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encouragement theology

Don’t Ignore Him!

Model of the Temple in Jerusalem, from Wikimedia Commons

Thoughts from Matthew 21…

This is a popular scene in art and literature. Jesus came to the temple, turned over the merchant tables, spilled the money boxes, and chased away the animals! People love to see how He reacted violently against the hypocrites of His day!

There are actually two parts to this passage in Matthew. The scene opens with the familiar scene of Jesus cleansing the temple. He threw out the corrupt money-changers and animal sellers and took possession of the temple. For two days, He stopped commerce through the temple property and restored it to its place of worship, prayer, and teaching. 

Jesus had cleansed the temple one time before. Exactly three years earlier, He had also entered the temple during Passover and drove out the animals and the money-changers. As shown in the study here, Jesus had dramatically entered the temple at the start of His ministry, showing that He was the coming Messiah by coming suddenly and purifying the temple (see Malachi 3:1-2). But now, three years have passed, and Jesus is at the conclusion of His earthly ministry. He cleansed the temple one final time to show what temple worship will be like under the rule of the Messiah.a b 

The second part of this passage is a contrast among those who heard Him. The blind and the lame came to Him to be healed and the children sang His praises. But the religious leaders — those who should have known the most about Him — were indignant! How dare the people praise this man! Instead of listening to Him, they started plotting His destruction. 

The priests should have been leading the worship of their coming King. The scribes had spent their lives studying God’s word, and should have been the first to identify their Promised Messiah. The city leaders should have been directing the people in recognizing their coming Lord. But instead, they were too caught up in their own agendas. Instead of coming to the One God as He walked on the earth, they chose to be His enemy and made plans to destroy Him.

The Bible talks often about the danger of “hardening your hearts” (see here). Every time we refuse God, or say “No” to Him, we lose some of our sensitivity toward Him. Like a slowly drying glue, each step away from Him makes us less able hear Him and to listen for His voice. We no longer care about what God wants as we fixate on our own agendas.

The priests and scribes had hardened themselves to the point that they had drawn clear battle lines against Jesus Christ. As their actions unfold across the next few days, they show the absolute worst of cruelty, ignorance, and bottomless wickedness. These are the ones who will ultimately contrive to betray, arrest, torture, and execute the Lord Jesus Christ. 

But the failure for these men happened long before this scene. As they learned about Jesus Christ and heard His claims, they were confronted with the truth. Every single one of them had a choice — would they believe Him, or would they hold on to their sin and reject Him? There were a few who chose to believe (see here), but most of them refused. They never doubted His signs and miracles, but they would never accept Him as their Lord.

It is easy to despise these wicked men from the Bible, but we must be careful that we don’t have the same hardness in our own hearts. Each one of us is given the same choice — will we believe His words and obey Him as our Lord, or will we stubbornly shake our heads and explain Him away? God will not continue to call us when we refuse Him, and each rejection brings us down the same path as these priests and scribes of Jesus’ day. These men knew their Bibles, were deeply religious, but were planning to kill the Son of God! May we listen to Him and obey Him when He calls!

Hebrews 3:12-13
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Previous post:  The King Has Come!

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Uncategorized

Events of the Passion Week

Sapphire Sky

Acts 1:3 says that Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering…”. The original term for Jesus’ suffering in the King James version is referred to as His “passion” (Acts 1:3, KJV). Therefore, most Bible teachers refer to the final week of Jesus’ suffering on earth as the “Passion Week”.

It is often difficult to compile the exact chronology of the events that happened during that week. None of the four gospel accounts are a complete biography of Jesus Christ and often time indicators are omitted.

The actual days of many of these events are often debated by Bible scholars. Below is my attempt to show the chronology of the events during the Passion week as we can best understand them.

I have also included links to blog posts about the subject(s) as the posts are available.

Sunday – Entry into Jerusalem

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encouragement theology Uncategorized

The King has Come!

This post regarding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was from 6 years ago, but it is as much a part of Matthew’s account as it was in the study on John’s gospel account.

Previous post in Matthew: The King Came to Serve

Sapphire Sky

GoldenGate

The East Gate of Jerusalem today

The first man and the first woman had a perfect life. They were free from any problems and would never die. They had a perfect relationship with God, and would personally walk with him in the garden.

Yet they destroyed all of that in their rebellion against God (Genesis 3). Now they faced hard labor, sickness, and death. Their relationship with God was permanently damaged, and they would be forever separated from God.

Their disobedience — their rebellion against God — was their sin. This sin would infect the entire human race through Adam’s descendants, leaving every person separated from God. Humans were no longer capable of having any relationship with God.

But God made a promise to this man and this woman. They would have a descendant who would save the human race from their sin. He would restore their relationship…

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encouragement theology

The King Came to Serve

Thoughts from Matthew 20…

What makes a person great? As I look back at the great men and women in history, there doesn’t seem to be any single answer. Some had extraordinary talent, such as military leaders like Julius Caesar or Napoleon, or as scientists, such as Albert Einstein or Alexander Graham Bell. Some were gifted storytellers, such as William Shakespeare or Charles Dickens. Some were great statesmen, such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill. 

