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Second Quarter 2016 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF MATTHEW
Week 4: April 16–22
COMMENTARY ON FAITH AND HEALING
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Today’s introduction to the week’s lessons makes the case that God cares more about our eternal lives than our physical ones. It sets the stage for the week by establishing that the “plan of salvation did not spare us from earthly sickness and earthly death.” Bearing this thought in mind, the lesson seeks to find “lessons about faith” that can be derived from three stories of healing found in Matthew.
From the first day’s lesson, the author misses the point that Jesus’ hearings were not just object lessons and events that happened along with the recipients’ spiritual healing, sort-of like a bonus event. Jesus’ hearings were signs of His identity. He was fulfilling the Scriptures which foretold that the Messiah would come making the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to live. They also foretold that the Messiah would bring cleansing from sin, be a Sacrifice, and bear our griefs and wounds and sins.
Jesus’ hearings were not examples to us. They have no bearing whatsoever on establishing a “health message”. Rather, they were signs that He was God in His own right. He could not be defiled by human sickness and death. Ritual law did not bind Him, because He fulfilled the ritual law. He brought life and health where people had sickness and death. He could not be made unclean by people’s uncleanness because He was utterly sinless.
Jesus’ hearings were not “lessons”. His ministry cannot be reduced to moral stories of good examples. Jesus’ ministry was unique and revealed who He was to the nation who was looking for Him—and missed Him.
Today’s lesson deals with Jesus’ cleansing of the leper in Matthew 8:1-4. The lesson’s point is two-fold: the leprosy represents our sin, and Jesus is not afraid to draw close to the worst sinner who is willing to be forgiven. The lesson ends with a challenge to the reader: Whom do you know who has figurative “leprosy”—anything repugnant and horrible that you don’t want to touch? How does Jesus’ example show us how to treat those people?
The story of Jesus is not an example to us. Moreover, while we can extrapolate that sin is as horrific (actually more horrific) than leprosy and Jesus will forgive us, that lesson is not the primary point of this miracle, either.
When Jesus not only cleansed but touched the leper, He broke the ritual law. He performed an act that the law declared would make him unclean and have to leave the fellowship of other Jews. He would not be allowed in the synagogue unless He first performed the legally mandated cleansing and sacrifices required in Leviticus for people who were unclean because of touching an unclean person.
However, when Jesus touched the leper, He was showing that the levitical law had no hold on Him. Its restrictions did not apply because He was the reality to which the law pointed. He had LIFE in Him. He could not be made unclean because He was Creator God. When Jesus touched an unclean person, He imparted health and life because He was the Messiah. No disease or contagion could affect Him or make Him unclean. He was showing that He was the Messiah, and He was the Promised One who could overrule the law and do what the law could not do: reverse the processes of nature and bring life and health to sinful men and women.
These miracles of Jesus’ were not examples. They were not demonstrating how to build a Health Message. They were not moral lessons designed to make us act how we can react to people who are “unpleasant”. They were revealing Jesus’ identity and His role as the fulfilled of the shadows of the law. They were not bringing Him down to show us how to be like Him. They were exalting Him, showing us that only He can do what He did. We cannot mimic Him. We can only submit and believe.
Today’s lesson is about Jesus healing the Roman centurion's servant from a distance. The real point of this miracle was that Jesus recognized in the centurion greater faith than He had seen anywhere in Israel. He even said that at the feast in the Father’s kingdom, many would come from the east and west to eat.
His reference was to the nations, the unclean gentiles. The chosen people who had the oracles of God were not recognizing who He was. A man from a pagan background was quicker to see the truth about Jesus and trusted Him. Jesus was foreshadowing the imminent spread of the gospel among the gentiles and the fact that many would believe and be seated with Him in His Father’s kingdom.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this lesson is the twice-mentioned notion that Adventists are “greatly privileged” and need to take notice of Jesus’ warning about not having faith. The lesson ends with a question about what the reader can do to make his or her faith grow.
The lesson assumes that Adventists are privileged, in much the same way the Jews were privileged. It is not stated, but the suggestion is there that Adventists have the “Sabbath truth” and the Health message, the belief in soul sleep and annihilation, and these special understandings make the privileged.
In reality, Adventist does not have the gospel. Their privilege is only imagined, a self-made label that they wear with pride to hide their embarrassment of their being “different”.
Adventists are akin not the privileged Jews but to the nations, the unwashed masses of gentiles who the Jews despised. Adventists do not have the gospel; they have a false prophet and a false god—the god of the Sabbath which they call eternal, which they say even God honors.
Without the true gospel, that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again on the third day, ascending and sending the Holy Spirit to seal everyone who places their complete trust in the risen Jesus, they are more underprivileged than the unchurched. Adventists believe they have more than normal Christians, that they have the full truth which Christianity has failed to grasp.
In reality, this belief is a self-deception. Adventism needs the gospel, and Adventists need Jesus alone.
In the story of Jesus healing the demoniacs, Jesus drove demons out of two men who were extremely violent and living among the tombs. The demons begged Jesus not to destroy them before the appointed time, and He sent them into a herd of pigs. The pigs promptly went berserk and jumped off a cliff, dying in the sea.
The story makes the point that the demons knew Jesus’ true identity and called Him “Son of God”. Only God has authority over angels, either fallen or elect, and Jesus exercised authority over those demons. Again, this miracle demonstrated who He was.
