Chapter Thirty Seven – Matthew 13: Farmers, Soil and Weeds


For your consideration – congregations in sanctuaries must be temporary / Not isolating but infiltrating / No time for delaying / The world is waiting for a love that will come to them / We got to spread out thin / We got to go to them / Like seeds in the wind – scattering

  • Geoff Moore and the Distance, Scattering, from the 1997 album “Threads”

The first two parables that Matthew records in chapter 13 deal with agricultural themes – something that would have been clearly understood in Jesus’ day; not so much in 21st century America where the closest the majority of us get to fresh produce happens in our local grocery store or farmers market. We rarely get dirt under our nails or callouses on our hands from working the soil. Some of us would only have a green thumb if we stuck our thumb in green paint. That’s ok. I don’t have to be an artist to appreciate Picasso and I don’t have to be a farmer to understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables.

In the first one, He introduces us to a farmer indiscriminately scattering seed on four different types of soil which “represent different responses to God’s message” (Study Bible, p. 1569).  The seed is the word of God and the farmer is His messenger (all of us). Some of the seed falls on a footpath and is eaten by birds. Some seed falls on shallow ground and is quickly wilted by the hot sun. Some seed falls among thorns that choke the young plants. And some seed falls on good soil and produces a crop worth harvesting.

First of all, if I were a farmer I would care a little more about where I was scattering. I mean, why waste seed? But Jesus doesn’t see it like that. He wants us to openly share the good news of God’s word with everyone, even though most of the time it won’t produce worthwhile results. The truth is, people will respond differently to how we live our lives because their “soil” is in different states of readiness to hear what God has to say. “Some are hardened, others are shallow, others are contaminated by distracting worries” (Study Bible, p. 1569) and a few are receptive. Jesus says it doesn’t matter.  Scatter indiscriminately anyway and don’t be concerned with the results.

Notice also how the crop yield for the good soil varies. Jesus says it produces “a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as has been planted!” (v. 23). Again, Jesus is breaking the rules of agriculture.  That’s God multiplying the outcome considering what was invested. It just proves that you don’t have to hold back on your supply of seed. For one thing, with God it’s infinite, and for another a little bit on good soil produces an amazing return. It begs the question: what kind of soil am I? Exactly how has God’s word taken root in my life? If I am “good soil” what kind of yield have I produced?

The second parable focuses upon an enemy sowing weeds among a field of wheat the farmer has just planted. His farmhands want to pull up the weeds (nonbelievers) but risk also pulling up the wheat (believers). The reason is that before they mature, weeds and blades of wheat look an awful lot alike. Therefore, the weeds and wheat must remain side by side until the time of harvest. Jesus says this harvest is the end of the world (v.39), a time when His angels (harvesters) will separate the wheat (good) from the weeds (evil), which will be thrown away.   “There are true and false believers in churches today, but we should be cautious in our judgments because only Christ is qualified to make the final separation. If [we] start judging, [we] may damage some of the good “plants”. It’s more important to judge our own response to God than to analyze others’ responses” (Study Bible, p. 1570).

While I mostly agree with this sentiment (Jesus did say not to judge others 7:1), Jesus has also said twice (7:17 & 12:33) that you will be able to tell what kind of tree you’re looking at by the fruit it produces. There’s a bit of “discernment” required. And when there’s a group of bad trees leading the church, it seems like the correct and necessary thing to do to call it out. After all, non-believers only see a tree and if it’s producing bad fruit they tend to think most “trees” are bad. This view stains the effort of what Jesus is trying to accomplish through us; namely, bringing people into the Kingdom.

I also find it interesting that in his explanation of the parable, Jesus uses the phrase “fiery furnace” (v. 42) to describe where the weeds will be thrown. There is a story about a rich man in Luke 16 who has died and is in agony in the flames (v. 24). In the view of many scholars, they believe these references are to hell and the fact that hell will be a hot place. Maybe this is true. I’m certainly not as learned as some. But I did hear someone at some point in time suggest that hell will actually be an empty void of suffering without the presence of God. I tend to believe that view because it fits better with the portrait of a loving, benevolent God. Why would He sentence lost people to a fiery place when I believe He will simply respect the wishes of individuals who do not want to spend eternity with Him?

If there is a fiery place of torment, I believe Revelations indicates this will be the eternal resting place for Satan and his minions (20:10, 14-15; 21:8). One thing is certain: more study is required. Revelations is a confusing book and not our focus here.