I love the stories such as Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings, where ordinary, insignificant people rise to greatness when faced with overwhelming challenges. 

But what is God’s definition of greatness? As I read through his Word, I am overwhelmed by the fact that the Lord’s definition of greatness is completely different from my own thinking. He doesn’t identify major talents, abilities, personalities, or even the amount of work that makes a man or woman great. Greatness in His eyes is built on one single factor.

The great person is the one who serves. It is not the authoritative leader but the willing servant who is great in God’s eyes.

Matthew 20:26-28
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

There are three scenes Matthew 20 related to greatness. In the first scene, the subject is about Jesus Christ himself. He has already told his disciples that He will die but now it is much more immediate and specific. As He is speaking, they are headed to Jerusalem where He will be betrayed, persecuted, tortured, and crucified. He will die the most humiliating and degrading death on a Roman cross. That is what is in store for the Lord Jesus Christ. But that’s not all, because after three days he will rise again.

The second scene, shortly after his announcement, happens when James and John bring their mother for a special request to Jesus Christ. They would like a special position in His Kingdom, to be able to sit at his right and left when He reigns as King Supreme. They are prepared to do whatever it takes, believing that they have the strength to suffer through the worst torture for this admirable goal. But they’ve missed the point of greatness in His kingdom. The great one isn’t the one who sits beside the King, the great one is the one who is willing to be a servant. Not just a day laborer, but one who totally lays aside his rights, and is a worthless slave to others. Jesus himself was their example because He did not come to be served but to serve had to give his life as a ransom for mankind. He gave his life for the very people who hated him!

And finally, we see the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ in action. He was walking through the city of Jericho when he was accosted by two blind men, screaming for his attention. They knew who he was, that He could heal them, and so they begged for his mercy. He is a coming king, and won’t He help them? “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. “We want to see!” was their reply. Not only did the Lord heal them, but He held them up as an example of great faith. Jesus demonstrated His own service as He went through this town. He was ready to go and give His life to die, yet He stopped to minister to the needs of these two outcasts.

How many times do we shut down messages from the Lord because it seems like bad news? When we close our ears to anything but good news, we are missing His point. We cut out our ability to hear him and our ability to serve because we are no longer listening to the Master.

How many times do we look for an honored or a lofty place, when He would rather have us serve? We may never receive honor from other people, but the true definition of greatness is the one who willingly becomes a servant.

And finally, how many times do I focus on myself when a person with real needs walks directly by me? We need to be willing to stop what we are doing and be interrupted by real needs God‘s kingdom.

May we grow in true greatness as we find opportunities to serve our Lord and to serve others!

Previous post: The Last Will Be First

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encouragement theology

The Last Will Be First

Thoughts from Matthew 20…

Matthew 19:27 – 20:16
Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The last will be first, and the first last. 

Jesus bookends the parable in Matthew 20 with this statement. The last will be first, and the first will be last. In between, He illustrates this statement with the story of a landowner who needed workers for his vineyard. He found workers at the start of the day and agreed with them to work the day for a single coin.a Then, throughout the day, he went back to the marketplace, finding additional workers and promising them a fair wage. The final group of workers was sent out at 5:00 — one hour before closing.b

At closing time, the landowner assembled his workers to pay their wages, starting with the most recent hires. Each worker was given a single coin, regardless of when they started. The earliest group of workers, who had been working all day, expected a higher payment than the others, and grumbled when they received the same coin as everyone else. The master replied to these workers that he was not being unfair because they were being paid what they agreed upon. It was the master’s prerogative to pay as he saw fit and to give generously to others. He had done them no wrong by paying them the same wage as those who had worked for only an hour.

This is a simple parable, but what points should we make from this passage?

First, why had Jesus taught this lesson to His disciples at this time? We can see the intended point of this story by looking at the events that led up to it. The rich young ruler comes to Jesus but leaves in sorrow because he cannot part with his wealth to follow Him (see here). This scene prompted a discussion with the disciples regarding the difficulty of a rich man entering the kingdom of heaven, but with God all things are possible. Peter declared that they had left all of their worldly goods for Him, so what kind of rewards will they have? The Lord’s response is that the twelve apostles will have authority over the tribes of Israel, but all who sacrifice for Jesus Christ will be richly rewarded. Everyone who has left people or possessions behind for His sake will receive back a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

So what was Jesus teaching His disciples with this parable? He had taught that they would be richly rewarded for what they had given up for His sake, and will have eternal life. In this context, He uses the parable to show them that the extent of their rewards cannot be compared with others — neither in their amount nor in their timing.c There is no room for personal pride nor entitlement in God’s kingdom. The rewards are totally up to God’s sovereign will, but he promises to bless all of us. Be happy that you are blessed and don’t focus on what the others have.

Some workers will work longer, will accomplish more, and may be more famous in His service. Some of His children will live and die in obscurity, completely forgotten by the rest of the world. But neither of these factors are important to The Lord. All who serve Him will have sufferings and persecutions in this world, but will be generously rewarded in His Kingdom.

As we apply this section of God’s Word to our own lives, we first need to to remember not to be concerned about others. God’s plan for others is none of our business. This was the same message that Jesus gave to Peter at the end of His ministry when he asked about John (see here). Our Lord’s message to Peter still applies to us today as he told him, “Don’t worry about my plans for him, you follow me!”

