A Bible Lesson on Matthew 11:20-12:14

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Matthew 11:20  Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.

“Then” is probably as much a logical “then” as it is reference to a specific time referring to events in the previous verse.  Logically, Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing in Galilee.  He’s drawn crowds, but the real nature of His person and work has not been accepted/appreciated.  In particular, though He’s come preaching the arrival of the Kingdom of God, there has been no serious repentance.

All Biblical preaching involves a call to repentance.  The nearness of the King ought to cause His subjects to live respecting that presence, and in harmony with His rule, reign, and law.  And there has been no general repentance.  Jesus grieves over the towns where He has been.

21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

“Woe/alas Chorazin!”  “Woe/alas Bethsaida!”  These are expressions of grief on the part of Jesus, not warnings at this point.  There are a number of contrasts between these little towns of Galilee and the formerly great Phoenician coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon that Jesus mentions.  For one, there is a huge difference in size and worldly importance.  It’s Nevada, Iowa, and Los Angeles, California.

Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 26-28 speak about Tyre and Sidon and give the picture of proud, money-mad, wicked, cruel people.  Amos 1:9 says that the people of Tyre sold the people of Israel into slavery to the Edomites.  Joel 3:6 talks about the Phoenicians selling the children of Judah and of Jerusalem to the Greeks.  These were not nice people.  They are a symbol of pagan arrogance, but the light those people had was relatively small.

Chorazin and Bethsaida were of little worldly account, and they were without doubt far more moral than were ancient Tyre and Sidon, in all probability not much different from or any worse than any other Jewish town.  But Jesus had preached in them and had healed in them, so their light was great.  And with light, always, always, always comes responsibility.

Jesus mentions specifically the testimony of His “mighty works.”  It seems He’s likely referring to miracles, probably mostly healings.  In these acts of mercy there is ample testimony to who He is, and Jesus, the only One in the universe that can with certainty say what would have been “if,” says that “if” they had light equal to the Jewish towns, the pagans would have recognized the presence of God and repented.  They would have prostrated themselves before the King, and grieved over their foolish flaunting of His law and rebellion against Him.  They would have shown good sense.

22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

By human religious standards, this is a surprise.  Tyre and Sidon were notorious, their people were bold brazen big sinners.  By contrast, there surely wasn’t much outward evil going on in Chorazin or Bethsaida.  But Jesus says that God’s judgment will be more awful for the Jewish towns of Galilee than for the pagan Tyre and Sidon.  Amazing.  How can that be?  Well, there is stupid uninformed crass flagrant rebellion against God’s law, and while that is not a good or pretty thing, Jesus plainly says that it pales in comparison to the seriousness of willfully ignoring His direct presence and invitation to salvation.  The regret on the day of judgment will be far more bearable for the former than the latter.  For both, the loss will be absolute, but those with more light will fall farther and the misery be greater.

23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

And there is this contrast between Capernaum and ancient Sodom,  Capernaum was Jesus’s base of operations, seemingly an adopted home.  Commentators’ best guess seems to be that the folks of Capernaum were sort of proud of having their own “home town prophet” in Jesus.  But that’s the wrong reaction!  If the Kingdom of God is near, there ought to be humility, reverence, repentance.  But there really hasn’t been any on a large scale.

Again, Jesus, the only One who could say with certainty how things would have been if roles were reversed, says that notorious sinners of Sodom, given the light that had been seen in Capernaum, would have repented and avoided the destruction of God’s judgment.  For Capernaum to miss the real implication of the presence of Jesus is no small thing.  You will be brought down to Hades/the abode of the dead/Sheol.  These words are very close to those used by God in Isaiah 14:13-15 speaking about the arrogant King of Babylon.

Isaiah 14:13  You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;

14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.

As applied to the people who have witnessed Jesus’s works, this is terrible condemnation.  Capernaum’s practical indifference to the presence of the King is as damnable as the arrogance of the King of Babylon.  The Isaiah passage is even thought to be applicable to Satan himself.  Imagine, a small Jewish town of maybe 2000 being characterized this way.  Fail to respond to the presence of Christ and all is lost.

24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

With light comes responsibility.  Indifference to the Son of God is (as the quote indicates) plain and damnable arrogance and pride.  He is, as Paul says in Colossians 1, the center of all things.  He made all, He presently upholds all, He is the end of all.  To act and think as if one rather than He is in the center is destruction.

The light that Sodom had was pretty dim.  Lot didn’t exactly brighten up the night sky with it.  Capernaum had the pure white light of Christ in its midst.  The regret of missing that will be far worse than Sodom’s regret.  France put it this way, “Arrogance and immorality will be punished, but not so severely as the rejection of God’s direct appeal.  Only the rejection of forgiveness is unforgivable.”

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;

The “at that time” here (as does the “then” in verse 20) tells us that this is Jesus’s response to what is going on: His rejection by the Jews, especially the Jewish religious leadership, the ones who consider themselves “wise and understanding.”  If these folks had lived up to their reputations and their own thinking about themselves, they would have understood “these things,” namely the truth about who He is and what He is doing.  But the Father has purposely hidden these things from them.

Isaiah 29:14  therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Spiritual understanding does not depend upon human capability or status, it is the gift of God.  It is His sovereign work, and He chooses to bestow it on the humble.  The Father reveals the truth about Jesus to those who do not think themselves wise or deserving.  Jesus is not making some romantic mushy statement about the natural goodness/innocence of kids.  Nor is He commending purposeful stupidity and indolence.  He is rather saying that it is the Father’s sovereign choice to grant salvation to the spiritually humble.  Ryle wrote about this, “One thing, at all events, stands out in Scripture, as a great practical truth to be held in everlasting remembrance: those from whom the Gospel is hidden are generally ‘the wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight;’ those to whom the Gospel is revealed are generally humble, simple-minded, and willing to learn.”

Is that really so hard to fathom?  God is completely out of our class, our Maker and Sustainer, so far beyond us in every dimension that our deluded little notions of our own grandeur are silly on the face of them.  If a person insists on beginning from those silly notions, ought we be surprised that the person fails to find the truth?  It is the fear of the LORD that is the beginning of wisdom, and stubborn human arrogance is the very antithesis of that.

The parallel passage in Luke says

Luke 10:21  In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Jesus rejoiced in this.  It is good, it is fitting, it is right, that God opposes the proud and arrogant and shows mercy to the humble.  How could He abide rebellion in His presence?  It brought Jesus joy and should bring His people joy that God graciously chooses to give salvation to the humble.

26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Jesus now makes a sweeping breathtaking claim to divinity and oneness with the Father.

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.

There are 4 stunning claims here:

  1. at the express will of His Father, He, Jesus, is in command of the Universe,
  2. the only One who fully knows Jesus is the Father,
  3. the only One who fully knows the Father is Jesus, and
  4. the only way that an ordinary person will know the Father is through the work of Jesus.

Those are just chocked full of stuff that is central to the way things are and absolutely contrary to the thinking of most humans.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father.  It’s not “the” Father in this instance, it’s “my” Father.  In this matter Jesus is speaking in his unique role as the second person of the Trinity, not as one of us.  And He says something that is either true or insane.  By the will of His Father, He’s in command of ALL THINGS.  He’s here in full harmony with the Father, with the full authority of the Father, to act on behalf of the Father.  The C.S. Lewis possibilities of liar, lunatic, or Lord come in focus here.  These are the only ones available to describe One who says this.

No one “knows.”  The Greek means to know exactly, completely, through and through.  It indicates intimate relationship.  The exclusive communion of the Father and the Son is the essence of their relationship.  And there is none other who has this kind of relationship with the Father.  On both sides of this, there is the mystery of God and His gracious revelation.  Those there and people today think that they have Jesus figured out.  Our silly post-moderns think they can get to “the real” Jesus by making Him to be one like us.

Even ones of good will have trouble holding simultaneously His great divinity and humanity.  Who really knows who Jesus is?  Only the Father, but Jesus has just said that the Father has graciously chosen to reveal the truth about Him to the humble of heart.  On the other side of it, Jesus plainly claims that only He truly knows the Father.  Again, this is either completely true or outrageous.  And if it is true, then you and I are in a totally different class as regards our knowledge of the Father than He.  EXCEPT, Jesus says, by the purposeful revelation of the Son!  How is it that a mere mortal can come to God, have any true relationship with or know in any real sense the One true and living God?  ONLY by the mediation of the Son!  Not by good works, not by meditation, not by appeal to any made-up religious mumbo-jumbo.  ONLY by the gracious work of Jesus to reveal Him.

Together, verses 25-27 say plainly that salvation and knowledge of God is only for the humble of heart, at the pleasure and revelation of the Father and Son, who are perfectly one in purpose and intimate relationship.  This is the Christian Gospel.  This is the absolutely exclusive claim of Jesus.  This is what makes Christ both so loved and so despised in this world.  The humble of heart to whom He’s been revealed and to whom He reveals the Father rejoice in Him and His salvation.  Those stiff of neck and full of pride hate the real presentation of who He says He is.  There really is no middle ground.

This One who says He is the only One who firsthand knows the Father now issues an invitation.  Ryle says, “The last three verses of this chapter … are indeed most precious.  They meet the trembling sinner who asks, ‘Will Christ reveal His Father’s love to such a one as me?’ with the most gracious encouragement.”

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Come!  Who is it that Jesus invites?  It’s not ones who feel themselves up to the job of approaching God in their own righteousness and worthiness, but rather ALL those who are worn down with the burden of sin and sorrow that comes to us as children of Adam.  It refers to ALL those who are weary from having carried a heavy load.  Calvin phrased it as ” … those who are overwhelmed by their sins, who are filled with alarm at the wrath of God, and are ready to sink under so weighty a burden … let our miseries drive us to seek Christ …”   If we really don’t see how undone we are in our sin, there is really no humility in us.  But if ANYONE will come to Him in misery of sin, He promises rest of conscience, rest of heart.  He promises real rest, built on pardon of sin and peace with God.  He promises to make things right.  It is relief, not an opportunity to kick back and take it easy, but rather the mercy that we so desperately need.  In fact

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.

The Jews spoke of obedience to the Law as taking on the yoke of the Law.  Yokes worn by human beings are fashioned to make the carrying of a load easier than without the yoke.  Jesus invites us to come and take His yoke and learn “from” or learn “about” Him.  Jesus is gentle and meek, and in learning to imitate Him, to come humbly to the Father, there is rest from the impossible misery of trying to present ourselves to God in our own merits.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The yoke is not one of obedience to external commandments, but rather one of grateful loyalty to a gentle savior.  Jesus’ yoke is not “easy” because it is not demanding, but because it is an invitation to discipleship/relationship with Him who is gentle and lowly of heart.  It is a yoke of love, not a yoke of duty.  Ryle again wrote, “No doubt there is a cross to be carried, if we follow Christ; no doubt there are trials to be endured, and battles to be fought: but the comforts of the Gospel far outweigh the cross.” Green said, “It is the response of the liberated, not the duty of the obligated.”

We now come to the beginning of the resistance to the ministry of Jesus. In Chapter 12 there are a number of incidents where the religious leaders begin to reveal their antagonism towards Jesus.

Matthew 12:1  At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.

2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”

We’re not told where Jesus and the disciples are headed, but the Pharisees are along.  And they seem to be there looking for reason to find fault with Jesus.   They see the disciples picking and eating some grain and take the opportunity to see if Jesus will uphold their elaboration of the Old Testament law.  Note that they are not complaining about the fact that the grain was not planted by the disciples.  In fact, the Old Testament specifically provided for people to snack in this manner.

Deuteronomy 23:25  If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.

The rub was that the disciples were doing what they were doing on the Sabbath.  The 4th commandment reads as follows.

Exodus 20:8  “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,

10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.

11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Pharisees, in their attempt to approve themselves before God by the meticulous keeping of the law, had expanded on the commandment to name literally 39 kinds of “work” that were forbidden on the Sabbath.  In their system, they could charge the disciples with reaping, winnowing, threshing and preparing a meal, based on the picking and eating of the grain.  But that certainly goes beyond the plain meaning or intention of the 4th commandment.  What the disciples did was incidental, and only in the most far-fetched interpretation could be interpreted as a real violation of God’s moral law.  But the Pharisees want to make an issue of it and see if Jesus will toe the party line.

Rather than condemn his disciples for what wasn’t really a violation of the 4th commandment, in good rabbinical fashion, Jesus answers their question with a question and a reference to a scriptural case.

3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:

4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

Some modern interpretations of these verses make it out as if Jesus is establishing some kind of general principle here that on the basis of human need God’s law can be suspended.  I don’t think that’s the point at all.  Instead I believe that Jesus is saying “Look, neither scripture nor yourselves condemns David and his followers for eating the shewbread.  Let’s make a comparison here.  In the first place what the disciples have done doesn’t violate Scripture and in the second place, I, the Son of David am greater than David.  I’m the fulfillment where David was only the shadow or prefiguring.  If those traveling with David were not wrong in eating the shewbread, how could these guys possibly be wrong in having a snack in the field?”

Then Jesus answers with a second question and scriptural reference.

5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?

The principle is that worship in the temple needed to go on even (or especially) on the Sabbath.  So something has to give.  Either the temple worship or a very strict interpretation of the 4th commandment has to give.  And the priority is the worship of God, not a ridiculously narrow interpretation of the 4th commandment.

6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.

Here’s one that must make the Pharisees’ hair stand on end!  Jesus has unmistakably, for a second time made a claim to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament types and shadows.  He’s not only the Son of David, but He’s the fulfillment of the temple worship.

7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Jesus quotes from Hosea.

Hosea 6:6  For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

The word translated “steadfast love/mercy” is the Hebrew word “hesed.”  It is the word sometimes translated “lovingkindness.”  It is a constant/unfailing love.  It is a covenant love, a love that will not fail regardless of circumstances.  God desires our full unlimited devotion, not simply the rote keeping of a set of rules.

The Pharisees hoped to approve themselves to God by the keeping of rules.  When that’s your supposed means of obtaining righteousness, you don’t see things clearly.  You look for minor violations of the rules in others as a means of convincing yourself that you are making it (and they, of course, are not).  That’s what the Pharisees were doing with the disciples, and Jesus says so and then, again, makes a clear claim to be the Messiah.

