Today’s reading sees Jesus’ ministry going “full tilt”. He’s teaching and preaching and healing; and His success is easily seen in the opposition that He is receiving from religious authorities with agendas. Let’s settle into the crowd and watch and listen to Jesus in ministry…
Are you the expected One? — Matthew 11:1-6
You might find this a surprising question coming from the John the Baptist who had immersed Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, had seen the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descend on Him, had pointed Jesus out twice as the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36), and knew himself to be too unworthy to even untie Jesus sandals (Mark 1:7). Perhaps it was because John wanted his disciples to come to their own conclusion about Jesus, or perhaps even John had a common but incorrect understanding of the Messiah as someone who would rule over a worldly kingdom — the prophets didn’t know everything (1 Peter 1:10-12 “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things into which angels long to look.”).
But regardless of the reason why, Jesus sent John’s disciples back with the sort of evidence that they needed, fulfillment of prophecies. Jesus was doing exactly what the clearest prophecies said He would do that no one else could do, “the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, ad the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Among other things that I think we can learn from this passage is that although we may not understand everything (e.g., Revelation still remains a mystery) God doesn’t begrudge us evidence for our faith. Seek and you will find.
Men of violence take it by force? — Matthew 11:12
This is another puzzling passage from Jesus’ teachings, but only if we don’t have much of an Old Testament background. If you take a look at Micah 2:12,13, you’ll notice that Micah is in the midst of a remnant prophecy speaking of the exiles’ return from captivity and he’s talking about how “breakers” would break forth from the bonds of captivity and return to the land of Israel. Old Testament prophecies about the remnant are often double prophecies, and here is one more example. In this case, Jesus is referring to “breakers” (men of violence) breaking forth (take it by force). A better translation of this passage is likely, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven breaks forth and those breaking forth (early adopters of the Gospel) are pursuing it.” Are you really pursuing it?
The Great Invitation — Matthew 11:28-30
A little earlier in Matthew (9:36), as Jesus preached and taught and healed the sick He was moved with compassion for the people, because He saw them troubled and spiritually scattered like sheep without a shepherd. Here in this passage, Jesus offers the comfort of the compassion He feels: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” In my experience the problem still persists — but the invitation still applies.
The unpardonable sin — Matthew 12:25-37
Here’s a passage (12:31) and a corresponding question that a lot of people fret over — “Have I committed the unpardonable sin?” Taking a look at the sin itself this unpardonable sin is clearly blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy is a fancy way of simply saying to “speak against” something or someone. In this particular case, religious leaders had made the critical error of attributing Jesus power coming from the Holy Spirit to Satan. Why is this unforgivable? Because if the signs of the Holy Spirit are misattributed to Satan, people would be persuaded to disbelieve in Jesus as God’s Son and our salvation. And since Jesus is the only way to salvation and forgiveness (John 14:6 or Acts 4:12), this sin truly becomes unforgivable. This sin can happen not only by attributing the Holy Spirit’s work to Satan, but also by attributing the signs to natural explanations — as is common in our very scientific world, skeptical of anything supernatural. In which case, I think there are some who have committed such a sin and blocked their faith in Jesus as the Son of God and only salvation of man. We must be cautious, too, in such a world inclined toward unbelief. Without the evidences Jesus might just as easily be the poor carpenter who did itinerant preaching in the first century in Judea as the Savior of the world. I think that there’s good news here, however, I think that you can change your mind — repent — be forgiven; but repentance is the key.
Lesson from the Sower — Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23
There’s so much that can be learned from the parable of the sower, but one thing that I believe we need to be careful not to miss is the fact that is it possible to fall from grace. In two of the four kinds of seed, the seed (the word of God, Matt. 13:19) germinated and began to grow, but died before being fruitful — v. 21 actually uses the phrase “falls away”. Beginning the Christian life is a good thing, but finishing strong is just as important. Having started well, are you fading? Jesus word to the church in Ephesus was (Revelation 2:4, 5) “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”
What’s worth selling everything? — Matthew 13:44-46
Here are two parables with a similar meaning. The first parable assumes we understand the ancient laws of buried treasure — but we often don’t. In the ancient world banks were few, and the best way of keeping what you accumulated was through burying your treasure — especially if there were an invading army coming through (and Israel was on a land bridge between Asia and Africa — always being invaded). The rule was that if you happened to find a buried treasure it was not necessarily “finders keepers”. You could keep it, IF you owned the land. The farmer in the story is not plowing his own land, but he runs across a buried treasure. His one chance of getting the treasure found here was to buy the land, however, it was going to take the sale of everything he had — everything! But the story goes that he gladly sells everything — gladly, because he knew the treasure that he would receive would be far greater than anything he had to sell. The parable of the pearl of great price is similar: to own a pearl of surpassing value he has to sell everything he has. But he does so gladly, knowing that the pearl he was going to receive was worth much more than anything he was selling. The point is that the Gospel, our salvation, the spiritual and eternal riches are worth far more than anything we might have to give up in this world.
A prophet is not without honor, except… — Matthew 13:57
Finally, as Jesus returns home to Nazareth he finds hostility rather than honor — a prophet is honored everywhere but home, where people knew you “when” — when you were wetting your diaper, acting childish, spilling your milk, etc. Those who have tried to share the good news with family have found this often to still hold true today. Don’t let it get you down, but take the advice of Paul to young Timothy: (1 Timothy 4:12) “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.