Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, January 20, Chapter 11
Verses 4-6 is more than a nice list of good deeds. God promised His followers over the centuries that the Messiah would come and do all those things. Jesus knew all the promises and that John knew them as well. The saddest thing about the list is that nearly all Jews of the day knew the list, but most still rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
Read my post Comfort Ye. Isaiah 35:5-6 & 61:1 for the promises. John is great, but those who follow the Messiah are greater because we get to experience all that Jesus brings to us. John only heard the promise before he died.
Verse 12 speaks of the eagerness of Jesus’ followers, they grab hold of the power of Jesus and will not let go. Nothing in this world comes close to doing the things Jesus did.
People complained that John did not eat enough and that Jesus eats too much. Those who reject the Word can always find an excuse.
Jesus tells the citizens of several cities that they will suffer for not turning to the Word. He is really speaking to the people, not the physical city. Capernaum was Jesus’ home base, remember.
In the last section, Jesus lets his followers in on a secret; the Word of God is easy. Following Jesus is easy. Yes, there will be suffering, even persecution, but knowing we have God with us makes it easy to accept.
Tuesday, January 21, Chapter 12
Following Jesus is easy. In Jesus’ day, there were hundreds of rules about the Sabbath. Understand that Sabbath is the last day of the week, Saturday on our calendars. God established that day as a day of rest, a very practical way to revive us after six days of labor; but also a day for us to seek God in study of his Word and prayer with Him.
Because it was meant as a day of rest, the Pharisees developed a long list of activities that we would agree involve work and declared with of them was acceptable and which were not. You could walk to the Temple or synagogue, but not if it involved more than a mile and a half round trip. Today, that restriction includes riding in a car. Building a fire was not allowed; they filled all oil lamps and left them burning; they ate their food cold. Today, you cannot flip a light switch because that is the same as building a fire.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You have forgotten the reasons for the Sabbath. Your restrictions do nothing to encourage closeness with God. Yes, we harvested some grain to eat because we were hungry. Yes, God healed the man with the withered hand because he is valuable to God. A day of rest is not a day of suffering. It is a day of being as close to God as possible.”
In the first years of the Church, followers of Jesus met in synagogues on Saturday. As more Greeks, Romans, and others became Christians, they gradually moved out of the synagogues and started meeting on the first day of the week because that was the day Jesus came out of the tomb. It is the Christian Sabbath.
Isaiah is again quoted to describe why Jesus healed the sick and tended the needs of the people. Notice that the word, Justice, is prominent.
It is interesting that the man healed and relieved of demons is hardly mentioned. For Matthew, it is the reason for the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees said that only the Devil could drive out demons, Beelzebub being yet another name for the Prince of Darkness. Jesus answered with two points. Why would the Devil drive himself out of someone? You also drive demons out of people; do you do the work of the Devil? I do the work of God.
If you are with me, says Jesus, you will gather people to God; if you are against me, you will keep them away from God. God can forgive Speaking against Jesus, but speaking against the Holy Spirit of God will not forgive. This is a difficult passage and one we need not bog down on. God is the one who forgives; it is not our business to decide what is only His to decide.
The important point is the next section. Good fruit is the key. If I help the poor, the sick, the depressed, I am a tree bearing good fruit. It cannot buy my way into heaven. It cannot encourage God to forgive my failures. If that is why I do good things, Ted Bundy and Adolph Hitler will be forgiven before I am.
Jonah was an example of Jesus when the was “resurrected” after three days. Believe it.
Jesus did not turn his back on his family. Mary was a follower and stood at the cross as he died. James came late to believe in his older brother and became the Bishop of the Jerusalem Church. Jesus simply said that those who follow him are the true family. Believe it.
Wednesday, January 22, Chapter 13
The Parable of the Sower seems simple enough. You can see the message in the following cartoon youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9IOhGPrRvY
The real message comes later starting in verse 19. But do not overlook Jesus’ words, though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. He was quoting from Deuteronomy 29:2-4. Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those miraculous signs and great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. Jeremiah 5:21. Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear. Ezekiel 12:2. Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.
