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Matthew, Chapter 19, Part 1

Matthew 19:1-2 – Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.   And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Matthew tells us that Jesus left Galilee and made his way to the region of Judea. Although his followers did not realize it at the time, this was the first step in his journey to Jerusalem, where Christ was going to lay down his life on the cross.

At this time his fame was reaching a peak.  Great numbers of people followed him, but not all of them had the same motivation.  Some came to hear the word and receive instruction.  Some came to be healed or delivered.  Some came to see if he would set up a kingdom.  Undoubtedly, some came out of curiosity.  Some, perhaps, came to witness the miraculous.  And some came to ensnare or entrap Jesus!

Matthew 19:3 – And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

The Pharisees (and other religious leaders) were part of the group that followed Jesus in order to discredit him.  Many of their attempts have been noted in the book of Matthew.  As we would expect, each and every time they confront Jesus, they are rebuffed; they cannot fight divine wisdom. 

Despite earlier failures, they are going to make yet another attempt.  This time, they waited until Jesus was with a large crowd (possibly the largest ever).  Thinking that this was the perfect opportunity to cause maximum trouble, they brought up one of the most decisive issues of their day – divorce.

Divorce continues to be a somewhat controversial issue in the church today.  If you are a divorced person reading this post, please rest assured – you are not going to find any condemnation here! 

We took a quick look at this topic back in chapter 5.  Let’s review the controversy that surrounded this issue:

The dispute involves an Old Testament law from Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 24:1 – When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it comes to pass that she finds no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house.

The Jews had two interpretations of this law.  One group (the school of Hillel) believed that the true meaning of the law was found in the word ‘uncleanness’ and it referred only to adultery.  Therefore, adultery was the only true basis for divorce.

The second group (the school of Sammai) believed that the true meaning of the law was found in the phrase ‘she finds no favor in his eyes’ and interpreted that to mean that if a woman displeased her husband in any way, no matter how trivial, he could give her a certificate of divorce and send her away.  We have historical evidence of just how ridiculous this became – a man could divorce his wife if he did not like her cooking!

Not surprisingly, the second view became very prevalent among the Jews. And once again we find the Jews making the same serious mistake – adhering to the letter of the law, and believing themselves righteous for it, while at the same time completely ignoring their duty to God.

Here in Matthew chapter 19, the scripture clearly tells us that the Jews were not really looking for wisdom.  They were not really searching for truth.  They were trying to ‘test’ or discredit Jesus.

If Jesus sided with the second group (the school of Sammai) the Pharisees would condemn him for contradicting his own teachings (Matthew 5:32).  If he sided with the first group (the school of Hillel), they were ready to charge him with contradicting Moses.  Either way, they thought they had him!

Matthew 19:4 – He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,

Notice that both parties were supportive of divorce.  It was the grounds or cause for divorce which caused the arguments between them.

Jesus, in his divine wisdom, does not fall into the trap of using one of the two opinions presented to him as a starting point; both opinions reflect ignorance and corruption of the law of God.

Ignoring man’s conclusions entirely, he draws their attention to the very first marriage union, which shows the original will, intent and purpose of God.

Because God is unchanging, we know that what was done at the very beginning is the pattern we are to follow in every subsequent generation.  Thus, we conclude:  

  • Marriage is an institution appointed by God.  It is the foundation of society.  
  • Marriage is between a man and a woman. 
  • The marriage relationship is a permanent union.  In God’s eyes, death is the only way to break the bond.
  • The marriage union is more intimate and more binding than other human bonds, including paternal or filial relationships. 

Matthew 19:5 – …and said ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” 

Our translation says “therefore”, but the King James version says “for this cause” which is a better reflection of the true meaning.  In other words, male and female were created for this very purpose – that they might glorify God in a matrimonial connection.  They become ‘one flesh’, forming an indissoluble partnership of life and fortune. 

When God created Eve, he could have made her from the dust of the ground, just as he did with Adam.  But he didn’t.  As you recall, he put Adam to sleep, then took one of his ribs and created Eve (Genesis 2:21).  So, quite literally, the two were one flesh!

William Burkitt’s Expository Notes on the Bible makes an interesting comment on the first marriage:  “…there was no sooner one person, but God divided him into two; and no sooner were there two, but he united them into one.”

Matthew 19:6 – “So they are no longer two but on flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

If God has joined the man and woman together as one, no human law/regulation has the right to separate them.  So, Jesus condemns the Jewish practice of dissolving the marriage bond.  In regards to the Jews of Jesus’ day, this rebuke would also have fallen on the elders who sanctioned the divorce. 

Matthew 19:7-8 – They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”  He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart.  Moses allowed you to divorce you wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

The Pharisees are looking for justification of their impure and unholy conduct.  To that end, they offer a rebuttal – Moses commanded/permitted divorces (Deuteronomy 24:1).  And if that was the case, divorce could not be unlawful.

It is interesting that they use the word ‘command’.  Moses did not command it; he made provision for it, or allowed it.  This allowance was based on the fact that Jews were cruel to their unwanted wives and it was better for such a woman to return to her father’s house than to suffer abuse in her current situation. 

Moses also established that the divorce decree could not be a verbal declaration.  It had to be written out by a scribe.  It must become public knowledge.  As such, it could not happen in the heat of the moment.  It required the husband to stop and view the situation more objectively.  It gave him time to ‘cool down’.  The assumption was that this would give an opportunity for the relationship to be reconciled and the divorce dropped. 

Jesus makes it very clear that this allowance was made for man’s wickedness, not because the act of divorce was lawful in God’s eyes.  He once again reiterates that from the beginning, God had sanctioned the union of marriage – between one man and one woman, until death takes one of them away.  This was the law that was to be observed perpetually, throughout all subsequent generations.

Matthew 19:9 – “And I say to you:  whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The gospel of Mark indicates that the public discussion of this issue ended in verse 8.  The rest of this discussion (beginning here) took place more privately, between Jesus and the disciples (Mark 10:10).

Here, emphasis should be placed on the word “I”.  Jesus was God in the flesh; God was saying that the indulgence given by Moses was to cease.  Limitless, groundless divorces (like those granted for bad cooking) were no longer acceptable.  Marriage should be brought back to its original intention and there was only one legitimate cause for divorce – adultery.

So where does all of this leave those of us in the 21st century?   Here is what we can know for sure:

ONE:  The law of marriage has been instituted by God, and He is unchanging:    

Malachi 3:6 – For I am the Lord, I change not…

TWO:  Because God does not change, his mandate for marriage remains the same as it was when he united Adam and Eve – one man and one woman until death parts them, except for the cause of adultery.  (Even in cases of adultery, the bond does not have to be immediately severed; the insulted party may choose to stay in the relationship and try to mend it.)

THREE:  Between the instituting of the marriage law in paradise and the current day, sin has entered the world:

Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned –

No surprises there, right? 

FOUR:  Our sinful society is not fully committed to God’s law of marriage.   

In our culture, marriage is kind of like buying a new shirt. You buy it with the understanding that if you don’t like it for any reason, you can always return it. No questions asked.

Likewise, you don’t really need to seriously consider marriage before entering into it, because if you don’t like it for any reason, you can simply divorce.  No questions asked.  This reflects the kind of halfhearted commitment that seems to underlie everything we do. 

For example:

  • If you have a dispute with the people in your church, there is no need to bother working it out.  You can just change churches. 
  • If you don’t like your new boss, there is no need to stay and respect their authority.  You can just change jobs.  
  • If you want the 4-H club to go in one direction, but the assistant leader wants to go in another, there is no need to find a common goal.  You can separate and each go your own way. 
  • If you have a roommate that doesn’t dust and vacuum often enough for your standards, there is no need to modify your expectations.  You can just find a new roommate.

Our culture accepts these halfhearted commitments in nearly all areas, including marriage.  There is no deep, underling commitment to resolve disputes, respect each other, submit to authority, find common goals or make allowances for each other. 

FIVE:  What is acceptable to man, is not acceptable to God.  To the best of their ability, Christians should embrace God’s law of marriage.

Committing to marriage until death is a serious, life altering decision.  It affects every aspect of our lives including our health, our finances, and our freedom to make future choices.  In part, it determines our level of education, where we will live and where we will work.  It will have a profound impact on our ministry in the kingdom of heaven.  And, as if that were not serious enough, marriage is the partnership through which the joys and burdens of children should come. 

In light of this, you might think that marriage is something that should be avoided (the disciples will soon make this assumption).  However, there is more to marriage than just doom and gloom!  When both people are firmly committed to Christ and to each other, they put themselves in a position to discover the unique and endless joys/blessings that God has included in the marriage relationship.   

This does not mean the relationship will be perfect.  Two sinful people cannot produce a marriage that lives up to God’s perfect standard.  Because the individuals are sinful, the marriage will also be subject to the effects of sin.  But the rewards of the relationship are worth the time and effort to make it work. 

SIX:  Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.

Sin is like a wedge that seeks to divide and destroy marriages.  This sin can take almost any form including abuse, unfaithfulness, emotional damage, addiction, erosion of trust, lack of love, lying, selfishness, disagreements over money or any one of a thousand other things. 

If you are in a position where sin is threatening to destroy your marriage, there is good news! There are many, many wonderful resources available to Christians who have a division in their marriage. When both parties are committed to Christ and to change, there is hope for restoration.

However, a Christian may find themselves in a situation where staying in the marriage is more damaging than leaving it.  In this case, the marriage bond needs to be cut, so both parties can move forward towards healing.

SEVEN:  As in the breaking of any of God’s laws, there will be forgiveness but also consequences.     

It’s no secret that all of us have broken God’s laws.  Thankfully, if we are repentant, God freely forgives us. 

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

 Divorce is a sin (the breaking of God’s law) that can be forgiven, just like any other sin. 

However, we should keep in mind that while God readily forgives us of sin, we still must deal with the consequences of our actions and decisions.  For example, if we steal money from our employer and get caught, God will forgive us.  However, we will still probably be fired from the job.  That incident will remain on our record and it will continue to affect us as we look for other employment.  These are some of the consequences of our actions.   

In the same way, God can and will forgive us for breaking a marriage vow.  But that forgiveness does not negate the consequences associated with our sin.  There could be financial burdens, emotional distress, and/or legal constraints.  If the marriage has children, the consequences of divorce become even greater.

However, it is comforting to know that we can absolutely count on God to walk through all of life’s difficulties with us, even the ones we bring upon ourselves by breaking his laws!

Matthew 19:10 – The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

Isn’t this interesting – in Genesis 2:18, God declares that it is not good for man to be alone (unmarried).  But here in Matthew 19:10, the disciples declare that not only is it good to be unmarried, but it is preferable if you don’t have the right to divorce a wife who does not please you! 

This is a good example of how our fallen nature rebels against restraint of any kind, even when placed upon us by our Lord.  It is also an example of rash and foolish thinking.  Had they stopped to consider all the benefits and blessings of marriage, perhaps they would not have been so quick to cast it off.

Maybe there is a lesson here for us.  Philippians 4:8 instructs us to dwell on things that are pure, lovely and excellent.  So rather than dwelling on the annoying traits of our spouse (which causes division), perhaps we should reflect on their strengths and good qualities (which causes increased love and intimacy).

Matthew 19:11 – But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.”

The disciples jumped to the conclusion that a life of celibacy was best for everyone.  However, Jesus contradicts this conclusion.  He says that this state of abstinence requires a supernatural gift from God. 

Matthew 19:12 – “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Some men have the gift of abstinence from birth, some were forced into abstinence by other men and some have chosen that path in order to devote themselves entirely to service in the kingdom of God. 

In the last instance, Jesus may have been referring to the Essenes, a sect of the Jews that abstained from marriage in order to devote themselves exclusively to religion.  Obviously, they had no children of their own.  They perpetuated their sect by adopting the poor children of others.

However, do not choose that path without great care.  Jesus cautions that this lifestyle should be limited to those few who feel they had the gift to embrace it.   

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Do you own a car?  Do you perform routine maintenance on your vehicle like changing the oil and giving the engine a tune-up?  If so, your vehicle will run smoother and last much, much longer. 

The same is true for your marriage.  Do you maintain it?  Are you doing things that will build up the relationship you have with your spouse?  This bible study is by no means a practical guide to strengthen your marriage, but there are plenty of resources available for just that purpose.  I strongly encourage you to find these sources and invest time in your marriage.

Let me offer you some relief:

Is it possible that you have gone through the pain of a divorce?  Has your family or your church made you feel like a second class citizen because of it?  Let me offer you some relief – there is no sin that God cannot forgive!  Man may look down on you for failing, but God does not.  He is standing by ready to take that burden of guilt/shame and nail it to the cross.  So let him have it!  Cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you!  Let him give you a garment of praise for your spirit of heaviness! 

Let me offer you some strength:

Maybe you find yourself in the midst of a difficult marriage right now.  Perhaps, for whatever reason, your relationship has deteriorated and the future of your marriage is uncertain.  Maybe you feel like giving up.  Before you do, let me give you some strength from the word of God:

Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yea, I will help you; yea, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.  

If your marriage is worth fighting for, then I encourage you to do so!  It may be difficult or exhausting to get your relationship back on track, but God is right there with you.  You don’t have to tackle this in your own strength – he is right there to give you his inexhaustible strength.  He will hold you up as you endeavor to walk in the ways of righteousness. 

Matthew, Chapter 18, Part 2

Matthew 18:21 – Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

In our prior study, we saw that Jesus went into great detail about offences and how we are to resolve them with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Forgiveness is a vital part of dealing with offences.  In fact, God declares that it is mandatory, not optional.  

Forgiveness implies that we will not hate, gossip or entertain thoughts/actions of revenge.  We should be ready to assist the forgiven offender speedily, though we do not have to make them an intimate friend.

It is quite natural that after the teaching on offences, someone would ask Jesus how often forgiveness should occur.  This probably has to do with the Jewish custom that a person should be forgiven as many as 3 times in a day (possibly based on Amos 1:3).  It is likely that Peter, thinking he was being very generous and forgiving, upped that number to 7x per day.

Why did the Jews limit forgiveness to 3x?  The underlying thought was that if you are lenient and forgiving all of the time, that leniency actually induces others to offend you.  In other words, if you are going to easily forgive me each and every time I request it, then why bother to avoid an offence?  I can just do as I please, and my forgiveness is guaranteed!

According to Jewish reasoning, if there is a limit on forgiveness, then people will take it more seriously.

Matthew 18:22 – Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Clearly, the thoughts of the Jewish leaders are not the same as God’s thoughts!  

Isaiah 55:9 – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The number 77 is not to be taken literally in this case; it represents unlimited forgiveness.  Thus, Jesus gives the disciples an answer that I am sure they found astonishing – they must forgive an unlimited amount of times!

How would you feel about forgiving someone once a day?  That might not be so bad, right?  But how many of us would be angry and impatient if we had to forgive someone 4 times in a single day? 

What would your reaction be if you had to forgive someone 6 or more times in a day?  Would that person be on your last nerve, so to speak?  Would you be pulling your hair out?  Why, then, does God command us to forgive so freely?

Here’s the deal…unlimited forgiveness is an earthly example of God’s extravagant grace.  Just as there is no limit to the forgiveness of God, there should be no limit to our forgiveness either.  The only true requirement is that the offender is sincerely penitent for his/her actions.

Matthew 18:23 – Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.

In the kingdom of Heaven (the gospel dispensation that began when Jesus revealed himself on earth and which will end with his return to earth), God has made it very plain that he expects us to forgive others.  As an illustration of our duty to do so, Jesus now gives us a somewhat lengthy parable. 

In this parable, the earthly king represents God.

Matthew 18:24 – When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.

What do you think of when you hear the word servant?  I tend to think of a lowly job that involves a lot of manual labor and does not pay very well.  However, for reasons we shall soon discover, this servant is probably a satrap. 

Satraps were administrators, not manual laborers.  They were actually very high ranking officials with a lot of authority and prestige in the kingdom. 

The satrap was the supreme judicial authority in his region.  He was also responsible for things like internal security for the king, maintaining the army and collecting taxes.

In our culture, he would serve as judge, chief of police, official recruiter for the armed forces and head of internal revenue service – all rolled into one!  That is one extremely powerful person and I, for one, would not want him as an enemy!  

Now we can understand how a ‘mere servant’ would have access to ten thousand talents of his king’s money.  One of two things probably occurred:

He might have collected taxes and spent some of the money, with the intent of paying it back before he had to turn it over to the king.

Or (more likely), the parable infers that the satrap may have ‘purchased’ the tax debt from the king for a sum of 10 thousand talents.  In this scenario, the taxes of a certain province may have been 15 thousand talents in total.  The servant offers to buy the tax debt from the king for a total of 10 thousand talents.  So he pays (or signs a contract to pay) the king 10 grand, then he sets out to collect the 15 grand that is actually due.  Anything he collects over and above the 10 grand is profit for him.  In this particular case, it appears as though the deadline came, but he did not even collect the ten thousand that he owed his king.  

Funny how some things don’t change…this is the principle that many modern day debt collectors operate on.   They buy the right to collect debts from a company, paying them only a portion of the total debt that is due.  Then, they make a profit by collecting as much of the debt as possible. 

Anyway, according to Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (at the time of his writing), a talent of silver was worth approximately $1519.  At that rate, the servant’s total debt to the king was approximately 15 million dollars!

Eventually, the day of reckoning finally comes and the bottom line is that the servant owes the king A LOT of money – which he cannot pay!

It sounds like the satrap/servant is in a really bad place, doesn’t it?  His situation feels…hopeless, doesn’t it?  Interestingly enough, this is an accurate picture of our spiritual state.  Our debt of sin is just as vast and hopeless as the debt owed by the servant in this story. Every single man, woman and child has sinned against God.  Not only have we broken his laws through our thoughts and actions, we have also violated his law by omitting or failing to do what is right! 

Matthew 18:25 – And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

Under Jewish law, debtors and their families could be sold as servants/slaves until such time as their debt was paid off (Leviticus 25:39-46, 2 Kings 4:1).  In this case, the amount owed is so enormous, the family would never have been set free.

Likewise, the scripture tells us that we are slaves/servants to sin (Romans 6).  God’s justice and holiness require that payment for sin be made in full.  We have no hope of ever being set free by our own efforts; we have no way to pay the debt. 

Matthew 18:26 – So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’

The servant realizes the full scope of his situation, and its consequences.  He is in over his head.  He can’t make his payment.  There are no excuses.  He and his family will be condemned to a lifetime of servitude, without any chance of freedom.  He has cursed the future of his whole family line.  His only hope is the mercy of the king.

As he comes into the king’s presence, he humbles himself by bowing before him and confessing that he cannot fulfill his end of the deal.  In his terror and anguish, he begins to promise impossible things – that he will somehow, someway pay his debt.

Just as the servant realized the full scope and consequences of his situation, you and I need to recognize the full scope and consequences of our sin against God.  We are in over our heads.  We can’t atone for our sin and we have no excuse for it either.  We deserve an eternity of punishment. 

Yet, when we fall on our faces before King Jesus and cry out to him for mercy, he has compassion on us.   

