Matthew 12:15-21: “Silent” Evangelism

Read: Matthew 12:15-21

It may strike someone as odd that Jesus wouldn’t want those he healed to tell about them. But Jesus had just healed one on the Sabbath and the Pharisees didn’t like that were wanting to destroy him. Nevertheless, Jesus still healed many people in spite of this, but Jesus warned them not to tell about him because it wasn’t his time to go to the cross.

Matthew quotes Isaiah 42:1-4 to describe these events. This Old Testament text tells of God’s “Chosen Servant” who accomplishes his mission quietly using several metaphors to describe how the prophet won’t be heard in the streets. The expectation of the Messiah for many was a political leader who drive out Rome and restore Israel to independence. But Jesus came has an itinerant rabbi that would heal people. He was not a conquering general and eventually he died in a manner that was reserved for criminals. However, after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, Jesus commissions his disciples to tell the world about him, and they do. Isaiah 42 points to this motif – even though Jesus was quiet in his ministry, the nations would put their trust in him.

Since the time of Jesus, Christians have been proclaiming Jesus to the world and many are coming to faith because of it. Jesus’ ministry – a ministry of preaching repentance as salvation, is the work of missions. Some have interpreted the Great Commission as command to “Christianize” the world, and do it through conquest. This was never Jesus’ intent, rather he showed the disciples how and what to do. And the early church followed the pattern of preaching from place to place until all the world could here, and the task still applies until Jesus returns!

Lord, help me to be like you: preaching Good News so the nations can hope in you!

Matthew 12:1-14: “Work” on the Sabbath

Read: Matthew 12:1-14

Right after Jesus gives the great invitation to those who are weary, he illustrates his point by “working” on the Sabbath, an act that would be considered unlawful by the Pharisees. They say that his disciples are doing something unlawful because they picked grain on the Sabbath. There was no explicit command in the law that forbade anyone from doing this. Rather, what the Pharisees were doing is layer on additional burdens on top of what was commanded concerning the Sabbath, which was a general command not to work (Exodus 35:2-3, Deuteronomy 5:13-15), so the question here is whether or not what Jesus and his disciples were doing actually constituted work.

In his defense, Jesus gives two objections. The first is an illustration from the Old Testament wherein David eats the showbread at the temple (1 Samuel 21:1-6). The law required however that the bread be eaten by Aaron and his sons who were the priestly line (Leviticus 24:5–9). What the priests points out here though is interesting in 1 Samuel. He allows them to eat it if they had “kept themselves from women”. In other words, he was asking if they were ceremonial clean. Jesus is nuancing here why the showbread was for the priest based on the text – it had to with the bread being consecrated bread to be consumed in a holy way. The letter of the law does this by making it available to the priest who should have been that way while serving God. The second illustration Jesus gives more context to the actual alleged offense though. He says that the priests themselves who offer sacrifices on the Sabbath, thereby profaning the Sabbath because of their “work” on the day. In other words, Jesus is saying that what the Pharisees consider “work” is not what the law considered “work”, because if it was even the priests in the temple would be guilty which they clearly weren’t.

The next episode that the Pharisees attempt to trap Jesus on is another accusation of “working” on the Sabbath by posing a question, asking if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. This time, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. Jesus in his defense on this one makes an argument to the stronger alluding to a law found in Deuteronomy 22:4. Here, the law says that if a bother’s donkey or ox is fallen on the road, you should help lift the ox or donkey rather than ignore it. Naturally, if such an incident was to happen on the Sabbath it would seem that there would be a conflict there. But Jesus says argues that it is even more imperative when it’s a person in need, not merely an animal, and such an action is not “work”.

Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). In other words, the Sabbath was never intended to be a burden for man as the Pharisees had made it, but rather a day of rest from burdens. When Jesus declares that the “Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” in a way drives this point home. Jesus often used this phrase to appeal to his humanity. As Lord, he is the one who instituted the Sabbath, and as a man he is the one who benefits from the Sabbath. In both respects, any regulations or otherwise are to make the Sabbath serve man’s need for rest, not add unnecessary laws on top it.

