Category Archives: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew

Resurrection Matthew 28:1-17

Every year thousands of people climb a mountain in the Italian Alps, passing the “stations of the cross” to stand at an outdoor crucifix. One tourist noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross. He fought through the rough thicket and, to his surprise, came upon another shrine, a shrine that symbolized the empty tomb. It was neglected. The brush had grown up around it. Almost everyone had gone as far as the cross, but stopped there.
Far too many have gotten to the cross and have known the despair and heartbreak.

Far too few have moved beyond the cross to find the real message of Easter, the empty tomb.
Every Christmas we gather in amazement that Jesus would leave the splendor of heaven and come to our little planet, become human, and experience life on earth. A few months later, we gather on Good Friday in humble amazement that our Jesus would die on the cross for our sins that He would take the punishment we deserve and die in our place.

And then we come to this day to Resurrection Sunday, to the climax, to the highest point, to the culmination of Jesus ministry. And now we celebrate! Now we rejoice together! Not just that Jesus came to earth. Not merely that He died. BUT! That He rose from the dead!!!
You see if Jesus had only come to earth, He would merely have been a visitor a God on a holiday. If He had only died, He would merely have been a religious teacher  another Buddha or Mohammed. But He didn’t just come to earth, and He didn’t just die on a cross. He rose from the dead!

That is the excitement of Christianity that is the uniqueness of our faith! As the wonderful old hymn says it: I serve a RISEN Savior, He’s in the world today. I know that He is living, whatever men may say. I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer, And just the time I need Him He’s always near. He Lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.¨

We’ve heard the story many times, and we heard it read again this morning. I hope we never tire of hearing the words He Is Risen! I hope we never cease to be amazed to be awestruck at the incredible fact that death couldn’t hold the Lord of Life. And, most of all, I hope we never miss this simple fact Jesus is alive today.

That is what I want to talk about for a few moments the fact that Jesus is alive today. At Christmas we celebrate an instant of a moment in time. We do the same thing on Good Friday and we remember a single moment in history. But the resurrection is different it is not just something that happened at a moment in time but it is a new daily reality. When we say He is Risen,¨ we don’t mean just that at a moment in time Jesus came back to life, but really we mean He is Alive Today. Right now. At this very moment.
And that changes everything. The Apostle Paul is incredibly blunt in 1 Cor. 15:14 when he writes, if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.¨ What does it mean for you and I that Jesus is Risen? Let me suggest four things that I see in the resurrection

1. There is Love in the Resurrection
1 John 4:9 says, This how God showed his  love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him.¨
We see this love in a painful way on the cross. We see the extent of God’s love for us as we reflect on Jesus death. But it doesn’t end there! The love of God did not only send Jesus to the cross, it also raised Him back to life! The love of God did not leave Jesus in the tomb, and us in despair, but it raised Jesus back to life so that, as John writes, we might live through him.¨ Love hates death. Love struggles against death and in favor of life. And in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, love overcomes death.

jesus resurrection and mary

jesus resurrection and mary

There is love in the resurrection not just expressed in terms of the love of God for us. The love we find in the resurrection also overflows from us to others. 1 John 3:14 says, We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.

We know that we participate in the resurrection life of Jesus because it spills over into our relationships with one another even with those who are difficult to love. Jesus prayed that the world would know we were His disciples by the depth of our love for one another.
This resurrection love needs to characterize all of our conversations.

It needs to be the central part of all of our interactions with one another. And by saying this I don’t mean just the happy, easy, nice part of love, but also the confrontational part  the part that says because I care about you I want to say so, There are two extremes I see on the one hand we don’t want to say anything sometimes because we don’t want to meddle or upset someone that isn’t love!

On the other hand I sometimes see and hear about people who do say something but do so harshly and critically that isn’t love either! True love, the love of God, finds the middle place of saying what needs to be said in a loving way. I believe that any of you could say anything to me  you could tell me I was an awful preacher, you could say you voted no to extending a call to me as senior pastor, you could say you thought I should choose a different career and if you did it in love, I would walk away somehow encouraged. I would walk away knowing that your comments came out of your deep love for God and a love for me also.

That is what the resurrection of God calls us to love one another. To abandon our needs and desires so that we might lift one another up. God’s Kingdom cannot sustain harsh, critical, unloving words and spirits. They need to be replaced with the incredible love of God that raised Christ from the dead. That is what will grow a strong bride of Christ, and that is what will be irresistible to those outside of Christianity.

As I look around our world, I think it is love that we need most. A few weeks ago I rented the movie AI. It is set in the future, where a company has created a human robot child with the ability to love unconditionally. In many ways it was a disturbing movie, posing a number of difficult questions about what it means to be human and what the limits of our dependence on technology should be. But probably the most poignant question that came to mind watching the movie is, to what extent will we go to find love? I won’t give away the plot of the movie, but the thread that runs through it from start to finish is encapsulated by a question this robot-boy asks repeatedly: then will mommy love me?

It is perhaps the deepest longing of our hearts to be loved. And it is the first thing I find in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him. (1 Jn 4:9).
If you are searching, striving, dying to be loved come to the empty tomb. Go first to the cross, of course, and see the love and forgiveness on the face of God. But don’t stay there come and meet the resurrected Jesus the God who is risen and is alive today. And you will discover love beyond what you could imagine.

2. There is Life in the Resurrection
I would imagine at some point you have been to a  memorial service. And had a wonderful celebration of their life and his faith in God. I wonder, what would that have been like if Jesus had not been raised from the dead? What would it be like to stand at the time of death of a loved one without any knowledge that there is life beyond the grave? I can’t imagine the desperation and I don’t have to try! For there is life! There is victory! All because Jesus rose from the dead.

Victor Hugo, French novelist perhaps best known for Les Miserables, wrote these words:
I feel within me that future life. I am like a forest that has been razed; the new shoots are stronger and brighter. I shall most certainly rise toward the heavens, the nearer my approach to the end, the plainer is the sound of immortal symphonies of worlds which invite me. For half a century I have been translating my thoughts into prose and verse: history, philosophy, drama, romance, tradition, satire, ode, and song; all of these I have tried. But I feel I haven’t given utterance to the thousandth part of what lies with me. When I go to the grave I can say, as others have said, “My day’s work is done.” But I cannot say, “My life is done.” My work will recommence the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon the twilight but opens upon the dawn.

Romans 6:4-5 says, We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. We will be united with Jesus in His resurrection life.
And in fact that is exactly what happens at the moment we respond in faith to God. Jesus described it as a new birth. 2 Cor 5:17 says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, then new has come!

Do you know that resurrection life? Romans 8:11: And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. That is what God freely offers to us new life. He offers the chance for us to participate with Jesus in the life that comes through resurrection.

Jesus is alive today. He is here, right now, according to His promise. And He brings with Him the gift of life, His hand outstretched at this very moment offering it to you. He won’t force it on you, stuff it down your throat but He will freely offer it. Life eternal.  is Hope in the Resurrection.
The fact that there is life in the resurrection is the source of the third thing: hope. I have hope because Jesus rose from the dead. One of the recent hymns of the faith says, Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, I can face uncertain days because He lives.

The resurrection gives us hope for today, hope for tomorrow, and hope for eternity. Hope that things can change. Hope that even if they don’t change, and the worst happens and death comes, that is not the end! There is more life after that, better life after that, life without sickness or pain or tears. Life without ever having to wonder, Lord, where are you? because we will see Him with our eyes, touch Him with our hands, and never worry or fret again.

I know that for many of us, one thing we fear is death. We are afraid to die. It seems so final, so horrible, so unavoidable. But in the resurrection of Jesus I find hope, hope for something greater, something better, something eternal. We know that because Jesus lives today, we too can live with Him. This hope effects how we live, and how we die.
Jesus’ resurrection forever changed Christians’ view of death. Rodney Stark, sociologist at the University of Washington, points out that when a major plague hit the ancient Roman Empire, Christians had surprisingly high survival rates. Why? Most Roman citizens would banish any plague-stricken person from their household. But because Christians had no fear of death, they nursed their sick instead of throwing them out on the streets. Therefore, many Christians survived the plague.

And so, for each of us when the moment of death comes we have hope. We can know that Jesus will be right there with us, His presence right at our side. We don’t go through it alone, we go through it with Him.
A missionary in Brazil discovered a tribe of Indians in a remote part of the jungle. They lived near a large river. The tribe was in need of medical attention. A contagious disease was ravaging the population. People were dying daily.

A hospital was not too terribly far away across the river, but the Indians would not cross it because they believed it was inhabited by evil spirits. To enter the water would mean certain death. The missionary explained how he had crossed the river and was unharmed. They were not impressed. He then took them to the bank and placed his hand in the water. They still wouldn’t go in. He walked into the water up to his waist and splashed water on his face. It didn’t matter. They were still afraid to enter the river. Finally, he dove into the river, swam beneath the surface until he emerged on the other side. He punched a triumphant fist into the air. He had entered the water and escaped. It was then that the Indians broke out into a cheer and followed him across.

That is what Jesus did for us with death He entered it, made it safely to the other side, and punched a triumphant fist into the air. But here’s the thing Jesus doesn’t stay on the other side of the bank. No, He jumps back in, and swims back to our side. He is alive, and present with us. And then, when our turn comes to face death, I believe He takes us by the hand and swims across with us, safely to the other side.

1 Peter 1:3 says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us a new  birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Because He lives, we have hope.

I Am He

I Am He

4. There is Power in the Resurrection
1 Cor. 6:14 tells us, By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. This is the fourth thing I want to remind us of this morning that there is power in the resurrection.

You see, the simple point I want to make, that winds its way through each of the four things I have talked about, is that Jesus is alive. He is alive right now, with us, walking beside us. He didn’t rise up from the dead and then take off to heaven, maybe to come back again someday. But He is Alive and with us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. And because of that, His power is available to us. The same power that raised him from the dead. The same power we know will raise us also according to the verse I just read.

That power is here for our daily lives, and God desires us to experience it more deeply. It is there to enable us to have victory over sin, it is there to bring us hope and encouragement, it is there to shine through us to our world around us, it is there to enable us to worship and celebrate. Let me rephrase that in light of my main point that Jesus is alive: HE is here to enable us to have victory over sin, HE is here to bring us hope and encouragement, HE is here to shine through us to our world around us, HE is here to enable us to worship and celebrate.

It is my prayer that you would know the Risen Lord Jesus. That you would know the love, the life, the hope, and the power of the Resurrection. That is the simple message of our faith, Jesus is Alive!

Conclusion:
About 1930 the Communist leader Bukharin journeyed from Moscow to Kiev. His mission was to address a huge assembly, his subject was “atheism.” For a solid hour he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity, hurling argument after argument heaped on top of ridicule. At last he was finished and viewed what he thought was the smoldering ashes of men’s ruined faith.
“Are there any questions?” Bukharin demanded.
A solitary man rose and asked permission to speak. He mounted the platform and moved close to the Communist. The audience was breathlessly silent as the man surveyed them first to the right, then to the left. At last he shouted the ancient Orthodox greeting, “CHRIST IS RISEN!”
The vast assembly arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sounds of an avalanche, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”

 

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, Studies in the Gospel of Matthew

The Threes

In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

There are almost always, three groups of people in every gathering. I would like to look at these three groups in this message today.

The Crowd Of Sympathy
The crowd of sympathy is the first crowd of people that were there that day. These are those who stood by with tears in their eyes. They were sobbing, and saying, Why? Why? Are they killing Jesus? What did He do to them? Who has He hurt, and not helped? What wrong has He done?
This is always the way it is with the sympathetic crowd. They always stand by and Boo, Boo! hoo!
But that is all that they did. They didn’t try to defend Him. They didn’t cry to Pilate to release Him and not Barabbas. They just stood there and cried! This crowd is also with us today. They sand by and watch as God’s servants work in the harvest of souls. hey sometimes cry and say how terrible things are, and that they are all in favor of the Word of God, but these never lift a finger to help, they just stand by and cry, and Boohoo! They never come to Worship services, memorial services, Bible studies, or Prayer meetings, But, Oh, They are sympathetic though!
Next let us look at the second crowd that was at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ that day.

The Crowd Of Antipathy
What does that word mean, preacher? You are probably asking. It means, total opposition Jesus Christ and His ministry. This is the crowd who shouted to Pilate; Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him! We hate Him, Kill Him, kill Him!
This crowd wanted Jesus to die. He was a threat to them. His teachings were directly opposed to their life style. He was a threat to expose their crooked ways, and they hated him. Hated Him so much that they rejoiced in watching the Son of Man die in agony and pain! This crowd is also with us today. This is the crowd that wants to burn all the Bibles, close the door to every true Church in the neighborhood. They want to keep the Gospel from the radio airwaves, and off of TV stations. They hate Christianity and its teachings so much they want to eradicate it from the face of the earth. There is one thing about this crowd though. At lest you know where they stand. there is no mistaking of what they want and who they are. This is how it was with the crowd of antipathy.
Next we are going to look at the crowd of;

The Crowd Of Apathy
This is the worst of the three crowds. Apathy means, total unconcern or that they just don’t care. No matter what is going on, they don’t care in the lest bit.  There motto is, “What ever!” With a head roll and a hand out! This crowd was there just to see what was happening. They didn’t care either way as to who was dyeing. They just came along for the ride, and to see someone else die. They didn’t
care who was dying, or how many were dying, they just wanted to watch!
We have this crowd with us today too. They drive by our houses of Worship, and never bat an eye in its direction. If they do look this way it is to say, “that is nice” but they never come to services, never read the Bible, never study God’s Word. They are totally unconcerned. They just don’t care!
The crowd of Sympathy, the crowd of Antipathy, and the crowd of Apathy are the three crowds that are always present, and I can see these crowds at the foot of the cross that day. As Jesus hung on that old rugged cross, these crowds were all there watching.
Are you in one of these three crowds today?

Next, we see not only three crowds, but we can also see three crosses on Golgotha. Jesus was not crucified alone! He was in the middle of two thieves. Godless sinners, on both sides of this righteous man.
If I may, I would like to name each of those three crosses that day. The first one I would like to name;

The Cross Of Rejection
I think that this cross was on the left side of Jesus cross. This cross held the thief that cried to Jesus, “If thou be the Son of God? Get thyself down and get us down also.” He didn’t really believe that Jesus was the Messiah. His words of rejection were, “If thou be?” Showing his doubt in the one being crucified next to him. Not one single born again believer will ever question the Deity of Jesus Christ. There are multitudes today who belong with this thief.
They would rather reject the Christ, rather than to accept Him and have everlasting life. This was the cross of rejection. I have many times heard men and women say no to God’s gift of Salvation. God help them to repent of their sin of unbelief. Come to Christ while there is still time. The second cross, I think was the one on the Right side of Jesus. I call this cross:

The Cross Of Reception
This was the thief who said to Jesus; “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” This is the cross which held the one to whom Jesus replied,”Today,
thou, shalt be with me in paradise.” Many today, Praise God! belong to this cross of reception.
If more people would get totally right before God today, there would be many more labors in the harvest. “The harvest is plenteous, but the labors are few; Jesus said, ’Therefore pray ye that the Lord of the harvest would send forth labours into his harvest.” Do you include this request in your daily prayers? We are told to; by the Lord Jesus Christ, and we should start asking today. God has promised to send converts if we pray for them, and tell them Salvation’s plan. Everlasting life, and forever life with God.
The third cross is the center cross. That one in the middle, the one between these two thieves.
The only human who had no sin! And we shall call this:

The Cross Of Love
Romans 5:8, says, “But God commendeth his love toward us in that while were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It was not the nails that held his hands to the cross, It was love! Love kept Him on that altar of wood that day that THEY, crucified him. His love is so great that no amount of suffering could have stopped Him for taking your place and my place in being punished for sin. He became sin for us, on the hill called Calvary! Have you ever seen someone who is filled with God’s Love? I have.

Next I would like you to also see that there were;

Three Cries
The first is:
The Cry Of Unbelief
“If thou be the Son of God,” Do you see the doubt! This man as so many today, want to ask Jesus for proof as to who He really is. They want to make God prove to them, that He exist. Boy, do you have it backwards. If you don’t believe that there is a God in heaven after so many things that can’t be explained outside God’s existence, then you are without a doubt lost in sin.
Satan is the master of deceits, and sin and the Bible says, that he blinds the minds of people.
People break away from Satan’s lies, and call on the Son of God, and receive His Salvation.
“For by grace are ye saved, through faith, it is the gift of God, and not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9.
Have you ever had someone to say no to your invitation, it breaks your heart for a friend to refuse your offer of a gift. But that is just what many are doing each day that they refuse to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Next we see:

The Cry Of Repentance
Here we see the thief who cried out to Jesus; “Lord Jesus Remember Me!”
Luke 23:43. What a joy it is to help someone into the kingdom of God. Have you ever won another person to Christ? There is no greater joy or fulfillment that this, to show another the way of Salvation, and they receive Christ. Praise God, we can win souls today. Some have told me, “Boy, it is really hard to win souls in this day and time.” To which I reply;
“The Bible is the same today, the Holy Spirit is still the same today, God still loves lost sinners today, God’s mercy is the same, and the person who believes on the Lord Jesus is still saved in our day. It is no more difficult today than the very day that Christ ascended into heaven. The problem is that you are not a soul winner.
“Well, preacher, that’s not my calling.” But the Word of God says, that it is everyone’s duty to witness, and share the gospel with all that we can. Why don’t you decide to obey God today and become a soul winner for Jesus? It is as simple as telling another what you did to be saved.
Our last cry is:

The Cry Of Love
There was amidst all the hate on the day of the cross, but also there was a greater amount of love. Jesus mother was there. Other women were there at the foot of the cross that day.
John the beloved disciple was there. I’ll bet that Peter was there somewhere. The other disciples with the exception was there. Many other people were there too, probably among them were, Blind Bartameas, Simon of Cyrene, Solders were there, the chief priest were there gloating and mocking. These had hate but many who were there loved Him, and Jesus Loves them all.
His prayer, “Father Forgive Them, for they know not what they do.” Was for all that day, not just those here that day, but for everyone for all of time. His Love is greater than all; “the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Have you ever seen one who comes to God’s love and confesses Christ? What a difference there is in that life. Love floods their souls. God’s Love!
His love allowed Him to give His only begotten Son to take our place on the cross. We should have been on that cross of judgment  instead of Christ, but His love for mankind caused Him to die for us.

The story is told of a group of school boys back some many years ago that had a new teacher come to their school. He was a young man who had just graduated from college, and was a fine Christian man. Upon starting his first day at the school, he told his class that in order to have a good school, there had to be rules, to follow. I want you to help me to set up these rules for our school, and with that, the teacher ask for suggestions for rules. One student shouted, no stealing, another, no cussing, then another, no lying, after a few minutes there were ten rules written on the chalk board. Now then said the teacher; we now have a set of rules, and for a rule to have meaning there must be a penalty for those who break them. At that one of the students shouted, “ten licks across the back without a coat on.” “That is a pretty hard punishment are you all sure that is what you want,” the teacher asked. “Yes, yes the class answered! So they had their rules and it punishment. It was only about a week that went by when the bully of the class, big Tom missed his lunch, someone had taken big Tom’s lunch. So a search was on to find the thief. After a few minutes a little skinny poor child name Timmy was questioned. He confessed to the teacher that he had taken big Tom’s lunch telling the teacher that he had not had anything to eat for three days. This boy’s mother was a widow and was doing her best to provide for her four children, but often there was little to eat. The teacher knowing that the rules had to be followed, called Timmy to the front of the class, and told him that he was involved in the making of the rules and it penalty to those who broke the rules.
“You must take off your coat Timmy,” the teacher said.
“Please don’t make me take off my coat, ” Timmy cried. “Lick me all that you want, but please don’t make me take off my coat.”  “You helped make up the rules and their punishment Timmy, and now you like any other must obey those rules.” The teacher exclaimed. “Take off your coat.” Timmy shaking all over removed his coat, and to the surprise of the class and teacher had only a ragged T-shirt under it, the shirt was torn in shreds. The teacher looked in sympathy at the child and said in himself, how can I punish this child so severely? Just then big Tom spoke up and said, “Teacher can someone take the place of another for the punishment?”
“Yes,” replied the teacher, “there is a law written that one can be a substitute for another in the Bible.” And with that big Tom came and took off his coat, “I’ll take his licking,” he told the teacher. At that the teacher when bringing down the rod for the fourth time, heard the rod break, and noticed that the whole class was in tears, through tears of his own the teacher said he looked down at big Tom, and Timmy the little boy, Timmy had put his arms around big Tom’s neck and was telling him; “Big Tom, thank you for taking my whipping for me, I will remember this for the rest of my life!”  Friend, Jesus took our whipping for us too! He took my place on crossthat cross, and He took yours. We were the ones who should have paid the
ultimate price for sin, but Jesus Christ stood in our place. He who knew no sin, became sin for us. Oh, do you know Him today? Have you been to the cross for forgiveness? Are you a part of God’s  family right now? Have you been Born Again? Come to Christ for forgiveness from sin, confess Him as your Lord and Saviour now.
Prayer: Lord Jesus come into my heart and life. I repent of my sins, and I believe that you
died on the cross and arose from the dead to save me. In Jesus Christ Name I Ask This. Amen!

If you have just received Christ for Salvation, please write and we will rejoice with you in this the greatest decision that you can ever make.

 

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God in the Hands of Guilty Sinners (Matthew 27:1-31)

Some time ago I preached a message on the Seven Sayings Of The Cross. There were some things that Jesus said while he bled and died on Calvary’s cross. Just in case you do not remember what Jesus said, I am going to do a bit of review for you to jog your memory. Each saying of Christ is a message in itself! Here are the statements that we know Jesus made, although they may not be in the order that He said them:

1. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
2. “Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
3. “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
4. “Woman behold they son” (Jn. 19:26).
5. “Behold thy mother” (Jn. 19:27).
6. “I thirst” (Jn.19:28).
7. “It is finished” (Jn.19:30).

What we are going to consider was not said from the cross to the people, but from the people toward the cross. Men have always harbored mixed emotions and varied opinions about who Jesus is and what He did while He was on the earth. Even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself did not please everyone. Human beings are very opinionated. Once some form a certain opinion they never deviate or change from it. (You may have already formed an opinion on this sermon!) This tendency can be either good or bad, depending upon what our fixed opinions actually are. I am so glad that Jesus was willing to come and die for sinners. If Christ had left us alone, we would have died in our sins and been lost forever. Thank God, He came our way first in powerful, persuasive conviction and then in personal salvation. I love that New Testament verse which says, “For Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” ( 1 Pet.
3:18).

Here are important considerations about the sufferings of Christ:

1. They were not in vain.

Many people have died in vain. Their dying never accomplished anything at all, while even in the death of some, others came to Christ partly because that person died. When Jesus died, He paid the price so that every believing sinner, could be freed from sin and Satan, to know and serve the living God. His death was overflowing with depth and purpose. No one could have taken His life, unless Christ were willing to lay it down. He loved us so much He was willing to die and bless the Lord it was not useless. Great things are accomplished because Jesus, humanly speaking, died in the place of sinners!

Author C.S. Lewis put it this way: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that sons of men may become sons of God.”

2. They were victorious.

Jesus obviously did what He came to do when He died upon the cross. He said with a great tone of victory in Jn.19:30, “It is finished.” Christ had completed what He came to earth to do, that being, to provide salvation for man. We are saved today, because of the priceless value of what Jesus did for us upon Calvary’s cross. What were the people saying around the cross? I am glad you asked, so let’s find out for ourselves.

woman-prayingI. The Voice of Skepticism

A Skepticism Displayed
Matt. 27: 39,40 says, “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” They had heard Jesus say in Jn. 2:18-21 that a temple would be destroyed and that in three days it would be raised up. They thought He was speaking of the Jewish temple built by human hands where they worshiped God. What Christ was actually speaking about was the death, burial and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ had healed the sick, caused the blinded eye to see, raised the dead, multiplied the loaves and fishes, command the angry waves to lie down, and still men were skeptical of Him.

B. Skepticism Revealed
There was not only skepticism in Jesus day, but it is also alive and well today, some 2,000 years later.
1. It is revealed in disbelief of the Bible.
2. It is revealed in denial of a personal devil.
3. It is revealed in the deviation of the promises of our Great God.

The way we are on is a way of “faith” not skepticism. We simply believe God for what He says.

II The Voice Of The Sinful Preachers
Matt. 27:41-44 declares: “Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.”
How they verbally belittled the Son of God! They mocked him about coming down from the cross and delivering Himself. They said, “If you only come down we will believe.” I do not believe they would have believed. They were blinded by religion. Praise God, the Lord Jesus loved you and me more than that! Love compelled Him to go to the cross and love also held Him there. He could have called ten thousand times ten thousand angels, but Jesus died alone, for you and me.

This was the voice of the ungodly preachers ( the chief priests), representing religion.

A. Their problem:
They did not think the cross was necessary, but nevertheless it is. It is a sinful preacher that will not declare that the cross is necessary in the redemption of mankind. Jesus Himself used this expression, “must go….and suffer” in Mt 16:21. “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” It was essential that Jesus suffer if we were to be set free from sins’ penalty and power. There is no other way to get to God except by the blood, the sufferings, the work of Christ upon Calvary. The old song says, “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus, what can make me whole again, nothing but the blood of Jesus, Oh precious is that flow, that makes me white as snow, no other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

B. Their Preaching ( as to what God requires for salvation):
1. Some preach works. Judaism is a religion of works. Christianity hinges on grace.
2. Some preach grace plus works. Get in by grace and stay in because of your works.
3. Some preach a bloodless salvation. There is no true salvation apart from the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s darling lamb.

III The Voice of Silly Repetition
The Bible says in Matt. 27:44, ” The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” They heard the religionists mocking Jesus and taunting Him about coming down from the cross, so they did the same thing. Christ was completely surrounded by voices of unbelief who were echoing the  same things. So many people judge Christianity on what the crowd says about it. Others judge Jesus on simple what others say, without finding out for themselves who Jesus really is. Some folks try to go on in their mother or dad’s religion, whether it be
right of it be wrong. America is incurably religious. Joining a church today is a socially acceptable thing, as long as that church is one that teaches, preaches, and adheres to the fundamentals of the faith.

Warning:
Don’t be guilty of only knowing what others say about Jesus, about Christianity, about the church and what the Bible trully says, It’s silly to read a verse and have no idea what the Chapter really means!
Note:
Most religions and Facebook do not want their people to know the Bible. In the Dark Ages, the Catholics only wanted a few people to have the Scriptures in their hands. Their ministers did not try to get our even the Bible, none the less Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, Biblical word studies, and things of that nature. I want you to know the Bible not just to parrot what you have heard someone else say about it, but what it says itself. You should know Jesus first hand, and not just what others say and think about Him. To do that you have to get on your knees and in the book, Chapter by Chapter, Not a verse here and there!

To the Cross, Bring me to my knees

To the Cross, Bring me to my knees

IV The Voice Of Sad Misinterpretation
Matt. 27:45-47 states: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.”

A. They thought Jesus should ask God the Father to come and rescue Him from the cross.

B. They did not understand Christ was bearing the sin of the entire world of humanity. God has to judge sin because of His holy character and nature. All men are born sinners by birth and remain a sinner only by choice.

C. The only way for you to go to heaven was for God to forsake His son, while at the same time, paying for our sin debt.

D. He was forsaken, so that we might not be forsaken of God. Heb 13:5 says: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

V The Voice Of The Ungodly
Matt. 27:48,49 reminds us that, “Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.” Some came to see if Christ would miraculously come down from the cross. The people were only looking for the spectacular. That is all that some folks are looking for today. I have had people say I’ve gotten smarter now or “Enlightened”, I won’t blindly follow anymore, “If” you hear that “If”? If you can prove who wrote every book in the Bible, I will believe there is “a God”  They are looking for something fleshly and sensational. They want a kind of music and service that will tickle the flesh, and entertain them, than something that will stir their soul and motivate their wills.

VI The Voice Of Salvations Supplication
Luke 23:39-43 “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt  thou be with me in paradise.” What did this “confessing thief” do?

A. Rebuked the other thief( v.40).
B. Confessed the sinlessness of Christ (v.41).
C. Prayed a simple nine word prayer (v.42).
D. Had a sincere faith
1. Revealed a sincere faith
2. Revealed a victorious faith
E. He received an instantaneous salvation. “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” And thus became the first confessing Christian! Imagine that, a thief became the first confessing Christian! What a Gracious and Merciful God!

VII The Voice of Sincere Heart Felt Confession
Read Mark 15:34-39. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 35 And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias. 36 And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. 37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. 38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. 39 And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.

