January 31, 2015.
Daily Reading: Matthew 8-10.
Background: Matthew 5-7.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Faith in Jesus’ power: This chapter focuses heavily on Jesus’ healing miracles after He came down off the mountain where He gave the sermon on the mount. In the next chapter we will see more of the purpose of these miracles, but in this chapter there is one element in each instance that stands out when Jesus works a miracle. Each story involves an element of faith in the power of Jesus. This is perhaps most evident in the story of the centurion who told Jesus that He didn’t even have to step foot in his house for his daughter to be made well. The centurion understood this concept because he understood the concept of authority, for he was a man of authority. He recognized Jesus’ authority over sickness and knew that Jesus would be able to heal from afar just by speaking the word. It is interesting that this man was likely not a Jew, being a centurion, which can be further seen by the statements that Jesus makes about the man. He said that He had not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. Then He alludes to the fact that the Jews will eventually reject Him as the Christ and the gospel will be preached rather to the gentiles who will accept the teaching and be invited into the kingdom of heaven while the Jews will be cast into outer darkness (see verses 11-12). It was all about faith, who would accept Jesus and who would reject Him. The Jews would ultimately reject Him, though many had faith at this time (the beginning of His ministry). When the Jews would reject the gospel, the disciples would then turn to the gentiles (see Acts 13:46).
2. The cost of discipleship: Too many times when we make “disciples” by spreading the gospel, we do not adequately inform them of the cost that is necessary to become a disciple of Christ. Sometimes we leave this out because we ourselves do no know the cost. Having faith in Jesus and following Him is not what we make it out to be all the time. It is hard work, more than a simple acknowledgment of Christ or even His deity. One must sacrifice self in order to follow Christ, for anything that we put before Him is unacceptable. The words of Christ recorded here are also found in more detail in Luke 9:57-60. Jesus did not trick people into following Him. He did not talk about all the good things and gloss over the hard parts of following Him. When someone came to Him and said they would follow Him, He let them know up front how great a commitment it would be and how hard it would be. Is this how we spread the gospel? Do we let people know how tough it is to be a Christian? How tough it is to deny self on a daily basis? Do we ourselves know how tough it is? All of these are great questions to honestly consider and evaluate before an evangelism campaign is begun.
1. The purpose of miracles: As Jesus enters into His own city, He sees an opportunity to teach a lesson to the scribes in the area. Telling a paralytic that his sins were forgiven stirred up the Jewish leaders as it was Jesus making a statement that He was on the same level as God. Thus they accused Him of blasphemy. But then Jesus demonstrates the purpose behind the miracles He did- they were to show that He was from God and that His words are true. He challenges the scribes by pointing out that He had the authority over nature to heal the sick, confirming His word. The purpose of miracles was not to help a few sick people become well (though this was a benefit that came from them), but rather to confirm that Jesus was the son of God and that the people He sent out were teaching the truth. Miracles continued on in the apostolic age to do the same thing (see Mark 16:20, 1 Thessalonians 1:5 and Hebrews 2:3-4).
2. Eating with sinners: This is perhaps one of the most well know concepts in the gospel for various reasons. Jesus is criticized for eating with sinners and tax collectors (it is interesting that one of the apostles that He called was a tax collector). The Jewish leaders did not have any such associations with such people, for they were bread iniquity. When He was confronted about it, Jesus gave the reply that He came not for the healthy, but to be a physician for the sick. He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Jesus points out a logical flaw to any evangelism plan that the Jewish leaders had: if they didn’t associate with the people they should have been a light to, then they would not be able to reach any of them. We too should learn from the words of Jesus, for the gospel is for all. If we do not associate with those who have not put on Christ due to their “dirtiness,” then we have no chance in reaching them. It is important to note that just because Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors does not mean that He participated in their sinful deeds. Jesus lived a perfect life, free from sin. His presence was known amongst the sinners, but not His actions in following. We too should reach out to the lost like this without participating in their sinful actions.
3. Fasting: Fasting is not all that common amongst Christians today, perhaps for cultural reasons above all else. It is interesting, however, that Jesus implies in verse 15 that His disciples would fast once He was gone. Understanding this, the question that is dying to be asked is “why don’t we fast?” It would seem that Jesus expected His followers to after the bridegroom had gone. Fasting is the practice of going an extended period of time without eating, being in prayer and meditation to clear the mind and get closer to the Lord. Fasting was often done before a major decision was made or before entering a difficult trial (see Matthew 4:1-11, Acts 13:1-3, 14:19-23). Fasting can be a very beneficial practice amongst Christians, one that we should take more seriously than it would seem we do.
