Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 6

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This week, we continue reading the message that Jesus began teaching in chapter 5.

(If you’re now joining in this study you are welcome to read Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1 here.)

In chapter 5, Jesus began to address the crowds teaching that the heart is the root of all sinful behavior and now He will drive home His main point in chapter 6: that where one’s treasure is, there the heart will be also. Jesus continues to reveal the problem of the heart as He begins addressing the issue of public displays of works, prayer, fasting in verses 2-18.

Jesus discourages the crowd from performing religious public displays meant to win admiration from people. Jesus wants them to understand that God is the One who sees. His opinion matters. Just because someone may look righteous on the outside doesn’t mean that they are on the inside. Jesus will mention this later in Matthew 23:27 referring to the Pharisees when He calls them “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Just as John the Baptist saw through the Pharisees’ hard hearts, Jesus does too. And Jesus addresses this problem.

While Matthew writes this gospel he includes Jesus’ words so that his readers, who were mostly Jews, would recall what Jesus had taught. And then notice how different Jesus’ teachings were compared to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Matthew wanted for his Jewish audience to be compelled by Jesus’ words and find that His message was true and worth believing. Matthew uses Jesus’ words throughout this gospel to teach the reader about Jesus while also showing how He is the one that the Jews have been waiting for. His message is the One that matters. No other message but His. And Matthew will continue to characterize the Pharisees and teachers of the law as the foil to Jesus.

In chapter 6 specifically, Jesus makes it clear that the righteousness of the heart is what matters to God, not the outward expressions of a routine religiosity.

In verses 5-13, Jesus talks about prayer by saying “you must not be like the hypocrites,” referring to the Pharisees and teachers of the law.

But reading verse 5, it can be a little confusing about what Jesus is trying to say here. In verse 5 He goes on to tell the crowd not to pray like the ones on the street corners in front of everybody or like the gentiles with ritualistic phrases. But after saying not to make prayer a ritualistic effort, He gives us a very formulaic prayer to pray in verses 9-13.

So I’m wondering, is Jesus saying that we pray following a ritualistic pattern or not? But after reading more, it seems that Jesus is teaching the crowd how to pray with one’s heart postured towards God the Father.  Not what to pray, per se. But how to pray.

Jesus instructs the crowd to pray “like this” as it says in verse 9.

He wants them to emulate the heart and intention of His words.

Christianity today has taken these words of Jesus and marketed them as “The Lord’s Prayer” front and center on journals, picture frames, bookmarks and what-not. We’ve taken these words of Jesus and isolated them as a formal prayer when I’m not sure it was intended to be like that. I’ve never understood the significance of praying the Lord’s prayer formulaically just for the sake of doing it. Some people think that it is an extra special godly prayer but I don’t think that was Jesus’ intent. At least that’s not what Jesus said.

Jesus didn’t say pray this prayer any time you really want to commune with God…sure pray how you want to the rest of the time but make sure you get in the Lord’s prayer every so often.

No, that’s not what He said.

He said to pray “like this.”

Not this specifically. That doesn’t mean you can’t pray it, but you need to make sure you actually mean it before you pray it. But I guess that applies to any prayer.

Too often we tend to default into trusting in works (pattern and form) rather than the heart (intent and motivation). So it seems to me that Jesus teaches prayer like this because He wants to redirect their hearts towards a pure intention and away from ritualistic doing.

He wants them to experience the intimacy of connecting with God for real in prayer.

Not out of routine.

He wants their hearts to be in the right place.

Postured towards God the Father… in reverence (v. 9), selflessness (v. 10), hope (v. 10), recognition of Him as the provider (v. 11), recognition of the need to forgive and be forgiven (v. 12), and a desire to resist evil (v. 13). Then one can talk to God normally, no need for pretense or formality. This isn’t to say that one has to checkmark all of these postures either before he or she prays. There’s much more grace than that.

Jesus is in the process of reteaching them what it means to relate to and with God.

Just as in chapter 5 when He points out all the things they had heard that He now wants them to hear afresh from Him, this manner of praying is just another lesson He wants the crowd to learn. That this is the way one should pray…not like the Pharisees or teachers of the Law…but with a pure heart postured towards God.

As mentioned earlier, Jesus’ main point of His message is clarified in verse 21: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In all of His teaching, beginning in chapter 5 until now, Jesus seeks to address the condition of the heart.

For the heart reveals one’s inability to keep the law and the need for something more. So by addressing the heart, Jesus is preparing the crowds for repentance by showing them that they need a solution for the sin within the heart.

As we keep reading, Jesus declares in verse 24 that “nobody can serve two masters.”

Before, I never really knew why this statement was included here in this spot of the message. Kind of isolated. But as we read along in verses 25-34 when Jesus begins His discourse on not being anxious and trusting in the Father, it makes sense that Jesus would preface this section with verse 24. Affirming that it is not possible to be double minded helps one agree with what Jesus is saying when He says do not be anxious and then lists out the reasons why one doesn’t need to be anxious. If it’s not possible to serve two masters, then it’s not possible to serve anxiety and the opposite of that at the same time.

So Jesus is telling the crowd, by means of the verse 24 preface, that they can either believe His words or not. They can listen and agree with Him or not. They can serve anxiety and whatever else or they can serve God. But they can’t do both. They can’t just hear His words, agree, and do nothing. They cannot serve their old way of life and serve Jesus at the same time. They must decide whether or not they want to repent and follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

We will get a glimpse of how people respond in chapter 7 and more evidence as we read through Matthew.

In verse 28, Jesus talks about worrying over clothing specifically. I wonder why 1st century Jews would have been anxious about clothing? Maybe it’s my own ignorance but last time I checked there weren’t any magazines or malls around to shop for the latest fashions. From what I assume about 1st century antiquity I’m thinking their choice of clothing is pretty basic. Pretty simple.

So what’s the issue about clothing that Jesus needs to bring this up? Well, Numbers 15:38-41 gives instructions about a garment with tassels to be worn as a reminder for the people to “remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, to not follow after your own heart and your own eyes.” This is also referred to as the “fringe of the garment” which is mentioned later in Matthew 9:20 when a sick woman longs to touch Jesus’ garment to be made well. The tassels were thought to manifest a person’s authority and so she might have thought that touching His garment would grant healing authority or power to be released.

But Matthew 23:5 gives us more understanding when Jesus says, “for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” discouraging a public display of excessive dress with these tassels so that others would see this and esteem them. The phylacteries were little black boxes strapped to the head with scriptures inside that reminded a person about the law and the fringes refer to the tassels on the tunic.

So it seems that this item of dress had become a symbol of status for the religious elite and, again, a source of public display of righteousness that Jesus is strongly warning against in His message.

This could be why He addresses clothing in His teaching.

Jesus ultimately wants to discourage public displays of assumed righteousness and advocate the inner righteousness of the heart.

This is why he continually condemns public displays of works and status. He wants the people to understand that those things do not reveal the righteousness of a person. Only the heart reveals the righteousness of a person. And God is the only one with the ability to know the heart of a person which is why pleasing Him is the only thing that matters.

In verses 28-30, Jesus compares the lilies of the field to the splendor that God will cloth his people with.

Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…will He not much more cloth you, O you of little faith?” This is interesting that the lilies would be said to be more beautiful than Solomon. And that Jesus would be promising these 1st century Jews more glorious clothing than Solomon. Why all the sudden are they promised more glorious adornment? And how is this possible considering how rich and lavish a lifestyle Solomon lived?