Matthew 18:27 – And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

Did you happen to notice the servant’s request? He asks for additional time to repay the debt.  But the great mercy of the king is evident when he not only releases the servant from his legally imposed servitude, but he also completely forgives the debt!  The king gave the servant much, much more than he asked for.  In fact, I don’t think the satrap/servant even considered debt cancellation as a possibility. 

Can you imagine how astonished the man would have been when he heard that pronouncement?  He entered the presence of the king without a single hope, but left with a new lease on life.  What utter and complete joy that man must have felt! 

In this parable, the king did over and above what the servant asked him to do.

Such is the case with our loving and generous heavenly Father!  He has both provided and accepted the blood of his only Son Jesus as payment for our sin.  He has completely and totally forgiven our debt; we have been set free from the bondage of sin. 

As if that were not enough, he makes us his own children.  This makes us co-heirs with Christ Jesus!  But wait – there’s more!  God has also granted us numerous spiritual blessings!

Ephesians 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:   

Like the servant in this story, we should be overwhelmed with thanksgiving and praise for what God has done for us!  Praise his holy name! 

Matthew 18:28 – But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’

According to the Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (at the time of his writing), the second servant owed the forgiven servant/satrap just about $14.00.  Yes, that’s right – only fourteen dollars!

Strangely, the forgiven servant shows no mercy.  He begins to violently take hold of the second servant and demand payment of the $14.  One cannot help but wonder – how can a man who has been forgiven of a debt of 15 million dollars, respond with such violence, hate and anger toward someone who owes him so little?  Fourteen dollars won’t fill your gas tank.  It won’t pay your monthly cell phone bill.  It won’t even pay for this years’ Ohio fishing license! 

As I am sure you will agree, the $14 debt can be accurately described as inconsequential.  It becomes even more meaningless when compared to the debt of $15 million! 

Let me ask you this – how would you characterize the actions of the satrap towards his fellow servant?  Outrageous?  How about wicked or cruel?  Could he be accused of injustice?  Do you have even the slightest bit of sympathy for the satrap, or do you think his actions were abominable?  Shall we get the tar and feathers?

Here’s the catch – we often act just as despicable as the satrap!

We have all sinned against God.  We owe a debt of sin that we could never, ever, EVER pay, under any circumstances.  It’s like a $15 million dollar debt.  Yet God has freely forgiven us without limit.

So when someone offends us or sins against us, it’s like a $14 debt.  It’s inconsequential, compared to our debt to God.  Now, I understand that people can be wicked and cruel.  Sometimes, they hurt us or our loved ones very badly.  But even so, God requires us to forgive them.

The good news is that all things are possible with God.  If he has mandated that we forgive others, then it must be possible.  If we seek him, he will help us forgive and he will heal the hurts and pain that we suffered at the hands of someone else.

Matthew 18:29-30 – So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

Sadly, this plea for mercy fell on deaf ears.  Are we also withholding mercy from someone who has hurt us?  Is pride or anger or hurt keeping us from forgiving that person?  Did the offence take place so long ago, that no one really remembers what all the fuss was about?  Do yourself a favor – let that thing go!   

The bible says that we have freely received, and so we should freely give.  Since we have freely received mercy from God, we ought to freely grant mercy to those who sin against us.

Matthew 18:31-32 – When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.’

The king/master does not call the first servant wicked because he had a debt he could not pay, but because of the merciless, unforgiving spirit that he manifested toward his fellow servant.  Don’t be that kind of person! 

Matthew 18:33 – ‘And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Here is the crux of the whole matter:  The first servant received a full and complete pardon for his staggering debt.  How can he not forgive a brother who owes him almost nothing?

Likewise, we have received a full and complete pardon from God for our staggering debt of sin.  How can we not forgive our brother or sister when they sin against us?

Matthew 18:34 – And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.

Here we find the consequences of withholding mercy and forgiveness:  the servant finds his own pardon retracted, his entire debt comes crashing back upon him like a tidal wave, and he is delivered to the jailer – forever! 

Matthew 18:35 – So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

Are you familiar with the Lord’s prayer?  We probably all are.  Do you recall what it says?

Mark 6:12 – And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

There is no mystery here.  The truth is plain and simple and easy to grasp.  We must forgive our fellow man when he offends or sins against us.

Not only that, but lip service doesn’t count.  You must truly forgive from the heart.  Those who refuse to do so, may justly question whether God has forgiven them.  They can expect the same severity from God which they show to their brothers and sisters.

So let me offer you a little encouragement:

It’s no secret that children imitate their parents.  So I encourage you to be an example of forgiveness to your children.  Teach them the proper way to handle an offense; let them see forgiveness in action.  

Let me offer you some relief:

Are you still carrying around that staggering $15 million dollar debt of sin??  Why? 

God loves you and he wants to set you free.  He gave his son Jesus so that your debt could be forgiven.  Would you like to obtain forgiveness right now?  If so, pray the following prayer.  If you are truly sorry for your sin and you ask Jesus to forgive you, he will!

Dear Jesus,   I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ!  You are now part of the family of God!  You will likely need some mentoring in your new walk with Christ.  I suggest two things:  Get a copy of the Bible and begin to read it.  The New Testament book of John is a great place to begin.  The second is to find a local bible based church and attend it.  They can mentor you in your new life in Christ!

Let me offer you some strength:

God will never set you up for failure.  It may seem impossible for you to forgive a certain person.  That is probably true; you may not be able to do so in your own power.  However, with God all things are possible!  With his help, you can get rid of that burden of unforgiveness and find healing. 

I have already posted a three part series specifically on the topic of forgiveness. If this is an issue for you, I strongly encourage you to take the time to look up that three part series and study it. You will find a lot of useful information, as well as practical advice on how to work with God to forgive.

Matthew, Chapter 18, Part 1

Matthew 18:1 – At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

At the end of chapter 17, we found Jesus paying a tax that he technically did not owe.  Jesus chose to pay the tax so that he would not cause an offence or be a stumbling block to any of the Jews.  In other words, he paid the tax to fulfill all righteousness.  He came to earth as a servant, and paying the tax was an act of service and humility. 

It seems the disciples missed this lesson altogether!  Apparently, it went in one ear and out the other, because we now find them discussing which of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and consequently, who would have the best job, the most prestige and the highest salary!

By the kingdom of heaven, the disciples mean the kingdom which they believed Jesus would set up immediately after his resurrection – the kingdom of the Messiah.  As we have discussed in the past, they felt his kingdom would have special magnificence and splendor; it would far surpass the ‘golden age’ of Israel under David and Solomon.  They wanted to know who would have the principle positions and offices in this kingdom.  They had debated this issue amongst themselves, but apparently they couldn’t come to a unanimous conclusion, so they asked Jesus to settle the dispute.

Matthew 18:2-3 – And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The disciples’ question revealed attitudes of pride and ambition as well as the desire for wealth and privilege.  Their minds were clearly focused on this earthly life, and what they might obtain for themselves.

Notice that Jesus says unless you ‘turn’ (your translation may say ‘be converted’), you won’t even enter the kingdom of heaven, much less be an important part of it.  The word for ‘turn’ or ‘converted’ means changed.

The disciples must change their thinking, beginning with their understanding of the kingdom of heaven. It was NOT an earthly kingdom like they were expecting. 

It has a heavenly King, who rules from his throne in the third heaven. His subjects are heavenly minded, laboring for eternal, heavenly treasures. Their country is heaven, though they are pilgrims on this earth for a time. The government of the kingdom of heaven is completely spiritual.

The way to greatness in the kingdom of heaven is to be humble and to become the servant of others.  To illustrate his point, Jesus draws their attention to a little child.  Little children know nothing about pride, ambition or the desire for wealth.  They are characteristically humble and teachable. 

The disciples must change not only their thinking, but their actions as well. They must do things that are the opposite of the way things are done in the earthly realm.  

Matthew 18:4 – “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

To answer the original question, the greatest in the kingdom of heaven will be the one who does not strive to be first.  The greatest will be the one who is the furthest away from pride and ambition.  The greatest will be the one who serves others.  The greatest will be the one who obeys divine instruction, even if contrary to their own desires. 

There is another point we should consider here.  As Christians we have been converted/turned from sin when we accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  But that does not mean that we are perfect.  Like the disciples, we must constantly strive to be holy, as God is holy.  Pride, ambition and greed can pop up in anyone’s life at any time.  If it pops up in yours, get rid of it as quickly as you can; it will only hinder you in your walk with Christ.

Matthew 18:5 – “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”

The Lord now uses the word ‘child’ as a metaphor for Christians who conduct themselves with humility and meekness, without ambition or greed. 

Child-like Christians are held in the highest esteem by Jesus.  Whatever kindness, favor or respect is shown to them for His sake, he regards as being done to himself. 

The opposite is also true – whatever disrespect or hate is shown towards child-like Christians, Jesus also regards as being done to himself.

Whoever hinders, tempts or puts a stumbling block in the way of a Christian is hindering, tempting or putting a stumbling block in front of Christ!

Matthew 18:6 – But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Those who are humble, meek and without ambition tend to be overpowered and despised by the people of the world.  But Jesus assures us that he takes it very personally when we are mistreated in the world; we have the assurance that he will one day make all things right.

In fact, Jesus makes reference to a custom of the Syrians, Greeks and Romans.  These societies would sometimes execute condemned persons by hanging a weight around their neck (or sometimes rolling them in sheets of lead) and throwing them into the sea to drown them.  There is no record of the Jews ever doing this, but they certainly knew about the practice.

So, having a millstone fastened to the neck and being cast into the sea became a proverb for certain, dreadful and inevitable ruin/death.

Interestingly, we find a parallel to the ultimate end of our great enemy, Satan.  At the end of the age God will bind Satan with heavy chains and cast him into hell – the lake of fire – where he will meet with a certain, dreadful and inevitable ruin/death.  What a fitting end for the one who constantly puts stumbling blocks and temptations in the way of the saints of God!

Matthew 18:7 – “Woe to the world for temptations to sin.  For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

Our translation (the ESV) uses the phrase ‘temptations to sin’, while other translations use the word ‘offences’.  These phrases basically refer to anything that entices/tempts you to do evil.  I feel pretty certain that we are all familiar with temptation (I know I am!), so we don’t need to go into too much depth. 

Speaking in general terms, we observe the following about temptations/offences:

  • They can come from outside yourself (like seeing a scantily clad woman or man). 
  • They can come from inside yourself (envy or pride, for example). 
  • They can include some things that you might not have considered.  For instance, persecution is actually a temptation, because it entices you to turn away from God.
  • They are most often caused by unbelievers.  There will always be people attempting to make others sin.  There will always be those who rejoice when they can lead a Christian astray or cause them to fall.
  • They can also be caused by Christians (including you and me).  If you do something that entices someone else to sin, that is an offence.  For example, if you call someone and ask if they have heard the latest news about so-and-so, you are tempting the other person to gossip.   You would be the source of an offence.
  • They require an accounting.  The depravity and fallen nature of man makes temptation inevitable.  However, this does not remove or reduce the personal responsibility of the person who causes offences, or the person who falls for them.

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the nature of offences, it almost causes a sense of hopelessness.  The amount of offences in the world is staggering!  I am willing to bet that we have all fallen for temptations and we have all caused others to be tempted.

No wonder Jesus says, ‘Woe to the world’.  Woe is an expression of sorrow or grief.  Jesus is truly pained by all the offences or temptations that abound in the world.  He is sorry for mankind (the world), because he knows offences/temptations are open doors for Satan to steal, kill and destroy the human race.  All of the horrible suffering that we find in the world is:  

  1. Caused by Satan’s malice
  2. Perpetrated by man’s wickedness
  3. Occurs with God’s permission 

Yes, you read that correctly – God allows us to be tempted and He allows us to tempt others.  In fact, Jesus says that it is necessary that temptations come.  What does he mean by that? 

Jesus does not reveal the answer to that question here in the gospel of Matthew, but the apostle Paul gives us an explanation:

1 Corinthians 11:19 – For there must be factions in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

Paul tells us that God uses temptations for his own divine purposes.  By them the righteous may be tested and purified.  By them, the sheep are separated from the goats.  Remember, each man is given a free will.  He can choose righteousness; he can choose to turn to God and be delivered from temptation:

1 Corinthians 10:13 – There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.  

How can we overcome or escape temptation?

One way is through prayer.

Mark 14:38 – Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. 

Another way is through the word of God.  When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, he constantly beat Satan back by using the word of God.

Luke 4:3-4 –  And the devil said unto him, If you are the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.  And Jesus answered him, saying, ‘It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’

Being thankful and keeping control our tongue are also good ways to avoid offences/temptations.

Matthew 18:8-9 – “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

This is not the first time Jesus has made this statement.  He also declared in back in Matthew chapter 5.  In case you don’t recall that lesson, let me refresh your memory:  

This seemingly strange statement is really clear and simple, once you take a good look at it.  Let’s begin by looking at the phrase ‘causes you to sin’, or your translation may say ‘offends you’.  The original meaning of this word in the Greek signifies something that is a stumbling block.  A stumbling block is anything in your path that causes you to fall.  In this case, it would mean anything that causes you to fall into sin.

So, what is causing us to fall into sin?  Jesus describes it as either our right eye or our right hand.  Clearly, this is NOT to be taken literally. Cutting off your hand or removing your eye will not free you from sin. 

We often use parts of the body as metaphors. For instance, we use the word ‘heart’ to mean affection or feeling. We use the word ‘bowels’ to mean compassion. We use the word ‘guts’ to mean bravery.

Here, the word ‘eye’ means inward intent or desire to sin, while ‘hand’ refers to the physical act of sinning.  This fits in with the case that Jesus is making about adultery; it entails not only the outward, physical act (hand) but also the inward lust of the mind (eye).

The truth is that the mind and the body work together to sin.  First, the mind conceives the sin.  Then, it considers and thinks about the sin, until it has been firmly rooted and established in the heart.  Once that is done, the evil grows to fruition and the body commits the actual act of sin.  This is why it is vitally important to bring your thoughts into captivity for Christ.

Now the overall meaning of the passage becomes clear.  Anything that causes us to sin (either mentally or physically), needs to be ‘cut off’ or removed from us completely.  It’s that simple.  So keep in mind the warning of Jesus – if you don’t get rid of sin, you could wind up in hell.

Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you, that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

Little ones:  ‘Little one’ refers to one of the meek and humble servants of Christ.  No one is to neglect, injure or afflict them.  They are not to be treated with contempt or distain. Furthermore, as Christians, we should be especially careful not to tempt or give offence to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  

Angels:  This does not necessarily mean that each person has their own guardian angel.  It means that angels, in general, are present in the throne room of God.  They are messengers that do God’s will; they are on constant standby to come to the aid of any Christian when they are instructed by God to do so.

Always see the face of my Father:   This is taken from the custom of earthly monarchs.  To be permitted to see the king’s face continually, meant to have unlimited access to him.  This was a sign of favor, which most people did not enjoy. 

The meaning of this verse is that no one should despise the humble followers of Christ, for God himself watches over them and has powerful servants who are ready to come to their aid, in an instant of time.  This shows the incredible love and concern that God has for those who trust in him.  It speaks of the value he places on each believer.  If God holds each Christian in such high regard, who are we to despise them?

Matthew 18:11 – For the Son of man came to save the lost.

How much does God love you?  Do you ever wonder about that? 

Sometimes, in our earthy relationships, people withhold love from us if we displease or disappoint them.  But I want you to know that GOD IS NOT LIKE THAT! 

God loves you unconditionally.

He loves you when you obey and when you disobey (although he may discipline you).  He loves you when you succeed and when you fail.  He loves you when you are right and when you are wrong.  God’s love for you is never based on your performance.  He loves you unconditionally.  You don’t have to do anything to earn his love.  He loves you period.

Want proof?

God so loved YOU, that he sent Jesus to earth to die for your sin, so that YOU could be reconciled to him!  The creator and ruler of all the universe, agreed to leave the splendor and glory of heaven to become a man for the sole purpose of redeeming YOU. 

Romans 5:8 – God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God values you so highly and cares for you so much, that he has angels standing around his throne, in case you need assistance (Matthew 18:10).

God keeps such a tender watch over you, that he sees every time you get up or sit down.  In fact, he is acquainted with all your habits and he even knows every word that will come out of your mouth before you speak it.  He lays his hand upon you, protecting you from the front and the rear (Psalms 139:1-6)!

God is so full of joy about you, that He rejoices over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

 God loves you so much, that he makes special preparations for you to be with him for eternity (John 14:2-3).

If you need any more proof, just take out your bible and start reading.  God’s love for you is evident from the first page to the last!

Matthew 18:12 – “What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?”

In the natural realm, if a shepherd lost a sheep, he would not abandon it; he would go and search for it.

Similarly, God is the great shepherd. If one of his children wanders away (or is cut off from the flock) through offence or temptation, he certainly does not abandon them. He seeks them out in order to restore them back to the flock.

God is very concerned, not only for his entire flock, but for each individual, including you.  The scriptures tell us that Jesus is a good shepherd, and he calls each one of his sheep by name (John 10:3).  This means that Jesus knows YOUR name.  YOU are of great value to him; if you should stray he will seek to gather you back to himself.

Matthew 18:13 –“And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”

God is overjoyed when one of his wandering children has been restored to the flock.  It is safe to assume that whoever offended them, or caused them to fall away because of temptation, will answer to God.

Matthew 18:14 – “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

It is not God’s will that any should perish. This we know. But, I think we might also consider the unspoken implications of this statement: 

It is God’s will that all of his children should be saved.  His will cannot be thwarted, side stepped or cancelled out.  He will see that it is done.  

This applies to every sheep in the flock.  We might be satisfied if 99% of the flock is safe and protected, but not God.  He is only satisfied with 100%. 

Anyone who causes a Christian to fall to temptation or offence, is provoking God by their actions and they will be held accountable for it.

Matthew 18:15 – “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

In verses 15-18 Jesus gives us instructions for how to handle offences. 

The term ‘brother’ means another Christian.  Christians are called brothers (and sisters) because we all belong to the same redeemed family and we all have a common Father (God).

To sin against you means to injure you by words or by conduct.  Your character, your property or your person may suffer injury. 

When someone injures/sins against you, it is your responsibility to go to them and seek an explanation. Don’t wait for them to come to you.  This private conversation does two things. 

First, it gives your brother a chance to explain what happened.  Perhaps the incident was all just a big misunderstanding, and a simple conversation can set the matter straight.  If so, both parties can move forward in love and unison. 

Second, if there is a real problem, it gives your brother a chance to acknowledge his (or her) offence and make amends for their wrong doing.  Once amends have been made, we are to forgive and forget.

Third, it gives us a chance to correct them in love, without exposing their mistakes to the world at large. Exposing the fault of another without approaching them first is just wrong.  It makes the rift between the parties even bigger, and it gives the church a bad name in front of unbelievers.

If the other party is receptive to your concerns, the bond between you will continue to be strong and firm.  The offence will be dealt with and have no power to cause further damage to either party or the church.

