Hiding leaven in buckets of flour (Matthew 13:33)

Here’s a fun reading of Jesus’ parable about someone trying to hide their leaven in three bucket-sized flour containers.

Apparently, the kingdom of heaven is like leaven a woman took and hid in three buckets of flour — until the whole lot fermented! (Matthew 13:33) What’s that about?

Jesus believed the kingdom of God was rising. You can try to punch it down, but once the leaven is in the dough it only rises more. Jesus expected God’s reign to permeate everything, the whole lot.

The parable’s core meaning is clear, but the details are puzzling:

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Planting seeds is better than cracking hard hearts (Matthew 13:11-17)

How do you get through to a resistant culture? Wisdom from a master teacher’s experience.

Jesus faced a daunting task: sowing the kingdom of God in a world gone feral. Refusing our one true sovereign, earth was overrun by self-proclaimed rulers. Even back in Jesus’ time that was a long story: the powers of Rome, Greece, Babylon, Assyria, all the way back to the oppressive Pharaoh of Moses’ day.

Those powers conflict with the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord, that God’s anointed has been raised up as our global leader. Those who hold the political, social, and economic capital have little interest in yielding to him. You could say it would be easier to get a camel through a needle’s eye.

But Jesus wasn’t planning a war to rid us of these leaders. He used stories. His stories were not bombs to destroy existing power structures; they were seeds of what could be, opening people’s eyes and ears and hearts to the hope of life under God’s reign. Seeds can grow into trees. Living roots can crack hard rock. Life is more powerful than death. That’s why the sower went out to sow his seed (Matthew 13:3).

“Why don’t you deliver a clear, direct message that everyone can understand?” his disciples wondered (13:10). “Because they don’t understand,” was Jesus’ reply (13:13).

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Farming frustration and harvesting hope (Matthew 13:18-23)

The Sower Parable is inspiring insight into the frustration we feel and the fruitfulness we anticipate for God’s farm.

Jesus’ kingdom stories are at the heart of Matthew’s Gospel. The lead story is one Jesus titled the parable of the sower (13:18). So, who was the sower? What was he planting? And why bother when many seeds don’t grow?

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A lesson in leadership and confrontation (Matthew 15:1-20)

When to confront? When to step away? What can we learn Jesus’ responses to other leaders in his community?

What is it that isolates us from each other? I don’t mean Covid, though that has certainly contributed to feeling cut off from each other in recent years. What are the things that drive wedges between us, leaving us feeling withdrawn and distant?

I’m trying to learn from how Jesus related to people. He often taught the priority of sorting things out when we fall out with our sisters and brothers. Other times the disciples were bewildered to see Jesus giving up on community leaders in the rough and tumble of Galilean life without reconciling. His responses contain insights I need for leadership and relationship.

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Signs of the times (Matthew 16:1–4)

It’s easier to predict the weather and to see the climate change.

Just once we find the phrase, signs of the times. As fascinating as it sounds, it’s not a priority in Scripture. In fact, it occurs in a critique:

Matthew 16:1-4 (my translation, compare NIV)
1 Pharisees and Sadducees approached to put him under pressure, asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
2 In reply he said, “At dusk you say, ‘It will be calm, for the heavens are red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the heavens are red and threatening.’ You do know how to discern the face of the heavens, but you are unable to discern the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Leaving them behind, he moved away.

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Mountains and mustard seeds (Matthew 17:14-21)

“Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20)


As a young pastor, I preached this text calling for an expectant faith that moves mountains. God does amazing things. But with the benefit of a few more years, I can also identify with the disciples who, on this occasion, failed to give the boy his healing.

I still have much to learn, so I’ll comment from just one angle — the kingdom perspective.

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Who makes God happy? (podcast) (Luke 15)

Who makes God happy? The sinners? The righteous? What do you think?

Jesus answered that question with three stories. We love the parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost (prodigal) son. But did we hear the answer he gave?