The Jews in the crowd that Jesus was preaching to would not have had glory outweighing Solomon. So Jesus can’t be referring to God’s provision of clothing for them on earth in the here-and-now because Solomon would still outdo them in comparison.

For theses Jews to outdo Solomon’s glory can only mean one thing: Jesus is talking about resurrection life…resurrection clothing…not this life.

So Jesus speaks of a glory yet to come.

Jesus will start to use more of this kind of eschatological language as we progress in Matthew’s gospel, introducing the listener to future realities and the kingdom of heaven. Over and over He will tell parables with the opening line, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” as He informs His listeners of this hope and their necessary response.

Matthew employs this “kingdom of heaven” language as he aims to show the Jews how Jesus has come to bring forth the kingdom of heaven. He is the One they have been waiting for. And though many expected for the Messiah to arrive and establish a mighty kingdom for Israel in the here-and-now, Jesus is preaching of a future kingdom. And Matthew wants his audience to understand this. That just because Jesus didn’t bring about a temporal kingdom of reign for Israel doesn’t mean He’s not the Messiah.

For He surely will initiate God’s kingdom that is to come. Matthew wants the Jews to understand this and to look forward to this hope which is only found in Jesus, the Christ.

As we end chapter 6, Jesus encourages the crowd in verse 33 to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first. Not their own kingdom. Not the pursuit of their own righteousness. But to seek God’s righteousness. And He promises them in verse 34 that everything they need will be given to them.

As we read chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel let us get to know Jesus better through His own words as He continues on in this first sermon. Let us pay attention to what He says and how He is teaching the people a new message that is starting to stir their hearts towards repentance. Let us learn more about His compassion and concern for people and fall more in love with this Jesus who cares enough to challenge His hearers with the message of truth. May His words penetrate our hearts and teach us more about Himself.

Summary of Matthew 6

Jesus continues on in this teaching/message that he began in chapter 5; Jesus teaches the crowd about doing in secret what pleases the Father rather than doing in public what others will see and esteem; Jesus tells the crowd to not accumulate treasures on earth but in heaven; Jesus addresses the heart as the indicator of what one treasures; Jesus talks about the eye as the entry for light and darkness into the whole body depending on if one’s eye is good or bad; Jesus tells the crowd they cannot serve two masters; Jesus commands the crowd three times to not be anxious while providing examples of what they should not be anxious about and reasons why; Jesus exhorts the crowd to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first above all things.

Jesus in Matthew 6

Jesus warns the crowd not to practice righteousness in front of others (v. 1)

Jesus discourages doing things just to be seen (v. 1)

Jesus discourages seeking others’ affirmation (v. 1)

Jesus encourages seeking the Father’s affirmation (v. 1)

Jesus discourages public showings of good works (v. 2)

Jesus discourages the desire to be praised by others (v. 2)

Jesus encourages giving in secret (v. 3-4)

Jesus reminds them that the Father sees their giving (v. 4)

Jesus reminds them that the Father is the one who will bless them (v. 4)

Jesus instructs them how to pray (v. 5-6)

Jesus discourages praying like the hypocrites in the synagogues and street corners (v. 5)

Jesus discourages praying with the intent that others will see (v. 5)

Jesus teaches them to pray in a secret area (v. 6)

Jesus reminds them that the Father will see (v. 6)

Jesus reminds them that the Father will reward (v. 6)

Jesus discourages praying with empty, ritualistic words (v. 7)

Jesus discourages praying like the Gentiles (v. 7-8)

Jesus reminds the crowd that the Father knows what they need before they ask (v. 8)

Jesus teaches them how to pray (v. 9-13)

Jesus tells them that forgiveness from the Father is the reward of forgiving others (v. 14)

Jesus warns them that the Father will not forgive if they don’t forgive each other (v. 15)

Jesus teaches the crowd not to make yourself look like you are fasting (v. 16)

Jesus calls those that do this hypocrites (v. 16)

Jesus tells them to anoint their heads and wash their faces when they fast (v. 17)

Jesus reminds them that their fasting is not to be seen by others (v. 18)

Jesus reminds them that their fasting will be seen by the Father (v. 18)

Jesus warns against accumulating earthly possessions (v. 19)

Jesus tells them that earthly possessions are vulnerable to being lost (v. 19)

Jesus encourages them to accumulate treasures in heaven (v. 20)

Jesus tells them that treasures in heaven are not vulnerable to being lost (v. 20)

Jesus tells them that their heart is directly aligned with their treasure (v. 21)

Jesus tells them the eye is the lamp of the body (v. 22)

Jesus declares that what they see will affect the rest of their body (v. 22)

Jesus declares that if the eye is healthy, the body will be full of light (v. 22)

Jesus declares that if the eye is bad, the whole body will be full of darkness (v. 23)

Jesus teaches that no one can serve two masters (v. 24)

Jesus declares one cannot serve God and money (v. 24)

Jesus commands the crowd to not be anxious about their lives (v. 25)

Jesus commands the crowd to not be anxious about what they will eat or drink (v. 25)

Jesus commands the crowd to not be anxious about their bodies (v. 25)

Jesus commands the crowd to not be anxious about their clothes (v. 25)

Jesus compares God’s care of birds to His care of them (v. 26)

Jesus points out how God provides for the birds always (v. 26)

Jesus reminds them that God cares about them far more than the birds (v. 26)

Jesus discourages anxiety (v. 27-28)

Jesus reminds them that anxiety and worry do nothing to help (v. 27)

Jesus discourages anxiety about clothes (v. 28)

Jesus compares God’s care of the lilies to God’s care of them (v. 28-30)

Jesus declares that not even Solomon was adorned with the splendor of the lilies (v. 29)

Jesus reminds them that God will clothe them just as He clothes the grass (v. 30)

Jesus points out their lack of faith (v. 30)

Jesus tells them a second time not to be anxious (v. 31)

Jesus contrasts the Gentiles seeking after all these anxious things with the crowd as the ones whose Father already knows what they need (v. 32)

Jesus reassures the crowd that God knows all (v. 32)

Jesus commands them to seek God’s kingdom first (v. 33)

Jesus commands them to seek God’s righteousness first (v. 33)

Jesus reassures them that all the things they need will be given to them (v. 33)

Jesus tells them a third time not to be anxious (v. 34)

Jesus specifies for them to not be anxious about tomorrow (v. 34)

Jesus reminds them that tomorrow will take care of itself (v. 34)

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” –Matthew 6:21 –

Questions for Today:

  • What is Jesus’ main point of His message so far?
  • What is Jesus’ goal in His preaching?
  • How should we let Jesus’ example of prayer influence the way that we pray?
  • Why does Jesus care about the heart more than public works or status?
  • How am I learning more about Jesus in Matthew chapter 6?

“Great Things (worth It All)” by Elevation Worship

When I Can’t Find A Reason for God to Love Me

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God’s love has never seemed fully unconditional to me.

Before, I used to try to find reasons for God loving me.

Before, there would always be something that I had done that I thought was good, simmering in the back of my mind to validate God’s reason to want to love me.

And in the moments I didn’t feel loved by God, I would do just the same finding all the reasons why God couldn’t possibly love me as much anymore.

But lately, I’ve been experiencing the love of the Lord in a way that doesn’t make sense to me. And it has come during a time where I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with God. It has come during a time when I have had so many things going on and not much free time.

