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!

Matthew Chapter 13, Part 3

Matthew 13:44 – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.  Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

At one time or another, we have all dreamed of discovering buried treasure!  Books, stories, TV shows and even video games contain elements of buried treasure, just waiting to be discovered.  I bet you are smiling right now, just thinking about it.  

Stop and ask yourself this question: What is it about buried treasure that we find so appealing?

Here are some answers I came up with.  See how your answers compare.

  1. The thrill of discovery; the realization that you have something of great value.
  2. Finding, as opposed to earning, fabulous riches.
  3. The feeling that all your cares and worries are over; you found a life of ease and pleasure.
  4. The ability to give priceless gifts to friends and family. 
  5. The desire to plumb the depth of your discovery – just how much treasure is there?
  6.  A sense of adventure.

In this parable, Jesus is comparing the kingdom of heaven, the gospel message, to buried treasure.  Do you think this is a good analogy? Let’s look:

  1. When you first accepted the gospel message, did you realize you had something of great value?  Were you thrilled to discover it? 
  2. Did you earn your salvation, or like buried treasure, was it gift you did not work for? 
  3. Do you find that the gospel gives you freedom from the worry and cares of this life, replacing them with pleasure and joy? 
  4. Is the gospel a priceless treasure you want to share with those you know and love? 
  5. Do you desire to know more and more about God, discovering newer and deeper levels of his wisdom and love?
  6. Has your relationship with Jesus been an adventure?  Does it promise even greater adventures in the age to come?

Indeed, the gospel message is a priceless treasure!

What else can we note about this parable?  The man in question was not seeking treasure, it was something he found or stumbled upon.  This speaks of the salvation of the Gentiles.  They were neither expecting nor looking for the kingdom of heaven.  They ‘never saw it coming’, yet when it was discovered, countless numbers have laid claim to it.

Of course, the main thrust of this parable is this:  once the man found the treasure, he sold or parted with all that he had to obtain it.  He demonstrates earnestness, care, diligence, and singleness of purpose in his effort to acquire the treasure.

Likewise, when we find salvation, we realize what a vast and priceless treasure it is.  Because it is priceless, we too are willing to part with all that we have to obtain it.  Everything that we may possess or experience in this world pales in comparison to the riches of the kingdom of heaven! Indeed, a man will part with all that he has, yet consider himself incomparably richer than before, when he possesses a relationship with the God of the universe!

When you first entered into a relationship with Jesus, did you burn with desire for him?  If necessary, let us stir up our first love for Christ.  Let us exhibit the same due diligence in our relationship with God as the man in the parable. 

Matthew 13:45-46 – “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

This parable is similar to the one before it.  The gospel is a pearl of great price.  People who find it will gladly sacrifice all they have to obtain it.

However, in this parable the man is actively looking and seeking for the pearl.  This speaks of the Jews, who already had a relationship with God and who were actively seeking for the kingdom of heaven.

True, they did not recognize it when it came, but we can rest assured that God is not yet finished with the Jewish nation.  There is a single, united kingdom of heaven and it includes both Jews and Gentiles alike. 

Matthew 13:47-48 – “Again the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.  When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.”

In this parable, we find similarities to the parable of the wheat and tares.  In this case, the sea is like the world.  The gospel is thrown or spread in the world, and it captures men (fish) of all kinds.

Notice that some of the men are good and some are evil.  As we saw in the parable of the wheat and tares, God chooses to let the wicked and the righteous exist together until the end of the age.

But there will come a day when the net is drawn ashore. Likewise, there is a set time when the gospel shall have fulfilled all that it was sent to do and this age will end.

It is interesting to note that some people also see another application in this parable.  They believe that the sea represents the church.  This would mean that the church presently contains a mixture of believers and unbelievers.  They will attend the same church, sing the same songs and hear the same sermons until the end of the age.  At that time, Jesus will separate the true Christians from those who are not.

In both the parable of wheat/tares and the parable of the fish, Jesus is very specific that there will be a judgment at the end of the gospel dispensation.  

Matthew 13:49-50 – “So it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In the current age, Satan is fooling people into believing that all actions and lifestyles are acceptable.  Things that the bible calls sin are not only condoned in our society, but they are affirmed and even celebrated.

Our society uses the umbrella of love and acceptance as a façade to cover these sins and make them acceptable.  If a Christian stands against any sin, they are considered racist or a bigot or a person of hate.  Sadly, Satan has lied to people, convincing them that because God is love and he loves everyone, that he will not punish sin. 

While it is true that God is love, he is also holy.  Therefore, his perspective on sin is completely different than ours.  Sin is an abomination; it is completely unacceptable to him and it cannot stand in his presence.  Each and every sin carries a penalty and God’s perfect holiness requires the penalty to be paid.

Enter Jesus. 

He has brokered a deal or made a covenant between man and God.  He has agreed to pay the price for our sin – it was not excused or written off as a bad debt.

  • He paid the price when he left the splendor and glory of heaven to come to earth and take on flesh as a man. 
  • He paid the price when he submitted himself and his will to God. 
  • He paid the price when he resisted the temptation of Satan in the wilderness. 
  • He paid the price when he allowed himself to be arrested, struck, mocked and spit upon under the authority of the high priest. 
  • He paid the price when he was scourged by the order of Pilate.  
  • He paid the price when a crown of thorns was thrust upon his head. 
  • He paid the price when he carried a timber out to a hill and allowed men to drive nails through his hands and feet. 
  • He paid the price when he was hung up to slowly and painfully suffocate on the cross. 
  • He paid the ultimate price when his took on the penalty of sin and was actually separated from the presence of God.   

Oh yes, my friend, your sin was not written off as a bad debt.  It was paid in full.

And the fact remains that God, who is love, requires payment. Hell, fire and brimstone are not very popular topics for sermons these days, but the truth is they are real.  If you refuse the payment Jesus made, you will be held accountable for your own sin at the end of this age.  Jesus has been very clear that hell, a very real place of torment, awaits those who reject his sacrifice.

Matthew 13:51-52 – “Have you understood all these things?”  They said to him, “Yes.”  And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

It may seem strange to us that Jesus would liken his disciples to Scribes, since we think of New Testament scribes as being corrupt.  However, Jesus is referring to the job itself, not the men who currently occupied the office.

In Old Testament times, the priests were the keepers of the law.  They practiced it, studied it and taught it to the general population. But over the course of time, this changed.  The more highly esteemed the law became in the eyes of the people, the more the study of the law became its own specialty.  A class of scholars arose who were not priests, but devoted themselves wholly to the Law.  They became the Scribes – professional students of the law – and they assumed responsibility for teaching that law to the people.

The followers of Jesus were like a new class of scribes.  They already knew the Law (Old Testament), and now they were learning and understanding the gospel (New Testament).  These truths would be stored up and kept in their hearts and minds, so when an opportunity for teaching/sharing the gospel came, they would be ready to meet the need.

While pastors and scholars fulfill much of this role today, it is the responsibility of every Christian to be ready to share the gospel.

I Peter 3:15 – In your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…

We have freely received the gospel message, we should be ready to freely pass it on to others, that they might also find forgiveness of sin and faith in Christ.  We should also be ready to use the gospel to encourage and strengthen each other in the faith.

Matthew 13:53-54 – And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

After his teaching was finished, Jesus returned to Nazareth, where we find him speaking in the synagogue.  His listeners are astonished. 

Had they been astonished at the wisdom Jesus revealed, or at the revelation of the mystery that the kingdom of heaven had come, that would have been a good thing.  Had they been astonished to find that God was confirming his word with miracles, that would also have been good. That would have been appropriate. That would have led them to accept the gospel message.

But unfortunately, they are astonished at the wrong thing.  Their attention is diverted away from spiritual things to the earthly qualifications of Jesus.

Matthew 13:55-56 – “Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother called Mary?  And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And are not all his sisters with us?  Where then did this man get all these things?”

They acknowledge that Jesus lived and worked among them for many years, probably as a carpenter.  In their eyes, this was all he was – nothing more or less than a mere laborer, whose family they had known for years.  At best, he was their equal, or even their inferior.  In their eyes, he would never be anything else.

They couldn’t fathom how such a common, lowly man had risen to such heights of knowledge.  Nor could they explain the confirmation of his teaching with miracles. 

However, the simplest explanation was the correct one – Jesus was something more than a mere man.  He was the Messiah, sent by God with a new message of hope for all of mankind.

Matthew 13:57-58 – And they took offense at him.  But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”  And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

This is a proverbial expression.  Because Jesus possessed an extraordinary endowment from heaven, he was rejected by those who were most familiar with him.  The source of this rejection was probably envy, prejudice or malice.

Miracles confirmed the word of truth that Jesus was preaching.  Because the people of this town had rejected the message, there was no point in the working of miracles.  In fact, if Jesus had worked mighty miracles among them, they most likely would have credited them to sorcery or the power of the devil.

The few miracles that he did do were proof of his mission; it was up to them to accept or reject the truth of the gospel.

Let me offer you some encouragement:  The man with the hidden treasure exhibited excitement and even obsession in his quest to dig out the treasure he found.  This week, as you ‘dig out’ treasure from the scriptures, I encourage you to focus on recalling just how incredible and amazing your salvation really is.   You were lost, but now you are saved. You were a slave to sin, but now you are a son/daughter of God.  You were destined for eternal torment, now you have a home prepared for you in heaven.  You were shrouded by a spirit of heaviness, but now you wear a garment of praise.  You had ashes, now you have beauty.

As we dwell on all that Jesus has provided for us through his sacrifice, we should feel loved and valued by God.  His love is no mere empty profession.  He has backed his words up with his actions!

Let me offer you some relief:  You don’t need a college degree to share the gospel message with others.  If you have experienced the life changing power of God, just simply share what God has done for you.

