Category Archives: Bible

Jesus’ teaching in the final week

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Matthew 21-25

Jesus drove out those using the temple complex to make a profit from exchanging coins or selling sacrificial animals. He then took over the temple complex for his own use – dispensing mercy, receiving praise and teaching.

Jesus cursed a fig tree that had green leaves promising fruit but in fact its inner life produced nothing. The fig tree’s failure pointed to the failure of the temple establishment of the Pharisees and Sadducees to bear the fruit of repentance called for by John the Baptist and faith in the kingdom of heaven in Jesus. Presumably as the fig tree was cursed so too would be the temple establishment.

Matthew 23 was seven woes upon the religious leaders who tie heavy loads and burdens on people through their teaching. The outwardly tithe their garden herbs but neglect inner qualities like mercy and righteousness. Outwardly they look good but on the inside they are unclean cups and unclean tombs. The woes in chapter 23 bookend with the beatitudes in the sermon on the Mount. In fact, there are many common themes.

Jesus then predicts the temple’s destruction. Before he returns their will natural disasters, false prophets and persecution c.f. Sermon on the Mount but through it all Jesus’ disciples are not to be anxious.

Jesus comes after a period of trouble, then there are strange things in the skies, then Jesus returns on the clouds of heaven, the angels are sent out to gather God’s elect.

Jesus then tells a number of parables about the unexpectedness of his coming and the need for faithfulness. Each parable has three things in common: (1) each involves a long delay and an unexpected arrival (2) each parable refers to two types of people – wise and foolish (3) each group of people face very different destinies.

The passage ends with Jesus telling a final parable about the sheep and the goats – on judgement day people will be judged according to how they received and accepted (or not) the redefined brothers of Jesus (those who hear and obey Jesus’ words and are sent by him to proclaim the kingdom of heaven c.f. Matthew 10). In other words how one receives the gospel messengers is a reflection of whether a person has accepted the gospel or remained a goat with outward religious appearance like the Pharisees.

Matthew 16:13-17:27

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Our passage began with Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Answers
included John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah (possibly to do with themes of
rejection and pronouncing against the temple establishment). Peter is a key
player in this part of Matthew’s gospel – almost every story features him. Peter
identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Note that Jesus says
that Peter knew this not from flesh and blood but by revelation from
Jesus’ father who is in heaven
.


Jesus then predicts his
suffering
many things from the elders and chief priests and
scribes, being killed, and being raised on the third day. Peter fails to
understand and is rebuked.


The next section is on discipleship
implications
of the above i.e. we must deny ourselves and take up our
cross and follow Jesus.


Next, we have another passage in which Jesus’
identity is revealed
. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus’ glory is
revealed with a face like the sun and light through his clothing. Moses (the
law) and Elijah (the prophets) speak to Jesus thereby testifying to him. Peter
wishes to prolong the moment by constructing tents. The glory of God once seen
in the tabernacle overshadows and God speaks saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”


Jesus again predicts his
suffering
as illustrated by John the
Baptist/Elijah.


Discipleship implications are shown in the disciples’ failure to have the faith
in who Jesus is as they fail to drive out a
demon.


Jesus for a third time predicts his
suffering
and again the disciples fail to
understand.

Finally, there is this odd story about whether Jesus
should pay the temple tax. Peter assumes he would. Jesus then privately
reveals himself to Peter
as the son of the king (God) and therefore
exempt from paying the palace tax. Peter then goes fishing and finds coinage in
the fish’s mouth to pay the tax regardless for himself and Jesus to not cause
offense.


Notice the themes by observing how the subject matter
in bold type interweaves.

The Kingdom of the Heavens – Israelite and Canaanite

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Matthew 14:1 – 16:12 has a particular structure to it.

(A) Herod’s rejection of the good news

(B) Jesus feeds 5000 men bread in compassion – Jesus is the bread that sustains life

(C) Jesus’ saving from the storm is met by Peter’s little faith – followed by the healing of many

  • The waves torment the disciples and the winds oppose them but Jesus stills both with a word – subduing the chaos
  • Peter does not believe Jesus’ word that he is who he is and instead tests God but the his unbelief reveals itself in his little faith.

