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 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 9:27-34: Authority

Read: Matthew 9:27-34

The last two miracles Matthew records again demonstrate Jesus’ authority over matters of life when he heals blindness and authority over demons when he exorcises yet another demon. Jesus’ spreading fame had undoubtedly reached the ears of all the sick who could hear about him. The blind men that Jesus encountered after he raised the young girl back to life were certainly two of them. Blindness was incurable, and if these men wanted to receive their sight Jesus was their only hope. They cry out for the “Son of David” to have mercy on them, and Jesus does. But first be asks them if they are willing, and they said “yes” and Jesus heals according to their faith. Jesus however tells them not to tell anyone, but they did anyways.

The scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus at every turn, but in every case the criticism fell on deaf ears because there was simply nothing they could say or do to discredit. Towards the end of Matthew though, their attempts start to get desperate – they accuse him of casting out demons in the name of the prince of demons. This same accusation was later leveled at Jesus later on when some people ask whether or not he is the “Son of David” (Matthew 12:22-28). The “prince of demons” line something that they continued to use. Jesus in chapter 12 point out the logical absurdity of this claim though – he notes that if he casts out a demons in the name of a demon, then his house is divided, and it cannot stand. In other words, if the prince of demons was trying to establish his authority by casting out demons, his methods are self-defeating. However if he casts out demons in the Spirit of God, then it vindicates that he is of God and the kingdom of God had come. The Pharisees did not want to accept this truth.

It’s peculiar that Jesus wouldn’t want people to spread the news about the miracles that he was performing. The people obviously wanted to tell everyone because it was truly amazing. There are a couple of reasons why: Jesus did not want to miracles to distract people from his message, which was to proclaim the kingdom of God, he wanted the priests to declare a person healed so that the Jews would believe rather than demonize the priests, and lastly too much fame made it difficult for Jesus to move about freely in the villages proclaiming the gospel (Mark 1:45). Yet in even so, Jesus still had compassion on people had healed them anyways. All in all, the people still managed to see Jesus as someone of significance: the Son of David. This was a title that was given to the one they believed to be the Messiah – a theme in Matthew. With Jesus position firmly established as the “Son of David” and with authority over all things, he is able to do what he does next, which is send out the disciples to do the same. For Christians today, Jesus still has the same authority. It is up to those that claim Jesus to act in his authority to boldly proclaim his truth and do so in a way that puts the emphasis on the message and show that Jesus does have authority over all things!

Lord, you reign! Help me to proclaim this to everyone everywhere!

Matthew 8:23-34: Lord of All

Read: Matthew 8:23-34

The miracles at the end of Matthew 8 further establish Jesus’ authority. When Jesus pushes out into the boat, a storm arises on the Sea of Galilee, which wasn’t all that uncommon. The geography of the region causes the weather to shift rapidly and sometimes without much warning . This particular storm was rather violent and was pitching the boat up and down, yet Jesus was sleep. When the disciples wake Jesus, Jesus speaks to the storm and it stops, and the disciples were amazed even the storm “obeyed” him.

The second miracle puts Jesus among some of the most foul things that any Jew could encounter that would certainly make that Jew unclean. First, the man that Jesus heals is hanging out around tombs – the place of the dead. Jews typically avoided places such as this because encountering the dead made them ceremonially unclean. Second, this particular miracle happened in a region far outside the bounds of where the Jews lived in a place primarily inhabited by Gentiles, who the Jews avoided. Third, these Gentiles herded pigs which were unclean animals. There was herd of them nearby that the demons went into after Jesus cast them out of the man. Also of note, the particular man that was inhabited was not inhabited by one, rather by man demons that gave the man supernatural strength but also drove the man mad. This place to a Jew would have been a pagan, God forsaken land and a stronghold for evil and full of demonic influence. The demons however immediately recognize Jesus – they call him the “Son of God” and know that their judgment is coming. Jesus drove them out into the herd of swine which caused a great fear to come over the Gentiles in that reason. Gentiles in that day though were generally skeptical of miracle works and saw them as a bad omen while the Jews welcomed the miracles as a sign from God. This is why they asked Jesus to leave when he did come. The second miracle shows that Jesus has authority over demons even in their own strongholds like this man.

