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.- The End -
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/
FIRST WORLD’S FIRSTS
We are in a first world country. We are all about being first and best. O, “divine” discontentment so to speak. We are only least for few things. For example, we are the least corrupt country in Asia. And that is definitely a “first”. Other than that, we have many number ones.
We have the first Formula One night race in the world. We have the world’s tallest Ferris Wheel – number one in terms of height. (I’m reminded of how little boys jump around each other to see who’s taller. I guess it’s human nature to see where we stand).
Singapore is first in Asia for innovation. It is the leading investment destination in Asia. Singapore is the number 1 seat of ICC Arbitration in Asia. We have been ranked first in the world for education in 2015 and we still have the top university in Asia.
We are the best in having the best protection of intellectual property. When we are not first in the ease of doing business, we are second – exchanging podium places with New Zealand. We are definitely not last. After all, we are the 2nd most competitive economy in the world
We have the most powerful passports in the world. Japan tied with us only very recently. Singaporeans either don’t need a visa or they can get one upon arrival in most countries in the world. And as of March 2018, Changi Airport is ranked the top airport in the world for the 6th year in a row and Singapore Airlines is still rated “Numero Uno”.
Certainly makes you want to sing proudly, “This is my country, this is my flag, this is my future, this is my life…we are Singapore, Singaporeans.” But yet, Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mt 19:30).”
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Being first or leading in this life does not make you first in the next. One NT Scholar says,
Those who are highly esteemed and held to be first in this world’s order of things will end up last, in the worst possible position (Leon Morris  )
The parable that follows in Matthew 20:1-16 tells a story of some workers who were paid the agree amount when they did the relevant work. However, out of the generosity of the employer’s heart, the master paid the same amount to those who did much less.
They were jealous of what had been given to these others; they envied the generosity of the owner to people who had no merit (Morris  )
I remembered that straight out of BMT I was assigned to a unit. As an NSFs, the best rewards were off days. Monetary gains were little. My boss gave me the same number of days off as those people who work hard and long in overseas exercise. But because he gave the whole unit a whole week off, I got it too. My boss was generous but my mates were jealous. This is the same situation.
The idea of God’s generosity and his freedom to give however much He wants are the foundations of this passage. In Matthew 19:27, Peter spoke on behalf of the disciples.
27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”
Like the rest of us, Pete’s concern was, “What is in it for us Lord, if we have to give up all we have currently? What are the returns? What is the profit?” Jesus didn’t say that it was wrong of them to seek a reward. But he had a problem with their motivations for reward. They sought it for the wrong reasons. They were seeking it the wrong way.
In the immediate context, Jesus was talking to the rich young ruler. The rich young ruler sought the way to eternal life. And Jesus answered aptly and truthfully,
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.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mt 19:21–22).
What Jesus sought was followership, not returns. As far as this life is concerned, there is almost nothing promised to the proportion that we will get in heaven. This is consistent with Solomon’s teaching in the Book of Ecclesiastes.
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? (Eccl 2:24–25).
FIRST LOVES AND FIRST FEARS
The rich young ruler walked away sorrowful because he could not give up his possessions. To him, his possessions were weightier, more substantial than what God promises in eternity.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Give to us our daily bread.” These are the daily necessities of life – food and shelter. But people in Singapore and other rich countries tend to covet for more. Daily bread are frequently stretched to daily baguettes. Paul says in Colossians 3:5 that covetousness is idolatry. But why?
Here is what I think: Most people are not greedy in the sense that they want endlessly more like the gambler. However, people desire security. Driven by security they will strive for more. They strive for recognition and acceptance. They strive to keep up with their friends. They strive for better cars and houses, better education for their kids. And why do they go through all the effort?
Because it gives them a sense of security. But why do they seek security like that?
The answer: idolatry. An idol is impotent. It is worthless and has no power to provide. It is idolatry because they trust in something that cannot give us security. They trust in a valueless object that have no power to provide. They are trusting in their education, their connections, their wealth, their commitments – themselves. And these can never give them security. That’s idolatry. They “carved” something out of their own hands and call it a god.
Christians break the second commandment by making God look like something. The problem with the early Israelites was not worshipping other gods. The problem was that they were worshipping Yahweh, but they make his look like a cow. They worshipped God the way other people worshipped their gods.
Christians will say that God wants them to be rich, to be liked, to be busy and for their kids to have the best. They call it blessing. That’s how the other “gods” in Singapore are worshipped. They want to put God into a box. They tell themselves if they are not getting these things then God is not with them. So they come to church, give offerings and do Christian things so that they can go to heaven or get some other form of blessings. They feel secured.
Our fears shows what we love. If we are insecure and fear man and circumstances, it shows that we don’t love God. If we love God, we fear only God. Our first love, reveals our first fears. What we fear most shows what we love most. You fear a loss of security then security is your god. If you fear the “loss” of God then you love him, because you don’t want to be separate from Him.
FIRST MOTIVATION IS CHRIST NOT REWARDS
The apostles and Peter had the same attitude. They want the returns. They want the blessings. They want tangible guarantees. Once again, I remind you that Jesus did not condemned reward seeking. But he commends a right way to seek it. Don Carson notes,
Jesus does not castigate his disciples for being mercenary. They have made sacrifices and deserve an answer (Carson  )
They were utilitarian in motive. “We have left everything to follow you” – our followership is an investment. But Jesus answer to them reflects their error. Following Jesus was not a means to the end. Rather, it is the end in itself. They got the order wrong. The motivation should not be reward. The reward is a guaranteed product. If something is already yours why work for it? You don’t! The reward is promised and secured. We will be co-rulers and co-judges in the kingdom as v.28 testifies. So we are not working for the rewards.
We work with the mentality, “What’s in it for me.” Jesus’ answer is that everything is already yours and it will be clear when I come. The Holy Spirit who bears fruit in us is the proof of purchase. We have been redeemed. One day we will be given the final blessing.
In him you also…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13–14).
Peter talks about the a living hope. A hope that we will claim. And that is preserved by faith.
he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet 1:3–5).
If the reward is already secured, if it is already guaranteed to us, if it is ours to claim then what is the motivation?
Certainly, the reward is part of the motivation. But its just part. A person who is only motivated by heavenly reward will not be motivated at all. Because it’s too long a wait. Unless we are sure that Jesus is there, why would we want the kingdom? A reward on its own is a dead thing if there is no place to spend it on. If I don’t get to spend eternity with Jesus, what good is the reward of ruling beside him. If I have bitcoins or other cryptocurrency and cannot spend it, what good is it? If I have US dollars and USA cease to be a nation, what good is it?
So Jesus is not a means to an end. God does not tell us to follow Jesus IN ORDER to get the reward. We are to follow Jesus to get Jesus. Jesus is our reward. Even the things we get as a bi-product is used to praise him and to pursue his purposes.
This is what he means when he tells his disciples to “seek the kingdom” of God. Seeking the kingdom is to seek God. And that must include his plans and desires. Whatever God seeks for Himself, we seek for Him. God seeks His glory and so shall we. It is for His name sake that we live. We “Hallow” His Name and ask for His will to be done.
So here is the attitude: Our Father is the rewarder and we are the rewarded. The focus isn’t the reward. Although without the reward, the rewarder fails to keep his promise. But still the focus is not the reward but the rewarder. We praise the rewarder because he proves that He is the rewarder by means of his rewards. So the rewards are functional, not final. We seek to serve Him out of joy and not calculatively.
The first world mentality is a calculative one. If there is no benefit I won’t do it. But Jesus tells us that he has already benefitted us. We have the Spirit and we will have the kingdom. So we should be motivated by love, as we remind ourselves that God has kept our reward in a safe place for us to claim it whenever He is ready to give it to us.
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mt 19:27–30).
JESUS FORETELLS HIS DEATH A THIRD TIME
As they are on their way up to Jerusalem, Jesus turns to his disciples a third time and tells them that the Son of Man is not only about to be betrayed and condemned, but mocked, flogged and crucified.
MISSING THE POINT
Some of us might be familiar with the illustration of children “refusing the offer of a holiday at the seaside, so that they can continue making mud pies in a slum”. Or we might appreciate the irony of a child who goes on vacation but instead of enjoying the sights and scenes around the area, he is content to stay in the hotel and watch TV. The common thing is that both proverbial children are missing the point. They are clearly ignorant of the value of what is being offered them.
That is what is pointed out in the next segment when James and John come up to Jesus requesting to sit at his right hand. In their minds it is about power and status. Following Jesus is a means to an end – the end is to gain security for themselves via status / power. They have not yet fully understood the nature of God’s kingdom.
This is clearly demonstrated in their response when Jesus asks them if they can drink his cup. The cup that Jesus was about to drink of was the wrath of God that would be poured out on him for the sin of the world. This cup represented suffering and sacrifice. James and John answered yes without batting an eyelid, which very likely betrays their ignorance towards the significance of the cup and the suffering.
In fact, the response of the rest of the disciples shows us more clearly how clueless they were. The disciples were indignant! How dare they, they must have been thinking. Such a response more likely flowed from their jealousy that James and John would make such a bold request in front of the rest. It must have seemed like James and John were trying to “get ahead of the rest” in a race for position and power at Jesus’ side. And the rest of the disciples were upset because they obviously didn’t want to lose out in such a race either! All of them were caught up with the same ideals of status and position.
Clearly, none of the disciples really understood the point of Jesus’ ministry yet.
THE FIRST AND THE LAST
This situation is reminiscent of our passage from last week where Jesus talked about the first and the last (Mt 19:30, 20:16). Clearly the disciples had not fully understood what he was talking about.
It seems that the disciples were still conformed to the prevailing mind-set of authority then. The ruling authorities at that time (the Romans) were known to “lord it over others” and exert their authority. But Jesus very pointedly uses his suffering to draw a stark contrast between the worldly idea of leadership and the biblical notion of servant leadership.
Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life in place of the people who would trust in him, and in so doing, he set the example of servant leadership for us to follow.
Where other leaders in our culture today would put others down and step over or climb on top of peers in order to get ahead or exert dominance, Jesus is calling us to lead others by laying down our life for them, and serving them just as he had first done for us.
BLIND BUT SEEING THE TRUTH
Almost immediately Matthew sets the disciples / the pair of brothers in stark contrast with another pair of men. These two blind men were sitting at the roadside when they heard Jesus passing by and called out to him.
The two blind men must have heard of Jesus, and known about his ministry. They acknowledged him as the Son of David – they were no strangers to his person. They called out to him for mercy. This was not a blind plea for help. It was not an aimless shot in the dark. The blind men knew exactly who they were asking. They knew the power and authority of the Lord whom they were calling out to. They knew he had the power not only to heal sight and sickness, but to forgive sin and restore them to God.
Their call to him for mercy was more than a cry for help – it was a declaration of faith. We know this because on being healed and receiving their sight, they promptly acted on that faith – “immediately they recovered their sight and followed him”.
THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED BUT TO SERVE
The crowds rebuked the blind men and asked them to be silent. They must have found the blind men to be a nuisance. Taking time to care for the blind men would have been a hindrance Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. This mind set of the crowd seems to mirror the status-driven attitude of the disciples.
But Jesus deliberately reaches out to the blind men to make a demonstration of that self-giving leadership. On his way to the cross, Jesus remained focused on his goal and was consistent throughout – whether in the big or small actions.
All his actions made it very clear what his life’s purpose was. May the Lord help us as we endeavour to be imitators if him and seek to make it our aim also to serve others as Jesus has taught us.- The End -
Jesus’ Declaration of His Kingship
When we consider kings and royalty, what comes to mind are riches, flamboyant dress sense, glistening jewels, grand palaces and exquisite taste in everything from the food they eat, to the possessions they have. Even in the modern world where monarchy is no longer as prevalent, we tend to associate someone of authority with wealth or at least a respectable bank balance.
The Jewish people of those times held similar sentiments. They were waiting for a king to save his people, the Jews, and establish a new kingdom under his rule. This king will be the Messiah that was foretold by the prophets. Being under the Roman empire, their practices and traditions were often in conflict with the Roman rule. For them, they imagined that when their Messiah came, he would display his power through worldly might, bringing hordes of armies to drive out the Roman empire and establish his kingdom.
But when Jesus entered Jerusalem, it was not with thunderous trumpet calls and majestic procession of soldiers. He came riding on a young donkey, a fulfillment of what the prophet Zechariah had earlier spoken of:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
This was completely different from the Messiah whom the people were expecting. Instead of mounting a warhorse and storming into battle, Jesus entered Jerusalem seated on a young donkey. In those times, when leaders rode on donkeys instead of warhorses, it signified that they were coming in peace. Thus the message from Jesus was clear – He did not come to conquer and take his people by force. He had come in peace. Yes, He was the king that has come to save his people, but He was not going to do that by means of war. Christ had come in a shrouded glory, in the form of a humble man, to demonstrate His humility and gentleness as a king.
Meekness Demonstrated in the King
There are various instances where we can see Christ’s meekness and humility was evident. When Jesus and the disciples were threatened by Judas and the incoming mob, one of those with Jesus drew his sword and struck off one of their ears (Matthew 26:51). But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52-54). Even then, at the cross, when the religious rulers and soldiers mocked him, saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:37), Jesus remained silent. He did not unleash the full extent of His power, even though He had every right to do so. Instead, He prayed to the Father that his enemies may be forgiven for their ignorance (Luke 23:34).
We often mistake this for weakness! While sending down an army of angels to defeat his enemies would have been simple for Jesus, He had a far greater purpose in mind. He was there to follow through with the cross, to follow through with the humiliation, and to follow through with death. Jesus had to be the sinless sacrificial lamb on the cross who would bear the full wrath of God! He went through the entire process because God the Father had intended for this to be so. And so the withholding of His power was all for the sake of His Father’s glory. To Jesus, submission to the Father was far more important than personal vengeance (1 Peter 2:23).
The humility and meekness demonstrated in our King Jesus is just as how the apostle Paul has described: “Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:5-8).
