Chapter Forty Seven – Matthew 15: Multiplying the Past


I will cast my cares on You / You’re the anchor of my hope / The only one who’s in control / I will cast my cares on You / I’ll trade the troubles of this world for Your peace inside my soul

  • Finding Favour, Cast My Cares, from the 2015 album “Reborn”

Jesus is on the loose in a land of the Gentiles, Phoenicia. It’s a sleepy seaside community consisting of two primary towns: Tyre and Sidon. He’s still indiscriminately healing people even though they are not from the lost tribe of Israel (v. 29-31), when He becomes concerned about them. He says, “’I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days and they have nothing left to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry or they will faint along the way’” (v. 32).

First of all, can we blame the people for wanting to be near Jesus? The man is amazing. They’ve basically been having a weekend revival and no one wants to go home. The problem: they are running out of food and Jesus mentions this fact to His disciples. Note: The group is out in the middle of nowhere. Literally. It’s not like there’s a Mickey D’s or Circle K nearby. They are in the wilderness, as stated by the disciples (v. 33), who – for some reason – are at a loss for how to feed so many people. What?

Do they actually not remember the miracle of the fish and loaves from before when Jesus fed over 10,000 people? And yet, how like us. We do the exact same thing. We come to a “problem” in life – we turn to Jesus – He solves it – and we go on our merry way with retrograde amnesia when the next problem surfaces. The disciples literally ask the same question they asked before when in this situation: “’Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a huge crowd?’” (v. 33).

Jesus, ever patient, asks how much bread is available (v. 34) and the disciples report they have seven loaves and a few small fish (v. 35). So Jesus does what He did before: He takes what He is given, He blesses it, and then He multiplies it so there is enough food for everyone to eat as much as they want (v. 35-37a). Again, He satisfies the crowd, which is estimated at 4,000 men (v. 38), not counting the women and the children. It sure sounds a lot like the other story (14:13-21). In fact, some people wonder if authors like Matthew merely got confused and wrote twice about the same situation. This story is also found in Mark 8:1-10. It is confirmed to be two different occasions in Mark 8: 19-20. The primary difference between the two feedings are that one is for a Jewish audience, and the other is for a Gentile audience.

But let’s get back to the disciples reaction. Again, they are perplexed and at first glance, I don’t know why. It’s literally the same problem as before. Yet here they are, throwing their hands up in despair at how to solve it. Really? I mean, come on. If Jesus had just finished feeding over 10K people, why wouldn’t they remember that and act accordingly? I mean, I want to think that I would instantly start to gather up whatever leftover food there was and bring it to Jesus so He can do the multiplying trick again. But no, they give up.

It’s easy to chastise the disciples. It’s easy to criticize them. But in reality, when I really start to think about it, I am just like them. Only with me, it’s not just once or twice that a particular issue surfaces as a problem and I am dumbstruck as to how God is going to work it out this time. No, I mean, literally the same issue will surface over and over and over and I’m at a loss. Got a giant bill to pay and not enough money in the bank account to pay it? All the time. And do I remember that God provided before? Why do I tend to think He will drop me on my head now? Yet I panic. Every. Single. Time.

What’s your issue? What keeps resurfacing over and over and over again? You know God has answered your prayers in the past but for some reason you doubt He’ll answer you this time?

The good news is that He stands ready to act. The disciple known as Peter, who is thought to have probably informed Mark’s gospel, wrote a letter later that said in part, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT). Literally, the word translated here as give means to cast away, like a net when fishing. Something that is thrown away from the body and towards something else; in this case, God the Father.

Here’s the footnote from my Study Bible: “It takes humility…to recognize that God cares, to admit your need, and to let others in God’s family help you. Sometimes we think that struggles caused by our own sin and foolishness are not God’s concern. But when we turn to God in repentance, he will bear the weight of even those struggles. Letting God have your anxieties calls for action, not passivity. Don’t submit to circumstances, but to the Lord who controls the circumstances” (p. 2136).

And let’s let the past inspire us to once again start collecting what little food there is so that Jesus can once again perform the multiplying trick.

