Wednesday, July 17, 2019

MARK+—An Illustrated Summary of Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible by G. Campbell Morgan

"On every page of the God-breathed writings are many thoughts that stretch out like long, clear arms of light across the darkness, discovering things otherwise hidden and illuminating wider areas than those of the immediate context. They are searchlights. From a multitude of these, I have selected one in each chapter of Scripture, for at least one central thought in every chapter should arrest the mind  and affect the life," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, a wise, warm-hearted, careful Bible teacher who conducted a classic 3-year chapter-by-chapter study called Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible. Here are the fruits of that timeless study—summarized, illustrated, and amplified—on all 66 books of the Bible (posted one book at a time, cumulatively).

Mark 1:1 "The ... Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."  Gospel means Good News, which tells us Mark's conception of the value of the story he was about to write.  It is all good, a true story to cause gladness, news that brings hope. That truth should never be forgotten because sometimes the dark and dreadful facts of human life are in danger of giving an almost gloomy note to the preaching of the Gospel. Sin is a terrible fact and the more we understand our message the more its terror will be felt, but the Gospel is first and foremost good news of complete deliverance from all evil to those who trust in "Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The Good News is simply and wholly the story of that Person, who is fully God and fully man.

Mark 2:17 "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."  In a general, superficial way people tend to agree with the positive aspect of this statement, that Jesus came to call sinners, but they bristle at its negative aspect: that Jesus has nothing to say to the righteous. If any man or woman refuses to be considered a sinner, that person stands outside Christ's appeal. Christ is speaking here to self-righteous religious leaders. They were criticizing Him for spending time with sinners, but Jesus explained those sinners were like sick patients needing care from the Great Physician. His then saying to them that He came not to call the righteous but sinners reveals a gentle satire and great compassion. Those self-satisfied men were taken at their own valuation: they are healthy so they do not need a doctor, they are righteous so they do not need a Savior! Yet Jesus knew their sickness of soul and was willing to heal them: He knew they really were sinners, and so was calling them also. Some later believed in Him. When we accept the divine judgment that "no one is righteous, not even one", then we find Jesus' call is indeed to us. 

Divine Nicknames
Mark 3:16-17 "... to whom He gave the name."  Jesus gave nicknames to 3 of His 12 apostles. Perhaps He did the same for them all—we do not know; perhaps He gives nicknames to His people now. We do know from the books of Isaiah and Revelation that God will give new names to His people (Isaiah 56:5; 62:2; 65:15; Revelation 2:17). Peter means rock, Christ's new name for Simon, who was outspoken, impulsive, and unstable. That new name indicates Peter's unrealized capabilities, and the Lord's ability to realize them. The brothers James and John, born the sons of Zebedee, Jesus renamed the Sons of Thunder (Boanerges in Greek). They had lived quiet lives, content to remain at home in the service of their father in his extensive fishing trade, but when Jesus called them "they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him" (Mark 1:20). James and John became men of authority and power. James was the first apostle to be martyred for his faith in Christ. John was the only apostle not to die a martyr's death, living to a great age as a father to the growing churches, which he strengthened by writing under divine inspiration the final Gospel, letters to the churches, and the Book of Revelation. Peter, James, and John learned that Christ's power became operative in their lives when they were most yielded to Him and His revealed will. The same is true for God's people today.

Mark 4:28 "The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear."  In the matter of harvesting, man has things he can and cannot do. He can sow and reap. Those things are necessary, for apart from sowing there is no harvest. Apart from reaping the harvest is wasted. Beyond that he must wait. He goes on quietly with his life, sleeping and rising. His confidence rests on 2 things: having done his appointed task and knowing for certain that work is going on outside his realm of power since "the earth produces by itself." That statement does not exclude God since "the whole earth is full of His glory" and the processes of death into life that go forward within the soil are operations of God's power. While they are active, man must wait. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like that. We who serve Him must sow and reap, but the mightiest work is divine. It is for us to know that He is working even through the long wintry days when the results of our labors are not yet visible. We are happiest when we learn to work within our appointed places and then wait in the double assurance of our limitations and God's unlimited power.

Mark 5:39 "The child is not dead but sleeping."  In those words we discover our Lord's outlook on death. There was no doubt that the 12-year-old girl in this situation was dead regarding her body and earthly consciousness, but Jesus could take in the entire situation. The girl's mother and father had surely looked on her when she was asleep in the days of her health. While she was asleep, she was unconscious that they were near her, and they could not communicate with her unless they awoke her out of sleep. Jesus told them that the real situation was similar now in His presence. From ordinary sleep they could have awakened her, but from this deeper slumber they could not. He could, however, and that is what He soon did. This outlook upon death is full of comfort for those who love the Lord. He stands by our dead and says to us, "Not dead, but sleeping." For the believer, "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). Indeed, "our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly await the return of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform lowly bodies that they may be conformed to His glorious resurrection body, according to the working by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21).

