A different banquet, Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew seems to contrast two feasts that occur in remote places. Herod Antipas invited his powerful friends to a drunken banquet marked by seduction and the death of a prophet in the wilderness fortress of Machaerus. Jesus and his disciples withdrew to a desolate place where they fed a hungry crowd after healing their many sick. The worldly rule of Herod and the merciful rule of God could hardly be more different.

Matthew 14:13-21

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, This is a remote place, and its already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.

16 Jesus replied, They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.

17 We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish, they answered.

18 Bring them here to me, he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Commentary

What may not be apparent to you is that Johns death represented a threat to Jesus, especially when Herod believed Jesus to be John resurrected from the dead (Matthew 13:2). We have to go back to Matthew 4:12 to see that, upon hearing that John had been imprisoned, Jesus withdrew from Perea to Galilee. The very same action, described by the very same Greek verb, occurs when Jesus gets the sad news about Johns death. Herod Antipas will indeed eventually get his hands on Jesus, but Jesus will remain silent, and Herod will eventually return him to the custody of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea (Luke 23:6-12), for final disposition.

France suggests that Jesus may have retreated by boat just a few miles to the east of Capernaum, just past the inflowing Jordan River, to the empty shore in the tetrarchy of Phillip.[1] In any event, Jesus plan for isolation was thwarted when a crowd met him at the scene (verses 13-14). Moved by compassion, he healed their sick, a frequent theme in Matthew.

When evening neared, the disciples wanted Jesus to send the people away to deal with their hunger, but Jesus told his disciples to feed the people (verses 15-16)! No doubt that came as a shock, since the available food was totally inadequate (verse 17). In spite of the limited food, Jesus had it brought to him while he had the people sit down. Then he blessed the food and had the disciples distribute it (verse 19). And distribute it, and distribute it.

Verse 20 makes the shocking statement that all ate their fill, and considerable food was left over. The miracle is never described, but the completeness of it is obvious.[2] Matthew states that about 5,000 men ate, as well the women and children with them, a Jewish way of framing the number (verse 21). Matthew never calls this event a miracle, continuing the routine of simply telling what happened.

An Old Testament pattern fulfilled

Along with Osborne, I see in this miracle a distinct echo of the feeding miracle performed by Elisha the prophet in 2 Kings 4:42-44.[3] However, I think Osborne does not go far enough in light of Matthews proven tendency to use midrash in his writing. Recall that midrash was a Jewish technique that compared one Scripture with another. The situation in the Old Testament was one in which one prophet (Elisha) took over for another (Elijah), when Elijah was taken into heaven. Events demonstrated that Elisha worked even greater miracles than Elijah had done.

Matthew has presented both John the Baptist and Jesus as prophets, though in Jesus case that was only one of his roles. Jesus has named John as the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14). John has, like Elijah, been taken from the scene, but Jesus, like Elisha, remains to do even greater things than John.

In 2 Kings 4, Elisha feeds a hundred men with twenty loaves of bread, and he had had some left over just as God had promised (2 Kings 4:44). Matthew presents an occasion when Jesus did a far greater work than Elisha the prophet, including the food left over. Not only does this demonstrate the complete supremacy of Jesus, but it also shows that Gods work in the world moves forward no matter what setbacks, such as the death of John, may occur. Matthews midrash helps reveal the hidden depth of Scripture.

How does an account such as this encourage you to entrust your needs to the compassion of Jesus?

 

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 560.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 567.

[3] Osborne, Matthew, 566.

Preview of coming events, Matthew 14:1-12

It is all too common to be haunted by the things we have done. Even we who trust in Jesus and enjoy his limitless grace can regret past acts. And we do. How much more can those who never knew him at all!

Matthew 14:1-12

14:1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.

3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: It is not lawful for you to have her. 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

6 On Herods birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist. 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Commentary

It is easy to get confused in this brief account. Matthew gives us events out of chronological order by using a flashback in verses 3-11. These events were already in the past, on Herod’s timeline, when Herod experienced the fears expressed in verses 1-2.

Herod Antipas (b. 21 B.C. – d. after A.D. 39), the tetrarch of Galilee (verse 1) was a son of Herod the Great, who tried to kill Jesus not long after he was born. Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., and Caesar Augustus divided his kingdom, delegating rule of Galilee and Perea to Herod Antipas. See the map in the Introduction. Like his father, Herod Antipas would not make a good ethical model, but his rule kept Galilee relatively stable and prosperous during Jesus life and ministry there.

