January 17, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, January 17-23

January 17

Gen. 26:1-16,  Mt. 11
Gen. 26:17-  Rom. 15


Matthew 11

Matthew 11:1 tells us three things.  First, our Lord has finished giving the instructions to the disciples.  Second, they have departed on their mission.  Third, Jesus departs on a second mission in Galilee.

It is while Christ is traveling through Galilee preaching and ministering that John the Baptist sends people to Him.  John is in prison because he told Herod it is against the law of God for Herod to be married to his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Herod will not repent of his sin, but he does hate John for telling him about it.  So, typical of tyrants and despots, and sinners in all walks of life, he strikes out at the the person who cares enough about him to warn him about a terrible sin in his life (see Galatians 4:16).  He arrests an innocent man.  He will kill him later.  The Lord’s warnings about persecution and death for serving Him are very accurate.

John’s question is one of the most important questions anyone can ask; “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”  Rather than simply saying, “I am He,” our Lord shows that His work and ministry is the fulfillment of Scripture.  Read Isaiah 61:1-3 and compare it with Christ’s response to John.  Jesus is saying He is the fulfillment of this, and all Scripture.  Therefore, He is the One Israel and the world has been looking for.  John was correct when he identified Jesus as the Messiah.  Everything John said about Him was true.  This is terribly important for John to hear.  In prison with his life dependent upon a corrupt tyrant, John’s life could be ended at any moment.  He wants to know he is not throwing his life away on a lie.  He needs to know Jesus is who He says He is, and that he will die in the Lord and be with Him in Paradise forever.  John’s disciples return to him with this message, and John gives his life in the service of Christ.

After many commendatory words about John (7-15) Christ compares Israel to children complaining because neither He nor John joined their games.  In fact, both Christ and John are very much not joined to the religious sham and hypocrisy that characterises most of Israel’s “faith.”  Consequently, both are despised and rejected.  They call John a demoniac and Jesus a drunk.  Both are ultimately killed by the reigning powers, not for crimes, but for not joining and endorsing the status quo, for criticizing the faith, values, and actions of the culture and its rulers.  “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” is a warning to those who would follow Christ.  It can happen to you.

The reaction of the people to the ministry of Jesus and the disciples is tremendous.  People flock to Him, traveling long distances at great expense.  They listen to His teaching and say that a prophet has come to them.  They see His miracles and say the power of God has come among them.  We are told many times that great multitudes follow Him.  Sometimes, they even attempt to make Him king.  Great crowds come with great excitement and great rejoicing.  But few come with great repentance or faith.  They come to be healed, or entertained, but not to be saved.

Jesus rebukes the cities in which He has done much of His preaching and ministry.  Chorazin and Bethsaida are near Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  They are Jewish cities, which Jesus probably went to after He sent His disciples on their mission.  Tyre and Sidon are Gentile cities northwest of Israel on the Mediterranean coast.  Jesus is saying that if He had done his preaching and miracles in Tyre and Sidon “they would have repented long ago in sack-cloth and ashes” (21).  Even Sodom would have repented and been spared (23).  Perhaps you are thinking now of Nineveh, which, at the very reluctant preaching of Jonah, believed God and proclaimed a fast in repentance of sin.  They, Gentiles, put on sack-cloth and ashes, “from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5).  Even the king of Nineveh repented publicly. And God had mercy on that Gentile city whose people had more faith than Jonah.  It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for Chorazin and Bethsaida on Judgment Day.  Capernaum, where Jesus does so much, will go down to hell, for they have seen and heard the Messiah.  The Gentiles have not.

January 18

Gen. 27:1-29, Mt. 12:1-21
Gen. 27:30-,  Rom. 16


Matthew 12:1-21

The corn (grain) the disciples are eating is lawfully available to them, else the Pharisees would have quickly accused them of theft.  The problem is not taking the corn, it is harvesting it on the Sabbath that angers the Pharisees.  Christ’s answer shows that the ceremonial law has limits because of its symbolic nature.  But the One who fulfills the ceremonial is present, that is, Christ.  Then He makes another claim to have prerogatives and authority only possessed by God.  He claims that He is Lord even of the Sabbath day.  It is He who instituted the Sabbath, and it is He who decides how it is to be observed.  He defines it.

