Topic: “Matthew”

Then they spit in his faceā€¦

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

The combination of Matthew 26 and Psalm 36 is like a double punch to the gut—in the best way possible. Reading through Matthew 26, I was struck over and over again by the force of what is going on: Jesus, knowing exactly what was about to transpire, went willingly forward. Every step of the way, he knew what was coming next.

He knew that the religious authorities who should have seen him for who he was would plot to kill him. He knew, when a woman came and poured expensive ointment on him, that it was a preparation for his death. He knew when Judas went to the priests to sell Jesus’ life for a few pieces of silver. He knew exactly what the Passover had always been pointing to, and he knew what he meant—even if his disciples did not—when he spoke the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. H knew that all his disciples would fall away, and the boldest and most devoted of them all would publicly deny him. He knew the enormity of the price he was about to pay, and in agonized prayer pleaded with the Father that if there were any other way, it be made available. He knew when Judas returned what his “friend” was about. He knew the hearts of the men who came out at night for fear of the crowds. He knew the hearts of the men who condemned him for “blasphemy” because he was indeed the Son of God, and they would not worship him.

They would not worship him. Instead, as verse 67 tells us, “they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him…” They spit in the face of the Messiah, struck very God of very God, slapped the final Passover lamb. Peter denied the one who came to save him.

This is us. This is you and me when left to our own devices, when trapped in our sins. We refuse to worship God. We spit in his face. We mock him. We deny him. Jesus knew this. He knew us. And, in loving obedience to the Father, and in love for us—when we were the worst of rebels, traitors, wicked fools in open revolt—he went knowingly, and willingly, to his death.

Psalm 36 opens with a picture of “the wicked”: the sort of person who “plots trouble while on his bed” and “sets himself in a way that is not good” and “does not reject evil” (v. 4). Then David turns and glories in Yahweh—his steadfast love, his faithfulness, his righteousness, his judgments, his sheltering, his abundance, his delights, his life, his light. The psalm is a perfect complement to Matthew 26: they both point to the wretched sinfulness of man and the glorious loving kindness of God.

I cried as I pondered these verses tonight (and I near tears again now): my God—against whom I sin over and over again, against whom we all had propped ourselves up as little dictators and tyrants over our own lives—the God who made all things and who is righteous and just and holy—my God died in my stead. I can stand before him now because he is righteous, and in his righteousness he counts my debt paid because Jesus Christ, the blameless Lamb of God took away the sins of the world. He knew then every wicked deed of my life, knew the weight he would bear for me, for you, for all of our hatred and racism and murder and adultery and gossip and gluttony and every last unkind word we speak to our spouses. And he went willingly to that cross, that the Father might be glorifed and that you and I might be saved.

Hallelujah. Hallelujah!

Be Teachable. Jesus is Coming Back.

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Cease to hear instruction, my son,
and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
—Proverbs 19:27

This admonition from Proverbs 19 seems to me to be at the heart of many young people’s struggles with their parents, their teachers, and their churches. By “young,” I mean “under the age of 30,” so I’m in that list, too, as are most of my closest friends. This is a perennial struggle, and the reason every generation ends up relearning the same lessons its parents (or their parents; things tend to go in cycles) already learned. Simply put: young people (I include myself) are not particularly good at listening. It doesn’t matter how smart I am, how widely I read, or how well-educated I am; if I refuse to be instructed, I will wander away from truth.

