Matthew 17-19: The transfiguration and practical teachings.

February 21, 2015.

Daily Reading: Matthew 17-19.

Background: Matthew 14-16.

Concepts and Connections.

Chapter 17

1. The transfiguration: The account told here of the transfiguration of Christ is a well known story that displays the glory and majesty of Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus takes His inner core, so to speak, of Peter, James and John up on a high mountain to see a sight that would only be for their eyes, as He even tells them not to tell anyone until after the resurrection. After Jesus was transfigured before the three apostles, Moses and Elijah, to strong characters of the Hebrew Scriptures, appeared and talked with Jesus. The implications here might run deep, as it is clear that Moses and Elijah maintained their identity after death, and somehow Peter was able to recognize the two men even though he had never seen them before in his life. It would be very interesting to know the conversation the three were having. Regardless, the point of the story doesn’t come until after Peter suggest that they build three tents, one for each of the men present, giving honor to them. At this, a bright cloud overshadows them and the Lord God speaks from heaven to make it known who is to be glorified, and that is Christ. Peter had missed the point. Moses and Elijah vanished, and Jesus was the only one who stood before them. He was the light and authority. This story has one main lesson: Jesus. He is the point, the one we are to listen to, the one we are to follow. Other men, though they may have done great things, all pale in comparison to Jesus. Let us worship Him.

2. Who’s faith did it take? There is a concept that goes around those who claim to heal miraculously today that if the wounded could not be healed, then it just means that the wounded did not have enough faith to be healed. This story, however, provides an interesting contrast to this concept. When the boy with a daemon was brought to Jesus’ disciples to be healed, they could not do it and the boy was then brought before Jesus who did heal him. When they asked Jesus later why they couldn’t heal the boy, he did not suggest that it was the lack of faith from the boy nor from the father, but rather from the disciples! Who’s faith did it take to heal the boy? Their own faith, which they were deficient in. It is likely that Jesus is talking about the kind of faith they had (or rather didn’t have) rather than the amount of faith, for He says that if they had the faith of a mustard seed, which is a very tiny seed, then they would be able to move mountains. Did the disciples have faith? Sure. But what was the quality, as opposed to the quantity, of their faith?

3. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection foretold: Two times in this chapter does Jesus speak of His resurrection that was soon to come, once on the mount of transfiguration and again when they were gathered in Galilee. On the mount of transfiguration, the foretelling of His death was answered with a question about Elijah, who was prophesied to come to prepare the way for the Christ (see Malachi 4:5-6). To this, Jesus teaches that the one who was to come in the spirit of Elijah was John the baptizer who did come, and the Jewish leaders didn’t recognize him. Just as they did with John, so would they with their Messiah, laying hands on Him to kill Him. The second time Jesus talks about His death in this chapter seems to be in a much larger crowd, and at this teaching they were distressed. It would seem that Jesus was preparing them for what would come, for if He didn’t foretell of His death, then when He was hung on the cross, many would likely think that He wasn’t who He said He was (and this was still the case, as even the apostles were scattered). But since He prophesied about His death, burial and resurrection, when these things came to pass, they could take confidence that He was indeed the Son of God. This is precisely what happen, as after the resurrection we find the apostles and disciples with bold faith, a faith that they didn’t seem to exhibit before the resurrection (as possibly alluded to here in the story of the mustard seed), which was also due in large part to the coming of the Holy Sprit. Let us also put our faith and trust in Him.

Chapter 18

1. Like a child: The efficacy of pride is sometimes almost amazing in terms of who it can effect. The disciples of Christ, who had been with Him for a while now, had seen His miracles, heard the sermon on the mount, witnessed His character, came to Him on this occasion and ask a bold question: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” This seems like a very important topic to them, possibly due to the fact that culturally the Pharisees made a big deal of order and place in religion. But once again, the disciples had missed the point. To ask ‘Who is the greatest?’ is to implicitly show your own pride in the situation. They wanted to know who would have the best seat in heaven, who would be given the most glory and honor. They probably wanted to figure out how to work their way up to that spot. But the answer that Jesus gave them did not directly answer their question at first, but rather answered their hearts. He took a child and said that unless they became like little children they could not enter the kingdom of heaven. Little children do not ask who the greatest is. Little children do not quarrel over pride and position. And he who takes on the humility as of a child will be the greatest in heaven. We should not strive to be the greatest, but rather to be humble and lowly in heart, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

2. Sin: There are three different teachings in this section that deal with different aspects of sin. The first deals with the temptation of sin as Jesus expresses the difficulties that temptation will bring. It should be noted that Jesus never said that it would be easy to overcome the temptation of sin,  but rather He said “Woe…!” Then He rebukes the one by whom temptation comes. Though temptation will be hard to overcome, Jesus taught that we should do whatever is necessary to fight against temptation, figuratively cutting off our own foot if it causes us to sin. Then the parable of the lost sheep gives us insight to the Father’s view of the sin of a straying child. It is shown that the Father does not want to loose any of His sheep, and when one goes astray, He goes out to look for it, rejoicing when He finds the one who was lost. We serve a loving and merciful God who wishes all men to come to repentance (see II Peter 3:9). There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents than 99 righteous that need no repentance (see Luke 15:7-10). The third lesson on sin is about how we should deal with sin, specifically the sin of our brother. There is a system set in place to handle the sin of an erring brother, and that system is as follows: Go to him and tell him his fault, if that doesn’t work bring two or three witnesses and if he still doesn’t respond then tell it to the church. Open communication like this often solves many problems at the very first stage of this system. It is important to note the efficiency of this system against gossip and rumors, attempting to nip things in the bud before more people are made aware of this situation. Let us learn to follow this system when we have a problem with our brother.

