Matthew 16:1-4, The face of evil

Some have passed the point of no return. What they fail to understand is where their journey will end.

Matthew 16:1-4

1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

2 He replied, When evening comes, you say, It will be fair weather, for the sky is red, 3 and in the morning, Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. Jesus then left them and went away.

Commentary

You may think at first that the fresh appearance of the Sadducees in Galilee means that some new faces are in town (verse 1). The NIVs wording conceals the fact that the whole purpose for the Pharisees and Sadducees approaching Jesus was to test him.[1] We have examined this verbal form before: Greek peirazo can mean either tempt or test, and the hostile context here tells you what is going on. Indeed, this verb occurs only six times in Matthews Gospel, and the first two involve Satan tempting Jesus, while the last four involve emissaries of Satan, as seen here.

Even without such analysis, their request for a sign from heaven rings hollow after Jesus has performed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miraculous healings in Galilee and the nearby regions. Accordingly, Jesus answers them in a metaphorical way. There is irony here as well, because Jesus will play with the various meanings of heaven as either the place where God dwells or the sphere in which weather occurs. The NIV translates the same Greek noun ouranos as heaven in verse 1 (in the demand from the Pharisees and Sadducees) and sky in verses 2-3 (in the pointed answer that Jesus gives using the weather analogy).

Jesus notes that the religious leaders are experts at reading the signs provided in the ouranos by the changing weather, yet they cannot discern the signs of the favorable moment, the moment of opportunity (verse 3). We know why this is the favorable moment, but the willful blindness of the religious leaders leaves them clueless.

In verse 4, Jesus tersely rejects the request for a sign, but not without calling them a wicked and adulterous generation (verse 4), where the adultery is spiritual and consists of failing to honor their covenant with God. The sign of Jonah is not explained here, but can be found in Matthew 12:40-41. Osborne rightly points out that the sign consists of the resurrection of Jesus and the repentance of Ninevah.[2] The Sadducees did not accept any kind of resurrection, and none of the Jewish religious leaders saw any need to repent. But they could not have been more wrong!

When Jesus left the leaders and Galilee behind, he did not return to Galilee until after his resurrection. Constant opposition put an end to their hour of opportunity.

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

[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 636.
[2] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 613.

Matthew 15:32-39, The “dogs” feast on crumbs!

When you think about Jesus, one of the most important questions is this: Does he care only about the few, or does he care about all? Keeping in mind that Matthews intended first audience was Jewish Christians, those who had given their allegiance to the promised Messiah, how might Matthew have decided to answer that question? After all, his first audience grew up thinking that Gods kindness was intended for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The answer is that Matthew decided to let Jesus show them the truth.

Matthew 15:32-39

32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way. 33 His disciples answered, Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd? 34 How many loaves do you have? Jesus asked. Seven, they replied, and a few small fish. 35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.

Commentary

How this account advances Jesus message

Perhaps part of the justification for extending Gods kindness to the Gentiles was the example of the Canaanite woman and her astounding faith in the compassion of Jesus (Matthew 15:21-28). Her insightful response to Jesus showed that she understood Jesus had a primary commitment to the Jews (15:27). Her view was that even the Gentile dogs could feast on the crumbs falling from the Master’s table. The feeding of the four thousand (plus) Gentiles proves her point in concrete terms.

R. T. France does the best job of looking at the wider scale of Matthews Gospel and explaining what Matthew had in mind by this second feeding miracle:

If the purpose of the second story is to invite comparison with the first, it is only to be expected that it should be told in a way that recalls the first except for the points of difference is meant to be noted; and that is just what we find in this [account].[1]

The major points of difference between The Feeding of the Five Thousand (Matthew 14:14-21) and The Feeding of the Four Thousand (Matthew 15:32-38) are these: (1) the first showed Jesus compassion toward the Jews while the second showed his mercy toward the Gentiles; (2) greater numbers of Jews were fed than Gentiles. If we flash forward to the Apostle Paul, we find the same emphasis: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).

