The Gospel of Matthew — Jesus, the Messiah
According to Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, “The Gospel of Matthew is appropriately located at the beginning of the New Testament” because, “more than any of the other Gospels it emphasizes Jesus’ relation to the Old Testament” [© 1996, by Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 311]. With its frequent references to Old Testament scriptures, this book appears to have been written by a Jew to convince fellow Jews that Jesus was their long-expected Messiah. Some have even suggested it was originally written in Hebrew and/or Aramaic, and then translated into Greek, which is the language found in the earliest available manuscripts.
Credited to a disciple of Christ who was called into ministry from an occupation as a hated tax collector, this gospel’s focus is largely an eyewitness account of a man used to dwelling on the details. While some have suggested the book may have been written as early as A.D. 50, Matthew was first quoted by one of the early church fathers around A.D. 110. His use of the phrases “to this day” and “until this day” in Matthew 27:8 and 28:15 seem to indicate that there had been a considerable amount of time between the occurrence of the events and the writing of his gospel. It also indicates the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Beginning with the very Jewish genealogy in the first chapter, Matthew established his thesis that Jesus was the promised Messiah and rightful King of Israel. Nelson’s Book points out that the gospel is set up with a careful outline: Presentation of the King (Matthew 1:1-4:11), proclamation of the King (4:12-7:29), power of the King (8:1-11:1), progressive rejection of the King (11:2-16:2), preparation of the King’s disciples (16:13-20:28), presentation and rejection of the King (20:29-27:66), and the proof of the King (28:1-20). Matthew focused on five important discourses, or sermons, of Christ: “The Sermon on the Mount,” His instruction to His disciples, the “Parables of the Kingdom,” terms of discipleship, and the “Olivet Discourse”—each of which was signified by the phrase, “when Jesus had ended…” Matthew’s Gospel is the only one to mention the Church by name and to use the phrase, “kingdom of heaven.” [Nelson’s p. 313]
As explained in the downloadable document, “Order of Events in the Gospels,” I have chosen the book of Matthew as the anchor text to determine the order of readings in my one- and two-year Chronological Bible Reading charts. This is because, of the four gospel accounts, I believe Matthew’s is most complete and was written closest to the time of the events by someone who was with Jesus throughout most of His ministry.
Matthew Chapter 1
In his effort to introduce the Jews to their Messiah, Matthew began his account of the life of Christ with “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). While Luke’s Gospel traced Jesus’ heritage through his mother’s family line, Matthew followed His lineage through his adopted father, Joseph. Luke took his genealogy all the way back to the first human, Adam, while Matthew started with the Hebrew patriarch, Abraham.
Most people gloss over this list of ‘begats’ as quickly as possible, hardly giving them a moment of thought. However, Matthew believed it was a vital part of Jesus’ history. A close examination of verses 1-16 yields some important information—not only about the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies, but also an interesting “who’s who” in the branches of Jesus’ family tree.
First, one must understand the significance of Matthew’s reference to Jesus as “the Son of David” (v. 1). This comes from 2 Samuel 7:11b-16, where YHWH promised to build King David a house and establish his throne in the hands of one of his descendants forever. Also applied in Ecclesiastes 1:1 to Solomon and in Matthew 1:20 to Joseph, this Messianic title is primarily applied to Jesus throughout the gospel accounts (e.g.—Matt. 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30-31, 21:9 & 15; Mark 10:47-48; Lk. 3:31, 18:38-39).
Next, “Son of Abraham” establishes the fact that Jesus was a Hebrew and heir of the promises to God’s chosen people (Genesis 12:2-3). Although “son of Abraham” could refer to any descendant of the Hebrew patriarch (c.f.—Gen. 25:12, Psalm 105:6, Lk. 19:9), in this case, Matthew seems intent on identifying Jesus as his “seed,” who would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth (Gen. 22:18 & Galatians 3:16).
Other important members of the Messianic line are listed:
- Abraham’s son Isaac (Matt. 1:2), through whom God said the promises would be fulfilled (Gen. 21:12 & Romans 9:7)
- Judah (Matt. 1:3), of whom Jacob prophesied, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet…” (Gen. 49:10)
- David and Solomon (Matt. 1:6b-7), through whose families the Messiah was supposed to come (2 Sam. 7:11b-16)
- All the Judean kings from Solomon to the deportation to Babylon (Matt.1:7-11), and members of the royal family after the exile (vv. 12-16), including Zerubbabel, the leader of the Jews mentioned in the book of Ezra.
You may compare this genealogy to portions of the Old Testament, including Genesis, Ruth 4:18-22 and 1 Chronicles 1-3. Of tremendous significance, considering the patriarchal nature of biblical Jewish culture, is that four notorious women are included in Jesus’ lineage:
- Tamar (Matt. 1:3), mother of Perez and Zerah, who tricked her father-in-law into having sex with her, after Judah refused to let his youngest son marry her to bring up children in his elder brother’s name (Genesis 38)
- Rahab (Matt. 1:5a), mother of Boaz, the Canaanite prostitute who was spared death, because she sheltered the Hebrew spies in Jericho out of fear and faith in YHWH (Joshua 2 & 6:25)
- Ruth (Matt. 1:5b), Obed’s mother, who was a God-fearing immigrant from Moab—a nation founded through incest—which opposed Israel when they came back to the Promised Land (Ruth 1-4, Gen. 19:30-37, Deuteronomy 23:3-6)
- Bathsheba, referred to here as the wife “of Uriah” (Matt. 1:6b), who committed adultery with King David, lost her first son, and then gave birth to Solomon (2 Sam. 11-12).
In Matthew 1:16, we learn that this genealogy was that of “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.” Matthew wrapped up his list of Jesus’ adopted forebears by noting that there were fourteen generations “from Abraham to David,” fourteen “from David until the captivity in Babylon,” and then fourteen more from then until Christ’s birth (v. 17).
According to Ask.com, “In the Bible, the number 14 has a double meaning. It refers to the numerical value of the name David in ancient Jewish numerology. It also references the number seven, which in ancient Jewish numerology is the number for spiritual perfection. As 14 is twice seven, its use implies a double measure of that virtue.” For an even more extensive, but interesting explanation of the significance of the number fourteen, check out this website: http://ificouldteachthebible.com/2013/07/21/the-number-fourteen-in-the-bible/. The three sets of fourteen may relate to Jesus’ deity, as God exists as One in three Persons. 3 x 14=42, the total number of generations from Abraham to Jesus.
If you read Luke chapter one, you will discover that Mary was about three months pregnant by the time she returned to Nazareth from visiting her relative, Elizabeth. No doubt, by this time, she was starting to “show.” The natural assumption among anyone aware of her condition would have been that the girl had been sexually intimate—either with her fiancé, Joseph, or with someone else.
Imagine the shock and dismay of her betrothed. Joseph thought he was engaged to a good Jewish girl—a member of the royal line of David like himself, according to Luke 3:23-38. Now she was pregnant, and he knew it was not with his child. What should he do?
This is the context of the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Following Joseph’s genealogy, we read, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18). In one brief statement, Matthew sums up the back story of Mary’s unexpected pregnancy.
