Saturday, August 24, 2019

Daily Bread for Oct 12, Mat 18-19

Today’s readings are Mat 18-19.

In Mat 18, Jesus brings us a teaching on humility, pride and discipline in the church. The lessons on being humble will be a thread that continues to develop in His ministry culminating in the washing of the disciples' feet at the Last Supper. This teaching on humility comes just as the disciples are arguing about who is greatest (again). It is followed by an admonition to be cautious about sinning (Mat 18:10-14). The flow of the chapter is designed to teach that self-idolization ("who is the greatest?") should be avoided no matter the consequences. Pride must be excised at all costs!

The parable of the lost sheep (Mat 18:10-14) is an addendum to the teaching on humility. It shows that no one is unworthy of pursuing for the sake of the kingdom. In short, no one is greater than the other. Any discussion of who may be greater will only foster pride or idolatry.

Developing the sin theme further, Mat 18:15-20 lays the groundwork for dealing with blatant, unrepentant sin in a brother or sister in the faith. This is not about someone who struggles with their sin. It is about the alleged believer that acknowledges his sins and refuses to repent. This type of open rebellion is dangerous and can be cancer to the church. The procedure described is intended to restore, not punish. The church is to make every effort to win him/her over and encourage them to repent.

The authority to do discipline is established in Mat 18:18-20. Context is critical to understanding this passage. These verses are not a guarantee that Jesus will be present "whenever two or three are gathered in His name." Jesus is present in every believer, whether there are more than one or not! There is no need for some sort of spiritual quorum that guarantees the presence of Jesus. Nor is there a guarantee that, if enough people pray for the same thing, it will be given to them. Scripture is clear that there are times when people do not get what they ask for because they ask with wrong motives (Jam 4:2-3). The number of people praying will not change hearts with improper motives. So, this passage does not tell us that two or three command the presence of Christ. Nor does it prescribe a guaranteed answer to prayer if only two or more people agree.

What these verses in Mat 18:15-20 establish is the judicial authority to discipline based on two or more witnesses. What this short passage shows us is that God will bless the church when it stands for holiness and renders discipline to an unrepentant sinner. However, there is a check and balance. More than one person is required to be involved in making the decision (“If two of you agree…”). Mat 18:18 simply says that the same authority that is in heaven operates on earth. It is not about who has the power to "bind" or "loosen" as is frequently taught. This verse refers to the discipline of the church (“where two or three are gathered in My name”) when enacted upon according to Scripture. That discipline is recognized on earth and in heaven (“whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”).

For clarity as to how Mat 18:15-20 is to be used, we see the parable of the unforgiving servant. The discipline taught in vs. 15-20 is intended to show grace and restore, not punish. Those who are unwilling to forgive will suffer harsh consequences. Forgiveness and grace are evidence of the indwelling Spirit.

Two significant but often overlooked life-lessons emerge from Mat 19. There is certainly a richness of teachings in this chapter, but these two might be easy to miss amidst the others.

First, there is a seemingly strange lesson about eunuchs, which comes within the context of marriage, re-marriage, and divorce (Mat 19:1-12). Notice that there are three types of eunuchs, those who were born that way, those who were made eunuchs by man and those who consciously decided to become eunuchs. The ones that have consciously decided to become eunuchs do so for the "sake of the kingdom." This is not advocating that anyone mutilate themselves. It speaks about celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, rather than falling into sin. The text does not tell us that these people are any better nor more spiritual than anyone else. Their celibacy does not seem to qualify them for any specific position nor is it required of them. They make the decision to live celibate solely to honor God. Note, once they make that decision of celibacy, they are not transformed into something else more spiritual or closer to God, as some teach. They remain eunuchs. They decide that honoring God is preferable to pleasing themselves. Their decision is honored in these verses.