Secondly, we need to remember that God has not forgotten us. He is watching us through every trial and heartache that we are going through. When we obeyed Him and everything worked out with wonderful results, He was there! He has not forgotten and we will be richly rewarded for our service to Him. 

But there are the other times when we simply struggle to get up in the morning. We try to follow Him but things only seem to get worse. We have no words of wonderful praise in our hearts, and everything we do seems to be thrown back into our faces. Yet even in these dark days, He is still there. He has not forgotten and we will be richly rewarded for our struggle for Him. 

Some days we are like Daniel. We give counsel to kings and face down the hungry lions that would devour us. But other days we are like Jeremiah, crying out to God from the bottom of a muddy well. But take comfort that He has not forgotten us! He will give us strength to get through today and promises a wonderful reward in His kingdom!

Mark 10:29-30
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Hebrews 13:5
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Previous Post: What is In The Way?

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encouragement theology

What Is In The Way?

Thoughts from Matthew 19…

We are proud of our individualism. After all, most of the great American accomplishments of the past 200 years have come as a result of this attitude. Great men and women have struggled to shake off the shadows that defined them and to strive for greatness. We have great inventors, great teachers, and great leaders because of this struggle to rise up above the mediocrity of our daily lives.

Even in the church, we see the benefits of this individualism. We look back at the atrocities of the medieval church, when worshippers were subservient to the priests, depending on them for what to know, what to feel, and what to believe. The common man was never allowed to read the Bible for himself, and it was unheard of to interpret scripture apart from their leaders. We are glad to be free of these hardships and happily embrace the fact that as believers, we can come to know God and to learn about Him ourselves! The priesthood of believers is real!

I am immensely grateful for these accomplishments. I can strive for greatness, limited only by my own abilities and not someone else’s oppression. I can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and learn about Him directly from His Word. I’m not obligated to a priest or another religious leader for what to do, say, or to think. We have a lot to be thankful for!

But it is too easy to lose some important truth in our rise to individualism. Over and over again in Scripture, the Lord makes this point clear: we are responsible for each other. It’s not just all about me! I am responsible to love and care for my neighbor. 

When the lawyer came to Jesus asking for the greatest commandment, He immediately replied that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (see here). But he didn’t stop there. There is also the second commandment. It is important to love God, but we also need to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to care for, honor, and take responsibility for our brothers and sisters.

A rich man came to Jesus with a simple question, “What do I need to do to have eternal life?” Our Lord didn’t take him through a plan of salvation, nor did He ask him to pray the sinner’s prayer. In fact, He never once told him to pray, nor to trust, nor any of the other critical steps to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Instead, He directed him to the Old Testament laws, to the commandments to help his fellow man. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, honor your parents, and love your neighbor. The man replied with confidence that he had done all that. Surely he must be ready for the kingdom! But Jesus saw that he was missing one thing. He told him to get rid of all his wealth and give it to the poor, knowing that he would have treasures in heaven. And then to come and follow him.

The man couldn’t do it, so he left in sorrow. His wealth was his barrier between him and the Lord.

How can we understand this passage? God’s word says clearly that we are not saved by doing good works. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus also shows the same message. We are saved by believing in Him. So is He telling this man something different? Did this man really need to do good deeds and give away his riches in order to be saved and to have eternal life? When we look at this passage, the following points should come out.

First, the ultimate end for this man was not to help others, nor to give to the poor, nor to dispose of his wealth. What Jesus required of the man was to follow Him. He could never follow Jesus Christ as long as he held onto his riches, so the riches had to go. Whatever is standing in the way between you and Jesus Christ needs to go, whether it be big or small. We all need to follow Him!

Second, we need to help our fellow man. This is not optional. As mentioned throughout Scripture, we know that we are not saved by helping our neighbor, yet it is this giving attitude that demonstrates that we do trust and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we trust Him, we will do His commandments. We should be thankful that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but we demonstrate our true heart by our actions. See also the study here.

And finally, Jesus promises that we will have treasure in heaven. We need to have a spiritual value system, not an earthly value system. Our worldly values are meaningless in God’s eyes, but it is the treasure in heaven which is the most important. This the world that lasts forever, beyond what we can currently see here on earth!

“Make Christ the Lord of your life; trust Him as your Savior; yield your all to Him, and you will eventually receive more than you have ever left.” – H.A. Ironside3

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” – Jim Eliot

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encouragement theology

Forgive Like God Forgives

Thoughts from Matthew 18..

How much time do I spend thinking about myself? If we are honest with ourselves, it is shameful to think about how self-centered we can be. We genuinely try to be good to others, but our main focus is much too often about ourselves. 

The disciples were arguing amongst themselves regarding who was the greatest when Jesus came to stop their debates. Their greatness was not the point. They needed to have the humility of a child before they could even think of entering the kingdom, let alone be the greatest! The greatest among them is the one who has the faith of a little child!

And what is the greatest enemy of that faith? He then proceeded to describe this enemy of our faith. We often make light of it, to sweep it away or ignore it. We consider ourselves loving and tolerant when we can accept people for their failures and don’t mind when they are doing something wrong. We have learned in our culture to accept ourselves for our bad judgment and shortcomings. 

