Friday, March 9

Matthew 17:14-23: Whereas Matthew greatly simplifies and shortens Mark’s version of this story in the narrative parts, he actually amplifies the “saying” part of it in verse 20. He does this in two ways: (1) He inserts here the Lord’s reference to faith as a mustard seed, a dominical saying found in quite another context in Luke 17:6; (2) Jesus here speaks of the disciples’ “small faith” (oligopistia). We saw earlier that this New Testament expression, “small faith,” either as a noun (here only) or an adjective, is found almost exclusively in Matthew; cf. 6:6; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8 (otherwise only in Luke 12:28). Faith, according to Matthew, is understood as trust in the authority (exsousia) of Jesus (8:9-13; 9:2). Miracles are said to be worked by faith (9:20-22, 28f). In three scenes where Mark and Luke do not do so, Matthew portrays Jesus as saying, “as you have believed, so be it done to you” (8:13; 9:29; 15:8).

When the man approaches Jesus (verse 14), he kneels down—gonypeton, literally “bending the knee”—before Jesus. That is to say, he assumes before Jesus the posture of prayer (contrast Mark 9:14-17). Like Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, he kneels before Jesus in prayer. This is the second time in two consecutive scenes in Matthew where kneeling is the proper posture in the presence of Jesus. In Matthew, then, the scene is one of worship and prayerful petition. And what does the man say to Jesus when he kneels down? Kyrie, eleison! — “Lord, have mercy!”

This kneeling down, or prostration, in prayer is not simply a generic act of worship. It is specified by its Christological reference. Indeed, in the former scene, the Transfiguration, the disciples fall into this posture when they hear the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as His Son. Their posture is a theophanic response (cf. Revelation 1:16-17). Here in Matthew (verse 15) the man bends the knee Avton–“towards Him.”

Romans 13:8-14: Paul returns briefly to the Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic Law. Does Christian freedom imply that believers are no longer bound by the Decalogue? Hardly, says Paul, but the general Christian command to love one’s neighbor as oneself more than adequately summarizes those components of the Decalogue that concern our fellow man. That is to say, even the Decalogue is now read through a new lens.

Once again Paul speaks of salvation as reality that lies yet in the future, a future that is now closer than when we first became believers. (verse 11). As we have seen repeatedly, in Romans the vocabulary of salvation is commonly associated with the return of Christ and the general resurrection of the body.
Meanwhile, Christians are to “wake up” to the newness of life in Christ (verses 11-12; 1 Thessalonians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 15:34; Ephesians 5:14).

Saturday, March 10

Matthew 17:24—18:5: The curious story about the coin found in the fish is told only in Matthew, and, once again, it demonstrates a special solidarity between Jesus and Peter, inasmuch as the taxes of both are paid by the same coin.

In spite of his being called “Satan” by the Lord, then, Peter did not really fall from the Lord’s favor; the Apostle was warned and reprimanded, not rejected. Indeed, even after those stern words in chapter 16, Peter was still chosen as one of the three disciples who witnessed the Lord’s transfiguration at the beginning of this chapter.

This text also serves to instruct on the obligation of believers to pay taxes to the government.

Romans 14:1-13: Paul’s fundamental principle seems clear enough: Christians are to show to one another that level of respect, kindness, and deference that will free each of them from harsh judgment or ridicule, carping or shock. The guiding virtues to be cultivated in this respect are faith (verses 22-23), charity (verse 15), and the imitation of Christ (verses 9,15; 15:3,7-8).

The prohibition against judging other members of the congregation is especially forceful in this chapter. The verb “to judge,” krinein, appears eight times. One recalls the Lord’s example of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11.

The “weak” in most congregations will often be the newer members, or even the conscientious inquirers, who are just beginning to find their way in the Christian life (verses 1-5).

Particularly sensitive in conscience, frequently such individuals are shocked are disedified by the behavior of other Christians, whom they may perceive as less zealous or even lax. These “weak” Christians are exhorted not to pass judgment on others, and the others, in turn, are exhorted not to ridicule or shock the “weak.” On the contrary, they should receive support and encouragement in the difficult early stages of their journey. One recalls here the Lord’s warning to those who scandalize the “little ones,” those relatively inexperienced Christians who are new in the discernment of good and evil, right and wrong.

The important point is to serve the Lord, to whom we all belong (verses 6-8; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). The example held before us is Christ, who neither lived nor died for Himself, but for us (verse 9).

