Matthew was written to explain Jesus’ role as the promised sovereign king who brings about God’s Kingdom. Having read and believed in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, it is easy for us to acknowledge Jesus as King and Saviour. However, it was important for the author of Matthew to start with the genealogy of Jesus to persuade the original audience of this book regarding Jesus.
Through Jesus’ genealogy, the author made conscious effort to show the connection between Jesus to both Abraham and David. This was to indicate that God’s promises to them both would be fulfilled through Jesus.
“And I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you and make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.”
This was God’s promise to Abraham; that the nations would be blessed through his “offspring” (Genesis 12:18), who is none other than Jesus.
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers,
I will raise up your offspring after you,
who shall come from your body,
and I will establish his kingdom.
He shall build a house for my name,
and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
2 Samuel 7:12-13
Because of this promise that the Lord gave to King David, people had definite hopes on a King to make Israel great again.
As we can see, the genealogy of Jesus is much more than just a long list of names or a historical record. It presents Jesus Christ as the climatic fulfillment of God’s promises of a coming king and a new reign.
JESUS CHRIST SAVES
“Jesus” means “The Lord is Salvation”.
“Christ” means “The Anointed One”.
In the olden days, names were given with a hope that it would be an accurate representation of a person. This was also why names were taken with utmost seriousness. Of course, we are not God and we have no way of ensuring that the child would grow to be as his name describes.
On the other hand, the sovereign and truthful Lord has the absolute right and power to ensure that the names he gives are sure indicators one’s character and destiny. The Lord gave the name “Jesus Christ” to His son. It is a proclamation to the nations that His son is the one anointed with God’s power to save us all.
JESUS CHRIST SAVES SINNERS
One might think that the lineage of Jesus is made up of glamorous, righteous and moral individuals; those worthy to be of royalty. However, the genealogy of Jesus tells us otherwise.
Ahaz (v9) worshiped the pagan Gods and practiced human sacrifice. Rehobam (v7) and Jeconiah (v11) were just as bad. There was also Manasseh (v10) who “did more evil than the nations”; he promoted the worship of idols and murdered the innocent so much so that the Lord drove him out of Canaan (2 Kings 21:9-18) Half of the Kings in the genealogy were truly wicked!
Towards the end at v.12, we see that Israel was suffering the consequences of sin – Jesus’ family lost their kingship and their wealth, having to deport elsewhere.
Jesus’ own people, His own family needed Him to save them from their sins! Jesus came not because mankind’s righteousness, but in spite of our sinfulness. Jesus came for (and through) the sinful, that we might be saved.
JESUS CHRIST SAVES BOTH JEWS & GENTILES
Jesus came not only for (and through) the sinful – He also came for (and through) the ethnically diverse. In the genealogy, the author of Matthew makes it clear that Jesus came through both Jews and Gentiles and will save both Jews and Gentiles.
Abraham was pagan; a Gentile until God called him and brought him into the covenant. God chose Abraham to establish his people, Israel, through His promise in Genesis 12:2.
Three out of four women listed in the genealogy were known prostitutes or adulteresses, and they were Gentiles. Rahab (v5) was a Canaanite from Jericho; Ruth (v5) was a Moabite; Bathsheba (v6) married a Hittite and was probably one herself.
Jesus had Gentiles in His family line!
What has it got to do with me?
Perhaps we need to remember that most of us are Gentiles, not Israelites – we were outsiders, not insiders. We were not God’s people (Israelites) at the start, and there was no reason for Jesus to die for mankind – not to mention Gentiles! Jesus’ death on the cross is so that we, the Gentiles could also be part of God’s family alongside all who believe. We are saved by God’s sovereign grace which extends to all sinners – through all nations! And therefore Matthew ends with the Great Commission:
“And Jesus came and said to them,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Therefore, as receivers of His sovereign grace and magnificent gift of salvation, let us be messengers of it as well!
While reading and studying the book of Matthew, let us give glory to our Lord Jesus Christ – the promised sovereign king that brings about God’s Kingdom which we all long for.
Joseph’s Trust and Obedience
Young Joseph had probably been looking forward to his wedding day, when he can finally marry Mary and build a godly family together with her. How confused, sad and shocked Joseph must have been when he found Mary, whom he loved, with a child! Could it be that she had an affair with another man? Was she not as pure and godly as he thought her to be all this time?
According to the law, the woman, if found to be in adultery, may face the punishment of being stoned to death in public. In those days, a betrothal is considered a legal engagement, and would last for about a year before marriage, even though the marriage has not been consummated. As Mary appeared to have conceived a child in adultery, she would possibly face death by stoning according to the law if Joseph had brought her out in public (Deut 22:13-21).
Joseph is a righteous man, and is well aware of the OT laws regarding sexual immorality. He would have struggled to make a decision as he sought to obey God through His law. Joseph eventually resolved to divorce Mary, but he remained compassionate towards her – the divorce would be done quietly (v19).
What Joseph did not know was that the child whom Mary was carrying was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in her womb (v18). Before he could actually carry out his decision, God sent an angel to reveal to him in a dream to take Mary as his wife. The angel also sent word from God that the baby she was carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph was to name the baby boy Jesus, as he was the one the prophets have spoken about (v20-23).
Joseph woke up from his sleep, and we know from Matthew that he simply trusted and obeyed the angel’s commands without any doubt (v24-25). Joseph could have only been able to obey these seemingly radical commands by faith. Joseph was firmly persuaded that God is indeed with His people to save, and did not fear what people might think or say.
God used Joseph’s obedience to fulfill what He has spoken through the prophets of old. Jesus now became the legally adopted son of Joseph in the line of David, but not begotten of Joseph in the flesh. The birth of Jesus to the adoptive father Joseph and the virgin mother Mary validates both his legal right and supernatural heredity respectively as heir to David’s throne.
Jesus’ Obedience and Mission
Matthew shows us that Jesus was born into a world of sin in need of salvation. The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves” and comes from the Hebrew name “Joshua”. At that time when Jesus was born, there were many other boys named Joshua (or in Greek, Jesus). However, Jesus was also called “the Christ”. The word Christ means “Anointed” and is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah” – this is his official title. In addition, “Immanuel” (v23) describes who he is – “God with us”, in person (Is 7:14, 8:8).
These names allude to who Jesus is, and point to his mission in entering the world (v21): God is present with us through the exact representation of Himself in Jesus (Heb 1:3), and now speaks to us through His Son (Heb 1:2). Through Jesus Christ’s perfect obedience, the Son of God himself entered human history and became the Son of David. God’s presence is now made flesh among His people to purify them from their sins.
Jesus fulfills all of God’s laws with every inch of his being – his earthly ministry culminated in his obedience to death on the cross (Php2:6-8). By the sheer grace of God, Jesus bore the fearful wrath of God on our behalf. We have been redeemed from our sins through Christ’s perfect sacrifice, once and for all (Heb 10:12). Jesus is therefore worthy of our worship, because there is no other like Him who can redeem us from sin through perfect obedience to God.
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” – Romans 5:19
Obedience: A Fruit of Faith
A truly regenerate person is continually transformed by the Holy Spirit, and perseveres in obedience to the commandments revealed by God through His Word (Jn 3:16). Jesus himself said that if his disciples love him, they will obey his commandments (Jn 14:15). No one who has genuine faith in Christ will keep on sinning (1 Jn 3:9; Heb 10:26). A truly regenerate person is continually transformed by the Holy Spirit, and perseveres in obedience to the commandments revealed by God through His Word (Jn 3:16; Heb 8:10-12).
“And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?” – Hebrews 3:18
Obedience is not merely an external conformity of behavior (think of the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked). A heart of disobedience refuses to submit to God. It is like a child who hates his father – he will either willfully ignore his father’s words, or worse, actively act in rebellion by doing the exact opposite just to make him angry.
King Ahaz (v9) was an example of a wicked king who willfully disobeyed God. Isaiah the prophet had brought news to Ahaz that God would deliver His people, but Ahaz refused to listen. He did not believe that the Lord would deliver him. Instead of seeking the Lord’s help in the face of threats from foreign nations, he turned away and sought the help of the Assyrian king (Isaiah 7).
On the contrary, a child who truly loves his father will not repeatedly do something knowing that it makes his father angry, but will gladly do whatever pleases his father out of pure affection. In the same way, a maturing believer with a Spirit-transformed conscience knows that his sins are an assault to God’s holiness. As a result, he will do all he can to obey God, resolving to fight his sinful ways and turn from the evil desires which he used to live by. His motivation for doing so is because he desires to worship and obey God more than he loves the deceitful pleasures of sin (1 Pet 1:14-16). A life of obedience to God’s commands is the fruit of genuine faith.
“Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – 1 John 2:4-6
Do we submit to the authority of God’s word (2 Tim 3:16-17)? Do we continue in Christian fellowship (1 Jn 2:19)? Do we give to a brother or sister in need (1 Jn 3:17)? Do we truly love one another, to even lay down our lives for each other (1 Jn 3:14, 16)? Do we correct disobedience amongst ourselves in church by demolishing wrong thinking and subjecting our thoughts to Christ (2 Cor 10:5)? These are but some areas according to God’s revealed will which we can examine ourselves to see if we are indeed bearing fruit in our faith.
God’s purposes were fulfilled through the perfect obedience of His Son Jesus, and the obedience of His people – Joseph and Mary! The obedience of God’s people by faith in this present age will continue to glorify Him and fulfill His purposes, until Christ returns again. Until then, let us persevere in His commandments. May the Lord strengthen our faith in Him – that we may increasingly bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt 3:8), and worship him in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24).
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:12-13
The promised Messiah had come - the true king of the Jews. And of all people, the leaders of Jerusalem would have been in the best position to know of His coming. However, we are taken by surprise when the first political leaders who paid tribute to the king of the Jews were not even Jews - they were pagan wise men from a distant country.
Their job was to search and interpret the stars for heavenly signs for the royal court. It was through that pagan practice that they found out about the birth of the king of the Jews. Ironically, Herod and his officials had no clue the Messiah had even come, although they had the Scriptures!
As we examine the meeting between Herod and the wise men, we see two contrasting responses to the news of the birth of the King. What did their responses reveal about each party, and what do our own responses to God’s good news tell us about our own characters?
Reverence vs arrogance
To the wise men, they saw a great king worthy of worship. This King was worthy enough for them to prepare the entourage and costly goods required for such a long journey, even though he was not even the king of their own people (v 1)!
On the other hand, Herod was more concerned about his own political power. Herod would not give up his position to anyone, not even the true king of the Jews promised in all Scripture. The possible threat of losing his earthly throne deeply troubled Herod. A more accurate translation reads, "he was greatly agitated".
The wise men revered the true king with much sincerity. They took great effort to come from a faraway land to pay their tribute. This contrasts with the arrogance of Herod, who thought himself more worthy of the title “king of the Jews” and thought nothing of the true king of the Jews.
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
Faith vs unbelief
Herod heard the news of a lifetime, but he didn’t think much of it. He expressed false “desire” to worship the Messiah king (v 8), but it did not lead to any action on his part. He did not even bother to search for the Messiah king himself, but instead got pagans to do it for him.
The wise men, on the other hand, did not wait around for the Messiah king to reveal himself. As soon as Herod gave his instructions, they immediately left to search for the Messiah king (v 9).
True faith will lead to active worship. No one can say that he truly worships God but yet sits around without responding. As the author of James puts it, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:17) Worship is the natural outcome of faith, therefore faith cannot just remain as a mental state of belief, but is fully expressed in active worship.
The lack of faith is often passive. There is no personal desire to seek after God to worship. We brush aside God's word as foolish and irrelevant, and we do not study it rigorously. We see this after Paul preached the gospel in the Areopagus: some mocked Paul, but there were some who said “We will hear you again about this.” (Acts 17:32). They did not even bother to investigate further the claims of Paul through further discussion.
Joy vs malice
The good news left Herod a bitter, malicious man. Many people rejoiced at the good news of the messiah king, but all Herod could think of was the threat of losing his power as king of the Jews. He only wanted to preserve his own power, no matter what it took. Herod’s evil ambitions resulted in the massacre of all males who were 2 years and younger in Bethlehem (v 16).
For the wise men, the good news of the Messiah’s coming left them only with joy. And not just any joy, but exceedingly great joy (v 10). Here was a group of people who had minimal knowledge of Jewish Scripture. But whatever knowledge they had, paired with faith, produced within them much joy. Their joy was made complete as they worshipped the child King Jesus and offered their kingly tributes to him (v 11).
The things of God vs the things of the world
Here we see two contrasting pictures: a man who desires the things of the world, and another who desires the things of God.
The man who desires the things of the world thinks highly only of himself. All his achievements are to his own credit and all his possessions belong only to him. He says to himself “All these things are mine because I worked hard for them, I don’t need God’s help.”
He does not think that “spiritual” things are important, and does not see any point in knowing more about it because to him they are just foolish. “Church and Bible stuff” are just good moral teachings to him, but ultimately he decides for himself which values are acceptable and which are not important.
When God’s demands for righteousness threaten his possessions, fame, power or way of living, this man is filled with bitterness and anger. Even when outwardly he looks like he is obeying God, inwardly he resents following God’s commands.
As for the man who desires the things of God, he recognises that Jesus is the true ruler of his life. He says to himself “All things ultimately belong to God. All that I am and all my possessions are only mine because they were given to me by God. They are for me to use for His purposes and glory.”
He understands that only God, and not himself, is worthy of worship and full obedience, so much so that nothing is too much effort when it comes to worshipping and obeying God. He actively participates in his own spiritual growth instead of just “leaving it to the church”.
God’s demands for righteousness only drive him to act in repentance and obedience with a sincere heart. He desires to live according to God’s commands in Scripture instead of insisting on his own values. Such faith and works only serve to produce great joy inwardly and true worship outwardly.
Which man are you?
Let us then examine ourselves with all honesty: which man are you? How do you think of your own achievements and possessions? Do the things of God even appeal to you and do you act on it? What are your attitudes towards Scripture, especially when it speaks against certain sins in your life, or even your way of living? Honest answers to these questions will reveal our true desires.
If we are found to desire the things of the world, it is never too late to turn away from such desires. The apostle John writes that whoever confesses his own sin, God is faithful and just to forgive that person (1 Jo 1:9). Confession involves a heartfelt, sincere understanding of the sin, resulting in the desire to turn away from it. The next step is to make all efforts to live in obedience to God’s commands, and God promises to work on our will and desires from within (Php 2:12-13).
If we find ourselves desiring the things of God, praise God! Let us then strive to build up the body of Christ by guiding, correcting and encouraging other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to desire and obey the ways of the Lord (Eph 4:15-16).
As we continue to grow in our desire to please God and our understanding of His worthiness, may we find exceedingly great joy as we respond in worship and obedience to God, just as the wise men did.
Matthew 1-2 introduces Jesus as the legitimate Messiah of Israel and the fulfillment of Scripture. The second half of Matthew wraps up this introduction. However in this segment, Matthew focuses on the opposition against Jesus, his fleeing into exile and his return to an obscure place.
By doing this, Matthew gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ life and ministry, where he will be met with much opposition and people would despise him for his apparent “lack of splendor” (amongst many other reasons).
As we examine the 3 Old Testament quotations that he fulfilled, what can we learn about Jesus?
Called Out Of Egypt
The first prophecy is that God called his son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). Matthew 2 describes Joseph bringing Jesus and Mary and fleeing to Egypt to escape the clutches of Herod (14). Hosea’s prophecy describes their return from Egypt. Jesus returned from Egypt, so as God’s son he was “called out of Egypt”.
How does the Jesus fulfill the prophecy then? Did Hosea mean to prophesy about who the Messiah was going to be?
In actual fact, Hosea was not referring to Jesus in his prophecy. Rather, he was referring to how God would call Israel out of Egypt as his own people, or his “son”. Israel was in exile in Egypt. God called Israel out of Egypt, out of exile – to start his original covenant with them. In the same way, God called Jesus out of Egypt, and it was through Jesus that God would start his new covenant with us.
So this prophecy is meant to be symbolic. God called Israel out of Egypt – but that was a foreshadowing of Jesus. Jesus fulfills this scripture and takes on the role of Israel.
Rachel Weeps for Her Children
The second prophecy can be found in Jeremiah 31:15, where Jeremiah describes the anguish of Israelite mothers as their sons were led off into exile. Jeremiah uses “Rachel” to represent / personify all these mothers, since her own sons, Joseph and Benjamin, had also been threatened with being “no more” (Genesis 42:36).
Matthew now applies this passage to the mothers in Israel as they mourned over their sons who were massacred by Herod (16). In this way, Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, as his appearing prompted Herod to massacre these children and fulfilled the prophecy, as “Rachel” wept for her children.
He Shall Be Called A Nazarene
The third and final prophecy in this segment is not as clear cut. We read that Joseph was instructed to return to Israel, but he chose to settle in Galilee instead of Judea. What is the significance of this? Why did Joseph choose one city over the other?
The answer lies in the ruler of the county. Herod’s son, Archelaus, reigned in Judea and he was known to be as cruel as his father. We read that Joseph was afraid to go to Judea (and rightly so!) and at the same time he was warned in a dream (22). So Joseph brought Jesus and Mary and settled in Galilee.
What is the significance of Jesus going to Galilee?
Matthew says that Jesus went and lived in a city called Nazareth, fulfilling the prophecy that "he would be called a Nazarene” (23).
Putting It All Together
So what was the significance of Jesus being called a Nazarene?
Ironically, the significance of Jesus being called a Nazarene is that it actually portrayed him as being insignificant. Nazareth was a lowly, despised place. People did not think anything good could come out of Nazareth (John 1:46). “Jesus of Bethlehem” may have sounded more royal and majestic. “Jesus of Nazareth” sounded derogatory and insulting. “Jesus the Nazarene” was a most unremarkable name and did not carry fame or renown.
So then, did Joseph make a mistake in settling in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem? Did he ruin Jesus’ reputation?
This is not the case. God’s plan from the start was that Jesus would come, not with grandeur and glory, but that he would be lowly and despised (Isaiah 53). The prophets pointed to a Messiah who would be despised and rejected, and Jesus fulfilled this, through his obscure background and by growing up in lowly Nazareth.
The fulfilment of the third Scripture quotation tells us something about Jesus and his ministry. He did not come with splendor and majesty. He did not consider equality with God something to be boasted of. Instead he humbly did the will of his father while he was on earth. And through his ministry, many were saved and lifted up. God used an obscure man with an “unimportant” background to accomplish his purposes. And Philippians 2 reminds us that God exalted him for his obedience.
This has implications for us as followers of Christ. It means that our lives, like our Lord, will be characterized by lowliness and insignificance. When we share in Christ’s lowliness, we are sharing in his life. We will be considered lowly and despised. But nevertheless, we can take encouragement from the fact that suffering, rejection and even death are never the final word – not for Jesus, and not for his disciples. But they must come before our exaltation.
Furthermore, the first two scripture quotations that Jesus fulfilled show us that Jesus is indeed the awaited Messiah. Matthew spared no effort to demonstrate that Jesus is the Savior who was prophesied in Jewish tradition.
How are we responding to this? Do we approach Jesus and the scriptures as mere knowledge? Are we convicted by the truth that Jesus fulfilled these promises of God and many more?
Knowing these prophecies and learning how Jesus fulfilled them increases our faith. We see how Jesus fulfills God’s promises of a new covenant. We see how God works through his lowly, despised son to save his people. We trust Jesus to save us from our sins. We worship him for doing what nobody else could. And we give thanks and praise to God who has fulfilled all these promises in Jesus. We know that we have a God who is powerful and able to do what he has promised and that brings us great joy.
Introducing the one who is introducing our Lord
In keeping with Matthew’s theme of fulfilment, he gives the record of John the Baptist fulfilling the scriptures as the one preparing the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus. He fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3 as the “voice crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”
So what was this work of preparing the way of the Lord?
The account Matthew that gives us was that John was preaching, calling people to repentance and baptizing them.
The offense of the baptism of John
Baptism at that time was understood as an initiation right for Jewish converts who came from a Pagan background. This makes John’s baptism very offensive to the Jews. John calling the Jews to be baptized was implying that unless the Jews were willing to repent, they were not in God’s family according to birthright and they were not in possession of the promises and blessings of God.
These are the same Jews who knew the Law of Moses by heart! They knew what was written in Genesis 17:7 “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Who does John think he is by telling the sons of Abraham what they should be doing?
A lesson from the Jews
It should make us tremble to think that the Jews were a people who had a strong consciousness for God while also strongly onto the belief that God will fulfill his promises. However, these people were nevertheless called a "brood of vipers" and threatened with eternal damnation.
Some of the Jews assume that by virtue of their birthright, God is obligated to bless them because of the promises made to Abraham. He must bless them. He can't pour out wrath on them, because he always keeps his word. Ultimately whether they are living a life of repentance or not, it does not matter. Such is the attitude of those who are not relying on the mercy of God, rather placing their trust in their earthly identification.
Your identity does not save
Here is a warning: We should never think that mere identification with a group (like being a Jew or even being a Christian) should obligate God to bless us. Our status as a child of God is not an entitlement that God is obligated to keep.
John says in verse 9, "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.’' What John is trying to show them is that God cannot be coerced into doing anything. John reasons that God is able in his absolute sovereignty and power to ‘raise up children from Abraham’ from rocks.
Verse 10 repeats the warning we have just seen. "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." There is no benefit in placing your trust in the kind of tree you are. If there is no fruit that is born from repentance, the tree is useless; it will be destroyed. It doesn't matter if the tree is Jewish or Gentile; what John the Baptist is calling for is for all trees to bear the fruit of repentance.
Who do you place your trust in?
As followers of Jesus, we put our trust in our Lord and savior. We do not expect God to be obligated to bless us or help us live good lives just because we brandish our status as Children of God. Neither should we feel that God is indebted to us because we have done righteous and good acts in his name.
