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…

Matthew, Chapter 11

Matthew 11:1 – When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

Having finished his instructions to his followers, Jesus sent them to teach in Judea, while he continues to preach in Galilee. It’s comforting to know that Jesus does not sit in idle luxury while sending us out to do his work.  Instead, he invites us to partner with him.  We have the opportunity to share in his toil, trials and tribulations, but also his glory when he finally assumes Lordship over all things. 

Matthew 11:2-3 – Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

We are going to look at John’s imprisonment very soon (Matthew chapter 14), but since it is mentioned here, let’s briefly review what has happened so far.  Herod the tetrarch had decided to ‘take’ or marry his brother Philip’s wife.  John spoke out against this situation, basically telling Herod it was a sin.  Because of this, Herod had John arrested and put in prison.  His original intent was to kill him, but he feared the masses of people, who respected John as a prophet.  So at the time of Matthew 11, John the Baptist is languishing in prison.

John the Baptist was imprisoned for calling out the sin of Herod

Now, we know from earlier scriptures that John the Baptist recognized Jesus as being the Messiah. 

John 1:29 –The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

In light of that, how do we explain John’s actions?  Why would he, from his prison cell, send his followers to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah?

One opinion is that John is looking for confirmation of Messiah’s physical kingdom coming to earth.  Part of the Jews understanding of the coming of the Messiah was that the Messiah would set up a literal kingdom on earth.  At the same time, their enemies would be defeated and they would be vindicated for their belief in the true God. 

While these are true beliefs/expectations, the Jews of Jesus day did not understand that the coming of the Messiah and his literal reign on earth would be separated by hundreds and hundreds of years.  To be fair, we would not have understood that either.  Prophesy is always easy to understand once it has become history!  Anyway, some people speculate that John was asking if the Romans were soon to be overthrown.

Another possibility is that John was trying to transition his disciples into disciples of Christ.  Remember John’s miraculous birth?  The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and prophesied that John would be a great prophet, turning the Jewish people back to God.  Eventually, John began to preach that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  He called the people to repentance, and baptized whole crowds of Jews.  His ministry was huge!

We can easily see how he would have many devoted disciples, who would be hesitant to leave him, even when he told them to follow Christ.  Obviously, this is going to be a problem.  John will soon be dead, and if these followers do not accept Jesus as Messiah, they are in great danger of falling from the faith and rejecting salvation.  So, by sending his followers to Jesus, John was making a last-ditch effort to satisfy them that Jesus was the Messiah.  He hopes they will now switch their allegiance to Jesus. 

In a way, this incident speaks to modern day Christians.  We must place our trust in Christ (our bridegroom), not a particular minister or evangelist (friends of the bridegroom).  Men may die or fail, and if we have placed more trust in them than in God, we will be in danger of falling away from the faith.  It is okay to be fed by a ministry, but make sure you are firmly rooted and grounded in Christ.

In a way, this incident speaks to modern day Christians.  We must place our trust in Christ (our bridegroom), not a particular minister or evangelist (friends of the bridegroom).  Men may die or fail, and if we have placed more trust in them than in God, we will be in danger of falling away from the faith.  It is okay to be fed by a ministry, but make sure you are firmly rooted and grounded in Christ.

Do you ever wonder why Jesus seems to give an indirect answer to this question?  Why didn’t he just say “Yes, I am the Messiah”, and leave it at that?  Why point to the works he was accomplishing?

Remember, we are looking at the situation from a different perspective.  In our minds, there can be no question that Jesus was the Messiah.  However, the Jews were not so sure, especially at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Back in that day, other men had already come forward claiming to be the Christ.

Acts 5:35-37  – And [Gamaliel] said unto them, You men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do concerning these men.  For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and came to nothing. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.

These verses show that there had been several antichrists who tried to get the Jewish people to follow after them before Jesus came into ministry.

So at this point, there was no way that a simple verbal claim would convince the Jews. They needed proof before they would accept that Jesus was the ‘one who was to come’.   His must be able to fulfill all of the messianic prophesies of the covenant (Old Testament). 

Did he?  What did the evidence show?

Isaiah 35:5-6 – Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

Isaiah 61:1 – The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…

Here we have two very well-known messianic prophesies from the book of Isaiah.  There are many more throughout the old covenant.  It’s easy to see that the miracles of Jesus were a fulfillment of these prophesies.

So, by answering the question of John’s disciples in this manner, Jesus gives them (and everyone else!) clear, unambiguous proof that he is the Christ.  The scope and magnitude of Jesus’ miracles was a much better witness than just a verbal ‘yes’ would have been. 

It is interesting to consider that the physical miracles of Jesus were symbolic of what he would do in the spiritual realm after his resurrection.

  • The Blind: Sinners are spiritually blind.  Before Christ, our understanding is so darkened by sin that we cannot know truth or comprehend the ways of salvation.  
  • The Lame:  Sinners are unable to walk in the paths of righteousness.  We will always turn to the right or the left seeking the wide road of sin, unless we walk with Christ.
  • The Lepers:  Spiritually speaking, fallen man is like a leper.  His soul is defiled with sin, which results in death.  Just as man had no cure for leprosy, he has no cure for sin apart from Christ.
  • The Deaf:  Sinners are deaf to the voice of God, the truth of his word and our own consciences.  Only when we are his sheep can we hear his voice.  
  • The Dead:  Man is dead in trespasses and sin. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can reunite us with God, who is the source of all life.

Matthew 11:6 – “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

The word ‘offended’ means stumbling block.  This verse could be correctly translated ‘Happy is he to whom I shall not prove a stumbling block’. 

The Jews should have been able to look objectively at the Old Testament scriptures and see that Jesus fulfilled them, hence, he was the Messiah.  But as we know, not all of them came to that conclusion.  Why not?

The answer is that the Jews were not just judging by the facts.  They were also judging by their own opinions and traditions. 

Since the Messiah would be a king, the Jews felt he would be rich and powerful, just like other earthly kings.  When Jesus came he was neither rich nor influential; this caused the Jews to question his claim to be the Christ.

Likewise, since Jesus was despised and humiliated on the cross, he could not be the glorious triumphant Messiah he claimed to be.

The Jews believed that the Messiah would immediately set up his kingdom on earth.  Because Jesus did not form an army and overthrow the Romans, the Jews questioned his claim to be the Messiah.