The King’s Second Coming
But Christ’s glory will not always remain shrouded. We know for sure that when Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, it will be visibly known that He is indeed the all-powerful king. There will be a “fury of fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27), and Satan will be conquered with finality. At that time, “every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord” (Philippians 2:10). Jesus has already declared that He had been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), and God has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things (Ephesians 1:20-22). The establishment of God’s kingdom is final, sure and visibly powerful.
Called to be Different People of a Different Kingdom
However, until Jesus returns again, we are given this period to repent, turn to him and worship him with our lives through faith. With renewed tastes and sensibilities, we desire to imitate our king’s meekness and to trust in God’s provision. Our modern culture encourages us to strive for self-glorification. There is societal pressure to flaunt our superior capabilities, social standing and even possessions.
But as followers of Christ, we are to be meek and humble like our King. It doesn’t mean that we beat ourselves up all the time or consider ourselves weaker than others. The humility and meekness Jesus demonstrated was not one of inferiority or intentional striving to be more lowly than others.
Rather, biblical humility means having an accurate understanding of one’s status without being prideful and arrogant about it. Jesus is the all-powerful God of the universe. But despite this status, he did not abuse his power by annihilating his enemies. Instead, he had a single-minded desire to serve the Father and entrust himself to Him. Being king of the universe also did not stop him from serving his disciples, by washing their feet and teaching them to do the same for one another. Let us learn to emulate Christ our servant King, by considering others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), counting all things as loss (Philippians 3:8), and denying ourselves to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24).- The End -
What follows Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem as Messiah is the cleansing of the temple. We see how Jesus drove out all who bought and sold in the temple (v 12). After which He healed the blind and lame (v 14). Jesus’ ministry in the temple was so wonderful that even the children praised Him as the Messiah (v 15).
As Messiah, Jesus did not seek to establish His political authority. He did not rush straight to the Roman governor to drive the Romans out of Jerusalem. What Jesus sought after was to restore His authority in the heart of God’s people. And He did that by purging the impurities found within the symbolic heart of God’s people - the temple. So how did Jesus restore holiness to the heart of God’s nation?
Restoration of prayer
When Jesus drove out the merchants and money changers, many tend to think of Jesus addressing the issue of commercial corruption in the temple. Although this may be true, look at what Jesus said. “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (v 13). Jesus wanted to restore the temple to its original purpose: as a place for prayer.
Buying and selling animals for sacrifice was not wrong in itself. In fact it was very helpful for Jews who travelled from great distances to worship. They can’t be expected to lug around oxen for such distances to sacrifice them. The issue was that the temple was not the place for trading.
The merchants and money changers were operating in the court of the Gentiles. This was the area for Gentiles who wanted to pray, but weren’t allowed into the inner courts of the temple reserved for the Jews. The commercial activities meant that Gentiles could only pray in the middle of a busy marketplace. And not to mention the noise that would have penetrated the inner courts of the temple.
By removing the merchants and money changers, people can now come to pray without any disruption. And through that, they can enjoy uninterrupted communion with God.
Restoration of mercy
The blind and the lame of Jerusalem came into the temple for Jesus to heal them. They were not allowed into the temple because of tradition (2 Sam 5:8). But by allowing them into the temple to be healed, Jesus disregarded the temple traditions.
Jesus was demonstrating that God desires mercy, not the act of sacrifice, nor tradition for that matter (Hosea 6:6). In addition to being a house of prayer, God desires that His house be one of mercy toward the socially disadvantaged.
Restoration of God’s glory
Jesus’ triumphal entry with the crowd’s messianic praises, authoritative cleansing of the temple and miraculous healing were not lost on the people. Such was the majesty of these events that even the children were proclaiming Jesus as the “Son of David”, a title meant for the Messiah (v 15).
The religious leaders didn’t like that Jesus was getting all the glory, so they hinted for Him to stop the children (v 16). But Jesus responded with a quote from Psalm 8:2. Jesus was saying that children were made to glorify God. And they were rightfully glorifying Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.
Jesus was demonstrating that God’s house is not only reserved for prayer and mercy, but ultimately for praising His glory. Children don’t know much about “theology”, but they can still appreciate and praise the wonders of God’s majesty and glory. So praising God is not just reserved for people with deep knowledge of God and His word. Praise of God’s glory is open to everyone, even children.
Restoring God’s temple
The religious leaders saw Jesus disrupting their alternate source of income, allowing the “unclean” into the temple for healing, and then inciting the children to spout blasphemy. Therefore, they responded to Jesus’ cleansing by being indignant (v15).
As Christians, let us remember that we are part of God’s temple - the church (1 Cor 3:16). When Jesus addresses certain practices or traditions in our church that go against His commands, how will we respond? Will we hold on these practices and be indignant like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time? God promises that anyone who destroys His church will be destroyed in return (1 Cor 3:17). If we refuse to be corrected and allow Jesus to restore His church, then we stand condemned before Him in the Judgement.
On a more personal note, let us also remember that our bodies are God’s holy temple (1 Cor 6:19-20). How will you respond when Jesus calls you to quit a job that takes you away from communion with God? Or if Jesus calls you to minister through “inconvenient” acts of mercy? Will you be indignant, thinking that God doesn’t know better? Or will you be like children, praising God for His mighty works?
Jesus is zealous for the purity of God’s temple (John 2:17). And He will ensure that we, as individuals and as the church, remain holy. So will you allow Him to cleanse and restore you to holiness today?– The End –
Matthew 22:14“Trust and obey, For there’s no other way
THE INVITATION TO ACCEPT THE GOSPEL
The parable of the wedding banquet speaks of a King throwing a wedding banquet for his son. This depicts the banquet feast during the eschatological consummation of Jesus and the church as His bride, where all believers would eat, drink and be merry, celebrating the marriage union! The invitation to the wedding banquet is understood as God’s invitation to sinners to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, His son.
In the parable, the King prepared the most lavish, extravagant and best foods to host his guests. “The oxen, the fattened beasts have been slaughtered and all things are ready” (22v4). There was no need for the guests to prepare any wedding gifts or anything of that sort. All the King wanted was his guests to come celebrate, and be joyful!
We have all learnt in the book study Desiring God that the best is God Himself. The heart of the gospel is that we can now be reunited to God and enjoy Him through Jesus’ work on the cross. The invitation of the gospel is the invitation to be happy in Jesus.
Yet many reject the gospel; unbelievers reject the feast that the King has prepared for us. Rather, they go around minding their own business that is seemingly “better” than the wedding banquet. (Luke 14:18-20)
To this Jesus says “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” (21v42). In this story, builders are searching through a pile of stones, looking for the right one to fit in that specific dimension to finish building their wall. They test each and every stone, and yet when they see the best stone, they reject it. Such is the same for unbelievers they search desperately for things that will make them happy. Yet when they are faced with the gospel, they reject it.
THE INVITATION IS GIVEN TO ALL WHO ARE UNWORTHY
Following the parable, the King eventually sends his servants to invite anyone, both the good and the evil, everyone from the road (v.9-10)! These people were not ordinary people they were not related to the King and were sinners! They had come to the wedding banquet at no merit of their own. It was solely based on the invitation of the King or they would have never made it to the royal wedding! (Think about the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle!)
How unworthy we are to receive the gospel of Christ! There is nothing that we could possibly do to grant ourselves entry into God’s kingdom! We are to believe in Jesus and to trust in Him for salvation!
In the parable of the wicked tenants (Matthew 21:33-39), the landowner gave his tenants many chances to surrender the fruits of his vineyard, which rightfully belonged to him. He sent many servants to collect his dues yet time and again, the wicked tenants harmed the servants. Finally the tenants even killed the landowner’s son, wanting to claim the vineyard as their own.
As you can decipher, the landowner refers to God, the servants refer to the prophets and the son refers to Jesus. Time and again, the invitation to accept the gospel is given to all. Yet unbelievers are consistently rebellious and unrepentant, to the point of despising the Son of God and eventually killing Him.
Therefore in chapter 21 verse 40, it is asked “when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” It is then implied that the owner will come back! God will come back and “bring those wretches to a wretched end” (v.41).
You may say that this wretched end belongs to unbelievers! And as long as we trust in Jesus, we are doing fine! Yet God shows us clearly in the parable of the wedding banquet that we are to be prepared.
WE MUST BE PREPARED
Upon receiving a wedding invitation, we know that it is required to be dressed appropriately for the occasion. We need to be dressed fitting for the occasion. Following the parable, the King came and inspected his guests. And he “noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes” (22v11).
Similarly to dressing appropriately for a wedding, we need to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27)! Accepting the invitation to the gospel requires us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24).
Brothers and sisters, there will come a time when Jesus comes back. Then we will have to account for our every thought and deed. And to him who is unfit for the kingdom of God, God says “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (22v13).
TRUST AND OBEY
In the invitation to accept the gospel, we know that we not only trust in Jesus, but we are to be prepared for His return. How can we do that? Let us look at the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32).
In this parable, there were two sons who were instructed to obey their father’s instructions. The first son declined, but later changed his mind and obeyed his father. The second son agreed, but did not go. To this, Jesus asked “which of the two did what his father wanted?” (v.31)
The answer was obvious; the first son obeyed. The first son repented of his sins and made a conscious decision to change his mind to obey his father. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. The second son made a promise to his father, yet it had no value as he did not fulfil the promise and was merely paying lip service.
Similarly, what counts is not our verbal acceptance of the gospel, neither is it chants of the sinners prayer. It is repentance and obedience that counts. Beloved, a superficial trust in Jesus is insufficient. Let us obey in our repentance of sins so that we can be ready for the wedding feast during the eschatological consummation!– The End –
The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus
In the passage that we are looking at we see that the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by specifically crafting a question that would discredit Jesus’ name. We can tell that the Pharisees took much effort to craft out this question. In verse 15 we see that they “plotted” on how they could trap Jesus with His own words. It would have taken them much time and thinking in order to come up with the question that they gave to Jesus. Clearly they had learned enough about Jesus and knew that they would not be able to stand if they came to Jesus with some half-baked attempt to refute him.
The way that the Pharisees worded the question was so that whichever way Jesus would have answered, it would have had a negative outcome on Jesus’s reputation. The question that the Pharisees asked was “is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not”? Had Jesus answered yes it is lawful to pay taxes, then it would turn away many religious Jews who saw support for the Romans as intolerable and if Jesus had said no, the Herodians would see Jesus as a revolutionary who is going against Caesar. The Pharisees had seemingly came up with a question where the person being asked the question would be trapped.
The Pharisees approached Jesus by saying things that are true of Jesus, making it seem to other people that they were looking for an honest answer. However we know that their intentions were not so.
Jesus was not deceived by their flattery – He was able to perceive the motive of their question. Jesus knew that they were not seeking for information but they were testing Him. Because of this perception it is not surprising that He addresses the Pharisees as hypocrites.
Jesus answers the Pharisees’ question in a way that is not how the Pharisees intended Jesus to answer. Jesus answers back saying that they ought to give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give back to God what is God’s. Jesus did not define what belongs to Caesar or God. He also did not explain any relation between the things of Caesar and God. However we read that the Pharisees walked away marveled at Jesus’ answer. This shows that they understood what Jesus meant and the implications that comes from His answer.
“Therefore render the things that are Caesar’s”
Though Jesus did not give an explanation to His answer, we are able to draw out what Jesus means. Jesus uses a lesser to greater argument to help us understand this. In the time of the Roman Empire, Caesar’s rule was extensive only within his empire. He had conquered much of the ancient world and through his conquering owns all that is in his empire . So any person living in Caesar’s empire should give what is due to Caesar because technically all possessions in his empire belongs to him, be it monetary contributions to the economy, or people in subjection to his authority. This is what it means to render things that are Caesar’s to him according to his rule.
A person living outside Caesar’s rule does not subject himself to his authority and his decrees. The scope of Caesar’s power and control is only limited to his empire.
“And to God the things that are God’s’’
However when we look at the scope of God’s power and control we find that it is inexplicably more than what Caesar has! We know that God owns everything, all things were created by Him and for Him. It would mean that everything that Caesar owns belongs to God. Caesar’s domain is limited to his empire, but God’s empire encompasses everything in this earth, even Caesar’s empire! The things that belongs to Caesar do not belong to him ultimately. Everything that Caesar possesses is in fact given by God – even Caesar’s life is owned by God.
What does this mean?
When we look at everything as a whole we see that because God’s power and domain is complete and universal, any demands that Caesar or any governing authorities give must be subjected to the greater demands that God gives. Thus when you realize that everything belongs to God, you would then be in the right frame of mind to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s according to God’s rule.
Because we see that God’s empire is total, we recognize that God’s control over you is infinitely more binding than any governing authority. Hence any act of obedience you render to the government, you render for the sake of the obedience you owe God first. However we test to see the decrees of our government if it comes in line with God’s decrees. Knowing that everything is God’s would limit what belongs to our government and in turn how we should render things to them. So in that sense, we render to our governing authorities nothing that we cannot render for God’s sake. So if our government calls us to do something that God prohibits, we do not do.
This also means that our submission to our governing authorities is an act of worship to God. God in His perfect wisdom and sovereignty placed rulers over us and we are to obey them. We submit to our governing authorities because it pleases God and brings Him glory. But as we are serving and obeying our governing authorities we must also remember that we are “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Eph 6:7). Remember that we are firstly citizens of God’s kingdom, and we are temporary citizens in the earthly kingdom.
What goes through your mind when it comes to obeying our authorities, be it the government, the company bosses, or our parents? Does your attitude reflect that which Christ says to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s? May we seek the Lord’s wisdom to discern His ways as we submit to our authorities, whether government, work or home, and to do everything unto the glory of God.- The End -
The Background of the Sadducees
Jesus had many run-ins with the religious leaders of His day. Besides the Pharisees who opposed Him, there was another group of religious leaders called the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a religious sect that was often at odds with the Pharisees. One of their defining trademarks was unbelief in the supernatural. They did not believe in the resurrection and as such, they trusted in, lived for and sought after the rewards of the present life.
