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?

Matthew 11

Read Matthew 11.

Can you prove the existence of God?

Can you prove that the Bible is true–that it is God’s Word, as we claim it is, not just a human book?

These seem like reasonable questions, don’t they?

But, they are not reasonable questions at all. They are expressions of unbelief, not genuine inquires from open hearts that want to know God.

How do I know? Jesus said so here in Matthew 11:12-19.

The greatest evangelist in history, other than Christ himself, is not Billy Graham, or John Calvin, or Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or anyone else. It is John the Baptist, according to verse 11.

Yet despite his witness and the testimony of “all the Prophets and the Law” (v. 13), God’s kingdom “has been subjected to violence” (v. 12b). In other words, “violent people” (v. 12c) have been attacking God, his authority, Lordship, dominion, and truth.

That assault continues today. One way unbelievers attack the Lord and his kingdom is by setting new standards: “Do this” or “prove that,” says the unbeliever, “and then I will consider believing in Jesus.” In verses 17-19, Jesus pointed out the ever-shifting requirements for faith that unbelievers set up for us. The point of Jesus’s proverb, “We played the pipe for you and you did not dance,” is that people want to be in control of the conditions under which they will believe:

  • If they demand proof of the resurrection, you’d better provide it to them or they will continue to scoff at our faith.
  • If they think the Bible is full of errors, you could answer every problem verse they mention and they’ll just come up with more.

Jesus gave John and himself as the perfect set of examples (vv. 18-19). John and Jesus were totally on the same page in their faith and mission but they couldn’t have been more different as Jewish men. John was strict, austere, and took no prisoners in his life and approach to others. But unbelievers said, “He’s demon possessed!” (v. 18). By contrast, Jesus flouted the conventional wisdom about how you had to live to please God. He didn’t live in disobedience to God’s law but he did willfully disobey many of the false “standards” that Pharisees and others tried to get him to live by. Yet, unbelievers in his world said he was “‘a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” So neither Jesus nor John could satisfy the objections of those who rejected the gospel.

Why?

Because they were not genuine objections; they were excuses for unbelief.

Unbelief remains the same today. Can you prove the existence of God? Yes, creation and conscience prove it daily. Unbelievers, however, reject that proof because they want dance music, not funeral dirges (v. 17).

Can you prove that the Bible is true? Yes. Your life and mine daily prove the truth, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). But this isn’t good enough for the fallen.

Believers should not dance to the music of unbelief. People don’t genuinely come to Christ when we dance to their tune. They need a spiritual transformation–a new birth–not better answers or arguments. Those who become believers do so because “the Son chooses to reveal” the Father (v. 25) not to “the wise and learned” (v. 25) but to those who believe like “little children” (v. 25).

Like Jesus and John, our job is to faithfully explain the message and call people to repent. Our job is to extend the invitation that Jesus gave to “Come to me… and I will give you rest” (v. 28).

Is there someone you can share this message of hope with today?

Matthew 10

Read Matthew 10.

Christ sent the Twelve disciples on a brief preaching mission in this chapter. The first 15 verses describe the call and commission of these Apostles as well as the specific instructions Christ had for this mission.

After verse 16, Jesus described aspects of discipleship that could apply to anyone who witnesses for him. He told the disciples they would be forced to choose either to love family or to love Christ (vv. 34-39).

Not everyone disciples know or meet will reject them. At the end of the chapter Jesus indicated that some will welcome the disciples because they welcome Jesus (v. 40). This alludes to the fellowship that believers have with one another because of our fellowship with Christ.

But Christ went further than just alluding to the fact that some people will receive us. He promised a great reward for those who receive us. Verse 41 says, “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward” (vv. 41-42). Think about that: the person who “welcomes a prophet as a prophet” receives the SAME level of reward as the prophet himself: “…will receive a prophet’s reward” (v. 41).

And even if someone gives you “a cup of cold water to a disciple” that person receives a reward.

So even beyond the fellowship we have as believers in Christ, we have the promise of rewards from the Lord for helping and serving those who witness for Christ.

I think Christ is describing here the reward that comes for supporting people who serve the Lord full time in ministry. If you welcome missionaries or other servants of the Lord into your home for a meal or for lodging, Christ promises rewards for you. If you give monthly financial support to missionaries and other servants of Christ, Jesus says you will be rewarded.

