Notes on Matthew's Gospel
1:1-17 - This may be the beginning of the New Testament, but it is not the beginning of God’s revelation. It is not the beginning of His redemption. The birth of Christ is the continuation of the history of salvation, recorded in the Old Testament. Matthew takes us back to Abraham (1-2; Genesis 12:1-3). Recalling the great events of the Old Testament, he takes us through forty-two generations. This history is the story of God’s grace. We may illustrate this with two striking examples. Rahab (5) was a ‘prostitute’, yet, by the grace of God, through faith, she also takes her place with the people of God (Hebrews 11:31; Ephesians 2:8). The story of David and Uriah's wife (6) is a story of deceit (2 Samuel 11) - ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more’ (Romans 5:20)!
1:18-25 - The birth of Christ is a fulfilment of prophecy: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel’ (23; Isaiah 7:14). Christ is ‘God with us’. He was born through the power of the Holy Spirit (18,20). He is still ‘God with us’, when we are ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:5). Some people do not believe what the Bible says here. They do not like the idea of a ‘virgin birth’. The Bible gives no encouragement to such unbelief. Matthew simply says, ‘This is the way it happened’ (18). In view of the amazing thing God was doing - sending His Son to be the Saviour of the World - why should we doubt that God took things out of man's hands and worked in His own miraculous way? We rejoice not only in the miracle but also in its saving purpose: ‘He will save His people from their sins’ (21).
2:1-6 - We think of this chapter as ‘the story of the wise men’. It is not so much about the wise men. It is about Jesus. He is the central character. We are not told how many wise men there were. The word, ‘three’ does not appear (1). We are not told their names. We are not told exactly where they came from - just, they came ‘from the East’ (1). The important thing is that they made their journey. They came, seeking Jesus: ‘Where is he...?’ They came ‘to worship Him’ (2). The wise men were led to Jesus by ‘His star’ (2). Where is the child to be born (4)? – The answer to this question (5-6) comes to us from the Scriptures (Micah 5:2). Read the Scriptures, find the Saviour - this is still God’s Word to us today. Reading the Scriptures, we become wise for salvation as we find Christ who is our Wisdom (2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
2:7-12 - Bethlehem was a ‘little town’. Humanly speaking, it did not have any great importance. Its importance is derived from the fact that it was the birth-place of our Saviour. When we think of Bethlehem, we do not think so much of the place as the Saviour who was born there. Herod says that he wants to go to Bethlehem to worship Jesus (8). Satan was speaking through Herod. Satan has no intention of worshipping God, and neither had Herod. Satan ‘comes only to steal and kill and destroy’. Christ comes to give ‘life... to the full’ (John 10:10). As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Herod was not a worshipper of Christ but a servant of Satan. The wise men worship Jesus, then they return to their own country. We know nothing about their return journey, their destination or their life in their own country. Their whole purpose was to point away from themselves to Jesus.
2:13-23 - The story unfolds according to God’s saving purpose and not Herod's Satanic schemes. Herod dies. Jesus lives. The purpose of man is defeated. The purpose of God prevails. Jesus’ time in Egypt is full of prophetic significance (15; Hosea 11:1). Egypt was the place of bondage. God turns everything around, making it the place of protection (Exodus 1:11; 13-15). The emphasis is not on the place. It is on what God is doing, as He fulfils His purpose. From Bethlehem to Egypt and then to Nazareth - the young Jesus is being taken from place to place - all in the perfect plan of God. Again, the emphasis is not on the place but on God’s purpose. Nazareth was a humble place, dignified by the fact that God chose it to be the home of His Son. Our concern is not with wise men or famous places. ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus’. ‘Stand amazed in the presence of Jesus’.
3:1-12 - This chapter begins with ‘John the Baptist’ (1). It ends with our Lord Jesus Christ concerning whom the Voice from heaven says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’ (17). Once John had served his purpose, once he has pointed away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ, he retreats into the background. This is how it must always be. We point to One who is ‘more powerful’ than ourselves (11; Romans 1:16). With John, we must learn to say, ‘Christ must increase, I must decrease’ (John 3:30). The contrast between John and Jesus is highlighted in verse 11 - ‘ I baptize with water... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire’. This is still the contrast between the preacher and the Saviour - We preach the Word. He sends the power. Still He says, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8).
3:13-17 - Considering the contrast between Jesus and John - John is not fit to carry Christ’s sandals (11) - , it is quite remarkable that Jesus submits Himself to baptism by John. Why does He do this? Jesus gives us the reason in verse 15: ‘it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness’. When Jesus uses the word ‘proper’ (or fitting), does He use it to mean ‘according to convention’? No - He means that ‘it is fitting’ into God’s perfect plan of salvation. It is part of His perfect obedience to the Father. It is part of what is involved in His giving Himself for us as ‘the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). As well as directing us to the Cross, Jesus’ baptism directs us to Pentecost - the descent of the Spirit (16; Acts 2:1-4). Christ died for us. The Spirit lives in us. Jesus ‘fits’ our need perfectly!
