Thursday, November 18, 2010

Matthew 13:1–23

Matthew 13:1–23 (ESV) : The Parable of the Sower

Synopsis

In these passages (I’ve again combined a few ESV section headings into one post, since they go together), Jesus begins by telling the parable of the sower. I won’t summarize or quote it here; read it in verses 1–9 (ESV) .

Later on, the disciples approach Jesus to ask him why he speaks to the crowd in parables. To be frank, Jesus’ answer to them very much surprised me, for a long time:

And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (verses 11–13 (ESV) )
He then quotes Isaiah:

“Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
  and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
  and with their ears they can barely hear,
  and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
  and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
  and turn, and I would heal them.’”

(verses 14–15 (ESV) )

This is taken from Isaiah 6:9–10 (ESV) (but see below).

Jesus has been talking about the crowds, but he turns his attention back to the disciples, and tells them that despite what he’s been saying about the crowds, the disciples are blessed, because their eyes do see, and their ears do hear. In fact, “many prophets and righteous people” longed to see and hear what the disciples are able to see and hear, but weren’t able to (verse 17 (ESV) ).

Finally, having gone through why he speaks to the crowd in parables, he then explains the parable of the sower in verses 18–23 (ESV) , but again I won’t bother to describe it because I can’t possible add to what Jesus said anyway—when the Saviour takes the time to explain something, we’re usually better off just listening.

Thoughts

There are a few things in Jesus’ brief sentences about the disciples understanding him but the crowds not understanding him that surprised me for a long time:
  • Jesus tells the disciples that “it has been given” to them to know the secrets of heaven, but to the crowds it has not been given. Wait… wasn’t part of Jesus’ mission on earth to explain things to people? Why isn’t he trying to be as clear as possible? Or, conversely, why is he telling them anything, if it hasn’t been “given to them” to understand?
  • He says that to the one who has more will be given, and the one who doesn’t have, even what he does have will be taken away. That just sounded… wrong, to my ears. I would have expected Jesus to say that the one who doesn’t have needs to have it, and he could ignore the ones who have, for a bit, until everyone gets evened up.
  • He says that he speaks to the people in parables because they see but don’t see, and hear but don’t hear. Again, my reaction was, “but then shouldn’t you speak clearly, so that they can see and hear?”
These weren’t questions I put a lot of thought into, but they would be there in the back of my mind, as I read the passage. But part of my problem with this passage is that I just didn’t understand salvation properly, or, more specifically, Grace. My salvation is a gift from God, not something I earned—it was “given to me,” whereas it hasn’t been given to others. Jesus says that to the one who has more will be given, so what if I put myself in that category? I “have”—I’ve been saved. Day by day I grow in my knowledge and faith of God, all due to His benevolence; I am being given more. And some day I’ll die and go to be with Him, and will have immeasurably more than I even have now. When one puts this in the context of Grace, the passage makes a lot more sense.

Jesus “quotes” Isaiah in this passage, but let’s take a closer look at the actual passage from Isaiah that he is quoting:

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

Make the heart of this people dull,
  and their ears heavy,
  and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
  and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
  and turn and be healed.”

(Isaiah 6:9–10 (ESV) )

This is, of course, the LORD speaking to the prophet Isaiah.

The reason I find this interesting is that Jesus doesn’t directly quote the Isaiah passage; in the Isaiah passage, the LORD commands that the people’s hearts be made dull, and their ears heavy, etc., whereas in the Matthew passage, Jesus says that the people’s hearts will indeed be made dull, and they will indeed have ears that never hear, etc. Jesus is speaking to people who already know Isaiah’s prophecy; he doesn’t have to quote it to them. His point is that these people are the fulfillment of that prophecy—the people that the LORD was speaking about, to Isaiah, are the people that Jesus is speaking to. (It used to bug me when Jesus would cite an Old Testament passage, but not quote it exactly the same as it appears in the Old Testament, however, there is the issue of translation (Old Testament being written in ancient Hebrew, New Testament being written in Greek, and the translations of the Old Testament that would have been common in Jesus’ day would probably have been in Greek, although I might be wrong on that), but also, Jesus is the Word. He wrote the Old Testament. So… he, more than anyone else who ever lived, knows what he’s doing when he cites Old Testament Scriptures.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Matthew 12:38–50