Jesus Victorious

Jesus Victorious

When he saw Jesus die, it did two things things for the centurion.
A. It convinced Him.
Earthquake–veil of temple rent from top to bottom– That could not have just been another man on the cross. It had to be the God-man.
B. He confessed Him and became the second confessing Christian.
“Truly this man was the Son of God” (v.39). He could say, “I’m glad I know who Jesus is and am not ashamed of Him.” Ro 10:9 tells us, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” That kind of confession will be your ticket to heaven.

Conclusion:
Hear the voices around the cross and see our day today, but remember the voice of the Father from heaven, who when Jesus was being baptized said, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He took my whipping for sin, so that you and I could go free. Have you realized you are a sinner? Have you come to the cross of Christ for salvation? Are you resting in the grace of God? If not, come to Him today, because He arose and ever lives to make intercession for all that come unto God by Him.

GOT SALVATION?

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Separating the Sheep from the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46)

Can you tell the difference between a sheep and a goat? I tried and tried to think of a common example that could be used to illustrate this separation of the sheep from the goats but was unable to do so because this situation is so unique and the reason it is so unique is because the sheep and the goats have chosen their species.

Imagine a world where a goat, when presented with the opportunity to be transformed miraculously into a sheep, could do so just by embracing the offer extended by the one making the offer. Supernaturally the goat would be instantaneously into a baby sheep and cared for by the Great Transformer, Christ the Savior and King!

Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when we talked about grace? Grace was shown to be prevenient grace which draws each person to Christ. Then there is saving grace, which, when embraced brings that person to Christ, and finally, sustaining grace which enables we humans who are spiritually weak and pitiful to remain faithful to Christ the King.

All of us are born as goats and, as we will see later in this Scripture, the Lord, the Judge, Christ the King will allow each of us to enjoy or endure the path we have freely chosen.

That is why it is so difficult to come up with an illustration. For instance, if a jeweler had a bag of jewels containing both diamonds and cubic zirconia and was separating them into two groups, one for use in jewelry and the other for disposal, it would be a poor illustration as the contents of the bag would have no choice in the matter. In this Scripture, however, the sheep were once goats who have been transformed into sheep by their individual response to the calling grace of God.  Which is a sheep? Which is a goat? How do you know the difference? What gives it away for me is the coat. Sheep usually have a fuller coat than do goats (though not all sheep have wool nor do all goats have short hair).
Today in our gospel lesson Jesus speaks about how he will reappear on Judgment Day to separate mankind into two groups: the sheep and the goats. What will distinguish the groups from one another? F.L.U.F. That’s Faith, Love, Unpretentiousness, and Fate. It’s imperative that we understand what this means so that we don’t find ourselves standing in the wrong group bound for hell instead of heaven.

Jesus spoke the words of our text. Among the many things he taught that day he told his disciples about a day known only to God when the world will come to an end. We’ll know that it’s the end because Jesus will descend on the clouds with all his holy angels (Matthew 25:31). That will be some sight. I mean think of how overwhelmed the shepherds of Bethlehem were when a choir of angels appeared before them. What will it be like to see the entire army of angels accompany a glorified Jesus?
Afraid you’ll miss out on the spectacle? Don’t worry about that. Jesus tells us that all the nations will be gathered before him. The prophet Daniel explains that this will be accomplished when all the dead are raised to life (Daniel 12:2). Can you imagine standing in a cemetery when Jesus returns? Would sounds of splintering wood fill the air as people fight their way out of their coffins? Would the smell of fresh earth fill your nostrils as the un-dead dig their way to the surface? We don’t have all the details of how this resurrection will be accomplished but God assures us that no one will miss their court date before the eternal judge.
SheepAnd who will the judge be? Jesus. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t though it will surprise those who want to see Jesus as perpetual-nice-guy. Those who think Jesus’ love for mankind means tolerance for sin are in for a shock. Listen to what Jesus will say to many on Judgment Day: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). There is a certain group of people that is so offensive to Jesus that he won’t tolerate their presence on Judgment Day. Instead he’ll send them to a place of eternal punishment. What will these people have done that’s so offensive to Jesus? It’s not so much what they have done as what they have failed to do. Listen to Jesus’ assessment: “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me” (Matthew 25:42, 43). Jesus does not say of this hell-bound group: “You sold drugs to pre-teens. You cheated on your spouse. You murdered unborn children. You ripped off your customers.” By not mentioning these obvious sins Jesus is teaching us a sobering lesson. Don’t think that everything is OK between God and you just because you haven’t committed any “big” sins.

If you’ve ever failed to serve those around you, if you’ve ever thought that your comfort was more important than someone else’s, you deserved to be  damned.
Come on, Pastor! Jesus can’t be that strict? Is he really going to send me to hell because I didn’t get off the couch to get my little brother a glass of water when he asked for one? And don’t tell me Christians will get to heaven because they’re always cheerfully serving others.
Since Jesus is God, he is strict about sin. Failing to cheerfully serve another person even once makes us deserving of his wrath. But you would be correct in your assessment of Christians. We don’t always cheerfully serve others. This is perhaps why Jesus doesn’t compare the two Judgment Day groups to sheep and snakes but to sheep and goats, two animals that look very much alike. So what sets these two groups apart? F.L.U.F. Let’s take a closer look at what this means.
The first and most important distinction is faith. Those whom Jesus calls sheep are those who have faith in him. Not just faith that a guy named Jesus existed, but faith that he is the only one who can save us from our sins. Think of it like this. If I say: “I have faith in president-elect.” I don’t mean, “I believe the next president exists.” I mean, “I think the next president can help the United States.” Likewise those who have true faith in Jesus believe that he has saved them from an eternal future in hell when he lived a perfect life and paid for their sins on the cross. They understand that, like decoy flares dropped from a fighter jet to keep a heat-seeking missile from slamming into the plane, Jesus diverted to himself God’s wrath originally meant for sinners.
Now those who have saving faith in Jesus will show it in the way they love others. In fact on Judgment Day Jesus will point to this visible love as evidence of invisible faith. Jesus will say to the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34b-36).
One Christian observed that Jesus will not say: “I was sick and you healed me. I was in prison and you freed me” but “I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you came to visit me”. Do you see the comfort here? You don’t have to become a missionary and move to the other side of the world to please God. Nor do you have to perform miracles to get Jesus’ attention. He is pleased when you simply get up off the couch to get your little sister a glass of water because she’s thirsty. He’s delighted when you change a diaper because the baby needs a dry bum. And he won’t forget that you took the time to package those hand-me-downs to give to someone who needs them. In fact he will point to these things on Judgment Day and say that you did them for him! (Matthew 25:40)
What will our response be? It will be unpretentious. The sheep will answer: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” (Matthew 25:37) Our response will be such because Christians don’t keep track of the good things they’ve done (Or we shouldn’t be!), as if wracking up points for a pizza party in heaven.

This is how the goats are different. Because they did not have faith in Jesus as their savior they did not show  love to God’s people. If they did, like the time your unbelieving neighbor watched the kids while you had to attend a medical emergency, their motive was impure. They did it because they wanted you to think well of them or because they wanted you to do the same for them some day. They didn’t do it to thank Jesus for all he had done for them.
But wait a minute. Don’t Christians also do good things with impure motives? Sure. The prophet Isaiah said that even our righteous acts are like filthy rags in God’s eyes. That’s another reason the sheep’s response to Jesus’ words of commendation is unpretentious. They are well aware of how often they have failed to live up to God’s standard of love for others. They know that they deserve Jesus’ curse, not his blessing and so are humbled that Jesus would mention anything remotely good that they have done. The goats on the other hand are offended that Jesus does not acknowledge any of the “good” things they have done. It just goes to show that their faith is really in themselves and their own goodness. Their goodness, however, doesn’t come close to matching the standard of perfection God expects.
GoatFaith, Love, Unpretentiousness. Those are three things that distinguish the sheep from the goats but there is, however, one more thing that sets them apart: Fate. The sheep will enter into an eternal life of happiness with Jesus in heaven. Heaven is going to be an awesome place. I mean if the Garden of Eden was paradise and it only took God six days to make it, think of how much better heaven will be considering God has been working on it since Creation (Matthew 25:34)! I know of at least one way heaven will be better than the Garden of Eden; there will be no Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to trip us up. Our joy with Jesus will never be interrupted.
The goats on the other hand will go away to eternal judgment. How bad will that be? Well, consider this: God originally created hell for Satan and his evil angels. Hell must be some terrible place if a powerful spiritual being like Satan is going to be in anguish there forever. God of course doesn’t want people to end up there with Satan but they will, not because they’re pedophiles, drug dealers, or terrorists, but because they thumbed their nose at Jesus in this life saying: “I don’t need you, Jesus. I’m really not that bad. I can stand before God on my own two feet.” To God, that scornful rejection of his Son is as despicable as all the evil Satan has ever engineered and therefore deserving of the same punishment.

F.L.U.F. That’s all that separates the sheep from the goats. It doesn’t seem like much but it will make an eternal difference. So strengthen your God-given Faith through the study of his Word. Look to Jesus and not yourself for salvation and your Love for others will grow in acts of service. But remain Unpretentious about the good that you do knowing that it never measures up to God’s perfect standard. Still, remain confident that your eternal Fate is never in doubt because your future depends on Jesus’ righteousness. May God keep us as his sheep until he calls us home to enjoy the eternal pastures of heaven. Amen.

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The Great Commission, Part I The Great Commission: Breaking Old Boundaries

Matthew 28:16-20

16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).

16 “I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of people, because they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 And you will be brought before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them and the Gentiles. 19 Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time. 20 For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:16-20, emphasis mine).

14 Then he appeared to the eleven themselves, while they were eating, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him resurrected. 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands, and whatever poison they drink will not harm them; they will place their hands on the sick and they will be well.” 19After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God (Mark 16:14-20, emphasis mine).

36 While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 But they were startled and terrified, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 Then he said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; it’s me! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones like you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still could not believe it (because of their joy) and were amazed, he said to them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 So they gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in front of them.44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Messiah would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 Now during the blessing he departed and was taken up into heaven. 52 So they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple courts blessing God (Luke 24:36-53, emphasis mine).

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me, 27 and you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27, emphasis mine).

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the disciples had gathered together and locked the doors of the place because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” 22And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained” (John 20:19-23, emphasis mine).

6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” 9 After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called the Mount of Olives (which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away) (Acts 1:6-12, emphasis mine).

Introduction

In this lesson we will be focusing on our Lord’s command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The essence of this command is that the gospel must be preached world-wide so that those from every nation, tribe, people and language will come to faith and praise God eternally before His throne. This was something that was not only new and novel to many Jews; it was also abhorrent to them. Early in Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Luke, He went to the synagogue in Nazareth, where He read from Isaiah 61:1-2 and then told them that this messianic prophecy was fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:16-21). The people joyfully received this announcement, but then Jesus went on to make it clear that as Messiah He also came to save Gentiles (Luke 4:22-27). This angered our Lord’s Jewish audience so greatly that they sought to kill Him (Luke 4:28-29).

We see a similar account in Acts 22. The Apostle Paul has been arrested on the basis of the false accusation that he is anti-Semitic and that he has defiled the temple by bringing Gentiles into it (Acts 22:27-29). The crowds wanted to tear Paul limb-from-limb, but the Roman soldiers arrived in time to rescue him (Acts 22:30-32). After Paul convinced the commander that he was not the Egyptian terrorist that he supposed, the Apostle asked to address the crowd (Acts 22:33-39). The commander granted his request, and Paul shared his testimony with the crowd. They listened attentively up to this statement:

20 And when the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing nearby, approving, and guarding the cloaks of those who were killing him.’ 21 Then he said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:20-21).

At this point, the crowds went wild, insisting that Paul should not be allowed to live (Acts 22:22-23). There was something about Gentile evangelism that incensed the Jews.

There are several reasons why it is appropriate and necessary for us to focus our attention on the evangelization of Gentiles at this point in the Gospel of Matthew. First, it is where Matthew has been leading us from the beginning of this Gospel. Second, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the program of God is a mystery that God revealed through the apostles, and especially through Paul. Thirdly, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is a dominant theme in the New Testament. It is an underlying theme in many of the Epistles, in addition to the Gospels and Acts. We will have more to say about this as we get into the lesson.

An Observation about the Great Commission

Before we get into our text, I would like to point out an observation that may prove helpful to you. Many of you may be like me, thinking that Jesus gave the Great Commission just once in the New Testament. This is not the case, as can be seen from the various “Great Commission” texts cited at the beginning of this lesson. The “Great Commission” was given on several occasions.

Without belaboring the point here, a form of the Great Commission is given on at least three occasions, at three different times, and at three different places. Let me briefly summarize these below:

  • Matthew

Place: A mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16)

Time: Shortly after the resurrection (Matthew 28:7-16)

  • Mark and Luke (possibly John)

Place: Jerusalem (implied in Mark, Luke 24:33)

Time: Not long after Resurrection (Mark 16:12-16Luke 24:13, 31-36; John 20:19-23)

  • Acts

Place: The Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12)

Time: At the end of the 40 days of our Lord’s appearances (Acts 1:3)

Just prior to His ascension (Acts 1:9-11)

The reason I have chosen to point this out is that many assume there was but one occasion when Jesus gave the Great Commission. We can see that this is not the case. Jesus thus repeated this command (this commission) several times. We should see that this commission is one that has been given considerable emphasis in the New Testament.

Making Disciples of Gentiles in the Book of Matthew

If time permitted, it would be possible to show that the evangelization of the Gentiles was anticipated in the Old Testament. But for now, let’s limit our focus to the New Testament, beginning with the Book of Matthew.

Matthew has been preparing us for the evangelization of the Gentiles since the first chapter of his Gospel. In chapter 1, Matthew gives the genealogy of our Lord. In that genealogy, three Gentile women are included (Tamar, verse 3; Rahab and Ruth, verse 5). If Gentile women can be a part of Messiah’s lineage, then Gentiles may be part of His spiritual offspring. In Matthew 2, we find the Gentile magi, coming from afar to worship “the King of the Jews,” while the Jews in Jerusalem are troubled by the news of His birth. Jewish rejection and Gentile acceptance will become a pattern, not only in Matthew, but in the Book of Acts as well and continues even today.

In chapter 3, we find the account of John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and he, like Samuel his predecessor, introduced God’s choice for Israel’s king. With Samuel’s designation came a special manifestation of the Spirit, empowering Israel’s king for his ministry. Likewise, John the Baptist’s designation of Jesus was followed by the Spirit descending upon Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17). In John’s proclamation that the kingdom of heaven was near, he warned his Jewish audience not to depend upon their physical lineage:

“And don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones!” (Matthew 3:9)

Being Jewish would not save them; only Jesus could save them.

In chapter 4, Jesus is said to have commenced His earthly ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles”:

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, he went into Galilee. 13 While in Galilee, he moved from Nazareth to make his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled: 4:15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:12-17, emphasis mine).

In a way that I do not fully understand, Jesus’ commencement of His ministry in this Gentile territory signaled His identity as Israel’s Messiah, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 9:1-2). The fourth chapters of Matthew, Luke, and John all indicate that Jesus will bring salvation to the Gentiles.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus makes it clear that law-keeping will not save anyone, including Israel’s top religious leaders:

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Entering into the Kingdom of Heaven was not a matter of law-keeping, but a matter of the heart. There was nothing in the Sermon on the Mount which prevented a Gentile from entering the kingdom, except having a new heart.

Matthew 8 contains the wonderful story of the centurion’s faith. This Gentile’s servant was sick, so the centurion asked Jesus to heal him. When Jesus offered to come, the centurion amazed Him by his faith:

8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! 11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour (Matthew 8:8-13).

Notice especially our Lord’s response to this Gentile’s faith. He had faith unlike anyone in Israel. His faith exceeded the faith of the Jews. Jesus went on to speak of other Gentiles who would enter into the kingdom of heaven. He said that while many (Gentiles) would come from afar to enter the kingdom, many of the Jews would be thrown out into outer darkness. How could Jesus have said it any more clearly? By faith, many Gentiles would be saved; because they did not believe in Jesus, many Jews would be excluded from the kingdom and sentenced to eternity in hell. Once again, we see Jewish unbelief and Gentile faith.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sent His disciples out to proclaim the good news to the people of Israel. The disciples were specifically instructed not to go to the Gentiles on this mission:

5 Jesus sent out these twelve, instructing them as follows: “Do not go to Gentile regions and do not enter any Samaritan town. 6 Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near!’” (Matthew 10:5-7)

And yet in His instructions to His disciples, Jesus made it clear that there would be a time when they would go to the Gentiles:

16 “I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of people, because they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 And you will be brought before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:16-18, emphasis mine).

This sounds very similar to the words the Lord gave Ananias to speak to Saul (soon to be known as Paul) at the time of his dramatic conversion:

15 But the Lord said to him [Ananias], “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

One of my favorite accounts in Matthew is the encounter of the Canaanite woman with Jesus, when she begged Him to deliver her daughter from demon possession:

21 After going out from there, Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that area came and cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is horribly demon-possessed!” 23 But he did not answer her a word. Then his disciples came and begged him, “Send her away, because she keeps on crying out after us.” 24 So he answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and bowed down before him and said, “Lord, help me!” 26 “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” he said. 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! Let what you want be done for you.” And her daughter was healed from that hour (Matthew 15:21-28, emphasis mine).

It was not yet time for the gospel to be proclaimed to Gentiles (as we have seen from our Lord’s words in Matthew 10:5-6), and yet this Canaanite woman came to Jesus, pleading with Him to have mercy on her daughter. In essence, Jesus told her that His mission was to present Himself to Israel as their Messiah. She was not put off by this. Her faith was great, and she believed that His grace would also be poured out upon Gentiles. Of course she was right, and far ahead of the thinking of the Jews (or even the disciples) at this moment in time. The Jews vehemently opposed any talk of Gentile salvation (see Luke 4:16ff. and Acts 22:21-22), but this woman clung to her hope of this very thing. Gentile faith is praised and rewarded.

The first time the word “church” is found in the New Testament is in Matthew’s Gospel. Indeed, both times the word “church” is found in the Gospels, it is found in Matthew:

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my churchand the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:16-18, emphasis mine).

Here, Jesus is introducing the church for the first time in the New Testament. The church is founded on the saving work of Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, on the cross of Calvary. The church will break down the gates of Hell, snatching some from Satan’s grasp and from eternal damnation.

The second time we find the term “church” in Matthew is in chapter 18:

15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven. 19 Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15-20, emphasis mine).

This text deals with church discipline. Notice that a willfully sinning saint (even a Jewish one) is to be treated like a Gentile after rebuke and correction has been repeatedly rejected. The point I wish to make here, however, is that the church is in view, not just Israel. Matthew assumes the birth of the church at Pentecost, and the church will be composed of Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28; see also Ephesians 2:11-22).

In Matthew 21, there is another clear reference to the birth of the church and to widespread Gentile evangelism:

41 They said to him, “He will utterly destroy those evil men! Then he will lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his portion at the harvest.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, because the crowds regarded him as a prophet (Matthew 21:41-46, emphasis mine).

The parable Jesus told here was hard hitting, and the religious leaders had a fair sense of what Jesus meant. The parable was intended to convey to these leaders that their rejection of Him as the Messiah would cost them their place in the Kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom would be given to others – Gentiles – who would receive Him and produce fruit for Him. Notice the verses which immediately precede this parable:

14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, as to how they could assassinate him. 15 Now when Jesus learned of this, he went away from there. Great crowds followed him, and he healed them all. 16 But he sternly warned them not to make him known. 17 This fulfilled what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet:

18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,

the one I love, in whom I take great delight.

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

19 He will not quarrel or cry out,

nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.

20 He will not break a bruised reed

or extinguish a smoldering wick,

until he brings justice to victory.

21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope” (Matthew 12:14-21, emphasis mine).

Matthew has definitely been preparing his readers for the Great Commission in the closing verses of his Gospel. Indeed, one would find it difficult to miss the point that this is the conclusion Matthew wanted to reach. Matthew 28 is ample evidence of Jewish unbelief, even after the miracle of our Lord’s resurrection. No wonder this Gospel ends with the command to “make disciples of every nation”!

God’s purpose in saving Jews and Gentiles and making them a part of his church is clearly revealed (even emphasized!) in the rest of the New Testament. For the moment, I call your attention to these passages from Romans 15 and the Book of Revelation:

7 Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers, 9 and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles,

and I will sing praises to your name.”

10 And again it says:

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord all you Gentiles,

and let all the peoples praise him.”

12 And again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse will come,

and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles,

in him will the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:7-12, emphasis mine – citing Psalm 18:49Deuteronomy 32:43Psalm 117:1Isaiah 11:10).

9 They were singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9, emphasis mine).

9 After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7:9, emphasis mine).

Understanding the Disciples’ Reluctance to Carry Out the Great Commission

When we read the Book of Acts, it is quite obvious that the disciples (and, indeed, the saints in Jerusalem) were not quick to carry out the Great Commission. Indeed, one could almost say that Gentile evangelism took place in spite of the disciples and the early Jerusalem church.

The “Great Commission” in Acts is recorded in the first chapter:

6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).

We see no missions’ conferences in Acts, and no particular eagerness to carry the gospel to the Gentiles. We do see resistance, however. The first wave of missionary activity took place as the result of the death of Stephen:

1 And Saul agreed completely with killing him. Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. 4 Now those who had been forced to scatter went around proclaiming the good news of the word. 5 Philip went down to the main city of Samaria and began proclaiming the Christ to them (Acts 8:1-5).

We are introduced to Saul (Paul) here, before his conversion in Acts 9. But what I wish for you to see is that the Jerusalem church was literally forced to leave Jerusalem and to carry the gospel to those living outside Jerusalem and Judea. In Acts 6, the apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem appointed seven men to oversee the feeding of the widows, so that they (the apostles) could devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). One might assume that this meant the apostles would devote themselves to “making disciples of every nation,” but this was not the case. It was two of the men appointed to oversee the feeding of the widows who became the trail blazers of Gentile evangelization. Stephen’s death brought on a wave of persecution that scattered the church (except the apostles), while Philip went down to Samaria, preaching Christ to these despised half-brothers of the Jews (see John 4:9).

When we come to Acts 10, we read of Peter’s strong resistance to going to the house of a Gentile. In chapter 11, we read of the strong reaction of the Jerusalem church leaders (which surely included some, if not all, of the apostles) to Peter’s evangelization of Gentiles:

1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and shared a meal with them” (Acts 11:1-3).

I will grant that the pretext for their rebuke of Peter is that he “went to the uncircumcised and [ate] a meal with them” (verse 3). But verse one informs us that the occasion for their reaction was the evangelization of Gentiles. Peter explained how he was led to preach to these Gentiles, and how God saved them, almost in spite of him. He was still preaching when the Spirit came down on these believers and produced a second Pentecost. How could he refuse water baptism to those who had been baptized by the Spirit?

I am amazed at the way Luke describes their response:

18 When they heard this, they ceased their objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles.” 19 Now those who had been scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one but Jews. 20 But there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene among them who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks too, proclaiming the good news of the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord (Acts 11:18-21, emphasis mine).

Reluctant though they were, the Jerusalem church leaders could hardly deny God’s hand in the salvation of these Gentiles. And yet this admission that God had purposed to save Gentiles did not change their practice. It was not the Jerusalem Jewish believers (apostles included) that led the advance of the gospel to reach Gentiles. It was instead a number of unknown, unnamed Hellenistic Jewish believers who could not keep the good news to themselves, and thus proclaimed Christ to the Gentiles at Antioch. Gentiles were saved, and a church was born. The apostles in Jerusalem did respond by sending Barnabas, but none of them seems to have been personally involved. As you may know, Barnabas sought out Saul (Paul), and the both had a very successful ministry (along with others – see Acts 13:1) there at Antioch. The Jerusalem church “drug its feet” in carrying out the Great Commission.

Why? Why were the Jewish saints in Jerusalem, including the apostles, reluctant to carry out the Great Commission? That is what we will now seek to answer.

Understanding Jewish Reluctance to Evangelize Gentiles

The evangelization of Gentiles caught Jewish believers off guard because this was a mystery to the Old Testament saint. There were Old Testament texts which spoke of God’s salvation including Gentiles. Matthew 12:15-21 (cited above) includes one such prophecy from Isaiah 42:1-4. Nevertheless, the references to the salvation of Gentiles were not understood as such, because this was a mystery to be understood only after the coming of Christ, a mystery that was revealed through men like Paul:

25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, 26 but now is disclosed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith (Romans 16:25-27, emphasis mine).

1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that by revelation the divine secret was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly. 4 When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. 5 Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. 7 I became a servant of this gospel according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the exercise of his power. 8 To me—less than the least of all the saints—this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan—a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things (Ephesians 3:1-9, emphasis mine).

31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great—but I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32, emphasis mine).

25 I became a servant of the church according to the stewardship from God—given to me for you—in order to complete the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery that has been kept hidden from ages and generations, but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:25-27, emphasis mine).

In the Bible, a mystery is not something about which nothing has ever been revealed. It is something that has been revealed, but has not been understood. It was Paul’s privilege to show how God had, from eternity past, planned and purposed to bring Jews and Gentiles together into one body, the church, through the saving work of Jesus Christ:

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh—who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands— 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22, emphasis mine).

This mystery – that God, in Christ, would reconcile to Himself both Jews and Gentiles in one body – required some very dramatic changes in the thinking and practices of the Jewish believers, including the apostles. There are a number of ways in which the thinking of Jewish believers had to change. I will illustrate with several of these radical changes.

THE GOSPEL AND THE LAND OF ISRAEL

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. 2 Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (Genesis 12:1-3, emphasis mine).

God had not only chosen a people (the seed of Abraham) by whom to bless the world; He had also chosen a place where He would bless. God called Abram from his homeland to the land of Israel. When Jacob fled back to Paddam-Aram, it is possible that he never intended to return to the Promised Land. But God gave Jacob a dream, which deeply impressed him with how special the Promised Land was:

10 Meanwhile Jacob left Beer Sheba and set out for Haran. 11 He reached a certain place where he decided to camp because the sun had gone down. He took one of the stones and placed it near his head. Then he fell asleep in that place 12 and had a dream. He saw a stairway erected on the earth with its top reaching to the heavens. The angels of God were going up and coming down it 13 and the Lord stood at its top. He said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the ground you are lying on. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. All the families of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using your name and that of your descendants. 15 I am with you! I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you!” 16 Then Jacob woke up and thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, but I did not realize it!” 17 He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is nothing else than the house of God! This is the gate of heaven!” 18 Early in the morning Jacob took the stone he had placed near his head and set it up as a sacred stone. Then he poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, although the former name of the town was Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God is with me and protects me on this journey I am taking and gives me food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will become my God. 22 Then this stone that I have set up as a sacred stone will be the house of God, and I will surely give you back a tenth of everything you give me” (Genesis 28:10-22, emphasis mine).

While they were still in the wilderness, God told the Israelites that He would designate a special place of worship:

But you must seek only the place he chooses from all your tribes to establish his name as his place of residence, and you must go there (Deuteronomy 12:5).

Later, Jerusalem would be designated as the special place where the temple would be built and Israel would come to worship. In his prayer of dedication for the temple, Solomon indicated just how special this place was:

29 Night and day may you watch over this temple, the place where you promised you would live. May you answer your servant’s prayer for this place. 30 Respond to the request of your servant and your people Israel for this place. Hear from inside your heavenly dwelling place and respond favorably… . 35 “The time will come when the skies are shut up tightly and no rain falls because your people sinned against you. When they direct their prayers toward this place, renew their allegiance to you, and turn away from their sin because you punish them (1 Kings 8:29-30, 35, emphasis mine).

Even Naaman the Syrian understood that there was something special about the land of Israel:

15 He and his entire entourage returned to the prophet. Naaman came and stood before him. He said, “For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Now, please accept a gift from your servant.” 16 But Elisha replied, “As certainly as the Lord lives (whom I serve), I will take nothing from you.” Naaman insisted that he take it, but he refused. 17 Naaman said, “If not, then please give your servant a load of dirt, enough for a pair of mules to carry, for your servant will never again offer a burnt offering or sacrifice to a god other than the Lord (2 Kings 5:15-17, emphasis mine).

During the time of their Babylonian captivity, the Israelites mourned because they were not able to worship God as they did in the land of Zion:

By the rivers of Babylon we sit down and weep when we remember Zion.

2 On the poplars in her midst we hang our harps,

3 for there our captors ask us to compose songs;

those who mock us demand that we be happy,

saying: “Sing for us a song about Zion!”

How can we sing a song to the Lord in a foreign land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand be crippled!

6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,

and do not give Jerusalem priority over whatever gives me the most joy (Psalm 137:1-6, emphasis mine).

