The Messiah, revealed to Some.

I sit in complete quietness and stillness – just imbibing and enjoying Gods presence here with me. My spiritual eye wanders over the words, “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, I see that figure on the cross. The whole world? I am just a speck in His creation, yet He has died for me!

“ You are right, in size you are just a speck against the background of the entire creation – but in My heart you are as important as any other person I have ever created. My love is vast; no eye has seen nor ear has heard of how vast My love is – for you and for every person I have created. My death covers all those, but it is intimately personal – for each person who wishes to receive my love it is freely available – and you stand central in that love of mine. You cannot really grasped the full extent and significance of that, because My way is vastly higher than yours and so just accept what I am telling you, by faith – and it will be real to you.”

Chapter 16 is a turning point in the gospel story. Up till now Jesus has been showing in many ways who He was. As the disciples found their eyes opened to who He really was, He would then need to show them, what sort of Messiah He was/is. A king who would humble Himself and die for His subjects to place Himself on the ultimate throne.

To highlight the importance of this confession, Matthew contrasts their reaction to the reaction of the religious leaders. This is the second time that the Pharisees have demanded a sign cf 12:38. However they were blind to the many signs that Jesus had already given. The many healings and exorcisms, but especially the feeding miracles. Notice their demand comes immediately after the description of the feeding of the 4000 in ch 15. See also how Jesus emphasizes the feeding miracles in 16:8-10. So what is the yeast, the central sin of these people? The answer is right there in vs 8, do you see it? “Oh you of little faith”. Faith is believing what you cannot see. They wanted to see before they would believe. Ever felt like that?

And the disciples? Were they so good and clever? Jesus puts the question in vs 13 to them all, “Who do the people say I am?” They give Him all the versions going around. Then He fingers them personally, “But you, who do you say I am?” Wow! At last they seem to have grasped it, but have they? And even then, Jesus reminds them that they had not worked this out on their own, it was a revelation from God which had opened their minds. But there is an important ingredient in this opening of their understanding. Remember the yeast of the Pharisees? Well in vs 20 Jesus had again highlighted this important ingredient for the disciples’ enlightenment. Can you see it? Yes, there is that little word faith.

How does faith interplay with God’s revelation? Well this seems to be a bit of a mystery. Faith is the bed in which Jesus can open their understanding. But even that is a gift from God, according to Ephesians 2:8. Nevertheless we are shown how important our responsibility is to exercise it, if we are to hear Jesus speak to us.

Now this confession of Peter, on which the whole church would be built is nevertheless just a step towards true understanding of the Messiah’s mission. That is the next message which starts immediately after Peter’s confession and is the main subject of the remainder of the gospel.. Lets follow that next week.

What is Jesus saying to me from this passage? If I am “Listening”, then it means I need to be exercising faith by expecting Jesus to speak to me and then to open my eyes and ears to His voice. The sign that I am exercising faith is my willingness to respond and obey what Jesus has to say to me.

Persistent Prayer.

This morning, after a disturbed night, my emotions are all over the place and I am thinking how my emotions can carry me off course, can carry me away from Jesus.

“ Ian I understand you are blessed with the ability to feel emotions – I understand them because I made you like you are. Being human means you have emotions, there will be highs and there will be lows – that is who you are. But I am not like that. I am the Rock – I am steady and sure. so when you feel like that go back and take your stand on me – the Rock – build your house on me and the winds and storms will be unable to dislodge you – and together we will move forward again into calm and placid waters because I have promised – “in the world you will have tribulation – but take heart – in Me you will have peace”. My love for you is immovable. Amen.”

This week I have been in Matthew 15. There are three stories. The central one is the key. Commentators show that by subtle use of Greek words and phrases the first and last stories bracket the central one with the same basic message. The first story has a very important message on its own however, which I am sure you can follow. But understanding it is one thing, living it out is another. How easy it is to allow human traditions to creep into our communication and ideas of worship and obedience. But I want to focus on the middle story. Can you see what that message is?