I have, sadly, seen this born out in others’ lives, and it was a chastening experience. I have seen smart young people who love God walk deeper and deeper into folly simply because they will not be corrected. There are few things more dangerous to our spiritual health, and therefore few things more foolish, than refusing to listen to the counsel of those who have gone before you. Age does not always equal wisdom, and experience does not always make one right… but they do give one a much better shot, especially when coupled with diligent pursuit of God and holiness. Perhaps my cohort ought to take James’ admonition to heart: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…”


Matthew 24, as one of the central prophetic texts in the New Testament regarding Jesus’ return, is of course hotly debated. Those debates, while interesting,1 can sometimes distract us from the point of the passage. Matthew spent a substantial part of his book on this section, and it comes at an interesting point in the narrative. Jesus’ increasingly public embrace of his role as the Messiah has culminated with his smashing condemnation of the spiritually blind religious leaders of his day (in chapter 23), and this prophetic section (chapters 24–25) is folloewd immediately by the plot to kill Jesus, the Passover, and the Passion narrative. So why the sudden pause on prophecy? It seems almost a detour, but if we assume Matthew was a competent author who knew what he was doing, he had a reason for turning to the only extended prophetic section in the book.

First, this future-telling cements Jesus’ role as prophet. Given the role that prophets played in Israel’s history and Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the fulfillment of each Jewish archetype (prophet, priest, and king), this makes sense. Moreover, the placement in the text makes sense here, as well: just as the prophets condemned religious blindness and empty ritual in their day and foretold God’s future works, here Jesus does exactly the same.

Second, this extended narrative provides a cap to Jesus’ teaching in the book. He has covered ethics (especially in the Sermon on the Mount), outlined a theology of the coming kingdom (mostly through parables), and now explains in greater detail what the coming of that kingdom will be like. From here on out, the book turns almost entirely to pure narrative, with no more extended teaching sections. Jesus, Matthew shows us, cared about the state of his followers after his death, resurrection, and ascension. He gave them (us) an idea of what to expect—not the nitty gritty details we all might like,2 but the big picture that we need. Jesus will come again, after his followers suffer trials and tribulations so fierce that many will be tempted to (and indeed many will) fall away. Believers must endure, and hold fast to their faith in him, and be ready. He will come when we could not predict, and he will come indeed.

A final thought: if our anticipation of Jesus’ return—with its attendant end to wickedness and suffering and sorrow—is great, how much more so is his?

Lord, haste the day.


  1. Complete futurism or partial preterism? Pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation return of Christ? Pre-, post-, or amillennialism? You get the idea. Fun discussions to be had. 
  2. Be honest: how many of you know that guy who is always talking about the End Times?

    And, for that matter, how many of you are that guy? 

A Bit More Boldness, Please

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

As Matthew comes to the close of his narrative, things start to heat up. Coming to chapter 23, Jesus engages with the Pharisees and scribes in terms we would be hard-pressed to describe as gentle or forbearing. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” he belts out over and over again, calling them on the floor for their folly.

This passage is challenging on a number of levels, but I think it most profoundly runs up against our culture of hyper-tolerance. It is hard for most of us nice Christian types to imagine ever speaking this way—to ever be so harsh or judgmental as to call anyone out like this, to be so blunt and so bold and so mean. To be sure, there are some unique circumstances in play here, circumstances in which we do not exactly find ourselves. We are never the son of God confronting those who have rejected his messianic ministry, never in perfect knowledge of the hearts of those with whom we interact, never completely sinless in our anger. It is right for our response to be tempered toward grace and charity in our interactions with others.

Even so, I wonder if perhaps we have not taken on something of the character of the milquetoast. It is an easy direction to slide, given the timbre of our public discourse these days. With few exceptions, and the rancorous quality of much political debate notwithstanding, it is increasingly rare for anyone (but especially Christians) to be bold in confronting sin without being immediately accused of being judgmental jerks.

I am all for grace, and seeking to understand one another’s positions well before we offer critique, and representing one another’s positions well when we do offer critique. I am sensitive to my own tendency to assign motive where I ought not, to my own inability to judge clearly and rightly, and to the ease with which I fall into pushiness. But I worry that if building a culture where this kind of stern rebuke is unacceptable (again, with those very few exceptions), we are doing great harm to ourselves. Without diminishing the call to grace, or making any less of precisely the qualifications I outlined above, I think the church needs to grow in boldness in confronting in our own midst both blatant hypocrisy and doctrines that keep people from coming to Christ.

