Tag Archives: Matthew

29. Problems with The Sermon on the Mount

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Before we start addressing the text itself, I want to spend some time on the Sermon as a whole. It’s Jesus’ longest recorded sermon and, in my humble opinion, chock full o’ good stuff. However some people disagree with the validity of this portion of Scripture. There are several arguments but two of the biggest are:

  1. Jesus seems to be changing the Old Testament law.
  2. This seems to be a list of things to do to find life.

Let’s take the first statement: Jesus seems to be changing the Old Testament law. Jesus uses the phrase formula, “You have heard x but I tell you y,” six times (Matthew 5:21-48). The x being something that was considered law in the old testament and the y being Jesus’ new commandment. And if you take this section out of the Bible and read it alone and not in context with anything else, I could see where some people could be critical. It does appear that Jesus is changing the law BUT this is not what Jesus is doing here. In fact, right before this passage of Scripture he says,

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20, NIV)

In light that Jesus introduces that section with this disclaimer, if you will, I believe that we are to see him not as changing the law but instead expounding on it. Some Jews, the Pharisees and teachers of the law especially, had made it so important that people keep the law exactly the way it was written that they forgot the spirit with which it was given. I’ll unpack this more when we get to this section of the Sermon but suffice it to say that following the letter of the law without being mindful of the intent behind it is not honoring to God. Here we see Jesus taking the laws and not changing them, but revealing that intent.

The other “problem” some people criticize the Sermon for is that it is a list of works that must be done to gain eternal life. This is problematic because Paul teaches against a works-based faith. Just read the third chapter of Romans and you will quickly learn that works are not a means to eternal life. But I suggest that Jesus isn’t listing a bunch of stuff to do to be saved, rather a person who has been saved does these things out of love for God.  No, Jesus does not intend to provide a list of things to perform to get into heaven, rather he describes what a person who has eternal life looks like. So things like praying, fasting, and not worrying aren’t things to do to receive eternal life. It’s what you do because you have eternal life. It would be like me volunteering in a homeless shelter. Doing that isn’t going to get me into the Kingdom of God, but because I am already a citizen of the Kingdom, I want to love on those who are important to God.

So what does all of this mean to me? There will always be someone who disagrees with the validity of Scripture or challenge you on what it says. That is why it is important to educate yourself about these things. Even Satan knows the Bible and what it says. And, btw, God did not give us  brains and the capability to reason and think just to throw it aside and accept whatever people tell you. Read the Bible, and study for yourself! Don’t accept the lie that we have to have faith or reason and not both! One of the reasons I love writing this blog is because it forces me to read, research, reread, and think about what I believe!  Not everyone needs to write a blog but you should be studying some stuff on your own, just saying’.

Next time we will focus in on the first part of the Sermon itself, the section known as The Beatitudes. I am looking forward to sharing with you what I have learned, which was a lot. Until next time this is…

The End

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27. Jesus the Servant

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So the last time we left Jesus, the Pharisees were plotting to kill him because he had healed, once again, on the Sabbath. Because of this Jesus was quick to get out of Dodge. Not because he didn’t want to die, but because it wasn’t time for him to die yet. After he left he was followed by a large crowd and Jesus healed everyone who was ill. Not just some, the text actually says all. This account is also found in Mark but we will be reading the account found in Matthew because it includes a bit of Messianic prophesy that is worth checking out:

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”

(Matthew 12:15-21)

I specifically want to look at the bit of prophesy that is given to us. It comes from Isaiah 42:1-4. This particular passage is about someone God calls, “my servant”. This title, “my servant” is a special title of honor that was used to describe the likes of Moses, Joshua and David. It was also used in Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-7;50:4-11; and 52:13-53:12. Now Israelites always assumed that they were the servant described but because of their wayward actions and blatant refusal to follow God and instead turn towards idols, they lost this honor of being God’s servants. Instead, these verses describe one person in whom God would find no fault- a perfect prototype of what a follower of God should look like. They are describing the Messiah, himself! The reason that Matthew, whose readership was mostly Jewish, often includes prophesy about the Messiah is to show them how Jesus is the 100% fulfillment of these prophesies. In other words, they didn’t have to keep looking for the promised Messiah because he was here as evidenced by their own Scriptures.