Do you think that people today consider Jesus a stumbling block?  I think in many ways, they still do.

For example, people will claim that if God was real and loving, he would not allow poverty or child abuse or other bad things to happen.  These people are no different than the Pharisees – because God does not fit their opinion of what he should do or how he should govern the universe, they reject him. 

Here’s the part that can be really tough to swallow:  Even Christians can stumble and be offended at Jesus.  What if you prayed and asked God for something, but you didn’t get the answer you were expecting? 

Maybe you were asking him to heal your mom or dad from cancer, but it did not happen.  Maybe you asked him for material wealth, but you remained poor.  Maybe you asked him to give you relief from a bad situation, but you’re still in it.  I know it’s tough, but don’t be offended!  Stay in faith, believing that God has all things working together for your good, even if you cannot see it right now. Jesus says that you are blessed if you can do so!

Matthew 11:7 – As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?”

As John the Baptist’s disciples leave, Jesus now turns his attention to the Jewish crowds before him, who were probably listening to their conversation. 

Using John the Baptist as a starting point, Jesus is going to point out to the Jews that they have some serious flaws in their reasoning. 

The Jews cannot deny that they absolutely loved John the Baptist!  They flocked out to the wilderness in droves to hear him preach and to be baptized.  They considered him a true prophet of God.  Since this is the case, we would expect the people to believe the testimony of John, right?

Wrong – they don’t!  Despite the fact that John was very clear and emphatic that Jesus was the Messiah, the Jews still rejected Jesus as the Christ.  Although John never wavered from his witness, the Jews still did not believe.

John 1:6-7 – There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.

Hence, Jesus asks the crowd if they considered John a “reed shaken in the wind” or a man who was of an unsteady mind, declaring something to be true today and not true tomorrow. 

The obvious point is that the Jews can’t have it both ways – if they believe that John was sent by God, they must also believe that Jesus is the Messiah, because that was John’s testimony.  If they reject Jesus as the Messiah, they must also reject John’s ministry.  

Matthew 11:8 – “What then did you go out to see?  A man dressed in soft clothing?  Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in king’s houses.”

Jesus now inquires why else they might have gone out to see John.  Did they go all the way out in the wilderness to see his fashionable, expensive clothing?  Obviously not, because those kinds of luxuries were only worn by kings and rich people. 

John was the opposite of a king– he lived a life of asceticism.  His clothing was made of camel hair with a leather girdle/belt.  His food was locusts and wild honey.

So…if the Jews did not go out to the wilderness to see John because of his fancy ways, why did they go out to see him?  Isn’t it true that they went to hear the message that God had given John?  If that was the case, then why are they rejecting the message God gave them concerning the Christ?  The Jews have no excuse for rejecting Jesus!

Matthew 11:9-10 – “What then did you go out to see?  A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’”

Jesus next asks if they went out to the wilderness to see a prophet.  The answer is yes; that is exactly what they went looking for, and they were not disappointed. 

But this particular prophet was a bit different from the rest.  He is the one spoken of in Malachi 3:1.  Prior prophets had the task of educating the Jews regarding the Messiah. John was the only prophet to actually see the Messiah and point him out!  He was the one who had the privilege of announcing Jesus to the world as “The Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sins of the World”.  What an honor!

Matthew 11:11 – Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist.  Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Jesus tells us that John was the greatest prophet.  This was because he knew and understood more about the Messiah than all the prophets who came before him.  But despite that, he was spiritually ignorant compared to any member of the kingdom of heaven. 

In these verses, the kingdom of heaven refers to the era of grace, which began with the death and resurrection of Christ.  This is the dispensation we currently live in.  Grace allows people to be completely and totally forgiven of sin, due to the shed blood of Christ.  Grace allows us unprecedented free access to the throne room of God.  In this dispensation the Holy Spirit literally indwells each believer.

In every way, the age of grace is far superior to the old covenant.  Thus, even the lowliest Christian is spiritually superior to John, the greatest prophet of the old covenant.  

Matthew 11:12 – From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

The original language gives us a picture of an army taking a city by storm, or a crowd bursting into a house.

People who realized they were sinners through the preaching of John the Baptist were filled with zeal and fervency.  This includes the tax collectors, harlots, heathen and all other sinners – people the Scribes and Pharisees think have no right to the kingdom!  Awakened by the Holy Spirit, these sinners storm into the kingdom of heaven eagerly seizing the mercy of God and accepting salvation.

It seems as though staying in the kingdom also requires some force/violence.  We must crucify our flesh, run our race, fight the good fight, renew our minds and take up our cross and follow Christ.  Clearly, salvation is not for the faint of heart!  Our task is made possible through Christ, who strengthens us to do all things as well as the indwelling Holy Spirit who leads, assists and protects us, until our course is finished and we enter his eternal rest.   

Matthew 11:13-15 – For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The expression “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” is a phrase that Jesus frequently uses.  It is a proverbial expression implying that the highest attention should be given to what was spoken.   We can be sure that Jesus is relaying a very significant truth here.

The phrase “if you are willing to accept it” is also significant.  It means that Jesus was telling the Jews something that was different from their common expectation.  It was something they never would have considered, and because it seemed so outlandish and contrary to their beliefs, they would be prone to rejecting it.

Pop Quiz:  What might the Jews find so hard to believe?

Answer:  The fact that John the Baptist was the ‘Elijah’ who was to come. 

Please reward yourself if you answered correctly!. 

The difficulty centers on a prophesy from Malachi:

Malachi 4:5 – Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 

If you heard this verse being prophesied, would you think it should be interpreted in a literal physical way, or in a spiritual way? 

The Jews felt that it should be interpreted as being a literal event.  They were literally looking for the ancient prophet Elijah to make a physical reappearance in Israel for the purpose of proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.  

But Jesus was trying to tell them that this should be taken in a spiritual sense.  The purpose of the prophet was to call attention to the coming of the Messiah and the new dispensation that he would usher in.  John the Baptist did these exact things as he preached repentance and baptized people in the wilderness, getting them ready to accept the new covenant. 

Therefore, John the Baptist was the Elijah spoken of in the book of Malachi. 

Matthew 11:16-17 – “But to what shall I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

Using an analogy, Jesus now reproves the unbelieving Jews for their actions.  He likens them to children playing a game in a public place.  When the flute was played, it signified a happy, fun time, like a festival or a wedding.  It would be natural for children to join in the fun by dancing, laughing, etc. 