The Sadducees claimed that all rewards and punishments occur in this life. Hence when the Sadducees came to Jesus and attempted to trap Him, they presented a scenario intended to ridicule the doctrine of resurrection.
This scenario presented involved the custom of levirate marriage, which stated that “if a man dies without a son, his brother shall take and marry the widow, and the first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel” (Deut 25:5-6). The Sadducees gave the example of seven brothers, each who died leaving no offspring. They then asked Jesus whose wife would the woman be in the resurrection since she had seven husbands.
To Jesus, the Sadducees were already in error before raising this question. What the Sadducees had in mind was not just a matter of a differing theological opinion that was worth considering. It was a doctrine of such great importance that He plainly stated that they were wrong in denying the resurrection. And the reason why Jesus said they were wrong is because that they knew neither “the Scriptures nor the power of God.”
The Sadducees did not know the Scriptures nor the power of God
The Sadducees rejected the truth of the resurrection and Jesus pronounced that they were wrong because they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. What an accusation to be made on those who considered themselves to be religious leaders!
The first reason that Jesus gave for the Sadducees’ error was that they did not know the Scriptures. The Sadducees were known to have an extremely conservative attitude toward Scripture which was shown in these two ways they viewed God’s word: (1) They only considered the written law of Moses (the Pentateuch) as God’s authoritative word, and (2) that it is to be read literally. They did not consider the oral tradition as authoritative, such as the book of Daniel in which the resurrection is mentioned.
As such, the Sadducees did not know the Scriptures as they rejected the rest of the Scriptures as equally authoritative as God’s word.
The second reason that Jesus gave for the Sadducees’ error was that they undermined God’s power to bring life to the dead. Jesus showed them their error in interpreting a verse from one of the very books of Moses which they claimed as authoritative (Exodus 3:6) and used their very rules of literal interpretation to refute them. Jesus pointed out that God Himself said that ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. In using the present tense “am” while speaking to Moses at the burning bush, God continues to represent Himself as Abraham’s, Isaac’s and Jacob’s God even at a time after they have been dead. This implies that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still living, which points to the reality of the resurrection (v31).
Christians are to Know the Scriptures and the Power of God
From Jesus’ rebuke to the Sadducees, we should be exhorted to consider all of Scripture as being God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17) – all of Scripture is God’s authoritative word. We then study Scripture carefully and in context so that we can interpret, understand and apply God’s word soundly. In knowing Scripture, we will know God and His ways according to His word rather than assume Him to be contrary to what Scripture says.
And hence with regard to the resurrection, we need to consider all of what Scripture says about the resurrection since knowing and believing the resurrection is foundational to our Christian faith and the message of the gospel. But for today’s meditation, let us consider what is said in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
But because Christ truly has been raised from the dead, we ought to live in light of the resurrection of Christ, His victory over sin and death, and the promise that we will one day receive resurrected bodies that will never perish (1 Cor 15:51-57). We are exhorted to believe the power of God to fulfil His promise about the resurrection.
Our Response to the Resurrection
While the Sadducees lived for the sake of having the best life on earth in application of their rejection of the resurrection, Paul exhorts believers to be “steadfast, immovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58), because of the resurrection.
Many people live their lives like the Sadducees. They live the very best lives that they can live now because they believe that there is nothing left for them after they leave this earth. They work hard to find fulfilment in what they do because they believe that satisfaction comes only in this life. They live a life of indulgence since they ignore the warnings of a judgement day to come.
Unfortunately, even professing Christians may live in the exact same way, storing up treasures on earth. Therefore, we are to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith, for Christians are called to be kingdom-minded; to live in a way that glorify God and build up His kingdom and not our own, knowing that our satisfaction and fulfilment comes from God. We live for His glory and strive to obey His commandments because there will be a day when we are made to answer for all the things that we have said or done on earth.
But what is the value of the resurrection and why should we live in light of it? Jesus gives us a glimpse of its significance.
The Glory of the Resurrection
Jesus said that in the resurrection, people will neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (v30). In other words, Jesus states that earthly marriages will cease to exist in the resurrection. We will be like the angels in that we no longer marry nor are given in marriage. You might be concerned if this is considered to be a good thing or not. Why would something as good as earthly marriage cease in the life to come?
Earthly marriage is graciously instituted by God to reflect the covenantal love between Christ and His Church. This is represented through the marriage covenant between man and wife. The purpose of earthly marriage is for the enjoyment of the deepest form of love and intimacy that a man and a woman can experience physically and emotionally. However, while earthly marriage is a fantastic gift of God for us to be enjoyed now, the joy, meaning and fulfilment it gives us now will pale in comparison to our marriage as the Church to Christ our Bridegroom. Earthly marriage seeks to point us to the better promise, which is found in our union with Jesus Christ in the resurrection.
Brothers and sisters, do you feel tired and weary in chasing for the things of this life? There is a prize waiting for us that is greater than anything we can imagine. Let us press on with confidence that God will fulfil what He has promised. Look to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Look to your resurrection to be reunited with Him on that day. And until then, let us live in light of the resurrection.– The End –
Undermining Jesus’ authority… again
The religious leaders during Jesus’ time were bent on trying to undermine Jesus’ authority. In the previous few weeks in our passages in Matthew, we are given a number of accounts of the religious leaders trying to undermine Jesus and His ministry. They had been trying to discredit Jesus politically (in asking about paying taxes to Caesar in 22:15-22), theologically (in asking about the resurrection in 22:23-33), and now it was the experts of the law’s turn in trying to trap Jesus in matters of the law.
This question probably reflected a debate that was going on among the religious leaders themselves, probably about how to rank or summarize the law. Given Jesus’ radical views on the law, whatever response he gave would have certainly invited debate from opposing groups. Whichever group opposed Him did not matter, since the very fact that there was opposition would reflect an insufficiency in Jesus’ understanding of the law, thus serving the purpose of discrediting Jesus in the eyes of the people.
Jesus responded this time by providing a straight answer (and for once) without an implicit or explicit rebuke to the religious leaders. The command to love God with all aspects of one’s being, in every area of His life and to love fellow man as one loves Himself. The greatest and second greatest commandments are familiar verses to many Christians. And here we can see Jesus immediately applying what He had just taught. Jesus himself went on to demonstrate what a love for fellow man looks like; by leading his enemies to a greater understanding of who He is.
Question with eternal consequences: What do you think about the Christ?
Jesus now proceeds with his own question to the religious leaders. But unlike their intentions of trying to trap Him, Jesus’ intention was to lead the religious leaders to a proper understanding of who He is. Jesus had just finished teaching them about loving your neighbour, and He goes on to demonstrate love for His neighbour by teaching them who He was. In loving our enemies, in loving our neighbours, this is the best thing that we can do for them, to lead them to a right understanding about Jesus.
So this leads us to the same question that Jesus asked the religious leaders: “What do you think about the Christ?” What you think and how you respond to Christ determines your eternal destiny. Nothing else has the same effect on your life.
Is the Christ just your benefactor, the means for you in getting everything that you have ever dreamed of in life? Is the Christ your good luck charm, someone who is effective in guiding the winds of fate to blow your way? Or is the Christ a political head for you to rally behind in fighting for certain causes or convictions? What do you think about the Christ?
This led to the second half of the question ‘whose son is he?’ (v.42b). The Pharisees may have only understood the question from an ancestry point of view. But Jesus was talking about something more than the ancestral line of the Messiah. And thus Jesus leads the Pharisees and the teachers of the law in a discussion of a Messianic Psalm (Psalm 110) regarding the title “the son of David.”
The significance of “the son of David”
Some may be wondering what is the significance of “The son of David.” It is a title that is used to refer to the Messiah, the saviour that was promised in the Old Testament. 2 Samuel 7 shows us this very promise that God gives to King David.
12 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. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-13)
The Pharisees and the religious leaders were also aware of this fact. In Matthew 21, they were not entirely happy when this title was used by the lay people in referring to Jesus.
15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant (Matthew 21:15)
The crowd knew what the ‘son of David’ meant when they used it on Jesus, and the Pharisees likewise knew what the crowd meant when they pronounced that Jesus was the ‘son of David.’ That is why they were indignant.
Another clue we know that the title of ‘the son of David’ is not just a term in referring to one’s ancestry can be implied from the silence of the religious leaders. In all of Jesus’ years of ministry, the religious leaders had never once disputed Jesus’ actual genealogy. They knew exactly who he was, who his family members were and what his family history was. His worst enemies never cast doubt on that. Jesus was without a doubt a son of David (in the descendant sense).
But there were many people who were descendants in the line of David. Jesus’ father and brothers were also from the line of David. So the question remaining is still how could anyone know which one was THE Son of David?
Jesus the son of God
So here is where Jesus’ use of the Messianic Psalm comes in. In Psalm 110, David in the psalm (who he refers to Himself as Lord), is called upon by the Messiah whom David refers to as LORD. Therefore, if the Messiah is merely a birth descendant of David, why does David call His descendant His LORD? David shouldn’t be doing that since he was the father or ancestor of the Messiah, and a father will never call his son his lord. David shouldn’t be calling anyone Lord for that matter since he was the king and there was no one under him in all of Israel. But David still calls this Messianic figure ‘LORD!’
Jesus was illustrating through this Psalm that the Messiah cannot merely be David’s descendant. There is something more to the Christ’s origins. The Messiah promised in the OT was not just the human son of David, but was the divine Lord over David. He was to be both human and Divine. This Messiah was not just the son of David but also the son of God. This is who Jesus is, and that’s why he alone could claim He was the Messiah over the rest of David’s descendants. He displayed both divinity and humanity and therefore he is David’s son and David’s Lord.
Jesus our Lord
What do you think of the Christ? Most of us would readily acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. But how we live demonstrates Jesus as second best or nothing.
If Jesus is Lord, we would not think that He needs us. If Jesus is Lord, we would trust Him rather than trusting our gifts in working out our problems. If Jesus is Lord, we would not despise the weak and worship the strong. If Jesus is Lord, we would enjoy Him rather than enjoy our entertainment and personal comforts. If Jesus is Lord, we would seek His glory and not our own.
May the Holy Spirit convict our hearts that we may be driven to entirely in Jesus.– The End –
We are all born legalists, but we are made into Pharisees.
Spurgeon once preached, “Beloved, the legalist [in us] is a great deal older than the Christian. If I were a legalist today, I should be some fifteen or sixteen years older than I am as a Christian; for we are all born legalists.”
We are all born believing we can earn and deserve heaven. We are born resisting the idea of grace, mostly because of the awful things grace says about us. John Piper defines legalism as “the conviction that law-keeping is the ground for our acceptance with God — a failure to be amazed at grace.”
Pharisees are legalists, but not the newborn kind. They have all the same fears about grace, but they have coated their insecurities with accumulated knowledge, morality, and religion. Pharisees are legalists who are puffed up ( 1 Corinthians 8:1 ). They look educated, clean, and alive, all while dying inside. The seeds of sin and death keep growing and spreading underneath the confident appearances and practices, always harder and harder to cover up.
We are born legalists. But Pharisees are informed legalists.
He Came to Call Sinners
Pharisees were Jesus’s greatest human enemies. They misjudged him, to be sure, but their greater problem, in the end, was that they misjudged God and themselves. The Christ could have come a thousand different ways — in a manger or on a throne, wrapped in rags or robed in fine cloth, to a carpenter or to a king. They always would have rejected the real Jesus, because they refused to believe that they needed the only thing he came to give.
They gossiped to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” ( Luke 5:30 ). But Jesus overheard them and said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” ( Luke 5:31–32 ).
Jesus was not saying he came only to save the people that seem to need him most, like rapists, prostitutes, and murderers. No one needs him more than you or me. He was saying he came to save the people who recognize their need for him. While Pharisees were keeping their distance and plotting to kill Jesus, it was tax collectors and sinners who were soaking up every minute of his short life.
Tim Keller writes about the dangers of Phariseeism today, even in evangelical churches,
We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. ( Prodigal God , 15–16)
Why would our churches attract the conservative, buttoned-down, and moralistic? Is it because they feel more at home with us than they did with Jesus in his day?
The problem with Pharisees is not simply that they preach a false gospel of works. That is a serious, damnable flaw ( Galatians 1:9 ). But there are plenty of “gospel-centered” Pharisees today. The real problem is the pride and greed and fear underneath any works-based confidence in ourselves. That pride and greed and fear (or whatever sin you struggle with) eventually sever our mind and mouth from our heart.
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, saying, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’” ( Mark 7:6 ). They had developed ways of appearing to be godly without really preferring and prioritizing God in their hearts. What they knew about God was disconnected from how they felt about God, and therefore left them even further from God.
Recognizing a Pharisee
If we are serious about grace, and true slaves to righteousness ( Romans 6:15–18 ), we must beware of the symptoms of gracelessness. If we refuse to believe we could be a Pharisee, we’re as vulnerable as the Pharisees who murdered the Author of life. So, how would we know if we had subtly become a modern-day Pharisee? Jesus gives us at least six signposts along the highway away from grace.
1. Pharisees know what to say, but do not do what they say.
Jesus says, “They preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” ( Matthew 23:3–4 ). Beware the dissonance between what you say you believe and the reality of how you live, and refuse to make peace with it.
We are all sinners, so there will be always be some dissonance ( 1 John 1:8 ). We are always repenting this side of glory. But look closely at any consistent or reoccurring departure — in spending and giving, in serving, in relating to your spouse or children, in loving your neighbor, in indulging in secret sin.
What excuses do you make for the sins that entangle you? The Pharisees were happy to point out sin in others, and even happier to excuse it in themselves.
2. Pharisees practice their faith to be seen by others.
Jesus goes on, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others” ( Matthew 23:5 ). The Pharisees prayed to be seen by others ( Matthew 6:5 ). They served the poor to be seen by others ( Matthew 6:2 ). They obeyed the Scriptures to be seen by others ( Matthew 6:1 ). And they received what they really wanted: recognition and esteem from others.
