A Moment With The Bible
Jesus cast out a demon who had caused a man to be both blind and mute. The miracle was so convincing that the Pharisees could not deny the power Jesus displayed. Instead, they said that His power came from Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons. As a result, Jesus warned the Jews that every sin and blasphemy that men commit can be forgiven, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven. What is especially intriguing is that Jesus says that men can even blaspheme Him and still be forgiven, but there is no forgiveness for blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
This passage has caused no little concern among students of the Bible. I have met many who feared that at some time in their past they had blasphemed the Spirit and as a result were now in a state of never being forgiven. Let’s first notice how Jesus’ words fit into the context and then how the text applies today.
The miracle Jesus performed was done by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees had instead ascribed that power to the Devil. The parallel passage in Mark 3:30 tells us that Jesus gave this warning because they said He had an unclean Spirit. The danger about which Jesus is warning has to do with the work of the Spirit once Jesus went back to heaven. John 16:7-13 tells us that Jesus would send the Spirit who would guide the apostles into all truth. The Holy Spirit revealed the words of the New Testament, words that must be obeyed if a person expects to be saved. Therefore, it would be possible to reject Jesus and speak evil of Him, but later still have an opportunity to listen to the Spirit and be saved. However, if one rejected the words of the Spirit, he would have rejected his only hope of salvation. There would be no future salvation to be revealed. The Spirit has sent the last and only words of salvation. Reject these words and there can never be forgiveness.
Therefore, Jesus was not teaching that there was one particular sin that could be committed and never forgiven. Instead, He was warning about how one treats the words of the Holy Spirit. To reject these words is to reject one’s only hope of salvation. 1 John 5:16-17 teaches a similar principle. A “sin unto death” is a purposeful, unrepentant sin. God will not forgive a rebellious person, only a humble repentant person.
A Moment With The Bible
Matthew 12:22-30 #2
When the Pharisees could not deny the miracles of Jesus, they tried to discredit Him by saying that the source of His power was not from God but from Satan. Jesus proved that such could not be since Satan would not turn against his own kingdom and cast himself out. This being true, we are left with a simple conclusion: if the power did not come from Satan, it could have only come from God. Therefore Jesus states, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” If the Pharisees were honest they would have realized that the casting out of demons was proof that God was now conquering Satan and therefore His kingdom (rule), that had been repeatedly prophesied in the Old Testament, had come.
Notice Jesus’ description of how He was conquering Satan in verse 29. Jesus could not be “plundering the strong man’s goods” unless He had first bound the strong man. The casting out of demons was intended to show to everyone that Jesus was now taking away the power of Satan. Hebrews 4:14-15 says it this way: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. Jesus cast out demons in order to prove that He was destroying Satan and releasing mankind from the bondage of death.
These facts offer two important lessons for us. First, Zechariah 13:1 prophesied that in the days of the Messiah God would cause the unclean spirit to depart from the land. This was fulfilled during the first century by Jesus and the apostles and proved that Satan had been conquered. Therefore, we no longer have demon possession. We certainly have other problems caused by Satan (1 Peter 5:8), but demon possession is not one of them.
Second, since Jesus conquered Satan, we also have the ability to overcome Him. If we will obey Him (Acts 2:37-38) and walk in the light (1 John 1:7), the blood of Jesus will cleanse us from all sins. But we need to heed Jesus’ warning in verse 30. There are only two kingdoms: God’s and Satan’s. We are serving one or the other. Just saying we are serving God does not make it so. If we say we know Him and do not keep His commandments, we are liars (1 John 2:3-5).
A Moment With The Bible
Matthew 12:22-30 #1
At this point in Matthew’s account, the unbelief of the Pharisees is being increasingly challenged. Not only is Jesus doing notable miracles in their presence, the people are beginning to recognize Him as the Messiah (“Can this be the son of David?”). Therefore, the Pharisees must find some way to discredit Him if they are going to keep their power and influence with the people. Here is where their defense gets interesting. Instead of denying that Jesus performed a miracle in healing the demon-possessed man, they deny that the source of His power is from God. But in doing so, they have admitted that Jesus is actually performing miracles and casting out demons. This provides irrefutable evidence that the miracles of Jesus were not faked. If the Pharisees could have denied the miracle they would have. But since they cannot deny it, they deny the source is of God.
This leaves Jesus with the easy task of proving that the power to cast out demons could not come from Satan. Satan would not cast out His own demons without destroying his own kingdom, since a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
Jesus then challenges the Pharisees concerning their own disciples who also practiced exorcism. Josephus tells us of Jewish exorcists who practiced elaborate incantations after hanging a root from the nose of the demoniac. The root itself had to be gathered in a special way or else it would be sure death to the person who harvested it. The contrast between their exorcisms and the miracles of Jesus where the demons were cast out with just a word, would have been notable. Therefore, Jesus’ challenge is that if He was using the power of the devil, then what power were the Pharisees using when they used the appearance of witchcraft to cast out a demon?