One of these is easy: if there is a single exception to our unflagging devotion to tolerance, it is in our hatred of hypocrisy. The other, however, too often gets a free pass. People who hinder others from coming to Christ because of their additions to or subtractions from the gospel are dangerous and, after being confronted graciously and gently, should be confronted harshly and shown up to be the false teachers that they are. The aim is not to win; it is to preserve the people of God from being deceived. To do this well is hard; the “watchblogger” cohort—the “heresy hunters” who appoint themselves this task—are almost by definition not up to the challenge of discerning what response is appropriate in any situation.

When the people of God are at risk, however, we must learn to be bold. Jesus was. Paul was. Peter was. James was. Perhaps it is time we follow their example instead of bowing to the whims of culture.

The Gospel in the Proverbs/Resurrection Twice

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
and by the fear of Yahweh one turns away from evil.
—Proverbs 16:6

Reading through the Proverbs, one finds gem after gem. (Indeed, the whole book is a collection thereof. That’s the point, after all.) This one particularly caught my attention tonight, though: it is as pithy a statement of the gospel as one could wish. Simple, straightforward, easy to understand, and embedded with more canonical weight than you could shake a stick at. “Steadfast love and faithfulness” are the marks of God’s covenant love throughout the Old Testament; these keywords from Exodus 34 are perhaps those most cited by the authors of the Old Testament. By Yahweh’s character-defining work, the author1 says, comes salvation. Fearing him is how we turn away from evil. When the apostles preached the gospel in the New Testament, they may not have used exactly these words,2 but this was their message: God acted in accord with his character and his covenant promises to bring salvation. Repent!

This one is going in my to-memorize list. It will be a good reminder for me as I go through my own life, and hopefully a helpful way of reminding others who God is and what he has done as well.


Reading through Matthew and Genesis in parallel is often illuminating; I expect I shall find the same to be true of other books as I continue on this path. Coming to chapter 22 of each book, I found Jesus answering his Pharisee and Sadducee opponents in the temple, and God testing Abraham by instructing him to sacrifice Isaac. At first glance, the passages could not seem less related, apart from the overt covenant themes and pointers in the Genesis passage. However, a bit more time made one particular connection stand out to me.

When Jesus answers the Sadducees on the resurrection (after their contrived question about seven brothers having had one woman as their wife with no children), he rather pointedly tells them that the reason they are wrong is that they “know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Given the relative paucity of reference to resurrection from the dead in the Old Testament, his accusation is an interesting one (though of course he backs it up moments later by pointing to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of the living, not the dead). One of the many places the Sadducees should have seen that God will bring about resurrection is right in Genesis 22. As the author of Hebrews points out, Abraham went up that mountain in faith that the same God who had given him a son—in his old age, from his barren wife—could raise that same son from the dead if necessary to keep his promise.

The Sadducees should have seen it coming; all the pieces were there. But they knew neither God’s word, nor God himself. Given these were men who had spent their lives studying the Scriptures, this is a fearful warning to those of us who seek to know those same Scriptures.

God provided another way—not the child sacrifice so common in that day and age, but a substitute.3 Ultimately, he provided his own son, and raised him from the dead after sacrificing him on a mount. That which he did not ultimately require of Abraham, he gave himself. But Abraham’s faith was well-placed: God could have raised Isaac from the dead, and someday he will do just that. Someday he will raise us, too. But first of all, he raised his son. Hallelujah.