Christians today do well to take a Sabbath day of rest, but at the same time should not become so legalistic about it. The purpose is to set aside time to worship God and rest for one’s job day to day tasks.

Lord, you are Lord of the Sabbath

Help me to find my much-needed rest!

Matthew 11:25-30: The Easy Way

Read: Matthew 11:25:-30

After pronouncing woes on cities, Jesus makes some interesting remarks that read in isolation might seem confusing. He starts by praising the Father for not revealing things to the who are “wise” and with “understanding”. It would seem as if Jesus was praising God for only revealing himself to a simpleton. But these words are used pejoratively. What Jesus was getting at make perfect sense in context, namely that there were those among the Jews who were puffed up with “understanding” and “wisdom” and saw themselves as self-righteous according to the law. These were the individuals who rejected John and Jesus as prophecy and the ones that brought woes upon the cities in Galilee. What these individuals had done is take the Jewish law and turned it into a long list of do’s and don’ts and religion ceremonialism such that it had created an impossibly complex religion that was more of a burden than a blessing as it was meant to be. This is why Jesus encourages those who are heavy burdened to come to him and he will give them rest. Jesus did not come to layer on more religiosity, rather he came to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20).

Between the praise to the Father and the invitation to come, Jesus reveals something about revelation. He shows that the Father and the Son know one another, but the Father is revealed through the Son, and only to those the Son chooses to reveal the him too. This begs the question, who are these chosen ones? In context, the answer seems to be those who come to Jesus without pretext or an agenda. Those who are willing to submit humbly admit that they are sinners and in need of cleansing are the ones that Jesus reveals himself to. And to these, Jesus takes on the burden of sin for them and shows them that the law was never about trying to get people to follow a bunch of complicated rules, rather it was intended to show them that they couldn’t do it (Galatians 3:21-24).

Jesus is still revealing truth to those who are willing to hear it. Those who come to Jesus humbly and honestly seeking answers with an open heart and open mind can be taught the things of God from his word through the illumination of the Holy Spirit who imparts true wisdom and understanding (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). The call then is to not be a know-it-all, rather to be a disciple of Christ always wanting to learn more and grow into a deeper relationship with Christ. In this, one finds freedom from the bondage of religiosity.

Lord, keep me humble so that I may receive true wisdom and understanding!

Matthew 11:20-24: A False Facade

Read: Matthew 11:20-24
A common objection to belief often used to create a façade of credulity often goes, “If God would only show me a miracle, I would believe.” The problem with this is that even in the day of Jesus, those who witnessed miracles abundantly still did not repent and believe the gospel. This is precisely why Jesus starts pronouncing judgement on cities in Israel where he had performed miracles. Jesus mentions three cities all relatively close to one another on the north side of the Sea of Galilee: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Chorazin is only mentioned here and in the parallel passage in Luke, so what miracles were performed there is unknown. But Jesus did perform miracles near Bethsaida such as feed the 5,000 (Luke 9:10) and healing a blind man (Mark 8:22). In Capernaum, he healed the centurion’s daughter (Mathew 8:5) a paralyzed man (Mark 2:1) an official’s son (John 4:46), and many others (Luke 4:38-44). All in all, the miracles that Jesus had performed in the area would have been well known.

Even with the miracles though the people did not believe. Jesus says that there will be more mercy on Tyre and Sidon, two cities north of Israel in Phoenicia, that were known for paganism. Jesus had ministered in this region when he healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21–28). There he says that he was sent to the children of Israel, but nevertheless heals the woman because of her faith. Moreover, Jesus likens Capernaum to Sodom. Sodom was an Old Testament city that was destroyed in Genesis 19 for their sin, and even so Jesus says that they will receive more mercy than Capernaum because Capernaum did not believe. These harsh pronouncements against the cities comes on the heels where Jesus talks about John’s message not being received and before Jesus calls those who are not “wise” to rest.  Jesus himself was not accepted in his home town as a prophet either (Luke 4:14-30).

