, Jesus left Capernaum and made the 20-mile journey to Nazareth, the place where He had spent His childhood. By all accounts, Jesus would have been returning to familiar territory, where He would have been known and well-received. But things did not turn out that way. In this little section, which ends chapter 13, Matthew provides an important transition that brings his description of Jesus’ rejection by His own to a close.

Upon His return to Nazareth, Jesus made His way to the synagogue. This was not the first time Jesus had visited the synagogue since leaving Nazareth. Luke records that Jesus went back to Nazareth not long after His temptation in the wilderness.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. – Luke 4:16-17 ESV 

And Jesus had read the following passage to those in the audience that day:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

And Jesus had followed up His reading of this familiar Messianic passage by stating, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). This was an unapologetic claim by Jesus to be the Messiah. And Luke records that the people “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22 ESV). But they had a difficult time reconciling who they knew Jesus to be with what they heard Him saying. They couldn’t help but ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” They remembered Jesus growing up in Nazareth, along with his brothers and sister. They viewed Jesus as just another one of the sons of Joseph. They had no concept of the virgin birth or of Jesus’ deity. He was just another son of Joseph the local carpenter.

Luke makes it clear that Jesus knew that, despite their marvel at what He had to say, they would never accept who He claimed to be. In fact, Jesus compared Himself to the Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who were also rejected by the people of Israel. During the famine that God had decreed on the nation of Israel, there were many widows in the land, but Elijah had ministered to only one, and she happened to be a Gentile from Zarephath. And while “there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27 ESV). Jesus points out that, because of the stubbornness of the people of Israel and their refusal to listen to the words of God’s prophets, the mercy of God was shown to Gentiles.

28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. – Luke 4:28-30 ESV

The Jews didn’t like what Jesus had to say. Their marvel turned to violent hatred and they actually attempted to kill Jesus.

So, here was Jesus speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth yet again. And the people are still wrestling with their perception of who they believe Jesus to be with all that they had heard He had done since leaving Nazareth. They respond:

55 “Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. – Matthew 13:55-57 ESV

Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, was a prophet without honor in His own hometown. This was in fulfillment of the words of John, recorded in his Gospel: “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had faced rejection elsewhere in Israel, particularly by the religious leadership. But if there should have been a place where Jesus found receptive ears and a willing acceptance to His message, it should have been Nazareth. But He found the residents of His hometown to be just as resistant to His claims as anyone else in Israel. As a result, Jesus “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58 ESV). They would have loved to have seen Jesus perform some of the miracles for which He had become famous. They weren’t opposed to Jesus healing the sick or casting out demons, but they were not willing to accept His claims to be the Messiah.

John records that even the half-brothers of Jesus struggled with doubt concerning His claims. They were more than happy for Jesus to become famous as a miracle worker, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He was their Messiah.

3 and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! 4 You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” 5 For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. – John 7:3-5 NLT

Unbelief. That was the problem. The people of Israel refused to believe who Jesus claimed to be. They could not accept this version of the Messiah because it did not reconcile with their preconceived notions. Jesus did not look like what they were expecting. The kingdom of heaven Jesus preached about was unlike the kingdom on earth they expected the Messiah to bring when He came. And so, they rejected Him.

At one point, they had been impressed with Jesus, but ended up being offended by Him. And it all hinged on their unbelief. They could not accept His claims to be the Messiah. But they also refused to tolerate His claims that they were in need of a Savior. Jesus had come to open the eyes of the spiritually blind so that they could see their true condition. He had come to preach a message of good news to the spiritually impoverished. He had come to tell those held captive by sin how to be set free. But the Jews did not like hearing that they were poor, blind, enslaved or in need. They were offended by Jesus’ accusations that they were sinners in need of a Savior.

“The world can’t hate you, but it does hate me because I accuse it of doing evil.” – John 77 NLT

So, rather than being redeemed by Him, they simply because offended with Him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Mystery Explained.

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” – Matthew 13:18-23 ESV

The disciples had asked Jesus why He spoke to the crowds using parables. In a sense, they were wondering why He didn’t just say what He had to say. It’s likely that they found the parables just as difficult to understand as anyone else. So, He told them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11 ESV). But it’s obvious that they didn’t know what the parable meant, because Jesus went on to explain its meaning to them, something He did not do for the people in the crowd. He was treating the disciples differently, in keeping with His statement: “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance…” (Matthew 3:12 ESV). The disciples had a relationship with Jesus, because they believed Him to be the Messiah. They had each left all to follow Him and, while they did not fully grasp the significance of who He was and what He had come to do, they eagerly listened to what He had to say. Which is what led Jesus to say of them, “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16 ESV).

And it was their child-like faith in Him that prompted Jesus to explain the secret of the parable to them. The story was simple, relating the efforts of a single sower, who sowed one kind of seed that fell on four different types of soil. And the outcome of the sower’s efforts were mixed. Some of the seeds were eaten by birds, never having time to germinate. Some seed fell on rocky ground and, lacking depth of soil, they sprang up but quickly withered. Other seeds fell among thorns and, while these seeds were able to germinate and grow, they were unable to survive within the harsh environment. Finally, a portion of the seeds actually made it into good soil where they not only survived, but thrived, producing an abundance of grain.

But what’s the point? That’s what the disciples wanted to know. They could fully understand the various scenarios Jesus described, but had no idea what it had to do with the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” So, Jesus explained the meaning behind the story.

The seed represented the word about the kingdom. If you recall, both John the Baptist and Jesus had proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” They were referring to the kingdom of the Messiah, the one of whom the Old Testament Scriptures prophesied and God had promised to send. And Jesus was the fulfillment of those prophecies and the promise. He was the long-awaited Messiah. But He had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. At least, not yet. As Messiah, He had not come to save the Jews from the tyranny and taxation of the Romans, but from slavery to sin. His arrival was not to mark their release from Roman oppression, but from the condemnation of death they all faced as a result of their rebellion against God. 

But that message, while widely broadcast to any and all who would hear it, would not find everyone receptive to it. What’s interesting in the story is that the sower seemed to know that his seed was falling in places where it would prove unfruitful. He didn’t seem to worry about the outcome as much as he did about getting the seed distributed. The apostle Paul understood the significance of this thought.

5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 NLT

The sower simply sowed and left the result up to God. And the seed, or the message of the kingdom, made its way to each scenario, but with varying degrees of success. There was nothing wrong with the seed, but the receptivity of the four types of soil played a significant role in the ultimate success of the sower’s efforts.

The seed that fell along the path was quickly devoured by bird. Jesus compares the birds with Satan, who snatches up the message of the kingdom before it can take root in the heart of those who hear it. The apostle Paul describes Satan’s efforts in stark terms:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don't believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don't understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

The seed that fell on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and respond favorably to its content, but their enthusiasm is short-lived. As soon as they face the first sign of persecution because of the message, they bail. The Greek word translated as “falls away” can also mean “stumbles.” These people find it difficult to maintain their walk with Christ because they find the trials and tribulations that come with the message too difficult to bear.

The third scenarios involves seed that fell among thorns. Once again, there appears to be a brief period of receptivity. The seed take root, but there is no fruit produced, because “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word” (Matthew 13:22 ESV). These people hear the message, respond to it favorably, but because of their love affair with the world, they never experience the fruitfulness the message was intended to produce. Jesus promised to give abundant life (John 10:10). But these people never see it in their lives because they allow worldly things to choke out the message before it’s had time to produce fruit.

Finally, there are some who hear the message and allow it to take root in the soil of their lives. They are receptive to it and fully embracing of it. They hear and believe. They listen and receive. And their lives produce fruit because the allow the message to take root. The degree of their fruitfulness varies, but that is the work of God.

The primary point of the parable has to do with receptivity to the message of the kingdom. That is why Jesus had said, “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance” (Matthew 13:12 ESV). Those who receive the message of the kingdom and allow it to take root in their lives, will see their lives produce abundant fruit. The seed, or the message, will end up multiplying into far more than they could have ever imagined. Their willing receptivity to the message of Jesus Christ and His kingdom will result in abundant life and a growing understanding of all that He has come to offer.

The Pharisees and scribes had refused the message. The majority of the Jews who made up the crowds that flocked to hear Jesus speak and watch Him perform miracles, would also refuse the message. But there were some who, like the good soil in the parable, would respond favorably, allowing the seed of the Gospel to take root in their lives. And they would experience the joy of watching God produce His fruit in their lives.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Heart Disease.

 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:33-37 ESV

At first glance, these verses appear to contain some confusing and contradictory messages from the lips of Jesus. In His continuing confrontation with the Pharisees, His rhetoric intensified and some of His statements seem contrary to the Gospel as we know it. As usual, we must take into account the context and the individuals to whom His words are directed. The Pharisees were considered part of the religious elite and Israel. They were revered for their piety and their strict adherence to the law of Moses. But they had just accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. In other words, they had judged His works as being evil. So, Jesus determined to address the issue of works or fruit.

He began with what appears to be a command that, from a Christian perspective, sounds a bit strange coming from the lips of Jesus. 

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” – Matthew 12:33 ESV

Can a tree make itself good or can a tree make itself bad? The real issue here has to do with fruit. The nature of the fruit is in direct relationship to the condition of the tree. A good tree bears good fruit. A bad or unhealthy tree bears bad fruit. The fruit merely proves the condition of the tree from which it came.

This was not the first time Jesus utilized this metaphor of trees and fruit. He had previously used it in His sermon on the mount.

