Faith You Can See

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Matthew 14:22-36 ESV

The apostle John provides us with an important detail to this story that Matthew chose to leave out. It seems that Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the crowd had left quite an impression on them.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:14-15 ESV

Having had their physical needs met in such a spectacular way, the people were ready to crown Jesus as their king. Perhaps they envisioned a welfare state where their newly crowned monarch would use His miraculous powers to eliminate all hunger and disease. One can only imagine what went through their minds as they considered the endless possibilities of the social services they would have access to if Jesus was their king.

These people had a completely different kind of king and kingdom in mind than that of which Jesus had been speaking. Their focus was fixed on an earthly kingdom where their physical needs would be met, and all their problems would be taken care of by “the Prophet” turned king.

The prophet to whom they referred was the one Moses had predicted would come.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…” – Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” – Deuteronomy 18:18 ESV

Moses had been the prophet who had led the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt, using miraculous powers to defeat Pharaoh and his armies. He had fed the people with manna from heaven and an endless supply of quail. He had provided water from a rock. Under his leadership, the clothes and sandals of the Israelites had never worn out. And when the crowd had watched as Jesus had fed more than 10,000 of them with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fishes, they couldn’t help but make the connection.

But Matthew records that Jesus “immediately” sent His disciples away and dismissed the crowds. He wasn’t interested in becoming their king – at least not the kind they had in mind. He had far greater aspirations that were based on the will of His heavenly Father. So, having dispersed the crowd and sending the disciples away by boat, Jesus spent time alone in prayer with His Father.

We are not told the content of Jesus’ prayer, but the High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17 provides us with some idea of how Jesus communicated with His Father. It was personal and intimate, yet it also communicated His concern for His disciples. Jesus focused on finishing the task assigned to Him by the Father. But He also prayed for those who would carry on the ministry after His work was done.

While Jesus had been talking with His Father, the disciples found themselves caught in the middle of yet another storm on the Sea of Galilee. This had happened before, and Matthew recorded back in chapter 8. This storm appears to have been just as severe as the previous one. The disciples, many of whom were seasoned fishermen, were unable to keep the winds from driving them far out to sea. Sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., in the darkness and as the wind and waves raged, Jesus appeared to them, walking on the water.

We know from Matthew’s account of the previous storm, Jesus had merely spoken, and the waves and wind subsided. But in this case, Jesus chose to do something even more spectacular. Rather than proving His power over the elements by controlling them, He simply showed their lack of influence over Him. The waves, the wind, and the water had no effect on Him. In the midst of a raging storm, Jesus simply walked, calmly and casually, totally free from fear and displaying a kind of faith that His disciples did not yet possess.

In fact, upon seeing Jesus walking on the water, their immediate response was fear, not faith. In their terrified state, they could only shout, “It is a ghost!” But Jesus called out to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” In essence, Jesus told them to stop fearing. He commanded them to replace their fear with faith – in Him.

These very same men had been eye-witnesses to Jesus’ previous miracle, where He had calmed the sea and silenced the storm. But that event had become a distant memory. The disciples found themselves surrounded by new circumstances featuring a new and ominous twist.  The fact that Jesus was not in the boat with them this time did not escape them. So, when they saw what looked like a ghost walking to them on the water, they were petrified beyond belief. It was all supernatural but not necessarily spiritual.

But Peter, hearing the voice of Jesus, cried out, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28 ESV). Evidently, Peter wasn’t completely convinced that it was Jesus. But that doesn’t explain why Peter made this strange request. Why did he ask Jesus to command that he come to Him on the water? What was going through his mind? Keep in mind, the wind was still blowing, and the waves were still rocking the boat, but Peter was asking Jesus to command that he step out of the boat and walk on the water. And Jesus obligingly said, “Come.”

Amazingly, Peter obeyed and made it all the way to where Jesus was waiting. But then, something happened. Matthew records, “he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me’” (Matthew 14:30 ESV). He took his eyes off of Jesus and began to focus on the circumstances around him. Remember, Jesus had not calmed the storm. He had walked to them in the midst of it. And when Peter attempted to do the same thing, he found that his faith diminished when he focused on the problem rather than the solution.

But Jesus was there, and He reached out His hand and rescued Peter from his own faltering faith, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31 ESV). Peter had displayed enough faith to step out of the boat and walk all the way to Jesus. But he had taken his eyes off the prize. It would seem that Peter had been more interested in walking on water than walking to Jesus. Perhaps he was enamored with the idea of replicating Jesus’ miraculous feat and, seeing that he was actually pulling it off, he had probably taken a look around him, amazed at what he was doing. He became cocky and over-confident. Matthew reports that Peter, upon seeing the wind, became fearful. His faith turned to fear. And it’s interesting to note that wind is invisible. You can’t see it. And the author of Hebrews reminds us that faith is invisible too.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV

You can’t see faith, but you can see its fruit. The wind, while invisible to the human eye, is powerful enough to turn calm water into powerful waves and turn a boat full of seasoned fishermen into helpless, hopeless victims of a storm. The invisible faith that drove Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water was more than enough to get him to Jesus. But his mistake was allowing his conviction that Jesus was enough to be replaced by the fear that the wind was too much. And he sank like a rock.

But Jesus rescued him. He was right there and, when Peter cried out, Jesus responded. And as soon as Jesus and Peter stepped into the boat, the wind and the waves ceased. The storm was calmed. The fear of the disciples subsided and was replaced with worship. What they had just witnessed convinced them that Jesus was the Son of God.

In the midst of the growing storm of opposition that swirled around Jesus and His ministry, He walked on in faith. He weathered the wind and waves of apathy and anger that battered Him on a daily basis. He kept His eyes on the will of His Father and the task He had been assigned to accomplish. The storms of controversy were going to rage. The tsunami of public opinion would blow this way and that, but Jesus would remain committed to His mission – walking in faith in the face of the storm.

And when the boat arrived at the other side of the lake, He went about His Father’s business.

And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Matthew 14:35-36 ESV

Why did Peter doubt? For the same reason we all do. He focused on the wind, the invisible source of the storm when he should have kept his eyes on Jesus, the visible source of His faith.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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True Food That Never Fails

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. – Matthew 14:13-21 ESV

When Jesus received the news that John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod, Matthew says that “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13 ESV).  While Jesus was fully aware that John had completed His God-given assignment, his death must have hit Jesus hard. And it would have been a reminder to Jesus that His day of suffering was comingas well. He too, would end up on the wrong side of the Roman government, facing His own inquisition before Herod. And the outcome of His encounter with this Roman-appointed ruler over Israel would just as deadly.

Yet, even in the face of mounting opposition, repeated rejection by His own people, and the inevitability of His own death, Jesus did not lose heart or abandon His mission. He remained faithful to the task given to Him by His heavenly Father. And He continued to restore the sick and teach all those who would listen, displaying compassion for the masses who flocked to Him for healing and hope.

