The Gospel of Matthew ended with a commission for the Church. Jesus charged his church (through the apostles) to go to the ends of the earth, making disciples of all nations. The Greek word that we translate into English as “nations” is “ethne”, which is related to our word “ethnic.” This can help us to see that Jesus is not primarily thinking of political boundaries when he sends them to the nations, but ethnic boundaries. At other places in the Bible, the words “tribe, and people, and language, and nation” (Rev 13:7) are used roughly as synonyms to show that all sorts of people groups are being brought into the kingdom. Practically speaking, for the early church this meant that even when they stayed within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, they had to cross social and language barriers to accomplish their mission.
In the Book of Acts, we begin with another reference to the final words of Jesus. This is another way of looking at the same mission. The Church will be sent as witnesses for the risen Lord Jesus, to "Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In many ways, these four geographic labels represent an outward expansion of the church across increasingly high cultural barriers. This outward expansion will also serve as a summary of the flow of action in the book of Acts. The books starts in Jerusalem, then persecution forces the church to scatter “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). But doing this means that a social/religious barrier needs to be crossed in ministry to the Samaritans. Paul will be particularly active in taking the Gospel to the “ends of the earth” in his various missionary travels. As we shall see, this provides all sorts of difficult ministry challenges as Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) enter the church together. Then book of Acts ends with Paul doing ministry in Rome (albeit under house arrest). He is located at the center of the Roman Empire which is the hub of travel in the known world. Here, he is well positioned to carry out this ministry to every group of people that come through the capital city.
But how will this infant church complete this mission? Without money, influence or political power, how will they make disciples of all nations? The answer is that Jesus will do it, through the power of the Holy Spirit. He promised to be with his church in their ministry (Matt 28:20), and while is not physically present after his ascension into heaven, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit on the Church, who acts as his agent. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be with the church, and we will be empowered to complete the task of discipling the nations. This is the particular emphasis that we see when the Holy Spirit is first poured out on the church. The Apostles are supernaturally empowered to preach the gospel in a way that crosses language boundaries. Although all of the first converts were Jewish, they had been drawn to Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival, and had come from their homes across the Roman Empire. When the Holy Spirit descended, the apostles were empowered to speak in such a way that each person heard the sermon “in his own native language” (v. 2:8). This was to fulfill the words of the prophet Joel that old prophecies were being fulfilled, that the last era of world history (“the last days”) had begun and that the doors of salvation were to be flung open to every group of people on earth – “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (v.2:21.) The gospel promises to Abraham – that every family on earth would be blessed through the descendant of Abraham had found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Reflect: God gives the Holy Spirit to empower us for the great task of disciple-making. Do we see that as our “great task?” Do we see God’s power available to help us in this?
Connect: Notice how the sermons of the apostles are grounded so much in the Old Testament Scriptures. (Of course, at this time, they didn’t yet think of this as the “Old” Testament, since the New Testament was in process of being produced. They simply thought of this as the “Scriptures.”) In this first sermon, Peter cites Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110. In particular, they saw the pattern of Christ on many OT stories and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of many psalms and prophecies. From their point of view, the work of redemption in Jesus was continuous with the work of redemption that God had been doing ever since he first clothed Adam and Even in the garden. They certainly picked up this pattern from Jesus himself who showed how all of the Scriptures pointed to him and his work of salvation. Consider the words of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
Luke 24:25-27 And [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
He is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Jesus said He would be resurrected from the dead, and it actually came to pass! I’m not sure how many people historians would say lived previously to Jesus…estimates would probably vary widely. But I’m pretty sure they would all agree that death had claimed each and every one of them (minus Enoch and Elijah), and that none had returned. But the grave could not hold Jesus. The resurrected Jesus met His disciples, and they most appropriately fell down at His feet and worshipped Him! And upon the 11 disciples meeting Him in Galilee, Jesus, with all authority, commissioned them with the familiar words of The Great Commission. Go. Make disciples. Baptize. Teach them to observe my commandments. It’s no small task, but thankfully, they wouldn’t be alone as they did it. Jesus assured them that He would always be with them, and He is, to this very day, with His disciples as they take His Good News to the nations!