It’s almost like the offence is a small fire.  Correct handling of the situation is like throwing a bucket of water on the fire.  It is immediately put out, with no further damage done.

Matthew 18:16 – “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

There is always the possibility that the party who has offended you will not repent or acknowledge any wrong doing.  If this is the case, you are to again try to resolve the problem taking with you mature and trusted men/women of influence who can serve as impartial witnesses and give wise council in the situation.

Matthew 18:17 – “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.  And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

In the Jewish synagogue there was a council of elders who listened to these kinds of cases.  In your church, the case may go before the pastor and elders.  The goal is for the offender to be admonished and then reformed, so they can stay in the fellowship.

What if no resolution can be found?  Then, as a Christian, you still owe this person goodwill and acts of kindness, which you would show to any unbeliever.  You do not have the right to slander or gossip, and you must forgive.

However, Jesus says that we are to have no religious communion or intimate friendship with him, until he acknowledges his fault.  In other words, don’t set yourself up to receive further injury.  Also, just as a Christian might take a tax collector to justice through the court system, so you would have the right to resolve the matter in public court.

Breaking off religious fellowship with a person does three things.  It keeps the honor and purity of the church intact, avoiding scandals that may reflect back on the body of Christ.  It gives the offender the chance to consider his sin and repent.  And it keeps other members of the church community from falling into the same sins.

Here are a few additional things to keep in mind:

  • If the person repents and submits, they are to be readmitted into fellowship.
  • While this may seem harsh to us, these are the direct orders of Jesus. 
  • It is important for us to take note that these three steps must be taken in order.

Matthew 18:18 – “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

This is the second time Jesus has said this to the disciples.  The first time was in Matthew 16:19.   At that time we learned that to bind something was to forbid or refuse it; to loose something was to grant or allow it to be done. 

Back in chapter 16 binding and loosing were given in the context of establishing the doctrine of salvation for both Jews and Gentiles.  This authority has been passed down to every minister of the gospel from then, until now.

In this portion of scripture, binding and loosing are given in the context of church discipline.  The meaning is that if the church reprimands an offender, the court of heaven will support the sentence.  The offender cannot seek justice from heaven, he must resolve the matter here on earth with those of the church who pronounced the sentence.  Once the sinner has repented, he is loosed from his sentence and must be readmitted into church fellowship.  

Although each individual church is different, an occurrence of this nature is probably rare.

Matthew 18:19-20 – “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The Greek word for ‘agree’, means to symphonize or harmonize.  It is a musical term for instruments set to the same key and playing in tune with each other.  When used in the context of prayer, it refers to two or more individuals who have a perfect agreement in hearts, desires, and purposes. 

It implies that just as a number of instruments skillfully played in unison are pleasing to the ears of men, so a number of people united in earnest prayer is highly pleasing to God. 

Anytime the body of Christ meets together in his name for spiritual purposes (including church discipline), he is present. He will guide our councils and quicken our prayers.

Let me repeat that – Jesus has graciously promised to be present whenever his people assemble together in his name, even if there are only two. 

Given this promise, would it benefit us and our church body if more people came to weekly prayer meeting?

Does this promise motivate you to gather together to cover our church in prayer and seek guidance from the Lord for an uncertain future?  What if we sought the Lord for increased gifts of healing or additional spiritual gifts for our body? 

Every day, perhaps even every hour or minute, somewhere in the world two or more believers are gathered together worshipping and praying, experiencing the truth of this promise – that Jesus is also present with them.  This is a very special promise from God.  Don’t take it for granted.  Ask him how you can be a part of it!

So let me offer you some encouragement: 

Has someone offended you?  It seems easy to call a friend and tell them how you were wronged.  It is very easy to get angry and resentful.  You may experience a desire to retaliate.  But none of these things are God’s plan for offences.

I encourage you to apply biblical principles to your dilemma.  First, pray.  Second, meet with that person who offended you in private, or by phone or by a written message.  Tell them that you were offended and give them a chance to make things right. 

Remember, just because someone offended you, it does not give you permission to gossip, revenge or hate.  Satan loves to use offences to bring division to the body of Christ.  Divided, we can be conquered by Satan.  But if we follow the example of Christ, we can maintain love and unity in our local body.

Let me offer you some relief:

Have you ever failed, stumbled or sinned and then wondered if God still loves you?  Be assured, God is totally, completely and hopelessly in love with you! 

His love for you is not dependent on your success.  He does not with hold it when you fail.  So relax!  Continue to draw close to him and allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life.  Keep on working towards holiness and spiritual fruit (love, joy, peace, etc).  If you fall, repent; but don’t believe the lie that God has cast you away!  

Let me offer you some strength:   

You are not alone!  There are always other believers in Christ who are willing to pray with you, to stand with you and to believe with you for victory and deliverance.  And Jesus has made a special promise to every believer – when at least two are united in purpose and desire, He is present!  So if you are facing a problem right now, call upon another member of the body to strengthen you by being your prayer partner, and believe that Jesus is with you both!  

Matthew, Chapter 17, Part 2

Matthew 17:14 – And when they came to the crowd a man came up to him and, kneeling before him,

The narrative found in Matthew 17:14-21 is also found in Mark 9:14-29 and Luke 9:37-43.  Again, the other gospel writers give us additional details, so we will use all three accounts in our study of this passage.

According to Luke, this event took place on the day following the transfiguration. The crowd/multitude met them as they came down from the mountain.

According to Mark, When Jesus and the three disciples (Peter, James and John) came down from the mountain they not only saw the crowd, but they found the scribes questioning and debating with the remaining disciples.

Mark 9:14 – And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.

What a turn-around! Jesus went from the mount of transfiguration to the work of the devil; from a manifestation of glory to conflict with satanic possession.  He left the comforting company of Moses and Elijah to find conflict with the unbelieving scribes.

Once more he sees the pain, misery and agony of the human race.  He again comes face to face with the very reason that he came into the world – to set us free from the bondages of Satan, and restore us back into relationship with God.

It was probably a scene of mass confusion: the 9 remaining apostles are being confronted by a party of malicious scribes, whose intent was probably to confound or perplex them.  No doubt, the scribes were raking the disciples over the coals for not being able to heal this boy, and they probably insinuated that Jesus couldn’t heal him either. Their ‘questions’ were not true inquiries for truth as much as they were an attempt to discredit the disciples and turn the multitudes away from following Jesus.

 In the midst of this debate, a man from the crowd pushes his way up front and kneels before Jesus.

Matthew 17:15 – said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly.  For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.”

Satan has done the most despicable thing imaginable – he has torn apart an entire household by attacking the child. 

This man’s only son is an epileptic.  This disorder comes upon him and causes seizures which make him fall – sometimes into fire and sometimes into water, leaving him in constant physical danger.  Mark and Luke reveal that during these attacks he foamed at the mouth and gnashed his teeth. The boy was slowly but surely wasting away. 

Can you imagine the utter hopelessness and despair of this boy’s parents?  Can you see them consulting every physician they could afford and hearing that nothing could be done?  Can you imagine the sleepless nights they endured – either waking up as he has a seizure, or lying awake at night wondering how they could help him get cured? 

Yet, for all their worry they are completely unable to help him.  This disease is not just robbing their household of peace and joy, it is causing them terrible grief and anguish.

Soon we will find that the disease of epilepsy is being aggravated by a demonic spirit.   

Matthew 17:16 – “And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 

The disciples, who had recently done miracles and cast out devils in their missionary journey, have met with a case that they cannot handle.  Jesus will soon reveal that they were unable to help due to a lack of faith and prayer (and fasting).  While their failure is probably embarrassing and hard to accept, it is going to teach them two very important lessons – humility and dependence on God. 

These lessons have not diminished in importance.  In this age, we still need to learn humility and dependence on our Heavenly Father for all that we do in his kingdom.  The minute we try to do something in our own power, we will fail (just like the disciples).  Jesus reminds us:

John 15:5 – I [Jesus] am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 

Covering something in prayer is much better than the best of planning!  This is not to say that we should not plan for our kingdom activities, but sometimes we are all about the planning and we neglect to pray.  When we do, we are relying on our own power, instead of depending on God.

For example, perhaps your church wants to resume a children’s program after the COVID virus.  You can (and should) make plans to bring this about.  However, it is equally important to cover the reopening of the program in prayer.  If God is involved, it will be successful.

Humility is also a key.  You and I both know that God tells us over and over that he hates an attitude of pride.  He will bring it down every time.  But if we stay humble and seek him in prayer, he will bless our plans or better yet, he will reveal HIS plans to us.

Matthew 17:16-17 – “And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”   And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?  Bring him here to me.”

Who exactly is Jesus addressing here? Who are the faithless?  

Some scholars believe he is referring to the disciples.  They believe Jesus is chastising the disciples for not using the power and authority he had already given them.  Where was the faith they had exhibited on their missionary journey?

Some think he is referring to the scribes, especially due to the phrase ‘twisted generation’.  The religious leaders are maliciously happy at the failure of the disciples to cure this young man, and are trying to use this incident to discredit the disciples (and Jesus) in front of the crowds. 

Still others feel that his comments have some application to all who were present – the disciples, the scribes and the Jewish people in general.

We may be unsure exactly who Jesus is addressing, but we can be sure of his message – there was a lack of faith. 

Mark 9:20-22 – And they brought the boy to him.  And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.  And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”  And he said, “From childhood…..But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

It is easy to see and feel the desperation of this father.  He is discouraged because reaching out to God by way of the disciples seems like just another dead end.  He is already beaten down by the traumatic effects this disease has taken on his son and his family.  He recalls that this has been going on since his son was very small – in other words, a very long time.  In fact, it seems like it will never end; it seems like there is no cure.  As he focuses on his circumstances, he sinks deeper into a pit of despair.  It is from this place of hopelessness that he cries out “IF you can do anything”.  

Mark 9:23-24 – And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The response of Jesus clearly shows that there is no lack on his part – he has inexhaustible supplies of power and authority to heal this boy.  The problem lies with the father (and previously the disciples).  He does not have the faith needed to grasp and hold onto (claim) the miracle of healing.  True, he has some faith/belief, but as Jesus points out, there is still a well of unbelief in his life.

Jesus does not point this out so he can belittle this man.  He does not point it out and use it as an excuse not to heal the boy.  He points it out so that the man can come to terms with it and rise above it – so that his faith can grow to the point where he can receive the miracle he is seeking from God.

As the man hears Jesus, his spirit is quickened.  He recognizes that he does have faith, but he is still struggling with unbelief.  He cries out to Jesus (aka prayer) and in that minute his faith grows to a point where he can receive the miracle he needs.

Matthew 17:18 – And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.

We find that Jesus had drawn out or stretched the faith of this father to a point where he was able to receive the miracle he needed.  And as soon as that happened, Jesus healed his son.

What lesson can we take away from this biblical example?

I think that many Christians can identify with this earthly father.  Sometimes our loved ones decide to abandon the paths of God in order to experience the things of the world.  As a result, they sometimes get into a place of bondage.  For example, they may become addicted to drugs, or alcohol or find themselves trusting in a false god/religion.  They may wind up in bad or abusive relationships.  They may lose everything they had financially.

Also like the father in this narrative, we will try everything we can to assist our loved one when they are bound by the enemy.  We will have sleepless nights as we worry and we will spend whatever amount of money we have to assist them.  We may try to reason with them.  We may share scripture with them.  But also like the father in this story, our efforts do not always resolve the situation.  Sometimes, they seem to make it worse.

If that is the case, we need to follow the example of this father, and cry out to God for deliverance.

There may be times of discouragement.  There may be times where we feel the situation is hopeless.  There may be times where we see no change and are tempted to give up, thinking that our loved one has been in bondage so long, that things will never change.

If that is where you are today, then take heart!  Jesus assures us that nothing is impossible to the one who believes! 

Resist your unbelief!  Ask Jesus to help you with it.  Speak (out loud) to that situation and declare victory over it.  Speak deliverance over it.  Speak the scriptures over it.  Tell that bondage that it must fall under the authority of Jesus.  By exercising the faith you have, you will cause it to grow and strengthen. Dwell on the scriptures:

Romans 10:17 – So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Spend time with God in prayer; his presence will also increase your faith.

We can leave this part of the narrative with feelings of confidence.  Greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world!  Satan is strong, active and malicious.   But Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all those who come to him.  He can break the bondage of Satan and the bondages of sin and set us free.  And he whom the Son sets free, is free indeed!

So let us not be weary in well doing.  In due season we shall reap, if we faint not!

Matthew 17:19 – Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it our?”

Once the disciples and Jesus retired to a more private place, the disciples ask the obvious question – why couldn’t they heal the boy/cast out the demon?

Remember, Jesus had given them power to cast out devils when they went out in pairs to proclaim the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 10:8).  I imagine there was great concern that God had taken away their power to work miracles and their authority over demons. This probably gave rise to all kinds of fears, doubts and questions.

But in reality God had not changed his mind at all.  Like the father of the demon possessed boy, they simply lacked faith.  They had some faith, but not enough.  They believed, but not fully.

Matthew 17:20 – He said to them, “Because of your little faith.  For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus likens faith to a mustard seed. It starts out very small but quickly grows and expands until it is one of the greatest of all herbs.  Likewise, if we have thriving and increasing faith, we will be able to remove even the biggest of obstacles out of our way (to remove mountains is a proverbial expression which signifies the doing of anything seemingly impossible; overcoming difficulties that seem insurmountable). 

However, the phrase “nothing will be impossible for you” is not as absolute as it sounds.  This promise does not mean that a Christian can acquire any random thing that pops into their mind (like a new truck), as long as they have enough faith.  The thing asked for must be in the will of God and be for our good or the good of the church.

As a Christian matures in their walk with God, our will and our desires should become God’s will and desires for us.  Once we reach that point, then we can receive anything we ask for.

Now is a good time to remind ourselves that even if we have great faith, but we do not have love for our fellow man, we are nothing:

1 Corinthians 13:2 – And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.

The purpose of great faith is not to please our own selves or satisfy our own desires.  It is to glorify God and do his work on earth.

Matthew 17:21 – But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.

The text indicates that some demonic powers are stronger than others, and require a greater amount of faith to cast them out.

Jesus tells us that fasting and prayer are essential in these cases.  Fasting helps you to gain control over your flesh.  It produces an inward quietness and calm that makes the mind focus on the things of God.  Prayer takes one into intimate communion with God.  Anytime we are in communion with God, our faith will grow.  So, fasting and prayer combine to assist one in increasing faith.

Matthew 17:22-23 – As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.”  And they were greatly distressed.

The closer his crucifixion became, the more often Jesus spoke to the disciples about his death.  He was telling them these things so that they would not be caught off guard when it happened.  By telling them in advance, Jesus showed them that his death was by his own will; they should not lose faith in him when he was crucified. Notice also, that Jesus does not speak of his death without giving the good news that he would also rise again. 

In this particular passage, we notice that the disciples are greatly distressed about this announcement, yet they don’t question him any further on the topic.  Why was that?

They did not want to face that truth, because it did not fit in with their expectations.  They still believed that the time had come for Messiah to be revealed as the conquering king, who would free Israel and set up his reign on earth.  They had been with Jesus and seen all his miracles.  They knew he could easily set up his kingdom right then, and I am sure they hoped he would.  As we know, their belief was certainly true, but they had the timing all wrong – that event is still in the future.

Perhaps some of their thoughts were selfish – they had left everything to follow Jesus.  If he dies, where does that leave them?  They certainly couldn’t go back to the way life was, but how could they move forward without their master?

For these reasons, they did not want to face the fact that Jesus would soon sacrifice himself on the cross.

Matthew 17:24 – When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?”

Matthew now records a very odd incident involving a fish and some tax money.  What is the purpose of this strange event?  What does it teach us? 

First, let’s look at the history of the tax.  Back in the book of Exodus, God instituted a tax on all males age 20 and above (Exodus 30:13-16).  The tax was a half shekel, or about 12 ½ cents in US currency.  The purpose of the tax was to help fund the expenses of the temple for things like animals, wood, incense, flour, salt, etc. 

It was paid yearly, at one of the three great festivals of the Jews – Passover, Feast of tabernacles or Pentecost.  It was even collected from Jews living in foreign countries.

[After the destruction of Jerusalem the Romans ordered the Jews to continue paying the tax, but put it in a fund to rebuild the temple of Jupiter.]

So the question put to Peter by the tax collector was this:  Is your teacher a law abiding Jew?  Will he pay the tax or does he consider himself above the law? 

Matthew 17:25-26 – He said, “Yes.”  And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon?  From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax?  From their sons or from others?  And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.”

Peter, without hesitation, gives the tax man an affirmative answer; of course Jesus pays the tax.  From this we infer that it had always been Jesus’ custom to conform to the regulations of the law.  Peter’s answer was like a commitment to pay.  As he left the tax collector and headed home, he was no doubt wondering how he could bring up this subject to Jesus. 

But when he arrives, Jesus speaks to him first, about the very thing that was on Peter’s mind!

Jesus asks a question regarding the kings of this world.  Do they collect taxes or finance their kingdoms by taking money from their own sons?  Peter correctly answers ‘no’.  Taxes are paid by everyone else, but the king’s own children do not pay. 

So Jesus is actually exempt from the tax for two reasons.

First, God is the creator and owner of the entire universe.  As his Son, Jesus is heir to the whole natural realm and exempt from any tax collected in this life.

The same is true in the kingdom of heaven.  Since Jesus is the Son of God, he is well within his rights not to pay the temple tax.  However, he voluntarily refrains from exercising his rights in this case.  Jesus came to earth as a servant, and he will accept that role until everything he came to do was fulfilled.  His glory and the glory of his kingdom will be revealed at the proper time.  Until then, Jesus submits to earthy authority.   

Matthew 17:27 – “However, not to give offence to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.  Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Since the vast majority of people do not yet understand that Jesus is the Son of God, it would seem to them that Jesus was breaking the law of God by not paying the temple tax.  So even though Jesus (and Peter) knows that he is exempt from paying the tax, he will pay to fulfill all righteousness.

This serves as an example to us.  We are to pay tribute and taxes as they are due:

Romans 13:7 – Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

God’s children are freed by grace from the slavery of sin, but not from their subjection to magistrates in civil matters.

This passage shows that Christ supported the public worship of God with earthly money.  Now consider this for a moment:  during the time of Jesus, the temple was ‘a den of thieves’ or in other words, a very corrupt place.  Jesus himself chased the money changers out of the temple because they were cheating people.  The temple was also a bastion for the religious leaders (hypocrites) who actively opposed Jesus and his message of the kingdom of heaven.

In our minds, these would be good reasons NOT to support the temple.  However, Christ paid his tribute anyway.  If he supported the temple of his day, who are we not to support our local churches?  

How about that coin in the fish’s mouth?  

Arranging for a coin in the mouth of the fish and knowing that it was there, and knowing that it would be the first fish that Peter caught all demonstrate the divinity of Jesus.  Even the fish of the sea are under God’s ultimate control. 