Mark 6:30 "The apostles ... told [Jesus] everything they had done and taught."  This is an account of how the first apostolic mission ended. After a period of preparation by being with the Lord Jesus, they were sent out two by two to do His work and thus enlarge the area of His activity. They had been successful in all the work He gave them to do. Then they returned to Him and gave Him their report. This suggests a beautiful picture: the Lord who had sent them and, in a sense, had never been separated from them during their absence, listening to them as they told Him what He already knew perfectly. Jesus also understood that such work is costly, for His disciples were tired, which is why He then said, "Come aside by yourselves to a secluded spot and rest a while" (Mark 6:31). A point of application here is we are often more likely to report what we have done for Christ to each other and to the world than to Him. Such reporting is not necessarily wrong, but for our own good and enrichment for further service, it is better to report to the Lord Himself. That is not the same as prayer and praise; it is telling Him what we have done and taught because He likes hearing from His children. Making a joyful habit of this will bless Him and us, improving all we think, say, and do.

Mark 7:24 "He could not be hidden."  Jesus "entered a house and wanted no one to know it." But then a mother in anguish because of her daughter's affliction begged Jesus for help. From such appeals He could not be hidden. This woman, a Syro-Phonecian, was from a people notoriously hostile to Israel. Not only did Jesus heal her daughter by His mere spoken word, but also He tested her faith in a way that set her up for everlasting praise. Matthew tells us "she came and worshiped Him, saying, 'Lord, help me!'" By the time this divine appointment concluded (His only reason for being in the region as far as we know), Jesus said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire" (Matthew 15:25-28). The only other time He praised someone like that was when speaking to a Roman, another traditional enemy of Israel: "Truly I say to you," Jesus said, "I have not found such great faith even in Israel.... Many will come from east and west [places like Rome, Tyre, and Sidon] and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 8:10-11). God cannot be hidden from human suffering because of His gracious nature. He does not deal with symptoms merely, but with the dire root of the disease. As He comes forth from His hidden place, compelled by human agony, He makes no terms with that which caused the pain, but comes to end the pain by ultimately removing the cause.

Mark 8:21 Jesus said to His disciples, "How is it you do not understand?"  
That is the final question in a rush of questions meant to convict and sharpen slow minds: Why are you thinking about mere bread? Do you not comprehend? Is your heart hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? Having ears, do you not hear? Do you not remember how many basketfuls of leftovers you had when I broke the 5 loaves for the 5,000 and the 7 for the 4,000? Happily, Matthew's Gospel makes it clear the disciples finally understood that when Jesus told them "to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,"  He was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The apostles were missing the point of Christ's spiritual teaching because they were preoccupied by material things, such as having enough bread on hand. That was happening even though they had witnessed Christ's superlative ability to deal with material needs. The disciples needed to apply their past experiences to present needs, and so do we. Is it not a peculiar and persistent failing of the human soul that in the presence of immediate distress, we often forget past deliverances? The correction is remaining conscious of all that God has done for us: "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).

Mark 9:23 Jesus said to him, "'If You can'! All things are possible for one who believes."  That is our Lord's response to a father in desperate trouble. The man's boy from early childhood had suffered from demonic oppression. When the man hears of the fame of Jesus as a healer, he brings the boy to Him, only to find He is not with the disciples. In this dilemma he appeals to the disciples, but they were unable to deal with the case. When Jesus returns at this point, the man focuses on the disciples' lack of power, but the Lord redirects this father to  focus on his own lack of faith. "If You can!" is His emphatic rebuke of the man's request, "If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us"—said to the most demonstrably compassionate and able Healer of all time! Jesus is also the champion of faith in the one true God, which is why He says, "All things are possible for one who believes." This grief-stricken father immediately understands this principle and applies it to himself as he cries out, "I believe; help my unbelief!" He admits his problem, places His faith in the right Person, and the Lord's response is immediate. When our faith is inspired by His, we make contact with His ability to do the things we cannot do ourselves.

Mark 10:14 "Jesus ... was greatly displeased."  
Mark alone of the 4 Gospel writers gives us this revealing detail in connection with Christ's receiving and blessing the children. Our Lord was moved with indignation that any of His disciples should so misunderstand Him that they would even think of preventing children from approaching Him. Surely the disciples meant well since they were on their way to Jerusalem, and Jesus had been preparing them for His sufferings there. They were unable to grasp what He meant by all that, but at least they realized His mind was occupied with tremendous things to come. Perhaps that is why they felt He ought not to be disturbed by children. This incident reminds us it is possible to mean well yet do ill, but especially it reveals the special place children occupy in the heart of Jesus. Hindering them in any way from getting to Him still greatly displeases Him, but bringing children to Jesus gives Him joy. The children all about us everywhere are opportunities for giving Him this joy.

Mark 11:25 "Whenever you stand praying, forgive."  That is a law of prayer. How much unanswered prayer is the result of forgetting this? Forgetting is the right word since if we remember, we either stop praying or we forgive. It is impossible to pray easily when the heart is hot and angry with someone who has done us wrong. In the underlying depths of consciousness, however, feelings of resentment may lurk, even though at the moment we are not occupied with them. If we discover that is true within us, then according to this word of Jesus, we have no right to expect that God will forgive our trespasses. Our first inquiry, whenever we desire to pray, should be: Is there any person whom we have not yet forgiven? Of course, the condition is that the person has really wronged us in some way. Apart from that, there would be nothing to forgive. If there is such a person, before we can rightfully pray, we must forgive that person. After praying, we then need to carry out our act of forgiveness by seeking the forgiven person if still possible, and doing what we can to establish the relationship that results from forgiveness. What gracious results would follow if this word of Jesus were more often remembered and obeyed! Love would win wonderful triumphs, and prayer would become powerful and prevailing.

