Friday, October 13, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Matthew #5 (13-17)

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. This section focuses on the “already-not yet” aspect of the kingdom of God. 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.

Keener sees Matthew 13 as containing 7 or 8 parables that illustrate the "present character of the kingdom until the end." In the present age the kingdom will exist in a hidden form mixed with the kingdoms of the world. Only those that persistently listen to Jesus will understand it and recognize it. They will value the kingdom above everything else in this life. Others may profess to follow Christ, but at the end of the age, God's judgment will reveal who are the true members of God's kingdom. Though God's kingdom appears to be small and insignificant now, investments that God's people make in it will pay off and will prove to be well worth it in the end.

Jesus emphasizes that only his inner circle will understand, because the parables make sense only in the context of Jesus’ ministry. Thus prospective disciples have a measure of choice: only those who press into his inner circle, those who persevere to mature discipleship, will prove to be good soil. Matthew 13:3-23

We Christians sound foolish to those outside Jesus’ circle when we speak of a final judgment and living for a future kingdom; what does that have to do with the troubles of daily life in the present? But those who have pressed into Jesus’ circle today, like those who did so two thousand years ago, know who Jesus really is. Despite the magnitude of the task before us, we dare not despise the “smallness” of our own works, for God’s entire program long ago came hidden in a small package.  Matthew 13:31-43

True, the kingdom is available to us only by grace through faith; but genuine faith means genuinely embracing and yielding to God’s reign, not simply acknowledging it and then passing it by as if it did not exist. The kingdom is a treasure, and those who really believe it will sacrifice everything else in their lives for its agendas. Professed Christians who desire worldly wealth and status but are far less consumed with the furtherance of God’s kingdom must reconsider the true state of their souls. Matthew 13:44-46

In chapter 14 Jesus faces rejection and the rejection of the prophet who was his messenger by performing powerful miracles that reflect his mission as YHWH come in the flesh and His compassion for His people. After being rejected by his own home town, Jesus hears about the execution of John the Baptist. John's death prefigures what the nation's leadership will do to Jesus. Jesus then demonstrates who He is through two powerful miracles. As the new Moses he provides bread in the wilderness and follows that by walking on the sea in the storm. In the Old Testament only YHWH walks on the sea and controls the storm. At the end of the chapter Matthew records that the people would just touch Jesus and be healed. Jesus' presence was enough to bring in the kingdom and its blessings. 

In John’s final direct portrayal in the Gospel, then, his martyrdom has sent his remaining disciples to Jesus, the Coming One. May all of us lay such a groundwork that after we are gone those who recall our service may look beyond us to the Lord we proclaimed. Matthew 14:9-12

Jesus’ disciples should have been with their master long enough to expect that what the master said he had power from God to perform. The God of the exodus, who divided waters (Ex 14:21) and provided manna from heaven (Ex 16:14–18), was at work in history again (2 Kings 2:8–14; 4:38–44; Mt 14:13–33). Matthew 14:13-21

It is important to note that while Jesus is disappointed with Peter’s inadequate faith, Peter has acted in greater faith than the other disciples—he is learning. Faith cannot be worked up by formulas or emotion, but it grows through various tests as we continue to trust our Lord and he continues to teach us. Faith grows out of a relationship with the Person of Jesus, and in no other way. Matthew 14:22-33

The religious leadership continued to oppose Jesus despite the great miracles. Jesus countered their criticism by asserting that it was based on human traditions that nullified the very scriptures that they claimed to follow. The key to purity was not outward traditions, like hand-washing, but a heart devoted to relationship with God that would result in words and actions that resembled God's character. This definition of purity would open God's covenant blessing to Gentiles and Matthew follows this section with the stories of the healing of a Canaanite woman's daughter and the miraculous feeding of 4000+ Gentiles. The Canaanite woman humbled herself to recognize that salvation came through the Jews and her great faith was rewarded. Then Jesus shows his love and compassion for Gentiles by giving them the same Moses type miracle He gave to the Jews. The blessing of Abraham promised to the nations was being fulfilled and the Gentiles "gave glory to the God of Israel."

