Daily Bible Study Tips –

Matthew, Chapters 15 - 28

Overview of Matthew
Matthew, Chapters 1 - 14

Matthew 15:1-6, 10-11, 15-38, 16:5-12
Matthew 17:1-9
Matthew 18:15-17
Matthew 18:18-19
Matthew 18:21-35
Matthew 18:32-35
Matthew 21:1-11
Matthew 21:23-32
Matthew 21:33-46
Matthew 22:23-33
Matthew 22:34-46
Matthew 24:36-44
Matthew 25:1-13, The Foolish and Wise Bridesmaids Matthew 25:14-30
Matthew 25:31-40, The King Expects Service.
Matthew 25:41-46, Failing in service is inadvisable.
Matthew 27:11-26
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 23: Matthew 27:26-31, The Crown of Thorns
Matthew 27:51-53, Reader Question
Matthew 28:16-20

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Matthew 15:1-6, 10-11, 15-38, 16:5-12, Feeding of the 5000, not to mention the 4000

I always have trouble remembering whether it was the "Feeding of the 5000" or the "Feeding of the 4000."  Were there 5 loaves or 7 loaves?  Two fish or a few fish?  Men or people?  Twelve baskets of leftovers or seven?  That stuff I learned so long ago in Sunday School gets hazy! 
Actually there were two similar miracles, as reported by Matthew and Mark:
But Jesus says, Don't get hung up on the bread!  Listen to what he's really saying!  And what he's saying is that here is a powerful sign of the coming of the Messiah to welcome us into the riches of the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 17:1-9

Did you learn the names of all the disciples when you were a kid?  If not, here's how.   The hymn tune is "Bringing in the Sheaves."
        There were twelve disciples / Jesus called to help him:
        Simon Peter, Andrew, / James, his brother John.
        Philip, Thomas, Matthew, / James the son of Alphaeus,
        Thaddeus, Simon, Judas, / And Bartholomew.
        He has called us, too.
        He has called us, too.
        We are his disciples;
        We his work must do.

Peter, Andrew, James, and John seem to have been an inner circle, even among the twelve.  These four were called into active ministry as a group (Matthew 4, 18-21), and several times they are mentioned as accompanying Jesus apart from the other disciples.  Bartholomew appears to be the same as the Nathaniel that Philip brought to Jesus.  Matthew appears to be the same as Levi the tax-collector.  The second Simon is Simon the Zealot; the Zealots were an activist group who wanted to overthrow the Romans militarily.  Thaddeus seems to be the same as Judas the son of a different James; that Judas is different from Judas Iscariot.

Notice that the face of Jesus shines, like that of Moses.  Do our faces shine when we have been in the presence of God?

Matthew 18:15-17(9/20/11)

Jesus says that if you have a problem with a fellow-Christian, you should take it up with that person privately. If the problem remains, take it up again, this time a little less privately. Then get the church involved. How many problems could be solved quietly and with good feeling all around if all Christians everywhere took this approach? But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Not long ago, someone – I believe in Sunday School – raised the question of how we should treat this person if the problem can’t be resolved even by involving the church: treat the person like a Gentile or tax-collector. But her point was, just how are we supposed to treat Gentiles and tax-collectors? With welcoming love and evangelism, that’s how. When I heard that, I thought it was pretty smart.

Matthew 18:18-19

Matthew 18:21-35

Our passage from Matthew talks about the importance of forgiving people who have wronged us.  Most Christians are concerned about this topic, and I think I know why.  If I forgive you, that means that you have wronged me.  I can live with that, and indeed my willingness to forgive you gives me a nice warm glow.  But that's not really what this parable is about.  What it says is that I should forgive you because God has already forgiven me for an indescribably large debt that I can never repay. 
I did a quick count of references to forgiveness in Nave's Topical Bible:
So you see that the overwhelming emphasis of scripture is that I need God's forgiveness, not that you need my forgiveness.

Matthew 18:32-35
A couple weeks ago in Sunday School class, one of your fellow readers had such a profound insight into the Sept. 13 scripture, Matthew 18:21-35, that I feel compelled to pass it on.  We had been talking for most of the class hour about the week's scriptures on forgiveness, and we had read from various translations.  We discussed whether we can or should forgive someone who has not repented.  Joan S. pointed out that some of the translations render vs. 34 as "his master delivered him to be tormented."  (I checked; this appears to be a more accurate translation of the Greek than "to the jailers.")
Anyway, Joan made an amazing statement: "That's what happens to us if we don't forgive the person who has done something bad to us.  The person who has done it doesn't even care whether we have forgiven them or not, but we are tormented in our own hearts."

