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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.

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encouragement theology

Who Will Listen?

blur close up focus ground

Thoughts from Matthew 13…

 

It is great to hear stories of success, about great men who have gone out to conquer evil rulers, rescue the oppressed, and live happily ever after! It is great to dream stories about these heroes.

It is also great to hear about famous preachers, and what they accomplished. Peter preached two sermons and thousands came to believe in Jesus Christ. Leaders of the reformation, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin challenged kings and rescued entire countries from the grip of the Medieval Church. Even in modern times, I remember watching at a Billy Graham crusade as thousands poured into the aisles, coming down to receive the good news of Jesus Christ.

These are all great memories, but it also catches me short. Why can’t I do that? Why don’t we see this power every day?

Are we missing something important when we don’t have these kinds of results?

It may be surprising to know that Jesus addressed this concern. It is easy to look at popular figures or large crowds, but Jesus showed that His way is not the way of popularity. He taught His people for over a year, yet both the leaders and the people rejected Him.

And so He changed His focus. Jesus would delay His earthly kingdom, focusing instead on His true followers and showing them about His heavenly kingdom, which surpasses everything we can see or hear or touch.

He also changed his teaching. He now started teaching in parables — simple metaphors which taught about the kingdom, but required a private explanation.a

“The word parable means “to cast alongside.” It is a story, or comparison, that is put alongside something else to help make the lesson clear.” – Warren Wiersbe4

And his first parable of this new teaching was a simple story about farming. A farmer went out to sow seed, but it was only on the good soil where the seed could germinate and produce fruit. The other soils — the barren path, the thin rocky soil, and the weed-choked polluted soil — could not sustain growth and were therefore fruitless.

But it was only in private with His disciples that He explained this message. His Word would go out to many different listeners, but many of the responses would be barren and fruitless. Only those who were of the good soil were capable of receiving it and producing fruit.

Matthew 13:1-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

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encouragement theology

Don’t Refuse Him!

beach dawn dusk evening

Thoughts from Matthew 12…

 

We all respond differently to the surprises in life. When we see something new, we react with a wide range of responses including boredom, skepticism, interest, commitment, or excitement. 

We often respond to God in the same way. Depending on our mood and our personality, we can be either skeptical, dismissive, or listening and ready to follow Him. There are too many times that God tries to get our attention, yet we instead dismiss or explain away what He is trying to tell us.

But Jesus had a serious message for the skeptics of His day. He came showing that His kingdom was at hand, and He was the coming King. He healed the sick, calmed the storm, and cast out violent demons. No one ever taught like this! He attracted massive crowds — so large that He could not even enter the towns!

Then, the religious leaders saw the crowds and were moved to jealousy. They started questioning Him, then openly challenging Him, until they were finally plotting to destroy Him.

But what about the rest of the people? They still followed Jesus wherever He went. But sadly, they liked His miracles, listened to His teaching, but would not believe Him (see here). He was only a great teacher to them, a popular act. 

It has been about two and a half years into His ministry, and only a year away from the cross, when He reached a turning point. The people brought to Jesus a demon-possessed invalid who had been rendered blind and mute, and He cast out the demon and healed the man. In one act, He gave irrefutable proof that He was their coming King: He healed the blindness, made the mute speak, and cast out the demon. He left no room for doubt!

But even with such proof, the people still refused to believe. They went to their leaders (the Pharisees) for an explanation, and they were quick to accuse Jesus of being empowered by the devil. Jesus responded to the Pharisees that their arguments were senseless and His power showed that kingdom has come. 

But Jesus then went a step further, judging their accusations. Whoever is not with Him is against him, they would not be forgiven for speaking against the Holy Spirit, and their words show that they were evil.

After this scene, Jesus began to turn away from the crowds, focusing instead on His disciples. He will teach parables in public which are only explained in private (Matthew 13). He will also take His twelve closest apostles away from Jewish territory as He begins to prepare them for His arrest and crucifixion (Matthew 14-17).

Matthew 12:22-37
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

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encouragement theology

He is Greater than Traditions

photo of a person s hand touching wheat grass

Thoughts from Matthew 12…

 

Traditions.

