February 7, 2015.
Daily Reading: Matthew 11-13.
Background: Matthew 8-10.
Concepts and Connections.
1. John the baptizer and the Messiah: John had come as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah, a voice crying in the wilderness. As Jesus’ and John’s ministries begin to overlap, John sends messengers to Jesus to ask if He is the one that was to come or if they should look for another. Jesus’ response is very interesting because He doesn’t give John a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but rather sends back witnesses to tell John what they have seen. Jesus doesn’t rely on His own words, though they would have been sufficient, but rather the power that He was displaying through the many wonderful works that He had been doing. He sends back John’s messengers with their own testimony to His glory. Once the message is sent, Jesus goes into teaching the people about John, confirming that he was the one who the prophet was speaking of to prepare the way before Jesus, so as to set the scene (see Malachi 3:1). He was to come in the spirit and power of Elijah (see Luke 1:16-17). Indeed, John was a great prophet of the Lord, a testimony to Christ. But what is perhaps even more interesting is Jesus’ statement that even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John. This was to say that what Jesus’ was establishing with mankind, His new covenant, was better than the one that had come before, the one that John lived under. The law was simply a guardian until the fullness of time came (see Galatians 3:24 and 4:3-5).
2. Seeing what you want to see: As Jesus starts to talk about John, He asks a rhetorical question “What then did you go out to see?” Jesus was asking what their intent was as they went out to see John in the wilderness. They had heard stories about him, they knew what he was about- so what did they expect when they came to see him? Intention in their reasoning here seems to play an important role to Jesus, for some were just seeing what they wanted to see. They went out to see a crazy man, and that’s what they saw. They saw Jesus as one who ate and drank with sinners, so they called Him a glutton and a drunkard. The people were seeing what they wanted to see instead of perceiving the reality of the matter. Jesus is pointing out their blindness here, as He would go on to do in the following chapters. Well was it prophesied of them “seeing they see but they do not perceive” (see Isaiah 6:9-10). When we evaluate any part of our spiritual lives, whether that be a piece of doctrine that we hold to or a certain action that we partake in, we need to be careful to be sure that we are evaluating it in an unbiased manner, in the light of the word of the Lord, so that we are not only seeing what we want to see, as it so easy to do. This is what the people did for both John and Jesus, and in so doing the missed the message. They did not see Christ as the Messiah. Though the evil cities of the days of old would have seen Him as the Christ if He had appeared to them, the ones who were present at this time simply would not see Jesus. They missed Him We would do well not to do the same.
3. His yoke is easy, and burden light: To those who were receptive, to those who would listen and take His words to heart, He offered rest from their labor. No more did they have to strive in the depths of sin, but they had the opportunity to take His yoke upon themselves, for His yoke was easy and His burden light. The meekness and gentleness of Christ would be a refuge for them and they would find rest for their souls. Paul talks about this concept when he writes to the church at Philippi, describing the peace of God as passing all understanding (see Philippines 4:4-7). We need to give our worries and our cares over to Christ, and find this peace of God.
1. Mercy over sacrifice: One of the biggest accusations that the scribes and Pharisees could levy against Jesus His actions and the actions of His disciples on the Sabbath day. They were looking for a point of condemnation; typically when we look for something to be the case, we tend to find it. The Pharisees found their point of contention with Jesus on His miracles and HIs disciples gleaning on the Sabbath day, a day that the law said to keep holy and do no work on (see Exodus 20:8-11). What is Jesus’ response to them when they confront Him about it? He turns to scripture. He first gives the example of David eating the bread of the presence when he was running from King Saul who was trying to kill him (see I Samuel 21:1-6), showing that there are exceptions to the rule, when it comes to the health and well-being of someone. This idea is further fleshed out when Jesus asks them if they would not get one of their animals that had fallen into a ditch out if it was on the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day was not given as a day of punishment, or as a day on which not to do good to help someone, but rather as a day of rest and holy devotion to the Lord. The pharisees had missed the point of the whole law. If they had understood the purpose, they would have known what “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” meant. We too need to check ourselves that we don’t get so caught up in law that we show not mercy or grace to our fellow man, as Christ has shown to us.
2. A kingdom divided against itself: A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus responds in this way when some accuse Him of casting out demons in the name of the prince of demons, being quick to point out the fallacy of their statement. This is another case of the Pharisees only seeing what they want to see, reconciling even the miracles of Christ as the work of demons. But this makes no sense, as a house divided against itself will fall. Then Jesus talks about knowing a person by the fruit they bear. Good trees bear good fruit, whereas evil trees bear evil fruit. You cannot cross the two, so as to say a bad tree will bear good fruit, which is what the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of doing. They were blaspheming against the Holy Spirit through whom the power of God was made manifest. Jesus is quick to point out that this is not a good thing to do, as there would be eternal consequences for this blasphemy. This is a good reminder that we should be careful what we say and how we interpret certain situations, checking our own perception and how that could blind us to the truth.
