How majestic! (Psalm 8)

Little voices make a world of difference.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1 ESV)

The Psalms proclaim heaven’s sovereignty over the earth. In effusive joy and struggling lament, they declare the reality of God’s reign over us all.

The more we recognize God’s regal authority, the more it develops us. Witness the word of praise expanding as ripples on a pond:

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I’m retiring

What do I do now?

I never considered myself the retiring type. But here is: I’ve retired.

After 49 years of training, pastoring churches, working in Christian radio, developing software, and teaching, I’m not looking back. I’m looking forward to pursuing my passion with the time I have left.

It took me decades to discover the question to ask. Finally, just nine years ago, I nailed it down. New Testament scholars often note that Jesus made the kingdom of God the centre of everything he did and said. My question: What difference does it make if we do too?

Talk about transformative! Everything — the narrative of Scripture, the topics for theology, the church as the embodiment of the king in his world — everything finds its place when King Jesus is the centre.

The gospel is the restoration of everything under Jesus as our God-appointed global leader:

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Defective and immature people in God’s house? (Matthew 21:14-16)

Jesus’ answer for what’s wrong is not exclusion: it’s the radical inclusion that comes from restoring our brokenness to wholeness.

What does the son of David do for his people as he enters the capital? Matthew alone reports this:

Matthew 21 14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. (NIV)

Jesus had healed the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others in Galilee, where the crowds recognized the God of Israel working through him (15:30-31). The reaction in Jerusalem is polarized.

The crowds ascribe salvation (Hosanna) to the Davidic descendant who saves his people, but those who hold the reigns of the city are put out. They feel threatened, just as Saul did when God’s anointing had moved to David and the people sang his praises as the one who would save them (1 Samuel 18:7-8; 21:11; 29:5).

This descendant of David is the saviour/king in the story of his regal ancestor.

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Why did Jesus overturn the temple? (Matthew 21:12-13)

Why was Jesus angry with the temple?

Why did Jesus overthrow the temple? Was he angry to find traders in the courtyard? Did he expect to find people in quiet meditation and prayer instead? What was the temple, and what was Jesus doing there?

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Who’s this? (Matthew 21:10-11)

Jesus’ kingship doesn’t match how people understand power.

The crowd certainly stirred up Jerusalem with their proclamation of Jesus as anointed king: Hosanna! The Son of David. Arriving in the name of the Lord, they proclaimed (21:9).

But these proclaimers were not residents of the city. They were country people who’d followed Jesus down the Jordan from Galilee to Jericho (20:29). There’s a twist.

The capital does not recognize her king. They ask, Who is this? (21:10).

A king? Seriously? He doesn’t look regal. It doesn’t help when they hear he’s a prophet from a place of no significance in Judah’s history, a town that wasn’t even part of Judah:

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Hosanna: the king who saves his realm (Matthew 21:6-9)

The Palm Sunday crowd declared the gospel: heaven and earth reconciled in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Jesus’ triumphal entry was the greatest recognition Jerusalem ever gave its king.

Matthew has been proclaiming Jesus’ kingship since the beginning: the son of David (1:1), born into their captivity (1:17), to save his people from their disobedience (1:21). Jesus has been announcing the good news of the kingdom and using his authority to release his people from their sufferings. Eventually his followers realized who was king (16:16), and others began to recognize him as the son of David (20:30-31).

A growing crowd streams into the capital from the east, accompanying the one they proclaim as the son of David, returning to reign in Jerusalem. They lay their garments on the road to honour their king, cutting branches to mark the festal celebration.

What they say is the most astounding declaration of the gospel. Matthew summarizes their joyful shouts with three statements that declare the reconciliation of heaven and earth in him:

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The king who comes in peace (Matthew 21:1-9)

God’s king has a different authority to what we’ve known.

The king of peace is so different. When the disciples first recognized Jesus as God’s anointed, he told them to keep it quiet (16:16-20). Now others have had their eyes opened to the son of David, and they cannot be silenced (20:30-34). This growing crowd forms a festal procession, celebrating the return of the son of David to the capital in the name of the Lord (21:9).

Yet, this son of David does not look like the kings who came before him. Solomon had 12,000 horses and 1,400 chariots to defend his kingdom (2 Chronicles 1:14). Jesus doesn’t even have a donkey. If he’s to be carried into Jerusalem, he must borrow a pack-animal for this occasion — the return of the king to Jerusalem after 600 years.

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Regaining the good news of Jesus’ kingship

Why did the early church de-emphasize the message of the kingdom of God, and how do we recover it?

As we saw, even blind people could see Jesus was the son of David (Matthew 20:30-31) as he made his way to the capital where people would recognize him as the Son of David … arriving in the name of the Lord (21:9, 15). He challenged Jerusalem’s rulers to recognize the son of David as their Lord (22:42-45). It’s blindingly obvious that Matthew presents Jesus as the restoration of the Davidic kingship, the ruler God has anointed (Christ).

When Paul wanted to summarize the gospel at the start of his letter to Rome, he described Jesus as the physical descendant of King David, raised up as the reigning Son of God by his resurrection. “Jesus Christ the Lord” names Jesus as God’s anointed and our ruler. This gospel transforms the world by bringing the nations to trust his leadership (faith) in obedience to his governance (Romans 1:3-5).

Yet the church moved away from this good news of Jesus’ kingship. The early fathers focused on Jesus’ divinity (Son of God) rather than his descendancy (Son of David). We are unbalanced and the gospel is diminished when we emphasize one truth at the expense of the other.

