Matthew 21

This chapter finds Jesus on the outskirts of Jerusalem, early on a Sunday morning. His single-minded purpose — to go to Jerusalem to be killed for your sins — is what has driven Him here.

Huge crowds lined the way as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. The crowd didn’t miss the symbolism:

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humbled and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Jesus rode in like a king and received a king’s welcome. He apparently went directly to the Temple, abruptly overturning the currency exchange desks and (if you read it carefully) dumping the merchants out of their chairs. In explosive passion for the Temple, he was reacting to the way that business had replaced prayer in God’s house.

Let’s settle the issue of Jesus’ behavior here: what He did was not unkind or unjustified. He was not doing something He would have to apologize for. Jesus was right in what He did and how He did it.

I preached on the unusual miracle of the fig tree last night (v.18-22), so I’ll briefly state the clear lesson of it: Jesus can do anything, including rearranging geography. Through our connection with Him, whatever we ask — if we ask believing and without doubt — we will receive. (Of course, our prayers are regulated by the sovereign will of God, 1 John 5:14.)

The wonderful wisdom of Jesus is never clearer than when He “stumps” the religious leaders (v.23-27) and then condemns them with His parables. In the first one (v.28-32, which I call “The Parable of the Mind-Changers”), Jesus condemns the religious leaders for failing to believe John’s message of repentance (v.25).

In the parable of verses 33-46 (which I call “Farmers Gone Wild”), Jesus condemns them for rejecting Him. They got the point — it stung. They were not going to let Jesus get away with it (v.45-46).

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Matthew 17

The transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most amazing stories in the Bible. It is the most significant event in the earthly ministry of Jesus between His birth and crucifixion.

On “a high mountain” (probably Mt. Hermon), in full view of Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ appearance was dramatically altered. “Transfigured” (v.2) means a metamorphosis occurred, a change in form.

The glorious divine nature of Jesus, which was concealed within His human flesh was allowed — for a few brief moments — to shine through. The scene in verse 2 reminds me of John’s later vision of Jesus in Revelation 1:14-16. (He fainted that time, too.)

For the rest of their lives, these disciples would look back to that moment as undeniable proof that Jesus was not just godly. He was not just a reflection of God. But He was God Himself!

In verses 14-20 Jesus demonstrated His power over demons. With a simple “rebuke” the Son of God expelled the demon and instantly healed the boy. The disciples had tried to do it, but they had failed. Their faith was too small for the task.

The final section of this chapter (v.24-27) records the familiar story of Peter paying his taxes (and Jesus’ too) with a coin miraculously found in a fish. The teaching that is often overlooked here is not necessarily that Jesus paid His taxes or that He could make coins appear in fish.

I believe the point of the story is that Jesus could have exempted Himself from paying any taxes. After all, as King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus owns everything and He is in charge of everything. But (v.27) He was willing to lay aside His right as God so that He would not “offend” the very people He was trying to reach.

There is a lesson for us here: Jesus endured things He didn’t have to endure, and He submitted Himself to authorities that had no authority over Him. Why? For the sake of the gospel. He wanted people to hear His saving message.

For the sake of the gospel we don’t offend, we don’t demand our rights, and we don’t trample on people’s feelings as we follow Jesus. True disciples don’t create obstacles for people to get to Jesus, we remove them.

Matthew 13

Jesus was a storyteller. Did you know that one-third of the recorded words of Jesus are in story form? He told stories all the time. Jesus called His stories “parables” and verse 3 says, “He told them many things in parables.” Verse 34 records, “Indeed, He said nothing to them without a parable.”

What is a parable? A parable is a fictional but true-to-life story that teaches a specific spiritual lesson. “Parable” means “something laid alongside.” Jesus would lay out a scenario, something familiar that people could relate to. Then He would lay alongside it some spiritual truth. So a parable builds a bridge of understanding from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

A parable is not like a Shakespearean play, which may teach something about human nature. It is not like one of Aesop’s fables, which may teach a moral lesson. A parable teaches us about the Kingdom of God.

In verses 11-17 Jesus answered a question from His disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” His answer reveals three reasons. First, Jesus used parables to coach His disciples. He would tell a parable to a crowd and let His disciples chew on it. Then when they were alone He would explain the meaning. Every farmer knows that you have to plow the ground before you can plant the seed. Parables plow the ground.

Second, Jesus used parables to confuse His opponents. When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a trick question, He would often answer with a parable that would send them away scratching their heads, confused and confounded. Jesus was not going to share His family secrets (v.11) with those who hated Him.

Third, Jesus told parables to challenge the uncommitted. Parables make you think. They stick in your mind and sit there begging to be interpreted. They challenge those who are riding the fence to make a decision.

When I read a parable, I try to find myself in it and I try to find Jesus in it. Am I weed or wheat? Am I stony soil or fertile soil? Am I a good fish or a bad fish? Is Jesus the seed, the sower, the priceless pearl, the hidden treasure?

I hope you enjoyed the parables of this chapter today. Meditate on them. Jesus will reveal the meaning to His disciples: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven” (v.11).

Matthew 7

This chapter begins with the most-quoted, most-misunderstood saying of Jesus: “Don’t judge.” The issue He addresses is the hypocrisy of ignoring my own faults while mercilessly picking on others, jumping on their failures, and criticizing their mistakes.

Jesus is not saying that I have to endorse and embrace the sins of others. He is not saying that I can’t discern between good and evil, truth and lies. According to verses 15-20, disciples of Jesus are supposed to pay attention to the “fruit” in a person’s life that reveals their heart. The point of Jesus’ command against judging seems to be that I should not see myself as a judge in search of justice — I should see myself as a sinner in need of grace.

