Friday, July 29, 2011

Matthew 14:34–36

Matthew 14:34–36 (ESV) : Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret

Synopsis

This is a very short, straightforward passage: After Jesus’ miracle of walking on the water, he and the disciples reach their destination, Gennesaret. The people recognize him, and send word around the region to bring their sick, so that they can be healed by Jesus. They implore him simply to let them touch the fringe of his garment, and anyone who touches it is made well.

I supposed there was no reason to type that out; I could more easily have typed “click the link above and read the passage.”

Thoughts

The ESV Study Bible points out:

There is no record of any prior ministry by Jesus in Gennesaret, but its people had certainly heard about him, knowing that even touching the fringe of his garment could bring healing.
This being the case, this might be another example of contrasting lack of faith with great faith; in the last passage Jesus rebuked Peter—one of the twelve Apostles—for his lack of faith, and in this passage people who have never even seen Jesus, only heard about him, have so much faith that they can be healed simply by touching his clothing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Matthew 14:22–33

Matthew 14:22–33 (ESV) : Jesus Walks on the Water

Synopsis

In the last passage Jesus fed the 5,000 (plus women and children), and now he dismisses the crowd and has the disciples get into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. (Verse 22 (ESV) simply says that Jesus was sending his disciples to “the other side,” so I had to look it up to find out what sea they were crossing.) Then, having dismissed the crowds and sent his disciples on their way, he goes up alone on a mountainside to pray.

Later on, in the “fourth watch of the night” (verse 25 (ESV) ), meaning sometime between 3:00 and 6:00AM, Jesus starts walking on the water toward the boat carrying the disciples. When the disciples see him they think they’re seeing a ghost and get terrified, but Jesus tells them that it’s him. They don’t seem quite convinced, however:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (verse 28 (ESV) )
So Jesus tells Peter to come, and Peter does! He gets out of the boat, and walks on the water to Jesus. But then when he sees the wind (for the wind is very strong), he gets afraid again, and starts to sink. He cries out to Jesus, who grabs hold of him, and says to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (verse 31b (ESV) ).

Jesus and Peter get into the boat, and immediately the wind ceases. And finally, whether because of the miracle of walking on the water or because of the cessation of the wind, the disciples worship Jesus:

And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (verse 33 (ESV) )

Thoughts

As mentioned above, the passage doesn’t name the sea it simply says that Jesus was sending his disciples to “the other side.” Interestingly, according to the ESV Study Bible, “Other side often marks the movement from a Jewish to a Gentile territory and vice versa.”

In the last passage I talked a bit about the fact that Jesus, even though he is God in the flesh, felt the need/compulsion to pray; in this passage that continues to be evident since this entire miracle is made necessary because of Jesus’ want/need to have some time alone to pray. In two passages in a row Jesus wants to pray, and God uses these events to display Jesus’ power to those around him (and to us).

This is an interesting passage in terms of the ups and downs of Peter. (There’s a lot of that in the Gospels, and we should really see that as a lesson about ourselves and our human frailty rather than trying to feel superior to one of the twelve apostles—a man who was one of the central figures in establishing the Church on this earth.) We tend to focus on Peter’s lack of faith when he starts to sink, although I was always struck by the fact that he had enough faith to walk out to Jesus in the first place. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of the other disciples to do so, so in my mind Peter gets points initially for that burst of faith.

However, I can’t go too far in my praise of Peter, or else I’ll end up disagreeing with Jesus himself, who is the one who said “o you of little faith” to Peter, when he started to sink. Peter had enough faith to get out of the boat—probably more than I would have had, in the same circumstances!—but not enough to hold him up when he started to think about the problem they were facing: the strong wind. Or, as so many preachers have put it throughout the centuries, Peter’s problem began when he took his eyes off of Jesus, and focused on his surroundings and his problems instead. Although I’m sure Peter wasn’t consciously articulating it to himself this way, he had enough faith in Jesus to allow him to follow Jesus onto the water, but not enough faith in Jesus to help him against the wind.