Miracles require something on our part – Naamen had to dip in the river 7 times, the blind man had to wash the mud off of his eyes, the lame man had to stand, the workers at the wedding had to fill the water pots, and Peter had to go out and catch the fish.  Are you believing for a miracle?  Ask Jesus what part you need to play.

God could just have easily provided an entire bag of money in that fish, but he didn’t.  He provided the exact amount needed.  When we have a lot extra, we begin to trust in ourselves, but when we have just enough, it encourages us to trust God for the next step.  Sometimes God uses our circumstances to keep us close to him.  So if that is you, rejoice!  It’s far, far better to have Jesus as your source than earthly money!

So let me offer you some encouragement:   As we look at the life of Jesus, there can be no doubt that he was concerned about people who were suffering.  That has not changed.  God is still concerned about the souls and needs of hurting people.

The COVID crisis has caused a lot of pain, suffering and uncertainty for many people.  What are we doing to display the love of Christ to them?  Could you and I do with a little bit less, so we can assist someone else who may really be struggling?  Jesus often met the physical needs of people as he shared the gospel message.  Can’t we do the same thing?  As we minister to the material needs we see around us, I encourage you to also share the love of Christ and the peace he brings to your life.

Let me offer you some relief:  The disciples were very distressed when Jesus spoke of his upcoming death and resurrection, because it did not fit into their expectations.  What expectations do you have about the way God should work things out in your life?  Do you worry and fret when things don’t go the way you expected?  If so, let me give you some relief – God has your best interest in mind when he answers your prayers.  Only God knows the beginning from the end, so only he knows what is best for you.  So stop worrying and complaining.  Trust in him and his love for you.  Rejoice in the Lord always, knowing that he works all things out for your good!

Let me offer you some strength:   The 9 disciples found themselves in a situation that seemed to spiral out of control.  They were unable to cast the demon from the boy, and they did not understand why.  They scribes were right there, throwing failure into their faces, while the fickle crowds looked on.  In the midst of all this, Jesus seemed very far away.

Today, as we are still dealing with the COVID19 virus, you too, may feel that things are spiraling out of control.  But you do not need to fear.  This virus was not a surprise to God.  He knew when, what, where, why and how it would happen, before the world ever began.  He knew that you would be alive during this crisis, and he knew how this would impact you and your family.   Know that God is not far away; he is near to each one of us.  God is your shelter in the time of the COVID storm.  So do as the 9 disciples needed to do – have faith in God, and seek him in prayer and fasting.  If your house is built on the solid rock Christ Jesus, no storm of life will be able to wash it away.

Matthew, Chapter 17, Part 1

Matthew 17:1 – And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

The portion of scripture in Matthew 17:1-9 is commonly referred to as ‘the transfiguration’ or ‘the mount of transfiguration’.  The events in this passage have been repeated in Mark 9:2-10 and Luke 9:28-36.  Each gospel writer gives us a few unique details, so we will include all three passages in today’s lesson.  Since this event is recorded in three separate gospels, we can be sure it has special importance.

We are told that the transfiguration happened ‘after six days’. That seems kind of odd – six days after what? Do you know?

Actually, it was six days after Jesus accepted the title of Messiah and then revealed to his disciples that he was going to suffer and die, then be resurrected and glorified:

Matthew 16:21 – From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

So, roughly a week after the conversation about his future suffering/death and resurrection/glorification, Jesus goes up the side of a mountain.  Luke tells us that his intention was to spend time in prayer: 

Luke 9:28 – Now about eight days after these sayings he [Jesus] took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.

As he was in prayer, his glory was revealed to the three disciples:

Matthew 17:2-3 – And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

The word “transfigure” means to change appearance or form. It does not denote a change in the substance of a thing, but simply a change of the thing’s appearance.  We see that Jesus’ body, as well as his clothing, were changed in appearance. 

This means that Jesus did not leave his body and appear to the disciples as a spirit.  He remained in the body of flesh that he was given when he was born into the world as a servant.  Because he was both God and man, he had a veil over his Godly form.  During the transfiguration, he removed the veil and the disciples saw his glory. 

The scripture says he appeared in light. This makes sense, because Jesus is the light of the world (1 John 1:5), he dwells in light (1 Timothy 6:16), and he covers himself with light (Psalms 104:2). Therefore, if he was going to reveal at least part of his Godly form, he would appear in light.

Let’s switch gears and talk about Jesus’ visitors for a moment.  Do you have a favorite bible character?  How about King David or Joseph or Ruth & Naomi, or Noah?  Of all the saints up in heaven, why do you suppose it was Moses and Elijah who came to be with Jesus on the mountain top?

It is because Moses and Elijah represent both the law and the prophets.  This is significant.  The Jews do not want to receive the new covenant that Jesus is bringing with him.  They want to hold onto the old covenant.  But Jesus has come to fulfill the law and the Old Testament prophesies; once they are fulfilled they will pass away.  They simply won’t be needed any more.  So when both of these living saints give glory and honor to Jesus, they are acknowledging that Jesus is the mediator of the better covenant.

So in a way, God was being gracious to the Jews.  The endorsement of the new covenant by Moses and Elijah should have given them comfort.  

For us, this passage raises a number of questions. If Jesus was going to reveal his glory, why do it for only 3 of the disciples? Why not all 12? Why these particular three? Why reveal his glory in the first place? What was the purpose of this revelation? What did Moses and Elijah have to say to Jesus? Let’s see what we can find.

First of all, Luke tells us that the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah focused on the topic of his imminent suffering/death and resurrection/glorification. 

Luke 9:30-31 – And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure (exodus), which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

So, what Jesus (and all of heaven) already knew now becomes evident to his disciples.  That is, Jesus was not going to be crucified by the will or power of man. He was not going to be arrested and put to death because of a decision by Rome or the Jewish religious leaders, or anyone else.

He was going to willingly lay down his life for mankind, according to the master plan that was put in place before the world was created!  Jesus makes it very clear that HE is the one who allows his death to take place, and that he also will be raised to life again:  

John 10:17-18 – For this reason the Father loves me [Jesus] because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father.

Thus, the event of the transfiguration proves that Jesus was the Son of God, who had come into the world to be an atoning sacrifice for sin.  This event reinforces or proves the statement that Peter made a week prior – that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Seeing this before the crucifixion proved to them that Jesus was in complete and total charge of the events of his life and death.

Why were only three disciples chosen to witness the transfiguration?  Because according to Jewish law, 2 or 3 was the minimum number of witnesses needed to verify that something was true:

Deuteronomy 19:15 – …at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses shall the matter be established. 

Why do you suppose Jesus chose those 3 disciples in particular? While we don’t know for sure, we can make some inferences:

  • They seem to be the ‘inner circle’ of the 12. 
  • They were the only three present when Jesus healed Jarius’ daughter. 
  • These three were present with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where they witnessed his suffering. 
  • As we saw in Matthew chapter 16, Peter will be a great instrument in carrying out the work of the gospel. 
  • John, as the only disciple not to be martyred, will be on earth longer than any other disciple.  His eyewitness account will be around for the longest period of time.  

Matthew 17:4 – And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here.  If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

If you had been one of the eyewitnesses of this event, how would you have reacted?

In his gospel, Mark tells us that the disciples were frightened and amazed, and didn’t really know what to do (Mark 9:5-6).  In our culture, we could say that this event was ‘mind-blowing’.

In keeping with his character, Peter speaks first and his suggestion is rash and inadvisable.  He wants to build tents or dwelling places for the heavenly visitors, so he can remain in their company. 

On the one hand, who could blame him for wanting to remain in their company? We can imagine the wonder and joy of having this peek into the heavenly realm.

But on the other hand, a fading tent would never be suitable for saints who had already been admitted to the glory of heaven! Besides, Jesus’ mission is not to bring a teeny-tiny bit of heaven and keep it on earth.  He intends to subject himself to the suffering and shame necessary to atone for the sin of mankind; he intends to take all the souls of earth up to heaven, where we can all enjoy his presence for eternity!

Perhaps, in the back of his mind, Peter still believed that Jesus was going to set up his kingdom on earth at that time.  Or, perhaps he just spoke the first thing that popped into his head without thinking.  I know I have been guilty of doing that! 

Matthew 17:5 – He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

The word ‘overshadowed’ means ‘to be diffused or spread”.  This means that the bright cloud (literally the cloud of light) enveloped them like a fog, rather than like a high covering that would provide shade.

This cloud has long been a symbol of God’s divine presence.  In Exodus (14:19-20) God personally leads the Israelites in a cloud.  God appears on Mount Sinai in a cloud with fire (Exodus 24:15-17).  And a cloud, called the Shechinah glory, dwelt in the Most Holy place in the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11, Ezekiel 1:4).   Therefore, the appearance of this cloud indicated the presence of God.

God speaks from the cloud, addressing Jesus as his beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased.  Does that sound familiar?  This is the second time that God has audibly spoken that phrase about Jesus.  The first time was at the time of Jesus’ baptism, just before the trial of his temptation in the wilderness.

God then instructs the men to listen to his Son.  Thus, God himself exalts Jesus over both the law and the prophets.  They were servants, but Jesus is the Son.  This encounter strengthens the faith of the disciples; soon they would be called upon to go forth and preach the gospel which would be rejected by most of the Jews.  Yet, their faith would stand the test.  They knew the truth and nothing could dissuade them from testifying of Jesus.

Like the disciples, our duty is to Christ and no other.  Non-Christians will use the logic of this world to tell us why we should not serve Jesus our king, but if we are close to him and we hear his voice, we will not be led astray. 

Matthew 17:6-8 – When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise and have no fear.”  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

The majesty and glory of God is so powerful that no man in his sinful state can bear even a touch of it, without fear and trembling.  Certainly, no man can see God and live.  (Remember, the disciples only heard his voice).   Neither can any mortal man can stand before God.  For example, Saul (who later became the apostle Paul), fell to the ground when a light from heaven fell upon him.  Even the Old Testament priests fell on their faces when God appeared in the cloud in the Most Holy place:

1 Kings 8:10-11:  And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

Here is something interesting to consider:  The time that we Christians spend on earth is a very special time, which will never occur again.  Yes, it has trials and difficulties, but it also has special opportunities.  For example, this is a time when we have the privilege of worshipping God willingly, by faith.  The truth is, if we were to actually see a glimpse of God, it would so impact us that worship would cease to be voluntary.  It would automatically come out of our mouths.  We wouldn’t be able to do anything else, even if we wanted to.

I believe that our praise and worship is something special to God, because it is a true gift given from our hearts, by faith.  And we are only going to have this opportunity of worshipping God in this manner for a very, very short time.  So why not take full advantage of it?  Why not spend some extra time this week in his presence, giving Him glory and honor and praise for who he is and what he has done?

The disciples were certainly impacted by the experience they had in God’s presence.  In fact, they were flat on their faces, trembling with fear.  Jesus comforts their fears by touching them and telling them not to fear.

Jesus is the only one who can do this, because he is the mediator between God and man.  In fact, His role as our redeemer allows us to come boldly into God’s presence, without fear.  And, hallelujah, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever so we continue to have full access to the presence of God!  

Matthew 17:9 – And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Why do you think Jesus told them to keep this to themselves until after his resurrection?

This experience was designed to confirm the truth that he was the Messiah.  If they published it while he was still with them, it would have provoked the Jews and endangered his life.

Once he was crucified, they would need this evidence that he was the Christ.  That was the proper time to make use of this heavenly experience.  There were three witnesses to this event which is the number required by law; so this was clear proof that he was the Messiah.  Peter especially uses this in his spreading of the gospel:

2 Peter 1:16-18 – For we did not follow cleverly designed myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

This should be an encouragement to all of us; whatever God has called us to do, he will equip us with whatever we need to get that job done.  He never sets us up for failure, he always sets us up to be victorious in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 17:10 – And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”

As they come down the mountain, the disciples are trying to reconcile the things they have been taught by the religious leaders with what Jesus is telling them. 

There is no question in their minds that Jesus is the Messiah.  However, according to Jewish understanding of Old Testament prophesy, Elijah was to personally reappear to the Jewish nation before the Messiah came (See Malachi 4:5).  Since they couldn’t figure this out, they asked Jesus.

Matthew 17:11 – He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things.”

Jesus does not refute the belief that Elijah would come; he actually confirms it.

The problem with the religious leaders is that they were looking for a physical fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy – they were literally looking for Elijah the Tishbite to appear out of nowhere. But the Old Testament promise simply referred to a person who displayed the same SPIRIT that Elijah had.

In other words, the forerunner of the Messiah would be a man who would preach a doctrine of repentance, calling the nation to renounce their sinful ways, and turn back to faith and obedience to God.

He would be a man of restoration.  To restore means to put in proper order, to heal or to correct.  The prophet would correct beliefs in regards to the coming Messiah and the kingdom of heaven.

All this was clearly fulfilled in the life and ministry of John the Baptist.  In fact, the angel Gabriel said this about John the Baptist before his birth:

Luke 1:16-17 – And he [John] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

There can be no doubt – John the Baptist was the “Elijah” who was to come.  

Matthew 17:12-13 – “But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased.  So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.  Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

The Jews did not acknowledge or recognize John as the forerunner of the Messiah.  They ridiculed him, persecuted him and at last put him to death (Herod Antipas gave the order to behead John, but Jesus charges the Jews with his murder).

Jesus tells the disciples that he too, will also suffer and be rejected by the Jewish nation.  But again, this was not by the will of any man.  It was by the will of Jesus and Father God.

So let me offer you some encouragement:  The disciples were witnesses of what they had seen on the mountain, and their testimony was a tool that they used in the spreading of the gospel message.  You and I can also bear witness to the strength, deliverance, protection, provision and peace that Jesus has given us.  In our current times of uncertainty and fear, our testimony of what God has done for us can be a tool that we use to share the gospel message to our friends and neighbors.  I encourage you to let your light shine for Christ – be ready to share what he has done for you.

Let me offer you some relief and some strength:  Moses and Elijah appeared to the disciples alive and well, even though they had walked the earth hundreds of years before this time.  All of their earthly trials and tribulations, all of their aches and pains, all of their fears and questions were gone!

One day, this will be true for you and I as well.  One day, we will be in heaven with Moses, Elijah and all of the other heroes of the faith.  One day, our earthly struggles will also be over.  So whatever you are going through right now, know that it will not last forever!  Relief may come in this life, but if not – then know that this life does not last for eternity.  So strengthen your ‘weak hands’ and ‘feeble knees’ (Isaiah 35:3).  Strive for a strong finish to your earthly race!

Matthew, Chapter 16

Matthew 16:1 – And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.

This is the second time that the religious leaders had asked for a sign.  They wanted some kind of sign that was in the sky; perhaps like Samuel calling down rain and thunder (I Samuel 12:16-18) or Isaiah asking God to move the shadow back 10 degrees on the dial of Ahaz (Isaiah 38:8). 

As we discussed before, God is not opposed to signs.  However, they are not substitutes for wisdom gained through the bible or time spent in prayer.  They are not substitutes for hearing God speak directly to you (scripture says that every child of God can hear his voice).  If a sign is still desired after these avenues have been exhausted, then the request must come from a pure heart with a true inward desire to know and understand God’s leading.

This was not the case with the religious leaders.  They were more or less issuing Jesus a challenge, hoping that he would fail and be exposed as a fake in front of the people.

Besides, what could be more stupendous than the miracles of healing and provision that had already been manifested? 

Matthew 16:2-3 – He answered them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’   And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’  You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

There are certain indications by which the people of that day could judge the weather, namely the color of the sky. 

Likewise, there are indications by which they should have easily recognized Jesus as the Messiah.  These were not ignorant heathen; these were God’s chosen people who had studied and kept the covenant for generations!  So why didn’t they recognize the signs of the Messiah?

They missed ‘the time of their visitation’ (Luke 19:44) because they willingly hardened their hearts and shut their eyes to the truth. They were excessively focused on the rituals of this earthly life, while being blind to the true spiritual aspect of their relationship to God.

Do you think the people of this generation are blind to anything?  Here is something to think about:  There is much division in the church over the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life today.  Many different doctrines have been taught to people over the years.  What were you taught regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in today’s world?

If there is any question about the Holy Spirit’s operation in your life, I urge you to seek God in prayer about this issue, with an open heart and mind.  If you do, God will reveal the truth to you.

Matthew 16:4 – “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”  So he left them and departed.

We have already studied the sign of the prophet Jonah, back in Matthew chapter 12.  You can review that material, if you need to.

Jesus rebuked the people of his day, because they did not stop and take the time to carefully examine the evidence that was plainly presented to them.  They should have compared the works of Jesus to the evidence given to them by the Old Testament prophets, then humbly taken their conclusions to God in prayer, asking for confirmation.  Had they done so, the truth would have revealed itself.

What about you?  Have you given any thought to the claims of Jesus?  Do you believe he is the Messiah who came to forgive your sin, if only you will ask him?  Or are you too, ignoring the signs around you?

Is it possible that you are you a person who is happy to go to church each week, and be in the company of true believers, but you haven’t yet made a commitment of your own to Christ?

If this describes you, or if you are not sure, I encourage you to examine the evidence for yourself.  Look at the Christians around you.  They will testify of the love, peace, provision, wisdom, protection, joy and strength that God gives them every day. 

Compare this evidence to what you see in the scriptures.  You will soon come to the conclusion that God is surely alive and well on planet earth, and that he wants to forgive your sin and be Lord of your life!

Matthew 16:5 – When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread.

Jesus and his disciples left the eastern side of the sea of Galilee and sailed over to the western side.  When they arrived at their destination, they quickly realized that they did not take a sufficient amount of food with them (Mark 8:14 indicates that they had a single loaf of bread).

Matthew 16:6-7 – Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.”

Leaven is noun.  It refers to a substance (typically yeast), that is used in dough to make it rise.  Leaven is also a verb.  When used this way, it is defined as “a pervasive influence that modifies something or transforms it”.

As you already know, leaven is invisible after you mix it into dough.  But after just a couple of hours, you can see that it has spread through the whole batch of dough, and caused a change or transformation.

Let’s look at the spiritual truth that this demonstrates. 

Jesus and his disciples had just interacted with the religious leaders, who were asking for a sign from heaven to confirm that Jesus was the Messiah.  In so doing, they clearly demonstrated their lack of spiritual discernment.  They stubbornly clung to their own spiritual blindness by continuing to deny that Jesus was the Messiah.  As your recall, these men were the spiritual teachers of Israel.  The nation in general revered and trusted them.  The people relied on them to correctly explain and interpret the covenant.

So we have a group of popular, revered and trusted teachers, who are actually without any spiritual knowledge or understanding at all!  Their unbelief, pride, hypocrisy and public rejection of Jesus was like an evil leaven that was diffused far and wide, and trickled down to all ranks and classes of the Jewish nation.  As such, it was very dangerous indeed, for if left unchecked or unchallenged, their pervasive influence of unbelief would modify or transform the nation, causing them to reject Jesus as the Messiah.  As we look back, we can see that this is exactly what happened!