Chapter Forty Six – Matthew 15: A Word About Table Scraps


To the thief, to the doubter / To the hero and the coward / To the prisoner and the soldier /
To the young, to the older / All who hunger, all who thirst / All the last, all the first /
All the paupers and the princes / All who fail you’ve been forgiven / All who dream, all who suffer / All who loved and lost another / All the chained, all the free / All who follow, all who lead / Anyone who’s been let down / All the lost you have been found / All who’ve been labeled right or wrong / Everyone who hears this song/ Just come, come to the table
Oh, come join the sinners you have been redeemed / Take your place beside the Savior
Just sit down and be set free

Sidewalk Prophets, Come to the Table, from the 2015 album “Something Different”

The Christ and His gang of followers have left the region of Galilee and headed north to Phoenicia on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. This is a sea-faring group of Gentiles (non-Jews). It is interesting that Jesus heads here to minister because, as He admits in this passage, His primary purpose is to seek the lost sheep of Israel (v. 24). What is He doing among the Gentiles?

He’s doing what He does best: teaching and healing. A woman (read: second-class citizen) comes to Him and begs for help, saying “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely!” (v. 22). What puzzles me is that Jesus doesn’t respond right away to the woman. In fact, He gives her the silent treatment and the disciples, annoyed by her pestering, urge Him to send her away.

Nevertheless, she persisted, and Jesus utters the line about only serving the house of Israel. He’s not saying He won’t help. In fact, Jesus ministers to Gentiles in other portions of scripture. What He is saying is that “Jews were to have the first opportunity to accept him as the Messiah because God wanted them to present the message of salvation to the rest of the world (see Genesis 12:3)” (Study Bible, p. 1575). She still doesn’t give up. Matthew writes “But she came and worshipped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’” (v. 25).  Jesus apparently tries to dissuade her once more, this time by saying, “’It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs’” (v. 26). Say what?

“Dog was a term the Jews commonly applied to Gentiles because the Jews considered these pagan people no more likely than dogs to receive God’s blessings. Jesus was not degrading the woman by using this term; he was reflecting the Jews’ attitude so as to contrast it with his own” (Study Bible, p. 1575). It is important to note that the woman does not argue with Jesus or become insulted by His choice of words.  Instead, she offers a clever reply that seems to delight Him.

“She replied, ‘That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table’” (v. 27). Imagine the humility and the boldness it took to utter these words.  “Instead, using Jesus’ choice of words, she agreed to be considered a dog as long as she could receive God’s blessing for her daughter” (Study Bible, p. 1575). Even Jesus notes her great faith and says because of it, her request will be granted (v. 28a). Matthew writes that her daughter “was instantly healed” (v. 28b).

Can you imagine the mother’s relief? Can you imagine how the trajectory of her daughter’s life has been forever altered for the better? For the first time, in perhaps a long time, her daughter will now lead a “normal” life. Now, buried hopes and dreams have a chance to become realized. All of that begging and pleading pays off.

The only thing that maybe bothers me a little bit is it took a good number of exchanges before Jesus acquiesced. Maybe He was testing her faith. Or “he may have wanted to use the situation as another opportunity to teach that faith is available to all people…Ironically, many Jews would lose God’s blessing and salvation because they rejected Jesus, and many Gentiles would find salvation because they recognized and accepted him” (Study Bible, p. 1575). It’s like the lyrics to the song above say, the invitation is open to all. It doesn’t matter your background or situation. Everyone is welcome at the table.

The question now is: what have you done about it? I have my place. Do you have yours? I would love to see you there. Like the Gentile mother, it’s a simple matter of faith. It’s not even a question of receiving table scraps (though, as we’ve seen, the scraps invoke incredible results). The full banquet dinner awaits.

Chapter Forty Five – Matthew 15: A Pure Heart

pure heart

When the day is closing in
Like the stars in the night I am falling
Into the pull of the earth and its affection
In me, oh lord, can you create
A pure heart cause I’m afraid
That I just might run back to the things I hate

  • Tenth Avenue North, Satisfy, from the 2008 album “Over and Underneath”

As Matthew chapter fifteen opens, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law are confronting Jesus over the fact that His disciples are not observing the practice of washing their hands before eating. It’s an age-old tradition and one meant to promote good health. Considering that there wasn’t any hand sanitizer back then, and even my mother would request we wash our hands before dinner, it seems to be a sensible issue; one that Jesus should probably agree with.

“The Pharisees and teachers of religious law came from Jerusalem, the center of Jewish authority, to scrutinize Jesus’ activities. Over the centuries since the Jews’ return from Babylonian captivity, hundreds of religious traditions have been added to God’s laws. The Pharisees and teachers of religious law considered them all equally important” (Study Bible, p. 1573).

