Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Matthew 10:1–4

Matthew 10:1–4 (ESV) : The Twelve Apostles

Synopsis

This is a very short passage. Jesus calls the twelve Apostles, giving them “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (verse 1 (ESV) ).

The twelve Apostles are:
  • Simon (also called Peter)
  • Andrew (Simon’s brother)
  • James the son of Zebedee
  • John (James the son of Zebedee’s brother)
  • Philip
  • Bartholomew
  • Thomas
  • Matthew (the tax collector)
  • James the son of Alphaeus
  • Thaddaeus
  • Simon the Cananaean
  • Judas Iscariot (the Judas, who betrays Jesus)

Thoughts

I should probably mention that this passage introduces the term Apostle, whereas the term disciple has been used for most of the book of Matthew. That’s because an Apostle is something more specific than a disciple. A disciple is simply a follower/student/believer of Jesus. Anyone who believes in Jesus is a disciple—but in the history of the world, there have only ever been fourteen Apostles: The twelve mentioned here, Matthias (who was chosen to replace Judas in Acts 1:12–26 (ESV) ), and Saul/Paul, who was sort of a “special” apostle.

The only reason this is important is because of passages that talk about the Apostles being the foundation of the church. (e.g. Ephesians 2:19–21 (ESV) , Revelation 21:9–14 (ESV) , Matthew 16:13–20 (ESV) and especially 17–20 (ESV) —it’s believed that when Jesus tells Peter that he will build his church on “this rock” that he doesn’t mean on Peter, specifically, but that Peter is a representative of the Apostles. Which he is; as stated in the ESV Study Bible,

Peter heads all the lists of the Twelve (cf. Mark 3:16–19 (ESV) ; Luke 6:13–16 (ESV) ; Acts 1:13 (ESV) ) and serves as their spokesman. Peter, along with James and John, made up Jesus’ inner circle.

You might be a disciple, but you’re not an Apostle, and neither is anyone in your church, and neither is anyone who has lived since these fourteen men died. They laid the foundation for the Church; now that it’s laid, everyone else for the last two thousand years has been building on that foundation.

The other thing I have to mention about this passage is that it’s interesting how the names of the twelve Apostles aren’t more prevalent in the New Testament. Maybe other people who were raised in the Christian church know these twelve names off by heart, but I know I don’t. Simon/Peter is mentioned a lot in the Gospels and wrote a couple of letters in the New Testament; the first James mentioned and his brother John get a lot of mention, and both wrote letters in the New Testament; Matthew wrote the Gospel we’re looking at right now; obviously Judas is pretty [in]famous. But the others don’t get much mention at all—and yet the Church is founded on them!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Matthew 9:35–38

Matthew 9:35–38 (ESV) : The Harvest Is Plentiful, the Laborers Few

Synopsis

This is a very familiar passage to most Christians. Jesus is travelling through villages and cities, teaching, proclaiming the Gospel, and healing people. Having compassion on the crowds, because they are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (verse 36 (ESV) ), he addresses his disciples:

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (verses 37–38 (ESV) )

Thoughts

Jesus is travelling all over, teaching people and healing them of their afflictions, and he has compassion on them. Why? Because they’re so sick, or hungry? Well, he probably does have compassion on them for that, too, but it isn’t his primary focus. His primary focus is on the fact that their religious leaders are leading them astray. They are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (verse 36 (ESV) , emphasis added).

Obviously Jesus cared about people’s physical needs, because he spent a lot of his time helping them with those needs, but their souls were even more important to him. Like Jesus, we should be concerned with both: helping those around us with their physical needs, just as he did, and also preaching the Gospel and helping them with their spiritual needs, just as he did. There seems to be a dichotomy in the modern church, whereby Christians fall into one of two camps: you either want to help people with their physical needs (and don’t care what they believe), or you only care about dogmatic belief in your way of thinking (and people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, not come looking for handouts). Jesus would have none of either of these positions. It does matter what people believe, because your beliefs can lead you straight to hell. We should help those around us, which is, after all, the second most important commandment (Mark 12:28–34 (ESV) ).

