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Day 241 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue in Matthew.
Matthew 11 – John began to doubt that Jesus was “the Christ”, the unique future King of Israel whom God had designated to bring in His universal reign of justice and blessing (Psalm 2:2, 7–12). Jesus’ answer echoes the events of His own ministry up to this point. He has healed blind men, a lame man, and a leper. He has restored a girl to life who was thought to be dead, and He has given the poor in spirit the good news that they are blessed.
Jesus’ answer also echoes passages in the Prophets that describe the future restoration of God’s people and of the entire world to wholeness and peace. In that day, says Isaiah, the deaf will hear, the blind will see, the meek will rejoice, and the poor will praise God (Isaiah 29:17–19; 35:6; 61:1–3; Micah 4:6–7).
Jesus, then, is the expected King whose reign establishes the compassionate, restorative rule of God. Some took offense at Jesus, however, because He established His reign by befriending tax collectors and sinners, something they did not expect. It is precisely those who know their need of a relationship with God through repentance and faith who are welcomed into His kingdom. God’s gathered people (the church) today is to continue to be a refuge for sinners who understand their need for the forgiveness and restoration that God freely offers in the gospel.
Matt. 11:25–26 The scribes and Pharisees who rejected Jesus would have been recognized as “wise and understanding” (Isaiah 29:18) according to the prevailing standards of their society. Paradoxically, the metaphorical “little children”—people whom society considered unimportant—were more responsive to God’s revelation of His merciful and gracious character than the learned. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will say that unless a person turns and becomes like a little child, he or she cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Entry into the kingdom involves understanding that one is wholly dependent upon God for salvation, just as a little child is wholly dependent for life and health upon loving adults.
Paul makes the same point with respect to the cross of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:8. God used the cross to bring atonement for the sins of those who believe the gospel (Romans 3:21–26; 2 Corinthians 5:19–21; Galatians 3:13), but society viewed the cross as an instrument of pain, death, and defeat. The idea of saving people through the crucifixion of Jesus seemed like folly to those too fascinated with sinful worldly wisdom to accept the humbling truth that they were sinners in need of the atonement provided by this shameful death (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21; 2:8). It was mainly those who were not “wise according to worldly standards” or “powerful” or “of noble birth”—the “foolish in the world”—who embraced the gospel when Paul preached it (1 Corinthians 1:26–30).
Jesus now invites all who hear or read His words to experience the refreshment of being His disciple. His metaphor in verses 28-30 is drawn from the world of field work, where the labor is hard and the loads difficult for man and beast. Within the context of Matthew’s Gospel, this imagery probably refers to the heavy load of religious observances that the scribes and Pharisees had bundled together and placed on people’s backs (23:4).
The Mosaic law itself was not intended to be burdensome to keep (Deuteronomy 30:11) but a delight and a blessing to the humble person who trusted God (Psalm 19:7–11; 119). The scribes and the Pharisees, however, had twisted God’s law into a means of self-congratulation and showing off, by observing it in unnecessarily ostentatious ways devised by “learned” calculation (Matthew 23:5, 16, 18, 23, 25, 29–30). Those who were not learned—the “little children” to whom Jesus referred in 11:25—would likely have experienced the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees on these matters as burdensome.
Jesus offers relief to His disciples from the burden of religious observance as a means of attaining self-worth. Learning from Jesus is more like rest than work because Jesus, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, is meek and humble. This passage is the only place in all four Gospel accounts where Jesus tells us about His heart—and He says it is “gentle and lowly”. He is ready to help all those who are humble enough to admit their need of His mercy and grace. Indeed, He delights to do so.
How are you experiencing the rest Jesus promised?
Matthew 12 – Matthew gives two examples of how Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light (11:30). In both examples, Jesus opposes the Pharisees’ imposition on others of their burdensome way of observing the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8–11; Deuteronomy 5:12–15). The purpose of the Sabbath law was to show mercy to human beings and their farm animals by mandating regular rest from the hard labor of agrarian life (Matthew 12:8; Exodus 23:12). If its “observance” somehow made hungry people more miserable by forbidding them from obtaining food, or required a disabled person to remain disabled longer than necessary, then the purpose of the law itself had been violated (Matthew 12:7, 12; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6–8).
Believers of every age and culture have formulated ideas about how the moral teaching of Scripture should be obeyed in their own time and place. Often these ideas become translated into rules for avoiding temptation in basic areas where Believers must interact with a non-Christian culture, whether over clothing, food, speech, or entertainment. Matthew 12:1–14 cautions Believers as they engage in such rule-making to understand what they are doing: they are not formulating authoritative Scripture but giving fallible human advice, however prudent, on how best to obey Scripture in particular circumstances. Whenever the tendency of these rules hinders the basic concern of Scripture for mercy, justice, and kindness, the rules have themselves become a hindrance to obeying God and need to be set aside.
Jesus speaks alarmingly in verses 31-32 of a sin that cannot be forgiven (see also 1 John 5:16–17). It is important to consider this statement within its broader context in order to understand what it means. Jesus is responding to the claim of the Pharisees that He casts out demons by means of demonic power instead of the power of God’s Spirit. This is the second time in the Gospel that the Pharisees have said this (Matthew 9:34; see also 10:25), and between the first and the second occurrences of this verdict on Jesus’ exorcisms, they have hatched a conspiracy to kill Him. Their “blasphemy against the Spirit,” then, is not an impulsive action or statement. It is rather a determined course of godlessness arising from a settled conviction that God’s chosen servant, on whom God has put His Spirit, is an agent of the very demonic powers Jesus came to defeat.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unchanging conviction that Jesus is evil. In essence, the only “unforgivable” sin is a conclusive rejection of Jesus rather than believing Him.
A person’s inner spiritual condition becomes clear in his or her speech. The Pharisees, who have conspired to kill Jesus and have attributed His ability to cast out demons to the influence of demons, have spoken words that arise from the “evil” condition of their hearts. Unless they repent, they and others like them will be condemned on the day of judgment. The evidence of their hardheartedness, and therefore of their just condemnation, will be the unsupported, worthless words that they have spoken about Jesus.
The Pharisees’ worthless words are a good example of the kind of “corrupting talk” that Paul says should not characterize the Believer’s speech. As people who have been transformed by God’s grace, Believers should instead engage in speech that gives “grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6). For that is precisely what the gospel does to us.
As the hostility of the intellectual leadership of the Jews rises to a crescendo, Jesus reminds them that there is precedent in Scripture for non-Jews having as much or more spiritual discernment than the Jews themselves. The pagan Ninevites repented when Jonah told them of God’s coming judgment (Jonah 3:1–10), and the queen of the South (from the southern Arabian peninsula) praised the Lord for what she learned about Him from Solomon (1 Kings 10:9).
People should not assume that their formal affiliation with the people of God or their expertise in the Scriptures somehow makes them acceptable to God or automatically makes them part of His true people (see also Matthew 3:9; 8:10–12; 11:25). Only those who have responded to Jesus’ call to turn from their sins, trust His wonderful message of forgiveness, and follow Him have a place within the people of God.
What was most impactful to you in this chapter?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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