The lesson even makes a tangential point of saying He drove the demons into unclean pigs. Many Adventists have a sense of that transfer of demons into swine is related to the fact that the swine were “unclean”. Nevertheless, the Bible does not make that point. They were not unclean for the gentiles.
The lesson also seeks to moralize this story, creating a parallel between the demoniacs and “the destructive condition that Satan desires for God’s children.”
This designation is confusing, because biblically God’s children are those who have believed in the Lord Jesus and received the indwelling Holy Spirit as His guarantee that their future is secure. God’s adopted children are not able to be indwelt by demons because they have been filled with the presence of God Himself.
This story is not a moral. It is a demonstration of Jesus’ identity, His power over evil, and His valuing of humanity whose image He shares. It is not a lesson for us. Rather, it is a compelling revelation of Jesus’ power and identity, and it calls us to humble ourselves and bow before Him. We can’t create faith or fix our lives. We can only believe the Lord Jesus and accept His sacrifice for our sin and repent before Him.
Today’s lesson deals with the story in Matthew 9:1-8 of the man whose friends let him down through the roof of a building so Jesus could heal him. The lesson again moralizes, asking what great hope we should take for ourselves regarding forgiveness, and it reminds us that our physical sufferings are always only temporary; “why is it crucial that we never forget this truth?”
The lesson makes the point that the healed man had an internal faith to be spiritually healed, and it even quotes EGW stating that Jesus could see his deep desire for forgiveness and peace with Heaven. The idea is that the man desired to be right with God, and this desire trumped the desire for physical healing.
The Bible simply does not state this idea. It does say that when Jesus saw THEIR faith—the faith of the man’s friends and also of the man, he told him his sins were forgiven.
The story further states that the scribes in attendance were mumbling that Jesus was blaspheming by declaring sins forgiven. The lesson doesn’t even address the fact that Jesus, “knowing their thoughts said, ‘Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say “your sins are forgiven,” or to say “get up” and walk”?’”
Ellen White taught that Jesus could not “read thoughts” but was a very good observer. This passage completely negates her teaching that Jesus couldn’t read thoughts because He had no advantage that we do not have. He clearly knew what was in the heart of man (Jn. 2:24-25), and He definitely did have advantages over us. Had He not, He could not have been our Savior.
Finally, this story is not a moral about learning to value eternal life more than physical health and life. Rather, it is a story demonstrating that healing a man’s legs requires exactly the same power as forgiving his sins—and that power is power that only God has. No man could heal someone’s legs; no man could forgive his sins. Only God could—and Jesus was God the Son. He was not a diminutive God who had different attributes from the Father. He possesses all the fullness of deity in His human body (Col. 2:9).
Today’s lesson from Matthew 8:18-22 includes the story of the man who wanted to follow Jesus but who wanted to bury his father first, and Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury their own dead.”
The lesson states that some commentators (unnamed) say that since Jews put such a high priority on honoring parents and taking care of giving them a proper burial, this section of the Scripture simply means not that the man’s father was dead but that he was saying, “Let me get everything settled with my family; then I’ll follow you.” Hence Jesus’ response.
Interestingly, the lesson does not name the commentators. In contrast, both the study notes in the NASB Study Bible and in the ESV Study Bible explain the message the plain reading of Scripture gives. The Jews and Jesus DID give high priority to honoring parents. Nevertheless, the demand to follow Jesus and to make that one’s top priority took precedent even over one’s family obligations. “Let the spiritually dead bury the dead,” is how Jesus’ words can be understood. Those who do not have the call of God on their lives to follow Jesus can take care of burials.
In addition, Jesus is making it clear that the loyalty to Him and to the spiritual family in Him takes priority over the family that is still in the domain of darkness. The lesson completely misses these realities.
Friday’s lesson sets up a speculative situation asking comparing a secular opinion about life and death with Jesus’ words, “Let the dead bury their own dead” and concluding, “He was trying to point the man to a reality greater than what this world, in and of itself, offered.”
This analysis of Jesus’ words reveals the Adventist lack of understanding the gospel and the miracle of new birth and trust in Christ. There is absolutely no way to understand Jesus’ teachings and meanings apart from submitting to the whole counsel of Scripture and acknowledging that one is born dead.
Adventists are not privileged; they do not have “the truth”. In fact, they are seriously deceived. They believe that the gospel of Jesus’ death is just a part of the whole reality. They teach that keeping the commandments, especially honoring the Sabbath, is part of the gospel.
It is not.
Unless one deals with the Lord Jesus, doing what He identified as “the work of God” (Jn. 6:29) and believing in Him, he will flounder around in his own spiritual death trying desperately to do the works he thinks God requires. No good works; no sincere observances will bring him any credit for salvation. The only way a person can gain eternal life is to agree with God about his own sin and believe in the Lord Jesus’ completed atonement on the cross.
Once a person believes, he then is made alive and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is transferred out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son. THEN he can begin to live by the Spirit and allow Him to apply Scripture to his life. Only then will he realize that the Lord Jesus IS the Sabbath rest the fourth commandments foreshadowed.
Unless a person trusts Christ for everything in his life, including forgiveness and life itself, no amount of discussion of doctrines and teachings is helpful. It is just so much intellectual massaging, and it yields exactly nothing of eternal value.
Only believing in Jesus, trusting His completed work, and being born again counts for anything. This reality is what changes one’s entire life and worldview. The Bible is a completely new book once a person is born again and believing in Jesus.
I urge you, reader, to take Jesus seriously and trust Him. Read the excerpt below, Ephesians 1 and 2:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.