In this case, since no one joined in with the happy singing, the musician switched over to playing a sad, mournful dirge, thinking that this would please the nonparticipants, and they would join in. 

But they did not.  Apparently, there was no way to please them; nothing that was done incited them to join in.

Matthew 11:18-19 – For John came neither eating or drinking and they say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.

Here we have the true meaning of the analogy.  John the Baptist was a Nazarene from birth.  This mean that he did not cut his hair, he did not drink wine, he abstained from certain foods and touching dead bodies.  As we have already mentioned, he lived an ascetic lifestyle – living alone, eating locusts and wearing camel’s hair clothes. 

He is the “mournful dirge’ of the analogy.  He ‘sang’ a message of repentance, but many of the Jews refused to join in.  They rejected his message. 

Then Jesus came.  He is the ‘happy flute’ of the analogy.  He came in a different manner.  He did not practice austerity, nor was he under a Nazarite vow.  He ate and drank the ordinary foods that everyone else ate.  He wore clothes similar to those around him.  He attended both weddings and festivals, yet the Jews rejected him as well! 

The Jews were like sullen children who could not be made happy, no matter what was offered to them.  Regardless of how the gospel was presented to them, they rejected it.

They have hardened their hearts against God just as surely as Pharaoh did.

Romans 2:4-5 – do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Had they broken a moral law, they would have a remedy – the gospel would have provided forgiveness with repentance. 

But what they have done is to sin against grace itself by rejecting it.  This is the most shameful, ungrateful thing they could possibly do.  They have chosen spiritual blindness, deafness and lameness, which will result in spiritual death.

Matthew 11:20 – Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.

What Jesus had just said in general regarding the current generation, he now applies to particular cities.  The main charge against them is the refusal to repent/rejection of the gospel message.

Matthew 11:21 – Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

Chorazin and Bethsaida were cities situated on the Sea of Galilee.  Both were rich and prosperous places.  Bethsaida had recently been advanced to a city by Philip the tetrarch.  Three of the apostles (Philip, Andrew and Peter) were from this area.

Tyre and Sidon were very old, very prosperous cities that were located on the Mediterranean Sea.  They were famous for trade, navigation, corrupt morals and debauchery.  The Jews long considered them as abominable and despicable despisers of God. 

But Jesus, who knows the hearts of all men, declares that if he had preached and worked miracles in Tyre and Sidon, they would have accepted the message and repented with expressions of deep sorrow (sackcloth and ashes).   Sadly, heathen cities would have gladly accepted the salvation rejected by Jesus’ own native land.

This shocking pronouncement should have been like a slap in the face to the unbelieving Jews.  It should have caused them to stop in their tracks and take a second look at their rejection of the gospel, but sadly, it did not. It seems to have further hardened their hearts!

Matthew 11:22 – But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

The bible is very plain that ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’.  Since the Jewish cities/people had heard the gospel message, seen the miracles of Jesus and been given a chance to repent, they will suffer greater judgment than the cities/people who did not have access to the same grace. 

Matthew 11:23-24 – And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven?  You will be brought down to Hades.  For if the mighty works done in you had been done is Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.

In this verse the word ‘Hades’ does not mean that all the people of Capernaum were going to hell.  Likewise, the use of the ‘heaven’ does not mean that all the people will go to heaven.

This verse says much the same thing as the one before it.  Capernaum was another materially prosperous city, but one which was also graced with the miracles, the preaching and the presence of Jesus the Messiah.  Because it rejected the gospel, it would be cast down to a state of desolation and destruction.

As we all know, Sodom was destroyed because of its great wickedness. 

Jesus tells us that if he had preached and done his miracles there, the people would have repented and the city would not have been destroyed. 

Most of us have read the account of Sodom’s judgment, when it was destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven.  Although the Day of Judgment for Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum is not covered in the biblical account, history tells us that all three were destroyed by the Romans.

Matthew 11:25-26 – At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

The use of the title ‘Lord of Heaven and Earth’ acknowledges God the Father’s absolute power to have done as he pleased.

Question:  Who are the wise and understanding? 

Answer:  This refers to the Scribes and Pharisees, who were the keepers of the law.  Even though they knew more about the law then ordinary citizens, they rejected the gospel message.  Instead, they decided they could save themselves by clinging onto the law and their own traditions.

Question:  In what way was the gospel hidden?

Answer:  It could not be understood and accepted through mere external revelation or teaching.  The Holy Spirit had to reveal it to the hearer’s heart, so that they could believe and embrace it.

Question:  Who are the ‘little children’?

Answer:  Ordinary people who were not extensively schooled in the law; people who were open to accepting the gospel. Eventually, this would include Gentiles.

Matthew 11:27 – All things have been handed over to me by my Father and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

God the Father has commissioned Jesus to mediate a new covenant between God and man.  His commission includes all power and authority on heaven and earth to make this happen.

Matthew 28:18 – And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”

It includes power over all flesh.

John 17:2 – As you have given him [Jesus] power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him.

Because of this, Jesus alone has the right to execute judgment.

John 5:22, 27 – For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son… and has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. 

So, God put literally everything into Jesus hands for the purpose of bringing us back to him.  Jesus brokered a deal between God and man, then paid the ultimate price – his own blood – to seal the covenant.  In light of that, how confident should we be in giving Jesus total control of our lives?  Why do we worry about the simple, mundane things of this life?  

In the book of Ephesians, Paul goes on to tell us that not only is Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, but he is the head of the church.  Since all power and authority have been given to him, we can be sure that the church will not fail.  Don’t be fooled by what you see in the world today; Jesus has already gained victory over Satan and he will assure our victory too.  In light of that, why not trust him to do what he is both willing and able to do in our lives?   

Is our tendency to worry and fret a sign of our unbelief?  I think it is. At least some of that unbelief can be cured by devoting more time to meditating and understanding the power and authority of Jesus.

He goes on to say that ‘no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son’.  This is a clear claim of equality with the Father.  Despite what the Pharisees believed, the divinity of Jesus is unquestionable.

This truth also teaches us that no man or angel or any other being can clearly and completely comprehend our infinite God; only Jesus can do that.  I am very glad to be serving a God who is so much bigger than anything I could imagine or think! 

Likewise, only the Father can fully comprehend the mystery of the divine and human natures of Jesus.  Thankfully, we don’t need to fully understand the Trinity in order to embrace and love him!  

Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

These verses can be understood to mean that the old covenant was a heavy burden, made even worse by the traditions of the elders and Pharisees.   By coming to Jesus, the Jews could remove these heavy burdens and instead take on the restful yoke of salvation.

In a wider sense, it refers to sin in general.  All of us are under the crushing guilt and burden of sin.  We could never remove the yoke ourselves.  But Jesus, the one who mediated the covenant, is standing near offering us rest, if only we will accept the terms of the covenant he offers. 

Notice that Jesus does not offer us freedom from all yokes; he requires to replace our former yoke with his.

When we accept his offer/yoke of salvation, we need to embrace all that this requires.  We need to submit to his ruler ship.  We are to renew our minds, mature in our personal holiness, love others and fellowship with him.  Jesus was obedient to his Father, we need to be obedient to Jesus.

In the original Greek, the word for ‘easy’ actually means ‘easy or gracious’.  The yoke of Christ does not drag us down, hurt us or fill us with despair.  It is pleasant, refreshing, and fulfilling.  It is immersed in love and it always results in blessing for us.  

Let me offer you a little encouragement: Keep your eyes on Christ, not on people.  We certainly look to the shepherds that Christ has put in our midst to lead and guide us.  We certainly look to other Christians for support.  We can certainly be inspired by large, public ministries that operate on God’s behalf.  But we should never have blind trust in anyone except God.  Men and women will stumble and fall.  If we are too heavily invested in a person or a ministry instead of God, we will stumble when they fail.  Let’s remember the example of John and his disciples.  Let’s keep our eyes on Christ.

 Let me offer you a little relief:  Have you accepted the yoke of Jesus (salvation) but you still want to carry around the burdens of your life?  Are you still worried about the coronavirus or the stock market or rumors of wars in the earth?  Are you still worried about your job or your retirement account? 

If so, then you need to go back and remind yourself whose yoke you are under.  Jesus is the grand architect of salvation.  He is the one who mediated the agreement.  He is the one who sealed that deal with his own blood.  God has given him all power and all authority to do this job.  Jesus is also the head of the church and he will use all his power and authority to make us victorious.  If you can’t trust Jesus with your day-to-day problems, then who can you trust?  Give yourself some relief – cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you!

Let me give you some strength:  Jesus says we are blessed if we are not offended by him.  You and I have a very, very limited perspective of our own lives and the lives of those we love.  God, however, sees the entire picture of your life.  He knows how each situation not only impacts you, but interacts and causes changes in the lives of others.  We need to strengthen our faith and trust that God is using everything in our lives to bring about his highest and best will for us.  If we believe this is the case, we can have strength when things don’t go the way we planned.  

Matthew, Chapter 10, Part 2

Matthew 10:26 – “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”

Jesus is still giving instructions to his disciples, as he sends them out in pairs to preach the Kingdom of Heaven to the Jews. 

Jesus has revealed to them that there will be many who will listen to the gospel, but there will also be those who despise and reject it.  The disciples will suffer persecution for the sake of the gospel.

What is the thing that is hidden and that is going to be known or revealed?  Some scholars believe it refers to the persecution of the apostles.  The idea is that the apostles are not to fear those who persecute them, because God sees and knows all things.  He will be the judge of every man’s work, even things done in secret.  God is comforting his servants with the knowledge that he already knows what they will suffer and the evil done to them for his sake will be judged.  God has already expressed the same thought back in the Old Covenant:

Ecclesiastes 12:14 – For God shall bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

Another point of view is that the hidden thing refers to the gospel.  At this point, it is hidden or not widely known because Jesus is the only one revealing it.  However, the apostles will soon be out preaching the message as well.  Eventually, after the day of Pentecost, the message will explode into the world.

Both points of view could be correct, however, the covering and revealing of the gospel message might be the most appropriate interpretation, considering the next few verses.

Matthew 10:27 – “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single reason why I would want to get up on the roof of my house.  It is hot, the shingles are very scratchy, and the pitch of the roof is steep.  If I fell off, the result would be injury or possibly death. 

However, in Judea the roofs were (and still are) useful living space.  They were flat with a railing around them.  People used them for a variety of reasons:

In Joshua 2:6 we find Rahab using her flat roof to help the two spies of Israel.  She hid them on the roof, covering them with some flax that she had been drying there.

2 Samuel 11:2 tells us that king David was walking on the roof of his palace when he saw Bathsheba taking a bath (She too was probably on a roof). 

Sadly, some Jews had altars of Baal or other foreign gods on their roofs, and they would offer sacrifices on them (Jeremiah 32:29). 

Roof tops were used for public announcements.

Roof tops were also used for public announcements, prayer, meditation and whatever else the homeowner needed. This is what Jesus is referring to when he tells the disciples to publicly proclaim the gospel message from the roof tops. 

The point is that the gospel is not to remain a secret, but it is to be broadcast far and wide.  This mandate was not just for the apostles.  It was passed onto us when Jesus returned to heaven.

Mark 16:15 – And he [Jesus] said unto them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

We too are to broadcast the message of the gospel far and wide.  While radio, television and computers have made this far easier, we still have a personal responsibility to share the gospel with those we know.

Matthew 10:28 – “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Well, there is certainly a lot going on in this verse. 

Point #1: Jesus confirms for us that there is a difference between the body and the soul.  The body is for this physical world.  If it dies, your soul (and spirit) do not die with it.  Rather, the soul and spirit are released from the dead physical body and they continue on in eternal existence.

Point #2:  Man (in this case those opposed to the gospel message), have a very limited authority over other men (in this case believers).  It is possible for them to persecute and even kill believers.  But their authority is limited to abuse of the physical body.  They have no power or authority over any man’s soul and spirit.  Only God has the power and authority to grant eternal life or eternal torment.

Based on these facts, who should we fear?  Who should we respect and obey?  Man, who is evil and limited in what he can do to your physical body, or God, who is good and provides eternal life for your soul and spirit?  Remember, the bible also tells us that God will give us a new body for eternity – one that does not age, get sick, experience pain or have any defects.  I am looking forward to eventually getting mine!

In this verse, Jesus is giving comfort and strength to his followers.  He is warning them that they may be called upon to sacrifice their lives for him, but in the midst of that, they should keep their focus on eternity, not this world. Ultimately, we can serve only one master.  Will it be the temporary powers of this world or will it be the God of the universe?