After he had already ordered John the Baptist to be executed, as described in verses 3-12, Herod heard the reports about Jesus (verse 1), and verse 2 makes clear that the reports correctly included miraculous acts by Jesus. It was typical for reports to be made to rulers about important events in their territories, and Herod was at the fortress of Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea, 85 miles (by air) from the area where Jesus was working miracles. The rough terrain made the messenger’s actual travel much longer.

Osborne probably has the right idea that Herod’s guilty conscience had used Hellenistic ideas about spirits seeking revenge to come up with the idea that the miracle-working Jesus was actually John resurrected (verse 2).[1] Starting in verse 3, Matthew gives the twisted background behind John’s execution. Herod had arrested John to shut him up, because John had repeatedly said in public that it was not lawful for Herod to marry Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (verses 3-4). As we will see, this was not the last time that Herod’s lust would land him in trouble. Herod wanted to kill John to stop the ongoing attack on his honor, but he knew that could cause real trouble with the people (verse 5), and that risked the anger of his Roman overlords.

Herod already had a wife, a Nabatean princess, whose royal father was furious and later waged a war that cost Herod dearly.[2] Herodias, who was Herod’s niece and the wife of Philip the tetrarch, soon proved that she could skillfully execute plots to get her way (verses 6-8). She relied on Herod’s lust and the alcohol that flowed freely in such quasi-royal birthday celebrations. It is amazing after so long a time that even non-biblical sources tell about Herod’s extravagant parties.[3]

When you consider the number of parties that occur where questionable or evil things occur, what should a Christian do about invitations to them?

Verses 610 need no explanation in this context. Herodias eliminated her greatest enemy; Herod gained a lifetime of bad dreams; John’s disciples, at great risk, requested John’s body and buried it. While we are here, it is illustrative to see that Herod got word by a messenger from Galilee, and Jesus received the bad news through John’s disciples after a long journey from the southern wastes. News traveled slowly.

John spoke the truth and, through scheming, was put to death. In that, he again served as a forerunner for Jesus. Matthew probably decided to use John’s story here to hint at what will follow for Jesus.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 557.

[2] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 554.

[3] France, Matthew, 555, footnote 17.

 

Remaining blind and deaf in Nazareth, Matthew 13:53-58

This week we begin a long narrative section of Matthew’s Gospel (13:53 to 17:27) that is notoriously difficult to analyze in terms of literary structure. A big issue at the beginning and toward the end is this vital question: Who is Jesus? Another major theme is Jesus dealing with his disciples, gradually preparing them for the day he is taken from them. In both matters we follow a crooked road toward the cross.

Matthew 13:53-58

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Commentary

Looking back, we find that Jesus had some conflict about his family (12:46-50) right before he began a long series of parables. In that scene, it was apparent that Jesus was alienated from his family during his Galilean ministry around Capernaum. In a way, this passage resumes the narrative right about where we left it, but this time the alienation is between Jesus and his hometown.[1]

Looking forward, commentator Craig Blomberg compares Nazareth’s rejection of Jesus (verses 13:53-58) with the rejection of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee (14:1-12). Both rejections were based on a mistaken assessment of who Jesus is.[2] They never did get it straight.

Now and then in studying the Bible, you will come on situations that just make you shake your head in dismay. When the people of Nazareth heard the teaching by Jesus in their synagogue, and possibly saw a healing (verse 54), their reaction was such as to require a Greek verb (ekplesso) meaning “to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed.”[3]

In the next breath, they start raising questions (verse 54): Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Like everyone in Galilee, they had heard reports of his miracles and also the charge that he had done them with Satan’s power. Next come three questions about Jesus’ family, each expecting a yes answer (e.g., This is the carpenters son, is it not?). Based on their own words, they decide that Jesus could not possibly be anything special, and they take offense at him (verse 57a).

So, the people of Nazareth cling to the past, and cannot shake giving Jesus an identity from their past: the carpenters son (verse 55). Even his astonishing teaching and a few miracles cannot bring them out of spiritual lethargy. When their Messiah came, they did not receive him.

What does it take, or what did it take, to rouse you from spiritual lethargy?

Among English versions, the NLT does the best job of translating the idiom in verse 57b: “Then Jesus told them, A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.” Keep in mind that a prophet was primarily a teacher and only revealed future events when God decided to make it so. Among many things, Jesus was a prophet.

Jesus does not force anyone to commit to him. In response to their unbelief, Jesus left them with most of the same problems they had when he arrived. Except, they had stumbled on the one issue that, when botched, brings catastrophe: Jesus revealed himself to them, and they rejected him.

Just curious: what kind of welcome would Jesus get at your house?

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 548.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 226.