And I’m thinking that a big part of why Jesus pointed out Peter’s lack of faith is that Jesus has already demonstrated his mastery over the elements to his disciples, back in 8:23–27 when he calmed a storm. But in the moment, Peter wasn’t remembering that event and trusting in Jesus to protect him from the elements, in the moment Peter was viewing the elements as being bigger than Jesus. I’m sure this was more of an ingrained, emotional response to the situation, rather than a reasoned, logical response; Peter didn’t think things through, remember that Jesus had calmed a previous storm, and then decide that this storm was worse and Jesus wouldn’t be able to do anything. But this ingrained, emotional response is exactly what Jesus was pointing out to Peter: our instinctive response to any situation should always be that God is in control, He knows what He is doing, and He will bring us through the situation.

Aside from the deeper, spiritual aspects of this story, I also often get fascinated with the logistics of it. See the pertinent verse:

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (verse 30 (ESV) )
It’s the “beginning to sink” part that gets me. It wasn’t an on/off situation; it wasn’t from water to solid back to water. When Peter’s faith started to waver he didn’t just fall into the water—as one would in normal circumstances, if one simply stepped off a boat into water—he began to sink. It wasn’t an instant thing, it was a gradual thing. It would have been so interesting to have been in Peter’s position, and experience that! When he first stepped out of the boat, what did it feel like? Was it like walking on a hard surface? Did it feel like… well, whatever walking on water feels like? Was it more like ice on the surface of the sea? As he was walking toward Jesus could he feel the sea moving underneath him, because of the strong wind and the waves that would have been all around him, or was it still where they were? When he began to sink, did it feel like the sea was turning to jello? There was still enough resistance to at least partially keep him up; he didn’t fall into the water, he simply “began” to sink. It has nothing to do with the spiritual aspects of the story, but it’s still interesting to think about.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Matthew 14:13–21

Matthew 14:13–21 (ESV) : Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

Synopsis

After hearing about the beheading of John the Baptist—or maybe just hearing that Herod thought Jesus was John raised from the dead?—Jesus withdraws to a “desolate place” by himself. (Actually, although the passage says he’s by himself, for some reason I assume the disciples are with him. I’m taking “by himself” to simply mean “away from the crowds.” However, I have absolutely no reason for this assumption and might very well be wrong.) I’m guessing that Jesus wants this isolation in order to devote himself to prayer, but if that’s the case he doesn’t get much of a chance because the crowds find out where he’s gone they follow him there. Rather than get annoyed or put out, however, he has compassion on them and heals their sick.

In the evening the disciples urge Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can get something to eat. They are, after all, in a desolate place, so the crowds will probably have to travel a long way to find food. Instead, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd, to which they reply that they only have five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus asks for the food, has the crowd sit down, prays over it, and breaks the bread and has the disciples distribute it to the crowd, who eat to their satisfaction. Not only this, but they end up with twelve baskets of food left over!

Thoughts

This passage is almost invariably always called “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand,” but verse 21 (ESV) tells us that there were actually 5,000 men plus women and children—which means that it was way more than 5,000 people once you factor in everyone. (Remember that the passage headings are not actually part of the text of the Bible; they are added in by the publishers of various versions of the Bible.)

This is one of the few stories that occurs in all four of the Gospels; you can read the other accounts in Mark 6:30–44 (ESV) , Luke 9:10–17 (ESV) , and John 6:1–13 (ESV) . Most commentaries on the feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children) will point that out, so I figure I have to follow the rules and do the same. For those of you who are new to the Bible, I should point out that there are actually two mass feedings: this feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children) as well as another feeding of 4,000 (plus women and children) which takes place after this one. I mention this because it caused me some confusion when I started reading the Bible, so it might cause confusion for others, too.

