A Possession and a Rejection.

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. – Matthew 8:14-27 ESV

Matthew has already mentioned Jesus’ power to cast out demons.

So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. – Matthew 4:24 ESV

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. – Matthew 8:16 ESV

But in this case, he provides us with a first-hand description of one such case. This one involved two men who were both possessed by demons. Jesus and His disciples encountered these two demoniacs in the country of the Gadarenes, which was located on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. This was a region populated primarily by Gentiles, which would explain the herd of swine mentioned in the story. Swine were considered unclean by the Jews and they were forbidden by the Mosaic law from not only eating them, but coming into contact with them.

In contrast to the accounts of Mark and Luke, Matthew mentions that there were two men who were demon possessed. In their Gospels, Mark and Luke describe there being only one man. But rather than writing this off as a contradiction or proof that the Bible is full of errors, it is more likely that Matthew and Mark concentrated their attention on the one man whose demon did all the talking. The important thing is that all three synoptic Gospels include the story, thus validating its authenticity.

The truly significant aspect of this story is that all three of the Gospel authors took seriously the spiritual warfare portrayed by this encounter between Jesus and the demonic spirits. Mark and Luke both describe the demon as falling down before Jesus in fear, displaying a recognition of Jesus’ divinity. And all three Gospel accounts carry the verbal reaction of the demon(s), as they lie prostrate before Jesus.

What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” – Matthew 8:29 ESV

Reflecting their awareness of Jesus’ divinity, the demons address Jesus with His messianic title, “Son of God.” They knew exactly who He was. Which provides an interesting contrast to the reaction of the disciples when Jesus had calmed the storm.

“What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:27 ESV

The demons had no doubt as to Jesus’ identity, but their use of His messianic title does not reflect any sense of worship or reverence for Him. They simply recognized that He was the Son of God and had the power to do with them as He wished. At this point in Jesus’ earthly ministry, these demons had a better awareness of Jesus’ true identity than the disciples did. And James makes it clear that demons have a belief in God, but that is not a mark of saving faith.

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. – James 2:19 NLT

Even as the disciples would eventually grow in their awareness of Jesus’ identity, their belief in His deity would not be enough to secure their salvation. It was going to be their faith in His death, burial and resurrection that marked them as true believers.

Later on in his Gospel, Matthew records a conversation between Jesus and His disciples in which He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 ESV). And Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). And Jesus replied in return, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17 ESV). Peter correctly described Jesus as the Son of God and was blessed by Jesus for his answer. But just a few verses later in the same chapter, Matthew reveals another exchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21 ESV). 

And Peter took exception to Jesus’ announcement, rebuking Him for even saying it.

“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” – Matthew 16:22 ESV

Peter had known Jesus’ true identity, but he was totally unaware of Jesus’ earthly mission. He was fully convinced of Jesus’ role as Messiah, but had no idea that death was part of the divine plan for salvation to be possible. Peter’s refusal to accept the reality and necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection caused Jesus to identify him with Satan himself.

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Matthew 16:23 ESV

Like the demons, Peter was willing to recognize Jesus’ deity, but was unable to accept the need for Jesus to die in order that men might have eternal life. The demons wanted salvation from the eternal torment they knew was inevitable. But they were not looking for salvation that resulted in eternal life. Their question, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?,” seems to indicate that they knew there was future judgment awaiting them. They were aware of their fate, but were afraid that their encounter with Jesus was going to bring about a premature end to their existence. The book of Revelation records the ultimate destination of Satan and his demons.

…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:2 ESV

Fearing that Jesus was going to relegate them to the lake of fire, the demons begged Jesus to cast them into a herd of swine. And with a word, Jesus did just that. The result was that the entire herd of swine “rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters” (Matthew 8:33 ESV). Matthew does not tell us what happened to the demons after the swine were killed. That doesn’t seem to be of relevant interest to him. He also doesn’t provide us with an explanation as to why Jesus cast the demons into the swine, thereby destroying someone’s form of livelihood. The real issue for Matthew was the power of Jesus over the spiritual realm. And it’s interesting to note that, upon seeing what Jesus had done to their swine, the herdsmen fled in terror, returning to town and telling their neighbors what had happened. And the townspeople, rather than worshiping Jesus, begged Him to leave their region. They saw Jesus as a threat, not a Savior. They were more interested in the loss of the swine than they were the miraculous deliverance of the two men. Salvation had come to the region of the Gadarenes in the form of the exorcism of the demons from these two men. But rather than worship Jesus as the Messiah, they begged Him to leave. Rather than rejoice over the deliverance of these two men, they mourned the loss of a herd of swine. And the very next chapter begins with the rather sad statement, “And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city” (Matthew 9:1 ESV).

Jesus left. He exhibited His power and proved His claim to be the Messiah. But He had been rejected. He delivered two demon-possessed men, but was forced to leave behind an entire community of people who, while not possessed, were just as equally under the control of the enemy. They remained enslaved to Satan and captive to sin and death. The Messiah had come and they had turned Him away. And that pattern would repeat itself over and over again in the weeks, months and years to come.

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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A Healing, a Calling, and a Calming.

14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:14-27 ESV

In these three short narratives, Matthew provides us with condensed glimpse into the life of Jesus. He uses these three scenes to reveal not only the kinds of circumstances Jesus regularly encountered, but to further support his claim that Jesus was the Messiah.

The first involved the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus found her bedridden, suffering from a fever. In the Hebrew mindset, a fever was seen as a disease, not simply a symptom of something more serious. We are not told what was causing this woman’s fever, but only that Jesus healed her with a touch of His hand. And Matthew indicates that her healing was immediate and complete. There was no lingering weakness or recovery time necessary. She was able to get up out of bed and serve Jesus and His disciples. It’s important to notice that there is no expression of faith mentioned in this story. Unlike the leper and the centurion, Peter’s mother-in-law said nothing and showed no sign of belief in Jesus. And there is no indication that Peter had asked Jesus to come to his home in order to heal his mother-in-law. Jesus saw the woman’s need and, in an act of mercy, healed her. As always, word of this miracle got out and that evening Jesus found Himself surrounded by more people desiring to be healed. Matthew tells us that Jesus cast out demons and healed all those who were sick, and all in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 53:4:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows

For Matthew, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and the subsequent miracles performed by Jesus that evening were all further proofs that Jesus was the Messiah.