Matthew 10:29-31 – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

If you think about it, the apostles have just been given some harsh news.  They are to go out and spread the gospel.  While there will be many who will welcome the message, there will also be conflict.  This conflict will result in persecution, even to death.  But they are not to back down, for God is the judge not only of the body but of the soul and spirit; he can send men to eternal torment.

At this point, could the apostles be wondering what they had gotten themselves into?  Could they be feeling uneasy, caught between a rock and a hard place?  Are they wondering what kind of master God really is?

They do not need to wonder; Jesus now tenderly explains to them just how much God loves them.

Let’s suppose you have a friend who has a Rolls Royce Sweptail.  At the time of this writing, that particular automobile is the most expensive car in the world with a price tag of $13,000,000.00.  You meet your friend in his garage to see the car.

When you arrive, you are surprised to find an old Ford Pinto in the garage bay next to the Rolls.  You are even more surprised to find your friend wearing greasy coveralls, giving the Pinto a tune up.  He has already replaced some cracked hoses and changed the oil.  A new set of windshield wipers are also ready to be installed.

Consider this:  If your friend had love and value for the nearly worthless Pinto, how much more is he going to love and value the Rolls?

In the time of Christ, the cost of a sparrow was the equivalent of ¼ of one cent.  Four for  a penny.  Four hundred for a dollar!  That’s almost more insulting than being free.  So, the sparrow is like the Pinto.  Although it is not the most valuable thing his creation, God still loves and takes care of it.  He provides it with food, water and a mate.  He endows it with survival instincts, like how to build a nest and a fear of predators.  He also knows when one of them meets death, whether from disease or predators or cold weather or old age.   Not only does he know, but he is actively present.  That’s right – reread the words of Jesus again – ‘Not one of them falls to the ground APART from your Father’.  God is there when each sparrow dies.

You, dear reader, are like the Rolls!  God paid the very highest price for you – the blood of his own Son.  You are created in his image.  You are his son/daughter, and a co-heir with Jesus Christ.  You are a priest in God’s kingdom.  You will rule and reign with him in the next life.  The list of your ‘amenities’ goes on and on.  If God is so committed to taking care of the sparrow that he is actively present when one of them dies, how much more is he going to take care of you?  How much more will he be actively present to comfort and strengthen you as you transition from this life to eternity with Him?

Hmmm… all of a sudden, death doesn’t seem so scary anymore.  When we realize how much God loves us and that he (and he alone) is in control of our transition from this life to the next, our fear of man and what he can do to us greatly diminishes.  Now we are free to keep our eyes focused on our loving Father and the race he has set before each one of us.

Matthew 10:32-33 – “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in haven, but whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven”

Many years ago, when I was in middle school, I remember being in a line with my classmates in a hallway.  Somehow, the conversation turned to religion and I was ridiculed for being a Christian.  I would like to say that I stood up and refuted all their insults with scripture, but I didn’t.  I distinctly remember being embarrassed and not saying a word, hoping that the teacher would come quickly and lead us to the next class so my humiliation would end. 

I’ve never forgotten that, and for a long time, I felt guilty about it.  In my mind, I had denied Christ and I was worried about it.  Perhaps you may have had some similar experiences and feelings.  There is good news for both of us – we are not the only ones to do this!  As you recall, the apostle Peter also denied Jesus.

Luke 22:60-61 – But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.”  And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”

Thankfully, we see the end of Peter’s story and we know that Jesus forgave him, and restored him to a place of ministry.   I believe Jesus has also forgiven you and me. 

But there is still a question to be addressed here:  What does it mean to deny Christ in such a manner that he would deny us before God the Father?

In the original text, the word for ‘acknowledge’ can also be translated ‘confess’ or ‘profess’.  We confess/profess Jesus in many ways.  The most profound of these is our conduct.  Do we live our everyday lives in such a manner that others can see we belong to Jesus?  Are we honest, loving, patient and kind?  Do we exercise control over what we watch, what we read and what we wear? Are the places we go and the things we do pointing to Jesus or away from him?  Are we living examples of Biblical principles? 

As someone once asked, ‘If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence of convict you?’

If you can answer ‘yes’ to that question, then you are professing/confessing Christ with your conduct.  If no one can tell you are a Christian from your lifestyle, then you are denying him. 

Certainly, we confess/profess Christ with our mouths.  While this obviously includes proclaiming him as Lord and Savior, it involves more than just that.  For instance, is our everyday conversation sprinkled with cursing and bitterness?  Do we use our tongues to complain, to find fault, to accuse, to belittle, to stir up drama or otherwise bring death to the people we speak with?  If so, then you are denying Christ with your mouth. 

On the other hand, you can use your mouth to encourage people, to console those who are hurting, and bring joy to those around you. 

You can use your mouth to give praise and worship to God.  You can keep your speech pure and positive.  If you are doing these types of things, you are confession/professing Christ with your mouth.

Finally, we confess/profess Christ by submitting to his authority over us in all things.  If he calls us to be single or married, rich or poor, etc, we need to embrace what he has called us to be and to do.  In so doing, we profess/confess his lordship over our lives.  And if we confess him before men in this life, Jesus will confess us before his Father in heaven!

Matthew 10:34-36 – Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

What does it mean to bring a ‘sword’?  A sword is an instrument of death; to send a sword is to produce hostility and war.  This seems like a strange statement, especially since the scriptures clearly described Jesus as the Prince of Peace:

Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

What is the correct understanding of these verses? 

Hostility and discord were not the reasons Jesus came to earth, they were the effects of his coming.   If part of a family opposed the gospel, they would set themselves against the part of the family who accepted the gospel.  The result would be hostility/war between the family members.  Clearly, the wickedness of men, not the good news of the gospel, is the cause of this hostility and contention.  Wherever the gospel is preached, Satan will incite wicked men to oppose it.  This was prophesied long ago by Micah:

Micah 7:5-6 – Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms, for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

If only all men would accept the gospel message, then there would be peace and not contention!

Matthew 10:37 – “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

God is the one who created families in the first place, when he created Eve as a partner for Adam.  He is not telling us to abandon our natural affection for our family.

What he is saying is that our first and foremost devotion must always be to God.  If it comes down to following/choosing our parents or following/choosing Christ, then we must break off the bonds of family and cling to Jesus.