4:1-11 - God the Father has declared Jesus to be His Son (3:17). Now, the devil challenges God’s Word: ‘If you are the Son of God...’ (3). The Spirit has descended upon Jesus (3:16). Now, the devil uses his power in an attempt to defeat Jesus. The devil sows seeds of doubt; the ‘if you are...’ approach is just the same as his ‘Did God really say?’ method used in Genesis 3:1. The devil is ‘crafty’ (Genesis 3:1). He comes to Jesus, quoting from the Bible (6; Psalm 91:11-12). His real goal becomes clear in verse 9 - he wants Jesus to ‘bow down and worship’ him. In Jesus’ victory over the devil, we see the importance of Scripture - ‘It is written’ (4, 7, 10). We learn that true life comes from God (4), true safety is found in God (7); and true worship is given to God (10). When the tempter comes, we must stand on God’s Word: ‘every Word that comes from... God’ ( 4).
4:12-17 - Having overcome His enemy, Jesus begins His ministry. Satan will be back - Luke ends his account of Jesus’ temptations with these ominous words, ‘When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left until an opportune time’ (4:12). Satan will try again, but - for now - he has failed to stop Jesus setting out on His ministry, a ministry which brings light into the darkness. The light is shining brightly - ‘the Kingdom of heaven is near’ (17). Jesus’ ministry is viewed as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (15-16; Isaiah 9:1-2). The prophecy had been given: Death will be overcome, men and women will be delivered from ‘the shadow of death’. Now, in Christ, the prophecy has been fulfilled: by His death, Christ has destroyed ‘him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil’ and He has set ‘free’ those who live in ‘fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:14-15).
4:18-25 - Christ’s victory over the world was won for us (1 John 3:8: 5:4-5). Jesus was not a loner. He was a team leader: ‘From victory to victory His army He will lead’ (Church Hymnary, 481). At the very outset of His ministry, He set about putting together His ministry team. Peter, Andrew, James and John were the first four disciples. He called them to follow Him. His call was both gracious and demanding. It is gracious because it is the Saviour who calls us: ‘Follow Me’. It is demanding because He calls us to follow, to submit to His Lordship: ‘Follow Me’. These men were called to a new kind of ‘fishing’ (19). Jesus’ ministry reached ‘great crowds’ through His ‘teaching... preaching... and healing’ (23-25). This chapter sets the scene for Jesus' ministry. We see the Word of the Lord triumphant over Satan, fulfilled in Christ, and effective in the lives of the disciples and the crowds.
5:1-2 - Here, we have the introduction to ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ (chs 5-7). Reference is made to both ‘the disciples’ and ‘the crowds’. The disciples are taught with a view to becoming teachers of the crowds. Peter learned from Christ and later he taught the crowds (Acts 2:14-42). The Sermon on the Mount was heard by the crowds as well as the disciples. Jesus spoke to the crowds. His ministry to the disciples had a dual purpose. It was for their own spiritual strengthening. It was training for the time when they would be entrusted with the Lord's commission: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28: 19-20). Do you read God’s Word solely for your own benefit? Or, do we have an eye for ways in which we can learn to share His Word with others?
5:3-12 - ‘The Beatitudes’ show us God’s way of blessing. We might also describe them as the Be Attitudes, since they show us what we are to be. Jesus teaches us that the way to happiness is the way of holiness. The only alternative to the way of holiness is the way of hypocrisy. There can be no true happiness when we are walking in the way of hypocrisy. Holiness is to take shape in our lives - the shape of Jesus Christ living in us. This is the truly happy life: the Christ-centered life. We are not to live according to present appearances. We are to live in the light of the future Reality of God's heavenly Kingdom. Some of Jesus’ later statements can be viewed as an exploration of the meaning of the Beatitudes. The general principles (3-10) are to be applied personally: ‘Blessed are you...’ (11-12). We are not only to read the Beatitudes. We are to live them.
5:13-16 - Holiness is to be seen. Happiness is to be shared. We are not to be secret disciples. It will not be easy to live the life of Christ’s disciples. In a world of much corruption, we are to be ‘the salt of the earth’ (13). In a world of much darkness we are to be ‘the light of the world’ (14). If we are to bring the refreshing light of Christ into our world, we ourselves must receive spiritual refreshment as we let the light of God’s Word shine on our lives. Reading God’s Word can never be a purely personal thing. Being ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’ - this is what Jesus says we are - , we read Scripture with a view to learning how we are to live in the world. Don’t lose your saltiness. Be salty enough to create a thirst for God in other people. Don’t let your light grow dim. Let it shine brightly. Remember - all the glory belongs to God (16; Psalm 115:1).