If our knees are bent in prayer and our voices raised in praise, we will be amply busy and occupied, with neither time nor psychic energy to judge, criticize, or ridicule fellow Christians (verse 12).

Sunday, March 11

Matthew 18:6-9: Far from refusing children access to Jesus until they arrive at the explicit and doctrinal faith of adults, Jesus admonishes adults to model their own faith on the more elementary faith of the child. Because children are the most in danger of being scandalized, this topic of children leads naturally into the subject of scandal, and in this connection come the Lord’s statements about millstones and self-mutilation. The latter are certainly to be understood by way of hyperbole.

Going through in more detail, we begin with the question of which of the disciples is the greatest (verses 1-5). In the parallel text in Mark 9:33-37, the disciples themselves argued which of themselves was the greatest. Matthew not only changes the question, then, he changes also the context of the question. It is no longer a debate among competing apostles; it is a question put to Jesus, as though a point of speculation. The question becomes spiritual and theological; it pertains to the Kingdom of Heaven. When the question is answered in verse 4, it is still about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Romans 14L14-23: Paul continues the theme from the previous section, going on to exhort believers to peace-making and edification (verse 19). In these verses, however, his exhortation is directed to the stronger, more confident Christians who may, even by mere inadvertence, create crises of conscience for their fellow believers.

The example chosen by Paul to illustrate this point is the eating of certain foods, particularly meats, which the Mosaic Law classifies as common (koinon) or unclean, foods that are not kosher. Paul is certain that Christians may eat such foods with a safe conscience (verses 1-5; Acts 10:9-15).

The Apostle recognized, nonetheless, that some Christians, from habits long adhered to, could not really eat such food with a safe conscience, because they had not arrived at a level of faith and Christian maturity that would enable them to do so. (Here he is not talking about the faith through which a Christian is justified, of course, but of faith as an effective principle in making moral decisions.)

If these latter Christians, then, were recklessly to follow the example of stronger, more mature believers, there was a genuine danger of their violating their own consciences. They would be eating for some reason other than faith, perhaps human respect or perceived social pressure, and this would constitute sin (verse 23). In short, it is never a safe of laudable thing to act against one’s conscience.

Monday, March 12

Matthew 18:10-14: Since Jesus’ compassionate regard for and merciful behavior toward sinners is the root of what theologians call soteriology (“the study of salvation”), the major point and burden of this story of the lost-and-found sheep in Matthew is Christological and soteriological. That is to say, it is directed toward the questions, “Who is Jesus?” and “What does He do?”

In Matthew, on the other hand, the parable of the lost sheep is placed in an ecclesiological setting. It pertains to Matthew’s fourth great discourse, which is concerned with the Church. Bear in mind that in this chapter we have two of the three times that the word “Church” appears in the Gospels.

The link verse in this story is verse 10, a negative command that ties the parable back to the section on scandal (verses 6-9). The “little one” in this context–henos ton micron–can be a child, but it can also include any “little person,” whom we are tempted to overlook, to neglect, perhaps even to despise.

Romans 15:1-6: The Christian’s moral life, then, is not merely personal and private. It is social (verses 1-2,5-7). Paul knows nothing about personal holiness apart from life and responsibilities in the Church. (For this Christian thesis, we may see a pagan adumbration in the traditional Spartan theory of education, in which virtue, arête, is invariably social and unselfish.)

The exercise of freedom is never a goal or final purpose in the Christian life; it is, rather, the proper ambience and atmosphere of the Christian life. Freedom for freedom’s sake is unknown in the Holy Scriptures. Christian freedom is ever at the service of Christian charity.

Divine charity was the motive of Jesus’ assumption of our sins in His self-offering upon the cross (verse 3; 8:32-35). In support of this thesis Paul invokes the authority of Psalms 69 (68):10, a verse descriptive (as is the whole psalm) of Jesus’ sufferings.

Then, having appealed to the Old Testament in order to throw light on a specific Christian theme, Paul enunciates the principle on which such an appeal is based, namely, the Christocentricity of the Hebrew Scriptures. Since the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ, and thereby finds its full doctrinal meaning in Christ, its proper moral application is in the lives of Christians (verse 4).

Tuesday, March 13

Matthew 18:15-20: There are two words especially to be noted in this passage:

The first word is “brother.” This means that the Church is a family (cf. 12:46-50). The reproof, consequently, takes place in an atmosphere of love and concern, not enmity nor hostility. It is necessarily a kindly reproof, motivated by concerned charity.

