Monday, January 28, 2019

Devotional: Woe and Rest, Matthew 11:20-30

Jesus continues his surprising teaching about the kingdom in the rest of chapter 11. It’s surprising because Jesus places himself at the center of what it means to trust God and be part of his kingdom. The only way to enter and live in God’s coming kingdom is to follow Jesus into it. The only way to find rest and blessing in God’s presence is to be in Jesus’ presence and to know him. It is surprising because many of the people who thought they were surely in were out, and many who were considered to be out were in. The “wise” who claimed to know God and what he wanted received “woe,”  Their spiritual pride and confidence in human traditions caused them to misunderstand scripture and miss the new thing God was doing in Jesus. The rest and blessing of the kingdom would come to the “little children” who would humble themselves and “learn” from Jesus.

This section begins with a pronouncement of judgment (“Woe”) on the unrepentant cities in which Jesus had done some of his most spectacular miracles. (11:20-24) Matthew’s point is that all the expectations about the coming messiah in the old covenant scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus. However, the religious scholars had rejected him because their pride and desire to maintain control had blinded them to it. He compares Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum to the most pagan cities of the past; Tyre, Sidon and Sodom. More people in those immoral cities would have responded to the message and work of Jesus than the people of these hard-hearted “religious” cities. It is sad that, often, those who claim to be the people of God are often the most resistant to what he is doing in their lives. If we think we have God figured out, we often miss what he is trying to do in our lives. It was not Torah that would bring them life. Instead, Torah was there to point them to Jesus who would bring life and the blessing that comes from intimacy with God. Scriptural knowledge is a good thing. But if it becomes the end goal, instead of the means to know Jesus better and bring us into the presence of the Father, it can take us down to join the dead.

Jesus provides the remedy to this in 11:25-30. Only Jesus knows God and offers the wisdom that comes from being in the Father’s presence. The “wise” and “powerful” miss this because they fail to see their need to come to Jesus with childlike dependence and trust. Deep knowledge of God is relational. It must begin with devotion and love for Jesus. All scripture must be interpreted through love for God and then love for neighbor as exemplified in Jesus. God cannot be reduced to just a book. Jesus pointed out that the Bible itself contained exceptions to its Sabbath laws based on devotion to God and his work and meeting the needs of people. This does not mean that Jesus demands less from his people than the law did. He demands much more. Rather than a tithe, he demands use of all of it for God’s kingdom work. Instead of a temple tax he demands meeting other’s needs like we meet our own. But Jesus’ yoke is easier because he cares for us and shoulders the burden with us. His Spirit brings his entire body, the church, together to minister to us, and indwells and empowers us to reproduce his thoughts and actions. When we live this way there is no room for pride or selfishness.

The irony here is that, when we acknowledge our ignorance of God and his ways, then we become wise. When we recognize our weakness, then we become strong. It is only when scholarship and training are submitted to Jesus that they are effective for the kingdom. Final judgment is based only on our connection to Jesus and what he has done for and through us. To understand that is to know his rest and blessing.

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