Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reading Through Matthew #2 (14-28)

Matthew ChartSince September  I have been reading through the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John Stott. I post quotes from my morning readings (MWF – I do the OT on TTS) on Facebook and will periodically post to this blog. The post will include some of my thoughts on the New Testament book and the best quotes from the commentary (in blue). The commentary series starts with The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven, by Michael Green. This is the second and final post on the Gospel of Matthew – you can read the first post here

Chapter 14 continues the section in which Jesus presents the kingdom to the people of Israel. This section shows that Jesus has the authority to offer the kingdom and bring its blessings to Israel, but only the faithful will experience it. (13.53-16.12) Sadly most of the nation rejected it. This section is framed by the rejection of Jesus in his hometown Nazareth and the rejection by the Jewish leadership at the end of the section.

Jesus is the one who comes to make the messianic feast. He takes the resources, pitifully inadequate, provided by his disciples. He multiplies them over and over again, and there is more left over at the end than there was at the beginning. Such is the power of the Messiah. Matthew 14.13-21, 166.

They were called to go to Jesus, to direct their lives to the walk of faith. But storms often beset them, and fear chilled them. In his power they could for a while do what would otherwise have been impossible—until they considered what they were doing and reflected on the size of the waves. Then, of course, they would begin to sink—until they cried out to the Son of God for his powerful hand to catch them and hold them up. That is what the story would have been used for, and still is. Matthew 14.22-32, 168.

Faith is touch. It is making contact. 

God’s word, not human tradition, is the basis for authentic worship...It is this totally different attitude to worship that separates the Pharisees from Jesus. Both believed in the prior grace of God. But the Pharisee response to this was a passion for detailed precision in worship. For Jesus it meant loving obedience, resulting in an intimate relationship with God. Matthew 15.1-20, 169-170.

It is one of the marks of greatness to allow compassion for people to overrule premeditated programmes. Matthew 15.21-28, 172.

We see some marvellous display of the Lord’s power, and yet we are full of doubts when we are thrown into another situation of need that casts us back on him. We simply do not expect him to act the second time! ...Lack of trust often springs from forgetfulness of past blessing. Matthew 15.29-39 174.

Even with this rejection the next section of the gospel shows that Jesus is the king who has the position and power to carry out God’s kingdom program. (16.13-18.35) Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah is the correct teaching that will provide a solid foundation for the church, but as Jesus showed, kingly glory will only come after the cross and resurrection. In the same way, kingdom greatness comes only to Jesus’ followers who follow his example of sacrifice and service.

Jesus is sending out his disciples for world mission. He is equipping them with his Spirit. They go in his name and as his representatives, and are naturally bound by the terms of their commission. If people respond to the conditions of the gospel, and repent and believe, then they can be confidently assured that God has indeed forgiven them. Jesus made that very plain. If they refuse those conditions, their sins are emphatically not forgiven by God. Jesus made that very plain, too.  Matthew 16.18-20 180–181.

Several important lessons to be learnt from Caesarea Philippi... First, this incident tells us we have to choose between world religions, sensuality, Caesar-worship and Jesus. Secondly, we are called to public confession of what God reveals to us, supremely of who Jesus is. Thirdly, we shall constantly be liable to fall into the comfortable error of the Pharisees, who looked for a Messiah that would fit in with their preconceptions, and who would be validated by signs and wonders, constantly successful, and the perquisite of the learned. Fourthly, we shall be engaged, if we follow Jesus, in constant spiritual battle. Finally, it will be costly to follow him. It will mean suffering. Matthew 16.21-28, 183–184.

Matthew goes out of his way to stress the danger of lack of faith. He has had a lot to say about the failure of the disciples in this department already. It is an important lesson, and the more settled and established a church becomes, the more it needs to learn afresh that it can achieve precisely nothing without sincere dependence on the Lord. Matthew 17.14-21, 187.

(Jesus) was free of the law, and yet, so as not to give offence, he was subject to the law in every way...Jesus set an example in the voluntary abnegation of his rights, and this provided a great challenge and stimulus in the developing life of the church. He did it, even though such obedience was part of the path which led him to the cross. Matthew 17.22-27, 189.

The kingdom upturns secular values. Real greatness is not to be found in seeking to be praised and served by others, but in seeking others to serve, especially those who have no rights...So humility is not a matter of suppressing our drive and hiding our gifts. Humble people are quite unself-conscious about it all, like the lad. They claim no right from others, or from their Master. They follow where Jesus calls and stay where Jesus puts them. That is humility. Matthew 18.1-4, 190–191.

Church life is bedevilled by failure to be open over wrongs that are committed, and by failure to forgive. As Christians, we are called to openness with those we feel have wronged us, and to frank forgiveness when apology is sincerely made. Hidden grievances and unwillingness to forgive are two things that make shipwreck of personal relations. Jesus warns us against them. Matthew 18.15-22, 198.

