Live as God’s Household

Whom do you count as your family? In 1 Timothy 3:14–15 Paul describes you as the family, the household of God.

Live as God’s household. God has built his house for you. Ultimately, God builds his house for us, rather than us building for him. As the Lord told David, it is not we who build his house, but he makes us his household. The church is build on the redemptive work of Christ, on the events of his humiliation and exaltation described in v. 16. The household of God is wonderful, not in itself, but because of its wonderful Savior. Paul, as always, points you to Christ. In Christ, particularly in his humiliation and exaltation, you understand and experience the mystery of godliness. Paul likely quotes an old hymn, the quote consisting of three pairs of contrasting statements: revealed in the flesh, preached among the nations, believed on in the world; justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, taken up in glory. “The eradication of death in his [Christ’s] resurrection is nothing less than the removal of the verdict of condemnation and the effective affirmation of his (adamic) righteousness.” (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology, p. 122). You are baptized into the triune God. You are united to Christ in his death and resurrection. That is how God makes you his household.

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Brand New!

Is there something pleasant about the smell of a brand new car? Do you appreciate the look of joy on a little girl’s face as she shows off her new bicycle? In Matthew 9:14–17 Jesus emphasizes the newness of the kingdom he is establishing.

Recognize the newness of the kingdom of God. See your need to follow Jesus. Jesus finds Matthew at his tax collecting work in Capernaum. Given that these taxes went to the oppressive Roman government and subordinate authorities, that the tax collectors did their own evaluation of the goods they were taxing, and that they had a reputation for taking a substantial portion for themselves (remember Zacchaeus?), the tax collectors were not only despised, they were considered disloyal and treated as open sinners. Matthew, whose account is shorter, and who does not focus on himself, simply says that he got up and followed him. Luke, who calls Matthew by his other name, Levi, remarks that he left everything. As when he called the fishermen earlier, Jesus expects prompt and total obedience. Jesus and his disciples then attend a dinner, probably in Matthew’s house, to which many of Matthew’s fellow tax collectors. That brought the disapproval of the Pharisees, who demanded to know why Jesus was associating with tax collectors and sinners. In turn, Jesus responds that it is not the healthy, but the sick who need a physician. He quotes Hosea 6:6. That prophet’s marriage, as well and his preaching, had pointed out the sin of God’s people, had summoned them to repent, and then had assured them of God’s mercy. Israel had a superficial self-righteousness, but God requires obedience from the heart. Mercy, not outward religiosity, is God’s desire. The Israelites of Hosea’s day went about the forms of worship, including sacrifice, but they ignored the basic command of showing mercy. “[W]e have no reason to fear that Christ will reject sinners, to call whom he descended from his heavenly glory. . . . [P]ardon is granted to us, not to cherish our sins, but to recall us to the earnestness of a devout and holy life.” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospels). Matthew is showing you how important it is that you be aware of your deep need for Jesus.

Rejoice in being Christ’s disciples. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? The theme of discipleship, prominent in verses 9–13, is emphasized in our text. The contrast is focused sharply between being a disciple of either John the Baptist or the Pharisees on the one hand, or a disciple of Jesus on the other. The contrasting situation of the disciples comes to expression in the matter of fasting. The Old Testament required fasting only on one day in the year, the Day of Atonement, see Leviticus 16:29,31; cf. Psalm 35:13. The Pharisees expanded fasting (Zechariah 7:5) until they practiced it twice a week, Luke 18:12. It became part of their works religion. Although John’s preaching criticized the Pharisees, his emphasis on repentance apparently also involved fasting, Matthew 3:7 & 11. Thus there was a formal similarity with the Pharisees. To be a disciple of Jesus involves joy, precisely because he is present as the bridegroom, as the messianic King. Jesus did not require his disciples to fast because his presence meant joy. “Discipleship is not for the comfortable and respectable, but for those whom conventional society would rather keep at arm’s length. The Pharisees can only see their failures, but Jesus sees their need, and the fact that they acknowledge it themselves gives him the opportunity to fulfill his calling to ‘save his people from their sins’ (1:21).” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 350).

