Matthew 18

Read Matthew 18.

Matthew 18 open by telling us that the disciples have asked Jesus a question: “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1).

There are no dumb questions because only people can be dumb; questions cannot. But this question came close to being a dumb one.

It was so foolish and backward that Christ didn’t even try to answer it. Instead, he reframed the issue.

As the disciples stood there in a circle waiting for his answer, Christ called a child over and put that child in the middle of the circle. Then he told them, you won’t even get IN to the kingdom of heaven unless you lower your estimation of yourself spiritually to the level of a child (vv. 3-4). 

Why was a child a good object lesson for true faith that saves?

A child is completely dependent on his/her parents. Our kids need us to provide them with food and shelter, they need us to tell them when to go to bed and when to get up. They need us to teach them (or put them where they will be taught) about language and math and science but also about how to tie their shoes. Although children can be skeptical and argue with us at times, for the most part they believe that their parents are a trustworthy source of information that is necessary to life. 

Did Peter believe he was the greatest disciple? Andrew? John? Judas?

What a joke; the only one who can be called great in heaven is God. The rest of us depend completely on him for everything, starting with the right to enter heaven in the first place.

And, to advance in the kingdom of heaven, we must maintain a childlike spirit of trust and dependence on God along with a healthy sense of our own weakness and inadequacy before our perfect creator.

Matthew 17

Read Matthew 17.

God’s Law required Jewish men to pay a flat tax at every census “for the service of the tent of meeting” (v. 16 of Ex 30:11-16). By the time of Jesus, this tax had become an annual fee required of every man in Israel between twenty and fifty years old.

So, the tax we read about here in Matthew 17:24-27 was not a Roman tax but fee paid for the ongoing ministry of the temple. Every good Jewish man paid it as part of his faithfulness to God in obedience to God’s law.

This is why Peter answered so quickly and confidently when he was asked if Jesus paid the temple tax (vv. 24-25). Other men might be tax-cheats and religious deadbeats but Peter was certain Jesus wasn’t among them.

It turned out, however, that Peter spoke out of turn. If you were an Über driver, you would not charge your kids for rides to school even though you charge everyone else for a ride. That would just be weird and stupid.

Likewise, Jesus did not pay that tax because he’s the Son of God (v. 5). There was no need for him to pay his Father for admission into their “house” (vv. 25b-26).

Peter had just witnessed Christ’s transfiguration (vv. 1-8) so he could have–should have–reasoned his way to the right conclusion. Jesus HAD to pay the tax now; otherwise, he’d appear to be deceptive and this situation would have caused stumbling (“offense,” v. 27) to those who had asked the question.

Because Peter is the one who put Jesus on the hook for the taxes, he could have taken responsibility to pay Jesus’s tax himself. Christ could have insisted that Peter do so for the same reason. “Learn your lesson, Peter.”

Instead, Jesus told Peter how to perform a miracle that would pay both Jesus’s and Peter’s tax (v. 27).

This story demonstrates the implications of two truths in this passage:

One is that Jesus is the Son of God as the transfiguration demonstrated (vv. 1-8, esp. v. 5). The implication of that truth is that the temple belongs to him so he doesn’t need to pay for it.

A second implication grows out of verses 22-23. There Jesus predicted his death. That passage did not explain that his death would cover the disciples’s sin obligation before God but we know that was the purpose of it. Here, Jesus takes on the obligation of Peter, providing for his temple tax as well as the one his quick mouth obligated Jesus to pay (v. 27). Instead of making Peter pay these obligations himself, Jesus provided payment for Peter’s obligations to God if Peter believed and did what Jesus told him to do (v. 27).

This is a simple illustration of what Christ has done for all of us. We not only are obligated to serve and worship God but we incur greater obligation to him every time we speak untruthful words or do evil things. Yet Christ provides the means to cover all our obligations to a holy and perfect God.

One other truth to think about from this passage: How confident are we about the things we say are true or false based on our faith-relationship with God? When people ask us if:

  • …a loving God would send people to hell?
  • …would God ever disapprove of two people loving each other, even if they are the same sex or one is already married or a guy and girl want to live together without getting married?
  • …if Christianity is the only way to God or could a sincere adherent to another religion who never heard the gospel be saved?
  • …or any other of a long list of questions

…do we give scriptural answers or answer off the cuff on God’s behalf like Peter did?

What about if someone asks whether all infants who die go to heaven or not or whether Jesus would vote for a certain presidential candidate or not. Do you speak your answer confidently like Peter did in verse 24 or do you talk through the scriptural principles with the person who asked you?

We are often too quick with our words, too confident about our answers. There are biblical principles that apply to any question in the previous paragraph and many others. I’m not at all saying that we can’t give a good answer to those questions.