Many people will point out that Jesus feeding the 5,000 (plus women and children) is reminiscent of God feeding the Israelites in the desert with the manna, which is a fair comparison. It is, after all, the same God physically feeding His people in both instances. He chooses a slightly different way of going about it in this case, but I think part of the point of this miracle is to remind the Jews of the manna, and have them seeing Jesus feeding them in the same light that they saw God feeding their ancestors.

Of course the real Bread of Life is Jesus himself, not physical bread made out of wheat. However, the people of Jesus’ day did not understand that, which is made very clear when you read the account of this story in the Gospel of John; shortly after John recounts the feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children) in 6:1–13 (ESV) , he then recounts the crowd coming to Jesus the next day looking for more bread, in 6:22–59 (ESV) . Then, in verses 60–71 (ESV) we are told that this teaching is so hard that many of his disciples leave him.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I won’t be getting to John 6 for… well, years and years, at the rate I’m going through the Bible.

When Jesus ends up with twelve baskets of leftovers after the miracle, it almost seems like showing off. I don’t mean that to be blasphemous, I just mean that it almost seems like Jesus is going out of his way to show that he didn’t just fool the people into thinking that they were full, he really did miraculously multiply the bread and fish, and the proof of it is that he ended up with way more than what he’d started with. I’m sure there were skeptics in Jesus’ day, just as there are now, saying things like, “He didn’t really heal that guy, the guy just fooled himself into believing it; he didn’t really feed those people, they just fooled themselves into not feeling hungry anymore.” I don’t know if that’s why there was so much food left over after this miracle or not.

Although it doesn’t seem like a core part of the story, this passage starts out with Jesus going off by himself, presumably to pray. But then when the crowds appear he goes back to work because of his compassion for them. This tells us a couple of things:
  • The Father is in control, and He decides what we do and when we do it. Even when it comes to something as obviously good and right as praying to Him, He may occasionally have other things for us to do that will get in the way of our plans, and we have to remember that He is in control, not us. Jesus understood this perfectly, and was always willing to do the Father’s bidding, and we should be too. (All the more since I’d be willing to wager that usually when God interrupts our plans it’s not praying that He is interrupting, it’s something much more selfish.)
    • In fact, God is so in control that even the desolate place Jesus had chosen to pray was used to bring about this miracle; the crowds needed to be fed because where they were precluded them from getting food in a more natural way.
  • Regardless of the fact that the Father had something else for Jesus to do rather than praying in this instance, the fact remains that Jesus was committed to prayer, and I think it’s safe to say that he was able to get some praying done before the crowds found him in that desolate place. If Jesus—God in the flesh—was committed to prayer, than how can we feel that we don’t need to pray?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Matthew 14:1–12

Matthew 14:1–12 (ESV) : The Death of John the Baptist

Synopsis

I always found this passage interesting because of the way Matthew tells the story; he does a flashback kind of thing, which isn’t usual for stories in the Bible. Without the flashback, though, the story is this:
  1. Herod, the ruler of the region, marries his brother’s ex-wife Herodias, and John the Baptist tells him that he shouldn’t have done this. (The ESV Study Bible notes indicate that Herod divorced his wife and Herodias divorced Herod’s brother so that Herod and Herodias could be together.)
  2. Herod has John imprisoned for it
  3. Herod wants to have John put to death, but is afraid to do so because the people think John is a prophet
  4. Herod has a birthday party and has Herodias’ daughter dance as entertainment. Because he is pleased with the performance Herod promises her whatever she wants.
  5. Herodias urges her daughter to ask for John’s head on a platter
  6. Herod doesn’t like it, but he made the promise so he goes ahead and has John beheaded and has the head brought to Herodias’ daughter
  7. Herod then hears about Jesus and thinks that Jesus is actually John the Baptist raised from the dead. (This is where the passage starts; the previous points are all in the flashback.)

Thoughts

This passage makes Herod seem pretty gutless. I get the impression that he would have had John killed from the beginning, but he is afraid of the reaction of the people, so he doesn’t. Only when he’s forced to, by making a promise that he has to fulfill, can he bring himself to do it.

