encouragement theology

Woe to the Hypocrites!

Thoughts from Matthew 23…

It happened again this year. And last year. And many times in the past.

It breaks my heart when I hear about it — yet another Christian leader has fallen. There are great men and women who have dedicated their lives to teaching God’s Word. Some have gained massive audiences, and are known worldwide as they teach about Jesus Christ. 

It is especially hurtful when one falls. An international preacher, whose secret sins were exposed, shortly after his death. A college president, who encouraged thousands of students for the Lord, all the while hiding his own secretly wanton lifestyle. I grieve for the victims that these men have left in their wake, and am horrified that they could so easily destroy others in the name of Jesus Christ!a

I also grieve for the gospel, and how these failures caused men to curse and ridicule God’s name. There are also many others who are damaged by these failures. These are the men and women who have given their lives to Jesus Christ, who work with honesty and integrity, and yet have lost some of their credibility after these public scandals.

But when I look at God’s word, I find that Jesus Himself addressed such scandals. He debated the religious leaders of His day and was well acquainted with both the honest teachers and the hypocrites. His words in Matthew are as important now as they were then.

First, He addressed the people. When you hear God’s Word, it is the message, not the messenger that is important. We are responsible to obey the word that is preached to us, even when the preacher does not obey it himself! We follow the authority of God’s Word, not the personality of the preacher!

Next, He addressed the religious leaders. The scribes and Pharisees were loved and respected by the people, but Jesus Christ called them hypocrites! Seven times He addressed them, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

They block the way of life for those who are seeking it!

They corrupt their own followers!

They are dishonest blind guides!

They pride themselves in keeping the law, but they have neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness! 

They look clean and pure on the outside but are inwardly filthy!

They act like they are the path to God, but they are dead on the inside!

They think they are better than their wicked ancestors, while they plot the same atrocities!

This was the warning for the hypocrites, who acted religious and spiritual on the outside, but were nothing but corrupt and wicked leaders. Seven times The Lord denounces them. Seven times He warns them. Seven times He grieves for them!

And then the final warning is for all of us. The people of Jerusalem had the opportunity to repent, but they chose rather to reject Jesus Christ. They were happy to shout when He rode into the city on a donkey, but quickly left once He truly challenged them. They ignored Him, disregarded Him, and openly attacked Him!

As much as I like to hear about Jesus defeating the bad guys, these warnings hit too close to home for me. How many times have I been the hypocrite? How many times have I acted just like the wicked Pharisees? How many times have I disregarded or ignored Jesus Christ? 

Matthew 23 reminds me of God’s holiness. He is absolutely perfect, and we are all failures in His presence. When we are left to our own devices, we end up just as bad as the scribes and Pharisees of the first century. We all need to repent — to turn around — and to turn to Him!

Before it is too late!

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Matthew 23
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The Authority of the Scribes and Pharisees

Obey them when they teach God’s Word, but don’t follow their example

Matthew‬ ‭23:1-3‬
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”‭‭

The entire chapter of Matthew 23 is a series of warnings by Jesus Christ. First, He addressed the crowds regarding the scribes and the Pharisees, then He directly addressed the scribes and the Pharisees themselves, and finally He concluded with the residents of Jerusalem.b

The Pharisees “sit on Moses’ seat”. They carry Moses’ authority by virtue of their role as teachers of God’s law, even if they are not deserving of that position.c But since they are teachers of the law, the people need to obey what they say. Obey their words, but don’t follow their behavior because they don’t follow their own instructions. Jesus will elaborate further about their hypocrisy throughout the rest of the chapter.

They burden others with laws that they don’t keep

Matthew 23:4
“They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

Don’t follow the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees because they do not practice what they preach. They assign an impossible task of keeping all the law yet they do not do it themselves. They find ways to sidestep the law instead of keeping it. 

They cultivate the praise of others

Matthew 23:5-7
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.”

