February 14, 2015.
Daily Reading: Matthew 14-16.
Background: Matthew 11-13.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Belief without faith: At the beginning of this chapter we gain an interesting perspective into the mind of Herod the tetrarch and can glean an important lesson about a characteristic of man that we might sometimes overlook in our own lives. We read here the story of Herod’s reaction when he is first informed about Jesus and the many works that He is doing. The background that is needed to fully appreciate this lesson, however, is given after his reaction. As we have seen in previous chapters, John the baptizer came to prepare the way for the Christ, and he was a wild man (see Matthew 3) and very popular amongst the people. When John had been brought before Herod on one occasion, however, he told him that it was not lawful for Herod to have Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for this he imprisoned John and would eventually behead him at the request of a beautiful young woman who danced in his presence.
However, perhaps the most interesting part of this story is Herod’s reaction to Jesus- he thought it was John the baptizer raised from the dead! This is a strong indication that he believed John the baptizer was sent from God, or at least he had an inclination that this was so. So, if Herod believed that John the baptizer was who he said he was, why did he not go down to him and get baptized? Why did he not confess his sins like so many were doing? He did not have faith in the message that John was preaching. Though he believed that John was and on some level likely believed that he was from God, he did not put his faith in him. This is something that can happen with any one of us. We can believe something, but not actually put our faith in it. We can believe that a certain political power is in control of the land, but not want to follow him or her, nor jump on board with any of his or her policies. Though this might not be the best example, it follows that we can believe that Jesus was, perhaps even that He was sent from God (as Herod seemed to believe John was), but not commit to Him in obedient faith. Let us check our hearts that this is not so.
2. How Jesus spent His time: Twice in this chapter we read that Jesus withdrew Himself to a desolate place. It would seem that Jesus valued alone time, especially alone time that He used to connect with His Father. Jesus went away by Himself, even withdrawing from His closest disciples. It would seem like He did this on at least a somewhat regular basis, for with the second withdrawal, His disciples get in a boat and cross the sea, seemingly without concern for their Lord that they should be looking for Him or waiting on Him. This may imply that it was normal for Jesus to spend alone time with the Father. From this example, we can see how important time alone with God can be to our spiritual lives.
However, it is also important to recognize that He gave of His time liberally when the crowds came to find Him, for He had compassion on them, even feeding five thousand via miracle so as to not send them away hungry, attending to both their spiritual and physical needs. Jesus spent a lot of time with His disciples and with the crowds to who He was ministering, whether that be the people of the town who came out to see Him or specific people that He drew near two throughout His ministry. Jesus had a mission while He walked the earth, and He used His time to glorify the Father. We too should learn to balance our private and public spiritual time, so as to get the best of spiritual renewal from the Father and give the most spiritual encouragement to those around us.
3. Fixing our eyes on Christ: Perhaps one of the most well known stories of Jesus is this instance described here where He walks on the water to meet His disciples in a boat. It was very late at night and when the disciples first saw Jesus, they cried out in fear for they thought He was a ghost. After learning it was their Lord, Peter famously calls out to the Christ and asks “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Even in this statement, we may see the beginning of Peter’s doubt. Regardless, Jesus says “Come,” and Peter starts out strong, with his confidence in Christ. But once he takes his eyes off of his Lord (at least figuratively, though probably literally as well), he starts to sink. Though Jesus is there to catch him, He does say “O you of little faith,” and asks him why he doubted. This can happen to us as well when we take our eyes off of Christ. If we are looking at the troublesome sea that is around us instead of looking firmly to Him who controls the sea, we will start to sink. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Christ.
1. Traditions of men versus the word of God: The Pharisees come to Jesus looking to find a way to accuse Him of doing something wrong. Being under Mosaic Law (and since they were well trained in the Law), they stuck with what they knew best and asked why his disciples transgressed the tradition of the elders. This is a great example of how the Pharisees had bound something that went beyond the Law of Moses, for in the law there is no mention of the necessity of washing one’s hands before eating. There is the concept of washing for purity, making one who was considered unclean clean (see Numbers 19), but not for this over binding of the law. To answer their question, Jesus goes beyond their question and hits at the root of their misunderstanding, pointing out how they had actually transgressed the command of God by their tradition. Then he quotes Isaiah, saying that they are only offering lip service to God and are not actually following His word (see Isaiah 29:13). What they were teaching (and condemning for) was what was taught by their elders, who had been likely taught by the elders before them, and so on. They were basing their religion in the traditions of men as opposed to the word of God. They were simply just doing what they had been taught as opposed to looking at the scriptures and considering whether or not what they had been taught lined up with the words of the Almighty. We need to be careful that we do not fall into the same trap that the Pharisees did, teaching for doctrines the commands of men.