Jesus performed His miracles without discrimination or prejudice. He healed an unclean leper, a pagan centurion, the Jewish mother-in-law of one of His followers, and a host of other unnamed individuals who suffered from all manner of diseases and disorders, including demon possession. Again, there is no indication that these people expressed faith in Jesus or declared their belief in Him as their Messiah. They simply came to Him in hopes of receiving healing, and Matthew records, “he healed all who were sick.”

Jesus did not turn away any of those who came to Him with their needs. And these acts of physical restoration provide a foretaste of the spiritual restoration that Jesus would make possible by His death.

…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

Jesus would be a equal opportunity Savior, offering His life as a ransom or payment for the sins of many. He would die on behalf of Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, and slaves and freemen. The people Jesus healed had done nothing to earn their restoration to health. And those whom Jesus saves find themselves the undeserving recipients of God’s grace as made possible through the selfless sacrifice of His Son.

As always, the healing ministry of Jesus attracted followers. News of His miracles spread quickly and the number of His followers increased exponentially. Which is exactly what Matthew records in the next vignette. As Jesus attempted to sail to the other side of the lake to escape the crush of the crowds, a scribe approached Jesus, boldly declaring, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go” (Matthew 8:19 ESV). This man was an expert in the Mosaic law and he is obviously intrigued by Jesus. So much so, that he indicated his desire to follow Jesus as one of His disciples. This was not an indication that the man believed Jesus to be the Messiah. He addressed Jesus as “teacher,” which was nothing more than a display of his respect. And Jesus seems to have seen through the man’s intentions, declaring, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20 ESV). This was less a statement of Jesus’ poverty than it was a declaration of His vagabond lifestyle. He rarely stayed in one place very long, but traveled all throughout the region of Judea, lacking any place that He could truly call home. The most important part of Jesus’ statement was His reference to Himself as the Son of Man. This term is used 80 times in the gospels and, in virtually every case, it is a clear reference to Jesus as Messiah. This scribe was not following Jesus because he believed Him to be the Messiah. He saw Jesus as a popular teacher who was attracting vast crowds of people, but nothing more. And Jesus knew the day would come when men like this would lose interest in His ministry and message.

Matthew follows this encounter with yet another one that involves a disciple stating his desire to follow Jesus, but asking for permission to bury his father first. This man was asking for a leave of absence in order to take care of a pressing family matter, but Jesus somewhat callously replied, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22 ESV). As He had done with His 12 disciples, Jesus called this man to follow Him, and that call involved a leaving and forsaking of everything and everyone. It was to involve an all-out commitment to the cause of Christ. And it would seem that this man was unwilling or unable to to make that kind of commitment. Receiving healing from Jesus is easy, but following after Him requires commitment and involves cost. 

The third scene described by Matthew involved Jesus and His disciples in a boat. As they sailed across the Sea of Galilee, a fierce storm arose, swamping the boat with waves and pelting the disciples with rain. But while all this was happening, Jesus slept, undisturbed and seemingly unconcerned. In fear for their lives, the disciples wake Jesus up and demand that He save them. What were they expecting Him to do? While they had seen Jesus perform acts of healing, they had no way of knowing that He had power over the wind and waves. But in their fear and desperation, they called out to Him. And Jesus, rather than immediately solving their perceived problem, addressed the real danger they faced: Their lack of faith.

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” – Matthew 8:26 ESV

These men had seen Jesus do the impossible. He had healed the sick and cast out demons from the possessed. And while none of them suffered from a physical ailment that required the healing touch of Jesus, they suddenly found themselves in desperate need of salvation. Their lives were in danger. They were at the mercy of the elements, facing certain death, and there was nothing they could do to remedy the situation – in spite of the fact that many of the men on that boat were seasoned fishermen.

Evidently, none of the disciples had an answer for Jesus’ question, because Matthew records that Jesus “rose and rebuked the winds and the sea.” In the original Greek, that word, “rebuked” means “to admonish, reprove, censure severely.” Jesus didn’t just speak to the wind and waves, He scolded them. He read them the riot act. The life-threatening fierceness of the storm came face-to-face with the power of the Messiah. The Savior attacked the very thing that was threatening the lives and intimidating the faith of His followers. And at His word the storm immediately ceased. Matthew states that there was a great calm, which not only refers to the elements, but to the hearts of the disciples. They had been miraculously saved from certain death by the Savior. And all they could say was, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Little did they know that this scene was to serve as foretaste of the greater salvation to come. Jesus came, not just to calm the storms of life, but to rebuke the spiritual wind and waves of the enemy that threaten to overwhelm the lives of men. These 12 men would would day discover that their greatest foe was not the elements of nature, but the prince of this world. And their greatest fear was not that of physical death, but eternal separation from God the Father. But Jesus had come to defeat sin and death, and to calm the spiritual storm created by Satan and intended to drown mankind in the tempest of temptation.

55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 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

I Will…Part 2.

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. – Matthew 8:5-13 ESV

Matthew follows up the story of Jesus healing the leper with another surprising account of His healing of a Roman centurion’s servant. While we typically make much of the centurion’s display of faith, which Jesus does as well, we too often overlook the more subtle, yet equally significant statement made by Jesus in verses 11-12:

11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. 

The centurion was a Roman and, thus, a Gentile. He was a commander over 100 Roman soldiers, and it is likely that his servant, who was paralyzed, was also a Gentile. As Jesus entered into the city of Capernaum, He was accompanied by His 12 Jewish disciples and, more than likely, had a sizeable crowd of other Jews tagging along in hopes of seeing Him perform yet another miracle. So, Matthew sets up an interesting confrontation as this Roman military commander, a Gentile, approaches Jesus and requests the healing of his paralzyed servant. The 12 disciples and the other Jews in Jesus’ entourage would have been shocked at the centurion’s boldness. How dare he, a Gentile, approach Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, with a request of this nature. The Jews despised Gentiles and weren’t exactly fond of the Romans either. They viewed Rome as an occupying force that kept the Jewish nation in subjection through their military presence and economically stifling taxation requirements.

The Jews would have been appalled at the audacity of this Gentile’s request and eager to hear what Jesus would say in response. After all, he was a pagan, Gentile, Roman, and a member of the occupying military force. And he was requesting the healing of his Gentile servant. It’s likely that the Jews fully expected Jesus to turn down the man’s request. And later on in Matthew’s Gospel, he records an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman, who came to Jesus asking that He heal her daughter.

22 “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” – Matthew 15:22-23 ESV

Notice that the disciples begged Jesus to send the woman away, fully expecting Jesus to turn down her audacious request. And, at first glance, it would appear that Jesus agreed with them.

