Who is “the Servant of the Lord”? (Matthew 12:17-21)

What Isaiah said about Israel, Matthew says about Jesus. How can he do that?

Open Matthew 12:17-21.

Years ago, I ordered the plans to build a 2-seater kit plane. It was fun pouring over the plans, but I didn’t really have the time or resources to commit to such a project. I took on pastoring instead.

Building community is nothing like building an aircraft. You only get one chance to get the critical things right in a plane, but you can stress-test the parts and be mathematically sure it’s good to fly.

Human beings are nothing like that. They decouple mid-flight and fly off in their own direction. There can be no blueprints for building community: the “parts” are living and constantly changing. A leader is always adapting the plans, reshaping and redesigning. Mid-flight!

Continue reading “Who is “the Servant of the Lord”? (Matthew 12:17-21)”

Face or flee? What Jesus did with conflict (Matthew 12:14-21)

What can we learn from Jesus about how to handle conflict?

Open Matthew 12:14-21 and Isaiah 42:1–4.

How do you handle conflict? Fight? Or flight?

Some of us are fighters. We stand our ground. We’re warriors for justice, for ourselves and for others. We’ll never stand by and let evil take the reins.

Some of us avoid conflict. We keep the peace at all costs. We take the way of the cross: it’s more godly to suffer wrong than to demand rights.

Funny thing is that both groups conscript Jesus. Justice warriors look up to a Jesus as a leader who stood up for the poor, the outcasts, the unacceptable “sinners.” He trained his followers to handle confrontation, bringing not peace but a sword (10:14-39). He announced woes on the Galilean towns that rebuffed his kingship (11:20-24). He confronted the Pharisees so vehemently and persistently that they wanted to destroy him (12:1-14).

Then, suddenly, Jesus suddenly quits the confrontation and withdraws (12:15). And this isn’t the first time. When John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus withdrew into Galilee (4:12). This non-confrontational Jesus was not what John expected the Messiah to be (11:3). Jesus didn’t rescue John. John was beheaded, and Jesus withdrew again (14:13).

So what’s all this withdrawing? Is this another side to Jesus? Is this the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” of children’s lullabies? Continue reading “Face or flee? What Jesus did with conflict (Matthew 12:14-21)”

The message of Jesus’ miracles (Matthew 12:9-13)

Why did Jesus do miracles? Was he trying to tell us he was God? Or was there another message he wanted us to hear?

Open Matthew 12:9-13.

Why did Jesus do miracles? Was he showing off his divinity? That’s what many people think, but it’s not what the Gospel writers say.

Sure, Jesus was God-with-us (Matthew 1:23), but the incarnation meant God laying aside his divine powers to live as a true human. The miracles are not evidence of his uniqueness; they are the practical expressions of a human being appointed by God and functioning under divine authority.

If the miracles were just God showing off during his human phase, imagine what he might have got up to during the first 30 years of his life! That mindset did fuel some pretty bizarre speculation in the centuries after Christ: Continue reading “The message of Jesus’ miracles (Matthew 12:9-13)”

Giving God’s world rest (Matthew 12:8)

Ever wondered how peace can be restored to earth?

Open Matthew 12:8.

A couple of centuries before Jesus, Israel was under Greek rulers who demanded they give up their distinctives and blend in with the empire. They launched an attack on a Saturday, forcing zealous Jews to choose whether they would give up their Sabbath and fight. They refused, running for the hills and hiding in caves. It was a massacre.

The Jewish leaders changed their minds: “So they made this decision that day: ‘Let us fight against anyone who comes to attack us on the Sabbath day; let us not all die as our kindred died in their hiding places’” (1 Maccabees 2:41).

200 years later, Israel still didn’t have a king to make that kind of decision and lead them in their battles. Then Jesus rose to fame in Galilee, claiming to be the Lord’s anointed, talking about restoring God’s kingdom. Continue reading “Giving God’s world rest (Matthew 12:8)”

Greater than the temple? (Matthew 12:6)

“Something greater than the temple is here?” How could a Jewish person say that?

Open Matthew 12:6.

Imagine for a moment you’ve always had a fascination with Windsor Castle, its architecture and 39 generations of monarchs stretching all the way back to William the Conqueror. One day, all your dreams come true: you’re invited to a royal banquet at Windsor Castle.

You arrive, and you’re ushered in for the first time. You pause to breathe its air and smell the history. You wonder what stories these stones could tell. You’re so engrossed that you don’t realize when Queen Elizabeth enters to speak with her guests. A voice brings you back to the present, “Something greater than the Castle is here.” How would you feel if that voice was not one of her aides, but the monarch herself?