Matthew makes sure to point out that even some of Jesus’ 11 disciples, upon seeing Him in the flesh, still doubted (28:16). What doubts do you have about the Christian faith? Jesus commanded “doubting” Thomas to literally press his fingers into Jesus’ nail-scarred hands and pierced side, encouraging Thomas to “not disbelieve, but believe (John 20:27).” Press into Jesus with those doubts, praying as you do, “I believe; help my unbelief (Mark 9:24),” and confessing Jesus as “my LORD and my God! (John 20:28).”
When you think about the Resurrected Christ, and that one day you’ll see Him with your very own eyes, what thoughts run through your mind? This wonderful knowledge was enough to make Job’s heart faint within him. How about yours?
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 26 - 27
Matthew’s Gospel moves briskly up until the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At that point, it slows down considerably, giving us more and more detail as we move closer to Jesus’ death. Due to these intentional narrative choices, we get much more than we would have otherwise with regard to the thickening plot to take Jesus’ life. We see up close and personal Jesus’ strong desire to take the Passover one last time with His disciples, where He transforms it into the LORD’s Supper. We learn of a woman’s costly devotion to her LORD in anointing Him with extremely expensive perfume oil (John 12:3 identifies this woman as Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha). We see Judas’ betrayal with a kiss (and later the tragic taking of His own life). We learn of Peter’s denials, of Jesus’ closest disciples too sleepy for the most intense prayer meeting ever held, and of Jesus’ disciples writ-large fleeing upon His arrest. We learn significant proceedings of the most unjust trial ever conducted, wherein Jesus was condemned to die. So, He did just that, in the most excruciating fashion. Jesus went to the cross willingly, was abandoned by His Father, died a disgraceful criminal’s death, and was laid in an empty tomb.
Reflect: Have you ever wondered why Jesus was abandoned by His Father? Why there was no response when Jesus cried out to the Father with those famous words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was abandoned by the Father in our place, because it’s what we deserve. And because He was abandoned for us when He cried out, when we cry out, despite what it might feel like at times, the Father will never abandon us. He hears your cries, and the Father will never turn His back on you.
Connect: Clearly the words of Psalm 22 were on Jesus mind at His crucifixion. Take a few moments to meditate on Psalm 22, thanking God that Jesus was abandoned in your place, so that you might never be abandoned by the Father.
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 24 - 25
Jesus said the unthinkable. The temple, God’s dwelling place among His people, would be destroyed once again. The disciples, in disbelief, come to Jesus as he’s seated on the Mount of Olives (hence the name “Olivet Discourse”), asking when. So, Jesus begins to tell them. Some of His words seem to be clearly describing the destruction of the temple, which history tells us took place at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD. Others, however, seem to be describing events that have yet to take place. Biblical scholars have shed volumes of ink on this passage, seeking to understand which texts fall into which category. What we can probably say safely is that not everything in Matthew 24-25 took place at the destruction of Jerusalem, and avoid the extreme of seeing these as entirely past events. What we can also probably say safely is that some of these events did occur in 70 AD, and avoid the extreme of seeing these as entirely future events, yet to be fulfilled.
In light of Matthew 24:34, where Jesus says “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” I find it hard to argue literarily that the preceding verses in chapter 24 are not describing the destruction of Jerusalem, as that’s the direct question Jesus was answering. At some point beyond this, however, Jesus seems to transition into talking about His 2nd Coming. I find it very hard to argue that Jesus’ 2nd Coming is not the subject of the last portion of chapter 25 (verses 31-46). As for what’s in between, it’s often harder to tell with a high degree of certainty, so scholars seem to go one way or another. As an alternative to trying to fit everything neatly into one of these two categories, some scholars have seen these chapters as describing primarily the judgment of Jerusalem in 70 AD, yet that judgment being a type or forerunner of the final judgment upon Jesus’ return. By this line of thinking, it’s only fitting that the language often goes beyond what would take place just 40 years later, to describe the events of Jesus’ return at His 2nd Coming. Confused? It’s a lot, I know. Thankfully, Pastor Matt can answer all of your questions about it after service this Sunday!
