Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 23

    Matthew 23 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
  2. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law are experts in the Law of Moses.
  3. So obey everything they teach you, but don't do as they do. After all, they say one thing and do something else.
  4. They pile heavy burdens on people's shoulders and won't lift a finger to help.
  5. Everything they do is just to show off in front of others. They even make a big show of wearing Scripture verses on their foreheads and arms, and they wear big tassels for everyone to see.
  6. They love the best seats at banquets and the front seats in the meeting places.
  7. And when they are in the market, they like to have people greet them as their teachers.
  8. But none of you should be called a teacher. You have only one teacher, and all of you are like brothers and sisters.
  9. Don't call anyone on earth your father. All of you have the same Father in heaven.
  10. None of you should be called the leader. The Messiah is your only leader.
  11. Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others.
  12. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.
  13. You Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses are in for trouble! You're nothing but show-offs. You lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. You won't go in yourselves, and you keep others from going in.
  14. (SEE 23:13)
  15. You Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses are in for trouble! You're nothing but show-offs. You travel over land and sea to win one follower. And when you have done so, you make that person twice as fit for hell as you are.
  16. You are in for trouble! You are supposed to lead others, but you are blind. You teach that it doesn't matter if a person swears by the temple. But you say that it does matter if someone swears by the gold in the temple.
  17. You blind fools! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred?
  18. You also teach that it doesn't matter if a person swears by the altar. But you say that it does matter if someone swears by the gift on the altar.
  19. Are you blind? Which is more important, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
  20. Anyone who swears by the altar also swears by everything on it.
  21. And anyone who swears by the temple also swears by God, who lives there.
  22. To swear by heaven is the same as swearing by God's throne and by the one who sits on that throne.
  23. You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you're in for trouble! You give God a tenth of the spices from your garden, such as mint, dill, and cumin. Yet you neglect the more important matters of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These are the important things you should have done, though you should not have left the others undone either.
  24. You blind leaders! You strain out a small fly but swallow a camel.
  25. You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you're in for trouble! You wash the outside of your cups and dishes, while inside there is nothing but greed and selfishness.
  26. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of a cup, and then the outside will also be clean.
  27. You Pharisees and teachers are in for trouble! You're nothing but show-offs. You're like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth.
  28. That's what you are like. Outside you look good, but inside you are evil and only pretend to be good.
  29. You Pharisees and teachers are nothing but show-offs, and you're in for trouble! You build monuments for the prophets and decorate the tombs of good people.
  30. And you claim that you would not have taken part with your ancestors in killing the prophets.
  31. But you prove that you really are the relatives of the ones who killed the prophets.
  32. So keep on doing everything they did.
  33. You are nothing but snakes and the children of snakes! How can you escape going to hell?
  34. I will send prophets and wise people and experts in the Law of Moses to you. But you will kill them or nail them to a cross or beat them in your meeting places or chase them from town to town.
  35. That's why you will be held guilty for the murder of every good person, beginning with the good man Abel. This also includes Barachiah's son Zechariah, the man you murdered between the temple and the altar.
  36. I can promise that you people living today will be punished for all these things!
  37. Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Your people have killed the prophets and have stoned the messengers who were sent to you. I have often wanted to gather your people, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you wouldn't let me.
  38. And now your temple will be deserted.
  39. You won't see me again until you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."

Followed their failed attempts to trap Jesus with their questions, described in chapter 22, the Chief Priests and scribes went away from Jesus and made no further direct challenges to Him. Their next confrontation with Jesus would be with force and without subtle attempts to discredit Him. While they were away plotting their next move, Jesus was warning the crowds about them. His warning is summed up in verses 2-3, "The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you and observe it. But don't do what they do, because they don't practice what they teach." The rest of the chapter is supporting evidence or argument for this warning.

Jesus' charges against the religious leaders is a caution for religious leaders of all time:
  • A love for being in the place of honor. Those who serve Jesus seek to serve rather than to be served.
  • Hindering rather than helping people to enter the kingdom of heaven by observing tradition over scripture.
  • Emphasizing ritual over mercy (long prayers were more important than helping widows).
  • Going to great lengths to make a convert then making him more fit for hell than for heaven.
  • Devising legal loopholes in the law for personal gain.
  • Making big show to observe lesser matters of the law while neglecting the more important ones of justice, mercy, and faith.
  • Giving greater concern for appearances than to the condition of the heart.
  • Falsely crediting oneself for not committing the sins of others.
Jesus' words for such religious leaders was, "Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell?"

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 22

    Matthew 22 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Once again Jesus used stories to teach the people:
  2. The kingdom of heaven is like what happened when a king gave a wedding banquet for his son.
  3. The king sent some servants to tell the invited guests to come to the banquet, but the guests refused.
  4. He sent other servants to say to the guests, "The banquet is ready! My cattle and prize calves have all been prepared. Everything is ready. Come to the banquet!"
  5. But the guests did not pay any attention. Some of them left for their farms, and some went to their places of business.
  6. Others grabbed the servants, then beat them up and killed them.
  7. This made the king so furious that he sent an army to kill those murderers and burn down their city.
  8. Then he said to the servants, "It is time for the wedding banquet, and the invited guests don't deserve to come.
  9. Go out to the street corners and tell everyone you meet to come to the banquet."
  10. They went out on the streets and brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike. And the banquet room was filled with guests.
  11. When the king went in to meet the guests, he found that one of them wasn't wearing the right kind of clothes for the wedding.
  12. The king asked, "Friend, why didn't you wear proper clothes for the wedding?" But the guest had no excuse.
  13. So the king gave orders for that person to be tied hand and foot and to be thrown outside into the dark. That's where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain.
  14. Many are invited, but only a few are chosen.
  15. The Pharisees got together and planned how they could trick Jesus into saying something wrong.
  16. They sent some of their followers and some of Herod's followers to say to him, "Teacher, we know that you are honest. You teach the truth about what God wants people to do. And you treat everyone with the same respect, no matter who they are.
  17. Tell us what you think! Should we pay taxes to the Emperor or not?"
  18. Jesus knew their evil thoughts and said, "Why are you trying to test me? You show-offs!
  19. Let me see one of the coins used for paying taxes." They brought him a silver coin,
  20. and he asked, "Whose picture and name are on it?"
  21. "The Emperor's," they answered. Then Jesus told them, "Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God."
  22. His answer surprised them so much that they walked away.
  23. The Sadducees did not believe that people would rise to life after death. So that same day some of the Sadducees came to Jesus and said:
  24. Teacher, Moses wrote that if a married man dies and has no children, his brother should marry the widow. Their first son would then be thought of as the son of the dead brother.
  25. Once there were seven brothers who lived here. The first one married, but died without having any children. So his wife was left to his brother.
  26. The same thing happened to the second and third brothers and finally to all seven of them.
  27. At last the woman died.
  28. When God raises people from death, whose wife will this woman be? She had been married to all seven brothers.
  29. Jesus answered: You are completely wrong! You don't know what the Scriptures teach. And you don't know anything about the power of God.
  30. When God raises people to life, they won't marry. They will be like the angels in heaven.
  31. And as for people being raised to life, God was speaking to you when he said,
  32. "I am the God worshiped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." He isn't the God of the dead, but of the living.
  33. The crowds were surprised to hear what Jesus was teaching.
  34. After Jesus had made the Sadducees look foolish, the Pharisees heard about it and got together.
  35. One of them was an expert in the Jewish Law. So he tried to test Jesus by asking,
  36. "Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?"
  37. Jesus answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
  38. This is the first and most important commandment.
  39. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, "Love others as much as you love yourself."
  40. All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments.
  41. While the Pharisees were still there, Jesus asked them,
  42. "What do you think about the Messiah? Whose family will he come from?" They answered, "He will be a son of King David."
  43. Jesus replied, "How then could the Spirit lead David to call the Messiah his Lord? David said,
  44. 'The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right side until I make your enemies into a footstool for you.'
  45. If David called the Messiah his Lord, how can the Messiah be a son of King David?"
  46. No one was able to give Jesus an answer, and from that day on, no one dared ask him any more questions.

Chapter 22 continues a discussion Jesus was having with the Chief Priests and Pharisees. Since His arrival in Jerusalem these leaders had been trying to find a way to discredit Jesus. By the end of chapter 21, however, they were interested in more than discrediting Him. 21:46 says, " Although they were looking for a way to arrest Him, they feared the crowds, because they regarded Him as a prophet." Chapter 22 gives account of their efforts to trap Jesus so they might be able to arrest Him. But by the end of this chapter they had also given up on trying to trap Him. Every question they posed to Him in their effort to trap Him was turned back on them and it was they who were in the hot seat.