2. It’s a heart problem: In the context of dealing with the Pharisees that were accusing His disciples of not following the tradition of the elders, Jesus tells a parable about the origin of sin. Often what we think of as sin (outward displays of sinful behaviors) are not where the problem lies. These are but symptoms of the problem. The problem starts with the heart. We are often tempted to treat the outward sin, such as drunkenness, lying or sexual immorality, without treating the problem. This is equivalent to a doctor who treats muscle pain with a pain reliever without searching for the cause of the muscle pain. It may get better for a while, but if the cause is not dealt with, the pain will come back. The same holds true with sin. if we don’t treat the heart problem, getting the heart back on track and walking in the light, the outward sins might go away for a while, but they will likely return, perhaps more so. It is not what goes in that defiles, but what comes out of the heart. Once we straighten out the heart, the other things will fall in line.
3. Jesus’ mission: The story of the faith of the Canaanite woman is one that is of great interest in that it reveals who Jesus was sent to minister to while He was on earth- the house of Israel. It was necessary for Jesus to go to the Jews, for to them belonged the promise of the Messiah (see Romans 9). But the Jews would ultimately reject their Christ, allowing Him to turn to the gentiles and offer salvation to all the nations of the world (see Romans 11). Here, Jesus makes it clear to the Canaanite woman that His purpose was not to minister to the Gentiles, but rather to the Jews. However, due to her great faith (which Jesus would have known all along, which is an interesting aspect to bring into consideration), He was willing to heal her. Thus, not only can we learn who Jesus’ primary audience was while He was on earth, we can also see His reward of those who put their faith in Him. Jesus would go on to heal many others who came to Him, and even preform another miracle very similar to the one we saw in the previous chapter, this time feeding 4,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. Jesus was carrying out His ministry and nothing could stand in His way until the time was complete.
1. The leaven of the Pharisees: Though Jesus was doing many great miracles, the Pharisees and Sadducees refused to take these miracles into account, but rather wanted Jesus to show them a direct sign from Heaven that He was who He said He was. Then He explains to them how they can interpret many things by what they see, but they had blocked their eyes to the signs of the time that were given to them. Thus, they would be given no signs, except the sign of Jonah, in that just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days before being spit out on dry land, Jesus would lay in the grave for three days before resurrecting never to die again. Then He told His disciples a parable that seemed to greatly confuse them until He explained it. They were to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, for just as a little leaven leaven’s the whole lump, so would the teaching of the Pharisees cause many to be lead astray, even creeping into their faith. They had quickly forgotten how He had fed the 5,000 and 4,000, as they were worried because they had forgotten to bring bread with them in the boat. What little faith they had! But, how often do we have the same amount, or even less faith than His disciples did?
2. The good confession: In this section we see the good confession that is known by many people when Jesus asked His disciples who they thought that He was. Peter boldly said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It was upon this confession that Jesus would build His church, for He was the foundation of the church. The belief that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the living God is fundamental to Christianity. Without this confession and belief, everything falls apart. But with it, even the gates of hell could not prevail against the church. Then He figuratively gave His disciples the keys to the kingdom, allowing them to bind and loose, which they would later do, being lead by the Holy Spirit (see II Timothy 3:16-17).
3. A quick fall: It is interesting that just a few verses after Peter made the good confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, that he makes a mistake, even rebuking his Lord for insinuating that He would die soon. Jesus was foretelling of His death, burial and resurrection, but Peter could not accept it. Note here that Jesus calls Peter Satan just a little while after commending him for the good confession. This goes to show how dynamic faith can be and the speed at which we can go from a high point in our faith and plummet to a deep valley. Let us not be arrogant in our faith, but rather let us put on the Lord in humility.
4. Discipleship of Christ: Jesus addresses His followers at the end of this chapter and expresses how difficult it would be to be His disciple. It is very interesting that He uses foreshadowing here, telling them that they must take up their cross and follow Him. The people would have known what He meant, but not fully in that He would be crucified in just a short while. The message was clear: it was going to be hard. It is not natural for man to deny himself to follow someone else, but this was precisely what Jesus was asking. The people were going to have a choice to make, for the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. There were those who were standing there who would not die before the Kingdom would come (see Acts 1-2). Now, even thousands of years later, we have the same decision to make. But we do not need to make the decision without all the information. Being a disciple of Christ is a huge commitment, not just a simple check box. To put on Christ, we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. There is no other way. This is our choice. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it in the end.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Romans 15-16.
Deny self and follow Christ.