Reflect: Despite the challenging nature of this passage with respect to timing, the parables Jesus teaches here nonetheless seem to give us significant lessons about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus would have His followers ready and waiting for His return; Jesus would have His disciples putting to use the gracious talents they’ve been entrusted with; and Jesus would have His servants loving their neighbors, especially those society so often overlooks. How might the Lord be calling you to engage more wholeheartedly in one or all of these areas? Ask the LORD, by His grace, to help you to walk more faithfully in that regard .
Connect: Although we most certainly glean something of Jesus’ 2nd Coming in the Olivet Discourse, the clearest teaching about the judgment that will occur on that last Day is found in the book of Revelation. Praise the LORD that each and every one of His children’s names are written in the book of life, and they thus have nothing to fear in the judgment that awaits.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 21 - 23
Today’s reading begins and ends with significant events centered on Jesus in Jerusalem. To start, Jesus enters into Jerusalem via His Triumphal Entry, riding on a donkey and fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. By the end of chapter 23, Jesus is lamenting over the city of Jerusalem, for their refusal to come to Him. Many often wonder, how could things have started off so well, yet ended up so poorly? The answer is perhaps they didn’t start off as well as they appear. Why exactly were the crowds so excited as Jesus entered into Jerusalem? Was it because they knew Jesus came to die for their sins, or did they still expect Him to fulfill their long-awaited desire for an anointed king to overthrow the oppressive Roman government? It appears to be the latter, as many in this crowd would not only abandon Jesus as the week progressed, but outright ask for His crucifixion. Much of Jesus’ last week of earthly ministry is thus filled with great conflict, from His cleansing of the temple, to the teaching of many challenging parables, to Jesus pronouncing seven woes on the Jewish religious leaders. But it’s also filled with great grace, as we see Jesus continue to shepherd His flock, healing the blind and the lame.
Reflect: Many have said there are only two things that are certain in this life: death & taxes. Jesus had much to say about both. When asked about paying taxes to Caesar (22:15-22), Jesus, using a Roman coin to make His point, asked the simplest of questions: “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” The answer was obvious, so Jesus said give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to challenge His hearers to also give “to God the things that are God’s.” If Caesar is the owner of things made in his image, and we should give those to Caesar, then an argument from the lesser to the greater implies that God is the owner of things made in His image, and we should give those to Him. So, what is made in God’s image? You are. Take a moment to reflect on the ways you may not be giving God what rightfully belongs to Him. Confess, thank God for His mercy, and ask God for the grace to help you more fully give yourself to Him.
Connect: The Bible, from beginning to end, declares that we are made in God’s image. Although the Fall marred that image, it did not destroy it altogether. And God, by His grace, is renewing that image as He remakes us after the image and likeness of Jesus Christ the LORD. Take a moment to meditate on some of the passages below, and praise God for how He is renewing you after His own image.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:49
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 19 - 20
As we enter into today’s passage, we see Jesus and His followers departing the northernmost region of Israel (Galilee), and slowly making their way south towards Jerusalem. With large crowds still following Jesus, He continues to teach. Prompted by the Pharisees to discuss the topics of marriage and divorce, Jesus, reflecting on Genesis 2:18-25, reveals the Father’s heart for the relationship between a husband and wife. Oh, that our hearts were as tender as God’s in this regard!
It seems a large majority of teaching in this small section of Matthew’s Gospel is Jesus responding to questions or situations that are posed to Him (with a variety of motives from the questioners). The topics Jesus instructs on are therefore a bit random, and in addition to marriage & divorce, include children and their relationship to the kingdom of God, eternal life and its relationship to the things that are often most important to us, and places of honor in the kingdom of heaven (& how our kingdoms here on earth often operate with the very opposite values). Jesus continues using parables to illustrate kingdom truths, and He continues to heal as well. Praise the LORD for Jesus, our True Teacher & our Great Physician—may He be pleased to teach & heal us in similar ways!
