The Good News is for Everyone

EasyEnglish Study Units (Level B) on the Gospel (Good News) of Matthew

www.easyenglish.info

Stephen Dray

translation into EasyEnglish by Mary Read

(Based on the Crossway Bible Guide, used by permission of Crossway Books, Leicester, LE1 7GP, England.)

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.

WYCLIFFE ASSOCIATES (UK)

EasyEnglish Ó TRANSLATION (Level B)...................................................................... Mary Read

LINGUISTIC CHECKER............................................................................................... Sue Hunter

 

MATTHEW

Crossway Bible Guide

BY

Stephen Dray

 (Used By Permission of Crossway Books

Leicester LE1 7GP, England.)

A Study of the Gospel (Good News) of Matthew

For personal study,
and for study by a group.

DISCOVER MATTHEW

By Stephen Dray

LIST OF CONTENTS

How to use this Bible guide

The structure of this Bible guide

Introduction to Matthew

A Study of each chapter of the book

(Note:  Each Section will be in a box, so that you can easily find a particular passage.
It will look like this: Matthew 1:1–17 .)

NOTES:

There is a Word List at the end of this book.

This gives the meanings of difficult words.

These words have a star like *this in front of them in the text.

There may be other words that you do not understand.

If so, please tell us.

*OT means Old Testament. It is the first part of our Bible.

*NT means New Testament. It is the second part of our Bible.

In the Bible, verses are the divisions of a chapter.

How to use this Bible Guide

This Guide is for personal Bible study. The studies are short. This makes them ideal for daily use. You may prefer a longer time of study. If so, you could use groups of 3 to 5 studies. This would give you a better idea about a longer Bible passage. You may not want to use them all. If so, you can choose from the ‘4 other ways’ at the end of this book. Regular study is vital, whatever method you choose.

This Guide is for the leaders and members of small groups.

This guide is for teachers of the Bible too. It gives ideas for talks. Its advice will help in preparation too. The teacher can use it for adults and children.

1. Personal Bible Study

·          Read the text several times. If it is possible, use more than one translation.

·          Think about what you have read.

·          Write down your own thoughts about the passage.

·          Look at any other notes that are available to you.

·          Use the notes in this book. Read all the Bible references too.

·          Answer the questions that are at the end of each section. They have a purpose. It is to help you to use the passage in your own situation.

·          End with prayer. This is a good habit. Pray about the things that you have learned.

Note: This kind of study may be too hard for you. Or, you may only have a short time to spare. Here is an idea for you too. Read the Bible passage. Read the notes in the Bible Guide. Think about one of the questions. Then, pray about what you have learned. This method would take about 15 minutes.

2. Bible Study in a Group

Get Help

You may not have led a group before. But you may know of somebody who has. If so, you should ask for advice. There are books about the subject too. You may not have any other help available to you. But do not worry. Just ask for the help of God’s Holy Spirit.

Use your Bible Guide to plan a programme

This Guide explains the book of Matthew. It should help members of a group to benefit from their studies. It is not ideal to divide God’s Word into small parts. The authors did not intend this to happen. But it can be hard to benefit from long passages. So, this Guide uses smaller sections.

You may have a series of meetings to lead. You may decide to give the members just an impression of Matthew. If so, you should select studies. They must be suitable for each meeting. First, read and study them yourself. Then prepare a brief statement of the studies. Give a copy to each member, if you can.

Do not try to do more than one study in a meeting. Choose the most important study. Choose the one that makes the message clearest.

You may not intend to study the whole book. If so, choose a series of studies that will suit the number of meetings. It is better to use studies that follow each other. Then you will understand the whole section. You could do something else. Choose one of the ‘4 other ways to study Matthew’. You will find them at the end of this book.

Prepare to lead

 If you wait until you are the perfect leader, you will never start. The vital parts of preparation are:

►        Pray. This is not just in words. It is an attitude too. You are putting your trust in God. ‘*Lord, I cannot manage to lead this meeting by myself.’

►        Know the passage that you are going to study. This means that you must read the text carefully. Read it several times, so that you are familiar with it. Then, read this Bible Guide study. If any other books are available to you, read them too.

►        Have a clear idea of your aim for the meeting. Make notes on how you will start the meeting. Perhaps you could repeat the lessons of the previous time. Suggest your ideas for the present study. But, never force the group to give the answers that you want. Listen to their ideas.

Things that the leader of a group should do:

Pray about the meeting.

Decide what you want to achieve in the meeting.

Prepare the information.

Be sure about the questions to use. They should encourage good group discussion.

Encourage silent members. (You must do this in a gentle way.)

Stop other members from talking too much. (Again, you must do this in a gentle way.)

You will not know all the answers. Do not pretend that you know everything.

Listen to the members of the group. And value what they say.

Some people think that they are always right. You may tend to be like this. But it is not good. Here is something to remind you. Say to yourself: ‘I will not force my ideas on the group.’

Have several ideas for prayer. (They must be of common interest to the group.)

You should study the Bible so that you can use it in your daily lives. (You should not just make it agree with your own ideas.)

Find means for action and change in your lives. (You are not just having a nice talk.)

You should all enjoy the experience together.

3. What we can expect to learn from Matthew’s *Gospel:

·          The *OT tells us about many hopes. It describes many things that people could expect. And Jesus is the answer to them all.

·          Jesus is the *Messiah. He is God who became man. He shows this by the authority of his teaching. He shows it by the nature of his *miracles too.

·          The stories about Jesus are facts of history. Matthew was recording the truth.

·          Jesus teaches about various subjects. There is the *Kingdom of God. He tells what Christians should be like too. Also, there are specific matters. There is the matter of divorce. There is the subject of remarriage too.

·          Jesus is the hope of the world. Matthew shows how the Good News is for everyone.

The structure of this Bible Guide

 

This guide has separate sections. They should make things easier to understand.

First section

 

This is the main section. It gives the meaning of the passage.

Every study has this section at the beginning. It describes the passage in the fewest possible words.

The second main section is:

Questions

 

 

Every passage has special questions. They are for personal study and for study by a group. They come after the main section. Some questions are for each person. Some of the questions can be helpful for the whole group. It could be a group in your church or in a home. Other questions affect us as members of God’s people all over the world. There are three main purposes for the questions. They are:

►        to help people to think about the passage.

►        to show them how to use the text in ‘real life’ situations.

►        to encourage them to think, discuss and act!

As leader of a group, you may think of other questions. These may be better for your group. So, note them in your time of preparation.

More explanation

 

 

Some passages need more explanation. This section will help you to understand them. It gives extra information. This explains the facts in the passage. Here is one example in Matthew. We read about the *Pharisees. We can learn more about them. Then we will understand their reactions to Jesus. It is a technical section.

Important truths

 

 

This section gives more details. Not every passage has it. It is for passages that have important subjects. Or they may have important teaching. These truths need more study. There is a reason for this. It will help us to become mature Christians. This is a technical section too.

Introduction to Matthew’s *Gospel

The writer of the book of Matthew

We cannot be sure who wrote the book. There is nothing in it to identify the author. But, the first traditions of the church all agree. A *disciple of Jesus wrote it. His name is in Matthew 9:9. The words of the *Gospel seem to agree with this. It is what we would expect a *Jew to write. Matthew (Levi) respected authority. He was sure that Jesus Christ was King. So, the tradition is probably right. This book assumes that Matthew is the author.

[Note: A *Jew is a person from the *Jewish nation. God chose the *Jews to be his special people. (Read Deuteronomy 7:6–8.) Our *OT (the first part of the Bible) tells their history. Their language is Hebrew. Jesus was a *Jew.]

When the author wrote the *Gospel

The author says nothing about the date. Tradition said that it was the first one of the 4 *Gospels. (This is why it is at the beginning of the *NT.) But, between 1800 and 1900, opinions changed. People thought that Mark was the first *Gospel. Matthew seemed to depend on Mark for information. Some things in Matthew seemed to be available to Mark only. So, the usual date that people give for Matthew is between *AD 70 and AD 79.

But there is a problem with these dates. People found first copies of parts of the *NT. These have much earlier dates. Then, in *AD 70, the enemy destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Surely, Matthew would have referred to this event. So, it is possible that he wrote the *Gospel in *AD 45. Or, it could have been soon after that date.

If that is true, Matthew wrote his book soon after the events. So, the author is describing events that he would remember clearly. This would be true about his readers, too. All of this would show that Matthew was writing the truth. The events actually happened. They are a part of history.

The reason that the author wrote the *Gospel

He probably wrote the book to *Jews. He wanted to convince them that Jesus was the *Messiah. A careful study of the *Gospel will show this. Some of these facts are:

·    He shows the family of Jesus. It was the same as the family of the *Jews.

·    He claims that the *OT gave facts about Jesus’ birth. They were facts about the *Messiah.

·    He has an interest in the *Law.

·    He tells about other *Jewish customs. (One example is in Matthew 15:1–9.)

These things all suggest something. It is this. The author wrote the *Gospel especially for *Jews. Of course, he insisted that it was for all nations too. (Read 28:16–20.) But, he was still showing that God chose the *Jews first. They were his special people. They would bring God’s good things to the nations. (Read Genesis 12:1–3.)

So, we can believe that Matthew wrote to *Jews. He wanted them to know that Jesus is the *Messiah. Jesus would save them from the results of their *sins. He would rescue them from the power of that *sin in their lives.


Matthew 1:1–17

It is true! God saves.

 

The stories about Jesus in the *Gospels are true. They really happened. They tell us how God completed his plan. His plan was to save men and women. He wanted to save them from the power and the results of their *sin.

 

Matthew wrote the first book of the *NT. His job was to collect taxes. He became one of Jesus’ best friends. (Read Matthew 9:9–13. Then read Mark 2:13–17 and Luke 5:27–32.)

Matthew was writing down what actually happened. He wanted his readers to understand this. Look at the first words of his book. They seem to just tell Jesus’ family history. But it is probably more than this. Matthew was introducing the whole book. He was saying, ‘This book gives the history of Jesus Christ.’

Many of us know the name ‘Jesus Christ’ very well. So, we miss something. It is that ‘Christ’ was not just a name. The name described his job. God chose him for a special purpose. The word comes from a *Greek word ‘christos’. This is a translation of the *Hebrew word ‘meshiah’. To a *Jew, this meant the one who would save them.

The *OT is full of promises about the *Messiah who would come. *Jews in Matthew’s time knew about the *Messiah. The *Romans had been their rulers for many years. *Jews hoped that the ‘Christ’ would save them from the power of the *Romans.

The name ‘Jesus’ means ‘he will certainly save’. (Read 1:21.) *Jews expected the Christ to have the name of Jesus. So, many mothers gave this name to their sons. They hoped that their child would be the *Messiah. This Jesus was the son of Mary. Matthew believed that he was the Christ.

But, Jesus came to save the *Jews from much more than the *Romans. He came to save them from the results and power of their *sin (verse 21). He came to establish a *kingdom. His *kingdom would be much greater than any other one.

Read Genesis 22:18 and 2 Samuel 7:16. The *Jews knew these passages. They are about the *Messiah (Christ) who would come. He would save them. The *Jews would know him when he came. They were sure about this. Christ would come from the families of both Abraham and David. These two men were the greatest *Jews who had ever lived. Matthew tells us that this was true about Jesus. He was ‘the son of David’. He was ‘the son of Abraham’.

The beginnings of families

People want to discover who their past family members were. The word for them is ‘ancestors’. Today, there is much interest in this subject. In many parts of the world, it has always been vital. This was true about the *Jews. They kept careful records. Either the oldest members of the family would remember. Or, they would write down the names. Matthew was writing especially to *Jews. So, it was important to give proof. He must show that his claims about Jesus were true.

Matthew began his book with a list of names. He divided it into three sections. Each section has 14 names.

The first section begins with Abraham. He was the first man to have a promise like this from God. The promise was that God would send someone special. This person would be from Abraham’s family. He would come to save people. (Read Genesis 12:1–3.)

The first section ends with David. He was the *Jews’ greatest king (1:2–6a). So, Matthew showed the human part of God’s promise. David was the greatest member of Abraham’s family. This was true until the time when Matthew lived. But, after David had died, his *kingdom divided. It became two separate parts. Then, it stopped being a great *kingdom. But God gave greater promises to David. (Read 2 Samuel 7.) The person who would save them would be greater than David.

The second section continues with David’s family. It ends at the time of the *exile.

Then there is the third section. This deals with the years from the *exile to the birth of Jesus Christ. (This is in 1:12–17.) Some people claimed to be the *Messiah. This happened even before the time of Matthew. But there was nobody who could convince the people. Then, Jesus came. Matthew shows that Jesus is the *Messiah. All of God’s promises in the *OT come true in him.

Questions

 

1.Some people say that the stories about Jesus just contain truth. This religious truth is what matters. It is not important whether they actually happened. What would you say to these people?

2. What is the most important thing to tell non-Christians? What does your church group think? Matthew emphasised that ‘God saves’. Do you agree with him?

3. Jesus will establish a *kingdom one day. Do you concentrate on this fact? Or, do you care more about what you can get from him now? Discuss your ideas with the group.

Matthew 1:18–25

God became human for us

 

Jesus was God. He was also completely human. The story of his birth showed how this could be true.

 

God promised to send the Christ (*Messiah). Jesus is the Christ. Matthew has told us this. He has shown us that Jesus had the right family. He was the son of Abraham. He was the son of David too. Now we want the story to begin!

Matthew did not tell us all the facts about Jesus’ birth. But we can be sure about two great facts. He told us enough for this. First, a virgin gave birth to Jesus. (Note: A virgin is someone who has never had sex.) Second, Jesus’ strange birth was special. It had special meaning.

Joseph and Mary had agreed to marry. This agreement would be for a year. Then there would be the marriage. (Read more about this at the end of this section.) It was during this year that Joseph found out about something. Mary was going to have a baby. Of course, he thought that she must have had sex with another man.

God’s law demanded action. Joseph wanted to give honour to God in his life. But, he did not act before he had thought about it. Then, he had a very clear dream. He knew that it was from God. An *angel brought a message to Joseph. It was hard to believe it. Mary was going to have a child. But she had not had sex with another man. She was still a virgin! Her child belonged to God in a special way. He was from the Holy Spirit. This was exactly what God had said would happen. The *angel reminded Joseph about this. Joseph was familiar with the *OT. So, he would know the words from Isaiah 7:14.

Joseph acted very bravely. He obeyed God’s message. He married Mary. Probably, some people laughed at him. They would think that there had been sex before marriage. Some friends would know that he would not do this. They might think that he was not obeying God’s laws. Other people might accuse Mary. They might say that she was a wicked woman. They might say that she would have sex with any man for money! It is not always easy to obey God!

Matthew explained why this strange event happened. God became a man. He did this to ‘save his people from their *sins’ (verse 21). Men and women can do many good things. But all people have bad habits. The bad habits come from *sin. All of the *OT and all of human history show us this. Men and women are unable to help themselves. This is very sad. People need someone who will rescue them. The Bible teaches something more. People are *sinners. They are against God. In the end, God must punish them.

So, in these verses, Matthew suggested a truth. He would explain more about it later.

Questions

 

1. God called Joseph to do a very brave thing. Is there any part of your life where you are like Joseph? What could you learn from this passage to encourage you?

2. Christians believe that Mary was a virgin. (She had not had sex with any man.) They teach that it is true. Why do you think that this is important? (The *NT only mentions the special birth clearly twice.)

3. We live in a world where people often suffer. They are often sad. What message does this passage give your church to declare? What does it suggest that your church could do about it?

More explanation

 

Customs of *Jewish marriage

There were three periods to a *Jewish marriage. First, there was the ‘engagement’. This was often while the couple were still children. The parents would use someone else to arrange it. This still happens today in many places. The couple might not even see each other. Marriage was a serious matter. You could not trust the emotions of young people.

The second period was the ‘betrothal’. This was an official agreement. It was between the two young people. It meant that the engagement should continue. Up to this time, it could end. After the betrothal, they could not end the agreement. It lasted one year. During this time, people spoke to them as if they were man and wife. But they did not live together. Divorce was the only way to end it. Joseph and Mary were in this period when we first hear about them. The marriage was at the end of the year of betrothal.

Joseph was a good man. This meant that he obeyed God’s *Law. Some laws spoke about women who had sex with many men. There should be a public meeting about the matter. Then there should be a divorce. (Read Deuteronomy 22:23–29.) By the time of Joseph and Mary, the *Jews did not kill people for this *sin. But, there was another way to deal with it. The *Law seemed to allow a ‘secret’ divorce. (Read Deuteronomy 24:1–2.) Joseph was a kind man. So, he decided to have this kind of divorce. That would mean that Mary’s shame would not be so bad.

Important truths

 

Birth by a virgin (someone who has never had sex)

Matthew told how a virgin gave birth. People often doubt his account. Even some important teachers of the *OT have questions about it. In verse 23, Matthew repeated Isaiah 7:14. He used the word ‘virgin’. These teachers say that Isaiah’s word just means ‘young woman’. (The Hebrew word is ‘alma’.) ‘Alma’ is the closest word to ‘virgin’ in Hebrew. (Note: Hebrew is the *Jews’ language.) It does not necessarily mean someone who has never had sex. But it does seem to suggest a virgin. It comes from a word that means ‘secret’. In fact, the *OT never uses the word ‘alma’ about a married person.

There is another explanation. Isaiah may be referring to an event that would happen soon. But he could have been pointing to a much greater event too. Matthew would be writing about the greater event. Whatever Isaiah meant, we can be sure about one thing. It is this. We know that the Bible is true. *NT writers never changed the meaning of the *OT.

Matthew 2:1–12

A royal priest

 

The wise men (‘Magi’) visited Jesus. This visit showed three things about Jesus. He is a king. He is a priest. He is God himself. It suggested something else too. He would suffer greatly because he always obeyed God.

 

Matthew did not tell us about Jesus’ birth. He had a main interest. He wanted to explain why it was important. He did this by describing some strange events. They happened after Jesus’ birth.

Jesus’ birth was exactly as the *OT had said that it would be. The *prophet Micah lived more than 800 years before Jesus. Micah had promised that a great ruler would come. His birth would be in Lesser Bethlehem. (Lesser means less important.) This was the place where David was born. (Read Micah 5:2.) The people knew that it would be after the time of the *exile. But, nobody had come. So, the people were still waiting (verses 4–5). But this small village was exactly where Jesus was born!

Matthew recorded the gifts that the Magi (wise men) brought. So, he must have thought that the gifts were important. He believed that each one shows us something special.

►        Gold shows us about royal things. This is true even today. But, in the *OT, it was also a sign that something was holy. There was a lot of gold in the *temple. (Read 1 Kings 6:20–22.)

►        Frankincense is a perfume. (This is a substance with its own special good smell.) People used it in ancient times. *Jewish priests used it in the *Temple. It was one of their duties. In *OT times, their main duty was to bring gifts to God for the people. Usually, the gifts were perfect animals. The animal died instead of the person who brought it. It was as if the people were paying a price to God. The payment was for their *sin. The people knew that they deserved God’s punishment.

►        Myrrh was another perfume. (This is a substance with its own special good smell.) In Bible times, people used it to reduce pain. They used it when they buried people too. It helped to make the funeral less awful. In the *OT, myrrh was also a sign that people were loyal to God.

Matthew believed that these gifts were signs. They showed the fact that Jesus was a holy king. He obeyed God. Because he served God, he would suffer and die.

Perhaps Matthew wanted us to think about something else too. People had different reactions to the news about Jesus’ birth. King Herod knew and believed God’s word. Herod had no doubts that the Magi would find the Christ in Bethlehem. He said, ‘When you find him’ (verse 8). But Herod was more interested in himself. He had his own ambitions. So, he tried to defeat God!

Also, there were the chief priests and the teachers of the *Law. They had a different problem. They were professional Bible experts. But they failed to use the *OT in their own lives. They showed little interest in the Magi’s news. All of the *OT points to Jesus. But these men still had no interest in him.

The Magi (wise men) had little knowledge about Jesus. But they travelled great distances. They dealt with many difficulties. They really wanted to find him. When they first saw him, they gave him honour. Yet, he was only a tiny baby. These men ‘*worshipped’ Jesus. *Worship is for God only. Matthew tells us that the baby was God himself. In some way, even the Magi knew this!

Questions

 

1. People in this passage had different reactions to Jesus. What lessons can we learn from them?

2. Jesus came into this world for a purpose. He came to obey his Father. He came to serve us. He also died for us. What does this mean for the life of your church?

3. We must tell the Good News (gospel) to other people. What does this passage tell us about the gospel’s contents?

More explanation

 

Herod

The Bible mentions several people who were called Herod. Herod the Great ruled Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth. Herod the Great was born in 73 BC. (Note: BC means Before Christ. Christ means *Messiah.) Herod killed many people. So, he was always afraid that someone would kill him. At the time of his death, he had evil plans. He was planning to kill more than 3000 people. He had already killed his wife and his sister’s husband. He even killed his mother and some of his sons. This was because he was afraid of them.

All this explained Herod’s reaction to the report of the Magi (wise men). It helps us to know why the news affected ‘all the people in Jerusalem’ too. When Herod worried, other people usually suffered! Soon, the mothers of Bethlehem would know this. They would suffer from the cruelty of the king.

Maybe Herod was worried most about something that the Magi said. They spoke about someone who was ‘born as the king of the *Jews’. Herod knew that he was not the proper king. He became king by using evil methods.

Jesus was born a short time before Herod’s death. (Compare verses 1 and 19.) Herod died in the first quarter of 4 BC. Jesus was probably born in 5 BC.

The Magi and the star

Magi were religious leaders. They were the wise men in Persia and Media. This is now Iran and other countries near there. We do not know how they knew about Jesus. Perhaps it was by a dream. Maybe it was similar to the dream in verse 12.

We do not know what star the Magi saw. Many people have tried to identify it. Some of them suggest that it was Halley’s Comet. (Note: ‘Comet’ comes from a Greek word ‘kometes’. It means a star with a long tail.) But this appeared in 12 BC (Before Christ.) So, it was too early to show Jesus’ birth. Another comet is more likely to be the star. The Chinese recorded a comet in 5 BC. It would have been like the star in verses 9 and 10. Its tail would have pointed down ‘over’ Bethlehem. (We know more details about this comet. See the ‘Tyndale Bulletin’ 43.1, 1992.)

The chief priests and the teachers of the *Law

These men were religious and political leaders. They ruled in ancient Judea. Judea was a part of Israel. They met together in a group. The name of this group was the Sanhedrin.

The chief priests included the present and previous High Priests. They also included priests from whom they would choose the new High Priest. They were all members of another group. The name of this group was the Sadducees.

Also, there were the teachers of the *Law. ‘Scribes’ is another name for them. (Some English translations of the Bible use this name.) They must make sure that people obeyed the laws. They must also teach God’s words. They were the experts in *Jewish religion. They were usually *Pharisees.

(Note: *Pharisees and Sadducees: There is more information about these two groups. It is in the section for 3:4–10.)

Matthew 2:13–23

God controls everything

 

God does what he promises. He protects and looks after his children.

 

There is not much information about Jesus’ early life. Matthew soon completed his account. He did this in three short paragraphs. These are in verses 13–15, 16–18 and 19–23.

Herod realised that the Magi (wise men) were not coming back. He acted immediately. Probably, this happened a few days after the visit of the Magi (wise men). Herod wanted to be sure that nobody else could be king. So, he killed all the children who were younger than 2 years of age. Bethlehem was a very small village. But there would still be between 15 and 30 babies.

But, men and women cannot stop God’s plans. Herod himself would die soon. Jesus escaped his evil plan. God told Joseph about the danger before it happened. So, he could take the child and Mary to Egypt. This was the nearest safe place.

Then Herod died. So, Joseph could return with his family. Verses 19–23 describe this. He did not want to go back to Bethlehem. This does not surprise us. The new ruler was Archelaus. He was as bad as his father, Herod. He had already killed 3000 people. So, Joseph was anxious. But God understood this. He told him to return to his former home. This was in Nazareth. (Read Luke 2:4.) Archelaus did not rule there. There were many dangers. But God was protecting and caring for Joseph, Mary and the baby. He can do the same for us too.

All of God’s promises in the *OT come true in Jesus. Each of the three short paragraphs ended by repeating words from the *OT. Matthew tells us that they came true in Jesus. (Read the section after ‘Questions’.)

There is one more thing to notice here. Joseph obeyed God. But this was not always easy. First, there was the fact that Mary was having a baby. Then there was the birth of Jesus. These events completely changed his life. Sometimes, he was confused and anxious. He did not know what to do. He only knew that God had helped him before.

At other times, he knew part of God’s plan. But he did not know all of it. (Compare verses 20 and 22.) It was hard for him to marry Mary. She was having a baby. People did not understand. They spoke against him. But, Joseph still learned something important. It was this. To obey God was the best way. God protected him, even in times of great danger.

Questions

 

1. Think about Joseph’s experience. Use the lessons of his life in your own situation.

2. How does this passage encourage your church group? How does God guide a group of Christians (believers)?

3. Think about the cruel murders in 2:16. There is so much suffering in the world. Is there something that you could do? How could you show that the Christian message has an answer?

More explanation

 

How Matthew used the Old Testament (*OT)

Matthew says that these *OT passages refer to Jesus. But at first, they do not seem to have anything to do with him!

Verse 15 repeats Hosea 11:1. There, the *prophet showed how God saved Israel’s people. They were in Egypt. He brought them back to their own land. This had happened many hundreds of years before. So, some people cannot understand how the passage could refer to Jesus. Perhaps Matthew used it in the wrong way. Maybe it was something that was familiar to *Jews only at that time.

But the *NT writers used the *OT. They saw similar things between the *OT story and Jesus’ life and work. Careful study will show this. They felt that Jesus matched with the whole history of the *Jews (Israel). He even lived it all again.

God brought the *Jews out of Egypt. He wanted them to bring God’s *salvation to the world. They failed to do this. But Jesus would succeed. So, he too went to Egypt and returned from there. This was to show that he had come to save the world. He had come to bring the knowledge of God to all people. Of course, Hosea was not actually speaking about this. But it was quite fair for Matthew to use his words.

Read verse 18. Matthew was doing something similar there. He repeated Jeremiah 31:15. It told about a sad time in Bethlehem. The young people of the village would go away into *exile. So, the words could not be about Herod’s murder of the babies. But Jeremiah’s words were a message of hope. The enemy would destroy the land. But there was still hope. God would save his people. He had not forgotten his people. He would not remove his promises from them.

Again, Matthew saw that those days and his own days were similar. Once, God had brought hope to a sad people. He saved them. Now, in Jesus, God had done it again. Jesus still brings hope to desperate people. He saves them from the results and the power of their *sin. This was the hope for which the world was looking.

Verse 23 is more difficult. Matthew did not tell us where the words came from. Some people suggest that he was thinking about Isaiah 11:1. The word ‘branch’ is there. In *Hebrew, the word sounds like ‘Nazareth’. Other people think that he was using Numbers 6. This is because it mentions the ‘Nazirite’. Both of these passages came true in Jesus. But, these words only sound similar to the name Nazareth. They have no real connection with it.

Matthew repeated some words of ‘the *prophets’. (These are the books that the *prophets wrote. They are in our *OT.) So, he was probably thinking about several passages. In fact, Nazareth was a very small village. People ‘despised’ it. This means that it was very unimportant to them. People thought that it had nothing of value. (Read John 1:45–46.) Many times, the *OT said that people would ‘despise’ the *Messiah (Christ). (Read Psalm 22:6–8, 13; 69:8, 20–21; Isaiah 49:7; 53:2–3, 8; and Daniel 9:26.) These verses describe good people. They also describe the *Messiah. People ‘despise’ them both.

Matthew realised something. So did other writers of the *NT. It was about the language of these verses. They referred especially to Jesus. (Compare Matthew 12:24; 27:21–23, 63; Luke 23:11; John 1:11; 5:18; 6:66; 9:22, 34.)

Matthew 3:1–3

Be ready!

 

Only those who really *repent will enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ work.

 

Matthew now spoke about later events. He did this just after he had told about Jesus’ birth. These events happened 30 years later. The time was just before Jesus started his special public work. Matthew must have thought that the events were important. He said, ‘In those days’. This meant: ‘In those important days’.

A great leader usually sent someone ahead of him. The name for this special person was a ‘herald’. His job was to prepare for the arrival of the leader. Jesus was a king (2:2). He had a herald too. The *OT had said that this herald would come. Isaiah 40:3–5 told about him. He would come before God himself came. Matthew said that the verses referred to John the *Baptist. Usually, nobody would give his talks in the desert. He would go to where there are people to listen! But this was what John did. It was what Isaiah had said would happen too.

Note: Many *OT *prophets spoke about events in the near future. But they often suggested that these events could refer to something more. They pointed to much greater events. They would be a long time in the future. These verses in Isaiah are like this.

*Repent!

John was a herald. Someone important was going to arrive. He was much greater than John. The herald’s task was to make sure that everyone was ready. This was exactly what John did. His message was very clear. Most people would not want to hear it. He called them to *repent. If they did not *repent, something bad would happen. He warned them about that.

We may want to know what John meant by the ‘*kingdom of heaven’ (3:2). It meant that God would establish his rule over the whole earth. The *OT told about this time. It described ‘the *kingdom of God’. Another name was the ‘*kingdom of heaven’. John said that this *kingdom ‘is near’. God would act very soon. Men and women could enjoy God’s *kingdom for themselves. But, they must be ready. They would not just arrive there. John emphasised this. They needed to do something. Most important, they must *repent.

To *repent is not just to feel sorry about something. There are all sorts of reasons to be sorry. Perhaps someone discovered what we did. Maybe we suffered for our actions. We may have hurt other people. But, *repentance is different.

God promised that he would give many good things. It would happen soon. But men and women must be ready. Jesus spoke the same message. (Read Matthew 4:17.) But there was a difference. Jesus taught how these good things would come. They would come because people knew him. (Read Mark 1:15 and Matthew 13:16–17.) John promised good things. These good things began to arrive. They started when Jesus came.

Questions

 

1. How could your life show that you have *repented? What evidence should you expect in your life?

2. *Repentance is necessary. How does your church emphasise this when they tell the Good News about Jesus? Do they emphasise it too much, or too little? How can they do it in the right way?

3. John spoke the truth to the people. How can we learn from his methods?

Important truths

 

The *kingdom is near

John said that God’s *kingdom was near. He said that God’s *judgement was coming soon. But this does not seem to be true. More than 2000 years have passed since then. God’s final *judgement is still in the future. Jesus has not returned to earth yet. The Bible itself gives information about these things.

►  There would be two arrivals of Jesus. The Bible describes them both. But, they sometimes seem like one event. At other times, the Bible talks about them separately. Jesus’ work began the events that will lead to the *judgement.

►  The enemy destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This happened only 40 years later. The *NT described this event as the certain *judgement of God.

►  When people refuse to believe, they become worse. For such people, *judgement is starting to happen.

►  God’s time is different from our time. Peter spoke about this. He said, ‘For the *Lord, a day is like a thousand years.’ (Read 2 Peter 3:8.)

But none of these points gives a complete answer. There is still a problem in this passage. Probably, John was speaking about certain people. It was those people who would not recognise who Jesus was. They would receive God’s *judgement for a special reason. They always refused to believe. They chose to do this. So, God would leave them in that state.

Matthew 3:4–10

True and false *repentance

 

People may declare that they are God’s *disciples. God wants them to be really sorry about their *sin.

 

In *OT times, God spoke to his people by *prophets. But there had been no *prophets since the death of Malachi. That was in about 400 BC (Before Christ). The *Jews believed that God would use *prophets again. They thought that it would be when God’s *kingdom came. John’s clothes were different. This was like some of the *OT *prophets. (Read Zechariah 13:4; 1 Samuel 28:14 and 2 Kings 1:8.) His words seemed like *prophets’ words too. People travelled a long distance to hear him. Many of these people recognised who John was. They obeyed his message.

When this happened, John *baptised them. He put them in the water of the Jordan river. *Baptism was a common ceremony in the ancient world. It was often a sign. It could show that a person was clean from something evil. Or, it could show that they were entering into a new society. (Note: There were many ‘secret societies’. They used this practice to welcome new members. Other groups in the ancient world did this too.)

Many people wanted to do something about John’s message. *Baptism was the way that they showed this. It was a sign. It showed that God had taken away their *sin. John was preparing them for God’s *kingdom. Jesus would start this *kingdom. Later, Jesus’ *disciples *baptised people too. (Read John 3:22; 4:1, 2.) This also became a sign. It showed that people wanted to follow Jesus. It showed that they had entered his *kingdom. (Read Matthew 28:18–20 and Romans 6:4.)

A different life

There were two important religious groups. They were the main ones in Israel then. They were *Pharisees and *Sadducees. Members from both these groups came to John. They asked him to *baptise them. We might expect that this would please John. But he was angry with them. He did not believe that they had *repented. They wanted God to accept them as his people. Maybe, they thought that *baptism was sufficient. But John emphasised something. It was this. The result of real *repentance will always be a different life.

The same thing happens today. Many people believe that *baptism alone makes them God’s people. But this is not true. First, people must *repent of their *sin. They must want to live in a way that will please God. They will obey God. Only then does *baptism have meaning. It shows that *repentance is real.

In verse 7, John dealt with a problem. It was the problem of the *Pharisees and the *Sadducees. The snake was a sign to the *Jews. It was a sign for wicked things. A snake (serpent) first deceived humans. (He told a lie to Eve; and he made it seem like the truth.) This caused *sin in the world. John said to the religious groups: ‘You are all like snakes.’ They would hate this description. But John wanted to give them a shock. They were not being honest with themselves. They did not realise that they were in great danger of God’s *judgement.

Both groups believed that God was especially pleased with them. There was a reason for this. God had made many promises to the first members of the *Jewish nation. Those first *Jews lived a long time ago. But, surely, the good things that they had done would still count. This was what the *Pharisees and the *Sadducees thought. So, the two groups believed that they could claim benefits from the past for themselves.

Read verses 9–10. John was saying something important here. God is very good to us. But this means that we have responsibility. He promises to save. But there is a rule. God will only accept people if they *repent.

Questions

 

1. What importance does *baptism as a Christian have for you?

2. What should the church expect in the lives of those who want *baptism? Parents may bring children for *baptism. What should the church expect to see in the parents? Also, there are the friends who will have a special interest in the child. What should they be like?

3. Do you think that modern speakers should ever speak as John spoke? (Read verses 7–10.) If so, where should they do this? To whom should they speak like this? On what occasions should they speak like this?

More explanation

 

*Pharisees and Sadducees

We do not know how these two groups began. But, we do know some facts about them. There were the *Pharisees. They would not accept other cultures and customs. They felt that these things would stop them from being holy. The *Pharisees insisted that people must be very careful to obey God’s laws. So, they added many extra regulations. They thought that these rules would help people. The rules would stop them from becoming ‘dirty’ with *sin. *Pharisees tended to be proud. They thought that they were very good people. They did not like those who did not have the same beliefs.

Also, there were the Sadducees. They were very different. They believed the first 5 books of the *OT. They believed that only these books were God’s words. They had another main belief. It was this. Dead people could never come alive again. (The *Pharisees believed that this could happen.) The Sadducees enjoyed power. To gain it, they were even willing to have lower standards. They were rich and powerful. The High Priest and his family were members of this group.

Important truths

 

God’s anger

The Bible speaks about God’s anger. This does not mean that God has bad moods. He does not get angry for no reason. But God hates all that is evil. He hates all that is wicked. This is what God’s anger means.

This is why God’s anger must be against every human person. Nobody can ever live by God’s standards. (Read Ephesians 2:3.) People experience his anger in this life. (Read John 3:18, 36 and Romans 1:18.) But his main anger is for the future. (Read Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9 and Revelation 14:10.) There is a connection with the return of Jesus. (Read Malachi 3:2–3; 4:1–5.) Men and women must really *repent. They must trust Jesus. Only then can they escape God’s anger.

Matthew 3:11–17

The most important thing

 

Jesus is God. He *baptises with the Holy Spirit. But he still wanted John to *baptise him.

 

The crowd believed that John was a *prophet. But John told them that he was like a slave. In ancient Israel, this had a certain meaning. It was a slave’s task to carry his master’s shoes. Then John made another claim. It was even more surprising. The *OT says that God is ‘the greater or more powerful one’. (Read Daniel 9:4 and Jeremiah 32:18.) The *OT promised that God’s Christ (the Messiah) would come. John said that this *Messiah would be God! He would not be just a man, as John was.

Also, there was John’s work and the task of the Christ. There would be a great difference between them. Christ (the *Messiah) would *baptise with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Humans cannot really *repent. They cannot live a life that pleases God. They do not have the power to do it. But, the Christ would provide that power. John could only *baptise as a sign of *repentance. The Christ would give real *repentance. He would make men and women holy (like God).

What John had said finally came true. It was on the Day of Pentecost. (Read Acts 2. It will explain about the Day of Pentecost.) From that day, God gave the Holy Spirit to all his people. His work showed in their lives. Every day, there was *repentance. Every day, they became more holy. But, there is something else about Jesus’ *baptism of fire. If it did not make holy, it would burn. (Read 3:12.) Jesus came to bring life. But, there will be people who refuse him. They will know him as judge one day. John 3:16–21 teaches a similar lesson.

Jesus’ *baptism

John did not think that he should *baptise Jesus. John knew enough about Jesus to know this. John was a *sinner. Jesus was not a *sinner. But Jesus insisted on *baptism. Perhaps he wanted to deal with John’s doubts and fears. Maybe, Jesus was showing something to John. He was willing to share with *sinners. He was willing to take their punishment. His gentle reply in verse 15, may suggest this.

But, the most important part of this section is in verses 16 and 17. The dove (a bird) was a sign in the ancient world. It was a sign of moral goodness and kindness. But something was more important. The Spirit came on Jesus in a way that people could see. This meant that Jesus was now ready for his work. He would be able to *baptise with the Spirit too.

Something even more wonderful happened next (verse 17). God the Father spoke. He declared that Jesus was the Son of the Father. Jesus was God. This man was the Christ (*Messiah). He was the man about whom John spoke. God is holy. He must hate and judge *sin. But, he is also the God who loves. Because he loves, he sent his Son to save people. God was very pleased with the work that Jesus was going to do.

There is one final detail in this section. It is in verses 13–17. We learn that the Father was pleased with the work of the Son. The Spirit came to help Jesus with his work. So, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were working together. They were working to save *sinners. They still do this same work today. This is very wonderful.

Questions

 

1. How would you describe Jesus to one of your friends?

2. The work of the Holy Spirit is vital to every real believer (Christian). How do the leaders of your church explain the Holy Spirit’s work? Does their teaching agree with this passage? If it does not, why is this?

3. Non-Christians need to understand the love of God in Jesus. How can you help them?

Important truths

 

The *baptism with the Holy Spirit

The phrase ‘*baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is common today. It often refers to experiences after a person becomes a Christian. But, read Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5 and 11:16. These *NT references are clear. They refer to the first experience of a Christian. The use of the word ‘*baptism’ confirms this too. Ancient societies used this word. They used it for the ceremony when a person joined the society. So, it was about the beginning of a person’s decision to join.

So, ‘*baptism with the Spirit’ is a *NT phrase. It is one of the ways to describe a special event. It is the event when a person becomes a Christian. It emphasises two things. First, God lives in a real Christian. Then, that person has what he or she needs for a holy, good life.

There will be many other new experiences of God. These will happen after a person becomes a Christian. The believer can enjoy them in the days and years afterwards. But people should not call these experiences the ‘*baptism in the Spirit’.

The Son of God

Many false teachings have come from these words. They do not mean that Jesus was not really God. They do not mean that he was born in heaven, some time after his Father. John 1:1–3 shows us that this is not true.

But, a son has the same nature as his father. A man is human. His children are human too. It is the same when the Bible speaks about ‘God’s son’. God is God and Jesus is the son. It means that he has the same nature as the Father. So, he is God! This was the claim that Matthew was making about Jesus here. Matthew’s readers would have understood this.

Matthew 4:1–11

The test

 

Jesus is the Son of God. God showed this to everybody. He did this at Jesus’ *baptism. The devil, (or *Satan), did not like this. So, he gave Jesus some very hard tests.

 

Jesus was ready to identify with all the needs of *sinners. (Read 3:13–17.) He had the same temptations as we have. (This word means that someone or something is tempting us to *sin.) Jesus suffered like us too. But his temptations were special. It could not be the same for anybody else. The devil was testing a fact. It was the fact that Jesus was the ‘Son of God’. Notice when these events happened. It was just after a great experience. (Read 3:16–17.) The word ‘then’ emphasised this.

It can be the same for us. We may have a great spiritual experience. We may have a great success against Satan (the devil). Then, it can be hard to deal with another temptation. This was true for Elijah. (Read 1 Kings 18 and 19.) It was also true for Jesus.

Jesus went to the place where he would have his great test. Matthew said something unusual. He said that God’s Holy Spirit took Jesus there. It was part of God’s plan for Jesus. He would be ‘perfect by the things that he suffered’. (Read Hebrews 2:10.) God often uses the temptations that come into our lives. It can be his way to make us grow in our Christian lives. But, we must remember something. Matthew emphasised it. God allows the devil to tempt us. But, when evil attracts us, that is the devil’s work.

*Satan did not just tempt Jesus at the end of 40 days. (Read verses 2–3.) He tempted Jesus for the whole period. (Read Luke 4:1–13.) There was no quick escape from his tests. Often, the same is true for us.

Let us think about the first temptation. The devil seemed to be referring to 3:17. There, God confirmed that Jesus was his Son. *Satan was trying to spoil Jesus’ confidence in these words. *Satan said ‘If’. He wanted Jesus to test the truth of God’s words.

The devil had used this method before. He tried to bring doubts into Eve’s mind. (Read Genesis 3:1–6.) There, in the garden, Adam and Eve failed the test. Here, Jesus passed the test. He was confident in God. He trusted God and his word. He reminded the devil that all people must respect God. So, Jesus said words from Deuteronomy 8:3. Deuteronomy is in the *OT. The devil’s methods do not change. They are the same today. The way to overcome the devil does not change either!

The devil had some more tests for Jesus. This time, the devil said something from the Bible. (The words are in Psalm 91:11–12.) He wanted Jesus to test God’s word. The place where this happened was probably important. *Satan’s test was on the roof of the *Temple. The *Temple was the place where God lived. So, surely God would look after his Son. God was very near. He was able to help too. There could not be a better place. Jesus could do something wonderful. Then a crowd of people would follow him!

Jesus answered the devil in the same way. He used the Bible. Jesus knew Psalm 91. There, God promised to protect his children. But Jesus said words from Deuteronomy 6:16. We must not use God for experiments. Jesus knew the Bible. He understood its correct meaning too. In this way, he overcame the devil. The lesson for us should be clear.

Then there was the last test for Jesus at this time. It was probably a vision. (This is like a dream, but the person is often awake.) The devil showed Jesus ‘all the *kingdoms of the world’. He was able to do this ‘in a moment of time’. (Read Luke 4:5.) But, the test was still very real. The devil offered power on earth to Jesus. This was instead of spiritual authority.

But, there was a price for this power. Jesus must accept *Satan as his spiritual leader. He must *worship *Satan. Jesus knew *Satan’s purpose. Again, Jesus said words from the Bible. (The words are in Deuteronomy 6:13.) God is the only one whom people must *worship. Then the devil left Jesus (verse 11). The devil will leave us too. (Note: Luke 4:13 reminds us of another fact. *Satan ‘went away to wait until a better time’. For us too, the same thing will happen. *Satan will come back.)

Questions

 

1. How well do I know my Bible? When the devil tempts me, could I answer him in the right way? (A good idea: Write down any verses that would help you. There will be many of them. So, you could do this for a long time.)

2. Jesus had the same sort of tests that we have. How should this help us with temptations (when someone or something is tempting us to *sin)?

3. What does this passage teach about the spiritual battle?

4. How does this passage explain the world in which we live?

Matthew 4:12–25

Action

 

Jesus’ special public work began. He taught and he healed people. These things showed who he was. We shall think about what people’s reactions to him should have been.

 

John’s work ended. Then, Jesus’ work began (verse 12). He worked mostly from a small town. It was called Capernaum. It was a special place in Galilee. It was important to Matthew. This was because of the *OT. Capernaum belonged to Zebulun and Naphtali. These were two of the 12 tribes (family groups) of the *Jews. An *OT *prophet spoke about them. The wonderful words are in Isaiah 9:1–2.

This place was in the north of Israel. For centuries, the people who lived there had had very hard times. They had suffered much. There had been political trouble. There had been military trouble too. There were constant attacks from their enemies in the north. The words of Isaiah’s *prophecy showed this. But he promised something good to those same people. One day, they would be the first to benefit. They would have light instead of darkness.

The Bible often uses the word ‘light’ as a picture. It makes us think about laughter. We think about living a great life. But, there are two other special uses for the word. It reminds us about the knowledge of God. It also reminds us about the fact that God is present. Matthew believed that this *prophecy had now come true. It was happening as Jesus began his work. He declared the start of the *kingdom of heaven.

Jesus’ words are in verse 17. They are like John’s words. Jesus made it clear which people had hope. They were people who knew something. They knew that they had *sinned against God. They knew that they deserved his punishment. But they turned to him with *repentance. There was such good news for them. This could be true for the people of Galilee. It did not matter that they were poor. They were suffering much. They were anxious. Their needs were great. But, the good news was still for them.

