When you finish this session, you should be able to:
- Understand the need to reevaluate your belief system
- Comprehend the price to be paid as a Jesus follower
- Know that ministry to others is important
- Realize that practicing tradition can sometimes be a poor substitute for doing what is right
- Understand that faith is important
- Know that the ecclesia is built on a firm foundation
- Comprehend that life in the kingdom consists of humility, responsibility, self and community discipline, care for individuals, the ability to discipline brothers and sisters in the ecclesia, and forgiveness
Book Four of Matthew speaks to the issues of discipleship. In the narrative section, we will learn what can occur in our life as we live under the kingdom of God. The instruction section takes us on a tour of five discipleship factors: humility, responsibility, self and community discipline, care of individuals, the discipline of brothers and sisters, and forgiveness.
| Overview |
This is the beginning of the fourth of five books within Matthew. As we have seen, each book has a narrative section and an instruction section. This book’s narrative section begins with the account of Jesus returning to his own home and focuses on discipleship. The instruction section discusses what life is like under the Kingdom of God.
Narrative: Discipleship Jesus Style: 13.53-17.21
Jesus at Home: Matthew 13.53-58
The question in verse 54 is concerned with origins. Where is asking by what authority did Jesus receive his power? Was it from God or from Satan? Wisdom equals the words of Jesus, while miraculous powers equal the works of Jesus.
Robert Gundry in his commentary suggests, “Jesus’ fellow townspeople are awestruck not only at his teaching in their synagogue but also at his miracles; but instead of believing in him, they question the source of his wisdom and miracles.”[ref]Gundry, Robert H. Commentary on Matthew (Kindle Locations 3280-3281). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.[/ref]
The people of Jesus’ hometown including his family had failed to reevaluate their opinion of Jesus in light of the ministry he had provided for them. Their “lack of understanding has led to unbelief. Jesus wasn’t unable to do many miracles in Nazareth. Because of the townspeople’s unbelief in response to the few he did do, he refused to do many miracles. Even so, those few had left the townspeople awestruck.”[ref]Gundry, Commentary on Matthew (Kindle Locations 3299-3300). Kindle Edition.[/ref]
Thus, the result for his hometown and family was “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” Their lack of understanding Jesus and his ministry led them to unbelief.
Herod and John the Baptist: Matthew 14.1-12
Herod Antipas was the youngest son of Herod the Great who had the children under two years of age killed as described by Matthew in the birth narrative. Herodias was the wife of Herod’s half-brother Philip, a private Roman citizen, and the daughter of his half-brother Aristobulus. Marriage with a brother’s wife, while the brother was alive, was forbidden by the Law (Lev. 18.16).
This denunciation by John was not unlike the First Testament prophetic tradition. The events of 14.3-12 took place some months before the context in which they are recorded. They are recorded in this context to explain Herod’s reference to John’s death, which is recorded in verse 2.
This story points to several implications:
- The price one may have to pay in order to declare the truth (14.10).
- To continue on the wrong path, when a new direction could be taken, is not an intelligent decision. Herod could have changed his mind upon the request but did not do so.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand: Matthew 14.13-21
In this story, we can see at least five important premises:
- Jesus had a need to be by himself with his disciples without the crush of the multitude (14.13).
- The crowd’s need on this occasion took precedence over the need of Jesus and his disciples (14.14).
- The disciples wanted their rest time and urged Jesus to send his followers away (14.15).
- Jesus responded that he perceived that the crowd’s need was greater than the disciples’ need and sent them to work (14.16).
- The miracle demonstrated Jesus’ authority over nature. Remember, he is plundering the strong man’s (Satan’s) house and taking back the authority over nature that the strongman had usurped!
In ministry, sometimes our needs are not as important as the need(s) of others to receive ministry.
