Ancient Truth: Matthew's Gospel

By tradition, Matthew was a cousin of Jesus -- their fathers were brothers. Also known by the name Levi, this fellow was employed in collecting King Herod's taxes. There is a lot of popular mythology about this profession. During this time, the Sanhedrin controlled direct tax collections in Judea, while Galilee was under a tax-farming system. Matthew collected taxes for the nominally Jewish king in Jerusalem, not for Rome, but it meant handling money with pagan images and social mixing with Gentiles, violating many of the legalistic traditions of common religious orthodoxy. Not quite the traitor, as those who collected taxes directly for Rome were commonly viewed, he was still a social outcast because the whole business was considered immoral. Even if Matthew were utterly scrupulous and fair, as John the Baptist had preached, Matthew was despised by society. Jesus included him partly for this very reason, showing His rejection of common views on legalistic social morality.

An even better reason for choosing him was Matthew's training and education. He would have been at the least literate in Greek, and likely Latin. He would be familiar with the various dialects of Syrian and Persian travelers who spoke languages much closer to Hebrew. He was a superb record keeper, with a highly organized mind, using the common shorthand writing of those in his profession. He would have understood completely the nit-picking legalism of the Jewish government, and could easily keep track of Jesus' teachings as contrary to that legalism. Permitted no stake in the prevailing social system of his day, Matthew's mind would have been quite receptive to his cousin's alternative approach to seeking God's favor. In the end, he was a very Hebraic writer, and his Gospel shows it. A primary focus of his writing was Jesus' declarations about His kingdom.

The primary targets of this Gospel were the early Jewish Christians who needed to see that Jesus was most certainly a fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, if not a fulfillment of the common political aspirations many Jews had for the promised Messiah. Matthew took pains to collect the teachings of his Lord into themes. Since he seems to have copied so much of Mark's Gospel, finding no fault with that narrative of events, we sense Matthew wrote his much longer version after it. We date Mark around 50 AD, and Matthew is commonly thought to have been published between 55 and 60 AD. It seems painfully obvious that Matthew thought in Hebrew, not merely the language but in the entire structure of thought itself. Hebrew was a supremely verbal language, and writing it down was a sort of translation in itself, never mind recording it in yet another language such as Greek. Apparently Matthew was quite up to the task.

Chapter 1 -- This the legal genealogy of Jesus, compared with the circumstances of His actual conception by the Holy Spirit. Mathew begins with a standard Jewish pedigree showing Jesus was of royal lineage. However, He gained that status via a loophole in the Law and custom of His day, because it is noted His earthly father was not His genetic father. Since Joseph publicly assumed responsibility for the child, there was no legal ground for questioning it, regardless of facts, because it was followed the customs for a fully vested adoption.

In passing, Matthew includes mention of women as significant to the pedigree. In a few cases, there was moral taint, in part to show the grace of God working through and against human failures. Matthew joined Jesus in rejecting the false Jewish notion that women didn't count. However, Matthew stops short of offending his Jewish Christian audience, sticking with the point of the story: Jesus gained His pedigree by a means of a claim higher than mere DNA.

His conception was itself a miracle. Jewish social custom called for a betrothal for a man between 20 and 30, preferring the latter end of that range unless wealthy. The bride would be a teenager, not long after menarche. The period between betrothal and actual cohabitation was typically a year, based on the old custom of getting a wife, then building a room or two on the extended family home, if not a separate home, to house her and the expected brood of children. It would be hard to explain what took place unless we assume Joseph was somewhere in the middle class, at least. We know from elsewhere that he was a builder, which meant primarily a stone-mason, but included carpentry. He was important enough to worry about his reputation, but genuinely pious enough not to be strict like a Pharisee.

On hearing discretely that his intended was pregnant, he planned to avoid an ugly public denunciation. Exposure would call for the girl's execution, for it was legally the same as adultery. It was a particular kindness to arrange a private dissolution of the marriage covenant. People might gossip, but would have no proof of shame. Quite likely, Mary's family would have sent her to live with a distant relative. Before he could act on this plan, Joseph was visited by an angel during a dream in the night. It was not simply a child of adultery, but the conception of God Almighty Himself. This was a high privilege for any man to raise the son of a noble or king, but Joseph was called on to raise the Son of God. Most would then assume Joseph simply failed to wait for a proper and honorable consummation of the marriage. This would change the nature of the gossip to something far more benign, largely forgotten by the time the boy could walk. Joseph was told this son would become the awaited Messiah, using prophetic terms any pious Jew would understand.

However, Matthew raises one of the greatest expository difficulties for Western Christians. We know that the context of Isaiah 7:13 he quotes regarding the virgin is specific to the time of King Ahaz, when Jerusalem was under threat from Israel and Syria. Those two countries to the north had formed an alliance against Assyria, and were going to force Judah to join it. The obvious meaning for Ahaz was to point out that those two nations would soon be history. Starting from that moment, a young woman who was then a virgin could be married, conceive a child, and before he was old enough to understand good and evil, the Assyrians would come and destroy Samaria and Damascus. Second, we know Isaiah's son, Maher-shalal-hashbaz (Isaiah 8) pretty much fit that image, for that son was born of a young prophetess Isaiah had married at that time. Within three years of that birth, Samaria and Damascus had been destroyed.

In typical Hebrew mystical fashion, that historical event was foreshadowing something greater. It depicted a parallel of redemption on a much greater scale than the political situation of Judah in the reign of Ahaz, around 700 BC. This time a virgin would conceive directly as a virgin, and the result would be the Redeemer of the World, the very presence of God Himself. Telescoping a single prophecy from a lesser contemporary event into a much greater future event is normative in mystical Hebrew theology. This is not merely good allegory, as Western minds are expecting, but the more flexible Hebrew symbolism -- the symbol of the virgin becomes more significant in the latter fulfillment. The former is an example of how God works, while the latter is the definitive culmination.

As soon as Joseph woke up, he carried out these instructions. We can envision a hastily arranged wedding feast, and the community's smug amusement. The point thus far is that Jesus met several obvious tests of Messiahship.

Chapter 2 -- We have here the coming of the Magi, Slaughter of the Innocents, and Flight into Egypt.

Matthew does not relate how Joseph and Mary came to be in the small town of Bethlehem, nor mentions that Mary had been living in Nazareth when all this began. As is common with Hebrew writers, he simply assumes the common knowledge about Jesus' life and mentions things in passing, staying with the central thread of the narrative. He isn't telling an unknown story, but giving the importance of a story generally known to his audience.

The Magi were part of an ancient class of priestly nobility, going back well before the Medo-Persian Empire. However, we know Persia would have protected their craft in the spirit of Zoroastrianism, their primary religion. Darius united the Medes and Persians under the chief god of his religion, Ahura Mazda. A primary teaching was all other gods were his allies and friends. We see the Persian solicitude regarding the gods of subordinate nations as a natural result of this, calling on these nations to petition their gods on behalf of the emperor. Succeeding conquerors had valued the grand and ancient legacy of Magi scholarship, and there's no reason to suppose the Mesopotamian scholars of religion would have ever been harmed as the chief librarians of all ancient knowledge. They surely would have garnered a copy of the Old Testament books up through the writings of Daniel, who was a member of their class. They would also have known of the Messiah, and perhaps some of the false Messianic Expectations that arose during the Restoration Period.

Rome most certainly knew of the Messiah, particularly the parody popular with the corrupt Jewish religion of Jesus' day. The emphasis on a ruler in the mold of King David rising to drive out all Gentile conquerors, in light of Jewish racist contempt for foreigners, was exactly the sort of sensitive subject Roman bureaucrats would track. It was Rome who granted the Edomite Herod the Great a throne over Judea, and as an ostensible convert to Judaism, he too would know something about it. He was a good fit with imperial policy, ready to stamp out messianic uprisings. Indeed, a saying from his time noted it was safer to be his hog than his son. Jews would not want to be anywhere near the slaughter of a pig, but Herod executed five of his sons, largely under suspicion they were considering usurping his throne. Such a petty and suspicious brute was a perfect choice in Roman eyes. During their ceremonious visit, he called the Magi for a secret conference to find out the date that Messiah's star had appeared, and slyly explained they should continue seeking Him, and report back so Herod could also worship Him.

The Magi entourage would have been huge, doing well to reach Jerusalem within a few months of leaving their academy. Announcing the Messiah had already been born, Herod and his court were quite disturbed. As a man barely tolerated by the Judean priests and nobles, a legitimate heir of David was the last thing he needed. Being such a poor Jewish practitioner, he had to ask the scholars where it was prophesied that the Messiah would be born. Bethlehem (AKA Ephrathah) was not that large. While it was the home of David's family, the ancient king's move to Jerusalem as his new capital kept the old family town small and quiet.

Joseph and Mary had been married in Nazareth. Given the great Galilean showplace city of Sepphoris near Nazareth had been destroyed by Herod, in response to an uprising about the time Jesus was born, the tiny hilltop village of Nazareth just a few miles away would have experienced a decline in the building trades. When Quirinius declared the census, Mary and Joseph had to make quite a journey to Bethlehem; with her pregnant it would take a week or more. Once the trip was made, there was little reason to go back home to Nazareth. It would be a major mistake to assume Jesus' birth in the stable in Bethlehem was because of poverty. The city was simply vastly overbooked at the time Mary came due, and they were lucky to find any shelter at any price. Once that temporary census crowd left, there were plenty of relatives in Bethlehem to get Joseph established there. Joseph was plying his trade there as a builder and could easily afford some kind of home, which is where the Magi found them. Whatever heavenly sign they had taken as marking the birth of the Messiah met them on the way south from Jerusalem, and indicated to them which house held Him.

They could have brought some of the most amazing array of things, but chose three symbolic gifts. It is well known gold is presented to kings, both by right of taxation and tribute authority, but also as presents to gain a ruler's favor. It was the standard royal gift. Frankincense is the resin of rare desert plants. Mixed with other ingredients, it would have been burned as incense in worship of deities. The gummy liquid myrrh was used almost exclusively for burial, as if to say they knew He was born to die, but would also signal many deaths for His sake.

Thus, when the Magi slipped out the back door of Herod's jurisdiction, it took awhile for the report to reach him. Based on his known behavior, it's safe to say choosing all males up to age two was overkill, just to make sure. It's best to picture Jesus as hardly a year old at the time. Given the population of Bethlehem as a small county seat, that would indicate 20-30 baby boys murdered. That Herod did such things so often helps to explain why the massacre never made the public records. Joseph had been warned during a dream the night the Magi left, and took it seriously enough to pack up and go before dawn that same day. With the recent gifts for their son, the couple could easily afford to set up shop in the large Jewish community anchored in Alexandria, Egypt. One could reasonably picture Joseph using his Jewish family connections and the Magi's gifts to start a business there, doing quite well until the angel called him back to Judea.

Matthew connects that calling to a quote from Hosea 11:1. By the way, the name "Hosea" is an alternate English spelling of Joshua, the Hebrew form of Jesus' name. Again, we see the Hebrew mystical telescoping of prophecy, by allowing the details to shift somewhat in meaning. Matthew's reference to Hosea's prophecy recalls the Lord's scolding Israel for spiritual adultery. Their very identity as a nation was rooted in the Exodus, called out of Egypt, where they weren't just led from Egypt, but miraculously delivered in ways that brought Pharaoh and his entire imperial administration (including many priests of pagan religion) to their knees. With all this behind their miraculous escape, Israel constantly strayed. Then they were given the whole land of Canaan with similar miracles, and still strayed. They utterly failed their purpose to be a nation of priests to bring the Lord's revelation to the world. When Jesus came out of Egypt, He fulfilled everything Israel failed, by becoming that faithful Light of Truth to the nations.

In noting that the massacre of Bethlehem's boys is connected to Jeremiah 31:15, we see a typically poetic Hebrew reference-in-depth. Rachel was the lovelier of two sisters married to Jacob, and his carnal favoritism was painfully obvious to all. As the whole family caravan was returning to Bethlehem whence Jacob had fled two decades before, Rachel came due, presumably in the vicinity of Ramah, a small village just a few miles north of Jerusalem, and a day's travel from Bethlehem. Her life had been quite sorrowful already, and she died in childbirth, naming the boy Ben-oni -- "Son of My Sorrow" (which Jacob changed to Ben-jamin – "Son of My Right Hand;" Genesis 35:16-20). Thus, while it's uncertain, we could easily imagine she was buried there in Ramah (Genesis 48:7).

It was thus in sight of her tomb much later when Babylon marshaled her Judean captives at Ramah, on the way north toward the crossing of the Euphrates. Jeremiah portrayed Rachel as weeping to see the captives taken away from the land, her own sons. We note Ramah was in the portion given to Benjamin, the son born there. On the northern boundary of that was Ephraim, one of the two sons born to Joseph, her other son. The latter son had already gone, taken by Assyria, and the younger was taken later by Babylon. Jacob passed through great sorrow when Joseph disappeared at the hands of his brothers, and dreaded the loss of Benjamin when his sons returned to Egypt for more food during the famine (Genesis 43). So we see Rachel weeping the loss of her sons again, where Herod had them killed in the village to which she never quite arrived as her new home.

Of course, in Jeremiah's prophecy, Rachel is comforted by the promise that the Exiles would return. While Jesus' time to die had not yet come when the infants were slaughtered in Bethlehem, it would be even more senseless and brutal thirty years later. Yet, in His very death, all humanity finds comfort.

Herod died horribly, suffering a very painful and disgusting malady for quite some time, possibly kidney disease. Five days before he expired, he had his son Antipater executed. This latter had put himself in line for the throne by having his two elder brothers killed. Thus, Herod's kingdom was divided between three surviving sons. Archelaus was as nasty as his father, and had control of Judea. So cruel was he that Caesar Augustus later deposed and banished him. Meanwhile, his brother Antipas was given Galilee. Antipas was no friend of his brother, and generally wiser. Intent on building Tiberias and Julias into great cities, he offered tax exemptions and other accommodations to persuade Jews to migrate from Judea proper and build up the economy.

There is no reason to suppose Joseph did not prosper those few years in Egypt. When the angel came to call him and his family back home, he was headed to Bethlehem. Having established himself there after Jesus' birth, it was natural he would resume his business there. Knowing Archelaus would have delighted in sending troops to murder Jesus, Joseph worried how he would obey God's command. Being warned away from Judea by the angel, Joseph took the logical course of returning instead to Nazareth, where this had all began. Sensible indeed for a man in the building trades, for Antipas was also rebuilding Sepphoris, the great city his father had destroyed, just a few miles from Nazareth. Joseph would have more business than he could handle alone, and may well have been in a position to work as a building contractor, employing many others to do the work with him. This was the setting into which Jesus grew to manhood.

Matthew again presents a quandary to Western readers in verse 23. Saying it was prophesied that Jesus would "be called a Nazarene" is not a direct quote. Indeed, the name of the town Nazareth isn't found anywhere in the Old Testament. Rather, this is a typical Hebraic play on words, something foreign to our Western sensibilities. There is a subconscious arrogance which rejects the idea that God could permit such liberties with the serious business of revelation. We so easily forget how God created the Hebrew mystical literary sense of humor as the means to His revelation.

Matthew is taking advantage of the ambiguity of Greek words translated from Hebrew, and applying all the meanings to His Lord. In this case, there is the Hebrew word netser, for "branch" (Isaiah 11:1), a specific reference to the Messiah. However, there is also a play on the word from which Nazarite comes, the term for one who has taken a special vow of purity (Numbers 6). The root word for "Nazarite" is naziyr: "separate," as in holy. It is taken from nazar -- to hold (oneself) aloof, especially from sin. There is nothing indicating Jesus was under the Nazarite vow, for something like that was too important to ignore; it is conspicuous by its absence. We note that John the Baptist, who gets far less play in the text, is described as a Nazarite (Luke 1:15), while Jesus was called a drunkard (Matthew 11:18-19). So while Jesus was not a Nazarite by ritual vow like His cousin John, He was the Holy Branch who grew up in Nazareth. Thus, Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecies in ways our Western minds don't expect.

Chapter 3 -- Matthew makes no mention that John and Jesus were cousins. Nothing is made of Jesus' youth here, simply because little of significance to the central message took place. Rather, "in those days" when Jesus began to operate as Messiah, we first see His cousin. John's message was repentance, for he was the prophesied forerunner, announcing the Kingdom of Heaven was right on top of them. Most listeners would have taken this for what it was: Messiah was about to manifest Himself. This was a very popular message, drawing large crowds to the rural settings where John preferred to preach. His choice of attire echoed that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), and had become a standard symbol of prophets preaching repentance (Zechariah 13:4). The description of his diet was a phrase commonly used to depict a complete reliance on whatever God provided, which in that region would have included a great deal of kosher insects. John exemplified symbolically the message he preached of turning back to simple and pure obedience to the Law and trust in Jehovah to provide. This was Israel's one last chance to get it right.

The excitement of Messiah's appearance was popular; the requirements of John's teachings, however, were not so popular. Many seized by enthusiasm would have struggled to find ways to apply it, but very few really absorbed the message deeply. Repentance, turning from lack of concern to a state of high sensitivity to the Lord's concerns, was depicted by John as the ancient practice of conquering monarchs sending advance parties to prepare the people for the approach their new ruler. Even the roads themselves were prepared by widening narrow mountain passes, carving passages through hilltops, filling in ravines, and smoothing the surface (Isaiah 40:3). John called everyone to prepare for their new King. Should there be resistance to His requirements, you can be sure He would not take it lightly. This symbolized the call to conform one's life to a proper welcome for the Messiah. John advised the people to set their minds on righteousness now, so the transition would be less shocking, less destructive. True repentance requires wholly accepting the justice in the ultimate penalty for sin, and relying on God's mercy to withhold the wrath we deserve. The ritual of baptism symbolized this, and added to the image of newness, something fresh and exciting to the crowds.

The premise here is unspoken because it was taken for granted in ancient Hebrew culture: One must operate from the guidance of convictions in the heart. The message of John we well nigh impossible without that. The legalism of the Pharisees and intellectual snobbery of the Sadducees were hostile to this return to the ancient Hebrew intellectual traditions. They felt they had gained too much from the adoption of Hellenism, and would be loath to go back to the ancient ways. The ancient humility of faith was foreign to the arrogance of trusting in reason. They had reduced God from a Person to a mere body of logic, and their reason had full command of the logic of their laws.

For the peasants, there was little to hinder their repentance. They had long been told their poverty was a mark of God's disfavor, and that wealth was the primary proof of His favor. The wealthy frequently called the peasants "accursed," so it was nothing new to be told they were under judgment. For the socially prominent Pharisees and Sadducees, repentance was a far bigger issue. Convinced their wealth and power made them God's proctors for righteousness, they hardly felt sinful. Many sought merely to make sure John wasn't suggesting anything illegal or dangerous to their position. As some became enamored with the possibilities of political gain from getting involved, John rebuffed them. Their patronizing attitude was obvious to all. The Pharisees were empty legalists ("conservatives"); the Sadducees were Gnostic materialists, generally denying the spirit realm ("liberals"). The former had their tickets all punched, and this was another punch. The latter didn't believe any of it in the first place, but played along for the good of the rabble. Neither group by nature had any grasp of what John's message really meant. He called them children of snakes, a reference to Satan.

John asked them, "Who warned you to flee...?" The words mean specifically, "Who came to you privately and gave you a conscience?" It was a reference to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, whose divine presence had always brought a sense of sin (Isaiah 6). Theirs was no conviction from Jehovah, for they had never faced Him. Their intentions were purely a public sham; they made no room for the workings of God's Spirit. They had shut off their hearts from influencing their minds. Citing imagery from Jeremiah (46:22f) and Ezekiel (31:3ff), John warns them that their time is gone; the woodman was measuring the stroke for his ax. Having Hebrew DNA would mean nothing, since God could make better men from rocks. Genuine repentance would bring massive changes in life, not merely in a few habits. This was not a call for incremental improvements, but a demand for radical and total rebuilding of life. John would not let them use him to advance their social standing. They would not be allowed to identify with him until they changed their identity, and showed true fruit of repentance. Their minds would have to bow before their hearts.

John did not claim any vested authority. We so easily miss the profound symbol in Eastern societies of a person's footwear. To have charge of another's shoes and pedicure was the ultimate in degrading tasks, a mark of utter insignificance. The master calling for his shoes would not so much as acknowledge the presence of the shoe slave, only the shoes. John declared his place in the Kingdom was even lower, a profound statement of humility to the Jewish audience, considering he was the one stirring up so much interest in this Messianic Kingdom. If his readily apparent holiness was insufficient to merit the Messiah's notice, what would it say of the fakes unworthy for ritual washing at his hands?

John's baptism was merely a water symbol, an inconvenience to those who did not come prepared to participate. The Messiah's baptism in fire would bring wholesale destruction of everything in a man's life, immersing the soul in the Holy Spirit of God, whom no human can see and live. His standard of separation between the righteous and the sinners would draw a stark contrast -- it was the difference between being alive or dead. It demanded a new existence entirely, where the heart ruled from the convictions written there by God. Those who failed to embrace this would find themselves in a far worse situation than the garbage smoldering in the Gehenna Valley below Jerusalem, while those who accepted this high calling would see a Heaven no man can describe.

Jesus did nothing publicly to announce His ministry before this scene. John was sent as His forerunner, to carry the message of true repentance. The public ministry of Jesus was the doorway to the Kingdom of Heaven, and in many ways His work was the start of it. This meant a passing of the old Davidic Kingdom, and a passing of the Law of Moses. John served under this older covenant, but his service was to herald the New Covenant.

Israel's true identity was in the mission of revealing God. Up to this point, she had gotten farther and farther from that mission. Jesus came to save the mission; He came to be what Israel was called to be. For Jesus to become Israel required fulfilling every measure. Thus, to participate in John's baptism was a part of this. Not only did He lend credence to what John preached, but also that the Old Covenant was at an end. John was hardly a stranger to his cousin, Jesus, nor ignorant of the story of His birth and signs. He knew with some degree of conviction that his cousin was the Messiah, though he obviously did not know everything connected with it.

Thus, assuming Jesus was indeed "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," John was looking to Him as the ultimate expression of God's message and will. John knew he was merely the herald, clearly understood he deserved no place in Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, when Jesus showed up for baptism, John argued insistently and persistently against it. This was quite a scene. Finally, Jesus shut down the argument by noting that He came to fulfill every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses so He could inaugurate better things.

The instant Jesus arose from beneath the surface of the water, the sky itself was changed. There are no words to describe the unfathomable yet noticeable shift in reality, but John felt the air change. This was no ripping of time and space, but an orderly opening in the wall of separation between fallen Creation and God's perfect Heaven. A visible manifestation of God's own Spirit appeared in this opening, and descended like a dove to rest on Jesus. With it came the authoritative announcement from Heaven's Throne itself that this was the very Son of God, someone in Whom the Father of all, Jehovah, had full confidence from the beginning.

Chapter 4 -- John at this point had fulfilled his central role in history. It's not a matter of no longer having anything to do, for there would always be in this world fallen people in need of the message of repentance and redemption in God's Son. Rather, John's message was now fully formed, for its primary object was fully identified, and all his preaching now pointed to a clearly defined Person as Messiah, the Prince of Heaven. The claim had been declared, and John's life had reached its climax.

This claim by, and on behalf of, Jesus as the Messiah was not to go unchallenged. Just whose Messiah would He be? Several self-proclaimed messiahs had already come, each with a different message, with differing and conflicting claims. So far, all had died, mostly ignominiously. Being the true Messiah, it was necessary for Jesus to clarify at the least what He was not.

Led by the Spirit, into the Judean Wilderness, the mountainous western rim of the Dead Sea, Jesus began a fast. It mirrored the time Moses spent on the Mountain of God receiving the Law. It must be noted here that the mention of forty days and nights is a common Hebrew phrase rather like our saying "a month or so." It's not meant to be a precise count, because such was not considered important. What was important was the length of time was sufficient to make a full and clean break with the past, to face every human self-doubt, to establish clarity of purpose and understanding, and more importantly to fulfill the purpose lost to the Nation of Israel. Following their meeting with God at Sinai, Israel failed consistently and utterly to embrace the purpose God had for her. Thus, because of her rejection of Moses' forty days with God, they had their forty years of wandering spiritually -- also not to be taken with mathematical precision. Unlike His nation, Jesus did not wander in the wilderness, but was clearly led of the Spirit.

As this period of intense spiritual examination wound down, the final test must come. Had he gained the heart-led clarity of conviction for the purpose of His life? Would Jesus be the Messiah predicted in the Messianic Expectations common to the rabbinic traditions of His day? By no means. The Judaism of that day was bereft of spiritual depth, having become a shallow and narrow legalism, whose only concept of Heaven was material comfort and prideful rule over the human race. They had exchanged spiritual shalom for a poor shadow. They wanted gold instead of a legacy of revelation; they wanted a bulging dinner table rather than a fullness of the spirit; they wanted mere freedom from disease and pestilence, instead of God's divine power to resist every form of evil; they wanted political control and dominance to crush all others in the dirt, instead of reliance on God to grant power to fulfill His calling across all human political boundaries. While there must have been other temptations we could not name, these three primary issues are raised to indicate that Jesus rejected the Talmudic brand of Judaism -- Lust of the Flesh, Lust of the Eyes and the Boastful Pride of Life.

Perhaps it was the cool of the morning, as Jesus looked out upon the rocky waste, the perfect time to eat a breakfast of warm bread fresh from the oven. In that day and time the image of "bread" was not a long, squarish loaf as we think of it in the West, but a flat circular disk, rather like a pancake made with yeast. Many of the rocks lying on the surface of the desert looked precisely like that, even the same color sometimes. What it represented was far more. The Talmudic expectations of the Messiah called for Him to supply by miraculous power just this very thing; a particular legend called for the stones of the wilderness to be turned into bread, as a way of representing an unimaginable plenitude of food and hedonistic comfort (Lust of the Flesh).

