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!

Luke 5:12-16: True Healing

Read: Luke 5:12-16

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).

Jesus’ compassion is evidenced throughout the gospels by his miracles of healing, but Jesus didn’t want his message to be overshadowed by his miracles. This is why he charged the man not to say anything about the healing. In spite of this though, the word about Jesus’ ability to heal spread throughout the region but not where it overshadowed the message because people came both to hear him preach and to be healed, but Jesus says his mission was to preach (Luke 4:43). Jesus though would always take the time to withdraw and pray, because he desired communion with his father.

The human race is inflicted with all sorts of infirmities and diseases. Some are curable, but many are not. While God can and does still miraculously heal people today, inevitably some other infirmity will creep up and ultimately claim one’s life. The ultimate infirmity that people have to deal with though is their sin. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death, but eternal life comes Jesus. For those that believe in Jesus, they will one day receive an immortal, imperishable body that is free from disease (1 Corinthians 51-54, Revelation 21:4). In today’s culture though, there are charlatans who claim to be “faith healers” that put on a spectacle to “demonstrate power”. God’s word doesn’t need demonstration, it needs proclamation. Jesus in his day attempted to minimize his miracles and maximize his message to that the emphasis would be on one’s eternal healing, not their temporal healing. This is how world will be reconciled to God.

Lord, you healed me!
Help me to proclaim the gospel so others can be healed!

Luke 4:31-44: Authority and the Gospel

Read: Luke 4:31-44

Wherever Jesus went, word about him spread quickly – and it was usually a good word. While Jesus was rejected in his home town of Nazareth, virtually everywhere else that Jesus went he was glorified by those he met because his authority in both his teaching and in his deeds. Verses 31 and 32 note that Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath, as was the custom of an itinerant rabbi and people were amazed by it. Matthew 7:28-29 compare Jesus’ teachings to those of the scribes without really expounding how it was different, but the traditional way of teaching in that day was to read a text and quote commentary from a respected religious authority either past or present. Jesus, however, would say “you have heard….” but then follow it with “but I say to you….”. In speaking this way, Jesus was drawing on his own authority, not the that of another.

In addition to authority in teaching, Jesus also demonstrates authority over demons too. The demons knew exactly who Jesus was, and they acknowledge him as such. But rather than let the demon clamor on, Jesus commands the demon to be silent and come out of the man as well. These two commands also cause people to be amazed, and word about him spread throughout the region concerning his authority. Jesus follows this exorcisms at the synagogue with the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus in the same manner as casting out the demon, verbally rebukes the fever and it leaves her. These two miracles along with the authority of Jesus’ and serve as the archetype of a summary of many more miracles that Jesus performed in the same vein as these. He performed many more healing and exorcisms that definitively established his authority.

Interestingly, the people of Capernaum got what Nazareth asked for: a sign from God (Luke 4:20-30). The difference though is that Nazareth scoffed at his message rather than accepting his message. The demand for a sign was for the vindication of his authority, not the corroboration his authority. Jesus freely demonstrated his power, but not as a defense to prove he was the who he claimed to be, rather to support who he claimed to be. The people of Capernaum though wanted Jesus to stay and continue, but Jesus notes that he cannot, because his mission was to preach. Consequentially, he did not say his mission was to come to be a miracle worker, although he did do this.

When Jesus left the earth, he acknowledged that all authority had been given to him, and he then commands his disciples to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey the words that Jesus had commanded them to do (Matthew 28:19-20). Later on, the Holy Spirit came on the disciples and they went about preaching the gospel with authority (1 Thesolonians 1:5) and occasionally performing signs and wonders. In all things though, the emphasis was always on the message and they drew on the authority of the words of God. For Christians today, the command to make disciples still goes out and the command to preach the gospel still goes out (2 Timothy 2:2). While miracles may happen, the authority rests in preaching the word of God, not in miracles (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Titus 2:15).