Walking On Water: Matthew 14.22-36
Here again, is another miracle over nature. After Jesus had forced his disciples to leave in the boat, he went to pray. Somewhere during the night between 3 am and 6 am, Jesus came to his disciples walking on the water during the middle of a storm (14.24). When they realized who Jesus was, Peter requested to be a part of this miraculous situation. During the storm, he walked toward Jesus. We must note that the storm did not cease until Jesus and Peter returned to the boat. It is one thing to walk on water; it is quite another to do so during the middle of a storm! Jesus again rips back that which was taken by the strong man. At the end of this story, he shared his healing touch with the multitudes (14.36).
Our ability to minister the words and works of Jesus as his disciple does not come from a one-time exposure to his miraculous powers, but to a consistent and ongoing exposure in participation with him. His disciples had just witnessed and participated with him in feeding 5,000, but did not know him when he came walking on the water. Think about the possible implications of that last sentence. Remember, exposure is not an “ecclesia” thing, i.e., not limited to a gathering of Jesus followers in whatever form they are gathered. Rather, it is looking for an opportunity to provide either words or works as we wander zigzag through our daily lives.
In this chapter, Jesus had exposed his disciples to a training program of experiencing discipleship. Remember, training comes by doing, not by hearing only. We often must do before we understand.
Clean And Unclean: Matthew 15.1-20
The tradition of the elders was a body of oral material that was added to the Law. To wash one’s hands was to remove ceremonial defilement. The Scribes from Jerusalem had walked some 120 miles to discuss with Jesus why his disciples had not followed the oral tradition when feeding the 5,000.
When asked this question, Jesus did not respond with an answer but with a counterattack. “You say my followers transgress the unwritten (oral) tradition but that is not correct. In fact, you use the oral tradition to break one of the ten written codes, ‘Honor your Father and Mother.’”
Then Jesus used a prophecy from Isaiah to tell his accusers that they, in fact, are accused by Isaiah as only giving lip service to God. The disciples of Jesus were concerned that Jesus had offended the Scribes because he had made a statement that was contrary to the oral tradition.
Jesus told a parable calling them blind guides and then interpreted it with a catalog of defilements, which usher from the heart.
When one adds to what God says and then obeys his own addition, instead of what God originally said, it will make one a lip-servant versus heart-servant. It is what comes out of the heart which defiles.
The Canaanite Woman: 15.21-28
There are three implications in this story:
- For the disciples. They saw that persistent faith in Jesus was honored, and they should never turn away people, no matter how good the reason.
- For the woman. Her dialogue with Jesus showed the persistence of her faith (15.28). This is often seen as a harsh conversation. But it is not so! The word dogs meant household pets, i.e., puppies (little dogs) as opposed to the wild and vicious ones roaming the streets who were not owned and had no upkeep. We cannot hear the tone in the voice of Jesus. It could have been humorous instead of harsh. What it most probably meant was how inappropriate it was to take the bread fed to children and throw it to the little dogs and was Jesus way of saying in a cryptic form how inappropriate it was for Jesus to extend his mission to Gentiles.
- For the daughter. She received healing because of her mother’s faith. The mercy of God is available for anyone. On occasion, we must have faith in God’s ability to answer our request. Sometimes it is the faith of others.
Someone’s faith is involved, but not always the person’s faith for whom the prayer is offered and needs the answer.
The Feeding of the Four Thousand: Matthew 15.29-39
In these paragraphs, the ministry of Jesus is being shared among Gentiles. They summarize the healing ministry among that group. The Gentiles praised the God of Israel. After healing some of them, he fed them (15.32-39). The time lapse between the 5,000 feeding and the 4,000 feeding is about six months. The 5,000 feeding was for the Jews. The 4,000 feeding was for the Gentiles. The disciples responded the same as with the 5,000. Jesus responded the same as with the 5,000.
Concern for the well-being of the people we minister to is the most important aspect of our ministry. Verse 32 demonstrates the concern of Jesus. “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.