But what does God say about our bad judgment or our shortcomings or our failures? He describes it with one word: sin!

We immediately think of religious connotations when we hear of the word, “sin”. We think of it as a word used by people in church — especially when they’re about to judge others — but we never use it in our everyday life. And we certainly would never want to use it to describe ourselves!

But what is sin? Sin is any time we disobey the God who made us. We sin when we actively disobey him, such as lying, stealing, or any other ways that we break his commands. We also sin when we hold on to evil thoughts, such as revenge, lust, or anger. We also sin when we refuse to do something good. God has set a standard that none of us can achieve and we all are guilty. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of God‘s glory. 

Part of the definition of sin describes how we missed the mark. The original root word of sin was an archery term, defining the distance from the center of the target, showing how far the archer had missed. But the other part of sin describes active rebellion. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned, not only because they missed the mark, but because they rebelled against God. They knew what God wanted, but decided to do something different. Just like us! We are all guilty — we all miss the mark and we all rebel against God. Every day!

I am so thankful for Jesus Christ when I think of my own failures, and the rebellion and shortcomings in my own life. I am thankful that he came to take away my sin and to save me from its penalty. Without him, I would be facing an eternity separated from God!

But the disturbing part is when I realize that, after I have been cleansed, I want to go back and play with the same things that brought such disaster! 

This is what Jesus is teaching about in Matthew 18. It is important to remember that He is speaking to His disciples, who are already following Him. This message is for those who are already part of His kingdom as He teaches them about the dangers of playing with sin once you are a child of God.

He first describes the danger that you become to others. When you play with sin, you cause other people near you to fail. This is the horror of causing one of the little ones to stumble, to the point that you are better to drown yourself than to let that happen! Beware of sin because of the damage it has on those around us.

Next, he teaches about the danger of sin against each other. If your brother has wronged you, you need to resolve it. It’s not an option to ignore it, to overlook it, or to just be quiet and talk to others about it. We need to resolve this sin between two members of the body of Jesus Christ, even if it involves severe discipline. The potential conflicts and worries associated with confronting your brother is nothing compared to the danger of letting the sin fester between you.

And finally, he teaches about the danger of sin in yourself when you refuse to forgive. Don’t keep track of the number of times that you have been wronged. Forgive infinitely. And most disturbing of all, remember that you cannot receive God‘s forgiveness until you forgive others!

These instructions are hard. None of us can do this perfectly, but this is God’s standard. This is God’s way. May we ask his forgiveness when we fail him!

Previous post: Who is the Greatest?

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encouragement marriage and family theology

Who is the Greatest?

Thoughts from Matthew 18…

It wasn’t supposed to be about children. The Lord‘s followers had had the greatest experiences with Him so far! They had been to the mountaintop with him and personally saw His glory. They saw Him cast out a violent demon from the raving child. They had personally confessed that He was their King and God!

But now that they were back in town and had time to settle, there was time to contemplate the big question. They all brought a lot to The Master’s kingdom, but who brought the most? Who is the greatest? 

Peter could say that he was the greatest. After all, he was the one who often spoke for the others. He was their self-proclaimed leader. He was in the Lord’s inner circle and scored a personal invitation to the mountaintop. Didn’t Jesus even say that he had the keys to the kingdom?

James and John could say that they were the greatest. After all, they were part of the inner circle too. They also had been with him on the mountaintop, but without Peter’s stupid comments! And above all, they were related to the Lord!

The list could go on. Philip brought his practical side. Andrew was one of the first disciples. Nathanael could talk about how the Lord took away his doubt. Thomas wasn’t afraid to speak up. Matthew could handle money. Simon the Zealot could claim that, after all, he had the most zeal. Judas was a cultured southerner, and probably the best educated. Each of them had a claim to be the greatest!

But when the Lord came to them, he ignored every one of their claims. Instead, he went and brought Peter‘s child to them and set him down among the men.a Using the child he showed them that, If you even want to enter the Kingdom, you need to trust Him like this child. You need to realize that you are totally helpless and dependent without Him. You need to trust Him without question. The greatest ones in His Kingdom are the ones who will humble themselves like this child.

But the child wasn’t merely an illustration. The society of Jesus’ day cared little for children, yet He took time to show how much they mean to Him. Our Lord treasures children, and has sent His personal angels to care for them (Matthew 18:10).

He is always open to children and welcomes them. It is the trusting children, not the proud adults, who will receive the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:14). 

He promises that when you care for and lead a child, you are caring for Jesus Christ Himself! (Matthew 18:5)

But He also warns of the terrible fate that awaits those who would mislead children. If you are the cause of them turning away from Jesus Christ, you are better off to tie a big stone around your neck and drown yourself in the ocean! (Matthew 18:6) It would be better for you to destroy your body than to give into temptations that would hurt these children! (Matthew 18:7-9)

And finally, we should value children like the Lord values them. He doesn’t want any one of them to perish. Like the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine safe sheep to find the one lost lamb, so He cares for each one of them! (Matthew 18:12-14)

May we love and care for the children in our lives the way our Lord loves them. And for all of us, May we come to Him with the trust of a child!