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” – Matthew 15:24-26 ESV

Jesus confesses that He had come to be the Messiah of Israel, having been born a Jew and a descendant of David, the great king of Israel. He even suggests that it would be inappropriate to give to a Gentile what had been intended for the Jews. But look carefully at the woman’s response:

27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” – Matthew 15:27 ESV

She recognizes and fully admits her unworthiness, but appeals to Jesus’ mercy, begging Him for nothing more than the healing of her daughter. And Jesus responded:

28 “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:29 ESV

Like the centurion, this woman had come to Jesus out of desparation. Her need was great and she had nowhere else to turn. These two Gentiles, a Canaanite and a Roman, had heard of the miraculous works of Jesus and took the chance that He might use His power to their loved ones. And both displayed a faith that Jesus commends. The centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word. He somehow knew that Jesus had authority, given to Him by God, that would allow Him to heal from a distance. The Canaanite woman believed that Jesus was gracious and good, and would be willing to use His God-given power to heal her daughter. And in both cases, Jesus answered their requests.

But back to verses 11-12. As surprised as the disciples would have been at Jesus agreeing to heal the centurion’s servant, they would have found this statement absolutely shocking. But Jesus was simply quoting from the Old Testament, reminding His Jewish followers of what God had already said would happen.

11 For from the east to the west my name will be great among the nations. Incense and pure offerings will be offered in my name everywhere, for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord who rules over all. – Malachi 1:11 NET

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
    and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV

Yes, Jesus had come to the Jews and He would continue to minister among them, declaring Himself to be their Messiah and Savior. But He knew there was a day coming when the message of salvation would be made available to all, Jews and Gentiles. With His coming death and resurrection, the offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone would be opened up to all men, regardless of their ethnicity. And the day will come when people from every tribe, nation and tongue will stand before God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, in the eternal Kingdom.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. – Revelation 7:9 NLT

In the early days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was focused primarily on the Jews. But every now and then, He gives His disciples a glimpse of the future agenda of the Kingdom. He had come for all. The Jewish people, chosen by God, had always been intended to be a light to the nations, but they had failed. So, Jesus came to be a light to the world.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV

The Jews would end up rejecting Him as their Messiah, convincing the Romans to crucify Him. But Jesus would rise again, being restored back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it would be this message of Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples would one day take to the nations. The apostle Paul summarized the Gospel message quite succinctly in his letter to the Galatian believers.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NLT

A Gentile came to Jesus requesting the healing of his servant and Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But even more significant than that statement was Jesus’ claim that Gentiles would be present in the Kingdom of God. He came to give His life for all men of every tribe, nation and tongue. And while it would be a long time before the disciples got their heads around that concept, the day would come when they fully embraced the divine plan which made the Gospel available and accessible to all.

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

I Will….

1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”  – Matthew 8:1-4 ESV

Jesus finished His sermon and, rather than taking a well-deserved break, He immediately began His ministry. And it’s interesting to note that upon the completion of His message, the very first person who came to Jesus was a leper. Matthew describes great crowds of people following Jesus, but it was a lone leper, a social pariah and ostracized outcast from the community who made a beeline to Jesus and knelt before Him. This man’s hideous skin disease was not only painful, but marked him as unclean and prohibited him from participation in temple worship. Because he was in close proximity to the crowd, which was most likely comprised primarily of Jews, it is safe to assume he was a Jew himself. But, because of his disease, he was no longer welcome in the community. Leprosy was considered a curse from God, a divine judgment for sins committed. So, lepers were avoided at all costs, not only because of their disease, but because any contact with them would make a person ceremonially unclean. By law, this man would have been required to announce himself to all those around him as being a leper.

45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. – Leviticus 5:45-46 ESV

And while Matthew doesn’t describe the reaction of the crowd, we can only imagine the shock and repulsion they must have felt when this man showed up in their midst. They would have backed off in horror at the sight of him. There were likely shouts of ridicule and anger at his unmitigated gall to show his face among them. And how dare he approach Jesus, a rabbi and teacher. But this man was desperate. He longed to be healed. He was tired of being an outcast. So, he took his need to Jesus, and the text tells us he kneeled before Him. Somehow, this man knew that Jesus was the answer to his problem. In his pain and desperation, he took a huge risk and, in violation of the law, he said to Jesus, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 

Notice the wording of his statement, “If you will….” He seemed to have no doubt in his mind that Jesus could heal him. His only reservation had to do with whether Jesus would. He was well aware of his own uncleanness. His faith in Jesus’ capacity to restore him was strong, but he had doubts about Jesus’ willingness to do so. He was undeserving and unworthy. But he was also just the kind of person for whom Jesus had come to earth.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” – Matthew 12:4-5 ESV

Whether this man realized it or not, in spite of his bad circumstances, he was in good company. He was part of the poor, the captives, the blind and oppressed to whom Jesus had come to minister. Like the lame, the deaf and even the dead, this man’s problem was no match for the Son of God. His disease was no obstacle for Jesus. And amazingly, to the shock of all those in the crowd that day, Jesus reached out His hand and touched this man. In doing so, not only risked making Himself ceremonially unclean, He violated the law. In response to the man’s statement, “If you will…,” Jesus replied, “I will….” And He did. He healed him. In a matter of seconds, the man’s disease was completely eradicated. This man had been healed by a touch from the hand of Jesus, and everyone in the crowd would have been witness to this miraculous event.

One of the things that gets easily overlooked in this passage is the deliberate decision on Jesus’ part to touch the man. He didn’t have to do so. He could have healed him with a word. But Jesus, knowing that by touching the man He would contract the man’s defilement, did so. In many ways, leprosy represents the pervasive nature of man’s sin nature. It contaminates and separates. It leaves its victim helpless, hopeless and alone. It defiles and deems the individual unfit for communion with God. But with a touch, Jesus took on the man’s defilement and bestowed on him perfect health. The apostle Paul wrote of the amazing transaction that Jesus came to make possible.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

The leper’s physical restoration was symbollic of the spiritual restoration Jesus came to provide all those who would place their faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. But in order for anyone to have their sinful state healed by Jesus, they would have to admit their problem and come to Him just as the leper did – in humility and faith. Jesus once stated, “”Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT). The apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

This man was healed, but he still required cleansing. In spite of his radical physical transformation, he was still unclean according to the law.