16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. - Matthew 7:16-20 ESV

The Pharisees had accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name and power of Satan. But by restoring the sight and speech of the possessed man, Jesus had done a good thing. His actions had released a man from the control of a demon and restored him to health. The “fruit” was self-evident and should have been recognized for what it was: A work of the Spirit of God. But instead, the Pharisees had attributed it to Satan.

So, Jesus addressed the Pharisees on terms they could understand. They were self-righteous men who truly believed that their actions were the determiner of the justification before God. They were confident in their own righteousness, believing themselves to be law-abiding and God-pleasing. But Jesus knew their hearts and called them out for their hypocrisy. He used what would become a favorite term of His when referring to these men: “You brood of vipers!”

This was the same term John the Baptist had used when the Pharisees and Sadducees had showed up in the wilderness seeking to be baptized by him.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:7-10 ESV

These men, who by all appearances were godly and righteous, were actually deadly and dangerous. They were the offspring of Satan himself, and the fruit of their lives was proof. They could no more change the nature of their fruit than an apple tree could decide to bear oranges. Notice what John the Baptist said to them: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In other words, the only way they were going to change the fruit of their lives was by repenting of the way they lived their lives. They were going to have to change their whole outlook on what it means to be righteous before God. Their belief that good works and obedience to the law earned a man a right standing before God was going to have to be replaced by faith in Jesus. First, they would have to agree with the assessment of the prophet Isaiah.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

They would need to accept the less-than-flattering conclusion of Solomon:

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

Or as the apostle Paul would later put it:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

Jesus pulled no punches, but harshly assessed the true state of the spiritual condition.

“How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” – Matthew 12:34 ESV

He leaves little doubt as to His opinion of these men. They were evil and the very words that came from their lips were proof. They were suffering from a serious heart problem. And the Old Testament was full of warnings regarding the heart.

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life. – Proverbs 4:23 ESV

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 ESV

“How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute…” – Ezekiel 16:30 ESV

Jesus made His view of them crystal clear.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. – Matthew 12:35 NLT

They were suffering from an internal disorder over which they had no control. They couldn’t change the fruit they bore because they were incapable of altering their sin natures. The true condition of their hearts would eventually manifest itself. There was no hiding it. And Jesus dropped a bombshell on them that had to have left them reeling in disbelief and anger.

“…on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” – Matthew 12:36 ESV

The day is coming when God will judge all men. And Jesus seems to be saying that He wil judge them according to their words. But it is important to consider all that Jesus has said. His emphasis has been on the condition of the heart. He told them, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The word translated as “abundance” has to do with surplus or that which fills and overflows the heart. Whatever fills the heart will overflow through the mouth. So, at the judgment, men will give an account for the words they have spoken, because those words will give evidence of the content of their hearts.

Then Jesus summarizes His comments with a statement that seems in direct violation of the Gospel.

“…for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:37 ESV

Is Jesus insinuating that our speech will save us? Do we have the capacity to talk our way into the Kingdom of God?

Obviously Jesus did not mean that if a person was able to say all the right words he or she could deceive God and win salvation by clever speech. The basis of justification and condemnation is character, but words reveal character and so become the instruments by which God judges. – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Matthew

Once again, the point Jesus was making had to do with the condition of the heart. As the prophet Jeremiah so boldly put it: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). Our words and our conduct are merely expressions of the condition of our heart. And we can do nothing to change our words or actions because we can do nothing to change our hearts. That is the work of God. And God had long ago promised to give the people of Israel new hearts, doing for them what they could have never done on their own.

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

The Pharisees were convinced of their own righteousness. They viewed themselves as justified before God because of their outward adherence to the law of Moses. But Jesus knew their real problem was a heart condition for which their was only one cure: Faith in Him. Their words would end up condemning them because the wicked hearts within them. Had they been willing to pray the same prayer that King David prayed, they would have found Jesus ready, willing and able to answer.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blaspheming the Spirit.

 22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. – Matthew 12:22-32 ESV

Matthew continues to arrange the events of Jesus’ life in order to provide further proof of His claim to be the Messiah. He had come declaring Himself to be the long-awaited King of the Jews and calling the people to repentance. The Kingdom they had been eagerly and patiently anticipating had come.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17 ESV

Mark records that, immediately after Jesus had been baptized by John, He declared Himself to be the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies found in the Old Testament.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV

But the Jews were having a difficult time reconciling their expectations of the promised Messiah with what they were witnessing in the actions of Jesus. Yes, they were amazed by His miracles and attracted to His message, but He did not act or look like a king. He had no royal retinue, only a small, ragtag group of disciples made up of former fishermen, a tax collector and other assorted nobodies. Apart from His miracles, there was little about Him that would have led the people to see Him as the Messiah. Which is why, even after having watched Him cast out another demon, they responded, “Can this be the Son of David?” Actually, their question can best be translated as, “He can’t be the Son of David, can He?” They were filled with doubt and misgivings. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah, but they were having a difficult time resolving their dreams with reality.

The Pharisees, fearing that the people were being swayed by Jesus’ miracles and rhetoric, declared Him to be operating in the power of Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

Beelzebul was another name for Satan. These religious leaders could not deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles. They had been eye-witnesses of many of the healings Jesus had performed and had just seen Him cast the demon from the blind and mute man. But they were unwilling to attribute the power of Jesus to God, instead accusing Him of being under the influence of Satan.

Jesus responded by revealing the non-sensical nature of their accusation. Why would Beelzebul, the prince of demons, provide Jesus with power to cast out demons? What benefit would Satan gain from such an arrangement? In fact, Jesus reveals the self-destructive nature of such a plan.

“…if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” – Matthew 12:26 ESV

Then Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees, asking whether their own “sons” were casting out demons by the power of Satan as well. Jesus had not been the first to exorcise demons. We know from the book of Acts, that there were others who at least attempted to do so.

13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. – Acts 19:13-14 ESV

So, how did the Pharisees justify the actions of such people? Were they also under the influence of Satan? Jesus concluded that the reasoning of the Pharisees was flawed and highly biased. They were rejecting Him, and in doing so, they were rejecting the arrival of His Kingdom. And Jesus blatantly contradicted their assessment, claiming to be operating by the power of the Spirit of God. Not only that, His demonstrations of that power were proof that the kingdom of God had come.

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Matthew 12:28 ESV

With the arrival of Jesus, the Kingdom of God had broken into the earthly realm. In the opening chapter of his Gospel, Matthew recorded the announcement of the angel regarding the virgin birth of Jesus, a fulfillment of the promise of God.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” – Matthew 1:22-23 ESV

Jesus was God incarnate, God in human flesh. His birth made the presence of God tangible and touchable.

He is the image of the invisible God… – Colossians 1:15 ESV

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

But they refused to acknowledge Jesus as God. And rather than admit that Jesus was operating under the power of the Spirit of God, they attributed His actions to Satan, an action Jesus described as blasphemy. But He was very specific in His accusation, declaring them to be guilty of “blasphemy against the Spirit.” And then He dropped the bombshell that this kind of blasphemy was unforgiveable in nature. They could say all they wanted against Him and be forgiven, but their decision to blaspheme the Spirit of God was unforgivable.

In essence, Jesus was declaring that His power to heal had been given to Him by the Spirit of God and was proof that He was the Messiah. To deny this proof was to reject the testimony of the Spirit of God. It was to refuse to accept Jesus as who God, through the Spirit, declared Him to be. If you recall, when Jesus was baptized by John, the Spirit of God descended on Him in the form of a dove, and God declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus had been accompanied by the verbal, audible testimony of God. Jesus was His Son.

By attributing to Satan, the works done by Jesus, made possible by the indwelling Spirit of God, the Pharisees were rejecting the power of the Spirit and the testimony of God. The unforgiveable sin is the rejection of Jesus as Messiah. For this sin there is no forgiveness, “either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32 ESV). The Pharisees would be forgiven their verbal abuse of Jesus, if they eventually accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. But if they continued to deny the testimony of God and the visible proof of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, they would not be forgiven.

The interesting aspect of this whole encounter was that the Pharisees were blind to the reality of Jesus’ claim because they denied the proof of the Spirit of God. They were devoid of the Spirit themselves. The apostle Paul would later write:

So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:3 NLT

And John would also provide further insight into the Spirit’s illuminating role in man’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh.

This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:2 NLT

But the Pharisees, lacking the presence of the Spirit of God, were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. And Jesus declared them to be aligned against Him, operating in direct opposition to His divine mission.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30 ESV

The battle lines were drawn. The King had come. The Son of God had taken on human flesh and was in the process of fulfilling the divine will of His Heavenly Father. But the Pharisees represented the forces of this world, aligned against the redemptive plan of God. And their hatred of Jesus was going to end up destroying them. While they would eventually succeed in putting Jesus to death, they would fail in their efforts to put an end to His rule and reign. They could deny His claim to be the Messiah, but they could not deny His right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Justice to Victory.

9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” – Matthew 12:1-9-21 ESV

Jesus had just claimed, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” and now He was going to prove it. Immediately after wrapping up His discussion with the Pharisees about the Sabbath, Jesus entered their local synagogue. Matthew records that there was a man in the congregation who had a withered hand. His hand was evidently shrunken and paralyzed and clearly visible to all those around him. It’s not clear whether this man was a regular member of the congregation or had been arranged by the Pharisees as a plant, in order to trap Jesus. But they immediately seized the opportunity in order to place Jesus in a predicament. They asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” And Matthew makes it clear that their intent was to trick Him into giving a wrong answer so they might accuse Him of disobeying their laws. According to their oral tradition, it was only legal to provide medical attention if the individual’s life was in jeopardy. In all other cases, it would be considered working on the Sabbath.

