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Woe on Unrepentant Cities March 17, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 11:20-24.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus condemns the denizens of the cities where He has conducted His Galilean ministry, including:

He states that they – while viewing themselves as righteous – are actually more unrighteous than the denizens of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom; thus, they will receive a more severe punishment at the final judgment.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus condemns those who have failed to (appropriately) respond to His miracles, asserting that they will be worse off than those who never witnessed His miracles. I must admit that the notion of God meting out varying degrees of punishment at the final judgment is rather difficult to grasp. Those who are separated from God at the final judgment must endure unimaginable agony for eternity. Is it conceivable that some among that group could be punished more harshly than the rest? Are there varying degrees of “infinite” suffering? I suppose this is a rare instance of a topic on which I prefer to remain ignorant.


Jesus and John the Baptist March 16, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 11:1-19.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus sends out His twelve disciples. He then addresses the doubts of John the Baptist concerning His identity as the Messiah, asserting that the miracles that He has performed are sufficient proof in that regard.

Next, He reinforces the greatness of John the Baptist, as:

  • large crowds were attracted to his strong convictions
  • he has fulfilled Malachi 3:1
  • his efforts have advanced the kingdom of God.

He concludes by asserting that although many Jews insist on finding fault with Him and John the Baptist, they will be vindicated.

Thoughts: Here, we see that John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus to ascertain His identity as the Messiah. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This question did not arise from doubt or unbelief on the part of John. We do that holy man injustice if we interpret it in such a way. It was asked for the benefit of his disciples: it was meant to give them an opportunity of hearing from Christ’s own lips the evidence of his divine mission.

Now I should note that the other interpretations of this passage that I have read assert that John did have doubts concerning Jesus’ identity; as he languished in prison, he desired 1) reassurance of the impact of his ministry and 2) renewed confidence as he approached the afterlife. Thus, I anticipate meeting John the Baptist in the next life and clarifying this point. Did he entertain genuine doubts concerning Jesus’ identity, or was Ryle’s assertion correct? I also anticipate meeting Ryle and the other commentators on this passage and learning how they arrived at their diverse interpretations of it.

In verses 16-19, we see that the Jews criticized Jesus and John the Baptist for their words and deeds. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

The plain truth is that true believers must not expect unconverted men to be satisfied either with their faith or their practice. If they do, they expect what they will not find. They must be prepared for objections, cavils and excuses, however holy their own lives may be.

This is a challenging point, especially since my tendency is to attempt to please others with my words and deeds. I shun conflicts and desire to ingratiate myself with others. Yet we see that in order to follow Christ, we must establish boundaries and be willing to accept the consequences of not crossing them. Perhaps the discomfort that we experience when others challenge us in this regard is a sign that this life is only temporary; moreover, this discomfort prepares us for a superior eternal destiny. Thus, we can take heart and even (painfully) rejoice in the midst of rejection by those who cavil at our holy words and deeds.

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve March 10, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 10.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus commissions His twelve disciples – giving them the right to cast out demons and heal the sick.

These twelve disciples include:

  • Peter (the foremost in rank) and his brother, Andrew
  • James (a son of Zebedee) and his brother, John
  • Philip and Nathanael
  • Matthew (formerly a tax collector) and Thomas
  • James (a son of Alphaeus), Judas (a son of James), and Simon (full of zeal)
  • Judas (from the town of Kerioth).

He states that their mission is to preach to the Jews that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. They should trust that God will meet their needs, and they should focus on those who are open to their message – while rejecting everyone else.

He then asserts that people will persecute them – since they oppose Him. Thus, they should choose their words wisely while treating their persecutors with humility and gentleness. They should also trust that God will sustain them in the midst of their persecution.

He exhorts them to fear God and preach boldly – since He determines the destiny of their souls. Indeed, their loyalty to Him – or lack thereof – will be revealed on the day of judgment. If they are loyal to Him, then they – and those who are open to their message – will be rewarded, even if their loyalty leads to death.

Thoughts: In verse 15, we see that Jesus asserts that those who hear the Gospel message and reject it will be punished more severely than those who never heard it. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It will not save us to have lived in the full sunshine of Christian privileges, and to have heard the Gospel faithfully preached every week. We must experience acquaintance with Christ; we must receive his truth personally; we must be united with him in life; we must become his servants and disciples.