Reflect: In what ways might our LORD be instructing you as you read these passages? In what ways do you need the healing that only Jesus can provide? Spend a few moments humbling yourself before Him, asking Him to do the work that only He can.
Connect: In our text, Jesus and His disciples are approaching Jerusalem. In Old Testament times, when Jewish pilgrims approached Jerusalem for annual feasts and festivals of worship, they sang what are known as the “Songs of Ascent,” which are Psalms 120-134. If you have extra time this LORD’s Day to spend in God’s Word, might I suggest reading through them in their entirety? If you don’t find yourself with that much time, allow me to suggest Psalm 121, or feel free to pick one of your favorites.
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 16:13 - 18:35
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (16:16).” Christ is of course not Jesus’ last name, but rather a title; He is Jesus the Christ. Christ means “Anointed One,” and it’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term “Messiah” from the Old Testament. As the Father has now revealed (to Peter) Jesus’ identity as the long-awaited Messiah (16:17), so now Jesus begins to reveal to His disciples what He as the Messiah came to do. And nothing could have been more unexpected to many of their 1st century Jewish minds. Jesus came not to conquer Rome, but to conquer sin and death, and He would do this by suffering at the hands of His own people (aided by the Romans), dying, and rising again from the dead (see 16:21, 17:9, 17:12, & 17:22-23). Consistent with this teaching, Jesus went on to declare that those who are following Him must of course walk in the ways in which He walked. The Christian, if he (or she, of course) is truly following his LORD, must also “deny himself and take his cross…for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (16:24-25).” Are there ways in which your understanding of the Christian life needs to be challenged by these words of Christ?
Reflect: One of the ways in which most of us (if not all) need to be challenged to walk in the ways of our LORD is in the area of forgiveness. If you haven’t read it yet, spend a few moments reading the last section of today’s text, Matthew 18:21-35. God has been infinitely rich in mercy towards us; how can you be richer in mercy towards others? Is there perhaps a specific person that the LORD is asking you to move towards in forgiveness?
Connect: The Servant Songs of Isaiah had much to say about the coming Suffering Servant. Perhaps you’re quite familiar with the well-known verses of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. If not, take some time to meditate upon them now, and what they can teach you about Jesus’ suffering as our Messiah. If you are familiar with them, try reading one of the less familiar Servant Songs from Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-7, and 50:4-9. For those interested in further study, here’s a helpful TableTalk article on “The Servant Songs of Isaiah:” https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2019/10/the-servant-songs-of-isaiah/
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 14 - 16:12
Upon learning of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus “withdrew…in a boat to a desolate place by Himself (14:13).” Yet Jesus couldn’t escape for long, and soon found Himself before a large crowd yet again. Despite mourning, Jesus’ compassion (14:14; cf. 9:36, 15:32) moves Him to continue His pattern of teaching (see Mark 6:34), healing, and for the first time in Matthew’s Gospel, miraculous feedings. Interspersed between these events are some pivotal encounters regarding the nature of faith. First, in the face of Jesus literally walking on water, we see Peter’s “little faith” (14:34; cf. 16:8), a faith that seemed to have a hard time keeping its eyes on Jesus. Secondly, we see the unlikely “great faith” (15:28) of a persistent Canaanite woman, whose faith would not leave Jesus alone until He healed her daughter. Sandwiched between these stories of faith is some biting criticism of those who exhibited no faith, that being a group of Pharisees and scribes that came to Jesus from Jerusalem (15:1). Their eyes, as religious as they appeared, were not really on Jesus, but rather on themselves, and their traditions. Legalism, as opposed to faith, looks to man to do what only God can do, and is thus proven to be no faith at all.