[3] BDAG-3, ekplesso, astound, q.v.

Managing your storeroom, Matthew 13:51-52

In this section Jesus asks his disciples the very question that every person who teaches a lesson, preaches a sermon, or writes a Study Guide (!) would like to ask you when it is finished: Do you understand all these things?
It is a serious question. Has it occurred to you that, if Jesus were actually standing beside you, he would ask you that question?

Matthew 13:51-52

51 Have you understood all these things? Jesus asked. Yes, they replied. 52 He said to them, Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.

Commentary

As Matthew brings this major discourse section of his Gospel to a close, he shows us its surprising conclusion. The first surprise is that Jesus inquires about whether the disciples understand what he has said, and they say yes (verse 51). Just yes. Probably I am wrong to feel surprised. After all, Jesus himself has been teaching them about the kingdom, and we have probably been shown just a fraction of what he taught them. Since Jesus expresses no qualms about their answer, it is time to reflect on the impact of these who understand his message.

In verse 52, Jesus builds on their response, calling them scribes who have been trained for the kingdom of heaven. The italicized word is another surprise. France calls them authorized teachers for the kingdom of heaven, in contrast with the Pharisaic scribes who have failed to grasp its message.[1]In essence, the other scribes, the ones who have proven that they cannot see and cannot hear, have been disqualified from interpreting the rulership of God brought by Jesus.

Jesus builds on this new state of affairs by offering a final similitude in verse 52b. These kingdom scribes are like the master of a house whose storeroom holds new treasures as well as old. The kingdom scribes are the people who will give their lives in the process of helping others find and follow Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 23:34). Only they can explain the kingdom truths hidden from the beginning, but now revealed.
What are the implications of this passage for revealing to you the importance of teaching and learning about Jesus and the rule of God?

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally prepared for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 546.

Separation at the end, Matthew 13:47-50

You have surely noticed that, whether in good situations or bad, mostly our lives just rock along in a routine set of events. We take that as the way of the world and expect it, but one day all of this will suddenly stop. Then what?

Matthew 13:47-50

47 Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Commentary

With the words once again (verse 47), Jesus launches another parable using a common element of life in Galilee, the dragnet. A dragnet could be hundreds of feet long and perhaps 6 feet wide. The top of the net was kept on the surface by floats, and the bottom forced to hang down by the use of weights. Teams of people could stretch such a net out into shallow water and gradually drag it ashore, or the net could be deployed between two boats. Either way, the dragnet scooped up whatever fish were in its path.

Jesus said that the dragnet caught all kinds of fish (verse 47), and Keener suggests that the Sea of Galilee had about 24 kinds of fish.[1] Not all were edible, and not all met the kosher requirements set down in the law. So, the fishermen dragged the net ashore and started separating the acceptable from the unacceptable.

The Parable of the Dragnet is one of the few parables that Jesus explains. He spends no time whatever on the dragnet process but focuses only on (1) the separation of the wicked from among the righteous, and (2) the terrible circumstances of the wicked after the separation.

Of all the English versions, only KJV (sever the wicked from among the just) and NASB (take out the wicked from among the righteous) rightly preserve the italicized word, translated from the Greek original. It may be that this detail is not significant, but possibly the wicked are trying to hide among the righteous. After all, who is going to step forward voluntarily to be thrown into a blazing furnace?

The parable seems to serve as Jesus confirmation that his present kingdom would indeed lead to a time when evil is obliterated.[2]

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t eliminate evil people? How does this parable address that question?

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally prepared for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 392.

[2] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), 491.

The Discovery of ANY Lifetime, Matthew 13:44-46

Because parables are flexible and humanity’s collective imagination is also, parables have been made to mean a myriad of fanciful things. Here is a novel idea: when Jesus says some text is about the kingdom of God, then that text is about the kingdom of God. Now we can take a rest. (smile)

Today’s parables answer a question that is still crucial today: just how valuable is discovering the kingdom of heaven?

Matthew 13:44-46

44 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Commentary

Kline Snodgrass likes to say that the Parable of the Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl are twins, just not identical twins.[1] In fact, neither is a full blown parable because they lack a developed plot. They are similitudes because they make a simple comparison about the kingdom of heaven. This comparison is done by the repeated phrase the kingdom of God is like, a phrase found four times in Matthew 13:44-52.

Jesus is not the treasure hidden in the field or the pearl of great value. Those ideas could be part of two useful parables, just not these two parables! Instead, Jesus continues his efforts to give his new disciples a more comprehensive understanding of the kingdom of heaven. We have no right to hijack his effort in order to make some point of our own, no matter how true that point might be.

