The Husbandry Parables – Matthew 13:1-43

To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. … This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Matthew 13:11-13

As opposition against Him increased, Jesus spent more and more private time with His disciples. There was an growing polarization in the response to His ministry and teaching. As a result, Jesus turned to His favorite method of teaching, the parable. A parable is a simple story taken from daily life that illustrates a grander truth. At times, the details within the parable could be understood the allegorize a specific truth, but for the most part, parables should be understood as communicating one central ethical or religious truth. What a parable does is call upon the involvement of the hearer to make an interpretation. As such it is an effective way of both, teaching truth to “those with ears to hear,” while at the same time, veiling truth from those who are hard-hearted. The disciples, who have had the mystery revealed to them that Jesus is the Messiah, had the additional privilege of understanding Jesus’ parables; when they did not, they asked for and received an explanation of the parable. For those who are hardened to truth, everything they hear is obscured, and they become a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (6:9-10) about a people whose spiritual faculties were dulled so that they could not understand.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 4, the apostle Paul explains that the Gospel message, which is preached openly and understood by those who have been enlightened by Jesus Christ, is at the same time, veiled to those who have been blinded (4:3-6). As such the Gospel is like a parable in that it can only be grasped by those who have ears to hear. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul explains that Gospel ministers are, at the very same time, a pleasant fragrance to those who are being saved and a stench to those who are perishing (2:14-16), though their message is the same for both audiences.

Next Sunday we will begin to look at Jesus’ parables. We will consider the “husbandry parables,” which deal with agricultural practices of the time. We will begin with the prototype of all parables, “the parable of the sower” (13:1-23), then “the parable of the weeds” (13:24-30, 36-43) and “the parables of the mustard seed and leaven” (13:31-35).

Messiah’s Sign – Matthew 12:38-50

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matt 12:39)

So far in chapter 12 of his Gospel, the apostle Matthew has presented Jesus’ dealings with the religious leaders of His day over two major controversies. First, with regard to the Sabbath, we learned that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, which He demonstrated by healing a man on the Sabbath day. Secondly, with regard to evil spirits, we found Jesus to be Lord of the spirits, which He demonstrated by casting a demon out of a deaf-mute man. In our text, we are confronted with a third controversy as the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign to authenticate His claims.

Jesus sharply rebuked the Pharisees telling them that no sign would be given to them except for the sign of the prophet Jonah. Just what is this “sign of Jonah?” Commentators vary in their opinions as to exactly what this sign is; but what is very clear is that in light of the presence of the Messiah, seeking a sign beyond His Person and work is considered “wicked and adulterous.” Yet sensual people love to live by sight and feeling, and as a result Jesus Christ becomes insufficient, in and of Himself. The more carnal a person is, the more they will be taken in by remarkable or impressive outward signs, and the less likely they will walk by faith in the invisible but Almighty God. In the very life of Jesus, God has opened all the stops, delivered all of His signs, and provided all the proof necessary for us to believe. To seek for heavenly signs such as visions and dreams, or apologetic proofs from science, or “signs of the times,” in patterns of history, the moon or sun, weather, the economy or politics, are all not only insufficient, but may be an indication of infidelity to God’s covenant. For One who is greater than the temple, greater than Jonah, and greater that Solomon has come, and He is our final Prophet, Priest and King! Do not insult His majesty by seeking for a sign from the muck and mire of some parlor magician, prophetic guru or mysterious storyteller. You have Him who died and conquered the grave; you have Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; He is more than enough; hear Him!

 

 

Lord of the Spirits – Matthew 12:22-37, 43-45

And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? (Matt 12:26)

After identifying Himself as “Lord of the Sabbath,” and then demonstrating His authority by healing a man with a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath, we find Jesus continuing to heal many others; meanwhile the Pharisees conspired about His demise (Matt 12:10-15). Among those who Jesus healed was a blind, mute demoniac from whom Jesus exorcised demons. While Jesus’ power astonished many people, the Pharisees needed to manufacture an explanation that would justify themselves while explaining away the clear miracle. Interestingly they do not deny the genuineness of Jesus’ miracle but instead attribute His power to the devil. They do this so that He would be branded a sorcerer worthy of death.

Jesus’ defended His activity using an analogy from civil warfare and the fact that He was not the only exorcist in the area. First He argues that if the power in which He cast out Satan originated from Satan, it would be like a kingdom divided against itself. Secondly, if Satan was the one who empowered exorcisms, the other Jewish exorcists must also be demonically inspired. Instead Jesus explains that He is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and that this was a demonstration that the kingdom of God had come (v. 28). Contrary to the Pharisees accusation of demonic inspiration, in verse 29 Jesus offers a brief parable to illustrate that before He could cast out a demon, He must actually first bind Satan.