The scribes and the Pharisees do their work to be seen by others. Jesus had spent a large portion of the Sermon on the Mount teaching about hypocrites, warning the disciples not to do good works in order to be seen by others (see here). Yet this is exactly what the scribes and the Pharisees are doing — they do all of their good works so that they will get the praise and adoration of the public. They desperately crave the respect of the people!

He then lists the ways that they show their hypocrisy:

  • They make their phylacteries broad.Deuteronomy 11:18 says, “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (see also Exodus 13:9 and Deuteronomy 6:8). At some point before Christ, the pious Jews decided that they could best honor this command by literally tying small books of the law on their foreheads. These books, or phylacteries, served as visible symbols of their piety, as well as good luck charms. The Pharisees then went a step further, fixing large books of the law to their foreheads, so that everyone would notice their level of spiritual devotion.d
  • Their fringes long.” The law also said that they should wear tassels on the end of their coats (Numbers 15:38, Deuteronomy 22:12). It was common for every Jewish teacher to have a coat with tassels for this very reason, and the sick woman grabbed the tassel on Jesus’ coat to be healed in Matthew 9 (see here). But the Pharisees took this a step further by making sure that their tassels were extra large, so that they would be well noticed by people for their piety.
  • They love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues.” The scribes and the Pharisees were focused on their own personal glory. When invited to dinner, it was common to rank guest seating at the table, with the best seats near the host. The Pharisees would try to ensure for themselves that they got the best seat in the house (Note: Even the disciples were guilty of vying for the best seats among themselves. See the study on John 13 here).
  • And being called rabbi by others.” They craved titles of spiritual authority and would insist upon these titles for themselves. Whether or not they deserved it.

Make sure that you are different!

Matthew 23:8-10
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.”

Jesus then teaches the people to avoid the titles of “rabbi”, “father”, or “instructor”. The emphasis here is not that these labels themselves are wrong — we use them every day in both natural and spiritual relationships — but that we are not to seek out with the goal to obtain these labels. Teach, lead, and guide others in order to serve the Lord, not to gain recognition.e

Matthew 23:11-12
“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is the Lord’s summary of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. They did everything to achieve these labels of leadership, and the limelight of being known as a spiritual authority figure. They wanted to be seen as the greatest ones. But Jesus teaches that the greatest is the one who will serve. If you exalt yourself, then God will humble you. But if you humble yourself, then the Lord will exalt you. 

Jesus had repeated this same message about humility and service in Matthew 20, especially Matthew 20:25-28. See the post here for an extended study on Christ’s call to humility.

The Hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees

They block the kingdom of Heaven from seekers

Matthew 23:13
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees for blocking the way of life to those who are seeking it. 

They are guilty of shutting people out from the kingdom of heaven. Not only is it bad enough that they themselves do not enter, but they refuse entry to others. The imagery is interesting here, that they are guilty of shutting the door in peoples faces.f

They corrupt their own followers

Matthew 23:15
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for corrupting their own followers.

He denounces the scribes and Pharisees for going to the ends of the earth to get a single proselyte, and then making him even worse than themselves! Even more a child of hell! The one thing worse than the scribes and Pharisees are their followers. They receive all of their indoctrination without any spiritual value.

There was a movement among the Jews to allow outsiders to enter their beliefs, provided that they adhered to the same customs and laws. They were called “proselytes of righteousness” when they converted completely to the Jewish beliefs and lifestyle.11 But the Lord is saying that these foreign proselytes are even worse than the native Jews! They may be following the Jewish laws, but they have no room for the Messiah.

They are dishonest blind guides

Matthew 23:16-22
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemns the scribes and the Pharisees for their dishonesty. 

They claimed that they kept their vows and their oaths, yet they tried to find loopholes to hide their dishonesty. The most common tactic was to mask their oath with an important object or place, but excuse themselves if they did not use God’s name in their oath.