The new kingdom requires new structures. The newness of the kingdom of God doesn’t fit into the old structures. It certainly doesn’t fit the self-righteous fasting of the Pharisees. And it even goes beyond John’s essentially Old Testament call to repentance. Jesus uses down to earth images. A patch of new, unshrunk cloth, on an old garment will only make matters worse, especially the first time it’s washed! New wine, stored in an old, brittle, goatskin bag, will cause the container to burst. The Old Testament prophecies of the kingdom kept talking about new things. God declares new things, Isaiah 42:9, so his people respond with a new song, Isaiah 42:10; Psalm 96:1. They will be called by a new name, Isaiah 62:2. Even the covenant God makes with them is new, Jeremiah 31:31. The brand new thing God has done is to send his Son into the world to be the Savior of his people. The kingdom cannot look the same after that event. It cannot be contained by the Old Testament structures and categories. The church is never going to look identical to old Israel.

What, exactly, is new? What gives you reason to rejoice instead of grieving and fasting? Rejoice in the presence of the bridegroom. Do fast when appropriate. Jesus did not oppose all fasting. He has instructed his disciples how to fast, Matthew 6:16–18. Although God’s Word does not require you to fast today, there are times when it is appropriate, such as times of special repentance from sin, or particularly intense prayer, see Acts 13:1–3. A time of fasting was about to come for his disciples. The presence of the bridegroom (Jesus himself) gave a joy that precluded fasting. But the bridegroom was soon to be taken away. This can refer to nothing less than the coming death of the Lord, which he refers to here, early in his ministry. Then certainly the joy of the disciples would be replaced by mourning, feasting would turn to fasting and sorrow. The joy brought by the presence of the bridegroom was provisional and temporary. Though the disciples did not yet realize it, their joy was being purchased at the price of the death of their Lord. “[M]aintaining what is old (fasting as the expression of sorrow and repentance with a view to the approaching judgment, the subject of John the Baptist’s exhortation) means a misunderstanding and ignoring of the time of salvation that has already begun, as well as the proclamation of salvation that is being fulfilled. Here, too, it is not the law that is opposed by Jesus nor the observance of certain religious forms attendant to it, but rather, the basically unbelieving mechanical maintenance of what is old without recognizing what is new.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 305).

Rejoice that Christ has come, and that he is present for you. The bridegroom came, and the bridegroom was taken away. But that does not mean that the brand new work of God has gotten old and spoiled!

Precisely because the bridegroom, Jesus, was taken way to his death on the cross, you can have joy. His death was followed by his resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost. He has not left you comfortless, but has sent his Spirit to be with you and to live in you. As you trust in his death and resurrection in your place, you are part of the new work that God is doing in the universe. The new is a reality in your life. That presence of your Lord by his Spirit gives you hope and joy—even when you find yourself going through dark times that may even cause mourning and fasting. You are not, you cannot be, hopeless. You look back to the Messiah who came, and who was taken away. You look ahead to his coming again. Then your joy will be full. The bridegroom came and was taken away. But, even in this sinful world, you, the church of Jesus Christ, are his bride, being prepared to be presented spotless before him. Rejoice!

Yes, you live in a sin-cursed world in which there are occasions for fasting and sorrow. But the presence of your Savior, his very real presence now, and the future, but certain, fullness of his presence at his return, give you joy—an exuberant, expanding joy, which, as it bursts the old wine skins, permeates all of your life with its aroma.

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Your Sins Are Forgiven!

What is your most basic need? Food? Shelter? Someone to care for you? The paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1–8 might have spoken of the ability to move, to walk. But after his encounter with Jesus he would have told you of an even deeper need which had been met.

Come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Forgiveness comes through faith. Matthew’s shorter version of this account (compare Mark 2 and Luke 5) focuses on the forgiveness that Jesus gives. Sin is a basic problem that, since Adam, separates you from God. Notice how Isaiah begins the last part of his prophecy. Jesus sees the faith of the paralytic and his friends. Come to Jesus in faith. You have examined your life this past week. You certainly have not found yourself sinless. But if your trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you are part of his body, his bride, he invites you to his table. Your coming to the Lord’s Table is an expression of trust in your unseen Lord.