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The rich texture of atonement (Matthew 18:23–35)

There’s more than one model of atonement in the pages of the New Testament.

I’ve never liked the oboe. Clarinets are agile and joyful. Saxophones are versatile and soulful. An oboe sounds mournful, a bruised reed, a blanket of grief. Yet even an oboe can contribute its mellow hues to an orchestral arrangement. Who can forget the haunting tones of Gabriel’s Oboe?

Atonement is as rich and polyphonic as a symphony. At its heart, to atone is to make at-one. God reconciles the world to himself, and that ultimately makes us at-one with each other.

But when we press in to how atonement works, we cannot reduce it to a single instrument. Like light reflected from a multifaceted diamond, atonement has many angles in the New Testament.

For example:

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And if I don’t forgive? (Matthew 18:35)

How will God treat us if we don’t forgive?

Jesus gives a single-sentence explanation of his parable about the unforgiving servant:

Matthew 18:35 (my translation, compare NIV)
“And that’s how my heavenly Father will treat you [plural], unless you each release your brother or sister from your hearts.”

Now we know who’s who in this story, and how they relate:

  • The king is God — my heavenly Father.
  • The servants are you (plural) — the kingdom of the king.
  • The Son of the sovereign (implied by my heavenly Father) teaches kingdom ethics.
  • The Son counts the servants as family — brothers and sisters.
  • Counting offences (verse 21) doesn’t count as forgiving from the heart.

Most unsettling is the way Jesus presents his Father. God is like a king who in anger handed him over to the torturers (verse 34), and that’s how my Heavenly Father will treat you. Disturbing?

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When forgiveness outweighs repayment (Matthew 18:23–35)

Should people pay for their mistakes, or is it better to let them off the hook? Which works best in the long-term? Jesus had an opinion about that.

What thoughts spring to mind when you read forgiveness in the Bible? If your first thought is personal guilt and asking for salvation, you may struggle with the stories of Jesus, where it sounds like salvation is contingent on your works. It might make more sense to read them as stories about corporate restoration.

This one is about the kind of kingdom our king expects to run, how he expects his servants to represent him in his realm.

Jesus’ story

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Three decrees that gave Christ authority (Psalm 110)

How much of Psalm 110 did Jesus have in mind when he quoted the first verse?

Psalm 110 proclaims three edicts from heaven that reconfigure authority on earth. Jesus quoted the first, and that was enough to silence his opponents (Matthew 22:41-46). The second would have put them in an unenviable position. And the third would have been too frightening to face.

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Matthew’s Gospel: outline and summary

A survey of the Gospel of Matthew, of how Christ received his reign.

How do the pieces fit together? With my grandson, we started with a stack of Lego pieces, followed 48 pages of instruction, and finally saw what we set out to see: the assembled car.

Larger books of the Bible can feel like that. You start reading the verses, to understand the paragraphs, and the chapters, and the sections, and eventually you get the big picture, how the whole story fits together.

So here’s a brief guide to Matthew’s Gospel, a simple outline distilled from 5 years of processing and pondering the details, meditations that could fill two books (275 posts). From opening statement (anointed son of David) to closing declaration (all authority in heaven and earth, with the nations being instructed as he commands), Matthew’s message is how heaven’s anointed became earth’s king.

This is how Matthew traces the good news of Jesus as the one who restores heaven’s reign to earth:

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Olivet Discourse: temple and king (Matthew 24)

Whatever your views about end times, here’s a way to hear Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 within the temple-versus-kingship conflict that is its context.

Open Matthew 24.

“Signs of the end” is the heading in many versions of Matthew 24, and there are almost as many interpretations as there are interpreters. That’s the irony of eschatology: we tend to divide over something God intends to bring us together in Christ.

So, I’m writing cautiously, not wanting to contribute to the division. I’m not about to fit the Olivet Discourse onto world events of our day. Can we agree together that the starting point for understanding Matthew 24 must be its context in Matthew’s Gospel?