You may not be able to give much. “A cup of cold water” (v. 42) is not much. But the gift is an expression of the heart that loves God and his people.

Do you give financially to support missionaries? If you think that you have too little to give to make a difference, reconsider that based on this passage. God rewards those who love him and show it by supporting and providing for his servants.

Matthew 9

Read Matthew 9.

The opening paragraph of this chapter told us about five men. One of them was paralyzed; the other four carried him to Jesus (v. 2). We’re not told if the men said anything to Jesus but it was obvious to anyone that they wanted Jesus to heal the man.

Instead of immediately healing the man as he had done with so many others, Jesus instead assured him that his sins were forgiven based on their faith (v. 2).

You know from our reading that Jesus did heal the man shortly after forgiving him (v. 6). His purpose in giving him assurance first and then healing him was to prove his authority to forgive sins (v. 6a).

But I think we should give some thought to what Jesus did. Most of us–most people, that is–would care most about being healed of paralysis. “Get me walking first, Lord, and then we can talk about my spiritual needs.”

But by forgiving his sins first, Jesus demonstrated what was important to him. Although he did care about the man’s infirmity (see Matt 8:17), Jesus cared first and most importantly about his spiritual life.

But what matters most to us when we request prayer for someone else?

I can’t tell you how often people ask me to pray for someone’s medical problems and, when I asked if that person knows the Lord, the answer I get is, “I don’t know.”

There is everything right with praying for other people’s problems–their diseases, needs, and cares. But even if they get healing now, eventually they will die and meet God. It is far more important to intercede with God for the salvation of others than it is to ask for them to be healed in their bodies.

Wouldn’t it be better–both more glorifying to God and better for the sick or injured person–if we used the occasion of their human problem to talk with someone about their spiritual need?

In other words, we could say, “I will ask God to heal you. But, do you know God? Have you come to believe in Jesus Christ to have your sins forgiven?”

Is there anyone in your life that you could pray for and witness to today?

Matthew 8

Read Matthew 8.

Here in the first half of Matthew 8 we have several stories about Jesus healing people. Each of these stories serves a purpose, but the one that always gets me thinking is the story of the centurion’s servant in verses 5-13. 

The first thing that stands out about this story is the man’s humility. A centurion is a Roman soldier who is in charge of 100 other Roman soldiers. That is a very powerful man. He was certainly feared and, probably, deeply respected by everyone who met him or knew him. Of all the people Jesus was willing to visit at home, he was by far the most prestigious.

Despite all of that, the centurion didn’t want Jesus to come to his home because, he said, “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof” (v. 8). He sized up Jesus and had great respect and maybe even some fear of him.

The next impressive thing about this centurion is his faith. That’s what impressed Jesus (v. 10). Consider why Jesus said that he had the greatest faith: Not only does the Centurion believe that Jesus can heal his servant, but he believes that Jesus can do it remotely “But just say the word, and my servant will be healed” he told Jesus in verse 8.

What’s even more interesting, to me, is the centurion’s reason for believing that Jesus can heal remotely. He told us that reason in verse 9: “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

That’s it! That was all he said!

So what was his point?

His point was that he understood where Jesus ranked in the spiritual hierarchy.

A centurion does not accomplish things by showing up anywhere there is an issue. No, a centurion gets things done through the soldiers that report to him. If he wants something done, a centurion DOESN’T do it himself; he orders one of his soldiers to do it. That’s the only efficient and effective way to lead 100 people.

What the Centurion was implying was that Jesus was so powerful and so high-ranking spiritually that he can issue orders and stuff will get done.

Did the centurion think that angels would do it? Who knows and it doesn’t matter. What he knew is that Christ can accomplish anything he wants merely by issuing orders. He didn’t even need to know the servant’s name, or his GPS coordinates, or anything. He has the power just to speak and it will happen.

Jesus found his faith amazing. “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” he said in verse 10.

What was so great about his faith?

In order for Jesus to heal someone remotely without knowing who the person is or where he resides, Jesus must be God. He must know all things to know who the sick servant is and where he is. He must have God’s authority to be able to accomplish things by issuing commands. Since all creation is under his authority, Jesus can use his authority to accomplish anything he wants.

What amazed Jesus was the centurion’s recognition of who Jesus was and the centurion’s faith in Jesus, not that he believed Jesus could heal. Tons of people believed Jesus could heal, but they were so focused on getting better that the missed what his healing power revealed about Jesus. 