Do you feel like you need some boldness?  It was the Holy Spirit who empowered the disciples to share the gospel message with all those around them.  Allow the Holy Spirit to baptize you with power and you will find a boldness for sharing the gospel message that you never thought possible! 

Let me offer you some strength:   In this age, the righteous and the wicked dwell together.  Sometimes when we look at the unrighteous people around us, we get frustrated because they seem to be prospering, while we seem to be struggling.  I want you to know that righteous people of all generations have noticed this and been bothered by it.

A particularly good example is laid out for us in Psalms 73.  The author of this psalm notices that the evil men around him are prosperous, healthy, strong, and free of trouble, even though they are corrupt and wicked.  He almost begins to envy them.

But then, in Psalms 73:16-17, he comes to his senses!

Psalms 73:16-17 – But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.

As he enters into the presence of God, he understands.  He knows that the prosperity of the wicked is a prelude to their destruction, for destruction is their sure and certain end.

He also understands that his present troubles are contained to a limited time span; a time of testing and growth closely overseen by a merciful heavenly Father, which will be rewarded at the end of the age.

If you need strength for your day, find it the same way the psalmist did – by spending time in the presence of God!

Matthew Chapter 13, Part 2

Matthew 13:24 – He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,

The gospels of Mark, Luke and John all use the expression ‘Kingdom of God”.  The kingdom of God is the sovereignty (supreme power, dominion and authority) of God, which is universal.  It existed from the beginning and will know no end (it is eternal).  It is overall, and embraces all; it is unlimited in its scope.  It is the subject of New Testament revelation.   

Only the gospel of Matthew uses the expression “Kingdom of Heaven”.  The kingdom of heaven is a phase or aspect of the kingdom of God.  It refers to the dispensation that began when Jesus was rejected as the Messiah and it will end when he returns to earth as king.  This is the dispensation that we are currently living in.  It is also referred to as the age of grace or the gospel dispensation.   It is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy.

The parables of Jesus show us what we can expect this age to be like.  In our last lesson, the parable of the sower, we saw that Jesus plants (sows) the seeds of the gospel into the hearts (soil) of men.  The type of soil, that is, the state of a man’s heart, determines the outcome of the seed. 

Jesus now reveals another aspect of the kingdom of Heaven in what is known as the parable of the weeds. In this parable, a man plants good seed in his field.

Matthew 13:25 – but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.”

The weeds referred to here may possibly be what is known as darnel grass.  It is a species of ryegrass whose seeds are poisonous to humans.  Eating these seeds can produce violent nausea, convulsions, diarrhea and death.  When growing, it has an uncanny likeness to wheat.  The difference between the two can only be seen when they begin to bear fruit.

Other possible candidates for the weeds in question are blasted grain, degenerate wheat, chess grass or brome grass.  Since the truth behind the parable is not dependent on the exact identification of the weed, any of these speculations are acceptable.  All we really need to keep in mind is that the tares/weeds and the wheat looked identical until harvest time.  

Matthew 13:26-27 – “So when the plants came up and bore grain then the weeds appeared also.  And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have weeds?”

The two plants looked so identical when growing, that the servants only discovered the weeds when the grain formed. 

How interesting that we just saw this principle back in Matthew chapter 7, where Jesus says a tree is known by its fruits!  Here is an identical parallel of that – the difference between the weed and the wheat can only be known when we see the fruit.

Matthew 13:28-29 – “He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’  So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them? “But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.”

The servants were more than willing to take action, but the action they proposed was very zealous and would be harmful to the true wheat.  Jesus tells them to let them both continue to exist side-by-side for the time being.

Matthew 13:30 – Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

According to the will of the Lord, both will grow together for a time, but in the end a separation will be made.  And not only a separation, but a distinction – the wheat will be safely and carefully stored in the barn, while the weeds will be bound together and burned.

How do you interpret the parable of the weeds?  How does it apply to the present gospel dispensation?  Take a few minutes to form an answer.  In a little while Jesus will give us the correct answer and you can see how close you were to finding out the ‘secret/mystery’.

Matthew 13:31-32 – He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

Just like that tiny mustard seed, the era of the gospel started out very small and seemingly insignificant.  In fact, its earliest beginning passed by completely unnoticed by most people.  As you recall, the birth of Christ (the word made flesh) was in a manger; very little notice was taken except by some shepherds and a few wise men from a non-Jewish nation.  Likewise, the early life of Jesus was also virtually unknown and has passed into obscurity. 

Over time, the mustard plant began to grow.  In the same way, Jesus’ ministry also began to grow, eventually becoming public.  People started to take notice of the gospel message.  After the resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit, that message began to explode onto the world scene. 

The mustard plant become so large, it became a shelter for other life.  Although the gospel message was preached to the Jews first, it was too big to be limited to just the Jewish nation.  As we have seen many times, God had always intended to bring the Gentiles (other life) under the umbrella of salvation as well. 

Matthew 13:33 – He told them another parable.  “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

The bible sometimes uses the word ‘leaven’ in a negative connotation.  For example, in Matthew 16:11 we find Jesus warning the disciples against the ‘leaven’ of the Sadducees and Pharisees.  However, that is not the case here.  Jesus guides us to the correct interpretation when he says “the kingdom of heaven is like…” In other words, this parable describes the gospel age. 

The leaven is initially obscured in some flour, but eventually it multiplies and leavens the entire batch of dough. The results are unmistakable.  In the same way, the gospel message started out obscurely, but has progressed from Judea to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world. Here too, the results are unmistakable!

Many people also see a secondary principle at work in the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven.  Instead of just referring to the growth or spread of the gospel message through the earth, it may also be applied to the individual human heart.

When a person first accepts the gospel, it takes root in our hearts but it is still a very immature entity.  We must grow in grace, working with the Holy Spirit to make the gospel mature in our hearts.  As we grow and mature in our faith, we become more and more like Jesus.

Matthew 13:34-35 – All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundations of the world.”

Neither the masses of common Jews nor the Jewish leaders were ready for a clear statement of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.  That being the case, Jesus teaches them in parables.  This allows the information to stay in their minds and hearts until it has a chance to take root.  It also keeps their interest, so that they continue listening and seeking.

What, exactly, has been hidden or kept secret since the foundation of the world?

Ephesians 3:8-9 – To me (the apostle Paul)… this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things…

The secret or mystery hidden from the foundation of the world is the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Specifically, salvation is given to man through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is found numerous places in the New Testament including Romans 16:25, 1 Corinthians 2:7 and Colossians 1:26.

Praise be to God that this is not a mystery to us; because we have been born in the gospel dispensation (the time of the kingdom of heaven), we were born under the revelation of the greatest mystery of the ages!

Yet, the gospel is still a mystery to many people and nations.  We must do our part to spread the gospel message throughout the earth – and in our own neighborhoods as well!

Matthew 13:36 – Then he left the crowds and went into the house.  And his disciples came to him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 

The crowds went away having heard a sermon by the Son of God, but they were not changed by it.  That seems a bit shocking but then, how many times have we too, heard the word but it did not impact us?

Did you take a few minutes to determine the meaning of the parable of the weeds?  If so, read on and see how much you understood.

Matthew 13:37 – He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.”

The good seed is the good news; salvation along with all its riches and privileges.  These are sown in the world by Jesus, the Son of Man.  

Once Jesus ascended into heaven to sit by the right hand of the Father, the Holy Spirit came down to earth to empower believers continue to preach and share the good news with all nations.  This task will continue throughout the duration of this age.  It only stops when the age ends, with the return of Christ.

Matthew 13:38-39 – “The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom.  The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.  The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.”

So, clearly the world is the field.  True believers in Christ represent the wheat. 

Satan is the evil one, who came and sowed weeds in the world.  Weeds represent people who work iniquity and are disobedient to the gospel.  They are enemies of Christ and of the gospel message.  They seek to do the will of their father Satan, who comes to steal, to kill and to destroy. 

Back in verses 28-29, the master’s workers offered to pluck up the weeds, but the master declined.  His decision was to allow the weeds and the wheat to exist together, until the time of the final harvest.  So, while the righteous may wish that God would immediately put an end to wickedness, God has decided to do otherwise.  For His own righteous and just purposes, He has decided to allow wickedness to continue until the end of this age. 

Take a moment and consider some of the things that God accomplishes in our spiritual lives by allowing us to live in an age where good and evil are both present.  We learn to love as he loves.  We learn to forgive as he forgives.  We learn to be patient, good, kind, longsuffering and joyful.  We learn the true meaning of peace and happiness.  We learn to walk with God and we have opportunities to learn his ways.  We develop trust in Him.  We learn to hear his voice and follow him in all things.  And these are only the things we know or understand.  We can be sure that God, whose ways are higher than our ways, is also accomplishing things in us that we don’t even understand yet!   

Also of note back in verses 28-29, is the fact that the master does not want the weeds plucked up, because the wheat may be destroyed or damaged in the process.  This shows that God spares the wicked for the sake of the righteous, reserving all judgment for the final day when divine justice will be executed and each person will be recompensed according to his/her own works.

The day of judgment/divine justice will happen at the end of the age, which is represented in the parable as the harvest. 

Angels will somehow be connected to this great harvest as evidenced by the book of Revelation:

Revelation 14:15 – And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.”

 However, their precise role is not so easy to understand.  We may have to wait until the end of the age to find out exactly how they assist the Master!   

Matthew 13:40-42 – “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

A final separation of the righteous and the wicked will occur at the end of this age. 

Those who rejected the gospel and persist in sin will be sent to hell, which is a place of severe torment and punishment.  They will inherit shame and everlasting contempt.  

Matthew 13:43 – “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears, let him hear.”