Other than that, there isn’t much to say about this passage. It’s pretty gruesome—and is obviously the source of us talking about having someone’s head on a platter—but I don’t have a lot of deep spiritual things to say about it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Matthew 13:53–58

Matthew 13:53–58 (ESV) : Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

Synopsis

It’s taken me a while to get through Chapter 13 (ESV) because Jesus has told so many parables, and I find I start writing a lot when I get to the parables. But in this passage Jesus finishes speaking, returns to his home town, and starts teaching in the synagogue.

However, the people from his home town can’t get past the fact that this is Jesus, who grew up in their midst—the son of Joseph the carpenter and Mary—and they take offense at him. Jesus’ response?

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (verses 57b–58 (ESV) )

Thoughts

In some ways this passage doesn’t present a deep spiritual lesson so much as it simply presents a lesson on what people are like. Most of us can probably put ourselves in the shoes of the people from Jesus’ home town: “We’ve known this guy since he was a baby, we watched him grow up, he’s a man just like us, so why is he ‘getting airs’ and thinking he’s so high and mighty?”

I can think of a couple of reasons why they should have been able to get over this initial reaction, however:
  • The passage doesn’t say what Jesus taught in the synagogue that day, but we are told in verse 54 (ESV) that the people were astonished, and that they recognized that Jesus had wisdom. Regardless of anything else, they recognized that he was wise, and teaching something new, but rather than pay attention to it they decided to dismiss it out of familiarity with Jesus.
  • Although it’s true that they’d watched Jesus grow up from a baby, and he had proven himself over the previous 30-something years to be just as human as they were, it should have been evident to them that he was not like everyone else. Jesus didn’t sin. Not once, in all his life, as he was growing up, did anyone ever see Jesus do anything that was sinful. Although I don’t expect them to have been able to put all of the pieces together, they didn’t have all of the information at their fingertips that I have, at the very least they should have known that there was something special about Jesus.
Some modern-day Christians may still experience something akin to this reaction as they try to give the Gospel to their family or friends. Especially for those of us who were saved out of a non-religious background, it wouldn’t be surprising for people to react by saying, “we’ve known this guy all his life, and he’s as much of a sinner as we are if not more—who is he to come and try and tell us how to live?” But that type of reaction can be an open door into a presentation of the Gospel, because they’re right—we were just as sinful as them, before we got saved! Many people are still labouring under the misapprehension that Christianity is about following a bunch of rules, whereas we have the opportunity to tell them that we were saved despite who we were, even though we didn’t deserve it. And they can be too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Matthew 13:51–52

Matthew 13:51–52 (ESV) : New and Old Treasures

Synopsis

In this passage Jesus pauses from his parables and asks his listeners if they have understood what he’s been telling them. I believe Jesus is only talking to the disciples at this point, not the large crowd; if I’m reading this correctly, verses 1–9 were to the crowd, and verses 10–52 are to the disciples in private.

At any rate, whoever the listeners are, they indicate to Jesus that yes, they have understood him. (Another indication that these are the disciples, not the large crowd, because of verse 11 (ESV) , but maybe I’m stretching the point on that one.) Jesus tells them that a “scribe” who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is “like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (verse 52 (ESV) ).

Thoughts

So what is this “new” and “old” business? Remember that Jesus’ primary audience were the Jews of his day; he did sometimes go out of the Jewish community to teach and preach, but for the most part he didn’t do too much evangelism to the gentiles. That came after, when the Holy Spirit came, and specially when the Church started to spread throughout the earth. Typically, any time Jesus is talking about “new” and “old” he’s talking about the “old” Jewish religious system compared to the “new” Christian religious system. And in this passage, he’s saying that the “master of the house” (or the scribe, or the person who is a disciple of Jesus) is bringing out both old and new treasures; the Old Testament is not thrown away now that we have the New Testament. The God described in the Old Testament is the same God that saves us from our sins in the New Testament. Although we’re not bound by the Old Testament laws and religious practices the way the Old Testament Israelites were, it doesn’t change the fact that we can learn a lot about God from how He worked in and through the Israelites, and through reading His law, and seeing how it all, at the end of the day, points to Jesus. Or, to quote the ESV Study Bible, such a disciple of Jesus will “understand both the ‘new’ revelation from Jesus and how it fulfills the ‘old’ promises in the OT.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Matthew 13:47–50