God doesn't have to punish us for our lack of forgiveness – it's built into our blood and bones.  Our continued dwelling on the wrong done to us torments us.  Let it go.

Matthew 21:1-11

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the "Synoptic Gospels," because they all take the same view.  Most scholars agree that Matthew and Luke used Mark's work as the basis of their own, and that both also drew material from a source that Mark did not use, called "Q."  Matthew and Luke each added much original material of his own  as well.  Today's scripture passages show how similar some parts of these three gospels can be.  See also Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-40.

Matthew 21:23-32

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament spent a great deal of time concerning themselves with the behavior of saved persons.  The high priests wanted Jesus to talk about authority.  He wanted to talk about doing the will of God.  Paul was a great theologian, but the bulk of his letters are devoted to Christian behavior – the desire and the ability to do what pleases God.  Don't be like the son who says he will do what his father wants, and then doesn't do it.

Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus spent a lot of time debating with religious leaders.  Following in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets, he tried and tried to get them to see that God cares more about what you do than about what you say.
Everybody knows that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).  Unfortunately, we tend to interpret this to mean that God doesn't love crabby givers.  Then we apply it to other kinds of service to God, and we decide that if we can't serve with a cheerful heart, we shouldn't serve at all.  You may think I'm making this up, but I'm not.  I've heard real, live people say that they couldn't bring themselves to feel "good" about doing some act of Christian service, and therefore, they thought they shouldn't do it at all. 
Nothing could be further from the truth!  Serving God and your neighbor is your job.  You are expected to do it whether you are feeling cheerful or not.  I'm not saying you have to make a long-term commitment to do things you hate or do badly – if you're tone-deaf, don't join the choir!  But for things that you can do, mere crabbiness is no excuse.  God wants service, not lip-service.

Matthew 21:33-46

How many of you could tell someone the parable of the Good Samaritan?  How many could tell the parable of the Wicked Tenants?  Toward the end of Jesus' ministry, he and the religious leaders were increasingly at odds.  His parables took on a darker tone, and they were often about judgment and condemnation.  Needless to say, these parables were not popular with the religious leaders then.  Even now they are less popular in Sunday School than the earlier parables.  We like the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, which we read recently, because it tells us that no matter how late we come into the Kingdom, we will receive our full reward.  We don't like the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, because it tells us that eventually, it will be too late to get into the Kingdom.  The Rich Man and Lazarus, which we read a few days ago, is one of the later parables, as is today's passage.

Matthew 22:23-33
Remember how Matthew likes to place similar events or stories together? Ch. 22 has several stories of various groups – Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, and teachers of the Law – who come to Jesus with trick questions. They all had the same goal: to discredit Jesus. Either He would be stumped, or He would give an answer that would alienate some group or other. Unfortunately for all these groups, Jesus was smarter than they were and had a better command of the scripture and sounder theology. So in almost every case, they were the ones discredited. (Once in a while they actually learned something!)

The Sadducees were a religious/political group that (among other positions) did not accept the doctrine of resurrection. The Levirate Law stated that if a man died without children, his nearest male relative must marry the widow in order to provide a child for the dead man (see Ruth). The Sadducees came to him with an example in which they thought the Law was incompatible with resurrection. They figured that either they could stump Jesus on a matter of Law (thus causing Him to lose face with the crowds), or they could get him to deny resurrection (thus offending Pharisees), or they could get Him to affirm resurrection (thus offending Sadducees). He probably did offend the Sadducees with his answer, which was that they didn’t understand the problem at all.

Matthew 22:34-46

The religious leaders were always trying to entrap Jesus, either with trick questions or by arranging for him to break the Sabbath by healing someone.  We don't usually think of the question "What is the greatest commandment?" as a trick question, but it is.  There are actually 613 commandments (not just 10), all of which were equally important.  So if they could get Jesus to say that one was more important than the others ...  Unfortunately for them, it backfired.  Not only did he answer their question in a way they couldn't argue with, but then he asked them a question they couldn't answer.

Matthew 24:36-44

When will Christ the King come?  Walk into any bookstore to find the secret revealed. Sometimes you will have to learn a secret code.  Maybe you will have to join a secret society.  Often you will have to pay money to learn the secret.   Now, what do you notice about all this?  It's a SECRET, that's what!  That is the only part of all the modern end-times hoorah that is correct.  Jesus says that even He doesn't know when it will be.  I think any mortal person who claims to know the date and hour is delusional.  Or blasphemous.  Or possibly just trying to separate you from your money.