8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Listen Pharisees, if you see your elaborations on the 4th commandment and Me coming into conflict here, you’d better decide that it is your rules that must give way (just as the narrow interpretation of the 4th commandment has to yield in the case of the temple worship).

9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue.

Luke 6:6 makes it clear that this incident occurs on another Sabbath (perhaps the next).  The Pharisees have had time to think things over, realize that Jesus is not going to uphold their elaborations on the Law and understand that he was claiming to be Messiah.

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.

These are not honest hearts.  They are not coming to Jesus wanting to learn.  They’re instead hoping to catch him in an error so as to debunk His Messianic pretensions.  There is nothing in the Old Testament prohibiting healing on the Sabbath.  However, their amplification of the 4th commandment allowed as how one could give medical aid if a life was in danger, and one could do what was necessary to keep a person’s condition from deteriorating.  But one could not give aid intended to help a patient get better.  For example, you could bandage a wound, but could not put ointment on the bandage on the Sabbath.  In this context, they see the man with the shriveled hand and try to goad Jesus into healing him and thereby breaking their rules.  Note that before it was the disciples who had broken their rules.  Jesus had simply refused to condemn them for eating the grain.  Here the Pharisees hope to get Jesus in the act.

Again, in good rabbinical fashion, Jesus answers a question with a question.  He essentially is going to say “You guys are asking the wrong question.  The issue is not whether it is wrong to WORK on the Sabbath.  The issue is whether it is wrong to DO GOOD on the Sabbath.”  The Pharisees, in their proliferation of rules had created ones here that simply make no sense in the light of Scripture.  For one thing, if healing comes from God anyway (and the Pharisees would have admitted that it does), how could it even be possible to heal if doing so was wrong?  Jesus proceeds to show how absurd their addition to God’s law actually is.

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?

“You guys would surely give aid to a stupid animal.  In fact your rules specifically allow for it!  But they don’t allow for doing good to a human being created in the image of God?”  Jesus is essentially saying that this is nonsense.  Not only won’t keeping the rules approve one to God, but in this case the rules are flat wrong.

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.

The Son of God does here what only God can do.  He makes the man whole.  But that certainly does not please the Pharisees.

14  But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

This is tremendously ironic.  The Pharisees hold that it’s wrong for Jesus to heal, but it’s OK for them to plot murder on the Sabbath.  This is a testimony to the blackness of the human heart.  Once we make up our minds to make our own way, we’re capable of incredible blindness.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 10:1-33

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

At the end of Matthew 9, grieved at the misery of Israel and humanity in general, Jesus tells the disciples to pray that God would send out workers into His field, that He would provide shepherding for sheep without a shepherd.  Now Jesus, the Great Shepherd, now turns to those same disciples and commissions them to go out in His name and do exactly what He’s been doing.  Commentators look at this passage as a first Christian ordination service.  What Jesus commands here is relevant both in the fairly short term, where the mission is limited in time and extent, and in the long term where it extends to the end of this age and to the ends of the earth.

Matthew 10:1  And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.

Jesus has authority.  That was evident to all.  He acted and He taught with authority.  In a limited way, His disciples are given that authority as they go forth to minister in His name, on His behalf, according to His purposes.

2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;

3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;

4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

This is quite a crew.  There is genuine diversity here.  All kinds of occupations and temperaments are represented here.  As many have noted, if they weren’t Christ’s, Simon the Zealot probably wouldn’t have thought twice about throttling the “Roman collaborator” Matthew!  The apostle John who gave us the Gospel of John was not at all the same kind of impetuous fellow as Peter.  Judas proved to be a traitor.  All of this Jesus knew in advance, and here they are together being commissioned.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,

6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

For the time being, the mission is to Israel.  This is not the last word on the matter.  The commission in Matthew 28 is to go to the ends of the earth.  But here in the short run, Jesus tells the disciples to confine their work to God’s people Israel.

7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

The KJV uses “preach,” but the sense in modern language is indeed “proclaim.”  It is to the job of a herald for the King, to announce His presence.  John proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom in the sense that it was on the way in time.  Jesus and His disciples proclaim the kingdom’s present nearness in space.  Jesus is here, bringing His kingdom.  What’s the cure for the misery of humanity?  It’s Christ and His righteous rule and reign.

8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.

In Luke 10, the 72 report that demons are subject to their commands.  The book of Acts is full of healings and raising of the dead in Christ’s name.  In the long term, the miseries of the fall will be ended forever with the coming of Christ’s kingdom.  Sickness, death, demonic activity will all yield to the gracious coming of the kingdom of Christ.

Of course, none of these benefits ought to be for sale by Christ’s disciples.  They are the good gifts of God, both in the short term and in the long.  We ought to recoil at the notion of treating the grace of God as a commodity to be traded on.  But the instruction here goes beyond that.  Christ tells His disciples to be largely oblivious to economic/material considerations as they go about His work.

9 Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts,

10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.

The emphasis here is on not carrying spare stuff … no extra cash, no extra clothing or extra provisions.  The mission is too vital and pressing to be worrying about carrying stuff that might prove useful sometime in the future but in the present is extra weight.  If one is on the King’s business, one can (and indeed must) expect the King to provide the moment-by-moment physical support that is needed.

11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.

12 As you enter the house, greet it.

13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

Initial “worthiness” in this context seems to be decency and hospitality.  Any Jewish visitor to a Jewish town should expect to be given hospitality.  This is instruction to take it where it is offered, pronouncing a blessing as a home is entered.  If that home proves to be less than honorable/unworthy of the Gospel, then there is no loss to the disciple or the Kingdom.  The Gospel has come near, bringing the potential for peace and blessing, and any loss is the home’s.  And the loss is complete in any place where there is no real reception of the proclamation of the King’s proximity.

14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.

15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Here is serious warning.  Not even gross immorality is in the class of failure to embrace the Good News of the presence coming of the Kingdom.  God’s Son, Messiah, Savior is here.  Indifference to that will damn the soul.  To shake off the dust is to very visibly and emphatically warn the home or town.  Barnes describes it as a statement that the object is completely impure, profane, pagan.   Eternal regret for blessing squandered/despised will be greatest for those given the greatest light.

Jesus now begins to tell the disciples what they can expect to meet.  They are to go and proclaim.  They carry wonderful good news of the Kingdom.  But that doesn’t mean they should expect to be well-treated.

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Barnes’s rendering of the first phrase is: “I send you, inoffensive and harmless, into a cold, unfriendly, and cruel world. Your innocence will not be a protection.”  Sheep are in constant danger and can count only on their Shepherd for protection.  This is stark realism on the part of Christ.  This is a fallen world and there is real evil.  Christ’s disciples ought not be surprised when God’s Kingdom and they as its heralds are not welcomed, and indeed attacked.  Don’t be naïve, Christian disciples.  Be as prudent as serpents and as harmless as doves (with purity of intention).  Snakes know how to make for cover when there is danger.  Doves don’t injure or look for danger and they don’t deserve wrath.  Christians will be attacked, but shouldn’t seek martyrdom and or do anything genuinely deserving hatred.

17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,

Again, this is not to surprise Christ’s disciples.  Jesus is laying out the temporal cost of obedience that will be paid by at least some believers, and especially the apostles.  There will be persecution and abuse from the religious.  And that will morph into “legal” proceedings.

18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.

Beginning with the apostles, Christian people through the centuries have been charged by governments with all kinds of ridiculous things … that in the end boil down to one thing: loyalty to the real King and Lord.  Their trials before civil authorities are then ultimately for the sake of Christ and are opportunities to bear witness to the truth about Him and His Kingdom.  The real concern in those trials is not obtaining justice (there is no promise of such) or protecting the reputation of the disciple.  It is about maintaining the honor of the King.  The concern of the disciple must be the reputation of the King.  And the promise here is that where the disciple has been as prudent as a snake and as innocent as a dove, when the time comes Christ will indeed be honored.

19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.

20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

God will be true to Himself.  The promise here is not for eloquence, or for powers of persuasion, or necessarily even for articulation of perfect theology.  It is rather that the humble disciple of Christ depending upon Him when called to account for His name sake will ultimately not dishonor Him.  Simple Christian people depending upon Christ in persecution have burned brightly for Him throughout history, by the grace and power of His Spirit.

21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,

This is a more or less direct quote from the prophet Micah.

Micah 7:6  for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

The situation that produced the misery in Micah is not the same as that here in Matthew, but the end is similar.  The Christian believer need not think that there have never been such hard times.  He or she must, however, not be surprised or wilt under that misery.  The message here is “Don’t be surprised by persecution from governments and even family.  Hold fast.  To give up is not an option.  This is for eternity.”

22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

The first part of this verse is plain.  Believers cannot deny Christ, but they are not to be looking for martyrdom.  When persecution comes, if there is an honorable way to escape, it is completely appropriate to take it.  The second part of the verse is not so plain.  Which coming?  What is meant by “towns of Israel”?  There are many opinions, none completely convincing.  What is clear is the urgency here.  Believers are to carry the Gospel with them across the world and it’s to be widely shared.  In the short term, these being sent out need to get going.  In the long term we are all to be about proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom.

Again to the matter of persecution there is this:

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.

25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

There is no reason for Christian people to expect better treatment than was given Christ.  Jesus has already been maligned and knew He was on the way to Calvary.  Christian people are not called to purposely incite needless ill will from the world, but persecution surely will come.  It’s guaranteed.  In fact, in the same way that kids might pick on a small child when they’d be afraid of his big brother, cowards will persecute innocent Christian believers … and ultimately cower before the Master of those believers.

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.

So, don’t be afraid.  In the first place, the truth will ultimately be vindicated/brought to light.  If that’s not so in this life, then it will surely be so in the next.  The believer who patiently holds onto Christ will be shown to have acted in wisdom and faith.  That will be plain to the whole universe.  Against that grand realization, what sense does fear make?  Instead, what is true about Jesus ought to be boldly proclaimed, shouted for all to hear.

27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Don’t be afraid, in light of whose approval really matters.  Reformation history tells us that when John Knox was buried, eulogy spoken by one Regent Mortin included the words “Here lies one who neither flattered nor feared any flesh.”  There’s the account of Bishop Hugh Latimer (later martyred by Mary Queen of Scots) speaking audibly to himself during the English reformation as he preached with King Henry the 8th in attendance, “Latimer, Latimer, be careful what you say.  The king is here.  …  Latimer, Latimer, be careful what you say.  The King of kings is here.”  Christian people know that God is always “in the room.”  If He is who the Scriptures say He is, our absolutely constant concern must be His glory, not our reputation or comfort.  (Latimer’s words to his fellow martyr Ridley as they went to be burned at the stake were “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”)

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Don’t be afraid, in light of your great value and the superintending providence of God.  Humans all bear His image.  Christian people bear His name, are His special chosen delight.  He is active in His creation and every last creature is His concern.  If this is so, can anything come to a Christian believer that catches Him by surprise or ought to cause a disciple fear?  Arguing from the lesser to the greater, indeed if He cares individually for small birds He surely knows the situations of His saints.

32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,

33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Be of good courage and have the long view.  This is for keeps.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 9:18-38

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The account of the raising of Jairus’s daughter that is a main part of this lesson is treated more in more detail in Mark 5:21-43 and Luke 8:40-56.

Matthew 9:18  While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”

“knelt before him” is a term suggesting deep courtesy, a pleading homage before someone in a position to grant a favor.  This is an important Jewish synagogue official, a member of a group that is beginning to count Jesus as a dangerous heretic, someone who has to be at the end of his rope/desperate in order to come to this place.  But there’s a kernel of real faith here.  He is willing to humble himself and throw his situation on the mercy of Christ.  And Christ is merciful.

19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples.

Jesus doesn’t turn away the desperate, waiting until their motives or understanding are more pure. He got up and went with this man.

Then in the middle of this story of Jairus, it’s as if the camera zeros in and the action around Jesus is frozen except for this little scene that we hear through the thoughts of the woman.

20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment,

We know from the other Gospels that this woman is also desperate.  She’s spent her entire livelihood hoping to get cured from what seems to be a menstrual problem.  The consequences of her condition in this culture are that everything and anyone she touches are considered ceremonially unclean.  She can’t go to the temple, she can’t have normal interaction with other people, she’s in a terrible state.  If her condition were known to the people around, her presence would be considered to be as rude and forward as if someone with the plague had forced his or her way into a public gathering.

21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.”

Now her theology isn’t great.  It seems that there’s some superstition mixed in with her thinking here, but again, there’s a kernel of real faith.  She knows that it’s Jesus that can heal and she’s willing to appeal to Him.

22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

“Take heart” indeed.  She’s literally been “an untouchable” and now she’s done something completely socially unacceptable by making her way to and touching Jesus.  Anyone here (except Jesus) who knows her situation is going to be horrified-to-irate.  Jesus begins by setting her heart at ease.  Then He tells her that it’s not magic by which she’s been healed, it is the fact that she has cast herself upon the mercy of God, that she has appealed to the Son of God.

Modern “faith” heretics imply that it’s her state of mind that’s done the job, that she’s been able to name and claim her healing.  But real Biblical faith is trusting in, relying upon, cleaving to, casting oneself on the mercy of God, and that’s what’s in evidence here.

23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion,

Professional mourners and flute players were hired by even the poorest of families.  The commotion here at a ruler’s house has to substantial.

24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.

This isn’t a mistake on the part of Jesus, neither is it a literal truth that she is merely unconscious.  She is dead dead.  She is gone.  Jesus is speaking in light of what He’s going to do.

From the point of view of the man in the street here, this is almost pathetic.  Jesus has messed up and not even gotten here in time.  The kid is gone, and now this deluded fellow is making matters worse by acting as if the game isn’t over!  If this weren’t the Son of God, this would be a sensible point of view.  But the fact is that this is the Son of God.

25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.

