Matthew

Matthew 28: Terror and Great Delight

The women scurried off quickly away from the tomb, in a mixture of terror and great delight. (28:8)

This is an angel standing before us — a majestic messenger of God that strikes fear in all who see it.

The message is that Jesus has been raised from the dead — the message we long to hear, though it defies logic.

We are running off to tell the disciples Jesus has been resurrected — they will be so excited, if they don’t think we are out of our minds.

That appears to be Jesus up ahead — Hallelujah, but can I trust my eyes?

Rumors are swirling that the resurrection is a hoax we cooked up by stealing the body — that is not the truth, but it is easier to believe and the Jews are buying it.

We have hurried off to Galilee to meet Jesus — how can we help but worship, but wait a minute “Is this real?”

He is sending us out in the world, the hostile world, the one that killed him — he is with us with all authority in heaven and earth, but will they kill us like they killed him?

Faith is not easy.  It defies pure logic.  It makes you second guess what you are seeing.  It doesn’t add up.  There are always alternative theories afoot for what you are choosing to believe.  That can be terrifying.  But if it is true, if it is true . . . there will be great delight!

What does resurrection mean to you?

Advertisements
Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Matthew 27: Let His Blood Be On Us!

I am struck by the utter irony of this passage:

“So what shall I do with Jesus the so-called Messiah?” asked Pilate.

“Let him be crucified!” they all said.

“Why?” asked Pilate. “What’s he done wrong?”

But they shouted all the louder, “Let him be crucified!”

Pilate saw that it was no good.  In fact, there was a riot brewing.  So he took some water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.  “I’m not guilty of this man’s blood,” he said.  “It’s your problem.”

Let his blood be on us!” answered all the people, “and on our children!”  (27:22-25)

Of course, the crowd means they will gladly take the guilt of killing Jesus.  His death is justified.  He is a law-breaker and blasphemer.  He incites riots and disturbs the peace.  Look at the company he keeps: he likely has some hidden sin.   If he really is God’s son then he can save himself.  But he won’t.  This guy is a ruffian.  We’ll answer for spilling his blood.

The irony is that by the end of the day that is exactly what happened.  Jesus’ shed blood was potentially “upon them and their children,” but not at all in the way they had imagined.  That blood signified redemption and atonement.  It meant they all had the potential to be saved by the very man they had crucified.  And if they accepted that invitation that blood would wash away their sins.  Were some of these same people among the 3000 saved on Pentecost forty days later?

What an amazing reminder of the grace of God!  He gives them what they want, and so much more!

What did you notice today?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matthew 26: Two Very Different Roads Converge

We are approaching Jesus’ death and I am struck by how there are two very different roads to the same place, Mt. Calvary.

The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders are both contemplating the same event, but have very different intentions:

Jesus said to his disciples, “In two days’ time, as you know, it’ll be Passover!  That’s when the son of man will be handed over to be crucified.” (26:1-2)

The chief priests got together with the elders of the people. . . . They plotted how to capture Jesus by some trick, and kill him. (26:4)

Next, we have the two groups making preparation for death.  An unnamed woman comes to Jesus and anoints his head with very expensive perfume, unbeknownst to her as preparation for his burial.  She does this as a sign of honor.  Meanwhile, the chief priests strike a deal with Judas to lead them to Jesus in a private place so they can arrest him without a scene.  Preparations are made for betrayal.

When Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, a stark divergence is seen again.  Everyone around Jesus — including impetuous Peter — operates by force.  Swords are brandished, an ear is cut off, and Jesus is manhandled away to the house of the high priest.  In contrast, throughout it all Jesus operates by peace.  He so opposes force that he heals the high priest’s slave’s ear and chastises his own defender Peter.  These are two radically different ways of operating in the world.

Both groups see Jesus’ body as an object to satisfy a need.  For Jesus, his body is an instrument of “forgiveness of sins” and healing (26:28).  Later, as the palace guard spat on Jesus and beat him, they show that Jesus’ body is simply an object on which to show hatred and humiliation.

Yet, both of these roads end up at the same place.  However, for one it is a cross of shame, mockery, and elimination.  For Jesus it is the cross of victory, love, and forgiveness.

What did you see anew in this very familiar chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Matthew 25: Stay Alert!

This chapter is nothing but three popular parables: the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep & Goats.  They are interestingly placed.  You might expect that Jesus would be done telling stories this close to his death.  I think the reason for their placement is that they follow the exhortation to “keep alert” in 24:42 because Jesus’ future return will come unexpectedly.  Today’s parables pick up that point and advance it.

Like the five wise girls in the first parable, we are to be ready and “keep awake” (25:13).  We are to use the resources we have, like the girls’ oil, in a wise manner because the end could be upon us without notice.

Likewise, we must use the “talents” or resources (as talents were an increment of money not an ability, though the principle would be the same) wisely and responsibly.  The Master is looking for and even expecting fruitfulness, and those who “have been trustworthy with small things” will be put in charge of “bigger ones” (25:21).

How we use our resources is important.  Like the “sheep” who are congratulated by the king for serving him by serving the poor, our resources are given to us in order that we might help others in need, not simply for our own enjoyment.

Time is short.  No one is guaranteed tomorrow.  Be responsible.  Be active.  Help others.

(The following artwork comes from Cerezo Barredo, an Hispanic artist.  I like the way he recontextualizes these parables in a modern way.)

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matthew 24: In Case of Rapture. . .

Eschatology — the study of the end of this life and the advent of the world that is to come — is, by nature, a bit speculative.  The Bible does give us guidance but it is often slightly cryptic, imaginative, and figurative.  How, too, do you talk about something that is not exactly like this world?

I am going to use today’s post to do what many blogs do regularly: float ideas out there for review that are still in the formative stage.  I would love to hear what you think of these thoughts.