There's nothing sinful about food, and a good appetite was created by God as part of good physical health. Rather, there is sin in taking a shortcut to godlike power, and to win over the Judean masses with the one thing that most worried them, and many other people in the world: starvation. Give them bread, and they'll eat out of your hands. Do it by miraculous powers and all the more will they flock to serve you. Conquering at the head of such a massive army would be a breeze. But Jesus was not a mere food supplier, for though it is necessary for life, it is the Law of God feeding the soul that mattered most. Better one should starve until this life is extinguished than to betray His will.

Standing on the wall of the Temple Terrace in Jerusalem, there is one corner, the southeast, which jutted out into the Kidron Valley, forming a wall some seventy feet high (21 meters), we believe. Whether in the flesh or in the spirit hardly mattered; Satan took Jesus there to claim one of those promises, part of "every word which proceeds from the mouth of God" -- the Messiah could not be harmed while engaged in the work of Jehovah (Psalm 91:11-12). Such a spectacular act as jumping off the pinnacle and landing safely on the valley floor below would force the Jews to accept Him (Lust of the Eyes). Not just the rabble, but the savvy urbanites, as well. This miracle would forestall any question whether He was the Messiah, and there's some evidence this very act was a part of the non-scriptural legends. It's true that the servant of Jehovah can expect everything to work out according to His calling, to overcome every threat that arises as a necessary element of such service. But this would be flinging a challenge in the face of God -- "Bail me out or Your promise will fail." Jesus would not be that kind of Messiah, presenting spectacles simply to amaze. The miraculous power of God exists not merely to meet human need, nor to amaze, but to demonstrate moral truth and confirm His Word.

Neither do we need to know where this "exceedingly high mountain" was, only that it was a place sufficient to display some extent of human habitation in the world. It represented the whole of humanity, under the various rulers and regimes appointed by God to fulfill the requirements of the Covenant of Noah (Genesis 9): Fallen man must live under social order, lest God reduce the natural order. In truth, the Covenant of Moses was a specific implementation of Noah's Covenant. It was the arrogance of Hellenistic reasoning and legalism that made Jews in Jesus' day believe they were inherently superior to all the rest of the human race, to the point the Talmud insists that all Gentiles are subhuman by nature, an entirely different species. For the Talmudic rabbis, it was their divine right to rule, and anything short of global Gentile slavery under Jews was a serious threat to their very existence. In their failure to see it was their own sins that always brought outside conquests of Israel, the false Talmudic expectations of the Messiah demanded He once and for all end this threat. He must become the ruler of the entire world, and make them eternally subservient to Israel. Many extravagant promises of "ten Gentile slaves for every Jew" and other racist nonsense pervaded these false prophecies. Rather than bring the light of God's revelation to all mankind, rabbis spoke dreamily of crushing all under their feet (Boastful Pride of Life).

Jesus would not be that sort of Messiah, either. Rather, He would conquer the hearts of men, uniting them under His spiritual rule, a rule that ignored nation, race, government, and laws of men. It would be the true Kingdom of Heaven, not a mere "heavenly" kingdom. The laws and governing of fallen mankind in this world are of no concern to the servants of the King. Those matters are the Father's alone; His servants are devoted to His rule and reign in an eternal dominion of souls, and leave temporal political matters in His care.

That Jesus would have known the fullness of rabbinic teaching is hardly in doubt. With His auspicious birth and all the signs, it's hard to imagine His extended family would not do all they could to insure He had gotten a decent rabbinical education. There were numerous rabbinical colleges throughout the world, wherever Jews lived. While some were more prestigious than others, just about all of them would have the same basic curriculum. It would have been loaded with Talmudic teachings, and it was clear Jesus from age 12 knew the heart of the matter, already. Still, by the time He was around 30 years old, He would have fully studied the whole Old Testament intensively, along with the various oral teachings that made up the Talmud in His day.

He would have understood well beforehand that the root nature of all fallen human desire could be narrowed down to those three things: Lust of the Flesh, Lust of the Eyes and the Pride of Life. The first can be described as all the insistent human appetites having been perverted, providing an excuse for ignoring God's provision to meet them. The second notes that there could never be enough new discovery and spectacle to sate the fallen human curiosity, the insatiable desire to know. The last depicts mankind's natural dominance over all other living things, even over the very earth itself. It brings unspeakable pride, as if humanity could rule all by superior intellect, yet could not keep away death.

We see this understanding echoed in the Fall (Genesis 3:6) as the basis for tempting Eve, and explained later by the Apostle John (1 John 2:16). It was the same three elements of fallen nature tested in the Wilderness Temptation of Christ, the same three elements that Talmudism had embraced by exchanging the abundant riches of the Spirit Realm for a poor shadow of worldly comfort. These temptations were the path Satan offered mankind to gain mastery of them. Jesus spoke with the authority of the Son, and remanded Satan to his rightful place under Him. Christ not only denied Satan's impudent claim and mocking promises, but would negate the power of sin in His choice to take the mystical path of Jehovah, through death unto eternal power.

Finally, we note here that Satan's name in the text comes from the term, "to pierce through." What could be fatal in the rough hands of a mere soldier can also be healing in the hands of the skilled surgeon. To cut through something is to see what it's made of, to explore its substance. Satan pierces all of us, but by clinging to Christ, we force our Enemy -- the Tempter, the Adversary, the Deceiver -- to do the work of God in clarifying our faith.

Let us remind ourselves here that Matthew does not recount every detail of the Jesus' daily life. He relies on the familiarity his Jewish readers had of that story, and focused instead on how that story showed that Jesus was the Messiah promised of old. Thus, we are not told of the first few days of ministry following the Temptation, nor how he became acquainted with several of His Disciples via their discipleship under John the Baptist, and John's specific declaration to them that Jesus was the Lamb of God. Matthew mentions only briefly the arrest of John, leaving it to the reader to realize that this made the political situation hot for everyone associated with him. Not only Jesus, but John's disciples probably went underground. Some of them returned to their homes in Galilee, as did Jesus.

Nor are we told of the incident at the synagogue in Nazareth. It was there they tried to push Jesus off a steep high bluff at the edge of town. This was His Father's signal to move to Capernaum, a much larger city, and not as politically dangerous as Jerusalem or other cities in Judea. Recall that Capernaum as a major hub of trade traffic, as well as a primary regional tax office. It was, therefore, a major hub of news which gave His message the widest distribution. This represents a permanent move for His base of operations.

Matthew indicates how this is a direct fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1-2. The context of Isaiah's prophecy notes the long, troubled history of this region. First, this region had been settled long before the central highlands of Canaan had seen any settlement. The sea was fresh-water, filled with edible fish ever in good supply, and a crossroads from ancient trade routes stretching back before recorded history. This was easily one of the nicest places to live in the whole land of Palestine.

It was also the center of some desperately wicked pagan religions. The economic power backing these religions made them equally repugnant and powerful as enemies when Israel began The Conquest. The tribes of Zebulun and Naphthali utterly failed to drive them out. Later, when a portion of Dan migrated to an area north of this district, their new City of Dan there became a center of paganizing influence among the tribes of Israel. When Jeroboam broke away with the Ten Tribes to form a separate kingdom, it was no accident that he chose the City of Dan as the northern center of his alternate worship, dividing their religious loyalties to prevent his subjects dividing their political loyalty. This was the ultimate sin, using pagan idolatry as a political weapon, rather than trusting in Jehovah who had promised to make things work for Jeroboam.

Isaiah remarks on this deep spiritual darkness, and how it resulted in their being that first taken away in exile by Assyria. Unlike the rest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the region around the sea did not long remain fallow. It was quickly repopulated by all manner of volunteers relocating from within the older conquests of the Assyrian Empire. These also rekindled the gloom of pagan worship, but the Messiah would break the first light of the Kingdom of Heaven there as the new dawn of truth.

The message was the same as John's: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." However, Jesus was no mere herald, but held that Kingdom in His hand. In preparation for this Kingdom, He began to gather its first royal officers. We find Matthew mentions first Peter and Andrew. Peter is the elder of the Twelve, possibly older than Jesus. Peter and Andrew were business partners with Zebedee, whose two sons, James and John, are also called. We have already noted these latter were almost certainly first cousins of Jesus, and the other pair may also have been. At the very least, they were all fairly well known to each other already. Jesus calls them to join Him full-time, to become a part of His inner circle. Peter, James and John are later seen as the closest inner circle. Jesus remarks that they would leave behind the fishing business, and begin capturing the souls of men for the Kingdom.

This region was considered a part of the Jewish homeland in the Roman Empire, and the Tetrarch Antipas had succeeded in making it quite the bustling crossroads. That made it rather prominent in the whole of Syria -- "Syria" being the name for Roman imperial administrative division that included Judea, Galilee, Samaria, Idumea, Perea, Decapolis, and much farther north. It was from this greater region in which the news of this healing prophet and rabbi drew crowds to His outdoor sessions.

For centuries, the Jews had blindly sought the mere shadow of God's grace and love. They were wrapped up in mere external "blessings" as the sole evidence of God's favor. They never understood that the presence or absence of mere human comfort was no reflection of deeper spiritual truths. It was not the need of healing that brought the miracles to these people, but the need of the Kingdom to establish the authority of the message of Jesus. There was no affliction God could not heal, no spiritual authority He could not humble, and no suffering He could not end. Had the Jews been faithful, these things would have been granted to them under the promises of Moses. It would have been theirs to pass to the whole world, but they failed even for themselves. Thus, it belonged to Jesus to fulfill that mission.

Such a demonstration of Kingdom authority naturally drew immense traffic, but most of it was the poor, the ill, the disabled, the demonized, the lost and listless. These people had nothing but needs, each seemingly a bottomless pit of sorrow. The central message of the gospel was that such things were so easy to resolve because they weren't important in the Kingdom. The definition of "miracle" is an earthly demonstration of deep spiritual truth. Most of the rabble appears to have missed the greater truth, for they eventually desert Jesus. Their human needs symbolized their deep spiritual needs, so deep that they were unable to find the light, mostly. It came, but they never saw it. Indeed, we might safely say the demonstration of power was more to teach His disciples than any other reason. By custom, these men would have begun their discipleship not in asking questions, but simply absorbing everything their Master said and did for a while in this noisy, carnival atmosphere.

Eventually, the rest of the Twelve and a sizable group of others gathered around Him. In their hearts and minds, they were fairly certain this was the promised Messiah. However, as with all Jews, their understanding of the matter was deeply corrupted by centuries of Talmudic teaching. Indeed, until the very day He died, Jesus continued to struggle against their density on this problem, and they continued to look for signs of the false Messianic Expectations. Matthew begins the next section of his Gospel recording the early teachings of Jesus. In this, Matthew shows how Jesus struggles mightily with the mountain of lies, showing that the Kingdom of Heaven was of a nature far beyond their assumptions. The jarring conflict, though, made it stand out in their minds. Later, when the Holy Spirit descends, this is all awakened and clarified, and the disciples are instantly transformed.

Chapter 5 -- Jesus proposed a high moral teaching that transcended the legalism of His day. His was a Law of the Heart, a code of justice based on convictions written in the soul with the finger of God. The whole things presumes an otherworldly value system.

The crowds had come from all over. For every one healed and sent away whole, it seemed three more arrived to replace him. Was this all the Master came to teach? Was He going to make healers of His disciples? No, there was more teaching than healing, though perhaps only His close followers knew that. Of course, a few in the crowd wanted only the healing. But many realized that the healings were but signs for something different, a teaching that had brought great power, a power not seen in Israel in many generations. The scrolls held stories of miracles of old, but not on this scale.

More than a teaching of power, it was powerful teaching, a teaching that brought real change. Like no one before Him, this rabbi taught a stirring message. It was not simply one more legalistic rehashing of the Talmudic lessons, nor a dry recitation from the Books. No, this teaching beckoned to a place far beyond, a standard that could not be obeyed without a miraculous change in human awareness. For many, it was too much, and they went away confused. Plenty went away ridiculing. Still, just a few seemed to get it, seemed to hear in all this something they needed more than mere healing of the body -- a healing of the soul.

Most likely it was Mount Tabor, more of a rocky, rounded high hill nearby where Jesus climbed up above the crowds for a time of teaching. Matthew uses this moment in the story to launch into an explanation of all the various teachings Jesus gave in those days. Finding a prominent spot, Jesus followed rabbinic custom and took a seat to teach. It was a subtle signal for quiet listening. In such a setting, the teaching session was primarily for His disciples. From the text, we know of only the first four of the Twelve, and they would have sat closest. The crowd would have already seen by their behavior that these were His servants. By now, He would surely have drawn several others hoping for similar honor. Perhaps it was a pretty large group. Thus, it is likely some of the other eight were among the listeners. It was time to begin winnowing the group, to see who could weather the dramatic difference in teaching style, and more so, the difference in content.

He preached about the Kingdom of Heaven that was right on top of them. What would it be like? It would be so easy to get lost in the details of His message. There really is a great deal of material, but we must first discern the theme. That is, what was the underlying concept Jesus sought to declare? In this first collection of sayings, we are exposed to the shortcomings of typical rabbinic teaching. The constant refrain, "you have heard it said" refers to that. In this first few verses, Jesus starts by redefining what it means to be favored by God, to be blessed and happy in this life. As we've already established, the mainstream teaching of that day was to use relative material wealth and comfort as the measure of God's favor, and holiness as marked by adhering to the massive pile of Talmudic minutiae, something about which Pharisees and Scribes were quite pushy.

Jesus threw out all of that. Not only did He ignore the rabbinical style of quoting revered experts, but seemed to poke fun at them. No doubt some felt this was tantamount to rejecting the Covenant itself, but clearly He did not. Had the leadership been obeying the actual Covenant of Moses, there would have been no need for such mass healing sessions, for it was their teaching that created an atmosphere that denied the common folks any blessings of the Covenant. Of course, you could have fond all of this in obscure comments by some rabbis, but most in that day paid only lip-service to such things. Jesus seemed to offer a competing understanding of the Covenant and its requirements. It was not about rules, wealth and political power, but about the soul at rest in God, regardless of circumstances. Whatever the wealthy had, it wasn't actually God's favor. His favor fell on those who were humble, mourned more at sin than at physical injury, personally knew Him who held the reins of life, cared more about true righteousness, showed mercy to others, were transparent in their motives, and preferred the shalom of the soul over that of the flesh. Most favored of all were those who faced contempt for these attitudes, for it put them in the company of the famous prophets of old. These would receive from God far more in spiritual blessings than any man could claim in earthly rewards.

Such persecution was unavoidable, because the truly righteous were radically different. They were driven from within and not easily amenable to rabbinical manipulation. This was not about overturning the Law and Prophets, but of bringing them to life and fulfilling their message. Their message was precious, and any man who dared to raise anything above them -- as most rabbis did with the Talmud, claiming it was more binding than Moses -- would find no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Word of revelation would outlive every man. Those who lived by the Word did not simply observe the obvious requirements in conduct, but sought to live the higher meaning. Here Jesus clearly shows that the Law was type and shadow, but He is the Light of Truth to which the Law pointed. One could obey the whole of Moses, yet fail God completely.

It was not enough to withhold your hand from murder; you must pull your heart from the pit of senseless anger. The courts of earthly judgment were severe enough. Imagine the Court of Heaven, where God sees the hearts of men, and needs no prosecutor. You can't stand before Him with unclean hands, but even worse is an unclean heart. Go first and live according to pure motives, or your ritual offerings will have no meaning.

Treating wives as little more than good cattle is an abomination to God. The Law of Moses was weak on men of weak character. However, the true standard of God was to hold your wife as His sacred gift. The only just reason for sending her away was betrayal of trust. God takes marriage seriously, and your marriage covenant was made before Him. It's not just avoiding pagan wives, but avoiding trading them around like property. One man, one woman, for life.

And yet, do not apply these Beatitudes in hair-splitting legalism; that would show you utterly missed the whole point. Silly nit-picking over legal trifles will cost you more in the end. If it requires some sort of legally binding oath to get you to keep your promises, you don't know God. God demands you simply say "yes" and "no" and mean it. If you spend your whole life just trying to get even with those who attack you, you won't have time to know God. It's better to absorb losses and attacks, as if property and comfort were expendable luxuries, and trust Him for recompense. Don't cling to mere stuff! The greatest riches are His genuine approval. The greatest power over all your enemies is love regardless how they treat you. Return blessings for evil, so that evil does not own you. How can you hope to enter the Kingdom if you aren't any different from sinners?

Chapter 6 -- Jesus contrasts genuine spirituality with the hypocrisy so common in His day. This teaching session was kicked off by Jesus turning upside down the typical rabbinical teachings of His day. In this chapter, the focus is on the nature of true spirituality. Jesus contrasts the kind of spirituality they were used to seeing every day against the genuine article.

He begins with what were commonly referred to as "acts of mercy," which today we typically call "acts of charity." We are aware of two different practices that Jesus mocks in saying "sounding a trumpet in the streets." One is quite literal, when those with great wealth and power would summon the unfortunate to assemble for mass distribution of food, clothing and such. This is top-down charity, empowering the giver and weakening the recipients, versus the commanded habit of building a community that shares freely like family. The other form of trumpet sounding was peculiar to Jerusalem, where the Temple stood. Built into parts of the external wall were convenient drop boxes with heavy brass funnels protecting the depository. The large opening faced out on the wall, which narrowed and curved downward so thieves could not simply reach into the unattended box. Tossing a large handful of worthless coins would make quite a racket. The jaded residents of the city called this "sounding the horn." Such public notice was the full extent of blessing hypocrites received. True spirituality cared nothing for mans' approval, but only for the Father's, Who saw all secret acts.

The Talmud prescribed rather extensive ritual prayers. Writing in rather flowery language, they lent themselves well to dramatic gestures preferred by hypocrites. Pharisees would typically ensure they found themselves in very public places during the hours of prayer, is if they somehow were accidentally caught by the timing. Had they made it a point to be in the Temple or any synagogue, it would have been more honorable. However, even there they mimicked the chanting of pagan idolaters, rocking back and forth while wearing all of the ritual accouterments. Prayer is hardly a matter of getting the attention of a busy or distracted god. Jehovah knew all things, so prayer was not for Him but a chance for us to enter into an audience with Him and getting to know Him.

Jesus proceeds to lay out a model prayer. While there is no harm in reciting this in worship, that misses the point. It is not a matter of precise holy wording, but grasping the character of this outline Jesus provides. I take the liberty here of paraphrasing it to help you understand that:

Our Father in Heaven, even Your Name is Holy. Bring Your Kingdom into our lives so we obey You as those in Heaven do. Provide us only what we need to serve you today. Teach us to forgive as You forgive. Help us follow you through trials such that we do not fall into the hands of Satan. We seek Your Kingdom's prosperity by Your power and for Your glory.

Notice there is precious little here about worldly needs, except to ask for it in like measure to a Roman soldier's daily ration. Such ration was never enough to encourage the man deserting his commander, but enough to make it through that day. It was a Roman practice that bound the commander to his men and developed trust. The whole passage aims at binding us to God, seeking only for ourselves what it takes to bring Him glory and fulfill His purpose. Jesus goes on to make again the point about forgiveness. If you do not pass on the Lord's mercy and grace to others, that mercy and grace can do nothing for you. This is the character of prayer, of seeking to commune with God Almighty that we be changed. More precisely that we be changed into a people whose whole focus is God's business, God's way.

Contrast this to the hypocrites who advertised their fasting by overdoing the sackcloth and ashes business. Such was originally designed to shock oneself into realizing the seriousness of some grave sin. Jesus describes those who obviously don't have a sense of sorrow over their sins, but a deep need for human pity and approval: "Oh, he is such a martyr!" While people notice, it never comes to God's attention. Fasting is a commitment of the heart, some internal concern that need not be a burden to those who don't know. God will know, and respond appropriately.

Jesus again hammers the Jewish elite for their worldliness by discounting the necessity of piling up material wealth. Such acquisitiveness leads merely to worry over how very much everyone else wants it, too. Hide it away too well and natural processes will render it useless. If, instead, you are focused on spiritual treasure, there is no way that can be lost. If your eyes are trained to see the world with price tags, the light of truth can never come in, and your soul will be darker than the pits of Hell. God will not share your loyalty with the god of material possessions.

The wealthy Jews often chided the peasants for not saving, blaming them for their own poverty. It was a hard-hearted meanness that characterized the comfortable class of Jews all over the known world. They seemed afflicted with an abject fear of losing what they were so sure was God's blessing. Perhaps it was that, but the mere possession was the only blessing they would ever know. Peace was denied them; they were held fast in the anxiety of a shalom that was measured merely in tangibles. A rote observance of Moses promised little else, if that much. Yet the whole of Moses and the rest of the Old Testament pointed to something much higher. It was a shalom of inner peace, a security of the spirit that trusted God to provided what was truly needed. Instead of presenting God with a list of requirements, the truly spiritual would request from God His requirements.

If one could not trust the God Who made him and all things he could see, as well as many things he could not see, then this world was a sad and dark place full of danger. Jesus noted that far lesser creatures, whose lives appeared to have no significant purpose, seemed quite well taken care of by their Creator. How could anyone imagine the God who called them to service would do any less for them?

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.

Chapter 7 -- Most people completely mistake the point of this chapter. The way to teach the Law of God was far different than what most men expected, and different from what the Scribes and Pharisees had been doing. While we have loads of very fine spiritual guidance built on Jesus' words here, most of it misses the more substantive train of thought in the larger context. We have noted already that Jesus is working to distance Himself from the typical Talmudic rabbinical teachings of His day. He began this session showing how the Pharisees and Scribes (Talmudic lawyers) were promoting a man-made corruption of God's Word. They really had no idea what it was about, having lost the key intellectual traditions of their forebears. As a result, their brand of morality was a bad joke, an obvious hypocrisy based on Hellenized reason and legalistic sophistry. In this chapter, Jesus points out the natural results of such a failed grasp on the Law of Moses: They didn't have a clue how God intended it be taught.

Jewish social and civic leaders of Jesus' day were infamous for harsh demands. Their way of correcting a sinner was with a bitterness utterly foreign to God. Such an arrogant and hateful approach naturally provoked rebellion, even if those corrected dare not show it. The method destroyed the mission. Pharisees sharply picked over the slightest detail of their Talmudic laws -- truly impossible to obey -- and had completely buried the moral character of God. It was like trying to remove a splinter from someone else while a wooden post was hanging out of your own flesh (or picking gnats and swallowing camels). You cannot judge if you have no moral conviction to guide your discernment. Committing the teaching of God's Word to such fools was throwing Passover scraps to dogs (viewed by Hebrews of that day as we do jackals today), or tossing jewelry to filthy pigs. They had no idea what good it was.

Teaching the Word of God requires a gentle approach that arises from a heart of moral conviction. It's not about wrath first, but about healing broken lives. People who aren't abused are more likely to listen, to be open to the truth. The Word of God is a love offering from above; it cannot be forced on anyone. If you do not let your heart-mind guide your brain, you cannot grasp the rich moral treasure. We rightly condemn abusive parents, who drive away their hungry children with harsh treatment. The Laws of God are also not designed to harm and threaten, but to fill and nourish the hungry soul. The Word of God itself demands you approach people they way you want to be approached. What sort of appeal would catch your attention?

Truth is hard enough without extra human burdens. It is like a narrow, steep path, passing through a small wicket. The whole world is full of those who take the easy way out. It requires no special talent to believe in yourself uncritically, so long as you don't bother with humbly examining your life against the Word. If you are not first drawn to it with a desire that drives you through all manner of personal sacrifice, you can't get it. And if you don't have it, you can't pass it on. To compensate, the Pharisees and Scribes would spend hours each day creating detailed analyses of their predecessors' detailed analyses. It salved their dead consciences, believing they served a God they really didn't know. The God you know intellectually is a false god if you don't first know Him in your heart.

Most prophets of that day were also in it for themselves. It was easy to put on a show, to act a part and draw a crowd. However, if watched over time, especially in private moments, one realized they were fake. It's like checking the fruit on a tree. God's Word is inherently nutritious to the soul. A real prophet lives a changed life first, then prophesies, as John the Baptist did. They welcome a probing eye into their private conduct. Fakes will hide, because their root nature remains that of toxic weeds. Give them time; you'll know prophets by their fruits.

Jesus warned that, even among those who followed Him, there would be fakes. They would appear to follow His teaching, even would appear to do miracles, and carry His name and teaching everywhere. Do not rely on miracles, for they may come in spite of a man being fake. The way to know a man of God is his sincere commitment to God.

Following Jesus means more than mimicking Him. A shallow performance, even with full sincerity, is still a mere performance. No, it requires hearing His teachings with the heart, letting the convictions of your heart guide decisions. People who really get it will be building the Kingdom, and building their own lives at the same time. Life founded on true faith and conviction will withstand any storm. The wash of humanity rushing against it will not move it. People who miss it, who don't really get it, but try to fake it as a mere code of conduct, will have nothing. They'll build a life like a house of mud bricks in the wadi. The first time things get tough, it'll be gone. Worse, they'll be left with a greater confusion and pain than before.

Matthew notes that, whether the people really understood or not, what everyone noticed was how Jesus was like no other rabbi. His teaching carried its own authority because it spoke directly to the heart, not relying on reason. There was no need to cite other authorities, no need to appeal to various experts. This was a teaching that carried power to change men's souls, even as it changed bodies in the crowded healing sessions. And it was the change of souls that truly turned things upside down.

