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Traditions of men versus commandments of God

Matthew Chapter 15

Traditions of men versus commandments of God

Then Pharisees and teachers of the Law came to Jesus from Jerusalem, saying, “Why do your disciples violate the tradition of the elders, for [we’ve heard and now see that] your disciples don’t wash their hands when they eat?” 

[Local Galilean Pharisees and teachers of the Law had observed Jesus and likely reported to those in Jerusalem that Jesus had become popular enough that there was talk that he might be the Anointed One. Also, Jesus had submitted his own claim that he was the Anointed One by having the leper he healed go to the priests (Matthew 8:4), so they were required now to examine Jesus. They had also observed a variety of what they considered violations of proper practices among Jesus or his disciples that might discredit Jesus. This delegation had come to examine and disqualify Jesus if possible. Washing for purification was specified in the Law for all kinds of situations. However, traditions had built up over time that specified an elaborate ritual for cleansing before meals. Apparently, Jesus and his disciples did not consider these traditions important. In fact, Jesus perceived that these traditions were invented to cover up unclean hearts and to control and manipulate the common man.]

But Jesus answered them, “Why do you violate the [actual] commandment of God through your traditions? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ [Exodus 20:12], and ‘He that speaks evil of his father or mother, let him be put to death’ [Leviticus 20:9]. But then you say[, hiding behind one of your traditions], ‘If anyone tells his father or mother that what he would have given them has been set aside as a gift to God, he therefore does not need to provide it to honor his parent’. Thus, you have nullified the commandment of God through your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied accurately about you when he said [Isaiah 29:13], ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines what are only the commandments of men.’”

10 Then Jesus called out to the crowd and said to them, [If you are reasoning that ceremonial washing makes you and the food clean,] listen and understand! 11 It’s not what goes into someone’s mouth that makes him unclean, but it’s what comes out of his mouth that makes him unclean!” 12 Then his disciples came to him and told him, “Did you realize that the Pharisees heard what you said and were offended!” 13 Jesus responded, [Remember the story I told you about the wheat and the darnel (Matthew 13:24-30)?] Every plant not planted by my Father will [eventually] be pulled up! [Those who teach such things are like the darnel and will be judged by my Father and are destined for burning.] 14 Forget about them. They are blind [since they choose not to see what is right in front of them]. Let the blind [leaders] lead the blind [followers]. But [unfortunately] if the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into a ditch.”

15 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us this story!” 16 Jesus responded, “Are you still lacking insight? 17 Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes through the belly and is ejected into the drain. 18 But whatever goes out of the mouth came from the heart. This is what makes a man unclean! 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, and slander. 20 These are the things which make a man unclean, but eating with unwashed hands does not make a man unclean!”

Faith among non-Jews

21 Then Jesus left that place and traveled to the area of Tyre and Sidon [modern Lebanon]. [It appears that he was going to a non-Jewish area where he expected he and the disciples could rest because he was relatively unknown. Yet some people from that region had heard of him (Mark 3:7-8) or had been healed by him (Luke 6:17-18). Perhaps someone he had helped had a house there and had offered it to him to use. There is no explanation given of how this woman found out about him.] 22 There, a woman from the region of Canaan [Phoenicia] came to him and cried out, “Have mercy, Lord, son of David, my daughter is terribly demonized!”

23 But Jesus didn’t say a word in response. [He held to his purpose, and perhaps at the same time tested her faith.] And his disciples came seeking him, saying, “Send her away since she is giving us no peace!” 24 But he answered her, saying, “I am sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [My Father has given me no instructions to bring the message of the kingdom of heaven here. In fact, this was to be a time for us of needed rest.] 25 Then she came and fell on her face before him, pleading, “Lord, help me!”

26 But he answered and said, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. [As I said, I am responsible for spiritually feeding the Jewish people, especially my disciples.] 27 And she replied, “Of course, Lord, but even dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall under the master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus answered, “Oh, woman, how great is your faith. [You would not take ‘no’ for an answer, believing God would help you through me.] It will be for you just as you have desired.” And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. [Perhaps the ministry to this woman and her daughter was the primary purpose of this trip since no other ministry is recorded.]

Healing all

29 And Jesus left that place and came near to Lake Galilee, and he went up to a hill and sat down there. 30 Great crowds came to him there, bringing with them those who were lame, blind, maimed, mute, and many others. [People brought those who needed healing and] placed them at Jesus’ feet, and he healed them. 31 Many were healed, and the crowd marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed cured, the lame walking, and the blind seeing, and they praised the God of Israel. 32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I feel sorry for the crowds, for they have remained with me for three days and have had nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they may faint on the way.”

Faith among non-Jews
Healing all

Feeding the four thousand

33 So his disciples said to him, “Where in this out-of-the-way place can we find so much food that we could feed so large a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves [of bread] do you have?”, and they said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 So he commanded the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples, who gave them to the crowd. 37 All of them ate and were full. They collected seven large baskets full of the broken pieces. 38 Those who had eaten numbered four thousand men, plus women and children. 39 He sent the crowd away and boarded a ship and came to the area of Magadan [possibly an alternative name for Magdala, a city on the west side of Lake Galilee].

