The Well: February 17 – 21
Feb. 17: Matthew 17, 18
As chapter 16 ended Jesus boldly declared that some of those
who were with him would not die until they had seen the Son of Man coming in
his kingdom. Chapter 17 opens with the event to which Jesus was referring,
commonly known as The Transfiguration.
Having previously predicted his death and issued the call
for his disciples to follow him no matter the cost, he now will draw back the
veil of his humanity so that Peter, James and John may glimpse the radiance of
his deity. This he accomplishes, once again, on the top of a mountain.
This event has great parallels to the episode from Moses’
life narrated in Exodus 33, 34. Moses once again ascends the mountain to meet
with God. He asks God “show me your glory” (33:18). God agrees, but declares
that Moses will not be able to stand the full display of such magnificence. As
God protects Moses with his hand (33:19-23), he passes before him and speaks
his glory (34:6, 7). In Matthew’s account, Jesus allows his glory to be
recognized by the three disciples on top of a mountain. Later, both John Peter
will remember the event, declaring “we beheld his glory, as of the only
begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and “we
ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, when we were with him on the
holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:17, 18). As God the Father had with Moses, Jesus now
reveals his divine glory to those who will be charged to lead the Kingdom
effort through the Gospel after his departure.
That the disciples are still in need of Jesus’ instruction
is evident from the fact that the remaining disciples were unable to help the
epileptic boy. Jesus’ work of preparation is not yet complete.
The story of the temple tax raises an interesting fact.
Apparently only Jesus and Peter were of an age that demanded the payment of
tax. This probably means that the rest of the disciples were considerably
younger than we usually think, perhaps some were still in their teens.
Chapter 18 continues Matthew’s description of Jesus’
ministry of instruction. Particularly poignant is Jesus’ teaching on
forgiveness. It is apparent that the reality of our having been forgiven, and
graced with new life from God, will be the presence of a willingness to forgive
others. Our actions do not bring about God’s favor; rather, his favor is the
reason our actions change from rebellion to obedience.
today let me not forget the glory that Jesus has, as God the Son. Forgive me
Lord for sometimes thinking too highly of myself, and too lowly of my Savior. I
want to live today reflecting my submission to him, and rejoicing in the gift
of life he has given me, so that in all things your glory may be reflected in
me, through Jesus my Lord, Amen.
Feb. 18: Matthew 19, 20
In chapter 19 Jesus faces two challenges. The first comes
from those attempting to discredit his teaching while the second comes in the
form of a religious man seeking to be affirmed by Jesus on the basis of his own
The question of divorce was a dividing line in Jesus’ day.
Various opinions had become commonplace, and lines had been drawn between
factions in Judaism. Jesus’ opponents knew that, if they could get Jesus to
commit to one view, he would of necessity alienate the other side. Either way
they believed they could diminish his popularity.
But Jesus takes them back to the Old Testament to show that
God’s plan for marriage was always permanence. Marriage was a covenant entered
into before the very face of God. Yet, the sin of adultery could break the
covenant. A broken covenant could be reaffirmed, as demonstrated multiple times
by God toward faithless Israel. Yet, it could also be the case that ongoing
immorality could so shatter the covenant that it became irreparable. Such was
the case in Jeremiah 3:6-8 where God issued Israel a certificate of divorce and
sent her away. Jesus declares that divorce, on the basis of a marriage covenant
broken by ongoing adultery without repentance, is allowable in order to
dissolve the legal ramifications of the covenant. Divorce does not separate
spouses. It is sin that separates what God has joined together. Sin breaks the
covenant, and divorce is then allowed, in cases of adultery, to allow for the
legal ramifications to be dissolved. Jesus also states that, where divorce is
allowed, remarriage is as well.
The second challenge comes from a young man who had great
wealth. When asked regarding eternal life, Jesus responded in proper rabbinic
manner, calling the man to obey the Law of God. Here we find the man’s pride is
in find form. He insists that he has kept the law. At this point Jesus tests
his true understanding of leaving all to follow God’s Messiah. The young man
leaves disappointed, unwilling to part with his temporal agenda in order to
trust fully in God.
Chapter 20 presents the parable of the vineyard. The truth
here is that God can have mercy and grace on whomsoever he chooses. This would
fly in the face of Israel’s pride. That all the workers receive the same
payment is a tribute to the generosity of the master and demonstrates that
standing before God is not dependent upon human work or piety, but completely
dependent upon the unmerited grace of God.
For a third time Jesus predicts his death, but still the
disciples are unable to grasp this truth. They have their own agenda, and it
doesn’t include seeing their Messiah crucified. Their pride is illustrated by a
mother’s request that her two sons be given positions of authority. Jesus
responds that such positions are not his to give.