Have you ever questioned whether or not Jesus actually performed miracles? It is a legitimate question and one that determines whether Jesus is really the Son of God. The answer is in this text. The enemies of Jesus, who were eyewitnesses, could not deny His power. Their testimony offers solid proof to the authenticity of Jesus.
A Moment with the Bible
Matthew 12:1-8 #3
Notice Jesus words, “Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.”
Three times in this text Jesus indicted the Pharisees for a lack of careful observation of the scriptures and a negligence in applying the words they read. Twice He says, “Have you not read,” and the third time He says, “If you had known.”
The progression of Jesus’ arguments goes like this. David and his men ate the holy bread designated only for priests, but the Pharisees did not condemn David. The disciples simply ate grain and the Pharisees condemned them. David and his company of men had a pressing need, but Jesus and His company had a greater mission. Jesus’ argument concerning the priests and their work on the Sabbath is similar. The priests were laboring every Sabbath for the service of the temple in order to honor God. The Pharisees had not even considered the principle of priestly labor. But Jesus’ disciples were laboring on the Sabbath for the One who is greater than the temple. They labored for the One who was the architect of both the physical temple and the heavenly temple after which it was patterned. If the priests can labor for God on the Sabbath, sacrificing animals and cooking and eating their portion, then certainly the disciples can glean some grain in order to strengthen themselves in service to the One who is the Lord of the Sabbath.
The primary point of this text is that the Pharisees missed the true meaning of the Sabbath. It was intended as a gift to man with the intent that God would be honored. Our worship today is the same. God has given us a great gift in teaching us to pray, sing, give, share His word, and partake of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him. But these are not intended as the goal; these are a means to the goal of growing to be more like Him and honoring Him in our lives. God designed these particular parts of worship with a spiritual goal. If we miss that purpose, we have not truly worshiped.
A Moment with the Bible
Matthew 12:1-8, #1
In the Old Testament, there were three passages that defined restrictions concerning work on the Sabbath: Exodus 20:8-11, “You shall not do any work;” Jeremiah 17:21-24, “Carry no burden;” Exodus 35:3, “Kindle no fire.” In this text, the Jews have accused Jesus’ disciples of violating the command against work. It is interesting that Jesus constantly challenged the Jews concerning the understanding of the Sabbath command. The Pharisees found it necessary to specifically define every imaginable Sabbath violation. If a woman left a needle in her garment and took more than two steps, it was determined that she violated the Sabbath. They had turned the Sabbath command into something oppressive, instead a day of rest and worship.
We must also note that the disciples had not gone into the fields to reap, but to glean. In other words, if they had been reaping a crop, they certainly would have been violating the Sabbath. But gleaning was different. Under the law, the poor were allowed to glean. This would include picking from the corners of the field or gathering that which was dropped by the harvesters. However, Jesus does not use this argument in defending His disciples. Instead, He quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” If they had known what this meant, they would not have condemned the innocent. So, in context, what did the Hosea passage mean?
First, we should note what it did not mean. God was not saying, “All I want from you is compassion, I don’t want you to offer sacrifices.” That would contradict all the direct commands for animal sacrifices. In the context of Hosea, the people had decided to return to God in a superficial way. Their lives had been filled with immorality and decadence and God had been sending partial judgments against them. Their solution was to offer a few sacrifices, and by the third day, God will make everything better. But the God was angry with their attitude. Their goodness, He said, was like a morning cloud that went away. It was only a false promise of righteousness. Therefore, God’s rebuke meant, “I desire compassion (Hebrew: steadfast love and from-the-heart service), not simply animal sacrifices. The principle is timeless. God wants no less from us. Just “going to church” is not going to cut it. He requires a complete from the heart service.
A Moment with the Bible
Jesus praised God for revealing His will to little children instead of the wise and understanding. Following this, He gave one of the most quoted and beautiful invitations in the scriptures. Jesus appeals to those who are “weary and heavy laden.” Living a life serving self (and therefore, serving Satan) is one of hard bondage. Satan promises us that if we live our lives to the fullest by seeking all the pleasures of the world, we will obtain complete fulfillment. But the truth is that this world’s pleasures provide only a temporary happiness that results in a life of weariness and labor as the consequences of sin and seeking that which has no substance eventually takes its toll. Jesus has the answer. Coming to Him will give a person rest from the constant demands of lust and the promise that just a little more and you will reach your goal of complete contentment.
When Jesus says, “Take My Yoke,” He implies that the world has been pulling a difficult and heavy load. A yoke is intended to make the task easier. Jesus has formed His yoke to perfectly fit our needs. “His yoke” also implies that we are entering into a partnership with Him in His labor. We are working jointly with the Lord to expand the borders of His kingdom. The choice is clear. It is either serve the passions of our flesh, which results in a life of hard and difficult labor and ends in a waste, or we serve the Lord who has an easy yoke and a light burden and through it gives us rest for our souls.