Lord, authority comes from the power of your word!
Help me to boldly proclaim it!

Luke 2:21-24: Significance in Symbols

Read: Luke 2:21-24

Mary and Joseph were devout Jews that not only kept traditions of the their people, but also kept the instructions that were given to them by angels.

  • Jesus was circumcised and named on the 8th day. This was done in accordance with the Law given to Moses and Abraham (Genesis 17:12, Leviticus 12:3).
  • Mary and Joseph were told to name their child Jesus independent of one another by angels on two separate occasion (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31).
  • Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple according to the law (Leviticus 12:6).
  • Mary and Joseph also made sacrifices according to the law (Exodus 13:2)
  • Mary and Joseph also sacrificed two doves or pigeons according to the law (Leviticus 12:8). It is apparent that they could not afford a lamb, but the law made provisions for that.

While naming a baby and following traditions may not seem that remarkable, there is great symbolism in what they were doing in naming Jesus and presenting him as first born. The name “Jesus” in English is comes from the Hebrew name that means “God saves”. Matthew 1:21 makes note of this, saying that Jesus would be the one to save people from their sins. Also in this, the consecration of the firstborn male in a family was to remind the people when the Lord brought them out of slavery in Egypt – another motif of salvation. God spared the firstborn of everyone who sacrificed a lamb and put the blood on the doorposts of their homes (Exodus 13:12-15).

Christians don’t follow the laws like the Jews did because Jesus became the sacrifice for sin. Nevertheless there are some symbols that Christians have to remember what Christ did. First, Christ ordained what is known as communion or the “Lord’s Supper” as a memorial to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This sacrifice was the payment for the sins committed by man (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Luke 22:17-20). Second, Jesus gave Christians baptism, which notes both the cleansing of sins and the resurrection of Jesus and ultimately all believers (Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:12).

Rather than get caught up in rote religion, Christians ought to reflect on the reasons that symbols and signs exists. Usually these serve as a reminder of some work that God has done or a promise that God will fulfill as wit communion does for Jesus’ blood being spilled and baptism does a reminder of the resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of all men. These symbols and tradition can help draw us into a deeper relationship with the one who gave them.

Lord help me to remember what you have done and will do!

Luke 1:5-38: “May It Be”

Read: Luke 1:5-38

Gabriel was a messenger from God and describes himself as one who “stands in the presence of God”. To even be in the presence of God would be something of note, but to stand in God’s presence indicates that Gabriel was an angel of great importance. He was previously sent in Daniel to explain to Daniel the significance of the rams and goats and give the 70-week predictions (Daniel 8, 9).  He was dispatched to deliver the news concerning two great men: John the Baptist and Jesus. John would prepare the way as a prophet for Jesus, the Lord.

The angel Gabriel appeared to two different people – Mary and Zacharias. Luke notes that Zacharias’ wife, Elizabeth, was barren and could not have children. Nevertheless, Zacharias continued to pray for a son and God answered this prayer. Elizabeth conceived and had John. Although Zacharias and Elizabeth were both described as blameless and God-fearing, Zacharias when he has the vision asks for a sign, because he didn’t believe Gabriel’s message. Because of this, Zacharias became mute. On the other hand though, when Mary was told that she would become pregnant with Jesus, she asked how, but didn’t ask for a sign from God on the matter. Rather, she believed it and said let it be so.

Jews during Jesus’ day were always looking for signs and wonders as proof. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees when they asked for a sign and said that the only sign he would give them would be the “Sign of Jonah”, which is a rather cryptic response. He was referring to himself in that Jesus was calling them to repent and predicting his death and resurrection  as Jonah was in the fish for 3 days, Jesus was in the ground for 3 days (Matthew 12:38-41, Matthew 16:1-4, Luke 11:29-32). Jesus was the sign, and after Jesus ascended he gave the Holy Spirit to open the minds of Christians to the things of God so that they can know the truth (1 Corinthians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 2).