The same point is made in verses 9-13.  But something else is added there.  He reminds the people that He created the Sabbath for their good, to be a blessing, not a burden.  Therefore it is right and good to do good on the Sabbath.  It is important to note that Christ is not negating or canceling the Sabbath.  He is simply making two points.  First, as God He is Lord of the Sabbath.  Second, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

Our Lord had warned the disciples that His followers would face persecution and danger.  But it is enough for the servant to be as his Lord, and in verse14 we see opposition rising against Jesus.  This is not the beginning of opposition.  The Pharisees murmured against Him in the early verses of chapter 12, and 12:10-13 show them in a deliberate attempt to make Him heal a man so they can accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath (12:10).  Opposition to Jesus is also seen in the imprisonment of John the Baptist, for he was the forerunner sent to prepare the way of Christ.  Going back to chapter 10, our Lord warned the disciples that they would be scourged, hated and delivered up to death for His sake.  When He said “It is enough for the disciple to be as his master” He was hinting at His own rejection and crucifixion and telling the disciples to expect the same treatment.

In 12:14 the opposition to Christ moves from murmuring and verbal traps to an actual plan to destroy Him.  This verse shows the vicious cruelty of the opposition, for the Pharisees intend to see His teaching and influence disgraced, and Him executed and consigned to eternal hell.  That is their hope for Jesus, and it is all summarized in the word, “destroy.”  In Greek it is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 10:10, which refers back to the way the Hebrews murmured against Moses in the wilderness and were not allowed into the Promised Land, but died in the wilderness.  It also recalls the rebellion of Korah and the way the earth opened and took the dissenters alive into hell (Num 16:32).  They were destroyed by the destroyer, and we know who that is.  We see him identified in Revelation 9:11, the angel of the bottomless pit “whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.”  Apollyon is a derivative of the Greek word used in Matthew 12:14, apolesosin.  It means they want Christ to burn in hell.

The healing of the multitudes is another opportunity for Matthew to identify Christ as the Messiah and the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Verses 17-19 refer to Isaiah 11, 61, and 40. 

January 19

Gen. 28,  Mt. 12:22-50
Gen. 29:1-14,  1 Corinthians 1


Matthew 12:22-50

The Pharisees accuse Christ of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons.  Christ replies that He is not of Satan, else that house would be divided and fall.  Instead, He is the One who enters the house of Satan and spoils his goods (12:29).  Christ is saying Satan is like a strong man with much wealth, but He, Jesus, has broken into Satan’s house and taken his goods.  The goods are the souls of people once in slavery to Satan, but now free in Christ.

Christ’s words about the unforgivable sin have been the subject of discussion and question since He uttered them on the shores of Galilee over 2,000 years ago.  Naturally, many have taken pen or pulpit to expound upon the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Mt. 12:31).  Irenaeus (130-202) Bishop of Lyons, said it means to destroy the form of the Gospel, meaning to preach or believe in justification and forgiveness of sins in some way other than that taught in Scripture.  The Didache, written near the turn of the second century, said it is to teach another Gospel.  Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (347-407) said it is the denial of what the Pharisees knew to be the work of the Holy Spirit.  Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) agrees, adding, “The brighter the light, the greater the guilt of him who rejects it.  The clearer a man’s knowledge of the nature of the Gospel, the greater his sin if he willfully refuses to repent and believe.”
It is important to note that each of the writers cited notes that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost has something to do with the Pharisees words against Jesus.  The Pharisees say Jesus receives His power from the prince of devils, and hint that He uses that power to deceive people.  In short, they are saying Jesus is not who He claims to be, therefore, He and His works are Satanic and evil.  This requires the Pharisees to account as false the clear testimony that Christ is God and is doing the work of God.  The Holy Spirit is the agency by which God speaks to the soul of man, and reveals the truth about Christ and the way of forgiveness.  Thus, to reject Christ is to reject the testimony and work of the Spirit.  That is the very essences of the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Unmoved, the Pharisees ask for a sign (12:38).  They have already seen many.  Untold numbers of people have been healed, and the Gospel has been proclaimed.  If this was enough of a sign for John the Baptist, who would give his very life for Christ, it should be enough of a sign for the Pharisees.  But they want more, probably something like turning stones into bread or jumping unharmed into gathered crowds from the pinnacle of the Temple.  But Jesus says they will only have the sign of Jonah.  His three days in the fish symbolise Christ’s three days in the grave.  Jonah’s emergence from the fish is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  The Pharisees will do well to remember this after Christ is raised.  It will make sense to them then.  But they will ignore it.

