Matthew 14:1-12; Death of John

Herod Antipas, having killed John the Baptist, seems to be having a guilty conscience. He wonders if Jesus might be John redivivus, manifesting powers that someone like that might manifest.

Then follows a flashback story of how John died. He was imprisoned for being a gadfly, challenging the tetrarch about his incestuous marriage.

The marriage of Antipas and Herodias would probably not raise an eyebrow today. That says more about us than them.

Herodias wants John to die, but Antipas is fearful of public reaction. She finds a way to get her way. John is beheaded

The leaderless disciples of John take his body and bury him, then go to tell Jesus about what happened.

The heroes of this story meet an untimely and grisly end. That’s what you call foreshadowing.

Matthew 13:53-58; Rejected in his Hometown

People are usually glad for reflected glory from a native son (daughter). The town we live in is proud of its Olympic gymnast. The town next door is proud of the national championships of its high school marching band. The next town over is the hometown of Forrest Tucker and Joanne Worley. Talk about reflected glory!

But Jesus hometown stumbled over him, was offended by him. Perhaps they saw him not as bearing glory, but infamy. Back in 11:6, Jesus said:

And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:6, ESV)

Well, Nazareth failed that test.

Perhaps they had as low an opinion of themselves as did Nathanael. They would have been proud to be the home of the region’s best carpenter, most likely, but not someone who seemed to be claiming to be the messiah. They knew his family (and a good-sized family it was) and they knew his background and training. Why was he being so uppity?

Seems to me they have a very particular version of the scandal of particularity. People want God to be general and nebulous. They have trouble accepting God at work in a particular situation or a particular individual. In Nazareth this is amplified by the fact that they know Jesus so well.

Like the Nazarenes, some modern church members “stumble” over Jesus with less justification than the bewildered disciples in Gethsemane. Jesus’ claims and demands appear excessive to secularists in a world come of age. While including God as a necessary principle in their worldview, they are offended by the claim that the Creative Force of the Universe chose to do something unique and unrepeatable in the life and death of one ancient carpenter. Matthew will not countenance this evasion. Those who are confronted by Jesus must make a decision not only about him but also about his heavenly Father.

Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993), 163.

It looks to me like most people around here are acting like the epidemic is over. I predict a huge surge of cases for us in the days ahead. If I get it, I’ll die within days. People don’t seem to understand that.

Matthew 13:47-52; The Net and Kingdom Scribes

The last parable in this series is at least partially interpreted by Jesus. A large net was used to indiscriminately gather fish, which were subsequently sorted. This parable is somewhat parallel to the weeds story earlier in the chapter.

Bad fish are thrown away and good fish are kept. Does this apply to the world, to the church, or both?

There is a day of judgment coming when evil people will be separated from the righteous ones. There is every reason to believe that this judgment will include the church. Even in Matthew’s day, there were already rotten fish in the church.

Jesus finishes off this series by asking the disciples if they understand, and they do understand. He then compares discipleship to scribal studies, a rigorous course of understanding the Bible. Jesus says the scribe-disciple will display the kingdom treasures. There are new treasures brought by Jesus, but the old treasures of scripture are not to be ignored.

I don’t hear much preaching from the OT. I’ve been trying to improve my OT game in recent years to make up for that lack. It is a treasure.

I’m always surprised when people in the church show no desire to learn more about the Bible, about Jesus, about God. Of course, some do, but most do not. Based on this passage, I’d say Jesus expects his disciples to be fairly rigorous in their pursuit of understanding scripture. Am I wrong?

Matthew 13:44-46; Treasure and a Pearl

What about this kingdom of heaven Jesus is talking about? What is it like?

First, it is highly valuable. More valuable than everything the sharecropper owns, and even more valuable than everything the wealthier merchant owns. They both sell out to purchase the valuable find.

Second, it is hidden from many. You have to be on the lookout for a valuable pearl (which had the cachet of diamonds) to find it. You have to keep your eyes open for buried treasure to find it. Most people just pass by and don’t notice.

The kingdom of God causes us to reorder our priorities. The kingdom is more important than our own well-being, more important than our own families, more important than anything and everything else.

Sometimes we are guilty of cheapening the kingdom. When we tell people that they can pray a prayer and be saved from hell, we cheapen the kingdom. Jesus asks us to sell out, not to say some words of assent.

The church needs to come to terms with the value of the kingdom. We are far too casual about what we are doing. We are afraid to sell out. We don’t want to be seen as fanatical or weird. We crave acceptance by the culture.

Until we sell out for the buried treasure of the kingdom, the pearl of great value, we don’t really understand yet,

Jesus’ teaching was primarily about how people should understand his message of the kingdom and Israel’s restoration and how to avoid the coming judgment. The parables are not earthly stories with heavenly meanings; rather, they are subversive stories that turn the presuppositions of his audience on their head.

Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology

Matthew 13:31-35; Two Kingdom Parables

The mustard seed and the leaven seem to go together in terms of the point Jesus was making.

Thinking back, I think I have mostly heard these parables preached in terms of great growth from small beginnings, and that certainly is an aspect of the word pictures Jesus used. Small seed, large plant. Small amount of leaven, large amount of dough.

But it seems to me there is another aspect of these two parables we might miss. In both parables, the great action happens behind the scenes. The seed is planted. The leaven is hidden. Great big things happen.

The kingdom of heaven is not something that we are doing. It is God’s work. It is happening mostly outside of our viewport. When it is fully complete, it will surprise us with its size and scope.

The plant is big enough for nesting and the dough can feed a large crowd. Both started humbly. But the man had nothing to do with the growth of the plant and the woman had nothing to do with the action of the yeast. Both counted on the established ways of using them.

We must trust God for the kingdom. Sometimes it is discouraging to be involved in it and there is much, much waiting. But God is working.

Jesus spoke in parables. The parables are like seeds and yeast. We need to let God grow them in us.

Kingdom come!