3 …if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field. And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days. And on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair from his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. He shall shave off all his hair, and then he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean. – Leviticus 14:1-9 ESV

So, Jesus commanded the man, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them” (Matthew 8:4 ESV). This is significant, because healing from leprosy was rare and unheard of. By sending this man to the temple, Jesus would have sent a loud and clear message to the priests that something new was going on in their midst. It’s likely that these priests had never had a single leper show up at the temple healed and ready to offer the prescribed sacrifices. Jesus wanted this man to obey the law and follow the Mosaic requirements for cleansing, but He also wanted the man to provide visible, tangible proof of His power over not only sickness, but sin.

We must not overlook the significance of this man’s desperate state. Because of his leprosy, he was alone, ostracized, unclean, and condemned to a slow, painful death. But he brought his need to Jesus and said, “If you will, you can…” and Jesus did. This man’s physical state mirrors the spiritual condition of each and every man and woman who is infected by sin. The apostle Paul describes the sad reality of man’s spiritual state apart from Christ.

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:12 ESV

Then he provides the good news.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:13 ESV

The man in the story had been restored to health. But he had also been restored to community and been given the right to enter the temple and to offer sacrifices to God. He was no longer alienated. he was not longer a stranger and social outcast. He was no longer without hope and without God in the world. All because he brought his need to Jesus and received the healing touch of the 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

Rock-Solid Security.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. – Matthew 7:24-29 ESV

For most of us, when we read these verses, we automatically think of Jesus’ mention of “the rock” as being a reference to Himself. He is the rock. And we get that idea from the Scriptures. Paul would later refer to Jesus as being the foundation he laid and upon which others were to build.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 ESV

Peter would quote from the book of Isaiah and the Psalms, describing Jesus as the stone:

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” – 1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV

So, it would only be natural to assume that Jesus is referring to Himself as the rock. But it is important to look closely at what He says. He prefaces these closing lines of His sermon with the statement: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” His emphasis is on His words or His teaching. All throughout His sermon, Jesus has been giving commands regarding the lifestyle or behavior of those who are approved by God. They are to be salt and light. They are to pursue reconciliation with all men, not anger and hatred. They are to love and not lust. They are to remain faithful in their earthly commitments, most especially marriage. They are to be a people of their word. They are to live lives of willing sacrifice, rather than seeking revenge and retaliation. They are to love and pray for their enemies. Their acts of righteousness are to flow from the heart and are not to be done for recognition or reward, including the praise of men. They are to see their eternal reward as their greatest treasure, not the temporal things of this earth. Their lives should be marked by a calm and unwavering trust in God, knowing that He will provide for all their needs. They are to regularly examine their own lives, recognizing and repenting of their sinfulness before God. 

Over and over again, Jesus has given them clear indications of how an individual approved by God should live their life. And now, He is telling them that those who hear these words and obeys them will be seen as wise. They will be the ones whose lives are marked by a solid foundation. Obedience to the teachings of Jesus has always been a necessary part of the life of the believer. Obedience does not save us, but it marks the life of those who truly are saved. Not long before Jesus was to be betrayed and crucified, He told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). And then He told them how they were going to pull that off. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV). The Holy Spirit was going to be the key to them obeying the words and teachings of Jesus. But they were still expected to obey. And just to make sure that they didn’t forget anything He had taught them, Jesus let them know that the Holy Spirit would give them perfect memories.

These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:25-26 ESV

One of the things we so easily lose sight of is Jesus’ statement to His disciples, found in the Great Commission.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

The disciples were to teach all that Jesus had commanded. His words were to be obeyed. And He was not just speaking of His claim to be the Messiah and His offer of salvation through faith in Him alone. Again, obedience to the words of Jesus do not save us, but it is to be the natural outflow of one who is saved. Repeatedly in Scripture, we are given the admonition to obey the commands of Jesus.

“When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” – John 15:10 NLT

The apostle John puts the non-optional nature of obedience to Jesus’ commands in very stark terms.

He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:2-6 NLT

So, Jesus says that whoever hears the words He has been teaching and does them, will find their life built on a solid, reliable foundation. Of course, as John makes clear in the passage above, the very first thing we must obey is God’s command to obey in the reality of His Son as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He makes this point even more clear a bit later on in the same letter.

…we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.

And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us. – 1 John 3:21-24 NLT

Our ability to obey the commands of Jesus begins with our obedience to the command of God to trust in His Son as our Savior. When we place our faith in Him, we receive the Spirit of God and the capacity to love God and to love others, which are the foundational truths behind all that Jesus has said in His sermon. Our faith in Christ is to be transformative. It is to change the way we think and behave. It is to have a revolutionary effect on the way we live our lives in this world. But for far too many today, obedience seems to be optional. They place their faith in Christ, and then continue to live as if nothing has happened. They give little or no evidence of the new nature they are supposed to have. Their lives show no signs of the Spirit’s presence within them. But that is not what Jesus expected. And that is not the outcome His sacrificial death on the cross was meant to provide. If we truly love Him, we will keep His commandments. We will be radically different in the way we conduct our lives. We will be salt and light. We will be agents of reconciliation, calling a lost and dying world back to God. We will love and not lust. We will give of ourselves selflessly, rather than always trying to selfishly focus our lives on getting. We will forgive, show mercy, turn the other cheek, worry less, rejoice more, pray intensely, trust God completely, and share the good news of the gospel regularly.

Jesus tells us that those who build their lives on His words, will find their lives marked by stability and resilience. They will have a firm foundation that can withstand the storms of this life and will survive the future judgment to come. There were those in the crowd that day who would hear Jesus’ words and ignore them. Many of them would hear of His death and resurrection and refuse to believe it. After His crucifixion, the word of His miraculous resurrection and ascension would spread, and the offer of salvation would be heard throughout all Judea, but most would refuse to accept it. And their lives would be like a house built on sand, unstable and insecure, completely susceptible to the storms of life and unavoidably destined for a great fall.

When Jesus finished His sermon, the crowds were amazed. They were astonished at His teachings. They had never heard anything like this before. He taught with authority. Over and over again in His message, Jesus had said, “But I say….” He referred to the Old Testament Scriptures, but then added His own words. He did not refer to the teachings of the patriarchs or refer to other rabbinic scholars. He spoke as if His words were on a par with the Word of God itself, because they were. He was the Son of God speaking on behalf of God the Father. He was the Word incarnate. John describes Him as such.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

He is the Word, and we are to obey Him, not just believe in Him. Those who are approved by God because they place their faith in the Son of God will find themselves capable of living in obedience to everything Jesus said in His sermon. And they will discover the rock-solid security of a life founded on the sure foundation of Christ’s words.