Matthew 16:8-10 – But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?  Do you not yet perceive?  Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?

Once again, the disciples have failed to grasp that Jesus is speaking in spiritual terms.  This is not the first time they missed it.  In John 6, they did not understand that Jesus was the bread of life.  In John 4, they did not understand that Jesus had spiritual food to eat (accomplishing the will of the Father), etc. 

It is interesting to note that the gospel writers must have given accurate and true accounts of the events they witnessed, because if they were altering events in any way, they would surely have made themselves look less foolish and ignorant!

Matthew 16:11-12 – How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak bout bread?  Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The disciples had been with Jesus for a long time now.  They were well acquainted with his style of preaching and teaching.  They knew that Jesus took earthly examples and used them to teach spiritual principles about the kingdom of Heaven (parables).

Jesus always explained to them the spiritual aspects of the parables he gave to the crowds.  They, of all people, should know to look for the spiritual meaning, not the literal physical meaning of Jesus’ words.  After Jesus scolds them, they stopped to think for a moment and finally understood what he meant.

Matthew 16:13 – Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Jesus and the disciples move on to the region of Caesarea Philippi, in the northern part of Judea.  The city was enlarged and beautified by Philip the Tetrarch, son of Herod. He called it Caesarea in honor of the Roman emperor, and added his own name to it because there was already a city named Caesarea. 

This conversation seems to be taking place as they travel to the city.

Jesus did not ask his disciples this question because he was ignorant of what people thought and spoke about him.  The time had come for him to slowly start revealing to the disciples that his death was approaching.  He was giving the disciples an opportunity to express their faith in him, which he was then going to confirm and strengthen.

Matthew 16:14 – And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, other say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Of course, all of these opinions are false.  The people had seen the miracles and heard the teaching which confirmed he was the Messiah, but Jesus was so different from what they expected, that they rejected the obvious conclusion.  I am sure they were partly influenced by the religious leaders.  Since they rejected the truth, they are left with only false conjectures of his true identity and purpose.

Matthew 16:15-16 – He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Here is the true purpose behind Jesus’ question.  Peter answers for all the apostles.

You are the Christ – the Messiah, the anointed one of God.  You are prophet, priest and king.  You will remove our sin and impart to us perfect righteousness.

The Son – you are both divine and eternal.

Of the living God – you are God in the flesh.  The adjective ‘living’ is always applied to God.  God sees, hears, understands, laughs, creates, judges and a whole host of other things.  All of these show a contrast between the living God and dead, lifeless idols.

In other words, the disciples express their full belief that Jesus was indeed the long expected Messiah.

Matthew 16:17 – And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven.”

‘Bar’ means ‘son of’.  So Jesus addresses him as Simon, son of Jonah.

Peter’s revelation could have come from only one of two sources: the flesh (his fellow man or his fleshly mind), or the spirit (God).

Man looks on the outward appearance.  When anyone looked at Jesus as he walked the earth, what did they see? A lowly, humble carpenter.  Jesus had no riches or earthly splendor or political influence, or military might.  He did not become the head of the religious leaders.  According to earthly standards/outward appearances, there was no indication that Jesus was the Messiah (at least not the Messiah the Jews were expecting).  Based on his miracles, the people felt that he was nothing more than a prophet.

However, the true power, glory, mission and identity of Jesus were fully known to God.  Therefore, only the Holy Spirit could have given this revelation of Jesus to Peter and the other apostles.  The scripture tells us:

John 17:3 – And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 

Anyone who can confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God has eternal life.  And anyone with eternal life is surely blessed (highly favored, happy, fortunate)!

Matthew 16:18 – “And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

What a wonderful, encouraging, victorious scripture!  As such, we should not be surprised that our enemy has created controversy over it.  Let’s examine the different interpretations:

One view is that the word “rock” refers to Peter’s confession.  Thus, the truth or confession that Jesus is the Messiah is the basis upon which the church will be built. Those who confess it are part of the church; the church will stand upon this confession of faith in the midst of persecution and be victorious.

A second view is that the word “rock” refers to Jesus himself. Thus, the church is built upon a foundation of Jesus as the Messiah. Those who trust in Christ as their foundation are part of the church.  They will be victorious because they rely on Christ.

A third view is that the word “rock” refers to Peter himself. Thus, Peter becomes the one who builds the church by sharing/teaching/expounding the gospel message with both the Jews and Gentiles. Hell cannot prevail against the church that is built up by Peter (or his successors).

A fourth interpretation also presents itself.  In this case, Jesus is the rock, the cornerstone, upon which the church is built.  However, Peter is also a rock; he has strength, stability and firmness of faith.  He lays the foundations of the church through his preaching and teaching the gospel message.   The good news is delivered to both Jews and Gentiles and thousands become part of the church.  The other disciples, and Paul, are also builders of the church of Jesus Christ.

What did Jesus mean when he referred to ‘the gates of Hell’? Ancient cities were surrounded by walls. The gates were not only places of entry, but public venues used for holding court, transacting business, discussing public matters and even creating policy. So, when a city gate is referred to, it means not just the city, but the councils, judicial decisions and business of the city.

So, in this case, the ‘gates of hell’ refers to the evil plans of our enemy, Satan.  It includes all the plots, strategies, lies/half truths and temptations that he will use against mankind.  But – praise God – we are victorious over these evil councils through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Since the church is upheld by Christ’s power and promise, she will never be vanquished by the devil!

Matthew 16:19 – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus confers power to the apostles to bind and loose.  To bind something was to forbid or refuse it; to loose something was to grant or allow it to be done.  This authority was given in conjunction with the keys of the kingdom.

Keys unlock things.  As such, we could say they grant access to things.  For example, you probably have a key to your house.  The key unlocks your door and grants you lawful access to everything inside the house.

Keys unlock things; they grant access.

Legal access to the house also implies stewardship.  As the person with the key, you have power and authority over access to the house and everything in it.  You are the administrator or caretaker of the house.  If the roof leaks, you need to get it fixed.  If the walls need painted, you have to arrange for that to happen, etc. 

In the Old Testament times, when a Jew became a doctor of the law, he was given a key to the closet in the temple where the sacred books were kept.  He was also given access to tablets and writing instruments.  In other words, the key gave him access and responsibility – access to the sacred writings and the responsibility to carefully teach and expound the scriptures to people.

Here in our text, Jesus is giving Peter (and the other disciples) access/responsibility to the kingdom of Heaven.

This means that the disciples, led by Peter, would be the instruments of opening the door of faith/salvation to the world – first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.  Events unfolded exactly as Jesus said they would:

Acts 2:14 – But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words…”

Beginning in verse 14, (and ending in verses 41), Peter preaches the gospel to the Jews on the day of Pentecost and 3000 were save that day.

Then, in Acts chapter 10, Peter preaches to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius and all the Gentiles there were saved. 

They also had the responsibility for establishing the order and government of the church.  These included things such as doctrine, discipline, administration of the sacraments and full authority to preach.  This power and authority was to be used in conjunction with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The keys of authority in the church have been passed down from generation to generation and they now lie with God’s present day ministers.  These are men and women that God has appointed or called to govern the church as it exists in any particular church or congregation.  This authority will continue until the end of the gospel dispensation.  Like the apostles of old, this power and authority is to be used in conjunction with the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 16:20 – Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Why would Jesus adamantly command the disciples not to broadcast that he was the Messiah? 

The answer is that the proper time for him to be revealed had not quite come yet.  To proclaim him as Messiah at that time would have aroused the hatred of the Jews and probably the Romans as well (they were certainly not going to be happy if Jesus stood up and claimed to be king).

Besides, Jesus was not going to rely on just the words of men to prove that he was the Messiah.  His role as Messiah would be clearly established by his coming death and resurrection. 

Matthew 16:21 – From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  

Let’s give the disciples (especially Peter) a little slack.  After all, they are in uncharted waters.  If Jesus had given them the whole scenario of God’s plan all at once (his earthly ministry, his conflicts with the Jewish religious leaders, his arrest and death, his resurrection and his ascension to heaven), it would have just been way too much for the disciples to process.  It would have blown their minds.  They would probably have walked away from him.

Instead, Jesus leads them through God’s plan step by step. They had heard the teaching.  They had seen the miracles.  They had just taken the major step of confessing that Jesus was (beyond all doubt), the Messiah who was to come.  Now Jesus reveals to them the next step in God’s plan – the Messiah was not only going to suffer but also die; then be raised to life again. 

The location of his death would be their beloved city of Jerusalem.  The persons who would cause his great suffering were the elders, chief priests and scribes, aka, the religious leaders of the day. 

This was not what the Apostles were expecting.  Like their fellow Jews, they believed the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom after he was revealed to the world.  Hence Peter, who was looking for a triumphant Messiah, could not fathom the death of Jesus.

This is the first of many instances where Jesus must correct their thinking on this subject.  It is important that they understand what will happen, so their faith will not fail when he is crucified. Also, by foretelling his death and resurrection, he proves to the disciples that all this is in accordance with the perfect will and plans of the Father.

Matthew 16:22-23 – And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you.”  But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

This was a replay of the temptation that Satan presented to Jesus in the desert (Matthew chapter 4).  As you know, the devil offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of this world without the pain and suffering of dying on the cross, if only Jesus would fall down and worship him.

In this case, Peter knew that Jesus had sufficient power to protect his life against the hatred of the Jews and the authority of the Romans.  He wanted Jesus to exert that power and save himself.

But Jesus viewed his suggestion as a stumbling block.  It was another enticement to abandon the will of his Father and bypass the suffering of the cross.  Because Peter was opposing the plans and purposes of God, Jesus calls him Satan or Adversary.

Matthew 16:24 – Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Three things are required of the person who would be a disciple of Christ.

First, a disciple must be willing to deny himself.  What is self denial?  It means to renounce whatever comes into competition with the love and service of Christ.  It means to completely surrender your will to the heavenly Father, just as Jesus did.

Suppose your normal morning routine is to get a cup of coffee and spend an hour looking at social media. That is certainly not a sin.

But what if your only time to spend in prayer is that same hour each morning?  If you want to be a disciple of Christ, you must give first place to the love and service of Christ.  You must practice self denial with regards to spending that hour in social media.

Self denial also includes forsaking the sins of the world.  For example, the world approves of having sexual relationships with many different people, regardless of whether or not you are married.  The bible, however, teaches that sexual relationships should exist exclusively within a marriage.  The disciple of Christ must forsake things approved by the world if they are in opposition to the teachings of Christ.  

Self denial also includes giving up your rights if they cause your brother to stumble.  For instance, you may feel that it is okay for Christians to drink wine; your conscience does not bother you when you drink it.  However, there may be another believer in your congregation who feels it is a sin to drink wine.  If you go out to dinner together, you should avoid drinking wine, because it is a stumbling block to your brother in Christ.

I Corinthians 8:13 – Therefore, if food makes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat while the world stands, lest I make my brother to stumble.

Disciples of Christ must not only practice self denial, but they are to take up their cross.  This is an allusion to the Roman custom of making criminals carry their own cross on the way to their crucifixion.  The cross was a burden or a difficulty to carry.  So each Christian must bear some afflictions or troubles which come as a result of being righteous or doing the right thing. 

And finally, the disciple is to follow Christ in all that they do.

Now let’s be honest.  Self denial and patient suffering don’t sound like much fun, do they?  But Jesus puts it all into perspective for us in the next verses. 

Matthew 16:25 – “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The word ‘life’ is used in two different senses.

The person who is anxious to save his earthly life (including his comfort, pleasure and security here on earth), will not make it into heaven.  He will lose his eternal life.

The person who is willing to risk/lose his life (including his comfort, pleasure and security here on earth) for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, will find everlasting life.

Matthew 16:26 – “For what will it profit a man if he gains the while world and forfeits his soul?  Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

The average life expectancy for an American woman is 78.5 years.  For the average American male, it is 76.1 years.  So, let’s assume an approximate average of 77 years.  If it takes you until the age of 20 to “gain the whole world”, that leaves you a mere 57 years to enjoy what you have acquired.  Of course, there is no guarantee that you will be healthy or happy, but you would have the whole world at your disposal for a time.

How long is eternity?  That’s right – it goes on forever.  So compare 57 years of possible good health and happiness and pleasure to an eternity of guaranteed happiness, health, joy, peace, pleasure, discovery, beauty and who knows what else! 

Romans 8:18 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Which option do you choose?  This comparison should open our eyes to the importance (necessity) of being a disciple of Jesus while we have the chance. The apostle Paul tells us that whatever self denial we experience in this life will all be worth it in eternity!

Matthew 16:27 – “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angles in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

The Lord Jesus Christ will one day return to the world.  On that occasion, he will not be coming as a humble servant or sacrificial lamb.  He will come in the fullness of his glory and majesty, as Almighty God.  He will be accompanied by angels and he will judge all men.  

At that time he will reward/repay each human being for what they have done.  Those who have loved righteousness and followed Jesus will be rewarded with eternal life with God.

Those who have embraced wickedness and sought the rewards of this life while forsaking Christ will also be rewarded – with eternity in the lake of fire!

Matthew 16:28 – “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

As we just mentioned, there will come a day when Jesus returns to this earth in the fullness of his glory.  But his actual kingdom would be established long, long before that time.  In fact, the coming of his kingdom was so close, that there were some with him who would live to see it.

His kingdom was established by the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out.  This was followed by the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews who were bitter enemies to Christianity.

So let me offer you some encouragement:  If you are reading this blog, chances are that you have already made a commitment to be a disciple of Christ. This automatically makes you different from society.  And sometimes, being different can be difficult.  But be encouraged – it won’t be long until we are with Christ for eternity!  Then, we will see that all of our crosses were nothing in comparison with what God has in store for us during eternity!

Let me offer you some relief and some strength:  Jesus tells us that even a little leaven can impact a whole batch of dough.  What about you and me?  Perhaps we have not preached to thousands of people, or written best selling Christian books, or ministered in a foreign country.  But that doesn’t mean that we are not influencing people for Christ.  So let your light shine in the place where you are; you can display the gospel to people that no one else can reach!

Matthew, Chapter 15, Part 2

Matthew 15:21 – And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Tyre and Sidon are two closely situated Phoenician sea port cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  These highly populated commercial cities are actually outside the borders of Israel and the inhabitants are Gentiles/Canaanites, not Jews.

The gospel of Mark (7:24) tells us that Jesus went into a house in this region, hoping that no one would find him.  Why do you suppose he did this? Why would he want to conceal himself?

One reason was probably to ease the tension between himself and the Jewish religious leaders. The Pharisees had come from Jerusalem to Gennesaret with the purpose of confronting Jesus about his disciples’ failure to keep the traditions of the elders. But that encounter did not go as planned. Instead of rebuking the Lord’s followers, the Pharisees found themselves being publicly chastised by Jesus for their hypocrisy and false doctrines.

Another less obvious reason for shutting himself away was that he was in a Gentile domain.  Jesus was not there to find great crowds of Gentiles and declare the kingdom of Heaven.  His message was given specifically to the Jews, the recipients of the first covenant and keepers of the Old Testament Law.  Keeping a low profile in this Gentile region was in keeping with his mission.

However, as we will soon see, Jesus’ fame was well known throughout the area.  Even the Gentiles had heard of him and his mighty works.  Even though Jesus did not go specifically to the Gentiles, he did not prevent the Gentiles from coming to him.  Eventually, in God’s perfect timing, the Gentiles would come under the umbrella of salvation through the preaching of the Jews.

Matthew 15:22 – And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

The region of Tyre and Sidon had been conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great.  Prior to that, the area had been known as Phoenicia or Syro-Phoenicia.  Its inhabitants were direct descendants of the Canaanites, sworn enemies of Israel. They worshipped the false gods of Baal and Ashtaroth. 

Thus, we determine that this woman was a Gentile, descended from the Canaanites, living under Greek rule and speaking the Greek language.  She could properly be called a Gentile, a Phoenician, a Canaanite or any combination of these.  She was not Jewish by descent and was considered a heathen.

The scripture says that her daughter was in a horrible and grievous situation – she was possessed by a demon.  Imagine the frustration and sorrow of this devoted mother.  How often has a loving parent wished that they could take a sickness or disease upon themselves, instead of it afflicting their child?  Can you identify with those feelings? 

No doubt this mother had done all she could to free her child (desperate people do desperate things).  As any concerned parent would, she spared no expense, trying all the remedies recommended by the false religions of her country – elixirs, incantations, strange rites of exorcism.  But these could offer her no hope or relief. 

However, she has recently heard of Jesus.  In fact, she knows enough about him to call him ‘Lord’.  Scholars feel that it is particularly significant that she addresses him as ‘Son of David’, because this is a Messianic title.  It is believed that she heard the message of Jesus and that God had quickened her heart to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  She, a heathen, has heard and accepted the word of the Lord while God’s own people have rejected him! 

When she hears that he is in town, a ray of hope flares up in her soul.  Without hesitation, she immediately came and sought him out.

When she finds him, she begins begging him for mercy and interceding for her child to be set free.  Picture the scene.  She finds the house they are staying in.  She waits outside the house as long as it takes (hours? all night? days?) for Jesus and his disciples to come outside.

As they leave the house, Jesus would be surrounded by his followers.  She has no opportunity to speak to him privately, in a conversational tone of voice.  In fact, she probably can’t even get close to him.  So she follows them down the street.  Her only option is to call/yell out to him.  She was making a spectacle of herself, but her need was so dire, she didn’t care.  She would humble herself to any degree to have her prayer answered.  Perhaps her desperate pleas were mingled with tears or wailing as she poured out her heart.  No doubt, her desperate cries were uncomfortable for anyone who heard them and all indications are that everyone around probably heard her.

Matthew 15:23 – But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”

The disciples are most concerned about being discovered (remember, they are laying low after their confrontation with the Jewish leaders, hoping for a time of rest).  In order to silence the woman and keep themselves from being noticed, they ask Jesus to ‘send her away’.  They are asking Jesus to quickly answer her prayer, so she would leave.

Even though they ask Jesus to help her, their motivation is all wrong.  They show no concern or compassion for her situation, nor do they value the faith of this Gentile.  It’s almost like they are treating her prayer as an Amazon order – they want Jesus to fill it and deliver it as quickly as possible and then move on to the next thing.

However, Jesus is NOT an Amazon fulfillment center.  He is our Lord and Savior and he is ultimately most concerned about our eternal good and our spiritual growth.  In this case, instead of instantly granting the woman’s request, he stretches and solidifies her faith in such a way to cause eternal spiritual growth.  This teaches us a very, very valuable lesson – did you catch it? 

Jesus allows her to have some temporary discomfort in order to mature her spiritually. The act of waiting for an answer to prayer produces eternal good for this woman.     

Let’s take a look at the topic of waiting in prayer.  What does waiting accomplish in us?

First of all, God sometimes makes us wait for an answer in order to foster humility.  The bible has much to say about pride and humility.  Basically, God hates the pride of men, but he honors the humble person.

James 4:6 – … God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble.