Previous post: What Kind of Faith Do You Have?

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encouragement theology

What Kind of Faith Do You Have?

Thoughts from Matthew 17…

Matthew 17:20
“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Some promises in God’s Word seem too good to be true. Jesus promises that we can ask Him for anything, and my mind immediately goes to my Christmas list. There are lots of things I want in life. I want to be healthy. I want more money. I want to be “successful” at work. I want to be famous or popular. I want to run fast.

We all have our own wish lists of things that we want. Some are small and insignificant, while others can consume our entire lives in their pursuit. God has given us some wonderful promises in His Word that seem to show that He is ready to give us whatever we want.a And in Matthew 17, Jesus promised His disciples that if they had as much faith as the tiniest of seeds, they would be able to move a mountain! Furthermore, Jesus repeats this same promise two more times (see Matthew 21:21, Luke 17:6)!

So how can we have this kind of faith? Is God ready to give us everything we want? How do we move a mountain?

To answer these questions, we need to look more closely at what true faith looks like.

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encouragement theology

The Mountain Top

Lake George from Spruce Mountain
Adirondack Mountains, NY

Thoughts from Matthew 17…

I love to reach the mountain top. We have a favorite peak to climb every year during our family vacation in the mountains. The hike can be difficult, but we battle the bugs and thorn bushes to reach the summit. It is all worth it when you get to the top! The trees pull away to a spectacular view of the mountains and the lake far below. The air is fresher, the bugs seem to quiet, and we take time to bask in the glory of our conquest.

Yes, the mountain top is great, but you can’t live there. We climb to the top to get our dose of nature, but we always need to return. As enjoyable as it is to be up high, we still need to come home for dinner. Our climb is not complete until we return back to the home below.

Jesus gives us mountain top experiences in our lives too. If you have known Him long enough, you are familiar with these times. These are the times when the trees part and everything falls together. You get a glimpse of His plan and you bask in the glory that He knows you and cares for you.

We are encouraged by the mountain tops in our lives, but we can’t live there. There is much more in our lives than to simply sit back and wait for things to go right. We have a lot more to do here on earth, and we have a lot more to learn.

Peter, James, and John had a mountain top experience in this next scene in Matthew 17. They had spent six days in the pagan society of Caesarea Phillippi when Jesus took the three of them up the mountainside. They climbed the slopes of snowy Mount Hermon for an overnight prayer meeting with their Lord. But once they were up on the mountain, Jesus prayed while his friends slept.

We don’t know all that the Lord Jesus talked about with the Father that night, but He must have prayed about His upcoming death and departure. It wasn’t even a week since He dropped the message on His shocked disciples — He was going to die and leave them! He must have been especially burdened for His bewildered followers as there, on the mountainside, He gave three of them a special glimpse of His glory. 

All they knew of Jesus Christ was his outward, humiliated form, yet they trusted Him. They knew He was Lord although they still stumbled in their doubt. How could their Lord talk about dying? Didn’t He know the hideous torture that would await Him if He were captured by the Jews? Wouldn’t they all suffer the same fate? It is one thing to talk about denying yourself when they were on the mountain, but what about when they came back to the real world? How could they face their enemies?

The Lord allowed them to see a glimpse of who He really is. He is not just a simple teacher. He shone out with complete brightness, showing the glory of God. Next to Him stood Moses the lawgiver, for Jesus is the answer and the fulfillment of the law. Also next to Him stood Elijah the prophet, for Jesus is the answer to the promise given by the prophets. 

The three disciples awoke to see Jesus in His glory, talking to the two great men of old. And once again, Peter couldn’t keep his mouth shut, exclaiming, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” The final kingdom is coming and it is time to build shelters! Let’s start with three shelters: for the Lord, for Moses, and for Elijah!

Moses and Elijah are great men, but they do not compare to the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter’s foolish statement puts the three of them as equal, but it is Jesus that they should be listening to. Peter needed to shut up and listen!

We should be encouraged by our experiences, but we cannot live by them. Peter, James, and John experienced the glory of Jesus Christ and instead of listening, they were ready to build shelters! The other disciples weren’t even allowed to know about this experience. They needed to follow His Word instead of trusting their own feelings and memories. They needed to listen to Him!

It was not until years later that Peter learned his lesson. Both Peter and John would remember this time on the mountain as they witnessed the Lord’s glory. John spoke of it in the introduction to his gospel account:

John 1:14
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

And just before his death, Peter used this memory to remind his listeners about the truth of the gospel:

2 Peter 1:16-18
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

We can be encouraged by the mountain top experiences, but we cannot look for a great experience to save us or to sustain us. We need to follow the truth of Jesus’ word. Experiences will never break through our unbelief, nor will they free us from our confusion. We need to listen to Him!

Previous post: Take up your Cross!

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encouragement Ministry theology

Take Up Your Cross!

The Banias Waterfall, Caesarea Phillippi
Photo by Grace Seifert

Thoughts from Matthew 16…

Matthew 16:24-28
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”b

Mark 8:34 – 9:1
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

Luke 9:23-27
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

This is the paradox of following Jesus Christ. Those who try to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life will save it.