We actively turn away from anything we have done, we turn away from who we are, and instead rely wholly on the boundless mercy and grace of God that He lavishes on us freely.
Jesus the Son of Man
The term “son of man” is used to describe the humanity of Jesus. Jesus uses it to refer to himself in his earthly ministry and his future death, exaltation and coming as judge and Saviour (Matthew 9:6).
Yes, Jesus is God. Yet He is also fully man at the same time. Jesus has a human body (Luke 24:39), a human mind (Luke 2:52), and a human soul (Matthew 26:38). Jesus is fully man with complete humanity, wholly tempted as we are (Hebrews 4:15).
It is important for us to affirm the incarnation of our Lord Jesus and His complete humanity. With this knowledge, we can be certain that Jesus was fully tempted as we are and in fact, was repeatedly tempted with the things common to man. Luke 4:13 makes it clear that “when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
The word “tempt” in Matthew 4 means to test, to put someone through a period of testing. As Christians we face temptations throughout our Christian journey.
The temptations that Jesus faced were higher in intensity not only because He never gave in despite having to face the full brunt of the temptations, but also because He was in a situation that made it harder for him to overcome them by human strength alone.
Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, where everything was beautiful, perfect and good. They had everything they needed. Yet they gave in to the trickery of Satan. Jesus on the other hand was in the wilderness, having fasted for 40 days and He was hungry. May we be encouraged by the fact that Jesus overcame real temptation and rose victorious over Satan.
The temptations that Jesus faced of self-gratification, self-protection and self-exaltation are the same ones that we face every day.
The Temptation of Self-Gratification
Every day, we seek to satisfy our own selfish desires. From purchasing bags to cars to anything that we hold of importance such as getting good grades, going on holidays etc. We not only want gratification but seek for instant gratification in ways that dishonour God (James 5:2-7).
The temptation for Jesus was a trying one; he fasted for 40 days in the wilderness and was hungry. He not only wanted but also needed food. It was something of utmost importance for survival rather than a luxury.
Satan tempted Jesus by seemingly doubting his authority as God. “If you are the son of God” (v.3), he said. However, Jesus is indeed the Son of God and it is within His power to make bread for himself. Satan was essentially saying: “If you’re really God, why don’t you use your authority to turn stone into bread? You have every right to use this power for your own needs!” However the underlying deception was that using one’s gifts for self-gratification, outside of God’s purposes, was dishonoring to the Lord our God.
Jesus’ response to Satan was “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v.4). The word of God is food for our soul, which is far more important than food for our bodies. Jesus turning stones into bread would mean abusing His authority by taking matters into His own hands instead of obeying and trusting in the Father for provision.
Let us not take matters into our own hands when seeking our own gratification, but instead rely on God’s provision just like Jesus did even in His most dire moment.
The Temptation of Self-Protection
Using the trust that Jesus had in God and His word, Satan rolled out his next move. Satan says in v6. “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.’ ” In effect what Satan is saying is: “Since God promises that He will protect you, and you trust in Him, why don’t we test God to see if His promises are true?”
How is this the temptation of self-protection?
Knowing what comes in the future and the knowledge that all is within our control provides us with a sense of security. Put in the same situation, we would want to know for sure that God protects and provides for us, especially when we are hungry without food.
Jesus’ response to that temptation was “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’ ” (v.7). Satan is right regarding God’s promise to Jesus. However, God’s word must be understood in its entirety. God said He will protect Jesus, but He also said that He is not to be tested.
By forcing God’s hand to react to a situation we create to test His trustworthiness, it demonstrates our faithlessness and distrust in God. We do this when we play with temptation like how we play with fire and say “You won’t allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear, right God?”
One such example is when we date a non-believer and tell God, “Don’t you desire for all to be saved? Use me in this relationship for the salvation of this person.” Another example is when you get involved with shady businessmen and you say, “God you will protect me if anything goes wrong right?”
Let us not put God to the test! Instead of pushing the boundaries to test His protection and provision for us when we pursue our own desires, we should be relying on those promises to pursue God’s desires.
The Temptation of Self-Exaltation
Satan had one last temptation and did not coat it in sugar. He out-rightly offered Jesus the worldly Kingdom as stated in v.9 “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Note that this kingdom rightly belonged to Jesus! Satan did not have to give it to Him! In this case how is this a temptation? Jesus knows for a fact that the kingdom is His! But remember, Jesus also knows that the road ahead leading to such authority is filled with sorrow, suffering, death (Platt, 2014) and separation from God the Father.
Jesus was faced with the temptation of instant gratification with regards to attaining authority, exaltation and worship. It was a shortcut towards getting what is rightfully His without waiting upon the Lord and trusting the Lord.
Jesus chose to live a life of suffering in worship to the Lord even though the Kingdom was rightfully His. And so his response to Satan was “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (v.10)
Likewise, we who are believers are promised the kingdom of God and the blessings that come with it. However let us not forget that we are also called to a life of total submission and obedience to Jesus Christ our Lord by living in righteousness.
The Power to Overcome Temptation
Through these temptations, Jesus depended not upon himself, but by the spirit of God and by the word of God. Jesus was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (v.1). “It is written” was the defense of Jesus when faced with temptation, time and again. This demonstrated Jesus’ unwavering obedience and trust in the spirit of God and the trustworthiness of God’s word.
If we seek to overcome temptation by our own strength, we are making a grave mistake. By our sinful flesh, we can never win in spiritual warfare. Only through obedience and dependence on the Holy Spirit can we be victorious, as Jesus demonstrated when he was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness and continued to be led throughout His earthly ministry.
Let us also “live by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Our resistance against temptation and our walk with God depends on it.
So how can we be victorious over the temptations in life? By relying on both the power of the Holy Spirit and the trustworthiness of God’s word as Jesus has demonstrated.
Jesus is our role model to learn from when facing temptations. Though faced with intense temptations of all kinds, He has defeated Satan and given us the Holy Spirit to do the same. So let us rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God to win the spiritual warfare against our sinful desires and the temptations of the devil.
After Jesus had overcome the temptations in the wilderness, he was ready to begin his public ministry. In the meantime John the Baptist had been imprisoned for speaking against the sins of Herod the Tetrarch, John was imprisoned (Luke 3:19-20). This prompted Jesus to move from Nazareth to Capernaum (vv 12-13), which was in the northern part of Israel. This was also to fulfill the prophecy by Isaiah (vv 15-16).
While this may just seem like the fulfillment of a historical event, it meant so much more to the Jews back then. The prophecy, taken from Isaiah 9, described the coming of the Messiah. It detailed the nature of the Messiah: the great light, bringer of joy, triumphant deliverer, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, just and righteous king (Isaiah 9:1-7).
The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was the proclamation of the coming of God’s heavenly kingdom, with Him as King. And Jesus began his ministry with the overarching message of His Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (v 17).
The Gospel according to Jesus
The heart of Jesus’ message is a call to repentance. Repentance is not simply a big emotional outburst of sobbing and feeling sorry without actually changing anything. In fact, the Jews and Greeks at the time defined repentance as a change of heart, mind and actions. True repentance requires that we turn away from our sinful thoughts, intentions and actions, and turn towards the living God. It means that our thoughts, intentions and actions that are turn from rebelling against him to worshipping him.
And why is there a need for repentance? Because God’s kingdom is here! The just and righteous Messiah King will destroy all who rebel against Him, and He has come! The great light and bringer of joy to those who will believe in Him for salvation is right here with us! Here is presented to us either the biggest threat or the greatest delight to our souls.
It is not some new country that Jesus was founding. Instead it is a kingdom of spiritual brothers and sisters who have put their faith in Jesus Christ and do the will of God as a result (Matt 12:46-50). In God’s kingdom all are saved in Christ through one Spirit into one body (Col 3:11, 1 Cor 12:13). The borders are drawn not between lands, but between hearts - all who trust in Jesus as King of their lives, and the rest who do not.
The coming of the Messiah King also included the blessings of physical and spiritual healing (v 24). This was to demonstrate Jesus’ sovereignty in the heavenly kingdom that had come. Jesus calls us to be part of His kingdom. He calls us to repent from our sin - and this call demands our response.
Proclaiming Jesus’ Gospel
Jesus always spoke the truth and never minced His words. He never once said, “You are doing fine, just keep it up and you will somehow find your way into the kingdom of God.” Jesus was very honest about our need to repent. And our need to repent means that we are sinful, and nobody likes to be told they are wrong, bad or sinful.
However Jesus’ first disciples responded immediately and wholeheartedly without complaining about how insensitive His message was (vv 20, 22). And many were attracted to the gospel that Jesus proclaimed throughout Galilee and the blessings that came with it (vv 23-25), despite its supposedly offensive message.
In our modern culture of political correctness, we are socially expected to be “culturally relevant” and “sensitive”. As a result, we see Jesus’ gospel message being compromised in many churches today. The call to repent from sin is often drowned out by the messages of “You will be saved just by believing that Jesus exists”, “Jesus paid it all on the cross, therefore He has freed you to live however you want now”, and “Who are you to judge another person’s sins?”.
However, when the true message of the gospel is distorted, we need to proclaim Jesus’ gospel all the more! It is especially during this spiritual drought where people hunger and thirst for the truth found in the Bread of Life and the Living Water.
Yes we still need to present Jesus’ gospel in a way that is easy to understand, but the call to repent and to live according to God’s righteousness must remain at the heart of the message.
Responding to Jesus’ Gospel
We saw many who responded to Jesus’ call to repent and be part of His heavenly kingdom. But what is required of us when we respond to Jesus’ call to us?
A response to Jesus’ call requires us to follow Him (v 19). To follow Jesus means that we are to watch and learn through Jesus’ life, align our thoughts and priorities with those of Jesus, and to act according to the example that Jesus had shown through His life and ministry.
Responding to Jesus’ Gospel call may also require us to leave behind family and career. This includes worldly family culture and socially acceptable career progression.
One thing to note is that Jesus’ first disciples did not drop everything to follow Jesus because He casted some mystical hypnotism on them. Their decisions were well thought out and deliberate after having followed and observed Jesus for a time. Jesus Himself required that His disciples count the cost of discipleship before becoming His disciple (Luke 14:25-33).
Therefore let us reconsider once again what it means to repent. God’s kingdom and King Jesus, have come, and He calls us to repent. Let us also never shy away from proclaiming the message of repentance from sin and restoration to live in God’s righteousness.
And as we seek to respond to Jesus’ call to repent and be part of His kingdom, let us not be rash in making the decision to follow Him. Instead Jesus requires that we count the cost carefully before committing to an eternity of following Him and being gradually transformed into His image more and more.
The Sermon on the Mount describes life in the new kingdom
Matthew 5:1-16 forms the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29). This Sermon deals with the character of the Christian. It describes who the Christian is and what his life looks like.
The Sermon contains so many demands that we might mistakenly think it is a handbook of “good Christian behaviours” that we are to learn. However, after we study them carefully we realise that the demands in this Sermon are of such high standards that it is impossible to achieve – Jesus said we must be perfect, just as God is perfect (5:48). We cannot attain this standard, and therefore we cannot earn our salvation by obeying these demands. How then do we attain our salvation?
We attain it through Jesus. No one can achieve the standard except Jesus – he alone fulfills the demands of God perfectly. So it is through Jesus’ obedience that we receive salvation. He reaches the standard that we failed to reach, and by trusting him, we receive the righteousness that belongs to him.
When we receive his salvation, we receive new life from Jesus. We become his disciples. We learn from his ways and we want to live like him, and live for him. This community of disciples follows Jesus, and the Sermon on the Mount describes the way we should live our new lives with Jesus.
The Sermon on the Mount is for Jesus’ disciples
Who is the audience for this Sermon?
Jesus’ disciples are the intended audience. When he sat down, his disciples were the ones who came to him (5:1). And he opened his mouth and taught them – his disciples (5:2).
Later on Jesus says “blessed are you when others… persecute you… on my account” (5:11). Jesus is speaking to his disciples, since unbelievers would not suffer persecution for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus also says “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world”. These are metaphors for Christian and Jesus is clearly addressing his disciples.
It is clear that Jesus is speaking to those who are his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. At this point, he may be talking to the 12 disciples. However, as the 12 disciples went out to make disciples of all nations (28:18-20), more people received Jesus as Lord and Saviour. These people thus become disciples of Jesus.
Therefore, we are disciples of Jesus and we are also to take heed of his words in the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount teaches us how to live as salt and light
Up to this point, the beatitudes have drawn the line between the disciples of Jesus and the world. Disciples live according to Jesus’ commands (which will be read in the coming weeks) which are described later on in the Sermon on the Mount. The world does not.
Jesus tells his disciples that they are salt of the earth and light of the world. What do these mean?
The importance of our public witness
Salt was used in ancient times to preserve food. Just like salt preserves food, God uses Christians as agents of preservation in society. Humans are sinful and rebellious towards God. If left unchecked, the world would become increasingly corrupt and depraved. As Christians, we are be salt in the sense of preventing corruption in society. We do not this by physical force. We do it by preaching the gospel. We call people to live transformed lives that worship the true God.
Salt that lost its saltiness was considered useless because it was unable to preserve the food. Similarly, Christians who are no different from the world they live in will be powerless witnesses. How can we call people to turn from their sins when we are continuing to live in our own sins?
A Christian who is stingy cannot possibly convince his neighbor to worship God instead of money. And how are we to persuade others that the bible is God’s word if we ourselves pick and choose at the verses which “suit us best”? And no one will be persuaded by a man who claims to love Jesus if he always talks about all his other hobbies without ever talking about Jesus. These people claim to follow Jesus but if they look just like the world, no one will listen to them. So the salt of the earth must not lose its saltiness.
Again, Jesus calls us light of the world. He says that no one lights a lamp an puts it under a basket (5:15), because that would be no use. Christians are to be public witnesses, as we have just learnt.
But this metaphor about light teaches us that Christians should not only live secret lives of devotion to Jesus that no one can see. We already know the importance of our secret devotion to Jesus. Our secret devotional lives are important, but it does not stop there. Our public faith starts with our secret lives. Our public lives are to reflect our secret devotion.
If we do not meditate on the bible, we will not share it with our neighbor. If we do not pray for one another, we will not rejoice when we see God work. To put it another way, when we are praying and reading the bible consistently, we cultivate our relationship with Jesus, and we will obey him both inwardly, and also outwardly in public acts of faith. We should be lights that shine in the world and give light – the light that comes from Jesus, who is himself the true light of the world (John 8:12).
And this is what Jesus means when he says, “let your light shine before others”. Does he mean that our light shines so that we receive the praise?
No, we are to let our light shine before others, so that they would see it and praise God (5:16). God deserves the praise for changing our hearts and doing the impossible work in us. No one else can do it. Only he can, and so only he deserves praise.
Jesus calls us to be salt and light (5:13-14), and he explains how we are to do this in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. May God show us his wonderful character, and may we rejoice at the happy privilege to live in his kingdom.
Some Christians say this
Have you ever heard this saying among Christians: “We are New Testament Christians, so we do not have to concern ourselves with the Old Testament.” Most people use this statement to explain why we don’t have to follow certain sections of the Mosaic law (especially the dietary laws that might potentially separate us from our favourite pork or shellfish dishes). When faced with difficult questions on the law of the Old Testament, some Christians would be quick to dismiss it.
What is your view regarding the Old Testament? Most evangelical Christians would have a high view of the New Testament, but Old Testament accounts are very quickly dismissed as archaic, complicated, confusing or just known as bible stories for Sunday school children.
In Matthew 5, Jesus gives us His view on (1) the Law and (2) the Prophets (this is how Jesus refers to the Old Testament). He says that he ‘did not come to abolish them but to fulfil them’ (v.17). The Old Testament is not negated by the first coming of the incarnate Son of God. Rather, the Law and the Prophets find their fulfilment in the person and the work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we should view the Old Testament the same way - that it finds its fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
Jesus came to fulfil the prophets, bringing to fulfilment the prophecies from God. One of these prophecies is that Jesus is the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. He was to be tried and condemned, being silent before his accusers, executed among criminals and would be a sacrifice to be punished for sins that are not his own. Zechariah also speaks of God’s own representative who is killed at the hands of His people and the people of God will eventually realize whom they have killed and mourn for the One who had died.
Jesus fulfils the law
Jesus Christ also came to fulfil the Law. The ‘law’ here refers to the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible). He obeyed perfectly every single one of the commandments that God provided for his people. As we come to understand what Jesus himself taught; that the commandments of God require not just obedience in our actions but obedience in our hearts, we come to see how impossible it is to keep the law. But Jesus kept the entirety of the law completely, not just in his deeds but in his motivations as well.
The Torah does not just contain the commandments of God; it also reveals the provisions that God gave his people for the forgiveness of sin. An example of these provisions would be the Tabernacle, the temple sacrifice, and the Levitical priesthood. In New Testament language, these are called shadows because they represent something else that is to come. The book of Hebrews tells us that the performance of the ritual of these shadows does not actually take away sin, but they point towards the One who can.
Hebrews 10:1 tells us “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”
Jesus is our great high priest who offered the perfect sacrifice, accomplishing the priestly work of appeasing the wrath of God and making payment for our sins perfectly through his work on the cross. All the provisions and all the shadows find their ultimate fulfilment in the work of our Lord Jesus – He is the fulfilment of the law.
The Old Testament provides the model for obedience that Jesus lived
Just because the Law finds its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, it does not mean that we can forget about its teachings. Those that are called least in the kingdom of heaven are described here as having little regard for obedience to the commandments of God. ‘Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven’ (v.19).
The good disciple would obey and teach the commandments: he would go beyond lip service and model his life to be guided by God’s teachings. This does not equate to a literal observance of every single regulation (as if it is a checklist to be fulfilled), but rather, the showing of the attitude of obedience and respect to the word of God.
Any Christian who dismisses any part of the Old Testament is a weak Christian; the consistent Christian will be guided by the law, and will teach others the importance of living by it. A mature Christian, while understanding the importance of keeping the law, would also not jump to the other end in walking the path of mere legalism.
Jesus gives us a provision against legalism in v.20. He mentions the Pharisees and scribes who were an example of the greatest righteousness imaginable within Judaism. Jesus says that the strict observance of the law by the Pharisees and Scribes still would not qualify them to enter the kingdom of heaven. A greater righteousness is needed. A righteousness that has fulfilled all of the law and the prophets - which is Jesus Christ himself.
What is your view towards the Old Testament law and the prophets?
Jesus Christ revealed in all of Scripture
The entirety of the Old Testament points us towards the person of Jesus Christ. As we grow in our knowledge of Scripture, we should be seeing Christ peppered throughout the narrative of the Old Testament. Understanding the full implication of how he has kept the law for us and done the full work of redemption for us would bring us to have an increased appreciation for the work that He has done for us.
Not even an iota nor a dot will pass away until the complete fulfilment of the words of God (v.18). Until today, the entirety of God’s law remains binding on the human race, Christian or not. Just as the Jews could not keep the entirety of God’s commands, neither can we. But Jesus Christ has done it. He has fulfilled the law perfectly. And the promise given to us is that he has fulfilled it on our behalf, that we might be able to stand before God with the full righteousness of Christ with us, if only we believe.
We often hear these 2 phrases when we tell others we have been treated unfairly – “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…” and “Love your enemies.” Our Christian brothers often counsel us this way.
While it is correct to say that we “should love our enemies” in those situations, we may be watering down the meaning of loving our enemies. Maybe we are not convinced of why we even do it. On top of that, how do we even love our enemies? Jesus teaches us who our enemies are and why He calls us to love them.
Who are our enemies?
Jesus’ command to love our enemies assumes that there are people who are harder to show love to. There are different ways that a person is difficult to love. Therefore this demand is expressed in different ways. The general idea is that the people that we are not at peace with, they are our enemies.
Here are some examples of people who we consider enemies. The clearest example is people who are against us, who want to see us fail. Another example is when people whose character, personality or condition just makes them unattractive or repulsive. It could also be people who have taken offence at something that you have said or done, which results in a broken relationship between you and the person. Lastly, when someone has offended you, they are considered your enemy.
Why show love to our enemies?
Jesus tells us to love our enemies “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (44-45) Loving our enemies shows that we belong to God. You show yourselves to be children of God by acting the way your Father acts. God’s character is in you and therefore you want to do what the Father does.
“God sends his rain on the just and the unjust” (v45), which means God cares and loves both his children and enemies.
When we obey the command to love our enemies we show how powerful, loving and merciful God is. People see the radiance of God’s glory shown through our works. We cannot perfectly display God’s character because of our sinful nature, but we continue to show love to our enemies. We love our enemies with God’s power, not our own strength. We love them because God works in us, to display His Character.
How do we show love to our enemies?
Here are some ways that we can show love to our enemies.
1. Lead them to truth
From verses 21 to the end of the chapter, Jesus began each statement with “You have heard” or “You have heard it said”. Jesus shows how the law was misinterpreted in each statement. Jesus then taught His listeners the true standard of the law and what was expected of them to fulfill those laws. He was also teaching that it is humanly impossible for them to fulfill the true standards of the law.
An implication of misinterpreting scripture is that we become legalistic. We think that following the laws will bring us salvation. But we are actually lowering the bar for ourselves! We try to find loopholes in the law and therefore lie to ourselves thinking that we are righteous or we are okay. That’s where we convince ourselves of “big sins and small sins” or “I’m not a sinner, I didn’t kill anyone, steal from anyone or even commit adultery”. But Jesus shows us that It is impossible for anyone to fulfill the requirements of the law and be free from God’s judgment (Rom 3:20). Therefore trying to lower standards of the law through legalism will only lead to destruction. We cannot claim to desire the good of someone and yet be indifferent to what destroys the person.