The saints and faithful servants of Christ shall receive glory, honor and eternal life.  We will inherit a kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.  We need have no fear when the end of the age comes upon us, for we will be taken to Heaven, to live forever with Jesus, our Lord, Savior and King!

There, we will experience what no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no earthly tongue is able to express.  What a wonderful day that will be!

So let me offer you some encouragement and some relief:  Just as there is a big difference between and a weed and wheat, so should there be a big difference between the righteous and the wicked.  So when you are attacked for being ‘narrow minded’ or ‘old fashioned’ or even ‘a bigot’, don’t let that disturb you.  In fact, it should be an encouragement to you.  Remember what Jesus said:

Matthew 5:11-12 – Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…

There will always be conflict between the righteous and the wicked in this age, but take heart – it will not last!  The day of separation will come, when Jesus comes to take us home, and we leave all that is sinful behind!

Let me offer you some strength:  The timing of your birth was not an accident.  Jesus planned for you to live your life in the present age – the gospel dispensation.  He knew you would be living side-by-side with evil and even though it can be a struggle, remember that God is using your present circumstances to bring about something glorious in you.  Take heart!  God will cause you to be victorious in Christ Jesus!  

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 in us.

Matthew Chapter 13, Part 1

Matthew 13:1-2 – That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.  And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down.  And the whole crowd stood on the beach.

Notice that the scene has changed, but it is still the same day as the events of chapter 12. After the confrontational teaching with the Pharisees, I would have been ready for lunch and a nap, but not Jesus! He moves onto the next opportunity to share about the kingdom of heaven.

That opportunity takes place on the shore of the sea of Tiberius, where the crowds of everyday people have come to hear the teaching of Jesus. Unlike the religious leaders, they are willing and even eager to hear what Jesus has to say.  Here Jesus can share without the interruption and controversy caused by those who oppose him.  The parables that Jesus shared with them are still powerful teachings relevant for today. 

How do you picture this scene by the seashore? In a perfect world, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. The water of the sea is smooth and calm; the reflection of the sun makes it look like glass. A refreshing breeze blows as Jesus sits down in the boat and begins to speak. Everyone is happy, content and attentive.

But in the real world, the scene would also include biting insects, smelly people, emerging sunburn, tired adults and bored children!  Jesus did not allow any of these distractions to stop him from sharing his message.  We should take our example from him – if we wait for the perfect circumstances to share the gospel we will wait forever! 

Matthew 13:3 – And he told them many things in parables, saying, “A sower went out to sow.”

The word parable is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘to compare together’.  Parables use natural objects to illustrate spiritual or moral subjects.  These teachings could consist of either real or fictitious people and events.

Parables had been used by the Jews (and other people groups) as a method of teaching/communicating for hundreds of years.  They can be found throughout the Old Testament.  For example, in 2 Samuel 12 we find Nathan the prophet using a parable to confront King David about his sinful relationship with Bathsheba.  Parables were still a common method of teaching/communicating at the time of Christ.

Here in Matthew 13 we find seven parables.  The last three are shared only with the disciples, but the first four are taught to the crowds of common people.  The first concerns a sower or what we would consider a farmer. 

What comes to your mind when you think of a farmer planting crops? Do you picture some of the vast fields found in parts of Ohio and other Midwestern states? Do you see clear fields with perfectly tilled dark earth and evenly spaced rows formed with a tractor and planter?

What comes to your mind when you think of a farmer planting crops?  Do you picture some of the vast fields found in parts of Ohio and other Midwestern states?  Do you see clear fields with perfectly tilled dark earth and evenly spaced rows formed with a tractor and planter? 

If so, you need to know that farming in the Holy Land was much different than what we might expect. Obviously, there were no tractors.  The farmer may or may not have had teams of oxen to assist him with the labor.  The land was not perfectly cleared and tilled; in fact many times a road ran through the field.  The soil could be very rocky in places; rock an inch or two under the topsoil would not be seen by the person who is planting.  For these reasons, when a seed fell on good ground and brought forth an exceptional bounty, it was due more to chance than the skill of the farmer.

Although we commonly refer to this teaching as the parable of the sower, the main figure in the parable is not the farmer or the seed, but the soil.  The same farmer plants the same type of seed, the only difference is the soil in which the seed falls.

Matthew 13:4 – And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.”

Some seed fell ‘along the path’ or your translation may say ‘fell by the way side’.  This refers to the hard path running through the field, which had been compacted and compressed by hundreds of people and animals walking over it.  Because it was packed down and not loosened up by the plow, there was no chance for the seed to sink into the earth.

Matthew 13:5-6 – “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched.  And since they had no root, they withered away.”

There were also places where stone was concealed under a thin layer of soil.  When a seed landed here, it would sprout, but it could not lay down roots.  Without a strong root system, the plant could not get enough moisture to sustain itself.  As the sun beat down upon it, it would shrivel and die.

Matthew 13:7 – “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and chocked them.” 

Now this part I understand perfectly!  Anyone who has a flower bed or a back yard garden knows that weeds seem to spring up overnight.  Even though you didn’t purposely plant them, they seem to thrive.  They are the first thing to sprout after a rain and the last thing to fade during a dry spell.

They endure because they are not fully destroyed.  Unless you get to the root, weeds will come up again and again, crowding the crop, shading it, stealing moisture and nutrients from it, eventually choking it out so that your crop either dies or is barren.

Matthew 13:8 – “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

There is also good soil, which brings forth an abundant harvest.

Of course in modern times, good soil does not happen by chance.  Farmers spend a lot of time and money on cover crops, drainage, fertilizer, crop rotation and many other factors to ensure that they have healthy, productive soil before they plant the seed. 

Matthew 13:9 – “He who has ears, let him hear.”

This is an expression that Jesus uses on many occasions.  It means that the hearer must actively seek to understand what is being said, for the true meaning is partially hidden in some respect. Full understanding would require a person to listen and comprehend with his heart or spiritual man, not just with his physical ears.

Matthew 13:10 – Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”

After Jesus had shared this parable with the crowd, his disciples were full of questions.  They themselves did not understand the parable; how could the crowd understand its hidden meaning?  Why use this method of teaching with people who had never had their spiritual intellects sharpened by years of studying the law, as the Scribes and Pharisees had?

Here is why: Because parables allow people to hear the truth in a veiled fashion.  Those who truly seek to understand its meaning will have no difficulty moving past the veil to find the truth.  At the same time, those who have no interest in the truth will never find it.

Matthew 13:11 – And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

Let’s begin by understanding the phrase “secrets of the kingdom” or your translation may say “mysteries of the kingdom.”

The secret/mystery refers to something that has been concealed.  It does NOT mean that the thing is difficult to understand or incomprehensible, just that it has not yet been revealed.  In fact, it may be very plain and easily understood, once it is discovered.

In this case, the secrets/mysteries included:

  1. In this case, the secrets/mysteries included:  
  2. God abiding in the hearts of people instead of a temple. 
  3. The kingdom of heaven would be open to the Gentiles, not just the Jews. 
  4. The Messiah was going to die before setting up his physical kingdom.  Salvation (Jesus making atonement for sin once and for all and ending the need for sacrifices). 

Jesus revealed these secrets or mysteries to his disciples first, because they were going to be preaching the good news of salvation both before and after his death.  Therefore, they needed to understand the secrets so they could reveal them.  Also, they were clearly seekers of the truth; they were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.  

The religious leaders and the common people were excluded from knowing the secrets because they were not prepared to receive them.  They were holding tightly to their traditions, their pride, their national identity, their ceremonies and their laws.  They would need to let go of these things before they could get past the veil and find the truth.

This does not mean that the religious leaders or the common people were permanently excluded from understanding the mysteries of the kingdom.  After the resurrection of Jesus the apostles freely spread the message far and wide, and any person could hear the gospel and believe.  In fact, many religious leaders were saved after the resurrection of Christ.

Matthew 13:12 – “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Think of it this way:  A seamstress may start out struggling to make a single dress for a client.  But the more she sews, the better she gets.  Soon she can cut, pin and sew a dress together in a matter of just hours.  Her skills improve to the point that she can now create much more difficult garments, like wedding dresses.  The better she becomes, the more people want to buy her garments and the more orders she gets.  She gains more by using what she has.

In the same way, people who understand spiritual truths and exercise or use what they know, will be rewarded by God.  He will reveal to them greater or more profound ‘secrets’ or truths along with an increased capacity to exercise their new levels of faith and understanding.

We find this to be true with the disciples of Jesus.  They believed the words of Jesus, and assisted him in preaching the message of the kingdom.  After Jesus ascended to heaven they were filled with the Holy Spirit who revealed/imparted more and more knowledge and understanding to them.  The Holy Spirit empowered them to preach to more people, more boldly than ever before.

We find this principle to be true for us as well.  For example, the bible says that all believers can hear the voice of God:

John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Yet many Christians will admit that they don’t hear God speaking to them.  The problem is not that God isn’t speaking; it’s that we must make time and effort to discern his voice.  Once we begin to recognize his voice, we can hear him much more easily and confidently.  The more we listen, the better we become at hearing him. 

Jesus tells us that the converse is also true.  If a person has spiritual truth or understanding, but does not exercise it, disuse will eventually cause it to wither away and die.

Matthew 13:13 – “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

The Jews understood the natural meaning of the parable, but did not comprehend its spiritual significance.  They were blind to the spiritual aspect of the proverb because they were not honestly seeking the truth. 

In this case, Jesus is being merciful to them.  If he told them the plain truth, they would have cast it back in his face and condemned themselves.  However, veiling spiritual truth within the parable allowed the truth to at least penetrate into the minds of the hearers where it waited like a seed that has not yet sprouted.  Perhaps one day the soil of their hearts and minds might allow the seed to sprout, grow and bring forth fruit for the kingdom!  