In the end it is not Jesus who is blaspheming by doing Satan’s work, but it is the Pharisees who blaspheme God’s work. Their abject rejection and condemnation of Jesus’ clearly demonstrated power (which is a work of the Holy Spirit) is a sin which Jesus describes as “unforgiveable.” This “unforgiveable sin” is a matter of much conjecture among Christians and we will discuss its meaning next week.

After some additional discourse, Matthew returns to consider the incident that started the section, the exorcism of verse 22. In verses 43-45 Jesus concludes the discourse wanting the man who was liberated and everyone else present to know that to be delivered from demons was not enough if the devil’s ownership is not replaced with Christ’s ownership. Moral reformation apart from Christ will always be inadequate. Unless repentance is genuinely unto life, the freedom that one experiences from a bondage is temporary and inadequate. In the end Christ is either Lord of all, or Lord of nothing and only His blood is mighty to save.

 

Lord of the Sabbath – Matthew 12:1-21

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. … For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”  (Matt 12:6, 8)

As chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel concluded with Jesus’ promise of ‘rest’ for the weary laborer, it should not surprise us that next on the author’s mind is ‘the Sabbath.’ For the Jewish person, rest was embodied in a Day – the seventh day of the week, instituted in Exodus 34:21; “six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” In chapter 12, as the Gospel writer continues to deal with the increasing hostility against Jesus, Matthew deals with one of the main sources of contention between Jesus and Judaism – the Sabbath. Perhaps more than any other matter, the manner in which Jesus understood and kept the Sabbath proposed a severe threat to Judaism’s traditional point of view.

While the Law of Moses was not very specific as to what may or may not constitute work that was prohibited on the Sabbath, over time, Jewish tradition and oral law developed a precise code specifically prohibiting 39 different kinds of activity on the Sabbath. From the perspective of the religious leaders, as Jesus’ disciples plucked grain and ate it, they were violating rabbinical laws against reaping, winnowing, and threshing, and thus “working” on God’s Holy Day. Consider the rabbi’s point of view for a moment: The most exalted part of God’s breathed holy Word – the Ten Commandments – clearly commands, “on the Sabbath day, you shall not to any work.” And here are these Jewish folks following a self-styled “rabbi,” doing on the Sabbath what other laborers do six days a week. As guardians of the Law, who else could put a stop to this most damning practice? You can see how the activity of Jesus’ disciples in the grain fields that Saturday would raise a genuine concern on the part of those who were anxious to protect God’s truth.

In response, Jesus drives his dissenters back to Bible: “Have you not read what David did …” (vs. 3); “have you not read in the Law …” (vs. 5)  “And if you had known what this [verse] means …” (vs. 7). Drawing from the entire Tanakh (the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets), Jesus audaciously argues from Scripture, ultimately exalting Himself above the three most beloved entities of Judaism – the Sabbath, the Temple and the Law! Indeed, as Jesus would say later, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  And it was fulfilled in He who was greater than David, greater than the Temple and Lord of the Sabbath.

Messiah’s Mother – Matthew 12:46-50

whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (Mt 12:50)

In chapter 12 of his gospel, Matthew presents the rising opposition to Jesus’ teaching and ministry as demonstrated by two Sabbath controversies (vss. 1-21) and His exorcistic activity (vss. 22-45). Like the chapter before it, which presented the imprisonment of John and proclamation of woe to a spiritually privileged but unrepentant people, chapter 12 is likewise, filled with controversy. But also like chapter 11, which concluded with a precious promise of rest to the burdened, chapter 12 likewise ends with a promise to disciples who Jesus Christ counts as his personal brothers, sisters and mother.

Next Sunday is celebrated as “Mother’s Day” in our country. While we do not feel pressured to bend to the traditions of men, on this occasion, due to the proximity of this text in chapter 12, we will intentionally go a bit out of order in our exposition of Matthew and consider these 5 encouraging verses concerning Jesus’ true family. But instead of a sentimental message about the importance and value of earthly mothers and family (as important as they are), this text will challenge our thinking as to who we ought to give priority to in our lives. We all love our family; we are most comfortable communicating and serving and visiting with our physical mother, brothers and sisters; however, this text challenges us with a very different definition of who, in fact, is family. Clearly Jesus defines His family by pointing to His disciples, (“whoever does the will of my Father.”) It is in the same vain in Mark 10:29-30, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands … This is fulfilled in Christ’s church, or at least it is supposed to be.