Like many, I grew up thinking of the next life as a place called Heaven that is out there past the wild blue yonder, certainly a place out there far away from our present, evil world.  A lot of education, steady reading of the Bible with new glasses on, and a bit of N. T. Wright and others have changed that view of the world to come radically.  I am uncomfortable with escapist theologies that paint this world that is precious to God and still owned by God as evil and disposable (Psalm 24:1).  I am finding more and more each day that indicates the new world (or Heaven, if you want to it that) will be right here on a renewed earth.  Emotionally this question really made a lot of things click for me: what parent would say of a rebellious and sinful child, I’ll get rid of him and get a new one?  God is in the business of redeeming; it only stands to reason that applies to all He created.

Let’s read this passage with that way of thinking in mind:

You see, the royal appearing of the son of man will be like the days of Noah.  What does that mean?  Well, in those days, before the flood, they were eating and drinking, they were getting married and giving children in marriage, right up to the day when Noah went into the ark.  They didn’t know about it until the flood came and swept them all away.  That’s what it’ll be like at the royal appearing of the son of man.  On that day there will be two people working in the field.  One will be taken; the other will be left.  There will be two women grinding corn in the mill.  One will be taken; the other will be left. (24:37-41)

Many of us are familiar with the belief that there will be a time slightly before the Second Coming of Christ when many Christians will be taken up out of this world and taken off to Heaven.  This is usually called the Rapture.  That is a belief I have never held, probably because I come from an amillennial tradition.  But as you can imagine, this belief doesn’t fit with the way I am proposing we should understand the future.  We are not going up and off to anywhere.  The New Jerusalem is coming here to a cleansed and renewed earth (Revelation 21-22).

This passage quoted above is often cited in supported of the Rapture.  Two people are in a field and one is taken away.  There it is.  But why do we think that the one taken away is taken away to Heaven?

I would like to suggest that the one taken away is taken off for punishment.  He is part of the cleansing, that which has to be taken out of this world in order for renewal to take place.  I would cite the very example Matthew uses in this passage as support.  In the days of Noah, you did not want to be swept away.  You wanted to be one of the eight left behind on the Ark.  If you were taken, it was punishment.  Likewise, if you are one of the two men in a field or two women grinding corn, you don’t want to be taken away.  You want to be the one left.

What do you think?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Matthew 23: Are We The Pharisees?

For those who only imagine Jesus as meek and mild and accepting of all, hold on because this chapter blows that stereotype to pieces.

Matthew has brought us to the last week of Jesus’ life.  The tension between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus is escalating, and this chapter does nothing to help that.

As I have said before, I am thoroughly and unapologetically religious.  Institutional and traditional Christianity is in my DNA.  I don’t think religion is God’s Kingdom; it is not where one finds the life and divinity we are all after.  Yet, I still value religion as a vehicle that often times transfers me into the Kingdom of life and divinity.  I like the way Eugene Peterson balanced religion (or “church”) and Kingdom in this quote from Christianity Today a few years back:

What other church is there besides institutional?  There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church because there is sin the church.  But there is no other place to be a Christian except the church. . . . I really don’t understand this naive criticism of the institution.  I really don’t get it.  Frederick Von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree.  There’s no life in the bark.  It’s dead wood.  But it protects the life of the tree within.  And the tree grows and grows and grows.  If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.  So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive.  And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long.  It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy and narcissism. 

“The Pharisees” by Karl Schmidt Rottluff

When I read a chapter like Matthew 23 I use it to inspect my own religious heart and determine whether Jesus could say some of the same things about me that he once said to the Pharisees.  The following are the phrases in today’s reading that I think all of us who are religious need to dwell on today to assess how true they could be in our lives as well:

You must do whatever they tell you, and keep it. (23:3a)

They talk but they don’t do. (23:3b)

They tie up heavy bundles which are difficult to carry, and they dump them on people’s shoulders. (23:4)

Everything they do is for show, to be seen by people. (23:5)

You tithe . . . and you omit the serious matters . . . like justice, mercy, and loyalty. (23:23)

You scrub the outside of the cup and the dish, but the inside is full of extortion and moral flabbiness. (23:25)

On the inside you appear to be virtuous and law-abiding, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (23:28)

Inserted into his invectives, Jesus offers two recalibrations for those of us who may feel like we are more aligned with the Pharisees than with Jesus:

The greatest among you should be your servant.  People who make themselves great will be humbled; and people who humble themselves will become great. (23:11)

First make the inside of the cup clean, and then the outside will be clean as well. (23:26)

The hypocrisy, legalism, and self-important arrogance of religiosity can be kept in check by a well-maintained interior life that  values humility not pride, service not power.

Lord, protect us from the “leaven of the Pharisees!”

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Matthew 22: Dressed for the Party

There were parties aplenty in the early years of high school.  Some not so great, many of them little more than huddles of insecure teenagers waiting for somebody to embarrass themselves or do something heroic.  Given the scrutiny that anyone at one of these gatherings would be under, we all knew it was important how you were dressed.  This was the mid-eighties so we segmented off by fashion — the preps with their pastels and popped collars, the jocks with their letterman jackets and team sweatshirts, the denim and leather crowd rocking a concert t-shirt.  The styles varied, but one thing you didn’t want to do was show up to a party dressed in such a way that you would stick out.  

Pieter Bruegel, “The Wedding Feast”

Matthew 22 starts with another parable, that of the wedding feast.  This is coming to be a royal feast with all of the trimmings.  The king has commissioning the killing of bulls and fattened calves.  He has invited all of his friends to celebrate the nuptials of his son.  The so-called friends snub the invitation and the king’s ire is raised.  So he sends out his slaves into the streets to invite anyone who might like to attend.  Many come and a great feast is had.  

Jesus’ point is clear in this parable.  The upstanding Jews and their religious leaders have been invited to celebrate God’s son Jesus but they have rejected the invitation.  Now, it is no surprise that the rabble of society are sitting down to eat with Jesus — not to mention the Gentiles who will come next.  They gladly received the invitation.  

It is the ending of the parable I took notice of this time:

But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who wasn’t wearing a wedding suit. (22:11)

The king is indignant and has the man thrown out with an empty belly and rejection.  