Love requires us to show the truth, not compromise it! We are to proclaim the truth according to Jesus Christ, who is truth itself (John 14:6). We live in a time where people are easily offended by the truth because they choose to suppress it (Rom 1:18-23). But love does not compromise truth and the truth is often not easy to accept. The genuineness of an act of love is not determined by the one being loved, therefore point your enemies to Christ- Lead them to the truth.
2. Pray for them
We show love to our enemies by praying for them. Right after Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He tells us to pray for them (v44). Jesus’ command to love is not just changing how we treat our enemies outwardly. As we pray for the good of our enemies, God uses this to change our attitudes towards them. We begin to desire that our enemies would experience the goodness of God.
Then we would ask the question, “How to pray for them?” We should pray for them the same way as we would pray for ourselves. Jesus gave us an example of how we should pray in chapter 6: 9-14.
“9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
So in the same way, the first thing we pray for is that our enemies give reverence to God’s name and want God’s will to be done (v9-10). This requires a change of heart, and only God can cause that to happen. So we pray for their salvation
We pray that God would provide them with all that is necessary for them to live day to day (v11). We should also pray for their forgiveness and that they be forgiving also (v12). Lastly pray that they will be protected from temptations and from evil (v13).
Praying for our enemy shows how much you care for the person. Whether they turn to God or not is inconsequential. We love them and want them to find eternal joy in God. Therefore pray for our enemies
3. Do good to them
There is no use leading enemies to the truth and praying for them if it does not translate into action. Jesus shows us what actions to take -- “and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
The principle behind “turning the other cheek” is not to take revenge or get back at someone. The reason why we turn the other cheek is because we know that vengeance is not ours, it is God’s (Rom 12:19). Knowing this frees us to love our enemies more! Remember that love seeks the good of our enemies. So we should be actively doing good to them.
Doing good can come in various forms, it can be through giving what the person really needs in a particular situation (v42), it could also be watching what we say to each other (saying things tactfully) and it could also be as simple as exchanging greetings (v47) with someone you don’t really know.
Doing good does not have to be extravagant, even our daily acts of courtesy can show if we have a heart of love.
Where does this love come from?
We may wonder: “how we can even love to that kind of extent?” The answer is in Christ. He is the source of all our affections, be it affection for Him or for even our enemies. God gave us a new heart to love to such an extent, and God first loved us while we were still his enemies, so that we might be able to love Him, and to display that same kind of love to our enemies is only a work of God. Sometime we don’t feel like loving our enemies, love them anyways and pray that your desire and your love for God to grow for it is a fountain where you draw from when you feel you can’t love your enemies. The more we desire God the more we want to be like Him and in turn display His character.
So love your enemies, because your Father in heaven loved His enemies.
- The End -
In this day and age, we are caught up with the idea of being productive and getting things done. This has also influenced the church with its various ministries. It is good to be productive, especially when it comes to God’s work. But sometimes we are tempted to show off our ability.
Jesus addresses the misapplication of God’s righteousness in the daily lives of the Jews, particularly the Pharisees. To the Pharisees, a person is most religious when he does three things: giving to the needy, praying and fasting. Our modern version may look more like going to church, going for prayer meetings, and doing mercy ministry.
The Pharisees loved to make a grand display of their good works to everyone around them, to demonstrate their piety. Jesus was not condemning them for practising these things, he was looking at their attitudes and motivations. He begins His teaching with a warning: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them…”
Jesus’ warning formed the basis for his teachings on giving alms, prayer and fasting. The issue was not with others seeing your works, because earlier in His sermon, Jesus made it very clear that we are to let our good works shine before others (5:16a).
Displaying our good works is not the issue. The issue is why we display our good works. We display our good works so that others will see God’s glory and worship Him (5:16b) instead of bringing praise and worship to ourselves (6:1a). Those who are motivated by praise from man may accomplish their goal of personal honour and profit, but God will give no further reward (6:1b).
The way Jesus made this warning was that we must be continually vigilant against the temptation of seeking praise from man. Our efforts should instead be directed towards seeking our reward from our heavenly Father. It does not matter if no one sees or acknowledges our good works, because our all-knowing heavenly Father “sees in secret” and will reward us as His children (vv. 4, 6, 18).
Do our works need to remain secret?
Does this mean that once our good works are no longer a secret, we lose our reward from God? Surely not! Jesus and His apostles performed many public righteous acts. Their ministries were not done in secret and they did not seek to hide it.
Once again, the motivation behind these acts is important. Who did the people see when they witnessed the good works of Jesus and His apostles? Were Jesus and His apostles praised for their own sakes? Their acts always pointed towards the glory of our heavenly Father.
In the same way, we do not need to hide our acts of righteousness. God looks at the sincere motivations of our hearts as we perform such acts. Two people can give to the needy in public - one for personal honour and another for God’s glory. Two can pray when others are watching them - one for personal praise for his eloquence and another as a response to his genuine relationship with his heavenly Father. Two can practice fasting - one to flaunt his own piety publicly and another as a private devotion to God.
If we already do good when no one is looking, can we then pride ourselves in it? In a way, seeking to pat yourself on the back for a job well done is also seeking praise that comes from man. We start to depend on fulfilling our own standard of righteousness for our reward, like an inner Pharisee. But we know that no one’s righteousness is enough to gain any merit from God. So works done in secret also depend on the motivations of the heart. Do our good works point to God's glory or do they seek to justify our righteousness to ourselves?
The issue here is not whether our good works are done in secret or not. Rather, the concern is about the sincerity of our hearts and who we seek to honour. A person who works for the sake of God’s praise will act the same way publicly and privately. And God will reward those who act out of a sincere desire to honour Him, regardless of whether they act publicly or privately.
The heart behind a Christian’s good works
So what does a Christian concern himself with when he practices righteousness? What fills a Christian’s mind at all times that influences his actions?
Jesus shows us in His example of a true Christian's prayer. God’s children are primarily concerned about God's reputation and His kingdom objectives (6:9-10). For the sake of God’s glory and fulfilling God’s purposes, a Christian asks for daily physical provision and spiritual protection for all in the church (6:11-13). He knows that we are fully dependent on God for all things. As undeserving sinners, he knows that we all need God’s forgiveness and prays for it. Because we are weak in our sinful nature, he prays for God’s protection from the evil one.
A true Christian acts with the mindset of putting God’s glory and kingdom work first. Because his sole focus is on God, he sees no need for the praise of man. He looks to God for his reward and fully trusts that his heavenly Father will do as He has promised. A person who acts with this in his heart is one who practices true righteousness. And his reward will be nothing less than the pleasure of eternal life in God’s presence.
Practicing righteousness God’s way
Here we see God’s idea of righteous action. The heart of a truly righteous Christian is always concerned about God’s glory and work here on earth, and this comes across in his prayers and actions. His actions that are seen publicly are consistent with what he does in private. In fact all his public actions are an outflow of his private habits. Therefore he just as he does not perform for the sake of praise from other people in private, he does not do so in public. He sincerely looks to God for his reward.
Do we see these in ourselves? Are our public actions consistent with how we think and act in private? What motivates us to act righteously: approval from our family and peers, or the desire for God’s approval? Do our actions come from a sincere desire for God’s glory or a sincere desire for our own praise? Does God’s glory and His kingdom work fill our minds, or are we too busy filling our minds with the things of this world?
If we want to take practicing God’s righteousness seriously, we will do well to empty our personal egos and agendas, and fill our minds with God’s agenda. Do this, and eternity in God’s presence will be our reward.
– The End –
Matthew 6:25, 33
Ambition is what drives us. Whatever we seek, which gets us out of bed daily and keeps us going – that is our ambition. It could be fame, power, knowledge, money, God’s glory, and so on. There are many types of ambition but everyone has at least one.
Jesus shows us the two choices we face – true and false ambition. We are driven by false ambition when we do not have in mind the things of God, chasing after things like our own security (food, drink and clothing), for that is the obsession of ‘the Gentiles’ who do not know him. He tells us instead to have true ambition – which is for God’s rule and righteousness to be spread in the world.
False Ambition: Our Own Material Security
The false ambition that Jesus teaches about goes by another name: anxiety. He says “do not be anxious”, because he knows that many of us worry about our material security. This is what the Gentiles do because they do not know God and his provision.
But we have no need for worry because God provides these things (v.32). We need not be anxious because we know that our creator and sustainer Lord cares for us and provides for us.
Jesus Christ neither denies nor despises the needs of the body. As a matter of fact, he made it himself; both the body and its needs. And he takes care of it. He has just taught us to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’
But an excessive preoccupation with the needs of the body, as if the body was all there is to care about, is wrong because life is not just about the physical body. This obsession with the needs of the body leads us to worry. But Jesus shows us that worry is wrong.
Worry is a faithless pursuit
Firstly Jesus shows that to be Christian and to worry is contradictory. As Christians we believe God cares for us. God created and preserves us daily, giving us life each moment without fail. If God already takes care of our life and our body, can we not trust him to take care of something lesser like our food and our clothing?
Again Jesus says, “Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life (v.27)? Therefore, just as we leave these matters to God (for they are not in our power), so we trust him for lesser things like food and clothes.
Jesus also explains that God takes care of his creatures like the birds, who are seemingly unimportant. Then how much more will he also take care of us, who are precious in his sight? Thus, when we worry we are not trusting God. To worry is to be faithless.
Common misconceptions about “Do not be anxious”
Unfortunately, some Christians often mistakenly think that the command, “do not be anxious”, is a licence to be irresponsible. They might say “God cares for us – I can do whatever I want”, or “since God provides, I don’t have to work to provide for myself”.
Misconception #1: I do not need to work
Firstly, God’s care does not excuse Christians from earning their living. Jesus said that God feeds the birds of the air, and they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns (v.26). But is it true that they do not eat, or do not look for food? No, they actively search for food daily, and God uses that sense of hunger or self-preservation as the means by which he feeds them. But they do not anxiously hoard and collect food and worry that they would not find it tomorrow. In this manner they live from “day to day”.
In the same way, we should trust God to provide us, and recognise that it is by our diligence that he provides the means for us to receive our daily needs. So we have no excuse to be lazy, but we can trust that as we do our part, God provides.
Misconception #2: I do not need to look out for others’ needs
If God promises to feed and clothe his children, how is it that many are poor and undernourished today?
We cannot say that God looks after his children and those underprivileged must be people from outside his family – because there are Christian brothers who also live in severe need. Again, we should not say that because God clothes his children, we have no responsibility towards our Christian brothers who are in need. God’s provision for his children does not exempt us from our responsibility in being the agents through which he provides for his children.
Misconception #3: I will be free from problems
This is another assumption we make about Jesus’ words. We think: “God clothes the grass and feeds the birds – we are set for life, no trouble or harm shall befall us at all!”
This is a mistake. Nowhere did Jesus promise us a life free from trouble. God clothes the grass but it is still alive today and thrown into the oven tomorrow. Not a single bird falls without God’s will (Mt10:29) – but they still fall to the ground and die – just that it is all in God’s will.
So also, God did not promise that we will be free from trouble in this life. But the promise and comfort is that God is in control, and nothing can come to us unless it was a part of God’s will, sovereignly and lovingly brought upon us.
Worry is a fruitless pursuit
Then Jesus also shows us that worrying does not make sense. When we worry, we are concerned about something that might happen tomorrow. However, all worrying is experienced today. Whenever we are anxious, we are upset right now, about some event which may happen in the future. However, it is silly because that event might not even happen. We are spending time and energy now worrying about something which may not even happen.
So then worry is a waste of time, thought and nervous energy. We need to learn to live a day at a time. We should plan for the future, of course, but we should not worry about the future.
Being preoccupied with material things until it absorbs our energy and burdens us with anxiety is incompatible with both Christian faith and common sense.
True Ambition: God’s Rule and Righteousness
Jesus then turns our attention to true ambition – seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness.
Seek First God’s Kingdom and his Righteousness
God’s kingdom refers to that specific rule over his people which is brought about by God himself, and begins in anybody’s life when he humbles himself, repents, believes, submits and is born again. For us to ‘seek first’ this kingdom is for us to want the reign of Jesus Christ to spread, above all things.
This desire starts with ourselves, until every aspect of our life – our home, marriage and family, personal morality, professional life and business ethics, bank balance, tax returns, life-style, citizenship – is joyfully and freely submissive to Christ. It continues in our immediate environment, when we share Christ’s lordship to our relatives, colleagues, neighbours and friends. And it continues with our disciple-making, all the way “to the ends of the earth” for God’s glory.
This is one of God’s purposes for His people; using them to make his righteousness attractive. People outside God’s kingdom will see it, desire it and be drawn towards it. This is how God is glorified through his people and his kingdom brought to the ends of the earth.
What is our ambition?
In the end, there are only two kinds of ambition: ambition for self, and ambition for God.
Ambitions for self can be modest (enough food and clothing) or grand (material luxury, reputation, power). But regardless of what they are, these are ultimately ambitions for myself—my comfort, my wealth, my status, my power.
Ambitions for God, however, can never be modest, especially not if they are going to be counted as worthy. There is something wrong about having small ambitions for God. How can we ever be content that God should just get a little more honour in the world? No. If God is King, then we want him to be crowned with glory and honour. We want people to view him in his true position, which is the highest place. We become ambitious for the spread of his kingdom and righteousness everywhere.
So we should not work hard for the sake of hoarding wealth. We should not be driven by worry about tomorrow. Instead, we should be eager to develop our gifts, widen our opportunities, extend our influence and be promoted at work – not to boost our egos or build our own kingdoms, but rather through that everything we do, God will be glorified.
– The End –
Matthew 7:1-2, 5
We are not to ignore the faults of others
When we hear the term “judge,” many people retort with v.1 in our passage: “Judge not, lest you be judged.” They use it to justify that others cannot bring any form of criticism, or discern any wrongdoing, or mention any kind of evaluation that offends them.
Sinful people bring sinful behavior when raising criticisms to people. Just because there are people who abuse the ability to judge, it does not follow that we should withdraw from all forms of judgement. Such a reading of this verse is simplistic and does not take the rest of what Jesus says into account.
What Jesus has in mind is forbidding the wrong way of bringing judgement. In the verses that follow, we can see that Jesus himself expects us to exercise our judgement. This can be seen where we are told to discern who are the pigs and dogs, that we may not throw our pearls and holy things to them (v.6), and also to be discern our own faults, that we may be able to bring proper correction to help our brother remove the speck in his eye (v.3).
The point of this passage is to tell the disciples how to judge in a right manner. Through critical assessment of each other, both the judge and the one being judged seek growth, both in themselves and in the lives of other disciples. This can be seen in the passage where both the ‘speck’ and the ‘log,’ are removed from their eyes (v.5). The goal of mutual correction is to steer believers towards growth together as a community, building each other up.
The wrong way to judge
The kind of judgment Jesus speaks against is bringing harsh condemnation upon our brothers and sisters, to judge them with contempt. The contemptuous judge is one who enjoys faultfinding and relishes in seeking out the failings of others.
Such an attitude ignores the reality of having received grace from God. We are deep in our sins and do not deserve God’s forgiveness. But the gospel tells us that God, who has seen our callous hearts and rotten intentions, chose to show us grace instead of judgement. How then can a Christian, who cannot see the true intentions of the heart, be qualified to take the place of God as judge? If we judge others for the sake of punishment instead of finding forgiveness, we do not understand the truth of the gospel.
Verse 2 warns us against this very attitude, that the very standards we use in bringing judgment unto others will be used against us. If we pose as judges, we cannot plead ignorance of the standards that we are administering. And the warning is this: That those who judge without grace, will in turn be judged by the True Judge of all mankind by those same standards.
The command for us to judge not is not a requirement to be blind to unrighteousness, but rather a plea to be gracious. Jesus does not tell us to stop discerning right from wrong, but to be wary of judging in a manner that spurns the grace of the gospel
What then is the right way to judge?
We are to rightly judge ourselves first
Most of the time, as we have no problem finding the faults of others, we turn on our high-powered-character-microscopes and become very sensitive to their character flaws. So what Jesus teaches his disciples to do is to turn those high-powered microscopes on ourselves first. The first step in “right judging” is that we need to examine ourselves before we start judging others.
Jesus uses the ridiculous imagery of having a log stuck in the eye of the person who is trying to remove a small speck in the eye of another. The imagery of having a log stuck in our eyes shows us that it is glaringly obvious that there is something wrong with us, but we ignore it. We may be very sharp when it comes to finding out the faults of others, but when it comes to our own faults, we tend to give ourselves a free pass. We have a tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize the significance of our own sins. We become accustomed to our own excuses and refuse to see what seems so glaringly obvious to others.
Instead, we should apply to ourselves the same strict and critical standard that we apply on others. Jesus is not condemning criticism as a whole, but He condemns it when we are critical of others when we exercise no comparable self-criticism, or when we use different standards in judging ourselves from others.
When we exercise self-examination before bringing criticism, not only would we be able to see our own shortcomings, but also how graciously God has dealt with us. We would then be able to help our brothers in error with humility and gentleness. Having firsthand experience in removing the log from our own eye, we know what it takes to remove the speck from his.
We are to discern who to bring correction to
Not everyone is grateful to be on the receiving end of criticism and correction. Proverbs 9:8 says ‘Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.’ There are people in this world who do not appreciate criticism and would turn around to attack you rather than humbly admitting their fault. These are the people who are described as dogs and pigs by Jesus who do not care for the ‘holy things’ or ‘pearls.’ Thus the call here is for us to be discerning when we are bringing correction to people.
Dogs and pigs are animals that the Jewish people see as unclean. Dogs are not the clean domesticated pet that we are used to, but the mongrels that scavenge through rubbish heaps in search of food. Pigs are viewed as unclean animals by the Jews. These are the people who unlike believers, have no regard for ‘holy things’ or the ‘pearls.’
Christians are not judges, but neither are we to be simpletons. If people have had plenty of opportunity to hear the truth but do not respond to it, they cast themselves in the role of ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs.’ And Jesus teaches that we should exercise our discernment in this aspect – in deciding who we are to bring the holy things and the pearls to.
Christians should also check ourselves to see if we are the dogs and pigs spoken about in this verse. Are we resistant to receiving correction from our brothers and sisters? Do we treat their advice as nothing more than thrash to be trampled into the mud? Do we then turn around and attack our brothers, turning their criticisms against them?
The gift of discernment
The ability to judge is a gift from God. It can either be a source of life, that is used to build your fellow brothers and sisters up, or it can be used to tear others down. So let us exercise our God given abilities to judge wisely, always with the aim of building each other up. May we be quick to judge ourselves, slow to judge others and be discerning in who we bring our judgments upon.
– The End –
What would Jesus say to me on Judgment Day? The very thought makes me shudder. How about you?What would Jesus say to you on Judgment Day?
Would it be “Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21) Or “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (v.23)? Unfortunately, Jesus will declare the latter to many professing believers, even those who “prophesied in His name, and cast out demons in His name, and do many mighty works in His name.” (v.22)
EVERYONE CALLS UPON JESUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE IS ACCEPTED BY HIM
Our church friends, you and I, all claim to be disciples of Jesus. We attend church week after week, and live the moral, goody-two-shoes life (especially on Sundays). We pray, we read the bible and most importantly, we do all of that in Jesus’ name. We do all of that, because we consider ourselves Christians.
It would be surprising to know that the false prophets did way more than what we are doing. They ‘prophesied, cast out demons and do many mighty works in His name.’ (v.22) They did all we did, and more! Consider Judas.
He was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He ate and drank with Jesus, followed Jesus, healed the sick, cast out demons and did many other miracles in Jesus’ name and in the presence of Jesus. But Jesus said “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Matt 26:24)
We may call God “Our Father in Heaven” – such an affectionate, respectful term that acknowledges us as part of God’s family! But these false prophets bring it to a higher level – they call God “Lord, Lord” (v.21).
With the term “Lord”, they acknowledge that God is a higher-being worthy of respect, the supernatural master and ruler over all the universe - including themselves. The repetition of “Lord” also shows their sincerity and whole-heartedness. They sincerely believed that God was their Lord!
Just like you and me, these false prophets sincerely believed that God was their Lord. Yet Jesus said to them “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (v.23)
Who then will Jesus accept?
JESUS ACCEPTS THE ONE WHO DOES THE WILL OF HIS FATHER
Jesus says only those who do the will of His Father will enter into the kingdom of Heaven (v.21).
We cannot just claim to know the will of the Father, we have to actually do it. We know of many who identify themselves as Christians but do not commit to worshipping as part of a church. Even little things like being generous seem like a burden. It is obvious that these people definitely have no intention of doing the will of the Father.
On the other hand, the false prophets did many things. They prophesied, cast out demons and performed miracles! However, does our heavenly Father want us to just act correctly? The Lord said: “ This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, ” (Isaiah 29:13) Jesus rejected those who were so preoccupied with being religious that they have forgotten the heart of Jesus’ commands. They were hypocrites in Jesus’ eyes.
Doing the will of the Father does not mean fulfilling the Ten Commandments with a grumbling heart. Also, doing the will of the Father does not mean fulfilling the Ten Commandments thinking that we can win God over by our mighty works, this is putting faith in our works. Doing the will of the Father means complete obedience with a heart that loves God. This is demonstrated through a life of consistent private and public devotion to God.
So how would you know if you’re doing the will of the Father?
WE WILL BE RECOGNIZED BY OUR FRUITS
Jesus says the same of our being; “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” (v.17) Every good fruit comes from a healthy tree that has been watered, fertilized with nutrients and has sunlight. It is impossible for a rotten tree to bear good fruit. Rotten trees bear bad fruit or even bear no fruit at all!
The tree here is taken to represent our being. Every man born of God will bear fruits that come from a renewed heart. A renewed heart results in repentance and continuous sanctification. Perhaps it is not obvious in a day or two, but over the course of a few years, there must be change! There will be changes to our lives - whether thirty fold, sixty fold or a hundred fold (Matthew 13:8)!