Given Ryle’s thoughts, one might ask: what does it mean to “experience acquaintance with Christ?” My thought is that as we continue to serve Him with our gifts and abilities, we will come to a deeper understanding of Him (and ourselves). Indeed, I have found that serving Him reveals my weaknesses and faults; for example, I often judge those whom I serve, and that judgmental attitude is occasionally revealed in my words and deeds. Also, I often fall short of the standards that I have set for myself, which can be frustrating. Yet I continue to serve, knowing that God will work through me to bless others; He will also enable me to (painfully) draw closer to Him in the process.

In verse 16, we see that Jesus calls His disciples to display wisdom. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

In this, however, as in every other respect, our Lord Jesus Christ himself is our most perfect example: no one was ever so faithful as he, but no one was ever so truly wise. Let us make him our pattern and walk in his steps.

Indeed, Jesus faced many challenges during His ministry; for example, He had to strike a perfect balance between 1) performing miracles and 2) keeping news of them from spreading (as that could have fueled premature attempts on the part of the Jews to proclaim Him as their political Messiah). We also see that He treated those in need with humility and gentleness – while treating His opponents harshly. As believers in a complex world, we need wisdom and strength from Him to advance His kingdom; properly chosen words and deeds are valuable instruments in that regard.

In verses 35-37, we see that Jesus states that His disciples may need to sever family ties in order to follow Him. I must admit that I am relatively fortunate in this regard, as I was raised in a Christian home. Thus, I greatly respect any believer who was not raised in a Christian home – especially if their family opposed their decision to place their trust in Christ. I cannot fathom the notion of being persecuted by one’s own family; since I tend to attempt to please others and minimize conflicts, I wonder if I would have followed Christ if I had been raised by unbelieving parents. Perhaps we should continue to pray for believers who are being persecuted by their families; we should ask God to grant them the wisdom and strength that they need to stand firm in their faith and bless their relatives – in the midst of their pain and frustration.

The Workers are Few March 10, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:35-38.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus travels throughout Galilee and:

  • exposits the Old Testament
  • proclaims salvation
  • performs miracles.

He knows that the people to whom He ministers are in danger of being condemned by God at the final judgment. Thus, He prays to God – through His disciples – that He would send forth workers to save them from His judgment.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus healed “every disease and sickness.” Ryle offers some insights on this point:

He was an eye-witness of all the ills that flesh is heir to; he saw ailments of every kind, sort and description; he was brought in contact with every form of bodily suffering. None were too loathsome for him to attend to: none were too frightful for him to cure.

Admittedly I do not offer the same response to all who are in need. For example, while I assist underprivileged children in strengthening their reading comprehension skills with alacrity, I recoil from transients who ask me for spare change. Yet this passage – and Ryle’s comment – raise the following question: in order to truly follow Christ, should we display genuine compassion for all who are in need? If so, then I would need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in this regard, as my biases often influence my responses to the needy, e.g. transients.

American Museum of Natural History March 5, 2018

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I recently visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The museum features

the scientific study of animals or plants, especially as concerned with observation rather than experiment, and presented in popular form.

Here are twelve nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The group of dinosaurs known as the ornithomimids derive their name from a phrase meaning “bird mimics.” This group includes the:

These long-limbed dinosaurs had three-fingered hands, a relatively large brain cavity and a flexible neck; some of them attained lengths of at least twenty feet. Interestingly, while they had beaked heads, they were less closely related to birds than the maniraptors. They lived in the Cretaceous period.

2. The group of dinosaurs known as the ornithopods includes the:

These dinosaurs had a powerful bite due to the placement of their jaw joint; they also benefited from a network of bony tendons that stiffened their backbone and tail. They lived from the late Triassic period to the late Cretaceous period.

3. The hind limbs and front limbs of Moschops capensis were splayed under its body and to its sides, respectively. This creature with a cow-like face (Moschops is Greek for “calf”) had an enlarged synapsid opening and its skull was about four inches thick. It lived in the Permian period in modern-day South Africa.

4. The shells of leatherback sea turtles are about six feet long; it weighs up to 1400 pounds. This consumer of jellyfish has tough, rubbery skin that stretches over cartilaginous material; its skin is also strengthened by a layer of tiny, thin bones. Its predators include sharks and killer whales. Females typically lay 80-100 eggs on land above a tidemark; moreover, they can lay eggs on multiple occasions during a single season between late spring and early summer. After incubating for 7-10 weeks, the eggs hatch and the baby turtles crawl toward the sea.