Jesus warns, though, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” ( Matthew 6:1 ). Is your Christianity consistently aiming for acceptance or approval or affirmation? Are you Christian mainly for the social benefits? Or do you pray, and serve, and give “to the glory of God” ( 1 Corinthians 10:31 ), for “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” ( Philippians 3:8 ).
If so, the reward from your Father will be fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore ( Psalm 16:11 ).
3. Pharisees keep people from Jesus and his grace.
Jesus brings a third indictment in Matthew 23,
“You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” ( Matthew 23:13–15 )
One of the greatest dangers of Phariseeism is that it’s contagious. When we disconnect our heart from our head, subtly putting our confidence in our flesh, we lead other people away from Jesus with us. When Pharisees make disciples of all nations, they breed children of hell, not sons and daughters of grace.
Are the people following you amazed by grace? Does your influence in their lives widen their eyes and heart to the wonder that God would save any of us?
4. Pharisees add their convictions and traditions to the word of God.
What preferences, or convictions, or traditions do we have that are not clearly commanded in Scripture? Pharisees love and protect their traditions with their lives. They build massive systems and programs, like sets for a musical, that unnecessarily burdened God’s people — and that hid what’s really happening inside of them.
They established and enforced laws about swearing that allowed someone to go back on their word in various circumstances. If someone swore by the temple, he did not need to follow through, but if he swore by the gold of the temple, he was bound ( Matthew 23:16 ). Jesus says instead, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” ( Matthew 5:37 ).
What practices or programs in our churches have become exhausting and unfruitful structures of avoiding what God has really called us to do? Maybe they were envisioned, created, and developed with God’s help and favor, but are we preserving and imposing them simply because “we’ve always done it this way”?
5. Pharisees lack love for people in need.
Besides their hatred of Jesus, the most glaring warning light in the Gospels is the Pharisees’ lack of love for people, especially people in need. Jesus rebukes them, “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” ( Matthew 23:23–24 ).
They looked for every conceivable reason not to help the poor, oppressed, and needy. They looked down on Jesus for sitting with sinners, instead of having compassion on them ( Mark 2:16 ). They despised Jesus for healing a man’s withered hand, instead of wanting to see him healed ( Mark 3:5–6 ). They cursed Jesus for casting a demon out of another man, instead of rejoicing that he was finally free ( Matthew 12:22–24 ).
Pharisees find every way to leverage the law to walk the long way around the half-dead man lying in the middle of the road right in front of them ( Luke 10:31–32 ). Those who have died with Christ have died to themselves, and live for the needs and interests of others, whoever God has placed in our path.
6. Pharisees cover sin instead of confessing and repenting.
Jesus exposes the Pharisees a sixth time,
“You clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. . . . You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” ( Matthew 23:25–28 )
Lawful on the outside, but full of lawlessness. Bleached exterior walls, but full of death. A conservative, moral, and religious social media profile, but chasing sin with every secret click.
If we make every effort to cover our sin and hide our need, we clearly have not understood the gospel, and we have not embraced grace. Pharisees say they have fellowship with Jesus while they walk in darkness ( 1 John 1:6 ). Lovers of Jesus confess our sin, knowing “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” ( 1 John 1:9 ).
Are You a Pharisee in the Making?
Do you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself? Anyone who has been given greater knowledge has received greater vulnerability with it.
If we begin to sense a disconnect between our head and our heart — what we say and who we are — the solution is not simply more head. Read more. Take more classes. Google more definitions and explanations. The knowledge is vital ( Romans 10:2 ), but it is not the key to reviving our hearts. God is. Knowledge doesn’t open eyes and ears. God does. God must drag whatever each of us knows about him into our hearts and light it, by his Spirit, with faith and love and joy.
The apostle Paul prays for this, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened ” ( Ephesians 1:16–18 ). Paul doesn’t say put away knowledge, or neglect theology, or disregard difficult questions in the Bible. No, he simply prays that God would set all of that thinking on fire in our hearts — that he would make grace compelling and Jesus satisfying to us.– The End –
Segal, M. (2017, May 10). The Making of a Modern Pharisee. Retrieved August 24, 2018, from https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-making-of-a-modern-pharisee
Jesus was speaking against the self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. He started with looking at how the Pharisees overlooked the heart of God’s law and imposed their standards of self-righteousness on the people. Now Jesus addressed their display of false piety.
The Pharisees thought that they could make up for the errors of their ancestors. They did that by honouring the prophets who were killed by their ancestors. They even said “Oh, even if we lived in those times, we would never have taken part in such bloodshed!”
But Jesus said that the Pharisees and their fathers were cut from the same cloth. What the Pharisees did not admit to was their hypocrisy. They agreed with the prophets, but they did not repent of the very things in their lives that the prophets denounced. So just as their fathers reacted by killing the prophets who came to them, the Pharisees will also kill those who bring them God’s message. What is worse is that they will kill the Son of God Himself!
The consequences of a hardened heart
Why would delivering God’s message lead to such bloodshed? Whenever God’s messengers preached, they spoke against self-righteousness, self-indulgence and abuse of authority. And usually these were directed at the religious leaders.
The religious leaders were meant to find their righteousness from God and not from their actions. They were meant to serve the people and direct them back to God instead of exploiting and oppressing them. But God’s prophets called for them to turn away from such corruption.The leaders reacted in anger, because God’s message hurt their pride. And to obey would be to disrupt with their livelihood. So they hardened their hearts and turned away from God and His message. And in order to maintain their unrighteous way of living and appease their prideful anger, the religious leaders got rid of the one interfering - the prophet.
But despite the repeated rebellion, God kept sending messengers to bring His people back to Himself. This was despite the repeated rejection and murder of His messengers, who He loved so much. Now God has sent His own Son to bring His people back to Himself. And Jesus’ desire was for God’s people to return to full reliance and trust in God (v. 37)
But the heart of the people had never changed. Their outward expression of religious piety might have been different from their ancestors. But their heart of self-righteousness and pride had never changed. And there was no indication that they were willing to change. They preferred to stick to their own ways. (v. 37) Therefore Jesus predicted the continuous murder of God’s messengers by His own people (v. 34). As a result, an entire generation of Jews will take on the punishment of killing God’s messengers from the time of Abel to the last prophet martyred in the Old Testament - Zechariah (v. 35-36). This was on top of the messengers they will kill with their own hands.
A heart that has been hardened by rebellion is not without its consequences. In the case of the Jews, their persistently wilful rebellion against God’s message over the generations has lead them to destruction.
Do not harden your heart, turn back to God
So what has this got to do with us? We will never kill pastors or beat up missionaries, not in our current society. But there are several lessons for us to learn from this.
First, do we examine our own hypocrisy? As we read this, we may even be thinking to ourselves, “Oh, even if we lived in those times, we would never have taken part in such bloodshed!” But the crux of the matter is: are you heeding God’s message through His prophets and Apostles? Is there something in the Bible that speaks against your current lifestyle, but you deliberately harden yourself against the message? Be careful because persistent hardening will result in becoming an enemy of God.
Secondly, God is faithful to win back His people. Despite your repeated disobedience, God is faithful to bring preachers, theologians who are faithful to His word, and wise counsellors to bring you back to Him. It may be irritating to be bombarded by messages that speak against your sinful lifestyle. But remember that God wants you back. He wants you to find true joy in total faith and trust in Him. He wants you to find security in Him alone, and not in the temporary things of the world. There is comfort and security in God like a chick under the wings of its mother.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if you find God’s message speaking against your lifestyle or your securities, do not harden your heart against God’s message to you. Come back and find joy and security in your God.– The End –
Many are curious about what happens to them after they die. Some think that they would just vanish like magic dust, others assume that they will be granted the rite of passage into heaven based on their accumulated (positive) karma and moral deeds.
Those that believe in disappearing like magic dust would say “you only live once! It’s the life now that counts!” And those that believe in karma would think that the deeds of their lives now is the currency for what comes next, that which is important.
What truly matters?
Is it our lives now that matter or our after-lives? Many Christians want the best of both worlds. They work hard to live their life to the fullest now; that includes earning tons of money and living a comfortable life, being carefree and debt free, especially at retirement age. So we hear many say, “Work hard while you are young! Build a career for yourself! In the meantime still go to church of course, and then you can really focus and dedicate your time to God and ministry when you’re older and comfortable in life!” From this, we can see that these Christians still want to be prepared when it is time to meet the Lord! They want to be actively worshipping and serving when it is close to the time they meet God. This is also why other Christians are so curious to know the answer to this question: when is Judgment day coming?
The disciples also were curious, perhaps for different reasons and they asked Jesus for an answer.
It is not when that matters.
Jesus did not give an answer. Instead, He focused on what truly mattered – that He is indeed coming back! This will certainly happen (v.35). Jesus also told the disciples how He would come back and commanded our faithful response.
We live in a fallen world (v.4-14)
As Christians, we fight the spiritual battle. Jesus warns that as we await His coming, we have to beware of false teachers and false doctrines that would deceive and lead us astray! Some would claim to be the Messiah and others would claim that the end is here. But Jesus says “see to it that you are not alarmed” (v.6).
With multiplied wickedness, there will be fights and wars (v.7). Not only so, Christians will be persecuted and tortured (v.9)! It will only get worse! Other consequences of a fallen nation include natural disasters such as earthquakes and famine. The recent Japan typhoon is an example. Even so, Jesus says that these things are bound to happen in a fallen world, but the end is not here yet.
What matters in a fallen world?
Jesus says “the love of most will grow cold” (v.12). With the increase of wickedness, sin multiplies. There would more lying, more killing, more of everything evil but the love of God and the love for people! Jesus says “he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (v.13). He who perseveres in the love of God! He who does not turn away from the faith, he who will remain faithful and love one another! We are to stand firm and fight to remain holy in this fallen world!
Our testimony of God’s love is the gospel message; and when they whole world hears the good news, the end of the fallen world will come.
The fallen world will come to an end, dramatically. (v.21-31)
It would be action-packed, it would be emotional, it would be painful, Jesus said. There would be a tribulation when people would be distressed, so much that it would be unequalled and never to be equal ed again. The pain would be so much that without God’s mercy, we would all perish at the coming of the Son of Man. Imagine what earth would be like with a darkened sun, a dull moon, and stars falling from the sky! With great power and glory, Jesus will gather His elect from all over the world.
What matters when Jesus comes back?
Jesus later said that the date and time of the end of this age does not matter, because no one knows except for the Father (v.36). What matters, Jesus says, is that we must be ready! “Therefore you also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (v.44). We are to stay awake, to take conscious effort in offering our lives as a living sacrifice, holy acceptable to God. This takes alertness, a continuous and vigorous effort in doing so.
Are we focusing on what matters?
Everyone focuses on what they perceive is important. Unbelievers included. How about us? Are we focusing on what we think matters or what Jesus says is important?
Has eternity begun for you brothers and sisters? Our lives now and after the end of this age are all but one.
We need not wait for the end to come to live in His kingdom. The kingdom of God has already begun! So let us not waver in our dedication and fervour in the Lord in the midst of the trials we face today. Our strength and power to stand firm, fight and be ready for Christ’s return does not come from ourselves but God. We do not fall because we’re in God’s hands. Such is the sweetness of His mercy and protection. Therefore, let us take heart as we live our lives worthy of the gospel and look forward to Jesus’ return!
“The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.”
Psalm 37: 23-34– The End –
What do you do while the person who has authority over you is not watching, such as a parent, a teacher, or a boss? For example, if your parents are away for a short trip, what do you do in their absence? If you are a student and your teacher is out of the classroom, what do you do when he or she is not around? Or if you are an employee, what do you do when your boss is on leave?
WHEN WILL JESUS RETURN?
When someone will be away, your first question may be to find out when he or she would return. The disciples themselves were concerned when Jesus said He will be going away, and they asked Jesus when He will return. But Jesus revealed to them that no one knows the time and date of His return, not even the angels of heaven, except for His Father (v.36).
There are Christians who are pre-occupied with knowing the exact time when Christ will return. Some might say that God granted them a vision. Others would read the Bible to find patterns and speculate that Christ would return on a certain date. William Miller, for example, was a preacher who did so and believed that Jesus would return in the mid-1800s. He first predicted that Jesus would return on 23 April 1843. When that date passed uneventfully, he predicted that Jesus will return on 18 April 1844. When that proved to be wrong too, he predicted the date to be 22 October 1844. But that of course was not true as well.
Remember that Jesus Himself said that no one knows the date and time of His return! Not Him, not the angels, only God His Father knows. As such, any claim to knowledge of such events are done so by false teachers, and we are not to be deceived by them. By claiming to know the date and time of Jesus’ return, they are in fact making Jesus to be a liar, claiming knowledge that Jesus said only God the Father has! We are not to follow the teachings of these men, nor of people who do not trust in the authority of God’s word in the Bible.
HOW WILL HIS RETURN BE LIKE?
Jesus goes on to describe that His second coming will be just like in the days of Noah (v.37). What about His coming will be similar to the days of Noah? Well, in the days before the flood, the people of Noah’s generation were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, unaware of the wrath that is to come (v.38). They continued to enjoy their lives, taking their days for granted up until the day the flood finally came and swept them away.
In the days of Noah, there was no special warning given to the people before the flood came. There was no ominous, dark, strange and swirling cloud brewing in a distance like we see in movies, nor tsunami sirens nor an unceasing rainfall signalling an epic flood to evacuate from. What the people of Noah’s generation saw was Noah building the ark over many years. Perhaps they even ridiculed him or thought he was crazy for believing God’s words about the coming judgment. This was even more so when Noah’s belief translated into actions by building a white elephant in the room that appeared useless as days and decades went by with seeming peace and security.
Does this sound familiar to us? Many people today are still living as if life will go on without a day of judgment by God. We see on social media, the lives of people who seemingly have it all in this life. They are enjoying their lives and revelling in the moment, making plans for the future, living their lives as if there isn’t any judgment to come. Perhaps we may even find ourselves becoming envious or jealous of their lives. The truth of the matter is that those who live as if there is no judgment say in their hearts, “there is no God” . But the psalmist says that such are words of a fool’s heart (Psalm 14:1). This is the way of life of a fool, and Christians living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ should not be captivated by this lifestyle. Instead, we are called to be ready for Jesus’ imminent return.
