A Mixed Reception – Matthew 13:54-14:36

As we arrive at chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, it becomes increasingly clear that Jesus’ ministry is becoming more focused on His disciples while He is increasingly opposed by the religious Jewish leaders. This polarized response is evidently growing through chapters 11-12. But the progressive polarization to Jesus is not perfect, as we find even the disciples’ have misunderstandings, and we see their faith failing at times.

Surprisingly some of the most faithless responses come from those closest to Him; while the most faithful responses come from Gentiles. In this section we also see the disciples’ strengths and weaknesses set against Christ’s goodness, glory and grace toward them. All of this continues as the shadow of His suffering and crucifixion looms; this text has been referred to as a “pre-passion story.”

Having concluded the parabolic discourse of chapter 13, now the parables become history as we will look at five narratives – Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth (13:53-58), the beheading of John (14:1-12), the feeding of the 5000 (14:13-21), walking on water (14:22-33), and healing in Gennesaret (14:34-36). In these narratives we will find a mixed reception on the part of different people which occurs any time a people are confronted with Jesus Christ. As the parable of the sower has just illustrated (13:1-9), some people despise and reject the gospel (the seed that falls on the path), and some embrace and believe (the fourth, fertile soil).

In the next section of Matthew’s Gospel (13:53-16:20), Jesus will give an explicit and definitive answer as to the questions that people have about His identity and mission. The culmination of this revelation occurs in Matthew 16:13-20 where Matthew strikingly concludes the section with Peter’s triumphant confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). But before this moment, Matthew introduces this section by contrasting the people’s rejection of Jesus and John the Baptist, based upon mistaken assessments as to their identity (13:53-14:12). While the responses of Herod’s beheading of John and Jesus’ rejection by his hometown can be likened to the seed that falls on the path, it is the surprising response of those “outsiders” of Gennesaret of absolute acceptance, that provides an historic fulfillment of the receptive fertile soil of the parable. Those who despise and reject Christ usually do so based on a misunderstanding of the nature of His Person and work (an incorrect Christology); alternatively, when people receive Christ, it is because He has revealed His true nature to them.

 

 

Advertisements

Prepare to Meet the Lord – Exodus 19:9-15

The LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.” Then Moses told the words of the people to the LORD.

The LORD also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. He said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” (Exodus 19:9-15)

The people of Israel are about to meet their God on Mount Zion. He instructs Israel on what they need to do and how they are to prepare for this event. They are to prepare to meet and hear from the Lord face to face. In three days time the Lord’s glory will be manifested on the mountain before their eyes. Please meditate on our text in Exodus 19:9-15 this week. Are you prepared to meet the Lord of all, the King of kings, the one who was, and is, and is to come? It’s a sobering thought to think the very next moment in our lives could be the last moment here in on earth and our lives in the present. The Israelites are about to meet their God, and at any moment we are all about to meet Him also. May you and I be ready for that great and awesome day.

Faith is the Victory – 1 John 5:1-5

“And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.” (1 John 5:4b ESV)

As the Apostle John winds up his letter, he develops a climax that ties together the integral parts of his exhortation. Remember, the purpose of the book is to help believers know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Also, recall that the way in which believers will attain this assurance can be divided into two categories: the objective foundation and the subjective evidences. The objective foundation is centered in Jesus Christ; Christ alone is the sum and source of our salvation and all of our doubts ought to be brought into submission to his nature, love, and authority. The subjective evidences involve a desire to love the brethren and obey God’s commands. How do these two strands of the cord of assurance connect? By faith.

For a sinner to receive the forgiveness that is offered in Christ alone, he must believe the gospel by faith. For a believer to find assurance that he indeed is a child of God, he must look to Christ by faith. For a child of God to desire to obey God’s commands, he must rely on God by faith. For believers to obey God’s command to love one another, they must deny themselves by faith.

Seeing faith as the connection between love and obedience puts the First Epistle of John into a more clear perspective. When John says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” he is not saying a mere mental assent to the facts of Jesus’ life assures someone of salvation. Rather, when we see saving, living faith as that which involves new desires to obey God and to love the brethren, then “faith” is a complete package, a beautiful picture of a redeemed life.

This kind of faith overcomes the world. The world that is hostile to the gospel, that would desire to call us away from God, that stands in opposition to everything offered by God, cannot have victory over the child of God. No, the victory belongs to God’s people, who are given all they need to overcome the world through Christ by faith.

Test the Spirits – 1 John 4:1-6

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1 ESV)

In 1 John chapter 4, we see John’s pastoral heart poured out toward his readers once again. As he considers once more the circumstances that compete for their assurance of salvation, the Apostle writes to his “beloved” friends not to believe every spirit. Rather, they ought to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1).

Why must these first-century Christians be on guard continually? “For many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1). This brutal fact signifies the call for these believers, and every believer, to remain steadfastly committed to the truth and to exercise God-given discernment when dealing with teaching. Like the Bereans mentioned in the Book of Acts, Christians ought to “search the scriptures to see if these things are so.” Everything we hear and everyone we hear from must be filtered through the ultimate authority, God’s Word.

At the time this epistle was written, a major false teaching centered around the nature of Jesus Christ. Some apostates denied that Christ had literally come in the flesh. John assures his readers that such people are “not from God” but rather have the “spirit of antichrist.”