  1. Proverber? Proverbian? Proverbite? I’m taking suggestions in the comment thread. 
  2. This is one of the small curiosities that fascinates me about the authors of the New Testament and the divine superintendence of their work, and something I expect I’ll ask about when I get the chance: why is this central refrain of the Old Testament left unstated in the New? 
  3. Though the lamb Abraham promises Isaac never appears; it is a ram and not a lamb that takes Isaac’s place here. Curious… 

You Are The Messiah

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Matthew waits until he is some 16 chapters into his text1 to start explicitly saying what the whole book has said implicitly thus far, and what the annunciation at the beginning proclaimed loud and clear: Jesus is the Messiah, the one to whom all the hopes and expectations engendered by the Old Testament pointed. “Who do you say that I am?” he asks. And Peter’s answer, ringing down through the ages, is still breath-taking in its assurance and simple truth: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”2

Most of the sermons I have heard on Matthew 16 focus on Peter—on his statement of the bedrock truth of our faith, or on his need of rebuke just a few verses later, or even on the question of Petrine authority over the church. Not many stop to notice how pivotal this chapter is in the flow of Matthew as a whole. Not many recognize that for the first time, Jesus openly accepts being called the Messiah, and openly proclaims what the Messiah will do—that is, die. Yes, Peter first got it amazingly, remarkably right and then got it equally amazingly, remarkably wrong. But at least as important here is the picture of who the Messiah is and what he is about.

Matthew spent 15 chapters getting here—laying the foundation in Jesus’ teaching, his miraculous healings, and specific fulfillments of some prophecies and “filling up” of others3—so that when Jesus acknowledges Peter’s claim, the reader is not only unsurprised, but delightedly saying, “Yes!” because Jesus’ words and actions to this point confirm everything the prologue declared to be true of him. This is important, in no small part, because then Matthew turns around and hits the reader in the face with the unexpected: Jesus plans to be crucified.

Who plans that? Peter’s confusion is understandable (even if his response was ultimately so wrong that Jesus aligned Peter with Satan for trying to prevent it). No one plans to be crucified. But this Messiah does. Good thing we’re already convinced he’s the Messiah.

And then? Then Jesus tells us that whoever wants to follow him—whoever wants to “come after” him—needs to embrace that same cross. The call to follow this Messiah isn’t a call to immediate glory, and a kingdom of this world. It is a call to self-sacrifice, to lose the world and gain one’s soul. It is a call to live in such a way that when the Son of Man returns with his holy angels in judgment, we will not be ashamed.

As I closed yesterday: Lord come soon!—but in light of his coming, how shall we live? Come and die, he says. Come and die.


  1. Yes, I know, the chapters weren’t in the original. It’s still over halfway through the book. 
  2. Your Bible will say “Christ” almost certainly. It isn’t being used as the titular name here (“Jesus Christ”), though; this is Peter declaring his understanding that Jesus was the hoped-for Jewish Messiah. 
  3. It is helpful, when reading through Matthew, to understand that the word our English Bibles translate as “fulfill” also has an ordinary, non-prophetic meaning of “fill up.” Following G. K. Beale, I actually think it should be translated this way in most of the cases where it appears in Matthew. Many of the otherwise challenging interpretive issues—what does it mean that he fulfilled thus-and-such a passage which isn’t talking about him?—become clear if you understand Matthew to be saying, “He filled this passage up with more meaning than was there before,” rather than “He fulfilled this prophecy that was referring to him [even though it wasn’t].” 

One Day, Hopefully Soon

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Eschatology is a big word, but it’s an even bigger concept. The things to come —the things we do not yet see fully—are hard to grasp. Not so hard for us, perhaps, as they were for those who came before us. In Genesis 15, Abram1 received a number of promises. None of them were exactly easy to believe: here he was, closing in on a century old, and his always-barren wife in the same category,2 and God promises him a child from his own body. More than that, God promised him descendants that would outnumber the stars, or the sand on the seashore.

That promise has been fulfilled. In fact, it has been fulfilled doubly: first by the nation of Israel, in the course of her long history from Abraham to the time of Christ, and then through those many of us who have been grafted in since then. Just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6), so we have been counted righteous as we believe God, and now the number of those from the nations dwarfs even that of the Jews.

