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.

 

 

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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.

Parables 2: Big Fields, Little Seeds Pt 2- Matthew 13:24-43

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field … Matthew 13:24

With the increasing polarization in the response to His ministry and teaching, Jesus turned to the parable in order to teach His disciples about the kingdom of heaven in terms they could understand. At the same time these parables served to veil truth from hard-hearted unbelievers. Having studied the prototypical, parable of the sower, last week, this week we will conclude our look at the four husbandry parables, “Big Fields and Little Seeds,” in chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel. As an agrarian society, the people who heard Jesus’ parable of the sower (13:1-8), parable of the weeds (13:24-30), and parable of the mustard seed and leaven (13:31-33), would have been very familiar with their language, but only those who were given “ears to hear,” were able to understand and submit to their ethics.

What are we to make of apparent inconsistencies like slavery in Christian America? How about apartheid in Reformed South Africa? How could Christian Europe sit back and watch the Holocaust of six million Jews? And how does the evangelical church seem to be so undisturbed by abortion in our day? Looking at church history, it can be hard for us to hope in that which we are told is a powerful and transforming Gospel which seems to have so little influence on the surrounding society. In the parable of the weeds, Jesus gives an explanation for what seems to be a grand contradiction in God’s church. In the midst of this field which represents the visible manifestation of the “kingdom of heaven,” where Jesus has sown good Gospel seeds into the heart of true believers, an enemy has sown bad seeds that give rise to tares (false converts). Rather than going on a mission to root out these tares from among the wheat, the parable calls for the true church to stand under the Gospel, until the coming judgment day when Christ and His angels will thresh the wheat and winnow the chaff. At that time He will gather the believers together and cast the false converts into hell. The two “little seed” parables reveal that while the kingdom of God may seem small and insignificant, it is actually quite powerful. Both the “big field” and “little seed” parables encourage the believer that, even though we may not see it with our eyes, Christ is King and our God reigns!

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.