Miracles in Jesus’ day were given as way to vindicate his message, yet even with the miracles people did not believe. Even today though, people will still not believe. It’s not for lack of evidence though. God has made himself known in history (Hebrews 1:1), through creation (Romans 1:2), and through conscience (Romans 2:14-15).  All in all, the myriad of was God is revealed makes his existence plain and the need for repentance clear. If this is so then, whatever objections one might give to not believe and repent are largely a façade for a deeper problem, a sin problem that keeps one from acknowledging sin, repenting of it, and receiving Jesus’ forgiveness. Christians should not lose heart though. Even when many won’t believe, some will. And odds are, it will be the least expected ones who will come to faith when they do!

Lord, you have made yourself known

Help the lost to so they can believe!

Matthew 11:7-19: A Self-Righteousness that Deafens

Read: Matthew 11:7-19

One of the popular things to do with movies is to prefix the title with “The Last” then append some word. A few popular examples are The Last Samurai or The Last Jedi. The motif of being “the last” of anything in these movies shows the last of a long lineage that has come to its end. If someone was to make a movie about John the Baptist, they could call it “The Last Prophet” for the same reasons. John was the last prophet in the vein of the Old Testament prophets. The Old Testament prophets gave warnings of doom should Israel not repent, but also foretold of redemption or blessing should they repent.  John came with the same message where he proclaimed the kingdom of God and offered a baptism of repentance. Jesus calls John a prophet and even more.

Matthew 11:10 quotes from Malachi 3:1, which is the promise of one that is coming to prepare the way. Immediately following the verse in Malachi is a commentary on those who would “stand” when he appears. The question it asks is rhetorical, as the answer to this is only the righteous who will be cleansed. But to those who do not will receive justice.

Jesus draws on this imagery pointing out two kinds of people: those who hear him and those that do not. The imagery of the piper playing a happy tune and the hearers not dancing or the dirge and the people not morning is precisely the conditions of those that don’t here, rather they are apt to accuse the messenger of things he is not guilty of rather because he associates with those who are less than righteous in the eyes of those who believe themselves to be righteous.

Self-righteousness even today can blind one from hearing the message that they need to hear. The antidote to self-righteousness though is a constant reminder of one’s own sin and ones need for repentance and cleansing. Jesus offers this to whomever is willing to humbly come to him and ask for it. May it be as John 1:9 says – repentance so that God will forgive and cleanse all unrighteousness.

Lord, keep me humble so that I can hear you and see my sin!

Read Matthew 11:1-6: Show and Tell

Read Matthew 11:1-6

When asked by John’s disciples about who he was, Jesus doesn’t directly answer their question, rather he gives a more cryptic answer as Jesus would typically do. Here, he alludes to many scriptures that point to his coming. (Isaiah 29:18, Isaiah 35:4-6, Isaiah 43:6-7, Isaiah 43:8, Isaiah 61:1-3, Isaiah 66:2, Zechariah 11:7). There’s two things that are remarkable here: the declaration of miracles and the declaration of the good news being preached.

These two prongs of Jesus’ ministry where quintessential.  While Jesus was a miracle worker, he made no apology about preaching a message of sin, repentance, and salvation for those who would believe. For some, however, this message was offensive and they didn’t want to hear it. If Jesus would have been merely a miracle worker, it’s likely that he would have not offended anyone, but he did manage to get the religious elite stirred up because of what he preached.

Today’s Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit and commanded by to do great deeds in Jesus’ name. Jesus declares later in Matthew that the ones who do so do it unto Jesus (Matthew 25:45). Given this though, good deeds to the world is not a substitute for declaring the Gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16) and faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). Yes, the gospel will offend some, but to others it will be the best news they ever hear because it means forgiveness and eternal life!