5:17-20 - In verse 20, Jesus refers to ‘the scribes and Pharisees’. Jesus warned against the shallow superficiality of these men who were more concerned with outward appearances than inner reality. This conflict with the Jewish religious leaders lies close to the surface in the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus says, ‘This is their way. This is My way’, He is not calling in question the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures: ‘Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them’ (17). He is in conflict with ‘the hypocrites’ (6:2 5,16). He is warning against the ‘false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves’ (7:15). What a difference there was between Jesus’ teaching and those who ‘preach, but do not practise’ (23:3) - He spoke with ‘authority’, they did not (7:29). May we be like Jesus!
5:21-37 - The teaching of Jesus here may be summed up thus: The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Jesus’ teaching was much more penetrating than the pronouncements made by the scribes and Pharisees. Not content to scratch the surface, Jesus asked the deeper question, ‘What's going on in your heart?’. Jesus’ teaching has real spiritual depth. He takes seriously the Biblical teaching that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt’ (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that we need a ‘new heart’ (Ezekiel 36:26). The Pharisees were bogged down in intricate details - Do this. Do that. Do the other. All the emphasis was on what we do. Christ was much more direct - Get the heart right. Ask God for a heart of love (21-26), purity (27-32), and truthfulness (33-37). Do not say, ‘Look what I've done’ (7:22). Let Christ live in your heart; let Him change you.
5:38-48 - The Pharisees lived by law. Jesus lived by love. The law of God - ‘holy and just and good’ (Romans 7:12) - had been distorted by the religious hypocrites. They were saying, ‘love your neighbour and hate your enemy’ (43). ‘Love your neighbour’ is found in Leviticus 19:18. ‘Hate your enemy’ is not found in the Old Testament. For the Jews, ‘neighbour’ meant their own kind. They wrongly concluded that Gentiles were to be hated. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear that we are to love our enemies as well as our friends (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus’ disagreement is not with the law of God. It is with man’s misuse of it. Jesus’ teaching is simple - Love is not to be limited. It is demanding - love is all-embracing. We dare not bring love within our reach. We always fall short. We can only come to Christ. Confessing our lack of love and trusting in His perfect love, we learn to love.
6:1-18 - Jesus says that we are not to be like ‘the hypocrites’ (2,5,16). The word ‘hypocrite’ means ‘play actor’. It refers to ‘putting on a performance’. This performance may be extremely religious, but God is not in it. The hypocrites live according to ‘the letter’ of the law, but they know nothing of the power of ‘the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:6). The hypocrites’ religious performance gets along very well without God. His presence is not sought, welcomed or treasured. The hypocrites draw attention to themselves. They do not direct attention away from themselves to God. There is a better way than the way of hypocrisy. It is the way of holiness. Our lives are to be centred on Christ - ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). We must not forget: apart from Him we can do nothing. We are to abide in Him (John 15:5) - in true holiness.
6:19-34 - On the one side of Christ’s disciples, there are the hypocrites. On the other side, there are ‘the Gentiles’ (32). The hypocrites represent religion without reality. The Gentiles represent the world, living for material things only, refusing to take spiritual realities seriously. We are to be different from both the hypocrites and the Gentiles. Our top priority is pleasing God, not impressing men. We are to live for God’s eternal Kingdom rather than living for a world which is passing away. Living for Christ is very different from worldly living. Our life is to be governed by heavenly, and not earthly, priorities (19-21). We are to walk in the light, refusing to be overcome by the darkness (22-23). We are to trust the Lord, refusing to let unbelieving anxiety rule our lives ( 25-34).
7:1-14 - Jesus’ teaching regarding Christian living can be related to His teaching in ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ (6:9-13). We are not to pray one thing and do another. We are to live the Lord’s Prayer. We receive forgiveness from God. We are to show His forgiveness to others. We receive good things from God. We are to be generous in our giving to others. Before you can live the Christian Life, you must receive the Christian Life - Christ living in your heart (Revelation 3.20). Before you can walk in ‘the way’, you must enter by ‘the gate’ (13-14). Jesus speaks of two gates, two ways and two destinations. He tells us that some will be saved and many will be lost. What we must remember is this - Christ is ‘the Door’ (John 10:7), ‘the Way’ (John 14:6) and ‘our Hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27). The gate may be narrow, the way hard, but never forget this - Christ is ‘the Gate’ and ‘the Way’ that leads to life.
7:15-29 - Whenever we are seeking to follow Christ, there will be dangers - false prophets (15-20), empty profession (21-23). Clearly, our faith must be grounded in the Son of God and the Word of God. This is the point of Jesus’ parable of the two builders and the two houses (24-27). We must build upon Christ. We must build on the Word of God. Jesus’ ‘sermon’ ends in verse 27, and is followed - in verses 28-29 - by a statement of its effect upon His hearers. Down through the centuries, Jesus’ teaching continues to make this impression on people. His words come to us with authority, addressing us with remarkable relevance. We imagine that our time is very different from Jesus’ time, yet Jesus’ words make it very clear - things are not so different after all. Still, we hear Him speaking as One who has authority. His Word is unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable.
