Gospel of Matthew
Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Gospel of Matthew (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading comments below). Reflections on each chapter are drawn from my personal interaction with the chapter in a daily quiet time.
Introduction: The Gospel of Matthew (the tax collector 9:9ff) is written to Jews to present Jesus the Messiah who brought - in His own person, teaching, ransom sacrifice and resurrection for us - the Kingdom of God. Matthew generally uses the term Kingdom of Heaven as euphemism because Jews of his day avoided speaking the name of God directly. Matthew gives much emphasis to Jesus' teaching calling for active response to God's Kingdom. This teaching call to discipleship can be presented by theme in blocks as follows:
· Action: chapters 1-4
· Teaching: 5-7 (Ethics of the Kingdom)
· Summary: 7:28f.
· Action: chapters 8-9
· Teaching: 10 (Workers of the Kingdom)
· Summary: 11:1
· Action: chapters 11-12
· Teaching: 13 (Growth of the Kingdom)
· Summary: 13:53
· Action: chapters 14-17
· Teaching: 18 (Disciplines of the Kingdom)
· Summary: 19:1
· Action: chapters 19-22
· Teaching: 23-25 (Coming of the Kingdom)
· Summary: 26:1
Jesus' teaching is is presented for what some call "just-in-time" learning. In this approach learning and doing are integrally intertwined. Jesus models the life of the Kingdom, teaches for greater understanding of the Kingdom and sends His disciples out to exhibit the Kingdom. When they return He teaches further and and sends them out again. This is the nature of the Christian life. Matthew throughout is organized, orderly, easy to follow. The Gospel of Matthew was the standard catechism for those who turned to follow Christ in the first 3 centuries of the church.
Jesus' ancestry: is traced through Joseph's family in which Jesus is son of David (v.6). The three groups of 14 generations (v.17) seem to focus three times on the numeric equivalent of the Hebrew letters in the name of King David, the focal point of this genealogy. Jesus is the promised son of David, destined to reign forever.
Jesus' Name is His Mission: "He will save his people from their sins" (v.21). Jesus is not Jesus' Hebrew name but the Greek and Latin form of the Hebrew: "Joshua" which means "the Lord is salvation."
Jesus' virgin birth is underscored several ways: 1.) "Mary, by whom Jesus was born" (v.16) is feminine singular, to say clearly Jesus was born of Mary only, and not of Mary and Joseph. 2.) Mary and Joseph did not come together sexually during their engagement (v.18) but only after Jesus' birth (v. 25). 3.) Jesus' identity is affirmed in his name: Immanuel "God with us" (v.23) incarnate.
The heart of Joseph: Scripture says little about Joseph but what it says is remarkable. Joseph was an honorable man, not wanting to disgrace Mary publicly (v.19) though he hadn't believed her story until confirmed by an angel (v.20). He, like Mary (Luke 1:38), obeyed the Lord (v.24).
Personal Application: Like Joseph, I will not bring people into disrepute even if I believe them to be in error. I will treat all honorably regardless of my view of their behavior as an expression of God's grace.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for coming in Jesus, saving us and showing us the way.
Adulation and Murder: From infancy to the cross, Jesus was the focus of both adulation and attempts on His life. Adulation came from the Magi as God revealed to them Jesus as "King of the Jews" (v.2). How they would have known this remains amazing. Immediately however Satan began efforts to keep Jesus from His mission by stirring Herod's heart to jealousy (v.3) and murder (v.16). God took His son to Egypt (v. 13) that Jesus' mission would continue.
Magic and the Miraculous: Magi is a term sharing a root with "magic" and have been variously term astrologers (because of their knowledge of the stars), kings (due to their apparent wealth), or simply the term used in scripture: Magi.
We believe not in magic but in the Lord who works in amazing ways including angels and dreams (v.13,19). Magic is man's effort to manipulate forces for his own benefit; God is not manipulated but works unilaterally in many ways, including the miraculous, to accomplish His redemptive purposes.
Personal Application: Satan attempts to keep us also from our part in God's "love and rescue" mission; laziness, personal ambition, distraction, lesser priorities, direct attack may all take a part in taking us off track. I will therefore begin each day with the prayer: Lord, help me see through Satan's deceptive distractions to my "love and rescue" assignment today. v.2: "Where is ... the King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."
My Prayer: Father, you work all things for good, including the foul works of the evil one. Help me not be shaken or even distracted by the enemy. Rather to look always to You and always to see what I am to do next in following your purposes restoring us from the fall.
The Kingdom of Heaven Comes to Earth: the message of John the Baptist (3:2) and Jesus (4:17) was the same: the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near. Many Jews had thought the messianic Kingdom would come unilaterally. The Kingdom of Heaven has indeed drawn near, but rather than coming unilaterally requires a personal response (repentance) to enter: v.2: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
Repentance is a change of mind which is evidenced in changes of behavior. Not to repent also had consequences (v.7, 10) which the merits of Abraham (v.9) would not ameliorate. (Jews of the day believed identification with Abraham made their prayers acceptable, helped in war, expiated sin, appeased the wrath of God against sin and assured them a share in God's Kingdom.)
Baptism indicated the hearer agreed with John and aligned oneself with his message. Jesus too aligned Himself with John's message of the coming Kingdom of God (v.13) and God the Father affirmed (v.17) and empowered (v.16) Him in this.
Embracing the Kingdom: The message of the Kingdom and our necessary whole-hearted turning to embrace it remains central in history. Left to its own devices humanity always repeats the first fall with broader failure and brutality. The Kingdom of God is humanity's only salvation.
Personal Application: The Kingdom of God is my primary mission, both personally and vocationally. Everything else is subsumed to His Kingdom. I will turn my mind and heart continually towards the Kingdom, welcoming the rule and grace of God into my life, decisions, attitudes and behavior.
My Prayer: Father, how majestic You are, creator, sustainer, redeemer and righteous judge of all. May my all be poured at Your feet. May Your Kingdom be all in all over me. May Your Kingdom come bringing repentance and righteousness to all the earth.
Jesus, Adam and Israel: Like Israel who was led into the wilderness for 40 years due to sin, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit (v.1) for 40 days as a test of his Messianic character and willingness to trust and obey His Father. While God tempts no one (James 1:13f) Satan does and - where Adam was tempted and fell into sin - Jesus overcame sin for all who come to Him. Because Jesus overcame temptation he is able to sympathize with our temptations (Heb. 2:14-18).
Satan's Strategy of Diversion: Satan's strategy was to get Jesus to abuse his sonship, diverting him from the path of suffering and obedience of the cross. Satan seeks also to get us to abuse God's grace and divert us from following Jesus and from being fishers of men (v.19). As we resist however, we share in the mission of Jesus overcoming Satan and expressing and expanding the good news of the Kingdom.
