Woe to You!

Our reading this week is Matthew 22 & 23,  and here we will focus on 23:13-39 where Jesus condemns the actions of the religious leaders. Their job was to model/teach a Godly life to the people of Israel, but they had failed mightily by corrupt the Temple system for monetary gain. Jesus issues them seven “woes” or condemnations. We’ll cover each of them briefly here.

  • “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces…” (13) – The practices these leaders had put into place in worship (money changers, high priced sacrifices, etc.) as well as their impossible interpretations of minute details of the law made it all but impossible for people to worship God properly.
  • “…you make [converts] twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (15) – Scholars believe Jesus is speaking in a mocking hyperbole here. Proselytes, or converts, did occur, but no record of any organized effort to teach outsiders has been found. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus is condemning, a lack of care for outsiders, but more so anyone converted was joining a corrupted system that doesn’t honor God
  • “You say ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing…” (16) – They had created their own little legal language that meant they could make promises/oaths without having to fulfill them based on what they swore by. Jesus completely condemns this (Mt. 5:37)
  • “…you have neglected the more important matters of the law…” (23) – They had become so focused on details that they have missed the heart of the law. Nowhere was tithing of spices commanded, yet they were so wrapped up in this that they completely neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They weren’t letting the main point be the main point!
  • “You clean the outside of the cup and dish…” (25) – I think there’s a double entendre here. There was real debate about how to keep plates and cups ceremonially clean: wash inside or outside first? Jesus says the inside is first then the outside will be clean. The idea that it needs to look good (outside) before it is good (inside) wasn’t what Jesus was after. When it comes to dinnerware or people’s lives, we should be focused on the cleanliness/purity of the inside, then the outside will take care of itself.
  • You are like whitewashed tombs…” (27) – I think another double entendre. Tombs were whitewashed/painted as a warning sign so people wouldn’t accidentally come in contact with them and become ceremonially unclean. Jesus tells them they are whitewashed tombs because they look good on the outside, but are full of death inside. I think also Jesus is applying the concept that their lives should serve as a “whitewashing” to keep others away.
  • “You build tombs for the prophets…” (29) – The idea that these guys would honor/remember the prophets that their ancestors had killed was in some ways honorable, but Jesus calls them “decendents of…”, whether they actually were or not. This indicates they behaved just like their ancestors, and serves ultimately as a prediction/condemnation of their rejecting him to the cross. “Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!” (32)




I understand we are in a different time and place, and are operating under a different system of life today. But I think we need to take an honest look at what Jesus was condemning to make sure the same type of condemnations can’t be said about our lives today.


Jesus is Enough

This week we take a look at three events from our weekly reading: Matthew chapters 14-16.

In Matthew 15:1-20 we see the Pharisees criticize the disciples for not washing their hands before they eat. Now I know your momma taught you to always do this, but there is a cultural connotation here. The Pharisees had developed a tradition of washing their hands in large jars before eating. This ceremony included saying prayers as the water ran off of each forearm. This tradition was found nowhere in the Scriptures, and there was nothing wrong with the tradition itself.

The problem here is the Pharisees were holding up a tradition as a measure of righteousness for everyone. They would monitor the hand washing stations and require everyone to follow their tradition or else face steep religious consequences. Jesus points out that they often ignored the Scriptures in favor of their own traditions and concludes by quoting Isaiah:

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” – Mt. 15:8-9.

There’s nothing wrong with traditions…just don’t treat them like the Word of God, or hold them as a measure of one’s righteousness. And certainly don’t keep them if they keep people from God.

Matthew records two events of Jesus feeding large crowds in 14:13-21 & 15:29-39. It’s important to keep in mind that these were two separate events, and the location as well as the outcomes of the miracle tell an important truth about Jesus and his mission. We’ll start with the feeding of the 5000.

If you follow the geographic indicators in Matthew, as well as the parallel stories in Mark 6 and Luke 9, we know that this feeding took place in what the Jewish people referred to as the “Land of the 12,” meaning they were faithful Jewish people like the original twelve tribes. When Jesus feeds the multitude he does it through the miracle of multiplication, taking whatever the people had, multiplying it, and using it to minister to the many. In this case, Jesus takes five loaves of bread and two fish, and feeds 5000 men (not including the women and children he fed!) Now the miracle is amazing, but the message behind the miracle is really what’s at play here.