Jesus is taking His disciples from death to glory. He starts out with the announcement of His upcoming betrayal and death, and He ends his charge to them with the promise that He will come back in glory with the angels.

Likewise, if we are truly His followers, we must follow Him in His death. We must deny our own rights, pick up the ultimate humiliation and death – a Roman cross. That is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Note that the contrast is by hyperbole. You will never own the entire world, nor will you sell your own soul. But what is important to you? Is success in this world more important than your soul? Because if you live for what you can gain in this world, you will lose the rewards from Jesus Christ, and may be in danger of losing your very soul.a

The successful in this world have no value in Christ’s kingdom. Those who lay aside their worldly rights will be rewarded in Jesus Christ’s kingdom.

What does it mean to deny yourself? We commonly use this term for dieting and physical training. We sacrifice an immediate pleasure in order to gain something greater in the long term. Although this is a meaningful application, the self-denial that Jesus is talking about here is much greater than passing up a favorite dessert or pressing harder in your workout routine. Jesus is saying to lay aside your pleasures, relationships, and even your human rights for the sake of His kingdom. But the point is not to be an ascetic nor a stoic. Rather, remember that your personal rights are meaningless in comparison to the rewards that will come from Jesus Christ himself.

The point is not about actions, it is about priority.

For example, Peter and the other disciples were shocked to find out that their leader was going to die. What is the value of following the Messiah if he was going to leave them? In answer, Jesus said that if you are to follow Him, then be prepared to die like Him. We need to die to sin (Romans 6), but we also need to die to our own rights. We need to give up the right to defend ourselves when we are maligned or persecuted. We are to give up the right to speak up and set the record straight when friends or family speak against us. 

Jesus never promises that He will even things out in this life. Instead, He promises the opposite. If you were going to follow Him, life will never be fair.

He said to “take up your cross”. They didn’t know yet that Jesus would die on a cross, but this was a common expression in that day. It meant to die in the most miserable, humiliating, and degrading way. This was total debasement and humiliation.c d  Are you willing to do that for Jesus Christ? Because that is what it will mean to be his disciple.

So what are your priorities? Are you looking to get ahead in this world? Are you looking to have a happy, successful life, and to be a nice Christian? What if that isn’t God’s plan for you? What will you be willing to let go? Your wealth or physical comfort? What about your health? Your family? Your reputation? 

There is no way that we can predict what our life will be like. We often fear the worst kinds of life if we give it to Jesus, such as dying as a martyr or being handicapped for life. Jesus never gives us an outline of what specific hardships we will see in our life. We often fear the worst things yet He assures us that He will never give us more than we can handle. But the main issue is, what will it take to get you to look to Jesus so closely — so closely that nothing else matters. That you’re willing to lay aside everything to follow him. He is all that matters. That is what it means to follow him!

Jesus outlines two paths in this passage. The first path is the way of the world. It starts out in glory and ends in death. The second path is the way of Jesus Christ. it starts in death and ends in glory. Which path will you choose?

Previous post: Who Do People Say That I Am?

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encouragement theology

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Thoughts from Matthew 16…

Who is Jesus?

Many people of Jesus’ day asked this question. Was He a prophet? Was He a great teacher? Was He a king?

But what about today? If Jesus was a prophet, did His predictions come true? If He was a great teacher, are any of His teachings relevant today? If He was a king, what happened to His kingdom?

Who was Jesus Christ? 

Who is Jesus Christ?

Why does it matter?

Matthew has written the Gospel account to answer this specific question. In every scene throughout this book, Matthew has shown the answer to this question. But this answer is expressed the most simply and directly by Simon, as he responded to Jesus in Matthew 16:

Matthew 16:13-23
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

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encouragement theology Uncategorized

What is God Doing Around Us?

Thoughts from Matthew 16…

We live in uncertain times. I am writing this from isolation as the virus pandemic is sweeping across the globe. We have many questions about what will happen — to our jobs, our health, or our loved ones? Will God take care of our needs during these times? Is it OK to question God?

It is easy to get so worried about our own lives that we miss what is happening around us. We can get so focused on our own world and our own needs that we miss what He is doing around us.

Jesus gave that same answer to both His enemies and His followers when He was confronted in Matthew 16. He had crossed the Sea of Galilee only to be met by His enemies when they landed on shore. They demanded a final proof. They wanted to be wowed before they would believe. 

But instead, Jesus showed them their blindness. They looked to the sky for the weather but they were blind to what God was doing in the world. The Kingdom of Heaven had come to them and they were missing it! 

And yet His own followers were worried about their bread supply. They had forgotten how Jesus had — twice — fed massive crowds with lots of leftovers. He will take care of the physical needs — they need to be concerned with the truth of His good news!

Matthew 16:1-12
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

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encouragement theology

Caring for the Outsiders

Thoughts from Matthew 15…

It was a long, hot summer, and Jesus had been traveling for weeks. His enemies had mobilized against Him and He responded by leaving, taking only His disciples. He travelled north, to the pagan regions of Tyre and Sidon, only to be approached by a foreign woman with big need (see here). He healed her daughter, but then left town as the crowds began to gather. 