It’s evident that these knew Jesus could heal. They had seen Him do it. Their real issue with Him was that He didn’t seem to keep their laws. He was operating outside the scope of their authority and creating a potentially dangerous precedence for all those who followed Him.

As Jesus was prone to do, He answered their question with a question: “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11 ESV). The Jews had a litany of man-made rules for all kinds of things, including the treatment of animals. And they had strict commandments regarding anything that had to do with relieving physical suffering.

[If] one has an ache in his teeth he may not rinse them with vinegar, but he may dip [his food] as usual [in vinegar and eat normally], and if he becomes healed, he becomes healed. [If] one has pains in his loins he may not anoint with wine or with vinegar; he may [however] anoint with oil, but not rose oil. – Mishnah, Shabbat 14

Even relieving tooth pain could be construed as work, if not done in the properly prescribed manner. But when it came to animals, it seems that the Pharisees had developed workarounds or loopholes that would allow them to violate their own laws in order to care for them. This was evidently due to the fact that viewed their animals as property and, therefore, of monetary value.

We are permitted to violate Shabbat to a limited extent to rescue an animal in pain or at risk of death. For example, we can move them if they are in pain, move objects that we would not otherwise be permitted to touch to relieve their pain, we may give them medicine, and we may ask non-Jews to do things that would violate Shabbat to help a suffering animal. – www.jewfaq.org

Jesus was well aware of these laws and His knowledge provided the background for His question. He knew they would do everything in their power to rescue their own sheep if it fell into a pit – even if it meant violating the Sabbath. They had created loopholes to their own laws that allowed them to remain guiltless if they broke them. But these men cared nothing for the man with the withered hand, placing far greater value on their own commandments. And Jesus summarized His views on the entire matter with the simple and succinct statement: “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12 ESV). The Lord of the Sabbath proved His authority over the Sabbath by restoring this man’s hand – with just a word. And while the man was healed, the Pharisees were incensed. Rather than rejoice in this man’s miraculous restoration, they began to plot as to how they could destroy Jesus.

So, Jesus, aware of the anger of the Pharisees, moved on, and found Himself once again trailing a wake of followers, most of whom were curious rather than committed. But Jesus continued to heal and restore those who came to Him with their physical infirmities. But curiously, Jesus commanded all those He healed to remain silent about what He had done. He knew that human nature would prompt these people to tell anyone and everyone about their supernatural healing. But Jesus was on a divine timeline. He was operating on the Father’s schedule and was wary of the people attempting for force His hand by prematurely announcing Him as the Messiah. And Matthew makes it clear that Jesus had come to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, but in a way that the people of Israel neither expected or desired. In quoting from Isaiah 42, Matthew pointed out the humble, meek nature of the Messiah. His first appearance would not be as a conquering king, but as a suffering servant. He would come without fanfare, speaking quietly and acting gently. He would extend mercy and grace to all, including the Gentiles. This description of the Messiah would have conflicted greatly with the expectations of the Jews.

Jesus showed compassion to the “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks.” And He would do so until He brought “justice to victory.” It would be through His death on the cross that Jesus would conquer man’s greatest enemies: Sin and death. During His earthly ministry, He healed many of their physical infirmities. He even raised the dead back to life. But Jesus came to give new life, in the form of a restored relationship with God the Father and complete forgiveness from sin and release from eternal condemnation. The apostle Paul provides us with encouraging words that should remind us of just how great a gift has been offered to us by God through the sacrificial death of His own Son.

51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Great Invitation.

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:25-30 ESV

After pronouncing a warning of pending doom on the cities of Bethsaida, Chorizin and Capernaum for their refusal to accept Him as Messiah, Jesus offered a brief prayer of thanks to the Father. The placement of this little prayer seems as strange as its content. Because of the flow of the narrative, it would appear that Jesus prayed this prayer within the hearing of His audience. It was a verbal aside that acted as a prayer to His Father in heaven, while at the same time offering His audience insight into the mysterious ways of God.

Jesus addressed God as His Father, a statement of their intimate relation. But He also addressed Him as the Lord of heaven and earth, indicating God’s sovereignty over anything and everything. God is all-powerful, all-knowing and in complete control of all things, including the mysteries of His will. And Jesus makes it clear that the inability and unwillingness of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was all within the divine will. God had “hidden these things from the “wise and understanding.”  The Greek word translated as “hidden” is apokryptō and it means “to hide, conceal, or keep secret.” The stubborn refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was actually part of God’s redemptive plan.

In his Gospel, John makes it clear that Jesus came to the Jews but that they refused to accept Him.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

The will of God was that Jesus would come into the world but that the vast majority of the people would refuse and reject His offer of salvation. And Paul provides us  with further insight into this mysterious aspect of God’s will.

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

2 No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. – Romans 11:1-2 NLT

God had not rejected the people of Israel. In fact, Paul pointed out that he was a Jew who had accepted Christ, and he was not alone. There were others. But they were in the minority. And there decision to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior had been due to the grace and mercy of God.

5 It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. 6 And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved. – Romans 11:5-6 NLT

This small remnant of Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, had done so because God had chosen to open their eyes so that they might see the hidden mystery of His Son’s sacrificial death on their behalf. But Paul pointed out that the majority of the Jewish people had rejected Jesus.

7 So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. 8 As the Scriptures say,

“God has put them into a deep sleep.
To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see,
    and closed their ears so they do not hear.” – Romans 11:7-8 NLT

Their hearts were hardened by God. He put them into a “deep sleep.” He “shut their eyes” and “closed their ears.” But that begs the question: Why would God do this to His own chosen people? Why would He send them a message of salvation, but then prevent them from hearing and accepting it? Paul provides us with insight into the answer to these questions when he quotes from a psalm written by King David.

9 “Let their bountiful table become a snare,
    a trap that makes them think all is well.
Let their blessings cause them to stumble,
    and let them get what they deserve.
10 Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see,
    and let their backs be bent forever.” – Romans 11:9-10 NLT

The Jews were convinced that they were safe and secure because of their relationship with God. They were His chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God had made to Abraham. But if you recall, both Jesus and John the Baptist had arrived on the scene preaching a message of repentance. They were calling the people of Israel to change their minds regarding their beliefs about God and their own standing before Him. They were to radically alter their thinking about everything from sin and righteousness to justification and judgment. But they refused to do so. And God simply allowed them to remain in their state of rebellion by refusing to open their eyes to the truth. He didn’t make them rebellious, but simply chose to leave them that way. And Paul provides us with the why.

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

The rejection of Jesus by the Jews had a divine purpose behind it. He was the Jewish Messiah and, as such, He was the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God had told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 NASB). And Paul, writing to the Galatians, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would provide the proper meaning of this promise.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.
 – Galatians 3:16 NASB

Jesus was to be the means by which the nations of the earth would be blessed. And the rejection of Jesus by the Jews made possible God’s fulfillment of this promise as He opened up the offer of salvation to all people of all nationalities.

15 For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead! – Romans 11:15 NLT

God is not done with Israel. As a nation, they are still suffering from spiritual blindness, unable to see the mystery of God’s redemptive plan, but Paul makes it clear that their future acceptance of His offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone will be wonderful.

But Jesus makes it clear that the only means by which men can come to a true knowledge of God is through Him. He is the door. He is the access point through which a right relationship with God is obtained. Which is why He so boldly and flatly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). The Jews, who believed that had a right relationship with God, would one day discover that their hope of justification before God would come through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.

And that is why Jesus offers His Great Invitation, and He extends it to all those who labor and are heavy laden. His focus is on those who find themselves burdened by the legalistic and moralistic requirements of the law. They are pressed down by rules and regulations that place on them a burden so great, they feel crushed by its weight. And Jesus offers them an attractive alternative: Rest. Notice that He does not promise them a cessation from work. He invites them into a yoke, a farming implement that would have been very familiar to His agrarian audience. Jesus was inviting them into a partnership with Him, joining Him in the yoke beside Him. It is only in a relationship with Him that we can find true rest and peace. It is only in partnership with Him that our burdens become light and our souls can find rest from the daily toils of life.

Jesus wasn’t offering them an escape from life or a panacea from all troubles and trials, but a source of strength found in the promise of His presence. Laboring alongside Jesus is a blessing, not a burden. And Paul would testify to the truth of that reality.

11 …for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Jesus was grateful to God for revealing the truth of who He was to “little children” – those who were innocent and dependent. The prostitutes, tax collectors, pagan Gentiles and others to whom Jesus ministered tended to be the ones who accepted His message and placed their faith in Him. They were burdened by sin, weighed down with their own guilt and their hopeless circumstances. But they had turned to Jesus in faith. And Paul would remind the Corinthian believers that this state of weakness and hopeless is shared by all those who accept the Great Invitation offered by Jesus.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unexpected and Unaccepted.

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:7-19ESV

John had questions for Jesus, but Jesus had no questions regarding John. He was not put off by John’s inquiries regarding His identity, because He knew that John was unaware of the exact nature of His ministry and mission. So, as soon as John’s disciples left, Jesus turned to the crowd and presented a defense of John. First of all, Jesus asked the people why they had flocked to see John in the wilderness. What had been their motivation? Was it to see a man who was driven by the wind and susceptible to the whims of culture? No, John had been a strong-willed and passionate speaker who was not afraid to preach a message of repentance to the people of Israel. Matthew described him as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:3 ESV).