(D) Jesus teaches about what makes unclean

(C) Jesus saves a Canaanite’s daughter from an oppressing demon – followed by the healing of many Gentiles

  • The Canaanite woman does not dispute the justice of the mysterious ways by which God works out His divine purpose, choosing one race and rejecting another. She does not argue that her needs make her an exception, or that she has a right to Israel’s covenanted mercies. On the contrary, she accepts the implied allusion to herself; and in the very humility of such acceptance she reveals her faith. She enters the parable and allows herself to be claimed by it. Within the parable she has met a living Lord with whom she has struggled and contended. She has sparred with Jesus as Jacob sparred with God at Peniel. … at least she may be allowed to receive a crumb of the uncovenanted mercies of God. Jesus refers to this woman as a dog in order to test her faith – is it a persevering only-him kind of faith. This woman’s contending with Jesus is a fulfillment of Israel’s vocation; she, a Gentile, is a true Israelite.
  • Peter in the storm and the Canaanite woman narratives are connected in three ways: (1) both involve chaotic and evil forces – whether the deep or the demon (tormenting, opposing, oppressing) (2) both involve Jesus’ life saving authority (3) the contrast between the Jewish man’s little faith and the Canaanite woman’s great faith.

(B) Jesus feeds 4000 Gentile men in compassion

(A) The religious leaders’ rejection of the good news.

  • One must be careful of their bread (their teaching)

What separates the two halves between Jew and Gentile is Jesus’ teaching about what makes a person unclean. Uncleanness is not by touch and eating of food as the Pharisees taught. Rather uncleanness is what comes out of the mouth proceeding from the heart. Jewish hearts may be defiled by what lies in the heart and Gentile hearts may be clean by great faith in Jesus.

Ultimately what makes clean is the work of Jesus on the cross – alluded to by the bookends of hostility by Herod and the Jewish leaders that will culminate at the cross.

Jesus divides people

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Matthew 11-12 shows the kind of division that Jesus brings among people.

Jesus is the Messiah spoken of by Isaiah – the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. As Jesus said, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.”

Jesus compares his generation to children playing in the marketplace – when it was time to play funerals (repenting with John the Baptist) they would not, when it was time to play weddings (feasting with the Messiah) they would not.

Jesus compares the Jewish towns who would not receive him to the classic idolatrous cities of the Old Testament – Tyre, Sidon, Babylon, Sodom.

But with regard to those who do receive him Jesus says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will … no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke (my teaching) upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke (teaching) is easy, and my burden (teaching) is light in weight.

This is followed by Jesus’ teaching about mercy which is opposed by the Pharisees – whether when the disciples eat grain or when Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.

All that Jesus does fulfils Isaiah – “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Jesus is opposed but his driving out demons demonstrates that he is the one who conquers the strong man (the evil one) and plunders his house.

Jesus is opposed but he is greater than Solomon’s wisdom and Jonah’s preaching.

Jesus’ generation is like a man from whom has been driven a demon. They have experienced something of being made whole but in the end their rejection will lead to sevenfold indwelling of evil spirits.

Whereas Jesus’ disciples who do the will of the Father in heaven is as Jesus’ brother and sister and mother.

The authority of Jesus in action

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Lots of things to say about Jesus’ miracles in Matthew 8-9.

The first is that the miracles are emphasizing Jesus’ authority in his actions just as the Sermon on the Mount had. Jesus’ actions, like his teaching, is evidence that the kingdom of God is present.

The second thing to notice is that there are 3 miracles – then a double narrative relating to discipleship – 3 more miracles – another double narrative about discipleship – 3 more miracles. The structure is intending to point out that the appropriate was to respond to the person having such great authority is to follow him in discipleship. The discipleship narratives emphasize the great demands of following Jesus (leaving house and not even burying one’s father who just died) – but his greatness and authority makes such demands reasonable. The discipleship narratives also point to feasting and joy with Jesus in the kingdom of heaven even for the least worthy of people.

First set of three

In the Old Testament leprosy was a blight from God (Miriam, Joab’s descendants, Gehazi, Uzziah c.f. Moses’ hand) and removed by God (Miriam, Naaman). Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him – and willed him to be clean.

The healing of the centurion’s servant points to Jesus again relating to an outsider. Jesus heals with a word and marvels at this man’s faith. Jesus speaks of many Gentiles who will sit with Abraham and the patriarchs at the messianic banquet in the kingdom of heaven.

Peter’s mother-in-law as a woman completes the set of three healings toward those who were regarded as being lower in Jewish religious culture.