26 And the report of this went through all that district.

Now a third incident …

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”

These men may be physically blind, but they see better than many others that have physical sight.  They recognize Him for who He is, God’s Son, Messiah.  And if He is Messiah, they can expect Him to deal with their physical problem.  Isaiah said so..

Isaiah 35:5  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

The understanding of these men regarding what kind of Messiah He is is almost surely imperfect.  They call Him “son of David,” a name loaded with popular expectations of political liberation and Jewish national power.  But they do have some light and they are determined.  Blind though they are, they follow Jesus home.

28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.”

29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”

“according to your faith” means “since you believe”  It is not “as you believe, so is your prayer granted.”  Again, these guys have cast themselves on the mercy of Christ.  Is their understanding perfect?  No, it is not.  But God doesn’t require that of us up front.  What He requires is a humble heart and our crying out to Him for grace.

30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.”

Jesus is not anxious for wrong popular expectations of a political Messiahship to multiply.  But as one commentator says, the men didn’t stay with Him long enough to learn obedience.

31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

It’s an interesting feature of this story, that since there are two of them they together meet the Jewish requirement for 2 witnesses to confirm legal testimony.

32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him.

Deafness and muteness in the New Testament are not by any means always attributed to a demonic source, but in this case there is demon possession.

33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.”

Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel (and by implication, if not here, then nowhere!)  Ladd said, “The scribes taught and nothing happened.  Jesus spoke and demons fled, storms were settled, dead were raised, sins forgiven … His authority in deeds and words was nothing less than the presence of the Kingdom of God.”

34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”

Boice contrasts 3 ways of speaking about Christ seen in these few verses.  The crowds spoke about Him, the Pharisees spoke against Him, and the demon-possessed man spoke for Him.  Jesus has ministered to ordinary people, people that the authorities would have called “people of the land,” people of little account.  He’s had compassion on their misery and responded to their simple trust.  In the same period there have been many in the same proximity to Him who have been fundamentally unaffected, or even taken offense at Him.

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.

Jesus went.  Jesus was going about.  The Greek indicates continued action.  Jesus is continuing to do exactly what Matthew has already said in Matt 4:23 He was doing.  He’s teaching the Scriptures and filling out their implications as He did in the Sermon on the Mount.  He’s preaching the good news of the Kingdom, He’s acting as a herald, saying that God’s kingdom is here.  And He’s doing acts of mercy that only He can do.

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

 The English fails to capture the depth of Jesus’ emotion here.  The “had compassion” is the strongest word for pity in the Greek language.  It describes the compassion that moves a man from the deepest depths of his being.  Green says it is something like “He was moved in His guts.”  In the Gospels, apart from its use in some parables, it only refers to Jesus.  J.C. Ryle does a wonderful job of emphasizing the compassionate nature of Jesus and making the point that if we claim to have the mind of Christ, and don’t have that heart, we are just fooling ourselves.  This is the nature of our great Savior.

“harassed and helpless” is literally “torn and thrown down.”  Jesus sees Israel and humanity in general in a terrible state.

The whole of Ezekiel 34 is relevant to humans as sheep needing a gracious shepherd.  For example, hear verses 22-24.

Ezekiel 34:22  I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.

23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.

Jesus is moved with deep compassion concerning lost humanity and He tells the disciples to pray for ones capable of shepherding these miserable sheep.

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;

38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

It is not an accident that the next thing we hear from Matthew is Jesus sending these very disciples out to minister in His name.  We are to pray for God’s mercy on our world and for His sending of workers … and we are to go when He sends.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 7

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Much of Mathew 7 concerns relationships between the true Christian disciple and other people, beginning with the disciple’s relationships with fellow believers.  Christianity is not just some private lifestyle or personal world-view, it is a community affair that is lived out with other people.  It involves relationships and Jesus addresses some of these, both inside the family of Christianity and outside.  Recall once more that Jesus is describing His kingdom and the life of a true disciple for the early crowd of potential recruits.  What He’s describing is a kingdom utterly unlike anything else secular or religious that the world has ever known.

Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

You and I both know how our secular society wants this to be heard in our day.  The marching word of our time is “tolerance” and we’re supposed to take this out of the Biblical context (even out of the context of this sermon) and hear Jesus saying “do not apply any discernment to anything … any and everything anyone else believes or does goes … it’s not your business.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A bit further on in this text, Jesus talks about not casting pearls before swine, and warns to be on the lookout for false prophets!  We can’t possibly follow those injunctions if we are, as Spurgeon would have called us, “simpletons.”  Jesus is not speaking 21st century post-modernist mush here.  This is clearly not some kind of denial of universal moral absolutes.

So what is He saying?  He’s outlawing or condemning a personal “censorious” or faultfinding spirit.  He’s saying “don’t be out to find reasons to condemn your brethren.  Don’t put the worst possible face on every set of circumstances involving another.  Don’t be hypercritical and delight in finding one more confirmation that your brother is not perfect, ready to toss him on the garbage pile and be done with him.”   Paul put it this way in 1 Cor 13:6-7 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Jesus is talking about a spirit that is just the opposite of what is described in 1 Cor 13.  Lloyd-Jones in his wonderful book of sermons on Matthew 5-7 properly points out that when you and I participate in this worldly way of thinking and doing, we tell ourselves that we are concerned about principle and truth, when what we are really concerned with is personality.  If we were genuinely concerned about the former, we’d attack our own sin with the same kind of zeal with which we attack others.  But we’re not really concerned about error wherever it might be, we’re concerned about some other person.  We’re really out to pass final judgment not on an act of another, but on the whole of that person.

2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Jesus gives us a warning that if we have any sense, if we’ve been paying any attention to the Beatitudes and the rest of the sermon and know how undone we are personally, we know  we’ve got no place to stand and do this kind of self-righteous impatient number on our brethren.  The truth is, if we can habitually and without repentance do this kind of thing, we aren’t Christian.  Our attitudes give us away and we still stand under the wrath of God.  It’s the matter of the parable of the ungrateful servant.  If God is patient with us, we’ve got no place to be impatient with our brethren.

3 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?

Is there something in my brother’s eye?  Sure!  This is not fantasyland or heaven yet, and we are not fully sanctified.  You bet there is a speck in my brother’s eye.  And it’s not even the case that I am somehow supposed to ignore it or pretend that it isn’t there.  But my problem is firstly me, not him.  The picture is supposed to be ridiculous.  You’ve got a speck in your eye and I am far more concerned about that than I am about the fact that there is a rafter in mine!  That is the way our old natures are.  I’m blind to my own sin and weaknesses, but am ready to let you know about yours.

4 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?

There is no humility in this kind of attitude.  And as a result, the one with the plank cannot possibly help the one with the speck.  If I am living in the Beatitudes and in 1 Cor 13, I deal first with myself.  My whole motivation for anything I would then say to you about your speck is different.  I know how painful/grievous it is to have wood in the eye and how delicate one has to be when removing it.  I’ll not operate on you with obscured vision.  If I do, then clearly my motivation is corrupt.

5 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.

You and I are not God.  We don’t know the whole of anyone else’s circumstances.  It’s not our place to pass final judgment on another and toss him or her on the garbage heap.  And if we’re truly going to help a fellow believer, it’s going to be only after we’ve recognized our own sin and failure.  It’s going to be done most gently and humbly.  The truth is, that’s the only approach that could possibly help anyway.  Anything else only incites the one with the speck to defend its presence.

6 “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.

Gospel truth is the most precious thing on earth.  It is the most wonderful of news.  It is not soap to be handled/sold like Amway.  One size does not fit all in the proclamation of the Gospel.  And with all due respect, communicating it does not reduce to writing out, memorizing and parroting back a stock testimony indiscriminately to whoever, wherever.  I’m not saying we are without obligation to provide a legitimate Gospel witness to all people.  But Jesus says plainly to use our heads.  We do people no favors by telling them things they don’t need to hear or even things they do need to hear in inappropriate ways or times.  The verse demands that we treat those outside the faith as individuals as we try to show them Jesus.  And there will be some hard cases where the only thing consistent with the wonderful precious nature of the message is to back off.

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?

10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?

11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Jesus gives more instructions on prayer.  These may initially seem like a movement in another direction, but the central gist is that God treats us as His children and answers our prayers with great generosity.  That’s absolutely consistent with what Jesus is teaching in this text.  He’s calling on us to treat people meekly, to walk in light of the fact that we are but children of our heavenly Father.  And the promise is that the Father is aware and concerned with the situation of His children.  And that makes everything genuinely OK.  That’s a central message of the whole Bible.  It was the faith of Abraham and is now the faith of all true Christian believers.  Many (including Lloyd-Jones) have quoted an anonymous English Puritan of some 300 years ago who wrote “Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went; but he did know with whom he went.”

And so we come to the apex of the sermon, the “golden rule.”  Before going further, we need to get clear in what sense this is a “rule.”  It is not a “rule” in the sense of some specific narrow injunction that can be focused on and kept/checked off and put into one’s “good/done column.”  It is, rather, a standard or measure.  James Boice called it a “straight-edge” or “ruler.”  It is a measure that covers all human interaction.

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

Commentators always point out that only the negative version of this had ever been put forth before Jesus spoke.  “If you would consider something harmful to yourself, don’t do it to anyone else.”  But this is bigger, much bigger.  I can keep the negative version by staying home and doing nothing.  It’s entirely something else to consider all the good that I would like done for me and set about doing it for others.  It is truly a “golden rule.”  Ryle said, “It settles a hundred difficult points, which in a world like this are continually arising between man and man; it prevents the necessity of laying down endless little rules for our conduct in specific cases; it sweeps the whole debatable ground with one mighty principle; it shows us a balance and measure, by which everyone may see at once what is his duty.”

Indeed, this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  We miss it if we think that “thou shalt not kill” or “if you see your neighbor’s animal loose, round it up for him” are only rules to be kept.  Standing behind them is a self-denying love for others.  If we lived always in a way consistent with the genuine well-being of others, we would keep the Law and Prophets.

Commentators say that with verse 12, Jesus’ description of the radically new kingdom is complete and the rest of the sermon amounts to a call to action, an application of what has gone before.  Jesus isn’t interested in His hearers simply agreeing that indeed He’s laid out a novel new approach to life, He’s interested in them choosing to follow Him in it.  So the sermon ends with a series of warnings that emphasize the seriousness of what has been taught.

13 “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.

14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

This is a contrast between two antithetical/mutually exclusive ways of life.  One is a narrow/restricted gate and path while the other is a broad/roomy gate and path.  One requires the death of the old nature and the other does not.  One is a hard road while one is easy.  One requires constant struggle while the other comes quite naturally.  Lloyd-Jones sees the narrow gate as being rather like a turnstile, allowing through only one person at a time with no baggage, while the going through the other is a whole crew of party-goers, having what they think is a rollicking good time hauling with them all manner of luggage.  To pass through narrow gate, it is necessary to drop the baggage of worldly selfishness, while you can drive a garbage truck through the other one.  The narrow path leads to life, and the travelers on the wide one are apparently oblivious to the fact that it leads to destruction.

It’s worth reflecting on both the honesty and real grandeur of this picture.  Want to join up?  What’s being offered here is the most wonderful of all possible gifts, but it’s not common or easy in this life.  Why should it be?  Nothing worth anything ever is.  In light of eternity, truly the difficulty of the narrow path is simply not a consideration.

Now comes a warning about being fooled along the way by charlatans.

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

What’s the connection to the previous verses?  Probably that what the false prophet offers is an easy way, a way that doesn’t require the kind of death to self that Jesus has been laying out in the Sermon on the Mount.  Lloyd-Jones sees these guys standing in front of the narrow gate doing their best to side-track those who would enter.  This is serious business.  This is heaven and hell.  And if there were no false prophets or the possibility of being deceived, Jesus wouldn’t have bothered with this warning.

These people look like sheep.  They seem harmless. They can be mistaken for sheep, but they are dangerous.  Jesus condemned personal fault-finding and a censorious spirit in the early part of the chapter, but now warns that being taken in is a matter of life and death.  Lloyd-Jones sees these folks as not spouting blatant heresies or committing obvious immoralities, but just not telling the whole story, not providing the radical view of the kingdom Jesus has laid out, and letting on that really, the road’s not so narrow or hard.  He sees them maintaining that it’s possible to get home via the wide road.

How do you tell one when you see him?  Well, because of appearances you might mistake a wolf in a costume for a sheep, but you don’ need to make a mistake about identifying a tree.  If there is any doubt about a tree, just wait to see what it produces.

16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.

18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

The fruit is both words and deeds.  Does one’s teaching square with the picture Jesus has given of His kingdom?  Does it provide the whole Gospel story?  Can the Beatitudes (poverty of spirit, mourning over sin, hunger and thirst for righteousness, meekness, mercy, purity/singleness of heart, peacemaking) and the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) be seen in the person?  If not, you’ve got a wolf/bad tree, no matter how pleasant and attractive it seems.

In the 21st century, we’re unscripturally benevolent in this area, figuring that as long as someone claims to be a “Christian” minister, we’ll count them as one of the team unless their error is obvious.  Jesus isn’t so “benevolent.”

There is the possibility of being thrown off track by ill-intended others.  There is also the possibility of being self-deluded.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

There is no suggestion here that the “Lord, Lord” is intentionally insincere.  These people really think that they should be OK.  They have done stuff.  They’ve done what seems to be powerful stuff.  They’ve done what seems to be “god” stuff.  In the right context what they have done has its place, but their work has not been the will of the Father.  They have never really known Jesus.  The absolutely disarming, penetrating, central, humble stuff of Matthew 5 is something that they know nothing about.  They want to be on Jesus’s team … but on terms other than those He’s laid down in this sermon.  Their righteousness is of their own making.  They are worldlings.  They don’t know Him and He doesn’t know them, and He sends them away. 

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.

27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

The Savior of the sermon, the One who spoke the words beginning with poverty of spirit and running right through the golden rule is the only Salvation and Hope for any human.  We either take Him at His word and love Him and His kingdom, or our entire existence is built on nothing.  It will not stand in the hard things that absolutely will come in life.  It will be utter disaster in eternity.

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,

29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Really.  Look back through the sermon.

Mat 5:11  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Mat 5:17  “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.

