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 9:1-8: Authority Over Sin

Read: Matthew 9:1-8

There are many unequivocal declaration of the deity of Jesus in scripture, and the healing of the paralytic would be among them. When Jesus came across the Sea of Galilee, they brought him to the paralytic. The text doesn’t say that the man ask for healing or otherwise, but the first thing that Jesus does forgive his sins. Immediately, Jesus is accuse of blasphemy man could not forgive sin. Nevertheless, Jesus uses the opportunity to do a physical demonstration of power to show that he indeed had authority to forgive sin, and when he did people were amazed by him.

The penalty for a blasphemer was death (Leviticus 24:10-16) , and ultimately this is what they accused Jesus of before he was crucified (Matthew 26:65). The Pharisees accuse Jesus of blasphemy because they rightfully point out that only God can forgive sins (Luke 5:21). What they didn’t understand though was that Jesus is God. But Jesus asks a rhetorical question in response. The reality is that both saying “Your sins are forgiven” and “Rise up and walk” were both impossible for any mere man to say – only God could do these things. One was not easier than the other, and the Pharisees and scribes knew this. The difference is that they could not see that his sins were forgiven, but they could see a man get up and walk, so again, Jesus speaks and the man is healed.

Jesus, however, tags his demonstration of his authority to forgive sins with the title “Son of Man”. This is the first of 25 times that this title appears in the gospel of Luke. Why Jesus used this title is not certain, but it could be because of its twofold significance from the Old Testament that affairs his humanity and his divinity, which is the case here in Luke 5 where Jesus as a man is doing things that only God can do. “Son of man” as a reference to humanity is found all over the Old Testament, but a few examples are Psalm 8:4, Psalm 80:17, and 90 times in the book of Ezekiel. The reference to “son of man” as divine is found in Daniel 7:13-14, which was one “like a son of man” that was given kingship over the world. Jesus alludes to this text in Matthew 26:64 and Matthew 24:30. Both if these verses and the surrounding texts points to Jesus being the Son of Man that is spoken of in Daniel.

Often times, Christians come wanting something from God knows that they need most. God though, in his providence supplies what people need because he is able. The one universal thing that every person needs is forgiveness from sin, which Jesus is able to forgive because he is God. For this reason, no matter what one asks God for, he or she can always ask God for forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says that God is faithful and will forgive all unrighteousness for that reason.

Lord, I need forgiveness!

Forgive me from my sins!

Luke 5:27-32: A Call to Repentance

Read: Luke 5:27-32

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 (Luke 5:13). 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.

Levi, also known as Matthew (Matthew 9:9), was one of these, nevertheless Jesus saw it fit to call Levi as his disciple. Levi would go on to write the Gospel of Matthew. Levi abandoned everything and followed Jesus when Jesus called him, just like Peter, James, and John (Luke 5:9-11). He had almost certainly heard of Jesus and was nearby at the healing of the lame man. By implication, Levi 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).

Later, Jesus would commission Levi and the rest of the disciples to make disciples of all nations as Jesus had done with them in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). The first step in making disciples though is to find sinners and present them with the gospel. Part of the gospel is telling people about the reality of their sin (Romans 3:23) and the call to repentance as Jesus did in verse 32. To those that do repent, they are called to obey, as Levi did. In the Great Commission tells his disciples to teach others to obey. The same commandment goes out to all who call themselves Christians too. Associating with sinners is not an endorsement of their action. Christians shouldn’t be be afraid to be seen with sinners. In fact, it is necessary if one is to be about the work of making disciples, which starts calling people to repentance and obedience to Jesus’ commands.

Lord, I believe!
Help me to proclaim repentance and obedience to the world!

Luke 5:17-26: Jesus Can Forgive Sins

Read: Luke 5:17-26

Jesus’ teaching ministry not only drew the common people, it also attracted a large number of Pharisees and “teachers of the law” too. Both these groups were zealous about the the Law of Moses so they knew it well and had no tolerance for blasphemers. Jesus was teaching while these experts were looking on when a group of men brought a friend of theirs to be healed. The house was crowded, so they went up top, moved away the roofing tiles and lowered him in right in front of Jesus. This undoubtedly made quite a raucous, nevertheless Jesus was impressed by their faith that he could heal the man and how it drove them to unconventional means just to get a chance.

But Jesus doesn’t heal the man right away. Instead, he tells the man that his sins are forgiven, which causes quite a stir in an event that has already been in spectacle. The Pharisees accuse Jesus of blasphemy because they rightfully point out that only God can forgive sins. What they didn’t understand though was that Jesus is God. But Jesus asks a rhetorical question in response. The reality is that both saying “Your sins are forgiven” and “Rise up and walk” were both impossible for any mere man to say – only God could do these things. One was not easier than the other, and the Pharisees and scribes knew this. The difference is that they could not see that his sins were forgiven, but they could see a man get up and walk, so again, Jesus speaks and the man is healed.