The chapter ends with a preview of the coming Triumphal
Entry. A blind man, hearing that Jesus is passing, calls out “Lord, have mercy
on us Son of David.” This recognition of Jesus’ place in the kingly line will
be multiplied as the masses cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is
the one who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
Prayer: Father, today I am humbled to see in the
disciples’ request the pride that I see in myself. Forgive me for wanting to be
publicly recognized, for promoting myself, and feeling hurt when I am
overlooked. Remind me, Lord, that you came not to be served, but to serve and
to give yourself as a ransom for many, including me! Thank you for your love;
help me to love you more, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Feb. 19: Matthew 21, 22
These two chapters bring us to the heart of Jesus'
relationship with the people of Israel. His entrance into Jerusalem,
accompanied by the shouts of an adoring crowd, is reminiscent of the welcome
given to a great king, conquering hero, or visiting dignitary. The crowd was
made up of some who traveled with him, and others who rushed out from the city
to escort him in. But their acclaim arises from their hope that this miracle worker
would raise an army, throw off the yoke of Roman dominance, and restore Israel
as a nation back prominence in the world. They were looking for the promised
Davidic King whom they say as a military leader.
Their praise is warranted but misinformed. Jesus has come to
die, as he has predicted at least three times in the previous chapters. This
great difference between the popular hope and the redemptive plan is described
in a series of parables that point out the hypocrisy of the people. While they
outwardly are extolling Jesus, praising him and identifying with him, their
faith and trust in God is not authentic. Their religious fervor is not tied to
the reality of Jesus’ deity, his message of repentance and faith, nor his
determination to die for the sins of the world.
The lesson of the fig tree is Jesus’ way of opening his
disciples’ eyes to the hypocrisy of the people. While the tree appeared to have
fruit, in reality it did not. (Note: The parallel passage in Mark 11:12-14,
20-24 is helpful). The tree is an illustration of the people.
In three parables Jesus both describes and confronts the
hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day. The parable of the two sons
declares that true faith is internal, demonstrated through obedience, and not
merely external professions. He angers his audience by declaring that the tax
collectors and prostitutes who had believed John’s message would enter the
The lengthy parable of the tenants speaks directly to the
long history of Israel’s religious elite who had so often disregarded God’s
authority over their lives. The vineyard was Israel, God’s people, that had
been given over to the religious leaders for safe-keeping. The messengers were
God’s prophets, sent by him to make sure the vineyard was cared for properly.
Yet the leaders of Israel too often did not follow God’s, but rather went their
own way. Finally, the master sent his son, but they killed him. The only
recourse will be to take the vineyard away and give it to a “people producing
fruits.” Jesus is boldly declaring that the kingdom will not be limited to
Israel, but to all who, by faith, repent and believe the message of Christ.
The last parable describes the wedding feast. Again, Israel
is depicted as the first invited guests. Yet, they have not taken advantage of
their honored position. They have become complacent, and have turned down that
gracious invitation of God. Once again the picture is given of God’s heart for
the nations, as those from outside the city are now gathered into the King’s
Jesus’ pointed teaching brings about more opposition from
the religious elite. They try to snare him in theological controversy, but in
every case Jesus brilliantly exposes their hypocrisy and pushes his point
forcefully. The reality of the resurrection stifles the Sadducees while his
summation of the Law stymies the Pharisees. The chapter ends with Jesus on the
offensive: “What do you think of the Christ (Messiah)? Whose son is he?” His
opponents are speechless knowing that they have no good answer.
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, I know that often
my heart harbors hypocrisy. I want people to think more highly of me than I
really am. Father, forgive me for thinking that my “externals” are all that I
need to give to you. Lord, today may I love you from the heart, and may I value
what you think of me above all else, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Feb. 20: Matthew 23, 24
Jesus now moves from parable to proclamation in his
denunciation of the religious leaders of Jerusalem. He pulls no punches. Seven
times he pronounces “woe” to those who were supposed to be shepherding God’s
people in righteousness and truth.
This chapter has a great connection with the message of
Ezekiel 34 where God describes the “shepherds” of Israel as wolves in sheep’s clothing.
They are preying upon the sheep rather than protecting them. The result? God
promises that, some day, he would himself come and shepherd his sheep through
David, his son. It is clear that Jesus has come in fulfillment of that promise.
Jesus, the good shepherd, is about to give his life for his sheep. Yet, he will
be raised to life to care for them eternally.