Secondly, Jesus asked if the crowds had pursued John because he dressed in fine clothes and was a man of means. Of course, the answer was no. According to Matthew’s earlier description of John, he “wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4 ESV). John wasn’t a wealthy or powerful man. He had no reputation as a man of influence or learning. So, that brings Jesus to ask His third and final question: “What then did you go out to see? A prophet?” (Matthew 11:9 ESV). And the answer to that question was a resounding, “Yes!” That exactly what the people believed John to be. And he was. Jesus confirmed John’s prophetic role and even added that he was “more than a prophet.” What did Jesus mean by that statement? John was a spokesman for God just like all the Old Testament prophets had been. But there had been a 400-year silence between the time of the last prophet and the day when John had begun his ministry. And when John had showed up on the scene to break that silence, he had been the fulfillment of prophecy himself. That is what set him apart from all the other prophets. Jesus paraphrased Malachi 3:1 when he said:

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’” – Matthew 11:10 ESV

John was the God-ordained forerunner of Jesus, having been given the sole responsibility and privilege of announcing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. And by quoting this Old Testament passage, Jesus was declaring His role as the Messiah and John’s role as the prophet who would prepare the way before Him.

Later on in the book of Malachi, the prophet wrote of the return of Elijah the prophet.

5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

John had come in the spirit of Elijah, calling the people to prepare for the coming Kingdom and to accept the newly arrived Messiah. And Jesus declared that “he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:14 ESV). But the people had refused to believe the words John had spoken. Yes, many of them had chosen to be baptized by John, but they would end up refusing to accept Jesus as their Messiah. The majority of the Jewish nation would turn against Him, denying Him as their Lord and Savior.

Jesus declared John’s superiority because he had been given the one-of-a-kind task of preparing the way for the Messiah. As far as Jesus was concerned, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11 ESV). That’s extremely high praise, when you consider men like Abraham, Moses, and David. John was far greater than any of them, not because of anything he had done, but because of the extreme importance of his role as the herald for the coming Messiah. But Jesus added an important and, somewhat confusing statement regarding John. He said that “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11 ESV). John’s ministry was an earthly one. He was relegated to announcing the arrival of the Kingdom, but was not yet a part of it. He had a very important role to play on earth, but Jesus lets His audience know that those who inherit the Kingdom will be far greater than John. Jesus is not saying that there will be degrees of worth in heaven. If anything, He is insinuating that even the least – the prostitutes, tax collectors and other worthless sinners in this life – who place their faith in Him and inherit eternal life, will be greater than John. John got to proclaim the coming Kingdom, but those who participate in it will have the greater reward.

Next, Jesus turned His attention to those in His audience, comparing them in not-so-flattering terms to “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates” (Matthew 11:16 ESV).

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” – Matthew 11:17 ESV

In essence, Jesus is accusing the Israelites of rejecting Him because He refused to dance to their tune or react in the way they had expected. They were like spoiled children who had their view of how the Messiah should appear and what He should do when He did. And Jesus didn’t meet their demands. So,they rejected Him. They were critical and impossible to please. That’s why Jesus describes them as having “neither eating nor drinking,” and the people wrote him off as having been possessed of a demon. If John was the forerunner of the Messiah, the people wondered why he dressed and ate the way he did. He was an aesthetic, set himself apart and limited his diet, so the people labeled him as demon-possessed. But Jesus had come along, and rather than being a separatist, He ate and drank with sinners, so the Jews described Him as a glutton and a drunkard. Not only that, He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. This was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting.

But Jesus ends His address to the crowd with a simple statement:

Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:19 ESV

Time would tell. The future would vindicate the lifestyle choices of John and Jesus. They were acting in unity with God and in complete submission to His will. While the people would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, His status as the chosen one of God was not in jeopardy. He was no less the Messiah because of their stubborn refusal of Him. And the day will come when all mankind will realize that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:11-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Are You the One?

1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  – Matthew 11:1-6 ESV

For whatever reason, Matthew chose to leave out what happened when the disciples went on their mission. He seems less interested in what the disciples ended up doing, than with what Jesus continued to accomplish as part of His messianic activities. Remember, Matthew is out to prove that Jesus is the Messiah so, it makes sense that he would ignore the accomplishments of the disciples. What they ended up doing was secondary in importance to what Jesus was doing and saying.

This chapter opens up with an encounter between Jesus and a few of the disciples of John the Baptist. John sits in a prison cell, by the order of Herod Antipas. His crime? Speaking out against the king’s immoral relationship with his own brother’s wife, Herodias. She had been incensed by John’s remarks and arranged to have him imprisoned. From his cell, John sent two of his own disciples to ask Jesus an interesting question. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 ESV). Was John’s question an indication of a lagging faith or a growing impatience? Was he beginning to doubt whether Jesus truly was the Messiah? It is likely that he was more than a bit confused by his imprisonment, wondering how it fit into the coming of the Kingdom as he had been preaching. Was he simply wondering when Jesus was going to begin acting like a Messiah and usher in His Kingdom? The passage doesn’t tell us what was going on in John’s mind, but based on the tone of his question, it seems as if John is struggling with both doubt and impatience. After all, he is sitting in a prison cell and Jesus is traveling around the countryside drawing crowds, but also drawing the anger and animosity of the nation’s religious leadership. If John is suffering from a case of doubt, who can blame him? While he had been chosen by God as the one to pave the way for the Messiah, he did not have in-depth knowledge of just how Jesus’ ministry would unfold. I don’t think John is wrestling with his imprisonment as much as he is with his expectations of just what should be happening outside the walls of his prison cell. Like all Jews, he had an image of what the coming of the Messiah would look like. John had preconceived ideas of what Jesus should be doing and he was probably wondering just what was going on.

When the two disciples arrived and presented John’s question to Jesus. In his Gospel, Luke tells us that “at that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind” (Luke 7:21 NLT). And Matthew states that Jesus responded to John’s disciples with a command to return to John and describe what they were seeing.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” – Matthew 11:4-5 ESV

John was the herald, the offical God-appointed prophet, tasked with announcing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah and His Kingdom. But even John had to have been a little confused by all that was going on. His concept of the Kingdom was markedly different than what was going on outside the walls of his prison cell. The activities of Jesus were not lining up with his expectations.

And Jesus wants John to understand that His immediate mission was far different than any of the Jews had expected. If you recall, John had a fairly strong view of Jesus’ role as the Messiah. Part of his message to the people entailed a fairly clear vision of Jesus as judge.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. – Matthew 3:12 ESV

He had told the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7 ESV). So, in John’s mind, Jesus should have been taking names and dishing out some well-deserved wrath on those who stood opposed to Him. And this encounter between Jesus and John’s disciples opens up a section in which Matthew begins to reveal that rejection of Jesus by the Jews. Which is why, when Jesus said, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Most would end up finding Jesus offensive and reject not only His message of salvation, but His claim to be the Messiah of Israel.

Jesus seems to be trying to assure John that His miracles were evidence of His authority and power, and that His message of Good News spoke of His agenda. Jesus encouraged John to stay faithful in the face of adversity. There were going to be bumps along the road. Not everyone was going to believe in Jesus or His message, just as not everyone believed in or took advantage of John’s baptism. In refusing John’s baptism, the Pharisees and experts in religious law were really rejecting God’s plan for them and that seems to be the real message of this passage.

The people to whom John had been sent and to whom Jesus was ministering were cynical and skeptical of this new message. They were attracted to Jesus’ miracles, but didn’t know quite what to do with His message. He tended to challenge them and raise the bar of expectation for them. He seemed to be making it harder, not easier. Jesus challenged the status quo and made them uncomfortable in their self-satisfied little worlds.

For John and all those who heard the message of Jesus, it tended to make no sense at times. It was confusing and seemingly contradictory to all that they had come to know about how to have a relationship with God. Jesus’ message was about faith in who He claimed to be – the Son of God, sent directly from the throne of God with a message of repentance and a plan of salvation for restoring man’s marred relationship with God. And the wisdom of what Jesus was saying would be proved true in time – for John and all those who chose to have faith in Him.

Jesus wanted John to know that everything was happening just as God had ordained it to happen. Yes, John was in jail, but that was no indication that the Kingdom was in trouble or that Jesus had lost His focus. John would be executed long before Jesus was tried, crucified, buried and raised again. But the disciples of Jesus would see the wisdom of Jesus’ message proved true. They would see their own lives radically changed. They would witness a literal revolution that would spread throughout the known world in a very short period of time, as the Gospel of Jesus Christ, powered by the Holy Spirit, exploded onto the scene and into the lives of men at Pentecost. So Jesus encourages patience and faith. Give Him time to do what He came to do, in the manner in which He came to do it. Things would never be the same again.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not for the Feint of Heart.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” – Matthew 10:34-42 ESV

The message of Jesus Christ is divisive in nature. It demands a reaction. It polarizes and stirs controversy because it is not of this world. It has already become clear that Jesus’ very presence on the earth had stirred up trouble. Satan had tried to tempt Him in the wilderness, attempting to keep Him from His appointed duties as Messiah. The Pharisees have labeled Him as a troublemaker and potential source of conflict and controversy. So, as Jesus prepared to send His disciples on their first independent foray into the world with the message of the Kingdom, He warned them about the dangers they would encounter. What they had to say would not always be well-received. But He didn’t want that to surprise or defeat them. While they must have believed that the news of the Messiah’s arrival would be met with excitement and enthusiasm, especially among the Jews, Jesus wanted them to know that His presence on earth was actually going to cause a great deal of conflict. It would divide families, pitting children against their parents, and disrupting entire households.