Mark 12:10 "Have you not even read this Scripture?" Jesus posed that question to religious, moral, and civil rulers who were familiar with the sacred Scriptures. The Scripture He quoted from Psalm 118 was read every year at Passover, but the way He asked the question makes it clear they had not read it in an effective way. In reading, interpreting, and teaching the Bible, it's not enough to know the mere words; we must know what they mean. The rulers Jesus confronted were face to face with the fulfillment of words they read each Passover, yet they were blind because they had never truly read the inspired words with unprejudiced minds under the illumination of God's Spirit. We are constantly in peril of the same superficial and harmful reading of the Scriptures. Therefore, let us approach our study of them with humility, diligence, and complete dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Mark 13:31 "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away."  Perhaps that is our Lord's superlative word concerning His own teaching. While it obviously speaks of all His teaching, He said this in connection with His apocalyptic prophecies, which He gave to His disciples on the Mount of Olives. However difficult it is to come to perfect agreement in interpreting the "Olivet Discourse", the bad-to-worse scenario it presents depicts the world as we know it. In previous eras, it was assumed the world was steadily progressing upward toward universal peace and goodwill. Ever since the world wars, however, it has become increasingly clear that Jesus understood the human heart better than optimistic teachers who thought Him mistaken. The march of history will continue to vindicate Him at every point, and in that assurance we shall find safety and joy in believing and obeying Him.

Mark 14:50 "They all left Him and fled."  This was the last stage in a process that had been going on from the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. He had irresistibly attracted people by the authority and radiance of His teaching, the loving wonder of His miracles, and the charm of His personality. They would come near Him, stop, and then go back: first, the rulers of Israel and then some of His earlier followers, "who turned back and no longer accompanied Him" (John 6:66). Next, the crowds themselves backed away as they yielded to the influence of the corrupt rulers. Now at last the Lord's inner circle of disciples fled, perplexed and terrified by the force of circumstances closing in on Him. Mark is the only Gospel writer who records this incident: "A certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his [nearly] naked body. The soldiers seized him so he left the linen cloth, fleeing from them naked" (Mark 14:51). Mark himself was probably that young man, vividly recalling his frenzy to escape. But the cross, the resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit changes everything, drawing Christ's followers close to Him no matter the cost. Mere admiration of the Person and teaching of Christ will not outlive the difficulties His true followers face in this fallen world. Under the pressure of opposing forces, people will remain faithful to Christ only if they have been united to Him through faith in His death and resurrection.

Mark 15:31 "He saved others; Himself He cannot save."  This is one of several instances when the Lord's enemies, in hatred or mockery, said things about Him that were profoundly true. To save others, the Messiah could not save Himself. His inability was not, as His enemies suggested, because of weakness. It was because of eternal strength. It was not that He was unable to save Himself, but rather that He was able not to save Himself. Therefore He "is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him" (Hebrews 7:25). As Jesus was being arrested He said to Peter, "Put away your sword, for all who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will at once provide Me with more than 12 legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled?" (Matthew 26:52-53)? Isaiah prophesied, "Surely He [the Messiah] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions.... The chastisement for our peace upon Him.... All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.... He was cut off from the land of the living.... Yet it pleased the Lord to ... make His soul an offering for sin." As we soon find out, that's not the end of the story: "They assigned His grave with the wicked, but He was with the rich at His death.... [God] shall prolong His days.... He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied."

Mark 16:20 "The Lord worked with them and confirmed the Message."  This is how Mark's Gospel ends: with the risen Lord co-operating with His messengers in the delivery of their divine Message, confirming His Word by signs of His authority. The previous statement reveals Him seated at God's right hand after ascending to heaven. Those 2 pictures should always be in mind as we go about His business: He is triumphant and He is active. From His supreme place of authority and power He directs and accompanies all the travels and activities of those who serve Him. When we are true to Him and His message, we may rest assured that He Himself is working with us, making His own direct appeal to those who are listening to us. We must also recognize that it is He who gives the signs; it is not for us to choose what they shall be. Sometimes they are spiritual; sometimes they are wrought in the mental and physical realms. We have nothing to do with them. Our only responsibility is being faithful to His Great Commission: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you. I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Monday, April 8, 2019

MATTHEW+—An Illustrated Summary of Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible by G. Campbell Morgan

"On every page of the God-breathed writings are many thoughts that stretch out like long, clear arms of light across the darkness, discovering things otherwise hidden and illuminating wider areas than those of the immediate context. They are searchlights. From a multitude of these, I have selected one in each chapter of Scripture, for at least one central thought in every chapter should arrest the mind and affect the life," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, a wise, warm-hearted, careful Bible teacher who conducted a classic 3-year chapter-by-chapter study called Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible. Here are the fruits of that timeless study—summarized, illustrated, and amplified—on all 66 books of the Bible (posted one book at a time, cumulatively).

