Today’s reading consists of parables, miracles, healings, and revelations about Jesus’ power and family. We also see a reference to Jonah. Yesterday ended with Jesus offering rest to those who carried heavy burdens. That rest liberates people from human traditions concerning the sabbath. The Pharisees rejected Jesus because of their commitment to tradition. Notice they were not committed to the Lord. They were worshiping tradition. We see that same thing today when people insist on worshiping the liturgy or the furniture that is in the church. This also highlights the Pharisees lack of compassion as they continued to impose a heavy burden on the people. The sabbath, the seventh day of the week, was to be a day of complete rest according to Old Testament laws. The sabbath is fulfilled in Christ. The Pharisees didn’t understand that the sabbath was designed to benefit people. Instead, their view of the sabbath put an onerous burden on the people. Priests worked on the sabbath but this was not offensive to the Pharisees. If that is allowed then certainly Jesus can do the same because He is greater than the temple. Jesus aggravated the Pharisees because He castigated them for putting rules and regulations above human needs. Rabbinic law permitted healing on the sabbath only if a life was in danger. Since this man’s life was not in danger, the Pharisees thought healing was not permitted. They were willing to rescue animals but it was OK to neglect human needs. In other words, their practices were inconsistent.
The quote in verse 18 parallels Jesus’s baptism and when we read about justice here it is a positive thing, not a negative one as justice sometimes is. Instead of increasing people’s spiritual burden, Jesus offers compassionate forgiveness and sustenance. As we read we see that Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees, the teachers of religious law, and His own generation. When Jesus healed the demon possessed man the people began asking if He was the son of David: in other words, was Jesus the long awaited Messiah. Jesus didn’t fit their expectations for the Messiah, but His miracles did prompt the question. The Pharisees however, believed Jesus didn’t have God like power. They believed Jesus’s power came from the evil one. Jesus argued that if he was under the influence of the evil one then Casting out demons was like casting out his own. The parable beginning in verse 29 forced the Pharisees to ask a simple question. Can anyone cast out demons without first binding the evil ones powers and thus opposing him? Jesus overcame him at His first temptation, throughout His ministry, and ultimately on the cross.
Verses 31-32 are confusing. In the face of the Pharisees accusation of the evil ones influence, Jesus had just argued that He, the Messiah, cast out demons through the power of the Holy Spirit. In this context, blasphemy against the Spirit can only mean attributing the ministry and exorcisms of Jesus to the evil ones power. One may stumble over Jesus’s mysterious revelation of Himself as the Son of man and be forgiven, but one cannot be forgiven for attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the evil one. The outright rejection of the conviction of the Holy Spirit concerning Jesus Christ is the ultimate rejection of the good news by an unbeliever. The sin which will not be forgiven is the stubborn refusal to heed the Holy Spirit’s conviction and accept the forgiveness that Christ offers. Particularly in reference to the leaders in Israel, Jesus had offered them all the proof that could be expected…the ministry of John, the testimony of the Father, the prophecies of the Old Testament, His own testimony, and the substantiation of the Holy Spirit. Because the leaders rejected all proofs regarding Jesus as the Messiah, nothing else would be given. Jesus got right to the heart of the matter. The Pharisees did not accept Him or the divine origin of His ministry because they were wicked. We are identified by the fruit we produce as a result of our relationship with Jesus, and we will have to give an account of all we said and did on the day of the Lord.
The religious authorities asked Jesus for a sign, proving He was who He said He was. But He had been performing miracles and healing and teaching. Still the leaders did not believe. Demanding a sign demonstrated a huge lack of faith. The sign of Jonah consisted of his “resurrection” from the large fish after three days and nights, as well as his preaching. This pointed to Jesus burial and resurrection and His preaching. The people of Nineveh would stand up and judge because they heeded Jonah’s message and the Israelites didn’t. The Queen of Sheba would join the Ninevites because she came a great distance to hear the wisdom that God gave Solomon. Verses 43-45 most likely describes the moral reformation that occurred under John the Baptist, but for the most part it was not genuine and it did not last. Therefore Israel’s unbelief and hardness of heart were worse than before. And one more reminder. Those who are true members of Jesus’s family do the will of the Father as expressed in the commands of Jesus.