I haven’t been able to do spiritual things that used to make me feel more at ease in my relationship with the Lord.

I haven’t been able to write for the past week and a half. At least the things that I usually like to write.

I haven’t been able to share my heart or experience the Lord teaching me a new thing. I feel like I’m in a lull…a dry place. Writer’s block. Spiritual block. Feeling like I haven’t done enough to maintain my spirituality. Feeling like I really have nothing to offer God.

But God has used this time in my life to reveal to me just how little I do to earn His love.

And for the first time I’ve been sensing the Lord saying…

…this is what it means for Me to love you unconditionally.

…this is what is means for Me to love you when you can’t find a reason for Me to want to love you.

I’m experiencing God’s love and pursuit of me even in the midst of not finding many reasons for Him to want to love me right now.

And it baffles me.

I just don’t get it.

Because I don’t feel as loveable right now honestly. I don’t feel like I have done enough. And though I know all of the theology regarding this and I know that God’s love is not based on my performance, I’m just being honest about how my mind works…and it constantly tries to make sense of what God thinks about me in relation to what I have done either good or bad. It’s a struggle for me.

And yet, I have experienced the love of God pursuing me in the past week in a way that I haven’t before…and it’s because of my inability to pursue Him that I have been made aware of His active pursuit of me.

Not doing anything that would justify Him loving me or being proud of me, I finally am experiencing and starting to understand this whole thing called unconditional love.

But it’s hard for me to accept.

I don’t like unconditional love.

Unconditional love makes me uneasy and nervous.

I feel almost guilty to receive it.

I feel unworthy. I feel like I don’t deserve it. I feel like if someone loves me or does something for me then I should be able to reciprocate that in a way that benefits and blesses that person as well. That’s what makes sense to me. So it’s hard for me to understand a love that would require me not giving anything back in return.

This has long been an issue for me even with other people. Not being able to receive from others in a way that’s unconditional. Not being able to let others help. Not being able to let others give to me. Or let others have control. I like to be the one who has control. I don’t like to feel indebted. And as I write this out, I’m kind of embarrassed as I’m seeing how messed up that is…it’s scary how convicting writing can be…and I don’t think I’ve ever taken time to deal with this issue before. I used to think that it was necessary to be the strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man or anyone for that matter to help her. I can do it all by myself thank you very much. But I’m growing tired of this mindset.

I’m finding myself resenting this desire….this desire to be the one who holds my life together…the one in charge.

Deep down, we all want someone to take care of us. We all want someone to step in and take control, but it’s so hard to relinquish it. It’s so difficult to trust someone else with your life. It is for me.

So as I experience the love of God loving me when I haven’t done anything in return I just don’t understand it and part of me doesn’t want it.

I’m scared to let God love me unconditionally.

I feel like it’s too good to be true.

That I will end up losing it somehow.

Or that I can never repay.

And I absolutely hate that feeling. I hate feeling like I can never reciprocate or give back.

Not too long ago I experienced a moment where someone was helping me with something. I don’t really want to elaborate but this person demonstrated kindness to me in a way that was both extremely caring and thoughtful but strangely very uncomfortable for me in the moment. And afterwards I began to consider why this was the case. Why was it that I was hesitant to receive the help that this person was giving me? In the moment I was so stunned that someone would help me in this way out of the blue that I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. I was very shocked. I didn’t really say a word. And I don’t think I said thank you in the way I now would have wanted. I didn’t know how to receive. That was the problem. I didn’t know how to be okay with someone else stepping in to do for me what I thought I should be doing for myself. And it remains a problem for me in many areas of my life.

Through this, God is illustrating to me what it looks like for His love to step in and do for me what I would normally just do myself. He’s loving me instead. He’s taking control instead. He’s taking care of me instead. I don’t have to be the one who holds it all together anymore. He will do that for me.

And wow, what a relief I’m now seeing this as.

I’m now finding beauty in this unconditional love of the Lord. This love that separates Him from all others. This love that puts my soul at ease.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

This kind of love may bring me fear. I may not understand it. But God’s helping me. He’s showing me that I have no reason to fear.

I may not feel like I deserve it.

I may be hesitant to receive it.

But God’s still here.

He keeps offering anyways.

He won’t let me say no to Him.

He’s slowly but surely replacing my self-protective tendency to do everything myself with the reminder of His sovereignty and His competence.

I can trust that He won’t get it wrong. And I don’t have to try to do everything myself anymore. His love is enough to sustain me.

Now I’m learning how to receive.

Now I’m learning how to let the Lord be the strong one for me, even when everything within me wants to be the strong one instead. I don’t like giving up that control. But He’s showing me how.

And He’s using this point of my life to show me that His love for me was never about all the things I had done or not done for Him in the past. It is just because He wants to love me. And He wants to love you as well. He sent His son Jesus Christ because He wanted to love us unconditionally. Romans 5:8 declares that God sent Christ to die for us, the ungodly, revealing His great love for us. Wow. It may sound too good to be true but we would be fools to pass it up. May we receive this love in full.

May we learn how to receive this love from the Lord…this love that requires absolutely nothing from us but has everything for us to gain. I pray that you will recognize the Lord’s pursuit of you as a demonstration of His unconditional love towards you. I pray that you will receive it in full and let it put your soul at ease. I pray that if you also find it difficult to receive that you would ask the Lord to help you trust Him that what He has to offer is good and that He is more than competent to be the Lord of your life. I pray that we would all be overwhelmed with this passionate love of our God even when we can’t find a reason for Him to love us. For His love always remains and never ceases, no matter what we do or don’t do.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

His mercies never come to an end.”

–Lamentations 3:22–

Questions for Today:

  • Do I find it difficult to receive?
  • What does it mean for God to love us unconditionally?
  • Why can I be confident that I can trust in God’s unconditional love for me?
  • Why is there no fear in love?
  • How can I receive God’s unconditional love for me today?

“Even So Come” by Passion Band ft ChrisTomlin

Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 5

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This week we arrive at Jesus’ first preaching scene in Matthew chapter 5.

(If you are now joining in this study you can read Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1 here).

So far we have read about Jesus’ ancestral background in chapter 1, birth in chapter 2, baptism in chapter 3 and preparation through Satan’s temptation in chapter 4. As chapter 4 ended Jesus already accumulated a crowd of followers. Now as we begin chapter 5 the crowds remain and Jesus decides to go up on a mountain to teach. This would have made it easier for the crowds below to hear Him as His voice would be carried downwind.

Last week, we talked about the goal of repentance in both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ preaching.

This week we read about Jesus’ approach in bringing people to repentance.

And Jesus’ message is quite different from what other teachers or rabbis were teaching the Jews.

He doesn’t begin with a methodical rule-keeping seminar or a briefing of the Torah. He doesn’t begin criticizing those who break the law. He doesn’t extol them to try harder and do better. He doesn’t do any of this.

The first words out of Jesus’ mouth are encouraging affirmations over the people. Jesus declares, “blessed are those who…for they will…” in verse 3 -11, reassuring those who follow God wholeheartedly of a future hope amidst their current situation. Promising the kingdom of God. Promising access to God.

However, this opening pattern of blessing and promise affirmations isn’t meant to ease the crowd into complacency or self-assurance but rather to set the tone for what Jesus is about to teach.

Jesus reminds the crowd of a future hope in God before He drops the weighty realization on them that the law cannot save them.