In the midst of this confrontation, Mary and some of her children come and request to speak with Jesus.  The message comes to Him as “thy mother and thy brethren stand without desiring to speak with thee.”  Jesus indicates the disciples and says, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”  The family of Christ is not built upon human familial relations.  It is based upon faith in Christ.

January 20

Gen. 29:15-  Mt. 13:1-30
Gen. 30,:1-24, 1 Cor. 2


Matthew 13:1-30

Often called “The Parable of the Sower” our reading for this morning is actually a parable of the soils.  The Sower is Christ; the Seed is the Gospel.  The hearers of the Gospel are the soils.  As there are different types of soils, there are different types of hearers.  Verses 4-8 describe the soils.  There is the wayside, meaning beside the pathway.  There is the stony soil, more stone than soil.  There is soil that appears to be good soil, but is overgrown with thorns that choke the seed as it sprouts.  There is good soil where the seed takes root and brings forth fruit.

Sowing, in the parable, is done by the broadcast method.  The sower carries a bag of seed and casts handfuls of it across the soil.  A good sower can broadcast the seed evenly, so it produces a good stand of wheat.  So the picture presented is of Christ sowing the seed of the Gospel, dispensing it, pouring it out on the souls of people.

In verse 10, the disciples, who do not understand the parable anymore than the Pharisees and multitudes, ask Christ why He speaks in parables.  His answer is shocking.  “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”  Did Jesus just say understanding the Gospel is given to some people and not given to others?  Our Lord quotes the Old Testament, showing again that He and His work are the fulfillment of the law and prophets. “Hearing ye shall hear and not understand; and seeing ye shall see and not perceive.”  It certainly sounds like Jesus is saying the reason some believe and others do not has something to do with God choosing to enable some to hear and believe.  At the very least, we see that God knows who will and will not believe.  If He has this knowledge and does nothing to change the outcome, then is it correct to say some are predestined to believe and be saved while others are not?.  Verse 15 seems to indicate that God will not change the hearts or open the eyes and ears of all people, but  verse 16 seems to indicate that He is opening the eyes and ears of the disciples, “for they hear.”  Thus, our Lord, speaking to the disciples in private tells them the meaning of the parable (Mt 13:18-23).  The point is that only the few who constitute the good ground hear and understand the Gospel, which brings forth in them the abundant fruit of salvation.

January 21

Gen. 30: 25-,  Mt. 13:31-58
Gen. 31:1-23,  1 Cor. 3


Matthew 13:31-58

Our Lord continues to preach to the masses in parables.  This is a very common way of teaching in those days, and it still persists in the East today.  We are not to presume that none of the hearers understand Christ’s words.  Surely many understand and believe.  But others just hear stories, interesting, maybe, but unintelligible to them.  Christ tells the Parable of the Tares of the Field, followed by the parables of the Mustard Seed and of the Leaven.  It is not until He sends away the crowds that, at the disciples’ request, Christ declares unto them the meaning of the parable of the tares of the field (Mt. 13:36-43).  Again, Christ is the Sower and the field is the world. Christ sows the good seed.  But this time the seed is people who believe the Gospel, not the Gospel itself.  The devil also sows his seed, the tares, which are the people who reject the Gospel and Christ.  The two grow together in the current age. But at harvest the two will be separated.  The angels will “gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  The harvest is the time when Christ returns and the earth is restored to its original goodness.  In the new earth those who followed Christ in the old era, will live in Godliness, as man lived before the Fall.  In this restored earth God’s people shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, and Christ shall reign in perfect peace, forever.

The people of Nazareth are offended at Christ (53-58).  To them He is just the carpenter’s son.  They know His family.  He is nobody from nowhere and they resent His apparent success.  How often we find that the people closest to us are the greatest barriers to success.  It is as though holding us to their level of underachievement somehow justifies their own mediocrity in their minds.  This is as true in spiritual things as it is in worldly things.  The one who seeks to live by the Gospel, rather than go along with the crowd, will be ridiculed for his “holier than thou” attitude.  How sad.  Even on a merely human level the people of Nazareth should have a proper joy because a “local boy makes good.”  Instead they resent Him.  Their attitude is like that expressed in the words, “Who do you think you are?  I knew you when you were nobody, and to me, you still are.”