The first *disciples

At this time, Jesus asked 4 men to join him. They were Peter, Andrew, James and John. There was a custom in Israel at that time. *Disciples would gather round a teacher. But, Jesus was different. He called the men to him. He expected them to follow him. This clearly showed that he had authority.

But Jesus was not like a teacher who is at school. He was not giving information to students. They followed him. This meant that they were joining him in the work. That work was to call men and women to *repent. They must call them to believe in God too. To these 4 men, it meant that they must leave their jobs. Their work for Jesus must be more important than their families. It could be the same for us today. Jesus deserves the best.

Now we come to the last three verses of the chapter. They are an introduction to 5:1–9:34. They describe the nature of Jesus’ special public work. Jesus did three things.

·    He taught the truths of the Bible. He would go as a visitor to the synagogue. (This was the *Jews’ special building in which they *worshipped God.) Priests would invite him to speak.

·    He declared the good news. It was about the *kingdom of heaven. (Read verse 17 too.)

·    He healed many people. These actions taught three things. Matthew 8:1–9:34 shows them.

            1.         They confirmed Jesus’ message. (Compare John 14:11.)

            2.         They showed that he was the *Messiah. The *prophets had spoken about him.
                        (Read Isaiah 35:5; 53:4–5; 61:1 and Matthew 11:2–6.)

            3.         They proved that God’s *kingdom had begun to arrive.

The life and the work of Jesus disturbed many people. It also caused excitement. That was in Galilee. But it was true about other places too. This is not a surprise.

Questions

 

1. Jesus invited the first 4 *disciples to follow him. Study their reactions to Jesus. What do you think that you should learn from these *disciples? They left their jobs and their families. Does Jesus usually expect us to do the same? If not, how do we know when we should do this?

2. Christians should bring people to Jesus. They should then teach them how to follow Jesus. Read this passage again. What can we learn about how we could do these things?

3. Verse 16 describes certain people. Where might we find them today? Other people think that religion is something bad. To them, it is like going into the dark. How can we help them to find Jesus as the ‘light’?

Introduction to ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5:1–7:29)

(Note: We could say this in another way. It is ‘the talk that Jesus gave on the mountain’.)

The greatest talk that anyone ever gave

Matthew emphasised something. It was this. To teach was the very important part of Jesus’ work in his life. We see this in 4:23–35. Here, he told about Jesus’ first public talk. He told us a lot of what Jesus said.

There are 4 popular ideas about Jesus’ words:

►  Some people think that Jesus provides standards of moral behaviour. There are two problems with this idea. First, it does not work. The standards are good. But men and women cannot live by them. Second, this idea forgets about the truths in 5:3–9. These verses emphasise something. The change in a person’s character must come first. Only then can he or she obey Jesus’ words.

►  Other people think that Jesus’ words are not for us today. This is another idea. Some people say that Jesus gave rules. God would accept people if they obeyed the rules. They say that Jesus gave up the rules later. He saw that they did not work. But, this cannot be right. Jesus is not telling us how we can earn our *salvation. He is speaking to those who are in a right relationship with God. He is showing them how they should live.

►  Some people think that the sermon (talk) is a standard for ‘special’ Christians. This is another idea. But, there is a problem with this idea too. Jesus was teaching all who followed him. Chapter 5:1–2 shows this. He was not just speaking to a special group.

►  Only one idea is satisfactory. Here, Jesus tells us how to be a Christian *disciple. All real believers (Christians) should show that they are citizens of heaven. They do this by lives that follow the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus expects them to do this. Perhaps they refuse to do it. If so, there is no real evidence that they are real believers.

It is helpful to compare the last two ideas. The first of these two assumes something. It is enough for a person just to claim that Jesus has saved him. But, many people who claim this do not live by the standards here. They claim to be Christians, but their lives do not show it.

The second of the two ideas emphasises something. The standards are those of God’s *kingdom. Some people never reach the standards. Some people do not even try to reach them. These people should ask themselves if they are real Christians.

Brief statement of the main points

This is the message of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (talk on the mountain):

Chapter 5:3–10: What the character of a Christian should be like.

Chapter 5:11–12: There is proof of a genuine Christian character. People who are not Christians do not take any notice of God. They will do bad things to Christians. Believers’ real characters will show in their reactions to this.

Chapter 5:13–16: How a Christian will behave in society and in the world.

Chapter 5:17–48: How a Christian will live because of God’s character.

Chapter 7:1–27: A Christian will always remember two things about God. First, God sees how he or she lives. Each one must give an account of his or her life to him. Second, each one must have the right fear and respect for God.

Two difficulties

Matthew gives an account of the sermon (talk). So does Luke. People have two difficulties with these accounts. First, there is the place for the sermon. Luke (6:17) states that it was on a plain (flat place). Here, Matthew says that it was on a mountain. But this does not need to be a problem. Luke could be referring to a plain that was on a mountain. Or, Matthew could mean the part of that country that had hills.

Second, there are the contents of the sermon (talk). Matthew and Luke give different records of it. But, this is not surprising. Certain things were of special interest to Matthew. He recorded them. Luke, too, recorded the things that interested him.

Jesus might have said it all on one occasion. But, maybe he took several days to say it all. Other *Gospels show that Jesus said the same things in other places. Again, this is not surprising. It just suggests that Jesus used the same teaching more than once. But, then, all speakers do this!

Matthew 5:1–6

Right attitudes

 

Real *disciples will:

· have a humble trust in God

· depend on God for everything

· be gentle and holy.

 

Matthew introduced the talk in verses 1–2. Then, Jesus began his sermon (talk). He explained what a genuine *disciple should be like. (This is in verses 3–12.) Each statement began with the same word. Those who translated the Bible into English chose different words. Some of them used the word ‘happy’. Some of them used the word ‘blessed’. Many of the *OT psalms use the same *Hebrew word. It means: ‘What rewards there are in such a life!’ It is especially for those of whom God approves. People will want to be like them.

The poor in spirit

This does NOT mean three things:

• those whose spirits have lost hope

• those who do not have God’s Holy Spirit

• those who do not have spiritual understanding.


It DOES mean those who know that:

• they have no spiritual resources of their own

• they cannot please God by their own efforts

they are trusting in God only.

In the *OT, the word ‘poor’ has a usual meaning. It refers to those who do not have many possessions. Perhaps they do not have any possessions at all. So, they need God. This is an attitude that everyone must have. Without it, nobody can enter God’s *kingdom.

People who feel very sad

Verse 4 relates very much to verse 3. People who are ‘poor in spirit’ will feel very sad about their *sin. It is not just their personal failure. It is the fact that their *sin separates them from God. David showed this perfectly. See Psalm 51. You can read about David’s *sin in 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. David says to God, ‘My *sin is against you’ (Psalm 51:4).

Here, Jesus described people who are like this. These people are always aware of their *sin against God. But, there is comfort for them. They also know that Jesus can forgive their *sin.

People who are humble

Verse 5 relates to verses 3 and 4. There are people who are ‘poor in spirit’. They feel very sad about their *sin. Those people will also be humble. Humble people are not just ‘nice’ people. They are not weak or lazy. They are often firm and strong in character. Moses was like this. (Read Numbers 12:3.)

People in the ancient world knew the word ‘humble’ well. It referred to people who had the right sort of anger. That is, they were angry when people did bad things to other people. But they did not stay angry with those who did wrong things to them. They were not bitter against those who did bad things to them. They did not want the best things for themselves either.

But Jesus gave extra meaning to the word. He meant people who obey God. They obey his words. They let God’s will control them. They are completely loyal to the purposes of God. They recognise their own lack of knowledge. They realise that they are weak. But they know that God will supply all that they need.

God promised to give the country called Canaan to his people. This was very important to *OT believers. But, the *prophets extended the promise. One day, all God’s people would live in a new heaven and a new earth. Here, Jesus was thinking about this great truth of the Bible.

Those who are ‘hungry’ and ‘*thirsty’ for righteousness
(The word righteousness means to be ‘right’. It also means to do what is right.)

‘People who want to do right more than anything else’. Jesus says that these people ‘will be happy’ (verse 6). Jesus knows that everyone wants to be happy. But he knows something else too. He knows that there is only one way to be really happy. That way is to live a life that pleases God. A person must really want to live a life like this.

‘Righteousness’ can mean different things in the Bible. It can refer to God’s opinion of someone. A person believes in God. So, that person’s life pleases God. Then, God says that he or she is ‘righteous’. This was true about Abraham. (Read Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:1–5.) In Matthew, it includes two meanings. First, it refers to a holy life. This kind of life comes after two things. It comes after we have *repented and after we have believed in God. Also, it includes something else. It is a desire for God’s *kingdom to come.

Ancient Israel often had no rain. So, there was a great lack of water. There would be a lack of food too. The lack of these things often caused death. Jesus spoke here about a situation like this. The person’s desire for ‘righteousness’ is very great. In fact, he feels that he will die if he does not have it. He is like a very hungry person. He is like a person who desperately needs some water. He feels that he will die if he does not have food and water. (Note: ‘He’ refers to a man or a woman.)

The truth of this teaching requires much from us. It can frighten us. So often, we are not like this at all. But, there is comfort for us too. We may have failures. But we just need to keep close to God and to Jesus Christ. We must desire what is best in our lives. Then, God will certainly bless us.

Questions

 

1. What do these verses teach me? How can they help me, as a *disciple of Jesus?

2. There is much talk in the church today about celebration (a happy time). But, people should be sad about *sin too. How can both these things be in the local church?

3. Many people in our world today are very poor. How do these verses apply to what they need?

4. What effect should humble people have on the church and on the world? There are people who live for God. What effect should their lives have on the church and on the world? Can you think of any examples?

Matthew 5:7–9

Right actions

 

The quality of a person’s life will show if he or she is a real *disciple.

 

Jesus had been speaking about a real Christian. He had described his or her character. He did this in the earlier verses of this chapter. Now Jesus emphasised something else. It was this. The character of such a person will show in how he or she behaves.

People who show mercy

There is a good way to understand this word. It is to look at its use in the *OT. There, it describes God’s sympathy. It is genuine. It is also active. He does something about it. We have the best example. It is this. God sent his Son to save us.

Believers (Christians) know God’s love and mercy. Jesus teaches us that we should show the same things. We must do this in all our relationships. When we show mercy, it is evidence. It shows that we have received it ourselves. Only then can we expect God’s mercy for us on the Day of *Judgement. (Note: There is more about the word ‘mercy’ in the Word List.)

People who are holy

Verse 8 is most important. It tells us what to do. We must be holy if we want to enjoy God in this life. Then there is the life that is future. That is most important of all. We must be holy if we want to enjoy God then. But to be holy affects everything now. It affects our thoughts and our emotions. It affects our will and our actions too.

To be holy does not mean that we do not *sin. We can never be without *sin in this life. But Jesus taught us what it means to be holy. It is this. We will want to be holy more than anything else. The great aim of the believer must be to please God. We do this when we become more and more like him.

Read Revelation 1:7. It says that everyone will see God one day. (Remember that Jesus is God.) For the people who did not want Jesus, it would be a sad day. Jesus spoke about the time when some people will see God too. But he meant something else. Jesus referred to the time when some people will enjoy God. They will enjoy God in his *kingdom for ever. It will be the same for everyone who is a real *disciple of Jesus.

People who ‘make peace’ (‘peacemakers’)

Many of us have our own ideas about what ‘peace’ means. We think that it means the end of war. Or, we think that it means that nobody is against us. But it means much more than this in the Bible. It includes 5 things. It means that:

· someone is whole as a person. There is nothing to cause a lack of agreement inside him or her.

· there is a sense of being complete. Nothing is missing.

· there is satisfaction

· there is joy

· there is happiness.

These 5 things refer to one person. But they also refer to people in a general way.

So, this is what ‘peacemakers’ do. They work hard to cause this kind of peace. They encourage all that brings honour to God. They encourage all that causes agreement between people. This was what Jesus was saying in verse 9.

People should see ‘peacemakers’ at work everywhere. They should be trying to cause peace in a family. They should be active in the church. They should be working for peace in the world. They will also work for the spiritual good of all people. This is their most important work.

These people are following the model of their Father. (Read Hebrews 13:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:20.) They are following the model of their Saviour (Jesus). (Read Philippians 2:1–11 and Colossians 1:20.) God will call these people his children. Everyone will know that these people belong to God. This will happen when God judges people at the end of the world. So, the ‘peacemakers’ show three things. They show that they are the children of God. They show that they are living in peace. They show that they are living for peace.

Verse 9 links with verse 8. It emphasises a most important Christian truth. It happens when a person really believes. A great change takes place. It may only happen slowly. But a change does take place. There is a reason for this. God gives his Holy Spirit to every believer (Christian). The Holy Spirit helps him or her to live a life that will please God.

Questions

 

1. The Holy Spirit is active in your life. What evidence of this is of most value to you? Is it the evidence that Jesus would most love to see?

2. What ambitions do the people of God have today? It should be the desire to be holy. It should also be the desire for peace. What do Christian people today often put in place of these things?

3. Non-Christians notice the lives of believers. The Holy Spirit is in them. There should be evidence of this. What would help people most to become Christians today?


Matthew 5:10–12

Be careful! There will be enemies.

 

Jesus emphasised that there would be *persecution. He showed how the believer could find comfort at a time like that.

 

Verses 3–10 all start with the same word. Some translations use the word ‘happy’. Other translations use the word ‘blessed’. Verses 11 and 12 explain more. They show the reactions of non-Christians to real Christians. Verses 13–16 make a contrast. They describe the Christians’ reactions. They live in the world. Many other people in the world do not believe. These verses give the right reaction to these people. They show how Christians should behave in that world.

There will always be *persecution for real believers. Jesus taught this. He emphasised the fact in three ways:

•           *Persecution is evidence. It shows that a person is a citizen of God’s *kingdom.

•           Jesus spoke about ‘when’ not ‘if’ *persecution will happen.

•           History shows that *persecution will happen (verse 12).

Here, Jesus was speaking about a certain type of *persecution. It is when people say bad things against you (verse 11). All believers must experience it at some time. This is the least form of *persecution. Many Christians (believers) experience much worse things.

Sometimes, Christians suffer for the wrong reasons. It can be because of their *sin. They may be stupid or not wise in their words or deeds. They may insist that only their group is right. Jesus was not thinking about any of these things.

Here, it is *persecution because of a person’s right beliefs. It is because of a person’s good behaviour. Jesus called these things *persecution. Today, non-Christians may laugh at those who practise love. They may laugh at those who are ready to forgive. Also, there are Christians at work. They will want to work all day. They will refuse to tell lies. These things may cause other people to laugh at them.

Jesus tells us that we must not just continue. There is something more. When there is *persecution, we must be happy and glad (verse 12)! There are three reasons for this. They are things about *persecution.

· It gives us evidence that we really are Christians (verse 10).

· It helps us to be more sure that we are God’s children.

· It means that we will have a reward one day. The reward then will be much greater than any suffering that we have now (verse 12).

Questions

 

1. Think about your own life. You may have told someone that you are a Christian. People made things hard for you because of this. What things in this passage could encourage you?

2. Have non-Christians caused difficulties for your local church? If they have, why was this?

3. The Church in the West today rarely seems to have *persecution. Why do you think that this is true?


Matthew 5:13–16

Salt and light

 

Jesus described some responsibilities of those who follow him.

 

Read verses 10–12. Here, Jesus explained something. It was about the people who do not believe. They will always have a certain reaction. They have this reaction to real *disciples of Jesus.

Now read verses 13–16. Here, Jesus spoke about believers. He explained their reaction. This reaction would be to the people who do not want God in their lives. Jesus used two word pictures. First, he used salt (verse 13). Then, he used light (verses 14–16).

Think about salt. The main use of salt is to stop things from going bad. Jesus has something to teach us here. It is about people who do not believe. They tend to do more evil. Jesus said that the people of God are like ‘salt’. People will get morally worse without this ‘salt’. The world’s history shows that this is true. There has been a big change in nations and peoples. This has been when real believers have been most noticeable.

When you rub salt into something, you cannot see it. But it still stops things from going bad. You cannot see it, but it still works. Jesus taught that steady *disciples can prevent the growth of *sin. They can have a powerful effect, even if people cannot see it.

There should be nothing in salt to spoil it. If there is, the salt will not be useful. Real *disciples should be like salt in this way. They will keep away from anything that would spoil. Believers will want only what God wants. They will desire only God’s honour in everything. This does not mean that there would be no contact with non-Christians. *Disciples can only be like salt if they are with non-Christians!

•     Salt stops things from going bad, as we saw above.

•     Salt gives flavour. Steady *disciples will have a good quality of life. Other people will not have it. They will see that these *disciples enjoy good pleasures. They will wish that they could do the same.

•     Salt prevents the growth of things that cause disease. Real *disciples will try to be pure in every part of their lives.

There is something else to consider. If something spoils salt, it cannot be useful. It even has bad results. If salt gets into the ground, it will stop growth. So, *disciples like this are a bad example to other people.

Then, there was a most serious matter. Read Matthew 5:13. Jesus’ words mean that bad salt cannot become salty again. These words teach us. They teach that a real *disciple’s life is always of some use. Perhaps they also teach something about a person who is like bad salt. He or she must receive God’s punishment. God must send that person away. So, we should be like good salt.

Then, Jesus spoke about light. He said, ‘You are the light of the world.’ Real *disciples cannot hide that fact. It will show in the way that they live. It is not just their words. It is not just their ‘good deeds’. It is the way in which they do these actions. It is the way in which they say these words. Their lives should be right. They should be beautiful and attractive. They should give honour to God only.

Questions

 

1. Here, Jesus described the life of a real believer. This life shows people about God. It cannot avoid doing that. How much do you think that this is true of you? How might you improve?

2. Should people in churches today practise ‘good deeds’? In what ways do you think that they should do this? If they do too much social work, what dangers are there?

3. ‘Good deeds’ cannot save people from their *sins. How can we tell people this fact?

Matthew 5:17–20

The *Old Testament teaching today

 

Jesus explained about the *OT *Law in our own situations. He showed us how we should understand it. He explained how we can know its meaning.

 

People often discuss this passage. They very often understand it wrongly too. So, it is vital to study it well. Then we can be sure about what it means.

Jesus said that his teaching agreed with the whole of the *OT. This was what he told those who listened to him. (Read verses 17–18.) But, the teaching of the religious leaders was very different. Jesus said that their teaching did not agree with the *OT. (Read verses 19–20.)

We need to know what the *Jews meant by ‘the Law’. It referred to the laws that were in the first 5 books of our Bible. These are Genesis to Deuteronomy. The ‘*Prophets’ meant the next group of books. They are the books of Joshua to 2 Kings. (But *Jews do not include Ruth in this section.) This group also includes Isaiah to Malachi (but not Daniel). The other books of the *OT were called ‘the Writings’.

However, the words ‘Law and *Prophets’ usually apply to the whole of the *OT. This was how Jesus used the words here. So, he taught that he would never destroy any of the *OT teachings. He said, ‘I came to give full meaning to what it taught.’ He was not adding to them. He was not putting anything in their place. So, Jesus claimed two things. First, the whole of the *OT spoke about him. Second, he completely obeyed all of the *OT.

Jesus spoke Aramaic. The *OT was in Aramaic and Hebrew. Both these languages have the same alphabet. Jesus spoke about the smallest letter of the alphabet. He also spoke about the smallest part of a letter (verse 18). In this way, Jesus taught that he would not change any of the *OT. There has been much discussion on one word. This word is ‘until’ in verse 18. But, the word just emphasises something that is permanent. Jesus taught that the *OT is permanent. Its basic lessons do not change.

Jesus explained the meaning of ‘righteousness’ (to be and to do what is right).

In verses 19 and 20, Jesus answered another question. It was, ‘What is real righteousness?’ There were two groups of religious teachers. There were the teachers of the *Law (the scribes). Also there were the *Pharisees. To them, it was most important to obey all the *OT *Law. This was what they taught. They wanted to obey all of God’s laws. Jesus knew this. (This explains his words in verse 19.)

But, they did not understand two big things about the *OT *Law.

•     First, it emphasised ceremonies. To obey God’s *Law on the outside of themselves was most important to them. They did not tell people to obey God because they loved him. This was the reason for what Jesus said in verse 20. Real ‘righteousness’ is greater than the righteousness of these men.

· Also, the teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees added many rules. This meant that they never noticed great lessons in the *OT. Sometimes, they even denied these truths. Jesus discussed this particular bad habit in detail. He did this is in verses 21–48.

In these verses, Jesus taught about standards. There was the standard of ‘righteousness’ in the *OT. God would accept men and women by this standard only. There was the standard of behaviour. God expected this standard from citizens of his *kingdom.

Jesus knew that nobody could obey all the *Law. (That is, no person except himself could obey it all. Read verses 17–18.) That was the reason that he became a man. (Read 1:21.) There was a problem with the two groups of religious teachers. They thought that they could do things that would please God. And God would accept them because of what they did. Jesus’ teaching showed that this was not true. Nobody could ever do all that God requires. Nobody could ever obey all God’s laws. But God looks for people who love him. They ask for his help to obey his *Law.

Questions

 

1. Do you have the same interest as Jesus had in the *OT? If you do not, what is the reason for this? Decide to read at least a part of each *OT book. Then, write a plan to do this in the next 12 months.

2. Should our churches teach the laws of the *OT? Or, should they teach Jesus’ own way of life and behaviour? What are the differences?

3. Think about the teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees. In what way are non-Christians like them? Do they understand the *Law in a similar way? Explain this. Do you think that people in your church are like this too?

How to understand Matthew 5:21–48

Jesus made 4 main points in this section of his sermon (talk).

►  Jesus emphasised the moral principles of the *OT laws. They will always be God’s standards for man.

►  Jesus taught something about the *OT laws. They were not a complete list of rules. God never meant that they should be like that. They were examples. They showed how God’s desires applied to specific situations. People must know how to use the principles of the *OT in their lives. This was what God intended the laws to do. The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees did not understand this. They concentrated on the laws themselves. So, they forgot the great principles of the *Law.

►  Jesus pointed out something. The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees had not understood it. It was to do with how they obeyed the *Law. It included three things. There were motives (why we do something). There were desires. Also, there were intentions.

►  Jesus showed something else. The *OT laws were usually things that people should not do. But, God wanted people to think about the good things that they should do instead. The teachers and the *Pharisees did not notice this at all.

Notice the first verse of each new section in 5:21–48. It begins with the same words. ‘You know what our people heard long ago… . But, I tell you…’. Jesus was comparing two ways to think about the laws. First, there were the teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees. They explained the *OT *Law in a certain way. Second, there was Jesus. He was going to give people the real meaning of the *OT laws.

Matthew 5:21–26

God hates it when people hate!

 

It is not just acts of murder that make God angry. It is thoughts about murder.

 

Jesus repeated Exodus 20:13. But he added something too. He said that the teachers of the *Law had added to God’s *Law. They added: ‘God will judge anyone who kills someone.’ Jesus said that they were wrong to do this. It was not just for what they said. It was for what they did not say. It was for what they did not emphasise too.

Here, Jesus used his authority as the Son of God. The *Jews were not used to this. Their teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees never did this. They always repeated other people’s opinions.

The *Law forbade murder. This was to teach that life is important to God. This principle is in Genesis 9:1–7. This teaches that only God has rights over life. So, when anyone takes another life, he goes against God.

In Genesis 9:1–7 there is another idea. God made men and women as a copy of himself. (People use some words for this fact. They are: ‘in God’s image’.) This fact gives great worth to every human being. So, to murder someone spoils God’s image.

But, there is more. Two things are wrong. First, someone may behave as if another person’s life is not important. This is wrong. Also, it is wrong if anyone denies a person’s worth. Jesus gave three examples of this.

•           He mentioned anger.

•           Someone may say bad things about another person.

•           Someone may say bad things to another person. (Read verse 22.)

But, that is not all. Jesus spoke about the other person as a ‘brother’. He chose to use this word. He had a reason for doing this. A good family looks after its own members. (Cain did not do this. Read Genesis 4:9.) God expects all people to look after each other. Anything less is not to obey God.

Ceremony must not be instead of actions

Notice Jesus’ words in verses 23–26. They continue from verses 21 and 22. This is hard for us to understand. Perhaps Jesus was thinking about some objections to his teaching (why people did not like his teaching). Some people may have thought that religious ceremonies were most important. Their quality of life was less important. But Jesus said that this is not what God wants.

Jesus gave an example. Someone was offering the correct gift. He wanted God to accept him. So, he did what God ordered. But, he suddenly remembered a certain person. It was someone who was angry with him. Jesus said that he must leave his gift. First, he must go to that person. He must try to make peace with him. Then, he could offer his gift. Otherwise, his gift was of no use at all.

Notice what Jesus did not say. It was not: ‘If you are angry with a brother’. Jesus did not say something else. It was not: ‘If your brother has a good reason to be angry with you’. There might be no good reason for it. But, Jesus still wanted him to try. He must try to make things right between them. If he did not, God would not accept his gift.

Jesus’ words show us something important. It is about anything that the Bible tells us not to do. Our thoughts must be good as well as our actions.

Jesus explained something in verses 25 and 26. It is urgent to become friends again. Jesus gave the reason for this. If the person does nothing, the relationship could get worse.

The standards are high in these verses. We may never achieve them perfectly in this life. But, we must try. The most important thing in life is to obey Jesus. Of course, he will help us. But we must ask him.

Questions

 

1. Is there someone who is angry with you? What are you going to do about it?

2. It is very important not to have wrong things between believers. (Note: This does not mean that believers must always agree about everything.) How might the members of your church emphasise this? Think especially about the *Lord’s Supper. You may say: ‘Peace be with you’ at this special meeting. But is that enough?

3. Many non-Christian groups oppose each other. How should Christians try to make peace between them?

More explanation

 

Capital punishment

(This is a law that some countries have. Someone kills another person. The law says that the killer must die too.)

The Bible emphasises that life is important to God. So, murder is a serious matter. Genesis 9 speaks about this. That is the reason why the *OT laws were so strict. A person who killed someone was acting against God. He lost the right to live. In the *OT, God sometimes appointed men to act for him. They were to take the life of a killer.

Today, we too must remember that life is important to God. We must think seriously about murder. But, there are other things to consider. So, when we apply God’s Word, the details will vary. There is a time for *mercy. This is especially true when there is *repentance. David was a murderer. But God forgave him. He died in peace. So, the *OT laws remain in principle for all time. But we can apply them with *mercy. We can forgive.

Jesus’ words in 5:18 still agree with the *Law. He showed this in the rest of the chapter. Jesus wants people to use the basic principles of the *Law. He does not demand that people must obey each rule exactly

War

The *OT permits war. The *NT emphasises another point. It applies to all of God’s people. It is that they should listen to their rulers. (Read 1 Samuel 15:1 and Romans 13:1–6.) This does not mean that the *OT and the *NT do not agree.

Some believers say that war may be necessary. They give a reason for this. The world in which we live is full of *sin. The Christian has a responsibility to the state. Sometimes, this can mean ‘taking up arms’ against another person. This is not murder in the Bible. Perhaps one man kills another man. He wants to kill him. He does this because he hates that person. That is murder. In these verses, Jesus was discussing murder.

There is another subject. It is what people call a ‘just war’. Some people think that this could be a Bible principle. The subject is too big to consider here. But this passage, on its own, does not deny such a theory.

Matthew 5:27–32

Adultery and divorce. (Note: Adultery is a *sexual *sin. A married person is one of the partners. The other partner is not the husband or wife.)

 

Right *sexual behaviour begins in the mind. But it shows in a marriage that lasts.

 

Adultery in the mind (verses 27–30)

These verses give another example from Jesus’ words. They show how we should understand the *OT laws. They show the real meaning of ‘righteousness’. (This means to be right. It means to do what is right too.)

Jesus said words from Exodus 20:14. This is command 7. The *Jews thought that it applied only to the act of adultery. Jesus explained God’s words. He was not speaking about a look that admires. He was not speaking about our natural *sexual natures. God gave them to us. Jesus was not speaking about the sudden thought that enters the mind. *Satan tempts us. But, what we do with it is important. The child of God should stop that thought quickly.

But, Jesus was speaking about something. It is the deliberate look of desire (when we mean to do it). Read verse 28. This describes the thoughts and actions of a man. That man is not innocent!

Read verses 28–29. A person may choose to imagine *sexual *sin. Jesus showed that that is a *sin. These thoughts are a serious matter. The person must refuse them completely. We must not do exactly what Jesus says here. He does not want this. If he did, he would have mentioned both hands and both eyes! But, Jesus had a purpose for what he said. It was this. The eyes are the main parts of the body for wrong *sexual desires. The hands are the main parts of the body for action. We must have discipline in both desires and actions.

Marriage is for life (verses 31–32)

This is another example that Jesus gave. He was referring to the teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees. He considered their attitudes to divorce. Jesus said words from the law that they used. This was in Deuteronomy 24:1–4.

The Bible deals with the subject of divorce. It deals with the subject of remarriage too. We should read the main passages about them first. Then, we will be able to understand Jesus’ words. The passages are: Deuteronomy 24:1–4; Matthew 5:31–32; 19:3–9; 1 Corinthians 7:12–16. There are three ways to understand these passages.

1. People usually say, ‘Deuteronomy 24 permits divorce but it does not encourage it.’ In fact the *OT never did approve of divorce. But Jesus replaced the *OT teaching. He gave a new standard. Now, there is only one reason for divorce. It is adultery. (There is more information in a later section. This is the section on Matthew 19:1–12.)

1 Corinthians 7 does not mention the word ‘divorce’. So, some people suggest that it refers to something else. It is when a couple separate from each other. This may take place when one partner leaves the other partner. In the *NT, there is only one time when there can be a remarriage. This is when one partner dies.

2. Paul does not use the word ‘divorce’ in 1 Corinthians 7. But, he does use language that clearly refers to it. People do not want to act against Jesus’ words. So, they have an explanation. Jesus was speaking about marriage that was between believers. Paul was thinking about another kind of marriage. This marriage was between a believer and someone who was not a believer. So, believers cannot divorce except for two reasons. First, they can divorce for adultery. Second, they can divorce if the non-Christian partner leaves them.

3. Perhaps this is the best explanation. Jesus was not trying to replace the *OT law about divorce. But he was trying to answer a question. The *Jews often asked it. They asked: ‘What are the reasons for divorce in the *OT?’ But Jesus did not give a direct answer. He said that they were asking the wrong question. They should not be arguing about the reasons for divorce. They should ask something else first. They should ask: ‘What does the *OT teach about marriage?’ Jesus emphasised the ideal for marriage. The relationship can end only when one partner dies.

But, Jesus recognised realities. There was a time to allow divorce. This was when there was adultery. In this case, there could be divorce. The ‘innocent’ partner would not be guilty of *sin. This does not mean that there must be divorce after adultery.

There is something else. Maybe, a wife behaves badly to her husband. This could make it easier for him to think about adultery. Then, Jesus would expect her to feel guilty. She would have some responsibility in the matter. Of course, a husband may behave badly to his wife. The same thing would be true in that case too.

But, Jesus did not change the teaching of the *OT. This was that divorce is possible for certain reasons. Paul thought this too. He gave the example of one partner who leaves.

But Jesus emphasised something. The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees did not emphasise it. Jesus taught that divorce is usually a *sin. There should be *repentance. Where it is possible, the couple should save their marriage. There is nothing very specific about divorce in the Bible. We must decide if there can be a divorce. We must do this in each situation. But, we must always teach something too. It is this. When a marriage fails, there has been *sin.

Questions

 

1. Am I thinking about some wrong things? Do I enjoy doing this? What could I do to improve things? How does Jesus feel about it?

2. There is always *sin in a divorce. So, what does this teach about the state of marriage? What does it teach about deciding to marry?

3. Sometimes a couple stay together when there is hate. This is a terrible thing. Is divorce worse than this? If so, why is it worse? If not, why is it not worse?

4. Church leaders often find it hard to deal with divorce. How do they help someone who has had a divorce? How might this passage help them?

Matthew 5:33–42

When you say an oath (a strong promise). When you do more than you need to do.

 

A real *disciple will always respect the truth. Someone may hurt you. But you will not want to hurt that person.

 

Jesus continued to give examples. They were about his teaching in 5:17–20. Again, he referred to a popular teaching of the *Jews (verse 33). He gave a short account of some *OT passages. They are: Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2 and Deuteronomy 23:21. He did not agree with the *Jewish religious leaders. They taught the opposite of what the *Law intended. Jesus referred to the law about oaths (strong promises). This was what they taught. Only some oaths were important. But, Christians should not use oaths at all when they speak. When they say ‘yes’, they should mean ‘yes’. When they say ‘no’ they should mean ‘no’.

When you do more than you need to do

Read verse 38. Jesus again said words from *Jewish tradition. They were short accounts of some passages in the *OT. These were Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21. The short accounts were right. But the *Jews had not understood them in the right way.

These *OT instructions were for the law courts. (Read Deuteronomy 19:18 especially.) The laws gave principles. They were there to help judges to make decisions. There were two reasons for this.


•     First, the law should control wrong desires. Someone has hurt you. So, you want to hurt that person. You have suffered. So, you want that person to suffer too.

•     Second, the law removes punishment from personal feelings. It puts the responsibility with the court of law.

But, the *Jews increased the principle of the *Law. It became a guide for personal behaviour. People could use the *Law in the courts wrongly too. They could use it to give excuses for their evil desires. They thought that someone had done bad things to them. So, they would use the court to do bad things to that person.

There is a big contrast in verses 39–42. Jesus showed how people should apply the *Law. He referred to a blow on the cheek. This was a very bad thing to do in ancient Israel. Jesus suggested something here. It is never right to punish another person for a personal wrong.

But we must understand Jesus’ words in the right way. Someone might say, ‘A man should never say anything to those who behave badly.’ It could seem that Jesus meant that. But he did not mean that. It is important that people should be fair to everybody. The rights of other people are important too. So, people may defend themselves. But the *disciple must stay holy. A *disciple should accept it when someone does bad things to him or her. That is, if it only affects him or her. His or her love can then change attitudes.

In Jesus’ day, the *Romans were in power. They could force *Jews to do things (verse 41). And *Jews could not refuse to obey their commands. This practice was not popular. And it might not be convenient. The *Pharisees would obey. But they would show that they were unhappy about it. Jesus said that this must not be the standard for *disciples. They must do their duties in a cheerful way. They must be generous in the way that they do the duties too.

Jesus gave an example in verse 42. There are people who really need help. This teaches what the *disciple’s reaction should be to them. The *disciple should help them all that he can.

Questions

 

1. Should a Christian ever tell lies? Is there any situation when it might be right?

2.Think about a certain situation. Someone has hurt you. You want to hurt that person in return. What should you do? Someone may say: ‘I can never forgive him for what he has done.’ How would you help the person who says that?

3. Members of the Church should be willing to give in to other members. How can they show this? There is a principle in verse 39. Jesus spoke about someone who hits you on one side of your face. Jesus said that you should let that person hit the other side of your face too! How much should a Christian be like this? Think about an example. A thief steals some important equipment from the church. Should the people of the church forgive him? Should they call the police? Or, should they do both these things?

More explanation

 

Let us think about whether Christians should always refuse to fight.

We must look at Jesus’ words that are in the Bible. We must understand his words as the Bible describes them. We can see that Jesus was not speaking about national events. So, Jesus was not teaching that we must always refuse to fight in wars. He was not saying that we must not oppose evil. Discussion on these subjects must come from other passages.

It seems that Jesus was not speaking about social relationships either. Romans chapter 13 and 1 Peter chapter 2 are about society. Those passages show a person’s relationships in society. It would seem that Christians could be judges in courts of law. Jesus could be saying that a Christian should never go to court. Or, that he should not oppose a thief who comes into his house. Or, that he should just give away all that he has. But it is hard to believe that Jesus meant these things.

Jesus was teaching about our behaviour with other people. We must not have wrong attitudes. So, people may hurt us. But we must not want to hurt them. We should have an attitude of love.

Christians and oaths (strong promises)

Some people think that they should never say oaths in a court of law. They use Jesus’ words here (verses 33–37). But, this is wrong. Their understanding of Jesus’ words is not right.

The *OT allowed oaths. In fact, it demanded them in certain situations. The *OT describes holy men and women who said oaths. (Read Genesis 14:22–24; 21:23–24; 24:3, 9; 26:31; 28:20, 22; 31:53; 47:31; 50:5; Joshua 9:15; Judges 21:5; Ruth 1:16–18; 2 Samuel 15:21; 1 Kings 18:10; 2 Chronicles 15:14–15. These are only some of the references.) God says an oath in the Bible. (Read Genesis 22:16; 26:3; Psalm 89:3, 49; 110:4; 132:11; Jeremiah 11:5. Also, there is Luke 1:73 in the *NT.) Jesus would not ignore anything that was from the *OT. The High Priest gave Jesus a command. He told Jesus that he must answer. So, Jesus answered as if it was an oath. (Read Matthew 26:63–64.) Paul said oaths too. (Read 2 Corinthians 1:23 and Galatians 1:20.)

So, something is clear. God does not forbid all oaths. Jesus was teaching that it is important to be wise about oaths. People must always be serious when they use oaths. People should never use them because they want to be like non-Christians. They should never use them to swear against God. They should never use them to wish bad things for other people. Probably, oaths are never right in ordinary conversation.

Think about a person who makes an oath. He or she is going before God’s court. He or she is going before the Judge of all things. So, Jesus is teaching that truth is the standard of the Bible. People should always be able to believe what we say. We must never add to the truth. We must never take away from the truth when we speak. Promises should be promises.

Matthew 5:43–6:4

Love your enemies and be serious about religion

 

There is one vital mark of a real *disciple. It is the greatest mark. It is love for other people. It is love that is completely unselfish (not selfish). What you do matters. But it is not just actions that matter. Attitudes are important too.

 

Jesus began his last example of real ‘righteousness’. (This means to be right. It means to do what is right too.) It was also his last example of how to understand the *OT laws. He said words from Leviticus 19:18. The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees had added to the Bible passage. He also said some of their words. He showed that they changed the real meaning of the Bible passage.

The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees put people into two groups. There were neighbours or friends. But also, there were enemies. These leaders taught that there was a big difference between the groups. The original *Law was not like this. Person A might hurt Person B. Then Person B would want to hurt Person A too. The *Law taught that love must always win. The teachers and the *Pharisees asked: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Jesus showed that the question was wrong. The neighbour is anyone who needs help. (Read Luke 10:25–37.)

The *NT uses several words for ‘love’. There is the love that is between members of a family. There is the love that is between good friends. This is another word. There is *sexual love between a man and a woman. A different word emphasises this. But Jesus used yet another word for love. This word emphasised a person’s will. It described good intentions. It was about wanting to help people. This kind of love will not change whatever people say or do. They may insult us. They may hurt us. But we will not allow ourselves to be bitter against them.

Jesus gave other reasons why a *disciple must live in this way. He gave the example of God himself (verse 45). God has a special family love for his children. (Read Genesis 17:21; Psalms 103:17–18 and 147:20.) But he cares about everyone too. (Read Genesis 17:20; Psalm 36:6 and John 3:16.) God expects us to care about everyone too.

Jesus gave another reason (verses 46–47). God meant his laws to make his *disciples different. They should not be the same as non-believers. But God’s *disciples have a choice. They could choose the same standards as non-Christians. Then, there would be no difference between them. There would be no evidence that they were real *disciples.

Verse 48 ends all of Jesus’ teaching in this section. (The section is verses 21–48.) He seemed to refer to two passages in the *OT. They are Leviticus 19:2 and Deuteronomy 18:13. He showed that the teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees were wrong. They thought that these passages referred to actions. They thought something else too. They referred only to the deeds that the Bible actually stated. In this chapter, Jesus taught that this was wrong.

Be serious about religion (6:1–4)

First, Jesus dealt with the thoughts of the teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees. This was in chapter 5:21–48. Here, he dealt with their actions. God expected certain things from real*disciples. They had failed to understand this. Their thoughts and their actions both showed it.

There is a general principle in verse 1. Three examples follow:

· good works (verses 2–4). This refers to the care that a *disciple should show to other people.

· prayer (verses 5–15). This refers to the *worship that a *disciple should give to God.

· to fast (to go without food, verses 16–18). A *disciple should try to stop *sinning. This refers to the way that he should do it.

Jesus began by speaking against some people. He spoke about those who brought attention to themselves. They did this by religious actions (verse 1). He spoke against the actions of ‘hypocrites’ (actors). People like this still act in front of people. They do good things for other people to see. They pretend to be religious.

Jesus’ point is a simple one. The *Jews were doing the right things. But they were doing them in the wrong way. A real *disciple should want only to please God the Father (verse 4). So, a *disciple should do good deeds to please God. This attitude will please God. God will bless him or her in this life. God will bless him or her in the next life too.

Questions

 

1. Think about the teaching in 5:21–48. In these verses, we see spiritual things to check in our lives. What are they?

2. ‘See how these Christians love each other.’ Is this what non-Christians think about you and people in your church? If not, what is the reason for this?

3. Do it ‘secretly’ (6:34). ‘Let your light shine’ (5:16). These two verses seem to be opposite in meaning. How can they both be true?

Matthew 6:5–15

Real Prayer

 

For real prayer there must be a proper attitude. Jesus gave us the best example. He gave us a pattern for real prayer.

 

Jesus now spoke about prayer. It is still the most important duty of a *disciple. The *Pharisees believed that it was important. This was correct. But, their attitude was wrong. People must see them when they were praying. So, they were not really praying to God. They were like actors. The two examples that Jesus gave showed this. He was really saying the same as he was in the last section. These kinds of prayers were to please people. And people would think that they were good prayers (verse 5). But that is not real prayer. When we pray, we should want only to please God.

Jesus spoke about other false prayers in verses 7–8. Many religious people think that prayer is like magic. So, the more that they pray, the more it will work. Because of this belief, some people use things to help them. They may use prayer wheels. They may count little stones that are on a string. People can even use The *Lord’s Prayer like this. (Note: This is the prayer that Jesus taught. See below.) It is easy just to repeat the words. But this is not real prayer. Other people try to impress God. So, they use special words.

But we should really mean what we pray. Jesus emphasised that. People sometimes think that they must repeat the same words continuously. Then they can be sure that God knows their needs. But this is not necessary. The God to whom we pray loves us. He is always ready to answer our prayers. Often, people just do not ask!

The prayer that is a model (verses 9–15)

In this section, Jesus gave us two things. First, he gave us a form of prayer. Then he gave us an example to follow. (Read verses 9–13.) It is a short prayer. But, it is a complete prayer. It includes everything. It is called The *Lord’s Prayer.

·    Our Father

The word that Jesus used for ‘Father’ here is important. It was the word ‘Abba’. This is in the Aramaic language. It is still the most familiar form of the word. A child uses it to his father. It points to the fact that God is near to us. It shows that he loves and cares about his children. They are part of his family. The Bible speaks about God as the Father of all people. (Read Malachi 2:10 and Psalm 36:6.) But in this passage, only the real *disciple can pray like this.

·    in heaven

This does not refer to where God lives. It is about God’s power. It refers to his rule over all things. God can do whatever he wants. God is our Father in heaven. This increases the confidence of real *disciples.

God is also the ruler who has all authority and power. This should cause the *disciple to have the right reactions. The reactions must include two things. First, there should be humble confidence. Then there should be great respect.

The rest of Jesus’ prayer includes 7 requests. There are 3 for God’s *glory (honour). Then, there are 4 for our personal needs.

·    We want people to give honour to your name.

In the Bible, the ‘name’ of a person is special. It refers to all that he or she is like. To give ‘honour’ includes humble trust. So, the person wants all people to give honour to God. This includes the person who makes the request.

·    We want your *kingdom to come.

Jesus clearly referred to his own great acts. (Read Matthew 12:28.) He said that these acts showed something. It was this. ‘The *kingdom of God has come to you.’ Here, the *disciple prays that God’s *kingdom will come. He asks God to establish the authority of Jesus in his own life. He wants God to establish his *salvation in all his people. He also asks that Jesus’ authority will be total. He wants this to happen soon. (Note: ‘He’ refers to both he and she.)

So, the *disciple wants God to establish his *kingdom now. But, there is more in this request. It includes the future ages too. (Read Revelation 22:20.) Every real believer (Christian) will meet God some day. God will complete all his promises. The real believer should desire this time very much. Then, ‘He (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death. Nobody will be sad. So, nobody will cry. There will be no more pain.’ (Read Revelation 21:4.) Each believer should desire the great time that is coming.

·    We want everyone to do your will on earth as everyone does it in heaven.

In heaven, the *angels *worship God. They praise him. They are ready to do his will. This request is that people on earth should do the same. They should always obey God. They should obey him completely. They should obey him gladly. They should obey him immediately. This is what always happens in heaven.

·    Give us our daily bread today.

We all have physical needs. God cares about the daily things that we need. He cares about them just as much as he cares about great matters. The word ‘bread’ probably refers to things that are necessary in life. God is not thinking of extra things that we do not need.

·    Forgive the *sins that we have done; the same as we forgive the people who have *sinned against us.

Jesus knows that everyone needs God to forgive him or her. This is because of failure and *sin. In this prayer we are asking for God’s *mercy. We fail daily. So, every real *disciple must often make this request. But there is something else. A person may claim to be a *disciple. If so, that person must forgive other people. Someone may refuse to do this. If so, he or she cannot know that God has forgiven him or her.

This request is important. So, Jesus explained more about it after the prayer. (Read verses 14–15.)

·    Do not lead us into the place of temptation.