Matthew 13:47–50 (ESV) : The Parable of the Net

Synopsis

In this passage Jesus tells the Parable of the Net, which you can read by clicking the link above.

Thoughts

This is a very simple parable with a very simple message: All people will be judged, and some will be found to be righteous and the rest will be found to be evil. The ones who are found to be evil will be punished.

Some thoughts on this:

  • For those folks who just love searching through the Bible to gain insight into how the end of the world is going to happen, I urge you not to read too much into this parable, or start looking for clues. “The angel sorted the good into containers first, and then threw away the bad! Jesus is talking about the Rapture!” or “Jesus seems to indicate that the sorting of good from bad happens at the same time! The ‘Rapture’ is bunk!”

    I’m positive that this parable isn’t giving any insight into how the end of the world is going to happen, or how judgement day is going to come about. Jesus is just saying that people will be judged, and some will be found to be evil and some will be found to be righteous.
  • It is noteworthy that Jesus only gives two categories of people: righteous and evil. There is no category for people who were mostly good and usually went to church on Sundays but hadn’t fully given their lives to the Lord, there is no category for “mediocre” or “mostly good” or even “good”—there is righteous, and there is evil. If you haven’t given your life to God, if you haven’t accepted His Son as a sacrifice for your sins, you’re in the evil category. Harsh language, but it comes from the Son of God Himself—there is only evil and righteous, and you need to get out of the evil category.
  • As one who is in the righteous category, I can say with confidence that this is not about any inherent righteousness inside any of us. I’m not righteous because I have lived such a good life that God looked at me, saw I was good, and decided I didn’t deserve punishment. I used to be in the evil category, just like everyone else. No, I’m in the righteous category because God chose to save me, and punished Jesus for my sins. At “the close of the age” (as verse 49 (ESV) phrases it) God will see me not as I am now, but as I would be if I had no sin—and He’ll see me that way because I’ll have no sin; Jesus will have taken it all away from me. I don’t deserve to be viewed as righteous; on my own I’m not righteous. But because of God’s graciousness to me, and Jesus’ work on the cross, that’s how I’ll be judged by God—thanks be to Him!
  • Although Jesus talks about a “fiery furnace” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (verse 50 (ESV) ), I don’t think he’s being literal here. Meaning that I don’t think Hell will actually consist of fire, and people eternally being, literally, burned. I think Jesus is trying to convey something we can’t understand about the nature of this punishment, and using language such as fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth is a way to put things in a manner that we can understand. I could be wrong; I don’t think it matters. The fact that people who are not righteous will be punished is the point; the details of how that punishment will be carried out are not the point.
Finally, some thoughts on Hell.

Throughout history there have been many, many people who had a problem with the doctrine of Hell. People don’t want to believe that there is a Hell; they don’t want to believe that people who don’t repent and follow God will be punished, and especially don’t want to believe that the punishment will be eternal. However, regardless of what we do or do not want to believe, we simply have to believe what the Bible tells us. In this passage Jesus very clearly indicates people who do not follow Him will be thrown into a “fiery furnace,” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (verse 50 (ESV) ). Regardless of what you want or do not want to believe—and in the Western Church there is another strong resurgence of the belief that there is no Hell—Jesus is clearly saying that there is punishment for people who are evil—that is, for people who do not believe in Him. (He does not say that it is eternal in this passage, but I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to find examples where He does; you won’t have to go outside of the Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), because nobody talks about Hell in the Bible more than Jesus does.)