Some have thought their lack of faith prevents Christ from doing great works in Nazareth, as He had done in other places.  Mark 6:5 seems to support this view.  But it is not that Christ was unable, as though their lack of faith arrested His Divine power and ability.  It is that they refuse to accept mighty works from Him.  They refuse to receive anything from Him because they do not believe He is the Messiah.  In exactly this way, those who will not believe in Christ today cannot be saved.  It is not that their unbelief binds the power of God.  It is that their unbelief binds their ability to receive anything from Him.

January 22

Gen. 31:24-,  Mt, 14
Gen. 32:1-23, 1 Cor. 4


Matthew 14

Verses 1-12 tell of the tragic execution of John the Baptist.  The opposition Jesus had spoken of in earlier chapters is clearly happening here.  Remember that in 12:14 the Pharisees held a meeting to plan a way to kill Jesus.  In 13:53-58 the people of Nazareth shouted Him down and rejected His teaching. Now John the Baptist pays the ultimate price for following Christ.  There has always been a price for following Christ.  There always will be.  Matthew is chronicling a growing opposition to Christ here, opposition that will eventually lead Him to the cross.  

Herod is doubly condemned in this passage.  His foolish promise to the dancing girl clearly is not meant to include murder, yet he lacks the courage to release himself from the evil request.  But a promise to do evil is not a valid promise.  To turn from such a promise is not called breaking a promise, it is called repentance from sin.  Rather than execute John, Herod should rebuke the girl and release John.  But, like Pilate, he simply goes along with the crowd, and another innocent man dies.

Bishop Ryle’s comments on the feeding of the five thousand (31-21) express their meaning so clearly and accurately they are presented here without further comment.

“What does this hungry multitude in a desert place represent to us” It is an emblem of all mankind.  The children of men are a large assembly of perishing sinners, famishing in the midst of a wilderness world,- helpless, hopeless, and on the way to ruin.  We have all gone astray like lost sheep.  We are by nature far away from God.  Our eyes may not be fully opened to the danger.  But in reality we are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.  There is but a step between us and everlasting death.
“What do these loaves and fishes represent, apparently inadequate to meet the necessities of the case, but by miracle made sufficient to feed ten thousand people?  They are an emblem of Christ crucified for sinners, as their vicarious substitute, and making atonement by His death for the sins of the world.  That doctrine seems, to the natural man, weakness itself.  Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness.  And yet Christ crucified has proved the bread of God which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world.  The story of the cross has amply met the spiritual wants of mankind wherever it has been preached.  Thousands of every rank, age, and nation, are witnesses that it is ‘the wisdom of God, and the power of God.’  They have eaten of it and been ‘filled.’ They have found it ‘meat indeed and drink indeed.’”
~J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

If, as John Chrysostom asserted around 388 A.D., the purpose of the feeding of the five thousand was to teach us to seek the heavenly bread, surely the stilling of the sea teaches us more than simply to rely upon Christ in the storms of our lives.  Rather, as Tertullian wrote in De Baptismo more than 1,800 years ago, “That little ship did present a figure of the Church, in that she is disquieted ‘in the sea,’ that is, in the world, ‘by the waves, that is, by persecutions and temptations.”  The trials and storm will continue until the Lord’s Return, When, ‘He checks the storm and restores tranquility to His own.’”

Stilling the sea brings a confession from the disciples in verse 33.  They are moved with gratitude for their physical safety, but they are also moved with a holy awe for this One whose word the wind and sea obey.  They worship Him.  They accord Him equality and unity with the Father. “Of a truth,” they cry, “thou art the Son of God.”  So the stilling of the sea, in one sense, is a sign to the disciples.  These men will become the Apostles soon.  It will be their job to establish and organize the Church according to the teachings of Christ.  Like Him, they will face severe persecution. Most will die a martyr’s death.  They, like us, need to know why they should follow Christ.  They have seen that He can heal the sick and drive away evil spirits.  They have seen that He can multiply the fish and bread as He desires.  They have even seen that He claims authority to declare the true meaning of Scripture and to forgive sins.  Now they see He has power over the wind and the sea.  Who can do these things but God alone?  If Jesus can do them, He must be who He says He is; God in the flesh.  This is why they, and we, should follow Him.