Verse 19 begins the account of Joseph’s side of the story this way: “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace,” he decided to divorce Mary secretly. In those days, a betrothal was much more serious than a modern engagement. Even though you were not married in the sense that you lived together or had sexual relations, you couldn’t just ‘break up’ like people do nowadays. Nullifying a betrothal required legal proceedings—generally including a disclosure of the reason for the divorce. Joseph could have had Mary stoned for her infidelity (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), but he opted for something less scandalous.
In addition to being compassionate, Joseph was apparently also wise. He decided to ‘sleep on it’ before carrying out his plan. This gave God the opportunity to send an angel to explain the situation to Joseph in a dream. Recognizing Joseph’s righteous character and royal standing, the heavenly messenger said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). In verse 21, the angel told Joseph the Baby’s gender, His name, and His mission—a Son, Jesus [which means “salvation”], who would “save His people from their sins.”
For his Jewish audience, Matthew explained that this was a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, which says, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’” (Matt. 1:22-23). For non-Jewish readers, he added the translation of that title: “God with us.”
As further evidence of Joseph’s godly character, we see that Mary’s betrothed obeyed the Lord’s instructions immediately, without hesitation. Not only did he take Mary as his wife, but he did not have sexual relations with her until the Baby was born, maintaining her virginal status. And the Child was named Jesus, just as the angel had said (vv. 24-25).
Matthew Chapter 2
In keeping with his theme that Jesus was the rightful heir of his ancestor David’s throne, Matthew focused on some royal visitors who came to see Him some time after Jesus’ birth. Matthew 2:1-3 tell us that “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem” and created quite a stir in that city by asking where they could find “the one who has been born king of the Jews.”
Herod the Great was not the rightful king of Israel. He was not even a Jew, but an Idumean—from the territory in the southern part of Palestine, which had been inhabited by Edomites from the time of the Babylonian deportation of the Jews. According to J. Vernon McGee’s Through the Bible commentary over Matthew 2, Herod was the head of his own first-century mafia. He gained his position and held his crown through decades of conniving, bribery, military and political alliances, intrigue and murder. He jealously regarded anyone who might pose a threat to his power and had put previous contenders to his throne to death.
Meanwhile, Messianic hopes ran high in Judea. According to Adam Clark’s Commentary, even the Roman historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, remarked that it was universally believed that someone from Judea would overthrow the powers of Rome and establish an even greater empire. No doubt, this came from the prophetic interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel chapter 2. The prophet had also recorded a specific time-table for the presentation of the Messiah, which was rapidly approaching its fulfillment (See Dan. 9:24-25).
Many people have offered theories of who the Magi were. The Greek word, magos, can refer either to wise men—the oriental equivalent of modern scientists and astronomers—or to sorcerers and magicians. These were usually members of a special caste or religious order of priests and royal advisers, such as those of Pharaoh’s court and the Babylonian kingdom (See Genesis 41, Exodus 7-9 & Dan. 1-2 & 4-5). The travelers indicated they had come from the East, which could have included the lands of Assyria, Media, Persia, and even India—hence the popular depiction of men of different dress and skin tones in modern nativity plays. Most likely, these visitors were descendants of the ancient Babylonians, with whom Daniel had undoubtedly shared his visions and the prophetic writings of the Hebrews, when he was the head of the astrologers, Chaldeans and soothsayers in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom.
Nowhere in the Bible are we told how many Magi there were. The song, “We Three Kings,” and traditional crèches no doubt assume that number, because there were three gifts from the wise men presented to the Christ Child. However, it is likely that there was a large number of these travelers from the East who came in a great caravan to Jerusalem to have aroused such interest in the holy city.
When the wise men said regarding the King they sought, “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him,” they surely piqued the interest of some Bible scholars familiar with the writings of Moses. In Numbers 24:17, we read that the diviner Balaam foresaw a star in connection with a future king of Israel, when he prophesied, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” The very next verse even said that this ruler would defeat Edom, the people group from which Herod the Great had originated!
Alarmed, Herod immediately summoned the Jewish scholars to find out where the promised Messiah was supposed to be born (Matt. 2:4). The answer, “In Bethlehem in Judea” (v. 5), they found in Micah 5:2, where the prophet had written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” (Matt. 2:5)
Telling no one what he really had in mind, “Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared” (v. 7). And then he sent them on to Bethlehem, requesting that they return and report the Child’s whereabouts as soon as they found Him, “so that I too may go and worship him” (8).
Now there are two important things I want you to notice from the verses that follow. First, according to the original language of the text, Jesus was by this time NOT an infant (Greek brephos, as in Luke 2:12), but a young child (Greek paidion). As we see in verse 16, Jesus was more likely a toddler of the age of two or less. Second, the star led the wise men to a HOUSE, not a stable or a temporary shelter (Matt. 2:10-11). So all of our neat little nativity sets with their carved or molded Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, shepherds AND kings at the stable are wrong. By the time the wise men arrived, the holy family had found more permanent lodging, and Jesus was no longer wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger!
When the Magi came to the house, “they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt 2:11, NKJV). Imagine what it must have been like to see these stately visitors dressed like kings bowing to a little babbling boy! Can you picture Baby Jesus cooing, squealing in delight and slobbering all over their expensive gifts? What a sight it must have been! A ‘Kodak moment,’ indeed, if ever there was one. Isaiah 60:5-6 foretold that just such a thing would take place:
…to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land,
young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
bearing gold and incense
and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.
The Bible does not tell us how long the wise men stayed in Bethlehem. But at some point, they were “warned in a dream not to go back to Herod,” and took an alternate route home (v. 12). Joseph, too, was visited by an angel, who warned him to escape to Egypt with his wife and Son, since Herod was going to try to hunt the Boy down and kill Him (13). Joseph wasted no time, but left town that very night and stayed in Egypt until after the death of the wicked king (14-15). This was a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1, which says, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
The sad part of Matthew’s second chapter begins in verse 16: “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” Who knows how many dozens—if not hundreds of little boys—were cut to pieces just a few miles from Jerusalem, all because of one madman’s lust for power? According to Matthew 2:17, this, too, was a fulfillment of prophecy. In Jeremiah 31:15, it was written:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” (Matt. 2:18)
The Bible Knowledge Commentary explains that this Scripture
Fortunately, the earthly king who threatened the life of Israel’s rightful leader soon passed away. Once more, “an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,”—this time instructing the man to take his wife and child back to the land of Israel, since “those who were trying to take the child’s life [were] dead” (vv. 19-20). Again, Joseph obeyed (21). However, “when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod,” Joseph was afraid to go to that region of the Roman protectorate (22). Guided by yet another dream, Joseph “withdrew to the district of Galilee,” and lived in his home town of Nazareth, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matt 2:23, NKJV).
While this is not a direct quote of any Old Testament scripture I can find, it does make reference to a couple of important Messianic prophecies. The name, Nazareth, comes from the same Hebrew root as the word, netser, which means “branch” or “shoot.” Therefore, a Nazarene would be someone who comes from “shoot town” or “branch town.” This calls to mind Isaiah 11:1, which said, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Similarly, Jeremiah 23:5 says, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.’”
