Monday, July 30, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Matthew 25-28

Readings for this week

Monday: Matthew 25
Tuesday: Matthew 26
Wednesday: Matthew 27
Thursday: Matthew 28
Friday: 1st Kings 1
Saturday: 1st Kings 2
Sunday: 1st Kings 3

Introduction to Matthew 25-28

Chapter 25 

Jesus continues to lay out several quick parables to provide a better understanding of his future coming.

Fifth Parable: Ten Virgins

It will be like ten virgins who take their lamps to go meet the bridegroom, but half of them don’t bring enough oil to keep their lamps lit. The bridegroom takes his time and shows up at midnight. The smart virgins use their extra oil to light their lamps but the dumb ones have run out and have to go out and try to buy some more in the middle of the night and get locked out. They bang on the door but the groom doesn’t recognize them.

Sixth Parable: The Talents

Before going on a trip a man leaves his three servants in charge of one, two, and five talents of gold, respectively. The men with the five and the two went to work right away and doubled their amounts. But the man with the one buried the money in the ground and did nothing. When the boss got home, he rewarded the first two men and gave them even more responsibilities, but he punished the one who buried his money, saying that the least he could have done was deposited it in the bank to earn interest. The man excuses himself saying he did it because his boss is a hard man. He gives the one talent to the man who doubled the five talents and he throws the lazy servant out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Seventh Parable: The Sheep and the Goats

It will be like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. Sheep go to the right, and goats go to the left. Goats don’t pay attention to their master’s voice, but sheep recognize it and follow it. In the same way, when the Son of Man comes with his angels he will gather all the nations before him, and say to the ones on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ And then they will be confused because they won’t remember seeing Jesus in need, and he will tell them that whatever they did for the least person, they did for him. And he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ And they will also be confused because they won’t remember seeing Jesus in need, and he also say to them that whatever they didn’t do for the least person, they didn’t do for him. 

Chapter 26 

The priests plot to kill Jesus but they fear a riot during the festival. Jesus is then anointed by a “sinful” woman at Bethany, preparing him for his burial, and Judas Iscariot scoffs at this. He then goes to the chief priests and asks how much they’ll pay him to watch for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them, and they give him thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus has his disciples prepare for the Passover celebration in the upper room of a rented house. In the evening, they’re all reclining at the table that evening Jesus announced that one of them will betray him. All of the disciples deny this, but Jesus says, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Judas is like, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Jesus is like, “You said it.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

So how exactly is this cup, this “fruit of the vine,” the blood of the covenant?

First, Abraham made a blood oath with God to be loyal to him. The penalty for disloyalty is death. But Abraham did not walk in the blood. God did. And God in the Son paid the price that we, Abraham’s spiritual descendants, all owe for our disloyalty. His blood “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” is the price for our breaking the covenant with God.

Second, Jesus was also paying the price for every breaking of the Law of Moses. The Israelites made a blood oath but couldn’t keep their promises. And Jesus was paying that price, too.

Third, Paul later refers to the “blood of the covenant” in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul says that Jesus made a “new covenant” with his blood. As we drink his blood, we are going all the way back to the original meaning of the blood oath — we are drinking the blood of the Messiah, entering into communion with him and promising to be loyal — to be faithful — to him. And he is promising to keep his promises to us.

The Passover 

The Lord’s Supper was instituted as part of a Passover meal. The Passover celebrates God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. By the time of Jesus, the meal was celebrated with four cups of wine, each reflecting a promise of God made to Moses and Israel at the beginning of their deliverance. At least three of the cups were recorded in the Gospels’ account of the Last Supper. In the traditional Passover meal, the head of the household would recite each promise from God with each cup. The first cup, preceding the meal, is the Cup of Sanctification – based on God’s statement, “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” The second cup, preceding the first course, is the Cup of Judgment or Deliverance — based on God’s statement, “I will deliver you from slavery to them.” Luke 22:17 records, “After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you.’” The family would then take the meal together, followed by the third cup, the Cup of Redemption – based on God’s statement, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” Luke 22:20 records, “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’” The fourth cup is the Cup of Protection – based on God’s statement, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.” Jesus did not take this cup, forfeiting the Passover, God’s protection against the death angel. Instead, he said, “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Although Jesus drank no more wine, he did drink from another cup. You see, the traditional Passover has a fifth cup, taken from Jeremiah 25, “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.” This is also known as Elijah’s cup. Malachi also prophesied that Elijah would return shortly before the coming of the Messiah and day of God’s wrath against all wickedness. At this part of the Passover ceremony, the door is opened, and the head of household says, “Pour out your wrath on the world!” In the traditional ceremony, this cup is filled but not drunk — not until the coming of Elijah. But Jesus drank the cup. Just a few verses later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against the nations.

Jesus then predicts Peter’s denial. After Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas shows up with an armed mob. Judas goes to Jesus, saying, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and he kisses him. Jesus tells him, “Do what you came for, friend.” Jesus is arrested, but one of the disciples (Peter according to John’s Gospel) grabs a sword and strikes the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus says, “Put your sword back in its place! For all who draw the sword will die by the sword! Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels! But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way!” Then all the disciples ran away and hid.

Jesus is taken before Caiaphas the High Priest (who was in on this whole scheme). Peter follows the crowd, watching from a distance to see what happens. The priests are trying to come up with a case against Jesus, but they can’t find any witnesses who can agree with each other. Eventually, two people agree that Jesus had claimed that he could destroy God’s Temple and rebuild it in three days. The High Priest is like, “Aren’t you going to say anything, Jesus?” Jesus says nothing. The High Priest puts Jesus under oath and says, “Tell us if you’re the Messiah, the Son of God!” Jesus says, “You said it.” He then says to the crowd, “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The High Priest tears his own clothes, crying, “Blasphemy!” The crowd cries, “Kill him!” They then attack Jesus, spitting on him and hitting him, and yelling, “Prophesy to us, Messiah! Who hit you?”

Peter then disowns Jesus. 

Chapter 27 

When Judas sees that they’re going to kill Jesus, he is seized with remorse and tries to give the thirty pieces of silver back to the priests, saying, “I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood.” The priests, whose job it is to lead sinful people back to God in confession and forgiveness, say to Judas, “What’s that to us? You’re sin is your own problem!” Judas throws the money into the Temple and runs away and hangs himself. The priests don’t know what to do with the money because they know it’s blood money, so they later decide to buy the Potter’s Field with it and they call it The Field of Blood. Matthew says that this took place to fulfill the words of the prophets, and he quotes both Jeremiah and Zechariah, saying, “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

Very early in the morning, the Sanhedrin decided to drag Jesus over to the Roman Governor Pilate for a decision on what to do with him. Pilate’s like, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus is like, “You said it.” The priests started accusing Jesus of all kinds of stuff, but Jesus didn’t say anything, so Pilate was like, “Aren’t you going to say something in your own defense?” But Jesus still said nothing and Pilate was amazed at him.