Chapter 21 concluded with a parable of the landowner whose tenants refused to pay his portion of the harvest and killed those he sent to collect, including his own son. Jesus pointed this parable at the religious leaders, concluding with these words in 21:43, "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit." Now, in the first verses of chapter 22 Jesus tells another parable to further make His point concerning the position of these leaders in God's kingdom. In this parable, a king gave a wedding banquet for his son, and at the appointed time for the banquet sent his slaves to summon those who had been invited. But those who were intended guests for the banquet paid no attention to their summons, treating the king's slaves outrageously and even killing them. As a result, the king destroyed them and sent out his slaves to the roads leading from the city and told them to invite everyone they found regardless of who they were.

Jesus made at least three primary points with this parable. The first was pointed at the religious leaders who were in His audience. They were represented in the parable by those originally invited to the king's banquet who treated his summons with indifference and contempt. Therefore, they would not be included in the kingdom of heaven. A second point of Jesus' parable was that everyone is invited to be included in the kingdom of heaven. It is not only for an elite group such as the Jews, though they were on the original guest list. A third point was that although all are invited, not all will be allowed to enter the kingdom. I believe this could accurately be restated to say, not all will choose to enter the kingdom, for those who are not chosen to enter are refused entry based on their choices. In the case of those originally invited it was their refusal to come when summoned. In the case of others, it was their refusal to wear the proper wedding attire even though it was provided for them. In other words, those who attempt to enter the kingdom of heaven on their own terms will be thrown "into outer darkness."

Following this parable the Pharisees and Sadducees became intent on trapping Jesus. So intent that even though they were enemies of one another, they joined forces to set the trap. Though their traps were rather clever, they actually exposed the ignorance of these religious leaders concerning the things of God. Jesus used scripture and simple logic to harmlessly disarm their traps. After several attempts they no longer "dared to question Him."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 21

    Matthew 21 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When Jesus and his disciples came near Jerusalem, he went to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives and sent two of them on ahead.
  2. He told them, "Go into the next village, where you will at once find a donkey and her colt. Untie the two donkeys and bring them to me.
  3. If anyone asks why you are doing that, just say, 'The Lord needs them.' Right away he will let you have the donkeys."
  4. So God's promise came true, just as the prophet had said,
  5. "Announce to the people of Jerusalem: 'Your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey. He comes on the colt of a donkey.' "
  6. The disciples left and did what Jesus had told them to do.
  7. They brought the donkey and its colt and laid some clothes on their backs. Then Jesus got on.
  8. Many people spread clothes in the road, while others put down branches which they had cut from trees.
  9. Some people walked ahead of Jesus and others followed behind. They were all shouting, "Hooray for the Son of David! God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hooray for God in heaven above!"
  10. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, everyone in the city was excited and asked, "Who can this be?"
  11. The crowd answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."
  12. Jesus went into the temple and chased out everyone who was selling or buying. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of the ones who were selling doves.
  13. He told them, "The Scriptures say, 'My house should be called a place of worship.' But you have turned it into a place where robbers hide."
  14. Blind and lame people came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them.
  15. But the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses were angry when they saw his miracles and heard the children shouting praises to the Son of David.
  16. The men said to Jesus, "Don't you hear what those children are saying?" "Yes, I do!" Jesus answered. "Don't you know that the Scriptures say, 'Children and infants will sing praises'?"
  17. Then Jesus left the city and went out to the village of Bethany, where he spent the night.
  18. When Jesus got up the next morning, he was hungry. He started out for the city,
  19. and along the way he saw a fig tree. But when he came to it, he found only leaves and no figs. So he told the tree, "You will never again grow any fruit!" Right then the fig tree dried up.
  20. The disciples were shocked when they saw how quickly the tree had dried up.
  21. But Jesus said to them, "If you have faith and don't doubt, I promise that you can do what I did to this tree. And you will be able to do even more. You can tell this mountain to get up and jump into the sea, and it will.
  22. If you have faith when you pray, you will be given whatever you ask for."
  23. Jesus had gone into the temple and was teaching when the chief priests and the leaders of the people came up to him. They asked, "What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?"
  24. Jesus answered, "I have just one question to ask you. If you answer it, I will tell you where I got the right to do these things.
  25. Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?" They thought it over and said to each other, "We can't say that God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn't believe John.
  26. On the other hand, these people think that John was a prophet, and we are afraid of what they might do to us. That's why we can't say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize."
  27. So they told Jesus, "We don't know." Jesus said, "Then I won't tell you who gave me the right to do what I do."
  28. Jesus said: I will tell you a story about a man who had two sons. Then you can tell me what you think. The father went to the older son and said, "Go work in the vineyard today!"
  29. His son told him that he would not do it, but later he changed his mind and went.
  30. The man then told his younger son to go work in the vineyard. The boy said he would, but he didn't go.
  31. Which one of the sons obeyed his father? "The older one," the chief priests and leaders answered. Then Jesus told them: You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will!
  32. When John the Baptist showed you how to do right, you would not believe him. But these evil people did believe. And even when you saw what they did, you still would not change your minds and believe.
  33. Jesus told the chief priests and leaders to listen to this story: A land owner once planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it and dug a pit to crush the grapes in. He also built a lookout tower. Then he rented out his vineyard and left the country.
  34. When it was harvest time, the owner sent some servants to get his share of the grapes.
  35. But the renters grabbed those servants. They beat up one, killed one, and stoned one of them to death.
  36. He then sent more servants than he did the first time. But the renters treated them in the same way.
  37. Finally, the owner sent his own son to the renters, because he thought they would respect him.
  38. But when they saw the man's son, they said, "Someday he will own the vineyard. Let's kill him! Then we can have it all for ourselves."
  39. So they grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
  40. Jesus asked, "When the owner of that vineyard comes, what do you suppose he will do to those renters?"
  41. The chief priests and leaders answered, "He will kill them in some horrible way. Then he will rent out his vineyard to people who will give him his share of grapes at harvest time."
  42. Jesus replied, "You surely know that the Scriptures say, 'The stone that the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone of all. This is something the Lord has done, and it is amazing to us.'
  43. I tell you that God's kingdom will be taken from you and given to people who will do what he demands.
  44. Anyone who stumbles over this stone will be crushed, and anyone it falls on will be smashed to pieces."
  45. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard these stories, they knew that Jesus was talking about them.
  46. So they looked for a way to arrest Jesus. But they were afraid to, because the people thought he was a prophet.

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, He was just days away from His crucifixion. The events recorded in chapter 21 show a stark contrast between the reactions to Jesus of the general populace and those of the Jewish leaders. First there was the dramatic recognition of Jesus in what is often referred to as His triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. As Jesus came into the city on the donkey we are told, "A very large crowd spread their robes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" What prompted this response from the people? Primarily, the Lord prompted it, for this was fulfillment of prophecy. At another level, though, we realize that the crowds were larger in Jerusalem at this time because of the coming Passover celebration, bringing people from all over Israel. Although the residents of Jerusalem might not have been greatly familiar with Jesus since He had avoided the city for the most part, those who had come from other parts of Israel, Galilee in particular, would have been quite familiar with Him. It was likely this group who initiated the triumphal response to Jesus' entry into the city, and probable that the residents of Jerusalem were those who were asking, "Who is this?" Such an event caused "the whole city" to be shaken.

This scene is then contrasted by the scenes at the temple that followed. Jesus went into the temple and immediately challenged what was taking place. Rather than aiding the people in their worship of God, the leaders were profiting from it by requiring the people to buy their animals for sacrifice from them at inflated prices and also requiring them to exchange their money, which had circulated in society, for temple money - with a price attached. In addition to this challenge of the religious leaders, people were coming to Jesus at the temple and He was healing them and teaching them. In contrast to the crowd that had earlier proclaimed of Jesus, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" the chief priests and elders asked Jesus by what authority He did these things. While this seems a legitimate question to ask of one who had come into the temple and began to 'take over,' the healing signs He performed both then and throughout His ministry gave abundant evidence that this was not some ordinary man who had overstepped His authority.

Jesus' response to these leaders on this occasion set the stage for His crucifixion. We do not know whether or not these Jerusalem leaders were having thoughts of dealing with Jesus before His arrival in Jerusalem on this occasion, but the response to Him by the crowds upon His entry into the city and even at the temple, His healing and teaching at the temple, and now His public comments to them sealed His fate with them. In response to their question of what authority Jesus had for doing all these things, Jesus asked them a question and told two parables. The question: "Where did John's baptism come from? From heaven or from men?" This question not only demonstrated the questionable position these leaders had taken by not accepting John but also the shaky ground they were on by not accepting Jesus. With John or with Jesus if they were to say their work was from heaven, the obvious followup question would be, "Then why didn't you believe him?" And, if they were to say of either of them that their work was from men, the leaders could fear the crowd for everyone thought John was a prophet and that Jesus was something even more than a prophet. They were not willing to answer Jesus' question so He did not answer their question concerning His authority.

