Matthew 9:9-17: God Desires Mercy

Matthew 9:9-17: God Desires Mercy

Right after Jesus demonstrates his authority to forgive sin, Jesus does something else rather alarming: Jesus calls a “sinner” as one of his followers and then participates in a feast in his honor that is attended by more of these so called “sinners”. Jesus’ propensity for breaking social taboos was already known when he touched a leper. Tax collectors in the day of Jesus were one of the most despised members of society for a number of reasons. First, they were seen as traitors because often times they were indigenous members of a conquered who were hired by the conquering Romans to collect taxes for Rome. Second, tax collectors were also extortionist, wringing more money out of taxpayers than the taxpayer owed. Tax collectors got to pocket this extra as profit. Matthew was a tax collector, nevertheless Jesus saw it fit to call Matthew as his disciple. Matthew would go on to write the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew abandoned everything and followed Jesus when Jesus called him, just like Peter, James, and John (Matthew 4:18-22). He had almost certainly heard of Jesus and was nearby at the healing of the lame man. By implication, Matthew like Peter was confronted with the awesomeness and holiness of God and repented of his sins. His natural response was obedience, so that when Jesus did call him he obeyed and obeyed immediately just as Peter did.

The Pharisees grumbled against Jesus because he, being a righteous man, associated with sinner which is something that a Pharisee would never do. Jesus replies with a metaphor pertaining to a physician coming to heel the sick, and he relates to his mission to calling the sinner to repentance. The Pharisees were zealous about following the law and for that reason did not, at least outwardly, appear as one of the “sinner”. Jesus on other occasions though does point out their sin (Matthew 6:1-2, Matthew 22:18, Matthew 23:11-31). But Jesus and the disciples were not breaking any part of the law. The fast of John his disciples was entire voluntary. The Pharisees though were not ones to be out done by another in terms of piety, and any one who they saw as less pious than themselves – especially one that was seen righteous such as Jesus or John. Jesus, however, tells a parable about a wedding feast and a bridegroom, and saying that people don’t fast when they are at a wedding feast. Jesus describes himself as the bridegroom, saying that while he was with his disciples, they would feast and that a time for fasting was coming. This was partially prophetic, knowing that that one day Jesus would be taken away from them and during that time they would fast. He adds another parable describing how old things and new things do not mix. An new patch cannot be sown on old clothes because the new patch will shrink making the tear worse. New wine cannot be put into old wineskin because wine causes wineskins to expand and stretch as it releases gas. New wine would cause old wineskin to burst. Lastly, no one drinks new wine when they desire old wine, because it is perceived to be better.

When Jesus quotes from Micah 6:8-9, he is getting at the heart of the matter. God isn’t concerned about pious acts themselves, rather the heart in which pious acts were done. The Pharisees wanted to add more religion on top of the already religious system to make them look even more pious than the law required. Likewise, they saw religion as a means of penitence too. When Jesus came on the scene though, he did not preach a message that compelled people to layer on more religion than they already had, rather he came preaching a message of repentance, wanting people to change their hearts. The job of Christians is to call the world to repentance, not to more religion. In doing so, sinners can experience the mercy of God and be saved by it.

Lord, help me to desire mercy, not sacrifice!

Matthew 6:5-15: Prayer That Works

Read: Matthew 6:5-15

Jesus warning here concerning prayer stands in contrast to the sort of prayers that the Pharisees and Gentiles had. The Pharisees in their prayers would stand in the streets and wax eloquently using big words to make an elaborate show of things. They would often use prayer to in many ways to exalt themselves as Jesus notes in Luke 18:10-14. The Gentiles that Jesus to refers to are probably the Romans, who their own prayers focused not on content, rather on the precision of the words of which they were saying. They believed that the efficacy of prayer was tied to how precise the prayers were according to a strict formula. If they didn’t get the results they wanted, they would do it again and again. This vain repetition was of no value.

Jesus on the other hand teaches his disciples how and what to pray. He encourages them not to do as the Pharisees or the Gentiles, rather go into a room and pray in private, focusing on a number of things. Jesus’ prayer has many parallels to Isaiah 63:15-64:12. They acknowledge that God is “Father”, is in heaven, and is one who is holy and concerned about the name of God. Jesus expounds on the motif God as a father, teaching that God is a good father that wants to provide good things to those who ask. James 4:1-3, however, adds commentary to why sometimes God doesn’t give good things because so many times one “asks and does not receive” which stands in contrast to what Jesus said: “ask and it shall be given unto you”. It short, people don’t receive because of their own selfish desires and sin in their lives. Jesus does teach the disciples to pray for daily provision and the things in this world, but so much more of the model prayer is concerned with God’s position in heaven, his holy name, his will being done, forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from temptation and evil. When one seeks to pray according to the will and ways of God, it is in this manner that God can and will bless his people.