Feeding the four thousand

Discussion questions

Matthew Chapter 15 discussion questions

1. Why does Jesus make a big deal about not following the traditional ceremonial washing? Couldn’t he have simply put up with their requirements?

2. Does Jesus seem a little bit hard on the Phoenician woman? Why does he give her what she wants? Won’t that encourage more people to come and bother them?

3. In the stories of both the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus collects a large amount of leftovers. What do you think is the message of the surplus bread?

Matthew Chapter 16

Matthew Chapter 16

Unfaithful generation

[As Jesus' miracles kept coming and people increasingly believed he was the Anointed One, the Jewish leaders stepped up their attempts to find error and danger to discredit Jesus.] So the Pharisees and Sadducees [in Magadan] came to test him. They asked him for a sign from heaven to prove to them [who he was]. And he answered and said to them, “When it’s evening, you say, ‘Fair weather [is coming], for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, [you say,] ‘Bad weather, for the sky is red and threatening.’ If you can interpret the sky, why can’t you read the signs of the time? [Miracles are happening all around you and yet you are unable and unwilling to decide that I am the Anointed One and that this is the time of the prophesied visitation from God. You have already had many signs given to you.] A wicked and unfaithful generation seeks for a sign [while refusing to acknowledge the signs already given], but no sign will be given it but the sign of Jonah.”

Unfaithful generation

[This is the second time Jesus was asked for a sign, and both times he cited Jonah (Matthew 12:38-41). It was very significant that the "sign of Jonah" was the sign that would be given the generation that had been given every sign but refused to respond to them. 1) Jerusalem, like Nineveh, had many opportunities to repent, but had not. 2) If they did not repent, judgment was coming, 3) Both Jonah and Jesus offered salvation through their preaching, 4) Both would be hidden for portions of three days, 5) Both would startle their target audience with their sudden appearance. 6) For Jonah, the city repented. For Jesus, mostly the city did not repent, but Jesus made it possible for anyone anywhere at any time to receive salvation.].

He left them [the Pharisees and Sadducees] and departed [with the disciples by boat from Magadan]. And when they came to the other side of the lake [near Bethsaida according to Mark 8:22), the disciples [realized] they had forgotten to bring any bread. It was at that point that Jesus said to them, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they reasoned among themselves, “[He mentioned leaven] because we didn’t bring any bread.”

When Jesus realized what they were saying, he said, “Why are you talking about not bringing any bread, you of little faith? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many small baskets you collected [of the leftovers]? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many large baskets you collected? [God’s provision is always available.] 11 How do you not understand that I wasn’t talking about bread when I spoke to you that you should beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he wasn’t warning them about the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [Jesus wanted his disciples to understand who he was, not be purposefully dense like the religious leaders, who refused to see him for who he was.]

Recognition of Jesus as the Anointed One

13 [Jesus took the disciples due north from the lake, deep into Roman controlled territory, probably to avoid those who recognized him.] When Jesus [and the disciples] arrived around Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who are men saying that I am - [even though you know I call myself] the Son of Man?” 14 And they answered, “Some say John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say I am?” 16 And Simon Peter answered, “You are the Anointed One, the son of the living God!” 17 And Jesus answered, saying to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of John, for flesh and blood hasn’t revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven!

Recognition of Jesus as the Anointed One

18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter [the rock], and on this bedrock [of belief in who I am], I will build my community [unified assembly of followers], and not even the gates of hades [the power of death] will have victory over it.  19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.

“[Peter, your understanding of who I am provides the foundation for the living temple of believers that will grow around you. You will be the first leader of this community. This community is to be so powerful that all darkness including death cannot resist it. I will give you keys for how to operate under my rule. As you follow these, you will see God back up all that you do. For example, if you forbid disease, God will remove disease. If you decide to give authority to a man, God will cause him to have authority. The key to all that you do is knowing that I, Jesus, the Son of Man, am God’s son and heir and representative on the earth, and that I have given you, the church, the right to represent both me and the Father.]”

20 Then he commanded the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Anointed One. [He wanted each person to come to that conclusion in their own heart.] 21 And from that time Jesus began to explain to his disciples how he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders and chief priests and the teachers of the Law, and be killed, and be raised again on the third day.

[Jesus did not reveal this part of his destiny until the disciples firmly grasped that he was indeed the Anointed One. Even though Isaiah 53:1-12, which describes the “suffering servant”, was regarded as a prophecy concerning the Anointed One, he was much more regarded as a conquering hero who would save Israel from all enemies. No one, including the disciples, understood the concept that the Anointed One would suffer and die for the sins of humanity, prior to resurrection from the dead and ascension to a heavenly throne.]

Ready to die to follow Jesus

22 Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to scold him, saying, “God forbid that anything like this happen to you!” 23 But Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get out of my way, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path. For you aren’t thinking about things like God does but rather like men. [Peter, it takes great discipline on my part to follow the path God has given me. And you are representing the plan of Satan to tempt me and trip me up so that I won’t fulfill the purpose God has for me.]

Ready to die to follow Jesus

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, [It’s not only me that will give my life for the sake of the Good News.] If anyone wants to take the path I am taking, he has to totally abandon his own self-interest, and carry his cross [be ready to die], and [only] then [you can] follow me. 25 For anyone who wants to protect his own life [by keeping himself safe and following his own interests] will lose it [for the life I have for you is glorious and full of reward in heaven but a trial on the earth]. Whoever gives up his life for my sake [by doing whatever I ask of him no matter what it costs] will find it [- a life that is completely fulfilling during your time on the earth and then forever with me in eternity].