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

Fakers and Posers.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’– Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

Jesus is not done addressing the danger of false prophets, those ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, whose appearance may be deceptive, but whose fruit is not. They can disguise their true nature, but they can’t hide what comes out of their heart. They can claim to be followers of Christ, but Jesus makes it clear, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV). And in today’s passage, Jesus will go on to describe their fruit as lawlessness. The Greek word is anomia, and it literally means “without law.” It can be translated iniquity or wickedness, but refers to contempt for and violation of law. These false prophets may claim to prophesy in the name of Jesus, but He refers to their actions as lawless and, therefore, wicked. And they are not alone. Jesus lists others who will claim to be His followers, but who will prove to be nothing more than fakers and posers. Calling Jesus “Lord” is not what gets you into heaven. Expressing allegiance to Him is not what saves you. It is not what brings you the approval and blessing of God.

Later on in His ministry, Jesus was approached by a group of Jews who had been present the day He had miraculously fed the crowd with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Jesus knew why they were there and exposed their motives:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” – John 6:26 ESV

In other words, they had been there for more food. So, Jesus told them:

“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.” – John 6:27 ESV

Jesus was trying to offer them something far greater and more beneficial than temporary food. He was inviting them to discover eternal life. But their minds were stuck on a horizontal plane and they were driven by their base desire for more food. So, they responded:

“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 6:28-29 ESV

The work of God, that which God would have them do, was to believe in Jesus as their Savior. Calling Him, “Lord, Lord” is not necessarily an expression of belief. And Jesus makes it clear that the day is coming when there will be those who claimed to be His followers will be exposed for what they really were: Hypocrites. The difficult thing is that these very people will appear to be doing all that they do in the name of Jesus. They will prophesy in His name, cast out demons in His name, and do mighty works in His name. But Jesus describes all of it as lawless, because they do not truly represent Him.

In our current age, there are many who claim to be speaking on behalf of Jesus. They speak His name and call Him, “Lord, Lord”. Some even do miracles and perform mighty works in His name. But Jesus would have us investigate their fruit – the fruit of their hearts – because they may not be all that they appear to be. And the outward display of their allegiance to Christ may be nothing more than a cover-up for their true motives. The trouble is that, while we are here on this earth, we will be surrounded by fakers and charlatans. And many of them will be placed in our midst by Satan himself. Jesus makes this clear in a parable He told.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.,

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” – Matthew 13:24-30 NLT

We will not always be able to tell the wheat from the tares. But they will be there. It is a guarantee. But when Jesus said, “On that day…”, He was referring to a future day when the wheat and the tares will be divided and those that don’t belong will be judged and dealt with. There is a judgment coming and God will separate the sheep from the goats, the saved from the lost. And there will be those who will claim, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And they will hear Jesus say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23 ESV).

There have been and always will be those who claim to followers of Christ, but who are really nothing more than false professors. Their apparent spirituality is not what saves them. Their use of Jesus name and regular attendance in church do not bring them approval with God. They claim to be followers of God, but fail to do the will of God. They refuse to believe on Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Instead, they believe that their religious fervor will save them. They put their trust in their good deeds, prayers, fasts, and acts of generosity. They go to church. They attend Bible studies. They listen to countless sermons. But they neglect the one thing God has commanded that all should do if they desire to be made right with Him and gain His approval: Believe in His Son as their sin substitute. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they simply stated: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 NLT). Belief, not behavior is the key to salvation. That is not to say that behavior is unimportant, but changed behavior is a byproduct of true belief. That is why Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV). The fruit of the Spirit is what flows out of the life of the one who has placed His faith in Christ. But for those who have refused to believe in Him, their “fruit” has a completely different character and Paul describes it in his lstter to the Galatian believers:

sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these…  – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

There will be false professions. There will be those who claim to be followers of Christ, but their motives are wrong. They will say all the right things. They will do many of the things a Christ-follower would be expected to do. They will sit next to us in the pews on Sunday morning, attend our small groups, go on mission trips, give their money and devote their time to worthy causes. But the day will come when they will say, “Lord, Lord” and He will say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me.”

Remember, Jesus has already warned that the gate is narrow and the path is difficult that leads to the kingdom of God. And while there are few who will take that path, there will still be some who appear on it who don’t belong there. Their presence on the path will have nothing to do with faith in Christ, but will be based on human effort. They will profess to be followers of Christ, but will really be relying on their own merit to get themselves into the kingdom. They will appear beside us on the path, but rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be walking in the flesh. Rather than depending upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will be following desires of their own hearts and the counsel of men. And the day will come when their false profession will come face to face with the truth of the gospel and Jesus’ claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 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

Fake Sheep With False Motives.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.– Matthew 7:15-20 ESV

Jesus has just discussed the narrow gate and the difficult path that provides access to the kingdom of God. And the numbers of those who choose that way are going to be few. But because the kingdom way is not a literal path, but a spiritual one, it will sometimes be difficult to tell who is actually walking along beside you. So, Jesus warns that there will be fakers and posers, even dangerous charlatans, whose sole motive will be to deceive and destroy those who have been approved by God. In the gospel of John, we have recorded the words of Jesus reiterating His claim to be the door or the narrow gate. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9 ESV). Not only had there been false Messiahs before Jesus arrived, there had been deceptive religious leaders who offered up a different form of salvation. And Jesus makes it clear that all these individuals had been motivated by Satan himself. Whether they realized it or not, these people were driven by demonic desires, not divine ones. Jesus went on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). Those who preach another form of salvation or a different means of achieving a right standing with God are essentially deceivers who will end up destroying all those who listen to their lies.

And here in His sermon on the mount, Jesus warns against “false prophets” who will attempt to disguise themselves as sheep in order to infiltrate the ranks of those who have been approved by God. They will appear to be fellow sojourners on the kingdom way, but will actually be out to do harm, not good. Jesus describes them as ravenous wolves, hungry predators with one thing in mind, feeding their own insatiable desires. So, how are we supposed to spot these dangerous deceivers? If they look like us and appear to be on the same path we are traveling, how will we be able to expose them? Jesus gives us a very simple way of knowing whether our fellow travelers are legitimate or not: Their fruit. He says, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT). But wait a minute! If they are out to deceive, won’t they be disguising their true motives by emulating the right kind of behavior? Won’t they be smart enough to act just like sheep? The answer is, yes. Jesus will even address that issue in the very next verses. These people will act the part, but the key will be whether their fruit is in keeping with the will of God. We must always keep in mind that God sees our hearts. He knows what motivates our behavior. But we don’t have that capacity. We aren’t able to see into the heart of another human being. So, what are we to do? How are we to discern whether someone is truly a believer? Again, Jesus would tell us to look at their fruit. What is in the heart will ultimately show up as fruit. Jesus makes that perfectly clear later on in the book of Matthew.