In Mark’s account of this same story, he records Jesus describing the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV). They were lost, confused, and hungry for the truth. And Luke records that Jesus “spoke to them of the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:11 ESV). Whether they realized it or not, here was the Great Shepherd of Israel, standing right in front of them. They were in the presence of the Messiah, the one for whom they had long waited and hoped for. But they would fail to recognize Him and so, they would refuse to accept His offer of the kingdom. Jesus had told the disciples that the stubborn refusal of the people was in direct fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy found in Isaiah 6:9-10.

When you hear what I say,
    you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
    you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
    and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
    so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and let me heal them.  – Matthew 13:14-15 NLT

But Jesus continued to perform miracles and proclaim the message of the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because He was attempting to prepare His disciples for what would come after His death and resurrection. In fact, the events in this passage, recorded by all four of the Gospel authors, took place for the benefit of those whom Jesus had called.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. – John 6:5-6 ESV

This whole scene was intended as an object lesson for the disciples. Jesus would use it to test their faith and to expose their inadequacy. The disciples saw the crowd as an obstacle to be avoided, while Jesus viewed the situation as an opportunity to teach a valuable lesson about God’s provision.

Weary from a day full of ministering to the needs of the people, the disciples begged Jesus to send the crowds to one of the nearby towns to find food.

“This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” – Matthew 14:15 NLT

But Jesus revealed that he had something else in mind, demanding that the disciples feed the people. This command was met with incredulity by the disciples. Philip responded, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” (John 6:7 NLT). Andrew, assessing the situation and the available resources on hand, told Jesus, “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” (John 6:8 NLT).

From the perspective of the disciples, the crowd was too large and the resources were too small. There was no way they could fulfill the demand Jesus had made of them. It was impossible.

These men, who had seen Jesus restore sight to the blind, cast out demons, and even raise the dead back to life, were unable to envision a solution to the problem facing them. In their humanity, they were left looking for earthly solutions and found themselves to be lacking the resources necessary to meet the need. Andrew’s discovery of the young boy’s meager meal of five loaves and two fish was totally inadequate, or so he thought. There were more than 5,000 men present in the crowd, and that doesn’t take into account the women and children who were there.

But Jesus was nonplused by the size of the crowd, the lack of financial resources, or the inadequacy of the food on hand. He simply instructed the people to sit down and then took the five loaves and two fishes, blessed them, then had the disciples distribute them among the people.

Don’t fail to notice that it was the disciples who were tasked with the distribution of the loaves and fishes. They took what Jesus gave them and shared it with the people. And Matthew records, “they all ate and were satisfied” (Matthew 14:20 ESV). The needs of the people were met – in full. No one went hungry. No one did without. Not only that, when the disciples picked up what remained uneaten, there were exactly 12 baskets full of leftovers. Each disciple held in his hands a tangible proof of God’s power and provision. While they had doubted, Jesus had trusted, turning to His heavenly Father to provide – not only food for the people, but faith for the disciples.

Jesus was preparing these men for their future ministry, the one that would begin after His death, resurrection, and ascension. In fact, John records that on one occasion, when Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected body, He ate breakfast with them by the Sea of Galilee. And the meal Jesus prepared for them was a familiar one.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. – John 21:9 ESV

The disciples had been fishing all night, but had caught nothing. But Jesus, appearing to them on the seashore, had instructed them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Failing to recognize that the individual speaking to them was Jesus, the disciples did what they were told and John records, “So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish” (John 21:6 ESV).

This time, Jesus served the disciples.

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. – John 21:13 ESV

After eating, Jesus asked Peter a series of three questions, each time repeating, “Do you love me?” And the third time Peter responded,“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And Jesus simply stated, “Feed my sheep.”

After His death and resurrection, when Jesus returned to heaven, the food the disciples would end up distributing to the sheep would be spiritual in nature. They would take what Jesus had given them, eternal life, and share it with all those who would believe. They were to feed the sheep who lacked a shepherd. They were to take the bread of life, broken for them, and distribute it among the spiritually hungry, making available to the people the gracious provision God had made available through His power.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.” – John 6:47-51 NLT

The miracle the disciples witnessed that day by the Sea of Galilee was a foreshadowing of what was to come. After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the people had walked away with full stomachs. But the day was coming when the disciples would preach about the bread of life, and all those who believed and received their message would experience permanent relief from their spiritual hunger and thirst. As Jesus told the woman at the well, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Gathering Gloom

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. – Matthew 14:1-12 ESV

Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great and the successor to his throne as tetrarch of Judea. The period of his rule spanned from 4 B.C. until 39 A.D. and included the entire lifetime of Jesus. Jesus and Herod would not meet until the last week of Jesus’ life when He appeared before Herod in one of His so-called trials. But their paths crossed on numerous occasions. Herod had evidently heard about Jesus, and we know from Luke’s gospel that the wife of Herod’s household manager had become a follower of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3). It is likely that this woman had provided updates about Jesus to her husband and his co-workers.

Mark records in his gospel that Herod had heard the rumors that were spreading about Jesus among the people.

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” – Mark 6:14 ESV

And Luke tells us that Herod was at a loss as to how to explain the actions of this Jew from Nazareth. He even began to consider the truth behind the rumor that Jesus was actually John the Baptist come back to life.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead – Luke 9:7 ESV

This news, if true, would have greatly concerned Herod because he had been the one to have John beheaded. John had initially been imprisoned by Herod for confronting the tetrarch about his adulterous affair with his brother’s wife. And while had wanted to kill John for his pertinence, he had feared angering the people, who believed John to be a prophet. But as the story goes, Herod and his guests had been entertained at his birthday party by the daughter of Herodias, his brother’s former wife. When Herod had offered the young girl a reward for her dancing, she had asked for the head of John the Baptist. And Herod reluctantly delivered her request.

And it seems clear from Matthew’s account, that Herod was fearful that John had come back to life.

“This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” – Matthew 14:2 ESV

We can only imagine what was going through Herod’s mind. Perhaps he was afraid that the resurrected John the Baptist had come back to seek his revenge. If the stories were true and Jesus had supernatural powers, what would keep Him from using those powers to get even with Herod?

Herod had seen John as a threat to his rule and reign. John’s open disregard for Herod’s power and the unmitigated gall he displayed by confronting Herod’s morals, was unacceptable. And while Herod had regretted having to behead John, his reputation meant more to him than any potential outcry from the people. This story provides a foreshadowing of what was to come. Herod, as a puppet of the Roman government, represents the earthly political powers that stood against the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist had been the forerunner of Jesus, proclaiming the coming of that kingdom, and calling the people to repentance. In fact, he had told the religious leaders of Israel, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Their lives were to display outward proof of an inner change about the way they thought about everything – from God and righteousness to sin and salvation. And John’s accusation against Herod had been a similar call for a change in behavior.