We celebrated the Fourth of July recently, complete with picnicking and fireworks. Through all the excitement and the fun, this national tradition helps us to remember the price that was paid for our nation’s freedom.

We also have other traditions which help us to remember what is important. There are many traditions in the church, from major events such as Christmas or Easter, to smaller events such as Sunday worship or the Lord’s Supper.

We all also have family traditions. Our family has a favorite vacation spot to visit every year. Other families have a favorite restaurant or a special way to celebrate accomplishments. The traditions make the events special.

But sometimes, our traditions can get in the way. They are important, but some things are even more important.

Matthew 12 is a crucial turning point in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He has been traveling through Galilee with His disciples, teaching and healing, and proclaiming that the kingdom is at hand (see here). He has offered the kingdom to the Israelite people and this chapter (Mathew 12) is their response.

Starting first with the leaders, then with the people, they all reject Him! Hereafter, Jesus will change His focus from gathering the crowds to teaching His own disciples.

This first part of this chapter shows three scenes of conflict with the religious leaders. They have been following and challenging Him (see here and here), but their conflict now moves to outright hostility. And the cause of their conflict is over one of their most precious of the Ten Commandments — the Sabbath Day!

The Sabbath was one of the most most treasured days by the Jewish people. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, thereby giving us the pattern to keep the seventh (“sabbath”) day holy. This was one of the Ten Commandments, to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).

The Jewish people showed their love for God and His law by faithfully keeping this commandment. The rabbis went further, giving specific rules for how to honor God on His Sabbath. By the first century, these traditions had grown into an elaborate system of rules and regulations governing what could and could not be done on the Sabbath.a

But Jesus was different on the Sabbath day. Because He did not follow their traditions, he must not be honoring their law and their day that they so treasured. They started out by questioning Him, then went to overtly challenging Him, and finally to conspiring to destroy Him.

Yet through all of this, Jesus answered all of their challenges. He never violated the Sabbath commandment, nor did He criticize their traditions. However, He did challenge their understanding of their own laws, their own history, and their inconsistency in trying to uphold the Sabbath. There are some things which are more important than traditions.

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encouragement theology

Come to Jesus!

oxen

Thoughts from Matthew 11…

 

What will keep you from Jesus?

We have our ideas of what it means to come to God, thinking that God only wants us if we are good enough. We need to live a good life. We need to help others who are in need. We must go to church and pray a lot. We need to be kind and gracious to each other.

It is as if we are saying that God will take us only if we are nice or good enough!

But in Matthew’s Gospel Account, Jesus takes time from His teaching to call out to those who need Him. The kingdom of heaven is not about who is rich, who is smart, who is powerful, nor who is well educated. It is not even for the religious, but for those who are weary and worn down. It is for those who trust in Jesus Christ.

He doesn’t call the religious and the devout — instead, He sends them a warning.

He doesn’t call the smart and clever — instead, He shows His wisdom to the simple ones.

And finally, He doesn’t call the hard workers to earn their way into His Kingdom. Instead, He calls the weary and overloaded.

Just as in His Sermon on the Mount, He didn’t come for the successful and powerful, He came for the broken and grieving. Only the needy ones can know what it really means to trust in Him!

What does it mean to come to Him?

It means that we must first repent. No matter how spiritual or religious we may act, we need to turn from our own ways and follow Him.

It also means that we need to trust Him like a child. We can only know Him as He reveals Himself to us.

And finally, it means to come to Him for rest. He will take away our overwhelming burden if we only come to Him. We still have the responsibility to obey and follow Him, but He promises that “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:20-30
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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encouragement theology

John’s Doubt and Tribute

Johns-Prison
The cave entrance where John was held prisoner at Machaerus. Mukawer, Jordan

Thoughts from Matthew 11…

 

All four of the gospel accounts — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — start with the ministry of one man. Even before anyone knew about Jesus Christ, John the Baptist was preaching in the desert. He called himself, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness and had a single message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” See here for an introduction to John the Baptist.

John was truly a great man. He did no miracles, yet he captivated the entire nation. They thought him strange, yet they came by the thousands to the wild desert to hear him preach. Even the religious leaders respected him, though they refused to believe him.