By the early 200s, Origen thought the crowd was right to silence the blind men who called Jesus such a contemptible name:

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See, Son of David! (Matthew 20:29-34)

What’s the significance of declaring Jesus as the son of David?

I guess blind people see the world differently. Matthew tells of two non-seeing people who saw Jesus as king. Son of David, they cried (20:30). Their declaration was significant enough for Matthew to repeat: Son of David (20:31).

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How serving can ransom many (Matthew 20:28)

A king giving his life to serve many? The strategy redeems his kingdom, forming the life of the redeemed.

How do you understand this statement from Jesus?

Matthew 20:28 (NIV, || Mark 10:45):
… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Many of my friends hear this text saying that, even though I’m a sinner, Jesus paid the price for me. It’s about my salvation. Many theologians agree: in the Gospels, it’s a crucial text on atonement. There’s even been speculation over how the transaction worked: if the devil had us kidnapped, did God pay the ransom (Jesus’ life?) to the devil?

Read the verse in context, and you’ll see Jesus was speaking of his kingship. The previous four chapters (two in Mark) focused on his royal identity: Son of the heavenly sovereign, God’s anointed ruler (the Christ), the Son of Man to whom God gives the kingship (starting from 16:13-28). The immediate context contrasts Jesus’ kingship with how the rulers of the nations exercise their authority by lording it over people (20:24). Jesus’ statement is about the nature of his kingship, and the kind of kingdom he runs.

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Jesus compared to other kings (Matthew 20:24-28)

What’s the same and what’s different between King Jesus and the rulers of this world?

To declare Jesus as “the Christ” is to declare he is God’s anointed ruler for all the peoples of the earth. His kingship restores earth to heaven’s governance. That’s the whole point of the kingdom of God.

So, how does Jesus’ kingship compare to other rulers, like the president of the United States or the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China? What’s the same, and what’s different?

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What’s your kingdom vision? (Matthew 20:20-23)

If Jesus is king, what authority do we have?

Did you notice her faith? Notice what Matthew is saying about the kingdom expectation growing in the community.

We’re not sure of her name, but let’s call her Salome (compare Matthew 27:56 & Mark 15:40). Salome and Zebedee were parents to two of Jesus’ closest friends. No doubt they’d had Jesus in their home many times. Last time they came home (17:22), James and John were buzzing with news: Peter had identified Jesus as God’s anointed ruler for his people (16:16). Then God confirmed it: they’d heard God say it! (17:5)

This time, the boys were full of news about the prominent place Jesus had promised them in his restructure of the kingdom: “When the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

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How Jesus explained the cross (Matthew 20:17-19)

Could we explain the gospel as Jesus did?

Why did Jesus die on the cross?

Many of my friends would say he needed to die for me, in my place, for my sins. That’s called substitutionary atonement, and it’s one of the explanations of the cross found in Scripture. But it’s not the primary way Jesus understood his crucifixion.

Here’s how Jesus described the cross:

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Working in God’s vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

Why did all workers get the same wage?

Many of Jesus’ stories are about our relationship with God. As humans, we have such a privileged vocation — working with and for our heavenly sovereign in his earthly realm.

That’s the background for this parable:
Matthew 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. (NIV)

Earth is a kingdom of heaven, for “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Exodus 9:29; Psalm 24:1). Since the nations were no longer serving their true sovereign, God planted Israel as his vineyard, but they had not produced the harvest God intended either (Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8-16).

In Jesus’ story, the property owner never gave up on his original goal. The emphasis falls on his effort seeking people who would work for him: early morning (20:1), mid-morning (20:3), midday (20:5), mid-afternoon (20:5), and late in the day (20:6). That’s keen insight into what it’s been like for God to have earth as his kingdom.

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We discovered we weren’t alone when we got stuck

Last week, we got bogged. At Willie Creek north of Broome, we turned onto a track that degraded into deep sand. I tried to turn around, but our front-wheel drive was never going to make it. It was an embarrassing, rookie mistake. What happened next blew me away.

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Top 10 posts of 2020

In case you missed them.

Here are our top ten posts, based on how many times they’ve been read in 2020:

  1. Abraham’s life: a summary (Gen 12–25)
  2. ‘Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord’ (Ex 14:13-15)
  3. When your life is threatened (Mt 8:23-27)
  4. Jesus the activist
  5. What’s the unforgivable sin? (Mt 12:30-32)
  6. Unconditional forgiveness? (Mt 6:14-15)
  7. Who was the sower? (Mt 13:1-23)
  8. Jesus the healer (Mt 8:14-17)
  9. KINGDOM SUMMARY: Matthew 1–10
  10. Why does context matter? (Mt 12:33)
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Matthew’s main message (repost)

Here’s a refresher: how we started approaching the Gospel of Matthew in 2016.

Six months after launching this blog, we started reading the Gospel of Matthew with fresh eyes — as “the surprising plot twist that resolves the old kingdom struggle in a new way.” Here’s the opening post again, in case you’ve joined recently or struggled to keep up.


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Kingdom summary (Mark Keown)

This Kiwi nails it: big picture of the kingdom, in brief.

Update 2020-11-10: The Logos Black Friday sale has this book for 1/3rd price this week.

How do you wrap your head around a topic as big as the kingdom? Here’s a great summary from New Zealand scholar, Mark Keown.

The first volume of his Discovering the New Testament surveys the Gospels and Acts. The rest of the book (pages 417–548) then pulls the whole story together as the kingdom of God.

I’m taking a break this week. I think you’ll enjoy this sample from Mark Keown:

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