The Demand for a Sign: Matthew 16.1-12
In Matthew 16.1, we see the people with opposite views coming together to oppose Jesus. Normally the Pharisees and the Sadducees had nothing to do with each other. The Sadducees rejected a belief in angels; the resurrection from the dead; all the books of the Old Testament listed after Deuteronomy. The Pharisees embraced what the Sadducees rejected. Theologically, they were at odds.
These two group’s perception only applied to understand the physical truth, i.e., the weather forecast, but not the truth in the analogy, i.e., the signs of the times. The signs of the times, which they should have realized, was the person of Jesus active in their midst in his words and works (16.3b). The sign of Jonah was to be understood as the resurrection of Jesus (16.4). Jesus used bread as a teaching point. He specifically wanted his disciples to avoid the mentality of the religious leaders (16.6-12).
The Confession Of Peter: Matthew 16.13-20
Who is Jesus? The Pharisees said Jesus was the devil (10.24; 12.24). The devils said he was the Son of God (8.29). Herod thought he was a reincarnation of John the Baptist (14.2). The crowds thought of him as Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (16.14). All of these views saw Jesus as a spokesperson for God but read into him their group’s understanding of Jesus. The same is true today for all of us.
What Jesus wanted to know was what did the disciples think? Peter responded that he knew (16.16): “You are the Messiah,” to which Jesus responded, “you have discerned this by the Father.”
Then the famous passage: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church (ecclesia), and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
There are several ways the phrase on this rock has been understood.
- The rock is not a “loose stone,” but a bedrock, which is Jesus (Matt. 7.24).
- The rock is Peter, he becomes the foundation stone of the community.
- The confession of Peter, that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of God, was the rock on which the ecclesia is built.
In favor of interpreting the word-play between Peter and rock as a personal reference, is the rabbinic saying about Abraham, “When the Holy One wanted to create the world, he passed over the generations of Enoch and the flood; but when he saw Abraham who was to arise, he said, ‘Behold I have found a rock on which I can build and found the world,’ therefore he called Abraham rock as it is written (in Isaiah 51.1): ‘Look to the rock from which you were hewn.’” A similar metaphor is used as applied to James and Peter in Galatians 2.9.
The phrase I will build my church (ecclesia) suggests that the church belongs to Jesus and he is the builder and the material (rock) on which it is built.
The passage in verse 19 is often misused. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Here are some interpretative thoughts:
- Bondage is the characteristic of those who are under the power and rule of Satan.
- Loosing is the freeing of those under Satan’s control.
- In 16.19b, the word bind means to prohibit or forbid and the word loose means to permit freedom.
- Binding and loosing do not mean that God will ratify in this present age what the ecclesia speaks.
- Binding and loosing do mean that the ecclesia can do in this present evil age what the Father has already ratified or determined in the age to come (John 5.19).
- It is simply watching for what the Father is doing, then binding (forbidding) or loosing (permitting) what he has already bound or loosed!
The First Announcement of the Death, Resurrection, and Second Coming: Matthew 16.21-28
Jesus began (the point of beginning) to show what follows, i.e., his going, dying and resurrection (16.21).
Jesus heard the words of Satan coming from the mouth of Peter, which he understood was an attack on him to get him to avoid doing what the Father had told him to do, go to the cross and give himself as a sacrifice. Jesus had already rejected that same counsel once before (Matt. 4.1-11).
Verse 27 refers to the Second Coming of Jesus, while verse 28 refers, most likely, to his resurrection. It was in the resurrection of Jesus that Satan’s rule was broken. Some who stood by and heard Jesus speak were alive to see and experience this event, the coming of his kingdom.
The Transfiguration: Matthew 17.1-13
Verse 2 describes the transfiguration as a metamorphosis (metamorphoo,
pronounced: met-am-or-fo’-o), a change in the structure of Jesus.
Moses and Elijah represented two great persons in First Testament history. Moses represented the covenant and Elijah represented the prophets, the spokesmen who proclaimed the covenant. Some comparisons of them can be seen: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all had 40 days of fasting (Exodus 24.18; Deut. 9.11; 1 Kings 19.8). Elijah did not die (2 Kings 2.12). Moses’ end was unusual (Deut. 34.5-6).