26 “For what will be the advantage to a man if he wins the whole world but loses his own soul? Really, what is worth giving in exchange for your [eternal] soul? 27 For the Son of Man [Jesus] will come in the glory of the Father with his angels and will reward every man based on his deeds. To tell you the truth, some of you standing here, before you experience death will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” [Jesus was possibly referring to several things: a) in a few days three of his disciples would see him in his glory, b) when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, Jesus came to rule in his church and kingdom life began to happen in full earnest, and c) Jesus as a king brought judgment when Israel was judged in 70 AD.]

Discussion questions

1. Why was Peter’s confession of faith about who Jesus is so fundamental to the power and authority that would be given to the unified community of believers?

Matthew Chapter 16 discussion questions

2. Why do you think it was so hard for Peter to accept that Jesus would die a humiliating death?

3. Jesus says we must totally give up self-determination in our life and be willing even to die for him. Are you willing to do this in your life?

Matthew Chapter 17

Matthew Chapter 17

Jesus reveals his heavenly appearance

After six days, Jesus took Peter, James and his brother John, and brought them to a high mountain where they were by themselves. Jesus’ appearance changed before them, and his face shined like the sun, and his clothes were as white as light. [The prophets] Moses and Elijah appeared, talking to Jesus. [Jesus revealed his normal heavenly appearance to his disciples. Somehow the disciples immediately recognized Moses and Elijah. Luke 9:30-31 tells us that they were talking about how Jesus was going to depart from the world.] 4 Then Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good for us to be here. If you want, let us make three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Jesus reveals his heavenly appearance

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and there was a voice which spoke out of the cloud, “This is my beloved son. I am so pleased with him. Listen to him!” [From this time on, the disciples became even more aware of the authority of Jesus and the truth of what he said.] And when they heard the voice, the [three] disciples fell on their faces and were very afraid. Then Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Stand up, and don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one else but Jesus.

As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one what you saw until after the Son of Man rises from the dead.” [Until he rose from the dead few would have believed it if the disciples told what they had seen. After he rose and appeared to many, the experience of the three disciples would make more sense.] 10 [Still thinking about what the vision meant,] the disciples asked him, “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first [before the Anointed One]?” 11 Jesus answered, “It is true that Elijah is to come and restore all things [Isaiah 40:3-5]. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they didn’t recognize him, and they did to him whatever they felt like. In the same way, the Son of Man will suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the [three] disciples understood Jesus was talking about John the Baptist [when he said Elijah had already come].

Deliverance of boy from an evil spirit

14 When Jesus and the three disciples had come down from the mountain, they returned to the crowd [and the other nine disciples]. A man came up to Jesus and fell on his knees before him, 15 saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is moonstruck [crazy] and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

Deliverance of boy from an evil spirit

17 Then Jesus answered, “Oh, unbelieving and resistant generation! How long will I be with you? [You don’t have very long to figure out what I am telling and demonstrating to you.] How long will I put up with you? [I can’t allow such resistance to remain long on the earth before you are judged for your resistance to God.] Bring the boy here to me.” 18 And Jesus sharply commanded him [the demon], and the demon left him, and the child was healed from that very hour.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked him, “Why weren’t we able to cast out the demon?” 20 And Jesus answered, “Because of your unbelief. For I tell you the truth, if you have faith [as small] as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Leave here and move over there’, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you!

[Did Jesus mean that we could move an actual mountain by faith? There is no record of him doing so himself. However, he did raise the dead, change water to wine, multiply loaves, calm storms, and walk on water, and each of these seemed impossible. At the very least, he expects us through faith to see apparently insurmountable obstacles removed and our goals attained. Some manuscripts add verse 21, ‘This kind come out only by prayer and fasting’, the same as in Mark 9:29.]

22 While the disciples were gathered together there in Galilee[, since Jesus and three of them had just been apart from the rest], Jesus said [to them a second time], “The Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and the third day he will be raised again”. And they were very sad.

Paying the Temple tax

24 Then they went to Capernaum. After they arrived, those who collected the two-drachma Temple tax said to Peter, “Doesn’t the teacher pay the two-drachma Temple tax? [According to Exodus 30:11-16, every resident of Israel was required by God to pay the two-drachma (or half-shekel) tax for the upkeep of the Tent of Meeting and later the Temple.]

Paying the Temple tax

25 Peter replied, “Yes”, and when he came into the house [where they stayed in Capernaum], Jesus stopped him[, knowing what had taken place before Peter had a chance to tell Jesus about the interaction he just had with the tribute collectors]. Jesus said to him, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take their tax or tribute, their own children, or others’?”

26 And when Peter replied, “From the others”, Jesus said, “So the sons are exempt. 27 But, we don’t want to offend these people [who believe they are performing a legitimate responsibility]. Go down to the sea and cast a hook. Take the first fish that comes up and when you open the mouth you will find a shekel. Take it and give it to them [the tribute collectors] for you and me.”

