January 12, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, January 10-16

January 10

Gen. 16,   Mat. 6:16-34
Gen. 17,   Rom. 8


Matthew 6:16-34

Let us be honest in religion.  Let our faith be true.  This great thought rings throughout Scripture.  Isaiah 29:13 rebukes Israel for honouring God with their lips while removing their hearts far from Him.  James 1:8 warns against double mindedness.  The prophet Elijah asked, “How long halt ye between two opinions?  If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).

In a very real sense, this is the same subject addressed by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.  He is speaking to the Jewish people, who outwardly claim to be the chosen people of God and the keepers of His law.  But Christ knows most of them are deceiving themselves.  They are also insulting God by assuming He, who calls and preserves them, will be satisfied with the crumbs and leftovers of their time and love, a few thoughtless minutes of prayer, and a mindless, mechanical self-righteousness.  Real mercy and forgiveness, rather than revenge; love and blessing rather than hate and cursing, inward faith and obedience rather than outward show of religion is the point made time after time in this sermon.

Our Lord continues to make this point in verse 21;  “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  If your treasure consists of the praise of men and the trinkets of earth, your heart will be with them on earth.  They will be the focus of your life.  Your dreams and actions will be about them.  If God is your treasure, if you value Him above all else, even above your own life, your heart will be with Him.

But your heart cannot be in both places.  This is because both demand your all.  The world demands unthinking acceptance of its maxims.  It demands unthinking execution of them.  It may camouflage its maxims in words like “freedom,” “tolerance,” and, “the common good,” but it allows no freedom of thought and no questioning of its authority.  God also demands all.  The difference is, He is honest about it.  He tells us the way of the world is the way of death.  He demands complete and willing obedience.  He requires you to love Him more than you love your possessions, even more than you love yourself and your life.
Obviously, we cannot give both God and mammon first place in our lives.  Attempts to serve both equally only lead us to hate one or the other of them.  Thus, our Lord invites us to “Consider the lilies.”  The point is that He cares for them and He cares for His people also.  His care for us may not always be what we want.  He may allow sorrow or sickness to oppress us.  He will, one day allow death take us from this world.  But in all these things; maybe, especially in all these things, “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

January 11

Gen. 18:1-17,  Mat. 7
Gen. 18:18-,    Rom. 9


Matthew 7

The words, judge not” do not forbid recognizing wrong behavior, attitudes, and ideas.  Such a command would leave the Church in the same relativistic confusion that is currently crippling the cultures and nations of our “global village.”  The fact is that the Bible often commands us to judge others.  1 John 4:1-6 tells us not to believe every spirit, or, person who claims to teach the word and way of God.  We are to “try” (test) the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”  The Bereans (Acts 17:11) responded to the Apostle Paul by searching the Scriptures to see if his words were true.  They tested his spirit.  Christ Himself, speaking through John to the bishop and church of Ephesus said they had “tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2).  Obviously, the Lord expects us to judge people and doctrines by the Scriptures.  It is not the recognition of sin and error that is forbidden by our Lord, then.  It is an attitude and habit of fault-finding.  It is the kind of judgment that always criticizes and belittles the minor flaws of others, while refusing to see the major sins in one’s own life.  The Lord’s word for such people is, “hypocrite” and His word to them is to work on their own sins before trying to work on someone else’s.  Get the large beam out of your own eye before you worry about the tiny speck in someone else’s.
Verse 6 tells us to be sensitive to the proper time and place of Christian discourse.  It is wrong to give that which is holy to the dogs, but it is right to give proper food and nourishment to those God has placed into our care, in the hope that they may one day be prepared to receive that which is holy.

Verses 7-11 teach us to trust God when we pray.  The old adage, “be careful what you pray for, because you might get it,” is somewhat misleading.  It seems to make God into a capricious imp who delights in playing tricks on us; as though if we pray for rain He will send a hurricane.  Christ’s point is that even human parents don’t do that.  If ye then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Our Lord makes three enormous points before beginning His conclusion in verses 24-29.  The magnitude of the points is almost hidden by the scarcity of words used to make them.  In short, simple language, our Lord says, first, few will find the way of life, while many will take the road to destruction.  Second, false teachers and false gospels abound, and many are found inside the Church disguised as Christians.  Don’t follow them.  Third, many who think they are going to Heaven – are not.  Please read these verses carefully.  You will also do a good thing for your soul if you read the comments on these verses by Bishop J. C. Ryle in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels.