In any event, Jesus concludes his explanations of the second parable with the words “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (v. 43b). He’s opening the door to everyone in that sentence and not discriminating against anyone based on any of the qualifiers that people throw up to prevent others from entering the Kingdom. I like that. The question now is: do I do the same? Am I opening the doors for everyone? If I’m not, then I’m not imitating my Savior.

Go forth and scatter indiscriminately. Remember, good soil produces a bountiful harvest.

Chapter Thirty Six – Matthew 13: The Parables Begin


Storyteller are you just a teller of some stories or can you perform a miracle in me? – Storyteller CD, Track 4: Teller of Some Stories. Unknown release date. Unknown Artist.

Jesus is a master story-teller. In this chapter of Matthew, seven stories are recorded but we are told there are many more (v.3). Each of these seven stories is told in a particular form called a “parable” in which familiar things are often compared to unfamiliar things. The purpose is for spiritual truth to be understood through everyday objects and relationships (Study Bible, p. 1568). Why would the Christ use parables? Why not just plainly speak the truth? Sometimes He did, and other times He didn’t. His disciples also wanted to know why He did this (v.10).

It’s certainly not for entertainment value. Jesus was a compelling enough speaker that He didn’t need gimmicks to get people to pay attention. But if you speak in parables, only the people who are truly listening will understand the point being made. Jesus was revealing the mysteries of Heaven (v. 11) in these little stories and He only wanted truth-seekers to understand what He was saying. Let’s face it, not everyone who came out to listen to Jesus speak was truly interested in hearing the truth. Some hearts were too lazy or too stubborn to want to understand Him. Some hearts were just there for the spectacle, and Jesus knew it. He didn’t begrudge them – but He would not cater to them either.  He had a mission to fulfill, and He wasn’t going to get sidetracked doing magic tricks the entire time.

Most of the time, after Jesus would finish telling a parable – He would explain what He really meant to His disciples. Matthew also recorded a couple of these explanations so we could see what Jesus was trying to convey with certainty. You see, it’s tempting to read too much into a parable – and Jesus wanted to make sure there wasn’t any confusion when it came to the interpretation. Who knows? Maybe He did this for us – knowing His words would later be written down and read by those who did not walk with Him in the flesh. Maybe He knew some of us would be tempted to put our own spin on what He was trying to say – and He deliberately made an end run around this problem. I don’t know – this is all speculation on my part. Maybe His real reasons are lost to the ages or beyond our understanding.

In any event, in this particular chapter all the parables “teach us about God and His Kingdom. They explain what the Kingdom is really like as opposed to our expectations of it” (Study Bible, p. 1569). This is important to know because just like in Jesus’ day, people sometimes expect the Kingdom of Heaven to be a geographical location instead of a spiritual realm where God the Father reigns. I still suspect some “Christian” leaders of today are trying to usher in God’s Kingdom on earth by seeking to establish theocracies in many places of government. In the process, they ignore living a lifestyle that attracts people to God and focus instead on forcing exterior rules on others who don’t share their beliefs. They make it all about being “right” while others are “wrong”. There’s a time and place for that, to be sure, but government isn’t one of them. Our great country was founded on the principles that the church and state should be kept separate from one another, and that while there is freedom to worship, there is also freedom FROM worship. That’s why the Founding Fathers didn’t use “In God We Trust” on their initial currency. Literally, aside from acknowledging that “all men are CREATED equal and endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable rights” there really is no other mention of a higher power or the directive to worship Him in our founding documents.

Back to the parables and the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m sure if Jesus had been the slightest bit interested in establishing an earthly Kingdom He would have had no problem doing so. After all, all of Heaven’s army was His to command. He chose instead to keep things on a spiritual plane of existence. In verse 12, Jesus makes it clear that each individual is “responsible to use well what we have. When people reject Jesus, their hardness of heart drives away or renders useless even the little understanding they had” (Study Bible, p. 1568). We must be careful not to be like this. And I believe most Christians have true intentions to be good doers of the Word.

What gets me angry is when Christians deliberately do something to force God and their beliefs on someone else, and then when that person rejects Jesus – they still feel justified in their approach. No, no. Case in point, I have a friend (several actually) who is an agnostic. This person was recently assaulted by a “Christian” in a department store who recited Scripture at her in hopes of “converting her to Christ”. That is NOT the way of Jesus. Never ONCE did Jesus walk up to a complete stranger and recite Scripture at them in hopes they would follow Him. NOT ONCE.