He continues to encourage His listeners, comparing their roles to the functions of salt and light in verses 13-16. Jesus declares “You are the salt of the earth…” and “You are the light of the world…” in verses 13 & 14, reaffirming their identity in God so that it may work for the benefit of others and to God’s glory as it says in verse 16 (emphasis mine). So from the beginning in verse 3 all the way to verse 16 Jesus preaches words of encouragement, blessing, comfort, identity, and affirmation over the crowd.

Then in verse 17 Jesus’ tone shifts.

After encouraging them with all of these affirmative blessings of a future hope He addresses the problem of the law.

Initially, He transitions by telling the crowd that He has not come to abolish the law or the Prophets in verse 17, but has come “to fulfill them.”

So if I’m trying to read Jesus’ words in the way that a 1st century Jew would have heard it, this is the point in the sermon where my questions are starting to get answered. A 1st century Jew would’ve been listening to Jesus’ message wondering why Jesus had not yet mentioned the law in His teaching. Why is He going on and on about blessing and salt and light…why isn’t He telling us how we can be a better Jew like all of the other scribes and teachers, one might have thought.

But this is why Jesus is so different.

While He does mention that the law must be respected and that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” in verse 18, Jesus has not come to endorse the law. This is not His purpose.

Jesus has come to illuminate the ineffectiveness of the law to produce what the people think it will produce.

Jesus has come to teach the people that the law cannot save them.

Jesus has rather come to fulfill the law.

Before when I used to read this passage I would be confused with this wording of Jesus fulfilling the law. I don’t understand how a law can be fulfilled because I usually think of a law as something already clearly mandated and complete without any room for variance. It makes more sense to say that a hope is fulfilled or a dream fulfilled or a promise fulfilled…but a law fulfilled? It doesn’t sound like it makes much sense. But as I keep reading in chapter 5, I’m starting to get what Jesus is saying. There is a need for something more than the law.

This law that was given by God to Moses could not save Israel and was never meant to. I’ve been reading from Genesis to Deuteronomy in class and we’ve been seeing how Israel clearly manifests the need for a new heart. So while Israel has the law, it is not producing righteousness in them at all. It’s not cultivating a heart change at all. Rather, the law illuminates their inadequacies and inability to do anything right. So the whole point of the law was not to make Israel righteous but was rather a means by which to keep them separate from all of the other nations so that God could bless the world through Israel, this chosen people.

So now as Jesus has come on the scene in Matthew’s gospel, this is the point in the whole story of the Bible where we finally have some hope for the law becoming profitable.

Jesus has come to fulfill the law, meaning that He will complete what the law is lacking. He is the one that changes the game. He is the one that fixes the problem of the law. Now this phrasing is starting to make more sense. Jesus will render righteousness where the law could not. Jesus will save where the law could not. What a relief.

Instead of endorsing law-keeping for the pursuit of righteousness like the scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus plainly states that one’s righteousness must “exceed” that of the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven in verse 21. What an incredibly high expectation. Nobody would have been to achieve this. Nobody would have understood how to go about pursuing it. And Jesus knows it. Yet He doesn’t stop to explain how this is actually accomplished. At least not yet. Rather He goes on to confront the root of sin from verse 21 through the end of the chapter 5.

Jesus knows what He’s doing. Before He provides the solution for their sin, He reveals to them just how sinful they really are by uncovering the wickedness beneath their transgressions of the law…the sin within the heart.

Jesus teaches this through a series of “You have heard…but I say to you…” statements from verses 21-45.

With each statement He reminds the crowd of what they have been taught not to do, but then challenges them to consider the heart as the real law-breaker. In other words, what they have previously heard has not penetrated their hearts. Jesus wants them to hear His words now because His words have come to fulfill the law in a way that the law by itself could not. They need to hear afresh. And Jesus has come to open their ears to this message so that they might repent.

He points out that the heart cultivates an unseen sinful thought, emotion or reaction and is just as faulty as the visible transgression. Through this repetition of “You have heard…but I say to you…” statements, Jesus helps them to realize just how impossible it is to keep the law. And how imperative it is for them to hear His words over the words of everyone else. And He is making it more and more clear with every statement, as He addresses the outward sinful act and the inward, sinful root. Jesus digs down beneath the sin to reveal the heart issue beneath every sin. He reveals that it’s not behavior that matters…it’s the heart. The heart steers. Behaviors and actions are just a manifestation of what’s in the heart.

And through this Jesus is revealing the reality of mankind’s problem: we are polluted by sin and we can’t achieve righteousness through the law.

Yet Jesus demands perfection as verse 48 says, “You therefore must be perfect as Your Father in heaven is perfect.”

When I’m reading this, I’m thinking how is it remotely possible to be perfect in light of what Jesus has just preached? How can we be perfect if we have to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and must be sure to eradicate every sneaky sin that pollutes our hearts? But I think this is the point Jesus wants His listeners to reach.

Jesus wants the people to stop and realize the severity of their sinful condition in contrast with God’s holy expectation of perfection.

Hearing Jesus teach, I think many of the listeners probably understood for the first time how the law could not save them. After a whole life of keeping the law, and hearing the scribes and teachers of the law teaching them how to try and be perfect by following all of the rules, this would have been monumental to realize that all of the rules are meaningless…and that righteousness through the law is a vain pursuit. Nobody was teaching this. It was only Jesus.

Jesus was helping the people to reach this point, where they started to develop a desire to know the solution for sin. Their ears were being opened. Their hearts were being made receptive to Jesus’ message. And as Jesus keeps preaching, doing miracles and talking with people in this gospel, we see the ones who come to Jesus and respond out of this desire. They repent and know that they need a solution for their sin.

Jesus claims to be the solution to the problem. And we will see how He backs it up. Through what He does and the role He assumes in swallowing up the wrath of God, righteousness is made possible for the Jews and for everyone else. Through faith. Through Christ. By God. We will read about this towards the end of Matthew.

Let us soak up these words of Jesus Christ as recorded by Matthew in chapter 5 of this gospel. May we read carefully and try to understand His message in light of the day it was preached and the purpose of Christ to cultivate hearts of repentance. May we get to know Jesus better, seeing His love for people and His unique balance of gentleness and boldness to both encourage His hearers and challenge their hearts.

Summary of Matthew 5

Jesus sees the crowds and goes up on a mountain, (near the sea of Galilee and Capernaum but the exact location is not specified); His disciples follow Him up on the mountain; Jesus begins to teach the crowds employing many “Blessed are the…for they…” statements; Jesus teaches the crowds utilizing metaphors of salt and light as how they are to be in the world; Jesus teaches that He has not come to abolish the law given to the Jews from God, but rather has come to fulfill the whole purpose of the law; Jesus tells them that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven; Jesus teaches the crowds on topics of murder, anger, adultery, lust, divorce, oaths, revenge, and love while utilizing many “You have heard…but I say to you…” statements, getting to the root and purpose underneath God’s laws; Jesus teaches them that they are to be perfect just as God is perfect.