So often, the prayers of Christians are not much more than trite platitudes that Jesus warns against even to the point where people the model prayer from rote memory. The prayer itself is not the problem, rather the attitude of prayer is that is the problem. God wants his people to pray, but do so in the right manner and for the right reasons. To do so, one needs to be mindful of who God is: a father that is all loving but also holy and zealous for his name to be honored by the way one lives. When one honestly and humbly seeks God for mercy and his will, God will reward this prayer according to his will and great things can happen!

Lord, teach me to pray in way that honors and glorifies you!

Matthew 5:21-25: Murder in the Heart

Read: Matthew 5:21-25

Jesus’ concern for holiness started at the heart. Many of the teachings that he gives concerning spend more time addressing one’s inner condition than it did addressing the acts forbade by the law themselves. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches when he’s addressing something as heinous as murder either. He says that even the act of calling one a fool makes puts one in contempt of the fires of hell as much as murder itself. The reason Jesus does this is because so often times pent up anger leads one to enact vengeance against another, sometimes even going as far as killing that person.

To protect people from the wrath of accusers, the Law set up a number of refuge cities where those who had been accused of murder could flee to to avoid the wrath of others. The purpose of these cities was not to harbor criminals, rather to protect the innocents of the accused and prevent the accuser from seeking revenge rather than justice (Number 35).

One shouldn’t use this passage to trivialize murder though. One might be tempted to say that God is not fair in that he treats a name caller the same way that he treats a murderer. This view, however, doesn’t make a distinction between God’s standards and human standards. In God’s economy, a sin no matter how great ore small is what makes one unholy before a perfect and righteous judge, and anything less than perfect is what makes one guilty. Human law judges more quantitatively, seeking to make reparations relatively to crime committed, such as restitution under theft or a life for a life in the case of murder. In many ways, God’s standard is much higher, and one ought to be thankful that human standards don’t judge the same way this side of heaven. And if that wasn’t enough, it is not fair that Jesus himself died on the sinner’s behalf so they didn’t have to. Furthermore, this ought to give one pause before even thinking about uttering a harsh word towards another, which is what Jesus was getting at concerning calling. God in his mercy wanted to reconcile the human race, and he did so rather than carrying out the sentence that was due to them.

An attitude of gratitude compels one towards mercy, and in this vein, this Jesus offers sound advice: be reconciled to others quickly to prevent pent up anger from building up in ones life. Paul makes a similar appeal, telling believers to not let anger take up residence in one’s heart, rather be angry, but get over it quickly and be angry without sinning so the devil doesn’t get a foothold in one’s life (Ephesians 4:25-32). In the way that Christ forgives the believer, Christians ought to forgive and be forgiven so that anger doesn’t grow and become something much worse!

Lord, help me expel anger to take up mercy!

Matthew 5:2-12: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

  • Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Meek” is not a common word in modern language, and usually it has the connotation of weak and submissive. Meekness in the context of the kingdom of God though goes right back to the first beatitude about being poor in spirit. This beatitude makes a reference to Psalm 37:11 which contains a very similar phrase. In the context of Psalm 37, the psalmist lays out a contrast between the wicked and the righteous. While the former plots against the righteous, the Lord laughs at them because they are no match for the and the Lord will fight on behalf of the righteous and deliver them. James 1:20-12 has a similar contrast between meekness and wickedness. He says put away wickedness and take on “with meekness” the implanted word, which was made known through Jesus. James injects this quality because meekness stands in contrast to wickedness, which is prideful and selfish. Submission to the will and word of God requires meekness, and these will be the ones who will inherit the “earth” which is a metaphor taken from the psalm as an allusion to the inheritance that was promised Israel but is made available to all those who believe.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Psalm 42 and Psalm 63 describe one who desires to be in the presence of the Lord like one who is dying of thirst in a dry land. They feels as if they are living in a place where God’s presence is removed and and they long to be where it is. Such is the way one who follows God ought to. Righteousness though on one’s own is impossible, and this is what the Christian is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. While is is sufficient for justification before God, one ought to put away sin and desire righteousness as one contends with the two natures this side of heaven, knowing that one day the desire for righteousness will be filled in the kingdom of God.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Hosea’s life is a picture of God’s story of redemption for his people. Hosea takes a wife, but she has an affair that brings children. One of those children is named “No Mercy”. Yet in this, God gives mercy to the one who was called “No Mercy”. God in his righteousness has every right to condemn sinners for being unfaithful to him, but he chooses to give mercy to those that don’t deserve it. Later in the sermon, Jesus speaks to this same truth and applies to those who who forgive others (Matthew 6:14-16). The truth of the matter is that every person owes God more than any single person owes another. Matthew illustrates this with a parable in Matthew 18:21-25, where Jesus describes one with a servant who owed an insurmountable debt that his master forgives, but who is unwilling to forgive a debt that is substantially less to another servant. God wants Christians to model his own mercy, being quick to forgive before condemnation.