[Now that the disciples understand that Jesus is the son of God, Jesus is making the point to the disciples that since they are serving God and he is the son of God, they should be exempt. However, that would not have been understood by the tribute collectors and it is not yet the time for Jesus to challenge the leaders to the point they would crucify him. Listening to the Father, he tells Peter exactly where to find the payment. His Father essentially paid the tribute for him. Apparently, the other disciples were considered servants and were not taxed.]

Discussion questions

1. Do you think it would have been confusing that Peter, James, and John saw Elijah and Moses on the mountain with Jesus, but then Jesus said that Elijah had already come before the Anointed One? How did John the Baptist represent the role of Elijah?

Discussion questions

2. What does Jesus say is the reason the disciples could not cure the boy who had seizures? Why does Jesus say it only takes a small amount of faith?

3. Sometimes any of us has unexpected expenses, including ones that seem unfair or unwarranted. In Jesus and Peter’s case, Jesus was not only not surprised, but totally unworried, for the Father showed him the miraculous solution. When have you experienced God’s miraculous provision? In what current situation do you need to trust God for his provision?

Mathew Chapter 18

Matthew Chapter 18

Importance of humbling ourselves

Around this time, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “[Jesus, you told us that, we who are following you, are greater than even John the Baptist.] Which of us is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a young child over to him and set him in the middle of them, and said to them, “Here’s the truth. Unless you change how you are thinking [and stop being concerned about your own importance] and become just like little children, you won’t even enter the kingdom of heaven. [How can you serve God when you are focused on yourselves?] Whoever sees himself at the level of this young child, that’s the one who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. [Jesus saw himself as a young child before his Father, trusting and accepting, not striving or self-conscious. When we lose any striving for status is when we can do the greatest things on behalf of our Father.]

Importance of humbling ourselves

“And whoever accepts one young child in my name is accepting me. [Children are not to be ignored – they are very important to God. To love and serve a child is to accept Jesus. On the other hand, if you turn a child away, Jesus says you are rejecting Him. At some level, every person is considered by God to be a young child.] But anyone who causes a child to sin or turn away from God, it would be better for that person if a large stone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the depths of the sea [than the punishment that person will receive from God for harming one of his children].

“How terrible for the world that there must be such scarring experiences. Though they will always exist, how terrible it will be for the one who brings the harm! [What punishment will be his due at the Judgment unless his heart be converted, and his sins forgiven.]

“Therefore, if it’s your hand or foot that causes you to stumble [and if you have difficulty refraining from sinful actions because of where you go or what you do that harms yourself or others], then cut them [your hand or foot] off and throw them away, for it is better to enter [eternal] life maimed or crippled than keep both hands and feet and be thrown into everlasting fire [of hell]. [If any important part of your life – friends, job, location, habits – has become the avenue for repeated sin or temptation – then remove those friends, that job, location, or habit – even though you think you are losing something precious, so that you can stop being a sinner and can be counted among the righteous.]

“And if it’s your eye that causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away, for it is better to enter [eternal] life [with your vision restricted] rather than keep both eyes and be thrown into the fires of everlasting burning. [If what you look at leads you to sin, it’s not a matter of trying to resist the temptation - remove yourself from the opportunity to even be exposed to that which tempts you.]

10 “Make sure not to look down on one of these little ones. [It’s so easy to discount the value of children, or those who are not as far along in their spiritual journey. But God values every soul very highly, and so should you.] For I tell you that their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. [No matter how young or humble a person is, they have angels assigned to help them, and these angels have access to the Father. Therefore, it would not be wise to treat any of God’s children with disdain, since the angels will act to protect the children.]

Importance of every person

12 “What do you think? [Let me illustrate how God cares about each of his children.] If a man had a hundred sheep, and one of them got lost, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go find the one that’s lost? 13 And if he finds the lost one, won’t he rejoice more over the one than over the ninety-nine who were never lost. 14 In the same way, it is the desire of the Father that not one of his little ones would be lost.

Importance of every person

15 “However, if your brother sins against you, then [go after him just like the shepherd goes after the lost sheep]. Go tell him his fault just between you and him. If he listens to you, you have won your brother [back]. 16 If he doesn’t listen, then return taking one or two more, so that every word can be established by two or three witnesses. 17 If he won’t listen to them, then tell the assembly of believers. But if he won’t listen to the assembly of believers, then treat him as a non-Jew or a tax collector [an outsider who is not a believer].

18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you together forbid, will be forbidden by heaven, and whatever you allow will be allowed in heaven. 19 Again, I am saying, if two of you agree about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am right there among them. [God has granted his followers great authority. What I told you earlier (Matthew 16:19), Peter, I am now expanding on what I said – when you agree together, that agreement carries great authority. If you exclude someone from the community because of sin, both your exclusion and your prayers for that person will bear fruit. Your purpose when you exclude someone from community is that you are hoping to still rescue them from being lost.]

Importance of forgiving every offense

21 Then Peter came, saying to him, “How often am I required to forgive my brother when he sins against me? As much as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times. But I tell you, up to seventy times seven [every time he sins]. 23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a ruler who kept track of what his servants owed him. 24 And beginning his accounting process, one of the servants was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents [millions of dollars]. 25 But since he couldn’t pay, his lord required for him to be sold along with his wife and children and all that he had so that the payment could be made. 26 But the servant bowed down and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ 2Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion and released him, forgiving all his debt.