Jesus Victory and Ours: Jesus drew his strength from God and His Word (v.4,7,10). While Satan can also quote scripture (v.6), he does not do so accurately (as he didn't quote God accurately in Gen. 3:1) and is to be exposed. Jesus authority over Satan (v.10) is ours also through God's Word.
The Presence of the King: Jesus announces the good news of the presence of the King (v.17) and invites others to turn and follow Him (v.18-22). The announcement of presence of the Kingdom and demonstration of the character of the King in healing and deliverance (v.23f) among Jews and Gentiles (v.25) is the joy and challenge of those who follow Him.
Personal Application: I will not be diverted by Satan. In this I will appeal not to my own strength or goodness but to the authority of the King and His Word. I will ask the King for healing and deliverance of those oppressed by Satan. I will seek today to be a fisher of men.
My Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for overcoming Satan. Thank you that we can overcome also. Thank you for being the presence of the True King. Help me today be a fisher of men.
The Sermon on the Mount (ch 5-7) is a picture of God's Kingdom, a revelation of the true righteousness of God, and an explanation of the 'repent' (3:2; 4:17) required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
True Righteousness: The letter of the law, kept haughtily by the scribes and Pharisees, does not produce the righteousness desired by God (v.20), but rather it is the spirit of the law in our hearts that the Lord seeks (v.21-48). This inner attitude is expressed by the beatitudes (v.3-12) and produces the effects of salt and light (v.13-16).
Salt preserves, creates thirst, and cleanses; the social order is kept from decay, interest rises in those who observe the Kingdom lived out and broken relationships are restored. Light reveals God's true character bringing hope and a pointer to steer by.
Changeless: The principles of God's Word (law, prophets, promises, covenant etc.) do not change because they are expressions of God's character and God's moral character does not change. For this reason God enables us, in Christ, to change to become like Him rather than for God to change to become like us.
The Righteousness of the Kingdom
3 The truly righteous know they are not truly righteous and grieve over their poverty of righteousness.
4 The truly righteous who grieve over their poverty of righteousness will be comforted with grace and true righteousness.
5 True righteousness is gentle, not grasped by force of will and cannot be forced on others. True righteousness is strength under control.
6 The truly righteous yearn for true righteousness above all else.
7 The truly righteous are merciful to those who are not righteousness and allow God to show them mercy. The truly righteous do not reject God's mercy by 'beating themselves up' for their failures and shortcomings.
8 The truly righteous have a hope greater than any other.
9 The truly righteous seek true righteousness not only in their own lives but also in and for others.
10The truly righteous will not always be appreciated. Rather they will be rejected by those opposed to God's righteousness.
Personal Application: I will desire true righteousness above all. I will think, in addition, in each challenging situation today of being salt and light in response.
My Prayer: Father, give I pray, as You speak to my heart, a quick mind knowing how to respond in true righteousness and as salt and light in each temptation and challenge today including resistance and persecution.
The Higher Righteousness: These are the moral standards for which Jesus is admired by most and dismissed as too difficult by those who refuse to be His disciples. Jesus raises the standard of the Kingdom from external behavior to the heart: not only do we not harm our neighbour but we initiate reconciliation where relationship has been breached. Not only do we avoid adultery and divorce but we insist on pure hearts and minds towards those of the opposite sex. Not only should we not break our word but our simple word should enough. Not only do we eschew revenge but we avoid the use of evil in resisting evil persons and give generously to those who ask of us. Not only do we not harm our enemies but we love them including greeting them on the streets.
Responding to Evil Persons: The most challenging of Jesus' teaching in this chapter may be passivity (non-violence) in the face of unjust or evil persons. Will passivity in the face of a beating or of rape result in less evil than if the evil is resisted? Jesus seems to assume so, at least at the level of evil by an individual against an individual. Yet evil persons like Stalin and Pol Pot (at the state level) continued in their evil ways all their lives and Hitler continued until resisted - which has raised again the argument for just war. Fortunately most of us need only make decisions about responding to individual evil - difficult enough - not about declaring war. May the Lord give grace and wisdom. It is clear Jesus followed His own teaching in going to the cross for us.
I will look away from provocative people and images.
I will initiate efforts at reconciliation regardless of who may be viewed as the cause of the breech.
I will greet all on the street.
I will speak simply and keep my word.
My Prayer: Lord, reorient me to seek heart-righteousness (above external behavior which will naturally flow from it) and above all, to seek Your heart, from which we learn and receive all righteousness.
God's Kingdom First: Jesus calls us to put our trust in His Father and to place the desire for our Father's Kingdom ahead of all else.
Doing so turn practices of piety (giving, prayer and fasting) from public to private so God alone is honored. As we do, Jesus calls us to give to the needy generously and without pride or self-congratulation, to pray - which is first not to inform God about needs but to express trust in his provision - and to fast in order to focus, in the busyness of life, on what is most important.
Putting God's Kingdom first turns us from the false god of trusting accumulated wealth to meet our needs, to trusting the true living God. This deep trust in our Father in Heaven replaces anxiety and worry, over which money has no control and which actually shortens life, with the greater and eternal blessing of His peace and rest.
Personal Application: I will not easily take offense and forgive quickly when offended. I will not pray, fast or give in ways others will notice but in private store up treasure in heaven. I will not cling to wealth or possessions but cling to the Lord and trust Him for all my needs. v.33: Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.
My Prayer: Father, may your Kingdom come fully and quickly, and may I, with those who love you, be a harbinger of it. Give me grace and patience as we wait and may I seek you most passionately of all.
Praying like Jesus: The beginning of the Lord's Prayer is similar to the Jewish ("qaddish") prayer. But Jesus's prayer has important, even revolutionary, differences:
God is not distant but he his our Father. His name should be exalted and not the name of any other ruler or power, displacing the reign of other would-be lords. We pray in hope for God's Kingdom to come soon and his justice, righteousness, peace, and mercy to be established on earth, as it is in heaven.
Prayer for our daily bread echoes Israel's wilderness experience where God provided manna - enough for each day, with no hoarding possible, no way for anyone to gain greater influence or power through God's gracious gift. This undermines human greed by declaring trust in God, not accumulation, as basic to our way of having needs met.
To pray to be released from our debts as we release those in debt to us is an outworking of the principle of Jubilee that undermines a society based on debt and unequal economic power. And Jesus reminds us forgiving others is a reflection of a repentant heart which makes our own forgiveness possible (v.14-15).
Two Ways: The Kingdom of God requires of us clear decision and action in accord with God's will. Our decision is between only two ways (v.13-27). The choice Jesus puts before us is between two doors (v.13-14), the fruit of two trees (v.15-20), two professions of allegiance (v.21-23) and two foundations on which we can build (v.24-27).