Matthew 1:21 "She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."  The name the angel commanded Joseph to give to Mary's Child was common then, like it is now.  Jesus is the English version of the Greek word for the illustrious Hebrew name Joshua. That name was created by Moses for his assistant and successor, Hoshea, whose birth name means Salvation. Moses added to it the first letters of the great I Am name of God, Yahweh, so Joshua/Jesus fully means, "The Salvation of the Lord." Matthew, the first of the 4 biographies or Gospels explaining the Good News about Jesus, is telling us that the long-promised ultimate Salvation coming from God is taking on human flesh. Another way of saying that is "when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive adoption to sonship" (Galatians 4:4-5). This we who love Him should always remember for our personal comfort and in all our service: As we are perpetually engaged in the struggle against sin, we fight in the assurance that He is able to rescue us from the power of evil in every form. The Lord Jesus was born to deal with sin, forgiving its penalty, cleansing from its pollution, and destroying its power.

Matthew 2:13 "Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." Look at the young Child: He is the Son of God, which is to say God the Son, the promised Savior of humankind. Look at Herod, known as Herod the Great because of his building projects, but really an incarnation of pride, perversity, and pollution. How do we know? We are told he would seek the young Child to destroy Him. He would not succeed, but in a sense Herod is still seeking to destroy: those like him are discovered by their hatred of the young Child. Herod descended from Esau, who sold his birthright for a mere meal and is a powerful biblical symbol of materialism and sensuality. When children are looked at from the materialistic standpoint only, whether amid the debasing luxuries of wealth or the many miseries of poverty, they are attacked by their most deadly foes. When God took on human flesh, He began as a baby, compelling us to guard those first years of human experiences. The perils are subtle and the destructive forces mighty. Siding with the Child means we must not have the slightest complicity with Herod's outlook on life. Love of self leads to ruthlessness and hatred of the Child. Love of the Child leads to self-emptying and sacrifice.

Matthew 3:15 "It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." What is the significance of this first recorded statement of the Lord Jesus Christ as He approached His public ministry? The answer comes from the reason John the Baptist gave for not wanting to baptize Jesus: John's baptism was for the repentance and forgiveness of sins, but Jesus had no sins to repent of and and therefore no need for forgiveness. Why then did Jesus seek to be baptized by John? For the reason He Himself gave: His baptism serves as a symbol that He would provide righteousness for sinners whose sins He would identify with and atone for. That points to the fulfillment of this key messianic passage:  "He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.... He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors" (Isaiah 53). The truth is that God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). This righteousness from God comes by faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice and resurrection from the dead.

Matthew 4:12 "When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison [by Herod Antipas], He departed to Galilee [Herod's district]." This is a statement revealing our Lord's courage rather than His caution. There are instances on record when sometimes He deliberately moved out of the danger zone. This is not one of them. Here He went into the danger zone, for Galilee was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. Into that region our Lord went to continue the ministry of the man who dared to confront the sin of the king's court as sternly as the sin of the crowd. We are told, "Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand'"—the same message John the Baptist gave (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 3:1-2). Evil may silence a voice, but it cannot prevent the proclamation of God's Word. So if a John is imprisoned, a Jesus will take up the message, which means it will be proclaimed with clarity, directness, and power more arresting, disturbing, and prevailing. We need not fear when wicked men and women seem for the moment to gain an advantage, and triumph over truth. Truth is almighty, for God always finds some new instrument through which it will proceed to greater victories.

Matthew 5:24 "First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." This chapter begins Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount, which encompasses 3 chapters in Matthew's Gospel. In this verse we learn that our God seeks and values the gifts we bring to Him of praise, gratitude, service, and material offerings that involve sacrifice on our part. The warning here, however, is that the gift is acceptable to God in the measure in which the one who offers it is in fellowship with Him in character and conduct. The test of that is how we relate to others. Wrong we have done to another person that remains unconfessed and unforgiven cancels the value of the gift. That is why we are strictly charged to postpone our giving to God until we make things right with the one we have wronged. This should give us pause in our most holy exercises. It is God "who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not crediting their sins to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Jesus always wants us to practice what we preach. "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18).

Matthew 6:4 "Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Jesus has just been warning His disciples against doing good deeds to be noticed by others, applying the warning to giving to the poor, fasting, and praying. The one conditioning motive in each case must be that of divine approval. Knowing that God sees in secret reminds us of His holiness and that nothing can be hidden from the eyes of eternal purity. He knows why we give, fast, or pray. We may deceive others, and unless we remain always conscious of the watching eyes of God, we may deceive ourselves. Indeed, "there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13). Nevertheless, the chief note here is of comfort from this wholesome fear. It makes us afraid of the base, ignoble, and impure since the Lord approves the high, the noble, and the pure. He understands when others misunderstand. That great confidence has enabled men and women to endure with courage and cheerfulness when they are wrongly maligned. Truth will ultimately prevail, but the reward begins for the faithful even before then.