An example of good fruit bearing would be being gentle and wise in speaking to brothers and sisters as a change from running words past your mouth without consideration in the past.
Note that bad trees bear fruit as well, so it is important to examine the nature of our fruits and remember that all good fruit bearing must come from a good tree; all of the changes that we make in our lives must come from a heart that loves the Lord.
Beloved, Romans 12 calls us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds that we can discern what is the will of God, so that we can present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. (Romans 12:1-2)
Jesus accepts those who do the will of His Father. In order for us to know and live out the will of God, we will have to renew our minds through understanding the teachings of God and be changed by those teachings.
How then can we know that that we are accepted by Jesus?
Ask yourself these questions –
Is your life being continuously shaped by Scripture?
Do you bear good fruit that flows from a heart that loves God?
As we think about these questions, let us read what Jesus has to say with regards to life eternal.
THE COMMAND OF JESUS
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (v.13-14)
Jesus gives us an outright command, “Enter by the narrow gate” (v.13). It is not merely a suggestion or a proposal, it is a command to all believers.
Jesus explains that eternal life is found behind a narrow gate and a hard way. This path is filled with oppression and hardship. It is the difficult life of doing the Father’s will and bearing good fruits. This is the only way to eternal life! There’s no other way.
We can think of it this way. All serious mountain climbers have the same goal – to conquer Mount Everest. Now we all know that it is not easy climbing Mount Everest; we can even say that “not easy” is an understatement! The way up to Mount Everest is filled with dangers and challenges; just imagine snowstorms and huge rocks falling on you, but it is the only way up!
And here is the encouragement – they know what lies at the end of this difficult journey. Mountain climbers can be sure that once they have passed through the dangers and challenges, what awaits them is the incomparable, fantastic view of Mount Everest that they will not exchange for anything else in the world.
Beloved, take heart and listen to our Lord Jesus.
Jesus promises that life eternal lies beyond the narrow gate and the hard way! There are no second guesses, so let us take courage and heed Jesus’ command to enter a life that seeks to do the will of the Father.
Although the path is difficult, Jesus promises that our reward will be great; we will receive rewards many times more in this life and in the age to come, eternal life (Luke 18:29-30).
Though our journey through the hard way is filled with oppression and hardship, Jesus promises that “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5).
Beloved, let us “Enter by the narrow gate” (v.13), and embark on a life spent doing the Father’s will and bearing good fruits. And on Judgment Day, we can be sure that Jesus will say “Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)
– The End –
Jesus’ sermon was addressed to all professing believers – both His disciples and the Pharisees. He recognised that all who profess faith in God do not necessarily submit to His authority and teachings. Jesus knew that even among His disciples, there will be those who express belief in Him, but their lives show otherwise (7:15-20).
In our previous passage, we saw that Jesus judged “believers” who did many great works as “workers of lawlessness”. (7:23) In fact, they were doing these works sincerely, calling Jesus “Lord, Lord”. But Jesus said that He never knew them, meaning that Jesus had never acknowledged them as His followers. To build on His point on Final Judgement, Jesus used house building to illustrate the difference between a true believer and a hypocritical “believer”.
Every believer is a house builder
In this parable, Jesus compared a believer’s life to a house. The house illustrates the culmination of a believer’s works and achievements. However, Jesus taught that it was not the works of a man that will be tested by the “elements” of life, but the foundation on which his works are built on. Jesus warns us that God’s Final Judgement at the end of time will test the foundations of every man’s life.
This parable is particularly addressed to believers who have continually heard the teachings of Jesus (“everyone who [continually] hears these words of mine” 7:24; 26) . So, what separates a true and wise believer from a false and foolish “believer”? It is not just about hearing and believing in what Jesus had taught, because both wise and foolish builders in the parable have been continually exposed to Jesus’ teachings. The main difference is in how Jesus’ teachings shaped how they lived their lives.
The foundation of every believer
The wise believer hears Jesus’ teachings and “puts them into practice”, meaning that he lives according to them. Jesus likened it to building a house on rock. In those days, there was no better foundation for building a house than solid rock. And as the rains, winds and floods of God’s judgement come to test the life of that wise believer, he will stand.
Jesus never suggested, much less promised, a bed of roses to those who live for His name’s sake in this life. It is when we share in Christ’s sufferings in the present that we will share in His glory in future (Rom 8:16-17). Believers are promised persecution and ridicule when they live for Jesus’ sake (5:10-11) and the need to stand before God’s Judgement at the end of time (7:22; 25; 27). But believers are also promised rewards in heaven (5:12), provision for this life (6:32), and the ability to stand in the face of God’s Judgement (7:25).
The foolish “believer” , on the other hand, hears the teachings of Jesus, but chooses instead to live according to other teachings. He lives according to secular wisdom like:
“Live for yourself because you only live once”,
“Earn more money for a good life and retirement”,
“You have to be more involved in church because
God accepts you based on your good works” ,
or “God does not want us to suffer because He loves us,
so He wants you to take care of yourself first
instead of burdening you with ‘church work’” .
Some of these worldly teachings go directly against those of Jesus’, while others are subtler in nature. All in all, Jesus considered these teachings sandy foundations. And when God’s judgement beats upon such poor and shifty foundations, the foolish man will suffer the great crumbling of his life before him.
Every believer is responsible to choose
As Jesus came to the end of His sermon, one consistent theme emerged: there are two paths laid out before every believer, and we are expected to choose. We see it in the two different gates and their respective paths (7:13-14), the two different trees with differing fruits (7:17-18), and finally the two different builders with differing choices of foundations (7:24-27).
Through these illustrations Jesus taught that true believers receive salvation from God’s Judgement and eternal life, while false believers can only look forward to destruction and being cut off from God’s kingdom forever. What consistently distinguishes the two is that true believers not only hear, but also obey Jesus’ teachings.
After teaching us about true righteousness and proper judgement, Jesus concluded His sermon and calls us to choose. Will we choose to build our lives on the authority of His teachings, or will we choose to build on the authority of the world’s teachings?
Jesus’ teachings had an authority like no other. The crowd listening to His sermon were amazed because Jesus taught with such authority (7:29). And rightly so, because Jesus did not teach based on the authority of other religious leaders, like many other teachers did that time.Instead He taught according His authority as Son of God!
God Himself has given us His Word. Shall we then take it lightly like it is just another story? If we choose to submit to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ, we do well to consider the weight of every teaching He has given to us in Scripture . Because all Scripture is the very word of God, it is effective for building our lives upon (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Everyone who hears Scripture and builds his life upon it can be assured that he is doing the will of God the Father (7:21) andhas a strong foundation. As he continues remaining faithful to Jesus’ teachings and commands,he will stand when Christ comes again as Judge (7:25).
– The End –
Healing is a great need in the world till today. One of the most coveted prayers we hear within, and even outside the church is for physical healing, or for protection from various sicknesses.
Why does sickness exist? Why is there death in the first place? Was this an intended part of God’s design in creation?
From Genesis 3, we know that death entered the world since the disobedience of Adam and Eve. The effects of sin (whether directly or indirectly) are endless and results in corruption and suffering in all areas of life. Sin is the root of all grief, disease and brokenness – even death (Rom 6:23). As much as mankind bring new advances in medical technology, no one has yet to be able to escape suffering and eventual death.
JESUS’ AUTHORITY AND COMPASSION OVER PHYSICAL ILLNESS
In Matthew 8:1-17, Jesus reveals his authority over sickness and compassion over the needy in his earthly ministry. Matthew highlights three subjects of healing by Jesus, which seemed offensive to the Jewish readers and hearers.
#1 A Leper
Lepers are the untouchables in the society, even till today the social stigma remains. Leprosy disease is infectious and progresses into a slow death over many years for those who contract it; the skin and nerves are increasingly damaged, leading to parts of the body that begin to disfigure, rot and fall off.
Lepers were thus considered to be defiled and are separated from the religious and social life of the Israelite community. Nobody goes near a leper, in fear of becoming defiled and ostracized. The leper (v.2) however, in his desperate desire to be healed, came before Jesus and asking to be cleaned.
The leper knew that he was unworthy before the Lord, and he entrusted himself to Jesus as he came through the crowd. He knew that if Jesus is willing, he will be made clean. And so the leper persisted, despite knowing that the crowd would reject him.
In response to the leper, Jesus shocked the watching crowd, and perhaps even the leper himself, as He extended his hand with compassion to touch “the untouchable” (v.3). Yet Jesus remained undefiled by the leprosy, which also pointed to his authority over the disease. The leper was made clean by his word immediately.
#2 A Gentile
The next account is about a Gentile centurion’s servant (v.5-13). Gentiles were not considered by the Jews to be part of God’s chosen race. Socially, Jews had nothing to do with Gentiles.
Regardless, the Gentile appealed to Jesus to heal his servant. He believed that the authoritative word of Jesus, coming from God divine, holds the power to heal his slave without Jesus even having to visit his home. Jesus marveled at the Gentile’s faith (v.10-12), and said that no one in Israel, among the Jews, have such faith. Jesus also pointed out that the kingdom of God will include many from the east and west, referring to the Gentiles. His act of compassion did not depend on whether the person was a Jew or a Gentile. Jesus healed the slave back home that very moment with the authority of his word (v13).
#3 A Woman
The third account in this passage involved a woman, the mother-in-law of Jesus’ disciple, Peter. Women in those times were considered to be second-class citizens, and not well regarded compared to men in society.
According to scholars, Peter’s mother-in-law was likely down with malarial fever. When Jesus entered Peter’s home and saw her lying sick in bed, out of compassion he touched her hand and the fever left her. Again, Jesus proved himself to hold authority over the fever. His act of compassion on Peter’s mother-in-law did not depend on her gender, nor her standing in society. The moment the fever left her, she rose and began to serve him.
When evening came, after the Sabbath, Matthew recorded that Jesus continued to cast out spirits with a word and heal all the sick who came to him.
Jesus healed a leper, a gentile and a woman; the very same people that were outcasts in the eyes of the Jews. These three healings reveal Jesus’ compassion in meeting the needs of despised and rejected people. They were healed by Jesus out of his love, and not because of any inherent worth, nor merit, nor standing in society that they possessed.
Above all, we know from these accounts here thatJesus has the authority to heal all sicknesses. His words hold power in themselves to heal. With a word, he is able to cast out spirits and instantly heal serious diseases. What is more amazing is that Jesus himself remains undefiled as he ministered to the sick. He truly has full authority over all sicknesses.
JESUS’ AUTHORITY AND COMPASSION OVER SPIRITUAL ILLNESS
Matthew’s primary interest in the healing miracles is in how they revealed the mission of Jesus. In verse 17, Matthew explained that the healings performed by Jesus were to fulfill the word of God, as spoken by the prophet.
While healing was part of Jesus’ ministry, he did not come primarily to heal the physically ill. The healings performed by Jesus were meant to show a glimpse of the kingdom of God at hand, where the effects of sin will no longer be present. Before sin entered the world, sickness was not part of the original creation. The sum of all diseases, including death itself, has its roots and foundation in sin. And so, Jesus came with a mission beyond healing the physically sick – he came to give life to sinners who were spiritually dead in our transgressions!
It will do us well to remember that the ultimate mission of Jesus was not to heal every sick person in Israel, nor in the world today. In Luke 4:43, Jesus walked away from a crowd that sought healing and explained that he must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that was why he was sent. His mission was to point the people to himself as the Messiah whom the prophets foretold.
Jesus Christ, our Messiah, was despised and rejected by men, yet he bore the full brunt of our sins and received, on our behalf, the full wrath of God on the cross which we deserved. Jesus redeemed us from our sins to reconcile us back to his holy Father. Because of his compassion for the spiritually ill and dead, he cried out on the cross these words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
JESUS’ AUTHORITY OVER OUR LIVES
Christ modelled in Matthew 8 for his disciples what he wanted them to do, which is to show that the kingdom of God is at hand (Matt 10:7). Later on, Jesus sent his disciples to do the same – to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons (Matt 10:8). The disciples obeyed the commands of Jesus, for they knew that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. The disciples had given up all they had to follow Jesus when He called them to be His disciples. They trusted that Jesus is Lord and holds authority over their lives and not just over illnesses.
As we observe the ministry of Jesus in showing compassion and healing the sick, we too should show compassion be it praying for the sick, or serving their needs beyond our comforts. In addition, healing, like the other spiritual gifts, is given by God for the “common good” of the church and to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom (Gal 6:10).
So do we trust in the authority of Jesus over sickness, and over all of our lives? As believers, we are recipients of God’s grace; we have already been set free from the root of all sickness, and forgiven of all our sins! Having been redeemed from the chains of sin, we are now free to submit to the authority of our Lord through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, and to live a life that increasingly reflects Christ to the world. With this in mind, let us grow in our worship of Christ, in our compassion for the needy, and to live each day restfully under his sovereign authority.
– The End –
In the previous devotion, we have seen the miracles of healings for many, especially the social outcasts - the leper, the woman and the centurion; we know that Jesus wields authority over diseases. In this devotion, we will also see that Jesus wields authority over nature, demons and his disciples as well.
JESUS’ AUTHORITY OVER NATURE
Jesus calming the storm in Matthew v.23-27 is a well-known bible story by Christians. Jesus was on the boat with his disciples; note that several of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. This meant that they were well trained and well equipped at sea. What a big storm it had to be for the disciples to be afraid for their lives! They thought that they were perishing! (v.25)
The disciples sounded both hopeful and despondent at the same time as they begged Jesus to save them. “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” (v.25), they exclaimed.
They call Jesus “Lord” and asked him to save them from the storm. They believe that Jesus, their Lord has the authority and power to save them from the storm! Yet they are terrified at the thought of losing their lives!
Jesus questioned them , “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (v.25-27)
Jesus’ authority over nature is evident here.
JESUS’ AUTHORITY OVER DEMONS
As Jesus continues his ministry, two demon-possessed men met him and immediately cried out “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (v.29)
The demons knew who Jesus was, and they knew that they will be tormented. Strangely, they did not plead for mercy, instead they plead for delay. The demons were aware of the impending wrath of God.
The demons negotiated with Jesus for a final time to allow them to possess the pigs and with a word, “Go”, Jesus demonstrated full authority over the demons and sent them to the pigs.
As we see Jesus’ authority, Jesus demands a response from all who acknowledge his authority and powers. Jesus demands that we follow him.
JESUS’ AUTHORITY OVER HIS DISCIPLES
As Jesus did miracles, great crowds followed him. But most followed him on their own terms.
There was a scribe who confidently proclaimed to Jesus that he would follow Jesus. Knowing that the scribe had a shallow understanding of “follow”, Jesus gave his response - “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (v.20) Jesus was showing the scribe the cost of following him which his being homeless and relying upon the mercy of others. In order to follow Jesus, the scribe must submit under Jesus’ authority.
Soon, another wanted to follow Jesus with his own a condition. The man wanted to first care for his father until his father died before following Jesus. This man wanted to follow, but not now. He thought that caring for his parents and providing burial for them is more important than following Jesus. Jesus’ response was “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (v.22) This is a metaphor; what Jesus means is for the spiritually dead to care for the spiritually dead. True disciples of Jesus submit under Jesus’ authority and instructions to follow him now.
After reading, we know that Jesus has authority over diseases, nature, demons and his disciples.
Does Jesus have complete authority over you?
How easy is it to submit to Jesus?
Do you come to Jesus with your own conditions and expectations?
– The End –
Talking and interacting with others are part and parcel of life. Interactions with others are a necessary part of life in the workplace, in school, or at home. Interactions include talking and spending time with people. There are times when we choose not to interact with various people for various reasons. Maybe we don’t like them or there are certain views that we might not agree on. But our passage here makes it clear that interaction with other people, especially with non-believers , is needed. From this passage we see from the example of Jesus, how He interacts with others.
JESUS INTERACTS WITH TAX COLLECTORS AND SINNERS INTIMATELY
In those days the tax collectors would be considered unclean because of their dishonorable profession. They were hated for a number of reasons. Firstly, they were working for the Roman Empire, and the Jews saw them as agents of the oppressive state. Secondly, tax collectors were known to be dishonest people who would charge more than what was required, in order to make great profit from the excess money collected. In light of this, we can see why Matthew (a tax collector) was not someone whom a religious Jew in those times would interact with at all. Religious Jews would not interact with tax collectors because that would make them ceremonially unclean!
But in verse 9, Jesus calls out to Matthew and said “follow me”. Jesus clearly looks out for the social outcast - the sinner – and interacts with him. The act of calling Matthew is an initiative to interact with him. “Follow me” is not simply a passive call where we wait for the one we call to come to us, nor does it mean interacting with them at our own convenience. The call was not just an invitation, but a command implying that Jesus desired fellowship with Matthew. The proof is in the next verse where we would see Jesus in Matthew’s house. In those days, to turn up at someone’s home is no small matter; only the closest of friends and family were invited to a meal at one’s house.
Jesus shows us that it is not enough to interact with others at arm’s length. We are to be intimate in our interactions. Jesus himself reclined at Matthew’s house (verse 10). In those days, to share a meal at someone else’s house was a sign of hospitality and intimacy. Even now in our time, we would not simply invite anybody to our house. We would only invite people we meaningfully wanted to fellowship with. This shows us that Jesus accepted the sinners; He befriended and loved them. This is something that the religious, self-righteous Jews would never have done.
We might sometimes think that being intimate with people means that we have to do what they do, so that we can get close to them. We might think that we have to engage in the same behaviors so that they might accept us. However, this is not what Jesus did. Jesus was well-liked by these people but he remained sinless. He interacted intimately with them without engaging in or approving their wicked deeds. Therefore, as much as we are in the world, we are not of the world (John 17:14). We would have to be careful and selective in the various fields of interest when we interact with these people. Ultimately, we can be intimate in sharing our lives with such people without putting ourselves in a position where we might sin.
JESUS INTERACTS PURPOSEFULLY
We have established that as Christians, we need to interact with others. However, we do not interact with others just for the sake of it; we interact with a purpose. Jesus shows us that His purpose in interacting with such people was to draw them to Himself. In verses 11 to 13, Jesus says “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus’ call to Matthew shows us that He loves Matthew just as he was, before he was changed. Jesus accepted Matthew, the sinner, even before his transformation. This should be our mindset when we interact with others, especially with non-Christians. It stems from the motivation of wanting to draw people to Christ. Christ loved us first, and in turn we want to love others as Christ would. We also see how Matthew invited all his other friends to the gathering. It is implied that he too was reaching out to his friends with the same purpose of drawing his friends to Christ.
If we do not come with an understanding that everyone of us is in need of Christ, we would never have meaningful interactions. We would not even interact with people, especially non-Christians.
The Pharisees were self-righteous and did not understand the need for Christ, Jesus charged them with being immaculate in their pattern of sacrifices, but devoid of mercy and love. They were perfect outwardly, but they were evil inwardly. Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to point out Hosea’s concern about the danger of a religion which is external, in which ritual demands have taken the place of love. The Pharisees despised people like Matthew, and Jesus will not tolerate it. Divine mercy welcomes sinners when they repent and choose to follow Jesus.
Finally, we must constantly check our intentions to see if we are truly interacting with a genuine intention to draw people to Christ, or if we are merely interacting in order to gain benefits.
Think about our recent interactions with people – have we been avoiding certain people for a reason? Have we been unloving in our interactions with them? So let us remember how Jesus interacts with us, sinners, out of love. In turn, may our interactions with others be meaningful so that we can draw people closer to Christ.- The End -
Here we see Matthew concluding a section on Jesus’ personal public ministry. This was before Jesus got His disciples to join in His ministry.
The true King had come for the citizens of His heavenly Kingdom. He demonstrated this through His authority and compassion. He provided healing for the sick and demon-possessed, and specifically called individuals to be part of His Kingdom. He was rescuing people from the power of sin and death. This was the example that Jesus set for His disciples before He gave them authority and they became partners in His ministry.
Jesus’ Physical and Spiritual Healing
Jesus began His public ministry by selecting His disciples to be trained for ministry (Matthew 4). He then started proclaiming the gospel and healing the sick and afflicted in Galilee. The first detailed account of Jesus’ teaching is His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). After establishing His authority as God and Messiah through His sermon, Jesus then demonstrated this authority through various miracles (Matthew 8-9).
A recurring theme of Jesus’ miracles is that He provided healing and restoration to those who were underprivileged, unclean and oppressed.
Those who were disabled (e.g. paralytic, and blind) were considered lower-class citizens in society and had minimal rights. Jesus decided to take away the ailments that held them back from fully participating in society, thus restoring them (8:14-15; 9:1-8; 9:27-31).
Lepers, Gentiles and women with persistent bleeding were considered unclean and Jews shunned away from them. But Jesus chose to cleanse the lepers (8:1-4), heal the Centurion’s servant (8:5-13), and heal the woman with chronic bleeding (9:20-22) because of their faith. Even the uncleanness of a dead girl did not deter Jesus from bringing her back to life (9;18-19,23-26). In fact, instead of being made unclean by touching the unclean, Jesus kept Himself clean while cleansing the unclean.
The demon-possessed were tormented and no one could do anything about it. But Jesus showed His authority as Son of God by cleansing them from their demons (8:28-34; 9:32-34). Through this He restored those who were oppressed by these demons.
Jesus Restoring Relationships
Besides physical and spiritual ailments, Jesus ultimately sought to restore the peoples’ relationship with God and with others. Restoring a relationship with God involved prioritizing God’s expectations over those of society (8:18-22). It also involved Jesus reaching beyond societal norms to restore someone as despicable as a tax collector to God (9:9-13). Jesus showed that God is ready to forgive sin and restore a relationship with anyone who responds in faith (9:1-8).
The motivation behind Jesus’ ministry is summarized in mercy and compassion. Jesus Himself made it very clear when He echoed the words of Hosea: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” (9:13a). He was concerned about the afflictions and oppressions of His people, but the solution was always about restoring their relationship with God. His miracles and ministry were the means to that end.