Is this important? It is for a couple of reasons.

First of all, there is the very immediate and practical reason that there is actual danger for those who do not come to believe in the Lord. What happens if you don’t believe? You go to Hell. People talk about Christians trying to scare people into believing, and to a certain extent that is true—we know that the danger is real, and it is right to be scared of a real danger. Christianity is more than simply avoiding Hell, of course, and if our version of giving the Gospel is simply about avoiding Hell then we’re not really giving the Gospel; the Gospel is “good news,” not just “avoidance of bad news.” A proper relationship with God is the best thing you can do with your life, and that should be your focus, rather than simply avoiding Hell. But that doesn’t alter the fact that it is still a good idea to avoid Hell!

But aside from evangelistic reasons, there is another danger to disbelieving the doctrine of Hell: as Christians, the Bible has to be our source of what is true and what is not. To be clear, I’m not talking about disregarding science; you won’t discover the mysteries of quantum mechanics in the Bible. But I mean that if we want to know what is true about God, or what is true in the spiritual realm, the Bible is our main source of information. (Paul indicates in Romans 1:18–23 (ESV) that God’s creation also gives some hints as to His nature, but I think it’s clear that you won’t get a real picture of who God is without going to His Word. Frankly, people are sinful; we are bound to misinterpret God’s nature if we’re only looking at His creation, and not His Word.) There is a very great danger to us if we choose to disregard God’s Word on any point. If you read something in the Bible, and choose to believe that the Bible is wrong on that point, then you are in error.

The doctrine of Hell is a perfect example, because not wanting to believe that there is a Hell is actually how the Jehovah’s Witnesses got their start. Their original leaders didn’t believe in the doctrine of Hell, and so they started to part ways from Christianity. As time went on there were a number of other things they started to believe that are different from Christianity—for example, they believe that Jesus is not actually God, but instead that He is an angel—and they’ve actually had to go as far as to create alternate versions of the Bible with language changed to suit their beliefs, but it got started with the doctrine of Hell.

Earlier I said that I think Jesus’ language of fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth might be metaphorical, and that Hell might not literally consist of fire, but that it might be a metaphor for a type of punishment that we can’t properly understand. Others might argue that the entire concept of Hell itself is metaphorical, and that it isn’t a real thing. But if that is the case, what is Jesus saying in this passage? If there is no punishment for those who don’t believe, then what can this parable possibly mean? If you don’t believe that there is a Hell—whether you believe in annihilation (meaning that people who don’t believe in God simply cease to exist after they die, or after judgement day), or whether you believe that all paths go to Heaven and everyone ends up there regardless of what they believe in this life—then this passage doesn’t make any sense. Jesus is either spouting nonsense, or is just plain lying to his listeners. In order to come up with any other meaning (and I’m sure many have), you have to twist Jesus’ words so far that it becomes clear you’re trying to come up with an interpretation that matches your beliefs (of there being no Hell), rather than reading what the Bible has to say to you.

Be very careful, when reading your Bible, that you base your beliefs on what the Word says, rather than interpreting the Word according to your beliefs. This can be tricky; there is a technical term called hermeneutics, which is the science and the art of interpreting a piece of text (in our case Scripture), and it can sometimes be difficult to read a passage of Scripture and get its proper meaning. We may come across a piece of Scripture which seems, on the surface, to disagree with another text of Scripture, but a key facet of Christian hermeneutics is that “Scripture interprets Scripture”—we should be looking at any passage of Scripture in the larger context of the entire Bible, never in isolation. But what we cannot do is decide that we don’t like what the Bible says, on this or any topic, and disregard what Scripture says on that topic. When we do that, we are disregarding what God Himself says about that particular topic.