This passage about vows and honesty is covered in more detail in the study on Matthew 5:33-37 here.

They focus on the little things, forgetting the big things

Matthew 23:23-24
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

In this denunciation, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees for focusing on minor matters while neglecting justice and mercy and faithfulness.

The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves in their ability to keep even the most minute parts of the law. But in truth, they fixated on the minutiae of the law while missing the “weightier parts of the law”.g 

Jesus uses two illustrations in this passage to show their hypocrisy: the types of seeds and herbs that they tithe, and that they strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! One of the provisions that the Pharisees added to the law was that they needed to tithe, not only the first fruits, but also their garden herbs. Even the smallest seeds would be rigorously divided into portions so that a tenth would go to the Lord. This is the reference to mint and dill and cumin, as they were the smallest seeds of garden herbs. They would be normally ignored but the Pharisees prided themselves on tithing everything – even these!

There was also no process to pasteurize milk like we do today, so it was very common to have small insects and other debris floating in your morning milk. This was a matter of great concern for the Pharisees, who feared that they might consume an unclean animal, such as a gnat, while drinking. So as a result, to make sure that they were ceremonially pure, they would strain out everything they drank so that they did not accidentally swallow anything unclean. They were so careful to protect themselves from the smallest things, yet they missed the major failures. The largest unclean animal in their culture was the camel. They were diligent to avoid small items but were stumbling over the big stuff.

They are clean on the outside but filthy on the inside

Matthew 23:25-26
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees for cleaning their outside while remaining inwardly filthy.

He used the illustration of dishes on display in a home. I can picture the modern equivalent: walking into a Pharisee’s home and seeing all of his fancy china on display, with a very pure, polished exterior. But a deeper look at these fancy cups shows that inside has not even been washed! It is growing mold and still has rotting food left over from last month’s dinner!

In this section, Jesus shows the contrast with their philosophy. The Pharisees and scribes believed that you only needed to clean the outside, and what happened on the inside was of no consequence. Provided you were religious on the outside, it didn’t matter what your heart was like. But instead, Jesus says that you need to focus on the inside. First clean the inside and the outside will take care of itself. You take care of your inner heart and your outward actions will reflect who you really are.

Jesus had had an earlier confrontation with the scribes and the Pharisees regarding their purification rituals. He concluded the confrontation by saying, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” (Matthew 15:11). It is the evil on the inside that defiles the person, not what they show up on the outside. See the detailed study of this confrontation in Matthew 15 here

They act holy on the outside but are dead on the inside

Matthew 23:27-28
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for being decorated on the outside but dead on the inside.

This is very similar to the previous denunciation, where the scribes and the Pharisees were so focused on the outside that the inside was completely neglected. But this comparison is much worse than dirty dishes — it is a decorated, whitewashed tomb!

It was a common concern for first-century Jews that they not become unclean by accidentally touching a forbidden object, such as a tomb holding a dead body. This would be especially difficult for the thousands of pilgrims to Jerusalem, traveling through unknown territories in order to come to the feasts in the temple. After all the traveling, none of them wanted to show up unclean, and thus be excluded from the celebrations (see Numbers 19:16). There were no formal cemeteries in those days, so family members would be buried on the family property. Travelers could encounter these family plots if they were not careful, even to the point of touching the markers, oblivious to what was inside. Therefore, as a warning to the faithful pilgrims, the people would whitewash their tomb entrances. The travelers could remain pure and able to worship in God’s temple by following the white markers.

Jesus uses these markers as an illustration of the scribes and Pharisees. The white markers may have looked like they pointed the way to God’s purity, but they were really covering over decomposing dead bodies. Just like the markers, the scribes and the Pharisees had set themselves up as a pointer for people to keep themselves right with God. But in truth, they are doing little more than hiding their own death and decay.

They are guilty of murdering the prophets

Matthew 23:29-32
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for thinking they were better than their ancestors, yet still rejecting the Lord.

