Can I have a divorce? (Matthew 19:1-12)

Have you experienced divorce as an adult, or as a child? In your family, or a friends’ family? It’s heart-rending. Your world is ripped apart. In the time of your deepest need, you find family and friends turning away.

That’s why it’s so confronting when religious people use it to impute guilt and failure. It wasn’t something Jesus raised as part of his kingdom agenda. Judean Pharisees used it to paint Jesus as an idealist out of step with Scripture:

Matthew 19:1–3 (NIV)
1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

As they said, it was the man who held the power in the ancient world. Jewish legal code gave the woman some rights, insisting she receive a formal divorce document rather then being dumped with no status or opportunity. It also banned temporary divorce, so a man couldn’t try someone else and then return.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 proscribed the how of divorce, but not the when. That left the rabbis arguing over the grounds for divorce. Rabbi Hillel supported divorce for any reason, whereas Rabbi Shammai supported divorce only if the marriage was already ruined by adultery. The Pharisees tried to draw Jesus into this debate. They weren’t asking if divorce was okay, since their law was clear about that. The question was when divorce is okay: only when one party has already wrecked the marriage (Shammai’s view), or for any reason (Hillel’s view)?

Instead of arguing the grounds for divorce in Deuteronomy 24, Jesus redirected them to the grounds for marriage in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24:

Continue reading “Can I have a divorce? (Matthew 19:1-12)”

Forgiveness: reciprocated or rescinded (Matthew 18:23-35)

Does God ever back out on forgiving us?

Did you hear the one about the guy who received forgiveness, and then lost it?

Some of Jesus’ stories don’t sit well with how we understand the gospel. I often hear salvation offered as a free gift: admit you’re a sinner, ask for forgiveness, and receive the gift of eternal life. You pray the prayer, and they assure you that you’re saved, because God promised it and wouldn’t lie.

But Jesus told a story where the unforgiving guy had his forgiveness rescinded. Unnerving?

Continue reading “Forgiveness: reciprocated or rescinded (Matthew 18:23-35)”

How far does forgiveness go? (Matthew 18:21-22)

Forgiveness takes us further than you think.

There are outspoken people like Peter, and quieter ones like his brother Andrew. Imagine those two trying to run a fishing business together! When Jesus said, “Confront the brother who wronged you,” (18:15) Peter was already there.

In front of his brother, Peter thought out loud, “Lord, how often does my brother wrong me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (18:21).

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. It won’t happen a third time, because I’m putting distance between us. Seven times, Peter? You’ve got to be kidding!

“No, not seven times,” Jesus said. Peter’s grimacing face relaxed. Then the rest of Jesus’ statement hit him, “Seventy-seven times!” (18:22)

That’s mad! Who would ever react like that?

Continue reading “How far does forgiveness go? (Matthew 18:21-22)”

The king is in community (Matthew 18:18-20)

How does the world discover her king? In the community that recognizes him.

How does heaven’s reign come to earth? We’re meant to be a kingdom of heaven, so how is heaven’s authority restored to the earth? The kingdom becomes our living reality as people recognize Jesus as heaven’s anointed king, the Son with his Father’s authority.

Continue reading “The king is in community (Matthew 18:18-20)”

How far do you push for reconciliation? (Matthew 18:15-17)

How do you solve injustice? Fight? Flight? Is there a better way?

How much effort do you put into maintaining relationships? When people cause you grief, do you confront them and have it out? Do you apologize even if it wasn’t your fault? Or do you let them go, and move on?

Matthew 18:15-17 (original translation, compare NIV)
15 If one of the family wrongs you, go and confront them, just the two of you on your own. If they hear you, you’ve gained your family member. 16 If they do not hear you, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘any statement can be established by the voice of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If the person disregards them, speak to the assembly. If they disregard the assembly, let them be a gentile or tax collector for you personally.

Continue reading “How far do you push for reconciliation? (Matthew 18:15-17)”

“The NT in its world”: free podcasts

Free podcasts related to “The New Testament in its World” by N. T. Wright and Michael Bird and other commentators.