And really, what could be more foolish than that? Do we really feel that we know better than God on any topic—let alone topics that we know absolutely nothing about? We have absolutely no idea what the end of the world will be like or what the afterlife will be like other than what God tells us, and His manner of telling us is through His Word. We can make all the guesses that we want, but we have no information upon which to base those guesses. To then decide that we know better than Him—that we really know what the afterlife will be like, and that He was mistaken when that particular passage of Scripture was written—is not just foolish, it’s stupid. It’s like… well, it’s like this:

God: At the close of the age, those who are judged to be evil will be thrown in Hell.

Us: No they won’t. You’re not like that. You’re love.

God: But I just told you that they will.

Us: No. They won’t. You’re love, you would never punish people.

God: Who better to tell you what I’m like than Me? I have wrath against those who don’t believe Me.

Us: Uh uh. Nope. You’re love. None of this “wrath” business, that’s not the God I believe in.
I could go on, but you see where I’m going with this. (It’s not like I’m being subtle about it.) God tells us what He is like, or what the afterlife will be like (although not with details), and we decide to disbelieve him based on… well, simply based on the fact that we want to disbelieve Him. We have no evidence to back us up, we simply believe what we want to believe, despite what He has told us.

This obviously turned into a rant, but that’s [part of] what blogs are for…

Friday, July 15, 2011

Matthew 13:44–46

Matthew 13:44–46 (ESV) : The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value

Synopsis

I’m already going against what I said earlier and including two ESV section headings in one post. But it’s only three verses, and they’re essentially the same parable told in two different ways, so I figure I can safely do this.

Thoughts

These two parables are really two ways of saying the same thing: being part of the kingdom of heaven is worth more than anything else, so if you had to give up everything you have to be part of it, it would be worth it.

Like any parables, we shouldn’t read too much into these ones; we aren’t to think that we can somehow “buy” our way into the kingdom of heaven by pleasing God or giving something to Him; the point is just that of how much the kingdom of heaven is worth. Then again, in a sense, we do give up everything we have to be one of God’s children; He [usually] lets us keep most of what He has given us, but we also recognize that it all belongs to Him, to do with as He pleases through us. (So, technically, we’re not giving it up so much as simply recognizing that it was always His.)

The ESV Study Bible also pointed out something I hadn’t noticed before, which is that in the first parable the person just stumbles upon the treasure, while in the second parable the person is in search of it. But at the end of the parable, the point is the same: Both people recognize the worth of what they have found, and are willing to give up everything they have to acquire it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Matthew 13:36–43

Matthew 13:36–43 (ESV) : The Parable of the Weeds Explained

Synopsis

In this chapter Jesus explains the parable of the weeds, which he had told in verses 24–30.

Thoughts

It’s interesting, in reading Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds, that he describes the weeds and wheat in a couple of ways; first they are “sons of the evil one” and “sons of the kingdom,” and then later on they are “law-breakers” and “the righteous.” Who are the righteous? Are they the ones who don’t sin? No, there’s nobody like that; the righteous are the sons of the kingdom—they are Christians. When judgement day comes, I will be counted as if I’m righteous, because I’m a son of the kingdom; I am not going to be considered a law-breaker because Jesus has already covered off all of my sins; the sons of the evil one are simply having their sins counted against them, as they should; I should too, but I won’t.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Matthew 13:34–35

Matthew 13:34–35 (ESV) : Prophecy and Parables

Synopsis

This passage simply mentions that all of Jesus’ teaching to the crowds was in parables, fulfilling “what was spoken by the prophet,” and then giving the following quote:
I will open my mouth in parables;
  I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.

Which seems to be referring to Psalm 78:

I will open my mouth in a parable;
  I will utter dark sayings from of old

(Psalm 78:2 (ESV) )

Thoughts

This passage tells us that Jesus did all of his teaching through parables, although it doesn’t say why he taught in parables; for that, we’ll have to wait until we get to Luke 8:9–15 (ESV) , or Mark 4:10–20 (ESV) .