Jesus' Authority to require the Decision of us: The call to decision for the Kingdom is recognized as remarkable in that Jesus' authority in doing so is in Himself from His Father, not a derivative authority from human institutions or traditions (v.28-29).
God's Judgement and Ours: I must make it priority one to remove the sin from my own life (v.5) before helping someone else who wishes to do the same. To remove it in my own life is to judge it before God has to.
The spirit, harshness or haste with which we are willing to pass judgement on another is the way and measure with which we will be judged. We should remember there is always one more thing God knows about the other person's situation that we do not.
Seeking and Finding: We should be bold and careful in what we seek in life and prayer, for we will find and receive what we seek. So choose wisely.
Personal Application: I will seek to put myself in the shoes of the other person when considering how to treat him or her (v.12) or when tempted to judge them (v.1-5). I will not be satisfied with platitude profession (v.21-23) but do the difficult thing required by alignment with God's will (v.13-15) looking first into my heart from where good and bad fruit come (v.15-20). I recognize that in every attitude I take and decision I make, I am building either a house which will stand in the storm of life and ultimately God's judgement or which will fall.
My Prayer: Father, may your Kingdom come on earth, in my heart and life and in the nations, as it is in heaven. May I choose your Kingdom every hour and glorify you in every attitude and decision.
Jesus is Lord. In chapters 8 & 9 the Kingdom of God is introduced in supernatural power (over leprosy vs.2-4; distance vs.5-13; family allegiances vs.18-22; storm vs.23-27; and demons vs.28-34) to the marginalized and ostracized (lepers, Gentiles, blind, sick, demonized, tax collectors, and the dead).
The centurion was a Gentile soldier; ministry to him would evoke strong resentment from both nationalists and separatists in Jewish society. Resistance to Jesus began early.
Yet the Kingdom of God reaches out supernaturally to diverse peoples who have not known the Father or His blessings. The demons know they are no match for the Son of God (v.29). The question which confronts us all: "What kind of man is this...?" (v.27)
Today: I am again astounded at the devastating impact of the Kingdom against evil in all sort of manifestations. This account forces the question of Christ's Kingdom authority in our day. I side with those who believe Jesus remains able and willing (v.2-3). Jesus calls for great faith (v.10 & 26) as we follow Him in this. Though we may not see the impact of the Kingdom in the ways we desire (there may be reasons; unrepentant sin, lack of faith, absence of fasting or unity) my desire is, rather than focus on human weakness and give up the battle against evil, to press on and learn by doing.
Personal Application: I will pray for those oppressed by the evil one and not cease doing so simply because I don't understand what I am still learning spiritually about following Jesus in this way. I will pray with the attitude: "Let's see what God will do..."
My Prayer: Father, the greatest human challenge seems to me the pain in the eyes of those who have faith in Christ but don't see the miracle. Help me deflect the accusations of the enemy against them while seeking to learn where the barrier remains in the human element. In Jesus name, Amen.
The Son of Man: The fact the power of Jesus knows no boundaries is because he is the Son of Man (v.6) prophesied in Daniel 7:13-14. He is given all authority and dominion; all the prerogatives of God on earth.
The Power to Forgive and Heal: Jesus therefore, like his Father, has both the power of moral justice and the power to intervene in that justice by his sacrifice on the cross with both forgiveness and healing (the paralytic vs.2-8; sinners vs.9-13; the unclean vs.20-22; the dead vs.18-26; the blind vs.27-31; the demonized vs.32-34; and the sick v.35).
Our Mission: Our mission as followers of Jesus is to be in alignment with His mission. As such, my attitudes towards the needs of people and my reliance on the Father to intervene against the evil designs of satan on those He loves, is to be the same.
Personal Application: I will therefore live in the love of Jesus and in the authority of Jesus over Satan on behalf of His Kingdom. I will pray each day for someone in person who is sick, harassed by demons or in other need. I will expect the Kingdom of God to be extended as I do so in the name of Christ.
My Prayer: Father, How Great Thou Art! How wonderful your love for your lost sheep and your power to save. Thank you for Jesus! Send more workers into the harvest, including me.
Other Notes: The fact that Jesus and his disciples did not fast (11:18-19) subtly proclaimed that the Messiah had already arrived (see also 6:16).
Tax-collection in Jesus' day was a private enterprise. Rome granted the right to collect taxes on it's behalf to the highest bidder (cp. Luke 19:1-10). Anything collected above the bid was profit for the collector, who, driven by greed, often used extortion.
Jesus' mission and Ours: Jesus is clear and purposeful about his mission beginning with the house of Israel (v.6), extending to the ends of the earth (28:18ff) until He comes again (v.22-23).
The principles extending the Kingdom are many and, while initially specific to the 12 disciples, they are also applicable to us:
the news of the Kingdom is central to absolutely everything (v.7),
the authority of the followers of Christ extends into the very realm of the evil one (v.8),
God has prepared people of peace and influence in their communities and we should trust them (v.11-13),
if rejected, in contrast to those who espouse force, we leave peacefully (v.14-15),
we will be vulnerable but should not be foolish (v.16),
we must be prepared to suffer betrayal and persecution (v.17-23), never seeking martyrdom but fleeing when able (v.23),
we will be in these ways like Jesus (v.24-25),
in spite of all God cares for us and is our refuge against fear (v.29-31),
confessing Christ is not a single event but an ongoing lifestyle (v.32ff) leading to salvation (v.22).
Personal Application: I will pray boldly for healing and deliverance as an expression of God's grace and rule (v.8). I will seek persons of peace in particular (v.11) as I share the Gospel with all (v.7). I will not seek out, or fear or be surprised at, rejection or suffering.
My Prayer: Father, the tension between good news and suffering has so often been in the foreground among your people. Help me to live with the both/and-ness of this tension; focusing always on the goodness of the Gospel and your character, and at peace with hardships which may come; faithful in both to our witness to the Master.
Sight to the blind: The OT prophesied the Messiah would give sight to the blind. This miracle Jesus did more than any other (one example in v.5). This gift Jesus applied spiritually also when He gave Paul's mandate to turn Gentiles from darkness to light (Acts 26:18). The Messiah is the light of the world (John 8:1). Jesus rejoiced that His Father loved to reveal profound reality to the childlike and humble (v.25).
Encouragement for John: Consigned to the dungeon by Herod for challenging his immoral relationship with his half-brother's wife, Herodius, John wants to know his pending death is not in vain. Jesus affirms both John's expectation of Jesus as Messiah (v.4-6) and John's unique testimony to Him (v.10-15).
