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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 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.

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.

Jesus and John the Baptist March 16, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 11:1-19.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus sends out His twelve disciples. He then addresses the doubts of John the Baptist concerning His identity as the Messiah, asserting that the miracles that He has performed are sufficient proof in that regard.

Next, He reinforces the greatness of John the Baptist, as:

  • large crowds were attracted to his strong convictions
  • he has fulfilled Malachi 3:1
  • his efforts have advanced the kingdom of God.

He concludes by asserting that although many Jews insist on finding fault with Him and John the Baptist, they will be vindicated.

Thoughts: Here, we see that John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus to ascertain His identity as the Messiah. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This question did not arise from doubt or unbelief on the part of John. We do that holy man injustice if we interpret it in such a way. It was asked for the benefit of his disciples: it was meant to give them an opportunity of hearing from Christ’s own lips the evidence of his divine mission.

Now I should note that the other interpretations of this passage that I have read assert that John did have doubts concerning Jesus’ identity; as he languished in prison, he desired 1) reassurance of the impact of his ministry and 2) renewed confidence as he approached the afterlife. Thus, I anticipate meeting John the Baptist in the next life and clarifying this point. Did he entertain genuine doubts concerning Jesus’ identity, or was Ryle’s assertion correct? I also anticipate meeting Ryle and the other commentators on this passage and learning how they arrived at their diverse interpretations of it.

In verses 16-19, we see that the Jews criticized Jesus and John the Baptist for their words and deeds. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

The plain truth is that true believers must not expect unconverted men to be satisfied either with their faith or their practice. If they do, they expect what they will not find. They must be prepared for objections, cavils and excuses, however holy their own lives may be.

This is a challenging point, especially since my tendency is to attempt to please others with my words and deeds. I shun conflicts and desire to ingratiate myself with others. Yet we see that in order to follow Christ, we must establish boundaries and be willing to accept the consequences of not crossing them. Perhaps the discomfort that we experience when others challenge us in this regard is a sign that this life is only temporary; moreover, this discomfort prepares us for a superior eternal destiny. Thus, we can take heart and even (painfully) rejoice in the midst of rejection by those who cavil at our holy words and deeds.

The Baptism of Jesus October 22, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 3:13-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus goes to the Jordan River in order to be baptized by John the Baptist. Although John is baffled by His request – knowing his standing in relation to Jesus – He persuades him to conduct that sacrament. Upon His baptism:

  • God the Spirit rests on Him
  • God the Father declares His approval of Jesus – His Son.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

This was his first step when he entered on his ministry. When the Jewish priests took up their office they were washed with water (Exodus 29:4), and when our great High Priest begins the great work he came into the world to accomplish he is publicly baptized.

Now believers agree that Jesus was not baptized to display repentance, since He never sinned. Thus, Ryle offers a neat perspective on His baptism, as it dovetails with Matthew’s emphasis on the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. I had always assumed that Jesus wanted to model that sacrament for us, since He calls us to observe it – though we display repentance in observing it. Perhaps His actions that day were designed to make multiple points; thus, I hope to query Him on this issue in the next life.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way October 21, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 3:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, John the Baptist proclaims the impending arrival of the kingdom of God – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 40:3. In particular, he calls his compatriots to:

  • repent of their sins
  • display their repentance via baptism in the Jordan River.

When several Pharisees and Sadducees come to observe his ministry, he rebukes them – as they refuse to repent of their sins. While they place their confidence in their Jewish ancestry, he asserts that God requires them to:

  • repent of their sins
  • display their repentance via good deeds.

Moreover, he warns them that the Messiah is coming – and He will judge them based on their repentance, or lack thereof.

Thoughts: Here, we see that when John the Baptist addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees, he makes two references to “fruit.” This is a valuable reminder that good fruit naturally results from the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. In particular, reading this passage spurred me to consider how I can continue to bear good fruit as I continue my walk with God. One thought is that I can bear good fruit in situations where my faith is stretched – i.e., situations where I am not in my comfort zone. My prayer – with great fear and trembling – is that God would continue to place me in these situations and enable me to bear good fruit while experiencing discomfort.

This passage also reminds us that Jesus will judge the world – rewarding those who belong to Him while punishing all others. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

We need to be warned severely that it is no light matter whether we repent or not; we need to be reminded that there is a hell as well as a heaven, and an everlasting punishment for the wicked as well as everlasting life for the godly. We are fearfully apt to forget this. We talk about the love and mercy of God, and we do not remember sufficiently his justice and holiness.

In terms of evangelism, one thought is that nonbelievers reject the love and the justice of God. For example, they may:

  • be offended by the concept of hell
  • respond to a description of His love with difficult questions regarding evil and suffering.

Clearly we must rely on the work of the Holy Spirit – and His assistance in our prayers – when it comes to the salvation of unbelievers.