Mercy is so much more than taking away illnesses and oppression. It is desiring the salvation of a non-believer from God’s eternal wrath and judgement. Healing and restoration are meant to show them that faith in Jesus Christ and forgiveness of sin is required to restore their relationship with God.
Jesus and His Fellow Workers
When we look at the crowds around us, how do we see them? Are these people just another “man on the street”? Or do we see something different as Jesus did? When He looked around and saw the crowd, Jesus saw a multitude of people who were “harassed and helpless” (9:36). These people were deeply troubled, distressed and discouraged by the leaders of their day.
As Jesus saw the spiritual depravity and incompetence of the Jewish leaders, as well as the spiritual oppression of the people, He could only respond in deep, gut-wrenching compassion for His people. Such was the love that Jesus the True Shepherd had for His sheep! It was with this deep concern for His people that Jesus turned to His disciples, asking them to pray for more labourers to tend to His people.
Are We Fellow Workers of Jesus?
When we profess to be Christian, thus implying that we want to be Christ-like, do we see what Jesus saw? Do we see non-believers as ones who are “harassed and helpless”, subject to the wiles of secular philosophy and lead by incompetent leaders? Or do we even feel for those who are sick among us? Do our hearts well-up with compassion for these people? When we see their need and compassion grips our hearts, the only natural response is that of mercy.
We may not heal people miraculously like Jesus did. But we all have been given the gospel to restore others to a relationship with God. As we proclaim Jesus’ gospel to non-believers, we provide them the best means for spiritual healing. And for those who are gifted in the areas of physical and social healing, we can demonstrate God’s mercy and point others to faith in Christ through these means.
My dear brother/sister in Christ, Jesus turns to us, His disciples, and implores us to be fellow workers with Him. When we see what Jesus sees, think what He thinks and feel what He feels, then we will act as He acts - out of compassion and mercy. And Jesus knows that we cannot do it alone, and there are many to be reached. Therefore He asks that we pray for more workers to join our ranks (9:37-38).- The End -
Matthew 10:1-15 is a record of Jesus’ direct instructions to his twelve disciples to share regarding the impending kingdom of heaven. It is very similar to the Great Commission, which we apply to be relevant to ourselves. On both occasions, Jesus called his disciples out specifically to share a specific message to the world and its people. Jesus also shared that He will provide for our journey. Though we may not be the twelve disciples, Jesus’ words in this passage certainly applies to us should we believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and we can learn a couple of things from what He said.
Lesson #1: We must share the good news with words and action.
Jesus sent his disciples out with one purpose - for them to proclaim to the people that the kingdom of heaven is coming. Notice that the message is clear and focused. Jesus also taught the disciples that they are to “heal sick people, raise dead people, cleanse lepers and cast out demons” as part of their message, so that people might believe. Their words are to be accompanied by actions.
Similarly, when we share the gospel and proclaim the good news, are we all about plain talk? No one would believe if it were nothing else but a bunch of words! If actions are required then what should we do, or not do?
No matter how good the theology we impart, our message is flawed unless we walk the talk. We ought to present our lives as a living sacrifice for our Lord Jesus Christ so that people can see our transformed and renewed lives and through that, know the depths of Jesus’ love.
Lesson #2: We give others as God has given us.
Jesus said “without cost did you receive, without cost give” (v.8). As the apostles received freely from the goodness of God through the direct teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ, they are commanded to not only give, but also give without a charge or cost for their service to the people.
The context here is the healings and casting out demons done by the apostles. While we may not be able to do these specifically, the principle of giving freely as God has given us remains relevant to our daily lives.
Do we serve others in different ways, big or small? Not only so, but do we serve others and expect something back in return? Perhaps it would not be money, but how about trading favours?
God is so gracious, merciful and loving to give to us all that He has, especially His only son – Jesus Christ! When God gives, there is no way that we can repay Him back. He knows that we are unable to do so due to our fallen nature and our capacity as humans. That is why all that He gives are truly His gifts in His generous and loving provision, for which we can only be thankful for.
So therefore, let us be more and more Christ-like and give to others freely as God as first given us.
Lesson #3: We can trust God to provide as we serve Him wholeheartedly.
Jesus had also instructed His disciples to not accept any monetary rewards, nor carry a bag of assets, food or clothes. They have been asked to go as they were.
These apostles worked for God, and as a workman deserves his keep from his employer, God will provide for His workers! The apostles were not to rely on their own resources and ingenuity, for God will surely supply their need!
Such obedience could only be possible with trust in the Lord! The apostles had nothing except themselves and clothing to cover their bodies. As they traverse city to city to preach and share the news of the kingdom of heaven, it is evident that the apostles spent their entire lives serving God wholeheartedly and putting their trust in the Lord, obeying God’s every command.
Some Christians may say “Oh, but times are different now; the apostles could still put themselves up at other people’s houses! How could we do that now? Everything is about money in this world! What is going to happen if I have no money?”
Listen to what Matthew 6:31-33 says, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
God promises that he will provide. He knows what you need and these will definitely be added to you!
Do we serve God wholeheartedly with our whole lives? As a workman deserves his keep from his employer, do we treat God as our boss who provides for us? Do we worry for what we eat, wear or use?
As disciples of Christ, these lessons are valuable for our meditation and application. Let us live as God’s people with his provision and promises in mind.– The End –
In Matthew chapter 10, we see Jesus commissioning his twelve disciples to do His mission work by making more disciples of Christ, by going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt 10:5-6). In verses 16 to 23, Jesus provided warnings for his disciples on what to expect while carrying out their mission.
BE WISE AS SERPENTS AND INNOCENT AS DOVES
Jesus knew that hostility will be expected; he tells them that he is sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves. As such, he instructs them first, to be wise as serpents (v16).
What does it mean to be as wise as a serpent? The wisdom of a serpent, or snake, was seen in its ability to wait quietly, unseen by its predators, for the opportune time to strike its prey. Such wisdom called for from the disciples will involve expecting danger and avoiding it when possible, yet not in such a way as to affect their mission priorities.
The snake’s wisdom is also needed because hostility can come in various forms, and may not always be obvious to us. It may even come in the form of what appears to be kindness and friendliness.
The idiom “wolf in sheep’s clothing” comes to mind here – this is actually an idiom of biblical origin used to describe those playing a role contrary to their real character with whom contact is dangerous, particularly false teachers. False teachers and enemies might not always be easily discerned.
So, Jesus warns his disciples not be naïve in thinking that everything will go smoothly in proclaiming the gospel of Christ. They must be wary; there will be suffering, and they will face opposition just as Jesus himself did in his earthly ministry. Yet, he commands his disciples to remain vigilant so as not to be crippled to the point of passivity or paralysis in proclaiming the gospel of Christ.
While warning them to be wise as serpents, he also encourages his disciples to also be innocent as doves (v16). What does it mean to be innocent? We tend to associate the term ‘innocence’ with notions of being easily fooled, but what Jesus was referring to was for the disciples to be above reproach. It involves a consistent integrity that needs to be upheld even in the midst of persecution, and is also careful to give no grounds for legitimate legal objections to the action of the disciples. The disciples are expected to take risks and to remain above board and free from reproach in advancing the gospel for the kingdom of Christ.
BE READY FOR “WOLVES” (PERSECUTION)
In verses 17-18, Jesus warned his disciples that they will be handed over to and stand trial before Jewish leaders and Roman rulers, as they carry out their mission to preach the gospel before unbelievers.
Disciples are to expect opposition when carrying out the mission of Christ. Following in the footsteps of Christ, they should expect the proclamation of the message of Christ to cause division wherever they go. Their activity and mission will be reported to the religious leaders and government rulers, and they will face persecution.
However, Jesus assures them that God will provide for them. The Spirit of the Father will give the disciples the right words to say in emergency situations (such as persecution), when preparation is impossible (v19-20). This is not an excuse for followers of Jesus not to put in any effort to prepare when they proclaim Christ to others in non-emergency situations in witnessing, teaching and preaching.
PERSEVERE TO PROCLAIM
Persecution will come even within homes. In verses 21-22, Jesus also talks about families facing internal splits and strife for the sake of his name. Even families will divide because of the word of the gospel. Allegiance to Christ should prepare disciples to remain steadfast in him despite the divisions that His Word will bring, even if it brings divisions to people as close as family members.
The early disciples did not crave an easy or comfortable life. They know that their lives have been set apart, and that they were sent by Jesus on a mission. They craved for Christ to be made known! Their passion and zeal were to set people free from idolatry to false deities. They had to face angry governors and kings as a result. They stood trial as public witnesses before rulers, and they stood firm on the gospel despite persecution. Likewise, if we are true disciples of Christ, then we must be willing to face the same hatred, as it comes. Endurance in the faith is a necessary part of the Christian life, not just in our battle against sin, but also in the mission that has been given to us. But the hope that a Christian has is this: Jesus promises that the one who endures to the end will be saved (v22-23).
THE CALL OF EVERY DISCIPLE
What Jesus said to his twelve disciples then, applies to us as His disciples now. Are we truly convicted of the mission to proclaim the gospel? Do we fear persecution or rejection? Are we giving excuses that we are not equipped enough to share the gospel, and that it is only for the pastors and church leaders or more mature Christians to advance the gospel?
The truth of the matter is, if Christ faced rejection, we would face rejection as his disciples too. If we struggle to accept that persecution would come while doing the work of a disciple, we may need to re-examine ourselves, and if we are truly prepared to count the cost of being a disciple.
Let us neither be deceived nor lulled by the enemy into a comfortable life in this world, but let us bear the armour of God and move as soldiers of Christ in a world hostile against disciples of Christ, being wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Disciples of Christ are sent into the world on mission for the gospel to advance through disciple making, for Christ to be made known and made manifest in the lives of many. True followers of Jesus have not only been crucified to the world, but have also been raised to new life and sent back in to free others. We have been rescued from the darkness by God’s grace and mercy, and given the Light; not merely to flee the darkness, but to guide our steps as we go back in to bring others out of darkness into the Light.
Missions is and will be difficult, but it is the mission of every disciple to proclaim Christ. There is no promise that Christ will help us further our interests or that we will be given prosperous lives as a result of obeying God. The promise is this: That he who endures to the end will be saved. Dear brothers and sisters, have you counted the cost of what it takes to follow Christ? May we truly consider all things as loss, to pick up our crosses and follow Him.
– The End –– The End –
If you have been a Christian steadily growing in your faith and becoming more mature in your walk with the Lord, you would have seen that running the race for Jesus is not an easy journey. And it doesn’t get any easier. We saw in the previous segment that our Lord tells His disciples that they should expect persecution when carrying out His mission.
If the only thing Christians could look forward to was a life of suffering and persecution, it might lead them to despair or maybe even abandon the Christian hope. But the future holds much more for the believer. Judgment Day is coming when God will eternally compensate his people for their suffering and punish their enemies forever. Then the injustices of this world will disappear before the grandeur and glory of life in God’s presence. So Jesus can confidently encourage his followers, “Do not fear.”
Do not fear
Jesus continues his teaching with a threefold command for us not to be afraid (v.26, 28 and 31). After warning his disciples about the inevitable persecution that would come as a result of following Him and carrying out His mission, Jesus exhorts his disciples not to be afraid. He gives them 3 reasons why this should be so.
1. Do not fear for you will be vindicated
First, the disciples are not to be afraid because every hidden thing will be made public (v.26), leading to the idea that the disciples would be vindicated in the end.
The reason that Jesus’ followers do not have to fear the authorities is not because these enemies of the faith are weak and powerless men. On the contrary, they are the ones who have and hold on to the power of this world. Jesus knows the authorities have no respect for Him. Understandably, they would not have any regard for His disciples either. These very same authorities would use the power they possess to plot and scheme against Jesus and His followers, which eventually led to most of their deaths. So why should Jesus' followers not fear these men?
We are not to be afraid because there would be a time to come where all the things that is hidden will be revealed. After faithfully carrying out Jesus’ mission, enduring the persecution coming from the authorities of this world, all these things would be brought to light before God on the judgement day; the day where Jesus’ disciples would be vindicated. Thus, comes Jesus’ first exhortation that we should not be afraid.
But Jesus follows this up with a contrasting command, that His disciples should not follow in the ways of the authorities who plot and scheme in the darkness. Concealment is not to be a way of the life of the disciple. Rather they are to proclaim the message given to them on the housetops (v.27), an expression that describes giving the message the widest publicity.
2. Do not fear for your enemies can only destroy the body
Secondly, the disciples are not to be afraid because although their enemies might be able to kill the body, they are unable to do any more than that (v.28a). Persecutors may have the power to effectively bring bodily life to an end, but they lack the power to kill the soul. While they are powerful concerning matters of the human body, they are powerless when it comes to matters outside of the human body. People with this significant limitation are not to be feared. But it is a different matter when attention is turned to God.
Jesus tells us to fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (v.28b). If we are going to be afraid, it should not be a fear of the insignificant dangers - that is, all human enemies or even Satan himself. But let us fear the true danger that comes in the form of God’s holy wrath against evil. Where they are not able, God is able; his power far surpasses that of anyone or anything else in all creation. And Jesus illustrates that power by saying that God can destroy both soul and body in hell.
3. Do not fear for your Father loves you
But God is not just a terrifyingly powerful being to be feared, He is also our loving heavenly Father. The final reason given to the disciples not to be afraid; because this same immensely powerful God is also our heavenly Father, who cares for his children.
Jesus presents the Father as one who cares for the seemingly insignificant parts of all creation. Jesus draws attention to the sparrows that were sold in the marketplace for food. They were very small birds and fetched only a very small price: two for one cent! Singapore doesn’t even circulate the 1 cent coin anymore! This demonstrates how the people of that time viewed the sparrows to be: insignificant. Yet Jesus affirms that the sparrows matter to God. They will not fall to the ground apart from the knowledge of the Father (v.29).
Jesus also goes on further to emphasize that the Father is also interested in the smallest details of the people that He has made in His own image. It doesn’t really seem to matter to us how much hair we have on our head, much less how many hairs fall off on a daily basis. Yet God knows this number (v.30), and this highlights that He has complete knowledge of even the most insignificant information about each one of his children.
Since God cares for the humblest members of his creation and since he has knowledge of even the most unimportant pieces of information about his people, his people need not fear. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus often tells people not to be afraid; fear is no part of being a disciple. On this occasion he gives the reason that they matter very much to the heavenly Father; their worth is much more than that of many sparrows (v.31)3. Since the Father cares for the sparrows, how much more will he care for them?
The fear of God
“Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)
“The fear of the Lord leads to life; and he who has it rests satisfied.” (Proverbs 19:23)
John Piper describes the fear of the Lord as if we were caught in a terrible storm while walking by a cliff. The winds are so strong that you fear you could be blown off the cliff at any time. But you find a little cave in the cliff where you shelter yourself in and watch the terrible storm rage by. The fear diminishes but not completely. You do not feel like your life is in danger, but you still feel a sense of awe and tremble at the thought of having to be at odds with such a storm. The fear of God is like that. It is the fear of the storm, the sense of awe and wonder in you that remains, even after you have a safe place to watch while still in the middle of it.
May we learn not just to fear the Lord, the One who can destroy both the body and soul, but to also trust in the same God who is our heavenly Father who loves us, cares for us and will vindicate us at the end.– The End –
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and [asked Jesus], “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mt 11:2-3)
John had doubts about Jesus. Due to his struggles in prison, John was having a hard time believing Jesus’ claims about Himself – so much so that he sent someone to inquire after Jesus.
What is the claim of Jesus that John found so perplexing?
Jesus is the only way to the Father
Jesus is claiming in Matthew 11: 25-30 to be the only way to God the Father. Jesus is saying that God reveals all things to us through him. He does this in a stepwise fashion, disclosing individual truths in a logical sequence, and these truths add up to the conclusion that Jesus is the only way to God.
1. Hidden from the wise and revealed to little children
The first thing he says is that God has “hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children”. This is another way of saying that God reveals some things and he conceals some things, and he also chooses whom he reveals to and whom he conceals from.
The implication here is that if we wanted to know God – it is not simply a matter of us wanting to know. We couldn’t know God even if we wanted to. This is because it depends not on us, but on God revealing it to us. It depends on his will. So he reveals himself to some according to his will, and he conceals himself from others according to that same will.
2. All things have been handed over to me by my Father
Having established that God chooses to conceal to some and reveal to others, according to his will, Jesus then goes on to say that he is God’s representative and he possesses God’s full power and authority. There are many passages of scripture which talk about Jesus as the exact representation of God. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). “He is the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). “In [Jesus] the fullness of God was please to dwell” (Col 1:19). And Jesus says that “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30).
Here we must note that Christianity differs from many deistic / theistic religions (religions that acknowledge that there is a god, whether or not he comes from the bible) in the way it presents Jesus. Christianity says that the God of the bible exists, and he reveals himself to us through his son. His son is his exact representation, perfectly showing forth God’s character, worth, glory, person and power. Other religions can closely mimic Christianity in many ways but one test of their authenticity is what they believe and teach about Jesus.
Knowing this will help us guard against the mistake of separating God the Father and God the Son, as though God the Father were the angry, wrathful, judgmental “God of the Old Testament” and God the Son was the loving, “nice guy”, tolerant “God of the New Testament. The fact is God the Father and God the son are both God and they share the same attributes of holiness, justice, righteousness, anger at sin, lovingkindness and mercy.
3. No one knows the Son except the Father
This is an interesting an impressive statement because Jesus is declaring that he is inscrutable and incomprehensible in a manner reminiscent of God the Father. So this is essentially a claim of his deity. It takes God to know God. Only the Father can know the Son. Not humans, not John the Baptist, not his disciples. No one knows the Son except the Father.
4. No one knows the Father except the Son
Jesus then completes the relationship with the reciprocal aspect. Just as the Father knows the Son, so also the Son knows the Father (cf. Jn 10:15). Only the Father can know the Son and only the Son can know the Father. And Jesus does not simply know something about the Father. He does not even know everything about the Father. No – Jesus knows the Father absolutely! He knows God in the fullest sense of the word, in a deep intimate way that nobody else is able to. No one knows the Father except the Son.
5. No one knows the Father except anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him
Finally, Jesus is able to reveal the Father to us. Anyone can know God the Father – if Jesus chooses to reveal him to them.
Putting it all together
These statements of truth that Jesus makes in Matthew 11 come together to form a very polarizing claim – that Jesus is the only way to the Father. That implies that there is no other way to go to God. It is an exclusive claim. And such exclusive claims drive people one way or the other. They will either love the message or they will hate it. There is no middle ground. Either you are in Christ, or you are not. And thus, either you do know the Father, or you do not.
In fact, the exclusivity of claim reminds us of a similarly exclusive claim by Jesus from the bible – that he is “the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him]”. In fact, Jesus also says that “anyone who has seen [him] has seen the Father” (Jn 14:6,9). This claim is presented to us very clearly in the gospel of Matthew. And it calls for a decision. The claim leaves no middle ground and thus it leaves no room for sitting on the fence.
As we continue in the book of Matthew, we shall begin to see how different people responded to Jesus. Many of them rejected him. This claim to deity was too much for them to accept.
As we continue to reflect on the words of Jesus, may God test our hearts and may he grant us the humility and honesty to say if we are indeed trusting in Jesus as the only way to him. Perhaps some of us might be trusting in our own efforts instead – be it our accolades, virtues or merits – in order to gain acceptance and right standing before God. But remember the words of Jesus – “no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”.
We can rejoice and give thanks that at the end of the day our fellowship with God is not based on ourselves but on the medium of access which is Jesus himself. And for this reason he bids us come to him, “all who labour and are heavy laden” and he will give us rest (Mt 11:28).– The End –
Doubt and Disbelief – The Rejection of Jesus
In Jesus’ ministry, his mighty works were countless – he healed people of incurable diseases, cast out spirits from demon-possessed people and performed miracles. (Insert references) Jesus had proven his authority and power over and over again through his teachings and his miraculous works, but these were met with increasing suspicion and cynicism. Even when people saw Jesus heal a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute, they said, “Can this be the Son of David?” out of scepticism. The most prominent opposition was from the Pharisees, who claimed that what Jesus did was “by Beelzebub, the prince of demons”.
To readers of the bible in the present times, we may be too quick to say: ‘I would have believed in Jesus back then! He spoke of the truth from God, he fulfilled what the prophets had predicted, and he carried out so many supernatural miracles! Even his incarnation was a supernatural one, from a virgin birth! It’s so obvious that He is God.” But why was it that so many people at that time would disbelieve and distrust Jesus? Why were good, religious men like the Pharisees so passionately against Jesus?
Religion vs. Love for God
The Pharisees knew the Old Testament scriptures well, but sought to twist the commands of God to suit their own purposes. Rules and commands were amended, with the purpose of making it attainable by them. They strictly observed these rules and thought that these would make them be in the right standing before God. Beneath this was a heart that prides in one’s own ability to attain God’s standard. But the truth is that all have fallen short of God’s glory and the standard they set was not God’s standard but a man-derived one.
On the contrary, Jesus taught that the greatest command was to love God and love your neighbours, including your enemies. He taught that he was not on earth to abolish the law but to fulfil it. And that while no man is righteous, he alone is sinless and will have his righteousness imputed on all those who believe/have faith/repent/love God with all their hearts. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, and the man who finds it sells all his possessions in order to buy that field, with joy.
Because what Jesus spoke of and what Jesus lived by did not fit what they thought was “godliness”, they were utterly against him.