Jesus’ authority over natural and supernatural can only point to one truth: he commands the same kind of authority that only God has. The next incident that Matthew records also implies the same truth when Jesus forgives sins. Regardless though of clear demonstrations of power that Jesus had put on display, his own disciples lacked faith. This faith stands in contrast to the faith of the centurion whose servant was healed. For Christian today, faith the means to please God. Submitting to him in faith and believing that he has the power to do mighty acts demonstrates the not only the faith of the believer, but also the authority of God in all things. There is nothing in the natural or supernatural that can stand between God and his purposes!

Lord, you reign supreme! Help me trust you ways and will in all I do!

Matthew 8:14-22: It’s Worth It

Read: Matthew 8:14-22

Following Jesus is not something one can do halfway. Jesus speaks pretty strong words for those who say they wanted to follow him. He says first that those that follow Jesus are basically homeless and second that those that follow Jesus have to prioritize him above even burying one’s own father. A candid read of these saying would seem to suggest that Jesus is calling Christians to be homeless and dishonor ones families, but this is not at all what Jesus is getting at. He’s using hyperbole to make a points – the first being that following Jesus isn’t safe. There’s no safe place one can go and not expect persecution or ridicule for being a Christian. In fact, scripture pretty much guarantees that persecution will come to those that want to follow Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12). The second is teaching that one must put Christ first above everything else. Jews would have two burials: the first that took place right after the death and a second that would happen a year later when the corpses had rotted and the bones were buried in a box again. This text is probably talking about the second burial wherein a son would bury his father again. He’s asking Jesus for permission to delay following him so he could take care of his other responsibilities. Jesus was demanding that he honor God first then take care of his other responsibilities.

These harsh words though come after Jesus performs many healings. Certainly, Jesus, healing ministry attracted many people from all over who wanted to be done with their infirmities yet even so they did not necessarily want to be his followers considering what it would cost them. Jesus though did not make distinctions between would be followers or otherwise. Matthew applies Isaiah 53 here to Jesus where it says that the Lord would take away infirmities and diseases. 1 Peter 2:21-25 applies this same text to the spiritual condition of man.

Jesus showed and still shows no partiality for those who will receive his healing – physically or spiritually. Matthew 9:5-6 teaches that Jesus used physical to show his authority in the spiritual realm. Physical healing though only lasts for a time while spiritual healing lasts forever for those that will accept it. While the healing is free, the demands of Christ are high: he expects that ones that call him Lord to accept his authority over their lives as they did when by faith they accepted that he had authority over diseases and demons. Following Christ isn’t easy, but the reward is eternal for those that will believe. One must first count the cost. But all those that have and counted it worthwhile have never regretted it!

Lord, following you is worth it! Help demonstrate that by making you the priority in my life!

Matthew 8:5-13: Faith Without Borders

Read: Matthew 8:5-13

The centurion’s faith impressed Jesus. A centurion was an officer in a Roman legion, and in command of around 80-200 men. They were paid handsomely compared to regular soldiers and command the respect of those in their legion. This particular centurion was nameless, but he was well liked among the Jews because he built their synagogue for them and he was apparently God-fearing too. Jesus healed the servant from afar, and remarked on the centurions faith, saying he had not seen such faith in all of Israel. In other words, those who were supposed to have faith apparently did not have faith that compared to this Gentile.

The centurion’s faith is remarkable for a number of reasons:

  • He recognized Jesus’ authority over matters of disease.
  • He believed that Jesus could exercise that authority from anywhere and it would be done. In other instances, the Jews either wanted Jesus to come to them or they went to Jesus, but the centurion believed location wasn’t important.
  • He recognized Jesus as having dominion over Jews and Gentiles. While Jesus came to save the world, the focus of Jesus’ ministry was on the Jews and later the apostles would take the gospel to the nations.

The global scope of God’s redemption from the beginning was intended to be for all the world (Genesis 12:2-3). Somewhere along the line though, the faith of the Jews had become fickle. They had come to trust in their heritage as descendants of Abraham more than they did on God himself. When centurion expresses faith that the Jews were supposed to have, Jesus uses this opportunity to remind the Jews that the family of God wasn’t limited to Jews. There would be a number of Gentiles present among the redeemed yet there would also be a number of Jews who were not present.

The bulk Christians today are not direct descendants of Abraham, rather are descendants of Abraham by faith. But many people also claim to be Christians because of their their family traditions or cultural heritage and are no better off than the Jews who will not be among the redeemed because they are not children of Abraham by faith. Kind of faith that God wants is not faith in name only, rather faith in Jesus who is able to save without boundaries. Trusting in Jesus for salvation is the only kind of faith that can save and ensure as seat at the table when Jesus does return!