A bit of background here might help.  The guests who do respond to the invitation appear to be a poorer lot and they were not expecting the party.  They would not have had the appropriate attire readily available.  It also was a custom that a rich host like this one would provide the wedding clothes for the feast.  Thus, if a guest is sitting in the feast without the prerequisite clothes, it is only because he has rejected the king’s clothes and desires to disregard protocol and decorum.  It is this rebellious spirit the king cannot abide.  

What is the appropriate dress for us today as we celebrate the upcoming wedding feast of the Church to the Lamb?

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:13-14)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:12-13)

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

What stood out to you in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Matthew 21: Taking God’s Property

Today we come to Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants, a thinly veiled attack on the Pharisees (21:45).

A landowner plants a vineyard and rents it out to tenant farmers to care for the vineyard while he is away on a journey.  Harvest time comes and the landowner sends slaves to collect the fruit that is rightfully his.  The tenant farmers kill the slaves.  He tries again with a second group of slaves and the same thing happens.  The third time he sends his own son, thinking they will surely respect him.  Seizing the opportunity to get rid of the heir, the farmers kill the son too:

This fellow’s the heir!” they said among themselves. “Come on, let’s kill him, and then we can take over the property! (21:38).

Jesus asks the crowd what these tenant owners should expect because of their deeds?  Death, at the hands of the vineyard owner.

Let’s remember who the Pharisees were: the religious establishment.  They were the ones to whom God had given the leadership of His people.  But they allow that power to go to their heads and they tried to take what was God’s “property” and make it their own.

We would be a bit naive to think that the same selfish impulse can’t exist in religious people today.  Does God ever give us a farmer’s role and we turn it into a power trip?  Do our churches and Sunday School classes become our own domains?  Does our paycheck become ours?  Do we think our kids are our property?  Do we even think that our life is our own?  Maybe we have not been as malicious as the tenant farmers, but we should heed the warning of their example.

Does this resonate with you?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matthew 20: A Kingdom of Rejects

"The Red Vineyard" by Vincent Van Gogh

Today I had one of those “I’ve never seen that line before” experiences.

Jesus tells the crowds the parable of the vineyard workers.  The vineyard owner goes out at the various times throughout the day hiring workers, but then pays all of them the same fair amount — one dinar, a day’s wage.  No one is shorted, mind you.  The owner is extravagantly generous with the workers who came late in the day, especially those who only worked one hour.  Fifty dollars to pick lettuce for a whole day in California’s Central Valley is half-decent if you are a migrant worker; fifty dollars for working an hour in the same fields is a celebration!  This is a wonderful parable of God’s grace, and a sober reminder that there have always been and still are hard-hearted people of God who don’t want anyone to get something they don’t deserve.

"The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard" by Rembrandt (I love the contrast between the come-lately pair in the right foreground laughing about their good fortune and the consternation on the look of the all-day workers grabbing hold of the landowner who seem to feel like they have been cheated)

It is verse 7 that I have never seen before.  The vineyard owner asked the last group of hired workers why they were still standing in the marketplace with nothing to do.  Their response:

“Because no one has hired us,” they replied. (20:7a)

These are the rejects.  The picked-over leftovers.  The pathetic lot who couldn’t get a job earlier.  And the vineyard owner utters the most wonderful words to them too:

“Well,” he said, “you too can go into the vineyard.” (20:7b)

The landowner’s vineyard — God’s kingdom — is a place even for the rejects.  Praise God!

What did you notice in this chapter?  

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Matthew 19: Innocent Like Children

This chapter has an interesting pairing of stories.  One deals with sex and the other with money.  The Pharisees ask Jesus about marriage, divorce and sexuality.  Then a rich young man wants to know how to inherit eternal life and the conversation quickly turns to his wealth.

If there are any two topics that so obsess the modern American mind they would have to be sex and money.  Both are everywhere and behind many a motivation, temptation and scandal.  We have even found ways to combine the two in this culture.  What I am seeing today is that it may not have been a great deal different in ancient Palestine either.

It is interesting how many times this pairing shows up elsewhere in Scripture too.  Jacob was as intent on stealing a birthright from his brother as he was to marry Rachel.  The two biggest topics in the introduction to Proverbs (chapters 1-9) — a book likely written to young men — were how to handle sex and money.  In the Pastoral Epistles, books written to give instructions on godly leaders, Paul has to discuss sexuality and money in each.  In Revelation, the whore of Babylon (that is, Rome) is sexually immoral and financially unjust and exploitive.  The examples could go on.

Don’t get me wrong, the issue is neither sex nor money, as if either is inherently evil.  The problems are immorality and greed, respectively.  Cover to cover in the Bible we find condemnations of these vices.

How do kingdom-people relate to both of these topics?  I believe the answer comes sandwiched between these two stories:

Then children were brought to Jesus for him to lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples spoke sternly to them.  But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me!  Don’t stop them!  They are the sort the kingdom of heaven belongs to!”  And he laid his hands on them. (18:13-15)

Kingdom-people are child-like.  We saw that point in the last chapter too (18:3-5) and Jesus’ point there was to become humble like children.  Here the point seems to be innocence and focus.  Children still live in that wonderfully naive world of purity, at least ideally.  An awareness of sexuality and money — and with that awareness the accompanying temptation to misuse each — is still in the future.  Much like Jesus’ instructions to not be focused on sex, like a eunuch could not be (19:11-12), and like the disciples who were willing to leave all material possessions behind to follow Jesus (19:27), children are able to focus with abandon on the task before them.

Likewise, kingdom-people have a task that takes focus.  There is a world that needs them. They cannot be taken off-task by the pursuit of sexual fulfillment or the love of money.  They operate by faith knowing that God will take care of their needs, yes, even these needs.