When this passage says that Jesus said nothing to the crowd without a parable, I don’t think that means that there was never, ever an instance where Jesus taught a crowd without using a parable; I think it just means that this was his usual mode of teaching. I could be wrong on that.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Matthew 13:31–33

Matthew 13:31–33 (ESV) : The Mustard Seed and the Leaven

Synopsis

In this passage Jesus tells a parable in which he compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed—the smallest of all seeds, yet the plant it produces is larger than the other garden plants—and another parable in which he compares it to leaven, which is able to work through “three measures of flour” (which, according to the ESV Study Bible notes, would produce enough bread to feed a hundred people).

Thoughts

Both of these parables are giving very similar lessons (which is probably why the ESV editors put them under the same heading): The kingdom of heaven might be starting out small, but it won’t fail to grow. The ESV Study Bible notes point out that these metaphors probably would have shocked Jesus’ initial Jewish listeners, who would not be expecting an insignificant beginning to the kingdom of heaven.

They also push the analogy a little further, noting that you can’t really see the leaven at work within the dough, which is similar to the Word of God, which we can’t always see at work in the world. The kingdom of heaven begins in the hearts of its believers, not in political action (which is what Jesus’ initial listeners would have been looking for), so it’s not as obvious as, say, a political movement would be.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Matthew 13:24–30

Note: I know, I haven’t written in a long time. I actually started this post months and months ago, but for some reason I bit off a big chunk—I was going to blog about verses 24–52, since that seemed to make a nice section—and every time I pulled up the post to start editing again I got daunted, realized I didn’t have three consecutive hours to spend on it, and closed my editor again. So I’ll stick with shorter passages, going back to following the ESV headings, and maybe that will get me blogging more regularly again. Also, my synopses will probably be shorter for most passages than they traditionally have been; to overgeneralize, they seemed to fit better with many of the Old Testament passages than they do with many of the New Testament passages. (I never did figure out what I would do when I got to Psalms or Proverbs; luckily I’ve got years to keep thinking about that, before it becomes an issue…)

Matthew 13:24–30 (ESV) : The Parable of the Weeds

Synopsis

In this passage Jesus tells the Parable of the Weeds, and, as is so often the case with Jesus’ parables, there’s no point synopsizing it when you can just go and read it (ESV) .

Thoughts

Jesus’ parable about the weeds and the wheat is part of the explanation of why God allows sin to continue in the world; you can’t really tackle that problem without coming to terms with the fact that sin is committed by people; the only way you could eliminate sin would to eliminate the people who are committing the sin. Until God is ready to create the new Heaven and new Earth, and until He has all of the children He has chosen, He is leaving the sinners and Christians in the world together.

The ESV Study Bible mentioned an interesting point about the weeds:

Weeds (plural of Gk. zizanion, only here in the NT) are probably darnel, a weedy rye grass with poisonous black seeds which resembles wheat in its early growth but is easily distinguished from it at maturity. Any attempt to gather the weeds would only endanger the wheat, because the roots of the weeds would be intertwined with those of the wheat.

Especially interesting, to me, is the point that, at first, the weeds would seem a lot like the wheat. I’m sure we’ve all known people who were, at one time, indistinguishable from Christians, only for them to later fall from the faith. In fact, as a youth group leader I saw this much more commonly than I would have liked. When it comes to teenagers in a youth group, or Christians in general, you never really know who is a Christian and who is going to fall away; you just can’t tell. The only way you can know for sure is that if they continue in the faith, it means they were Christians all along (see Colossians 1:21–23 (ESV) ).

As with any of Jesus’ parables, it’s best to take the point he is making here without trying to mine through it looking for hidden meanings; e.g. when he says that the weeds will be gathered first, and then the wheat, is he talking about the order in which things will happen on judgement day—that the sinners will be taken first, and then the righteous next? I don’t think so. (Of course this is a safe example to use because it doesn’t matter whether the sinners will be taken first or the righteous; God knows what He is going to do on judgement day and in what order; we don’t have to worry about that. As long as we’re saved, we’ll be with Him, and the specifics of how He accomplishes that don’t matter.)