What is it that we fail to see or understand? Remember the message to John in chapter 11, every human in the world deserves good food, good medicine, a decent place to live, proper wages, equal respect. If we hear the words of Jesus and do little to help those in need, the seed of His Word is lost in us.
Jesus follows the parable with a short parable about weeds. Here, the Word is being choked by the weeds of the Evil One. At the end of time, the weeds will be burned away and only the Word will survive. If we allow the evil seeds to grow in us, we are in danger of being burned with them.
Jesus told three seed parables in a row, the mustard seed being number three. A preacher named Ray Stedman, about whom I know little, called this The Case of the Ambitious Seed. You can read his comments at: http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/matthew/the-case-of-the-ambitious-seed
A small Seed of the Word, in the proper soil, well prepared, watered, and tended [read: study, pray, grow close to God] can become a giant and do mighty deeds. Yeast is another version of the same story.
Jesus turns to teaching his close students, the Twelve. The hidden treasure, the pearl, and the net are all reminding us of the true value of the Word of God. We dare not lose it or mistreat it on pain of destruction.
The chapter ends with a failure, of sorts. Jesus is not well received by those who knew him best, yet Jesus says it was because of their lack of faith. We do learn that Jesus had four brothers and more than one sister. His brothers tried to have him committed as insane. James later became a believer and leader of the church. If you do not believe, Jesus does seem crazy.
Thursday, January 23, Chapter 14
We really do not know much about John the Baptizer, but we do know what is probably most important, he spoke the truth. That should be Truth, because it is the Word of God. In today’s America, many of us believe that our government is our source of comfort and protection. John would have harsh words for both the government and our trust in it. John died because he spoke the Truth as did Jesus. Being faithful to God is the only important faithfulness we can have.
When Jesus heard of John’s death, he tried to get away, probably to talk with God. The people followed him. He did not ignore them or send them away, he fed them. That is our lesson. You and I can feed people. More than a billion people worldwide are slowly dying of starvation while we in the US throw away enough food to keep them all alive. I alone cannot feed a billion, but I can feed one or two or three.
After the feeding, Jesus was able to slip away for that time with God that he absolutely needed, as do we. Renewed, he walked to his disciples who were in the fishing boat, caught in a storm.
Walking on water is no big deal; any of us can do it. However, as far as we know, only Jesus and Peter pulled it off, and Peter was not as successful as Jesus. Two things to learn, Jesus is the source of our strength and we must have absolute, unquestioned, fully focused faith in him.
Friday, January 24. Chapter 15
The Pharisees make another attempt to discredit Jesus, accusing him of violating the Law by not requiring his disciples to wash their hands before eating. The Law of Moses requires ritual washing in a few religious situations, but says nothing about daily eating. The Pharisees had expanded the meaning of the law to include all eating.
Jesus responded in kind. Most Pharisees would pledge their property to God, and then use that as an excuse to avoid paying for their aging parent’s needs, as well as the needs of all others. It did not stop them from spending on their own lavish wants.
Jesus, by the way, says nothing against the sanitary advantages of washing our hands.
Tyre and Sidon were just north of Galilee, therefore, gentile territory. The woman was not Jewish and Jesus ignored her until his disciples begged him to deal with her. We do not know the look of Jesus’ face. Perhaps he smiled as he spoke. His words are harsh, almost cruel, but they do not put the woman off.
Why did Jesus call her a dog? That is the way Jews then thought of gentiles. This time, the woman had the perfect response; the household pets roam the area under the table eating the bits of food that fall to the floor. She was willing to accept that for her daughter. Faith heals and this woman had faith in a scrap being enough. Jesus granted her wish.
God sent Jesus to minister to the Chosen People. The Plan that God and His Son worked out before Creation was to let the Disciples heal the rest of the world. That is our job.
The feeding of the four thousand has the same message as the earlier five thousand.