What struck a nerve with you in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Matthew 18: The Conciliatory Community

If another disciple sins against you,” Jesus continued, “go and have it out, just between the two of you alone.  If they listen to you, you’ve won back a brother or sister.  But it they won’t listen, you should take with you one or two others, so that ‘everything may be established from the mouth of two or three witnesses.’  If they won’t listen to them, tell it to the assembly.  And if they won’t listen to the assembly, you should treat such a person like you would a Gentile or tax collector. (18:15-17)

I am sick of gossip.  Sick to death of it.  I am sick of it happening in my classroom as students talk about other students right there on the other side of the room.  I am sick of it when I see their parents doing the same at church or in a school hallway.  I am sick of the hurt I see in people’s eyes when they realize people are talking about them, when they realize their “friends” are not trustworthy.  I am sick of the paranoia that comes when whispers are followed by cackles.  I am sick of the alienation it causes, and how we act like this is acceptable behavior amongst Christians.  To be genuine, I am also sick when I find in me the very same salacious desire to be “in the know” on the latest tidbit.

Gossip is killing us and it needs to be stopped.

I guess that is why this passage above from today’s reading struck a nerve with me.  Jesus proposes that we deal with conflict the exact opposite way  we normally handle it.

Jesus encourages us to go quickly and privately to a brother or sister who has offended us in some specific way.  Talk it out one-on-one.  Don’t involve anyone else.  Resolve it with “the one” and move on.  If that strategy doesn’t work, invite only a “few” close friends who are a part of the conversation with the offender as well.  Their presence still remains conciliatory; they are there to corroborate and help resolve, not throw fuel on the fire.  Only as a last resort are large numbers of people involved.  “The many” members of the assembly are called upon in the end, not for vindication but as one more attempt to forge reunion.

Jesus way of keeping matters private and only involving others if reconciliation cannot be reached privately seems to be opposite to the way we often do it in our social groups today, as the diagram above displays.  We invert the whole process.  We allow “many” people to know our business long before we ever talk to the person who has offended us.  Maybe we want vindication or moral support or allies, so we tell others what has happened and they tell others and so forth.  Then we pull in our “few” closest friends for “counsel,” which maybe more about getting up our nerve before we go and talk to the person who has done us wrong.  This does seem like a smart move, but we still haven’t talked to “the one” and we are airing our dirty laundry for others.  Last, and usually after several days or weeks have passed and far too many people have become involved, we finally go the one with whom we have an issue.  But by this time so many eyes are watching, so many unkind words have been said, so much posturing and side-taking has happened that reconciliation is much, much harder.  Reputations have been tarnished and perceptions have been formed.

My boss and friend has a simple, non-confrontational phrase she adds into conversations when it is clear people are going down the way of gossip rather than the way of Jesus: “What did he say when you talked to him?”  That is a very gracious way to correct and redirect.

May we be the people who turn the triangle back on its base.

What did you notice anew in today’s chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Matthew 17: The Transforming Word

This chapter is maybe best known for the Transfiguration.  N. T. Wright does something nice here in his translation by avoiding the archaic word “transfigure” in 17:2 and he uses the more common word for the Greek word metamorpho here, “transformed.”  Jesus was “transformed.”  This is the same word in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, two popular verses.

Interestingly, the experience of the Transfiguration did not transform the apostles understanding about John the Baptist.  Jesus used the prophetic image of “Elijah” coming again in the last days (17:11-12), but maybe because Peter, James and John has just seen the real, historical Elijah they were stuck on that one.  It was not their incredible experience that changed their understanding, it was the words of Jesus that helped them realize he was really talking about John the Baptist as a “new Elijah.”

But let me tell you this. . . . Then the disciples realized that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. (17:12-13)

They were changed by words, not just an experience.

We saw this back one chapter ago, too.  Jesus had told the disciples to be careful of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:5) and they thought he was talking about bread.  They had had a lot of experience with bread around that time with the two miraculous feedings, but they didn’t realize what Jesus was really talking about until he spoke an explanation to them.

Then they understood that he wasn’t telling them to beware of the leaven you get in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (16:12)

I am enough of a postmodernist to really appreciate experiences.  I am a Bible student by training, but I want more than just words.  I was right there in the late 1990s putting down J. I. Packer’s Knowing God and picking up Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God because I wanted more than just knowledge of God.  I experience God in special ways in praise and worship, in service to the poor, and in the laughter and intimacy of true fellowship with believers.

Still there are many times that full understanding only really comes for me from the words of Jesus.  My heart is made tender by experience, but the words are what create true transformation.  For us today, that means an open Bible.  I am so appreciative that you have decided to be a part of this reading community.  I learn from you as you share, and simply the knowledge that you read (most importantly) your Bibles and (secondarily) this blog keeps me accountable and on track.  Then, God does with His words what only He can do: He transforms you and me by the “renewing our our minds.”

What struck you in this chapter?   

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Matthew 16: Who Do You Say I Am?

“What about you?” he asked them.  “Who do you say I am?” (16:15)

This may be one of the most important questions of all time.  Maybe this is the question that all people must grapple with and answer.

For the Pharisees the answer was simple: Jesus was an ally of Beelzebub (12:24), even though all of the signs were there for them to know otherwise, Jesus says in today’s passage (16:3).

For Herod, Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead (14:2 ;16:14).

For the masses, after two miraculous feedings, Jesus was a free meal (14:13ff; 15:29ff).

For some the disciples had talked to, Jesus was another great prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah (16:14).

For the disciples, Jesus enigmatically pushed them past the literal (16:7-12).

For Peter, Jesus was the Messiah . . . but not the right kind.  Jesus was the vanquishing savior here to whip up on the Romans, not die on one of their crosses (16:16, 22).

We grapple with the same question today.  Ask around.  Jesus is a prophet, a wise man, a great teacher, a crazed lunatic, a egomaniacal liar, a carpenter turned revolutionary, a revolutionary turned lover of Magdalene, a hippie, a homosexual, a partier, a beaten up hero in a violent bloodbath, a scapegoat for Jewish nationalism, a healer, a handsome emotionless guru, a meek milquetoast whipping boy, a misunderstood leader, a rabbi, a philosopher of love, a Republican, a Democrat, a Communist, a Capitalist, a vegetarian, a figment of Paul’s imagination, or some other permutation next week when another book, movie or YouTube video comes out.