BE READY FOR HIS RETURN
Noah was known to be a righteous man who walked with God and was blameless in his generation (Gen 6:9) who found favour in the eyes of the Lord (Gen 6:8). He treasured God’s word and did all that God commanded him. When God gave Noah the mission to build the ark, Noah devoted His time, resources and energy to live out what God commanded , and persisted in building the ark even when there were no signs of flood. By earnestly carrying out the mission to build the ark and obeying all that God commanded him, Noah and his family were spared from the judgment of the flood by God’s provision and protection (Gen 7:23).
In the same way, Jesus revealed to His disciples that a day of judgement is coming. He will return one day and that we will be judged for all we have done in the time that He is physically away (v.45-51). As His disciples today, how then should we live?
HOW WE SHOULD LIVE
Noah is an example of a man of God who lived by faith in light of the Lord’s coming judgment.
“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” – Hebrews 11:7
The words “reverent fear” in Hebrews 11:7 suggest seriousness, passion and urgency in trusting God’s word and carrying out the Lord’s commands as Noah worked with his hands. He would not require constant reminders from God to complete the ark, because Noah feared the Lord. He did not turn away from God to live his life like those of his generation, because He trusted the Lord. In the same way, as Christians, we are to live in a manner that displays our anticipation of His return and His judgment at any time .
Paul gave a similar exhortation to the Thessalonians not to be in slumber, but to live a sober life pleasing to God – pursuing holiness, working with their hands, and building up one another in faith, in light of the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4-5). The same applies to us today. We are not to be slack nor to take our lives for granted, living as if there is no judgment . Rather, we are to live sober lives in light of His coming judgment where we will give an account to Him for the way we lived our lives before His return.
So just like the faithful servant who continues to serve his master while he is away (v.45), we are to live our lives submitting to the authorities which God has placed over us. When the person who has authority over us is away – such as our parents, teachers and bosses, we are to continue to do the work entrusted to us heartily as we are working for the Lord, who is our ultimate authority.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men , knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” – Colossians 3:23-24
Furthermore, just like how Noah was given the mission to build the ark, we have also been entrusted with a great mission before Jesus’ return!
“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.” – Matthew 28:18-20
May the Holy Spirit grant us repentance and a passion to live our lives reflecting the glory of Christ’s return to the people around us. May our Lord Jesus grant us grace to walk with Him and live our lives boldly in Him and for the mission entrusted to us, remembering that He is already with us (Matthew 28:20)! And may each of us be found ready when He returns to judge.– The End –
You have been warned
Parables are stories given to us by Jesus to illustrate a certain teaching point, usually regarding the Kingdom of heaven. Most parables contrast between two groups of people; those who enter the kingdom of heaven, and those who do not. While many take parables to be uplifting stories that teach us good morals in living a Christian life, it is usually the warnings that we should pay particular attention to.
The warnings in the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents are addressed to those who believe that they are the people of God. They paint a picture of those who are true believers in Christ and those who are not. It is a picture of those who please the master, and those who will be shut out of the kingdom (v.10) and thrown into the place with weeping and gnashing of teeth (v.30). Let those of us who seriously seek the rewards that await us in heaven heed the warnings of these two parables today.
The parable of the ten virgins
This parable speaks of the readiness of Christians awaiting the coming of their Lord. One of the main characteristics of the virgins (a word describing ladies close to the bride, not just talking about their sexual state) that Matthew makes sure to highlight to us is that they were waiting expectantly for the bridegroom. Similarly, the people of God are waiting for the return of our Lord. We live as Christians waiting on the promises of Jesus that He will one day return to judge the living and the dead, to raise us all with resurrected bodies and reunite us to the Father.
However, among those that are patiently waiting for our Lord’s return, Jesus teaches us of a group among those who are waiting patiently who are ill-prepared for His coming. The 5 foolish virgins who did not prepare extra oil were just as expectant of the bridegroom as the 5 wise ones. The only noticeable difference between these two groups was that of preparation.
Jesus is warning of the dreadful fate of those who know that they should be watching for the coming of the Son of man but do not. By their lack of preparation, they exclude themselves from any place among the people of God. While there was time, they shut themselves out. It was not an issue that the virgins did not know what to do since they were ultimately able to find oil. It is a matter of readiness when the bridegroom arrives. Similarly, many Christians know what they have to do. Repenting and living a life worthy of God after the Son of Man comes back a second time does not bring us to be counted among those who are saved.
The wise Christian is prepared
There is a line that seems cool to movie makers that Christians ought to take seriously: ‘Are you ready to meet your Maker?’ What would Jesus find in our lives if He were to return on earth today? Readiness is a Christian virtue that is not often emphasized. Furthermore, our ideas on how to expect Christ’s return may range from frantically trying to finish doing all that we want to in life, to a nonchalant waiting rooted in laziness. All of which are unbiblical.
The return of Christ is always presented in Scripture as a great motivation to action, not as an excuse for inaction. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul wraps up his teaching on the rapture by saying, “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:6, Paul concludes a lesson on Christ’s coming with these words: “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.”
So how then is a Christian supposed to be like? The next parable gives us some insight into how a Christian should be: A Christian should be working while expecting their master’s return.
The hardworking Servants are rewarded by the Master
When the master departed for his trip, leaving his 3 servants a sizeable amount of money, the first two servants immediately set to work. Jesus did not say what the servants did, (and it is not important). What matters is that they did work with the talents given to them. This signifies that they put them to good use in some way. In time diligence was rewarded; the five talents became ten, and the two talents became four. Both had done well; both had doubled the amount entrusted to them
Now, the reward that the master gives might not be what we expect. He said “I will appoint you over many things” This seems to indicate that faithful servants are given more opportunities to use their God-given abilities. In other words, faithful servants are rewarded with more work!
Faithful Christians long to do the work of the Lord. It is like when Jesus Himself said “My Food is to do the will of Him who sent me” (John 4:34). The faithful Christian’s business is the Father’s business and there is a certain desire to want to do the work of God. And it is this sort of Christians who will “enter the joy of the Master.” They are those who will please the Father. But not those who follow in the ways of the third servant.
A lazy servant of Christ is as good as lost
The overriding work ethic for the third servant is summed up in one word: Lazy! The labor of buying and selling, working and making a profit was not for him. He simply dug a hole and hid his master’s money. This was a common way of hiding objects for safekeeping in the days of Jesus – it meant no possibility of loss, as well as no possibility of gain.
This was described by Jesus as wicked and lazy. It was a wicked thing to receive money from his master and fail to use it to the best advantage, whatever his motive. This servant was comfortable with the status quo. He assumed that his preservation of the talent was something for which he should receive credit. However, what the master expects is that anyone with a talent must use it. The parable illustrates both possibilities. The servants who used their talents (including the modern understanding of the word) saw it grow; the one who refused to use what he had lost it.
So the third servant lost the talent, what’s the big deal about it?
The people who follow in the third servant’s mindset is given this warning: This servant is consigned to the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. This expression stands for complete and final rejection and for unceasing sorrow and regret. We should bear in mind that this is not pronounced over someone who has done some particularly heinous crime. It is the final result for the man who had only one talent and who steadfastly refused to use it. It is the warning for anyone who calls themselves a Christian, yet fails to use what they have for the work of the Master.
The call is for us to work for His glory! If we are caught unaware, ill-prepared or being lazy, Christ has warned us that such people (even though we might call ourselves His servants) are cast out into the outer darkness. Brothers and sisters, are you prepared for Christ’s coming? Do not be caught unaware. Prepare yourselves, for the coming of the Lord is near!– The End –
According to Matthew’s gospel, only two kinds of people walk this earth: those who love Jesus and those who do not. There is no middle ground — either we are for the Savior or against Him (12:30). On one hand, Herod’s evil plans showed him to be one of the Lord’s enemies (2:16–18), and on the other, Matthew’s leaving all to follow Christ indicated what side he was on (9:9). Then there was the rich young ruler, whose seeming love of money placed him on the wrong side (19:16–22). Those who refuse to invest their goods and talents for the sake of the kingdom have no love for Jesus, but the people who put their gifts to work for God will be seen for the kingdom servants they are (25:14–30).
The picture of final judgment in today’s passage is further evidence that all people will be grouped into two categories at the end of this age. Most Christians have heard the account of the sheep and the goats used as an exhortation for the church to meet the needs of all the destitute. Certainly, we must care even for the needy who are not part of the covenant community. After all, the Mosaic law encourages generosity toward strangers ( Lev. 23:22 ), a principle not limited to the old covenant era ( Luke 14:12–14 ). Not inappropriately, believers have served all mankind based on Matthew 25:31–46 . However, Jesus in today’s passage is not dealing first and foremost with poor people in general. Instead, He is referring primarily to our care for other Christians. Since Christ identifies His disciples as His brothers elsewhere in Matthew (12:46–50), the story of the sheep and the goats concerns our treatment of other believers (see 25:40). John Calvin and other commentators recognize this point.
This does not mean that doing good to believers merits salvation. Jesus is merely teaching that “if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar” ( 1 John 4:20 ). True love for the Savior begets love for all those united to Him by faith. Even if only in simple deeds, the sheep are to serve one another, especially the needy. Goats, though they dwell among God’s flock today, disregard the sheep and overlook their needs. Thus, they manifest hatred for the One to whom the sheep are united and deserve only a dreadful fate ( Matt. 25:41–46 ).
We actually serve the Lord when we do simple acts of service for one another. It does not take much effort to make a meal for new parents or a family who has recently lost a loved one. A call or visit to the lonely or shut-in takes mere moments but can reap lasting rewards. The donation of time, money, or supplies to your church’s mercy ministry is an act of love for Jesus. Our profession of faith is invalid if we are not engaged in these or other similar activities.– The End –
Ligonier Ministries. (2018). The Sheep and the Goats. Retrieved 28 September 2018, from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/sheep-and-goats/
Matthew does not claim to give us a chronological account of the events of the last week. At this point he inserted a flashback to describe the feast in Bethany and the beautiful act that Mary performed. The religious leaders were meeting to plot against Jesus, but His friends were meeting to show their love and devotion to Him. Also, by joining these two accounts, Matthew showed the connection between Mary’s worship and Judas’ betrayal. It was after the feast in Bethany that Judas went to the priests and offered his help (Mark 14:10–11). The Lord’s rebuke triggered Judas’ response.
The feast at Bethany took place “six days before the Passover” (John 12:1) in the house of Simon the leper. Apparently he had been healed by the Lord Jesus. There were at least seventeen people at this dinner: Simon, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Jesus, and the 12 Apostles. True to her character as the “doer” in the family, Martha did the serving (Luke 10:38–42). The three key persons in this event are Mary, Judas, and Jesus.
Mary (v. 7).
Only John identifies this woman as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. She is found only three times in the Gospels, and in each instance she is at the feet of Jesus. She sat at His feet and listened to the Word (Luke 10:38–42); she came to His feet in sorrow after the death of Lazarus (John 11:28–32); and she worshiped at His feet when she anointed Him with the ointment (John 12:1ff). Mary was a deeply spiritual woman. She found at His feet her blessing, she brought to His feet her burdens, and she gave at His feet her best.
When we combine the Gospel records, we learn that she anointed both His head and His feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. A woman’s hair is her glory (1 Cor. 11:15). She surrendered her glory to the Lord and worshiped Him with the precious gift that she brought. It was an act of love and devotion that brought fragrance to the whole house.
Because she had listened to His word, Mary knew that soon Jesus would die and be buried. She also knew that His body would not need the traditional care given to the dead because His body would not see corruption (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:22–28). Instead of anointing His body after His death, she did so before His death. It was an act of faith and love.
Judas (vv. 8–9).
The disciples did not know the true character of Judas. His criticism of Mary sounded so “spiritual” that they joined him in attacking her. We know the real reason Judas wanted the ointment sold: The money would go into the treasury and he would be able to use it (John 12:6).
Judas is a tragic figure. He was called to be one of Christ’s disciples and was named an apostle along with the others (Mark 3:13–19). He received power to heal (Matt. 10:1–4), and he probably used this power. It is not the power to do miracles that is proof of salvation (Matt. 7:21–29), but obedience to God’s Word.
In spite of his affiliation with the band of disciples, and his association with Christ, Judas was not a true believer. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He made it clear that one of them (Judas) was not cleansed (John 13:10–11). Like many professing Christians today, Judas was “in” the group of believers but not “of” them.
Notice that every time Mary sought to do something for Jesus, she was misunderstood. Her sister Martha misunderstood her when Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to hear Him teach the Word. Judas and the other disciples misunderstood her when she anointed Jesus. Her friends and neighbors misunderstood her when she came out of the house to meet Jesus after Lazarus had been buried (John 11:28–31). When we give Jesus Christ first place in our lives, we can expect to be misunderstood and criticized by those who claim to follow Him.
Why did Judas follow Jesus for three years, listen to His Word, share His ministry, and then turn traitor? One thing is certain: Judas was not the victim of circumstances or the passive tool of providence. It was prophesied that one of Messiah’s close associates would betray Him, (Pss. 41:9; 55:12–14), but this fact does not relieve Judas of responsibility. We must not make him a martyr because he fulfilled this prophecy.
While we can never fully understand the mind and heart of Judas, we do know that he had every opportunity to be saved. He was often warned by Jesus: in the Upper Room, Jesus even washed Judas’ feet. Probably, Judas saw in Jesus the hope for Israel’s political freedom. If Jesus established His kingdom, Judas, as treasurer, would have had an important position. When Jesus repeatedly refused to become a political Messiah, Judas turned against Him. Satan found a willing tool in Judas. Satan put the ideas into Judas’ mind (John 13:2) and then entered into Judas to use him to betray Jesus to the enemy (John 13:27).