8:1-22 - In verses 1-17, we read of three people who received the Lord’s blessing - the leper was cleansed (1-4), the centurion's servant was healed (5-13), Peter's mother-in-law was healed (14-17). Reading verses 18-22 together with Luke 9:57-62, we learn of three people who did not receive the Lord's blessing (Matthew mentions two, while Luke adds a third). Christ calls us to decision. Some say ‘Yes’ to Him and they are blessed. Some say ‘No’, and they miss out on the blessing. Christ touches our lives, and we are made clean (3; 1 John 1.7) - ‘The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives’ (13; Church Hymnary, 374). Through the entrance of His Word, we receive a new Spirit (16; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Cleansed and healed, we are to live as Christ’s disciples. There is to be no half-heartedness: ‘I will follow you, Lord, but...’ (Luke 9:61). Yes, Lord!
8:23-9:17 - In 8:23-9:8, we read of three great miracles, in which Christ demonstrates His power over nature (23), demons (28-34) and sickness (1-8). Following such mighty works of power, the next verse seems so ordinary - Jesus said, ‘Follow me’. Matthew ‘rose and followed Him’ (9). Matthew’s conversion may seem so unspectacular, but it is no less a mighty work of God than the great miracles which preceded it. Where does the desire to follow Christ come from? Does it come from our own sinful hearts? No! It comes from the Word of Christ, spoken in power and love - ‘He drew me and I followed on, charmed to confess the Voice Divine’ (Mission Praise, 499). In the human heart there is resistance - we say, ‘I am “righteous”. “I have no need” of a Saviour’ (12-13). This resistance is broken down by Christ when ‘new wine is put into fresh wineskins’ (17).
9:18-38 - In Jesus’ miracles, we see Him triumph over sin, death and hell. As well as healing, there is forgiveness (9:5-6), the raising of the dead (18,24-25) and the casting out of demons (33). The Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) did not like what was happening, and they came up with their own explanation - ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons’ (34). Jesus gives us another, better, explanation: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...’ (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus was sent to preach the Gospel. We are to bring the Gospel to other people. Jesus was 'teaching... preaching... and healing' (35). What opportunities there are to bring the healing power of Christ into many hearts and homes! These opportunities will be missed if ‘the labourers’ remain ‘few’ (37). Many are ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (v.36). We must not fail them!
10:1-20 - Jesus gave authority to His disciples (1). He gives authority to us. It is the authority of the Word and the Spirit - ‘you will be given what to say’ by ‘the Spirit of your Father speaking through you’ (20). Christ’s disciples were being trained for a great work to be done in the Name and the Power of the Lord (28:18-20). If we are to communicate the Word in the power of the Spirit, we need to see our life as life in the Spirit and life under the Word. Scripture calls us to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18) and to ‘let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly’ (Colossians 3:16). To be filled with the Spirit is to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. To let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is to be filled with the Spirit. We are to live in the power of the Spirit. We are to live in accordance with the Scriptures.
10:21-42 - Jesus tells us that ‘a student is not above his teacher nor a servant above his master’ (24). Our Teacher is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Master. Jesus emphasizes that ‘it is enough for the student to be like his teacher and the servant like his master’ (25). This is the goal of the Christian life - we are to be like Jesus. This will not be an easy life. There will be persecution (22; 2 Timothy 3:12). In this situation - going the way of the Cross with Jesus (38) - we need to hear and heed the Word of the Lord: Do not fear man. Fear God (28). The fear of men is to be avoided. The fear of God is to be treasured greatly. There will be conflict with those who do not honour God (34-37). We must remember: pleasing God is more important than pleasing people. Our prayer is that our hearers will receive Christ as well as ourselves (40).
11:1-19 - Much is said about John the Baptist here, yet the whole purpose is to draw attention to Jesus the Saviour. Jesus is superior to John. He is the One to whom John pointed. There are two responses to Jesus. We can take offence at Him: ‘Blessed is he who takes no offence at Me’ (6). We can hear what He says, receiving Him with faith: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’ (15). In His time, Jesus asked the question, ‘To whom shall I compare this generation?’, giving the answer, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’ (16-17). The promise of the Gospel is preached, yet many will not rejoice. The warning of the Gospel is preached, yet many will not repent. This is the story of our generation. May God help us to lead people of this generation to Christ, the ‘Friend of sinners’ (19).