Instead, I’m asking you to consider your words. Do you speak for God recklessly like Peter did in verse 24? Is there a better way to handle the question of unbelievers?

Matthew 16

Read Matthew 16.

Problems–they’re part of life, but nobody wants them.

At the end of Matthew 16 here, Jesus told the disciples that big problems awaited him in Jerusalem. In verse 21 he told the disciples that he would “suffer many things… and… be killed.” He told them that he “must” (2x) do these things. That expression “must” indicates that this is what God had willed for him.

When Peter rebuked Jesus in verse 22, Jesus returned an even more intense rebuke (v. 23), calling him Satan.

Then Jesus went on to say that all disciples “must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v. 24). This does not mean dying for your own sins but that the followers of Christ will suffer just as Christ himself suffered.

Within the problems you and I face in life are lessons about following Jesus. The main lesson in every problem we face in life is self denial (v. 24, “deny themselves”). The anger or fear or frustration you feel about your problems rises from a sense of entitlement. “This shouldn’t have happened to me,” we think. “It’s not right!”

Jesus could have said that when he went to the cross and he would have been 100% correct. But God’s will compelled him to face these problems for our salvation.

And, like all master-disciple situations, it is our turn to do what the master did–to suffer (even unjustly) but be faithful according to the will of God.

Are you facing any problems today? Will you persevere through them, keeping your faith despite the pain, praising God and looking to him for help?

Matthew 15

Read Matthew 15.

When I was a kid, all the kids in my neighborhood used to gather and play guns. In my memory*, this game was as vague as “play guns” sounds. We all grabbed toy guns and hid, then tried to sneak up on each other and “shoot” everyone else before they sneaked up and shot us. There were no teams and no real object to the game. After you got “shot” you just kept playing.

Looking for a place to hide, I jumped down into the window well of my neighbor’s house. A window well allows some natural light into a basement that would otherwise be totally underground. Click here to see a picture if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I jumped down there to hide but I accidentally broke the window with my foot. When my neighbor, Mrs. Curtis, came out of the house to bust me, she said, “How many times have I told you kids not to jump down into the window well?”

You’ve heard people say, “How many times have I…” before and, probably, you’ve said those words more than once yourself. It gets frustrating to repeat yourself but, the truth is, most of the lessons we really learn are learned because they are repeated.

Yesterday, we read about how Jesus fed (a lot more than) 5000 people and I suggested to you that the lesson of that miracle and Peter’s walking on water was that we can do the impossible in God’s will by Jesus’s power.

Here in Matthew 14, Jesus fed over 4000 people (vv. 29-38). Before he did so, he told the disciples that he did not want to send the people away hungry (v. 32) suggesting more subtly than yesterday that Jesus wanted the disciples to feed them.

In other words, Jesus repeated the same lesson here in Matthew 15 that he taught in Matthew 14. He could have said, “How many times do I have to tell you that, through my power, you can do whatever I want you to do?”

We need lessons repeated for us before we get the message.

So, let me just repeat yesterday’s application question for us all again today, “Where in your life should you be acting in faith–because you believe in Jesus’s power–instead of standing idly by waiting for… something?”


* My memory could very well be wrong. We moved to a new neighborhood when I was 6 so I was very young when this story happened.

Matthew 14

Read Matthew 14.

Jesus performed miracles for one main reason: to prove his claims to be the Son of Man, the Messiah (v. 32, Acts 2:22).

Here in Matthew 14, Jesus did two extraordinary miracles: He fed over 5000 people using seven small items of food (vv. 13-21) and he walked on water (vv. 22-32). Although a huge crowd benefited from the way Jesus miraculously multiplied the food, the text indicates that really only the disciples knew that a miracle had happened. I say that because verse 19 says, “he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” That suggests to me that only the disciples were aware of what was going on.

If Jesus did miracles to prove his identity as Messiah and if the disciples had already believed in him, why did he do these incredible miracles that ONLY the disciples witnessed?

The answer is suggested in verse 16 when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”

And, the answer was actualized in verse 28-31 when Peter walked on the water, began to sink, and was asked by Jesus, “why did you doubt?” (v. 31).

Jesus did these miracles for the disciples who already believed in him because he wanted them to know that he would work powerfully THROUGH them not just FOR them. To be his servants and to do his will, the disciples needed to believe that Jesus would use them powerfully and that, by his power, they could do anything God called them to do.

Primarily, that meant evangelism. The disciples did some miracles in Acts. But they seem to have done far fewer over many years than Jesus did in three years. God’s will was not for the disciples to fix the world’s problems by working miracles but to make disciples by his power (Acts 1:8).

The same is true for us:

  • Could Peter walk on water before he met Jesus? No. [That would have made fishing easier, but no.]
  • Did Peter walk on water when he believed in Jesus? Yes.