The second word is “reprove,” which indicates that the Church is a house of common discipline, not a convention of lone rangers. In the Church. it is imperative that no person turn himself into a mere individual. Therefore, where there is an obligation to reprove, there is a corresponding obligation to listen to reproof. Both are acts of charity.

Both are also difficult. Hardly anyone relishes receiving a reproof. Likewise, we are disposed to avoid giving reproof, because these things are awkward and uncomfortable. It is only charity that compels us to give and receive reproof.

If this reproof fails, and only if it fails, we go to the second stage, in which one or two others are brought into the conversation (verse 16; cf. Deuteronomy 19:15). Once again, the accent is on charitable solicitude for the erring brother. From rabbinical literature, we also know that the progressive procedure of fraternal correction elaborated here in Matthew was common in the synagogues of that day. We also find a specific application of it in 1 Timothy 5:19.

Finally, if forced to it, the situation arrives at the third stage, in which the sin is brought to the attention of the Church. In this case the sinner is facing no longer a quiet, pastoral reprimand, but the discipline of an institution authorized to speak for God and address consciences. The sanction imposed for not listening to the Church is excommunication (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; 2 John 10). Earlier in Matthew (16:19), Peter had received this authority, as representing the Church.

In the verses that follow this instruction (verses 19-20), the literary context, determined by the instruction itself (verses 15-18) is still largely “juridical,” in the sense of having to do with the judgment of the Church. However, two new elements are introduced: common petitionary prayer and the presence of Christ.

The mention of petitionary prayer seems to indicate the context in which the disciplinary decisions of the Church are to be reached.

With respect to the presence of Christ in the midst of His people, this theme is found at both the beginning (1:23) and the end (28:20) of Matthew. It is reminiscent of a saying in the Mishnah (’Aboth 3.2): “If the words of the Torah pass between two sitting together, the Cloud of the Presence [the Shekinah] abides between them.”

Wednesday, March 14

Romans 15:14-21: Romans 15:14-21: Paul now proceeds to introduce himself more completely to the congregation at Rome, a city that he plans to visit in the near future for the first time. In the present verses, he says a bit about himself and his ministry, evidently feeling that such information is necessary, given the strong and authoritative tone that he has adopted in this epistle (verses 15-16).

Paul commences these remarks with a polite and positive sentiment about the congregation at Rome (verse 14), an approach that he employs elsewhere in his letters (2 Corinthians 8:7; 9:2-3; Philippians 4:15). In the present case such an approach is particularly appropriate, because is conscious of writing to a church that he had no hand in founding (1:5,13). Because of this latter circumstance, Paul does not enjoy the advantage of immediate paternity and familiarity that he enjoys in the churches of Syria, Asia, Macedonia, and Greece.

He feels compelled to write to the Romans, however, because he senses a responsibility that he has toward all the Gentile Christians (verse 16 [Note the Trinitarian structure]; 1:5; 12:3; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 2:7-8).

Like Jesus preaching in Galilee (Mark 6:6), Paul has maintained a preaching “circuit” (kyklo, the Greek root of “cycle”—verse 19), first centered in Antioch and later in Ephesus. (Observe that the churches of Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Colossae form a sort of semi-hub around Ephesus.)

We note here that the bishops of these large metropolitan areas in due course became known as archbishops and metropolitans. This was a natural development, since the outlying cities had been evangelized by missionaries from the larger ones. This historical circumstance is what accounts for the immense authority of the bishops of Ephesus, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome in early church history.

Up to this point in his ministry, the extreme limits of Paul’s evangelizing have been Jerusalem in the southeast and Illyricum, or Dalmatia (Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo), in the northwest. It has ever been Paul’s goal to preach Christ where He has not been hitherto preached (verse 20; 2 Corinthians 10:15-16; 1 Corinthians 3:6).

Miracles and wonders have frequently attended Paul’s preaching (Acts 12:22; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4).

Paul describes his ministry with a liturgical and sacerdotal term, hierogounta to Evangelion tou Theou, “serving the Gospel of God as a priest,” or even “priesting the Gospel of God” (cf. Isaiah 66:20). This is one of our first instances of a specifically priestly term used to describe the ordained Christian ministry.

Thursday, March 15

Matthew 19:1-9: At this point Matthew rejoins the narrative sequence in Mark, which he will follow for the rest of the book. However, as this section begins with Jesus’ move from Galilee, in the north, to Judea, in the south, Matthew and Luke begin to follow separate sequences, Luke inserting many stories that have no parallel in the other gospels (cf. Luke 9:51—18:14).