For one, it’s a complete waste of time. For two, it’s completely disrespectful to that person. Maybe you’ve never done this (thank God) but maybe you’ve left a bible track somewhere public in hopes of “witnessing” to someone. Can God use that to speak to others? Absolutely. But does He? I think His preferred method of communicating His love for people comes in having us LIVE the lifestyle on a consistent basis. And no, that doesn’t mean being a perfect person. God doesn’t need us to be perfect He needs for us to be present. Present in our relationship with Him and others. Present in the good times. Present in the bad times. Otherwise, we are just stories without meaning.


Chapter Thirty Five – Matthew 12: A Family Affair


You’re a good good father / it’s who You are / it’s who You are…/ And I’m loved by You / it’s who I am / it’s who I am… – Chris Tomlin, Good Good Father, from the 2016 album “Never Lose Sight”

I grew up loving Greek mythology. There was something to the stories of various gods, each with their particular station in life, reaching down and impacting human existence. It tended to be a family affair. You had Zeus, the chief god, brother to Hades and Neptune, and father to Aries and Apollo. I found it fascinating how the ancient Greeks explained the unexplainable in nature and the world around them. They invented the original comic book heroes.

The Hebrew God, Yahweh, also utilized family dynamics, with Jesus being introduced as the Son. Matthew emphasizes the familial relationship angle at the end of chapter 12. The Christ is teaching when Mary, his earthly mother, and his step-brothers show up outside, wanting to speak with Him. You see, the crowd listening to Jesus is so large, his earthly family cannot navigate their way through to reach Him.

When He receives word that his family is waiting outside and wants a word with Him, the Christ turns to the crowd and says, “’Who is my mother? Who is my brother?’ Then He pointed to His disciples and said, ‘Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!’” (v. 48-50).

Remember, this is THE virgin Mary He is referring to in this statement. Ouch. I don’t know how she reacted as Matthew doesn’t record that aspect, but if I were her I’d be a bit hurt by that statement. I’d think, ‘Wait a minute! I carried you in my womb for nine months! I raised you! Bandaged your boo-boos as a little boy! I wiped your tears! What do you mean by these other people are your family?’

Mark (3:31-35) and Luke (8:19-21) also include this event. “Jesus’ family did not yet fully understand His ministry [see Mark 3:21]”. “[He] explained that in our spiritual family, the relationships are ultimately more important and longer lasting than those formed in our physical families” (Study Bible, p. 1623). In Luke, Jesus replies “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it” (v. 21).

But Jesus wasn’t being disrespectful and He wasn’t denying His responsibility to His earthly family. “On the contrary, He criticized the religious leaders for not following the Old Testament command to honor their parents (15:1-9). He provided for His mother’s security while He hung on the cross (John 19:25-27). His mother and brothers were present in the upper room at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Instead, Jesus was pointing out that spiritual relationships are as binding as physical ones, and He was paving the way for a new community of believers (the universal church), our spiritual family” (Study Bible, p. 1568). “In our increasingly computerized, impersonal world warm relationships among members of God’s family take on major importance” (Study Bible, p. 1623).

It also means that anyone has the potential to join the family. In Greek mythology, you had to be sired by a god to be included. Not so with Yahweh. All you have to be is willing to follow Him. There’s no DNA ancestry test required. No secret ritual to follow. You don’t have to make a financial contribution to your local church or diocese. You don’t have to wear special undergarments or go on a mission trip. All that is required is to do the will of the Father.

How do we know what that is? Re-read the Sermon on the Mount (5:21-7:27) or at the very least do the opposite of what the Pharisees have been doing (ie: rejecting, disbelieving, doubting, blocking, etc.).  The challenge we have is to ask which side we are on. ‘Jesus’ true family is comprised of those who hear and obey his words. Hearing without obeying is not enough…Christ offers us an intimate family relationship with Him (Romans 8:14-16)” (Study Bible, p. 1697). How comforting for those who do not have a great relationship with their earthly family. What an additional blessing for those of us who do. Either way, the ultimate relationship is with the Father and the Son. The question is: Do you know them? You can. It’s easy. Just ask them to be a part of your life. Make it a family affair.

“I am a child of the Father and I know what that means for me / It means I’m loved and I’m spoken for / It means I’m wealthy in heavenly things…/ It means I’m redeemed and forgiven / It means I’m holy and blameless and free” – Cheri Keaggy, Child of the Father, from the 1994 album of the same title.

