Matthew 18

Vs. 1, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  Jesus masterfully uses this question as a springboard to teach some amazing truths about life in the community of believers.  It’s important not to fault the disciples too much on this question for even Jesus brought up the idea of who the greatest is when he referenced John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).  Jesus aptly humbles them literally by taking a small child to indicate what truly is considered great in the kingdom (vs. 1-5).  The child represented something very important to teach: humility.  A child is completely dependent upon their parent.  A child has no rights.  This is the lesson Jesus was conveying to the proud disciples who wanted to find a way to gain greatness.  Godly humility will not lead others to stumble.  Jesus warns the disciples not to seek their own selfish motives; lest they cause a little one (spiritually young Christians) to stumble (vs. 5-10).  The lost sheep (vs. 12-14), illustrates the concern we should have for those who have spiritually gone astray.  It’s important to note, the context is “believers” who have gone astray.  We now get to a very misapplied passage concerning discipline within the church (vs. 15-20).  When we live in community with believers, undoubtedly there will be sin and issues that arise.  Jesus gives us a formula to wisely deal with sin that can affect the church.  Sadly, many churches are not listening to Jesus’ explicit guidance on the process of true reconciliation.  It’s also important to note the bad interpretation of vs. 19-20; many people use this in prayer meetings to find comfort when we are small in number.  But the context teaches us this is about the discipline process of reconciliation in the church.  Having just spoken about disciplining the sinner, Peter asks a logical question about how many times we should forgive (vs. 21).  Jesus basically tells them we should have unlimited forgiveness (vs. 22).  And lastly, Jesus shares the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (vs. 21-35).  It is powerful reminder of a huge mandate: we must forgive as we have been forgiven.  The ridiculous amount of money first servant was forgiven should have made him a forgiving person to the second servant who had him little.  Sadly, the first servant mistreats and does not forgive.  This is a stark reminder of Jesus’ blood on the cross offering forgiveness to all, but not all will accept the Lord and forgive.  Their destiny is hell.

Regarding application…Hard Heart.  Vs. 30, “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.”  I’ve heard someone say, “The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart.”  Brothers and sisters, we have seen the effects of people who cannot forgive others.  It shocks me to see professing Christians hate and despise others.  Question: How do you know if you have a hard and unforgiving heart?  Examine how you treat others and if you forgive them when they wrong you.  Sure, they don’t deserve forgiveness.  But, none of us deserve forgiveness either.  I urge all of us not to be complacent on making right our relationships with others.  If you are finding yourself struggling to forgive another, than take time to consider your standing before the Lord.  I can’t think of a better way to honor the Lord than forgiving another as we approach Good Friday!

 

Matthew 17

Vs. 2, “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”  We open our chapter with Jesus revealing His glory to inner three (Peter, James & John) on the mount of Transfiguration (vs. 1-13).  Question: What is the Transfiguration?  It comes from the Greek language that gives us our modern day word: Metamorphosis.  All three Synoptic Gospels record this event.  The Transfiguration is a special glimpse into the glory of the Lord as Jesus reveals His true identity.  The presence of Moses (law) & Elijah (prophets) come to bear witness of Jesus’ identity and mission.  Once again, Jesus admonishes them not to reveal what they have seen (vs. 9); at least until He has done His work on the cross. Jesus reminds them the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:5-6) concerning Elijah coming first is fulfilled through John the Baptist (Luke 1:17).  When they come down the mountain they encounter a failed exorcism (vs. 14-23).  Jesus uses this as an opportunity to give us a fresh understanding of what true faith looks like (vs. 20-21).  Sadly, we are reminded that Jesus’ death will come about because of betrayal of the worst kind; betrayal of their own in Judas Iscariot (vs. 22-23).  The Temple tax incident (vs. 24-27) teaches us that though Jesus being the Son of God (vs. 25) does not have to pay it, He does so to prevent the stumbling of others.

Regarding application…Father’s Approval.  Vs. 5, “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  These words from the Father were identical to His affirmation when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:17).  The caveat is, “Listen to him!”  As children, we sought so hard to find the approval of our parents.  Sometimes they were disappointed, other time we were disappointed.  But deep down inside, we want to hear the praises and approval of our parents.  Jesus was obedient; even obedient to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).  For my leisure reading, I am reading Peter Criss’ biography (the drummer of the rockband Kiss).  He shares a story when they finally performed in MSG (Madison Square Garden) and he had his parents and family attend.  As they performed he saw the tears and proud looks of his parents and it brought this 30 plus year old successful man to tears as he played the drums that night.  No matter how old we are, we want to make our loved ones proud of us.  Just as the Father approves His son Jesus, He also does for us.  Question: Why?  Because we listened to His son and put our faith in Him.  Jesus’ blood brings the approval of our Father in Heaven.  Thank you Father for loving us so much!