Chapter 8 -- Matthew shares a series of events clearly indicating the authority of Jesus. We are reminded again Matthew groups teachings and events by themes. While generally following chronological order, the events in the next two chapters are unlikely to have occurred in quite this precise sequence. Matthew's perspective was to show to his Jewish readers how completely Jesus fulfills all the purposes of, and prophecies about, the Nation of Israel. At the same time, it was critical to show how doing these things made Jesus quite contrary to what the leaders of that nation expected, as they had bound themselves to a false reckoning of what Moses and the Prophets had written.

After the long teaching session on the mountain, Jesus was confronted by a leper. The worshipful approach was the leper's affirmation that he believed Jesus was the Messiah, and his words indicated full faith in Jesus' power. The question was not whether He could, but whether He would. Jesus would and did. In the process, He shows His superiority to the Law of Moses, for He touched the leper. This would normally make Him ritually unclean, not to mention risking infection to Himself. Instead, it was Jesus' purity and health that was infectious. The caution about publicity was more for the sake of obeying the meaning of the Law regarding cleansing. Rather than go about bragging he was now clean, the man should first attend to the ritual of presenting himself before a priest. It would also guarantee the priests could not dispute Jesus' evidence.

Indeed, Jesus' authority was even better understood by Gentiles than by His own people. We note in passing that Jesus need not have had this conversation directly with the centurion for this to be an accurate report. Rather, a conversation carried on by messenger was considered the same thing in ancient cultures. In this case, the Gentile centurion maintained a proper respect for Jewish sensitivities. Indeed, this man was quite wise and decent, referring to his servant as "my son." We can be sure such a man was highly regarded by his staff and troops. His true brilliance was in realizing that, as a man under and over the authority of others, surely the Messiah would not lack for the authority to have his command executed by all Creation from any distance. So it was. In marveling over this, Jesus bluntly prophesied that most Jews would find themselves outside the Kingdom they arrogantly considered their natural birthright, because it was about faith, not DNA. The image of reclining in the great dinner hall in the sky was a typical Jewish expression for better days when Messiah would come crush the Romans, and enslave all the Gentiles under Israel. Thus, Gentiles such as this centurion would take the Jews' place, and most Jews would be less than slaves, even aliens.

Jesus was Lord over the Sabbath, too. Arriving at Peter's home in Capernaum, things were pretty much out of domestic order with the matron of the house sick. The large number of guests invited with Jesus would have to fend for themselves, a deeply embarrassing prospect. Jesus paid no attention to rules and promptly healed the woman. She immediately recovered and went about the business of the day. That it was clearly the Sabbath can be seen from the context, for the neighbors would not bring out their needy until sundown, when the Jews reckoned the Sabbath to be past -- a "day" was evening then morning, so evening began the next day. Here Matthew points out directly that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy, specifically Isaiah 53:4, a Messianic prophecy.

At some point, Jesus decided to leave the crowds to their own devices and make a divine appointment elsewhere. He ordered His disciples to ready a boat for departure, but while waiting was approached by a couple of men seeking to be full-time disciples. One was, of all things, a Scribe -- the term for a Jewish lawyer. Perhaps he was genuine in his own mind, but Jesus warned him to count the costs. In this case, it meant leaving behind all the creature comforts to which a Scribe might have grown accustomed. Another was hoping to finish up affairs at home. Under the Law, a man whose father died, or was approaching death, was exempt from all other civil and ritual requirements. Using a standard Hebrew figure of speech about spiritually dead people, Jesus pointed out that the Kingdom of Heaven was yet a higher calling, taking precedence over the old social customs, including earthly family concerns. Again, it was counting the costs, as Jesus was demonstrating by dropping everything and leaving behind an adoring crowd at the whims of Kingdom service.

Stepping aboard the little boat, they pushed off. Typical of the Sea of Galilee at various times of the year, a violent storm struck without a hint of warning. Even experienced sailors would panic in such a situation, since it could easily mean death by drowning. Jesus was catching up on some lost sleep, apparently unconcerned. They knew He could save them, but were short enough on faith that they failed to trust His command to be out on sea in the first place. If He was sleeping, were they really in danger? Matthew seems to paint here a picture of Jesus exasperated by their panic, and stopping the storm more to end their whining than to end an actual threat. The disciples' comments could easily be read as grateful crowing at what a powerful rabbi they followed.

Equally tiresome for us today is dealing with silly questions about where the boat touched ashore. Pedantic reading from a Western viewpoint yields an impossible situation, as there is no place that matches the names and the physical description. First, we don't know of any place called Gergese. Comparing with the accounts in other Gospels, we get Gadara and Gerasa. These all appear to conflict, until we realize each Gospel writer addressed a different audience. Second, it's just possible that Matthew's spelling is the result of minor textual corruption. Still, it hardly matters when we approach this from a proper Hebrew frame of mind, where the context explains everything.

The Decapolis was a region of Hellenistic Syrians with other mixed ethnic groups who became dominant in the area sometime before 280 BC. Gadara was the chief city near the southeastern shore of Galilee, some six miles inland. However, the city was on a high ridge, from which the Sea was quite visible. Much of this area would have been called by this chief city, and the inhabitants over quite some range could rightly be called "Gadarenes." Since Gerasa was the capital of Decapolis at that time, all the residents could be also be called "Gerasenes," just the same as most Samaritans didn't live in the City of Samaria proper. It happens a small village just beyond the farthest northern extent of Decapolis jurisdiction along the shore is today called Kursi (or Kersi, Koursi, etc.). Greek rendering would almost certainly make that Gersa, Geresa, or something similar. Further, we note that the herd of pigs was quite far off, just barely visible. People who have explored that area recently can tell us that one finds two or three places within walking distance of Kursi where a steep slope runs into or close to the water. In addition, cliffs with caves are all over that area.

If we picture a massive herd of 2000 pigs stampeding, they could easily have run squealing the whole six miles from Gadara, if need be, in order to drown themselves. Chances are, they were just over the line from Decapolis in Jewish territory, near Kursi. This would make them Jewish-owned pigs raised for the Gadarene market. Even if the herders could prove in Jewish courts that Jesus was the primary cause of the herd's loss, it was illegal for them to raise pigs in the first place. At any rate, Jesus was not worried about pigs. Stampeding to their deaths insured that the demons could do no further harm.

We note also that Matthew says there were two men, but the other Gospels see one. Apparently one of them commanded a lot less attention. It hardly matters, because between the two of them, the Demon Legion was a serious problem. Indeed, the whole land at that time was spiritually wide open to dark forces, as the Jews had consistently disobeyed the Word. Those who embrace the Laws of God from a sincere heart will create boundaries that demons cannot cross. When the leaders of Israel were sincerely and faithful, their whole nation was protected from sickness and demons. The corruption of God's promises, twisted into mere worldly comforts, was a direct rejection of the calling to bring the light of spiritual truth to the world. Not only had the Jewish leadership denied that truth themselves, but tried to prevent others finding it. Their contempt and vile wishes for Gentiles resulted in the deep spiritual malaise hanging over the Promised Land. It was up to Jesus to clean up the mess, and set things right for these two men.

Thus, we draw a picture of Jesus establishing His authority.

Chapter 9 -- The authority of the Kingdom is exercised through faith, and it turns the mythology of the Talmud on its head. Every kingdom and empire had its enforcement. The Roman standard, symbolizing the authority of Rome, was carried at the head of every column of troops sent to assert that authority. Those troops had sworn allegiance; though sometimes drafted at the point of a sword themselves, it remained legally binding. The authority of the Kingdom of Heaven was not enforced by troops, but by faith.

The Law of Moses was a symbolic representation of God's Law. Matthew emphasized that the two -- the Law of Moses versus the Law of God -- were not synonymous. Faith restores the intent of Mosaic Law, because faith fulfills the Law of God directly without the symbolism. At the same time, Jesus Himself emphasized that the corrupt Talmudic teachings were hardly consistent with Moses or true faith. But while you can be born into, or convert to, the Covenant of Moses, faith can come only from God as a gift of grace. In that sense, you cannot have faith; faith must have you. This new revelation of faith in the life and teaching of Jesus confirms the Law of Moses in one sense, but also fulfills and completes it, closing the book on its authority on earth. Jesus had already said the Law would remain in force until it was fulfilled, but He was referring to the Cross. In the meantime, exposing the purpose of the Law meant showing His authority over it, and that authority expressed itself in faith.

In the Judaism of that day, it was taught that all maladies were the result of sin. While it is true in the sense that the Fall brought disease and death to the human race, the Jews taught that every health issue was a direct result of that person's sin (or the sins of their parents). Even today, we tend to feel guilt when gripped in the sorrows of suffering. Everyone so afflicted in that day easily concluded they had sinned somehow, that they were accursed. Worse, many afflictions would prevent one coming into the Temple to confess and repent, as was also commonly taught. Thus, Jesus addressed that issue when accosted by some fellows carrying their lame friend on a pallet. First, He announced that the man's sins are forgiven; his curse was removed. So much for that issue. Before continuing, Jesus must address those whose false teachings brought such condemnation and guilt on the man's soul.

We need not assume when Jesus knew the Scribes' minds on the issue that it was a miracle, since such teaching had been around for some centuries. His own education surely included it. More importantly, He realized that as soon as He mentioned sins forgiven, these lawyers would think He had blasphemed. This was a major crime under the Law of Moses, either by pulling God down to a human level, or elevating something human to divine status. These lawyers would be duty-bound to report this crime. Jesus warned them that it would not be blasphemy if He actually did have the authority to forgive sins -- that He was the Messiah. He asked them a question in logical terms they could understand: Which is easier to prove, that He could forgive sins or that He could heal the man? Any charlatan can say, "You are forgiven." If someone said, "Take up your bed and walk," we could clearly see the proof for the authority to say it. Jesus was backing them into a corner: If sickness indicated sin, then healing indicated that sin was forgiven.

Turning to the man whose faith had now been restored, Jesus told him to rise and walk. The man did so, of course. In that context, it was legal proof under Jewish teaching. Jesus would not be able to heal a man still in His sins, so the healing proved that the sins were forgiven. Thus, Jesus had authority to forgive sins. As a man of no great legal or political power and authority, nor wealth, Jesus showed all observers that the power to forgive sins was something humans could exercise. The very idea brought the crowd to praise and wonder at God's unspeakable gift. At the same time, the Scribes were no doubt infuriated, not least because their power and authority over the people as their "God given right" was slipping away. The gift and power of faith made them insignificant, and even the legal recourse of accusations in a Talmudic Court was denied them, with hundreds or thousands of witnesses rejoicing around them.

This authority and power of Kingdom faith eclipsed the civil side of the law, as well. Again, this account is not precisely chronological, as we find the other Gospels place events in a different sequence, while here it is by theme. Matthew had no doubt already spent time with Jesus. Here was a rabbi truly possessed of a holy power, yet willing to associate with those despised by just about every upstanding Jew. Matthew follows an obscure ancient custom of not referring to himself directly as the man in this story, nor does he mention that Jesus was his cousin. He talks about a fellow who worked in the Judean king's toll station in Capernaum; this was not a Roman tax office. This was where trade traffic on the main road south and north, or across Galilee by boat, must pass. This was somewhat less odious than collecting taxes from one's own people on behalf of pagan overlords, but it still meant far more close association with pagans than Jews would normally tolerate. Jesus spared nothing in pressing His claims under the Kingdom of Heaven to call Matthew away from this important task to a full-time discipleship.

Of all people, Matthew would be elated. Once slandered as a sinner, he was now an intimate of the Messiah. This easily outshone any other social occasion celebrated among Jews. Matthew put on a lavish celebration, and naturally invited His Master and fellow disciples, along with all of the friends he had. Those friends would surely be other tax-collectors, a tiny defensive minority within Jewish society. This group would include other people labeled "sinners" by the Pharisees and Scribes, people who found themselves at risk of being shunned, kicked out of synagogues, treated spitefully if they dared attend Temple celebrations, and so forth. The Pharisees couldn't let Jesus work without their supervision, but also couldn't bring themselves to step inside Matthew's household. We are told in other Gospels that they called from the outer gate of the enclosed courtyard found in front of every large home. They inquired how a rabbi of the Law could eat with those whose sins made them by definition "non-Jews," in effect Gentiles. Jews were forbidden entering the homes of Gentiles, but Jesus reclined at their table. Jesus sent word back to the Pharisees at the gate: He was sent to heal broken spirits. Only those who knew they needed healing would submit to it. Those who felt themselves righteous could hardly repent and seek spiritual healing. It was a common Hebrew proverb. To drive it home, Jesus used a typical rabbinical phrase, telling the Pharisees to go back and study 1 Samuel 15:22: "And Samuel said, 'Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice! To listen is better than the fat of rams!'"

There was another question: Why should the Lamb of God neglect the observance of ritual fasting? The Law of Moses called for one annual fast, but the Pharisees had pressed the Talmudic tradition of fasting Mondays and Thursdays. This was probably on one of those two days. But never mind the Talmud legalism; addressing the bigger question of Mosaic Law, Jesus answered with a bit of humor, referring to this lavish occasion as a wedding feast. In a spiritual sense, it was a wedding, for this was Christ seeking His bride. For Jesus, His whole ministry was a spiritual wedding feast. It was as if to say this partying was fully appropriate, for it signaled a new beginning. As ancient Eastern royalty often did, the vestment of the royal heir took place at the prince's wedding. Such a wedding was marked by passing the symbolic rule of some small portion of the kingdom, up to that point held by an appointed viceroy about to retire. In this case, the Law of Moses was being retired. The personal stamp of this Messiah Prince would replace the customs of the viceroy, Moses, over the Chosen Nation. Therefore, this celebration at Matthew's home was the beginning of such changes, a new and invigorating rule marked by joy. This joy could not fit in the old forms of Mosaic rituals, which had reached retirement.

Jesus must have faced that fasting question all too often. We learn from the other Gospels that Jesus heard this question at Matthew's feast, but here it is recalled as a question from the disciples of John the Baptist. After having answered it yet again, Jesus is approached by Jairus, ruler of the local synagogue (as we learn from Mark and Luke). This man had faith to worship Jesus as the Messiah, and knew He could raise the dead. On the way to his house, Jesus encountered a woman with long term menstrual hemorrhage. Her faith told her that simply touching His outer garment, one of the tassels required by Moses on the hem, and not His person, would restore her health. She could not simply come up and talk to Him in public; her malady made her ceremonially unclean. Indeed, He was not just any man, but an important one, with crowds and big-shots in His company. It would be embarrassing to Him to even acknowledge her, much less touch her, so taking this unobtrusive route would have to do, and it was just barely legal. Of course, it worked, but the act was merely symbolic. Jesus turned to inform her, and to teach the crowd as well, that it was her faith which simultaneously cleansed and healed her, not the touch of His tassel. The other Gospels record a much fuller story, but Matthew here is focused on the important theme of faith and its authority over every other facet of life.

The authority of faith brought joy where there was once deep sorrow. We find it strange that those who mourn could suddenly laugh in derision, but Eastern cultures understand that emotions could be conjured when needed. That is, they weren't falsely weeping over the loss of life; it was quite real. It was also contextual. Further, this would have been quite a large crowd of mourners, given her father's importance as ruler of the synagogue. They wept because it was appropriate, as the sorrow over death was never far away. They brought genuine sorrow in sympathy to the family who had lost a child. That did not prevent them also deriding Jesus for saying something they thought was silly, even madcap. They felt the context called for it at that moment. That Jesus used the term "sleep" to enunciate a moral principle that was quickly forgotten by His disciples, we learn later. In the Kingdom of Faith, even death is just a circumstance, a temporary condition. A simple touch from His hand, which would normally make Him ritually impure, brought her back. Faith took priority over every other authority on earth, including death. Such power and authority simply cannot be hidden, for it reaches beyond the one place no man escapes -- the grave.

As He made His way back home, two blind men approach, having been alerted by the incredible news of the girl's reanimation. They had faith enough to recognize that Jesus could be no other than the Messiah, the promised Son of David. They also had faith enough to realize that they had no merit, but needed mercy. Choosing a private setting, Jesus allowed them to follow Him inside the house. He queried their faith, as much for their own benefit as anything else, then touched and healed them. Then He challenged their faith to obey, with a command to keep this miracle private. Jesus didn't need a faithless mob following Him around as they might some traveling showman. In this they failed, but with good excuse, for the two men could not keep silent about such a miraculous thing.

As those two left, they passed another group bringing in a man demonized and mute. Picture a man silenced by demons, with no means to cry out in torment. Instead, he was restricted to non-verbal communication. His mannerisms in this would have made it clear he was demonized. It was the faith of his friends that brought this man to Jesus, and their faith enabled his deliverance and speech. This was a final point by Matthew, showing that faith had authority over the Kingdom of Darkness. That sort of authority was simply unheard of in the history of Israel. While Jesus did not answer it at that time, Matthew shows the Jewish leaders understood nothing, for they told people that Jesus' authority over demons could only come from the ruler of demons. They had long ago locked themselves out of understanding it was their sins that had unleashed the demons on their land. Under the power of Satan themselves, they insisted that only Satan could order demons about with such ease. Their own rituals of deliverance were elaborate and expensive, and seldom seemed to do any good. This Jesus simply dismissed demons by an authority they never grasped, the authority of obedient faith as a gift from God.

Instead, mistaking their spiritual prison for a castle, and misconstruing their chains as power and freedom, the teachers of Judaism had rejected the call of God to bring light and truth to the world. For them, the downtrodden were despicable, worthy of contempt, entirely to blame for their state. Matthew tells us how Jesus looked upon them as precious sheep. Without a shepherd to lead them and protect them, they had been chased, mauled and nearly destroyed. Their spirit was gone, along with hope. In desperation, they clung to Jesus and His teaching as the one last grab at salvation. The Jewish leadership had made abstract ideas their treasure, where Jesus showed the ancient Hebrew concept of people as wealth. For Him, they were not the trash of Israel, but the valuable treasure to be salvaged from darkness and death. He taught His disciples to see them that way, as the long awaited harvest of souls. Pray that the Father sends more faith laborers, for the crop is beyond measuring.

Chapter 10 -- Jesus commissions the Twelve to begin taking His message to the Jewish cities of Judea and Galilee, as part of the fulfillment of the Covenant of Moses. A partial answer for the prayer for more spiritual harvest workers was to deputize twelve of His followers to carry His message and work to their nation. Having demonstrated the authority of faith sufficiently, Jesus specifically empowered and authorized these men to carry that faith throughout Judea and Galilee. They were to avoid any cities controlled by Gentiles or Samaritans. This was not simply Jewish prejudice, but the proper order of Kingdom logic. We note that, since the Covenant of Moses applies only to that people, in that land, until the revelation of Messiah, they were not to depart the land and the people. While it was certain the nation as a whole would reject that message, it must be offered her first. Before that Covenant can be fulfilled, there must be this one last act of grace within that Covenant, so the chosen deputies were sent to them.

It would be easy to lose ourselves in discussing the identities of these Twelve Disciples. Sufficient it is to note here they are mostly pairs from their families. On top of that, several are Jesus' cousins. We are told specifically that the Sons of Zebedee are His cousins, as their mothers are sisters. By tradition Matthew's father (variously called Cleopas and Alphaeus) is a brother of Jesus' dad. That makes Matthew, James the Less and Lebbaeus Thaddaeus ("Judas the brother of James") all first cousins of Jesus. Some of the others may have been distant relatives, but the evidence is spotty. While there may have been numerous unknown factors involved, we can be certain the primary evidence of their fitness for this privilege is the manifest results seen later. We must note in passing that even Judas the Betrayer was given the powers the rest carried. At any rate, these were granted His authority, sent out in six pairs to the cities of the Jews in Palestine.

Recalling how Jesus at the end of chapter 9 sees the Jewish peasants as the lost sheep of Israel, Jesus sets conditions for this mission consistent with being still under the Law of Moses, fulfilling the substance of its demands. They are going to fellow Jews, who were bound by the Covenant to deal well with visiting preachers of the Word. These went specifically in the name of Jesus -- in the vernacular of that place and time, they operated on His behalf, in His interests, doing His work as emissaries of a high person. They were to carry out the same sort of activity we have been seeing in His early ministry in Galilee: healing, delivering from demons, even raising the dead. The message was summarized in the same words: "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." They were to show the abundant blessings of this message by abundantly exercising His power.

This abundant message should, by rights, produce abundant support of its own. They were among their own nation, and should not need the baggage of foreign travel. This follows in the sandals of the Old Testament prophets who were sent to Judah and Israel. It signaled the nation's responsibility under the Covenant to hear the message, as demonstrated by providing the life support for the messengers. The men were to embrace every household as their own; not because of some tribal kinship, but it was on the basis of covenant kinship. If that household was unworthy, it was the Father's problem, Who would make it the occupants' problem. Indeed, filthy sinners such as Sodom and Gomorrah were in for lighter judgment than any part of Israel rejecting the message of Christ.

Some of this narrative obviously represents longer term instructions, covering a general moral conduct as His ambassadors for life. They were not to be foolish, but harmless. Expect trouble in some places, as there had been for Jesus already, yet avoid making trouble in any other sense. No authority under Moses was equal to the One who fulfilled Moses, so they were not to fear synagogue councils. Nor need they prepare formal responses to accusations before such councils, but trust God to provide the response fitting the moment -- context is everything. His work will always bring His support. Even if this message rips apart blood kin and households, nothing was more important than getting the word before the people. Those who face worldly suffering for Jesus' sake will find death a mere circumstance. However, for so long as it is possible, flee unjust persecution and keep the mission going. Moving as fast as they could, the Twelve would hardly finish their canvassing before He arrived to follow up.

It was standard rabbinic practice that a disciple should to mimic his teacher, though hardly to the ridiculous degree some famous rabbis had taken it. Jesus explained that He meant His disciples should expect the same harassment He had received, including accusations of working for Satan. Such lies would eventually be uncovered for what they were. Indeed, there was nothing of this ministry that was cultic and secretive. Their private discussions were not a matter of privileged insider status, but were preparing the ground for broadcasting to all. There was no need to keep secrets because God Almighty was watching over them as valuable servants. Those who lacked the confidence to be bold also lacked any standing before the Messiah, and thus, before the Judge of all things.

The very substance of His claims as Messiah would split households, turning close family members against each other. The divide between those inside versus those outside the Kingdom would not require keeping secrets, because the division would be a natural result of how moral truth works. This fallen world would never see peace. Peace resides in the hearts of people, for God does not speak through human intellect, but through convictions of faith burned into the heart. Fallen nature sees the intellect militating against submission to the heart. The fallen world never rises above human reason and human talents. Such a world would be constantly stirred up in turmoil when confronted with the Kingdom's moral demands. Following Christ meant setting aside every earthly human concern, regardless the cost, in favor of spiritual peace.

The message of Christ was the moral character of of His Father written in the heart. Thus, in this preaching mission, those who received men teaching Christ would be receiving Christ Himself, which is the same as receiving Jehovah. It is not necessary that everyone become a prophet, nor suddenly achieve righteousness in some resolute conversion of the mind. People can be offered the full reward of prophets and righteousness simply by embracing the message and mission of those who are righteous prophets. So it is with those who accept the Twelve's message in the coming tour of Jewish cities. Should they so much as offer some small comfort to the needy because of what they understood from the message, they have set their feet on the path of the Kingdom.

Matthew continues showing us how Jesus stood the Jewish society on its head. That's because the Jewish nation had drifted so very far from the truth of God. Without this one last chance offered to the people of Israel to finally understand what God had set before them in the Covenant of Moses, the Cross would mean nothing to them. At the same time, it is important to realize that in a later commission to these Twelve reaching beyond the Covenant nation, the situation is changed, and the needs of the mission would be different. The procedural instructions here were unique to this mission, but the underlying principles by which they faced persecution were eternal. The methods were not the mission. The mission was to bring clear and simple truth, obviously at variance with the established teachings, and to increase the number of disciples prepared to accept the calling to spread the Word.

Chapter 11 -- Jesus teaches regarding John the Baptist, pointing out the difference between the Talmudic traditions versus the Law that John taught accurately. Then, Jesus in turn shows how His own preaching was different from John's.

Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist, came preaching repentance under the Law of Moses. His message was harsh judgment, which he most certainly expected the Messiah to bring. He realized that those of the Nation of Israel who were unrighteous would be treated at least as bad as Gentiles who rejected the Law. Because his was an accurate view of the Law, John had harsh words for the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who sought to use his popularity to enhance their positions. Matthew shows how Jesus points out the distinction between Jewish traditions and the Word of God.

After sending His Disciples on their mission, He set out on the same mission, but on His own. Word of Jesus' miraculous signs came to John the Baptist, who was still in prison. The things John was hearing were not quite what he had told everyone to expect, with references to an ax laid at the root of the tree. It would seem John had not well remembered how the hand of wrath was the same hand which brought healing. Either way, his vision of what men should expect from the Messiah was apparently limited. Jesus answered John's query by quoting Isaiah's prophecies of the Messiah, matched by what the disciples themselves could see in His miracles. Of course, He bore no grudge to his cousin for not understanding, but encouraged him to reconsider what the Messiah must be and do.

Turning back to the crowd He had been blessing, Jesus queried their understanding of John's place in revelation. Was John someone easily shaken by winds of fashion? Should he have identified with the Jewish rulers? No, he was the last great prophet of the Old Testament, predicted by Malachi, the last book there. John was indeed the herald of the Messiah. No one under the Law of Moses held a higher office before the Lord. Yet anyone entering the Kingdom of Heaven under the New Covenant would have better standing before God than John.