If you’re already a member of the family, great! The question then becomes are you living in such a way as to attract people to the family? That’s our whole purpose for being here. It’s literally THE reason God doesn’t immediately take us home to be with Him when we accept Jesus as our Savior. It’s the ONLY THING we can’t do in heaven. And it’s not “somebody else’s job”. It belongs to each and every one of us. I’m glad you are in the family, now go live God’s truth to an unbelieving world.

Chapter Thirty Four – Matthew 12: The Sign of Jonah


It’s just another sign of the times / One step closer to the day He arrives / To come back and claim His bride / I said it’s just another sign of the times – Three Crosses, Just Another Sign of the Times, from the 1995 self-titled debut album

Matthew’s gospel is not presented chronologically. You have to read the gospel of Luke for that. No, Matthew’s gospel is arranged thematically so the events recorded herein are out of order for when they happened. Last time, we looked at Jesus’ fiery first shot speech to the Pharisees (v. 25-37) in chapter 12. Considering what Jesus had to say to the religious leaders of His day, I would be surprised if they ever spoke to Him again.

Yet in verses 38-45, Matthew records that the Pharisees approach Jesus and ask Him to perform a miracle in order to prove His authority. Can you imagine the audacity if these events were sequential? He calls them evil and then they want Him to prove He’s not?

It’s not like that. It’s hard to say exactly when this request is made because it doesn’t appear in any of the other three gospel accounts. I’m not sure why Matthew included it here at this time but maybe he’s on a roll about Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees so why not mention it?

In any event, the religious elites are asking for a sign and Jesus lowers the boom on them again saying no sign will be given. Why not? It’s not like it would be hard for Him to do it. Take your pick: make the mute speak, release the demon-possessed, enable the blind to see or the lame to walk…cause manna to fall from the sky, eclipse the sun on command, or raise the dead. Anything would work.

The problem is not the lack of options or the fact that Jesus is unable to perform. The problem is that Jesus knows their hearts and understands that they had already seen enough miraculous things done to convince them He is the Messiah. The problem is that their hearts won’t believe what their eyes have seen. The problem is that they are not sincerely seeking to know Him. “They had already decided not to believe in Him, and more miracles would not change that” (Study Bible, p. 1567).

Jesus then used two examples of Gentile faith in Jewish history to prove His point. The first example was of the city of Nineveh in the time of Jonah. Yes, THAT Jonah. The one swallowed by a whale (more of a great fish). Nineveh was the capitol of the Assyrian Empire (yes, THOSE Assyrians) and it was an evil place full of evil people who repented of their evil deeds when Jonah came ashore. The second example is of the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon to see for herself if he was really as wise and wealthy as stories claimed. Jesus told the Pharisees that someone greater than Jonah and Solomon was in their midst (Himself) but they refused to repent and listen to Him (v. 41 & 42). So no, no sign would be given. No sign but the sign of Jonah.

“For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (v. 40). He is, of course, referencing His own death and resurrection – but He’s saying that not even that would change some of their hearts and minds about Him.

Kind of makes me wonder what it would take for some people to believe in Jesus. This whole scenario applies to us today. There are a lot of individuals who have made the claim that if only they could see a real miracle, then they would believe in God. They don’t believe the Bible is an accurate representation of history even though nothing exists to refute it. They don’t recognize the complexities of nature’s design as being done by an Intelligent Being. They don’t appreciate the fact that every breath is a gift.  The problem is not that God has stopped performing miracles in our time; the problem is that we have so much evidence of God in everyday life and the work that believers are doing around the globe, we don’t need to be looking for miraculous signs.  We need to be looking to Him and reading the sign of the times that exist.

Chapter Thirty Three – Matthew 12: The Work of the Spirit


It’s not a family trait / it’s nothing that I ate / and it didn’t come from skating with holy rollers / it’s an early warning sign / it keeps my life in line / but it’s so hard to define – never mind…/ it pushes when I quit / it smells a counterfeit / sometimes it works a bit like a teleprompter / when it’s teleprompting you I pray you let it through / and I’ll help you with the how but for now it’s just a spirit thing / it’s just a holy nudge / it’s like a circuit judge in the brain / it’s just a spirit thing / it’s here to guard my heart / it’s just a little hard to explain…

  • Newsboys, Spirit Thing, from the 1994 album “Going Public”

The authors of our intro song above (Steve Taylor and Peter Fuhler) hit the proverbial nail on the head when it comes to explaining the Holy Spirit and how it works. Up until this point, Jesus has been in the spotlight; the center of attention with all His miracles and stories. We’ve only caught glimpses of the third and final member of the trilogy band (think: Jesus’ baptism by cousin John) – the Holy Spirit. It’s mostly been a background character with Jesus as the lead but for a moment here, the script flips. The Son of Man starts to highlight the Spirit’s importance right in the middle of His first shot speech to the Pharisees.