When we come to the New Testament, we find a radical change with regard to the land. Notice this reference to Jacob’s dream (cited above), with its revisions:

49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!” 50 Jesus said to him, “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth—you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:49-51, emphasis mine).

Jacob had a dream in which he saw a ladder, with angels ascending and descending on it. His attention was drawn to the land on which the ladder was placed – Israel. But when Jesus refers to this same phenomenon, He makes a significant change – He is the ladder! The important thing is not where the ladder is placed (the land), but who the ladder is (Jesus, Israel’s Messiah). He is more important than the land. He is the only way of access from earth to heaven.

The same truth is expressed in different terms in John 4:

19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he” (John 4:19-26, emphasis mine).

THE KINGDOM

The Old Testament saint normally thought of the kingdom in earthly terms. It is evident in the Gospels (as in early Acts – see Acts 1:6) that the disciples were thinking of the kingdom as an earthly one. Jesus taught otherwise.

Matthew uses the expression “the kingdom of heaven” 31 times in his Gospel. No other Gospel employs this expression. Jesus made it clear that His kingdom was a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one:

36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36, emphasis mine).

The writer to the Hebrews says that the Old Testament saints came to realize this as well:

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16, emphasis mine).

Since the kingdom is a heavenly one, rather than an earthly one, our citizenship is a heavenly one:

But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20, emphasis mine).

Therefore, we must consider ourselves “strangers and pilgrims” on this earth:

11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul (1 Peter 2:11, emphasis mine).

THE TEMPLE

When the Israelites were still in the wilderness, God gave instructions to construct the tabernacle, which would be His dwelling place among them:

“Let them make for me a sanctuary, that I may live among them” (Exodus 25:8).

God indicated to the Israelites that when He brought them into the land of Canaan, He would designate a more permanent place where they were to worship Him. This would be the place where God would dwell among them:

“But you must seek only the place he chooses from all your tribes to establish his name as his place of residence, and you must go there” (Deuteronomy 12:5).

The temple thus became a very sacred place to the Jews:

Why do you look with envy, O mountains with many peaks, at the mountain where God has decided to live? Indeed the Lord will live there permanently! (Psalm 68:16)

He lives in Salem; he dwells in Zion (Psalm 76:2).

Certainly the Lord has chosen Zion;

he decided to make it his home (Psalm 132:13).

But when Jesus came to earth, He became God’s permanent dwelling place among men; He replaced the temple:

“Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

Now the Word became flesh and took up residence [literally, tabernacle] among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:14).

14 He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.” 18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken (John 2:14-22, emphasis mine).

What is even more amazing is that all those who are “in Christ” by faith become a part of the temple, or perhaps I should say that He dwells in us as His temple:

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh—who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands— 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22, emphasis mine).

4 So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and priceless in God’s sight, 5 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).

THE PRIESTHOOD

There was a very carefully defined priesthood in the Old Testament, the Aaronic Priesthood. But Jesus came as a new and better priest, after the order of Melchizedek:

19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:19-20; see also 5:6-10; chapter 7).

And because of our identification with Christ by faith, all believers become a holy priesthood:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).

4 From John, to the seven churches that are in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from “he who is,” and who was, and who is still to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood 6 and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father—to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! Amen (Revelation 1:4-6, emphasis mine).

THE SONS OF ABRAHAM
OR
THE PEOPLE OF GOD

After God dispersed mankind at Babel (Genesis 11), He promised to bring salvation and blessing to the world through the seed of Abraham:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. 2 Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. [3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed].

God’s promise to Abram was to bless him, and through him (his seed) to bless the nations. It became apparent in Israel’s history that God would include Gentiles among those He blessed. In Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17), we find three Gentile women in the line of the Messiah: Tamar (verse 3), Rahab and Ruth (verse 5).

Many of the Jews began to think of themselves (Israel) as the elect and the Gentiles as the condemned. They felt that a mere biological link to Abraham was sufficient to save them. John the Baptist strongly debated this false assumption:

“And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham (Matthew 3:9, emphasis mine).

Jesus declared that His true family was not necessarily His biological relatives, but those who followed Him:

46 While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. 47 And someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” 48 But He answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold, My mother and My brothers! 50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50, emphasis mine).

Paul, too, argues that being a “true Jew” is not a biological issue, but a spiritual issue:

28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God (Romans 2:28-29, emphasis mine).

14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you” ) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist (Romans 4:14-17, emphasis mine).

Paul corrects the popular misinterpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant by insisting that the “seed” of Abraham through whom the world would be blessed was not the nation Israel (plural), but the Messiah, the “true seed” (singular) of Abraham.

16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ (Galatians 3:16, emphasis mine).

The true “sons of Abraham” are those who, like Abraham, have placed their faith in God, and in His provision for their eternal salvation.

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants—not only to those who are under the lawbut also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed—the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do (Romans 4:13-17, emphasis mine).

While many of our Lord’s “own people” – the Jews – did not receive Him, a good number of Gentiles have believed in Him, thus becoming God’s children, God’s people:

11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children 13 —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God (John 1:11-13, emphasis mine).

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off [Gentiles] have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace (Ephesians 2:13-15, emphasis mine).

The people of God are not Jews only; indeed at this point in time, the Jews are blinded to the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:12—4:4; cf. also Romans 11). Not all the descendants of Abraham are children of God (Romans 9:7). The people of God, the sons of Abraham, are those who have trusted in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah and our Savior.

PURITY AND HOLINESS

To be holy is to be set apart. Balaam acknowledged this in his blessing (instead of cursing) of Israel:

8 How can I curse one whom God has not cursed, or how can I denounce one whom the Lord has not denounced? 9 For from the top of the rocks I see them; from the hills I watch them. Indeed, a nation that lives alone, and it will not be reckoned among the nations. 10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or as a number, the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let my latter end be like theirs” (Numbers 23:8-10, emphasis mine).

In particular, the Old Testament law prescribed very strict rules about the food the Israelites ate. Their food must be ritually “clean”:

And you will be holy people to meyou must not eat any meat torn by animals in the field. You must throw it to the dogs (Exodus 22:31, emphasis mine).

43 “‘Do not make yourselves detestable by any of the swarming things. You must not defile yourselves by them and become unclean by them, 44 for I am the Lord your God and you are to sanctify yourselves and be holy because I am holy. You must not defile yourselves by any of the swarming things that creep on the ground, 45 for I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God and you are to be holy because I am holy. 46 This is the law of the land animals, the birds, all the living creatures that move in the water, and all the creatures that swarm on the land, 47 to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between the living creatures that may be eaten and the living creatures that must not be eaten’” (Leviticus 11:43-47, emphasis mine).

The Jews had greatly amplified these food laws (and other laws) beyond that which God had commanded:

9 He also said to them, “You neatly reject the commandment of God in order to set up your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you would have received from me is corban’ (that is, a gift for God), 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.” 14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand. 15 There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him.” 17 Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 23 All these evils come from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:9-23, emphasis mine).

Jesus distinguished between Jewish traditions and the Old Testament law. In addition to this, He taught that defilement is not external, but internal. It is a matter of the heart. It is not becoming holy by merely staying away from certain things. No one was holier than our Lord, and yet He was accused associating with sinners:

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2; see also Matthew 9:10-13; 11:18-19).

Before Peter could go to the house of a Gentile like Cornelius, he would need to be convinced that he would not be defiled by foods that were “unclean.” Thus we learn from Acts 10 that God had to dramatically make the point that the Old Testament food laws were set aside.

9 About noon the next day, while they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing the meal, a trance came over him. 11 He saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and wild birds. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; slaughter and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled and ritually unclean!” 15 The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven (Acts 10:9-16, emphasis mine).

Paul found it necessary to clarify his teaching on separation, lest some interpret it as an excuse for not associating with unbelievers:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person (1 Corinthians 5:9-11, emphasis mine).

Conclusion

This lesson has focused on our Lord’s command to “make disciples of all nations.” I have attempted to show that the Jewish church (including the apostles) was reluctant to do so. I have also sought to demonstrate why. The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about the New Covenant. It took time for the radical changes required by the New Covenant to become clear, and even longer for these changes to be embraced and implemented. Indeed, when we read the Book of Acts, we see that it was neither the Lord’s Jewish apostles (His disciples in the Gospels), nor the Jerusalem church, that led out in reaching Gentiles. This came about by a number of unnamed Hellenistic Jewish Christians, including Paul (see Acts 11:15-26).

I would suggest to you that there are likely a number of obstacles that stand in the way of our carrying out the Great Commission as we ought. Prejudices and pre-conceived ideas of what it means to be a Christian may need to be scrutinized and, if they are wrong, sacrificed to the cause of Christ. In the Great Commission of Matthew, our Lord instructed us to teach new believers to obey all He commanded. He commanded us to go and make disciples. Are there things in our thinking, or in our lives, which keep us from obeying this command? If so, let us deal with them, and then hasten to obey this command.

I confess that I read our text in Matthew as a Gentile. I am genuinely sad to read that the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, even after His resurrection. I am likewise saddened to realize that the Jewish apostles were less than perfect, and even slow to carry out the Great Commission. But as a Gentile, I realize that it was this very unbelief and rejection of Jesus by the Jews that God purposed to open the door to Gentile evangelism:

11 I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their transgression means riches for the world and their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full restoration bring? 13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Seeing that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I could provoke my people to jealousy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the first portion of the dough offered is holy, then the whole batch is holy, and if the root is holy, so too are the branches… . 25 For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” 28 In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were formerly disobedient to God, but have now received mercy due to their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all (Romans 11:11-16, 25-32).

This passage in Romans 11 reminds us that we dare not become arrogant about our salvation, which was all of God. Just as God gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites because of the sin of its inhabitants:

Do not think to yourself after the Lord your God has driven them out before you, “Because of my own righteousness the Lord has brought me here to possess this land.” It is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness, or even your inner uprightness, that you have come here to possess their land. Instead, because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you in order to confirm the promise he made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 6 Understand, therefore, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is about to give you this good land as a possession, for you are a stubborn people! (Deuteronomy 9:4-6, emphasis mine; read also Genesis 15:14-15Leviticus 18:24-28).

Let us not forget that God’s purposes for Jews are not completely fulfilled, and thus there is a future for Israel (Romans 11:25-32). In our evangelistic efforts, let us keep in mind that we are commanded to preach the gospel to all nations, and this includes Israel, As a matter of fact as soon as the time of the Gentiles is over then begins the time of the Jews again, and that time might be as soon as all the Jews are back in their land! We are seeing that happen right now!

GO!

GO!

Our text is one of many compelling commands to take the gospel to those who are lost. It is foundational to missionary activity:

13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news” (Romans 10:13-15).

The Great Commission requires some dedicated saints to actually go to distant lands. It requires the church to send these people out, standing behind them with their prayers and their pocketbooks. Let us not overlook the tremendous opportunities that God has given us to reach those from distant lands who have come to the United States as students. International Students Incorporated (ISI) is one of a number of organizations that seeks to facilitate friendship evangelism with foreign students.

A number of years ago, I heard a man to speaking, who had written a book about the dangers of the “fortress church.” I think we need to be aware of the fact that Christians today may have a fortress mentality similar to that of the Jewish saints of Jesus’ day. Let’s take the “go” of the Great Commission seriously. We have to leave the security of the walls of our homes and our church and go where the lost are. We must learn from our Lord to incarnate Christ in a lost and dying world. The Great Commission condemns the fortress mentality. Is it possible that we have embraced this mentality in some ways? Are we so absorbed in our “church activities” that we have little time or energy to “go” to where the lost are? Are we doing too much for ourselves in the church, rather than going forth as a church? The Great Commission challenges us to think of these things.

Finally, is it possible that the New Covenant and the Great Commission challenge us to consider whether or not patriotism or nationalism hinder our obedience to this command of Christ? After 9-11, there was a swelling of national pride and patriotism. Let us remember that we are strangers and pilgrims in this life, and that our citizenship is in heaven. Let us not be like Jonah, whose nationalism (among other things) hindered his obedience to the Great Commission of his day.

May God expose any hindrance to our obedience to take the good news of the gospel to all the nations, and to make disciples, to the praise and glory of God.

9 They were singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9).

9 After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7:9).

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, Studies in the Gospel of Matthew

The Great Commission, Part II The Sovereignty of God and the Great Commission

16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20, emphasis mine).

Introduction

I find it interesting that in all of the Gospels and in Acts the Great Commission is preceded by a reference to the fears or doubts of the disciples regarding the Lord’s resurrection. This was not an overly confident group at this moment in time. And yet it is only Matthew who chooses to stress the authority of our Lord as an introduction to the Great Commission.

It should not really be surprising to the reader of Matthew’s Gospel to find this emphasis on the authority of Jesus. After all, Matthew presents Jesus as the “King of Israel” or the “King of the Jews.” Kings have authority, and the greater the king, the greater his authority. Therefore we see the authority of Jesus being emphasized or challenged throughout this Gospel.

Matthew has chosen to call attention to the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ at the end of his Gospel, just after the account of His resurrection, and just before the giving of the Great Commission. I believe that Matthew’s wording makes the authority of our Lord the basis for the Great Commission. And so the questions for which we should seek the answers are these:

“What is the nature of the authority of Jesus Christ?”

“What is the relationship between the authority of our Lord and the Great Commission?”

“What are the practical implications and applications of this relationship?”

In this lesson, I will begin by identifying those instances in Matthew where the authority of Jesus is emphasized. I will then look at some of the key texts relating to Jesus’ authority in the other Gospels and in the rest of the New Testament. Finally, I will attempt to show how the authority of our Lord should impact our motivation, message, and methods of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us begin by directing our attention to the way Matthew emphasizes the authority of Jesus in his Gospel.

The Authority of Jesus Christ in Matthew

In chapter 1, Matthew shows that Jesus is the legitimate heir to the throne of His father (ancestor) David (1:1-17). The angel of the Lord further introduces Jesus as the promised Messiah, whose name is Immanuel, which means “God with us” (1:18-23). What greater authority can any king have than being God in the flesh?

In chapter 2, the authority of Jesus is demonstrated in at least two ways. First, magi (Gentile noblemen, it would seem) come from afar to worship Jesus as “the King of the Jews” (2:2). Not only do these Gentile noblemen recognize the authority of Jesus, Herod and the people of Jerusalem also acknowledge the authority of Jesus in a different way. When they hear from the magi that the “King of the Jews” has been born, they are greatly troubled, along with Herod (2:3). I think their distress would be something like that of the political appointees in Washington D. C. learning that the opposing candidate for president just won the election. Herod would hardly set out to kill all boy babies two years old and younger (2:16-18) unless he regarded Jesus as a “clear and present danger.” In other words, Herod had respect for the authority of Jesus. Why try to kill someone whose authority does not pose a threat to you?

missions

missions

In chapter 3, we again find evidence of our Lord’s authority. He, like Saul and David, was designated to be God’s choice for Israel’s king by one of the prophets. In this case, the prophet was John the Baptist. He announces the coming appearance of Jesus with the words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” John identifies his ministry and the coming kingdom by appealing to the words of the prophet Isaiah, cited in verse 3. It is not just Jesus who is coming; it is the kingdom of heaven. This is a kingdom whose origin is heaven – He will reign with authority from heaven. And His kingdom requires repentance. The Messiah will come to judge the wicked and to make things right. What earthly kingdom requires repentance to enter it? And if this is not enough, chapter 3 ends with a divine endorsement from heaven at the time of our Lord’s baptism. Both the Father and the Spirit testify to the authority of Jesus.

In chapter 4, Jesus rejects Satan’s offer of delegated authority over the kingdoms of the world (4:8-10). Satan offers Jesus something less than what will rightfully be His – “all authority, in heaven and on earth” – given to Him by the Father (Matthew 28:18). The miracles described in the closing verses of chapter 4 serve to underscore the authority of Jesus in His teaching. Thus, when we come to the end of the Sermon on the Mount we see the crowds responding in this way:

28 When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, 29 because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law (Matthew 7:28-29).

Luke’s Gospel makes a point of linking the authority of Jesus in His teaching to His authority over the unclean spirits:

31 So he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he began to teach the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. 33 Now in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him: “Silence! Come out of him!” Then, after the demon threw the man down in their midst, he came out of him without hurting him. 36 They were all amazed and began to say to one another, “What’s happening here? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 So the news about him spread into all areas of the region (Luke 4:31-37).

It is amazing to see that a Gentile centurion has a greater grasp of our Lord’s authority than those who are Jewish:

5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help: 6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” 7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! 11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour (Matthew 8:4-13, emphasis mine).

By faith, the centurion recognized that Jesus had great authority – greater authority than he had. Being a man of authority, the centurion was used to having those under him obey his commands, even at a distance. If this was true for him, then surely Jesus would be able to heal his servant without making the journey to his house. Jesus commended this man’s faith, indicating that there would be many Gentiles in the kingdom of heaven, while many of the Jews would be cast into outer darkness.

Later on in chapter 8 (verses 23-27), Jesus stills the storm, causing His disciples to marvel at His authority:

And the men were amazed and said, “What sort of person is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Matthew 8:27)

But our Lord is not finished causing men to marvel, so that in chapter 9 He claims the authority to forgive sins (9:1-8). This, of course, greatly disturbed some of the scribes, because they realized that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7). Since they rejected His claim to deity, they reasoned that He must be guilty of blasphemy (Matthew 9:3). By healing the paralytic, Jesus authenticated His claim to be God, and thus to have the authority to forgive sins (9:5-8).

In chapter 10, Jesus sent out His 12 disciples, delegating His authority to them so that they had the power to cast out unclean spirits and cure every kind of disease and sickness (10:1). In addition to this, they were given the authority to raise the dead (10:8). I like the way Luke puts this:

After Jesus called the twelve together, he gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases (Luke 9:1, emphasis mine; also note Luke 10:19).

In chapter 11, we find a reference to another aspect of our Lord’s authority:

26 “Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him” (Matthew 11:26-27).

Jesus here claims the authority to determine those to whom He will reveal the Father. His authority includes sovereign control over the salvation of men. Jesus also makes this same claim in His high priestly prayer in the Gospel of John:

1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you— 2 just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him” (John 17:1-2).

In both texts (Matthew 11:26-27 and John 17:1-2), it is apparent that our Lord’s authority over the salvation of men is granted by the Father. This includes our Lord’s authority to judge and condemn men to hell (see Luke 12:4-5John 5:27).

In chapter 12, we find the account of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our Lord’s manner of entering the city, along with His cleansing of the temple and possession of it for teaching, is a bold claim to authority, a claim that is quickly challenged:

38 Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:38-40).

Now after Jesus entered the temple courts, the chief priests and elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)

When we compare Matthew’s account of the temple cleansing to John’s reference to our Lord’s earlier cleansing of the temple, we can see that the request for a sign was a demand for proof of His authority to do what He had done:

14 He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.” 18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” (John 2:14-18)

In Matthew 16, we find Peter’s great confession, followed by a statement from our Lord concerning the church:

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven” (Matthew 16:15-19).

This is the first of two references to the church in Matthew’s Gospel; none of the other Gospels contain a reference to the church. Based upon His identity as the Christ, the promised Messiah, Jesus declares that He will build His church, a church that will break through the gates of Hell and set some of Satan’s captives free. In addition, our Lord delegates authority to His apostles, the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” (16:19). It is the apostles who will declare the basis on which men’s sins are forgiven. This power to bind and loose is further described in the context of church discipline in Matthew 18:15-20.

The words of God the Father at our Lord’s transfiguration are but another evidence of His authority:

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

In Matthew 12 (verses 38-40), Jesus indicated that His resurrection would be the ultimate and final evidence or sign of His authority. I believe that His opponents understood this to some degree (see Matthew 27:62-66). It is no wonder that Jesus’ claim to absolute authority, in heaven and on earth, follows the account of His resurrection (28:1-15).

Jesus’ Authority in the Rest of the New Testament

It is not just Matthew who emphasizes the authority of our Lord Jesus, particularly with reference to His resurrection. Consider these other texts, which follow, but without much comment:

Our Lord’s authority to lay down His life, and to take it up again:

18 No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father” (John 10:18).

Our Lord’s authority over Pilate (implied):

10 So Pilate said, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you know I have the authority to release you, and to crucify you?” 11 Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin” (John 19:10-11).

Our Lord’s authority to bestow the Holy Spirit and to forgive sins:

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” 22 And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained” (John 20:21-23).

God will grant Jesus absolute authority over everything, but after His absolute authority is established, Jesus gives this authority back to the Father:

32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand 2:35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-36).

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:20-24).

What a contrast there is between our Lord and Satan. Satan seems to be placed “second in command,” under God the Father, but he is not content with this. He wants to be “like God;” he wants the authority of the Father, and he rebels against God in a futile effort to attain this position (see Isaiah 14:13-15). Jesus, on the other hand, is subordinate to His Father. God exalts Jesus to the place of ultimate power and preeminence, but Jesus hands this back to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:20-24).

Paul’s epistles highlight the authority of Christ as a result of His resurrection:

20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:20-21, emphasis mine).

8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death —even death on a cross! 9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow —in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-11, emphasis mine).

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:15-17, emphasis mine).

8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 11 In him you also were circumcised—not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ. 12 Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. 13 And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. 14 He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:8-15, emphasis mine).

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15, emphasis mine).

21 And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you—not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to him (1 Peter 3:21-22, emphasis mine).

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come, because the accuser of our brothers, the one who accuses them day and night before our God, has been thrown down. 11 But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die (Revelation 12:10-11, emphasis mine).

Conclusion

The absolute authority of our Lord Jesus Christ should come as no surprise. By the way, absolute authority has a name: sovereignty. Our Lord claims sovereignty. His sovereignty vastly overshadows the authority of mere men, even great kings. This is something that King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way:

34 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me. I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his authority is an everlasting authority, and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one slaps his hand and says to him, ‘What have you done?’ 36 At that time my sanity returned to me. I was restored to the honor of my kingdom, and my splendor returned to me. My ministers and my nobles were seeking me out, and I was reinstated over my kingdom. I became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just. He is able to bring down those who live in pride (Daniel 4:34-37).

In our text, Matthew chooses to end his Gospel with Christ’s claim to absolute authority, as the basis of the Great Commission. We must now seek to explore how the sovereignty of our Savior is the basis for the Great Commission. How does the authority of our Lord impact His command to make disciples of all nations? This is a particularly important question because there are those who would assert that the sovereignty of God is contrary to man’s responsibility to make disciples. Let us therefore conclude this lesson by exploring some of the implications of the sovereignty of our Savior for missions and evangelism.

Let us begin by considering the implications of our Lord’s authority in light of the comments of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13:

5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help: 6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” 7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! 11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour (Matthew 8:5-13).

From the centurion’s faith-based statement, we can see that our Lord’s sovereignty empowers Him to give commands, with the assumption that those under His authority should promptly obey. He merely needs to speak the word (as He does in the Great Commission), and those under His authority should do as He has commanded. The Great Commission is a command, a command issued by the One who has all authority.

Secondly, when your authority is great, distance is not an issue. The centurion knew that Jesus had great authority, and thus He merely needed to speak the word that the servant be healed, and it would be done. Jesus may command His disciples to go to the most remote part of the world (Acts 1:8), and we should go. We should go knowing that His authority is as great there as it is anywhere.

In his early life, Abram had trouble grasping this truth (that God’s authority and control is over every part of the earth). When a famine came to the land of Canaan, Abram fled to Egypt. There he passed off his wife, Sarai, as his sister (Genesis 12:10-20). Later, Abraham (no longer called Abram) repeated the sin of passing off Sarah as his sister, this time to Abimelech (Genesis 20). When the Abimelech rebuked Abraham for his deceit, Abraham responded with this weak excuse:

10 Then Abimelech asked Abraham, “What prompted you to do this thing?” 11 Abraham replied, “Because I thought, ‘Surely no one fears God in this place. They will kill me because of my wife’” (Genesis 20:10-11).

Abraham’s God was “too small” (to borrow the expression from J. B. Phillips). Abraham thought that since he was far from home, God was no longer in control, and thus his need for deceit. God’s control is absolute, and thus there is nowhere we can go that He will not be sovereignly in control.

Thirdly, let us learn from the story of the centurion that believing in God’s absolute control and authority is a matter of faith. You and I know that is true. When we are afraid, it is a failure of faith, a failure to trust that God is in complete control of the events of our lives.

Now, let us consider the implications of our Lord’s sovereignty in relation to our ability to carry out the Great Commission. Having authority means having the power to carry out what we purpose to do. When Jesus claimed all authority, He was implying what He states clearly elsewhere – that He will give His disciples the power to carry out the Great Commission:

After Jesus called the twelve together, He gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases (Luke 9:1).

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Messiah would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:45-49, emphasis mine).

4 While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me” (Acts 1:4).

8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned (John 16:8-11).

Without the power of the Holy Spirit, our efforts are useless:

They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these (2 Timothy 3:5).

Consider the implications of the sovereignty of our Lord as it relates to our motivation to carry out the Great Commission. Knowing that the One who commanded us to go and make disciples of every nation is in absolute control, we have great confidence and boldness, even when we meet opposition. Note the boldness of the apostles in proclaiming Christ:

evangelism

evangelism

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, replied, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today for a good deed done to a sick man—by what means this man was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.” 13 When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:8-13, emphasis mine).

23 When they were released, Peter and John went to their fellow believers and reported everything the high priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, “Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, 25 who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather, ‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot foolish things? 26 The kings of the earth stood together, and the rulers assembled together, against the Lord and against his Christ.’ 27 “For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do as much as your power and your plan had decided beforehand would happen. 29 And now, Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage, 30 while you extend your hand to heal, and to bring about miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously (Acts 4:23-31).

10 For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. 11 For if what was made ineffective came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, 13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective (2 Corinthians 3:10-13, emphasis mine).

The sovereignty of God has great implications for the message we preach. If Christ is sovereign over all – has full authority, in heaven and on earth – then to whom would we point men, other than to Him? Our message should be Christ, crucified, buried, raised, and elevated to a position of unchallenged, unlimited power and authority.

But we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23).

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says about him, ‘I saw the Lord always in front of me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken. 2:26 Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my body also will live in hope, 2:27 because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor permit your Holy One to experience decay. 2:28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of joy with your presence.’ 29 “Brothers, I can speak confidently to you about our forefather David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 So then, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 David by foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his body experience decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand 2:35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:22-36).

27 For the people who live in Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him, and they fulfilled the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath by condemning him. 28 Though they found no basis for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had accomplished everything that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem. These are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 33 that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’ 34 But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’ 35 Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.’ 36 For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, 37 but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay. 38 Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you. 40 Watch out, then, that what is spoken about by the prophets does not happen to you: 41 ‘Look, you scoffers; be amazed and perish! For I am doing a work in your days, a work you would never believe, even if someone tells you’” (Acts 13:27-41).

The sovereignty of our Savior prohibits “Pollyanna preaching.” We dare not preach only the “happy texts” of the Bible. We must preach the whole gospel. And the whole gospel is that because Jesus Christ has all authority, in heaven and on earth, when He returns to the earth He will both deliver His saints into His kingdom, and He will doom His enemies to an eternity in hell. We dare not leave out the warning to condemned sinners that Jesus is coming again to judge His enemies. The warning of judgment is found throughout the Old Testament and the New. In the New, John the Baptist warned men that Christ’s coming would not be “good news” for many (see Matthew 3:1-12). Peter and Paul preached the same kind of gospel (see Acts 2 and 13 above). The absolute authority of Christ is a comfort to believers, and a terrifying reality to the lost:

5 This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering. 6 For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. 8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10 when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed—and you did in fact believe our testimony (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

If the Lord who sent us to proclaim the gospel has absolute authority, then surely the message we preach should be an authoritative message. The gospel message is, then, a command that men are to obey. I am not denying the element of appeal, but our appeal should never conceal the authority of the One for whom and of whom we are speaking. Paul speaks of us as ambassadors, and that we are:

Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

We have no need of watering down the gospel or of adding to it. We need to be very careful about “marketing” the gospel in a way that diminishes it, and the glory of the One of whom and for whom we are speaking.

And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:16b-17).

1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. 2 But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

The sovereignty of our Lord Jesus Christ means He is both our salvation and our security. Those whom He saves, He sanctifies. Those whom He saves are secure, in Him.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you” (John 15:16).

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

31 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).

Praise God that the One who chose us to follow Him, and who commanded us to make disciples of all nations, is Sovereign. The sovereignty of God is the basis for the Great Commission.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, Studies in the Gospel of Matthew

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28)

Introduction

13 “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour. 14 For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. 18 But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. 19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 25:13-30). 

