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February 14, 2017: The Teaching of the Pharisees

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 34, Psalm 37:1-22, Matthew 16:1-12, Acts 22 Matthew 16:1-12: The contrast between those who received Jesus’ teaching and responded with faith (like the Canaanite woman, 15:21-28), and others (like the Pharisees), becomes yet more stark and glaring. The Pharisees, along with the Sadducees, come to Jesus to test him (16:1). And what a test! They want a sign. Wow. Have they been paying no attention at all? He just fed four thousand people with a small picnic (15:32-39); he has been healing countless numbers; he has been teaching vast crowds with authority. Every sign imaginable has been performed for them—if they have eyes to see and ears to hear. But they come “demanding” a sign. And therefore no sign will be given to them. Jesus is not a “jack-in-the-box” who will do their bidding; he is not a genie in a lamp that will come out and perform tricks for them. He...

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February 13, 2017: Great Faith

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 34, Psalm 36, Matthew 15:21-39, Acts 21:27-40 By contrast with the Pharisaic refusal to accept Jesus or listen to God’s Word, but rather instead trump God’s Word by means of their own human traditions—by contrast with this approach to Jesus, and God, we come across now the faith of a Canaanite woman. No greater shock could there be to hear what Jesus said in verse 28 of this woman: “Great is your faith.” But she is asking Jesus to have mercy on her (15:22). She recognizes his Messianic identity (“Son of David”). Jesus appears to put her off—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). But she persists. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (15:27). Later in Matthew chapter 28, we know that Jesus’ mission extends to all nations, but at this stage he was primarily focused on...

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February 12, 2017: Human Tradition

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 32-33, Psalm 35, Matthew 15:1-20, Acts 21:1-26 Matthew 15:1-20: Perhaps one of the most important teachings of Jesus is in a context where religion is common, and faith—real faith—must be contrasted against the mere externals of “Pharisaic religion” (under its various guises). It is possible to look very impressive on the outside, and follow all sorts of forms and ceremonial observances, fastings and the like, but actually be very far from having a genuine heart for God. The Pharisees and the scribes criticize Jesus’ disciples for not washing—meaning ceremonial washing—before they eat (15:1-2). But, as they point out, the real issue here is that they are not thereby following “the tradition of the elders” (15:2). In other words, they were going against the time-honored traditional teaching, so honored and upheld in Jesus’ time, and still so among religions of our own day. Jesus’ reply is stunning, and the right answer to...

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February 11, 2017: Out of the Boat

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 30-31, Psalm 34, Matthew 14:22-36, Acts 20:13-38 Matthew 14:22-36: Perhaps one of the most famous miracles of all dominates the passage in front of us this morning: Jesus walking on water. Many people have wondered whether it is really possible. Could it be possible that someone would walk on water? I have read, or heard, discussions about the properties of water and the physical mass of a human being, and the various discussion about how such a feat could be achieved. But all this is so much nonsense: the point of Jesus walking on water is that it is not possible—not humanly possible, anyway. That is why, at the end, they worship him as the Son of God (14:33). The primary purpose of this encounter, then, is to show us that Jesus is far more than a mere miracle worker—impressive enough as that would be. He is God incarnate, the very...

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February 10, 2017: King Jesus

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 27-29, Psalm 33, Matthew 14:1-21, Acts 20:1-12 Matthew 14:1-21: John the Baptist, the greatest prophet, the one who made straight the path leading to Christ and prepared the way for him, is dead. As Jesus’ fame grows, King Herod begins to think that somehow John the Baptist has returned from the dead and is imbuing his spirit in Jesus, and that is why Jesus is doing all these miracles. The association in Herod’s mind between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ was a dangerous one: John had been beheaded. Matthew steps back to give the backstory. John had been imprisoned for calling King Herod to account for his relationship with his brother’s wife. Speaking truth to power is seldom a safe thing to do, especially when the man in power is Herod. Unable to countenance such opposition from an evidently holy man, calling him to a higher standard, Herod does what dictators...

