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Bible reading plan & guide - week 7


The chapters in Matthew this week bring the narrative of Jesus’ ministry to the last week of his life, emphasising by his teaching and parables and miracles, the obligations upon his disciples who hope to have eternal life in the kingdom of God. His teaching brought him into conflict with the religious leaders in Israel so, while teaching his disciples to do the things which would commend them to God, he countered the false accusations of the Jews and warned his disciples against making the same mistakes.

Sunday: Matthew 15

The scribes and Pharisees insisted that the people keep the religious traditions they themselves had established, whereas Jesus kept, and taught his disciples to keep, the actual commandments of God. These religious leaders therefore charged Jesus and his disciples with breaking the tradition of the elders, and one particular complaint concerned the washing of hands and of pots and pans. This cleanliness, of course, has its place, but while concentrating on it the Pharisees neglected the immensely more important requirement for men to cleanse themselves of moral defilement: "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness,blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man" vs.19-20.

Jesus proved that, while they worshipped God with their lips, their heart was far from him v.8. For example, God commanded them to "honour father and mother" but they released people from this obligation upon paying money into the temple coffers! Consequently Jesus, quoting Isaiah 29:13, declared that their worship of God was unacceptable: "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" v.9. Unfortunately, this type of mistake is all too common, with religious leaders giving every appearance of being true worshippers of God but in reality being "blind leaders of the blind", leading their followers "into the ditch" i.e. the grave v.14. This serves as a dire warning to all of us not to "put our trust in man" but to study God’s word for ourselves and to ensure our feet are on a path that leads to life rather than to death.

Jesus was sent only to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" v.24 but in the purpose of God the gospel would later be preached to the Gentiles and, while the miraculous feeding bread to the Jews represented feeding them the word of God, the Canaanite woman eating, as it were, "the crumbs falling from the master’s table" v.27 represented Gentiles being permitted to feed on the bread of life rejected by the Jews.

Monday: Matthew 16

Jesus warned his disciples against the Pharisees’ teaching, again using the figure of bread to represent doctrine v.12 and likening their false teaching to leaven. These religious leaders were able to discern the signs of the weather, but not the signs of the times. They should have known from prophecies in the Old Testament scriptures that their era was the time for the Messiah to be in their midst; but they were ignorant of this knowledge. Similarly, the scriptures indicate that these times in which we live are a prelude to the second coming of the Messiah; but most people, including religious leaders, are completely ignorant of these signs of our times. Men today are even more sophisticated in forecasting the weather, but few know what is about to happen in the earth. Nevertheless any individual may learn from God’s word, not of tomorrow’s weather, but of God’s imminent intervention in the affairs of the world.

Many throughout the centuries have accepted the teaching of Christ. These, in the aggregate, form the church (Greek: "ecclesia", meaning "called out ones") because the purpose of God is to call out of the nations a people for his name. All of these believed that Jesus "is the Christ, the Son of the living God", and this is the foundation faith upon which Christ’s church is built v.18 the faithful members of which will escape from "hell", i.e. the grave. Peter confessed this faith and Jesus, making a play on his name meaning "rock", appointed him the one to unlock the way of salvation v.19. Therefore, later, he was the apostle who used the keys of the kingdom to open the way, firstly for the Jews and then for the Gentiles.

Before that, however, Jesus would be crucified, buried, and raised from the dead v.21. Peter, devoted to Jesus, did not wish him to suffer in this way and so protested v.22, making himself an adversary (Hebrew: "Satan") to Jesus. Peter thought he was expressing Jesus’ best interest, but Jesus could not allow himself to be influenced by human emotion to leave the course set out for him in the purpose of God. He came to save the world and was totally committed to God’s will, leading him to death on the cross; and he called for the same level of commitment from his disciples: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" v.24.

Tuesday: Matthew 17

Jesus had declared (16:28) that some would see him coming in his kingdom before they died and, six days later, three of his disciples did so, being granted a vision of this glorious event. Peter used this experience to demonstrate in a letter that Christ’s future coming is not a myth: "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his glory" (2 Peter 1:16). In this vision of the future, the disciples saw Jesus as he will be -- a partaker of the the divine nature: "And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light" v.2.

The disciples saw Moses and Elijah v.3 alive again and with Jesus in the kingdom of God, and when they descended the mountain they asked Jesus concerning Elijah. The Jews contended that Jesus could not be the Messiah because the prophecies said Elijah would come first. The truth is that Elijah will certainly precede Christ when he comes in glory, while John the Baptist performed the same role in the days of Christ’s suffering. Therefore Jesus countered the Jews’ charge: "... and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist" vs.11-13.

Wednesday: Matthew 18

God’s promise is that the faithful of all ages will live and reign with Christ in his kingdom, in which there will be a definite hierarchy, with Jesus himself being the King and his apostles rulers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus, therefore, instructed his disciples how they could not only enter the kingdom but also attain to high positions therein: "And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" vs.3-4.

Inevitably, because of human nature, disciples of Christ offend one another v.7, therefore Jesus instructed them how to deal with offences when they arose. The person offended is commanded to go and speak to the offender alone. Most people find this very hard to do because it is against our natures and infinitely easier to speak of the matter to others instead; but Jesus’ way often leads to reconciliation v.15, although in extreme cases separation may ensue. Disciples of Christ should not offend others but should rather mortify their own selves to avoid offence vs.8-9. The "hell fire" in this verse is not the "hell" of popular imagination but "Gehenna", the valley on the south side of Jerusalem used as a rubbish dump and for the burning of the bodies of criminals, and used as a metaphor by Jesus for God’s judgments.