Albert Schweitzer is famous for saying that the quest to determine who exactly Jesus was, apart from the Bible, is a futile one.  It is like looking down into a well; all we see is our own reflection looking back.  People have a tendency to mold Jesus into whatever we want him to be, and in the end he ends up looking a lot like us or at least what we would like to be.

Looking ahead to the account of the Transfiguration in the next chapter, God will weigh in on the matter:

Then there came a voice out of the cloud. ‘This is my dear son,” said the voice, “and I’m delighted with him.” (17:5)

Still, the question is before us today: “Who do you say I am?”

How do we fashion Jesus after our own image today?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Matthew 15: What Makes One Unclean?

Today’s post is more of a question than a thought.  Even if you are not the kind to give a comment I would love your input on this one.  Please consider.

Jesus argues with the Jewish religious leaders again in today’s chapter.  Today, the issue is eating with unwashed hands, an elaborate tradition they had developed in an effort to remain a ceremonially clean people.  Notice that is ceremonially clean.  They hadn’t developed this ritual to remain a physically healthier group.  Jesus’ disciples evidently weren’t as meticulous about this tradition as the Jewish religious leaders would have liked.  Jesus points out the error in their logic:

What makes someone unclean isn’t what goes into the mouth.  It’s what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean. (15:11)

What comes out of the mouth begins in the heart, and that’s what makes someone unclean.  Out of the heart, you see, come evil plots, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and blasphemy.  These are the things that make someone unclean.  But eating with unwashed hands doesn’t make a person unclean. (15:18-20)

In fact, a tradition could make a person unclean if it caused them to nullify or trespass against God’s law.  The Pharisees were doing exactly that with their unwillingness to honor their parents by devoting money to God needed to help their parents (15:3-6).  God’s desire is for honor, not donations.

So, I am wondering today what, if any, are the “traditions” we have in our churches today that miss the point and maybe even cause us to work against what God is really looking for?  What are the “unwashed hands” that we get up in arms about even though these are not the things that really cause moral problems?  

What do you think?  

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Matthew 14: The Love Revolution

His disciples came and took away the body [of John the Baptist] and buried it.  Then they went and told Jesus.

When Jesus heard it, he went away from there in a boat to a deserted spot by himself.  The crowds heard it, and followed him on foot from the towns.  When he came out and saw the large crowd, he was sorry for them.  He healed their sick. (14:12-14)

I have always been amazed by these few verses.  How did Jesus do it?

His cousin has just been murdered.  Were Jesus and John close?  Let’s imagine they were.  A murderous tyrant has just rounded up his beloved cousin simply because John was the fly in Herod’s ointment of immorality.  Surely Jesus was sad; his next action was to go off on his own to a deserted spot.  Was Jesus also wondering if he would be next?  If Herod can round up one revolutionary, couldn’t he round up another?

What is clear is that the last thing Jesus wants to do right now is minister to the masses.  He just wants to be on his own in prayer and mourning.

But the crowds won’t allow it.  They follow after him regardless, and bring their sick in need of healing.  Jesus just can’t get a break.

It is what Jesus did next that rocks my own selfish world: “He was sorry for them.  He healed their sick.”  Jesus responded with love.  Then his compassion even drove him to do one of his most famous miracles: the feeding of the 5000.  Five thousand men and their women and children too — likely a number well over 10,000 or 15,000 — went away that day filled, healthy, and amazed.

This causes a new side to this juxtaposition of stories to jump out at me.  A sad and possibly apprehensive Jesus has just found an immediate following of 5000 men.  That could make quite a riot.  Jesus could work this crowd against Herod.  If nothing else, Jesus could find protection in the midst of such a following, but maybe he could storm a palace too.  Did vengeance for John’s death ever enter Jesus’ mind?

Instead, Jesus “dismissed the crowd” (14:22) and left the area.  There will be no armed revolt today.

Let there be no mistake: Jesus was a revolutionary, but of a different kind entirely.  Jesus brought the original Love Revolution.  The way of power and blood would be overcome by the way of love.  The hunger that exists in any kingdom run by opportunistic leaders like Herod would be overcome for a day in a most abundant way.  The self-focus of the crowds would be met with love and compassion.  Love would lead to a revolution of hearts.

My wife has a mantra that I believe she learned from her mother.  When you are sad and down, get busy helping others and you will see your own sorrows lessen.

Jesus had every reason to be alone and mourn.  Still, he was willing to be inconvenienced for love.

What did you notice in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Matthew 13: The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like

I absolutely love the parables.  They are most certainly my favorite form of literature in the gospels.  Matthew has packed this chapter full of them.

They are wonderful word pictures, for those of us who are more visual than verbal.  They pack meaning for those of us who like a good symbol.  They are memorable and popular.  They also teach fantastic lessons about life and how to live life.  But first and foremost, parables tell us about life in God’s kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is like . . .

  • a farmer sowing wheat on various kinds of soil with differing results
  • a field of wheat maliciously oversown by weeds that has to wait to be weeded out then harvested
  • a mustard seed that grows of a mere speck to a large, useful shrub
  • leaven that works its way throughout an entire pot of flour
  • a priceless treasure one might stumble upon in a field but then that’s worth selling everything you have to buy
  • a pearl hunter who sells off his fortune when he finds the biggest and best pearl ever
  • a net that gathers all sorts of fish that will have to be sorted out later

Some pieces of art or music or literature are just better appreciated in their original state without much explanation.  I do believe that is often true of the parables.  So, today I am running the risk of ruining great art.  Please forgive.  What is Jesus saying about the kingdom in these parables?

The kingdom of heaven is mysterious:  There is no telling when we will brush up against true Kingdom.  We might be in the middle of our everyday tasks and run upon a move of God that is unlike anything we have ever seen before.  We might simply be walking home, and over there in the corner of a yard under a tree, where we least expected it, will be something more valuable than anything we have.  We just thought it was another hum-drum day, but this is the day that changes our life.

The kingdom of heaven is valuable:  In a world that often lacks any substance or value, when we find God’s Kingdom, we will do anything to have it.  It is worth more than anything we presently have.  We know this is something real and valuable.  It might necessitate a relocation or a restructuring of our life, but we will gladly do it.  There will be sacrifices, but they are small in comparison.