Matthew introduces his own narrative by mentioning the end (etelesen–verse 1) of Jesus’ previous discourse—namely, the preceding chapter on life in the Church. Each of Jesus’ five large discourses in ended in the same way (cf. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 26:1).

Jesus, moving south, goes somewhat eastward across the Jordan, avoiding a trip through Samaria. He is followed by “large” crowds (contrast with Mark 10:1), “to follow” being the normal word for discipleship.

In Mark’s parallel account (10:1), it is said that Jesus taught these crowds, whereas Matthew says that He “healed” them (etherapeusen–verse 2). The significance of this change is to be found in the light it sheds on the teaching that immediately follows. The following section deals with matters that we may call “domestic,” in the sense of having to do with the home (domus in Latin). This subject will include sex, children, and money, and on these matters Jesus will “heal” the people of common but fallacious opinions. These subjects—sex, child-raising, and finances—are the ones on which the views of the world are likely to be sick and in want of healing.

Romans 15:22-33: Paul plans to travel with some companions to carry the collection of money that the churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and Greece have assembled for the relief of the Christian poor at Jerusalem. This collection has been in process for several years (verses 25-27; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1—9:15. We know that Paul eventually did make the delivery (Acts 24:17).

To assist in carrying this money Paul has gathered a group of sturdy Christians who will bear and defend it. These men would have to be strong and efficient. After all, this money was in coins only, not bills nor travelers’ checks. The money bags were heavy, and armed brigands were everywhere, so Paul was obliged to choose the biggest, toughest, and perhaps scariest Christians he knew. The list of them is contained in Acts 20:4, where we see that they were drawn from Macedonia, Asia Minor, and Galatia. At Troas they would be joined by Paul himself, Luke, and some others whom we may be able to identify from Colossians 4:7-14.

After delivering these financial resources to Jerusalem, Paul plans to sail west and visit the church at Rome, a place that he has long wanted to visit (verses 22-23,29,32; 1:10-15; Acts 19:21). (In fact, Paul would arrive in Rome a bit over two years later.) Finally, after visiting Rome, it is Paul’s intention to expand his missionary mission to include Spain, at the far end of the Mediterranean (verses 24,28).

Friday, March 16

Matthew 19:10-12: Most Christians recognize that in this passage the reference to self-castration is a metaphor of irony, akin to the amputation of a hand or the gouging out of an eye mentioned in the previous chapter.

This section on celibacy is proper to Matthew, but its content is consonant with the general New Testament thesis of the superiority of consecrated celibacy over marriage (cf. Luke 14:20; 18:29; 1 Corinthians 7:25-35).

Romans 16:1-16: As the rising sun moves up toward the eastern horizon each morning, one by one the myriad stars of heaven start to disappear. They do not depart the sky, of course, but the stars do become invisible by reason of the sun’s larger and more garish light, and we upon the earth may no longer gain our bearings by observing them.

Not so the saints who shine on high. The true Sun or Righteousness does not, at His rising, eclipse those lesser lights by which the Church on earth is guided. On the contrary, He Himself illumines the saints, who have no light apart from Him. The reign of Christ does not dethrone the saints, who have no reign apart from His.

The saints, because they are so many and their serried ranks so closely stand together, are described as a “cloud” (Hebrews 12:1). Yet, on closer inspection we perceive that not one of the saints loses those personal and particular traits by which each friend of Christ may be distinguished from the others. The Good Shepherd calls them each by name.

The individual and particular names of the saints are inscribed in the Book of Life, and the names of many of them are written likewise in the Bible. It is the singular merit of Romans 16 that it contains the New Testament’s largest collection of names of individual Christians. They belong to the “church,” a word that now appears in Romans for the first time (verses 1,4,5,16,23).

In the chapter here under consideration, these are all names of Christians at Rome, with the exception of Phoebe, the “deaconess” of Cenchrea (the eastern port of Corinth), who will carry this epistle to the church at Rome.

When the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in A. D. 49 (Acts 18:2), that expulsion also included the Jewish Christians. Many of these came east and settled in cities that Paul evangelized. This is how they came to be the friends of Paul and even his coworkers. However, with the death of Claudius in the year 54, about three and a half years before the composition of Romans (January to March of 58), some of these Christians naturally returned to Rome, where they owned homes and other property. Paul’s greetings here, then, are directed to those who had returned to Rome over the previous forty-two months.