“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” – Mt. 14:20.

Numbers in Scripture are always significant, and often have imagery attached to them. As mentioned before, the number 12 represented the nation of Israel. Through the 12 basketfuls of leftovers Jesus is indicating that he and his teaching is more than enough for the Jews.

Chapter 15 records the feeding of the 4000. This event happens in the “Land of the 7” (see Deut. 7:1). This was a heavily Gentile area that the Pharisees and Sadducees taught the Jews to avoid altogether. A similar multiplication miracle takes place and 7 basketfuls are leftover. Jesus and his teachings are for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Again, even though God had been telling his people the he loves the Gentiles too for centuries (just look at Jonah), this would have been a shock for many of Jesus’ Jewish followers. The Pharisees and Sadducees had promoted such a racism against the Gentiles that Jesus has to go a step further in his explanation in chapter 16.

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread.“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. – Mt. 16:5-12

Here’s a moral from these stories: Traditions have a tendency to divide if we let them. Even though God had told Israel for years that his ultimate goal was to save Jew and Gentile alike, the traditions of the Pharisees and Sadducees was to have nothing to do with Gentiles. Traditions also got in the way of them seeing Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus makes it clear that he and he alone is sufficient for all. Traditions are fine and can be very good and useful as long as they don’t divide the body of believers, and don’t keep others from seeing Jesus. Let’s be sure we’re pursuing Jesus and not human tradition.

Heart Problems

Our Gospel reading for this week is Matthew chapters 5 & 6. This is part of what we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in the Gospels. I’ve heard people say that this passage of Scripture is a checklist we need to keep in order to please Jesus, but if you view the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist, you’ve missed the point.

Jesus is addressing a number of topics in this passage: Attitudes (5:1-12), Actions/Witness (v13-16), Righteousness (v.17-20), Conflict (v. 21-26), Marriage, specifically Adultery (v. 27-30) and Divorce (v.31-32), Honesty (v.33-37), Revenge (v.38-48), Giving (6:1-4), Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15), Fasting (v.19-24), and Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34). All that said, Jesus really addresses one topic in this whole passage, and applies it to different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

In every instance, Jesus is teaching us how our heart should be focused. We can try to follow checklists all day, but without our heart being right we’ll never be able to accomplish God’s will. Let’s look at one example in particular.

Matthew 5:16 – “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 6:1“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”

How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. If people see me I can’t check one, and if they don’t see me I can’t check the other. What’s the difference? The heart. It all boils down to what our heart is searching for – honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves. If the heart is in the right place, we are doing what Jesus commands. It really boils down to this: do we treasure God, or praise from others?

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

If our hearts are right our attitudes will be right when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right we will be salt and light (both elements which change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are right we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are right we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are right we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are right we will deal in love with honesty and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are right we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).

To quote the first words of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not about you!” The Pharisees and teachers of the Law in the first century had missed this. They had taken God’s word and twisted its application to be all about themselves and how righteous they were by how well they kept the rules.

Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

It’s not about you. It’s about God. Keep your heart focused on honoring Him in everything you do. Only then will we see the Sermon on the Mount carried out in our lives. – Matt

Nobody Else Can Claim This!

We’re doing something different this year with our church, and I’d like for you, my readers to join us. The goal is as a church family we will read through the Gospel of Matthew by Easter, and the other three Gospels by the end of the year. I will be writing at least one article per week that goes along with the reading…not really a complete commentary on the Gospels, but rather a reading guide. We’ll be reading roughly two chapters per week (four short chapters this week). This is an easy to accomplish reading plan for the year, but at the same time we will spend the entire year focused on the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope you choose to read with us! Click here to download the Yearly Gospel Reading Plan

This week we’re looking at the first four chapters of Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew was written by a Jew to a Jewish audience, so there are some major Jewish themes, explanations, and topics that Matthew brings up. The major focus of these first few chapters is who Jesus is, and where Jesus came from. The genealogy that many might skim over was very important to Jews, and is full of information that teaches us about Jesus.