It is a simple story that our Lord tells here. A man who is preparing to leave on a journey entrusts his possessions to his servants. He distributes his wealth among three servants, apportioned to them on the basis of their abilities. To the first he entrusted five talents, to the second two talents, and to the third one talent. The first two servants quickly set to work with their master’s money. The third servant did not invest his master’s money at all; he dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. When the master returned, the first two eagerly met their master, apparently delighted in the opportunity to multiply their master’s money. Both were commended as “good and faithful servants”; both were rewarded with increased responsibilities in their master’s service; both were invited to share in their master’s joy.

The master’s dealings with the third servant is a very different matter. This servant came to his master with only the talent his master had originally entrusted to him. He did not increase his master’s money at all. In fact, if this were to take place today, that money would likely be worth less, due to inflation. This servant offered a feeble excuse for his conduct. He told his master that he was a harsh and cruel man, a man who was demanding, and who expected gain where he had not labored. He contended that this is why he was afraid to take a risk with any kind of investment. And so he simply hid the money, and now he returned it, without any gain. The master rebuked this slave for being evil and lazy. He took his talent from him, gave it to the one who earned ten, and cast this fellow into outer darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We should carefully note the outcome of faithful service, and of unfaithful service, in this parable. Faithful service led to increased responsibilities in the kingdom of heaven, and eternal joy in the presence of the Master, Jesus Christ. Unfaithful service led to condemnation, the removal of one’s stewardship, and an eternity of weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness, away from the presence of our Lord.

One must surely conclude that this parable is not just an interesting story, but a message of eternal significance. Let us listen carefully then, looking to God’s Spirit to enlighten our hearts and minds, and to empower our service, to the glory of God and our eternal good.

A Similar Parable

Luke 19:11-27

It would probably be unwise to study the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 without also considering a similar parable in Luke 19:11-27:

11 While the people were listening to these things, Jesus proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. 12 Therefore he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 And he summoned ten of his slaves, gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to be king over us!’ 15 When he returned after receiving the kingdom, he summoned these slaves to whom he had given the money. He wanted to know how much they had earned by trading. 16 So the first one came before him and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’ 18 Then the second one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 So the king said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another slave came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina that I put away for safekeeping in a piece of cloth. 21 For I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You withdraw what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 The king said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! So you knew, did you, that I was a severe man, withdrawing what I didn’t deposit and reaping what I didn’t sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money in the bank, so that when I returned I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to his attendants, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has ten.’ 25 But they said to him, ‘Sir, he has ten minas already!’ 26 ‘I tell you that everyone who has will be given more, but from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be their king, bring them here and slaughter them in front of me!’”

ParablesThe similarities between the parable in Matthew 25 and this parable in Luke’s Gospel are easily seen:

  • man goes to another country, stays a long time, and then returns.
  • man allocates his resources to servants, expecting them to make a profit in his absence.
  • first two servants are faithful; they are praised by their master and are given greater authority.
  • third servant hides what was entrusted to him.
  • third servant seeks to excuse himself by accusing his master of being harsh.
  • third servant claims that he was afraid of his master.
  • third servant does not make a profit for his master.
  • first two servants are commended and go to heaven; the third is condemned and goes to hell.
  • master tells his unfaithful servant that he should have put the money in the bank.
  • which was given to the third (unfaithful) servant is taken away and given to the faithful servant who gained the most for his master.

While the parable in Luke is similar to our parable in Matthew 25, there are some significant differences:

  • parable in Luke is told when Jesus was near Jerusalem, before His triumphal entry; in Matthew, the parable is told when Jesus was in Jerusalem, a few days later.
  • Luke there are ten servants; in Matthew, there are only three.
  • Luke, the man who went away is a nobleman who leaves to obtain a kingdom; in Matthew, no such information is given.
  • Luke, the man who went away gives each servant the same amount of money (one mina); in Matthew, talents are given to the three slaves according to their ability.
  • Luke, the slaves are instructed to “do business” with the money entrusted to them; no such statement is found in Matthew (though we can rightly make this inference).
  • in Luke is there another group, in addition to the master’s servants – those who don’t want this man to become their king, and who send a message asking him not to return. These rebels are slaughtered.
  • Luke, we are told that the reason for the parable was to correct the misconception that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately; no such reason is stated in Matthew.

The temptation is for us to carry details from the parable in Luke’s Gospel over to Matthew’s account, but we should be careful about this, recognizing that these parables, while similar, were told on different occasions and contain significant differences.

An Explanation of the Paragraph Division

My study of this text has caused me to conclude that the paragraph breaks related to our text are confusing at best, and wrong at worst. Specifically, I am speaking of Matthew 25:13:

“Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

Does verse 13 belong with verses 1-12, or with verses 14-30? I am now inclined to say that verse 13 fits best with verses 14-30. Let me explain my reasons for reaching this conclusion, in spite of the fact that it differs with the generally accepted divisions (verses 1-13, verses 14-30, verses 31-46).

(1) Verse 13 does not really seem to fit with verses 1-12, or to contribute to their message. How does “not knowing the day or the hour” affect either the five wise virgins or the five foolish virgins? The difference is not that one group knew the hour, and the other didn’t. Neither group knew when the groom was coming. The difference is that one group brought oil for their lamps, and the others did not. As I was teaching the parable of the virgins, I could not see how verse 13 served as any kind of conclusion to the first 12 verses.

(2) Many of the commentaries acknowledge the abruptness of verse 14 as the first verse of a new paragraph. But none of them adequately explain it. I contend that verse 14 does not begin the new paragraph, but that verse 13 does.

(3) In my opinion, the main reason for assuming that verse 13 belongs with verses 1-12 is that the term (Greek, ou=n) is most often inferential, with the meaning “therefore” or “then.” It is not always an indication of a logical conclusion, however. Sometimes the term is not translated at all. Sometimes it is merely a connective, a virtual conjunction. I believe this may be the case in our text.

(4) The expression which begins verse 14 (Greek, w[sper ga.r) is employed 11 times elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 12:40; 24:27, 37; 25:14Luke 17:24John 5:21, 26Romans 5:19; 6:19; 11:301 Corinthians 11:12; 15:22James 2:26). Never, other than in our text (according to most versions), is it employed to begin a new paragraph. Indeed, it is used to explain what has been said before. In Matthew, this is especially clear in 12:40; 24:27, 37.

(5) In the similar parable in Luke 19 (while told at a different time and with numerous variations), it begins with a time indication:

While the people were listening to these things, Jesus proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately (Luke 19:11).

In other words, Luke informs us that Jesus told this parable specifically to correct some misconceptions about the time of His return. Thus, time seems to be a more important factor in verses 14-31 than in 1-13. I thus take verse 13 as the first verse of this new paragraph.

Keys to the Interpretation of Matthew’s Parable of the Talents

In order to understand the meaning and the application of the parable of the talents, we must take note of the crucial terms and their meanings. Let me call your attention to the most important elements of the parable, as I now understand it.

The element of time. Time has been a significant factor in our Lord’s teaching concerning His coming and the end of the age, beginning in chapter 24. Jesus made it clear that His return would not be immediate, but after much trouble and the passing of a considerable period of time. While there would be sufficient evidence for His followers to discern the general “season” of His return, neither the day nor the hour would be known (Matthew 24:32-36, 42). Beyond this, His return would come at a time when it was not expected (Matthew 24:44). In the parable of the talent, there are two clear references to time. First, the master stayed away for a long time (Matthew 25:19). Second, the faithful servants immediately went to work to increase their master’s money (Matthew 25:16-17).

The element of money. It is indeed unfortunate that the term “talent” means something very different today from what our Lord meant when He told this parable. The talent was the largest measurement of money in those days. Since a talent was actually a measurement of weight, it did not have a constant value. A talent of gold, for example, would be worth a whole lot more than a talent of bronze. While commentators differ somewhat over the approximate value of a talent in today’s economy, all would agree that it was a large amount of money. Some say that it was the equivalent to 20 years’ wages for a common laborer. We must remember, then, that a talent is a measure of money; it is not a reference to abilities. The talents were distributed on the basis of ability, not as the bestowing of ability.

We should be careful to recognize that in this parable the mere possession of a talent is not evidence of salvation. The one-talent slave is clearly not saved; he is condemned to hell. In a similar way, in the parable of the soils (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23) the mere germination of the seed does not seem to represent salvation. It would appear that only the fourth soil represents the true believer. The second and third soils represent those who initially show some interest in the gospel, but then reject it when the meaning of the gospel becomes clear. The true believer is represented by the seed that grows, that endures, and that bears fruit.

From the parable of the talents we seem to be informed that unbelievers are entrusted with certain things, and that they will also give account for their stewardship. I believe that there are other texts of Scripture which indicate that God has entrusted (by common grace, in some cases) certain assets to all men, and that all men are accountable to God for how they use (or do not use) these resources which God has entrusted to them. I believe that we see this in Romans 9, where Paul speaks of the things God has entrusted Israel:

1 I am telling the truth in Christ (I am not lying!), for my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed—cut off from Christ—for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen, 4 who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen (Romans 9:1-5).

Our Lord’s rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees is often couched in “stewardship” terms. God entrusted Israel, and especially its leaders, with the truth, and they did not use it properly.

The element of work. This is the reason I was critical of the translation of verse 16 (see footnote 1 above). The original text is quite clear here – it is the first servant (and we assume the second, as well) who immediately sets to work with his master’s money. It is not the money that goes to work, as such, but the worker. When the third servant’s excuses are set aside, it becomes evident that this man is lazy – he didn’t do any work. He didn’t even hand the money over to bankers, to let them go to work with it.

The element of profit. I have often been puzzled over these words, repeated several times in the New Testament:

“For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Matthew 25:29; see also 13:12; Mark 4:25Luke 8:18; 19:26).

How is it that the one “who does not have” has something taken from him? How can you take something away from a person who has nothing? I now see the answer, which appears to be consistent with all of the places where this principle is set forth. The one “who does not have” but yet does “have” (because what he has is taken away) is the one who has his master’s money, but has made no profit from it. The third servant has no profit, no gain, to give his master, so his talent is taken away and given to the one who went to work with his master’s money and made great gains for him.

We find this same principle stated in connection with the parable of the soils (Matthew 13:12Mark 4:25Luke 8:18). The soil which produces no grain (in other instances, no fruit, or no profit) is bad soil. Only the soil that produces a crop is “good” soil. And so it is that those who over time work with what they are entrusted, in order to make a profit for their master, are rewarded for their faithfulness. Those who are unfaithful lose not only their reward, but their stewardship.

Judgment Day

REWARD AND PUNISHMENT

After being gone a long time, the master returns to settle up with his slaves (verse 19). Two of the slaves seem eager to show their master what they have accomplished in his absence. The first presents his master with ten talents. He doubled the money his master entrusted to him. The second slave presents his master with four talents. He, too, doubled the money his master left in his care. Both of these faithful slaves are rewarded well for their faithful service. First, they receive their master’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (verses 21, 23). Second, because they have proven themselves to be faithful with the few things entrusted to them, they are now given even greater responsibilities by their master.

Third, they are invited to “enter into the joy of your master.” Just what does this mean, to enter into the master’s joy? We’ll talk about this a bit later, but for the moment, I am inclined to understand this expression in contrast to another in our text, “‘And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 25:30). The “joy of the master” must, in some way, equate to enjoying the bliss of heaven, with our Lord. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” in outer darkness” must, on the other hand, involve spending eternity without God, and without joy. I am reminded of this passage in the Book of Hebrews:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up (Hebrews 12:1-3, emphasis mine).

The “joy” that was before our Lord would seem to include the salvation of lost sinners (Luke 15:4-10). Is the salvation of lost sinners not “profit” in the eternal sense? Is this not fruit? Is this not cause for rejoicing (see Acts 11:19-24)? As a businessman takes pleasure in making a profit, so our Lord takes pleasure in the profit gained by His faithful servants in His absence. And part of the reward the faithful slave is entering into is the joy of his Master in bringing salvation to men.

The third slave is an entirely different matter. This slave does absolutely nothing with the talent that has been entrusted to him, nothing but bury it, that is. We need to distinguish between his excuses and the master’s assessment, both of which are conveyed in our text. The slave’s excuse was that his master was a harsh man, and this caused him to be afraid of his master, thus doing nothing with the money entrusted to him.

Assuming, for the moment, that the slave was correct in his assessment, why would he not be motivated by his fear to seek a profit for his master? If he were afraid to take any risk, then why did he not at least put the talent in the hands of the bankers, who would conservatively invest it for him, and gain at least some interest? Granted, the interest one gets from a savings account is not the kind of increase one might get from investing in the stock market, but it would at least be a small increase. This way the slave would not have to attend to the money on a day-by-day basis. A small gain could have been obtained without great risk or effort on the part of the slave, but he chose to do nothing at all. And the longer the master was gone, the more interest was lost by the slave’s inactivity.

Why, then, did the third slave do nothing? What distinguished him from the first two slaves? We should first consider the master’s assessment of all three slaves:

  • good
  • and faithful (the first two slaves)
  • lazy (the third slave)

The first two slaves were commended as being both “good” and “faithful.” The term “good” is sometimes employed in a moral sense.

He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” but others, “He deceives the common people” (John 7:12).

But this term is also used of that which is useful or beneficial:

17 “In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:17-18).

“Salt is good, but if salt loses its flavor, how can its flavor be restored?” (Luke 14:34)

“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus likewise bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish’” (Luke 16:25).

In our text, the “good” slave is the useful or beneficial slave, for he has gained a profit for his master. He is also “faithful” because he has been at work with his master’s money from the time he left until the time he returned. The third slave is just the opposite. He is “evil” in the sense that he is “useless,” or “unprofitable.” Notice how this same word is used in Matthew 7:

“In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad [literally rotten] tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17, emphasis mine).

The third slave is lazy, and thus useless, as opposed to being hard-working, and therefore useful. He does not “go to work” with his master’s money, over a lengthy period of time, and thus make a profit. He does no work for a lengthy period of time and thus is useless.

What, then, is the root of this third slave’s problem? I believe it is his view of his master, and thus the work his master has assigned.

“Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed’” (Matthew 25:24, emphasis mine).

The word “hard,” which this slave used to characterize his master, is far from flattering. It is the word Moses uses in Genesis 42:7, to describe Joseph’s disguise of “harshness” before his brothers. It is used in 1 Samuel 25:3 to describe Nabal, Abigail’s husband, who is a stubborn fool. Isaiah (48:4) uses this term to describe Israel’s abstinence. It is also found in Jude 1:15 to describe the “harsh words” the unbelieving have said against God. In other words, the third slave looks upon his master as wicked, harsh, and impossible. This is his excuse for doing nothing. It is as though he had said, “I knew you were unreasonable, and that there was no way to please you, and so I decided not even to try.”

As I thought of this slave’s attitude toward his master, I was reminded of this passage in the Book of Exodus:

1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Release my people so that they may hold a pilgrim feast to me in the desert.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him by releasing Israel? I do not know the Lord, and I will not release Israel.” 3 And they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Let us go a three-day journey into the desert so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, so that he does not strike us with plague or the sword.” 4 Then the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you cause the people to refrain from their work? Return to your labor!” 5 Pharaoh was thinking, “The people of the land are now many, and you are giving them rest from their labor.” 6 That same day Pharaoh commanded the slave masters and foremen who were over the people: 7 “You must no longer give straw to the people for making bricks as before. Let them go and collect straw for themselves. 8 But you must require of them the same quota of bricks that they were making before. Do not reduce it, for they are slackers. That is why they are crying, ‘Let us go sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let the work be harder for the men so they will keep at it and pay no attention to lying words!” (Exodus 5:1-9)

Pharaoh was a “harsh master.” He demanded that the Israelites make bricks, but he refused to supply them with the necessary materials. He demanded that they make something out of nothing, so to speak. This slave actually thinks of his master as though he were a “Pharaoh” in character. But the master did provide the means for his slave to make a profit. He entrusted him with money, money suited to his abilities. It was not the master’s problem; it was the slave’s problem.

Is this not the way that our Lord’s adversaries looked at Him? They justified their rejection of Jesus by claiming that He was the problem. Indeed, they accused Him of being a wicked sinner, more worthy of death than Barabbas. How different was the outlook of the first two slaves. They seemed to delight in serving their master, and they were eager to get to work quickly to produce a profit for him. And they were right because he praised them and invited them to join him as participants in his joy.

Conclusion

It has taken a while for the thrust of this parable to come into focus for me. This parable is not primarily about faith, nor is it about being willing to take a risk (this was merely the wicked slave’s excuse). As we conclude, we should focus on what this parable is really about. Let us then consider the primary message in this text. I believe that this parable focuses on four major themes: resources, work, time and profit. If we were to make an equation of this parable, it would probably go like this:

Resources (talents) + Labor (work) + Time = Profit

Let’s begin with the end result – profit. God expects to see a profit. He is not harsh, nor does He require that we do the impossible (make a profit where He has not provided the means). He does not require us to “make bricks” without providing both the clay and the straw.

Just as a businessman expects to make a profit, and rejoices when his employees increase his wealth, so God expects a profit and rejoices in it. He has granted the time and the resources for men to make a profit for the kingdom of heaven, until He returns. The question for us to consider is this: Just how do we measure “spiritual profit”? This is probably a sermon in itself – perhaps even a book. I think we could all agree that the salvation of lost souls is a profit for the kingdom. Thus, evangelism is one form of spiritual profit. We know that God expects us to grow over time, and that He is displeased when we fail to grow:

11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature (Ephesians 4:11-13).

12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:12-14).

Thus, we can safely conclude that edification or spiritual growth is also profitable for the kingdom of heaven.

Most importantly, bringing glory to God is profitable. Let’s call this aspect of profit exaltation.

27 “Now my soul is greatly distressed. And what should I say? ‘Father, deliver me from this hour’? No, but for this very reason I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27-28).

For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:20).

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die (Philippians 1:20).

What if the church were to be scrutinized as a business? The first question one would ask is, “How much profit did it make?” We are so used to thinking in “non-profit” terms that we are almost shocked to hear such a question raised. Yet is this not what our Lord is teaching us in this parable? God expects a profit, and He holds us accountable for what we have done with what He has entrusted to us.

Pressing this matter just a little further, if the church were to be considered a business and every member were to be viewed as an employee, how many of us should reasonably expect to “keep our jobs”? Each one of us needs to ask the question, “Just what is it that I am doing that is kingdom work?” “Just what is it that I am doing for Christ and His kingdom that is “profitable”? This is a sobering question.

This whole matter of “profit” expands the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 6:

19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

I was talking about this text with a friend, and he said, “God expects the principle, plus interest.” I think that’s right. Too often we think of our Lord’s words in Matthew 6 in terms of the offering plate. We take a little money and put it in the plate, and by doing so we are “laying up treasure in heaven.” I don’t deny that this is true, in part, but it is not the whole of it. Our Lord’s teaching in the parable of the talents is that God expects profit that is the product of our labors. He provides the money and the ability, but we are expected to work hard with what He has given us, for the profit of the kingdom. In our parable, money is given to us to use, to work with, not just to give back. I wonder how many of us are simply giving back money that we have not put to use.

We need to pursue the element of work a bit further. First of all, let us be clear that we are not talking about salvation by works. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved unto good works:

8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

4 But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.” 8 This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on such truths, so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people (Titus 3:4-8).

Works are the result of faith, not a substitute for faith. Works are “fruits” that are evidence of true faith (see James 2). Works that produce a profit for the kingdom are the basis for our rewards.

The Relationship of Work to Retirement:
Is Retirement Burying Your Talent?

In one of my early trips, I went to the zoo. I saw something there that both amazed and troubled me. A poor man (a sort of enterprising beggar, perhaps) was busy entertaining the visitors to the zoo. It was his hope that in doing something spectacular he might receive a gift or donation. His entertainment was to torment one of the tigers. He made his way up to the bars, and then proceeded to harass this awesome beast. As his grand finale, the man reached in and pretend to pull the tiger’s whiskers. In my opinion, that’s living dangerously.

I realize that I am going to pull some whiskers by what I am about to say, but I think that I am being true to our text, and to the Bible as a whole. I fear that for all too many Christians (not all!) retirement has become a socially acceptable form of burying one’s talent. Let me see if I can defend my allegation.

My thinking on retirement in this lesson started with the observation that heaven is not the end of work, but the multiplication and continuation of work:

20 “The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew 25:20-21).

We would probably do well to compare this text with a couple of passages in the Gospel of Luke:

16 “So the first one came before him and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities’” (Luke 19:16-17).

10 “The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? 12 And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)

“Heaven is not to be thought of as me laying beside the pool, sipping a tall, cool one,” as one of my fellow elders commented this past week. Heaven is described in terms of work, not play, of activity, not passivity. The one who has been faithful on earth with a little thing like money will be given greater work to do in heaven. Heaven is not a hammock; it is not a glorified vacation. Heaven involves work, but it is profitable work. Christians will spend all eternity at work, and this work will include ruling with our Lord and praising Him.

Heaven’s work will be joyful labor. “Entering into the joy of our Master” is, in the context of our text, entering into profitable labor for all eternity. The degree to which our earthly labor has been faithful and profitable will determine the degree to which we enter into joyful labor in heaven.

At this point we would probably do well to look at work from a broader perspective; we should consider work from the beginning of time to eternity future. When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, He gave them work to do. This was paradise, my friend, and thus their work was not drudgery; it was a delight:

8 The Lord God planted an orchard in the east, in Eden; and there he placed the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow from the soil, every tree that was pleasing to look at and good for food. (Now the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the orchard.) … 15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for and maintain it (Genesis 2:8-9, 15).

It was not until after the fall of man that man’s labor became toil:

17 But to Adam he said, “Because you obeyed your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-19).

From that point on work was different; there was a certain “futility” to work:

18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now (Romans 8:18-22).

If Adam’s sin brought about painful labor for mankind, the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ (the “last Adam” – 1 Corinthians 15:45) brought rest:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).

This “rest” is not the end of all labor, however:

Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience (Hebrews 4:11).

In the Book of Revelation, heaven is described as a return to paradise lost:

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life—water as clear as crystal—pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. 3 And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him, 4 and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:1-4).

When our Lord talks about the kingdom of heaven in our text and elsewhere, He speaks of it in terms of work, not of relaxation or of play. Heaven can hardly be described in terms of retirement. Faithful saints are given even greater responsibilities, and even more work. But this work is joyful. Such labor is, to a large degree, entering into the joy of our Master. It is the end of the curse, and thus the end of futile labor. It is the continuation of fruitful, profitable labor.

I wonder how many have given serious thought to what might be called “the theology of retirement.” I would like to challenge every Christian to rethink the subject of retirement. For example, if work is toil, a part of the curse, then is retirement just an excuse to try and escape from the consequences of sin God has decreed? Is retirement a denial, in effect, of the curse?

It is clear that our Lord Jesus intended for us to be found “at work” when He returns:

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Matthew 24:45-47).

If this is the case, and we are to be at work until He comes, then why do we think that reaching a certain age entitles us to cease our labors for Him?

What have you been given

What have you been given

I am not arguing against retirement in the economic sense. I’m not saying that one should never cease their employment nor end their career. I am saying that our labors for the kingdom have no point of termination except for our Lord’s return, and even then fruitful labor will continue in heaven. I am suggesting that we have come to view retirement as that time in life when we can greatly reduce or terminate our giving, and when we can cease our service. Retirement is thought of more in terms of the golf course than “finishing our course” in the Pauline sense (2 Timothy 4:7).

The Christian should think about retirement in the same way he or she thinks of being single (if, indeed, you are):

32 And I want you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife, 34 and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world, how to please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your benefit, not to place a limitation on you, but so that without distraction you may give notable and constant service to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

Retirement is that period in life when one no longer has the distraction of having to work for a livelihood. It is a time when one should have the wisdom of age, financial freedom, and flexibility. Retirement is like the second stage of a rocket booster. Speed and thrust increase. Our labors for the Master should increase, not diminish, if we are kingdom minded.

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve

The lazy, wicked slave in our parable is that person who refuses to go to work with the resources God has provided, to produce profit for the kingdom of heaven. I am suggesting that the way some Christians look forward to, or practice, retirement is a form of burying your talent. There is no end to our labors for our God. If we loved our Master, we would view our labors for Him as joy. Working hard for the profit of the kingdom and the King is entering into the joy of our Master. And if our labors are joyful, we will delight in the thought of further labor. If we seek to shun the work our Lord has given us, it betrays a wrong attitude and relationship with our Master.

And so I will conclude by asking you this, my friend: Do you know and love the Master, Jesus Christ? By faith, have you entered into His labor, His saving work on your behalf on the cross of Calvary? Have you come to see that so far as your salvation is concerned, all of your works are like filthy rags in His sight (Isaiah 64:6Romans 3:9-20)? Have you trusted in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and in His death at Calvary for your sins, rather than in your works (Romans 3:21-26)? If so, then what is the fruitful labor God has given to you? What is your ministry, your unique contribution to the kingdom of God? What is it that you want Him to find you doing when He returns? Don’t bury what God has entrusted to you; go to work with it, for the glory of God, and for your eternal rewards.

It may be that you are not like the first two slaves, but like the third. Don’t blame it on God. He has richly provided all that you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:1-4). Trust in Jesus, for it is His work that will save you.

I will end with these words from our Lord to the church at Sardis. Please consider their relationship to our text, and to money, time, labor, and profit:

1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead. 2 Wake up then, and strengthen what remains that was about to die, because I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God3 Therefore, remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come against you. 4 But you have a few individuals in Sardis who have not stained their clothes, and they will walk with me dressed in white, because they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be dressed like them in white clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will declare his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 3:1-6, emphasis mine).

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, Studies in the Gospel of Matthew

The Ten Virgins: What It Means to Be Ready (Matthew 25:1-13)

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish ones took their lamps, they did not take extra olive oil with them. 4 But the wise ones took flasks of olive oil with their lamps. 5 When the bridegroom was delayed a long time, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is here! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There won’t be enough for you and for us. Go instead to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they had gone to buy it, the bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready went inside with him to the wedding banquet. Then the door was shut. 11 Later, the other virgins came too, saying, ‘Lord, lord! Let us in!’ 12 But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you!’ 13 Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13).

Introduction

How many of you have ever run out of gas? In most audiences, this would be nearly everyone. I cannot verify these statistics, so I caution you that they may be flawed. It would appear that every year at least a half million people call for help because they have run out of gas. Besides flat tires, dead batteries, and misplaced keys, running out of gas ranks right up there in the reasons why people call for roadside service. One might understand this happening a generation ago, when gas gauges were not entirely accurate, and when all the warning lights of our day were non-existent. But now we have warning messages that our fuel is running low (giving us perhaps an hour more of driving), and then additional progressively urgent warnings indicating just how many estimated miles of driving we have left. One must say that most people who run out of fuel are “without excuse.”

Why, then, do we do it, seemingly as often today as people did years ago, when all of the advantages of technology were not available? We’ll come back to this question at the end of our message. In our text, it is not gasoline that is lacking, but olive oil  the fuel burned in the lamps of Jesus’ day. And, I believe we will discover that the five foolish virgins did not really “run out” of oil; they never had it.

The Context

Before we get to the parable, we would do well to remind ourselves of the context. In response to the disciples’ request to know what sign would signal our Lord’s coming and the end of the age (Matthew 24:3), Jesus spoke to them about the last days. He made it clear that the end would not come immediately, but only after considerable time and troubles (Matthew 24:4-31). Our Lord issued various warnings (Matthew 24:4-5, 10-11, 23-28), because during these troubled times there would be many interlopers, who would seek to turn men’s attention and affections away from Jesus, the true Messiah.

In verses 32-51 of chapter 24, Jesus speaks of what His disciples can and cannot know, and on the basis of both, He gives some specific words of instruction regarding the last times.

32 “Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 36 “But as for that day and hour no one knows it”not even the angels in heaven”except the Father alone. 37 For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 38 For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 There will be two women grinding grain with a mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. 45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that evil slave should say to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards, 50 then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, 51 and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:32-51).

The parable of the fig tree is employed to teach us that there are certain signs which indicate the “season” of His return. When the fig tree begins to sprout new leaves, we can be assured that summer is near. So, too, when we see “all these things” “ that is, the things Jesus has just described, including the abomination of desolation “ then we can be assured that the season of our Lord’s return is at hand. Just how broad is this time frame, this season? One generation in length (Matthew 24:34).