Matthew writes in Greek the words what Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the common language of Hebrew people in His day. We can't be sure what word He used in verse 12, but the English translation "violence" is surely a mistake. It carries connotations Jesus did not mean, for He was describing the transition between the Old and New Covenants, and how completely the Talmudic teachings were wrong. The Jewish traditions had sealed up all hope of redemption by asserting only those whom God made wealthy were in His favor, and only the wealthy Pharisees at that. When John made it clear wealthy Pharisees were excluded, it became obvious their teaching was false. John said it was repentance, turning to Jehovah with a zeal for His Word. Thus, it was this exuberant zeal Jesus referred to, a zeal all the more evident in response to His teachings.

John's preaching laid the ground for a clear vision of purity and faith, a renewal of Elijah's ministry, whose manner of dress John copied. Jesus' preaching showed these things were themselves gifts of God. John raised a very high standard of supreme commitment and asceticism. Jesus showed no man could achieve it; it was a matter of grace. The Jewish leaders were like petulant children, who could not lower themselves to embrace neither John's nor Jesus' message. They rejected John as demon-possessed, and Jesus as immoral. Jesus reminded everyone that the truth of what He taught was seen in the fruit of His harvest: Those rejected by everyone else were eagerly serving the Lord.

We have read how crowds followed Him all around Northern Galilee, and vast numbers were healed and delivered from demons. Yet these seldom included the comfortable classes, those who were heavily invested in the status quo. Aside from the rare person of importance, it was almost solely the poor and disenfranchised who turned to Jesus' teaching with that exuberant zeal. Jesus didn't condemn them as accursed the way the Pharisees did, but showed how material wealth had no bearing on the question of God's favor. It was a matter of heart-led commitment. So they were celebrating this good news; everyone with a lesser response would be left empty. Thus, most of those living in the cities of Northern Galilee ended up worse off than pagan cities infamous for moral filth. Pride in their Jewish heritage would hardly open the gates of Heaven for them.

Jesus was seized by a moment of rejoicing in His Father's mysterious will. The paradox of God's wisdom was in choosing the outcasts, the poor benighted children who could never grow up to the Talmudic standard, as the Pharisees saw them. These truths were committed to the Son, because the Father alone understood what was going on. He alone really knew Jesus. How wonderful it was that someone so insignificant in the Jewish world should be the Messiah! Jesus became ever more confident in declaring Himself the Son of God, the one true Voice of Heaven on earth.

His Voice spoke how very accessible was the Lord. All those who had given up hope were extended an invitation to come and take up the yoke of holiness Jesus offered. This yoke was far easier than any previous teacher had shown, yet harder than anything the Pharisees could bear. The work of God was true rest, the shalom Israel could never keep under the Law.

Chapter 12 -- There is a stark contrast between the godly fruit of redemption at Jesus' hands, and the demonic fruit of destruction from the Pharisees. The paradox of the Kingdom is that it must come by the power of grace and faith, not by any other means. Jesus makes the audacious claim of being the Messiah. While He offers sufficient proof by the prophecies, it's not about logical proofs that cannot be denied. He comes in gentleness, showing His power by what He does and by what He does not do, showing the godly results as His sole evidence.

As part of His claim, Jesus shows He is Lord of the Sabbath. The Pharisees had so thoroughly hedged about the Law of Moses that they had long since ceased to understand what it was all about. They were quick to push rules that benefited them personally, but used those rules to enslave every one else. On a particular Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples walked through a grain field. As was permitted under the Law, they were picking only so much as they might eat as they passed (Deuteronomy 23:25). This portion of Law pointed to the obligation of caring for others in their need. The Pharisees saw only the "work" being done on the Sabbath -- by their wild imaginations, the disciples were harvesting, treading and winnowing.

Jesus reminded them that David had set aside the strict requirements of the Temple ritual regarding Showbread, by taking as much as he and his men needed to escape Saul (1 Samuel 21:1-6). Moral requirements outweighed the ritual requirements. Further, in order to obey one ritual requirement, the priests disobeyed another, performing their heaviest annual labor observing special sacrificial requirements, even if it fell on a Sabbath. The Temple was merely an earthly symbol of God's presence among men, but Jesus was Himself very literally God's Presence among men. Again Jesus bluntly reminded them of their abuse of the Law as a means to restrict others, refusing to act on the much higher requirements of the Law of God -- to have mercy on others (Hosea 6:6). Jesus' lordship was above mere ritual.

On another Sabbath in a synagogue, Jesus answered a rhetorical question with another regarding whether it was permitted under the Law to rescue an animal in distress. Of course, taking care of property became an excuse to side-step the literal requirements of the Law. How much more so can one refuse mercy to a fellow Israelite in distress? Again, the Jews considered it "work" to heal, even if Jesus did nothing more than command the man to stretch out his withered hand. When by faith the man strove to do what he clearly could not, he was healed and enabled. So deeply mistaken were the Pharisees that they took this as a crime. Who could not be disturbed by such misanthropy? Again, as long as bending the rules helped them retain power and wealth, it was fine. Using exceptions in the Law to restore moral justice was forbidden.

It was not yet time to bring the conflict to a climax, so Jesus withdrew from those who were quite ready to arrest and try Him under the Talmud. How odd it should be that they could so easily drop their fierce hatred against the Herodians -- those who compromised with Roman occupation -- in order to stop this one man's voice. The audacious claims of Jesus could not be refuted on any grounds except hatred. Yet Jesus was completely unwilling to manipulate anyone over to His viewpoint. He presented His message gently, almost shyly in parables, warning people not to stir up a circus atmosphere. Matthew remarks how this fulfilled the prophecy that the Messiah would never use force, but would build a Kingdom on full respect for the human right to say "no" to God. No debates to force a change in the laws, no calling up an army to revolt, nor attacking the weak facade of Talmudic pretense, nor forcing anyone to decide one way or another. The truth itself was polarizing enough, and would bring its own victory, even to the point of winning the Gentiles to a trust in God greater than many generations of Jews who supposedly knew Him best.

When Jesus delivered a demonized man so that he saw and spoke, the Pharisees again alleged He did so by Satan's authority. This time He responded with a stern warning. The Pharisees trained people to cast out demons, as well. Jesus hinted that their successes were fake, since it was the very perverted viewpoint of the Talmud that made their region of the world such easy pickings for demonic possession. The Covenant Land was supposed to be a singular stronghold against demonic affliction. But assuming the rabbis were actually attacking the Kingdom of Darkness with their deliverance rituals, how could anyone suppose that delivering a soul from demons would promote Satan's kingdom? Satan could not, and most certainly would not, grant men authority to reduce his power. The very attempt at delivering provided the standard of judgment; Jesus' effortless success was proof of greater authority, an authority above Satan's -- it could only be God's authority. Jesus compared them to shepherds who served only to scatter the sheep He came to gather into the Kingdom of God (Jeremiah 23:1-6).

Then Jesus pronounced one of the most disputed principles of the Kingdom of Heaven, warning that the one sin from which no man could be redeemed and forgiven was to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not bother to take offense when insulted, but this was not merely a slap at Him. It was a slap at God's holy Presence and power. Should any man be drawn so far into delusion that he can no longer tell the difference between a work of God and a work of the Devil, there is no hope for him. It remains a simple matter of knowing the work of Lord by its fruit. Speaking evil of human redemption shows that the Pharisees were committed to the path of destruction. Sooner or later, the truth of a man's character is known by his words.

The Pharisees' response was to demand a sign according the False Messianic Expectations, something in line with that mass of childish, arrogant and materialistic nonsense built up since the founding of the Second Temple. Jesus pointedly refused, showing how the fruit of His ministry was more than sufficient to show He acted by God's authority. However, let the have their sign from the singular best representation of Jewish arrogance in Scripture: Jonah. This was the prophet who ran from a mission because he didn't want the Ninevites to repent and be forgiven. He desperately longed to see the all damned to Hell. The Pharisees were the same sort as Jonah, and this was not lost on them. God's purpose was not thwarted by mere men. Just as Jonah was three days in a form of death, so would Jesus be in the grave. Meanwhile, the Ninevites repented and found redemption, shaming the Pharisees who rejected a man with an even greater message of redemption. Even the pagan Queen of Sheba knew wisdom when she saw it, but the Jewish leaders called it evil.

Jesus and His cousin John had shaken and broken Satan's hold on Israel, driving out all manner of demonic activity. A heart-led obedience to the Law of Moses breaks the Devil's grip. The House of Israel was being swept clean, as it were. But after the window of redemption was past, nothing of substance would have changed. The demons would come back with a vengeance and things would only get worse. The Pharisees knew Jesus was blaming them for such hardness of hearts.

Yet, even Jesus' own family wondered if He had not lost His senses, and was taken by demons Himself. While they no doubt had heard Mary's recollections of the miracles of Jesus early life, it was hard for their fleshly minds to imagine the Messiah would act this way. They were just trying to be a good Jewish family, making sure Jesus didn't overwork Himself, didn't neglect His own needs over a bunch of strangers. Surely He would respect His own blood kin. Instead, He declared the only kinship that mattered was that of the Spirit. Human bonding meant nothing compared to the fellowship of the Kingdom of Heaven; a genuine heart-led covenant relationship trumps DNA. The only father who really mattered was the Father in Heaven.

Chapter 13 -- Jesus used parables. He even used one to explain why parables are necessary in teaching the Kingdom.

No one can see God and live. Seeing His face removes you from this fallen existence. God cannot simply reveal Himself to the world as He is, for the world would cease to exist. That Day will come. Until then, His revelation comes in glimmers and glimpses, but never direct knowledge. Man's mind cannot encompass the ultimate reality. If we say the final revelation during this age is in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3), it remains for us to know the full context of His appearance on this earth. Even then, how does one know a person? While I may well describe to another certain observable traits of a person, it says more about me than it does about that other person. Then, when the other finally meets that person I describe, only a part of that person will be found in my comments. The real person will be somewhat more than human language can transmit. It works better if I am like the Person I seek to reveal, and let you get to know me.

So it is with the Father and His Kingdom. Jesus could indicate something of the Father by describing His concerns in each situation, but the human mind in a fallen state can only absorb so much of that, because the organizing principle of truth resides above human intellect. It requires an active heart-mind, and a subservient brain opened to truth that cannot be uttered, by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Even then, verbal expressions reveled truth will fall short. All the more so today; our Western languages lend themselves to descriptions of external observable traits, but little of the moral substance of things. In Jesus' Eastern Hebrew culture and language, it was an old tradition to regard revelation as something that could be related only in parables. The telling of something very important was more about bringing that moment to life for you, not by describing externals, but by vivid sensations to make you feel you were there. The most important parts of the Old Testament are in parables or parabolic language, the language of personal encounter with conviction.

In this chapter, Jesus draws a crowd as usual, while sitting on the shore near where He stayed (Peter's house) on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was time to teach, and what better way than to sit in the prow of a small boat just a few yards out, facing the crowd on the shore? This way, more of the crowd could hear Him, and see His dramatic gestures, as He communicated in the ways of prophets. The entire session was a series of parables. It was the Hebrew way, the way to reveal the most difficult and demanding truths of the Kingdom. The Parable of the Sower is really a parable about parables. The truth is offered freely, but not immediately usable -- the experience must be savored and incorporated into one's life. Depending on the character of those hearing, the ultimate response varies. While Jesus was willing to explain the parable to His disciples, it was important they realize why parables were the proper means of Kingdom teaching. Those whose spirits were open to the Lord would eventually make sense of it, because conviction and faith in the heart can teach the brain. Those closed to Him would never get it, despite appearances to the contrary. God seldom speaks to the intellect, but has always spoken through the heart. Since Jesus could not winnow the crowds down to those whose hearts were open, it was necessary to teach in parables, allowing the crowds to winnow themselves.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, saying that it described the Jewish society of that day. They had the truth, they could understand parables, but got stuck on the stories instead of the truth within. They suffered from the Hellenizing influence, which assumes a given symbol must mean precisely the same thing in every parable, which was contrary to the ancient Hebrew assumptions. Meanwhile, their senses worked, but their morals were dead. They had closed their minds off from their hearts. That is, they had rejected the ultimate truth of moral wealth, power and security; they demanded the worldly kind, instead. Those who recognized in their hearts that Jesus was the Messiah were in a position to hear the truth because it was a decision only the heart can make. They needed a great deal more, so they could serve as He served. As soon as Jesus explained the parabolic language, they realized what He meant by the polarizing effect of truth. When God passes by, it cannot be a neutral event. You must either drop everything else to follow or you will burrow deeper into worldly concerns to hide from Him. In Jesus came this one last opportunity for Israel to return to heart-led living.

Indeed, the truth itself does all the work. In the Parable of the Tares, Jesus indicates wherever the people of the Kingdom gather, there will always be fakes. It is not possible in this life to make a decisive distinction between those in, and those not in the Kingdom. Those of us serving the Kingdom here must resign ourselves to having at least one Judas here and there. The act of cleansing the Body here below would destroy those who belong, as well. Thus, the Kingdom develops until the Final Day, when God alone will decide which is fruit and which is poisonous weeds.

In the next two parables, Jesus shows how the Kingdom grows. As a Mustard Seed, it begins with almost nothing, but spreads to cover the whole world. In that part of the world, mustard can indeed grow into small trees. As Yeast, the Kingdom changes the nature of all things it touches. The lesson of "give it time" is reinforced. God does not operate on our schedule, nor by our rules of management. Revealed truth requires we focus on the truth and transmitting it. There is no way for the brain to measure a spiritual effect. If some join us right away, we wisely make room for them, knowing they may fall tomorrow, or some day take our place. Others will hang about, vaguely interested, but never quite sure. They may one day be the central figure of a great ministry, or disappear when it's no longer entertaining. We cannot know for sure, and it's not our concern in the sense we can't do anything about it except to make our own commitment more sure.

Matthew quotes Psalm 78:2, a psalm of Asaph. In that long psalm, Asaph warns that the truth of God cannot be taught, only caught. God had packaged His truth in a simple Law in the Covenant of Moses. He backed it up with numerous miracles, but they never got it. It was proof there was no way to make truth simple enough for everyone to handle. Truth only works when the very act of hearing it winnows out the closed hearts. When Jesus dismissed the crowd, the disciples asked for an explanation of the parables. Jesus explains because these men needed a head start on such teaching, some way to bring them back across the lost ground. But even the explanation requires an open heart. The warning is clear to turn while the opportunity lasts. The next two parables are actually one, in which Jesus warns the Kingdom will cost you everything in this life. Whether you stumble across it as a treasure in a field, or you've been seeking it long and hard like a pearl merchant, it will consume your whole life or you won't get it at all. You cannot receive truth if it doesn't drive you to full commitment.

The last parable, the Dragnet, echoes that of the Tares. Doing the work of the Kingdom will draw every kind. Don't even try to tailor your approach to one or another more desirable target groups. It doesn't work that way. Human wisdom and efficiency is futile. You cast the Lord's net and let Him worry about what it drags in, but you take what comes. At the appropriate time, the Lord will separate between good and bad. It's not possible to clear the sea of all the bad fish, so don't waste any effort with that. When the Final Harvest of Souls comes, then all will be revealed. We must wait on Him to separate. We give ourselves to spreading the truth like a net; we don't analyze what it captures.

Of course the disciples got it. Then Jesus hit them with something unexpected. All this time He had been disputing with and condemning the Pharisees and Scribes. Yet, it's not as if their education and training was the problem. It was their hearts. So if a Scribe were to have a Kingdom heart, his education would be a vast treasure of truth. He would be like a desert sheik, who had in his treasury a host of amazing and wondrous ancient things he had gathered in his nomadic life, mixed in with the most recent technological achievements from far lands. The Scribes and rabbis were not human junk, unless their hearts made them junk, so cast the net of truth among them, too. Meanwhile, study the Word with their level of devotion, so as to have your own treasure to offer.

In stark contrast, Jesus' experience in Nazareth was a net nearly empty. He went back for a visit with His immediate family, now at least a year after moving off to Capernaum. In the synagogue He presented the treasuries of the Word, but they were offended. How did this rather ordinary local fellow become such a famous man? Why all the fuss about great teachings and great miracles? They never saw any when He was growing up. For them, the treasures of God could not come clothed as ordinary men; they restrict God in their minds. With attitudes like that, it's no surprise He could do only a few miracles there. As a parting shot, Jesus quoted an old proverb about how prophets of old were never respected in their own household. It was a way of saying He left to do great works elsewhere because they rejected Him in the first place (Luke 4:16-30). He knew it would be so, but Jesus still gave them another chance.

The Kingdom does not discriminate in one sense: The message is offered to all. There is no basis for market research, no basis for excluding even those obviously not receiving the fullness of the truth. Ours is to press the truth to all, and to keep pressing it as long as they will listen. Let the recipients be self-selecting; truth will find its own path.

Chapter 14 -- Matthew contrasts the aplomb of Jesus with everyone else taken by fear in various situations. Leaving Nazareth, Jesus returned to Capernaum. For quite some time, Herod Antipas had held John the Baptist in prison. This Herod was the son of Herod the Great by a Samaritan wife, thus making Antipas Gentile by birth. He inherited a portion of his father's domain: Galilee and Perea. Galilee was a large district spreading west from the Sea of Galilee to Phoenicia. Perea was the east bank of the Jordan starting about one-third of the way down from Galilee and stretching down to the mouth of the River Arnon where it emptied into the Dead Sea, some half-way down the eastern shore. There in the highlands of what had been ancient Moab, Herod the Great had built up the ancient fortress at Machaerus, and this was his son's primary residence. It was not far from where John the Baptist ministered on the Lower Jordan River, and was where John languished in prison.

This younger Herod made some pretense of conversion to Judaism, as his grandfather had done, to legitimize his claim to rule over the Jews in his domain. He had infuriated his subjects by putting aside his first wife, an Arab princess, and replacing her with Herodias. This woman was his niece, but also formerly married to his half-brother, from whom he wooed her. This was both incest and adultery, and it would be typical of John the Baptist to criticize this in his call for repentance. He was loath to execute John, both because his subjects would resent it, but also because he, too, was taken with John's charisma.

It was common among kings of the East to imitate ancient customs from legendary empires before them, and Herod Antipas was no different. In a pretense to high Persian culture, he made a vow to accept without reservation any petition offered him during the entertainment portion of his birthday celebration. The entertainment was his step-daughter, no doubt offering a seductive dance recital. This was probably well planned by her mother, Herodias, who clearly resented John's influence over her husband. At his offer of any gift, the girl demanded the head of John the Baptist. Herod was aghast, but was not man enough to rescind his offer, and ordered John executed right away. With the prize of his head delivered in a large serving dish, the girl's departure left him alone with his guilt.

Indicting him further, it could only be his dereliction of direct involvement in affairs in his domain that allowed him to believe this miracle-working rabbi unknown to him was John raised from the dead. The disciples of John had retrieved his body for proper burial, and then traveled north to Capernaum to inform John's cousin, Jesus. Perhaps some came to join as disciples. While we can see the human wisdom of Jesus moving away from the public eye for awhile in case Herodias added Him to her list of targets, there were other reasons for taking a break. His disciples needed more time and teaching, while the disciples of John needed to mourn in proper company. Jesus needed to mourn the loss of His cousin and forerunner, but also needed time with His Father. We don't know where this wilderness place was, only that He and the group traveled by boat to get there.

Their departure was not as private as Jesus had wished. The Apostle John (John 6:1-4) tells us this event takes place in the run-up to the Passover. Given the ritual and social importance of this festival, many Jews would have begun winding down their work in preparation. Many more than usual would be at liberty to pursue the entertainment of Jesus' teaching and miracles. All the more so as they approached a time of year many believed would see the Messiah announce Himself with miracles. They followed Him along the shore, and were on hand to welcome Him when the boat landed. As always, Jesus saw in this crowd the scattered sheep neglected by their shepherds. He began healing them.

As the day wore on toward evening, it occurred to His disciples these people needed to seek food and shelter, and this was hardly the place to find any. Jesus suggested his men feed the multitude. The men stuttered they could only come up with food for one: five disks of pita bread and two small fish, probably pickled. Jesus directed the food be brought to Him and crowds to sit on the grassy slope. In typical Jewish fashion, Jesus recited a blessing on the God Who provided all things, then began breaking the breas and distributing the food via His disciples. Matthew notes some 5000 men and their families were fed.

Because it was such a common thing, it is not mentioned that each of the Disciples probably carried their own basket. Jews felt compelled to avoid eating non-kosher food in Gentile areas. However, the baskets often contained other items, much as one today might carry in a day-pack. In this case, they would have had each of their baskets filled with leftovers from the miracle feeding, thoughtfully providing their food for the next day or so.

John's account tells us that the crowd made ready to crown Jesus their king by force. Jesus ordered a hasty retreat for His disciples by boat, while He dissuaded the crowd and sent them away. He then climbed up onto a mountain alone. He was praying there all night, and toward morning a storm had blown down onto the sea. The disciples in the boat had made little progress against the wind, and Jesus went out walking on the raging waves. Already fearing for their safety, they panicked when they saw the figure striding on the sea swells. They had fallen back into superstition, fearing they were seeing a ghost come to welcome them into death. Jesus called to them to relax, for it was He.

There is no Old Testament tradition of having four watches in the night, since they divided it into four-hour segments. More likely everyone had by this time already adapted to the Roman system of three-hour watches, and the fourth would have been between 3 AM and 6 AM. Peter, impetuous as ever, in relief asked Jesus to command him out on the water. He had no faith to do this on his own, but was sure enough of Jesus to believe His Master could make it happen. Jesus saw no reason to reject Peter's request. As Peter got close, he suddenly regained an awareness of the circumstances, and began to sink. Jesus grabbed him using His hands. He chose a more human method of rescue, since Peter was no longer operating by faith. They climbed aboard the boat and storm ceased.

On the one hand, His disciples already believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Yet they struggled with what exactly this meant, still confused by a lifetime of false teachings. They had seen countless people healed, delivered, and now fed from almost nothing. Here He showed utter calm and power over the very elements of weather, something they knew God alone could manipulate. So their belief in Him rose to a new level, and they worshiped Him as God.

In a short time, with the storm gone, they arrived a few miles from home in the city of Gennesaret. This would be roughly four miles (6 km) farther west and a bit south from Capernaum, but still on the northwest shore of the sea. Word had spread quickly of Jesus' presence, and crowds of sick people were brought into town. They begged Jesus for the privilege of merely touching the fringe on His outer cloak as He walked by, a blue fringe which distinguished rabbis. All who touched it were healed.

It is the nature of people lacking faith to fear, and even panic. We see it in Herod Antipas hearing about Jesus, and in Herodias who tricked him into executing John the Baptist. The disciples panicked at the idea of feeding the multitude. They feared for their lives in the storm despite knowing that Jesus had commanded they be there. They panicked at the sight of Him walking on the water, and Peter feared the storm again when he joined Jesus. We can guess they probably dreaded their lack of rest upon landing at Gennesaret and seeing the crowds gather. The contrast in each case is the total aplomb of Jesus. Matthew teaches us: Regardless how traumatic the situation may be, we will not find Our Lord anxiously wringing His hands. As Master of all creation, His peace is available to those who serve Him.

Chapter 15 -- Jesus teaches that the highest law of the Kingdom is faith. Faith is a mystical, supernatural gift. It can be defined as a commitment to God's revelation and His provision for bringing that revelation to life in His people. Faith is not what's in your head, but grows in the heart as conviction. It does not yield easily to examination from our Western perspective, and modern teaching often mistakes the manifestations of faith -- belief -- for the thing itself. This is hardly new, for Jesus faced it often in His ministry.

The Covenant of the Law was never intended to save souls, but to exemplify faith as manifested within the circumstances of the Nation of Israel as they prepared to conquer and occupy the land God had promised through Abraham. Reading between the lines of Moses' books, we see a call to the soul to embrace God, a call for faith that transcends the mere rote provisions of ritual observance (1 Samuel 15:22-23). However, it was obvious to anyone that most of Israel never got it. Thus, immediately after publishing the Covenant, Moses had to sit as judge over the endless disputes between Israelites. People of pure heart look for ways to reduce conflict because they are focused on a higher purpose. This wasn't judgment over honest confusion and a sincere desire to please God, but disputes in which each tried to get away with as much as they could. Very little of this judging required a word from God to home in on the heart of the matter, and those few incidents were recorded in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The rest was a matter of keeping the peace according to the moral character of God woven into Creation so the nation could survive, a survival itself that would be a means to revelation.

Of course, the wrangling did not end with Moses. It would be natural in the Semitic races to maintain an oral record of decisions based on the Law. Jewish tradition alleges a specific lineage of passing this oral body down through named individuals, including the likes of Joshua, Jeremiah, Ezra, Hillel, Gamaliel, and so forth until it was finally committed to writing after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. So in Jesus' day it was still mostly oral and it's obvious He had been exposed to some of this material. It was a mixed bag of stuff, and some of it was highly embellished over time. Perhaps a portion of it really was the genuine tradition of the ancients, but very little of it seems to actually derive from faith. Most of it reflects a very worldly viewpoint, though perhaps nonetheless wise at times. Worst of all, this tradition became captive to Hellenized rationalism, foreign to the mystical Hebrew reasoning of Moses. In Jesus' day, this "tradition of the elders" had been elevated to reverence above the actual Law of Moses as written. They offered the specious claim that the Talmudic traditions were the Oral Law of Moses.

This was blasphemy, of course. When the Pharisees and Scribes raised the issue with Jesus regarding His disciples, that the men didn't observe the traditional ritual rinsing of hands before meals, it was no small thing in their eyes. So anxious were these men sent from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to compel obedience to this human tradition, they threatened transgressors with excommunication, giving them the status of heathens. Jesus responded in kind, showing how the same traditions were evil, a violation of faith and obedience to the plain meaning of the Law.