Matthew 13:14 – “Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says, ‘you will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”

This quote is taken from Isaiah 6:9-10.  The character and mindset of the Jews at the time of Christ were identical to the mindset of the Jews in Isaiah’s day.  Specifically, they ‘closed their eyes’ or ignored the truth and rejected divine teaching.  They refused to acknowledge or accept any truth that was contrary to their opinions and desires.

The apostle Paul quotes this same scripture in Acts 28:26 where he charges the Jews with obstinate malice, and says that they were blinded by the light of the gospel because they were bitter and rebellious against God. 

Keep in mind that none of us are immune – this terrible condition could be fulfilled in us as well, if we are not careful to heed the message of truth that God has given to us!

Matthew 13:15 – “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’”

When a sinner looks on the truth, it brings about conviction.  Conviction then brings about repentance and conversion.  Since the Jews refused to look on the truth, they prevented themselves from experiencing conviction and repentance, which would have led to healing for themselves (as individuals) and for the Jewish nation.

It was, and still is, God’s desire to be in fellowship with man.  God has done everything necessary to make this happen; man has only to turn to God and accept his provision.

Take a moment for introspection. Is there any area of your life where God is nudging you to change? Has he convicted you about lust or your mouth or some other area of personal holiness?  Why not surrender to the Holy Spirit today?  Even though that sin seems acceptable (or even desirable) to you, it is really a snare and a trap. 

Also, let us not neglect to pray for our nation.  We know God wants to bring about a healing for our land (2 Chronicles 7:14), but it will require us to cry out for it.  

Matthew 13:16 – “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”

Unlike the Scribes and Pharisees, the disciples had spiritual eyes and ears that were open to divine truth.  Because they acted on this truth, they received an increase of heavenly wisdom every time they heard a sermon and witnessed a miracle.

I don’t know about you, but this is the group I want to be in!

Matthew 13:17 – “For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

The prophets of old had only far off and sometimes obscure glimpses of the Messiah and his work on earth. 

Hebrews 11:13 – These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them from afar…

They greatly desired (the word can actually be translated coveted) to experience the time when the Messiah would come and the kingdom of Heaven would appear.

I always find this particular scripture in Matthew to be a very sobering one.  In our culture and time, access to the word of God is unlimited.  In our time, access to the very throne room of God Almighty is open to us 24/7.  Yet many Christians never find time to pray or read the word.  This is both sad and shocking.  I’m sure it renders the prophets of old speechless.  I can picture them weeping with grief over our indifference to the treasures that have been put before us.  Let us awaken and diligently pursue our God!  If we seek him, he will be found by us!

Matthew 13:18-19 – “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.  This is what was sown along the path.”

Jesus now gives to his disciples the spiritual truths that were veiled in the parable of the sower.   We are so familiar with this scripture that we wonder how they could not have understood it, but remember, this was all new during their lifetime.

Basically we see that the seed is the word of God.  The sower is the preacher or follower of Christ who shares the gospel.  The soil represents the hearts of men.

The hearts of some men are like the soil on the hard packed road/path.  Years of trampling over or ignoring spiritual things has made them hard hearted.  The word never penetrates their heart at all; it bounces off and is then snatched away by Satan.

Yet, there is still hope for every sinner, until they die or Jesus returns. 

As we share Christ, let us be aware of this fact.  We may need to lovingly give witness to an individual many times before the seed finds a crack to fall into.  Let us not be weary in sharing the gospel.

Matthew 13:20-21 – “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”

Men whose hearts are like stony ground are those who swiftly hear and receive the word with joy.  These are people who want to add the gospel to their lives while otherwise remaining unchanged.  They do not understand that the gospel is totally transforming and life changing; it will make them into an entirely new creature.

When change begins to come in the form of persecution or trial of some kind, their faith immediately withers and dies because it is not firmly rooted in their being.  They prefer to remain in their sinful state rather than be changed.

Matthew 13:22 – “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

The man whose life is full of thorns is the one who decides to keep his eyes on this world, rather than on the heavenly realm.  Because he is so attached to our physical world, he cannot help but care deeply about earthly things.  He uses the limited resources of his mind, will and emotions to feed his earthly desires first; his spirit will receive what is left over.  As a result, his earthly desires will become strong, choking out his spiritual man and he will not produce any spiritual fruit. 

Money is one of the strongest, most vicious thorns on the plant.  Many people fall into the trap of believing that money will produce happiness and satisfaction, while solving all of their problems. 

Don’t be deceived by that lie!  Worldly riches can never satisfy the true desires of your heart.  Each of us has been created with a deep desire to be in fellowship with our Creator.  True satisfaction and fulfillment can only be found in our relationship with him. 

If you are interested in riches, make sure you are earning them in eternal realm!  Jesus said:

Matthew 6:19-21 – Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As Christians, we need to make sure our affections are firmly set on things above, not on the things of earth. 

Matthew 13:23 – “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it.  He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

What makes good soil? 

Is it a lack of rocks or thorns or heat?  Are men more receptive to the gospel if they have no trials in life?  Of course not!  In fact, troubles will often improve the soil of a man’s heart and make him more receptive to the gospel.

Good soil is the result of many factors.  First, the person must be in a position to hear the word.  They must consider it with honesty, seeking to find the truth.  They must believe what they hear.  They must consider and meditate on it, allowing it to take root and spring forth in their lives.  The more they understand and practice what they know, the more they receive.  Eventually, with patience and perseverance they will bring forth fruit for the kingdom. 

So let me offer you some encouragement: We probably all have loved ones who seem to be hard hearted.  They have rejected Christ over and over again.  But only God knows what is taking place in the soil of their heart.  It may take a lot of plowing (demonstrations of Godly love and acceptance, prayer, witness) before a seed has a chance to take root.  We should never judge them as hopeless and give up.  I know it can be frustrating to keep working without seeming to get anywhere, especially if they mock or belittle your faith, but I strongly encourage you not to grow weary and give up.  Jesus never said that farming was an easy job!  Take a moment right now and renew your commitment to continue.  One day, you will reap a harvest!

Let me offer you some relief:  Jesus says that some of us will bring forth a harvest of 30x or 60x or even 100x, but that does not give you the okay to start comparing yourself to others. Each of us needs to run the race that is set before us.  Each of us needs to continue to use the spiritual truth that we have, and as we operate in it, God will bless us with more.  Do your part and let God worry about the increase.  He loves you because you are his child, not because you produce 100x!

Let me offer you some strength:  The bible has a lot to say about bearing fruit.  For example, as Christians we should all be exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit as mentioned in Galatians chapter 5.  But fruit does not spring up over night.  It develops over time, with the right amount of moisture and sunshine and fertilizer.  As I write this, we are in the midst of a “stay at home” order by the government.  Why not use some of this time to work on your own growth?  Take an extra portion of the word today.  Get some “Son” by spending time in praise and worship.  Let’s strengthen and prepare ourselves for whatever lies ahead!

Matthew, Chapter 12, Part 3

Matthew 12:38 – Then some of the Scribes and Pharisees answered him saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”

In this verse, the Scribes and Pharisees call Jesus ‘master’ (your translation may say ‘teacher’). This is a title of respect that implies submission.

However, if they truly considered Jesus as their master, they would have believed his words and been obedient to his commands.  Instead, we find them in rebellion.  Clearly, their words were empty phrases.  What about us?  Do we claim Jesus as Lord?  If so, our actions should testify to this fact. 

The insolence of these religious leaders is astonishing!  How dare they ask Jesus for yet another sign?  Jesus had already performed a large number of signs and wonders which proved he was the Messiah.  Indeed, the religious leaders had just witnessed Jesus healing the demon possessed man.  What further proof was needed to establish that Jesus was the Son of God?

Jesus is going to deny their request for an on-demand sign/miracle.  Why do you suppose he does this?  After all, the bible is full of instances where people asked God for a sign, and He willingly and lovingly gave them one (example: Gideon and his fleece).

Well in this case, it seems as though their request was not for the purpose of actually discerning the truth, but more for the sake of contention.  My guess is that one more miracle would still not have been enough.  Because their hearts had already rejected Jesus, they were looking for a reason NOT to believe, as opposed to looking for a reason TO believe.  They weren’t really searching for the truth. 

Matthew 12:39 – But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

What does Jesus mean when he says the Jews are evil and adulterous?

The relationship of the Old Testament Jews to God was often represented as a marriage contract – God being the husband and the Jewish nation being his wife.  All unfaithfulness and disobedience were considered a breach of the marriage contract (adultery).

Jeremiah 3:20 – Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel.

We know the religious leaders had ample signs confirming Jesus as the Messiah.  These included the witness of John the Baptist, the voice from heaven when Jesus was baptized, numerous physical healings/miracles and evidence of authority over demon spirits.  To ask for an additional sign at this point was nothing more than an indicator of rebellion.  Clearly, they didn’t want to believe!  

So, in light of the fact that none of his former miracles would convince the religious leaders, one final sign – different from all the rest – would be given to these obstinate, ‘adulterous’ people:  the sign of Jonah.

Matthew 12:40 – For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

In case you are unfamiliar with the story of Jonah, let me give you a brief synopsis.  Jonah was a prophet in Israel.  He was commissioned by God to go and preach repentance to the wicked city of Nineveh, a sworn enemy of Israel. Jonah did not want this assignment.  In fact, he ran the opposite direction by entering a boat bound for Tarshish. 

While on the ship, God stirred up an immensely powerful storm and eventually, the sailors tossed Jonah overboard where a big fish swallowed him.  He was inside the belly of this fish for three days and three nights.  Afterwards, the fish vomited him up on land.  He then went and shared the message of God with the people of Nineveh and they subsequently repented of their sin and avoided destruction.

How was this Old Testament story a sign for the Jews?

Jonah being swallowed by the fish was a picture of death.  Death was also going to “swallow” Jesus when he died on the cross. 