11:20-30 - In John 16:8-11, Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit, convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Before there can be conversion, there needs to be conviction of sin. None of us can come to the Saviour of sinners without first seeing ourselves as sinners who need the Saviour. God uses the warning of judgment to send us to the Saviour - there ‘will be...judgment’, so make sure that you ‘come’ to Christ for salvation (24,28; Luke 3:7-8; Hebrews 2:3; 3:7-15). Before there can be growth in grace, there needs to be conversion. Before we can live a righteous life, learning from Christ (29; 1 Peter 1:15-16), we must come to Christ for rest, being declared righteous by Him (28; Romans 4:5-8). In Christ, we have salvation, set free from judgment - ‘no condemnation’ - and set free for righteousness - ‘living according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:1).
12:1-21 - Much of Jesus’ ministry was carried out under the watchful eye of the Pharisees. The controversy with the Pharisees was intensifying (2, 14). The Pharisees were out to get Jesus. For all their religion, they had no time for Jesus. Still, there are the critics, those who try to undermine our faith in Christ, those who attempt to draw us away from serving Christ. We must remain resolute in our faith, believing what God says concerning His Son: ‘Here is my Servant whom I have chosen, the One I love, in whom I delight’ (18; 3:17; 17:5). As we read of Jesus, the chosen Servant of God, loved by the Father and bringing delight to the Father's heart, we should give thanks for all that God has done for us in Christ (Ephesians 1: 4-6), and we should commit ourselves afresh to the service of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:58).
12:22-37 - Opposition from the Pharisees was growing all the time (24). Jesus had to rebuke them in very strong words (30, 32,34,36-37). This was not exactly a ‘How to win friends and influence people’ approach! Nevertheless, this was a time for strong words. Jesus’ ministry illustrates the principle: ‘a time to tear down and a time to build’ (Ecclesiastes 3:3). There was a time for ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (Mark 9:40). This was the time for ‘he who is not with me is against me’ (30). There was a time for speaking of the Spirit as ‘the Comforter’ (John 14:16,26). This was the time for the warning about the ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’ (31). The opposition was severe, but Jesus was victorious - He ‘drove out demons by the Spirit of God’, in Him ‘the Kingdom of God had come’ (28). In Him, we are victorious (Romans 8:37; Revelation 12:11).
12:38-50 - Jesus did not ‘mince His words’ with the Pharisees. He described them as ‘a wicked and adulterous generation’ (39,45). They were men who, by their stubborn refusal to listen to Jesus, had placed themselves under the judgment of God. The Pharisees may have had no time for Jesus, but there were those who were eager to learn from Him. Out of ‘the crowd’ (46), Jesus was calling to Himself those who were learning what it really means to be related to Him (50). Jesus directed attention away from His human connections to His divine authority. Sometimes, people make too much of the wrong things - ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you...’ (Luke 11:27). They need to be reminded of the things that really matter: ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it’ (Luke 11:28). As God’s children we are to do His will (50; John 14:21).
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!
18:1-14 - From Jesus’ reply to the question: ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ (1), we learn much about the valued place children are to have among us. Our attitude to children is to be marked by humility, respect, responsibility and - above all - love. (a) humility: We teach the children. We can learn from them (2-4). (b) respect: Physically, we may look down on them. Spiritually, we must ‘not look down’ on them (10). They are to be highly valued. (c) responsibility: What kind of influence do we have on the children? - This is a question of the greatest importance (6). (d) love: Our ‘Father in heaven’ loves the children (14). The kind of welcome we give to children shows the kind of welcome we give to ‘Jesus’ who ‘loves the little children’ (5). May God help us not to fail the rising generation.
18:15-19:2 - Discipline and forgiveness are not opposites. They belong together. Discipline is to be part of our caring. If it is not carried out in a caring way, it is not the discipline of the Lord. It is the expression of human arrogance. Where there is a genuine desire to honour God and do His will, we have more than some human beings imposing their own will upon others. We have God at work, purifying His Church. The link between discipline (15-17) and forgiveness (21-35) is prayer (18-20). Without prayer, we will never achieve a true balance between discipline and forgiveness. We must avoid a harsh legalism which knows nothing of God’s love. We dare not soft-pedal the moral demands of discipleship. God is holy. God is love. We need both holiness and love - for the sake of the ‘large crowds’ who need the Saviour (2).
19:3-30 - Even though ‘large crowds followed Him’, still ‘the Pharisees’ opposed Jesus (2-3). Jesus’ teaching regarding marriage has perfect balance. Marriage is God’s purpose for ‘male and female’ (4-5). ‘Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven’ (12). There is no compulsion in these matters. Each one must seek God’s will. Celibacy should not be viewed with suspicion. This way can also be chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. It must not be suggested that celibacy is the only truly ‘spiritual’ way. Jesus calls for humility (14,30). What we cannot do for ourselves, God does for us (23-26). The Gospel humbles us and exalts God. Before we can be exalted by God and with Him, we must be humbled by God and before Him. ‘Eternal life’ (16) begins when, conscious of our sin - ‘Who then can be saved?’ (25) - we look to Christ alone for salvation.