If we love our families more than Christ, we are not worthy to be his disciple. 

Matthew 10:38-39 – “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

In Roman times, people who were sentenced to be crucified were forced to carry their own cross to the place of crucifixion.  (The Romans were masters of cruelty, were they not?)   

The cross was an instrument of death; to carry it was burdensome and disgraceful. 

Jesus uses this figurative expression to tell his followers that we must endure whatever is burdensome or trying or considered disgraceful in following Christ.  Basically we are to simply do our Christian duty and to adhere to the race that God has set before us, even if it entails shame, disgrace or pain. 

If we do so, we can be assured that we will find life, not lose it.  The word ‘life’ is used in two senses in verse 39.  So let’s clarify:  The believer who is anxious to save their temporal life (comfort, acceptance and security on earth), shall do so only by forfeiting eternal life (life in heaven).  The person who is willing to risk or lose his comfort, acceptance and life here on earth for Jesus sake, shall find everlasting life in the next world. 

Matthew 10:40-42 – “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.  The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person, will receive a righteous person’s reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

These three verses are closely connected, so we will examine them together. 

Remember that at the beginning of this chapter, Jesus had instructed the apostles to go out and preach the gospel.  They were not to take any extra money or supplies, rather they were to find a house that was worthy and stay there until they left the city. 

In these last three verses, Jesus is giving them a kind of credit card.  Whatever food, kindness, provision or hospitality the apostles were given, Jesus would consider that it was done to him.   Therefore, those who provided for the apostles would be rewarded by God.

Eventually, when our study takes us to chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel, we will see Jesus declaring the same principle once again.  Saints who visit prisoners or clothe the naked or visit the sick are actually doing it to Jesus, and they will be rewarded for it.  

While we are not told exactly what the reward is, I have to believe that it will be generous and wonderful, because that is the nature of God.  So, let us do all we can to aid and assist those who spread the true gospel of Christ!

Let me give you some encouragement:  I can see where preaching the gospel might have seemed like an overwhelming task to the disciples, at least in the beginning.  But remember, nothing is impossible with God.  God never sets us up to fail; we are always victorious in Christ.  So, what has God called you to do?  Does it seem overwhelming or difficult?  I encourage you to step out in faith and get started.  The more you work at it, the easier the task will become.  When you do your part, God will make a way where you cannot!  

Let me give you some relief:  Has the enemy tried to make you feel guilty about things in your past?  Maybe you denied Christ at some point or broke one of the “big” commandments.  Regardless of what you did, there is forgiveness for you.  How is this for relief – the Psalmist tells us that God has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.  In fact, he has cast our sin as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalms 103)!  Praise his name!  Let go of any guilt you are carrying around and put the past where it belongs – in the past!  Make room for the Holy Spirit to come into your life and assist you in carrying out your life’s mission!  

Let me give you some strength: God loves you.  He loves you more than you can know or understand, but we can get a glimpse of his love as we meditate on things he tells us.  Remember, YOU are God’s most precious possession.  There can be no other explanation considering that he sent his Son to die for you!  God has adopted you into his family; he calls you son or daughter.  He has made you a co-heir with Jesus.  He has made you a priest in his kingdom.  He has prepared a place in heaven, just for you.  He has your name engraved on the palm of his hand.  He has rewards waiting for you in the next life.  He is going to wipe away all your tears and heartaches.  He promises never to leave you or forsake you.  Hallelujah! Remembering how much God cares for you should give you strength to serve him in all circumstances.

Matthew Chapter 10, Part 1

Matthew 10:1 – And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to heal every disease and every affliction.

It seems kind of fitting that Jesus would use 12 apostles to plant the New Testament church, since he had used the 12 tribes of Israel to keep the Old Testament covenant.

The account of Jesus sending these 12 disciples forth to minister is also recorded in Mark 6 and Luke 9. 

Mark tells us that Jesus sent them out in pairs.  This gave each of them a companion to share the labor, the joy and the opposition they would soon encounter.  Besides, if they split up, the gospel message could be shared in many, many more places.  The apostles were sent into the world by Jesus, just as Jesus had been sent into the world by his Father.

The most important thing in this verse is that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits and sickness/disease. Jesus confirmed his teaching through the working of miracles; his disciples would do the same.

Matthew 10:2-4 – The names of the twelve apostles are these: First, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 

The really great thing about this list is what is NOT on it.

  • There are not super wealthy people, who could influence others to accept the gospel just because rich people have influence. 
  • There were no naturally gifted orators who could convince people to accept the gospel just because they were persuasive arguers/speakers. 
  • There were no overly handsome or good looking people who could influence others to follow them because of their beauty. 
  • There were no super intelligent scholars, who could convince people to accept the gospel because it was the smart thing to do. 

Jesus chose plain, ordinary men of good character and honesty who would testify to the truth of the gospel that they learned from Jesus.  They would also testify of his death and resurrection.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they were willing to lay down their lives to bear witness to the truth.

Luke tells us that Jesus chose them early in his ministry (before the Sermon on the Mount) so that they would be witnesses to everything that he taught and everything he did from the beginning of his ministry until his resurrection from the dead.

You and I have also been called to bear witness to the truth of the gospel and to share what Jesus has done for us.  Aren’t you glad that you don’t have to be rich or famous or really well educated to understand and accept the grace of God?  I know I am! 

Matthew 10:5-6 – These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Gentiles (or Greeks as they are sometimes called in the New Testament) are simply non-Jewish people.  They did not know the true God and in their ignorance they worshipped many false gods.

The Samaritans were a group of people living in the region between Jerusalem and Galilee.  They were a mixed race of people who embraced a false religion which was an amalgam of Judaism and idolatry.  They worshipped Jehovah along with other false gods.

Clearly, the disciples were not to share the Kingdom of Heaven with the Samaritans or the Gentiles.  Why not?

God has a divine order in dealing with mankind:  to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.

The Jews were the chosen people of God.  It was through them that the Messiah had come.  It was through them that all the nations of the earth would be blessed; Jesus was a fulfillment of the covenant made long, long ago with Abraham and his descendants. So it makes sense that they should be the first to hear and see the Messiah.  They should have the first opportunity to accept the New Covenant, because they already had a relationship with God.