In the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord says there are two kinds of people.  The first are the wise.  They are not necessarily the people the world calls wise.  In fact the world usually calls them fools.  The world excludes them from its places of privilege and power.  The world calls them backward, obsolete, haters, and bigots.  The world blames its problems on them and their religion.  The world persecutes them because they see that the wisdom of the world is the real foolishness, and the fear of God is the beginning of real wisdom.  The people of the world have created gods in their own image, which bless and conform to their values and ideas,. Therefore they hate those who follow The God who testifies that their gods are false and their deeds are evil.

The wise people are wise because they hear the word of Christ and build their lives upon it.  They are content to walk the narrow way and ignore the teachings of the false prophets, both religious and secular.  Their trust is not in man, not even in their own selves.  Their trust is in Christ, and they are devoted to Him and His will.
Christ says they are like a man who builds his house upon a rock.  It is very easy to see that the house is the person’s life and soul.  It is everything that he is, and everything that shapes him.  He builds it all on the rock.  The rock, of course is Christ.  It is also all the things of Christ.  It is the faith once delivered to the saints, the Bible, the Church.  It is all the things Christ has given to lead us to Him and keep us in Him, now and forever.

The rain, floods, and winds are the sorrows and temptations of life.  But they are also more than just ordinary problems.  They are the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  They are persecutions and temptations and doubts.  They are the attempts of Satan to tear the faith out of you, to beat it out of you, to beat you into submission to him, the false prophets, and the secular values of the world.  But the one who builds his life upon the rock will stand.  His house will stand not because the house is strong, but because the Rock protects it.  The Christian stands in the face of all trials only because the Rock protects him.

The foolish man builds his house upon the sand.  He walks the broad way to destruction.  He listens to the false prophets.  He presumes that his actions are good enough to make him acceptable to God, if there is a God.  This person is the real fool.  The storms wash the ground out from under his house.  The conflicting values of the world, and their demand for total and unthinking obedience are like winds beating on his house from different directions, each ripping the house apart while promising to make it strong.  The house finally and eternally falls.  It could do no other.  The sand does not, and cannot protect it.

Our Lord’s words cause us to look over His sermon again.  They prompt us to ask ourselves if ours is a religion of the letter, or the religion of the spirit.  Are we trying to get by with just an outward appearance of godliness?  Or are we truly dedicated to Christ in our hearts?  Finally, have we realized that our efforts are not what makes us right with God?  Have we realized that only grace makes people like us acceptable to Him?  If we have realized this, and have cast ourselves upon the mercy of God, and have trusted in the sacrificial death of Christ to bear our sins away, then we have understood the message of the Sermon on the Mount.  Give us understanding, O Lord Christ. Amen.

January 12

Gen. 19:1-29,   Mat. 8:1-17
Gen.  20,          Rom. 10


Matthew 8:1-17

Jesus is still in Capernaum beside the Sea of Galilee.  The people who heard the Sermon on the Mount are shocked because He spoke as though He had authority to give the true meaning of Scripture and to define what it means to have real, Biblical faith.  He did not speak as a man trying to comprehend the word of God; He spoke as God explaining His word to humanity.  Thus, His words were a demonstration of His Divine authority.  

Immediately following the Sermon Christ begins to demonstrate His authority in a series of Divine acts, and words.  He heals the leper (1-4).  Leprosy, in the time of Christ, was a spiritual condition as much as it was a physical illness.  It made a person “unclean,” meaning, unfit and unable to participate in the life and worship of God’s people.  It symbolised the true condition of the souls of all people who are not made clean by the grace of God.  The words of Christ , “be thou clean,” show that He has the power to heal the flesh, and that He has the power to heal the soul.  He makes the sin sick soul as well and clean and healthy as He made the leper’s body.  This is a revelation that Jesus is God and that He has come to save His people from their sins.   Next, Christ heals the centurion’s servant.  The centurion is a Roman, a Gentile.  He is outside of the Covenant people, and, therefore, outside of the redeeming grace of God.  Yet Christ welcomes him and heals his servant.  This shows that all who come to Christ in true faith are welcomed into the salvation purchased by Christ on the cross.  His new Israel is not limited to one ethnic group; it is open to all who believe.  In verse 15 we see Him healing Peter’s mother-in-law.  “He touched her hand and the fever left her.”  Word of this healing spreads throughout Capernaum, and by evening a large crowd of sick and demon possessed people gathers at Peter’s mother-in-law’s house.  Jesus then “cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all that were sick.”

Matthew, returning to his intention to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, says the healings were done, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took out infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”

January 13

Gen. 21:1-21,  Mat. 8:18-34
Gen. 21:22-,    Rom. 11


Matthew 8:18-34

Verses 18-22 recount the conversation between Christ and a scribe.  Jesus is preparing to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to the country of the Gergesea, also called Gadarenes by Mark.  He intends to leave Capernaum because of the press of the people, and because, by now, people are coming to Him simply to be healed of physical illnesses instead of to receive the Kingdom of Heaven.  Before Christ enters the boat, a scribe comes to Him saying, “Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.”  Christ tells the man He is homeless and offeres none of the comforts the scribe could purchase for himself with his lucrative income.  Christ is saying His followers must be willing to suffer hardship and deprivation.  Those unwilling to do so should not attempt to follow Him.