The Heart of Unbelief
The Pharisees had made a very bold claim – and a stinging insult – to attribute Jesus’ ability to cast out demons as one that is from Satan. Jesus’ response was to first expose the underlying logical flaw in their claim (Matthew 12:25-27). It didn’t make logical sense that Satan, as a leader, would go against the acts of his own demons who did his bidding. Next, Jesus showed that the act of healing merely proved his omnipotence and that he is therefore God. Jesus is the one who is able to ‘bind the strong man and plunder his house’ (v. 29) – an analogy to demonstrate that he has power and authority even over the strongest of evil demons, which is why he was able to heal the demon-possessed man.
However, the reason why the Pharisees made such a claim and rejected Jesus’ authority wasn’t just a mere loophole in their logic or something that was spoken out of ignorance. Jesus knew their hearts: beneath their rejection and opposition was an evil heart that rejected God. Just as a bad tree bears bad fruit, so does an unbelieving heart manifest itself in the words spoken.
Where do I stand with regards to Jesus?
Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” He speaks of judgement day, where we will be judged based on our words, which is reflective of our hearts, our inner most desires, preferences and loves. We will be separated like the sheeps from goats and wheat from chaff. And there is no middle ground or neutral ground in this.– The End –
The Pharisees’ request seemed innocent enough: “Show us a sign so that we can confirm that you came from God.” Read on its own, this request was valid because the Pharisees’ role as the religious leaders of society was to safeguard their people from false teaching. They had to validate any claims from outside teachers that are supposedly from God. This was especially so with Jesus, because He claimed that He was God Himself!
But if we dig deeper into the context and the similar passages in the other Gospel accounts, the Pharisees had other more sinister intentions. We saw earlier in the chapter that they were intent on destroying Jesus rather than safeguarding the people (Matt 12:14). In other passages of the same account, they were arguing with Jesus (Mark 8:11) and they sought to test Jesus (Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16).
Testing in the Bible
In the bible, the Greek word for “testing” (peirazo) is used in two different ways. One use is when God puts a person to the test to prove his character (Heb 11:17). However, we see the more negative use of the word in this account, where it is used to describe the Pharisees testing Jesus in order to tempt Him to sin and find fault with Him. We see a similar use of the word when Jesus responded to Satan’s temptation saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt 4:7).
Scripture forbids us to test God by demanding signs from Him because this is sin. It demonstrates our arrogance in attempting to “force God’s hand” according to our whim and fancy. But God will not be treated like a circus performer! Likewise, Jesus refused to perform any signs for the people only because they were more interested in trapping Him than learning the truth from Him. And the Pharisees had already witnessed so many of Jesus’ miracles before, no number of additional signs will ever satisfy their doubts.
So instead of showing signs that proved that He was from God, Jesus described the signs of an evil heart.
What makes a heart evil?
Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ request for signs by calling them an evil and adulterous generation. What strong words! But Jesus was accurate in His assessment, and we will see why in the later part of the passage.
They were considered evil because their “religion” was characterized by self-righteousness. They imposed their own ideas on God’s standards, making “righteousness” more attainable by following strict rules and practices. This meant that they have lowered God’s holy standards. And the worse part was that the Pharisees thought of their standards as meeting and exceeding God’s standards. God considered this evil.
They were also considered adulterous because their self-righteousness had become their idol. They worshipped their social standing of being known as the most devout among the Jews, and they depended on these for their joy and security. But God requires that we fully depend on Him for our joy and security, so depending on anything else is considered idolatry/spiritual adultery.
So Jesus saw that underneath the testing of the Pharisees lay an evil and idolatrous heart.
Signs of an evil heart
Jesus interestingly used examples of the past to rebuke the Pharisees. And it is through this rebuke that we see the signs of an evil heart.
Firstly, an evil and idolatrous heart sees no need for repentance. The entire city of Nineveh repented immediately when they heard Jonah’s preaching (Jonah 3:1-10). They saw their sinfulness and realised the urgent need to turn away from their sin. However the Pharisees maintained that they were righteous. This was even after Jesus had demonstrated to them time and again that they were not keeping the spirit of the Law. What was worse was that they were burdening the people with oppressive man-made laws in order to achieve righteousness. They saw no need to repent from their Godless self-righteousness.
Secondly, an evil and idolatrous heart cannot appreciate wisdom. The queen of the South, who we know as the queen of Sheba, thought so highly of Solomon’s wisdom that she would leave her country and make a long difficult journey just to learn from Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-10). The queen of Sheba heard small parts of Solomon’s wisdom and responded, but the Pharisees, who were immersed in Jesus’ wisdom, did not bother to pursue it any further. In fact they considered it utter nonsense and were ready to kill Jesus because of it. Godly wisdom was useless and offensive to them.
It is worth noting that while this rebuke was directed at the Jews, Jesus decided to use ancient Gentiles as an example against them. Gentiles were the least expected to respond to God, and yet they did. This speaks volumes of the hardness of their hearts.
Thirdly, an evil and idolatrous heart has no place for Jesus. A person’s heart may be rid of an unclean spirit, and may remain clean for some time. But if nothing else replaces that void in the heart, it runs the danger of being repossessed by greater evil (vv 43-45). If we look earlier in the chapter, Jesus speaks of the plundering of a strong man’s house (12:29, cf. Luke 11:21-22). Jesus is saying that He is the stronger man who takes over the house from the existing strong man, used as a metaphor for evil spirits. There is the idea of Jesus conquering a person’s heart by taking the place of the previous evil occupants.
Therefore an unbelieving heart that does not allow Jesus to take over will not stay empty for long because evil will return. In fact it will become progressively more evil. And the Pharisees did demonstrate this: their contempt for Jesus festered and grew into the actual murder of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Jesus called the Pharisees and even the Jews an evil and adulterous generation. But this rebuke goes beyond their generation and applies in our current time.
Testing in your life
Scripture does not allow us to test God by attempting to bend His will to satisfy our whims and/or doubts (Deut 6:16). But how many times have we questioned God or tried to “manipulate” God? Here are some examples:
If you have a tendency to test God in similar ways, you are no better than the Pharisees - you need to repent from such evil ! Instead of testing God, God’s word calls us to test our own characters, be it through self-examination (2 Cor 13:5) or through trials given by God (Jas 1:2-3; 1 Pet 1:6-7). Here are some sample questions:
Evil and idolatry have no place in the Christian heart, so may we never test God through imposing our evil demands on Him. Let us steer ourselves towards God’s way and His idea of righteousness instead. We can achieve that by testing our own characters. And as we renew our minds and transform our hearts through testing, God calls this holy and acceptable worship (Rom 12:1-2).– The End –
Parable of the Sower
One of the most well-known parables throughout the Bible must be the parable of the sower! Many people use the parable of the sower is to decipher their state of salvation.
Are you one with the seed that got devoured by birds? How about the seed that fell on rocky places and did not have soil to settle? Are you choked by bushes? Or are you with the seed that fell on good soil and produced crops?
Yes, salvation may be important. However was salvation the point that Jesus was making when he taught this parable? We will explain this towards the end of this devotion.
Why must Jesus speak in a manner that seemed confusing and mysterious? Jesus answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. This why I speak to them in parables, becauseseeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (v.11,13)
We can make two observations from Jesus’ answer:
(1) All have eyes and ears, but some do not perceive what they see or understand what they hear.
(2) It is God’s gift for you to understand His teaching. It must be given to you. Remember Jesus said many longed to come to the same understanding, but they did not get it. (v.17)
Teaching in parables is powerful. While teaching the great crowds, Jesus hides the truth from unbelievers and illuminates the same truth for the believers. This is the way of God, that He blinds the unbelievers and gives understanding to His people.
Jesus continues to say that we are blessed because we have eyes that see and ears that hear, before pointing us back to the point of the parable of the sower, “ As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty .” (v.23)
Indeed, we are blessed because we hear God’s word and we understand it. What happens next after we hear and understand God’s word? We bear fruit.
To Hear is to Bear Fruit
The point of parables of the sower is this - for what was sown onto good soil necessarily hears God’s words and understand it. It does not stop there; when we understand God’s teachings, we necessarily bear fruit, whether is it a hundredfold, sixty or thirty times. We bear fruit.
Salvation may be important, however Jesus is teaching us a much bigger lesson! As believers who have been saved, our lives are evidence of our obedience in God. If we are truly saved by grace, salvation does not stop at being saved. It continues onto the path of sanctification which bears fruit!
Bearing fruit means that the listener accepts and conforms his life to the word of God.
How can we bear fruit? Through the hearing of His word! Bearing in mind that the understanding of scriptures through our hearing is God’s gift, our lives of fruit-bearing is a result of His gift as well!
The Fruitful Listeners
A commentary author, Doriani sharply classified the four types of people mentioned in the parable of the sower as follows:
(1) The Deaf Listeners
Satan snatches the word of God away from some people and they never hear it. They do not hear.
(2) The Superficial Listeners
These listeners take superficial interest in the same word. There is fleeting happiness, but it fades fast. Similarly, Jesus says this group of superficial listeners hear but do not understand.
(3) The Distracted Listeners
These people place the word in a competition with all other things. The word of God interests them, but wealth and success interest them more. The distracted listeners hear, but do not understand.
(4) The Fruitful Listeners
Fruitful listeners understand and believe the word and live their lives accordingly to what was heard.
A fruitful listener claims the truth that was heard. This knowledge is not just a passing remark or an agreed statement. It is truth that one is strongly convicted in, with a burning desire to act according to it. This truth has become his own.
Recall the time when you’re sitting in a café enjoying hot tea and the shopping mall fire alarm goes off? Chances are, your reaction would be “fake one la”. And you continue enjoying our tea without being too bothered about the alarm. However, if you hear the persistent alarm, see people running and truly believe that there is a fire disaster in the building, what would you do? You would run for your dear precarious life! Immediately!
Now it is obvious that you have taken to believe with all your heart that there is a fire and acted accordingly by running for your life.
Are you the fruitful listener? Do you treat Jesus’ words as precious truths to be meditated upon? Do you claim these truths as your own? Does your life show hints of unstoppable acts of obedience resulting from Jesus’ teaching?
If you hear and understand, it is not by your merit. You have been gifted with the privilege of leading a fruitful life. Jesus promises that the harvest of the fruits will be rich! So give thanks and continue bearing fruit through hearing the Word, and letting your life be transformed according to the word of God.– The End –
THE PURPOSE OF PARABLES
In Matthew 13:24-43, Jesus gave three parables about the kingdom of heaven. Before we take a look at the parables, we must first know what they are used for, and why they are used, in order to understand them according to the intent of the parable Giver.
What is a parable? It is a relatable story that Jesus uses to teach a spiritual truth, especially if there are concepts that are hard for us to comprehend, like the “kingdom of heaven”, of which we cannot experience with our five senses. Thus, Jesus employs the use of parables to teach these spiritual truths. It is helpful to note that these relatable stories are a means to an end – the purpose of parables is to discover the spiritual truth behind them.
But why did Jesus choose to use parables in the first place? It is because “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them” (v10-11). Parables are a means by which Jesus showed mercy to those whom He chose to reveal the truth behind the parables but showed judgment to the ones who do not understand the parables, by choosing not to reveal to them the truth behind them.
So just what is the kingdom of heaven?
Through the parables, Jesus helped his disciples to understand what was previously hidden since the foundation of the world - what kind of King He is and what kind of kingdom He is ushering in. The kingdom of heaven that Jesus talks about is not a physical kingdom geographically or politically. Rather, it is the rule or reign of Christ, in the hearts and minds of His people! God is asserting His authority in the redemption of sinners through Christ. This is the kind of kingdom that Jesus is ushering in – where He will rule over our entire being to adopt a lifestyle that seeks to obey Him.
Parable #1: The Wheat and the Weeds
In the first parable (v24-29), Jesus first compared the kingdom of heaven to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. The man who sowed the good seed knew that the field contained weeds, but he allowed them to grow together until the harvest, where the reapers will remove all the weeds first to be burned, while the wheat will be gathered into his barn.
Parable #2: The Mustard Seed
In the second parable (v31-32), Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed. In the historical context of this parable, the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry began the sowing of the kingdom of heaven in this world. Remember that the kingdom of heaven is talking about a mindset that governs our way of living. It begins small and insignificantly, but it will grow to full maturity.
Parable #3: The Leaven
In the third parable (v33), Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a small lump of leaven, hidden in three measures of flour (equivalent to about 23 kilograms). Eventually, the dough was fully leavened.
Leaven was the form in which yeast was used in the ancient world of breadmaking. The parable shows the potency of a small lump of leaven to permeate all the dough, even though the work of the leaven was not visible to the casual observer.
HARVESTING THE PARABLES
Jesus later explained the first parable to his disciples. The Son of Man is the sower of the sons of the kingdom in the world. The devil sowed the sons of the evil one among the sons of the kingdom, but at the end of the age, the angels will gather the evil ones and throw them into the fiery furnace to be burned, while the righteous ones will be gathered in the kingdom of God their Father.
Through this parable, we observe the following truths:
1) The kingdom is already here.
2) Jesus began the work of the kingdom of heaven in His earthly ministry - the work of sowing good seeds in the field; of growing His people in the world.
3) The sons of the kingdom are under the care of the good Sower and will be preserved in this world in the midst of evil, until the end of the age.
4) There will be coming judgment of the evil and the righteous.
One of the most interesting points to note about the first parable is that Jesus does not tell His angels to burn the weeds immediately upon finding them. Instead, He sovereignly allows them to grow alongside the wheat. The sons of evil are allowed to co-exist beside the sons of righteousness. But in spite of the fact that Jesus allows the weeds to grow, the promise He gives is that His people would be preserved; they will be separated from the sons of unrighteousness and will be kept for the kingdom of the Father.
These truths should serve to encourage and cause us to rejoice in knowing that as children of God, we shall be preserved in this world. The kingdom of God, and the righteous sons of God will mature in spite of existing circumstances (including the presence of suffering and evil) in the world.
In the next two parables given by Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is compared to that which is sowed as something small and insignificant, but life-giving. It then grows to contrast its humble and invisible beginnings, until it reaches its full maturity. Just as revealed in the parables, this kingdom of heaven - the rule of Jesus in our hearts, will surely grow; the sons of the kingdom of heaven will mature under the rule of Christ.
In other words, if your life does not show an increase in the joy you find in obeying His commandments, this could be a symptom that you are not growing through the rule of Christ in your life. We would do well to take heed of the implications of these parables: if anyone is not growing in his love or his ability to live under the rule of Christ, then we ought to take a second look at our understanding about who a son of the kingdom is.
ARE YOU A SON OF THE KINGDOM?
If the wheat and the weeds are growing alongside one another, how can we tell whether someone is a wheat or a weed? In other words, how can you know if you are a son of the kingdom of heaven? The following illustrations may help you in self-examination.
A person who is a son of the kingdom of heaven will do whatever it takes to seek first the kingdom as revealed in God’s word. He thirsts after the righteousness of God, and pursues holiness in his life, and in the lives of others. He truly sees Christ as the sovereign power over sin and seeks to grow in repentance and maturity of faith. He desires the rule of Christ to permeate all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. He does not compartmentalise his life nor seek his own kingdom. These are all evidences of the growth of the kingdom mindset in a person’s heart. Reading our bibles and praying are not “things to do” for us to check off our checklist but they are done out of a heartfelt desire to seek the place where God is: His Kingdom!
On the other hand, the person who is not a son of the kingdom of heaven will reject the rule of Christ in his life. He will be constantly distracted and anxious about his life. He will give excuses for disobeying God and for staying in sin. He will continue to take pleasure in living a life contrary to the word of God. He will question the authority of God and His word and suppress the word of God in his faculties.
Growing in the love for Jesus’ rule in our lives and the ability to subject ourselves under His rule does not come overnight. But upon self-examination, if you realize that you still do not care for Jesus’ reign in your life, and you want to try to love His kingdom more, then know too that what you seek through your efforts is a fruitless task.
The only way for Jesus’ disciples to cultivate a love for God’s kingdom is through heartfelt dependence on the Holy Spirit. Turn to God, and trust that he will give that which He has promised. Pray and claim the promise that Jesus’ reign will be like a mustard seed in your life that will grow to become a great tree; the promise that His rule will be like the leaven that permeates your entire life! Trust in Jesus, and trust in the Holy Spirit!
May we not be dulled in our senses, nor be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin or choked by the cares of this world. May we repent of our sinful ways and truly live as sons in patient yet eager anticipation of the coming return of our King. This world is passing away, and one day His Kingdom will come fully complete.
He who has ears, let him ear.– The End –
The Kingdom of heaven
We come to a section of Jesus’ teaching that consists of 4 short parables. Especially in the previous few chapters, one of the topics that Jesus frequently taught using parables was regarding the kingdom of heaven . It is difficult to understand something that is not immediately perceivable with the human senses. And as we learnt last week, Jesus employs the use of parables to give us a glimpse of what it is like to be part of this kingdom.
What is the kingdom of heaven?
Some of us may tend to think of the kingdom of heaven in terms of a place or a location; we may think of the kingdom of heaven as the place where Christians go after they die, or the place where the streets are lined with gold etc. While this is certainly true in terms of what we know of heaven as a place, Jesus is speaking of something more than that. What Jesus is describing is not just the kingdom as a place, but a rule or a reign. It is a way of thinking and a way of living life.
However some might ask: Isn’t Jesus already ruling the entire universe? He most definitely is! He is the Sovereign Lord who 'upholds the universe by the power of His word' (Hebrews 1:3). But remember we are not talking about a place (the universe) but a rule (a way of living life). His people willingly subject themselves under His rule. However, the people who are not of the kingdom still live in rebellion and reject His rule.
Thus in speaking of the kingdom, Jesus is talking about His rule or reign in the hearts of the people here on earth. His people accept Him and live under His rule, His enemies reject Him and rebel against His commandments. So a person living under the kingdom rule would be willingly subjecting himself to live how Jesus would want us to live, obeying his commandments, doing all that He has taught us to do.
A man’s greatest treasure: The Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus teaches that the kingdom is extremely valuable to one who finds it. The rule of Christ in their hearts is something that is extremely desirable to a follower of Jesus Christ. So much so that they find nothing they currently possess to be more valuable than the kingdom. Both the man who found the treasure and the man who bought the pearl sold everything they had in order to obtain that which they find supremely desirable.
But Jesus is not teaching that a man may buy his way into the kingdom by selling all He has. Instead, the idea of selling of all he has conveys the idea of the willingness of the disciple to forsake everything he has for the sake of gaining the kingdom. (v.44-46) A disciple counts everything as loss for the sake of the kingdom.
How does this look like in real life? The kingdom is not some abstract concept for us to ponder and think about while gazing at the stars in a starry night sky. The kingdom is for now! It is our attitudes towards living under Jesus' rules, it includes how we view his commandments and our commitment to following all that Jesus has taught.
A true disciple will look at Jesus' teachings, practice them and find that the life dedicated to obeying Jesus' commandments is the true way of life. Just as we live in Singapore and find its rules to be good because we have peace and a clean and green country, so also as we live to kingdom principles, a disciple will find it good to be living life according to kingdom rule. He knows that he may find pleasure in the things that life can offer him, but a disciple seeks to live in the kingdom, the way that Jesus teaches how a Christian should live his life.
Another man’s fiery furnace: The Kingdom of Heaven
The third parable gives us an additional insight to the kingdom of heaven. That just as there are some to love and desire the kingdom of heaven to come, there are also some who hate God’s rule. To the wicked and perishing, God’s rule is the worst thing that could possibly happen to them.
The parable of the net describes to us a scene in the end times on judgement day, where all the people of the earth would be gathered and sorted. Those who are good for the kingdom are set aside by the angels, but the unrighteous were thrown away into a fiery furnace where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth (v.50). Just as God's kingdom brings hope and joy to the people who love God, His kingdom is likewise terrifying to those who hate God.
The greatest treasure
The final insight in these parables is that we see Jesus’ description of a “scribe who has been trained for the kingdom having treasures both of what is new and what is old.” (v.52) The scribe here is not the regular scribes we meet in the gospels who often opposed Jesus. What Jesus is describing is a person whose studies proceed from a genuine humility and lead him into a true understanding of the things of God.
Jesus speaks of him as having become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven, which points to the truth that the scribe has not only applied himself to the teaching Jesus has been giving but has also committed himself to all that the kingdom stands for.
Jesus describes such a person as one who has his possessions in his treasure box - some new things and some old things. The one who treasures the teachings of Jesus in his heart has treasures. Some old treasures and some new; he despises neither. Jesus is pointing out that there are fresh insights that are of value and that there are also teachings that have stood the test of time both of which would be cherished by a faithful disciple.
Until Kingdom come
One of the common themes of the Kingdom of God is already here but not yet. There will come a time where the Kingdom will be fully revealed to every tongue and tribe and nation, but there is a way for people to experience the kingdom of God now; by living under Jesus’ rule. Conversely, there is a way for people to live against the kingdom, by hating his commandments and not living according to it. Jesus’ rule is currently present on earth, but it is not yet in its final form.
Jesus says in Mark 1 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” A day is coming when the kingdom will be revealed in a new way, in a complete and glorious way when our Lord comes again. It will be an age where Christians look forward to obtain the fullness of blessings in Christ; where under His rule, there will be no more sin, no more sickness, no more suffering, no more calamities, no more being at war with God or man, and no more death. This kingdom is where Christians willingly and joyfully live in line with God’s rule and His holiness, knowing and experiencing the pinnacle of life, not just in length but also in quality. And it is also in this kingdom where we can experience full intimacy with God being able to be in the presence of God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
“Repent for the Kingdom of God is near” – John the Baptist
– The End –
The story of Jesus feeding five thousand people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes is probably one of the first that comes to mind when we talk about miracles. This particular scenario was the only miracle recorded in all four gospels, apart from the resurrection. Clearly, it was of great significance to the gospel writers - so the question is, why was it so important?