At this point the narrator informs us that it was traditional for a prisoner to be released once a year at the request of the people. He also tells us that there was at this time a known terrorist and murderer locked up in prison named Jesus Barabbas. Pilate uses this opportunity to ask the crowd who they would like to release – Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ? Pilate’s wife also shows up to tell her husband to have nothing to do with Jesus, saying that she’d had a terrible dream about that morning. But the crowd had turned against Jesus, and they were like, “No! Give us the terrorist! Set Barabbas free!” Pilate thought this was kind of stupid, so he was like, “What should I do with this ‘King of the Jews’ then?” The crowd shouted, “Crucify him!” Pilate was dumbfounded, and asked, “Why? What crime has he committed?” But the crowd kept screaming “Crucify!” so in order to avoid a riot, Pilate gave in to them. He also symbolically washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood! He is your responsibility!” The crowd shouted back, “His blood be on us and our children!” He released Barabbas, and had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.

The soldiers mock Jesus. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). He was quoting Psalm 22 – the Death Psalm. Those nearby misheard him and thought he was calling for Elijah. One of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The others said, “Leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. Matthew says that the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Many women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Jesus’ mother), and the mother of Zebedee’s sons (James and John’s mother). Matthew notes that they had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.

On the evening of Jesus’ death, a rich disciple named Joseph of Arimathea got permission from Pilate to remove Jesus’ body from the cross and place it in his own tomb before the Sabbath began at sunset.

The next morning (the Sabbath), the priests and Pharisees also went to Pilate to get permission to have Jesus’ tomb sealed and made secure so that no one could steal his body. They said the reason the tomb needed to be guarded was because they remembered that while Jesus was still alive, he claimed that he would be put to death and be raised to life on the third day, and they were afraid the disciples would try to steal his body and try to convince people he’d returned from the dead. They added that this last deception would be worse than the first, so Pilate posted a guard at the tomb. 

Chapter 28 

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Some of the guards reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. The priests and elders then gave them a bunch of money and told them to say that the disciples stole his body and that they would keep them out of trouble with the Governor if he found out. Matthew then tells the reader of his Gospel that this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee and met Jesus on the mountain. They worshiped him, but Matthew says that some still doubted even then. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Monday, July 23, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Matthew 18-24

Readings for this week

Monday: Matthew 18
Tuesday: Matthew 19
Wednesday: Matthew 20
Thursday: Matthew 21
Friday: Matthew 22
Saturday: Matthew 23
Sunday: Matthew 24

Introduction to Matthew 18-24

Chapter 18 

The disciples ask Jesus who the greatest person is in the kingdom of heaven. And he tells them that if they don’t change and become like little children, they won’t enter the kingdom. And he adds that the one who causes one of these kids who believes in him to stumble, that person would be better off if he were thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck. He says that if your hand or foot or eye causes you to stumble, get rid of them. You’re better off blind and maimed than being thrown into the fire. Jesus then tells the parable of the wandering sheep that the shepherd leaves the flock to go find and bring back.

Jesus then talks about dealing with sin in the church. He says that if a believer sins against you, go to them privately. If they don’t listen, take a couple others with you next time. If they still don’t listen, tell the church. If they don’t listen to the church, then treat them like someone who doesn’t believe in God. And he adds: The things you don’t allow on earth will be the things God does not allow. And the things you allow on earth will be the things that God allows. And he says that when two people agree on earth about something and pray for it, God will do it, because Jesus is with those who come together in his name.

Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone… maybe seven times? Jesus says, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

He then tells the parable of the unmerciful servant, in which a king wants to settle accounts with his servants and one servant owes him ten thousand talents ($10 million), so the king orders that he and his family be sold to repay the debt. But the servant begged him to forgive his debt and he did. But as soon as he left the king’s presence the man found another servant who owed him a hundred denarii ($2,000). He grabbed him and began to choke him, demanding he pay him back. The second man begged for forgiveness, but the first man wouldn’t listen and had him thrown into prison. Some other servants saw this and told the king, and the king called the first servant back in and told him he should have been merciful just as he had been shown mercy. And the king then ordered that the first servant be jailed and tortured until he repaid his original debt. Jesus adds: This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. 

Chapter 19 

Jesus and his disciples leave Galilee and journey to Judea. Large crowds follow him and he heals them. Some Pharisees show up and ask Jesus if it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason. Jesus quotes from Genesis, saying that in the beginning the Creator made male and female to be united as one flesh, and he adds that no person should separate what God has joined together. They then ask him why Moses allowed men to write their wives a certificate of divorce. Jesus says it was because their hearts were already hard, but not so in the beginning. And he adds that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

The disciples hear this and conclude that it must be better not to get married. Jesus says that not everyone can accept this teaching, but the ones who have just heard it can. And he adds that some people were born as eunuchs, some were made that way by others, and some choose to live as eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.

Some have argued that Jesus is speaking about homosexuality in this passage, but this does not appear to be the case. Eunuchs and homosexuals are not necessarily the same. When he says some are born eunuchs, he is referring to males who were born with undescended testicles. When he says some were made eunuchs, he is referring to actual eunuchs, whose testicles have been either accidentally damaged or removed by the owner of the eunuch. When he says some choose to live as eunuchs for the Kingdom, he is talking about men with no damage or deformity to their testicles who choose to live celibate lives as their own personal way of honoring God.

Later, the disciples try to chase off the little children coming to Jesus, but Jesus tells them not to because the kingdom is filled with children.

Later, a rich young man comes up to Jesus and asks him what good thing he can do to earn eternal life. Jesus asks him why he’s talking to him about goodness, because there’s only One who is truly good. (In saying this, Jesus was hinting that he in fact was God.) He then tells the man to follow the commandments if he wants to live. The man wants to know which commandments, so Jesus lists off several for him. The man tells Jesus that he already keeps all of these, so what else does he need? Jesus answers, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The man is sad to hear this and walks away. Then Jesus tells his disciples that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are surprised to hear this and are like, “Well then, who can ever be saved?” Jesus says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter points out that they’ve all left everything to follow Jesus, so what reward will they receive? Jesus that in the future when all things are renewed the disciples will sit on twelve thrones and judge the tribes of Israel. And he adds that anyone who has had to give up his life – houses, parents, spouses, children, land - for his sake will receive a hundred time more than what they lost as well as eternal life. But he also says that many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Chapter 20 

Many of Jesus’ parables weren’t actually original to Jesus. What Jesus, like other rabbis, often did was to take common well-known fables or short stories and retell with a special, often shocking, twist to them, in order to teach people about the true nature of God and the Kingdom of God. The parable of the workers in the vineyard is one such example.