Matthew Chapter 3
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all reveal some of the same information about Jesus’ relative, John the Baptist, in their gospels. Three of them open by talking about how “John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” (Matt. 3:1-2, Mark 1:4, Luke 3:2-3). All of them say John fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah, where he talked about “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Mt. 3:3, Mk. 1:2-3, Lk. 3:4-6 & John 1:23; quoting Isa. 40:3).
Matthew and Mark tell us about the baptizer’s coarse clothing of camel’s hair fastened with a leather belt and his odd diet of locusts and wild honey (Mt. 3:4 & Mk. 1:6). For those who consider his choice of protein un-Kosher, Leviticus 11:22 did permit Jews to eat locusts [not to be confused with cicadas], crickets and grasshoppers. People came from Jerusalem, Judea and all around the Jordan River to hear John (Mt. 3:5, Mk. 1:5 & Lk. 3:3). And he baptized as many as were willing to repent and forsake their sins (Mt. 3:6, Mk. 1:4-5, Lk. 3:3 & 8).
John had harsh words for the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to where he was baptizing. He called them a “brood of vipers,” and asked, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Mt. 3:7 & Lk. 3:7). He didn’t believe they were sincere in seeking God’s will. Being sons of Abraham wasn’t enough to save them, he said (Mt. 3:9). John insisted that, unless they were able to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” they would be cut down by God and thrown into the fire, like a tree that does not produce good fruit (Mt. 3:8 & 10, Lk. 3:8-9).
As in other gospels, Matthew tells how John tried to make very clear who he was and was not in the scheme of prophetic events. “I baptize you with water for repentance,” he said, “But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry,” who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt. 3:11, Mk. 1:7-8, Lk. 3:16 & Jn. 1:26-27). Using an illustration his agrarian audience would have understood, John added that this soon-coming Person was going to gather up the produce of His fields and store them in barns, while consuming what was not useful “with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12 & Lk. 3:17).
When Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized, John tried to talk Him out of it, indicating he needed what Jesus had to give and not the other way around (Mt. 3:13-14). Jesus’ response was very instructive: “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). Even though the Bible tells us that Jesus had nothing to repent for (Hebrews 4:15), He knew it was necessary to set the example for everyone who followed Him—considering that every other human being DOES have something for which to repent (Romans 3:23).
All four gospels record what happened when Jesus was baptized. First, it is important to note that the Greek word, baptizô, means to dip, wet completely, or fully immerse in liquid. There was no sprinkling involved. It was a term used to refer to the immersion of cloth into dye, so that it was all completely colored.
Matthew tells us that, at the moment that Jesus came up out of the water, “heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him,” and then “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’” (Mt. 3:16-17; c.f.—Mk. 1:10-11, Lk. 3:21-22 & Jn. 1:32-34). It was as if, at this important moment in His life, God was offering His blessing on Jesus, much like a Jewish father would do at his son’s bar mitzvah. The idea of the Spirit of YHWH resting upon someone comes from Isaiah 11:2; while the declaration of Someone being God’s Son and a Person in whom He delights was previously introduced in Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1-4.
Matthew Chapter 4
John’s gospel does not mention it, and the book of Mark only briefly touches on it, but both Matthew and Luke go into detail about what happened after Jesus’ baptism. Matthew 4:1 tells us, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (See also Mk. 1:12 & Lk. 4:1). Why would the Holy Spirit do that?
The Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus was “the last Adam,” sent to undo the curse that was brought upon humanity by the failure of the first Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). In order to accomplish this mission, Jesus “had to be made like His brothers in every way”—even experiencing temptation (Heb. 2;17-18). Satan tempted Adam and his wife, Eve, and they failed miserably (Gen. 3;1-6). Jesus, on the other hand, “was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15, NCV). He faced off with the devil, just like Adam and Eve, but He passed the test and set yet another example for those of us who choose to follow in His footsteps.
Jesus went without food for “forty days and forty nights,” so naturally “he was hungry” (Mt. 4:2). He wasn’t the first person to do this. Exodus 34:28 tells us that Moses fasted on Mt. Sinai for that length of time when he received the Ten Commandments. Later, Elijah went into the wilderness of Sinai for forty days in the strength of two simple meals (1 Kng. 19:8). There is something about denying our natural appetites that makes our spirit better equipped to interact with God and resist the enemy.
Satan came when Jesus was hungry to take advantage of His weakened state. According to Matthew 4:3, “The Tempter…said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’” (c.f.—Lk. 4:3). This first temptation was for Jesus to feed His flesh—to misuse His power to meet His own physical need.
Fortunately, the Lord didn’t bite [pun intended :-)]. Jesus didn’t need to prove He was God’s Son. He knew it was true and relied on His heavenly Father to strengthen Him. He answered the devil, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Mt. 4:4 & Lk. 4:4). Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus resisted the tempter by directly quoting what God had said—in proper context (See Deut. 8:2-3)—and standing firm on it.
Next, the devil tried throwing Scripture at Jesus to get Him to bypass God’s plan and assert His divinity for all the Jews to see. The adversary took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and told Him to jump, quoting Psalm 9:11-12, which says God will appoint angels to protect the person who trusts in Him (Mt. 4:5-6 & Lk. 4:9-11). Jesus didn’t fall into this snare of pride, but answered, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test,’” quoting Deuteronomy 6:16 (Mt. 4:7 & Lk. 4:12).
Finally, the enemy tried the lure of power. He knew Jesus was destined to rule the earth, but the devil tried to get Him to take a shortcut in reestablishing man’s dominion. Somehow the devil transported Jesus “to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” in a single instant (Mt. 4:8 & Lk. 4:5). According to Luke’s gospel, the devil reminded Jesus of his authority to rule over the nations and of his ability to grant that authority to whomever he wished (Lk. 4:6).
When Adam and Eve sinned, they handed the dominion God had given to mankind (Gen. 1:28) over to Satan. Ever since, he has ruled through his principalities, powers, rulers of darkness and other spiritual forces of wickedness in the unseen realm around us (Eph. 6:12). The devil offered to give all of this to Jesus “if you will bow down and worship me” (Mt. 4:9 & Lk. 4:6-7).
What a trap! If Jesus fell for it, He’d mess up God’s entire plan by making Himself subordinate to the one who wanted to be “like the Most High” (Isa. 14:12-14).
Jesus was too smart to fall for this “lust of the eyes” (1 Jn. 2:16). He commanded the devil, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” With this quotation of Deuteronomy 6:13, Jesus reminded Satan of who was boss and made it clear that there was no way the Creator of the universe was going to bow before His creation!
Finally, the devil left Jesus, and then “angels came and ministered to Him” (Matt. 4:11, NKJV; c.f.—Mk. 1:13). Luke tells us that Satan only temporarily took his leave, “until an opportune time” (Lk. 4:13). So round one went to Jesus, but the devil wasn’t willing to give up yet.