Jesus meant to embarrass his opponents with some of this audacious royal claims, but this one takes the cake:

Matthew 12 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.

What did he mean? What in all Judea could be greater than the temple? Continue reading “Greater than the temple? (Matthew 12:6)”

The king who gives rest (Matthew 12:1-4)

Recognizing Jesus’ kingship is the only way to find rest.

Open Matthew 12:1-4.

Don’t let the chapter division stop you seeing how Matthew put his Gospel account together. The keyword at the end of Matthew 11 is rest. In contrast to this world’s rulers, Jesus gives his people rest (11:28). The only place this world will find rest is under the yoke of the gentle and humble king (11:29).

But the Galilean rulers wouldn’t let it rest. Even on the Sabbath, they were digging dirt on Jesus’ followers. They saw his hungry disciples pulling heads of grain and nibbling on the seeds as they walked through the fields (12:1-2). Continue reading “The king who gives rest (Matthew 12:1-4)”

Jesus’ liberating kingship (Matthew 11:25-29)

Don’t let your bad experiences stop you trusting Jesus. He’s a different kind of king.

Open Matthew 11:25-29. and Lamentations 5.

Our previous post explained how Jesus was asking the towns of Galilee to accept his kingship when he invited them to put on his yoke. This world’s rulers are often domineering and demanding. They wear their people out and weigh them down, giving them no rest. By contrast, Jesus reigns to benefit his people. He is gentle and humble at heart. He gives his people rest, as the Creator intended from the beginning. Continue reading “Jesus’ liberating kingship (Matthew 11:25-29)”

Invitation to rest (Matthew 11:25-29)

After what we’ve been putting up with, Jesus’ yoke is truly light.

Open Matthew 11:25-29.

Tired? Worn out? Jesus said, Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

Stop for a moment right now. Just breathe. Refreshing? Now, before you rush back to the frenetic pace, do you have time to explore with me what Jesus meant? He went on to say, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (11:29-30).

What did he have in mind? His yoke? His burden? It’s even more liberating that you imagine.

Continue reading “Invitation to rest (Matthew 11:25-29)”

Why woe? (Matthew 11:20-24)

Why did Jesus announce woes on towns like Capernaum?

Open Matthew 11:20-24.

Many of us skip over the bits where Jesus announces woes. We prefer the blessings. But please don’t play ostrich here. It’s important. The bits we don’t understand are friends that can open our eyes to fresh ways of seeing. Continue reading “Why woe? (Matthew 11:20-24)”

Coping with social pressure (Matthew 11:16-19)

How do you handle the pressure people place on you to conform to their expectations? What did Jesus do?

Open Matthew 11:16-19.

You know that deep desire to be accepted, to belong, to really matter to significant people? It’s a good thing: it can keep you from heading down a destructive path towards isolation. But it can also limit you, squeezing you into a mould that prevents you from developing your strengths or hanging around with those who are on the outer.

Do you think Jesus experienced that kind of social pressure? Listen to his frustration: Continue reading “Coping with social pressure (Matthew 11:16-19)”

Advancing forcefully or suffering violence? (Matthew 11:12)

Does Matthew 11:12 say God’s kingdom is forcefully advancing, or that it’s subjected to violence?

Open Matthew 11:12.

Matthew 11:12 is a puzzle for translators. The NIV from 1984 reads like this:

  • From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

But the same verse from the 2011 NIV reads:

  • From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.

So which one is right? “Forcefully advancing” would be a good thing. “Subjected to violence” sounds bad. What did Jesus mean? Continue reading “Advancing forcefully or suffering violence? (Matthew 11:12)”

When the king is dishonoured (Matthew 11:7-11)

How does King Jesus respond when publicly dishonoured?

Open Matthew 11:7-11.

I never knew what a fink was, but the Wizard of Id cartoons were clear enough: call the king a fink and you’re strung up in shackles.

Last year, I visited a kingdom, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I asked the guide what would happen if someone spoke against one of the Hashemite family. Apparently it would not be a good move if you valued your freedom.

You can understand why Jesus avoided direct criticism of Herod. John the Baptist had proclaimed the arrival of an alternative kingdom. John publicly critiqued Herod’s morals, implying he was unfit to rule God’s people. Predictably, Herod arrested John.

Jesus also preached the restoration of God’s kingdom, but he carefully avoided Herod. When Jesus said anything about Herod, his message was coded. In Matthew 11, he expressed the same cryptic message in three ways, adding the hint that they’d need to listen well to get it: “If you have ears, hear” (11:15):

Continue reading “When the king is dishonoured (Matthew 11:7-11)”