Mat 5:22  But I say to you …

Mat 5:28  But I say to you…

Mat 5:32  But I say to you …

Mat 5:39  But I say to you …

Mat 5:44  But I say to you …

Mat 6:2  … Truly, I say to you …

Mat 6:5  … Truly, I say to you …

Mat 6:25  Therefore I tell you …

Mat 6:29  yet I tell you …

And look again at verses 7:21-24

This is the Son of God, not appealing to the opinion of some earlier Rabbi, but speaking as God Himself, assuming the role of Messiah and eternal Judge of the universe.  It only fails to take our breath away because it’s not the first time we’ve heard it. 

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 6

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Beware of practicing your righteousness/piety before men.  The concern here is not with moral or ethical matters, but with the specifically “religious” things that Jesus takes for granted that we will do.  This immediate passage addresses our hearts in benevolence, prayer, and fasting.  The fundamental warning is against doing pious things for wrong reasons, doing them “for show.”  Notice that Jesus has already said that God’s people are light and salt, a city on a hill.  The beauty of Christ ought to be seen in those who are His.  That’s not what’s under discussion here.  Rather it is what goes on in our hearts.  We either do pious things for God, or we do them fundamentally for ourselves.  Our posturing before other people is ultimately for ourselves.  Jesus is warning us about doing right things for wrong reasons.

2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

“When you give …” Jesus takes for granted that His disciples will give, but he warns about hypocrisy.  The Greek word translated “hypocrite” is “actor.”  It’s possible to do good “for the audience.”  Benevolence, prayer and fasting are real things, but human nature is perverse and we will be tempted to debase these real and good things.  Do I do generous benevolent things because that is the loving nature of my Savior, or am I simply on a stage, acting, waiting for your applause?  Jesus warns me that if I’m looking for the applause, that’s all that will follow from the benevolence.  If I make generosity into something selfish, something contrary to the nature of God, it can’t please God.  The “have received their reward in full” is a translation of a technical Greek term for paying off a business account and getting a receipt.

3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

What’s He saying?  Surely I know if I have helped someone.  But, here’s the issue.  Even if I don’t make sure you know how kind I am, do I congratulate myself on the act?  Do I keep account of it and think to myself how gracious I am?  Or do I simply do what is right and good and consistent with the gracious character of the God who is, and forget about it once it is done?!  Is kindness and generosity simply part of living and not something I roll around in my mind, pleased with myself?  The heart that is glad to help, glad to have the wherewithal to do so, and pleased to use God’s resources for His glory will indeed be rewarded.  Not in some kind of way that will amount to a payoff for prescribed behavior, but with God’s presence and approval, with being in line with the way things really are in the present and with joy in eternity.

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Playacting is as much a danger in prayer as in benevolence.  Is my praying a show, or is it honest speaking to a real God?  Barclay relates a description of an ornate and elaborate prayer offered in a Boston church as “the most eloquent prayer ever offered to a Boston audience.”  To whom am I speaking?  To you or to God?  Jesus says that if I’m talking to you, you have heard, and that’s as far as it goes.  But if I’m talking to God it is a different matter.

A self-conscious piety is no piety at all.  The amazing thing is how easily we fool ourselves on this account.  In his sermon on this passage Martyn Lloyd-Jones talked about sin and the danger of giving in to it going with us right into the presence of God.  Whether it is in public that I posture, wanting you to approve how pious and eloquent I am, or it is in private that I pride and congratulate myself on having been so pious as to put in X hours praying, self-conscious religion is no real religion.

6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

This isn’t an injunction against public prayer.  It is a warning about playacting.  If I’m going to pray, I’d best be talking to God, not you.  Our mental “prayer rooms” go with us everywhere there is an honest and true heart.  And even in our corporate praying together, our conversation is with God, not with or for the benefit of each other.  And again, the “reward” isn’t some kind of payoff for correct technique.  It’s the substance of what one is really doing when he or she really prays.  It’s the presence of and fellowship with the God of the universe.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

What do pagans do?  Jesus seems to have in mind here jabbering, making a lot of noise, figuring that if I trance myself, then somehow I’m touching god and he’ll hear me and do what I want.  That’s not the way it is.  The noise level or trance level have nothing to do with it.  Read the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18:19-39.  Praying is not playing some kind of heavenly slot machine, where one puts in words and gets out answers.  It is something that works out of a real relationship with a real person.  Real praying isn’t part of the pervasive 21st century sickness of form over substance.  It’s talking with a real person, indeed THE real person.

This verse is not an instruction to never pray more than once over the same thing.  Jesus also told the parable of the judge and the woman who was heard for her repeated petitions.  Scripture tells us that we are to pray always.  But the point about thoughtless, repetitious babbling stands.

8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Not only is mechanical babbling off the point and ineffective, it doesn’t make any sense.  Prayer is not a matter of getting the point across to a sort of dense “god” that somehow needs to have the situation explained to him.  We are talking to an omniscient Being who knows perfectly our situation and that of every other person in the world.  We’re addressing One who is the very definition of goodness and who has adopted us as children.  We’re not trying to work this God around to grudgingly give us something good.  We’re coming to our Father as little kids come to Dad expressing their dependence upon Dad.

9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Jesus gives us this prayer as a model, an outline around which we can fashion our praying.  In it, in remarkable inspired brevity, is the substance of all that we ought to pray for.  All else is detail.

“Our” He begins.  This is specifically plural.  We are all on the same basis with God.  We can’t somehow put ourselves in a different category with God than others.

“Father”  This is the word “Abba,” a personal intimate form of address.  To this point it has been used by Jesus in speaking to God, but is more intimate than anything that the disciples would have dared to say in prayer without specific instruction to do so.  Christian believers know this God of the Bible on intimate terms.

However, lest we think that this in any way makes us “buddies” with God, makes our relationship have a familiar or chummy nature, look what comes next, “in heaven.”  This God that we are to call on as Father is beyond us, enthroned in heaven.  And look at the way the next phrase is handled.  It is “hallowed be your name.” It is in the passive.  The speaker is recognizing his own unworthiness and inability to properly bring honor to God.  This is an expression of extreme reverence.

Notice carefully where this prayer begins.  It begins with the affairs of God.  May God’s name, which represents His person, which speaks of His revelation as Creator, Sustainer, blessed Controller of all things, Redeemer, and Lord, be honored and accepted by men.  Naturally following from this is a second petition.

10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

This is a prayer that God’s righteous rule and reign come swiftly about.  This is a prayer that all people would bow the knee to their Creator.  Simultaneously it’s a prayer that God act to hasten the final Day of the Lord.

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  This is “May the state of affairs that presently exists in heaven become the state of affairs for humanity!”  This is a prayer that men and women would have the same enthusiastic obedience to God that the angels have.  This is another way of asking both that life on earth better approximate the way things were meant to be, and that God hasten the coming of the Day of the Lord.

Only after concerning ourselves with the honor of God and the complete coming of His rule in the hearts of men, are we to turn to petition for our personal concerns.

11 Give us this day our daily bread,

This is a most simple request for the most basic of foods to sustain the body.  This is not a request for the “good life” that some teach that we are somehow owed or promised as “king’s kids.”  This is a humble request for sustenance for one day.  We would err by failing to bring before our Father the concerns of our daily lives.  On the other hand they aren’t the first or primary thing, and they aren’t elaborate.

Notice that although God has given us all things in Christ, His grace isn’t some kind of large pile of goodies that we can put into our private barn and take out as needed, independent of His person.  It is, rather, part of a living relationship with Him.  That only makes sense.

The word translated “daily” is apparently a very unusual one.  It could be rendered “for the morrow” or “necessary.”  The primary meaning of this phrase no doubt concerns ordinary bread, but a secondary meaning is a request for spiritual sustenance, especially if one takes the “for the morrow” rendering and thinks of the morrow as eternity.

12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Matthew uses the word “debt.”  Luke uses the word “sin.”  The idea is certainly one of moral debt, owed to God.   Our wrong actions and thoughts really do add up as debits.  We sometimes use the rendering “trespass” here as well.  That word has an interesting connotation.  It correctly carries the idea that our moral shortcomings have to do with being out of bounds, being places where we don’t belong and in fact are forbidden to be.

“as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  God doesn’t owe us forgiveness once we forgive other human beings.  Our forgiving doesn’t somehow merit God’s forgiving.  But those who genuinely understand how huge is their forgiven debt don’t withhold forgiveness from other people.  Those who don’t forgive aren’t really grateful.  Remember the parable of the ungrateful servant.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

The word translated “temptation” is best rendered “test” or “trial.”  God cannot and does not tempt us to moral failure.  There is no darkness in Him and He is not in the business of enticing us with darkness.  He does allow us to be tested and tried, so that we see what is in us and how much we need Him.  This is a request that we not be tested to the point that we give up, lose heart and become apostate.  Don’t put us to the ultimate test!  See I Corinthians 10:13, James 1:2 and 1:13.

The second phrase of the verse seems to amplify on this point.  We are to ask God to in fact deliver us from that which we could not bear, to deliver us from evil, from the evil one, from the evil of the world, from the evil that remains in us until our final redemption.

The earliest manuscripts don’t have the phrase “for Thine is the kingdom, power and glory forever” so it wasn’t included in the ESV.  Regardless, it is a fitting end to the prayer.

The two verses that follow function to further explain verse 12.

14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,

15but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Again, human forgiveness is not the basis of God’s forgiveness, but it is evidence of a life lived in relationship to Him.  No forgiveness of others, no relationship with Him, and no forgiveness for us.  Some commentators go so far as to argue that in light of these, to pray verse 12 without forgiving others is to pray that we ourselves not be forgiven.

16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,

18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jesus takes for granted that His disciples will fast.  And He gives the same warnings about playacting in fasting that He gave concerning generosity and prayer.  Fasting is to be real, the kind of thing Isaiah speaks of in Isaiah 58, not simply form and not something done for the eyes of others or for our own self-congratulation.  And the real thing is its own reward, the presence and blessing of the real God.

Stott in his commentary titles the next section of the Sermon on the Mount “A Christian’s Ambition: not material security but God’s rule.”  That’s a good one-phrase summary. In verses 19-24 Jesus deals with the danger of a positive love for the world and in 25-34 he deals with the danger of distracting/debilitating anxiety or care with regard to life in the world.

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,

20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.”  We must get straight what is being forbidden here.  It is not private ownership or possessions in themselves.  It is not responsible saving for a rainy day.  It is not enjoying with thanksgiving the good gifts of a gracious Creator.  What is forbidden is (in Stott’s words) “the selfish accumulation of goods, extravagant living, hardheartedness that is blind to the deprivation of others, the foolish fantasy that life is about stuff and dollars, and the materialism that tethers our hearts to earth.”

Life is not about wealth.  Messiah’s kingdom is not about stuff.  Stuff and wealth are temporal.  Stuff is subject to oxidation.  It rots and corrodes.  It gets old and wears out.  Stuff and wealth can be taken from you by thieves or politicians.  Even the pagans know that when you die you leave them behind.  The kingdom that Jesus is announcing is not temporal, but instead eternal.  It will last literally forever.  That has the implication that a true disciple’s attitudes towards wealth and possessions and how he uses them will be radically different from the attitudes and methods of the secular world.  If collecting stuff and wealth is what drives you, you cannot be His.  If you hold stuff with a closed hand, if you cling to it rather than use it for His glory, if it is what has captured your heart, then you are not His.  If what you value is here, you will not be with Him there.

We need to be sure that we don’t nod at this, thinking of how those who have more than us are in deep trouble, but this can’t possibly apply to us of moderate or small means.  A poor man can be as consumed/preoccupied with the stuff of this world as a rich man.  What’s at issue here is that which we care most about, that which occupies our hearts and minds.  Are our thoughts constantly on the new or better gadget we’re hoping to acquire, or how we can just move up one step on the financial ladder (even if we’re at the bottom), or how we can salt away another couple of thousand in our IRA?   Or do we constantly long for the rule and reign of Christ?  Where are our heads?  That’s the issue.  This is about where our loyalties really lie.

Lloyd-Jones said, “The Christian starts by saying ‘I am not the possessor of these things; I merely have them on lease and they do not really belong to me.  I cannot take my wealth with me.  I cannot take my gifts with me.  I am but a custodian of these things.’ And at once, the great question that arises is: ‘How can I use these things to the glory of God?  It is God I have to meet, it is God I have to face, it is He who is my eternal Judge and Father.  It is to Him that I shall have to render up an account of my stewardship of all the things with which he has blessed me.'”

We are in truth pilgrims and sojourners.  Is that the way we think?  Do we think this is home and the place our treasure, such as it is, lies?  Or do we sing with Henry Lyte,  “Change and decay in all around I see.  Oh Thou who changest not, abide with me.”?

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,

23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

To fix one’s eye on something and to set one’s heart on it are the same thing.  On what are our hearts set?  Are our hearts on Christ’s kingdom?  Or are they on stuff here and now?  What our hearts are set on (what our eyes are fixed on) determines what our lives will be like.

The word translated “healthy” (or in some versions “single”) is a word that in other places is regularly and correctly translated “generous.”  And the word translated “bad” is a word that might be better rendered “niggardly” or “grudging.”  There is likely a double meaning intended here.  Jesus is talking about an outlook on life that is “single” in that it is both consistent and generous.  If such is your outlook on life, your whole life will be full of light.  You’ll be a person who can see.  If, on the other hand your outlook is bad/evil in that it is inconsistent and grasping, self-centered and grudging, your life will be full of darkness.  You’ll be blind.  We can be seeing or be blind, depending upon our choice of affections.

The last half of verse 23 ought to sober us.  Lloyd-Jones says this, “So if a materialistic outlook is controlling us, we are godless, whatever we may say.  There are many atheists who speak religious language; but our Lord tells us here that even worse than an atheistic materialism is a materialism that thinks it is godly – ‘if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!’  The man who thinks he is godly because he talks about God, and says he believes in God, and goes to a place of worship occasionally, but is really living for certain earthly things, how great is that man’s darkness!”

24 “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.