“For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” – Matthew 15:19 NLT

And here, in His sermon on the mount, Jesus comapres these false prophets to thorn bushes, thistles and diseased trees. They are incapable of producing true fruit. And the fruit we should be looking for is described for us in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… – Galatians 5:22-23 ESV

Thorn bushes don’t produce grapes. Thistles don’t bear figs. And you don’t get healthy fruit from a diseased tree. Ultimately, their true nature will become evident. The true condition of their hearts will be exposed. And in the book of Jeremiah, we read how God describes those who would deceive His children.

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!
They keep saying to those who despise my word,
    ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
    they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’” – Jeremiah 23:16-17 NLT

As we walk the Kingdom path, there will always be those who appear to be with us but who will actually be against us. They will attempt to deceive and distract us. They will be the ones who question why we take things so seriously and why we worry so much about spirituality. They will claim to love the Lord as much as we do, but will display a love for the world that reveals their true nature. Their commitment to the will of God will be minimal. Their reliance upon the Word of God will be spotty at best. They will do good deeds, but for the wrong motives. And, ultimately, their influence on the church will be harmful, not helpful. In the book of Jude, we read his warnings to a local congregation regarding these false prophets or teachers who had infiltrated their fellowship.

Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. – Jude 1:3-4 NLT

Jude goes on to describe their behavior in less-than-flattering terms:

In the same way, these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. – Jude 1:8 NLT

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he describes their sad state and even worse outcome:

But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. What sorrow awaits them! – Jude 1:10-11 NLT

Jesus has already told us that “the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14 ESV). The Kingdom life is not an easy one. It will have its moments of trials and difficulties. It will have its dark valleys. Even in the famous 23rd Psalm, we read David’s words describing the life of those who are led by the Shepherd:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4 ESV

It will not always be green pastures and still waters. There will be moments of sadness and seasons of despair. But God will be with us, guiding and comforting us. And Jesus would have us know that there will be so-called companions on our life’s journey who will not be what they appear. So, we must be discerning. Jesus would later give His disciples some invaluable advice as He prepared to send them out on their own.

Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. – Matthew 10:16 NLT

When all is said and done, the only way we have of discerning the true nature of those who claim to be fellow followers of Christ is to look at their fruit. And that means we must judge their behavior. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to sin or refuse to evaluate the true intentions of those who claim to be on our side. The risks are too great. The dangers are real. We must always remember that the thief intends to steal, kill and destroy. The false sheep have false motives. The fake followers have sinister plans. They will attempt to lead the sheep astray. They will try to undermine the gospel. They will minimize the will of God and replace it with the will of men. So, we must constantly evaluate one another based on the fruit of the Spirit. This kind of fruit can’t be replicated. It can be mimicked, but not manufactured. It can be faked, but not fabricated. And eventually, fake fruit will be exposed as what it is: unhealthy and undesirable.

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 Highway of Holiness.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.– Matthew 7:12-14 ESV

Verse 12 has come to be commonly referred to as The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is essentially a summation of all that Jesus has said and acts as a bookend to verse 17 of chapter five:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

These two verses comprise what is known as an inclusio, bracketing all that is contained between them and forming a single unit of thought. The over-arching theme has been Jesus’ treatment of the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament revelation. Here, in verse 12, Jesus brings His thoughts to a conclusion, summarizing all that He has said in one succinct and simple statement: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. This is the law of love and it supersedes and fully expresses all that was written in the law. Paul summarizes it well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV

He simplified it even more when he wrote to the believers in Galatia:

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 NLT

And not long before Jesus was to go to the cross, He would tell His disciples:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

But it is essential that we understand just what Jesus is saying. In our sinful, self-centered state, it would be easy to draw from His words a faulty conclusion that allows us to focus on what we want from others. In other words, if we want our back scratched, we will reluctantly scratch someone else’s back, expecting them to do the same to us in return. So, our actions would be selfishly motivated. But that is not the kind of love Jesus is talking about. He is referring to a selfless kind of love that expects nothing in return. It is focused on giving, not getting. The apostle Paul warned against turning the law of love into some kind of self-centered mechanism to get what you want.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:1-4 ESV

No one enjoys being hated, so why would we choose to hate others? There is no joy in being taken advantage of, so why would we treat someone else that way? If the idea of someone having an affair with your spouse offends you, it should also prevent you from ever considering doing the same thing to someone else. Jesus’ statement is not intended to be self-centered, but other-focused. He is telling us that the law was essentially about loving God and loving others, not self. And those who have been approved by God will love as He loves. They will do as Jesus did, which Paul sums up in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

The life of love and self-sacrifice to which Jesus is calling His audience will not be easy. He knows His words have been difficult to hear and what He has been commanding is impossible to pull off. The crowds who had followed Jesus to the hillside in Galilee had been attracted by His miracles. They were enamored by His ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. There was something attractive about this man who could do the impossible. But now, they were hearing that He expected the impossible of them. He was teaching that if they wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, they were going to have to live radically different lives. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not going to be enough. Their adherence to man-made laws and religious rules was not going to win them favor with God. In fact, Jesus breaks the news that the path to God was actually narrow and quite difficult, and the number of those who take that path will be quite small. But the path to hell is like a broad, sprawling avenue, filled with countless people who have chosen that way because it is easy, well-traveled, and rather enjoyable.

Jesus was letting His listeners know that the way to God was not what they thought. It was not going to be through keeping the law. Their ethnic identity as Jews and prideful claim to be descendants of Abraham was not the way. Jesus was presenting another, exclusive way to God: Himself.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He would also present Himself as the gate or door that provides the sole means by which men and women might be saved and find entrance into God’s kingdom.

“Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.” – John 10:9 NLT

Obviously, Jesus did not believe in universalism, the false, yet popular, doctrine that teaches all will eventually be welcomed into heaven by God because of His love. Jesus promoted Himself as the sole means by which anyone is made right with God. He is the way, not just one of many ways. He alone has satisfied the just demands of God and paid for the sins of mankind with His own life. And He offers Himself to any and all who will receive Him as their Savior and sin substitute. Those who accept His selfless sacrifice on their behalf receive forgiveness of their sins and enjoy a restored relationship with God the Father. But Jesus warns that few will take Him up on His offer. Because the gate is small. It’s narrow and limited. It requires faith. And the path beyond that gate is difficult. The Christian life is not an easy road. Salvation provides us with freedom from condemnation for our sins, but does not provide us with a trouble-free life on this earth. We will face tribulation and difficulty. Living out our faith in the midst of a fallen world will be trying at times. Too often, Christianity is sold as a panacea to all of life’s problems. We falsely advertise faith in Christ as a solution to difficulty and the key to happiness. It explains why a book with the title, Your Best Life Now can become an international best-seller. But that is not what Jesus came to bring. Jesus did not die in order for us to have our best life now. Yes, He did promise to give us life and life more abundantly, but not on our own terms. The real benefit we receive from placing our faith in Christ is not our best life now, but eternal life to come. We have been promised a future sinless state, free from pain and suffering, sorrow and tears. We have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom and no one can take it from us. So with that in mind, we are encouraged to view our life on this earth as temporary. We are on a journey to a better place. We are on a path that will eventually lead us to our eternal home. Which is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).

The prophet, Isaiah, tells us of another path, a highway that will lead through the barren and desolate land, a highway of holiness. It will provide a path for the redeemed into God’s earthly kingdom, where His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Those who enter the narrow way now and walk the path provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection, will one day walk that Highway of Holiness, free from sorrow and sin.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:8-10 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

Access to God.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!– Matthew 7:7-11 ESV

As Jesus begins to bring His message to a close, we must keep in mind that He is still addressing those who are blessed or approved by God. Many of these individuals, including His disciples, are in His audience, but have not yet embraced Him as their Savior. But they will. In a way, Jesus is speaking prophetically, talking in a future sense of those who will come to faith in Him as their Messiah. But it is still early on in His ministry and most are not yet aware of who He really is. They view Him as a rabbi or teacher and a worker of miracles, but have not yet understood His claim to be the Son of God and their Messiah. But the day will come when many will believe and express as Peter did. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). It is to these individuals Jesus is speaking when He says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 NLT). Jesus is describing an intimate relationship with God the Father that provides His children with constant access into His presence. With three simple words: ask, seek, and knock, Jesus is letting them know that all who are approved by God will enjoy a special relationship with Him that will be far greater than any earthly relationship they have ever known.

There are those who try to give these verses an evangelistic interpretation, turning them into an invitation to salvation. But if kept in their context, it is clear that these verses are not inviting anyone into a saving relationship with Jesus. Instead, they are encouraging those who have already been approved by God, because of their faith in Christ, to take advantage of their newfound relationship with Him. “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:9 NLT). We can ask of God and receive from Him. We can seek Him, and find Him. We can knock, and He will open the door to us. Gone are the days of trying to win access into God’s presence through keeping the law. There is no longer any need to try to win God’s approval and get His attention through human effort or achievement. Jesus was letting His audience know that the day was coming when the blessed or approved by God would have unparalleled intimacy with God. And I think His use of these three words: ask, seek, and knock; are directly tied to His words regarding fasting, prayer and alms-giving. If you think about it, fasting involved giving up something earthly in order to focus one’s attention on God. It was an attempt to seek intimacy and fellowship with God by denying oneself the pleasures of this life. Prayer was a means by which men could come to God and petition Him for their needs. And alms-giving was mercy-based generosity extended to those who came to you with their needs. Jesus is telling us that we can knock at God’s door and receive mercy from Him. He opens His door and invites us into His presence.

God is good and loving. He is gracious and kind. We can ask of Him and He will answer. We can seek Him and find Him. We can knock and find access into His presence. All because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf. And Jesus reminds His listeners that God the Father seis far more generous and loving than any earthly father. Even a human father, in his sinfulness, would never give something harmful in response to his child’s request. It would be ludicrous to think of any dad giving his child a stone rather than bread, or a snake instead of fish. And our heavenly Father is far more loving, gracious and good than any earthly father. We can ask, seek and knock, knowing that He will answer us, reveal Himself to us and give us access into His presence.

For the average Jew, God was seen as a distant deity. He was not thought to be easily accessible or approachable. The entire sacrificial system pointed to a God who demanded cleansing from impurity before access could be granted. Sin was a constant barrier to God for the Jews. And they were required to go through the priests in order to have their sins forgiven and their relationship with God restored. But Jesus is introducing something radical and new. With His coming death on the cross, the veil in the temple will be torn in half, symbolizing the destruction and elimination of the former barrier between God and man. With the shedding of His own blood, Jesus will eliminate the need for the blood of bulls and goats. He will act as both the sacrificial lamb and the high priest, offering His own life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. And those who place their faith in His sacrifice will enjoy unbroken fellowship with God.

These verses tie directly back to the opening lines of Jesus’ sermon. Those who are approved by God, though they be poor in spirit, they will be citizens of God’s kingdom. Though they will experience days of mourning in this life, they will receive comfort from God. And their willing meekness or submission to the will of God for their lives will garner them the earth as their inheritance. When they hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, they will be completely satisfied. When they choose to show mercy to others, they will continue to receive mercy from God. And their purity of heart will allow them to see God in their lives. When they seek to be at peace with men and introduce them to how to have peace with God, they will be recognized as the sons of God. And finally, any persecution they face in this life because of their faith will be well worth it, because they have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom.

Ask, seek, and knock. Three words of invitation to all those who have been approved by God. And they should produce in us a joy that is unparalleled and unsurpassed. Like the psalmist we should say:

Come, let us sing to the Lord!
    Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come to him with thanksgiving.
    Let us sing psalms of praise to him.
For the Lord is a great God,
    a great King above all gods.
He holds in his hands the depths of the earth
    and the mightiest mountains.
The sea belongs to him, for he made it.
    His hands formed the dry land, too.

Come, let us worship and bow down.
    Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,
    for he is our God.
We are the people he watches over,
    the flock under his care. – Psalm 95:1-7 NLT

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus is not offering up a list of tasks or duties to be performed in order to be made right with God. He is describing the lifestyle of those who dwell in the Kingdom of God. And only those who will eventually place their faith in Him as their Savior and Messiah will find approval and acceptance by God the Father. It will be those individuals who find themselves free to ask, seek and knock. And they will find their God quick to respond, answering their requests, making Himself known, and inviting them into His presence. But sadly, many of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ fail to embrace the incredible privilege Jesus is describing. We seem to doubt that God will answer when we ask. And as James so bluntly reminds us, “you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it” (James 4:2 NLT). And far too many of us fail to seek God. But as the prophet Jeremiah recorded, God has promised to make Himself available to all who seek Him wholeheartedly. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NLT). And how many of us regularly knock on the door seeking entrance into God’s presence? Is He the one we turn to in time of need? Is His door the one we knock on when we need comfort or companionship? In the book of Revelation, Jesus extends a promise to those who bear His name: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Revelation 3:20 NLT). God and His Son long to live in intimate communion with the citizens of the Kingdom. They desire that their people would turn to them for all their needs, to seek from them all that they have to offer, and to desire to be in their presence. Jesus is describing life in the Kingdom. He is telling His audience that the day is coming when He will make access to God freely available and the good gifts of God readily accessible.