Matthew 16

Vs. 1, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.”  Though the Pharisees and Sadducees did not often get along, they would join together for the purpose of being threatened by Jesus and His followers (vs. 1-4).  They challenged Jesus to show them a sign, but signs never saved a person.  Jesus was the Son of God in flesh and they still did not believe.  The next section about comparing the religious leaders to yeast is almost comical (vs. 5-12).  The disciples keep thinking Jesus is speaking literally about bread.  It’s a good lesson for us to understand the context of the Bible less we interpret incorrectly.  When Jesus and the disciples come to the region of Caesarea Philippi (a place known for many pagan worship), Jesus uses this background to ask them a very important question (vs. 13-16).  Peter eloquently declares the identity of Jesus being the Christ (Anointed One) and the Son of the Living God (vs. 16).  It is here that Jesus uses the opportunity to exhort Peter as the leader to help build the church (vs. 17-20).  It is Jesus who is the foundation of the church and Peter is used to help build it.  And lastly, the road to the cross has commenced as Jesus’ Galilean ministry comes to a close (vs. 21-28).  While Jesus predicts His death, the disciples do not understand.  Peter allows his emotions to get the best of him as he rudely tries to speak against Jesus (vs. 22).  Jesus declares Peter does not have the mind of God and therefore rebukes Satan (vs. 23).  We are either for God or against God.

Regarding application…Carrying the Cross.  Vs. 24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Certainly, the meaning of the cross back in Jesus’ time was not a comforting thought.  The cross represented one of the cruelest means of capital punishment.  Question: What are you holding on to?  If we hold on to our own lives, we will lose it.  It is a paradox.  Question: How can we lose our life if we try to save it (vs. 25)?  Yet, the way to save our life is to carry the cross.  Brothers and sisters, Jesus set the example for us.  His death gives us life.  Our spiritual death from sin gives us eternal life!  I believe I’m slowly learning the burdens of walking with Jesus more and more.  The suffering of carrying the cross today is nothing compared to the joys of eternal life with our Savior!

Matthew 15

Vs. 2, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”  Seeing is believing.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were so focused on the external, that they lost track of the internal.  Over the centuries they developed a system of oral tradition (Mishnah) that expounded upon God’s law.  This oral law became so prevalent that it was held to the same esteem that God’s law was on; sometimes even higher.  Jesus masterfully rebukes them and reminds them of what a clean/unclean person really look like (vs. 1-20).  The issue with supposedly honoring the father and mother in their old age by giving the excuse that the adult children devoted their money to God was outright disrespectful on both the parents and to God.  They would use their money and possessions and declare it to be set aside to God, as an excuse to help support their aging parents.  Sadly, they would still be the benefactors of this declared money & possessions.  Jesus and His disciples retreat to Tyre and Sidon (Gentile areas) possibly as a rest before making the long trek to Jerusalem and the cross.  The Canaanite woman encounter is a beautiful picture of persistence and grace (vs. 21-28).  Remember, Jesus’ mission was to first go to Israel to bring salvation and through Israel, the Gospel would be spread to the Gentiles.  But Jesus makes exception to respond to a woman who had such faith.  The crumbs of a dog example impresses me for she was quite witty and spiritually aware of the benefit of being a dog (Gentile) and still getting something from the bread.  And lastly in our chapter, we see Jesus do another miracle feeding (vs. 29-39).  However, this time Jesus does this miracle in the Gentile region.

Regarding application…Are You Clean?  Vs. 18, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.”  Certainly, we are reminded that the determination of what makes a person clean is the condition of our hearts.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ time determined what make a person clean was their “righteous” acts.  Sadly, their hearts were clogged with sin.  It is a stark reminder for us in the church, for we can relate to the religious leaders more than we would like to admit.  We have the tendency to fall upon the traditions of man (denominations, church practices, etc.).  As people who go to church faithfully all these years, there is the danger of our hearts hardening.  But it hardens not only from sin, but also from disappointment.  We all know the truth about churches; they are not perfect.  Yet the church is a gift from our Lord.  It all comes down to our hearts response; we can either become part of the solution or part of the problem.  Time to do a heart checkup!