The first parable: Then Jesus told a parable in which the chief priests and elders were unfavorably compared to tax collectors and prostitutes. In it, the tax collectors and prostitutes were likened to a son who first told his father he would not work in the family vineyard, but then relented and went to work in the vineyard. But the leaders were likened to a second son who first told the father he would work in the vineyard but did not do it. Then Jesus said that these tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God ahead the chief priests and elders. What a charge to make of these men before this crowd!

The second parable: Jesus immediately followed the first parable with a second that gave further meaning to His charge against these religious leaders. In this parable the chief priests and elders were likened to farmers who leased a vineyard from a wealthy landowner. However, when the grape harvest was near and the landowner sent his slaves to collect his portion of the fruit, the farmers beat, killed, and stoned them. The owner sent more slaves with the same result. Then he sent his own son thinking they would respect him, but they also killed him thinking they would get his inheritance. God had placed His people, Israel, in the care of these leaders and they had not given God His due. Instead they were trying to claim the people as their own rather than God's. God sent the prophets and they beat and killed them, and now He had sent His only Son and they were about to do the same to Him. At the conclusion of this second parable, Jesus told the leaders, "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit."

Jesus gave the leaders no choice. The could not idly receive such charges. Either they must agree with Jesus and repent, or they must do something about Jesus to get rid of Him.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 20

    Matthew 20 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. As Jesus was telling what the kingdom of heaven would be like, he said: Early one morning a man went out to hire some workers for his vineyard.
  2. After he had agreed to pay them the usual amount for a day's work, he sent them off to his vineyard.
  3. About nine that morning, the man saw some other people standing in the market with nothing to do.
  4. He said he would pay them what was fair, if they would work in his vineyard.
  5. So they went. At noon and again about three in the afternoon he returned to the market. And each time he made the same agreement with others who were loafing around with nothing to do.
  6. Finally, about five in the afternoon the man went back and found some others standing there. He asked them, "Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?"
  7. "Because no one has hired us," they answered. Then he told them to go work in his vineyard.
  8. That evening the owner of the vineyard told the man in charge of the workers to call them in and give them their money. He also told the man to begin with the ones who were hired last.
  9. When the workers arrived, the ones who had been hired at five in the afternoon were given a full day's pay.
  10. The workers who had been hired first thought they would be given more than the others. But when they were given the same,
  11. they began complaining to the owner of the vineyard.
  12. They said, "The ones who were hired last worked for only one hour. But you paid them the same that you did us. And we worked in the hot sun all day long!"
  13. The owner answered one of them, "Friend, I didn't cheat you. I paid you exactly what we agreed on.
  14. Take your money now and go! What business is it of yours if I want to pay them the same that I paid you?
  15. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Why should you be jealous, if I want to be generous?"
  16. Jesus then said, "So it is. Everyone who is now first will be last, and everyone who is last will be first."
  17. As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he took his twelve disciples aside and told them in private:
  18. We are now on our way to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses. They will sentence him to death,
  19. and then they will hand him over to foreigners who will make fun of him. They will beat him and nail him to a cross. But on the third day he will rise from death.
  20. The mother of James and John came to Jesus with her two sons. She knelt down and started begging him to do something for her.
  21. Jesus asked her what she wanted, and she said, "When you come into your kingdom, please let one of my sons sit at your right side and the other at your left."
  22. Jesus answered, "Not one of you knows what you are asking. Are you able to drink from the cup that I must soon drink from?" James and John said, "Yes, we are!"
  23. Jesus replied, "You certainly will drink from my cup! But it isn't for me to say who will sit at my right side and at my left. That is for my Father to say."
  24. When the ten other disciples heard this, they were angry with the two brothers.
  25. But Jesus called the disciples together and said: You know that foreign rulers like to order their people around. And their great leaders have full power over everyone they rule.
  26. But don't act like them. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others.
  27. And if you want to be first, you must be the slave of the rest.
  28. The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people.
  29. Jesus was followed by a large crowd as he and his disciples were leaving Jericho.
  30. Two blind men were sitting beside the road. And when they heard that Jesus was coming their way, they shouted, "Lord and Son of David, have pity on us!"
  31. The crowd told them to be quiet, but they shouted even louder, "Lord and Son of David, have pity on us!"
  32. When Jesus heard them, he stopped and asked, "What do you want me to do for you?"
  33. They answered, "Lord, we want to see!"
  34. Jesus felt sorry for them and touched their eyes. Right away they could see, and they became his followers.

The opening verses of chapter 20 are a continuation of Jesus' discussion with His disciples at the conclusion of the previous chapter concerning the order of things in the Messianic Age. In 19:30 He told them, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." Starting, then, in 20:1 Jesus illustrates this principle. In this illustration a landowner hired workers to tend his vineyard. Although different workers were hired at different times throughout the day, at the end of the day they were all paid the same amount - a fair day's wage. This angered the workers who worked the full day as it would probably anger most of us. Our sense of order and values is turned upside down by this practice. But the landowner, who represents God in this illustration, cannot be faulted for his actions. He paid a fair wage to those who worked the full day, a wage to which they had agreed. Is it wrong for him to use his money in the way he wishes? Is it wrong for him to be generous to whom he wants to be generous?

Much of the rest of chapter 20 addresses this inverted sense of value and recognition. Between the request by the mother of James and John for her sons to have positions of honor in the Messianic Age and the indignation of the other disciples over this request, Jesus teaches more about the order of this new age. For instance, He taught that to share a position of honor with the Master, a servant must also share in His suffering. He also taught that in this new age those who want "to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave." Jesus, Himself, was the prime example of this teaching. He came, not to be served, but to serve and to give His life. This goes against everything we are taught in our society. It just doesn't fly in a society that is committed to personal rights and privileges. We think it's great to do something good for someone who is underprivileged, but putting their rights before our own? That is too much to expect of anyone. So goes the thinking.

We can't even imagine a society in which everyone is a servant to others instead of expecting to be served. But that is the way things operate in the kingdom of the Messiah. If there were any vying for position in His kingdom it would be for last place or for lowliest servant. But vying for position of any kind would be out of order in this kingdom. This new order is so contrary to our present sense of values that we don't know how to get our minds around it. We simply have to allow the leader - the Messiah - to teach us, and to give ourselves to His teaching.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 19

    Matthew 19 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When Jesus finished teaching, he left Galilee and went to the part of Judea that is east of the Jordan River.
  2. Large crowds followed him, and he healed their sick people.
  3. Some Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. They came up to him and asked, "Is it right for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"
  4. Jesus answered, "Don't you know that in the beginning the Creator made a man and a woman?
  5. That's why a man leaves his father and mother and gets married. He becomes like one person with his wife.
  6. Then they are no longer two people, but one. And no one should separate a couple that God has joined together."
  7. The Pharisees asked Jesus, "Why did Moses say that a man could write out divorce papers and send his wife away?"
  8. Jesus replied, "You are so heartless! That's why Moses allowed you to divorce your wife. But from the beginning God did not intend it to be that way.
  9. I say that if your wife has not committed some terrible sexual sin, you must not divorce her to marry someone else. If you do, you are unfaithful."
  10. The disciples said, "If that's how it is between a man and a woman, it's better not to get married."
  11. Jesus told them, "Only those people who have been given the gift of staying single can accept this teaching.
  12. Some people are unable to marry because of birth defects or because of what someone has done to their bodies. Others stay single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who can accept this teaching should do so."
  13. Some people brought their children to Jesus, so that he could place his hands on them and pray for them. His disciples told the people to stop bothering him.
  14. But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and don't try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God's kingdom."
  15. After Jesus had placed his hands on the children, he left.
  16. A man came to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?"
  17. Jesus said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. If you want to have eternal life, you must obey his commandments."
  18. "Which ones?" the man asked. Jesus answered, "Do not murder. Be faithful in marriage. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others.
  19. Respect your father and mother. And love others as much as you love yourself."
  20. The young man said, "I have obeyed all of these. What else must I do?"
  21. Jesus replied, "If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower."
  22. When the young man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.
  23. Jesus said to his disciples, "It's terribly hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven!
  24. In fact, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God's kingdom."
  25. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly surprised and asked, "How can anyone ever be saved?"
  26. Jesus looked straight at them and said, "There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything."
  27. Peter replied, "Remember, we have left everything to be your followers! What will we get?"
  28. Jesus answered: Yes, all of you have become my followers. And so in the future world, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, I promise that you will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
  29. All who have given up home or brothers and sisters or father and mother or children or land for me will be given a hundred times as much. They will also have eternal life.
  30. But many who are now first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Jesus continues, in this chapter, to strip away religion and present the essentials of God's kingdom. Religion is really just the external trappings around which man cloaks his efforts to approach God. As commendable as this might seem, it defines how we come to God on man's terms rather than God's, and it is only on God's terms that it is even possible to approach Him. Jesus points to this in His conversation with His disciples about the rich, in verses 23-26 of this chapter. First Jesus made it clear that man's terms for coming to God are insufficient, saying "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." This flew in the face of the teachings of the Pharisees who taught that God bestows wealth on those He loves. According to this teaching, wealth was a sign that one had already gained entrance into God's kingdom. This is man's teaching, not God's. It is an example of how religion becomes defined by man's desire to wrap up the things he covets into the essentials of his religion. But Jesus told His disciples that it is impossible to come to God on man's terms, such as with wealth. This, I believe is His message when He said, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." But Jesus went on to say, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Only God can make it possible for man to enter His kingdom.