After the scribe another man, one of the disciples asks to be allowed to bury his father before following Christ further.  But Christ says, “Let the dead bury the dead.”  In other words, let those who have not the life of Christ in them carry on the things of the world.  Let those who have, or desire the life of Christ in them (we would call it “salvation”) follow Christ.  It is important to note that Christ is not allowing us to neglect our normal duties to family and others.  He is talking to a man who says he wants to be a student of Christ, sharing His hardships and learning of Him.  The man is saying he will give up everything to follow Christ on His journeys and ministry, only, “suffer me first to go and bury my father.”  Christ’s answer is really a question; do you really intend to leave everything and come with me?  Then leave the other things to those who do not know Me or want to follow.  But decide what you will do, then do it.

Verses 23-27 relate the well-known calming of the sea.  The story has two messages.  First, Christ has power only God can have; therefore, He is God.  Second, trust God.  If it is in God’s plan to see them safely to the shores of Gergesea, He will do so, storm or no storm.  If it is His intention to take them to Heaven by drowning them in the sea, then even the calmest weather and a smoothest sea could claim them.  Therefore, “why are ye fearful?”  The answer is in the second part of the Lord’s question, we are “ye of little faith.”

Verse 28 begins one of the saddest stories in Scripture.  A man lives among the graves in such torment he often causes serious harm to himself.  He is so wild with torment, even chains and shackles cannot hold him.  Jesus knows the source of his torment is demonic oppression.  He is so controlled by the demons his condition is called demonic possession.  How sad his life is.  How much he misses of the normal joys of life.  How he must agonize in the night, consumed in an inner anguish we cannot even imagine and he can neither understand nor assuage.  We can picture him crying out in the night, gashing himself in desperate attempts to distract his mind and soul from the horrible inner pain they feel.  Yet nothing can relieve his pain, until Jesus comes to him.  Jesus knows the problem, and has the power to make the man whole.  Jesus can drive the demons out, and restore the man to mental, physical, and spiritual health, and He does.

Now the story changes.  The man is whole.  He is clean right down to his soul.  We would say he is saved.  The agony, the fear, the uncontrollable horror is gone forever.  But the people in the village are unhappy.  Perhaps it is because their hogs drowned in the sea.  Whatever the reason, they do not bow to Christ and worship Him as they ought to do.  They do not give thanks, or rejoice that the man is now well and whole. Instead, they demand that Christ leave their land.  What an opportunity they are missing.  They could receive the same peace and wholeness the demoniac has.  Instead they choose to remain in sin.

We can easily apply this to modern people. The story of Jesus dying for our sins is almost universally known in the world.  Yet the vast majority of people ignore it.  Bibles abound, but lay unread, even in Christian homes.  Christians are woefully ignorant of the basic teachings of the Bible.  The heavens and all creation bear witness to the presence and grace of God.  Yet people ignore their message, and the Gospel of Christ becomes just another part of the world’s background noise.  The word has gone out.  Jesus stands before us all, as surely as if He stood before us in the flesh, but people implore Him to leave.  And He does.

January 14
Gen. 22,   Mat. 9:1-17
Gen. 23,  Rom. 12


Matthew 9:1-17

Jesus has returned to Capernaum, where He finds a paralysed man, which, in the Bible is called “palsy.”  Jesus immediately heals the man, but instead of saying, “arise and walk,” He says, “thy sins be forgiven thee.”  It is important to know the healings Jesus did were not just physical, they healed the soul as well as the flesh.  So the palsied man is no longer paralysed in his flesh or in his soul.  He is forgiven of sins and restored to God. 

Some of the scribes in Capernaum respond in a way that is similar to that of the people of the Gergesene village.  They scoff at Him.  they call Him a blasphemer because only God can forgive sin.  Of course it is true that only God can forgive sin.  Therefore, if Jesus can forgive sin (and that He can forgive sin is shown by a mighty sign in the physical healing of the man) then… Jesus is God.  But the people of Capernaum marvel and glorify God.  It is true that they do not understand much about Jesus at this point in the Gospel.  They probably think He is nothing more than a great prophet.  But they know God is with Him in some way that is different from the way He is normally present on this earth.  And they rejoice that He has come among them.