Reflect: Faith can doubt. Our faith is often times weak and small. But above all, faith keeps its eye on Jesus, and in the end, faith gets the victory. Listen to how our Westminster Confession of Faith puts it in Chapter 14, “Of Saving Faith” (translation by Dave Snoke, December 2018):
1. The grace of faith, by which God’s chosen are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts. It is ordinarily worked by the ministry of the Word, by which, along [with] the administration of the sacraments and prayer, the grace of faith is also increased and strengthened.
2. By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatever is revealed in the Word, on the basis of the authority of God himself speaking in it, and acts differently based on what each particular passage in it contains. A Christian yields obedience to the commands, trembles at the threats, and embraces the promises of God for this life and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting on Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
3. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; it may be assailed often and in many ways weakened, but it gets the victory, growing up in many Christians to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and the finisher of our faith.
Connect: Is your faith looking to the LORD Jesus to feed you? To teach you? To heal you? As the old hymnwriter said, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 11 - 13
As Jesus continues to teach and preach in various cities, Matthew introduces a new theme: opposition to Jesus’ public ministry. We’re told earlier in Matthew’s Gospel that “from that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (4:17).” It appears the LORD Jesus takes repentance quite seriously, much more so than many He encountered. The Pharisees at first manifested their lack of repentance with probing statements (12:2) and disingenuous questions (12:10). Having received what they found to be unsatisfactory answers, their lack of faith and repentance eventually results in blasphemous statements against Jesus (12:24), the audacious demanding of a sign (12:38), and ultimately their plotting Jesus’ destruction (12:14). Opposition to Jesus is not limited to only religious leaders, however. Jesus strongly denounces many of the citizens of the towns where he performed miracles, “because they did not repent (11:20).” With the ever-increasing masses coming to see Jesus, our LORD intentionally begins to teach in parables, with the express purpose of continuing to feed the repentant, yet at the same time hardening the hearts of those who did not truly desire to learn from Him (13:11-17).
Reflect: Are you burdened in sin and/or unbelief? Repenting and believing is more than a one-time thing; it’s an everyday thing. Jesus bids you once again: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (11:28-30).”
Connect: So often we find ourselves restless and weary, with our spiritual tanks on empty. There’s only one place to fill up. Will you repent anew, and run to Jesus? He’s ready and waiting.
Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 8 - 10
This section of Matthew’s Gospel might best be summarized by the words we read in 9:35, that “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction.” We see Jesus cleansing lepers, casting out demons, bringing the dead back to life, and healing paralytics, the blind, the mute, and even a mother-in-law! As the ESV Study Bible intimates, “Jesus has shown Himself to be the Messiah in word through His teaching (chs. 5-7) and now shows Himself to be the Messiah in deed through the performance of many miracles, demonstrating that the kingdom of God truly has arrived.” Jesus then sends out His disciples with not only this same authoritative message, but also with the same “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction (10:1).” Well did Isaiah prophesy of this Suffering Servant, that “Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (this is what Matthew is quoting in 8:17 when he recounts Isaiah 53:4 as “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases”).
Reflect: How exciting it must have been to see the Word go out with such power, and accompanied by physical healing…and even better, to participate in it, as the disciples did! What we see in Jesus’ earthly ministry, in particular the miraculous healings, were foretastes of what is to come; they were small tastes of life in the new heavens and the new earth, breaking into our world, testifying to what Jesus will one day do on a cosmic scale. Although God doesn’t often seem to accompany His Word with such signs and wonders today, His Word is nonetheless still going forth in power, calling people from death to new life in Christ.
Connect: In the midst of a world fraught with disease and illness, you carry a message of Good News, the glorious message of Christ Jesus, who will one day bring full and final healing to our fallen and broken world. As we share this Good News, and as we await the glory that is to come, we have no need to fear anything that can kill only the body, but cannot kill the soul (10:28). We are Christ’s until that day, and He’s got us!
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
- Rev. John McCombs
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.