Remember, they accuse the Christ of getting His power to perform miracles from the Prince of demons, Satan. That didn’t sit well with Jesus. So He responds by giving it to them with both barrels, so to speak. In the opening statement, He argues that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If His power really came from Satan, then Satan was working against himself. Then, rather than leave any doubt what He’s talking about, the Christ attributes His ability as coming from this third, mysterious player – the Holy Spirit.

And then He says that to suggest otherwise is blasphemy which cannot be forgiven either in this world or the world to come (v. 31-32). What the heck does He mean?

This act is referred to as the unpardonable sin. It is “the deliberate refusal to acknowledge God’s power in [the] Christ. It indicates a deliberate and irreversible hardness of heart…only those who have turned their backs on God and rejected all faith have any need to worry. Jesus said they can’t be forgiven – not because their sin is any worse than any other but because they will never ask for forgiveness (Study Bible, p. 1567) which is prompted by the Holy Spirit. Whoever rejects the Spirit’s prompting has removed themselves from the only force which can lead them to repentance and restoration with God. Therefore, it is interesting to note that as a result, God will not condemn anyone to an eternity without Him, it will be their choice. And God always honors our choices.

Back to Jesus’ speech. He continues by sharing with the Pharisees a little bit of His Sermon on the Mount. He focuses on the theme of how a tree is identified by its fruit. “If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad” (v. 33). Then He goes in for the kill: “You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right. For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart” (v.34-35). Wow.

He’s calling the religious leaders of His day evil. He just says it plainly and outright. He’s not playing anymore. Snap. Makes me wonder about the words He would have to say to the right-wing leaders of our day.  Jerry Falwell Jr. or Joel Osteen or Franklin Graham or some of the others. Pat Robertson comes to mind. Judging by their actions in recent decades, it’s hard not to say that they have all lost their way when it comes to bringing people closer to God. They spend their time fearful of those who are different and gather wealth for themselves while ignoring the needs of those around them. If Jesus is willing to call the Pharisees a brood of snakes, just what would He call these so-called men of God nowadays? I don’t think the Spirit has given up on them; it seems they have given up on the Spirit.

It’s a heart problem.

The only way to solve a heart problem is to let the Spirit fill a person with new attitudes and motives. Jesus ends His speech by saying that all men must give an account on judgment day for every idle word spoken. “The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you” (v. 37). That sounds pretty harsh but again it goes back to the heart problem.

How am I responding to the Spirit? Do I allow it to convict me when I’m wrong and change my behavior? Do I listen to its nudges to seek forgiveness? Or do I block it outright and continue on my way?

Chapter Thirty Two – Matthew 12: The First Shot

Broken Home

“Could He be the Messiah? Miracle man, part of the plan / Could He be the Messiah? Life in His hand, I understand He could be…” – Michael W. Smith, Could He Be The Messiah, from the 1987 album “Project”

Ever since the Christ walked the earth 2,000 years ago – the main challenge issued has been for us to answer the question of who He is. Is He a con-man? Is He a satanic worker? Is He a god? Is He who He claims to be? Could He really be the one true God incarnate? It’s a serious question and one every single human has had to decide for themselves in their lifetime. It determines how life is lived here – and what happens after we are no longer among the living on this planet.

When last we left Jesus, He was in hot water with the Pharisees who were working on a plan to kill Him. I guess that’s how the religious elite dealt with threats to their power vacuum back in the day. “Then a demon-possessed man, who was blind and couldn’t speak, was brought to Jesus. He healed the man so that he could both speak and see. The crowd was amazed and asked, ‘Could it be that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah?’” (v. 22-23).

Without reading any further in scripture, a reader who is paying attention would know that this question is not going to sit well with the Pharisees. And it doesn’t. “…when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, ‘No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons’” (v. 24). That’s one possibility, I guess, if you don’t want to investigate the other possibility that the crowd is right. But this time, Jesus doesn’t let the accusation go unchallenged. Instead, He fires back a shot that is only going to deepen the Pharisees anger toward Him.

“Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, ‘Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart. And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive. And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived among you. For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger – someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house’” (v. 25-29).

Then He delivered the crushing blow: “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me” (v. 30). Translation: I am God and you are not; in fact, you are on the side you accuse me of being on if you’re against me. Ouch. I doubt the Pharisees were used to being talked to in this manner. It probably only ticked them off even more.