Entering into the fish’s belly was a picture of being under the earth, or beneath the land of the living or in a grave.  After his death, Jesus was buried in a cave/tomb. 

Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days and three nights, then he was vomited back onto dry land or the land of the living.  Jesus was in the grave three days and three nights, then he rose from the dead and returned to the land of the living

After his release from the fish (death), Jonah went and proclaimed repentance to the sinful nation of Nineveh.  After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and commissioned them to preach the gospel to the whole world, including Gentiles.

Thus, Jesus points the Scribes and Pharisees to the ultimate proof that he is the Messiah – he will die and be raised to life again by his own power. This would be conclusive evidence that he was the Son of God. If they would not believe this sign, then nothing could convince them!

This is the second time that Jesus has publicly announced his death and resurrection.  The first was during the Passover, after he cleansed the temple:

John 2:18-19 – So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Side Note: The term ‘three days and three nights’ doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to us as it did to the Jews.  The Jews counted any part of a day as a whole entire day if it occurred at the beginning or end of a specified time period. 

For example, Jesus was in the grave part of a day on the day he was crucified, then that night, then the whole next day followed by a second night.  He rose the next day, which means that he was only in the grave for part of that third day.  That is a total of one full day and two partial days.  However, by the Jewish method of counting, this means Jesus was in the grave 3 days. 

The phrases ‘on the third day’, ‘after three days’ and ‘three days and three nights’ all refer to the same thing – a three day period where two of the days may be fractional days. 

Matthew 12:41 – The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

The Ninevites were wicked people who knew nothing of the true God.  They heard a message of repentance from a single prophet, a foreigner, who delivered his message for a 40 day period without the benefit of any miraculous signs.  Yet, this message brought them to repentance and their repentance saved them from destruction.

The Jews, on the other hand, know all about God. They were in covenant with him.  They had a long, long history with him.  They heard Jesus preach for three years and saw his message confirmed with countless miracles.  Yet, his message caused them to harden their hearts, and the rejection of Jesus will result in their eternal destruction!

In the general resurrection, the men of Nineveh will stand up in the judgment as witnesses against these Jews because Jesus was superior to Jonah in every way, yet the Jews did not believe in him.

Matthew 12:42 – The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

The queen of the South, or the queen of Sheba ruled in Arabia or possibly Ethiopia.  She came to visit King Solomon because she heard rumors about his great wisdom. She traveled over 1000 miles to meet with Solomon, hear his wisdom and discuss what was on her mind.  He answered all her questions; the bible says there was nothing Solomon could not explain to her. 

After meeting with King Solomon, she declares:

I Kings 10:6-7, 9 – …”The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it.  And behold, the half was not told me.  Your wisdom…surpasses the report I heard…because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king that you may execute justice and righteousness.”

She made a long, arduous journey in order to get wisdom.  She was astounded at what she heard and she treasured the wisdom Solomon shared with her.  She had great respect and reverence for Solomon, declaring that God has made him king in order to bring about justice and righteousness. 

Let’s contrast that with the actions of the Jews.  One infinitely wiser than Solomon, the Son of God himself, was in their midst.  He was not wise like Solomon; He was wisdom incarnate, but rather than revering and respecting him, they slandered and despised him. 

Solomon was a fallen man, like all of us.  He could only bring about imperfect justice and righteousness.  However, Jesus is a perfect King who will rule with absolutely perfect justice and righteousness.  The Scribes and Pharisees despised Jesus because he failed to raise and army and defeat the Romans, but had they listened to him, they would have discovered that his kingdom was first going to manifest as a spiritual one, and later a physical one.

By rejecting Jesus, the Jews also rejected all opportunities to hear the wisdom Jesus could have given them.  For this reason, the queen of Sheba will testify against those Jews at the judgment.

Matthew 12:43-45 – When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.  So also will it be with this evil generation.

The parable found in verses 43-45 is a continuation of the warnings that Jesus is giving to the Jews.  First, we will take a look at how the parable applies to them.  Then, we will also see how it might apply to us as well.

The parable concerns the spiritual life of the Jewish nation.  It implies that there was a man who had an unclean spirit at one point.  The man represents the Jewish nation and the unclean spirit is the spirit of idolatry that plagued the Jewish nation from the time they entered the Promised Land until their exile. During this time, they consistently rejected Jehovah as their God and chose to serve Satan in the form of false idols.   Their idolatry is well documented in the Old Testament. 

Because of this besetting sin, God sent them into exile.  Once the Jews returned to their land, they never had a problem with idolatry again (notice its absence in the New Testament).  So, the exile set them free from the sin of idolatry. This corresponds to the part in the parable where the unclean spirit has departed out of the person.

Spiritually speaking, the heart of the nation is ‘empty, swept and put in order’.  They are rid of the unclean spirit of idolatry and ready for Jehovah to ‘move in’. 

Unfortunately, when the Messiah comes, they reject him, or at this point they are on the verge of rejecting him.  This leaves their heart/house empty; but spiritual hearts cannot stay empty.  They must be filled.  Seeing an opening, Satan gathers his forces and makes a move to re-enter. 

The ‘seven other evil spirits’ which entered the spiritual hearts of the Jewish nation and replaced Jehovah as Lord were things like ceremonial religious acts, outward shows of piety, worship of money, bitterness, pride, divorce, self righteousness, etc. 

Since they have rejected Jesus and opened themselves up to Satan once again, they are worse off than they were before. This makes sense, because they have heard and rejected the only thing that will set them free – the grace of God!  Subsequently, we see the downward progression of this particular generation:  They despised God’s messengers, scorned the miracles of Christ and eventually crucified him on the cross.  

After this the temple, the capital and the people were given over to the Romans who virtually destroyed them.

What can we learn from this example? I believe it is a warning to all nations, not just the Jews.  If God begins a work of reformation in the midst of nation, those people needs to see it through.  They need to cast out evil and fully open themselves to righteousness.  If they do not, their end state will be worse than the first, because they too, like the Jews, will have rejected the one thing which can set them free. 

Do you think America fell into this trap following the 9/11 disaster?  Why or why not?  

Do you think that Americans will turn to God during the current Covid 19 crisis? If so, do you think these changes will be permanent or will people return to their old habits once the crisis is over?

If nothing else, this parable should call us into prayer for our nation.  We need God to send a spirit of revival into our midst that will free us from the bondage of Satan.

This parable might be applied to the church as well.  Look what Jesus says to the church at Ephesus:

Revelation 2:2, 4 – I know your works, and your labor, and your patience…  Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.

In our individual churches as well as our individual lives, we need to renew and focus on our relationship with Christ.  The closer we stay to him, the more righteous we will become.  We will welcome ever deeper levels of intimacy with him.  However, when we lose our ardent love for God, we fall into the same trap as the Pharisees, substituting pious acts for true relationship.  Take a minute and re-evaluate yourself.  Return to your first love, if you need to!

Matthew 12:46-47 –While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.  Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside asking to speak to you.”

There is some discussion about whether these are the natural brothers of Jesus or some of his close male relatives (cousins).  There is also much discussion about the motives of his relatives. It has been speculated that they feared Jesus was offending the religious leaders which could lead to his arrest and death, or that they feared for his physical health, because the crowds were so great that he couldn’t even stop to eat (Mark 3).  However, to dwell on either one of these points is to miss the main lesson of this passage.

The fact is his relatives were actually a hindrance or an obstruction to his teaching!  Notice that they were ‘standing without’ as opposed to being inside listening to his preaching.  While Jesus is busy with his heavenly Father’s business, his earthly relatives disrupt him!   It is likely that this disruption was both unnecessary and unwelcome.  Had this happened to any of us, we might have reacted in anger or frustration.  However, Jesus, full of wisdom and love, respectfully turns the disruption into a teaching moment for the kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 12:48-50 – But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

Those who accept Jesus and obey the Father are grafted into the family of God.  As a disciple of Jesus we wear his name (Christian), bear his image, reflect his love, and display his nature.  We are children of God.  We are joint heirs with Christ.  Jesus has promised that there are many ‘rooms’ in his Father’s house; he will prepare a place there for us.  He is our kinsman redeemer.  Clearly, we are one of the family!  

Let me give you a little encouragement and strength:   If you are a Christian, you are a member of the family of God!  Your Heavenly Father loves and cares for you!  You don’t need to fear when events around you seem to spiral out of control, for he holds your future in his hands.  The psalmist tells us this:

Psalm 84:11 – For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

When you are a child of God, the Lord is your sun – he provides light, beauty, direction and fruitfulness.  He is also your shield – protecting you throughout all your earthly life and working things out for your eternal good.  He will give you grace and glory – unmerited favor, mercy and kindness which are yours forever.  God, in his eternal wisdom, knows what is best for you; he will never fail to bestow instruction, correction, strength, support, guidance, wisdom or any other thing that we need to be victorious in Christ!

Let me give you a little relief:  Do you ever lay awake at night wondering what the future holds?  Does the current world situation make you uneasy? Do you worry because you don’t have any answers?  As we learned from our lesson today, Jesus is not wise, He is wisdom incarnate!  If you are uncertain as to what you should do, where you should go or what decisions you need to make, ask him. 

James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally, and reproaches not; and it shall be given him.

Notice that James does not say that God MIGHT give us wisdom, but that he WILL give us wisdom.  You don’t have to go through life wondering if you are on the right path – just ask your heavenly Father, and he will tell you!

Matthew Chapter 12, Part 2

Matthew 12:22 – Then a demon oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw.

We are plainly told that the cause of this man’s physical ailments was a demon.  The demon prevented the man from seeing or speaking.  He could not see Christ nor cry out/pray to him.  Thus, he needed someone to physically bring him to Jesus.