Entry into God's kingdom is really very simple. Difficult, but simple. This is why so many miss it. It is too simple and doesn't make sense to them. But children understand the simplicity of it. In fact, when Jesus' disciples tried to turn people away from bringing children to Jesus, Jesus told them, "the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this." That is, like the children. They have no pretense, no ability of their own they might claim to earn their way into the kingdom. They simply place themselves at God's mercy as any of us must do. Neither wealth nor power will gain us even a foothold in God's kingdom. Nor do we have any deeds good enough or accomplishments great enough to warrant entry. All we can do is to give ourselves to God, place ourselves at His mercy, and let Him bestow on us this citizenship in His kingdom.

There is nothing complicated about this, but we should not confuse simple with easy. What it requires is giving up our dependence on everything else in life, including, "houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields." Though God may give all these back to us for our enjoyment, we must first turn loose of them and come to God with nothing we claim as our own. Jesus knew that for the rich young man who came asking about eternal life, wealth was more important to him than God or eternal life. That is why He told the man to "go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me." It is not the selling of the man's belongings, however, that would gain him treasure in heaven, but the giving of himself to God rather than to these belongings.

One last comment. In this chapter, Jesus also stripped away religious teaching concerning marriage. As a matter of convenience and because of the "hardness of their hearts," men had, over time added their own teachings to God's intention so that it was permitted for a man to divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus stripped all this away and took them back to God's intention for marriage. He told the Pharisees who tried to test Him, and everyone else who was present, that "He who created them in the beginning made them male and female, . . . For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate." This passage is often included in marriage ceremonies today, but is not as frequently observed following the wedding. Whatever interpretations man may wish to give to scripture concerning marriage and divorce, one thing is clear, God's intention for marriage is that it be for a lifetime. I will add, however, though divorce is not God's intent, it is not the unforgivable sin that many seem to make of it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 18

    Matthew 18 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. About this time the disciples came to Jesus and asked him who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
  2. Jesus called a child over and had the child stand near him.
  3. Then he said: I promise you this. If you don't change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
  4. But if you are as humble as this child, you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
  5. And when you welcome one of these children because of me, you welcome me.
  6. It will be terrible for people who cause even one of my little followers to sin. Those people would be better off thrown into the deepest part of the ocean with a heavy stone tied around their necks!
  7. The world is in for trouble because of the way it causes people to sin. There will always be something to cause people to sin, but anyone who does this will be in for trouble.
  8. If your hand or foot causes you to sin, chop it off and throw it away! You would be better off to go into life crippled or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the fire that never goes out.
  9. If your eye causes you to sin, poke it out and get rid of it. You would be better off to go into life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fires of hell.
  10. Don't be cruel to any of these little ones! I promise you that their angels are always with my Father in heaven.
  11. (SEE 18:10)
  12. Let me ask you this. What would you do if you had a hundred sheep and one of them wandered off? Wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go look for the one that had wandered away?
  13. I am sure that finding it would make you happier than having the ninety-nine that never wandered off.
  14. That's how it is with your Father in heaven. He doesn't want any of these little ones to be lost.
  15. If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you. If that person listens, you have won back a follower.
  16. But if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses.
  17. If the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector.
  18. I promise you that God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth, but he will not allow anything you don't allow.
  19. I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, my Father in heaven will do it for you.
  20. Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.
  21. Peter came up to the Lord and asked, "How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?"
  22. Jesus answered: Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!
  23. This story will show you what the kingdom of heaven is like: One day a king decided to call in his officials and ask them to give an account of what they owed him.
  24. As he was doing this, one official was brought in who owed him fifty million silver coins.
  25. But he didn't have any money to pay what he owed. The king ordered him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all he owned, in order to pay the debt.
  26. The official got down on his knees and began begging, "Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!"
  27. The king felt sorry for him and let him go free. He even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money.
  28. As the official was leaving, he happened to meet another official, who owed him a hundred silver coins. So he grabbed the man by the throat. He started choking him and said, "Pay me what you owe!"
  29. The man got down on his knees and began begging, "Have pity on me, and I will pay you back."
  30. But the first official refused to have pity. Instead, he went and had the other official put in jail until he could pay what he owed.
  31. When some other officials found out what had happened, they felt sorry for the man who had been put in jail. Then they told the king what had happened.
  32. The king called the first official back in and said, "You're an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent.
  33. Don't you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?"
  34. The king was so angry that he ordered the official to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed.
  35. That is how my Father in heaven will treat you, if you don't forgive each of my followers with all your heart.

"Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" This question is the focus of this chapter. Though the chapter goes on to refer to offenses and to forgiveness, it flows from Jesus' response to this question concerning who is greatest in the kingdom. Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus said those who humble themselves as a child are considered greatest in God's kingdom. Kingdom values always turn earthly thinking upside down. This is why so many have such great difficulty understanding or accepting God and His kingdom. Jesus told His disciples one must be converted and become like children. They had to quit thinking of greatness and think instead of humility.

Over the centuries the church has identified what is referred to as the "Seven Deadly Sins," of which one is pride. Pride can keep one from God's kingdom just as surely as humility can assure one's position in that kingdom. Pride always focuses one's attention on themselves and their own abilities. But no greatness of ability will enable one even to enter God's kingdom, let alone to attain a position of greatness. Entry and position in God's kingdom is all based on God's abilities and not ours. This is where humility on our part comes in. We must humble ourselves to recognize our own inability to gain entrance or position and place ourselves at God's mercy to provide our entry into His kingdom. As long as one holds to the age-old ideas that entry into God's kingdom must be earned through good deeds or that God must be appeased in some way to gain His favor, one will remain forever outside the kingdom.

From Jesus' initial comments about child-like humility He goes on to talk about offenses. "Offenses must come," He said, "but woe to that man by whom the offense comes." He is speaking of offenses that keep oneself or others from entering the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom is of such great value that one should be willing to go to any length in order to attain it. Jesus illustrates this by saying in verse 8, "If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away." This passage has engendered much debate about whether such passages of scripture should be taken literally. Such debate completely misses the point. If one understands what Jesus is saying here he will not even consider whether or not this should be taken literally. Cutting off one's hand or foot would not aid a person in the least to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is the heart that is the problem. Jesus only mentions removal of one's hand or foot or eye to make His point that entering the kingdom is worth any cost. Not only is the kingdom worth any cost, so, also, is avoiding the alternative. Jesus said, "It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire!" Making it clear that the alternative to life in God's kingdom is death in hellfire.

Next Jesus points out the value of just one individual in God's sight. It is not God's will that any would perish, not even one of these little children. If that is the case, why would any perish? Because of their own choices - their 'offenses' that keep them from the kingdom. God does not force one into the kingdom, they must choose it. And many do not choose it. They seem to think they have a better plan for life than God's plan and then leave eternity to chance. But our eternity is not left to chance. It is left to our choice of God's kingdom on His terms or hellfire on our terms.