For example, the rabbis had developed a legal exception to the normal expectation that adult children would provide support and comfort to their aging parents. It is impossible to emphasize enough how fundamental to all God's Laws was the requirement to share one's property with needy family members. For rabbis it was a simple matter of declaring their property korban -- dedicated to God, via the Temple, as a trust. That is, a man could live comfortably on his wealth during his lifetime, but upon death it all passed to the Temple. Meanwhile, he was duty bound to build up that wealth under trust obligations. This became an excuse to withhold support from family members, so as to preserve the maximum value of the estate, never mind that the man might live extravagantly in the meantime. God would not accept on His altar the proceeds of crime, and this was criminal neglect. Jesus pointedly hammered His questioners as hypocrites, quoting from Isaiah about empty lip-service to the Law as a direct prophecy of the Pharisees and Scribes.

To punctuate His point, Jesus called the crowd to pay attention to an important lesson. He spoke in an epigram, a short pithy saying easy to remember. The point was that hands which had not been blessed by this man-made ritual did not so defile the food as to defile the spirit of a man when he stands before God. This infuriated the examiners from Jerusalem. Jesus used an obvious parable to answer: God did not sponsor pious extensions of the Law of Moses, especially Hellenized extensions, since the Mosaic Law in itself was a poor shadow of God's true Law. Blind as the Pharisees were to God's revelation, their opinions didn't matter. Indeed, they did more harm than good to the nation. Yet, even this simple epigram, plain enough to anger the Pharisees, puzzled His disciples. Jesus clarified the matter by showing how evil was a matter of fallen human will -- Hebrew tradition referred to the heart as the seat of the will. Pharisaical teaching had it backwards, largely because of Talmudic traditions. God didn't care about dust on the hands, but judged filth in the heart.

However, it was wise to take a break and depart from the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin and take a vacation in the Roman district of Tyre and Sidon. While thus occupied, Jesus and His disciples were confronted by a Canaanite woman residing in that district whose daughter was demonized. Unlike the self-righteous Pharisees and Scribes, this woman was well aware of her dire need and to Whom she could go for salvation. At first Jesus gave her time to express her faith, no doubt as a means to teaching His disciples. When they complained of her noisome behavior, He turned and reminded her His mission at this point was to "the lost sheep of Israel," not the lost sheep of other nations. She responded by falling at His feet and blocking further travel. His answer was a gentle parable about tossing the children's food to puppies. Jews had long used the term "dog" to describe just about anyone from a nation they despised, particularly the Canaanites they were supposed to have slaughtered or driven out of the land under Joshua.

Rather than bridle at the implied insult, her faith absorbed the parable and turned it around: Children were messy eaters. Were there not a few crumbs on the floor? She understood the rejection Jesus faced from His own people. She didn't want what was theirs, only what they rejected. Here we see faith in action, for only by faith can parables be understood and applied. It was a lesson for the disciples. Jesus rejoiced at the courage her faith engendered, and granted her request. In another place, Jesus tells a parable of faithful persistence which sounds very much like this scene. She would not have dared carry things this far had not she been empowered by the Spirit of the Lord.

To press the teaching further, Jesus set up another test of faith. Finding a suitable place back in Galilee to hold another teaching and healing session, Jesus waited as the normal crowd gathered. They carried those in need of healing, and all were amazed at the problems Jesus could remedy. It was in part a response to their faith in bringing cases otherwise regarded as hopeless. Faith exercised cannot help but bring glory to our Lord.

However, they were in a remote place, and after three days of this it was time to consider other types of physical needs. Jesus explained the that crowd needed food, because if He sent them away now, they would not be strong enough to make it home. A lot of good it does to heal people, and then leave them to starve. He placed this quandary in their hands. Again they failed, for they were still looking at it from a worldly perspective, discussing food supply so far from farms or markets. Had they forgotten already, after the previous miraculous mass feeding? Jesus asked what they had on hand. What made a small snack for the group was enough, as before. Also as before, several thousand were fed, and there was enough left over to feed the disciples for a few days.

The highest law of the Kingdom of Heaven is faith. While Jesus and the Apostles taught that it was best to obey the laws and customs when you could, by no means could they be equated with God's Law. As used by the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day, the Talmudic teachings were blasphemy, imparting spiritual blindness. It raised human traditions above God's Word. Faith trumped that tradition. Further, even the Law of Moses was merely an example, for the Canaanite woman's faith trumped that, as well. It was the Old Testament that required Jesus to restrict His earthly ministry to Israel, but it was the same Law that also permitted Him to respond to her faith. It's not as if faith trumped the laws of nature, because such laws are the imaginations of human minds. Rather, faith exposed the true nature of Creation. By faith were people healed of the most devastating conditions, and thousands were fed full from a snack. By faith in the hearts of people God shows He rises above human logic, and cannot be constrained by human understanding. Creation itself was fungible in the hands of God.

Chapter 16 -- By the very words in the phrase "Kingdom of Heaven," it should be obvious it would be a kingdom not of this world. Yet the traditions of the Jewish leadership had completely discounted that otherworldly element in the Covenant of the Law. Having totally missed the implications of Messianic prophecies, they were utterly certain all they needed to seek was paradise on earth. Every spiritual issue was twisted into a mere earthly concern. Had Satan himself removed the Romans, granted some wealth and a decent harvest or two, they would gladly have placed the Devil on David's throne. For this reason, the teachings of Jesus were incomprehensible to them.

Having heard of all these miracles, which to the national leaders in Jerusalem sounded very much like the false Messiah they expected, the Sanhedrin sent yet another delegation to Jesus. This time it included both Pharisees and Sadducees. The former we know to have arisen as a supposed revival of covenant faithfulness, but a concept long twisted by Western materialist assumptions. True, it was a list of material comforts the Law of Moses seemed to promise, and little more, but its purpose was far above that. However, the Pharisees were the primary force behind promoting the corrupt Talmudic perversions of Mosaic Law. We saw in the previous lesson how these expansions served to break the Law itself. The Sadducees were quite the opposite, in that they were thoroughly Hellenized in a different way. They embraced the spirit of the Law, but this became an excuse for worldly cynicism. They used the abstract applications of Mosaic Law for a public show but denied the afterlife to which the Pharisees at least paid lip service. We end up with Pharisees who were conservative, legalistic, materialistic Hellenists, and Sadducees who were liberal, immoral, materialistic Hellenists.

Together, these two dominant political parties were deeply concerned with mere political matters as if it were an issue of holiness. Jesus was upsetting their applecart. So they proposed a test to examine a sample miracle to see if He was just faking it, somehow practicing some sleight of hand or something. Jesus mocked their demand to see something from Heaven by talking about the signs in the heavens, using a parable regarding wisdom.

They knew all about the things of this world, but understood nothing of God's Word. The prophets had granted more than enough teaching and warnings, and Israel had resolutely turned away, like an adulterous wife. Having strayed so very far away from the Hebrew mystical understanding of God's creation, they no longer had the ability to hear from God. To drive the point home, Jesus referred to the experience of Jonah. The Old Testament prophet avoided his mission because he wanted the Ninevites to die and go to Hell. On the one hand, Jonah represents the ultimate indictment of Israel's complete failure to take God's revelation to the world. Instead, their smug racism condemned all mankind to Hell. Jesus compared Himself to Jonah, in that He would be presumed dead for three days, then rise to take the message to the world. Jesus was correcting the mistakes of Israel, as exemplified by Jonah's attitude about his mission. It would be a mistake to think the delegation weren't stung by the reminder of their racist hatred.

On this occasion crossing the Galilee, the disciples realized they forgot to pack food. While they were discussing this, Jesus tossed them a parabolic line about the leaven of the Sanhedrin. Jewish teaching had become utterly worthless by embracing materialism, turning away from the Spirit. The Disciples missed the cue, by taking the comment from a materialist viewpoint, precisely the problem He was indicating. Jesus berated them, reminding them of the abundance of food He had produced twice. Even if they starved for a few days, it would hardly hinder their mission. This was the whole point of His comment.

The encounter with the delegation from Jerusalem must have brought to the forefront of Jesus' mind His impending suffering and death. They had taken a journey some 20 miles north toward Caesarea Philippi. As usual, we aren't told the ostensible purpose, which hardly matters, but the spiritual events which do matter. It was not a question of their knowledge, but their spiritual perception. First, we notice what the world thought of Jesus. The answers ranged all over the map of human thought. But what did the Disciples think? It was natural Peter should answer first, for he was even now the acknowledged leader among the Twelve, being the eldest, not to mention bold. In his brashness, he was altogether correct this time: Jesus was the promised Messiah, and the unique Son of God. His Master replied that the truth of this answer was neither a matter of mere humans, nor of human understanding. It was the truth of God Almighty. Peter was altogether certain of his answer, but it smacks of a child in school correctly quoting the textbook answer to a question he hardly understands. Time was so short, and there was so much they needed to grow to carry on this gospel ministry.

Still, Jesus is able to press the message with a sense of humor. Looking past the nit-picking debate over the meaning of the words in the Greek text of Matthew's Gospel, we see a Hebrew play on words which just barely comes across in English. In choosing the name Peter for His cousin, Jesus offered both a joke and prophecy. If anyone was more likely to bluster and brag, then reverse himself repeatedly, it was Simon. Jesus called him "the rock." Later, it would be a fit name. Hebrew culture often presumed a man's name given at birth would predict his character, but a name given by one's lord upon vestment of an office was more of a title, though often there might be a pun involved. In this setting, Jesus called attention to the joke, and then added the image of Peter-the-rock broken off from the foundation stone of this mighty confession of who Jesus was. With such a confession, Peter would be the first stone of a grand building (1 Peter 2:4-6), which would become a massive congregation of souls committed to following the Lord.

The gates of a city were the not just a defense, but the place where the local wise men gathered to conduct the business of the city, especially in dispensing justice as a lower courts system. The justice system of Hades would not be able to stand in the face of God's truth as spoken by Peter. With such a declaration of faith, Peter -- or anyone else -- could execute the justice of God in this fallen world. With such an understanding, the congregation of Christ's followers would represent the King of Heaven in all the earth. Indeed, it would be for Peter to exercise the first use of Kingdom keys to open this same truth to those outside Israel living in Palestine. It was Peter who led the way in taking the message to the Diaspora at Pentecost, to Samaritans later (Acts 8:14-17) and finally to Gentiles (Acts 10). In Hebrew thinking, keys were not about authority to control as a ruler, but about giving access to the Ruler, rather like a welcoming home.

However, the time had not yet come to carry Peter's declaration into the world. That had to wait for the carrying out of God's sentence against all sin. Here it was that Jesus began to introduce to His Disciples just what sort of Messiah He was. The Jewish leadership was the very heart of opposition on this earth. In the end, they would kill Jesus. Yet, this would hardly be the end of the matter, for He would rise again the third day. Having already taken the mantle of junior leader, Peter pulled Jesus aside and insisted He stop saying such things. Brash as ever, the text indicates Peter was quite inappropriately sharp in his rebuke. Jesus responded by warning Peter that such thoughts made him an adversary, too. Peter was still trapped in dreams of a political kingdom on this earth, not thinking spiritually.

Indeed, Jesus pointedly said that following Him required nailing this life to a cross. The image was shocking. Learning to let go of this world, not just our goods and our position, but all our hopes and dreams for this life, would be the most agonizing experience any of them could imagine. Yet it was the only way. Clinging to this existence guaranteed the loss of it and the soul, too. The price of eternal salvation for the soul was abandonment of this life. When He comes back to end this age and take up the harvest of souls with His angels, those whose works reflect such truth would join Him in eternity, not some mere earthly kingdom.

Matthew records Jesus' last comment, which was surely something meant to lighten the mood of a dark discussion about His coming death and their future sufferings. Some of those standing with Him at that moment would see something of that eternal glory when the Kingdom was inaugurated on this earth. They would see Him in is glorified body, and would begin living in the temporal manifestation of His reign before they left this world. They would get a taste of eternity here on earth.

Chapter 17 -- Jesus begins specific leadership training for his inner circle of three disciples. The context keeps us on the retreat north from Galilee, up near Caesarea Philippi, roughly a week after Peter's dramatic declaration that Jesus was the Messiah. The apparent reason for the retreat was avoiding an untimely arrest by the Sanhedrin. Jesus must insure He dies as the Passover Lamb. This is not some cynical plot to appear falsely as the Messiah, but obedience to the Law and Prophets, the Word of His Father. Furthermore, it was necessary for His Disciples to receive further training. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, all these experiences and teachings would be recalled with their proper meaning.

Having already vested Peter as the leader among the Disciples, Jesus adds the Sons of Zebedee to round out the leadership team. Their fitness for this became more apparent after the Day of Pentecost. Until that point, we see them jockeying for privilege as if they possessed very little understanding. However, it's safe to assume there was a certain level of kinship and fellowship which exceeded merely being cousins of Jesus. As a man, He very much needed their support for the coming trial, along with having someone trustworthy in charge during the early days of building His Kingdom. Their leadership training began with a demonstration of some things Jesus had been teaching all along.

While a lot of ink has been spilled over which mountain it was they climbed, it hardly matters. That's part of the lesson here. We can safely assume it was part of Mount Hermon or some other major rise that afforded Jesus and the trio some measure of privacy. They needed very much to realize this was not about politics and privilege, but about the ongoing work of revelation. Thus, in the middle of prayer over their task as leaders, they witnessed a transformation in their Master. He took on the form of His true identity. While much of the lore common in Hebrew teaching has been lost, we know at least that when the divine comes into contact with the fallen Creation, there is a glow which is clearly unearthly. Significantly, two figures appear at His side: Moses and Elijah. While the latter had a mode of dress that made him distinctive (2 Kings 1:8), and was copied by John the Baptist as the signal he was calling all men to repent (Matthew 3:4), we aren't told of a distinctive garb for Moses. More than likely, their exchange of greetings and conversation with Jesus was more than enough to establish who they were. While the symbolism is thick, most important were their endorsements of Jesus and His teaching, representing all the Law and the Prophets. Were there any doubt about Jesus correctly teaching what the Old Testament was all about, it was removed here. There were three ordinary witnesses to testify, sufficient in any Jewish court, that Jesus was God's clearest revelation. It didn't matter where they were; where Jesus was, all of God's glory and truth was present.

This was no quick flash, no brief conversation. Peter recovered enough from his amazement to show he clearly had not grasped the meaning of it all. Still thinking along the lines of an earthly paradise ruled by Jesus, he suggested building on the mountain top a meeting place, with hope of keeping Moses and Elijah around for awhile. Surely Peter had a thousand questions he would ask them to clarify matters in his own mind. Before Peter even finished proposing this, the presence of God Himself -- described as both an enveloping cloudy presence, yet luminescent -- overwhelmed them all. The voice from the cloud affirmed Jesus was the Son of God, but pointedly told Peter and his two cousins there was no need to probe the matter with Moses and Elijah. All they needed to know came from the mouth of Jesus, because Jehovah was completely satisfied with their Master's work. The voice was enough to make them swoon, with the altogether normal response of any human to the presence of God Almighty: complete and utter fear, reverence and awe.

Jesus came over and touched them, a warm and friendly gesture. His words were, "Arise, fear not." Words not idly chosen, He pronounced them fit to stand before God, if they would take up the faith to do so. Upon looking around, they saw the dramatic scene was gone. While it burned in their minds, Jesus warned that they were not to relate this experience until after His resurrection. This presented a problem for them. Was it not prophesied that Elijah had to appear before the Messiah could begin to reign (Malachi 4:5-6)? Surely this required announcement! Jesus answered this was true, and had already happened, but Elijah's message was rejected, and he was treated very badly. They realized this prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist, who even dressed like Elijah. To the degree Israel could accept his message, all things were indeed restored. However, only a small righteous remnant did not bow the knee to a false understanding of God's Word (1 Kings 19:18). Yet from this tiny remnant of Israel, Jesus had promised to build His Kingdom, a spiritual kingdom. Everything had to be understood in the spiritual sense, from the otherworldly mind of the ancient faith.

As always, Jesus had been teaching crowds who needed healing, gathered in open areas outside the towns and cities. They descended from the mountaintop experience to find the usual crowd, but with an unusual problem. A young boy was demonized, as manifested by a condition literally translated as "moon-struck." Whether it resembled modern epilepsy isn't important. What mattered is that the boy was seized suddenly by the demon at times, and too often the seizures found him falling into danger. The other nine disciples had been unable to cast the demon out. Just whose faith was the failure also didn't matter. The whole Jewish nation had been so long and so far separated from Moses and the Prophets that they simply could not grasp the underlying message of Jesus, that message which empowered His miracles. Taking His divine authority, Jesus dismissed the demon. Notice, while Jesus had given His disciples authority over sickness and demons (Matthew 10:1), the authority remained His (Jude 1:9). The lack of persistence in using this delegated authority indicated a lack of faith, not so much as a personal moral failure, but the persistent influence of Talmudic perversion of the Scripture.

When they later asked Jesus privately why they failed this time, His answer points to something we easily miss. The power of faith while in this world, and over things of this world, is by no means related to power as this world understands it. The weakness of the flesh is the problem, but paradoxically is the answer, too. Fallen mankind needs to embrace that they are fallen. To weaken the trust in flesh is to empower the Spirit over the flesh. Thus, it is hardly a matter of ritual self-abuse, but a holy disregard for things of lesser importance to engage spiritual powers in the spirit realm in a spiritual way. The phrase "prayer and fasting" was symbolic of self-mortification, a denial of the flesh. We as humans are nothing, and thinking that we are something is the fundamental failure. By implication, we see the disciples were not acting in faith, but in some way exhibited an element of self pride. That's hardly surprising when, for the first time we know of, there was an element of segregation between the three and the nine.

The nine did not take it well. To the very last day of Jesus' ministry on earth, they struggled with this human ambition to be seen as great in the eyes of others. By this time they should have passed the period of discipleship where they silently absorb the master's teaching, and were now ready to begin acting on it. Had they actually absorbed His teaching, commanding the Mount of Transfiguration itself to jump into the sea would have been an elementary task for neophytes. As we saw in the previous lesson, the key to that power was to embrace death. Their spiritual understanding, and thus their commitment -- another word for "faith" -- to this life of the Spirit didn't amount to the mustard seed Jesus mentioned once before (Matthew 13:31).

Eventually they all made their way back toward to Capernaum. On the way, it surely crossed their minds that they were once again coming within easy reach of the Sanhedrin. It was the right time to approach once again the matter of His impending suffering and death. Jesus' point was to show this would be the path to His conquest, His ultimate victory. They didn't see it. Instead, they grieved at their sense of loss. They must have been thinking that things were just beginning to firm up. Now it would all come apart. They never quite grasped that actions of human government, even to the point of taking life, could hardly interrupt the God's plans for His Kingdom.

Indeed, Jesus showed a simple principle in dealing with human government. It was well past the time of year for paying the Temple Tax (Exodus 30:11-16). Peter was confronted by the local committee for that tax, asking in essence why he and Jesus had not paid it. Was Jesus some kind of rebel against His nation? Peter didn't think so, but hurried off to discuss it with Jesus. They didn't have the money. Before Peter could ask, Jesus wanted to clarify the principles involved. It was common knowledge that tribute was collected by rulers from conquered nations, not their own people. The priests were exempt; even more so was the God whose Temple it was. As Son of God, He and His close Disciples were exempt by the nature of their duties. By extension, the entire Law of Moses and Prophets were subject to Jesus' interpretation. The Mount of Transfiguration made that all too obvious. Following Christ fulfilled the Law.

Yet, there was little to be gained by asserting that privilege at every turn. In the case of the Temple Tax, it was best to pay up. Since they were broke, Peter needed to return to his previous employment to pay, though not in the sense of fishing from a boat all night, or even in the surf. Rather, Peter was to throw in a single hook and take the first fish which he caught. Fishermen today know anything bright and shiny dropped in the water serves to lure some fish to bite. In the busy port of Capernaum, how many coins were accidentally lost in the sea? In this case, Peter would find in the mouth of this fish a coin of sufficient value to pay the tax for Jesus and Peter. Apparently the fish itself would be small enough he couldn't swallow the coin, so it was all a good Hebrew joke on Peter the fisherman. Meanwhile, Jesus and His friends stayed under the radar just a bit longer.

Chapter 18 -- Greatness and leadership in the Kingdom requires becoming a child. We come to the final days in Galilee, before Jesus goes to offer Himself as a sacrifice on the Cross. Matthew describes one more essential lesson in pastoral leadership that Jesus gave to His Disciples. As always, our familiarity with the lessons and parables in isolation from the context has served to destroy some of the meaning. While our understanding may not be entirely wrong, we are spiritually poorer for not having the richness of the context Jesus Himself gave for these lessons. Here, Jesus is responding to a persistent blindness in the Twelve regarding the fundamental nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Peter has hosted Jesus for at least a couple of years in Capernaum. As a courtesy to His host, Jesus helped pay the Temple Tax for both of them. We can assume the others had to pay their own way. Matthew should hardly have been troubled, but some of the others might not have it so easy. There had already arisen sensitivity over their relative status as leaders in Jesus' ministry, and He had already been teaching them that it was near the time when things should come to a head. Since they didn't know quite how to handle the idea that the crown lay through the Cross, we find them considering instead the details of how the Messianic Kingdom would play out, specifically regarding who among them was designated for which position in the Messianic Court. They were still suffering from worldly ambitions, envy, and confusion about Messianic expectations.

Children were given scant attention in the Ancient Near East, except within the privacy of the family. Even though highly valued and prized as a proof of God's favor, their social status was quite a bit lower than we in the West would find comfortable. While Hebrew tradition was a little better in such things than just about every other culture at that time, we note that men didn't give them a lot of time until they were old enough to commence education and training, sometime around age nine. Indeed, we learn from the laws of the time the death from abuse of one younger than nine provoked no curiosity from officials, because their loss was simply a loss to the family. Only after their Bar Mitzvah ceremony, meaning literally "a son of the Law," did they have any status in the community, so that they could ask questions in the synagogue, for example. We know from several Gospel passages that Jesus broke this mold. While He didn't go the extremes found in Western society where youth and childhood are idolized, it was surely different from Hebrew traditions. When the Disciples asked Him about their assignments, He called a nearby child, who was surely younger than nine. The boy took his place in the center of the group.

This rather unimportant figure became an object lesson. Jesus referred to a need to be changed, to experience a complete shift in understanding how the world works. Rather than the child needing to be trained to the ways of life, it is the world which needed the understanding of a child to enter life in the Kingdom. Not everything thing that happens to children in the socialization process is what God intended. Some of what children lose should have been kept, and Jesus implies His society made huge mistakes in what they take away, with adults making a virtue of the wrong things. It's a subtle parable about going back to the ancient ways when the Hebrew culture was new and vigorous, before it was filled with clutter from other nations and cultures. But the remedy is individual conversion, since you cannot roll back the tide of human cultural drift without making things even worse. The effort would be perverted by long-standing vested interests that couldn't exist in a newly formed society.

Once people as individuals are "converted" to become like children in their unspoiled openness, they are fit for citizenship in a new society, the Kingdom of Heaven. This presents a bewildering paradox to the Twelve, who by now had begun to think of themselves as a class apart within the aging Judean kingdom. It's not their leadership they needed to work on, but their very inclusion in the Kingdom. Children lack ambition, and are all too happy just to be included, to be taken seriously in any degree. They are quite indiscriminate in following the leadership of any adult who seems to care about them; that's their nature. Becoming childlike is the sort of thing which fits men for leadership in the Kingdom.

Once having adopted this childlike faith and trust, any leader in the Kingdom takes up the responsibility of welcoming other children. It is a solemn duty, and taking it lightly by casually misleading them is no joke. Taking advantage of their dependency by leading them astray for any reason is a sin so great that they deserve one of the most hideous forms of Eastern punishment known: tossed in the sea weighted down by a millstone large enough it requires a donkey to push it. It's bad enough the world is loaded with people who lead others astray, but those who abuse spiritual seekers deserve the greater punishment from God. It would be worth any price to avoid seducing the vulnerable. It's not hard to imagine Jesus that draws a picture of the repulsive creatures who debauch children while pretending to love them. If you can't keep your hands to yourself, or even your eyes, remove them. It's better to live life with maimed flesh than to stand before God having seduced any spiritual child to sin.

Further, the dismissive attitude many leaders of that day showed to their subordinates was completely unacceptable in the Kingdom. We all stand before God as children before their Father; relative differences in roles are not really significant. Becoming impatient and dismissing someone who doesn't rise to your personal demands is approaching blasphemy. You are not God. Furthermore, God keeps the angelic representatives of His children close at hand. Jesus uses the image here of a tiny elite group within the court of an Eastern potentate. Most people with business at the court never actually see the ruler, but deal with his servants. The word of his servants are taken as the words of the lord himself. A choice few are permitted to actually see him face to face on a regular basis. In God's courts, each soul is precious! A better translation of verse 12 has the shepherd leaving his flock in a safe place in the wilderness, while he goes off and seeks the one which got lost. It's not a matter of the others having no value, but that all are invaluable individually. Their individual needs may warrant varying levels of attention. This is frankly a revolutionary concept in that context. While some shepherds would give names to their sheep, it was extremely rare he would do so for a large flock, yet Jehovah calls each of us by name.

Thus, when dealing with a straying brother, leaders must assume his soul is so precious that they would be loath to cast him aside. Give him every chance to repent. In the ancient Hebrew society, your neighbor's moral wandering was a direct threat to everyone around him. Rule by your own kind promotes this kind of familial concern. In Jesus' day, rabbis had long since gotten used to Israel being under a foreign ruler in part because no one bothered to concern himself with his neighbor's sins (Leviticus 19:17); the hassles of foreign rule became the bigger threat. Jesus emphasizes the biblical communitarian instinct built into the Kingdom. Go to the brother privately, where it's most likely he'll climb down from presumptuous sin. If that fails, bring a few witnesses to establish whether he is indeed hardened in this sin (Deuteronomy 19:15). If all else fails, let the whole congregation know why they must ostracize this brother. The obvious assumption is the fault in view is dangerous to the community of faith, something which would cause a child to stumble in thinking it must be normal. Such irresponsible behavior is symbolically associated with heathens (goyyim or Gentiles) and those Jews (collecting taxes for Rome) who served them.