Jesus Christ was less than a year from the cross, and He needed to prepare His disciples. They still did not understand and time was running out! After the crowds followed Him to Tyre, He then travelled further north to Sidon, then back around south and east to the Decapolis, the independent cities east of the Jordan River (now modern-day Jordan). 

But even in this remote area, Jesus could not be alone. Great crowds found Him, begging for His healing touch for their loved ones. He stayed with them for three days, teaching them and healing them. 

Jesus’ own people had rejected Him (see here), yet here in these foreign territories, the outsiders crowded to Him! But even through all of these interruptions, Jesus responded with healing and compassion, even to the point of feeding them when their supplies ran out!

Matthew 15:29-39
Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

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encouragement theology

Dogs Under the Table

Thoughts from Matthew 15…

I am sitting here reading this passage during a time of high stress. Life has been overwhelming. My plans haven’t worked out, so I need to try twice as hard. I’m disappointed by those I thought I could count on.

The perfect ingredients for a pity party!

And then I sit down to read this passage. I am far from any type of worship, and thoughts of devotion are far away. But I promised myself this morning that I would read the Bible, so I better get it over with!

It’s not a long passage, and since I didn’t really pay attention, I read it again. It is a familiar scene about a foreign woman begging Jesus to heal her daughter. About the third time through, I start to realize how selfish I am. I have been so caught up in myself!

Jesus often challenged the people around Him. Whether to draw out a suffering woman, to send out a man on a mission, or to confront His unbelieving disciples, He never settled for simple agreement with Him. He wasn’t looking for popularity, He was looking for those who truly believed in Him!

In this scene, a foreign woman approached Him, begging Him to heal her daughter. But Jesus wouldn’t help her until she completely humbled herself. She needed to put away any pride and then to simply trust in Him. But she had enough trust to believe that He would heal her daughter, and for Jesus himself to commend her, “Great is your faith!

Matthew 15:21-28
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

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encouragement theology

It’s the Inside that Matters

Thoughts from Matthew 15…

Many people think about Jesus Christ in terms of religion, which, to them, is a list of do’s and don’ts. Do good things and God will be happy with you. Do the wrong things and expect His guilt and punishment. 

This idea is nothing new. Even in the first century, when Jesus was on earth, people still thought along these lines. The Greeks and Romans had a pantheon of gods and goddesses who would curse and destroy you if you dared to cross them. Even the Jews, though they knew of the one true God, had forgotten what He required of them. 

There was a scene in the life of Jesus Christ, when He was confronted by the religious leaders. He had fed 5,000 people, yet the leaders were more concerned that they didn’t wash their hands properly! They didn’t purify themselves before eating.

There are some scenes in the Bible that we quickly skip over. Why spend time on a scene that we can’t relate to? How could this possibly apply to my life?

But more than any other, this scene captures the core difference between the religious leaders and Jesus Christ. What can you do to be accepted by a perfect God? What makes you ugly in his sight? 

What can you do to fix it?

Matthew 15:1-20
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

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encouragement theology

How do you respond to crisis?

This was another post that I wrote while studying John’s Gospel Account, over 5 years ago. I happened to encounter this passage again when studying Matthew and it is amazing how timely this message is!

It is such a great reminder as I go through crises in my own life that God is still in control! Like Peter, I need to keep my eyes on Jesus as He walks on the water!

Previous post: How do you handle interruptions?

Sapphire Sky

How do you respond in times of crisis?

In the next scene in John’s gospel account, we see both Jesus and his disciples at a time of crisis. It is often at these times, when we are at our limits, that we find out what we have and what we truly need.

For Jesus, this was a critical turning point in his ministry.  He has spent the last two and a half years presenting himself to the nation of Israel, showing that he is their king.  Jesus had spent the entire day teaching and healing a huge crowd of over 20,000 people, and now they want to make him a king by force. The people like what he has to say and are interested in his miracles, but they refuse to submit to him as Lord. Jesus will spend his remaining year preparing both his disciples and himself for his…

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encouragement theology

How do you handle interruptions?

I originally posted this study when going through the Gospel of John, back in 2015. This also covers the same events in the current study of Matthew.

My original post estimated that Jesus had fed about 20,000 people. We know that He fed “5,000 men, plus women and children”, but upon further reflection, a size of 20,000 seems unduly high. The number of recipients that day was probably about 10,000 to 15,000. It was still a very large crowd for Jesus to feed!

Previous post: Jesus at His Hometown

Sapphire Sky

What do you do when your plans are destroyed? How do you react when your day is thrown into chaos?

How do we handle it when God sends an opportunity in the form of a major interruption?

I have been studying the life of Jesus Christ, trying to understand more about his life and his ministry. The recent study in John 5 demonstrates that Jesus was fully God.  He was fully equal to God the Father in his works, in giving life, and in authority. There are no secrets between the Father and the Son.

But Jesus was also fully human. He did not exercise his divine power unless he was directed by the Spirit. Jesus had to grow and learn. He got tired. He felt pain, hunger, and loneliness like the rest of us.