Christ remarked on the implications of this in verses 11-12. This Gentile had greater faith than any of Christ’s other followers. He had greater faith than any of the 12 apostles. He had greater faith than Jesus’ closest friends, Peter, James, and John.

To Christ, he was an example of what was to come. The “many [who] will come from the east and the west” are Gentiles, just like this Roman soldier was. Jesus said that these Gentiles will feast with “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (verse 11).

But many Jewish people who knew Messiah was coming, who were waiting for his kingdom, who saw Christ’s miracles and heard his words “will be thrown outside, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Why? Because they failed to recognize and believe that in that human body named Jesus resided the almighty God.

Have you put your faith in the powerful lordship of Jesus Christ? Do you believe that he can and will do whatever you ask for in faith if it is also God’s will?

Do you ask him in faith to give you what you want and need in his will?

Matthew 7

Read Matthew 7.

In verse 13, Jesus urged his listeners to “Enter through the narrow gate.” That phrase compares the life and destiny of everyone to two very different roads leading to two very different destinations.

One gate is wide and the road beyond it is broad and there are a lot of people on it. However, Jesus said it “leads to destruction” (v. 13).

The alternative gate is small and the road it leads to is “narrow” but it “leads to life” (v. 14). But, Jesus said, “only a few find it” (v. 14).

Eternal life is hard to find and, comparatively speaking, very few people find it. That’s the obvious teaching of Matthew 7:13-14.

But verses 15-23 go into more detail. They tell us the implications of the fact that very few people find the road to eternal life. Jesus called out two implications of the narrow road to eternal life in verses 15-23:

  1. First, believers should beware of false prophets (vv. 15-19).
  2. Second, believers should beware of false professions of faith (vv. 21-23).

Let’s focus on the first of those two implications, namely, that believers should beware of false prophets (vv. 15-19).

We think of “prophets” as people who receive revelation from God to either predict the future or to rebuke people who are in sin. Those are both valid descriptions of what prophets in the Bible did. But prophets, generally speaking, were teachers and appliers of God’s word. They brought messages from God either from direct revelation or from scripture. Second Peter 2:16 equates “false prophets” with “false teachers” and I think that’s what Jesus has in mind here in Matthew 7:15.

The command, then, is for believers in Christ, who are on the narrow road to eternal life, to be cautious about anyone who claims to have a message from God.

Being cautious goes against the instincts of most of us. We’re so accustomed to unbelief and even hostility to our faith in the world that we happily receive anyone and everyone who comes in the name of Christ.

But Jesus told us to watch out. False teachers look like true believers. Jesus said “they come to you in sheep’s clothing” in verse 15b. But, despite how they look, they’re in disguise because they want to eat you alive. Jesus said “inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (v. 15c).

So we should be very cautious about every new professing believer we meet. We shouldn’t immediately accept or reject them. Rather, we should look at the product of their lives. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (v. 16a, 20). This changes the image from sheep and wolves to good and bad trees. Bad trees don’t produce good fruit (v. 16b, 17b) and good trees produce good fruit not bad fruit (v. 17a, 18).

Do professing believers that we meet demonstrate a life that is obedient to Jesus Christ?

  • Are they obedient to his words (vv. 24-27)?
  • Do they hunger for his righteousness (5:6) and for his truth (5:17-20)?
  • Do they strive to treat people right (5:21-22, 7:12) and do everything they can to repair broken relationships when they do treat people wrong (5:21-26)?
  • Do they judge themselves before they try to help others (7:1-6)?
  • Do they go to God to ask for what they need (7:7-12) or do they only apply human effort to get what they want?

And so on…. Do you see Christian growth, Christian desires, and Christian instincts in the lives of people who purport to be Christian leaders and teachers? If not, beware!

Ultimately, you should expect God to expose and remove every false teacher. Verses 19-20 says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

But the point of this teaching by Jesus is to get you to be more suspicious and more discerning about the supposed “Christian” influencers in your life. The Christian life is a narrow road, found by few (again, vv. 13-14) so there are more false teachers who come in Christ’s name than genuine believers who are also bringing God’s truth.

Because we have media that can broadcast one person’s ministry to millions, it is harder than ever to get a close look at how someone else lives. The less you can see about a person’s life, the more skeptical you should be about that person’s teaching.

Who are the major influences in your Christian life? Do you know anything about how they actually live as a Christian?