Jesus then calls to their memory a standard rabbinical concept: legally binding and loosing. It was clearly understood by almost anyone who attended synagogue that the point was to teach the Law of Moses in the context of everyday life. As cultural and technological shifts came, it was necessary to understand how the agrarian orientation of the Law could be extrapolated into a cosmopolitan merchant society to obey the intent. This was the original idea behind the Talmud before it was corrupted by Hellenist rational assumptions. Thus, preachers and teachers of the Law were to declare what was "bound" -- forbidden by Law -- and what was "loosed" or acceptable. As leaders in the Kingdom, this responsibility was conferred on all the Disciples, and it was no small matter. However, it was not impossible to discern. The heart senses truth the mind could never discern. While one might be mistaken in isolation, two hearts genuinely seeking God's face like children would surely come to a useful conclusion. It's not a question of absolute truth; it needs to serve the purpose at hand. The smallest possible congregation of faith would not lack for God's presence, and they would eventually know what was bound or loosed in His eyes.

This teaching brought to Peter's mind a question about forgiveness. While the Pharisees taught that one need forgive the same mistake only three times, Peter knew that was wrong. Would a larger number do -- seven? That was a good, sacred number. Jesus' answer showed Peter was missing the point. Echoing the number revealed to in Daniel (9:24ff) as the symbolic measure of God's patience with Israel's sin, Jesus indicated there was actually no limit. To emphasize the point, He offered the parable of Debt Forgiveness.

We've noted already that many rulers of that time pretended to imitate the legendary luxury and manners of the Persian Empire. Jesus' calls up the image of such a potentate who is auditing his accounts, suggesting his domain was insolvent. The apparent cause was the impossibly flagrant embezzling of a satrap. When the offending satrap begged, his lord decided to treat it as a loan, but forgave it. The amount involved was extraordinary, almost obscenely large. This same man so recently forgiven promptly went out and seized one of his debtors, who owed a rather ordinary sum. Instead of passing on that magnanimity he had received, he impatiently remanded the servant to a debtor's slave farm. When word got back to the potentate, he ordered the forgiven debt reinstated, and treated the man according to his first crime.

We stand before God with a debt of sin. By no stretch of any imagination could we repay from our own resources. There is nothing we can do, and we most certainly deserve in this life the worst. The image of slavery and torture is an apt illustration of Satan's place in the scheme of things. Yet God chooses to forgive those who fully confess and humble themselves before Him. How can we do any less? The sins which come to our attention as leaders in the congregation are likely much smaller than our own sins before God. The consequences we mete out are equally small, because the issue is sin on a much lower level in terms of threat to the congregation. Again, it's not a question of absolutes, as if God has empowered us to torment others on His behalf; that's the Devil's job. However, the earthly authority to cause anguish to the soul of a child of God is huge. We rebuke a child of God for endangering other children of God, not for insulting God. If our demands themselves constitute a corrupting influence on the faith of another, we are a threat to the Kingdom. Such indicates that we have no place in that Kingdom. Being a leader in the Kingdom requires we constantly remember our place as children, with a solemn task for leading the other children closer to Him.

Chapter 19 -- Jesus teaches the difference between what men value and what the Kingdom values. In the Kingdom of Heaven, treasure is defined quite differently than it is in the world. The wealth of the Kingdom was the growth of souls, both in number and in quality. Material goods were simply tools, and often completely unneeded, in Kingdom business. Instead of real estate, Jehovah sought to expand the territory of human souls in redemption from sin. Nothing mattered more than people rediscovering their divine design.

As Jesus set His face toward His final destiny of winning the world by the price of His blood, He and His disciples traveled down the East Bank of Jordan to the district of Perea. Since Jews typically refused to tread upon Samaritan ground, travel between Galilee and Judea meant crossing the Jordan, which formed the eastern border of Samaria. The main routes then crossed back over into Judea at or near Jericho. Jesus and His Disciples remained in this Transjordan area for some days.

As was customary over the previous three years, He taught and healed in open areas. With the crowd were the ever-present agents of the Sanhedrin, worried about someone alienating the Judeans from their control. They asked Him about divorce. Jesus was consistent on His teaching about divorce (ch. 5:31-32). The Pharisees' question was a matter of politics in Jesus' day. Would he favor the School of Hillel, dominated by the Sadducees who ruled the Sanhedrin, a rather liberal bunch? They were nonetheless the mainstream viewpoint, we are told. Or would he favor the Pharisees and the School of Shammai, which tended to be cranky and precise, with high conservative standards? The Sadducees saw Moses' word for "shameful" regarding a wife as practically anything that displeased a man. The Pharisees insisted on a more literal reading, a matter of genuine moral impurity.

Jesus answered neither, but recalled the original marriage in Eden. He explained the concept of one flesh, something neither school of thought had ever mentioned. Their question showed they misconstrued Moses' command as license (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), when in reality it was a radically new command for that ancient time when wives were mere property. Moses' commandment and protected women from the worst of men's abuse. Shocking to these agents, Jesus points out the Law of Moses was a mere shadow of the much higher Law of Heaven. The sole legitimate cause of divorce is unfaithfulness. Once a woman has surrendered her body, and the man has taken it, the matter is settled in Heaven. If she presumes to offer it to another, she has defiled herself and he is permitted (not required) to divorce her. He may not punish her any other way. Any other complaint he may have about her is petty selfishness; real men know how to handle a woman. Further, once divorced, she is the same as a harlot, not a piece of property traded among men. We note he says this while standing a single days' walk from the palace of the man who had John the Baptist beheaded for pointing this out. The emphasis clearly weighs heavily upon the men, as the root cause of the whole issue is fleshly lust.

The Disciples suggest this puts men at a disadvantage, and it might be better to avoid marriage. Being but a few miles from the enclave of the Essenes, who taught this very thing, it's no surprise they mention it. Jesus actually agrees with rabbinical teaching on this point, and lays out the three cases where it's proper to avoid marriage. Matthew chose the Greek term for "eunuch," which included men who simply did not marry. Some were born without the capacity for procreation; some were, indeed, literally made eunuchs by Oriental custom. Some simply had no room in their lives for a family, such as Jesus Himself, but these were rare. Only those divinely empowered specifically for the task should consider such an extreme measure. Jesus implies His followers would normally take up the burden of marrying and having a family as a blessing from God, and would proceed in faith despite our messy fallen human nature.

As proof of this, Jesus shows His utter delight in a group of toddlers and infants. He was putting His hands on their heads in a symbolic gesture of offering them to His Father. When the Twelve tried to shoo them all away, Jesus stopped them. He reminded them bluntly that these were the symbols of innocence and receptiveness that characterize those acceptable in the Kingdom. Matthew places this so close to the discussion about divorce to remind us that there are other parties in the matter, and Jesus was always concerned about powerless victims of suffering. A divorced woman took her children with her, sharing whatever difficult fate was hers as a rejected woman, to live without a father. If children are a good thing, so are the marriages that produce them and the homes where children properly belong -- stable households that form the earthly anchors of the Kingdom. A growing household was a man's identity as manhood, an inheritance from God and his greatest treasure.

Then came the dramatic comparison with the other sort of wealth. A young nobleman asked what he might do to obtain eternal life. So much of the exchange is lost if we ignore the subtle clues. He spoke deferentially to Jesus. Jesus responded that all goodness is defined by God, Whose ways had already been revealed. The man clearly worried he was missing something, bearing a sense of moral insecurity, but lacking moral insight. Jesus answered with a touch of sarcasm. We know from the other Gospels that this man was president of his synagogue, by which we are to assume he was honorable in his conduct. Thus, Jesus rattled off the standard Ten Commandments, though summarizing in a manner common among rabbis. Naturally, the man assumed he had been obeying these all along, as best he understood it. Jesus then points out the flaw in his understanding. If he comes to Jesus for the ultimate answer, is he willing to follow Jesus literally to find it? He goes straight to the heart of the matter and asks if the man could renounce his material wealth in favor of eternal wealth.

The man departed with a broken heart. In his mind, the whole point of wealth was proof of God's favor. Throwing all that away was just beyond comprehension. Jesus turned and commented to the Twelve it was extremely hard for rich people to become like children and enter the Kingdom. He used an old Eastern expression, referring to the symbolic smallest passage known to mankind, the eye of a needle. It provided a metaphor of something virtually impossible. Yet, in typical Hebrew fashion, He also referred to the commerce gate Rome had built in Jerusalem. At various times, the commander of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem deemed it necessary to lock down the city, though not so tightly as to cut off food and other supplies. Thus, merchants had to line up at the "Eye of the Needle" gate which allowed camels to enter only after they were completely unloaded, made to kneel, and crawl through. While the merchants struggled to get balky camels to do this, the Roman soldiers could leisurely inspect the cargo for contraband. It is this image which provides the theological principle: A man must unburden himself of all things of this world to enter the Kingdom. It was thus just possible for the wealthy to enter, but very demanding, and much more difficult than for the poor, who had nothing to lose.

Sadly, the Twelve were still operating under the same assumptions as the young nobleman regarding wealth as the manifestation of God's favor. This was why they were astonished, for if the rich weren't already bound for Heaven, who was? Jesus answered it was not a matter of something men could see with their eyes or do with their hands, but a miracle of God's grace. Peter noted they had passed through the Roman "Eye of the Needle" in that sense, having abandoned their worldly possessions as middle class merchants and peasants. Would they have entrance to the Kingdom? Jesus answered with soaring imagery of His divine throne, with them sitting as a committee of judges over their Nation. Obviously this was not meant literally, as they later understood. Rather, it was their choice to follow Him that provided the standard by which souls were measured for fitness as citizens in His Kingdom.

Jesus went on to show that, as sacred as families and households were in this life, they were only so valuable as they served the Kingdom purpose. It was quite possible that a good and proper family setting would hinder following the Messiah. It was possible a legacy of wealth and good reputation would hold you back. The camel must be fully stripped down. Everything must be surrendered to the inspection of God Almighty. Only what He gives back to us can be brought into the Kingdom service. Everything that matters will be supplied in abundance. Regardless how blessed a life may seem before entering the Kingdom, regardless what is lost in the process, everything inside the City of God is far more precious for having been renewed and redeemed by His grace. Indeed, man without grace cannot begin to comprehend what really matters. He typically puts first what God tosses aside. A man's very understanding of what matters is subject to redemption, as well.

Chapter 20 -- The lesson continues, turning the worldly understanding on its head as Jesus makes His way toward the final goal of His life, the Passover Sacrifice. Matthew refreshes the theme of the Kingdom turning things upside-down from a human point of view. Serving is greatness; doing it joyfully and without complaint is leadership. An ignoble death is victory. Humility and humiliation in this world is honor. The Kingdom Army is built of cripples. Again and again, Jesus points out to His Disciples how they must see through the eyes of God. They consistently fail to adapt. Matthew begins this chapter with Jesus explaining how the world cannot grasp the mind of God.

The Parable of the Vineyard Owner has suffered much from people reading into it things which simply aren't there. The obvious meaning is drawn from the statement which appears before and after: "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first." The central element of the image Jesus paints is the worldly image of fairness and justice in compensation, contrasted with the grace and generosity standards of God. Truth and justice are whatever God says they are at any given moment for the context. While it is obvious that we should expect some day to understand something of the essence of that otherworldly standard, we do so only by our ability to relate to Him; only our hearts can truly know Him. It demands a living connection which grows throughout human life, because we can never really arrive. Flesh cannot get there, and fleshly understanding cannot apprehend it. It is not a cerebral task, but matter of conviction in the heart. The Lord decides what each of us receives, and it is always in accordance with His promise. Those who understand the full joy and power of conforming to His divine moral character will find faithfulness itself is its own reward. We should rather rejoice when someone barely slips under the wire of God's grace and still finds redemption. Such is the way Our Lord sees it.

Finally, Jesus tosses in an epigram taken from Roman military enlistment practices. A town or district was assembled by a newly appointed commander. Because they were told beforehand, the leadership presented the men most suitable for military service. Perhaps some testing takes place, but only a small portion is chosen as acceptable. Taking the whole male population willy-nilly would pollute the army with useless men, possessing neither skill, nor physical ability, nor proper instinct. Men lacking such things are more of a threat than an asset. Jehovah is altogether selective. By His own standards He decides who shall serve, and the rest go their own way. Jesus hints to Peter that from the Nation of Israel, precious few would find entrance, because most were unfit. Wealth and political power mean nothing, nor do claims of Abrahamic blood, as the Lord sees the heart of man. Peter's question in the previous chapter about what they shall have for their sacrifice as the first to follow Christ is answered by a shift in focus to the Heavenly mind, the spiritual measure of things, and away from materialism. To read much more into this parable does violence to this teaching.

The narrative follows their steps toward the Herodian palace town of Old Jericho. It is clear that the time has come to approach Jerusalem, as the Passover is near. At some point, Jesus draws them aside privately, away from the crowd following Him, and talks about His coming death. He adds a few more details, that He would be whipped, and die at the hands of Gentiles. From our comfortable place this side of spiritual rebirth, we marvel at how their minds keep rejecting the impact of what He says. His Kingdom at its fullest glory will be on the other side of the grave, because it will be eternal; it will not be anchored in this world, merely manifested here. It is obvious they continue thinking in terms of something concrete, a change in national politics. The best they can figure is that Jesus will reform the synagogue system of their land, and bring this new teaching into dominance, even if it means remaining under Roman political authority.

John and James resort to an old Hebrew custom. A female kinsman may ask a ruler for a wide range of favors, and he would be loath to resist. We saw it with David and Solomon. The latter instituted the custom of placing a smaller throne beside the king's for the Queen Mother. In this vein, Salome, sister of Jesus' mother, comes and asks that He offer her sons -- His cousins -- places of honor and importance such as is done in synagogues. She was a part of the larger entourage often following Jesus, but not mentioned much. Jesus makes it clear that this request is out of bounds, because it's not His to grant. He warns again that He faces unconscionable suffering (the symbols of the cup and baptism), but their minds simply cannot process it. They symbols of literal statements, and take literally the symbolic ones. He prophesies they will, indeed, participate in His suffering, whether they understand it or not, as James is the first martyr of the Church, and John suffers as an exile on Patmos when he is ancient. However, their request makes no sense, for it assumes all the wrong notions about Kingdom service.

That the rest of the Disciples become angry at the politicking of James and John shows they, too, don't get it. Had they truly understood that the Kingdom was altogether a moral and spiritual matter, not of worldly political honors, they would have been amused or simply sad, at most. Jesus puts it in perspective again. With men, greatness is power over each other; in the Kingdom, greatness is power over self. The power to set aside the flesh and all its pretense of importance, to sacrifice it willingly, is power in the Spirit. The Messiah did not come to rule over human institutions, but to offer His life willingly, the ultimate service through the ultimate power.

The crowd now with Jesus was huge, intent on escorting Him into Jerusalem. They rightly expected something really important was about the happen at this Passover Feast, though like the Twelve, that expectation was probably quite far from what actually transpired. Still, it all serves a purpose. The massive entourage had passed through the original Jericho where Herod had built himself a winter palace. A mile or two farther along the road up to Jerusalem was a much larger district of Jewish peasants, whose homes were built more recently around the Roman winter quarters and attendant barracks, the official "Jericho." Between these two towns, on a very busy route this time of year were two blind men, though the other Gospels only mention the more famous of the two, Bartimaeus. These two men realized that Jesus was the cause of this latest surge of traffic, and called out to Him using the Messianic title, Son of David, implying royalty.

Jesus had warned people not to so address Him publicly. Further, these two men were hardly the recipients of honorable treatment. Anyone who begged for a living would be patronized at best, as someone who offered a chance to fulfill the Law of Moses regarding charitable giving. However, most beggars, even with working eyes, would stare into space while calling for donations, because that was proper etiquette. In this way, donors could continue to ignore them even as they dropped a coin or two in whatever the beggar held out to catch them. To call out directly for attention was an unforgivable social breach. Even peasants, if productive, were a class above them. By calling out to Jesus, they were pushing too far. Yet they rejected social custom because the only real hope they had was not in the coin basket, but the healing of their eyes. By their persistence, they showed faith in Jesus' power and authority, and it is to this faith He responded by stopping in front of them. His touch transformed them from beggars into followers, for of such was the Kingdom He planned to announce.

Chapter 21 -- Jesus openly announces Himself as the Messiah, and hammers the Sanhedrin for having rejected the purpose God had in the Nation of Israel. In this, Jesus announces Old Testament Israel was doomed, having rejected their place in God's plan. Against this tapestry of their rejection of God's revelation, He laid out His case for claiming to be the Messiah promised in that revelation, the Son of God. That the Jewish leaders would reject Him as well would in itself have been at least one argument in His favor, but Jesus was not concerned with mere human perception. He proceeded on the basis of truth that would be obvious to anyone who listened to their heart instead of mere concrete reasoning. He would do what the Word of God required to establish the testimony to His identity. That the Jewish leadership didn't understand what the Scripture said about this could not be helped.

Having already accepted the public testimony of the two blind beggars in the previous chapter regarding His divinity, we see Jesus going directly to His planned public announcement in Jerusalem. There is no need to see in this narrative a miracle every step of the way. The false piety of making miracles of mundane events is the same lie of Satan -- if a nothing becomes a miracle, then it makes miracles nothing. Jesus had friends and supporters scattered throughout the area near Jerusalem. No doubt some were those He had healed, or relatives of the healed. It's not hard to imagine a standing invitation from wealthier supporters to stay as guests in their home during the Passover Feast. Nor is it outrageous to suppose that someone had already agreed to provide the beast of burden for His use. Jesus had planned this festive entry to Jerusalem. Not in the cynical sense of forcing the hands of His opponents with a pedantic literal fulfillment of prophecy, but in faithful obedience to the Word of God. Jesus declared Himself the Messiah according to the signs God had spoken through the prophets long before.

What so many seem to miss here is not how the Jewish leaders rejected their Messiah, but that God was pronouncing His final rejection of the Nation of Israel. Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9 regarding the Messianic prophecy of entering the city through the gate every king had used in a symbolic parade, where the newly crowned king is conducted to His throne by the people. The ultimate King of Israel rode the most humble beast of burden possible. The same crowd that had accompanied Him from Galilee, now swollen many times larger, obeyed ancient custom by throwing their cloaks and leafy branches on the path under His mount. The phrase including hosanna is intentionally ambiguous, saying both "God save the King" and "O King, save us."

This huge crowd accompanying Jesus was composed of folks from the countryside. The people of the city were a wholly different bunch, and asked what in the world these bumpkins were yelling about. The multitudes identified Him as a prophet whose name was already well known, even in Jerusalem. The crowd itself believed falsely that Jesus was about to establish an earthly, political domain, sitting on the traditional throne of David. When it later became clear this is not Jesus' intent, they turned on Him. But for now, it would be a heady atmosphere of hope and joy.

The Bazaars of the Sons of Annas were a monopoly service protected by the High Priest, Annas. Only the official Jewish shekel was permitted for payment of the Temple Tax because it lacked pagan imagery. Jews visiting from other lands had to pay an outrageous premium to exchange their native coins. Further, a very corrupt practice was to reject any sacrificial animal brought in from outside the city as not meeting priestly standards laid down by Moses. It didn't matter how perfect the animal was, it wasn't going to pass. Instead, animals bought from the Bazaars would always pass, regardless how imperfect they might be. Naturally, they were always sold at outrageous premium prices. Worst of all, these Bazaars were packed into the Court of the Gentiles, the portion of the Temple complex reserved for those not allowed to proceed farther inside. This activity prevented Gentiles from getting close enough to observe any of the rituals. Symbolically, it meant they were unwelcome before the God of Israel, the smug racial hostility the Jewish leadership was known to express often. There are indications it was common for reformers to drive these Bazaars out from time to time. It was a symbolic act, and the question Jesus faced from the Temple authorities was a political issue -- "Who gave you authority to do this?" -- which implied they cynically wanted to know what He was "selling" as His particular reform.

Jesus drove the scalpers out with a rough quotation of Isaiah 56:7, pointing out these Bazaars violated the clear command of Jehovah. The Nation of Israel was created in part to reveal God's Word to the nations, to be a kingdom of priests to the world. How would the Gentile world hear that Word if Gentiles weren't accommodated in their designated space? Jewish leadership had utterly failed this, and Jesus points that out. Then, with the Court of Gentiles cleared of obstruction, He proceeds to use the Temple as it should have been all along, to heal anyone who approached with a need. Instead of using the Temple as the refuge of thieves -- His words implying the priesthood were the thieves -- He showed what the priests should have been doing instead of making fat profits. The blind and lame were forbidden to enter the Temple courts, so Jesus healed them and made them fit to go inside, to draw near to God. The symbolic contrast is easily lost on us today. The priests had done all they could to prevent men coming to God; Jesus did all He could to bring them nigh.

That His cheering section made Him out to be the Messiah was blasphemous to the Sanhedrin's deaf ears. Noticing that it was mostly young boys making the noise, Jesus quotes David's Psalm 8:2. Since the leaders refuse to hear from God, it falls to the most insignificant to do the work of God, to speak His revelation. The symbol of the Fig Tree carries this further. These give fruit some ten months of the year, and should at least have offered something a bit green with the leafy foliage. Israel had failed to produce the fruit God had intended, barren of all but show. Jesus cursed it, symbolic of the curse God had placed on Israel for their lack of spiritual fruit. In just forty years, the Nation of Israel would wither away, and cease to exist, just as the fig tree that had rejected God's purpose. When the Disciples marveled at the tree, but missed the symbolism, Jesus noted that miracles such as that were tied up in commitment to God's purpose. He cites a rabbinical image: a teacher particularly deft at reconciling difficulties and unraveling paradoxes was called "an uprooter of mountains." It didn't matter that the task seemed utterly hopeless; a devotion to obeying God would result in the authority to do anything necessary for the task. If Mount Zion stood in the way of the Kingdom, Mount Zion would be removed. So it was removed a few decades later -- removed from Judean control -- symbolically removing the last earthly vestige of Jewish ritual, and replacing it with the spiritual Kingdom of Heaven.

The Jewish leaders insisted on Jesus declaring His authority to clear the Bazaars from the Court of Gentiles, just in case He had some valid warrant unknown to them. He refused to answer until they dealt with the question of John the Baptist. Was his authority from God or from humans? The whole point was to get them to confess their actions were more about politics than about truth. Refusing to answer was actually the answer. If they can't tell the difference between the works of God by His Word and the works of men in politics and hucksterism, then they would hardly understand why Jesus did what He did. To press the point, Jesus gave them the parable of the Two Sons. The Jewish leaders were all show, but lacking any useful service to God. When John called for repentance, the Jewish leaders hardly noticed, aside from the political opportunism. Those social outcasts that the leaders had tagged as heathens, torn from the Nation, in coming to repentance showed that they were the true Children of God.

Without mercy, Jesus drives ahead with another parable of indictment. The Parable of the Wicked Vineyard Keepers recalls an ancient reference to the Nation of Israel as God's vineyard. Typically, renters would send to the landlord some contracted percentage of the wine they produced. These greedy fools insisted on keeping the entire season's produce for themselves. The Jewish leadership had always been guilty of consuming God's largess on themselves, excluding the world with snorting contempt. That this depicted the Sanhedrin as inheriting Israel's past rejection of the prophets was not lost on them. Equating Himself with the landlord's son as the Son of God was also obvious. He backed them into a verbal corner, forcing them to pronounce their own doom. By rejecting the Messiah, they were bringing God's rejection upon their nation. When David wrote in Psalm 118:22-23 about the rejected stone, it was a note about Israel being rejected by all, but taken up by God as His own people. Jesus showed their place with God was now in the hands of the Son. Given their complete failure to obey God's plan, it fell to Him to fulfill their Covenant obligations. Now, He was the Cornerstone of a New Israel, a nation He would build by finally taking the revelation of God to Gentiles in a New Covenant.

Jesus makes His claim utterly clear: He was God's Son, the Messiah. He was the embodiment of God's will, the ultimate expression of Jehovah's revelation. They rejected His claim. Therefore, their place in God's divine administration was gone. The Kingdom of God was taken from them, and given to Jesus, who would build a new Kingdom. Anyone who encounters Him as Cornerstone would meet one of two fates. Some would be broken, reshaped and included in the building of the Kingdom. Others would refuse to be broken, refuse to repent of their sins, and so would be crushed into powder. They would become something so small and insignificant as to be carried away on the wind, dispersed and forgotten. This prophecy was fulfilled in full measure in 70 AD, with the destruction of the Temple. Jehovah was no longer welcome there; it certainly wasn't the House of God any more, so it held on value to Him. The Nation of Israel as it had been up to that point no longer had any meaning, no part in God's plans.

Chapter 22 -- Jesus indicates how the Jewish leaders will be destroyed for rejecting Him as Messiah, using the old Hebrew parabolic style of teaching. They cannot hope to match Him with their shallow Hellenized debate style. Jesus took His parable from rabbinical sources, a story line He used more than once. The Parable of Prince's Wedding recalls well established ancient customs. A king would vest his heir to the throne (as co-regent) on the prince's wedding day. It was the duty of every vassal to appear and swear an oath of fealty to the royal heir. Failure to do so was treasonous, deserving of death and worse. It implied that the vassal had chosen to serve some other ruler.