Although we are meant to recognize the “season” of our Lord’s return, we are not meant to know the exact time not the day nor the hour. This is consistent with God’s dealings with this world in the past. Specifically, we can see this in relation to the flood. No one “ not even Noah “ knew the exact day or hour that the flood would come. I believe we can safely say that at least Noah knew the season. We can see this when we read in Genesis 7:

13 On that very day Noah entered the ark, accompanied by his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, along with his wife and his sons’ three wives. 14 They entered, along with every living creature after its kind, every animal after its kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life came into the ark to Noah. 16 Those that entered were male and female, just as God commanded him. Then the Lord shut him in. 17 The flood engulfed the earth for forty days. As the waters increased, they lifted the ark and raised it above the earth (Genesis 7:12-17).

Noah had spent many years building the ark. He knew that the season for divine judgment was near, but he did not know the exact day. Then one day God gave orders to board the ark. It was God who closed the door, and then He sent the flood. The people of Noah’s day had no “early warning” that the flood was coming. When judgment came, it came quickly, and without warning; there was no opportunity for those under judgment to change their minds and to board the ark.

The same will be true in last days (Matthew 24:39). There will be no dramatic indications that “the day” or “the hour” (of judgment) has come. Two men will be in the field, going about their normal daily routine; one will be taken, the other will be left. Two women will be grinding grain, just as they normally would; one will be taken, the other will be left (Matthew 24:40-41).

The application is now spelled out in verses 42-44. Since no one can know the day or the hour that the Lord will come, we must be constantly in a state of alertness, ready at any moment. Jesus illustrates His point with the example of a burglary. If the owner of the home had known the hour when the burglary would occur, he would have made sure to prevent it. But, in fact, he did not know the hour. One might even conjecture that he was not even aware that a burglary would take place. Thus, it caught him off guard, to his loss.

We might illustrate the need for readiness in a different way. Firemen are trained and equipped to fight fires. They know there will be fires, but they don’t know when. And so they are in a constant state of readiness, even when they sleep. Their clothing is all laid out so they can quickly dress and get to the fire. Sometimes I see the fire truck outside the grocery store where I shop. The firemen are in the store, buying food. But they also have their portable radios in hand, ready to rush out if word of a fire is received.

We, too, must be ready, Jesus tells us. We do not know the hour of His return, and more than this, the coming of the Son of Man will be at a time that we don’t expect. From the context of chapter 24, I am tempted to think that while His return will be preceded by very difficult days, the actual day of His return will appear to be trouble-free, much like the day Noah and his family entered the ark. (I’ll bet the sky was blue and clear all day long.) When Jesus returns, people will be going about their normal routines because there will be no sign of imminent danger. We therefore must be ready at all times.

Just what does being alert look like? In Matthew 24:45-51, Jesus describes how He desires to find His disciples when He does return going about the tasks He has assigned them. The “faithful and wise slave” knows that his master may not return for some time, but he also knows that he has been instructed to feed and care for his fellow slaves (Matthew 24:45). And so he uses the time of his master’s absence to fulfill his mission. And because this is his normal routine, his master will find him at his appointed work when he returns, even though the hour of his return is unknown (Matthew 24:46-47). The evil slave interprets his master’s prolonged delay very differently. He concludes that his master’s return is yet in the distant future. He may also assume that he will be given some forewarning, so that he will have time to “clean up his act” in time to look good for his master. And so he misappropriates his master’s resources and ignores his master’s instructions. Instead of caring for his fellow slaves by feeding them, he feeds himself and his cronies, indulging himself and others in that which should be given to his fellow slaves. This man will be cut in two and assigned to hell with his fellow hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:48-51).

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

There are several things we need to consider before we attempt to interpret this parable. First, we need to recognize that this is a selective account. There are many details omitted. From where is the groom coming? Where are the virgins waiting? What will happen there? What role do the lamps play in this ceremony and celebration? And, perhaps most notable, where is the bride? She is never mentioned. It is obviously the groom who is central to this story (after all, it is about the coming of the Messiah at the end of the age).

Second, we may not be looking at a typical wedding. I doubt that in most wedding celebrations the groom would exclude bridesmaids for forgetting to bring oil for their lamps. I doubt that arriving late, as five of the virgins did, would keep them from gaining entrance to the celebration. This seems to be a rather exceptional situation, and not a typical event. Thus, knowledge of how wedding ceremonies were conducted in those days (largely gained from sources outside the Bible) will not prove that helpful. This extra-biblical information is not the key to understanding our text.

Ten Virgins

Ten Virgins

Third, we need to set aside our 20th century assumptions about weddings, bridesmaids and lamps. Specifically, we must not think of these lamps in terms that are familiar to us. The word which is used for “lamp” here (lampas) is not the normal term for “lamp” in Matthew, or in the New Testament. It is used five times in this parable of the virgins in Matthew 25, once in John 18:3, once in Acts 20:8, and twice in Revelation (4:5; 8:10). The lampas is more of a torch, a larger, brighter “lamp” than that which is normally used inside a house. In John 18:3, the lampas was the torch held by those who came in the night to arrest Jesus near the Garden of Gethsemane. There were many of these larger lamps in the room where Paul was teaching in Acts 20:8 (thus the extra warmth which must have contributed to the young man’s sleepiness and fatal fall).

From what I have learned, this lampas was not like any of the oil lamps some have collected. There was no glass chimney, no neat wick or adjusting device, and no attached tank in which oil would be stored. It was more like a large, flat, bowl, with a rag or rope-like “wick.” Apparently this kind of lamp could be attached to a pole, and used as an outdoor torch to illuminate one’s steps in the darkness. The word “trim,” employed by almost every translation, is a word which is found ten times in the King James Version, but only once (here in Matthew 25:7) is it rendered “trim.” This gives us a modern-day mental image of a bridesmaid (virgin) adjusting the wick upward in her glass-topped lamp, lighting it with a match. I think she was preparing the lamp by fixing it to a pole and then lighting the rag or primitive wick.

Fourth, we need to rid ourselves of the false conception that the five foolish virgins ran out of oil. The text is clear on this point; the five foolish virgins never brought any oil with them. A footnote in the Bible indicates that the word “extra” is not found in the Greek text, but has been supplied because the context implies it. I don’t think so at all. Surely the author is able to clearly supply this detail, so crucial to the interpretation of this parable. But he did not. Why do we wish to think they brought any oil with them? Perhaps it is because we read that the virgins claimed that their lamps were “going out” in verse 8. Would they all have been burning their torches for lighting the inside of the house where they all waited and slept? Would there not be the normal lighting in that place? Why would all five run out at the same time, just when they were preparing their lamps?

I would understand that the lamps were transported without oil in them. If they traveled in the daylight, these lamps would not have been needed on their journey to the wedding place. The reason the wise virgins brought oil was because the oil was carried in flasks and added to the lamps at the time of need. There must have been some residue of oil on the rag or wick of the five empty lamps, which quickly burned out, only moments after being lit. This would explain why all five torches went out at the same time. Perhaps, too, these foolish virgins minimized their foolishness by describing their plight as “running out” so as to look less foolish.

Not only is the text clear about the foolish virgins bringing no oil with them, it is difficult to interpret the parable if, indeed, they did run out of oil. The difference between the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins is salvation. These five foolish virgins were not once saved, but then “ran out” of salvation. They were lost, and never had it. They never had oil. They were just empty lamps. They looked useful, they seemed to give promise of light, but they never produced it. Let us not seek to supply what the author has purposefully omitted (any oil) in a way that makes us feel better about the story. We are not supposed to feel good about these five foolish, oil-less virgins.

With these things in mind, let us seek to paraphrase the story. There was a wedding, to which ten young virgins were invited as participants. It would seem that in some way they were instructed to bring lamps, so that at the right time they could form or lead some kind of torchlight procession. All ten virgins brought their lamps, but only five brought the necessary oil as well. They all waited for the groom to arrive. Time passed and darkness set in. The groom tarried longer than expected and so all ten bridesmaids (virgins) slept until he arrived. Suddenly, at midnight someone cried out that the groom was approaching. All ten virgins are awakened by this cry, and they begin to prepare their lamps for ceremonial service. The need for these lamps is now particularly obvious (it is midnight, pitch dark). The five foolish virgins ask the five wise virgins to share their oil, but their request is denied. It wasn’t that the five wise virgins didn’t care; it was because there would not be enough oil for all ten lamps. Better to have a torchlight parade with five working lamps than with ten non-functioning, lightless, lamps. The foolish virgins were told to go purchase their own oil, which they did. But during their absence the torchlight parade took place, and the groom, accompanied by the five wise virgins entered the celebration hall. The doors were then closed. Later, the five foolish virgins arrived, with oil, but it was too late. That part of the festivities had already been completed. There was no need for the services of these five virgins, and they were not allowed to enter and join in the wedding celebration. Even though the five virgins pled, “Lord, Lord … ,” they were sent away with the words, “I do not know you!” Our Lord then concludes this parable by applying it to His disciples (and thus the church). He urges His disciples to stay alert, because they, too, do not know the day or the hour of His return.

As we consider the interpretation and application of this parable, we should begin by observing that it is but one of several parables in this discourse. All of the parables have to do with what we do and do not know about the coming of Christ at the end of the age. Jesus assures us that we should be able to discern the season (the general time-frame) of His return (Matthew 24:32-34). One particularly significant indicator of the season is the abomination of desolation and Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:29-31). But while we may know the season (within the span of a generation), we cannot and will not know the day nor the hour of His return. Because we do not know precisely when He will return, we must be constantly in a state of alertness. We must be ready. This parable is about being ready. It highlights one aspect of what it means to be ready.

All of the parables in this discourse have to do with being ready for His return, but we are seeking to discern the unique message of this parable. What is it that this parable teaches or underscores that we don’t find in the other parables in this passage? In a moment I will make some observations which should help us identify the unique message of this parable. But first, let’s consider what this parable shares in common with the other parables in this section.

This parable, like all the others in this section, Jesus tells to His disciples privately (see Matthew 24:3). So far as I can tell, neither the crowds nor the Jewish religious leadership are present. This is private instruction, for those who are followers Jesus, or who think they are. We should keep in mind that Judas was among the twelve who heard this parable, and he was not a true believer (John 6:64, 70-71; 13:2, 10-11, 18-20).

This parable, like the others in this section, instructs us to be ready, when Jesus returns to this earth(compare Matthew 24:42, 44, 50; 25:13).

This parable is consistent with the rest of this discourse in that it indicates that the Lord’s return will not be nearly as soon as the disciples suppose.

While the people were listening to these things, Jesus proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately (Luke 19:11).

“When the bridegroom was delayed a long time, they all became drowsy and fell asleep” (Matthew 25:5; compare 24:6, 48).

This parable, like the others, portrays the return of Christ as sudden and unexpected (compare Matthew 24:37-41, 43, 50; 25:5-6). In part, it is unexpected because so much time has passed.

This parable, like the others, is based upon the premise that we do not know the day nor the hour of our Lord’s return:

“Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13; compare 24:26, 42-44, 50).

This parable, like the others, indicates that the Lord’s coming will distinguish one group of people from another (compare Matthew 24:37-41, 45-51; 25:1-12, 31-46). The one group enters in with our Lord, to enjoy fellowship with Him. The other group is kept out, and assigned to eternal torment.

This parable, like others in this section, indicates that this distinction between believers and unbelievers, between those who will enter the kingdom of heaven and those who will be confined in hell, may not be apparent until the coming of Christ. It is at the second coming, when men stand before our Lord, that their true spiritual status (and thus their destiny) is known. Several times in the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that there will be some surprises (regarding who is in the kingdom and who is not) when He returns.

The Unique Contribution of the Parable of the Ten Virgins

What, then, is the unique contribution of the parable of the ten virgins? Several clues to the unique message of this parable should be noted. First, we see that this parable describes what the “kingdom of heaven” will be like at the time of the second coming. Some would say (and I would agree) that this parable describes the condition of the church at the second coming. Jesus is speaking here (as in this entire discourse) to His disciples; He is not speaking to His adversaries, the Jewish religious leaders, nor to the crowds. Thus, this parable, like the others in this section, should serve as a warning to the church.

Second, we should observe that for some period of time the five foolish virgins were almost indistinguishable from the five wise virgins. The five foolish virgins addressed the groom as “Lord” twice (Matthew 25:11). The five foolish virgins looked just like the five wise virgins. They all were invited to the wedding celebration, and they all came, expecting to participate in the wedding. The five virgins were not different from the five wise virgins, except for one thing the foolish virgins brought their lamps but no oil.

Third, none of the ten virgins knew when the groom would arrive, and all ten slept when he took longer than expected to arrive. We do not find the five foolish virgins asleep, while the five wise virgins are busily at work. All slept, and all were awakened by the news of the groom’s approach. The emphasis here is not really on working, as it is in the earlier and later parables. This is because our salvation is not the result of our works, but of His work on Calvary (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Fourth, we are initially surprised (and even disappointed) that the five wise virgins will not share their oil with the foolish virgins. This is not because the five wise virgins were selfish. In the context of the story, sharing their oil may have meant that all ten would run short of oil. But when we come to the interpretation of this parable, we can see that the saved cannot share what they have in Christ with the lost. The lost will not enter heaven based on the salvation others have received. Each person is accountable for his own choices (see Deuteronomy 24:16Ezekiel 18:20Jeremiah 31:29-30).

Fifth, we find it emphasized here that once our Lord returns, there is neither the time nor the opportunity for the five foolish virgins to change their course of unbelief. There is a “point of no return,” after which one’s rejection of Christ cannot be reversed. For some, this “point of no return” is death:

27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28, emphasis mine).

For others (for those who are alive), the second coming of Christ will be the point of no return. We see this in 2 Thessalonians 2:

8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the manifestation of his arrival. 9 The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, 10 and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. 11 Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. 12 And so all of them who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil will be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

In our text, the five foolish virgins are not given the time to reverse their folly, once the groom has come. They had their opportunity, and they lost it. Now it is too late.

Sixth, the outcome is either heaven or hell, and thus the key element is salvation. The wording of the five foolish virgins in our text is all too familiar to the reader of Matthew’s Gospel:

11 “Later, the other virgins came too, saying, ‘Lord, lord! Let us in!’ 12 But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you!’” (Matthew 25:11-12, emphasis mine)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven”only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23, emphasis mine)

Taking Matthew’s words literally (and not supplying words for him), I read that the difference between the foolish virgins and the wise virgins was one thing: the wise virgins had oil for their lamps, while the foolish virgins did not. The wise virgins had the opportunity to obtain oil, and did so. The foolish virgins had plenty of opportunity to procure oil, but did not.

It is possible to be in close contact with Christ, and with Christians, and yet not be saved. I am reminded of a similar passage in the Gospel of Luke:

23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” So he said to them, 24 “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and start to knock on the door and beg him, ‘Lord, let us in!’ But he will answer you, ‘I don’t know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will reply, ‘I don’t know where you come from! Go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God. 30 But indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:23-27, emphasis mine).

Jesus is warning us in this parable that there will be a number of people who look like Christians, who associate with Christians, and who even think they are Christians, who will be shocked to learn that they are not saved at the return of our Lord. What a sobering thought. This text is not seeking to create uncertainty and doubt in the heart of the Christian. It is not seeking to rob the Christian of his assurance. But it is seeking to warn those who have a false assurance, but not salvation. In the last days, just as in Jesus’ time and today, there will be those who appear to be Christians, but are not:

“Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

60 Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” 61 When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.” 66 After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer (John 6:60-66).

1 But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. 5 They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these (2 Timothy 3:1-5, emphasis mine).

Jesus wants us to be careful about assuming we are saved, if indeed we are not. It is for this reason that the apostles challenge us to examine ourselves, to be sure we are in the faith:

5 Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you unless, indeed, you fail the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)

1 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation, 3 if you have experienced the Lord’s kindness (1 Peter 2:1-3).

We dare not assume that every one who claims to trust in Jesus is genuinely saved:

15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

28 Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. 29 I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears (Acts 20:28-31).

12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

We should remember that when Jesus spoke these words of warning in the parable of the ten virgins, Judas was among the disciples, and Judas was not a believer. Surely his true spiritual condition came as a great shock to the eleven.

I believe that the five foolish virgins had no oil for the very same reasons people continue to run out of gas, even when the flashing message on their instrument panel tells them they are. First, men don’t believe the warning signs. They don’t think things are as bad as they are reported to be. “I must have more gas than that!” Or, “I’ve gotten this same message before, and I’ve always been able to get to the gas station before running out.”

The Bible says that we are all sinners, under divine condemnation, condemned to hell:

9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10 just as it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one,

11 there is no one who understands,

there is no one who seeks God.

12 All have turned away, together they have become worthless;

there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”

13 “Their throats are open graves,

they deceive with their tongues,

the poison of asps is under their lips.”

14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,

16 ruin and misery are in their paths,

17 and the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9-18).

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The Bible says that we are dead in our sins, and thus unable to save ourselves:

1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest … (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The Bible says that we cannot be saved by doing good works, but only through the work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7).

The only way of salvation is for men to acknowledge their sin and to trust in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary:

But to all who have received him”those who believe in his name he has given the right to become God’s children (John 1:12).

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed” 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:21-26).

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ”by grace you are saved!” 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Those who run out of gas (or refuse to buy oil) are the people who refuse to heed the warnings of God’s Word and the invitation of salvation through faith in Jesus. Those who don’t purchase fuel are those who don’t think they need it, at least at the moment.

Second, those who run out of gas are lulled into a false confidence by the fact that everything appears to be fine at the moment. The engine is running smoothly; there are no preliminary chugs or sputtering of the engine. And so we feel confident in our choice not to purchase fuel. Jesus told us that He would come at a time when we did not expect Him (Matthew 24:44). Apparently our Lord’s coming will be at a rather peaceful time, when there are no indications of trouble ahead. This is the way it was in the days of Noah. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. He will come at a time when it seems we are doing just fine.

Third, those who run out of fuel are those who wrongly suppose that they still have plenty of time to get it later. We know when our gas gauge is low. Good grief, we can see the flashing lights on the dash. But we lull ourselves into thinking that there is still plenty of time to deal with the problem. There will surely be another gas station ahead, and not too far. This false confidence has gotten many people into trouble. Those who think they will have other chances to come to faith in Jesus are making a very dangerous assumption. The coming of our Lord will be sudden and unexpected, and when He comes, all chances of changing our course have been forfeited. The coming of our Lord ends our opportunity to turn to Him in faith, and it seals our doom.

The coming of our Lord was not to be immediate, as the disciples supposed, but at a much more distant time. But when He does come, it will be without warning, and at a time we don’t expect Him. When He comes, our fate is sealed, and there will be no opportunity to change our minds then. We must therefore be prepared now (and from now on) by acknowledging our sins, our helplessness, our need for salvation, and by trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in our place. Being ready means, among other things (and especially in this parable), trusting in Jesus, and having our sins forgiven.

Must we wait until the coming of our Lord to learn, much to our dismay, that we were not really saved? God wants us to know for certain that we are saved. He wants us to be fully assured that our sins are forgiven and that we have a salvation that is certain. He wants us to be confident, because we are saved and we know it:

27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one (John 10:27-30).

13 And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)”when you believed in Christ”you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Because of this, in fact, I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, because I know the one in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day (2 Timothy 1:12).

13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him (1 John 5:13-15).

At the second coming, we may be surprised that some whom we thought to be saved were not, but there is no need for us to be surprised. God has given us His Word, and on the basis of His Word, we find that there are certain confirmations and “vital signs” that assure us of our salvation in Christ.

First, there is the promise of His Word that all who believe in Jesus Christ as God’s provision for our sins will be saved:

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away (John 6:37).

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:8-13).

9 If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, because this is the testimony of God that he has testified concerning his Son. 10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life (1 John 5:9-12).

What I want you to see is that salvation is the work of God. He accomplished it through the death, resurrection, and ascension of His Son. He made it known through His Word. He calls upon us to believe in Jesus, assuring us that if we place our trust in Him, we are saved forever. We are sealed by His Spirit, and we are kept for the final day, just as our salvation is kept for us. It is not any work of ours that saves us, but Jesus, in whom we must place our trust.

There are a number of manifestations of our new life in Christ “ vital signs, if you would “ that reassure us that we are His children, who have been plucked from the path to eternal destruction (hell) and have been placed on the path to heaven.

Those who have come to a saving faith have entered into a radically new and different way of life.Their actual conversion may not have been as dramatic as that of the Apostle Paul (see Acts 9:1-22), but they have come from death to life, and from the pursuit of sin to the pursuit of God. Those who have experienced salvation now enter into the process of sanctification, whereby the old man (the old “me”) is put to death, and the new man (the new “me” in Christ) continues to be conformed to the image of Christ:

20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away look, what is new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth (Ephesians 4:17-24).

7 Therefore do not be partakers with them, 8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5:7-8).

Five denied Christ, Is one of them you?

Five denied Christ, Is one of them you?

Those who are Christians no longer fear death, as they once did as unbelievers:

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:21-23).

Those who are Christians have a hunger for God’s Word:

1 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation, 3 if you have experienced the Lord’s kindness (1 Peter 2:1-3).

Those who are Christians now see spiritual truths, to which they were blind as unbelievers:

14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:14-18).

3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, 4 among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Those who are Christians have the internal witness of the Spirit:

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:14-17).

Those who are Christians desire to know Christ more intimately:

8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things indeed, I regard them as dung! that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death (Philippians 3:8-10).

Those who are Christians are happy to leave this life behind, and yearn for the day when Christ returns:

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

20 But our citizenship is in heaven and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

My friend, do these things which characterize Christians characterize you? Do you have these “vital signs” of spiritual life? If not, then confess your sin and trust in what Jesus did for you on the cross of Calvary. He bore your punishment, and He offers you His righteousness and eternal life. Don’t wait until it is too late to acknowledge that you have no oil (are not saved). Trust Him now.

1 Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. 3 Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. 5 For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. 6 So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. 9 For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, Studies in the Gospel of Matthew

Matthew: Introduction, Argument, and Outline

I.  Introduction

A. The Author

There are three pieces of evidence to consider if we are to arrive at any conclusion about the authorship of the first gospel: (1) the title, (2) external evidence, and (3) internal evidence. As will soon become apparent, not all of these categories bear equal weight.

1. THE TITLE

The titles of NT books were not part of the autograph, but were added later on the basis of tradition. Still, the tradition in this case is universal: every MS which contains Matthew has some sort of ascription to Matthew. Some scholars suggest that this title was added as early as 125 CE. The fact that every inscription to this gospel affirms that Matthew was the author coupled with the fact that nowhere does the author identify himself makes the tradition quite strong, but still short of proof.

2. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE

The earliest statement that Matthew wrote something is by Papias: “Instead [of writing in Greek], Matthew arranged the oracles in the Hebrew dialect, and each man interpreted them as he was able.”We have already discussed some of the possibilities of what Papias referred to in this statement. It may be helpful, in this place, to outline the general views: (1) “the oracles” (τὰ λογία) = the Gospel of Matthew; (2) “the oracles” = a sayings source  (like Q); (3) Papias is not speaking about the Hebrew dialect, but he uses διαλέκτος to mean “literary fashion”; thus, Matthew arranged his Gospel along Jewish-Christian lines; (4) Papias was wrong.

Although it is quite impossible to decide conclusively what Papias meant since we are wholly dependent on Eusebius for any excerpts from this early second century writer, some general considerations are in order: (1) Papias probably was not referring to the Gospel, since we have no trace of it in Hebrew or Aramaic until the medieval ages (all of which are clearly translations of the Greek, at least as far as most scholars are concerned). This view, therefore, is shipwrecked on early textual evidence. Further, Matthew does not show strong evidence of being translation Greek. (2) Some have suggested therefore (as an expedient to salvage the first view) that Papias was referring to Matthew’s literary method, rather than linguistics, but such is by no means a natural interpretation of διαλέκτος. (3) Although Papias could have been wrong—and he was a man of meager intelligence (according to Eusebius)!—he is sufficiently early and well-connected with apostolic Christianity that he ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. (4) The best option, in our view, is that Papias was referring to a sayings source which Matthew wrote. If so, then Matthew in all probability incorporated this source into his gospel, after rearranging it. As we suggested in our section on the Synoptic Problem, this sayings source may well have constituted a portion of Q. In any event, the great probability is that Papias is referring to the apostle Matthew as an author of material on the life of Jesus. Whether this is proto-Matthew, Q, or Matthew, Matthean authorship of the first gospel is either directly or indirectly supported by the statement.

After Papias, Irenaeus wrote: “Now Matthew published also a book of the Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the Church.” It is obvious that Irenaeus got the gist of this information from Papias (since he was acquainted with his work), though he does add two interesting points: (1) the audience of Matthew’s work was the Jews (or Jewish Christians); (2) the time when this work was written was during Peter and Paul’s tenure in Rome. In light of Irenaeus’ dependence on Papias (as well as his interpretation of his statement), this part of the tradition does not receive an independent testimony. But Irenaeus adds the interesting point that the time when Matthew wrote this was when Peter and Paul were in Rome. This may be no more than a guess, for other information in the statement seems false. On the other hand, since Peter and Paul were not in Rome together until the early 60s, this may well help us to fix a date for Matthew’s Gospel, provided that this tradition has other corroborative evidence.

Still later, Origen assumed that Matthew penned his Gospel originally in Hebrew. However, Origen adds nothing to what Papias has said, and may well have assumed that Papias was speaking about the Gospel rather than a sayings source. After Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, Augustine and others echoed the opinion of Matthean authorship.

The early external testimony is universal on two points: (1) Matthew wrote something related to the life of Jesus Christ; and (2) Matthew wrote in a Semitic tongue. Little, if any, independent testimony exists however for the supposition that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew/Aramaic. Nevertheless, the attachment of the name of Matthew to the first gospel may well indicate that it ultimately goes back to him, even if completed by a later compiler.

Added to this explicit testimony are the quotations of Matthew’s Gospel in the early patristic writers. It is quoted as early as 110 CE (by Ignatius), with a steady stream of patristic citations afterward. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel was quoted (and copied) far more often than either Mark or Luke. From earliest times, then, it was treated as canonical and authoritative on the life of Jesus Christ, regardless of authorship.

One final comment about external evidence should be added. Although there is always the possibility of a vested interest on the part of patristic writers to seek apostolic authorship for the anonymous books of the NT, this does not explain why Matthew and no other apostle was ever suggested for the first gospel. Indeed, not only was Matthew by no means the most prominent of the apostles, but he also would not seem to be as qualified as some others to write to Jewish Christians, in light of his former occupation. Would not Andrew or Philip or Bartholomew have been more likely candidates if an apostolic author were merely a figment of the early church? None of them had the stigma of having been in league with the Romans, and all figured more prominently in the gospel narratives. What is especially impressive is that Matthew and Matthew alone was suggested as the author of the first gospel.

3. INTERNAL EVIDENCE

The following are seven pieces of internal evidence which suggest, first, that the author was a Jew, and second, that he was Matthew.

A. FAMILIARITY WITH THE NATION

The author was familiar with geography (2:23), Jewish customs (cf. 1:18-19), Jewish history (he calls Herod Antipas “tetrarch” instead of “king”). He displays a concern for the OT law (5:17-20) and puts an emphasis on the evangelistic mission to the Jewish nation as well (ch. 10). The evidence is quite strong for authorship by a Jew.

B. HINTS OF SEMITISMS IN HIS LANGUAGE

There are relatively few Semitic traces in Matthew, though one might note the heavy use of  τότε (89 times), as compared with Mark (6) and Luke (15), perhaps harking back to the Hebrew אז. Beyond this, there is the occasional asyndeton (a mark of Aramaic influence), use of the indefinite plural (1:23; 7:16), etc. Although Matthew’s Greek is less Semitic than Mark’s, it does betray traces of Semitisms at times—even where none exists in the Markan parallel. If Matthew did write this gospel, one might not expect many Semitisms since Matthew was a tax-collector and would therefore have to be conversant in Greek as well as Hebrew/Aramaic. But the fact of some Semitisms suggests either that the writer was a Jew or that his sources were Semitic. Yet, some of these are so much a part of the fabric of his gospel (e.g., τότε) that it is more reasonable to suppose that the author was himself a Jew.

C. HIS USE OF SCRIPTURE

Gundry has ably pointed out how the author used the OT, especially in his formula quotations. Although there are many OT citations which correspond to the LXX rendering, his own introductory formulae (which are not found in either Mark or Luke) all seem to be free translations of the Hebrew. If so, then the author most probably is a Jew. Further, he shows great familiarity with contemporary Jewish exegesis in how he uses the scriptures.

D. ATTACK ON PHARISEES

Matthew’s Gospel attacks the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders more than Mark or Luke do (cf. 3:7 16:6, 11, 12; ch. 23). Perhaps the reason for this was, in part, due to how hard these religious leaders were on the tax-collectors (they associated them with sinners and Gentiles). Not much can be made of this however.