Their appearance with Jesus may have said to Peter, James, and John that Judaism endorsed Jesus. He was not beginning something new. He was only fulfilling what the First Testament had promised.Matthew 17.5 demonstrates God speaking and validating the ministry of Jesus. This section of Matthew’s story indicates two things:
- Eternal life is the future life which starts in the present.
- The state of the body in eternity is recognizable but somehow different than the present.
The Epileptic Boy: Matthew 17.14-20
The saying of Jesus in 17.17 is most likely spoken to the crowds and not the disciples. He spoke to the disciples in private (17.19).
The reason why they were not able to help the epileptic boy is not an issue of authority. They had been given authority as demonstrated in Matt. 10.8. The issue is the inability or unbelief that one can actually use the authority which has been given. Their belief needed to effect change. Using their authority is compared (a simile) to a mustard seed, which is the smallest grain and was to demonstrate how the smallest amount of faith can overcome great obstacles. The hyperbole of moving mountains is a proverbial saying for overcoming difficulties.
The point: The mighty power of God to change things can be made operative even through the weakest faith.
The Second Announcement | the Temple Tax: Matthew 17.21-27
| The Second Announcement: 17.21-23
In the first announcement, which occurs at 17.21, Jesus told his disciples four things concerning his coming suffering:
- Where he would die: Jerusalem
- Who would instigate his death: the elders, chief priests, and Scribes
- What the outcome would be: resurrection.
- How his death would be brought about: He would be delivered into the hands of men (17.22)
The disciples’ reaction at the first announcement was disbelief and rejection as modeled by Peter. The reaction to the second announcement was distress and sorrowfulness.
The Tax: Matthew 17.24-27
Every Jewish male annually paid a half-shekel tax (approximately five dollars in today’s money) to keep up the Temple and its services available. In this story, Peter obligates Jesus to pay the tax, and Jesus pays it.
This is the only time in the whole Second Testament that fishing was done with a hook rather than a net. Only one fish was needed. There are two possibilities for this miracle:
- Jesus knew the fish, which Peter would catch, had money!
- Jesus created the money in the mouth of the fish!
It was not automatic. Peter had to do what he was commanded to do for this miracle to take place.
Instruction Life in the Kingdom: Matthew 18.1-35
The instruction section is divided into two parts:
- The morning: Matt. 18.1-14
- The evening: Matt. 18.15-35
The narrative section on Discipleship showed what occurs as one lives under the rule of God. Here is a summary:
- Suffering as demonstrated in the life of John the Baptist and the suffering of Jesus foretold.
- Miracles such as the feeding of 5,000; Peter and Jesus walking on the water during a storm; the feeding of 4,000; the Canaanite woman; the Transfiguration; the epileptic boy healed; and the temple tax in the mouth of the fish.
- Conflict as in the clean and unclean debate with the Pharisees.
- The confession of Peter
In the instruction section, Jesus tells what life lived out in a community under the rule of God is like. It is a life of:
- Humility: Matt. 18.1-4
- Responsibility: Matt. 18.5-7
- Self and Community discipline: Matt. 18.8-10
- Care of Individuals: Matt. 18.11-14
- The discipline of brothers: Matt. 18.15.20
- Forgiveness: Matt. 18.23-35
Humility: Matthew 18.1-4
The teaching on humility was prompted by a question in verse 1. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
The answer was: Only the person who has the humility of a child is a true citizen of the kingdom. There can be no personal ambition, personal prestige, personal publicity, personal profit. These are motives, which can find no place in kingdom life. The kingdom life person is one who has given himself or herself in his devotion to Jesus and service to others.
“Unless you change…” (Matt. 18.3) means a change of direction and conduct. Jesus was warning his disciples that they were going in a completely wrong direction, and unless they made a total turn they would find themselves going away from the kingdom and not toward it.