Finally, Jesus speaks of forgiveness among those who are a part of His kingdom. He has spoken of offenses, and that offenses will surely happen. How then should offenses be handled among the citizens of the kingdom? With discretion, humility, and forgiveness. If one individual causes offense, or sins against, another individual, the one who has been offended should go privately to the offender to make things right. Jesus outlines the steps that should be taken if at first the offender is not contrite about their offense. Ultimately, one who is not willing to humble themselves to confess and ask forgiveness for their offense against another is to no longer be treated or even considered a citizen of the kingdom. On the other hand, should the offender seek forgiveness, those who have been offended should be willing always to forgive. Jesus said we should forgive 70 times 7, or, enumerable times.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 17

    Matthew 17 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Six days later Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John with him. They went up on a very high mountain where they could be alone.
  2. There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
  3. All at once Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus.
  4. So Peter said to him, "Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
  5. While Peter was still speaking, the shadow of a bright cloud passed over them. From the cloud a voice said, "This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!"
  6. When the disciples heard the voice, they were so afraid that they fell flat on the ground.
  7. But Jesus came over and touched them. He said, "Get up and don't be afraid!"
  8. When they opened their eyes, they saw only Jesus.
  9. On their way down from the mountain, Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had been raised from death.
  10. The disciples asked Jesus, "Don't the teachers of the Law of Moses say that Elijah must come before the Messiah does?"
  11. Jesus told them, "Elijah certainly will come and get everything ready.
  12. In fact, he has already come. But the people did not recognize him and treated him just as they wanted to. They will soon make the Son of Man suffer in the same way."
  13. Then the disciples understood that Jesus was talking to them about John the Baptist.
  14. Jesus and his disciples returned to the crowd. A man knelt in front of him
  15. and said, "Lord, have pity on my son! He has a bad case of epilepsy and often falls into a fire or into water.
  16. I brought him to your disciples, but none of them could heal him."
  17. Jesus said, "You people are too stubborn to have any faith! How much longer must I be with you? Why do I have to put up with you? Bring the boy here."
  18. Then Jesus spoke sternly to the demon. It went out of the boy, and right then he was healed.
  19. Later the disciples went to Jesus in private and asked him, "Why couldn't we force out the demon?"
  20. Jesus replied: It is because you don't have enough faith! But I can promise you this. If you had faith no larger than a mustard seed, you could tell this mountain to move from here to there. And it would. Everything would be possible for you.
  21. (SEE 17:20)
  22. While Jesus and his disciples were going from place to place in Galilee, he told them, "The Son of Man will be handed over to people
  23. who will kill him. But three days later he will rise to life." All of this made the disciples very sad.
  24. When Jesus and the others arrived in Capernaum, the collectors for the temple tax came to Peter and asked, "Does your teacher pay the temple tax?"
  25. "Yes, he does," Peter answered. After they had returned home, Jesus went up to Peter and asked him, "Simon, what do you think? Do the kings of this earth collect taxes and fees from their own people or from foreigners?"
  26. Peter answered, "From foreigners." Jesus replied, "Then their own people don't have to pay.
  27. But we don't want to cause trouble. So go cast a line into the lake and pull out the first fish you hook. Open its mouth, and you will find a coin. Use it to pay your taxes and mine."

In Matthew 16:28 Jesus told His disciples that there were some in the group who would not "taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." Chapter 17 opens with the fulfillment of this event. Six days following that conversation Jesus took His inner circle, Peter, James, and John, up on a mountain with Him. There Jesus was transformed so that they saw His face shine like the sun and His clothes become white as the light. They also saw Moses and Elijah appear talking with Jesus and then a "voice from the cloud said: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him. Listen to Him!" These three had an affirmation of Jesus' identity as the Messiah that would take them through the trials and persecutions that came later.

Verses 9-13 record the conversation between Jesus and the three disciples as they came back down from the mountain and were talking about Elijah coming. We see in this conversation another oversight by the scribes that contributed to their oversight of Jesus as the Messiah. The scribes looked to the coming of Elijah to provide their sign that the Messiah had come. But the same blindness that kept them from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, despite all the signs He provided, also kept them from recognizing that Elijah had already come in the person of John the Baptist. They missed the first sign, Elijah's coming, and thus missed the Messiah. And, just as they treated John the Baptist as they pleased, so, too, would Jesus suffer at their hands.

This new insight and understanding of these three disciples is contrasted by events they found when they returned to the other disciples. The three inner circle disciples had new evidence and faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but the other nine were still lacking in faith as demonstrated by their failure to heal the boy of his seizures. Jesus' comment to them that only faith the size of a mustard seed was necessary to move a mountain indicates that the size of our faith is not an issue, simply the presence of faith. But what should be the focus of such faith? Is it faith that God can do the miracle? They had seen enough miracles of various complexity performed by Jesus for this not to be the problem. I suspect the issue was faith regarding whether or not they had been empowered to perform such miracles. In other words, the focus of the faith is God's will. If God leads us to do a thing, whatever it is, we must step out in faith and do the thing. But if we lack faith that God has directed us to do it or if clearly He has not directed it, we will not succeed in doing it. If we are to say, no, this is not about whether it is God's will but about our faith that God can perform the miracle, then we get into a debate about how much faith is enough. All of us who accept that God exists and that He created all that is and who have given our lives to Him believe that God can do anything. The question in our mind is whether He wills to do the thing we are asking Him to do. That is the issue of faith, not the size of our faith. Jesus' reference to the mustard seed made clear the size of our faith is not the issue.

In the concluding verses of the chapter Jesus addresses two other matters. The first was His pending death and resurrection. We know, due to the distress of the disciples that they understood this time that Jesus' death was coming. But did they clearly hear the part about His resurrection? This time, however, no one of them challenged Jesus about the reality of His death. The second matter Jesus addressed in these verses was submission to authority. Jesus and His disciples returned to Capernaum to find temple tax collectors who asked about whether Jesus paid His tax. Jesus explained to the disciples that He and the disciples were not subject to the tax, but nevertheless, rather than offend the authorities, He would submit and pay the tax. No issue of significance was in question here to prohibit Jesus and His disciples from submission at this point. Thus, they should submit to the authorities.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 16

    Matthew 16 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tried to test him by asking for a sign from heaven.
  2. He told them: If the sky is red in the evening, you say the weather will be good.
  3. But if the sky is red and gloomy in the morning, you say it is going to rain. You can tell what the weather will be like by looking at the sky. But you don't understand what is happening now.
  4. You want a sign because you are evil and won't believe! But the only sign you will be given is what happened to Jonah. Then Jesus left.
  5. The disciples had forgotten to bring any bread when they crossed the lake.
  6. Jesus then warned them, "Watch out! Guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
  7. The disciples talked this over and said to each other, "He must be saying this because we didn't bring along any bread."
  8. Jesus knew what they were thinking and said: You surely don't have much faith! Why are you talking about not having any bread?
  9. Don't you understand? Have you forgotten about the five thousand people and all those baskets of leftovers from just five loaves of bread?
  10. And what about the four thousand people and all those baskets of leftovers from only seven loaves of bread?
  11. Don't you know by now that I am not talking to you about bread? Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!
  12. Finally, the disciples understood that Jesus wasn't talking about the yeast used to make bread, but about the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
  13. When Jesus and his disciples were near the town of Caesarea Philippi, he asked them, "What do people say about the Son of Man?"
  14. The disciples answered, "Some people say you are John the Baptist or maybe Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet."
  15. Then Jesus asked them, "But who do you say I am?"
  16. Simon Peter spoke up, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
  17. Jesus told him: Simon, son of Jonah, you are blessed! You didn't discover this on your own. It was shown to you by my Father in heaven.
  18. So I will call you Peter, which means "a rock." On this rock I will build my church, and death itself will not have any power over it.
  19. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth. But he will not allow anything that you don't allow.
  20. Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
  21. From then on, Jesus began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, "I must go to Jerusalem. There the nation's leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make me suffer terribly. I will be killed, but three days later I will rise to life."
  22. Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. He said, "God would never let this happen to you, Lord!"
  23. Jesus turned to Peter and said, "Satan, get away from me! You're in my way because you think like everyone else and not like God."
  24. Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.
  25. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
  26. What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?
  27. The Son of Man will soon come in the glory of his Father and with his angels to reward all people for what they have done.
  28. I promise you that some of those standing here will not die before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom.

Jesus' ministry at this point is focused primarily on teaching His twelve chosen apostles. The die is cast as to whether Israel will accept Him as the Messiah. This truth is further emphasized with yet another encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders in verses 1-4 of this chapter. These leaders again ask Jesus for "a sign from heaven." Jesus points out that these leaders are adept at reading the signs of the weather but have no such ability with signs of the times. Nor would they do any better with a sign from heaven which they requested. In fact, Jesus had been giving them signs from heaven all along through His performance of miracles and they ignored these other than to accuse Him of doing them as a servant of Satan. Jesus not only refused their request for a sign but also condemned them as an "evil and adulterous generation."

The remainder of the chapter is devoted to teaching His disciples, using this encounter with the Jewish leaders as a springboard. He cautioned the disciples to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees," warning them of the danger of their teachings. How can one read these gospel accounts and remain wrapped up in religious rituals? God's acceptance of us, our standing with God, is not determined by correctly observing a certain formula of worship. It is by accepting God's Son, Jesus Christ, as His means of being made acceptable to God and giving our lives to follow Christ. For there is "no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved." (Act 4:12) The teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees would burden one down with rituals but would do nothing to bring them to God.