3. Prophecy, signs and spirits: Two passages in Isaiah are specifically referenced here, Isaiah 42:1-3 and 61:1, giving validity to the notion that Jesus was the Messiah who was to come. It is important to note that in the prophecy it is said that He would come to proclaim justice to the Gentiles. Jesus would come to the house of Israel first, but when they would reject Him, the message would be turned to the Gentiles that they might be grafted into the house of Israel (see Romans 11:11-24). When the scribes and the Pharisees asked for a sign from Him, Jesus once again points to scripture and tells them that the sign of Jonah would be given them, for as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, so would He remain in the grave for three days before rising again, defeating sin and death and offering salvation to all. Then it would seem that Jesus gave a warning about turning back to wickedness after having overcome it and put things in order, as He says that when a spirit comes back to a home that it once inhabited and finds it clean and swept, then the spirit will invite even more spirits to come in, and the latter end will be worse than the beginning. We do not need to give opportunity to the devil (ref. Ephesians 4:27).
4. Priorities: Notice where Jesus places His priorities in this passage. When His mother and brothers come to Him and He gets word that they are seeking Him, He says that the people He is talking to are His mother and His brothers and His sisters. In Luke 14:46, Jesus says that no man who loves any of his household more than Jesus can be a disciple. These are very strong words that we might not think about too often because they don’t resinate all that well with our ideology. But Christianity, being a disciple of Christ, takes a lot of commitment. It is not something that you just check off on a to-do list. It is a way of life. We can take lesson here to set our priorities in line, Christ being before all, and to focus on what is most important in life.
1. Speaking in parables: In chapter 11, it is recorded that Jesus had just finished teaching the disciples privately when He started speaking parables to the crowds. He only spoke parables to the crowd, not straight forward teaching such as can be found on the sermon on the mount (see Matthew 5-7). When the disciples asked Him why He was only speaking in parables to the crowd, He explained to them that to them were given the full mystery of the good news, whereas it was not given as such to the crowd. This mystery had been hidden since the times of old, and even many prophets and righteous people who longed to hear these words were not able to like the disciples were given the privilege. But to the crowds Jesus gave small pieces of knowledge in parables, an invitation to knowledge of sorts (see Psalm 78:2), so that those who were truly interested could seek and find, but those who were not interested in following Christ would hear but mere words (even the disciples had to ask Him what the meaning of the parables were). This was to fulfill what was said by Isaiah, “keep on hearing, but do not understand” (see Isaiah 6:9-10). There was a bit of a challenge involved in following Christ; He did not just give the secrets of the kingdom of heaven out on a silver spoon. The secrets cannot be expressed as such. There has to be searching and learning, seeking and finding. We must knock so that the door will be opened unto us (ref. Matthew 7:7).
2. The parable of the sower: The parable of the sower is one of the few parables that we have the record of Jesus explaining what is meant by the parable. Using this template, we can learn a lot from other parables that may have otherwise remained a mystery to us. The parable of the sower hits at a very common phenomena that we see in the spiritual body even today. When the seed is sown, that is the word of God, many different types of people may hear it. Some do not receive it, have it snatched away from their hearts. Some receive it and even continue in the word for some time. They receive the good news with gladness and make a commitment. Unfortunately, many do not make a firm enough commitment, having no root, and when the signs of trouble come around or the cares and pleasures of this world entice, they fall away from the word and no longer continue in it. Notice the implications that Jesus is making here. There are those who will receive the message and conform to it for a while, but would eventually fall away from it. Peter describes this concept in II Peter 2:21-22, saying that those who had come to know righteousness and then turn back are in a worse state than not having known righteousness in the first place (also compare with Matthew 12:43-45). The last soil, however, would be those who had a good heart ready to receive the word and bear fruit. Let us all strive to sow the seed on all types of soil, so as to find the good ground and allow the Lord to cultivate fruit.
3. Parables of the kingdom of heaven: Towards the end of this chapter, Jesus gives several shorter parables that pertain to the kingdom of heaven. These include the parable of the mustard seed, leaven, tares, net and different treasures. Though these are many shorter parables, they all seem to convey one of two concepts about the kingdom of heaven. The first concept is that the kingdom of heaven is more valuable than anything that we could ever own here on this earth. There is nothing to compare it to, which give us hope of a better place in which we can set our treasure. It is worth selling all that we have to gain what is priceless. This puts the priorities point made in chapter 12 in perspective. The second concept is that in that day, the good will be separated from the bad. This is not talking about separation of the righteous from the world, but rather the righteous from the weeds that are found within the kingdom. It is easy to tell the difference between a Christian and one who does not claim the name of Christ, but these parables lend themselves to the tares that are found within the church body. In the end, God will make no mistake. The weeds will be separated from the grain. Let us be mindful of the tares that are sown within the body by the advisory so as to not be lead astray by them.
4. No prophet is accepted in his hometown: It is interesting that when Jesus first came into his hometown with wisdom and power that the people there were astonished at His presence, yet when they started reasoning through it, they took offense at Him because they had known Him and His family throughout His whole life. How could He be something special when they had watched Him grow from a young child? Jesus said that a prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown, which was precisely the case for Him here. Perhaps it was the fact that Jesus had waited so long to start HIs public ministry that the people of HIs hometown simply could not perceive Him as anything other than what they had know Him as for many, many years. Learning from their example, let us not grow so sure in history and dogma that we are not able to see the truth when it is presented right before our very eyes. Jesus had come to bring salvation to mankind, but the people of His hometown were blind to His truth. Let us not act in the same way.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Romans 12-14.
He that has ears, let him hear.