Matthew 12:38–50 (ESV) : The Sign of Jonah, Return of an Unclean Spirit, Jesus’ Mother and Brothers

Synopsis

I’ve been going through the New Testament based on the ESV section headings, so by that model this should have been three posts: The Sign of Jonah, Return of an Unclean Spirit, and Jesus’ Mother and Brothers. However, I’ve been going too slow lately—it’s been over three months since my last post here—and these three sections all kind of go together, so I’m including them all in one post.

In the first passage, the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, but he tells them that by asking for a sign they are being evil and adulterous. (Actually, he condemns their entire generation as being evil and adulterous, not just the particular scribes and Pharisees currently asking him for a sign. Everyone is asking for a sign.)

He tells them that they won’t get a sign, except for the “sign of the prophet Jonah” (verse 39 (ESV) ):

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (verse 40 (ESV) )
In other words, Jesus is referring to his coming sacrifice and death, when he’ll be dead for three days before rising again. In fact, Jesus tells them that at the judgement, the people Jonah preached to in Nineveh will rise up against this current generation and judge it, for the people of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s message, but this generation is not repenting at Jesus’, even though Jesus is greater than Jonah. Similarly, the queen of the South will do the same, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and Jesus is greater than Solomon. (The ESV suggests 1 Kings 10:1 (ESV) and 2 Chronicles 9:1 (ESV) as references for this mention of the queen of the South.)

In the second passage, Jesus says something that I don’t properly understand, so I’m just going to quote it:

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” (verses 43–45 (ESV) )
This is obviously a continuation of what Jesus has already been talking about, since he’s still talking about this evil and adulterous generation.

In the final passage, Jesus’ mother and brothers come and ask to speak to him. When Jesus is told this, he rhetorically asks the messenger who are his mother and brothers? And then indicates the crowd around him, and says that they are his mother and brothers—that anyone who does the will of his Father in heaven is his mother and brother.

Thoughts

I keep quoting Jesus straight, saying “this generation,” because I don’t think that he’s referring just to the specific generation that was alive when he was on the earth—I think he’s referring generally to the “generation” that has been in place since his coming. I could be wrong on that.

My only theory about the unclean spirits passage quoted above is that Jesus might be talking about the false spirituality of the Pharisees of his day. All through the Old Testament, we see condemnation of the Israelites for not obeying God’s law; shortly before Jesus’ time, the Pharisees started to come into the picture, and swung the pendulum too far in the other direction, not only trying their best to follow the letter (if not the intent) of God’s law, but adding in so many rules of their own that it would be impossible for anyone to satisfy their demands. (Not that any human has ever been able to follow God’s law in any event, other than Jesus himself.) Jesus condemned the Pharisees very strongly, in many, many passages; it seems that their false spirituality and hypocrisy was even worse than not obeying at all; when people have the false belief that they are okay with God, they’re not going to bother trying to seek Him. In other words, “evil” was banished from the nation of Israel, by the resurgence in spirituality, only to come back and find that it was even easier to lure the Israelites away from God than it had been before.

I think it’s safe to say that Jesus isn’t disowning his family, with the “mothers and brothers” passage. In fact, in John 19:26–27 (ESV) he indicates his concern that Mary be taken care of, after his death—so obviously he loves and cares for his family. But there will always be a stronger bond between believers than with non-believers, even closer than the bond we have with blood relatives. (I’m not saying that Jesus’ brothers weren’t believers; I don’t know whether they came to believe or not.)

This passage also shows that Joseph and Mary must have had other children besides Jesus, for him to have brothers. Just sayin’.