Between Matthew 4:11 and 12, there seems to be something of a time gap. First we have Jesus being ministered to by the angels, and then He is returning to Galilee. We also learn that His cousin John had been put in prison (Matt. 4:12). The Gospel of John fills in the most detail (See John 1:29-4:53), since he was most likely one of Jesus’ first disciples. Mark and Luke got their information second-hand. And Matthew was one of the later members of Jesus’ entourage to be chosen.
Matthew, ever mindful of the need of the Jews to know that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies regarding their long-awaited Messiah, honed in on the location where Jesus spent most of His time in ministry. In Matthew 4:13-14, he wrote: “Leaving Nazareth, He went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah” and then he quoted Isaiah 9:1-2 (Matt. 4:14-16). These few verses would have triggered in the mind of any devout Jew the memory of the rest of the prophecy (Isa. 9:3-7), which provides crucial details about their Deliverer.
“From that time on,” Matthew said, “Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” (Matt. 4:17; c.f.—Mk. 1:14-15). That word translated “repent” in our English Bibles is metanoe?, a compound of two words that mean after + think/consider/understand. In other words, we could say it means to think differently, reconsider, or change one’s mind.
Like religious folks nowadays, Jesus’ contemporaries had a lot of preconceived ideas about themselves and God. They had figured out lots of ways to justify bad behavior and tended to think they were okay in comparison to everyone else. Jesus came to challenge all that. By getting at the intent of the Law and the hearts of His hearers, He revealed that they weren’t as holy or righteous as they thought. They needed a change of thinking that would bring them back in line with God’s will for their lives.
It’s interesting how little of that kind of preaching we hear today. I think it is because we are so afraid of offending someone. By saying they need to change their minds, we are suggesting they may just have some ‘stinking thinking’ that is not in line with the truth. They may be—Dare we say it?—WRONG! I wonder if such an unconventional approach would draw the same kind of crowds as Jesus did when He preached His gospel of repentance.
Word of this itinerant Rabbi must have gotten around quickly. Walking along the Sea of Galilee, He came to “two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew,” a couple of fishermen just casting their nets into the water for a catch (Matt. 4:18; c.f.—Mk. 1:16). When Jesus invited them to “Come, follow me…and I will make you fishers of men,” the two did not hesitate to accept, leaving everything that was a part of their livelihood behind (Matt. 4:19-20; Mk. 1:17-20). The same happened when the Lord approached “two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John,” who “were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets” (21-22). Why else would they have dropped everything in order to follow a complete stranger, who spoke in riddles?
I once heard a pastor explain this passage. He said in Jewish society, there were several levels of education. Wherever there was a synagogue, male children began formal schooling between the ages of five and seven. They were trained by rote, repetition and questions until they had memorized the entire Torah [the first five books of the Bible], the Mishnah [what Jews refer to as the oral Law, supposedly given to Moses in addition to what he wrote in Genesis through Deuteronomy] and the Talmud [an explanation, or commentary on the Law and how it applies to daily living]. Mathematics, science and other academic studies were taught, but the Scripture was the main focus. Half of the day was spent at school, the other at home learning the family trade. [For a nice overview of Jewish education, see the Holman Bible Dictionary article entitled, “Education in Bible Times,” at https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/view.cgi?n=1737.]
If a boy was exceptionally gifted, his family was well off, and he wanted training beyond that given in a synagogue, he would approach a scholarly scribe to further tutor him in the teachings of the Book. Saul of Tarsus received such advanced theological training “at the feet of Gamaliel” in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). If a rabbi was willing to disciple such a person, he would ask him to “follow me,” and thereafter his pupil would seek to imitate the teacher in every way possible. If a young man was not singled out in this way before he reached adulthood at age 18-20, then his lot in life would be to marry and adopt the family trade.
No doubt, then, Peter, Andrew, James and John were such ordinary fellows who were not wealthy enough or clever enough to be chosen for further study by any of the local Jewish scholars. So when this new rabbi, Jesus—who was creating such a stir in Galilee and Judea—approached these common fishermen at the seashore, they accepted both the compliment and the invitation and gladly began their next level of training in God’s word!
Thereafter, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matt. 4:23). Not only was He teaching the people about God, but He was also demonstrating His power and authority by performing miracles without fail. It is not surprising, then, to read in verse 24: “News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.” Wherever He went, “Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him” (25).
Matthew Chapter 5
At some point fairly early in his ministry, Jesus was surrounded by a huge multitude of followers. So He went up on a mountain and sat down. His audience seated themselves on this natural amphitheater, and the Lord began to preach what we now call “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5:1-2).
He started with a series of eight blessings for qualities we normally do not consider that commendable, along with results that seem opposite of what we would expect. Interestingly, the ideas in this list of “Beatitudes” are incorporated elsewhere in Scripture, but never so eloquently uttered all at once.
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3). In Isaiah 57:15, YHWH had said, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit…” In Isaiah 66:2, He added, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit…” Human beings don’t want to be poor or lowly; we prefer to be rich and self-sufficient. We look down on and avoid people who don’t seem to ‘have it all together.’ God, on the other hand, prefers to hang out with these people and wants them to take part in His kingdom. Even that idea of the “kingdom of heaven” is not new. The prophet Daniel foretold, “…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed…” (Dan. 2:44).
- Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This one is a little less obscure. Although we also don’t like to be around people who are sad, we do generally have the expectation that someone will comfort them. In Isaiah 61:2, we are told that part of the ministry of God’s Anointed One is “to comfort all who mourn.” God has a special place in His heart for those who are hurting (Psa. 34:18), and wants to give them something to be joyful about instead (Isa. 61:3).
- Here is a big surprise for those who admire those who are powerful: In Matthew 5:5, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Another word frequently used to translate the Greek adjective, praus, in this verse is “humble.” Westerners are not fond of either of those qualities. We tend to equate meekness with weakness. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus used this word to describe Himself. And Matthew later attributed the Messianic prophecy, Zechariah 9:9, to Jesus and then went on to tell how the Lord cleared the Temple using a whip made of cords (Matt. 21:5 & 12). Jesus was by no means weak, but He was gentle when dealing with those who were weak. That’s what He’s talking about here, I think. His assertion was that those who are kind and unassuming will gain a more permanent inheritance from God than those who try to take what they want by cunning or by force.
- Next, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6). People desire a lot of things. Sometimes God gives us what we want, and sometimes He doesn’t—usually because what we want is not good for us or others. However, one thing that we may desire will always be satisfied: the aspiration to be like God and to be right with Him through Christ. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words describes righteousness in this passage as “the character or quality of being right or just.” It is faithfulness to God’s character and conformity to His will. It is being declared satisfactory in His sight because of our faith in the work of Christ.
- Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” This is reminiscent of the old saying, ‘What goes around comes around.’ When we are kind and considerate of others, they tend to treat us the same way. As it says in Proverbs 11:17, “The merciful man does good for his own soul…” A contrast to this principle is found in Matthew 18:23-35, where Jesus told a parable of a man who was forgiven a great debt, but refused to show mercy to another person who owed much less to him. When he put his fellow slave into prison for not repaying what he owed, the Master who had previously released him from his obligation treated the unmerciful servant in the same way. Those who are ruthless and demanding may seem impressive, but they will not profit in the long run.
