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
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
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"
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
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.