There are three times when Jesus is described by God as, “the one I love, in whom I delight.” The two other times occurred at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) and at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).

Here’s a little rabbit trail for us to go down. No where in the Bible does it explicitly say that God is triune, or 3-in-1. This is a concept that was presented by early church fathers. One of the verses they use to support this idea (which for the record, I believe in) is verse 18 from our passage today, ” I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” Here we see the Father conferring the Holy Spirit on the Son. 3-in-1. Three persons of God, in one deity; somehow each unique, yet joined together.

Verse 18, and also 21, is interesting because God is clearly concerned about “the nations”. He is concerned about all peoples, not just the nation of Israel. He came to them first because he wanted them to be his people of promise but because they rejected him time and time again, he opened salvation to the world. This was a foreign idea to the Jews even though it was right there in Scripture. It’s like they picked and chose which descriptions of the Messiah they liked and conveniently forgot about the parts they didn’t. God clearly cares for Gentiles, or non-Jews… which is very good news for me!

The next part, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets,” refers to his silence during his trial before the crucifixion. Jesus remained silent despite his accusers and their false accusations, despite the fact that he could have said one word and thousands of angels would have been there in an instant to rescue him. He was silent except for a few answers to questions.

Verse 20 is one of great mercy and grace,

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

One of the things the Pharisees never got was Jesus’ unending grace toward sinners. We can learn a lot from Jesus here. His job until he returns is to be gentle and love the sinner. I think here of the Westboro Baptist church. These people are not doing God’s work. God’s work, until Jesus returns, is to love on people. That doesn’t mean we overlook the sin. What Jesus did was look beyond the sin and saw the hurting person underneath. Hurting people are like a reed that is already bent from life’s windstorms or a candle struggling to stay lit. In mercy Jesus sat with these people, took the time to hear and really understand these people. And when I say “these people” what I really mean is you and me. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It doesn’t matter if we’ve wrongly gotten angry or if we’ve killed someone. We deserve a traitor’s death. We are no better or worse than anyone else and to assume otherwise is to fall into the trap of self-righteousness. Thank God, for his mercy and love! Thank God, for his patience with us! This is how he deals with us and this is how we are to deal with each other. Now there is a time when Jesus will come again and reign victorious over Satan and Evil. At that point it will be Jesus’ job to dole out justice to non-belivers and believers alike. It is never our job. It is never our responsibility to judge others. Period.

I’ll step down off my soap box for now. Until next time when we look at the commissioning of the the twelve apostles…

The End.

26. Stretch out your hand

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Sorry there was a break between postings. My laptop power cord was fried in a thunderstorm and we were without a computer for a few days. Fortunately it was just the power supply and not the whole laptop. Praise God! As a reminder, last time we found the disciples picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Those pesky Pharisees were there to give them a hard time about “working” on the Sabbath and Jesus promptly rebukes them. This time we will learn about another healing on the Sabbath. I have to tell you that I knew Jesus did this stuff on the Sabbath but I didn’t realize how often he did it before this study. I think almost every time we read about Jesus healing, he is doing so on the Sabbath. Think maybe he is trying to drive home a point with the Pharisees? Too bad they never get it! This time we find Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Matthew makes it sound like it is later the same day as they were in the grain fields while Mark and Luke both say it occurred on a different day. To me it’s one of those details that don’t really matter if they all agree or not; it’s the story that follows that is important. Let’s read:

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12:9-14)

Last time we saw the focus was on the disciples breaking the law. This time we see Jesus as the “law-breaker”. They are in the synagogue and there is a man there with a bad hand. If you read the Gospel of Hebrews, an apocryphal book, the man is described as being a mason and it being his right hand that was injured. Whether that is true or not is up in the air although the way the original language is written it implies that the man’s hand was not an injury from birth. Being a mason it is quite possible that he hurt himself on the job.

