Category Archive: Bible – NT – Matthew
Commentary after commentary claims that the way to resolve the apparent contradiction between Matthew 5:16 (“Let your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven”) and 6:1 (“Take care not to do your righteousness before men to be seen by them”) is by focusing on intention. On the one hand, we aren’t to do good works before men to be seen by them, as if that and that alone, were our goal. On the other hand, we are to do good works before men to be seen by them so that they will glorify God.
But what these commentaries all seem to overlook in their exclusive focus on intention is that Jesus is talking about different sets of good works, different kinds of good works. Matthew 6:1 does not stand by itself, or as a conclusion to Matthew 5. It introduces a new section of the Sermon on the Mount.
The earlier section — which includes the works we are to do in order to be seen by men so that they will glorify our Father in heaven — talks about how we deal with anger and lust, with eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth, with the inconveniences that oppressors heap upon us, with our enemies.
The section that 6:1 introduces has to do with the three foundational acts of Jewish piety: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These acts, unlike the acts of ch. 5, are not to be done to be seen by men.
Jesus does not say that it’s okay to do these things in public, in an attention-getting way, so long as our motive is evangelistic and not self-aggrandizing, so that people will glorify God and not us. Rather, he says to do these things … but to do them in private, to not let your left hand know what your right hand is giving, to shut yourself into your inner room to pray so that no one watches, to look normal — or even as if you’re feasting — when you’re fasting.
That is to say, in his instructions Jesus does not focus simply on intentions (though intentions matter) but on actions that guard against our wrong intentions getting the upper hand.
Is there an allusion to Psalm 121 in Matthew 17?
Matthew has just told us about Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. Up on the mountain, Jesus is shining “as white as light” and a “bright cloud” overshadows them, which ought to make us wonder if that light was visible to those down below. But when Jesus and his three mighty men come down the mountain into the dark world below, they find a demon-possessed boy. That’s what Mark tells us. But Matthew tells us that the boy was moonstruck. I’m not entirely sure what that means and I’m not persuaded that it can simply be identified with epilepsy, though it seems similar. But what’s important here is that the word implies a striking by the moon.
Now consider Psalm 121, which begins:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
In Matthew’s Gospel, who is on the hills? Jesus is, where he shines with glory. He is the one from whom help comes for those down below, and they ought to be expecting it, though as the story shows they are not. Interestingly, the man who comes to Jesus for help calls him “Lord.”
The psalm goes on:
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
Here we have, it seems, exactly what the boy was suffering from: he was struck by the moon. But his father calls upon the Lord, who was on the hills, and his son is rescued.
In Mark 13:32, Jesus says, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (cf. Matt. 24:36). That’s somewhat puzzling. Is it a limitation on Jesus’ omniscience, as if God the Father knows things that God the Son doesn’t? That can’t be. So is it saying that Jesus as a man doesn’t know things that God the Son knows? Even so, that’s still puzzling.
A friend of mine argued once for a different approach: When Jesus says that even the Son does not know the day and hour, he said, he is speaking of knowing something in order to pass it on to others. Neither the angels nor the Son has been given the knowledge of the day and hour in the sense that neither is commissioned to reveal it and make it known to us.
I haven’t studied this passage and so I won’t claim that this is the right interpretation. But the other day, I was reading Augustine’s exposition of Psalm 10 (Psalm 9, part 2, for Augustine). In that exposition, he mentions those passages in Mark 13 and Matthew 24. Lo and behold, he says exactly what my friend said:
What, then, is so hidden as that which is said to be hidden even from the judge himself, not as far as his knowing it is concerned, but as regards his revealing it? (Expositions of the Psalms, 1:158, emphasis mine).
