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Bible reading plan & guide - week 5


One of the themes which runs through the chapters in Matthew this week is the reception different classes of people gave Jesus as he "went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" 9:35. By these mighty works, the Jews should have recognised he was a great messenger sent from God. Two distinct classes are highlighted in the record: those who believed his teaching and reacted accordingly; and those who rejected him, either through indifference or implacable opposition. Both of these classes are set forth as examples for us, to either follow or avoid, so that we in the end receive Jesus’ commendation rather than his condemnation.

People today are indisposed to believe the record of Jesus’ miracles even though we now take for granted the wonders performed by men in almost every sphere of life. If mankind, with the advance of knowledge and power, can do such remarkable things, we ought to be able to accept that the omniscient and omnipotent God did do the deeds recorded in the Bible. The people of those times gave reliable witness to the marvellous deeds performed by Jesus with God’s power, just as we can witness to the wonders of our own age, and they should be believed as readily as we would wish to be. Furthermore, in the record of the miracles itself we have evidence of divine authorship. Not only are the miracles described factually but also in such a way as to detail God’s plan of salvation through Jesus.

Sunday: Matthew 8

This chapter describes how Jesus, in the course of his teaching, healed people of sickness (leprosy, palsy, fever), controlled wind and sea, and cured men of severe mental illness. The reactions of the people are recorded for our learning, and most notable is the case of the centurion, a Gentile v.5, who had perceptive insight into the relationship between Jesus and his Father. The centurion recognised that he himself was a man under authority (of Caesar) so that he could issue a command and be immediately obeyed v.9. He recognised similarly that Jesus was a man under authority (of God) and could therefore command any element in nature and be instantly obeyed. Consequently, he concluded that there was no need for Jesus to travel to his servant but could heal him from a distance with a simple word of command v.8. This Gentile’s faith, so different from the Jews’ general response, moved Jesus to think of all the faithful Gentiles in later times who would believe and obey the gospel and eventually live with him in the kingdom of God: "When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" vs.10-11.

Jews and Gentiles will only be able to live for ever in the kingdom of God if they are cleansed from their iniquities and healed of sin in the flesh, therefore the healing of peoples’ diseases not only benefited the individual cured but also illustrated God’s purpose in Christ of taking away our sins. If we are seriously ill we long for someone to remove our sickness, and we are all desperately afflicted by sin which is taking us to oblivion in the grave. And Jesus can take away our sin, heal us, and enable us to live for ever. We should therefore adopt the attitude of the leper v.2, for Christ is willing to cleanse us from all our iniquities v.3. The record, therefore, after the healing of Peter’s mother, directs us to the prophecy in Isaiah concerning Jesus’ healing work v.17, e.g. "the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).

God gave Jesus such great power that he was even able to control the forces of nature. While people today may find this difficult to accept, soon when Jesus reigns as king in Israel and ruler of the whole world, everyone will know that by God’s authority everything is under his absolute control. The apostles were given a foretaste of this power when he saved them in a storm at sea, and they exclaimed: "What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!" v.27. This power will be used in full when God’s kingdom is established to benefit all mankind. This is illustrated in the curing of the two men with mental illness (expressed in the terminology of the Greeks who attributed such illness to "demons", i.e. imaginary subsidiary gods). Not only did Jesus restore these two men to their right minds but he also transferred the derangement to a nearby herd of pigs because eating of swine’s flesh was forbidden by God.

The response of the citizens of that vicinity was remarkable. When they saw the mentally ill had been cured they urged Jesus to depart from their shores immediately! How blind to their own true interests people can be. Many today reject the evidence of Jesus having power to heal and, as it were, thrust him from them, even though he could deliver them from all their distresses, including death itself. When Jesus then crossed the lake again the people were waiting eagerly for him (Luke 9:40), seeking the healing benefits of his power 14:34-36 and illustrating the attitude of the Jews when Jesus returns to the earth, for they will "be willing in the day of his power" (Psalm 110:3).

Monday: Matthew 9

When Jesus healed the paralysed man his words indicated that he had power not only to heal the sick but also to forgive sins enabling men to recover from all ailments and to live for ever. Some scribes, however, judged this to be blasphemy, whereupon Jesus pointed out to them the logic that a man with power from God to perform miracles patently had power to forgive sins. Therefore, having declared the man’s sins forgiven, he cured him with a word so "that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins" v.6. This is the real value of the record of the miracles: we can be sure that Jesus has authority to forgive iniquity and give us eternal life. It is as easy for Jesus to say "Thy sins be forgiven thee" as "Rise up and walk", but if we deny he cured a paralytic by God’s power, he is unlikely to forgive us our sins.

Those who readily accepted his word and the evidence of his mighty deeds were despised by the religious leaders. Matthew himself was a publican (tax gatherer) vs.9-10 and classed among "sinners", and Jesus also was condemned by the Pharisees for associating with these "publicans and sinners". But Jesus explained he had not come to call the "righteous", i.e. the self-righteous like the Pharisees, but to call "sinners to repentance". Jesus came to save us from our sins, and those he associated with then, and also will in the future, are those who receive his teaching, repent, and depart from their sins.

