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Second Quarter 2016 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF MATTHEW
Week 7: May 7–13
COMMENTARY ON LORD OF JEWS AND GENTILES
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).
This weeks lesson covers Matthew 14 and 15 and uses these miracles of Jesus to make the pain that He is Lord not only of Jews but also of gentiles.
Today’s lesson introduces the week’s study and ends by saying, “It was through Israel, or more specifically through the Messiah who would arise from Israel, that God would reach out to the whole world. This week we’ll see a little more of the Lord’s outreach to all in need of salvation.”
This introduction rightly points out that Jesus’ ministry included significant revelations of Himself to gentiles, but it manages to diminish the biblical significance of Jesus as the Perfect Israel. Moreover, it diminishes the fully divine identity of Jesus by speaking of “the Lord’s outreach to all in need of salvation.”
The Lord didn’t come and do “outreach” to needy people. He came as the revelation of God’s grace and mercy; He came to be our Substitute and Sacrifice and to reveal Himself as the Lord and Creator in who power all creation holds together and to whom it must respond.
No, Jesus was not a messenger sent to reach out to the world. He was sent as the foreordained Sacrifice for human sin. He came to bear sin and be crucified, to reconcile the world to the Father. His ministry was not about human suffering and need. It was about becoming the spotless sacrifice which would restore life to the hopelessly dead people—including you and me—who are born in the world.
Jesus was not a bringer of relief; He was the Life-giver. He didn’t do outreach to cajole the ignorant and suffering and resistant. He came to take judgment into Himself and to restore life to a dead race, to forgive sin and to be the Sacrifice in whose name all might approach God.
Today’s lesson covers the feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children) as recorded in Matthew 14:1-21. The lesson points out that John the Baptist was beheaded right before this feeding. It suggests that his disciples were undoubtedly discouraged and suffered flagging faith. The feeding of the 5,000 would have given them a great boost.
The lesson then quotes Jon Paulien’s commentary relating the Jewish tradition that the Messiah would come on a Passover and that manna would begin to fall again when He came. The crowds were ready to make Jesus king at this point, but He would refuse and disappoint them. Many would turn away from Him, “even though He had come to do so much more than what their narrow and worldly expectations were.” Then the lesson asks, “In what ways might your expectations of what you expect from God be too narrow?”
Once again the lesson manages to eclipse the divinity and prophetic fulfillment of the work of the Lord Jesus and make the lesson’s focus on the personal experience of the reader.
While it is true that the Jewish tradition did say that the Messiah would come with manna, the lesson does miss the fact that this idea came with the belief in Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15:
“the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
The Jews were expecting the Messiah, and they believed that He would come speaking like Moses, God’s great prophet who ushered in the Mosaic covenant. They believed that, as part of His being like Moses, He would bring manna for the people as Moses’ prayers for them had done.
Jesus intentionally fed the people, in this case a crowd of Jews, knowing it would cause them to wonder if he were the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy. The manna had symbolized Jesus in the very beginning; it was a symbol of the Bread of Life by which God would sustain all of His people by His own powerful hand. Jesus took the Bread of Life symbolism even further, showing the means by which He was distributing the bread of life: He blessed the bread and had the disciples feed the people. He provided enough bread for everyone plus twelve baskets of leftovers.
In this way the gospel would go, first to Jerusalem and Judea, and then to Samaria and to the rest of the world. The Lord Jesus IS the Bread of Life and the Source of spiritual life and our rebirth. His disciples would take that gospel of the Lord Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection to the world, and countless people would receive the Bread of Life and become believers in Him and be sustained.
This miracle of Jesus has almost nothing to do with His meeting their physical needs except that He took the opportunity of the crowd’s physical hunger to provide what they needed as He also revealed His identity: only the Creator of all physical matter could multiply bread and fish. Only the Lord God Almighty could do a life-sustaining miracle that also fulfilled the prophetic word of the great prophet Moses.
Jesus, as the Prophet like Moses who was to come, did bring bread—both physical bread and the Bread of Life. Not only that, but He fulfilled all prophecy and the Law and, just as Moses mediated Israel’s covenant on Sinai, the Lord Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant in His blood. He took all the symbols of Moses and lived them out in their true meanings. He became the Reality to which their shadows had pointed. He became the true Bread—not the one who asked God to send bread. He became the living Law, the completer and fulfiller of all the Old Covenant shadows. He did not just mediate a covenant between God and the people, as Moses had done, but He was the One of whom God had said,
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:6-9).
Jesus IS the covenant, the new covenant, who keeps us safe in God’s presence. And just as the Jews missed the true significance of this miracle Jesus did for them, so the Adventist quarterly has missed the significance, even with the benefit of hindsight, of the reality of Jesus’ identity and provision.
This miracle is not for the purpose of our asking how our expectations are too narrow. It is for the purpose of convincing us of the true identity of the Lord Jesus. He is Almighty God the Son who came to die for us, to become sin for us, and to give our spirits new birth because He has broken the bonds of death.