John was the greatest of men, yet even he was not immune to problems. His ministry was rapid and powerful, but it ended just as rapidly when Jesus started teaching (see here). King Herod had him thrown into prison when he publicly condemned the king’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias.a

John languished in prison for over a year.b It was there, in his dark prison cell, that John’s doubts began to arise. Was Jesus really the promised one? Was He really their coming Messiah?

Everyone had their plans for the Messiah. Everyone had their expectations. The nation of Israel looked for a king to defeat their enemies. The religious leaders wanted a king to enforce their traditions. Jesus’ own disciples looked forward to when they would help Him rule (see here). And even John the Baptist looked forward to a Messiah who would punish and purify this sinful generation.

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encouragement theology

The Cost of Following Jesus Christ

white dove on white bird figure stand

Thoughts from Matthew 10…

 

“Everything gets better!”

I heard an evangelist preach about how Jesus would make your life better. Everything falls into place, according to him, once you trust in Jesus Christ. Some such evangelists have even brought testimonials from devoted followers. They show the chaos in their lives before meeting Jesus, and then the dramatic improvements afterward.

I was reading through the contents of a Christian Music album recently. The songs were filled with messages about the peace and happiness of knowing Jesus Christ. I am very glad to hear this — He promises to give us a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory!” 

But there is more to the picture. There is also a cost to following Jesus Christ. It is rare to hear about it in songs or testimonials, but you are now a target by the enemies of God!

Jesus has been instructing His twelve disciples, sending them out as apostles to preach in His name (see here). He promised to give them His power and authority as they proclaimed His urgent message. The King is here! 

But as Jesus continued to teach them, He gave them broader instructions. He showed events that would happen beyond their specific time, and what would happen to all of His followers — not just the twelve apostles. As we look at His message, we see that we will be persecuted for trusting in Him. Our decision to follow Him will cause conflicts — even in our own families! But where are we placing our trust and respect? Should we trust in the power of mankind or in the Almighty God? Whose side are we on when we encounter trouble?

And finally, Jesus promises that we will not be alone. We have help from each other, but even more so, the Father who knows us is with us every step of the way. 

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encouragement theology

The Twelve Messengers

the-last-supper-painting-in-Milan

Thoughts from Matthew 10…

 

The opposition against Jesus was growing. In the previous section, the Pharisees began to accuse Jesus of healing by the power of the devil (see here). He realized that His time was growing short, and so He was even more urgent in sending His message to all of the Jews. Instead of going alone, He now sent out six teams of disciples to also preach His message of the kingdom. In this way, He was able to successfully cover the entire region of Galilee in a short time.

He chose twelve of His disciples and commissioned them as “apostles” (literally, “one who was sent”).a He gave them His own authority to cast out demons and to heal the sick, and then sent them out two by two.

“The Twelve were disciples before they became apostles. That is, they were learners in the school of Christ before they were commissioned as apostles and sent forth as couriers of the King, to proclaim that the long-looked-for kingdom of the heavens had drawn nigh.” – H.A. Ironside2

“Power is the ability to accomplish a task, and authority is the right to do it, and Jesus gave both to His apostles.” – Warren Wiersbe6

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encouragement theology

Sheep Without a Shepherd

animal-3437467_1280

Thoughts from Matthew 9…

 

Many people talk about being religious. Some are proud and some are humble. There are devout men and women of all religions, who have sacrificed more than I can even imagine.

The world religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam dominate the news headlines.

Some look at the religions in the world as the best thing about ourselves. “Their faith makes them a better person” is a common philosophy, regardless of what they believe.

Some look at religion as the biggest problem in the world. Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist, once said that “faith is one of the world’s great evils”, and that “religion is a force for evil”. Many others have looked through the religious disasters of history (e.g. crusades, persecutions, terrorism, etc.) and concluded that religion is a problem, not a help to society.

Jesus was often called a “Rabbi” or a “Teacher”, indicating that He was a respected religious leader of His day. He lived in the deeply religious society of first-century Israel. He taught devotion to His followers and commended them for their faith. Yet in the end, His greatest enemies were also the religious leaders who tried to destroy Him.

