Jesus is the heaven-born king of the world. He came to establish his kingdom, which Matthew defines as the active reign of Christ in the hearts of men and women. This active reign of Christ creates a people — those who have submitted to the will of God in Christ. This people has a community life. In chapter 18, Matthew gives us five aspects of this community life.
The disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” His response is, “Whoever humbles him like [a] child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” His point is simple. Children are humble. They are reliant on their parents. They are quick to trust other children. They are young and seemingly insignificant according to the measures of the world. Members of God’s kingdom are to emulate children in their trust of their king and willingness to accept and befriend others.
Question of Application: Do you have a child’s faith before the Lord Jesus Christ and his people? Are you open to trust and accept other people as Christ accepted you?
Moral Purity (18:7-9)
The kingdom of God is to be characterized by moral purity. It is the king’s standard. His people are to reflect his moral character. Thus, Jesus told his disciples to cut off the parts of the body that lead them into temptation. He’s not speaking of actual self-mutilation here. He’s using hyperbole to emphasize the importance self-discipline and the radical removal of sin from our lives. When sin is not dealt with, the judgment upon it is great.
Question of Application: Are you prepared to drastically deal with the sin in your life and get rid of it?
A shepherd leaves 99 sheep in order to find the 1 that has wandered away. Jesus used this analogy to illustrate the importance of every one of the sheep that he has been called to shepherd. He pursues his sheep and gently brings them back to the fold. We are to do the same with those who have wandered away from the church. That’s grace at work.
Question of Application: Who should you go get and bring back to the congregation of God?
Honest Conflict Resolution (18:15-20)
Being sinned against and hurt is a reality of life. It happens to those within the kingdom just as it does to those standing on the outside. Jesus prescribes a simple process for dealing with those who have hurt you or against whom you hold something. It takes honesty and commitment to resolve conflict properly.
Question of Application: Are you prepared to honestly resolved the conflicts you have with others? When you resolve conflict do you follow the biblically prescribed method?
How much are we suppose to forgive others? Seven times? No. Seventy times seven times. In other words, we are to forgive others without limit. Jesus asked, “How are you to be forgiven by God, if you are unwilling to forgive others?” God’s kingdom is a kingdom of forgiveness. Those who have been forgiven much are to forgive much.
Question of Application: Are you willing to forgive others without limit? Do you hold something against someone in your past or present that has caused you not to forgive them? If so, what do you plan to do about it?
There is something different about chapter 17. You can feel it. You can taste it. The drama intensifies.
A Dramatic Shift and Peter’s Objection
In 16:21, Matthew tells us that Jesus became singularly focused on getting to Jerusalem, enduring his cross, and preparing his disciples for that time. To prepare them, he had to give them a new mindset, a mind set on the things of God, not on the things of men. The needed a shift from the realm of rational possibility to the realm of supernatural reality. And, that’s what Jesus gave them.
A Glorious Experience (17:1-13)
He graciously took three of them to the top of the mountain and gave them a glimpse of his heavenly glory — a reminder what he possessed before he became man and a foretaste of what he will posses in his future exaltation. These three disciples — James, John, and Peter — were providentially chosen to the be the future leaders of the small band. They were the inner circle. In his grace, Jesus deemed it necessary to give them the privilege of glimpsing his glory to validate his call on their lives and the reality of his prophetic claims.
The Right Kind of Faith is Necessary (17:14-20)
After their mountaintop experience, Jesus and his disciples had an encounter with a man whose son was demon-oprressed. He had bought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but the disciples couldn’t cast out the demon. So, he brought the boy to Jesus. Jesus did cast out the demon. Amazed and confused, the disciples asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out the demon?” Jesus said, “Because of your little faith.”
The point of this story is not to question the amount of the disciples faith. It is to make a necessary distinction between defective and effective faith. The disciples had faith. That’s for certain. But, their faith was defective. It wasn’t functioning properly because it was limited to the possible. It wasn’t expectantly looking to the impossible. Jesus explained it this way, “If you have the faith of a grain of mustard seed, you will say to the mountain, ‘Move from here to there, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you.'” The issue isn’t the “amount” of faith we posses; rather, it is the object of our faith and our expectation of our God to accomplish the impossible.
Is Your Faith Effective or Defective?
Take a moment to think about the kind of faith you posses. Ask yourself, “Do I have the kind of faith in the God of glory that allows you to anticipate his accomplishment of the impossible?” The Transfiguration gives us a clear picture of our all-powerful, all-gracious moving heaven and earth to accomplish his glorious purposes. This is the kind of faith effectively prepares and empowers us to accomplish the will of our King while on this earth.