Matthew 14

Vs. 12, “John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”  Sadly, John the Baptist has been beheaded by Herod Antipas (vs. 1-12).  Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great who had ruled when Jesus was born.  Question: Why was John the Baptist beheaded?  Because John called out Herod’s adulterous marriage with Herodias, the wife of his half brother.  To make matters worse, on Herod Antipas’s birthday, Herodias orchestrated events in which who young daughter danced sensually in front Herod.  Upon being mesmerized by his step-daughter, Herod promises to give her anything she wanted.  She proceeded to demand the head of John the Baptist.  It is sad moment for Jesus as he withdraws to grieve (vs. 13).  Yet, in His grieving, there were many who still were seeking after Him.  Instead of driving away the crowds, Jesus takes the time to meet their needs in the feeding of the five thousand (vs. 13-21).  Matthew’s account of this miracle feeding provides the least amount of detail, but nevertheless reminds us all that God can provide in ways we least expect.  After a long day of ministry with the crowds, Jesus instructs the disciples to go to the other side of Galilee and He will meet them there (vs. 22).  Here we see the account of Jesus walking on water as he meets them that night in the storm (vs. 22-33).  It is touching event of Jesus’ power as the Son of God and His grace upon them for calming the storm.  Lastly, we continue to see Jesus press on towards the mission God called Him to continue spreading the Gospel (vs. 34-36) in Gennesaret.

Regarding application…Keep Your Eyes on Jesus.  Vs. 31, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  Before we give too much grief to Peter, very few of us would have had the faith to step out onto the raging waters.  It was only Peter.  Jesus did not admonish Peter for having no faith, just little faith.  The underlying lesson is to keep your eyes on Jesus.  Peter was walking on water to Jesus, but then probably began to look at everything around him (the storm, the other shocked faces of the disciples, etc.) and began to sink.  Question: Where are your eyes?  I never made the basketball team.  I tried out in junior high but was cut.  However, I managed to convince the coach that I would be the statistician.  I got to go to the practices and all the games!  One of the players on our team ended up getting the Mr. Basketball award in high school for being the top player in the state of Indiana (Scott Rolen).  I remember the basketball coach always instructed the players to keep their eyes on the front of the rim of the basketball hoop.  No matter how much you are going to be tempted to look at the jeering crowds or feel the pressure from the other team or even your own teammates, the key is to not lost focus on keeping your eyes in the right place.  Likewise, let us keep our eyes on Jesus this week!

Matthew 13

Vs. 3, “Then he told them many things in parables, saying:…”  By now, Jesus’ ministry was attracting huge crowds (vs. 2).  Bear in mind, Jesus was quite a polarizing figure.  There were many who were teeter tottering whether they should listen to Jesus or the religious leaders of the day.  Question: Why speak in parables?  First, parables are essentially stories using images for the purpose of eliciting a new understanding.  Unlike an allegory, parables have only one main point established by a basic comparison.  These subsequent parables are used to really challenge the Jewish audience of that day to check their truth faith.  The Parable of the Sower (vs. 3-9; 18-23), gives us this picture the Lord and his message falling upon the different soils.  The soils represent the contrast between the different ways a person responds to the Gospel.  Initially, this confused the disciples and they asked why speak in parables.  Part of the secret (vs. 10-17) of the parables is that the kingdom of Heaven will be established much differently than they had anticipated.  Those who refuse to hear the word are the calloused and hardened hearts (vs.15) prophesied by Isaiah.  The Parable of the Weeds (vs. 24-30; 36-43) illustrates the reality that there are weeds (calloused hearts) who have also sprung up in farmer’s field.  One day, the harvesters will distinguish the wheat from the weeds signifying the final judgment.  The Parable of the Mustard Seed (vs. 31-32) illustrates that though the mustard seed was the smallest known in the region (Israel’s minority status), it grew to a majestic tree (all those who are saved, both Jew and Gentile).  The Parable of the Yeast (vs. 33) gives us a positive picture of yeast that though it is small, it can make bread grow (just like the Kingdom of Heaven with those growing in numbers to salvation).  Matthew points out Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy (Psalm 78:2) that helps fulfill Jesus’ ministry.   After leaving the large crowds, Jesus continues to further explain the Parable of the Weeds and shares a few more parables directly to the disciples.  The Parables of the hidden treasure (vs. 44) and costly pearl (vs. 45-46) help to illustrate the present state of the kingdom and the value of having the Gospel in the here and now.  The Parable of the Net (vs. 47-50) reminds us again of the final judgment.  The Parable of the Household Treasure (vs. 51-52), illustrates what the new disciples of Jesus are to do with His teachings; share it.  And lastly, Matthew records Jesus’ return to Nazareth (vs. 54-58), but sadly they cannot get past belief in Jesus as the Messiah.  They reject His teachings and seem to be too familiar with His past having been raised in Nazareth.

