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The Sign of Jonah March 31, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:38-45.

Summary: In this passage, several experts in the Jewish law ask Jesus for a supernatural proof of His identity as the Messiah. He responds by stating that He will only provide one supernatural proof of His identity to them: He will die and rise again in three days – just as Jonah was trapped in the belly of a fish for three days. Indeed, they will be condemned by:

  • the Ninevites, who repented of their sins when Jonah provided them with a supernatural proof of his identity as a messenger from God – and He is greater than Jonah
  • the Queen of Sheba, who acknowledged the wisdom of Solomon – and He is greater than Solomon.

He concludes by condemning them for promoting external reformation in lieu of internal reformation based on the Gospel message.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus warns his audience about the dangers of external reformation in lieu of internal reformation. This is a valuable reminder of the importance of a valid motive for performing good deeds. Indeed, we see that the only valid motive in this regard is a desire to worship God: He has initiated a gracious plan of salvation that applies to us, and so we are compelled to respond to His act of initiation with deeds of thankfulness. This does raise the following question: does God actually detest acts of kindness that are performed by unbelievers? If an unbeliever wants to “make the world a better place” and participates in relief and development projects in a Third World country, how does He view their efforts? One thought is that He seeks to glorify Himself through their efforts, though this is just speculation on my part.


Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta March 30, 2018

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I recently visited the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. The museum showcases the American civil rights movement and raises several difficult questions concerning modern-day injustices.

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

1. Claudette Colvin was arrested on March 2, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to yield her seat on a city bus to a white person. Yet she did not become the public face of the protest against segregation on Montgomery city buses, as she had a child out of wedlock and was relatively dark-skinned (compared to Rosa Parks). Her mother also pressured her to cede the spotlight to Parks.

2. During the preparations for the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., Hosea Williams spied a cart outside an antique store in Atlanta. He appropriated it, promising Ralph Abernathy that he would compensate the owner. He also found two mules about twenty miles outside Atlanta to pull this cart during the funeral. King’s body was placed on it during the funeral procession – highlighting his involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign in his latter years.

3. Some Jim Crow laws were particularly absurd, including the following regulations:

  • a white woman carrying a mixed-race child could be imprisoned for up to five years
  • books intended for white school districts should be physically separate from books intended for colored school districts
  • ticket booths at circuses that catered to white and colored patrons, respectively, should be separated by at least twenty-five feet.

4. Bayard Rustin played a crucial role in organizing the March on Washington in 1963; he – and A. Philip Randolph – appeared on the cover of Time in recognition of that landmark event. During the run-up to the March on Washington, he ceded the spotlight to Randolph; this may have stemmed from the following facts:

  • he was gay
  • he had a brief association with leftist labor groups.

5. Ruby Bridges was the first student to integrate the New Orleans public school system. She compared the events surrounding her first day of school to a Mardi Gras celebration. John Steinbeck captured her experience that day in Travels with Charley, inspiring Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting The Problem We All Live With.

6. Many whites in positions of authority opposed the American civil rights movement, including:

  • Lester Maddox, who refused to serve black patrons at his family-run restaurant
  • Jim Clark, who marched a crowd of demonstrators to jail with the aid of cattle prods
  • James Eastland, who doubted the accounts of the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in the summer of 1964.

7. In contrast, many whites in positions of authority supported the American civil rights movement in the South, including:

  • William Hartsfield, who helped integrate the Atlanta police force
  • Robert Woodruff, who threatened to move the Coca-Cola headquarters from Atlanta if local white business leaders boycotted a dinner in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964
  • Ivan Allen, Jr., who helped cover the expenses for King’s funeral in 1968.

The museum included a special exhibit of some of Dr. King’s papers, including a formal invitation to the celebration of Ghana’s independence from Great Britain. Another exhibit included Dr. King’s death certificate, which contained several nuggets of information. Several exhibits highlighted ongoing struggles around the world concerning the rights of women, LGBT individuals, and migrant workers.

My main quibble with the museum concerns its layout. In particular, the exhibit that allows visitors to experience the harassment that protesters endured at Southern lunch counters attracted a plethora of patrons, hampering my ability to navigate the surrounding exhibits.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to those who happen to visit Atlanta.

Jesus and Beelzebub March 30, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:22-37.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus casts out a demon from a man who was blind and mute – healing him of his infirmities. Many are astonished by this miracle and wonder if Jesus is the Messiah. Yet the Pharisees dismiss this speculation, asserting that Satan is actually empowering Him.

Jesus responds by debunking this argument; in particular, He:

  • asserts that Satan would not be divided against himself
  • contrasts His genuine acts of healing with the counterfeit acts performed by Jewish exorcists.

Indeed, His acts of healing:

  • prove His superiority to Satan
  • are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, they must either accept Him or reject Him. Those who reject Him – and the Holy Spirit – are eternally condemned by God the Father.

He concludes by asserting that their rejection of the Holy Spirit stems from the fact that they have not been renewed by God. Only those who have been renewed by God will acknowledge the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus condemns those who reject the work of the Holy Spirit. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

The brighter the light, the greater the guilt of the person who rejects it; the clearer a person’s knowledge of the nature of the Gospel, the greater the sin in willfully refusing to repent and believe…Pharaoh, Saul, Ahab, Judas Iscariot, the Emperor Julian and Francis Spira are fearful illustrations of our Lord’s meaning.