Look carefully at these alternatives. Do not believe Satan’s lies that true living is found in fulfilling our own desires. Satan is a cruel taskmaster who has been a liar from the beginning. Jesus is a gentle Master. He is lowly in heart, not looking to harm us but to come to our rescue and bring us rest from the destructiveness of sin. Which master makes more sense?
A Moment with the Bible
This chapter began with Jesus taking a tour of Galilean cities in order to bring the gospel to the common people. However, it is evident by verses 20-24 that most of the people were unimpressed and unrepentant. In Mark 6:5-6 we are told that Jesus marveled at their unbelief.
In the text before us, Jesus reveals why some reject His teaching and some accept it. In light of the rejection He has just experienced, Jesus breaks into a prayer of praise, thanking God that He has revealed His will to “little children” but has hidden it from the wise and intelligent. It is at first a curious statement, but once we understand it, we too will break into praise.
What if God had revealed His word in such a way that only those who had superior intelligence could understand it? What if He had revealed His word in such a way that only those who had superior abilities could respond to it? In that case, the Lord would have left the rest of us out, and those who could understand it would be lifted up with pride. In such a case, the glory would not be given to God, but glory would be given to those who through their superior thinking skills were able to see what no one else could see.
But that is not what the Lord did. Instead, He revealed His word in such a way that only the humble in heart would respond to it. This could include people from all walks of life, whether super intelligent or just a commoner. The key to understanding the will of the Lord is to recognize that there is nothing within ourselves that will enable us to see the “deep things of God” or save us from our own sins. A person may have the education of a microbiologist or a brain surgeon, but such will not help him be reconciled to God from whom he is separated because of sin.
It is to humble people, those who mourn over their sins and seek God through His revealed word, that Jesus has “willed” to reveal the Father.
A Moment with the Bible
As Jesus denounces the Jewish cities where He had performed most of His miracles, He compares them to some of the most notoriously wicked cities in history. Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician cities north of Palestine. God marked out Tyre for utter destruction (Ezekiel 26), which was fulfilled by Alexander the Great in about 323 B.C. As for Sidon, God never pronounced complete destruction, but instead prophesied that they would be repeatedly attacked because of their sins (Ezekiel 28). Sodom is well known for perverse sexual sins including homosexuality (Genesis 19). In fact, God destroyed the four cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim with fire and brimstone. So complete was their destruction that God even destroyed all that grew on the ground. Prior to their destruction, the area that we know now as being around the Dead Sea, was lush with vegetation. Lot had chosen this fertile area in order to raise his flocks. Today, the area around the Dead Sea is a desolate wasteland. Many believe that the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah lie somewhere beneath the Dead Sea. The Bible repeatedly uses Sodom as an example of the worst kind of wickedness. God could not even find ten righteous people in the city. Only Lot and two of his daughters escaped the destruction.
But the cities Jesus denounces were not cities known for the gross immorality. However, they were given a greater opportunity than anyone in history to repent of their sins. They were eyewitnesses of the miracles of Jesus and yet they did not change their ways. Because of greater opportunity, Judgment Day would be worse for them than it would be for Sodom and Gomorrah. What exactly is meant by judgment being “more tolerable” for Sodom than for these Galilean cities, we are not told. What is important is the application for us. Though we have not actually seen the miracles of Jesus, our freedoms in America have granted us greater opportunities to know God’s word than any in history. If we do not repent and obey the Lord with these advantages, our judgment will also be worse than for the men and women of Sodom.
A Moment with the Bible
After explaining to the multitudes the mission and purpose of the coming of John the Baptist, Jesus goes on to challenge the unbelief of the Jewish leaders and their followers. They were like two groups of children, one calling to the other to join them in a game. When asked if they would like to play a game simulating a “party,” the obstinate group refuses. But when asked to do the opposite and “play funeral,” they also refuse. In other words, nothing that is offered pleases them. In the same way, John and Jesus took opposite approaches in trying to turn people to repentance. John was an ascetic, living an austere life in the deserts, and they accused him of having a demon. Jesus joined in the social activities of the day, and they called Him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Each of their approaches was with “wisdom” and fulfilled the purpose intended. The wisdom in their approaches was justified by the results they received from those who had an honest heart. But the Jews in general were obstinate, rejecting any approach that did not fit their own preconceived notions.
This text offers a strong warning for all of us. We have a tendency to want “our church” or “our religion” to fit perfectly into our own desires. But worshiping God is not about what we want and it is not about pleasing us, it is about pleasing the One who saved us. The very reason the Jews were rejected is because they could not give up their own religious institutions. If we desire to sincerely come to God, it must be from the pure desire to read His word and obey Him regardless of whether it fits into our whims or not.
Notice also that Jesus was accused of being a “friend of sinners.” This may be the only accusation made of Jesus that was true. He was a friend of sinners. He came to seek and save those who were lost. If we are truly His disciples, we will follow His example in this regard. In order to save a lost world, we must break away from our habit of only being a friend to those who are like us. If we are going to reach the lost, we also must be a friend of sinners.
