Learning from Matthew 13-17
13:1-23 - Jesus spoke in parables. He spoke of everyday things, teaching lessons concerning the Kingdom of God. He was a story-teller, and yet He was more than that. His stories had a message, a life-changing message, a message designed to lead His hearers into new life, the life of God’s Kingdom. The parable of the sower may be described more fully as the parable of ‘the sower, the seed and the soil’. Some respond to God’s Word in a shallow way. In others, there is greater depth of response. Some ‘enjoy’ the preaching without really responding, in faith, to Christ. Jesus says, ‘He who has ears, let him hear’ (10). Receive God’s Word in obedient faith, and your knowledge of God will increase (12). This is the way of childlike faith and spiritual growth. Beware of proud unbelief and spiritual decline (12; 11:25)!
13:24-43 - Jesus’ parables are so rich in spiritual content. They speak with an indirectness which is very direct! They may be parabolic in form, but they do go right to the heart of the matter in a way that is very challenging. The parable of the ‘wheat and the weeds’ (24-30, with explanation given in 36-43) contrasts a real believing response to Christ with an empty profession of faith in Him. There is also something else - leave judgment to God. He knows those who are His and those who are not. The parable of the mustard seed (31-32) is a word of encouragement - Do not give up hope that the seed of God’s Word is growing, slowly and surely, in the hearts of those who do not appear to be bearing much fruit. The parable of the yeast is also encouraging - What a difference even a few believers can make to a whole community!
13:44-58 - Be patient. Do not doubt the power of God’s Word. Once God’s Word has begun to exert its influence among the people, great things will happen. The beginnings may seem small. Remember: nothing is insignificant when God is in it! Some may be on the verge of the kind of joyful discovery of Christ, described in 44-46! The parable of the net (47-50) is similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares (24-30). The separation of ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’ comes ‘at the end of the age’ (48-49). The Gospel is ‘old’ and ‘new’ (52) - we’ve known its teaching for years, yet there are always some ‘new treasures’ for us to discover. It’s sadly possible to hear the Word of God without believing it and enjoying its blessing. Don’t let Christ be ‘a prophet without honour’ (57). Honour Him in your heart and life.
14:1-14 - John the Baptist was ‘arrested’ and ‘put in prison’ (3). Shortly after this, he was ‘beheaded’ (10). John was a faithful man. He was ‘faithful unto death’ (Revelation 2:10). His death arose directly from his faithfulness to God. He died as a ‘martyr’. Following the death of John, news came to Jesus, who was to die as our Saviour. How did Jesus react to this news?- First, ‘he withdrew... privately to a solitary place (13). Then, having renewed His strength in the presence of His Father (Isaiah 40:31), He stepped out again into the sphere of public ministry. He continued on His way - the way that would lead Him to the Cross. What are we to learn from John, the faithful martyr, and Jesus, the faithful Saviour, who gave Himself in death for us? We are to be faithful to God. If suffering lies ahead of us, He will make us strong.
14:15-36 - We read of the feeding of the five thousand (15-21) and the walking on water (25-33), and our thoughts go to Calvary. From the feeding with bread and fish, we move to the bread and wine, symbols of Jesus’ body broken for us and His blood shed for us (26:26-28). From the confession of faith - ‘Truly You are the Son of God’ (33), we move to the Cross to hear the centurion’s words of faith; ‘Surely He was the Son of God!’ (27:54). We see Jesus, the Man of prayer (23), the Healer (35-36), and we look to the Cross, where we experience the healing influence of His prayer for us; ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). ‘Thank You for the Cross, The price you paid for us, How You gave Yourself, So completely, Precious Lord, Now our sins are gone, All forgiven, Covered by your blood, All forgotten, Thank You, Lord’ (Mission Praise, 632).
15:1-20 - The Pharisees were preoccupied with washing the hands (2), yet they missed out on the most important thing - the cleansing of the heart. They were obsessed with ‘correct’ religious ritual, yet they sent Christ to the Cross. They honoured God with their words, yet in their hearts they were far from Him (8). We must pray for the cleansing of the heart: ‘Purify my heart, Cleanse me from within And make me holy. Purify my heart, Cleanse me from my sin, Deep within’ (Songs of Fellowship, 475). When Jesus was buried, He was wrapped in a ‘clean linen cloth’ (27:59). This was followed by His mighty resurrection. Without lapsing into hypocritical obsession with outward appearances, we make this simple comment: the ‘resurrection’ of God's work among us will come as we pray earnestly for the cleansing of our hearts.
15:21-16:4 - Above all Jesus’ miracles, we celebrate His mighty resurrection from the dead (28:5-7). This miracle is referred to in 16:4 - ‘the sign of Jonah’: Jonah was raised from ‘the belly of a huge fish’, Jesus has been raised from ‘the heart of the earth’ (12:40). We are to ‘remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead’ (2 Timothy 2:8). In the girl’s healing (21-28), we see the risen Lord’s great triumph over evil - evil men tried to put Him down, but He did not stay down (Acts 2: 23-24). In the feeding of the crowd (36-37), we see the risen Lord’s ongoing ministry of feeding His people. Here, we compare verses 36-37 with the Lord's Supper: (a) He took bread; (b) He gave thanks; (c) He broke it; (d) He gave it to the disciples; (e) The bread is shared with the people; (f) All are satisfied. All glory to the risen Lord !
16:5-23 - What a contrast there is between Jesus Christ and the religious leaders of His day. Three times, we are told to ‘guard against... the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (6,11-12). These men had religion without salvation. They claimed to have faith in God, yet they despised Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of sinners. We are to guard against the ‘Pharisees and Sadducees’. We are to glory in Christ, God’s Son, our Saviour. In Christ, ‘the Son of the living God’ (16), we have a Saviour against whom ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail’ (18). Our faith is like Peter’s - sometimes strong (16-17), often weak (22-23). Our Saviour is always strong. We ‘are weak, but He is strong’ - may we never ‘outgrow’ this simple testimony, as we confess our sin and glory in our Saviour who forgives sin.
16:24-17:13 - There will come a time when the glory of God will be fully revealed - ‘the Son of man is going to come in His Father's glory’ (27). Here on earth, there are ‘foretastes of glory divine’: verse 28 may be understood in connection with the transfiguration (2) - the divine glory of heaven breaking through into our human life on earth. Revelations of glory prepared these men for discipleship. They turned their eyes upon Jesus (8). They looked full in His wonderful face (2). The things of earth grew strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace (Mission Praise, 59,712) - ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here’ (4). The ‘mountain top’ experience could not be preserved - no ‘three shelters’ (4)! We can continue to worship, hear Jesus’ words and look to Him (6-8), rejoicing in His suffering for us (12) and awaiting His return to ‘restore all things’ (11).
17:14-27 - Epilepsy is an illness. In this case, there was something more - demonic involvement (18). The disciples failed and were called to greater faith (16, 20). They were ‘greatly distressed’. Troubled by talk of His death, they failed to hear this: ‘He will be raised on the third day’ (23). Jesus paid the annual temple ‘tax’ (24-27). His first allegiance was to God, yet He did not ignore His other responsibilities. There is a lesson for today’s Church here. We are to be one body of Christ - not two groups, ‘spiritual’ and ‘social’, each looking down on the other: ‘too earthly-minded to be any heavenly good’, ‘too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good’. We need the high spiritual principles: ‘we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:4), but we must not forget the ordinary things that need to be done!