Could you:

  • Talk about your faith in Christ with a non-believer before you became a believer? Of course not.
  • Can you talk about your faith in Christ now? Yes, you can. But if you focus on the obstacles and objections and fears you have like Peter focused on the wind and waves

What if Andrew, the disciple who found the five loaves and two fish (Jn 6:8), had asked Jesus to help him multiply the food when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat” in verse 16? Do you think Jesus would have honored that prayer of faith? Do you think he could have multiplied the bread and fish in Jesus’s name just as Simon walked on the water when believed Jesus?

Where in your life should you be acting in faith–because you believe in Jesus’s power–instead of standing idly by waiting for… something?

Matthew 13

Read Matthew 13.

This chapter contains several important parables about the kingdom of God. One sub-theme that recurs in this chapter is the truth that mundane things of life often crowd out what is really important:

  • In the parable of the soils, one of the people who heard the gospel did not receive it because “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” (v. 22).
  • In the parable of the hidden treasure, the man who found it had to sell “all that he had” to buy the field (v. 44). He was willing to do that; however, there are some people who would not do it because it is too much trouble to sell your stuff or what if the owner of the field refused to sell it?
  • Likewise, in the parable of the pearl (v. 45), the merchant had to sell everything to buy the pearl. I wonder what his wife and children thought when they saw the pearl after he sold their house, their clothes and toys? THIS is what we became homeless and poor for? What are going to eat tonight?
  • Finally, in the story at the end, which was not a parable, the people who lived in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, couldn’t believe in him despite his “wisdom and these miraculous powers” (v. 54). Why not? Because they knew his family and there was nothing remarkable about them.

One human reason why people don’t come to Christ is that they are too preoccupied with the stuff of life–making a living, advancing in their career, raising children or dealing with a difficult marriage, getting infatuated with a hobby, or doing recreational activities.

But these things tempt those of us who are believers, too. Giving to God’s work seems less worthwhile than saving for a downpayment on a new house, new car, or new boat. Reading scripture seems less interesting than watching television and texting a friend is more gratifying than praying.

When you make time for human things but have no time to cultivate your spiritual life, you’re like the person who decided to go to the movies instead of selling everything to buy that field with the buried treasure in it. You’re trading valuable things for things that are worthless.

Where in your life do you need your priorities realigned? What worthless things (or things that are just worth less) are you filling your life up with instead of living for God’s kingdom?

Matthew 12

Read Matthew 12.

Does it really matter what you say?

How often do we say things that are mean, unkind, and hurtful and then follow those words with, “I didn’t really mean it”?

How often do people use words that are crass, crude, rude, condescending, demeaning, and/or untruthful? But we give them (or ourselves) a pass by saying, “I/He was just letting off steam” or “S/he’s really a nice person but just has a temper.”

I think that many Christians today think sins of speech are less of a problem than other kinds of sin.

Jesus said otherwise. Words were very important to him because they reveal what is in a person’s heart.

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (vv. 34c-35).

In context, Jesus is addressing the sin of the Pharisees in saying that Jesus “drives out demons… by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (v. 24). In our culture, someone who heard that might say, “They’re just jealous” or give some other excuse for what the Pharisees said.

To Jesus, however, the way the Pharisees tried to explain away Jesus’s miracles was a statement of faith, an expression of their beliefs about Jesus. Or, rather, their unbelief about who Jesus is.

Words are not empty in God’s sight at all. They are the basis on which either you will be acquitted or condemned when you stand before God in judgment (vv. 36-37). Evil words, untruthful words, harsh words, unkind or unbelieving words all reveal what you really think, the ideas that you mull over in your heart. Your words and mine let us see inside the mind; they reveal what conclusions you’ve come to in your heart. They show what is important and valuable to you. They demonstrate how little (or much) you value God and other people.

Each human being with will be judged by his or her words. Yet Jesus’s prescription for an evil mouth was not to watch what you say.

Instead, Jesus said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good” (v. 33a). Since what you say comes from your heart, the only way to clean up your speech is to cleanse your heart.

Jesus came not only to atone for and forgive our sins of speech; he also came to change our hearts so that the words we speak are true, kind, loving, gentle, and good. As you grow in your faith in Christ, your words should reflect it.

How are your speech patterns? Do your words fit with your profession of faith as a Christian or do they reveal a heart that is filled with–or still struggling with sin?

Ask God for the grace to speak words that are pleasing to him. Ask him to help you grow and to cleanse your heart so that whether a believer or an unbeliever speaks with you, he will see the life-transforming work that God’s Holy Spirit is doing in your life.

And, fill your heart with good things, with godly truth and the word of God itself. As your heart is purified, your words will be better for, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (v. 34).

One more thing: Some of the most powerful words in the English language are, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me for what I said to you and/or about you?” Is there someone you need to say those words to today?