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that the message of Gospel was going to end up causing a lot of strife. And at this point in their relationship with Jesus, the disciples had no way of knowing about His eventual death. They were still under the impression that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who was going to set up His Kingdom on earth – in Jerusalem. He would reign with power, just as David had. He would return the people of Israel to power and prominence. But little did they know that their Messiah was going to have to suffer and die. And after His death, resurrection and ascension, their message of the good news was going to become even more controversial. 

Paul would later write of the incredible news regarding Jesus, that would become the essence of the good news he and the other apostles would bring to the world.

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 ESV

That message would leave many incredulous and others furious. Paul would find himself under constant attack for sharing the good news regarding Jesus. He would be arrested multiple times, thrown into jail, beaten, and even stoned and left for dead. And Paul would learn the invaluable lesson that faith in Christ would require commitment and a refusal to compromise. Those who accepted the message of Jesus Christ would have to make the difficult choice between following Him and maintaining their relationships with family and friends. Because as Jesus said in His sermon on the mount, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14 ESV).

Each and every individual who hears the Gospel will be forced to choose between this life and the life to come. They will be required to place their faith in the message of salvation from sin and death made possible through the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God. Or they will have the option of putting all their hope in this life. Jesus describes this difficult choice of accepting the Gospel message as taking up your cross. It will prove uncomfortable at times. It will result in conflict and difficulty.

But there is a reward associated with the message of Jesus Christ. The disciples would discover that their faithful obedience to their assignment from Jesus would come with some incredible benefits. And after His eventual ascension back into heaven and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they would find themselves filled and equipped with a power like nothing they had ever experienced before. Their work would be dangerous and difficult, but they would be provided with a source of strength and wisdom beyond their wildest dreams. And the same thing would be true for all who received their message.

In their role as the messengers of Jesus, the disciples would be acting as prophets, speaking on His behalf and carrying the message of God. Those who listened to them would receive the reward of the prophet. This seems to be a reference to the good news that the prophet of God offered. Prophets tended to have two messages – one was a message of pending judgment for those who refuse to listen, and the other was a message of forgiveness and restoration to those who hear and obey the words of the prophet. In the same way, all those who would hear and obey the good news regarding Jesus would receive the reward of eternal life. And for those who receive the message of Jesus’ righteousness as the Son of God and Savior of the world, will be rewarded with His righteousness as their own.

To wrap up His message, Jesus turned His attention to those who would hear what His disciples had to say. For all those who treated His messengers with respect by offering them even a cup of cold water, would find themselves rewarded for their effort. Their kindness would be an indication of their receptivity of the messenger and their message.

The disciples of Jesus were about to enter an exciting new era in their relationship with Jesus. They would be the ones dessiminating the message and working the miracles. No longer would they be spectators. They were about to enter the game. But Jesus wanted them to know that their mission would be accompanied by difficulty. And the day was coming when He would leave them behind, returning to His Father in heaven, and assigning them with the formidable task of taking the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Fake Sheep With False Motives.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:15-20 ESV

Jesus has just discussed the narrow gate and the difficult path that provides access to the kingdom of God. And the numbers of those who choose that way are going to be few. But because the kingdom way is not a literal path, but a spiritual one, it will sometimes be difficult to tell who is actually walking along beside you. So, Jesus warns that there will be fakers and posers, even dangerous charlatans, whose sole motive will be to deceive and destroy those who have been approved by God. In the gospel of John, we have recorded the words of Jesus reiterating His claim to be the door or the narrow gate. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9 ESV). Not only had there been false Messiahs before Jesus arrived, there had been deceptive religious leaders who offered up a different form of salvation. And Jesus makes it clear that all these individuals had been motivated by Satan himself. Whether they realized it or not, these people were driven by demonic desires, not divine ones. Jesus went on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). Those who preach another form of salvation or a different means of achieving a right standing with God are essentially deceivers who will end up destroying all those who listen to their lies.

And here in His sermon on the mount, Jesus warns against “false prophets” who will attempt to disguise themselves as sheep in order to infiltrate the ranks of those who have been approved by God. They will appear to be fellow sojourners on the kingdom way, but will actually be out to do harm, not good. Jesus describes them as ravenous wolves, hungry predators with one thing in mind, feeding their own insatiable desires. So, how are we supposed to spot these dangerous deceivers? If they look like us and appear to be on the same path we are traveling, how will we be able to expose them? Jesus gives us a very simple way of knowing whether our fellow travelers are legitimate or not: Their fruit. He says, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT). But wait a minute! If they are out to deceive, won’t they be disguising their true motives by emulating the right kind of behavior? Won’t they be smart enough to act just like sheep? The answer is, yes. Jesus will even address that issue in the very next verses. These people will act the part, but the key will be whether their fruit is in keeping with the will of God. We must always keep in mind that God sees our hearts. He knows what motivates our behavior. But we don’t have that capacity. We aren’t able to see into the heart of another human being. So, what are we to do? How are we to discern whether someone is truly a believer? Again, Jesus would tell us to look at their fruit. What is in the heart will ultimately show up as fruit. Jesus makes that perfectly clear later on in the book of Matthew.

“For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” – Matthew 15:19 NLT

And here, in His sermon on the mount, Jesus comapres these false prophets to thorn bushes, thistles and diseased trees. They are incapable of producing true fruit. And the fruit we should be looking for is described for us in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… – Galatians 5:22-23 ESV

Thorn bushes don’t produce grapes. Thistles don’t bear figs. And you don’t get healthy fruit from a diseased tree. Ultimately, their true nature will become evident. The true condition of their hearts will be exposed. And in the book of Jeremiah, we read how God describes those who would deceive His children.

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!
They keep saying to those who despise my word,
    ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
    they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’” – Jeremiah 23:16-17 NLT

As we walk the Kingdom path, there will always be those who appear to be with us but who will actually be against us. They will attempt to deceive and distract us. They will be the ones who question why we take things so seriously and why we worry so much about spirituality. They will claim to love the Lord as much as we do, but will display a love for the world that reveals their true nature. Their commitment to the will of God will be minimal. Their reliance upon the Word of God will be spotty at best. They will do good deeds, but for the wrong motives. And, ultimately, their influence on the church will be harmful, not helpful. In the book of Jude, we read his warnings to a local congregation regarding these false prophets or teachers who had infiltrated their fellowship.

Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. – Jude 1:3-4 NLT

Jude goes on to describe their behavior in less-than-flattering terms:

In the same way, these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. – Jude 1:8 NLT

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he describes their sad state and even worse outcome:

But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. What sorrow awaits them! – Jude 1:10-11 NLT

Jesus has already told us that “the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14 ESV). The Kingdom life is not an easy one. It will have its moments of trials and difficulties. It will have its dark valleys. Even in the famous 23rd Psalm, we read David’s words describing the life of those who are led by the Shepherd:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4 ESV

It will not always be green pastures and still waters. There will be moments of sadness and seasons of despair. But God will be with us, guiding and comforting us. And Jesus would have us know that there will be so-called companions on our life’s journey who will not be what they appear. So, we must be discerning. Jesus would later give His disciples some invaluable advice as He prepared to send them out on their own.

Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. – Matthew 10:16 NLT

When all is said and done, the only way we have of discerning the true nature of those who claim to be fellow followers of Christ is to look at their fruit. And that means we must judge or discriminate their behavior. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to sin or refuse to evaluate the true intentions of those who claim to be on our side. The risks are too great. The dangers are real. We must always remember that the thief intends to steal, kill and destroy. The false sheep have false motives. The fake followers have sinister plans. They will attempt to lead the sheep astray. They will try to undermine the gospel. They will minimize the will of God and replace it with the will of men. So, we must constantly evaluate one another based on the fruit of the Spirit. This kind of fruit can’t be replicated. It can be mimicked, but not manufactured. It can be faked, but not fabricated. And eventually, fake fruit will be exposed as what it is: unhealthy and undesirable.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Highway of Holiness.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.– Matthew 7:12-14 ESV

Verse 12 has come to be commonly referred to as The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is essentially a summation of all that Jesus has said and acts as a bookend to verse 17 of chapter five:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

These two verses comprise what is known as an inclusio, bracketing all that is contained between them and forming a single unit of thought. The over-arching theme has been Jesus’ treatment of the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament revelation. Here, in verse 12, Jesus brings His thoughts to a conclusion, summarizing all that He has said in one succinct and simple statement: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. This is the law of love and it supersedes and fully expresses all that was written in the law. Paul summarizes it well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV

He simplified it even more when he wrote to the believers in Galatia:

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 NLT

And not long before Jesus was to go to the cross, He would tell His disciples:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

But it is essential that we understand just what Jesus is saying. In our sinful, self-centered state, it would be easy to draw from His words a faulty conclusion that allows us to focus on what we want from others. In other words, if we want our back scratched, we will reluctantly scratch someone else’s back, expecting them to do the same to us in return. So, our actions would be selfishly motivated. But that is not the kind of love Jesus is talking about. He is referring to a selfless kind of love that expects nothing in return. It is focused on giving, not getting. The apostle Paul warned against turning the law of love into some kind of self-centered mechanism to get what you want.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:1-4 ESV

No one enjoys being hated, so why would we choose to hate others? There is no joy in being taken advantage of, so why would we treat someone else that way? If the idea of someone having an affair with your spouse offends you, it should also prevent you from ever considering doing the same thing to someone else. Jesus’ statement is not intended to be self-centered, but other-focused. He is telling us that the law was essentially about loving God and loving others, not self. And those who have been approved by God will love as He loves. They will do as Jesus did, which Paul sums up in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

The life of love and self-sacrifice to which Jesus is calling His audience will not be easy. He knows His words have been difficult to hear and what He has been commanding is impossible to pull off. The crowds who had followed Jesus to the hillside in Galilee had been attracted by His miracles. They were enamored by His ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. There was something attractive about this man who could do the impossible. But now, they were hearing that He expected the impossible of them. He was teaching that if they wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, they were going to have to live radically different lives. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not going to be enough. Their adherence to man-made laws and religious rules was not going to win them favor with God. In fact, Jesus breaks the news that the path to God was actually narrow and quite difficult, and the number of those who take that path will be quite small. But the path to hell is like a broad, sprawling avenue, filled with countless people who have chosen that way because it is easy, well-traveled, and rather enjoyable.