Next Jesus probed the disciples to make a 'confession of faith' concerning who He was. First He asked who others said Jesus was and then He asked who they thought Him to be. Others at least recognized Jesus to be someone of significance. They thought He might be John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet, but they still missed the fact that He was the Messiah. Fortunately, the disciples had it right - or at least Peter did. Jesus pointed out that Peter's understanding did not come from his own abilities but from God who revealed it to him. Then Jesus told Peter that it would be on this rock He would build His church. There are a variety of thoughts as to the meaning of this statement. Could it be, though, that the rock on which Jesus would build His church was the rock of faith demonstrated by Peter, a faith based on Jesus as the Messiah?

Our faith in Christ cannot be based in any preconceived notions of our own, though, or we will lose our way. We must always keep open to Christ's revelations to us of Himself. When Jesus pointed out to His disciples His coming suffering and death, Peter rebuked Jesus for saying this. But Peter had his own notion of who the Messiah was and what He would do. Jesus made it clear that Peter's notion came from Satan and was not accurate. Satan would like very much for us to follow our own notions about Jesus and will gladly plant his own notions in our heads. Then Jesus gave a resounding truth that we all must come to understand if we are to find any lasting peace and joy in this life. Real life is not found in holding tenaciously to our own life but by losing our life for Christ. It is a paradox as are most of God's profound truths. Such truths are not understood through reasoning. Only faith will bring us to an understanding of them. But millions will testify to the truth of Christ's statement here and I will join them in also testifying that if one will give away their life to Jesus Christ He will give back to them life in abundance.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 15

    Matthew 15 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. About this time some Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses came from Jerusalem. They asked Jesus,
  2. "Why don't your disciples obey what our ancestors taught us to do? They don't even wash their hands before they eat."
  3. Jesus answered: Why do you disobey God and follow your own teaching?
  4. Didn't God command you to respect your father and mother? Didn't he tell you to put to death all who curse their parents?
  5. But you let people get by without helping their parents when they should. You let them say that what they have has been offered to God.
  6. Is this any way to show respect to your parents? You ignore God's commands in order to follow your own teaching.
  7. And you are nothing but show-offs! Isaiah the prophet was right when he wrote that God had said,
  8. "All of you praise me with your words, but you never really think about me.
  9. It is useless for you to worship me, when you teach rules made up by humans."
  10. Jesus called the crowd together and said, "Pay attention and try to understand what I mean.
  11. The food that you put into your mouth doesn't make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean."
  12. Then his disciples came over to him and asked, "Do you know that you insulted the Pharisees by what you said?"
  13. Jesus answered, "Every plant that my Father in heaven did not plant will be pulled up by the roots.
  14. Stay away from those Pharisees! They are like blind people leading other blind people, and all of them will fall into a ditch."
  15. Peter replied, "What did you mean when you talked about the things that make people unclean?"
  16. Jesus then said: Don't any of you know what I am talking about by now?
  17. Don't you know that the food you put into your mouth goes into your stomach and then out of your body?
  18. But the words that come out of your mouth come from your heart. And they are what make you unfit to worship God.
  19. Out of your heart come evil thoughts, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, vulgar deeds, stealing, telling lies, and insulting others.
  20. These are what make you unclean. Eating without washing your hands will not make you unfit to worship God.
  21. Jesus left and went to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon.
  22. Suddenly a Canaanite woman from there came out shouting, "Lord and Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is full of demons."
  23. Jesus did not say a word. But the woman kept following along and shouting, so his disciples came up and asked him to send her away.
  24. Jesus said, "I was sent only to the people of Israel! They are like a flock of lost sheep."
  25. The woman came closer. Then she knelt down and begged, "Please help me, Lord!"
  26. Jesus replied, "It isn't right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs."
  27. "Lord, that's true," the woman said, "but even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owner's table."
  28. Jesus answered, "Dear woman, you really do have a lot of faith, and you will be given what you want." At that moment her daughter was healed.
  29. From there, Jesus went along Lake Galilee. Then he climbed a hill and sat down.
  30. Large crowds came and brought many people who were crippled or blind or lame or unable to talk. They placed them, and many others, in front of Jesus, and he healed them all.
  31. Everyone was amazed at what they saw and heard. People who had never spoken could now speak. The lame were healed, the crippled could walk, and the blind were able to see. Everyone was praising the God of Israel.
  32. Jesus called his disciples together and told them, "I feel sorry for these people. They have been with me for three days, and they don't have anything to eat. I don't want to send them away hungry. They might faint on their way home."
  33. His disciples said, "This place is like a desert. Where can we find enough food to feed such a crowd?"
  34. Jesus asked them how much food they had. They replied, "Seven small loaves of bread and a few little fish."
  35. After Jesus had told the people to sit down,
  36. he took the seven loaves of bread and the fish and gave thanks. He then broke them and handed them to his disciples, who passed them around to the crowds.
  37. Everyone ate all they wanted, and the leftovers filled seven large baskets.
  38. There were four thousand men who ate, not counting the women and children.
  39. After Jesus had sent the crowds away, he got into a boat and sailed across the lake. He came to shore near the town of Magadan.

In this chapter we see a contrast in faith and what appears to be a shift in Jesus taking His message of the kingdom to the Gentiles. First, Jesus has another encounter with the scribes and Pharisees who accuse Him and His disciples of breaking "the tradition of the elders." Rather than discrediting Jesus as they envisioned, they found themselves being discredited. Jesus charged them with a greater offense - breaking God's commandments. Over generations these religious leaders had built up traditions supposedly to better assure faithfulness to God's commandments, but they had instead come to replace God's commandments. In fact, tradition was often used to trump God's commands as in the case Jesus cited to them. We see similar practices today when traditions of the church become more important than obedience to God's instructions to us through scripture.

Jesus used this encounter to teach His disciples an important principle. It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of the mouth. What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and it is what is in the heart that defiles a person. The concern over washing one's hands before eating, though a health concern, was not a spiritual concern. It had no effect on one's spiritual condition.

A contrast in faith follows this encounter with the religious leaders. Jesus' next stop was in in the area of Tyre and Sidon and there He was approached by a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, who begged Him to rid her daughter of a demon. Initially He ignored her saying He was sent to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel." When the woman persisted He told her "It isn't right to take the children's bread and throw it to their dogs." But the woman wasn't interested in depriving Israel of what belonged to Israel. She replied to Jesus, "yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table!" Don't take food from the children, but just allow a crumb to fall her way. Jesus saw great faith demonstrated by this woman and granted her request. If only He had seen such faith in Israel.

Jesus then moved on to an area along the Sea of Galilee where a large crowd of Gentiles gathered, or at least it is widely thought to be a Gentile crowd. Matthew did not explicitly refer to them as Gentiles. If indeed they were Gentile, this would appear to be a progression toward the Gentiles in Jesus ministry. At the beginning of this chapter is a rejection of Jesus by Jewish leaders followed by a Gentile woman of great faith, and then a Gentile crowd. Even though Jesus told the woman it was not right to feed the dogs (Gentiles) food belonging to the children (Israel), the children had rejected the food and it seems that Jesus is now taking it to the dogs. Another miraculous feeding takes place with this crowd which is very similar to the previous feeding. Could it be that in the first instance Jesus used the twelve (His apostles) to demonstrate His ministry through them to the Jewish people and in the second instance to the Gentile people? Though He used the twelve to feed both crowds physically in these instances, they would feed them spiritually in the future.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 14