The second teaching is about the children (Mat 19:13-30). They would be easy to dismiss as unimportant or as not having anything of value to contribute. Jesus offers a reminder that they are part of the kingdom as well. Indeed, these children and those like them possess the kingdom of heaven. This should be an encouragement to all those people who minister to our little ones. They are inheritors of the kingdom and are just as precious in the Lord's sight as anyone else. 

The more profound lesson, however, is that everyone was once a child. All of us were young and weak, physically and spiritually. Children, if raised properly, will grow in strength and knowledge. Knowing this, the child becomes a valued member of the church but also a metaphor for a new believer. Like a child, a new believer needs to be cared for, nurtured, protected and instructed. Children and new believers will grow and become strong if they receive the blessing of a loving, compassionate, mature caretaker. As more mature believers, rather than looking down on any of these, we should see them as opportunities to see God work in and through them just as He did and is doing through us.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Daily Bread for Oct 11 Mat 15-17

Today’s readings are Mat 15-17.

In Mat 15, Jesus teaches the Pharisees that many of the traditions of the Jews have been symbolic, such as the various washings. They were there to symbolize the importance of leading a holy lifestyle and avoiding the filth of sin. The Pharisees seem to have missed the point (Mat 15:1-9).

To emphasize this truth, Jesus teaches that spiritual tainting comes from inside, not outside (Mat 15:10-19). As a way of demonstrating this truth, He heals a Gentile, a woman who was considered filthy (Mat 15:21-27). The woman openly confesses that she, a Gentile, is second in the order of receiving the gospel (the Jews are first). In her humility, she recognizes Jesus as Lord and bows before Him. Jesus commends her faith which is a stark contrast to the suspicions and accusations of the Pharisees.

Ultimately, whether the sinner is a Jew or Gentile, Christ, not the ceremonial washings, is the one who cleanses! By implication, the lesson is that pious rituals and behavior are not of any spiritual benefit if the heart is not seeking the Lord.

Then Christ heals many (Mat 15:29-31). We see that the One who cleanses also heals! Sin is not only washed away, but the eternal impact of it is taken away as well, and the one who follows Christ is healed of the consequences of sin which are death and separation from God!

After these profound lessons, Jesus feeds another huge crowd, but this crowd is a crowd of Gentiles (Mat 15:32-39). This time there is enough left over to fill seven baskets. The twelve baskets leftover at the first feeding (Mat 14:13-21) represent the twelve tribes/twelve apostles. That incident was a clear indication that the gospel is for the Jews. The seven baskets seen in this scenario most likely represent the fullness of the gospel going to all the world (all the Gentiles) as seven is the number of completion. Between the two feedings, the message resounds that the gospel is for everyone.

There's a more profound lesson in the two miraculous feedings. There are also two miraculous feedings in the Old Testament, one by Moses (Ex 16Num 11) and one by Elisha (2 Kgs 4:38-44). Both Old Testament feedings were a portent of what was to come. The feedings we see in Matthew are symbolic of Jesus being the ultimate fulfillment of the promises of Moses and Elisha (the Law and the Prophets). Furthermore, the presence of the Old Testament prophets during the transfiguration in Mat 17 shows that He is neither of them but the Son of God.

Despite all these incredible events, the Pharisees naively demand a sign (Mat 16:1-4)! The contrast between the deaf man who now hears, the blind man who now sees and the unhearing, unseeing Pharisees is profound.

Jesus and the disciples reach Caesarea-Philippi. This is as far north as Jesus will travel and it marks another turning point in His ministry. From here on, He will head toward Jerusalem and the cross. The last phase in Mat 16:13 begins with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ. “Jesus” is His name, “Christ" is His office or title.

In a compelling moment, Jesus tells Peter that he didn’t come to this conclusion himself, the Father had revealed this truth to him (Mat 16:17). In a commonly misinterpreted passage, Jesus tells Peter the new church will be based on the revelation that He is the Christ (Mat 16:18) and that the same truth will be the keys to the kingdom (Mat 16:19) that hell will not be able to stand against. Peter is not the rock the church is built upon. That foundation is the revelation of Christ as Savior.