Most scholars see a spiritual parallel in what happened to this man in the physical realm.  Satan blinds the spiritual eyes of sinful people so they cannot see their need for a savior.  He makes them deaf to the gospel message.  He fills their mouths with all manner of awful speech, while rendering them unable to pray or cry out to God. 

That means that the Christian, with the help of the Holy Spirit, must lead sinners to Christ.  Think back to your own salvation experience.  Who did God use to bring you to himself?  Are you ready to help someone else?

Matthew 12:23 – And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”

By the phrase ‘Son of David’, they mean the Messiah.  Two things bring them to this conclusion.  One, Jesus was clearly a descendant of David.  Two, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would open blind eyes and heal deaf ears:

Isaiah 35:5 – then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

It is interesting to note that the crowds of ordinary Jews, who had no prejudice against Jesus, clearly saw the truth of who he was.  The Scribes and Pharisees, who already decided to reject him, denied even the most obvious signs that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 12:24 – But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

The Scribes and Pharisees had already determined to reject Jesus as the Messiah.  Indeed, they are confronting him at this moment in order to try and sway the masses into believing the same thing. 

But it’s going to be a tough sell.  The religious leaders cannot deny the actual miracle; the people are witnesses that the man can now see and speak.  They also cannot deny that there has been an unquestionable demonstration of power, clearly beyond the means of any mortal man.  This means that the Pharisees’ version of events must acknowledge that the healing occurred, and that it was done by supernatural means, but not by the Messiah.

There is really only one scenario that would fit all three of those criteria – Jesus casting out devils by the power of Beelzebul (Beelzebub), the worst and vilest of the devils.  Beelzebub is the Lord of the flies, also known as the god of filth.

By putting forth this theory, the religious leaders were attempting to throw reproach or contempt on Jesus, as if this miracle was performed by some kind of evil magical enchantment (see Deuteronomy 13:1-3).

Matthew 12:25-26 – Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.  And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself.  How then will his kingdom stand?”

Jesus refutes their accusations by following their claims to a logical conclusion.

A kingdom (or a city or even a family), can only prosper by living in a state of unity.  If half of the kingdom is undoing what the other half does, it will accomplish nothing; it will fall apart.  This is plain common sense!

Look at it this way:  If a husband or wife is earning $75K a year, but the spouse is spending $75K in the same amount of time, what have they accomplished?  Nothing, because each is undoing the work of the other.

If the president of a club is recruiting new members while the vice president is kicking people out at the same time, what will happen to the club?  It will fall apart or cease to exist because the two leaders are working against each other.

In the same manner, if Satan is possessing people, but then gives Jesus authority to cure them, what has he accomplished?  Nothing; his kingdom will fail.

Clearly, Jesus is not casting out demons by the power and authority of Satan.  That leaves only one source for his power – Jehovah! And if Jesus has this supernatural power and authority from God then he is indeed the Messiah.  

Matthew 12:27 – “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?  Therefore, they will be your judges.”

Apparently, there were some disciples of the Scribes and Pharisees that were also casting out demons.  So, if a man who casts out devils is in league with Satan, then by default the disciples of the religious leaders must also be in a league with the devil.  Ha!  We find that the religious leaders have ensnared themselves in their own trap!

Thus Jesus proves that the assertions of the Pharisees and Scribes are nothing more than lies, propagated by hatred and jealousy.

Matthew 12:28 – “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Jesus uses the present accusation to draw attention to a much larger issue – the kingdom of God has come.  Since Jesus was casting out demons by the supernatural power of God, he was the Messiah.  It was the will of God that the Messiah would come to bring salvation and reestablish his kingdom on earth among men.

By rejecting him as Messiah, the Jewish leaders have rejected the glorious salvation that God had prepared for them from before the foundations of the world! They are ungratefully and spitefully rejecting the very thing they have been waiting hundreds of years to get!

This is an awful tragedy, wouldn’t you agree?  Hmmm… before we move on, perhaps we should look at this in light of our own spiritual lives.  I know that we have not rejected salvation, but is it possible that there other spiritual gifts that God has prepared for us, which we have not yet accepted?  The bible is very clear that God has other spiritual gifts (in addition to salvation) for each one of us.

1 Peter 4:10 – As every man has received a gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Has God given you the gift of encouragement, or teaching, or prophesy but you do not want to use that gift?  Have you considered that not using it is the same as rejecting it?

What are we afraid of?  Why do we hesitate to accept all that God has for us?  Remember, the body of Christ is a single unit.  So, if one person refuses to accept and operate in the gift God has given them, then the whole body will suffer.

Don’t be a Pharisee! Humbly accept what God has given you. Step out and answer the call. The church and the world both need the gift you have been given!

 If you are not sure what your gift is, then pray about it.  Paul encourages all believers to seek the gift of prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1), so that is a good place to begin.  God promises that if you seek, you will find!

Matthew 12:29 –“Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man?  Then indeed he may plunder his house.”

In this short parable, the strong man is Satan.  He has dominion over the earth (his house) because man gave it to him in the Garden of Eden.  The Messiah is the only one strong enough to bind Satan and restore men into the kingdom of heaven.  The concept of ‘plundering’ Satan’s house speaks of the final and complete victory of Jesus over the devil.

Matthew 12:30 – Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Notice what Jesus is establishing here – there is no neutral ground.  There are only two camps; God Almighty or the devil.  You have to choose which side you are on.

The Pharisees were not helping to gather in God’s harvest of souls, therefore, they were scattering or opposing God.

I know that we have all chosen to be in God’s kingdom.  But…what kind of kingdom workers are we?  If you fail to use your spiritual gift, are you helping or hindering God’s great harvest?

Matthew 12:31-32–Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

These two verses have caused a lot of consternation among Christians.  Let’s look at them together and see what we might discover.

Jesus speaks of ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’.  Remember that when these words were spoken, the old covenant (also known as the Law), was still in place.  This is what is being referred to when Jesus says ‘this age’.

If ‘this age’ was the old covenant, the ‘age to come’ refers to the new covenant of grace, which began when Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead. 

Before we talk about sin that cannot be forgiven (blasphemy), let’s establish that all other insults directed at Jesus could be forgiven.  And insult him they did!  As you recall, the religious leaders scorned his humble birth and his citizenship in Nazareth.  They falsely accused him of being a glutton, reviled him for eating with publicans and sinners, criticized him for not fasting and publicly denounced him for allegedly breaking the Sabbath.  The list goes on and on.  Again, the religious leaders can be forgiven for denouncing/rejecting Jesus, assuming they repent.

Now, what is the sin that cannot be forgiven?  The sin which the Pharisees were committing was that of denouncing/rejecting the Holy Spirit.  They were maliciously and stubbornly giving Satan credit for the miracles clearly performed by divine power.  In essence, they were alleging that the highest displays of God’s mercy and power were the work of the devil.  This is a direct insult to the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit by which Jesus performed his miracles.

Why is this transgression unforgivable, when all the rest can be atoned for?  It’s not because there is a defect or a lack in the work of Christ; it is because the Holy Spirit is the only one who can convict men of sin, and lead them to the blood of Jesus for forgiveness.  Thus, if they scorn the Holy Spirit, they are rejecting the only possible means of forgiveness of sin.  

The law is a powerful word from God.  The life of Jesus was a more powerful work; He was the Word incarnate.  The Holy Spirit is the most powerful work of all; it was by his power that Jesus was raised from the dead and it is He who convicts men of sin.  There is no greater or more powerful display of God yet to come to earth! No other path to salvation will be given!  Therefore, if men denounce the Holy Spirit, they have no door to salvation; they cannot be forgiven.

For those of us living in the age of grace, this means that we can be forgiven for any and every sin we commit, as long as we truly repent. There is nothing so bad that the blood of Christ cannot wash it white as snow (Isaiah 1:18), or cast it as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12).

To blaspheme the Holy Spirit one must reject the conviction he brings to bear on one’s heart.  By rejecting that call to repentance, we reject our only means of salvation and thus we cannot be forgiven.

So, if you are a Christian you do not need to be worried that you have committed the unpardonable sin of rejecting salvation.  Don’t let Satan put a spirit of fear into you; whatever you have done, ask Jesus to forgive you and he will!

Matthew 12:33 – Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.

Jesus and the religious leaders are once again in conflict.  Jesus says his works are of God, the Pharisees say his works are of the devil.  How can the common people know who to believe?

Jesus makes things very clear and simple by comparing a man to a tree. The man is the tree, his heart is like the roots, his words and conduct are the fruit. Thus we find that if the root (heart) of a man is good, he will speak good things and do good works (produce good fruit).

Likewise, if his root (heart) is evil, he will speak evil things and do wicked works (produce bad fruit).

So take a good look at both Jesus and the Pharisees. 

Jesus’ entire ministry has been to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, to heal all those who came to him, to cast out demons and to feed the crowds both physical and spiritual food.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, have exhibited pride, bitterness and envy over Jesus ministry.  Their words and actions have been consistently corrupt, even to the point of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. 

It should be easy for the common people to decide who to follow. 

This same truth is still applicable today.  We too can look at a person’s actions and words to gain understanding of what is in their heart.

Matthew 12:34-35 –You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?  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 his evil treasure brings forth evil.

Again, we are told that wicked words and sinful actions spring from a heart of evil. 

Holy words and good deeds spring from a heart that is righteous.

Notice that Jesus is not speaking out of anger or hate; he is merely declaring the true character of the religious leaders. Even in this present day we can discern the character of a person by examining their words and deeds. 

Matthew 12:36-37 – I tell you, on the day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

What is an idle or careless word?  This refers to speech that is vain or useless; words that accomplish no good.  It also includes words that are false, malicious, injurious or otherwise wicked. This was the character of the Pharisees speech when they accused Jesus of casting our devils by the power of Beelzebub.

