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The Parable of the Wedding Banquet August 12, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 22:1-14.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a king who hosts a wedding feast for his son. He sends his servants to those whom he has already invited to inform them that it is time for the feast – but they are unconcerned with his request. Some of them head to their farms and businesses, while others murder his servants. Enraged, he sends his troops to destroy them.

He then commands his servants to go to the crossroads and invite anyone they find to the feast, and they respond accordingly.

Later, he observes that one of his guests is not wearing the proper garments. He queries this guest on this point, but this guest has no excuse for his action. Thus, he orders his servants to permanently expel this guest.

Similarly, while God has invited many to enter His kingdom, He has only chosen a few to accept His invitation.

Thoughts: We see that many of the guests whom the king initially invited to the wedding feast subsequently reject that invitation. While I have declined wedding invitations in the past, I believe that my reasons for declining them were valid (e.g. I had already accepted an invitation to another wedding on that day). Indeed, the notion of declining a wedding invitation for a relatively frivolous reason is almost unfathomable; if I had extended an invitation in that instance, I would have been insulted. Perhaps this bolsters the king’s rationale for destroying the guests in this parable – and God’s rationale for punishing the Jews who had rejected the Gospel message.

We also see that the king in this parable expels a guest for his improper attire. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

So long as a man claims to submit to the Gospel, and lives an outwardly correct life, we dare not say positively that he is not clothed in the righteousness of Christ. But there will be no deception at the last day: the unerring eye of God will discern who are his own people, and who are not…It will avail the hypocrite nothing that he…had the human reputation of being an eminent Christian.

My understanding is that no believer can be completely certain – in this life – as to whether they are actually “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” We may have faith that this is the case – and that our words and deeds support that belief. Yet only God knows for certain whether we have truly put on His righteousness. Given this unavoidable state of uncertainty, how can we live victoriously? Perhaps we would do well to consider the fact that uncertainty is inherent to faith. Instead of being paralyzed by uncertainty, we should embrace it and aim to thrive in it, trusting that He will enable us to grow closer to Him in the process.


The Parable of the Tenants August 11, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:33-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a man who owns an estate. This estate owner decides to plant a vineyard in a portion of his land; he later protects it, digs a winepress and builds a tower. He then leases it out to some tenant farmers and goes abroad. At harvest time, he sends his servants to receive his portion of the crop.

Yet his tenants scourge one of his servants, murder another, and stone a third to death. He sends other servants to his tenants – yet they also treat them harshly. Finally, he sends his son to his tenants, assuming that they would be ashamed of treating him harshly.

Yet his tenants plan – and execute – the murder of his son.

When prompted by Jesus, the Jewish leaders assert that this estate owner will:

  • punish his tenants in a devastating manner
  • lease his vineyard to other tenants.

Jesus responds by concluding that they have fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 118:22-23. They have rejected Him, just as the tenants in this parable have rejected the son of the estate owner. Thus, they will be broken to pieces, as they have tried to harm Him. Moreover, God will take His kingdom from them and give it to His church.

Thoughts: Here, an estate owner sends a group of servants to his tenants to collect his portion of the harvest – even though his tenants had killed at least two of his servants on a previous occasion. When I read this passage, I was bewildered by his decision. After that initial act of violence, why did he fail to summon armed guards to evict his tenants? Was he unaware of the fact that his servants had been killed? Did he view this initial act of violence as a mere fluke? Did he assume that his tenants were ready to confess their sins? One thought is that he was presenting his tenants with a choice: they could either 1) reform their ways or 2) persist in their sinfulness. When they selected the latter option, they actually provided further justification for his decision to evict them from his land – and lease it to others.

We also see that those who try to harm Christ will either 1) stumble over Him or 2) be broken to pieces. As modern-day believers, we know that the false doctrine of many cults consists of an incorrect view of His Person and work; thus, He will “crush” these cult members. Yet this passage should also challenge us; do we also “stumble over” Him? For example, when we hear His calling to “love your enemies” and “do not judge others,” can we actually obey Him in this regard? Perhaps we are in danger of “stumbling over” Him; if this is the case, then we need to approach this passage with humility, asking Him to truly – and painfully – cleanse us.

The Parable of the Two Sons August 5, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:28-32.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a father who asks his two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son initially rejects this request – yet he subsequently goes to the vineyard. The second son initially accepts this request – yet he never goes to the vineyard.

When the Jewish leaders assert that only the first son obeyed his father, Jesus declares that they are like the second son; while they declare their obedience to God, they fail to obey Him. In contrast, the rebels of society are like the first son; while they initially reject God, they will subsequently obey Him.