The kingdom of heaven grows abundantly:  The Kingdom usually starts in humble beginnings.  We might look at it and say this won’t amount to much, but often that is exactly where God plants the seeds of His Kingdom and they grow into something that is so much bigger than what we could do ourselves.  And those pursuits bring help and nourishment to others.

The kingdom of heaven is messy:  This isn’t going to go smoothly.  God is working to advance His Kingdom in this world, but there are powers of evil and darkness that want the same soul-territory.  Right alongside Kingdom will be anti-kingdom.  There are people who will swallow up any seed of hope we might plant in another person.  “The world’s worries and the seduction of wealth” choke our devotion like thorns and strong weeds (13:22).  Purification and complete rescue won’t come until the end.

Those with ears to hear and eyes to see will know where Jesus is coming from.  Others won’t.  For some Jesus is just too familiar.  But those who do hear and see are more blessed than even the prophets of old (13:16-17).

Which parable resonates most strongly with you in this reading?  Why?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Matthew 12: It’s What’s On The Inside That Counts

The Pharisees confront Jesus in today’s chapter:

Look here!  Your disciples are doing something that’s not permitted on the sabbath!” (12:2)

How dare they pluck corn and eat it!  That’s work!

So Jesus chastises the Pharisees on how completely they have missed the point.  Then he heals the withered hand of a man standing in the crowd.  Oh-oh!  More work on the Sabbath.  How dare Jesus disregard the Law!  So,

The Pharisees went off and plotted against him, with the intention of doing away with him.” (12:14)

I have never noticed this last verse in this way before.  The Pharisees are incensed that Jesus would disregard the Jewish laws and customs concerning the Sabbath, all the while they are making plans to murder Jesus.  

Yes, it seems they have missed the point.

Today’s chapter really drives home the saying “it’s what’s in the heart that counts,” not the rituals of our hands.

  • Our mouth speaks from the heart (12:34)
  • The fruit/deeds of our life come from the quality of our tree/heart (12:33)
  • A demon can be removed but it will only be worse later on if we don’t fill up our hearts with something good (12:45)
  • Family is defined more by faith than blood (12:50)
  • Repentance of the heart is better than experiencing miraculous signs (12:41)
  • Saving a life and restoring health is far better than getting caught up in law keeping (12:12)
  • Mercy is better than sacrifice (12:7)

What stood out to you in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Matthew 11: The Lighter Way

Are you having a real struggle?  Come to me!  Are you carrying a big load on your back?  Come to me — I’ll give you a rest!  Pick up my yoke and put it on; take lessons from me!  My heart is gentle, not arrogant.  You’ll find the rest you deeply need.  My yoke is easy to wear; my load is easy to bear. (11:28-30)

Today’s choice of passage is entirely emotional.  I need to hear these words.  I need to meditate on them all day long.  Some days I don’t believe the way of Jesus is easier, but he says it is.  Will I believe that?  Some times I can think of a million other things to help me find rest, long before I go to Jesus.  Will I go to him first?  Praise God in faith that he is gentle and offers us something better and lighter and more blessed.

Have you ever felt this way?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Matthew 10: The Crown & The Cross

How will we know when God’s Kingdom has come?  What will it look like?

Jesus tells us in this passage:

As you go, declare publicly that the kingdom of heaven has arrived.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse people with skin diseases, cast out demons. (10:7-8)

As we progressively fill out our understanding of the “kingdom” Jesus was talking about, this passage is immensely helpful.  Kingdom has very little to do with what takes place in a church building.  Here we see that “kingdom” describes a state in which a person lives.  Kingdom-life is marked by wholeness.  Kingdom-life is when all is as it should be.  When Kingdom arrives in a person’s life, oppression is ended, provision is present, cleanliness is restored, dead things others had given up on are brought back to life, and hope returns.  Now that sounds like a kind of life to preach about!

But before we can enjoy life under the Crown, we must take up our Cross:

Anyone who doesn’t pick up their cross and follow after me doesn’t deserve me.  If you find your life you’ll lose it, and if you lose your life because of me you’ll find it. (10:38-39)

There is very little in this chapter that makes sense apart from the principle in this passage.  Jesus is sending his disciples out into Judea to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6).  He warns them sternly that their mission is not an easy one.  It will be subsistence living.  Dangerous people will surround them.  They will be dragged into court on trumped-up charges.  Their work will even bring strife in their own families from those who can’t accept their new calling.

God will provide for them.  And there are worse things than suffering physically for the Kingdom.  But if the crowds can’t all accept Jesus, why do they think the crowds will accept them, his servants?

The disciple isn’t greater than the teacher; the slave isn’t greater than the master. (10:24)

Jesus wears the crown of his kingdom today.  But first he had to take up his cross at Calvary.

We his disciples will have to do the same.

What crosses must we take up today? 

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matthew 9: Bring a Friend Along

Caravaggio, "The Calling of St. Matthew"

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting in the tax-office.

“Follow me!” he said to him.  And he rose up and followed him.

When he was at home, sitting down to a meal, there were lots of tax-collectors and sinners there who had come to have dinner with Jesus and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” (8:9-11)

Matthew wasn’t exactly the ideal candidate for a disciple to an itinerant Jewish rabbi.  He would have been a Jew, but many would have labeled him a traitor.  As a tax collector he was working for the enemy, the Romans.  Good Jews wanted out from under the Roman thumb, and Matthew was only perpetuating foreign tyranny.  Not to mention the assumption that Matthew was likely skimming a bit of the tax money off the top for himself, just like every other tax collector did.  So just the fact that Jesus would call Matthew to be a disciple was unexpected.

It is what Matthew did next that struck me today.

Matthew is leaving his life as a tax collector.  He is about to start a very different kind of life, dissimilar in ways he probably doesn’t even realize.  Still, he calls his friends to his house for one last party.  We can tell from verse 11 that this group of friends was composed of fellow tax collectors and other unsavory people.