Jesus was letting His listeners know that the way to God was not what they thought. It was not going to be through keeping the law. Their ethnic identity as Jews and prideful claim to be descendants of Abraham was not the way. Jesus was presenting another, exclusive way to God: Himself.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He would also present Himself as the gate or door that provides the sole means by which men and women might be saved and find entrance into God’s kingdom.

“Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.” – John 10:9 NLT

Obviously, Jesus did not believe in universalism, the false, yet popular, doctrine that teaches all will eventually be welcomed into heaven by God because of His love. Jesus promoted Himself as the sole means by which anyone is made right with God. He is the way, not just one of many ways. He alone has satisfied the just demands of God and paid for the sins of mankind with His own life. And He offers Himself to any and all who will receive Him as their Savior and sin substitute. Those who accept His selfless sacrifice on their behalf receive forgiveness of their sins and enjoy a restored relationship with God the Father. But Jesus warns that few will take Him up on His offer. Because the gate is small. It’s narrow and limited. It requires faith. And the path beyond that gate is difficult. The Christian life is not an easy road. Salvation provides us with freedom from condemnation for our sins, but does not provide us with a trouble-free life on this earth. We will face tribulation and difficulty. Living out our faith in the midst of a fallen world will be trying at times. Too often, Christianity is sold as a panacea to all of life’s problems. We falsely advertise faith in Christ as a solution to difficulty and the key to happiness. It explains why a book with the title, Your Best Life Now can become an international best-seller. But that is not what Jesus came to bring. Jesus did not die in order for us to have our best life now. Yes, He did promise to give us life and life more abundantly, but not on our own terms. The real benefit we receive from placing our faith in Christ is not our best life now, but eternal life to come. We have been promised a future sinless state, free from pain and suffering, sorrow and tears. We have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom and no one can take it from us. So with that in mind, we are encouraged to view our life on this earth as temporary. We are on a journey to a better place. We are on a path that will eventually lead us to our eternal home. Which is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).

The prophet, Isaiah, tells us of another path, a highway that will lead through the barren and desolate land, a highway of holiness. It will provide a path for the redeemed into God’s earthly kingdom, where His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Those who enter the narrow way now and walk the path provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection, will one day walk that Highway of Holiness, free from sorrow and sin.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:8-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Specks, Logs, Pigs and Dogs.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.– Matthew 7:1-6 ESV

This is one of those passages that has been taken out of context far too often, and used to justify a wide range of faulty assumptions. First of all, to understand what Jesus is talking about, we have to keep it within its context. He has been talking about everyday practical matters such as giving, praying and fasting. In regards to these outward spiritual expressions, Jesus warned about practicing them as an external sign of righteousness, in order to get the praise and recognition and men. But as always, Jesus, knowing well the hearts of men, knew that what He had just said would lead some to judge others. He realized that their natural tendency would be to make snap judgments regarding the motives behind each other’s public prayers, fasting or alms-giving. The Greek used here is krinō and it refers to “those who act the part of judges or arbiters in matters of common life, or pass judgment on the deeds and words of others” (“G2919 – krinō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). This is a judgment complete with a determination of guilt or innocence and, in the case of guilt, a passing of appropriate sentencing. In other words, the kind of judgment Jesus is speaking of is when someone decides to act judge, jury and executioner. But the problem with this kind of judgment is that all Jesus has been dealing with are issues of the heart, and we cannot know another person’s heart or motives. It is impossible. There is no way for us to know if someone who prays publicly is doing so just to get noticed. We have no insight into whether a person who gives is doing so to garner attention. So, we are not to judge them. If we do, Jesus warns, we will be judged by God according to the same strict standard. Rather than judge others, we are to take a close look at our own hearts in order to determine the motives that prompt us to do what we do. Once again, Jesus is issuing a warning against hypocrisy. He very bluntly warns: “How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4 NLT). Self-examination is essential, because it is far too easy for us to point out the faults in others while looking past the glaring sins in our own life. Exposing the sins of others is almost cathartic for us. It makes us feel better about ourselves. But Jesus would have us focus our attention on our own transgressions, and make sure that we have dealt with those areas that are out of step with God and His will for us. And yet, it would be false to conclude that Jesus is teaching a complete ban on judgment of any kind. To reach that conclusion would require a complete disregard for other passages in both the Old and New Testaments. Take this interesting and often ignored passage found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NLT

In this portion of his letter, Paul was dealing with a situation going on within the local church in Corinth that involved a sexual sin. It seems that a man had been having a sexual relationship with his stepmother. And the worst part of it, as far as Paul was concerned, was that the congregation knew of this affair and had done nothing about it. Paul had told them, “You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship” (1 Corinthians 5:2 NLT). Their pride was based on what they believed to be their tolerance for this couple’s behavior. And Paul was forced to remind them of a previous letter he had written them that had told them not to associate with those who commit sexual sin. But in this letter, he clarifies what he meant by telling them “I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin” (1 Corinthians 5:11 NLT). This was a case of clear-cut sin and they were to deal with it in a forceful manner. Paul emphasizes that it makes no sense to judge the lost world. In fact, he claims that we no right to do so. They are under God’s judgment and He will deal with them in His time. But as far as those who claim to be our brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul is emphatic: “it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning” (1 Corinthians 5:12 NLT). And the kind of judgment Paul has in mind here has nothing to do with acting as their judge, jury and executioner. It simply means that we are to expose their behavior and call it what it is: sin. Then we are to deal with it in a godly manner with restoration as our ultimate goal.

Paul dealt with this very same topic in his letter to the Galatian believers:

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. – Galatians 6:1-3 NLT

There are behaviors that are off-limits for the Christ-follower. We do not have carte blanche to do whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it. As sons and daughters of God, we represent Him on this earth, and our behavior is to reflect our beliefs. We have been set apart by God as holy. We are to live distinctively different lives, in keeping with our status as His children. So there will be times when we must judge one anothers’ actions and be willing to do the difficult thing: Call one another to account and repentance.

Verse seven is a difficult sentence to understand. It appears to be a somewhat abrupt change in topic, having little or nothing to do with what Jesus has just said. He goes from talking about judging another person unjustly, failing to see the sin in your own life, and then suddenly starts talking about giving to dogs what is holy and casting pearls before swine. What is He talking about? And who is He referring to? In the Jewish culture, dogs and pigs were both considered unclean. It was common for the Jews to refer to the Samaritans, whom they considered half-breeds, as dogs. And pigs were off-limits to all Jews. So, for Jesus to refer to these two types of animals, He is obviously trying to make a point. And He juxtaposes pigs with pearls and dogs with what is holy.

There is an interesting story found later on in the book of Matthew, where Jesus encounters a Gentile woman, a non-Jew. She approached Jesus, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely” (Matthew 15:22 NLT). After initially reacting in silence, Jesus gave her a surprising response: “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 NLT). But she begged all the more. And Jesus said to her: “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26 NLT). As shocking as His words may have sounded to her, she simply responded: “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27 NLT). And Jesus, after commenting on the greatness of her faith, granted her desire.

He referred to her as a dog: A Gentile or non-Jew. It is important to remember that the audience to whom Jesus is addressing this message was predominantly Jewish. His disciples were Jewish. And so it would seem that He was making a statement about the people of God judging the Gentiles harshly because they did not live up to their so-called religious standards. By casting pearls before swine, Jesus is saying that we are not to take what God has deemed precious and of great value, the law, and hold those outside the family of God to that standard. They will not respect it. They will trample it under their feet. And we are not to take what is holy, the law, and give it to dogs, the ungodly and unrighteous, expecting them to live up to it. How easy it is to take the holy standard that God has placed on our lives as believers and demand that everyone live up to it, especially the lost, when we can’t even do it ourselves. The lost are slaves to sin. We are not. They can’t do anything but sin, because it is their nature. But we have been given the Spirit of God and He makes it possible for us to say no to our sin nature. Rather than judge the lost, we are to judge our own. We are to see to it that the faith community to which we belong, lives in keeping with our calling as God’s children. The apostle Peter would have us remember:

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? – 1 Peter 4:17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Contentment vs Covetousness.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matthew 6:25-34 ESV

If, as Jesus has suggested, we are supposed to be laying up treasures in heaven and not on earth, then why would we need to worry so much about the things of this earth? And if, as He has already pointed out, our hearts are to focus on heaven, where our treasure is, then the things of this earth should have far less appeal to us than they normally do. And yet, as followers of Christ, we find ourselves just as anxious about and attracted to the things of this earth as anyone else. We have financial concerns. We worry about how to pay the bills and how to put food on the table. We get anxious about everything from the brand of clothes we buy to where we’re going to take our next vacation. But Jesus reminds us “not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NLT). Those in Jesus’ audience that day were probably a lot more justified in worrying about these kinds of things. They were most likely common laborers, farmers, and fishermen. Their daily lives were marked by a constant struggle to provide food and decent clothes for their families. For the fishermen, the next catch was never a sure thing. For the farmer, his hard work preparing the soil and planting the crops was never a guarantee of a good harvest. He was at the mercy of the weather and the whims of nature. So, when Jesus tells them not to worry about life, it is as if He is telling them not to breathe. 