After Jesus prophesies His death and resurrection (Mat 16:21-23) and instructs those who follow Him to follow in His sufferings (Mat 16:24-28), Mat 17:1-13 depicts the transfiguration. Three disciples get a peek at the glory of Christ, a promise of what is to come. The promise is there to gird them for what's next. Notice that immediately before the glory is revealed, two things happen:  Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Christ, then Jesus tells the disciples He must die. Even more significant is that fact that He calls them to "take up their cross and follow Me." The full import and impact of this statement will not be apparent for a while. Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and the cross, all the while telling His disciples that they may suffer as well.

Following the transfiguration, Jesus heals a demon-possessed boy. In doing so, He relates the teaching of the mustard seed. When He refers to their "little faith" (Mat 17:20), He's not talking about their lack of faith but referring to their infant, baby-like faith. It has not yet matured and is, so far, ineffectual. But, even a small amount of faith, like a mustard seed, can grow into a powerful, earth-changing faith. The mountains are a metaphor for earth-shaking. They are not intended to be literal. Jesus is telling His disciples that their ministry will start out very small, based on the works He is now performing, but will one-day change and reform the world.

With this teaching of nascent-but-ever-growing faith, freedom is declared to the disciples, albeit with an admonishment to respect earthly authorities, insofar as it is possible to do so and maintain godliness (Mat 17:24-27).

The lesson of the temple tax and the miraculous provision are meant to demonstrate that Jesus will provide and bless if the disciples work within the governmental system, honoring the taxes and the ones who levy them, even though they may present a hardship. 

Daily Bread for Oct 10, Mat 13-14

Today’s readings are Mat 13-14.

Mat 13 gives us six parables about the kingdom. They are related to each other and share the same theme. In each, the results of sharing the gospel are left in the hands of God.

In the parable of the sower, the sower is not God, as many believe, it is the church. The sower spreads seed (the gospel) everywhere. It's not up to him to make the seed germinate. In other words, it's not up to us to make sure people get saved.  We are to be faithful in telling everyone who will listen about Jesus, spreading the “seeds” everywhere we can. Some seed never takes root, some looks like it might, but it doesn't, and some seeds become healthy plants, producing more seeds. We share; God effects the change through the Holy Spirit.

In the parable of the weeds (Mat 13:24-30), Jesus is the sower. The seed He sows is the gospel. In those days, a landowner would send his servants into the fields to plant his seeds. He provided the seed; his servants did the work. Jesus sows gospel seeds through His bride, the church who is symbolized by the servants on our parable. The lesson in this parable is that it is not up to the servants (a metaphor for believers) to remove the weeds. "Removing the weeds" is a symbol for judgment. The Son of Man (Jesus) will take care of judgment.  We are to sow the seeds that produce the plants. God is responsible for the outcome.

With the mustard seed (Mat 13:31-32), we see that God's kingdom will start out with a small movement and grow to become a vast, world-spanning blessing. The ministry of the gospel has a tiny, fragile beginning but thrives nearly everywhere today. We see that even the smallest seeds we sow can turn into a massive plant in the kingdom.

In Mat 13:33, a small bit of leaven (the gospel) will be used by the cook (God) to spread and permeate all the bread (Creation). This is one of the cases in Scripture in which leaven has a positive connotation.

The treasure in the field seen in Mat 13:44 (the gospel) is the culmination of all the metaphors for spreading the gospel. The gospel is worth sacrificing everything for. It is a precious jewel (the pearl of great value) worth all we have. This should demonstrate to us that the gospel is the most valuable thing we as individuals or as the church collectively can produce. The church is here to plant the seeds of the most valuable plant the world will ever see, the gospel. Anything else the church may provide is either secondary or worthless. This makes the gospel a “pearl of great value” (Mat 13:45-46).

