Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Matthew #3 (8-10)

Keener MatthewI am continuing reading through the Gospel of Matthew accompanied by Matthew, vol. 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Craig S. Keener. In chapters 8-9 Jesus begins His kingdom ministry of signs, healing and teaching. In chapter 10 he sends the 12 apostles out to do kingdom ministry to Israel in His name as an example of the way the church is to do ministry worldwide. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version (for some reason I cannot make the page numbers come up in the quotes) of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapter 8 begins a section recording Jesus' miracles. The miracles are an indication of Jesus' identity as creator and Messiah and that the promised kingdom has arrived, though not in its full and final expression. Matthew portrays Jesus' healings as a sign that the atonement of the kingdom predicted by Isaiah has arrived and sin and its effects (death, disease) are dealt with. Jesus provides access to God for the leper and prefigures the mission to the Gentiles in healing the centurion's servant. I agree with Keener that we have allowed modern rationalism to influence our thinking too much and we miss the healing that is available to us in the atonement now. We want to avoid having too much "already" in the "not yet" of the kingdom, but it is also important not to have too little "already" and miss out on what God has promised. The miracles at the end of the chapter, stilling the storm and exorcism, show Jesus as the Creator with power over nature and the ruler over the unseen realm of supernatural beings. In the middle of this chapter is the application. If Jesus is who his miracles suggest, then we owe him the highest allegiance and must make following Him the highest priority.

Jesus demonstrated his feeling toward our infirmities by bearing them with us and for us (8:17) and by healing all who sought his help (8:16). Matthew hardly expects us to suppose that Jesus has lost any of his power (28:18) or compassion since the resurrection. Unfortunately, many of us Western Christians today feel more at home with the Enlightenment rationalism in which we were trained than we do with the desperate faith of Christians who dare to believe God for miracles. Those in desperate need cannot afford to rationalize away God’s power and compassion. Matthew 8:1-17

Jesus does insist on honoring parents (Mt 15:4–6), yet he demands a greater affection toward himself. Jesus scandalously claims the supreme position of attention in his followers’ lives. If we devote ourselves to anyone or anything more than to him, our claim to be his followers becomes hollow, no matter how many “disciples” around us live the same way. Matthew 8:18-22

Just as Jesus demands that we express our love for God by trusting him for material provision (Mt 6:25–34), he demands that we trust him for safety. Our heavenly Father may not always protect us from earthly ills, but he will do with our lives what is best for us (10:29–31). Matthew 8:23-27

Chapter 9 continues the narrative about Jesus' miracles with an emphasis on his authority over sickness and death, and his ability to bring the outcast, the unclean and the gentile into the presence of God through forgiveness and cleansing. Jesus' ability to heal paralysis, bleeding, blindness and even death is evidence for his ability to overcome evil, sin and separation from God. This was something new which the religious establishment was not willing to accept. The one that the scriptures spoke about, who would take on the pain of the curse and defeat it, was there and it was time to embrace Him and leave behind unbiblical tradition and that which was no longer relevant. The king was there and true disciples would listen to and obey Him.

Although physical healing is secondary to forgiveness, such healing is often crucial not only for compassionately meeting some of our most pressing human needs (9:36) and empowering us for greater service to the Lord (20:34) but also for drawing attention to Jesus’ power to do other works. People who reason today that Jesus can heal either physically or spiritually but not both are like the radical critics who debate whether Jesus was a wisdom teacher or a prophet, a messiah or a healer. The question is forced-choice logic; why can he not be both, as the text teaches us? Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus came to call sinners—to invite them to God’s final banquet (Mt 22:3, 14), a foretaste of which the present table fellowship with them may have represented...That Jesus’ opponents agreed with his principle in theory yet invited his reprimand should force us who acknowledge his doctrine to survey our practice as well...some apparently worshipful and Bible-centered churches do not welcome such persons—suggesting that ultimately Jesus who ate with sinners might not truly be welcome there either. Matthew, 9:9-13

It is too easy, even for Christians, to use charlatans as an excuse to ignore the real workings of God. One can understand the sentiments of religious people in Jesus’ day; after all, they may have reasoned, if God were still doing miracles like those he had done through Elijah and Elisha, surely he would have been doing it through them. They, after all, were sure that they were the ones with correct doctrine. When we become so sure of our theological system that we cannot listen to anyone else no matter how cogent their evidence, we may risk repeating the kind of mistake many of Jesus’ contemporaries made. Matthew 9:27-38

Now, in chapter 10 Jesus sends out the 12 disciples, as His agents, to announce the coming of the kingdom to the nation of Israel. Keener emphasizes that both Matthew and Mark tailor their presentation of Jesus' instructions to their own audience showing that these instructions apply to our situation as we announce the kingdom today. First, Jesus calls his agents to live simply, trust God to supply their needs and devote their resources to kingdom work. They should expect opposition and persecution even from those closest to them, that could be lethal, but they should fear God alone and be willing to give their lives for the kingdom. Jesus assures the disciples that the rewards for this commitment and sacrifice are eternal and worth it. There is even great reward for those Christians who provide support and resources for those who are on the front lines of the kingdom. We, as a church, need to take these instructions more seriously and get out of our comfortable church buildings and take Jesus' kingdom actions and message out to those who need it. The effectiveness of a church should be evaluated by how they serve the needy of their own community and by how much of their resources go into sending missionaries out to make disciples of all nations.   

Both Jesus’ proclamation and practical acts of compassion go beyond what many Christians call ministry today. Our communities are ravaged by demonic forces, violence, injustice and all kinds of human pain, while the church often remains irrelevant except to the few who venture through our doors. To follow Jesus’ model of ministry, more Christians must stop simply going to church and learn rather to become the church among our communities in evangelism and ministry to social needs. Matthew, 10:1-4

The message of this text summons us to radically value our mission above all possessions and to live as simply as necessary to devote our resources to evangelism. Those who strive to “witness” to their neighbors by demonstrating that Christ can “bless” them with abundant possessions may unwittingly witness for a false gospel...Non-Christians often have the spiritual sense to recognize what much of the church ignores: tacking Jesus’ name onto worldly values does not sanctify those values, it just profanes Jesus’ name. Matthew 10:5-15

As people treat God’s prophet, so they treat the God who sent the prophet (1 Sam 8:7). Matthew repeatedly emphasizes that disciples as Jesus’ agents are his righteous ones and prophets, even greater than the prophets of old...Receiving Jesus’ representatives with a cup of cold water probably refers to accepting into one’s home missionaries who have abandoned their own homes and security to bring Christ’s message. Matthew 10:40-42

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