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February 9, 2017: The Pearl of Great Price

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 24-26, Psalm 32, Matthew 13:44-58, Acts 19:23-41 Matthew 13:44-58: More parables, with a final description of what took place after them—“A prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown” (13:57). The first parable is of a treasure hidden in a field (13:44). A man discovers it and then sells everything he has to buy the field. The point is that this treasure, this kingdom, is so valuable that it is worth everything to get it. The second parable, the pearl of great value (13:45-46), makes the same point in a different way: the pearl, the treasure, is worth everything to get. The parable of the net (13:47-50) is of fishing—the picture is of someone, after fishing, sorting out the good fish into one set of containers, and throwing out the bad. The point is that at the end of the age, there will be a separation of the evil...

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February 8, 2017: He Who Has Ears, Let Him Hear

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 21-23, Psalm 31, Matthew 13:24-43, Acts 19:1-22 Matthew 13:24-43: More parables, and each of them about the kingdom of heaven, and each with great meaning. The first is the parable of the weeds (13:24-30). A right interpretation of this parable rests on Jesus’ own interpretation given in verses 36-43. Critically, it is important to note that the “field” is not equivalent to “the church,” but to “the world” (13:38). Doubtless, within even the best managed, most holy, and godly of churches, there are weeds as well as wheat, but Jesus’ parable here is not to be interpreted as an excuse for laziness or acceptance of unreformed doctrine or un-revitalized experience of the Christian life. He is considering “the world” and arguing that, as we do not now see as God sees at the final judgment, it is unwise for us to try to “gather” (13:28) before that final day—or determine with...

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February 7, 2017: Seed and Sower

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 19-20, Psalm 30, Matthew 13:1-23, Acts 18:18-28 Matthew 13:1-23: One of the most well-known stories that Jesus ever told is this parable of the sower (13:3-8). It is so familiar to many of us as it is such good material for children’s teaching. It is imbibed from such an early age if we grew up in church that it is easy to miss the forest for the trees and fail to see the point. First of all, the great crowds coming to Jesus means that he grabs an impromptu pulpit—in this case a boat—and preaches from it (13:2). They can see him, they can hear him, behind him is no distraction, and the setting (we must presume) was reasonably peaceful. Into this ambience Jesus drops a “parable.” A parable, literally, is something that is thrown along side something else; it is a comparison. It is saying, “This, that you are talking about, is...

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Colorblind

Sometimes Facebook juxtaposes just the right pair of posts, just the right images to startle me awake, to catch a new glimpse of truth. Today I saw a such a pair. Post #1, a video: colorblind people see color for the first time with innovative new glasses. Now, I’m going to let you roll that around in your mind for a minute before I hit you with Post #2. A stream of people unable to distinguish red from green, trapped in a world where everything is a muted, muddy brown, suddenly seeing all the great glory of a simple garden, overwhelmed. You see them see colors and suddenly you’re seeing color through their eyes, and you realize how much we take for granted, how much beauty overload we live in all the time. You wonder what else we can’t see, what else is hiding in plain sight. Now. Post #2: women at...

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February 6, 2017: Greater Than Jonah

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 16-18, Psalm 29, Matthew 12:38-50, Acts 18:1-17 Matthew 12:38-50: “Signs” function sometimes in a positive way in the New Testament—John’s Gospel is structured around signs that are given that we may believe, for instance (John 20:30-31). But here the Pharisees are asking for a sign (12:38), really demanding for a sign; it was another way to attempt to put Jesus through a series of tests. Behind it was not an openness to believe, but a rebellious spirit seeking to find ways to trap Jesus, or at least avoid believing. Sometimes today, too, people will say, “If only God did such-and-such for me, then I would believe.” Likely as not, with that attitude, even if “such-and-such” occurred, that individual would find another condition that was necessary that God meet before they would follow him. In other words, the real issue is the heart, which is what Jesus now diagnoses. They are an...

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