Regardless, the guy had a bum hand. And the Pharisees saw this as a perfect trap for Jesus. They ask him a loaded question intended to trip up Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Their laws said that healing was only allowed in life or death situations, otherwise the patient needed to wait until Sunday for help (Jewish Sabbath was Saturday). Instead of answering their question. Jesus asks his own question about their own laws, “If any of you has a sheep that falls in a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” His question is just as loaded as the Pharisees. Even though the sheep was in no danger in the pit, just stuck, they all would have rescued the sheep. Jesus’ point is this: If God would overlook you breaking the Sabbath to save a sheep, how much more so is would he accept healing a person, a child of God, on the Sabbath? Jesus uses their own laws against them.

I’m not sure if we’ve covered this before or not so I’ll take a minute to explain something here. You may be wondering what was the big deal about the Sabbath? Exodus 31:13-17 says,

“Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.

“‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

Anyone who doesn’t keep the Sabbath was worthy of death. The big problem is what does “keeping the Sabbath holy” mean. God clearly says not to do any work on the Sabbath but he doesn’t make stipulations as to what that includes. The Pharisees had comprised an oral tradition called The Talmud that had a bunch of things that they considered work. Things like healing on the Sabbath except under life or death situations was against the law. The Pharisees considered that breaking the Sabbath law, but God never said that. He just says not to do work. Right before our Matthew passage from today we see Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6 which says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” This clearly captures the heart of God. Yes, he wants the Sabbath kept holy but if there is a chance for a man to be restored to health then, for the love of mercy, heal him!

So for the love of mercy, Jesus heals him. He tells the man to stretch out his hand and when he did it was completely restored. This was pretty much the last straw for the Pharisees. If you notice it says they went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. From now on Jesus is a marked man.

Legalism is more than just keeping the law, although that is a big part of it. Legalism occurs when the keeping of the law causes an attitude of self-righteousness. If you think that keeping God’s laws or even just being a good person is enough to get you into heaven you are going to be in for a rude awakening at judgement day. It’s not that law keeping is bad. It’s actually a good thing but when you depend on that as a means of salvation then you are missing the boat! Salvation comes through faith alone.  Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” There is no other way to God than through faith in Jesus Christ. We keep the laws because we love him, not because it is a requirement for salvation.

The End.

25. The Lord of the Sabbath

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Those pesky Pharisees are at it again- trailing Jesus and causing problems. Once again, we see Jesus confront them:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)

This account is found in the three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. You can read the other versions by clicking on the links but today we will be read from Matthew. Once again we find Jesus on the Sabbath doing things that the Pharisees think he shouldn’t be doing. What was going on this time? Well, the disciples were hungry and as they passed through a grain field, they picked some heads of grain. Upon first glance it may appear that the disciples are stealing grain and that is why the Pharisees are mad… again. But according to Deuteronomy 23:25, hungry people could hand pick grain from their neighbor’s fields. They were just not allowed to use a sickle to harvest. The Pharisees were not angry because they were picking someone else’s grain… They were angry because they were doing on the Sabbath day. Remember, God said not to do any work on the Sabbath but the Pharisees had made so many rules about what “work” was that it was difficult to keep their Sabbath laws. And what were some of these ridiculous laws? The oral tradition, called The Talmud, states that any journey over 2000 steps was considered work and was not permitted. You also could not carry anything over a prescribed number of steps or that was considered work. Modern Jews who wish to keep strict Sabbath laws may squeeze lemon on fish but may not squeeze lemon into tea. For some reason one is considered work and the other is not. The Talmud also said that there was to be no harvesting, threshing, winnowing or processing of grain on the Sabbath. But this is exactly what the disciples were doing by picking the grain and separating the kernel from the chaff. So, naturally, when the Pharisees saw this they were quick to point it out.