In the next section (19.1-20.34) Matthew describes the self-sacrificing discipleship that Jesus requires in the present age. Kingdom rewards come by grace and are given to those who are dependent on Jesus, as children and devote themselves to him with self-sacrificial commitment shown by obediently giving up all and following him.

It is not possible for the ethics of the kingdom to be articulated in anything less than ideal terms. And yet the Lord is consistently compassionate to those who fail, repent, and come back to him for restoration. This passage follows hard on the heels of one that expresses the unbounded mercy and forgiveness of God. So legalistic rigorism is as inappropriate for the Christian community as is casual divorce. Green, Matthew 19.1-12, 205.

Christians who have given up all for him will share his victory (28). In the new world, they will also find that they gain far more than they lose. Believers find enhanced relationships, and profit from the beautiful generosity of brother and sister Christians in the loan of homes and in the quality of relationships. And they will one day enter into the new world beyond the grave, where they will find many surprises (30). Christ is no-one’s debtor, and those who sacrifice to follow him will find it abundantly worthwhile. Matthew 19.23-30, 210.

The point of the story is plain. Length of service and long hours of toil in the heat of the day constitute no claim on God and provide no reason why he should not be generous to those who have done less. All human merit shrivels before his burning, self-giving love. Grace, amazing grace, is the burden of this story. All are equally undeserving of so large a sum as a denarius a day. All are given it by the generosity of the employer. All are on the same level. Matthew 20.1-16, 212.

Greatness in the world is determined by status; in the kingdom by function. In the world greatness is shown by ruling; in the kingdom by serving. In the world’s eyes the great are those who can order others about; in the kingdom they are those who endure hard times and injustice without complaining. Matthew 20.17-28, 215–216.

The triumphal entry section (21.1-23.39) presents Jesus to the nation as its king but he was rejected and so he pronounces the condemnation to come. The second half of the section is a discussion between Jesus and the Jewish leadership about where his authority to cleanse the temple comes from. Jesus clearly shows that his authority comes from God and to reject his kingship and mission is to reject God. 

For it would not be possible for Matthew’s leaders to hear this story without realizing its implication: God will judge bad churches. His severest judgment will be reserved for those churches whose worship is hollow, where corruption and dissension are rife, and which repel rather than attract ‘Gentile’ outsiders. Matthew 21.1-13, 220.

God’s judgment will always be on the adherents of the Christian religion who pig-headedly resist change and try to box the Spirit of God into what has always been done, what is safe, and what is uncontroversial. God will judge the priests who do not lead the praise with heartfelt worship, and who do not rejoice when unconventional new voices worship Jesus and broken lives are healed by his mighty power. Matthew 21.14-17, 221–222.

God is no more bound to Christian churches with a long pedigree than he was to Israel with an even longer one. If there is no fruit (in prayerfulness, in evangelism, in love and ministry to the community), God will judge such churches and they will die. Matthew 21.18-22, 223.

God expects his leaders, whom he trusts, and whom he equips so richly, to be utterly loyal to him. They must not make their position an excuse to ‘keep the fruit’ and feather their nest. They must not fail to listen to God’s prophetic messengers in their congregations (albeit unordained), and they must above all else beware of ‘crucifying the Son of God all over again’. If God had been compelled to change tenants once, he could, if provoked, do it again. Matthew 21.33-46, 230.

So the meaning of this parable is clear. God has provided the feast of the kingdom. It is the wedding feast for his Son. The invitation goes out far and wide. If you reject it, you miss the party. If you think you can get in relying on your own fitness, you will be thrown out. Many are invited, but few show, by their response, that they are chosen.  Matthew 22.1-14, 232.

He (Jesus) hangs the hope of life after death totally upon the generosity of God, who stoops to win our hearts upon this earth, and cannot bring himself at death to scrap what is precious to him. Exodus 3:6 not only suggests the reality of life after death through the generosity of God when we had no claim on him at all; it hints at the nature of this life: unbroken fellowship with him and with his people for ever. Matthew 22.23-33, 236.

If there is real love for God, there will inevitably be real love for neighbour; God’s overflowing love is infectious. The criterion of whether love for God is real is whether or not it is reflected in our relationships with others... With God first and neighbour second, all else in the law is commentary. Matthew 22.34-40, 237.

Despite the resistance and disobedience of the Pharisees and of the people in general, Jesus loves them and goes on reaching out to them. He longs to gather them to him as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings—a marvellous image of the mother-love of the Lord. Matthew 23.33-39, 247.

In the Olivet Discourse (24.1-25.46), Jesus teaches that Israel’s rejection would lead to their destruction and then their regathering, judgment and deliverance at the coming of the Son of Man. Judgment was coming on Jerusalem at an unexpected time so they needed to be ready for it by watching the signs around them and serving others. Judgment and kingdom entrance will be determined by readiness for Jesus’ coming which is shown by obedient devotion to kingdom mission and service to Jesus’ kingdom people.

Christians should look towards the Son of Man, hidden and inglorious during his time on earth, but coming in unimaginable splendour. And when he comes, it will be sudden (37), unexpected (44) and unmistakable (27). Matthew 24, 256.