- In Matthew 5:8, Jesus commended the “pure in heart,” saying “they will see God.” Psalm 24:3-6 said something similar, indicating that those with a single-hearted devotion would be welcome in God’s presence. When our hearts have been cleaned by God’s grace, and we strive to keep them from being sullied by sin or wrong ambitions, then we are granted the privilege of seeing God face-to-face in heaven and having Him reveal Himself to us on earth.
- Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, the Greek term, eirenopoios, is a combination of eirene—which means “harmonious relationships” between two parties—and poieo—which means “to make.” It’s not referring to someone who pacifies another for the sake of an uneasy peace. Nor is it akin to the Pax Romana, which forced people to accept Roman rule without further conflict. Jesus was talking about people who strive to tear down the walls that exist between them and others or between men and God, as in Ephesians 2:11-18, Colossians 1:19-20 and 2 Corinthians 5:16-20.
- His final blessing was for those who were suffering because they were doing what was right. Matthew 5:10 says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In Jewish culture, as in ours today, people thought that anyone who suffered must be doing something wrong. Just look at all the awful things Job’s so-called ‘friends’ accused him of when calamity struck him and his family! Yet Jesus commended those who were going to be ridiculed, insulted and falsely accused because of their devotion to Him (v. 11). He promised the joy of a heavenly reward for those who endured hardship because of Him and equated them to the prophets of old, who were also disregarded by their contemporaries (12).
If you enjoy working with kids and would like a fun song to teach them this passage, try to get a copy of Christine Wyrtzen’s 1984 album, Critter County, which features a tune by the Bumble Bees about “Bee-attitudes.” For info on the LP and other formats of the album, check out https://www.discogs.com/Christine-Wyrtzen-Critter-County-A-Fun-Adventure-Where-Kids-Learn-Verses-Set-To-Music/release/3656352. To see if a CD is available at your local library or via inter-library loan, go to http://www.worldcat.org/title/critter-county-1984-a-fun-adventureland-where-kids-learn-verses-set-to-music/oclc/649820926.
Next, Jesus compared His followers to salt—an invaluable preservative and flavoring agent in those days. So important was this mineral to ancient peoples, the Romans actually paid their soldiers with salt—which is where we get the saying “worth his salt.” Jesus warned that if believers lacked this quality of preserving good and adding flavor to people’s lives, we were “good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matt. 5:13, NKJV; see also Mark 9:50).
In a parallel statement, He said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 4:14). The Jews were meant by God to be “a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6; see also 42:6 & 60:3). With their just laws and their godly conduct, they were supposed to be an example and a beacon to other nations to draw them to faith in YHWH (Deut. 4:5-8). However, in disregarding God and failing to live by His statutes, they obscured the light of revelation He had given them. That’s why Jesus talked about the foolishness of putting a lamp under a bowl, instead of placing it on a stand for all to see (Matt. 5:15). “In the same way,” He urged, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (v. 16). We need to show people the goodness of God’s character, so they will be drawn to Him through us.
Anticipating the objections of devout Jews who might be afraid that Jesus was some liberal theologian who was going to throw out everything they had been taught about the Scriptures, the Lord said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (17). He said, “[U]ntil heaven and earth disappear,” not even the tiniest stroke of a Hebrew letter would be omitted from God’s word, “until everything is accomplished” (18). Modern Christians would do well to heed His warning in verse19 that whoever broke “one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,” while those who practice and encourage others to follow God’s commands will be great. Referring to the most prominent religious leaders in Jewish society at that time, Jesus added, “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (20).
Does that mean that Jesus thought we could earn our way into heaven by being good? Certainly not! He was showing just how impossible it was to be saved based on our own merits. If the most rigid adherents to the Hebrew Law fell short of God’s standards, then NO ONE was going to make it that way!
Jesus then gave specific examples of how drastically He was raising the bar. He reminded the people of the sixth Commandment: “You shall not murder” (Matt. 5:21, quoting Ex. 20:13 & Deut. 5:17). He then indicated it was not only the person who took the life of another who was guilty before God and men, but also the one who was angry or insulting of a fellow human being (22). He advised anyone presenting an offering at the temple, who remembered some conflict between him/herself and another person, to seek reconciliation before continuing his/her act of worship (Matt. 5:23-24; c.f.—Mark 11:25). He also encouraged people to settle disputes out of court, rather than suffer worse consequences (Matt. 5:25-26).
The next commandment Jesus dealt with was number seven (Ex. 20:14 & Deut. 5:18). It’s not enough to avoid the actual act of sexual sin; He said people commit adultery in their hearts, simply by looking lustfully at a member of the opposite sex (vv. 27-28)! In remedy, Christ suggested gouging out our eyes or cutting off the limb that is used to sin, since “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (29-30). Jesus was not actually advocating surgical removal of offending body parts, so much as He was utilizing hyperbole to emphasize the seriousness of sexual sin in God’s sight. It is better that we pitch the porn magazines, block graphic websites and burn our explicit romance novels. We must repent of sexual sin and train our hearts to avoid it, so that we are not guilty of defiling ourselves or others through impure thoughts or actions.
On a related matter, Jesus referenced Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce” (Matt. 5:31). Mosaic Law permitted a man to break things off with his wife, if “he finds something indecent about her.” In those days, as now, a man could get a divorce for just about any reason, so long as he documented it appropriately. However, Jesus insisted, “…anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress,” and those who married a divorcee was guilty of adultery, as well. Malachi 2:13-16 calls this a form of treachery and says that YHWH hates divorce. Here Jesus tells us why.
Moving on, Jesus alludes to Leviticus 19:12, Numbers 30:2 and Deuteronomy 23:23 when He says, “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’” (Matt. 5:33). But Jesus said we should not swear at all, using any popular oath, since we have neither the power nor the right to verify our words this way (vv. 34-36). Instead, a person of integrity will simply “…let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’” so that no oath is necessary and we are less likely to fall into the devil’s snare (37).
Next, Jesus dealt with retribution—the principle of “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (NKJV), as prescribed in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21 (Matt. 5:38). Instead of doing to an abusive person what he/she did to you, Jesus advocated turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and giving people even more than what they demand (vv. 39-41). Contrary to contemporary wisdom, Jesus said not to refuse someone who asks for help, nor to turn away a person who wants to borrow money (Matt. 5:42; c.f.—Deut. 15:7-8).
The Lord also dealt with the idea that we should love our neighbors, but not our enemies (Matt. 5:43; Lev. 19:18). He said “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, NKJV). Why? So “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven,” who makes the “sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (v. 45). By only doing good to those who treat us well, we are no better than the wort sinner among us (46-47). But when we go beyond the norm, we shall be perfect, or complete, just as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48; Lev. 19:2).
In all of these examples, Jesus was showing us that He is far more concerned with the intentions and attitudes of our hearts than with our outward behavior or how well we adhere to ‘the letter of the law.’ We need to let the Holy Spirit conform us to His character, so that we bring glory to God and His Son.
Matthew Chapter 6
This part of the Sermon on the Mount gives advice on how to pray, manage possessions and give. Jesus started out by warning against doing “‘acts of righteousness’ before men,” in order to be seen and admired by them (Matt. 6:1). People that perform for others may win applause from fellow human beings, but they miss out on more important rewards that come from our Father in heaven.