A Moment with the Bible
In these verses, Jesus concludes His discussion of John the Baptist. Verse 12 is an explanation of why John is in prison. Beginning with John, the kingdom of heaven was “suffering violence, and the violent were taking it by force.” In other words, a battle was going on as the leaders of the world (in this case the Jewish leaders), tried to take God’s rule from Him. Psalm 2 is an excellent explanation of this text as the rulers of the world even go so far as to kill the Lord’s Messiah. But “He who sits in the heavens laughs…yet have I set My King on My holy hill of Zion” (Ps. 2:4-6). The battle is on for who will rule and God and His Christ will be the victors.
Verse 13 explains part of the reason the battle is waged. The Law and the Prophets were until John. There is now a transition period in which Jesus as the King will now institute His covenant and His laws. This will be in fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Galatians 3:24-26 states, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (ESV). Therefore the Law pointed us to Christ where we could be justified by a system of faith instead of a system of Law where we had to rely on our own goodness and perfect law-keeping in order to be saved.
Jesus’ final statement reveals clearly that John was the “Elijah who is to come.” Malachi 4:1-6 speaks of God sending “Elijah” before the coming of the “great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Jesus already made reference to Mal. 3:1 stating that John was the messenger preparing the way before Him. In Mal. 4, John is the Elijah, that is, he would do just as the prophet Elijah in that he would turn the hearts of the people back to God. He would do this in order to prepare them from the coming of Jesus. However, Jesus’ coming would also bring a “great and dreadful day” in which the Jewish nation would be destroyed by God’s judgment because of their rejection of the Messiah.
We too face a great and dreadful day if we do not serve the Lord. Do not procrastinate! That day will surely come (2 Pet. 3:3-10).
A Moment with the Bible
As Jesus continues to explain the role of John the Baptist, He tells the multitudes that among all of those born until that time none was greater than John. It is important not to misunderstand this statement. Jesus is not saying that John was a better person they everyone before him. As the parallel passage in Luke 7:28 states, His point is that because of John’s mission of preparing the way for the Lord, he was a greater prophet than any who came before him. But notice that Jesus follows this assertion with the words that the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John. Why would this be so? Once Jesus’ rule began from heaven in Acts 2, the work of the citizens of this kingdom (Christians) would be a greater work than that of John. John only prepared the way for the coming of the Lord and His kingdom, but Christians are given the mission of bringing people into the kingdom and therefore into a relationship with the Lord.
Christian, have you ever thought of yourself as greater than John the Baptist? Jesus said you are greater, but this is only the case if you are fulfilling your mission. John prepared people for the Lord, we are to actually bring people to the Lord. Consider this, if John’s mission was greater than all the prophets who came before him, and our mission is greater than John’s, then what we are to be doing is greater than what all the prophets have ever done. Now, have you taken your work seriously? Are you bringing people into the Lord’s kingdom?
A Moment with the Bible
After sending John’s messengers back, Jesus takes the opportunity to explain to the multitudes the importance of John’s work. Jesus begins by suggesting a number of reasons why they might have gone out into the wilderness to see John. Was it because he was a “reed shaken by the wind” (an individual who was moved by the fads of the day and would preach what was popular)? Or, were they going to see a man “dressed in soft clothing” (a wealthy celebrity)? No, these were not the things that moved the multitude. Jesus answers His own question. They had gone out to see a prophet. But now Jesus gets to the point: John was more than a prophet; he was the one preparing the way for the coming of the Lord Himself.
Jesus quotes from Malachi 3:1 to identify John as the “messenger of the Lord.” Notice in the quote that God is sending a messenger to prepare the way for His own coming. Malachi had foretold of the arrival of the Messiah who would be the Lord Himself. The Jewish leaders had never understood that the Messiah would actually be God. The Jews looked anxiously for the coming Messiah who would deliver them from their bondage under foreign nations and restore the greatness of the nation of Israel. However, when we read the entire quote of Malachi 3:1-6, we see that Jesus is giving a strong warning. They looked for the Messiah, but when He arrives “who can endure the day of His coming?” (Mal. 3:2). In other words, He would first come in judgment against the Jewish nation purging out the sinners among them so that they would be pure and holy. Therefore, these Jews needed to examine their own lives in light of who had now come in their midst.
The Lord Himself will come one more time in judgment. Most of the “Christian” religious world sees His coming as a good thing. But for many it will not be a good thing. His coming will purge the wicked even though they have been called by His name. Remember the warning from Hebrews 10:30-31, “The Lord will judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
A Moment with the Bible
As we begin chapter eleven, we notice that after Jesus concludes His discourse with the twelve, He goes about their cities teaching and preaching. “Their cities” refers to the Galilean cities. From 4:12 through 18:35, Matthew exclusively covers the Galilean ministry of Jesus. This part of His work lasted about a year and a half, just less that half of His three and half year ministry on the earth.