God is still communicating with people today through his word, which is “God breathed” (3 Timothy 3:16-17). Asking for additional revelation as Zacharias did doesn’t seem too harmful, but the evidence was standing right before his eyes (as if the presence of an angel wasn’t enough!) Rather than ask for a sign one should ask for wisdom and understanding as Mary did. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the minds of Christians can be illuminated to understand the truths in the scriptures, and respond to the commands of Christ as Mary did, saying “may it be”. It is okay to question God when one doesn’t understand, nevertheless asking for more proof that what is given shouldn’t be necessary, because enough proof already exists.

Lord, when you speak, help me say, “may it be”.

John 4:43-54

Read John 4:43-54

Jesus left Samaria and finished his journey back to Galilee where he came back into the town of Cana where he had turned water into wine. His popularity was apparently growing as many people recognized him from Jerusalem because of the signs and wonders he had done there. A man from Capernaum – a days journey at least – sought him out in Cana asking Jesus to come to his home to heal his dying son. Jesus then addresses the crowds that had come to him (the verbs translated “see” and “believe” in John 4:48 are second person plural, meaning he is addressing more than one person) saying they would not believe unless they are shown a sign. In contrast, Jesus speaks to the man who believes him merely on words and the man departs to find that his son was healed at the same hour that Jesus said he would be healed. This was the second sign that Jesus did in Galilee, the first being the changing of water into wine.

The demand for a sign was a common among Jews. They had demanded a sign from Jesus in John 2:18 when he cleansed the temple.  Nicodemus recognized the signs Jesus was doing too (John 3:2). Signs were commonly perceived as a way to authenticate a messenger (John 7:31, John 10:24-38). John wrote about the signs of Jesus so that people might believe too (John 20:30-31). Right before John declares his intent on writing is the story of Thomas (John 20:26-29), often called Doubting Thomas. The fact that Jesus was among them even though the door was locked was not enough evidence to convince him that Jesus was alive. He had to have tangential evidence for Jesus. Jesus declares that those who do not see him are “blessed”.

While signs are not inherently bad, signs can be misleading. The Bible contains several warnings against false prophets who will be able to perform signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22,  2 Thessalonians 2:9).  Likewise, there will be many who performed signs and wonders even in the name of Christ that will not enter heaven (Matthew 7:22-23). What is necessary to steer the course through false signs is sound doctrine accordingly because false prophets can lead one astray by dazzling one with signs. In 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul charges young Timothy to preach the word because there will come a time when people will not endure sound doctrine for one reason or another. Earlier in the letter (2 Timothy 2:2) Paul says that Timothy should teach what he received from Paul to others men who will teach it to others. One chapter earlier (2 Timothy 1:5) Paul talks about the faith that his grandmother and mother possessed, and Paul was sure that Timothy possessed it. This procession of doctrine was not done in the context of signs, but in the context of faith being handed from one generation to the next. Also, Paul says that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:10-17). Jesus’ last command in Matthew before ascending was for the disciples to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). There is a progression here to: Jesus made disciples, who are commanded to make disciples. There is even some of this going on in the early parts of John too with the early disciples hearing and bring others to Jesus (John 1:35-50) and the Samaritan woman hearing and then going to tell her village (John 4:28-42).

Signs are by no means dead and God still uses signs to draw people to himself. But in any case, signs should always be in conjunction with a message of salvation that is from Jesus, as this is sound doctrine. The plan from scripture for the propagation of the gospel is for the faithful to train up others to be faithful who will do the same. The progression has spanned 2 millennia and reaches Christians today. Part of the Great Commission is like what Paul was doing to Timothy – teaching others to obey the things Jesus commanded. Rather than looking for signs and wonders, Christians should be searching out words of Christ that teach sound doctrine and contain the commands of Christ and trusting in these words rather than some sign.

Lord, help me to trust and obey your words because your words is truth!