So while there is nothing wrong with celebrating the sacrifice and love of your own mother; while there is nothing wrong with having a close spot in your heart for your physical family; this kind of love is only to serve as an example of how we are to love our brothers, sisters, and mother of Christ in your church. Next Sunday, look around the gathered assembly of God’s people, and behold your brother, your sister, and your mother.

Messiah: Judge and Savior – Matthew 11:20-30

All things have been handed over to me by my Father … (Mt 11:27)

In the Old Testament, the LORD, YHWH is described in terms of both Judge and Savior. Psalm 75:7 states, “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another;” and in Isaiah 2:4, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples.” In the Old Testament, God commonly pronounces, “woe” upon both the nations and His people (Numbers 21:29, Isaiah 3:9-11, Jeremiah 13:27, Ezekiel 24:6-9) as an exclamation of doom and pity for the great suffering that the people bring upon themselves in judgment. John 5:22-27 tells us that the authority to execute judgment has been entrusted to the Son of man. Taking the role of Judge, in verses 20-24 of Matthew chapter 11, Jesus employs “woes” against the general rejection of His Messiahship within cities and towns where He has demonstrated much grace and mercy. Because the people of Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum received and rejected a clear, dramatic and personal revelation of Jesus Christ, there will be a greater accountability and stricter judgment looming on them, than even the worst and most sinful of pagan cities. The principle of Luke 12:47-48, that “to whom much is given, much is required,” is true; the people of God are held to a higher standard than the world, as 1 Peter 4:17 states, “Judgment begins in the house of the Lord.”

The LORD, YHWH is not only described as a Judge, but as a Savior. In Isaiah 43:11, God proclaims, “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.” Likewise in Hosea 13:4, “you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.” Like the role of Judge was given to Christ, so is the role of Savior given to Him. Among the masses of people who reject Christ, there are some, chosen by Jesus, who sense their need of Him; it is these who, weary and burdened by their sin, come to Jesus and do not find “woe” but salvation and rest.

As we have seen before and will see again in this Gospel, Matthew reveals Jesus as both Judge and Savior – often side by side. Faithful expository preaching will not neglect either role of the Messiah. Ultimately we preach Christ as Savior, but salvation means little outside of the context of the judgment we all deserve. Faithful exposition of Matthew reveals Christ as Judge of the smug and Savior of the penitent.

John the Great – Matthew 11:2-19, 14:3-12

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. (Mt 11:11)

So far in the Gospel of Matthew we have seen but a few hints of hostility directed toward Jesus (9:34). This will change now in chapters 11 and 12, as the increase in opposition becomes more explicit. In the same manner that John the Baptist was introduced in chapter 3 as the forerunner of the coming Messiah, so now John is the forerunner of the hostility and antagonism that would soon come upon Jesus.

Our text begins with John as a prisoner of Herod, held in the fortress at Machaerus near the Dead Sea (Josephus Ant. 18.116-119). The details of John’s arrest and martyrdom are recorded in Matthew 14:3-12. This John in prison appears different from the one we met earlier, fearlessly heralding the coming One (3:11-12). From prison, John appears more tentative, as he sends two disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (11:3). How did this man who so confidently preached Jesus as the Messiah and trusted so fully in His character (3:14), now come to question his identity? Most likely it was John’s lengthy languishing in prison that had broken him down. How could the One who promised to ‘set the prisoners free,’ not free him from Herod’s jail? We can say that John was a ‘bruised reed’ and his faith was like a ‘smoldering wick.’ As we might expect, the Messiah’s answer to John, and by extension to all people whose faith might waver in the midst of suffering, does not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. Instead in beatitude form (11:6), Jesus encourages John, and us, to remain faithful no matter what the circumstances.

In verses 7-15 of chapter 11 Jesus bears testimony of the character and work of John. John was not just any prophet, he was the final prophet who prepared the way, bringing the old covenant to its grand finale; he was the climax of pre-Christian revelation. Of all those who lived prior to the advent of the new covenant, John was the greatest. Yet, he who is least in this new kingdom that was soon to be inaugurated with a New Covenant, surpasses the greatest of the old. John was a great prophet, but once Christ’s blood was shed, the benefits that the least of us enjoys, in partaking of the kingdom of heaven, are greater yet.