Second set of three

The wind and waves are rebuked. Who is this man? In the Old Testament there was only one who commanded the winds and the sea.

The Gadarene demons are driven out and sent to Sheol – unclean land, unclean tombs, unclean spirits, unclean pigs. Jesus is the one who has authority to judge the spirits.

The paralytic’s sins are forgiven and he is raised for the dust. What is the response to this man? Fear (in a non-understanding way) and glorify God who had given such authority to men.

While the first set of three particularly points to the authority of Jesus exercised in compassion, the second set of three points to Jesus’ identity – he heals leprosy, controls the seas, judges the spirits, forgives sin, raises the dead – he is God!

Final set of three.

The final set of three demonstrates that miracles point beyond themselves. Jesus raises the dead who have faith in him, he gives spiritual sight and hearing to those who do not know God. He regenerates hearts such that the spiritually mute cry out to God in praise.

He speaks; and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.
The humble poor believe.
The humble poor believe.

Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosen’d tongues employ;
Your loosen’d tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Saviour come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

Two gates and paths, Two trees, Two houses

Two ways

Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount with three short illustrations.

There is an easy way to destruction – and a hard way to life. The easy road travelled by many people is not actually populated by obviously immoral people but rather by those who practice the external righteousness of the Pharisees’ law-keeping. Surprisingly for Jesus’ first hearers this path leads to destruction.

The narrow and difficult way is travelled by those people who practice the wholehearted devotion to God spoken of by Jesus – a righteousness of the heart. Theirs is a path to life.

The false prophets, like trees, seem good – they appear as sheep, they do the same kind of mighty works as the Lord Jesus. They prophesy and drive out demons. Like the Pharisees, they would be considered workers of the law – but Jesus calls them workers of lawlessness. Shocking really. Their final destiny – their inner disposition, their inner nature reveals itself ultimately in their fruit – not whole-hearted repentance and faith – and in the final judgement they are cut down and thrown into the fire.

The final illustration is two houses that look the same externally. The difference though is in the unseen deep – the foundations. Like the two trees, everything externally looks the same but the inner disposition, that inner nature is very different. In the final judgement one house remains while the other, in the great storm of God’s judgement, falls – and great was the fall of it.

Below are some quotes from the Puritan Pastor, Matthew Henry

There are but two ways, right and wrong, good and evil; the way to heaven, and the way to hell; in the one of which we are all of us walking: no middle place hereafter, no middle way now: the distinction of the children of men into saints and sinners, godly and ungodly, will swallow up all to eternity. HENRY

Conversion and regeneration are the gate, by which we enter into this way. HENRY

We must go through much tribulation. It is …an afflicted way, a way hedged about with thorns; blessed be God, it is not hedged up. The bodies we carry about with us, and the corruptions remaining in us, make the way of our duty difficult; but, as the understanding and will grow more and more sound, it will open and enlarge, and grow more and more pleasant. HENRY

It leads to life, to present comfort in the favour of God, which is the life of the soul; to eternal bliss, the hope of which, at the end of our way, should reconcile us to all the difficulties and inconveniences of the road. Life and godliness are put together (2Pe 1:3); The gate is strait and the way narrow and up-hill, but one hour in heaven will make amends for it. HENRY

 

Where your treasure is there also is one’s heart

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The Sermon on the Mount has been about wholeheartedness toward God – expressed in a righteousness of the heart that is greater than that of the Pharisees.

Matthew 6:19-7:12 is concerned with wholeheartedness in relation to our living in the world. Do we seek treasure on earth or in heaven? The treasure that is on earth is prone to becoming invisible whether by moths eating clothing, mice eating grain or thieves stealing our precious coins.

Is our wholeheartedness expressed in a singular motivation of generous giving or do we have an evil eye – a stinginess that reflects a divided heart? Does our giving display a life of light and revelation knowing God or are our lives darkness? Do we serve God or money?

Are we wholehearted in trusting our heavenly Father to provide our needs as he provides clothing for the flowers and food for the birds? Do we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness or are we troubled by anxious worry?

Jesus also speaks of our judging. Do we judge others for personal gain or do we trust our Father in heaven to provide us with good things? Ask, and it will be given to us; seek, and we will find; knock, and it will be opened to us. Judging is replaced with trust in our Father. Jesus expands on judging to include the kind of division people make between internal and external judgments – another example of non-wholeheartedness.