Jesus told them that in a child (Matt. 17.2) they could see the characteristics, which should mark the children of the kingdom. One of the prominent characteristics is dependence: A child never thinks of facing life alone. The child is dependent upon those who provide care. The great ones in the kingdom are those who realize their dependence on God.
Responsibility: Matthew 18.5-7
Teaching a weaker, younger, or less experienced brother or sister to sin is not highly valued by God. A Jesus follower is one who is constantly aware that he or she is responsible for the effects of his/her life, deeds, and words on others.
A child (18.5) is a beginner in the faith. Jesus puts a child on his knee (18.2) to teach humility (18.1-4). Then he continued his teaching on greatness by using the child as a model for a young convert. Often the followers of teachers were called the teacher’s children. An illustration can be seen in 1 Corinthians 4.14 (Paul and the Corinthian ecclesia) and in Philemon 10 (Paul to Onesimus). The great ones in the Kingdom are those who take the responsibility to model righteousness for their converts.
Self And Community Discipline: Matthew 18.8-10
The great ones in the kingdom are the ones who are willing to jettison anything from their lives that would keep them from obeying God.
If this passage is talking about those who are children in the faith, i.e., the ecclesia, then it could mean: If there are those in the ecclesia whose habit of life continually damages those who are young converts, they must be dealt with. If they will not change their habit of life, they must be dismissed (cp/w. Matt. 18.15-20; 1 Cor. 5.1ff.).
The great ones in the kingdom are those who can discipline themselves, and the community who can discipline themselves by tossing out anything that causes a continual desire to not obey God.
Care Of Individuals: Matthew 18.11-14
Often the focus of the church is on crowds. In this passage, Jesus taught that our focus should be on individuals who make up the ecclesia.
The reason one shepherd could go and retrieve the lost was that there was usually more than one shepherd tending the flock. The flocks were community or village flocks versus flocks who belonged to an individual. The great one in the kingdom is the one who tends to individuals and their needs. After all, a shepherd/pastor is not a position. It is a function. (See my book Gracelets)
Jesus answers the question of 18.1 by saying that the greatest ones in the kingdom are those who are:
- Dependent on God
- Responsible to model righteousness
- Disciplined to discard anything that keeps them from obeying God
- Concerned for individuals and demonstrated that concern by their action
Discipline Of Brothers: Matthew 18.15.20
The kindness and mercy of God do not mean that a person who is in error is allowed to continue to do as he or she likes. A person in this condition must be guided and directed and, if needed, disciplined back into the right way.
Discipline given by the ecclesia is always to be given in love and not in self-righteous condemnation. Discipline would be offered with the desire for reconciliation and never vengeance.
There are two sayings of Jesus which are governed by the context of discipline:
- Bind and loose: In verse 18 bind means to forbid and loose means to permit. Binding and loosing means that the ecclesia is doing what the Father has already ratified. That is to say, that if a person, whose habit of life is causing destruction to the ecclesia, will not repent, then the ecclesia binds or forbids that individual any more fellowship. If the person repents, then the ecclesia looses or permits the continued fellowship with that brother or sister.
- Two agree…ask anything…there am I in their midst (18.19-20): These verses may echo or simply say the same thing as the former verse (18.18) with two added dimensions:
- That what the ecclesia prays with reference to their disciplinary decisions will be answered.
- That Jesus is present in his body in these matters.
- Mathew 18.8 is found only here and not in any other context. It is not applicable to two or three gathering together for an ecclesia service, small group, or breakfast, and because the number has been met, the presence of Jesus is promised. If you are having breakfast by yourself, Jesus is there.
This is the last part of the teaching on greatness (18.1). The great ones in the kingdom are those who, as the body of Christ, can discipline when needed, realizing that they will be binding (forbidding) and loosing (permitting) fellowship based on repentance. The ecclesia will have her prayers answered concerning discipline, knowing that Jesus is there in the midst of his body.