Matthew 25:1-13, The Foolish and Wise Bridesmaids

The main thing we learned in Sunday School about the five foolish bridesmaids is that they didn't bring any oil for their lamps, and consequently they didn't get to go to the wedding.  Unfortunately, the story is more grim than that.  Fortunately, if you read it all the way through, it's self-explanatory.  The great theologian Bob Dylan puts it this way:
Are you ready, are you ready ?

Are you ready to meet Jesus ?
Are you where you ought to be ?
Will He know you when He sees you
Or will He say, "Depart from Me" ?

Are you ready, hope you're ready
Am I ready, am I ready ?
(copyright 1980 Special Rider Music)

You only get one chance to meet the bridegroom.  Be ready. 

Matthew 25:14-30

This parable is about the kingdom of heaven at the end times.  This parable directly follows the parable of the ten young women with lamps.  Paul's letter to the Thessalonians is on the same topic.  Are you ready?  Get ready! See also 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

Matthew 25:31-40, The King Expects Service.

Good news!  It's not necessary to be a martyr, to be a missionary, to go to seminary, or even to sing in the choir, in order to serve God.  You can serve God by helping people right in your own city or neighborhood.  This is so easy:  just be alert, and if the people around you need something, try to provide it. 
Notice that in spite of all the discussion last week about God's money, the sheep and the goats in this parable are separated on the basis of service to other people, not on the basis of their monetary giving.  Even so, one way to serve people is to give money to organizations (e.g., your local congregation) that have a system for providing services.  For example, I don't actually know any homeless people, but St. John's helps the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) to feed and house homeless families.  Another terrific organization here in Albuquerque – Good Shepherd Center – feeds, clothes, houses, and trains homeless men and brings them to Christ.  By contributing to St. John's and the Good Shepherd Center, I can help their clients.
The thing that always gives me a little pause in today's passage is that the sheep are sort of amazed that they did anything worthy of a reward.  I know people like that – no matter what they do for you or for the church, they don't consider it to be a big deal.  I expect them to be in the front row on the king's right.  Maybe they'll see me way in the back and wave.

Matthew 25:41-46, Failing in service is inadvisable.

I'm sure that most of you read serious literature.  I don't.  I read fantasy; however, this means that I know more about feudalism than your average American bear.  In feudalism, people at each level of society owe some type of service to the person who is above them.  Peasants owe service to the local knight, who owes service to the local baron, and so on up through the earls and dukes to the king.  No surprise there.  Did you know that the king owes service, mostly in the form of protection from foreigners and criminals, to his dukes?  And the dukes to the earls, and the earls to the barons, and so on down to the peasants?  Being king is more work than would appear from fairy tales. 
We are also in service to a king.  God is repeatedly referred to as our king in the psalms, the prophets, and in the parables of Jesus.  We owe service to him, and he protects us.  I mentioned yesterday that the service demanded of us is not especially difficult; in the words of Jesus, his yoke is easy. 
The downside of being in service to a king who demands easy service is that he gets annoyed if you don't provide it.

Matthew 27:11-26

Do you remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?  Indiana and the bad guy are in a race to find the Holy Grail.  When they arrive at the place where the Grail is kept, they find a 1000-year-old knight guarding about a hundred cups, one of which is the Grail.  Some cups are beautifully worked in gold.  Others are jeweled.  Some are carved from wood or thrown from clay.  The bad guy tries to force the old knight to give him the Grail, but the knight says he must choose one for himself.  The bad guy, being bad, looks around and chooses the most beautiful and expensive cup of all.  He drinks from it.  Then his skin dries up and shrivels off his bones and his skeleton explodes and he turns to dust.  The old knight watches all this, and in one of my all-time favorite lines from a movie, he says, "He chose ... poorly."

Pilate had to make a choice.  He had to choose whether to free Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God the Father, or Jesus Barabbas the murderer, whose surname means "Son of the Father."  Pilate's instincts and his investigation (not to mention his wife) told him that the right thing to do was to free Jesus the Messiah.  He didn't want to go along with what the religious leaders and their supporters in the crowd wanted him to do, which was to free the murderer Barabbas and execute Jesus.  Pilate, like the bad guy in the movie, tried to get someone else – either Jesus or the crowd – to make his choice, but ultimately he had to decide for himself.  He chose poorly.

We all have to make a choice.  Choose well.

Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 23: Matthew 27:27-31, The Crown of Thorns (4/1/15)

Matthew’s account of the treatment Jesus received on Friday morning tells what everyone else did: Pilate had him whipped, the soldiers stripped him, dressed him, crowned him with thorns, knelt in front of him, spit on him, stripped him again, dressed him again, and led him away to be crucified. There is not one word about what Jesus did. The artist, in contrast, tells us only what Jesus did. The face and hands of the soldier in the foreground are not shown; he is anonymous. The two soldiers and the other man in the background are obscured. Even the face of the unknown lady is not clearly shown.

The artist, unlike Matthew, has made Jesus the center of attention. The thorns on the crown are clear and sharp. Each fold in the purple robe, the reed – and ropes that aren’t mentioned in scripture – are all carefully drawn. Most of all, Jesus’ face and hair are shown in meticulous detail. His patient endurance and terrible suffering are unmistakable. This anonymous artist has done us a great service in putting the emphasis of the scene on Jesus, where it should be.

Previous Step. Next Step.
The crowning with thorns. Click to enlarge.
"The Crowning with Thorns," artist unknown,
from the Spencer family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.

Matthew 27:51-53, Reader Question (3/21/08)

Question: Do the commentaries have anything to say about the holy people who were raised to life and showed up in the city in Matthew 27:51-53?

Response: Like this reader, I’m always surprised by these two verses. They never seem to stick in my mind. Clearly I don’t know what to make of them.

John Wesley says you should take a scripture passage literally if it is clear, doesn’t contradict other passages or the scripture as a whole, and doesn’t lead to an absurdity. These two verses are certainly clear and don’t contradict anything else we have. You have to decide for yourself whether you think the story is true or an absurdity, but my inclination is this: if we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that God can raise us from the dead, what’s so absurd about God raising other people from the dead?

Here’s exactly what the Greek says: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and having come out of the graves after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and manifested themselves [i.e., appeared] to many.”

Here’s what John Wesley says: “Some of the tombs were shattered and laid open by the earthquake, and while they continued unclosed (and they must have stood open all the Sabbath, seeing the law would not allow any attempt to close them) many bodies of holy men were raised, (perhaps Simeon, Zacharias, John the Baptist, and others who had believed in Christ, and were known to many in Jerusalem,) And coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, went into the holy city (Jerusalem) and appeared to many – Who had probably known them before: God hereby signifying, that Christ had conquered death, and would raise all his saints in due season.”

William Barclay agrees with Wesley about the symbolism, but is a little less inclined to take the event at face value: “There is the story of the amazing things which happened as Jesus died. Whether or not we are meant to take these things literally, they teach us two great truths. … (b) The tombs were opened. The symbolism of this is that Jesus conquered death. In dying and in rising again Jesus destroyed the power of death. Because of His life, His death and His resurrection the tomb has lost its power, and the grave has lost its terror, and death has lost its tragedy, because now we are certain that because He lives we shall live also.”

The Expositor’s Greek Testament goes farther toward skepticism in its exegesis of Matthew: “This fact, the rending of the veil, is mentioned by all the Synoptics…. It might have happened, as a natural event, an accidental coincidence, though it is not so viewed by the evangelist*. A symbolic fiction, according to Brandt**. The legendary spirit took hold of this event, magnifying the miracle. … an earthquake, preceding and conditioning the greatest marvel of all, the opening of the graves and the resurrection of many saints…. We seem here to be in the region of Christian legend. Certainly the legendary spirit laid hold of this feature with great eagerness, expanding and going into details, giving, e.g., the names of those who rose: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.”

Charles R. Erdman stands with Mark, Luke, and John in having no comment.

* That is, Matthew.
** Whoever he is.

Matthew 28:16-20

Have you ever run into someone you knew but you didn't recognize?  If I see someone out of context – like a co-worker in a grocery store or a pastor at a service station – there's a good chance that I won't know who it is.  Sometimes I think, "He looks familiar.  Now who does he remind me of?"  If the person calls me by name, I fake it.  "Hi!! How's it going??"  Two days later I might figure out who it was, or I might not. 
The followers of Jesus must have had the same problem.  They knew for a fact that Jesus was dead, and they certainly didn't expect to see him again.  No matter where he appeared to them, he was out of context.  Some people didn't recognize him until he called them by name or performed some characteristic action like breaking the bread.  Some thought he was a ghost and were afraid.  Some thought they recognized him but were embarrassed to ask him who he was.  Some disbelieved at first and demanded proof (these are my personal favorites).  Eventually, all the remaining disciples, not to mention about 500 other people who saw the risen Jesus, recognized him and rejoiced. 

Copyright 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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