The Treasure

Once again, facts will help us get started in interpretation. In the ancient world, there were no banks or combination safes, so the best that people could do was to hide their valuables in the ground. Also, people did not live as long then as we do now, and unexpected death was more frequent. For these reasons, finding buried treasure became a symbol for amazing luck that approximated winning the lottery in our culture.

Another factual issue is the state of the law in the first century. Some modern people have felt that the man who found the treasure and reburied it before purchasing the field was behaving unethically by our standards. Of course, our standards are irrelevant, and this similitude never raises the issue of legality or ethics. Under ancient laws, all is resolved when the field is purchased.

More to the point, parables mention those matters needed to figure out the parable; you never interpret a parable by what is not there.[2] What is there tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure that is worth everything you have to acquire (verse 44). Beyond that, the man gives all he has with joy to get the hidden treasure. France brings out that, in making this transaction, the man is acting in pure self-interest.[3]

The Pearl

To understand the Parable of the Pearl, you need to know that a merchant (Greek emporos) was a man who traveled by sea, searching for goods he could buy wholesale for later sale. France does justice to the word by calling him a trader.[4] This man was on the prowl, searching for fine pearls (verse 45). In antiquity, such pearls were found in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean.[5] Unlike modern times, such pearls were then considered the most valuable of all items, and some sold for what would be tens of millions of dollars today

When he encountered the special pearl, he briefly departed to sell everything he had so that he could buy it (verse 46). The kicker is that he bought the special pearl to keep it, not to sell it. The kingdom of heaven is a show-stopper, a possession worth everything. We have a word for something like that: priceless. Search until you find it!

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally written for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used with permission.

[1] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008)242.

[2] Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 244.

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)541.

[4] France, Matthew, 538.

[5] Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 392.

The Wheat and the Weeds (Part 3), Matthew 13:36-43

Sometimes it is difficult to see people struggle because the wicked seem to prosper. Some who have done great wrong never even go to trial, much less to prison. Human experience cries out every day for a great and long-delayed balancing of justices scales.

The proverbial doubter loudly wonders why God allows disastrous or cruel acts to occur, somehow supposing that such deeds should corrected by instant miracle or immediate punishment. Given the passage of a little time, can we say that anyone would remain unpunished? Perhaps it would be wiser to hope that God will sort things out in his own good time.

Matthew 13:36-43

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.

37 He answered, The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Commentary

The disciples wisely chose to wait until Jesus entered the house before asking for an explanation of the Parable of the Weeds. Keep in mind that we have already learned that the weeds were darnel, a plant easily mistaken for wheat and one capable of causing great harm.

Verse 37 again bears the marks (in Greek) of a significant statement or new development. Jesus quickly delivers a set of identifications (verses 37-39):

  • the one who sowed the good seed = the Son of Man [Jesus]
  • the field = the world [not the church]
  • the good seed = the people of the kingdom
  • the weeds (darnel) = the people of the evil one
  • the enemy = the devil
  • the harvest = the end of the age
  • the harvesters = angels

Note carefully that a seed in this parable stands for a person; back in the Parable of the Sower, the seed stood for the word taught about Gods rule. When you study Gods word, it is important to be attentive rather than assuming that things never change, and that includes symbols used in parables.

The phrases people of the kingdom and people of the evil one (verse 38) need further explanation. These phrases rely on the same Jewish idiom. A son of the kingdom is a man who has repented and followed Jesus, thus being characterized by the rule of God. The same would hold for a daughter of the kingdom. So, these people of the kingdom are Jesus disciples. A similar analogy holds for the people of the evil one, who are like the devil; they are not Jesus disciples and are outside the house, ignorant of this deeper knowledge.

After Jesus finished making the identifications for the parable, he began speaking about the dynamics that will occur at the end of the age. In fact, Jesus concentrated more attention on the end of the age than anything else. Every Jew knew that the end of the age was the time of final judgment, when everything would be sorted out. Jesus wants us to be sure that we know: the kingdom has begun to spread, and even though judgment is delayed, it will come at the appropriate time.

Events unfold swiftly when the Son of Man sends out his angels to sort the people of the evil one from the people of the kingdom. What is plain is that everyone who rejects Jesus will wind up in the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (verse 42). So, those opposing Jesus will be overwhelmed by shame, crushing regret and suffering.

The situation for the righteous (verse 43), those who have repented and become people of the kingdom ruled by the Father, is one of honor and splendor. This is a brief description of the vindication that Jesus disciples will receive at the end of a long, hard road. They will shine like the sun.

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.