People in the west in the 21st century largely don’t believe this.  But then they don’t really get how strong this statement is.  The picture here is of slavery.  The “serve” is literally “be the slave of.”  A slave is at the beck and call of his master 24 hours per day every day.  He has no time that is his own and no rights or ambitions of his own.  There’s no room for anyone but 1 owner.  And Jesus makes it out that one can belong either to God or to wealth.  Not both.  Here in the west, we think that we can give God some attention some of the time and devote the rest of our time to our selfish ambitions, and that will be OK.  Jesus says it can’t be done.  It’s just in the nature of things that if God is God, He can’t be served part time.  To try to do so is gross idolatry and incredible foolishness.

The word “Mammon” (money) here apparently has an interesting history.  It is Hebrew for material possessions.  It has a root which originally meant “that which is entrusted” (as one would entrust funds to a banker).  But over time it came to mean “that in which one puts one’s trust.”  It became stuff upon which one depends.  We can serve God or the false god of stuff.

Ryle on this verse: “Let us beware that we do not sink into hell by paying excessive attention to lawful things.  Open transgression of God’s law slays its thousands, but worldliness its tens of thousands.”

Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The mere fact that we believe in God, and call Him Lord, Lord, and likewise Christ, is not proof in and of itself that we are serving Him, that we recognize His totalitarian demand, and have yielded ourselves gladly and readily to Him.”

Jesus has said three different ways that the affections of His true disciples are not going to be set on the things of this life.  The things of here and now are perishable, His kingdom is eternal.  Selfish fixation on the here and now is blindness.  And one will serve as a slave either God or what he sees as his own temporal selfish interests.  In light of these, THEREFORE, Jesus is setting out two options, two ways of living and telling us to take one or the other.

25 “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?

THEREFORE here’s how you are to behave if you are to be true disciples.  Do not worry.  It could even be rendered “do not anxiously worry.”  Don’t be full of anxiety.  This is not about normal prudence, it’s about anxiety, worry and care.  Are we fretting about having enough in the future?  What if social security goes broke?  What if I lose my job?  What if?  “Look,” says Jesus, “God gave you life and a body, does it make any sense that He’d then leave you to fend for yourself on how to provide covering or food for it?”  This is an argument from the greater to the lesser.  In light of the big thing (the gift of life itself), food and clothing are small.  The One who created and sustains the greater will provide the smaller.  This is in no way a statement that the smaller are not needed.  But it is a statement that God will provide both and that “first things ought to come first.”

26 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?

This is an argument in the other direction, from the lesser to the greater.  God provides for the birds, who are not in the same class as human beings.  Won’t he provide for you?  The birds don’t call God their “heavenly Father,” but we do.  Will not our Father care for us?  Note, by the way, that God doesn’t pour food into the open mouths of the sparrows, they are busy little creatures.  But they are not consumed today for what they’ll eat tomorrow.  They’re not packing it away in their lockers or barns.  Again this is not an argument against normal prudence or forethought.  It is a condemnation of being preoccupied with and full of anxiety over the future.

27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

Worry is fundamentally useless.  It does no good.  Worry about the future only destroys the present.  Ryle: “Our life is certainly in God’s hand; all the care in the world will not make us continue a minute beyond the time which God has appointed.  We cannot add one hour to our lives: we shall not die till our work is done.”

28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,

29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 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?

Again Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater.  Plants of short life and no eternal value are beautifully clothed.  Will a gracious God leave naked ones who are made in His own image, who have an eternal soul?  Hardly!  The whole notion is absurd.  Jesus is right calling us “little-faiths” if that’s what concerns us.

Lloyd-Jones: “… to be worried is an utter contradiction of our position as children of God.  There is no circumstance or condition in this life which should lead a Christian to worry.  He has no right to worry; and if he does, he is not only condemning himself as a man of little faith, he is also dishonoring his God and being disloyal to his blessed Saviour.”

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

One more time, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, this is not a condemnation of industry or work.  It is a command that the “necessities of life” not become what occupies our hearts and minds.

32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

To be worried/anxious about how we’re going to make it is fundamentally pagan.  If we’re about His business, then it must be in His hands to provide.  It’s then an insult to question whether He’s really aware and able to come through.  If we’re not about His business, then we’re practical atheists … (possibly saying the right words on occasion, but atheists at heart).

We are not to be about gathering up stuff/wealth for our own purposes.  We’re not to be driven by the things of this world, concerned about getting more or whether it will be there tomorrow.  Instead our constant preoccupation, the primary concern of a true disciple must be God’s honor.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

This is the climax of the series of statements about anxiety begun in verse 25.  It lays out the positive attitude that will be characteristic of disciples of Jesus.  They are to direct their attention consistently to His kingdom and righteousness.  The tense of the word “seek” is such that it implies a continuing obligation and the seeking is an earnest intense seeking.  The “first” is not in the sense of “then later do the other” but rather “principally/above everything else.”

In our time we often hear this verse in a debased and selfish way.  Seek His kingdom, we think, for our good.  Seek it in the sense that it’s out there and if we join up there’s benefits to be had.  Get into the great salvation deal and have eternity secure and as a bonus have Him punch our tickets for today as well.  That’s miles from what is being said.  Instead Jesus is telling us to long for and do all we can to bring about God’s righteous rule and reign among men.  If He’s Creator and King, we ought to above all desire to see Him given the honor and glory that is rightly due Him among men.  That ought to be our primary preoccupation.  That ought to be what drives us.  That ought to be the first priority with our goods and energies.  All else will fall in line.  Anxiety about material issues is thus not only useless and distracting, but unnecessary.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Put your energy (mental and physical) into the kingdom and not into stuff.  There is no promise here of a smooth road.  In fact, the promise is that there will be trouble.  But with the trouble will come plenteous grace.

Lloyd-Jones again:”… we must learn not only to rely on God in general, but also in the particular.  We must learn to realize that the God who helps us today will be the same God tomorrow, and will help us tomorrow. … We must start each day and say to ourselves ‘Here is a day which is going to bring me certain problems and difficulties; very well, I shall need God’s grace to help me.  I know God will make all grace to abound, He will be with me according to my need. … That is the essential biblical teaching with regard to this matter.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 5:1-20

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on the first part of the Sermon on the Mount (primarily on what we commonly call the Beatitudes).  This is early in the ministry of Jesus.  His popularity is at its height, but the popular expectations of Messiah’s kingdom don’t match the Truth.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus defines for His followers what kind of kingdom His kingdom is going to be.  Jesus is bringing a kingdom radically different from both secular institutions and also conventional religion.  Let us do our best to hear it afresh for the startling sermon that it is.

Matthew 5:1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

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

He sat down.  This is a posture of authority.  The Rabbis did their formal teaching from a seated position.  We even today talk about honored positions in universities as “chairs.”  When the Pope speaks (authoritatively) “ex cathedra” he’s speaking “from his chair.”  The “He opened His mouth and taught them saying …” carries the notion that what Jesus began to say was most serious, a solemn discussion of central things.

Who is there and who are these teachings intended for?  Verse 1 says “His disciples.”  But the 12 have not yet been named.  Matthew himself isn’t called until Chapter 9.  We should thus probably think that the whole company of those interested in this young Rabbi who had been healing and teaching in Galilee were on the mountain.  Jesus is going to tell them what they’re possibly enlisting in.  The fact is, this passage is for all who would call Jesus Savior and Lord.  As Stott put it, it’s a description of “what human life and human community look like when they come under the gracious rule of God”

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

English translators have added verbs in the beatitudes where there really are none.  These are not just statements, they are exclamations.  It’s not really “blessed are the …”  It’s more “blessed the …” And the word rendered “blessed” is probably more accurately rendered “fortunate” or “well off.”  Fortunate the poor in spirit!  It is a description of someone whose place in life is enviable or to be recommended.

“Poor in spirit” is the right starting point for a prospective disciple of Jesus.  An understanding of our human abject spiritual poverty before a holy and completely righteous Creator is the beginning point.  Ryle put it this way, “Humility is the very first letter in the alphabet of Christianity.”  This is not about economics.  It’s about realizing that we have no resources independent of our Maker.  (The only way that it relates to economics is to the extent that those without wealth can be more easily driven to depend upon God than those who think they have their own resources.)

The Old Testament passages about God helping the poor refer to those who because of economic circumstances have cast themselves upon God.  It’s their faith/dependence upon Him that brings His help.

As we read these blessings, we shouldn’t hear here different blessings being pronounced on different groups in the Kingdom.  There is only one real people of God, in all of whom these characteristics will be seen.  And the blessings that are pronounced are all part of the same whole, adoption into the family of God.  Jesus is not saying that there will be some experts in poverty of spirit who will get a particular blessing.  Rather, all who are going to be His will be poor in spirit and share in the Kingdom.

“Obviously” this whole notion is counter to the world’s system (both secular and conventional religious).  In the world, to succeed you have to have resources, either economic ones, or in the case of false religion, stored up “good marks” to somehow impress a false god.

Barclay’s translation/amplification of this verse is:  “O the bliss of the man who has realized his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God, for thus alone he can render to God that perfect obedience which will make him a citizen of the kingdom of heaven!”

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

Fortunate those who mourn!  Much of this passage hearkens back to the Old Testament, and passages of Isaiah are particularly relevant.  For example, there is

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

God will comfort those who mourn.  That is true for those who mourn because of loss of life, but that is not the primary meaning here.  The flow here is from understanding our spiritual poverty to genuine mourning for our sin and its consequences, and the same for the sin of those around us.

We ought to genuinely grieve that our own rebellion sent the holy Son of God to the cross.  We ought to mourn over the fact that remaining sin in us dishonors Him and causes pain for those around us.  We should ache that our world is a terrible mess because people consistently choose to defy their rightful King.  We ought to mourn.

The word used here for “mourn” is the strongest one possible in the Greek language.  This is more than a little sadness.  It is the kind of grief that so takes hold of a person that it cannot be hid.  True disciples of Jesus will have that kind of experience regarding their own sin and the condition of mankind.  And the promise is that (just as Isaiah says) God will comfort.  He and only He has the power to provide us any solace in this kind of place.  It’s Him we’ve wronged.  Only He can pronounce us forgiven and part of His people, and His comfort is certain!

Psalm 51:17  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

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

Psalm 37:11  But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.

Fortunate the meek!  It only makes sense that the person who understands his poverty before a holy God and is truly grieved over his sin and that of others will walk gently.  The word translated “meek” could also be rendered gentle/humble/considerate/courteous.  You don’t throw your weight around when you have a grasp on how desperate was your condition.  This meekness is in the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones “… a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others … The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can treat him as well as they do.”  As Stott said”… this makes him gentle, humble, sensitive, patient in all his dealings with others.”

This whole notion is completely counter to our modern “assertive” society (and even our supposedly “Christian” psycho-babble about self-esteem).  This is instead real Christianity, radical stuff that it is.  Ryle puts it this way.  He says Jesus is speaking about ” … those who are of a patient and contented spirit.  They are willing to put up with little honor here below; they can bear injuries without resentment; they are not ready to take offence.  Like Lazarus in the parable, they are content to wait for their good things.  Blessed are all such!  They are never losers in the long run. One day they shall reign on the earth.”

The promise is that this kind of meekness will be accompanied by blessing.  The Christian looks forward to a certain inheritance stored up for him in Christ.

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

Fortunate those who hunger and thirst!  Many commentators have pointed out that we have a hard time really understanding this verse because most of us have never been really hungry or thirsty.  But real hunger was never far away from a ordinary working man of the Palestine of Jesus’ day, and parching thirst was a common experience.

The sentence construction in Greek also apparently makes it clear that this appetite for righteousness is not just for “some” of it, but the whole of it.  The construction is one that would be used if one wanted not just “some” water, but the whole pitcher, not just “some” bread but the whole loaf.  This is a picture of intense desire for righteousness.

What righteousness?  Certainly there is included in the meaning here personal legal righteousness/justification/right relationship with God.  There is also here the notion of personal moral righteousness, the longing for the ability to live rightly, morally, purely.  But even in addition to these there is the notion of a corporate reign of righteousness.  Those who are going to be true disciples will not only have the desperation of a man dying of thirst for personal righteousness, they will be equally desperate that society be set aright, that God’s righteous judgments rule in the affairs of men.  Luther put it that what is required is “… a hunger and thirst for righteousness that can never be curbed or stopped or sated, one that looks for nothing and cares for nothing except the accomplishment and maintenance of the right, despising everything that hinders this end.  If you cannot make the world completely pious, then do what you can.”

And again the promise of Christ is that such thirst will be (with certainty) satisfied, in part, in the here and now, and completely in eternity.

Ryle said, “He means those who desire above all things to be entirely conformed to the mind of God.  They long not so much to be rich, or wealthy, or learned, as to be holy.  Blessed are all such.  They shall have enough one day.  They shall ‘awake after God’s likeness and be satisfied.’  Psalm 42:15

Barclay’s version of this verse is “O the bliss of the man who longs for total righteousness as a starving man longs for food, and a man perishing of thirst longs for water, for that man will be truly satisfied!”

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

Fortunate the merciful!  Mercy is compassion for people in need.  It is the sharing of their trouble.  It deals with both the general and specific consequences of sin.  It cures, heals, helps.

Our God is merciful.  Jesus says that if his listeners want to enlist, they need to understand that God’s people will be a merciful people.  It is, of course, not at all that our mercy in any way merits God’s mercy towards us.  God is not in our debt.  But if we’re without it, we prove that we haven’t really got hold of our own abject spiritual poverty.  The heart of a true disciple is a grateful heart, and that heart will show mercy as a reflection of the great mercy of God.  (Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant.)

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

Fortunate the pure in heart!  For one thing, this speaks of moral uprightness.  But the primary idea here is singleness of purpose.  A pure metal is one that is unalloyed.  And the primary reference here is to sincerity.  The life of one who is pure in heart is completely transparent before God and men.  It is completely without guile.  There is no trace of hypocrisy.  The pure in heart is the same in all circumstances.  As Stott so truly pointed out, only Jesus was completely undivided in His purpose to honor the Father.  But true disciples of Christ will to an unusual degree exhibit this characteristic.  And the end of it is that they will see God.