First, here is the parable in another context (a funeral for a young rabbi) as told by another rabbi…

A king hires people early in the morning to work his vineyard. One of the workers is especially skilled. The king takes a walk in the garden and brings the skilled man with him and they have a long conversation. At the end of the day, he pays all of his workers a full day’s wages. But the other workers get upset and say it isn’t fair. The king says to them: 'Why are you angry? Through his skill he has done more in the two hours than you have done all day.' So is it with Rabbi Abin ben Ḥiyya. In the twenty-eight years of his life he has learned more than others learn in 100 years. Hence he has fulfilled his life-work and is entitled to be called to paradise earlier than others from his work on earth.

And here is Jesus’ version of that parable in his contextual situation…

A landowner hires people early in the morning to work his vineyard, and agrees to pay them each a denarius. He takes a walk and finds more people to work for him at nine, noon, and five. At the end of the day, he pays all his workers one denarius each. But the early workers get upset and say it isn’t fair. But the landowner tells them that he has not been unfair. He has paid them the amount for which they agreed to work. He says he has the right to do whatever he wants with his own money, and he asks if they are envious of his generosity. So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he told his disciples that after they arrive the priests and Torah-teachers of the city will condemn him to death and hand him over to Gentiles to be flogged and crucified, but we will be raised to life on the third day. After Jesus says all this, James and John approach Jesus with their mother and their mother makes a special request on their behalf. She asks Jesus to let James and John sit on his right and left in his kingdom. Jesus says, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He adds, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” He is referring to his own impending death and resurrection he had just been talking about. They say that they can drink it. Jesus agrees that they will in fact drink from his cup, but tells them that whoever gets power in God’s kingdom is God’s business.

Later, when the other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they shook their heads and couldn’t say anything nice to them. Jesus then steps in and calls them all together to give them all a lesson of about what the Kingdom of God is really like. He says that they’ve seen the rulers of the Gentiles abuse their positions of power, but it will be different with Jesus’ followers. He says whoever wants to be a leader must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must become a slave. And he adds: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Jesus then heals two blind men.

Chapter 21 

As they approach Jerusalem, Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead, telling them that they will find a donkey with a colt. He tells them to untie them and bring them to him, and if the owner asks what they’re doing, to just tell them that the Lord needs them, and everything will be fine.

The disciples brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He quotes from both Isaiah and Jeremiah, saying, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children praising him, they were angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read…

‘From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise’?”

Here, Jesus is quoting Psalm 8:2…

“From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Why is it God has ordained praise from their lips? Because of His enemies, in order to silence them. Who is Jesus suggesting are the enemies of God? The chief priests and Torah teachers! No wonder they hate him so much!

Jesus spends the night in the nearby village of Bethany, and early the next morning he heads back to the big city. He gets hungry along the way, and stops by a fig tree along the path, but it is covered in nothing but leaves. He then curses it and immediately the tree withers. The disciples are amazed, and say, “How did you do that?” Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

But wait a minute… why did Jesus curse the fig tree again? The other Gospel writers let us know that it wasn’t even the season for figs. So what was Jesus point? Was he just having a bad day?

Many scholars see the fig tree as representative of Jerusalem, and Jesus is using the fig tree as a visual aid for a parable. Just as the fig tree did not produce the kind of fruit that Jesus demanded, continuous and not seasonal, so too the people of Jerusalem had not produced the kind of “fruit” that God demanded. Just as the fig tree did not recognize its creator and submit to his will when he approached, the same was true with Jerusalem, the city of God… and both would be destroyed.

Jesus goes to the Temple, and the Pharisees ask him a question: Where did you get your authority? Jesus answers with another question: Where did John the Baptist get his authority? Within Jesus’ question is the answer. When Jesus is baptized by John, John declares him to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;” also, the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, and the voice from Heaven said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus got his authority from the testimony of both John the Baptist as well as God Himself, but the Pharisees didn’t want to admit to that, so they decided to play stupid. Jesus ends the conversation by saying that since they claim to have learned nothing from John, they won’t learn from him either.

Jesus then tells the Pharisees a parable about themselves.

He says that a man with two sons asked them both to work in his vineyard, the first son said no but later changed his mind and did. The second son said he would, but he didn’t. The Pharisees admit that the first son is the one who did what his dad wanted, and so Jesus tells them that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them. And he adds: For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Jesus continues with another parable about a man who rented his vineyard to some tenants while he was away, but the tenants would not let the man’s personal servants in to collect fruit for him. They beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them and they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Jesus asks them what they think the owner will do to those tenants when he returns. And they say that he will kill them and find better tenants. Jesus then quotes from scripture and says that the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and because of this the kingdom will be taken away from them and given to people who will produce fruit. He adds: Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces and anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people believed that he was a prophet.

Chapter 22 

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is another example of Jesus using a common well-known story of the time and adding his own special twist to it to teach something.

First, here is another rabbi’s version of the parable…

A king prepared a banquet without stating the exact time it would start and sent his servants out to invite people. Those who were wise got ready and dressed up and waited outside the palace gate, but the foolish refused to get ready and went back to their fields and businesses. Suddenly, the king called his servants to the banquet and everybody came in dressed either for the wedding or in their dirty work clothes. The king was happy with the wise and angry with the foolish, and he let the wise sit down and eat, but made the foolish stand back and watch.

And here is Jesus’ own version of that same parable…

A king prepared a wedding banquet for his son and sent his servants out to invite people, but they refused to come. So he sent more servants, but got the same results. One man went back to his field – another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city. After this, he sent his servants out again, saying that those who were invited were not worthy, so they should go to the streets and invite anyone they can find – good or bad. But when the king came in to a now full wedding hall to see his guests, he spotted one man not wearing wedding clothes. The man could give no explanation as to how he got into the wedding dressed like that, so the king had him tied up and thrown out into the darkness where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen.

The Pharisees and Sadducees go back and forth to Jesus with leading questions about taxes and marriage in order to trap him in his words, but Jesus doesn’t fall for any of their traps. Finally, the Pharisees come back with a question: Which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus then asks the Pharisees a question: What do you think about the Messiah – whose son is he? They say that he’s of course the son of David. Jesus then quotes Psalm 110 and asks them, “Why would David refer to his own son as ‘Lord’?” Jesus is implying that the Messiah, the son of David, would be greater than David, Israel’s greatest king – and he was also implying that he himself was the Messiah, and that he in fact was greater than David. Nobody knew how to respond to Jesus’ question, so they stopped asking him questions.