Jesus in Matthew 5

Jesus sees the crowds (v. 1)

Jesus goes up on a mountain (v. 1)

Jesus sits down (v. 1)

Jesus’ disciples follow Him up on the mountain (v. 1)

Jesus sets the example (v. 1)

Jesus leads (v. 1)

Jesus teaches the people (v. 2)

Jesus blesses the poor (v. 3)

Jesus promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor (v. 3)

Jesus blesses those who mourn (v. 4)

Jesus promises comfort to those who mourn (v. 4)

Jesus blesses the meek (v. 5)

Jesus promises the earth as an inheritance to the meek (v. 5)

Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (v. 6)

Jesus promises satisfaction to those who hunger and thirst for rightness (v. 6)

Jesus blesses the merciful (v. 7)

Jesus promises mercy to the merciful (v. 7)

Jesus blesses the pure in heart (v. 8)

Jesus promises seeing God to the pure in heart (v. 8)

Jesus blesses the peacemakers (v. 9)

Jesus promises the name “sons of god” to the peacemakers (v. 9)

Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for righteousness (v. 10)

Jesus promises the kingdom of heaven to those who are persecute for righteousness (v. 10)

Jesus blesses those who are reviled and spoken of falsely by others (v. 11)

Jesus exhorts those who are reviled and spoken of falsely to rejoice (v. 12)

Jesus exhorts those who are reviled and spoken of falsely to be glad (v. 12)

Jesus promises a great reward in heaven for those who are reviled and spoken of falsely (v. 12)

Jesus reminds them that the prophets who came before them were also persecuted (v. 12)

Jesus proclaims to the crowd that they are the salt of the earth (v. 13)

Jesus proclaims to the crowd that they are the light of the world (v. 14)

Jesus commands them to shine before others (v. 16)

Jesus wants their light to reveal their good works (v. 16)

Jesus wants their light to point others to God (v. 16)

Jesus wants their light to bring glory to God (v. 16)

Jesus has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (v. 17)

Jesus has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (v. 17)

Jesus tells them that the Law will not pass away until all is accomplished (v. 18)

Jesus discourages taking these commandments lightly (v. 19)

Jesus discourages teaching others to take these commandments lightly (v. 19)

Jesus encourages doing these commands (v. 19

Jesus encourages teaching these commands (v. 19)

Jesus promises those who do and teach these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (v. 19)

Jesus declares that one’s righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter in to the kingdom of heaven (v. 20)

Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “you shall not murder” (v. 21)

Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “you must not be angry” (v. 22)

Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “you must not insult” (v. 22)

Jesus uncovers the root of the offense (v. 22)

Jesus encourages reconciliation over offering gifts to God (v. 23-24)

Jesus encourages reconciliation with one who has accused you (v. 25-26)

Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “you shall not commit adultery” (v. 27)

Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “you must not lust” (v. 28)

Jesus exhorts them to cut off what causes them to sin (v. 29-30)

Jesus acknowledges that they have heard it is okay to divorce (v. 31)

Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying divorce makes one commit adultery (v. 32)

Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “you must not swear falsely” (v. 33)

Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “don’t take an oath at all” (v. 34)

Jesus specifies that one must not take on oath by heaven, by earth or by Jerusalem (v. 34-36)

Jesus exhorts them to answer a straight yes or no (v. 37)

Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “an eye for an eye” (v. 38)

Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying don’t seek retribution (v. 39)

Jesus exhorts them to turn the other cheek to their persecutor (v. 39)

Jesus exhorts them to give to the one who steals from you (v. 40)

Jesus exhorts them to yield to the one who takes advantage of you (v. 41-42)

Jesus acknowledges that they have heard “you love your neighbors and hate your enemy” (v. 43)

Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “love your enemies” (v. 44)

Jesus challenges what they have heard, saying “pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44)

Jesus commands these things so that they may be sons of the Father in heaven (v. 45)

Jesus acknowledges God as the one who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good (v. 45)

Jesus acknowledges God as the one who sends rain on the unjust and just (v. 45)

Jesus reminds them that loving the lovable has no reward (v. 46-47)

Jesus commands them to be perfect as the Father is perfect (v. 48)

Jesus demands perfection (v. 48)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” -Matthew 5:17-

Questions for Today:

  • How is Jesus’ teaching different from the scribes and teachers of the law?
  • When does Jesus’ tone shift in this sermon and why?
  • Why does Jesus say that He has come to fulfill the law?
  • What was the law actually meant for?
  • Why does Jesus demand perfection?
  • How am I learning more about Jesus in Matthew chapter 5?

“Look Upon the Lord” by Kari Jobe

Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 4

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As we continue on in Matthew chapter 4, we meet a new character arriving on the scene: Satan.

(If you are now joining in this study, you are welcome to begin here at Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1.)

This character is given access to Jesus as Jesus is led into the wilderness for the very purpose of being tempted by the devil. And this character knows who Jesus is. In fact, he is the first character in the story to mention Jesus as the Son of God. That’s interesting. Matthew is hinting to us that even Satan knows Jesus is God. The devil tries to manipulate Jesus into proving Himself and His identity as he says, “If you are the Son of God…[then do this]” in verse 3, but Jesus won’t succumb to the devil’s tactics. Jesus doesn’t need to prove Himself.

This recognition of Jesus’ divinity will continue on in Matthew’s gospel as we will read about demons crying out acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God. It’s fascinating that the Jews have such a hard time receiving Christ in this gospel, yet the demons themselves who aren’t on God’s side still know that Jesus is God.

So the devil knows who Jesus is. He’s well aware. He’s just not on God’s side. And He wants Jesus to mess up.

Satan despises Christ, the promised one, because he knows in the end where the story is headed.

God has already declared that Jesus would come to crush Satan just as Genesis 3:15 has predicted and Satan is aware. Satan was there in the garden when God said “…he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Christ is the promised one who will defeat Satan in the end and Satan knows it. Yet he still attempts to thwart God’s plan.

This is why I find is strange that Satan would be given access to Jesus like this. Why would God allow Satan near Jesus if Satan would try to mess up the plan? But as we read chapter 4 and notice Satan’s strategy for trying to tempt Jesus, it seems to me that Satan’s approach isn’t that threatening.

All of the offers that Satan tempts Jesus with are things that Jesus will get eventually…sustenance, glory, power…just not yet. So the only advantage Satan has in this is that Jesus has embraced humanity and is physically weak and malnourished at the moment. That seems to be his only advantage. Otherwise, I’m starting to think that Satan doesn’t really stand a chance in winning this.

In terms of his assault plans, the devil seems to be like more of a pest than a threat. As I read about how the devil tempts Jesus and then I read Jesus’ responses, I’m not getting worried for Jesus. Jesus seems pretty calm. Pretty certain. Pretty unshaken. He’s giving me every reason to be confident in His ability to remain resilient.

So why include this temptation narrative in the story if we expect Jesus to win anyways?

Well we must remember that Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience ultimately. And He wants to convince them. He wants them to know that Jesus is the real deal. That Satan himself knows His name. That Jesus has come to proclaim the words of the Lord that were spoken of in the Old Testament. And Jesus will remain victorious against the devil.

Through this temptation narrative, Matthew establishes right here in chapter 4 that Jesus is the Son of God and that God’s plan through Jesus Christ will not be thwarted by anyone.

Matthew wants the reader to be confident in Jesus.

Even when other characters in the story fail to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, fail to believe He can heal, fail to believe He can save them, fail to believe that He is who He says He is… we as the reader already know that we can be confident in Him because of what we have read in chapter 4. Matthew is showing us that we can count on Jesus. He will not fail. He will not give in to the tactics of the devil or anyone else who tries to get in the way of His goal.