God will cast His net widely. In the end, the righteous will be separated from the evil.

Mat 14:1-12 reveals that the concept of resurrection is not entirely alien to the culture. Herod is convinced that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life and performing miracles. While we learn that idea of resurrection is not unheard of, we also see that Herod hasn't a clue of who Jesus is or what He's been doing.

Jesus miraculously feeds approximately 20,000 people by multiplying the loaves and fishes (Mat 14:13-20). When the ancient Jews mention the number of men, they do not include family members who would likely have accompanied the men.

The message of the loaves and fishes is relatively simple. Jesus is the bread of life. He nourishes and sustains supernaturally. God had set the stage for this over a thousand years prior when He rained down manna on His people in the wilderness providing a type of bread to live on, "bread for life." This miracle of multiplication is also a response to the idea that Jesus is only another in a long line of prophets. He is far more. Moses brought them manna that lasted only a day. But Moses clearly did not create the manna, God did. Jesus multiplies the food in front of their eyes, then feeds them with enough left over to feed His disciples for quite some time.

The scenario in the boat (Mat 14:22-33) is significant for a few reasons. We see that Peter, in faith, actually walks on water! This is frequently overlooked in interpreting this story. Still, Peter's faith, like ours, is not yet fully developed. He gets distracted and begins to sink, but Jesus helps Him. The lesson is that Jesus is there when Peter walks on the water. But, He is there also when Peter fails to walk on the water. Another significant revelation occurs when the disciples worship Jesus and, for the first time, call Him "The Son of God."

These events set the scene for the broader ministry Jesus has when they come ashore and beings healing people in Gennesaret, one that emphasizes His Sonship.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Daily Bread for Oct 9, Mt 11-12

Today’s readings are Mt 11-12.

Jesus has begun His ministry, people are listening. Mt 11 depicts a sobering element in the story of Christ and His act of redemption. People have high expectations of the Messiah, who He is and what He will do. As Jesus begins to shatter those expectations, even while performing spectacular miracles, opposition rises.

John is in prison and is concerned whether Jesus is indeed the One. This is, most likely because things are not going the way John thought they would. He may have been thinking, "Why would the Messiah's herald be put in prison? Shouldn't everyone be excited that He's here?" Or, perhaps he understood how dire his situation was and was seeking reassurance. This causes him to second guess what he knows to be true. Jesus responds with a mild chastisement in Mt 11:6 saying "Blessed is the one who is not offended." John was having a hard time learning a lesson we can all benefit from, truth is defined neither by our feeling nor our circumstances, but by God’s word.

Jesus reveals that John is the type of Elijah the people are anticipating. Nonetheless, they expect Elijah himself (Mt 11:7-15). This is a significant turning point. People are beginning to come to the harsh realization that Jesus and John the Baptist are not what they expected, at all. So, instead of adjusting their expectations, they begin to judge the two men and start turning against them.

Regarding John the Baptist, his doubts are natural. He did not expect this level of opposition. Still, even though his expectations are crumbling, he does not hurl accusations as the crowd, and the Pharisees do. He's still on board. He is asking questions to receive assurance. He's not demanding proof, but he is in a very tight spot. He knows he may well be executed. So, he wants comfort and assertion that he's doing what he is supposed to do.

There should be some comfort in knowing that pillars of the Bible were, in many ways, just like us - ordinary, flawed human beings. Like all believers, John is forgiven entirely. Jesus says of John that there was no one born of women who was greater (Mt 11:11).

With the crowds, the demands for signs as proof are beginning to morph into accusations. So long as Jesus dazzles them, they're pleased. As He continues to dash their expectations, the signs begin to fade into the background, and the crowd's reaction starts to turn against Jesus.