Importance of forgiving every offense

28 “But that same servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [a few dollars] and grabbed him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay what you owe me.’ 29 The second servant begged him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But the first servant would not [have mercy], and had him thrown into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 So when the other servants saw what had been done, they were upset and came and told their lord what had taken place.  

32 “Then the lord called his servant to him and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your debt because you asked me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had compassion for your fellow servant just like I did for you?’ 34 The lord was so angry, he had this man delivered to the prison guards to torture him until he paid [through pain] all that was owed to his lord.” 35 [Continuing, Jesus said to them,] “My heavenly Father will do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother everything [he has done against you], from your heart.”

[Jesus is making clear that in God’s plan, through Jesus’ death in our place, even though this had not yet occurred, he was going to clear us of an enormous debt to him that we could never pay for ourselves. Any debt that anyone ever owes to us through sin is very small in comparison, and therefore we should always be prepared to forgive that debt. If we do not, then God has set up spiritual laws in both the earth and heaven so that our forgiven debt is reinstated until we in turn forgive. We are in fact tormented and imprisoned within our soul when we do not forgive.]

Discussion questions

1. How are you with children? Or with people you think are less intelligent or talented than you? How important do you need to be? Can you accept yourself as God’s servant and the helper of others in all circumstances?

Matthew Chapter 18 discussion questions

2. If those treated with abuse become abusers then how can they be destined for punishment? How does God treat our capacity to resist sin?

3. What are some ways that you could avoid sin or harmful actions related to your eyes, or hands, or feet?

4. Does God expect us to forgive everything, no matter how terrible, that was done to us? What happens to us if we don’t let go of our judgment of those who sin against us?

Matthew Chapter 19

Matthew Chapter 19

Marriage, divorce, and singleness

After Jesus had finished this teaching, he left Galilee [for what would be the last time] and came into the region beyond Judea and the Jordan River. [This area was called Perea and it was under Roman rule but occupied and administered by the Jews. This would be the modern country of Jordan.] Great crowds followed him and he healed them there. Among them were Pharisees who came to test him [by putting a difficult and controversial problem before him where his answer might give them ammunition against him].

Maarriage, divorce, and singleness

They said, “Is it permitted for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” [There were at least two major schools of thought about this subject during this time. One was that a man could divorce his wife only for sexual infidelity. The other was that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, since Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 seems to allow divorce. Moses allowed this as a protection for the wife from ill treatment by the husband and so that she could not be accused of unfaithfulness if she remarried since she had a certificate of divorce. Whichever way Jesus answered he was going to make some people angry by his answer.]

Jesus answered them, “Have you not read [Genesis 1:27] that he [God] created them and made them male and female and said [Genesis 2:24], ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and join himself to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ Thus, they aren’t any longer two, but now one. What God has joined together, man must not separate.”

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command the use of a certificate of divorce for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus replied, “Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it wasn’t that way from the beginning [of God’s plan and creation]And I tell you, anyone who divorces his wife and then marries another, has committed adultery. The only exception is when the wife has been sexually immoral [having sex with another man].”

[This exception Jesus is describing may refer to a time of betrothal, when a couple is considered husband and wife, but the wedding has not yet occurred and the marriage has not been consummated, or else the word for “infidelity” would likely have been used rather than “sexual immorality”. The penalty under the Law for infidelity was death. Jesus might have been an expert on betrothal Law since his mother and father had to consider it when she was pregnant with Jesus before Joseph knew the pregnancy was from the Holy Spirit.]

10 Jesus’ disciples said to him, “If this is the rule of life between a husband and wife, isn’t it better not to marry?” [The disciples were likely thinking that there are many things which can make a husband and wife become incompatible, so removing divorce as an option seemed very strict to them. But God intends marriage to be a place where his grace resolves all incompatibilities, since it is he that makes them one.]

11 But Jesus said to them, “Not everyone can accept what you are suggesting [about living single rather than married], but only those to whom it [the calling to live a life of self-controlled singleness] is given. 12 For there are [different kinds of] eunuchs. There are those who are incapable of sexual activity since their birth. There are those who have made that way by other men [castrating them, generally to make them slaves]. And there are those who have made themselves eunuchs [by refraining from sex] for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Those who can accept this way of life should do so[, as I have, because they will be able to give themselves more fully to the kingdom].”

13 Then a group of young children were brought to Jesus, so that he could place his hands on them and pray [to bless them], but his disciples wouldn’t allow it[, intending to protect him and give him a chance to rest]. 14 But Jesus said, “Allow the young children to come, and don’t hold them back, for these are the ones to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs [those who trust and receive without question].” 15 And he laid his hands on them. Afterwards, he left that place.

Obstacle of riches

16 At that point, a man came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good work can I do that I may possess eternal life?” [The young man was focused on owning things and doing things to get credit for being good.] 17 And Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good? There is no one ‘good’ except God. [If he had realized Jesus was God he could have submitted himself to Jesus. The young man needed to get the focus off himself and onto God.] But if you want to enter life, keep the commandments [just as Moses said in Deuteronomy 30:15-16].” 18 And the man said, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder’, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, ‘You shall not steal’, ‘You shall not lie’, 19 ‘Honor your father and your mother, and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.” [The last of the commandments Jesus mentions is the only one not among the ten commandments, though it summarizes half of them. It is from Leviticus 19:18, and Jesus mentioned it frequently as the second great commandment.] 

