Are We Still Listening?

[1] At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. [2] But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” [3] He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: [4] how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? [5] Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?

– Matthew 12:1-5

As Jesus walks with His disciples, the Pharisees are suddenly and deeply offended.  Jesus’s disciples are breaking the Sabbath.  Sabbath-keeping is the fourth commandment.  Exodus 20 is clear.

[8] “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. [9] Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, [10] but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…

In the Old Testament, breaking Sabbath was punishable by death.  So to avoid breaking Sabbath, the Pharisees had many rules.  There were rules about how far you could walk, how many letters you could write, and so on and so forth.  Eventually, they began to think that they had a complete set of rules regarding the Sabbath.  They had figured out Sabbath-keeping.

But then in v. 3-5, Jesus bursts their bubble.  Jesus is speaking to Bible scholars who had most of the Old Testament memorized, and He is playing them when He asks, “Have you not read?”

See, the Pharisees felt that they had figured out faith, that they had even figured out God.  They were arrogant and so they stopped listening.  We too can imagine that we have many things figured out.

We have relationships figured out.  We have parenting figured out.  We have finances figured out.  We have our list of needs figured out.   We have the future figured out.  And when we believe this, not even God can tell us we are wrong.

When was the last time God told us that we are wrong about something very important?  Are we still listening?

Son of Mary, Savior of the World

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

– Matthew 1:16

In the world’s eyes, Jesus is the illegitimate child of an unwed, teenage mother. Mary and Joseph are from Nazareth, a backwater town. They are poor and very likely uneducated. The names of Jesus’s ancestors from Joseph to several generations prior include no one of any particular importance.

This is unexpected. One would expect the King of Glory to have a royal lineage. Another surprise in Jesus’s lineage is the inclusion of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. What do these people have in common?

They are all women? Sure, they are all women but other Old Testament genealogies include women. They are all sinners? Sure, but there are certainly plenty of other sinners in the genealogy.

The thing that is completely unexpected, especially for a Jewish Messiah, is that all four are Gentiles. Tamar and Rahab are Canaanites. Ruth is a Moabite. Bathsheba is the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

In verse one, Matthew calls Jesus the “son of Abraham.” When God spoke to Abraham, His promise was that through Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

When Jesus is born into the world, He is the son of Mary whose ancestors are Gentiles (people traditionally believed to be cut off from God). This Jesus is not only the Messiah of Israel or the Christ of Western culture, but the Savior of the world!

Son of David, King of Glory

[1] The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…

[6] and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah

– Matthew 1:1, 6

King David was the greatest King in Israel’s history. He was a warrior who destroyed their enemies and brought peace and prosperity to the nation. Matthew shows David honor in calling Jesus the son of David. Yet at the same time, Matthew draws attention to David’s failures.

In verse 6, Matthew points out that Solomon is the son of David and the wife of Uriah. This is an odd introduction, something along the lines of “this is Tom who beats his wife” or “this is Rachel who cheats on her taxes.” Matthew could have named Solomon’s mother as Bathsheba but he makes certain that we understand that David unlawfully took another man’s wife. Even the greatest king of Israel was a sinner and a failure.

In verses 7-11, Matthew lists the kings of Israel after David, from Solomon to Jechoniah and the kings get worse and worse. There are a couple good kings like Hezekiah and Josiah but many more terrible kings. Ahaz burned his son as an offering to false gods. Manasseh filled the temple with altars to Baal and other demons. Things have gotten so bad by the time of Jechoniah that God sends the nation into exile. As a whole, the kings are one sorry disappointment after another.

We too spend most of our lives serving disappointing kings. Perhaps our “king” is pleasure, money, or prestige. These kings promise us the world but turn out to be ugly disappointments. These kings cannot save us or give us life.

In contrast to the ugliness of earthly kings, Matthew presents to us King Jesus. He is the eternal Son of God who washes the dirty feet of wicked people. He is the voice who spoke the world into being yet He knows our names. Jesus is the God who comes to save us, whose justice, holiness, mercy and steadfast love is more radiant than a million suns. He is the king we have been waiting for.

Dining with Real Sinners

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Brennan Manning

jesus-eats-with-sinners[10] And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. [11] And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” [12] But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [13] Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

– Matthew 9:10-13

At the cross, Jesus unmasks the sinner not only as a beggar but as a criminal before God.

The sinners to whom Jesus directed His messianic ministry were not those who skipped morning devotions or Sunday church.  His ministry was to those whom society considered real sinners.  They had done nothing to merit salvation.  Yet they opened themselves to the gift that was offered them.  On the other hand, the self-righteous placed their trust in the works of the Law and closed their hearts to the message of grace.

If Jesus appeared at your dining room table tonight with knowledge of everything you are and are not, total comprehension of your life story and every skeleton hidden in your closet; if He laid out the real state of your present discipleship with the hidden agenda, the mixed motives, and the dark desires buried in your psyche, you would feel His acceptance and forgiveness.  For “experiencing God’s love in Jesus Christ means experiencing that one has been unreservedly accepted, approved and infinitely loved, that one can and should accept oneself and one’s neighbor.  Salvation is joy in God which expresses itself in joy in and with one’s neighbor” [Walter Kasper].

Matthew the Publican

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Brennan Manning

It is interesting that whenever the evangelists Mark, Luke, or John mention the apostles, they call the author of the first Gospel either Levi or Matthew.  But in his own Gospel, he always refers to himself as ‘Matthew the publican,’ never wanting to forget who he was and always wanting to remember how low Jesus stooped to pick him up.