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Kingdoms in Conflict

I saw a picture of an allegedly Russian submarine passing through the Bosporus, possibly in violation of an international treaty. Recent events in Asia have raised international tensions, and some may be testing the US, which has certainly projected its power and influence. Matthew 8:28–34 gives you a glimpse of a greater power struggle between two kingdoms.

Recognize the conflict between the kingdoms. The demons are part of the forces of darkness. The text leaves you with some unanswered questions. Some manuscripts have variant readings on the location. Gadara was a town not too far from the southeast shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the area where Jesus landed was apparently under its control. The parallel accounts (Mark 5:1-17 and Luke 8:20-37) are longer, and mention only one demon possessed man. Remember that each of the Gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, selected his material for his own purposes, and includes details relevant to his purposes. The whole issue of demon possession raises questions. In the Scriptures, most of the recorded cases of possession occur during the earthly ministry of Jesus. It is almost as though Satan is giving mock imitations of the incarnation. Evil spirits, apparently other fallen angels, enter and control the bodies of people, who were made in God’s image. We are not told why Jesus allows the demons to enter, and then destroy, the pigs. Be cautious about questions of demon possession today. Don’t evade responsibility—exorcism doesn’t replace the need for repentance. Satan is a real enemy, and must be taken seriously. At the same time, do not attribute omnipotence to him. Remember, as this passage reminds you, that he is a defeated enemy. The demons are representatives of the spiritual forces opposed to Jesus. Their destructive, negative purposes are evident in the violence displayed by the two men, and in what results when they enter the herd of pigs. There they carry out the destructive action from which they had been hindered in their possession of the men. “When Christ appeared on earth, this ‘prince’ [Satan] concentrated his power against him, not only by assaulting him personally and persecuting him relentlessly, but also by surrounding him on all sides with demonic forces in order to thus break down and resist this work. The (demon-)possessed in the New Testament were not ordinary sick folk. . . . The exceptional features of the (demon-)possessed are that out of their mouths speaks a subject other than themselves, that this subject recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, is totally hostile toward him, and leaves the patient only at Jesus’ command (Matt. 8:29, 31; Mark 1:26, 34; 3:11; Luke 4:34, 41; 8:2, 30; Acts 16:17–18; 19:15).” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, pages 189–190).

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Even the Wind and the Waves Obey Him!

Perhaps, given all that fills the news cycles, it seems that your life is caught up in a perfect storm. While you can be comforted by what you read in Matthew 8:23–27, the purpose of the Apostle in writing is something far bigger than making you feel good. He writes to confront you with the authority and power of the Messiah

Jesus reveals himself as the Lord of the universe. Jesus rebuked the storm. Matthew is focusing your attention on the character of the Messiah. His power and authority are evident. Matthew has introduced the boat trip across the Sea of Galilee in v.18. It appears to be a specific boat he enters, and he is accompanied by his disciples, v.23. The stilling of the storm is followed by demonstrations of Jesus’ power over demonic forces (8:28–34) and sickness (9:1–8 — which includes his authority to forgive sins). Matthew describes the storm with a word that elsewhere refers to earthquakes, such was the violence of the wind and waves. The seas were covering the ship, i.e. it was disappearing into the troughs of the waves. Through it all Jesus sleeps, until he is awakened by the urgent cry of his disciples, the very terseness indicating their alarm, “Lord, save! We perish!” At Jesus’ rebuke, the storm became completely calm. It didn’t just blow itself out. Rather, the violence of the waves was replaced by an immediate stillness. Remember that some of the disciples in the boat were professional fishermen from that region. What amazed them more than the terrifying storm was the authority that stilled it so suddenly. “[T]his miracle of the sea. . . irresistibly focused the attention upon the transcendent person with whom the disciples had to do. . . .” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, p.138).

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