Matthew 7:25 "The winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on the Rock." In the closing sentences of His ethical manifesto in the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus claims full and final authority for all He said. The superlative image  is that obeying His Word is like building on a rock foundation so secure, no storms can destroy the building. This figure of building may be applied in many ways, such as constructive work in personal character building, in one's immediate family or society, and in national and international affairs. The Lord's Word is fundamental and final, resulting from His perfect understanding of all facts concerning humanity and divinity. To order one's own life according to His teaching is to be strengthened against all destructive forces. Christ's Kingdom is characterized by "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). All that, however, is possible only as we are brought into living relationship with Him by way of the Cross through faith. We may hear His words and even admire them, but we cannot obey them apart from the power of His resurrection life, which He bestows when we trust Him as our Savior. All our building in life, if it is to abide, must be founded on the sure rock of His Person and teaching.

Matthew 8:17 "This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 'He Himself bore our sicknesses and carried our diseases.'" When we read of the miracles Jesus did, we are rightly impressed with the ease with which He dealt with all the needs and sufferings of the people around Him. These words Matthew quotes from the prophet Isaiah, however, remind us of another side of the truth here: Christ's Word and touch brought instant deliverance because Christ Himself suffered to provide salvation. Every wonder of healing was made possible by the profounder wonder of atonement. One day all sickness and death will be gone when Christ returns because He effectively dealt with the sin causing all ills the first time He came. The blessings experienced by those who receive Christ are most precious because He paid such a high price to bestow them. God's love to His children is super abounding, but never cheap. When our pains are eased, let us reverently remember the pains He bore as one way of giving Him the worship He so richly deserves.

Matthew 9:13 "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'" Those words are even more arresting when we realize they were addressed to religious teachers. The Pharisees were amazed when they saw the Lord Jesus and His disciples eating with "tax collectors and sinners," their term for the lowest members of society. Their astonishment came from what they wrongly believed about God. They thought of Him as cold and distant in His holiness from people who neglected any of the ceremonial observances of religion they thought were important, so they decided all religious teachers should act just as coldly toward such people. Christ's rebuke shows that those religious leaders did not know God, which is why He told them to go and learn the meaning of their own Scriptures. It is horribly possible to be zealous for a wrong conception of God and Truth, missing entirely what is closest to His heart as represented in His Word. God has revealed Himself completely in the Son of His love, "through whom He made the universe" and who is "the express image of His Person" (Hebrews 1:1-3). Both "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). The hard morality of Pharisaism is impossible to those who have learned the truth as it is in Jesus, who calls us to speak the truth in love in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:15-24).

Matthew 10:29 "Aren't two sparrows sold for only a penny? But not one falls to the ground apart from your Father." Jesus is tenderly saying that when a little bird—perhaps with a broken wing or fainting heart—falls to the ground, if is not alone. God is with that little bird: He not only knows, but is also there. This helps us see God and His world as Jesus saw them. Nothing is outside the Lord's knowledge or beyond the tender strength of His nearness. He is the Friend of a bird people value at half a penny. This insight creates the fear of God that cancels other fears. Knowing Him, we fear with a fear born of love. Certain of our safety in His knowledge and nearness, we fear grieving or disappointing Him in any way. When that kind of fear characterizes our lives, we lose slavish fears of what people or things can do to us. The worst they can do is kill the body, but even as we fall, the God who is with the falling sparrow is also with us, and will reunite the eternal soul with an everlasting body. Fear of pain, poverty, and adverse circumstances fade away as we know this God and walk throughout life in His company.

Matthew 11:6 "Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me." Those are the final words of the message Jesus sent to John the Baptist when John sent messengers from  prison to ask whether He was indeed the Messiah. It is a gentle warning we all need to bear in mind. John was obviously perplexed at the methods the Lord Jesus was adopting, revealing that he had an incomplete understanding of Messiahship. If Jesus started a revolution or raised up an army, John probably would have been more satisfied. This is a perpetual peril. It is still not easy to understand why God does not do something more startling, giving rise to complaints about why God doesn't do this or that, and feeble attempts to improve upon His methods. To all such restless impatience, Jesus utters the same warning. We are called to trust Him so completely that with contentment we follow Him in quiet, persistent methods of attending to individuals, getting things done one by one, simply and with great patience. There are rare moments when we are to speak up loudly, for if we do not, the stones themselves would cry out. But for the most part, the way of the Lord's service is plodding perseverance in doing apparently small things that will one day prove great.

Matthew 12:49-50 "He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, 'Here are My mother and brothers!' Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother, sister, and mother." In word and deed, Jesus contrasted His disciples with His closest relatives. In this situation, He was told His mother and brothers were seeking Him, probably to try to persuade Him to abandon His work and return home with them. Mark's Gospel tells us that when Jesus's earthly family heard about His ministry to the multitudes, "they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, 'He is out of His mind.'" That shows how far apart they were from Him at the time in what mattered most. The Lord Jesus Christ was in the world to do one thing, and one thing only: the will of His Father. His next of kin are always those who are one with Him in spiritual devotion to the will of God. Jesus never undervalued the body, but He treated it as secondary and subservient to obeying the will of God from the heart as the essence of spiritual health and strength. We can do that only when we repent and believe the Gospel, which is when He makes us one with Him and communicates His very nature to us. He did not exclude His mother and brothers from that kind of spiritual relationship, but He did clearly indicate that devotion to the will of God was the only basis upon which anyone could really be one with Him.