In spite of the fact that it is part of a single whole package, the “they will see God” ought to cause us special pause.  People in our time are entirely too casual in their talking about seeing God.  To see Him with anything but purity of heart and singleness of affection should strike us as terrible disaster, our undoing.  The Psalmist said

Psalm 24:3 “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?  

4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” 

The wonder of this sermon is the promise that in Christ, you and I will be able to stand in His presence and see Him.  Jesus works in us purity of heart if we are really His.

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

Fortunate the peacemakers!  The Hebrew concept of peace/shalom is more than just the absence of conflict.  It involves the presence of all that makes for man’s highest good, sound relations between God and man and between man and man.

Being “called sons of God” is a Hebraism for being known for doing the work of God.  Jesus came to establish peace between God and man.  His true disciples will work for the same and for real peace between men, on the same sound basis of Christ.  This is no liberal/flower child/protest march/Nobel prize kind of business.  This is about bringing men and women into right relationship to God, and then teaching them the Kingdom implications of their real brotherhood in Christ.

Jesus is completely honest with those who have climbed the hill with Him.  Not everybody is going to appreciate the true disciple.  When one is poor in spirit, mourns over his own sin and that of his neighbors, when he is meek and merciful and single-minded in his devotion to Christ, and goes out of his way to try to establish real righteousness and peace founded on the one and only foundation of Christ, there is going to be trouble in this sad world.  That’s just the way it is.  The kingdom that Jesus is describing is one with values completely at odds with both those of secular society and those of conventional false religion.  The kind of radical life Jesus demands will inevitably bring persecution.

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

Fortunate those who are persecuted because of righteousness!  Persecution for the right reasons is in the end not grievous.  It is temporary trouble balanced against what is right and good, against an eternal weight of glory.

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.

Fortunate you when insulted for Christ!  When a believer bears insult, falsehood, deprivation or worse for the sake of Christ, it is an occasion of joy, in that it authenticates his discipleship.  The world hated the prophets, the world hated Jesus, and it will hate His true disciples.  There’s no problem in the eyes of the world over a small amount of “civilized”/domesticated religion.  But this business of thirsting for all of righteousness, having singleness of purpose, mourning over the state of the world … that’s too much, and by contrast it exposes the corruption of others!  It’s a sure ticket to ridicule.  But Jesus tells us to glory in it.  There is eternal reward in the package He is offering to those who will hear.

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Salt gives flavor and preserves.  Such is the nature of Christian witness.  It flavors and preserves society.  On the other hand, when it ceases to be thoroughly Christian, when it ceases to be what Jesus has described, it is worse than useless.  Salt/sodium chloride is a stable compound that doesn’t really break down.  But it can get mixed with other things and become useless as a seasoning and preservative.

Tasker said Christ’s disciples “… are to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing or non-existent.”

Lloyd-Jones commented, “The glory of the gospel is that when the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it.  It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, even though it may hate it at first.”

Thielicke wrote, “… But Jesus, of course, did not say ‘You are the honey of the world.’  He said, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’  Salt bites and the unadulterated message of the judgment and grace of God has always been a biting thing.”

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

This is quite a statement and responsibility.  Jesus said that He is the Light of the world.  Light was the first thing created.  It is what allows us to see what is what and how things really are.  And Jesus tells His disciples that their lives will make plain to the world the nature of things.

The Greek pronoun “you” here is emphatic.  It is as if Jesus has said “you and only you.”  The point is that the responsibility is ours.  It is not to be ducked, passed on, or otherwise taken lightly.  Stott paraphrased, “You must be what you are … You are light, and so you must let your light shine and not conceal it in any way, whether by sin or by compromise, by laziness or by fear.”

15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

We all know the impulse to put it under a bowl.  It’s tiring out there, at war, day after day.  We get smacked around living as His servants, even when we’re simply trying our best to do what is right and good.  It would be easier to simply take shelter behind the walls of the monastery and let the barbarians go their own way.  It would be easier if we never had to deal with other people.  But Jesus says that’s not an option.  Bonhoeffer put it this way, “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call.  A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow Him.”  Christianity is to be visible.

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

This is about the glory of God.  Rightly lived, our lives will make plain to the world what really is what.  Our lives will direct the gaze of people to our Father.  “good works” is a general expression that describes everything a believer is and does because of who he or she is as a disciple of Jesus.  It’s not a description of some special, occasional big deal effort, but rather a description of daily God-breathed life of His people.

Ryle: “Surely, if words mean anything, we are meant to learn from these two figures that there must be something marked, distinct, and peculiar about our character, if we are true Christians. It will never do to idle through life, thinking and living like others, if we mean to be owned by Christ as His people. Have we grace? Then it must be seen. –Have we the Spirit? Then there must be fruit.–Have we any saving religion? Then there must be a difference of habits, tastes, and turn of mind, between us and those who think only of the world.”

17 “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.

There is nothing less Christian than a rebellious antinomian (anti-law) notion that since we aren’t saved by keeping the law of God, we may do as we please, as if we were the measure of all things.  If there is to be any sanity in the universe, what is right cannot change.  Jesus didn’t come to do away with the Old Testament revelation, He came to complete it, to be its culmination.  He fulfilled the Old Testament in terms of filling out and completing its doctrinal revelation.  He fulfilled the Old Testament in terms of being the One the prophets had predicted and ceremonies foreshadowed.

18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The issue here is a proper reverence for the will of God revealed in the Scriptures.  The plain statement is that if we presume to cancel what God has said, we’ve done a really really bad thing.

Ryle commented, “The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly; but they all looked by faith to the same Saviour and were led by the same Spirit as ourselves.  These are no light matters.  Much infidelity begins with an ignorant contempt of the Old Testament.

For another thing, let us beware of the despising of the law of the Ten Commandments.  Let us not suppose for a second that it is set aside by the Gospel or that Christians have nothing to do with it.  The coming of Christ did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments one hair’s breadth.  If anything, it exalted and raised their authority. (Rom 3:31)  The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal measure of right and wrong.  By it is the knowledge of sin; by it the Spirit shows men their need of Christ and drives them to Him; to it Christ refers His people as their rule and guide for holy living.  In its right place, it is just as important as ‘the Glorious Gospel’—It cannot save us; we cannot be justified by it; but never, never let us despise it.  It is a symptom of an ignorant ministry, and an unhealthy state of religion when the law is lightly esteemed.  The true Christian ‘delights in the law of God.’  (Rom 7:22) ”

20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

A real reverence for the will of God will be seen in something bigger than a religion that simply tries to make the definitive list of do’s and don’ts and pays attention only to checking off items on the current list.  It will be concerned with the heart of the Law in the sense of being concerned with every outworking of it and the principles in it.

Stott said, “Not only is greatness in the kingdom assessed by a righteousness that conforms to the law, but entry into the kingdom is impossible without a conformity better (much better: the Greek expression is very emphatic) than that of the scribes and Pharisees”

How can that be?  (After all, those guys were scrupulous about their law-keeping!)  It’s not a matter of degree, but of kind.  It’s not a matter of getting a better score than a Pharisee.  It’s not “kept 240 out of 248 commandments this week!”  It is rather a matter of having a humble, righteousness of heart, an inward righteousness of mind and motive that will show itself in behavior consistent with God’s law, but is far deeper and more radical than just “list keeping.”  Written law couldn’t possible cover every circumstance humans will face, but God-breathed righteousness is to cover every one.  The point is a new character that is in line with the character of God Himself.

Jeremiah 31:33 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel  after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds  and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  

34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD.  “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Ezekiel 36:27  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 4

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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

Jesus was led by the Spirit and tempted by the devil/led by God’s Spirit and tempted by “the slanderer.”  Jesus is at this place by the will of the Father.  It’s no accident He’s out in the desert, and what He faces isn’t something that catches the Father unaware.  The word translated “tempted” equally means “tested.”  The devil means to bring Jesus to do wrong, he wants to solicit Jesus to evil.  But that is never God’s purpose in what comes the way of a person.  When it is met rightly, in humble dependence upon God, “testing” reveals and develops character and faith.  That’s God’s purpose in this, and in all testing of you and me as well.

2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

The Israelites wandered 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus was 40 days in the desert.  Where the nation will fail to keep faith with God, Messiah will remain perfectly obedient.  He was hungry. No kidding!?  And He was without doubt, physically weak as well.

3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Here’s the first temptation/test.  The tempter came.  As Boice correctly points out, you and I are tempted from without and from within.  James 1:14 points at the effects of our own evil desires.  But not so, Jesus.  His temptation could only come from without.  “If you are the Son of God …”  Some commentators say that the Greek construction carries the meaning that the devil is granting that Jesus is the Son, and reasoning from that point.  It’s “Since you are the Son.”  The devil says “You’re hungry.  Use your power and fix it!”  What’s the crux of this temptation?  After all, we say to ourselves, “He’s got to be close to collapse from fasting.  What’s wrong with taking some of those flat white stones that look like mid-east loaves of bread anyhow, and just turning them into bread?”

But it’s also possible that it’s “If” in the sense that calls into doubt whether Jesus is the Son.  The Father has said at the baptism that Jesus is the Son, but Satan is surely not above calling into question the veracity of the Father.  In the garden he said “Did God say?” knowing full well that indeed He had said.  And he flatly contradicted God’s Word with the statement that Eve and Adam would not surely die.  Here, it is just possible that the tempter is playing that very old game again, calling into question the truth of what God says.

In either case, whether it’s a temptation to misuse power and thereby abort what God has ordained or whether it is an invitation to flat disbelieve what God has said about the identity of Jesus, listen to the reply of Jesus:

4 But he answered, “It is written, ” ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “

The full quote is:

Deuteronomy 8:3  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

This says plainly that God protected and provided for His people, but that He also purposely sent them hard things.  Why?   So that they would learn that there is more to life than food, shelter, and clothing, so that they would learn that the primary thing about life is the presence of God and relying upon, trusting in, and cleaving to Him.  Most human beings don’t grasp that except through the experience of difficulty.  So the 40 years in the wilderness were redemptive, much to be preferred to eternity cut off from God!

Jesus answers Satan essentially by saying “I am here by the will of the Father.  His provision and protection are adequate.  The hunger I’m experiencing is not unknown to Him.  His presence and will are the important things, not the hunger.  I’m not calling the shots here.  I’ll not make it my business to make things comfortable.”  That is both a refusal to misuse power and an insistence on the truth of what God has said.  Boice’s amplification on the simple quote is “It does not really matter much whether I have physical bread to eat, since God will preserve my life as long as he wants, so I can do what he wants.  I trust him in that.  What does matter is whether I believe God’s word implicitly or not.  If I should doubt his word, even for a moment, all is lost.”

Satan wants to make physical circumstances primary and to call into doubt God’s word and His care, and Jesus flatly refuses to go along.  Jesus has answered the temptation with Scripture.  But now we hear that Satan fancies himself a Biblical scholar.

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple

6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ” ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ “

Satan presents another test, again tries to induce Jesus to do wrong.  He’s quoting from Psalm 91.  The gist of the Psalm is that the one who is quietly and consistently relying upon God, trusting Him in all that he does, will know by experience the constant care of the LORD in what comes his way.  It does not say “Do whatever foolish you like, counting on God to suspend the laws of nature to bail you out, and he will.”  The devil would like to argue in the style of high school debate.  Take whatever license you want with the intended meaning, as long as you get what you want out of a quote.  We all know people that want to play that game with the Bible.  But Scripture is not a set of magic incantations that we may selfishly use as we please, to do whatever tricks we like.  Barclay said, “God’s rescuing power is not something to be played and experimented with, it’s something to be quietly relied upon in everyday life.”

The devil tempts Jesus to do something spectacular to get things moving in the ministry, but Jesus answers, not just with a phrase taken out of context, but with a quote true to the intent and message of the passage.  Jesus interprets Scripture with Scripture.  Instead of playing fast and loose with a Scripture fragment, Jesus insists on a comprehensive view.

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

This is again a verse from Deuteronomy 6.  The full quote is

Deuteronomy 6:16  “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.

Massah means “testing” or “proving.”  At Massah (in Exodus 17: 1-7) the Israelites essentially said to God “OK, here’s the miracle we demand that you perform in order to show us that you are to be trusted and are really among us.”  That kind of thing is gross impertinence.  It shows that a human has forgotten who is who.  It makes our Creator out to be a trained dog who does tricks.  It makes us out to be the ones calling the shots.  It purposely forgets all that has gone before, the gracious provision of God to this point, and demands a sign of our choosing.  It impugns the character of a loving Father who has repeatedly shown His care for His children.  It says (like a spoiled child who is simply demanding his or her own way) “if you really loved me, you’d ABC.”

Much of what passes for “stepping out in faith” in western Christianity isn’t that at all.  It’s lack of faith looking for “proof.”  It’s putting God to the test.  Faith is simple trust, not doubt looking for proof.

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

The first 2 temptations were overtly tied to the Father’s statement that Jesus is the Son.  This one is as well, if we pay close attention to the Old Testament.  There is

Psalm 2:7  I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

The Son has been promised by the Father exactly these kingdoms of the world that the devil now proposes to cede to him for just a little respect.  There is much commentary on these verses that really seems quite silly … commentary about whether the devil does or doesn’t really have anything to bargain with here.  What difference does it make whether he could deliver some version of what he claims to be bargaining with?  Even if he could and would produce it, so what?  Would that change anything?  The temptation here is to attempt to cut short, to try to find an easy route, to say that the end justifies the means.  The promise of the Father is sure, but the path leads through Golgotha.  The devil seems to be saying “For just a little cosmic respect, I’ll throw in the towel!”  After all, Jesus is supposed to in the end rule all, why not get it the easy way?  You know, plan “A” here is pretty unpleasant, and in the mind of fallen man, a little practical compromise here can’t be that big a deal.  But, truth is, that’s high treason.  What does light have to do with darkness?

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ” ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ “

The truth is that to attempt to cut short, to compromise just a little bit with evil for a supposedly good end, is not cleverness, but rather out and out treason, and Jesus identifies it for what it is.  He quotes again from Deuteronomy 6.