Jesus, in classic Jesus fashion, uses Scripture to answer his critics. He reminds them of the time when David was on the run from King Saul. He and his men were hungry from fleeing the King and came to Nob and met with Ahimelech, the priest. There he asked if Ahimelech if he had any bread he could spare. Unfortunately, all the priest had was the Bread of the Presence. The Bread of the Presence were twelve loaves of unleavened bread that were consecrated and placed on a table in the tabernacle before God. There was one loaf to represent each of the tribes of Israel. Each loaf weighed between six and twelve pounds. This bread was placed on the table on the Sabbath and was left there for a week. At the end of the week, the loaves would be removed and fresh loaves would be presented. The old loaves were given to the priests as part of their benefits package but because the bread was holy, only priests were supposed to eat it. But David was famished! So the priest, showing mercy to David, gave the holy bread to him and overlooked the letter of the law.

The other example Jesus gives is that the priests who serve in the Temple to work on the Sabbath and God is pleased with them. God shows mercy on them because they are doing God’s work.  The Pharisees are so caught up with memorizing Scripture and keeping rules and keeping the Temple in tip top shape that they forget that God’s heart beats with mercy! For the second time we see Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” In other words it would have been a different story if the disciples had been in the field with sickles and bags for reaping but because they were simply hungry and picking just enough to satisfy their hunger, God finds them innocent of wrong doing. His mercy toward their hunger is greater than the law itself.

Then Jesus drops a doozy into the laps of the Pharisees: “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” (verse 8). This would have pushed the them over the edge. By calling himself, “Lord over the Sabbath,” Jesus overrides any man-made laws, especially those made by the law-stickler Pharisees. He is also declaring himself greater than David, greater than the priests, and greater than the law. He of course can make those claims but it would’ve angered the Pharisees immensely. Mark adds this line in his account, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” (2:27). The Pharisees had made so many laws about keeping Sabbath that keeping Sabbath became impossible. But God’s purpose for Sabbath was for physical, emotional, and spiritual restoration. The people were not resting if they had to worry all day about not breaking laws! One scholar puts it like this- man became the servant of the Sabbath instead of the served.

All this makes me wonder… Am I like the Pharisees in any way in my life? Is there anything in my life that I am so concerned about rules and regulations with that I am unwilling to surrender it to God. Or in other words, is there something in my life that I hold higher than God and am willing to protect at all cost, like the Pharisees did with the Sabbath? If I am honest, I would have to say my children are the thing I have to be most concerned about becoming idols in my life. Yet, God asks me to surrender even them to him to do as he wills. If I love them so much that I am unwilling to turn them over to God, then I am no better than the Pharisees. What are you holding on to? What is your idol?

The End.

23. Jesus Casts Out a Demon

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So Jesus has just healed two blind guys and now we see him confront a demon who is possessing a man. The event is recorded in Matthew:

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” (Matthew 9:32-34)

This time it’s just three little verses but there is a lot going on here. Once again, we have a text that is fairly straightforward. There was a guy who was possessed by a demon and the demon wouldn’t allow him to speak. The man was brought to Jesus, he drove out the demon, and then the man could speak. The crowd was amazed but the Pharisees were angry. See? Straightforward… or is it? I think we need to discuss something here that few Americans are comfortable with- demon possession. Yes, my friends, it is real and I believe that it still occurs today, though we (especially the Western culture that we embrace) tend to ignore or deny it’s reality. I don’t claim to be an expert on demonology but I can tell you what I do know.

Satan and his demons are real. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to feel comfortable discussing it, but you do need to recognize their existence. As surely as God and angels exist, Satan and demons exist. We know from reading in the Bible that there is some kind of hierarchy involved- there are demons that are in charge of other demons. There is even a chief demon, his name is Beelzebul (Matthew 12:24). We know that at least some have names, like Legion (Mark 5:9). We know that somehow they can possess a body. I don’t understand how this can happen or why it happens, I just know that it happens. And without going into too many details, I would venture to say that while I was working in the church, I met one or two people who were at the very least heavily influenced by demons if not possessed. They weren’t physically impaired like the mute from our story, but spiritually there was a darkness surrounding them. There was just something not quite right and they would go out of their way to stir up trouble and dissension- almost as if driven by some force.