But Herod, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, had rejected John’s call. He was not going to repent. He had no intention of giving up his illicit affair with his brother’s wife. And the animosity of the religious and political powers of Israel and Rome was going to increase over time. Their opposition to Jesus would intensify. And eventually, He would face the full wrath of the powers that be, just as John had. The King would suffer a fate similar to that of His forerunner.

As Matthew continues to present the growing opposition toward Jesus, he reveals the unlikely alliances being formed against Him. The Jews had no love affair for the Romans. The Pharisees despised them. And within the Jewish religious leadership, the Pharisees and Sadducees were sworn enemies. But over time, they would join forces in order to plot the destruction of Jesus. He had become their common enemy. And there was a Jewish political party that held close ties to Herod and the Roman government. In fact, they were known as the Herodians. While the Pharisees strongly supported Jewish independence, the Herodians encouraged cooperation with the Romans. They were willing to compromise for the sake of political expediency, and this infuriated the Pharisees. Yet, these two opposing forces joined together in their opposition to Jesus. Their mutual hatred for Him became greater than their perceived differences with Herod and Rome. Mark tells us:

The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. – Mark 3:6 ESV

Matthew records that, when Jesus heard the news of John’s death, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13 ESV). While likely not surprised by John’s gruesome execution, Jesus was deeply impacted by the news. This was the man of whom Jesus had said:

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” – Matthew 11:11-12 ESV

Jesus knew that John was the first of many who would die as a result of their faith. And Jesus was well aware that He would be the next to suffer and die at the hands of the religious and political powers. The day was coming when He would also appear before Herod. And in the room that day would be gathered all the powers of Rome and the religious leadership of Israel. Their common interest would be their hatred for and rejection of the Messiah, the Son of God.

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. – Luke 23:6-12 ESV

The Jews leveled false accusations against Jesus. The Romans treated Him with contempt, mocking His claim to be the king of the Jews by dressing Him in royal robes. All the forces of earthly power aligned themselves against Him. And, like John, Jesus would face the full brunt of their wrath and hatred for Him.

Jesus knew what was coming. He was fully cognizant that His own days were numbered, and it was just a matter of time before He faced a similar fate as that of John. But He was confident that it was all within the will of His heavenly Father. It was why He had come.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

And as the opposition to His ministry mounted, Jesus’ commitment to His mission would grow stronger. He would allow nothing and no one to keep Him from accomplishing what He had come to do. And as He would later tell Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Something New

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. – Matthew 13:53-58 ESV

When Jesus had finished sharing His parables concerning the kingdom, He asked His disciples if they understood their meaning, and they responded, “Yes” (Matthew 13:51 ESV). But did they really understand, or were they simply afraid to admit that they were still confused? Jesus seemed to know that their answer did not reflect the true state of their hearts and minds. He was well aware that all this talk of the kingdom had left His disciples with more questions than answers. They had taken it all in, but it would take time for them to digest all that they had heard.

Jesus responded to their affirmative answer with another parable-like statement:

“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” – Matthew 13:52 ESV

In ancient Israel, scribes were considered an expert in the Hebrew scriptures. Their job was to study the Law and write commentaries on it. They were also responsible for transcribing the Scriptures, taking meticulous care to see that there were no errors made in the copying process. Their intense preoccupation with the Scriptures gave them an unparalleled familiarity with its content. Of all people, they should have been the most aware of the countless passages concerning the kingdom of heaven. The Pentateuch, the writings of the prophets, the books of history and poetry – they all pointed toward the coming Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom.

And Jesus compares these learned men to the master or head of a house. This man has a treasury (thēsauros) filled with a variety of items he has deemed of great value. Some are old, and some are new. But they have all been placed in a storehouse for safekeeping. A scribe would have been familiar with all the books of the Old Testament and would have known that they were all written over a period of 1,400 years by some 40 different authors. But this collection of diverse writings would have all been considered sacred to a faithful scribe. And he would treat the more recent texts of Scripture with just as much honor as the earlier ones. They would all be God’s Word and worthy of consideration. The newer books were to shed light on the older ones. And together, taken in their entirety, the Scriptures would shed light on the coming kingdom. They would all point toward the Messiah.

From the book of beginnings, the book of Genesis, the scribe would have read the words of God spoken to Satan in response to his role in the fall of Adam and Eve:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 ESV

This was a prophecy concerning the coming Messiah. Satan would eventually be paid in full for his wickedness, suffering at the hands of an offspring of Eve – the future Messiah. And if you fast-forward to the last verse in the last book of the Old Testament, you find another prophecy concerning the coming kingdom and the work of the Messiah:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

Old and new treasure. It was all to be considered of equal value. And Jesus was sharing even more recent and revelatory information that the scribes should have considered in light of all that they already knew about the Messiah. They should have been able to put all the pieces together and see the bigger picture. But they didn’t. Instead, they rejected Jesus as the Messiah. They treated the new “treasure” provided to them through Jesus’ words and works, with contempt. Rather than accept the gift of God’s Son as the final piece to their collection of prophetic treasures, they rejected Him.

And Jesus wanted His disciples to take in all that they were hearing and seeing, considering it as new revelation, but fully in keeping with all that had come before. As God had said through the prophet, Isaiah:

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness.” – Isaiah 43:19 NLT

And as the apostle Paul would later write:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

Something new and significant was happening. And Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that what they were witnessing was unlike anything the scribes or other religious leader had ever anticipated or expected.

And it is no coincidence that Matthew chooses to include Jesus’ return to His hometown of Nazareth at this point in his narrative. After completing this series of parables, Jesus left Capernaum and made the 20-mile journey to Nazareth, the place where He had spent His childhood. Jesus would have been returning to familiar territory, where He should have met a receptive audience. But things did not turn out that way. In this little section, which ends chapter 13, Matthew provides an important transition that brings his description of Jesus’ rejection by His own to a close.

Upon His return to Nazareth, Jesus made His way to the synagogue. This was not the first time Jesus had visited the synagogue since leaving Nazareth. Luke records that Jesus went back to Nazareth not long after His temptation in the wilderness. On that occasion, Jesus had stood before the congregation and read from the book of Isaiah. After reading the text, a prophecy concerning the Messiah, Jesus had boldly stated, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

While Luke records that the people “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22 ESV), they had a difficult time reconciling who they knew Jesus to be with what they heard Him saying. They couldn’t help but ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” They remembered Jesus growing up in Nazareth, along with his brothers and sister. They viewed Jesus as just another one of the sons of Joseph. They had no concept of the virgin birth or of Jesus’ deity. He was just another son of Joseph the local carpenter.

So, Matthew records yet another occasion when Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. And we find his neighbors still trying to reconcile their perception of Jesus with all that they had heard He had done since leaving Nazareth. They respond:

“He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Matthew 13:55-57 NLT

They were having trouble reconciling the old with the new. The more recent version of Jesus didn’t gel with their preconceived notions of who He was. That was the core of their struggle. Rather than receive Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, they couldn’t help but view them as nothing more than just another Jewish boy from Nazareth. They were incapable of seeing the treasure in their midst.

Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus was a prophet without honor in His own hometown. This was in fulfillment of the words of John, recorded in his Gospel: “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had faced rejection elsewhere in Israel, particularly by the religious leadership. But if there should have been a place where Jesus found receptive ears and a willing acceptance of His message, it should have been Nazareth. But He found the residents of His hometown just as resistant to His claims as anyone else in Israel. As a result, Jesus “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58 ESV). They would have loved to have seen Jesus perform some of the miracles for which He had become famous. They weren’t opposed to Jesus healing the sick or casting out demons, but they were not willing to accept His claims to be the Messiah.

John records that even the half-brothers of Jesus struggled with doubt concerning His claims. They were more than happy for Jesus to become famous as a miracle worker, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He was their Messiah.

…and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. – John 7:3-5 NLT

Unbelief. That was the problem. The people of Israel refused to believe who Jesus claimed to be. They could not accept this new version of the Messiah because it did not reconcile with their old, well-established ideas. Jesus did not look like what they were expecting. The kingdom of heaven Jesus preached about wasn’t anything like the earthly kingdom their Messiah would bring. And so, they rejected Him.

Something new had happened, but they couldn’t see past their old perceptions. And, sadly, they missed out on a priceless treasure provided to them by God Almighty and at no cost.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

High Cost. Great Value.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” – Matthew 13:44-52 ESV

Jesus continues His use of parables to describe the true nature of the kingdom of heaven.  And while He had explained the parable of the sower, the soil, and the seed, these parables are presented without any further annotation or comment. Jesus has told His disciples that they were being given access to “secret” information regarding the kingdom of the Messiah that had been hidden from others. These men had been handpicked by God the Father and assigned the task of assisting Jesus in His earthly ministry.  Jesus made this point perfectly clear in His high priestly prayer recorded in John’s gospel.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. – John 17:6-8 ESV

This grouping of kingdom parables was intended to prepare the disciples for what was to come. Presented in rapid-fire succession, these three parables each provide a different perspective concerning the coming kingdom. Yet they are all intended to provide the disciples with insight into the kingdom’s value, and the cost associated with its discovery. At this point in their relationship with Jesus, these men had no idea what was coming their way. They were oblivious as to the true nature of the kingdom Jesus had come to establish, and they were blissfully unaware of the personal price they would each pay for being a part of it.

And yet, when Jesus asked them, “Have you understood all these things?”, they responded, “Yes” (Matthew 13:51 ESV). Let’s face it, these men were drinking from the proverbial fire hose. They were being inundated with so much new and contradictory information that their capacity to take it all in was stretched to the max.

If they got anything out of Jesus’ collection of kingdom parables, it was probably the idea of cost. Jesus stressed that point in two of the parables by portraying someone willing to sacrifice all that he had in order to purchase something of greater value.

…a man…goes and sells all that he has and buys that field… – vs. 44

…a merchant…sold all that he had and bought it – vs. 45

The kingdom was worth any cost to obtain. That is what Jesus is trying to explain to His disciples. Yes, they will gain greatly from their participation in the kingdom, but not without cost. While salvation is free, made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, it does require commitment.

In the first parable, Jesus described a man who found a valuable treasure in a field. But the field did not belong to him, so the treasure was not legally his to possess. So, greatly desiring to make the treasure his own, he sold all his earthly possessions and used the money to purchase the field. He had discovered something in that field that no one else knew existed. And he recognized that it was of far greater value and worth than anything else he possessed.

Jesus had already told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NLT). And Matthew will later record Jesus telling His disciples, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 ESV). The kingdom life is a rich and satisfying life, but it does require commitment and comes with high costs.

Jesus is trying to let His disciples know that the benefits of the kingdom of heaven are future-oriented. Unlike the kingdom the Jews were expecting, the full import of the Messiah’s kingdom will not be fully realized in this life. In fact, Jesus will later give the disciples some important details regarding life in His kingdom. Matthew records an encounter Jesus had with a young man who was very wealthy. This well-off and well-intentioned young man presented Jesus with a question: “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:17 NLT). He was looking for the one thing he didn’t have and couldn’t buy: Eternal life. But he believed he could somehow earn it. So, Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NLT). But upon hearing these words from Jesus, the young man walked away dejectedly, “for he had many possessions” (Matthew 19:22 NLT).

What Jesus said next is very important. He told the disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:23 NLT). This statement blew the disciples away because, like all Jews, they believed wealth was a sign of a man’s righteousness and God’s blessing. So, Peter interpreted Jesus’ words as meaning that self-sacrifice was the key to reward, which is what led him to respond: “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27 NLT). Then Jesus replied:

“I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” – Matthew 19:28-30 NLT

They would receive their reward in the future. The kingdom of heaven would not come to earth until the Son of Man was sitting on His glorious throne after His second coming. In the meantime, the sons of the kingdom would be required to sacrifice all in this life. Unlike the rich young man who refused to give up earthly treasures for a future heavenly reward, the disciples would find themselves sacrificing the temporal for the eternal.

Jesus’ second parable supports this point. A merchant in search of a pearl of great value finally finds what he has been looking for, and immediately sells all he has to possess it. He spares no expense to make this treasure his own. He considers his current possessions as expendable, and any price he must pay, justifiable. Again, Jesus seems to be emphasizing the future reward of the kingdom. In both parables, the men had to sell all they had before they were able to enjoy the treasure they sought. This would have taken time. It would have required a period of great sacrifice and incredible commitment as they slowly sold off all they owned. The enjoyment of the reward would have had a built-in delay. And in the meantime, they would have experienced the obvious ramifications that accompanied the selling off of all their earthly possessions. Until the first man had raised the full price for the land and the second man was able to afford the cost of the pearl, they would have done without. But they were willing. For them, future reward was worth the price of present sacrifice.

The third parable Jesus told, while slightly different in nature, continues to support His overall premise. In this story, Jesus used imagery familiar to His disciples. He described a fishing net being thrown into the sea. As any fisherman knew, this process would have taken time. The net would not immediately fill up with fish but would do so over an extended period of time. When the signs indicated that the net was full, the fishermen would have hauled it to the surface. At that point, there would be a process of sorting the catch, keeping some while throwing out others. And Jesus made His point perfectly clear, So it will be at the end of the age” (Matthew 13:49 ESV). At the present time, the net of the Gospel is in the “sea” of the world. One day, it will be slowly gathered in, but not all who find themselves within the net will end up as part of the kingdom of heaven. There is a future day coming when Jesus will differentiate between the good and the bad, the saved and the lost, the sons of the kingdom, and the sons of the evil one.