But now we get to the part of the passage that most people focus on, in verses 37–38. I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t say to the disciples, “the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers few; therefore go out and do some harvesting!” Instead, he says, “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers.” If you’re praying for the Lord to send out someone to harvest, His answer may very well be for you to go—especially if you’re praying earnestly, as Jesus says here, which would indicate that your heart is really in the right place for this—but that’s not what Jesus tells his disciples.

I can think of a few reasons (none of which are revolutionary) why Jesus might have commanded his disciples to pray instead of going out and doing:
  • The obvious reason is that we should never try to do anything in our own power, but always trust in God’s power instead. Even if God does plan to send you, it’s not something you should take for granted, and it’s not something you can do on your own.
  • It may be that God wants to send someone else, instead of you. There may be cases where He really does just want you to pray, and not do.
  • He may not want to send you yet. He might not give you a distinct message to that effect—He rarely does—but He may decide to put obstacles in your way, first, to delay you.
On those last two points, hard as it is to accept, there may very well be times when you have a heart for something, but God still tells you that you’re not the right person for the job. I’m sure anyone who’s been in a church for any length of time has known someone who believed with all their heart that they should be in the worship team for their morning services (or choir, or whatever you call it at your church), and yet couldn’t sing. It seems to me that if God wanted that person to sing in the worship team, He would have given that person the ability to sing.

I’m not advocating prayer paralysis; we shouldn’t get so stuck in prayer, waiting for a response from God, that we never do anything. But the flip side is also bad: we’re very prone to thinking that God wants action, when sometimes He isn’t calling for action, but just for us to trust in Him. We greatly devalue prayer in our society, because it feels lazy to us. “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, pray,” we think, and to be honest, we’re sort of suspicious that the ones who are “just” praying are kind of shirking their responsibility. (Unless, maybe, they’re the older women in the church, and then we can call them “prayer warriors” and not worry about it so much.) How opposite to the Scriptures, which say that God is in control of everything, and we can’t do anything unless He brings it to pass. Prayer should always be our first response, and action, if required, should come second.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Matthew 9:32–34

Matthew 9:32–34 (ESV) : Jesus Heals a Man Unable to Speak

Synopsis

This passage describes another healing by Jesus, and the reaction of the Pharisees. The account is simple enough: a man who is mute because is is oppressed by a demon (verse 32 (ESV) ) is brought to Jesus, who casts the demon out, enabling the man to speak. The crowds marvel at this, and say that nothing like it has ever been seen before in Israel, but the Pharisees aren’t buying it:

But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” (verse 34 (ESV) )

Thoughts

This isn’t a very surprising reaction from the Pharisees; if I put myself in their shoes, I probably would have thought the same thing. “This man is saying things which don’t match my beliefs—and the beliefs of my forefathers, for however many generations—but he’s doing things that are obviously very powerful. So where is that power coming from? If my beliefs about God are correct the power can’t be coming from Him, so… the power must be coming from Satan!” From their frame of reference, it’s a logical conclusion to come to, but their frame of reference is obviously wrong, because Jesus’ power is coming from God.

It’s a hard thing to change core, ingrained beliefs. The only reason I believe that Jesus is the Son of God is because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Matthew 9:27–31

Matthew 9:27–31 (ESV) : Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

Synopsis

In the last passage, Jesus healed a woman who’d been suffering from a discharge of blood, and raised a girl from the dead. In this passage, as Jesus moves on from the newly-raised girl’s house, he is followed by two blind men, crying, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” (verse 27 (ESV) ).

When Jesus gets wherever he’s going, he asks them if they believe he can do this for them, and they tell him yes. He tells them that it will be done according to their faith, and they both receive their sight.

Jesus then warns them not to tell anyone what has happened, but they go off and tell people anyway, so that Jesus’ fame spreads throughout the district.