Rejection: Though the ministries of John (vs.7-9,18) and Jesus (v. 19) displayed opposite styles (stern and gracious), both ministries were decisively rejected by those who refused to change, though the wisdom and truth of both John and Jesus ministries would be evident.
Judgement: Rejecting the Messiah results in judgment on those who choose this response because the evidence of Jesus' identity has been so clear to them (v.23). As in all of life, the greater the revelation, the greater the responsibility. The pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon, having less revelation, incur less responsibility and judgement.
The better way: Come to Jesus for grace and rest. The yoke of Jesus is easy and light not because it is less demanding then that of the Pharisees (which involved 613 OT laws, plus their traditions; Jesus bids us to take up our cross). Rather because Jesus is in the yoke with us, himself making us able to do what He asks. Jesus in this way Himself gives rest and salvation (v.28-30). Note also the contrast of Jesus' true rest with the merely human yoke applied to the Sabbath, in the opening of chapter 12.
Personal Application: I will come to Him (v.28) daily, hourly. I will let the Father teach me as a child (v.25) and - ever so thankfully - let Jesus, in yoke with me, do the 'heavy lifting' that I cannot.
Jesus: "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants." (v.25)
My Prayer: Father, thank you for giving Jesus to share in the yoke and give us, who are unable to be righteous without Him, rest and peace.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the unforgiveable sin (v.32) has concerned many sincere believers unnecessarily. Jesus is referring to the error of the Pharisees who claimed Jesus' ministry, particularly exorcism, was done by the power of Satan (v.24). Only the sin of attributing to Jesus the work of Satan - rejecting Christ outright - takes one out of the realm of Jesus' salvation from the tyranny Satan.
How much more valuable (v.12): We are accountable stewards to God of his creation, including stewardship of the animals, but we are not animals and of more value in God's sight than animals. Traditionally humans, created in God's image, have been viewed as the 'crown of God's creation'. Jesus does not raise animals to the level of humans or lower humans to the level of animals.
Words reveal the heart: the Pharisees' harsh words against Jesus reveal something deeper within their hearts which cannot but be revealed. Even 'idle' (useless) or 'careless' words will require an accounting of those who speak them (v.36-37).
Words which 'pop into' our minds should not be simply ignored or spoken, but evaluated. If true and compassionate (v.7), they should be spoken to the glory of God. If not, they reveal something in our heart of which we should repent and be cleansed (v.33).
Greater: the Kingdom of God, revealed by and in Christ, is greater than the Temple (v.6), the prophets (e.g. Jonah, v.41) and the kings (e.g. Solomon, v.42). Therefore all human tradition, thinking and behavior must yield to the Kingdom of God. Only those who yield (repent) and do the will of our Father in Heaven participate in His Kingdom.
Cost of Rejection: When Jesus demonstrated God's power over Satan, Israel should have repented but it rejected Him. "Just as an exorcised demon will return if the house is not properly prepared against it, so judgment would come to this evil generation for rejecting the Messiah." (NLB)
Personal Application: I will walk in the authority of Christ against Satan and will cast out his demons on those occasions Satan reveals his hand. I will evaluate my words, and the condition of my heart they reveal. I will enjoy the true rest of Christ, free from religious cultural pressures. I will show mercy. I will do the will of my Father in heaven.
My Prayer: Father, how deep and wonderful are your ways. Thank you for your power over Satan and the joy of your Kingdom. Purify my heart and cause my words to be life-giving and full of compassion and mercy.
Jesus' Teaching Method: This is Jesus' third major section of teaching (after Matt 5-7 and 10), taking place as some began to reject him. In this context Jesus taught in parables to the crowds (v.10) and explained more fully to those who showed greater interest asking about His meaning (v.36).
The Kingdom of God: Key teaching included that growth and fruitfulness in the Kingdom requires good soil and perseverance through persecution and distraction (v.3-23). The Kingdom penetrates, changes (v33) and grows in influence and blessing (vs. 31-32) until it has brought good to all. The Kingdom is of incomparable value (vs.44-46). Therefore those who value it do all they can to possess it fully. As it is proclaimed and expands on the earth, good and evil, authentic and nominal disciples, grow up together in the Kingdom (v.24-30). The darnel weed closely resembles wheat in the early stages of growth but can easily be distinguished when fully ripe. At the end of the age the children of the Kingdom and the children of the evil one (v.38) will be separated to their respective fathers in their respective destinations (vs.40-43, 47-50).
Responses to Jesus' Teaching: Following public teaching on the Kingdom, Jesus focused more on teaching those already committed. To those who believed Jesus' parables brought greater understanding (vs.51-52), to those who didn't believe Jesus' parables added nothing and even intensified their unbelief (vs.53-58).
We may expect one of 4 responses to the Kingdom of God: no response, a temporary emotional response, a worldly response in which the priorities of the world triumph, or a fruitful response which multiplies.
Personal Application: I will seek God's Kingdom with all my heart. I will not be surprised or side-tracked when I find some pursue the Kingdom half-heartedly, turn aside or prove to have been unauthentic from the start. I will seek to be purposeful, fruitful and penetrating of our culture with radical allegiance to the values of the King and His Kingdom.
My Prayer: Father, my heart is for your Kingdom and glory. May I see Your purposes more clearly and grow up in Your Kingdom with joy!
Jesus' response to evil: When Jesus heard John the Baptist had been beheaded, He sought solitude to pray and process but couldn't find it (v.13). So He continued, in the face of Herod's evil, to do good; feeding the 5000 and healing the sick among them (v.36).
Disciple's Response to Jesus: When Jesus came to his disciples on the water he identified himself with the simple words "I am" (v.27). This, followed by the miracle of Peter's walk on the water, Jesus' rescue of Peter and the stilling of the storm, brought from the disciples' hearts worship (v.33). Jesus, as the Son of God, accepted their worship.
Personal Application: I will grieve (as Jesus did, v.13) when evil occurs and I will stand up to evil (as John the Baptist did, v.4) but I will not stop (responding primarily by) doing good. I will do good where doing so may include a risk to me. I will 'not doubt' (v.31). I will 'take courage' and 'be not afraid' (v.27) because "I AM" is with me.
My Prayer: Jesus, thank you for showing me how to respond to the face of evil. Thank you for being "I AM" with me. Thank you that even if I die for doing good (a rarity), you take me home to yet greater good and glory.
Historical background: Herod (v.1) Antipas, son of Herod the Great, ruled as 'tetrarch' (1/4th of a kingdom, including Galilee) from 4BC to 39AD. Jesus called him 'that fox' (Luke 13:32) and Herod feared Jesus (v.2) concerned Jesus could be John the Baptist raised from the dead to further challenge Herod's immorality, now including John the Baptist's beheading.
vs. 3, 6 give glimpse of Roman immorality: Herodias had been married incestuously to her uncle (Herod's half-brother Philip), then moving to an adulterous relationship with Herod. The provocative dance by Herodias's daughter (by Philip), Salome, was standard fare in royal orgies.