Going on in chapter 4, Jesus withdraws into Galilee and in verse 17 begins to preach the same message that John the Baptist had been preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

I thought Jesus might be preaching a new and improved message now that He has come along after John… but Jesus embraces this same message that had been entrusted to John the Baptist: preparing hearts to initiate repentance. A simple goal. A simple message. No frills. John preached it. Jesus now preaches it. It’s what He intends to generate both through others and through Himself. Repentance.

Keep this in mind. As Jesus continues to preach throughout Matthew’s gospel, repentance will always be Christ’s main goal. Everything He speaks is for the sake of calling people to repent so that they can receive the kingdom of heaven.

As we read on we see Jesus seeking out people to come and follow Him.

Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee scoping out the scene and He sees two sets of brothers mending their nets. Then Jesus invites them to join Him and immediately they say yes to this invitation and follow Him. Leaving everything behind. Wow. I wonder why they would have been so persuaded to follow this Jesus who they had never met before? Obviously we have more information than these guys did and we know why Jesus is worth following…but they didn’t. They didn’t know who He was.

So why leave everything to follow this Jesus?

What we must remember as we read is that Matthew is trying to establish the difference between 1) those who hear Jesus’ words and follow Him and 2) those who hear Jesus’ words but don’t follow Him.

So the brothers who follow Jesus personify those who hear Jesus’ words and follow Him.

As we read last week in chapter 3, the Pharisees and Sadducees are among those who hear but don’t follow. Thus, they really aren’t hearing at all ultimately.

Jesus will continue to expound upon this idea of what it means to “hear” as we read along in Matthew’s gospel.

In chapter 5 Jesus will say, “You have heard, but I tell you…”. Jesus knows that what they have heard concerning the law has not been penetrating their hearts. So he talks about the heart extensively in chapter 5. We will read about this further next week. Jesus also speaks in parables as we continue on in Matthew so that “hearing they do not hear…” as it describes in chapter 13.

Hearing is a kind of sifting mechanism in this gospel. Keep this in mind as we progress through Matthew. This gospel separates the ones who hear Jesus’ words and repent from those who hear Jesus’ words and don’t repent, and thus must not really be hearing at all.

This is another example of the 2 opposing force we identified in chapter 2: the ones on God’s side and the ones who aren’t…the ones who hear and the ones who don’t.

As we end chapter 4, Jesus has already accumulated a crowd of followers.

So His words are getting through to many people. His words are calling people to repentance. And we see that Jesus’ presence is drawing people to follow Him at the instance of a simple invitation. That’s pretty powerful. As we progress we will see this simplicity mark the course of Jesus’ ministry. Those who follow Him will tend to do so on the spot or at the moment of encountering Him. Those who hate Him will tend do so quickly or at the moment of encountering Him. Jesus causes a sharp response either way.

As we read through Mathew chapter 4 let us read carefully and pay attention that we may get to know Christ better and fall in love with this Jesus who is coming to draw hearts to salvation. The Christ we can count on. The Christ who has shown Himself trustworthy. Who has shown Himself resilient. May our hearts be open and receptive to His Word as we read more about our Savior, Jesus Christ, seeing that He is worth following and worth trusting in.

Summary of Matthew 4

The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil; Jesus fasts for 40 days and 40 nights; the devil asks Jesus to turn stones into break since he knows Jesus is hungry; Jesus responds to the devil with a passage that comes from Deuteronomy 8:3; the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple at the holy city and tells Him to throw Himself down, quoting Psalm 91:11-12; Jesus responds to the devil telling him he should not test the Lord, which comes from Deuteronomy 6:16; the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain showing Him all the kingdoms of the world, telling Jesus he will give Him all of these kingdoms if Jesus will worship him; Jesus commands Satan by name to be gone and quotes a passage found in Deuteronomy 6:13-14; the devil leaves; angels come to minister to Jesus; Jesus hears about John the Baptist’s arrest and goes into to Galilee; Jesus goes to live in Capernaum by the sea, fulfilling the Old Testament passage found in Isaiah 9:1-2; Jesus begins to preach, telling people that the kingdom of heaven is at hand; Jesus is walking by the sea of Galilee and sees 2 brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, casting nets into the sea; Jesus asks them to follow Him; they leave their nets and follow Him immediately; Jesus sees 2 more brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John, and He asks them to follow Him; the leave their nets and their father, and follow Jesus; Jesus goes throughout all of Galilee teachings in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing people with diseases; his fame spreads throughout all Syria; people bring the sick to Jesus and He heals them; great crowds follow Jesus from the Galilee and the Decapolis, from Jerusalem to Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Jesus in Matthew

Jesus is led by the Spirit (v. 1)

Jesus is taken into the wilderness by the Spirit (v. 1)

Jesus is tempted by the devil (v. 1)

Jesus fasts 40 days and nights (v. 2)

Jesus is hungry (v. 2)

Jesus is human (v. 2)

Jesus is known by the devil as the Son of God (v. 3)

Jesus is tempted by the devil the first time (v. 3)

Jesus is tempted by the devil to turn rocks into bread (v. 3)

Jesus is tempted with premature physical sustenance (v. 3)

Jesus answers the devil the first time with Old Testament scripture (v. 4)

Jesus tells the devil that man cannot live on bread alone but on the words of God (v. 4)

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 (v. 4)

Jesus is taken to the holy city by the devil (v. 5)

Jesus is set on the pinnacle of the mountain by the devil (v. 5)

Jesus is tempted a second time by the devil (v. 6)

Jesus is tempted by the devil to jump off the pinnacle of the mountain to let angels rescue Him (v. 6)

Jesus is tempted with public glory (v. 6)

Jesus answers the devil the second time with Old Testament scripture (v. 7)

Jesus tells the devil not to test God (v. 7)

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 (v. 7)

Jesus is taken to a high mountain by the devil (v. 8)

Jesus is tempted a third time by the devil (v. 9)

Jesus is tempted by the devil to acquire kingdoms in the world and their glory (v. 9)

Jesus is temped with immediate power (v. 9)

Jesus answers the devil the third time by shouting His name (v. 10)

Jesus tells Satan to be gone (v. 10)

Jesus answers the devil the third time with Old Testament scripture (v. 10)

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 (v. 10)

Jesus is left alone (v. 11)

Jesus is met by angels who come to minister to Him (v. 11)

Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested (v. 12)

Jesus withdraws into Galilee (v. 12)

Jesus goes to live in Capernaum (v. 13)

Jesus fulfills the Old Testament scripture found in Isaiah 9:1-2 (v. 14-16)

Jesus preaches (v. 17)

Jesus’ first message is about repentance (v. 17)

Jesus declares that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (v. 17)

Jesus sees two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, while walking along the Sea of Galilee (v. 18)

Jesus invites them to follow Him (v. 19)

Jesus wants to make them fishers of men (v. 19)

Jesus compels their response (v. 20)

Jesus spots 2 other brothers, James and John (v. 21)

Jesus invites them to follow Him (v. 21)

Jesus compels their response (v. 22)

Jesus preaches in the synagogues in Galilee (v. 23)

Jesus preaches the gospel of the kingdom (v. 23)

Jesus heals the sick (v. 23)

Jesus’ fame spreads (v. 24)

Jesus attracts a crowd of followers (v. 25)

“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” -Matthew 4:17-

Questions for Today:

  • Why is Satan allowed to tempt Jesus in this story?
  • Why is it significant that the brothers respond to follow Jesus when invited to do so?
  • What is important about “hearing” in Matthew’s gospel?
  • When Jesus preaches, what is He hoping to bring about?
  • How am I learning more about Jesus in Matthew chapter 4?