Today’s lesson again misses the point and morphs the lesson’s focus into how the reader needs to think about his helplessness and find his dependence upon Jesus because He controlled the storm. This miracle, however, is not for the purpose of giving us an object lesson or a moral teaching. It’s not even for the purpose of instructing us to contemplate our hopelessness.
While realizing our true nature is a natural consequence of hearing the Scripture preached and taught rightly, the point of these stories is not about US relating to them. They are there to show us the truth about Jesus and Who He is.
Jesus sent His disciples out to the Sea of Galilee after He had fed the 5,000. He sent them out on purpose, knowing in advance that they would find themselves in the middle of a life-threatening storm. They were not in the storm because they had disobeyed God’s will or had done something wrong. They were acting in obedience, but the storm came and threatened to drown them. Jesus SENT them into the storm. They went out obediently and found themselves in mortal danger.
Jesus’ appearance walking toward them on the water was intended to catch them off guard and to reveal to them that He was more powerful than the threatening waves. He literally walked on the water—a feat that would be impossible for the disciples in calm situations—but Jesus walked on impossibly rough water. He identified Himself as the I Am, and he told the storm to stop. Jesus did demonstrate by this that He was in charge of the water and of all creation. He is the God who made all things and in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17).
Jesus had ultimate authority over nature—and He also had the authority to allow Peter to walk on the water as well. Peter became afraid; His faith failed, but Jesus did not fail. He pulled Peter up and restored him.
The lesson makes the story of Peter into a morality tale; “Peter’s helplessness in that situation reflects our own in the face of what our fallen world throws at us.”
This statement misses the point completely. First, Peter’s fall was not simply helplessness in a fallen world’s temptations. Peter had just witnessed a miracle revealing Jesus’ identity, and he had walked out to Jesus, participating in yet another miracle. Jesus’ divine power allowed Peter to walk on the water as well. Peter was not in the middle of “fallenness” or temptation to worldly distractions; He was obeying Jesus and walking toward Him on top of water.
Peter’s internal fear and doubt, however, caused him to believe the laws of nature had more power over him than Jesus’ personal authority had over him, and he fell. Jesus was not surprised by Peter’s fall; Jesus immediately stretched out His hand when Peter cried out to Him and asked him why he had doubted.
When Peter and Jesus returned to the boat—walking on water—all the disciples worshiped Him and said, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Mt. 14:33).
Once again, Jesus was revealing His true identity to the apostles. Jesus’ ministry was not just a process of doing good to needy crowds; He was training His apostles to become the leaders of the church which His death and resurrection and Pentecost would launch. He needed them to know without doubt who He was, and He was showing them personally that He fulfilled every attribute of God articulated in the Old Testament.
Jesus wasn’t just showing his men that He had power to help them. He was bringing them into His story and revealing to them His true, eternal identity. They had to know they were the chosen apostles of the Lord God who was bringing salvation into the world. They were being equipped by their own Creator to tell the world the truth about Jesus and about His finished work.
Today’s lesson covers Matthew 15:1-20 and reduces this seminal passage into a lesson against hypocrisy. Not surprisingly, the lesson entirely misses the episode at the heart of this passage: Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees for their obsession with eating bread with unwashed hands.
Jesus responds by taking the food issue far past the rabbinic requirement that hands must be washed before putting any food in the mouth. He says in verses 10-11:
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:10-11).
Jesus says more here than the fact that unwashed hands do not defile food. He states that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person. In fact, Jesus is very clearly NOT addressing merely the rabbis’ objection to unwashed hands. He is stating that nothing that goes into the mouth defiles a man—not pork, bacon, shellfish, eggs, or cheese.
The passage continues:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:12-20).
Jesus puts food in its proper perspective: it is not permanent in a person, and it does not leave contaminants behind. Food is digested and expelled. It cannot defile a man. Evil, however, flows out of the natural heart of man. These things defile people.
The parallel passage to this one found in Mark 7:18-23:
And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:18-23).
Jesus clearly declared all foods clean. In this situation, before Jesus went to the cross, He was teaching His disciples that the ritual laws against unclean food were being made obsolete. He was declaring directly that the foods themselves were not able to make people unclean. God had not forbidden the “unclean meats” because they were intrinsically defiling or unhealthy. The prohibition against unclean foods had been a prohibition against socializing with gentile unbelievers whose paganism would entice His people and defile their purity which God ordained to protect the holy Seed from which Jesus would come.
Now, however, Jesus was doing something new. He was fulfilling the law, and the ritual laws had no more application when Jesus was involved, because Jesus embodied the reality to which the ritual laws pointed. The food prohibitions which kept Jews separated from gentiles were being removed, because in Jesus there was a new Source of life and protection. Jesus Himself was becoming the safeguard that protected His people from unbelievers. No longer would they have to abstain from unclean foods, because those foods were not intrinsically unclean. They had no power to make people sick any more than did any other food.