    Matthew 14 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. About this time Herod the ruler heard the news about Jesus
  2. and told his officials, "This is John the Baptist! He has come back from death, and that's why he has the power to work these miracles."
  3. Herod had earlier arrested John and had him chained and put in prison. He did this because John had told him, "It isn't right for you to take Herodias, the wife of your brother Philip."
  4. (SEE 14:3)
  5. Herod wanted to kill John. But the people thought John was a prophet, and Herod was afraid of what they might do.
  6. When Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests. She pleased Herod
  7. so much that he swore to give her whatever she wanted.
  8. But the girl's mother told her to say, "Here on a platter I want the head of John the Baptist!"
  9. The king was sorry for what he had said. But he did not want to break the promise he had made in front of his guests. So he ordered a guard
  10. to go to the prison and cut off John's head.
  11. It was taken on a platter to the girl, and she gave it to her mother.
  12. John's followers took his body and buried it. Then they told Jesus what had happened.
  13. After Jesus heard about John, he crossed Lake Galilee to go to some place where he could be alone. But the crowds found out and followed him on foot from the towns.
  14. When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw the large crowd. He felt sorry for them and healed everyone who was sick.
  15. That evening the disciples came to Jesus and said, "This place is like a desert, and it is already late. Let the crowds leave, so they can go to the villages and buy some food."
  16. Jesus replied, "They don't have to leave. Why don't you give them something to eat?"
  17. But they said, "We have only five small loaves of bread and two fish."
  18. Jesus asked his disciples to bring the food to him,
  19. and he told the crowd to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish. He looked up toward heaven and blessed the food. Then he broke the bread and handed it to his disciples, and they gave it to the people.
  20. After everyone had eaten all they wanted, Jesus' disciples picked up twelve large baskets of leftovers.
  21. There were about five thousand men who ate, not counting the women and children.
  22. Right away, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and start back across the lake. But he stayed until he had sent the crowds away.
  23. Then he went up on a mountain where he could be alone and pray. Later that evening, he was still there.
  24. By this time the boat was a long way from the shore. It was going against the wind and was being tossed around by the waves.
  25. A little while before morning, Jesus came walking on the water toward his disciples.
  26. When they saw him, they thought he was a ghost. They were terrified and started screaming.
  27. At once, Jesus said to them, "Don't worry! I am Jesus. Don't be afraid."
  28. Peter replied, "Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water."
  29. "Come on!" Jesus said. Peter then got out of the boat and started walking on the water toward him.
  30. But when Peter saw how strong the wind was, he was afraid and started sinking. "Save me, Lord!" he shouted.
  31. Right away, Jesus reached out his hand. He helped Peter up and said, "You surely don't have much faith. Why do you doubt?"
  32. When Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the wind died down.
  33. The men in the boat worshiped Jesus and said, "You really are the Son of God!"
  34. Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake and came to shore near the town of Gennesaret.
  35. The people found out that he was there, and they sent word to everyone who lived in that part of the country. So they brought all the sick people to Jesus.
  36. They begged him just to let them touch his clothes, and everyone who did was healed.

Chapter 14 begins with an announcement of the death of John the Baptist. It seems to serve as a marker for a shift in Jesus' ministry. To this point He spent much time with the crowds, but following this point His attention was given more to His inner circle of twelve disciples. Though the next event following the announcement of John's death involves a crowd, its significance may well be for the twelve. It is the familiar account of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. Actually, the crowd was probably at least twice that size, since 5,000 was the number of men not counting the women and children.

Jesus' involvement of the twelve in feeding this crowd might be considered illustrative of their future ministry once Jesus had departed. This involved physical food, later they would provide spiritual food. The source, in both instances, was Jesus to whom they would return each time the supply ran out. Though Jesus was the source, the feeding was done through the twelve. The teaching of the twelve then continues through the next event which is another familiar account - Jesus' walking on water. The feeding of the crowd provided a lesson on resourcing their ministry to the people. Jesus' walking on water provided a lesson on enabling the disciples themselves for ministry. The specific lessons within this context could be numerous. They would include Jesus providing the disciples the abilities they needed for ministry, as with Peter walking on the water with Jesus, Jesus enabling them to function in spite of the forces of the storm, and Jesus having control over the storm. The One they served had power over the storms of life and though He may not always stop the storm, He could give them the ability to function within it. But when it was necessary, this One they served could also stop the storm.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 13

    Matthew 13 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. That same day Jesus left the house and went out beside Lake Galilee, where he sat down to teach.
  2. Such large crowds gathered around him that he had to sit in a boat, while the people stood on the shore.
  3. Then he taught them many things by using stories. He said: A farmer went out to scatter seed in a field.
  4. While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds.
  5. Other seeds fell on thin, rocky ground and quickly started growing because the soil wasn't very deep.
  6. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and dried up, because they did not have enough roots.
  7. Some other seeds fell where thornbushes grew up and choked the plants.
  8. But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered.
  9. If you have ears, pay attention!
  10. Jesus' disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you use nothing but stories when you speak to the people?"
  11. Jesus answered: I have explained the secrets about the kingdom of heaven to you, but not to others.
  12. Everyone who has something will be given more. But people who don't have anything will lose even what little they have.
  13. I use stories when I speak to them because when they look, they cannot see, and when they listen, they cannot hear or understand.
  14. So God's promise came true, just as the prophet Isaiah had said, "These people will listen and listen, but never understand. They will look and look, but never see.
  15. All of them have stubborn minds! Their ears are stopped up, and their eyes are covered. They cannot see or hear or understand. If they could, they would turn to me, and I would heal them."
  16. But God has blessed you, because your eyes can see and your ears can hear!
  17. Many prophets and good people were eager to see what you see and to hear what you hear. But I tell you that they did not see or hear.
  18. Now listen to the meaning of the story about the farmer:
  19. The seeds that fell along the road are the people who hear the message about the kingdom, but don't understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the message from their hearts.
  20. The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it right away.
  21. But they don't have deep roots, and they don't last very long. As soon as life gets hard or the message gets them in trouble, they give up.
  22. The seeds that fell among the thornbushes are also people who hear the message. But they start worrying about the needs of this life and are fooled by the desire to get rich. So the message gets choked out, and they never produce anything.
  23. The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and understand the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was planted.
  24. Jesus then told them this story: The kingdom of heaven is like what happened when a farmer scattered good seed in a field.
  25. But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and scattered weed seeds in the field and then left.
  26. When the plants came up and began to ripen, the farmer's servants could see the weeds.
  27. The servants came and asked, "Sir, didn't you scatter good seed in your field? Where did these weeds come from?"
  28. "An enemy did this," he replied. His servants then asked, "Do you want us to go out and pull up the weeds?"
  29. "No!" he answered. "You might also pull up the wheat.
  30. Leave the weeds alone until harvest time. Then I'll tell my workers to gather the weeds and tie them up and burn them. But I'll have them store the wheat in my barn."
  31. Jesus told them another story: The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a farmer plants a mustard seed in a field.
  32. Although it is the smallest of all seeds, it grows larger than any garden plant and becomes a tree. Birds even come and nest on its branches.
  33. Jesus also said: The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a woman mixes a little yeast into three big batches of flour. Finally, all the dough rises.
  34. Jesus used stories when he spoke to the people. In fact, he did not tell them anything without using stories.
  35. So God's promise came true, just as the prophet had said, "I will use stories to speak my message and to explain things that have been hidden since the creation of the world."
  36. After Jesus left the crowd and went inside, his disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the story about the weeds in the wheat field."
  37. Jesus answered: The one who scattered the good seed is the Son of Man.
  38. The field is the world, and the good seeds are the people who belong to the kingdom. The weed seeds are those who belong to the evil one,
  39. and the one who scattered them is the devil. The harvest is the end of time, and angels are the ones who bring in the harvest.
  40. Weeds are gathered and burned. That's how it will be at the end of time.
  41. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everyone who does wrong or causes others to sin.
  42. Then he will throw them into a flaming furnace, where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain.
  43. But everyone who has done right will shine like the sun in their Father's kingdom. If you have ears, pay attention!
  44. The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when someone finds treasure hidden in a field and buries it again. A person like that is happy and goes and sells everything in order to buy that field.
  45. The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a shop owner is looking for fine pearls.
  46. After finding a very valuable one, the owner goes and sells everything in order to buy that pearl.
  47. The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a net is thrown into a lake and catches all kinds of fish.
  48. When the net is full, it is dragged to the shore, and the fishermen sit down to separate the fish. They keep the good ones, but throw the bad ones away.
  49. That's how it will be at the end of time. Angels will come and separate the evil people from the ones who have done right.
  50. Then those evil people will be thrown into a flaming furnace, where they will cry and grit their teeth in pain.
  51. Jesus asked his disciples if they understood all these things. They said, "Yes, we do."
  52. So he told them, "Every student of the Scriptures who becomes a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like someone who brings out new and old treasures from the storeroom."
  53. When Jesus had finished telling these stories, he left
  54. and went to his hometown. He taught in their meeting place, and the people were so amazed that they asked, "Where does he get all this wisdom and the power to work these miracles?
  55. Isn't he the son of the carpenter? Isn't Mary his mother, and aren't James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers?
  56. Don't his sisters still live here in our town? How can he do all this?"
  57. So the people were very unhappy because of what he was doing. But Jesus said, "Prophets are honored by everyone, except the people of their hometown and their own family."
  58. And because the people did not have any faith, Jesus did not work many miracles there.

Chapter 13 introduces for the first time in Matthew's gospel Jesus' use of parables. A parable combines two or more objects together for the purpose of a comparison. In the case of Jesus' parables, familiar activities such as sowing or fishing or a variety of activities were compared to mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. A simple explanation of the parable that is often used is that it is an earthy story with a heavenly meaning. That is how Jesus used parables. The earthly stories about sowing, etc., were used to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom that had not previously been revealed.

