Showing posts from October, 2023

The Confirmation of Faith

The Confirmation of Faith Matthew 16:1-4 “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given, except the sin of Jonah.”               Sometimes, in our faith, we want a sign, a dramatic event that is clearly from God that confirms our faith.  We read in the scriptures the supernatural acts of God, the parting of the Red Sea, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the visions of Paul of heaven, and we wonder if only we could see those things, then our faith would be confirmed and validated.  Instead, we struggle because Heaven seems silent in our struggles.               In our passage, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and demanded a sign.  The fact that they were coming together immediately raises red flags, for these two groups were bitterly divided because of their different theological perspectives.  The Pharisees were the theological legalists, while the Sadducees were the theological liberalists, and so they were in constant battle for p

The Compassion of the Universal King

The Compassion of the Universal King Matthew 15:29-39 “And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, “I feel compassion for the people.”               Sometimes, we feel abandoned by our political leaders.  They reside in Washington D.C., and make decisions that affect us all but have no idea about our struggles and how their decisions affect us locally.  If they genuinely understood our community and setting, their choices would be different.               Sometimes, we feel the same way about God in our Christian life.  Because we cannot see, touch, or hear his voice, we sometimes wonder if God is also distant, remote, and unconnected with the circumstances and situations we face today.              In the passage before us, we find many similarities between this event and the feeding of the five thousand recorded in chapter 14.  Some have even suggested that the two events are the same.  However, not only are the numbers different, but a crucial distinction points to two separate

Faith in Unlikely Places

Great Faith in an Unlikely Person Matthew 15:21-28 “Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.”               When we read the story of the Syrophoenician woman, we are perplexed.  When the woman comes to Jesus, he seems uncaring and indifferent to the woman’s heartache.  This does not seem to fit the compassionate Jesus presented throughout the gospel.  How could Jesus, who came to demonstrate the love of God to a lost world, be cold and indifferent to the heartbreaking plea of a loving mother? The woman followed Jesus, imploring him for mercy, yet Christ completely ignored her.  So insistent was her cry that the disciples became annoyed at her persistence, begging Jesus to send her away. His response seems out of character.             If there is one thing we know of Jesus, he deeply loved people who were outcasts of society and broken by the ravenous effects of sin.  He went out of his way to bring hope and salvation to a Samaritan

The Problem of the Heart

Changing the Heart Matthew 15:10-20 “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”               We are always looking for natural solutions to spiritual problems.  The mantra of today is that people act the way they do because of societal failures.  Hamas brutally kills people because they are a disenfranchised people.  People steal and rob because society has kept them in poverty.  People become addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, and work because they have physical sickness.  Sin is seen as a physical or social problem.               As Jesus interacts with the Pharisees, they are offended because Jesus dares to question their penchant for external rituals as the basis for their acts of righteousness.  Like today, the Pharisees focused on external, physical actions as the basis for character and behavior.  In their perspective, to live rightly, all one has to do is follow the rituals and external regulations.  They sought natural solutions

The Danger of Misguided Faith

The Danger of Misguided Faith Matthew 15:19 “But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”               With the prevalence of information on the internet, it is easy to become distracted in our worship and our view of God.  While we may have a negative idea of the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day, the one thing we cannot criticize them for is a lack of zeal and passion for their beliefs.  The Pharisees were passionate about their faith and their understanding of God’s commandments.  They were intensely spiritual, with a deep conviction about God and how a person is to live rightly in light of God’s requirements.  They were fervent in their desire to be in complete obedience to the Law God had given Moses on Mt. Sinai.  Of all the criticisms that we could place upon them, a lack of passion and zeal is not one of them.              The problem with the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day was that their passion and zeal were misplaced.  In thei

The Calming of Fear

Jesus Calms the Storm  Matthew 14:22-36 “When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”               It is one thing when a landlubber becomes fearful of the waves but another when the old salties become terrified.  Peter and John had grown up on the waters of the Sea of Galilee; they had undoubtedly seen and fished in many storms that broke suddenly upon the waters.  While the winds and waves might terrorize the disciples like Andrew and Nathaniel, who had spent little time in the water, it was of no concern for Peter and John.  But on this night, it was different.  As the waves began to crash against the boat, they sensed this unusual.  In verse 24, it states that the boat was being battered by the waves.  The word “Battered is more literally translated as “tormented,” a term that is used in other references to refer to the demonic hostility against people (Matt 8:6; Rev. 9:5).  Thus, the text implies that this storm may have involved a spiritual battle as well.  The result is that

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

The Feeding of the Five Thousand Mathew 14:13-21 “He blessed the food and breaking the loaves he gave…and they ate and were satisfied.”               The story of Christ miraculously taking a boy's lunch and turning it into a feast for thousands is taught to children in Sunday School. We are told how 5,000 people were hungry after a day of listening to the teaching of Jesus, and since there were no supermarkets or fast food restaurants, Christ provided a meal.  While we know the story well, we often miss the significance of the event as a testimony not only of Christ’s supernatural powers but, more importantly, it serves as a testimony of the legitimacy of Christ’s claim to be the Messiah.             In revisiting the story, we first note that the numbers far exceeded five thousand.  In the story, which is repeated in all the gospels, it is mentioned that five thousand men ate and that the number did not include the women and children (verse 21).  In other words, there were far mo