(v. 25: Jesus came on the water during the "4th watch." The Jewish day was divided into morning, noon and evening (Psalm 55:17), with evening divided into the "first evening" (3-6pm) and the "second evening" (starting at sundown). There were four watches during the night: 6-9pm, 9pm-midnight, 12-3am, 3-6am. Jesus arrived during the last watch.)
The "Traditions of Men" vs. the Purposes of God: God desires our hearts, our love and our trusting obedience, without efforts to get around the intention of his heart and the laws reflecting his character.
People however have a way of twisting things so that he or she appears, on the surface, to be responding to God's heart and word, yet in fact be avoiding God's heart on the matter. Jesus challenges the Pharisees, who built 'traditions' (v.2) to look good while getting around God's intent (v.6) and clarifies this vital distinction with another example regarding true cleanliness (v.11,18-20): "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders..."
Narrowing God's actual purpose: The Pharisees had likewise narrowed God's broad redemptive purpose for Israel to only a few of the 'best' (in their eyes, themselves) of Israel. God's stated purpose in the OT however was that salvation blessing was for all peoples and nations. Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile region, engaging a woman of faith (27-28, as He had earlier a Roman centurion in Matt 7) challenging is narrowing of 'human tradition' from God's real purpose and calling to Israel, and us all.
Repent of majoring on the minors: I too am vulnerable to settling for, or even desiring, an easier myopic vision which majors on the minors which happen to suit or interest me. I must constantly ask myself, "what is God's actual purpose and stated word?". For this I must know His Word and meditate on it daily. I must also evaluate contemporary trends and authors, however popular, asking, "are these the new 'traditions of men' or do they in fact reflect God's eternal will and purpose?"
Personal Application: I will guard my heart, repeatedly asking the Lord to stem the pollution at the source, that I might think and say and do only that which is true and pure and holy (v.19). I will continue meditate on the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) reading systematically from all scripture (OT history, wisdom, prophets, NT history and letters), asking the Lord to speak to me His Word and intention that I may know, love and obey.
My Prayer: Father purify my heart. Give me to know your heart and to draw deeply from the full counsel of your will rather than settle for the shallow and deceptive traditions of men.
Jesus Rejected: Jesus, having been welcomed by Gentiles (Matt. 15:21ff), is rejected by Jewish leaders (v.1). They demand a sign from heaven but Jesus points out they are refusing the signs already given by heaven and will ignore even His resurrection (v.4).
Those whose hearts are set against Jesus cannot recognize Him. Jesus in fact warns against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (v.12) which distracts people from the Father's call and grace. Leaven in scripture generally symbolizes evil, in this case, deceptive teaching.
Jesus' Identity: Jesus now asks his disciples if they see more clearly than the Jewish leaders (vs.13-15). Jesus hears in response that the people are 'closer' to perceiving rightly than are the Pharisees (v.14) but don't yet recognize Him as the Son of Man (v.13). Peter, however, perceives Jesus rightly (v.16); an insight which Jesus says originates with His Father in heaven (v.17).
The Truth Which is the Unassailable Rock: This confession of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God (v.16) is the foundation on which Jesus will build his church which can then not be overcome by spirits from the unseen world (v.17). ("Hades" means primarily the "unseen or unperceived".)
The knowledge of Christ as Messiah is the key (v.19) to the authority on earth to affect destiny in heaven. This authority is not rooted in ecclesiastical position but solely in the identify of Christ as Messiah; Son of Man and Son of God.
Following Christ involves denying ourselves, setting our minds on God's interests, even if this results in physical death (v.23-24) which is not ultimate loss (v.25) but eternal life. Nothing is worth more than this (v.26), and further, results in actions which will stand in the day of accountability (v.27).
The revelation of the Son of Man (v.28) is inclusive of the Transfiguration (ch. 17), Christ's resurrection, Pentecost and Christ's second coming in glory and judgement.
Personal Application: I will confess Jesus as the Christ and set my mind resolutely on the disposition of God's purposes on earth whatever the earthly cost of obedience. I will deny myself to follow Christ. I will bind and release on earth in Christ's name so that evil will be bound and captives be loosed.
My Prayer: Father, the confession of Christ is the rock on which all else is built. So I confess Him gladly on all occasions until I see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
The Transfiguration: (from Gk: metemorphOthE; English: metamorphosis) takes place soon after Jesus declaration that some of his disciples would see Him coming in His Kingdom (16:28). The transfiguration reveals Christ's supernatural origin and essence (v.2 and 5) fulfilling both the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah), v.3; Mal 4:4-6.
Listen to Him: It shouldn't be necessary to urge us to listen to the Son of Man (v.5) but apparently it is. May we never need to be reminded again! The meaning of Jesus's transfiguration is more fully understood after the resurrection (v.9). To Christ's post-resurrection words we should listen with even greater care.
John the Baptist fulfilled the promise that Elijah would come as forerunner to Jesus. Jesus reminded his followers that John the Baptist was killed as would be the One he announced (v.10-13).
Coming Down from the Mountain Top: While we have lesser 'mountain top' experiences, Jesus has them also and here expresses His frustration with the gap between the richness of the transfiguration and the poverty of his disciples faith (v.17). Moving mountains (v. 20, cf Isa. 40.4; 49.11; 54.10) refers to overcoming obstacles to fulfilling God's purposes. These may include demons to be expelled (v.18) or other spiritual warfare within ourselves or around us hindering the expression of God's righteousness, justice or holiness.
The Temple: Jesus visited and taught at the temple. He here also paid his annual tax (v.24-27). But Jesus also implies he did not come to support the temple and later cleanses the temple of buyers and sellers, an act contributing to His crucifixion by those who made their living by the temple.
Personal Application: I will "listen to Him" (v.5). I will live for him on the "mountain top" and in the valley with equal obedience. I will be prepared for hardship or even suffering as I follow Him. I will exercise faith and by His power overcome obstacles and opposition to God's purposes.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for this glorious pre-resurrection appearance revealing Jesus as the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14). Help me see your glory also when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death or lesser forms of darkness. Shine, Jesus, shine on me and in me and through me.
The Greatest and the Least: The disciples' question: "Who is greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?" leads to Matthew's fourth major section of Jesus' teaching. Jesus' response focuses, in contrast to the values of the world, on the greatest as those who are humble (vs.3-5, 10-14), eager not to sin and not to cause others to stumble (vs.6-9), willing to accept responsibility for our behavior and blind spots (vs.15-20) and unceasingly forgiving (v.21ff).