Basically, what’s being said is that it is impossible to remain neutral about Jesus. A decision must be made. “Anyone who is not actively following him has chosen to reject him. Any person who tries to remain neutral in the struggle against good and evil is choosing to be separated from God, who alone is good. To refuse to follow Christ is to choose to be on Satan’s team” (Study Bible, p. 1567).

Hey! Don’t get mad at me! I’m just the messenger! Jesus is the one who said it. And it’s the question that continues to be asked. Who is He? And what are we going to do about it? The answer decides our destiny. Since tomorrow is not promised to us, let’s make up our minds today – before it’s too late. The first shot has been fired. The evidence is overwhelming. Look, I get it: some of you will say there’s no way I want to be like those pew-hugging Christians. They’re such hypocrites. Yes, some of them are. Sometimes I am. But this is not about them or me. It’s about you. How will you respond?

Chapter Thirty One – Matthew 12: Description of a Savior


Can they see God for who He really is In what they see in you and me? For who He really is, is all they really need to see

  • Steven Curtis Chapman, For Who He Really Is, from the 1988 album “Real Life Conversations”

The Pharisees are now plotting to kill Jesus, and He knows this – so rather than continue to confront the religious leaders, Jesus and His disciples withdraw from that area. Why? Primarily because it wasn’t His time to die yet. He had much more to teach and many other people to heal. And as He healed them, He told them not to tell anyone else what He had done for them.

Why? If it were me, I wouldn’t mind a little bit of attention and thanks for the work I had done. But not Jesus. Remember, He is humble and gentle of heart. So why didn’t He want the word to get out? Was He afraid of the growing crowds? Not at all. There are three reasons why He didn’t want people telling others about who had healed them – 1) He wanted people to come to Him for the right reasons; 2) He didn’t want to “arouse false hope about an earthly kingdom” (Study Bible, p. 1566); and 3) to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-4 about the Messiah. Let’s take a closer look at that:

Isaiah basically offers a unique description of the Messiah. He writes things like “he will proclaim justice to the nations” (v. 18b) and “He will not fight or shout or raise His voice in public” (v. 19). He goes on to say that “He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious” (v. 20).

What a human being. That is someone I definitely want to know. Isaiah is supporting Jesus’ claims about Himself (ie: that He is humble and gentle) and offering additional information such as He will enable justice. Who wouldn’t want a savior like that? I think in many ways, we still do.

Which is why so many evangelicals are trying to push their agenda on a political stage. It goes against everything Jesus did and how He did it, but they prod along anyway. It’s almost as if they think they can usher in an earthly, theocratical kingdom if enough of our laws reflect their interpretation of scripture. What I find ironic, is that they’ve chosen a leader who is the antithesis of the Christ (an anti-Christ, if you will) to carry out this agenda from the White House. Brene Brown, in her new book “Dare to Lead”, says vulnerability is essential to courage in leadership. Too often, we think it means to be weak, which in actuality is the opposite of what it really is. Jesus was vulnerable (and strong) and yet a majority of evangelicals support a man-child who is weak in his personal ethics and a bully.

Let’s be clear: the people of Jesus’ day wanted an earthly kingdom too. But that is not what Jesus came to establish. “[W]e may want Christ to rule as a king and bring great and visible victories in our life. But often Christ’s work is quiet” (Study Bible, p. 1566). Hear that? It’s QUIET. And the important thing is that it happens in HIS TIME, not ours.

So let’s stop pushing a theocratical agenda on others in our nation, and focus instead on how we can implement the teachings of the Christ in our own personal lives. Maybe then, others would see the Christ for who He really is.  I can almost guarantee if we do that on a regular and consistent basis, the kingdom of Christ will advance across our nation and across the world faster than we could ever imagine.

Chapter Thirty – Matthew 12: More Sabbath Work

helping hands

Sometimes I think what will people say of me when I’m only just a memory, when I’m home where my soul belongs? Was I love when no one else would show up? Was I Jesus to the least of us? Was my worship more than just a song? I want to live like that.

     *  Sidewalk Prophets, Live Like That, from the 2012 album of the same title

When we last left Jesus and His crew, the Christ was schooling the Pharisees about the Sabbath and making outrageous claims of being the Lord of the Sabbath. In the next few verses of chapter 12, the Pharisees retaliate by bringing a man with a deformed hand before Jesus and then asking Him a trick question: Was it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?

