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The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast April 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:31-35.

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

  • a mustard seed; while it is the smallest of all edible seeds, it can grow to a height of fifteen feet. Similarly, while His kingdom is small at its inception, it will be very large at His Second Coming, sheltering and protecting many nations.
  • yeast; a piece of sour, fermented dough spreads throughout a large batch of dough, causing it to rise and improving its taste. Similarly, His kingdom spreads throughout the world and improves it.

He reiterates that those who reject Him will become more perplexed regarding His kingdom – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Psalm 78:2.

Thoughts: As believers, we can draw strength from this passage as we help advance God’s kingdom in this world. Though our efforts often appear insignificant, this passage reminds us that God is working through us to achieve His purposes. Each of us can:

  • nurture “the mustard seed” as it grows to a great height
  • cause “the large batch of dough” to rise and become more flavorful.

Thus, we must continue to serve faithfully, trusting that He will utilize our gifts and abilities to bear good fruit in His timing.

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The Parable of the Weeds April 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:24-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells another parable about a man who sows good seed in his field. Yet his enemy arrives at night and oversows his field with bastard wheat. His servants are taken aback upon their discovery of the bastard wheat, and they ask him if they should uproot it. He notes that good wheat might also be uprooted in the process. Instead, it would be better for them to wait for the harvest, when his reapers will:

  • burn the bastard wheat
  • gather the good wheat to his barn.

Thoughts: Jesus explicates this parable in Matthew 13:36-43, so I will defer my thoughts on this passage until the corresponding blog post.

The Parable of the Sower April 8, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:1-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus sits in a fishing boat by the sea and presents several riddles to a crowd. He begins by telling them a parable about a sower whose seed lands in the following places:

  • hard, beaten paths – where it is snatched up by birds
  • soil that lies on top of limestone rock – where plants die because their roots cannot penetrate the rock to access water
  • soil that contains weeds – where plants die because their roots must compete those of the weeds for moisture and sunlight
  • soil that is deep and clean – where plants grow abundantly.

He then informs His disciples that He tells parables because parables enable those who:

  • accept Him – including His disciples – to attain a deeper understanding of His kingdom
  • reject Him to become more perplexed regarding His kingdom – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 6:9-10.

He then explains the parable about a sower to His disciples, asserting that the sower represents those who preach the Gospel message. Moreover, when the Gospel message is preached to those who:

  • reject it, Satan causes it to have no impact on them
  • respond with exuberance, they later fall away due to trouble and persecution
  • are occupied by worldly things, these worldly affections prevent them from praising God
  • accept it and genuinely repent of their sins, they will praise God.

Thoughts: In verses 16 and 17, we see that Jesus pronounces the disciples “blessed” as they are able to hear directly from Him. In some sense, I envy this privilege of His disciples. The “prophets and righteous people” whom Jesus references looked forward to the day when the people of God could hear directly from the Messiah – instead of hearing indirectly from Him through their words. We, as modern-day believers, look backward to Jesus’ earthly ministry. While Jesus has spoken to us through the human authors of Scripture, we know that it would be better to see Him and hear His voice. Perhaps this should spur us to long for the Second Coming when we will see Him with our own eyes and hear Him with our own ears.

Verse 23 shows that the one who “understands” the Gospel message will praise God with their lives. When I read this passage, I pondered the following question: what does it mean for a believer to understand the Gospel message? Perhaps one should consider the connection between the four potential responses to the Gospel message that Jesus describes in this passage. In order to understand it, we should be cognizant of the following facts:

  • Satan is still active in this world
  • believers experience trouble and persecution
  • worldly things distract believers from praising God.

I believe that “understanding” the Gospel message implies receiving it in humility in light of these facts. We must calmly and soberly respond to the Gospel message, trusting that God will empower us to praise Him with our lives. Indeed, we bear fruit by facing these facts and overcoming them on a daily basis by His wisdom and strength.

As a believer who grew up in a Christian home, I have attended church for many years and listened to countless sermons. Based on my experiences, I believe that those who have studied the Scriptures for many years readily grasp the main point of an arbitrary sermon. Yet it appears that at least some of those whom Jesus addressed in this passage did not grasp the main point of the parable of the sower. This raises the following questions:

  • Did any of them ponder the meaning of this parable?
  • Did the Holy Spirit enlighten any of them in this regard?
  • Did any of them immediately forget it, dismissing it as a mere riddle?
  • Did the Pharisees and teachers of the law pressure any of them to ignore it?

I hope to meet at least some of them in the next life and learn how they initially responded to this parable.

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers April 7, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:46-50.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus is informed that His mother and half-brothers are waiting to speak with Him. He responds by declaring the primacy of spiritual bonds over earthly bonds, as those who are spiritually bonded to Him obey His Father.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus stresses the importance of spiritual relationships. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Who can conceive the depth of our dear Lord’s love towards his blood relatives? It was a pure, unselfish love. It must have been a mighty love, a love that passes man’s understanding. Yet here we see that all his believing people are counted as his relatives: he loves them, feels for them, cares for them as members of his family, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.

When we sense that we are fulfilling God’s will in our lives, we can draw strength from this passage. Indeed, we know that He delights in our submission to His will. Moreover, He enables us to sense His delight and to share in it. We know that fulfilling His will in our lives can be wearying; thus, whenever we experience weariness, we can return to this passage and experience His pleasure in our efforts, knowing that He will not forsake those whose lives reflect their eternal bond to Him.

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.

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.