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The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant June 24, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:21-35.

Summary: In this passage, Peter asks Jesus if there are limits to forgiving a believer who has sinned against him.

Jesus responds in the negative. Indeed, His kingdom can be represented by a king who regularly settles his accounts with his satraps. One of them owes him an inestimable debt; thus, the king declares that his entire family should be enslaved and his possessions should be liquidated.

This satrap responds by pleading for mercy. As the king loves him, he forgives him his debt.

This satrap then searches for one of his servants who owes him a relatively small debt. Upon finding him, he goes about choking him and demanding that he repay that debt.

His servant responds by pleading for mercy. Yet he refuses to forgive him his debt, and he imprisons him.

Other servants are excessively grieved by the actions of this satrap, and they meticulously recount them to the king.

The king then summons this satrap and asserts that he should have forgiven the debt of his servant, as he has forgiven his debt. He then turns this satrap over to his inquisitors.

Similarly, they should forgive any believer who sins against them, as God has forgiven them for their sins against Him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus calls believers to refrain from setting boundaries on forgiveness. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

It is clear from this parable that one motive for forgiving others ought to be the recollection that we all need forgiveness at God’s hands ourselves. Day after day we are coming short in many things, “leaving undone what we ought to do, and doing what we ought not to do.” Day after day we require mercy and pardon. Our neighbors’ offenses against us are mere trifles, compared with our offenses against God.

Ryle makes an interesting point by comparing the sins of our neighbors and our sins against God. In order to obey Jesus’ command in this passage, we must begin to comprehend the magnitude of “our offenses against God.” The difficulty of this task is compounded by the fact that we cannot perceive Him with our senses, though. When we offend another believer, their response to our actions can elicit feelings of shame and regret. Yet we cannot readily discern God’s response to our offenses against Him. Perhaps this sobering fact points to the importance of the Holy Spirit in our walk with God; the third member of the Trinity can enable us to perceive His grief over our sins and spur us to truly seek His forgiveness.

Reading through this passage also spurred me to ponder my sinful tendency to bear grudges against other believers over perceived slights. My current view is that most of these perceived slights do not constitute actual offenses against me. While I was offended by these perceived slights, I now believe that I was overly sensitive in those instances. Moreover, I now believe that in general, believers do not set out to offend other believers. Thus, if those with whom I associate these perceived slights did not set out to offend me, then I do not need to forgive them – since they did not sin in those instances. Moreover, I should not bear grudges against them; this is a major challenge, though, and I need God’s grace to overcome this obstacle in my walk with Him and seek their best interests.

A Brother Who Sins Against You June 23, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:15-20.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that since God cares for all believers, He wants to gain any believer who sins against their brother. To that end, the believer who has been offended should adhere to this process (each step is contingent on the failure of the offender to acknowledge their sin after the previous step):

  • pursue the offender and expose their sin to the light
  • have two or three witnesses acknowledge their sin
  • have the whole assembly acknowledge their sin
  • treat the offender as an outcast.

By adhering to this process, the whole assembly acts in accordance with God the Father – and God the Son – who knows whether the offender has been freed from their sin.

Thoughts: In verses 19 and 20, Jesus asserts His presence among those who “gather in my name.” Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

There is comfort in these words for all who love to meet together for religious purposes. At every assembly for public worship, at every gathering for prayer and praise, at every missionary meeting, at every Bible reading, the King of kings is present, Christ himself attends.

In particular, some believers cite verse 20 when encouraging others to attend prayer meetings. After reading through this passage, though, I wonder if these believers are taking this verse out of context. In particular, it seems that one should connect verse 20 with verse 16, where two or three believers gather to acknowledge the sin of a brother who has offended one of them. In verse 20, Jesus may be asserting that if these believers gather in order to gain the offender, then they know that He supports their efforts. They may not necessarily gain the offender, but they know that He will approve of their words and deeds. Now I may be misinterpreting this verse; perhaps I will be able to query Him on this point in the next life.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep June 17, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:10-14.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells His disciples to be careful to not think down on any of their (childlike) brethren, since angels belong to them.

Indeed, His kingdom can be represented by a wealthy man who owns a hundred sheep. Since this shepherd is well acquainted with his flock, he would notice any missing individual and search for it. Similarly, God cares for all believers; His will is that their spiritual progress would not be ruined.