Christian Community: The chapter as such, along with the Sermon on the Mount, is a picture of the Christian community Jesus has come to form on earth. As we inevitably fall short, each of these characteristics are essential, whatever the cost, to avoid falling back into the ways of the world (pride, self-assertion, revenge etc.).
Angels: The Bible says little about angels but is clear: children have angels (Matt. 18:10), as do all God's people (Ps. 91:11, Heb. 1:14). We do not pray to angels; they too look to the face of the Father for direction (v.10). Angels are committed with Jesus to formation of this kind of new humanity and community.
Lost Sheep: God desires none to perish, therefore we too give priority to seeking the lost (v.11-14). Who is the lost person physically nearest to you? Who is the lost person God has put on your heart? What are you doing to seek him or her out?
Personal Application: I will value children and the weak (little ones in the eyes of the world) highly. I will live in such as way as to inspire emulation and take responsibility for my failures so as not to make others stumble. I will accept, even invite, input to my blind spots. I will not resist, for even an moment, my need to ask forgiveness. I will forgive every time I am asked. I will set forgiveness as my default even when not asked.
My Prayer: Father, there is so much in this chapter. Let me miss nothing. Lord, give me the spirit of a child. Give me eyes to see the lost and a heart of compassion to love them and seek their good. Give me a heart quick to ask forgiveness and quick to give it. Father, I want to serve the Body of Christ in such a way that she increasingly lives up to the qualities Jesus infuses into and calls forth from us. Help me never stand aside from the Body or criticize it from outside. As I am in Christ I am inextricably a part of His Body the church.
Jesus is walking from Capernaum to Jerusalem (137 km; ch.19-20) so has much time for conversation with his disciples and those they meet.
Divorce: Jesus rejects the school of Hillel which held divorce was the prerogative of any man for almost any reason (v.3). Jesus pointed rather to God's creation ordinance (v.4-5), declaring even Moses to have made an unwarranted concession (v.8).
Wealth: The more resources we have, the less able it seems we we are to recognize the depth of our dependence on God, especially when young (v.20). Giving sacrificially to the needy helps in two ways: 1.) we become more aware of our dependence on God which, more importantly, helps us throw ourselves on His mercy, and 2.) we make progress in loving our neighbour as ourselves (v.19b).
The Regeneration of Creation: When Jesus returns the renewal of all things [literally: "becoming again"] (v.28) will bring rewards (v.28-29) and surprises (v.30). By God's grace even those who are "greatest now ...and...least important then" (NLT) will inherit eternal life on the lower rungs of the Kingdom.
As years pass the more aware I become of my need, shortcomings and utter dependency on God's grace. The wealthy young man (v.22) is in a sense a picture of the majority of us in our youth: capable, confident, idealist. As I age, though wealth tends to increase, it's value to me decreases. At the same time my recognition increases that salvation (by our own strength and false confidence) is impossible for humans (v.26). So, more deeply, I turn to God.
Personal Application: I will give to those in need, often and sacrificially. This does not call for naivete, but an ongoing discerning generosity. I will press into my dependency on God till I am entirely absorbed by it. I will call on those in difficult marriages to seek God for greater strength and grace to grow through the challenges rather than choose the easy way out.
My Prayer: Father, when I first surrendered to Christ as Lord I thought I had surrendered all. As I age I continually discover more to surrender and discover I must press through my spiritual "sarx" again and again to do so. So my dependence on You for help to surrender only increases and my gratitude for your enablement to surrender increases and so also my joy in You.
It's all Grace: whether we serve long or short or in difficult settings (heat of the day, v.12), the goodness of God is the same (vs.1-16). Equally amazing to me is that, though I've sinned more in my many years as a Christian than the person coming into the Kingdom later in life, God extends grace to me too!
Servanthood and Sacrifice: On this principle also, James and John will not receive greater reward than the other disciples. Service and sacrifice (the cup, v.22-23) is the role of all who have received grace (v.20-28), as it is of the Son of Man who goes before us, serves and sacrifices more than us all; his life a substitute for ours that we may be set free (v.28).
The Christian life is not about our comfort and well-being but our service and sacrifice for others. In a sense our service and sacrifice, in some cases even suffering for others, is redemptive, following Christ in this also as He gave himself for others.
Personal Application: I am grateful for grace, even more so as I grieve the sin remaining in my life in the years since claiming the Lordship of Christ. I will serve through the barrier of sacrifice. I will see this as the normal Christian life. v. 27-28: "Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
My Prayer: Father, how can it be we who claim to follow Christ are disobedient to our central identity: sacrifice to serve the spiritual and physical need of others to the point of privation and suffering? May it be no longer. May it be no longer in me.
The True King: Jesus reveals himself as the true King of Israel (v.5). The people receive him gladly (v.9) while their leaders challenge (v.23) and reject (v.46) Jesus' rightful authority.
As the people sing: "Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest" (v.9), they agree with the angels of heaven who sang "Glory to God in the highest" (Luke 2) at Jesus' birth.
The True Prophet: When Jesus confronts the greedy perversion of the temple's original purpose (v.12) he acts in line with the purifying purposes of OT prophets and receives the same hostility (v.33ff). Like John the Baptist (v.25) Jesus called Israel to reflect the heart, and to do the will, of its Father (v.31).
The temple accepted only ancient Hebrew or Tyrian shekels. Consequently, temple leaders required ordinary coinage to be exchanged. Currency exchange differential went to those who made the rules.
The Dividing Line through the Hearts of Mankind: Rejecting God's call, the Kingdom would be given to those who responded (v.31f, 42-43). This classic window on the hearts of those who receive and reject the Kingdom reveals the reality faced by prophets and evangelists of all ages, including today and tomorrow.
How shall we respond? Looking to Jesus, we see Him respond with forthrightness, courage and boldness, willing to accept both adulation (v.9) and rejection (v.45f).
Personal Application: I will forthrightly declare the Lordship of Christ as true King to everyone regardless of response. I will not be turned aside by acceptance or rejection of the authority of Christ. I will do the will of the Father (v.31) with confidence that God will accomplish His purposes (v.21-22) as I pray and obey.
My Prayer: Father I rejoice in Your salvation; your goodness and your will. Thank you that your King has come! Thank you that you give your children good gifts.
A Parable of Patience Unrequited: God's invitation to celebrate the joyful relationship He intended for His people had been rejected (v.3), ignored (5) in the Old Testament and His messengers, the prophets, had been treated badly (v.6). God therefore punished them (v.7) in what some see as a prediction of destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Jesus then offered the relationship to all who would receive His grace (v.10).