Jesus, however, tags his demonstration of his authority to forgive sins with the title “Son of Man”. This is the first of 25 times that this title appears in the gospel of Luke. Why Jesus used this title is not certain, but it could be because of its twofold significance from the Old Testament that affairs his humanity and his divinity, which is the case here in Luke 5 where Jesus as a man is doing things that only God can do. “Son of man” as a reference to humanity is found all over the Old Testament, but a few examples are Psalm 8:4, Psalm 80:17, and 90 times in the book of Ezekiel. The reference to “son of man” as divine is found in Daniel 7:13-14, which was one “like a son of man” that was given kingship over the world. Jesus alludes to this text in Matthew 26:64 and Matthew 24:30. Both if these verses and the surrounding texts points to Jesus being the Son of Man that is spoken of in Daniel.

Often times, Christians come wanting something from God knows that they need most. God though, in his providence supplies what people need because he is able. The one universal thing that every person needs is forgiveness from sin, which Jesus is able to forgive because he is God. For this reason, no matter what one asks God for, he or she can always ask God for forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says that God is faithful and will forgive all unrighteousness for that reason.

Lord, I need forgiveness!

Forgive me from my sins!

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 3:15-20: Minimize Me

Read: Luke 3:15-20

John the Baptist knew his place when it came to Jesus. He was well respected and revered as a prophet by the people that were coming to be baptized, and many thought that he may be the Messiah. In spite of all this, John humbled himself and used whatever authority and influence he had to point people to Jesus. John says of Jesus that he is not worthy to undo the thong of his sandal, which was considered a lowly task generally performed for the lowliest servant when guests came to one’s house.

John’s message was called “good news” yet Luke depicts Jesus as one with a winnowing fork. The winnowing fork was an instrument used to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the chaff was carried away by the wind and burned in fire. John speaks of Jesus baptizing by the Holy Spirit and my fire. Baptism of the Holy Spirit – that is receiving the Holy Spirit – is something that happens to all who believe when they become Christians. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers (John 2:20; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The allusion to fire though is not clear. It could either be a prophetic statement about what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) or a reference judgment that will come. In the context, the latter makes more sense because John is talking about Jesus separating the wheat from the chaff, and burning the chaff.

To illustrate how the gospel is offensive to some, Luke uses John’s encounter with Herod. John was bold enough to call out Herod, a strong and power ruler, on the adultery that he had with his sister-in-law, Herodias. Matthew 14:1-12 gives more details on the matter, where Herodias prompted her daughter, who had danced for Herod pleased him, to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod had John arrested and beheaded to fulfill her wishes. John made no special provisions for anyone and did not really care about his safety either, rather he was concerned about proclaiming good news and pointing people to Jesus.

The word “gospel” means “good news”. The coming of Jesus is good news for those that will accept it. For those that will not, it is offensive because it confronts people with their sin. But John the Baptist was embolden to preach this good news of Jesus rather than live in fear of what might happen to him. John’s martyrdom, zeal, and humility for the sake of gospel of Jesus serves as a reminder of the the attitude and priorities Christians ought to have concerning Jesus. Christians ought to get the good news of Jesus out and put Jesus in the spotlight so that he can be exalted.

Lord, help me to minimize myself and maximize Jesus in all things!

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!

Hebrews 13:1-18: “Outside the Gate”

Read: Hebrews 13:1-18

If one could produce a list of similar to the 10 Commandments in the New Testament, Hebrews 13 could probably suffice. In this chapter, the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers with a number of commands to follow that are in line with Christian principles:

  1. Love one another (v1).
  2. Be hospitable to strangers (v2). You very well may be entertaining angels!
  3. Remember those in prison (v3). This is probably talking about those who had been imprisoned for the same of the gospel such as Paul and Timothy.
  4. Honor marriage (v4).
  5. Be free from the love of money (v5).
  6. Remember, obey and imitate your leaders (v7, v17).
  7. Stay true to the teachings of Jesus (v8-9)
  8. Pray for the author (18-19). Apparently, he had been sent away or taken away for some reason, perhaps imprisoned.
  9. Praise God with worship and service to others (v15-16)

In the midst of these commands, the author of Hebrews makes one final doctrinal point concerning the sacrifice of bulls that are made in the tabernacle. Part of the blood and parts of the bull were used as a sin sacrifice, but the rest of the body was taken outside the camp and burned. When Jesus made his sacrifice though, the entire sacrifice was made outside the camp – his blood along with his entire body. The location is key here, because Jesus was ultimately rejected by the religious establishment of his day. Nevertheless, it was through his sacrifice that people are sanctified. In light of this sacrifice, the author encourages his readers to offer “sacrifices” of praise to God and good deeds to others. These are the sorts of sacrifices pleasing to God anyways (Micah 6:7-8).