Standing for the Truth

Standing for the truth. Matthew 14:1-12 “For John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”               The Herodian family was notorious for their evil and brutality.  Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) was the patriarch of the Herodian dynasty who would play an essential role in the New Testament.  He was known for his paranoia and assassination of anyone he thought was a rival, including his sons and wives. Therefore, it was not surprising he would seek to trick the wise men and have all the babies in Bethlehem put to death because of the perceived threat the announcement of the birth of the king of the Jews had for his position of power.             After his death, Herod Archelaus would reign over one-half of this father’s territory, including the area of Judea and Samaria.  Like his father, he was known for his treatment of any perceived threat, and it was because of him that Mary and Joseph chose to move back to Nazareth rather than return to Bethlehem after the

A Warning and a Rejection

A Warning and a Rejection Matthew 13:47-57   “And so it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; in the place then there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”               One of the myths and distortions today is that Jesus is only a God of love who will not judge anyone.  He will love and accept all people and religions and never judge or condemn anyone to hell.  However, in this final paragraph, Jesus dispels the idea that there is no judgment.  In the previous verses, we had seen the value that God places upon people, which culminated in Christ's sacrifice for our salvation. In this, we see the extent of God’s love and grace.  However, God is also holy and cannot allow sin to go unpunished.  There will come a time when he will bring judgment upon sinners, not because he is unwilling to forgive, but because these individuals have rejected the offer of salvation. By refu

Our value to God

The Value Structure of the Kingdom Matthew 13:44-46 “And upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bout it.”               The following two parables present a perplexing question:  Who is the subject, and what is the treasure that is so highly valued?  There are two ways commentators have answered these questions.  The most popular view is that man and the merchant refer to people, and the treasure is the kingdom of God.  In this perspective, the focus is on the value of the gospel and participation in the kingdom.  As followers of Christ, we must recognize that participation in the domain and the salvation that Christ offers is the treasure and pearl of infinite value.  When we understand the importance of the gospel, everything else in life pales in comparison.  The kingdom of God is worth everything we have and are.  So often, we devalue our salvation and the privilege of participating in God’s redemptive kingdom.  We place other things above it an

The Growth of the Gospel

The Growth of the Gospel Matthew 13:31-35. “This is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is fully grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree.”                The parable of the Mustard seed and the parable of the leaven are two parables that point to the same essential truth.  In God’s economy and outworking of the gospel, that which is small and insignificant grows into that which is enormous and all-encompassing.               The mustard seed appears as a tiny seed that seems inconsequential to the casual observer.  Yet when it is planted, it grows to a plant that is far beyond what one would expect.   But to further emphasize his point, this seed grows into a large tree, so large that all the birds of the air can come and nest in its branches.               The second parable, that of the leaven, conveys the same truth.  Commentators have debated the amount of three measures of flour.  Some have suggested that it refers to the amount that would feed a large

The Real and the Pretender

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: The Danger of Premature Judgment Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 “Allow both to grow together until the harvest and in the time of the harvest, I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”               Growing up on the farm, one of the crops we raised was oats.  However, one of the weeds that farmers had to deal with was the presence of wild oats.  These weeds look identical from a distance, even for the most experienced farmer.  They grew the same; they appeared to outwardly have the same heads of grain.  For the casual observer, they were indistinguishable.  However, once the crop reached full maturity, when it formed the kernel within the husks of the heads, their difference became evident.  While they appeared the same, they produced different fruit.  The oats planted by the farmer form the plumb kernel that becomes the basis for some of our favorite foods, inclu

Faith and Understanding

Faith and Understanding Matthew 13:10-17 “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”               The disciples were confused.  As the crowds began to clamor to Jesus, Jesus began to speak in parables.  When Jesus spoke to the crowds on the mountain by the Sea of Galilee, he spoke clearly and plainly as he laid out his kingdom program.  But now they notice a shift in his message.  He began to speak in parables that were more complicated to understand and interpret.  They could not understand why the change.  In response, Jesus points to an important lesson.  To fully understand the truth of God, one must first embrace his message by faith.  Faith begins with the simple acceptance that the transmission of Christ is accurate, and then it is to respond to his statement in simple obedience.  The more we live by faith, the more we will grow in our faith and knowledge of Christ and his purpose.  S

Preparing for Sunday

Preparing for Sunday Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. “He who has ears, let him hear.”                          When we come to church, we expect that the pastor has prepared a message to proclaim.  This preparation involves carefully studying the text and thoughtfully thinking through the practical implications of the passage.  We would also expect that the pastor has prepared himself spiritually to preach God's words.  This involves prayerfully seeking God’s wisdom and guidance as he studies and prayerfully seeking to apply the passage to his own life.  However, communication is a two-way process.  Not only is it necessary for the pastor to prepare and preach the passage, but it is also essential for the people in the pew to receive it.  It is in this engagement that the communication process often breaks down.  While the pastor has prepared to preach the passage, the people have not prepared to receive the passage.             The parable of the Sower is a familiar story, one that is taug

Spiritual or Natural

Physical or Spiritual Relationships “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother, sister, and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50               In verses 46-50, Christ reorients people’s perspective on the spiritual world in contrast to the physical world, where we often focus.  As he was speaking, his mother and brothers arrived outside and inquired if they could converse with Jesus.  At this time, his earthy family still did not understand who Jesus was and what his mission entailed.  In John 7:5, we find that his brothers did not believe in him.  On another occasion, his family tried to seize him because they thought he was insane (Mark 3:20-21). Perhaps, as he sought an audience with Jesus, they were coming to rescue him from the hostility he created.  Whatever their motivation, Matthew's impression is that they felt they had a higher priority than the ministry that Jesus was performing with the people. It is implied that Jesus should stop what he was doing