Pride is something that has a tendency to grow in all of us, and we must constantly be on our guard against it.  Submitting ourselves to God in prayer for a season reminds us how little we can accomplish on our own.  It reveals how dependent we are on him.

Humility allows us to hear and follow God’s direction instead of doing what seems right in our own sight.  Humbly seeking God in prayer can accomplish a lot in our spiritual lives.

Clearly this was the case for the Gentile woman.  She was completely humbled by the way she had to approach Jesus to even be heard by him.  She was totally dependent upon God for the healing of her child; had she been able to help her daughter by her own power, she would have done it long before this.  She had to wait for Jesus to lead her to the answer to her prayer, but I think if we could ask her now, she would tell us it was all worth it!

Matthew 15:24-25 – He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

We see a further act of humility from her as she kneels before Jesus.  We find something else as well – an opportunity to give up before she gets an answer to her prayer.

In fact, she had lots of really good opportunities (excuses) to give up.  First, it was hard to get to Jesus.  The disciples did not support her; they basically discouraged her efforts.  When Jesus finally answers her, it does not seem like a positive response.

He informs her that his mission had specific boundaries.  Long ago, God had promised Israel that he would bless them.  Subsequently, God would use Israel to bless the whole world.

Genesis 26:4 – And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.

Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise.  He was sent to the Jews, to be their shepherd.  When he died and rose again, the message of salvation was given to the Jews.  In turn, they would bless the whole world (Gentiles) by sharing the gospel message. 

Romans 15:8-9 – For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised (Jews) to e1d01cshow God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. 

Basically, God’s plan for the salvation of the world was already laid out, and it did not yet include Gentiles such as this woman.

What more reason did this woman need to give up?  No one would have blamed her if she just walked away, but she didn’t.  Instead, she prostrated herself before Jesus, and in faith, requested yet again that he help her. 

The scripture tells us that we too, should pray and never give up, even when the answer is slow to come.  In Luke 18, Jesus gives us the parable of the woman who is trying to get justice from an unjust judge.  The woman goes to see him day after day, after day.  Eventually, based solely on her persistence, the judge grants her request.   Jesus tells us that the point of the parable is for us to never give up in prayer:

Luke 18:1 – And He [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

There will always be excuses to give up on prayers that seem to be unanswered.  But instead of giving up, let us follow the example of this woman and press in closer and closer to Christ when we find reasons to give up.

Matthew 15:26-27 – And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

The Jews considered themselves children of God.  They referred to all other people/nations as dogs, which was a common term of contempt.

So Jesus is telling this woman that all the grace which he received from God had already been promised to the Jews through the Old Testament covenant; she was not eligible to receive any of it, at this time.  If that were not enough, he (a Jew) referred to her (a Gentile) in a common term of contempt.

This may seem to be harsh, but remember, Jesus is testing, stretching and solidifying her faith.  He knows how much she can bear and he will neither test her too harshly (he will not kill her faith) nor too softly (because he wants her to be eternally changed for good).

When the woman answers Jesus, we see her humility, her importunity and her faith all coming together in an ultimate answer.  She does not try to refute or contradict the plan of God; she voices no objection to the divine order that God has established.  In fact, her answer acknowledges the boundaries that Jesus was operating under.  Yet her faith refused to let go of the deliverance she was seeking. Thus she answers, ‘Yes, my position is that of a dog, but as such I would be given scraps of that bread which belongs to Jews’. 

It should also be remembered that this distinction between the Jew and the Gentile was broken down after Jesus died and rose again.  Now, all mankind is welcome into the kingdom of God.  All of us are equal sons and daughters of God, all of us are children of the kingdom.

Matthew 15:28 – Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed instantly.

As we have noted in the past, Jesus did not specifically seek out the Gentiles, but when one came to him he did not cast them aside.   And so, the trial of this woman’s faith is finished.  She has persevered.  She has received an answer to her prayer.  When she went home, she would find her daughter whole and well.

Her faith was well pleasing to God.  In fact, it was stronger and more excellent than the vast majority of the Jews, who were the recipients of the promises. 

So what have we learned from this scripture? 

Sincere faith and fervent prayer proceeding from a humble heart will always receive an answer from our heavenly Father.

Sometimes, God delays to answer prayer.  It is not that he cannot hear; it is that he wants to do a greater work in us.  He wants to keep us humble.  He wants us to persevere and never give up.  He wants to stretch our faith.

Once our faith has been tested and stretched, it is ready for even greater use.   The greater our faith, the greater impact we can have for Christ on the world around us.

Matthew 15:29 – Jesus went from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee.  And he went up on the mountain and sat down there.

Jesus then returns to his own country and his own people, to resume the mission that God had set before him.

Matthew 15:30-31 – And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking and the blind seeing.  And they glorified the God of Israel.

Again we see a familiar pattern.  Jesus teaches that the kingdom of Heaven has come.  His words are confirmed with signs and wonders, proving that he was the long awaited Messiah.  It is interesting to note that in this case, it mentions people who were ‘crippled’ or your translation may say ‘maimed’.  These words refer to people who had a missing hand, foot, short leg, etc.  To restore something like this required creative power – power that only God possesses. 

The masses of Jewish people glorified and acknowledged that Yahweh, the covenant God, had sent the promised Messiah into their midst.

While the common people (and even some Gentiles) rejoiced at the coming of the redeemer, the religious leaders continued to reject him.

Where do you stand in your beliefs about Jesus?  Was he a just a great teacher?  Or a prophet?  Or do you believe that he is the true Son of God, who came to bring salvation to lost sinners? 

If you truly believe he is the Messiah of the world, you need to make him King and Lord of your life.  

Matthew 15:32 – Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.  And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

Although the circumstances are similar, this is a different event from the one described in Matthew 14:13-21.

This time, Jesus gathers his disciples together and has a discussion.  He does not do this because he needs their advice, but because he wants to reveal to them his purposes and plans.  He also wants to point out that they too, as future shepherds of Israel, should have compassion on people.

This brings up an important point.  Jesus had compassion on the lost Jews, and he had a plan to meet their needs for earthly food.  He revealed those plans to the disciples, so they could assist in bringing the plans to pass.

Today, Jesus is still concerned about lost people.  He has plans to meet their physical and spiritual needs.  He wants to reveal those plans to Christians, so we can assist in bringing his plans to pass.

Therefore, it is ASOLUTELY CRITICAL that we spend time in prayer before God, asking him to reveal his plans for us and our church.  We can’t hear God’s plans if we are not spending time in his presence.  We can’t hear his plans if we are busy doing things our own way.

Here is a sobering thought:  If we do things our way and not his way, we can expect to fail in our endeavors.  But that is not the worst part – if we fail to listen to Jesus, what happens to those we are supposed to be reaching for Christ?

I don’t think it was an accident that this portion of scripture follows immediately after the lesson on prevailing in prayer!

Matthew 15:33-34 – And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?  And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”  They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.”

Wow.  It is hard to imagine that the disciples would respond this way, after the miracle seen earlier.  Yet, before we condemn them, let us examine ourselves.  We too, often fail to trust God after he has proved himself faithful, time and time again.

There is, however, another consideration.  Jesus did not always meet needs in a miraculous way.  After the feeding of the 5K in chapter 14, Jesus had the disciples gather up the scraps which they used for food in the following days.  In fact, it was much more common for them to feed themselves by ordinary means than miraculous ones.  Therefore, they may have assumed, until told otherwise, that they would be using ordinary means to feed these people.

Matthew 15:35-36 – And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

Once again, Jesus has them sit down in orderly groups.  Once again he blesses the provision and gives it to the disciples for distribution.  Once again, every need is met! 

Matthew 15:37-39 – And they all ate and were satisfied.  And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over.  Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.  And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

I am sometimes known for ‘beating the dead horse’.  This is going to be one of those cases…

I want to stress once again how vitally important it is for us to prevail in prayer with God and to find out what his plans are.  When he reveals them to us, they are likely to be greater and more far reaching than anything we imagined.  In fact, they will most likely be far beyond our abilities and resources, just like feeding 4K people with seven loaves and a few fish.

Yet, if we are following after God and working out his plans, he will never fail to provide manpower, resources, special permits or any other thing that is needed to accomplish his purposes and plans!  

Right now, we are at a critical junction.  The COVID virus has changed the way we do things, including the ministries of the church.  If we dare to move forward with the plans of man (our plans), we are in danger of certain failure.

Our only hope is to spend time seeking God in prayer for his directions and plans.  We have no idea what the church will look like tomorrow, but God does.  He will not fail to take us in the right direction, if we listen to Him, and act only after we have received a word from Him.  

So let me offer you some encouragement and some relief:  If you have been praying about a situation, but don’t have an answer, don’t become discouraged.  God is not deaf to your cries.  Unless you have a serious issue that will prevent answers to prayer (like unforgiveness or asking for the wrong thing), God hears you.  He will answer you, but maybe in a way that will test/stretch your faith. 

So get on board with the program.  Avoid complaining or whining to your friends and family.  Leave the pity party.  Dump your anger.  Instead, spend additional time meditating on the greatness of God.  Humble yourself before God and continue on your knees until the answer comes.  Just like the Gentile woman, your faith and perseverance will be rewarded, if you do not quit.

Let me offer you some strength:  Now is a new and possibly overwhelming time in history.  But let me reassure you – it is no accident that you are alive right now!  God has placed you here and now because you have something to do for his kingdom.  And if that is true, then he will certainly give you the strength, the ideas, the open doors, the resources and the wisdom to accomplish what he has called you to do.  Victory is yours, though Christ Jesus.  So strengthen yourself and continue your ministry!

Matthew, Chapter 15, Part 1

Matthew 15:1-2 – Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”

At the close of chapter 14, we found Jesus in the town of Gennesaret, teaching and healing great masses of people.  This amazing scene of mercy and grace is interrupted with the arrival of some Scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was the seat of authority for the Jewish leaders.  When we find Scribes and Pharisees coming from there to interact with Jesus, we know they came with the highest earthly religious authority possible.  Unfortunately, because of their spiritual blindness, they were in opposition to Jesus at all times.  Not surprisingly, they have come to once again question his actions.

In prior encounters with Christ, they had accused him of the following:  blasphemy when he forgave sins (Matt 9:3), eating and drinking with publicans and sinners (Matt 9:11), disregarding times of fasting (Matt 9:14), casting our devils by Beelzebub (Matt 12:24), and breaking the Sabbath (Matt 12:2, 10). 

Their latest round of accusations appears to center on washing or ceremonial cleansing.  However, Jesus takes that accusation and uses it to address the real underlying problem – the traditions of the elders.

Where did these traditions come from?  The word “tradition” comes from the Latin ‘trado’ which means to deliver; to hand down, especially from one to another.

The Jews believed that when Moses met with God on Mt. Sinai that God actually gave him two sets of laws. One was the 10 commandments written on tablets of stone by God himself, and recorded for us in the bible. The Jews consider this to be the “Written Law”.

The second set of laws was supposedly all verbal – never written down, but given by God to Moses, and then passed down from father to son for generations without ever being corrupted (or so the Jews believe).  The Jews consider this to be the “Oral Law”, which eventually came to be known as the tradition of the elders. 

The Jews have a very long string of specific people who supposedly kept this law intact.  I am not going to record their whole chain-of-command here (it is much too extensive and boring!), but basically, they believed that Moses passed this verbal law to Joshua, who gave it to the judges, who gave it to the prophets, who kept it for hundreds of years until it was finally written down in a book called the Talmud. 

The Talmud is divided into two parts:  the Mishna, or the text and the Gemara, or the commentary on the text.  Jews believe that the Oral Law interprets or explains the Written Law.  Oral Law is essentially an immense collection of rules and regulations covering even the most trifling of issues.

The Jews have created a couple of major problems here.  First, they regard the Oral Law (or traditions of the elders), to be more important than the actual written law of God.  Second, these traditions supposedly protect one from breaking the law, but what they really do is cancel out the law or make the law ineffective.

The law that the religious leaders are accusing the disciples of breaking in Matthew 15, is that of hand washing or ceremonial cleansing.  However, washing your hands before you eat is NOT (I repeat – NOT) one of the commandments written in the Old Testament.  Rather, it is one of the Oral Laws or traditions of the elders.

It was the Jews’ belief that if a man goes to any place of business, court, market, etc, he might touch a heathen (Gentile) or he might touch something that had previously been touched by a heathen (Gentile).

Therefore, in order to stay ceremonially or religiously clean, they went to great lengths to wash.  They had to wash before and after eating.  The act must include total immersion of the hands.  The water itself, as well as the cups or pots used to wash, must also be ceremonially clean.  The regulations go on and on.  Any Jew failing to properly wash, was considered to be sinning.  The religious leaders felt that failing to properly wash was a sin on the same level as committing adultery!

Matthew 15:3 – He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 

The common people may have feared the Jewish religious leaders, but Jesus certainly did not.  He answers them with a question of his own.  Why would the religious leaders choose to obey their traditions (man-made rules) over the true commandments of his heavenly Father?  

Although Jesus did not come right out and say it, he implies that his disciples (and the Jews in general) were not bound by the traditions of the elders, because these traditions were in direct violation to the commands of God.  

Jesus then gives an example of their hypocrisy:

Matthew 15:4 – For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whosoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’

In his example, Jesus refers to the fifth commandment:

Exodus 20:12 – Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

To honor means to obey, to respect, to treat kindly.  It also includes an obligation to nourish and support one’s parents, should they need it. 

So, let’s be clear – this is one of the 10 commandments.  It was written on the tablets of stone by the finger of God, up on Mt Sinai.  There can be no doubt – this commandment is the revealed will of God and should be obeyed by all the people. 

Matthew 15:5-6 – But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’  So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.

The Scribes and Pharisees do not blatantly cast aside the command to honor their parents.  That would be obvious rebellion against God.  Their sin will be much more subtle in nature.  They will acknowledge this command, but then use their traditions to override it, making it null and void.  Their tradition is like a trump card that allows them to legally break the law (or so they think). 

The Jews had a tradition of dedicating or consecrating their wealth and property to God by giving it for use in the temple.  The common term for this was ‘corban’.  Once something was dedicated or consecrated to the service of God, it could not be diverted to other uses (like feeding and housing your parents) because that was considered sacrilege. 

The loophole in all of this was that there was no fixed time for fulfilling your vow of corban.  This meant that you could keep all of your wealth for your entire lifetime, as long as you gave the church whatever you possessed at the end of your life. 

Consequently, if a Jewish father and mother would approach their son and request assistance to buy food or shelter or some other true need, the son could refuse, saying that the money had already been dedicated to God – even though he still had possession and control of it.  He could be sitting on a fortune while his parents were destitute or begging for food.

So, the son is acting pious and righteous by giving his money to the church, but in reality he is actually breaking the command of God by not providing for his parents.  Thus, the tradition becomes a trump card that mocks the will of God by making it void. 

Notice how the tradition and the true law of God are in direct opposition.  This was often the case.  Sadly, the Jews persist in rebellion by choosing to obey the tradition, rather than the law.  

Matthew 15:7-9 – You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

The Jews of Jesus day were the same as the Jews during the time of Isaiah. They were in strict obedience to all outward forms of religion, but their hearts were far from God. 

In Isaiah’s day, the Jews were careful to make the proper sacrifices, honor the Sabbath day, fast regularly and observe the feasts.  But at the same time, they were cheating their workers by withholding wages, allowing dishonest judges and oppressing the poor (See Isaiah 58).

In Jesus day, the Jews were superstitiously careful to avoid outward bodily pollution by their constant washings, yet their hearts were filthy with pride, iniquity and hypocrisy.

This is true of many people (Jews and Gentiles), even today.  Have you ever asked someone if they were a Christian and their response is, “Yes, I go to church” or, “Yes, I have been baptized” or, “Yes, I am a member of the church and I take communion”?

These are all outward signs of faith or religion.  When people without a right relationship to Jesus do these things, they are nothing but empty rituals, void of meaning.

The true measure of a man is his heart; this is what God looks at.  Only the blood of Christ can cleanse a man and bring him into right relationship with God.  Rituals and religious observances cannot do this. 

Remember our previous lesson about the wheat and the tares?  How they both will grow together until the end of the age?  This is a further confirmation of that truth.  Sadly, there will be people who have been baptized, taken communion, and sit in church week after week but they will not get into heaven, because their hearts are not right with God.  They are tares who look like wheat, but are not.

Are you reading this right now, feeling a little uneasy?  Do you feel a need to make sure that you are right before God?  There is no need to wait!  Pause for a moment and pray this prayer:

Dear Jesus,  I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ and your heart is right before God.  You will need to follow up on your decision.  Join a local church with people who can rejoice with you and disciple you in your new faith. 

Matthew 15:10-11 – And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Jesus then turns to address the crowd.  Unlike the religious leaders, the people are spiritually hungry and ready to receive instruction.  Jesus addresses the original question posed by the Pharisees in verse two:  Why do your disciples eat with unwashed hands?

The Pharisees believed that the tradition of the elders/oral law exceeded the authority of God’s written law.  According to oral law, sin consisted mainly in the neglect of outward, physical rites and ceremonies (like washing).  Therefore, sin begins outside the person, and then makes its way into the heart.

Jesus contradicts this view.  In fact, he says the opposite is true – sin does not begin on the outside of a man and make its way to his heart; it starts in his heart and makes its way into his outward actions.  

Jesus had already explained this to his followers in chapter 12:

Matthew 12:34-35 – For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of is evil treasure brings forth evil.

In God’s sight, purity and impurity are not qualities of the external body, but of the mind and heart – the inward man.

And it is the inward man that determines our thoughts, our speech and our conduct.  Thus, those whose hearts are righteous before God, bring forth good actions and speech while those who follow Satan bring forth evil of all kinds.

Matthew 15:12 – Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 

Understating the relationships of that day can help us better understand why they were offended:

We have the common people, who had been taught their entire lives that the Pharisees were to be revered and respected; they were the keepers and experts of the law.  To imply that they were wrong in their views was a thing unheard of!  It was astonishing! No ordinary Jew would dare to question them on matters of the law.

We have the Pharisees, who are walking in the confidence and pride of their supposed knowledge of the law.  As long as anyone could remember, the religious leaders had exercised complete control or supreme authority over the religious beliefs of the people.  Unfortunately, they had abandoned the true laws of God for their own man-made rules and so they were actually leading the people away from God, not towards him.

Enter Jesus, who boldly confronts the religious leaders, rejecting and refuting their traditions and rules.  He publicly exposes their hypocrisy and ignorance of God’s ways. 

In essence, he is stripping away their authority over the common people, and they didn’t like it!  Jesus is calling all the Jews to return to God and his ways.  I imagine that most of the people present during this verbal exchange had their mouths hanging open in shock and surprise!

As painful as this must have been for the religious leaders, they desperately needed to hear it.  The truth is that they were far away from God and unless they made some changes, they would suffer eternal consequences.

Meanwhile, the disciples are concerned about offending the religious leaders.  Jesus responds with this:  

Matthew 15:13 – He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.”