As an example, Jesus mentioned giving to the poor, saying we shouldn’t announce our act of charity, but do it in secret—not even letting our right hand know what the left is doing (vv. 2-4). That way, we don’t embarrass the recipient, and God—who sees everything we do—is the only one who will know about it.
Likewise, when we pray, Jesus said we shouldn’t put on a show at church or in public, so that people remark at how pious we are (5). Instead, we should pray at home behind closed doors and talk secretly to our “Father, who is unseen,” and then we’ll be rewarded (6). Does that mean we can never pray in public? Of course not. Jesus prayed aloud, so that the crowds could hear and praise God when His prayers were answered (e.g.—John 11:41-42). However, His motive wasn’t to impress people, but to increase their faith. He’s dealing with people’s intentions, here: Are they praying to make an impression on God or men?
Jesus also addressed the issue of rote or repetitive prayers. In verses 7-8, He said,
In 1 Kings 18:26-29, the worshipers of Baal prayed, cut themselves, chanted and danced around all day, trying to get their god to listen to them. There was no response. In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, Solomon informed people that it was easy to make promises to God that we can’t keep. Therefore, he advised temple worshipers, “let your words be few.” The length or eloquence of our prayers does nothing to move God in our behalf. He is more concerned about the attitudes of our hearts.
The Rosary is another good example of what Jesus was talking about here. It is a long, monotonous prayer that was written by men and is often repeated by devout Catholics, who don’t really even know what they are saying. Rather than an appeal to God, it is singing the praises of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and asserting things about her that simply are not true. People memorize this prayer and repeat it in times of need, because they think Jesus’ mother can help them gain access to God in a way that they themselves cannot. But all they really need to do is make a simple, heart-felt request, since God already knows what we want and need anyway!
In verses 9-13, Jesus offered—not another prayer for us to repeat by rote, as is done in many churches—but a model for personal prayer. He said, “This, then, is how you should pray…” Below are the words from the King James Version, with which most of us are familiar, along with what they actually mean for us today:
- “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” The New English Translation says it in more contemporary language: “Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored” (Matt 6:9, NET). The first words that come out of our mouths in prayer should be words of praise and recognition of who God is and how worthy He is of our respect. “Our Father” reminds us of the intimate relationship we have with God. That He is in heaven and His name is “hallowed,” or holy, demands our utmost respect for His superior position and power.
- “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (v. 10). As even the Son of God prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, true believers recognize that what we want is subordinate to what the Lord wants (c.f.—Luke 22:42). Our desire should be that God’s purposes are fulfilled instantly and completely—just as His orders are carried out in the heavenly realms.
- “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). This means we should seek Him for our immediate and most basic physical needs. In Proverbs 30:8-9, we read this simple prayer:
…give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
- “And forgive us our debts [some churches say, ‘trespasses’], as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). This verse reminds us to acknowledge our failures and ask for God’s mercy for our sins. It also makes us aware of the obligation to extend that same forgiveness toward others. As a footnote to this prayer, Jesus added that our forgiveness from God for our sins is dependent upon our willingness to forgive others for theirs (vv. 14-15).
- Verse 13a, “…lead us not into temptation…” is more of a prayer for God to guard our hearts, since Scripture says the Lord tempts no one, but that we are lured by our own sinful desires into sin (Jas. 1:13-15). The second half of that verse, “but deliver us from evil [some versions say, “the evil one”],” affirms that God is our defense against the author of temptation and sin—the devil—and the unfortunate circumstances that he instigates.
- The prayer ends with the statement, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen” (Matt. 6:13b). This concludes the prayer as it began, affirming that all authority, power and glory belong to God. He trumps anything the devil can dish out. He is the reason we can expect good things in answer to our prayers.
On a subject related to prayer, Jesus addressed the practice of fasting. Going without food in order to humble the heart and devote oneself to prayer was a well-established discipline in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g.—2 Sam. 12:15-23, 2 Chron. 20:1-4, Ezra 8:21-23, Esth. 4:15-16, Jonah 3:4-10, Acts 9:8-19 & 13:1-3). But in Jesus’ day, there were apparently some religious folks who made a big show of that, as well, altering their appearance so others would realize they were depriving themselves for some reason (Matt. 6:16; see also Isa. 58:5-7). Jesus said that not only should we not do that, but we should take extra-special care with our personal hygiene, so that no one knows what we are up to; then our Father who sees everything will reward our efforts to connect with Him (vv. 17-18).
Regarding our investments, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (19). There is nothing wrong with banks and having nice things, but Jesus didn’t want that to be where our affections lie, since those things are only temporary, and we can lose it all through natural disasters and human interference. On the contrary, He said our best investment was in the permanent riches that are stored in heaven, where no one and nothing can take them away from us (20).
We do that primarily by giving to others of our time, talents and treasures. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him…” (ESV).
Not only is there security in any deposit made in heaven, but it gets our focus on what matters, as well. The Lord explained in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He also indicated that our loyalties are less likely to be divided that way, since it is impossible to serve both God and money (v. 24).
Whenever we talk about money, we also need to address the subject of worry. That was Jesus’ focus for the rest of this chapter. He said we shouldn’t worry about our next meal or what we are going to wear (25). There are more important things to think about. Moreover, no one can add time to his/her lifespan through worry (27). Science, in fact, shows we may undermine our health and shorten it this way.
Jesus reminded people that the birds did not have to plant or harvest crops or store up food to eat, “and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (26a). Both Job 38:41 and Psalm 147:9 talk about that very subject. PETA and some other animal rights advocates would do well to take heed to the second part of Matt. 6:26, where Jesus said, “Are you not much more valuable than they?” While men and women are charged with caring for the rest of God’s creation, the so-called ‘rights’ of animals should never supersede those of God’s crowning handiwork, the human being (c.f.—Gen. 1:24-31 & 9:1-6).
Regarding clothing, Jesus pointed to the wildflowers in the fields. “They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these” (vv. 28-29). He says that if God provides so beautifully for something as temporal as the grasses, won’t He even more likely look after human beings (30)?
Jesus chided His disciples for being so limited in their faith, and then told them not to worry about what to eat, drink or wear (30-31). In verse 32, He really let the Jews have it, saying, “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Instead, He says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (33). In other words, if we buy into God’s agenda and make that our priority, then everything else will be taken care of.
The first verse of the old but good Scripture song, “Seek Ye First,” is a musical paraphrase of Matthew 6:33. Its other verses come from two different passages in Matthew’s Gospel, as well. You can see the lyrics and other information about the song at http://www.hymnary.org/text/seek_ye_first_the_kingdom_of_god_and.
Matthew chapter 6 concludes with this classic advice: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (34).
Matthew Chapter 7
In the first few verses of this chapter, Jesus dealt with the tendency that human beings have of finding fault with one another, while overlooking our own—often worse—offenses. From Genesis 3:11-13, God has been putting up with this behavior. Now Jesus was confronting a society that, not unlike our own, had perfected the blame game and nitpicking to a fine art.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” He began (Matt. 7:1). “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (v. 2).