God chose to make Himself known in the world. He did this by choosing a special nation, where He could demonstrate His presence by interacting with them. His ultimate plan, however from the beginning was to reach the whole world. Hence the promise to Abraham in Gen 12:2,3, ending with, “All people on earth will be blessed through you”. The story of His encounter with the Gentile woman vv 21-28, Is intended to illustrate the move from OT exclusivity towards Israel to the New Covenant’s purpose of embracing the whole world. She appears to almost have to wrench the healing she longs for from Jesus.

The key, of course is in vs 28 “Woman, you have great faith! your request is granted”. Ultimately Jesus’ response did not depend on her nationality, but on her faith. However His willingness was there before she even asked. This story showed that the Gentiles were equally capable of exercising faith. But Jesus is pictured as being reluctant, actually refusing to respond initially, but finally giving in. This is intended to show that this was not an ordinary healing, but that Jesus was teaching something with the way He responded. A huge step was being bridged between the Old and the New Covenants, launching the new era where the whole world is included in His mighty plan..

This interplay brought me to meditate on our experience of prayer. Way back in ch 6:7ff Jesus invites His disciples to pray, with a promise of His willingness to respond positively, comparing Himself to a human father. If He is so eager, why do we have to wait sometimes. Even more why are we encouraged to persist in asking and not give up?

In the parallel passage in Luke, the offer of a willing response from Jesus is put alongside the parable of the widow who persists in praying despite the initial negative response. Is this enigmatic? Is Jesus contradicting Himself? I think this story of the Gentile woman may help us to answer that question.

We have already looked at the lesson that Jesus was teaching, not only to her but to the bystanders and ultimately us. By delaying the answer, His eventual answer receives much more attention and the finger points to the wider lesson, with the emphasis on her faith. So from that I came to the conclusion that when Jesus delays His answer to our prayers, one of the reasons is that He is doing it to teach us something every time. The most apt lesson is the growth in our faith when He does respond. Of course sometimes we may not see His response because it is different to what we were expecting and may even be, “No this will not be in your best interests”. The encouragement though, is for us to continue praying until we feel we have received His response.

I praise Him that I have the benefit of living under the New Covenant so that I too can have the full benefit of His saving grace.

The New Kingdom replaces the Old.

I see Jesus sitting on the grass teaching His disciples – sandled, scuffed feet – gesticulating with His hands. – then my sight moves up and I see the King of glory – high and lifted up, His train filling the temple, with Cherubim flying around calling out “Holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty”.

“ Yes Ian I am all those things – my diversity is as big as the universe – no eye has seen nor ear heard – your mind could not contain or understand the fullness of My glory, embracing the size of the universe and yet able to focus on the minutest detail – involved in everything that is going on – involved in your life and thoughts as much as I am involved in each of My children’s lives. This is what it means when My word says you are known by Me. It is a loving, compassionate face that looks down and smiles at you, yet it is a grip like steel that is stronger than any grip in the world, that holds you in My love. Knowing you and you knowing Me is the strongest relationship that any mind can imagine – be secured in in this – know it with absolute certainty.”

Working through Matthew ch 14, the various stories fit together with a unified message. Can you see what it is? Here goes: The chapter starts with John’s death. He is completely removed from the scene. Now who and what does John represent? Look at Mat 4:4. “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey”. This is a clear picture showing the figure of John as a classical Old Testament prophet. The death of John then symbolizes the distinct closing off of the Old Testament era.

So what should we expect from the next story? A reminder of the New Era which has been launched yet showing how it arose from the OT. The story of the feeding of the 5000 is widely regarded as the clearest teaching that Jesus was the fulfilment of the special prophet recorded in Deut 18:15-19. The one whom Moses foreshadowed. In other words the Messiah Himself. He is shown feeding the people in the wilderness like Jehovah fed the Israelites manna as they travelled through the wilderness.

There is an interesting expansion to the story. Jesus does not feed the multitude personally, but passes the food to the disciples to do the feeding. Thus foreshadowing the New Era where we are to pass on God’s word. Yes feeding with spiritual food, by explaining His word.