Judas’ life is a warning to those who pretend to serve Christ but whose hearts are far from God. He is also a warning to those who waste their opportunities and their lives. “Why this waste?” asked Judas when he saw that expensive ointment poured out on Jesus. Yet Judas wasted his opportunities, his life, and his soul! Jesus called him son of perdition (John 17:12) which literally means “son of waste.”
Jesus (vv. 10–16).
He immediately came to the defense of Mary, for He always protects His own. He rebuked Judas and the other disciples and praised Mary for her loving act of devotion. Nothing given to Jesus in love is ever wasted. Her act of worship not only brought joy to the heart of Jesus and fragrance to the house, but also blessing to the whole world. Her devotion encourages us to love and serve Christ with our very best. Such service brings blessings to others that perhaps we will know nothing about until we see Him.
Jesus did not criticize the disciples because they were concerned about the poor. He was concerned about the poor, and we should be too. He was cautioning them against missing their opportunity to worship Him. They would always have opportunities to help the poor. But they would not always have the opportunity to worship at His feet and prepare Him for burial.– The End –
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 94–95). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Preparations for the Passover (v17-19)
As we look into the passage, we see that Jesus and his disciples were preparing for the Passover. The Passover was a celebration that would last over a week, and the heart of the celebration is to remember how God redeemed Israel.
The Passover required extensive preparation. Jesus gave instructions to the disciples to prepare for the Passover. The book of Matthew did not say who was appointed to assist in the preparation, but in the book of Mark and Luke we see that Jesus sent only two of His disciples to make preparation for the Passover, in order to keep it a secret.
It was done secretly so that Judas would not be able to prematurely betray Jesus. Therefore we see Jesus’ sovereignty at play here, that He would deliver Himself at the right time.
Jesus predicts His betrayal (v20-25)
During the feast, Jesus said to His disciples that one of them would betray Him. The disciples’ reaction was surprising. Instead of pointing at others and looking to put the blame on someone, they asked “’Surely not I Lord?”(v22) The disciples were taken aback by what Jesus had said, since no one would have expected that there would be betrayal within such a close knitted group. It would seem that Judas was another one of the brothers. Nobody suspected him because he look and lived like the rest of the disciples. He looked like a disciple on the outside but Jesus knew Judas’ heart.
What about us? Are we living a life, that on the outside looks like we are following Jesus? Remember Jesus looks at our hearts, our inner most intentions.
Jesus made two things clear. The first is that His death was within the will of God. Jesus looked to Scripture to explain this. He used the “Son of Man” and said that he “goes as it stands written about him” (v24). The word “go” is used here to explain Jesus’s death. Though Jesus did not cite any particular passage, it shows that his death would be in accordance with prophecies that were made centuries before. Jesus made it clear that his death is well within God’s will.
The second thing is that though it is in God’s plan to use Judas to accomplish His will, it did not remove the guilt that rests on Judas. Jesus added a solemn remark about the seriousness of what Judas was doing. When Jesus said it would have been “better for him if that man had not been born’, this leads us to realize the seriousness of Judas’s sin. Although it is true that God had used that sin to carry out God’s purpose, it did not make it any less of a sin. Judas was not compelled to betray Jesus - it was a deliberate choice.
Judas responded in the same way as the other disciples except instead of calling Jesus Lord, he addressed Jesus as “Rabbi He addressed Jesus as “teacher” and not as Lord was because his heart was not truly with Jesus. We know this because of what Judas did in verses 14-16, he was willing to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. And to answer Judas’ question, Jesus replied “’you have said so”.
We have seen that Jesus was sovereign over all that He does. In everything, Jesus did what he had in mind, which is the will of the Father. Even as events that led up to Jesus’ death may seem like they are hurling out of control but they are part of God’s plan. There is nothing that can stop God from accomplishing His will.
The institution of the “Holy Communion” (v26-30)
Continuing at the Passover meal, Jesus instituted the sacrament that we now know today as the “holy communion”.
We see that Jesus moved away from the traditional liturgy of the Passover meal. In the traditional liturgy, the Exodus account of the Passover would be recounted by the Jewish families in remembrance of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. This is followed by the singing of a hymn.
However, instead of recounting the Exodus story, Jesus said “this is my body broken for you”. He also said that the cup represents the blood of the new covenant that was poured out for the forgiveness of sinners.
Why did Jesus say these words during the Passover meal instead of the traditional Jewish liturgy? In retrospect, we understand that the reason is because that was a foreshadowing of his coming death and its significance.
The purpose of the communion was to show the disciples how the Passover points to Jesus. We remember that in the Passover, the Israelites were instructed to slaughter a spotless lamb and then put its blood above their doorposts. When God brought judgement on the homes of the Israelites and the Egyptians, He would put to death the firstborn son in any home that did not have blood over the doorpost.
Jesus is that spotless Lamb, when Jesus referred to the cup as “My blood” which is “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” He is claiming that He is the perfect Lamb of God whose blood was sacrificed once and for all, for the forgiveness of sins.
When we understand God’s sovereignty, it affects how we should think when we participate in the Holy Communion. Not only should we be thankful when we remember the work that Jesus had done on the cross. We should also be trusting that Jesus will return and we should look forward to it. So no matter how difficult a time you’re going through, God is in control and He has already provided a way for us to continue to serve Him, it is through the finished work of Jesus Christ.– The End –
The intention to want to be with Jesus
After the Passover meal, Jesus had a talk with the disciples regarding his imminent death and explained that they will fall away on his account. The disciples, who had every intention to be with Jesus started to proclaim their loyalty. Peter in a show of loyalty then proclaimed, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (v.33) Jesus then foretold that Peter would disown him not only once but thrice when things go south. Peter once again doubled down and affirmed his loyalty saying, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not disown you.” It may be a thoughtless and foolish boast, but at that moment, it seemed to reflect the deep-seated loyalty in Peter and his intense determination at that very moment to remain faithful, whatever the circumstance was.
Aren’t we all like Peter? Sometimes we see a glimpse of God’s might and feel the sudden urge to want to follow Jesus, till the ends of the earth. A strong stirring of the heart that may move us to vows, promises and commitments that we make before God. Sometimes we may see our sinful actions and vouch never ever to commit these sins ever again, other times, we commit to cling close to Jesus whatever it may take. Unbelievers could have the intention to want to be with Jesus, that’s why they visit churches to search for answers. Believers would have the intention to be with Jesus, that’s why we make it a point to continue in a life of sanctification.
The willing spirit to want to be with Jesus
A willing spirit indicates both readiness and eagerness in being with Jesus.
As Jesus’ death approached, He was immensely troubled, sorrowful and filled with anguish. Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray and asked for his closest friends to be with Him. Jesus requested for support and help from his disciples at this time of distress. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
How many of us have an intention to be Jesus? How many of us have a willing spirit? The disciples had a real intention and their spirit was truly willing! It was sincere! Unfortunately, an intention and willing spirit to be with Jesus counts to nothing albeit with all our might. What now?
As we all know, Jesus is the perfect example. We should watch Jesus more than we watch ourselves and He provides us with a solution, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (v.41)
Because of the frailty of human nature there is the constant need for prayer. We need the help that only God can give! Prayer recognizes the limitations of the human frame and seeks divine assistance to fight the spiritual war. We need spiritual vigilance, which includes physical self-control, to avoid being led into sin, to deny Jesus. Doesn’t this sound familiar? This language echoes the Lord’s Prayer. A solid intention and a willing spirit is not enough, it must be supplemented by prevailing prayer.
Our battle begins with prayer
Jesus is the perfect example as he fought the battle in fervent prayer. The spiritual battle is not just about the moment of decision or situation. It begins with prayer. Jesus prayed not once, but thrice.
Jesus started his prayers by addressing God as “My Father”. This indicates affections and trust. Jesus then put his petition across humbly “If it is possible”. Jesus expressed his sorrows and stated his desire to avoid the cup. Yet, Jesus submitted to the father’s will and obeyed it “not as I will, but as you will”. (v.39)
Jesus expressed his feelings and thoughts to God. He also knew that all was happening according to the Father’s will. Being certain and fortified in God’s character and secured in His plan, Jesus was assured throughout the persecution and allowed events to take their course.
When we pray, do we pray knowing that God hears our prayers and we are secured in His plan? Isn’t it comforting to know that all’s happening according to God’s will? God may not answer our prayers as we would like, but prayer is the means of grace which God strengthens us to face our spiritual battles.
Let us start our battles with prayer! It will give us comfort and strength, for we know that God is with us.
Our battle in repentance
Let us look at Judas. He was an intimate disciple of Christ. He travelled with Jesus, heard Jesus teach, beheld the miracles and even taught and healed alongside Jesus. Judas was intimate with Jesus! Yet, he betrayed his teacher. Similarly, we can serve in ministry and not be with Jesus.
How then can we make our calling and election sure? (2 Peter 1:10)
Let us compare Peter to Judas. We may think that Peter’s denial of Jesus may be less of a crime as compared to Judas’ betrayal. However, Jesus said that any who disown Him before men, He will also disown before his heavenly Father (Matthew 10:33). Both Judas and Peter did not earn Jesus’ acceptance.
Now, we may boldly claim that we will never betray or deny Jesus! Even if we succeed in doing that, does it matter? We may not betray or deny Jesus; however, failing to hold fully to our resolve to follow Christ would also result in the rejection of Jesus. “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth”, Jesus said. (Revelation 3:16)
The difference between Peter and Judas lied primarily in their subsequent behavior. Judas killed himself out of guilt. Peter on the other hand, realized his sinfulness and “wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). Peter’s tears indicated not just remorse, but also true sorrow and repentance from sin.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) If we have tested and failed, we have been tempted and succumbed, we can find mercy in Christ for the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
Brothers and sisters, our walk with Jesus requires not only those intentions and a willing spirit, but also a prayerful and repentant life depending on God for comfort, strength and salvation.– The End –
The Denial of Jesus by the Council
The disciples had followed Jesus all the way from the time they were called by Jesus. But at the point of His capture, they have left Jesus alone and fled for their lives. Yet this was of no surprise to Jesus. He already predicted His disciples’ response before the time of His capture (Matthew 26:31). Yet Jesus also knew that they will be preserved as His disciples, and He has a mission for them after He is raised back to life.
“But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” – Matthew 26:32
But for now, Jesus must walk the path to the cross. So willingly He went, without any resistance, and He stood before Caiaphas the high priest and the Council.
The scribes and Pharisees must be delighting at this point as they are getting closer to their goal of killing Jesus. They would try all means and ways to have him dead, even at the expense of using false testimonies to charge Him unto death. To think that the Sanhedrin was meant to be a Council that sought to maintain religious customs and ensure justice according to the word of God! Yet their hearts were hardened toward the Son of God, and their eyes could not perceive the truth of His identity.
And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” – Matthew 27:62-66
Jesus spoke the truth about His identity before the Council. He affirms that He is the Son of God. Yet He was rejected by the religious leaders, and was judged as a blasphemer by the Council, punishable by death.
Ironically, we recall in Matthew 12:30-32 that Jesus Himself said that every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. In saying this, Jesus showed His authority to forgive sins and to judge people. Yet the Council here was judging the Son of God! The Jewish leaders refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and attributed the work of the Holy Spirit throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry to be the work of demons. In doing so, the Jewish leaders were in fact the true blasphemers who will be judged for the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Despite the Council’s judgment, Jesus remains the Ultimate Judge before God, and so He stood fearless before the Council. Just as the Council denies Him as the Son of God, He will deny them before God in the coming Judgment.
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell… everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 10:28, 33
The Denial of Jesus by Peter
Peter loved Jesus very much. While the other disciples fled, Peter followed at a distance while Jesus was led away by the people who captured Him. Peter still wanted to be with Jesus, even though he must be afraid. He would also have remembered his conversation not too long ago with Jesus that He will never deny Him even if it cost his life (Matthew 26:35), and he wanted to stay true to his word.
But Jesus already knew Peter would deny Him (Matthew 26:34). And we know that Jesus’ prophecy came true. Peter denied Jesus three times, even invoking a curse upon himself (Matthew 26:69-74)! Then the rooster crowed.
Jesus had taught His disciples earlier to take up the cross and to follow Him. Taking up the cross is the requisite of being a Christian. Those who do not do so are not worthy to be His disciples. But what does it mean to take up the cross? It means to lose one’s life in suffering for the sake of Jesus and for the gospel. Peter recognised his failure to do so in his denial of Jesus, and his sorrow in mourning brought him to repentance to bear the cross. Peter was later restored to fellowship with Jesus after His resurrection, and was commanded by Jesus to shepherd His people (John 21:15-17). And he did.
Peter’s response was unlike the response of Judas, who ended his life in his own hands after betraying Jesus, in an act that continued to deny Jesus and His teaching. Judas lost his life, but he did not lose it for the sake of Jesus nor for the gospel. Judas had given up being Jesus’ disciple. He chose to end his own life than to take up the cross to follow Jesus and to suffer for the sake of the gospel.
Jesus promises them that whoever loses his life for His sake will find it (Matthew 10:38-39). These words were taught so that His disciples will remember them after His death and resurrection, as they will continue with His ministry on earth.
What is Our Response to Jesus?
We have seen the Jewish leaders’ response, as well as Peter’s response to Jesus. What then is our response as modern day disciples of Christ?
Jesus is the Son of God who continues to rule at the right hand of God in heaven (Matthew 26:64), having ascended after His resurrection. Because Jesus still rules, His commands for His early disciples still stand true for us today. As a people, we each are to respond to Jesus and His word.
Do we, like Peter, repent of our denial of Jesus, to accept His teaching by faith to live transformed lives to advance the gospel in light of His identity and His kingdom? Or do we, like Judas and even the Jewish leaders, deny Jesus as the Son of God and continue to live our lives according to our own ways?
Despite failures to follow Jesus at particular moments, if we truly love Him, we will mourn our sinful ways and repent to obey Him at any cost, just as Peter did. In the same way, the apostle Paul also encouraged the Corinthians in early church that there is hope and joy in godly grief that produces repentance:
“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” – 2 Corinthians 7:9-10
May the Lord give each of us a godly grief over sin, that we may repent towards our Lord Jesus and be transformed in our hearts and minds to live for Him.– The End –
The primary suspects for the murder of Jesus
Who is responsible for the murder of Jesus? There were many who had a role to play in the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. The Bible gives us an account of the parties involved and the motivations that moved them to act the way they did, especially in the days leading up to Jesus’ death. Let us take a quick look at the dossiers of the primary suspects for the murder of our Lord.
