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The Demand for a Sign May 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:1-4.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to Jewish territory, where His enemies attempt to publicly discredit Him.

Jesus responds by asserting that while they are experts in physical matters, they are mere dilettantes in spiritual matters. Moreover, since they have abandoned God, He has abandoned them.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus reiterates the point that He made in Matthew 12:39. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This repetition shows us that our Lord was in the habit of saying the same things over again. He did not content himself with saying a thing once, and then never repeat it. It is evident that it was his custom to bring forward certain truths again and again, and so impress them more deeply on the minds of his disciples.

When I work through an inductive Bible study, I highlight recurring words and phrases, as they usually facilitate my search for the central point of the passage at hand. Indeed, recurring words and phrases reveal points of emphasis for the original audience of a particular passage. Perhaps this principle can be applied in other settings. For example, do praise songs contain recurring words, phrases or themes? Does your pastor emphasize certain points in their sermons? I should note that while applying this principle enables us to comprehend what God is saying to us, we still need to put His words into practice – and that is where I continue to struggle.

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Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand May 19, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 15:29-39.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus leaves the southern mountains of Lebanon and travels to the Decapolis. He is greeted by a crowd upon His arrival, and He heals those who lack strength. They marvel at His actions, praising God while trembling in His presence.

He then informs His disciples that His heart goes out to this crowd of four thousand men – plus women and children. In particular, they will collapse on their way home if they are not fed.

The disciples fail to solve this problem – yet they know that He can solve it. Accordingly, He takes seven barley cakes and some pickled fish from them. After blessing His Father, the disciples distribute the food to the crowd – who ate as much as they wanted.

Thoughts: I have always been mildly curious about a potential connection between this passage and the passage recounting the feeding of the five thousand. Did Jesus actually feed two distinct crowds on two distinct occasions? I then read through John MacArthur’s sermon on this passage, which was invaluable in grasping its relationship to that other passage. In particular, MacArthur states that:

  • in this passage, Jesus feeds Gentiles
  • in that other passage, Jesus feeds Jews.

If that is the case, then this passage would illustrate a neat facet of Jesus’ ministry. In particular, while His primary calling was to the Jews, He still ministered to Gentiles when the timing was right. Perhaps this brief account serves as a preview of Paul’s extensive work among the Gentiles as recorded in Acts – and his epistles.

In verse 32, we see that Jesus has compassion for those whom He has just healed. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

It is a curious and striking fact, that of all the feelings experienced by our Lord when upon earth, there is none so often mentioned as “compassion.” His joy, his sorrow, his thankfulness, his anger, his wonder, his zeal, all are occasionally recorded. But none of these feelings are so frequently mentioned as “compassion.”

This is an important point that we, as believers, should consider. If Christ frequently showed compassion for others, how should we show compassion for others on a regular basis? How can we comprehend the needs of others – and then take concrete steps to meet those needs? Moreover, one can connect this point to my above-mentioned thoughts about Jesus’ primary and secondary callings; while we may be called to minister to a particular demographic, how can we show compassion to members of other demographics when the timing is right?

The Faith of the Canaanite Woman May 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 15:21-28.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus leaves Galilee and goes to the southern mountains of Lebanon. A woman from the area of Syria and Lebanon comes to Him and declares that He:

  • has supernatural power
  • is the Messiah.

Since her little child has been demonized, she asks Him for mercy.

Initially, He does not grant her request. Yet she is persistent, asserting that even though He is a Jew and she is a Gentile, He can heal her little child.

He finally proclaims the greatness of her faith, and He heals her little child.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus initially responds to the Canaanite woman’s request with two (apparently) dismissive comments. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

The saying which then came from our Lord’s lips sounded discouraging: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (verse 24)…The second saying of our Lord was even less encouraging than the first: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (verse 26).

When I read through this passage, I was confused by these two comments. In particular, what was the purpose of His comment in verse 24? If His intention was to cause the Canaanite woman to display the depth of her faith in Him, did she hear that comment? Was He only addressing the disciples in verse 24? Did He also divinely ordain this encounter as a vehicle for increasing the disciples’ faith in Him? In any case, this passage can challenge us as believers: what is the extent of our faith in Him? Can we truly look beyond short-term losses and focus on long-term gains – namely, our rewards in heaven? Persistence in the face of setbacks is counter-intuitive; thus, we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit to overcome our instincts. Indeed, we must painfully rest in Him as we encounter setbacks in our walk with Him.

Clean and Unclean May 11, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 15:1-20.

Summary: In this passage, representatives of the Jewish religious establishment accuse Jesus’ disciples of violating religious tradition regarding washings. Yet He dismisses their accusation – and accuses them of violating the command in Scripture to revere their parents; He reminds them that those who violate this command are subject to capital punishment. In particular, they have introduced the selfish tradition of corban – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 29:13.