They would build great monuments to the prophets of old who were persecuted and killed the people. They would bemoan the fact that they were killed by their ancestors, yet vowing that they would never do the same thing themselves! But the Lord identifies them, not with the prophets whom they honor, but with their ancestors who rejected and persecuted God’s messengers. It is not only their ancestors who persecuted and killed those whom the Lord has sent, but they will be doing it themselves! They will receive the complete punishment from the Lord for their doing!

Jesus is repeating the same judgement here that He taught earlier that day (see here), when He told the parable of the wicked tenants who persecuted and killed the landowner’s servants, culminating in killing his son. Once again, the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day are just as guilty as the wicked men of the Old Testament who also rejected the Lord’s messages. 

The guilt is on all the people

Matthew 23:33-36
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

At some point in this final warning, Jesus moved away from the scribes and Pharisees and continued His words to all the listeners. His judgement is no longer only directed at the religious leaders, but upon this entire generation who will reject Him.

And His words are not nice! He called them a “brood of vipers” (see Matthew 3:7 and 12:34 for other uses of this same term. See the study on Matthew 3 here for more detail about this comparison with vipers). He warns them that their punishment will be the fires of Hell!

They are also guilty, not of past deeds but of the present and future atrocities. They will abuse and persecute his messengers! And so in consequence to that, they are guilty!

The reference from Abel to Zachariah the “A through Z” of Old Testament martyrs. The Jewish Scriptures started with Genesis and ended with Chronicles. The first murder in Jewish scriptures was Abel, who was killed by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:1-16). The final murder in Jewish scriptures was the prophet Zechariah, who was killed by king Joash (2 Chronicles 24:20-22).h

The Sorrow over Jerusalem

Matthew 23:37-39
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

There are occasions in scripture when you see the curtain thrown back and you get a glimpse of the Lord’s heart. In this instance, Jesus has finished his conflict with the religious leaders, culminating in the seven horrific denunciations against the scribes and the Pharisees. Seven times he says, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees hypocrites!” They had made a mockery of God‘s law and focused only on their externals, seeking to please themselves and forgetting about the God who created them. Now they are ripe for His judgment which is about to fall. But the Lord‘s words end in grief, not anger. You can almost feel the tears from His eyes as He weeps over Jerusalem one last time. For so many years, He has yearned to gather and protect them, just like a hen would gather and protect her own chicks, free from any danger or harm that might befall them. But they would have none of it. They killed the prophets, torturing and persecuting those whom the Lord had sent. Now there is nothing left for them but desolation and judgment. The Lord‘s final warning is that they will no longer see Him until they are ready to proclaim Him as King.

When will Jerusalem be ready to claim Jesus as King? It has been almost two thousand years since The Lord said this, in A.D. 33, and yet this still has not happened! There has never been a time where the entire city of Jerusalem has been ready to receive Jesus Christ as King. Nor will it happen until he comes back to reign, at the end of this age. This is a time that is still yet to come!

Zechariah 12:8-11
On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them. And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.


[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 23:1-39, pages 260-266

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 23, The King’s Indictments

[3] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 68, Jesus Confounds His Questioners, Luke 20:19-47

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 23:1-39, pages 67-70

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 12:38-40, pages 124-125

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 20:20-44, pages 207-208

[7] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book V, CHAPTER IV: THE THIRD DAY IN PASSION-WEEK, THE LAST CONTROVERSIES AND DISCOURSES, THE SADDUCEES AND THE RESURRECTION, THE SCRIBE AND THE GREAT COMMANDMENT, QUESTION TO THE PHARISEES ABOUT DAVID’S SON AND LORD, FINAL WARNING TO THE PEOPLE: THE EIGHT ‘WOES’, FAREWELL (St. Matt. 22: 23-33; St. Mark 12: 18-27; St. Luke 20: 27-39; St. Matt. 22: 34-40; St. Mark 12: 28-34; St. Matt. 22: 41-46; St. Mark 12: 35-40; St. Luke 20: 40-47; St. Matt. 23.),

