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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?

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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.

The Healing of Two Demon-Possessed Men February 10, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 8:28-34.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus encounters two demon-controlled men near Gergesa. These demons acknowledge His:

  • identity as the Son of God
  • ability to free their human hosts from their control.

Jesus then allows them to enter a nearby herd of pigs – causing the pigs to commit suicide. The villagers respond by entreating Jesus to depart from that area.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the residents of Gergesa beseech Jesus to leave them after He demonstrates His authority over demons. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Fourth, let us not leave this passage without observing the worldliness of the Gadarenes, among whom this miracle of driving out demons was performed…They did not care that two fellow-creatures, two immortal souls, had been freed from Satan’s bondage…they cared for nothing but the fact that their pigs were drowned and “their hope of making money was gone” (Acts 16:19). They ignorantly regarded Jesus as one who stood between them and their profit, and they only wished to be rid of him.

While Ryle’s explanation of the Gergesenes’ actions may be correct, I would posit the following alternate hypothesis. Note that the Gergesenes had just observed a miracle where Jesus had demonstrated His sovereignty over demons – resulting in the dramatic suicide of a herd of pigs. Wouldn’t they have been filled with fear at this point? Perhaps they wrestled with questions such as:

  • Could Jesus order the demons to enter them?
  • Could Jesus perform another miracle that would harm them?

I am skeptical of Ryle’s explanation, as I doubt that the Gergesenes were merely upset about the loss of potential income through the death of their pigs. If I had been in their position, I would have cowered in terror. I certainly hope to query Ryle in this point in the next life.

Jesus Calms the Storm February 4, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 8:23-27.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples encounter a storm on the Sea of Galilee. The strength of that storm causes the disciples to panic and they beseech Jesus to save them. In response, He:

  • rebukes them for their lack of confidence in Him
  • calms the storm.

The latter action overwhelms the disciples.

Thoughts: Here, a storm reveals the disciples’ lack of confidence in Jesus. While we know that they sinned in this instance – given Jesus’ rebuke – I can empathize with them. Indeed, I am convinced that I would have shared their reaction to the storm had I been in that boat with them. In particular, I believe that they were exercising their natural instinct (possibly resulting from evolution) to survive. Their response highlights the central conflict in the life of a believer between the:

  • sinful nature (with its instincts)
  • spiritual nature (i.e. the Holy Spirit).

When we are confronted by trials and temptations, our spiritual nature displays confidence in God – while our sinful nature doubts Him. How can we display more confidence in Him in these instances? I believe that He calls us to “actively” trust in Him, though I struggle to respond in concrete ways.

The Cost of Following Jesus February 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 8:18-22.

Summary: In this passage, a scribe declares his commitment to Jesus. Yet Jesus knows that he is actually unwilling to deny himself; thus, He asserts that those who are genuinely committed to Him are willing to deny themselves.

Another man declares his commitment to Jesus; before acting on this commitment, he wants to fulfill his obligation to his (living) father. Yet Jesus knows that his request undermines his declaration; thus, He asserts that those who are genuinely committed to Him are willing to place the kingdom of God above personal attachments.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the challenges of committing to Jesus at a given watershed moment. In particular, since we cannot predict the future, committing to Jesus at that point entails trusting in Him regardless of future circumstances. One potentially encouraging thought is that if we can conceive of at least one potential benefit of committing to Him at that point, that benefit should outweigh the potential calamities that stem from that decision. For example, assume that He is calling you to share the Gospel message with an unreached community. God can assuredly work through you to convert at least one member of that community; that truth should outweigh the risk of their rejection of your efforts.

Yet we cannot discount the following possibility: what if our commitment to Jesus at that point does not yield any benefits? What if that decision only results in calamities? Perhaps it would be instructive to reflect on the conversion of the Waodani tribe, which was depicted in The End of the Spear. We see that in that case, those five missionaries perished without observing the conversion of the Waodani. Can we commit to Jesus at a given watershed moment if we will not necessarily observe the fruits of our labor during our lifetime? I certainly struggle with this question, and I need His grace to respond to Him with obedience.

Jesus Heals Many February 2, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 8:14-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus fulfills a prophecy in Isaiah 53:4 by performing the following miracles:

  • curing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever
  • healing many who are controlled by demons.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus exercises His sovereignty over the spiritual world. As a believer in a First World country, I cannot recall an encounter with demonic forces. Thus, I – and, I suspect, others in similar circumstances – readily ignore the reality of the spiritual world. We observe the physical world and assume that it constitutes the totality of reality. Yet this passage should disabuse us of that notion. Perhaps we need to respond to this passage by humbling ourselves and asking God to equip us with the requisite tools for battling the influence of demonic forces. If He ever allows them to assault us – according to His good plans for us – we want to emerge victorious over them.