The purpose of prophecy is not to give us history written in the future tense, but, like film previews and hazard warning lights on a motorway, to lift our hearts in expectation or in warning. The date-fixing approach neglects this, and, by its mixture of literalism and speculation, militates against patient faith and social involvement. Matthew 24, 257.

He is looking for servants he can rely on, who will act in the same way when he is absent as when he is present... Holiness is called for. That is to be one of the main distinguishing marks of Christians in the time between the two advents. It is indispensable. Without it we shall land up with the hypocrites—outside the kingdom (24:51). Matthew 24.45-51, 259–260.

There are some things you cannot borrow. You need to possess them for yourself. It simply is not possible to rely on anyone else for them. Holiness is one of those things. It cannot be traded. If you are not what you profess to be, nobody else can help you or stand in for you. The bridegroom will come. And then it will be too late. Matthew 25.1-13, 261.

When we act faithfully under the responsibilities the Master has entrusted to us, our capacities will grow. If we do nothing with them, our ability to respond and be useful will diminish to vanishing point. The image is dynamic and organic. It is a powerful spur to responsibility in the service of the Master, and a warning against sloth, whether that is induced by laziness, fear of change or unwillingness to take risks. Matthew 25.14-30, 262.

The heart of Christianity is relationship with Jesus himself, which shows itself in loving, sacrificial care for others, in particular the poor and needy...the Son of Man has come—in disguise. He came and identified with the poor and needy...This Son of Man will judge us. He will separate sheep from goats. Matthew 25.31-46, 263-264.

In the final section of the Gospel, Jesus was crucified as the king of the Jews, rose from the dead to prove his authority as God’s King and delegated this authority to his disciples to make disciples of all nations. 26.1-28.20

But there is nothing that so delights the heart of Jesus as loving devotion from his disciples, something done expressly out of love for him. And the other beautiful thing (10) to remember is that no sacrifice made for Jesus is forgotten (13). Matthew 26.6-16, 269–270.

It speaks of the past rescue: it is a present feeding; and it brings the promise of future table fellowship with Jesus in the kingdom (29). But more than all this, it brings the Saviour to believing disciples, in all the power and beauty of his sacrificial love. The bread that comes down from heaven is Jesus, and this sacrament brings it before us as nothing else on earth can. Matthew 26.17-29, 274.

The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane shows that we can be close to God, live a holy life, and pray with faith, earnestness and expectancy, and yet not get what we ask for. It is a profound mystery before which we must bow... Prayer is not seeking to manipulate God. It is opening up to God. Matthew 26.30-56, 279.

The old order of Judaism with its temple and priesthood is fading away. It is being replaced by the new. The judges of Jesus are themselves judged, and they will before long see evidence, in the rise and meteoric growth of the church on the one hand and the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple on the other, which vindicates Jesus’ claim. Matthew 26.57-27.10, 284.

Judas did not allow his fall to drive him back to repentance and recommissioning. Peter did. Judas gave way to remorse and killed himself. Peter was brought back in deep humility and repentance to Jesus, was recommissioned, and became that rock-like man whom Jesus had longed for. But he could not become that rock until he realized how weak he was in his own strength. He could not bring in the kingdom with his sword or with his loyalty. God takes those who fail and makes them saints. Matthew 26.69-75, 286.

Jesus took Barabbas’ place. He took ours, too. Matthew 27.15-18, 291.

There is no trace of hatred against those who nailed Jesus to the cross. For it was not the Jews who crucified Jesus. If we listen to Matthew, we are all involved! It was the refusal of the human heart to respond to the King proclaiming the kingdom that led to Jesus’ death. In that refusal all sinful humanity is implicated. Matthew 27.25, 293.

In Jesus God has come to share our pain. God is no absent academic who writes a book on the problem of pain. He is the caring doctor who comes alongside us as we lie in anguish. He has got involved. He has allowed pain at its most severe to strike him. We worship a suffering God. Matthew 27.32-56, 297.

The gospel is nothing other than the resurrection of the crucified Jesus. On this hangs the truth of the kingdom and the supreme evidence for God’s existence. Without the resurrection there is no good news. Matthew 28, 319.

It is the concluding theme of all four Gospels. The baton has been passed from the Master to the disciples. The power of the risen Christ is available for those disciples. The commandment of the risen Christ is given for those disciples: they must go and make disciples. And the promise of the risen Christ is their comfort and stay: nothing shall ever rob them of his presence. Matthew 28.16-20, 321.

Jesus’ betrayal arrest and trial show that he was unjustly executed, but willingly gave himself as the Passover lamb that would provide entrance to His kingdom. The death of Jesus’ is the ultimate rejection by the nation, but he is killed as King of the Jews and as the ultimate righteous sufferer. Jesus’ resurrection validates his claim to be King of Israel and that He has authority to call all people to serve him as his disciples. The king forgives us, then commissions us!

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