We will later learn why John the Baptist is in prison (Mt. 14), but for now Matthew relates to us a period of doubt that is expressed by John. Of course, John was the one who originally announced Jesus as the Messiah (Jn. 1:29), which was confirmed to him by a heavenly revelation when he saw the Spirit come upon Jesus in the form of a dove at His baptism (Jn. 1:33-34). Why would John now question whether or not Jesus was the “One?” Though the scriptures do not explicitly answer this question, the most likely answer is that things were not happening the way John envisioned. John may have had the typical Jewish picture of the coming Messiah where He would reign as King or at the very least not allow His servants to be at the mercy of unscrupulous men like Herod.
Jesus’ answer to the messengers sent by John is to first spend the next hour healing all manner of diseases and casting out evil spirits (Luke 7:21). Then Jesus told these messengers to go and tell John what they had seen. It is interesting that Jesus does not just answer John by saying, “Yes, I am the One.” Someone who was a fraud would have answered exactly that way. Instead, Jesus wants John to believe based on evidence. This is the critical point of our text and the lesson we need to learn. Faith in Christ is not “blind.” It does not accept Jesus simply based on His claim to be the Son of God. Jesus never asked anyone to believe in Him without evidence. It is foolish for anyone to believe without being able to give a reason for his or her faith (1 Pet. 3:15). This is exactly the reason Jesus performed such extraordinary miracles. In John 10:37-38, Jesus even challenged the Jews to believe Him based on His works, not simply on His words.
A Moment with the Bible
Most people do not realize the critical position in which Jesus placed His apostles. Look carefully at the words, “He who receives you receives Me.” The apostles would preach the words that Jesus gave them. When people accepted those words, they accepted the apostles, and when they accepted the apostles, they were accepting Christ. The implications of this are important for all generations. In order to accept Christ, we must accept the teaching of the apostles because their teaching came from Christ. Many religious people believe that they are accepting Christ when they simply accept that He is the Son of God who died for their sins. After that, they will disregard many of the teachings of the apostles in the New Testament as being unimportant to their salvation or to their relationship with Christ. But according to this text, accepting the apostles and their words is necessary for a person to accept Christ. To reject the apostles’ teaching is to reject Christ because the apostles’ words are the words of Christ.
Consider the words of Jesus to the apostles in John 16:13: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” Sometimes I hear people saying, “I only read the ‘red letters’ because that is the words of Christ. What they do not understand is, the “red letters” are the words of Christ while He was on the earth, but the black letters are the words of Christ that He sent back to the apostles from heaven. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit back to the apostles so that they could reveal the rest of His words. Therefore, we must not be deceived; anyone who rejects the apostles’ teaching is rejecting Christ Himself.
A Moment with the BibleMatthew 10:39 What is the vision for your life? What are your plans and goals? Where do you imagine yourself being in ten, fifteen, or twenty years? What possessions do you hope to have? All of these questions are a normal part of our lives. But if we are not careful, we will “lose our life” in the process of trying to find it. A parallel passage to this text reads, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25). At first glance, it may appear that Jesus is saying that if we give up any kind of enjoyment in our present life, then we will receive the enjoyment of eternal life. This view is typical of how the world sees Christianity. To live as a Christian, it is believed, would mean sacrificing all that would be fun and pleasurable. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all searching for the best in life. We want to live our life to the fullest and make it everything it can be. What is interesting is, God wants exactly the same thing for us and in this verse Jesus gives us a prescription for just that kind of life. Since God is our Creator, He knows exactly what will give us the best life possible. Therefore Jesus states that the key to true living is to lose our life for His sake. This is true because this is how He designed us. We were designed to experience the greatest joy when we devote our lives to serving Him. An old beer commercial once said, “You only go around once in life, so get all the gusto!” That is the world’s prescription for living. That is Satan’s lie. The sure way to lose true living, true joy, is to go and get all the gusto. Satan wants us to believe that devoting our lives to finding happiness in recreation, entertainment, and possessions will give us the ultimate happiness. Jesus says it will not and our experiences prove it will not. Each of these areas of life provides us a temporary pleasure at best, but afterward it is empty. As the Preacher in Ecclesiastes states as he describes a life from a purely earthly perspective, “All is vanity and striving after the wind” (Ecc. 2:11). Don’t make that mistake. Lose your life for His sake, and you will find it.