Deuteronomy 6:13  It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.

It doesn’t matter whether there really could be a short route.  To try to take it, to try to go some way other than that God has ordained is anathema.  It’s rebellion and idolatry.  And Jesus, the second Adam, stays true where the first Adam (and all of us have) failed.  He did so, insisting that what God has said is true, handling that precious word carefully and with integrity.

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

After the test, in the Father’s time and plan, Jesus was given the real ministry of angels in a right kind of way and context (consistent with Psalm 91).  The temptation brought by the devil in verse 6 was the perversion of the real thing here.

After the baptism and temptation, Matthew’s gospel turns to the public ministry of Jesus.

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.

Jesus headed back north.  Galilee wasn’t big, only about 25 by 50 miles, but had a population of maybe 3 million and has the best agricultural land in Israel.  In the Jewish mind, however, it was looked down upon because of its proximity to gentile nations (and its distance from Jerusalem and the temple worship).

13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,

14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–

16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Matthew quotes from Isaiah 9: 1-2.  Matthew’s gospel is clear in his desire to show Jesus as the fulfiller of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies, but a fulfiller of those prophecies that is for all people.  It is Galilee of the gentiles where people living in darkness have seen a great light.

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

And as Jesus begins to preach, the message is the same as we saw on the lips of John.  “Repent.”  But coming from Jesus, the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” is a statement about it being presently realized, not simply that it was soon to come.  We’re entering now the section of Matthew where we are shown the public ministry of God’s Messiah, Jesus.

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.

19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

This is not the first time that Peter and Andrew have been around Jesus.  This call of Peter and Andrew comes after John the Baptist has been arrested and put into jail.  The first chapter of John records their initial encounter with Jesus.  Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist (who pointed Jesus out as the “Lamb of God”).  Notice that Andrew already (in the beginning in Judea) has a primitive understanding that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.  But he surely doesn’t have the implications of that at all clear.  And apparently at the beginning, Andrew and Peter went back to their fishing, not going with Jesus.

The commentaries rightly point out the direct line from this passage to the Great Commission at the end of Matthew.  The call/invitation to the disciples is to become fishers of men.  The final earthly instructions of Jesus recorded by Matthew are for disciples to go and make disciples of all nations.

Two fundamental things about this incident are the imperative nature of the call and the immediacy of the response.  There’s no negotiation here about what the benefits are going to be for obedience.  Peter and Andrew don’t haggle about the terms of service, nor do they hesitate.  They simply leave their nets and follow.  Anyone who will not lay all down and come when called, will not come at all.

“Follow me” is literally “come behind me.”  This is an invitation to come follow Jesus around.  That was the way that a disciple learned from his master, by watching and listening as that person lived life.  But it’s more than an invitation to just come and watch, it’s an invitation to come and take part, to be fishers of men.  That’s an interesting phrase, both because of its connection to their occupations, and also because of the contrast between its meaning and the only Old Testament use of a phrase equivalent to this one.  In Jeremiah 16:16 God calls for fishers for men, but there it is to bring men to judgment.  In contrast, the disciples are going to fish for men to save them from judgment.

21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.

22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11 has a more complete account of this episode.  Peter, Andrew, James and John are fishermen, good, salt of the earth, hard-working, everyday people.  They aren’t necessarily dirt poor, but they surely aren’t part of the cultural or financial elite either.  They are people who know the meaning of an honest day’s work.  They’re out at work and Jesus comes by and says “Follow me.”

All four of these good-hearted souls immediately obey.  This passage doesn’t say that they were required to break all ties with the fishing business and their families (indeed they weren’t).  But the point is that from here on out, they don’t call the shots.  They are immediately ready to drop what they are doing and come when Jesus says “Come.”  What Jesus asks will mean the complete disruption of their normal way of life.  So we have the 4 sturdy fisherman: Peter the rock, Andrew the bringer, James and John, the sons of thunder (guys who’ll be ready to call down fire on a town if they don’t like the reception they get there!) the first disciples.

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.

25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

He preached/proclaimed (verse 17), He taught, He healed/restored.  Those are His works, those are the proper works of His body, the Christian church.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 3

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Matthew 3:1  In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

In those days John the Baptist came.  There has been no prophet for 400 years.  The Jews are acutely aware of this.  There has been a drought of hearing the word of the LORD, and John, the cousin of Jesus, comes on the scene preaching/thundering in the desert.

2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The first thing we hear from the lips of John the Baptist is “repent.”  Mark tells us that when Jesus began to preach, His message was the same:

Mark 1:14  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.”

On the day of Pentecost, the first thing we hear from Peter on behalf of the newly baptized church is a call to repentance.

Acts 2:38  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

This is the authentic Gospel, the Biblical Gospel.  It is not “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  It is not “your best life now.”  It is not “find your purpose.”  It is “repent and be saved!”  “You are by birth and by choice at odds with the King of the universe, repent and be saved!”  Biblical repentance is much more than emotional sorrow over sin, unaccompanied by fundamental change.  It involves a thorough change of mind/heart and manifests itself in reformed behavior.  John is not asking for some temporary emotional reaction on the part of his hearers, he’s demanding that they change their lives.  Today our elites mock the notion of a godly person pleading with people to turn around and go the other way.  Many post-moderns who think themselves Christians are embarrassed by the preaching of repentance.  But it is what the prophets preached, it is what John is preaching, it’s what Jesus preaches, and it’s what the authentic Christian church preaches.

John appeals to the people to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  That makes sense for at least two reasons.  For one, if the King and His rule and reign are near, it’s completely suicidal and foolish to continue in rebellion against Him, in affront to His kingship.  For another, the rabbis taught that repentance was so tied to God’s plan and working, that if Israel could ever repent perfectly, even for only a single day, then Messiah would come.  So the people hear in John’s call to repent a promise that doing so will speed the deliverance of Israel.

3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'”

Matthew quotes from Isaiah 40.  He sees in John the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.  The picture is that of a King’s herald letting the King’s subjects in a remote part of the kingdom know that He is coming.

Isaiah 40:3  A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Ancient roads were a mess.  The only ones that were paved in Isaiah’s time and place were ones used by kings.  Just as subjects in the remote areas of a kingdom might be wise to spruce things up for the visit of an earthly king, John is telling the Jews to all get ready for a visit from their heavenly King.

4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Before the coming of Messiah, the Jews were expecting the literal return of Elijah.  This expectation was based on their understanding of Malachi 4:5

Malachi 4:5  “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.

John looked the part of Elijah.  His attire was straight out of Elijah’s closet.

2Kings 1:8  They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

John’s food was odd too.  It was not something served in the best restaurants.  Instead, it was food for a rough outdoorsman, one accustomed to no real comforts in life.  This is a guy called and prepared by God, preaching repentance, with no regard for safety or comfort.  He’s not writing best-selling books or getting invitations to the halls of power.  He’s preaching repentance to a people who need to hear his message.

5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,

6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

There is more here than might first meet the eye.  While we don’t blink at the thought of John baptizing in the Jordan, the Jews practiced baptism only for pagan converts.  In their popular thinking, no Jew needed baptizing!  A Jew was, after all, the offspring of Abraham.  In their thinking, Abraham was unique, so unique in his goodness and favor with God, that he had built up a treasury of merit that was sufficient not only for himself, but for all his descendants as well.  All Jews, so the popular belief went, were safe from final judgment, just because they were Jews.  What is then remarkable here is that at least some of these folks have been shaken out of this foolish presumption to face their guilt before God and to repent and to be baptized as a sign of that repentance–just like guilty pagans like you and me.  It is significant that part of the repentance acted out here is confession.  These people have admitted publicly that they are wrong, that they are sinners in need to the mercy and forgiveness of God.

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?

Barclay sees here a picture of animals fleeing a wildfire in an arid place, or perhaps animals in a field scurrying ahead of reapers cutting grain.  Here are perhaps critters coming out of their holes in a southern California canyon just before a wind-whipped wildfire gets there.  John is apparently not altogether impressed with the sincerity of some of his listeners.

In our time, many are careful not to ruffle the feathers of anyone that crosses the threshold of a church building, apparently figuring to “sneak up on them” with the Gospel.  So in the 1st world, there are congregations full of people who are clueless as regards the real condition of their souls, people who have in no way turned from their rebellion against the King and submitted themselves to God.  John wasn’t interested in making people comfortable.  He was, rather, interested in the honor of the King, and the good of his hearers’ souls.  J.C. Ryle put it this way: “It is no real kindness to keep back the terrors of the Lord; it is good for us to be taught that it is possible to be lost forever, and that all unconverted people are hanging over the brink of the pit.”

8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

John’s demand was that if people were going to hang around and be part of the scene at the river, their repentance needed to produce visible results.  The true call to God has always been, and always will be a call to righteous living.  Our behavior is not what gives us right standing with God.  It is faith–our trusting in, replying upon, cleaving to, depending upon, believing in Him–that gives us right standing.  But righteous living does follow from that kind of real faith, and if there is no change in behavior, no fruit, then there is no faith or repentance, and one has not truly met God.

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.

John identifies the popular thinking that “I am a descendant of Abraham, a member of the chosen people, one who can count on the merits of my ancestor to put me right with God” for the foolishness that it is.  Physical descent guarantees nothing.  Each of us faces God ourselves, either washed in the blood of Christ ourselves, or personally guilty and in our rebellious natural state.  The faith of our parents will not substitute for our own.  John is absolutely insistent that right actions will follow from a true faith.

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.

A fruit tree that bears no fruit is useless.  It only takes up space in the orchard where another more productive tree might be growing.  God is merciful and kind, but He is also completely just.  He gives us the means to produce fruit and justly expects fruit.  Consider the parable of the talents and the end of the servant who buried his talent.  We are to be making good with God’s ample provision, and bearing the fruit of righteousness.  The same was true of John’s hearers.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

This is proper genuine Christian humility.  In Chapter 11 Jesus is going to tell the disciples that John was the greatest man who ever lived before the establishment of the church.  John has to know that he’s been specially chosen of God to carry the most important message ever given to a human being up to his time.  But he’s not looking for personal glory.  He understands that his role is to point people to Jesus.  There is none of our fallen strutting about as if we were the show to be found in John.  John’s focus is on Jesus.

Jesus will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  The first part of this is clear enough.  It’s the fulfillment of OT prophecies like

Isaiah 44:3  For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

Ezekiel 36:26  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Ezekiel 37:14  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

Ezekiel 39:29  And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.”

Joel 2:28  “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.

This is the promise that God’s Spirit will bring His life, power, and truth to those who put their trust in Jesus.  It is the promise that those who put their trust in Christ will indeed be given a new heart, a heart of flesh.  The second part of the promised work of Jesus is perhaps not so clear and has been interpreted in two quite different ways through Christian history.  “baptized with fire” may refer to the tongues of fire in the upper room, and may therefore mean essentially the same thing as the first part of the phrase–that God will put His Holy Spirit on believers.  If this is the right reading, it is worth noting that God’s Spirit does a purifying/refining work in a believer’s life.  This is the work of “fire.”  On the other hand, the baptism in fire may mean something else entirely.  There is the image in verse 10 of the burning of the unproductive tree.  In verse 7 there is the image of critters scurrying before the wildfire.  And verse 12 has the image of burning up chaff.  The two parts of the phrase “with the Holy Spirit and fire” may refer to the 2 quite different effects that Christ brings to people.  For those who choose to put their faith in Him, there is the life of the Spirit.  For those who choose to continue in rebellion, there is judgment/unquenchable fire.

12 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.”

The picture is one of tossing harvested grain up in the air.  The heavy grain then falls to the ground, while the chaff blows off before being gathered up into a burn pile.  It’s equivalent to the picture that Jesus uses of separating the wheat from the tares.  In the context here, the warning is to repent and bear the corresponding fruit.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.

14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

John humbly protests that it is he and not Jesus that stands guilty before the Father– that if either he or Jesus needs to repent and signify that by baptism, it is clearly he that needs to be baptized.  Indeed, if we put ourselves in John’s place, it does seem uncomfortable to contemplate baptizing Jesus.  But the glory of the Gospel is that God took on human flesh and chose to identify Himself with our misery.  Jesus is absolutely innocent.  He has no need of baptism on His own account as a sign of repentance.  But it is fitting for humanity, and He tells John that it is fitting that He joins us.  John’s baptism was a sign of both repentance and readiness for the Kingdom of God, and in that second meaning, Jesus does participate with us.

15  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;

17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

When the Father speaks, He uses phrases from two Old Testament passages.  The first is one the Jews of the time absolutely would have understood as having reference to Messiah, “my (beloved) Son”

Psalm 2:7  I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

The second phrase “with whom I am well pleased” is from one of the suffering servant passages of Isaiah, and in the popular understanding of the time might not be so readily seen as having to do with Messiah.

Isaiah 42:1  Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

John has done his job.  He’s preached repentance and pointed people to Jesus.  His baptizing of Jesus has been the forum for the Father’s announcement of Jesus, His Son, Messiah–a Messiah that from the start is contrary to popular expectations–a Messiah who is going to be a suffering servant in the style that the prophet Isaiah foresaw.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 2

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Matthew 2:1  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,

Who were the Magi/wise men?  They seem to be “holy men,” probably from Persia/Babylon.  They would have been learned men/philosophers/natural scientists/astrologers.  Every indication here is that these were honorable, if pagan, fellows.  There is no indication that they were magicians or sorcerers.  Instead it seems as if they have some knowledge (gained perhaps from the Jewish exiles in Babylon?) of God’s promise to send a Messiah to the Jews.  They came after the birth of Jesus, during the time of King Herod.  This is “Herod the Great.”  He was a guy who had proved loyal to the Romans during an uprising in Palestine, and whose loyalty was rewarded with first a governorship, and then later being named king.  He was a builder, building great public works, including the temple in Jerusalem that is the setting of many of the Gospel scenes.  He was in some ways generous, selling some of his own gold to by food for the Jewish people during one period of famine.  But he was also quite paranoid and completely ruthless when it came to the matter of protecting his throne.  He had a number of the members of his own household (including his favorite wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, uncle and many others) killed when he suspected them of being interested in having his throne.  This very dark and sick side of his nature was so notorious that Augustus Caesar is recorded as saying that it was better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.  Herod reigned from about 40 BC to 4 BC.  An error made in the middle ages prevents our calendars from being synchronized so that Christ’s birth would fall in 1 BC or AD.