Lord, your salvation knows no borders. Help the world to see and believe this!

Matthew 8:1-4: “I am willing!”

Read: Matthew 8:1-4

Jesus’ following was at this point growing. There is no indication of how many people followed him off the mountain, nevertheless upon leaving the mountain the people followed him and were watching him. Matthew shifts from the teachings of Jesus – which he did on his own authority – to a focus on establishing Jesus’ authority my the miracles he performed which demonstrate his power over various things in the world such as disease, demons, nature, sin, and even death. The Greek word for “authority” or “power” first appears in the book of Matthew in 7:29. In the following two chapters, it appears numerous times (Matthew 8:9, Matthew 9:6, Matthew 9:8) leading up to chapter 10:1 where Jesus give authority to his disciples to do just as he had done: cast out demons and heal the sick. Note, Jesus doesn’t give them authority to raise the dead or forgive sins.

In the midst of his miracles, Jesus did some things in his ministry that raised eyebrows, and healing the man with leprosy was one of them. Leprosy is a contagious skin disease. During the time of Jesus, there was no cure. Lepers were isolated from the community and considered ceremonially unclean. Lepers had to dress in rags and wear there hair down, and cry out “unclean, unclean” as they made their way about (Leviticus 13:45-46). While there was no law pertaining to touching a leper, doing so was certainly taboo and reviled. Nevertheless, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the leper and heals him.

The leper himself exhibited great faith and humility when he came to Jesus. When he came to Jesus, he fell on his face, begging Jesus for healing and believing that Jesus was able. He doesn’t specifically ask for healing per se, rather to be “made clean” which is an interesting request. He wanted not to just be free of the disease, but free of the stigma associated with it – ceremonial uncleanliness. After Jesus heals him, Jesus tells him to present himself to the priest which was part of the requirement of the law to be pronounced clean after a leper was healed from the disease (Leviticus 14).

There are no details concerning the account, but given the nature of leprosy in that it was not curable, the ritual that was performed at the temple was certainly rare. The priests would have certainly be amazed to see this man free of the disease. For the leper, he was out of options. With leprosy though, he really didn’t have any options at all. He went to the one place he might find a cure – in Jesus. It demonstrates the mans faith in calling out to Jesus and he is made well for it. In the Christian faith, there seems to be a dissonance between believing that God can do miracles and being surprised when they do occur. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. What if Christians expected miracles in faith rather than being surprised by them? This would certainly change the way Christians pray and act. And who knows – maybe miracles might start happening!

Lord, you are willing to do miracles, so help me to ask and believe in faith!

Luke 7:1-10: God-Pleasing Faith

Read: Luke 7:1-10

The centurion’s faith impressed Jesus. He saw authority in Jesus, acknowledging that just a word from Jesus’ mouth could heal his servant. He understood this because he too would instruct soldiers and they would act. A centurion was an officer in a Roman legion, and in command of around 80-200 men. They were paid handsomely compared to regular soldiers and command the respect of those in their legion. This particular centurion was nameless, but he was well liked among the Jews because he built their synagogue for them and he was apparently God-fearing too. Jesus healed the servant from afar, and remarked on the centurions faith, saying he had not seen such faith in all of Israel. In other words, those who were supposed to have faith apparently did not have faith that compared to this Gentile.

Luke, in keeping with his theme of the gospel being a gospel for all people includes this story to show that even a Gentile can have faith. Saying that a Roman had more faith than a Jew though was a front to the Jews, because they were supposed to be the ones that had faith. The difficulty with many Jews is that they didn’t see Jesus for who he really was. Luke has already shown that Jesus was rejected in his hometown (Luke 4:14-30) and how stiff-necked the Pharisees were when they heard him preach (Luke 5:17-26). Yet even so, Jesus was well received by the people of Capernaum (Luke 4:31-44) and Gentiles were coming to hear him preach (Luke 6:17). Jesus made no exclusions on who could hear the good news or to those he would heal.