“We Will Not Be Shaken” by Bethel Worship ft Brian Johnson

Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 3

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This week as we read in Matthew chapter 3 we see John the Baptist arriving on the scene just as Jesus is about to start His ministry.

(If you’re now joining in this study, you can read Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 2 available here…and Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1 available here )

Contrasting John, we read about the Pharisees and Sadducees. And immediately we see how they and John manifest the 2 opposing forces that we identified in chapter 2: the ones on God’s side and the ones who are not….the ones who make claims about God but don’t possess righteousness and one who declares things to come about God and does possess righteousness.

The Pharisees claim that they know God because they follow their religion to a T. They know all the laws, they follow all the rules, and they assume that they’re almost perfect for doing so. But actually, John calls them “a brood of vipers” in verse 7. Wow. That’s pretty harsh.

Why would the group of people who had religious prestige and prominence be slandered like this by John? We will read why.

First, we have to remember the cultural context of the day Matthew’s gospel was written and the mindset of 1st century Jews.

Today when we read the Bible, it’s easy for us to assume that the Pharisees and Sadducees are the bad guys in the story. We already know their role. We already know how the book ends. And these guys get it wrong. They crucify the very one they had been waiting for. How bad of a bad character do you have to be for that to be your crime in the story? Pretty bad apparently.

But in the 1st century, the Pharisees and Sadducees weren’t necessarily bad guys to the common Jew.

Jewish people of this day were more worried about the Romans than they were the Pharisees or Sadducees. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not loathed. Not hated. Not avoided. They were moreso respected because they served as the religious scholars of the day, initiating conversation and intellectual thought regarding the law. And though we might think of it as unfortunate that they were the experts of this religion because of what we already know about them, the Jews surrounding them didn’t know to think this way. They didn’t know the end of the story. They didn’t know that the Pharisees and Sadducees were actually getting it wrong.

So it wasn’t ordinary for people to see through the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ calloused hearts. Most were just as far from God as they were.

But John is different.

He calls them out on their unrepentant hearts as a result of his own mission in preparing people for the Lord. John longs for them to repent and bear fruit as he says in verse 8, so his slander is not meant to be harsh. It’s actually meant to be a loving exhortation towards repentance.

John challenges the hearts of his hearers so that they might be ready for Christ when he arrives.

John’s role is to preach about the coming of the “kingdom of heaven” as indicated in verse 2. For the Sadducees in particular this would have sounded absurd. Historically, the Sadducees are recorded rejecting the belief in an afterlife altogether. So for John to arrive out of nowhere dressed in camel hair, eating wild honey and preaching about heaven would have probably made him appear to be a crazy person to the Sadducees.

And yet, God establishes John the Baptist as a very important character: the one who would prepare people for Jesus’ arrival in the story.

Because of John’s preaching, we read about people responding to this hope of the kingdom of heaven. God positions him as the one who would ready people’s hearts for repentance, as verse 6 describes people coming in droves to confess their sins and be baptized. His role sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry to begin. So as we read in chapter 3 we finally get to meet Jesus through John’s encounter with Him.

In chapter 1 we were introduced to Jesus’ heritage, in chapter 2 we were introduced to others’ reactions to Jesus, and in chapter 3 we are introduced to Jesus himself. Now we finally get to read some of His words. We get to read what He has to say. We get to observe Him in this narrative.

What I’m finding is that chapter 3 portrays Jesus as completely opposite of what King Herod had expected. Herod was threatened in chapter 2. Herod wanted him dead. But the Jesus we see here in chapter 3 is very non-threatening.

I’m also finding that Jesus in chapter 3 is quite opposite of what John the Baptist expected.

Reading through this and taking into account all that John had proclaimed about the coming Messiah in the first part of chapter 3, I’m thinking that John the Baptist might have expected a Jesus who was much more intimidating and bold and commanding and charismatic than the Jesus that showed up humbly asking him to baptize Him. After preaching so long about someone “whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” as John exclaims in verse 11 I would have been completely shocked to meet this Jesus so gentle and unassuming. So kind. So approachable.

The anticipation that John the Baptist created doesn’t seem to match the reality that he has been met with. At least so far.

Jesus is different.

And at times we will see people start to doubt Him as we keep reading because they keep waiting for a powerful ruler to make everything better. Keep this in mind as we will see John’s unmet expectations surface in chapter 11 specifically when he starts to question if Jesus really is the Messiah.

But we will ultimately see the glory and purpose of Christ manifested in this gospel revealing to us why Jesus is so different and why He should be trusted.

So as we read chapter 3 we must recognize how the story is being set up for Christ to enter in and the pivotal role John the Baptist plays in that preparation.

The first 2 chapters we’ve read about so far have led us to this point where the story is settling in this time frame of Jesus’ ministry and the text will begin to follow Jesus more closely.

As we continue on in Matthew’s gospel, let us read Jesus’ words and get to know Him better, while paying attention to Matthew’s particular style and portrayal of Christ in this gospel. Let us read carefully and soak up all it has to say, letting our hearts and minds be receptive to God’s Word. May we fall in love with this Jesus, who may not always fit our expectations but will surely show us why He is so much greater than anything we could ever expect.

Summary of Matthew 3

John the Baptist is introduced as a character in the story; John the Baptist is described as one who preaches in the wilderness of Judea telling people to repent as the kingdom of heaven is near; Matthew informs us that John the Baptist is the one who Isaiah 40:3-5 prophesied about, as the “one crying in the wilderness” to “make straight the paths of the Lord”; John’s clothes consist of camel’s hair and a leather belt; John eats locusts and wild honey; people in the regions of Judea and Jerusalem come to John to respond and repent; John starts to baptize people in the Jordan River; John sees the Pharisees and Sadducees coming over to where he is baptizing and he calls them a brood of vipers; John exhorts them to bear fruit and repent; John warns them against trying to claim that Abraham was their father; John warns them that if they do not bear good fruit they will be cut down like a tree and thrown into fire; John declares that he baptizes with water for repentance; John proclaims that the one coming after him is mightier and will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire; Jesus comes from Galilee to meet John at the Jordan River; Jesus comes to be baptized by John; John tells Jesus that he rather should be baptized by Him; Jesus says that this is fitting to fulfill all righteousness; John says okay; as Jesus is baptized, the Spirit of God comes to rest on Him like a dove; a voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus in Matthew 3

Jesus’ ministry is being prepared for by John who is calling people to repentance (v. 1- 2)

Jesus is preached about by John the Baptist (v. 3)

Jesus is mightier than John the Baptist (v. 11)

Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit (v. 11)

Jesus will baptize with fire (v. 11)

Jesus will gather his own to himself (v. 12)

Jesus will clear away all who are not his own (v. 12)

Jesus goes to the Jordan River from Galilee (v. 13)

Jesus seeks out John (v. 13)

Jesus wants to be baptized by John (v. 13)

Jesus’ request of baptism shocks John (v. 14)

Jesus comforts John (v. 15)

Jesus reassures John (v. 15)

Jesus’ baptism by John fulfills righteousness (v. 15)

Jesus’ baptism initiates a response from God (v. 16)

Jesus’ baptism causes the heavens to open (v. 16)

Jesus’ baptism causes the Spirit of God to descend like a dove (v. 16)

Jesus is God’s Son (v. 17)

Jesus pleases God (v. 17)

“Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” –Matthew 3:2 –

Questions for Today:

  • What is John the Baptist’s role in the story?
  • How were the Pharisees and Sadducees known in the 1st century?
  • Why does John call the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers?
  • How is Jesus different than expected?
  • How am I learning about Jesus in Matthew chapter 3?