The real issue Jesus seems to be addressing here is faith or the lack of it. He even refers to them as “you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30). Their worry and anxiety reveals their lack of trust in God. Part of their problem was that they were putting all their stock in the things of this earth. They were consumed by worry over things. Their “treasure” was not in heaven, but on this earth. They were expecting all of God’s blessings here and now, in the form of earthly treasures. But they weren’t even trusting Him to provide those things. They worked for them and worried about them. They struggled to provide for themselves, rather than trusting God to give them what they needed. And like so many of us today, they believed the solution to their problems was always more money. And yet, Jesus told them, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24 ESV). In their culture, money was a sign of God’s blessing. It was tangible proof that you were approved by God. But Jesus is telling them something quite different. Followers of God are to put their trust in God. They are to turn to Him for their needs, whether it be clothes or food. While God may choose to provide money as a means to meet those needs, money is not to be seen as our savior. God alone provides what we need. He may choose to bless us with little or with much. He may determine that our needs are far less than we believed them to be. The clothes God provides for us may not be the brands or styles we prefer. But if our real worry is about being clothed, that shouldn’t matter to us. The problem seems to be that our worry revolves around status, not survival. Few of us are anxious about where we are going to get out next meal. But we do get concerned about how many times per week we get to eat out. Our worry is not about putting food on the table, but about the quality of life we desire.

Our constant worry about things reveals our lack of faith in God. It also exposes our love affair with the things of this earth. Too often, we seek our satisfaction in things. We attempt to find our self-worth in the quantity and quality of our possessions. Our houses, clothes, and cars become outward symbols of our status. And yet, Jesus would ask why we worry about all those things. He would want to know why we don’t trust God to meet our needs. God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers in the field, so what are we so worried about? Jesus even reminds us that thoughts of food and clothing “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (Matthew 6:32 NLT). God knows our needs. So, maybe the problem is that we need to ask God what it is we really need. We have our list of needs and He has His. We bring ours to Him and demand that He provide all that we ask for. And when He doesn’t, we get concerned and, sometimes, even angry. We wonder why He doesn’t love us, why He doesn’t provide for us. But too often, we have turned wants into needs. We have allowed our love for the things of this earth to replace our love for God and our faith in Him. We measure His goodness based on what we believe to be His generosity. The more He gives us, the more we think He loves us. But Jesus reminds us that God promises to meet our needs. And our attitude should be like that of Paul:

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Contentment versus covetousness. That’s the problem. We must learn to trust God, to put our faith in Him, knowing that He loves us and has His best in store for us. God has promised to meet our needs. And He has also assured us that our greatest treasure is laid up for us in heaven, not on this earth. We are citizens of another kingdom. This world is not our home. And the things of this earth that we spend so much time coveting and worrying about will not last. They will rust, decay, and fall apart. They are temporal. They are the things the unbelievers seek and desire. But for children of God, our treasure is to be elsewhere. Our trust is to be in something other than the things of this earth. We are to trust Him – for everything. Which is why Jesus tells us, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV). We are to seek His kingdom, not our own. We are to seek His brand of righteousness, as made available through faith in Christ. The quantity of our treasures on earth is not an indicator of our right standing with God. The number of material blessings we seem to enjoy on this earth should not make us think we are somehow blessed by God. Our treasures are in heaven. Our hope is in God. And our faith is strong because our God is faithful.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Love Like God.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:43-47 ESV

Jesus has just finished addressing His listeners’ wrong perspective regarding the “law of retaliation” or lex talionis. The law, as they understood it, said “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In other words, it gave permission to seek retaliation against an enemy as long as it was equal in weight. But Jesus gave them a whole new interpretation of that law, saying, “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matthew 5:39 ESV). And He follows up His counsel to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile with something even more shocking. He tells them to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. Jesus is attempting to move their emphasis off of retaliation and on to love and reconciliation. But not just toward their friends and neighbors.

Once again, Jesus clarifies what was a wrong perception on their part regarding the law of God. And it is essential that we know what the law actually said. The specific law regarding love of your neighbor is found in the book of Leviticus.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:18-19 ESV

Notice that there is no mention of hating your enemy in this passage. And also notice that the law prohibited hatred for a brother and clarified that hatred emanated from the heart. Hatred wasn’t necessarily a visible action, but was most certainly an inward attitude, and its source was the heart. Yet the Jews had somehow taken this law and added to it an addendum that prescribed hatred for their enemies. Where the law was silent, they gave it a voice, and one that was loudly and vociferously hateful to all those who didn’t meet their definition of neighbor. Because, as far as they could tell, the law only required them to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In their simplistic way of looking at things, they believed this law taught that love has its limits. The kind of love it demanded was reserved for neighbors, not enemies.  Enemies were unworthy of our love. But as He has done so many time already in this message, Jesus dismantles their false arguments and replaces it with the reality of what God was demanding when He gave this law. Jesus was trying to get them to understand that godly love knows no bounds. The law of God provided no place for partiality or personal preferences regarding who your neighbor might be.

This passage brings to mind a story that Jesus would later tell to an expert in the religious laws of the Jews. Luke records it for us in his gospel.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor? – Luke 10:25-29 NLT

The man’s question to Jesus had to do with eternal life. More specifically, he was asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He was wanting Jesus to tell him what actions he must take to be approved by God. And, as Jesus was so often prone to do, He answered the man’s question with a question. He asked the expert in religious law what he thought the law of Moses actually taught. And the man answered by quoting from part of the Shema, the morning and evening prayer recited by all faithful Jews.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  – Luke 10:27 ESV

And while Jesus affirmed that the man’s answer was correct, He also told him that it would require living it out in real life. So the man asked Jesus the next logical question, “And who is my neighbor?” What do you think this expert in the religious laws of the Jews expected Jesus to say? He was looking for Jesus to agree with his understanding of of the word, “neighbor.” But instead of answering the man’s question, Jesus told him a story.

A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On his way, he was attacked by robbers and left for dead. In the course of the day, three men saw him lying on the roadside. A Jewish priest came by, but crossed to the other side of the road. Next, a temple assistant, another Jew, saw the man, stopped to look at him, but left him there. Finally, a Samaritan, a non-Jew, saw the man, and stopped to offer him aid. Not only that, he paid to provide for the man’s ongoing care until he could get back on his feet.

After telling His story, Jesus asked the expert in the law, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” (Luke 10:36 NLT). And the man responded, “The one who showed him mercy.” And, once again, Jesus affirmed that the man had answered correctly, but told him, “now go and do the same.”

What makes Jesus’ story so compelling is that it presents a Samaritan as the hero. Samaritans and Jews hated one another. Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the Jews. They were the descendants of Jews who had been left behind when the Babylonians had conquered Judah and taken tens of thousands into captivity in Babylon. Many of those who were left intermarried with the pagan nations. The Samaritans were looked down on by the Jews and were often referred to as dogs. They were enemies of the Jews. But in Jesus’ story, it was the Samaritan who showed mercy and love to a Jew. He treated him as he would a neighbor, or fellow Samaritan. But the two Jews in the story refused to do anything to assist their fellow Jew.

So what does this story have to do with what Jesus had to say that day on the hillside in Galilee? In essence, Jesus was telling the Jews in His audience that they don’t get to choose who they love and hate. He was presenting a new paradigm, a new way of life, in which those who are approved by God will love in the same manner and with the same intensity as they had been loved by God. And the apostle Paul reminds us of just how great God’s love really is:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

And he tells us we are to imitate God, following the example of love He provided through His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT

And Jesus takes this kind of love one step further, encouraging his listeners to pray for those who might persecute them. The natural human response would be to curse them and ask God to bring down hurt and heartache on them. But Jesus says, don’t curse them, don’t wish ill on them and don’t seek revenge against them. And Paul would pick up on Jesus’ strange-sounding counsel, telling the believers living in pagan Rome:

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. – Romans 12:14 NLT

Peter would also echo the words of Jesus:

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. – 1 Peter 3:9 NLT

It would be natural to ask Jesus, “Why?” What purpose is there in loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? What possible good could come out of living and loving like that? And Jesus gives us the answer.

…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… – vs 45

This takes us back to verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Those who are blessed or approved by God will emulate Him. They will reflect His character. They will love like He loves. God is indiscriminate is His goodness, “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45 NLT). He shows His love even to those who hate Him. He bestows His blessings on those who curse Him. He sent His Son to die for all who had rebelled against Him. Jesus Himself, while hanging on the cross, was able to pray, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NLT). And while He prayed that prayer, the Roman soldiers who nailed His hands and feet to the cross gambled over His clothes right beneath Him.