Giving, Praying, Fasting

Three ways of expressing our relationship with God are giving, prayer and fasting. When we do these things do we do them seeking to please our heavenly Father or to please men? In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that if we do these things to be seen by our Father then he will reward us in heaven rather than us receiving our transitory reward on earth (i.e. the praise of men).

Our problem is probably less do we do these things in a showy way – but rather do we do these things at all? It is not giving, prayer or fasting that is being critiqued but our motivations as we do these activities.

Discussion on fasting.

People in the Old Testament fasted when they were in trouble – for example, when defeated or oppressed by one’s enemies in battle
when on a dangerous journey or in the face of sickness and death or
when convicted of sin in response to the reading of God’s Word. There was only one compulsory fast in the Old Testament – the Day of Atonement.

What is fasting? Fasting seems like an accompanying action to prayer – a seeking after God – it expresses grief and conveys a humbling of oneself as one calls/cries out to God. The rationale is that God sees, looks upon and turns his face to the afflicted. A humbling that recognizes that man does not live on bread alone but rather by God’s spoken words.

Should we fast and if so how? It is not a work that makes prayer more effective – fasting in of itself does not make God more inclined to answer our prayers.

Why does God answer our prayers? Because he is our Father by adoption through Jesus Christ. He loves us, he turns is ear toward us and desires to answer our prayers because we are his children.

So why fast? Because fasting is an expression of our hearts. We should fast when we are expressing our distress to the LORD and expressing our need and desire for his Word more than our daily bread. We should fast in trouble – we should fast over habitual sin.

Fasting is a response of a work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts rather than a work offered to God.

Perhaps begin with some short fasts – Sunrise to Sunset.

The Sermon on the Mount

Sermon on the Mount

In Matthew 4 Jesus has been proclaiming and teaching the kingdom of heaven throughout Galilee. The Sermon on the Mount is an example of this proclamation.

The Sermon begins with a series of statements “Happy are …”. The happiness being described here is not so much an emotional state as an experience of well-being. It is like seeing a group of people and saying of them: “they are happy because all is well with them, life is as it should be, and they are enjoying life in all its fullness“. The Beatitudes are using the language of Old Testament Wisdom literature to describe people who are living well.

What is surprising is that the people Jesus refers to are ‘the poor in spirit’, ‘those who mourn’, ‘the meek’, ‘ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, ‘the merciful’, ‘the pure in heart’, ‘the peace-makers’, ‘the persecuted’. Certainly, well-being in the kingdom of heaven comes through different means than that in the kingdoms of earth.

The reason who these people can be said to be enjoying life in all its fullness is because they experience the rule of heaven in their lives and hence they experience comfort, will inherit the earth, be satisfied, receive mercy, see God, be called the sons of God.

People who live like this are light and salt in the world. Light has the idea of revealing God and salt has the idea of an everlasting covenant. These people, who enjoy life in all its fullness through their experiencing the rule of Heaven in their lives, thus reflect God to the world. This in turn invites the world to either persecute God’s people or to themselves give glory to God. What God’s people must not do is lose their distinctiveness.

Jesus then goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to say that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. The Old Testament law is not done away with instead it is fulfilled. Matthew uses ‘fulfilment-language’ in a special way. In this case it is not referring to Jesus simply obeying the law – something more is being spoken of. Jesus fulfils the law but giving his own law. The law of Moses was a body of law that demonstrated God’s character and pointed people to how they should live under God. The law of Moses was a shadow or reflection of a greater law that one day would be delivered. The future law would more completely reveal God and how to live under his rule. Jesus, a prophet like Moses but greater, fulfils the law of Moses by revealing his own law to which the law of Moses pointed. (The law of Moses was like the reflection of a mountain in a lake).

Jesus then goes on to say that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisees were excellent at keeping the law of Moses. How could an ordinary person possibly hope to have a righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees? The answer is by doing Jesus’ law. Jesus’ law has to do with righteousness not only in behavior but also in one’s heart. A righteousness greater than the Pharisees is a righteousness that comes from one’s heart. Such are the people who enjoy life in its fullness in the kingdom of heaven, who are light and salt in the world.