He is the Messiah
There were similar instances in the Old Testament where God had supernaturally provided his people with an abundance of food from limited supplies (1 Kings 17:8-16, 2 Kings 4:42-44). The act of feeding the crowd by Jesus would also have reminded the Jewish people of the period where God faithfully provided the Israelites with manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) . In Jewish tradition, it was a common understanding that the Messiah will repeat the miracle of abundant food provision. (Ps 132:15). So when Jesus fed the five thousand people from just minimal rations, it was a miracle that was reminiscent of God’s provision of manna, and displayed his sovereign power as Messiah.
He is the Provider
Other than staking claim on his title as Messiah, Jesus also demonstrates the type of Messiah he is. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things (Mark 6:34) and healed their sick (v. 14). Beyond this ministry, He also multiplied the rations and provided a simple yet satisfying meal. These speak volumes of Jesus’ compassion in fulfilling human needs. Jesus’ compassion always led Him to action. And it is also a testament to God’s gracious provision to us – that he is not only able to but also willing to satisfy our physical needs. Indeed, God cares and knows what we need, so we can fully rely on him to supply whatever we need when we live for him (Matt 6:32-33).
He is the Bread of Life
How does Jesus fulfill the role of being the Saviour King? The next layer of meaning behind this miracle lies in what happened the following day. From the Gospel of John, we learnt that great crowds of people were seeking to find Jesus again, hoping to get their fill of bread (John 6:22). But Jesus knew their understanding of this miracle was incomplete, and were just looking for a free meal. He warned them, “ Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:27).
The purpose of feeding the five thousand was to point to this: Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35). By calling himself the bread of life, he is saying that he is essential for eternal life. He proceeds to proclaim this to the crowd at Capernaum, “ Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” (John 6:49). Here He diverts their attention beyond physical food. Receiving and eating bread and fish was something to be thankful for, but it did not lead to eternal life, just like the manna in the desert. So Jesus went on saying, “ I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (John 6:50). To put it another way, what he is saying is this: I am the spiritual nourishment, come and feast on me. Do not be anxious about physical sustenance. I can give you physical sustenance, but without repentance and trust in me, you will still remain dead in your sin against God (Eph 2:1). Instead, come and fully rely on me for your life - and you will gain both physical and eternal life.
Reflections and Implications:
Thus we see that from Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand, we are reminded of his Messianic power, his care for his people, and his call for us to trust only in him for both physical and eternal life. The encouragement from this passage is that Jesus is our beloved King who is sovereign and powerful, yet He cares about us. He cares for our physical condition and even more so, our spiritual condition . And he calls us to be fully satisfied in him, and not to find our security in the things of this world that will perish. Because God is able and willing to provide, we can fully place our trust in him . This is why we can be assured about our physical needs, which then allows us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:25-33).
How do we know that we are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Let us consider our thoughts every time we pray and worship. Are we pursuing the “food that perishes” or “food that endures to eternal life” when we pray? Just like how the crowds were more excited about the bread than their Messiah, do we end up treasuring the good gifts that God provides and fail to worship the giver? Do we find our hope of salvation from our darkest sins in these gifts, or can we truly say that our hope is found only in the One who gave us these gifts?
As people of the risen Messiah King, let us put our trust in his power and rely on him for all physical and spiritual sustenance. And when we trust Jesus Christ for all our physical needs, it frees us up to pursue eternal life by obeying him through holy and righteous living. And as we grow in holiness and righteousness, we can look forward to the joy of eternal life spent with our King who provides.– The End –
By feeding the crowd of five thousand, Jesus was demonstrating that He was the Messiah King. Jesus’ disciples have witnessed the miracle themselves, but they did not know the significance of it. There were still some deep-seated worldviews that prevented them from understanding this. And Jesus, being the Master Teacher, knew how to help them with their understanding.
Jesus knew that His disciples still have problems overcoming fear and doubt. This was despite seeing their Master performing miracles firsthand. What we see next is not only a display of Jesus’ power over nature, but also His lesson on how to address fear and doubt.
1. Fear of the unknown
The disciples were on a boat rowing against the waves and the wind for many hours (v 24-25). By the time Jesus went to them, it was somewhere between 3 to 6 o’clock in the morning (v 25).
The disciples were exhausted, discouraged and probably even frustrated. In that kind of physical and mental state, seeing a person walking on water towards them did not help matters. They were utterly terrified when they thought they saw a ghost!
Fear took hold of the disciples’ hearts as they still held on to a superstitious worldview. The terror that came from seeing a ghost only reflects their worldly thinking.
When we look into the unknown, be it supernatural beings or an uncertain future, our first response is fear. We fear what we do not know or understand. We fear when we see that kingdom living requires us to give up certain securities. We fear when we cannot see how certain life-decisions are going to pan out. We do not take action because we fear the possible outcomes.
But Jesus had just the right answer for His disciples, including us.
It is I
Jesus knew his disciples’ fear but He did not rebuke them. Instead He reassured them saying, “Take heart, it is I; Do not be afraid.” (v 27) Jesus was telling His disciples to have courage and not to be afraid, because He was there.
When Jesus said, “It is I”, He was saying it the same way as when God says “I AM” in the Old Testament. Jesus was pointing out to His disciples that He is God, the same God of their forefathers. Jesus had already demonstrated His Kingship in his earlier miracle. Now He was outrightly declaring His Kingship and deity to His disciples.
We can take courage because Jesus is God over all things and the King who will look after the people of His kingdom. This means that Jesus is ruler over even our supposedly bad circumstances. Hecommands us to be courageous and not allow fear to grip our hearts. Therefore when we fear, we are living by our worldly mindset which does not trust in the Kingship and deity of Jesus.
2. Drowning in doubt
The lesson was not over. Peter, being the rash person that he was, wanted to walk over to Jesus on the raging sea. He told Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” When Peter said, “If it is you”, it was not a sign of doubt. Another way of putting it is, “On the basis that you are Lord God, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter assumed that Jesus’ Lordship was true, and made his request to Jesus based on that assumption.
To Peter’s credit, it took a lot of courage and trust to step out of a boat into a raging sea. No one in their right mind would do that if they did not trust Jesus. But Peter still failed in the end when he started sinking. But why did Peter fail? The issue was not that Peter lacked faith, but because his faith started to drown in doubt (v 31).
How many times have you started with a desire to draw nearer to Jesus? You make your own version of “new year resolutions” to get to know Christ better. But somewhere along the way, the cares of this world and its distractions fly straight into your face in all directions. And when these cares and distractions come, you might feel like you’re drowning. These are the times when doubts about God’s promise to sustain you will start to creep in.
So how do you keep doubt at bay?
When doubt gives way to God’s glory
To have a more detailed look at how to keep doubt at arm’s length, let us look at a passage from Romans 4:20:
“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,”
Here Paul is speaking of Abraham and his unwavering faith in God’s promise of creating an entire nation through him. This was despite Sarah’s barrenness and being way past the age of childbearing (Rom 4:19). What helped Abraham face such a disadvantage with such unwavering belief? Was it merely a matter of just willpower? No.
Abraham relied on God’s reliability and power. Here Paul says that Abraham “grew strong in his faith AS he gave glory to God.” He remembered who God is, Creator and Ruler over the entire universe, with power even to bring life to the dead (Rom 4:17). And as he remembered these things, he was fully convinced that God is able to do EVERYTHING that He had promised (Rom 4:21). So even when God’s promise seemed impossible, Abraham remained steadfast in his belief. It is because of this conviction that Abraham was able to truly worship God and strengthen his faith.
No doubt in the presence of the King
Now back to our passage in Matthew. When we are fully convinced that Jesus is God and is able to do everything that He had promised, we worship Him despite our circumstances. When we trust that Jesus is the Messiah King who has come to save His people, we can trust that He has worked out all things together for good for His people (Rom 8:28).
And what if we fail, like Peter did? Jesus did not require Peter to restore his faith in His power before reaching out to save him. Jesus immediately responded to Peter’s cry for help. Jesus has proved Himself faithful to His people, and He will respond to a genuine cry for salvation.
Yet in the failure there is a lesson to be learnt. Jesus will save us when we cry to Him, but He requires that we grow from the experience. Jesus addressed Peter’s immediate need for salvation from the waves, but He required that Peter deal with his doubt. With salvation, Jesus expects everyone to grow away from doubt and towards holiness and righteousness.
Jesus - Lord over fear and doubt
Fear that comes from our deep-seated worldviews, and doubts that come from challenging circumstances will come in our Christian life. But God did not leave us to fend for ourselves in the face of such fear. He did not leave us to drown in our doubt. He has given us the answer to fear and doubt - Himself!
When fear rises, we can know that Jesus is the all-powerful God who is able to do everything He wills. Armed with this knowledge, we can take courage and dispel our worldly fears. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) Knowing that God is on our side, we need not fear losing our securities or face uncertainty when we choose to live as God’s kingdom people..
When doubts start to creep in, we remember our Creator God who can even call into existence things that do not exist. We remember that He will complete the work that He had started in us (Php 1:6). We remember the God who promised to keep us from stumbling and joyfully present us blameless at the Day of Judgement (Jude 24). As we remind ourselves of God’s promises and break out in worship, our faith strengthens and our doubts are dispelled.
We have Jesus, our almighty and faithful God who is Lord over our doubts and fear.– The End –
Sometimes it is hard to tell apart our dedication to Christianity - is it true faith, or is it mere religion? The idiom “Put our hearts into” means to put all of our sincere efforts into something. Many think that when we put our hearts into Christianity, it will work out and it must be right! The truth is far from that. Consider the Pharisees, they were sincere in obeying God’s commands. In fact, they were so serious about God’s laws that they laid it down with detail. Jesus called them “hypocrites”! (v.7)
Here we will explore 2 factors which points to Christianity as mere religion rather than true faith.
1. Being concerned about religious rituals
When the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of not washing their hands before eating, the concern was not of hygience but of religious rituals. The Pharisees were focused on keeping the law of God in the Old Testiment to be ritually clean. This includes the washing of hands to ensure that the food ingested were ritually pure without any defilement.
Jesus explained later in v.20 that eating with unwashed hands does not make one unclean, however evil thoughts stemming from the heart are precisely why men are unclean by nature.
Perhaps religious rituals are what people of the past get caught up in, however in modern context, the religious activities that we participate in may be of the same nature. Some examples include praying, reading our bible, coming to church or any Christian-like activities. Are you caught up in these religious activities?
Would you feel bad or guilty when you do not read the bible, pray or come to church? Do you feel that God is far away when you do not pray to Him? Does reading the bible make you feel better that you’re a good Christian and you’ve fulfilled your Christian duties? If you have answered yes to the above questions, then perhaps you are not too different from the Pharisees.
Perhaps you may have a sense of guilt which comes when you have failed to reach a certain standard. But isn’t that works salvation? Isn’t God always here, whether or not you pray to Him? Aren’t you a Christian just because you’ve been saved by grace through faith by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ? Would fulfilling your Christian duties be of any help to your salvation?
Similar to ingesting food with washed hands; reading the bible, praying or coming to church does not make us any holier.
2. Using God as an excuse to avoid loving people
“Honour your father and mother.”(v.4). This is the fifth commandment of the Lord’s written law. However the Pharisees used a reason to avoid obeying this commandment – “Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God.” (v.5) This simply means that the child’s possession is dedicated to God and will not be given or used by anyone else.
The Pharisees claim to love God, yet their hardened hearts used God as an excuse to avoid caring for their parents.
What are the excuses that you’ve used to avoid caring for people around you? “Sorry I have to do this for church” or “Sorry I have to attend cell group”? Are these excuses that you’ve used to avoid spending time with your parents for example?
You may say that church attendance and cell groups are important as well! That is correct. So what should we do and not do? How can we be right on these matters? When we ask these questions, we have to be careful to not be like the Pharisees. Christianity is not about what we should or not do, it is not about being right. It is not about passing the bar.
The heart of all things
There are spiritual intents and principles governing the commandments given by God. It is not merely a rulebook for all to blindly follow and abide. The Ten Commandments are given by God to men as a means of grace to show us that we fall short of His glory and only through Jesus Christ can we be saved.
The demands of the Ten Commandments are not superficial but spiritual. Through the love for God and the renewal of our hearts can we then understand the spiritual intent of the Ten Commandments.
Attaining holiness by regulations and law keeping is impossible without the love for God. Without the love for God, the quest for holiness becomes legalistic which substitutes human tradition for God’s law and substitutes human effort for God’s grace. Legalism also removes the need to live by God’s strength and grace.
Religious activities look at the hands, but God looks at the heart. The Pharisees do and say the right things, but their hearts do not love God.
We simply cannot attain purity by keeping laws regarding religious activities, nor can we lose purity by ignoring these laws. The heart can purify, or defile. And our mouth and hands show what is in our hearts. Why do we put in such effort to obey God’s commandments? Why are we concerned with what we should or should not do? Is your heart in the right place?– The End –
There is a saying that goes like this, “Birds of a feather flock together”. This saying has proven to be true and in fact there are studies that has been done about this phenomenon. The idea behind this phenomenon is that we tend to have higher contact with people or groups of people that are generally similar to us (e.g. race, gender, socio-economic status, religion, family, etc.). In turn we would tend to care more or be bothered by these people “like us” and be less concerned or bothered by people who are “dissimilar” to us. However as Christians, are we to be like this? Is our care just limited to people who are like us? Here in our passage (Matt 5: 21-39) we would explore this with how Jesus lived.
Jesus and the Canaanite Woman (15:21-28)
Here we find Jesus and His disciples traveling away from Jewish territories and into a Gentile land. As they were moving along, a Canaanite woman came to Jesus and begged him to heal her daughter.
Some things are notable for us about this scene. Firstly, in those days women were of a lower social status compared to men; it was unusual for men to interact with women since they were of a higher social status. Secondly, the Canaanites were considered to be ancient enemies of Israel. In other words, Jews did not like to associate themselves with Gentiles, let alone Canaanites.
Despite initially being ignored by Jesus, this Canaanite woman continued to draw near and pursued Jesus in her desperate plea for her daughter to be healed. She knelt before Him in worship, as she recognised His power, love and wisdom; she knew that He was her only source of help. Jesus responded to the woman eventually and said that He was to first minister to the Jews. Yet the Canaanite woman clung onto God’s promised blessing for all nations. Jesus was amazed by her inner heart of faith and her request for her daughter to be healed was granted instantly.
From this we can see that Jesus shows compassion towards the Gentiles. Jesus did not regard the woman’s social class or ethnicity as something of importance when coming to receive mercy from Him. Jesus simply chose to grant the request because He wanted to; it makes Him glad when people come with a contrite heart desiring His salvation, knowing that they are undeserving of His mercy. Such a heart of worship from a Gentile contrasts the outward superficial worship of the Jewish religious leaders. So in the same way, as followers of Christ, we are to extend compassion towards others just as Jesus did, regardless of the person’s background.
Here Matthew recounts Jesus healing the Gentiles in this region. He speaks briefly of great numbers of people coming to Jesus and being healed of a variety of physical disabilities. We see that Jesus did not brush them aside but chose to heal them even though they were Gentiles. With this act of healing, the people who were present all praised and glorified the God of Israel . Here we see that Jesus’ compassion to heal is not limited to the Jews, but extends to the Gentiles as well.
The Feeding of the Four Thousand (15: 32-39)
As we read on, we see that Jesus continued to show compassion to the crowd. Now these people have already been with Jesus for three days. Evidently, the crowd had not come prepared for such a long stay, as they came to a point where they had nothing left to eat. Jesus knew that it would be a long way home for some of the people, and without food it would be a distressing journey. They had come to Jesus for help, and Jesus was not willing to send them off with the possibility of fainting from hunger on their way home.
Jesus called his disciples and asked them about the number of loaves they had. With the seven loaves and a few small fish, Jesus fed four thousand men, besides women and children. They ate beyond their fill, and had still had seven baskets full of leftovers. We can see the extent of Jesus’ compassion for them in how He provided them with more than what they needed in their physical hunger.
You would realize that Jesus did a similar miracle in an earlier chapter in Matthew 14. The difference in Matthew 14 is that He ministered to a Jewish crowd, but here it is a Gentile crowd. From this we can tell that Jesus’ compassion again is not limited to the Jews alone. As we have seen in the healing and in the feeding in the earlier verses, Jesus’ compassion overflows to the Gentiles as well.
What does it mean for us?
We can see here in our passage that Jesus’ compassion is not dependent on any ethnicity, race, gender or even social class. He showed compassion regardless of all these factors. This should cause us to examine whether we avoid showing compassion to people who are unlike us in many ways.
The gospel is meant for both Jews and Gentiles alike. We ourselves are Gentiles and recipients of His grace! In our ministry to others, let us remember this and consider if there are any biases we hold towards people from different cultures and socio-religious backgrounds. Remember, Jesus shows us mercy while we were still sinners. In the same way, we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus in the way that He cares for people, and extend mercy to all who come to Him.
Though it may be more challenging to interact and relate with people who are different from us, it does not mean that we do not try to care for them. For sure, it is easier to get along with people who are like us because of similar ideals; less effort is needed to commune with them.
However, our attitude towards any ministry and any service should be one that reaches out to all in need regardless of how different they might be from us. We are to reach out to all, because the gospel is for everyone – for all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! Our lives must display the gospel and the truth of how God transforms the way we love others, so that at the end of the day all will see God’s work through us and will give praise and glory to His name.– The End –
6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees... 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees”
There are people whose interests lie merely in the practicing of religion, but not in truth finding. They are occupied with holding on to their traditions, views and ideas, but have no interests in seeking truth. Their overriding concern is the manner in which they are viewed; as religious, holy, righteous, nice etc, rather than the transformation of the heart. The Bible describes a group of people like that in the form of the religious leaders, namely the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus was often at loggerheads with them and today’s passage gives us an account of one of those encounters with the religious leaders.
Who were the Pharisees and the Sadducees?
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the religious leaders of the Jews in the days of Jesus. They made up the Sanhedrin (the Parliament of that time) and were often at odds with each other, mostly due to theological differences. They can be thought of as two opposing political parties. It is almost refreshing to see two groups of people in opposing camps uniting against a common enemy: Jesus! These two groups who were normally at odds with each other due to their theological differences, banded together as they both under threat from the teachings of Jesus.
We may sometimes think of the religious leaders as sniveling, plotting, wild eyed fanatics who were constantly planning the downfall of Jesus and His disciples. However, these men were actually pretty well respected within their community. They were often venerated for their ability to keep the law. They had the appearance of wisdom, where even Jesus acknowledged their ability to discern the signs of the weather (v.2-3), which was very important in an agricultural society.
The teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees
It is to these very highly regarded and well-respected members of society that Jesus teaches His disciples to be careful of their teaching (v.12). The word for ‘teaching’ is in the singular form and is not written as the ‘teachings (plural) of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’ What Jesus was warning his disciples was not on any of the teachings of either group that were at odds with one another, but the singular common understanding that they had: leading people away from their enemy Jesus Christ.
The effects of the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees are like leaven (v.6). It is a metaphor that describes something unseen that is working, and produces an effect that is considerably large. This shows that whatever this teaching was, it was popular
The imagery of leaven is of something proportionately small and therefore able to be thought of having an apparent minor significance—so much so that in the early stages its presence in the dough is invisible—which nonetheless over time totally transforms the situation in a manner that will only gradually become evident.
The faith of the religious leaders
But one might ask: wasn’t the Pharisees and Sadducees making a reasonable request in asking Jesus for a sign from heaven. After all, Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and a sign from heaven does seem like a plausible request.
What really demonstrates what was in the religious leaders’ hearts is found in verse 1: that the teachers of the law came to test Jesus. The meaning of ‘test’ is to (get someone else) to try something, implying that they would not succeed in their task. So the Pharisees and Sadducees were not coming at Jesus with an attitude of harmless curiosity, it was with the intention that they would undermine Jesus’ ministry.
It was not the case that Jesus was unwilling to perform signs and miracles at all. In fact, up to this point, he had performed numerous public miracles of healing and the miraculous feeding of a few thousand people with just a handful of food. Some of the Pharisees and Sadducees would have witnessed or at least heard of the miracles that Jesus was doing, but they asked for a sign anyway to test Jesus. Further proof that they are unable to discern the signs is that they are asking for one. It is wilful ignorance rather than inability. They had already made up in their minds that they were not going to follow Jesus no matter what He had done.
What Jesus was denouncing against the religious leaders was a matter in their hearts; a matter of faith. The teachers of the law were demonstrating outward signs of piety, but their heats were full of unbelief. Being called out by Jesus for being hypocrites, the Pharisees and Sadducees sought out to test Jesus that they might discredit Him and His ministry.
So then what is the heart that Jesus is pleased with?
The heart of a disciple
We can see the true heart of a disciple through Jesus’ expectations of them. When talking about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus’ concern with his disciples lay not with their apparent lack of understanding. Rather He rebuked them for having little faith (v.8). Jesus’ rebuke of “you men of little faith” shows us a shortcoming in the most important aspect of being a disciple: Having trust in the master.
The issue was a matter of the heart. Having only recently experienced the extraordinary miracles of Jesus feeding the five thousand and the four thousand, the disciples were still concerning themselves over having enough bread for a dozen or so men. On one level, the disciples’ mistake is innocent enough since the context for which why they were worried about was physical bread in the first place. But at a deeper level the lack of trust that they had in the master was a demonstration of a misalignment of views between the disciples and Jesus.
A trust in miracles
Both reactions from the religious leaders and the disciples lead us to a principle that is taught repeatedly in the gospels: That the experiencing of a miracle does not equate to being a Christian. Having a supernatural experience might not necessarily result in trust in the miracle worker. If ‘Christians’ seek out miracle experiences being motivated by the high, the benefits and the good feelings that come out of miracles, how is that different from non-believers who seek out carnal pleasures being motivated by the very same things?
Do you look to the miracles for a sign of your salvation? Or do you look to the master It is not about trusting the miracles but having faith in the one who does the miracles.