But when He talked about religion, He cared little for the customs and traditions of His day. He cared only for what God had taught! When Jesus taught about faith, it wasn’t enough that they had faith. They needed to have faith in Him!

It wasn’t the presence of their faith. It was the object of their faith.

It wasn’t enough to trust their traditions. They needed to trust Him!

When Jesus looked at the religious landscape of His day, he responded, not with respect, nor with anger, but with compassion. He saw a nation of people who were lost in their own religion. They were so caught up in their customs that were missing God.

Matthew 9:36
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

He described the people as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. Their religion had failed them. The religion of their day was totally unequipped to address the problems that these people faced. And more importantly, the problems were only an illustration of the main failure of their religion. Their religion was unable to show them how to get to God.

The narrative of Matthew 9 shows five scenes where Jesus met with the harassed and helpless. Their religion had failed them.

But as He showed, the important thing is not about being religious, it is about knowing Jesus Christ!

Matthew 9:18-38
While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district.

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Categories
encouragement theology

The New Kingdom Replaces the Old Law

 

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A Wall Mosaic in Capernaum

Thoughts from Matthew 9…

 

“I lived a good life. God will want me.”

“You need to clean yourself up before coming to Jesus.”

“God only likes you if you are good person.”

These are popular thoughts. This belief even makes its way into the church — that God only wants you if you are acting nice. Clean yourself up. Act respectable. Then, and only then, can you get close to God.

But Jesus says the opposite. He did not come to congratulate the righteous. He came to save the sinners!

In other words, Jesus does not come for those who are acting good. He came those who realize that they need Him. For those who know that they can’t save themselves.

Jesus showed that the He has power over sin. He is God, and therefore He can forgive the broken man as easily as He can heal his body. Nothing is too great for Him!

And then, Jesus demonstrated the type of people whom He would call. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, He came to one of the most hated of all people, a tax gatherer. This was a local Jewish merchant who had contracted out to the oppressing Romans to gather their taxes for them. As part of his job, the tax gatherer was allowed to increase the required taxes, and even to invent new taxes as he wanted. These men were renowned for being liars and cheats. This tax gatherer, Matthew, had set up his office at the seaside, taxing the fishermen, their boats, and their fish.

Jesus passed by Matthew’s tax booth and simply says, “Follow me.” Matthew immediately left everything behind to follow Jesus Christ!

Matthew then threw a great feast at his house, giving a chance for his fellow tax collectors to meet the Lord. But not all are happy. The religious leaders, the Pharisees were indignant that this teacher would associate with such wicked people!

But Jesus has already shown that a holy lifestyle is not what is important to Him (see here). Instead, He came to show mercy to those who truly need Him. It is the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy.

Even John the Baptist’s disciples questioned His behavior. Doesn’t He know that this is the time of fasting? Jesus answered that there will be a time for fasting, but He has come to bring in the new kingdom. The old rituals are not compatible with the new kingdom in the same way that you cannot put a new patch on old clothes, or new wine into old wineskins. It is time for something new!

Matthew 9:9-17
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Categories
encouragement theology

The Kingdom is About Forgiveness

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Thoughts from Matthew 9…

 

I often wonder what life was like during some of the great moments in history. What were they thinking when these big events were going on? What was it like for Washington’s soldiers at Yorktown, at the end of American Revolution, to see British General Cornwallis surrender? What was it like for the Civil War soldiers at Appomattox, to see General Lee surrender to Grant?

Other moments must have been terrible. September 17, 1862 is known as the bloodiest day in American History, where over 22,000 men were killed or wounded at Antietam. And that was only one battle! Many of the atrocities of history, such as the Medieval tortures in Europe, the African slave trade, and the Nazi concentration camps, are horrible to even think about. Even Jesus Himself burst into tears when He foresaw the Romans destroying Jerusalem (see here and here).

Other events seem minor at the time, and it is only when you look back through history that you can fully appreciate their significance. In 1492, the king and queen of newly-united Spain agreed to support an ambitious explorer, hoping to establish a trade route with China by sailing west. Thus began the first voyage of Christopher Columbus, and opened up the age of exploration, conquest, and genocide in the New World. On March 10, 1876, an inventor used a new device to actually send his voice, through electrical wires, and summon his assistant. Thus began the first telephone call by inventor Alexander Graham Bell.