(This is the word for when someone tempts us. That person tries to make us think or do something wrong. We feel the urge or desire for it too.) Temptation itself is not a *sin. But it tests us about how strong we are. And it tests us about how loyal we are. It tests whether we can serve God too.

·    But keep us safe from the evil one (the devil)

Read 4:1–11. There is always some danger in temptation. This is because it comes from the devil. So, a *disciple should try to avoid it as much as possible. Temptation begins in the mind. So the *disciple will refuse to look at or think about something that is wrong. This was what Jesus taught.

Some versions of the Bible include some more words.

·    The *kingdom, the power and the *glory are yours for ever; Amen (we want it to be like that).

(‘For ever’ means for all of time, and after time ends.) It seems that these words were not in the book of Matthew at first. It was usual for the *Jews to end a prayer with words of *worship. Then they started to use Jesus’ prayer. They probably added these words at that time. They seem to come from some passages in the *OT. The passages are 1 Chronicles 29:11; Nehemiah 9:5 and Psalms 145–150.

This prayer is complete. It includes everything.

It includes references to:

·          God’s *glory (the first 3 requests)

·          things that we need (the last 4 requests)

·          physical needs (request 4)

·          spiritual needs (requests 5, 6 and 7)

·          present, past and future needs (requests 4, 5 and 6)

·          other people’s needs. (Notice the words ‘our’ and ‘us’.)

Jesus included all of these things in 7 brief requests. This is a perfect model for our prayers.

Questions

 

1. Think about the times when you pray this prayer. Do you really want God to answer you? If God does answer your requests, what changes will need to happen?

2. Think about public prayer in our churches. It is easy just to repeat prayers together. Or, it can be just one person’s prayer. How can they become real prayers of the whole group?

3. The people of a church should make a difference in the world. Prayer should be the way to do this. But only a few people go to meetings that are for prayer. Why does this happen?

More explanation

 

Determination to continue with prayer

Our intention to continue with prayer should be firm. God approves of this. The Bible teaches it. Jesus agreed with it too. He prayed all night sometimes. (Read Matthew 14:2–25.) Paul said that we should pray ‘all the time’. (Read Romans 12:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:17.) Jesus spoke about this kind of prayer too. (Read Luke 11:5–13; 18:1–8.)

But, Jesus forbade a certain attitude to prayer. It was about the form and the length of prayer. Some people still use these things. By them, they decide how spiritual a person is. But it is not right to do this.

Matthew 6:16–24

A life that has a purpose

 

Put the things that are most important first! Even food is less important than God.

 

The proper reason for a person to fast (verses 16–18)

(Note: To fast is when a person chooses not to eat for a time.)

To fast (go without food) was normal in the life of a good *Jew. Jesus did not discuss the qualities of this practice. The right attitude, while a person fasts, is the important thing. To fast can show our determination. We are going to put first the most important things. To fast can help us too. We can see what is most important in our lives. These things will happen if we fast with the right attitude.

The *Jews had two types of fast (times when they did not eat). There were the public fasts. These were times when everyone fasted. For example, there was the Day of Atonement. (Read Leviticus 16.) They would all fast at a time when very bad things were happening to the nation too. Also, there were private fasts. (Read Mark 2:18 and Luke 18:12.) These were for moral and religious discipline. In this passage, Jesus seemed to be speaking about private fasts. Jesus taught that a real *disciple must be sincere. He or she must not fast so that all will know about it. It must be private. (Compare verses 17–18 with verses 3–4, 6.)

There is another way to understand Jesus’ words. He may be calling us to control ourselves. We can become so busy with things that we forget God. These things could be right. But it is sometimes good for a *disciple to leave them. He or she may need to think only about spiritual things. To fast could help him or her to do this.

The most important things in life (verses 19–24)

In 6:1–18, Jesus spoke about a danger. People can put religious custom first in their lives. The custom could then become more important than a right attitude. In verses 9–34, Jesus spoke about two other dangers. The first is in verses 19–24. Believers (Christians) call it ‘being worldly’. This is when things and people have first place in a life. Spiritual things then become secondary. The next danger is in verses 25–34. It is the danger of worry. Both of these dangers are a result. They come from a *disciple’s wrong way of life. They come when there is a lack of trust. They come when there is *sin in his or her life.

Some people have ideas of what Jesus meant here. They say that a *disciple should never make plans. He or she should not prepare for the future at all. (Read verse 11.) But other people say that God especially approves when people are poor. These ideas are not correct. Jesus is thinking about a person’s attitudes. A poor person can think too much about worldly things. A rich man can be a real *disciple.

Some people want the things in this world. They do not live their lives for God. Jesus said that people like this are wrong. He said that they were foolish. Treasures in this world wear out. (Note: Treasures are anything that a person values much.) And, a person cannot take them into the next life either. A *disciple should be preparing for that future life. He or she should be storing treasures in heaven.

All people want the things that they believe to be important. This is what should control their lives. (Read verse 21.)

In the ancient world, a slave had no rights. He or she was the property of a master. All the time, that slave had to do what the master wanted. It was impossible to have two masters (verses 24). The same thing is true when we live for God. This was what Jesus said.

Questions

 

1. What are God’s ambitions for you? Are you following them? Is discipline important? What do you think about it?

2. What are God’s ambitions for your church? What are those of your group? Are both ambitions the same?

3. What place should ‘fasts’ have in today’s church? What might they include, in addition to not eating? Give reasons for these things.

Important truths

 

When people in the Bible fasted (they chose not to eat for a time).

There are many reasons to fast in the *OT:

·    *Repentance. (Read Leviticus 16:29–34; 23:26–32; Numbers 29:7–11; Deuteronomy 9:18; 1 Kings 21:27; Nehemiah 9; Daniel 9:3–4; Jonah 3:5.)

·    An illness. (Read 2 Samuel 12:15–23.)

·    Defeat in war. (Read Judges 20:26.)

·    The death of someone that you love. (Read 1 Samuel 31:13; 1 Chronicles 10:11–12; 2 Samuel 1:12.)

·    The arrival of sad news. (Read Nehemiah 1:3–4.)

·    Trouble as a punishment from God. (Read Joel 1:14; 2:12–15.)

·    Terrible danger from an enemy. (Read 2 Chronicles 20:3; Esther 4:3; 9:31.)

These are reasons why people fasted in the *OT.

Matthew 6:25–34

Worry and how to avoid it

 

God is a ruler who has all authority and power. He loves and looks after each of his *disciples. Worries about the future should not stop us trusting God.

 

In verses 19–24, Jesus spoke about a danger. It is bad for us when we put things before God. Attitudes like this come from trust that is not complete. This does not mean that real *disciples should never make plans. Birds work hard. They prepare their nests (verses 26). The Bible teaches that we should do both of these things. We should work hard and we should make plans. (Read Proverbs 6:6; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 1 Timothy 5:8.) Here, Jesus warns us about worry. It stops us from trusting God. Sometimes, it can fill a person’s thoughts all the time.

Jesus mentioned the necessities of life. They are food, drink and clothes. (Read verse 25.) Jesus knows that these things can cause worry. This is especially true in some societies or countries. There can be a serious lack of these things. There is a natural need to think about some things. Jesus does not forbid this. But he says that this must never become worry. Jesus gave several reasons:

►  Life is more important than food. It is more important than clothes. (Read verse 25.) *Jews often made a point in this way. Something that was less important would emphasise the thing that was more important. Jesus seemed to do that here. God has given us life. So, we do not need to worry about less important things.

►  God looks after tiny birds. They do not need to get anxious (verses 26). So, surely, God looks after men and women too.

►  Worry does not help in any way. We never achieve anything by it. (Read verse 27.)

►  Think of a field that is full of flowers. Nothing is more beautiful. But they are not like this because they are anxious. It is because of God’s provision. God gives this beauty to a field. So, Jesus says, he will certainly provide for all his children’s needs. (Read verses 28–29.)

So, it is hard to understand why we worry. We worry when we do not trust God. (Read verse 30.) So, real *disciples should never worry, even if other people worry. Real *disciples should be confident in God. He knows everything that they need. They should use all their energy to live for God. Then, each *disciple can live one day at a time.

Questions

 

1. Is there something that worries you today? What can encourage you in this passage? Does it help when you do not worry about future days?

2. Do some Christians tend to worry more? Someone may tell them that they do not have enough trust in God. Would that help them? How can you help each other in this matter?

3. Think about this passage. What difference should a non-Christian see in a Christian?

Important truths

 

Some people say that a Christian should never need anything.

Some people give these verses a certain meaning. They say that real *disciples should never have a lack of anything. Usually people say this in countries where most people are rich. People in other countries know that this is not true. So, think about how we should understand Jesus’ words.

In the *OT, there is what is called ‘teaching of wisdom’. Proverbs is the most famous ‘book of wisdom’. The author spoke about ‘Wisdom’ as if it was a person. ‘Wisdom’ considered life. It decided things because of experience. But, these were not rules. Sometimes, people made them into rules. But, they found that this just did not succeed.

This happened with the men who comforted Job. They tried to explain Job’s experience. But they failed to do it. They thought that they knew the answer. He was suffering. So, he must have *sinned. But, the book of Job shows that this was not true. Suffering is often the result of *sin. But, it is not always like that.

Here, Jesus’ words are ‘wisdom’. They are generally true in experience. God’s children find that he does provide for their needs. He often does this in wonderful ways. But, it does not always happen like this. God’s people may suffer a lack. They may even die. But there is always a reason for it. God has a greater purpose to achieve through them. But, whatever happens, one thing is certain. We can trust God completely.

Matthew 7:1–12

Be careful how you talk about other people’s bad habits!

 

We do not gain anything when we talk about people’s bad habits in the wrong way. To do this can be unkind. It can show a lack of care. It may not be sincere. Instead, we should look to God. He provides what we need.

 

The person who is always noticing bad habits (verses 1–6)

Read verse 1. Jesus did not mean that we must always ignore the bad habits of other people. He was referring to the sort of people who are always looking for bad habits. They enjoy finding them too (verse 3). It shows someone who is unkind. That person thinks that he or she would never be like that. That person does not show love or *mercy.

People like this are only aware about the weaknesses of other people. They do not look at themselves. They are always finding reasons to talk about other people’s bad habits. But they are never aware of what they lack. In fact, the bad habits that they find in other people are their own worst bad habits. But, usually, they are not aware of this (verse 5).

Something else makes it even worse. Someone like this talks about another person’s bad habits. But that person is a ‘brother’ (another Christian). It is someone whom he should be helping. Jesus made it clear that the matter is very serious. (Read verses 1 and 2.)

Jesus said three things about looking at other people in the right way:

►  A good judge of people needs clear sight. He or she must understand things clearly. A blind optician (someone who tests people’s eyes) is of no help at all! So, before we judge a Christian ‘brother’, we must examine ourselves. We must *repent. We must pray to God for help. (Read verse 7 especially.)

►  There may be a time to tell someone about a bad habit. But we must always do it in the right way. Our attitude must be right. It must be for the benefit of the other person too.

►  We must always be careful if we speak about someone’s bad habits (verse 6). Jesus gave two examples. First, there were dogs. They were wild, large, fierce and ugly. Then, he mentioned pigs. God gave orders to *Jews about them. *Jews must not eat pigs. They must not even touch dead bodies of pigs. (Read Leviticus 11:7 and Deuteronomy 14:8.) Jesus was saying that we must deal with people carefully.

God loves to answer our prayers

The standards for a real *disciple are very high. This includes 7:1–6! Men and women cannot reach these standards. But, help is available from the Father. (Read verse 11. Then compare 6:9.) God is always ready to give his help. The standards are too high. The *disciple cannot do it. But God can do it in him or her (verses 7–8). The *disciple must depend on God. As he does this, he must continue to ask. Then he will receive from God. He must continue to look for what he wants. Then God will show him the answer. He must continue to ‘knock’. This is a word picture. It shows that he is not going to stop until he has an answer. God will answer someone who is like this. (Note: ‘He’ means ‘he’ or ‘she’.)

Everyone who looks for help in this way will find it. God will give in exact proportion to the need. He will not do anything that is unkind. It will not hurt us rather than help us. A human parent wants to satisfy the needs of his children. So, there can be no doubt that God will do the same!

Verse 12 seems to be the end to 7:1–11. It seems to end the whole sermon (talk) so far. People have often given a certain meaning to it. They say that God accepts the person who lives by this standard. But, Jesus could not mean this. He taught that God accepts only one type of person. God accepts the person who trusts him completely. God knows that we must all have his help. We see this in verses 7–11 especially. But, he taught it all through his sermon. Jesus taught, too, that men and women always need *mercy. They need God to forgive them.

Read Matthew 22:35–40. Someone asked Jesus a question. ‘Which is the most important command of the law?’ Jesus said words from Deuteronomy 6:5. ‘You must love the *Lord your God.’ Then he said that the next command was like it. He said words from Leviticus 19:17–18. ‘You must love other people in the same way as you love yourself.’ Jesus added: ‘Think about all of the *Law. Think about what the *prophets wrote. They all take their meaning from these two commands.’

Read what he said in verse 12. ‘You want other people to behave in a certain way to you. You must behave in the same way to them. This is what the *Law means. This is what the *prophets taught. ‘So, 7:12 seems to be a short account of what Jesus taught in 22:35–40. All the moral standards of the *OT come from these principles. First, love God. (Read Deuteronomy 6:5.) Then, love other people as you love yourself. (Read Leviticus 19:18.)

Questions

 

1. Think about someone who tends to look for bad habits. Are you like them? (Think carefully about this.)

2. How can members of churches make it possible to show people their bad habits in a helpful way? What we say should not make people sad. Is it ever possible to do this? How can we avoid a wrong attitude when we talk to someone about a bad habit?

3. A non-Christian may think that he or she is obeying verse 12. What would you say to him or her?

Matthew 7:13–23

Be ready to act!

 

Jesus warns us not to choose the wrong ways. A life that is too easy can lead to this. Some people listen to false information. They can make bad decisions too. Some people do not look hard for the truth. They may easily choose the wrong way.

 

The narrow way (verses 13–14)

People must make a choice. Jesus asked them to decide. Two people who lived before Jesus did the same. There was Moses. (Read Deuteronomy 30.) Then there was Jeremiah. (Read Jeremiah 21:8.) Jesus knows what people are like. He knows that they tend to hesitate. So, Jesus urged people to act.

Only a few people find the right way in life. It is not a very popular way. It has interest for only a few people. It is a way that will be difficult to follow too. Jesus described a certain kind of gate. Only one person at a time could go through it. That person could not carry very much with him or her. To go on that way would require much effort. Jesus taught that the effort must be continuous. This was because the narrow gate leads to a narrow road.

►  The narrow road leads to life (verse 14). In the *NT, ‘life’ refers to two things. First, there are the good things of the future age. We will always be close to God. Second, there are good things in the present life. There can be satisfaction now. We can be content in this life. The life of a real *disciple has real pleasures. These things will last for this life and for the next life. (Read 6:20–2.)

►  The wide road leads to death (verse 13). There is danger ahead. It could lead to action. But, this does not usually happen. The wide road tends to encourage a lack of decision. But it is the popular choice. A person may feel satisfied now. But, the pleasures of this life do not last. There will be *judgement in the age that is to come too. (Read 6:20–23 again.)

The false *prophets (verses 15–20)

Jesus asked for a decision. He wanted people to listen to his message. Then he wanted them to obey it. (That was in verses 13 and 14.) But, he knew that he was not the only person who was doing this. Other people were calling for decisions too!

So, there were good teachers. But there were false teachers too. It was not easy to tell the difference between them. Jesus showed this by some word-pictures.

·    He said that false teachers came to them in sheep’s clothes. This meant that these teachers were pretending. They were saying that they were real *disciples. But they were not. Often in the *OT, God’s people were called ‘sheep’. Jesus himself called them sheep too. (Read John 10.)

·    There was a thorn bush in ancient Israel. (Note: A thorn is like a sharp needle. It grows on some plants.) The thorns looked like grapes (a small fruit). There was also a weed with thorns. From a distance, they looked like figs (another small fruit). In verse 16, Jesus mentioned these things. They showed how false teachers could seem to be *disciples.

·    False teachers may look like sheep. But, they are really like wolves (wild dogs). Wolves are dangerous. Their mouths are very strong. Their teeth are sharp. They are clever. They attack, kill and eat another animal. False teachers may not always know that they are like wolves. But, their teaching brings spiritual death to those who follow them.

We may want to know how we can recognise false teachers. Jesus gave us a simple test. ‘You will know them by what they do’ (verse 16). Their teaching will seem to be right. People must obey their rules. This will make people feel that the false teachers are good. (Compare 5:17–48.) But their actions will make people look at them, not at God. They will tend to make people praise men and women, not God. (Compare chapter 6.) Their actions will not show the need for God’s *mercy.

A false sense of security (verses 21–23)

Jesus continued to warn people. He warned them against all that was false. He warned them against all that was not proper religion. He gave them an awful example. There is a group of people at the final *judgement. They realise that they have never been real *disciples. They have never known the way of proper religion. This surprises them very much. The situation is similar to the situation that is in verses 15–20. But, there are two main differences. Verses 15–20 refer to those who lead people in the wrong way. Here, in verses 21–23, the reference is to those whom they have led in the wrong way.

Jesus described these people. He showed what their reactions might be in the final Day of *Judgement. They might point to certain facts about themselves. These facts must surely make Jesus receive them. Of course, he would allow them to come into his *kingdom. But, the *Lord’s answer is clear. It comes with great authority. These things will not cause God to accept them.

Look at the things that these people say about themselves. They seem to have right beliefs. They are sincere. They state that they were useful in a spiritual way. (‘We gave *prophecies in your name.’) They say that they have used great spiritual gifts. (‘We made evil *spirits go out of people.’) Jesus does not deny any of these things! But these things do not cause God to accept those people. Jesus said that they were wrong about something. It was this. They did not do ‘the will of my Father who is in heaven’ (verse 21). Jesus still looks for a character that pleases God. This will show itself in a life that pleases God. Chapters 5–7 describe the sort of life that it will be.

There is an important lesson here. People’s beliefs can be right. They can be sincere. They can be useful. They may be able to do many useful things. But, they may not be real *disciples. They may not really know God. They will not have a character that pleases God. So, their lives will not please God. Beliefs must make a difference to the life.

Questions

 

1. How can I be sure that God has accepted me?

2. Teaching in churches today may be sincere. But it could still be false. What dangers are there in churches like this?

3. People can give great honour to a famous Christian leader. What do these verses say about this? What is the value of listening to a speaker like this? What are the dangers?

Matthew 7:24–29

Be careful! A building may look good. But, it may not be safe.

 

A builder should plan and prepare well first. If a *disciple wants to succeed, he must do the same. He may hear God’s words. But, he may not obey them. This will mean very bad trouble in the end.

 

Read verses 15–20. There, Jesus compared two groups of people. They were the false teachers and the true teachers. Read verses 21–23. Here, Jesus compared another two groups. There were the people who just believed facts. But also, there were the real *disciples. Now read verses 24–27. Here, Jesus compared two groups again. There were wise builders. But also, there were foolish builders.

Hear and do God’s words (verses 24–27)

Everyone ‘builds’ in life. This is a picture of how a person lives. There is the wise person. He or she is the sort of person who works hard. He or she makes plans, and then follows them. This person thinks about all that he or she will need first. Then he or she ‘builds’. The result shows in the way that a person deals with a sudden crisis. Usually, a person who is like this can deal with these events. He or she can find an answer. (Note: ‘He’ refers to both ‘he’ and ‘she’.)

But, there is another type of builder. It is the foolish person. He wants the same things as the wise person wants. (He wants a house in which to live.) But he is not ready for the hard work that is necessary. Such people do not make proper plans. Often, they will not listen to the advice of other people.

Foolish people may progress as fast as wise people. This makes them think that they do not need to plan. Effort is not necessary. But it is different when there is very bad trouble. They do not prepare for difficulties. Their troubles destroy the lives of people like this.

So, Jesus described two groups of people. Both groups wanted to be *disciples. But, only one group was willing to use God’s methods. The two buildings looked the same. Both groups wanted God to accept them. They both wanted to be members of his *kingdom. They seemed to be similar. But, there were actually great differences. These were because of a different attitude to the word of God. One group heard what God said and did it. The other group only heard God’s word.

When troubles come, foolish people cannot deal with them. This happens today too. People say that they are *disciples of Jesus. But they stop believing when there are difficulties. The Day of *Judgement will be even worse. God will examine them very carefully. The truth about them will be clear then.

To obey God is like when someone builds on a rock. This does not mean that there will be no troubles. Jesus described two groups of people. Both groups had the same troubles. (Compare verses 25 and 27.) But there was a big difference. Even if the trouble is worse, someone who is like a strong building stays firm. This is because ‘the building’ stands on a rock.

Jesus taught something very clearly. It is still most important. It is for all of his *disciples. They must know what God requires. They must do God’s will too. Only then can God bless them. Only then can they know real security. They will be safe for ever.

Addition to the sermon (talk) on the mountain (verses 28–29)

The people who heard Jesus were ‘astonished’. They had felt like this for some time. Think about what caused this reaction. First, it was the authority of Jesus. It was not just his manner as he spoke. It was what he said. When the *prophets spoke, they said: ‘This is what the *Lord says’. When Jesus spoke, he did not need to say this. He used his own authority to speak.

Jesus gave his own opinions. But notice something here. Jesus said: ‘I say only the things that the Father has taught me.’ Read John 8:28. But he said too: ‘The Father and I are one.’ Read John 10:30. The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees were not like this. They always repeated the opinions of other people. In the *OT, a *prophet was someone who spoke for God. But, in 5:11–12, Jesus claimed that his *disciples would be like *prophets. So, Jesus was claiming to be God.

Jesus said things about himself. They were things that could only be true about God. Here are some of Jesus’ claims:

·    He came to give full meaning to the law (5:17). This tells us something. It is this. Jesus had a life before he came into the world.

·    He had a special relationship with God. Jesus called him ‘My father’ (7:21). Compare this with ‘Our Father’ (6:9).

·    He could ask all people to obey him. Jesus had the right to do this (7:24).

·    He spoke with the authority of God himself (7:21–23).

Those who listened to Jesus were ‘astonished’. This is not a surprise. But it was not just his claims that had this effect on them. It was his teaching too. There was one thing in particular. He taught that human effort could never cause God to accept anyone. This was the exact opposite of what the religious leaders taught.

Jesus also spoke about those who obeyed God. They must obey because they really wanted to obey. The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees were not like this. They knew that they should obey. So they did. But that was the only reason why they obeyed. Jesus explained about people whom God would accept. They must be more holy than these leaders. Many people were listening to Jesus. That idea was a great shock to them.


Questions

 

1. You have read the Sermon on the Mount (the talk on the mountain). What is your reaction to it? Read each section again. Ask God what he is saying to you.

2. Someone may say that he or she is a believer (Christian). How can you know if that claim is true?

3. What is like ‘sand’ in your own situation? What is like ‘rock’ in your own situation?

4. Someone may say: ‘Jesus was a great moral teacher.’ What would you say to this person?

Matthew 8:1–4

Only Jesus can heal and forgive

 

Jesus healed a leper. (This is someone with a disease called leprosy. Leprosy is a terrible disease in the skin.) Jesus showed that he is the person whom God promised to send. He is the *Messiah. He can forgive men and women.

 

Matthew now began a new section of his *Gospel. (The section is Matthew 8:1–9:34.) It told about some *miracles that Jesus did. Matthew wrote his *Gospel in a careful way. So, there was a reason why he put the *miracles here.

First, they fitted with what he had already said.

•     In 4:16, he repeated the *prophet Isaiah’s words. When Jesus began his work in Galilee, it was like a great light shining out.

•     In 4:23–25, Matthew explained about the light. It shone out in Jesus’ words. It shone out in his actions too.

•     In 5:17–20, Matthew showed again how Jesus’ words were like a great light.

•     Now, in 8:1–9:34, he showed the same thing. He did this when he described some of Jesus’ actions.

The *miracles in these two chapters did something else too. They confirmed the authority of Jesus’ words.

*Miracles

In the Bible, *miracles were important. They happened especially when God began something new. So, we read about *miracles at the time of:

·    Abraham. God first chose one small group to be his special people.

·    Moses and Joshua. God rescued his people from Egypt. He had promised to give them the land. He led them into that land.

·    Elijah and Elisha. These two men were the first of the great *prophets.

·    Daniel. This was a time when God’s people were especially in danger.

·    *Messiah. The *Jews expected to see *miracles when he came. So, Matthew recorded some *miracles that Jesus did. Something is clear. Matthew wanted to confirm that Jesus was the *Messiah. (Read 7:28–29.) The *miracles showed that God’s *kingdom had arrived. God had begun to do something new again.

The *OT *Law often mentioned diseases. Many people think that health was the only reason for the laws. But the *OT does not seem to consider the disease called leprosy in the usual way. We usually think that contact with leprosy was dangerous. But, think about Naaman. He remained the leader of an army. But he had leprosy. (Read 2 Kings 5:1.) Gehazi had leprosy. But he could speak to the king. (Read 2 Kings 8:4–5.) Also, there were the priests. They must touch people who had leprosy. They must make sure that the leprosy had gone. But they might discover that the person still had the disease. (Read Leviticus 13:12–13.)

But the *OT laws were often like signs. God used them to teach spiritual lessons. It was especially true about leprosy. This was because it was such an awful disease of the skin. It slowly spread over the whole body. A person with leprosy was like a dead person. He or she could not live with God’s people.

The sign of leprosy taught God’s people two things about *sin. First, *sin spoils people. Second, *sin separates people from God. The words of Psalm 51:7 show this clearly. David asked God to ‘wash’ him. He wanted God to make him ‘clean’. Sometimes people did recover from leprosy. Then they would use this sort of language.

*Jews thought that it was impossible to cure a person with leprosy. It was as hard as making a dead person come back to life. They thought that only God could heal a person with leprosy. (Read Numbers 12:13–15 and 2 Kings 5:14.) But, *Jews believed that both these things would happen when the *Messiah came. Matthew suggested this belief in 11:5. So, this story confirmed that Jesus was the *Messiah. It taught that he was God. It showed that Jesus could forgive *sin. (Compare Mark 2:1–12.)

Leprosy disease is a like a picture of *sin

The poor man with leprosy here seemed to have understood much. He called Jesus ‘*Lord’. The word could just mean ‘Sir’. But the Bible also used it as God’s name. The man *worshipped Jesus. He believed that Jesus could heal him. (And only God could do that.) In Luke 5:12, we read that he was ‘full’ of leprosy. So, he showed great understanding and trust in Jesus. Jesus’ action (verse 3) confirmed this.

Verse 4 is difficult. Jesus said that the man must not tell anyone. That could be difficult to understand There are various ideas. Perhaps it was only until the man had been to the priest. Perhaps Jesus thought that the priests would be jealous of him. If so, they would not want to declare that the man was ‘clean’. People might think about Jesus as just someone who did *miracles. Jesus did not want this. He wanted them to know him as the *Messiah. It was he who made people ‘clean’ from *sin.

There is another matter in verse 4. The priest needed to say that the man was well again. This would be a proof to people. Perhaps Jesus was talking about the people in the crowd. The *miracle would confirm his words. Perhaps he was talking about the priests. If so, Jesus’ act would confirm his work. Then there would be no excuse for them to oppose Jesus.

So, leprosy is like a sign. It shows that a person is a *sinner. *Sin is like the disease of the skin, leprosy. *Sin spoils the whole person. It shows itself in different ways. But it proves that there is a serious disease. No medicine will heal it. The person will be separate from God’s people. He or she cannot enter God’s *kingdom. The end must be death. These things were true about leprosy then. They are still true about *sin today.

But, there is an answer. Jesus put out his hand to heal the leper. It was against the *OT *Law to do this. (Read Leviticus 5:3.) A person who touched a leper became ‘dirty’ too. He became like a leper. But Jesus showed that he makes people ‘clean’ from *sin. Only Jesus can ‘touch’ *sin and heal the *sinner. (Note: A leper is someone who has leprosy.)


Of course, there were things that the leper must do. Jesus’ power to heal was not just a matter of chance. The leper must recognise three things.

•           He must be sure that he had a serious disease.

•           He must be sure that Jesus, as God’s *Messiah, could deal with it.

•           He must trust Jesus to do it.

Jesus had great sympathy for this man. (Read Mark 1:41.) He healed him immediately. He healed him completely. Jesus never refused to help anyone who came to him. He always forgave the *sin of anyone who came to him. He is still the same today.

Questions

 

1. It is wonderful if Jesus heals you by a *miracle. But there is something even more wonderful. It is when Jesus forgives you. This is a *miracle too. Think about what Jesus has done for you. Make a list. Some people do this in another way. They pretend to write a letter to thank God.

2. Should people in the church ask God to heal people? What place should this special work have in the church?

3. Do non-Christians need people who do *miracles? Do they need preachers? (A preacher declares God’s word in public.) Or do they need both? Give a reason for your answer to this question.

Matthew 8:5–13

We receive *salvation as we believe God. We cannot earn it.

 

Jesus showed his *disciples how to enter God’s *kingdom. The only way is to believe God.

 

In 8:1–4, a man with leprosy trusted Jesus. Here we read about the second *miracle of Jesus that Matthew recorded. It was about a centurion’s servant. (Read the last part of this section. It describes a centurion.) The centurion trusted Jesus too. He had heard about Jesus. (Read Luke 7:3.) He called Jesus ‘*Lord’. He believed that Jesus could heal his servant. So, the centurion meant more than just ‘Sir’.

We do not know the exact illness of the servant. But we know that he could not move. The illness would get worse, until he could not breathe. Then he would die. (Compare Luke 7:2.)

The most important part here is the talk between Jesus and the centurion. Even the *miracle does not seem as important as the talk in the story. The centurion said that he was not good enough. He could not expect Jesus to come to his home. He knew, too, that Jesus was a *Jew. He would know that *Jews did not enter the home of a ‘Gentile’. (Note: a Gentile is a person who is not a *Jew.) Read John 18:28; Acts 10:28; 11:2–3. He probably thought, too, that he was not in the family of God.

Yet, he did trust Jesus. He said: ‘Just say the word, and my servant will be well’ (verse 8). Jesus acted because of this trust (verse 10). He also acted because of the man’s sense of need. He spoke about the centurion’s great trust. Jesus had not found such trust among the *Jews.

Because of the centurion’s trust, Jesus had some comfort for him. Jesus told him that non-*Jews will be at the *Messiah’s great meal. The *Jews thought that it was for them only. They did not understand Isaiah 60:12. But the *prophets had taught that people would come from the entire world. They would all share in God’s *kingdom. (Read Isaiah 2:2–3; 11:10; 45:6; 49:6, 12; 54:1–3; 59:19; Jeremiah 3:18; 31:34; Hosea 1:9–10; 2:23; Amos 9:11–15; Micah 4:1–2 and Malachi 1:11.) In this way, Jesus comforted the centurion in his time of need.

Then Jesus said something very serious (verse 12). He said it because of the *Jews. They were sure that they would be members of God’s *kingdom. But Jesus said that they were on their way to hell. Jesus taught the centurion an important truth. It was this (verse 13). To believe God is the only way to get into God’s *kingdom. The centurion had shown that he did believe God. Jesus confirmed that this was true. He healed his servant.

Questions

 

1. How can I be sure that God will receive me? Where do I put my confidence? Pretend that you are applying to get into heaven. Write a letter about this.

2. Read the *OT references above. They are about people who come from the entire world. They will come to share God’s great meal. This is a future event. How could we start to enjoy it now? Is that something that we should do?

3. How does Jesus’ teaching here affect those whom people will not accept today?

More explanation

 

The centurion

The centurion was an important person. He was a soldier in the army of Rome. This was a great capital city. Rome’s army ruled the country where Jesus lived at that time. (All the countries that Rome ruled had a name. It was the *Roman *Empire.) A division of Rome’s army was a legion. A legion had 6000 men in it. Each legion had 60 ‘centuries’. A centurion was in charge of a century. He was usually a soldier who stayed in the army for a long time.

Whenever the *NT mentions a centurion, it is always with respect. (Read Matthew 27:54; Acts 10:22, 26; 23:17, 24; 24:23; and 27:43.) Herod Antipas was the *Roman ruler of Galilee. He would probably pay this centurion. (Herod lived at Tiberias. It was not far from the city called Capernaum.)

The centurion did not feel that he could approach Jesus. So, he asked some *Jewish leaders to speak for him. (Read Luke 7:3–5.) This meant that he was probably a ‘proselyte’. A proselyte was a Gentile who was following the *Jewish religion. (Note: A Gentile is a person who is not a *Jew.)

Matthew 8:14–17

God saves so that the person can serve him

 

Jesus healed. This act emphasised that God had sent him. God wanted Jesus to deal with the punishment for *sin.

 

Matthew believed that Jesus’ *miracles also showed God’s truths.

•     Verses 1–4 show that Jesus came to heal *sinners.

•     Verses 5–13 show that the *kingdom of God is for all *sinners. But they must be humble. They must come to Jesus and ask him for help.

•     Now, in verses 14–17, Matthew used events that happened in Jesus’ work. Jesus healed. Then, Matthew taught how Jesus can save *sinners. (Read 1:21.)

First, Jesus healed the mother of Peter’s wife (verses 14–15). Peter probably came from Bethsaida. But he had a home in Capernaum. (Read Mark 1:29.) He was married (1 Corinthians 9:5). Perhaps Peter’s wife was from Capernaum. It seems that both families lived in one house. He and his brother Andrew shared a business. They caught and sold fish (Mark 1:6).

Nobody asked Jesus to heal this lady. He just did it. This was the only time that this happened in the book of Matthew. Perhaps Matthew saw something that was important here. As soon as Jesus healed her, this woman served him. So, all those whom Jesus saves should serve him too. (Read Colossians 3:24.)

Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. (Read Luke 4:31.) In fact, he healed many people on this special day. God gave it to the *Jews as a day for rest. But they added many extra rules. The day started and ended when the sun went down. So, the Sabbath was from Friday evening to Saturday evening. The people came to Jesus when the Sabbath ended.

The *NT says that some illnesses are the result of the devil’s work. This was true in verse 16 here. But, we must be careful. Many illnesses are not the result of the devil’s activity. The last part of verse 16 shows this. But no illness is impossible for Jesus to heal. Matthew made this clear. Jesus healed ‘all the sick’ people. He healed those whom nobody else could heal. He healed those who were close to death too.

But demons (evil *spirits) do cause some illnesses. Matthew wanted to show something about them. Jesus healed these people by his word. Jesus was showing his authority even over the devil. (Compare Matthew 12:29; Luke 10:17 and Revelation 20:2–3.)

The *OT taught that all illness was the result of man’s *sin. (Read Genesis 3.) This did not mean that particular illnesses were the result of particular *sins. But it did mean that all people were *sinners. [Note about the word *sin. It is when someone does not reach God’s standards. It is when someone does not obey God’s rules. The word can speak about a state. (Read Genesis 3 and Romans 3:23; 5:12–17.) It can also be an act. So the word can be a noun or a verb.]

In the *OT, we read about a time when there would be no more illness. And so, there would be no more *sin. God would make a new world. In Isaiah 53, the ‘servant’, (verse 11), would make all these things happen. His method would be to take away *sin by his death. (Read Isaiah 53:11–12.) It would be something that he chose to do. He would suffer the punishment for *sin (53:10). He would do this in the place of other people (53:5). To Matthew, Jesus was this ‘servant’. Matthew showed more clearly how Jesus did this. Later in his *Gospel, he described how Jesus did take away *sin.

Questions

 

1. Do you know that Jesus has taken away your *sin? If so, how do you show it by what you do for him?

2. How should the church help those who are sick? Should medical people and people in the church work together? If so, how can they do this?

3. Why does God allow illness to be in the world? How can we explain this to non-Christians?

Important truths

 

Some people say that Christians should not suffer.

Some people use passages like this one. They teach that real *disciples should never be ill. But a *disciple may be ill. Then these people say that he or she does not trust God enough.

This idea is wrong. First, it does not agree with other passages that are in the Bible. Several things are the result of man’s *sin. There is pain when a woman gives birth. Also, there are weeds. (Read Genesis 3:16 and 18.) People may say that Christians should never be ill. But they are forgetting certain things They do not say that these people should not have weeds in their gardens. They never say something else. It is this. Christian women should not have pain when they give birth. So, God has not yet dealt with all the results of *sin. This is clear.

There is something else. We must understand what the Bible teaches about *salvation. In the *NT, the work of *salvation is not complete. It is waiting for the time when God’s *kingdom has come. Until then, everything that God created suffers. This includes *disciples. (Read Romans 8:18–23.) So, all men and women still suffer illness. This is true in the Bible too. Even those who healed other people were sometimes ill themselves. Or their friends were ill.

(Compare 2 Kings 13:14 and 20:1; Acts 9:36–37; Galatians 4:13; Philippians 2:25–27; 1 Timothy 5:23 and 2 Timothy 4:20.)

But, there is another most important fact. In the Bible, God encourages us to pray that he will heal us. (Read James 5:14–15.)

Matthew 8:18–22

Jesus calls us to follow him

 

Jesus wants a certain type of person to follow him. His *disciples must continue the task that he gives them.

 

Here, Matthew had a section that was not about *miracles. He told about two talks. They explained how to be a real *disciple. Jesus was going to suffer (8:17). His *disciples must suffer too. (Compare 5:10–12.) Anyone who wants to be a *disciple must understand this. (Read 8:18–20.) To follow Jesus must be the most important thing for that person. (Read 8:21–22.)

Jesus had been working hard. Maybe he felt that he needed a rest. Maybe he did not want people to get too excited about his work. Anyway, he decided to go away from the crowd. (Read verse 18.)

As he left, a teacher of the *Law came to him. He told Jesus that he wanted to be a *disciple. These teachers were usually against Jesus. (Read 5:20; 6:2, 5,16 and 15:1.) But this was not always true. (Read 13:52 and 23:34.) This man even said that he would change his way of life. (Read verse 19.) But he only called Jesus ‘Teacher’. This may show that he did not understand who Jesus was. (Read 8:1–4 and 8:5–13 again. These men understood about Jesus much more clearly.) But read verse 20. Jesus tested the man. He had not thought enough about being a real *disciple.

Another man wanted to be a *disciple of Jesus. We read about him in verses 21–22. This man had thought too much about being a real *disciple! He was willing to be a *disciple. But he was very aware of something else. He had other responsibilities too. In the end, he refused to follow Jesus.

‘*Lord, first let me bury my father.’ We may not understand what this man meant. Maybe his father had just died. He wanted to go to the funeral, of course. But, something else was more likely. He was probably saying that he had responsibilities to his parents. This might continue for some time. He could not follow Jesus until his parents were dead. Jesus does not tell us to ignore such responsibilities. But he does teach us that real *disciples must put him first in their lives.


Questions

 

1. Have you said: ‘Not now, *Lord, but later’? Is there something that you should do now? Write it down. Then ask God to help you to do it.

2. Sometimes a person shows great excitement. What is the difference between excitement and trust?

3. What do these verses mean to you? Is God calling you to do some special work for him?

Important truths

 

The Son of Man

In verse 20, Jesus called himself ‘the Son of Man’. This was the first time in the Gospels that Jesus did this. (Note: The Gospels are the first 4 books of the *NT.) The *OT mentioned this name in several passages. In Psalm 8:4, it referred to men who are weak. They have no power. They trust God completely. The same use of the name is in the first chapters of Ezekiel. But it is different in Daniel 7:13. It has another reference to a ‘son of man’. This seems to be a title for the *Messiah. Jesus wanted people to think. This was the most likely reason for this phrase. Jesus was showing them slowly who he really was.

This title comes 29 times in Matthew’s Gospel:

•     13 times, it was about the Son of Man’s return. This would be at the end of the age. (Some references are 16:27; 25:31; 24:27–44 and 26:44.)

•     9 times, it was about Jesus’ death and his return to life.

•     7 times, as here, it referred to his present work. (Some references are 17:12; 26:24; 12:40 and 17:9.)

Here, Jesus said that people would refuse to accept him.

·    This began at his birth. There was no room at the hotel.

·    The story continued. The people in Judea refused to accept him. (Read John 15:18.)

·    Many people in Galilee stopped following him. (Read John 6:66.)

·    The people in Gadara asked him to leave. (Read Matthew 8:34.)

·    The people in Samaria refused to let him stay. (Read Luke 9:53.)

·    All peoples in the earth refused him. (Read Matthew 27:23.)

·    Finally, even God the Father left him. (Read Matthew 27:46.)

Matthew 8:23–27

King of everything that God created

 

Jesus stopped the storm. This made people ask a question. It was: ‘Who is this?’

 

Matthew had a short passage about being a *disciple. (Read 8:19–22.) Now, he described more about Jesus’ *miracles. The first three were showing God’s truth. They were showing it by actions. They explained the work that Jesus came to do. (Read 8:1–18.) They gave an answer to the *disciples’ question. (Read 8:27.) ‘Who is this?’ they asked. The answer is in 8:29. Jesus is the ‘Son of God’.


Jesus showed his authority over:

•     nature. (Read 8:23–27.)

•     the spiritual world. (Read 8:28–34.)

•     *sin. (Read 9:1–8.) These last verses marked a change in Jesus’ special work. From that time, the religious leaders tried to find a reason to kill him.

Jesus and his *disciples were in the boat. Suddenly, there was a great storm. It must have been a very bad storm. The men knew about these storms. (Read the ‘More Explanation’ section. It is about the Sea of Galilee.) But they were still very afraid (verse 25). So, the storm must have been even worse than usual. The word that Matthew used in verse 24 showed this. The word usually described an earthquake. (This is when the earth shakes. It can cause great damage.)

Jesus was very tired. He was able to sleep because he trusted his Father. His *disciples had to wake him. Then he did a great *miracle. He just gave a command to the wind and the waves. They obeyed immediately (verse 26). The wind stopped. The water became very calm.

Jesus gave an order to the wind and to the sea. Many people did not follow the real God. They had a belief. They believed that the sea was the great enemy of the gods. The *OT sometimes used similar language. But, it did not accept the same beliefs. It taught that God has authority over the sea. This fact would cause people to praise God. (Read Psalm 93:3–4 and 96:11.)

Matthew showed that Jesus had authority over everything. This included the Sea of Galilee. This led the *disciples to praise Jesus. Surely, this Jesus must be God.

The *disciples were confident that Jesus could save them (verse 25). But he was asleep. They were not sure if he could help them then. They woke him. First, Jesus blamed them for their lack of trust in God. Then Jesus performed his great *miracle. This showed his authority over the whole of creation. (This includes everything that God has made.)

This *miracle was showing God’s truth too. It was showing it by actions. These *disciples were not like the men who were in verses 18–22. The *disciples did follow Jesus (verse 23). But it was not always easy to be a real *disciple. They soon had great troubles. They must live by trust in him. They must learn to trust Jesus. He controlled everything. These things are still true today.

The *disciples were still not sure who Jesus was. So, they asked the question in verse 27. Soon, they would get the answer. But it would come from a very unusual place!

Questions

 

1. Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus can help you? In what parts of your life do you find this? Compare each one with the storm. Does this help you?

2. What ‘storms’ does your church have now? How can Jesus help?

3. Jesus is *Lord of creation. (This includes everything that God has made.) So, what does this tell us about the church’s responsibility to the earth?

(Note: ‘Church’ refers to the people not to the building.)

More explanation

 

The Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee was, and is, a lake. It is only 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. It is part of the Jordan valley. It makes a deep crack in the surface of the earth. Galilee is 650 feet (211 metres) below the level of the sea. The climate is warm and friendly. But there are mountains on the west side of the lake. These mountains have deep valleys with steep sides.

Sometimes a strong wind will blow into the deep valley. Then it will suddenly rush down on the lake. The wind will blow with great force. All will be calm. Then, in a moment, there will be a very bad storm.

Someone tells of a visit to Galilee. He was at a place called Tiberias. The lake was very calm. Some people who were with him doubted the truth of Matthew’s story. Almost immediately, the wind became strong. In 20 minutes, the waves were coming over the walls at Tiberias. The visitors were 200 yards from the lake. But they still had to find shelter.

Matthew 8:28–34

Demons (evil *spirits) are afraid and run away!

 

Jesus is the Son of God. Evil *spirits oppose him and his people. He has authority over them all.

 

The storm ended. Jesus and his *disciples reached the other side of the lake. Verse 28 described what happened next. There were some caves. There, local people buried those who had died. Two men were living in these caves. They were very dangerous. People were afraid to come near them. (Read Luke 8:27–29 and Mark 5:3–5.) The state of these men was awful. It reminds us of the power of the devil and of his forces. It also shows that their power ruins lives. Their power spoils people.

The men met Jesus. Now the *disciples got an answer to their question in verse 27. They had asked: ‘Who is this?’ about Jesus. The demons (evil *spirits) in the men shouted the answer. He is ‘the Son of God’ (verse 29). (Read ‘Important Truths’ in the section for Matthew 3:11–17.) The evil *spirits knew that they were with their great enemy. (Compare James 2:19. It might be a reference to this event.) They knew their terrible end too. (Read verse 29. Compare Revelation 20:3.)

It is hard to understand verses 30–32. The demons (evil *spirits) could not do anything unless Jesus let them. They asked to go into the large group of pigs. As a result, all the pigs died. We do not know why Jesus agreed to the evil *spirits’ request. Maybe the time of their final punishment had not come. Maybe Jesus wanted to teach the local people something. This was a more likely reason. Jesus had saved two men from the devil’s control. This fact was more important than anything else.