If you recall, Jesus has already taught His disciples that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Not all who appear to serve Him will be accepted by Him in His future kingdom (Matthew 7:21-23).

But for those who are willing to sacrifice now, their future reward will be great. Those who are sons and daughters of the kingdom will discover this life to be one of great cost. It will require endurance. It will demand commitment. But it will be well worth it. Remember the words of Jesus in His sermon on the mount.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” – Matthew 5:10-12 ESV

Those who are willing to sacrifice now, placing their hope and trust in the future reward promised to them in Christ will not be disappointed. One day, they will hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Kingdom Clarified

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables;
    I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” – Matthew 13:24-43 ESV

Continuing to speaking in parables, Jesus let the crowd know that He was expounding on the kingdom of heaven – God’s divinely ordained kingdom. But because He was using parables, they were unable to discern the meaning behind His words. To them, these stories came across more like riddles, leaving them wondering what it was Jesus was trying to say. Even His own disciples said to Him, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field” (Matthew 13:36 ESV).

Jesus had told His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:11 ESV). In other words, they were being given the unique privilege of hearing about previously hidden mysteries concerning the kingdom of God. The truths Jesus was about to share with them were not new. In fact, they had been in existence from before the foundation of the world. But they had been hidden from the eyes and understandings of men. 

While the Jewish people thought they were fully informed about the kingdom of God, they were actually operating on partial information and had reached some false conclusions. That was why they were having a difficult time accepting Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. He didn’t fit the bill. He had shown up in the form they had been expecting. Jesus did not look like a king. He had no army. There was no royal retinue or regal robes that would have marked Him as a king.

So, Jesus began to divulge some essential information regarding the kingdom that was going to conflict with all their preconceived assumptions. But He would do so through parables.  And much of what He had to say is, as He put it, was a mystery or secret, previously undisclosed and unknown. Jesus was having to deal with many centuries-worth of false conceptions among the people of Israel regarding the coming kingdom. Their longings for a Messiah were accompanied by dreams of liberation from Roman rule and restoration of their status as a world power. The kingdom they were hoping and longing for was an earthly one. The king for whom they were waiting was to be a warrior-king just like David had been.

But with these parables, Jesus provides an as-yet-undisclosed aspect of the kingdom that was in direct conflict with their expectations. Remember, the parable of the sower or the soils was about the receptivity of the people to the message about the coming kingdom. Many would hear the good news of the Messiah’s arrival but refuse to believe it. Others would get excited upon hearing the news, but then discover that His kingdom was associated with persecution, trials, and difficulties. Their expectations of the kingdom having been unmet, they would fall away.

Jesus has made it clear that there will be many who hear the message of the kingdom, but who refuse to accept it. And yet, in these parables, He discloses that the message will take root among “the sons of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38 ESV). And while the initial number of those who hear the message and believe it will be small, it will grow exponentially.

Like a tiny mustard seed that eventually grows into a massive tree, the kingdom of heaven will start small, but greatly expand over time. Its influence will be like that of leaven on a lump of dough which, in time, eventually permeates its way through the entire batch. In these parables, Jesus is revealing an aspect of His kingdom that is far-distant in its focus. He is speaking of the millennial kingdom which will come at the end of the period of the Great Tribulation. It will be at His second coming that Jesus establishes His kingdom on earth and its influence will be all-pervasive. He will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem and it will be a period marked by perfect righteousness and justice.

But until that day arrives, the Son of Man will continue to sow the good seed within the world. And, as Jesus explained, the good seed represents the sons of the kingdom, those whom He has redeemed as His own.

The period in which we live is called “the church age” – a time when Christ-followers find themselves co-mingled with unbelievers. The sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one are forced to co-exist until the harvest, which Jesus said will take place at the end of the age. Until that time, Jesus will continue to sow His seeds (His sons and daughters) in the world, and their influence will spread. But they will find themselves surrounded by the sons of Satan, those who have rejected the message of the Gospel or the kingdom of heaven. But rather than despair, the sons of the kingdom are to recognize that God’s redemptive plan is not yet done. He is going to send His Son a second time, when He will bring a permanent end to the forces of wickedness and the one who stands behind it all – Satan.

But in the meantime, we must realize that this phase of God’s plan will allow the kingdom to remain relatively hidden, but far from inactive. Like yeast, it will continue to spread. Like the tiny mustard seed, it will slowly transform into something unexpectedly large and significant. And while the weeds will continue to sprout up all around the sons of the kingdom, the day will come when God will call for the harvest. That event will include the separating of the wheat from the weeds. And while the weeds will undergo judgment, the sons of the kingdom “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43 ESV).

At present, the righteous and the unrighteous live side by side on this planet. And, at times, it appears as if the kingdom of heaven is being overrun by the weeds of the enemy. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that this was to be expected during this phase of His kingdom plan. The period in which they lived was to be for the purpose of sowing. They were to sow the seed of the Gospel and allow God to reap the harvest when the time was right. All they needed to know was that, in spite of the presence of the enemy, the kingdom would continue to grow and spread. The day will come when God sends His Son back to gather all those whom He has sown in the world. It will be at that point that the King sets up His kingdom on earth.

None of this was what the Jews expected. Even Jesus’ disciples would have found this news to be surprising and somewhat disappointing. Like every other Jew, they were expecting the Messiah to rule and reign from the start. They still had expectations that Jesus was going to set up His kingdom in their lifetime. That’s why James and John would later make the bold request of Jesus: “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Mark 10:37 NLT).

But Jesus had come to establish the kingdom of heaven, not earth. He had come to sow sons of the kingdom all throughout a world permeated by the presence of the enemy. And that hidden kingdom would be made up of men and women who would live as aliens and strangers on this earth. While their actual citizenship would be in heaven, their numbers would continue to grow and spread. Their presence would slowly permeate the fallen world, impacting the lives of others through their message and their ministry of reconciliation.

And while they wait for the return of their King, they are to place their hope and faith in His promises, living in the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit. As the apostle Paul reminds us: “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Sower, the Seed, and the Soil

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” – Matthew 13:18-23 ESV

Things are heating up. The confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel are becoming more frequent and intense. They have officially rejected Him as their Messiah and are looking for ways to destroy Him. For them, tolerance is no longer an option. And Jesus is aware that the majority of the Jewish people are going to reject Him as their Messiah, refusing to accept His role as the suffering servant. And their rejection of Jesus was going to open the door to the Gentiles. Little did they know that the Messiah’s kingdom would be all-inclusive, embracing people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. And in this section of his gospel account, Matthew records Jesus addressing His disciples about that kingdom through the means of parables.

These somewhat simplistic-sounding stories left the disciples confused and wondering why Jesus chose to speak in such a cryptic manner. While the imagery He used was familiar to them, the meaning behind His words was lost to them. So, they had asked Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10 ESV). And Jesus had responded, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11 ESV).