Obstacle of riches

20 The young men said back to him, “I have kept them all! [What then am I lacking?] 21 Jesus responded to him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor. You shall have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.” 22 But when the young man heard what he said, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I will tell you the truth. It is rare that a rich man can get into the kingdom of heaven [for how can he surrender himself to God’s rule?]. 24 Again, let me put it this way, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. [It’s impossible if a man holds on to all of his rights, abilities, and possessions.] 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly amazed, and said, “Who then can be saved? [Everyone holds on to some possessions. And no one can fit through the eye of a needle!]26 But Jesus stared at them and said, “It’s impossible for men, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Then Peter answered, “Look, we have given up everything and followed you. What will we gain for it?” 28 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, that you who have followed me, in the renewal to come, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of his glory, you will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. [You have an amazing destiny because you were willing to sacrifice everything to follow me!]

29 “And everyone who has given up houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father or mother, or children, or lands, for the sake of my name [representing me], will receive a hundred times as many [places to call home and people to call family as they carry the good news] and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who [now] are first will be last, and the last first. [Many whom people consider important now, in God’s kingdom their status will be reversed, and likewise people who were regarded as no one will be highly honored.]

Discussion questions

1. Why do you believe Jesus had such a strong view of marriage?

Matthew Chapter 19 discussion questions

2. Do you think Jesus was requiring everyone to sell all they had and give to the poor? Why this man in particular?

3. How would Peter and the disciples gain houses and family by living a kingdom kind of life?

Matthew Chapter 20

Matthew Chapter 20

Wages of salvation

[Jesus continued], [Let me illustrate that last point with this story.] The kingdom of heaven is like the master of an estate who went out [to the marketplace] early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 When he had agreed with his workers for a denarius a day [a standard day’s wages], the master sent the workers into his vineyard [to work]. 3 The master came out again the third hour [mid-morning], and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. 4 He told them, ‘[I’ve already got some workers in my vineyard.] Go ahead and join them, and I will pay you fairly.' [Most workers would think he meant they would be paid proportionate to the hours they worked.] 5 So they went.

Wages of salvation

“And again, the master went out the sixth [midday] and ninth hours [midafternoon] and did likewise [hired more workers for what he told them would be fair pay]. 6 And about the eleventh hour [near the end of the work day], he went out and found others unemployed, and said to them, ‘Why are you staying idle the whole day?’ 7 They responded, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “Go also [like the others I have hired and work] in the vineyard.”

“And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers up and pay them their wages beginning with those who came last until you get to those who came first.’ 9 And when those who were hired at the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius [a full day’s wage]. 10 But when it was time for those who came first [and had worked all day], they supposed they should receive more [than those who had been paid earlier and worked fewer hours] yet they likewise received a denarius.

11 “When they received it, they grumbled against the master of the estate, 12 saying, ‘Those you hired last worked only an hour, but you have made them equal to us who had to bear the burden of the entire day and the heat. [That’s not fair.]13 But the master answered one of them, ‘My friend, I have not mistreated you. Didn’t you agree with me to work for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go. It’s my desire to give the last workers the same amount of wages. 15 Aren’t I allowed to do what I want with my own [money]? You should not be envious because I am generous.” [Jesus concluded the story by saying,] 16“So the last will be first [to be paid] and the first last. Many are called [to work for me in my vineyard], but few are chosen [because so few respond to the invitation].”

[This story reveals several kingdom concepts, including, 1) Any time not working for God’s kingdom is idle time. 2) When we decide to follow him is when we are “employed” by him. 3) God does not hold it against us that we did not make it into the kingdom until near the end of our lives. 4) All who follow him and work for him get the same wages of eternal life. 5) Often those who come later to the Lord are so grateful and full of grace that they outwork those who came to their salvation much earlier. 6) Those who have worked longest and are paid last should celebrate the mercy and generosity of the Lord and be glad for those who are last being first rather than jealous. 7) Jesus makes it clear elsewhere that the wages of salvation are eternal life, and that’s the wage that every believer receives no matter when in their life they first believe. However, in our heavenly life we will receive rewards proportionate to our behavior during this life for or against the Lord. 8) The non-Jews and the sinners were getting into the kingdom before the Jews who had first choice. 9) Everyone is given the opportunity to follow and serve the Lord but few respond and are therefore chosen.]

[Jesus was traveling from the area of the Jordan River towards Jerusalem. The road travels through Jericho and the wilderness around it and then steadily climbs up to Jerusalem, about 1700 feet higher.] 17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, on the way he took the twelve disciples aside [from the crowd that were taking the road], and said to them, 18 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be delivered up to the chief priest and the interpreters of the Law, and they will condemn him to death. 19 And they will turn him over to the non-Jews to mock, whip, and kill him by hanging him on a cross, and on the third day he will rise again.”