E. FREQUENT USE OF NUMBERS

The author’s frequent use of numbers would be natural for a tax-collector. He divides things into three parts: the genealogy, the trilogies of miracles in chapters 8-9; five parts: five great sermons of Jesus, all with the same closing formula (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1); six corrections on the misuse of the Law (in chapter 5); seven woes, parables (ch. 13); etc. Again, not much can be made of this argument, else one would have to say that a tax-collector wrote the Apocalypse! But at least it is consistent with who Matthew was.

F. HIS MENTION OF MONEY

A more weighty argument is the author’s frequent reference to money—more frequent than the other gospel writers in fact. He uses unique monetary terms (drachma in 17:24; stater in 17:25; talent in 18:24, 25); he alone of the synoptists speaks of gold and silver; Matthew contains the only two parables on talents (chs. 18, 25); and he uses tax-collector-type terminology (“debts” in 6:12 where the Lukan parallel has “sins”); “bankers” (25:27), etc. Especially when one compares the synoptic parallels, Matthew’s use of monetary terms seems significant. The most reasonable hypothesis for this is that the author was quite familiar with money.

G. THE CALLING OF LEVI

Both Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27-28 speak of the calling of “Levi” while Matthew 9:9 calls him “Matthew.” But all the lists of the apostles refer to him as Matthew (Matt 10Mark 3Luke 6Acts 1). Yet, what is remarkable is that only in the first gospel is Matthew called “the tax-collector” in the list of apostles. It may well be that the author is showing humility in this reference. In the least, however, Matthew’s Gospel is the only one which identifies the tax-collector whom Jesus called with Matthew the apostle. The most logical reason that the writer felt such liberty with his Markan source was because he knew of the identification personally.

Thus he could either be Matthew himself or an associate who later compiled the work. Against the compiler theory is Matt 9:9, which records the calling of Matthew: “it is significant that it is more self-deprecating than Luke’s account, which says that Matthew ‘left everything’ and followed Jesus” while Matthew simply says that he got up and followed Jesus. If the first gospel were not by Matthew, one would be at a loss to explain why the author seemed to deprecate Matthew in such subtle ways. A later compiler who knew and respected Matthew (probably a disciple of his), or worse, a “school of St. Matthew,” simply does not fit the bill.

In sum, each piece of evidence is hardly weighty on its own. But taken together, there is a cumulative impression made on the reader that a bilingual Palestinian Jew, well acquainted with money, wrote this gospel. External testimony has already suggested Matthew as the author; the internal evidence does nothing to shake this impression. There is, therefore, little reason to doubt Matthean authorship.

4. OBJECTIONS TO MATTHEAN AUTHORSHIP

There are three primary objections to Matthean authorship, listed in descending order of value: (1) the improbable use of Mark by an apostle; (2) the high quality of the Greek of the gospel; and (3) the nonbiographical structure of the book.

(1) Assuming Markan priority, would an apostle use a gospel written by a non-apostle, or even any written source? This is not as weighty an argument as it appears, for “if Matthew thought Mark’s account reliable and generally suited to his purposes (and he may have known that Peter stood behind it), there can be no objection to the view that an apostle depended on a nonapostolic document.”

This is analogous to the Revised Version translators (1881) using the King James Version. They intentionally supported the tradition of the KJV, and in fact wanted to emulate its translation wherever possible. However, they deviated from it in three distinct ways: (a) they wanted the new work to be based on more ancient MSS; (b) they had a better grasp of the Greek than did the KJV translators and sought to make a more accurate translation even where the textual basis was identical; (c) they wanted to remove archaisms which were no longer clearly understood. The motivation behind the RV was “to make a good thing better.” What is most significant for our purposes is the fact that even though the RV translators knew Greek much better than did the KJV translators and had earlier MSS to work with, they still wanted to keep in line with the KJV tradition as much as possible. The analogy with Matthew and Mark is obvious: even though Matthew was an eyewitness, he wanted to use Mark’s Gospel as much as possible, both to affirm its reliability and as a ready framework for the sermons of Jesus; but he also wanted to correct its grammar in places, and supplement it with pertinent information in other places.

(2) Kümmel adds three other arguments: “the systematic and therefore nonbiographical form of the structure of Mt, the late-apostolic theological position, and the Greek language of Mt make this proposal completely impossible.” Of these, only the first and third are really weighty, for the lateness of the theology is so intertwined with the supposedly late dates of other NT books and assumptions of uniformly linear development that it carries little conviction. Of the other two considerations, one will be dealt with here and the other will take up our last point.

The high quality of the Greek is hardly an argument against Matthean authorship, for Matthew would have to have known both Aramaic and Greek in order to collect taxes from the Jews and work for the Romans. Further, there is a growing consensus that Galilee of the first century was thoroughly bilingual—so much so that Greek was probably the native tongue of most Jews.

(3) “The systematic and nonbiographical” structure of Matthew does not preclude Matthean authorship. Such is a non sequitur because “(1) a topically ordered account can yield biographical facts as easily as a strictly chronological account, and (2) Kümmel wrongly supposes that apostolicity is for some reason incapable of choosing anything other than a chronological framework.”

5. CONCLUSION ON AUTHORSHIP

Although there are some difficulties with Matthean authorship, none of them presents major obstacles, in spite of some scholars calling Matthean authorship “impossible.” On the positive side, the universal external evidence which seems to lack motivation for the choice of Matthew (as opposed to any other apostle), coupled with the subtle internal evidence, makes the traditional view still the most plausible one.

B. Date

A number of factors and presuppositions affect the date of this book. Among the most important are: (1) authorship; (2) the solution to the synoptic problem; (3) the date of Acts; (4) whether the Olivet Discourse was truly prophetic or a vaticinium ex eventu; (5) the theological development, especially related to ecclesiology; and (6) the significance of the Jewish nature of the work, especially its anti-Sadducean approach. Though most scholars date the book c. 80-90, our conclusion is that it should be dated substantially earlier.

(1) On the assumption of apostolic authorship, one cannot date this book too late. However, since we know next to nothing about how long Matthew lived, or even how he died, the most that can be made of this point is that it was certainly written in the first century CE (a fact already confirmed by its use in Ignatius, Didache, Hermas, etc.).

(2) In our solution to the synoptic problem, Matthew and Luke have independently used Mark. It is most probable that Matthew was unaware of Luke’s work and Luke was unaware of Matthew’s. If so, then both were probably written at around the same time. If Luke is dated c. 61-62 CE (see the section in Luke), then Matthew in all probability should be dated similarly.

Curiously, one of the arguments against Markan priority is that the patristic testimony is universal for apostolic authorship of the first gospel, and hence, scholars often contend that an apostle would not use a nonapostolic gospel. This argument has seemed so powerful that, on the other side, some Markan prioritists employ it to say that Matthew, indeed, did not write the gospel which bears his name! We have already dealt with this particular issue. However, what has not fully been addressed is the patristic testimony. If we take at face value the patristic testimony regarding Matthew and Mark (especially from Papias and Irenaeus), then three conclusions must be drawn: (1) Matthew wrote Matthew; (2) Mark wrote his gospel during the lifetime of Peter and based on Peter’s messages; (3) Matthew wrote his gospel when both Peter and Paul were in Rome (so Irenaeus). Is all of this impossible of harmonization? On the assumption of Matthean priority it is, for Mark would have gotten his gospel from Matthew and Luke, not from Peter! But on the assumption of Markan priority, everything fits: (1) Mark wrote down Peter’s messages (probably sometime in the 50s, certainly sometime during Peter’s lifetime); (2) Matthew used Mark’s Gospel as a framework to write his own work; (3) Matthew wrote his Gospel in the early 60s (the only time when both Peter and Paul were in Rome together).

(3) The date of Acts looms larger for the date of Luke and Mark than it does for Matthew. But suffice it to say here that if Acts is to be dated no later than 62 CE (a view we will defend in out introduction to that book), then Luke and Mark must precede that date (assuming Markan priority). And since Matthew is apparently unaware of Luke’s literary efforts, it is reasonable to conclude that his work was published at about the same time as Luke (for the later we date Matthew, the less likely it is that he was unaware of Luke’s gospel).

(4) Was the Olivet Discourse a vaticinium ex eventu (a prophecy after the fact)? It is safe to say that the assumption that it was is the single most important reason for overturning an early date (pre-70) for Matthew. However, two considerations argue against this supposition.

(a) Most importantly, only if one categorically denies the possibility of genuine prophecy on the lips of Jesus would the date of Matthew have to be later than 70 CE. But if Jesus spoke predictive prophecy, then there would be no necessity in placing the synoptic gospels so late.

(b) Robinson has pointed out that the specifics of the Olivet Discourse do not altogether match what we know of the Jewish War. He states, for example, that “‘the abomination of desolation’ cannot itself refer to the destruction of the sanctuary in August 70 or to its desecration by Titus’ soldiers in sacrificing to their standards. [Furthermore,] By that time it was far too late for anyone in Judaea to take to the hills, which had been in enemy hands since the end of 67.” He adds that “if Matthew intended the reader to ‘understand’ in the prediction events lying by then in the past he has certainly given him no help.” And, most significantly, that “it is significant therefore that in 24.29, ‘the distress of those days’ (i.e., on the assumption of ex eventu prophecy, the Judaean war) is to be followed ‘immediately’ (εὐθέως) by the coming of the Son of Man . . . This makes it extraordinarily difficult to believe that Matthew could deliberately be writing during the interval between the Jewish war and theparousia.” Finally, Robinson concludes, “I fail to see any motive for preserving, let alone inventing, prophecies long after the dust had settled in Judaea, unless it be to present Jesus as prognosticator of uncanny accuracy (in which case the evangelists have defeated the exercise by including palpably unfulfilled predictions).”

In other words, since this prophecy is not altogether accurate, it most certainly cannot be a prophecyex eventu. I find Robinson’s argument quite compelling at this point, with one quibble: the prophecy was completely accurate, but it has not yet been completely fulfilled. Just as the separation in time between the Lord’s first and second comings was unforeseen by the OT prophets, so also the separation in time between the destruction of Jerusalem and Jesus’ return were unforeseen by Jesus himself (cf. Matt 24:36). Robinson’s argument is a tour de force for a pre-66 date of the synoptic gospels, and, inadvertently, for an “earnest” fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse (in which the ultimate fulfillment still lay ahead).

(5) The theological, especially ecclesiological, development found in Matthew, is often used for a late date of this gospel. In particular, the mention of “church” (found only in Matthew of the four gospels) seems to reflect a later development, when issues of church order were of concern. But such a view is not at all necessary: there is no tight ecclesiastical organization seen in 16:17-20 or 18:17-18, “but only of broad principles appropriate to the earliest stages of Christianity.” Hence, this really cannot be used to argue for a date c. 80-90. Moreover, there is much against such a late date: “the period of composition commonly assigned to both Matthew and Luke (80-90) was, as far as we know, marked by no crisis for the church that would reawaken the relevance of apocalyptic.”

(6) Finally, there is the anti-Sadducean sentiment which permeates this gospel. “Significantly Matthew records more warnings against the Sadducees than all other NT writers combined, and after A.D. 70 the Sadducees no longer existed as a center of authority.” Indeed, such anti-Sadducean sentiment is very difficult to explain if the temple had been destroyed and the Sadducees were effectively wiped out! Only a date before 70 would give this motif any rationale.

In conclusion, the following points can be made: (1) Matthew depends on Mark and therefore probably should not be dated earlier than the 50s CE. (2) Luke neither knew of Matthew’s work, nor Matthew of Luke’s. If Luke is dated c. 62, then Matthew was probably written within two or three years of Luke (60-65). Thus, regardless of when Mark was written, the independence of Matthew and Luke argues for a date of close proximity to the other. (3) Matthew was written before the start of the Jewish War because his appeal to the reader to flee from Jerusalem is too  late in 67 CE since the Romans had shut off that possibility at that time. The best guess as to date would therefore be the early 60s (i.e. 60-65). And for what it is worth, this is confirmed by Irenaeus’ statement that Matthew composed his work when both Peter and Paul were in Rome (c. 60-64).

C. Place of Composition and Destination

Almost certainly Matthew’s Gospel was produced in Palestine or Syria, and the majority of NT scholars agree with this view. As well, its destination was presumably (virtually) the same as its place of origin. The reasons for a Palestinian/Syrian origin/ destination are as follows.

1. The earliest quotations of Matthew are by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch of Syria, implying that it was well known in that region from earliest times.

2. Papias’ statement that Matthew wrote in a Semitic tongue would seem to demand this, unless Papias is referring to something other than the gospel itself.

3. In spite of the gospel being in Greek, this does not deny a Palestinian-Syrian origin or destination, for Palestine was quite bilingual in the first century. Still, if we see in Papias’ statement a sayings source which Matthew had compiled some time before he wrote the gospel, there must be a reason why one was in Aramaic and the other in Greek. The most logical explanation is that the first was for a narrower audience (Palestinian?) and the other for a wider one (Syrian?).

4. The Jewish flavor of the gospel—in particular the fact that the author takes for granted his audience’s comprehension of Jewish customs and places—argues strongly for a Palestinian/Syrian destination. This also, of course, argues that the audience is racially Jewish in make-up.

5. The key issues and tensions in the gospel suggest that Judaism is in tension with Christianity—and in fact that the Christians are probably in the minority. “A community in which the sabbath is still strictly kept or at least was kept for a long time, where the question of the law plays such an important role, and in which the Pharisees constitute the main discussion partners . . . must be living in an area in which Judaism is dominant. That suggests at once Palestine or neighboring Syria. Egypt or even Babylon are not serious contenders, on the grounds that the existence of a largish Christian group alongside a Pharisaic scribal group is doubtful there.”

In sum, the above considerations suggest that Palestine may well have been the origin of the Aramaic sayings source by Matthew, but Syria would have been the destination of the completed gospel. Beyond this, little can be said.

D. Occasion and Purpose

Before looking at Matthew’s specific occasion for writing his gospel, it might be beneficial to survey why the gospels were written at all. Several reasons come to mind: (1) the delay of Christ’s coming prompted the writing of the gospels, for otherwise how would second-generation Christians recognize the signs of his return? Thus, the Olivet Discourse would naturally figure prominently in a gospel, regardless of when it was penned. (2) The apostles and other eye-witnesses were aging. There was thus a need for the preservation of the material into a codified or catechetical form. (3) There was the need for a wide distribution of the material, since not every church had its own apostle. (4) There was a natural interest in the life of the historical Jesus on the part of new believers. (5) The new believers needed edification. When Peter says that they should “follow in his footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21) this would naturally presuppose that some knowledge of the life of the Lord should be known. (6) Christians who were suffering persecution needed to know the anchor of their souls better that they might be strong in stormy times. (7) There seem to have been apologetic purposes as well: to distinguish Christianity from Judaism, to correct misconceptions about Christ during the early and rapid influx of heresies, to evangelize and strengthen converts, etc.

Regarding the specific occasion for Matthew’s Gospel, two possibilities exist. First, Matthew’s congregation(s) already had the sayings of Jesus which Matthew had produced in Aramaic years earlier. His secondary audience had them, too, for they were translated into Greek relatively soon after their production. Once Mark’s Gospel was published, however, there was a felt need among Matthew’s congregations to have a framework for the dominical sayings. His audience wanted more than quotations; they wanted the life of Jesus of Nazareth, too. Since Mark’s Gospel was at hand, it supplied a ready framework for the dominical material. Matthew, then, reshaped the dominical material into various topics and used Mark as the narrative framework. In other words, Matthew’s Gospel may well have been produced because Mark’s Gospel was the catalyst. It served, then, an edifying function for believers.

Second, Matthew’s Gospel was, in all probability, produced because his Jewish-Christian audience was undergoing persecution by their Jewish neighbors. This is evident from the themes and motifs in this gospel: emphasis on blessing for the persecuted and hostility toward those who bring the gospel; condemnation of the religious leaders of the day for their blindness and hypocrisy; and, quite diplomatically, an apologetic for keeping the Law: keeping the Law better than the religious leaders did was the criterion for entrance into the kingdom (5:17-20). As we will see, this occasion melts into the purpose of the gospel quite naturally.

The purposes of this gospel are certainly manifold. Nevertheless, there do seem to be three main objectives. First, this gospel was written to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah. This can be seen especially in the genealogy (which would have meaning for a Jewish audience that required proof of Jesus’ lineage), the miracles of Jesus (which would affirm Jesus’ authority not only as a spokesman for God, but as one who was ushering in a new age), and the OT quotations (which, with their unique introductory formula, are designed to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the hope of Israel).

Second, the book was written to give an answer to the question, “If Jesus is the Messiah, why did he fail to establish his kingdom?” The answer, in a nutshell, is that Jesus did not fail; the nation did. Yet, the kingdom has been inaugurated for those who fully embrace him as Messiah, and it will beconsummated at the end of the age. Hence, in answering this question there is both an apologetic purpose and an evangelistic one: the Jewish Christians needed to have a defense before their Jewish non-believing neighbors and they also needed to understand the rationale for bringing the good news to Gentiles, viz., while the nation was in a state of rejecting God’s Messiah, a new program had been instituted in which Gentiles were accepted into the fold. It is also possible to detect in this gospel perhaps a sense that not all of Matthew’s audience had truly embraced Jesus as the Messiah. If so, then the apologetic purpose was directed toward them as well as to their neighbors. In other words, Matthew was writing to professing believers who were Jewish, though many of them had nagging doubts about the person of Christ and his program.

Third, the gospel was written to confirm the legitimacy of the Gentile mission. The culmination of the Gospel is the Great Commission in which the Gentile missionary endeavor is given its full support, in light of the failure of the nation to embrace Jesus as Messiah. Some have even argued, on the basis of the Great Commission, that the author was a Gentile! This, of course, is unnecessary and reductionistic, but it does illustrate the significance of the Great Commission as the crescendo of this Gospel.

In sum, Matthew first proves that Jesus was the Messiah. Second, he shows that Jesus did not fail to establish the kingdom (the failure was the nation’s—and the kingdom was inaugurated, though not consummated in the coming of the Messiah). Finally, he wishes to show that because the nation failed to respond, the gospel was now open to Gentiles. But even in this final point Matthew walks a tightrope between giving his audience a rationale for the Gentile mission and making sure that they do not offend their Jewish neighbors by abandoning the Law. In this respect, 5:17-20 and 28:16-20 stand out as the theological cornerstones of this book, and they stand in some tension.

E. Theme

All four gospels emphasize a different facet of Jesus Christ, though Matthew’s emphasis is easily the clearest to perceive. He presents Jesus as Messiah, Son of David, King of the Jews.

II. Argument

Matthew begins his gospel by demonstrating the qualifications of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah (1:1–4:11). He starts with a genealogy which is essential to establishing Jesus’ earthly right to the throne (1:1-17). The opening verse declares that “Jesus Christ [is] the son of David, the son of Abraham”—the reverse of the chronological order which he will employ in the genealogy proper. This is a pattern Matthew will develop throughout his gospel: Jesus came first as the son of David, as fulfiller of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:12-16), then as the son of Abraham, as fulfiller of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3). That is to say, Jesus first  ministered to the Jews and then, when rejected by them, he opened up the gospel to Gentiles as well.

The genealogy is broken down into three groups: from Abraham to David (1:2-6), from David to the Babylonian captivity (1:6-11), and from the Babylonian captivity to the birth of Jesus (1:11-16) (cf. 1:17). “In David the family rose to royal power . . . At the captivity it lost it again. In Christ it regained it.” Not only this, but during each of these three periods a major covenant is given: Abrahamic, Davidic, and New. Thus Matthew skillfully weaves together both proof of Jesus’ royal lineage and anticipation of fulfillment of the Messianic role.

A second proof of Jesus’ right to the throne focuses on his heavenly origin (1:18-25). Although he was legally in Joseph’s line, Joseph was not his true father, for he was conceived of a virgin. This miraculous birth was in fulfillment of prophecy (1:22-23; cf. Isa 7:14).

In chapter 2 Matthew paints a cameo of the early childhood of Jesus, culminating each of four sections with a quotation/allusion of the OT as part of a fulfillment formula. Each OT passage has major interpretive difficulties attached to it—that is, in terms of Matthew’s use. Yet, once it is seen that this entire chapter is intended as a fourfold foreshadowing of later aspects of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew’s use of the OT becomes clear: his tendency is to pick passages which are not fully prophetic, but which are typico-prophetic—just as this very chapter is typico-prophetic. In 2:1-12 the magi from the east come to Jerusalem (2:15) in search of him who has been born king of the Jews (2:2; a subtle snub on Herod the Great). The scribes rehearsed the prophecy of Micah 5:2, with a significant alteration: the addition of “by no means.” With the birth of the king, Bethlehem was no longer least of the rules of Judah. The magi’s worship of Jesus foreshadowed Gentile response and a universal gospel. In 2:13-15 Jesus escapes to Egypt because of the hostility of Herod. This, too, was a fulfillment of a typico-prophetic passage (Hosea 11:1) in which the one who deserves the name “God’s Son” has duplicated the trek which the nation, as God’s son, took many years before. This withdrawal foreshadowed Jesus’ later withdrawals—especially since they, too, were initiated by another Herod (Antipas) in his killing of an innocent one (John the Baptist). In 2:16-18 the slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem fulfilled the typico-prophecy of Jer 31:15 and foreshadowed the death of Christ. Finally, in 2:19-23 Jesus returns to Palestine and settles down in Nazareth, only to be scorned by his fellow-countrymen. That he would be called a Nazarene is both a fulfillment and foreshadowing: he would be despised (a play on words with Nazarene) because of his lowly beginnings. Thus as well-qualified as Jesus was, both in earthly and in heavenly terms, to be the king of the Jews, his early childhood set the stage for later Jewish rejection and Gentile reception.

Chapter 3 opens the second portion of this first major section: the preparation of the king. Even before he began his public ministry, he was acknowledged (by forerunner, Father, and foe) to be the heir to the throne, the elect one of God, the Son of God. Jesus is prepared for his ministry as Messiah by the preaching of John, his forerunner (3:1-12), by Jesus’ baptism in which he identified with the righteous remnant (3:15) and in which the heavenly voice acknowledged Jesus as Son of God (3:17), and by a demonstration of his mettle by withstanding the temptation of the devil (4:1-11) in the wilderness.

It is to be observed that there is a thread running through the early chapters of Matthew which subtly confirms that Jesus has the right to the throne. In the life of this one we see a duplication of the early life of the nation—with one difference: where the nation failed, Jesus succeeded. Thus, (1) both had a miraculous beginning, (2) both were brought down to Egypt, (3) both were brought out of Egypt and had to pass through the waters, (4) both were tested in the wilderness for a period of forty years/days, etc. Indeed, in the next section (4:12–7:29), the major emphasis is on the Sermon on the Mount—and Matthew intentionally links this to the giving of the Law by Moses. The response is the same in each case: the nation failed to believe and obey.

The second major section lays out  the principles of the king (4:12–7:29). This section is developed in two distinct parts (a typical pattern of Matthew’s): narrative and discourse. The narrative section (4:12-25) tells of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, in light of his adequate preparation (1:1–4:11). The beginning of Jesus’ ministry was the imprisonment of John by Herod (4:12) which prompted Jesus to continue the same message of John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17). At the same time, he changed his domicile from Nazareth to Capernaum (4:13-16) in fulfillment of prophecy (Isa 9:1-2). After declaring that his message was the same as John’s, he called his first disciples, at least one of whom (Andrew) had been a disciple of John’s (cf. John 1:35-42). Matthew summarizes Jesus’ ministry with the statement that he healed the sick and preached the kingdom (4:23-25)—a twin theme he will develop in chiastic order in chapters 5 through 9.

Matthew links the summary statement with the second portion of this section by an emphasis on the crowds: he healed and preached to crowds (4:25—“large crowds”) and “when he saw the crowds” in 5:1. An emphasis seen in all the gospels is on Jesus’ being moved by sheer numbers of needy people. The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29) is a declaration of the principles of the king. As this sermon is the single largest piece of Jesus’ teaching contained in scripture, it has naturally received much attention. Generally speaking, the hermeneutical approaches to the Sermon on the Mount fall into five categories: (1) soteriological, (2) sociological, (3) penitential, (4) ecclesiastical, and (5) eschatological. A critique of each is necessary before we discuss the sermon directly.

(1) The soteriological view states that salvation is offered in this sermon: simply obey the principles and one will get saved. But this view hardly comports with the analogia fidei—even Matthew’s Gospel shows the necessity of Christ’s substitutionary death (20:28), an element wholly missing in the Sermon on the Mount.

(2) The sociological view is virtually the same as the soteriological one, except that the focus is on the salvation of society (corporate salvation) rather than of individuals. Although society would certainly be better off if it heeded the commands of this sermon (as it would for heeding all of scripture!), “this view fails for the simple reason that it has no relevance to the context.” Not only this, but it suffers the same criticism that the soteriological view suffers.

(3) The penitential approach looks at the sermon “as a body of law which makes one conscious of his sin and thereby drives him to God.” There is much merit to this view, especially in that it picks up the motif of repentance already seen in the kernel of Jesus’ preaching (4:17). But it fails at two decisive points: (a) it is backwards looking only, viewing the sermon as the culmination of the Law, with no connection to the kingdom (cf. 4:17!); and (b) it does not take into account the fact that Jesus—at least initially—is addressing his disciples, not the multitudes (cf. 5:2, 13, 14; 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14, 18, 26; 7:11; but against this, cf. 7:13-23, 26, 28-29).

(4) The most popular approach—the ecclesiastical view—sees the sermon as directly for the church today. This view is held by scholars of all theological stripes. Essentially, the Sermon on the Mount gives rules for life in the present dispensation. Again, there is much to commend in this view, especially the fact that the evangelist included it in his gospel—written (for the most part) to the church. But there are problems with the ecclesiastical approach as well: (a) it ignores the kerygmatic summary of 4:17 (which is in the section that introduces the Sermon on the Mount) with its emphasis on the nearness of the kingdom; (b) it assumes too much overlap between the Church and Israel (that is, it assumes that identical principles equal identical peoples); (c) in the only gospel to mention “church”—thus the one gospel that makes an explicit distinction between Israel and the Church—the ecclesiastical view blurs this distinction without warrant and when, in fact, all the contextual clues show Jesus still ministering under the old covenant.

(5) The eschatological approach sees the sermon as essentially related to the kingdom of God and is a view usually associated with dispensational premillennialism. It takes two forms: (a) the rule of life which will obtain during the millennial kingdom; (b) an interim ethic which true disciples should abide by in anticipation of the coming kingdom. Although there are strengths in the eschatological approach (especially in that it takes seriously the historical context and the progress of revelation, emulating a religionsgeschichtliche approach), it also has several weaknesses.

(a) The weakness of the first view is that millennial conditions seem to be wholly lacking in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. 5:10-11, 23, 32, 44;  6:2, 16; 7:15)—in fact, more than once it is assumed that the hearers are not in the kingdom (5:20; 6:10, 33; 7:21).

(b) The interim ethic view also has it weaknesses (though it is by far the most satisfactory view in the light of the context and analogia fidei, etc.). [a] It is unclear whether this “interim” is still taking place in the present age, or only lasted until the birth of the Church. If the former, then the sermon seems to contradict Paul’s view that “Christ is the end of the law (Rom 10:4; cf. Matt 5:17-20). Further, it suffers all the criticisms that can be leveled against the ecclesiastical view. If the latter, why would Matthew include so much didactic material if it were no longer directly relevant to his audience? [b] This view—as the others—does not take into account the different Sitze im Leben: Is Jesus’ purpose the same as Matthew’s? Although this view handles best what Jesus’ purpose was, it virtually ignores Matthew’s use of the sermon. Since—according to this view—both were addressing different audiences, how can one audience be ignored in the reconstruction of meaning? It is distinctly possible that Jesus was giving requirements for entrance into the (millennial?) kingdom (it is quite difficult to read the central message, 5:17-20, in any other way), while Matthew employs the sermon as both condemnation on the nation for not heeding Jesus’ instructions and for pointing to the need of salvation by grace as the only way to enter the present form of the kingdom. [c] Concordant with the above, the interim view typically denies the possibility of the kingdom’s inauguration in the death of Christ, arguing instead that the kingdom is wholly future. Although beyond the scope of this paper, the “already—not yet” view has strong credentials which at least need to be addressed by “interim ethicists.” [d] Finally, this view tacitly denies the validity of both form and redaction criticism when it comes to the composition of the Sermon on the Mount, while accepting many results of both disciplines when applied to other areas of gospel exegesis. Specifically, the interim view does not wrestle with whether the Sermon on the Mount was a single sermon or a patchwork of dominical sayings which Matthew himself wove into a single tapestry (it simply assumes the former).