Christian ideas and principles aren’t always accepted in every culture in every time. Nevertheless, in the same manner Jesus suffered “outside the gate”, Christians ought to suffer scorn even when their ideas aren’t popular. But what awaits Christians when they meet Jesus face to face is of much greater value than anything that being accepted by the world can offer. Knowing this can help encourage Christians as they walk through life, keeping Christ’s commands and holding fast to the promises he has given.

Lord, you weren’t popular when you came, but you endured for my sake!
Help me to do no less for your sake!

Hebrews 12:12-17: “Strengthen Your Weak Knees”

Read: Hebrews 12:12-17

The author of Hebrews has just encouraged his readers to shed sin and focus on Jesus. Coming off of this, he gives a great “therefore” talking about the implication of what he has just said concerning the cloud, race, and fatherly discipline metaphors. First, he encourages his readers to be “healed” rather than have what is “lame” be put out of joint. In the context, the author here is probably talking metaphorically again about the weak areas of one’s life, encouraging them to strengthen these areas so theses areas will not become problem areas later on. Second, he encourages his readers to strive for peace with everyone and holiness. The implication here is that without holiness no one will see the Lord. The author here seems to have a concern for the outsiders looking in, namely those who are not believers yet. For this reason, he wants those who are believers to be at peace with nonbelievers and to live in a way that his holy so the outsiders can see the Lord in through the believers. In regards to holiness, the author lists three things he wants his readers to do: see to that no one fails to receive the grace of God, that there be no “root of bitterness” among them that would “defile” them, and that there be no sexual immorality or “godlessness” (“godlessness” Gk: “bébēlos” here isn’t talking about lack of belief, rather lack of piety – the antithesis of respect for God.)

In regards to this, the author of Hebrews draws from the Old Testament concerning Esau, the eldest son of Isaac and brother of Jacob. Esau notoriously and foolishly sold his birthright – that is his blessing from his father as the oldest son – for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29-34). In doing so, Jacob received the blessing instead. When Esau realized what he had done, it was too late. His actions couldn’t be undone. He wanted to turn back his decision (that is “repent”) but he couldn’t. The relationships here were not damaged beyond repair. Jacob and Esau eventually reconciled (Genesis 33), but nevertheless what had been done could not be undone.

The admonitions to strengthen weak areas and to be found blameless speak to the importance of holy living. Many Christians are just one sin away from a something that could forever damage their witness as a follower of Jesus. Just about everyone could name some high profile minister whose moral failure sent his ministry into a tailspin. But being low profile doesn’t make one immune. A fit of rage at the wrong could cost one a job. One too many drinks could be the difference between the life and death of another person. But even so, the slow fade caused by the cancerous effects of a single, seemingly small sin could have last effects. Trading the blessings of Christ for short lived satisfaction is foolish and it is most certainly a hindrance rather than a help to the gospel.  Christians would be wise to identify areas of weakness and strengthen these areas before the weakness turns into a debilitating sin.

Lord, Help me to know where I am weak so that by your help I may be made strong.

Hebrews 11:23-29: The Faith of Moses and Other Messy People

Read: Hebrews 11:23-29

Moses, although he is commended for his faith, was not without problems. He was a timid man, wanting someone else to take on the responsibility of leading the people (Exodus 3:1-22). He was a fugitive on the run after he killed a man for abusing a Hebrew slave (Exodus 1:11-25). He struggled with obeying God at times, which cost him the ability to partake in the Promised Land (Numbers 20:10-13).  Despite these shortcomings, Moses became the intrepid leader of Israel during the exodus and wandering in the desert. The author of recounts the remarkable acts of faith surrounding his family and Moses. He tells how Moses became the son of the Egyptian princess, yet scorned the wealth of Egypt for his people’s sake, encountered God at the burning bush and followed God’s commands concerning the first Passover.

Moses is but one example of how God takes people and their mishaps and uses them for his purposes and glory. The Bible is chock-full of stories of people who, although they had shortcomings and faltered, God used them. People such as Samson, David, Rahab, Solomon, Peter, Paul and Thomas are a few. Every challenge that Moses and these other men and women of God overcame was done so by faith in spite of whatever shortcomings they had.

Make no mistake: God wants his people to live according to righteousness and  God does not take sin lightly. The author of Hebrews already gave a staunch warning about those who willfully and deliberately keep on sinning after receiving knowledge of the truth (Hebrews 10:26-31). Nevertheless, God can still use sinful people even today to accomplish his will. The difference is what one does with his or her sin. When those who do believe confess their sin, God is faithful and just and forgives and cleanses one from sin (1 John 1:9). Keeping a contrite heart focused on God in faith and acting according to his plan will accomplish much.

Lord, I’m messy, but with your help I believe you can use me for your glory!

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