Greatness through service

[Since Jesus is talking about the end of his ministry, the disciples are imagining that somehow this will lead to his coming to the time of his kingdom.] 20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, prostrating herself before him, and desiring something from him. [In Mark 10:35-37, the sons ask this question of Jesus directly without the involvement of their mother. Perhaps both Mark and Matthew seek to save her from embarrassment, Mark by excluding her from the story and Matthew by leaving out her name. Her name may be Salome, based on Matthew and Mark’s accounts of the women who were at the cross. It is also not clear why she is not named or referred to as the wife of Zebedee. Perhaps Zebedee has died by this time.]

Greatness through service

21 And he said to her, “What do you desire?” She said to him, “Grant that one of my two sons may sit on your right hand and one on the left as you come to rule in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking.” [Turning to the sons, he asked,] “Are you able to drink from the same cup [of suffering] that I shall drink from?” They said to him, “We are able to!” 23 He replied to them, “You will in fact drink from that cup. [You will suffer like me when it’s your turn.] But to sit on my right and my left is not mine to give, but it will be provided by my Father to those for whom he has prepared it.”

24 And when the ten [other disciples] heard it, they were upset at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them all to him and said, “You know that the rulers among the non-Jews oppress their people, and those with power make it felt by others, 26 but that’s not how it will be among you. Whoever wants to be great among you, let him be the servant of you all. 27 And whoever wants to rank first, let him be your slave, 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life in exchange for many.”

Persistence to get what you need from God

29 And as Jesus and his disciples proceeded from Jericho [towards Jerusalem], a great crowd followed them. 30 And there were two blind men sitting by the side of the road, who when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 31 But the crowd told them to shut up and hold their peace, but they cried out even more, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 32 And Jesus stopped and called to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, open our eyes!” 34 So Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes, and they received their sight and followed him. [Until they were healed, they could not follow him.]

Persistence to get what you need from God

Discussion questions

1. What is the wage in real life that each person gets for deciding to follow Jesus? Does it make any difference when in their life they make their decision?

Matthew Chapter 20 discussion questions

2. Should we ever be motivated by ambition for ourselves? Jesus tells us to become great at loving and serving others. Is it OK to be ambitious in our love?

3. When it comes to getting our prayers answered, is there ever a time when we should stop being polite and start being desperate, not caring what anyone else thinks? Can you give some examples from scripture or your own life?

Matthew Chapter 21

Matthew Chapter 21

Triumphal entry into Jerusalem

As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they arrived at [the village of] Bethphage on the Mount of Olives [the hill which overlooks Jerusalem]. Jesus sent out two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village across from us [probably Bethany] and you will immediately find a female donkey tied up and its young colt as well. Untie the donkey and bring the two animals to me. If anyone questions you, say to them, ‘The Lord needs them’. Then they will send the animals [with you] right away.”

Triumphal entry into Jerusalem

All this was done to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king is coming to you, humble and sitting on a donkey, and a colt, the child of a donkey.’” [The introduction of the quote comes from Isaiah 62:11, but the primary quote is from Zechariah 9:9.] The disciples did as Jesus directed them, and brought the donkey and its colt, and put on the donkey and colt their [extra] clothes and set him [riding] on them.

[Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy of the Anointed One coming to his people. It is possible Jesus had arranged to have the animals ready for him in advance. Just as likely, the owner of the animals was expectant for the Anointed One to come and was willing to supply the donkey and colt - the Father simply made Jesus aware of this fact. Mark 11:1-2 and Luke 19:29-30 mention only the colt and not its mother. Mark and Luke saw Zechariah as describing only a single animal and Matthew saw two. An unridden colt would be made steady by having its mother next to it. Jesus likely rode only the colt and so Mark and Luke saw the colt’s mother as irrelevant to the story. Each author saw the same prophetic significance but translated the prophecy differently.]

And a very great crowd spread their garments on the road [in front of him]. Others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds in front and behind him cried out, “Highest praise to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Highest praise!” [‘Hosanna’ meant ‘He saves’ but had come to mean ‘highest praise’. ‘Blessed is he…’ is from Psalms 118:26.] 10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred, saying, “Who is this? [What great man has come?]11 And the crowd responded, “This is the prophet, Jesus of Nazareth!”

Jesus cleanses the Temple

12 [As soon as Jesus came into Jerusalem,] he went into the Temple and threw out all those who sold and bought in the Temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 And he said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’ [Isaiah 56:7], but you have made it into a den of thieves [Jeremiah 7:11].” [Coming in as a recognized prophet, Jesus used his authority both to set things right in the Temple, but also to threaten the religious leaders enough so that they would condemn him to death, which was necessary to complete God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.]

Jesus cleanss the Temple

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. [This is the only place where it is recorded Jesus healed people in the Temple, right in front of the religious leaders. They could not claim that they never saw him perform miracles, and yet they still refused to believe.] 15 When the chief priests and the teachers of the Law saw the wonderful things he did and [heard] the children crying out in the Temple, “High praise to the Son of David”, they [the Jewish leaders] were very angry. 16 They said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying? [That title is reserved for the Anointed One when he comes!]” And Jesus replied, “Yes, have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babies and infants, you have perfectly made praise’ [Psalms 8:2].” 17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there [probably at Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s house].