But Jesus knows the religious leaders are not concerned with proper health practices but with once again trying to trap Jesus and His crew in a position of breaking religious law. And Jesus is having none of it. He fires back and asks them why they don’t observe their own traditions like honoring their father and mother (one of the original ten commandments). “And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own traditions. You hypocrites!” (v. 6b-7a).

It’s important to note that “[m]any traditions are not bad in themselves. Certain religious traditions can add richness and meaning to life. But we must not assume that because our traditions have been practiced for years, they should be elevated to sacred standing. God’s principles never change, and his law doesn’t need additions. Traditions should help us understand God’s law better, not become laws themselves” (Study Bible, p. 1573).

Jesus then turns His focus to the heart of the matter: inner purity is what matters to God. He uses the example of what a person eats does not defile them, but the words that come out of our mouths can and often do defile us. The disciples are shocked and so are the Pharisees. You see, Jews had strict dietary laws of what they could and could not eat (see Leviticus 11). Jesus is again turning centuries of religious teaching on its head. Then He sums it all up by saying, “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart – that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (v. 17-20).

He’s talking about the importance of having a pure heart. “We work hard to keep our outward appearance attractive, but what is deep down in our heart (where others can’t see) is more important to God…When people become Christians, God makes them different on the inside. He will continue the process of change inside them if they only ask. God wants us to have healthy thoughts and motives, not just healthy bodies” (Study Bible, p. 1574).

What am I like on the inside? Am I a better person inside today than I was yesterday? Will I be a better person tomorrow than I am today? God expects progress in our lives. He expects growth. He expects change. If none of those things are happening in our lives, then we must question whether our relationship to Him is genuine. If we are constantly running back to do the things that God hates, we may not truly be His after all. How pure is my heart? Do I mirror the pureness of the Most High? Or am I sitting in the sludge of unholiness?

The word holy means to be set apart for a special purpose. God wants our hearts pure so we can openly reflect His holiness to a world mired in sin. It’s part of the gospel of attraction that surrounds the good news of the Christ. “It is not enough to study about religion of even to study the Bible; it is not enough to act religious. Our actions and our attitudes must be sincere” (Study Bible, p. 1574). I would add they also need to be pure. Otherwise, we are no better than the Pharisees and teachers of religious law.

Chapter Forty Four – Matthew 14: Faith Like a Child


They say that I can move the mountains
And send them falling to the sea
They say that I can walk on water
If I would follow and believe
With faith like a child

            Jars of Clay, Like a Child, from the 1995 self-titled, debut album

We’ve just seen Peter do the impossible with Jesus – walking on water. The storm is calmed, and the boat lands safely on the other side of the Sea of Galilee on the shores of a city called Gennesaret. It’s a town just to the southwest of Capernaum, and guess what? Jesus is recognized (like a rock star walking through the airport) and word spreads of his arrival. Pretty soon, there are hordes of people bringing their sick and dying to the Christ so He can heal them.

Does it ever stop? When I was much younger, I used to dream about being famous, but not any more. Not in today’s society and not 2,000 years ago in a small Roman province called Galilee or Judea. I just don’t think I have the energy required to deal with all of the demands that others can place on someone who is famous. The requests never stop. Can you get me tickets to Hamilton? Will you donate to this worthy charity? Can you heal my child will leukemia? A broken arm? A mute tongue?

It’s not that I wouldn’t want to do these things for others. I just don’t know if I could keep pace with it all. Let’s think about the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life so far. His cousin John has been executed. He’s catered a meal to over 10,000 people and healed hundreds. He has not slept. He’s saved the disciples from yet another storm on the Sea. And now, more people want to be healed. In fact, they have this notion that if they are allowed to only touch the hem of his garments, they will be healed (v. 36). All of this qualifies as rock star stuff.

Have you ever seen video footage of when the Beatles landed in the States? People went absolutely bonkers. Hysterical crying and shouting. Hordes of people. And that’s what I envision happening here at the end of Matthew chapter fourteen. There are people swarming Jesus with out-stretched hands – just trying to brush His clothes as He passes by with the tips of their fingers. They’re calling His name and begging Him to turn His head in their direction. The disciples encircle Him like body guards as He makes His way through the crowd. It’s absolute madness. There’s a definite electricity in the air.