For such a grand occasion, the king spared no expense. He would calculate the length of time required for his messengers to arrive at the various vassals' locations, plus the time it would take each guest to make their way to the royal palace. Each messenger was sent with a substantial honor guard that would then escort the guest's entourage back to the palace. This marked the caravan as being on the king's business. Let no one seeing them pass have any doubts about the importance of the persons, nor the mission! All Jesus' hearers would have recognized the imagery.

The response of the various nobles in the story would have horrified anyone listening. The second round of urgent messengers, it is implied, would have actually carried fresh samples of the food prepared. It is ready now; come immediately! The response was beyond scandalous. Sending an army to execute the scornful vassals and destroy their noble cities would have become a legend repeated far and wide for centuries to come. Lacking proper nobles to attend, the king called for any stranger to take their places, not just at the wedding feast, but as his new vassals and nobles. And since the king always provided festive wedding garments as gifts to his guests, there was no excuse for the one who failed to wear it. It would be an inexcusable breach of protocol, a grand insult. Such a one would be tossed into the dungeon.

Jesus makes the clear case that He is the Prince Regent of Heaven. The Jewish leaders had refused to acknowledge Him, in spite of numerous heralds sent before to warn them. Like nobles who could no longer recognize their Lord's coat of arms, the Jews had as a nation rejected their Messiah. Their city, Jerusalem, was to be destroyed, and they would be killed. Their place in God's Kingdom plan would be taken by others. Further, any who seek to enter later must accept the Lord's garment of holiness, something they did not yet possess. As they were, they would hardly be welcome in the Kingdom. Nobody was puzzled by this parable; Jesus makes it all so plain that ordinary bystanders would have understood it completely.

Now the different political groups in the Jewish leadership prepared to ensnare Jesus in something He said. From ancient times, the prophets had used parables, presented as court cases for their target's judgment. It was designed to catch them in their own sins, not to mention hypocrisy (2 Samuel 11-12). The structure of such exercises was designed to highlight moral culpability. Hellenized Jews of Jesus' day practiced a rather cheap form of such debate, based more on semantics and nit-picking logic, lacking the moral depth of the Hebrew style. Unable to match Jesus on His own terms, they sought to catch Him on theirs.

For once, the Pharisees actually worked with their erstwhile enemies, the Herodians (Jewish partisans supporting Herod's dynasty; their Jewishness was in serious dispute). The point of debate would force Jesus to choose either the Pharisaical position that it was a sin to pay taxes to a pagan usurper on behalf of evil Rome -- handing God's blessings to sinners -- or to support the Herodian position of paying taxes which were pragmatically legal but counter to the wording of Moses' Law. Jesus bluntly calls them hypocrites for their fulsome speech and asks for the coin of the realm. The denarius was a Roman coin with images that Jews considered idolatrous; the shekel was without such imagery. However, the tax was paid to Rome in denarii. Since the Pharisees consented to use Roman money, they had to recognize Rome could take it at her whim. Still, whether a denarius or a shekel, mere material possessions hardly matter among the more important things to which we owe God.

The Sadducees fared no better. Materialist and secular to the core, they utterly missed the point of marriage laws. The stern command from Moses was that a man must raise heirs on behalf of a deceased brother to prevent his own greed in hoping to seize his brother's estate; doing that would would displace God's provision for the surviving family. A man's estate should support his widow first, but given that she was most likely from a different clan or tribe, she could not inherit her husband's property directly, lest it pass illegally to another clan or tribe. Tribal boundaries were sacrosanct, and ultimately no clan or tribe could hold land inside another's grant from God. Should the man simply take his brother's estate for himself, it would be a sin. Thus, he was to, if necessary, impregnate his brother's widow to give a reasonable chance that she could bear sons with his brother's name. The Sadducees' story makes a mockery of the sharp divide between worldly material concerns and deeper moral concerns. We note in passing that Jesus points out how angelic beings are without human sexuality. But the heart of the question was the Sadducees' rejection of Scripture. If there is no afterlife, then there is no God, so what's the point of having priests such as them?

The Pharisees took another turn, sending Scribes who would have a precisely memorized catalog behind their question. Of the 600 or so specific laws noted in their Talmud, which would Jesus favor? They were ready with a hundred different ways to catch Him wrong no matter what He answered -- or so they thought. Instead, Jesus based His answer on the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), which summarizes the First Table of the Decalogue regarding duties to Jehovah. He added a summary of the Second Table, which sums up the responsibility to fellow humans. They could hardly object to this, and the narrative clearly implies they had all failed to observe it either the first or the second commandments.

While the council of Pharisees yet stood nearby, Jesus offered His own question to show that they would never be ready to face Him in debate. He notes that the Messiah is called "Son of David," yet David called the Coming One his Lord. How could a descendant be Lord over the quintessential King of Israel? The obvious answer: He would be God in the flesh. By this time, the Sanhedrin had researched Jesus' background and knew He was of royal Davidic lineage. Did His detractors have any further questions?

Chapter 23 -- During the Passover celebration, Jesus watched the Scribes and Pharisees zealously guard their false holiness, a mere collection of man-made ritual observances offering only a vague resemblance to the Law of Moses. The ancient symbolic rituals were far simpler than the Talmudic expansions heaped up by the rabbinical colleges corrupted by Persian and Greek influences. The Greek influence, in particular, perverted the Hebrew mystical approach. Instead of a highly personal loyalty to Jehovah as their Divine Sheik, they had become legalistic with a fake objectivity. In a drive to produce a mountain of great works by their hands, they were filled with pride. Their grand robes were filthy rags before Jehovah. Jesus offers His disciples a scathing critique of the empty suits that imagined they were the true keepers of Moses.

Standing in the vicinity of the Temple, Jesus addresses His disciples, though clearly including the crowd of listeners in His audience. That this audience would have included Scribes and Pharisees we should take for granted. These two allied groups held civil authority presumably extracted from Mosaic Law; they occupied the civil role of earthly authority. Jesus observed that His nation was legally obliged to obey their commands, but by no means should anyone assume they represented God. They delighted in making things difficult, but spared not the slightest effort to consider how things might be simplified. They were all about appearances. In observing some of the silliest customs of wearing little scrolls on their foreheads, they completely forgot to actually understand what God wanted. No one should imagine Jesus participated in such goofy displays. This is a rather blunt condemnation of the Hellenist tradition of taking Mosaic commands literally, as opposed to the Hebrew symbolism in the command (Exodus 13:16). Indeed, in their literalism they competed to extravagant measures.

The Pharisees and Scribes were specialists in appearances and worldly honors, with an elaborate and detailed system. They bickered over social ranking at feasts, and who had rights to which seat in the synagogues, and demanded various honorific titles meant to impress people, rather like the silly "Reverend Doctor So-n-so" of today. Seeking such distinctions among men showed the darkened heart of these men. There is only one title in the Kingdom: Lord. Don't pursue the sort of ticket-punching that permits men to be greeted officially as Professor, Doctor, or Dean (modern approximations of Rabbi, Master and Father). Greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven is not in titles, but in humility and service. People who need ego-stroking are the most useless before God.

Having explained the fundamental sinful nature of Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus proceeds to lay eight woes upon them. The first is easily their worst: They did everything they could to alienate all men from God's revelation, standing as guards to block the way. Having never been inside the truth, they refused to let anyone else approach it, actively opposing the supremacy of the heart over the intellect.

In the second woe, Jesus makes a reference to Salome, the widow of High Priest Alexander Jannaeus; she ruled from 78-69 BC. Alexander had opposed the Pharisees bitterly, but they seduced his wife to their ways. They were so lacking in wisdom and restraint that the tension they created was a primary cause for Rome taking an interest in, and assuming control of Judea in 63 BC. Meanwhile, they were composing these eloquent three-hour prayers recited in public, begging God to set them free from the Roman domination they brought down on the city.

In a third woe, Jesus notes the Pharisees had a distinct preference for Gentile converts to Pharisaism. Pharisaical Judaism was actually far closer to the Greek intellectual traditions, and Gentiles were more comfortable with it than native Hebrew folks. Those converted to Judaism from the outside are the most zealous of all, embracing with a harsh fervor the most demanding silly observances. These were like a whip against the native Judeans who had grown up in the synagogues. Thus, these proselytes were more hellish and more completely removed from the faith of Abraham than before.

The fourth woe remarks upon the Pharisaical legal tricks. In business dealings, an oath by the Temple was not binding. However, by nit-picking and demanding an oath upon the gold of the Temple, the scribal lawyers considered that binding. This system of playing with words was merely an opportunity to defraud outsiders. The mere presence of any such nonsense showed an evil intent, wholly lacking in the grace of God for Whom the Temple was presumably built.

They actually believed God played head-games like that. Such a hair-splitting frame of mind was totally foreign to Jehovah. The fifth woe notes how the Pharisees would tithe on such herbs as one might grow in a window box, bringing to the Temple a mere pinch of dried seasonings. Meanwhile, they didn't even know the God to whom they owed their very lives. These same men hardly comprehended the fundamental purpose of the Law of Moses. They might sift a barrel of flour to avoid the possibility of consuming the smallest non-kosher insect, but would then swallow in terms of gross sins of the heart the largest non-kosher animal in Palestine.

To drive the point home, Jesus uses a Hebrew parable in the sixth woe. Their pretense of external holiness was like polishing the faintest fingerprints from the outside of their dishes, but failing to wash the putrid food and drink remains on the inside. The idea of changing the heart of man never occurred to them. They no longer believed in the quintessential Hebrew wisdom of the heart-mind.

Following every rainy season, tombs were whitewashed to prevent visitors to the area of Jerusalem accidentally defiling themselves by touching these structures. This meant the brilliant white coat was fresh during Passover, in particular. In the seventh woe, the Pharisees were like these glittering tombs, pretty on the outside, but utterly disgusting inside.

Continuing on the subject of tombs, Jesus notes in His last woe that the tombs of prophets and important persons were rather substantial and ornate. By dressing up their tombs, the Pharisees celebrated the prophets' deaths, not their lives. We celebrate a holy life by copying the holiness. In Hebrew tradition, a great pile of rocks is raised to mark the tomb of criminals, the larger piles indicating higher crimes. Indeed, it is the Pharisees who are the criminals, for their actions showed they lied in their words.

Vipers were not hatched from eggs as most snakes, but were born alive, often by bursting through their mother's sides, killing her. This is the repugnant image of the Scribes and Pharisees, destroying the Nation and the Covenant in their venomous rush to death. Jesus prophesied He would send prophets, teachers and Scripture writers, and the Pharisees would be responsible for murdering them. The Lord would allow this abuse to insure that the full weight of rejecting the Messiah would fall upon them. It was the same hellish nature that bore responsibility for all the murders listed in Scripture. All this would be fulfilled and finished with those living at the time Jesus spoke. They were empty souls that God would fill up with His wrath, saved up from centuries past.

Foreseeing the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years hence, Jesus breaks into a beautiful lament over the city. In the shadow of His teaching alone could anyone find safety from the coming destruction. Indeed, in the next chapter, Jesus pointedly warns the Christians what to look for when it came time to flee Jerusalem. Those who followed His teaching would certainly have been absent from the million or so Jews Titus slaughtered in AD 70. The final words of the warning here are conclusive. The Temple ("house") in which they placed so much confidence would be destroyed. It was never God's Temple, not while they profaned it with false religion. The public ministry of Christ was finished. Shortly He would die and then rise again. Only those who were His disciples would see His resurrected body. At the same time, He warns that only those who follow Him would be walking in the name of the Lord.

Chapter 24 -- Jesus struggles once again to untangle the issues involving His Kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Nation, and His Return at The End of Time. Of all the passages in Scripture, this chapter of Matthew has suffered the most abuse and misunderstanding. The greatest mistake is to forget that Jesus is a Jewish rabbi teaching Jewish men a spiritual understanding of real world events. In the previous chapter, we saw Jesus ended by lamenting the coming destruction of Jerusalem. As a first-rate Hebrew writer, Matthew keeps the narrative in context, one principle of teaching leading to the next, all in context. This chapter is no different. Jesus is warning His disciples about the coming destruction in AD 70, and how they should view it.

Naturally, the Twelve are still locked into those false Messianic Expectations. Foremost in their minds is noting the rising tension as a sure sign He is about to declare Himself Messiah and establish His reign in their world in some tangible way. They still don't see the Cross, they still don't see how the rejection of Christ by the Jewish leaders will bring destruction on the Holy City. Instead, they are wondering how He intends to take His throne there.

Jesus has fresh on His mind the sorrow of the City's destruction, as recorded at the end of the previous chapter. Among His followers were residents of Jerusalem who were intimately aware of any new additions or modifications to the Temple edifice. These things they pointed out to Jesus, assuming He had not yet seen them. To these, along with the Twelve, He declared a very literal prophecy about Titus and his army ensuring that no two stones of the Temple would remain vertically stacked.

They must have stared in stunned silence as Jesus walked away. How could the Temple of their God be destroyed? How could God want that? As they gathered later on the peak across the Kiddron Valley, where the Temple and the City in all their glory were visible on the opposite ridge line just below eye level, His entourage came privately and asked for a fuller explanation of the prophetic words. They asked two questions, believing they were connected. So many Christians today make the same mistake, assuming that what follows are events far distant from His time. That is, they assumed that the Temple destruction, His rising in glory to declare the Kingdom, and the End of Times were all the same thing. However, they weren't sure how those things were connected, so they asked Him to explain.

Jesus takes pains to untangle what was actually three issues. He pointed out that the destruction of the City was one event, and while tied to His proclaiming the Kingdom, that was not the same as the End of Times. First the Temple comes down, meaning the final nail in the coffin of Covenant of Moses and the earthly nation of Israel. However, His Kingdom was not a historical event per se, but a spiritual event, because it was a spiritual Kingdom. As for His return and the End of Times, that was another matter entirely.

Jesus begins by answering the question implied, but not asked: What suffering comes with serving this Kingdom of Heaven? This is addressed to avoid confusing that answer with answers for the other questions. He warns in verses 4-14 what events do not mark His Return: "See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass." Verse 7 is an established prophetic phrase (Haggai 2:22) reminding them not to be concerned with the rising or passing of any human government, nor any natural disasters. That's simply the background noise of fallen human existence: "All these things are merely the beginnings of sorrows." The next few verses (9-14) are just the typical reaction of the world to people possessed of a single-minded commitment to a Kingdom not of this world. The Final Day will come after the gospel has reached the entire world; the words do not necessarily imply that is would be immediately following that accomplishment, nor is it precisely defined what that accomplishment means in concrete terms. It serves more to say, "All of that is a long way off. You need to be more concerned with your mission."

The specific prophecy of the Temple destruction we now know came true in AD 70. In this (15-22), Jesus warns them to flee the city when they see the Romans violating the Temple grounds, no longer honoring the prohibition they supported while ruling the Jews by keeping non-Jews out. Some of those living at the time would need to heed this advice, and leave town, or face being caught up in the slaughter. That it was indeed a major holocaust is not in dispute. Because Christians would certainly be still in the city, Jesus promised the Father would make it pass quickly.

For the sake of long-term Christian teaching, Jesus warns that His return will not be secret. Many evil and deranged folks would claim to be Him, but it won't be like that at all. It would be something so obvious, no human could miss it. When He Returns, there won't be any confusion whatsoever what is happening (23-28). Verse 29 is a standard prophetic statement, not to be taken literally. It refers to something so catastrophic there is no way to describe it. The whole world as we know it would be completely altered. The Second Coming could not be secret, but would be painfully obvious.

All of that was simply to answer the first question.

Thus, Jesus now turns to the second question (30-31). He describes some unmistakable earmarks of His Return, something different from the previous discussion. Every eye will see Him and recognize Him as God, and angels will be visibly present. He cautions them to fix this in their minds (32-33), to make sure they can tell the real deal as surely as they can discern the change of the seasons. The Second Coming is a distinct event, with no warning whatsoever. All these other signs mean other things. Then returning to His discussion of the Temple Destruction, He warns that they would live to see it (34), so heed the marks of this one event which is clearly forecast by well known prophetic signs. He reinforces that warning by mentioning that His words are The Word (35).

However, the Second Coming will not have any warning signs (36). The Son Himself was not entrusted to know, so it's not possible for Him to tell. It compares to the Flood in that no one (except Noah) knew it was coming (37-39). It came suddenly. Using terms commonly understood to depict a sudden coming of judgment and wrath, Jesus describes a couple of scenes depicting victims snatched up by arresting soldiers (40-41). The ones taken are the guilty, and any other meaning was unknown to the Jews of that time. This will not be a convenient moment for anyone.

He then launches finally into a call for faithfulness (42-51). The whole point of all this is that there will be no signs. You cannot possibly predict by digging into the text and extracting semantic details to establish a sequence. His warning is: Get ready now, by obeying to the fullest extent. You can't know. You can't even guess. Don't try to guess, because it's a waste of Kingdom resources.

Thus, Jesus answers the first question plainly, but warns them not to associate the second question with the same event. His mention of the Destruction of Jerusalem was quite consistent with His message of what really matters in the Kingdom: getting away from the ancient Covenant of Moses, getting away from the focus of One Place on earth (John 4:23). It would never again matter, because that covenant was about to be ended, fulfilled, completed, with no unfinished business. Every day He had tried to help break the spell of false understanding for His Disciples, teaching them that the Temple would soon be just a pile of rubble. The old ritual framework would be dead, and being a Jew would mean nothing. Only those who walked Christ's path would find God's favor.

Chapter 25 -- Offering a trio of parables, Jesus explains just what it means to be prepared for His Return at the End of Time.

He was trying to show the relationship between the destruction of Jerusalem, His ascent to His throne, and His Return to redeem the fallen world. For each of these events, Jesus warned His disciples that they must prepare. Preparing for His rule was a matter of spiritual understanding they would gain only when the Holy Spirit fell. It would require the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts to even understand the spiritual nature of His reign. For the destruction of Jerusalem, preparedness was a more practical matter of recognizing when Rome was ready to besiege the city. For His Return, the issue is quite different -- we must live in perpetual readiness. Jesus offers three parables to explain how Kingdom service was the whole matter, for which no timeline was possible.

Jewish wedding traditions are rich and varied, but certain features are fairly well established for Jesus' day. For example, we understand that the bridegroom would go to his bride's home, where the priest would engage them in various rituals. She would then leave her childhood home with him, and they would typically arrive at his home around sundown for a celebration with feasting and distribution of gifts, which might last several days. This provides the background for a vivid parable using standard Hebrew symbols.

The focus of the narrative is the group of virgins who hope to be included in this celebration, symbolizing the people of Israel. It is their birthright to be included, but it requires some effort to claim that birthright. The lamps represent the light of God's revelation, which Israel carried in the Law. Their fire was dying out, and the only fire that would continue burning in the New Covenant will be fired by the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the oil. Those who do not have Him will not be ready to participate. Some Jews get this oil; some never will. No one can ride the spiritual rebirth of another. If the light of their testimony is the Talmud, then they will miss the Messiah, and be excluded from Heaven. While the Lord delayed, giving them ample time, there was a certain and distinct endpoint to His patience. At some moment that no one can predict, the End will come. Messiah will Return to redeem all Creation, but also to judge all mankind.

Everyone living in Jesus' time could remember when one of Herod's sons had to appear before Caesar in Rome to fight a petition by opponents to his inheriting the throne his father bequeathed him. Should he be arrested there in Rome, all his private property could be forfeited, so he wisely left some of his affairs in the hands of trusted servants. Known as a hard man, he hardly would have allowed them to merely preserve his assets in stasis, but expected the normal business to continue apace in his absence. In this parable, Jesus is the king going away to His Father's throne for a time. During His absence, He fully expects His servants to employ their gifts from Him to the maximum affect, so His domain among the hearts of men will grow. While the word translated "talent" described a large quantity of money, we rightly use that word in English to describe any particular ability bestowed by God. All our abilities and talents are His, and He demands we use them to increase His Kingdom, serving in ways that make His glory obvious to all. Of those to whom the Son offers much grace, they are expected to share that grace with equal generosity, because that's how the Kingdom gains, increasing its treasury of souls. Anyone who does not apply himself with fervor is unfit for the Kingdom, destroying what little he has, and will not fare well when He Returns.

The Final Judgment of humanity is described as a shepherd liquidating his flock. Raising sheep in First Century Palestine followed ancient established practices, honed to perfection from centuries of experience. Given that the very best breeds of sheep in terms of what they produce were also just about the stupidest animals known, a good shepherd kept goats in the herd to protect them. Sheep were deeply focused on just a few things: eating, drinking, and making more sheep. Predators could easily slip in and devour the sheep, because they often wouldn't notice. Goats would smell predators coming, and either fight or flee. Sheep were stupid enough to wander off a cliff, and would easily flee over one when frightened. Goats would pay attention and flee to safer ground. But goats were not sheep; they were fundamentally different and less valuable.

Jesus portrays Himself as the Master Shepherd. His sheep have a mission, and that mission is to feed on His Word, drink deeply of His Spirit, and bring to birth new souls for the Kingdom. They have His own nature in themselves, and will do by instinct His works, even if they don't quite understand it. The power of the Holy Spirit works to create a holy instinct, a tendency to serve Him in a hurting world by sharing His grace and redemption. In so doing, they tend to be pretty poor at running the world. The world is loaded with predators, those who would destroy the Kingdom by the works of Satan: deceiving, stealing, and killing. To prevent the flock being harmed, the Lord gives to those who are not His sheep the commission to create a civilized world, to restrain sin. Those who do this will not succeed if they have a sheep's nature, so the Lord appoints sinners to govern our world. By their nature, they are much harsher, and do not understand the peaceful, sacrificial nature of Christ. At the End of Time, they will not understand how they cannot be included in redemption.

In this parable, our Lord describes the nature of the Covenant of Noah. Social stability is the requirement given to sinful men in a sinful world. The work is messy and the results aren't pretty, but this is the plan of God to keep things under some semblance of order until the End comes. His people live among these civil rulers, and will tend to follow the laws of men. However, His people's true purpose and focus of attention is the Kingdom of Heaven, not any kingdoms of men. By their calling His people will not be very effective in such worldly concerns. The obvious warning here is that we who follow Christ cannot be goats. If we are to be any use at all to Him, our natures must make us unfit to govern the affairs of mankind. To seek such governing power violates our calling and His nature in us. It requires a nature which makes men unfit to stand before the Judgment Seat of God.

Thus, to be ready for the Lord's Return means actively serving His eternal purposes. We must be fired by the Holy Spirit to carry His light to the world. We must aggressively pursue His business using all our grace gifts, and we must not be distracted by the affairs of mere human kingdoms. Only those who embrace the fundamental change in their souls by the Holy Spirit will be ready. Those who seek other pursuits will stand before Him ashamed on that Last Day.

Chapter 26 -- In the final lessons to His disciples, Jesus confronts a mountain of ignorance about spiritual issues in the Twelve. It was during Passover season, when the city of Jerusalem and surrounding areas were packed with travelers. It would be somewhat crowded no matter where a man might walk. The actual residents of the city viewed the outsiders with some measure of contempt as country bumpkins, even as they relished the chance to milk them with higher than normal seasonal prices. In the middle of all bustle, the Twelve are still trying to understand just what exactly their Master was about to do.

In the massive bookshelves of material written about these last couple of chapters in Matthew's Gospel, we note that precious few scholars pay attention to the importance of this burning question. We are inundated in extensive studies of the Passover Seder, but the richness of detail in many ways distracts from the more important story Matthew has to tell. The men who will be tasked to take this earth shattering message to the entire world still haven't a clue just what that message is. Jesus relies much on the Holy Spirit to keep track of all this in their hearts so that He can breathe life into all of this teaching at some later date. The mind can always learn later from the heart. For now, we have a dozen very confused men, grappling mightily with the fundamental nature of something still foreign to them, yet right in front of them.

They are still gathered on the crest of the Mount of Olives overlooking Zion. Having delivered an extended lesson to the disciples about the nature of His Kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and His final return to earth in glory, Jesus catches them off-guard with something He has said repeatedly over the past year or so: He would be executed very soon. Specifically, He warns that it would be only a couple of days away, on the Day of Passover itself. Since the Jews could not legally kill Him, they would have to bring Him before the Roman authorities, and this move would succeed, ending in His death at the hands of Roman soldiers in the gruesome practice of crucifixion. If anything served to point out that the fundamental nature of His Kingdom was spiritual, saying He would found it upon His death should have done it.

Even as He said this, folks elsewhere were planning it. The full body of the Sanhedrin were in session, including all the members who might normally be out of town. Having gathered at the palatial home of the High Priest, this was not a judicial gathering, but something less formal. Some time during this annual Passover conference, they discussed the matter of Jesus of Nazareth. Because it was not a formal judicial meeting, they could consider at length how to remove this particularly thorny prophet and rabbi, and not be bothered with the precise requirements of justice. Essentially they concluded that they would have to trick Him in some way and arrest Him. Since He was so popular with the bumpkins crowded into the city during Passover, they would have to wait. However, the matter was decided -- Jesus had to die soon.

We have a hard time identifying Simon the Leper. Taking into account the context of Matthew's narrative so far, we might safely guess he was healed at some point by Jesus. Were he still a leper, no Jew would enter the same house with him, most especially during Passover. Further, it appears this man was quite wealthy, and well known in the community. Perhaps in simple gratitude, he invited Jesus and the Twelve to a formal meal, since they were in town. We might expect the meal was conducted in typical Eastern fashion, where the guests lounged on large cushions around a low table, resting on their left sides, with their bodies at an angle to the table, feet outward. Women would not normally be welcome, but one nevertheless came in and dumped a small flask of expensive perfumed oil on Jesus' head. She, too, wanted to express gratitude to Jesus, and was not worried in the least by social convention. Matthew does not identify the woman.