Suspect 1: Judas the traitor – the one who disregarded Jesus’ teaching
First there was Judas. One of the disciples whom Jesus had personally chosen and taught over the course of his 3 years of ministry. Judas sat at Jesus’ feet learning the same things that the other disciples have learnt. He witnessed the same miracles that the other disciples have witnessed. And he definitely was doing the same ministries of preaching God’s kingdom and casting out demons together with the other disciples.
Judas disregarded the many months spent learning theology with Jesus; about not being enslaved to money, how to live as part of the Kingdom of God, the many miracles that prove Jesus’ authority is from God, the countless days spent living, eating, walking, resting, laughing with the master. All these teachings were put aside. Judas willfully set aside all of what Jesus had taught him for personal gain.
Suspect 2: The religious leaders – the ones who disregarded Jesus’ rebuke
Then there were those who bought Judas’ betrayal, the religious leaders. The religious leaders were proud, unwilling to accept any rebuke from Jesus. The gospel writers have written on the increasing resentment that the religious leaders had against Jesus.
This was because Jesus was calling them out for their self-righteousness and false piety. They were so caught up in their self-righteous acts that they had no qualms about paying Judas off to betray Jesus. But now that Judas had rejected their money and brought it back, their conscience was suddenly pricked, prevented them from putting the money back in the treasury (v.6).
They tried Jesus secretly and illegally, bringing many false witnesses to testify against Jesus. Upon Jesus’ referral to himself as the Son of God and the Son of man, it gave the religious leaders the excuse they needed to have Jesus killed. They brought him before Pilate, bringing more false accusations against Jesus, and finally they stirred up the crowd to demand that Pilate crucify Him.
Suspect 3: Pilate – the one who disregarded his conscience
There was Pilate who gave the final verdict to crucify Jesus. He was a man acting against conscience; knowing what was right, but acting against what he knew was right for the sake of convenience. Pilate himself was greatly amazed when Jesus did not respond to his accusers (v.14) even though He was clearly innocent (v.18, 23).
His wife even came up to him and warned him not to kill Jesus because of a dream that she had. Now it might seem a bit trivial to include this act of superstition into the gospel account, but that is exactly the worldview Pilate was operating by. They believed that dreams of this kind were supernatural. Going against it further proved that Pilate was acting against His conscience, knowingly condemning an innocent man.
Pilate lost his nerves when he saw that the crowd was turning into a riot (v. 24). Because he did not want any trouble, he washed his hands off the matter and left Jesus to be condemned unjustly. He disregarded his conscience for the sake of convenience.
Suspect 4: The swayed crowd – the ones who disregarded Jesus’ Lordship
The crowd were the same people who were shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” a few days before (Matthew 21:9). And now we see this very same crowd shouting to crucify Him. By their own mouths they attested to the special nature of the one entering Jerusalem on a donkey. And by the same mouths they ignored Jesus’ divinity, giving in to the lies spread by the chief priests and demanding the brutal execution of Jesus.
It is to this crowd that Pilate eventually gave in to, compromising his morals in order to appease them. The chief priests may have been behind the stirring up of the crowd (Mark 15:11), but the calls to crucify Jesus were still an act of their own volition. They went to the point of saying “His blood be on us and on our children” (v.25). In Acts 2:36, Peter said in his first sermon to the Jewish people: “ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified .”
So who was it?
Who was responsible? The one who disregarded Jesus’ teaching? The ones who disregarded Jesus’ rebuke? The one who disregarded his conscience? Or the ones who disregarded Jesus’ Lordship? Were some of those mentioned more responsible than others? Were they all responsible for the murder of Jesus Christ?
Yes, they all were responsible, but we bear part of the responsibility as well. We have sinned, and because of that, Jesus had to go to the cross. We are complicit in the crimes. We are among those who disregard Jesus’ teachings. We demonstrate disregard for Jesus’ rebuke every day, by living according to our wills instead of God’s will. We disregard our conscience by resisting the commands of scripture. And ultimately we reject Jesus’ Lordship over our lives, by insisting on doing things our way and not His.
Because of our sin, Jesus was murdered on the cross. But because of God’s great love for us, He sent His Son to the cross to reconcile us to Himself.
There is now no condemnation for those under the blood of Jesus
Our passage today ends in v.26, where Pilate had Jesus scourged, and delivered to be crucified. Scourged and crucified. Matthew when writing his gospel, seems to brush past the scourging of Jesus. Movies like to give us the gory details of what would have happened in the day. However, Matthew’s cavalier treatment of the horrific punishments of that day, seems to be more focused on the meaning behind Jesus’ death rather than the details behind his death.
1 Corinthians 6:11 is one of those passages that sums up the meaning behind Jesus’ death. It gives us a list of characteristics that describes who we were; sexually immoral, thieves, covetous, revilers, swindlers and more. But in Chapter 6 verse 11 Paul goes on to say “ And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God .” Such were some of you.
We may have been those who ignore Jesus’ teachings, or His rebuke or His Lordship, but Jesus blood cleanses us completely. You were stained, but now you are washed. You were condemned, but now you are made free. You were in darkness, but you are now in the light. Trust in the Saviour who has made you clean once again, and repent from disregarding Jesus your Lord.There is a fountain filled with blood
Having finished their scourging and mockery of Jesus in the governor’s headquarters ( Matt. 27:26–31 ), the Roman soldiers take our Lord and begin His march toward the cross. Evidently, the physical beating Christ has suffered at the hands of the centurions has taken its toll, for He is not able to carry His cross on His own. Thus, the soldiers compel a man named Simon to bear the weight of the wooden crosspiece the condemned man would have to carry (v. 32), that is, the part to which Jesus’ arms will be nailed. The vertical beam of the cross is already put in the ground before the condemned arrives. Simon is from Cyrene, a Greek settlement in North Africa, and later church traditions depict him as a model of piety for carrying our Lord’s cross. Yet he has no choice but to obey the orders of the centurions, and to make his bearing of Christ’s cross a sign of Simon’s devotion goes a bit too far. Still, it could be that Simon later came to faith, for how could he carry the cross of Christ and then not be open to the gospel message? Mark 15:21 tells us Simon has two sons, Alexander and Rufus, and the latter man may be mentioned in Romans 16:13 .
Upon arriving at Golgotha, the crucifixion site, Jesus is offered wine to drink. This wine is mixed with gall, which is a bitter herb ( Matt. 27:33–34 ), and some commentators believe that the potion is some kind of narcotic given to dull the pain. Based on Proverbs 31:6 , Jewish women in that day would sometimes give such wine to crucified men out of sympathy; however, the problem with this reading of the text is that the soldiers, not the women, offer Jesus the drink. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the Romans would all of a sudden want to alleviate the pain of a condemned man. Wine becomes sour and undrinkable when mixed with gall, and so it may be that the Romans offer the drink to torture Jesus further. If so, this event fulfills Psalm 69:19–21 .
Either way, Jesus does not drink from this cup ( Matt. 27:34 ). The cup that He does drink, however, is the cup that His Father has given Him — the cup of God’s wrath against the sins of His people ( 1 Peter 2:24 ). Let us be thankful that we who rely on Christ’s sacrifice will never taste this cup of condemnation.
Simon was compelled to carry Christ’s cross, but we who live subsequent to His death and resurrection are called to take up His cross willingly ( Luke 9:23 ). As followers of Jesus, we are to bear the scorn that comes our way for living after His pattern and not the pattern of the world. Let us remember that Christ endured far worse as we suffer for the gospel, and let us look to Him to make us able to stand in the day of trial.– The End –
Ligonier Ministries. (2015). Simon carries the cross. Retrieved 9 November 2018, from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/simon-carries-cross/
When it comes to the death and burial of Jesus, our focus automatically shifts to the events that happened. We like to look at the details of what took place at that time. We love trivia like “how did crucifixion work?” or “how do you explain the darkening of the sky over all the land?” But the gospel accounts do not give much detailed explanation for each part of the process.
Matthew could have covered the entire account by explaining the details behind what Jesus went through during His death and burial. But as we look closer at the passage, we see that Matthew paid attention to the responses to Jesus’s death. This means that the responses to Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection are as important as, if not more important than, the intricate details of the process. Let us take a closer look at a few of these responses.
1. The crowd witnessing Jesus’s death
Jesus’s crucifixion and death was a public spectacle. The Jews who demanded Jesus’s crucifixion earlier in the day were also there to mock Him at the cross. When Jesus was calling out to God the Father, they thought He was calling out the Elijah (v 47). Someone responded by giving Jesus sour wine, which was a fulfilment of prophecy (v 48, John 19:28, cf. Psalm 69:21). But the crowd told the man to wait and see if Elijah would come and save Him (v 49).
The crowd displayed what Jesus had commented earlier in Matt 13:14-15a:
Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,...’
Even as eyewitnesses, they could not “hear” Jesus’s call to His Father. And they could not “see” the fulfilment of Scripture before their very eyes! Why? Because their hearts have grown dull. In the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their desires, they were unable to perceive the things of God.
In their blindness, they also discouraged anyone who would respond to Jesus. When a man offered Jesus sour wine, the crowd told him to leave Jesus alone and just look. The blind have this tendency to lead others into their blindness.
This crowd was the ancient version of who we would now call “keyboard warriors”. They were quick to mock and comment. But when it came to act, they had a passive “wait and see” attitude. What’s more, they expected others to join them in their scoffing.
And despite the supernatural events that occurred, we do not read of any response from the Jewish crowd. This is a testament to the hardness of their hearts. And this contrasts with the Roman soldiers who were there.
2. The Roman soldiers witnessing Jesus’s death
In Matthew’s account, we read of a centurion and His men witnessing Jesus’s death. In the midst of such miraculous natural phenomena, we hear nothing from the Jews. But we see the response of the Gentile centurion. Such supernatural occurrences like darkness over the land, an earthquake that split stones apart and the resurrection of the saints led him to one conclusion - Jesus was most certainly the Son of God (v 54).
Centurions were tough leaders who were in charge of discipline in the army and overseeing capital punishments. They were chosen because they have proven themselves to be strong, both in body and mind. Because of their experience and their duty to uphold discipline in the army, you will not expect a centurion to react in fear. Even less so in front of his men.
But the reaction of the Roman centurion who witnessed Jesus’s death was not only a testament to the awesome nature of the supernatural signs, but also to his openness to the truth. Eyes that see truth and hearts that are opened will always invoke a response. And here, the fear and awe at the divinity of Jesus was enough for the centurion to throw aside his “strong” image.
After Jesus died, the responses continue. Matthew makes it a point to document what took place after Jesus’s death.
3. The Pharisees’ response to Jesus’s death
The Pharisees were quick to act against Jesus and His teachings. On the next day, they quickly met with Pilate to arrange for Jesus’s tomb to be secured. But the issue was not their initiative, but the motivations behind them.
Even after all the supernatural events that have taken place during Jesus’s death on the cross, they still considered Jesus an imposter (v. 63). Even a Gentile centurion, who knew nothing about the Jewish God, much less what was written in Scripture, would acknowledge the deity of Jesus Christ! But they chose to ignore the signs and insist on their way of thinking. Could it be that they did not understand the signs?
According to the gospel accounts, they asked Jesus twice for a sign, and twice Jesus told them the only sign they will receive would be the sign of Jonah (Matt 12:38-40; 16:1,4). So perhaps it was so cryptic that they could not understand. But now it was clear that they knew what Jesus was talking about. They knew that Jesus predicted His resurrection three days from His death.
How hard can a man’s heart become! They had a clear understanding of the truth. But instead of submitting to the truth, they chose to close their eyes and defy it. They did not wait and see like the crowds. The Pharisees took preemptive action to ensure that Jesus’s resurrection could not follow through. They did all they could to suppress the truth.
On the other hand, two men responded according to the truth - Joseph the Arimathean and Nicodemus.
4. Joseph’s response to Jesus’s death
Joseph was a rich Jew with high standing in society (v. 57). From the gospel accounts, we know that he was a member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43). The fact that he was allowed to see Pilate and be granted approval to have Jesus’s body showed that he was a man of high status. But he was also a secret follower of Jesus Christ (John 19:38).
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a notable leader of the Jews (John 3:1). He too was a secret follower of Jesus Christ, after meeting Jesus secretly in the cover of night (John 3:2, 7:50).
After Jesus’s death, Joseph and Nicodemus were the ones who rushed to bury Jesus’s body (John 19:38-39). Before, they were secretive about their faith in Jesus. But by making extensive arrangements to bury Jesus, they were revealing to everyone that they were Jesus’s disciples. And they were ready to act against their peers for the sake of Jesus Christ. They were ready to forsake their security for the sake of Christ.
Preparing Jesus’s body for burial meant making themselves ceremonially unclean. Jews were considered unclean after touching a dead body. This meant that they were not allowed to observe the Sabbath on the next day. This would be socially unacceptable, especially as religious leaders. They were ready to forsake their religiosity for the sake of Jesus Christ.
By putting Jesus in his own tomb, Joseph was forsaking further use of that tomb. Tombs were expensive, and they were meant to contain multiple bodies. In those days, Jews were not allowed to bury criminals together with other bodies. Since Jesus was condemned as a criminal, it meant that the tomb could no longer be used. What’s more, since it was a new tomb, it meant that Joseph had to prepare another new tomb for himself, while giving up all that empty space in Jesus’s tomb. A proper burial was important in Jewish’ eyes. Joseph wanted to honour Jesus with a proper burial, despite being condemned as a criminal.
As for Nicodemus, we read that he brought embalming spices with him (John 19:39). The amount he brought was close to thirty kilograms. That must have cost a lot. But it was enough to bury Jesus like a king. Nicodemus wanted to honour Jesus as his King. Joseph and Nicodemus were ready to forsake their possessions for the sake of Christ. They were ready to become socially unacceptable by honouring their King.