A Moment with the BibleMatthew 10:38 Those who desire to follow Christ often have discussions on what is necessary for salvation. Questions like, “What is involved in repentance?” or “Is baptism necessary?” are typically part of the exchange. We all are rightly interested in the specifics of what the Lord requires of us in order to have our sins forgiven. But rarely do the requirements of this text come into view. A person who does not take up his cross and follow Christ is not worthy of Him, and a person who tries to “find” or “save” his life will lose it. These may be more generic statements, but they are more important than a discussion on the specifics of salvation. When these statements are understood, all other parts of the salvation process will fall into place. The “cross” is a symbol of death, not just any death, but a painful, agonizing execution. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I that live…” (Gal. 2:20). In other words our life is no longer our own. We live it for Him and we crucify any part of our life that conflicts with that mission. There are times when I do not want to pray, study my Bible, or worship. There are times when I do not want to love my neighbor as myself or try to share the gospel with someone who is lost. Those are the times I must take up the cross. Those are the times when my own desires must be crucified. The words, “follow after Me” should not be taken lightly. Our whole goal is to become like Jesus. We are to imitate Him; follow His pattern of life. If we expect to live in heaven with the Lord, we must live like Him now. It is foolish and unscriptural to believe that we can live a sinful, fleshly life now and expect God to clean all of that up in heaven. No, His expectation is that we use our time here on this earth to grow to be like Him. We are to be a prepared people for a prepared place. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus expressed this principle clearly: “Therefore be perfect [complete] even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
A Moment with the BibleMatthew 10:34-37 Jesus continues to prepare the apostles for the violent reaction they will encounter when they preach the gospel. Possibly the most surprising of all His warnings is that He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Obviously, Jesus did come to bring peace between God and man, but what He did not bring was peace among men. The Greek word for “sword” is a short sword or dagger that was commonly used to sacrifice animals. This indicates that the “sword” was the sword of persecution as Christians were sacrificed for the cause of Christ. Even more surprising is that this sword will come from a person’s own household. This is further proof that Satan is the force behind the strong negative reactions to the gospel. What else in this world would create this type of division within one’s own family? Verse 37 offers one of the most difficult commands Jesus ever gave. If a person loves father, mother, son or daughter more than Him, they are not worthy of Him. The violation of this command is one of the most common sins committed. When a person first becomes a Christian, he invariably faces the challenge of whether God or family will come first in his life. Unbelieving family members repeatedly encourage the new believer to forsake worship or make other compromises for family activities. If the believer decides to put the Lord first, the reaction of his family members is one of betrayal and accusations that he must have joined some type of cult. The disciple who caves in to this pressure not only loses his own soul, but also loses any opportunity of winning his family to Christ. No one will be won to the Lord by a weak and compromising believer. But a believer who stands strong provides for the only possibility of gaining the respect and attention of those around him. It is this strength of faith that causes others to realize that there are worthwhile reasons for considering a life serving God. This is the faith by which Satan is defeated. As Revelation 12:11 states, “They loved not their lives even unto death.”
A Moment with the BibleMatthew 10:32-33 Jesus has warned His disciples against fearing man more than God as they spread the gospel. In these verses, Jesus explains the seriousness of not being ashamed of Him and His words. A disciple’s salvation is dependent on whether or not he confesses the Lord before men. Notice carefully the Lord’s words. He did not simply require a man to confess Him. He required a man to confess Him before men. Further, the context shows that He is not talking about confessing the Lord before men who serve God. Jesus is dealing with antagonistic circumstances where there is strong pressure put upon a person to deny Him. It is easy for us to confess the Lord before other Christians, but the challenge is to confess the Lord when to do so will require us to suffer negative consequences. Christians today often underestimate the seriousness of confessing one’s faith in Christ before the world. Confession of our faith is not only a requirement for us when we first come to Christ, it is a requirement for salvation through out lives. In the midst of serious persecution by Rome, Revelation 12:11 gave early Christians the key to victory over Satan: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” When we the battle against Satan, it is “the word of our testimony” that destroys Satan’s power. Consider one other passage. Revelation 21:8 says, "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Notice the word “cowardly.” Some versions translate, “fearful.” In the midst of a list that includes that most serious and degrading sins known to man, the Lord says it will also be the cowardly who will have their part in the lake of fire. Just imagine, we can be everything that Lord wants us to be, but when we are afraid to confess our faith before others, we will lose our souls.
A Moment with the BibleMatthew 10:26-31 The challenge of every disciple who truly wants to pattern himself after Christ is fear. The apostles and early disciples would face serious persecution that in many cases would lead to death. Whether persecution that threatens one’s life or simply pressure exerted by those who disagree, Jesus’ admonishes that there are three reasons for not fearing those who would attack them. First, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. One might first think that Jesus is saying that all hidden sins and wickedness will be revealed in judgment. While it is true that on the Judgment God will reveal the wickedness of men’s hearts, in this text Jesus is dealing more with the revealing of the Word of God. In other words, they will be successful in their attempts to spread the gospel regardless of attempts to stop them. The things the Lord reveals to them “in the dark,” they are to proclaim on the housetops. As Isaiah, said, “My word will not return unto Me void” (Isa. 55:11). Second, there is someone greater to fear than other humans. A man can kill the body, but is unable to do any more. God can destroy both body and soul in hell. Does it make sense to fear a person who has no power after the grave rather than the One who has power to punish eternally? Every part of a Christian’s life ought to be lived with that knowledge in view. Third, a disciple should not fear because God cares. If God cares even about a sparrow, how much more would He care about His followers? While we at times may feel alone in the face of persecution and pressures from without, we are never alone when we are putting the Lord first. He is there with us and therefore we must not keep silent. A final application is important. Notice in verse 28 that Jesus speaks of a man being able to kill the body but not able to touch the soul. There are some religions who teach the soul refers only to our physical life and that when we are dead, we are non-existent. But Jesus taught that the soul lives on and we must fear God who can affect our eternal existence. We were created as eternal beings. We have no end; therefore we must be concerned about where we will spend that eternity.