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

Specks, Logs, Pigs and Dogs.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.– Matthew 7:1-6 ESV

This is one of those passages that has been taken out of context far too often, and used to justify a wide range of faulty assumptions. First of all, to understand what Jesus is talking about, we have to keep it within its context. He has been talking about everyday practical matters such as giving, praying and fasting. In regards to these outward spiritual expressions, Jesus warned about practicing them as an external sign of righteousness, in order to get the praise and recognition and men. But as always, Jesus, knowing well the hearts of men, knew that what He had just said would lead some to judge others. He realized that their natural tendency would be to make snap judgments regarding the motives behind each other’s public prayers, fasting or alms-giving. The Greek used here is krinō and it refers to “those who act the part of judges or arbiters in matters of common life, or pass judgment on the deeds and words of others” (“G2919 – krinō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). This is a judgment complete with a determination of guilt or innocence and, in the case of guilt, a passing of appropriate sentencing. In other words, the kind of judgment Jesus is speaking of is when someone decides to act judge, jury and executioner. But the problem with this kind of judgment is that all Jesus has been dealing with are issues of the heart, and we cannot know another person’s heart or motives. It is impossible. There is no way for us to know if someone who prays publicly is doing so just to get noticed. We have no insight into whether a person who gives is doing so to garner attention. So, we are not to judge them. If we do, Jesus warns, we will be judged by God according to the same strict standard. Rather than judge others, we are to take a close look at our own hearts in order to determine the motives that prompt us to do what we do. Once again, Jesus is issuing a warning against hypocrisy. He very bluntly warns: “How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4 NLT). Self-examination is essential, because it is far too easy for us to point out the faults in others while looking past the glaring sins in our own life. Exposing the sins of others is almost cathartic for us. It makes us feel better about ourselves. But Jesus would have us focus our attention on our own transgressions, and make sure that we have dealt with those areas that are out of step with God and His will for us. And yet, it would be false to conclude that Jesus is teaching a complete ban on judgment of any kind. To reach that conclusion would require a complete disregard for other passages in both the Old and New Testaments. Take this interesting and often ignored passage found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NLT

In this portion of his letter, Paul was dealing with a situation going on within the local church in Corinth that involved a sexual sin. It seems that a man had been having a sexual relationship with his stepmother. And the worst part of it, as far as Paul was concerned, was that the congregation knew of this affair and had done nothing about it. Paul had told them, “You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship” (1 Corinthians 5:2 NLT). Their pride was based on what they believed to be their tolerance for this couple’s behavior. And Paul was forced to remind them of a previous letter he had written them that had told them not to associate with those who commit sexual sin. But in this letter, he clarifies what he meant by telling them “I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin” (1 Corinthians 5:11 NLT). This was a case of clear-cut sin and they were to deal with it in a forceful manner. Paul emphasizes that it makes no sense to judge the lost world. In fact, he claims that we no right to do so. They are under God’s judgment and He will deal with them in His time. But as far as those who claim to be our brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul is emphatic: “it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning” (1 Corinthians 5:12 NLT). And the kind of judgment Paul has in mind here has nothing to do with acting as their judge, jury and executioner. It simply means that we are to expose their behavior and call it what it is: sin. Then we are to deal with it in a godly manner with restoration as our ultimate goal.

Paul dealt with this very same topic in his letter to the Galatian believers:

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. – Galatians 6:1-3 NLT

There are behaviors that are off-limits for the Christ-follower. We do not have carte blanche to do whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it. As sons and daughters of God, we represent Him on this earth, and our behavior is to reflect our beliefs. We have been set apart by God as holy. We are to live distinctively different lives, in keeping with our status as His children. So there will be times when we must judge one anothers’ actions and be willing to do the difficult thing: Call one another to account and repentance.

Verse seven is a difficult sentence to understand. It appears to be a somewhat abrupt change in topic, having little or nothing to do with what Jesus has just said. He goes from talking about judging another person unjustly, failing to see the sin in your own life, and then suddenly starts talking about giving to dogs what is holy and casting pearls before swine. What is He talking about? And who is He referring to? In the Jewish culture, dogs and pigs were both considered unclean. It was common for the Jews to refer to the Samaritans, whom they considered half-breeds, as dogs. And pigs were off-limits to all Jews. So, for Jesus to refer to these two types of animals, He is obviously trying to make a point. And He juxtaposes pigs with pearls and dogs with what is holy.

There is an interesting story found later on in the book of Matthew, where Jesus encounters a Gentile woman, a non-Jew. She approached Jesus, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely” (Matthew 15:22 NLT). After initially reacting in silence, Jesus gave her a surprising response: “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 NLT). But she begged all the more. And Jesus said to her: “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26 NLT). As shocking as His words may have sounded to her, she simply responded: “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27 NLT). And Jesus, after commenting on the greatness of her faith, granted her desire.

He referred to her as a dog: A Gentile or non-Jew. It is important to remember that the audience to whom Jesus is addressing this message was predominantly Jewish. His disciples were Jewish. And so it would seem that He was making a statement about the people of God judging the Gentiles harshly because they did not live up to their so-called religious standards. By casting pearls before swine, Jesus is saying that we are not to take what God has deemed precious and of great value, the law, and hold those outside the family of God to that standard. They will not respect it. They will trample it under their feet. And we are not to take what is holy, the law, and give it to dogs, the ungodly and unrighteous, expecting them to live up to it. How easy it is to take the holy standard that God has placed on our lives as believers and demand that everyone live up to it, especially the lost, when we can’t even do it ourselves. The lost are slaves to sin. We are not. They can’t do anything but sin, because it is their nature. But we have been given the Spirit of God and He makes it possible for us to say no to our sin nature. Rather than judge the lost, we are to judge our own. We are to see to it that the faith community to which we belong, lives in keeping with our calling as God’s children. The apostle Peter would have us remember:

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? – 1 Peter 4:17 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