The puzzling confrontation with the individual in vs.11-13 also addresses rejection of the King by a man refusing the wear the wedding clothes traditionally supplied by his host. Wedding clothes are likely to be seen as the righteousness supplied by Christ's Passover sacrifice. v.13 quotes a common proverb of the day frequently used in the apocryphal 4 Ezra.
Demonstrating Jesus' Parable: Three groups now demonstrate the rejection spoken of by Jesus in the wedding feast parable.
The pragmatic Herodians (v.15-22) who favored peace at any price with Rome and supported Rome's corrupt vassal, Herod, wanted to assure themselves Jesus would not bring down the wrath of Rome on Israel by announcing as the people hoped (cf.21:9), a rival Kingdom.
The Sadducees, who were the 'life-ends-at-the-grave' liberals of Jesus' day, were confronted more forcefully for their denial of the Scriptures and of the power of God (v.29).
The third group demonstrating the truth of Jesus' parable, the Pharisees (vs.34ff), courageously (or arrogantly) viewed their detailed compliance with the Law adequate to enter heaven. Jesus answered their question by linking, as implicit in the 'two tables' of the 10 commandments, the Shema (Deut. 6:5), already used daily in Jewish prayers, with Lev. 19:18 for a comprehensive summary of the Law. In v.44 Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1, the OT text most commonly quoted by NT writers, demonstrating He is both David's descendant and Lord.
Let us not be the fourth group: I'm struck, in our world today too, by how often people are "speechless" (v.12), amazed" (v.22), and "astonished" (v.33) at Jesus, yet - like the Herodian, Sadducees and Pharisees - walk away (v.22) rather than follow Him into the Kingdom. I will embrace the Kingdom of God's grace.
Personal Application: I will not deny earthly governments their taxes or rightful laws which do not contradict God's Kingdom. I will search the Scriptures daily. I will live in constant expectation of the Power of God. You are mistaken, not understanding the Scripture, nor the power of God.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for your grace and Kingdom and wedding feast celebrating the intimacy of your love for your people and creation. Thank you for your power revealed in the Scriptures and our lives with You.
The ultimate warning: Jesus warns against keeping those the Father loves (v.37b) from entering the Kingdom (v.13), including specifically the scribes and Pharisees of His day.
Our English term hypocrite generally connotes 'faker', as in v.3, 25-28, in which the outside pretends to be what the inside is not. In scripture this term extends also to an even more dangerous inconsistency, i.e. 'heretic' (teacher-of-what-is-not-true, v.15), leading people away from the Kingdom instead of to it.
Jesus' warning also applies to us: Those Jesus warns us of, and warns us not to be, people who set themselves up (e.g. in the chair of Moses, v.3), seek prominence or accept honor and titles from others (v.6-11) rather than humbling themselves as servants of all (v.11-12). Jesus did not condemn the wearing of phylacteries (containing important scriptures) and tassels (v.5), but the motivation behind seeking greater notice and honor. Likewise Jesus does not warn against tithing (v.23) but against substituting tithing for broader faithfulness to justice and mercy. Jesus yearns for all his children (v.37) while recognizing sadly some will not turn to him until his final return (v.39).
There is great responsibility for us to represent our God rightly, not for our own perceived benefit but for the salvation of His people. We should therefore make every effort to live consistently with what we teach (v.3), lay nothing unnecessary to salvation on those who seek God's grace (v.4). (Jesus addressed in this chapter to those who claimed to pass on additional oral tradition from Moses with 613 probations and commands.)
We should avoid titles and rank, serving each other as equals (v.6-11); and if striving, for downward rather than upward mobility (v.12). Let us examine ourselves, inside (v.25-28) where no one but God can see, rather then trying to examine the inside of others.
Personal Application: I will, when tempted to draw conclusions about the motivation of another, look within and seek purity of heart. I will turn aside titles and human honor, humbling myself to serve only. I will seek to open the door to the Kingdom for others.
My Prayer: Father, how deeply You speak to those with responsibility to the community, to represent You well and how I desire to do so. Lord, show me where I honor You not or accept honor that is Yours. Forgive me, Lord. Correct me clearly so I may turn and honor You wholly.
Matthew 24 Jesus calls for 'short-term' perseverance (during our lifetime) in a turbulent world, for 'long-term' blessing (in eternal life).
The Main Thing: While we may puzzle over details, it is important not to miss Jesus' primary teachings. These include:
History will come to a close.
The end of what has been normal history will come in a context of chaos and tribulation.
The Gospel must be offered to all (v.14).
Those who remain faithful to Christ will be saved. NLT: "At the end of the first century, the Roman historian Tacitus described Christians as "the hated ones of mankind" (Tacitus, Annales 15.44)." We must accept chaos as our context, even suffering. Our mission, through it all, remains constant: to love God and neighbour and make disciples.
Judgment will be final.
Details which may remain unresolved include:
which details refer to the end of the Jewish homeland in 70AD and which to Christ's return,
which details of apocalyptic language (frequently used in the OT) are intended literally. [Much of Jesus' imagery is drawn from Daniel, i.e. NLT: "The end will be signaled by a "sacrilegious object" (24:15), furious persecution (24:16-28), and finally the sign of the Son of Man (24:29-31).]
Where a choice is to be made, we should attend to the primary points Jesus declares rather than details about which we remain uncertain.
Personal Application: I will not be shaken by the 'news' today as something unusual but pray for those who persevere, suffering for their faith. I will not let my love grow cold but more fervent today. I will look for opportunities to make disciples today.
My Prayer: Father, give me the perspective of eternity so as not to be overtaken by short-lived evil. Enable me to live out of the future, drawing Your love into the present.
Readiness: While circumstances surrounding Christ's return are debated, the reality depicted in this chapter will likely appear, from our vantage point, virtually immediate upon death, of which we likewise "do not know the day nor the hour" (v.13). At that time we will be held accountable for our readiness [to celebrate grace] (v.10) and for what we have done with God's gifts and mandate (v.14), particularly in serving "the least of these" (v. 40, 45).
Consequences: Each parable highlights the reality, for many, of separation at judgment (v.10, 30, 41) into "outer darkness/eternal fire". In the broad NT context of grace, it is remarkable all three parables appear uniformly to use criteria for this separation to be the past chosen behaviors of those being judged.
Note also the Kingdom of God has been prepared from the foundation of the world (v.34), whereas punishment for those rejecting right relationship with God has been prepared (v.41) more recently.
How then shall we live? In a way, through obedience (and repentance of disobedience), that we are always ready for Christ's return. In the way of constant reliance on His grace. In the way of good stewardship of time and activity, particularly serving the "least of these" (v.41,45).