20:1-28 - The workers served for different lengths of time (1-7). They received equal payment (8-16). This is a parable of grace. Some have served the Lord a long time. Some have served Him a short time. The length of time is not the most important thing. More important is this: each one of us has been saved by grace. We owe it all to the Lord, the Giver of salvation. In verses 17-19, Jesus speaks of His death and resurrection. These are the great events upon which our salvation rests (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). If we are to follow Christ, we must walk the way of the Cross (22). He suffered for us. We must be ready to suffer for Him. His glory did not come without suffering. Our glory will not come without suffering. Do not seek ‘greatness’. Go the way of the Cross (26-28).
20:29-21:17 - Four times, Jesus is called ‘the Son of David’ (30-31, 9,15). Christ is greater than David. He is David’s ‘Lord’ (22:41-46). Christ is not only ‘the Son of David’. He is also the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4). We rejoice with the Psalms of David. We rejoice even more in the Gospel of Christ. Our response to Christ is to be marked by discipleship, depth and devotion. Discipleship - The blind men ‘received their sight and followed Him’ (34). They did not receive their sight and then forget about Him. Grace is to be followed by gratitude. Those who have received grace are to give themselves to the Lord in gratitude. Depth - The crowds were enthusiastic (8-9) but superficial (27:20-23). Pray for depth, a true and lasting response to Christ. Devotion - Pray that the spirit of praise will overcome the spirit of pride (15).
21:18-46 - Jesus entered the city (10). He entered the temple (12). He went ‘back to the city’ (18). He entered the temple (23). Here, we have the pattern for Christian living - in the place of worship, out into the world, back to the place of worship... Worship, witness, worship... The two go hand in hand throughout the Christian life. We will encounter unbelief - even in the place of worship (23). God’s servants - the prophets - were rejected (35-36). God’s Son - Jesus - was rejected (37-39). We live in a situation where the threat of judgment is very real (19). Nevertheless, there is hope. Christ is ‘the Church’s one Foundation’ (Church Hymnary, 420). Through Him, we will bear fruit which will bring glory to God (42-43). We have been slow to believe, but God is ‘swift to bless’. No more ‘I will not’ - let there be repentance, entering God’s Kingdom and doing His will (29- 31).
22:1-14 - Jesus speaks in parables. Some hear, understand and believe. Others miss the point altogether. One man was ‘not wearing wedding clothes’ (11). He was dressed in the ‘filthy rags’ of his own ‘righteous acts’ (Isaiah 64:6). He was not clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Revelation 21:1-2, 7:9-14). Without Christ’s righteousness we are naked and ashamed. Sin brings shame. Before sin, there was nakedness without shame (Genesis 2:25). After sin, ‘they realized they were naked... and made coverings for themselves’ (Genesis 3:7). Spiritually, we are naked before the all-seeing eye of God (Hebrews 4:13). Christ says, ‘buy from me... white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness’ (Revelation 3:18). God says, ‘Come, buy... without money... Seek the Lord... call on Him... He will have mercy... He will freely pardon...’ (Isaiah 55: 1, 6-8). Do you want to enter God's Kingdom? Make sure you are clothed in Christ's righteousness.
22:15-33 - The Pharisees were subtle - just like the ‘ancient serpent who is the devil’ (Genesis 3:1; Revelation 20:2). They tried ‘to entangle Jesus in His talk’ (15). They wanted to trap Him and bring a charge against Him. They asked Jesus about payment of taxes to Caesar (17). Jesus moved beyond this question to our greatest responsibility: ‘Render ... to God the things that are God’s’ (21). If we must speak words of political significance - ‘Render.. to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (21) - , let them arise out of this: Giving God His rightful place in His Church, the nation and the wider world. Jesus’ words to the Sadducees, in verse 29, were not simply a protest against the religion of the Sadducees. They were a protest for the Scriptures and the power of God. A positive faith is much more helpful than a purely negative reaction!
22:34-46 - The Pharisees had failed. The Sadducees had failed. Now, ‘they come together’ (34). There were differences between them, yet they were prepared to lay aside their differences and join forces in their common opposition to Jesus. They were trying to get Him to set one commandment above all the others. They would then say that He had insufficient respect for the other commandments. Jesus answered them wisely: Love - for God and our neighbour - embraces all the commandments. They have fired questions at Jesus. Now, He puts a question to them (42). He seeks to raise their thinking beyond the human level - Jesus is not merely ‘the son of David’ (42). He is the Son of God. Greater than all of the great men, He is ‘our Lord and our God’ (John 20:28). No more trick questions. Give the answer of faith: ‘You are... the Son of the living God’ (16: 16).