Matthew 13:58 "He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief." The place referred to is Jesus's hometown, where He grew up from childhood to manhood. Luke's Gospel gives this summary of that time: "Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52). Matthew tells us He returned home to minister, and the people there were astonished by His excellent teaching and miraculous powers, but then they allowed unworthy prejudice to prevent a complete and reasonable response to the astonishment of their minds. That was the essence of their unbelief—not that they did not believe He had said and done wonderful things, but that they did not permit their intellectual conviction to lead them to the corresponding volitional action of faith. It is not that the Lord Jesus needed their faith to enable Him to do anything. It is rather that He well knew giving His teaching and doing wonders for people who have already determined they will not yield to the claims of His authority is of no value to them or to God. Astonishment at Christ's words and deeds that leads to nothing or to foolish attempts to account for Him on merely human levels is worse than useless. It hinders God's work.

Matthew 14:23 "He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray."  In nothing is the perfection of Christ's humanity on display than in His dependence on regular fellowship with God in prayer. Essential human nature requires prayer for its sustenance: Apart from it we must falter and fail because we are cutting ourselves off from God, the source of all life. Jesus knew that better than anyone and therefore constantly observed it. Neglect of prayer is a source and sign of weakness, but faithfulness in prayer brings strength. Jesus as  Savior and Lord is also our pattern. Since He found it necessary to commune often with God alone in prayer, how can we hope to live our lives and render service acceptable to Him if we fail to follow His example? God wants to hear about what we need, what is troubling us, how we are thankful for Him and His blessings, and all about our joys, sorrows, and everything else in between.

Matthew 15:13 "Every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up." Jesus had been denouncing the Pharisees for nullifying the Word of God by the traditions they dared to add to it. His disciples observed and reported to Him that the Pharisees were offended by what He said. Jesus responded that every plant not of God's planting would be rooted up, which is the test of all human teaching however well- intentioned. If it is not based upon or rooted in God's Word, or if it departs in any degree from Scripture's stated intention, it is to be rooted up without pity. To what do we apply that test? All our traditions, systems, customs, habits, rules, and regulations. Why? We are always in danger of destroying the very thing we desire to safeguard if we do not. That is exactly what happened with Pharisaism. Starting with a passion for the Law of God, it had attempted to preserve and enforce it by adding rules and burdens that not only became intolerable, but also undermined or contradicted the original Law. Christianity has often suffered from the same method by becoming enslaved to human opinions, interpretations, and requirements. It is our duty to break away from all such things that move us away from the revealed will of God.

Matthew 16:16-17 "Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus responded, 'Blessed are you ... for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven." How this gladdened the heart of Jesus! He came to seek and save the lost as the long-promised Messiah or Savior of the world. Through Him the Father had revealed that crucial truth to the 12 apostles. Peter is obviously speaking here as a spokesman for them, not just for himself, in answering Christ's direct question, "Who do you say I am?" The Father's revealing truth concerning the Son of God had come through the Son of Man. That helps explain our Lord's following (temporary) command: that they should tell no one that He was the Messiah. Their telling could bring no conviction. The Father Himself, through the Son, is alone able to do that. Our perpetual business is leading men and women to Christ through His powerful Word, and then leaving them with Him. We may be tempted to think they won't come to a right view apart from us. The ultimate fact is they will never come to a right view through us. It is when we have retired, and they are with Him alone, that the light breaks upon them. We are to follow the example of the apostles in the rest of the New Testament by proclaiming Christ to the nations with evidence that demands a verdict, yet simultaneously trusting God's revealing activity of making Himself and His truth known. 

Matthew 17:5 "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased: Listen to Him!" By a voice out of an overshadowing cloud, God broke in upon and corrected the confused and foolish suggestion of Peter, the dazed disciple. Both Mark's and Luke's Gospels explain that when Peter, James, and James awoke from sleep to see Jesus transfigured into a dazzling white figure speaking with Moses and Elijah, Peter blurted out a suggestion of making shelters for all three, "not knowing what he was saying." Notice the nature of the divine interruption: Peter suggested the retention of the three in association—Moses the lawgiver, Elijah the reformer, and Jesus the Messiah—but the heavenly voice declared that such an association was impossible. Why? Because of who Jesus is: "This is My Son," declares the Father. Peter had just confessed that in the previous chapter, but he did not yet realize the full significance of the fact. The Son of God can never be placed on the same level as servants in the House of God, however faithful they may be. As the New Testament later explains, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past ... by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things" (Hebrews 1:1-2). "Listen to Him!" is God's final word. By His voice on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter and all Christian teachers are forbidden from ever looking upon the Son of God as merely one among others. In Him God has said everything humankind needs to hear.

