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Day 243 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue in Matthew.
Matthew 15 – The Mosaic law nowhere mandated that people “wash their hands when they eat,” but the Pharisees believed that it was important to follow an ancient tradition that viewed such washing as necessary, probably for purposes of ritual purity. Jesus probably regarded an insistence on observing such customs as an example of burdening people with rules that scholars had decided were necessary (23:4). The scribes and the Pharisees had become so enthralled with their own wisdom and understanding in deriving, observing, and enforcing such rules that they did not realize the evil condition of their own hearts. The state of their hearts became especially clear in the example of their practice that Jesus mentions in 15:3–6. They were so greedy that they do not see the clear contradiction between the way they observed one of the traditions of the elders and the critically important fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments.
This way of disguising a heart in rebellion against God by means of outward forms of piety was precisely what, according to Isaiah, God would remedy among His people when He restored them to Himself (Isaiah 29:13–14, 18–19). Jesus proclaims that this time of restoration has begun (Matthew 11:5; 15:8–9).
Few things are more spiritually harmful than the outward practice of religion apart from the repentance and faith that characterize the true follower of Jesus. The person who teaches and practices religious rules without the inner transformation of the heart often becomes self-deceived, or “blind,” as Jesus calls this condition. Since these people sometimes occupy positions of teaching authority, they can in turn lead others astray. By contrast, the secret practice of piety is a useful indicator that one’s heart is in the right condition: for example, giving to the poor without anyone else’s knowledge, and praying secretly and sincerely when no one else is looking (6:1–18).
Verses 21-39 is an example of the expansion of Jesus’ ministry to non-Jews. Although Jesus makes clear to this non-Jewish woman that He came first as the Shepherd of Israel, called to gather the sheep of God’s people who were dispersed in exile because of their sin (Ezekiel 34:6, 10–16), He nevertheless shows compassion to her and heals her daughter as she requested. He then shows the same compassion to the predominantly non-Jewish crowds in the regions east of the Sea of Galilee that He had shown to the predominantly Jewish crowds on the western side (where Magadan was located). This vision of the inclusion within God’s saving purposes of all kinds of people is also present in the Old Testament (Psalm 22:27–28; 86:9; Isaiah 2:2–4; 66:18–23; Micah 4:1–5).
Jesus brings good news to everyone, and makes no distinction between people on the basis of ethnic background, social status, or economic bracket. Believers personally, and the church generally, are also called to demonstrate in their attitudes, their actions, and the social institutions they put in place this same level of acceptance of all kinds of people.
How do you avoid believing that religious activity is what God desires, verses placing your complete faith in the finished work of Jesus?
Matthew 16 – Jesus experienced the shame of rejection from the intellectual elites of His own culture, and a form of death—crucifixion—reserved for the least valued and least powerful members of His society. From the perspective of a world in rebellion against God, to choose a life leading to such a death seemed like “folly” (1 Corinthians 1:18–25). Despite the profound insight Peter has just had into Jesus’ identity, and despite the Savior’s promise to build His church upon that truth, Peter is not yet sufficiently transformed by the gospel to understand just how dramatic is the conflict between Jesus and the sinful world and how pivotal will be the role of the church in binding hearts to heaven.
Jesus therefore instructs Peter and all of His disciples (including, through this written account, disciples today) that entering God’s kingdom by following Him entails putting oneself at odds with the values and goals of the sinful world. Living in a way so dramatically different from the unbelieving world can feel shameful today, just as it did for the early Christians (1 Corinthians 1:18–25; 2:1–5; Galatians 6:14; Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus encourages His disciples not to believe the world’s lie that following Him is shameful. What the world believes to be “life” is not life at all but really the loss of life, while the disciple of Jesus has chosen the path of true life that leads to lasting joy (Matthew 16:25–26; Ephesians 2:1–3; 4:17–19). The believer may not experience the fullness of that joy until eternity, when the true nature of a life spent gaining the whole world versus a life spent following Jesus will become clear. But we can experience the joy of the gospel even now, as we live with the assurance of God’s constant presence, eternal care, and plans for our ultimate good (11:28–30; 13:44–46).
How does this encourage you today?
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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