Before we point fingers and shame the Pharisees, we need to understand that we too are guilty of sinning with our speech.  Consider this:

Jesus is telling us that God takes notice of every word we say, even when we pay no attention.

How often do we speak without thinking?  Social media has created a platform where people can tell the whole world anything that they think or feel, the moment they think or feel it, without any buffer.  As a result, we find mass quantities of idle, frivolous, careless speech at work in the lives of people every day. 

Again, take note:  If your speech is not profitable, that is, if it does not edify, instruct or lift up, then it is idle.  And while we can and should keep a watch on our lips, we also need to check our hearts.  We need to get a handle on our personal holiness.  If our heart is clean, our speech will be too.

Psalms 139:4 – Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

Not only does God take notice of every word we speak, he is displeased with talk that is vain, idle or trifling.  This includes words that are coarse, vulgar, scornful and rebellious.

Ephesians 5:4 – Let there be no filthiness, or foolish talk, nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Not to beat the dead horse here, but Jesus just told the Pharisees this:  ‘For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’.  Think back over today and yesterday.  Can you assess the words that came out of your mouth?  What conclusions can you draw about your heart based on the words you spoke?

Are our words really that important?  The bible says they are:

Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those that love it will eat its fruits.   

It doesn’t take much thought to realize that our words should be closely supervised!  My guess is that we can ALL be better stewards of our lips.

So let me offer you some encouragement: Jesus says that no house divided against itself will fall.  The opposite must also be true – if a house is united, it will stand.  Is your house a Christian one?  Are you and your spouse both believers?  If so, I would strongly encourage you to study the word and pray together.  It will bring you closer together and strengthen your marriage bond.  

I also encourage you to take time and decide in advance how to handle your finances or how to address issues with your kids.  Tough times will still come, but you will have so much more strength and peace in the midst of the storm if you are united in your decisions.

Let me offer you some relief:  In this lesson, we noted that the religious leaders rejected the gift of salvation that God had prepared for them before the world began.  How tragic!  Yet, at the same time, God has prepared spiritual gifts for each one of us.  If we fail to use them, it is the same as rejecting them!

You don’t need to be afraid to use your spiritual gifts.  I guarantee that you will make mistakes as you learn to walk in the gifts the Holy Spirit has placed within you.  But let me relieve some of your fears – it’s okay to make mistakes!  Speak to a spiritual mentor and be open to advice on how to correctly begin to walk in the gifts of the Spirit.  That way, you don’t need to be afraid to walk in them, and others don’t need to be afraid of what you might do!

Let me offer you some strength:  Our words and speech play a very significant role not only our lives, but the lives of those around us.  They can be a witness for Christ, or they can work for the devil.  Without doubt, it takes commitment to correctly steward the things that come out of our mouths.  But don’t be discouraged; start small.  Begin by reading and meditating on the scriptures that deal with your tongue.  Make one small change at a time, and don’t give up.  God will grant you the strength to win the battle of the tongue!

Matthew Chapter 12, Part 1

Matthew 12:1 – At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath.  His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.

In chapter 12, we find a series of incidents that show the growing bitterness and antagonism of the religious leaders against Jesus.  Sadly, those who were the guardians of the old covenant refused to embrace the new and better covenant that God wanted them to experience.

The chapter begins with two narratives that both center on the Sabbath. The first begins with Jesus and his disciples walking through a field, eating some grain.

This same narrative is found in Luke chapter 6.  Luke tells us that this particular Sabbath was between Passover and the Feast of Pentecost.  This means the time frame is somewhere between the end of the wheat harvest and the beginning of the barley harvest.  The grain most likely referenced here is barley, even though your translation may say ‘corn’.

Matthew 12:2 – But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”

First, take note of the true complaint of the Pharisees.  The contention raged around the Sabbath, not the barley.  It was not against the law to eat a handful of someone else’s grain:

Deuteronomy 23:25 – If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain. 

At this point, we need to stop and make a distinction between the Law and the tradition of the elders. 

The Law was the covenant given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. It included the 10 commandments as well as other laws regarding property, marriage, individual rights, punitive damages, etc. ‘Keeping the Sabbath’ was one of the 10 commandments. It meant that you had to rest from regular work on that day and meditate on God.

The tradition of the elders was NOT law. It was a set of rules that the elders developed over time. These man-made rules were stricter than the actual law. The original intent of these rules was to stop you from crossing the line into actual sin. The problem is that the religious leaders became fanatical about these regulations. Eventually, they considered them to be more important than the law they were supposed to protect!

In this narrative, we find the Pharisees accusing Jesus and the disciples of reaping or working on the Sabbath, which was a sin according to the old covenant: 

Exodus 35:2 – Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord.  Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.

When we think of ‘reaping’ in context of the Old Testament, what comes to mind?  The work of reaping the barley (or any other grain) began at sun up, continued through the heat of the day, and ended only at dark.  This went on 6 days a week, until the harvest was all gathered.  It was a backbreaking process that started with taking a scythe or sickle and using your whole upper body to slash the stalks down. 

Then other people would bend down, pick the stalks up, and lean them together to dry. (How would you like to do that all day long?)

Eventually, the stalks must be transported to the threshing floor, where an ox and a sled were used to separate the grain from the stalk.  Then, someone would use a kind of pitchfork to throw the stuff up into the air, where the chaff would blow away and the grain would fall into a pile.  Finally, it was gathered up and stored for the winter months. 

So let me ask you – does that sound like work?  It sure does to me!  I bet I would be exhausted after about 30 minutes of that!

Let’s compare that process to what Jesus and the disciples did.  They walked into someone’s field, picked off a few heads of grain in their hand, rubbed them together to remove the outer shell, and popped them into their mouths for a quick lunch.  The whole event probably lasted less than 15 minutes, and I seriously doubt that any of them even broke a sweat.

So, we find that Jesus DID NOT break the Sabbath law given by God.  He ignored the tradition of the elders, which was never a real law in the first place.  The accusations of the Pharisees were false.

Jesus and his disciples were just eating a quick, much needed lunch.  By this time in his ministry, people were no doubt closely following Jesus wherever he went.  Great crowds were coming to him all day long looking for healing and deliverance.  There was no time for Jesus and the disciples to even pack a lunch, much less sit down for a meal.  Hence, they were grabbing a handful of barley in order to keep up their strength and continue ministering to the people.

Matthew 12:3-4 – He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:  how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?”

The tradition of the elders had gone way beyond the extent of the Law.  This was the case with most of the traditions; they had become a serious burden and a snare to the Jewish people.

Jesus has a lot to say about these traditions throughout his ministry on earth.  In this instance, he is going to denounce the tradition and show the Pharisees that the Law allows works of necessity and works of mercy to occur on the Sabbath day. 

How will Jesus prove to the religious leaders that the law allowed works of necessity and mercy on the Sabbath?  By using scriptural precedents!  Jesus begins with David in 1 Samuel 21. Let’s review the situation:

David is married to King Saul’s daughter Michael, and they live in the palace.  David is serving in the army, even though he has already been anointed as the next king.  Through his friend Jonathan, he discovers that King Saul is coming to kill him, so he immediately flees.  In his haste, he left with nothing – no weapons, no clothes, no food.  He seeks help at the tabernacle from Ahimelech the priest. 

When David asks the priest for a sword, the priest gives him the sword of Goliath (which was David’s anyway.  The priest was just holding it for him).

When David asks the priest for food, the priest says that there is nothing available, except the bread from the table of showbread also called the bread of Presence. 

This bread actually consisted of 12 loaves (one for each of the tribes of Israel), which were baked once a week and set on the table of showbread, in the Holy Place.  When the new bread was brought in, the week-old bread was given to the priests for food.  It was to be eaten only by them, and it had to be eaten in a holy place.  

But the priest, seeing David’s necessity, gave him the bread.

Do you see the comparison between David and Jesus?

  • David has been anointed as king, but is not yet serving in that capacity.  Jesus is the same.
  • Those with David are hungry; they have set upon an urgent mission without taking time to pack food.  Jesus and his followers are also on an urgent mission – to spread the gospel – and did not take time to pack food.
  • Saul and Doeg the Edomite were anxiously looking for David to condemn him.  Likewise, the Pharisees were looking for reasons to condemn Jesus and the disciples. 

If only the Pharisees had been looking at the disciples needs instead of their faults!  They could have blessed the disciples by providing food for them.  They missed an opportunity to meet a need/do a good work because they were focused on their own man-made traditions.

My point is that through scriptural precedent Jesus is proving that Sabbath observance must bend to personal necessities.  

Matthew 12:5 – “Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?”

Jesus does not rest his case on a single event, he now gives another instance where works of necessity are performed on the Sabbath.  As a side note, did you notice that the Pharisees offered no scriptural basis for their traditions? 

When the Sabbath rolled around, the priests did not get the day off. In fact, they had more work to do on that day than any other because additional lambs were sacrificed on the Sabbath. (See Numbers 28:9-10)

Think about the job of the priests.  They had to slaughter multiple animals, drain out the blood, skin them, gut them, cut them up, build a fire on the brazen altar and offer the sacrifice.  Blood had to be sprinkled on the altar.  Ashes had to be gathered and removed.  They also had to bake the fresh bread for the table of showbread, fill and light the lamp stand and offer incense, etc.  Sounds to me like a lot of hard work.

Yet, this was not considered breaking the Sabbath.  Why?

Because it was done in the temple, as part of divine service.  The sanctity of the temple and its service exempted it from the operation of the law.  God not only permitted this work, but he directed it. Clearly, all work was not unlawful on the Sabbath.

So, what Jesus and his disciples did (eating the grain) was not only acceptable because they were in need, but also because they were engaged in divine service – the preaching of the Kingdom of Heaven to sinners. 

Jesus concludes his case with a slam dunk closing argument:

Matthew 12:6 – “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.”