Matthew 18:12 "What do you think? Suppose a man owns 100 sheep and one of them wanders away. Won't he leave the 99 sheep on the hills and look for the one that wandered off?" Those questions display a method Jesus often used when teaching: encouraging His hearers to understand divine actions by their own. He was assuming humankind's capacity for understanding God based on His knowledge of human nature. He knew of its tendency toward evil, saying on another occasion, "If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?... If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give ... to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:11-13).  Jesus also knew that if a person could be brought to true thinking, to reasoning with God, he or she could understand God better. This text in Matthew is a superlative instance, for here the Lord Jesus is explaining God's attitude toward the lost souls of men and women, comparing it to the human instinct to search for something precious that is lost. We cannot explain all the ways of God from the ways of men, but we may illustrate to others about God what they will understand of themselves, if they will think simply and truly.
Matthew 19:14-15 "Jesus said, 'Let the children alone and do not hinder them from coming to Me, for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' And He laid His hands on them. " Jesus is rebuking His disciples for attempting to prevent very young children from being brought to Him. Their serious mistake is all-too-easy to understand because people continue to underestimate the importance of children to God. By laying His hands on these young ones, King Jesus is claiming them for His rule, redemption, and guidance. Did those who had the care of them afterwards understand the value of what took place that day? That is the point of the story for us. As far as Jesus is concerned, His strong and tender hands rest upon the heads of all our children and grandchildren. Do we recognize that? If so, it will have its effect upon all our dealings with them. They are ours, but they are His by deeper, more sacred, and more tender ties. Our principal responsibility concerning them is helping children know, love, and follow Jesus.

Matthew 20:22 "Jesus answered, 'You do not know what you are asking.'" How often that is true in prayer now, even when praying for the highest things! Jesus had just been telling His 12 disciples about His coming shame, death, and resurrection. Soon after, James and John come kneeling before Him, asking for close association with Him in His coming power. It was a request born at least partly of faith and noble aspirations, but James and John did not know what they were really asking for. They did not understand the cost. They did not understand the sovereign plans of God regarding future honors. So it is often with us. The desires we express may be worthy, but it is impossible for us to know whether they can be granted. God is always dealing with His own individually, but with a view to their place in the much-larger whole of His complete and final purpose. That calls for a submissive attitude when we pray. We must believe not only that God is generous, but also that He is perfectly wise and just. Then we will praise Him with equal sincerity whether He gives or not. Prayers with that kind of faith bring peace and contentment.

Matthew 21:18 "In the morning, as He was returning to the city, He became hungry." This is one of our Lord's statements in which we find the merging of physical and spiritual priorities. Jesus was physically hungry, but His action of cursing a fig tree that appeared fruitful but was in fact barren shows His passion for righteousness. It was a warning sign to all with eyes of coming judgment on a spiritually barren city and the need to be right with God before that happened. Jesus was perfectly human and therefore physically hungry, for hunger is a sign of health. But because He was so perfectly human, He always kept in mind higher spiritual priorities, acting on them when the time was right. We imperfect humans too often lose our spiritual sense when we are physically hungry, or forget our physical needs when spiritually hungry. In proportion as we are truly submitted to the lordship of Christ, there will be no such one-sidedness of experience. The life of the risen Christ dwelling within inevitably leads us whether we eat, drink, or whatever we do, to do all to the glory of God. Then every power of the physical becomes an expression of the spiritual.  

Matthew 22:32 "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." That is Jesus' authoritative answer regarding the reality of the resurrection to those who denied it. His argument is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not dead, but alive. The words of God Jesus quoted from His speaking to Moses in the burning bush were spoken long after those 3 men died. Although dead regarding their earthly bodies, they were not dead in the sense of ceasing to exist. This was our Lord's consistent interpretation of death. Of Jairus's daughter and of Lazarus, He said they were only sleeping, but in body they were dead until He brought them back to life. The Christian doctrine of death is not in any sense cessation of being, but rather a marked separation: physical death being the separation of the spirit from the body, and spiritual death the separation of the spirit from God, who made it. In heaven "the spirits of the righteous made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23) are more alive than they ever were on earth because they are more consciously with God, who is no longer invisible to them. In the resurrection to come when Jesus returns, they and others like them will receive new bodies like the risen Christ's, and that will be their final perfecting. 