[8] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 12,

[9] John MacArthur, The Characteristics of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 1, Matthew 23:1-4, Feb 26, 1984

[10] John MacArthur, The Characteristics of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 2, Matthew 23:5-12, Mar 4, 1984

[11] John MacArthur, The Condemnation of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 3, Matthew 23:13-15, Mar 18, 1984

[12] John MacArthur, The Condemnation of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 4, Matthew 23:16-33, Mar 25, 1984

[13] John MacArthur, Jesus’ Last Words to Israel, Part 1, Matthew 23:34-36, Apr 1, 1984

[14] John MacArthur, Jesus’ Last Words to Israel, Part 2, Matthew 23:37-39, Apr 8, 1984

[15] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Matthew 23:1-39, pages 1168-1170

[16] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Mark 12:38-40, page 1243

[17] D.A. Carson, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Zondervan, 2010, Matthew 23:1-39


[a] The following two articles report on such failures:

[b] Jesus had been confronted by several religious groups that day, so why did He single out the scribes and the Pharisees? Why not the Sadducees? We don’t have a clear answer from Scripture, but the most reasonable explanation is that the people hated the Sadducees but they revered the Pharisees. Therefore, Jesus’ intent in this chapter was to also show the people the wickedness of their beloved Pharisees. In essence, He is saying, it is “either them or me”.8

[c] The term, “sit in Moses his seat“ is a rabbinical expression that represents Moses’ authority. The rabbi would sit in the chair that was designated as the chief rabbi.

[d] “These [phylacteries] were square capsules, covered with leather, containing small scrolls of parchment, these four sections of the law: Exod. 13:1-10, 11-16; Deut. 6:4-9, 9:13-21. The Phylacteries were fastened by long leather straps to the forehead, and round the left arm, near the heart. Most superstitious reverence was attached to them, and in later times they were even used as amulets.” – Alfred Edersheim7

[e] Matthew 23:8-10 cannot be a command to always avoid these uses of “father”, “rabbi”, or “teacher”. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament show several examples of these titles used — both for natural relationships (e.g. “father”, see 2 Kings 2:12) and for spiritual authority (e.g. “teacher”, see 2 Timothy 1:11). 

We also see several examples of spiritual authority being used within the church (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). This is not an example to avoid levels of spiritual authority nor to make a statement about equality within the believers.

But the example here is of the scribes and Pharisees. They had focused their entire outlook of life and spiritual direction toward achieving these coveted phrases of “Rabbi”, “master”, “father”, and “teacher”. These are the labels of spiritual authority that the Pharisees craved. The Lord is warning us not to work for the labels of authority. Our goal is to lead and to teach, not for the labels that may be given us, but for the work of Jesus Christ. 

[f] The following phrase is added as verse 14 in many translations. However, there is also a notation that this text is not in the oldest manuscripts, and is likely not part of the original text:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

This seems to be taken from similar text in Mark 12:38-40 and Luke 20:45-47.

[g] It is interesting to note that by the statement of “weightier matters of the law” in Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus shows that there are more significant parts of the law than others. The scribes and Pharisees tried hard to keep the small matters of the law, yet they missed the bigger matters. Scripture does not give a category in the law regarding the smaller matters or the bigger matters, but in this passage, the Lord clearly calls out the bigger matters as including justice and mercy and faithfulness.

How do we determine the weightier parts of the law? These are the important points to remember:

  • First, Jesus’ specific instructions here show weightier matters of the law as justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
  • The greatest commandment is to love The Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second command is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40, see here). All other laws point to these two commandments.
  • Finally, Jesus never gave a list of laws that were OK to ignore. He commanded the scribes to show justice and mercy and faithfulness without neglecting the others. They still need to regularly tithe, but to do it with love for The Lord!