The owners of the pigs were not pleased, of course. They forced Jesus to leave the area (verse 34). They did not bring their sick people to Jesus. They did not ask him to forgive their *sins. (Compare 9:1–8.) They only cared about their pigs.

[Note: It was against the law for *Jews to keep pigs. But most of the people of this area were Gentiles (people who are not *Jews). So, they could keep pigs.]

Here, Matthew reached an important part of his *Gospel. He had been telling about people’s reactions to Jesus. Verses 18–22 told about people who were ‘almost’ *disciples. They thought that they would like to follow Jesus. Verses 23–27 told about weak *disciples. Here we read about people who understood who Jesus was. Jesus showed who he was by his words. He performed a great *miracle too.

This made them think about a question. It was: ‘What is the most important thing in life?’ But, they did not ask Jesus to forgive them. Then they could be God’s children. They were more interested in things instead. Possessions and selfish ambition came first. This was not a matter of religious laws. It was about what is important in life. It was about what was the most important thing in life.


Questions

 

1. Demons (evil *spirits) could cause trouble in your life. Do you have confidence in Jesus? Are you sure that he can help you? Can you describe a time when this happened? How would you recognise the activity of *Satan (the devil)?

2. How do you think that the devil tries to spoil church life today? Does he work better when he hides himself? Or is he more successful when everyone can see his work?

3. In what way is the devil active in the world today? He hides the real nature of his work. How does he do this?

4. Someone may behave in a strange way. He may need a doctor. He may need someone to discuss things with him. Or, he may need a special type of prayer. (It is the prayer when someone else orders an evil *spirit to leave him. That person can only give this command in the name of Jesus.) How can we know what sort of help the person needs? (Note: ‘He’ refers to he or she.)

More explanation

 

Where the story happened. The number of men.

There are two difficulties with this story.

First, there is the name of the place. Our *NT is a translation from the *Greek language. In the book of Matthew, the place is called ‘Gadara’. This is the most likely place. It was not far from the Sea of Galilee. ‘Gergesa’ is another possible name. But this may have been a village in the Gadara district. In the books of Mark and Luke, the place is called ‘Gerasa’. This was 30 miles from the Lake of Galilee. So, it is not likely to be the right place.

There is a reason for this confusion. At first, people copied the Gospels by hand. The names are very similar. So, someone could easily make a mistake. (Note: the Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.)

Second, the books of Mark and Luke mention only one mad man. Matthew mentions two mad men. There is a possible reason for this. Mark wanted to emphasise two things. There were the words of the demons (evil *spirits). Also, there was Jesus’ command to one of the men. (Read Mark 5:7, 18–20.) Luke does the same thing. But Matthew records the full facts.

Important truths

 

The activity of demons (evil *spirits)

We can be sure that demons (evil *spirits) are real. We can learn about what they do. This passage emphasised these things. We read most about them during Jesus’ time on earth. The devil and his forces were meeting their great enemy.

Certain illnesses do not prove that a person has a demon (evil *spirit). Some people say this about mental illness. But there is no idea of that, here. It is important to remember this. This passage shows that Jesus is ruler over all the powers of *Satan (the devil). They are under his control.


Matthew 9:1–13

God can forgive everyone

 

Jesus showed that he can forgive *sins. He does not send anybody away.

 

This was the last in the set of three stories about *miracles.

•     In 8:23–27, Jesus had authority over everything that God created.

•     In 8:28–34, Jesus had authority over all of the *spirits.

•     Now, in 9:1–8, Jesus showed his authority to forgive *sins. The Bible tells us that only God can forgive *sin. (Read Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 1:18; 43:25; 55:6–7; Jeremiah 31:34 and Micah 7:19.) This was an important subject for Matthew (1:21). So, he put this story here on purpose. He wanted to emphasise that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ (8:29).

Pick up your bed! (Verses 1–8)

Jesus now began a new part of his work. Before this time, people could think that he was just a teacher. He could even do *miracles. But this was different. He forgave *sins. No ordinary teacher could do that.

The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees could choose. They could agree with Jesus’ claims. Or they could refuse to accept him. They made the wrong choice. Their started to oppose him when he did this *miracle. They were against Jesus until he died on the cross.

In the next verses, we read about how they opposed him. The teachers of the *Law said things against Jesus:

·          He speaks against God (verses 1–8). This would be a very serious *sin.

·          His morals are bad (verses 9–13).

·          His religious practices are not good (verses 14–17).

·          He is a friend of the devil (31–34).

They accused Jesus of all these things. This would lead to his death.

Sometimes, illness can be the result of personal *sin. (Read 8:17.) The man here seemed to believe that this was true about him. But his friends tried very hard to get him to Jesus. The man was lying on his bed. This was because he could not move. Many people wanted to get near to Jesus. And this meant that his friends could not get into the house. So, they took away part of the roof. Then they put him in front of Jesus.

Jesus saw the man’s greatest need. Jesus was very gentle with the man. He called him ‘son’ (verse 2). Then he told the man that he forgave his *sins. Jesus may have meant to teach the man that he was now a child of God too.

Only God can forgive *sin. The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees knew this. They realised that Jesus was claiming to be God. To them, this was a most serious *sin. They never even thought that Jesus’ claim might be right. They just accused him. Jesus showed them how wrong they were. He asked them a question (verse 5). Is it easier to heal, or is it easier to forgive someone? They would think that it was harder to heal this man. So, Jesus healed him. He just spoke and the man was completely well. (Compare 8:15. Jesus healed by a touch.)

The ordinary people who were in the room saw this *miracle. Matthew tells us about their reactions in verse 8. They knew that they had seen God’s great power. They praised God for what he had done.

The call of Matthew (verses 9–13)

Jesus came to forgive *sins. Matthew had made this clear. But this must lead to two more questions. First, whom will Jesus forgive? Second, how will he forgive? In these 5 verses, Matthew spoke about himself. He recorded how Jesus called him to be his *disciple. Then Matthew told about a meal that he had for his friends. He wanted them to meet Jesus too. (Read Mark 2:13–17 and Luke 5:27–32.)

Matthew was a tax official. Tax officials were called ‘tax collectors’. There was a main route for trade. It was from the country called Syria to Egypt. This route went through the district called Galilee. The city called Capernaum was a tax station. It was the boundary between two districts. There would be a tax as goods went from one district to another. The leaders of the two districts were Philip and Herod Antipas. Matthew worked for Herod.

The *Jews did not like these tax officials.

•     The tax officials often took extra money from other *Jews. In this way, they became rich.

•     They were working for the people who had defeated the *Jews.

•     They did not obey the laws of the *Jews. This was why the *Pharisees called them ‘*sinners’ (verse 11). They did not follow the *Pharisees’ ideas of the *Law. Many tax collectors did not care about God. But this was not always true.

Jesus and his *disciples were at Matthew’s meal. This was why the *Pharisees accused Jesus. They said that his religious practices were wrong. (Read 9:1–8.) The *Pharisees believed that any link with a bad person made them bad too. They did not understand how Jesus could have a meal with bad people. Jesus heard their remarks and gave his answer. He showed them that they had made two mistakes. First, they had not understood what the *Messiah’s work would be. Second, they had the wrong idea about how God could forgive them. They thought that to please God depended on ceremonies. They thought that they must work to please God too. (Read 5:17–6:18.)

Jesus gave an answer to the *Pharisees’ wrong idea. He told them that:

►  He had come like a doctor. A doctor cares about sick people and those in need. Jesus had come to help *sinners. The *Pharisees thought that they did not have any needs. And they had no interest in people who did have needs. Jesus meant that they were neglecting their duty.

►  He used one of the religious leaders’ phrases. Jesus said: ‘Go and learn what it means.’ He used the phrase against them. Jesus repeated Hosea 6:6. Real religion must have spiritual attitudes. The *Pharisees knew the *OT well. But they had never understood this basic truth.

Jesus’ final words were a test. *Salvation is an invitation. Some people think that they are good. So, *salvation is not for them. It is for those whose needs are desperate. Jesus came to help people who have no hope or help. (Note: Everybody needs *salvation. But Jesus cannot help anyone who does not want his help.)

Questions

 

1. Jesus died so that he could forgive your *sins. How can you be sure that your *sin has gone?

2. The church is a place for *sinners. What does this mean about our churches? Do we expect a standard that is too high from each other?

3. The church exists for those who are not its members. No other organisation is like this. Think about Jesus’ work in this passage. How could we copy him as we try to bring people to Jesus today?

(Note: ‘Church’ refers to the people, not to the building.)


Matthew 9:14–17

A marriage is not a funeral!

 

The fact that Jesus is present should make people happy.

 

In 9:9–13, Jesus offended the *Pharisees. Here, a group of men became confused. These men were *disciples of John. They were not against Jesus. But they could not understand him. John was a *prophet. His special work was before that of Jesus. (Read 3:13–1.) John had taught his *disciples to fast (verse 14). God’s people often fasted (went without food) in *OT times too. But Jesus and his *disciples did not fast. People did not understand why it was like this. (Note: Read the section on Matthew 6:12–24. It explains the word ‘fast’.)

Jesus answered them with three word pictures.

First, he spoke about marriage. After the wedding, a couple would stay at home. They would be like a king and queen for a week. Special guests would serve them. These people had a special name. They were called the ‘children of the bride’s room’. During that week, there would be many meals and much joy. This was the custom in ancient Israel.

The *OT *prophets believed that the *Messiah would come. They wrote about the time when this would happen. They spoke about him as the bridegroom. (This refers to a man who is to marry soon.) Read Isaiah 54:5–6 and 62:4–5. The *Jews used the same description for the *Messiah. They are still waiting for him to come today.

Jesus’ answer to John’s *disciples used all of these beliefs. Jesus was the *Messiah. So, it was not a time to go without food (fast). (Read verse 15.)

Now Jesus gave two more word pictures.

There is new cloth and old cloth. Nobody would sew new cloth on to a hole that was in an old coat. To wash the coat would make the new cloth get smaller. So, the hole would get worse.

Also, there is wine. In Israel, new wine went into new leather skins. The skins were still soft. So, as the wine became mature, the skin would stretch. Old skins could not do this. They would split.

Jesus seemed to be comparing two systems. There was the old system of ceremonies in the *OT. Now, he was introducing a new system. His good news brought life and power. It just would not fit in with the old system. God did not mean the *OT ceremonies to last for ever. He appointed them to end when Jesus came. They would be unnecessary. The life and power of the new age would make them unnecessary.

The *Jews fasted often. (They chose to go without food for a time.) It was part of their religious life. Jesus seemed to be ending this practice. But, a person or groups of people can fast, if they choose. (Compare verse 15 and 6:16–18.) Jesus did not deny this. (Read Acts 13:2 too.) To fast may:

•           show that we are serious about our promise to obey God.

•           help us to realise that we need more than food to live.

•           help us to concentrate on prayer. This is the most important benefit.


Questions

 

1. Does what you believe make you very happy? Are there parts of your Christian life that make you anxious? How can they change into joy? (Read James 1:2–4.)

2. What part should celebration (happy times) have in a church? How should members have celebrations?

3. How can we show our joy to sad people? What is the best way to do this?

Matthew 9:18–26

‘Death, your power to hurt has ended’ (Hosea 13:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:55)

 

Jesus healed someone who was nearly dead. He brought back to life someone who was dead. Jesus has defeated death.

 

Another series of *miracles began here. First, Jesus healed two people. There was a woman who had been ill for many years. Second, there was a sick girl. (Read verses 18–26.) Next, he healed two blind men. (Read verses 27–31.) Then Jesus healed a dumb man. He was dumb because he had a demon (evil *spirit). Read verses 32–34.) These were great *miracles. They help us to understand about Jesus’ *kingdom.

There was a reason why Matthew included these stories. Maybe, he was thinking about Isaiah 35:4–6. There, illness was a sign. Death was a sign too. These things showed the state of certain men and women. It was about all those who were outside of God’s *kingdom. *Salvation had a special meaning too. Those who had *salvation were part of God’s *kingdom.

A ‘ruler’ or ‘elder’ came to Jesus. His name was Jairus. A group of ‘elders’ ruled a synagogue. (This was the *Jews’ special building in which they *worshipped God.) They were responsible for its daily management. They must also keep order in the meetings. These rulers were usually enemies of Jesus. But Jairus was different. Maybe he was just desperate. His little girl was dying. But he was probably a secret *disciple. He came and *worshipped Jesus. (Read 2:11.) He believed that Jesus could bring his daughter back to life. This was the first record of a *miracle like this.

Jesus said immediately that he would go with Jairus. (Read verse 19.) But something happened on his way to Jairus’s home. A woman had been losing blood for 12 years. In the *OT, blood was the source of life. The woman would be ‘dirty’. People must not touch her. If they did, they would be ‘dirty’ too. Then they would not be able to take part in religious ceremonies either. This was probably why she came to Jesus in secret.

The woman thought that Jesus’ power was a sort of magic. She must just touch him. Then she would be well. It was not necessary for Jesus even to know about it. But Jesus knew her need. He healed her. Then he told her that it was trust, not magic, that had healed her. (Read verse 22.)

This woman was like the man in verses 1–9. Her illness made her aware of her *sin. Jesus told the woman that he had saved (or healed) her. He comforted her when he called her ‘daughter’. (Compare 9:2.) Now Jesus had healed her completely.


Jesus emphasised her trust. He did this for three reasons. He wanted to:

►  give her a reward. She expected him to heal her. She expected it to happen immediately. She expected him to heal her completely.

►  show that he was dealing with her personally. She had personal trust in him. And that was what healed her.

►  encourage her. He wanted her to take part in the religious life again. He wanted her to join with God’s people.

Jesus then went on to Jairus’s house. There was much noise. This was usual for a funeral in ancient Israel. (Read verse 23.) Jesus stopped the noise with some words. ‘The girl is not dead. She is asleep’, he said. [Note: He said this about Lazarus too. (Read John 11, especially verse 11.) Yet, Lazarus had been dead for 4 days!] Maybe Jesus was emphasising that death would not ‘win’. The people laughed at Jesus (verse 24). But Jesus did bring the little girl (and Lazarus) back to life again. This was something that only God could do. And, of course, everyone would hear the news.

For Matthew, there was a reason for illness and death. They were the results of *sin that had entered the world. (Read Genesis 3:16–19.) The *prophets had waited. They had waited for the time when these things would be gone. God would save men and women from *sin’s results. They could then enjoy God’s new heaven and new earth. (Compare Revelation 21:1–4) We still wait for this to happen. But Jesus has the power. He showed that he could make it all happen.

Questions

 

1. Is your prayer free from ideas of ‘magic’? When you pray, do you expect something to happen as if ‘by magic’? (Perhaps you think that you must be good. If you are not good enough, it will not happen. Perhaps you have another idea. Maybe it will happen if you pray hard enough. These are ideas of ‘magic’ in prayer.)

2. Do we have confidence in what Jesus can do? Or do we have confidence in our prayer? We prayed for it. So something must happen. Discuss examples and experiences. (Read Hebrews 11 too.)

3. This passage records some wonderful events. Would the same things convince non-believers (non-Christians) today that God is real? Should we expect such things to happen? Think of some examples.

Matthew 9:27–38

Wonderful things happen!

 

Israel was a country where God had done wonderful things. But Jesus did even greater things. He was not trying to show how great he was. His reason was love.

 

The *miracles in:

•           8:1–17. They showed God’s truths. They were living lessons.

•           8:23–9:8. They showed who Jesus really was.

•           9:18–26. They showed that Jesus defeated illness and death.

•           9:27–34. Here we learn that Jesus was ‘great David’s greater son’.

Two blind men (verses 27–34)

In 2 Samuel 7, God promised to send a great king. He would rule for ever. This king was called the ‘son of David’. The *Jews believed that this would happen. These two blind men were sure that Jesus was this king. Yet they had not seen any of his *miracles.

Jesus tested the two blind men’s trust. First, he ignored them. Then, he helped them not to trust just anything. He showed them that it was important to trust him. They showed Jesus that they did trust him. Then he healed them by his word (verse 29–30a). Jesus warned them ‘very strongly’ not to tell anyone about it. Probably this was to stop people following him for the wrong reason. They might see him just as a worker of ‘magic’. The men did not obey him. This was wrong. But, it is easy to understand why they did not obey him. They wanted everyone to know.

There is a final *miracle. We have a brief account of it in 9:32–34. There was a man who had a demon (evil *spirit) that made him dumb. (This means that he could not speak.) Jesus completely healed him.

Matthew showed the importance of these events. They caused two reactions. He described them in verses 33 and 34.

The first reaction was from the crowd. It was all wonderful to them. ‘We have never seen anything like this in Israel’, they said. The *OT does not record a blind person who was able to see again. It is not in the *NT either, except for Jesus’ *miracles. (Paul’s experience was different. Read Acts 9:1–19.) The *Jews were expecting things like this to happen. It would be when the *Messiah came. They had been waiting and hoping for so long. Now, the time seemed to have come!

There was another reaction too. (Read verse 34.) This was sad. The religious leaders could not deny the facts. (Compare Acts 4:16.) But they did not want to believe the real meaning of the facts. They knew Isaiah 35:3–5. They could see these events happening now. But they refused to believe. They thought that God ought to act in a certain way. They knew what they wanted him to do. What was happening just did not fit with their ideas.

Kind Jesus (verses 35–38)

This is a new section of Matthew’s *Gospel. The section is 9:35–10:42. The subject is about how to be a *disciple. There were three parts to Jesus’ special work. He taught every day. He preached. (This means that he declared God’s word in public.) He healed the people. (Read verse 35. Read 4:23 too.)

Jesus saw the needs of those who came to him. He had a lot of pity and sympathy for them. Five things caused this feeling:

•           People’s pain. (Read Matthew 14:14; 20:34 and Mark 9:22.)

•           People are often very sad. (Read Luke 7:13.)

•           Hunger. (Read Matthew 15:32.)

•           Some people are lonely. (Read Mark 1:40, 41.)

•           The crowds (Matthew 9:36).

The crowds of people were ‘worried and helpless’ (verse 36). There is a *Greek word for this state. It has several meanings. It can mean an animal that is without its skin. It could be when someone is extremely tired. That person could be lying down and alone with nobody to help them. Also, there are the words ‘to scatter’ and ‘to throw about’. These words all give an idea about how Jesus saw the crowd. Jesus knew that those who should look after them were neglecting them. He saw the spiritual needs of the people who were in the crowds too.

Jesus had great pity for them. He saw how urgent and how great their needs were. He also saw the lack of resources (verse 37). Jesus described a field of corn that is ripe. It required immediate action. Otherwise, it would spoil. The harvest also needed many workers. Jesus felt very sad as he looked at the crowd. They were like the field. There were very few people to work among them.


So he gave his *disciples an important task. He told them to pray (verse 38).

•           There are no excuses for not praying.

•           Only God can give people the desire to help with the ‘harvest’ of men and women.

•           Prayer is the best way to make us feel pity and sympathy. This prepares us for God’s call.

Questions

 

1. What lessons can we learn from the accounts of Jesus’ *miracles?

2. How can you learn more about the ‘harvest’ of men and women? How can you pray more successfully?

3. Do non-Christians think that people in the church are kind? What could we do to make this happen?

Matthew 10:1–4

The first members of the church

 

Jesus had chosen his *disciples. Now he appointed them as apostles. They would be the first members of the church.

 

Jesus had already chosen the 12 *disciples. (Read Mark 3:13–19 and Luke 6:12–16.) They had spent time with him. Now they were ready to begin their special task. (Compare verses 5–15 with Mark 6:7–13 and Luke 9:1–6.) Here, Matthew called them apostles for the first time. (Note: The section ‘More Explanation’ below describes the word ‘apostle’.)

Verses 2–4 gives a list of Jesus’ apostles. There are 4 lists in the *NT. (Compare Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:14–16 and Acts 1:13.) The name of Judas is not in Acts 1:13. This is because he was dead by that time. And he had not been loyal to Jesus. So, he could no longer be called an apostle.

The last name on the list was Thaddaeus. This was his name in Matthew and Mark. But it was different in Luke and Acts. There he was called ‘Jude the son of James’. It probably just meant that he had several names. This was common in Bible times. It is true for us today too. Also, there was Bartholomew. His name was probably also Nathanael. (Read John 1:45–51.)

The people whom Jesus called did not seem to be special. They were very ordinary men. Later, they would change the world. Now, they were a strange group in many ways. We would probably never choose them. But Jesus did. One thing united them. It was their love for Jesus.

The *disciples were people like us. They were strong in some ways. But they were weak in other ways. Yet, Jesus used all the *disciples.

►  Peter was the natural leader. He was an exciting kind of man. He had much energy and excitement. But, he was not calm. Often, people could not trust him completely. He pretended to be brave. But he often felt afraid. But Jesus changed Peter. Jesus said that Peter would be like a rock. Peter became leader in the first church. (Note: ‘church’ refers to the group of believers, not to a building.)

►  Andrew was Peter’s brother. He had been waiting for the *Messiah whom God had promised. Andrew was one of the first men to join Jesus’ group. (Read John 1:37–40.) He brought Peter to Jesus. But Andrew did not want to be a leader. He did not care if people did not notice him. (Read John 1:40–42.) Andrew’s home was in Capernaum city. This was the home where Jesus lived. (Read Mark 1:29.) Andrew was a friendly man. His trust was weak. But the *Lord Jesus was able to increase it. (Read John 6:8–9.)

►  James and John were brothers. Their job was to catch fish. They probably had an important relative. We think this because the High Priest knew John. (Read John 18:16.) James and John were men with strong emotions. They could get very angry (Mark 3:17). They could have too much excitement. (Read Luke 9:54–56.) But John was a man who also thought about things. He was a special friend to Jesus. (Read John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20.) Stephen was the first Christian who died for Jesus (Acts 7). James was the next one (Acts 12:2). John was probably the last of the apostles to die. (Read John 21:22–24.)

►  Philip came from Bethsaida. Peter and Andrew came from the same town. (Read John 1:44.) Philip did not want to be a leader. He could not understand all that Jesus said. (Read John 14:8.) It was the same for the other *disciples too. But, he was willing to learn, as Andrew was. (Read John 6:5–7.) He was a friendly man too. (Read John 12:21–22.)

►  We do not know much about Bartholomew. (We think that he was the same man as Nathanael.) John 1:45–49 and 21:2 are the only passages about him. Bartholomew was a sincere student of the *OT. He had doubts. But when someone explained the truth to him, he understood it.

►  We have all heard of Thomas. (Read John 11:16; 14:5; 20:24–28; and 21:2.) He seemed to feel miserable quite easily. But he was also very loyal to his friends. Thomas was not sure about Jesus, like Nathanael was. But Thomas, too, could understand great truths.

►  Matthew was a man who collected taxes. When Jesus called him, he left his job immediately. (Read Luke 5:27–32.) He did not think that he was clever. He was a humble man. He did not tell us much about himself. None of the *Gospels recorded any words that he spoke. But he had probably had the most education of all the *disciples. He cared about his friends too. (Read Luke 5:29.)

►  Simon was probably a brave patriot. (This is someone who loves his country. He supports it. He is ready to defend it.)

►  We know very little about James and Thaddaeus.

►  Also there was Judas Iscariot. He did not benefit from his friendship with Jesus. He saw and heard about the things of God for three years. But he did not learn from them.

Questions

 

1. Study the list of people whom Jesus chose. How can they encourage us all? How are they strong? How are they weak? In what ways am I like them?

2. Should we choose our church leaders in the same way as Jesus did? Perhaps you do not think that we should. Give your reasons for this opinion. Should members of the church vote for their leaders? Or should the members accept all the leaders who offer themselves?

3. Think of the qualities that a Christian leader needs. Are they different from the qualities that a political leader needs? Are they different from the qualities that a manager of a business needs? What are the differences?

More explanation

 

Apostles

This is a *NT word. Many people were called ‘apostles’.

•     The 12 *disciples were sometimes called apostles. Two other main people were called apostles. They were:

•     Matthias (Acts 1:26) and

•     Paul.


Other men were also called apostles sometimes. They were:

•     Barnabas (Acts 14:14)

•     James, the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 15:7)

•     perhaps Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7)

•     men whom the church leaders sent out. They took messages from the church. Or they went to help someone. (Read 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Philippians 2:25.)

However, the 12 *disciples seemed to be special in the *NT. (Read Acts 1:26; 1 Corinthians 15:7 and Revelation 21:14.) These men were with Jesus while he worked on earth. (Read Acts 1:21–22.) They knew that he had died. They were witnesses to the fact that he came back to life. (Read Acts 1:22.) Later, the *NT says that Paul was an apostle. He knew that he was the last of the apostles. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:8.)

Apostles received a personal call from God. (Read Romans 1:1.) He called them to declare God’s word in public. (Read Mark 3:14.) They could use Jesus’ authority in a special way. (Compare Matthew 10:1 with 7:23 and 9:6.) They healed people. They used wonderful signs too. (Read 2 Corinthians 12:12.) Later, these signs were called clear evidence. They showed that God approved of these apostles. (Read Hebrews 2:3–4.)

God also gave a special understanding of God’s word to these men. (Read Acts 2:42; John 15:26–27 and 14:26.) The words that they wrote down were called ‘scripture’. (People used this word for the *OT too. Read 2 Peter 3:15–16.) What the apostles wrote is the main part of our *NT.

Matthew 10:5–15

Some people work just to gain things for themselves. Jesus does not want *disciples who are like this

 

Jesus sent out the 12 *disciples. They would do more together than he could do alone.

 

Jesus now gave instructions to the 12 *disciples. The instructions were about a special task that he had for them to do. The rest of chapter 10 described this.

•     Verses 5–15 referred to an immediate task.

•     Verses 16–25 referred to a task that was for the future. The *disciples would be working among Gentiles (people who are not *Jews). This would be after Jesus had died and come back to life.

•     Verses 26–42 gave some general teaching about how to be a *disciple. This teaching is for everyone, in every age, who follows Jesus.

In verse 5, Matthew referred to a special task. Jesus wanted his *disciples to go to Galilee. (Compare Matthew 28:18–20.) There were probably two reasons for this. First, God had a plan for all the nations. The *Jews had a special place in this plan. Jesus was born into a *Jewish home. So, God was giving *Jews the first chance to accept Jesus. Then, they would take God’s good news to the other nations. (Compare Romans 1:16; 2:9–10 and Acts 13:46.) There was another reason. The *disciples were not ready yet to declare God’s word to non-*Jews.

Verse 6 described *Jews. They were like sheep that had no leader. This may refer to a special group of *Jews. But it probably referred to all *Jews. It seemed to refer back to 9:36 and to Ezekiel chapter 34.

The 12 *disciples had a message that they must declare. It was the same message as that of John and Jesus. (Read 3:2 and 4:17.) But there was more. Verse 8 described all that the *disciples must do. Read 9:35. This verse is about two main things that Jesus did. He declared God’s word and he healed people. In a very special way, they must work for Jesus and do what he would do. (Read 10:1–2.)

There are some commands in verses 9–10. They probably showed the practice of *Jews at that time. Then, *disciples of other *Jewish teachers lived in this way. Jesus’ *disciples must have the right attitude to physical things. The things of God must come first in their lives. The way that they lived should show this.

God gave freely to them. So, they must give freely to other people (verse 8). They had something that was very precious. They should not keep it to themselves. They should not demand payment for it either. They should give it freely. The *disciples must trust God completely.

Jesus’ words showed something else too. The *disciples’ work helped other people. And these people should work for God too (verse 10. Compare Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Corinthians 9:7–14 and 1 Timothy 5:8.)

Jesus meant that some of his teaching would be for that time only. But, there are principles that are for all ages. The principles apply to a person who does Christian work today. He or she must not be anxious about things. But God’s people have a responsibility for these workers too. They must make sure that workers have what they need.

Verses 11–15 show the times in which Jesus lived. Ancient Israel did not have many hotels. It was not easy for travellers. So, it was important to look after them. (Compare Matthew 9:10; Luke 5:29; 19:5, 10; John 12:1–2; Acts 16:14–15; 18:26; Romans 16:1–2; Philemon 7, 22; 2 Timothy 1:16 and 3 John 8.) This sort of care is still important today. It is evidence that a person is a real *disciple. (Read Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:10; Titus 1:8 and Hebrews 13:2.)

The *disciples must avoid places that might spoil their work. They must stay in one place in each town. They must not give people the wrong impression. So money, possessions or comforts must not be important to them.

In Israel, there was a usual practice. A person would greet the people of the house as he entered. The *disciples must do the same. But, people would not always welcome them. The *Pharisees had a custom. It was when they returned to Israel from a foreign land. They would shake the ‘foreign’ dust off their feet. This showed that they were separate from the bad people who were not *Jews.

Here, Jesus referred to *Jews. Some of them would refuse to believe the *disciples’ message. The *disciples must behave towards these people as if they were not *Jews. They had lost their rights to the benefits of God’s *kingdom. They would have God’s *judgement. They had had great advantages. So their *judgement would be worse.

Questions

 

1. We should obey Jesus completely. What things could stop you from doing this?

2. People in many countries have heard the Good News (the gospel). This is a great honour. What meaning does this passage have for them?

3. We must tell the Good News about Jesus. This is our responsibility. What methods should we be using today?


Matthew 10:16–25

Jesus wants people who will be strong when times are hard

 

Jesus described hard things that would happen. They would happen to those who were real *disciples

 

Hard things will happen to those who are real *disciples. Jesus made this clear. This is not the usual way to win *disciples. Some people would expect to have an easy time. But Jesus did not want *disciples who were like this. He wanted those who would be strong. When people opposed him, they would stay with him.

The people were like sheep (9:36). They were always in danger. This was because they had enemies. Their enemies were like wolves (wild dogs). They were ready to attack. They wanted to kill the sheep. (Read 10:16–17.)

Three different groups that were like wolves (wild dogs)

►  False religion. Some people have always been against the real religion of Jesus. This was especially true of false Christians. Here, Jesus was speaking about the local synagogues. (These were the *Jews ‘special buildings in which they *worshipped God.) There were also *Jewish councils (groups of important men who meet together to discuss and decide events) that were in the regions. Jesus was speaking about them too. (Read 10:17.) This was the first problem that the *disciples had. The book of Acts showed this.

►  The state. (Note: This referred to the leaders of the state.) Here, there were *Roman rulers. (These were people from the capital city of Rome. They ruled many countries.) There were local kings too. Jesus mentioned them in verse 18. But, again, his words had more meaning. The state often wanted to rule people’s consciences. It hated those who claimed to have a greater authority. In the *OT, the *prophets were always in danger. This was because they declared God’s words to kings and rulers.

►  The family. The worst trouble is often in the family. Sometimes, there can even be murder. (Read verse 21.)

Jesus told his *disciples that people would hate them. This was because they were following him. (Read verse 22.) In some way, this happens to all real *disciples. People who refuse to follow Jesus often hate him. So, they will often hate Jesus’ workers too. (Read verses 24–25.)

Jesus’ *disciples would have many difficulties. They would want to know how they could deal with them. Jesus answered this with an example. (Read verse 16.) To the *Jews, a snake was a sign. It was a sign of someone who was clever and wise. So, the *disciples must be careful. They must be wise in all their actions. They must notice things that were round them. They must not trust people too much. They must be careful how they behaved. People who were not Christians would want them to fail. So, they should speak and act wisely. Even today, *disciples must not deserve the things that people say against them.

Jesus used another example. He said that they must be ‘as innocent as doves’. (A dove is a bird.) This was a popular word picture then. So, *Jews would understand it.

Jesus had one other important thing to say here. It was this. *Disciples must not choose to suffer if it was not necessary. People might not accept them in one place. Then they must just go somewhere else. (Read verse 23.) If they stayed, they would suffer. But it would be unnecessary to suffer like this. To have courage does not mean to be foolish.

Jesus promised to help. (Read verses 19–20.) His promise is for us too. He does not promise to save us from troubles. He does not promise to make things easier. The first Christians did not ask for these things. They were not afraid of what they would suffer. They were afraid that they would not be able to speak about Jesus. They did not want to spoil the message about trust in Jesus. So, Jesus promised to tell them what to say. Jesus suffered. Real *disciples will suffer too. Only then can they share in Jesus’ *glory. Some *disciples try to avoid hard things in the Christian life. If they do, Jesus will refuse to share the rewards of the battle with them.

Questions

 

1. Do people oppose you because you are a Christian? In what ways do these verses encourage you? You may suffer because you are a Christian. When you suffer, you may accept it in a Christian way. Think about these last two sentences. What is the difference between them?

2. Some people describe the church as an army. Its members are like soldiers. They choose to join. Nobody forces them to join. But some of these soldiers run away at the first difficulty. Is this like your church? If so, what could you do about it?

3. People say that they will kill Christians today. In which countries does this happen? Pray for these people.

Matthew 10:26–42

Jesus encouraged people to be loyal always. They can show this in their words and in their actions.

 

Jesus gave reasons for *disciples to be loyal. He asked that they obey him completely.

 

Jesus accepted reality. He knew that birds die. He knew that his *disciples could die too (verse 28). So Jesus’ *disciples might suffer. They might even die. But Jesus showed them a way to deal with hard things. This would help to remove fear. This was most important. Otherwise, fear could make them not accept Jesus. Then, he must refuse to accept them.

Here, Jesus said 6 things to encourage them and us. It should help them and us to be loyal.

►  God knows everything now. One day, nothing will be secret (verse 26). All will know who are God’s children. So, Jesus’ *disciples must not be afraid. They must speak boldly about Jesus (verse 27). (Note: In ancient Israel, people would announce things for everyone to hear. They would do this from the roof of a house.)

►  When he speaks boldly, a *disciple’s life could be in danger. (Read verse 28.) Jesus does not pretend about this. A *disciple may suffer and die when he is on earth. But something would be worse than this. That would be to suffer God’s punishment in hell.

Everyone has a body and a soul. (Note: The soul includes the spirit.) Together, the body, soul and spirit make the real person. This is what the Bible teaches. When a person dies, the two parts separate. But they will unite again. This will happen at the end of the world (the present age). So, death of the body is not final. It is not the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing is to have God’s punishment.

►  Nothing can happen unless God allows it. (Read verse 29. Compare Romans 8:28–29.) In ancient Israel, small birds were very cheap. (Read Luke 12:26.) But, God cared for them at every moment of their lives. So God would always look after his *disciples. They might still suffer. They might still die. But all that happened would bring honour to God. There would be many good things for God’s people too.

►  God gives his very special care and his love to his children. (Read verses 30–31.) God may allow hard times in life. But, he gives his great love too. This may not make things easy. But his love makes it possible to continue in hard times.

►  There are rewards for those who are loyal to Jesus. (Read verses 32–33.) Some people are loyal to Jesus in this life. Then Jesus will be loyal to them in the life that is future.

►  Anything that we do for Jesus will have a reward. It is the same for anything that we do for a *disciple of his. It will have a reward too. (Read verses 40–42.) The *disciple may be an important person. Or he may not be important at all. We should still welcome him or her. We should be ready to help any *disciple of Jesus. There will be a reward for this.

Each *disciple of Jesus must be completely sincere. They must obey Jesus. And they must be completely loyal to him. To Jesus, there are two sorts of people. First, there are those who are his *disciples. Second, there are those who are not his *disciples. Nothing else is possible.

Questions

 

1. Consider each part of this section. How should I apply each lesson to my own life?

2. Think about your church. Is there a famous *disciple in it? Is there an unknown *disciple? Is their value in the church the same? If it is not, what could the members of the church do about it? Think about practical examples.

3. Think about Christians whom non-Christians opposed. Yet, these Christians did not deny their love for Jesus. They continued to follow him. What effect did these Christians have?

Matthew 11:1–6

Doubts and fears

 

Jesus dealt with the doubts of John the *Baptist. John expected the *Messiah to do certain things. He thought that Jesus was the *Messiah. So, John could not understand why Jesus did not do these things.

 

These verses begin a new section in Matthew’s book. In the next two chapters, there is much teaching. It is teaching about trust. It is teaching about people who do not trust God too.

We learn much about Jesus.

•     He is the Christ (*Messiah, 11:2).

•     He came after John the *Baptist. The *OT spoke about John as ‘Elijah’. (Read 11:13, 14 and Malachi 4:5–6.)

•     He is the Son of Man. (Read 11:19 and 12:8–32, 40.)

•     He is the Servant of the *Lord (12:18).

•     He is the Son of David (12:23).

•     The Spirit of God came on him. (Read 12:18, 28, 32.)

•     His *miracles were signs. They showed that God’s *kingdom had come. (Read 11:20; 12:28.)


God had hidden these things from those who did not believe. They were:

•     the people of this age (11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45).

•     people who were wise and clever (11:25).

•     the *Pharisees and the teachers of the *Law (12:2, 14, 24, 38).

•     the mother and the brothers of Jesus (12:46).

But, God had shown the things about trust and belief too. He had shown them to certain other people. They were:

•     the poor (11:5).

•     those who had no doubts about Jesus (11:6).

•     those who wanted to listen to Jesus (11:15).

•     those who were like little children (11:25).

•     those to whom God chose to show these things (11:26).

•     those who were tired. They might have hard problems or troubles. They might be worried (11:28).

•     the Gentiles (people who are not *Jews; 12:18–21).

•     his *disciples (12:49).

•     anyone who does what the Father wants (12:50).

First, the *Jews had heard about the *kingdom.

1. John the *Baptist announced it. (Read chapter 3.)

2. Jesus’ words announced it. (Read chapter 5–7.)

3. Jesus’ deeds announced it. (Read chapters 8 and 9.)

4. The *disciples announced the *kingdom. They did this by their words and by their deeds. (Read chapter 10.)

But the *Jews refused to believe the gospel (good news). They did not believe that Jesus was the *Messiah. They had doubts about him. So, the message could now go to the Gentiles (people who are not *Jews). They could hear God’s way of *salvation. So, the *prophecy in Isaiah 42:1–4 came true in Jesus. (Read Matthew 12:18–21.) This is an important section. It begins to show how God included the Gentiles. It is a major change in the way that Matthew is writing his book.

Verse 1 links chapters 10 and 11. John’s question was because of the report of Jesus’ actions. John was in prison (4:12). It seemed that he could have visitors. They told him all that Jesus was doing. When he heard the reports, John was very surprised. Jesus was not doing what John expected him to do. John had taught that the *Messiah would come as a judge. This was why John asked the question that is in verse 3.

Jesus did not give a direct answer to John. Jesus reminded him of some *OT *prophecies. He was probably thinking about some words of Isaiah. (Read 29:18–19; 35:5–6 and 61:1–2.) Isaiah had said that *miracles would happen. Jesus reminded John about this. Then Jesus named the things that he was doing. The *prophets had told about some good news too. Jesus was now teaching that good news.

John was not wrong. (Read the notes on verses 7–17. They are in the next section.) But John was missing an important part. It was true that Jesus would come as a judge one day. But he had something else to do first. Jesus must declare the good news. Then he must die. His death would be like a strong promise. It would show the truth of the things that he was teaching.


We can all learn from this:

►  Real *disciples will have doubts sometimes. Like John, we must all use what we believe. We must use it to live as we should. So, we will not always understand things. We may hope for something. But it does not always happen. We can make mistakes. We can expect the wrong things. We can have problems that we never expected. So, *faith (what we believe) sometimes produces doubts. It does this because it is *faith. This was why Jesus did not tell John that he was wrong. Doubt is not a *sin. In fact, Jesus then praised him!

►  A person with doubts should go to Jesus for an answer. This was what John did. And Jesus did help John. Jesus showed him that he had not understood God’s truth. He showed this to him from the *OT. Then Jesus showed John the answer to his doubts. In the same way, our doubts should lead us to Jesus. He will help us to understand the Bible in a new way. This will make our *faith stronger. It will help to remove our doubts.

►  There is a very great difference between doubt and *unbelief. A lack of belief can use difficulties. It uses them as an excuse for a lack of *faith. But doubts help real *disciples to go to Jesus. They go to Jesus in *faith. They ask Jesus for an answer.

Questions

 

1. How can this passage help me with any doubts that I may have? What causes most doubts in my life?

2. Think about life in a modern church. Is there help in the church for a person who has doubts? How can we improve the situation?

3. *Prophecies had come true in Jesus and in his work. Jesus showed these things to John. Could we do this with people today? What other *prophecies could we show them?

Matthew 11:7–19

*Faith and *unbelief

 

Jesus emphasised something. It can happen when people hear the word of God. They can be very foolish. They can have no understanding.

 

In verses 7–9, Jesus reminded those who were listening to him about something. They had recognised that John was a *prophet. They were right about this. He dressed like a *prophet. He did not want people to deal with him in a special way. If he did, he would have dressed differently. He would have worn clothes that were fit for the palace. John spoke like a *prophet too.

The *Jews had a belief. It was this. One day God would start something that was new with his people. No new *prophet would come until then. Then a final *prophet would appear. After that, God would appear. He would begin to develop his *kingdom. (Read Malachi 3:1 and 4:5–6.) They were sure that John was a *prophet. So, they expected God to establish his *kingdom then.

Then Jesus said another wonderful thing. God had spoken to Malachi. In Malachi 3:1 he said, ‘I will send someone with a message that is from me. He will prepare the way before me.’ Malachi spoke about the final *prophet. This *prophet would announce the appearance of God. The people thought that John was that final *prophet. John had pointed to Jesus. Jesus said that this was exactly what Malachi had taught. So, Jesus was claiming to be God. He was claiming too that God had become a Man! He confirmed that John was that final *prophet.

The *Jews expected something else. God would establish his *kingdom when he came. But most of them did not understand what it would be like. Jesus had begun to establish that *kingdom. He showed this clearly. (Read verses 11–12.)

Verse 12 is hard to understand. There is much discussion about it today. Jesus could be referring to the start of his work. The *kingdom began to appear then. But people still opposed his work.

Jesus reminded those who listened to him of something important. All of the *OT was pointing forward. It was pointing to John and to his message. God would come soon. (Read verses 13–14.) People who listened to Jesus now had that evidence. But they might not have the courage to recognise it. (Read verse 15.)

Now Jesus described a different group of people. (Read verses 16–19.) They were people who refused to believe. They had heard all of the same evidence. But their reactions were not the same. Jesus compared them to children. Whatever the game was, they refused to play it. Whatever people offered, it was never right. John and Jesus lived in different ways. But people refused to accept either of them. Both of them brought God’s word. But people refused to accept it.

There was, and still is, a sad result of *unbelief. The end of verse 19 describes it. People like this achieve nothing. But the messages of John and Jesus will prove to be true. People will see that their messages are right in this life. They will see that they are right in the next age too.

Questions

 

1.Think about people who refuse to believe the message about Jesus. What is the best way to deal with them?

2. Jesus spoke about people who are ‘the least in the *kingdom of heaven’. This could refer to ordinary members of the church. Jesus then said that they were ‘greater’ than John the *Baptist. But John was the greatest man who had ever lived. (Read verse 11.) In what way could this be true? What does it mean for your church?

3. Why does the *kingdom of God cause such people to oppose it so strongly?

More explanation

 

John and Elijah

John denied that he was Elijah. Jesus seemed to say that he was. (Read 11:14 and 17:12.) But that is not what Jesus meant. The *Jews were expecting Elijah to return to earth. John denied that he was Elijah. This was right.

But the *OT *prophets often spoke about the future in a certain way. They used names or events that were from the past. But they were not speaking in an exact way. The words had another meaning. Something would happen. Or someone would come in the future. That event would be like the first event. Or that person would be like the first person. John was a *prophet like Elijah. (Compare Mark 1:6 with 2 Kings 1:8.) Jesus understood this. So, this was what he taught. John was the Elijah of whom the *prophets spoke.

Matthew 11:20–30

People miss great opportunities. People who are tired can rest.

 

Many people heard the good news. But they chose to not to believe it. Jesus felt very sad about this. He gave a gentle invitation. It is for all people who need to rest.

 

People can miss great chances. This is very sad. (Read verses 20–24.)

Jesus’ work was to teach and to heal. He did most of this work in Galilee. Jesus mentioned three towns here. They were Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. They were all in the district of Galilee. Capernaum was the centre for Jesus’ work.

Tyre and Sidon were two ports. They were on the Mediterranean Sea. Now, the ports are in Lebanon. Then, they were in Phoenicia. They were not *Jewish. The *OT *prophets had often spoken of these two towns. To them, the people who lived there seemed especially wicked. (Read Isaiah 23; Ezekiel 26–28; Amos 1:9 and Joel 3:6.)

We first hear about Sodom in Genesis 19. Later in the *OT, the word Sodom described very wicked men. Matthew 11:23 repeated some words from the *OT. Some of the words are in Isaiah 14:12–14. There, we read about the king of Babylon. *OT writers sometimes used the name Babylon as a sign. It was a sign of the great enemy of God. Here, Jesus applied those words to Capernaum.

Verse 21 mentioned ‘sackcloth’. It was a black piece of clothing. People would wear it when someone died. There was another tradition in the ancient world. People would put ashes on their heads. This was a sign that they were very sad.

These facts may help us to understand Jesus’ words. He could see that certain events were happening. He felt very sad about it all. Perhaps he was appealing to the people too. They were refusing to accept him. His great desire was that they should accept him.

These people had heard Jesus speak many times. They had seen the great things that he did. They had had many chances to accept him. Instead, most of them refused to accept him. Jesus described some difficult children. Jesus said that the people were like them. (Read verses 16 and 17.) The people had many benefits. But these meant that they had a responsibility. They must believe in him. But they failed to do this. They did not care about Jesus’ words. Jesus made claims on them. But they did nothing about them.

Here, Jesus especially mentioned his *miracles. Maybe his words were not enough. But, surely, his *miracles were enough. They should have made the people aware of their need. They needed to *repent. But they refused to change their attitude. They were as bad as some people who were in the *OT. Jesus spoke about the people in Sodom. They were terrible *sinners. Everyone knew about their evil ways. Also, there were the men in Tyre and Sidon. Everyone knew that these people were very cruel. But these groups of men had not seen the same *miracles. Jesus said something interesting about this. If they had seen the *miracles, then they would have *repented.

Come and welcome Jesus! (verses 25–30)

There is much truth to learn about Jesus. Often, clever people just cannot understand it. But God shows his truth to those who are like children. (Read verses 25–26.) Events affect older people. Ideas affect them. Clever arguments can affect them too. But young children can usually judge a person correctly. So, people who are ‘like children’ receive from God. Other people cannot receive from God.

Verse 27 is a most important truth. Jesus had just taught the way to *salvation. To receive this *salvation, people must accept him. They must have the same sort of trust that a child has. Jesus can supply what the *sinner needs. Men and women need to know God. Jesus said that the person who had seen him had seen God. This was because Jesus is the Son of God. There is still no other way for anyone to know God. (Read John 14:6 and Acts 4:12.)

The chapter ends with a great invitation. (Read verses 28–30.) They are the gentle words of a kind Saviour. (This means ‘someone who saves’.) Jesus wants to save everyone.

Jesus described the people who were listening to him. They were ‘tired’. They were like people who are carrying ‘heavy weights’. Maybe Jesus was thinking about Genesis 3:16–19. There we read about the results of *sin. These things can be like heavy weights. We live in a world that is God’s world. But *sin has affected it. So, we have much trouble. There are many things to make us sad too.

But Jesus may have been thinking about something else too. All the *Jewish rules and laws could seem like a heavy weight. To know God seemed to be very difficult. The *Jews thought that this must be true. So, they made it hard for everyone! Many religions are like this today.

Jesus spoke to these people. He said, ‘I will give you rest.’ Rest would mean two things to the *Jews who lived in Jesus’ time. First, it would mean life as God meant it to be. Second, it would mean spiritual rest. (This is to be at peace with God. It would result in peace of mind and heart.) This is the good news that Jesus still offers!

With Jesus, we can enjoy a great quality of life. This makes our life without Jesus seem very dull. With Jesus, one day we will enjoy even more. Our lives will be free from every ‘weight’ of *sin. (Read Revelation 21:1–4.) But even now, we can be free. We are not trying to make God like us. This can cause great worry to men and women. When we belong to Jesus, we can be sure about God’s love. We can be at peace in our minds!

We can have this great experience. Jesus does not have any hard standards. He does not ask us to do anything. He only asks us to come to him (11:28). He wants us to come as we are. Then he asks us to obey him. We are *sinners. But he is ‘gentle and humble’. He is so kind. His *mercy is so great.

Jesus seemed to be thinking about Isaiah 42:3. The verse has a lovely picture in words. It described the Person who was coming. He would not be angry with anyone who was weak. Someone’s *faith in him may be very small. But Jesus will not send that person away. People in the world can be very unkind. They can behave in a cruel way. But Jesus is not like that. He is a gentle Saviour (someone who saves).

Jesus now encouraged those who listened to him even more. He asked them to accept him. He wanted them to learn from him. He did not ask them to do something that was difficult. It was ‘easy’. Religions that come from men are not like this. These religions often have strict methods. Their rules seem like heavy loads. But to obey Jesus is very different. He says, ‘The load that I give you to carry is not heavy.’

Then Jesus gave them a promise. He said, ‘You will find rest.’ That promise is for us too. We can find ‘rest’ in Christ. This means that our consciences will be at peace. We will know that God forgives our *sin. We do not have to feel guilty. We will be ‘at rest’ in ourselves. This is because we have peace with God. Even this is not all. Also, we have the certain hope that this rest will last for ever.

Questions

 

1. What do you imagine God to be like? Is he like someone who has a big stick? Do you feel that he will hit you if you do anything wrong? Or, do you think that he is a Father who loves you? How can you change wrong ideas about God? What might you learn from this passage?

2. Think about your church. Is religion like a weight to its members? Do they feel that they could never obey all its rules? What could you do about it?

3. What Jesus asks us to do is ‘easy’. But the Christian life can be very hard. We may have to refuse things that we want. We may have to suffer too. (Read 16:24–26.) So, what does Jesus mean in 11:30?

Matthew 12:1–14

When Jesus came, the *OT came true.

 

Jesus is greater than the greatest people who lived in *OT days. The *OT points to him.

 

The *Pharisees opposed Jesus more. Chapter 12 shows how it got worse. It began to show something else that was definite. Jesus was on his way to die on the cross. There were 4 phases:

•     The doubts of the *Jews increased (verses 1–8).

•     There was an unfriendly question (verse 10).

•     Evil people opposed Jesus (verse 14).

•     The *Pharisees refused on purpose to believe that he was the *Messiah (verses 22–32).

Jesus answered the *Pharisees bravely. (Read verses 9–14.) He warned them (verses 22–23). Then he made some wonderful claims.

•     He is greater than the *Temple (verse 6. This was the most special place for the *Jews.)

•     He is greater than Jonah was (verse 41).

•     He is greater than Solomon was (verse 42).

•     Nobody in history is greater than Jesus. This was what he claimed. Jesus asks us to receive these same truths today.

Arguments about the Sabbath

(Note: The Sabbath is the *Jews’ special day of rest. They meet together to *worship God too. It is on a Saturday.)

Verses 1–14 need some explanation. Read what God said in Deuteronomy 23:25. People might be walking through another person’s field. They could eat all the grain that they could pick with their hands. But they must not take it home. So, they must not cut it down.

Here, in Matthew’s book, the event happened on the Sabbath. Those same laws of God forbade people to work on that special day. (Read Exodus 20:8–11; 34:21 and Deuteronomy 5:12–15.) The *Pharisees decided to explain these laws. So, they described exactly what ‘work’ meant. Then nobody should fail to obey these laws.

The *Pharisees thought that the *disciples were guilty. They picked the grain. This was what happened at harvest time. They rubbed it in their hands. This was the same as beating the grain. They separated the grain from its cover. This was another job for harvest time. The whole process was to prepare a meal. They must not do this on the Sabbath. This explains the *Pharisees’ reaction in verse 2.

Jesus’ reply was in two parts. In verses 3–5, he referred to the *OT. He showed that the *Pharisees’ traditions were wrong. God may have appointed a ceremony. But human need can make it right to ignore the ceremony. The *OT taught this.

Jesus referred to 1 Samuel. There was some special bread in the *Temple. This was for the priests only. But the priest gave it to David when he was very hungry. Some people have an idea. The *Pharisees would read the *OT in their religious meetings. Jesus and his *disciples went through the fields of grain on a Sabbath. Some people think that they read this *OT passage on that particular day. If so, Jesus’ answer was especially good.

Many people were listening to Jesus. Jesus reminded them about something else. The *Law told priests to work on the Sabbath. (Read Leviticus 24:8–9; 1 Chronicles 9:32 and 23:31.) So, Jesus showed that it could be right not to obey a law. This might be necessary for people who are serving God. The *disciples were in the service of God. They were serving the *Lord on the Sabbath!

There was something more. The *disciples were not just serving in the *Temple. (The *Temple was a sign that God was present.) They were serving the God-man (the man who was God). He was much greater than a building. The Sabbath was a day that reminded people about rest. Jesus, the man who was God, had that same rest. He was offering it to all who would come to him. (Compare verse 8 with 11:29–30.)

Jesus explained one more thing. He repeated words from Hosea 6:6. This verse taught that God is kind. So, we should be kind in everything that we do. It should come before we obey every detail of a tradition.

The *Pharisees’ religion was not like this at all. They did not care about those who were suffering. (Read verses 9–14.) There was only one time when anyone could help on the Sabbath. This was if someone was in danger of death. Their teaching explained the question that was in verse 10.

Jesus used the *Pharisees’ own rules in his reply. (Read verse 11.) A sheep might have an accident. The *Pharisees’ tradition allowed them to rescue it. They could do this even on the Sabbath. Jesus reminded them that people are more important than sheep. (The *Pharisees would agree with that.) So, Jesus could heal sick people on the Sabbath! It must be right to do that. Then, Jesus healed a man (verse 13).

The *Pharisees did not like this. They did not even want to listen to what the Bible taught. They had already decided that their ideas were right. They were not going to change their opinions. This was very sad. Then they even became friends with their greatest enemies. They were a *Jewish political group. Their name was the Herodians. (Read Mark 3:6.) The *Pharisees were opposing Jesus. They wanted this other group to help them.

Questions

 

1. Jesus said things about himself in this passage. Think about these things. What difference should they make to you, today?

2. Think about your church’s customs. Think about its principles and the way that its members do things. They should be things that are important to all the members. Make a list of them. Would you be ready to cancel these things if God told you to cancel them? (Read Acts 10:9–16.)

3. Sunday is the Christian’s special day of the week. Should we try to keep it special? If so, why should we do this? If not, give a reason for this opinion. Should we try to change what non-Christians do in this matter? Have we any right to try to change what they do? Give the reasons for your opinion.

More explanation

 

Jesus and the Sabbath (Saturday - the *Jews’ special day for rest and to *worship God).

Let us think about why this passage is important for us today. First, it tells us that Jesus is our ‘Sabbath rest’. In the *OT, the Sabbath was a special day. It reminded people that God had created a perfect world. But it reminded people about the future too. God would remake heaven and earth. Then all God’s people would rest together.

The *NT teaches us more. For Christians, the ‘Sabbath rest’ has arrived with Jesus. He is the ‘rest’ for all real *disciples. (Read Hebrews 4.) In Jesus, the real *disciple can enjoy the good things of heaven now. (Read Ephesians 1:3.) He or she does not belong to this earth. (Read 1 Peter 2:11.) He or she is a citizen of heaven. (Read Philippians 3:20.)

Here, Jesus was teaching the same truth. The Sabbath showed people that someone special would come. That ‘someone’ was Jesus. Now he had come. So the purpose of the Sabbath had ended. Paul said the same thing in Colossians 2:16–17. This means something special for a real *disciple. His whole life can be like a ‘Sabbath rest’. We are not enjoying just a special day. We are enjoying Jesus!

So Jesus, not Sunday, is our Sabbath today. Regular periods of work and rest are good for us. It is right to have special times to meet with God’s people. But we should never think of Sunday as if it were a Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day of things that people must not do. This would be like living in the time before Jesus came. But, Sunday should be a happy day. We are happy about everything that Jesus means to us.


Matthew 12:15–21

Jesus brings hope to everyone in the world

 

The *OT promised that the *Messiah would come. Jesus is the *Messiah. He gently offered *salvation to the whole world.

 

Jesus offered rest. (Read 11:28–30.) Jesus showed that he is the real rest. (Read 12:1–14.) The *Jewish religious leaders refused to accept that rest. So, he had to leave them. (Read 12:15.)

But, some people did follow him. Many of them were not *Jews. This seemed to be very important to Matthew, who was the author. The *Jews refused to accept Jesus. Now, all people could become real people of God. They must just do two things. First, they must make a decision about Jesus’ invitation. Then, they must follow him.

Matthew now repeated some words from the *OT. (Read verses 18–21.) The passage is Isaiah 42:1–4. This is the longest passage that Matthew repeated. So he must have thought that it was very important. The *Jews thought that this *OT passage referred to the *Messiah. Matthew showed how it came true in Jesus.

Verse 18 reminds us about what God said at Jesus’ *baptism. Verses 19 and 20 described the way that Jesus behaved. He was gentle. (Read verses 13 and 15.) He did not want attention for himself either (verse 16). Then verse 21 reminds us of something great. The *Messiah would be the joy of all people. He would not be just for the *Jews.

Questions

 

1. Read verses 16 and 19–20 again. Think about the way that Jesus worked. How much should Christians use large meetings? We want people to know the Good News about Jesus. But should we have large meetings?

2. The *Jews thought that God’s *kingdom was only for them. But Jesus was ready to help people from all groups. What should this mean for our churches? Are we trying to reach all types of people with the Good News?

3. ‘All people will hope in him.’ But how can they do this, if nobody goes to tell them? Make a list of ways to share the Good News. (Here are some ideas. We can share it by:

•           prayer;

•           sending people;

•           giving money;

•           the radio;

•           television;

•           computer.)

What can your group do?


Matthew 12:22–37

A *faith in Jesus that became stronger. A lack of belief in Jesus that got worse.

 

Jesus’ work made people think and act. Now some people could understand him more. But other people did not believe him at all.

 

There was a contrast in chapters 11 and 12. There were two ideas. They were next to each other. First, there was *faith in Jesus. Second, there was a lack of belief in him. The most important part came in 12:22–37. This explained what ordinary people thought about Jesus. (This is in verses 22–23.) Then there was the reaction of the *Pharisees. (This was in verses 24–27.)

The *Jews could force evil *spirits to leave people (verse 27). But it was clear that Jesus had great authority. The evil *spirits left the man completely. They also left him immediately. This explained the reaction of the people. Jesus had healed so many of them.

It made them think about what the *OT taught. Perhaps they remembered Isaiah 35:5. Things like this would happen when God established his *kingdom. The *Jews expected the son of the great King David to rule God’s *kingdom. This was right. Ezekiel also spoke about this time. (Read Ezekiel 35:23 and 37:25.)

Jesus forced evil *spirits to go out of the man. The people saw the way that he did this. ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ they asked (verse 23). Their understanding of Jesus began to increase. But they still doubted. They had ideas about what the Son of David would be like. They had learned these ideas from their childhood.

A terrible blasphemy

(Blasphemy is evil things that a person may say about God or about holy things. He or she is showing a total lack of respect for God.) Read verses 24–37. The *Pharisees did not want to change any of their ideas. They wanted to keep their own system of religion. They had just seen a wonderful *miracle. There must be an explanation for it. They decided that the *miracle was not from God. So, it must be from *Satan (the devil). What a terrible ‘blasphemy’ this was (verse 24).

Jesus replied to the *Pharisees. He made 5 points:

•           It was a stupid claim against him. (Read verses 25–26.)

•           One part did not agree with another part (verse 27).

•           It confused people about the truth. (Read verses 28–30.)

•           God would not forgive it. (Read verses 31–32.)

•           It showed how wicked they were. (Read verses 33–37.)

►  Jesus showed the *Pharisees how stupid their claim was (verse 24). They were suggesting that *Satan (the devil) would oppose *Satan. Jesus said that that would be silly. If *Satan opposed himself, he would be destroying his own work. (Read verses 25–26.)

►  Part of the *Pharisees’ claim did not agree with another part. The *Jews forced evil *spirits to go out of people. The *Jews claimed that this was God’s work. Jesus also forced evil *spirits to go out of people. But he showed greater power than the *Jews showed. But the *Jews said that he was using *Satan’s power. So, they were saying that *Satan’s power was greater than God’s power!


►  Jesus explained that he has power over *Satan. (Read verses 28–30.) So, he had answered the people’s question that was in verse 23. He was establishing God’s *kingdom (verse 28). Jesus could have been thinking about Genesis 3:15. The devil had tempted Adam and Eve. They, and all people who came after them, had *sinned. But God made a promise. One day, someone would come. He would be from Adam’s family. He would defeat the devil. Jesus was that person. Men and women must recognise this fact. They could refuse to accept him. Then they would be the enemies of Jesus and of God (verse 30).

►  God could not forgive the *Pharisees’ attitude. (Read verses 31–32.) They were not just speaking against Jesus. The Spirit of God was working in Jesus. So they were speaking against God’s Spirit too. God would forgive the *sin against Jesus. Jesus did not declare clearly who he really was. So this could be why they did not understand. Here, the Holy Spirit was working in a way that everybody could see. So the *Pharisees had no excuse for their *sin.

►  Jesus showed the reason for the *Pharisees’ attitude. (Read verses 33–37.) It was because they were wicked.

This section has two important lessons. The first is for those who come to Jesus. They must want to know more about him. Then, he will help them to understand more about his work. They will know more about him too. The next lesson is about those who refuse to come to Jesus. They do not want to obey him. The reasons why they do not believe in him are silly. (Humans usually think that they are clever reasons!) The evidence is clear. They just refuse to believe it.

Questions

 

1. Every day we should learn more about Jesus. How can we make sure that we do this?

2. Some people think that they have done the terrible *sin. (See below.) They think that God cannot forgive it. So, they are afraid. How should we help these people?

3. People today often refuse the Good News about Jesus. How does this passage help to explain their attitude?

Important truths

 

The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
(Note: Blasphemy is evil things that a person may say about God or about holy things. He or she is showing a total lack of respect for God.)

Some Christians get very worried. Perhaps they have done this terrible *sin. So, let us think about what this ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ is. William Hendriksen described it well. He said:

The Holy Spirit was achieving great things. He was doing these things by Christ. But the *Pharisees said that it was *Satan who was doing them. The *Pharisees chose to have this attitude. All the evidence showed that it must be God’s work. But they refused to change their opinion. They said that Jesus forced out evil *spirits by the devil’s power.

Their *sin was getting worse too. (Compare 9:11 and 12:2, 4.) A *sinner may want God to forgive him or her. But he or she must be really sorry first. (Read Mark 3:28 and Luke 12:10.) These *Pharisees were not sorry about their *sin at all. Instead, their attitude became more strongly against God. Instead of confessing their *sin, they made plots against Jesus. So, they condemned themselves. They refused God’s way to forgive them. So, God could not forgive them.

God can forgive a thief or a murderer. God can forgive someone who has sex with a married person. These people may hear the message of the gospel (Good News). They may say, ‘God, have *mercy on me. I am a *sinner.’ (Read Luke 18:13.)

But a man may decide something. He will not take any notice of the Holy Spirit’s advice. He will never listen when the Holy Spirit appeals to him. He will ignore the Holy Spirit when he warns him. This man has chosen a way of life that will bring him to hell. (Read 1 John 5:16.) Note: ‘man’ or ‘he’ refers to male and female.

However, a person may really *repent. His or her *sin may have been terrible. But there is no need for despair. (Read Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 1:18; 44:22; 55:6, 7; Micah 7:18–20 and 1 John 1:9.)

This does not mean that we can be careless. We might think that this *sin has nothing to do with us. We might think that it could not apply to most members of the church. But the blasphemy against the Spirit does not happen suddenly. It happens slowly. Perhaps you make the Holy Spirit sad. (Read Ephesians 4:30.) This happens when you do not *repent. (Note: Christians must *repent every time that they *sin.) If we do not *repent, then we will work against the Holy Spirit. (Read Acts 7:51.) We may continue to do this. If we do, we will stop the Holy Spirit’s work. (Read 1 Thessalonians 5:19.)

The real solution is in Psalm 95:7–8.

(W. Hendriksen ~ the *Gospel of Matthew ~ Banner of Truth, 1974 ~ page 575 ~ an EasyEnglish translation).

Note: Psalm 95:7–8 says: ‘Listen today to what God says. Do not refuse to obey me as your ancestors did.’ Hebrews 3:7–8 repeats these words. (Note: Ancestors are family members who died long ago.)

Matthew 12:38–50

People who did not believe made demands

 

Jesus’ work made people think about their attitudes. The *Jewish leaders did not like this. But they tried to hide that fact. They used arguments that they thought were clever. But they were foolish arguments.

 

The *Pharisees accused Jesus (verse 24). They did not like Jesus’ reply (verses 25–37). So they met with the teachers of the *Law. These men were the religious experts. They explained the meaning of the *OT. These two groups thought of a very clever argument.

They did not ask for just a *miracle. They asked for a ‘sign’ from Jesus. In the *OT, this word had a special meaning. It referred to particular events. These events would announce that God’s *kingdom was coming. In fact, they asked for a ‘sign’ that would also be a *miracle.

There is a probable reason for this. Moses wrote down their *Law. God showed that Moses was his *prophet. God sent a storm to show this. (Read Exodus 20:18–19.) God also sent special food (manna) from heaven. (Read Exodus 16:4–5.) Moses spoke about a greater *prophet. If Jesus was this *prophet, surely he would have the same sort of ‘signs’.

Jesus refused to give them a sign. There was a reason for this. The *Pharisees did not believe that he was the *Messiah. That was why they asked for a sign. In the *OT, God’s relationship with his people was called a marriage. The *Jews broke that relationship with him. It was the same as adultery. (This is when one partner in a marriage has sex with another person’s husband or wife.) Jesus said that the teachers of the *Law had done this. They had gone away from God.

Those people who really studied the *OT would believe in Jesus. They would hear his teaching. They would see his work. But nothing would change the attitudes of the *Pharisees. So, a sign would be of no use to them.

Jesus explained his meaning some more (verses 41–42). He made a contrast between the *Pharisees and two *OT events. First, he spoke about the people from Nineveh. They were the ones who lived in the time of Jonah. The people in this city had no spiritual advantages. They were very wicked. But they *repented when Jonah warned them. Jonah was only a minor *prophet. He did no *miracles. He was actually a stupid man. He even refused to obey God at first. But the people still *repented. Second, there was the Queen from the country called Sheba. She travelled a great distance to meet king Solomon. (Read 1 Kings 10:1–13.) And she realised that his wisdom came from God.

The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees were not like them. Their advantages were much greater. They had much more evidence than the people in *OT times. But they were refusing to accept Jesus. They were making plots against him.

So, extra evidence would be of no value. Jesus did actually give them one great sign. He would come back to life again. (He suggested this in verses 39 and 40.) But even this would not persuade his enemies. (Read Luke 16:19–31.)

Jesus warned and encouraged

Some people refused to welcome Jesus. He emphasised that this was very serious. But he would welcome all those who followed him. *Jewish history helps to explain verses 43–45. At one time the *Jews *worshipped many idols (false gods). This was before the *Jews had to go far away from their own country. Their enemies took them to the country called Babylon. This time in a foreign country was God’s *judgement on them.

After that, the people gave up all idols. (Note: An idol is anything that takes God’s place in a person’s life. But many people make images. They can use wood or metal. Then they say that it is a god.) But, by Jesus’ time, the *Jews had developed a religion that was even worse. It could not recognise Jesus when he came.

Jesus’ *parable showed that their state was very bad. *Satan now ruled them. He ruled them even more than he had before. There may be a reference here to John the *Baptist too. Many people listened carefully to what John taught. Then Jesus came. But they did not understand that John had been speaking about Jesus. So, they were opposing Jesus now.

Then members of Jesus’ family came to see him. (Read verses 46–50. Read Mark 3:21–22 too.) Jesus used their visit. He explained an important point to his listeners. It was this. The real family of God are the people who follow Jesus.

Questions

 

1. Think about friends who have explained why they are not Christians. What clever but foolish arguments have they used? What should you say to them?

2. Many people say that they are Christians. But their *faith does not seem to last. What is the reason for this?

3. Can a whole country or a group of people become evil (verse 39a)? Can they all refuse to accept God? How would this affect the way that we declare the gospel (Good News)?


Matthew 13:1–9

We should listen to Jesus.

 

Jesus told a *parable. It was about a farmer. Many people listened to Jesus. He wanted them to believe what he taught.

 

Here, Matthew started something that was new in his book. He gave an account of Jesus’ *parables. When Jesus taught before this time, he used some little *parables. (Read 5:13; 6:26–30; 7:24–27 and 9:16–17.) But now *parables were important. They were Jesus’ main way to teach the people.

There was another change in Jesus’ work here. It was an important change. The religious rulers had made a final decision about Jesus. It was this. Jesus was from the devil (12:24). Jesus knew what this meant. They would never receive him. (Read 21:31–32.) They had chosen not to accept him. So the time had come to leave them. (Read 12:15.) Some people would hear him gladly. He was ready to go to them now. (Read 12:16–21.)

This explained something. Jesus changed the place where he taught. It had been the *synagogue. Now he went to the beach (verse 1). He also used a different method to teach. It would benefit the people who wanted to obey him. But it would make it harder for those who refused to accept him. (Read the explanation of verses 10–17 below.)

There was a large crowd of people. So Jesus found a suitable place to speak to them (verse 2). Then he began to tell the story. Maybe a farmer was working on one of the hills near there. Certainly, the hearers would know exactly what Jesus was talking about.

In ancient Israel, the fields were long and narrow. There was a path for the public between each field. Because people used the path so much, it became very hard. The farmer scattered the seed by hand. So it was natural that some seed would fall on the path. The seed might be very good seed. But it could never grow when it fell there.

Most of the hilly areas in Israel were rocky. The soil was not very deep. Hard rock was just under the surface. So there was not much water in the soil. A seed would begin to grow in this kind of soil. But, without water, it would soon die. A good farmer would not throw seed where there were weeds. But, weeds always seem to grow more quickly than good seed. So the strong weeds would soon kill the good seed. The farmer would plough after he had scattered the seed. This was usual at that time. This made it harder for the good seed to grow.

But there was the seed that fell into good soil. It produced a harvest. Jesus gave different sizes of the crop. The sizes that he gave were 100, 60 or 30. In the ancient country called Israel, the size of 10 would be good. But Jesus might not be referring to the whole crop. He might be referring to the grains that each seed produced. If so, farmers might expect these higher numbers. But the numbers were not important. Jesus was teaching about growth in spiritual matters. And all spiritual growth should make people glad.

Questions

 

1. Think of the different kinds of soil that are in this *parable. Do any of them describe what you are like? In what ways are you like them?

2. Write your own *parable. Make it fit with modern times. But show the same truths as Jesus did. How do these truths affect us today?

3. Think about the farmer, the seed, the soil and the harvest. What can we learn from them? Apply these things to yourself first. Next, apply them to the people who are in your church. Then apply them to people who are not in the church. How does this *parable help us to understand non-Christians better?

Matthew 13:10–23

Jesus explained the *parable.

 

*Parables can do two things. They may confuse people. Or they may make things clear. This *parable shows us our spiritual state.

 

The *disciples heard Jesus’ story. Then they asked a natural question. It was, ‘Why are you using this way to teach?’ (verse 10.) Jesus’ reply was in two parts. They are in verses 12–15 and verses 16–17. Jesus also gave a brief statement of the main points in verse 11.

First, *parables could confuse the people who heard them. Some people chose not to believe. They might have had a little understanding. But they refused to listen. So, the stories confused them (verse 12). Jesus gave the reason for this. It is in verses 14 and 15. He repeated Isaiah 6:9–10. They had chosen not to believe. So they could not receive the truth. They could not *repent. The *parables of Jesus just showed what they were like. This is still true about people today.

But some *parables can help people who hear them. *Parables can help people to understand the truth. Some people want to know the truth about Jesus. So they listen to what he says. These people will understand the *parables. So, the same words can have the opposite effect. They confuse those who refuse to believe. They give clearer understanding to those who want to obey Jesus. (Read verses 16–17.)

Think about the greatest spiritual men in the *OT. There were God’s people. Examples of these are Noah and Abraham. Also there were the *prophets. Examples of these are Samuel and Isaiah. They knew that a very special person would come at some time. But there was so much that they did not know. The person who wanted to follow Jesus knew more than they did! He or she would learn that Jesus was that special person. People who lived in *OT times had so many hopes. And Jesus was the answer to them all.

First, Jesus told the *parable. (Read verses 3–9.) Then he explained why he taught by *parables. (Read verses 10–17.) Finally, he would explain how to understand them.

The seed and the soil

It was not important here to know who the farmer was. The important thing was the seed. The seed was like the word of God. The main lesson was about the effects of the ‘seed’. It had a different effect on those who heard God’s word. The people who heard God’s word were like the various types of soil. The lessons that Jesus taught are still true today. They are:

►  The way that we receive God’s word is most important. There is nothing wrong with the message. There is nothing wrong with the person who brings that message. The problem is with those who hear it. Jesus compares them to different types of soil.

►  It is impossible to teach some people. The seed that fell on the path could never grow. The farmer might be very skilful. The seed could be the very best seed. But it would not grow. Some men and women can be like this. They do not want to know the truth. They may hear the good news about Jesus. But they never really listen to it. So they can never benefit from it.


►  Some people do not realise that God’s word is vital. Jesus described ground where there was not much soil. There were rocks just underneath the surface. Jesus was speaking about people who do listen to him. They like his message. It is the answer to their sense of need. So they are often eager to welcome it. But this desire does not last.

►  Some people are busy with many things. With them, it is like the seed that fell among thorn bushes. (Note: A thorn is sharp, like a needle.) There was nothing wrong with the soil. The person who is like this receives God’s word. He or she even acts in a Christian way for a time. But there is a problem. There are other important things in that person’s life. Soon, he or she has no time for the things of God.

►  Some people have the right reactions to God’s word. With them, it is like the seed that fell into good soil. The size of the ‘harvest’ will depend on their gifts. But each one of them will be useful in the service of Jesus.

This passage showed attitudes to Jesus and to his message. We can often have the wrong attitudes ourselves. We do not like to think about this. It is a natural reaction. But we must be willing to listen to Jesus.

Questions

 

1. How could the different types of soil refer to non-Christians today? How could they apply to Christians today?

2. There are many problems in the church today. Could they come because people do not hear God’s word properly? What things in the church could spoil our ‘harvest’?

3. Some people today want to obey Jesus at first. But they do not become real *disciples. How do the different types of soil describe them? (Look at your answers to question 1.) What can we do to help these people?

Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43

Good people and evil people may live next to each other

 

Evil people may live next to Jesus’ *disciples. But it will not always be like this. Jesus explained about it.

 

Chapter 13:24–52 forms a section of the book of Matthew.

►  Verses 24–30: *Parable of the weeds

►  Verses 31–35: Two more *parables

►  Verses 36–43: Jesus explained the *parable of the weeds

►  Verses 44–46: Two more *parables

►  Verses 47–50: *Parable of the net. (This has the same meaning as the *parable of the weeds.)

Matthew chose two main *parables. He recorded Jesus’ explanation. He showed their importance. (Read verses 24–30, 47–50 and 36–43.)

The weeds

This *parable used an event which was common in ancient Israel. It would be very familiar to farmers. There was a weed called ‘the bearded darnel’. It grew very fast. It is still common in Israel. It is especially common in the region called Hebron.

When the weed begins to grow, it looks exactly like wheat. Wheat is the good grain. It is only easy to recognise the weed later. But, by that time, the roots of the wheat and the roots of the weed are together. Nobody can pull up the weed. If they tried, the wheat would come up too.

But, at the time of harvest, it is vital to separate the weed from the wheat. The weed has a bitter taste. It is most unpleasant. There is some poison in it too. It causes people to fall over easily. It also makes them bring up any food that is in their stomachs.

An enemy might plant the weed secretly in a farmer’s field. *Roman laws forbade it. So this must have happened often. There were strict punishments for anyone who did it too. In Jesus’ story, an enemy had been working. Normally, the servants’ question would be natural (verse 28). But, the farmer knew that the crop had grown too much. So the weeds and wheat (good grain) must grow together. At the time of harvest, the farm workers must pull up the weeds. Then they would burn the weeds.

What the story means

First Jesus described the various parts of the story. (Read verses 37–39.) Then he explained what the story meant. (Read verses 40–42.)

Jesus had already taught about his *kingdom. One day, the extent of that *kingdom would be the whole world. (Read verses 31–33.) But, the people in the world are a mixture. Some of them are good. And some of them are evil. This is the same today as it was then. There are people who obey Jesus. And there are those who refuse to serve him. They often live next to each other.

In Jesus’ story, even the *angels could not understand this. But Jesus had an important point to teach here. It was this. The present state of the world is not the final one. God will remove all that is evil. That time will come. (Read Joel 3:13; Jeremiah 51:33 and Hosea 6:11.) God must punish those who refuse to obey Jesus. Then his *disciples will be able to enjoy his *kingdom completely. (Read verse 43.)

Jesus used strong words in verse 42. He described God’s final punishment. It would be for those who refuse to accept God’s ways. They must suffer for ever. The *Jews would know what he was describing very well. (Read Jude 6–7; Revelation 14:9–11 and 20:10 too.) Jesus’ words were very serious. So he wanted those who heard him to understand his words. He wanted them to listen to his warning. Then he wanted them to do something about it (verse 43).

Wicked people and people who follow Jesus will live next to each other. Jesus did not say why he would allow this. But we know the reason from other verses that are in the Bible. One of them is 2 Peter 3:9. God has great *mercy. He does not want to punish anyone. He is giving more time for people to *repent.

Questions

 

1. What things in this passage can comfort me? What things can test me?

2. Some religious groups have tried to live completely separate lives from other people. Is this possible? How much should we involve ourselves with the world? (Note: The ‘world’ refers to non-Christians in the world. It can also refer to events in and pleasures in the world.)

3. We work with non-Christians. We often live next to them. How can we warn them about their terrible future? (Note: Jesus says that Christians have their ‘roots together’ with non-Christians. Some Christians’ lives are not different from the lives of their non-Christian friends. But this is not what Jesus meant. We are living next to them. But we should not be like them.)


Matthew 13:31–35, 44–46

Big trees grow from little seeds

 

The *kingdom of Jesus began in a small way. But it will have a wonderful future that will never end.

 

Jesus lived in the district called Galilee when he was a child. He did much of his work there. Mustard bushes grew in Galilee. They had tiny seeds. But each seed could grow into a very large bush. It would be 12 to 15 feet tall. The birds would make their nests in it. Jesus was referring to this bush. It was a familiar description in the ancient world. The *OT used it too. (Read Ezekiel 31:6.) In that verse, the tree with birds in it described a great *kingdom. That *kingdom referred to the whole world.

Jesus taught that he had brought God’s *kingdom. But this must have been hard for the *Jews to believe. Their *prophets spoke about a *kingdom that included the whole world. People thought that Jesus was only a teacher and healer (someone who made people well). His work was only in a very small area.

So, in this passage, Jesus was teaching about the future. One day, God’s *kingdom would include the whole world. This was just what the *prophets had promised. (Compare Isaiah 2:2–4; 25:6–9; 35:1–10 and 65:17–25.) Jesus had begun to establish that *kingdom. The signs were there already. (Jesus repeated Isaiah 35:5–6 earlier. Read Matthew 11:5.) The beginning of the *kingdom was small. But it would grow. One day, Jesus would rule the whole earth.

Another *parable taught the same truth. (Read verse 33.) Yeast is a substance that makes bread rise. The woman mixed it into the flour. At first, nobody could see the yeast. But, when the bread was ready, it was different. Everybody could see the effect of the yeast then. It is the same with God’s *kingdom. Jesus is establishing it. People may not be able to see it now. But, one day, it will be there for everybody to see.

In verse 35, Matthew repeated Psalm 78:2. This Psalm spoke about how people might use *parables in future times. Jesus showed more wonderful things in *parables than other teachers did. He was the greatest teacher.

Precious treasure

(Note: Treasure means something that is very valuable. This treasure was so precious that nobody could ever know its value.)

There were no banks in the ancient world. Ordinary people had no official way to keep their money safe. They would hide any valuable things in the ground. The ground was often the safest place. There were many battles in Israel. And people would often have to run away. But first, they would bury their valuable things in the ground. They hoped that they would be able to return one day. Then they could dig up the valuable things again.

Even recently, there have been wonderful discoveries in Israel. One example was the Dead Sea Scrolls. This was a complete library of scrolls. (Note: The scrolls were rolls of skin from animals. People would write on the skin, and then roll it up.) Someone had hidden them in a cave. They referred to the time of Jesus. Perhaps there had been a discovery in Jesus’ time too. So Jesus would use it in his *parable.

The man who was in the story probably had to look for work each day. He was certainly very poor. He wanted to buy a field where he had found a treasure. But first, he had to sell all that he had. But he was still willing to do it. He wanted that treasure so much.

The next *parable (verses 45–46) was very similar. But the man was a rich seller. In the ancient world, there was something special. It was a pearl (a precious stone). People would rather own a pearl than anything else. In this story, the rich seller found a very special pearl. He, too, sold everything that he had. But he was willing to do it. He wanted to enjoy the pearl so much. It would be such a pleasure to him to own it.

Jesus repeated the same lessons in the two *parables. He had a reason for doing this. There were important truths. He wanted the people to understand them.

►  To be in Jesus’ *kingdom was a delight. The worker went with joy to buy the field. He wanted the treasure that he had found. But the seller was looking for something special too. It would bring him much joy. And other people would admire him. It was a very special treasure. To follow Jesus and to enter his *kingdom is still a delight.

►  To enter Jesus’ *kingdom means that we must give everything. We may be rich or we may be poor. But we must be willing to leave everything. Then we must follow Jesus.

►  There were two types of discovery in the two *parables. The first discovery was a surprise. The man did not expect to find it. But the seller was searching hard for pearls.

It is the same with the riches of Jesus’ *kingdom. Some people find Jesus when they are not expecting to find him. Other people have been searching for him for a long time. Whatever way that it happens, it is still a great event. A person finds and enjoys Jesus’ *kingdom. This is the very best experience that anyone could have.

Questions

 

1. What joys have you known when you found Jesus? Was your discovery of him a surprise? Or, were you searching for him for a long time?

2. How should members of the church show people that Jesus is such a special treasure?

3. In the *parable, the two men must sell all that they had. What does this mean for us today?

Matthew 13:47–58

God will judge *sinners

 

Jesus said that God must judge people. He emphasised this. It would happen to all non-believers. Then the people judged Jesus. His own people refused to accept him too.

 

In Israel, people used a certain kind of net in which to catch fish. It was a large square net. It had ropes at each corner. It also had heavy things that made the net hang well. But, when the boat moved, the ropes pulled the net into a shape. It caught the fish as the boat dragged it through the water. (It was called a drag-net.) This type of net caught all sorts of fish. The boat would return to land, dragging the net. Some of the fish were not good for people to eat. So the people who caught the fish must check them all.

Jesus lived in a place where people’s main job was to fish. So most of those who heard him would know about the nets. The story taught the same lesson as the story about the good grain and the weeds. (Read verses 49–50. Compare verses 40–43.) Jesus taught the same truth twice. He explained it each time. This was to make sure that those who heard him had understood him.

Read verses 51–52. Here, Jesus showed that religious experts could believe in him too. There was nothing to stop them being his *disciples. The teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees knew the *OT well. They thought that they understood it too. And they thought that Jesus’ teaching was different from the *OT. But the *OT and Jesus’ teaching matched. A good teacher would notice this. And Jesus wanted those who heard him to understand this too. In his book, Matthew often showed how they matched. He showed how the *OT pointed to Jesus.

People who came from his home refused to accept Jesus (verses 53–58)

In these verses, Matthew began a new section of his book. He described people’s reactions to Jesus.

Jesus returned to Nazareth. That was the town where he grew up (verses 53–54). There, he went to the *synagogue. It was the last time that Matthew recorded that Jesus went there. People were surprised that Jesus was in the *synagogue. The people heard his words. They saw his actions too. But they could not believe in him. They gave an excuse for this. (Read verses 55–56.) They were familiar with Jesus and his family. They thought that they knew all about him. So they refused to accept him (verse 57).

Because of this, Jesus would not do many *miracles there. It was for the same reason that he spoke only in *parables. People would not believe in him. So he would not teach them in any other way.

Matthew recorded this incident here on purpose. In the *parables, Jesus had been describing most of the *Jews. They were like bad soil. They were like weeds. They were like fish that men must throw away. Now, the people who were in Jesus’ own district would not believe in him. They refused to accept his wisdom. They saw his wonderful actions. But they still did not recognise the source of the actions. They did not see that his actions were evidence of the work of God’s Spirit. They did not know that Jesus was the Son of God. So they did not understand that his *disciples were his real brothers.

Questions

 

1. You can think that you know Jesus very well. But you may not really understand him. Is this possible? If so, explain how it could be possible.

2. Jesus clearly believed that knowledge of the *OT was vital. Why is it vital?

3. Do people in your culture have their own ideas about Jesus? Do these ideas show what Jesus is really like? Do the people in your church have their own ideas about Jesus? Do they match what the Bible teaches about him?

Matthew 14:1–12

People can know the truth, but still refuse to change their ways

 

This is a sad story. A man knew that God’s word was true. But he was too weak to receive it.

 

Here, ‘Herod’ was Herod Antipas. He was a son of Herod the Great. His mother was Malthace. She was wife number 4 for his father. Herod Antipas was ruler of Galilee. He married a daughter of Aretas 4 from Nabatea. But Herod had sex with a married woman. (The word for this kind of sex is ‘adultery’.) She was the wife of his half-brother, Philip. Then Herod married her. (Her name was Herodias.)

John the *Baptist continued to tell Herod that his actions were wrong. So Herod put him in prison. (Read verses 3–4. Read 3:1–6 too. It will remind you about John.) Herod was not obeying three of God’s commands. First, he had sex with a married woman. (God forbids this in Exodus 20:14.) Then he divorced his first wife. And he did not have a good reason to do that. (Read Deuteronomy 24:1–4.) He also married his brother Philip’s wife. (Compare Leviticus 20:21.)

Of course, Herodias hated John. She had tried to make Herod to kill him. But Herod was afraid to do it. So, she was ready for any chance to kill John. She would even use her daughter. Salome was her daughter from her first marriage. In the ancient world, a princess would never dance in public. Such dances were usually *sexual. But this is what Salome did. She was only a young woman at the time of this incident. (She was probably between 13 and 15 years of age.) But she still agreed to her mother’s wicked plan. Later, she married a relative too. She married her great uncle! (He was the brother of one of her grandparents.)

In 11:1–13:52, Matthew recorded much of Jesus’ teaching. There are two subjects in these chapters. They are *faith and *unbelief (lack of *faith). A new section of the book began in 13:53. It continued to 18:35. In these chapters, there is a record of two main things. There was Jesus’ teaching. But also there were his *miracles. But first, there were two separate incidents. In both incidents, people’s reactions to Jesus were not good. There was the *unbelief of the people in Nazareth. This is in 13:53–58. Now, in 14:1–12, there was Herod’s reaction.

The Bible does not prove that God exists. Psalm 14:1 says that only the fool denies it. Herod knew that John had messages from God. (Read Mark 6:20.) He knew that John spoke the truth. We know that Herod had a guilty conscience. Herod thought that Jesus must be John. He thought that John had come back to condemn him (verses 1–2). He had listened to John. He had protected him. But Herod still hated John. Other things were more important to him than peace with God.

There were at least three reasons for this. First, Herod was afraid of what his friends might think of him (verse 9). He was also very afraid of his wife. Also, he was afraid about God’s demands. This chapter described his typical way of life.

But these pleasures did not last for Herod. Herodias persuaded Herod to do something that was stupid. He asked Caesar (the chief *Roman ruler) if he could have the title ‘king’. But, an enemy of Herod sent a message at the same time. He told Caesar that Herod was planning to fight against Caesar’s rule. So Herod did not get the title. He had to go away to Gaul. (This is modern France.) He lost everything except Herodias. She showed that there was something good about her. She chose to stay with him.

Questions

 

1. Have you met people whose reactions are the same as Herod’s reaction? What sort of people are they? How can you help them?

2. Some people are ‘almost believers’. These people can use up much of the church’s resources. How should the members of the church deal with them?

3.There can be strong *sexual images in art, films or books. Can these images ever be right? Some people say that they can be all right. How can you know which ones are right?

Matthew 14:13–36

The *Messiah gave a big meal. He walked on water too.

 

An event showed that Jesus is the *Messiah. Another event showed that he rules over nature.

 

Read about Jesus’ *miracles again. They are in chapters 8 and 9. They were events. But they were also like *parables. Here, Matthew described two more *miracles. They are in 14:13–33. Jesus fed 5000 people. Jesus walked on the water. These *miracles were also *parables. They really happened. But there were lessons that we can learn from them.

Then Matthew described two examples of *unbelief or lack of *faith. (Read 13:53–58 and 14:1–12.) The two *miracles now give a contrast. They describe *faith. It is real *faith, but it is weak *faith. At the same time, they show who Jesus really was, and who he still is.

Jesus wanted a brief rest from his work (verse 13). This was not surprising. Remember that he was human! There was something else. His cousin, John, had just died. (Read Luke 1.) People would kill Jesus too. He needed to prepare for this. So, he needed to be quiet.

But this was impossible. The crowd followed Jesus. He pitied them. So he did not satisfy his own needs. He satisfied their needs instead. (Read verse 14.) The *disciples were not like Jesus. They did not like it when the crowd did not go home. So the *disciples were unkind to the people. They showed that they did not really care about the people. (Compare 15:23; 19:13 and Luke 9:49–50 too.)

Jesus used this situation to teach the *disciples. He showed them that they had a responsibility (verse 16). But they just complained. They could not do anything. They did not have nearly enough food (verse 17). Then Jesus showed them that they had him. The *miracle showed something about Jesus. He was all that they needed. He was their supply.

The *disciples took their own small supply of food to him. Then they could do something about the needs of the people. Jesus blessed the bread and the fish. He broke them into pieces. Then those pieces multiplied in the hands of the *disciples. There was a belief about the *Messiah. It was that he would provide a big meal for his *disciples. This was exactly what Jesus did here!

We must have real *faith (verses 22–36)

We can learn at least 5 lessons from Jesus’ control of the storm. They are about a person who has real *faith. (Note: In this section, ‘he’ refers to both ‘he’ and ‘she’.)

►  He will always make use of all the truth that God shows. That person does not just agree with the truth. He will be ready to act because of that truth (verses 27–28). Jesus told the *disciples not to be afraid. The language of the original *NT was *Greek. In the Greek NT, he said to them ‘I am’. This was a clear reference to God. It was the name that God called himself in the *OT. (Read Exodus 3:1–17.) Peter agreed that this was true. So he used what Jesus taught. Peter tried to do something that was impossible. But he did not think first. (Compare Luke 9:57–58 and Matthew 16:24–25.)

►  A person with *faith will use all of life’s circumstances. They can be opportunities for two things. They can be a chance for spiritual growth. They can bring honour and praise to God too. The storm was a severe trouble for the *disciples. But it made them sure that Jesus was God (verse 33). They recognised this clearly for the first time. They *worshipped him as God. Jesus showed them that nature must obey him. (Read 8:23–27.) Jesus will always use a person’s troubles. The troubles can help that person to grow in a spiritual way.

►  A person with *faith will not be too afraid to act in the way that he should (verse 26).

►  He may have very hard tests. It is easy to speak against Peter. He should not have looked at the wind and the waves. But Peter was already doing something that was impossible. Then his *faith began to fail. Because *faith is *faith, there will be ‘storms’ in each believer’s life. There will be fears and doubts. The answer is always to look to Jesus.

►  A person with *faith will show it by trusting Jesus completely. Peter began to sink. Then he cried, ‘*Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately put out his hand to him. He helped Peter in his great need. Only Jesus has the resources to help us. Only he can make our *faith strong. We must always look to him. We must always come to him.


Questions

 

1. Is there something in your life now that is impossible? Jesus may be asking you to trust him about it. Then you will be able to do that impossible thing. Talk to him about it now.

2. When should members of a church try to do something that is far beyond their resources? (This could be a plan to build. Or it could be special big meetings.) They could have great *faith. Or they could be being stupid. How can we know the difference between these two things?

3. The 5000 people could represent the people in the world. We could represent the *disciples. If so, how does the big meal apply to modern life?

Matthew 15:1–20

The arguments between Jesus and the religious leaders

 

Jesus gave two contrasts. There was *OT *faith and the *Jewish leaders’ *faith. And there were the words of the *Law and the real meaning or intention of the *Law.

 

The main section is 13:53–18:35. These verses are a small section in it. There was an argument. It was between Jesus and the religious leaders. It developed from this time until his death.

Something would help to explain this section. In the *OT, God gave great religious principles. He gave great moral principles too. He wanted to show the people what the principles meant. So he gave the people some pictures. He gave the *Jews some ceremonies and practices. But, by the time of Jesus, things had changed. Ceremonies and practices had become the most important things. To the *Jews, that was what real religion meant. The people concentrated on these things. They forgot the reason why God had given them.

The religious leaders added many rules too. These rules became more important than the *OT laws. Now the people must obey the new rules. They were called traditions. Often, this meant that the people did not obey God’s laws. Now, real religion was just acts. In one way, the leaders were making religion easy. People could achieve all that was necessary by themselves. But in another way, the leaders were making religion hard. They asked the people to do so many things. It was just impossible to do them all. (Compare 11:28–30.)

Jesus only used the *OT. So, what he taught was very different from the religious leaders. That meant arguments. This information should help us to understand the verses here.

To be clean outside (the body) and inside (the soul)

The religious experts arrived. They wanted to argue with Jesus. They had come from Jerusalem. They reminded Jesus about one of their rules. They said that his *disciples were ignoring it. It was the rule about how and when they should wash their hands.

To the *Jews, it was vital to be clean in a religious way. But this seemed to be impossible. They would always be dirty. So they developed a complicated system. They hoped that this would solve the problem. They must wash their hands in a special way. They did this first when they got up in the morning.

There was another time for this complicated system. At first, it was just for the priests. People would bring gifts to God at the *Temple. The priests could eat part of the gifts. But, first, they must wash their hands in a special way. Later, this system applied to all *Jews who said that they were really religious.

Many *Jews would keep water ready in their homes. They would use it before a meal. There was a minimum amount of water that they could use. It was enough water to fill ten empty eggs! Someone poured this water on both hands. The person must point the fingers up. The water must run down the hand. Then the water must drop off. This was because the water itself was now ‘dirty’. It had touched the ‘dirty’ hands. It must not run down the fingers again. Or the fingers and the hands would both be ‘dirty’ again.

Then they repeated the process. This time the person must point the fingers down. There was one final thing to do. They must rub each hand with the fist of the other hand. (Note: This meant that the person bent the fingers into the hand. The person held them there very hard.) The person might be a strict *Jew. If so, he would do all this between each part of the meal as well.

The leaders asked Jesus a question. Jesus did not answer it immediately. Instead, he showed them that their religion was wrong. It was against God’s word! All people should give honour to their parents. They should respect them. God expected this. (Read Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9.) The law was quite clear (verse 4).

But the leaders thought that this law meant too much responsibility. So, they invented their own law. It was in the cause of religion too! God had a greater claim on them than their parents had. So, the leaders said, ‘Give the money to God.’ (The word for this kind of gift was ‘Corban’. Read Mark 7:11.) Then, they could not use it for their parents. But the giver was God’s manager. So, the giver could use it himself. God had given him the responsibility of his parents. But a man could avoid it in this way. He could even use God’s authority to do that. Jesus was saying that this practice was wrong in verses 4–6.

Jesus spoke clearly to these leaders. They were just pretending to be good. He repeated Isaiah 29:13. God had said these words to religious leaders. It was in the time of Isaiah. This was 800 years before the time of Jesus. But the leaders had still not learned the lesson.

Jesus said something even more important in verses 10 and 11. A person may be ‘dirty’ or wrong. But lack of a ceremony did not cause it. What made a person really ‘dirty’ or wrong came from inside them. (Read verses 16–20.)

The reaction of the *Jewish leaders was not a surprise. But it was a great pity. (Read verse 12.) They did not understand the *OT principles of real religion. Perhaps they were unable to understand them. Maybe they could not understand because they did not want to understand. So they had invented their own religion. But it could only lead to hell.

Questions

 

1. People must do certain things before they can be ‘real Christians’. Some people insist on these things. But these things are not in the Bible. Can you think of any things like this? Do you insist on any of them yourself?

2. Some Christians teach about things that you must not do. They teach more about these things than about the things that you can do. What could this passage teach these Christians?

3. Some people are ‘almost Christians’. Other people may think that they are Christians, but they are not. But they insist on certain ceremonies. We might think that these ceremonies are not necessary. Should we oppose them? Or could they be a way to real *faith?

Matthew 15:21–28

*Faith for the whole world

 

Jesus healed the daughter of a non-*Jew. This shows that *salvation is for all people.

 

This was a most important story. In verses 1–20, the *Jews tried to prove that Jesus was wrong. Jesus showed them that they were not really God’s children. They were going to hell. Here, Jesus welcomed a non-*Jewish woman. The *Jews would think that this was very bad. To them, she was ‘dirty’. She belonged to a group called Canaanites. They were non-*Jews (Gentiles). But they lived in Israel.

There was a wonderful *miracle. But Matthew thought that something else was more important here. It was the way that Jesus dealt with the woman. She had a desperate need. So she came to Jesus. She knew that he could help her. She knew too that nobody else could help her. She even seemed to have some understanding of who he really was. She called him the ‘Son of David’. (Read the notes about 12:22–37.)

Note the contrast here. The *Jewish leaders had the *OT. They should have known that they needed the *Messiah. They should have recognised him when he came. Instead, they did not know that they needed anything. They were unable to recognise Jesus. They just argued with him. This woman did not have the advantages that the *Jews had. But she knew her need. She knew, too, that only Jesus could help her.

Verses 23–26 seem to be strange at first. Jesus seemed to be saying that the woman was asking for too much. He seemed to tell her that he only came to help the *Jews. Maybe this explained the *disciples’ unkind attitude in verse 23. They were thinking like the religious leaders thought. They thought that *Jews had a special claim on God. But Jesus certainly did not believe this.

There are two ways to understand this passage. The *disciples may be saying: ‘Send her away. Do not do anything for her.’ If so, Jesus would be copying the *disciples’ own thoughts. (Read verses 24 and 26.) But the woman had real *faith (verse 28). She showed that she belonged to the real people of God (verse 24). It did not matter that she was a non-*Jew (Gentile). Then Jesus healed the woman’s daughter. In the *NT, to get better was often a sign of *salvation. So his words and his action told her that God received her.

Or the *disciples may have been saying: ‘Send her away. Give her what she wants.’ Jesus replied that, at present, his work was for the *Jews first. But he still encouraged the woman’s *faith. She proved that she did have real *faith.

Questions

 

1. Are there any groups of people whom you think may be beyond Jesus’ help? What hope is there for them?

2. Are there people who are foreigners in your area? (Their culture is different from yours too.) They are like the woman in this story. Is there anything that you could do to help them?

3. Should we still think that the *salvation of *Jews is the most important thing? Is this what Jesus would want?

Matthew 15:29–39

Another special meal

 

Jesus offered another big meal. But now it was for non-*Jews. His *kingdom was now open to all people.

 

Jesus fed 4000 people. At first, another *miracle like this may seem to be unnecessary. (Compare how Jesus fed 5000 people. This is in 14:13–21.) The two stories seem very similar. But Matthew recorded them both. There was a reason for this.

Jesus had been in a non-*Jewish area. It was called Gennesaret. It was next to the Sea of Galilee. (Read 14:34–35.) In 15:21, Jesus was near Tyre and Sidon. This was an area to the far north of Galilee. In this passage, Jesus was in Galilee again. He was in the area of the Ten Towns. Its name was the Decapolis. But he was still on the non-*Jewish side of the lake. Verse 29 suggests this. Mark 7:31 confirms it. Another detail confirms it too. The *Greek word for ‘basket’ in 14:20 is a *Jewish word. But in 15:37, it is a non-*Jewish word. This shows that Matthew’s facts were accurate.

Jesus fed 5000 people. This event was at the end of his work among the *Jews in Galilee. So, 15:1–39 described Jesus’ work in mainly non-*Jewish country. There he fed 4000 people. This event finished a brief time among the non-*Jews (or Gentiles). *Jewish people who were sick came to Jesus. He healed them (14:14). Gentiles who were sick came to Jesus. He healed them too (15:31).

Matthew referred here to many passages that are in the *OT. They are all from the same book. First, there was Isaiah 52:7. It said that someone would declare the good news of *salvation. He would do this on a mountain. That was what Jesus did (verse 29). Next, there was Isaiah 52:7–10. *Salvation would come to people who were from all over the world. At that time, Jesus was working among non-*Jews. They represented the nations of the world.

Isaiah 35:5–6 described someone who would heal. Matthew used the same words in verses 30–31. The whole of Isaiah chapter 35 was about the same subject. It showed that the results of *sin would end. Isaiah 25:6–12 described the final big meal. God would have this big meal for all his people. Here, on the mountain, Jesus provided a big meal. Also there was Isaiah 29:18–19, 23. The *Jews would be God’s friends again. Matthew used the same sort of words in 15:31.

Matthew must have thought that these verses were important. One day, God’s *kingdom would be complete. There would be people from all nations in it. Here, Jesus provided a big meal for non-*Jews (Gentiles). Jesus provided the same big meal for *Jews and Gentiles. This showed that non-*Jews can be proper members of God’s *kingdom. But they must recognise who Jesus is. They must believe that he is God’s rescuer.

This passage taught about Jesus. There were three important lessons.

►  Jesus brought good news that came from God. Matthew repeated several passages from the *OT here. *Jews who read his book would understand why he used them. Jesus was the person whom the *OT described. He would declare God’s *salvation. He would bring God’s peace to the world.

►  Jesus himself would achieve this *salvation. He would stop the terrible results of *sin. Isaiah 35:5–6 told about great *miracles. Matthew used the same words about Jesus in verses 30 and 31. We know, too, that the results of *sin will end. The rest of Isaiah 35 declared this. Jesus fed 4000 people. That reminds us of God’s final big meal.

►  Jesus makes men and women to be friends with God. He makes them into holy people. The reaction of the people in verse 31 was like Isaiah 29:18–19, 23. Jesus is the Saviour (someone who saves). He helps his *disciples to be holy.

Questions

 

1. Pretend that you were there when Jesus fed the crowd. You were a Gentile (non-*Jew). Remember that Jesus was a *Jew. So, you would think that he must be against you. Imagine that you met Jesus. What would his attitude really be to you?

2. Many people in our own districts today have great needs. It may not be for actual food. What other needs are there? How can members of the church help them?


Matthew 16:1–12

The signs that prove who Jesus is

 

Some people refused to believe. There was plenty of evidence. But nothing would convince them.

 

These verses are very similar to 12:38–42. So, Jesus repeated some of his teaching. Matthew recorded it again too. This showed that the subject was important.

Some people chose not to understand (verses 1–4)

The *Pharisees and the *Sadducees wanted to test Jesus (verse 1). So they asked him to do a *miracle. It would be like a sign. It would prove that he came from God. Read 12:38–42. These verses explain more about the incident. Jesus refused to do what they asked. The signs or proofs were already there. People who were willing to learn would know about them.

People would look at a red sky in the evening. They would know that the next day would have good weather. But a red sky in the morning meant the opposite. There would soon be a storm. This was what happened in ancient Israel. (This is true in other parts of the world today too.) The *Jews knew how to understand signs like these. So Jesus told them to do the same with him.

They could already be sure that he came from God. Here are some of the signs or proofs:

•           Nobody else ever spoke as he did. (Read 7:28–29.)

•           He had done many great *miracles.

•           He could control nature (Read 8:27.)

•           Even evil *spirits knew him (8:29).

•           His whole life and work were already proof enough.

If the *Jews would not believe all these signs, then nothing would convince them.

Then Matthew said something that was sad. He said: ‘Jesus left them and went away.’ (Read 15:22 too.) He will never stay with people who do not want him.

The *disciples did not understand (verses 5–12)

We do not know why the *disciples did not understand Jesus’ words (verse 6). But Jesus’ answer was clear. He was talking about the *Pharisees and the *Sadducees. The *disciples must be careful about their teaching. Jesus taught something that was important. It was this. People’s thoughts affect the way that they act. And people’s actions affect the way that they think. This was true about the *Pharisees and the *Sadducees. The way that they thought affected their reaction to Jesus.

Jesus described their teaching. It was like yeast. This substance makes bread rise. That was why the *disciples thought that Jesus was talking about bread! But in the Bible, yeast was often a word picture. It described something that affected all that it touched. It grew and it was powerful too.

We may want to know what teaching Jesus was thinking about in this passage. He did not explain. But, from what we know about the *Pharisees, we can suggest certain things. First, the *Pharisees had a wrong opinion of themselves. They thought that they were very holy. They thought that their lives were very good. So, they believed that they had a special relationship with God. Because of this, they could not understand that they needed Jesus.

The *Pharisees had a wrong opinion of God’s purpose for the world too. God wanted all people to love him and to enjoy him. The *Pharisees had failed to understand this. They did not want to share their God with the rest of the world. They were selfish with their religion. They only cared about obeying all the details of their laws.

To the *Pharisees, the world that is future was not important. So they thought that this life was most important. That was especially true about the *Sadducees. It made it very hard for them to receive Jesus.

Even today, it is easy to have attitudes like these. If we do, the result will be the same. We could easily think that we do not need Jesus either.

Questions

 

1. Do you wish that God would give you ‘signs’ of his will? He has already given many signs. They are in the Bible. They are in history. They are in your own life. Make a list of them.

2. Should people who belong to churches expect signs or *miracles today? When do *miracles help people to hear the word of God? When do they make it harder for people to hear the word of God?

3. What things stop people from receiving Jesus today? How can we help these people?

Matthew 16:13–20

Who do you think that I am?

 

What Jesus’ *disciples understood about his work and about who he was.

 

Jesus was teaching his *disciples more about himself. He had begun with a warning. (Read verses 5–12.) Then, he asked them a question. It was a very personal question. He said: ‘But what about you? Who do you say that I am?’

The *disciples gave the answers of some other people (verse 14). The *disciples did not mention the very negative attitude of the *Pharisees. (Read 10:25 and 12:24.) But the *disciples repeated Herod (14:2) and other people. Those people all said that Jesus was a great person. They even said that Jesus was special. Nobody else was like him. But those answers were not enough.

Peter spoke for the *disciples (verse 16). None of them completely understood the words. But Peter made a very important claim. He said: ‘You are the Christ (*Messiah).’ He was recognising that Jesus was the chief *prophet of God. In Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, Moses had spoken of this person. A great *prophet would come one day. Peter believed that Jesus was that great *prophet.

God spoke to Isaiah too (Isaiah 55:4). God promised to send a great leader and a master of the nations.

The *Jews believed that the *Messiah would be a great priest. He would be a priest for ever. This belief came from Psalm 110:4. *Jews believed that the *Messiah would be a king for ever. This belief came from Psalm 2:6. The *disciples believed that Jesus was both a priest and a king. Peter also described Jesus as ‘the Son of the Living God’. Jesus was God and Creator. (He created all things.) He keeps and supports all things too. (Read John 1:1–3 and Hebrews 1:1–3.)

The true Lord (Master, Ruler) and false lords

All these events happened near Caesarea Philippi. This was a town to the north of Galilee. Jesus left Galilee. And he left the crowds who had followed him. He wanted a quiet place. This was so that he could spend more time with his *disciples.

We might ask why Jesus would choose Caesarea. It was an important religious centre. It was the main place for the *worship of Baal. Baal was the chief god in the country called Syria. Those who *worshipped Baal made all human pleasures their god, especially sex. But people also said that Pan was born there. Pan was the *Greek god of nature. Men and women *worshipped Pan. They were *worshipping what God made, instead of the Creator. (The Creator is he who created all things.)

There was a great *temple in Caesarea too. This was a special, large building. There, people would *worship the emperor (ruler). He was just a man. But people *worshipped him. They said that he was the master of the world.

All these things may be the reasons why Jesus chose this place. There were many other claims upon people. But Jesus called people to follow him only.

Peter, the rock (verses 17–19)

Men and women cannot understand spiritual things clearly on their own. Some people do understand them. If so, it is only because God has helped them. Here, Jesus showed a very important truth.

Jesus used two words in verse 18. Aramaic was the language that Jesus spoke. In Aramaic ‘Kepha’ meant a rock. ‘Kephas’ was a name. Many people suggest that the rock was Peter’s *faith. Other people think that Jesus was referring to himself as the rock. Other people think that Peter himself was the rock. Probably, it was none of these ideas.

The *disciples were *Jews. They probably thought that Jesus meant the stone for a foundation. Abraham was like this kind of stone. (Read Isaiah 51:1–2.) The building was the *OT people of God. Abraham was its first stone. Jesus said that Peter was the first stone of the *NT church. (Note: The *NT church is the people of God.)

Something made Peter like a rock. It was his words in verse 16. He was the first person to really understand who Jesus was and is. He was the first of many people who would believe the same thing. 1 Peter 2:4–9 describes all believers as like ‘stones that are alive’. Here, in Matthew 16:16–18, Jesus was teaching an important truth. It was for anyone who wanted to be a member of the real church. Peter’s words here would always be the principle. (Note: The church does not refer to a building. It refers to people who belong to Jesus. So, ‘the church’ means all real believers. They are the ‘stones that are alive’.)

The last words of verse 18 are hard to understand. The original *Greek translation is important. It says: ‘The gates of Hades will not defeat it.’ In the Bible, the word ‘Hades’ can mean ‘hell’. But it can also mean ‘grave’. So it sometimes refers to death.

In the ancient world, many towns or villages had a large open space. It was behind the main entrance. This entrance was called the ‘gate’. It was here that people met together. They would make decisions about their lives and their village or town. Jesus could be referring to any plan that came from the ‘gate’ of hell. No plan that came from there would ever defeat the church. But, Hades could mean ‘death’. If so, it means that death itself would never defeat the church. This seems to be the most likely meaning.

To *Jews, the ‘keys’ in verse 19 would mean teaching that had authority. All *Jews would clearly understand this. So, Jesus was saying: ‘I will give the message of God. I will give it to you, Peter, and to all other stones who are like you.’ What men and women did with that message would decide their eternal future. (Eternal means before time began; for all time and for ever.)

Questions

 

1. Who do people say that Jesus is? Write a list of answers. What is your own answer? How would you explain it? How can you live by it?

2. What gods do people *worship in today’s society? Do the members of your church ever *worship false things? (These false things could be important people or ideas. They could be wrong ideas about God himself. They are any things that become more important than God to people.)

3. Some people say that it does not matter what a person believes. They say, too, that there are many ways to get to God. What would you say to these people?

Matthew 16:21–28

Jesus was the *Messiah. But he was not like the *Messiah that the *disciples expected.

 

The *disciples had discovered who Jesus was. But they did not understand that the *Messiah must suffer and die.

 

Jesus had agreed that Peter’s words were true (verse 16). He was the *Messiah for whom everyone was waiting. The *disciples must have been very excited. They would want to tell this good news to everyone. But Jesus forbade them to do this (verse 20). Some years later, Matthew saw two reasons for this. First, the *disciples must learn the real nature of the *Messiah. Then, they must learn the meaning of a real *disciple of Jesus. Only then could they really announce that he was the *Messiah.

Isaiah 52:13–53:12 described the *Messiah. He would not be a great political leader. He would be a servant who suffered. Jesus said that he was going to suffer. But Peter tried to stop him (verse 22). Peter had always had the normal *Jewish hopes. So, he thought that Jesus must not suffer and die. He just could not believe what Jesus was saying.

Jesus had just called Peter a ‘rock’. Now, he said that Peter’s words were from *Satan (the devil). Peter did not want to believe Jesus’ teaching. So, Jesus commanded Peter to be quiet. This showed Jesus’ wisdom. Even Peter could not understand the truth. So the *disciples needed much more teaching. Only then could they tell other people that Jesus was the *Messiah.

Jesus’ death was absolutely necessary. The *disciples needed to understand that. Later, Peter understood it more than any of the *disciples. (Read Acts 2:23; 3:18 and 1 Peter 1:11.) Peter was clear that Jesus’ death was necessary. It gave full meaning to the *OT. But Peter taught more than this. He taught that it was the only way of *salvation for men and women. (Read 1 Peter 2:21–24.) Jesus died instead of them. He saved them from the death that they deserved.

What it means to be a real *disciple (verses 24–28)

Jesus wanted his *disciples to say ‘No’ to themselves. They must obey him completely, in everything. They must give themselves completely to Jesus. Then they must serve him. These things are still true for us today. The standards are not just for some special believers. But they are for all those who want to be his *disciples. They are for all those who want to share his *glory too.

In verses 25–28, Jesus encourages us with three truths.

►        The life of a real *disciple is the only way to live life properly. It is a life that God approves of.

►        Those who follow Jesus will have a reward that lasts for ever. (Read verse 27.)

►        Real *disciples can know Jesus Christ as king before they die. (Read verse 28.)

The Bible does not say that Jesus’ *kingdom will appear at once. There was the time when people expected Jesus’ *kingdom. This was in 17:1–8. Then his *kingdom came. This happened slowly. First Jesus died and came alive again. He went back to heaven. Then he sent the Holy Spirit. Finally, Jesus will return to earth. Then he will complete his *kingdom. Before they died, the *disciples had Jesus’ new life in them. They had the Holy Spirit who was living in them.

Questions

 

1. As Christ’s *disciple, what have I lost in this life? What have I gained by being a *disciple? Is there something wrong in my life that must go? Decide a definite time when you will do it.

2. Plan a meeting for your church. The subject is: ‘When the Son of Man comes’. What will you include in the meeting?

3. There are three important things. They are: to be humble; to suffer; and to be weak. Non-Christians think of these things as failure. But Jesus was a servant. He suffered much. He died on the cross in great weakness. Does this mean that non-believers can never understand? What is the answer?

Matthew 17:1–13

What Jesus is really like

 

Jesus was preparing for his death. He chose three of his *disciples for something special. He let them see how strong and how wonderful he was. (He let them see his *glory.)

 

Peter had declared that Jesus was the *Messiah. (Read 16:16.) Jesus told his *disciples not to say anything about it. (See 16:20. Compare 17:9 too.) There was a reason for this. Jesus wanted to explain things to them more completely. They still had much to learn. They knew that he was the *Messiah. Now they must learn what that meant. They must learn what it meant to be his *disciples too. This teaching began in 16:21–28.

Here, in 17:1–13, Jesus continued this teaching. He did it in a very special and wonderful way. Matthew saw it as a way to teach. But it would have helped Jesus too. It would have confirmed his task to him. Bad things were going to happen to him. And it would have given him strength for that time.

Jesus was the *prophet of God. Peter believed that. But he still argued with Jesus. (Read 16:22.) Yet, Jesus chose Peter to climb the mountain with him. Jesus took only two other *disciples with him.

Two very important things happened on the mountain. First, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah. For the *Jews, they were the greatest *OT men of God. God used Moses to give his laws to the *Jews. (The first 5 books of the *OT are called The Law. Moses wrote them.) Elijah was a great *prophet. The *prophets wrote many books of the *OT. (*Jews called these books The *Prophets.) So, it is clear that both the Law and the *Prophets spoke about Jesus. (Compare Luke 9:31 too.)

Then, the *disciples heard a voice that came from heaven. The words were similar to those that are in Deuteronomy 18:15. It was how Peter spoke in 16:16 too. So, the voice that came from heaven emphasised the truth about Jesus. Jesus was (and is) the person whom God has chosen. Jesus speaks for God. There was a lesson for Peter here. It was: ‘Do not argue. Listen to him.’

Read again Matthew’s account of this great event. It reminds us about other verses in the Bible. First, there was the time when Moses met with God. (Read Exodus 34:29–35.) Moses’ face shone because he was so close to God. Jesus, too, shone all over. Then, read Revelation 1:13–16. There is a description of Jesus’ *glory in heaven. Several things are similar to the event that is in Matthew 17. This is probably not a surprise. John wrote the book of Revelation. He was also with Jesus on the mountain.

But there was more than that. The *disciples saw Jesus’ *glory on the mountain. It suggested Jesus’ future *glory. That would be when he had finished his work. In the days ahead, Jesus would die on the cross. The *disciples would see this happen. Then they should remember this great event that happened on the mountain.

Peter had argued with Jesus (16:22). He probably thought that Jesus would establish a *kingdom on earth. It was hard not to think about that sort of *glory (17:4). But this event on the mountain was special. It showed what Jesus’ *kingdom was really like. The *disciples saw Jesus’ *glory. It should make them think about greater things. It should affect their ambitions, too. Before this, they may have been looking for a *kingdom on earth. Now, they should look for God himself. They should enjoy him.

Of course, Peter wanted to stay on the mountain. But Matthew concentrated on something else. It was the discussion between Jesus and his three *disciples. This was when they returned from the mountain. Again, Jesus asked them not to speak about what had happened. The time was not yet right (verse 9). The *disciples could not understand the event completely yet. The time would come when they would understand it. That would be when Jesus came back to life again.

The section ended with a question. It also gave Jesus’ reply. The *disciples asked about Elijah. The *prophets had said that Elijah would return. He would announce the *Messiah. (Read 11:14.) Jesus had said that John the *Baptist was this ‘Elijah’. Now the three *disciples had seen Elijah! This was hard to understand. So, they asked Jesus about it (verse 10).

Jesus had been talking with Moses and Elijah. They spoke about Jesus’ death. The subject was not his great *kingdom. Jesus repeated what he had said before. John the *Baptist was the man who was like ‘Elijah’. The *OT had said that he would come. Then Jesus said something that was important. John the *Baptist had suffered. (Read 14:1–12.) And Jesus must suffer too (17:12).

There is another lesson to learn from this event. Jesus had said a strange thing. (Read 16:28.) It was about some people who were there with him. They would not die until they had seen Jesus in his *kingdom. This passage explained his words. These people saw his *glory there on the mountain. His *glory continued to show too. Jesus came back to life again. He returned to heaven. Then he sent his Holy Spirit to live in all his people.

So the *kingdom of Jesus advances all over the world. His *kingdom grows in men and women. They all wait to see the full *glory of Jesus. *Satan (the devil) has not won. (Read 16:18.)

Questions

 

1. We have read a description of Jesus and his *glory. How can this help us as *disciples today?

2. The *kingdom of God has already begun to come. Can you think of any examples of this truth? Perhaps there are some examples in your own church? In what ways can we see God’s power?

3. Imagine something. Jesus shows himself, as he did on the mountain. But he shows himself to each person in the world. What difference would that make? Think about the newspapers, television and radio. How would they report it? What would governments’ reactions be? Think about the different sections of society. What might their reactions be? After 5 years, would the world be a different place?


Matthew 17:14–27

The *disciples return to their ordinary life.

 

Away from the mountain, there was ordinary life. Someone was still ill. There was an argument about taxes.

 

The verses here continued the same idea as the previous section. The *disciples still had much to learn. They must learn more about themselves. They must learn more about Jesus too.

A total failure (verses 14–21)

There is a big contrast between verses 1–13 and verses 14–21. Three *disciples saw the *glory of Jesus. The other 9 *disciples were without Jesus, in the valley. A father asked them to heal his son. This was what Jesus had already told them to do. (Read 10:8; Mark 6:13 and Luke 9:6–10.) The *disciples failed, which was sad. But Jesus was still the same. It did not mean that he was weak too. It did not mean that he was not willing to help. And the boy’s father realised this (verse 15).

Verses 19–21 give the reason why the *disciples failed. There is a difficulty with these verses. It is hard to know what Matthew wrote. Some Bibles do not have the words in verse 21. Many people think that he did not write them. These words are in Mark 9:29. But, most Bibles leave out two words there too. The words are: ‘and fasting’. (This means to go without food.) They are probably not words that Jesus or Matthew used.

There is another problem in verse 20. Jesus described what was wrong about the *disciples. It is not clear if he meant ‘*unbelief’ or ‘little *faith’. Probably it was ‘*unbelief’. The *disciples had sent evil *spirits away from many people. Perhaps they thought that their own power did this. In the *disciples’ minds it could be like a kind of magic.

So, they did not have a living *faith in Jesus. They could only do *miracles because Jesus gave them the power. Even a little *faith would have been enough. But they had to use it in the proper way. Here, the *disciples had acted on their own. They did not use the power of Jesus. The amount of *faith is not the important thing. The important thing is the fact that it is genuine. This meant that they would have a humble trust in Jesus. They would trust Jesus for everything.

This was what Jesus was saying to his *disciples. He tried to encourage them in verse 20. He used a popular word picture of the time. People might want to say that a thing was impossible. In ancient Israel, they spoke about it as a mountain. Nobody could move it. But Jesus told his *disciples what they must do. A thing might be impossible. But they must trust him. If he planned to do it, then it would happen. Jesus would do what he promised to do.

Sons of the Living God (verses 22–27)

Jesus repeated his earlier teaching. He told his *disciples that he must die. (Read 16:21–22.) This made the *disciples very sad. The natural question to ask would be: ‘Why?’ Some strange events followed. But the events had a purpose. (Read verses 24–27.) Jesus was suggesting an answer to their question.

Every *Jew must pay a certain tax. It was for the care of the *Temple. The tax was especially for the *sacrifices. (Read Exodus 30:11–16.) The *sacrifices were necessary. They were because of the *sins of the people. God hates *sin. So everyone who *sins must have eternal death. (Note: Eternal means before time began; for all time and for ever.) God had taught the *Jews that he would forgive their *sin. But they must offer another life in their place. God allowed them to use an animal. In this way, God showed them two things. He was holy. But he wanted to forgive them too.

The men who collected this tax came to Peter. They asked him if Jesus paid the tax. This was a natural question. Some *Jewish teachers and their *disciples did not have to pay it. The officials may not have been sure about Jesus. Peter answered: ‘Of course he does’ (verse 25).

Jesus used the incident to teach Peter. In the ancient world, there was a common practice. Kings and their families did not pay taxes. The same thing usually happens today. Jesus is the Son of God. So he did not need to pay the tax. He had no *sin. So he did not need to pay for a *sacrifice. But, there was even more. Peter did not need to pay the *Temple tax either. He, too, was a son of God!

Peter was a *Jew. Jesus’ words must have surprised him. But he may not have understood them completely. Then Jesus did a wonderful little *miracle. This was to explain what he meant. Jesus showed that he knew all things. He showed that he had power over all things too. These two facts are only true about God. Then, by the *miracle, he chose to pay the tax for himself and for Peter.

This emphasised something. Jesus did not need to die as a punishment for his own *sin. So, when he died, Jesus was paying the spiritual debts of other people. He was taking the punishment that all people deserve. But there is another important truth here. Jesus’ death would be the final *sacrifice. So Peter would not need to pay the tax. Jesus’ death would pay for it. This meant that *sacrifices would not be necessary any more.

So, this little passage told the reason why Jesus would die. He would die for the *sins of all his *disciples. By his death, he would make them the children of God.

Questions

 

1. Someone might say: ‘I wish that I had your *faith.’ What should you say to them? Is it possible to measure *faith, in any way? If so, how could you measure it?

2. Christians are citizens of heaven. (Read Philippians 3:20.) Why should we pay taxes to a government on earth?

Matthew 18:1–14

Who is the greatest?

 

*Disciples of Jesus must be willing to be of no importance. Then they will be really great.

 

The *disciples had much to learn. They still wanted to be important and to have power. This was why they asked the question in verse 1. Jesus used a little child to teach two lessons.

►  Little children do not relate to people in the same way that adults do. Status (to be important) or colour do not mean anything to them. But they often see a person’s real character. Adults learn to judge other people. Children ignore the standards that adults use. In the ancient world, children did not have any worth. But they often came to Jesus. It did not matter what a child might be like. Jesus always welcomed each child. And he expected his *disciples to do the same (verse 5).

►  Jesus taught another lesson. It is in verses 6–9. The ‘little ones’ may refer to his *disciples. They should have attitudes like little children. Jesus had just been speaking about this. So, he could be warning about when one Christian does wrong things to another Christian. That is a serious matter! Or, the ‘little ones’ might have been children. (A child was standing among them.) Jesus gave a severe warning. It was against all those who do bad things to children. This is a wonderful statement. It was common to do bad things to children in those times. But the ‘fire of hell’ waits for all those who do bad things to ‘little ones’. (Read verses 8–9.)

How terrible!

Someone can do bad things to a ‘little person’. That ‘little person’ might then lose his or her *faith in Jesus. There will be an awful punishment for a person who causes this. Jesus described what it would be like (verse 6).

First, Jesus spoke about a millstone. It would be round that person’s neck. A millstone was a huge stone. It had a hole in the middle. It was so heavy that a large animal must move it. Then Jesus spoke about that person when he would be drowning. For a *Jew, to drown was one of the worst ways to die. It was even worse if it happened far from *Jewish land. So, it would be a terrible death. That person would not be able to escape it. Jesus even said that this kind of death would be better than his punishment!

Someone might have said, ‘There will always be people who are like that.’ In verse 7, Jesus may be replying. He said, ‘Things like this will always happen. But how terrible it will be for the world. How terrible it will be for someone who does bad things to a little person.’

The words ‘how terrible’ were often used by *OT *prophets. That was how they would start a *prophecy about God’s final *judgement. Jesus did that here. People may claim to be his *disciples. But they may not have *faith that is like a little child’s *faith. If so, they will have God’s *judgement. They will not share in his *glory. To cause other people to *sin is very serious. Jesus emphasised this. (Read verses 7–9.)

Jesus ended his teaching with a story. He told a *parable about sheep. He wanted real *disciples to show the character of God. God’s gentle care is for all ‘little ones’.

►  Jesus said that children have *angels as their friends. In those days, people thought that children had no worth. But this was wrong. (Read verse 1.) The *Jews of Jesus’ time believed that nations had *angels. But they had never suggested that children had them too. This included one child or a group of children.

►  In the *parable, God is like a shepherd. (A shepherd is someone who looks after sheep.) God looks for any ‘sheep’ that is lost. He is very, very happy when he finds it. In just the same way, he does not want to lose any ‘little ones’. Real *disciples should have the same attitude as the father in heaven.

Questions

 

1. Do you want to have an important position among your Christian friends? Think about ways in which you try to become more important. How can you avoid these ambitions?

2. How could you cause someone to lose his or her *faith in Jesus (18:6)?

3. A non-Christian might visit your church. Would he or she want to become a Christian?

Matthew 18:15–35

To care and to forgive

 

Jesus expects those who follow him to look after each other. They should do all that they can to help each other. They should always be ready to forgive.

 

How to deal with those who *sin against us (verses 15–20)

These verses are about society. It is not just about the leaders. They have responsibilities. But everyone is responsible for the other members.

If someone *sins, God’s children must correct that person. But note the process that Jesus gave. (Read verses 15–17.) It must not be for personal satisfaction. That is not a good reason to point out another person’s bad habits. It must not be because of personal pain either. There must be a desire to help that person. We must not be thinking about it all the time. This often leads to being bitter. Then it would be easy to hate that person. Jesus said, ‘You are both *disciples. So, go to him or her. Try to make things right again.’

The person who has *sinned might not listen. (We will call him person A.) But Jesus was very practical. So he gave some good advice in verse 16. Another Christian will say things in a different way. And this could help person A to understand his *sin. (That advice is good for today too.)

But person A may still refuse to listen. Then the members of the church must know about it (verse 17). It is important to deal with *sin. Person A may not listen to the group of believers. Then they must cause everyone to know about the *sin. Person A is living like a non-Christian. People must know about this. But, even here, Jesus was being kind. Perhaps person A would *repent. This is what Jesus always wants.

There is a danger that we should avoid. We might talk about the bad habits of other Christians. Then we might start to gossip about them. This happens because we are doing things for the wrong reasons. We might like to talk about the weaknesses of other people. We do not desire the best for them. But our words should help people. Our words should not hurt them.

Real *disciples should always deal with *sin in Jesus’ way. Then Jesus promises to be there with them. So they can speak and act with his authority. Jesus promises to give them his wisdom too. (Read verses 18–20.)

God forgives you. So you must forgive other people in the same way (verses 21–35).

Israel was the country where Jesus lived. A dinar was the daily wage of a workman there. There were 6000 dinars in every talent. The man in the *parable owed 10 000 talents to the king. Galilee was a small part of Israel. A year’s taxes from Galilee were 300–500 talents. This showed that the servant’s debt was very large. Jesus wanted to emphasise the size of the debt. So he combined two things from the *Greek part of the world. He used the largest number. And he used the largest measure of money.

In ancient times, a man who had a debt like this would die. The debt might be even a small part of this amount. But he would still die because of it. So the punishment that Jesus described was a reasonable one.

The servant promised to pay the debt. But he asked the king to give him more time. The king did much more than that. He cancelled the debt completely (verse 26). What wonderful *mercy this was! Jesus told this *parable for a reason. He wanted his *disciples to learn about God’s great *mercy to them. He forgives all their *sin.

But that was not the end of Jesus’ story. The king had been very kind to his servant. But the same servant would not be kind himself. Another servant owed him 100 dinars. That was a very small amount.

This servant asked for *mercy too. He used the same words that the other servant had used to the king. (Read verse 29. Compare verse 26.) The king had forgiven the first servant. He had cancelled his huge debt. But this same servant refused to forgive another servant for a small debt. All the other servants were very upset. They told the king everything. Of course, the king was very angry. He sent the first servant to prison. (Notice that, even then, he did not kill the man.)

Often, people say that they are real *disciples. They know that God has been very patient with them. God has forgiven them. God’s *mercy has been great. But they refuse to deal with other people in the same way. Behaviour like this brings awful results. These people make it impossible for God to forgive them. They are refusing to forgive other people. So they cannot know that God has forgiven them. And there must be punishment for them. (Read 6:12, 14–15.)

Peter had understood Jesus’ words in verses 15–20. But he was still thinking like the *Jewish teachers (rabbis) thought. The rabbis said that people should forgive 3 or 4 times. Peter thought that he would be generous. So he suggested 7 times. He probably expected Jesus to approve of him. But Jesus’ answer shows that *mercy must have no limits.

Questions

 

1. Someone has hurt you. You have not forgiven him or her. What should you do about it? Perhaps that person does not think that he or she has done a wrong thing. What would you do then?

2. What does it mean to forgive? Is it a form of words? Is it a feeling? Is it a determination to forget the past? Or, is it a form of prayer?

3. Do you need to forgive somebody? Ask God to show you. Then, pray about this important matter.

Matthew 19:1–12

More about marriage

 

God established marriage. His purpose was that it should last for the whole of life. So he hates divorce.

 

Jesus had been teaching his *disciples. Now he had finished this special period. He left the Galilee district for the last time. He began his final journey. He was going to Jerusalem. (Read verses 1–2.) Jesus was still popular with all the people. They were enjoying his *miracles. But, more and more, the authorities were against him. They wanted to stop his work. So they asked Jesus a question. They thought that this would cause trouble between those who liked Jesus. Then Jesus’ authority would be weaker.

The subject of divorce was a serious matter at the time. Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee. He had recently had a divorce from his wife. Then he married his brother Philip’s wife. John the *Baptist said that this was wrong. Because of this, Herod put John in prison. Then, later, he ordered a soldier to cut off John’s head. (Read 14:1–12.)

*Jewish teachers had different ideas about divorce. Some of these teachers were stricter. But all the *Jewish teachers agreed about the fact of divorce. It was the right of every man to get a divorce from his wife. (Of course, there must be proper reasons for a divorce.)

This explained the *Pharisees’ question (verse 3). They wanted Jesus to say which group was right. Jesus’ reply was very clever. He spoke about what God had first intended. God made man and he made woman. God set up the state of marriage. He intended that it should last for the whole of life. So, there should never be a divorce. (Read verses 4–6.)

Jesus answered the question well. But his enemies had not finished. This idea of Jesus did not agree with the laws of Moses. And Moses had given God’s *Law to Israel’s people (verse 7). The *Pharisees were hopeful that people would not follow Jesus now.

But again, Jesus spoke in a clever way. Moses had allowed people to divorce. But that did not make it right. (Read verses 8–9.) And there was something else. Moses allowed divorce because of the people’s *sin. But that did not mean that divorce was right for all the people.

Then Jesus seemed to give one reason for a divorce. He seemed to say that the person could marry again too. (Read 19:9.) The woman may have had sex with another man. Then the husband would be free. This statement of Jesus still causes much discussion today. The phrase is not in Mark 10:12 or Luke 16:18. There is a possible reason for this. The book of Mark and the book of Luke were for Gentiles (non-*Jews).

So part of the book of Matthew may be for *Jews. For *Jews there were three periods to a marriage. Read ‘More Explanation’ for 1:18–25. The section is called ‘Customs of *Jewish marriage’. There could be a divorce before the marriage. (This was what Joseph was going to do to Mary.) So, Jesus may have been speaking about an event that was like that.

Look at what the *disciples said in verse 10. We can understand why they replied in that way. They thought that perhaps it was best not to marry at all. But it is harder for us to understand Jesus’ words in verses 11 and 12. A couple must work hard to have a good marriage. But it may not be a good thing for everyone to marry.

In *Jewish society, it was usual for people to marry. But Jesus gave examples of when this might not happen (verse 12). There could be physical reasons. Or, a person might not marry because of his work for God.

But Jesus was very clear about one thing. We can be sure about it. Divorce was not in God’s original plan (19:8).

[Note: Read 1 Corinthians 7. This chapter has much interesting information.]

Questions

 

1. It is possible to use the Bible in the wrong way. The *Pharisees often did this. They would use one passage in the Bible to oppose another passage. In this way, they could avoid the demands of God’s word. People today can think about all the difficult passages that are in the Bible. They will often discuss them. But they do not obey God’s demands. Have you ever done this?

2. Think about marriage. Think about divorce. And think about when people marry again in our time. What do you learn about this subject in your church? Does it agree with this part of the Bible?

3. Jesus was ready to say when people’s ideas were wrong. Can you do this too? What ideas would Jesus say are wrong in our time? Christians must say these things now, instead of Jesus. Are you ready to say these things?

Important truths

 

Divorce and remarriage

There are many different ideas about this subject. They come from this passage. They also come from other passages that are in the Bible. We cannot print them all. But here are some main points.

The Bible is very clear about two things. First, God meant marriage to last for the whole of life. Second, God hates divorce. (Read Genesis 2:24 with Malachi 2:16.)

However, the Bible also shows that marriages do fail. This is because of the effects of *sin. It seems that divorce is sometimes possible. (Read Deuteronomy 24:1.) But Jesus’ words in 19:9 are very strong. Someone might marry again before the death of the former partner. But this would be like the *sin called ‘adultery’. (This means sex between a married person and someone who is not the partner.)

There are three main questions to discuss:

►  What are the reasons for divorce? In one way, there are none. Nobody has a right to get a divorce. Yet, the Bible allows divorce. But it is not clear for what reasons the Bible would allow it. There are three ideas about reasons for a divorce. First, there is the adultery of the other partner. (This is when one partner in a marriage has sex with someone else.) Or, one partner may leave the other partner. 1 Corinthians 7:15 refers to this. Another reason for divorce may include other *sexual *sins. Lastly, some people say that the Bible does not give specific reasons for a divorce. They say that a person and their minister (pastor) must decide. They should do this when the marriage fails completely.

►  Can a person marry again? Most Christians would agree that it is possible to marry again. (But many of them may feel that it is not always a good idea!) Some people believe that there is only one reason to marry again. That should be after the death of the former partner. Other people think something else. It is this. Divorce means that a person can marry again. (They may agree that the Bible’s way is the best way. So it could mean that the marriage would be wrong. But these people still feel that the couple can marry again.)

►  What do the words mean? There are different ideas. This is because it is hard to know exactly what the Bible teaches. We cannot discuss all of the difficulties here. But they should help us not to be sure that we are always right. We should be generous to those who do not agree with us too. There is another important point. This matter is very painful to some people. This is because it affects them in a personal way. We must always think about how they feel.

Matthew 19:13–30

*Salvation and how to find it

 

Jesus talked to the people again. He reminded them how to enter his *kingdom. They must accept Jesus’ rule. Their possessions, too, must be available for Jesus to use.

 

Jesus is the friend of children (verses 13–15)

This short passage is a lovely one. In those days, people did not think that children had any worth. People often neglected children. But Jesus welcomed them. Then he used the situation, as he often did. He showed more about the nature of his *kingdom.

In 18:1–13, Jesus emphasised different values. There were the values of his *kingdom. Children have a simple trust. People must ‘become like little children in their minds’ (18:3). They must be humble, like a child (18:4). But also there were the values of people who did not believe in him. Their values were very different.

In this passage, Jesus could be talking to members of his *kingdom. They must be like children in their attitudes. So, there could be a reference to the way that people deal with them. They must be ready for people to deal with them badly. They must be ready to be like a servant.

Jesus spoke to those who were rich (verses 16–30)

Jesus continued his final journey. He was on his way to Jerusalem city. He used every chance to teach important lessons. Jesus talked to a rich young man. Jesus showed the way to enter his *kingdom. Two words describe how to enter his *kingdom. They are trust and obey. This is what everyone must do. Each person must trust Jesus and they must obey Jesus. That is the way to have *salvation.

The young man who came to Jesus was rich. He was a man with honour. He was an honest, good man. He was attractive too. (Read Mark 10:21.) He was a local leader. (Read Luke 18:18.) He had many advantages. But he was still not satisfied. He felt that he did not have a right relationship with God (verse 16). Because he had this sense of need, he ran to Jesus. (Read Mark 10:17.)

Jesus’ talk with the young man teaches us two things. The young man believed that he could cause God to be pleased with him. But he thought that he could do this by his own efforts. He had tried very hard. But he still did not feel at peace. Jesus told him that effort is never enough. To please God, he must have complete trust in him. He must put Jesus first in his life. He must follow Jesus (verse 21).

The whole book of Matthew emphasises this. Only Jesus’ death can deal with the problem of *sin. Any personal effort must fail. The young man’s reaction to Jesus was very, very sad. His money was most important to him. So he did not follow Jesus (verse 22). Jesus’ demands were too great for him. This meant that the young man remained unhappy.

Read verses 23–26 again. In each century, people have had the same idea about this passage. They suggest that Jesus was describing something that was very hard. But Jesus was clearly speaking about something that was impossible. The *disciples understood this (verses 25–26). We must learn about the beliefs of *Jews at that time. Then it will become even clearer. Today, we tend to think that God loves poor people specially. But in the first century, it was the opposite. Then, people thought that a person’s wealth and success was important. These things showed that God was pleased with them. That was what people thought then.

Jesus emphasised that even a rich man could not save himself. This showed that nobody could ever earn *salvation by personal effort. Then Jesus continued. What is impossible for humans is possible for God. God can do all things. It does not matter how rich we are. And it does not matter how important we are (verse 30). We do not earn *salvation. We receive it as a gift from God.

Jesus demanded much from the young man. But Jesus did not want people to have the wrong idea about *salvation. It does not mean that life will be hard all the time. *Salvation gives us many joys in this life (verse 29). Then there is the life that is future. There will be more than anyone could want or imagine then (verse 28).

Questions

 

1. What possessions should I keep for my family and for me? What proportion should I give away? How does this passage help?

2. The Christian gospel means Good News. Jesus showed that there are demands and there are joys. How could the members of the church explain these things to people? Some people do not think very seriously at all. Other people think very seriously. They could feel that they must give away everything. How could you help both of these groups?

3. What things stop your neighbours and friends from following Jesus today? How much do possessions take God’s place in their lives?

Matthew 20:1–19

God is king. He gives *grace.

 

Importance and wealth are not important to God. A person’s service for God does not earn God’s good opinion. God deals with people by *grace alone.

 

From 16:5, Jesus had been teaching his *disciples more than he taught the other people. He was teaching his *disciples what they should be like. He emphasised what sort of *Messiah he was.

Two incidents happened before this *parable. In 19:13–15, the *disciples sent away young children. The *disciples thought that Jesus would not have time for children. Then, in 19:16–29, Jesus talked about two things. They were wealth and importance. God does not deal with people by these things.

Then there was the *parable in this passage. After that, two events showed the real meaning of the *parable. In 20:17–19, Jesus emphasised that he must suffer. He said that people would laugh at him. They would deal badly with him. He would die. Then there was the event in 20:20–28. People must not join God’s *kingdom for the wrong reasons. They should not become members for the benefits that they could get. They should not want an important place in the *kingdom. Jesus emphasised this. He repeated the same statement. (Read 19:30 and 20:16.) God’s way of doing things is often the opposite of people’s ways.

The people who first heard Jesus would understand his story well. The situation that he described was a familiar one. Many poor men would have been just like the men in the story. They, too, would be desperate to do a day’s work.

But Jesus ended the story in an unusual way. (Read verses 8–15.) Jesus wanted those who heard him to realise certain things. God was the owner of the land in the story. His *kingdom was the business that he described. (This was popular *OT language. Read Psalm 80:8–19; Isaiah 1:8; 5:1–8; Jeremiah 12:10.) When we realise this, the meaning of Jesus’ *parable is clear. God is fair to all the members of his *kingdom. He is also very generous. This is because God does not deal with us as we deserve. He deals with men and women by *grace.

Now Matthew reminds us of something that is awful. The master had been very generous to his workers. He had dealt so well with them. But he himself must suffer in a terrible way. He was going to die for them.

Jesus, the saviour who suffers

(Note: A saviour is someone who saves.)

Jesus had already said what would happen to him. Twice, he said that he must die. But then he would come back to life again. (Read 16:21 and 17:22–23.) Here, he gave his *disciples more details. (Read 20:17–19.) He explained just how much he would suffer. His closest friends would not be loyal to him. The leaders would not be fair to him. People would insult him. He would suffer great shame. Then he would die in great pain.

The ‘son of the living God’ (16:16) was speaking. He was telling about all the terrible things that would happen to him. This was wonderful! Yet, this passage did not emphasise the special way that Jesus must suffer. (Compare 27:46.) At this time, Jesus wanted his *disciples to understand something. It was this. At least in part, what he suffered was an example for them. Like him, they must expect their bodies to feel weak. They would be extremely tired. They would experience pain. They would be sad. They might even die because they followed him.

To be a *disciple of Jesus is never easy. All people suffer hard things in life. Some people think that a Christian will not have hard things. But this is not true. There will even be extra troubles for real *disciples. But the end of verse 19 speaks about a reward. Jesus would suffer. But he would then get a reward. It would be the same for all his *disciples, in every age.

Questions

 

1. Imagine that you are one of the people in the *parable. Whom do you identify with easily? What feelings does the story give you?

2. Think about the members of your church as a society. Would they be willing to share in what Jesus suffered? Other churches or people could be models. Your church group could get good ideas from them. Can you think of any examples of this?

3. You may think that the master in the story was not fair. Some of the men had worked all day. Other men had done hardly any work. But he gave the same wage to everyone. Can you explain why God would act like this? Pretend that you are talking to someone. He says that we cannot know that God even exists. He also tries to get rights for all workers. What could you say to him?


Matthew 20:20–34

The surprise

 

Jesus wants his *disciples to serve other people. They must not give orders to people all the time.

 

‘Who is the greatest in the *kingdom of heaven?’ The *disciples asked Jesus this question. (Read 18:1–5.) Jesus did not give a direct answer. Instead, Matthew recorded several incidents in Jesus’ life. He gave examples of Jesus’ teaching too. These things showed what ‘citizens of the *kingdom’ should be like. Then this passage gave a clear answer to the earlier question.

In the previous chapters, Jesus taught things about real *disciples. They:

·          welcome people who do not seem to have any worth (18:1–9).

·          care about the least important *disciple (18:10–14).

·          try to help another *disciple who *sins (18:15–20).

·          do not claim their rights; but

·          show the *mercy that God has shown to them. They do this by their behaviour (18:21–35).

·          obey Jesus’ words (19:1–30).

·          are glad when other people receive *mercy.

·          do not feel that they deserve more (20:1–16).

·          follow Jesus’ example in all things (20:17–19).

Think about all these things. Then what Jesus said will not be a surprise. Nobody else has ever taught the things that Jesus taught. He had already said much. So people should have expected his teaching here. People use human methods and human standards to make themselves great. (Read 20:24–25.) But they cannot become great in God’s *kingdom in that way. (Read verse 26a.) Those who follow Jesus must be different.

James, John and their mother did not understand this. (Read verses 20–22.) The mother’s request for her sons was natural. They were Jesus’ special friends (17:1). They may have been cousins of Jesus too. (Compare 27:56 with Mark 15:40 and John 19:25. These verses have an interesting idea. Salome may have been the mother of James and John. She would also be a sister of Jesus’ mother.) In Jesus’ time, it would be right to make use of relatives in that way.

But Jesus completely refused to agree with that idea. Instead, he referred to his own example. He served humbly. That is what it still means to be really great. (Read verses 27 and 28 especially.) For James, this would mean that he would die for Jesus. (Jesus suggested this in verse 23.) John would have to go far away from his friends and family. The authorities would send him to an island called Patmos. (Read Revelation 1:9.) All the *disciples would suffer in some way. Their daily life would include hard discipline. There would be difficult circumstances. Their work with people would often make them sad too.

The humble *Messiah who suffers

Up to this time, Jesus had not wanted people to know that he was the *Messiah. (Read 16:20.) But now, he was going to Jerusalem city for the last time (20:18). So Jesus would not keep things secret any more. He had spoken about certain things. Now the time had come for them to happen.

The blind men called him ‘the son of David’. This was a *Jewish title for the *Messiah. Jesus accepted the title. *Jews believed that the *Messiah would do *miracles. This belief came from the *OT. Here, Jesus did a *miracle. It confirmed the *OT *prophecies about him. (Read Isaiah 29:18 and 35:5, 6.)

So, Jesus accepted the title, *Messiah. Then he did a *miracle that proved it. He really was the *Messiah. But he showed what sort of *Messiah he had come to be. The title ‘son of David’ had a special meaning in Jesus’ time. The *Romans ruled the *Jews at that time. So the *Jews thought that the *Messiah would bring them national freedom. He would give the *Jews freedom from the *Romans.

But Jesus wanted them to think about another part of *Messiah’s work. So he did a *miracle. Isaiah (35:5) had promised it many years before. Isaiah told about that other part of Jesus’ work too. It was much greater than to give sight to blind men. But the *Jews had neglected that other part. It was that the *Messiah would suffer.

Matthew emphasised that Jesus felt pity and sympathy (20:34). This was like the ‘servant who suffers’ in Isaiah. (Read Isaiah 42:1–4 and 52:13–53:12.) Isaiah described someone who would die. He would cancel the effects of *sin. Jesus was showing that *Messiah would not save the *Jews from the *Romans. He would save men and women from the effects of their *sin. (Read Matthew 20:28.)

In the Bible, ‘sight’ was often a sign. It described spiritual sight. Jesus gave the blind men physical sight. Then they followed Jesus. Matthew thought that this meant something. The word ‘follow’ sometimes had a religious meaning. It described what a *disciple should do.

So, people received spiritual sight from the *Messiah. Then they must follow Jesus. They must show the same love for people that Jesus showed for them. Their love must not be selfish. That love must show very much pity and sympathy too.

Questions

 

1. Read Matthew 20:20–28 again. Think about specific situations in your life. They could be at home, at school or at college. They could be at work. Or maybe you have no work. They could be at church too. How could the teaching in these verses help you?

2. How could the members of your church be ‘servants’ in society? Think about specific things that you could all do.

3. There are many social needs. They are national and international. How much should Christians do about these needs? First, answer this question about yourself. Then, think about the members of your church.

Matthew 21:1–17

The Son of David claims what belongs to him.

 

Jesus entered Jerusalem. He was like a king who had won a battle. What happened there showed something. And what happened in the *Temple showed it too. These events showed who Jesus is. He is a *prophet, a priest and a king.

 

There was a large crowd of people. They were all going to Jerusalem. Every year, there was a great religious event there. The *Jews remembered the time when God had saved them. They had been slaves in Egypt. But God had brought them out of Egypt. (The book of Exodus describes this time. Read Exodus chapter 12 especially.)

Many people who were in the crowd would have known Jesus well. But they began to recognise something. There was a mystery about him too. So they asked the question: ‘Who is this?’ It was not the first time that they had asked that question. (Compare 8:27.)

The answer (verse 11) was not complete. But it was correct. They may have been thinking about a passage that was in the *OT. It was Deuteronomy 18:14–19. It had the promise that a very special *prophet would come. People must ‘listen to him’. His words would be the words of God. He was called the *prophet.

But Jesus was more than a *prophet. This passage suggests that Jesus was (and is) a king too. ‘Son of David’ was a *Jewish title. *Jews were sure that it referred to the *Messiah. And the *Messiah would also be their king. (Read 20:29–34.) They expected him to be a peaceful ruler, like Solomon (verse 5).

There was a *Jewish tradition. It was when a royal person was coming. The people would spread branches of trees on the road. It happened at another time too. People spread their clothes for Jehu to stand on. (Read 2 Kings 9:13.) This was when they were making him king. Verse 5 repeats Zechariah 9:9. Verse 10 of that passage speaks about a king who would rule the world.

Matthew emphasised all these things. They show what he believed. It was this. Jesus was the *Messiah. He was also king of the *Jews. There is something interesting about the Mountain of Olives too (verse 1). *Jews believed that it had a connection with the *Messiah. (Read Zechariah 14:4, 9, 12–19.) They expected the *Messiah to come from there. He would ‘be king over all the earth’. Then he would punish the nations who were against the *Jews.

He who will come will be the *Lord (God) himself. The book of Zechariah makes this clear. This is similar to many other *OT passages. Sometimes the *Messiah is different from the *Lord (God). At other times, he is the same person as the *Lord (God). Matthew showed the great mystery about Jesus. He is God and he is man!

Proper and false religion

The priests and the teachers of the *Law had many advantages. They were the religious leaders in ancient Israel. They were responsible for the *Temple. God had said that he would live there. (Read 1 Kings 6:1, 2, 9–14; 8:10–29.) These leaders could go to the *Temple at any time. They had studied God’s word. Their job was to teach that word.

The job of these religious leaders was special. But they had no respect for God’s house. They refused to obey his word. (Compare Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. Verse 13 repeats words from both of these *OT verses.) They studied God’s word eagerly. But they did not know its real meaning. One such verse was Malachi 3:1. Jesus had come. They should have known that the verse referred to him. But they did not know. There was a great contrast between these religious leaders and another group of people.

This other group of people could not go into the *Temple. They were the blind people. It was the same for people who could not walk. Religious leaders made this rule. They repeated some words from the *OT. (Read Leviticus 21:18–21.) But they left out the next verse (22). These people could not serve in God’s house. But they could share in its benefits. The leaders used a tradition too. (Read 2 Samuel 5:6–8.)

There were also children. They had little importance in the religion of that time. (Read 19:13–15.) These three groups came to Jesus in the *Temple. They began to experience good things. (Read verses 14 and 15.) They were things that God had promised. They would happen when *Messiah came. (Read Isaiah 35:5, 6.) So, these people came to Jesus. But the chief priests and teachers were not like them at all. These leaders were very angry with Jesus.

Something important happened. Jesus ‘left them’ (verse 17). In *OT times, the *glory of God left God’s people too. (First, God’s *glory came in 1 Kings 8:10–11. Then the *glory left in 1 Samuel 4:12–22.) Jeremiah 7:13–14 and 26:4, 6 refer to this time in the city called Shiloh. God said that he would have to do the same thing again. The people refused to listen. So God had to let the enemy destroy the *Temple. This happened in 587 B.C. (Note: B.C. means Before Christ.) The book of Ezra tells how the *Jews rebuilt the *Temple. Now Jesus went away from the *Temple. He left the leaders. So God’s *glory was no longer present. They must have God’s punishment instead.

Questions

 

1. You can know the truth. But you may not recognise its real meaning. Can you think about ways in which this might happen? Think about the religious activities in your life. Does Jesus seem to be absent from any of them?

2. We agree that Jesus is King. Think about your church’s ideas. Think about what its members do. Whose opinion is most important? Is it the opinion of the leaders? Is it the opinion of the members? Or does Jesus’ opinion come first? Think of some examples.

3. What exactly did Jesus not like in the *Temple? Should we ever follow his example? What things would Jesus not like in churches today? What can we do to change them?

Matthew 21:18–27

Jesus shows his authority.

 

False religion produces no ‘fruit’. (There are no spiritual results.) It must have the *judgement of God. Jesus suggested that his authority came from God.

 

Jesus told the *fig tree that it would never have fruit again. This action was a sign. Jesus was showing that false religion must receive God’s *judgement. This event was in the month of April. *Fig trees would not have either leaves or fruit at this time. On this occasion, Jesus saw a tree that had leaves. But it had no fruit.

This was like the religious leaders. They wanted people to notice them. But there were no spiritual results in their lives. The day before, they had been angry with Jesus. (Read 12:15.) Jesus seemed to be comparing them with the *fig tree. Only real religion pleases God. Religion must have spiritual results.

The *fig tree died at once. The *disciples noticed this. So, they asked Jesus about it. Jesus answered their question with some teaching. He spoke about one of the marks of real religion. It is prayer with *faith. (Read verses 21–22.)

Read Jesus’ words that are in verses 21–22. We must be very careful how we explain them. Often, people do not understand them correctly. These people say that Christians must have enough *faith. Then they can ask God for anything and God will give it to them. But this may not happen. Then some believers feel that it is their fault. They must not have had enough *faith. So they feel upset.

Jesus spoke about something that was impossible for humans. He did not mean us to follow his exact words. Jesus does not suggest that we must do it by ourselves. We cannot increase our own *faith by hard work. More *faith would not help us to have anything that we want.

We must look at what the whole Bible teaches. It teaches that God has all authority and power. He controls everything. There is another point. It is about the word ‘doubt’ in verse 21. It does not mean to be unsure about something. It means that God has shown something clearly. And people still refuse to believe him. That is doubt.

So, to have *faith is to trust God completely. We should pray with this sort of *faith. Then impossible things can happen. This is because we are praying for what God wants. Jesus encourages us to have this kind of *faith.

Jesus wins against those who oppose him (verses 24–27)

This passage records a discussion. It was between Jesus and the religious leaders. By that time, there was plenty of evidence to show who Jesus was. Many *OT verses had come true in the previous few days. They were *OT verses that were about the *Messiah. They came true about Jesus. He healed the blind men. (Read 20:29–34.) Isaiah 35:5 came true. Then, Jesus entered Jerusalem city. He was like a king who had won a battle. (Read 21:1–11.) Zechariah 9:9 came true. Jesus cleared out the *Temple. (Read 21:12–13.) Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 described this event.

These and other similar events had happened. People had to believe two things. First, that Jesus’ words were special. (Read Matthew 7:28–29.) Also, that Jesus’ actions were special. (Read 8:27.) Slowly, men and women began to understand the truth. (Read 16:16.) But some people refused to believe the facts. We may not understand why these people were like this.

The chief priests and the teachers of the *Law asked Jesus a question. (Read verse 23.) But they did not really want an answer to it. It was a reasonable question to ask. But what followed showed something. It showed that their question was unfair. Jesus could have said that his authority came from God. Then they would have accused him of ‘blasphemy’. This was a terrible *sin. It was when someone claimed to be God. Also, Jesus could have refused to answer the question. But this would make Jesus’ *disciples doubt him.

Jesus was wise. He knew what the religious leaders were trying to do. So he asked them a question instead! Their reaction showed what they were like. They seemed to have an interest in the truth. But it was false. (Read verses 25–26.) Jesus showed that the religious leaders were proud. They wanted people to accept their authority. They only cared about themselves. So they were unable to see the facts. The evidence about Jesus was there. But they could not believe it.

The whole story is funny. But it is very sad too. The religious leaders were behaving foolishly. They should have known the difference between true and false *prophecy. That was part of their job. But they had to admit that they could not do their job (verse 27). So, they could not judge Jesus’ work either.

Questions

 

1. You believe the Christian message. People may tell you that this is stupid. What things in this passage would encourage you?

2. People or the members of a church can say that they ‘know God’. What does that mean?

3. Religious people often like official religion. (This means that they obey all the rules. But its real meaning does not affect them.) What is the reason for this? It has advantages. What are they? It has dangers too. What are they?


Matthew 21:28–22:14

Advantages and responsibility

 

Some people claim to be religious. But they do not live for Jesus. These people do not belong to God’s *kingdom.

 

There are three stories in this passage. It is another series of *parables. Jesus told the *parables about the religious leaders. They followed on from what Jesus had just said. (Read 21:23–27.) Jesus showed the leaders that they were like blind guides. They could not recognise truth that was clear.

Yes and no (verses 28–32)

The first *parable contrasted two groups. They were the religious leaders and the ‘*sinners’. The leaders said that they were loyal to God. They wanted to obey his word. But this did not happen when John the *Baptist came. (Read verse 25.) John had God’s message. But the leaders refused to follow him. So, their talk was good. They had many ceremonies. But these things did not mean anything really.

But there were the ‘*sinners’. They had refused to obey God’s word in the past. (Their lives showed this clearly.) But they heard John’s message gladly. They wanted to follow Jesus. These ‘*sinners’ had good reactions both to John and to Jesus. But this did not please the religious leaders. The result was that the ‘*sinners’ were entering the *kingdom of God. And the religious leaders did not enter the *kingdom of God.

An impossible ambition (verses 33–45)

This is the second *parable. It probably comes from a real situation. This sort of thing happened in ancient Israel. Owners of property there often lived far away from it. People would pay rent for the property or business. In this story, it was a fruit farm for grapes (a small fruit). The owner would expect to receive a share of the profits. In Jesus’ day, this situation was very unpopular. So people were interested in the subject.

In the story, the owner sent his servants to get his share of the harvest. The farmers attacked them and killed one of them. The owner sent more servants. But the same thing happened. He even sent his son. But they killed him too.

Jesus explained the meaning of the story. The owner was God himself. The fruit farm for grapes was the *kingdom of God. (Note: This picture language was in the *OT too. Read Isaiah 5:1–7.) The farmers meant the religious leaders in Jesus’ time. The servants were the *prophets. The son was Jesus. So, the lesson was clear. The *Jewish leaders would lose their part in the *kingdom of God. This was because they had refused to accept the *prophets. (John the *Baptist was the last of the *prophets.) The *Jewish leaders were planning to kill Jesus too.

Jesus was teaching important truths in this story. We can be citizens of God’s *kingdom. This is a very great advantage. But there are responsibilities too.

There are three responsibilities here. First, a Christian should live a good life (verse 43). This is like a tree that should have fruit (verse 34b). Next, Christians must hear God’s word. And they must act on God’s word. We must not be like the farmers in Jesus’ story (verses 34–39). Lastly, Christians must believe Jesus’ words (verse 42). This is like ‘building’ upon Jesus. Jesus speaks about a danger too. It is to refuse to believe God’s word. It is to refuse to accept God’s Son. To do this will bring *judgement (verse 41).

Ungrateful guests (22:1–14)

This *parable is really three stories in one story. Verses 1–7 tell the story of an invitation to a royal wedding big meal. The guests whom the king invited did not want to go to it. He asked them again. But they still refused to come. Verses 8–10 tell how all sorts of people came to the big meal. Verses 11–14 tell the incident about the guest who did not wear wedding clothes. These three stories were describing the *kingdom of heaven (verse 2).

  Verses 1–7. The king is God himself. The big meal is for the *Messiah. It will happen at the end of time. The servants are the *prophets. The previous *parable suggested this. But the *prophets may include John, Jesus and the *disciples. The story is about three things. First, there is God’s patience. There are many chances to enter God’s *kingdom.

Next, there were the people who refused the king’s invitation. They were too busy, because they were doing other things. (These things were not wrong. But they were not as important.) But there was something more serious. They completely refused to accept the authority of the man who sent the invitation. So, there must be *judgement for them.

It is hard to explain such behaviour. The invitation was to a royal wedding. Most people would never refuse a chance like that! There is more. In the ancient world, any wedding was a happy occasion. Of course, a royal wedding was extra special. Most people’s lives were very dull. So, a wedding would give them a chance to enjoy something.

  Verses 8–10. Some people lost their right to attend the wedding big meal. So, all sorts of men and women were there instead. They would know that they did not deserve to be there. It will be the same at the end of the world.

  Verses 11–14. The details are not clear at first. There was a custom in Jesus’ time. It was to offer special clothes to guests at a wedding. One person seems to have refused this gift. Jesus was teaching that all are welcome to attend the big meal. They could be ‘bad people’. But they must accept the way that God does things. Otherwise, they would be as bad as those who refused the invitation. Verse 14 probably emphasised this idea.

The message of the *parable is clear. Most of the *Jews refused God’s invitation again and again. (This was especially true about the leaders.) It was a wonderful invitation. So it is hard to explain why the *Jews would refuse it. Other people would accept the invitation. But these non-*Jews must do two things. They must come to Jesus. And they must be willing to do what God wants.

Questions

 

1. Think about times when you have said ‘Yes’ to something that is good. Then you have decided against it. Now, think about times when you have said ‘No’. Then you have changed your mind. Make two lists. If the second list is longer, thank God!

2. The *Jewish leaders thought that they had the right to have all of God’s benefits. Can people who are in churches today be like them? What should these people be like?

3. God has given the world to men and women. He wants them to look after it. If this is true, Christians should set an example. How can we do this?

4. God has an invitation for people today. Many of them make excuses not to accept it. Make a list of the reasons that they give. How can we make the invitation more attractive? (But we must show that it is a serious matter too.)

Matthew 22:15–46

Choose what is most important.

 

Jesus gave 4 examples of how to put God first.

 

God or the state (verses 15–22)

The religious leaders did not want people to be Jesus’ disciples. They wanted to stop them. Jesus’ *parables made the leaders even more sure that they must stop them (verse 15). Again, the leaders asked Jesus a question that was unfair. (Compare 21:23–27.) The *Romans were the people who ruled the *Jews at that time. The *Romans did not know the real God. Some *Jews thought that it was wrong to pay any taxes to the *Romans. It could be dangerous for Jesus if he agreed with these *Jews. But he might say that it was right to pay taxes to the *Romans. Then the *Jewish people probably would not like this. And he would not be so popular with them.

(Note: There is more about the Romans in the Word List.)

Jesus gave a very clever answer. There is God and there are the political leaders. Both are responsible for different matters. So, it is not a matter of choosing one or the other. Jesus said that people must give the right honour to each of them.

Christians today have hard situations. It can be difficult to obey Jesus’ teaching. But the principles that Jesus taught are clear. Later, the apostles emphasised them too. (Note: Read More Explanation for Matthew 10:1–4.) Now read Romans 13:1–2. There, Paul taught that we must obey the authorities of the state. Then he emphasised that Christians must be good citizens. (Read Romans 13:6–7.) Paul also encouraged Christians to pray for political leaders. (Read 1 Timothy 2:1–2.)

Sometimes people make the Bible mean what they want it to mean (verses 23–33).

There were different religious ideas in the time of Jesus. The *Pharisees had their ideas. They asked Jesus a question in the previous section. But it was really an unfair question. In these verses, the *Sadducees asked Jesus a question. But it was an unfair question too. The *Sadducees often argued with the *Pharisees about this matter. So they tried to make Jesus agree with them. But they just wanted to cause trouble for Jesus.

The *Pharisees believed that a person’s dead body would come back to life. This would happen on the ‘last day’. But the *Sadducees refused to believe that. This was because they did not find it in the books of Moses. (These were the first 5 books of the *OT.) They used Deuteronomy 25:5–6 and Genesis 38:8 for their question. They did not want to know the truth. They just wanted Jesus to look foolish.

But Jesus repeated from one of those 5 books of Moses. The truth that they denied was there too. Jesus referred to Exodus 3:6. The *Lord is the living God. His goodness to men does not end when they die. God had promised good things to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So, Jesus was saying that there must be life after death. Only then could these three men share in those good things.

In *OT times, God dealt with the whole of a person. It was not just a person’s body. It was not just a person’s mind. So, God’s promises were for the body too. This meant that when a person died, it was not the end. His or her body would come back to life. (But note something here. The *Pharisees believed that the dead body, as it was, would return to life. Jesus did not believe that.)

The *Sadducees read the Bible. But they did not ‘think God’s thoughts’ about it. They had not listened to what God’s word actually meant. They kept their own opinions when they read the Bible. They did not have a right understanding of God either. (Read verse 29b-30.) This was part of their problem.

The *Sadducees should have believed that God was really God. Then, it would have been easy to believe that he could make dead people live. They were able to think about the future. But it was only as it related to their present experience. But they should have believed that God is really God.

We can understand the *Sadducees in one way. Then, nobody had come back to life and never died again. But we cannot have that same excuse. Jesus came back to life very many years ago. And he is still alive today. The evidence is very strong. But people still refuse to believe the truth.

Love God and love your neighbour (verses 34–40).

In this passage, Jesus answered a most important question. It is: ‘How can I please God?’ The *Pharisees often discussed this question. The *OT records 613 different laws. (248 laws encouraged people to do certain things. 365 laws were against certain other actions.) There were so many laws from which to choose. It was hard to know which were the most important laws.

At first, it seemed that Jesus thought the same as most of the *Pharisees. (Compare Luke 10:25–27.) But this cannot be true. The words of verse 40 show the difference. In verses 37–39, Jesus explained the importance of the two commands. All the *OT laws come from these two laws. The teachings of the *prophets come from them too.

We can explain what Jesus meant in this way. The *Pharisees thought that the laws were like many different bricks. Each brick (law) was separate. They did not relate to each other most of the time. But they thought that two bricks were larger than the other bricks (laws). These were the laws that are in verses 37–39. The *Pharisees felt that they could gain credit with God. They did this by obeying all the laws. But especially they obeyed the two great commands that were the most important ones.

But Jesus did not think like the *Pharisees. The two great commands were like the substance that stuck the bricks together. The two great commands made all the laws into something like a wall. Without that substance, the bricks were just a pile that had no use. So the two great commands set the standard. All the other commands came from them. Both the great commands were part of each other too. Love for God will show itself in love for other people. And real love for other people comes from real love for God.

David’s *Lord and our *Lord (verses 41–46)

God had promised to send the *Messiah. The *Jews believed that he would be David’s son. This belief came from two passages in the *OT. They are Isaiah 11:1, 10 and Jeremiah 23:5. (Jesse was David’s father.) There is much about the *Messiah in the *OT. But the religious leaders failed to look at all the teaching. They had a book called ‘The Psalms of Solomon’. It was one of their most famous books. It showed what they thought about the *Messiah. They thought that he would just be a national hero.

Jesus tried to teach them more from the *OT. He spoke about Psalm 110:1. This verse refers to *Messiah as more than just David’s son. The *Messiah is David’s *Lord and God. Jesus had already offended the *Jews by his claims. In this passage, Jesus referred to their *OT. The claims that Jesus made for himself were the same as for the *Messiah in the *OT. And if Jesus was David’s *Lord, then he was their *Lord too. So they ought to give honour to him.

Perhaps we cannot understand why Jesus spoke in this way. The religious leaders were against Jesus more and more. The previous two chapters of Matthew’s book showed this. Love for God and love for other people were vital. Jesus had emphasised this. (Read verses 34–40.) In this section, Jesus showed an example of that love. He offered something to those who opposed him. He offered knowledge of himself to them. This could make it possible for them to become his friends. This was what Jesus wanted.

After this time, Jesus spoke only to the crowds and to his *disciples. Soon, the religious leaders would leave. They would make plans to kill Jesus. He knew all about this. But, first, Jesus appealed to them in a loving way for the last time. He did not use force. He was gentle. He just wanted to lead them to the truth about himself. But the religious leaders did not want to know the truth. This was very sad. In chapter 26, they were sure that they must kill him.

Questions

 

1. I have not seen God. So how can I love him? I love other people. Is that the same as love for God? Can we separate these two loves? If we can, how can we do it?

2. What is the value in having a church that the state supports? Read verses 15–22. Does Jesus’ teaching help us to decide the answer to that question?

3. Some people say that they love other people. They think that this is enough. But they leave out part of the verse. The part speaks about love for God too. So, they are making the Bible mean what they want it to mean. Can you think of any other verses that people use in this way? First, make a list of your own favourite verses from the Bible. Is your own understanding of them correct?

Matthew 23:1–39

Be careful! There is false teaching where you are!

 

Jesus warned those who listened to him against false religion. It seemed to be correct. But it did not bring honour to God.

 

Matthew now recorded some of Jesus’ final teaching. (This is in chapters 23–25.) First, he spoke to the crowds (verse 23). Then he spoke to the *disciples (verses 24–25). Some people may know that they are going to die. They will choose their words carefully. Jesus knew that he would die soon. So, his talks here were most important. In this chapter, Jesus condemned the religious leaders. But he had a final appeal to the crowds too (verse 1).

In the first century, there were many religious systems. But Jesus was not speaking about false religion in this passage. He spoke about something that was more dangerous than that. It was to give the wrong meanings to true religion. That was what Jesus condemned.

There was the religion of the teachers and of the *Pharisees. It was often wrong. But some very sincere people tried to obey it. The many rules and regulations were often stupid. Only very religious people could have accepted them. The religion of the teachers and of the *Pharisees seemed to be very spiritual. It seemed to be about the right things. Its *disciples were very eager to be right. They were eager to do what was right too. So, the *OT was the most important thing for them.

But there was a danger in all this. The religious teachers and the *Pharisees had started right. Then they completely changed the true religion. It was hard to tell what was true and what was false. This is what Jesus talked about in the rest of the chapter.

Jesus suggested that this sort of religion was like a heavy load. It became just two long lists. There was a list called ‘Things that you must do’. There was another list called ‘Things that you must not do’. But this religion offered nothing that would make the load lighter. (Compare 11:28–30.) The teachers forced heavy loads on other people. But they found ways to avoid the load themselves.

There are people who have a religion like this. But these people have a wrong idea about the life that pleases God. (Read verses 5–11.) They want power and honour. They want people to respect and admire them. But Jesus gave a contrast. He spoke about the attitude of a real believer. A real believer is a servant of the Father in heaven. He or she is a servant of the *Messiah. (Read verses 9–10.) There should always be a humble attitude in every action.

Very bad trouble will come (verses 13–39)

In these verses, Jesus pointed out some wrong attitudes. He was speaking about the teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees. It was their wrong attitudes to God’s word. They were giving wrong meanings to true religion. This was what Jesus taught. In this way, they avoided God’s word. (Read verses 16–22.)

An oath (a strong promise) had a purpose. It should mean that people could trust the words that followed. The teachers explained God’s word. But they did it in a way that made it easy to tell lies!

At the time of Jesus, there was an important subject. It was about an oath (strong promise). *Jews often discussed when you must do what you had promised. But Jesus spoke about the important matter immediately. He reminded those who listened about the purpose of God’s laws. His laws in the *OT were there to protect the truth. But the religious leaders did not seem to care about this. They invented ways to make oaths that had no meaning.

Then Jesus spoke about the teachers of the *Law and the *Pharisees. Their ideas about what was important were all wrong. They obeyed all the rules of the *OT. But they forgot the principles of the rules. These principles explained the rules. (Read verses 23–24.)

True religion affects the whole person. (Read verses 25–28.) Jesus gave two examples of this fact. First, he mentioned how careful the religious leaders were. They obeyed all the rules about ceremonies. They washed in special ways. They did this to make themselves ‘clean’. But Jesus described what this was like. It was as if they had washed the outside of cups and dishes. But inside they were full of dirt. Jesus said that the religious leaders were like this. They obeyed all the rules. But they did not care about the need to be morally good. Jesus’ point is clear. There must be a change of attitudes. Otherwise, there can be no real change in a life.

The next example is in verses 27–28. It is similar to the first one. The *Jews buried dead people in special graves. They made the grave by cutting into the rocks. A large round stone would often cover the entrance. These graves could be anywhere. Religious people might touch them by mistake. This would make these people ‘dirty’. So, people would paint the graves white. This could make them look attractive on the outside. But, inside the grave there were bones of dead people. Jesus said that the religion of the false teachers might look attractive. But it did not deal with the bad attitudes of men and women.

There was more. (Read verses 29–36.) People whose religion had false ideas refused to listen to the truth. Jesus said that the religious leaders were like this. These leaders were proud. In the past, *Jews had behaved very badly. The religious leaders said that they would never have behaved like them. They were sure about this. In the past, *Jews had acted against God’s *prophets. The leaders thought that they would never behave like that. But, Jesus and his *disciples were speaking God’s word to these leaders. And their reactions were exactly the same. Jesus made this clear to the religious leaders.

Jesus had some difficult things to say. But he did not say them in an unkind way. His great desire was that the people would accept him. So, he called those who were listening to him. He called them to come to him. But he warned them too. If they refused, there would be *judgement for them. (Read verses 37–39.)

Questions

 

1. Other people can make religious demands on us. We can demand things from ourselves too. They can be things that Jesus does not ask from us. Why does this happen? Is it because of our consciences? Or is it because of what people might say? How can we escape from a false guilty feeling?

2. Christians must declare the full message of the gospel (the Good News about Jesus). It is Good News. But it includes the fact of *judgement. God must judge people who refuse to accept Jesus. How can we declare these truths in a gentle way? Should we ever speak like Jesus spoke in this passage?

3. Non-Christians think that religion is dull. They feel that it is not important in their lives. They also think that it is hard and unkind. The Bible would show them that their ideas are wrong. How can people who are in the church help them? How can they show them what true religion is like?


Matthew 24:1–14

We are waiting for Jesus to return.

 

Jesus knew what would happen in the future. He wanted to prepare his *disciples. So he described to them what would happen. Then they could be ready.

 

In this passage, the events were similar to some *OT events. Ezekiel 11:23 told how the *glory of the *Lord left the *Temple. It stopped on the Mountain of Olives for a short time. After this, the king of Babylon defeated the *Jews. He destroyed the *Temple.

Jesus spoke against the *Jewish religion of his own time. (Read chapter 23.) Then he, too, left the *Temple (24:1). He climbed the Mountain of Olives (24:3). He said that the enemy would destroy the *Temple. So, the same things would happen again. In *OT days, God gave the *Jews another chance. But this time there would be no second chance.

The *disciples thought that awful events like this could only have one meaning. The end of the world was coming soon. The *Jews in Jesus’ time thought that this was what it must mean. The *disciples’ two questions in verse 3 showed this. They asked when the enemy would destroy Jerusalem city. They also asked when the end of the age would happen. Jesus answered both questions.

Verses 4–14 seem to refer to an entire period. Jesus went back to heaven. And Jesus will return to this earth one day. The verses may refer to the time between these two events. Jesus had a warning for the *disciples. They must not expect him to return for the wrong reasons. (Read verses 4–8.) A person may try to persuade *disciples that a false thing is true. This happens today too. It is easy to agree with someone like that.

One day, Jesus will return to this earth. Jesus told his *disciples about some things that would warn them about that time. (Read verses 6–8.) These signs should help *disciples to be ready. The signs would be like the first pains when a woman gives birth. But there seems to be a problem. There have always been wars. There have always been famines. (These are times when there is no food. The usual cause is lack of rain.) There have always been earthquakes, (when the earth shakes). There would have to be more of these events today than there were before. But there is no evidence that this is true. So, it cannot just mean that these things would increase before Jesus returned.

The first sign that Jesus spoke about is in verse 5. He warned the *disciples that there would be ‘false Christs’. This has happened many times in the history of the church. At certain times, people have expected Jesus Christ to return very soon. So, some people have been ready to believe anyone who claimed to be ‘Christ’. Jesus was not speaking to non-Christians here. He was speaking to those who call themselves his *disciples. Jesus will return to this earth. He wants us to be ready all the time for this great event.

Until Jesus returns, his *disciples will have many troubles. (Read verses 9–13.) There is a warning in this passage. Hard times do not show that Jesus will return soon. Some people often suffer very much. This happens at every time in history. These people might expect Jesus to return to this earth. Then he would rescue them immediately. This thought would encourage them for a time. But Jesus might not come immediately. However, Jesus wanted to comfort them. Finally, Jesus would rescue them. They could be sure about that fact.

This does not ignore the facts today. Believers’ troubles will often be very serious. They could even die (verse 9). Non-Christians will deal with them very badly. But there will be something even worse. Many Christians will lose their *faith. They will not be loyal to each other. False *prophets will come too. They will cause many people to believe wrong things. (Read verses 10–12.) But some people will continue to be strong to the end. God will save them (verse 13).

There is another great sign for the future. It will show that the end of this age is near. Every nation will hear the Good News (verse 14). But this does not mean that the end would come immediately. Jesus is offering comfort and confidence to believers. Terrible events will happen in the world. Members of the church will suffer. There will be difficulties. But the *disciples’ task will succeed. The *disciples’ job is not to look for ‘signs’. Their job is to bring people to Christ from all over the world. (Read 28:18–20.)

Questions

 

1. Think about the fact that Jesus Christ will return to this earth. Does this promise make you happy? Or is it like a danger to you? Make a list of what you might lose on that great day. Then make a list of what you will gain. Why is it hard for some Christians to believe that Jesus will return?

2. Imagine something. You know that Jesus will return in a month’s time. What would you do? What would be different in your church?

3. People in this world are suffering. There are many wars. What could we say to these people about this passage?

Important truths

 

How to understand Jesus’ words

There are many ideas about the meaning of Matthew 24. Many of them are hard to understand. It would be impossible to describe them all here. Jesus seems to be answering two questions. First, when would the enemy destroy Jerusalem? Second, when would the end of the world come? So, we will just divide the chapter into three parts. This is the simplest method.

  Verses 4–14. This is a general warning. We must not try to decide the time when the world will end.

  Verses 15–35. Jesus tells about the time when enemies would destroy Jerusalem city.

  Verses 36–51. Jesus teaches about the time when he will return to this earth. He advises us to be ready all the time.

Matthew 24:15–35

The time when enemies will destroy Jerusalem city

 

Jesus warned about the time when enemies will destroy Jerusalem city. He gave practical advice to the people who would see it happen. He encouraged people who would live in the times after that event. He wanted them to take the Good News to everyone in the world.

 

In the *OT, Moses promised that God would send someone special. (Read Deuteronomy 18:18–19.) This person would speak for God. What he said about the future would happen. This would prove that he had come from God.

For a *Jew, one *prophecy just did not seem possible. It was that an enemy would destroy Jerusalem. Surely, that could not happen. Jerusalem was their capital city. God was there. Yet this is exactly what Jesus said would happen.

Jesus did not give many *prophecies while he was on earth. But he did give *prophecies about two events. First, there was his death. Second, there was the time when he would come back to life. This chapter contains almost all of the rest of the *prophecies. But the things that he said about Jerusalem were wonderful. And history proved that his words were correct. Some people have even said that his words were too exact. So, these people have an idea. They think that Matthew must have written his book after the events happened!

Jesus said when these events would happen. Some of the people who were listening to him would still be alive (verse 34). He was speaking in about *AD 30. In *AD 70, the *Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem. Most of what Jesus said in verses 15–26 is history. It is in official records. Nobody could tell about the future like this man! Jesus was not just a *prophet. He is called the Word in John 1:1–18. ‘The Word was God.’ Enemies did destroy Jerusalem. That showed that Jesus was right. He was, and he still is, the great King. People of all nations belong to his *kingdom. (Read verses 29–31.)

Jesus repeated several *OT verses in this passage. He repeated:

•     Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 in verse 29

•     Daniel 7:13–14 in verse 30a

•     Zechariah 12:10–14 in verse 30b. And, in verse 31, he used

•     Isaiah 27:13; Deuteronomy 30:4 and Zechariah 2:6. (This is clear in the *Greek translation of the *OT.)

These verses help us to understand Jesus’ words.

Questions

 

1. Many terrible things have happened to the *Jews. But they still exist. Does God still have a purpose for the *Jews today?

2. Jerusalem city has been very important in world history. Why do you think that this is true?

3. What things from this passage could encourage the members of your church? How safe can we expect to be in wars? How safe can we expect to be when there are earthquakes? (This is when the earth shakes.) Can we expect God to keep us physically safe?

More explanation

 

Josephus, a writer of history, tells about the time when enemies destroyed Jerusalem city.

The *Romans ruled the *Jews in Jesus’ time. (Note: The *Romans were the people from Rome. This was a great capital city.) The *Roman *Empire included the many countries that they ruled. In *AD 66 the *Jews decided to refuse their rule. Then a *Roman General, Titus, attacked Jerusalem. He destroyed the *Jews’ capital city in *AD 70.

Josephus lived from *AD 37 to *AD 100. One of his history books was called ‘the *Jewish War’. This book shows how accurate Jesus’ words were. (Note: Famine means that there is no food. This is often because of a lack of rain. But on this occasion, it was because of the *Romans. They would not allow any food to go into the city.)

Josephus wrote:

Then the famine got much worse. It destroyed all the people who were in houses. And it destroyed whole families. The upstairs rooms were full of women and children who were dying. The narrow roads of the city had many dead bodies of old people. Children and young men wandered about. They looked like shadows. They fell down dead.

It was not possible to bury them. The people who were ill could not do it. The people who were well enough did not do it. There were two reasons for this. First, the number of bodies was so great. Also, the healthy people did not know how soon they would die themselves. Many people died as they were burying other people. Many of them went to their coffins (boxes to hold bodies) before they actually died. Nobody cried. The famine stopped any natural feelings. Those who were about to die looked at the dead people with dry eyes and open mouths. There was a deep silence too. It seemed like night in the city. As every one of them died, they were looking at the *Temple.

Josephus also told the story of a woman. She killed and cooked her baby. He said that the *Romans were going to take things from the houses. But they found entire families of dead people. The upstairs rooms were full of dead bodies. These strong men had seen many ugly sights before. But they looked at this terrible sight. Then they left. And they did not touch anything.

The *Romans made 97 000 *Jews prisoners. But more than 110 000 *Jews died at that time.

Matthew 24:36–25:13

Jesus will come back to earth again. So be ready!

 

Jesus prepared his *disciples for his final return.

 

Jesus told his *disciples that the world would end (verse 35). He said that they (and we) must be ready for that time. (Read 24:36–44.) Then Jesus told them three *parables. The *parables emphasised his message to the *disciples. (Read 24:45–25:13.)

When Jesus comes for the second time, nobody will be expecting him. This was what Jesus said. Non-Christians will not be ready (verses 38–41). But it will be a surprise for believers (Christians) too (verse 44b). Jesus said that even he himself did not know when it would happen (verse 36).

This last fact is a mystery to Christians. Surely, Jesus would know, since he is God! Some Christians have even changed the *Greek text! But one thing is clear. We must never try to work out exactly when Jesus will return. It is of no use to do this. It also goes against God’s specific command. So, it would be a *sin.

We do not know when Jesus will return. So, we must be ready all the time. We must not guess about the date or the time when Jesus will return. Jesus himself warned us against this. So, to be ready does not mean to examine various signs. To be ready means that we will always be loyal to Jesus. We will continue the work that he gives us to do. Jesus told the story about two servants as an example of this. (Read 24:45–51.)

So, Christians must be good citizens. They must be good members of the church. They must tell other people the good news about Jesus too. These things are the Christian’s duties. They are his or her responsibilities. It is a very serious matter for Christians who refuse to do these things. (Read verses 48–51.) That does not mean that we can do things to earn our *salvation. But it does teach that real *salvation will have results. Real Christians will serve God. They will continue to serve God whatever happens. They will never allow things to stop them from serving God.

Jesus will come back to earth. Jesus emphasised this fact in verses 14, 35, 46 and 50. We can be certain about it. We must be ready for it.

Wise people and foolish people (25:1–13)

In Israel, a wedding was (and still is) a great occasion. All the people in the village would go with the married couple to their new home. They would often take the longest route. In this way, the couple could receive good wishes from more people!

A married couple would not go away from their home immediately after their wedding. They would stay at home. For a week, anybody could visit them. People dealt with them and spoke to them as if they were king and queen. But only their special friends went to the wedding. They waited for the couple to arrive at their new home. Often, the man (bridegroom) would delay his arrival. He wanted to see if he could find his guests asleep. So, he might arrive during the night. The guests must go out to meet him, whatever the time was. They would carry lamps if it were at night.

Jesus referred to this custom in his *parable. Jesus used the story to teach that:

  Many people would be waiting for him to return. They would all seem to be the same. Jesus’ story described 10 girls. They were all very excited as they waited for the bridegroom (the man who had just married).

  Many of those people would join the wedding. But 5 girls did not have enough oil for their lamps. Without oil, their lamps would go out. Those girls were foolish. They were just not ready. Jesus emphasised something that was of vital importance. It was this. His *disciples must be ready for him to return. They must continue to prepare for this time. They must be careful to do their duties and their tasks well.

►  The 5 foolish girls could not get oil from the other girls. In the same way, nobody can get real religion from someone else. The foolish girls could not attend the big meal. In the same way, when Jesus returns, some people will not be ready for him.

►  A time will come when it will be too late to change. It may happen suddenly, as it did for the girls.

This *parable gave a very simple word picture. It has a message for us today. Some people say that they are Christians. The *parable is a message to them. Jesus (our ‘bridegroom’) will return. We do not know when he will come. So, we must be sure that we are always ready.

Questions

 

1. In what ways are you getting ready for Jesus?

2. What are the main subjects for discussion in your church? What are the main disagreements about? Remember that the end of the world will come. How important will these things be then?

3. What will life be like in 2050 if Jesus has not returned by then? Should we be preparing for that time?

Matthew 25:14–30

Jesus wants us to serve him loyally.

 

All *disciples of Jesus are waiting for him to return. They should be working hard for Jesus. Then, when he comes, he will be pleased with them.

 

Jesus told the *parable in verses 1–13 so that we would always be ready. In this *parable, Jesus showed how to get ready. This story (verses 14–30) was about slaves. (Note: Some translations use the word ‘servant’. But the correct word is ‘slave’.) Their master owned them. So slaves had no rights of their own. The words ‘duties’ and ‘responsibilities’ described their lives.

Jesus reminded his *disciples that they were his slaves. This is not a popular idea today. But, to serve God is an important job. Jesus emphasised this in several ways in this passage.

First, the master was very generous. He decided that his slaves were capable. So he gave them a lot of responsibility. A talent was 6000 dinars. This was a very large sum of money. It could probably pay a worker’s wages for 20 years! But notice something in this story. A talent was the least amount of money that he gave to a slave.

The master gave the talents to his slaves for a purpose. He wanted them to use the money for him. The master returned from his journey (verse 19). He asked the slaves what they had done with his money. He had trusted his servants when he gave it to them. Now he expected that they would have made a profit from the money.

The truth that Jesus was teaching was simple. God gives gifts to all his *disciples. One of those gifts might be wealth. But God’s gifts might be things that we can do well. They could be skills or opportunities. God wants us to use each gift completely. This is how we can serve him.

In the story, two of the slaves pleased the master equally. This was because each one of them had done his best. So the master praised them both in the same way (verses 21, 23). Their effort was more important to the master than their results. Their master was very generous. So there was no excuse for being lazy. The first two slaves would have been very happy.

But there was another slave. An ancient law in Israel explains his action to us. If someone was looking after another person’s property, he would bury it immediately. Then he would not be responsible for it any more. He had done the safest thing. But he might just wrap it up in a cloth. If he lost it, he would receive a punishment. So, this slave was doing the safest thing. He just wanted to protect himself. Jesus was showing that this slave did not care about his master. He did not want to serve his master. This slave just wanted to do the least amount of work that was possible.

But the safe way caused very bad trouble for the slave. (Read verses 26–30.) Jesus’ words showed the story’s full meaning. Jesus was speaking about the final *judgement. He spoke very clearly about this. There will be people who say that they are his *disciples. But they have shown no desire to serve him. They have not used the gifts that God has given to them. They have just wanted to be sure that they did not go to hell. But at the time of *judgement, they will find that they are in that place.

Questions

 

1. The Bible describes a believer (Christian) as a ‘slave’ of God. What is your reaction to this title?

(Note: Slaves could often act from their own ideas. They could make their own decisions. Their responsibilities were often great too.)

2. God has given gifts to all the members of your church. Are they using the gifts that God has given to them? How do the leaders encourage them to do this?

3. Non-Christians think that believers are just trying to ‘save their *souls’. Or they think of them as people who do good things. What are our reactions to these ideas?

Matthew 25:31–46

Serve God in ordinary activities

 

Real service for God is humble service just where we are.

 

Jesus appealed to his *disciples:

•           to be ready (24:42)

•           to be expecting him to come (25:1–13)

•           to serve him (25:14–30).

This shows the sort of service that Jesus wants from his *disciples.

Jesus used the same ideas that Daniel had used. (Read Daniel 7:13–14.) Jesus described a throne. (This is a king’s special chair.) Jesus will judge everyone (verses 31–32). This *judgement will divide all people into two groups. It will depend on what they have done in their lives.

This story did not mention *sins. God did not condemn one group of people because of their *sins. He condemned them because of duties that they had neglected. (Read verses 41–43.)

Experts in the study of the Bible have an idea. A person can obey God by avoiding acts of *sin. Or, that person can obey God in a definite way. He or she can try to do all the things that would please God. This was what Jesus seemed to be saying here. All Jesus’ real *disciples should love people who are in need. Jesus still expects this (verses 37–39).

In ancient Israel, it was hard to tell the difference between sheep and goats. It is the same with Jesus’ *disciples. They may seem to be very like each other. But on the *Judgement Day he will show the truth. Some people have really served him. Other people have just said that they serve him. Look carefully at sheep and goats. They are very different. It is the same with the real *disciple and the false *disciple. Look carefully at them. They are very different too.

Jesus spoke about normal things, like when people are hungry and *thirsty. He did this for a good reason. He did not talk about the very great problems of the world. He knew that most of his *disciples could not solve them. So he spoke about things that happen every day. We must serve him in the way that we live every day.

People who live like this are special to Jesus. Jesus emphasised this. Small things that people do for him get big rewards (verse 34). We may only do a very small thing to help other people. But it is the same as if we did it for Jesus. That is what Jesus said (verse 40). But there was more. Only this sort of behaviour will please him. This does not mean that God saves us because of what we do. But, when we serve God humbly, it proves our *salvation. The opposite is true for those who fail to serve God humbly. It proves their sad end (verse 46).

Questions

 

1. What can you do today to serve Jesus? Do you need to change your plans because of what you answer? Explain why you would need to change your plans. Or explain why you would not need to change them.

2. In this *parable, the master judged his slaves by their actions. He judged them by what they did. Or he judged them by what they did not do. The Bible teaches that our *salvation is not because of what we do. It is because of what Jesus has done for us. (Read Ephesians 2:8–9.) How do these two things match?

3. Who does Jesus say are his ‘brothers’? (Read verses 40 and 45.) Are they all those people who are in need? Or are they all Christians? Think about what your answer means in a practical way.

Matthew 26:1–16

The end of Jesus’ life was coming.

 

Jesus knew that his life on earth would end soon. People thought about him in different ways. They showed the right and the wrong reactions to him.

 

Matthew now began to describe certain events. They were the most important part of Jesus’ work. The time for words had ended. The final and greatest act of Jesus’ life was near (verse 2). Matthew told his story with great skill. He recorded several incidents. They do not seem to be in the right order. But they show some important contrasts. The contrasts have things to teach us too.

First, Jesus chose to die. This contrasts with men’s evil plans. (Read verses 1–5.) Next, there was the action of the religious leaders. This contrasts with what Mary did. (Read verses 6–13.) Also, there was a contrast between Mary and Judas. (Read verses 14–16.)

Jesus chose to die for our *sins. Nobody could force him to die. Earlier in his work, Jesus had said that he would die. (Read 16:21; 17:22–23 and 20:18–20.) But now he declared the time when he would die. He told his *disciples the way that he would die too (verse 2). So, he emphasised that he was in total control. His death would not be just an accident. It was his plan and purpose to die. He would save his people from God’s punishment for their *sin.

Jesus’ worst suffering now began. This was the greatest example of his teaching. His words in verse 1 probably applied to all of his teaching. But they certainly applied to the previous two chapters. Jesus showed his *disciples that they must have unselfish love for people. (Read 25:31–46.) Now, Jesus showed his own love for all people. The rest of the section dealt with people’s reactions to Jesus. There were two bad examples. (Read verses 3–5 and 14–16.) But there was Mary’s good example. (Read verses 6–13.)

There was Caiaphas. He was the chief priest of the *Jews. Writers of history in the first century described him. They said that he wanted power more than anything else. So, he did not like someone whose authority was greater than his authority. He felt that Jesus was a danger to him. His reactions were like those of some people today.

Matthew recorded a complete contrast. He gave a lovely example of real love for Jesus. (Read verses 6–13.) We can be grateful for Mary’s example. Like her, we can all show our love for Jesus in some way. Mary seemed to listen to Jesus better than most other people did. (Read Luke 10:38–42.)

Mary seemed to know that Jesus would die soon. The book of Mark records the name of the perfume. (This is a substance with its own special good smell.) Its name was spikenard. People used it to rub into dead bodies. Mary may not have realised the real meaning of her action. But Matthew gives the main reason why he recorded the story. It was because of her great act of love. In John 12:5, we learn that the perfume was worth 300 dinars. This was nearly a year’s wages.

The last case that Matthew recorded is in verses 14–16. We cannot be sure why Judas acted as he did. But Judas seemed to be disappointed with Jesus. Perhaps he thought that Jesus should have given him more. He was a *disciple. Surely, he deserved some rewards. We cannot be sure about this. But there are people like that today.

Questions

 

1. Are you a person like Mary? Should we still show our love for Jesus in public?

2. We might copy Mary’s act when we are in church. But what would be wrong with that act today? It would be hard for it to be a natural act. It would be hard for it to have any reality. Could we really show our love like this? But we want to show our love for Jesus. So, what similar things could we do?

3. A person who is not loyal is sometimes called ‘a Judas’. Even people who do not know the Bible at all will sometimes use the words. Why did Judas behave like this to Jesus? Do we sometimes think as he did?


Matthew 26:17–30

Jesus said: ‘This is my blood.’

 

Jesus explained the meaning of his death. He would die soon. He explained this at his last supper (evening meal).

 

The previous study showed the reactions of some people to Jesus. They were a contrast to Jesus. He showed that he had more power than all the people had. There is the same subject in this study, too. Jesus told his *disciples what would happen. He said that one of them would give him to his enemies. Jesus knew which one of them it would be too (verse 25). Then Jesus told them more about how he would die.

Matthew repeated one word three times. It was the word ‘Passover’. (Exodus 12 describes its meaning.) The word was in verses 17, 18 and 19. Jesus was the person in charge at the meal. Matthew wanted us to understand this. (Read verses 26–30.)

Jesus had said when he was going to die. It would be at Passover. John’s *Gospel tells us the exact time. Jesus died on the day before Passover. (Read John 19:14–18.) It was at the same time that people were killing the Passover lambs. (Note: lambs are young sheep.) So Jesus had his own Passover meal. It was a day earlier than the official event. But people seemed to use slightly different dates for the event. This was true during the time of Jesus.

The Passover had always shown Jesus’ death. And he wanted people to know it. His death gave the Passover its full meaning. We can learn three things from this:

►  Jesus died for the benefit of other people. That was true about the original Passover lamb. (Read Exodus 12:11–12.) Isaiah 52:13–53:12 also shows this.

►  Jesus died as a *sacrifice for *sin (verse 28). He died for other people, because they were *sinners.

►  Jesus died to take the punishment that we should have. God hates *sin. He must punish it. We all deserve that punishment. But Jesus took our place.

Jesus’ death is still good for us

This does not seem to be possible. So, many people do not believe it. But God can forgive *sin. And he still forgives *sin. Jesus took all the punishment for our *sin. There can be no greater punishment than death. (Read Romans 6:23.) And Jesus died. So, each person can know that God really does forgive his or her *sin. But there is more. God does not remember our *sin. (Read Jeremiah 31:33–34.)

There is another reason why Jesus died. It was to make us God’s family and friends (verse 29). Jesus, the *Messiah, described his great big meal. He was referring to a custom that took place in ancient times. Then, such a big meal was only for a person’s family and for friends. Jesus was speaking about a family relationship in verse 28. His words refer to Exodus 24:8. That was the time when God made the *Jews become his family.

Jesus’ *sacrifice was particular too. He died for many people (verse 28). This means that he did not die in general for everyone. His death is good for all who come to him. But Jesus died for each person. So, a believer (Christian) can say: ‘Jesus died for me.’ Jesus died for more people than we could ever count. What a wonderful thing Jesus did when he died! He could not have done anything more. He is the answer to all our needs. God accepts us. He forgives us. He gives us his peace and his love. And all this is because of Jesus’ death.

But we must receive the benefits of Jesus’ death (verse 26). We must ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ (verses 26–27). These words are signs. This means that they describe what we can do. We can share with Jesus in his death. We do this by a total trust in Jesus. We believe that his death is the only way to God.

Finally, this passage shows us that *sin is a terrible thing. Judas may not have stayed for the special part of the Passover meal. There is some doubt about that. But other things are clear. Jesus told him the truth about his death. Jesus appealed to him in a gentle way. He showed his love for Judas. (Surely, that was the main purpose of verses 20–25.) But Judas still chose to be against Jesus. He knew that enemies wanted to kill Jesus. But he still led them to Jesus.

Questions

 

1. Someone might say: ‘God is a God of love. So he will not keep anybody out of heaven for ever.’ What could you say to that person?

2. Today, we still have the ‘Passover meal’ like the meal that Jesus had. We call it by different names. It could be the *Lord’s Table, Holy Communion, the Last Supper, or the Eucharist. What truths should you remember at this time? The truths about the special meal should have effects in your life. Does its effect depend on your thoughts at the time? Look again at Jesus’ teaching in this passage. Then discuss your ideas.

3. Jesus died for all the people in the world. (Read John 3:16.) So, why are they not all believers (Christians)?

Matthew 26:31–56

Jesus said: ‘I want your will to happen.’

 

These verses are very serious. They show that Jesus’ death was necessary. They describe clearly just how awful his death would be.

 

Verses 1–16 emphasised the fact of Jesus’ death. Verses 17–29 explained the reason for his death. These verses showed that his death was necessary. They showed, too, how awful that death would be.

The agony (extreme pain)

Read verses 36–42. They help us to see a little bit of what Jesus was suffering. But words cannot really describe just how terrible Jesus felt. That is why various translations use different words. Jesus felt that he was ‘very close to death’ even then. [Note: Luke was a doctor. In his book, he said that drops of blood from Jesus fell to the ground. This is in Luke 22:44. It is a medical state. It only happens with extreme pain of the emotions and of the mind.] Because of his extreme pain, Jesus wanted to be with his best friends.

Men and women know extreme pain and despair too. This happens especially when they will soon die. But Jesus’ pain was worse. Jesus was God as well as man. So, we may think that he could not feel the same agony as us. This passage shows us that the opposite is true. Jesus’ agony was greater. This was because he knew what would happen (verse 39). We do not know the future. If we did, we might not be able to bear the pain of it. So God is very kind to us.

But Jesus knew all that would happen. And something else made his extreme pain even worse. Jesus was the holy God. He hated *sin. Now, he would be in the power of *sinners (verse 45). He had created them. But they would kill him!

There was even more. Jesus knew that Judas would not be loyal. He would lead the enemies to Jesus. (Read verses 21–25 and 46–50.) Jesus knew, too, that his close friends would leave him. (Read verses 31–35 and 56b.) Finally, Jesus knew that he could escape. He could escape, if he chose to do that. (See verse 53. A legion was 6000 men.) But he knew that he would not do this. He chose to die.

The necessity

This passage emphasises that it was necessary for Jesus to die. Jesus had peace in the time of his troubles. He had the strength to continue. But, like us, he did not want to die (verse 39). But the Father did not stop his Son from dying on the cross. This shows us that there was no other way. It was the only way to bring men and women to God. The *NT writers understood this well. (Read Acts 4:12.) We can have peace with God only because of Jesus.

Even Jesus’ three closest friends left him. (Read verses 40–41.) All the *disciples left him too. (Read verses 43, 45 and 56.) Jesus knew that men are weak. He knew it better that they did (verse 31)! Jesus knew everything that would happen. But he did not run away from it. He was the only person who could be as brave as that.

Finally, notice what Jesus was like on the way to the cross. He was so gentle and kind. He told his *disciples that they would leave him. But he told them something else too. He would welcome them back afterwards (verse 32)! That was how it would always be.

Questions

 

1. Jesus forgives you when you do not trust him. Can you really say that you forgive yourself? It is hard for some people to forgive themselves. How could you help such a person?

2. Muslims say that Jesus cannot be the Son of God. This is because he suffered such extreme pain. What could you say to them?

3. How can one person’s death save other people from death?

Matthew 26:57–75

Who is Jesus?

 

Matthew described how Jesus had to stand in front of the *Jewish leaders. This happened in the *Jewish *Council. There was a reason why Matthew described this. He was emphasising what Jesus said about himself. He was also comparing Jesus and Peter. Jesus was bold. Peter was a coward. He said that he did not know Jesus. He even said it three times.

 

The soldiers arrested Jesus. First, they took him to Annas. Annas had been the Chief Priest. He asked Jesus questions. Then Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas, who asked him questions too. Caiaphas was the Chief Priest at the time. He was also married to Annas’ daughter. (Read John 18:12–14, 19–23.) After this, all the members of the *Council asked Jesus questions. (Read Matthew 26:57, 59–67.)

Early the next morning, all the members of the *Council met together. They had to decide what Jesus had done wrong. (Read Matthew 27:1–2.) They were asking a question. It was: ‘Who is Jesus?’ The verses in this section give the answer of Jesus himself.

►  Jesus is the *Messiah (verses 63–64). The *OT often told about the *Messiah. He would save God’s people. The *Jews were waiting for him eagerly. They were expecting him to come. Jesus said that he was the *Messiah. Jesus came to save (rescue) men and women from the punishment of *sin. The *Jews had ignored this. They wanted the *Messiah to save them from their enemies, who were the *Romans.

►  Jesus is the Son of God. Read 2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 2:7. These passages introduced an idea. It was that the *Messiah would be the ‘Son of God’. Perhaps the *Jews did not understand this. But Jesus’ teaching introduced the idea to them too. (Read Matthew 21:37.) Perhaps this was why Caiaphas demanded a clear answer from Jesus (26:63). Jesus gave him that clear answer (verse 64). The rest of the *NT answers clearly too. Jesus really is ‘Immanuel’. This means ‘God is with us’. (Read Isaiah 7:14.)

►  Jesus also said that he was the Son of Man (verse 64). Jesus showed the *Jews that their idea of the *Messiah was not complete. They expected their *Messiah to defeat the *Romans. Jesus came to suffer and to die. These things would show his authority. Jesus repeated Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 (verse 64). These passages explain more about what he meant.

►  Jesus is the builder of the new *Temple (verses 60–61). The *Jews did not understand what Jesus had said. Jesus did not deny that he had said it (verses 62–63). But they did not know what he meant. He was referring to his own body. (Read John 2:19–21.)

But there was a future event too. It could add further meaning to his words. Read 1 Corinthians 6:14–15, 19. The new *Temple would be a Temple that human hands had not made. (Read Mark 14:58.) It happened when the Holy Spirit came. (Read Acts 2.) From that time, all real believers (Christians) are called ‘Christ’s body’. This is the real meaning of ‘the Church’. It is not a building. (Read 1 Corinthians 12:12–28.) Jesus said: ‘I will build my church.’ (Read Matthew 16:18.)

►  Jesus has the greatest authority (verse 64). From now on, Jesus said, they would see that he was right. His Father would give them the evidence. Jesus would die; but he would come alive again. He would return to his Father. Then the Holy Spirit would come. After this, the number of real believers (the Church) would increase. This would happen even when people dealt with them very badly. All these things would show the truth of Jesus’ claims.

The reactions of men and women

First, people refused to accept Jesus. These verses do not describe a court of law. They describe a plot to murder Jesus. But the leaders pretended. They did not want to discover the truth. They intended to kill Jesus. *Sinners hate truth, as some insects hate light. So they hate Jesus. They will ignore the facts and they will not obey him. But they will try to show that their attitude of *unbelief is right.

Next, people were not loyal to Jesus. It was not only Judas who was against Jesus. None of Jesus’ *disciples stayed loyal to him. Peter, especially, denied him (verses 69–75). Peter said that he did not even know Jesus. Something was even worse. In verse 74, Peter used very strong language. Some translations say that he even cursed Jesus. Other translations say that Peter cursed himself. So, he was asking God to hurt him if he was not telling the truth!

We can learn some lessons from this event. First, even a person who knows the truth sometimes denies Jesus. But there is comfort for that person. Peter was really sorry about what he had done. (Read verse 75. Compare 2 Corinthians 7:10.) So the words of Matthew 10:33 did not happen to him. In the same way, Jesus will always welcome anyone who really *repents. That person need never fear that Jesus would not accept him or her.

Questions

 

1. The *Jewish leaders had evidence about who Jesus was. But they chose to ignore it. They chose to follow their own opinions. How can we make sure that we are not like them?

2. Should we always obey the decisions of our church leaders? Talk about the times when you should obey them. Talk about a possible time when you should not obey them.

3. Think about the reactions of men and women to Jesus today. Describe the ways that you know about. What do you think are the reasons for each kind of reaction?

Matthew 27:1–26

Jesus deals with a difficult situation.

 

Matthew recorded events. There was the death of Judas. Then Jesus had to stand in front of Pilate. It was like a law court. Matthew wrote about the reactions of men and women to Jesus.

 

Some men and women are completely against Jesus. The *Jewish leaders were like this. They wanted very much to kill Jesus. But the ruler and his wife knew that Jesus was innocent. None of the things that people said against Jesus was true (verses 19, 24). The *Jewish leaders were jealous of Jesus. So they hated him. That was why they wanted to kill him.

Other men and women would have to give up selfish things. And they were not prepared to do this. Pilate was like this. He knew why the religious leaders hated Jesus (verse 18). But he chose not to understand Jesus completely. Pilate had selfish ambitions. We know from history that he was a proud and cruel man. Later, the entire *Jewish nation was against him. So, he had to return to Rome. Even at this time, he hated the *Jews. He did not want to listen to them. But they accused him of being against the *Roman leader. (Read John 19:12.) So he chose to condemn Jesus.

Some men and women are not always loyal to Jesus. They change their minds easily. This was true about the crowd. (Read verses 20–25.) Only a few days before, they had welcomed Jesus. They had behaved as if he was the *Messiah. (Read 21:1–11.) Now they demanded that he should die. We do not understand how they could change so quickly. Jesus had helped them so much. He healed them. He fed them and he taught them. Now, it seemed to them that he had failed. He was not doing what they wanted him to do. So, they did not care about him any more.

Other people respect Jesus in another way. They think that he could cause them to have good luck or bad luck. The word for this is to be superstitious. So they think that they must deal with him carefully. This seemed to be true about Pilate’s wife (verse 9). Her dream had upset her. So she acted. We do not know the reason. She may have wanted to keep Jesus safe. Or she may have worried about her husband’s safety. We do not know what happened to her. Probably, her worry ended when her dream did not seem so real.

Finally, some people seem to be sorry for their *sin. But they do not *repent. This was true about Judas. (Read verses 3–10.) He regretted his action. He knew, in his conscience, that he had done wrong. He may even have cried about it. But he did not *repent.

Questions

 

1. What is your *faith in Jesus like? Do you only trust him to supply what you need? What else should you trust him for?

2. Some Christians only follow Jesus when things are going well in their lives. How could you help them to have real *faith?

3. Evil things happen in legal matters today. Think about what happened to Jesus all those years ago. Should we say anything when things like that happen now? Should we do anything?

More explanation

 

Jesus’ trial
(Note: A trial is when someone must be in a law court. A judge decides if the person is guilty or not.)

Matthew recorded Jesus’ trial and death. It is not easy to fit all that Matthew said with the other three records. (These are Mark, Luke and John.) There are other authors whose books are not in the Bible. They wrote about the events too. But they did not agree always either. Many books discuss these matters. Some of them say that the various accounts can never match. But we must remember an important fact.

The writers of the first 4 books of the *NT lived in Jesus’ time. So, they knew about the events much better than later people could. We must be sure before we decide that a thing is not true. We can prove that many things in the Bible are accurate. So, we can believe the records about Jesus’ trial and death. We have no reason to doubt them.

Matthew 27:27–56

The death of Jesus

 

Matthew emphasised something. It was the way that people laughed at Jesus. They insulted him. There were Gentile (non-*Jewish) soldiers. There were *Jews who stood and watched. There were the *Jewish religious leaders. Also there were even criminals. They all refused to accept Jesus.

 

People thought that Jesus had no worth. They refused to accept him. They laughed about two things. First, they laughed about the things that he had said about himself (verse 43). Next, they laughed about his actions. The things that he had said about himself were wonderful. The people reminded him about them. He had said that he was king of the *Jews (verses 29, 37). He had said that he would build the new *Temple (verse 40). He had said that he was the Son of God (verse 43). But his great acts should have been proof enough. They should have caused people to examine the facts. However, people did not do it then. They do not do it now.

One phrase shows Jesus’ real worth. It is ‘the Son of God’ (verse 54). The soldier may not have understood its full meaning. But Matthew and the other *NT writers want us to know it. Jesus had all God’s nature. Jesus was really God who became a man. He was ‘Immanuel, God is with us’. (Read Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14.)

So, nothing else is like our Christian *faith. God showed himself to all people. When people looked at God’s Son, they saw God. In this passage, Matthew teaches 4 great truths about Jesus’ work.

►  Jesus wanted to save other people. So he refused to save himself (verse 42). There was a great truth in what the religious leaders said. Jesus chose not to save himself.

►  Jesus suffered because of *sin (verses 45–46). These two verses emphasise something. It is this. Jesus took the punishment for our *sin. In the Bible, darkness is often the sign of punishment for *sin. So, darkness in that country as Jesus died was a sign. It showed the fact that Jesus was taking our *sin upon himself. We deserve God’s punishment because of our *sin. At the cross, Jesus suffered that punishment for us. (Read 2 Corinthians 5:21.)

But verse 46 teaches another truth. God had to turn away from his Son, Jesus. This broke the unity of God. We cannot understand this mystery. But we can understand the lesson that it teaches. It teaches that *sin is a very serious matter. Also it teaches about God’s great love for *sinners. It hurt the Father and the Son so much. But they did it for us. Now, we can be free from the punishment for *sin.

►  Jesus brought two great benefits to all who follow him (verse 51). First, we can know that God forgives us. Then we can come close to God. The curtain in the *Temple was a sign. It showed that *sin had separated people from God. The High Priest could go behind that curtain only once a year. But first he had to offer a *sacrifice for *sin. (Compare Leviticus chapter 16 with Hebrews chapter 9 and 10:19–22.) Jesus was the final *sacrifice for *sin. Now we can come to God freely.

►  Jesus ended the terrible results of *sin (verses 52, 53). This wonderful event reminds us about something important. It is that if people *sin, God must punish them. And they will die. (Read Romans 6:23.) Jesus died and came back to life. This means that we need not die. It is true that our bodies still die. But what happened to Jesus is God’s promise to us. We will come back to life again. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:1–23 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18.) There will be a new heaven and a new earth too. (Read Revelation 21:1–5.)

Questions

 

1. Imagine that you are the soldier. You are watching Jesus who is on the cross. What do you see? What do you think about Jesus? Some speakers talk in detail about the awful physical pain of the cross. Do you think that this is right?

2. People have used art to show the death of Jesus. They have done this in each century. Do these pictures help us to understand why Jesus died? In what ways are they helpful or unhelpful?

3. What are the most important things that are true in the Christian message? If someone asked you this question, what would you say? Say it briefly. Say it in words that non-Christians would understand.

Matthew 27:57–28:15

We must believe the evidence.

 

Jesus became alive again. Matthew gives some of the evidence. He reminds us that *unbelief is foolish.

 

These verses, (with 28:16–20), are the final section of Matthew’s book. There are 5 paragraphs:

            27:57–61: Jesus was dead: Joseph buried his body.

            27:62–66: There were special guards for the grave.

            28:1–10: The grave was empty and the *Lord Jesus was alive.

            28:11–15: The guards made a report.

            28:16–20: Jesus is alive. He is the greatest ruler, with all power and authority.

The order of these paragraphs emphasised something. It was this. Jesus became alive again in order to rule. This was especially true of the first 4 paragraphs. They emphasised two facts. First, they emphasised that the grave was empty. Then, they emphasised that people saw Jesus alive.

Matthew emphasised the strong evidence that Jesus is alive. He did this in several ways.

►  Some women were the first people to see that the grave was empty (28:6). They had watched Joseph put Jesus’ body in the cave (27:61). So, they certainly knew where to find the right place.

►  The religious leaders could not deny that the grave was empty. Jesus had told them that he would become alive again. So they had tried hard to make sure that Jesus stayed in the grave. They did not want his *disciples to take away his body. (Read 27:62–66.) But the guards themselves said that the body was not there (28:11).

►  The guards were at the grave (28:2–4). So the religious leaders’ excuse was false. This was clear. The guards would not all be asleep. If they were, there is something that we cannot explain. They could not know that the *disciples stole the body!

►  Some people say that Jesus was not dead. They say that the cool grave made him better. They say that this event could explain the guards’ reaction. But the guards had put a special seal (lock) on the stone. They did this from the outside of the grave. So, Jesus could not have opened it from the inside. And he would not have been able to move the heavy stone. (Read verses 60 and 66.)

Jesus is alive!

This passage is not just about the empty grave. It is about the fact that they saw Jesus in his body (verses 8–10). That was what convinced Jesus’ *disciples. They actually met him. He was not a ghost. (A ghost looks like a dead person but it is not real.) He had a body. They could touch him. They could hold onto him.

Matthew’s book was not the only one. Anyway, it gives strong proof that Jesus is alive. Dead men do not become alive again. But this man became alive again.

This passage also shows that *unbelief is foolish. There is strong evidence that Jesus is alive. But some men and women, (then and now), do not believe it. Some people have never thought much about the matter. But, for the majority of people, there is another reason. They do not want to believe it. People at the time saw the empty grave. They could not explain why it was empty. Jesus had said that he would become alive again. But they would not believe this. Men and women can refuse to believe what they do not want to believe.

The religious leaders at the time of Jesus were like this. They did not care about the truth. (They showed that when Jesus had to stand in front of them.) So, even strong evidence was not enough. Their answer was to invent a story. But the story that they invented was hard to believe. It would have been easier to believe that Jesus did become alive again. Men and women are the same today. They refuse to believe the truth. Instead, they accuse Christians. They say that Christians are telling lies (27:64). That is exactly what they are doing themselves.

It can be hard to understand why this happens. The religious leaders at that time would not accept Jesus. The reason for this was pride. They were selfish. This is true of all men and women. They could accept Jesus. But this would mean that they must allow God to rule in their lives. Think about Adam and Eve. They wanted to be like God. (Read Genesis 3:4.) Ever since that time, some people have not wanted to allow God to rule them.

Questions

 

1. What reasons can you give for the truth that Jesus is alive?

2. Some religious people today are like the people in Jesus’ time. It is a fact that Jesus became alive again. But these people think that it is not necessary to believe this. Why do they think this? Would it matter if Jesus had not become alive again? (Read 1 Corinthians 15.)

3. In many countries, there are traditional stories. They tell about gods and about people who die. Then these people become alive again. What is the difference between them and Jesus?


Matthew 28:16–20

Go and make *disciples from all the people in the world.

 

This is the happy end to Matthew’s book of Good News. It prepares the way for the future. Jesus said that his *disciples would do even ‘greater things’ than he himself had done. (Read John 14:12.)

 

The last words of Matthew’s book are for all Christians. (Actually, the whole book is for all believers.) Jesus was talking to the 11 *disciples (verse 16). But what he says is for all his *disciples ‘until the end of the world’ (verse 20b). So, these words are not mainly for leaders. They are for each believer. We may say that we are Christians. Then we must obey his command.

There is only one command in these verses. It is: ‘Make *disciples’ (verse 19). It is the responsibility of all believers. Of course, we must know what it means to be a *disciple. Then, we must know how we can ‘make’ a *disciple. Jesus explained:

►  We must go. This is not really a command. It is the first of three actions to achieve our aim. (Our aim is to ‘make *disciples’.) Where we go depends on the gifts that God has given to us. We can start with our friends and neighbours. There are the people with whom we work too. God might ask us to go to another country. We call those who do this ‘missionaries’. But the job is the same. So, we are all missionaries, in the place where God wants us to be.

►  We must *baptise. *Baptism is a sign that a person is a Christian. Other people can see that a person is joining with God’s people.

►  We must teach all the things that Jesus taught us to obey. We do not teach truths that are just ideas. We teach truths that change lives. They are truths that have already changed our lives. So, we show people by the way that we live. And we speak to these people too. This is how we ‘make *disciples’. How we live must show that our message is true.

So, we must decide what is the best way to tell people the Good News (gospel). We must each decide this. And we must decide it as members of a church. This is our responsibility. Jesus tells us why he has asked us to do this. He has ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ (verse 18). He is master of all. That is why he is called *Lord Jesus. So, all people have a duty to serve him.

But Jesus knows what we are like. So, he tells us two things. First, he gives us the promise of his power. (See verses 18–19. All power belongs to Jesus. And he will give us all the power that we need.) We cannot know the exact reason why some *disciples had doubts (verse 17). Perhaps it does not matter. This is because we learn what the first *disciples were like. They were weak, nervous people, just like we are. We could not achieve any good thing if we trusted ourselves. This is a comfort to know.

We have no resources of our own. But we have the resources of Someone who has all power. That is sufficient. As believers, we expect so little. This is because we doubt the words of the *Lord Jesus. He does not promise constant success. But he does encourage us to expect results. (Although there may be a long delay.)

Then, Jesus gives us the promise that he is with us (verse 20). And he promises that he will always be with us. This does not only make us happy. It gives us the resources for our task. And what wonderful resources they are. He gives us his power. But he does not just leave us to do the job. No, he himself comes with us. So, there is always a minimum of two of us! There might be hard times. There might be times of joy and success. Whatever happens, he is next to us. What a comfort it is to know this.

Questions

1. What tasks must I do on my own (but with the help of Jesus)? What tasks must two people or a group of people do? What can we learn from the answers?

2. Someone has said that churches exist for the benefit of non-members. How much is this true of your church group?

3. The *Lord Jesus told us to go to ‘all people everywhere’. Christians seem to concentrate most on Africa and Asia. Why is this true? What other places need help?

THE END


FOUR OTHER WAYS TO STUDY MATTHEW’S *GOSPEL

Each section below has 8 possible studies. You may be planning to have more meetings than this. Or you may be planning to have fewer meetings than this. If so, choose what is best for your group. The 4 ways are ideas for you to consider.

1. A general study of the whole book

God became human for us (1:18–25).

The test (4:1–11).

Right attitudes (5:1–6).

Worry and how to avoid it (6:25–34).

The *Messiah gave a big meal. He walked on water too (14:13–36).

We are waiting for Jesus to return (24:1–14).

The death of Jesus (27:27–56).

We must believe the evidence (27:57–28:15).

2. Studies of the Sermon (talk) on the mountain

Right attitudes (5:1–6).

Be careful! There will be people who will oppose us (5:10–12).

Salt and light (5:13–16).

Adultery (sex with someone who is married to someone else) and divorce (5:27–32) See notes below.

Real prayer (6:5–15).

Worry and how to avoid it (6:25–34).

Be careful how you tell people about their bad habits (7:1–12).

Be careful! A building may look good. But it may not be safe (7:24–29).

Notes: a) Adultery means wrong sex. It is between a married person and someone who is not the husband or wife. b) There may be people in your group who are divorced. It may be too hard to deal with the subject in public. If so, choose another passage. One idea is:

When you say a strong promise (an oath). When you do more than you need to do (5:33–42).

3. A selection of *parables

We should listen to Jesus (the story about the farmer) (13:1–11).

Good people and bad people can live next to each other (the weeds) (13:24–30, 36–43).

To care and to forgive (the wicked servant) (18:15–35).

God is king. He gives *grace (the workers in the field) (20:1–19).

A message for all nations (the wedding big meal) (22:1–14).

Jesus will come again. So be ready! (The 10 girls) (24:36–25:13).

Jesus wants us to serve him loyally (the gifts) (25:14–30).

Serve God in ordinary activities (the sheep and the goats) (25:31–46).

4. Jesus suffers and dies

The last 8 studies are about chapters 26 to 28. These would be an excellent series at Easter time.

All these outlines are only ideas. You do not need to follow them exactly. Perhaps you will choose not to follow them at all. Use your own ideas. There is something important for the leader to do. You should read the whole book of Matthew carefully. Then you can ask your group to refer to sections that they have not read. There is something else. You might decide to study only part of a chapter. But the group should still read the whole chapter together. This would help everyone to understand the verses that you, as leader, have chosen.

Word List (Words with a *)

AD ~ AD is any date after the birth of Jesus.

angel ~ a being from heaven who brings messages from God; God especially created angels to serve him; God sends them to serve people too (Hebrews 1:14).

baptise ~ a *Greek word; it refers to a ceremony; it means to put someone in or under water for a brief time; Mark 1:4–11; Romans 6:3–8; Jesus baptises with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11); Jesus baptises with fire (Matthew 3:12).

baptism ~ the name for the ceremony when someone *baptises another person.

Baptist ~ a person who *baptises people (John the Baptist).

council ~ important men who meet together to discuss and decide events.

disciple ~ a person who follows a leader; a student; one of the 12 men whom Jesus chose; a person who obeys Jesus today.

empire ~ very big *kingdom.

exile ~ someone who must leave their own land, often for a long time; it can also mean the time when this happened; it usually refers to the time when it happened to the *Jews.

faith ~ to believe in someone or something; to be really sure about the things of God and Jesus his Son.

fig ~ a fruit.

glory ~ the power and greatness of God; his great beauty; in the *OT, people saw it as a very bright light or fire; in the *NT, we see it especially in Jesus (John 1:14); Christians can show God’s glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Gospel ~ one of the 4 books at the beginning of the *New Testament - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

grace ~ kindness; it is when God gives us what we do not deserve (2 Corinthians 8:9); it is when he saves us (Ephesians 2:1–10); it is when he helps us (2 Corinthians 12:8, 9).

Greek ~ the language in which the authors wrote the *New Testament.

Hebrew ~ the language that the *Jews spoke when they wrote the first part of our Bible.

Jew ~ a person who is from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; a person who believes the *faith of the Jews, called Judaism.

Jewish ~ a word that describes a *Jew or anything to do with a *Jew.

judgement ~ when God or a person says what is right or wrong; he tests behaviour; he decides if it is right or wrong; then he acts on the decision; judgement can be about legal or moral matters; judgement can mean when God punishes people.

kingdom ~ a kingdom is where a king rules. God is the King of all Christians and all Christians are in his Kingdom.

Law ~ the Law usually refers to the first 5 books in our Bible; Moses wrote them.

Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus; we call God or Jesus Lord when we obey them.

mercy ~ kindness to someone who does not deserve it; it is a very strong word; there are several meanings in it; there is love and pity; to have mercy means to forgive *sins; there is more information about this word; it is in the section for 5:7–9.

Messiah ~ the *Lord Jesus Christ; it is a *Hebrew word, ‘meshiah’; the same word in *Greek is ‘christos’, Christ. God promised the *Jews that the Messiah would save them; we read about him in the *OT; then Jesus came; but the *Jews did not believe in him (John 1:11). Many *Jews are still waiting for Messiah to come.

miracle ~ a wonderful thing that only God could do; it could not happen in a natural way.

NT ~ New Testament; the last part of the Bible, which the writers wrote after the life of Jesus.

New Testament ~ the last part of the Bible.

Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible.

OT ~ Old Testament; the first part of the Bible, which the writers wrote before the life of Jesus.

parable ~ a story; it uses ordinary, familiar things to teach truths about God.

persecution ~ when enemies of God hurt people because they believe in Jesus.

Pharisee ~ a member of a *Jewish religious group; they claimed to obey all *Jewish religious laws and customs; there is more information about them; it is in the section for 3:4–10.

prophecy ~ a special message from God; it could tell about the future; it is one of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians chapters 12–14).

prophet ~ a person who hears God’s words and tells them to other people; in *OT days, a prophet often wrote books; these books were called ‘The Prophets’.

repent ~ to turn away from evil and towards God; this choice will mean a complete change of life; in the *NT, the *Greek word is ‘metanoia’; this means a change of mind.

repentance ~ this is the act of a person who *repents.

Roman ~ a person from Rome; the Roman *Empire consisted of the many countries that the Romans ruled.

sacrifice ~ something that a person gives to God; in *Old Testament days (the first part of the Bible), it was often an animal; this may be to say ‘Sorry’ or ‘Thank-you’; (read 1 Samuel 15:22 and Psalm 51:17).

Sadducees ~ a member of an important *Jewish religious group; they believed only the first 5 books of the *OT; they did not believe that dead people could live again; there is more information about them; it is in the section for 3:4–10.

salvation ~ rescue from *sin or danger; the *Hebrew word is ‘yasha’; the *OT uses it 353 times; people may be in trouble or danger; someone rescues or saves them; this may be God or a person; the *NT speaks about salvation in three ways; it is past, present and future (2 Corinthians 1:10).

Satan ~ the devil; the enemy of God.

sexual ~ about sex.

sin ~ when we do not obey God’s rules.

sinner ~ a person who *sins.

soul ~ the part of a person that we cannot see; it is in us during our life; it lives after we die; the part of people that God speaks to.

spirit ~ spirits are alive, but we cannot see them. There are good spirits usually called angels. Bad spirits (also called evil spirits, or demons) live in the air round us. Their leader is called Satan.

synagogue ~ the *Jews’ special building in which they *worship God.

Temple ~ the *Jews’ special large building for God; it was in Jerusalem. The enemy destroyed it in *AD 70; since that time, *Jews’ special buildings for *worship are called synagogues; other groups build temples too; they *worship false gods in them.

thirsty ~ when someone wants a drink.

unbelief ~ lack of *faith.

worship ~ the word can be a verb or a noun; to honour God with words of prayer and praise; it is a way to appreciate God for himself; we are also being grateful for all that he has done; we can worship God together; each person can worship God too. (Important note: people can worship false gods; they give to a false god what belongs to God only.)

 

By full permission of author and publishers

Wycliffe Associates (UK) EasyEnglish© Translation (Level B)

AD 2003

WYCLIFFE ASSOCIATES (UK)

EasyEnglishÓ TRANSLATION (Level B)................................... Mary Read

LINGUISTIC CHECKER........................................................... Sue Hunter

© 1997–2004, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words – new lexicon).

July 2004

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