Jesus would also make plans which would get interrupted. One of the best examples of…

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encouragement theology

Jesus at His Hometown

Thoughts from Matthew 13…

I had a difficult time trying to find an appropriate picture for this post. I couldn’t find a suitable picture of Nazareth, especially the way Jesus would have seen the town in the first century. I like this picture of the road through the trees because it reminds me of my own hometown. There is also a lot of symbolism with the road, the trees, the branches, and the roots, which reminds me of coming back home.

I originally worked on this study several months ago, but I am publishing this after a recent visit back home. It is amazing how quickly we fall into our traditional routines when we return home, and how we tend to expect the same from each other. This passage in Matthew 13 reminds me that I need to watch and listen more, even when I return back to a comfortable place.

Jesus had concluded one of the longest days of His ministry. He healed a demon-oppressed man, earning both skepticism from the crowds and accusations from the religious leaders. He accused the Pharisees of a blasphemy which could not be forgiven (see here). He was confronted by the scribes and Pharisees, demanding a sign (Matthew 12:38), and was interrupted by His mother and brothers (Matthew 12:46). He taught the series of parables (see here and here). And in the evening, He crossed over the Sea of Galilee, passing through a storm, and healing two violent men on the other side.

Perhaps it was simply exhaustion that then led Him back to his hometown of Nazareth. He had met violent rejection in His earlier visit, but something brought the Lord back again to the town where He grew up.a It may have been as simple as family business or the need to see familiar faces that drew Him back, but the most likely reason is that He came to give them one last chance to believe.

“And the sands of thirty years had buried the tale which the shepherds had brought; the wise men from the East had returned another way; the excitement which their arrival in Jerusalem and its object had caused, was long forgotten.” – Alfred Edersheim5

Matthew 13:53-58
And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Mark 6:1-6
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

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encouragement theology

The Parables of the Kingdom

bread on brown wooden chopping board

Thoughts from Matthew 13…

 

Jesus had spent over a year traveling through Galilee, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles (see here and here). He gathered large crowds and the people were excited to see what this man would do next! But when challenged, the people would rather listen to their leaders, believing He was from the devil, than over Him as their King (see here).

Facing the unbelief and rejection of the people, Jesus changed His method of teaching. He no longer taught directly about the kingdom of heaven, but instead, left His message encoded within parables.

Matthew 13:34-35
All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables;
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

Mark 4:33-34
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

These parables were simple illustrations that conveyed a much deeper spiritual truth. But they had a twofold purpose:

  • They illuminated the truth for those who believed. Jesus explained the meaning of many of His parables, but only privately to His disciples when asked.
  • They concealed the truth from those who would not believe. He no longer taught truth to those who rejected Him.

See the previous post for more details about the purpose of parables.

This section of Matthew’s gospel account (Matthew 13) contains a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven. But we only have explanations in Scripture for three of these parables (See the previous post for the first parable, the Parable of the Sower).

Therefore, we face the same question that Bible scholars have faced since the days of the early church. How do we interpret these parables? What do they mean? Why did God give us these parables if He didn’t also show us the meaning?

As we look at each of these parables, it is important to remember the following principles:

  • Who was the audience? We often look at these stories and jump to what it means for us. Yes, there is truth in each of these stories that we can apply to our lives, but don’t forget that Jesus was not addressing 21st-century Christians when He was speaking. Who was He speaking to?
  • What were the circumstances? What were the events in Jesus’ life when He was teaching these parables? How would these events direct His message?
  • What does other Scripture say? Jesus never taught a message that contradicted other words from God. Therefore, any interpretation of His teaching — including the parables — must be consistent with the rest of Scripture.

And finally, we cannot be dogmatic about our own conclusions when they are not in scripture. We can make inferences and assumptions, but we always need to go back to God’s Word as the source of truth and authority. See also the link here for more information about how to read and understand God’s word.

So why didn’t Jesus explain all of His parables? Pastors and Bible scholars have provided several possible answers:

First, remember again that Jesus was directing His parables to His disciples, not to us. Therefore, the disciples might have understood their meaning without further explanation. All of these parables are references to their culture and their times, using illustrations that they could easily recognize. The messages would have been easier for them to understand than for us who are much further removed.

But there is still a mystery in these parables which we cannot simply explain by the culture and the times. The entire crowd heard the parables but the meanings were hidden from the unbelievers.

Beyond the simple cultural understanding, these are other common answers for why we do not have explanations for all of Jesus’ parables:a

  • His message may have been already clear to the disciples. This is similar to the cultural understanding, but the disciples had spent the entire day with Jesus, and therefore would have the best context for understanding what He was about to teach them.
  • Jesus might have explained the parables, but the explanations were never recorded in Scripture. Matthew may have simply not seen it necessary to include all of the explanations.
  • Many times we don’t understand the parables because we try too hard. Jesus isn’t necessarily drawing a parallel to every nuance of these stories. We drive ourselves into confusion when we look for a spiritual allegory for every aspect within a parable. For example, in the parable of the pearl, we don’t need to understand the value, consistency, or location of the pearl.
  • Jesus may have intentionally left some of His parables unexplained. He didn’t always explain everything about Himself, as the disciples were often not ready to understand Him. The understanding could come later (see also John 16:25-26).

For us, we don’t always know the explanations for everything Jesus said. There are still many things that He has yet to reveal.