Chapter 23 

Jesus says to the crowds to obey what their teachers tell them, but not to behave the way they do because they don’t practice what they preach. They pile loads upon people and don’t lift a finger to help them. Everything they do is to show off. He says, “They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” And he tells the crowd not to accept titles of honor because there is only one Messiah, and those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

In Jewish culture, long tassels and wide phylacteries were physical representations of the keeping of the Law of Moses. Moses had commanded that people wear tassels on their clothes, so extra-long tassels were a way people tried to show just how devoted they were to the Law. A phylactery is a box strapped to one’s body that contains tiny scrolls of scripture in it. Moses had figuratively told the people to wear the Law of God upon their bodies, but the people took this literally and actually walked around with scrolls tied to their bodies as a way of showing off how much the Law meant to them.

Jesus then pronounces seven woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. The seven woes of hypocrisy are:

1. They taught about God but did not love God — they did not enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor did they let others enter.

2. They preached God but converted people to dead religion, thus making those converts twice as much sons of hell as they themselves were.

3. They taught that an oath sworn by the temple or altar was not binding, but that if sworn by the gold ornamentation of the temple, or by a sacrificial gift on the altar, it was binding. The gold and gifts, however, were not sacred in themselves as the temple and altar were, but derived a measure of lesser sacredness by being connected to the temple or altar. The teachers and Pharisees worshiped at the temple and offered sacrifices at the altar because they knew that the temple and altar were sacred. How then could they deny oath-binding value to what was truly sacred and accord it to objects of trivial and derived sacredness?

4. They taught the law but did not practice some of the most important parts of the law — justice, mercy, faithfulness to God. They obeyed the minutiae of the law such as tithing spices but not the weightier matters of the law.

5. They presented an appearance of being 'clean' (self-restrained, not involved in carnal matters), yet they were dirty inside: they seethed with hidden worldly desires, carnality. They were full of greed and self-indulgence.

6. They exhibited themselves as righteous on account of being scrupulous keepers of the law, but were in fact not righteous: their mask of righteousness hid a secret inner world of ungodly thoughts and feelings. They were full of wickedness. They were like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men's bones.

7. They professed a high regard for the dead prophets of old, and claimed that they would never have persecuted and murdered prophets, when in fact they were cut from the same cloth as the persecutors and murderers: they too had murderous blood in their veins.

Chapter 24 

Jesus leaves the Temple and his disciples are admiring all the fancy buildings. Jesus tells them that the Temple will be destroyed one day and not one stone will be left on another. They go to the Mount of Olives and the disciples ask him when all of this is going to happen. They also ask him, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus first warns them about things that would happen that should not be interpreted as signs: Some would claim to be Christ (it was a general belief that if the Jewish Messiah arrived in Jerusalem, it would mean that the Kingdom of Heaven was imminent), and there would be wars and rumors of wars.

Then Jesus identifies the “beginnings of birth pangs”, a metaphor for “false alarm”: Nations rising up against nations, and kingdoms against kingdoms, Earthquakes, Famines, Pestilence, Fearful events

Next he describes more birth pangs which would lead to the coming Kingdom: False prophets, Apostasy, Persecution of the followers of Jesus, The spread of Jesus' message (the gospel) around the world.

Jesus then warns the disciples about the “Abomination of Desolation standing where it does not belong." The Gospels of Matthew and Mark add "—let the reader understand—". This is generally considered to be a reference to two passages from the Book of Daniel. One view (Futurism) is that the future Jesus predicted is the unfolding of events from trends that are already at work in contemporary human society. Another prophetic view (Preterism) is that all of these predictions were fulfilled by the time Jerusalem fell in AD 70.

A key issue in Jesus' discussion concerns the illustration of the fig tree (and other trees). This serves to balance the two parts of the discussion. The first part being the answer to the first question concerning the destruction of the Temple, the second part being the answer to the question of Jesus' return at the end of the world. Hence, concerning the first he says that "this Generation" would see the fulfillment, whereas the second, "No man knows", not even Jesus himself knows the day of his return, so everyone must be ready.

Jesus then lays out several quick parables to provide a better understanding of his future coming.

First Parable: Noah

It will be like the days before the flood when people just carried on with their lives right up until they were destroyed by the waters because they didn’t know what was coming.

Second Parable: The Field and the Mill

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Third Parable: The Thief

If people knew when this was going to happen, they would be like a man who stays up to catch a thief he knows is coming to rob his house… but they don’t so they won’t.

Fourth Parable: The Servant

It will be good for the servant who does his master’s will while he is away, but bad for the servant who decides to abuse his fellow servants and get drunk because he thinks his master won’t be back anytime soon. Jesus adds: He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Monday, July 16, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Matthew 11-17

Readings for this week

Monday: Matthew 11
Tuesday: Matthew 12
Wednesday: Matthew 13
Thursday: Matthew 14
Friday: Matthew 15
Saturday: Matthew 16
Sunday: Matthew 17

Introduction to Matthew 11-17

Chapter 11 

In the second narrative section of Matthew’s Gospel, we hear about John the Baptist’s questions about Jesus. John asks, “are you the ‘coming one’?” referring to Zechariah who predicted that the ‘coming one’ would ‘set the captives free.’” Jesus quotes six phrases from six different places in Isaiah (blind see, lame walk, lepers cleansed, deaf hear, dead raised, good news proclaimed to the poor.) that all end in “set the captives free,” but Jesus doesn’t say that part – which is Jesus’ way of saying, “Yes, I am the coming one… but I’m afraid that you are going to die in jail, John.” Then Jesus adds, “Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of these difficult words.” The difficult words are in fact the words that Jesus did not repeat. 

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. He even says that Capernaum will go down to Hades because even Sodom would have repented at the sight of the miracles performed in Capernaum… but Capernaum did not. He also says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

What was Jesus’ yoke? 

Women carried water using a shoulder yoke to carry two jars with the same effort as a single jar on the head. A rabbi called his approach to the scriptures his “yoke,” that is, the interpretive tools he used to make interpretation easier. The rabbis called the text “living water,” and so the yoke helps to carry the water. “Give you rest” comes from Exodus 33, in a conversation between Moses and God, in which Moses asks for instruction from God, and God says, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Jesus was claiming to be God! 

“Rest for your souls” comes from Jeremiah 6:16… “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” He is saying that following him is the true fulfillment of the Law. 

Finally, a First Century Jew would have known that Jesus’ claim to be “gentle and humble” is a claim to be like Moses. Numbers 12:3 says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” This passage echoes throughout the Gospels. 

Chapter 12 

We then read about some controversies Jesus had with the Jewish authorities, and how Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus knows that the Pharisees want to kill him, so he leaves the area, but large crowds continue to follow him. He heals the sick, but continues to tell people not to spread the word about him.

The Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, and they ask for a sign. We also learn that Jesus’ own family thought he was a little crazy and wanted to take him back home… but he says that his true family are the ones who listen to and obey his teachings. 