Last year, Tom Wright and Mike Bird released a book and video classes on The New Testament in its World.

Now they’re releasing free podcasts. Scroll down this page:
https://zondervanacademic.com/pages/new-testament-in-its-world#podcast

This series is not a survey of NT content. It’s background information for understanding the NT in its setting, and therefore how to approach it today.

Along with Michael Bird (Australia) and N. T. Wright (UK), these podcasts feature top-quality NT lecturers and commentators.

Direct links for the first five podcasts:

  1. Craig Keener, Beginning NT Study, and a Conversation in Jerusalem
  2. Lynn Cohick, Canonization, and N. T. Wright’s Reading and Research Habits
  3. Jeannie K. Brown, The Jewish Context of Jesus, and ‘Faith in Christ’ vs ‘Faithfulness of Christ’
  4. Nijay Gupta, The Story of Paul’s Life and Ministry, and N. T. Wright’s Favourite NT Book
  5. Esau McCaulley, The Afterlife in Greco-Roman Thought, and Teaching on the NT

Highly recommended.

The shepherd’s heart (Matthew 18:12-14)

The Shepherd is less likely to blame the sheep than we are.

As established in the beginning, the kingdom of God consists of the whole earth under heaven’s management, with humans as God’s agents providing his care to the rest of creation.  How we care for the animals is therefore a great analogy for how God cares for us:

Matthew 18:12-14 (original translation, compare NIV)
12 What do you think? Say someone had a hundred sheep, and one was misled from the others. Wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hills, head off, and search for the misled one? 13 And if it can be found, I tell you truly that his joy over this one is greater than over the ninety-nine that were not misled. 14 None of those who gather around your Father in the heavens want any of these little ones to come to ruin.

This is God’s heart for the whole human family. Neither the Sovereign himself nor any of the angels who gather around his throne and read in his face how he feels when humans mistreat each other (18:10) want any of God’s children to come to harm.

Continue reading “The shepherd’s heart (Matthew 18:12-14)”

What does the Bible say about hell?

Hope this helps you understand this controversial topic.

For 14 years, I’ve been seeking to understand what the Bible says about hell, the Jewish background, and the church’s understanding. Here are the results.

You may be surprised how few references there are. The main word (Gehenna) occurs just 12 times. Another word (hadēs) describes the dead, and some versions have mistranslated this word as hell (e.g. Matthew 16:21 ESV; Revelation 1:18 KJV). And there’s a mythical synonym once (tartaroō in 2 Peter 2:4).

All the references to Gehenna are from Jesus, with one from his brother (James 3:6). What Jesus said is therefore the definitive teaching on hell.

Here are the passages where Jesus mentioned the word:

Continue reading “What does the Bible say about hell?”

Are we worse off if we live unselfishly? (Matthew 18:7-10)

Enacting legislation doesn’t stop evil; enacting love does.

If you enjoy renovation projects, you’ll love the big one our king is working on. A complete global make-over, restoring the world to the glory of what it was designed to be: a kingdom of heaven. What will be different when he succeeds?

At its heart, it’s a change in how people use power. People do whatever it takes to eliminate their competition. Jesus experienced it (16:21; 17:22). He calls us to use our strength to support each other as we do for children, instead of taking advantage of each other and trying to trip each other up (18:3-6). But how?

Continue reading “Are we worse off if we live unselfishly? (Matthew 18:7-10)”

Don’t fall for repaying evil with evil (Matthew 18:6)

Jesus was never violent. So why would he talk about drowning, amputating limbs, and burning people alive?

Matthew 18:6 (original translation, compare NIV)
But anyone who trips up one of these little ones — those who place their trust in me — would be better off with a donkey’s millstone around their neck, drowned at the bottom of the sea.

Yes, it’s about justice. But we need to be very clear about what question Jesus is responding to, the nature of the injustice, and how justice is restored.