A Moment with the BibleMatthew 10:24-25 There are two great lessons all disciples must learn from this text. Have you ever before heard of a master who invited his slaves to become like him? The Lord is asking His disciples to partner with Him in His work. In so doing, they will experience the same things He has experienced. Therefore, the first lesson is that when we act like Jesus, we must expect to be treated like Him. Most disciples have a hard time facing this fact. If we are mistreated for the cause of Christ, we have the tendency of thinking we are doing something wrong. We might even look for ways to compromise the truth or be less forthcoming about what is right and wrong. A disciple should never bring persecution on himself because of his own bad behavior or harsh presentation of the gospel. Paul warned that, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). However, even when truth is presented with gentleness and the best of intentions, one is often repaid with strong negative reactions. The point of the text is that we should not be surprised; if they did it to Jesus they will do it to us. Jesus did not convert everyone He taught and not everyone He encountered was willing to be His friend. Therefore, when people reject us even though we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), we must not give up or be willing to compromise. Keep teaching and the Lord’s word will not return void (Isa. 55:11). The second lesson has to do with who we are and who we are to become. How do you picture your religious life? How do you picture what it means to be a disciple of Christ? Many look only at the aspect of a religious worship service. They think that the point of Christianity is to belong to a type of religious club and that this once-a-week service works to placate God. But true discipleship is to become like Jesus. This means we learn to speak like Him, react to negative situations like Him, rely on God like Him, know God’s word like Him, and seek the lost like Him. In every part of our lives, we are to be like Him. That is the essence of discipleship and periods of worship are the means to that goal, not the goal itself.
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It is amazing that the teaching of the gospel would illicit such strong reactions, even to the point that a man’s enemies would be those of his own household. Could a brother really betray a brother or a father his own child? It not only could happen, it did happen during the Roman persecution of the church in the first and second centuries. There are times, when a person’s own life is at stake, that they feel justified in betraying others in order to save themselves. The apostles needed to be aware of these possible reactions so that they were not taken by surprise and respond sinfully. Thus in verse 16 Jesus said, “Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” Though they were not to react to persecution sinfully nor fight back physically (innocent as doves), they were to be smart in how they dealt with the world they were teaching. Paul repeatedly used wisdom to avoid persecution. A Christian must be willing to accept persecution without denying the Lord, but that does not mean he goes looking for it or in any way encourages it.
In the midst of this kind of severe trial, who will be saved? Only those who “endure to the end.” Endurance implies a struggle. In other words, it will not be easy to be in the minority so that even close family members are betraying you. It is as those times especially that a Christian tends to question his commitment and wonder if this is what the Lord actually expects of him. But the only person who will be saved is the person who does not give in to the pressure. There may be a desire to bend to the crowd, but think of where that crowd is going on the Day of Judgment. In a parallel passage Jesus warned against being ashamed of Him (Mk. 8:38).
Thus, when persecuted, the disciples were urged to flee to the next city. No reason to stay and be killed, but do not quit telling the good news. The phrase, “until the Son of Man comes” most likely refers to Jesus’ “coming” to destroy the nation of Israel for their rejection. Jesus talks more about this “coming” when He speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt. 24:3; Mk. 14:61-62). We will discuss this in more detail when we come to Matthew 24.
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As Jesus readied the apostles for their journey in what has been called the Limited Commission, He continued His discourse to include challenges they would face even beyond their immediate mission. What Jesus says after verse 15 has to do with the rest of their lives as apostles.
The apostles are about to bring the good news of salvation to the whole world. What could be better than that? Who could possibly object to such a message? It would seem that the world would readily accept the apostles and anyone else bringing the gospel. At the very least, we would think that a person who was not interested would simply be indifferent. But Jesus shocks us by saying that His message will be received with violence. The apostles would be as sheep (physically helpless to defend themselves) in the midst of wolves (people who were bent on destroying them). But how could people possibly have such a violent reaction to something that is so good? The answer is that we are in the midst of two kingdoms at war. Satan reigns over a powerful kingdom that is bent on destroying the efforts of the Lord to save mankind. This is the reason we do not generally find people or governments indifferent to spiritual truth. The gospel is certainly not a threat to humanity. True Christianity does not force its way on anyone. But that is not Satan’s concern. His concern is the salvation of man and the victory of the kingdom of heaven.
The Lord gave the apostles a special promise in verses 19-20, that is not given to any other disciple. When they faced persecution and stood indicted for preaching the gospel, the Lord would give them the words to speak by the power of the Holy Spirit. You will see this same promise given to them in Mark 13:11. The fact that the Holy Spirit would be their “defense attorney” would be critical to their boldness and success. Though today we do not have that same promise, when we know the words of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures we can be as prepared as the apostles to give an answer to everyone who asks (1 Peter 3:15).