The question now arises, How are we to relate to the Messiah? The next story gives the answer. Can you see the message? The story is about faith. That is how we relate to Him. It is graphically illustrated here. Peter is able to accomplish a supernatural act, while his eyes are fixed on Jesus. While he is trusting Jesus completely. When he takes his eyes off Jesus and turns to see the fury of the storm, his faith fails. The beautiful part of the story is that Jesus does not abandon him. He reaches out and rescues him as he sinks. Peter and the others have learned a valuable lesson about trusting Jesus. A lesson we need to take to heart. When we face the storm we should keep our eyes on Jesus and not the fury of the storm. It also teaches us that we each need to grow in faith as we will be faced with multiple storms during our lives. And most important that Jesus is always there ready to rescue us, He will never abandon us to sink.

The chapter ends with two verses which underline the fact that this Man is indeed God, as He demonstrates His supernatural power.

Just look also at the reaction of the people, showing the sort of reaction people would only have as they recognize His deity. Cf verses 33-36.

As I read this chapter I want to, like the disciples in the boat, fall on my knees and worship Jesus, the true Son of God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.

There is plenty more food in the chapter, but use this framework as you go back and understand what Matthew (the Holy Spirit) intended to convey.

More on the Kingdom.

“It is all about knowing, that is why Paul prays in Ephesians 1, that ‘you may know Me better’. I already know you completely in seeing how you function and think – yet coming to a deeper knowledge of me has to do with the heart understanding what your mind is taking in and digesting. Knowing Me intimately is a heart matte and Me knowing you better is a heart matter, because you are understanding and knowing me better. As you hunger and thirst for righteousness so I will fill you – with Myself, my righteousness I will flow into you. My promise is that I will be found of you and even as you hunger and thirst so I will create more of a desire in you to know me better. The more satisfied you are in me the more I am glorified. So set aside you’re fretting and doubts and seek Me and my righteousness will fill you with the certainty of the unseen.”

In Matthew 13, Jesus repeats the phrase 7 times “The kingdom of heaven is like…” So these are 7 aspects, some overlapping of what is to be expected in this new kingdom which He was bringing into the world.

They seem to be easy enough to understand, but how do we interpret them as they affect us personally? Let us look at each, briefly.

The wheat and the weeds is ultimately about judgement at the end. However it is a stark reminder that as we meet together there will be some who are still outside the kingdom. It is not up to us to judge but being aware of this should make us sensitive to where people stand with Jesus. We can never assume, when there is a group of people gathering to worship that they are homogenously believers.

The mustard seed and yeast focus on the nature of the growth of the kingdom. We have already seen how it has burgeoned since the beginning from the small band of disciples to the colossus it is today. The allegory of yeast reminds us that the growth has and will be driven by each individual member being active. Yeast particles each give off gas and cause the dough to rise. Each individual must play its part for this to be successful. Could the gas the yeast emits be like the work of the Holy Spirit? The fruit of the Spirit.

The hidden treasure stories should awake in us a new realization of the priceless value of the kingdom. It should be a spark burning into a fire within driving us to share that with outsiders and awaken a new appreciation of what we have in it.

The net tells again of judgement. But also of the importance of gathering the lost like one would throw a net into the water to harvest the fish out there. Even as we harvest we will be reaping good and bad fish. It is God in His final judgement who will separate them.

Finally as Matthew sums up the chapter the focus is on Jesus again. He is the landowner who is bringing out of the storehouse what is new and old. A reminder again of the way the Old flows into the New Testament. And finally the theme of rejection, even by those close to Him of the One who has come to give His life to introduce the kingdom into the world and to them personally.

Working through section over several days Jesus confronted me on several issues. Taken together however, what does He say to you?

Firstly I am encouraged to see that the prophetic vision of Jesus has been so perfectly fulfilled. That is a great encouragement and comfort for the rest of my pilgrimage here in the earthly wilderness.

Secondly I am again encouraged and urged to play an active part in the kingdom, especially in sharing the wonder of its priceless value. Jesus was prepared to die for its launch. Is that not a huge inspiration for me to take this task seriously. And – yes – I must expect opposition and rejection as I go.