Continue reading “Don’t fall for repaying evil with evil (Matthew 18:6)”

How to receive Christ (Matthew 18:1-5)

How do we receive Christ? For Catholics, it happens at the mass: eating Christ’s body is receiving him. For Baptists, it’s the moment of personal decision: inviting Christ into my heart is receiving him. For Jesus:

Matthew 18 Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me. (ESV)

Okay, that’ll mess up our theology. 🙂 What was Jesus saying? Continue reading “How to receive Christ (Matthew 18:1-5)”

Jesus did refer to himself as a king (Matthew 17:22-27)

If death and taxes are the only certainties, you don’t want to offend those who charge taxes. Taxation was not part of the created order. In the beginning, God only gave humans authority over the other creatures — fish of the sea, birds of the sky, animals and insects of the land (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8 etc).

So, there’s something seriously wrong when representatives from the temple expect tribute from God’s anointed king:

Matthew 17:22-25 (original translation, compare NIV)
22 Travelling back to Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The son of man is about to be handed over to the hands of men. 23 They’ll kill him, and on the third day he will be raised up.” They were deeply grieved.

24 When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter: “Your teacher pays the temple tax, doesn’t he?”

25 “Yes,” Peter said.

Peter didn’t even stop to think. He’d seen Jesus pay the temple tax each year.

But something is different this year. Peter just declared Jesus to be God’s anointed king (Christ), the Son appointed to rule the earth by his Father in heaven (16:16). And Jesus explained that the temple leaders in Jerusalem will kill him (16:21; 17:23).

Peter needs to stop and think. Why should God’s anointed king pay tribute to the rebels? Continue reading “Jesus did refer to himself as a king (Matthew 17:22-27)”

Son of man: suffering king (Matthew 16:21–17:23)

The true king takes on his people’s suffering.

Why did Jesus call himself son of man? Here’s a clue: in the Synoptic Gospels, the vast majority of occurrences (78%) are after Peter calls him the Christ. Jesus has used the phrase previously in relation to his authority, but mostly he uses it once they recognize him as God’s anointed ruler. I think the phrase son of man contains a paradox he wanted them to understand. Continue reading “Son of man: suffering king (Matthew 16:21–17:23)”

The gospel revelation (Matthew 16:16-18)

The “gospel of the kingdom” expects God to reveal who is king.

The biggest reason we struggle to understand what Jesus meant by “the kingdom of God” was the way he presented it. He kept on about the kingdom, without claiming to be king. And if you don’t see Jesus as the king, you don’t see the kingdom. Continue reading “The gospel revelation (Matthew 16:16-18)”

The gospel of God (Matthew 17:5)

Recognize God’s gospel?

Did God announce the gospel? What does it sound like when he proclaims it? God’s gospel is a thing (Mark 1:14; Romans 1:1; 15:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 8-9; 1 Peter 4:17).

If you think the gospel is God making a statement about you (“I forgive your personal sins” or “I justify you”), then God didn’t. But if the good news is God’s appointment of Jesus as Lord, this is God proclaiming the gospel:

Matthew 17 5 And a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (NIV)

This is God’s gospel, his joyful announcement of rescuing the world from oppression under sin and death to be his kingdom, formed in the Son he loves, a world reunified in the leader God was pleased to appoint. Continue reading “The gospel of God (Matthew 17:5)”

The Moses connection (Matthew 17:2-8)

Why was Moses present at Jesus’ transfiguration? How would the disciples have understood the conversation between Jesus and Moses?

Moses was Israel’s founder, the servant of the Lord who brought the first kingdom of God to birth among the kingdoms of the world. Continue reading “The Moses connection (Matthew 17:2-8)”

See a glorious king? (Matthew 17:1-8)

Dress for the job you want, they say. But Jesus didn’t. Except for this one time. Far from the cities of power, three trusted friends glimpsed him dressed in regal glory.

They had just declared him as God’s anointed ruler (16:16), and he said they would see him rise to power in his Father’s glory (16:27-28). For a brief moment they saw it: Continue reading “See a glorious king? (Matthew 17:1-8)”