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In this text, Jesus prepares the apostles for how they should go about their work of bringing back the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As they preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, they are to use the powers Jesus gave them to heal those suffering from infirmities. Such use of miraculous powers would not only show the compassion of the Lord but also confirm the teaching of the apostles to be from God. We must remember that the use of the miraculous in the first century was critical to spreading the gospel. Without miracles to authenticate the teaching, no Jew would have given up following the Law of Moses and no Gentile would have been convinced to leave paganism. Notice that Jesus encourages the apostles to freely use these gifts since they had been freely given to them. In other words, these gifts were not for their own personal encouragement or as proof to themselves that God was with them. The gifts were to be used for the benefit of others and as proof of apostolic authority. Those today who claim miraculous powers neither demonstrate such by authentic gifts (“heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers”, vs. 8), nor do they do it for the benefit of others but instead to draw people to themselves and line their pockets with their money.
There is a significant difference in how the apostles were to go on this limited commission to Israel and how they would later go to the whole world in the Great Commission. Since Israel was considered within the covenant relationship of God, the Lord expected worthy Jewish people to provide for the apostles as they did their work: “for a worker is worthy of his food” (vs. 10). However, when the apostles took the gospel to the whole world they would either provide for themselves by their own labor or churches/Christians would take care of their support. They did not attempt to take money from those to whom they were bringing the gospel. This is one of the critical differences between a true teacher of God and a false teacher. False teachers are constantly trying to make money off those they teach (2 Peter 2:1-3). True teachers do not exploit the lost people they teach but instead rely on their own brethren for support (1 Cor. 9:14) or the labor of their own hands (Acts 20:33-34).
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The text before us is the second of the five major discourses of Jesus that Matthew records. In this discourse, Jesus gives instructions to His apostles as He sends them out on the Limited Commission. This commission has been called “limited” because He sent them only to Israel and forbid them to go to the Gentiles. Later, in 28:19, Jesus will give the Great Commission in which He will send His disciples into all the world. This pattern of spreading the gospel was followed later in the book of Acts. The first nine chapters of Acts records the spread of the gospel to the Jews only. When Paul (who was sent to the Gentiles) would enter a city, he would first go to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. The Jews had been prepared for the coming of the kingdom and thus it was only fitting that they be given the first opportunity.
The key to this first mission by the apostles was their message. Israel had been looking for the coming kingdom and therefore Jesus tells them to go and announce that the kingdom is at hand. We need to stop and ask ourselves a question: “Was Jesus right about that? Was the kingdom about to begin?” Surely, you would think, no one would suggest Jesus was in error. But you would be wrong. Most of the religious world believes that though the Lord intended to establish the kingdom, it did not work out because the Jews rejected Jesus and therefore the perfect earthly kingdom He would have started had to be postponed. Instead, as the theory goes, Jesus established the “church age.” This doctrine is utterly false. Jesus never intended to establish an earthly kingdom (John 18:36) and the church was not an afterthought. His kingdom is heavenly, as Matthew states 37 times in his book (“Kingdom of heaven”). Jesus’ kingdom did begin and Jesus is reigning on His throne (Acts 2:34-36), and will reign until death is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:24-26). As for the “church” (that is, the saved), they are the ones who are citizens of this great kingdom. Everything happened just as God planned. If the kingdom did not come (as those who follow Tim LaHaye and the “Left Behind” series believe), then Jesus lied, the prophets who foretold it were false prophets, and God who planned it to take place in the first century is not sovereign.
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After Matthew records nine miracles he offers two reactions. The first is the reaction of the multitudes. They are amazed and say, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” That is the honest and truthful reaction. But more important is the reaction of those who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. For anyone who is interested in examining the evidence of whether or not Jesus is the Christ, the testimony of His detractors is critical. So, what will they say? Will they deny that He ever did anything miraculous? Will they talk about how His miracles were done by slight of hand? Will they suggest that those He purported to heal were really not ill at all? No, they will not say any of these things. Instead, they will admit that He has done the miracles, but deny that the source is from God. “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.” That is an admission that the demons were cast out! Jesus will later expose the foolishness of such an argument. Why would the Satan destroy his own kingdom?
The final verses of this chapter give us a most important picture. How did Jesus see the multitudes? When He looked at the common people, what was His reaction? In John 7:49, we read of how the Pharisees viewed the people: “This multitude who knows not the Law is accursed.” But Jesus saw them differently. Jesus saw them from God’s point of view. He saw them the same way we should see the people around us today. Jesus pictured people as sheep, wounded, fainting, and scattered. They were not in that condition completely on their own accord. They had no shepherd, no guidance, no one to take care of them. But what do we see when we look at those around us? Do we simply think of their sinfulness, shrink back from contact with them, and condemn them from afar? When we do, we are in the same category as the Pharisees.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” The Lord is looking for those who have His heart, who see people with a heart of compassion and are willing to go and help them. Unfortunately, those kinds of people are few in number. Most simply condemn and count others unworthy of the Lord’s mercy. Therefore, pray that the Lord will send laborers into His harvest, and as you do, think about yourself.