This answer must have left the disciples shaking their heads because, if there had been a secret made known, they had missed it. They were just as clueless as everyone else. And yet, Jesus was about to reveal to them what would remain hidden to the rest of the nation. Because of their faith in Him, Jesus was going to give them insights into His coming kingdom that were a mystery to the people of Israel. 

Jesus told these men that their unique relationship with Him would yield even more significant benefits as time passed.  

For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance…”  – Matthew 3:12 ESV

When these men had decided to follow Jesus, there was much they did not know. They were operating on scant details and stepping out in faith. But over time, Jesus had begun to reveal aspects about Himself that further clarified His role and solidified their faith in Him.  They had each left all to follow Him and, while they did not fully grasp the significance of who He was and what He had come to do, they eagerly listened to what He had to say. This is what led Jesus to say of them, “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16 ESV).

And it was their child-like faith in Him that prompted Jesus to explain the secret of the parable to them. The story was simple, relating the efforts of a single sower who sowed one kind of seed on four different types of soil. And, as the parable reveals, the outcome of the sower’s efforts was mixed. Some of the seeds were eaten by birds, never having time to germinate. Some seed fell on rocky ground and, lacking the necessary depth of soil, they sprang up but quickly withered. Other seeds fell among thorns and, while these seeds were able to germinate and grow, they could not survive the harsh environment. Finally, a portion of the seeds actually made it into good soil where they not only survived, but thrived, producing an abundance of grain.

But what’s the point? That’s what the disciples wanted to know. They could fully understand the various scenarios described by Jesus but had no idea what it had to do with the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” So, Jesus explained the meaning behind the story.

The seed represented the message regarding the kingdom. If you recall, both John the Baptist and Jesus had proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” They had been referring to the kingdom of the Messiah, the one of whom the Old Testament Scriptures prophesied, and God had promised to send. And Jesus was the fulfillment of those prophecies and the promise. He was the long-awaited Messiah. But He had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. At least, not yet. As Messiah, He had not come to save the Jews from the tyranny and taxation of the Romans, but from slavery to sin. His arrival was not to mark their release from Roman oppression, but from the condemnation of death they all faced as a result of their rebellion against God.

But that message, while widely disseminated, would not always find receptive “soil.” What’s interesting in the story is that the sower seemed to know that his seed was falling in places where it would prove unfruitful. He doesn’t seem to worry about the outcome as much as he did about getting the seed distributed. The apostle Paul understood the significance of this thought.

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 NLT

The sower simply sowed and left the results up to God. And the seed, or the message of the kingdom, made its way to the various soils, but with varying degrees of success. There was nothing wrong with the seed, but the receptivity of the four types of soil would play a significant part in the ultimate success of the sower’s efforts.

The seed that fell along the path was quickly devoured by birds. Jesus compares the birds with Satan, who snatches up the message of the kingdom before it can take root in the heart of those who hear it. The apostle Paul describes Satan’s efforts in stark terms:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

Jesus’ reference to “the path” seems to indicate an uncultivated, unprepared heart that is unfit to receive the Word. The path is worn down and compacted, providing an unwelcome environment for the Gospel. And the enemy uses “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV) to distract the hearer, while his “birds” carry away the message of hope contained in the Gospel.

The seed that fell on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and respond favorably to its content, but their enthusiasm is short-lived. As soon as they encounter the first sign of persecution because of the message, they bail. The Greek word translated as “falls away” can also mean “to stumbles.” These people find it difficult to maintain their walk with Christ because they find the trials and tribulations that come with the message too difficult to bear. Jesus is not describing true believers who lose their salvation, but those who find the Gospel message appealing, but who fail to commit to Christ because His call is accompanied by trials and difficulties.

The third scenario involved seed that fell among thorns. Once again, there appears to be a brief period of receptivity. The seed takes root, but there no fruit is produced because “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word” (Matthew 13:22 ESV). These people hear the Gospel, respond to it favorably, but because of their love affair with the world, they never experience the fruitfulness the message was intended to produce. Jesus promised to give abundant life (John 10:10), but these people never experience it in their lives because they allow worldly things to choke out the message before it’s had time to produce fruit.

Finally, there are some who hear the message and allow it to take root in the soil of their lives. They are receptive to it and fully embracing of it. They hear and believe. They listen and receive. And their lives produce fruit because they allow the message to take root. The degree of their fruitfulness varies, but that is the work of God.

The primary point of the parable has to do with receptivity to the message of the kingdom. That is why Jesus told His disciples, “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance” (Matthew 13:12 ESV). Those who receive the message of the kingdom and allow it to take root in their lives will see their lives produce abundant fruit. The seed or message will end up multiplying into far more than they could have ever imagined. Their willing receptivity to the message of Jesus Christ and His kingdom will result in abundant life and a growing understanding of all that He has come to offer.

The Pharisees and scribes had refused the message. The majority of the Jews who made up the crowds that flocked to hear Jesus speak and watch Him perform miracles would also refuse the message. But there were some who, like the good soil in the parable, would respond favorably, allowing the seed of the Gospel to take root in their lives. And they would experience the joy of watching God produce His fruit in their lives.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Mystery of the Kingdom

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” – Matthew 13:1-17 ESV

Jesus had begun His public ministry by declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). But as the opposition of the religious leaders intensified, He began to speak of the coming kingdom using more cryptic language. While His message remained unchanged, He did alter the means by which He communicated the nature of His coming kingdom. Specifically, He began to utilize parables on an increasing basis. This was not a teaching style unique to Jesus, and it would not be the first time He used parables to teach spiritual truths. But, as Matthew records in chapter 13, the parables of Jesus begin to focus in on new details concerning the coming kingdom.

As had been stated before, chapter 12 marks a watershed moment in the ministry of Jesus. Up until that point, Jesus had focused His ministry on the nation of Israel. When sending out His disciples on their first missionary journey, He had instructed them:

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ – Matthew 10:5-7 ESV

But the message of the kingdom would be rejected by the majority of the Jews who heard it. While the people who witnessed the miracles of Jesus were awed by what they had seen, they could not bring themselves to believe He was the Messiah. Jesus even condemned the predominantly Jewish cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, for their unrepentant hearts, as evidenced by their refusal to accept Him as their Messiah.

Jesus had to deal with centuries-worth of misperception and misinterpretation on the part of the Jewish people when it came to the coming Messiah. Their expectations of this long-awaited king of Israel were unfulfilled in Jesus. He was not what they had been looking or hoping for. He had no army. And while His miracles were impressive, He did nothing to indicate that He was going to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to power and prominence. Jesus didn’t even have the backing of the nation’s religious leadership. How could He be the Messiah? How would He ever be able to set up His kingdom without backing from the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, and other religious and political parties of Israel?

With all that said, the crowds following Jesus did not diminish in size. They continued to show up in great numbers, attracted by His miracles and intrigued by His message.