4. Being Laborers: Have you ever prayed for the Lord to send more laborers into the field to harvest souls? This is precisely what Jesus told His disciples to do when He saw the crowds. He had compassion on the people and longed for them to hear the good news of the kingdom of heaven. His love for the people led Him to proclaim the good news to them, for this was their only hope. There was one way to salvation, and that through Him, and the world needed to hear this message. But one man cannot alone teach the world. Thus, Jesus told the disciples to pray that the Lord send more. To be a Christian is to spread the gospel. Complacency is not too much of a viable option. We have a duty to Christ and to our fellow man to proclaim the gospel on the mountain top. May the Lord send us into the field that is ripe for harvest.
1. The limited commission: When Jesus sent the apostles to the house of Israel to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, we often refer to this as the limited commission (as opposed to the great commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 where the disciples were sent to all the world). This journey was purposed specifically for the lost sheep of Israel only. It was necessary that the gospel be proclaimed to the house of Israel first before the rest of the people, for they were the chosen people of God, whom He had promised that a remnant would be saved. To Israel belonged the promises and Messiah (see Romans 9:3-5). But they rejected the promises (or at least the majority did), and the promises were then turned to the Gentiles. One of the lessons that we can learn from the limited commission comes from what Jesus told the the apostles about houses who did not receive their message; they were to shake off the dust of their feet. We are not going to convince everyone that Jesus is Lord, the Son of God. Not everyone is going to believe the message. We cannot get hung up on one or two people who are unwilling to believe while neglecting to minister to someone else who might very well be receptive to the message.
2. Strength from the Lord: When Jesus sent out the apostles on the Limited Commission, He told them up front that they would be persecuted. He sent them out as sheep before wolves. If they persecuted the Master, they would certainly persecute His disciples (this is likely going beyond just the limited commission and into even today). Instead of telling them to lay low or to run from persecution, he told them to have no fear! We are not to fear him who can only kill the body, but rather we are to fear God who can destroy both the body and soul in hell. The strong of the disciples was in the Lord, not in their own power. When they were imprisoned and tried, they would be given the words to speak by the Holy Spirit that would ultimately glorify God no matter what the outcome of the situation was. Jesus was sending them out into a very difficult situation, and He knew that the situations after this mission would not be any easier as well. This is why it was necessary to be up front about the commitment and sacrifice that one had to make in order to be a disciple of Him. Those who chose Him would have to rely on God to give them the strength to overcome the trials and tribulations. We too today must lean on the strength of the Lord as opposed to our own strength if we would actually succeed.
3. Prince of peace? In Isaiah 9:6, one of the names for the Messiah was Prince of peace. Micah 5:5 says the the Messiah will be the people’s peace. So why does Jesus here say that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword? Jesus is referring to here the division He would cause amongst the house of Israel and in individual homes where some would accept Him and others would not. Jesus’ gospel was offensive, and He did not apologize for it. Some would take hold of it and others would stand strongly against it. For those who did accept His gospel, the peace of God which passes all understanding would certainly come to them (see Philippians 4:7). But it would come at a price. Households would be divided, for being a disciple would not be easy. A disciple could place no one, including father, mother, spouse or sibling, above Christ. Many families would not take well to this concept. Thus, He would bring a sword as opposed to peace.
4. A cup of cold water: There is an important concept that is taught in these last few verses that is not one that we always remember. When we look at the great things that Christians in times past, or even influential Christians today, did/do for the church, we can easily come to the feeling that we are insignificant to the work of the Lord. However, this is untrue. We are each given different talents, abilities and opportunities to serve in the kingdom. Some are given the ability to teach and preach, others to comfort and still others to build up members of the church. Each job is an important job (see I Corinthians 12). Here Jesus alludes to this concept by saying that each will receive his reward, even for just giving a cup of cold water to the little ones. We can be sure that our heavily Father sees our actions and what we do for the kingdom, and we can be confident that He will not forget what we have done. If just a cup of cold water is all that you can do, then give the cup of cold water. But if you are given the abilities to do more, you should not squander opportunities to work for the kingdom (see Luke 12:48). May we all glorify God though the talents that he has given each one of us.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Romans 9-11.
Will you become a disciple of Jesus?