Yes, Matthew is leaving his profession and even this town.  But he doesn’t just drop everything.  He is starting a new life, but he chooses to include his friends in this new life too.  It seems he wants his old friends to meet his new rabbi.

Did some of these friends become disciples too?  Did they come along with Jesus and Matthew?  We don’t know, but we do known that Matthew’s first act of witnessing was to his very own friends.  He wanted his friends to know Jesus too.

Good reminder.

What struck you in this active chapter?  

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Matthew 8: Amazing-Faith or Little-Faith?

Some times I have to remind myself how I probably would have been cast in the story of Jesus’ life had I been there at the time.

Matthew marches a fast parade of characters past us in this chapter.  A man with a skin disease that would have made him unclean.  A powerful Roman centurion.  An infirmed mother-in-law.  Handfuls of demon-possessed and sick people.  Two demon-possessed Gentiles from the “other side of the tracks lake” who terrorized their town.  A bunch of dirty pig-farmers.

All of these characters have two things in common.  One, they were unclean, foreign, odd, “others” who did not fit the mold of the “children of the kingdom”  (8:12) and therefore should not be those sought by Jesus.  Two, they were all filled with immense faith.  They flocked to Jesus for healing.  They pleaded dependently for help.  At the least, the pig farmers acknowledged Jesus as awe-inspiringly powerful.  It is the Roman centurion whose faith stands out the most:

“I’m telling you the truth,” he said to the people who were following.  “I haven’t found faith like this — not even in Israel!” (8:10)

But there are also three other characters.

A scribe — a religious functionary who labored with holy words all day long.

A disciple who had decided to make Jesus his “Rabbi.”

A group of disciples (maybe the apostles) who stick close to Jesus, even running to him in a storm.

These are the orthodox ones, the insiders, the chosen ones.  They are religious, clean, upstanding citizens.  These three are who you would expect to come off looking good in the chapter.  But Jesus doesn’t seem to be so sure about the scribe’s claim of commitment (8:19-20).  Jesus seems to think the disciple with a dead father is really just making excuses (8:21-22).  The disciples with Jesus in the boat that stormy day are sure they are about to die.  In contrast to the amazing faith of the Roman centurion, Jesus chastises his own disciples:

“Why are you so scared, you little-faith lot?” (8:26)

The religious don’t come off looking so good in this chapter.

 

I was born to religious parents.  I have been in a church most Sundays of my life.  My family went to church every time the doors were open, and other times too to take care of church matters.  My father was an elder.  My mother a president of a woman’s auxiliary for a Christian school.  I went to Christian camp.  I graduated from a Christian high school.  I have two degrees from Christian colleges.  I work for a Christian high school.  I am a deacon in a large church.  I teach adult Sunday school.  I read Christian books and listen to Christian music.  My wonderful Christian wife and I named both of our kids biblical names.  My blogs are religious.  And if I had enough guts to get a tattoo, it would be a cross.

I am thoroughly religious.

But do I have any faith?

What did you notice as you read this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Matthew 7: Kingdom Is As Kingdom Does

There is just too much “doing” in this chapter for this sermon to be nothing more than pie-in-the-sky idealism.

  • The word “do” (or “don’t,” “does,” “doesn’t,” “didn’t”) occurs 15 times in this one chapter.
  • Jesus encourages his audience to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” (7:7), all very active verbs.
  • Jesus summarizes all that the Law and Prophets were teaching using the very active Golden Rule: “So whatever you want people to do to you, do just that to them” (7:12).
  • The calling card of genuine Christians is “the fruit they bear” or “produce” (7:16-19; “produce” is used 5 times in 3 verses).

Clearly, the Kingdom will come into existence by doing.  Granted, the Kingdom is not of our doing, as if it is the work of our hands.  But we are disregarding the activity in Matthew 7 if we think God will bring His Kingdom while we sit back passively waiting.

"The Wise and Foolish Builders" by Danny Halbohm

Don’t get me wrong.  I am no legalist who glories in my good works.  People who sit in my classes hopefully will tell you that is not the focus on my teaching.  People who know me the best will also tell you I don’t have enough good works to glory in!  We don’t “do” in order to get; we “do” because of what we’ve got.  But the world needs more than a Church that offers cheap grace that neither changes anything within us nor demands anything from us.  This world needs wise builders who hear and do.  The skeptical around us need to investigate the vines of our lives and find abundant fruit.  They need people who have actually found the gate that leads through the “tight squeeze” (7:14) to the narrow path and have turned around to show others the way.

This is the sort of thing Jesus meant when he said “Follow me!” (4:19)

A rhetorical question (if you wish): who in your life needs you to “do” this Sermon?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Matthew 6: Kingdom Priorities

If the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ manifesto about this new kingdom he is bringing, what is truly important in this new way of seeing life?  Jesus answers that question with as many explanations of what is not important as he does the affirmative.

The praise of your fellow man is not top priority.  Do your religious acts like tithing, prayer and fasting but if you are doing those to get praise from your neighbors and friends you have missed the point.  That momentary praise is all you will get.  Kingdom-people seek the praise of the Father who sees what is done without fan-fare or the spotlight (6:1-18).

The treasures of this earth are not top priority.  Nice clothes get moth-eaten.  Piles of coins get rusty.  Houses fall apart.  Cars get dented.  Jewelry gets stolen.  Investment portfolios crash.  Educational degrees become out-of-date.  Power and status are lost.  Beauty fades.  All these treasures broadcast to the world what is truly valuable to us, and this may not be complimentary.  Kingdom-people store up treasures in heaven.  These will never fade away, lose value or be lost.  And don’t tell yourself you can actually have them both; you can’t (6:19-24).

The needs of this world are not top priority either.  Food, drink and clothing might be at the top of Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” and we do need these, but we don’t get them by seeking after them.  God knows what we need and he will provide.  The worry that comes from a preoccupation with these physical needs will only detract from our occupation of advancing the Kingdom.  Kingdom people focus with faith on the needs of the world to come (6:25-34).

