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.

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