Or maybe not. I mean, I wasn’t there (obviously). I don’t know for sure one way or another. But the thing I find really cool is that people had so much faith in Him, they only needed to touch the clothes He was wearing – and they were healed. That’s faith like a child.

Jesus mentions such faith in Mark 10:14-15 and Luke 18:17. In fact, He says it’s absolutely mandatory for entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. Let’s think about some of the ways children have a simple but trusting faith. You can tell a child pretty much anything and, unless given rock solid proof to the contrary, they will believe you. For example, they believe in mythical figures like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny because we tell them such figures are real. They see the proof in the presents left on Christmas morning and the Easter Basket found on Easter Sunday. I’m not comparing Jesus (who really existed) to St. Nick (who also existed). I’m just saying children believe so easily and freely, and that’s what Jesus is saying His followers must do.

Note: That doesn’t mean we don’t ask hard questions about Him. I have a six year old nephew who is very curious and he wants to know the back story to EVERYTHING. He gets the facts and examines the evidence – and then he doesn’t let the obvious escape him. He accepts the conclusion: Santa exists.

Jesus wants the same thing from us. He wants childlike faith in Him, not blind faith. Look at the evidence in Scripture. Ask the hard questions. Accept the obvious conclusion, just like the people of Gennesaret…”and all who touched him were healed” (v. 36b).

Chapter Forty Three – The “War” on Christmas


(Editor’s note: The holiday season is upon us and I for one am excited. These next few months are my favorite time of year. But something inevitably also happens that gets under my skin. Some cable television “news” hosts start bemoaning there’s a “War on Christmas” just because some people prefer to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. My mom forwarded this letter to me years ago in an email and I’ve hung onto it ever since just as a reminder, especially around the holiday season, of what Jesus might actually say if we were listening.)

Dear children,

 It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season. Maybe you’ve forgotten that I wasn’t actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival. Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime.

 How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don’t care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Now, having said that, let Me go on.

 If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn’t allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen on your own front lawn and put a small Nativity scene there instead. If all My followers did that there wouldn’t be a need for such a scene on the town square because there would be so many of them around town.

 Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. Remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grapevine if you wish; I actually spoke of that one in a teaching that explained who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks are (Look up John 15:1-8).

 If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth, here is my wish list. Choose something from it.

 1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, because they tell Me all the time.

  1. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don’t have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.
  2. Instead of writing your neighbor complaining about the wording on the cards his wife sends out this year, why don’t you write and tell him that you’ll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It would be nice to hear from you.
  3. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can’t afford and they don’t need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.
  4. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.
  5. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don’t know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile. It could make the difference. Also, you might consider supporting the local suicide hot-line; they talk with people like that everyday.
  6. Instead of nit-picking about what the retailer in your town call the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren’t allowed to wish you a “merry Christmas” that doesn’t keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn’t make so much money on that day, they might close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families.
  7. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary, especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name. You may already know someone like this.
  8. Here’s a good one: There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no “Christmas” tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don’t know them personally, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Marines (Toys For Tots), the Salvation Army, or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.
  9. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don’t do things in secret that you wouldn’t do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.



 PS – Don’t forget: I am God and can take care of Myself. I will fight my own battles. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I’ll take care of the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I’ll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember.


Chapter Forty Two – Matthew 14: Doing the Impossible

walking on water

There’s no turning back / Nothing in the past / My eyes on you again / Can’t see nothing at all but Your outstretched arms / Help me believe it / Though I falter, You’ve got me walking on water – NeedToBreathe, Walking on Water, from the 2017 album “Hard Cuts: Songs from the Hard Love”

I earn a living by waiting tables at a local casino. And last Wednesday night was the worst night of my 15 years doing so. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. You name it, it happened. Two hours into my eight hour shift, I was ready to go home. Two hours after that, I was ready to quit. I even snapped at a co-worker. The manager on duty had to reprimand me and later said she thought the night was so crazy because of the full moon. It didn’t matter to me. I went home devastated and questioning everything about myself, my career choice, and life itself.

What do you do when life just falls apart? When you have more questions than answers? When everything around you is dark?

I don’t know Jesus’ state of mind when He heard the news about His cousin John the Baptist being executed by Herod Antipas, but Matthew says He wanted some time to Himself. That’s understandable. Yet the crowds find Him and interrupt His solitude. In His compassion, He heals and feeds them. All 10,000 plus of them. “Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home…[then] he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone” (v. 22-23). Finally He gets His “me time”.

“Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen and they were fighting heavy waves” (v. 25). They are on the Sea of Galilee, which is a significant body of water for that region. Can you imagine? What a roller coaster of a day for everybody involved. First the disturbing and disheartening news about John the Baptist. Then the miraculous feeding of the 10,000+. Now their lives are in danger and Jesus is nowhere to be found.

This story is also recounted in Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21. Remember that some of the disciples had been fishermen, so they are fully aware of what a storm on the water can do. Mark’s account says that Jesus “saw they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and the waves” (v. 48). John states they had rowed for three or four miles (v. 19). That’s a lot of work and quite a distance! But the next part is even more surprising than Jesus leaving them to fend for themselves for such a time.

Mark writes “About three o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. He intended to go past them but when they saw him walking on the water they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him” (v. 48b-50).

Can you imagine? You are tired and struggling in a situation where you know your life may be in danger in the middle of the night and then you see the impossible: a human figure walking on the water! What the heck is going on? I would be terrified too.

“But Jesus spoke to them at once, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘Take courage! I am here!’” (Matthew 14:27). Isn’t that just like Him?

I don’t know why Mark writes that Jesus intended to go past them. Maybe He knew they had the situation handled even if they didn’t feel like it at the time. But it’s their reaction to seeing Him that causes Him to intervene. Mark and John both record that immediately Jesus got in the boat and somehow the boat instantly arrives at the shoreline. But Matthew embellishes the story by involving the disciple known as Peter. Yes, THAT Peter. He basically says to Jesus that if it’s Him, “…tell me to come to you, walking on the water” (v. 28). Jesus says Yes and Peter climbs out of the boat and actually starts to walk on water with Jesus (v. 29).

“But when he saw the strong wind and waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me, Lord!’” (v. 30). In other words, Peter took his eyes off of Jesus. He let himself be distracted by what was going on around him. I’m a lot like Peter sometimes. Especially last Wednesday night. I got so caught up in what was happening around me, I forgot to act like a child of the King and I started to immediately sink into the raging waters. I almost drowned.

Fortunately, for Peter “Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said, ‘Why did you doubt me?’” (v. 31). And there it is in a nutshell. Poor Peter – he’s on a roller coaster. Riding high, walking on the waves, and suddenly realizing that human beings don’t do these kinds of things. In other words, doubting. And he falls. I can totally relate. But Peter is smarter than I was – at least he cried out for help. I managed to forget that it’s okay to ask for help. Jesus would have immediately reached out for me too.

When Peter and Jesus climb back into the boat, the wind stops that instant (v. 32). “Then the disciples worshipped him. ‘You really are the Son of God!’ they exclaimed” (v. 33). He clearly demonstrates His authority over nature and they reach the proper conclusion. How differently things might have turned out for me last Wednesday night had I reacted like the disciples.

Max Lucado says it quite well, “Man by himself cannot deal with his own guilt. He must have help from the outside. In order to forgive himself, he must have forgiveness from the one he has offended. Yet man is unworthy to ask God for forgiveness. That then, is the whole reason for the cross” (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, p. 139-140).

It’s not unusual for Jesus to ask us to get out of our boat and do the impossible with Him. We, like Peter, must be willing. And then we, unlike Peter, must have faith it can be done and keep our eyes on the One who initially called us. It may be forgiving the unforgiveable, or showing mercy to the unmerciful, or loving the unlovable. Walking on water (figuratively) is possible. But only with the One who knows how to bend those natural rules.

Chapter Forty One – Matthew 14: Out-Giving a Giver

Giving heart

What if I give all I have / What will that gift do / My child a gift like that could change the world / It could feed a multitude – Ray Boltz, What If I Give All, from the 1996 album “No Greater Sacrifice”.

To give unselfishly / To love the least of these / Jesus I’m learning how to live with open hands / All these treasures that I own / Will never satisfy my soul / Jesus I lay them at Your throne with open hands – Matt Papa, Open Hands, from the 2009 album “Your Kingdom Come”.

John the Baptist, cousin of the Christ, has just been executed by the Roman puppet sitting on the throne of the Galilean region. Understandably, Jesus goes off by himself to grieve (v. 13). But the crowds follow Him to an out of the way place and instead of getting angry, He feels compassion for them and heals their sick (v. 14)! There are so many of them that these acts take up a good chunk of the day to the point that the disciples become worried.

“This is a remote place and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves” (v. 15).

