Jesus commanded them “to go over to the other side (Matthew 8:18).” This command elicited a crisis of faith for many of those who started following him. Crossing the Sea of Galilee required a multi-day trip on the sea. Whatever plans they may have made for the next few days would need to be set aside. Whatever responsibilities they had they would need to make other arrangements for. Furthermore, the territory to which they were going was primarily Gentile territory, a loose confederation of Hellenistic city-states that few Jews would travel to. Jesus’ command created a crisis of for many who gathered around him that day.
Matthew originally wrote his Gospel Account primarily for the Jews of his day (in biblical studies we call this the author’s original intended audience). He fills his account with Old Testament citations and presumes an awareness of Jewish culture that other Gospel writers need to spell out for their original audiences.
For this reason, it may seem odd that Matthew, at times, seems to anathemize his fellow Jews. One startling example occurs in Matthew 8:5-13. There Matthew records Jesus saying that a Roman Centurion’s faith surpasses the faith of anyone in Israel. Then he tells us Jesus said: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
God wrote a song which his people will sing at the consummation of the age, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgements are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants (Revelation 19:1-2).” (It might help to know that the great prostitute here symbolizes all that opposes God’s good and gracious reign on earth.)
We long for that day when all who hope in Christ see their hope crystalized. Are we not surrounded by death all day long? Mourning? Pain? Bitterness? Do not our own psychological and emotional well-being attest to our longing for a better world, the happy ending to which all happy-endings point? We long to say words like those that one of the characters in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia exclaims: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”
In H.G. Well’s novel The War of the Worlds, Martians invade the earth. Despite humanity’s greatest devices and efforts, it seems the Martians will win and ravage the earth and all humanity. However, at the eleventh hour, the unexpected happens. The Martians die, but not because of any effort of humanity. It turns out that the bacteria on earth that the Martians had been ingesting through their eating and drinking during their stay on earth wreaks havoc on their systems. The narrator goes on to say, “Martians—dead!—slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; […] slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.” Then the narrator lifts his hands and gives thanks to God.
God’s wisdom exceeds our wisdom. Through science and discovery, humanity has learned much. Nevertheless, if you compared the mass of knowledge accumulated by humanity over the ages with God’s infinite knowledge, humanity’s knowledge, relatively speaking, could be stored on the head of a pin, with room to spare.
Nazarites were supposed to be holy. Samson was not.
When Samson was a boy his mother dedicated him as a Nazarite. Nazarites were not suppose to drink or eat anything that came from the grapevine. They were not allowed to have a razor touch their head. They were not to go near the dead.
Last week we looked at how God’s justice and love exist in perfect harmony within him. We then looked at some of the examples of God’s just judgements in both the Old and New Testaments. Here we turn to the question of what gives God the right to judge.
If you want to know God as he has revealed himself to us in Scripture, you need to hold together his justice and his love. These are not two different sides of God, as if God is a split personality like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Nor are these two different ways that God has dealt with his people throughout history, so that in the Old Testament he was all fire and judgement but in the New he is all love.
God has always been and always will be both just and loving toward us. At best, we can say love and justice are two different aspects of the same God, but one aspect never exists apart from the other. God does not have good days and bad days like we do. He does not wake up on the wrong side of the bed some mornings. He does not get hangry.
Many people get hung up on the virgin birth of Jesus. It seems utterly impossible, because we observe no predictable pattern in nature that comes close to it. Yet is this not the point? If God wanted to get our attention, what better to grab it than through a virgin giving birth?
The word for “miracle” in the Bible literally means sign. God designed these events to grab our attention and point us to him. Like a road sign points to a destination, these miracles point us to the grandeur, power, and majesty of God. They come unexpectedly, because if they occurred with any greater frequency, they would cease to be what they are. They would become normals instead of miracles. God uses these to wow us to him.
Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua. What did Joshua do for Israel? God used Joshua to save Israel from her enemies in the promised land.
Let us think about that for a moment. In the days when the angel spoke to Joseph, Israel was under Roman rule. Joseph may have thought this child would one day, like Joshua, save Israel from her Roman oppressors. The angel did not say that. He said, “he will save his people from their sins,” not from Rome but from their sins.
Like first-century Israel we often mistake the hope of the world for geo-political solutions. We say we want someone to save our nation, someone who will stand up for what is right in society, a hero by our standards who will take care of whatever or whoever we think our enemy is. Jesus does not save in this way; his salvation works on a deeper level.
A well-known Youth Minister once told the story of the year his youth group decided to forgo their usual annual carwash fundraiser and instead offer car washes for free to anyone who wanted one. It was intended to demonstrate God’s grace, which comes to us through no effort of our own.
During the event, a man drove up, rolled down his window, and asked the Youth Minister, “how much?” Pointing to the sign, the Youth Minister said, “It’s absolutely free.” “Oh, I know how this works, buddy,” the guy quipped, “you say it’s free but you really want a donation; how much do you want?” The Youth Minister repeated, “It’s free, because God’s grace is free.” The man rolled up his window and drove away.