Lord, help me to show others your love and declare the truth of your gospel!

 

Matthew 10:40-42: The Disciple’s Reward

Read: Matthew 10:40-42

In the work of the gospel, there are goers and senders. In the New Testament context, the goers were the apostles (literally, “sent one”) who made it their life’s work to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth and starting churches where they went. The senders were the ones on the other end, supporting the work of the apostles as they went. These senders came from all sorts of backgrounds, but they too played a part in helping advance the gospel.

In Matthew, Jesus is speaking to his disciples concerning the rewards of those who receive the apostles and also do things in accordance with the scriptures. The apostles themselves were the New Testament analog to the Old Testament prophets who proclaimed what God told them to. Jesus’ remarks concerning those who receive the prophets receive the prophets reward make an allusion to the Old Testament when both Elijah and Elisha were welcomed into a home, and the welcoming home was blessed because of it (1 Kings 17:9-24, 2 Kings 4:8-37). To this, Jesus adds that the one that receives the righteous man and also gives a cup of cold water will also receive the just reward.

Being a “sent one” comes a great personal cost the one going. It’s for this reason that God has called the senders to take care of the goers, and to them that receive the goers, there is a great reward. In all things though, the one who does this as a way of life doesn’t discriminate: he could be caring for the goer or a perfect stranger. Jesus says that when one does it to the “least of these” they are doing it unto him.

Lord, help me to care for all people, everywhere!

 

Matthew 10:32-39: Priorities and the Gospel

Read: Matthew 10:32-39

Everyone has seen the emails “Forward this to 10 people, or else…” or the social media posts that say “share” then these emails proceed to (mis)quote Matthew 10:32-33. Taken out of context, one might get the impression that Jesus will deny anyone who denies him before the Father, such that that person would be condemned to hell for doing so. This, however, stands in contrast to what Jesus says concerning salvation: those who are saved can’t be snatched away (John 10:27-29, Romans 8:33-39). In the context, Jesus is talking about the process of disciple making and the persecution one endures while proclaiming the gospel, not justification. Jesus had just reminded the disciples of the value that each one of them had to the Father. The “denial” before the Father here is concerned with the rewards for faithfulness that one receives for being obedient to the call of God.

Verses 32-33 come right before another difficult passage where Jesus uses some rather harsh language. Jesus proclaims that he didn’t come to bring peace, rather to bring a sword. This is another text that, if read out of context, could be construed to imply that Jesus wants people to hate their mother and father.  He quotes from Micah 7:6, which is set in the middle of a prophesy concerning a tumultuous time when several long-established institutions will be turned on their head. One’s family will be his or her enemy and one’s former foes will be his family.  This proverbial sword, which is the gospel, will cause dissention in families. Those living in places with intense persecution of Christians understand this: families will reject the one who chooses to follow Christ. When one chooses to follow Christ – his or her allegiance is to Christ in spite of everything. The division isn’t because a Christian doesn’t want to love his or her mother or father, rather it’s the other way around. Jesus includes many other paradoxical statements here as well: one who doesn’t carry a cross –the despicable act of a criminal — isn’t “worthy” of Christ and one who loses his life will find it.

Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus command his followers to hate people for his sake, but he does give ample warning that those who do follow Christ will be hated on his account. The call to live for Christ comes at a cost, and sometimes that cost is high – including family. The promise here is that those that find Christ will find a new family in other believers and a new life in Christ. For this reason, it is important to be meaningfully connected to a body of believers so that when persecution does come – and it will – one can endure it with others rather than try to go through it alone and be encouraged (Hebrews 10:24-26).

Lord, help me to be faithful!

 

Matthew 10:24-31: Do Not Fear!