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.”

These gentile wise men have made a considerable trip in search of the baby Jesus.  They have come to see the one they understand is to be the King of the Jews.  It is interesting and important for us to know that not only were the Jews expecting Messiah at this time in history, but it was a fairly widespread expectation in gentile circles as well, that a world leader was to come from the Jewish nation.  This is important enough to these guys that they have made a trip that people speculate would have taken weeks, if not months.

They’re looking for a prince, so the natural place for them to go is to the royal city.  Imagine their puzzlement as they walk around in Jerusalem, expecting people to know of the birth of a prince, but where no one has a clue what they’re talking about.

Notice too what they say “born king of the Jews.”  Matthew has given us the genealogy.  The kingship isn’t something later conferred on Jesus, He is the legitimate king of Israel from birth, in contrast to the man occupying the throne by Roman appointment.  Matthew has detailed in the genealogy that Jesus deserves royal honor.  In Chapter 2 he shows that He is given it by these gentile wise men.  At the crucifixion, it is the judgment of the secular Roman government that He should be called such and places the notice “king of the Jews” above His cross.

There is a new star in the east.  There has been speculation for years as to what they saw.  Some people speculate that it was a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter that occurred in 7 BC.  Others point to a visit of Halley’s Comet.  There is nothing to say that it has to be any of these.  But whatever it was, these guys understood from the LORD that what they saw was to announce the birth of Messiah.

There’s really not much detail here.  We don’t know exactly who they were, where they came from, or even how many of them there are.  We don’t know exactly what they saw in the sky.  What we do know is the central fact that they came to worship Him.

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;

Herod was extremely paranoid, and had gotten increasingly so as he’d gotten older.  If you’re living in Jerusalem with him on the throne and he’s upset, you’ll be upset too.  Who knows what lengths he will go to calm his rattled nerves this time!

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.'”

The Jewish scholars quote from Micah 5:2.  Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, the “house of bread.”  God’s bread from heaven was to come to earth in “the city of David.”  This little town was only 5 miles or so from Jerusalem.  This is really pretty amazing when you step back and look at it. Here are these pagan, gentile Magi, who have traveled hundreds of miles after seeing a star and somehow understanding that Messiah was born.  In Jerusalem, a couple hour’s walk from Bethlehem, everybody’s in a dither, but it’s not important enough for them to go and check things out for themselves.  In John’s gospel he says

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

12  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

If anyone should have scurried off to Bethlehem to worship, it should have been devout Jews.  But it wasn’t, it was instead honest gentiles hearts.  The chief priests and teachers of the law have light (they have answered the inquiry absolutely correctly!) but they are dodging it.  The Magi have only a little light, but they are embracing it.

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.”

Herod was completely unscrupulous, and completely apostate.  Think of this: if these Magi are right, for the sake of holding the throne, Herod is willing to kill Messiah.  That should speak to us about the wickedness of our fallen hearts.  Except for the work of the Holy Spirit, in order to remain “in charge,” we would gladly kill the Lord of Glory.  We are naturally usurpers of the royal throne, haters of God.

Any of Herod’s subjects would have known better than to believe him at all about this matter.  But maybe he figures that these foreigners might be hoodwinked into doing his bidding for 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.

Again, exactly what these men saw, we don’t know.  But by the leading of the Holy Spirit and some kind of extraordinary celestial happening, they make their way to Bethlehem and to the very place that Jesus and His family are now residing.

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.

Going into the house, they saw the child.  This is clearly some time after the birth of Jesus.  We’re not in the stable here, and the word used for Jesus is not the one that would be used for a newborn.  This is a “child” not a newborn.

They bowed down and worshiped Him.  These gentiles understood that they were not in the presence of anyone ordinary.  The circumstances may have been ordinary, but the child was not.  Again, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, these guys knew that this was Messiah, somehow uniquely God’s own Son.

They brought with them gifts that are at once extremely precious/valuable and completely fitting for the child that they were there to worship.  There was gold, the metal of kings.  When these wise men present Jesus with gold they acknowledge His absolute right to rule.  There is frankincense, an incense of a priest.  James Boice commenting on this verse points out that incense was never mixed with sin offerings.  Only the meal offerings (which were not for sin) contained incense.  Jesus was without sin.  And there is myrrh, a precious ointment used to dress dead bodies.  This was actually, quite an odd (even offensive) gift to be given at the birth of a baby … except that this child was to be our sacrifice.  Jesus is indeed our King, our High Priest and our eternal Sacrifice.  These gifts (already shortly after His birth) speak to these roles.  They would have been extremely rich gifts for the family of a poor carpenter, gifts whose sale may well have financed the coming flight to Egypt to save the life of the child.

12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

If one wanted to sermonize here, there’s a lesson that these wise men have carefully sought Jesus, He’s been revealed to them, and now they go home a different way.  Their manner of walking is not of their own choosing, nor that of another human being.

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Years before, God had preserved Israel in Egypt.  Now He keeps His Son safe in Egypt.

14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt

15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Neither the Magi nor Joseph need to be told something twice.  They hear what they understand to be the Word of God, and they obey.  The Magi go home without passing again through Jerusalem.  Joseph gets up in the middle of the night and heads out for Egypt with his young wife and the child.  It’s about 70 miles from Bethlehem to the Egyptian border.  Egypt is a well-ordered Roman province at this time, and there’s a large Jewish population there where Joseph likely has relatives and should have no trouble finding work.  This too, in the providence of God, is properly in place at just the right time.

Ryle: “Let us observe, for another thing, how the Lord Jesus was ‘a Man of Sorrows,’ even from his infancy.  Trouble awaits Him as soon as He enters into the world.  His life is in danger from Herod’s hatred.  His mother and Joseph are obliged to take Him away by night, and ‘flee into Egypt.’ — It was only a type and figure of all His experience upon earth.  The waves of humiliation began to beat over Him, even when He was a suckling child.

The Lord Jesus is just the Saviour that the suffering and sorrowful need.  He knows well what we mean when we tell Him in prayer of our troubles.  He can sympathize with us, when we cry to Him under cruel persecution.  Let us keep nothing back from Him.  Let us make Him our bosom friend.  Let us pour out our hearts before Him.  He has had great experience of affliction.”

The Old Testament quote in verse 15 is from Hosea 11:1.  In the short run, it referred to the calling of God’s children, the people of Israel, out of Egypt.  Here Matthew sees that as prefiguring the work of Christ, God’s true Son.  One can also see in God’s preserving the baby Moses from an attempt to kill Jewish male children a foreshadowing of the preservation of Jesus.

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

Given who Herod was, this is only what one would expect.  Someone who is willing to kill his own kids is not going to think anything of slaughtering a few dozen of his subjects’ kids in a little burg outside of the capital.  The fact this act is recorded nowhere else in history says more about the kind of murderous stuff that was standard fare for Herod than anything else.  In historical terms, this is awful, but in another way, simply part of the scene.  (To give another indication of the heartlessness of Herod, it is worth knowing that as he felt death approaching he had many of the most prominent people of Jerusalem rounded up and gave orders that they were to be executed as soon as he died.  He recognized that otherwise no one was going to mourn his own death, and he wanted to make sure that his passing was marked with mourning.)

17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

This is a quote from Jeremiah 31:15.  Rachel was buried in Bethlehem.  Ramah was another small town close to Jerusalem.  The original reference in Jeremiah had to do with the people of Israel passing by Rachel’s grave as they marched off to exile in Babylon.  Here the application is made that from her grave Rachel witnesses the slaughter of Jewish children outside Jerusalem, to calm an insane king.  The Jeremiah passage goes on to give hope for the future (in the return of the captives).  Probably Matthew wants us to see in this quote hope for the future in the baby king of Bethlehem.

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”

21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

22  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.

23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

There is no specific Old Testament quote close to “He will be called a Nazarene.”  In all probability, Matthew is using “Nazarene” as a term of contempt and referring generally to the notion that somehow Messiah would also despised.  In the common view, He won’t be “Jesus of Bethlehem” (though that is where He was born) but rather “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Not Jesus from the royal town, but Jesus from the sticks, counted to be of no importance by those who are big shots.

So Matthew has carefully explained to us how it is that Jesus is qualified by royal descent and birth in the city of David to be Messiah of the Jews, and yet came out of Egypt and called Nazareth home.  He’s told us how it is that gentile wise men chose to worship him, while better informed Jews didn’t bother to make short trip to seek him out.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 1:18-25

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Matthew 1:18-25 provides the circumstances of the birth of Jesus.

Matthew 1:18  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Jewish marriage of this time proceeded through an engagement, to a betrothal, to the “full-fledged” married state.  An engagement was something that was often arranged by parents for fairly young people.  Engagements were serious, but not binding.  But at the time that a betrothal was made, matters changed.  Couples exchanged wedding vows and they were legally married.  The only way to dissolve a betrothal was through a divorce.  If one party died during the betrothal, the other was considered widowed.  The betrothal typically lasted for a period of 1 year.  During that time, though the man and woman were pledged to each other and legally man and wife, the woman continued to live with her parents and they were not intimate.  Only after the period of betrothal was over, did the woman come into the man’s house and did they physically consummate the marriage.  The intention here in verse 18 is that we understand that Mary and Joseph were in this “in between” state of betrothal.  They were pledged, legally man and wife, but not living together and not physically intimate.

During this time, Mary is found to be pregnant.  We (and Mary) know that it is the work of God’s Holy Spirit.  Joseph, on the other hand, doesn’t know this.  What a heart-rending situation for both Mary and Joseph.  Mary knows what’s happening, but how can she hope to have it make sense to Joseph or anyone else?  There’s no indication here that she even tries to explain to Joseph.  What, after all, is it going to sound like if she tries?  It would appear to be the most monstrous of blasphemy!  Not only has she been immoral, is an adulteress, but here she is trying to explain her way out of the thing by saying that it’s God’s doing.  If Joseph or anyone else is going to believe her, God is going to have to intervene in a most direct and miraculous way.  Joseph, for his part, must be torn up.  The only “sensible” explanation of what’s going on is that his dear young wife is an adulteress.

19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

This verse speaks volumes about the kind of man Joseph is.  This is a person who knows what is right, who knows and abides by the Law.  But he’s also a tender and gentle person.  This is a terribly serious and messy situation.  He’s been hurt and apparently greatly wronged by someone that he clearly loves.  But he can’t just ignore it, because to do so would make him appear to be unchaste too.  What’s he to do?  He could he could save his own reputation by demanding the most severe penalty possible and public humiliation.  Instead, he intends to take the matter only before 2 witnesses and simply divorce Mary.  Even in that, there is a feeling of reluctance and sadness conveyed here.  Between the lines are sleepless nights and deep sadness.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

This order is significant.  First Joseph determines to do right.  Then God intervenes and gives him some understanding of the reality of the situation.  He doesn’t get everything explained up front.  He has to agonize through the hard choices before he’s given clarity.

Notice too how the angel addresses Joseph: as one standing in the royal line of descent.  This is what Matthew established in the genealogy, and he does stand in David’s line.  But remember that this is a rough carpenter in the backwoods town of Nazareth here!  And an angel comes with a greeting like this?   What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  The obvious and plain meaning of this is that Mary is pregnant without the aid of a human father.  This is mind-boggling, miraculous, wonderful, and the absolutely clear intention of the announcement.

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 

According to Luke, Mary had already been told to name the baby Jesus.  But Joseph is going to be the legal father, and as such, it’s his responsibility to name the child.  And he’s told to name the boy Jesus/Jeshua/Joshua/Yahweh saves/the I AM is salvation.  This is “because he will save his people from their sins.”

Psalm 130:8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.  The Psalm refers to Israel.  Matthew tells it was broadened to “his” people, Messiah’s people, be they Jew or Gentile.  This is going to be Messiah, but a Messiah for all people, One who will deal with our most fundamental problem, our guilt before a completely righteous and holy God.

Note carefully that even His name makes it clear that ultimately it is God who deals with our guilt before Himself.  It is the I AM/Yahweh who saves.

Matthew, in typical fashion for him, moves immediately to remind us that this is consistent with the Old Testament promises.

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

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 

This is the quote from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 7:14.  The Hebrew word used in Isaiah doesn’t necessarily mean virgin, but could mean only “maiden”/young unmarried girl, and the short-term fulfillment of that prophecy obviously did not involve a virgin birth.  But by the 3rd century BC the Greek translation of the OT used the word that Matthew uses here, that does specifically mean “virgin.”  The long-term fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Jesus certainly does involve a virgin birth.  And in a way that was probably not even dreamed of by Isaiah, they shall call his name “God with us,” God with us clothed in humanity.  This Isaiah surely didn’t understand completely, but Matthew did, and is saying it in very clear terms.

It’s important that what Matthew’s relating to us has the context of years of prophecy and waiting.  Without that we are at the mercy of whatever crackpot that shows up on the scene claiming a special place for him or herself.  There is a huge difference between someone saying “I’m the one that others have been promising for hundreds of years, check to see that I’ve got the goods,” and somebody saying “Hey, I’m a total surprise, disjoint from the record of God’s dealing with humanity.  The only authentication you’ll get for me is from my followers.  But trust me!”

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,

Joseph has a most tender heart.  He obeys.  It can’t altogether make sense to him at this point.  It probably never did in his lifetime (assuming as most do that he died before Jesus began His ministry).  But he doesn’t hesitate.  It is probably with great relief and real joy that he assumes his God-ordained role as Mary’s husband and the earthly father of Jesus.  Mary’s character has in reality been vindicated, and he’s ready to face with her whatever innuendoes and crude remarks come with the awkward situation that they are in.  He’s probably ready to end the betrothal early so as to become the legal father of Jesus.

25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Again, Matthew wants to leave no possibility of misunderstanding of the miraculous nature of what he is saying.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.