[h] There is some discussion about the prophet Zechariah mentioned here. There were two men by the name of “Zechariah” in the Old Testament, and it is difficult to determine exactly which Zechariah Jesus was referring to here. There was a priest named Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, who was killed by king Joash in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22. There was also the prophet Zechariah, son of Barachiah, who wrote the book of prophecy in his name. Which Zechariah was mentioned here, and how do we resolve this difference?

There are three possibilities regarding the answer:

  • One possibility is that Jesus is talking about the prophet Zechariah, who wrote the book of prophecy in his name. We know that he was the son of Barachiah and we don’t know how he died. He may have also died as a martyr in the temple, much like the similar man with the same name, hundreds of years before.
  • Another possibility is that this is talking about the Zechariah who was killed by Joash. Although we know that he was the son of Jehoiada in Scripture, given Jehoiada’s great age (he died at 130 years old), Jehoiada may have actually been Zechariah’s grandfather, and Barachiah was Zechariah’s father. Note that the term “son” can refer to either a son or a descendent (This was done to Zechariah the prophet in Ezra 6:14). This sounds the most plausible regarding his manner of death, but it requires a lot of conjecture regarding Zechariah’s lineage in order to accept this position.
  • The final explanation is that this may have been a transcription error, that Jesus was referring to Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, but the scribes who had copied scripture had incorrectly written in Barachiah’s name as Zechariah’s father. This option is even more plausible when we consider that many of the older manuscripts do not contain this phrase, “son of Barachiah”. 
encouragement theology

What is the Greatest Commandment?

Thoughts from Matthew 22…

“Hear, O Israel:
The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 
You shall love the LORD your God 
with all your heart 
and with all your soul 
and with all your might.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

During a time of great controversy, a lawyer came to Jesus Christ with this question, “What is the greatest commandment?” The Lord had just answered the leading religious thinkers of His day, silencing His critics, when the man came with this request. The Pharisees had hundreds of laws and they debated heavily regarding which laws were important to keep. How would this teacher answer this great debate? Would He weigh in on which laws were most important?

Jesus’ answer was immediate: the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. But also, don’t forget the second commandment — to love your neighbor as yourself! Every other one of the laws point to these two commandments. Every other law is to instruct you to love God or love your neighbor.

The Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ day failed both of these commandments. They were so caught up in their rules and their power that they totally missed when God himself walked by! They showed no love for God when they refused anything other than what fit their own agendas. They showed no love for their neighbors when they refused to show forgiveness or compassion to the needy multitudes around them.

Both of these religious factions came to Jesus that day, hoping to entrap him with their difficult questions. The Pharisees put the first question to Him, whether they should pay taxes to Caesar’s Roman government. The Lord‘s answer brought them back to the greatest commandment. They showed love for their fellow man by submitting to the government and giving them their due service. They showed their love for God by likewise submitting to God and giving Him His due service.

The Sadducees approached Him with the next question, expecting to find a hole in His theology. Since they didn’t believe in the resurrection, they had created a scenario where it conflicted with the laws on marriage. Seven brothers were each married to the same widow before they each died, so who would be her husband in the resurrection?  But in this question they show their ignorance and a lack of a love for the Lord. A love for the Lord would have brought them to His Scriptures, where they would have better understood the resurrection. We will be changed, with no longer a need for marriage relationships like we currently have on earth.

The lawyer had then come to Jesus with his question regarding the greatest commandment, hoping to test Him and to push Him into controversy. If He weighed in on this religious debate, He would surely make enemies among the dissenting factions. But rather than angered, this young man was stunned by the Lord’s reply. Unlike the great religious leaders, he showed a genuine desire to understand his answers. And for that Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34).