Personal Application: I will review with Carol how we have been serving the specific needs highlighted by Jesus in vs. 35-36 and how to improve, remembering Jesus' words (v.40): "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (NASB).
My Prayer: Father, I tremble before the judgment seat of Christ, knowing my sins of omission and commission. You know them far better. I cannot live in their presence. You cannot, far more so. So I appeal to Your mercy and grace at the foot of the cross. I appeal also to your guidance and direction for full obedience and joy in service as a disciple of Jesus.
Steadfast Focus on the Costly Goal: Jesus, clear about his calling to serve as sacrificial Passover lamb (v.2), allows his body to be anointed for burial (v.6-13) and prepares to celebrate the Passover with his disciples before his crucifixion (vs. 17-30).
Widespread Human Failure: In this critical time His followers fail. Judas agreed (v.14-16) and then betrayed Jesus (v.47-56). The disciples failed to "watch and pray" with Jesus (v.36-46) and fled to save themselves (v. 56) when Judas led a mob to arrest Jesus. Peter denied his association with Jesus repeatedly and more explicitly (v.69-75). The difference was Peter's deep repentance (v.75) and Judas' despairing suicide (ch. 27).
Son of God and Son of Man: Throughout, Jesus remained focused on his calling and destiny, asking his Father if there was an alternative (v.39) but accepting the necessity of his redemptive sacrifice. Jesus made clear, when pressed, that he did so as the Son of God and the Son of Man (v.63-64). He could have refused (v.53) but voluntarily submitted bringing life to all who received.
Personal Application: I too am called to obey God's redemptive purposes in Christ, extending God's offer of grace to all who remain lost outside of him. I too can refuse. I too fail on occasion as Jesus' disciples did. But I want to voluntarily obey and not draw back. I will repent as Peter did when I fall short. I will abide in Christ, symbolized in the bread and wine given us freely, drawing on Him alone for strength and faithfulness. I will turn my face in hope and anticipation to the coming Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for the example of Jesus' faithfulness in submitting his will to the Trinity. I too submit voluntarily for Your glory and the redemption of the lost.
Judas' Remorse: I dare not imagine it; there could be none greater (v.5). Judas's initial motivation cannot be known but may have been less than crucifixion. Even so, prophesy was fulfilled, both by the 30 pieces of silver and by the purchase of the field from which potters dug clay (v.9-10), providing places to bury strangers. (Some point out the prophetic passage is from Zechariah. It was common in the era to refer to the Prophets by the name of the first book in the section, which at the time was Jeremiah.)
Jesus' Silence: Jesus accepted the designation "King of the Jews" (v.11) but did not respond to charges stemming from his exercise of the role (v.12-14, 28-31, 40-43). Pilate recognized Jesus was no threat to Rome. Therefore Pilate sought to pacify the Jews with Barabbas, without success (v.15-23).
Jesus' Suffering as Sacrifice: Why Pilate had Jesus flogged (with metal or bone fragments attached to thongs, a punishment normally inflicted by Rome only on traitors or murderers, when 1.) Pilate knew Jesus was innocent (v.24), 2.) his wife opposed it (v.19) and 3.) the Jews hadn't demanded it) is unknown. Jesus became too weak from blood lost in this torture to carry his cross-beam (v.32) to Golgotha. (This death by torture was adapted by the Romans from the Phoenicians to normally last 2 or 3 days, dying from thirst, exhaustion, exposure and finally asphyxiation after being nailed hands and feet to the wood.) Even then, Jesus refused the potion given victims to deaden their pain (v.34), "preferring to meet His death with all His faculties unimpaired" (Ryrie). Mocking (v.37-44) was added to physical pain.
Responses to His Gift: Jesus' final cry "It is Finished" (John 19:30) was both an expression of relief and a shout of victory - having accomplished His work, carrying the weight of our sin for the world (v.46). The eclipse (or other cause of darkness, v.45), earthquake and related events (v.51-54) became the capstone to the centurion's confession (v.54). Jesus' death was voluntary to the end (He gave up His spirit, v.50), nothing was forced on Him as He gave His life for ours.
Even His opponents were compelled to acknowledge His utter uniqueness, though they were unwilling to benefit from His ministry.
"Some of the most outwardly pious people of His day, Jesus called "liars," "murderers" and "children of the devil"! These men, Jesus said, "on the outside appear to people as righteous but on the inside are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." These were the spiritual leaders of that day - the finest the religious community had to offer. Outwardly they had conformed to the accepted religious standards of their time and place, but inwardly they had never yielded to God. Externally they had adopted all the right habits, codes of dress, and manners of speaking, but in their hearts they had never abandoned self for the will of God. They knew the Word of God and were even able to teach it to others, yet God they knew not. They commanded others to obey the Word of God, but when God Himself came to them they utterly rejected Him." - Malcolm Webber
Personal Application: I will honor Jesus' voluntary death by receiving all He desires to give by it. I will die to self, honor him as utter Lord, making way for the fullness of His Lordship in me. He has purchased me for God by His blood and owns me unequivocally, totally and eternally.
My Prayer: Lord Jesus, Son of God, thank you for having mercy on me a sinner. I receive your grace with thanksgiving and eternal praise.
Jesus' resurrection (v.6) is the foundation of His authority (v.18) and our faith (v.18-20).
Jesus' opponents seem more nervous about Jesus' prophesy of resurrection (Matt.27:63) than His disciples were expectant. Even Pilate seemed bemused, perhaps sarcastic (27:65), at the Pharisee's concern for he knew death well. The purchased story (v.13) seems desperate since it is unlikely all soldiers would sleep at the same time and, even if so, sleeping men couldn't know the body was stolen or, assuming it so without evidence, who stole it. The counter argument was so weak there was no need to alter the fact the first witnesses were women whose testimony wasn't readily accepted in the culture of the day.
Our Mission: It is amazing that our mission from the Risen Savior's lips could be taken so lightly during so much of history by a church which claims to acknowledge our Lord as having "all authority in heaven and on earth (v.18)." Yet it is indisputable He is absolute Lord (v.18) who commissions us to make disciples of all humans (v.19) and to obey all His teachings. Strengthening us in our obedience is His abiding presence.
The Trinity is unified in it's purpose (as the sun, sunlight and the power of the sun are unified, though distinguishable) and glory in this Missio Dei also. Even so, amazingly, Jesus calls us His "brethren" (v.10) rather than servants.
Personal Application: I will give myself to His mission and to obedience to His teaching to my last day. I will "fear not" (v.5 and 10) before the glory of His resurrection and the challenges of His mission.
My Prayer: Father, I rejoice in Christ my Lord and King and serve Him with purposefulness and gladness as an expression of worship. Strengthen me in resolve and consistency I pray.