In light of these weaknesses, it is our approach that the Sermon on the Mount is multivalenced: (1) It is an exposition of the intent of the OT Law, delivered in the best style of the OT prophets; (2) it gives entrance requirements (in Jesus’ original intent) for the (millennial?) kingdom which the nation rejected, thus postponing the earthly kingdom; (3) it sets up a perfect standard as entrance requirements into the present form of the kingdom (i.e., salvation) (in Matthew’s use) which points the audience to their need of Christ’s substitutionary death. Thus its ethic is for today in a secondary way (the legal requirements need adjustments), and the offer of the kingdom (now, the “already” aspect) is still good and can still be acted upon.

Matthew begins his recasting of the Sermon on the Mount with a comment as to whom Jesus intended to address, namely, the disciples (5:1-2). Toward the end of the sermon it will become obvious that the crowds were also included in the audience at some point (cf. 7:28-29). The Lord’s discourse proper involves three main sections: the subjects of the kingdom (5:3-16), the truth about the kingdom (5:17–7:12), and the way to enter the kingdom (7:13-27).

Every kingdom eventually has subjects and Jesus begins his sermon by painting a picture of the kind of people who would populate the kingdom (5:3-16). Before he lists any responsibilities for them, however, he first motivates his audience to see the wealth of character (as opposed to the wealth of material possessions), heading the list with those who are “poor in spirit” (5:3). Essentially those who live for God are blessed (5:3-12). They also have a responsibility to let their “salt” and “light” have their impact on society (5:13-16).

After this brief exposition about the members of the kingdom, the Lord now gives several truths about the nature of the kingdom itself (5:17–7:12). These again focus on character development, with a strong emphasis on internal righteousness in an externally ugly world. This is the major section of the sermon and it is no accident that Jesus begins by linking his views with those of the OT prophets—that is, by giving an exposition of the intent of the OT law (5:17-48). Arguably the core of the entire Sermon on the Mount is at the front-end of this exposition, for Jesus affirms that the principles of the OT law are inviolable (5:17-20). Then, in six masterful strokes he declares “you have heard . . but I say”—not so much as a denial of the validity of the law as an explanation of what the law was really trying to get at (5:21-48) regarding hatred (5:21-26), lust (5:27-30), fidelity in marriage (5:31-32), simple honesty vs. presumptuous and unnecessary oaths (5:33-37), the lex talionis vs. giving up one’s rights (5:38-42), and love for one’s enemies (5:43-48).

Chapter six opens with a lesson on real righteousness, the kind that is not done for show (6:1-18), for only a righteousness exercised toward God has an eternal reward.  This naturally leads to an examination of the intentions and attitudes of the heart (6:19–7:11) in which a truly righteous man invests in heaven (6:19-24) without worrying about his provisions on earth (6:25-34). Further, he must not have a critical spirit, especially toward believers (7:1-5), but at the same time he must exercise discernment toward outsiders (7:6).  How must one obtain such balance?  Where is he to find such wisdom, as well as know that his physical needs will be met?  He must turn—and often—to the Lord (7:7-11).  The intent of the OT law is then summarized in the “golden rule”: “in everything do to others what you would have them do to you.”  Thus 7:12 forms a tidy inclusio with 5:17-20.

The final portion of Jesus’ discourse sets up a dichotomy and gives the audience a choice (7:13-27).  If they would choose to enter the kingdom, they must choose the narrow gate (7:13-14), they must be like trees that bear good fruit (7:15-23), and they must build their house on the rock (7:24-27).  The imagery all points in one direction: the kingdom will be populated by those who live for an audience of One.

The sermon—as well as the second section of the Gospel (“when Jesus finished these words”)—then concludes with a note about the crowds responding to Jesus in a way which they never did to the scribes (7:28-29).

The third major section (8:1–11:1) opens with several miracles of Jesus (8:1–9:34). In light of both Jesus’ authoritative teaching as well as of his offer of the kingdom, something needed to back up his words.  The miracles do just that.  But these miracles do not function merely to vindicate Jesus’ authority as king; both the message and the power are also delegated to the disciples as they receive their commission as the king’s ambassadors (9:35–11:1).

The miracles themselves include three groups of three with two statements about discipleship wedged in between.  The first group of miracles (leprosy, paralysis, and fever are cured) emphasize compassion (8:1-17), perhaps to show that the king takes care of his subjects.  Then a statement concerning the cost of discipleship is uttered (8:18-22).

The second group of miracles emphasize Jesus’ authority (8:23–9:8) in the realm of nature (calming the storm, 8:23-27), in the realm of the supernatural (the healing of the two Gadarene demoniacs, 8:28-34), and even in the realm of the spiritual (healing of a paralytic along with the forgiveness of his sins, 9:1-8). The extent of the king’s authority is seen to be immense and his kingdom to be more than physical.  Then, the nature of true discipleship receives a brief discourse: it is not the well who are called, but the sick—such as Matthew the tax-collector (9:9-13); further, Jesus’ disciples must be radically committed to the new work he is doing (9:14-17).

The last group of miracles speaks of Jesus’ own radical commitment and courage (9:18-34)—necessary prerequisites to be king.  He gives life to the daughter of a synagogue ruler whose own people were scorning him for his trust in Jesus (9:18-26), sight to the blind (9:27-31), and speech to a demon-possessed mute (9:32-34)—an act which caused the Pharisees to accuse him of being empowered by Satan himself (9:34).

The cycle begins again when Jesus sees the crowds: his compassion on the multitudes led him first to heal a leper (8:1-4), and now to heal all kinds of sicknesses (9:35-38).  And just as his healing of a leper was a demonstration of his authority over sickness, now he delegates his authority to his disciples as a result of the expansion of his compassion (9:36-38).  The twelve disciples (10:2-4) are granted the authority both to heal the sick and to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, but only to Israel (10:5-8).  They are further to depend on those who respond to the gospel for their support (10:9-15), and to continue preaching in spite of persecution (10:16-31), with the hope of heaven and the priority of commitment to Christ always motivating them (10:32-39).

What is significant about this first commission to the disciples is that many of the principles taught in the Sermon on the Mount are now expected to be followed by the disciples.  For example, they should not be concerned about their physical needs (10:8b-10; cf. 6:25-34); they are worth more to God than many sparrows (10:29; cf. 6:26); etc.  In the least, this ought to indicate that part of the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount must relate to the disciples’ commission to proclaim the coming of the kingdom to the nation Israel.

The commission is then concluded with the refrain, “after Jesus had finished instructing . . . ” (11:1).

With Jesus’ authority fully demonstrated by his own miracles as well as by his ability to delegate such power to his ambassadors, the stage is set for the opposition to the king (11:2–13:53).  Over the next two chapters it grows until it hits a climax in 12:22-37, where the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being empowered by Beelzebul.  At this juncture Jesus began to speak in parables to hide the truth from unbelievers and reveal it to believers (13:1-53).

The first signs of opposition to the king come mildly: first, John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner, doubts whether Jesus was the Messiah (11:2-6).  This was quite natural since he was imprisoned by another “king” at the time! Not only did Jesus commend John for his role in proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom (11:7-15), he also pointed out the hypocrisy of the multitudes who could not make up their mind about John or Jesus (11:16-19). This led to an outright condemnation of the towns where Jesus had performed many of his miracles, yet the citizens still did not repent (11:20-24).  At the end of this first round of opposition, Jesus extends an invitation to the weary to turn to him and find rest for their souls (11:25-30).

The second signs of opposition were much more frontal (12:1-45): not just doubt, nor even unbelief, but open attack by the religious leaders on Jesus’ authority over the Sabbath (12:1-21) and his source of supernatural power (12:22-37).  Immediately after Jesus’ strong rebuke for thinking that he was empowered by the devil (12:25-37, especially 31-32), the Pharisees ironically ask for more proof of what his spiritual source was (12:38).  But enough miracles had been done—the sign of Jonah was all that was needed now (12:39-45).

Perhaps as an ironic twist Matthew then records that Jesus’ mother and brothers wished to speak with him (12:46-47): Were they, like John, doubting him too?  At this stage Jesus makes another invitation to the crowd: whoever obeys God is related to God’s Son (12:48-50).

With this invitation in the background, Matthew points out that “that same day” (13:1) Jesus elaborated on his invitation to enter the kingdom.  Although the multitudes were always with him, he must now focus his attention on the believing remnant.  Hence, he speaks in parables which are designed to shut out the unrepentant and cause understanding for the true believers (13:10-17). The first group in his discourse deals with the responsibility of his hearers (13:3-23): as seed that is sown, they are to grow and be productive (13:3-9; 13:18-23), though not all who hear will really listen and heed (13:10-17).

Then, six parables about the nature of the kingdom are given in rapid succession (13:24-50). Twin themes are intertwined in these seven parables: (1) the kingdom will grow from humble beginnings, in spite of opposition (wheat and weeds in 13:24-30, 36-43; mustard seed in 13:31-32; leaven in 13:33; dragnet in 13:46-50); and (2) the kingdom has inestimable value and should be entered at all costs (hidden treasure in 13:44; pearl in 13:45).  This first group of parables seems to indicate that the kingdom, in some sense, was not going to make a dynamic, cataclysmic entrance; instead, it would grow from very small roots. Wherever the king was, there his kingdom was, too.  It began in the hearts of his disciples (cf. the parable of the sower) and would grow until the end of the age (13:39). Consequently, all who hear the message should take all necessary steps to enter the kingdom now, for nothing could compare to its worth.

The section on parables is concluded with a charge to those who not only heard, but also understood: reveal the good news to others (13:51-52). Then Matthew’s customary editorial comment “when Jesus had finished these parables” (13:53) concludes the fourth main section of the book.

After such heavy opposition—seen even in the dullness of response when Jesus taught them about the kingdom (cf. 13:10-17)—Jesus began to withdraw from the crowds and from danger (13:54–16:20). He went, symbolically and in reality, farther and farther away from Jerusalem. The catalyst for Jesus’ withdrawals was twofold: (1) widespread unbelief in his own hometown of Nazareth (13:54-58)—so much so that he did not perform many miracles there; and (2) the beheading of John by Herod (14:1-12).

Five successive withdrawals are recorded by Matthew: (1) to a “deserted place” in which he still performed miracles (feeding the five thousand [14:13-21], walking on the water [14:22-33], and healing the sick at Gennesaret [14:34-36]), and could not get away from the Pharisees (15:1-20); (2) to Phoenicia in which he healed a Gentile woman’s daughter (15:21-28)—giving further evidence that the kingdom was opening up to Gentiles; (3) to the Sea of Galilee where he again fed the multitudes (15:29-38); (4) to Magadan where he instructed his disciples about the “fluff” in the Pharisees’ teaching (15:39; 16:5-12); and finally, (5) to Caesarea Philippi, where he made it known to his disciples that he was the Christ (16:13-20).

It is possible to detect in these withdrawals both a testing of his followers (as he moved farther and farther away from Jerusalem, who would believe that he was king of the Jews?), and a refinement in their impression as to what constituted the kingdom and its Messiah. That Peter acknowledged Jesus to be the Christ in Caesarea Philippi—when all evidence suggested otherwise—marked the beginning of his understanding of what Jesus’ kingdom was all about. Further, it is possible to see in these withdrawals a last-ditch effort by Jesus to salvage the nation for the kingdom. Once it became quite clear to him that the nation would not repent, he altered his tactics in three ways: (1) a harsh condemnation of the nation for its impenitence (cf. especially ch. 23); (2) a narrowing focus on honing his disciples for their ministry (cf. chs. 18-20); and (3) a widening of the invitation to now include Gentiles into the kingdom.

Now that his disciples showed some inkling of understanding just who Jesus really was, it was time to reveal to them the full story: the Messiah must suffer and die in Jerusalem, and then rise again (16:21-28). Only when they had grasped that his kingdom was of a different sort than the crowds had wanted could Jesus take the risk of revealing this to the disciples. Even then, their response was rejection (16:22-23). Nevertheless, the march back to Jerusalem must begin. What would be interpreted by the multitudes as a military king’s march to power was in reality a proleptic funeral dirge.

To encourage his disciples in the face of his return to Jerusalem, he took three aside and revealed his future glory (17:1-13) via transfiguration. Then the instructions began (17:14–18:35). It is unclear as to why Jesus, according to Matthew, decided at this juncture to spend so much time instructing his disciples. Perhaps it was because they needed his sense of compassion for the lost, or because they needed to see the expanding commission to include Gentiles, or perhaps they simply needed more training. Probably it is all these reasons and more—namely, that he would not physically be with his disciples forever (although Matthew does not make nearly as strong a point of this as do either Luke or John).

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus instructed his disciples concerning faith (17:14-21), tribute and the proper role of those in authority (17:24-27), humility and childlikeness (18:1-4), salvation (18:5-14), discipline in the new assembly (18:15-20), and forgiveness (using a parable about an unmerciful servant, 18:21-35).

“When Jesus had finished saying these things he left Galilee” (19:1).

The last section which culminates with a major discourse deals with Jesus’ presentation of himself to Jerusalem, then the consequent rejection (19:3–26:1). But this section begins where the last one left off: with Jesus instructing his disciples—only this time, they are in Judea (19:3–20:34). Arguably, the focus of the teaching is now even more strongly related to the kingdom than before. And once again, there are reminiscences of the Sermon on the Mount in the instruction given. The instruction deals with: (1) fidelity to one’s spouse and the option of total dedication to God’s kingdom without marital entanglements (19:3-12); (2) childlike faith as a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom (19:13-15); (3) finding one’s security and reward in Christ, rather than in one’s physical possessions (19:16–20:16); (4) a well-placed third mention of his death and resurrection (20:17-19), followed up by (5) a discussion—prompted by James’ and John’s request, and exemplified by Jesus’ own actions of healing two blind men—of what it really means to be great in the kingdom (20:20-34).

This last miracle—the healing of two blind men (20:29-34)—is an appropriate hinge leading into the formal presentation of the king to the nation (21:1-17). For only with the eyes of faith could these blind men see that Jesus was the “Son of David” (20:30, 31), yet the nation was truly blind for not perceiving this upon Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.

Jesus presented himself formally with his so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem (21:1-11). But rather than coming as a military king (though he seems to have been hailed as such), Jesus was offering himself as the ultimate paschal lamb—on the very day in which the lambs were selected for the Passover celebration (Nisan 10). Appropriately enough, he went right for the temple (21:12-17). There he proved his own unblemished state by cleansing the temple (21:12-13) and by healing the sick (21:14). It is evident that although the religious leaders did not accept him (21:15), many of the populace did (21:16-17): Jesus’ remark about the children accepting and praising him as a fulfillment of Psalm 8:2became a final object-lesson to his disciples about the necessity of childlike faith (cf. 18:1-4; 19:13-15).

Even though Jesus was the perfect, unblemished lamb he was rejected by the nation (21:18–22:46). The nation simply failed to accept him as king, Messiah, and Son of Man—as he defined the terms. This segment begins with a foreshadowing of the nation’s rejection by God in that a fig tree was cursed and withered up because it did not bear fruit (21:18-22; cf. 7:19 and John 15:1-8). Then, there is foreshadowing of conflict with the religious leaders when Jesus’ authority is once again questioned (21:23-27).

These two foreshadowings frame the narrative for three parables (21:28–22:14) and four confrontations (22:15-46). In the parables of the two sons (21:28-32), the wicked tenants (21:33-46), and the wedding banquet (22:1-14), Jesus aims three carefully chosen volleys at the vital organs of the religious leaders. All three show God’s simultaneous rejection of the nation and welcoming of “sinners” and Gentiles into the kingdom.

The final confrontation in which the nation’s rejection of its king is sealed comes in four rounds (22:15-46). First, the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to unmask Jesus as an impostor to the throne in the question of paying taxes to a foreign king, Caesar (22:15-22). Then, the Sadducees attempt to discredit all possibility of a spiritual kingdom with their question about Levirate marriage in the resurrected state (22:23-33). The final question of the day came from a scribe who wished to reveal Jesus’ lack of rabbinic training: What sort of commandment is great in the Law, he asked (22:34-40). Jesus’ responses to these confrontational questions, in effect, turned each question on its head and made the questioners look foolish. Then, he turned the tables by asking them a question: Whose son in the Christ? (22:41-46). His own response, that Christ the son is David’s Lord and would reign forever (quoting from Psalm 110), caused all questioning to stop (22:46). It was futile for the religious leaders to win a war of words; they must try another way.

After the rejection of the king by the nation, now the king unveiled his rejection of the nation because of its impenitence (23:1-39). First, he instructed his own about how to relate to the Pharisees (23:1-12), then he uttered seven woes upon the Pharisees (23:13-36), culminating in an outright condemnation of them (23:33) for their rejection of past and future spokesmen for God (23:34-36). This very severe discourse was not prompted by malice, however, but by pity over the unrepentant leadership, typified in “Jerusalem” (23:37-39). Even to the end, Jesus had compassion on the lost, but to those who did not recognize their own lost state the words had to be severe.

The ultimate proof that the nation had been rejected by God would, of course, be the demise of its religious infrastructure.  Thus Jesus led his disciples out of the temple—in symbolic rejection of it (24:1-2)—and brought them to the Mount of Olives (24:3). There he revealed not only signs of the end of the Jewish cult (24:2, 15), but also of the consummation of the kingdom as seen in the king’s return in glory (24:26-45). Speaking as a human prophet—rather than as the omniscient God (24:36)—Jesus not only did not know when his own return would be. He also did not know that the (initial) destruction of Jerusalem would take place at least two thousand years before his return. One thing is for sure: Jesus saw the fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse, in some sense, taking place within a few years (24:34).

The Olivet Discourse then concludes with three analogies—all of which are designed to strengthen the disciples’ resolve for perseverance and preparedness (25:1-46). The parable of the ten virgins addresses preparedness (25:1-13), the parable of the talents addresses faithfulness and perseverance (25:14-30), and the analogy of the sheep and goats addresses judgment and reward at the end of the age (25:31-46).

The Olivet Discourse concludes with the now familiar refrain, “When Jesus had finished saying all these things” (26:1). Thus ends the final major discourse of the king.

With the future judgment of the nation on his mind, Jesus now returns to the reason for that future judgment, the nation’s rejection of its king (26:2). He predicts his death for the fourth time, but this time does not mention the resurrection (most likely to emphasize the reasons for God’s rejection of the nation rather than the hope of the disciples). Chapters 26 and 27 are occupied with the crucifixion of the king; chapter 28, with his resurrection.

Jesus’ enemies were busy with preparing for his death (26:3-5, 14-16) just as he was, too (26:6-13). His final preparation for death came in two strokes: (1) celebration of the sacrificial lamb of the Passover with his disciples—at which time he proclaimed the inauguration (but not consummation) of the kingdom (26:17-30; cf. 26:28-29), (2) followed by his time alone with the Father in the garden of Gethsemane (26:36-46).

The rejection by his nation reaches its height with the betrayal by Judas at his arrest (26:47-56) and even the triple denial by Peter (26:68-75; cf. 26:31-35)—the very one to whom Jesus’ Messiahship had first been revealed at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus is then tried before the religious leadership of the nation (26:57-67), and before the political power of Rome (27:11-26). In an ironic twist of history, the Jewish Sanhedrin finds him guilty and Pilate, who represents Roman might, is powerless to prevent his execution.

The king is crucified between two thieves (27:32-44). Thus he left the world as he came into it—in humility and degradation. The nature of his kingdom is seen in his death, for the sign posted on his cross stated in three languages that “This is Jesus, King of the Jews” (27:37). Entrance into the kingdom had to be through the cross. At his death the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom (27:51), symbolizing the end of the Jewish cult and free access to God through a new mediator. There were further signs that his death was not merely the death of a righteous man, but the death of God’s own Son (27:51b-53). The irony of these signs is that a lone Gentile, a centurion, interpreted them correctly and believed (27:54).

Jesus was then hurriedly buried in a rich man’s tomb (27:57-61) and guarded by dispatched sentries (27:62-66). Matthew is at pains to show that Jesus was truly dead and that he could not escape from the grave (27:59).

On the day after the Sabbath, on the first day of the week, the two Marys visited the tomb (28:1). But the stone had been rolled away (28:2). An angel spoke to the women and told them to go to Galilee where the resurrected Christ would be (28:5-7). On the way to the disciples they meet Jesus (28:8-10).

Meanwhile, the guards were bribed to give a false report about Jesus’ disciples stealing the body (28:11-15). “And this story has been widely circulated among he Jews to this very day” (28:15). Clearly, Matthew is employing his best apologetic skills in defense of the resurrection, for it is final proof that Jesus was the king of the Jews.

The Gospel concludes with the eleven disciples going to Galilee to receive their final commission from Jesus (28:16-20). This commission is contrasted with the one in chapter 10, for there they were sent only to Israel; here, they are sent to “all nations.” The expansion of the gospel’s net to include Gentiles is thus seen against the backdrop of the nation’s rejection of its king. The motifs of national rejection and Gentile reception of the king—foreshadowed in chapter 2—now reach their culmination. And with this culmination, Matthew has skillfully answered the question about Jesus’ “failure” to establish the kingdom: he did not fail; the nation did. And all who now embrace him as king enter into relation with the king (and hence, the kingdom is beginning to grow—cf. ch. 13). The Immanuel, “God with us” (1:22), is truly with his disciples until the end of the age (28:20b).

Matthew-The-Tax-Collector

Matthew-The-Tax-Collector

III. Outline

I. The Incarnation and Preparation of the King (1:1–4:11)

A. The Incarnation of the King (1:1–2:23)

1. The Genealogy of the King (1:1-17)

2. The Birth of the King (1:18-25)

a. The Betrothal to the Virgin (1:18-19)

b. The Angelic Visit to Joseph (1:20-21)

c. The Fulfillment of Prophecy (1:22-23)

d. The Birth of Jesus (1:24-25)

3. The Childhood of the King: Foreshadowing Events to Come (2:1-23)

a. The Worship of the Magi: Foreshadowing of Gentile Worship (2:1-12)

1) Magi Coming to Jerusalem (2:1-5)

2) The Fulfillment of Prophecy (2:6)

3) Magi Worshipping the King (2:7-12)

b. The Escape to Egypt: Foreshadowing of Jesus’ Withdrawals (2:13-15)

1) The Escape to Egypt (2:13-14)

2) The Fulfillment of Prophecy (2:15)

c. The Slaughter of the Innocent Ones: Foreshadowing of Death of Christ (2:16-18)

1) Herod’s Slaughter of the Babes (2:16)

2) The Fulfillment of Prophecy (2:17-18)

d. The Return to Nazareth: Foreshadowing of Jewish Rejection of Jesus (2:19-23)

1) The Return to Nazareth (2:19-22)

2) The Fulfillment of Prophecy (2:23)

B. The Preparation of the King (3:1–4:11)

1. The Preparation for the Kingdom by John the Baptist’s Preaching (3:1-12)

2. The Inauguration of Ministry by John’s Baptism of Jesus (3:13-17)

3. The Demonstration of Worthiness by the Devil’s Temptation of Jesus (4:1-11)

II. The Declaration of the Principles of the King (4:12–7:29)

A. The King’s Ministry Begun (4:12-25)

1. The Occasion: John’s Imprisonment (4:12-16)

2. The Message: The Nearness of the Kingdom (4:17)

3. The Calling of the First Disciples (4:18-22)

4. Summary of the King’s Ministry (4:23-25)

a. Proclamation (4:23a)

b. Proof (4:23b-25)

B. The King’s Message Declared (5:1–7:29)

1. The Setting (5:1-2)

2. The Subjects of the Kingdom (5:3-16)

a. Blessings by God (5:3-12)

b. Responsibilities before Men (5:13-16)

3. The Truth about the Kingdom (5:17–7:12)

a. Exposition of the Intent of the Law (5:17-48)

1) The Law’s Principles Affirmed (5:17-20)

2) The Law’s Intentions Explained (5:21-48)

a) Regarding Hatred and Murder (5:21-26)

b) Regarding Lust and Adultery (5:27-30)

c) Regarding Commitment and Divorce (5:31-32)

d) Regarding Honesty and Oaths (5:33-37)

e) Regarding Rights and Retaliation (5:38-42)

f)  Regarding Love and Hatred (5:43-48)

b. Exhortation toward Internal Righteousness (6:1-18)

1) Summary: External Vs. Internal Righteousness (6:1)

2) Specifics: The Rewards of External and Internal Righteousness (6:2-18)

a) The Rewards for Almsgiving (6:2-4)

b) The Rewards for Praying (6:5-15)

c) The Rewards for Fasting (6:16-18)

c. Examination of the Intentions of the Heart (6:19–7:11)

1) Regarding Investments (6:19-24)

2) Regarding Worry (6:25-34)

3) Regarding a Critical Spirit toward Believers (7:1-5)

4) Regarding Discernment toward Unbelievers (7:6)

5) Regarding Petitions toward God (7:7-11)

d. Summary on the Intent of the Law (7:12)

4. The Way to Enter the Kingdom (7:13-27)

a. The Two Gates (7:13-14)

b. The Two Trees (7:15-23)

c. The Two Houses (7:24-27)

5. Conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount: Response of the Multitudes (7:28-29)

III. The Commission of the Messengers of the King (8:1–11:1)

A. The Power of the King Demonstrated (8:1–9:34)

1. Compassionate Miracles (8:1-17)

a. Leprosy (8:1-4)

b. Paralysis (8:5-13)

c.  Fever and Demons (8:14-17)

2. The Cost of Discipleship (8:18-22)

3. Authoritative Miracles (8:23–9:8)

a. In the Realm of Nature (8:23-27)

b. In the Realm of the Supernatural (8:28-34)

c. In the Realm of the Spiritual (9:1-8)

4. The Nature of Discipleship (9:9-17)

a. The Calling of Matthew (9:9-13)

b. The Question about Fasting (9:14-17)

5. Courageous Miracles (9:18-34)

a. Life (9:18-26)

b. Sight (9:27-31)

c. Speech (9:32-34)

B. The Proclamation of the King Delegated (9:35–11:1)

1. The Compassion of Jesus (9:35-38)

2. The Commission of the Twelve (10:1-42)

a. The Delegation of Authority (10:1-4)

1) The Nature of the Authority (10:1)

2) The Names of the Apostles (10:2-4)

b. The Directions to the Apostles (10:5-42)

1) The Sphere and Nature of their Work (10:5-8)

2) The Provisions for their Work (10:9-15)

3) Their Perseverance in the Work (10:16-31)

a) In Spite of Persecution (10:16-23)

b) In Light of the Rejection of their Master (10:24-25)

c) In Response to God’s Sovereignty (10:26-31)

d) In the Hope of Heavenly Acknowledgment (10:32-33)

e) In Recognition of the Claims Jesus Makes on them (10:34-39)

4) The Reward for Hospitality (10:40-42)

3. Conclusion of Commission, Continuation of Ministry (11:1)

IV. The Opposition to the King (11:2–13:53)

A. The Antagonism of the Jews (11:2–12:50)

1. Commendation of John in spite of his Doubts (11:2-19)

a. The Doubts by John (11:2-6)

b. The Commendation by Jesus (11:7-15)

c. The Capriciousness of the Multitudes (11:16-19)

2. Condemnation of the Cities because of their Unbelief (11:20-24)

3. Invitation to the Weary to Find Rest (11:25-30)

4. Confrontation with the Pharisees in Light of their Mounting Hostility (12:1-45)

a. Concerning  Jesus’ Authority over the Sabbath (12:1-21)

1) Plucking Grain (12:1-8)

2) Doing Good (12:9-14)

3) Foreshadowing: Prediction of Gentile Reception (12:15-21)

b. Concerning Jesus’ Power over the Supernatural (12:22-37)

c. Concerning Jesus’ Proof of Spiritual Source (12:38-45)

5. Invitation to the Willing to Become God’s Children (12:46-50)

B. The Parables of Jesus (13:1-53)

1. The Setting (13:1-2)

2. The Responsibility of those who Hear (13:3-23)

a. The Parable of the Sower (13:3-9)

b. The Purpose of the Parables (13:10-17)

c. The Parable of the Sower Explained (13:18-23)

3. The Parables of the Kingdom (13:24-50)

a. The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds (13:24-30)

b. The Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32)

c. The Parable of the Leaven (13:33)

d. Fulfillment of Prophecy (13:34-35)

e. The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds Explained (13:36-43)

f. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (13:44)

g. The Parable of the Pearl (13:45)

h. The Parable of the Net (13:46-50)

4. The Responsibility of those who Understand the Parable of the Householder (13:51-52)

5. Conclusion to the Parables, Continuation of Ministry (13:53)

V. The Reaction of the King (13:54–19:2)

A. The Withdrawals from the Antagonists because of Rejection (13:54–16:20)

1. The Catalyst (13:54–14:12)

a. Unbelief in Hometown of Nazareth (13:54-58)

b. Beheading of John by Herod (14:1-12)