The Pharisees delighted in the temple and in its rituals.  What they failed to realize was that Jesus the Messiah was the fulfillment of all that the temple stood for.  As John the Baptist so clearly pointed out, he was the Lamb of God sent to take away the sins of the world!  Not only is he the Lamb of God, he is Lord of the Sabbath! (See verse 8).

If the Lord of the Sabbath (the One who was the very fulfillment of all temple service), sanctioned the activities of the disciples, who were the Pharisees to question it?

Jesus rebukes the religious leaders who had rejected him as Lord and Messiah.

Matthew 12:7-8 – “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus now gets to the root of the problem, which is the hearts of the Pharisees.  If they had grasped the true meaning of the religion they professed, they would have known that mercy and love were the true foundations of religion, not just ritual worship done for the sake of ritual.

If they operated under the guidelines of mercy and love, they would have seen the hunger of the disciples and responded to that need, assisting them in their labors for God.

Let me give you a ‘heads up’ here:

I can tell you from first- hand experience that whenever you move out into ministry for God, you will find both disciples and Pharisees.

The disciples are the ones who see your vision.  They are the ones who understand how your ministry strengthens and encourages the body of Christ.  They see how the gospel touches the lives and hearts of lost or hurting people through your ministry.  They are happy to assist and partner with you to see people come into the Kingdom of Heaven.  They encourage, support and strengthen you along the way.

But, alas, there will also be Pharisees.  These are people who look for reasons to criticize your ministry.  They tell you how they could have done it so much better!  They never offer any tangible help, nor do they encourage or strengthen you in your labors.  In fact, they sometimes tell you how unqualified you are for the job you are doing! 

Don’t let the Pharisees influence you.  Stand firm, and continue to do as God has directed you to do, until he tells you to cease and desist.  He is the one we answer to!

Matthew 12:9-10 – He went on from there and entered their synagogue.  And a man was there with a withered hand.  And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

We began chapter 12 by saying that Jesus was going to denounce tradition and show the Pharisees that the Law allows works of necessity and works of mercy to occur on the Sabbath day. 

The last instance focused on ‘works of necessity’.  This narrative focuses on ‘works of mercy’. 

Jesus and his disciples have now entered into the synagogue.  Among the worshippers is a man with a withered hand.  It seems as though he had been purposely placed there by the Pharisees.

It’s a very strange and pathetic circumstance, if you think about it.  They are using this man as bait to try and draw out Christ’s compassion.  This means that they believed Jesus could to miracles and they want him to perform one, but not for confirmation of their faith or out of pity for the afflicted man.  They want to see the miracle in order to accuse Jesus of breaking the law (specifically working on the Sabbath).  Hatred and malignity become the motivations for seeing a miracle.  How weird is that? 

When religion ceases to be a matter of the heart and only exists for outward observance, absurdity and cruelty are the result.   It should be noted that the Pharisees are looking for material that they can use in a legal process before the local tribunal.  And once again, it is the tradition of the elders, not the actual law that a healing would have broken. 

Matthew 12:11-12 – He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!  So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Jesus appeals to their natural sense of compassion to confirm that works of mercy are permitted on the Sabbath. 

It was a regular and accepted practice among the Jews to rescue an animal that had fallen into a pit or a ditch on the Sabbath.  No one would have condemned them for doing so. 

Yet, human beings are much more valuable than animals! Humans are made in the image of God. Jesus came to suffer and die so that humans could become the sons and daughters of God and enjoy everlasting life with him.

Since a human being is infinitely more valuable than a sheep, how much more should we be assisting people in their time of need? Clearly, showing mercy or relieving the suffering of others did not violate the Sabbath rest.

Notice that Jesus does not say ‘it is lawful to heal’ on the Sabbath, but ‘it is lawful to do good’.  This widens the scope of his statement to cover an infinite number of good works, not just healing.   

Matthew 12:13 – Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.

Notice the perfection with which Jesus heals this man:  By healing him with just a word, both the Sabbath and the tradition of the elders remained unbroken.  The religious leaders are foiled in their attempt to bring legal charges against Jesus. 

At the same time, Jesus proves his divinity with this miracle.  Who but God could heal with just a word?  The mercy and power of God are both demonstrated, but they fell on the blind eyes of the Pharisees.  Rather than draw them to God, it hardened their hearts.  They left with more hostility than they came with. 

Matthew 12:14 – But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Here we find the most influential, educated religious leaders of the day actually plotting to kill someone.  Those who were up in arms over breaking the Sabbath seemed totally unfazed by the prospect of murder!

What happened?  How did these men find themselves in a position where they are literally fighting against God?

I think the roots of their unbelief lay in their pride.  The religious leaders were revered and respected by the rest of the Jews because they knew more about the covenant than anyone else.  After all, the covenant defined who they were as a people.  It gave them their national identity.  Yet, the leaders were poor stewards of the knowledge they had.  Instead of assisting the ‘ordinary’ Jews in understanding and obeying the covenant, they made it much harder for them to abide by the law.

Matthew 23:4 – They [the Scribes and Pharisees] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

Then, they portrayed themselves to be in a special class that was more spiritual and more holy because of their knowledge of the law.  By doing this, they increased their own power, influence and authority. They came to see themselves as actually being better than their fellow Jews. 

But then Jesus came along.  Ordinary citizens could hear and understand the word of God.  They marveled at the teaching of Jesus.  They saw miracles that testified that Jesus was the Messiah.  They no longer had any reason to hold the Pharisees in such high honor. 

So the Pharisees were losing popularity, honor, influence and power.  That caused their pride to rise up in rebellion.  Pride brought along some of its friends: envy and hatred.  Because they believed Jesus had caused them to lose what they held so dear, he became the object of their fury. 

They were so blinded by their pride and envy, they did not use their reason.  If they had objectively looked at the scriptures they were stewarding, they would have known that Jesus was the Christ.  Instead, they were looking for a way to kill him!   

Matthew 12:15-16– Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.  And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known.

Jesus did not withdraw out of fear.  He operated in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and he was just as courageous at the moment he withdrew as he was when he voluntarily presented himself to die.

He withdrew because his ‘hour had not yet come’.  Since Jesus still had a lot of work to accomplish before his death, he prudently withdrew, preserving his life for that further work. 

Even though Jesus withdrew from that place, he went to another district and preached the gospel there, healing all who needed it.  The religious leaders could not stop the gospel message. 

Matthew 12:17-18 – This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:  “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.  I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

Verses 17 through 21 are a translation or declaration of Isaiah 42:1-4.  Matthew does not quote that scripture verbatim, but he captures the essence or intent of the verses. Please read the actual scripture, if you wish.

Keep in mind that the Pharisees (and indeed many of the disciples at first) were expecting the Messiah to come and reveal himself as a conquering hero.  They expected him to come, raise an army, attack the Romans and set up his kingdom.  While it is true that Jesus will someday return to earth to set up his kingdom, that is still a future event. 

His first coming was as a servant.  He is called the Lord’s servant because he took upon himself the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, for the sake of our salvation.  

Philippians 2:7-8 – …but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

In being a servant, he brings forth justice to all men, even the Gentiles.  The word for ‘justice’ means law, commands, doctrine or truth.  Here it is understood to mean that Jesus would reveal the gospel or the full truth of the new dispensation to all men, Jews and Gentiles alike.  

Matthew 12:19-21 – He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

These two verses find their fulfillment in the events of this narrative about the man with the withered hand.  Jesus did not quarrel or strive with the Pharisees; he meekly silenced them then quietly withdrew from their presence.  Unlike the Pharisees, he does not seek publicity or popularity but only to do the will of God.

The phrases ‘bruised reed’ and ‘smoldering wick’ are symbolic of weakness/feebleness/helplessness. The images show the gentleness with which Jesus brings the truth of the gospel into the hearts of his followers.  He is not proud, unforgiving or cruel, like the religious leaders.  He is not harsh or unkind.  Rather, he gives strength, healing and pardon, both in the physical and spiritual realms.  He will take time to flame the smallest ember of holiness into a blaze, using the oil of grace.

Rest assured – he will be victorious in bringing the truth of the gospel message to the earth.  The gospel will never be vanquished or subdued, no matter who or what fights against it for Jesus will conquer!

So let me offer you some encouragement: The Pharisees were hyper-vigilant in looking for things they should not do.  I imagine they had giant scrolls full of things that were prohibited, because they considered them sinful.  While it is true that we ‘commit’ sins, the bible tells us that we also ‘omit’ sins.  That means if we see some good work that needs to be done and we ignore it, we are sinning!

James 4:17 – Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin.   

How often do we go about our business never paying any attention to those around us?  Worse yet, how many people (besides me) have purposely walked through the store or the park with their head down because they didn’t want to see or notice or speak to anyone around them?  I encourage all of us to begin noticing those around us and to begin looking for opportunities to strengthen and give hope to others.

Let me offer you some relief:  In this passage, Jesus talks about sheep.  He goes on to say, “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!”  I want you to understand that you are incredibly valuable in God’s sight.  Furthermore, your value is not based on what you have accomplished for God, or how many/few sins you have committed. 

Therefore, your value does not increase if you do more good works and it does not decrease when you make a mistake.  Your value is based on the simple fact that God made you, and he loves you.  So breathe a sigh of relief.  You don’t have to ‘perform’ well in order to be valuable to God!

Let me offer you some strength:  Sometimes it seems as though our world is filled with all manner of drama and chaos like lethal flu viruses, plunging stock markets, job losses and ugly political antics.  Sometimes we get weary of it all.  But don’t lose hope.  No matter what opposition or chaos the enemy brings to our door, he has no real power over us because Jesus is our refuge and strength during times of trouble!

Psalm 46:1-2 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear [even] though the earth gives way…