Christ requires us to be merciful to others, even forgiving offences "until seventy times seven" v.22. This is absolutely right because God himself is willing to forgive all our trespasses, therefore it is a relatively small matter for us to forgive our fellow men. Jesus illustrated this by a parable in which a man, forgiven an immense debt, had another incarcerated for a trivial one. God is prepared to forgive us all our sins, but if we wickedly refuse to forgive others then, instead of receiving mercy, we shall receive deserved punishment: "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" v 35.

Thursday: Matthew 19

In this chapter Jesus emphasises the importance of keeping God’s actual commandments, rather than those of men. God gave the Jews a law through Moses in which, for example, he legislated concerning divorce, but they allowed divorce for any cause. This became a matter of dispute among the Jews, and the Pharisees asked Jesus concerning it v.3 and his answer settled the matter of divorce for his disciples: "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" v.9.

Jesus insisted that the keeping of God’s commandments is imperative, even if it involves considerable sacrifice. A young man approached him to ask what he should do to inherit eternal life, and the answer Jesus gave was: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" v.17. This man was very rich v.22 so when Jesus cited God’s commandments he omitted "thou shalt not covet", enabling the man to declare his obedience. Jesus then told him that, in his case, to be completely obedient he should dispose of his possessions and follow him. This the rich young man was unable to do, causing Jesus great sorrow for he loved him (Mark 10:21). The apostles had indeed left all to follow Jesus v.27, therefore they were promised everlasting life and high positions in his kingdom as rulers over the twelve tribes of Israel. The promise of living and reigning with Christ, furthermore, is to all his disciples who make the necessary sacrifices in their lives vs.29-30.

Friday: Matthew 20

At the end of chapter 19 Jesus spoke of the exaltation of the lowliest of men to the highest rulership under Christ in the Kingdom of God, while the highest rulers of the earth will be abased. This principle is enunciated in the last verse: "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first" 19:30, and is repeated in 20:16, sandwiching a parable Jesus told to illustrate it. The Jews had their own views as to superiority and, in particular, exalted themselves above the Gentiles. While it is true that God chose the Jews first, their rejection of his word led him to offer the great reward to the Gentiles. The Jews’ reaction was to murmur and complain v.11, but the reward is the LORD’s and he may give it to whomsoever he wills: "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?" v.15.

The disciples rightly anticipated the establishment of God’s kingdom and hoped for places within it, reigning with Christ. However, the purpose of God required that he first suffer, and so he warned them: "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again" vs.18-19. The disciples had great difficulty taking in this information and continued to concentrate on the glories of the Kingdom. Jesus, therefore, impressed upon them that only those who humble themselves will be exalted: "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" vs.26-27. Jesus is the supreme example: "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" v.28.

Saturday: Matthew 21

When Jesus entered Jerusalem a week before his death, the people received him as the promised Messiah, the King of Israel. This fulfilled the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9: "Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass" v.5, and the acclamation of the people fulfilled Psalm 118:25: "And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest" v.9.

The religious leaders, viewing Jesus as an imposter, objected to the cries of the people, so Jesus pointed out to them that only those who receive the word of God as little children see things as they really are: "And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?" v.16. Unfortunately, relatively few in Israel were of this acceptable character so, like the unfruitful fig tree v.19, the nation was to wither away, which occurred forty years later in A.D.70.

The Jews polluted the worship of God, allowing traders to make merchandise of the people in the house of God. Therefore, Jesus cleansed the temple v.12 saying that they had fulfilled the prophecy in Jeremiah 7:11 in making God’s house "a den of thieves" whereas his intention is that it should be "a house of prayer for all people" v.13. This prophecy, of Isaiah 56:7, will be fulfilled when the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem to which all nations will repair to worship.

The rulers of the Jews had authority over the people with the responsibility of determining whether or not a prophet was from God. Although they rejected John the Baptist they feared to reveal their judgment because the people accepted him as a true prophet. Jesus highlighted this dereliction of duty when they challenged his authority which, supported by miracles, was manifestly from God. These Jewish leaders were of the class of people who say they will obey God’s commands, but fail to do so v.30. Their ancestors had persecuted and killed God’s prophets v.35 and they themselves would murder God’s son, the heir of his kingdom vs.37-39. Therefore, said Jesus, the kingdom would be taken from them v.43 and great punishments would come upon them, fulfilled in A.D.70. Nevertheless, there were others who did obey, even if at first they were publicans, harlots, or sinners v.29. These repented and reformed their lives and would go into the kingdom of God ahead of the Jewish rulers v.31. The kingdom, said Jesus, would be taken from these rulers and given to others, both Jews and Gentiles, who would bring forth fruits acceptable to God v.43.

One of the symbols used to represent Jesus in the scriptures is "a stone", e.g. the corner stone of God’s house (Psalm 118:22-23). Those in Israel charged with building up God’s house rejected this chosen corner stone v.42. Nevertheless Jesus would be exalted to head God’s household, and he would, in the day of judgment, be a stone of affliction, grinding the wicked to powder v.44.


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