Paul explains in Romans 2-3 the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles. God chose the Jews to be the ones to carry the gospel to the world going back as far as Abraham. He wanted the Jews to live in accordance with the Law and witness about God so that God’s name would be made known among the Gentiles. However the Jews did quite the opposite, blaspheming God’s name among the Gentiles by their deeds. But Paul reckons that the true Jew was not the one who is circumcised or a descendant of a Jew, rather one who follows the law (Romans 2:28-29) and that Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith (Romans 3:28-31). Abraham was the father of many nations (Genesis 12:1-2. Genesis 17:4-5, Genesis 17:20, Hebrews 11:2) – not by birth but by faith (Romans 4:9-18).

Faith is how one becomes a child of God. Hebrews notes that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). In other words, it is absolutely essential to have faith to become a Christian and live as a Christian. In the same way that the Centurion’s faith impressed Jesus, so does the faith of all those who call on his name and live accordingly even now. It is by faith that God is pleased.

Lord, help my faith be God-pleasing faith!

Luke 6:42-45: A Tree and Its Fruit

Read: Luke 6:42-45

After telling a parable concerning teachers, Jesus gives another parable talking about one’s deeds and speech. He illustrates how deeds and speech are like a tree and its fruit: Any given species of tree will only produce the kind of fruit that the species produces, not the kind of fruit from another species. The analogy here is that a good heart will produce good deeds and speech and an evil hear will produce evil deeds and speech.

In logic, the kind of relationship describe by Jesus is called modus ponens, which says “X implies Y. X, therefore Y”. What one cannot do under this kind of relationship is say, “Y therefore X”. This is called affirming the consequence, which is not valid. However one can say, “X, therefore possibly Y”, which is an inference from evidence. In other words, if one has a good heart, then one will have good speech and deeds, but good speech and deeds don’t prove a good heart, rather they serve as evidence for a good heart. At times, people can “fake it”. Likewise, one can say “not Y, therefore not X”, which is called modus tollens. James makes this argument concerning the relationship between works and faith. He saying that he will show you his faith by his works inductively and without works, faith is dead via modus tollens (James 2:14-26). Works and speech are outward expressions of the inward change that happens when one believe in Christ, and there can be used to determine the condition of one’s heart. A person that calls himself a follower of Jesus yet does not do good in keeping with that faith has a questionable faith. But at the same time this isn’t necessarily a tale-tell sign of a Christian either. Jesus illustrated this with parables too concerning wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30), which are practically identical. Likewise, not everyone who says “Lord, Lord’ will be recognized by Jesus even though they seemingly did good things in his name (Matthew 7:21-22)

The Bible is explicitly clear: salvation comes by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But at the same time, works are evidence of this faith. Christians therefore ought to examine his or her own faith to make sure that he or she is not trusting in works or something else entire for salvation, rather in the completed work of Jesus. Likewise, this is not a license to go on a witch hunt to weed out the tares – in fact Jesus warns against this. Rather, again each should examine his own heart asking, “Do I call Jesus, ‘Lord’?” If not, then repent and believe the gospel! If so, “Am I obeying his commands?” If one can honestly answer “yes” answer these questions, then there is no need to worry about others questioning one’s faith based on works.

Lord, You are my Lord! Help me to follow your commands!

Luke 1:39-45: Blessed Believers

Read: Luke 1:39-45

The Holy Spirit was alive and working among the four characters mentioned in this text:

  • Elizabeth knew that Mary was carrying her “lord” even though the child wasn’t even born. And for this reason, she held Mary in high regard as one would respect a person of honor.
  • Elizabeth and her child John were both filled with joy even as Mary and her child approached – so much so that Elizabeth’s child “leaped” in the womb.
  • Elizabeth recognized these facts in spite of the fact that Mary was yet unmarried. Conventional wisdom would have condemned such a pregnancy.

The blessings Mary received came because of her faith – she had the great honor carrying God incarnate. The coming of Mary and her child caused those who were sensitive to the Spirit’s workings to be filled with joy and with the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-8 shows that even in times of hardship and persecution the Spirit gives joy. This is because the readers of Thessalonians had become “imitators” of “us” – namely the apostle Paul and his companions that had been to Thessalonica to plant a church there. Christians nowadays too are like the Christians in the scriptures – they have the Holy Spirit and they have Jesus. When the Lord comes near and the Spirit works, the natural response of Christians should respond in joy in spite of the odd of unusual circumstances as Mary and Elizabeth were experience. Christians can believe and be blessed as Mary was.

Lord, when you come near, help me respond in joy!

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