There are many repetitions in today’s passage: God’s declaration of who Jesus is at His transfiguration (17:5) is almost identical to His declaration at Jesus’ baptism (3:17), Jesus’ exhortation regarding the importance of dealing with personal sin (18:8-9) is very similar to His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (5:29-30), and Jesus’ statement regarding what is bound and loosed in heaven and on earth is repeated as well (18:18 & 16:19).
Jesus’ example of how He managed His personal relationships seems like a wise one to follow. He had 12 disciples but from among them he only chose a few (Peter, James, and John) with whom He shared His deepest and most personal experiences (see also 26:37). We too will likely know many fellow believers from church, fellowship, and other spheres of life but we can’t be best friends with each and every one of them. It’s simply not humanly feasible given our finite time and energy and differences in personality. However, we too need an “inner circle” of friends with whom we have the same worldview and who are mature in their faith so that we can sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17) and spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
Jesus’ teaching in 18:9-10 shows how drastic our actions may have to be in order to purge sin from our lives, but on the flip side it also shows how attached we may be to our sin. We all live the beginning part of our lives as enemies of God by nature and we may have wicked lifestyles or ungodly attitudes that have been built up for years that feel as natural and fundamental to who we are as a part of our own bodies. However, Jesus requires us to adopt His values and to perform spiritual surgery, denying ourselves and taking up our cross in His power, in order to follow Him.
-How was Peter able to recognize Moses and Elijah (17:4)?
-Who are the angels in 18:10 and what is their purpose?
Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees’ practice of overriding God’s commands with their own tradition (15:4-6) looks like a mirror of what Christ did in the Sermon on the Mount (5:21-48). Whereas in the case of Christ He was expanding and elaborating on the word of God, the Pharisees were constricting and contradicting it for their own purposes. Do we sometimes pick and choose which commands we want to obey and disregard the rest or do we let the word of God in its entirety pierce us and shape the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Heb 4:12)? Jesus used the Pharisees’ teaching as an example of how the things that come out of a person’s mouth reveal the corruptness of their heart.
The account of the Canaanite woman seems almost like it was placed where it is to achieve maximum contrast compared with the account that it immediately follows. The Pharisees who were the educated spiritual lay leaders of the Jews mishandled God’s word, antagonized Jesus, and failed to recognize the very Messiah proclaimed in the Scriptures they studied. On the other hand, the Canaanite woman, who didn’t have the benefit of a Pharisee’s education, recognized something in Jesus that caused her to persist in pursuing Him so that He even commended her on her faith.
There looks to be a link (perhaps not a very strong one) between Christ’s miracle of the feeding of the four thousand (as well as His feeding of the five thousand) and His involvement in creation. In the beginning, God created everything out of nothing. He didn’t rework and reconfigure stuff that was already there but brought universe and everything in it into existence. Going back to Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus might as well have had nothing to begin with since from a child’s lunch (John 6:9), which wouldn’t have even filled one of the baskets that the leftovers were collected in, He was able to feed to full satisfaction 5,000 men along with women and children with 12 basketfuls of food remaining. There’s no mathematical trickery or creative division that would’ve enable this to happen apart from the power of God and this would’ve been the case in the feeding of the 4,000 as well.
-What is the binding and loosing that Peter would do referring to (16:19)?
Jesus used a lot of agricultural imagery in His parables, presumably because these would’ve been relatable to a people who lived in an agrarian culture. Also, in this section Jesus devotes a considerable amount of time to describing the kingdom of heaven.
In the parable of the sower, regardless of what kind of terrain the seed fell on, the main distinction seems to be whether or not the seed came to fruition. This contrast between those that bear good fruit and those that don’t, as well as the idea of God separating one from the other for two different destinations, continues a running theme from earlier in Matthew.
In the parable of the weeds, I used to see the main point as being Satan sending in false disciples to infiltrate God’s church but I now see God’s reason for not wanting the weeds to be uprooted before the harvest. It seems the reason is quite the opposite from what I had initially thought. Though there are false teachers around who are wolves in sheep’s clothing, it’s less the case that these impostors are among us “good moral Christians” but rather that we resemble the weeds so much so that we’d be swept away with the rest if the workers came to clear the fields early. Praise God that He will one day transform us from that state and make us shine like the sun in His kingdom (13:43)!
Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples when they asked if He was the one who had been prophesied about wasn’t a simple”yes.” Instead, He pointed them to His miracles of healing and His preaching of the good news (11:4-5). His actions and His life made it obvious who He was in light of what had been foretold in Scripture. Once again there’s the theme of recognizing someone by their fruit and this idea is spelled out more in 12:33-35.
Jesus’ denouncing of the cities that had seen His miracles but still refused to repent reminds me of Luke 12:47-48. Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum had been given the privilege of seeing Jesus verify the truth of His message through His miracles yet they still wouldn’t listen to Him. In the end, they will be called to greater account because of the greater revelation that had been given to them. Again Jesus pointed to figures from the past who responded rightly in the face of less evidence in order to condemn the people of His generation (12:41-42).
We’ve also been given a great revelation of Christ in His Word. How would we measure up if God were to call us to account this moment for the way we live given all that He’s revealed to us?
