Friday, February 01, 2019

Devotional: The Most Important Question #2, Matthew 12:33-50

At the end of chapter 12, Matthew concludes his discussion about the most important question the Gospel asks us: “Who is Jesus?” How we answer that question is the most important decision we will ever make in our lives. Because Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God in the flesh, our relationship with God and his created world hinges on our answer. Here, Jesus contrasts the rejection of him by the Pharisees with the reception of his words and authority by his true disciples. Jesus makes the bold claim that response to him reveals a heart that is open or closed to God and what God is doing in the world. The Pharisees’ words and actions toward him reveal them as “bound by Satan.” In contrast, those who follow Jesus are doing “the will of my Father” and are in family relationship with God. This passage is a strong reminder to us to be on the alert, humbly listening and watching for what God’s Spirit is doing in the world. It is a reminder of the need to prioritize our allegiance to Jesus and to God’s kingdom as we begin each day.

The Pharisees’ and scribes’ words and actions toward Jesus reveal them as evil “vipers,” rather than the holy men of God they pretended to be. (12:33-37) Good people do not condemn the actions of a person who is serving those around him. Good people do not condemn one whose words accurately reflect the truth of scripture. Good men do not manipulate the word of God to enrich themselves or justify their greed. (See Matthew 23) Good men do not plot to ruin the reputation or seek to kill those they disagree with. (12:14) Just because people call themselves Bible teachers does not mean you should listen to them. Watch their lives and words to determine what is in their hearts, but remember, to watch yourself too. Your words and actions will also be judged.

The religious leaders tried to justify themselves by asking for a sign. Jesus responded that they had already had enough signs. (12:38-42). What more did they need than “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them?” (11:5) But Jesus did say that they would get one more sign: the “sign of Jonah.” Jesus’ resurrection from the dead would be the final and ultimate sign to the nation of who he is. Sadly, most of those listening to Jesus there would reject even that sign. Ironically, pagan Gentiles, like the Assyrians who responded to Jonah’s message, were more attuned to God’s Spirit and repented. Ironically, the pagan queen of Sheba recognized God’s wisdom when it was spoken better than Jesus’ generation. The bottom line is that the issue is not a need for information or proof. The issue is willingness to submit to God. It’s about hearts, not heads.

The results of rejecting Jesus are presented graphically. (12:43-45) To reject Jesus’ offer of spiritual freedom and victory does not leave one the same. It brings deeper bondage, deeper degradation, and more decisive and devastating judgment. You risk getting what you ask for: life without God. These leaders led the nation down the path that would result in its destruction less than forty years later.

Matthew closes the chapter with one more contrast. He contrasts his biological family with his real family: those who obey the Father by trusting and following him. Though Jesus’ family would later come to believe him, here they were embarrassed by him and tried to restrain him. (See Mark 3:21) Jesus’ point is that relationship with God and membership in his kingdom does not come by national or family origins, but only by following him. The kingdom of God must be your most important allegiance or relationship.The benefit is that when we follow Jesus we reach the highest status a human can attain: “brother and sister and mother” of Jesus. That is what is at stake here.

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