Forgiveness: Matthew 18.23-35
This section of teaching is also a response to the question in verse 21, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’”
The equivalents in this passage are approximate as follows:
- 10,000 talents = $10 million
- 100 denarii = $20
- Jailers = torturers: those in prison who were given the job of torturing the prisoners to find out if they had any funds that were hidden.
The parables that Jesus taught:
- That divine forgiveness precedes and conditions human forgiveness.
- That you can’t pay your own debt; it’s too big.
- That the free gift of God’s forgiveness lays upon Jesus followers the demand of a forgiving spirit.
Verse 35 must be understood in light of the context: God forgives first and his forgiveness conditions ours. We do not forgive in order to be forgiven. We are forgiven in order that we may forgive. Forgiveness is the desire of God’s heart. He forgives us and we, in like manner, forgive others.
Some Basic Affirmations
- We must constantly reevaluate our opinion of Jesus in light of his ministry to and through us.
- There is a price to pay for declaring the truth of Jesus.
- We must learn to be sensitive to whose needs take precedence.
- The maturing ministry will occur as we continually expose our ministry to the words and works of Jesus.
- We are only giving lip-service to God when we add to his revealed word.
- Faith is important to receive, but it doesn’t always have to be our faith.
- Requesting signs may be a demonstration of a lack of faith on the part of the one who makes the request.
- The ecclesia is built on a firm foundation.
- As believers, we have the authority to forbid or permit by watching to see what God is doing.
- True disciples of Jesus will demonstrate humility, responsibility, self-discipline, care for others, the ability to discipline, and forgiveness.
What can Jesus Followers Learn?
- Reevaluation of the ministry of Jesus is an ongoing lifestyle
- Salvation is free, but discipleship costs!
- In an individualistic society, sometimes the needs of the crowd are more important than the needs of the individual.
- Adding anything to God’s word may demonstrate hypocritical service to God.
- While life may be shakey sometimes, the ecclesia which Jesus birthed is always on a firm foundation.
- Dependence, self-discipline, care, and forgiveness are high values for followers of Jesus.
Catalog your ideas about the following thoughts.
- Jesus at Home: What is your present opinion of Jesus?
- The Feeding of the 5,000: Who do you know that has more need than you do at this present time? What are you willing to do about it?
- The Confession of Peter: In what ways can you express the firmness of the foundation of the ecclesia that Jesus created?
- The Epileptic Boy: What do you need from God that you can’t even ask for because of your weakness of faith at this point in your life with Jesus?
- Humility: In what ways can you become more dependent on God?
- Responsibility: How do you treat new converts?
- Care of Individuals: Who do you need to care for now?
- Forgiveness: Who do you need to forgive?
Community Discussion Questions
➡ |CDQ Info|
- How often do you reevaluate your opinion of Jesus? Why do you think that this discipline is necessary? Or, not necessary?
- What price are you willing to pay to be a follower of Jesus?
- In what ways has your need for rest been overshadowed by the needs of others? What feelings arise when this is the case?
- On a scale of one to ten, ten being best, what is your constant exposure level to the works of Jesus? If on the low end, what can you do about it?
- Can you recall a time when your faith was the difference between someone else receiving and not receiving ministry from God?
- In what way have you sided with those, who under regular circumstances you would not fellowship with, to conspire to throttle the ministry of Jesus in someone’s life?
- SUGGESTION: Name at least ten items that suggest for you that the ecclesia is built on a firm foundation in Jesus.
- How does this interpretation of binding and loosing free you to work the works of Jesus?
- What do you think a firm belief in the knowledge that your eternal life has already begun in the present will accomplish in your day-to-day life?
- Where in your life can you become more dependent on God and less dependent on yourself?
- How does your life as a maturing Jesus follower affect the lives of new Jesus followers?
- What are you willing to expel from your life so that you can better serve new converts in the faith?
- What individual can you begin to focus on for ministry? What would you do?
- Have you ever been a part of a church that practiced this form of ecclesia that is written about in this section? What were the results? Do you think that this should still be the model for ecclesia discipline today? Why or why not?
- Who do you need to forgive?