Chapter 13 

This next section of Matthew’s Gospel covers Jesus’ parables on the Kingdom. First, we hear the Parable of the Sower. Jesus goes to the Lake to teach again, and the crowd is so large that he climbs into a boat to teach. Later, the disciples ask him about his parables. Jesus tells them that they have been blessed with the knowledge of the secret kingdom of God – they are insiders. He says that the crowds are on the outside - so he speaks to them in parables so that they won’t understand, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy about the people who see but don’t perceive, and who hear but don’t understand. The people listening to the parable have become a parable unto themselves.

In rabbinic teaching, every parable has at least one “secret” or “key”. With Jesus, most of his parables had at least two. First, a high level “secret”, that of the “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven”, which would be better termed in English “the reign of God”, because it describes how God’s people should live now to demonstrate His reign in their lives here on earth. And then a second “secret”, which is a demonstration of how we are to act in the kingdom, is the most obvious import in the parable. In teaching the “secrets” or “keys”, rabbis were expecting two things from their listeners: to understand their “secret”, and to accept that teaching and apply it to their walk.

Jesus then has to explain the parable to his disciples, because even though they are insiders they just don’t get it. Explanation:

Seed sown along the path and eaten by birds = people who hear the word, but Satan takes it away
Seed sown on rocks whose roots never grow = people who receive the word with joy, but quickly fall away under persecution
Seed sown among thorns that gets choked = people who worry about wealth and life and forget the word given to them
Seed sown on good soil = people who hear the word, accept it, and reproduce it

We then get to hear the Parable of the Weeds, and the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast – the kingdom is like a mustard seed because it starts small and grows huge, and it’s like tiny yeast which works through sixty pounds of flour to make dough.

The text says that Jesus always spoke in parables to the people, but that when he was alone with his disciples he would explain them. He does this with the Parable of the weeds.

Sower of good seed = Son of Man
Field = world
Good seed = people of the kingdom
Weeds = people of the evil one
Enemy who sows bad seed = the devil
The harvest = the end of the age
The harvesters = the angels

We then hear the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl – the kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field that a man obtains after selling all he has to buy the field, and it’s like a merchant who sells all he has to obtain the most excellent pearl.

We then hear the Parable of the Net – the kingdom is like a net catching all kinds of fish, and the fisherman separate the bad ones from the good ones and throw the bad ones in the fire.

Jesus asks them if they understand what he’s saying, and they say yes. He says to them, “Every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

We then come to the third narrative section, which begins with Jesus being rejected by the Nazarenes and he says that he is like all the prophets who were rejected by their hometowns. 

Chapter 14 

When then hear about how John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod. After this, Jesus and his disciples are constantly surrounded by large crowds. Jesus needs a break, so they get in a boat and try to find a quiet place to hide. Crowds soon find them, and Jesus “has compassion,” and begins to teach them. At the end of the day, the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds home so that the people can get something to eat, but Jesus says, “You feed them.” The disciples are unable, and Jesus inquires about the food supply – five loaves and two fish. Jesus blesses it, breaks it up, and the disciples distribute it. Amazingly, all 5,000 people end up with enough to eat. There are twelve basket-fulls of food left over. The twelve disciples with twelve baskets represent the twelve tribes of Israel. This event takes place on the Jewish side of the Lake.

That night, the disciples sail across the Lake while Jesus stays behind. He watches them struggling through the night, and eventually walks out to them on the water. He’s about to pass them by, when they see him and cry out, “Ghost!” Jesus reveals himself to them, and Peter declares that if it really is Jesus he will walk out on the water to him. Peter walks on the water, but becomes afraid and begins to sink. He cries out for help and Jesus grabs him and pulls him up and takes him back to the boat. Jesus asks him why he doubted. 

Chapter 15 

The Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him why his disciples don’t follow their tradition of washing their hands before they eat. Jesus then asks the Pharisees why they would rather follow their traditions than follow the Law of God. He accuses them of giving their money as an offering at the Temple as an excuse for not spending it on taking care of their aging parents.

Jesus turns to the crowd and declares that it’s not the stuff you eat that makes you nasty, what’s nasty is the stuff you vomit out. The disciples let Jesus know that the Pharisees were offended by this parable. He replies with two more parables: “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” Peter is a bit slow and still doesn’t get the first parable, so he tells Jesus to go back and explain that one. Jesus is like, “Come on, dummy, don’t you get it? Food goes in one end and out the other… but the stuff that you vomit out is the real problem. I’m talking about your heart – the stuff that you let brew and rot inside of you that you then spew out all over everyone. You know, stuff like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. That’s the real dirt… not the stuff on your hands when you forget to wash.”

A non-Jewish woman comes to Jesus and asks him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus points out how strange this request is – essentially to ignore the chosen people (the Jews) in order to go heal a pagan. Jesus is like, “You know, we have this saying in Israel: ‘Don’t give the children’s food to the dogs…’” (Jesus is reminding her that the Jews consider people like her no better than dirty animals, so what might they think of this?) But the woman is like, “The dogs will still eat up whatever the kids have dropped on the floor.” (She is reminding Jesus that the Jews have not been faithful with what they’ve been given, so why should they have a say here?) Jesus turns to his disciples and says to them that he hasn’t seen more fiery faith in all of Israel than what he’s just seen in this pagan woman. And he heals her daughter. (Because she isn’t a dog.)

Jesus teaches the crowds on the mountainside by the Sea of Galilee. The crowds are amazed when he heals them. Jesus “has compassion” on them and tells his disciples that he doesn’t want to send the people away to get something to eat because they’ve already been with him for three days and they might collapse on the way from hunger. The disciples, again, have no idea where they can get enough food for the people. Jesus inquires about the food supply – seven loaves and a few small fish. Jesus blesses it, and breaks it up, and the disciples distribute it. Amazingly, all 4,000 men, plus the women and children, end up with enough to eat. There are seven basketfuls of food left over. Seven baskets represent seven pagan nations. This event takes place on the Gentile side of the Lake. 

Chapter 16 

Jesus and his disciples go to Magadan where the Pharisees and Sadducees ask Jesus to show them a sign from heaven. He’s like, “You say, ‘Red in the morning, sailor’s warning; red at night, sailors delight.’ You know how to interpret the weather, but you don’t know how to interpret the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah (his resurrection).”

They get in a boat and cross the lake and Jesus says, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Sadducees.” The disciples think he is talking about how they had forgotten to bring bread along. Jesus rebukes them for their lack of understanding and asks them if they remembered how many basketfuls of bread were left over from the five thousand and the four thousand. They tell him that there were twelve and seven. Jesus then asks, “Do you still not understand?” The disciples do not immediately understanding what Jesus is trying to tell them, but eventually they realize that he’s not talking about literal bread, but theology. The Gospel is for both Jews and Gentiles, as the miracles of the bread and fish portrayed, but the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted God’s blessings all to themselves.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. Having just come from Bethsaida, this means that Jesus decided to take his disciples on a 32+ mile round trip to Caesarea Philippi, the only recorded trip Jesus took to that region or anywhere remotely like it.