I was unfamiliar with Francis Spira before I read this section in Ryle’s commentary, and I was inspired to learn more about him. Perhaps his story highlights the importance of regular reflection on Christ’s finished work for our salvation. If we fail to meditate on this point, we might dwell on our inherent sinfulness and begin to question the truth of our salvation. Indeed, Satan constantly attempts to exploit the fact that almost two millennia have passed since Christ completed His work for our salvation; thus, we must combat this tempter on a daily basis – with the invaluable assistance of the Holy Spirit.

We also see that Jesus highlights the connection between our words and our hearts. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Let us be humble as we read this passage and recollect time past. How many idle, foolish, vain, light, frivolous, sinful and unprofitable things we have all said! How many words we have used which, like thistle-down, have flown far and wide and sown mischief in the hearts of others that will never die!

While these thoughts may be somewhat depressing, it is important to note that we will never be perfect in this life; we cannot hope to avoid speaking “unprofitable” words. Thus, we should consider this question: how can we maximize the profitability of our words? One thought is that we should:

  • attempt to pause before speaking
  • evaluate our thoughts and reject as many foolish notions as possible
  • attempt to consider the thoughts and feelings of our audience.

Of course, it is extremely difficult to execute these steps; we need constant grace as we navigate a thicket of misunderstandings.

God’s Chosen Servant March 25, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:15-21.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ plot against Him by going to those in need and healing them. He then instructs those whom He has healed to not divulge His identity – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-4. Indeed, He:

  • has been anointed by the Holy Spirit at His public baptism
  • proclaims righteousness in a dignified manner
  • strengthens those in need
  • will be vindicated.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus heals those who are in need – highlighting the connection between service and justice. Indeed, we, as believers, should emulate His:

  • promotion of justice through His acts of blessing
  • display of empathy – even as He met the needs of a multitude.

I find that when I serve those in need, I often struggle with feelings of arrogance and impatience. This is a sign that I am still weak in the flesh; thus, I continue to require the assistance of the Holy Spirit in my acts of service. On a related note, I anticipate meeting Christ in the next life and learning more about how He was able to consistently love and care for those who required His help.

Lord of the Sabbath March 24, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:1-14.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus’ disciples pluck ears of grain on the Sabbath and eat them, as they are hungry. The Pharisees accuse them of failing to observe the Sabbath, yet Jesus responds by asserting that their laws are subordinate to:

  • the needs of people
  • God Himself.

His assertion is supported by Hosea 6:6.

Later that day, He encounters a man with a paralyzed hand. The Pharisees highlight his deformity in an attempt to trap Him – yet He responds by reminding them of His earlier assertions and healing him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus establishes the lawfulness of showing mercy on the Sabbath. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Second, let us learn from this passage that our Lord Jesus Christ allows all works of real necessity and mercy to be done on the Sabbath day…The first tablet of the law is not to be so interpreted as to make us break the second. The fourth commandment is not to be so explained so that we are unkind and unmerciful to our neighbor.

This passage caused me to reflect on a ministry at my old church where we would purchase food from Costco after Sunday worship, prepare it at a soup kitchen and then feed the homeless. I view that ministry as an excellent example of showing mercy on the Sabbath; indeed, it often allowed us to immediately practice the teachings in the sermon on that particular Sunday. I would not be surprised to learn of similar ministries at other churches (if any readers have participated in them, feel free to leave a comment).

In verse 14, we see that the Pharisees responded to Jesus’ act of mercy to a man with a paralyzed hand by plotting against Him. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This is human nature appearing in its true colors! The unconverted heart hates God, and will show its hatred whenever it dares, and has a favorable opportunity. It will persecute God’s witnesses; it will dislike all who have anything of God’s mind and are renewed after his image.

When I first read this passage, I was taken aback by the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ miracle. After some reflection, I concluded that they were consumed by their desire to vindicate their system of righteousness; they viewed Jesus’ act of healing as a direct challenge to that system. Since they were firmly convinced of the correctness of that system, they viewed Jesus’ act of healing as additional evidence of His apostasy. Indeed, it is nigh impossible to overcome inherent biases without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Rest for the Weary March 18, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 11:25-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus:

  • acknowledges the sovereignty of God, declaring that the things pertaining to His kingdom cannot be discovered solely through human intelligence
  • asserts His deity
  • calls those who attempt to enter the kingdom of God by their works to repent and believe in Him.

Moreover, only He can enable them to enter the kingdom of God; thus, they must submit to Him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus calls people to submit to Him. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

No doubt there is a cross to be carried, if we follow Christ; no doubt there are trials to be endured, and battles to be fought; but the comforts of the Gospel far outweigh the cross. Compared to the service of the world and sin, compared to the yoke of Jewish ceremonies and the bondage of human superstition, Christ’s service is in the highest sense easy and light.

Indeed, I have found that a life of obedience to Christ has many attendant (internal) “trials” and “battles.” I am often tempted to abandon the “narrow path” with its obstacles and embrace the “wide path” with its pleasures, especially when I fail to discern the fruit of my obedience. Yet my failures in pursuing short-term gains remind me of the importance of maintaining a long-term perspective and (painfully) persisting in storing up treasures in heaven. These failures remind me of the ephemeral nature of the pleasures of this life and compel me to work towards the pleasures that might endure in the next life – namely, attempting to bless others with my gifts and abilities.

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.