Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Matthew #6 (18.1-21.16)

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 relationships within the kingdom of God – with the king and with the king’s other followers. 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.

Matthew 18 deals with relationships among Jesus' disciples. God's kingdom is an upside-down world in which one's status is determined by how well one treats those who are considered lowly by society. Our responsibility to others includes taking the initiative to pursue those who have strayed away from the faith or acted against us. This does not mean that sin is tolerated, but it is disciplined appropriately and always with the goal of reconciliation and restoration. Jesus warns of very strong judgment on those who will not forgive. If we will not forgive it shows that we really have not experienced God's forgiveness and grace.

Jesus’ teaching on relationships here especially addresses relationships among disciples. As God’s community, they are to watch out for one another, expressing patience toward the spiritually young as well as seeking to restore the straying, gently disciplining the erring and forgiving the repentant...rank in the kingdom depends especially on how we treat those least honored among us. Matthew 18:1–14

By holding discipline and grace in their proper tension (with a greater but not imbalanced emphasis on grace), Matthew summons the church to practice tough love...We must pursue the straying sheep (Mt 18:10–14), but certain very exceptional circumstances demand expulsion of wolves in sheep’s clothing who may not wish to leave (vv. 15–20; compare 7:15–23). Matthew 18:15-20

Forgiveness must issue from the heart (18:35)—it must be sincere (compare Is 59:13). God has forgiven us; if we fail to show grace to others who have repented—guilty parties in a divorce, former gang members, adulterers, homosexuals, gossipers, crafty politicians—then this text simply promises us hellfire (compare Mt 5:7; 6:12, 14–15). Matthew 18:21-35

In 19.1-20.16 Jesus teaches the values of His kingdom and, in doing so, overturns the values of the culture of the Jews and Gentiles of his day. In societies that cultivated relationship with powerful men to gain honor, wealth and power, Jesus taught that powerless women and children should be honored. He actually made it hard for the rich young ruler to be a disciple because He wanted disciples on his terms-total dependence and commitment. This is rarely found in the rich and powerful because they have too much to lose. The bottom line is that Jesus' kingdom operates on the principle of grace. God is free to bless people in a way and amount that He chooses. Those that have sacrificed everything to follow Him will be rewarded in the coming kingdom, but the rewards will surprise those that still operate on the one-to-one merit system of this world.

Jesus’ male contemporaries valued the great and powerful; Jesus summoned status-seeking men to love their wives and children. The world valued wealth; Jesus summoned his followers to sacrifice all for the kingdom, caring for the poor (19:21; compare 6:19–24). Only those who prepared for such sacrifices could enter the coming kingdom. Matthew 19

The well-to-do young man of 19:16–22 was like many “First World” Christians today. We want God to affirm that we are religious enough without costing us anything more than we have already been offering him. We trust only tentatively the value of heaven’s kingdom and hence are prepared to sacrifice only little for it; but one who is not sufficiently convinced of the gospel’s truth to sacrifice everything (compare 13:44–46) will not prove worthy of it. Matthew 19:23-30

The image in Jesus’ parable is of unmerited grace; the owner realizes that an hour’s fraction of a day’s wage would not sustain a family. But a parable of grace also challenges those who operate only on a principle of merit, despising the showing of mercy because they feel it unfairly raises others to their own standing. Matthew 19:30-20:16

The next section (20.17-21.16) begins with Jesus' prediction of His passion, which all the disciples seem to ignore. In fact, John and James make a play for a privileged position in Jesus' kingdom. Jesus reiterates the point that there is no kingdom without a cross and no reward without service and suffering. The prayer that gets answered is not the disciples’ request for status, but that of the blind men who come to Jesus with desperation. Jesus must be taken on His own terms, not ours. With this, Jesus is ready to announce his kingdom, but He comes in peace, not as the warrior revolutionary king the people wanted. Because of their rejection he confronts the injustice in the temple in Jerusalem and then symbolically acts out judgment on it. Sadly, the children recognized who He was, but the leaders did not. 

The world’s models for status differ from those in God’s kingdom; because honor ultimately belongs to God alone, we should humble ourselves and serve, allowing God to exalt us. Rank in the day of judgment (5:19) will confound many of our expectations (18:4; 23:11): it will expose the pride of many who are respected in today’s church, while conversely, God’s revelation of the lives of many humble and unknown servants of Christ will bring him much honor. Matthew 20:20-28

Whether he gives us the strength to endure pain or (quite often) heals us in response to persistent prayer, it is not because we have mastered formulas of prayer. It is because he cares for us intimately (6:8; compare 9:36; 14:14; 15:32). Matthew 20:29-34

Even today many people call themselves Christians but have not pressed far enough in Jesus’ teachings to understand the real character of his lordship or his demands on their lives. The praises of the masses are good, but it is the disciples who truly submit to Christ’s will—those who read his kingship in light of the cross—who will carry out his purposes in the world. Matthew 21:1-16

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