Jesus likened his followers to the friends of the bridegroom waiting for him to come v.15, many of whom have died and will therefore be raised from the dead. Such are not dead for ever but simply "sleeping", as Jesus said of the little girl v.24 because he intended restoring her to life. Most people, unfortunately, reject the doctrine of resurrection, adopting the same attitude as the majority at the girl’s funeral who "laughed him to scorn" v.24. Jesus had them "put forth", as all rejectors will be, while he brought her back to life. Jesus will likewise restore to life a great many who have fallen asleep in death. He will, however, only do this for those who, if asked by him: "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" can genuinely answer: "Yes, Lord" v.28, for according to our faith it will be unto us v.29.

Unfortunately, so many people do not have this faith but explain away his miraculous healing. The Pharisees, for example, attributed the healing of a dumb man, whom they thought had a demon, to the power of the "prince of demons". Characteristically, they would not accept the evidence of God’s power before their very eyes, but believed in the imaginary god of the Philistines. Jesus wanted all people to accept the evidence for he had great compassion on the multitudes because they were perishing v.36, and he therefore desired "labourers" vs.37-38 who could go forth and prepare people for the great harvest of the earth which is coming and who would "reap everlasting life".

Tuesday: Matthew 10

Jesus chose twelve of his disciples to be apostles, special witnesses of all that he taught and did including, later, his resurrection from the dead. These twelve were sent out to preach the same gospel of the kingdom of God v.7, but initially only to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" v.6. Gentiles were specifically excluded v.5. He instructed these apostles how to preach the gospel and how they would be received not only on that particular occasion but also after his resurrection. Generally, he said, they would be rejected as he was vs.24-25, hated even by their own families vs.21-22, persecuted v.23, and put to death v.21. They were not, however, to fear what men could do to them because they could not kill the soul. "Soul" in the scriptures is used in the same way as those in peril on the sea say: "Save Our Souls". It never refers to "immortal souls", which none of us has, but to our "psyche", the Greek word in the original. This is everything in our minds, our essential identity, particularly our memory and character. While enemies may kill our bodies, God is able to remember all that is in our minds and later impress this upon reformed bodies at the resurrection. The word "psyche" is translated "life" in the warning that we could lose it v.39, which proves that the soul is not immortal because it would be impossible to lose that. However, God is able to destroy our psyche for ever and therefore he should be feared rather than any man. If we develop minds and characters which are pleasing to God, i.e. we lose our psyche to him now, then it will be restored to us in the resurrection in immortal bodies.

Jesus also spoke of the recipients of the apostles’ message. Those receiving the apostles would, in effect, be receiving Christ himself and his Father v.40, and for responding with righteous acts, receive in due course a righteous man’s reward. This should motivate us to receive the word of the apostles written in the New Testament, for there is dire warning to rejectors of their teaching: it will be more tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment than for them v.15.

Wednesday: Matthew 11

This chapter speaks of the reception, or rather the rejection, of John the Baptist and Jesus by the Jews. John was Christ’s forerunner, as Elias (Elijah) v.14 will be at his second coming. However, the people did not receive John as "the messenger of the Lord" v.10 but treated him merely as a spectacle vs.7-8. When they contemplated John, who came as an ascetic "neither eating nor drinking", they said he had a demon v.18; but perversely they judged Jesus, who came "eating and drinking", as "a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners" v.19. But these rejectors of God’s word were condemned by Jesus, e.g. "But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" v.24.

There were, however, some who readily accepted the teaching of both John and Jesus, and such are likened to babies, who drink the word of God as milk v.25. It is truly remarkable that throughout history experts in theology, the "wise and prudent", are unable to understand the teaching of the scriptures while those who read the word of God with willing minds do understand. But this is God’s will v.26. What a lesson to us to make ourselves like little children in relation to the things of God, for Jesus said: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein" (Luke 18:17).

Jesus invites all, especially those who are heavily burdened, to come unto him and find rest v.28. In those days, burdens were made to seem lighter by carrying them in a yoke and Jesus offers us his yoke vs.29-30 to ease the strain of our present life. By learning from him we obtain a glorious hope for the future in which the saints will obtain eternal rest in the kingdom of God. This hope makes any affliction or suffering in this life seem insignificant compared with the glory of the future age (Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:17).

Thursday: Matthew 12

The Pharisees, a very strict Jewish sect, were offended by the actions of Jesus and his disciples. In particular they accused them of breaking God’s sabbath law, charging them with doing "that which is not lawful on the sabbath day" v.2. But Jesus proved to them from the scriptures, citing the case of David and the priests vs.3-5, that it is possible while apparently breaking the law to be guiltless. They themselves saved life on the sabbath day v.11 without offending, therefore proved Jesus, "it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days" v.12. Their mistake was not correctly identifying what God requires of men and women. They thought only in terms of sacrifice, but Jesus had previously told them to go and learn from the book of Hosea what God really wanted from them (9:13). They failed to do so, therefore Jesus said: "But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless" v.7.