Regarding application…Hidden Truths.  Our eyes can often deceive us.  We have this tendency to underestimate things in our lives.  The Gospel and the forceful advancement of God’s kingdom are still very much underestimated.  We (the church) are like a sports Cinderella team that everyone thinks can’t win.  Christians and persecution often go hand in hand and people sadly don’t realize that we will WIN!!!!  But, sadly the truth is not hidden to be unfair.  It’s hidden because people’s hearts just don’t care or believe in the love of Christ.  As we are in the Easter season, we have an opportunity to put love in action and be a part of sharing the Gospel message.  Invite your friends, coworkers, family to your churches.  Take time to help be a part in advancing the Gospel to help open the truth to people’s hearts!

Matthew 12

Vs. 2, “When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”  Yesterday, we were reminded that the Gospel is forcefully advancing (Matthew 11:12); and now we see an opposition.  Sadly, the religious leaders of the day refuse to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  The Sabbath law given by God had grossly been distorted over the centuries through oral traditional law.  The leaders had put so much burden upon people and now Jesus responds back (vs. 1-8) using King David and the sacrificial offers as examples.   Jesus went on to heal a man on the Sabbath and this was the last straw for His enemies (vs. 9-14).  Question: Why did Jesus tell people not to talk about Him (vs. 15-21)?  It was not the right time and further spreading would only incite the Jews to try to kill Jesus sooner.   Matthew makes sure to remind us all how Jesus was fulfilling prophecy from Isaiah.  We then see quite an egregious accusation made by the Pharisees; Jesus is on Satan’s side (vs. 24)!  Jesus does not allow this one to go by without a response and goes on to share two examples of how illogical their accusation truly was (vs. 25-29).  The next section of our passage today (vs. 30-32) is an indictment of a sin that cannot be forgiven (unpardonable sin).  Question: Just what is this sin?  While scholars have their debates, it comes down to a willful rejection of salvation.  Jesus came to forgive  our sins, but if we are not repentant, forgiveness cannot be completed.  Sadly, some people continue to live in their sinful nature (vs. 33-37).  Their unbelief demanded a sign, but Jesus provided them more than enough and would use Jonah as an illustration (vs. 38-42).  Jonah preached repentance to the evil Ninevites and the three days would represent the resurrection.  The ominous parable of the evil spirits (vs. 43-45) illustrate a person’s spiritual danger when they do not turn to the Lord.  And lastly, we come a situation where Jesus’ mother and siblings come to dissuade Jesus (Mark 3:21) and bring him back home.  Jesus is not dishonoring His family, but gives us a stark reminder of putting God first (vs. 46-50).

Regarding application…Bearing Good or Bad Fruit?  Vs. 33, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”  While most of us are not farmers, we can certainly appreciate this illustration of our spiritual lives.  A person living in their sinful nature will bear bad fruit.  A person living as new creations (Romans 8:1) will bear good fruit.  Sadly, Jesus was speaking to many who thought they were bearing good fruit.  Yet, the more spiritually mature we are, the more evident it is to see a true disciple of Christ.  Take the time to really listen to what comes out of the mouths of people who say they are a Christian (vs. 34-37).  Not only are words powerful and can be used for good or evil.  The words that come out of our mouths also shed light to the kind of heart we have.  The words of our mouth are a litmus test for the fruit we produce in our lives.  Question: What kind of fruit are you bearing?

Matthew 11

Vs. 2-3, “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Question: Where is John the Baptist?  He is imprisoned because he rebuked Herod Antipas for his adulterous marriage.  Though John received Jesus with joy at the Jordan River (Matthew 3), there was some unanswered questions as he pondered Jesus’ ministry.  We must remember that the people perception of the Messiah is that He would come with judgment; Jesus was coming with healing and forgiveness.  John was confused.  Certainly, Jesus will come with judgment, but first He came offering forgiveness of sins on the cross.  Jesus softly corrects John’s disciples and John for their misunderstanding on the way God works in His timing (vs. 4-6).  Jesus proceeds to give an amazing tribute to John and the ministry God called him (vs. 7-19).  Likewise, Jesus also rebukes the crowds for rejecting John’s message.  The Jews in Galilee were so privileged to have Jesus minister to them, yet they would also reject Him (vs. 20-24).  But this would not dishearten Jesus and He would still find a way to praise the Father for those who did soften their hearts (vs. 25-30)