And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. – Matthew 13:2 ESV

But it had become clear that they were not going to accept Him as who He claimed to be. Belief in Him was the missing factor in the relationship the people of Israel had with Him. They were intrigued by Jesus but were not willing to place their faith in Him. But, in spite of Jesus’ reference to them as an evil generation, the crowds continued to show up.

So, that same day, with the crowds gathered on the seashore, Jesus entered a boat and began to teach them. And Matthew adds the important detail: “And he told them many things in parables.” Again, this is not the first time Jesus used parables to teach, but it does signal an overall shift in His strategy. A parable was a common teaching tool that utilized comparison in order to drive home an important lesson. A parable was a simple story that contained imagery familiar to the audience but was intended to teach a deeper spiritual truth.

In this case, Jesus used the imagery of sowing seeds, something His audience would have readily understood. But as this chapter unfolds, it will become apparent that the message behind His parable escaped those in His audience, including His disciples. His closest followers will end up asking Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables? (Matthew 13:10 ESV).

In a sense, they were asking Jesus why He didn’t just say what He wanted to say. They were curious as to why He chose to utilize parables as His primary means of communication. So, Jesus explained to them the purpose behind His chosen teaching style.

He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables…” – Matthew 13:11-13 NLT

Simply put, His parables contained the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was revealing truth that had previously been hidden. He was providing enlightenment about God’s Kingdom that the people of Israel had missed. In fact, He told His disciples that “many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17 ESV).

While the Old Testament Scriptures were full of promises concerning the Messiah, the people of Israel had failed to fully understand who He would be and what He would do when He came. Their understanding of the Messiah’s reign was that of an earthly kingdom, like that of David and Solomon. They had been looking for a king who would set up His kingdom in Jerusalem and revive Israel’s glorious past.

Jesus was letting His disciples know that the expectations of the people were not wrong, but only premature. A day was coming when He would establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem and rule from the throne of David, all in keeping with the promises of God made to David. But first, the people would reject Him as their Messiah. And it would be their rejection of Him that would lead to His crucifixion by them. Their refusal to accept their Messiah and King would result in the Gospel being taken to the Gentiles. And Jesus pointed out that their refusal of Him was in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

“This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,

‘When you hear what I say,
    you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
    you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
    and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
    so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and let me heal them.’” – Matthew 13:14-15 NLT

But Jesus will go on to explain the meaning of His parables to His disciples. Because of their belief in Him, He will reveal the truth contained in His messages.

“For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” – Matthew 13:12 ESV

These men had been called by Jesus and given a chance to sit under His teaching. Each of them had answered His call and left behind their former lives in a display of faith. They didn’t fully understand who He was and were still wrestling with their own expectations and the seeming incongruities of Jesus‘ actions. But they were willingly walking with Him, even in the face of growing opposition. And Jesus promised that, because of their faith, they would be given even more insight into the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The key was their faith. Yes, it was small at times. They regularly wrestled with unbelief and doubt. But they remained by His side, eagerly listening and learning, watching and waiting to see what their Messiah was going to do. And over time, Jesus would continue to provide them with enlightenment and insight into the true nature of His Kingdom. And Jesus will reveal to them the hidden message contained in the parable of the soils. He won’t leave them hanging or left wondering about its meaning. And, over time, they will grow to understand more fully who He is and what He has come to do.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Family of God

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:46-50 ESV

Like so many other statements made by Jesus, these words concerning His mother and brothers sound a bit surprising and confusing. They have a harsh and uncaring tone about them. But it is important that we keep His words within their context. He has been facing opposition from the Pharisees and other religious leaders. They have accused Him of performing miracles by the power of Satan. And Jesus has labeled them as part of an evil generation who, by rejecting Him as their Messiah, is denying the revealed will of God. These men put high stock in their heritage as Jews. They viewed themselves as God’s chosen people and, because of what they believed to be their strict adherence to the law, they believed they were highly favored by God.

But Jesus has made it clear that they will be held accountable for their rejection of Him. Their status as Jews was not going to keep them from experiencing the coming judgment of God. Unless they are willing to confess Him as Lord and Savior, their Hebrew heritage will be of no benefit to them. And their obsession with the law of Moses was not going to be enough to save them. The apostle Paul, while speaking to the Jews in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, told them regarding Jesus, “Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God–something the law of Moses could never do” (Acts 13:39 NLT). But the Pharisees and scribes refused to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

And Jesus had warned the Pharisees “on the day of judgment …by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37 ESV). The apostle Paul would later explain how anyone, including the Pharisees, could avoid condemnation.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9 ESV

But what does all this have to do with the mother and brothers of Jesus? Why did He seem to dismiss them as irrelevant? As Jesus was so often prone to do, He took advantage of the moment to make a point. He was not diminishing the importance of family or denigrating His mother, Mary. He was stressing the importance of the spiritual over the physical. Mary had given birth to Jesus, but that physical relationship would not be enough to provide her with forgiveness of her sins and salvation from death. She would be required to believe in Jesus as her Savior just like everyone else. In fact, that seems to be the whole point behind what Jesus said.

Jesus had come to do the will of His Father. And John records exactly what Jesus believed that will to include.

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day. – John 6:38-40 NLT

God’s will for Jesus included His eventual death on the cross and His resurrection. But it also required belief on the part of those whom He had given to His Son. They would see and believe. And Luke adds some extremely important words of clarification in his Gospel account.

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” – Luke 8:19-21 ESV

Earlier in his gospel, Matthew recorded another statement of Jesus regarding family.

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. – Matthew 10:37 ESV

Again, these words strike us as radical and unexpectedly harsh. But Jesus is attempting to drive home the cost of true discipleship. Belief in Him was going to require people to make difficult decisions. They would be forced to choose faith in Jesus over the familiar and comfortable surroundings of family. And, once again, it is essential that we view His words within their context.

“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.

‘I have come to set a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
   Your enemies will be right in your own household!’

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” – Matthew 10:34-39 NLT

Following Jesus was going to be costly. It would demand that His disciples leave behind all that had once provided their self-identity and sense of significance. Even Jesus knew what it was like to be rejected by His own family. John records an interesting and insightful exchange between Jesus and His brothers.

…and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. – John 7:3-5 NLT

They certainly didn’t seem to have a problem with Jesus becoming famous. After all, they had a celebrity for a brother. But they weren’t quite ready to accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. John makes it clear that they didn’t believe in Him. And, therefore, they were failing to do the will of God. At that point, the 12 disciples were actually much closer to Jesus than His own half-brothers. They had left all to follow Him. They had embraced His claim to be the Son of God and were slowly coming to grips with their mistaken expectations concerning His role as the Messiah. Things weren’t going quite as they had expected, but they had not abandoned Jesus. And while they were unaware of all that was going to happen in the days and months ahead, they continued to follow Him faithfully.