If Christ can still the sea, then He can be relied on in times of danger.  If He can deliver the disciples from the waves, He can deliver the Apostles and His Church from the prisons and swords of their oppressors.  That doesn’t mean He will always deliver every individual believer from danger and oppression, or even sickness.  At some point He will allow them to die in the flesh that they may rest from their labours and be with Him in Paradise.  But these men have seen enough to know that nothing can ultimately harm them. Christ is able to protect them, and He will.  In other words, if He controls the winds and sea, He can get them to Heaven.  So it is with us.  The storm continues, terrible and frightening.  But He is with us.  Sometimes He delivers us from the storm; sometime He delivers us through the storm.  But He will deliver us to Heaven.

Tertullian’s statement that the “little ship did present a figure [symbol] of the Church” is absolutely correct, and reminds us that the meaning of this passage looks far beyond our own personal trials, and even beyond our own lives.  It looks to the Church God has established in this world.  Like this boat in the Sea of Galilee, storms and waves come against it.  It often looks like it will sink.  But God is Master of the Sea, and He is bringing His Church through the storm to its safe harbour  The Church is tossed and tried, often afraid, and weak in faith.  The waves [the world, the flesh, and the devil] are large and powerful.  Yet this small Ship has Christ within it, and He will preserve it until the day He returns to still the waves forever.

As members of Christ’s Church, we are the “crew” of God’s fishing boat, not passengers on a luxury cruise.  As long as the ship is in the world, it is in a perpetual storm.  If you expect an easy passage to Heaven, you are mistaken.  Even in peaceful times, the world, the flesh and the devil  (the storm) try to discourage and defeat us.  In many eras the sea runs red with the blood of the saints.  But let us be faithful even unto death, knowing that the Master of the sea will conquer the storm and we will dwell with Him in Paradise forever.   

January 23

Gen. 32:23,  Mt. 15
Gen. 33:24-,  1 Cor. 5


Matthew 15

It is the dirt on your soul, not the dirt on your hands, that makes you unclean to God.  We humans have a problem with that sometimes.  We see external dirt.  Sometimes, we are even forced to smell it, much to our distaste.  Odious as a really filthy body is to us, a filthy soul is  infinitely more odious to God.  The Pharisees do not believe they have dirt on their souls.  They are sure they are pure because they keep the ceremonial law, and the ceremonies of that law cleanses their souls.  But the ceremonies, and even the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament ceremonial law, never could and never did atone for sin.  They covered symbolic uncleanness, but they never atoned for idolatry, theft, or any of the sins committed in breaking the Moral Law as it is summarized in the Ten Commandments.  This is part of the point Christ is making in verses 3-9.  Only God can cleanse the soul of that kind of dirt.

This brings up an important point.  The Bible does not teach two ways of being “saved.”  Some erroneously teach that Old Testament people were saved by keeping the ceremonial law and sacrifices, while New Testament people are saved by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  Actually, all who are saved, whether they live in Old Testament or New Testament times, are saved through the sacrifice of Christ.  Those in the Old Testament era were saved by faith in what God would do to forgive them; those in the New Testament era are saved by faith in what God has done to forgive them.  Thus, all are saved by Christ, not their own works.  They are saved by grace, not law. 

The woman of Canaan is an important element in the Gospel of Christ.  At one time the Hebrews were told to destroy the Canaanites.  The hatred between the two peoples still exists in the time of Christ.  Yet Christ receives this woman and delivers her daughter from the devil.  In Him, the animosity and differences between people disappear.  All are shown to be sinners.  All are shown to be dogs, unworthy to gather the crumbs under His table.  Yet His mercy is for Jews and Gentiles alike.  Canaanites, Roman Centurions, Babylonian wise men, and Samaritans are all welcomed into His Church. His blood covers the sins of all who will believe, and unites them in one Family of Faith for all time.

Verses 29-39 record more of the miraculous power and grace of Christ.  He has compassion on the multitudes (32).  This compassion leads Him to give them their daily bread.  It also leads Him to lay down His life for them that they may eat of the Bread of Heaven.