The Pharisees frequently determined morality by extrapolating from tradition. By demanding that we extrapolate morality instead from biblical principles, Jesus takes ethics out of the domain of the academy and courtroom and places it in the daily lives of his followers. To follow Jesus’ guidelines here, church members need to know more Scripture, not more churchly rules not founded in Scripture. Matthew 15:1-20

By hailing Jesus as Son of David, she has already acknowledged him as the rightful king over a nation that had conquered her ancestors—more than many of his own people had done. Like John’s woman at the well, this Canaanite woman publicly acknowledged Jesus’ identity before the disciples who wished her to leave had done so. Now she refuses to dispute that Jesus’ mission is to Israel first and that her status is secondary to that of Israelites; nevertheless, she believes Jesus will have more than enough power left over from what Israel does not need or want. Jesus responds to such striking faith. Jesus has enough bread for Israel, but the following narrative reinforces that plenty of scraps remain over for others. Matthew reminds his community that all, both Jew and Gentile, can approach God only through faith in his Messiah. Matthew 15:21-28

Some theologians have critiqued some forms of Christianity for focusing on “meeting our needs” instead of on glorifying God. The critique is partly right and partly wrong. Jesus met the broken where they were, meeting their needs. Nevertheless, only those who pressed on to become his servant-disciples would really come to know who he was. Even his initial acts of compassion led to God’s glory; though the crowds had exercised some faith in bringing the ailing to Jesus, they still were amazed by the miracles and praised the God of Israel. Matthew 15:29-39

In chapters 16-17 Jesus begins the process of revealing Himself more clearly to His disciples. The Jewish leadership does not get to see this because their requests for heavenly signs only demonstrate their unbelief. Jesus' miracles, including the resurrection should have been enough. But even the disciples have an inadequate understanding of Jesus. So, Jesus takes them into Gentile territory to reveal Himself. Caesarea Philippi was near Paneas, "the gates of hell." It was sacred to Pan and said to be the place where the god of death ruled. He asks the disciples who they think He is and Peter gives the correct answer-the king and Son of God. Jesus responds that they will be the leaders of the new community of God that makes the same confession and will defeat death and the forces of evil. However, they still do not understand that the cross is necessary before resurrection and victory. Peter plays the part of the devil in offering Jesus the kingdom without the cross. All who follow Christ must understand that they must follow His example of giving up their own lives to truly gain eternal life.  

Jesus is crystal clear why they cannot understand him. Spiritual understanding cannot come apart from faith (v. 8) this point his disciples should have more faith, so he corrects them. Their real problem is that they are learning faith so slowly (compare 15:10, 16). He has serious reason for concern: these are his disciples, by definition apprentices expected to take over his earthly ministry after his departure! Yet other instances of his “little-faith” rebuke demonstrate that it represents a reproof like that of a concerned parent, not that of a harsh drill sergeant. Matthew 16:1-12

Outsiders’ recognition of Jesus as a prophet is inadequate (16:14); those who follow Jesus closely know him as the Christ, God’s Son (vv. 15–16). Herod Antipas thought Jesus was John (14:2); many Jewish people anticipated the return of Elijah and other prophets like Baruch. Viewing Jesus in such terms thus fit him into categories of thought that already existed, rather than letting the Lord redefine their categories by his identity. Christ designates Jesus as the rightful king of Israel. Matthew 16:14

Some Western Christians expect unlimited prosperity or teach that Christians will escape all tribulation, while many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere (such as in Iran or the Sudan) die for their faith. Is it not possible that some Christians today still speak for the devil? Matthew 16:22-23

The preliminary revelation of Jesus to His disciples is completed with the transfiguration in chapter 17. The picture reminds one of God's appearance on Sinai with the Shekinah, the voice from heaven and the presence of Moses and Elijah. Jesus is greater than any of the kings or prophets of the Old Covenant. Just like Moses, Jesus' followers who were left behind were lacking faith and unable to do what He had already enabled them to do. The disciples must learn faith through trial and grow. Then they would be able to follow Jesus in great power, but also in persecution, trial and martyrdom. In the meantime God would take care of their needs as demonstrated by Jesus' and Peter's poll tax being paid from the mouth of a fish. Kingdom people must live daily life by faith, sacrificially, and they will see God do remarkable things through them.

The bright cloud that enveloped or “overshadowed” them is described in language reminiscent of the Jewish doctrine of the Shekinah, God’s presence, especially recalling God’s presence in the tabernacle in the wilderness. God then repeats in a bat qôl some of the commendation oracle he uttered at Jesus’ baptism, revealing Jesus’ identity as both Messiah and suffering servant; to this he adds an allusion that indicates that Jesus is the promised “prophet like Moses” as well, for of that prophet God said, Listen to him. Matthew 17:1-8

Faith means willingness to go where God leads, not power to avert all unpleasant circumstances. We mature as the Lord leads us through hard tests for his name’s sake, forcing us to actively trust his provision and power. Matthew 17:14-23

The King’s children can pay the tax because the King gives them the money to do so. Jesus can take care of his people who walk close to him. Matthew 17:24-27

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