But Jesus says something surprising. He tells His disciples to feed the crowd. They protest: We only have two fish and five loaves of bread! How are we going to feed all these people with just that scrawny amount of food? (v.16). They forget, and I did too, that Jesus has already empowered them to do what He is suggesting (10:8). When He sent them out to minister, He gave them all the tools and ability to do as He was doing. I’m assuming He didn’t take any of that back when they returned. But does the Christ chastise them? No.

Instead, He takes what has been provided, blesses it and multiplies it to the point where it more than feeds about 5,000 men. That doesn’t include all the women and children. Supposing that maybe half of the men are married or in attendance with significant others, plus one child for every couple, that equals at least 10,000 people being fed that day. Some scholars put the number as high as 15,000. Matthew writes, “They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterwards the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers” (v. 20).

I don’t know if this is a literal twelve baskets or a figurative one since the number twelve in Jewish culture tends to signify completeness. Still, the fact that no one left hungry is amazing. What a caterer Jesus is! He’s better than the most efficient banquet team on the planet.

Which all goes to show that even the most paltry of offerings can be multiplied exponentially in the hands of the Christ. We don’t have to come to Him with bucket loads of talent or wealth or possessions. He takes what we already have and does wonders with it if we let Him. I know sometimes I tend to think that donating a few dollars to a local charity won’t do much to help the overall problem. But I forget that if others also give what little they have, the issue becomes much more manageable. Jesus doesn’t expect us to work in a vacuum. But He does expect each of us to do our part.

What do I have today that the Son of Man can use In the world to make it a better place? What am I holding onto for fear it won’t be enough, forgetting that in His hands it’s multiplied to the point of solving the problem? I’m reminded of the story of the widow who gave two small coins, all she had, into the offering plate at the temple (Luke 21:1-4). Jesus points her out to the disciples saying others gave out of their surplus, but not her. With Him, it seems to be about the quality of the gift, not the quantity. What a relief!

I may not have much, but that’s okay in Jesus’ book. All He asks is that I open my hands and let Him work. He may use all I have, or He may only use a portion of it. Doesn’t matter. The child who gave the five loaves and two fish received twelve baskets of leftovers to take home. Nothing was wasted. I think sometimes I forget that Jesus doesn’t leave us empty-handed but fills us back up with more than we gave. I once heard a pastor say, “You can’t out-give God. You can try, but you can’t out-give a giver.”

If there’s anything that Jesus has proven to be in the first fourteen chapters of Matthew, it’s a giver. Even in difficult personal times, like grieving the loss of His cousin, He still meets the needs of others. What makes me think it will be any different for me? Why am I still holding back?

Chapter Forty – Matthew 14: Death of a Prophet

john the baptist

I believe that one day I will see your Kingdom come and I wanna hear you say ‘welcome home my child, well done’ / so I step to the edge and I take a deep breath… / I’m going all in / Headfirst into the deep end / I hear you calling / And this time the fear won’t win – Matthew West, All In, from the 2017 album of the same title.

We need to take a side street and visit some ancient history before we move on much further, for in the beginning of chapter fourteen, Matthew re-introduces us to Roman ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas. We know this individual existed because he is recorded in the writings of Josephus (“History of the Jewish War” “B.J.” ii. 9) and other early manuscripts such as the English translation of Graetz (ii. 114). He is the son of Herod the Great who attempted to murder Jesus as a child (2:16-18).

Herod Antipas is mentioned a few times in scripture – most notably for imprisoning and executing John the Baptist (v. 6-11), but also for playing a role in condemning Jesus to death (Luke 23:6-11). More on that later. For now, let’s focus on Herod and John the Baptist. The reason he is in prison is because he has been speaking out against Herod’s relationship with his brother’s former wife (Mark 6:17-18). “Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot because all the people believed John was a prophet” (v. 5).

What to do? What to do? You are living in sin with your brother’s wife and one of the only guys to call you out for your immorality is also a beloved religious figure of the people you rule over. You can’t bring yourself to order his execution and you can’t bring yourself to let him go free. I wonder how the people of Galilee felt about John being locked up. They may have seen it as more Roman oppression and resented Herod for it. That’s quite a dilemma. It’s what we call a no-win situation.