2. The Withdrawals (14:13–16:20)

a. To a Deserted Place (14:13–15:20)

1) Miracles Performed (14:13-36)

a) Feeding of the Five Thousand (14:13-21)

b) Walking on the Water (14:22-33)

c) Healings at Gennesaret (14:34-36)

2) Pharisees Confronted: Clean Vs. Unclean (15:1-20)

a) Confrontation with the Pharisees (15:1-9)

b) Declaration to the Crowd (15:10-11)

c) Instruction of the Disciples (15:12-20)

b. To the Region of Phoenicia: The Healing of the Canaanite Woman’s Daughter (15:21-28)

c. To the Sea of Galilee: The Feeding of the Four Thousand (15:29-38)

d. To Magadan (15:39–16:12)

1) The Withdrawal to Magadan (15:39)

2) The Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ Demand for a Sign (16:1-4)

3) The Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ Teaching Warned Against (16:5-12)

e. To Caesarea Philippi: The Revelation of Jesus’ Person (16:13-20)

B. The Return to Judea in spite of Rejection (16:21–19:2)

1. The Catalyst: The Prediction of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (16:21-28)

2. The Comfort: The Transfiguration (17:1-13)

3. The Instruction of the Disciples in Galilee (17:14–18:35)

a. Concerning Faith (17:14-21)

1) The Healing of a Demon-Possessed Boy (17:14-18)

2) The Challenge to the Disciples (17:19-21)

b. Concerning His Death and Resurrection: Second Mention (17:22-23)

c. Concerning Tribute (17:24-27)

d. Concerning Humility (18:1-4)

e. Concerning Salvation (18:5-14)

1) Warning against Stumbling Blocks (18:5-9)

2) Searching for Lost Sheep (18:10-14)

f. Concerning Discipline (18:15-20)

g. Concerning Forgiveness (18:21-35)

4. Conclusion of Instruction, Continuation of Journey (19:1-2)

VI. The Presentation and Rejection of the King (19:3–26:1)

A. The Instruction of the Disciples in Judea (19:3–20:34)

1. Concerning Divorce, Marriage, and the Kingdom (19:3-12)

a. Confrontation about Divorce (19:3-9)

b. Celibacy and the Kingdom (19:10-12)

2. Concerning Childlikeness and the Kingdom (19:13-15)

3. Concerning Wealth and the Kingdom (19:16–20:16)

a. The Rich Young Man: Security in Riches (19:16-26)

b. The Disciples: Security in Christ (19:27-30)

c. The Parable of the Vineyard: Rewards in the Kingdom (20:1-16)

4. Concerning His Death and Resurrection: Third Mention (20:17-19)

5. Concerning Servant-Leadership and the Kingdom (20:20-34)

a. John’s and James’ Request (20:20-23)

b. Jesus’ Response (20:24-28)

c. Jesus’ Example: Healing of Two Blind Men (20:29-34)

B. The Presentation of the King (21:1-17)

1. The Preparation for the King’s Coming (21:1-7)

2. The Entrance into Jerusalem (21:8-11)

3. The Entrance into the Temple (21:12-17)

C. The Rejection of the King by the Nation (21:18–22:46)

1. The Withering Fig Tree: Foreshadowing of the Judgment of the Nation (21:18-22)

2. Jesus’ Authority Questioned: Foreshadowing of Conflict (21:23-27)

3. Three Parables: Stimulus for Confrontation (21:28–22:14)

a. The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32)

b. The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33-46)

c. The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1-14)

4. Four Confrontations: Evidence of Rejection (22:15-46)

a. By the Pharisees and Herodians: Paying Taxes to Caesar (22:15-22)

b. By the Sadducees: Marriage at the Resurrection (22:23-33)

c. By the Pharisees: The Great Commandment (22:34-40)

d. Against the Pharisees: Whose Son is the Christ? (22:41-46)

D. The Rejection of the Nation by the King (23:1-39)

1. Instructions to the Crowd and Disciples concerning the Pharisees (23:1-12)

2. Warnings to the Pharisees concerning Themselves: The Seven Woes (23:13-36)

a. First Woe: Shut out of the Kingdom (23:13-14)

b. Second Woe: Swearing (23:15-22)

c. Third Woe: Straining out a Gnat (23:23-24)

d. Fourth Woe: Cleaning the Cup (23:25-26)

e. Fifth Woe: Whitewashed Tombs (23:27-28)

f. Sixth Woe: Murdering the Prophets (23:29-32)

g. Seventh Woe: Pronouncement of Judgment (23:33-36)

3. Lamentation over Jerusalem (23:37-39)

E. The Predictions of the King concerning the Judgment of the Nation and the Consummation of the Kingdom (24:1–26:1)

1. The Setting in the Temple (24:1-2)

2. The Discourse on the Mount of Olives (24:3–25:46)

a. Signs of the End of the Age (24:3-35)

b. The Day and Hour Unknown (24:36-51)

c. The Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1-13)

d. The Parable of the Talents (25:14-30)

e. The Sheep and the Goats (25:31-46)

3. The Conclusion of the Olivet Discourse (26:1)

VII. The Crucifixion and Resurrection of the King (26:2–28:20)

A. The Crucifixion of the King (26:2–27:66)

1. The Prediction of His Death: Fourth Mention (26:2)

2. The Plot to Kill Jesus (26:3-5)

3. The Preparation for His Death (26:6-46)

a. The Anointing at Bethany (26:6-13)

b. Judas’ Agreement to Betrayal (26:14-16)

c. The Last Passover (26:17-30)

d. The Prediction of Peter’s Denials (26:31-35)

e. Gethsemane (26:36-46)

4. The Arrest of Jesus (26:47-56)

5. The Trials of Jesus (26:57–27:26)

a. The Trial Before the Sanhedrin (26:57-67)

b. Two Disciples’ Responses (26:68–27:10)

1) Peter Denies Jesus (26:68-75)

2) Judas Hangs Himself (27:1-10)

c. The Trial Before Pilate (27:11-26)

6. The Crucifixion of Jesus (27:27-56)

a. The Mocking of the Soldiers (27:27-31)

b. The Actual Crucifixion of Jesus (27:32-44)

c. The Death of Jesus (27:45-56)

7. The Burial of Jesus (27:57-66)

a. Joseph’s Tomb (27:57-61)

b. Pilate’s Guard (27:62-66)

B. The Resurrection of the King (28:1-20)

1. The Empty Tomb (28:1-10)

2. The Guards’ Report (28:11-15)

3. The Great Commission (28:16-20)

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul, Studies in the Gospel of Matthew

The Height of Hypocrisy Matthew 23:25-39

25 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too!

27 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have participated with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 By saying this you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up then the measure of your ancestors! 33 You snakes, you offspring of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 “For this reason I am sending you prophets and wise men and experts in the law, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35 so that on you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, this generation will be held responsible for all these things!

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it! 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate! 39 For I tell you, you will not see me from now until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Introduction

In the Walt Disney version of the film, “Pollyanna,” Hayley Mills plays Pollyanna Whittier. This young girl has lost both of her missionary parents and has come to stay with her spinster aunt, Polly Herrington, played by Jane Wyman. Karl Malden plays the part of Rev. Paul Ford, the “fire and brimstone” preacher at the church where Polly and Pollyanna attend. At one point, Rev. Ford has a life-changing conversation with Pollyanna. In short, Pollyanna tells Rev. Ford that her father preached only the “happy texts” of the Bible. I feel quite confident that Pollyanna’s father would never have preached Matthew 23, for this could hardly be called a “happy text.”

A number of the commentators are certainly not very “happy” about this chapter. What I found interesting is that while some commentators found much to say against this chapter, some of my most trusted scholarly resources seemed to have too little to say about it. I want to deal with this matter later in this message because I believe the final verses of chapter 24 resolve a number of the issues that trouble some of the critics of this chapter.

Our Text in Context

By His triumphal entry, temple cleansing, possession of the temple, teaching and healing, Jesus had claimed His rightful title as Israel’s Messiah. The Jewish religious and political leaders of Jerusalem understood this and took their best shot at discrediting Jesus and undermining His authority. They failed miserably. Every question they posed proved them to be in error, and Jesus to be in authority. Their final response is stunned silence.

In chapter 23, Jesus now turns the tables, attacking their leadership and authority. He accuses them of usurping the “chair of Moses.” If their assumed role was legitimate, then everything they said should have been followed and preserved. But what they say must be judged by what they do. You might call this the “hypocrisy quotient”: What one says, divided by what one does. Jesus then goes on to show that the scribes and Pharisees are complete hypocrites, and thus they should not be followed.

To begin with, they spend all their energy creating massive burdens to place upon the people, and yet will not lift so much as a finger to help people with these burdens (Matthew 23:4; contrast Matthew 11:28-30). While they do not have any compassion towards those they lead, they delight in the honor and status that these common folks bestow upon them (verses 5-7). They love the places of honor and the titles that set them apart from and above the rest.

Jesus uses the scribes and Pharisees as examples of what not to do. He cautions His disciples not to take titles for themselves that distinguish some above their brethren. He goes even further to warn His disciples of accepting titles which rightly belong only to God the Father (verse 9), or God the Son (verse 10). In His kingdom, it is the humble who are exalted, while those who exalt themselves will be humbled (verse 11).

In verse 13, the “woe’s” begin. In verses 13-15, Jesus reveals the ultimate reason why men should not submit to the leadership and authority of the scribes and Pharisees. They should not follow the scribes and Pharisees because they are headed for hell, and they will lead their followers after them. The masses (who, at this moment, are the only ones who still have respect for our Lord’s authority “ see Matthew 21:45-46), who are somewhat favorable to Jesus, find the scribes and Pharisees barring the door to the kingdom by utilizing the full extent of their influence to keep people from following Jesus. And the very few whom the scribes and Pharisees invite to join their elite group become twice as much a child of hell as their mentors.

Verses 16-24 describe the scribes and Pharisees as playing a game of “Trivial Pursuit.” You will remember that Jesus accused His adversaries as saying one thing, but doing another. Now, our Lord shows just how much of a science they have made of their hypocrisy. Verses 16-22 focus on oaths “ things they not only say, but swear to; verses 23-24 focus on tithing. The scribes and Pharisees make false distinctions, thus providing a way of escape from what they have promised. If one swears by the temple, he is not obligated to keep that vow. But if one swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to keep his vow. Jesus shows that these distinctions are false, and that one is obliged to keep his vow, without distinction. (We know from Matthew 5 that vows should not be necessary at all, for we should be people of our word “ see Matthew 5:33-37.)

In verses 23 and 24, our Lord indicts the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy in regard to tithing. The Law taught tithing. The scribes and Pharisees were meticulous about tithing, when it came to trivial things. They made much of tithing when it came to small things like mint, dill, and cumin. But in making much of small things, they made little of very important things like justice, mercy, and faith. In our Lord’s assessment, they “strained gnats and swallowed camels.” Their attention to little things was a pretext for ignoring the most important things of all.

Inside Out

Matthew 23:25-28

25 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too!

27 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28).

This brings us to the first verses in our passage for this lesson. Verses 25-28 have something in common “ they call attention to an undue interest in outward appearances, rather than on what is on the inside. This should come as no great surprise to us. In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus warned about performing our righteous deeds (charitable giving, prayer, and fasting) before men, for their praise. Earlier in chapter 23, Jesus has said that “they do all their deeds to be seen by people” (Matthew 23:5). Since the scribes and Pharisees loved to be esteemed as more spiritual than others, we would expect them to be preoccupied with external appearances, rather than the heart.

In Leviticus, God talked about the defilement of vessels like plates and cups:

31 These are the ones that are unclean to you among all the swarming things. Anyone who touches them when they die will be unclean until evening. 32 Also, anything they fall on when they die will become unclean”any wood vessel or garment or article of leather or sackcloth. Any such vessel with which work is done must be immersed in water and will be unclean until the evening. Then it will become clean. 33 As for any clay vessel they fall into, everything in it will become unclean and you must break it (Leviticus 11:31-33).

Even here, it was what went into the cup that defiled it. Preoccupied as they were with appearances, the scribes and Pharisees were obsessive about the outside of the cup looking clean, so obsessive that the inside could be filled with the most putrid and defiled matter, and it would seemingly be ignored, so long as the outside looked good. These fellows would have been great at selling used cars.

Pharisaism assumed that if the outside looked good, everything else must be good. Hypocrisy is a concerted effort to mask our failures (otherwise known as “sin”) by making appearances look good. Jesus tells us that true cleansing begins on the inside “ in the heart “ and expands to the outside.

The next “woe” continues the theme of a discrepancy between the outside, which looks good, and the inside, which is corrupt. But Jesus changes images from cups and dishes to tombs. I am aware of the Jewish practice of whitewashing tombs just before Passover, so that no unsuspecting person would innocently come into contact with the dead, and thus defile himself. But I am not so sure that this helps us a great deal. Jesus does not seem to be talking about the poorly marked grave of some pauper, a grave that would hardly be noticeable, apart from whitewashing. I understand Him to be speaking of a very elegant tomb, whose beauty is enhanced by whitewashing. It is so beautiful that it attracts attention and invites people to draw near to admire it. This outward adornment distracts from the corruption and defilement contained within.

The scribes and Pharisees are hypocrites because they are like these beautified tombs. They seem so lovely and attractive, if judged solely by outward appearances. But inside there is the greatest measure of defilement. Outside the scribes and Pharisees look so holy, so pious, so zealous for the things of God, but inside they are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Those who would have others believe that they are zealous for the law are those whom Jesus refers to as being full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Grave Error Exposed

Matthew 23:29-36

29 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have participated with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 By saying this you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up then the measure of your ancestors! 33 You snakes, you offspring of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 “For this reason I am sending you prophets and wise men and experts in the law, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35 so that on you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, this generation will be held responsible for all these things!” (Matthew 23:29-36)

HypocriteNotice the almost seamless transition from the previous “woe” to this new “woe” in verses 29-36. Jesus had described the scribes and Pharisees as being like a beautiful tomb. Now, tombs are employed to expose yet another form of hypocrisy. Jesus is in Jerusalem, where the tombs of a number of prophets could be found. True to their hypocritical form, the scribes and Pharisees beautified the tombs of the “righteous” (verse 29) “ the prophets (verse 30). By thus honoring the prophets of old (who were regarded as righteous), the scribes and Pharisees gave the impression that they too were righteous. Many of these prophets had been murdered, however, so the scribes and Pharisees made it very clear that they would have had nothing to do with treating the righteous in such a manner.

Jesus says something very interesting about this; indeed, one might say, something very perplexing. It was by saying that they would never have treated the prophets of old in such manner that they, in fact, indicted themselves. They actually prove themselves to be the “sons of their rebellious fathers,” who murdered the prophets by claiming they would never have joined them in their wickedness. How does this work? How does saying you would never have done what your ancestors did make you guilty with them?

The scribes and Pharisees, like their ancestors, felt they were innocent. Did those who murdered the prophets say, “We are guilty sinners, worthy of the judgment the prophets have pronounced against us, but we don’t want to obey God, so we will murder His prophets to silence them”? No! They believed that they were right and that the prophets were wrong. They were innocent, but the prophets were guilty, and worthy of death.

The scribes and Pharisees rejected the words of condemnation of John the Baptist and Jesus because they felt that they were righteous. They found words of condemnation harsh and inappropriate, especially when addressed to them. The people of old maintained their innocence in the same way, even as they were putting the prophets to death. And thus, by insisting on their innocence, they only give more substance to the charges against them.

In contrast to the scribes and Pharisees, consider these texts, in which godly men of old identified themselves with the sins of their forefathers:

5 Then I said, “Please, O Lord God of heaven, great and awesome God, who keeps his loving covenant with those who love him and obey his commandments, 6 may your ear be attentive and your eyes be open to hear the prayer of your servant that I am praying to you today throughout both day and night on behalf of your servants the Israelites. I am confessing the sins of the Israelites that we have committed against you both I myself and my family have sinned. 7 We have behaved corruptly against you, not obeying the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments that you commanded your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 1:5-7).

We have sinned like our ancestors;

we have done wrong, we have done evil (Psalm 106:6).

25 Let us acknowledge our shame.

Let us bear the disgrace that we deserve.

For we have sinned against the Lord our God,

both we and our ancestors.

From earliest times to this very day

we have not obeyed the Lord our God’ (Jeremiah 3:25; see also 14:20).

4 I prayed to the LORD my God, confessing in this way: “O Lord, great and awesome God who is faithful to his covenant with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned. We have done what is wrong and wicked; we have rebelled by turning away from your commandments and standards. 6 We have not paid attention to your servants the prophets, who spoke by your authority to our kings, our leaders, and our ancestors, and to all the inhabitants of the land as well. 7 “You are righteous, O Lord, but we are humiliated this day” the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far away in all the countries in which you have scattered them, because they have behaved unfaithfully toward you. 8 O Lord, we have been humiliated”our kings, our leaders, and our ancestors” because we have sinned against you” (Daniel 9:4-8).

This being the case, Jesus has some very strong words of condemnation for the scribes and Pharisees, the strongest so far in this chapter. The scribes and Pharisees share in the guilt of their ancestors for killing the prophets. They actually “fill up” the measure of the sins of their forefathers. They are snakes, the offspring of snakes, and they will not escape being condemned to hell. Strong words indeed!

There is still another way the scribes and Pharisees will demonstrate that they are the sons of those who killed the prophets. They will prove themselves guilty with their ancestors by repeating the sins of their forefathers. Jesus says that He will send them prophets and wise men and scribes, whom they will persecute and kill, just exactly as their forefathers had done. In so doing, they will become guilty for the murders they have committed, and for those of their forefathers. This present generation will be held accountable for the murder of every righteous saint from Abel onward (verses 35-36).

How can this be so? How can one be guilty of crimes that were committed long before you were born? First of all, they will be guilty for rejecting Jesus, and for killing Him. They will also be guilty for murdering some of the righteous of their own generation. Somehow, there must be a connection between the rejection of the prophets of their own day and the rejection of the prophets of old by their forefathers. Here is the way I understand this connection. Matthew, more than any other Gospel writer, goes to great links to prove that the events of our Lord’s birth, ministry, and death are the fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures.

Our Lord Himself has emphasized the connection between His ministry and that of John the Baptist, who was the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Since the scribes and Pharisees are aware of the connection Jesus has made between Himself and the Old Testament prophets, then the rejection and murder of Jesus is, in effect, the rejection and murder of all of our Lord’s predecessors. Has this link not already been made by our Lord?

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. 34 When the harvest time was near, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his portion of the crop. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and get his inheritance!’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him” (Matthew 21:33-39).

How bone chilling it is to read of these words from the lips of those who advocated the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus:

In reply, all the people said, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25)

And so it would be! And not only His blood, but the blood of all the righteous martyrs before Him.

Judgment on Jerusalem

Matthew 23:37-39

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it! 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate! 39 For I tell you, you will not see me from now until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23:37-39)

It would probably be advisable for us to compare these final words of our Lord in Matthew 23 to our Lord’s words regarding Jerusalem in Luke 19:

41 Now when Jesus approached and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had only known on this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and surround you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will demolish you” you and your children within your walls”and they will not leave within you one stone on top of another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19:41-44, emphasis mine).

I am truly amazed at the amount of whining I find over our Lord’s “woes” in Matthew 23. Frederick Dale Bruner is often a source of real insight, so it was pretty amazing to read his comments at the beginning and at the end of chapter 23:

The pitch of Jesus’ prophetism in this sermon is so high and its attack so bitter that some interpreters have difficulty believing that the historical Jesus ever said much of it … .

In the Foreword his massive third-volume Matthew commentary, Luz, 3:vii, is candid about his own relation to this most problematic of all the Matthean chapters: “In the Woe Speech of chapter 23, I stand as an interpreter next to the text in a state of shock and I sometimes wish that this chapter did not stand in the Bible.”

Most critical commentaries and studies believe that Matthew’s depiction of Jesus’ judgment on Pharisaism in this chapter, in the heat of polemic, was unfair to Pharisaism.

So what do we do with a chapter where Jesus seems to violate his own command to love enemies (5:43-48; cf. 22:34-40; Stanton, Interp., 14)? Increasingly one hears the solution of attributing the chapter’s hateful parts to a surcharged Matthew. For Jesus doesn’t talk this way (e.g., Schnackenburg 2:221; This is not the Jesus we know elsewhere; recently, Hare, 264).

Why is it that the scholars find Jesus’ words so offensive and repulsive? This kind of prophetic condemnation is not new; it is frequently found in the Old Testament prophets. It is likewise found in the preaching of John the Baptist:

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, 9 and don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am” I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire” (Matthew 3:7-12).

The scribes and Pharisees are not only going to play a leading role in the arrest and crucifixion of our Lord, they are the “blind guides,” who are responsible for leading others to hell (Matthew 23:13-15). Jesus not only speaks strongly and with severity to the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites; He speaks strongly in the hearing of the masses, because they must know who it is they are inclined to follow. To choose to follow the scribes and Pharisees is to choose to proceed on the path to certain damnation. This is no time for warm, fuzzy talk when judgment is both certain and near.

I still found myself agonizing as to why the scholars (at least a number of them) had so much trouble with our Lord’s indictments in chapter 23. And then it struck me! They come as close to the scribes and Pharisees as anyone can today. The scribes were scholars and teachers. They are a part of an elite, academic community. They have their academic regalia (their robes, tassels, etc.), and they are often given special titles, recognition, and places of honor. They may lay heavy loads (of homework) on their students, and offer little help. They may, in the name of scholarship and precision, make fine distinctions that are not really valid. They may teach one way and live another. Most importantly, they may teach in a way that turns people from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. No wonder they are most uncomfortable hearing strong words of condemnation and the threat of hell. Unsaved Bible scholars may claim to be men of God, but when they do, they are hypocrites.

The severity of our Lord’s words seems appropriate in the light of these words of warning from James:

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well. 3 And if we put bits into the mouths of horses to get them to obey us, then we guide their entire bodies. 4 Look at ships too: Though they are so large and driven by harsh winds, they are steered by a tiny rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination directs. 5 So too the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions. Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze. 6 And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the entire body and sets fire to the course of human existence” and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. 8 But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters. 11 A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water. 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings (James 3:1-13).

Now let us consider our Lord’s “hard words” in Matthew 23 in the light of the last three verses of this chapter. Allow me to make several observations concerning these verses.

(1) When Jesus speaks here, He speaks as God. Prophets spoke for God, but Jesus spoke as God. Jesus is not merely prophet, He is the Prophet. He is the One who sends out prophets and wise men (Matthew 23:34). He is the One of whom all the prophets spoke (John 1:451 Peter 1:10-12). He is the One who desires to gather Jerusalem’s children and keep them under His protective “wing” (Matthew 23:37). He is the One who is going to return, and when He does people will say, “‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23:39). Jesus speaks as One having authority, and not as their scribes (see Matthew 7:28-29). You expect one with infinite authority to speak in an authoritative way, especially when judgment is needed.

(2) Jesus speaks severely, but with tears in His eyes. I am reminded of the harsh words with which Joseph addressed his brothers and also of the tears he shed in private (Genesis 42:9-24, 30; 43:30). These last verses inform us that our Lord loved Jerusalem and His chosen people deeply. He takes no delight in the eternal destruction of lost sinners:

For I take no delight in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:32)

(3) Jesus speaks as One whose desire it is to lovingly protect His own people, as a mother hen protects her chicks. The imagery here reveals the heart of Jesus, and of His compassion.

(4) Jesus’ words of condemnation, like those of John the Baptist  and other prophets, were strongly stated, but with the goal of calling men to repentance.

6 “I, the Lord, say, ‘O nation of Israel, can I not deal with you as this potter deals with the clay? In my hands, you, O nation of Israel, are just like the clay in this potter’s hand.’ 7 There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or a kingdom. 8 But if that nation that I threatened stops doing wrong, I will forgo the destruction I intended to do to it (Jeremiah 18:6-8).

Jesus, who was the fulfillment of all the prophets of old foretold, was totally in character with those prophets in condemning sin and warning sinners of the coming wrath of God, unless they repent.

(5) Jesus speaks strongly here of judgment that is actually coming upon those who have rejected Him, and this judgment is coming soon. Is it harsh to tell a cancer patient that they will soon die unless they undergo major surgery? Is it harsh to strongly warn motorists that the road ahead is washed out and that unless they turn around they will plunge to their death? The peril of which our Lord speaks is real. The shocking bluntness of Jesus is a measure of how real and how terrible it is.

Is this hanging on the wall of your Heart?

Is this hanging on the wall of your Heart?

(6) Jesus speaks here of His return and of the blessings that will accompany Him. It will only be a few hours before the people will cry out, “Away with Him!” (John 19:15). These people know that He is coming back, and His return will mean blessing to those who receive Him for who He is.

(7) Jesus speaks more broadly here, and not just to the scribes and Pharisees, but to all Jerusalem. While the scribes and Pharisees must bear their guilt as leaders, the people of Jerusalem will bear their guilt for choosing to follow the wrong leaders, and thus for their participation in the death of Jesus. Until now, it was the favor of the crowds that kept Jesus alive, but that is about to end. Jesus’ words of imminent judgment include the people of Jerusalem, along with their leaders.

Conclusion

Let us remember that Matthew 23 is our Lord’s final public preaching. These are the last words the scribes and Pharisees and people of Jerusalem will hear from the lips of our Lord. As Matthew 5-7 introduced our Lord’s public ministry to Israel, so Matthew 23 concludes it. Would the scribes and Pharisees dare to presume that they can take “the chair of Moses?” Jesus made it clear in His Sermon on the Mount that their religion would not get them there, and the people rightly grasped that Jesus spoke with much greater authority. Why would we be surprised that Jesus would speak with such authority here, in Matthew 23? Why are we surprised that Jesus speaks of their eternal torment in hell? If Jesus is who He claims to be, the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah, then does He not have the right to speak as He does here? If the scribes and Pharisees have resolved to kill Jesus, just as their forefathers killed the prophets of their time, does Jesus not speak rightly here? Who you are determines what you have the right to say. A general can rebuke a private and can certainly order his punishment. A private dare not speak the same way to a general. Matthew 23 is completely consistent with Jesus’ claims (and those of the Old Testament prophets, including John the Baptist) regarding His identity and authority.

Jesus’ words of condemnation reflect reality. Here is how God feels about sin. Here is how God will judge sin. Here is how seriously God takes the sin of religious hypocrisy. Here is how God will judge ungodly leaders, who not only reject Him, but who lead others to their eternal destruction. Are men uncomfortable with these words? They should be! But these words convey the truth about sin and judgment.

These words of Jesus in verses 37-39 speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, which will come upon that generation that rejected and crucified Him. History tells us that this judgment did come, just as Jesus said it would. If history has verified our Lord’s authority and accuracy regarding that generation, it is only right that we acknowledge His authority and accuracy about the judgment which is still future, the judgment that will come upon all men who reject Him as the Messiah, and as God’s only provision for eternal salvation. Do our Lord’s words in Matthew 23 sound severe? They are, and they are true. His severe words should convey to us how serious the rejection of Jesus is. The rejection of Jesus by Israel’s leaders, and by the people of Jerusalem, led to His crucifixion and to the destruction of Jerusalem. Rejecting Jesus as God’s promised Messiah is a most serious matter. It leads to God’s eternal judgment.

The good news of the gospel is that receiving Jesus as the Messiah leads to eternal blessings. Those who can say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” are those who will have their sins forgiven and who will spend eternity enjoying Him, and the blessings He provides. Let the severity of our Lord’s words serve to indicate how serious the decision is to accept Jesus or to reject Him, as Messiah, as God’s only provision for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.

Is it unduly harsh and unloving to tell condemned people that they are under divine condemnation? The reaction that some have to the severity of Jesus in Matthew 23 is also seen by the way Christians are reviled for speaking against sin today. We are told that it is harsh and unloving for us to tell homosexuals that this behavior is sin and that it results in eternal judgment. But this is what God says:

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood! (Revelation 22:14-15)

Who are you today?

Who are you today?

26 For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, 27 and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. 29 They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:26-32).

Does God hate homosexuality as sin? Yes! Will God judge homosexuality as sin? Yes! But notice something. It is not just homosexuality that is sin, sin that God will judge. Homosexuality is not the only sin that will keep men from heaven and condemn them to hell; every sin does that. God condemns homosexuality, alongside adultery and (heterosexual) immorality and greed and drunkenness and murder and envy (and a list of other sins, including hypocrisy). God condemns all sin, and its punishment is eternal torment. But God has also provided a remedy for sin. Jesus Christ came to bear our sins, to suffer our punishment, and t