Jesus reinforced his teaching by healing a man with a withered hand, despite it being the sabbath day, but this so incensed them that they "went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him" v.14. Jesus, however, did not retaliate against them because God required him at that time to be harmless and non-resistant to evil. Therefore he withdrew himself v.15, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: "He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench" vs.19-20 (Isaiah 42:3). This will not always be the reaction of Jesus, but only "until he send forth judgment unto victory" v.20, for on his return he will execute righteous judgment on his enemies.

The religious leaders of the Jews were also anxious to prevent the people accepting Jesus as "the son of David", i.e. the promised Messiah v.23, therefore they claimed that he did his miracles by the power of the Philistines’ imaginary god: "Beelzebub the prince of demons" v.24. Jesus disproved their reasoning by pointing out the consequence of such an adversary (Hebrew: "satan") opposing himself. He also condemned their mis-attribution of God’s power as "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" which he said was a sin that cannot be forgiven vs.31-32. This is a very serious warning for any of us claiming that our words and works are by the Holy Spirit when palpably none today has the Holy Spirit to perform the mighty deeds of Jesus and his apostles.

Jesus looked for men and women to understand the significance of his healing, receive his teaching, and keep his commandments. Most of the Jews failed to comply, but Jesus knew that when the opportunity was extended to the Gentiles many would respond acceptably, according to the prophecies: "I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles" v.18 and "In his name shall the Gentiles trust" v.21. The Jewish religious leaders, however, were obdurate, even after seeing him perform such mighty works, demanding that he show them a sign that he came from God. He therefore contrasted their unbelief with Gentiles in the past. The people of Nineveh, for instance, who repented of their wicked ways when the prophet Jonah preached to them. Jonah was delivered from virtual death after three days in a fish, and this was the sign Jesus gave to his detractors: "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the fish’s belly ("whale" is a translating error); so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" v.40, after which his word would be preached to Gentiles who would believe and repent.

The purpose of God, achieved by the preaching of the gospel to Jews and Gentiles, is to develop individuals who will constitute his family, the brothers and sisters of Jesus: "And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" vs.49-50. Any of us may, by adoption, become members of this divine family!

Friday: Matthew 13

This chapter illustrates the way in which Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 78:2 that he would speak God’s message in parables v.35. The disciples asked him why he taught by this method v.10 and the answer was so that people of the right disposition would understand and consequently be greatly blessed, as were his apostles: "Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" vs.16-17. We can be similarly blessed if we are the type of people represented by ground in which the word of God can flourish: "He that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" v.23.

Many of Jesus’ parables illustrate the different kinds of individual who may be affected by the word of God. There are two main types: the righteous and the wicked. It may be difficult to identify them now but this will be done at the judgment-seat of Christ, and this is illustrated in the parable of the tares v.24. Tares look like wheat, but are weeds. Thus there are many people claiming to be Christians who will be rejected by Jesus. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth at that time vs.41-42, but it is then that the righteous, represented by the wheat, will enjoy the fruit of faith and obedience: "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." v.43.

The preaching of the gospel is likened to the casting of a net into the sea (of nations) catching many fish, some good and some bad vs.47-48, with the bad in the end being thrown away v.49. Therefore, the only safe course of action is, not just professing to follow Christ, but actually doing so by accepting his teaching and obeying his commandments. The offer of life and glory to the righteous is truly marvellous and of greater value than anything we may gain in this life. It is likened v.44 to unexpectedly discovering treasure for the possession of which a man sells everything he has!

Saturday: Matthew 14

John the Baptist was executed by Herod as a result of John condemning him for unlawfully taking his brother’s wife, and Jesus, moved by the report of his death, sought solitude in the desert. He did not have it long, for multitudes followed him seeking cures for their sicknesses. Instead of insisting on his own needs, Jesus "was moved with compassion for them, and he healed their sick" v.14.

When it became late in the day, the people grew hungry but there was no food, apart from a few loaves and fishes. Jesus, therefore, miraculously converted the bread into a sufficient amount to feed the whole multitude. We are told that this literal feeding of the people with bread represents being fed the word of God but, while ordinary bread will sustain life for a short time, the word of God as the true bread of life will sustain us for ever. This illustrates the remarkable way in which the miracles performed by Jesus are enacted parables foreshadowing the outworking of God’s purpose. It is instructive, therefore, to consider the sequel to this feeding of the multitude which represents Jesus feeding the Jews with the word of God. The apostles packed the remaining bread into their knapsacks and were sent by Jesus into the sea, to represent them going forth among the nations to feed them the word of God and to save their lives. Meanwhile Jesus himself ascended a mountain to pray, representing his ascension into heaven to be a mediator at the right hand of God, praying for this disciples. In due course the apostles, toiling through the night, were caught in a severe storm, representing the disciples among the nations during the night-time of the world’s history, with the nations as "the sea and the waves roaring" in wars and tumult. Eventually Jesus will return and subdue the nations, bringing peace and tranquillity, so that the sea will be "a sea of glass like unto crystal" (Revelation 4:6). All the peoples will be put under his feet, represented by his walking on the water, when he will quell the storm and save his disciples from all their distresses. And he will also, as he did for them on the Sea of Galilee, bring them instantly to their desired haven, which is the paradise of the kingdom of God.


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