23:1-39 - As you read Jesus’ stinging words, remember this: there is a ‘Pharisee’' in every one of us! Jesus disturbs the ‘peace’ of ‘those who sit at ease in Zion’ (Amos 6:1). He invites us to see ourselves as God sees us: ‘before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13). Why does Christ speak such disturbing words? - He loves us. He longs for us to return to Him and be forgiven. Many times He comes to us - ‘How often would I have gathered you’. Many times we refuse His appeal of love: ‘you would not’ (37). You may have refused Him often, yet still He waits. Still, He perseveres in love. Still, He seeks to show you the emptiness of your life without Him - ‘forsaken and desolate’ (38). Still, He waits for you to say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord’ (39).
24:1-31 - After the first two verses, concerned with the destruction of the temple, Jesus speaks of ‘the sign of His coming and of the end of the age’ (3). There will be times of testing (9,21). We must take care not to be drawn away from Him (4,23-24). Beyond the time of testing, there will be the return of the Lord (29-30). The events of our day are not without significance. They are signs of His coming. We are to prepare ourselves for His return. We must live as servants of the Gospel (14). This will not be easy. There will always be opposition. Current affairs may be confusing, but we must look beyond all this to ‘the momentous event’: ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (30). Awaiting the Lord's return, we say, ‘If no-one joins me, still I will follow’ (Mission Praise, 272).
24:32-25:13 - ‘The times they are-a-changing’. There is, however, one thing that remains constant. Jesus says, ‘My words will not pass away’ (35). In an age of unbelief, our faith is often under threat. We must stand upon this solid Rock: ‘The Word of the Lord stands forever’ (1 Peter 1:25). The scoffers will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’ (2 Peter 3:3-4). We are to believe that ‘He is near’ (33). Christ has risen. He will return (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). When He returns need not concern us: ‘the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’ (44). We are to be ready at all times (13) - doing the Lord's will (46). We are to be ‘faithful and wise’ (45). As ‘the bride of Christ’ (Revelation 19:7; 21:2), we await the Return of Christ our Bridegroom: ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him’ (6).
25:14-46 - We are to be faithful to God (21). There is a reward for faithfulness (29; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Our ‘reward’ is not to get more glory for ourselves: ‘what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord’ (2 Corinthians 4:5). Bringing glory to God - this is to be our greatest joy. We are not to be thinking, ‘What am I going to get out of this?’. We are to be asking, ‘What can I give to others?’. The ‘righteous’ are not full of boasting about their ‘righteous’ actions (37-38). The Lord’s true servants do not draw attention to themselves. Do you have ‘talents’? Yes - you do! Use them! ‘Serve the Lord with gladness’ (Psalm 100:2). Let this be your ‘reward’: the joyful privilege of bringing blessing to others and glory to God. On earth, we begin to ‘enter the joy of our Lord’ (21). In heaven, there will be ‘fullness of joy’ and ‘pleasure for evermore’ (Psalm 16:11).
26:1-13 - Jesus was on His way to the Cross (2). His death was the direct result of the hatred of men (3-4). It was also the supreme demonstration of the love of God (Romans 5:8). In verses 6-13, we read of a woman who loved Jesus very much. Jesus was deeply moved by her great love for Him. He wanted everyone to know about her deep devotion to Him: ‘Truly, I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (13). We read in Acts of the advance of the Gospel (1: 8). Great crowds became believers (2:41; 4:4; 6:7). In all of this, Jesus says to us, ‘Don't forget the woman. Don't forget her love’. Love for Jesus - simple, sincere, childlike love - this is the most important thing of all: ‘O for grace to love Him more’ (Church Hymnary, 676).
26:14-35 - Peter and Judas Iscariot had something in common. They both failed their Lord (14-16,34). Things turned out very differently for them (27:3-5; Acts 2:38-42). When we fail the Lord , we find ourselves at a cross-roads. We can turn to Him. We can turn away from Him. In view of His great love for us - His ‘blood’ has been ‘poured out for the forgiveness of sins’ (28) - how can we turn our backs on Him? How can you and I say ‘No’ to such love? There is no reason why we should say ‘No’ to Him - yet we do! Do we doubt that He is there for us? Do we wonder if He really loves us? What about you? Do you think that He cannot or will not forgive your sins? He can and He will. That’s why He died - ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (28).
26:36-56 - Jesus’ suffering is increasing. What pain His disciples caused Him. Three times, He ‘found them sleeping’ (40-45), ‘My betrayer is at hand’ (46), ‘all the disciples forsook Him and fled’ (56)! Was this the end of the road for His disciples? No! With one exception - Judas Iscariot, whom Jesus still called ‘friend’ (50), the others became men of prayer (Acts 1:13-14). They stood with Peter as he preached the Gospel, as he led many sinners to the Saviour (Acts 2:14,37-38). Jesus loved His disciples. He died for them. Then - after Jesus was ‘glorified’ - the Spirit was ‘given’ to them (John 7:39). The fleeing disciples became men ‘on fire’ (Acts 2:3). No more ‘fleeing’. Now it was ‘flowing’ - ‘rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). ‘Blaze, Spirit blaze. Set our hearts on fire. Flow, river, flow. Flood the nations with grace and mercy’ (Mission Praise, 445).