Regarding application…You Are Invited.  Vs. 28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Question: When was the last time you were invited to something special?  These days, it’s polite to send an rsvp to let people know if we are going to attend.  In our Christian life, we mark special moments in our lives.  Many may remember the day they accepted the invitation to put their faith in the Lord.  Yet, the invitation Jesus extends is never a one-time thing.  We may use the excuse to decline invitations because of weariness and burdens in our lives.  Yet, that is the very reason why we should turn to the Lord’s invitation each and everyday.  Spending time with the Lord daily is an open invitation for you.  Question: Will you accept it and come?

Matthew 10

Vs. 1, “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”  Question: Why send out the twelve?  Because, Jesus had just finished up saying in our previous chapter that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few (Matthew 9:37).  At this point in Jesus’ ministry He has prepared His disciples well and they are now ready to help spread the Good News!  Certainly, the appointing of twelve apostles is not arbitrary for we remember the twelve tribes of Israel.  Their role is to help usher in the kingdom of Heaven and be used by the Holy Spirit.  Basically, Jesus sends them out on a short-term missionary trip.  Don’t misunderstand the order for this early missions trip to only reach out to the lost sheep of Israel (vs. 5).  The Gospel is certainly for all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), but there was historical order of salvation setup through God; first to the Jew, than the Gentile.  There is both the sense of urgency and complete dependence as Jesus instructs them not to bring anything on their trip (vs. 8-10).  Interestingly, Jesus also speaks to them (and us) of a future time when they will go out among the world (vs. 16-23).  When they go out to the harvest field, Jesus give them instructions of how to be a true disciple (vs. 24-42).  I love how Jesus exhorted all of us not to be afraid when it comes to bearing witness of His name to the world around us (vs. 26).  Jesus is quite adamant how He must be first in our lives (vs. 34-39), for their will even be division amongst our own families when we draw the line for Christ!

Regarding application…Peacefully Wise.  Vs. 16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  A dove represents peace and the snake in our context represents wisdom (in a good way).  In other words, be street-smart yet innocent.  There is a bit harsh reality that though the world and God’s creation testifies of His glory, it is also a very dangerous place!  There are evil people that have no mind of God and literally hate others.  Under Roman persecution as the years progressed it is estimated that 175 million Christians were killed.  Caesar Nero was so evil towards believers that he would put wax on them and then light them up to use as torches in his palace!  God has called us to go out into this world to bear witness of Him.  There are many fears, but Jesus reminds us not to be afraid.  Many missionaries and Christians alike will continue to receive persecution, but blessed are those who are peacefully wise and yet persecuted for Jesus’ name!

Matthew 9

Vs. 2, “Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  By now, Jesus has proved He has the ability to have power over nature and physical healings.  However, what astonished the teachers of the law was that Jesus would claim to have power for the forgiveness of sins (vs. 1-8).  They accused Jesus of blasphemy (insulting honor of God), for only God can forgive sins.  Jesus has the authority because He is both the Son of God and God through the Trinity.  Matthew moves on to share how He met Jesus for the first time (vs. 9-13), surely a very precious moment in His life!  Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s followers (vs. 14-17) reminds us that fasting has its place, but the disciples need not fast and mourn because Jesus is with them now.  The cloth and wineskins is a metaphor for Jesus’ new covenant of grace rather than patching up and reusing the old legalistic ways.  Jesus came to fulfill not abolish God’s sovereign plan for salvation.  Matthew continues on to sharing more of Jesus’ miracles through the faith of the bleeding woman and the ruler (Jarius) whose daughter was dead.  The healing of the blind was a fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 29:18, 35:5, 42:7) concerning Jesus’ healing.  Sadly, the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees accused Jesus of being a demon upon healing a mute & demon-possessed person (vs. 32-34).

Regarding application…Why Work?  Vs. 37, “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”  Most of us work to sustain life.  Jesus worked to give life.  The harvest needs workers to have compassion upon the lost sheep (vs. 36).  So much work to do and such a short life to live.  Question: Why work?  Because, Jesus did.  In our following chapter, He sends out the twelve to continue to help spread out the work.  There are many who are walking in darkness and sadness.  We have an opportunity to not only love them through good works, but also share the love of Christ and the message of hope.  It’s a sobering reminder when we think about the big picture of life.  Many churches use their summer to send out missions to teams all across the world.  Take time to pray for your church and even yourself that you might be a part in going out into the harvest field!