We’re not told how long John was kept locked up. But we do know how the story ends. Herod has a birthday party. His step-daughter dances for him and he likes it enough to promise her anything (v. 6-7). So she talks it over with her mother – you know, “What should I ask for, mom? He said I could have up to half of his kingdom!” (Mark 6:23). The mother tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a silver tray. How’s that for dealing with a man you don’t like?

Herod instantly regrets his vow but follows through on it anyway, and John in beheaded in prison (v. 10). It’s not the ending I would have chosen if I were John. He is, after all, a respected man of God who is merely doing and saying what God has given him to do and say. He’s a faithful servant. Shouldn’t someone who has dedicated their life to the service of another at least have a happy ending? Shouldn’t there be a get-out-of-jail-free card?

But no. The only way for John to get out of prison was via a body bag (v. 12). It doesn’t seem fair. He was “all in” for sure.

Please note, and this is very important, God is not interested in what is fair. Ever. He is interested in what is right. Period. Re-read that if you need to. How do I know? He basically tells us through the prophet Micah:

“…the Lord has told you what is good and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8).

It’s not much simpler or plainer than that. Even I, with my limited capacity at times, can grasp that. So can my six-year old nephew. Do what is right. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Don’t worry about what it “fair”. My high-school history teacher once told his class that “fair is when something goes your way.”

John the Baptist was a faithful servant who did all three of these things. He rotted in prison and was later killed for it. It’s not fair from John’s perspective. The death of a prophet never is.

Sometimes I think about what John’s final moments must have been like. I imagine him stoically facing his executioners, accepting his fate. I do not believe he begged for his life. Someone who has lived life well would have no regrets, no ambitions to eek out another moment past the appointed time. Maybe I’m wrong. We don’t know – John’s reaction to the executioners showing up outside his cell is not recorded.

What we do know is Jesus’ reaction – He grieved the loss of His cousin (v.13). More on that in the next chapter. In the end, it seems as though we must keep in mind that “the lord of the gentle breeze is lord of the rough and tumble” (Steven Curtis Chapman, King of the Jungle, from the 1994 album “Heaven In the Real World”). God is god not only in the good times. If He were, He wouldn’t be much of a god. When we go through difficult times, whether it’s the loss of someone we love, the loss of our freedom, or the loss of our life – we can count on Him to still be there. And to grieve with us. It’s a hard thing to say, and an even harder thing to do. But let’s do it. Let’s go all in, like John.

Chapter Thirty Nine – Matthew 13: A Leap of Faith


Leap of faith without a net makes us want to hedge our bet / Waters never part until our feet get wet – Petra, Beyond Belief, from the 1990 album of the same title

The Christ has finished with His Kingdom parables for now and returns to His hometown of Nazareth. Why the trip home? Maybe He is nostalgic. Maybe He is also checking in with family that resides there. We don’t know as Matthew doesn’t say. But at some point, He makes His way to the local synagogue and begins teaching.  The reaction from the parishioners is interesting. On one hand, most of them are amazed at His teaching and wonder, “Where does He get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” (v. 54b). But then they start thinking about who Jesus is – someone they’ve known since He was a toddler and whose family still lives in town – and “they were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him” (v. 57).

Seems like an extreme reaction to me. But that’s how Jesus rolls. Most people are drawn to Him but there are those who are simply repelled for some reason. In this case, I believe the townsfolk of Nazareth are too close to the situation.  “Jesus had come to them as a prophet, one who challenged them to respond to unpopular spiritual truth. They did not listen to the timeless message because they could not see beyond the man” (Study Bible, p. 1571). And I wonder how often that still happens today; people can’t see the Savior because they are too hung up on the historical figure. Or they don’t believe in the historical figure. It’s probably more the latter.

And why not? Look at who His representatives on earth are today. You and I – and a bunch of old white men who seek power in political climates rather than in spiritual realms.  I wouldn’t believe in us either. In their 1995 song “What if I Stumble”, the Christian rock group DC Talk makes the following statement:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable”.

And they’re right. Look at how hard it is to convince people that Jesus is who He says He is when He’s performing miracles to back up His claims right in front of them. Forget our sloppy Christian lives today. “Unbelief blinds people to the truth and robs them of hope” (Study Bible, p. 1571). The people of Jesus’ day missed the Messiah standing right in front of them because they were too hung up on His past. How are people of today missing the Messiah in us?

The question we need to ask ourselves is how are we measuring up? Do we miss God’s work in the world because of our unbelief or our mistaken beliefs? What do you think God would accomplish in the world through us if we simply stepped out and went beyond belief? If we really lived what we said we believed? How many waters would part if we simply got our feet wet?