Thoughts

In terms of the miracle, there isn’t much different from this miracle than others; because of the men’s faith in Jesus, they are healed. As in other places Jesus asks the healed men not to tell anyone (e.g., see 7:28–8:4), and as in other places, the healed men go and tell people anyway. I didn’t mention it in the 7:28–8:4 passage, but the ESV Study Bible says that some people call this the “messianic secret,” in one of the footnotes:

Jesus carefully avoids stirring up a misunderstanding of his messianic identity. Although miracles attest to the authenticity of his message concerning the kingdom’s arrival, he does not want to draw crowds who come simply for the sake of miracles. For other instances of what some have called the “messianic secret,” see 9:30 (ESV) ; 12:16 (ESV) ; 16:20 (ESV) ; 17:9 (ESV) .

(ESV Study Bible footnote for Matthew 8:4 (ESV) , with links added for Bible references)


In a way, I can’t blame them for telling everyone; if I’d been blind, and someone gave me my sight with just a word, I’m sure I’d want to tell people too. Then again, these men were commanded to do something by the Son of God, so I’m not saying they weren’t doing anything wrong. As is so often the case, God used their actions for His purposes, but they shouldn’t have told anyone.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Matthew 9:18–26

Matthew 9:18–26 (ESV) : A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

Synopsis

The last couple of passages have been concerned with a meal Jesus had with Matthew, and some other “tax collectors and sinners.” The Pharisees and John the Baptist’s disciples didn’t like this, and Jesus explained the situation to them.

In this passage, a “ruler” comes in (verse 18 (ESV) ), while Jesus is still speaking to John’s disciples and the Pharisees, kneels before Jesus, and tells him that his daughter has just died, but asks Jesus to come and lay his hand on her, that she might live again. Jesus agrees to go with the man, so he and his disciples do so.

On the way there is a woman who has “suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years” (verse 20 (ESV) ), and she figures that if she just touches Jesus’ garment, she’ll be healed from her affliction. She does so, and Jesus, realizing what has happened, turns to her and tells her that her faith has made her well. Instantly, she is healed.

Jesus continues on his way, makes it to the ruler’s house, and finds people mourning the girl’s death. He tells them to go away, since the girl is only sleeping and not dead, but they laugh at him. He gets them out of the house anyway, goes in to the girl, and takes her by the hand, whereupon she arises. Not surprisingly, “the report of this went through all that district” (verse 26 (ESV) ).

Thoughts

There are parallel accounts of this story in Mark 5:22–43 (ESV) and Luke 8:41–56 (ESV) , each of which has more detail than this account in Matthew. Including the fact that the father in this account is a man named Jairus, who is the ruler of the synagogue. However, he still kneels before Jesus, indicating his acknowledgement of Jesus’ superior authority.

Although the Jewish rulers are often portrayed in the New Testament as being too wrapped up in their rules and regulations to accept Jesus’ message, there are exceptions. Jairus is one of them. He may be the ruler of the synagogue, but he still has enough faith in Jesus to know that Jesus can raise his daughter from the dead.

Some might look at Jesus’ words to the mourners—“the girl is not dead but sleeping” (verse 24 (ESV) )—and take this to mean that she wasn’t really dead, but maybe comatose or something like that. (Maybe accompanied by thoughts that people in Jesus’ day were so backwards that they didn’t know how to properly figure out if someone was dead.) But Jesus is not literally saying that she’s just asleep; he knows that she’s dead. However, since he knows what he’s about to do, it’s as if she’s not dead.

I don’t have much to say about the woman who is healed, except that she, like Jairus, shows tremendous faith in Jesus. She believes that just by touching his clothes, she can be healed of her affliction.