Matthew’s gospel account tells of a very significant event in the life of Jesus Christ. No one knew that this day would be significant as they hurried to hear this new teacher in town. It was winter,and Jesus was staying with Peter and Andrew, teaching out of His house, and attracting massive crowds.b

All members of the social strata came to hear Him that day. The curious ones came to listen to His words. The poor came to hear the good news. The sick came to be healed. The educated and religious came to learn more about this new teacher. How did He know so much about the Holy Scriptures? Was He speaking the truth? Should they support Him or oppose Him?Soon, the house was full. Listeners crowded into the central room, gathered into the entryway, and even spilled out into the street.

But as Jesus was teaching, dust begin to fall from the ceiling. Everyone in the crowded room could hear the rumbling from the roof above as they to look up. Suddenly, four hands pulled the roof tiles away, filling the room with bright sunlight. Before anyone could react, these four men sent a stretcher down through the hole in the roof. There, directly in front of Jesus, they lowered their paralyzed friend.

After the initial shock, the murmurs began across the room. How could these men interrupt their teacher like this! How would they repair the damage to the house? What would Jesus do?

But there were even more sinister comments in the room. Why bother the teacher with this hopeless case? This man was paralyzed, so God must really be punishing him! He must have been especially wicked! Didn’t they know he was getting what he deserved? How dare they interrupt this important teaching from God’s word!

But Jesus took interest in the man and his four friends from above. As Jesus approached the stretcher, the crowd anxiously watched for how Jesus would heal him. Would He touch the man, or simply speak a word? Hopefully, He would heal him quickly so that He could get back to their own questions.

But instead, Jesus simply walked up to the paralyzed man and said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” No healing. Just words.

The crowd gasped, stunned. How could Jesus say that! He healed people — that made Him interesting. But to say that He could forgive sins — only God could do that!

The educated scribes knew exactly what was going on. Jesus had just claimed God’s authority! This was blasphemy!

Jesus looked at the stunned crowd, with their mouths gaping. He knew how scandalous this statement was to them. But Jesus could forgive sins because He was God! He was bringing in the new kingdom of Heaven. In His kingdom, He will heal the sick and the broken (see here), He is greater than nature’s might (see here), and He is greater than the supernatural (see here)!

And even more than the horrible effects of nature, Jesus can heal the horrible effects of sin. We are all broken and separated from God. We have just as much ability to fix our sins as the paralyzed man had to get up and walk away!

And to prove that Jesus had that ability to forgive sins, he told the man to do exactly that — to get up and and go home. The paralyzed man was suddenly well! He got up out of the stretcher and walked away!

Matthew 9:1-8
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Categories
encouragement theology

He is King over the Supernatural

cave near sea

Thoughts from Matthew 8…

 

Sometimes, the most difficult lessons are when you think that you are finally safe. You come through a valley of trouble and emerge on the other side, bruised, but glad to be still alive. But then, few things are tougher than that moment when you realize — the battle isn’t over yet!

We don’t know what Jesus and His disciples were thinking, but they had just finished a very long day. Jesus was teaching the crowds, facing opposition from the religious leaders, and enduring rejection from the people. Once night fell, He and His followers set sail across the Sea of Galilee. Exhausted, Jesus went to the back of the boat and fell asleep, only to be suddenly awakened by the frantic disciples. A sudden storm was overwhelming the boat and they were sinking! Jesus stood up, rebuked the storm, and then scolded His faithless disciples. The storm stopped, and He showed that He is king over anything nature can throw at him! (see here).

It is now late into the night as they pull onto the opposite shore.But the quiet stillness of the evening seashore is shattered by the screams of men running at them. The two men are insane and very violent, with superhuman strength. Their naked bodies are covered with scars from where they cut themselves, and they may have been dragging broken chains from where the townspeople tried to subdue them.

I can’t even imagine the shock and terror from the disciples as they come to this scene! They have already survived the storm in order to get here, but now Jesus has another lesson from them. He was greater than the storm, and He is about to show them that He is also greater than the supernatural forces coming at him!

Matthew 8:28-34
And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.