Matthew’s message is that Jesus is the Messiah. The temple leaders didn’t see it that way. The conflict of kingship and temple escalates with Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem, culminating in his crucifixion and resurrection. As our previous post showed, the temple/kingship conflict forms the framework of Matthew 21–28, including Chapter 24.

Listening from this position, we hear the Olivet Discourse with a clarity any audiophile would love, the counterpoint of temple and kingship.

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Two powers (Matthew 21–28)

Kings and priests were both anointed in the OT. How does this conflict of powers play out in Matthews’ Gospel? It goes to the heart of his explanation of the cross.

Once you realize the gospel is the good news of the kingdom (with Jesus as the anointed king), you see how the latter part of Matthew’s Gospel is the conflict of the two positions anointed by God: high priesthood and kingship. Matthew 21–28 chronicles the outworking of that clash.

Anticipating the conflict (Matthew 1–20)

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The message of Mark’s Gospel (podcast)

Mark’s Gospel reveals two things about Jesus:

  • his identity (chapters 1–8)
  • his mission (chapters 8–16)

The pivot point is Peter’s declaration of Jesus’ identity (Mark 8:29). Immediately Jesus turns our attention to how Messiah’s mission will play out — his role and our role in his mission.

This 25-minute podcast traces the laser-sharp focus of the shortest Gospel. Recorded at Riverview Joondalup 2022-03-13.

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Our king’s great commission (Matthew 28:16–20)

The Cyrus connection gives us accurate aim for the Great Commission.

“Great Commission” is the label we use for Matthew’s closing paragraph. Raised from tomb to throne, the Christ commissioned his followers to train the nations in his enduring presence.

The Old Testament also ended with a great commission in the Hebrew Bible. Chronicles was the final book of the Writings (after the Law and Prophets), so this is how the story of God’s reign ended before Christ:

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The message of Matthew’s Gospel (podcast)

What is the main thing Matthew says about Jesus, from the first verse to the last?

What message was Jesus proclaiming? Why was he doing the things he did?

Is the Sermon on the Mount best understood as a sermon? Remarkably, it said it didn’t sound like a sermon — more like an address from someone in authority.

How do the parables reveal the way Jesus expected the kingdom to come?

Why didn’t he explain who was king? How does he become king when in the capital there are people who believe they represent God’s authority?

Why did he die on the cross? What statement was God making when he raised him from the dead?

These are the questions Matthew addresses in his Gospel account. We follow Matthew’s main message in this 27-minute podcast, recorded at Riverview Joondalup 2022-03-06.
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But his enemies are still here (Matthew 28:11-15)

If Christ is risen and reigning, why are we still suffering?

Why does Matthew interrupt the good news to tell us about a lie?

He was on a roll, describing Jesus’ victory over death. Risen. Reigning. Leading from the front like a shepherd. Authorizing angels to break death’s seal, to roll back the stone, to reveal the empty tomb. Then the risen king himself confirmed their commission and called them to the king’s council in Galilee.

So, why interrupt this climactic story of the Gospel to tell us the lie about the disciples stealing the body? There must be something here we really need to know.

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Risen and reigning (Matthew 28:1-10)

God’s government arrived with an empty tomb.

I doubt any of Jesus’ followers could sleep after his crucifixion. The men kept a low profile, fearing for their lives. If the leader had been crucified, what would they do to his followers? Their best chance was blending into the crowds returning to Galilee when the festival was over.

The women had watched from a distance (27:55). Those horror scenes would haunt them. Sleepless in Jerusalem, they rose while darkness still enveloped them to make their way to the only thing they had left: a tomb. The tombs of the prophets enshrined Jerusalem’s tragedies.

What they found

This tomb had been disturbed. It was no longer the final resting place they had watched as Jesus was buried (27:61). The tomb’s mouth gaped open. The stone was rolled to one side. And someone was sitting on the stone: not a gardener or a guard, a messenger in a glistening white uniform.

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