There is another promise there that wasn’t fulfilled, though—at least, not all the way. In verses 18–21, God promises Abram that his descendants will inherit a massive territory. Israel never did, though. The Hebrews’ national territory, relatively substantial though it was at its peak, certainly never made it anywhere near the Euphrates on its eastern edge. Some might take this an example of the Bible’s fallibility. I don’t; I take it instead as a picture of things yet to come.

This kind of eschatological situation is common in the Bible. A promise is made, and the fulfillment comes, but only in part, never wholly. Even the Messianic promises, which we often think of as fulfilled in Christ, remain incomplete. They found their first and partial fulfillment in his first coming, just as the promises to Abraham were fulfilled first, partially, in the nation of Israel, and then again more fully in the nations (you and me, unless you’re a Jewish convert), and then finally someday when Jesus returns and the New Jerusalem is here on earth.

It is not a stretch to say that “eschatological hope”—mouthful though the phrase may be—is one of the defining characteristics of Christians. We are the people of “already but not yet” who are incomparably glad of what God has already done and impossibly hopeful about what he will someday do.

The nation of Israel got a taste of what the final fulfillment will be like as Jesus walked among them. Matthew 15 reiterates what Matthew 11 first made clear: Jesus is the one who fulfills the promises of God’s final setting things to rights—the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. But they did not see it finished. Jesus did not heal every person on the earth; we still have the mute and crippled and lame and blind among us, and all of us yet will die.

But there will come a day when he comes back, and those promises to Abraham are fulfilled in their entirety at last, and the hopes engendered by a prophet offering healing in the first century in Israel are realized. No more tears, no more sorrow, and we will worship our King and enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and one another in the New Jerusalem.

Hallelujah. Lord, come soon.


  1. Not Abraham yet. That’s still a ways out. 
  2. Has it ever struck you as slightly curious that this old woman was so attractive that Abram kept worrying about her getting taken away from him— apparently rightly given that she gets taken as a concubine twice? 

Be Broken, or Get Broken

I continue to find Proverbs interesting, challenging, and insightful in ways I have not experienced in years. While I have made a habit of spending time in the book off and on since childhood (my parents encouraged me to read it regularly, not least for its advice on honoring and listening to one’s parents!), I have only begun to grasp how profoundly true its usually straightforward wisdom is as I have come back to it yet again in these last few weeks. God has seen fit to speak to almost any aspect of the mundane we could imagine or wish.

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29:1)

As with a number of verses I have come across in the last week, this one struck me in no small part because I now have had enough experience to see it for true experientially. Not personally, thanks be to God and to many faithful friends and family members who have born with me well. But I have watched others resist rebuke ad nauseum, and the result is never pleasant. Those who refuse to listen when others bring correction—who are absolutely unwilling to change—ultimately suffer for their stubborn folly. The choices we make are not without consequences; we can go on only so long before they catch up with us and break us. In light of this, we should learn to see God’s rebukes and his chastisements as measures of his grace. He does not rebuke us or bring chiding situations into our lives out of malice, but out of love, to save us from ourselves.

This has me doubly thoughtful: reminded, first of all, to be quick to accept rebuke in my own life, and then also to pray for those I know who are struggling in this area.

Matthew 11

It has been rather in vogue these last few years to suggest that what Jesus really cared about was the plight of the poor and downtrodden—what we might call issues of “social justice.” To be sure, Jesus did care about these things, and God has always cared about them. (There is hardly a book in the Bible where this concern is not displayed!) But as profound as God’s hatred of injustice and abuse of the helpless is, there is something he hates even more, unpopular as though is to say it: unbelief. In Matthew 11, Jesus rebukes three cities, Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum, not for any other sins but because there he had done a great many miracles, and they did not believe him. And refusing to believe in Christ deserved a harsher punishment than did all the myriad sins of Tyre and Sidon and Sodom: cities known for everything from economic injustice to rape and murder. We must therefore keep the gospel’s call to repent and believe Christ first and foremost—not neglecting the other matters of righteousness, but not forgetting that which is worst and has the highest penalty.