Keep this in mind as we watch how the proof Jesus offers impacts His ministry. We see another pattern emerging here. It seems the more proof Christ offers, the more the unbelievers demand while, at the same time, becoming more and more convinced He is not the Messiah. All those who follow Him based solely on the evidence of the signs will eventually fall away. Those who truly follow Him, do it in faith, not on the evidence of the signs.

The proof the signs offer leaves the unbelievers without excuse. This is made succinct in Mt 11:20-24. Chorazin and Bethsaida are Jewish cities. Tyre and Sidon are Gentile cities. The Jewish towns will be judged harsher than the Gentile cities. Chorazin and Bethsaida were looking for the Messiah, had all the proof they needed yet they rejected Jesus.

In Mt 12:1-8, Jesus turns His attention to the Pharisees and their self-righteousness. They accuse Jesus' followers of sinning because they were plucking grain on the Sabbath. To paraphrase how Jesus responds, it would sound something like this, "You assume they sin. You revere the Temple and all its practices, but I'm even more than that. You never stopped to consider that since I am the Son of God and Lord of the Sabbath and they are with Me, they are priests of My message, therefore qualified to eat the holy bread."

Jesus then heals a man with a withered hand (Mat 12:9-14). His healings so far have been healings of cleansing and restoration. The healing of the man with the withered hand is no different. But, this time it happens in front of the Pharisees who would see the withered hand as a curse. Jesus sees it as an opportunity to demonstrate God's power to transform and regenerate. Jesus can undo the impact of the curse! What the Pharisees entirely miss is that the man with the handicap represents God’s people, the ones in the synagogue (Mt 12:11). Jesus has come to make them whole and has the power to do so. But they’re so blind and quick to judge others they’re not aware of their own need of healing.

These events lead to many accusations about Christ (Mt 12:22-32.) Ultimately, the Pharisees claim that the work He does is done by the power of Beelzebul (Satan). Jesus teaches them about the one sin that is unforgivable, commonly known today as the “unpardonable sin.” Many speculate upon what this might be, but its meaning is right there in the text. The Pharisees have denied that Christ is doing the work of God. They go so far as to attribute His work to Satan. Of course, this is an absolute rejection of Christ as the Son of God. The sin is unforgivable because rejecting Christ means eternal damnation. There is no pardon for those who deny Christ.

Jesus levels the accusations right back at the Pharisees by teaching that a tree can be known by the fruit it produces (Mt 12:33-37). Their fruit is bad. He calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers and warns them that judgment is coming.

Jesus cautions them to take Him seriously and prophesies that the sign of His authenticity will be the sign of Jonah (Mt 12:39-42). He will rise, like Jonah did, after three days. Those who repent and believe in Him will judge those who don't. Incidentally, Jesus regarded Jonah as a real person, a historical figure. Some have tried to portray Jonah as a myth or a metaphor. Jesus thought differently.

In Mt 12:43-45 the warning about the unclean spirits applies to the Pharisees who become increasingly worse with each generation. With no authentic holiness in them, they are subject to evil influences. The accusation is that, even though they believe themselves to be righteous and holy, they are filled with evil.

Jesus ends by stating that those who follow Him and believe in Him are His true family (Mt 12:46-50.) This too is a rebuke to the Pharisees who claim to be God's own people yet reject His Son.

BTW, in Mt 12:15 we read that all who followed Him were healed. This is a concise contextual statement concerning those who followed Him as He withdrew from that synagogue. They were healed. Some folks that take this to mean that everyone who follows Jesus will be healed of their physical sicknesses. But the statement made in this verse is not prescriptive of all Christians. It is descriptive of a specific event in the timeline of the ministry of Christ. Furthermore, "following" Jesus does not necessarily mean "believe in Him,” particularly in this passage. As we will see, many of the people who "followed" Him from the synagogue were "traveling along" with Him. They were apparently not true believers because they are the same people who will abandon Him in another few chapters. Our healing is neither dependent upon how much faith we have nor our status as believers. These people, like the man at the pool of Bethesda, had no saving faith! They were not believers. As soon as the going gets tough for them, they will leave.