It took me a long time to get on Facebook, because I knew it was going to take a lot of time to stay current with it. One of the things I have noticed is how much people tend to voice their criticisms of others on social media. There is an awful lot of judging going on and a ridiculous amount of name-calling. And yet, some of the people who are doing the most finger-pointing at others get the most bent out of shape when someone says something negative about them!
You have heard the old saying, ‘What goes around comes around.’ That’s almost what Jesus was pointing out here. If you give other people a hard time about their issues, then you can be sure they are going to do the same to you!
In verses 3-4, the Lord got really personal: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”
Let’s visualize this together: One person with a 2 x 4 sticking out of his/her eye socket comes up to a chap with a teeny tiny speck of dirt in his eye and says, “Here, let me help you with that.” Is that not hysterical? It is no different than a person with his/her own complex of sins trying to correct someone with one bad habit in his life. Jesus minced no words, when He said to such a person: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (5). In other words, we need to let the Lord deal with the sin in our hearts before we go appointing ourselves as reformers of other people’s lives.
Jesus’ next statement seems kind of random: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
According to Hebrew dietary laws, both canines and swine were unclean animals. If a person ate their meat or touched their dead bodies, they would be excluded from formal worship until they had bathed and the sun went down. Any meat offered as a sacrifice that touched one of these unclean animals had to be burned up. And any person who touched or ate anything unclean and then ate something sacrificed to God would be permanently excluded from Jewish society. (See Lev. 5:2; 7:19-21; 11:7-8, 27-28, & 39-40; Deut. 14:8)
Furthermore, both ‘dog’ and ‘swine’ were used as expressions of contempt toward unbelievers and those who were especially sinful members of society. For example, in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30, Jesus said to a Gentile woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” after she kept insisting on His help, even after He said His mission was to go to “the lost sheep of Israel.” The Apostle Paul referred “those men who do evil” and try to force a religion of works on Gentile believers as dogs in Philippians 3:2. In the New King James Version, Revelation 22:15 says, “But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie,” indicating that these people are excluded from the New Jerusalem. (See also Prov. 11:22)
In the context of the previous verses, I think Jesus was telling His audience that, even if you have your own act together and are justified in pointing out someone else’s faults, there are some people who simply won’t appreciate it. With unbelievers and those who willfully choose to sin, you may be wasting your time, at the very least. Or you may be endangering yourself by correcting especially vindictive individuals. It’s better to share the truth with someone who is humble and willing to accept instruction from God’s word.
Next, Christ went on to discuss the subject of prayer. In most English Bibles, we read, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). In the original Greek, those verbs were in the present tense, indicating that the action is ongoing. They are also given as an imperative, meaning Jesus was commanding His audience to do these three things. A better translation, therefore, would be something like what we find in the Holman Christian Standard Bible: “Keep asking… Keep searching… Keep knocking….” Jesus assured His listeners that the persistent efforts of everyone who did these things would be rewarded (v. 8).
Proverbs 8:1-11 reinforces this idea, saying that the person who diligently seeks wisdom will find it. Isaiah 55:6-7 and Jeremiah 29:12-14 said God would be found by those who earnestly seek Him and turn away from evil.
Some people will not ask for anything in prayer because they doubt the benevolent character of God. Jesus addressed this issue in Matthew 7:9-11. He talked about how earthly fathers give their children what they need, not things that will hurt them. He concluded, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (v. 11). The parallel passage in Luke 11:13 concludes that last statement this way: “…how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (NKJV), indicating one of the best gifts we can ask for and expect from our loving heavenly Father is His Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 7:12 we find one of the places where Jesus states what many have called ‘The Golden Rule’: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” When we treat others the way we would like to be treated, we fulfill the heart of Old Testament Law and the teaching of ancient prophets.
Many church-goers may recognize Jesus’ next sermonette: His teaching about the narrow and wide gates. He told listeners to enter the narrow gate, since “…wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (13-14). What was He talking about?
Exodus 23:2a tells us, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” Often what is popular is the very thing that leads to death and self-destruction. People tend to ‘take the path of least resistance,’ meaning we like to travel the road that seems easy and enjoyable. But we don’t realize the consequences of our actions (c.f.—Prov. 14:12 & 16:25). The path that Jesus wants us to follow tends to be far less traveled because it is more difficult. It goes against our sin natures and challenges us to give up things that won’t fit into God’s kingdom. And, yet, this rough road and more restrictive entrance is the one that leads to eternal life and long-lasting happiness.
While, at the beginning of this chapter, Jesus warned about judging and criticizing one another, He did not want people to indiscriminately accept everyone as good influences in their lives. In Matthew 7:15, He warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
Our enemy, the devil, is active in people who pretend to be well-meaning, but are out to get whomever they can. In Ezekiel 22:23-29, YHWH talked about how even political and religious leaders—who ought to have our well-being in mind—can sometimes be vicious predators in disguise, lying to and cheating others so that they can profit at their expense.
Jesus said we can distinguish good leaders from bad by inspecting the “fruit” of their lives—that is, their conduct, words and behavior (Matt. 15:16-20; c.f.—Gal. 5:19-23). Nature itself teaches us that good “trees” produce fruit that is acceptable to God and men; bad trees are incapable of doing so. Those who do not produce the fruit of righteousness in their lives—even if their deeds were done in Jesus’ name—will be rejected, “cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:19, 21 & 22). Even some televangelists who perform miracles and preach impressive sermons will be cast out of Jesus’ presence as impostors. The key to discernment is not whether a person claims Jesus as Lord, but whether they have a genuine relationship with Him, as evidenced by a God-honoring lifestyle (v. 23).
Winding up His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized the importance of applying what He teaches to our lives. Again, church-goers will recognize the parable of the two builders. The person “who hears these words of mine [Jesus’] and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (24). That person can endure the storms of life and keep standing firm on the solid foundation of God’s principles (25). “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (26). When ‘all hell breaks loose’ in that person’s life, everything comes crashing down, because they built on a foundation that is not solid or reliable (27).
At the conclusion of Jesus’ seminar, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (28-29). He didn’t borrow ideas from other men. He clarified and expounded the Word of God, because He understood the heart of its Author.
Matthew Chapter 8
Following this rousing seminar, and no doubt reinforced by the miracles Jesus performed along with it, many in the Lord’s audience were eager to hear and see more from this itinerant Rabbi. Therefore, Matthew opened his eighth chapter by remarking, “When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him” (Matthew 8:1).
Sometime thereafter, “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean’” (v. 2). Notice the faith of this man. First, he knelt before Jesus, acknowledging that He was someone of importance—like royalty or God Himself—thereby the leper subjected himself to the Lord’s will. Next, he called Jesus “Lord,” and declared that if He was willing, He could eradicate the man’s incurable disease.