Jesus started out His ministry teaching that He came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. As shown in the post on Matthew 5:17 here, the Ten Commandments are an expression of love. The first four are about love for God, and the final six are about love for each other.a 

Jesus then showed how we show love for God and for each other when we keep the commandments:

  • We show love when we show forgiveness toward those who offend us (Matthew 5:21-26)
  • We show love when we show purity in our thoughts and actions (Matthew 5:27-30)
  • We show love when we show faithfulness in our marriage (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • We show love when we show honesty in our word and our promises (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • We show love when we show humility and refuse to retaliate when we are hurt (Matthew 5:38-42)
  • We show love when we show kindness to our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5:43-48)

May we remember to love God and to love others!

Previous post: The Rejected Capstone

encouragement theology

The Rejected Capstone

Thoughts from Matthew 21…

There is an ancient story about building the first Jewish temple. King Solomon started work on the temple at about 1,000 BC and took nearly seven years to complete. The building stones were cut at the quarry, and then sent to the temple site for construction. The story tells that the builders discovered one of the early stones with no markings and an unusual shape. Unsure what to do with this unusual stone, they set it aside and forgot about it. Years later, the temple was almost finished, except that the builders could not find the capstone, which would hold together the final corner of the building. They sent to the quarry for this final stone, only to receive back word that it had been delivered long ago. No one could find it! Finally, after much searching, they located this critical stone, buried underneath the bushes and rubble nearby. It had been set aside and forgotten, yet it was the final piece of the construction.

The facts of this story may have been distorted over the years, but it had become an illustration to the ancient Israelites about forgetting what is most important. This lesson even made it into Scripture, as part of the Messianic Psalm 118: “the stone which the builders rejected, has become the head of the corner.”a This entire Psalm was a celebration of the Messiah, who was the rejected stone, yet will be their coming king!

Jesus had come to Jerusalem on Sunday, amidst the shouts and praise of the people. He drove the moneychangers from the temple on Monday, and now, on Tuesday, the city leaders finally have the courage to confront Him. How dare He come into town the way He did! How dare He drive away their merchants from the temple! Who does He think He is?

And so they came to Jesus, demanding to see His credentials. What authority does he have to teach the people, to drive out to merchants, and to accept their praise! The reply from Jesus Christ was stunning and abrupt. Was John the Baptist’s ministry from heaven or from earth? These men were now in a dilemma: they didn’t believe John, yet they were afraid of the crowds if they publicly denounced him. They didn’t dare own up to their own unbelief, yet they feared a riot if they said anything. Yet that is the point from The Lord. The same authority that enabled John to teach and to baptize is the same authority that led Jesus to Jerusalem. This is the authority that drove out the money changers and taught the people.

The leading priests and elders of the city were left with nothing else to say but, “We don’t know!”

But what about these priests and religious leaders? Jesus then used a parable to reveal their true hearts. Two sons were asked by their father to work in the field. One made a show of refusal but then worked for his father, while the other made a show of acceptance but then refused to work. Which one was the obedient son? The obvious answer was that the obedient son was the one who worked, despite his initial refusal. He was the one who ultimately did what his father asked. 

But these priests and religious leaders were like the disobedient son who, though he made a show of listening to his father, refused to obey. Therefore, the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other dregs of society would be better off than them because they repented at John’s teaching while these religious men refused.

They were like the evil farmers, who thought they could steal the vineyard by killing the master’s servants and his only son. Therefore, they would be killed and excluded from His kingdom because they rejected His prophets and chose to kill the Messiah, God‘s only son!

They were like the invited guests to the wedding feast who refused the king’s summons. Some replied with apathy while others replied with hostility. Even worse, some answered the call but only on their own terms. As a result they will meet judgment and death, and their city will be destroyed.

What can we learn from this passage? First, it reminds us of God‘s sovereignty. He is in charge, even when everything looks like it is against Him. Even when all of the world leaders seem to be moving against Him, He is still in control, waiting for His time. The Jewish leaders had not yet killed the Son of God, yet He knew that it would happen. But He also knew that He would ultimately emerge triumphant!