When I started thinking about “The NT365 Experiment” my goal was to make one observation, one interpretation, and one point of application of each chapter in the New Testament. I have found that to be extremely difficult. Some chapters simply don’t lend themselves to such a simple cyclical format. Matthew 16 is a prime example. It is not possible to think on the text in one cycle of observation, interpretation, and application. It takes three cycles.
Pharisees and The Demand for a Sign (vv. 1-4)
Observation: The Pharisees and scribes demanded that Jesus give them a sign from heaven in order to trick (test) him. Jesus would give them a sign, the sign of Jonah.
Interpretation: People often demand signs from God in order to test his faithfulness and his goodness. Their goal is not to seek validation of God’s kingdom, but to find a place to trap God, and thus give themselves a way out of submitting to him. God has given us his sign — the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Application: Don’t demand signs from God. Trust the one he has already given you. There is no greater and secure sign of God’s faithfulness than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
A Rock Solid Confession (vv. 13-20)
Observation: Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you think that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you Simon… I tell you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
Interpretation: Every person who follows Jesus must answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” The only proper answer to that question is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is upon this confession of faith that Jesus has built his church. Only those who rightly confess, “You are the Christ.” will be allowed in his kingdom.
Application: You have to answer the question for yourself. Can you say in faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Have you made that confession of faith?
Costly Discipleship (vv. 21-28)
Observation: Jesus knew that he must suffer many things at the hand of the Pharisees and scribes. He informed his disciples that these sufferings would lead to his eventual death. And, he told them that to be his disciples they would have to be willing to suffer the same thing.
Interpretation: Jesus had to die in order to purchase our salvation. He had to give his life up, and he came to do just that. Our salvation is free to us because he made the costly sacrifice. It isn’t cheap. It cost Jesus his life. And, those who seek to be his disciples must be willing to offer themselves as a sacrifice for his glory. We must be willing to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.”
Application: Are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of his glory out of love for him and others? In a demonstration of self-sacrifice today, take $10-20 (at least) and give it to someone in need or to a gospel-focused charity as an intentional act of Christ-following discipleship.
The climax of the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day will not take place until Jesus’ crucifixion. However, it becomes a prominent theme in chapter 15.
The Religious Leaders and Their Commandments
Matthew begins the chapter with a question from the Pharisees and scribes to Jesus. “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” This question is rooted in the religious leaders understanding of the righteous life before God. In addition to the Scriptures, they emphasized the interpretations of the Scriptures which had been handed down from esteemed rabbis. The particular tradition behind this question had to do with the ceremonial cleanliness and purity required by all Israelites in the performance of their daily duties. And, eating was considered one of those duties that required cleanliness.
A Failure to Make a Proper Distinction
Jesus responded to the religious leaders challenge by calling them out on their failure to make the proper distinction between the Scripture and the rabbinic tradition. The Old Testament Scripture is the commandment of God, while the rabbinic tradition is the “commandment of men” (9). The two are incomparable — one comes from the mouth God, and the other from the mouth of men. Jesus goes so far as to say that they have “for the sake of their tradition…made void the word of God” (6).
A Necessary Corrective
Jesus teaches his disciples and those around him what the Bible has always said that purity and impurity before God is a matter of the heart’s condition not outward compliance to a set of regulations. He said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart… For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery… These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
There are certain cultural and christian traditions that I love. I love a certain style of worship music. I love Reformed theology. I love church traditions at Christmas, Easter, and throughout the year. I have certain prayer, Bible study, discipleship practices that I really think others should adopt. But, I must be reminded that all of those traditions, all of that way of life is not the commandment of God. It is the commandment and practice of men. This passage reminds me to focus on the commandments of God and to remain charitable to those who disagree with me on the traditions of men.
Do you have a similar struggle? If so, this passage is for you. Think on Christ today. Think on the commandment of God found in the Scriptures.
Today we come to two of the most familiar stories in Matthew’s Gospel — the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water. They were two of my grandmother’s favorites. I can vividly remember her teaching my friends and me in our “Training Union.” She had a masterful way of illustrating the great stories of Jesus on the flannel board, and that was especially the case with Jesus walking on the water. Today, I want to make a few comments about Peter’s attempt to walk on the water along with Jesus.
When the disciples saw Jesus, they were afraid. Jesus eased their fears with his comforting voice. Peter decided that he wanted to join Jesus on the water. So, he stepped up in the boat and made a big request of Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.”
For Peter to walk on the water with Jesus, he had to step out of the boat. He had to trust Jesus’ invitation to join him. He had the faith to step out of the comfortable confines of the boat. He had to act on his faith.