Thoughts: Reading through this passage caused me to ponder my view of my salvation – and the salvation of others. Since I have essentially grown up in the church, I readily identify with the remaining ninety-nine sheep in this parable (I also readily identify with the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, though that thought should be elaborated in a separate post). Yet I – and other believers in my position – need to be reminded of this fact: we are all sinners in need of a Savior. We all fall short of His perfect standard on a daily basis; thus, He reminds us on a daily basis that His zeal extends to all of us. Moreover, He cares for all of us – regardless of our spiritual state – and will continue to assist us as we stumble along the path of sanctification.

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven June 17, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:1-9.

Summary: In this passage, the disciples ask Jesus who will be greater than all the rest in the kingdom of God. He responds by asserting that if they want to enter the kingdom of God, they must adopt a childlike attitude – lowering themselves and completely depending on Him.

Moreover, by treating their (childlike) brethren with kindness and love, they treat Him with kindness and love.

In contrast, if they cause their (childlike) brethren to sin, then they would be better off dying the worst kind of death. Consequently, they should take drastic measures to guard against that possibility.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus emphasizes the centrality of humility in one’s walk with God. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

The surest mark of true conversion is humility. If we have really received the Holy Spirit, we will show it by a meek and childlike spirit. Like children, we shall think humbly about our own strength and wisdom, and be very dependent on our Father in heaven. Like children, we shall not seek great things in this world; but having food and clothing and a Father’s love, we shall be content.

Reading through this passage caused me to consider the fact that when a believer serves in their church, they often receive compliments from other believers; examples include:

  • applauding the worship team after they perform a special song during the offertory
  • thanking a Sunday School teacher after their class
  • thanking a pastor after their sermon.

This raises the following questions:

  • if we complement our brethren, should we evaluate the propriety of our compliments?
  • considering the third above-mentioned example, should we modify our compliment by saying, “I enjoyed your sermon since I sensed that God was speaking to us through you?”
  • if we receive complements from our brethren, should we evaluate the propriety of our response to them?
  • again, considering the third above-mentioned example, should a pastor respond by saying, “Praise God, who has chosen me as a conduit of His blessings to my congregation?”

As believers, we want to ensure that God receives all glory and praise – instead of hoarding any plaudits for ourselves. That being said, I wonder if my ideas would induce stilted conversations between believers…

The Temple Tax June 10, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 17:24-27.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples arrive in Capernaum. Some tax collectors ask Peter if Jesus pays the Jewish tax relating to the temple, and Peter responds in the affirmative.

Later, Jesus asks Peter if a king would collect taxes from his family or from strangers. Peter acknowledges that the latter is correct; thus, since Jesus is the Son of God, God would not collect taxes from Him. Yet He chooses not to offend the Jewish tax collectors.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus is willing to pay the Jewish tax relating to the temple, even though He is not obligated to do so. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Let us remember this passage as citizens and subjects. We may not like all the political measures of our rulers; we may disapprove of some of the taxes they impose. But the big question after all is, Will it do any good to the cause of religion to resist the powers that be? Are their measures really injuring our souls? If not, let us hold our peace, “so that we may not offend them.”

I should note that after I registered to vote about ten years ago, I began to think more seriously about politics and the impact of my vote on an arbitrary election. Since I would like to optimize the allocation of my financial resources for God’s glory, I often wrestle with the following questions as a voter with a Christian worldview:

  • should we combat fraud and waste by our lawmakers?
  • when faced with a tax hike, should we support it?
  • does God call us to oppose certain ballot measures and/or political candidates?

Regarding the third question, I posit that there is general agreement on certain issues (e.g. opposing child sex trafficking), but other issues open up a can of worms (e.g. assisted suicide). I still believe that voting is consistent with God’s desire that believers fulfill their civic duties, though it’s often difficult to know if God is pleased with my final ballot.

The Healing of a Boy with a Demon June 9, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 17:14-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples encounter a man in a posture of reverence. He asks Jesus to have compassion on his son, as his son has life-threatening grand mal seizures. Moreover, His disciples have not healed his son – indicating that they have failed to appropriate the power that He has given them.

Jesus responds by:

  • bemoaning the failure of all of His contemporaries
  • casting out the source of the boy’s grand mal seizures – a demon
  • asserting that the faith of His disciples needs to grow.

He also predicts that:

  • He will be betrayed to the Jewish leaders – who will kill Him
  • God the Father will raise Him from the dead after three days.

His disciples are despondent, as they fail to comprehend these predictions.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the nine disciples who did not witness the Transfiguration failed to cast out a seizure-inducing demon. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Second, we see in these verses a striking example of the weakening effect of unbelief. The disciples anxiously inquired of our Lord, when they saw the devil yielding to his power, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (verse 19) They received an answer full of the deepest instruction: “Because you have so little faith” (verse 20). Did they want to know the secret of their own sad failure in the hour of need? It was lack of faith.