Because space is limited I’ll only focus on the women mentioned, which in itself is odd. Women were never included in official Jewish genealogies because during this time they had no legal rights and were considered property rather than people. But notice that God doesn’t see it that way! He includes Tamar the adulteress (Gen. 38), Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2), Ruth the Moabite (Ruth), and Bathsheba the adulteress (2 Sam 11&12). Here Matthew shows us two things: 1) The barriers the religious elite had put in place are being removed, 2) Somehow God can even use those who have gone through tragic and sinful situations to accomplish His purposes, even bringing His Son into the world through their lineage!

Chapter 2 covers the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus and the fulfilled prophecies that further point to who Jesus was and where he comes from. Because this is January most of us have studied the Christmas story recently, and we’ll not dwell here.

Finally we arrive at chapter 3 where we meet John the Baptist who is preparing the way for the Messiah (another prophecy fulfilled) and we see the baptism of Jesus. (Personally I’ve never understood people wanting to be a follower of Jesus, to be like Jesus, but not wanting to be baptized. Even Jesus said he needed to do this “to fulfill all righteousness.” Shouldn’t we want to follow his example, and command? (Mt. 28:19)) In this passage we see two events we often overlook that would be important to Matthew’s readers: Jesus receiving smicha (pronounced smee-hah), which your Bible likely translates as “authority“, or “one who had authority.” 

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. – Matthew 7:28-29

Great teachers became Rabbi’s, meaning they had the “authority” to interpret,  apply, and create new teachings about scripture when they themselves were granted smicha by other Rabbi’s who had smicha. Apparently John the Baptist had smicha (Mt. 21:23-27). The other grantor of smicha? God himself!

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” – 3:17 

Matthew’s Jewish readers would realize that Jesus was the only Rabbi in history who received his smicha directly from God himself. Jesus isn’t some ordinary teacher. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God!

Our reading this week ends with chapter 4. Jesus faces temptation without sin in the wilderness, begins his ministry, and calls his first disciples. But the chapter ends with a message to Matthew’s Jewish readers, as well as to us today, that Jesus’ message and salvation was for a much broader audience than anyone expected.

“Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.” – Matthew 4:25

Here we have a listing of areas that were the home of the most well educated religious scholars, and the common folk.  Extremely traditional and conservative teachers, and extremely liberal and radical ones. But it also includes gentiles from the Decapolis. Matthew is reminding us that even early in his ministry we can see that Jesus came from God to save everybody!

Be blessed as you read Matthew’s story of Jesus this week! – Matt

Can We Trust The Bible?

When I was little I remember my grandmother teaching my cousins and me a game called “Telephone.” Someone comes up with a sentence and whispers it into the ear of the person next to them. This continues being passed through several silly, giggling child-interpreters until it reaches the original person. Everyone gets a huge laugh because what started as “The gray goose flies at night,” turns into “My granny has an overbite.”

Tweet: People struggle with the Bible because they believe it was passed down like a game of Telephone. The truth is far more stunning!

“The Bible can’t be trusted. It was copied by hand so many times that it must be full of mistakes. After thousands of years of errors we simply can’t trust what’s there!” The problem with this argument is the assumption that the Bible was copied much like you or I would scribble notes during a lecture, which is simply untrue.

Ancient scribes dedicated their lives to copying the Bible by hand, letter for letter, word for word, line for line. And this is very important to understand. Men who dedicated themselves to this artform had the scriptures memorized, as well as having a multitude of very early copies from which to work. Over 24,000 of these ancient copies remain from the New Testament alone, far more than any other writing of its age!

The scribes worked meticulously copying each and every detail of the text. It was then checked for accuracy by line. The chief scribes (who had the text memorized) knew exactly how many letters and words should be in each line of text for a particular book. If the copy in question didn’t match up, it was not corrected…it was destroyed. They held the text in such high esteem that they would rather destroy an expensive parchment and throw away the work rather than have one mistake come through their work.

That being said, not every scribe worked so perfectly. We do have “textual variants” within the scriptures. Most of these are sequence variations. In the book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Dr. Bruce Metzger describes it this way. “…it makes a whale of a difference in English if you say ‘Dog bites man’ or ‘Man bites dog’ – sequence matters in English. But in Greek it doesn’t.” Greek is an inflected language, and no matter what order you place the words, the meaning still comes across the same. The meaning isn’t changed in the slightest, but this counts as a textual variant. And if 10 copies of this same variant exist, then scholars count that as 10 textual variants even though they are the same variant (confusing, I know.)

