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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.

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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.

Peter’s Confession of Christ May 26, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:13-20.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples travel to Caesarea Philippi. He asks them for the general opinions of men regarding His identity; apparently the public has not come to a consensus on this point.

Then Jesus asks them for their opinion on this point. Peter responds by asserting that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus approves of this assertion and responds by asserting that:

  • Peter will receive all of the divine blessings that His Father can provide
  • He will continue to build His redeemed people on the truth concerning His identity
  • death cannot hold His redeemed people
  • His redeemed people have the authority to declare His Father’s assessment of the actions of others.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter asserts the divinity of Christ. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

People forget that it is a widely different thing to believe in Christ’s divine mission when we dwell amid professing Christians, and to believe in it when we dwell amid hardened and unbelieving Jews. The glory of Peter’s confession lies in this, that he made it when few were with Christ and many against him. He made it when the rulers of his own nation, the scribes, priests and Pharisees, were all opposed to his Master…

This passage reminds us that Peter, for all his faults, said – and did – many things to advance the kingdom of God. Now we know that we express our faith among other believers with alacrity; for example, we passionately express our trust in Christ when we sing praise songs during our worship services. Yet this raises the following question: should we passionately express our trust in Christ when we interact with nonbelievers? On a related note, if (or when) we are plagued with doubts about honoring Christ in a secular setting, can we still advance His kingdom in such instances? Many of us are averse to conflict; moreover, even if we welcome it, we can sin in the midst of it by attempting to elevate ourselves above others. Truly we need His grace to live wisely among those who do not share our trust in Him.

The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees May 25, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:5-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples return to the Decapolis. The disciples have failed to make arrangements in terms of food – and Jesus uses this opportunity to exhort them to shift their focus from physical needs to spiritual needs. In particular, they must shun the evil influence of the external religion of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples fail to comprehend this exhortation; thus, He reminds them of two instances where He met their physical needs. In light of this, they should focus on spiritual needs.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus exhorts His disciples to reject the words and deeds of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Some want to add to the Gospel, and some want to take away from it; some would bury it and some would pare it down to nothing; some would stifle it by heaping on additions, and some would bleed it to death by subtraction from its truths. Both parties agree only in one respect: both would kill and destroy the life of Christianity if they succeeded in having their own way. Against both errors let us watch and pray.

Of course, one must determine the entirety of the Gospel to answer the following question: are others attempting to add to it or subtract from it, and if so, how? I would assert that the Five Solas constitute the entirety of the Gospel, but that is debatable (e.g. the phrases “grace alone” and “faith alone” often yield divisions between Catholics and Protestants). Some may advance arguments that are clearly heretical (e.g. they deny the dual nature of Christ), but others may advance arguments that are difficult to assess (e.g. they believe that the Holy Spirit still dispenses charismatic gifts). Truly we need God’s guidance in:

  • making our best effort to discern truth from error
  • placing unresolved issues in His hands.

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.

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?