Rather, Jesus and His Spirit would protect His people from the unbelieving world. Moreover, Jesus would separate His people out of the world; He would actually send them INTO the world—but not to fraternize with the world. They were going into the world to bring the news of Life—the new birth available when people believed in Jesus. Jesus would be the great divide between believers and unbelievers, not food. Jesus would be the protection that would keep His people from being defiled by the sins of the unbelieving world.
In fact, in teaching His disciples that no food could make them unclean—and by declaring all foods clean, Jesus was preparing His disciples for another miracle which He was about to do: the feeding of the 4,000 people, mostly gentiles, in the region of the Decapolis, predominately gentile territory (Mark 7:31). The placement of this teaching and the telling of the feeding of the 4,000 occurs within the same chapter. Jesus was preparing His disciples for their ministry to gentiles, and He was helping them understand that they would not only preach to gentiles but also eat with them. They would have to be able to eat with gentiles—itself an “unclean” activity—as well as to ingest gentile food. They were now going to have to socialize with gentiles for the purpose of evangelism, and Jesus was pushing His disciples to do these things with Him present, teaching them to do God’s will from a whole new perspective: with Jesus, not the law, as the focus and central authority of their lives.
Jesus—the law’s Fulfillment—was the One to whom they must listen.
In today’s lesson Jesus heals the gentile woman’s demon-possessed daughter (see Matthew 15:21-28). This miracle came after Jesus had instructed the disciples that no food can make them unclean, but that hypocrisy and moral evil flow out from the heart, making them unclean. Now Jesus directly confronts them with the first implication of this teaching: he is approached by a gentile woman pleading with Him to heal her daughter.
Jesus’ disciples responded in a typically Jewish way; they begged Jesus to send her away. She was a nuisance; she was upsetting, she was a gentile, and she was a woman.
Jesus, however, spoke to her. He reminds her that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. The woman understood, and she showed her own submission to God’s revealed will by comparing herself to the household dogs that gobbled up the crumbs under the children’s table. She was not attempting to place herself on an equal footing with the Jews; she was willing to own her true position but said she was willing to receive the leftover crumbs of Jesus’ mercy.
Jesus said, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 15:28). In front of the disciples, with His teaching about the cleanness of all foods fresh in their minds, Jesus called this gentile woman’s faith great and granted her request. He did not send her away as the law said he should have. Rather, He granted her respect and honored her faith just as He would have responded to a believing Jewish man.
Today’s lesson focusses on the feeding of the 4,000 which occurred in largely gentile territory. Jesus had already prepared his disciples for this event by having the discussion about food’s not being able to make them unclean or defiled. Jesus carried out this feeding similarly to the way He carried out the feeding of the 5,000 in Jewish territory. Once again He blessed and provided the symbolic Bread of Life which pointed to Himself as the true Bread from Heaven. This miracle served the same function as it had the first time: to emphasize that He was the Lord God, the Creator and Sustainer of all creation. He alone could make bread out of nothing, and He alone could provide the Living Bread that would grant them eternal life.
Once again He had the disciples distribute the bread and fish. And once again there was food left over.
Jesus was preparing His disciples for the work of taking the gospel to the world which they would be equipped and commanded to do after His resurrection and ascension. He was walking with them through training events where they were serving and sharing a meal with gentiles—all for the purpose not of becoming worldly but of sharing the truth of the gospel with them.
The issue wasn’t that the disciples had to learn God was interested in the affairs of gentiles. Once again, this notion is missing the point. Jesus was never “concerned” with human affairs for the sake of working out people’s differences or meeting their needs. Rather, He was concerned about God’s will. God’s will is that all men would know Him and the truth of their own sin and His provision for their salvation.
Jesus’ miracles were never about human need per se. Always they were about confirming His own identity so people would trust Him and believe. Moreover, His provision for believers is His promise as their Savior and as our status as His brothers, adopted sons and daughters of the Father. God keeps His promises to us as members of His own family.
The gospel and the Lord Jesus aren’t primarily about US. Rather, the gospel is about the Lord Jesus providing what we need in order to be rescued from ourselves, depraved, sinful people condemned to eternal death unless we believe (Jn. 3:18).
Friday’s lesson again reveals the mindset of the author: Adventists are the current, true Israel. In fact, the Bible is clear that such a thing is not possible. Adventists do not teach the biblical gospel; they cannot be replacement Israel without the true gospel. Moreover, Israel is still Israel; believing gentiles are ushered into the church as are believing Jews now. The church, however, is never called the new Israel. We are God’s true people, but we do not replace Israel.
Jesus did not come to distribute moral lessons and to set examples of inclusivity. Rather, He came to give His life so condemned humanity may live.
Jesus came to do accomplish four things (borrowed from the conclusion of Gary Inrig’s sermon at Redeemer Fellowship on Sunday, May 8, 2016):