It seems that today, heresies have multiplied by a thousand. Walk into a religious bookstore and you may find dozens of more false teachings concerning Christ, or the Bible, or the Holy Spirit, or any other Christian teaching. Though this may be a discouraging reality, our marching orders stay the same: test the spirits!

If you feel as though you are swimming in an ocean of false teaching, concerned about whether what you believe is true or not, recall John’s encouragement to his original audience: “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” If you abide in God and study his word, the Spirit of God will reveal the truth to you, and you will be able to have real, tangible truths against which you can discern error. God has given us what we need to stay in the truth, and no matter who or what attempts to steal us away, remember – he is greater!

A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation – Exodus 19:1-8

In Exodus 2 the Lord heard the groanings of His people and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While Moses was in the wilderness, he had an encounter with the Lord on the Mountain of God. There the Lord told Moses He would deliver the people from Egypt and promised Moses, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain(3:12). The Lord foretold this and it’s coming to pass in our text in chapter 19.

The Lord had made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now He makes a covenant with all of the people of Israel as a nation. This is what we call the Old Covenant or the Law of Moses. Chapter 19 begins as Israel is camped at the base of the mountain of God, or Mount Sinai. We are treading on holy ground as we enter our text. All Scripture is God-breathed, but some texts are weightier than others, and this is one of the weightiest texts in Exodus and possibly all of the Old Testament. May we approach our text on bended knee as we marvel at the awesomeness and power of the Lord.

At such an important moment Moses records the very day they arrived at the mountain, in the third month. Moses, the Lord’s mediator, goes up the mountain in verse 4, and God speaks to him. First, the Lord, Yahweh, identifies that He is the one speaking. Second, the Lord reminds Israel of what He had done for them. He destroyed their enemies and brought them here as an eagle cares for her young. But third, the Lord adds a condition, sometimes referred to as a conditional covenant. The Lord says, “if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The people reply, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

This is a continuation of the covenant the Lord had made with Abraham. Throughout the Old Testament, we see that Israel failed to keep the Mosaic covenant. This covenant will show Israel they can never keep the Law fully, and it will drive many to the Lord for salvation, as evidence of the Lord’s faithfulness to His covenant and to His elect.

 

Parables 3: The Treasure – Matthew 13:44-53

The seven parables of the kingdom in this, Jesus’ third discourse in the Gospel of Matthew, have taught us what the inaugurated kingdom of heaven in this present world is like, while at the same time directing us to a future kingdom. In each of these parables Jesus is bringing forth a new and relevant teaching grounded in an old concept. He is illustrating what He taught in precept in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you.” Jesus is the church’s one curriculum, but He is taught in the shadows of the Old Testament and revealed in the light of the New; however, both are needed to gain a full understanding of His person and work. (See Matthew 13:51-53).

Next Sunday we will study the final three parables of chapter 13, which we will discover are all related. The treasure parables (13:44-46) set our gaze upon Jesus Christ as the “Pearl of Great Price” – the kingdom’s treasure – who motivates us to leave everything of earth behind in order to embrace and follow Him. The net parable (13:47-50) is a sober reminder that not everyone will see the value of the Pearl and preferring the treasure of earth, in the end will receive the judgment that their selfish evil life acquired for them.

All seven parables help us to know specifically what we are to pray for when we pray “Your kingdom come.” The parable of the sower leads us to pray for the Word to be sown in fertile hearts all over the world. The parable of the weeds directs us to pray for the perseverance of God’s people living in an ungodly and evil world. The little seed parables turn us to pray for those small gospel efforts that we know will produce great fruit. The treasure parables directs our gaze upon the unsurpassing value of knowing Christ and how the joy we have in His grace leads us to the abandonment of all else; and finally the net parable focuses us on the seriousness of a future judgment. When the Lord instructed us to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come,” He is directing us to pray for all of these kingdom realities to be manifested in the world now, and in the eternal future.

Heart and Spirit – 1 John 3:19-24

“. . .for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20)

The Apostle John, apparently ignorant of the moral of most Disney movies, does not trust the human heart as a faithful guide to truth. In fact, he sees the heart as in need of reassurance and as a possible source of condemnation. These realities are in keeping with what Jeremiah the prophet said about the heart – that it is “desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Whether through John or Jeremiah or another human mouthpiece, God’s testimony about the heart is clear – if you want to discover truth, do not look within your heart, look outside of yourself. True, Christians have been regenerated and our hearts are being renewed, but even as believers, we are to base our confidence in God, who knows all things, and not in our hearts, which still lie to us from time to time.

Many of us can relate to this struggle. Our hearts condemn us. Sometimes we bear the guilt and shame of sin and forget the promise that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Romans 5:1). Sometimes our hearts are cold and seem to lack a connection to God. There are mornings when true, blood-bought, born-again sons and daughters of the Most High just . . . don’t feel saved when they arise.

Thank God our salvation is not based on the shifting sands of our emotions, but on the solid rock of Jesus Christ! Your heart may condemn you, but God is greater than your heart (v20). If we believe on Christ, love one another, and follow his commands, the Spirit of God will testify to us that we indeed are born of God.

Next week, we’ll continue looking at what God says about the assurance of our salvation. We’ll cover 1 John 3:19-24 – six ancient verses of scripture that today’s Christian will certainly resonate with. No matter what generation we live in or what season of our journey we walk in, we will always find that our heart will lead us away from truth. May the Lord use this passage to give us greater confidence and to redirect us to himself when we are tempted to follow our feelings.