26:57-75 - ‘Peter followed Him at a distance’ (58). He didn't want to get too close! Keeping your distance from Jesus leads to trouble! Trouble was not the end of Peter's story. Three times Peter denied the Lord (69-75). Three times Jesus asked him, ‘Do you love Me?’, three times Peter answered Jesus, ‘I love You’ (John 21:15-17) - For each denial, an opportunity to re-affirm his love for Jesus. Three thousand souls won for Christ (Acts 2:41) - For each denial, one ‘thousand souls’ brought to Christ. The contrast between the ‘Peter’ of the Gospels and the ‘Peter’ of Acts is striking. When Jesus first met Peter, He said, ‘You are Simon... You shall be called Peter’ (John 1:42). ‘Peter’ means ‘rock’. Peter’s confession of faith - ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (16:16) - is the Rock on which our faith is built. With Peter, let us confess Christ.
27:1-26 - Jesus went to the Cross for us. Refusing to protest His own innocence, He took our guilt upon Himself. Observing this, ‘the governor wondered greatly’ (14). We also should wonder greatly at this - Christ took our place, receiving the punishment that should have been ours. Barabbas was released, Christ was crucified (26). This is the great exchange - the sinless Saviour takes the place of the guilty sinner (2 Corinthians 5:21). As well as its divine aspect - ‘God so loved...’ (John 3:16) - the Cross has a human dimension - the people, Jews and Gentiles (the whole sinful world), sent Jesus to the Cross. For Jews and Gentiles (‘the whole world’), Christ has provided salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 John 2:2). In the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Christ, we are invited to ask ourselves, ‘What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ (22).
27:27-54 - The ‘King of the Jews’ wore ‘a crown of thorns’ (29). In the Cross, we see the King. The way of crucifixion - this is the way of the Kingdom. The prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come’ (6:10), could only be answered by way of the Cross. From the Cross, we hear the call for decision. It is the call of love. The love of Christ calls for our answer: ‘What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ (22). Here, we see different responses to Christ - derision, mocking, reviling (39-44); misunderstanding (47-49); believing worship (54). How are we brought out of unbelief and into faith, out of derision and into rejoicing? By the mighty working of God in our hearts, we are brought out of darkness and into light (2 Corinthians 4:6). Salvation comes from above, from God - ‘The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom’ (51).
27:55-66 - ‘Mary the mother of James and Joseph’ was also the mother of Jesus (56; 13:55). She began by receiving Jesus, not only as her son but also as her Saviour (Luke 1:38). She was still following Jesus - ‘kept by the power of God’ (1 Peter 1:5). None of us - not even the mother of Jesus - can walk with the Lord without His grace keeping us in the way of faith. The unbelieving world still denies Christ - ‘that imposter’ (63) - and His resurrection - ‘fraud’ (64). As believers, we must maintain our testimony: ‘He has risen from the dead’ (64). The unbelievers expected a ‘fraud’. They did not expect a resurrection! For them, a resurrection was out of the question. God had a surprise in store for them! Unbelief says, ‘Resurrection? - Impossible!’. Faith says, ‘it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him’ (Acts 2:24). He has risen (28:6) - Hallelujah!
28:1-10 - The resurrection declares Christ’s victory over evil, the triumph of His love. There is no need for fear: ‘He has risen’ - His ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (5-6; 1 John 4:18). There has to be a new beginning in faith. First, there was a new beginning ‘in fact - Christ has been raised from the dead’ (1 Corinthians 15:20). Christ has won the victory over the grave. Christ has taken the sting out of death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Between the new beginning in faith - making disciples (19) - and the new beginning in fact - Christ’s resurrection - , there is worship (9). The fact is not dependent on our feelings. ‘He has risen’ (6-7) - the fact stands, even when many doubt and few worship (17). As we worship, we are strengthened in faith, strengthened for our task. We are to invite people to come to the place where ‘they will see’ Jesus (10). We are to ‘make disciples’ (19). Run and tell - with great joy (8)!
28:11-20 - Why is it so important that we ‘make disciples’ (19)? There is a devil, and he is doing his utmost to hinder the progress of God’s truth. He spreads lies about Christ - ‘to this day’ he is still sowing seeds of unbelief (11-15). We must combat the enemy of Christ - with words of truth, with the believing declaration, ‘He has risen’ (6-7). Satan failed to halt the progress of the Gospel. Christ’s disciples rose to the challenge, and so must we: ‘Rise up, you champions of God... We’ll reach this generation... Go forth! Jesus loves them. Go forth! Take the Gospel. Go forth! The time is now. The harvest is ripening; Go forth! Feel now the burden of the Lord. Feel how He longs to save them. Feel now for those who never heard... Now is the time’ (Songs of Fellowship, 486). ‘All authority... has been given to Me... I am with you always' (18-20).