I know all this probably makes most of you uncomfortable. It made the Pharisees uncomfortable too. They could no longer ignore the power of Jesus but instead of ascribing that power to God, they said that his power comes from Satan. There’s a big, BIG problem with that. You know that God forgives sins but did you know there is one sin that is unforgivable? “Whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin,” (Mark 3:23-29). Now what exactly does that mean and what does that have to do with the Pharisees? Let’s look at the context in which the verse is written:

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:22-29)

We see that the situation is the same. The teachers of the law were accusing Jesus of getting his power from Satan. Jesus refutes the Pharisees with sound reasoning and then we see the line about the unforgivable sin. So what does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? It means giving Satan credit for that which the Holy Spirit does. That is bad news for the Pharisees. Very. Bad. News. For those that are guilty of this sin, we are lead to believe there is no hope for repentance. That may make some of you very uncomfortable- the idea that God won’t forgive this sin. But if you think about it, if you are to the point that you are denying the work of God and saying that Satan is doing good and casting out demons and healing the sick and raising the dead, then you are probably beyond help.

It may be a few days before I get the next post up. After two shorter passages, we are coming into a long one, 47 verses actually. It’s going to take a lot of prep work so don’t think I’ve forgotten about y’all. I’m just studying and reading up for our next journey together.

The End.

22. Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

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Today we will read a short passage. At first it may not seem very important but I think there is much we can learn. This passage is only found in Matthew-

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. (Matthew 9:27-31)

First, let’s look at the text itself and then later we will discuss the implications of this section. Ok, the first major thing I want to look at is what the blind men call Jesus. They say, “Have mercy on us, Son of David,” (verse 27). That is a Messianic title. To understand it we have to go back to King David. He was promised long ago that 1. someone from his line would always sit as king over Israel and 2. the Messiah would come from his descendants. Every king of Israel was therefore a son of David, but only the Messiah would be the Son of David. He would be the greatest and final king to sit on David’s throne and he will rule not just for as long as he lived, but for eternity. His rule is perfect and just. That the two physically blind men used this title to refer to Jesus shows that they could spiritually see clearer than most people of their day.

So these two blind guys are following Jesus, crying out for mercy (which, like grace is an undeserved gift) and what does Jesus do? He goes inside. Now at first that seems harsh. But I think Jesus has two reasons for doing this. The first is because he wants to see the perseverance of the men and second I think is because they are identifying him as the Son of David, he doesn’t anyone to hear them. Jesus knows that if the general public got word of his Messiahship now, they would try to make him king of Israel by force. That wasn’t the plan though. The plan was for Jesus to die on the cross and even though that would be difficult, to say the least, Jesus was committed to doing God’s will. This is why in verse 30 he warns them not to tell anyone about what happened; he didn’t want the word that he was the Messiah to get out… yet.

That’s about it for the actual text. Short passage, short entry. But lets spend some time talking about how though the men’s eyes were blind, spiritually they could see perfectly. I can’t help but to think of a friend of mine. He is not a Christian. In fact, I would go so far as to say he is almost anti-Christian. His life is a mess and he knows it. He spends time seeking advice from Buddhism, Hinduism and just about any other -ism out there but he is still unhappy. I would even venture to say he is miserable most of the time. His marriage is falling apart, he drinks… a lot. He is lonely even in a crowd. Now, I don’t mean to beat up on the guy but I want you to understand the situation… Here is a guy that is running from the very thing that can save his very soul and is seeking for answers every where else. He is spiritually blind. The Bible has something to say about this, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Here is a man who has good physical eyesight but is spiritually blind. He is seeking but never finding. If only he would start to seek the one who could open his eyes! Yet, like I said he is anti-Christian and is angry at God, if there even is one (in his opinion).

He is just one of many people that are seeking but never finding because they are blind. I believe we are poised on a point of revival if only God would open the eyes of the masses. People are seeking. People want to know peace. They just need God to open their eyes and soften their hearts. Will you join me in praying for our nation? Will you join me in praying for the scales to fall from the eyes of America? Will you join me in praying for revival, for a movement of God’s Spirit?

Lord, we pray for another Great Awakening of our country. Please, please start opening eyes and softening hearts. Use us to start this change. Give us courage to speak and the right words to move people. Call us to repentance, to healing and to a closer relationship with you. In your great and powerful name, Amen!