Now, my brothers and sisters, we must face a correction. For centuries the church of Jesus Christ has ignored the fact that Jesus is a Jew! The very word Christ means the anointed one, the Messiah. Jesus came first to the Jews and only then to the Gentiles like us. Paul calls us wild olive branches and the Jews the natural olive branches (Romans 11:17-24). We must learn from Matthew and Paul to understand our abundantly blessed place as fellow heirs to those who came before us in Christ.

If you have ever expressed prejudice against Jews, how might that be offensive to Christ and how will you behave toward Jews in the future?

The Feeding of the Four Thousand (Gentiles)

The account of the astounding miracle that Jesus performed in feeding this great crowd has both high points and low points. Since we all love good news, we begin where the story begins, with the compassion of Jesus for the people (verse 32). They have been so astonished by his miracles of healing and his caring for them that they do not want to leave, and their supplies for the journey have run out. Jesus cares about the danger they face even though they have ignored it. (Or perhaps they were expecting him to deal with whatever might happen.) The first high point is the compassion of Jesus for the people.

Ah, but the low point comes next. The disciples mistakenly assume that Jesus has summoned them to fix the problem! An overly literal translation of verse 33 might be: Where to us in an uninhabited region is bread enough so as to satisfy such a multitude? Well, duh, sitting right next to them is Jesus, the greatest creator of bread in the history of the world! And they have seen him do it before.

Jesus mercifully overlooks this interruption and determines what resources are available (verse 34). After giving thanks, Jesus took the bread and fish and kept on giving them to the disciples (HCSB)[2] to distribute to the people until everyone had eaten plenty (verses 36-37). More was left over than they started with! Having protected the crowd for their journey, Jesus dismissed them and sailed away (verse 39).

As it happens, we don’t know the location of Magadan (verse 39), Jesus destination, but we do know that the next part of Matthews account finds Jesus and his disciples back among the Jews on the western side of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 16:1). Later in Matthews Gospel, Jesus will return to the theme of his plans for the Gentiles.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed 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) 601.
[2] Greek imperfect tense, implying ongoing action.

Matthew 15:29-31, All welcome in Christ

It never dawns on us as we worship God together at Christ Fellowship that we are part of that special expression of Christs mercy to the Gentiles that began with people like the Canaanite woman. He has blessed us so greatly that it seems as if that was his intention all along. It was! But the widespread expression of Gods mercy to the Gentiles started at a point in history.

Matthew 15:29-31

29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

Commentary

If you did the exercise suggested above, then you know that Jesus could easily have extended his ministry among the Gentiles by avoiding a return to Galilee. He may have elected to do so to avoid that ominous group of religious leaders from Jerusalem mentioned in Matthew 15:1. The idea that Jesus ministered in the area of the Decapolis, scattered in both the tetrarchy of Phillip and the southern portion of the Roman province of Syria also solves another mystery.

Many have wondered why Matthews Gospel contains both the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21) and the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:32-39). They are quite similar. In fact, one theory championed by theologians who hold the Bible in low esteem is that they are the same event and Matthew has simply included both descriptions. Nah!

France argues persuasively that the feeding of the five thousand took place among the Jews, and the feeding of the four thousand took place among the Gentiles.[1] The strongly parallel nature of the two descriptions is intended to communicate that God intends to show the same kindness to the Gentiles that he previously extended to the Jews.

Jesus heals Gentiles

Jesus fame had spread all over the Decapolis, ten Hellenized cites east of the Sea of Galilee, and all over the tetrarchy of Philip and the Roman province of Syria. So, when he entered the Gentile regions, people began gathering the sick, disabled and the demonized to be healed at the earliest opportunity.

Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down (verse 29), and those in need of his miraculous healing were brought from far and wide (verse 30). Jesus healed them all, and the result was both amazement and praise for the God of Israel (verse 31). Jesus saw fit to fulfill the words of the Canaanite woman that Gentiles would feast on the crumbs dropped from the Jewish Messiahs table.

Sometimes those of us who live in vibrant Christian communities grow accustomed to the high level of Gods blessings in our lives. Curiously, we can become less fervent in our worship than an outright pagan who has just discovered the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed 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) 597.