Klaas Schilder on Jesus’ suffering when Peter rebuked him when he was preaching about his upcoming suffering, rejection, and death:
And for the Saviour, fully aflame as He is with love for mankind, it is far worse suffering to meet a satan of flesh and blood than to confront that one great Devil who is sheer spirit. Jesus Himself is human. He called Simon Barjona a friend. And a friend’s opposition to the task which God placed upon the Son of man is a burden outweighing a thousand times the enmity to Him and the Father breathed out by the Demon of the pit.
Hearing His bride speak and act satanically, seeing a human being, one of those for whom He is giving His life, become an instrument of Satan, observing the flesh in Simon Peter assert itself to take exception to heaven’s law of atonement through fulfillment, and all that, mark well, at the moment of Christ’s prophesying — that must have been Jesus’ severest suffering up to this time. For He knows all the while that this same rebellion of flesh against spirit will presently nail Him to the cross. — Klaas Schilder, Christ in His Suffering, p. 20.
During the Lenten season, Alastair has opened his blog to a number of guest bloggers whom he has invited to blog about matters relating to Jesus’ life and especially his suffering and death.Â
Today, my brief meditation, “Bruised Reeds, Smoldering Flax,” appeared.Â It deals with the passage in Matthew 12 where Jesus withdraws from the Pharisees who are plotting his death, heals the multitudes, and then tells them not to make him known in order to fulfill Isaiah 42’s prophecy about the Servant who will not quarrel, break bruised reeds, or snuff out smoldering flax.Â To give credit where it’s due, I’ll mention here that I’m following the exposition of this passage in Jakob van Bruggen’s commentary on Matthew.
ENEMIES AND AN EMPTY TOMB
(March 27, 2005, Sermon Notes)
Jesus’ resurrection was good news for His disciples. But Matthew doesn’t tell us about Jesus appearing to them. Instead, he tells us about Jesus’ appearance to the women and about what happened when the report of His resurrection reached the Jewish leaders. He wants us to see what happened when God confronted them with Jesus’ empty tomb.
BELIEVING THE ROMAN GUARDS (28:11)
The Jewish leaders remembered that Jesus had talked about rising after three days. They feared that His disciples would steal His body and so they sealed the stone on the tomb and posted a Roman guard outside.
But their efforts couldn’t keep Jesus from rising. When He had risen, an angel rolled away the stone and the guards fell like dead men (Matt. 28:1-3). Later, some of those guards came to the Jewish leaders and reported everything that had happened. The angel’s actions made the guards into witnesses who would testify to Jesus’ enemies about His empty tomb.
The Jewish leaders don’t question what the Roman guards say. They believe their report â€” which means that they believe that an angel from God rolled away the stone. They condemned Jesus to die, but God vindicated Him by raising Him and sending an angel to confirm it.
Jesus’ empty tomb demands a choice. The Jewish leaders recognize what had happened. They understand what it means. But they refuse to humble themselves, repent, and follow Jesus.
DECEIVING THE JEWISH PEOPLE (28:12-15)
The chief priests summon the elders for another council. They can’t deny the empty tomb, but if they work quickly enough they can stop the report of the resurrection from spreading and being believed.
They concoct another story and use money from God’s temple to bribe the guards to spread it. Anyone who pays for lies is afraid of the truth. They know Jesus wasn’t a deceiver, but they become deceivers to keep people from believing that God raised Jesus from the dead.
They tell the Roman guards to say that they fell asleep and, while they were asleep, Jesus’ disicples stole His body. They assure the guards that Pilate won’t punish them for sleeping.
But if they had really been sleeping, wouldn’t they be punished? And if they were sleeping, how did they know it was Jesus’ disciples who stole the body? And why didn’t anyone arrest the disciples and find the body? They claim too much and they do too little.
The story is convincing only to those who don’t want to believe the truth. The lie catches on, but the lie still confirms the truth. Even Jesus’ enemies didn’t deny that His tomb was empty on the third day.
That truth demands a choice: you can join Jesus’ enemies in believing a lie, which leads to your own destruction, or you can join Jesus’ disciples in rejoicing in the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, which is your salvation.