Peter stepped up and made a request of Jesus. He stepped out of the boat. But, he also had to step on the water. It was one thing to approach Jesus with the request to walk on water. That took faith. It was another thing to step out of the boat. That took faith. But, it’s a completely other thing to step on the water expecting it to hold his weight. That took a whole new level of faithful dependence on Jesus.
After taking a few steps on the water, Peter was once again overcome with fear. He quit focusing on Jesus and began to focus on the wind and the waves. He became concerned with the storm and forfeited his reliance upon Jesus. He began to sink, but Jesus reached out to save him.
Will You Step Up, Step Out, Step On, and Keep Your Focus on Jesus?
As you think on chapter 14 today, consider where Jesus is calling you to step up and bring bold requests to him. Consider where he’s calling you to step out of your comfort zones in order to follow him. Consider where he’s challenging you to step on the water in total faithful dependence upon him. Consider where you have lost focus on Jesus in your life.
Also, note that at every “step” in Peter’s experience Jesus was there in his grace. He graciously allowed Peter to boldly approach him. He graciously called Peter to step out on to the water. He graciously and miraculously caused the water to support Peter’s weight. He graciously reached out to rescue Peter when Peter failed to rely upon him in faith while walking on the water. He is graciously present with you as well. When he calls you to step out on faith, he guarantees that he will always be there with you, caring and providing for your every need.
Matthew introduces us to seven of Jesus’ parables in chapter 13. Six of them deal with the kingdom of heaven specifically, and the seventh is about the message that must be received by faith for entrance into the kingdom. These parables are fairly self-explanatory and for those couple that aren’t, Jesus provided an explanation for his disciples and us. I have one major observation and one point of application that stood out in my mind as I read the chapter.
Parables Have a Purpose (vv. 10-17)
The disciples ask Jesus an important question. “Why do you speak in parables?” His answer is not too surprising. Jesus taught in parables to differentiate between the spiritually alive (responsive) and spiritually dead (unresponsive). The mysteries of how the kingdom would break into this world through the life and person of Jesus and how it would operate until its final consummation at his return were revealed to the disciples, the faithful followers. Those who rejected him, however, would not receive this blessed revelation. Jesus sovereignly used these parables to either soften men’s and women’s hearts so that they would respond in faith to him or to further harden their hearts in unbelief rendering them incapable of accepting his message of grace and truth.
The Treasure of Heaven
There is one parable that stands out to me every time I read it. And, that’s the parable of the hidden treasure (v. 44). It’s a simple one verse parable, but it’s message is profound. The man in the parable finds a treasure. He values the treasure so much that he sells everything he owns in order to buy the property in which the treasure is buried. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like the buried treasure. The story begs me to answer the question, “Do I value the kingdom of heaven more than anything else in my life?”
Jesus’ point is NOT a prohibition against owning property or other things. It is NOT a call to sell everything we own in order to live the life of a pauper. It IS a call value the kingdom of heaven and our membership in it more than anything else in all our lives. The way we do this is by keeping our focus on the king, Jesus. Think about the disciples. They received the blessings of the “secret” revelation because they lived in relationship with Jesus, because they followed him, because they focused on him.
Is he the most precious one in your life? Is he the focal point of your life? How is he calling you to change your life in order to place your full focus on him and his kingdom?
Opposition was a reality for Jesus. People opposed him, and that was particularly the case with the leaders of Judaism, the scribes and Pharisees. Chapters 11 and 12 when taken together reveal the depth and significance of this opposition. It is overt hostility to Jesus and his kingdom, and Matthew expresses it in terms of accusation and defense.
The scribes and the Pharisees are the accusers, and they make some serious accusations. First, they accuse Jesus of violating the Sabbath, a most sacred Law of God (vv. 1-14). Next, they accuse him of being in league with Satan, of joining forces with the dark knight (vv. 22-37). Particularly, they claim that Jesus’ power of casting out demons comes through “Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” And finally, by demanding a cosmic sign to prove the validity of his claims, they accuse Jesus of blasphemy. The punishment for blasphemy was death.
Though he didn’t have to, Jesus chose to defend himself against these accusations. First, he is the Lord of the Sabbath (v. 8). Second, he is the divine servant of justice, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (v. 18). Third, he is the “Spirit-empowered inaugurator of the kingdom of God”* (v. 28).
The Main Point
Admittedly, chapter 12 is an extremely difficult passage to interpret and understand fully. But, Matthew’s main point is fairly clear. Here it is:
Jesus is who he said he is. He is the Lord of Glory, the judge of the nations. Though the religious leaders and many others opposed him, his purposes cannot be thwarted. Judgment will come upon the blasphemers — those who reject Christ, but those who follow Jesus are members of his true family.
Application of Amazement
How do I apply this point to my life? Today, I think that there are two main ways.
*ESV Study Bible