It’s a simple yes or no question with some not-so-simple repercussions. You see, if Jesus answers “No” and waited until another day to heal the man’s hand, He would have been deferring to the Pharisees and their authority. If He answers “Yes” and heals the man right then and there, then the Pharisees can claim His power is from Satan. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t moment in His ministry. What’s a guy claiming to be the Messiah supposed to do?

If you’re Jesus, you answer perfectly by asking a question: “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep” (v. 11-12). I wish I could have been there to see the faces of the Pharisees as Jesus said this. I wish I could have been there to break into a smirk and whisper “Burn you” under my breath. It would have been hard not to. That was a good zinger on Jesus’ part.

But He wasn’t done. He then tells the Pharisees that it IS lawful to heal on the Sabbath and He asks the man with the deformed hand to stretch it out. Just as the man does so, his hand is restored. “Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus” (v. 14). Wow. I am surprised that publicly going against the religious establishment of His day would result in a death warrant, but apparently, it does. Welcome to first century Palestine.

The important part of Jesus’ little speech made it perfectly clear how petty and ridiculous the Pharisees’ rules were. He basically said that the important time to reach out to someone is when they need help, not a moment later. “The Pharisees placed their laws above human need. They were so concerned about Jesus breaking one of their rules that they did not care about the man’s deformed hand” (Study Bible, p. 1566). And why should they care? What was so bad about a deformed hand? It basically meant the man himself couldn’t perform normal everyday tasks, which meant he was a burden on someone else. Which meant he couldn’t participate in society. Which meant he couldn’t be involved in temple worship. Which meant he had no way to offer sacrifices to atone for his sin. Which meant his spiritual life was dead. Which meant he wasn’t in line for the kingdom of heaven.

Until Jesus jumped him to the front of the line and changed all of that.

Now the man is able to take care of himself and work. Now he is able to contribute to society. Now he is able to worship. All because one rogue man defied an institution on a day of rest.

The challenge for myself is: what is my attitude toward others especially when they are in a position of need? Am I like the Pharisees – using them to make a point? Or am I like Jesus – willing to put myself on the line to help? The truth is – if my convictions don’t allow me to help others (regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, religious background, nation of origin, etc.) then maybe my convictions are not in line with God and His word. Maybe I have become the Pharisee. I certainly do not want to be more loyal to a religious system than to God.

Chapter Twenty-Nine – Matthew 12: The Freedom to Worship

freedom to worship

“Here I am to worship / Here I am to bow down / Here I am to say that You’re my God / You’re altogether lovely / Altogether worthy / Altogether wonderful to me”

  • Sonicflood, Here I Am to Worship, from the 2003 album “Cry Holy”

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work.”

  • Deuteronomy 5: 12-14 (NLT)

Moses lays out the fourth commandment well in the final book of the Torah by going into a detailed description of who was to be included in a person’s household. Thousands of years later, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had established at least 39 different categories of actions that were considered “work” and therefore forbidden on the Sabbath. This was a case of forcing people to adhere to the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit behind it.

In Matthew 12, Jesus and His disciples are walking through a field of grain. Some of them are hungry, so they pick and eat the grain. The religious leaders see them do it and protest that they are working on the Sabbath and are therefore in violation of one of the original ten commandments. I don’t know what the penalty is for breaking any of the them, but I suspect it’s pretty serious, so the Pharisee’s accusation is nothing to be trifled with.

Jesus, however, rebukes them and offers a short diatribe on why the Sabbath was established. He finishes by claiming to be lord over the Sabbath. But the part I like the best is when He quotes the old testament by saying “But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices’ (v. 7). He’s quoting Hosea 6:6, something the religious elite of His day should have known and obviously didn’t.

You see, it was forbidden to perform 39 different types of action on the Sabbath according to the Pharisees, but them working on the Sabbath to offer sacrifices did not make the list. In other words, Jesus is yet again pointing out their hypocrisy. They were so concerned about performing religious rituals that they completely missed the point of the Temple altogether: to bring people closer to God. Instead, they were imposing their own morality, which was incredibly inferior to God’s, on others and then not living up to their own standards. “The Pharisees had lost the spirit of the law and were rigidly demanding that the letter (and their interpretation of it) be obeyed” (Study Bible, p. 1565).

The importance of this part of scripture today is that we can miss God even as we are supposedly trying to worship Him if we become more concerned with the means of worship than with the one we are worshipping. This was true of the Pharisees then, and it tends to be true of us now. We tend to be more concerned with the style of music, the lights, the sound, the performance – than we do about truly connecting with our Heavenly Father. If this were not true, there wouldn’t be mega-churches.  Dare I say I believe our hearts are not in the right place. And our “heart attitude” toward God should come first in all things because only then can we properly obey and observe religious rituals and regulations.