Matthew 15:21-28, A mother’s determined faith

When Jesus departs from a place, he takes his miracle-working power with him. For some, opportunities end, and for others they begin. Keep an eye on winners and losers during this change.
Some people show more faith in ten minutes than the disciples showed all day! Like many of us, the original disciples were very slow to go where Jesus was taking them.

Matthew 15:21-28

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly. 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us. 24 He answered, I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. 25 The woman came and knelt before him. Lord, help me! she said. 26 He replied, It is not right to take the childrens bread and toss it to the dogs. 27 Yes it is, Lord, she said. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table. 28 Then Jesus said to her, Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted. And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Commentary

For the fourth time in Matthews Gospel, Jesus decides to withdraw from danger.[1] In this case the cause was the severe reaction of the Pharisees to his rejection of their ideas about defilement (see Matthew 15:12). Remember that Jesus is not withdrawing out of fear; he has a lot to accomplish before intentionally putting his life on the line in Jerusalem.

Jesus makes his remarks about defilement — externals cannot defile — even more vivid by leaving Galilee for Tyre and Sidon, the long-time enemies of Israel, often condemned by the prophets (verse 21). The Pharisees would certainly break off harassing him there because going there would defile them!

When a desperate mother emerges from nearby to cry out to Jesus for help, Matthew makes certain to call her a Canaanite (verse 22). Further, the verbal form makes it obvious that she kept on crying out, Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! When she describes her situation, she makes it clear that her daughter is continually and cruelly tormented by a demon. This is torture for mother and daughter alike.

While it is impossible to discern the exact situation, Jesus and his disciples seem to have been walking down a road with this desperate mother trailing along behind — as indicated by the Greek adverb opisthen meaning from behind — and screaming for Jesus attention. Since Jesus was not saying a word (verse 23), his disciples grew irritated and kept asking him to send her away.

Jesus answered his disciples, though probably in a way the woman could hear, by saying, I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (verse 24).[2] In light of what Jesus will soon do for the woman, the question is: why does he say this to his disciples? The answer is that he is testing them. Do they have any clue that dealing with this woman presents a defilement issue that relates to what Jesus has recently revealed? The answer seems to be yes and no yes because she is a woman and a Canaanite (traditional sources of defilement), and no in that they are oblivious to the fact that these issues are external, not matters of the heart. According to what Jesus has recently revealed, externals do not defile anyone (Matthew 15:12).

Who understands what Jesus has taught?

So, the disciples fail their exam, but the woman does not! Ignoring the disciples, she places herself directly before Jesus, kneels and says, Lord, help me! Jesus answers her in metaphorical terms: It is not right to take the childrens bread and toss it to the dogs (verse 26). In the metaphor, the children are the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, and the dogs are the Gentiles, including the Canaanites.

We have reached a key point in the story. Jesus has said that it is not right to help her, but she answers, Yes, it is Lord, meaning that she is contradicting him.[3] He says no but she says yes! She takes hold of his metaphor and extends it to give her argument: Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table (verse 27). She concedes that he must rightly see to the needs of the Jews first, but his well-known mercy can easily meet her request as well.[4]

Throughout these events Jesus has maintained the appearance of helping only the Jews and not the Gentiles. I have suggested that his intention was to test his disciples, though his initial silence toward the Canaanite woman tested her too. How will Jesus react to being contradicted by a Canaanite woman?

The answer is unfortunately not easy for the readers of an English version to see. The Greek text reveals that verse 28 is a climactic moment. Jesus has withheld and concealed his overflowing mercy until this moment. When he releases that mercy, he shows great emotion toward the Canaanite woman who has shown such extraordinary faith. Nowhere else in the Matthews Gospel is anyone told that they have great faith.

Jesus grants the womans repeated request; he daughter is healed by her mothers faith in Jesus (verse 28).

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

[1] Matthew 4:12, 12:15, 14:13 and 15:21. His parents also withdrew from danger with him in Matthew 2:13 and 2:22.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 593.

[3] Stephen Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010) 156.

[4] France, Matthew, 595. See also page 589, footnote 6.

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.