Jesus curses the fig tree

18 The next morning, as he returned to the city [of Jerusalem], he was hungry. 19 He saw a fig tree along the road, and he came up to it but found nothing [he could eat] on it, but leaves only. [Fig trees have multiple seasons of productivity during the year. Generally, whenever there are leaves, there are also edible buds. Then later, the figs themselves come. Jesus had reason to expect something edible when he saw green leaves. The fig tree was also a symbol representing Israel. God had a right to expect this nation upon whom he had lavished such love to bear fruit. But it was not bearing fruit, and its leadership did not accept Jesus. As a result, God would judge Israel in the same way Jesus cursed the fig tree, and that judgment would be fulfilled in AD 70 when Rome overran the nation.]

Jesus curses the fig tree

And Jesus said to the fig tree, “May you never bear fruit again!” And the fig tree dried up quickly. [In the parallel story in Mark 11:12-14,19-20, the withering takes place over the course of a day, still miraculous.] 20 And when the disciples saw it, they were astonished, saying, “How quickly the fig tree has dried up!” 21 Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth. If you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you be able to do this to a fig tree, but if you say to this mountain, ‘Be carried away and thrown into the sea!’, it will be done. 22 And whatever you ask for in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Hypocrisy and coming judgment of religious leaders

23 And after Jesus arrived at the Temple, while he taught, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, “What gives you the right to do these things [teaching in the Temple, healing the sick, and throwing out the sellers]. And who gave you the authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you a question, which if you will answer, I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, where did it originate, from heaven or from men?” They discussed this with each other, saying, “If we say, ‘from heaven’, he [Jesus] will say to us, ‘Why then didn’t you believe him.’ 26 But if we say, ‘from men’, we are afraid of the people, because all of them held that John was a prophet [and they might revolt against our authority].” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We can’t tell.” And he said, “Neither will I tell you then by what authority I do these things.”

Hyprocrisy and coming judgment of religious leaders

[What Jesus had asked them forced the religious leaders to reveal they weren’t sincerely looking for the answer. They saw Jesus as a rival for authority over the people. Jesus on the other hand made it very clear without saying it that if these leaders cared about spiritual authority, they would have already reformed when they recognized the authority of John the Baptist. And if they truly recognized John’s authority, they would be ready to accept Jesus’ authority as the Anointed One.]

28 [Jesus continued,] “But [let me tell you this story that relates to our current encounter and] tell me what you think. There was a man who had two sons. And he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go to work today in my vineyard.’ 29 The son answered, ‘I don’t want to’, but afterward he changed his mind, and went. 30 The man came to his second son and told him the same as the first. The second answered him, ‘Yes, sir’, but didn’t go. 31 Which of the two did the will of their father?”

The religious leaders answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “This is the truth. The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John [the Baptist] came to you in the pathway of righteousness, yet you didn’t believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw that, you didn’t change your mind and put your trust in him. [Just like the second son in the story, you talk like obedient sons, but have no intention of following God’s will.]

33 “Listen to another story. There was a man who owned some land.  He planted a vineyard and put a hedge all around it, and dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower, and then let it out to tenants [who would work the vineyard for a share of the profits]. Then the landowner left for a distant country. 34 And when the time of the grape gathering drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his share of the harvest. 35 And his tenants took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and threw stones at another.

36 “The landowner then sent even more servants and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 But last of all the landowner sent them his son, saying, ‘They will at least treat him with respect.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and then we’ll have his inheritance. 39 So they caught hold of him, forced him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 When the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to the tenants?”

[The story is a good description of the religious leaders. God gave the religious leaders the responsibility for leading the vineyard called Israel. But God expected his own people to become fruitful. So, he sent his servants the prophets, who came to evaluate the fruitfulness of the vineyard. When the prophets called the leaders and the people to account, the leaders rejected or killed them. Now God was sending his son, but he too was being rejected, with the leaders hoping to consolidate their leadership position. Jesus is making it clear that the leaders do not expect God to bring judgment.]

41 [The religious leaders were really caught up in the story, not yet realizing it applied to them, and] they said, “What terribly wicked men! The landowner will destroy them and rent out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his fruit at the right season.”

42 And Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected is the same stone which is now the capstone [the final stone that finishes the structure]. The Lord has accomplished this, and it is wonderful in our eyes’ [Psalms 118:22-23]. 43 Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people [my followers] who will produce the fruits of it. 44 And whoever stumbles on the stone will be shattered, but on whomever the stone falls, it will grind him to powder.”

[“Stumbling on the stone” refers to Isaiah 8:14 and the lesson is, if you reject the stone that God has provided (Jesus), you can’t get past that stone, and you will fall and be broken. The stone falling on you refers to Daniel 2:44 and describes a stone that wipes out empires. If you reject Jesus initially, you will stumble over him and perhaps still choose to follow him. But if the leaders of a nation reject him, that nation is destined to be completely crushed, which is indeed what happened to Israel in 70 AD.]

45 And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ stories, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They were looking for an opportunity to take him into custody, but they were afraid of the people, who saw him as a prophet.

Discussion questions

1. Jesus fulfilled prophecy both by his triumphal entry into the city and by his cleansing of the Temple. What do you believe is the importance of his fulfilling all these prophecies?

Matthew Chapter 21 discussion questions

2. Does it make sense that Jesus in fact was performing a prophetic action when he cursed the fig tree that related to the Jewish nation’s lack of fruitfulness?

3. What do you think was Jesus’ purpose in telling the stories he did to the religious leaders?

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