Matthew 23:13 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" Woe is a solemn and dreadful word, especially here because it comes 7 times in a row from the most loving Person who ever lived. In 6 cases the reason for the woe is revealed by the word hypocrites, and once by blind guides. Jesus is speaking against religious leaders who were continually misrepresenting God to the people they taught and influenced. These scribes and Pharisees had systematically removed emphasis from all the essential things of the soul to mere trivialities. They turned the religious life into a burden with no moral or spiritual value. The heat of our Lord's anger here comes from His perfect love. How little people know of the depth of that love when they imagine that wrath has no place in the mind, character, and will of God! These woes stand against the beatitudes or blessings with which Christ opened His Sermon on the Mount. That sermon is the manifesto of the King, revealing the characteristics of those who will live and thrive in the Kingdom of God. The scribes and Pharisees, however, were justly cursed because they were responsible for interpreting and explaining the Kingdom of God, but instead they were obscuring it by their hypocrisy.
Matthew 24:25 "Behold, I have told you in advance." Here the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to His disciples then and for all time the value of His prophetic statements at the close of His public ministry. He saw the end from the beginning—and everything connecting the two, and was under no delusion regarding the strength of the evil forces to be dealt with before the final and perfect establishment of the Day of the Lord. He declared these things beforehand so we might also be free from all delusion, and that through all periods of catastrophe and defeat, our hearts should be kept firm and faithful to Him in the assurance of His perfect knowledge. The details of how future prophecies will be fulfilled are perplexing, but the general principles are not: Wars and distresses, along with false prophets and false Christs, are to continue and multiply until Jesus returns bodily as King of kings and Lord of lords. This view of future events is not popular with many people's notions of how life ought to unfold, but it reflects the actual facts of history and experience until now. We may rest assured that King Jesus, whose predictions have been verified completely so far, will return just as He said He would, and there will be no mistaking the fact when He does. Let us not be lured away from our loyalty to Him by any false Christs.

Matthew 25:13 "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man is returning." That is our Lord's word to His disciples then and now about our attitude toward His Second Coming. The fact of His return He clearly proclaimed, and all the New Testament writers repeatedly affirmed it. The light and glory of that certainty falls upon the darkness of the processes through which the final victory of the Kingdom of God will be won. Nothing will be completed until the Lord Jesus Christ returns, but everything is working under His mediatorial reign as events continue moving toward that consummation. The day and hour of that glorious end remain hidden from us by divine design. It is wrong to seek to know what God has chosen to hide. To know the day or hour would make watching unnecessary, and that would rob us of the alertness essential to true discipleship in life and service. Concerning times and seasons we need have no care since they are within the Father's authority, and there can be no failure with Him. Our responsibility is to have our lamps lit and be clothed for action, busy about our Lord's business with the Great Commission He has given His people so that when He comes, we shall be neither surprised nor ashamed. That is what patient waiting for Christ looks like.

Matthew 26:30 "When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."  Twelve men are singing, a company composed of eleven and One. The circumstances, judged by human standards, are tragic: the eleven are losing the One, going out to bruising, beating, and a death of shame. Yet they sing, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself probably led the singing. We in fact know what they were singing: Psalms 113-118, known as the great Hallel in hymn form and sung during the annual Passover celebration. All that had been foreshadowed in Passover for about 1,400 years was now approaching completion by the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" in the Person of the Christ or Messiah. His disciples thought they were losing Him, but He was going out to gain them so they might gain Him in a sense never before possible. He was going forth to crush the head of the Serpent—the first Messianic prophecy in the Bible—to put to shame all the evil things that brought sin and death into the world. No sweeter singing, no mightier music ever sounded amid the darkness of a sad world's night than the singing of Jesus and His first disciples as He moved out to the Cross that provided redemption for His people past, present, and future.

Matthew 27:65 "Pilate said to [the religious leaders], 'You  have a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you can.'" The Roman governor Pontius Pilate had passed through strange experiences in dealing with Jesus. Under the stress of political expediency, he had violated his conscience and gave Christ over to death. But was He dead? Or if He was, what strange things might be about to happen? With a restless impatience, Pilate told the religious leaders who instigated Christ's execution to take the guard and make the tomb as secure as they could. Perhaps Pilate hoped that if there were anything in the haunting fears assaulted him, the guard might prevent their fulfillment—as if spiritual forces could be handled by material means! In many different ways that is what evil is always saying. The one fact evil forces always attempt to deny is the actual resurrection of Christ since all the claims of Christianity depend upon it. Notice, however, the limitation in Pilate's words above: "as secure as you can." People's efforts to prove Him not risen are as futile as those employed to prevent Him rising. The Lord Jesus Christ left His tomb triumphantly, is alive and powerful, and is coming back in glory.

Matthew 28:5-6 "The angel said to the women, '... I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here for He has risen, just as He said!'" The historical fact of Christ's resurrection vindicated the word He had spoken. Every time He spoke of His coming death, He also foretold His resurrection. For example, "I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again" (John 10:17-18). That is God's eternal answer to all the might of evil. Herod sought the young Child's life to destroy it. At last they put Him to death. His body they placed in a tomb, guarded by soldiers. They made it as sure as they could, remembering He had said, "After 3 days I will rise again" (Matthew 27:63). Now in the verse above we see the result: "Risen, just as He said!" That is the secret of His people's assurance in the darkest days. The forces of evil are mighty, but God is Almighty. Evil plots are often very clever, but the wisdom of God holds them all in perfect knowledge while His plans move inexorably forward with absolute and splendid certainty. At the center of God's wisdom is "His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power ... by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:3-4). In a sense, Herod still seeks to destroy the young Child; politicians and religious leaders still crucify the Lord, declaring Him dead and setting guards over His grave. But Christ's resurrection declares that the Herods of the world must and will be destroyed, and that those who seek to crucify will find at the Cross either salvation or final judgment.