I think America is heart-sick. And I think we cause the heart of God to grieve with the way a lot of us are choosing to worship nowadays. I don’t think He’s pleased with us, or our worship, at all. Especially when our mega-churches sit empty six days of the week and there are thousands who are still homeless and hungry in our communities. When our pastors pull in six-figure salaries and live in seven-figure homes. When service to our community is a once or twice a year event for our congregation, and even then, most of us don’t show up to participate.

Finally, in verse 8 – Jesus claims authority over the Sabbath. When He did this, he states Himself “to be greater than the law and above the law. To the Pharisees, this was heresy. They did not realize that Jesus, the divine son of God, had created the Sabbath” (Study Bible, p. 1565) and therefore He alone was authorized to overrule their traditions and regulations. Remember, this comes on the heals of His statement that His yoke is easy and He longs to give us rest. He is reiterating, for the Pharisees’ sake, that He is more concerned with freeing people from the burdens of the religious establishment. Which brings me to this question: What is weighing me down as I seek to worship Him? What burdens do I carry around that He is begging me to drop in regards to worship? Is it that Sunday is the only day I must dress up and worship Him in the company of others? What if my work schedule doesn’t permit me to attend church on Sundays? Is it that I must only vote for GOP leaders in government because conservative is the only way to go?

I think there are a lot of “traditions” that we need to be questioning for ourselves. I think Jesus demands it. I think in order to be more like Him, we need to demand it of ourselves. I think that when we do question the established religious status quo – we will find the kind of freedom that Jesus is offering. And I think we’ll be better off for it both for ourselves and in the way it frees us to worship Him.

Chapter Twenty-Eight – Matthew 11: A Yoke of Rest

laughing jesus

Rest easy – have no fear / I love you perfectly / love drives out fear / I’ll take your burden / you take my grace / Rest easy in My embrace

  • Audio Adrenaline, Rest Easy, from the 1993 album “Don’t Censor Me”

As Matthew finishes off the part of his gospel that is recognized as chapter 11, he records a curious and rare statement of the Christ. In it, Jesus gives us a glimpse of how He sees Himself, as well as a promise to those who follow Him.  Read verses 28-30 for yourself:

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Huh? Burdens? Yoke? What the heck is He talking about?

First of all, the heavy burdens carried by the people may include sin, oppression and persecution, weariness in the search for God, and the excessive demands of the religious leaders. All burdens still carried by people today. Jesus essentially says He seeks to free people from these issues that weigh down the human soul. “The rest that Jesus promises is love, healing and peace with God, not the end of all labor. A relationship with God changes meaningless, wearisome toil into spiritual productivity and purpose” (Study Bible, p. 1565).

So why does He mention a yoke? What is that anyway? The people Jesus was speaking to would have understood the imagery of a yoke. It’s basically a heavy wooden harness which fits over the shoulders of a pair of oxen. It is then attached to a large piece of equipment that the oxen pull like a plow or a wagon. “In what sense was Jesus’ yoke easy? The yoke emphasizes the challenges, work and difficulties of partnering with Christ In life. Responsibilities weigh us down, even the effort of staying true to God. But Jesus’ yoke remains easy compared to the crushing alternative” (Study Bible, p. 1565).

Note, contrary to what some current preachers proclaim, the Christ is not promising a life of luxury, but of shared experience. The weight falls on the shoulders of the bigger individual (here, on Jesus). “Someone with more pulling power is up front helping. Suddenly, you are participating in life’s responsibilities with a great Partner…” (Study Bible, p. 1565). I love that imagery. By entering a relationship with Jesus, suddenly we are not alone anymore and we are not bearing the brunt of the burdens life throws at us.

Finally, I want to point out the statement that Jesus makes about Himself. For the most part, throughout the gospels and rest of the New Testament, the description of the Christ is left up to the authors. But here is something unique. In Matthew 11, Jesus states two things about Himself that are true: He is humble, and He is gentle of heart. Can you imagine a better person to be partnered with in life? He’s not an attention-hog or a braggart. He’s not mean or vindictive. Ever. Preachers are always encouraging us to be more like the Christ. Here are two personality characteristics we can strive to implement: humility and gentleness. This is something we should want to see in ourselves, as well as in our leaders whether it’s a work, at home, or in the nation.

Can you imagine if the world were a more humble and gentler place? Maybe then we would truly be able to rest easy.