This point is borne out in the diametrically opposed responses of these two groups to the righteous words and deeds of John the Baptist.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus condemns the Jewish leaders for their hypocrisy, as their outward profession of faith is invalidated by their inward sinfulness. After I read through this passage, I believe that I can identify with the second son in this parable, at least to some extent. I regularly declare that I will obey God, especially when I sing praise songs in church on Sundays. Yet during these worship services, I tend to mull over the song lyrics, wondering if my deeds – especially during the rest of the week – match my words. In those moments, I sense that I cannot achieve a desired level of consistency between my words and my deeds. Perhaps I should be encouraged by the fact that I am aware of my shortcomings in this regard, as I am humbled by them – enabling God to work through my weaknesses.

The Authority of Jesus Questioned August 4, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:23-27.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to the temple and preaches the Gospel message. There, He is confronted by the Jewish leaders, who question Him regarding His authority to preach.

He responds by querying them regarding the origin of the ministry of John the Baptist. The Jewish leaders then engage in a continuous discussion, noting that:

  • if they acknowledge that John was commissioned by God, then He would probe them on their failure to acknowledge this point during John’s ministry
  • if they assert that John was not commissioned by God, then the people would reject them.

Thus, they refuse to answer His query – and so He refuses to answer their query.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders with an incisive query. This passage furnishes yet another example of Jesus’ strategy of asking questions to reveal the thoughts and attitudes of others. Indeed, the questions that He poses during His ministry are probing – and relevant for modern-day believers. For example:

  • do we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ?
  • can we endure the suffering that He endured in this life?
  • can we refer to ourselves as His mother and brothers?

While these questions are challenging, we must confront them; if we can answer them in the affirmative, then we are confident that we belong to Him.

The Fig Tree Withers August 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:18-22.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to Jerusalem. He is very hungry and sees a fig tree – yet it is diseased and fruitless. He curses it – and it immediately dies.

His disciples marvel at this turn of events; He states that just as He has displayed His power by causing that fig tree to die, they can display His power – if they trust in the revelation of God and petition Him.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus curses a fruitless fig tree. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Finally, is not everyone who claims to be a Christian but does not bear fruit, in awful danger of becoming a withered fig-tree? There can be no doubt of it. So long as a person is content with the mere leaves of religion – with a reputation for being alive while he is dead, and a form of godliness without the power – so long his soul is in great peril.

When I read passages that condemn those who do not bear fruit, I often think of other believers, wondering if they are actually withered fig-trees. Yet I fail to assess my walk with God; indeed, I merely assume that I am bearing fruit. Thus, this passage challenges me with this simple question: am I bearing fruit? Am I bringing glory to Him through my words and deeds? I believe that I am bearing fruit, but I could be wrong on that point. One thought is that as long as I continue to wrestle with the weaknesses in my walk with Him (e.g. failing to love other believers who may have offended me), He can enable me to bear fruit through those struggles. Indeed, I believe that my willingness to wrestle with those weaknesses reflects my dependence on Him – which is pleasing in His sight.

Jesus at the Temple July 29, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:12-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus enters the temple and throws out:

  • all who are working with the priests to extort the people
  • makers of small change.

Since they have fulfilled a prophecy in Jeremiah 7:11, He must fulfill a prophecy in Isaiah 56:7.

He then shows compassion to those who suffer, and young boys worship Him. While the chief priests and the scribes are furious, He asserts that this act of worship fulfills a prophecy in Psalm 8:2.

Thoughts: Here, the chief priests and the scribes respond to Jesus’ acts of compassion with anger. When I read this passage, I immediately judged them for their response, as I failed to comprehend it. Upon further reflection, I determined that their response stemmed from their spiritual arrogance; they viewed Jesus as a lunatic from Nazareth (not Jerusalem) who had not been divinely commissioned by God, as He promoted heresies. On a related note, as modern-day believers, we must not allow our biases to impact our response to God and His genuine work in the world. For example, believers in First World countries should not immediately dismiss accounts of miracles in Third World countries. Instead, we should ask Him for discernment in assessing their veracity – and the strength to praise Him even if we cannot reach a firm conclusion on that point.

The Triumphal Entry July 28, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus dispatches two of His disciples to Bethphage, stating that they will find a donkey and its colt that have not been ridden. They should bring the donkey and its colt to Him.

The disciples comply with His command – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. They then place their outer robes on both animals; He sits on the colt, and the donkey leads them into Jerusalem.

They are joined by a massive crowd, who celebrate and cry out for salvation; they reference Psalm 118:26 in their declaration that He is their political Messiah.

Thoughts: Here, we learn that Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem fulfills a prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

It appears that this prediction was literally and exactly fulfilled. The words which the prophet spoke through the Holy Spirit were not accomplished in a merely figurative way: as he said, so it came to pass; as he foretold, so it was done. Five hundred and fifty years had passed away since the prediction was made – and then, when the appointed time arrived, the long-promised Messiah did literally ride into Zion “on a donkey.”