The seven woes speak powerfully to the pride of the scribes
and Pharisees, and the legalistic religion they have built. It is a set of
chains with which they have bound the people. They have kept the people from
The language here is quite bold. Jesus refers to his opponents
as hypocrities, children of hell, and blind guides. They are whitewashed tombs
full of dead bones, serpents, a brood of vipers, and those who have killed,
crucified, and persecuted the righteous send to them. The passion of God’s Son
for his people is palpable.
Here we see a side of Jesus Christ that is all too often
pushed aside in our day. The modern image of Jesus as mild, soft, and loving to
the point of weakness simply does not tell the whole story. Our Savior was
always under control, always righteous, but not always safe. Here we see that
our Lord is also the King of Kings, and one day the full force of his fury will
be released upon those who refuse to enter into his love.
Jesus’ anger at the religious elite does not dampen for a
minute his love for his people. His lament over Jerusalem ends the chapter with
As Jesus and the disciples leave Temple mount they make
mention of the Temple’s grandeur. The Temple is their signature as a people for
it marks the presence of God among them. Yet, Jesus takes occasion to state
that it will not stand. The destruction of the Temple in 70ad at the hands of
the Romans will mark the fulfillment of Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment on the
But even greater judgment awaits, as the chapter goes on to
show. The disciples ask two questions: When? and What will be the signs? Jesus
first gives a summary overview of the future (vs. 3-12) and then goes back and
unpacks it more thoroughly (15-31). The immediate future is bleak. Rome will
destroy Jerusalem as a time of tribulation begins for the nation. Such
persecution will be characteristic, in different places and different times,
until the Son returns with his angels to gather the elect from the earth.
As for signs, Jesus once again refers to the fig tree. They
will recognize the sign when it comes, and they will live to see the beginning
of them, most certainly understood to be the resurrection. But, beyond that,
there will be no discernable signs! Rather than look for signs, Jesus calls his
disciples – and us! – to live faithfully so that when he returns, he will find
us doing his will.
Prayer: Gracious Father, reading the words of Jesus
reminds me that we who are called by your name have work to do here on earth.
Lord, help me to be faithful to the calling you have place on my life. May
every part of my life be a channel for your grace and glory to be seen by those
around me, for I am yours in Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
Feb. 21: Matthew 25, 26
The theme of faithful living, described forcefully by Jesus
in the final section of chapter 24, is not illustrated through parables.
The story of the ten virgins speaks to readiness, while the
parable of the talents speaks to diligence.
Weddings in those days were often celebrated over several
days. Young women would accompany the couple as they went from home to home in
celebration of their marriage. Those accompanying the bridegroom would be
admitted to the party. But, given that the event could go for days, those
responsible to light the way for the couple needed to plan ahead, to carry
enough oil so that whenever they were called upon to lead the procession they
would be ready with their lights lit. The parable speaks forcefully to those
who want to be found ready when Jesus returns. It could be today! When he comes,
be sure that he will find you ready to welcome him, and not embarrassed that
you have wasted your time, and engaged in frivolous or sinful things.
The story of the talents speaks to the fact that, as we
await Jesus’ return, we are not to be complacent but diligent in kingdom work.
The word “talent” has sometimes made this story difficult to understand. In
Jesus’ day a “talent” was a measurement of value, of money or gold or some
other asset. In giving his servants talents, the master was entrusting them
with some of his wealth. It is not correct to understand these talents as
“abilities” even though that is what the English word means most often in our
The purpose of the parable is to show that those who are in
the kingdom are to be about the work of the kingdom. Like the master in the
story, Jesus has gone away, but will return. He has given all of his kingdom
citizens some of his wealth, and we are to work it in ways that will increase
What “wealth” has he left us to use for his kingdom
purposes? Certainly we have the Word of God to use wisely. The wealth left to
us can also mean our church, our gifts and abilities, our money, our time, and
our character. Everything we are and have can be used as a channel through
which the kingdom grace and glory of God can flow to a needy world.
Chapter 26 portrays the events leading up to Jesus’ arrest
and crucifixion. Being anointed Jesus explains that it is preparation for his
burial. And as he celebrates the Passover, he inaugurates the Lord’s Supper,
and the New Covenant (see: Jeremiah 31:31-34). He leads his disciples out of
the city, across the valley to Gethsemane where his arrest takes place. The
plan of God to redeem mankind is coming to a climax. Jesus will be falsely
accused, tried, and convicted by his enemies, and denied by his friends. What
Satan means for evil, God means for the greatest good.
Prayer: Father, thank you for bringing be life in
Jesus Christ. And thank you for allowing me to partner with you in brining the
hope of life to others. May I be faithful to use what you have given me for you
and not waste my life on myself, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.