What then do we make then of the healing? It is Jesus proving that He is the Son of God, Lord of the Sabbath, sovereign ruler over illness, sin and death. That's Matthew's point in these chapters. They are not a prescription for perfect health if believers can conjure up enough sincerity and faith.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Daily Bread for Oct 8, Mt 9-10

Today’s readings are Mt 9-10.

In Mt 9, Jesus calls Matthew, the writer of our gospel, to follow Him. Notice the progression, He heals many who appear to be "unworthy" then heals on the Sabbath, both creating tension with the Pharisees. Next, he calls a tax collector to be one of His disciples. Tax collectors were considered extremely unsavory as they collaborated with the Romans and took advantage of the people. They were perceived as sinners and traitors.

Just as He instructed His followers to live holy lives in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is walking it out. He is a living demonstration of His teaching. Not only is Jesus physically touching the diseased and unclean, but He is also traveling and living with them! Far from avoiding them, He begins teaching that these are the very people He came to help and save. They are not to be looked down upon as unworthy and inferior. They are to be loved and ministered to.

Jesus is not here to save those who think they are so righteous they have no need to be saved. The reality is that those who feel they are already righteous only want Jesus to give them what they expect and feel they deserve, victory and a better life. They're not interested in being forgiven for their sins, they believe they have none. Meanwhile, they point their fingers and judge those around them. Their actions are the ultimate expression of pride and arrogance.

In Mt 10, we see the twelve disciples, often referred to as “the twelve.” Jesus sends them out, giving them the authority to proclaim the gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons (Mt 10:7-8). There are those who claim this is for all believers. Perhaps so, but those who think it is prescriptive of the Christian life frequently neglect to read the rest of the passage.

The disciples are to preach and teach without pay, without material belongings, without a home, staying with the people to whom they preach along the way (Mt 10:8b-13). They will be flogged, arrested, put to death (Mt 10:17-19). Their families will hate them, and there will be a hostile division between them and the ones they love (Mt 10:34-39). As all these trials come upon them, they are to speak the gospel by the power of the Spirit. Furthermore, they are to limit their travels to Israel and their ministry to Israelites (Mt 10:5). Clearly, these instructions are not to the entire body of Christ, but to a select group of people for a singular purpose, to prove that the Messiah has arrived.

These instructions and prophecies are made directly to the twelve. The original prophecy was that the gospel would go to the Jews and Jerusalem first (Ro 1:16; 2:9-10; Acts 1:8). This is how God will use these twelve to spread the gospel, starting in Jerusalem and spreading to the entire world. This is also how He will establish His church. The twelve are given this type of authority to authenticate the validity of their teaching at a time when the church needs it most.

During those first few years, there was no completed set of Scriptures to which we can refer. They were still being written. God empowered a small group of men to do extraordinary things to give authority to what they wrote and taught. A close examination of the rest of the New Testament will reveal that no one outside the twelve is on record as performing miracles like these.

While we have the same charge to spread the gospel, we may not have authority to raise the dead or the need to be flogged in the synagogues. Neither are we required to travel to Israel to minister. We’re not starting the church. We are the church! And we have been given the full counsel of Scripture to help us along. 

God can and will undoubtedly heal people today, even raise the dead, if He so desires. But, to take what Jesus says to His twelve disciples as a mandate for all Christians would be a mistake. If we do, we would have to take the rest of Mt 10 as a mandate as well.

Too frequently. There are those who lay claim to all the good things they see in Scripture and none of the hardship or suffering. Yet, we see, time and again, that our walk is the narrow way, the way of persecution and trial. We should expect the supernatural without being surprised by the tribulations that can come from living in a fallen world. God does indeed work miracles, the foremost of which is our own transformation and redemption. When we recognize that truth, any need or demand to see more will take a back seat to the miracle He’s already performed in our hearts.