The teaching on prayer in verses 7-11 is inspiring, isn’t it? This is an open invitation for us to take our requests, our seeking, and our inquiries to our Heavenly Father, the one who loves to give us good things (v.11). We can approach Him with confidence; He is listening.

“The Golden Rule” (v.12) will revolutionize the way you treat people. Try it today — see what happens!

This chapter (and Jesus’ sermon) ends with a warning and a promise. Verses 21-23 is a final warning against hypocrisy: many people who have been outwardly religious but not inwardly righteous will be surprised to find that they are just as doomed and damned as the most wicked God-hater. In the end, the difference between “lost” and “saved” will not be your record of good deeds, but rather your relationship with Jesus and your obedience to His Father’s will. And what is the Father’s will for you? Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow His Son.

The familiar parable in verses 24-27 is a powerful promise. Jesus said that if I embrace the disciple’s life explained here in His sermon, my life will be rock-solid, able to withstand anything, because Jesus is my firm foundation.

Matthew 6

The disciple’s life is a life of authenticity. Jesus warns against the fake righteousness of “the hypocrites” (v.2), who make a production of their religion so that those who see it — their “audience” — will take notice and praise them.

Jesus taught that His disciples do what they do for an audience of one: their Heavenly Father. He sees what we do in secret (this is mentioned five times in this chapter), and He takes note of it.

This is true of giving to the needy, fasting, and praying. The Heavenly Father knows what we give, whether we are working for some kind of earth-bound reward or a heavenly one.

The Heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask, so a disciple’s prayer is not a well-rehearsed speech recited to impress. Instead, prayer is a secret conversation that acknowledges God’s holiness and power, surrenders to His will, and then trusts Him with the details.

With a God like that that — one who is infinitely trustworthy and listens to our prayers — there is no need for disciples of Jesus to worry or be anxious. The One who orders the natural world and feeds innumerable birds knows our needs and is more than able to meet them. As we press in to know Him and to love Him, He generously adds “all these things” to our lives (v.33).

And that is very comforting news for very troubling times (v.34)!

Matthew 5

BEFORE TODAYS BLOG…If you are following my “Every Day in the Word” reading plan (found here: http://www.fbcsev.org/community/-every-day/ ), you know that we are switching gears today. I hope you enjoy the change of pace as we spend eleven days in the key chapters of Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7 record the great “Sermon on the Mount.” It is one of the most important sections of teaching in the Bible, for in it Jesus spells out how life in His Kingdom will look. It is helpful to view this teaching in context. I believe it is an explanation of how followers of Jesus are to obey the first sermon He preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The Sermon on the Mount describes the life of the person who has turned from sin and has been transformed by the gospel.

Jesus begins the sermon with a list of the kinds of people who are included in His kingdom (v.3-11). I do not see this as a list of things we should strive to attain in order to be considered worthy of “the blessed life” (yes, I know that is not the popular view of the Beatitudes). Rather, I see it as grace unlocking the gates of God’s kingdom and inviting everyone in! It is not just the mercy-givers, the peace-makers, and the pure-hearted that get to be a part — but also the spiritual zeroes, the brokenhearted, the pushed-around, the seekers, and the oppressed!

Once a part of the Kingdom, we are transformed from self-absorbed lovers of comfort to people who live conspicuously righteous lives that make a difference for the glory of God. We become world-changers and difference-makers, like salt which flavors and light that brightens.

In the rest of this lengthy chapter, Jesus gives examples of how to obey the commandments of Scripture. His view was radically different from what His followers had heard — and radically different from how we tend to live.

Jesus interpreted the Law of Moses very broadly. He equated anger with murder and lust with adultery (v.21-28). He called on His followers to deal swiftly and harshly with their own sin (v.29-30). He called for the kind of honesty and truthfulness that doesn’t need to swear in order to be taken seriously (v.33-37).

And Jesus called for some radical changes in our attitudes (v.38-48). These are the verses that challenge me the most and make me most uncomfortable. They are counter-intuitive and unnatural. They can only be obeyed consistently when I am fully surrendered to Jesus.

I will be preaching about these “Extreme Attitudes” at First Baptist Church tomorrow in all three worship services (8:15/10:45 a.m. & 6:30 p.m.). I hope to see you there.

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Genesis 50

At the age of 147, Jacob (Israel) died, surrounded by his twelve sons. He had enjoyed seventeen years of peace in the land of Egypt. I am sure he spent a lot of time catching up with Joseph, who fell on him weeping when he passed. All of Egypt joined the mourning while Jacob’s body was mummified Egyptian-style.

Joseph had promised his father that he would bury him in the family tomb in Canaan. The long funeral procession must have been quite a production: all the adults of Jacob’s family made the trip, along with a large Egyptian entourage and a military escort of horses and chariots. “It was a very great company” (v.9), a fitting send-off for the great father of the Israelite nation.

With their father gone, the older brothers were afraid that Joseph might be preparing the embalming table for them, too. Would he finally get his revenge and kill them? They must not have known Joseph — or his God — very well.

They fell before him, quoting the (probably made-up) dying plea of Jacob that Joseph forgive his brothers. But Joseph had already released them from guilt seventeen years before!

Once again, in a final display of astounding grace, Joseph “comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (v.21). His kind statement in verse 20 has become his epitaph — a one-sentence testimony of one of the greatest men of faith the world has ever known. It needs no comment from me, so I close this blog and our 25-day journey through Genesis with it.

Tomorrow we will fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew to spend eleven days at the feet of Jesus.

But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)