5. The whooping crane is on the verge of extinction, as it has been extensively hunted; moreover, its native marshes in the north-central United States have been drained. At one point, about thirty individuals resided in Canada while wintering in Texas. In contrast, the sand hill crane is the most abundant crane species in the world. It gives a distinctive bugle call; in Florida, it tends to nest in freshwater ponds and marshes.

6. Wayang (Javanese for “shadow”) is a drama form that is based on shadow puppets. Influenced by orthodox religions and ancestor cults, performances are typically accompanied by a gamelan that is comprised of gongs, rebabs and flutes. One example of this art form is the Chalonarang, where a Barang dragon, who represents “life”, battles a witch, Rangda, who represents “death.” In this story, masked followers of Barang threaten Rangda with their knives until they fall into a trance.

7. Denizens of the High Andes (marked by low shrubs) include:

These birds originated in Patagonia at sea level before gradually migrating to higher altitudes over thousands of years. In contrast, denizens of the Pampas (marked by marshlands) include:

These marsh birds are often joined by migratory sandpipers and plovers from North America.

8. The Indian rhino has a single horn that is comprised of a mass of compact hairs; interestingly, its horn is not attached to its skull. It dwells in tall, reedy grasses and wallows in marshes. It is found mainly in reserves in Nepal and the Assam state of India. In contrast, its relative, the Sumatran rhino, has two horns; this endangered species is the smallest of the five extant species of rhinoceros. It dwells in tropical forests at altitudes of up to 3000 feet; it can also employ its two dagger-like lower incisors as weapons.

9. Denizens of the Libyan desert include:

These large, pale ungulates obtain moisture from their food. In this arid region that is characterized by iron-rich sand, rainfall triggers rapid growth of dormant seeds.

10. Belmore Browne advocated the establishment of a national park at Denali; his efforts were rewarded in 1917. One of the most prominent species in Denali (Athabaskan for “High One”) Park is the Dall sheep; males can weigh up to 240 pounds while females can weigh up to 110 pounds. These “thinhorn” sheep live above the tree line to avoid wolves and bears; they feed on grasses, lichens, mosses and shrubs.

11. Pegmatites are formed via a process where mineral elements are highly concentrated in the residual liquid in cooled magma; coarse-grained minerals are then obtained during crystallization of the cooled magma. Some pegmatites consist of large crystals that can weigh up to fifty tons with lengths up to forty feet. Elements that are found in pegmatites include:

12. The denizens of the ancient oceans were intriguing. For example, the Ordovician oceans included the:

The Permian oceans included:

The Cretaceous oceans included ammonites, which were either spiral or straight-shelled; their closest living relative is the chambered nautilus.

The museum is expansive, and one can spend an entire day browsing through its numerous exhibits. I especially enjoyed the exhibits that relied on taxidermists, as they provided realistic depictions of habitats and proportions.

I do not have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to those who happen to be in the Big Apple.

Jesus Heals the Blind and Mute March 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:27-34.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus performs two miracles:

  • restoring the sight of two blind men – who have repeatedly affirmed His identity as the Messiah
  • healing a deaf and dumb man who had been possessed by a demon.

Many are astounded by these miracles – yet the Pharisees assert that Satan is the source of Jesus’ power.

Thoughts: Here, we see that two blind men recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

They could not, of course, have seen the miracles that he did: they could only know him by common report. But the eyes of their understanding were enlightened, if their bodily eyes were dark. They saw the truth which teachers of the law and Pharisees could not see; they saw that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. They believed that he was able to heal them.

As modern-day believers, we can – and should – identify with these blind men. We have not seen Jesus with our “bodily eyes” – yet we have received reports of Him. The blind men had accumulated information about Jesus, and they had to consider the following question: given what they knew, were they in the presence of the Messiah?

Similarly, we have accumulated information about Jesus, and we have to consider the following question: given what we know, is Jesus the Messiah?

We need His wisdom and strength on a daily basis to answer that question in the affirmative, as Satan constantly tempts us to answer it in the negative.

A Dead Girl and a Sick Woman March 2, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:18-26.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus performs two miracles:

  • raising the daughter of Jairus – the chief elder of the synagogue in Capernaum – from the dead
  • healing a woman who has an issue of blood.