In this case, religious teaching or doctrine is compared to a plant. It is planted into the minds and hearts of the hearers and over time it will produce fruit.  If the doctrine is sound, then holy fruit will result in the life of the hearer.  If false doctrine is sown, it will bear evil fruits.

Jesus is saying that all those false doctrines planted by the Pharisees, which were not truly from God, must be ‘rooted up’ or removed, like weeds in a garden.  Therefore, there is no need for the disciples to worry about offending the Pharisees.  Their corrupt teaching is already doomed; it will be purged out by God, the true husbandmen.

Interestingly, some scholars translate the word ‘plant’ as ‘plantation’.  It is their belief that Jesus is referring to the entire sect of the Pharisees as a plantation of trees which God did not plant; as such they must be rooted up or destroyed.  These scholars point out that after the destruction of Jerusalem the sect of the Pharisees has ceased to exist as a separate body, and thus the words of Jesus were literally fulfilled.

Matthew 15:14 – “Let them alone: they are blind guides.  And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Blind or false teachers destroy not only themselves, but those who follow them.  It is vitally important that each one of us read the bible for ourselves, and carefully weigh the words that preachers and teachers give us. 

Warning bells should be sounding loud and clear in our minds, when we find things that do not line up with the word of God.  If a certain preacher or teacher gives doctrines that are against the Bible, they should be avoided at all costs. 

Matthew 15:15-16 – But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.”  And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?

At this point, Jesus and the disciples have left the crowds and are in a house together.  Privately, Peter asks Jesus about the teaching in verse 11 [Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person].

Jesus answers their question, but also gives them a mild rebuke.  They were his disciples and had sat under his teaching for over a year.  They themselves had gone out to preach about the kingdom of Heaven, how could they not understand this doctrine?

The disciples continued to be somewhat dull of understanding until the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled them and gave them full understanding about the Lord’s teaching.

John 14:26 – But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said unto you.

We too, should seek the Holy Spirit.  He is not to be feared, but loved and sought after.  He is our constant companion and spiritual guide.  He comforts, instructs and empowers us to serve Christ.  Why not pray right now, and ask God to baptize you with his Holy Spirit?  

Matthew 15:17 – Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?

The things you eat go into your stomach and then your intestines, where your body gathers up what is nutritious and gets rid of the rest.  Food has absolutely no affect upon your mind/heart.  Therefore, food does not have the ability to pollute your mind/heart with sin.  Since this is the case, the teaching of the Pharisees cannot be true.  Eating with unwashed hands cannot make you sinful.

Matthew 15:18-20 – But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person.  But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Jesus now proceeds to list the things that DO defile a man, or make him a sinner.  All of these things take root in the heart/mind where they grow until they produce sin in the form of evil words and deeds.

The most important of these is probably evil thoughts, because our thoughts are the place where sin is conceived.

However, we can see from this list that there is no end to the evil and death that accompany sin.  The only solution to the problem of sin is the blood of Jesus Christ!

So let me offer you a little bit of encouragement:  I want to strongly encourage you to read the bible for yourself.  You may not understand everything you read (no one does!), but you will still get knowledge every time you read.  It is very important for you to spot false teaching when you hear it.   Reading Christian books is a good thing, but it is not the same thing as reading the actual Bible.  Reading books about prayer or fasting or prophesy is a good thing, but it is not the same as reading the scriptures.  Find a bible that is easy for you to understand, and begin to read.

Let me offer you some relief and strength: God has provided help in understanding his word, and in recognizing false teaching.  He has given us the Holy Spirit to assist us.  John 16:31 tells us that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and that he will guide us into all truth.  We see evidence of this in the case of the disciples. In today’s lesson, Jesus gives his disciples a rebuke because they do not understand spiritual principles.  However, after they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the disciples were unstoppable!  The Spirit of Truth had made everything clear to them.

The Holy Spirit will do the same for you and me.  Ask him to help you understand the bible as you read it, and ask him to alert you when false doctrines or half truths are being presented to you.  

So relax – The Holy Spirit is standing by ready to help you.  The bible is a spiritual book; you will understand it correctly when you have Him as your spiritual guide.

Matthew Chapter 14, Part 2

Matthew 14:13 – Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there into a boat to a desolate place by himself.  But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.

Upon hearing of the execution of John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples withdrew to the region across the Sea of Galilee.  This was a sparsely populated region chiefly used to pasture flocks.  It was under the jurisdiction of Herod Philip.

This journey served a dual purpose.  First, it removed Jesus and his disciples from close proximity to Herod Antipas.  Herod believed that Jesus was actually John the Baptist, risen from the dead.  There was a very real danger that Herod would try to kill Jesus out of hate, fear or guilt. 

Jesus had an appointed time to give his life for mankind, but that time had not yet come. God opened a door of escape; to reject it would be to tempt God.

Also, the disciples were no doubt shaken by the death of John; time alone with their master was much needed.

Second, there was bound to be public outcry over the sudden unjust death of John and Jesus probably did not want to get caught up in that drama, as it would detract from his mission.

Have you ever been pulled into a drama?  One of the dangers of being involved is that it takes up a lot of your time and attention, so instead of using your energy for the kingdom, you end up wasting it on drama.  Be careful not to fall into this trap.    

Another possibility is that Jesus had planned this time alone with his disciples before the incident of John’s death.  They had recently returned from their mission to spread news of the kingdom of Heaven and it is very possible that he already scheduled a further time of refreshing and training for them.

However, there was to be no respite from the crowds.  The people saw them leaving in the boat, and hurried to the eastern shore on foot.

Matthew 14:14 – When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

The gospel of Mark gives some additional insight:

Mark 6:34 – When he [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd.  And he began to teach them many things.

In their zeal to hear of the kingdom of heaven and be healed, great crowds of people hurriedly walked away from the ease and comfort of their homes and traveled to a remote deserted area.  This shows that they were so hungry for spiritual guidance that they were reckless with their own well being.  

How hungry are we for spiritual teaching or a touch from God?  What would you be willing to walk away from to get it?  Entertainment, sports, work, Facebook?  The scripture says that if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us.  If we lack wisdom in some area, he will impart it to us.  When we spend time in his presence, we are always spiritually refreshed.  So what are you waiting for?  Travel to your prayer closet to meet him!  He is waiting there for you!

Mark tells us that Jesus views the crowds as sheep without a shepherd. What does he mean by that?

Well, the duty of the shepherd is to care for the flock.  He is to feed it, protect it from predators and lead it to green pastures and still waters.

Spiritually speaking the Scribes and Pharisees were supposed to be the shepherds of Israel.  They were to feed the people with the word of God.  They were to protect the people from false teachings and false gods.  They were to lead the people into a relationship with God that resulted in peace and prosperity.

Unfortunately, they did none of those things. They were haughty and full of pride.  They despised the common people, and seldom bothered to instruct them in the ways of God.  When they did attempt to teach or instruct them, they often led the common people astray or laid tremendous burdens upon them. 

So, it was not surprising that the multitudes were hungry to hear what Jesus had to say.

It is also not surprising that Jesus had compassion for these lost and dying souls.  I hope that when we are confronted with spiritually lost and dying people we too will show compassion, not anger or frustration if our plans are interrupted. 

Matthew 14:15 – Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

Jesus begins to teach and to heal.  The proceedings continue, hour after hour.  Soon it is noon, but still the ministry continued.  No one got up and left.  Finally, it reaches 3 pm. 

At this point, the disciples recognize that the crowd is hungry (they probably are too). It appears from the text that they have already considered the situation.  The time is late, the crowds are large, there is no pizza delivery or nearby village with a grocery store and they themselves had nothing on hand that would feed such a gathering. 

From a human perspective, the only logical thing to do was to stop the proceedings and send them away.  So, they approach Jesus with their plan. 

Matthew 14:16 – But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

Can you imagine the look on the disciples face when they heard that?  I wonder if their mouths dropped open in shock or their knees became weak.  There can be no doubt that they immediately recognized their inability to perform the task at hand.  They knew there was no possible way for them to feed this multitude.

This was because they were looking through their fleshly or worldly eyes.  Jesus was about to teach them to look through their eyes of faith.  God is sovereign over all of nature and with him, all things are possible.

Matthew 14:17-18 – They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”  And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

The loaves were made of barley.  Barley was about 1/3 the cost of wheat, so most poor people regularly ate barley.  Fish was a common food for everyone in the region. 

We know that Jesus could have miraculously turned the stones into bread to feed these people, but he didn’t.  Why not?

Turning stones into bread is not an example that you and I can follow. So instead, Jesus shows us how we should handle such situations.

When God calls us to a task that is too great for us, we should begin by rounding up what we have, and giving or dedicating it to him.  This principle applies to our time, our skills/talents, our resources and even our relationships.  When we give our all to Christ, there is room for him to come in and accomplish what we cannot do.  

The next step is to stay close to God, listen to his voice (not the voices of those around you!) and follow his direction no matter how strange it may seem.  In this case, Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups.  Think about this: at the time the disciples organized all those people into groups and had them sit down, there were still only 5 loaves and two fish! 

Soon, Jesus would give the loaves and fish to his disciples and tell them to distribute them to the crowd.  The disciples were following the directions of Jesus by faith.  We must do the same.

Matthew 14:19 – Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing.  Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

The people are commanded to sit down or recline, on the grass.  Mark and Luke both tell us that the people sat down in companies:

Luke 9:14 – and he [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”

Once organized this way, it would be very easy to calculate the approximate number of people at a glance.  Once everyone was seated, Jesus said a prayer of thanksgiving for the food.  In Jewish households, the father would say a prayer of thanksgiving acknowledging God as the source/provider of all their food.  Some of these prayers have been preserved for us in Jewish writings.  For example:

“May God, the ever blessed One, bless what He has given us.”

“Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, the King of the world, who has produced this food and this drink, from the earth and the vine.”

In this case, Jesus looked up to heaven as he prayed. However, that is not the only way to pray. A person may pray with eyes open or shut, standing/sitting/kneeling, loudly or quietly. Your method of prayer may be different from others, but that does not mean that you are not heard by God. Pray in whatever manner seems natural to you. Remember, pray is a conversation between you and God. Just be yourself!

I’m sure the Jews who were present at the time were very thankful for the earthly food that sustained their physical bodies.  They probably did not attach any spiritual significance to what was happening. However, those of us who are looking back on this historical event cannot help but see Jesus as the Bread of Life who will very shortly have his own body broken that he might provide spiritual life for us.

This miracle is the only one that is recorded by all four gospel writers.  It plainly shows that God is sovereign over nature.  He has creative power.  The religious leaders might possibly cast doubt on the miracles of healing, or the miracles of casting out demons, but there was no way to deny the miracle of multiplication that occurred here.  Therefore, the Jewish leaders had to acknowledge that God was in their midst.  To deny it at this point, defies all reason and logic.

Many, many lessons can be found in this miracle: 

Jesus gave the food to the disciples, who in turn gave what they had to the people.  God gives spiritual wisdom to pastors, apostles, teachers and prophets, they in turn give what they have to the rest of the body.  You too can share your spiritual wisdom with those around you. 

Like the widow’s oil in the Old Testament, the food was multiplied as it was given out.  Don’t be afraid to use what you have.  Don’t be afraid to give.  Jesus assures us that when we give, it will be “given back to us, good measure, shaken together and running over” (Luke 6:38).  This is one of the great mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven.  In the natural, you get more by hoarding what you have.  In God’s economy, you get more by giving what you have!   

In this case, Jesus satisfied those who were hungry in the flesh.  Likewise, he promises that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be filled.  If we desire to know heavenly things, Jesus will answer our request.  All we need to do is slow down and take time to ask him.  

The disciples could not feed the crowd in their own power.  It took a partnership between them and Jesus.  Likewise, we need the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual food to the starving world in which we live.

Matthew 14:20-21 – And they all ate and were satisfied.  And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.  And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

The miracle is all the more astonishing when we see that more was taken up in the form of leftovers than was originally served as the meal!

We are not told the size of the baskets, but it is surmised that they were containers often used by Jews who were traveling. Jews always carried their own food to make sure that they not only had provisions, but that those provisions met their clean/kosher standards.

Let us take note that God is never out of resources. His supplies never run low.  There is no lack in the kingdom of our Lord.  Anything that the church of Jesus Christ needs in order to carry out the gospel mission will be provided, even when it requires a miracle.

Let us also remind ourselves that nothing is impossible with God!

Matthew 14:22 – Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

In the gospel of John (6:15) we are told that after this miracle, the crowd was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.  They were planning to take him by force and make him king.  

It is also possible that the disciples were in favor of this plan. They were already convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.  They knew that Old Testament prophesy said he would one day rule the earth.  They may have believed this was the time to form an army and make Jesus king.  After all, hadn’t God gathered together this 5000 for a reason?

The Jews wanted to use force to make Jesus King.

Jesus, however, knew that his time had not yet come.  He immediately separates the disciples from the crowd, and orders them to get into the boat and leave without him. 

The disciples probably didn’t want to do this.  At the very least, they would not have wanted to leave Jesus because of the close relationship they had with him (can you imagine leaving your leader behind?).  Besides, if Jesus was going to be made king, they didn’t want to miss that!  But in the end, they are obedient to his command.  Without having a full explanation or understanding of what was happening, they did as Jesus instructed them.

In many ways, our walk with Christ mirrors that of the disciples.  Often, God will call us to do something without giving us a full explanation.  Sometimes we go through situations that we don’t fully understand.  Sometimes we think the time is right for a change or a breakthrough, but God still asks us to wait.  One thing we can be sure of – God sees the full picture.  He knows what is around the next corner.  So, in every instance, the best thing we can do is trust and obey him.  He will never fail us! 

Matthew 14:23 – And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.  When evening came, he was there alone.

Remember the temptation in the wilderness?  In one of those temptations, Satan offers to give Jesus all the kingdoms of this world:

Matthew 4:8-9 –  Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him [Jesus], “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

In this temptation, Satan was offering Jesus an easy way out.  He was offering to make him king of the world, without going through the suffering of the cross.

This situation after the feeding of the 5K was much the same.  We have already discussed how the people wanted to make Jesus king.  However, this would have been a sin just as surely as if Jesus would have taken Satan’s offer, because once again, it offered Jesus kingship without going through the suffering of the cross.

I imagine that this was a difficult time for Jesus.  Even though he was God, he was also human and no human being wants to suffer.  All of us are inclined to take the easy way out, if one is presented to us. 

Thus, it makes sense that Jesus retreats to a solitary place, where those voices of temptation are silenced.  It makes sense that he spent the night in prayer, gaining strength from the Father to carry out the mission that lay before him – death on the cross.   

We too can turn to God in our moments of weakness and temptation.  If we flee to him, he will provide a way of escape from the temptation:

1 Corinthians 10:13  – There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Let’s turn to God in our moments of temptation, expecting and looking for that way of escape.  He will strengthen us just as he did Jesus.

Matthew 14:24 – but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.

Meanwhile, the disciples were having trouble.  The sea was about 10 miles across.  The gospel of John tells us the boat had traveled 25-30 furlongs, which is about 4 miles.  They are practically in the middle of the sea. 

In this region, it is common for storms to suddenly pop up.  The colder wind from the surrounding mountains rushes downward and encounters the warm air above the water and presto – you have a storm.  Some of these squalls can be quite ferocious, which seems to have been true in this case.  The storm was so severe, the disciples were fearful of their lives.

A couple of things are worth noting here.  First, the weather was fine when the disciples began their journey. There was no mention of bad weather on the horizon when Jesus broke up the meeting and sent them on their way. 

Have you ever started a new ministry or project for the Lord and everything started off smoothly?  How long was it until you encountered your first problem or difficulty?  Anytime we do something for the kingdom of Heaven, it stirs up our enemy to come against us.  We should not be surprised at this, in fact, we should expect opposition anytime we work for the kingdom.  Thankfully, we have victory over the enemy through Christ Jesus our Lord!  

Second, there can be no doubt that the disciples were in the perfect will of God when they encountered this storm.  Let me repeat that:  The disciples were smack dab in the center of the perfect will of God when their problems started.  Remember, Jesus himself had audibly spoken to them and told them to get into the boat and depart (you can’t get any clearer direction than that).  Clearly, being in God’s perfect will did not guarantee smooth sailing! 

The same is true for us.  Being in God’s perfect will does not guarantee the absence of problems and difficulties. However, God does guarantee that he is watching over us, and he will work all things out for our good.  It is often the times of trial/testing that bring about the greatest spiritual growth.  Times of difficulty prompt us to turn to the Savior and keep our eyes on him.  As he works out the situation, our faith and trust in him grow.  As our faith grows, we are ready for bigger and bolder work for the kingdom.

Also, notice what the disciples did NOT do:  they did not turn back.  They heard from the Lord and they moved forward, through the difficulties.  There was never any discussion about going back.

The same should be true for us.  Whatever God has called you to do, do not give up!  At the perfect time, God will be there to rescue you, if the need arises.  Do not give in to the suggestions of the enemy that you should turn back or quit.  He is trying to rob you of your purpose and destiny.  He knows that you will be victorious in Christ if you don’t give up, so he will do everything he can to stop you.  Don’t fall for his lies!

Matthew 14:25 – And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.

The fourth watch of the night is 3 am.  Now I feel extra sorry for the disciples – not only did they have a long day of ministry, but now that they should be sleeping they are awake and terrified and working to keep their boat from sinking.

Then, Jesus comes to them walking on the water!  If the miracle of the loaves and fish did not prove that Jesus was sovereign over creation, this certainly should have done it!

We notice that Jesus knew the distress the disciples were in and he came to their aid.  He knew exactly where they were, even though they were in the darkness, on a moving boat in the midst of a violent storm.

Likewise, God knows every nuance of your current situation.  He understands every relationship, every lack, every emotion, every difficulty and every impossibility.  Maybe your problem was one of your own making, brought about by your own bad decisions.  It doesn’t matter.    Jesus is the perfect one to turn to in times of trouble, because he cares for you.  His love is not dependent on your perfection; it stems from his own nature.  It knows no bounds.  After all, he loved you so much that he died for you.  What more proof of his love do you need?  Furthermore, I stress once again that nothing is impossible for God.  He walked on the water to get to his disciples.  What more proof of his power do you need?

Call upon him right now.  Pour out your heart to him.  He will come to you in the midst of your storm.  He already knows where you are; he is just waiting for you to call on him.

Matthew 14:26 – But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.

We might be tempted to scoff at the disciples, but give them a break.  They were tired.  Tension/fear was at an all time high.  The storm was raging and it was dark.  The introduction of an unknown supernatural element naturally brought them fear.

Matthew 14:27 – But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”

‘Do not be afraid’ or ‘fear not’ are common sayings in the bible.  God is constantly telling us not to be afraid.  To the child of God, these words should dispel fear, bringing inward peace and strong confidence.

2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.

Perhaps you have experienced some fear during the recent pandemic.  Fear is very destructive.  It focuses your attention on the ‘storm’, not on the greatness of God.  It causes you to doubt God’s love for you.  It causes you to question whether or not God can or will take care of you.  It robs you of faith and peace.  Clearly the source of fear is our enemy Satan, whose ultimate plan is to steal, kill and destroy. 