Or maybe you’re on the outside looking in and wondering what all the hype is about. You don’t see miracles because of your unbelief. You are more like the townsfolk of Nazareth. I’m not sure what it would take to convince them (or anyone) of who Jesus is. The late C.S. Lewis once said there are only four possibilities when it comes to the Christ:

He’s a legend (meaning He never really existed)

He’s a liar (because He claimed to be the Messiah and knew He was not)

He’s a lunatic (because He claimed to be the Messiah, thought He was but was not)

Or He is Lord (He is who He claimed to be).

It’s a decision that we have to make for ourselves. We can’t force it on other people (though there are plenty of people in the world today who are trying to do just that). All we can do is live it out to the best of our abilities. All we can do is go beyond belief. Take that leap of faith. Go on and hedge your bet. This gamble pays off in big ways.

Chapter Thirty Eight – Matthew 13: More Kingdom Talk


To give all that you are, for all that He is – This is the gospel according to Jesus

  • Steve Camp, Consider the Cost, from the 1991 album of the same title

God You don’t need me
But somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me
Somehow that frees me
To take my hands off of my life
And the way it should go

God You don’t need me
But somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me
Somehow that frees me
To open my hands up
And give You control

  • Tenth Avenue North, Control (Somehow You Want Me), from the 2016 album “Followers”

The key phrase in the remaining five parables of this chapter is “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” (v. 31, 33, 44, 45, & 47). Jesus repeats these words to begin each simile. In one instance, the Christ says it’s like a mustard seed. In the others, it’s like yeast, a hidden treasure, and a wily merchant.  Finally, He compares it to a fishing net. Seems like Jesus is all over the place, doesn’t it?  How are we supposed to get any type of clarity? What is the Kingdom of Heaven really like?

It’s complicated for one thing. It’s all of these similes and more. The Christ is trying to communicate to mere human minds the lofty ideals of a spiritual place. It starts small like a mustard seed or a bit of yeast yet manages to grow and permeate society. It is valuable like a hidden treasure that is found in a field. The person who finds it sells everything he has to acquire the field and thus, the treasure within its borders. It catches everything in its wake like a fishing net thrown into the water. Therefore, it is indiscriminate.

But the parable I want to focus on here is the one about the wily merchant. It’s the shortest parable that is recorded in this chapter, but it is perhaps the most important. Let’s take a look:

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (v. 45-46).

What is the Christ trying to say here? For one thing, He’s saying that He is the merchant and we are the choice pearls. He is saying that He will give everything to make us His. He’s saying He is relentless in His pursuit of us. “In contrast to the previous picture, Jesus is now displaying another aspect of the Kingdom. The contrast becomes vivid in the transaction – the Kingdom pays the ultimate price to possess the pearl, the price God was willing to pay to redeem us” (Study Bible, p. 1671). That makes us valuable and wanted. Isn’t that amazing?

It’s so freeing to know no matter what we do or don’t achieve in life, God has already considered us as prized for a place in His Kingdom. Why? Because we are image-bearers (Genesis 1:26-27). We bear the image of God. We are the piece de la resistance in His creation and He was willing to give up EVERYTHING to keep us with Him. That’s the whole point of the Christ. God steps down from the comfort and luxury of His heavenly throne and takes on flesh, which He allows to be destroyed just so we are redeemed. It’s crazy. But no other figure in all of human history (past, present, future) will ever do this for us. Not another god. Not a superhero. Not a Nobel Prize Winner or a star athlete. The richest man on earth, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, will never sacrifice himself for any one of us, let alone all of us. Only Jesus.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Jesus is the only one who can control us without destroying us. Everything else, everything else, taken to its extreme will be our ruin. I don’t care what it is – love, hate, food, drugs, sex, others, fame, fortune, success, failure…all of it leads to our downfall. We can’t save ourselves. So Jesus reaches down and offers to save us. He thinks that much of us. Which makes me wonder why so many of us think so little of ourselves? Don’t we know our value? Don’t we know our place? It’s in His Kingdom. Why don’t we take our hands off of our live and give Him control?

And You reach for me, with a love that quiets all my fears / And You reach for me, like a Father wipes away the tears / So many people in this world but I hear You calling out my name / You reach for me / Now I’m never gonna be the same – Peter Furler, Reach, from the 2011 album “On Fire”.