Caesarea Philippi, was established by Ptolemaic Greeks as a Hellenistic city, where the worship of the god Pan was centered. By the early first century, Caesarea Philippi was reviled by orthodox rabbis, and it was taught that no good Jew would ever visit there. This city, which sits at the foot of Mount Hermon, butts up against a large cliff, referred to as the ‘Rock of the Gods’, in reference to the many shrines built against it. Shrines to Caesar, Pan and another god (possibly the fertility goddess Nemesis) were all built up against this cliff. In the center of the Rock of the Gods is a huge cave, from which a stream flowed. This cave was called the “Gates of Hades”, because it was believed that Pan (like Baal) would enter and leave the underworld through places where water came out of it. In the open-air Pan Shrine, next to the cave mouth, there was a large niche, in which a statue of Pan (a half-goat, half-human creature) stood, with a large erect phallus, worshiped for its fertility properties. Surrounding him in the wall were many smaller niches, in which were statues of his attending nymphs. On the shrine in front of these niches, worshipers of Pan would congregate and partake in bizarre sexual rites, including copulating with goats – worshiped for their relationship to Pan.

And so, one day, Jesus took his twelve disciples, most likely all of whom were in their teens or early twenties, and said “we’re going to Caesarea Philippi” (if he even told them where they were going). He asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

We don’t know for sure where they were standing in the Caesarea Philippi region, but Jesus’ next statement gives us an idea that they may have been standing within sight of the Rock of the Gods. Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Jesus begins to tell his disciples that they are going to go up to Jerusalem, and once there he will be abused by the teachers of the Law, killed, and then raised to life again. Peter pulls Jesus aside and starts to lecture him on his theology, telling him that this will never happen to him. Jesus cuts Peter off, calls him “Satan,” and tells him that he’s only thinking about what people want, and not what God wants.

Jesus continues his short lesson, literally shouting at the top of his voice to the crowd and his disciples. Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

This begs a few questions: What crowd did He call to him? Could it have been the Pan worshipers? Any crowd from this region would not have been religiously Jewish. Was the last statement aimed at his disciples, who might have been embarrassed at the spectacle Jesus was creating?

The Catholic tradition has taken Jesus’ pronouncement in Matthew 16:18 to mean that Jesus was declaring that the church was to be built on the authority of Peter and the other disciples. It is true that they led the early church, so this would be a possible interpretation.

The Protestant tradition has taken Jesus’ declaration here to say that His church was to be built upon the confession recognizing Him as the Messiah and the Son of the living God. This is a valid interpretation, as well, and is a practice supported by other scriptures.

Many Hebrew contextual scholars suggest a third interpretation which may be just as – if not more – powerful as the others, based on the context. Perhaps Jesus took his disciples to the most degenerate place possible to say to them “This is where I want you to build my church – where God is not even known.”

Chapter 17 

After Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, heals the demon-possessed boy, and again predicts his own death, he and his disciples show up in Capernaum. The Temple tax-collectors go to Peter and ask him if Jesus pays his religious taxes. Peter’s like “of course he does.” Peter then goes home and Jesus is waiting for him with a question: Do kings collect taxes from their own children or from others? Peter admits that it is from others, and Jesus then indicates that since he is God’s Son he is exempt from paying the Temple tax… but then he adds that he doesn’t want to offend the tax-collectors, so he has Peter go fishing and orders him to look in the mouth of the first fish he catches. There he will find a coin that will be enough for both Jesus’ tax and Peter’s.

The two-drachma temple tax was paid by all adult Jews over the age of 20, and in this passage, we see that Jesus pays the tax for only him and Peter, even though the text says that other disciples were with Jesus. So either Jesus paid for Peter and himself, stiffing the others, or (more likely) Jesus and Peter were the only ones required by age (over 20) to pay it. Because of our cultural biases, we often see the disciples as being the same age as – if not older than – Jesus. Rather, it is far more likely that, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John (the youngest) was likely 12 or 13 and Peter was probably 18 or 19.

Monday, July 9, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Matthew 4-10

Readings for this week

Monday: Matthew 4
Tuesday: Matthew 5
Wednesday: Matthew 6
Thursday: Matthew 7
Friday: Matthew 8
Saturday: Matthew 9
Sunday: Matthew 10

Introduction to Matthew 4-10

Chapter 4 

Chapter four begins immediately after Jesus’ baptism. “The Spirit” immediately sends Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for forty days and nights. In the Bible, the number 40 is almost always associated with times of trial and testing (e.g., Moses as a shepherd for 40 years, Israel wandering the wilderness for 40 years, Elijah in the wilderness for 40 days, etc.) 

Matthew says that Jesus fasted this whole time and was very hungry by the end of it. The devil says to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy, saying, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This passage of scripture talks about how God led Israel into the desert in order to make them hungry and to teach them to rely on him for everything. 

Then the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” He then justified this command by quoting from Psalm 91, saying: 

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, 
and they will lift you up in their hands, 
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 

This was actually a really stupid thing for the devil to say, because if he had gone on to read the rest of that verse he was quoting, he would have read, "You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent." The devil is often described as a lion and a serpent, so he was actually quoting from a psalm that was speaking of his own destruction by the Messiah.

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy, saying, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. He said, “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.” 

Jesus again quotes Deuteronomy, saying, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. 

Jesus learns that John the Baptist has been put in prison, so he goes back to Galilee. He relocates from Nazareth to Capernaum by the shore of the Sea of Galilee and begins to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 

The fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John begin to follow Jesus. Jesus goes around Galilee, teaching in synagogues, healing people of diseases and casting out demons, and news about him spreads around the region. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis (the 10 pagan cities), Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan follow him. 

Chapter 5 

When God established the covenant with his people, Moses climbed a mountain to receive the covenant law. Jesus, who came to fulfill that covenant, gave the new covenant guidelines on a mountain as well. But instead of the wilderness mountain at Sinai, Jesus taught on a hill near Korazin. The Beatitudes largely come from the Psalms and the Prophets. Jesus’ audience would have recognized much of what Jesus said as coming from Isaiah and David. This was not revolutionary teaching. Rather, the revolution was that Jesus actually expected his disciples to do it, that is, he centered his teachings on such things rather than sacrifice, ritual, and pattern keeping. Remember, he taught during an age when revolution against Rome was in the air. The Messiah was supposed to be a king who’d overthrow Roman rule. And yet this Messiah taught meekness, humility, poverty of spirit, turning the other cheek, and walking the extra mile with Roman soldiers! 

Each Beatitude consists of two phrases: the condition and the result. In almost every case the condition is from familiar Old Testament context, but Jesus teaches a new interpretation. This passage also relies heavily upon Isaiah 61, which is about the coming Messiah. For example:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven..”