The disciples experienced fear at night in the midst of a storm.  Likewise, Satan will attack you and I with fear in the lonely hours of the night, when we are in the midst of a difficulty.   But we can be victorious over him through Christ!

The fear of the disciples fled when they knew they were in the presence of Jesus.  Our fears will also flee when we enter into his presence.  God has revealed to us that praise and thanksgiving are the doors to his throne.  Once we are in his presence, fear melts away because we realize how much God loves and cares for us.  We remember that he is all powerful; sovereign over all of creation.  We are reminded that he never leaves or forsakes us and that he has plans to prosper us.  Strength returns to our spirit as we understand that all storms will pass and we are victors through Jesus our King.  So if you are experiencing fear at this time, PRAISE HIM.  Spend time worshipping your Lord and Savior.  Fear will melt away in the all consuming fire of God’s presence.  

Matthew 14:28-30 – And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.”  So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”

When Jesus walked on the water, a purpose was served – to get to his disciples in their time of need.  But in Peter’s case, there was no clear purpose for walking on the water.  In fact, Jesus never asked Peter to do so.  The whole thing was Peter’s idea. 

What are we to make of Peter’s request?

I think it shows how much we are like him!  Peter has a mixture of faith and yet unbelief.  Faith calls Jesus ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’, but doubt says ‘if it is you’.  Getting out of the boat and walking on water demonstrates faith, but being overcome with fear and sinking shows unbelief.

Most scholars view his request as presumptuous.  In his confidence and zeal, he desired to do something that he was not capable of, nor was he called to do.  In this case, Jesus granted the request so that Peter might learn a valuable lesson – to be humble and walk where God leads, not where we want to go.  The secondary lesson is also valuable – do not take your eyes off Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith.  If you look at your circumstances instead of your God, fear will overtake you and you will fall.

Matthew 14:31 – Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

In a way, we could say that Peter experienced failure in the midst of success.  He started off strong, but then stumbled.  Yet, Jesus did not abandon him.  He was right there when Peter called out in his distress.

Sometimes we fail in the midst of our endeavors for Christ.  But when we get into trouble, all we need to do is turn to Jesus.  He will reach down and rescue us, while teaching us a valuable lesson at the same time.   In the end, our faith is strengthened even by our failures.

Matthew 14:32-33 – And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshipped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Suddenly, the trial is at an end.  Be comforted – your trials will also have an end, even though you may not see it right now. 

Looking back on this event, we can see that:

The storm ceased when Jesus entered the boat.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  When we open the doors of our lives and allow him to come in, he brings peace into our situation, no matter how violent it may be.  

We must always keep our eyes on Christ.  As long as Peter’s eye/focus was on Jesus, he was victorious; he was able to walk on the water.  But when he focused his attention on his circumstances (the wind and the waves), he sank.  When we endure trials (and we certainly will, at some point), we can stay in faith and block out fear by keeping our mind centered on Christ.  Reading the word, praying and engaging in praise/worship are wonderful ways to keep our minds centered on the Savior.  If we stop looking through our eyes of faith and focus on our situation, all will be lost, for we will immediate sink into fear.

There is no situation in which Christ cannot help us.  Peter was in an impossible situation – sinking into the oblivion of a dark sea during an immense storm on a gloomy early morning.  There was no human who could have rescued him.   Yet, it was a small thing for Jesus to reach down and save Peter.  I assure you that even though your situation seems impossible, it too is a small thing for the God of the universe. 

Peter was the architect of his own problems – he was the one who suggested that he get out of the boat in the first place; he climbed out of his own free will.  Yet, when he failed, Jesus was there to pick up the pieces.  Perhaps you have gotten yourself into a bad situation.  Maybe you have made some wrong/poor choices in your life. Cry out to Christ.  He is there to love and rescue, not to condemn.  

The disciples never expected to see Jesus walking on the water in the midst of that storm, yet it happened.  God often does unexpected things.  He allows donkeys to speak.  He pays taxes from money found in a fish’s mouth.  He causes water to flow out of rocks.  He parts the sea.  He makes axe heads float.  He brings dry bones to life.  The list goes on and on.  The bible says that his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts.  So let’s not get too set in our ways.  God wants to do something astonishing in this generation, and he is calling upon us to partner with him.  So listen closely and be ready to experience a new move of God!   

Christ was glorified.  It is unlikely that the disciples were alone on the boat.  There would have been sailors and some other passengers as well.  The disciples already believed that Jesus was the Son of God, so those who fell down and proclaimed this truth were probably the unbelievers in their midst.  The trial of the disciples demonstrated the power of God to the unbelievers around them.  The same is true for us.  When we trust Christ in the midst of our storms, when we glorify him in the midst of our struggles, unbelievers will see it and recognize him as Lord and Savior too. 

Matthew 14:34-36 – And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.  And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment.  And as many as touched it were made well.

The men of this region had heard of Jesus.  They went out and rounded up all the sick people in their neighborhoods and brought them to Jesus for healing.  And Jesus did not disappoint.  He healed every single person who touched him. 

We know Jesus as Lord, Savior, King, Provider, Protector and the Prince of Peace.  There is a world full of scared, lost people right in our own towns and neighborhoods.  Let’s seek them out and take them to Christ, so that they too can be children of the King.

So let me offer you some encouragement:  Trials and tribulations come to us all.  As a Christian, make sure you keep them in the proper perspective.  They are opportunities for spiritual growth.  They are opportunities to reflect the love and power of God to a lost and dying world.  Someday, all your trials and tribulations will be over – so make good use of them now while you still have them!   

Let me offer you some relief:  All of us make bad decisions or poor choices at one time or another.  When we do, Satan loves to try and convince us that Jesus won’t help us because the problem is our own fault.  Don’t believe that lie!  No matter what the source of your problem is, Jesus is standing by ready to reach out and save you.  He will give you beauty for ashes.  He will take what was intended for evil and make it into something good.  So don’t wait another second – call on him today!

Let me offer your some strength:  We looked at the people who were so hungry for spiritual food, they gladly went out to meet Jesus in the wilderness/desert.  They were willing to walk away from comfort and routine to find God.  My guess is that they probably found even more than what they were expecting or looking for.  What about us?  Can we make a commitment to put aside some of our comforts in order to draw closer to God?  What eternal benefits could be reaped by spending an hour less per day on reading, or surfing the net or watching TV?  There is only one way to find out – give it a try!

Matthew Chapter 14, Part 1

Matthew 14:1 – At that time, Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus,

The word ‘tetrarch’ originally meant a governor over the fourth part of any region.  However, it later came to denote any ruler who did not rule over an entire kingdom.  In the case of Herod the Tetrarch, he and his two brothers each ruled 1/3 of the kingdom left by their father, Herod the Great.  Herod the Tetrarch, or Herod Antipas, ruled over the region of Galilee and Perea.  (His other ruling brothers were Herod Philip I and Archelaus.)

Jesus had been ministering in Herod’s realm for more than a year.  His teaching and the accompanying miracles were drawing tremendous crowds.  His confrontation with the religious leaders was probably on the lips of most Jews.  How is it possible that Herod was just now hearing about him? 

Herod was known as a weak man with low moral values and dubious character. Some scholars speculate that he actually had heard of Jesus, but as he had no true interest in religion, he just ignored him. This shows poor leadership on his part. He should have taken a better interest in what was going on in his kingdom.

Some say the cause was his military campaigns against the king of Arabia, which kept him out of Galilee for long periods of time.  Either or both of these may be true.

What we know for sure is that eventually Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas eventually hears three strange views about Jesus circulating among the people:

Luke 9:7-8 – … it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen.

But Herod was certain he knew the truth about Jesus and his miracles:

Matthew 14:2 – and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist.  He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”

As we will shortly see, Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas was responsible for the death of John the Baptist.  Killing a man he knew to be innocent and righteous definitely weighed on Herod’s conscience. Tormented by his guilt, he automatically assumes that the man on whom such supernatural power rested was none other than John, who has miraculously risen from the dead.  This in turn added fear of punishment to the already heavy burden of guilt and torment.

Matthew 14:3-4 – For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”

Let’s back up and get a little history. Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas’ grandfather was a proselyte to Judaism.  From that time onward, all of his descendents can best be described as half-heartedly Jewish.  They were far more interested in political power than religion, as evidenced by the writings of the historian Josephus.

Now Herod’s father, Herod the Great, had a granddaughter named Herodias.  This made her the niece of Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas, as well as a niece to Herod’s brother, Herod Philip.

This girl ended up marrying her uncle, Herod Philip.  Herod Antipas was also married.  He had wed the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia.  Then one day, during a trip to Rome, he fell madly in love with Herodias.  She left her husband (Philip) and took up with Herod Antipas, who in turn sent his wife back to her father in Arabia. (Hence, the aforementioned battle with the king of Arabia.)  

This meant that under Jewish law Herod was guilty of adultery (because Herodias was his brother’s wife) and incest (because she was his niece). 

John the Baptist, being a preacher of repentance, had apparently confronted Herod the Tetrarch/Herod Antipas with the truth – that he was in a relationship that was sinful and forbidden under Jewish law.

Matthew 14:5 – and though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people; because they held him to be a prophet.

The gospel of Mark gives us a fuller picture of what was going on at this time:

Mark 6:20 – For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and holy, and protected him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

Now we see a truer picture of Herod.  He is morally weak.  His conscience is struggling against the wickedness in his character.  He desires to speak with John, and hear what he has to say, but he will not repent and change his ways.  He will not forsake his sin.  He put John in prison, but is unwilling to give the order to kill him, not because this would be an abominable sin in the sight of God, but because the people would rebel against him. In Herod’s life, political power and worldly pleasure always take precedent over his relationship with God.

Many scholars see a parallel between this situation and one with the prophet Elijah.  As you recall, King Ahab who was a weak man, was married to Jezebel, a very strong woman.  They both sinned in the sight of God, and the prophet Elijah confronted them with their sin.  As a result, Jezebel swore to kill Elijah.

In this instance, Herod is also a weak man, married to a strong woman.  They are sinning in the sight of God and the John the Baptist confronted them with their sin.  It will be Herodias who manipulates Herod into ordering the death of John.

Matthew 14:6 – But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod,

In imitation of Roman emperors, the Herodian rulers of this period commonly gave infamous parties for their birthdays.  Every person of importance was invited to these lavish affairs.  Often, the ruler would bestow favors on his guests.  These parties would include magnificent banquets, endless drink and of course, entertainment.

Part of that entertainment included dancing.  The dancing at these feasts was lewd and licentious.  It was normally performed by professional dancers. No woman of rank or respectability would participate in such an event.

Yet, in order to satisfy her own desires, Herodias had her young, unmarried daughter stoop to the level of a common dancer and perform for the crowd.  In the original language, the scriptures indicate that some dancing had already taken place at the party, so Salome’s dance probably occurred near the close of the banquet, after all the guests had freely partaken of wine.  No matter what state of mind they were in, the dance was probably very shocking.  It was a memorable event that would be talked about for years to come.

And so we see the clever plan of Herodias at work.  She knows that Herod will be freely bestowing gifts on his friends this day.  Also, she no doubt understood the weaknesses and desires of her husband very well – this dance will inflame his pride.  He will see himself as powerful, rich, clever and sexually desirable.  He thinks he is the envy of all his friends and subjects.  He deserves all their praise and accolades.

Herod will view this dance not only as a gift, but as a statement of his greatness.  He will certainly acknowledge it by giving Salome a fitting gift in return.

 Matthew 14:7 – so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.

As expected, Herod offers a gift to Salome.  It is a very rash and foolish promise:  anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom.  He probably expected her to ask for jewels or a palace or even a city, and he was probably more than willing to give her those material things.

Meanwhile, how delighted Herodias must have been when her daughter came to consult with her! How sweet her revenge must have seemed! Having skillfully baited the trap, she now has a promise, enforced with an oath, made in a public venue, after an abundance of wine and much praising of the life of Herod.  She knows what she will request – and she knows that Herod’s pride will make sure she gets it!

As an added bonus, the threat of rebellion by Herod’s subjects is removed.  The people cannot hold him responsible for honoring his vow.   Her comparison to wicked queen Jezebel seems just!

Matthew 14:8 – Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”

Through Salome, Herodias requests the death of her enemy.  Her thirst for revenge will accept nothing less.  The voice of righteousness which pointed out her sin must be silenced.

She will also deny him dignity in death – it isn’t enough to kill him; his head must be put on display for her amusement and gratification.

So John, who has probably been languishing in prison from 12-18 months, is sentenced to death without benefit of a trial or a defense or a public hearing.  In the end, he is denied a public execution as well.  He is tried, condemned and executed within minutes.

Matthew 14:9 – And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given.

Herod’s sorrow was not a godly sorrow which leads to repentance, and thus brings people back into right standing with God.  It was a sorrow for the inconvenience this situation would cause him personally.

Herod was sorry that on his birthday he had to shed blood, because it was an ill omen for a ruler.  However, he had no regrets about ordering the death of a righteous prophet of God.

Herod was sorry he had made a wicked and rash oath.  He would try point out that it was honorable to abide by his promise, but that is a foolish notion.  The keeping of his oath did not make his actions righteous.  In this case, the honorable action was to stand up, take charge of his kingdom, and declare the request null and void. 

His party companions are no better.  There is no record of any one of them protesting the request.  None of them interjected a voice of reason to this crazy and improbable request. I wonder how many of them feared Herodias?

Matthew 14:10-11 – He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.

If you are over the age of 50, you might remember an old radio show host named Paul Harvey.  He had a feature on his show that he used to call “The rest of the story”.  He would tell part of a story, but then take a break.  After the first part, you always felt like you knew how the story was going to end.  Later, he would come back and tell the rest.  The ending always had a surprise twist; it never ended the way you thought it would!

According to the Matthew Henry Whole Bible Commentary, this is ‘the rest of the story’ of Herod Antipas:

 Josephus mentions this story of the death of John the Baptist (Antiq. 18. 116-119), and adds, that a fatal destruction of Herod’s army in his war with Aretas, king of Petrea (whose daughter was Herod’s wife, whom he put away to make room for Herodias), was generally considered by the Jews to be a just judgment upon him, for putting John the Baptist to death. Herod having, at the instigation of Herodias, disobliged the emperor, was deprived of his government, and they were both banished to Lyons in France; which, says Josephus, was his just punishment for hearkening to her solicitations. And, lastly, it is storied of this daughter of Herodias, that going over the ice in winter, the ice broke, and she slipt in up to her neck, which was cut through by the sharpness of the ice. God requiring her head (says Dr. Whitby) for that of the Baptist; which, if true, was a remarkable providence.

Matthew 14:12 – And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

The execution probably happened late in the evening, when John was alone.  Or was he?  His earthly friends and family were not with him, but the Spirit of God was there.

Hebrews 13:5-6 – …for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?” 

Many people have lost loved ones during the COVID19 virus outbreak.  Due to social distancing, you may not have been beside your loved one as they passed away, but take heart – the Spirit of God was there!  And Jesus was waiting up in heaven to receive your loved one when they arrived.   In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

As soon as the disciples of John heard the news of his death, they went to claim the body.  I like the way the scripture says they buried “it”, not “him”.

Indeed, as Christians, this is always the way we should view death.  Our body stays here on earth, but our soul and spirit, the things that truly make us who we are, are transported up to heaven to be with the Lord forever.  No earthly pain or sorrow or stress can touch us there.  Our struggle against sin will be over.  There will be no crying or tears.  We will forever be in the presence of the God we have loved and served here on earth.  This was true for John the Baptist, and it is true for us as well.

What about the disciples of John?  How did they handle the grief and injustice of this situation?  They went to Jesus and unburdened their souls.  This is the best thing they could have done because:

Jesus was human.  His earthly experience enables him to sympathize with all forms of human suffering.  He understands the sorrow it brings to us when we are parted from a loved one by death. He knew John’s disciples had lost a friend, a mentor and a spiritual leader.  Jesus knew and grieved over the toll that sin was exercising over creation.

Jesus was God.  Who could be a better comfort in their hour of grief than the Son of God – who would soon put all enemies, even death, under his feet!  Once the Messiah had been revealed, it was actually a mistake for the disciples to continue to follow John.  John’s death prodded them into a relationship with Jesus.  While it is good to faithfully follow true ministers of God, we must remember that we ultimately serve God alone.  He is the one we are to honor and glorify.

Taking our troubles to Jesus first, before anyone else, is always our best course of action.  It strengthens our relationship with him.  It allows him an opportunity to infuse us with wisdom, understanding, comfort and direction.  It helps us gain control over fleshly feelings and desires.  He is well qualified to entirely lift whatever burden we are carrying.  He invites us to cast our cares on him, because he cares for us!

In contrast, when we go to our friends first, we are sometimes led down the wrong path.  Things like pity parties, gossip, bad advice or revenge are often the seeds that are sown by well meaning human listeners.

So let me offer you some encouragement:  God has not chosen to reveal to us the final date of our passing from earth to eternity.  Just like John the Baptist, we can’t be sure when or how that change will take place.  But what we can be sure of is having our names written in the Book of Life.  We can be sure of spending eternity in heaven with God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus.  All we need to do is repent and believe on Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

Let me offer you some relief:  Herod Antipas was a man filled with guilt over the sins he had committed.  He was also a man who had an opportunity to hear the message of repentance.  Unfortunately, he chose sin’s temporary pleasures over the eternal freedom that salvation could bring.  Don’t make the same mistake!

Relief from your sin and guilt can be found by making Jesus Christ Lord of your life.

Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.

Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bad news:  Mankind has been separated from God by sin.  Sin results in eternal death, unless the price of redemption is paid.  We are unable to pay the price ourselves.

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  

John 14:6 – Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.

Good news:  God loves us so much, that he sent Jesus to pay our debt, and restore us into fellowship with him.  The blood of Jesus is the only means by which our debt can be paid; it cannot be paid by our good works.

Romans 10:9 – if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Great News: The redemption of Jesus is a free gift, which he is happy to give you! 

How would one go about obtaining this gift?

Approach God through prayer, and ask for it.  Prayer is simply speaking to God.  You can pray or speak to God out loud, just like you would another person.  He will hear your prayer, and answer it.  Some people prefer to close their eyes when they pray, but it is not required.

There are no exact words or phrases that you must use.  Each person’s salvation prayer might be different.  The important part is that in your heart you have sorrow and regret for your sin, and that you trust Jesus to forgive you and that you believe he will wash your sin away with the blood he shed on the cross. 

If you can’t seem to think of anything to say, you can use this prayer (or something like it):

Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ!

Let me give you some strength:  You are now part of the family of God!  You will likely need some mentoring in your new walk with Christ.  I suggest two things:  Get a copy of the Bible and begin to read it.  The New Testament book of John is a great place to begin.  The second is to find a local bible based church and attend it.  They can mentor you in your new life in Christ!

If you have made a first time decision to accept Jesus as your Savior or if you have rededicated your life to him, please write and let us know.  We would love to celebrate with you!