Going through the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry it seems like there’s a patterned progression from physical to spiritual (currently it’s still mostly physical but the aspect of the forgiveness of sins is starting to emerge). This same pattern can be seen in the progression from the OT to the NT. God’s blessings to His people in the OT consisted largely of material blessings such as riches, animals, and land but this was never meant to be the end point. These blessings were meant to point forward to a greater blessing in Christ that would be intangible. God’s greatest gift would never perish, spoil, or fade. In the same way, the abundance of healing miracles performed by Christ at the beginning of His ministry appear to be a foretaste of the greater blessing of full spiritual healing that would come at the Cross. In both cases, the material and physical are stepping stones for understanding and foreshadowing a greater truth.
In 9:10 the Pharisees seem to look on tax collectors and various others in society as ‘sinners’ of an entirely different class than themselves. Surely they would’ve understood that they weren’t sinless but they made such judgements that they ended up “above” some people and were able to look down on them. Jesus’ statement that he did not come to call the righteous seems obvious when we understand that such a person doesn’t exist (Romans 3:10-12). What He came for were people who recognized the depths of their sin and their helplessness to remedy their situation (5:3-6) instead of those who were righteous in their own eyes. Do we sometimes make comparisons between ourselves and others who we see as more sinful rather than measuring ourselves against God’s standards?
Judas was also given authority to drive out evil spirits and to perform miracles of healing along with the other disciples even though he would later betray Jesus. God chose to put Jesus’ betrayer within His close circle of followers. In many ways Judas might have looked like a genuine disciple of Jesus but in the end he turned against Him. It shouldn’t be a stumbling block to our faith or an unanswerable challenge when someone who by all appearances looks like a true Christian renounces Christ. It’s something that’s been happening since the very beginning and in God’s wisdom He used Judas for a season to forward the work of His kingdom and even brought glory to Himself through his betrayal.
Jesus’ command to His disciples to bring nothing with them for their journey (10:9-10) and to not worry about how they would defend themselves against their accusers (10:19-20) is a picture of God’s perfect provision and the trust that it would take on their part to avail themselves of it.
Jesus’ exhortation to examine our own lives first before putting our attention on others is an especially relevant one given the deceptiveness of our sinful nature. We often minimize our own sins and magnify those of others when in fact our sin may be the plank to our brother’s speck. We also tend to attribute the causes of sin differently. For ourselves, we may consider the causes of sin to be temporary or external factors (e.g., having a bad day, “slipping up”) whereas when we feel wronged we can be quick to attribute enduring or internal factors to the other person (e.g., deficient character, motivated by bad intentions).
As much as we ought to be concerned with our own sin we are also to not disregard sin in the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters. We also need to look out for one another and to restore each other in love but each of us must first get right with God ourselves so that we can do it with clarity, credibility, and a clear conscience.
In His teaching on bearing good fruit Jesus makes an important distinction between what we think God’s will is and what the will of our Father in heaven actually is. Many will plead the case of their good works, even miraculous deeds, but will be rejected from heaven as never having known Christ. He would even call them evildoers who performed wonders in His name. On the surface it appears to be a powerful testimony but something fundamental is missing that God values even more. What then is the will of God for us? Though it should by no means fail to manifest itself in visible changes in our lives (7:20), if Jesus’ words here follow a similar line of thought as His preceding teachings it would seem that what God desires in us extends deeper than what can be seen by men. It appears that the development of an inner godly character that reveals itself through a transformed life is what God calls us to.
-Why did the display of God’s power in the healing of the two demon-possessed men cause the people in the region of the Gadarenes to plead with Jesus to leave them when elsewhere it caused people to flock to Him with their sick?
When trying to understand Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s important to consider the context and to take the sermon as a whole. I’ve heard enough people who weren’t even Christians talk blithely about turning the other cheek (5:39) and following the Golden Rule (7:12). These two commands seem to have entered the consciousness of modern culture so much so that people sometimes throw them around mindlessly, but taken in isolation there’s much that’s lost because the antecedent qualifications, and thus the source of power, of the person doing these actions are disregarded.
Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount with the Beattitudes for a reason. The Beattitudes read like a list of character qualities every Christian should be developing in his or her life. The feasibility of each of the commands given in the sermon is anchored on the fact that the audience is followers of Christ. The only way any person is able to be a light to the world, have a right heart and attitude in dealing with others, love his enemies, relate to God rightly, and have the right focus in life is through the enabling power of God in a life that’s been renewed by Christ. To disregard this would mean putting the weight of living in a supernaturally transformed and divinely empowered way (that’s completely foreign to our naturally selfish tendencies) on the shoulders of broken and sinful people. How could such people acting in their own strength ever hope to succeed in this?
In the Beattitudes, seven of the nine declarations of blessing have to do with having a certain attitude of the heart and this theme continues throughout the sermon. Jesus expands the definition of murder and adultery beyond the commonly accepted understanding of the mere act to the inclination of a person’s heart. Heart attitudes are dealt with in Jesus’ commands on revenge and love for enemies. Underlying motivations are also addressed for seemingly pious acts like giving, prayer, and fasting. Finally, Jesus’s audience is exhorted to set their sights on heavenly treasures and on God’s kingdom and righteousness rather than on having misplaced hopes and ambitions.
I once heard someone correct another person who said of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus was raising the bar. His reply was that Jesus was actually setting the bar to where it should be. I think that’s an apt description.