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

During the first century, the people of Galilee used dome-shaped ovens made of hardened mud. Salt was mixed with dried animal droppings: a common fuel, because the chemical reaction made the animal droppings burn hotter and longer. Over time, however, the salt lost the qualities that made it effective. So, when it was no longer fit even for being mixed with manure, the "saltless" salt was thrown out.

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” In some Jewish seminaries, professors return papers with either one of two grades: lekayem, meaning fulfill, or batel, meaning abolish, in rabbinic terminology. In other words, to fulfill the Law means to interpret the Law correctly so that it can be lived correctly. To abolish the Law is to incorrectly interpret it — or to interpret it without giving the student what he needs to know to live it.

Jesus also says that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, you won’t enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus then equates unresolved anger and unforgiveness with murder, and lust with adultery. He also says men commit adultery when they divorce their wives for any reason other than sexual unfaithfulness. He also says that rather than trying to keep your oaths, don’t make oaths at all since you have so little control over your life as it is.

And he says rather than do good to those who are good to you, do good to those who hate you. Be perfect as God is perfect. 

Chapter 6 

Some forms of Christianity have had a long prejudice against involvement in theater and film. But the Gospels show that Jesus was very familiar with the theater. The Greco-Roman plays of the time were likely offensive, if not pornographic. However, Jesus knew about actors, due to his use of the Greek word we translate “hypocrite.” “Hypocrite” means “actor.” No one else in the Bible uses the word. He says, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others…” Leading actors going on stage were announced with a trumpet. Thus, there is a double meaning — with the hypocrites in the synagogues acting like the actors in the theaters. The comparison was not just a moral judgment, but a comparison of the hypocrites to pagans. 

Jesus also says not to pray on the street corner like a hypocrite to be seen by everyone but pray in secret. He also says not to babble like a pagan who thinks that they will be heard because of their many words… because God knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray: 

“‘Our Father in heaven, 
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’”

And he says if you don’t forgive others, God will not forgive you.

Jesus speaks of actors receiving applause. The “actors” painted their faces to look like they were fasting. Again, Jesus compares the hypocrites with (pagan) actors, not just by the use of the word, but by the images chosen.

Jesus continues:

Don’t store up treasure on earth that can be stolen and destroyed, but store up treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Your eyes let light into your body if they are good, but if not then you will be filled with darkness. If your own light is darkened, that’s really dark!

You can’t serve two masters – you’ll hate one and lover the other – the same is true with God and money.

Don’t worry about your life. Life is more than worrying about clothes and food. Look at the birds! They don’t save for the future… because God provides for them… and God cares more about you than about the birds! Worrying doesn’t lengthen your life at all. Look at the flowers! God dresses them more lavishly than Solomon in his splendor… and flowers don’t last a day! He cares more about you than the flowers! Pagans worry about their lives, but you don’t need to because your life is God’s concern. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Chapter 7 

Jesus says that if you judge others, you will be judges by the same measure. He says that people get distracted by dust in someone else’s eye when they have a plank in their own. How can they even see that speck of dust?!?

He adds: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

He continues: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Jesus says that even bad parents don’t give stones and snakes to their hungry children… so how much more will God – the best parent – give god gifts to those who ask him!

Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Few people choose to go through the narrow door to the narrow road… but if they do they find life!

Jesus says to watch out for false prophets, comparing them to wolves dressed as sheep. And he says to test prophets in the way you test plants… by their fruit. Good trees don’t bear bad fruit… and bad trees ultimately end up being burned

He adds that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter the kingdom, but only those who do the Father’s will. He says even if people cast out demons and perform miracles in his name, if they don’t do the Father’s will, then they do not know him and will be cast out.

He compares those who practice his teachings to a man who builds his house’s foundation on a rock. But those who hear and do not practice are like a man who builds his house in a sand pit only to have it be washed away in a flood.

The context of this parable is seen in where the sand pits are located…in wadis, or flood valleys. The wadis are a great place to build a house. Sand isn’t the issue. The issue is when it rains up in the mountains 50 miles away, the wadis suddenly are filled with a torrent of water from the run-off up in the mountains. So Jesus says to spiritually “build your house” in a place where you won’t be easily washed away, like up on the rocks… And who does the psalmist say our “rock” is? God! Only a stupid person would build their house in a Wadi.

The text says that when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Chapter 8 

In chapter eight begins the first narrative section depicting ten miracles of Jesus. First, Jesus heals a man with leprosy. Jesus then goes to Capernaum and a Roman centurion goes up to him and tells him that his servant is very sick. Jesus asks if he should come and heal him. The centurion says that he doesn’t deserve to have Jesus come to house, but he knows that Jesus doesn’t have to come all that way to heal him – he can “just say the word” and he will be healed. The centurion tells Jesus that as a man of authority himself he recognizes that Jesus has authority of his own, and that whatever he says will happen will happen. Jesus is amazed and says to the people following him that he hasn’t found any Israelite with greater faith than this Roman. He says that the pagans have begun to follow God and will be rewarded, but God’s own people don’t believe in Him and because of this they will be punished. Jesus then tells the centurion to go back home and he will find his servant healed… and he does.

We then read stories about Jesus heals many people, the cost of following Jesus, Jesus calming the storm, and Jesus restoring two demon-possessed men.

Chapter 9 

We then read about Jesus forgiving and healing a paralyzed man, the calling of Matthew, Jesus being questioned about fasting, and Jesus raising a dead girl and healing a sick woman.

At some point, two blind men follow Jesus saying, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Jesus takes the men inside and asks them if they believe he is able to do this. They say yes, and Jesus touches their eyes and they are healed. Jesus orders them not to tell anybody about this, but they go out and spread the word anyway.

Later, a demon-possessed man who was also a mute was brought to Jesus. Jesus drives out the demon and the man begins to speak again. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

The text says that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Chapter 10 

In this second of the five major discourses of Jesus in Matthew, Jesus summons the twelve disciples and formally hands over to them his same authority to preach the good news of the kingdom and to heal "every" disease. Along with the authority come instructions for the conduct of the disciples’ mission, instructions that would seem to offer some transparency to the situation and mission of Matthew's own contemporary disciple community.

It suggests a situation of wandering missionaries, relying on the hospitality of those who receive them and not lingering long with those who do not. It warns of the need for wisdom amid the tough realities of mission for ones who go as "sheep into the midst of wolves." It gives encouragement to face certain persecution that the Father's Spirit will be with them and that in their suffering they are only imitating their master. It comforts them with the promise of the Father's presence and concern and with the value and hope of rewards for faithful endurance. In so doing, key themes of discipleship and mission are noted, combining material from Mark, Q, and special Matthean material. The call for the decision to acknowledge the Son of Man will bring not peace but a sword. Worthy discipleship will mean to take up the cross and discover what it means that those who lose their lives for Jesus' sake will find it. Finally, disciples are given to realize that whoever welcomes them is actually welcoming the Messiah and, in turn, "the one who sent me."