The love Jesus came to reveal was not a reciprocal kind of love. To love those who love you in return is an insufficient, earthly love. It is a selfish, what’s-in-it-for-me kind of love. But Jesus would later say, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT). And Paul would clarify that even our friends are undeserving of the kind of love to which Jesus is referring.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:6-8 NLT

Jesus is calling for a love that emulates the love of God Himself. It is a selfless kind of love. It is a non-discriminatory kind of love. It is not based on the loveliness or lovableness of the other person. We are called to love as we have been loved by God. And our love is not to be reciprocal in nature, but redemptive. Our goal is restoration and reconciliation, not so much with us, but between our enemy and God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

For the Sake of the Gospel.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV

Paul knew his rights all too well. But he didn’t let his rights get in the way or become a hindrance to his God-given assignment to share the gospel. In fact, Paul says that he made himself a servant to all. The Greek word he uses is δουλόω (douloō), which means “to make a slave of” (“G1402 - douloō - Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 16 Aug, 2016. <https://www.blueletterbible.org). Metaphorically, which is how Paul uses it here, it meant to “give myself wholly to one’s needs and service, make myself a bondman to him). As far as Paul was concerned, he would rather consider himself a slave to everyone, than to demand his rights or selfishly flaunt his freedoms in Christ. In fact, while he understood himself to be “free from all”, free from their judgment, criticism, demands, legalistic requirements, false accusations, and unrealistic expectations, he willingly chose to serve them. He even describes what he means by that. When he was with the Jews, he lives like a Jew, even though he was free from having to do so. When in their company, he would keep the law, out of a desire to win them to Christ. When he was with Gentiles, he would set aside the law of Moses, because they were not obligated to keep it (and neither was he). Instead, he would live under the law of Christ – the law of love. Paul told the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). This is the exact opposite of how the Pharisees lived. Jesus said of them, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4 ESV).

Paul’s philosophy of ministry and life was simple: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV). His ultimate goal was their salvation. His freedoms took a back seat in order that he might see them find freedom from sin and death through faith in Christ. Everything he did was for the sake of the gospel. To him, it was unacceptable to think of putting his needs above those of others, either the saved or the lost. He spent his life selflessly sacrificing himself and putting his needs and rights in second place. He describes the impact this attitude had on his life in his second letter to the Corinthians:

I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Why was Paul willing to go through all of this? So that he might share the gospel with those who had not yet heard it. As he so clearly states, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23 ESV). He had experienced the blessings of the gospel first hand and was not willing for anyone to miss out on hearing the same message that had radically transformed his life. It is interesting to note that many of us, while highly appreciative of what the gospel has done for us, are unwilling to share it with others. We allow our rights and freedoms to get in the way and hinder us from telling others of the good news of Jesus Christ. We feel we have a right not to associate with those who don’t believe as we do. But Paul would ask us, “how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14 NLT). We are not free to do as we please. We have an obligation, an assignment from God, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. We have been given a job to do. “God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT).

We exist for the sake of the gospel. We sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. We die to self for the sake of the gospel. We give up our rights for the sake of the gospel. We forego our freedoms for the sake of the gospel. We do all things for the sake of the gospel.

 

Convicting Power.

And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. – John 16:8-11 ESV

Jesus had just told His disciples that it would be to their advantage if He went away, because when He left He would send them the Holy Spirit to indwell them. So in place of Jesus’ physical presence, they would have the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. Then Jesus told them one of the aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry: He would convict the world. What is important to remember is that Jesus had already told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would live within them, not just among them. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV). I think it is essential to keep these two thoughts together as we examine this passage. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came He would indwell His followers. But He also said that same Holy Spirit would convict the world (the lost) concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.

It would seem that Jesus is saying that the power of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within the lives of believers would have a convicting influence on the lives of the lost. The Spirit within us provides us with the power to live free from slavery to sin and capable of living righteously and rightly before God. The very presence of Christ’s followers living in the power of the Holy Spirit gives proof of the gospel and brings conviction on the lost. Paul echoed this thought when he wrote, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 ESV).

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul told them, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV). But how were they to expose them? Paul provides the answer. “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, Awake, O sleeper,and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:13-16 ESV). Our lives should have a convicting influence on the lost living around us. Our God-given capacity to live righteously, provided by the Holy Spirit within us, will expose the sin and unrighteousness of those who do not yet know Christ. We will live out the truth of the gospel, giving proof of its efficacy.

But our lives, as a result of the Spirit’s presence within us, will also convict the lost world of righteousness. The Greek word Jesus used in this passage was elegchō and it means “to bring to the light, to expose.” It can also mean “to refute” and “to show one his fault.” It would seem that Jesus is saying that the righteousness of His disciples, made possible by His coming sacrificial death and the Spirit’s indwelling presence, would expose the false righteousness of the world. Self-righteousness can never measure up to Christ's righteousness. And it is only Christ’s righteousness that makes us right with God. It is not what we do as Christians that makes us right with God, but what Jesus did for us on the cross. Our positional righteousness before God, made possible by Christ, and our practical, everyday righteousness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, will convict the lost of their false righteousness. Which then leads to the Spirit’s final point of conviction: Judgment.

Without the righteousness Christ provides, the lost have no hope. They are condemned and destined to an eternity separated from the love of God. But our presence among them provides proof that forgiveness is possible and the gift of grace made available through Christ's death on the cross is free to all who will accept it. But those who refuse will suffer judgment. One of the primary ways in which the lost will be convicted of sin, righteousness and judgment is through the sharing of the gospel. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been commissioned to spread the good news regarding His death, burial and resurrection and the free gift of salvation He has made possible. What makes the gospel “good news” is the fact that it stands in direct opposition to the “bad news.” Man is sinful, unrighteousness and stands condemned and convicted of rebellion against a holy and just God. He has no way of fixing his problem, apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. As we share the good news regarding God’s love as revealed in His sacrifice of His own Son, it will bring conviction on those who hear. And as we live out the life-transforming reality of that message in our daily lives, we will be light, exposing the darkness and convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

News Worth Appreciating and Sharing.

Romans 10:1-15

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? – Romans 10:14 NLT

For nine chapters, Paul has made a big deal out of the Good News. He has been the undeserving recipient of it. He lives day by day in the power made available through it. He has spent his life telling others about it. He even longs for his own nation, the people of Israel, to discover the joy and freedom of salvation through Christ, rather than through their continued efforts at trying to keep the law of Moses. But in spite of his efforts to share the Good News with the Jewish people, they didn't respond favorably. He wrote, "they don't understand God's way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God's way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law" (Romans 10:3 NLT). But their refusal to accept the Good News never stopped Paul from sharing it. Why? Because he knew from first-hand experience the freedom, joy, peace, contentment, and hope it could bring. So he preached the message of faith relentlessly, tirelessly, and obsessively. He wanted anyone and everyone to know that "it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved" (Romans 10:10 NLT). He told anyone who would listen, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13 NLT). He didn't worry about whether they were going to respond positively or negatively. He saw his job as that of sharing and proclaiming. It was God's job to save.

Paul saw his role as a messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as vital and non-negotiable. He had been shown grace and mercy from God. He had been given a second chance. And he wanted to extend that same offer of redemption and reconciliation with God to every person with whom he came into contact – whether that person was a Jew or a Gentile, rich or poor, slave or free, influential or inconsequential. Paul believed what Isaiah 52:7 said: "How beautiful are the feet of the messengers who bring good news!" He realized that he had a responsibility to tell others what had happened to him and for him. The Good News has to be proclaimed. The message of salvation needs to be shared. Paul's logic is impeccable and impenetrable. "But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent" (Romans 10:14-15 NLT). Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had been sent. Not long after his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus, he had received a God-appointed visit from Ananias, who told him, "The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard" (Acts 22:14-15 NLT). Not long after that, Jesus Himself told Paul, "Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21 NLT). And Paul took his commission seriously. He went to the Gentiles. He told everyone what he had seen and heard. He gave his testimony of life change. He shared how men could be made right with God. He witnessed to the life-transformative power of God made available through the death of Jesus Christ. And many believed. Many called on the name of the Lord and were saved. Many confessed with their mouths that Jesus is Lord and believed in their hearts that God had raised him from the dead, and they were saved.

But Paul wasn't the first and last messenger. He wasn't the only one to receive a commission. Jesus had told the disciples, just prior to His ascension, "And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NLT). Matthew records these well-known words from Jesus that have stood as the commission and calling for every Christ-follower since the earliest days of the church until now. "Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20. We have news to share. We have a commission to accomplish. We have Good News to announce to the nations. But could the reason many of us fail to share be because we fail to truly appreciate what we have received? Does the Good News mean as much to us as it did to Paul? Are we blown away by the grace and mercy of God and can't help but tell others what He has done for us – in spite of us? Paul was a transformed man. He was truly free. He had lived much of his life trying to make himself right with God, but had been released from the dead-end pursuit by the unmerited, unearned favor of God. He couldn't help but tell others what God had done for him. "I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn't preach the Good News!" (1Corinthians 9:16b NLT). What about you? Are you compelled by God to share the Good News? Would you ever consider it "terrible" should you NOT be able to share? Paul was driven by a passion to see people escape condemnation and death, not just go to heaven. He was motivated by a strong desire to see people released from captivity to sin and self-righteousness. His own salvation became the his greatest motivation for telling others about Jesus. His gratitude to God flowed out in his attitude of compassion for others.

Father, may my awareness of the magnitude of Your gracious gift motivate me to share what I have received with others. Give me a growing passion for proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone I meet. My job is not to save anyone, but to share with everyone. Thank You that someone told me. Now may I be a willing witness to others. Amen.