Secondly, it reminds us of God’s patience. God calls us repeatedly, urging us to come to him. Just because we don’t see a visible response or hear audible words, it does not mean that He has forgotten. God is only waiting His time for His ultimate response. 

If you are disobeying God, don’t mistake His silence for ignoring you. God is waiting his time, giving you one more opportunity to repent and come to him. But judgment is coming for those who will not repent! I urge you to turn to him before it is too late!

If you follow God, remember that it is on His terms, not yours. Like the wedding guest who refused to take up the king’s clothing, judgment awaits those who think they can force their way into God’s presence.

But finally, when you are obeying God and it seems like He is silent, don’t give up! God may be waiting for His timing but He is always watching and will never forget. He will come back to judge those who have refused Him and to save those who are truly His own. Don’t give up!

Previous study: The Barren Tree

encouragement theology

The Barren Tree

Thoughts from Matthew 21…

This is a very simple story. Jesus was returning to Jerusalem on Monday morning when He saw a fig tree full of leaves. It was early in the season, but the leaves indicated that the tree must have figs (the fruit forms before the leaves).2 5 He went to the tree in hunger, only to find that there was no fruit. He then responded by cursing the tree, saying, “May no fruit ever come from you again!

The next morning, the disciples noticed that the tree had withered completely. Jesus then used the dead tree as a teaching point to demonstrate the power of prayer. You can move a mountain into the sea if you have faith without doubting.

Some have seen this passage as an example of Jesus reacting in anger, cursing out at the fruitless tree that failed to feed Him, and killing it for its failure. But if this is the case, was this the tree’s fault? Did the fig tree make a conscious decision to not bear fruit?

But Jesus’ response regarding the dead tree shows that this was not a reaction of anger but a lesson for His disciples. There were only two recorded events in the life of Christ where he destroyed nature: this scene with the fig tree, and the earlier scene in Gadara, where He healed the demon-possessed men and allowed the demons to drown the herd of pigs.

This scene with the fig tree shows three teaching points: The first point is the illustration of the fig tree itself. It was full of leaves and looked very healthy, but it was fruitless. It had more leaves than would be expected for that time of the year, yet it didn’t have any fruit. Many Bible scholars understand the fig tree to be an illustration of Israel, with the fruitless tree representing the fruitless nation.1 a The people of Israel had a great show of good deeds and religious fervor, but without any real fruit of repentance. Like the fig tree, they were all green and healthy looking, but without any substance. And just like the fig tree, they were doomed to destruction because of their fruitlessness. The nation of Israel would ultimately die, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

The second point is that Jesus used the fig tree to teach the power of prayer. He repeated the earlier promise that only a small amount of faith can cause great things to happen. It is important to note that the prayer is for judgement this time. God hears our prayers for a blessing, but He also honors our prayers when we ask judgment for those who are rebelling against Him. This is the same prayer that Elijah prayed for his unbelieving nation, when He prayed for drought (see here). This is not a prayer for vengeance, but that the people would be moved to repentance. God promises to hear us when we seek to advance His agenda — even when it is against those who oppose him.

The final point is an application that each of us needs to consider. We may not be as wicked as the Jews of that day, when they were conspiring to kill the Lord Jesus Christ, but we can all fall into the same trap of becoming leafy without any fruit. We show all forms of good deeds on the outside, but there is no Godly fruit from our actions. There is no repentance from our disobedience, nor is there any work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When you see this happening, it is an immediate time to check yourself with God. Have you really received Him into your life? If not, all of your good deeds are worthless to Him (Isaiah 64:6). But even when you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, we can still lapse into times of fruitlessness. We need to continually repent, turn away from our disobedience, and come back to Him. Only then will our lives be fruitful, and only then will we not be like the barren fig tree.

Previous post: Don’t Ignore Him!

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!

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


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

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?

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

Previous passage: Forgive Like God Forgives

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?

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?

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.

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!

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?

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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!

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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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