The Messiah's identity is constituted in the mission of his disciples. So it is significant that such welcoming is linked here to the theme of righteousness. Three times righteousness is specifically mentioned in connection with the disciple mission and even a cup of water for these "little ones" in the name of a disciple merits reward. The discourse concludes once again with the characteristic formula of disciple instruction and reference to Jesus' ongoing ministry of teaching and proclamation.

Friday, July 6, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Matthew 1-3

Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew 

Context of Matthew 


The work is anonymous. Traditionally Matthew (also called Levi), one of the Twelve. Because the writer uses Mark as his primary source, scholars believe it unlikely that he was an apostolic witness to the events he describes. 


The 80s CE, at least a decade after the destruction of Jerusalem. Time of high tensions between postwar Jewish leaders and early Christians. 

Place of composition: 

Probably Antioch in Syria, site of a large Jewish and Jewish-Christian community. 


Mark, Q, and special Matthean material (M). 


Greek-speaking Jewish Christians and Gentiles who were, at least partly, Torah observant. 

Themes of Matthew 

Emphasis on the miraculous and supernatural 
Jesus as the inaugurator of a New Covenant 
Jesus as fulfillment of specific prophecies of the Hebrew Bible 
Jesus as Messiah 
Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel that is most explicitly concerned with the nature and function of the church. 

Chapter 1 

Chapter one is an introduction to the Messiah that begins with a very Jewish genealogy which is laid out in sevens. It’s divided into three sections of fourteen. The numbers of words it contains is divisible by seven. The number of male names is divisible by seven. 

Five women are also mentioned in the genealogy (unusual to mention women). All of these women paint a picture of how God can use even the most horrible of situations to bring about something beautiful – in this case, the Messiah, God in the flesh, and the salvation of the entire world. 

The first woman mentioned is Tamar… who had children with her father-in-law. 
The second is Rahab… who was a Canaanite prostitute 
The third is Ruth… who was a Moabitess, and a descendent of incest between Lot and his daughter 
The fourth is Bathsheba… the wife David stole from Uriah 
The fifth is Mary… who was accused of adultery 

We then come to the Infancy Narratives detailing the birth of Jesus Christ. We learn that Joseph is pledged to be married to Mary, but he finds out she’s pregnant. He plans to divorce her quietly so as not to cause embarrassment, but an angel appears to him in a dream and tells him to go ahead with the marriage because the Holy Spirit is the one who impregnated her. 

The angel says, ”She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The name “Jesus” is just the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua” which means “the LORD saves.” Matthew then says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ’The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” Here, Matthew is quoting from Isaiah 7:10-25, where Isaiah is predicting the timing of the destruction of two foreign kings, Rezin and Pekah. Some would say that he is drawing out a deeper meaning from Isaiah that was not originally understood from that text. 

Chapter 2 

We then hear about how after Jesus was born in Bethlehem Magi from the east came to Jerusalem to visit the Messiah, saying that the saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. King Herod and the whole city of Jerusalem freak out when they hear this. Herod gathers the teachers of the Law and asks them where the Messiah was supposed to be born. They say he will come from Bethlehem. Bethlehem, (Beit Lehem) in Hebrew, means “House of Bread.” This was to be the place where the Messiah was to be born, per the prophecy in Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Additionally, only lambs raised in the flocks of Bethlehem were acceptable as sacrifices in the Temple during the first century – primarily because the Sadducees owned these flocks and they were a source of wealth for this religious party. And so it is that we have Jesus, the Bread of Life, born in the “House of Bread” – the Lamb of God, born in the flocks of Bethlehem, the only sheep allowed for sacrifice. Do you see the picture being painted here? 

Herod instructs the Magi to go find this newborn king and report back to him so that he may come and worship him as well. The Magi follow the star to a house where they find Mary and her child. They bow to him and present him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They are warned in a dream not to return to Herod so they go back to their own country by a different route. 

After the Magi leave, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, telling him to flee the country and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod will try to kill Jesus. So Joseph gets up in the night and they flee to Egypt. Matthew then says that this event fulfilled the prophesy of Hosea, who said, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Herod is filled with rage when he learns that the Magi outwitted him, so he gives orders to kill all the boys of Bethlehem and its vicinity who were age two or younger. 

Matthew adds: 

“Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 
“A voice is heard in Ramah, 
weeping and great mourning, 
Rachel weeping for her children 
and refusing to be comforted, 
because they are no more.” 

After Herod dies, an angel tells Joseph in a dream to take his family back to Israel. Joseph takes them back, but when he finds out that Herod’s son Archelaus was reigning in Judea, he was afraid to go there. He has another dream and is told to go north to the region of Galilee where he settles in the town of Nazareth. 

Matthew adds, “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” 

Wait a minute… what’s Matthew talking about here? What prophet said the Messiah would be a Nazarene? 

In Isaiah 11, we read: 

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” 

In the Hebrew, a “shoot” from an olive stump is called a netzer. The religious Jews of the first century saw this passage in Isaiah as a prediction of the coming Messiah – a “shoot” from the stump of Jesse. Because of this, it was believed that he would be called netzer in some fashion, as a symbol of this. This led to a debate as to whether he would be from netzeret (Nazareth – “shoot-ville”), whether he would be nazir (a Nazarite), or possibly both. As a result of this, the people from Nazareth, known to be fanatically religious, were convinced that the former possibility was true, and that their town would be the home of the future Messiah. The name by which these people called themselves would be translated into English as “Branch Davidians” (yes, you read that correctly), because the branch/shoot from the stump of Jesse (David) would come from their town. Because of this, the people in Nazareth were thought of as being “cultish” and suspect. 

We even read from one of Jesus’ disciples: “Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. And so it was that the coming of the Messiah was announced by John the Baptizer, a nazir, and this Messiah, Yeshua, was a netzer – a shoot – from netzeret. 

Chapter 3 

We then read about the beginning of Jesus’ proclamation and how John the Baptist prepares the way. Jesus comes up from Nazareth and is baptized. John declares that Jesus ought to be the one baptizing him. Jesus says, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” 

The text then reads: “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” 

The voice from heaven is quoting two passages of scripture. 

“I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: 
He said to me, “You are my son; 
today I have become your father.” 
- Psalm 2:7 

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, 
my chosen one in whom I delight; 
I will put my Spirit on him, 
and he will bring justice to the nations.” 
- Isaiah 42:1 

This passage as well as others led a number of early Christians to believe that Jesus was a man who became the Son of God when he was baptized. However, the church eventually agreed that Jesus was always the Son of God and that he was setting an example for us in his own baptism that we could all become the children of God through the cleansing of sin and the filling of the Holy Spirit.