Three times Jesus says “Do not fear”:

  • The first time in verse 26 is looking in response to those who will call malign a Christian falsely, as they did with Jesus when they said he was the prince of demons, Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24). In a manner of speaking, Jesus says there is no need to fear because their falsity will be brought into the light – that is it will be revealed.
  • The second is found in verse 28, where Jesus says they ought not fear those who will kill them either. He justifies this, saying that they can really only kill the body, not the soul. But God who is the judge of all call kill the body and soul.
  • The third time comes after and admonition concerning the value of a person. Jesus here makes an argument to the greater saying that if a sparrow worth only a penny is worth something to God, how much more is the person worth to God – it’s really beyond measure and nothing misses his view.

In the context of Christianity, there are two kinds of a “fear”. The first is the “fear of the Lord”. This sort of fear is a “good” fear, and really can be equated with faith. Jesus speaks to this fear whenever he says that one shouldn’t fear the one who can destroy only the body. Proverbs 1:7 starts with this idea: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The second sort of fear is of circumstances that is actually the antithesis of faith. One who fears circumstances, especially when circumstances present themselves as a challenge to faith is actually lacking faith.

The context in which Jesus is speaking about this fear is in light of persecution. The persecution that Christians endure can cause them to want to shrink back. The writer of Hebrews wrote to a persecuted group of believers who were being tempted to abandon their faith. To them, he reminds them to hold fast because of the blessing that come as a result of faith – a rich reward (Hebrews 10:32-39). When persecution does come, Christians should think about the future glory, not about the temporal circumstances and be encouraged to keep on.

Lord, help me to not fear, but have faith in you!

Matthew 10:16-23: Persecution

Read: Matthew 10:16-23

Persecution for Jesus’ name sake is given in the Scriptures. Timothy says that anyone wanting to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus gives a lot of practical advice to his disciples after he sends them out. He tells them to expect persecution, to not worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit would provide what was needed, and to flee when persecution arises.

Indeed, much of this happened in the New Testament times:

  • The apostles were flogged for speaking about Jesus (Acts 5:49, Acts 22:19, Acts 26:11, 2 Corinthians 11:24-25).
  • The apostles were put on trial before councils, kings, and governors (Acts 12:1-4, Acts 22:33-34, Acts 24-26).
  • When the apostles were on trial, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke boldly about Jesus (Acts 4:8-14, Acts 5:29-34, Acts 7:55-56, Acts 26:1-11)
  • When persecution arose, the disciples scattered (Acts 8:1, Acts 9:24-25, Acts 13:50-51, Acts 14:6-7, Acts 14:19-20, Acts 17:10-14, Acts 20:1)

Persecution has existed in the church since the earliest days of Christianity and has been a constant theme throughout all of Christian history, even until today. Western Christianity has for the most part a long period of peace, free from hostility towards Christians, but the hostility is beginning to grow. Globally, research shows even now that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world, and as the Day draws near, this trend will only get worse for Christians everywhere.

There are several appropriate ways Christians can respond to persecution.

  • When it does arise, when possible flee from it. Christians aren’t called to have a martyr complex where they are looking to get themselves killed for the sake of Christ, rather they should have a heart to want to share the gospel with as many people as possible for the sake of Christ.
  • Pray for those who are persecuted and pray for those who do the persecuting (Matthew 5:44). This can be hard at times, especially when one is receiving the persecution. But God has called every Christian to love his or her enemy and pray for them when they revile the believer.
  • Rely on the Holy Spirit and be joyful (Matthew 5:10-12) Jesus says that those who are persecuted are actually blessed. This is paradoxical, but knowing that there is a God who is in control and blesses those who remain faithful gives reason to be joyful

Enduring persecution takes great faith. All the apostles except John died a martyr’s death. Paul spent much of his later years writing letters from a jail cell. Even today, Christians all over globe are persecuted for the sake of Christ. The call though is to be faithful see it through, knowing that God will reward those who do!

Lord, help me to endure persecution!

 

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