Chapter 14 is the third major discourse. Jesus here recognized the separation of His followers from others and He began to reveal the secrets of the kingdom privately to them through parables. The first parable addressed the mostly negative responses of the Jewish nation to Jesus and His message. From 13:10 on Jesus focused His teaching mostly on those who had committed themselves to Him and not the general public. The disciples asked Jesus why parables, and He responded that the people’s stubborn rejection had brought God’s condemnation. The big secret of the kingdom of heaven was that salvation is available to them in Jesus, in fulfillment of Old Testament promises. The people lacked the faith that perceives the truth and acts on it. Like the message of Isaiah 6:9-10, Jesus message has a dual effect: it judge’s people for unbelief and disobedience and it created a remnant of faithful ones who accomplish the Lord’s will. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. We see the parable of the sower that Jesus then explains later in the chapter. The same is true about the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Know that producing a harvest is most likely a reference to faithful obedience to Jesus commands. The weeds were almost indistinguishable from the wheat so they were allowed to grow until their growth revealed their true character. This intentional contamination of crops was punishable by law.
What follows next are a series of short parables, using illustrations with things of their everyday life. The people who will inherit the kingdom will be very small at first but that number will grow almost out of proportion to the size at the beginning. Normally yeast represents evil but here it is a positive influence. One of the mysteries of the kingdom is that it’s value exceeds all other treasures, so everything should be forfeited to acquire it. Treasures were often buried to keep them safe from thieves and military enemies. Those who discover the treasure of the kingdom find greater joy than can be found in anything else. The parable of the fishing net refers to God’s judgement at the last day which will eternally separate the wicked from the righteous. The wicked are those who do not do the will of God as revealed in Jesus and the righteous are those who do. Jesus rejection at home is part of the ongoing theme of the Messiah’s rejection by His own people. The people of His hometown were so busy dwelling on Jesus’s all too common heritage as a carpenter and Mary and Joseph’s son, they couldn’t see Jesus uncommon significance. Faith is required to both understand Jesus message and to experience His miracles.
Herod Antipas’ official title was tetrarch, meaning he ruled one fourth of the kingdom. He was the son of Herod the great and was even more wicked than his Father. He had an affair with his brothers wife and then married her. John the Baptist condemned Herod for his adultery and Herod tossed him in prison. This was a gift for his new wife, but she wanted more. At a birthday party for Herod, his daughter performed a provocative dance and Herod promised to give her whatever she asked for. Her mother wanted John the Baptist’s head on a platter…so John was beheaded. After that Jesus withdrew to the region of the Galilee, and John’s disciples came and took John’s body to bury it. We see Jesus feed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two small fish. This points back towards God’s provision of manna as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. After the people had been tended to Jesus sent the disciples ahead of Him, dismissed the crowds, and went to a deserted place to pray. It was a rare moment of peace and quiet for Jesus. Early in the morning Jesus went to the disciples walking on the water. Here He demonstrates God’s sovereign reign over the stormy waters. The disciples were terrified, thinking Jesus was a ghost. Peter called out to Jesus, asking that if it really was Jesus he would come out of the boat and join Him. Jesus said…come on. Peter was fine until he took his eyes off Jesus, and then he began to sink. The same thing happens to us today when we take our eyes off Jesus and focus on things of the world.
One of the things we see Jesus do often is challenge the religious leaders regarding the law and how these men follow it. And often we see Jesus point out how these men have taken the law that God gave, and change it to suit their needs and wants. These leaders were always looking for a way to trap Jesus so they could eliminate Him. But Jesus would not be caught until it was the right time. Jesus is accused of offending the Pharisees. In a graphic picture Jesus explained to the leaders that what they put in their mouths does not make them unclean because it goes from the mouth to the stomach and then out the body. But, the less than stellar things we say come from our hearts that have challenges, like hardness, hate, anger and such. These things defile people which makes them unfit for ceremonial purity. Many of the things Jesus did are surprising. Case in point: a Canaanite woman was following Jesus and His disciples, calling out to them to cast out the demon that possessed her daughter. Jesus ignored the woman at first but she was persistent. Jesus gave the woman all the standard answers or excuses including the fact that He was sent to the lost sheep on Israel. He told her it was not right to take food from the children and give it to the dogs. Being called a dog in this day and age was common place and derogatory. The woman persisted and Jesus was amazed at her faith. He finally listened to her and healed her daughter. The crowds continued to follow Jesus, growing by the day. Some came for the teaching, others for the healing, but some went because they had money and they assumed that they could buy from Jesus whatever they needed. Some came simply to watch the show and see what Jesus might do next. Not only did Jesus feed 5,000 but He also fed 4,000 people. The first feeding was for the Jews primarily, but the second was for the Gentiles. Jesus is introducing the idea that all will be welcome in His kingdom, Jew and gentile alike.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W