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.– The End –
The Climax of Jesus’ Ministry
This passage marks a turning point in the Matthew story. It concludes the largest section of Matthew (4:16-16:20). Up till this point, Matthew has been showing us how Jesus’ ministry has developed and the increasingly contrasted responses of people toward him. At this point however, the bulk of Jesus’ ministry is completed. Matthew has described the ministry and work of Jesus so far all except for one – the work of the cross. With Peter’s confession in 16:13-20, Jesus has also given his authority to his disciples so that they too can bring people into God’s kingdom through the preaching of the gospel.
As we enter the next section, (16:21-18:35) Matthew begins describing the events leading up to Jesus’ climactic suffering, death and resurrection. Matthew shows us along the way that disciples of Jesus must also bear crosses and suffer as he has suffered.
Jesus, The Anointed One, Son of God (16:13-20)
Throughout his ministry, people have had varied responses to Jesus. The responses get increasingly polarised throughout the gospel of Matthew. In this segment, Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. Peter, on behalf of the group, answers that he is the son of God. In response, Jesus tells them that their confession comes from God – from divine revelation rather than human deduction. Whoever confesses that Jesus is God’s son has God (1 John 4:2,15).
He goes on to explain that Peter, along with the disciples, will be the first few people through whom Jesus will build a community of followers. He promises to “build [his] church” “on this rock” (16:18) and true enough in Acts, we see the disciples in key roles in the early church. Jesus also gives them the authority to “usher others into God’s kingdom”, through preaching of the gospel and offering them the opportunity to trust in Christ, accept God’s rule in their hearts, and enter his kingdom (16:19).
So the bulk of Jesus’ ministry concludes with the disciples rightly affirming Jesus’ true identity, amidst all the false ideas that others have about him.
Jesus Foretells His Death (16:21-23)
In the next segment Jesus alludes to the subsequent and final part of his ministry – suffering, death and resurrection. At this point Peter is still unable to comprehend how the messiah can possibly be made to suffer. He does not get the idea of a “suffering saviour”. His words to Jesus are better translated as “no way shall this happen!” Very quickly, Peter turns in the reverse direction, from “foundation block” to “stumbling block” ( hindrance, 16:23).
Peter’s attempts to prevent / thwart God’s plan for Jesus (although he “means well”) are not so different from the devil’s plans to ruin Jesus’ obedience. The devil is deliberately trying to stop Jesus from obeying God. Peter is unintentionally doing the same by trying to prevent Jesus from suffering. This is why Jesus likens Peter’s thinking to Satan – he is not saying that Peter is possessed. Jesus simply means that Peter is still seeing things from man’s view rather than God’s.
Jesus, on the other hand, knows God’s will. He knows very well that he must suffer, and he is setting an example for us in self-denial and obedience to God.
What Does It Mean To Deny Ourselves? (16:24-28)
Self-denial does not mean that we are to torture ourselves or to have low self-esteem. (In fact, as Jesus’ disciples, we should think well of ourselves – but not because we are arrogant. We should think well of ourselves because we know how precious we are in God’s sight. Our self-esteem and worth is based on God’s grace, and not our “goodness”.)
Nor does it simply mean being like a monk who has chosen to “abstain from all pleasures”, as some would be inclined to think. (This is because the Lord has given to us all things to enjoy and we are to enjoy them with thanksgiving to God as our rightful worship to him.)
What does self-denial mean, then? It means putting God and his kingdom priorities first. This should have a visible impact on the nature of one’s financial (or other) commitments and service to church and world. It also leads to the rejection of self-centered arrogance and pride. As one scholar says “Discipleship is a doing of what is right, no matter how irksome the privations, no matter how great the dangers.” Discipleship, denying ourselves, is about doing what is right in God’s eyes, putting his kingdom and priorities foremost (making them our own priorities too) no matter what it would cost us in terms of inconvenience, danger or otherwise.
Why Do We Deny Ourselves?
The answer lies in the last verses (25-28) – the logic of Jesus’ commands to take up our crosses and suffer for his name is based on the fact that there is life after death. But how do we gain that eternal life? Certainly not by accumulating material wealth and goods (25-26) – no, nothing here on earth can buy eternal life with God. We gain eternal life through a wholehearted trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection – only what Christ did could gain us that life. Our trust in Jesus shows through our lives and actions, which includes obedience to him and suffering for his sake. And finally, Jesus promises us that at the end of that suffering lays the glory that he has, which will belong to us when he returns.– The End –
As we go about in our daily walk with God, we will realise that we don't have complete control over most things. We do not know if our unbelieving friends will come to faith in Jesus, we cannot be sure if the children will even understand vacation bible school, we can never be too certain of how much church growth will be achieved. In Christian circles, people may say “Trust the Lord!” in response to such situations. As we try to apply this into our churches and personal lives, some questions arise: Why should we trust in Christ? What do we trust that Christ will do?
Trust Because He is Truly the Son of God
We can trust in Christ because he is the son of God. In Matthew 17:1-8, Jesus brings Peter, James and John up on a mountain. There on the mountaintop, “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (v. 2) This came as a surprise to them; and they had never seen anything like this before. In front of their eyes, the human appearance of Jesus was changed into that of a heavenly being, providing them a glimpse of what the future glory of Jesus and his kingdom will be.
And then in verse 5, “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” God the father affirms that Jesus is truly the son of God, then also expresses his love for Jesus and fullest delight in him. Finally, he concludes with the command: “listen to him” - which again displays Jesus’ heavenly authority.
For us on this side of history, it may seem rather obvious to us that Jesus is the son of God, especially since it has been emphasised repeatedly throughout the New Testament. But to the disciples Peter, James and John, Jesus looked like an ordinary man who came from an ordinary family. He ate with them, he lived with them and slept with them. He was fully human just like them. Jesus’s glory was shrouded in the appearance of an ordinary man. When his true glory was revealed for a moment on the mountaintop, imagine how awesome that must have been! We may not have seen the transfiguration ourselves, but we can be assured that Christ is the Son of God, that has all of God’s authority given to him, and that he will come in glory again. With that, we can trust that all of Jesus’ promises will come to pass (Matthew 5:18) and he indeed has the sovereign power to accomplish them.
Trust Because He Works Powerfully Through Our Faith in Him
Trusting in Christ is also a means by which we participate in God’s powerful work. After their descent from the mountain where the Transfiguration just took place, Jesus was met with a desperate father pleading for the healing of his demon-possessed son. He said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly … I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” (vv. 15-16). And when the disciples privately asked Jesus why they were not able to cast out the demon, Jesus attributed it to their little faith (v. 20), and had referred to them as part of a “faithless and twisted generation” (v. 17) The message from Jesus is clear: lack of faith leads to ministry failure. Although the disciples were already given full authority over the demons (Matthew 10:8), their faith was still lacking.
Subsequently, Jesus added, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (v. 20). It is not that we should be literally moving mountains. Jesus is saying that God’s power can overcome what is humanly impossible. And this power is available to those with even the smallest of faith. Whatever that is within God’s will, no matter how impossible it may seem, will come into fruition (Matthew 5:18) because God has ultimate power to fulfill all of his plans.
Just like the disciples, we too may see our ministries bear minimal fruit despite our best efforts. And the issue may be that we lack faith in God’s power as Ruler of the universe. Faith in God is not just a matter of intellectual agreement that he is a great God who is trustworthy. Rather, truly trusting in God is constant reliance on the power of God. Practically speaking, we do not put our trust in our own abilities for the outcomes. That will be putting faith in our own strengths, which translates to lack of faith in God. Instead, we trust that God has ultimate power to ensure His will is done. Therefore, we can trust in God for the outcome of our ministry work.
However, this does not mean that all ministry failures are due to the lack of faith. In fact, failures in a Christian’s life are God's means of shaping them into increasing holiness and righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). Jesus never promised us a smooth-sailing life and complete success in all our endeavours. Rather, Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples and the promise in verse 20 serve as a reminder that we ought to depend on God for the outcomes of our efforts and serve faithfully .
What does it then mean to serve faithfully? A great reminder for us would be how Paul ended up imprisoned in Rome for the sake of preaching the gospel (Acts 23:35), but continued to share the gospel while in captivity - to all the imperial guards in charge of him! (Philippians 1:13) For Paul, his faithfulness is seen in his desire and his continuous work for Christ to be proclaimed and honoured, no matter what circumstance he faced (Philippians 1:18).
In light of this, our joy should also rest on trusting, working and seeing God’s will being done. We work wholeheartedly and trust in the Lord that if he wills it, that one more friend will reconcile with God, that one more child will be see the beauty of Christ, and that one more church member will step up in spiritual maturity.– The End –
At this point of Jesus’ ministry, His disciples were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah who will usher in a new heavenly kingdom. But because they were already following Jesus, they assumed that they were already part of this kingdom. Their next thought was naturally, “how can I get to the highest position in Jesus’ kingdom?”
Jesus had to show them that His heavenly kingdom does not work the same way earthly kingdoms do. He had to challenge their assumption of citizenship in God’s kingdom in the first place. And He did that through a child. Jesus told His disciples to turn from their “adult” mindset and be like a child. Only then can they enter God’s kingdom, not to mention be the greatest.
He then elaborated further that only when a person becomes humble like a child, then they will enter God’s kingdom. So what is this humility that Jesus was talking about? And why is it so important to God?
God’s idea of humility
For us parents, we know that children rarely behave humbly. Often they act out of selfishness and pride. So what did Jesus mean when He taught us to humble ourselves like children?
He was referring to the state of full dependence that children are in. Children in the 1st century had no means of protecting and providing for themselves. Instead, they were fully dependant on their parents. In the wider context, Jesus had in mind those who were physically, mentally and/or spiritually vulnerable when referring to “little ones” (18:6).
When we think of humility, many times we think of making ourselves low-key and unimportant. Humility to us means that we should think of everyone else as better than yourself, instead of asserting yourself.
However, the biblical idea of humility is to know exactly where you stand before God and before man. A humble person knows how dependant he is on God, but also knows who he is in Christ. Therefore a humble person has no need to compare himself against other people’s strengths and social standing.
So godly humility is not to say “I’m so lousy because I’m not better than others.” Being humble is to say “God, I know that I’m powerless like a baby when it comes to even saving myself. So I’m no better than others. But You have made me Your child in Christ. And You have gifted me with some things that are better than most. Thank You and help me to use these gifts for Your glory.”
So why did Jesus find it so important to talk about humility to His disciples?
The humble are precious to God
When Jesus spoke of the “humble” and “little ones”, He was referring to those who are small and insignificant in the eyes of this world. But the humble hold a special place in the eyes of God. Jesus says that welcoming such a person for His name’s sake is as good as welcoming Himself (18:5). By accepting, loving and providing for a humble believer, you are doing the same for the King of the universe. The vulnerable are so precious to God that Jesus elevated them to His level.
God loves His humble children so much, that He will ensure all of them will be saved. Jesus demonstrated that through the parable of the lost sheep (18:12-14). God finds joy in ensuring the salvation of all His sheep, even those who have gone astray (18:13). Therefore, He will pursue the believer who had succumbed to sin to restore him. And He will make sure that none of His children will be ignored and lost to destruction (18:14).
God intensely hates those who stumble the humble. This is a reflection of His intense love for His “little ones”. Jesus even said that “ whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. ” (18:6) Anyone who stumbles a believer is better off dead! Jesus extends such drastic measures to each believer personally. He tells us to cut off any part of ourselves that causes us to sin!
Jesus gave up His life on the cross to restore sinners, even the ostracized and neglected. And He strongly condemns anything and everyone that will cause vulnerable believers to fall away. These show us how precious the humble are to God.
We are to guard the humble
Jesus makes it clear from the start that anyone who causes a believer to sin is as good as dead. Stumbling a believer is seen as the direct opposite of welcoming (or looking out for) a believer. So as fellow believers, we are not to lead a brother/sister in Christ into sin. But beyond that, Jesus also gives us the responsibility of guarding each other from sin.
He tells us not to despise any of His little ones (18:10). We must never think of a fellow believer as so insignificant that he/she is not worth our time. There is always the temptation to push aside anyone who is a nuisance. But we are accountable to God for neglecting a fellow brother/sister in Christ who is falling into sin (18:10).
In fact, the need to guard a believer from sin is so important that it involves the community of believers (18:17). Jesus even set down a specific protocol for church discipline to deal with this problem (18:15-20). We must never allow sin to fester and flourish within the church. Sin can spread within the church and cause others to fall into sin. This goes against maintaining holiness and moral purity within the church.
The call to humility
Jesus calls us to turn away from our arrogance and be humble. Only those who know how much they rely on God’s protection and provision have a place in His kingdom. This also means that the arrogant who lead others into their own wicked ways have no place in God’s kingdom. But humility never happens in a vacuum.
As a community of believers in God’s kingdom, we are expected to look out for other believers who are vulnerable. God knows that no one is perfect, therefore He intended for the community of believers to look out for each other. Let us never be so confident in our strengths that we despise and neglect fellow believers who are struggling.
When you recognise your lowliness before Christ and sincerely care for the vulnerable, then Jesus considers you the greatest in God’s kingdom.– The End –
Forgiveness in the kingdom of heaven
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus spoke about church discipline. It is the means through which we keep each other in God’s kingdom. When a fellow believer responds to rebuke, Jesus calls us to forgive (v. 15). But the fact is that he will sin again. This prompted Peter’s question about the number of times we should forgive fellow believers who have offended us.
Forgiving other people who have seriously wronged us can be one of the most difficult things to do. Not everybody’s situation is the same, but every individual’s experience of betrayal or hurt is painful to some degree. Even in very difficult or painful circumstances, the call of a Christian is to be forgiving. And not just superficially saying ‘I forgive you,’ but to completely forgiving the other person from your heart. (v.35)
Forgiveness from the heart
The Pharisees taught that you should forgive a person who has offended you a total of 3 times. Peter probably thought that he was generous in forgiving someone 7 times (v.21).
But Jesus throws Peter a curve ball and tells Peter to forgive seventy-seven times. Now this does not mean we have to keep track of every single one of our debtors’ apologies until the seventy-seventh time. Jesus said this to illustrate a point about forgiveness. The mark of Christian forgiveness is not in the number of times that we forgive, but the heart behind our forgiveness.
As we go through this parable about forgiveness, let us reflect on our own attitudes. Let us not stop at recalling the grudges we still hold and the hurt we may feel. But let us also renew our understanding of the forgiveness of the gospel and what it means to be forgiven.
Forgiveness from the heart requires a heart transformed by the gospel
No one is righteous. No not one (Romans 3:10). We are all in a state of sin and at enmity against God. We have thoroughly offended our Creator and His righteousness demands justice. Sin puts us in such a position where we will face the just punishment of God.
The first servant in Jesus’s parable describes our original relationship with God. Paying a debt of 10,000 talents was equivalent to paying 200,000 man-years of labour. He has no way of paying that amount in his lifetime. The servant has no other option except to ask for more time. You can even sense the servant’s desperation when he pleaded to pay back all that he owed. Such is the desperate situation that we all face without forgiveness of sins. One where we are indebted to God with a debt we cannot pay.
But the master in his compassion forgave the debt that the servant owed. The master had to give up what he wanted. He acted in the interest of the slave instead of his own interests. And the master had every right not to grant this servant such mercy.
God had forgiven us from our immense debt to Him. How can we still hold on to the tiny debts that we owe one another? It is out of an understanding of what God has done for us that He calls us to be forgiving.
Forgiveness that was not passed down
There are many people who sense their need for mercy, but they do not see the need to extend mercy themselves. These are the kind of people that are represented by the unforgiving servant. He knows the magnitude of the debt he owes the master. He had experienced the grace of the master. He had tasted the freedom from a debt that he could never pay. But when it came to a much more insignificant debt that was owed him, he did not respond in the kindness that was shown to him.
The powerful thing about the gospel is that it brings about a change of heart. We have to realize that nobody who is a true Christian will remain ungrateful and unforgiving. Nobody who is born again and given a new heart by the Holy Spirit will live his life holding on to grudges. Jesus is telling us through this parable that you cannot genuinely receive his forgiveness and remain unforgiving.
Then Jesus gave a warning to His disciples. Final forgiveness from the Father would be withheld from the person who refuses to forgive others.
Can I lose my salvation if there is an act that remains unforgiven before I die?
Salvation is not a payback for good works. We cannot earn the right to enter heaven by forgiving others. Salvation is withheld because having a consistently unforgiving spirit proves that we do not trust Christ. We do not trust that He can give us the power to overcome our hurt to forgive our debtor. If we truly trust in him, we will not be able to take forgiveness from his hand and still be holding on to the debt of our offender.
Good works are the fruit of a Christian who has been born again by the Holy Spirit . A Christian now lives under the rule of the kingdom of heaven in his heart. This means that he is covered by the blood of Jesus, who has paid for his sins on the cross. Thus one act of forgiveness left undone does not make us lose our salvation. This has been fully paid for by Jesus on the cross.
Again, what God is looking for in our acts of forgiveness is the heart. Do we have a heart to forgive? Can we let go of our grudges against our fellow man?
Forgiveness must come from the heart
Jesus concludes that we must forgive our brother ‘from the heart.’ Which speaks about having to forgive wholeheartedly, not grudgingly. What good is it if we outwardly forgive someone who has offended us, but are inwardly nurturing our grudge against that person?
Let us seek to forgive the people who have wronged us. It does not mean that you would not be hurt. Neither does it mean that the wrongs that you suffer in this life do not matter. But because your great debt has been forgiven, so go show your fellow men the forgiveness you have received from your Father in heaven.
Many of us Singaporeans would remember the 5Cs that represented the Singaporean Dream in the 80s and 90s: Cash, Car, Condominium, Credit Card and Country Club. It was believed then that a successful person would have these 5Cs. According to a local writer, millennials today are chasing a redefined set of the 5Cs from what their parents want: Career, Change, (Internet)Connection, Competition, and Cash. But notice that one C remains current through the generations – cash. As the writer puts it aptly, “ Money, in all its forms, is necessary for survival in an expensive, non-welfare state like Singapore, and it will continue to remain relevant ”. Money is undisputedly necessary for our survival.
THE RICH YOUNG MAN
In Matthew 19:16, we are introduced to the rich young man. We know he is rich from verses 22 to 24. This young man had great possessions (v22)! But he came to Jesus seeking the ultimate possession – eternal life. He thought that Jesus meant that he would be able to attain eternal life by obeying specific commandments, and he believed that he has kept those that Jesus listed (v18-20), but he knew that something was still missing. Jesus, in his perfect wisdom and compassion, perceived his heart and proceeded to address it.
21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
We know that when the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, because he had great possessions. Why was the young man sorrowful? Jesus had already told him how to possess eternal life. But he realised that it came at a great cost to him. The young man loved his possessions. Thus, Jesus’ answer made him sorrowful. He knew that he would not enter into eternal life if he did not give up his possessions. Yet he was not able to let go of his great possessions.
THE MASTER OF OUR HEARTS
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
Don’t get the meaning of Jesus wrong here – Jesus is not telling all his followers to give all their possessions away as a mere pious and outward act of external obedience to get eternal life. Rather, Jesus is revealing the master of our hearts.
Consider these words of truth from the Bible:
The Bible tells us that money is a terrible idol - it is a false god!Money is not evil in itself, but the love of money is . Why does Jesus and his disciples tell us this same message not to serve the love of money again and again? It is because God knows that we will struggle with its possession of our hearts. The love of money remains an idol regardless of the time or place we are in. Its form can vary, but its root remains.
We know what money can do for our good in this life, so we tend to think we will be secure to have more of it. But while it is good to possess wealth, wealth must not possess us. As a commentary stated, money is a good servant but a wretched master.
The young man saw and trusted the value of his great and earthly possessions. He might have thought in his heart, “ Oh, how lovely and wonderful are my possessions! I worked so hard to get them, and to get to where I am! How blessed I am to have these possessions!” His great possessions probably brought him happiness, gave him enjoyment of pleasures and a sense of security such that he was unwilling to part with them. The lure of his possessions was so strong that he was unable by his own strength to break free from its grip. It has become the master of his heart.
THE GREATEST POSSESSION
The young man saw the value of eternal life, but the tragedy is that he did not see the greater value of treasure in heaven compared to his possessions. More than that - he did not desire nor see the value of the greatest possession of all. As C.S Lewis puts it in his illustration:
“ It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased .” – C.S Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Jesus, in his love and compassion told the rich young man that “there is only one who is good” (v17). He called the rich young man not away from treasure, but to enjoy the true treasure in the kingdom of God ! The same applies to us here and now. Do you value the greatest possession of all? It begins with trusting and following Jesus – He shall be the master of our hearts.
In God’s wisdom and love, He is calling and pointing us to a greater possession – which is Himself! We are called to love a greater possession, such that we are willing to give up our earthly and temporal possessions to gain that which is of greatest, highest, most infinite and true worth . But how can we see and do it?
26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
NOT BY OUR OWN STRENGTH
The rich young man struggled with the love of his possessions but did not win the fight. Jesus knows that by our own human nature and strength, it is impossible to love and trust Him more than our love for wealth, earthly possessions, career and connections. But the joy is in knowing that Jesus has paid it all in order for us possess the Holy Spirit to overcome our idols, kill our sin daily and enter into His kingdom to enjoy true treasure in heaven - eternal fellowship with Him.
Are you chasing or trusting in the “Singaporean Dream” in one way or another, in pursuing material prosperity? Do you ask God to serve your possessions, or do you use your possessions to serve God and His kingdom purposes?
May we trust God to provide for what we need including our salvation, and not trust in our riches. May the words of Proverbs be the prayer of our hearts:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me - Proverbs 30:8
With God, all things are possible.– The End –
 Wee, Vanessa (2017). The 5Cs That Singapore’s Millennials Want Are Different From What Their Parents Want. Retrieved on 9 June 2018 from https://mustsharenews.com/5cs-of-millennials/