What mattered was what she did, and what it symbolized. Probably it was Judas who led the group in fussing about the apparent waste in this act. If she had simply donated the gift intact, it could be exchanged for something more useful to their ministry. Think of how many poor people could be helped by that money! Jesus shut them up. What she had done was quite according to Kingdom protocol and morals, which they still did not understand.

First, we note that the obvious intent of the woman was deep devotion and a powerful desire to do something -- anything -- she could to honor such a beloved teacher. Further, it's implied she, at least, understood His warning that He was about to be executed. Seizing the moment before it was too late, she offered the best she had. This contrasts with the petty posturing of the Twelve as they had their eyes on worldly fame and position. It requires a materialistic view of life to fuss over the price of something like this. The proper mystical view is that nothing is too good for the Messiah. Ancient nomadic Hebrews would have grasped it immediately, and so did the woman. Second, eradicating poverty is simply not possible in a fallen world. Talking about the abstract notion of "the poor" is an excuse to dehumanize them further. If you want to do something to lift the fallen, you have to do it one by one, individually. Redemption is personal. Meanwhile, is not the Christ someone who deserves a little attention, too? Jesus rightly prophesies that His servants in the future would mention this minor event. Sadly, the vast majority today seem to have no idea why.

We are told elsewhere that Judas embezzled as the treasurer of the group. We can surmise further that he came alongside only because he was sure Jesus was the right ticket to political power and wealth. He was in it for himself. After being rebuked this way, it was surely more than petty greed which drove his next act. We would miss a great deal if we did not see his swelling worldly ambition, as well. The message of caring for the poor and taking no luxuries for the self would probably sell quite well to the average Jewish peasant, and could form a crucial plank in the reform platform Judas imagined Jesus held. But, Jesus had been warning He would die soon, and perhaps it finally registered on Judas' mind with the anointing incident, or perhaps he simply realized that this comment about the poor just went against the best part of a good political campaign. Either way, he switched parties. He became a mole for the Sanhedrin, and accepted an insulting and pitiful small sum for it, roughly the price of a slave.

By this time, many Jews would gather with friends and associates to celebrate the night before Passover, the evening of Preparation Day, with some portion of Seder rituals. This Preparation "Seder" with their Rabbi was perhaps the ultimate celebration experience of their ministry so far. Knowing this would be a unique and very special event, they had no doubt planned this far in advance. Most readers don't realize Jesus would have accepted one of the many invitations He surely would have received from so many supporters. Jesus told them how to find the place He had chosen, and they went and made the necessary preparations. The meal took place at nightfall, as required in the Law (Exodus 12). During the meal, Jesus shocked them all with the rather calm declaration, obviously a prophetic statement; one of them would betray Him. To say it ruined the mood would be an understatement. With so many doubts already in their minds, each was quick to wonder if he were the man. While Jesus provided an answer we know was literally accurate, we note that they would miss the point. To share a dish was to share about as much as any two men could share. With Jesus as their Master, it was a much more dramatic statement, for it implied the guilty one was also betraying God Almighty.

This betrayal was breaking a solemn covenant, sworn before the Lord, which made God a party to it. This was all prophesied long ago, but that did not excuse the guilty man. This much the same as declaring that God used the Babylonians to punish Israel, prophesied in advance, and then He turned and punished Babylon. They were dealt with severely in due time, and so it would be for the betrayer here. So drastic would be the consequences that the man would willingly take his life. That's one of the implications of the Hebrew phrase, "It would have been better not to be born." Judas merely echoed the others in his question, but he, of course, knew his guilt. Jesus' idiomatic answer was a "Yes." He now knew that Jesus knew.

It is not necessary at this point to rehearse in detail the full Seder ritual. We note simply the importance of what Jesus made of two items. That piece of matzo represented among other things the promise of bread eaten in the Messiah's reign. Jesus associated that promise with the substance of His body, clearly saying, "This is Me; I am the Messiah." He showed that His body had to be broken, but it was also to be shared. His body can be associated with the full weight of His teaching, the full revelation of God Almighty, but also His manifestation in the congregation of His followers. The Cup of Blessing Jesus associated with the necessity of shedding blood to cleanse sin. He pointedly notes these two items would be the center of a new ritual and a new covenant, a covenant based on removing sin on a wholly different level. Further, He makes a cryptic remark about a spiritual new wine, using a term indicating the first juice running off pressed grapes. People often miss the symbolism of starting fresh with a whole new kind of Kingdom, a whole new kind of covenant, a whole new kind of life.

Back out on the Mount of Olives, now in darkness, Jesus warns them the times themselves were rather dark. Before the light of day and before the light of understanding came to them, they would be under tremendous pressure. Indeed, as it was prophesied in Zechariah (13:7), the stress would be enough to scatter them in confusion. Then He promptly reminds them that His death is hardly the end of the matter. He would rise again and meet them in their old stomping grounds in Galilee. Peter, as usual, missed the point. Still campaigning as Jesus' second, he loudly promised to face anything at Jesus' side. How heroic and heart-warming! Jesus warned him prophetically that it was not possible. Indeed, Peter would instead lead the group in denying Jesus – three times before dawn. Peter argued, but then the rest chimed in with similar claims of bravery and commitment. How sad that they thought they were ready to face death with Him in a dashing display of heroism, but were not ready to face the spiritual Valley of Death.

The Valley of Death that night was on the lower hillside of the Mount of Olives, in the private garden called Gethsemane. The name means "oil press," quite appropriate since olive trees grew all over the mountain ridge named for them. Jesus and the Twelve came here quite often. So did a lot of other folks. Most people would have used that quiet dark place for more fleshly pursuits, but Jesus came here for the last showdown against His flesh. He left the main group near the entrance to the garden, and took the same three who had seen His Transfiguration farther along. Paintings and drawings of this moment are just guesswork, if not pure flights of fancy. It was probably much more mundane to anyone looking on, but false piety afflicts many who imagine that gilding the lily serves the Truth. The common posture for intense prayer was face down on the ground. Indeed, this was the slave's posture, knees on the earth, bent down between them with the forehead touching the ground. It is quite uncomfortable, and the ultimate sign of humility before some powerful authority. He had asked the trio to pray with Him together from nearby.

Jesus described Himself as feeling tortured. Apparently they were without comprehension on this. His flesh wanted no part of the sacrifice before Him. Still, He was master of Himself, and was willing to take this path if there was no other. He spoke with His Father in terms of a prisoner, sentenced to death by poison. Was there no one else to whom the cup could be passed, so He might be spared? We find His disciples sleeping when He goes back to check on them. Notice His remonstrance was more a matter of their spiritual safety, not His. He could handle what was before Him, but they faced a trial beyond them. Twice He returned to find them overcome by the flesh. Had they any sense of what was ahead, they would have easily been awake and trembling. As always, the business of His impending death fell on their ears with no place in the mind to process the fact. On His third return, ensured He could embrace His Father's plans, He woke them to face what was coming for all of them. The betrayer was leading the soldiers to them.

Judas knew His former Master's habits. After the ritual meal, they would typically have come to the garden. Thus, arresting Jesus was simple. Judas was leading a crowd. The Temple Guard, armed with clubs, and Roman soldiers with swords. While the former did the dirty work, the latter by their presence showed it was lawful. There would have been any number of lesser officials of both the Sanhedrin and the Roman cohort, along with servants and perhaps not a few simple onlookers. The pre-arranged sign would be the typical Eastern greeting of respect. Not only was it dark, but many might not have seen Jesus more than once or twice. Judas had no trouble picking Him out.

Impetuous Peter, good as his word, was ready for a fight, though Matthew does not point him out as the one. His "sword" would have been perhaps a large knife, just large enough to be classed by the Romans as a weapon, and thus, illegal. We have to wonder if he lacked skill in its use, for the wound he left was not fatal. Jesus stopped Him there, warning Peter the Kingdom was not served by mortal combat. Should God desire any violence, He uses angels. There were more than enough of them available to have battled the entire city. The need of the moment was to obey the Word, to fulfill the prophecies. Indeed, He mocked the heavy armament of the arresting party. They could have arrested Him at any time, and He would not have offered violence. Still, they did not know they were precisely acting as prophets had said they would.

At that point, the disciples were completely lost. Everything they had expected was wrong, and what happened was utterly beyond anything they understood. The world had turned upside down, so much so that they weren't even sure of God anymore. They fled the scene.

Near as we can tell, it would be a good hike to the palace of the High Priest. The position then held by Caiaphas offered a large home on the slope of a hill. The courtyard and entrance was naturally on the lower side. It was at this palatial home that the entire Sanhedrin and court assistants had gathered. Peter managed to follow from a distance; who knows what was in his mind? He came in the gate of the courtyard and sat near a fire for the servants who must stand in attendance in the open yard. Jesus would have been led up some steps. Most likely the assembly had gathered in a semi-open area just above the courtyard. Jesus would stand at the top of the steps near the entrance, facing the Sanhedrin. This was completely illegal by Moses and by tradition, since it happened at night.

Still, we cannot now know what other corruptions they felt they could get away with at that time. They did attempt to gain a legitimate accusation, but no two witnesses could be found with the same story. With one final attempt at two men suggesting something which added up to Jesus saying He could rebuild Herod's Temple in three days, perhaps after a plot to destroy it, Caiaphas arose to ask if Jesus had any reaction. That they could find a hint of broken law in a mystical statement about temples of flesh shows their desperation. Legally He was not required to answer invalid charges from a single witness. Finally, there was nothing left but to compel Him to answer a question He must, if honest, answer wrongly in their eyes.

Did He claim to be the Son of God? He did. The proof would be after His death, when they would see Him again as the Redeemer of God. They judged Him this night only by an accident of history; He would return to judge them as the Prosecutor of God Almighty. They didn't bother to demand proof of His claim; there could be none in their eyes. It's not as if they would know the truth in the first place. His claim was blasphemy on the face of it. Of course, for the High Priest to tear any of his garments on official duty was illegal, but he insisted on using the customary symbol of distress as the political leader of the nation, because all who heard a blasphemous speech were supposed to make a tear in their clothes and not repair it ever again. It served to stir the passion necessary to proceed, as they all agreed unanimously to His guilt and death sentence.

They treated Him with the ceremonial expressions of contempt by punching and slapping, and spitting on Him. At the same time, they mocked Him, demanding as prophet that He name who was striking Him. From the courtyard below, and still in the Valley of Death, Peter saw all this. He was facing his own torment, feeling every blow and indignity in his heart. Gone was the bravery and boasting, for he could not admit to being so much as acquainted with the Prisoner. Thrice, each time more vehemently, his tortured soul was torn by his fear and his lies. Upon the third time, cursing, he was greeted by the sound of a rooster crowing the coming sunrise. This triggered the memory of Jesus' warning that Peter would deny Him three times before dawn. While using the Romanesque term for that final watch before dawn -- "cocks-crow" -- it was all too literal, now. Peter, the man who perhaps struggled hardest with the other-worldly Hebrew mind of Christ, was finally hit with something his literalist mind could understand. It was all too much for him, and he left the courtyard in tears. His sorrows were just beginning.

Chapter 27 -- As noted previously, the false piety of those seeking to make of this part of the narrative more than what it says have obscured the original intent of the author. Matthew continues to emphasize throughout his Gospel how completely the Jews failed to understand. There were utterly wrong about everything regarding Jesus. Further, Matthew takes pains to offer just the details necessary to show how Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies, and ended the Covenant of Moses with His sacrifice. Attempting to embellish Matthew's depiction with unnecessary drama and gore is the same lie as denying it all.

Having met and palavered throughout most of the night, the Sanhedrin took a short break. Then they reassembled at dawn, in some vague resemblance of Mosaic justice by holding a second hearing. They decided their best choice for actually securing a Roman death penalty was to accuse Jesus of treason. There is every reason to believe the Sanhedrin had conferred with Pilate prior to bringing Jesus before him. This would have been consistent with the oft stated Imperial concern for keeping public order. Pilate normally resided on the coast at Caesarea, but often attended Jewish festivals in Jerusalem simply to ensure a quick authoritative response to disturbances. Hearing from the Sanhedrin that Jesus was another rebel, and prepared to accept their fallback plan of accusing Him of treason -- plotting to re-establish the Davidic throne -- Pilate was ready to go through the motions. It was convenient timing for everyone involved.

Matthew notes for us the end of Judas. The simplest explanation of his response is he realized Jesus was guilty of nothing, but had been condemned to a horrible execution. It appears he met with some of the leadership on duty in the Temple. Complaining to the Sanhedrin that Jesus was innocent of any crime, it seemed Judas was trying to exonerate Jesus, making himself a lying snitch. They were having none of it. Passing the offering box near the Temple entrance on his way out, Judas threw the coins on the ground near the box from which they ostensibly were taken. Oddly, the Sanhedrin were now pious about Judas' crime. Without admitting they had bribed for a man's death, they decided to use the money for a charitable gesture. They bought a field for burying non-Jews who died in the city.

There is a good bit of discussion why the text indicates the quote is from Jeremiah, when it is clearly from Zechariah. Matthew seldom mentions which prophet he is quoting, but in this case follows a rabbinical practice of referring to the Hebrew canonical collection of prophetical books by the name of the one which appears first in their order in some collections, in this case Jeremiah. The quotation makes reference to the complete failure of Jewish leadership to understand just what had passed them by, sarcastically calling the 30 coins a "princely sum" -- the compensation required for a slave gored by some else's ox. They hardly bothered to investigate His claims. They stood Him before a judge who hardly comprehended any better, but knew certainly the Sanhedrin had lied to him about the case.

Sitting in the official judgment seat out in the open plaza before the crowd gathered to observe, Pilate heard the representatives of the Sanhedrin make their accusation. Jesus was permitted to defend Himself, and Pilate rather expected feverish denials from a desperate man. Instead, the accused stood silent, seeming rather unconcerned about the whole thing. Pilate finds the pre-arranged deal to get rid of a troublemaker was faulty, for the man was innocent. Without describing the private audience Jesus had before Pilate away from the crowd, Matthew tells us Pilate realized he had been set up, and decided to alter the custom of releasing a Hebrew prisoner at the Passover. He offered them the choice between Jesus of Nazareth, and a repulsive thug apparently also named Jesus, the son of Abbaiah (bar-Abbas). It didn't help that Pilate had been warned by his wife of a very strong omen about Jesus. His attempts to break his deal with the Sanhedrin were rejected. Though he could have easily set the troops on them and driven the mob out, Pilate was pressed between his pre-arranged deal and the very real threat of a riot. The crowd howled for crucifixion.

It was a common legal practice for prominent men under suspicion of murder to ceremonially wash their hands over the body of a victim. This was a very powerful claim of innocence -- "my hands are clean of this man's blood." The mob, responding to the prompting of the planted provocateurs, ceremonially took full guilt for Jesus' blood, willing to gamble on His guilt. What followed were standard elements of a crucifixion. The intended victim was beaten nearly to death by a professional lictor. The soldiers were conscripts from Syria. This meant they spoke a similar tongue, but the mutual contempt they bore for the Judeans helped insure there would be no collusion. The chance to vent their spleen abusing a Jewish prisoner helped reinforce this. They mockingly dressed Him as a king, reflecting the official charge. The robe was part of the official governor's wardrobe for ceremonial occasions with the troops. The "crown of thorns" was actually made from acanthus, a flowering green ornamental bush with prickly leaves. This was more at mocking the Western style crown of laurel stems. It was more a matter of humiliation and emotional distress than about torture.

Victims of crucifixion were required to bear the crossbeam on which they died. This was more torture by way of exhaustion and humiliation, since they would be marched publicly to the place normally used for this, easily taking an hour or more on the way. At some point, it became obvious Jesus could no longer carry the beam, and we are hardly surprised. The soldiers grabbed a fellow coming from the opposite direction down the road, Simon, known as one who had once lived in a large Jewish community in modern day eastern Libya, a very important city on the Mediterranean coast. The name Golgotha simply designates a grisly place of execution. Skulls littered the place because most victims of crucifixion were left until the birds ate their flesh, easily taking two or more days to die. Jesus rejected the standard offering of drugged wine. The typical division of loot by the guards fulfilled yet another prophecy. Guarding crucified bodies was not a choice duty, but the chance of some little plunder was a consolation. Matthew notes Pilate had the charge written somewhat mocking the Sanhedrin -- this is the King of the Jews! Beside Him were a pair of robbers. Obviously they had murdered too, since robbery alone was not a capital offense, only murder and treason.

Jesus was fully alert for the hours of public mocking. All His grandiose sounding claims of spiritual authority and power were turned into ludicrous sarcasm. No one is precisely certain of the details of crucifixion. What we know for sure is that something in the positioning caused near asphyxiation while the victim slumped down hanging by the arms. They could push upward on their nailed feet to breathe until their legs collapsed from exhaustion. This was something the Romans had adopted from the Persians and perfected. It's not enough to simply die, but the victim had to be utterly miserable in every way possible. Whatever the actual geophysical causes, the sky was darkened in a clear symbol of God's own sadness, from noon to mid-afternoon. What is so easy to miss in recounting all the details is the far more important issue in Matthew's mind: Jesus was paying the price for the sins of mankind, because He had no sin of His own. Three hours was long enough, apparently, because Jesus cried out in His native tongue a quote from Psalm 22. It was mistaken by Hellenistic Jews for another chance to mock Him. Perhaps to ensure they heard Him aright, they offered Him a drink of the low grade vinegary wine issued to the Roman conscripts, soaked into a sponge so He could suck it out.

Rather than the miracles of Elijah, Jesus did something far greater. Showing absolute authority over all things, He dismissed His spirit from His human body. Matthew notes at that moment the veil in the Temple, passed only once each year on the Day of Atonement, was torn apart. Jesus now changed the date of that observance by opening the way into the Holy of Holies for all. The proximate cause was an earthquake. This was the final closure of an earth-bound covenant of rituals, the final element of God's direct dealings with human governments. It was done. To celebrate this new beginning, Matthew notes, many of the bodies ejected from their graves by the earthquake -- which could not be re-buried until after the Sabbath -- were resuscitated after Jesus resurrected.

The hardened Roman officer in charge of the execution recognized this for what it was, the death of someone divine. There were plenty of witnesses to the actual death, including some of the entourage that had followed Jesus down from Galilee. Two women named Miriam; one from Magdala, often believed to be a former prostitute, but there's no biblical basis for that. Another was the mother of James the Less (and Matthew), married to Jesus' uncle. The third woman was Salome, a sister of Jesus' mother Miriam (who was also apparently there in other Gospels); she was the mother of James and John. At some point late in the afternoon, one of the Sanhedrin petitioned Pilate for the now dead body of Jesus. Matthew doesn't say much about the details, noting only that Jesus was given a hurried but proper burial, wrapped in a linen strip up to the neck, held in place by a mixture of gum Arabic and burial spices. This fellow, Joseph from Arimathea (Ramathaim), was wealthy enough to have his own tomb cut into the rock nearby, recently finished just in time to accept this body. To protect it from thieves, he covered the opening with a large stone, a common practice. Such a man would have had servants in tow to do the actual labor. The two Miriams Matthew mentioned earlier observed the location of the tomb.

During all those debates Matthew recorded between Jesus and the Pharisees, we had to wonder if the latter were being obtuse at times. Apparently they understood the real meaning of one of Jesus' comments regarding His resurrection three days after His death. After discussing this with the chief priests of the Sanhedrin, a group of them came before Pilate again. Matthew slyly notes that they did this on a Sabbath; whether a calendar Sabbath or simply a celebratory Sabbath we don't know, but a Sabbath by Law nonetheless. After revealing their concerns, Pilate agreed it might be a problem if the disciples manage to steal the body of Jesus and claim He had risen. So Pilate permitted them to seal and guard the grave under Roman authority.

How often do we read this passage in Matthew and make the same mistakes as the Pharisees? The traditions of their scholars had added a great pile of manure on top of God's Word, in some pitiful effort to protect Almighty God. They bore an intense focus on the mere appearance of things, never seeing beyond the flesh. For so long, the church has become entangled in magnifying Jesus' death experience as if it were unique in human history. It was not. To the world around Him, this was just another execution of troublemakers. Most of the actual events were rather mundane. What made it unique was the spiritual reality, as testified by the unusual response from Creation, and the ramifications for the end of Judaism. Those miracles were well outside the boundaries of logical proof. Without a spiritual understanding, this event was only somewhat noteworthy, and easily explained away. That is as it should be, for if the Holy Spirit does not make the message real, it's just a wild and improbable tale. The focus of this chapter is the spiritual reality; the events testify of that reality only if your spirit is alive in Christ.

Chapter 28 -- Matthew describes the joyous aftermath and resurrection of Jesus. His final note closes the door on Judaism and the Jews, and establishes the Kingdom of Heaven. At times, his language is very precise, along with being often graphic. In this final chapter of his Gospel, the scene offers a completely different feeling. An abrupt shift in mood from the trauma of the previous narrative justifies the chapter break.

We can almost hear the song birds as the sky begins to lighten that Sunday morning. We are presented with the two Marys coming to check on the tomb where Jesus was laid, walking out the the northeast side of Jerusalem from Bethany. A tremor had struck, an aftershock from the earthquake which opened other tombs while Jesus was still on the Cross. They would have been concerned about making sure Jesus' body had not been exposed. There were other women present, but Matthew does not mention them.

As a dramatic device, he inserted something which had occurred some time earlier, while it was still dark. An angel came down from Heaven and moved the stone completely away from the entrance of the tomb, something typically requiring at least a dozen men, and then sat down on it to wait for the women to arrive. It's as if he paid no attention at all to the soldiers guarding it. While maintaining a rather human aspect, the angel glowed with the power of the Spirit Realm. The soldiers cowered in fear and shielded their eyes from the blinding apparition, knowing this was not someone they could have faced in battle. Nor are we told of Jesus' resurrection, which didn't actually required the door be opened. Rather, the angel wanted everyone to see the tomb was empty. The soldiers likely heard the stone moved away from the tomb entrance and fled simply because the angel was too threatening and there was nothing left to guard.

The women thus found the only the angel near the tomb. He invited them to inspect the tomb, to see that Jesus was gone. Most emphatically the angel asserted Jesus had risen back to life, just as He had promised. They were instructed to take a message to the surviving eleven disciples. All were told to return to Galilee and meet where Jesus had said they could find Him. In case anyone doubted, it was an angel of God who had spoken on this matter. The women were appropriately impressed -- both stunned and overjoyed -- and wasted no time complying.

They had been staying in Bethany for the Passover. Somewhere between there and the tomb, perhaps in or near the Kiddron Valley, they encountered the risen Lord Himself. His greeting stands as an example for His followers, considering the circumstances at the inauguration of the Kingdom of the Spirit. It is variously translated, but we should prefer "Rejoice!" They mobbed Him, falling at His feet. It was an altogether appropriate response, given He was so very obviously the Son of God. He reminded them that fear no longer had any place in the Kingdom business. He refers to the Eleven as "brethren," significant in releasing them from guilt over their previous fears. Reinforcing the message from the angel, He said He would be there in Galilee to meet them.

Meanwhile, across town some of the guards reported to the chief priests. This shows they had been detached from their normal duties, and reported to the ranking Jewish officers. We note the priests grasped the story and did not argue with it. Rather, they made it a point to insure no one else heard it. They bribed the guards to tell a story soldiers would be loath to admit: the disciples managed to steal the body while they slept. This would make the disciples criminals, and put the guards at risk for not remaining alert. Given this usually warranted summary execution for the guards, the priests promised to offer political protection. They would convince Pilate it was necessary to go along with this tale, and prevent them being disciplined by their commander. The poorly paid conscripted guards accepted the bribe and the deal, and began spreading the false story -- their mission for the day. Matthew tells us this remained the official report among Jews even as he was writing this.

While this lie was growing in Jerusalem, the disciples hastened back to Galilee. If they hurried, it would still take at least a week for the whole group. Gathering on the mountain where He had promised to meet them, they saw Him coming from a distance. Could it really be Him? Matthew does not report the pleasantries. He notes only that those present worshiped, but some weren't too sure what they were seeing and hearing. The closing comment by Jesus is best read in light of all that Matthew had written up to this point. Throughout His ministry, Jesus labored to show that the Nation of Israel had long ago left the original intent and meaning of the Old Covenant. He had promised it was all coming to a close in His Person, as the final and ultimate revelation of God. The time of the Old Israel had passed, and God's direct dealings with mankind would now be on a spiritual plane only. Jesus had paid the price, and there was now no further sacrifice required. Rising from the dead on His own initiative, He answered for all time every challenge to His right to speak for God.

Thus, all authority rested in Him, in both Heaven and earth, including all the former legal grounds for the existence of Israel as a nation on earth. Nothing else mattered; they need not consider the claims of any other office, above or below. Satisfy Christ, and all else is immaterial. As His duly appointed messengers, these eleven men were to disciple people from all nations, just as Jesus had discipled them. National identity meant nothing, only Kingdom Citizenship. These new disciples from across the full scope of humanity were to be immersed wholly into the full identity of the triune Godhead. In so doing, they would teach them to obey everything Jesus had explained and exemplified. At no time would they ever again be without His divine presence. The Man now divine would be present in all their labors on His behalf. While they were yet to see precisely how that would be, it was a promise they could never forget.

Matthew leaves the story there. For him, the whole gospel hung on knowing who and what Jesus was, particularly in context of a contrary message from the Jewish leadership. These did not even know God any more, so they were unable to recognize His Son, His teaching, His power, and His demands. They had died to the truth long before, and it waited until God's good pleasure to end their part in His plans. They never noticed what really happened, so foreign had they become to God. From then on, all mankind must approach God from the same place, doomed to Hell, and escaping only through His Son.

By Ed Hurst
29 November 2008; revised 10 April 2017

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