19. To Fast or not to Fast… that is the question.

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We pick up in the same place we left off last time. Jesus is at Matthew’s house dining with sinners and tax collectors. The Pharisees have been standing around asking Jesus’ disciples why their teacher is hanging out with undesirable people. And now we have another group of people starting to ask questions. Let’s read:

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17)

We now have John the Baptizer’s students on the scene. We don’t know how long they had been there before they started to inquire of Jesus. They could’ve been there for the Pharisees’ questions or they could have just popped in. Either way, It may be helpful to back up and talk a little about John. John was Jesus’ slightly older cousin. He was born into a sacred mission- to prepare the hearts of Israel for the coming Messiah. He was an outspoken evangelist and would cry out to anyone who would listen to him. He was a bit of an eccentric character- he lived in the wilderness, wearing camel skin clothing and eating locusts. I imagine him to a very self-disciplined person and we know he fasted and spent a lot of time praying.  Now we see John’s disciples asking Jesus why he doesn’t fast too.

We don’t know why John’s disciples asked- were they genuinely interested or were they calling into question Jesus’ righteousness? In either case, that they were asking in the presence of the Pharisees would have fueled the Pharisees fire. I imagine them standing around disgruntled because Jesus just put them in their place when he says, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,'” (Matthew 9:13). Now they have a renewed spark in their eyes as they think, “Yes, why don’t you fast?” But why was fasting so important anyway? God ordained only one day that required fasting- Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees, however, required fasting on Monday and Thursday every week. They said it was to commemorate the days that Moses went up and came down Mt. Sinai. In short, they made fasting a means to prove one’s righteous as opposed to a means to grow closer to God. While it is unclear if John’s disciples practiced this Monday/Thursday fasting, we can assume that they fasted regularly.

So they ask Jesus why he and his disciples don’t fast and he responds with a line about marriage. What is that all about? I’m glad you asked! In the Old Testament, the covenant of marriage is often used to describe the covenant between God and his people. God is the groom who promises to love, honor, and cherish Israel, the bride. Unfortunately along the way, Israel strays like an adulterous wife but instead of divorcing her, God is faithful to his part of the covenant even when Israel is not. There was correction and even punishment at times, but God always remained faithful to his covenants. This picture of marriage was well known to all the Jews so to them; Jesus is not making an abstract statement. He is referring to himself as God, the bridegroom!  We see Jesus referring to himself as the groom and the current time as the wedding feast, or a time of joy! And who fasts during a time of joy? Nobody! In fact the only day God requires fasting for, the Day of Atonement, is a day of sadness during which Israel is to remember her sins and make atonement for them. For the short time that Jesus is alive on earth, the people should be joyful that God is physically with them because there is coming a time when the “bridegroom will be taken from them” (Matthew 9:15) and then they should be sad and fast. As you may have guessed, Jesus is referring to his impending death here. The original word for the the verb “will be taken” has a violent connotation to it. I don’t know if Jesus knew at that point he was going to die on a cross but he at least had an idea that his death was going to be brutal.

Then Jesus seems to have another random thought as he jumps from weddings to clothes and wineskins. Jesus says that if you sew a new, unshrunk patch on an old piece of clothing, it will tear and make the hole bigger once the garment is washed. The old piece of clothing is the the law and Jesus is the patch. There were some holes in the Mosaic law- for example, you had to keep sacrificing when you sinned. There wasn’t a one time fix that covered any sin. Jesus was going to take care of that. In other words, the law served it’s purpose at the time, but now it needed to be interpreted through Jesus colored lenses. The old law needed to become a new garment so that when Jesus was sewed on, the patch and the garment would hold together, so to speak.

The wineskin metaphor is the same. Old wineskins became hard and brittle, but new wineskins were soft and supple. They needed to be because the new wine would ferment and cause expansion. If you but new wine into the hardened wineskins, they would burst and the wine would spill out everywhere. In both examples, Jesus gives, the message is the same, Jesus is making everything new. This doesn’t mean that the Old Testament is invalid or irrelevant- it means that it needs to be interpreted through Jesus, who was about mercy, grace, redemption and most of all love.

The End.