3. Forgiveness: Logically following the teachings of sin is the teaching of forgiveness. This parable is prompted by a question that Peter asks the Lord, probably trying to justify when he could stop forgiving his brother. In the parable, a man who owed an incredible amount of money to a master begs for more time to pay, and the master takes pity on the man and forgives him of all his debt. That man then turns around and does the opposite with an even poorer man who owns him a tiny amount of money. When the master hears of this, he is very angry and casts the first man in prison until he pays all his debt. So it is said that it will be with us if we do not forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us. The Father sent his holy Son to this earth to suffer and die for us, taking our sins on His back and nailing them to the cross. What mercy and forgiveness He has shown us! What right have we to turn around and not forgive our brother? It is interesting to point out that in Jesus’ answer to Peter about how many times one should forgive his brother (some translations say 7 times 70 and others say 77, but the main point of the number is that 7 is a complete number in the sight of God, figuratively meaning as many times as your brother asks forgiveness), He doesn’t put a qualification on it. He doesn’t say, “As long as you can tell your brother is sincere.” He just says as long as he asks forgiveness. If your bother came to you 77 times in one day to ask forgiveness, would you actually think he was sincere? Yet we are to forgive, for our Father has forgiven us many, many times. We must remember that we likely ask for forgiveness just as many times as our brother asks it of us.

Chapter 19

1. Marriage and divorce: As He leaves Galilee and enters Judea, the Pharisees come to test Him by asking if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. In the law, Moses had given the children of Israel a certificate of divorce of the man no longer wanted to be married to his wife (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4). It is possible that the Pharisees had heard Jesus teach on marriage and divorce before, such as on the sermon on the mount, where He speaks against the certificate of divorce, stating that anyone who divorces his wife, except in the case of adultery, and makes her commit adultery (see Matthew 5:31-32), or at least had heard of His teachings on the matter. They wanted to catch Him on a matter of law, to show the people that He wasn’t a good teacher after all. But Jesus’ words are all authoritative, and He pointed back to the original plan of God between a man and his wife, joined together by God forever. The certificate of divorce was given because of the hardness of the hearts of the people, probably in protection of the woman. From the beginning it was not so. Marriage is a big deal in the eyes of God, and once two people are joined by God, no man should part them, for the two are made into one flesh. People today often do not take marriage as seriously as they should.

It is interesting to see that even in Jesus’ day this was a hard teaching (which didn’t stop Him from teaching it), as His disciples almost couldn’t even accept it, saying that men shouldn’t even get married if this were the case! It would seem that divorce was not commonly looked upon as bad by the Jews at this time. However, the answer that Jesus gives to this statement is even more interesting. He says that not everyone can accept this saying (that it is better not to get married), but only to those it has been given, implying that some men have the ability to not get married (or rather, not burn with passion if they aren’t married, see I Corinthians 7:1-8) whereas others are not given this ability. This makes more sense in the light of His next statement about Eunuchs; some are Eunuchs from birth (probably born with a lowered desire for marriage/passion), Eunuchs made so by men (either physically or through covenant) and some by choice (an active choice to abstain from marriage). This speaks to the notion that we are each given a different lot in life, and we should not always conform other’s to what we have been given (i.e. pressure people to get married just because you are married, or vice versa).

2. Treasure in heaven: Yet another popular story is found at the end of this chapter, that of the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus to asks what he must do to enter the kingdom of heaven. Notice that the first thing Jesus points to is the law (remember that Jesus had not taken away the first to establish the second yet, see Hebrews 10:9). When the man says that he has kept the commandments from his youth, Jesus hits at the root of his problem: the young man had an idol. Jesus told him to go sale all that he had and give to the poor, but the man was unwilling to do such, for he had great wealth. The rich young ruler, though religious, had put his treasure before his God. This is not acceptable in the eyes of Christ, for He must take first priority. If we are mindful of the things of the kingdom, we will store up eternal treasures in heaven as opposed to the finite treasures of this earth. The teaching here is one that we need to take into heavy consideration as we live in a world of great wealth. Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. But all things are possible with God. You can indeed be rich and still be godly. But it will be very difficult not to put your riches in first place. Let us keep this in mind and guard our hearts, making sure we always place Christ and His kingdom first, above our riches. Remember, many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. This world is only temporary, but the one to which we go will be eternal.

Tomorrow’s Reading: I Corinthians 1-3.

Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.

-Walter

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