Can the Bible be trusted? Strobel quotes scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix’s conclusion: “The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book-a form that is 99.5 percent pure.”

God has preserved His word for us in a fully trustworthy form. All we have to do now is read it!

Want to know more about the Bible? Try these other posts:
The Problem with The Bible
Where Do I Start? – Part 1
Where Do I Start? – Part 2

Where Do I Start?

From time to time people tell me they want to start reading the Bible, and they almost always share the same question… “Where do I start?”

Last week we talked about how the Bible isn’t just another book. It’s really a collection of writings, and those writings are organized a certain way within the book. Most books are sequential, or chronological in nature. The Bible doesn’t work that way. It’s grouped by type. Let me show you what I mean. We’ll begin with the Old Testament.

The first five books of the Bible make up The Law of Moses (also known as the Pentateuch or the Torah.) These books were compiled and written by Moses and incorporate the earliest history of the Israelites, as well as the books of the law of the covenant between God and his people (such as the 10 commandments.)

The History of Israel is recorded in the next twelve books from Joshua to Esther. Within these writings you can learn about the history of God’s interaction with the Israelites. From entering the promised land, to great battles. Most people know these writings through stories they were taught in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School growing up.

Poetry and Wisdom Literature makes up the next 5 books from Job through Song of Songs. In this section you will find beautiful writings of people who are struggling with God and the pain of this world, songs of praise for God, a graphic description of a man’s love for his wife, and a collection of wise sayings.

The Major Prophets are known as such because their prophecies played a major part in the life of Israel. Many of these writings are quoted by the writers of the New Testament. These books from Isaiah through Daniel foretell of the coming of the Messiah, and include many warnings and depictions of the captivities and destruction that Israel would face in the future because of their disobedience to God.

In a similar way, The Minor Prophets from Hosea through Malachi describe more minor events and prophecies from the history of Israel. These books aren’t any less important, but are more specific in their writings and application. The well known story of Jonah is found here, as well as the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.

If you are interested in the history of Israel, studying the long anticipated coming of the Messiah, or want to read some beautiful poetry, you can find what you are looking for in the Old Testament. Click Here to read part two about the New Testament.

The Problem with The Bible

The Bible is not a book.

No, I’m not suffering from a head injury. The Bible is not a book…at least when compared to most people’s definition of books.

If you or I were to sit down and write a book, we’d start at the beginning and write in a linear manner. We’d start at the beginning of our thought, then proceed until we had a completed book. We would proofread our work, and go back and make changes if necessary. We would ask our friends to make suggestions and make changes where we thought improvements could be made. We might even reorder some of the chapters to make the book flow better. But in the end, the book would be written by one person.

Occasionally authors will work together to write a book. They will decide which parts each will write, and will work as a team to reach the finished product. Lots of planning and lots of communication between the authors will lead to a cohesive final product.

That’s not how the Bible was written at all! And that’s the problem. We look at the Bible often as just another book. The problem is we don’t really understand how we got it, and what difference it makes. Let me show you a bit of what I mean.

The Bible is a collection of writings. This is why we call the individual sections of the Bible “books.” Although, that’s sort of a misnomer as it’s made up of historical accounts, poetry, wisdom literature such as Proverbs, as well as letters sent between writers and Christians as a means of encouragement and instruction.

The Bible was written by more than 40 people, most of whom never knew or conversed with each other. It was written over the span of about 1,600 years, in at least 3 languages, on 3 continents, and somehow has a unifying theme that ties everything together. Every part of every section relates to another, all telling the story of God’s love for his creation, and His perfect plan to save the people from their sins.

No book has faced more persecution, scrutiny, and attempted destruction than the Bible, yet it is available today in nearly every language, in thousands of translations, in paper and digital copy, for very little or no cost to its readers. There’s no way that this is possible without the Spirit of God being the influence and inspiration behind every word recorded, and without His provision to ensure you have the ability to own one.

And sadly most people never bother to read it.

The Bible is not a book. It’s the Word of God. A book informs, the Bible is designed to transform. And if we fail to realize the difference, we’ll miss out on an amazing gift that our God has created just for our benefit. It’s time to start reading!

But how? Where do I start? What should I be looking for? We’ll discuss that next time. I’m beginning a series of posts on the history, and delivery of the Bible into our hands as we have it today. I hope you’ll follow along!