He then calls those whom He has healed from the countryside of Gennesaret and asserts that defilement is a spiritual – not physical – issue. Indeed, if the inner self is defiled, then the entire person is defiled.

Thoughts: In verses 16-20, Jesus explains the assertion that He made in verse 11. I must admit that when I read through this passage, I had a haughty attitude toward the disciples, assuming that they were incapable of comprehending His teaching regarding defilement. Upon further reflection, though, I cannot claim that I would have comprehended His teaching at that time, as His assertion challenged Jewish orthodoxy. Indeed, I am not an iconoclast; I tend to dismiss any assertions that challenge dogma, including:

  • the Earth is only about six thousand years old
  • Lee Harvey Oswald was assisted by domestic and/or foreign enemies of President Kennedy
  • P = NP.

Ideally, one would be open-minded when confronted with such assertions; in practice, though, we dismiss them and indulge our biases.

Here, we see that Jesus exhorts His followers to resist – and forsake – false teachers. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

No fear of giving offense, no dread of ecclesiastical censure, should make us hold our peace when God’s truth is in peril. If we are true followers of our Lord, we ought to be outspoken, unflinching witnesses against error…No false delicacy, no mock humility should make us shrink from leaving the teaching of any minister who contradicts God’s Word.

I suppose that I obey this command by not attending any church with a statement of faith that contradicts the Five Solas. Yet I do not confront false teachers – or those who subscribe to false doctrine. This stems from my:

  • tendency to avoid conflict
  • belief that arguments are often unproductive.

That being said, perhaps this blog is a form of resistance to false teachers. I hope to continue to use it to promote correct doctrine and practice.

Jesus Walks on the Water May 6, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 14:22-36.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus displays His sovereign authority by thwarting the attempt of the crowd that He has just fed to enthrone Him. He also commands His disciples to leave Him and cross the Sea of Galilee, where they are caught in a violent storm.

He then appears between 3 and 6 a.m., walking on the water. This miracle throws them into a state of panic. Peter seeks His protection from the violent storm and begins to walk to Him – yet he, overcome by fear, begins to sink. Jesus rescues him; the disciples worship Him as one with God.

He and the disciples finally arrive in the land of Gennesaret. All who are ill in the countryside come to Him. Upon touching Him, they are instantly made totally well.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter began to sink when he was overcome by fear. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

What a lively picture we have here of the experience of many believers! How many there are who have enough faith to take the first step in following Christ, but not enough faith to go on as they began. They take fright at the trials and dangers which seem to be in their way. They look at the enemies that surround them, and the difficulties that seem likely to beset their path…

My experiences indicate that Christians occasionally derive amusement from Peter’s tendency to speak and act rashly. One thought is that as Christians, we should be more humble when we encounter his words and deeds in our studies of the Gospels. Indeed, we often declare our willingness to follow Christ when we sing praise songs – but are we willing to act on this declaration when confronted by trials and temptations? Can our deeds match our words when we are plagued with doubt? Instead of elevating ourselves above Peter, we should continue to ask God for His grace so that we can make progress in our walk with Him.

We also see that Jesus miraculously walks on the surface of the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a violent storm. It is tempting to read this passage, hastily acknowledge that this miracle occurred, and dismiss it from our thoughts. Yet this miracle compels us to consider the following dichotomy:

  • the universe is a closed system that is based on immutable laws
  • Christ is willing and able to circumvent the laws of the universe.

Our finite, earthly minds struggle to resolve this dichotomy. Perhaps this miracle should also spur us to ask the following questions:

  • if God is omnipotent and unchanging, how does He exercise His power in our modern context?
  • if God continues to exercise His power, does He choose to work through us in that regard?
  • how can we allow Him to exercise His power through us?

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand May 5, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 14:13-21.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus responds to the news of the murder of John the Baptist – and Herod’s belief that He is the resurrected John – by traveling across the Sea of Galilee to a wilderness area. He is greeted by a crowd upon His arrival, though. His heart goes out to them and He heals those who lack strength.

The disciples are concerned about how to feed this crowd of five thousand men – plus women and children. He takes this opportunity to test them. When they fail to solve this problem, He takes five barley cakes and two pickled fish from a child. After blessing His Father, the disciples distribute the food to the crowd – who ate as much as they wanted.

Thoughts: I was struck by verse 13, which notes that the events in this passage occurred after “Jesus heard what had happened.” I assume that He was moved by the violent death of John the Baptist and that He grieved the loss of the prophet who had prepared the way for His ministry. Yet this passage implies that His mourning was curtailed by the appearance of a crowd after He crossed the Sea of Galilee. He immediately displayed compassion by performing several miracles, i.e. healing the sick and feeding the entire crowd. Indeed, it is amazing that He was not consumed by His grief, as He was able to fulfill His divine mission in the midst of His pain. I certainly anticipate meeting Him in the next life and learning more about His thoughts and emotions during His trip across the Sea of Galilee.