In John’s gospel, he records a fascinating exchange between Jesus and a group of Jews who had been part of a huge crowd He had miraculously fed with fives loaves of bread and two fish. The day after this incredible event, these people showed up looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:25-29 ESV

They wanted to know what they were going to have to do to earn eternal life. Like good Jews, their minds were stuck on performance. They were thinking in terms of works. What kind of good deeds would they have to perform in order to merit eternal life? But Jesus clarified His words by stating that the only acceptable “work” would be to believe in Him. That was God’s will. And anyone and everyone who placed their faith in Jesus would be saved and inherit eternal life – including not only those who shared Jesus’ Hebrew heritage but Gentiles as well.

Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,

“Those who were not my people,
    I will now call my people.
And I will love those
    whom I did not love before.”

And,

“Then, at the place where they were told,
    ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called
    ‘children of the living God.’” – Romans 9:25-26 NLT

 Jesus came to establish a new family – the family of God – made up of people from all walks of life and every nationality. Their belief in Jesus as their Savior would be their common bond. And just as Jesus would do the will of His Father, sacrificing His life on behalf of all those the Father had given Him, those who eventually placed their faith in Him would be fulfilling the will of God as well. They would be doing the one work required to inherit eternal life: Belief in Jesus as Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You Can’t Clean Up Your Act

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:43-45 ESV

With the content of three verses, Matthew seems to be inserting a topic that makes no sense within the context. This part of the conversation appears to come out of nowhere. But it actually provides a link back to the accusation leveled against Jesus by the Pharisees.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

Jesus is simply revisiting the topic that had begun this entire conversation with the Pharisees. He had cast out a demon from a blind and mute man, resulting in the man’s healing. But the Pharisees, unwilling to acknowledge the divine nature of the miracle they had witnessed with their own eyes, chose to attribute the source of Jesus’ healing power to none other than Satan. And Jesus had responded by telling them they had evil hearts, because “the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:35 ESV). Their words gave evidence of their unbelief and their unbelief would eventually result in their judgment.

Jesus then stated that the Pharisees will not be alone in the future judgment, but will find themselves part of “an evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39 ESV), who will all stand condemned before God.

In these verses, we have Jesus changing the focus of the topic from Himself to the demon He had just cast out. In a sense, the incredible nature of the miracle had been lost due to the Pharisees’ unexpected and undeserved accusation against Jesus. So, Jesus circled the conversation back to the fate of the demon He had cast out. Where had it gone? What had happened to the demon after it had been forced to leave the man’s body? There was much debate among the Jews as to the answers to these questions. But Jesus doesn’t seem to care about the fate of the demon. His real point is the fate of the one from whom the demon had been cast out.

When Jesus had healed the blind and mute man by exorcising the demon that had been the source of his ailments, there is no indication that the man believed in Jesus. Yes, the man was healthy and whole, having had his sight and ability to speak restored. But he remained unchanged in terms of his spiritual condition. He was no longer demon-possessed, but he was still unrepentant and unredeemed. He was physically whole, but not so spiritually.

And Jesus indicates that in his unbelieving state, the man would make a perfect destination for the recently dispossessed demon. Jesus referred to the demon as seeking “rest,” passing through “waterless places” until it finds it. It is difficult to build a theology of demon possession from these few verses. It may be that Jesus was using the common Hebrew perception regarding demons to make His point. The book of Tobit, part of the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical scriptures, believed to have been written in the 400-year period between the Old and New Testaments, mentions demons preferring desert conditions. So, perhaps Jesus is utilizing this Jewish perception to make His point.

The only reason a demon would leave a human host would be if it were forced to do so. Jesus had cast the demon out of the man, but that demon would not be content until it possessed another human being because that was its primary reason for existence. Once cast out, the dispossessed demon will seek rest, but not find it, because its main purpose is the torment of human beings. So, Jesus suggests that the demon, driven by its demonic responsibilities, will eventually seek to return to its original host.

And Jesus indicates that the formerly possessed individual will prove to be an easy target for the demon. Why? Because nothing had changed. Yes, the man had cleaned up his act. He appeared to have his life back together. And Jesus describes the demon finding his former “house empty, swept, and put in order” (Matthew 12:44 ESV). But the man was really no different than before. His spiritual condition remained the same. And Jesus replies that the demon will return, making himself at home and bringing seven, more wicked demons with him.

It is doubtful that Jesus is attempting to provide us with a doctrine on demons. He is simply making a statement regarding the man’s need for something or someone to occupy his life. In Jesus’ story, a man whose life is swept clean and in order and free from demon possession is not safe from the attacks of the enemy. In fact, he is an easy target and will find his last state worse than the first.

Not having a demon is not enough. Having your life swept clean and in order is no protection from the attacks of the enemy. The outward appearance of righteousness is not the same as a life made righteous by faith in Christ.

Jesus once again refers to the Jews of His generation as evil. He does so because they refuse to accept Him as their Messiah. And their rejection of Him will end up condemning them. He had come to expose the darkness in their lives, and yet, they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV).

Jesus had said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign,” and yet, Jesus was a visible sign of God’s promise of redemption. He was the Messiah, the visible image of the invisible God. But they would end up rejecting Him. They were evil and adulterous because they refused to believe in the promise of God. And Jesus’ use of that phrase would not have escaped the scribes and Pharisees.

With their superior knowledge of the Scriptures, they would have recognized that Jesus was using the very same words God had used of the Jews who refused to enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses.

“Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!” – Deuteronomy 1:35-36 ESV

Later on, in the very same book, Moses would speak of the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of the people of God.

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
    for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
    just and upright is he.
They have dealt corruptly with him;
    they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
    they are a crooked and twisted generation.
Do you thus repay the Lord,
    you foolish and senseless people?
   Is not he your father, who created you,
    who made you and established you?” – Deuteronomy 32:4-6 ESV

The Jews had a habit of treating God with contempt, refusing to honor Him as their God. Instead, they lived according to their own desires, treating His faithfulness with disdain. They had been chosen by God. They had been rescued from slavery by God. He had promised to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. But they had refused to trust Him. They had been unfaithful to Him. And Moses described them as a crooked and perverse generation.

Now, centuries later, the people of God remained unchanged. This generation of Jews was no different. The promise of God was being fulfilled in their midst, but they were going to reject it. The Messiah had come, just as God had said He would, but they would choose not to accept His offer of salvation. Jesus had come, offering to free them from their slavery to sin and their captivity by the enemy. He came to transform their lives from the inside-out. But they were going to have to place their faith in Him, believing that He was who He claimed to be. And not long after Jesus had died, been resurrected, and ascended into heaven, the apostle Peter would preach a powerful message of redemption to the Jews in Jerusalem gathered on the day of Pentecost.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Acts 2:37-41 ESV

Save yourselves from this crooked generation. Believe the promise of God. Accept God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. You can attempt to sweep the house clean and put your life in order, but only Christ can make all things new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson