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Exegesis

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 17, we come across a passage that is easy to misunderstand. Admittedly, I only came to see a nuance of this about a week or so ago. I was in our Adult Bible Study class at church and a friend brought out this issue of the “faith like a mustard seed”. (Matthew 17:20 ) He pointed out that the verse doesn’t refer to faith the size of a mustard seed. The verse refers to faith like a mustard seed.

Seriously? Am I really straining at the meaning of one little word? Actually, yes! Now, before I go any further, let me reiterate that I said that I came to see a nuance of this recently. I didn’t say that I didn’t understand it until recently. That’s one of the things about God’s Word that’s so interesting. I have no idea how many times I have read this passage, yet a brief comment in a Sunday School class revealed a new facet of faith that I had never seen before.

Words have meaning. But words only have meaning in relationship with other words. That’s why it can be dangerous to do “word study” Bible studies. A word in one language may be translated into ten different words in another language. It’s probably an urban legend, but I have heard that Inuit (aka “Eskimos”) have sixteen different words for “snow”. Assuming that’s true, it’s quite understandable; their knowledge of snow and their need to communicate about snow is much deeper than a simple “cold, white, powdery stuff that sometimes falls from the sky in winter”. The same can be true when translating words from the Biblical languages to English. And that’s why it is very helpful to use a couple of different modern Bible translations. It’s not just words, but how they’re used together that brings out meaning.

So what’s the difference between “faith the size of a mustard seed” and “faith like a mustard seed”? Your Bible may use either of these translations.

A mustard seed is small. It’s a little smaller than a sesame seed on your hamburger bun, but it’s larger than the poppy seed on your bagel. That tiny mustard seed — the smallest of the seeds known to First Century Palestine — grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to nest in it. (Mark 4:31-32) So, inside that small seed is a large bush. Inside an acorn is a strong towering oak.

When Jesus mentions mustard seed faith, he isn’t talking about the initial size of the seed, but rather the potential that’s in the seed. But unless that seed is buried and allowed to grow, it will never be more than a small seed. But once it’s planted, it can grow into full maturity. (John 12:24)

Perhaps the disciples weren’t exercising their faith when they were unsuccessful in trying to deliver the demonized seizure-ridden young man. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have faith, but they had small faith, (Matthew 17:20a) and it sounds like maybe they weren’t exercising and growing it.

Application

In the grand scheme, it doesn’t matter how much or how little faith you have. What matters is what you’re doing with your faith. Are you letting it grow? Are you feeding it with God’s Word? Are you exercising it?

Believer, you are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead! (Romans 8:11) Let Him empower you to strengthen your faith

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Five loaves and Two fish
Source: LumoProject

Today’s Bible reading includes the story of Jesus’ feeding over five thousand people with only two fish and five loaves of bread. Matthew 14:13-21) Mark and Luke also include the story in their Gospel.

It’s sad that people can read this story and dismiss it as a fairytale, something that never happened, something that could never have happened. They dismiss the story because it includes a miracle, and their theology doesn’t have room for a supernatural element. All of us are theologians. All of us. The question is how good and faithful to the Text are we going to be? I honestly think that to dismiss miraculous stories takes more “faith” than believing the story as presented.

So, I just take the story as it’s given: Jesus takes a couple of fish and some bread and feeds five thousand men, their wives, and children. And the disciples collect twelve baskets full of leftovers.

It’s been a long day. The disciples are tired and hungry. They probably just want a little peace and quiet. So they ask Jesus to send the crowds away so they can have some “down-time” together — and perhaps silently gloat that they’re special because they don’t have to leave and go home.

Jesus tells them to have the crowds sit down. He takes a small contribution, blesses it and feeds a multitude. But I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t just feed the people a little bit. He doesn’t add to their own sack lunches. He feeds them and they collect twelve baskets of leftovers. Note that the leftovers are from the original contribution. There is nothing in the story that indicates that anyone adds to the two fish and five loaves of bread. None of the Gospel writers tells us how big the baskets were. But it’s clear that they had more left over than what they started with!

Yes, over five thousand men (plus women and kids) ate. They even had leftovers. But note that they were satisfied. (Matthew 14:20)

Application

Each of us comes to Jesus with a hunger that only He can satisfy. Let me restate that.

Each of us comes to Jesus with a need. We may think we need any number of things from him. But our biggest need is a hunger for Him. And only He can satisfy that hunger. And He does it so well, if we will only ask.

CS Lewis said that our problem isn’t that we seek to fulfill our desires; our problem is that we are far too easily satisfied!

Are you satisfied with Jesus?

Again, I’d like to challenge you to embrace Christian Hedonism!

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Today’s Bible reading includes a passage that many people have heard about. It strikes fear in the hearts of many. And yet, there’s no need for anxiety over the issues of “The Unpardonable Sin“.

Let’s look at what Jesus actually says about it.

Therefore, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come. Matthew 12:31–32 (CSB)

defining sin

So, Jesus says that speaking against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. Let’s look at the context of these two verses.

Leading up to this point in the chapter, Jesus has just dealt with the Pharisees on the issue of healing on the Sabbath. He points out that there is more going on than just having a special day and that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus frequently points out that the Pharisees miss the forest for the trees. They emphasize the Law, and yet miss the reason God gave that part of the Law in the first place. In the case of the Sabbath, God gave the Sabbath to recognize that we are created in God’s image. God rested after creating the universe in six days — not because He was tired, but as an example — so we should also rest from our work and regularly take some time to pause to remember God’s presence and work in our lives.

When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, simply by telling the man to stretch out his hand, the religious leaders claim that Jesus is doing His miracles by the power of satan himself. Jesus points out that satan could not drive out himself. (Matthew 12:26) However, the fact that Jesus is exorcizing demons by the Spirit of God demonstrates that He has initiated the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 12:28)

After talking about the unforgivable sin, Jesus says that trees are known by their fruit. Matthew 12:34 records Jesus’ next words which are the key to understanding the question at hand.

Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Matthew 12:34 (CSB)

Application

The Pharisees are watching Jesus perform miracles right before their eyes. They say that He’s doing it by the power of satan. He says that speaking against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable and He concludes by saying that your heart will be revealed by what you say.

In other words, this unforgivable sin, this “blasphemy of the Spirit” is watching God’s miracles happen right before your eyes and yet insist it’s the work of the devil. The person who would make such a blasphemous claim is speaking from a depraved heart.

On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter announced that the people were watching Joel 2 being fulfilled right before their eyes. Part of the initiation of the New Covenant was that God’s Spirit would be poured out on ordinary people, not just ordained people. (Joel 2:28–29) And the Holy Spirit would live in God’s people, not just on God’s people.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:26–27 (CSB)

The new, soft heart is able to see the works of God for what they are. And with a new, soft heart comes the ability — and the desire — to attribute the works of God to God, not satan.

Lost people with lost hearts behave like lost people. Speaking against the Holy Spirit is the fruit of a lost heart, a heart that does not recognize God or His works. If you are a believer, you haven’t done anything that you can’t be forgiven of. In fact, your sin has already been forgiven.

That’s good news!
That’s the Gospel!

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In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 11, we read that John the baptizer is in jail. Like Jesus’ disciples, John has become a little disillusioned. He sends word to his cousin asking if He is the one they have waited for to bring the Kingdom of God. Or should they look for someone else? (Matthew 11:3)

As He often does, Jesus answered with Scripture rather than answering directly. He quotes Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1.

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Isaiah 35:5 (CSB)

The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1 (CSB)

Isaiah 61:1 is the passage Jesus read when the synagogue scroll was handed to Him in Luke 4. He says that He is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.

Jesus is exactly Who Isaiah prophesied would come. But Jesus wasn’t exactly who everyone was expecting. They expected a victorious King who would ride in on a white horse, overthrow the Roman government and set free the nation of Israel.

But it wasn’t quite working out that way, was it?

So where did John and Jesus’ disciples go wrong? Wasn’t the Messiah going to do those things? Isn’t that what their Bible told them? Yes, their Bible said that the Messiah would be the Victorious King, but it also said he would be a suffering servant. (Isaiah 53) In order for both of these to be true (remember, the Bible never contradicts itself), the Messiah had come as the suffering servant before coming back as the Victorious King.

Application

We have more in common with the disciples and John than we think. We look back at them and scratch out heads thinking, “Why didn’t they get it?” Instead, perhaps we should ask, “What am I not getting?”

Too often we turn to our Bible and read it the way we want to. We read it the way we have heard Bible teachers and preachers have presented it to us. And too often, we don’t go back and read it for ourselves. We simply take the Bible at their word.

Whenever you see things not working out the way you think the Bible has said, don’t go back to what you have heard or read from a Bible teacher or preacher. Go back to the Source. Ask yourself if you heard it correctly. Maybe what you’re expecting isn’t what the Bible actually says. Or maybe there’s more to the story.

Bible teachers and preachers will be held accountable for what they teach. They will be rewarded for being faithful to what God has revealed. But they will also be rebuked for leading people astray.

But hearers are also accountable. We must be discerning who and what we read. We have to be careful who we listen to. Some will give you solid meat. Others will peddle cotton candy.

A few years ago, God challenged me to spend the next thirty days reading only the Bible. I was to not read any commentaries. No “Christian Living” books. I wasn’t to read from my favorite godly, solid bible-teaching authors. Nothing but the Bible. It was more difficult than I would like to admit.

Why? Because in my Bible teaching, I had been merely regurgitating what others had already chewed up for me without gaining any nourishment for myself. At the end of thirty days, I came away feeling refreshed. I came away hearing God’s voice more clearly again.

God wants you to read the Bible for yourself. You need to read and study the Bible for your own nourishment. Yes, God gives us godly teachers — which we desperately need!

But sometimes our Bible teachers get it wrong so we need to dig in and mine the treasures from God’s Word for ourselves.

Try it. You’ll find it very rewarding!

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Jesus is tempted

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 4, we see a familiar passage on Jesus’ temptations. In the first two temptations (Matthew 4:3, 6), the devil begins with, “If you are the Son of God….”

There are three ways that the Greek language conveys conditional (“if“) statements. It would be accurate to translate these two temptations, “If you are the Son of God — and we both know that you are…” or “Since you are the Son of God…” Satan acknowledged Jesus’ deity. He never called it into question. but he did try to get Jesus to submit to his temptations. Three times. And the three temptations are basically the same as the ones you and I face every day: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

And we can fight our temptations just like Jesus did: respond with applicable Bible verses that we have treasured in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), and remember that God is much more to be desired than anything the enemy can tempt us with (Psalm 16:11, Matthew 6:33).

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 (CSB)

Application

I believe it was Martin Luther who said, “I can’t keep birds from flying over my head, but I can keep them from nesting in my hair.” Looking at this and with today’s scheduled reading, it’s good to know that Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted. He knows the enemy’s schemes, yet he never sinned.

The next time you’re tempted to some sin — and you resist — don’t accept the enemy’s accusations that you’ve sinned. Being tempted is not sin. If it were, then Jesus sinned.

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