Secondly, the disciples were what we might call ‘green horns’.  They needed to learn how to effectively share the gospel.  The easiest way to do that was among the people who were already intimately acquainted with the promises of the old covenant.  It would take a lot more wisdom, knowledge and Holy Spirit power to share the gospel with those who knew nothing of God’s former dealings with mankind.  The disciples weren’t ready for that yet. 

Thankfully, Jesus would soon charge his apostles to spread the gospel to ‘Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world’, which eventually included you and I!

Matthew 10:7 – “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

The disciples were all to preach the same message – The kingdom of Heaven was arriving imminently.  In other words, they were to tell as many Jews as possible that God was ready to fulfill his promises to them!   Now, after generations of waiting, God is ready to implement the kingdom of the long awaited Messiah.  Because of that, it was time for men to repent of their sins and prepare themselves to be citizens of this new kingdom.  When the Messiah was manifested, they must be ready to believe him, accept his doctrine and submit to his authority.

There are still people today that have not heard the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven.  They need a chance to repent of their sins and become citizens of the Kingdom of God.  What are you doing to spread the word?   

Matthew 10:8 – “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  You received without paying; give without pay.”

The power and authority Jesus gave to the disciples was for a very specific purpose – the confirmation of the message regarding the Messiah and his kingdom.

These gifts were not to bring honor or renown to the disciples, but to demonstrate God’s love toward mankind. 

God was sending the Messiah to bless us, to rescue us from the tyranny of Satan, to save us from death, to heal our diseases and relieve us from our misery. Only God could receive the glory for the miracles that were performed, because they were done by his might and power.

So, God was the author of all these blessings.  The apostles were merely channels for transmitting the bountiful blessings of God from heaven to earth. Therefore, they had no right to be selective as to who could receive these benefits; they could not pick and choose who to minister to or charge anything in return for the miracles.

Isaiah 55:1-2 – Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Let me ask you this:  what is the purpose for all the bountiful blessings God has given you and I in our generation?   Are our spiritual gifts, material blessings and resources only to contribute to our personal happiness, or does God expect us to use them for his glory and the spread of his gospel to the lost?  Are you a channel that God can use to further his kingdom?   

Matthew 10:9-10 – “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.”

The implication is that the disciples could take with them whatever money they had on hand, but they were not to delay their journey by attempting to provide more.  Nor were they to pack a whole bunch of baggage to take with them.  Why do you suppose Jesus gave them this command?

One reason was that extensive planning and packing would cause delays and stress.  But the main reason was probably to develop their ability to trust in God for whatever they needed.  Their focus was to be on God and the mission set before them.  God would be the one to provide food, clothing and necessities.

In my opinion, this is much harder than it sounds, especially at first.  Put yourself in their shoes.  What if you and I went on a missionary journey, trusting God to provide.  What if we wanted steak but God provided bologna?  Would we complain or be thankful?  What if we were expecting a king size pillow top memory foam bed, but we wound up with a sleeping bag on someone’s cold stone floor?  Not only did the disciples need to trust God to provide, they had to learn to accept the provisions that God miraculously provided.  

1 Timothy 6:6-8   But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing let us be with these things content.

It seems to me that comfort is something our culture really values.  If God calls us to a little bit of discomfort for the sake of the gospel, can we accept that with thankfulness?  Are we content with the level of worldly goods God has given to us?  Are we good stewards of these blessings, or do we selfishly keep them all to ourselves?

Matthew 10:11-13 – “And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.  As you enter the house, greet it.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”

While they were not to take extra money or provisions, they were to make wise choices about where to stay.  They were to seek out godly and upright men, who had a reverence and thirst for God, and who would be willing to receive and provide for two ministers of God.

Once they had found such a household, they were to stay in that place and not move again, even if a better opportunity appeared.  Their time was not to be spent in seeking better accommodations or comfort, but to preach, minister healing and deliverance, and pray.  After all, their main goal was not personal enjoyment; it was to spread the gospel.

In these verses, the word “house” refers to family.  The apostles were to show proper respect and civility to their host family, while the family would provide gracious hospitality to them. 

Matthew 10:14-15 – “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.  Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah that for that town.”

If the town where they went to minister rejected the gospel, the apostles were not only to leave that town, but place a witness against it by removing the dust of that town from their feet.

The Jews believed that even the dust of the Gentile nations was impure, and was to be shaken off or removed when they went to cross the border into Israel. This was to prevent the pollution of the heathen nation from touching their holy land. 

In this instance, the implication is that those Jews who rejected the gospel message were no longer holy, but were impure and profane, on a level with heathens and idolaters. Therefore, even the dust of their town must be removed from God’s true followers.  Interestingly, some of the apostles wound up doing this very thing!  See Acts 13:51 and Acts 18:6.   

This contempt for the gospel would not go unpunished by God.  One day these unbelievers will be judged more harshly than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who were destroyed by fire and brimstone. 

What does this passage say to us about the profanity of the world that touches us every day?  Do we despise and reject the things of the world that pollute our holiness, or do we tolerate those things, or even enjoy them?  Are we influencing the world for Christ, or is the world influencing us to accept sin?

Matthew 10:16 – “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

So, the apostles have been commissioned by Jesus to travel around, spreading the good news that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand, with miracles to confirm their doctrine.  Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?  Who wouldn’t be glad to be a part of that? 

Satan – that’s who!  And he is not going to stand by idly while his human slaves are rescued and set free.  He is going to use them to fight back against the kingdom of heaven.

Thus, Jesus makes it very plain to the apostles that they will face persecution, discouragement, opposition, legal action and other dangers.  The enemies of the gospel have a malicious nature, ready to devour and destroy the ministers of Christ, just as a wolf naturally wants to hunt down, kill and devour a sheep. 

How are they to react to these attacks?  They are to be wise as serpents – meaning they need to act prudently, not irritating the enemy unnecessarily. On the other hand, they are to be innocent as doves – meaning that they should not be over cautious, allowing the enemy to dictate when and how they minister.  Honestly, this is still a good rule to follow today.

Matthew 10:17 – “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues…”

Here Jesus is speaking of the future.  None of the 12 encountered these circumstances on this first missionary journey, but they all did after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected.

Flogging was the same as whipping.  Tradition says that the guilty party was laid upon the ground before the judge.  The blows were then inflicted upon his back.  The limit was 40 (Deuteronomy 25:2-3), but the judge could determine any number less than that.  It was not until after the beating that they were tied to a post.