When I first read through this passage, I found fault with these nine disciples. Shouldn’t they have been empowered by Jesus’ repeated demonstrations of His divine power? Why did they fail to grasp the power that He had given them? After pondering this point, I realized that even Peter, who had witnessed the Transfiguration, would later deny Him three times. Clearly, the timing was not right for God to display His power through these nine disciples. One potential modern-day application of this point is that patience is a salient feature of the Christian life. We often bewail our weaknesses and lament our inability to serve as flawless vessels of God’s grace. Yet this passage reminds us that in this life, we will not be completely sanctified; we will fall short of perfection. Can we trust in God to perfect us in His timing? Can we hew to a long-term view of our walk with Him?

The Transfiguration June 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 17:1-13.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus takes His intimates to a mountain in upper Galilee. There, they witness the following events:

  • the total change of His body and form
  • Moses and Elijah discussing His death with Him while encompassed by His glory
  • God asserting the necessity of the suffering of His Son
  • God asserting the supremacy of His Son.

His intimates are temporarily traumatized by these events. He then:

  • instructs them to temporarily refrain from divulging these events, since He wants others to view Him as their spiritual Messiah
  • asserts that these events do not contradict the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6, as it has been fulfilled by John the Baptist.

Indeed, He will share the fate of John the Baptist.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah during His Transfiguration. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Second, we have in these verses an unanswerable proof of the resurrection of the body, and the life after death. We are told that Moses and Elijah appeared visibly in glory with Christ: they were seen in a bodily form. They were heard talking with our Lord. Fourteen hundred and eighty years had rolled round since Moses died and was buried; more than 900 years had passed away since Elijah was taken “up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:1), yet here they are seen alive by Peter, James and John!

I completely missed this point when I read through this passage, so I am glad that it did not escape Ryle’s attention. Now one could ask, “does this account contradict Paul’s teaching concerning the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58? Does Paul teach that Moses and Elijah will be “asleep” until the Second Coming of Christ?” One might also wonder if Moses and Elijah had truly been resurrected before the events of this passage – or if Jesus’ intimates were experiencing a dream or vision. I hope to meet Moses and Elijah in the next life and probe them on this point, as the events of this passage are mind-boggling.

We also see that Peter, James and John are temporarily traumatized by the events of this passage. While we often make sport of Jesus’ disciples – especially Peter’s propensity to speak and act rashly – we must admit that we would also have been overwhelmed by the Transfiguration of Christ if we had directly witnessed it. If we were confronted by the divinity of Christ, could we actually respond in a calm, cool and collected manner? Indeed, we serve an infinite and holy God; while we fail to comprehend the full extent of His holiness, we know that He calls us to worship Him. Moreover, we cannot help but obey this calling.

Jesus Predicts His Death June 2, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:21-28.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins to privately instruct His disciples, stating that He will obey a divine imperative to:

  • go to Jerusalem
  • be tried by the orthodox religious leaders of Israel
  • be murdered
  • be raised up in three days.

Peter responds by vehemently asserting that this divine imperative is incompatible with his conception of the Messiah.

Jesus is cognizant of Satan’s attempt to work through Peter to ensnare Him; thus, He rebukes Satan.

He then asserts that those who come to Him must:

  • deny that they have the capacity to save themselves
  • be willing to endure persecution for His sake.

Indeed, those who live only to save their physical lives will lose their spiritual souls, but those who are willing to lose their physical lives will save their spiritual souls. This stems from the fact that He is about to reward – and judge – all men according to their deeds.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus stresses the centrality of suffering in the Christian life. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It is good for us all to see this point clearly. We must not conceal from ourselves that true Christianity brings with it a daily cross in this life, while it offers us a crown of glory in the life to come. The self must be crucified daily; the devil must be resisted daily; the world must be overcome daily. There is a war to be waged, and a battle to be fought.

This raises the following question: as believers, can we actually crucify ourselves on a daily basis? We occasionally deny ourselves, e.g. by making a decision to forgo a diversion of some sort. Yet it is difficult – if not impossible – to consistently forgo such diversions. How can we resolve this tension in our relationship with God? One thought is that we should not expect to live perfectly on a daily basis. Another thought is that at the end of each day, we should ask: what have I thought, spoken and/or done today to please God? Instead of focusing on the negative – denial of self – perhaps we should focus on the positive – indulgence of God.