January 15

Gen. 24:1-31,  Mat. 9:18-38
Gen. 24:32-,    Rom. 13


Matthew 9:18-38

As the Pharisees speak to Jesus, a ruler comes to ask Him to heal his daughter.  The man is Jairus according to Mark and Luke, rabbi of the local synagogue.  This man is supposed to be on the Pharisees’ side, but he is defecting.  “[L]ay thine hand upon her, and she shall live,” he says to our Lord.  Jesus leaves Matthew’s house immediately, followed by his disciples, including Matthew.  On the way to Jairus’ house a woman with an issue of blood touches His garment and is healed.

Note the spiritual words used throughout Matthew’s Gospel.  The man with the palsy is “forgiven.”   The sick are made “whole.”  Jairus’ daughter is “dead” but will “live” when Jesus touches her.  The woman with an issue of blood wants to be made “whole.”  She is “unclean” according to Old Testament law, and is forbidden from participating in public and religious life until her issue is over.  But this woman’s issue has continued for twelve years and no one is able to help her, except Jesus. One touch of even the hem of His garment makes her not just healed, but “whole.”  And Jairus’ daughter rises.  Her body rises to die again in later years.  But her soul  rises to die no more.  She lives.

In verse 27 two blind men come to Jesus crying, “son of David, have mercy on us.”  This is significant because “son of David” is a Messianic title.  People are beginning to realize the Messiah has come, and He is Jesus of Nazareth.  These men know Jesus has the power to have mercy on them and relive them of their blindness. Their spiritual blindness is healed also.

The demoniac in 32-34 is almost secondary to the charge of the Pharisees, “He casteth out devils through the prince of devils.”  Notice they do not accuse Jesus of fake healings and exorcisms.  Instead, they say His power comes from Satan instead of God.  This presents the reader with a question; where does Jesus’ power come from?  Is it from Satan?  If so, what does that mean to us?  Is His power from God?  If so, what does that mean to us?

January 16

Gen. 25:1-18, Mat. 10
Gen. 25:19-,   Rom.14


Matthew 10

The Apostle Matthew, like the other Gospel writers, is more concerned about theological order than chronological order.  So we are not quite sure when Christ sends out the Apostles ( still only disciples at this point).  Mt. 9:35 tells us Jesus went into the cities and villages preaching the Gospel, and it seems that He would not send out the disciples until He had first taken them with Him on the  kind of mission on which He is sending them.  So, after Christ completes His first trip through Galilee, He sends out the disciples. 

They are to be entirely dependent upon God.  No money or food is allowed to go with them.  They must take what is offered and provided for them in the places they visit.

Our Lord’s commission to the disciples is not the kind of speech leaders generally use to inspire and encourage people.  Our Lord speaks of persecution, scourging, imprisonment, and death in His service.  Obviously His words look beyond the ministry on which He is sending the disciples in Galilee.  His words look on to the time after His own execution when His Church will be persecuted in Israel and the world.

The disciples should expect opposition, often violent opposition.  They should expect to be treated as the Lord Himself was treated, and it should be enough for them to be like their Master in this sense (25).  Therefore they should not fear their enemies or the ordeal before them.  They should fear only God.  This means they will endure the sufferings, and will not stop ministering as Christ directs them.

Verse 29-31 remind us that God sees and watches over the disciples in their service (29-31).  The sparrow has never been considered a valuable bird.  Most people think it is not beautiful to look at or pleasant to hear.  In Galilee, sparrows were often captured and eaten.  They could be purchased very cheaply.  So the sparrow was considered a lowly bird.  

To the world, the Church is like the sparrow.  Yet God’s eye is on the sparrow.  Not one of them falls without His knowledge.  If He knows about the sparrows, He knows about His servants, even down to the hairs on their heads.  If He watches over the sparrows He watches over His servants, and they will be blessed.

Confession, as used in verse 32, is much more than saying you are a Christian.  It is the entire tone and essence of your life.  As spoken to the disciples to prepare them for their mission, it means to continue their ministry, even in the face of opposition and persecution.  It means to refuse to allow opposition to silence their proclamation of the Gospel they are sent to preach.  It means to refuse to allow opposition to stop their faithful obedience to Jesus Christ.  It is to refuse to deny Christ.  Thus, it is closely tied to verse 39, which tells us losing your life for Christ’s sake is actually finding It.  It is closely tied to verse 38, “he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”  Jesus demands that the disciples, and all disciples, be willing to give up their lives rather than turn away from Christ.  Verses 34-37 are things a person might love above God.  The Gospel will divide even the closest of human relationships, if one is a Christian and the other is not.

Verses 40-42 are about the blessings of those who receive the disciples’ message and support them in their mission.  To receive Christ’s messenger is to receive Christ, the same as receiving a prophet was in the Old Testament.  Those who give a cup of water, that is, support the disciples’ mission, will be blessed.