To make the beating more severe, the Jews would attach thongs or lashes to the rod (usually 3).  That means one strike delivered 3 lashes at once.  They would then strike the person 13 times, giving 39 lashes.  The apostle Paul was beaten in this manner 5 times. 

The most grievous scourging of all was when the Romans would fasten pieces of iron or lead to the thongs.  These were capable of ripping and tearing flesh.  Keep in mind, the Romans were not limited by the Old Testament law.  They could whip someone with as many lashes as they chose.  It was the Romans who whipped Jesus before his death. Jesus did not ask his disciples to suffer in a way that he did not also experience.

Matthew 10:18 – …and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”

‘Governors and kings’ refer to Gentile leaders appointed by the Romans.  These included proconsuls, porcurators and even emperors.  On the first missionary journey, the apostles were to speak only to the Jews.  Thus, we see that this too, is a future event which takes place only after the resurrection of Jesus.  By this statement, Jesus plainly shows that he intends for the Gentiles to have opportunity to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  

The purpose of appearing in these high courts is to bear witness of the Messiah to the highest leadership in the land.  Once the Gentiles are informed of the gospel, they are responsible for this knowledge. To reject it means to reject eternal life.  

Matthew 10:19-20 – “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Again, it was one thing to be arrested and beaten by the Jews, because their power was limited by the Old Testament and by the Romans.  But when you are standing before the highest Roman/Gentile powers, there was no limit as to what they could do to you. 

Also, the apostles were uneducated laborers and fisherman.  How could they explain/present the gospel in terms that these Gentiles could not refute or ignore?  I can see why the apostles might be a bit anxious, can’t you?

But Jesus never wants us to operate in a spirit of fear. 

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.

Therefore, he comforts his ministers with the assurance that when these events take place, God will be with them every step of the way.  The Spirit himself will give them the words to speak; words that will cut through every argument that tries to exalt itself above the truth of the gospel. The Gentiles may be able to out-reason the apostles, but they could never out-reason the Holy Spirit!   The truth of the gospel would be made plain to them, and they would have to decide what to do with it – accept it and change their ways, or reject it and thus reject God at the same time.  

Matthew 10:21-22 – “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

The natural bonds of family are some of the strongest bonds we know.  Most people count on family to come to the rescue during distressing times, to provide safety and comfort, and to offer assistance and guidance when needed. 

But Jesus tells us that the enemy will stop at nothing in the fight for men’s souls.  Satan will incite his wicked followers to hate even their closest family members; anyone who accepts the gospel must be stopped before they turn others from Satan to Christ.

If we examine the witness of Christians from foreign countries, particularly those involving Islam, we find clear evidence that this is happening today. 

To some degree it is true in the United States as well.  I have known some people who are estranged from their families just because they changed from another religion to Christianity. 

In the midst of all this betrayal, Jesus offers hope.  Victory is assured to the Christian.  This includes those who endure until Jesus returns as well as those who endure until their trial is concluded or their life is over.  Regardless of which circumstance applies, the Christian who endures will receive eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.   

Matthew 10:23 – “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

In some ways, this verse is easy to understand and in other ways, it is very puzzling.  Let’s begin with the easy part.

The overall sense of this verse is that the apostles should practice prudence – if their lives were in danger, they could certainly shake the dust off their feet and move on to a new city. 

What they did NOT have was permission to deny Christ. They must always be true to the Savior who, out of love, would die for them long before they were asked to give their lives for his glory.  There are still some places in the world today where Christians must choose between their faith in Christ and their life on earth.  I believe that if God calls us to make this choice, he grants us the grace to stay true to him.   

Another thing the apostles did NOT have was permission to retire.  No matter how many cities and towns they were kicked out of, they were to move onto the next one and continue to spread the gospel.  Do you plan to retire some day?  While you can certainly retire from your life’s profession, you can never retire from Christianity.  Wherever you go after retirement, be sure to look for new opportunities to spread the gospel!

Now for the difficult part of this verse:  The stipulation that the apostles would not visit all the towns of Israel “before the Son of Man comes.” 

It seems rather clear that the phrase does not refer to the first missionary journey that the apostles are about to embark on.  That mission is covered in full in verse 5-15.  The culmination of that journey was a pronouncement of final judgment on those who reject the gospel message.

It also seems rather clear that beginning in verse 16 Jesus is looking forward in time to future events/missions.  So at some future time (future to the apostles at the time of Jesus), there would be difficult persecutions; the question is what constitutes the end of these events?  What is meant by the phrase “Before the Son of Man comes?”  

Some scholars believe it refers to the judgment of Israel and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  Some believe the phrase has dual meanings and that it not only refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, but also refers to an event still further in the future – the second coming of Christ.  

Rather than spending a lot of time arguing one way or another, I think our time would best be spent concentrating on the ‘here and now’.  Let’s be about our master’s business today and let tomorrow take care of itself.  

Matthew 10:24-25 – “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

Beelzebul or Beelzebub was the name given to one of the false gods of the Philistines.  It meant ‘the god of flies’, so called because this idol was supposed to protect the Philistines from the numerous swarms of flies common in their land.  Among the Jews the name signified ‘the god of filth’ and was esteemed as the lowest and most offensive of all the idol gods.  By giving this name to Jesus, they were pouring out upon him the greatest possible abuse and contempt. 

According to this scripture, what evil men have said and done to Jesus, they will certainly not hesitate to say and do to his disciples.  This includes all manner of suffering and shame up to and including physical death.

However, in Luke 12:4 Jesus tells us not to be afraid of those who can kill the body, but after that have no more that they can do!  God has guaranteed our place in heaven; no man can change that!  

This is the end of today’s post.  Normally, I try to give you some words of encouragement, relief and strength for your daily walk in Christ.  But this week, I would like to do something a little different. 

According to OpenDoorsUSA.org, 11 Christians are killed every day for their decision to follow Christ.  Instead of focusing on ourselves this week, can we commit to pray for Christians around the world who are facing some of the same persecutions that were endured by the apostles? 

Let’s pray that God will give them an abundant provision of courage and faith as they bear witness to the gospel of Jesus.

Let’s pray that governments who are hostile to the cause of Christ will be toppled and that Christianity will be embraced in these lands.

Let’s pray that those who have been ostracized by their families will find love and support from other believers. 

Above all, let’s pray that the name of Jesus will be lifted up in all lands, so that all men have an opportunity to know him and Lord and Savior!