Jesus then shows how the Old Testament law pointed to his law. For example, do not murder pointed to Jesus’ law of no anger in the heart but instead meekness. No adultery becomes pure in heart. Oaths pointed to Jesus’ law of truthfulness in the heart, do not take person vengeance but allow God-appointed courts to make just sentences becomes meekly trust God rather than act from one’s heart. Loving neighbors pointed to Jesus’ law about showing mercy and being a peace-maker like God.

This week we finished our study on the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus’ words that we are to be singularly whole-hearted as our Father in heaven is singularly whole-hearted. These are the people who seek God’s glory in an undivided way just as God their father does. These are the people who are enjoying life in all its fullness in the kingdom of heaven. These are the people who are light and salt revealing the covenant God to the world. These are the people who have a greater righteousness than that of the Pharisees. These are the people who have been taught the law to which the law of Moses pointed.

How can we be such singularly wholehearted people? By asking Jesus to change our hearts. In the previous chapter we learned that Jesus is the one who can baptize and refine people with the Holy Spirt. Jesus not only preaches the kingdom of heaven, but he also brings it into reality. Amen.

Jesus’ Temptation

Temptation of the Christ

Led by the Spirit – Temptation and Testing

The Spirit of God, having descended upon Jesus at his baptism, led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested through the tempting of the devil.

The location of in the wilderness for 40 days and nights recalls Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. Matthew presents Jesus as a recapitulation of Israel’s history. Already Matthew has spoken of Jesus’ refuge and Exodus from Egypt (Matthew 2) “Out of Egypt I called my Son”. The baptism at the Jordan recalls Israel’s crossing the Jordan to enter the land.

Jesus succeeds in the wilderness where Israel failed

In the wilderness Israel repeatedly failed. When they had no bread – they murmured. When their life was endangered with no water – they tested God asking whether he was present with them or not. When they came to the edge of the wilderness at Baal Peor they sought an inheritance by worshipping the Baals rather than remain faithful to the LORD.

Jesus is presented as facing the same three temptation – bread, testing God, worshiping other than God. Each temptation is about Jesus using his power as the son of God to independently and in denial of his Father. Fatherhood involves three things:

  • Provision – turn bread into stones (in the wilderness)
  • Protection and presence – demand God to be present (at the temple) and act (via his angels)
  • Inheritance – get it another way (on a high mountain)

In each case Jesus remained faithfully obedient where Israel did not.

Could Jesus have sinned? Two unique things about Jesus

Although Jesus had a human nature – he did not have a corrupted fallen human nature – inclined to sin – but neither did Adam and he still sinned.

Jesus not only has a man-nature – he also has a God-nature. Jesus’ God-nature cannot sin. Therefore the person of Jesus could not sin.

Were Jesus’ temptations real?

Yes because he had a real body made of flesh – real appetites and desires – real hunger and desperate for food. He did not want death – throwing himself down from the temple really would kill him unless God intervened. The temptations and desires of his body, his human nature, were real.

How did Jesus overcome temptation?

Not by drawing upon his God-nature by which he could not sin but by using those things available to his human nature to resist sin – prayer to his Father, trusting his Father’s wisdom and goodness, relying on the power of the Spirit.

In fact, he quotes Scriptures directly related from Israel’s temptations in the wilderness – all from Deuteronomy.

  • Man shall not live by bread alone
  • Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.
  • Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

No doubt it can be helpful to quote Scripture when being tempted but quoting Scripture of itself is not what saved Jesus from temptation and nor will it save you necessarily. The reason Jesus succeeds is not because he quoted Scripture but because he lived a God-saturated life and God’s word was in his heart – and what was in his heart flowed out of his mouth.

The vindication of Jesus having been tested

Jesus was vindicated and proven righteous. The evidence of this is seen in Matthew 4:11 where at the end of the testing, the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering [serving food] to him.

Notice that he was given by the Father the very things he had denied himself – bread (provision), angels (presence and protection) and served as the king of heaven (inheritance).

A Representative Head’s active obedience credited to us

Jesus’ temptation has greater significance than his simply being proved to be righteous. As a Representative Head, whereby Jesus represents his people, Jesus’ life of obedience as a man is credited to our account. We are not only forgiven by his obedience at the cross but his obedient life (of which the temptation was one example) has been imputed or credited to our account. Hence, we are both forgiven of our sin and declared righteous.

As Adam’s disobedience was imputed to us making us sinners, so Jesus’ obedience has been imputed to us making us righteous.