5. Your response to Jesus’s death
Now that you have seen the various responses to Jesus’s death, how should you respond?
Will you fold your arms on the sidelines, while discouraging those who respond to the gospel?
When a Christian becomes more involved with church, a common response from others is “Why do you need to be so involved? Sit back, relax, and enjoy God’s blessings.” Very often this comes from the people closest to him. Have you responded that way to other Christians before? That may be a reflection of spiritual blindness.
Will you marvel at the truth of the gospel, but not allow it to change your heart and the way you live?
We read of the centurion’s response, but there is no record of whether he believed. Declaring the glory of God may not always indicate saving faith (cf. Heb 6:4-6). When you say “Wow God, the complexity and fullness of your salvation plan is so glorious!”, does it follow with “Now help me to treasure you more by living in a way pleasing to You”? Or does it just stop at “Wow”?
Will you make life difficult for godly people who rebuke you biblically, especially when you don’t like it?
Humble pie is hard to swallow. Will you humbly accept difficult counsel, or will you harden your heart and bite back? The Pharisees bit back, will you?
Or will you respond by forsaking your pride, your “pious” image, and your possessions for the sake of Christ?
This may also mean that you “lose out” in the secular sense. You may lose respect from others. You may not look as “put together” as you would want others to think. You may have to give up costly investments. Honouring Jesus as King will cost you the things dearest to you. But trust in Jesus when He says,
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)– The End –
We have come to the end of our Scripture Reading Devotion (SRD) series on the book of Matthew. Several people in the SRD team had laboured to give you these articles week after week. The SRD is to help you understand what you are reading with us in our worship hour.
The last chapter of Matthew falls upon me to write for you. We are not going to focus on the story line of the resurrection for that is probably too familiar. The women saw his empty tomb and they rushed back to tell the disciples. Just as they were doing that Jesus appeared to them and ask them to tell the men that he will meet them in Galilee. On the Roman and Jewish front, they have to have a cover up for the empty tomb. Where could the body have gone to? So they cooked up a story,
“Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ (Mt 28:13).
They paid the guards to tell that story and promised if the governor Pilate caused them any trouble they will settle it with him so that they will not be executed. Roman guards were executed for not doing their job. So there, pretty straightforward? Sure, there are nuances that can be explored but it can’t be as important as the reason for resurrection.
With that we focus on Mt 28:18-20. These are familiar verse but often hovered over by preachers and teachers, barely skipping over the surface. These verses has been used to inspire people to enter the mission field amongst other things. Discipleship is key here but the motivations are lamentably glossed over.
The point is simple: Jesus died so that you and I can make disciples. Implied: if you are not making disciples, you are not just disobedient but rejecting the cosmic significance of the resurrection.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18–20)
DISCIPLESHIP IS TRINITARIAN
Because it spans all of time, because its plot originated in God, the significance of discipleship is automatically cosmic. The grand scheme of making a people for himself to rule alongside Him is significantly cosmic.
Discipleship is distinctively trinitarian. God gives the authority to Jesus. Only God has the authority to give all authority. And only God has the right to receive all authority. God sent Jesus to die and raised him from the dead, so that the authority can be delegated – to us. And we know from the rest of the NT that it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us through the mission of making disciples. Discipleship is distinctively Trinitarian.
DISCIPLESHIP IS PROPHETIC
God giving the Son is no new idea. It has been anticipated in the Old Testament. The results of the Messiah’s coming was no mystery too. Dominion was expected.
“and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom…” (Dan 7:13–14).
But no one could have guessed how this dominion came. As we shall see, it is through the widespread mission of the church and radical conversions of individual (see Lk 13:18-19), resulting in a sure rule.
God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Php 2:9–11).
If discipleship is prophetic, it is meant to be fulfilled. The whole Old Testament points to Messianic rule. And messianic rule is derived through the instrument of discipleship. Theologians call Jesus the second Adam. Just as the first Adam fail to biologically produce a race of God-glorifying people, the second Adam will spiritually produce a God glorifying people who would bring honor and worship to a Holy God, through discipleship. Glorious!
DISCIPLESHIP IS MISSIONISTIC
When we talk about missionary, we will be thinking of getting out of the country to preach the gospel and plant churches in the tribes of an indigenous people. Well that may be true because God wants his Name to be spread across the world as seen in many Old Testament passages. However, that is not what “all nations” mean here.
This then is the culmination of the theme we have noted throughout the Gospel, the calling of a people of God far wider than that of the Old Testament, in which membership is based not on race but on a relationship with God through his Messiah (France)
“all nations” can be translated “all peoples” or “all gentiles”. That means in the New Testament, God’s people are not restricted to a relationship with a particular country and its religion. Now, clearly it is one’s allegiance to God’s chosen Christ. That means we are all missionaries and we are called to reach out to as many people around us. This means we must get off our seats and deliberately make disciples.
The main verb is to “make disciples”. The words, “go”, “baptize” and “teach” are part of the command to make disciples. There are people who make too much of the words “go” as in to appeal for candidate for foreign missions. Craig Blomberg comments,
Too little is made of it when all attention is centered on the command to “go,” as in countless appeals for missionary candidates, so that foreign missions are elevated to a higher status of Christian service than other forms of spiritual activity.
But at the same time there are those who emphasize on “make disciples” but play down the need to “go”. I must add that in the Greek these are participles. And participles are subordinate to the verb and the force of the verb is carried in them . Thus, the command to make disciples cannot be separated from going, baptizing and teaching. The command to make disciples must include all 3.
DISCIPLESHIP IS CONFESSIONAL
Baptism is one of the 3 that cannot be separated from making disciples. So he is saying, “as you are making disciples, all of you must go and all of you must teach.” And because of the grammatical relationship, I am also under the persuasion that baptism is NOT a special rite that can only be performed by clergy or ministers. If the call to make disciples belongs to us all then baptism belongs to that call. But that is another argument not for this article. I would not contest with the history of being baptized only by the one with “special calling”. I think it is a construct inherited by protestant churches from Roman Catholic teaching. To say the least, the apostles weren’t even initiated. “By right”, Jesus should have been the one baptizing just as John the Baptist did. Yet the disciples were doing it early in Jesus’ ministry.
What is more important now is to say that baptism represents the confession. And the confession is made to be loyal to God. To say the least, discipleship cannot come without allegiance. When a person is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are baptized to all that God represents. That’s the meaning of “name”.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Rom 6:3).
One’s reputation is bound up in the person’s name. In baptism, we are not just mentally agreeing with an idea. Contrary to that, Baptism is a profession of commitment. Baptism represents going to the ends with Jesus – even dying for Him. That is why in the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” we sing, “Though none go with me, still I will follow.”
DISCIPLESHIP IS PERSONAL
The command to make disciples is for all Christians. And therefore, all Christians should be teaching. Listen to this: You should be teaching whether you think you have the gift of teaching or not. It is your job to make disciples. Christians should be a teaching bunch.
The verb “make disciples” also commands a kind of evangelism that does not stop after someone makes a profession of faith. The truly subordinate participles in v. 19 explain what making disciples involves: “baptizing” them and “teaching” them obedience to all of Jesus’ commandments. (Blomberg)
Teaching is a sheer necessity. We are to be, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (v.20). Discipleship is not mere entry level stuff. It is not basic for believers. Understand this: the disciples just went through “seminary” with Jesus, they walked with Him, talked to Him, and they observed Him. And now they are to teach them all that. But not just that. They are to teach their disciples to “observe” all that He has commanded. To observe is to keep or to abide. To stay in it. That informs us what obedience is like. It is stubborn to say the least. Teachers are to teach their students to be stubborn to keep God’s commands. We are all to be relentless as examples of obedient followers.
You have to put aside your fear and lack of trust in God and start investing in the lives of people. Making disciple includes that you are involved in peoples lives not just saying things are imparting information from a distance.
Jesus’ disciples are people for whom a life has been given in ransom and who are committed to the service of the Master, who not only took time to teach his disciples but who died for them and rose again. Those who are disciples of such a leader are committed people. And, of course, this is the kind of disciple that he looks for his followers to make. (Morris)
Jesus disciples are serious and he wants people to be serious disciples of whoever disciples them. When I learnt from my Pastor Dr Reynolds and Stephen Schafer, they were very much into my life. We did many things together and spent much time with each other. Likewise, the people I am teaching directly today spend a lot of time with me. I think about them, pray for them and talk to them a lot. In turn, they are to do the same with their disciples.
We don’t outsource the teaching and discipling to others. We are not to be saying, “I bring the guy to church, let the pastor and the leaders disciple him.” This is a common idea but wrong idea, because it is unbiblical. The pastor-teacher is supposed to equip the saints for the ministry, not do the job that YOU are supposed to do (Eph 4). The reason why the pastor teaches and preaches is not so that you can go about and live your own quiet lives detached from people and only appear in church on Sunday. It is so that you can be equipped.
Contrary to that, you should be using the knowledge to make disciples. Making disciples is not relegated to a church or parachurch program where your “hands are clean” after “office hours”. Discipleship goes beyond Sundays and your parachurch participation days. It is to get into the lives of people and experience their sanctification (or lack thereof) with them. It takes patience. It takes love. It takes trust in God for your limitation. But it must not be neglected, because Jesus resurrected for this reason.
Of course, the number of disciples you make depends on your ability. But the command imposes on you the need to make at least ONE disciple. I think it is serious sin that you don’t have any disciples at all. And it is a sign that you may not be saved in the first place. We have heard many excuses, “I don’t know enough,” and “I am shy” or whatever. Moses was afraid when God asked Him to deliver His people, so he gave a whole bunch of excuses. God burned with anger. It is wickedness to give excuses when commanded.
As we have seen it is a key reason for the resurrection. Jesus died and rose again for this purpose. To not want to make disciples for Jesus is the same as telling Jesus you have wasted your time raising yourself and giving us new life. Which I why I say it may be an indicator that you don’t have the Holy Spirit in you. Because the Holy Spirit is jealous of Jesus’ glory. He is known as the “Spirit of Jesus” (Phil 1:19). If God gave us the Holy Spirit, He will produce a sure work in us, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Php 2:13).
In fact, as the next point will demonstrate, you should be asking people to follow Jesus THROUGH you.
DISCIPLESHIP EXPECTS HUMILITY
“To disciple a person to Christ is to bring him into the relation of pupil to teacher, ‘taking his yoke’ of authoritative instruction (11:29), accepting what he says as true because he says it, and submitting to his requirements as right because he makes them” (Broadus).
The implication for this idea is that when we make disciples, we are asking people to follow us. It is explicit that we follow our teacher. This is in stark contrast to the anti-authority of the modern age. Western education is liberal. It flows from the Enlightenment, where the mind of man is supposedly liberated from religious rule. Thus, one’s own mind becomes the authority. Universities subtly/obviously teach us to reject an external authority as final and ultimate. As a result, we question authority.
Of course, we ask questions in order to better understand the subject. As a boy Jesus asked questions at the temple. He did not “question” the authorities. He simply asked questions for better understanding. They were amazed by his understanding. This is not the same as “questioning” the teacher (as in challenging his authority). Because in challenging his authority you are maintaining your old mindset and worldview. And thus, exposed that you are not interested in learning in the first place.
The Christian approach to learning is the replacement of mindsets, not relativizing everything to fit your own. This is evident in Rom 12. Where we are to reject and renew. People say they have a need for “dialogue and exchanges in order to come to a conclusion.” Certainly, interaction is necessary for one’s neuro-patterns to reroute. However, we also know that ultimately it is thought replacements that matters – out with the old and putting in the new.
Thinking that says, “It has to make sense to me before I follow it” puts self as the final judge. This is unbiblical. Some will say, “If I don’t resonate with it I shouldn’t be doing it because that makes me a hypocrite.” The fact that he or she IS already a hypocrite to call himself Christian and have no desire to obey.
It doesn’t make sense to Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance. Jonah went with his “heart” and went in the opposite direction. The bible portrays it as rebellion. God does not wait for you to internalize. It is obvious that you “don’t get it” when corrected, because your mind has not aligned itself with a biblical worldview. It has to be purged.
And therefore, learning from your teacher means taking what he says as a cure against your former mindset. A disciple must not learn starting with his own viewpoints and own ideas. It is not saying, “this fits, I will keep” and “that doesn’t, I will throw out.” It is allowing him to “brainwash” you. Because your former ways are so corrupt it just needs “washing”.
And if you have experienced the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3:5), you will not find it hard to learn from your teacher/husband/pastor/friend. In fact, you will, “keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). When the person who disciples you teaches you, you accept him at his word, by faith.
Obedience and submission takes trusting in God. It requires that you break down your “safety mechanisms” and let the teacher come into your life. If the Spirit is really in you, it should have been broken down a long time ago.
In summary: Jesus resurrection marks a new season in the life of God’s people. No longer are His people a national and geographic entity. Now his plan to save the gentiles, the rest of the races in the world, is made clear.
With the authority given to Him by God the Father, Jesus has delegated to all of us, through his earliest followers, the task of making disciples. This making of disciples cannot be divorced from its missionary function of going.
This is further identified with the need for baptism – not a mere rite. But a symbol of one’s allegiance to the Trinitarian God of which the resurrection and discipleship making belongs to. With this we do well in making disciples or risk mocking God.
We should not separate ourselves from the personal nature of the task. Personal means teaching with one’s life we, are to learn from the feet of our teacher. And likewise, our disciple learns at our feet, with lives intertwined and immersed.
One’s allegiance to your God is expressed in one allegiance to you. We represent Jesus, to impart the ways of Jesus to the disciple of Jesus. And his disciple is also your disciple. When you make disciple, you are calling him to follow you, as you follow Jesus. This is how we teach them to observe all his commands.– The End –
 Carson agrees: “When a participle functions as a circumstantial participle dependent on an imperative, it frequently gains some imperatival force” (666)
 In Carson, 666