“Unending Love” by Hillsong Worship

Grace Motivates Purity

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I used to assume that the idea of purity in itself motivated purity.

Anytime that I glimpsed purity… purity in others, purity of the Lord, purity in the Word or purity manifested in the world I would be very drawn to it. Purity was, and still is, very appealing to me, beautiful to me, desirable to me and valuable to me. It’s compelling. Alluring.

I remember when I was younger, probably around 11 or 12 years old, I used to be so enamored with one of the older girls in our church. She was older than me, in high school, and seemed very godly. I really looked up to her. Anytime I saw her in church she was always worshiping God with such pureness and happiness. I used to think…I want to be like her. I want to have the peace and joy that she does. I didn’t know her very well but I knew her family, and I always wanted to tell her just how much of an impact she made in my life as a positive role model. There have many instances since then that I’ve remembered her and the goodness that I saw in her and it has always helped my heart so much. To see the manifestation of purity in others reminds me that it does really exist. This isn’t to say that people are perfect and that certain people are the paradigm of existence, but it does serve to show just how impactful people are in our lives when they demonstrate the love of Christ. I want to be that kind of person. I want you to be that kind of person. Man, how our world would change if we, the body of Christ, were known as such.

But the sobering reality always surfaces… realizing just how impure I am…and feeling like there’s no way I can emulate purity the way that I hope to.

I know myself too well.

And I always fall short.

No matter how close I think I’m walking with God, I always do something or think something or say something that is not pure whatsoever. And in those moments I know that God sees me and it is devastating to be uncovered before Him like that. But thankfully, Christ showers His grace on us so generously in a way that I would never allow for myself. He’s much more kind. Much more understanding. Much more loving.

John 1:16 says, “Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness.” (emphasis mine).

Christ keeps on giving grace. Keeps on giving grace. Keeps on giving grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is God’s gift – not from works so that no one can boast” (emphasis mine). Our salvation hangs on grace, not perfection. Grace, not godly progress. Grace, not even purity. Purity is something that the Lord does within us, not us. It doesn’t save us. It’s not some kind of barometer by which God measures the worthiness of His chosen ones. As if we could be worthy. No.

Now, I see that I had it all wrong.

Purity doesn’t motivate purity.

Grace motivates purity.

Why?

Because purity is just never attainable.

Even when I think that I have accomplished purity in a certain situation or area of life, I find a way to mess it up. I fail. I’m too aware of what’s in my heart to try and tell myself otherwise. I know what my mind is capable of. This isn’t to say that we can’t be pure at all… that’s not the point. Christ surely can and will cultivate purity in us as we ready ourselves for the day of Christ, as Paul talks about in Philippians 1:9-11. And we can still glimpse purity in others, as I always saw in JoAnn, the girl who I admired growing up.

But now, I realize that even the purest of people still stumble. Even the purest of hearts are tempted. Even the purest of minds are challenged and attacked by sin. Which just shows that we can’t count on our own efforts to make us pure or to make us loved by God.

There’s only one thing we can count on…grace.

Grace.

Grace is the only thing that makes us right with God.

Grace compels my heart to see God in a totally different light. It makes me wonder why He could possibly keep forgiving me and remaining with me in the middle of my sin against Him. It paints a picture of relentless love that has become a reminder of Christ’s relationship with me…

I picture myself looking away from Jesus to something else, totally ignoring Him and oblivious to His pursuit of me.

I picture myself running away from Him to what I want, to what I see…and what I see looks so enticing, so desirable, so satisfying.

I picture Jesus holding onto me, whispering in my ear how much he loves me, even while I’m turning to walk away from Him.

I picture Jesus following me, holding my hand…still numb to His touch.

I picture Jesus dancing with me, as I keep turning around and looking back at what I want.

But Jesus just won’t let go of me.

He’s still here.

He’s still holding onto me.

He’s still loving me.

And I stop.

Suddenly I feel Jesus here.

I turn around and I see Him.

I gasp as I don’t understand why He would still be here…

I tell Him to let me go…I’ve rejected you Lord, I’m so sorry. Please just leave me be. I know I’ve hurt you enough already. I’m so sorry that I’m unfaithful to You.

But He remains.

Jesus won’t let go of me.

He stays.

And as I glimpse this grace of my Savior, I am so compelled by it.

I am drawn to it. I see it as so perplexing, yet desirable and lovely and beautiful and valuable.

I start to turn around from what I was pursuing.

And I see Jesus.

Still here.

Still with me.

And my heart starts to turn back to Him, already embraced by Him in His love.

Now I receive it.

Now I want it.

Now I am compelled by grace.

Compelled by grace to see Jesus.

Compelled by grace to want purity.

This is the picture I get when I experience the grace of the Lord drawing me back to Himself. Not because of what I’ve done. But in spite of my wayward heart. His illogical love can’t help but to remain.

His grace motivates our hearts. It motivates a desire for purity.

And though I continue to fail and I continue to turn my back on Him, He remains. And I become more and more aware of His presence with me. Then it becomes more natural for me to turn to Him instead of to what I want. He’s helping me by His grace.

It’s so important that we remind ourselves not to get discouraged when we feel like our impurities are just stacking up against us. Receive the Lord’s grace. Invite Him in. Remember that He has never left you. Know that He wants to talk to you about what you’re struggling with. Talk to Him. Then He can purify.

1 John 1:9 says this, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We must confess. We must be vulnerable with God about what’s in our hearts. We can’t ignore it like it’s not there. We can’t try to hide it. Just be honest with God. He’s far more gracious with you than you realize.

And He’s not surprised by your sin.

God will actually help you as you join with Him in acknowledging it.

So through Christ, we can let Him cleanse us in a way that cultivates purity within us more than we realize.

Philippians 4:8 says this, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.” Anything worth dwelling on comes from Christ. That’s it. Only from Christ.

I used to get so fixated on methodologies of overcoming sin and keeping myself out of situations that might cause me to sin.

But now, I realize that all these methods never work.

The only thing that works is glimpsing Jesus. Seeing Him by His presence. Seeing Him in the Word. Seeing Him in others. Seeing Him in the way He works in His people. Focusing on Him. Considering Him. He is grace and He is purity. He is true. He is honorable. He is lovely.

Dwell on Him.

Dwell on the Lord.

And may His grace motivate our purity.

If you are in Christ, I pray that God would remind you that He is, always has, and always will remain with you, even in the midst of your sin and wandering away from Him. I pray that you would receive Christ’s grace and let that motivate your love for Him. I pray that you would glimpse Jesus in your everyday life. I pray that you would see Christ’s glory and His reflection all around you, attesting to the One who compels our hearts to purity and goodness by His grace.

“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

–John 1:14 –

Questions for Today:

  • Why does grace motivate purity?
  • Do I recognize Jesus remaining with me even in the midst of my sin?
  • How should this compel my heart to follow Christ?
  • Why is it important that I confess my sin to God?
  • What next step is Jesus asking me to take in my relationship with Him today?

“You Don’t Miss A Thing” by Bethel Worship ft Amanda Cook