We should marvel at the fact that God – through His sovereignty, omniscience, omnipotence, and faithfulness – fulfilled this prophecy to the letter. That being said, how can we draw strength and encouragement from this passage, given that almost two thousand years have elapsed since the ascension of Christ? In particular, does His promise of His Second Coming resonate with us? Can we maintain our confidence in Him as we anticipate a sign that He will fulfill that specific promise? Can the mockery of nonbelievers – who reject that specific promise – spur us toward renewed faithfulness as we anticipate the denouement of His plan of salvation?

We see that a massive crowd declares that Jesus of Nazareth is their political Messiah. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Of all the admiring crowds who thronged round our Lord as he entered Jerusalem, none stood by him when he was delivered into the hands of wicked men…this is a proof of the utter folly of thinking more of human praise than the praise of God. Nothing in truth is so fickle and uncertain as popularity: it is here today and gone tomorrow…

When I read this passage, I dismissed the crowd’s reaction to Jesus, knowing that they would soon reject Him as their political Messiah and even demand His crucifixion. That being said, I believe that if I had been in Jerusalem at that time, I would have also proclaimed Him as my political Messiah. Indeed, we cannot look past that which is temporal without the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit. We need His assistance to understand the true identity of Christ; that is easier said than done, as even modern-day believers, who have access to a plethora of resources on this topic, wrestle with the nature of His Person and work.

Two Blind Men Receive Sight July 21, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 20:29-34.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus has completed His ministry in Peraea and is heading to Jerusalem. Two blind beggars scream at Him – acknowledging Him as the Messiah and beseeching Him to have mercy on them. He feels their pain – and restores their sight. They respond to this miracle by praising God.

Thoughts: Here, two blind men acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Such faith may well put us to shame. With all our books of evidence, lives of saints and libraries of divinity, how few know anything of simple, child-like confidence in Christ’s mercy and Christ’s power. Even among believers, the degree of faith is often strangely disproportionate to the privileges enjoyed. Many an unlearned man who can only read his New Testament with difficulty possesses the spirit of unhesitating trust in Christ’s advocacy, while deeply-read divines are harassed by questionings and doubts.

Ryle’s insights resonate with me, as I often struggle to display “simple, child-like confidence” in Christ. While I am grateful for the opportunities that God has granted me to delve into apologetics, I have found that wrestling with difficult questions can elicit doubts concerning God’s existence and/or faithfulness. God has given us the ability to think and reason, yet these faculties can be misused. Perhaps this points to the essence of our Christian faith; by stating that abductive reasoning leads us to God, one admits the existence of alternate explanations for our observations. Moreover, even “deeply-read divines” cannot rule out these alternate explanations until the next life. That being said, God still calls – and enables – us to thrive in this temporal state of tension.

A Mother’s Request July 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 20:20-28.

Summary: In this passage, James, John and their mother ask Jesus for the chief place in the kingdom of God. Jesus asserts that they do not comprehend the nature of their request – as that place is reserved for those whose suffering is comparable to His own.

This request later fuels a dispute among Jesus’ disciples. He addresses this dispute by asserting that while world leaders lord it over their subjects, they must not lord it over others. Indeed, those who desire the chief place in the kingdom of God must be willing to:

  • perform menial service
  • be the bondslaves of their brethren.

This stems from the fact that He has been given in exchange for all believers.

Thoughts: Here, James, John and their mother angle for a high rank in the kingdom of God. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

But do we never commit the same mistake that the sons of Zebedee committed? Do we never fall into their error, and make thoughtless, inconsiderate requests? Do we not often say things in prayer without “counting the cost,” and ask for things to be granted to us without reflecting how much our supplications involve? These are heart-searching questions; it may well be that many of us cannot give them a satisfactory answer.

This is an interesting point; I have my heart’s desires, and I regularly express them to God in my prayers. Yet I fail to consider the full implications of my requests; I can envision their benefits, but I am ignorant of their drawbacks. Perhaps this stems from the fact that I am a finite, flawed human being with limited understanding. In contrast, God is infinite, perfect and omniscient; He considers the full implications of our requests. In light of this fact, perhaps we should pray with humility; we should acknowledge our inability to thoroughly evaluate our requests, and we should ask God for His wisdom and strength in the event that He grants our requests.

Jesus Again Predicts His Death July 15, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 20:17-19.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins His long ascent from Jericho to Jerusalem. He tells His disciples that He will:

  • be betrayed to the Jewish hereditary aristocracy and the scribes
  • be condemned to death
  • be placed in the hands of the Romans to be humiliated, scourged and crucified
  • conquer death after three days.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus repeats – and elaborates – His prediction of His death. I anticipate meeting His disciples in the next life and learning about their reactions to His statements in this passage. Did they comprehend any facet of His prediction? Was their judgment clouded by their vision of Him as their political Messiah? Did they attempt to refute His prediction, asserting that no tragedy would befall him? How did Judas Iscariot react when Jesus referenced betrayal in this passage? Did the other disciples believe that they could betray their Master? Did they recall any of His previous miracles when He referenced His resurrection?