John the Baptist Beheaded April 29, 2018

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

Summary: In this passage, Herod Antipas arrests John the Baptist, as John:

  • is tremendously popular
  • confronts his sinful marriage to Herodias.

Herod is later aroused on his birthday by the lewd dancing of Herodias’ daughter, Salome. He promises to fulfill her wishes, and her mother prompts her to request the murder of John. John is then executed.

Later, when Herod hears about Jesus, his guilty conscience leads him to believe that John has been resurrected in the person of Jesus.

Thoughts: Here, we see that John the Baptist died violently. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

If ever there was a case of godliness unrewarded in this life, it was that of John the Baptist. Let us think for a moment what a remarkable man he was during his short career, and then think to what end he came…Truly there was an event here, if there ever was one in the world, which might make an ignorant person say, “What is the good of serving God?”

This is a challenging passage, as it forces us, as believers, to plumb the depth of our loyalty to God. We may be willing to endure some of the trials that stem from following Him, but are we willing to suffer for Him to the point of death? Can we truly look past this life and focus on the promise of a reward in the next life? We know that God calls us to exercise a simple, childlike faith; can we maintain a childlike trust in Him when our instincts toward self-preservation are challenged? These questions do not have facile answers.

This account also highlights the character flaws of Herod Antipas. He did not want his dinner guests to view him as a weakling, and so he sacrificed an innocent man. Now while Herod’s actions made him a convenient target, we should ask ourselves: can we follow the example of John the Baptist and act rightly in the face of opposition? Can we live out our convictions even when our righteousness has a cost? Perhaps we should respond to this passage with humility, asking God for His wisdom and strength to avoid the trap that Herod set for himself.

A Prophet Without Honor April 28, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:53-58.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to Nazareth and uses the Old Testament to instruct its denizens. The effectiveness of His instruction astonishes them – yet they do not believe that His authority comes from God. Instead, they are scandalized by Him.

He responds by asserting that their rejection of Him has actually obstructed the manifestation of His supernatural powers in their midst.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus responds to the denizens of Nazareth by not performing miracles in their town. I pondered potential modern-day applications of this point; my current viewpoint is that this passage lacks a clear modern-day application, since:

  • God can choose to perform miracles even when we question the veracity of His omnipotence and love
  • God can also choose to refrain from performing miracles even when we pray fervently for Him to exercise His omnipotence and love.

In this case, we can only assert that God chose to refrain from performing miracles in Nazareth in response to the actions of its residents. That being said, as believers, we should continue to place our trust in Him; even if He does not perform a miracle that we desire, we know that we can rest on His explicit promises in the Scriptures. We are assured of our ultimate salvation and victory over death, and these great promises should sustain us as we continue to wrestle with Him over the miracles that we desire.

The Parable of the Net April 27, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:47-52.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells a parable. He states that His kingdom can be represented by a large net that captures all life in front of it. A group of fishermen then:

  • place the captured fish in water-contained vessels
  • discard the other captured creatures.

Similarly, at His Second Coming, His angels will capture those who are not His subjects and discard them to hell.

He then asserts that His disciples are now equipped to teach others, as they grasp the unifying principles of the Old and New Testaments.

Thoughts: This passage inspired me to read about instances where fishermen caught more than they had bargained for, including:

I have actually never gone fishing, so I can only imagine the shock that these fishermen experienced when they inspected their respective catches. In any event, these accounts reinforce the main point of this passage. Just as a denizen of the deep cannot be consumed by a fisherman, so those who do not belong to Christ are useless to Him at His Second Coming. We must heed this warning and find our value in Him.

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl April 22, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:44-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells two parables. He states that His kingdom can be represented by:

  • buried treasure; a man who works in a field comes across that treasure, liquidates his possessions and purchases that field
  • a fine pearl; a wholesale merchant comes across that pearl, liquidates his possessions and purchases it.

These parables highlight the priceless value of His kingdom.

Thoughts: This is a challenging passage, as it compels us to consider the value of the kingdom of God in our lives. While believers generally agree that Jesus does not command us to promptly liquidate our possessions for the sake of His kingdom, we know that He does command us to value His kingdom above all earthly things. In particular, He does command us to place our possessions at His disposal so that He can use them as He sees fit. Now we often respond to this command with alacrity regarding some of our possessions (e.g. tithing, volunteering, donating in the wake of a natural disaster), but we may struggle to place other possessions at His disposal (e.g. car, laptop, office chair). How can we place all of our possessions at His disposal? We need wisdom and strength from Him, as our inclination to short-term thinking causes us to cherish them.