In Jewish society, lepers were considered “unclean.” Because their disease was contagious, they were forbidden to have contact with healthy individuals—including their closest family members. They were quarantined to a place “outside the camp,” had to distinguish themselves by tearing their clothes and messing up their hair, and were required to announce to everyone that they were unclean (Leviticus 13:45-46 & Numbers 5:1-4). Even a descendant of the priests who was tainted by leprosy was excluded from the temple and from partaking of any of the holy sacrifices (Lev. 22:1-10). Since leprosy was sometimes inflicted as a punishment from God (Num. 12:1-15, 2 Kings 5:20-27 & 2 Chronicles 26:16-21), people often regarded lepers as accursed. In essence, these unfortunate souls were cut off from God and man so long as they were infected with this cruel illness.
Knowing full well the risks involved and the stigma attached to this dread disease, “Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man,” acknowledged that He was willing, and commanded, “Be clean!” (Matt. 8:3). The results were instantaneous. The man was immediately cured.
Interestingly enough, Jesus didn’t want any applause or recognition for this miracle, but told the man not to tell anyone about it. Instead, the Lord commanded that the fellow follow the procedure prescribed in Leviticus 14:1-32 for those cleansed of leprosy: “show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded,” (Matt. 8:4).
Why did Jesus tell the leper to do this? First, because it was the Law. Before the man could be admitted back into normal society and temple worship, he had to have the authorization of the priest, undergo the mandatory rituals and seven-day waiting period, and then offer the appropriate sacrifice according to his means. But Matthew added another reason which was uttered by Jesus Himself: The Lord wanted the man to do this “as a testimony to them.” To whom? To the priests, the man’s family and friends—anyone who knew that he had been unclean and now was well. He wanted these people to know that God wields the power to heal and cleanse, that He wants to do so, and He will if we ask sincerely by faith.
Another healing occurred as the result of the faith of a Roman centurion. This man, who was likely from a culture that was polytheist, approached the Lord Jesus in the village of Capernaum, where Jesus’ disciples Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew lived. He told Jesus his servant was lying paralyzed at home and was suffering terribly (Matt. 8:5-6). Jesus immediately offered to go and heal the man (v. 7), but the centurion objected.
The officer’s reasoning was profound: “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go’’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (8-9). The man knew that Jesus, being an agent of God operating under YHWH’s authority, had the ability to give the command and His will would be done. The parallel passage in Luke’s Gospel tells us this soldier was a god-fearing man, who had helped the Jews build a synagogue in that area (Luke 7:1-10). Perhaps he had read Psalm 107:19-20, which says,
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He sent forth his word and healed them;
he rescued them from the grave.
Jesus was astounded at the man’s faith and said He had found no one in Israel who could compare to the centurion (Matt. 8:10). The Lord indicated that many like this foreigner
He then told the man, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And Matthew informs us that the “servant was healed at that very hour.” (13).
When Jesus got to Peter’s house, he found his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. With merely a touch of the Master’s hand, “the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on” Jesus and His disciples (14-15). Later that evening, the locals brought their sick and demon-possessed to Jesus. Again, all it took was a word from the Lord to drive out the evil spirits, and He healed all the sick (16).
Both Mark and Luke mentioned this incident in their gospels (See Mark 1:29-31 & Luke 4:38-39). However, always mindful of his Jewish readers, Matthew included one important comment in Matthew 8:17. “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’” This was a quote from Isaiah 53:4, which was part of a Messianic prophecy.
Constantly in demand, but ever mindful of the need to share His message and ministry with others, Jesus determined “to cross to the other side of the lake” (Matt. 8:18). The now-popular Rabbi was intercepted by a scribe, who said to Jesus, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go,” to which Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (vv. 19-20). Perhaps Jesus wanted the man to consider whether the life of a vagabond was for him or not.
When Jesus approached another potential follower, the man said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Evidently, the man’s parent was still living and might not be dead for some time. Jesus would not accept this delay tactic, but told the man, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (21-22). In a parallel passage, Luke’s Gospel relates these conversations and adds a third incident, wherein Jesus was equally intense in His response to a man who offered to follow Christ after bidding his family farewell (Luke 9:57-62).
Matthew, Mark and Luke all describe what happened next. After Jesus and His disciples finally made it to their boat and began to make the crossing over the Sea of Galilee, “a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.” (Matt. 8:23-24, Mark 4:35-38a, Luke 8:22-23). Undoubtedly, the Teacher was exhausted after a day of ministering to people, and the waves before the storm had lulled Him to sleep. The disciples, on the other hand, were wide awake and frantic as the water began to swamp their vessel and they were certain that their demise was eminent. Matthew tells us they “went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’” (Matt. 8:25). Mark’s Gospel says the disciples were so distressed, they asked, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38).
Jesus, the Maker and Master of the sea was undaunted. “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” He asked. “Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matt. 8:26). Had they remembered Psalms 65:7, 89:9 and 107:29, the disciples would have known with whom they were dealing. Instead, they “were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” (Matt. 8:27). Clearly, this was no mere man!
They all arrived safely at the other side of the lake. In Matthew 8:28, the Greek name for the area is Gergesenos. Mark 5:1 and Luke 8:26 use the word, Gadarenos. At any rate, it was the region directly across from the Roman district called Galilee, in what is part of modern-day Golan in Israel, where there are many limestone cliffs filled with caves.
As soon as He got out of the boat, Jesus was met by “two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs…. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.” Imagine how creeped out Jesus’ disciples must have been. First, they nearly died in their little fishing boat coming across the lake in a storm. Now, they run into these two men who were likely dirty, smelly, half-naked, scarred and homeless.
Then these two guys demanded in stereo, “What do you want with us, Son of God? …Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matt. 8:29). While the disciples were clueless about Jesus’ true identity, the demons were not. James 2:19 tells us that demons believe in God and tremble. These unclean spirits anticipated that the Lord wanted to liberate their victims, who—according to other gospel writers—had suffered a long time from self-mutilation and other torments inflicted by the malevolent entities (c.f.—Mark 5:2-5 & Luke 8:27-29). Therefore, they “begged Jesus, ‘If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs’” that were feeding nearby (Matt. 8:30-31).
The late Derek Prince, a leading expert on deliverance and demonology, suggested that Jesus agreed to the demons’ request because the large number of demons infesting the men (See Mark 5:8-9 & Luke 8:29-30) would be less likely to harm their victims, if they went voluntarily out of them and into different hosts. Therefore, Jesus emphatically commanded the spirits to go. “So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water” (Matt. 8:32).
Those destructive spirits had afflicted these two men for years, causing them to harm themselves and terrorize others. Within moments of entering a herd of 2,000 swine (according to Mark 5:13), the demons managed to drive the poor animals insane and drown them in the sea! Now it was time for the herdsmen to freak out. Matthew 8:33 says, “Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.”
In response to this report, the townspeople didn’t thank Jesus for delivering the two men from the menacing spirits. On the contrary, they all went out and begged Him to leave (v. 34) Most likely, they were afraid He was some magician who was likely to wreak even more economic havoc on their region, if He stayed!
What a day this must have been for Jesus’ disciples! Jesus touched a leper and made him clean, spoke and a paralyzed man was healed, touched Peter’s mother-in-law and she was instantly over her fever, calmed a deadly storm and then delivered two scary guys from demons. Did they understand yet who they were dealing with? Did they realize the demons were right, that their Teacher was the Son of God?