To Be Continued…

Hebrews 4:14-5:10: Jesus is The Priest-King Forever

Read Hebrews 4:14-16, Hebrews 5:1-10

Jesus is a priest like no other. To show this, the author of Hebrews writes to shows Jesus’ humanity yet shows how Jesus does not fail as humans do. Jesus came to earth and while he was on earth he lived a perfect life, yet was tempted in the same manner in which all people are tempted. He had the same weaknesses that men have, yet was not succumbed to them. He was humbled, and did not exalt himself to the position of high priest, yet God chose him to be high priest. He was the Son of God, but learned obedience through his suffering. In every way Jesus was human, but he did fail as humans do.

Jesus’ was also rather unique in another way. The author of Hebrews calls a priest in the “order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek is an obscure character mentioned only in Genesis 14:18-19 and not much is known about him.  But nevertheless the little that is known has huge implications. First, he is king of a town called Salem and a priest of the Most High God – a priest-king that is unlike the traditional priesthood where these were two separate roles. Second, priests usually had to be descendants of Aaron in order to be named priest, but Melchizedek was not. Being in order of Melchizedek allows for non-Aaronic priests such as Jesus, who was a descendant of Judah. (Hebrews 7:14 – Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 7 expounds on this more). The author of Hebrews builds on this further, saying that Jesus is a priest-king “forever”. Psalms 2 establishes that Jesus is a King of kings in that he will receive the nations as his inheritance. Psalm 110 establishes that Jesus is a priest “forever” in the order of Melchizedek, not a temporary priest as those who were of the Aaronic priesthood.

Having Jesus has a priest-king whose reign is eternal means that there is no longer a need for human to fulfill the role of high priest. People can draw near to God with confidence and plead for the grace and mercy at the throne of grace in their time a need. In reality, Christians and the whole world are constantly in need of grace. Jesus sympathizes with weaknesses, yet he himself does not grow weary as a man does. For this reason, Christians can call on him at any time and call on him at all times because his reign and term as priest will never end.

Lord, help me find mercy and grace in my time of need!

Hebrews 4:12-17: The Throne of Grace

Read: Hebrews 4:12-17

Coming on the heels of the author of Hebrews encouraging his readers to enter rest rather than disobey, Hebrews 4:12 teaches that the word of the Lord is powerful: it judges even the thoughts and intentions of man. This verse is often used as a proof-text for underscoring the inerrancy of Scripture, and rightfully so. Scripture leaves nothing uncovered, and each person must “give an account” in light of the Scriptures. Paul gives a similar thought concerning the nature of scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where he says that scripture is good for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. For these reasons, one is wise to pay attention to what it says.

Because the word of God does expose sin, the author of Hebrews encourages his readers to “hold fast” to their confession. The confession of Christians is relying on Jesus for the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice that he made on the behalf of all men. Jesus is also the high priest of the Christian faith, who was without sin, yet was tempted. He can sympathize with our weakness. At the same time he can enter into the throne room of God without spot or blemish. It is through Jesus that those who believe have access the throne room too. In short, the Word of God shows all they are sinners and they need grace, but Jesus who sits on the “throne of grace” intercedes on the behalf of Christians so they receive mercy.

As one studies the word of God, he or she should become very aware of the weaknesses in his or her life. In light of these weaknesses, Christians should plea the mercy of Jesus who is the high priest that can sympathize with weakness. God promises to forgive sin (1 John 1:9) and Christians should make an effort to leave sin behind and pursue righteousness. With the help of the Spirit of God, one can grow and be helped by God in weaknesses (2 Corinthians 2:19).

Lord, use your word to show me I desperately need mercy!