So don’t worry away with your “What’ll we eat?” and “What’ll we drink?” and “What’ll we wear?”  Those are all the kinds of things the Gentiles fuss about, and your heavenly father knows you need them all.  Instead, make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well. (6:31-33)

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Matthew 5: The Blessed Kingdom Life

There are some chapters that are just daunting to write about; the next three are some of those.  What can be said about the Sermon on the Mount that has not already been said and said better or is really worth saying?  Like James, these are chapters that will meet us where we are, somewhere different each time we read them.  Do share how God speaks to you this time around.

There are many different theories on what exactly Jesus was trying to do in the Sermon on the Mount.  Was he, the new Moses, giving a new law on a new mountain?  Was he setting out the moral code of the Church?  Was he giving the “impossible dream,” a perfectionistic dare that only punctuates how God’s Kingdom is only attainable by the power of God?  Or something else?

No doubt the parallels between Moses and Jesus are no accident, but 5:17-20 discount a view of the Sermon that diminishes or reverses the role of the Old Testament law.  No doubt the Church has turned the Sermon into its moral code, though we haven’t done so well, have we?  Consider how successful Christians are doing with lust, hatred, divorce, and love for our “enemies.”  Sayings like the following one do sound like they are “impossible” reminders of our own frailty,

Well then: you must be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect. (5:48)

But why does the sermon end with the declaration that we are as “foolish” as a man who builds a house on a sandy seashore if we do not do what has been said in this sermon (7:24-27)?

I would like to advance a different idea, one that is certainly not my own and has been gathered from many different places, none of which I remember off hand.  The Sermon on the Mount is a picture of life when you come into the Kingdom and when the Kingdom comes into you.  Partly idealistic but also partly practical and doable, this snapshot of Kingdom-life was Jesus’ invitation to a whole new way of life, here and now, a worldview (beliefs and actions) that if accepted would revolutionize the follower and those in his sphere of influence.

The Beatitudes

With this idea in mind, consider the Beatitudes (5:3-10).  Eight character traits or positions in life are put forward as “blessed” or fortune or happy — humility, the need to mourn, meekness, longing for divine justice, merciful, purity, peaceableness, and persecution.  Most of us would look at this list and say there is little blessing or happiness in most of these.  But these are exactly the kinds of people who will find God’s Kingdom to be an answered prayer.  These sorts of people will find what our present world’s system cannot or does not afford.  These marginalized, downtrodden, and sad people will find this new way of life that Jesus is bringing to be truly blessed.  These are the kinds of people who need a new system and they will find it if they will truly follow Jesus.  On the other hand, there are others who at the exact same time cannot embrace this way of life as anything other than a curse.  As an interpretive key that this is a plausible reading of the Beatitudes, I appeal to the “inclusio” or enveloping structure of the Beatitudes: both the first and last Beatitudes mention the “kingdom of heaven.”  In other words, all the falls between is the blessed Kingdom-life.

Old Testament Law and the Kingdom

Or consider what Jesus was doing in the long “you have heard it was said/but I say” section at the end of this chapter (5:21-48).  Jesus is not taking on the Old Testament law as 5:17-20 won’t allow it:

Don’t suppose that I come to destroy the law or the prophets.  I didn’t come to destroy them; I came to fulfill them! (5:17)

Jesus has come as a restorationist.  He is the rabbi who does not wish to start a new religion, rather has come to return God’s people to what they were called to in the beginning.  Jesus is not saying to ignore the Old Testament laws not to murder, commit adultery, divorce, swear falsely, reattribute justice fairly, or love your neighbor.  Kingdom people respect and keep God’s law (5:19).  Instead, Jesus is attacking the reductionistic legalism of the Judaism all around him that settled for the letter of the law and ignored the underlying attitudes that cause sin in the first place.  In so doing, he was in fact calling Kingdom-people to a “covenant behavior [that] is far superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees” (5:20).  Life in the blessed Kingdom is obedient life, but of a deeper kind than had become the norm in the world — even the religious world — around them.

Matthew 5 is a majestic start to a truly magnificent sermon!

What do you think?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Matthew 4: The Kingdom Arrives

In the last chapter, we saw John preach about a kingdom that was coming.  Now with Jesus’ arrival that message changes slightly:

“Repent!” he would say.  “The kingdom of heaven is arriving.” (4:17)

Matthew then summarizes the message Jesus preached in the synagogues of Galilee as “the good news of the kingdom” (4:23).

We are still trying to determine what exactly this “kingdom” is but one thing we can know for sure is that Jesus is central to it.  As Jesus comes, so too does the kingdom.  Maybe at this point we can tentatively say that the kingdom is what one experiences when Jesus comes into one’s life.

"Follow Me, Satan (Temptation of Jesus Christ)" by Ilya Repin

I have always thought the way Satan decides to phrase his temptations is interesting, given what had just happened at the end of Matthew 3.  There we saw God’s Spirit alight on Jesus and a voice (presumably God’s) say,

This is my son, my beloved one,” said the voice.  “I am delighted with him.” (3:17)

Many others have noted that these three sentiments are three of the most basic affirmations a human needs to hear and be sure of in his life:

  • This is my son” — I claim you.  You are mine.  You belong to me, and I am glad to make that known.
  • My beloved one” — I love you.  I have deep affection and concern for you.  My emotions about you are positive.
  • I am delighted with him” — I am proud of you.  I approve of you.  I see what you do and it makes me happy.

It is interesting to me that Satan decides to attack Jesus at this most basic level: “If you really are God’s son . . .” (4:3, 6).  It is as if Satan is saying, “I know what you just heard, but are you sure?”  Maybe you need to test this.  Let’s put this to a test.  Make some bread.  Take a jump.

How often are our doubts and failures attached at a deep, even unconscious level to an uncertainty of divine acceptance, love and belonging?

Jesus’ path to victory is also instructive.  In the midst of this attack intended to produce doubt, Jesus hangs on to God’s words.  For Jesus the answer to the doubt and accusations of Satan was found in what God had already said.

We can learn from Jesus’ commitment to Scripture.

What grabbed your eye in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.