Those were all my thoughts, but the ESV Study Bible pointed out a few other things:
  • Because of the nature of the woman’s condition, her “discharge of blood for twelve years” (verse 20 (ESV) ), she would have been ceremonially unclean, and she would have been so for twelve years. By Jewish law, touching her should have made Jesus unclean, too, and, similarly, touching the dead girl would have as well. (Perhaps this is why the woman wanted to just touch Jesus’ clothes, and not touch Jesus himself? To try and avoid making him unclean?) However, Jesus has God’s holiness, and, despite what Jewish law teaches about cleanness and uncleanness, Jesus’ power is actually able to make the unclean clean.
  • Regarding the flute players and the crowd:

    Professional mourners were customarily hired to assist at funerals, usually including flutists and wailing women (making a commotion). Since bodies decomposed quickly in Palestine, mourners had to assemble fairly soon after a death.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Matthew 9:14–17

Matthew 9:14–17 (ESV) : A Question About Fasting

Synopsis

In the last passage, Jesus called Matthew to be a disciple, and then had a meal with some “tax collectors and sinners,” causing the Pharisees to question his actions. In this passage—which is, I believe, a continuation of the previous passage—some of John the Baptist’s disciples come to Jesus, asking about fasting. And their question is very simple: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (verse 14 (ESV) ).

Jesus tells them that the wedding guests don’t mourn when the bridegroom is still with them—they mourn when the bridegroom is taken away. So, when the disciples’ bridegroom (Christ) is taken away, then they will fast.

And then Jesus says this:

“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (verses 16–17 (ESV) )

Thoughts

A pastor at my church recently preached on this passage, and he theorized that it might very well have been the Pharisees who had sent John’s disciples to Jesus in this story; Jesus had kind of shut them down in the previous story, so they figured they’d send someone else to try and trip him up in a different way. The passage doesn’t say this, but it does make sense, and it does seem odd that John’s disciples would be uniting themselves with the Pharisees in this way.

One of the problems that John’s disciples (and the Pharisees) have is that they feel that they’re being pretty holy, by fasting like they do. “Look at us,” they seem to be saying to Jesus, “we’re holier than your disciples!” But they’ve missed the point: Fasting is related to mourning, and Jesus’ disciples have nothing to mourn about—he’s right there with them! When he’s gone they will mourn, but for the moment, they’ve got him right there with them—why would they mourn? (Incidentally, the metaphor of the bridegroom is more than just a metaphor, since the Church is the bride of Christ—he really is the bridegroom.)

The quoted part about putting a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, or putting new wine in old wineskins, might be confusing—especially for modern-day people who don’t use wineskins anymore. But here Jesus is talking about religion; in retrospect, we can look at the “old garment” or the “old wineskin” as Judaism, and the “new wineskin” as Christianity. (The metaphor didn’t extend to sewing unshrunk cloth onto a new garment.) The “unshrunk cloth” and the “new wine” would be new practices or teachings that Jesus is introducing. In essence, Jesus is saying you can’t be right with God by simply slapping a couple of new practices onto your old religion; take some aspects of Jesus’ teaching, add them to good ol’ Judaism, and you’re good! All patched up, and ready to meet God. It doesn’t work that way; Jesus is superseding the old religious practices with a new religion altogether. It’s all or nothing with Jesus: You’re a disciple of his, with all that that entails, or you’re not, and you’re in danger of hell.

This is tricky, because back in 5:17–20 Jesus had said that he didn’t come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to “fulfill” them. Which is it? If Judaism is no longer applicable, then why isn’t Jesus abolishing it? You can see that previous post, for some thoughts on that, but the point here is this: The way you get into a right relationship with God is through His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s it. You can’t do it by following the law; the Pharisees of the Old Testament couldn’t do it through Judaism—not even if they added some of Jesus’ teachings to what they already believed—and you can’t do it today by going to church, or being baptized, or fasting, or anything else. You can only do it by getting right with Christ. He didn’t abolish the law, He fulfilled it—and only that righteousness, that you’re not able to accomplish, can save you.

The Pharisees would never have given up their religion, and their false righteousness. Even John the Baptist’s disciples didn’t want to give up their religion. But in order to be saved, they would have had to; they had to embrace Christ instead.