In both instances, He responds to a display of faith in Him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus raises a young girl from the dead. I still struggle to connect with the miracles that Jesus performs in the Gospels. In particular, while I have experienced God at work in my life, I have never observed Him resurrecting anyone from the dead. Thus, I continue to require His grace to maintain my faith in Him as the actual author of such miracles in the Gospels. My sinful nature remains skeptical of this fact; without His assistance, I would swiftly reject this account as a mere fable.

On a somewhat-related note, I am curious as to whether any readers have had a near-death experience; if so, how did God work in that situation?

Jesus Questioned About Fasting February 25, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:14-17.

Summary: In this passage, the disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus why He and His disciples do not practice their external rituals, including fasting. Jesus responds by asserting that since He has come to forgive sins, they should rejoice – instead of fasting. He reinforces the distinction between external rituals and the kingdom of God by noting that it is futile to:

  • sew a new patch of cloth into an old robe – as the old robe will shrink in the wash
  • pour new wine into an old wineskin – as the old wineskin will burst as the new wine ferments.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus uses cloth and wine to highlight the contrast between empty rituals and genuine worship of God. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

He goes on to show, by two parables, that young beginners in the school of Christianity must be dealt with gently. They must be taught what they are able to bear: they must not be expected to receive everything at once. To neglect this rule would be as unwise as to “pour new wine into old wineskins” (verse 17), or to sew “a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment” (verse 16).

I must admit that Ryle’s interpretation of these two verses is somewhat odd. Most of the commentaries on this passage that I have read indicate that Jesus is contrasting the formalism of the Pharisees with heartfelt worship that is fueled by the Gospel message. These two methods of worshiping God are incompatible, just as new cloth and new wine are incompatible with old robes and old wineskins, respectively. Thus, I hope to meet Ryle in the next life and query him on this point. How did he arrive at his interpretation of this passage? What is the correct interpretation of this passage?

The Calling of Matthew February 24, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:9-13.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus calls a tax collector, Matthew, as His disciple; Matthew responds by:

  • obeying this calling
  • hosting a banquet for the most wretched residents of Capernaum.

When the Pharisees rebuke Jesus and His disciples for associating with these wretched people, He responds by:

  • rebuking them as wretched
  • asserting that this banquet fulfills a prophecy in Hosea 6:6.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus extends an invitation to those who are aware of their sinfulness. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Let us not dream that true Christians can ever attain such a state of perfection in this world as not to need the mediation and intercession of Jesus. Sinners we are in the day we first come to Christ. Poor needy sinners we continue to be so long as we live, drawing all the grace we have every hour out of Christ’s fullness. We shall find ourselves sinners at the hour of our death, and shall die as much indebted to Christ’s blood as on the day when we first believed.

These are encouraging words in light of the fact that we sin on a daily basis. I am regularly exasperated by my imperfections; in particular, I wish that certain sins would not plague me. It is encouraging that I am affected by my sinfulness, yet it would certainly be better if I were sinless. Somehow, though, God calls us to thrive in the midst of this tension; our sins highlight His saving grace, and we must continue to embrace that grace as frail, sinful people. We certainly need the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in this regard.

Jesus Heals a Paralytic February 11, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:1-8.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus travels to Capernaum, where He encounters a paralytic and four of his friends. These men trust that He can heal their friend; He responds by:

  • forgiving his sins
  • declaring that the ability to forgive sins is equivalent to the ability to heal
  • healing him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus rebuked several scribes for their blasphemous thoughts. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Nothing can be concealed from Christ. What do we think of in private, when no one sees us? What do we think of in church when we seem grave and serious? What are we thinking of at this moment while reading these words? Jesus knows…Surely we ought to be very humble when we consider these things: we ought to thank God daily that the blood of Christ can cleanse from all sin…

I must admit that when I desire to spend time with God, e.g. while meditating on my daily Bible reading, I am easily distracted. I believe that distracting thoughts in those instances are not genuine acts of worship, since I associate those thoughts with my sinful nature; thus, I regularly confess those thoughts to God. Ryle’s last point, then, is instructive: since I cannot rid myself of distracting thoughts in this life, I must constantly rest on Christ for my salvation. Moreover, even though my sinful nature attempts to exert its influence over me through distracting thoughts, I know that I will eventually defeat it – and those thoughts – with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.