Not only is this the first use of parables in Matthew's account, it was the disciples' first experience with Jesus' use of them. After Jesus told the first parable known as the Parable of the Sower, the disciples asked Him why He used them. Jesus' answer provides us an important truth concerning God's dealings with man. It is a truth that is related to Jesus' words in Matthew 11:25 when He praised God for hiding the things of the kingdom of heaven from the wise and learned. Jesus told His disciples that He used parables to reveal "the secrets of the kingdom of heaven" to His followers and to hide them from those such as the religious leaders who looking, do not see, and hearing, "do not listen or understand." This was because their hearts did not seek Him. In essence Jesus is telling us that the truths of the kingdom of heaven will be understood only by those whose hearts seek after God. For those who seek intellectually to understand but whose hearts do not desire God, understanding will be illusive. As the prophet Isaiah said, they will "listen and listen, yet never understand; and . . . will look and look, yet never perceive."

One comes to God only by faith. Once a step of faith is taken toward God, a seed of understand is given with it. As Romans 1:19-21 says, through God's creation we have all the evidence we need about God. As the Apostle Paul says in that passage, "His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse." We have enough evidence from creation to, by faith, accept God for who He is. But it seems that creation serves as the point of demarcation. What we understand and accept concerning creation serves to separate those who seek God and follow Him from those who do not. If we attribute the origin of all things to God we have enough understanding to take a step of faith toward God and with that step can comes more understanding concerning the 'mysteries' of His kingdom. Then with each succeeding step comes increased understanding concerning the things of God.

Understanding this also helps to understand that coming to God is not done through religious practices, rituals, or activities. It is not even done through charitable activities or the proper balance of good and bad deeds. It is, instead of all these things, an act of faith. Even this truth becomes a barrier for many to get to God. It doesn't make sense to them that coming to God would not involve DOING something to be acceptable by God. But no, it is an act of faith.

Jesus' explanation about the parable of the sower makes it clear that it is the condition of our hearts that determines whether or not we receive His teaching and allow it to take root in our lives. It is not an arbitrary choosing by God as to who receives it. God's kingdom is available to all, but not all receive it due to the condition of the soil of their hearts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 12

    Matthew 12 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. One Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were walking through some wheat fields. His disciples were hungry and began picking and eating grains of wheat.
  2. Some Pharisees noticed this and said to Jesus, "Why are your disciples picking grain on the Sabbath? They are not supposed to do that!"
  3. Jesus answered: You surely must have read what David did when he and his followers were hungry.
  4. He went into the house of God, and then they ate the sacred loaves of bread that only priests are supposed to eat.
  5. Haven't you read in the Law of Moses that the priests are allowed to work in the temple on the Sabbath? But no one says that they are guilty of breaking the law of the Sabbath.
  6. I tell you that there is something here greater than the temple.
  7. Don't you know what the Scriptures mean when they say, "Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others?" If you knew what this means, you would not condemn these innocent disciples of mine.
  8. So the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath.
  9. Jesus left and went into one of the Jewish meeting places,
  10. where there was a man whose hand was crippled. Some Pharisees wanted to accuse Jesus of doing something wrong, and they asked him, "Is it right to heal someone on the Sabbath?"
  11. Jesus answered, "If you had a sheep that fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, wouldn't you lift it out?
  12. People are worth much more than sheep, and so it is right to do good on the Sabbath."
  13. Then Jesus told the man, "Hold out your hand." The man did, and it became as healthy as the other one.
  14. The Pharisees left and started making plans to kill Jesus.
  15. When Jesus found out what was happening, he left there and large crowds followed him. He healed all of their sick,
  16. but warned them not to tell anyone about him.
  17. So God's promise came true, just as Isaiah the prophet had said,
  18. "Here is my chosen servant! I love him, and he pleases me. I will give him my Spirit, and he will bring justice to the nations.
  19. He won't shout or yell or call out in the streets.
  20. He won't break off a bent reed or put out a dying flame, but he will make sure that justice is done.
  21. All nations will place their hope in him."
  22. Some people brought to Jesus a man who was blind and could not talk because he had a demon in him. Jesus healed the man, and then he was able to talk and see.
  23. The crowds were so amazed that they asked, "Could Jesus be the Son of David?"
  24. When the Pharisees heard this, they said, "He forces out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons!"
  25. Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said to them: Any kingdom where people fight each other will end up ruined. And a town or family that fights will soon destroy itself.
  26. So if Satan fights against himself, how can his kingdom last?
  27. If I use the power of Beelzebul to force out demons, whose power do your own followers use to force them out? Your followers are the ones who will judge you.
  28. But when I force out demons by the power of God's Spirit, it proves that God's kingdom has already come to you.
  29. How can anyone break into a strong man's house and steal his things, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can take everything.
  30. If you are not on my side, you are against me. If you don't gather in the harvest with me, you scatter it.
  31. I tell you that any sinful thing you do or say can be forgiven. Even if you speak against the Son of Man, you can be forgiven. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven, either in this life or in the life to come.
  32. (SEE 12:31)
  33. A good tree produces only good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. You can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces.
  34. You are a bunch of evil snakes, so how can you say anything good? Your words show what is in your hearts.
  35. Good people bring good things out of their hearts, but evil people bring evil things out of their hearts.
  36. I promise you that on the day of judgment, everyone will have to account for every careless word they have spoken.
  37. On that day they will be told that they are either innocent or guilty because of the things they have said.
  38. Some Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses said, "Teacher, we want you to show us a sign from heaven."
  39. But Jesus replied: You want a sign because you are evil and won't believe! But the only sign you will get is the sign of the prophet Jonah.
  40. He was in the stomach of a big fish for three days and nights, just as the Son of Man will be deep in the earth for three days and nights.
  41. On the day of judgment the people of Nineveh will stand there with you and condemn you. They turned to God when Jonah preached, and yet here is something far greater than Jonah.
  42. The Queen of the South will also stand there with you and condemn you. She traveled a long way to hear Solomon's wisdom, and yet here is something much greater than Solomon.
  43. When an evil spirit leaves a person, it travels through the desert, looking for a place to rest. But when the demon doesn't find a place,
  44. it says, "I will go back to the home I left." When it gets there and finds the place empty, clean, and fixed up,
  45. it goes off and finds seven other evil spirits even worse than itself. They all come and make their home there, and the person ends up in worse shape than before. That's how it will be with you evil people of today.
  46. While Jesus was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and brothers came and stood outside because they wanted to talk with him.
  47. Someone told Jesus, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to talk with you."
  48. Jesus answered, "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?"
  49. Then he pointed to his disciples and said, "These are my mother and my brothers!
  50. Anyone who obeys my Father in heaven is my brother or sister or mother."

The events of this chapter bear out the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:25 when He praised God for hiding the things of the kingdom from the wise and learned. What would the wise and learned claim to need in order to accept a thing as real? Evidence, of course. The wise and learned want something that makes sense to them. But therein lies the problem. To make sense to them it must fit their criteria and their paradigms and their scope of understanding. Jesus was continually providing evidence that He was the Messiah. Everyone who saw His miracles marveled at them and knew there was something special about Him though they may not have understood specifically that He was the Messiah.

Then along came the scribes and Pharisees and asked Jesus for a sign to verify His claim as the Son of Man, a prophetic title for the Messiah. They had just witnessed Jesus heal a man with a paralyzed hand and a man who was blind and unable to speak due to a demon possession. These were in addition to numerous other miracles since His baptism. What sign could Jesus give them that they would accept? And why would He want to reduce the kingdom He came to usher in to the level of these religious leaders who had already stripped the law of Moses and Judaism of their intent and meaning? To offer a sign would place His mission on their terms. Jesus told them that only "An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign." No additional or special signs would be given them, and the sign of the prophet Jonah, to which Jesus specifically referred, they would not grasp until after Jesus' crucifixion. By then, those who crucified Him would have reasons not to believe any sign.

Change is very difficult for so many reasons. But without accepting change we deny the best on behalf of the good. Judaism was good, intended to prepare the way for the best - the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom, which Jesus came to usher in, was never intended to be a rejuvenated form of Judaism. It was to go to a whole new level in man's relationship with God where Judaism, or any other religion, are incapable of going. But those whose lives were wrapped up in Judaism could not see where this was going. All they could see was a threat to what was familiar to them. We have to tell ourselves continually to embrace change. Obviously we need to be cautious about the change we embrace, for not all change is for the good. But with God's help, we should look toward what He has next with which to enrich us. While God, Himself, doesn't change, He is continually bringing change as He moves everything toward the fulfillment of His plans and purposes. Our refusal to change only hinders us from receiving anything further from God.