Friday, February 9

Matthew 11:1-19: This first verse brings Jesus’ second discourse to a close (Compare 7:28). Presumably the apostles now go out to do the ministry for which Jesus was preparing them in Chapter 10 (cf. 10:1).

While they are gone, Matthew introduces a “John the Baptist interlude,” a literary construction (paralleled in the structure of Mark 6:7-30) to indicate the passage of time while the apostles are gone. This is the story of the apparent despondency of John in prison.

There are two things particularly to observe in this story. First, Matthew clearly relies on his readers’ familiarity with the entire career of John the Baptist. Although he refers here to John’s imprisonment, the circumstances of that imprisonment are not narrated until Chapter 14. Second, the signs of the Messiah, listed here by Jesus in 11:5f, are not at all similar to those earlier enunciated by John the Baptist himself in 3:10-12. This dissimilarity may have been the cause of John’s evident misgivings, as he languished in his prison cell.

Romans 3:1-8: To say (as Paul has been saying) that both the Gentile and the Jew are called to repentance is not to deny the historical advantage of the Jews, because “to them were committed the oracles of God” (verse 2). Later in this same epistle (11:11-23) Paul will argue at greater length that God still keeps His eye on the Jews; they will still have their important role to play in the outcome of history. The Jews’ current displacement from their native root (which is Christ, we perhaps need to insist, and not real estate in the land of Palestine) is only temporary, “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25).

Meanwhile, in fact, only “some” of the Jews have failed (verse 3), only “some of the branches have been broken off” (11:17). In these assertions Paul seems to have in mind not only his contemporary situation but all of Jewish history. That is to say, the Old Testament itself testifies that there have always been both faithful and unfaithful Jews. Those very “oracles of God,” which were committed to the Jews, also bear witness to the failure of some Jews to take God’s word seriously. No matter, says Paul, because God Himself is faithful, even to an unfaithful people (verses 3-4).

The divine fidelity also is recorded in the “oracles of God.” This expression, ta logia tou Theou (Psalms 107 [106]:11; Numbers 24:4,16), includes the whole corpus of Sacred Scripture, not simply the prophetic utterances (Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11). The whole Old Testament testifies to God’s fidelity in the face of man’s infidelity (3:26; Exodus 34:6; Numbers 23:19; Isaiah 55:11; Hosea 3:26).

Paul’s quotation from Psalm 51 (50):6 in verse 4 is based on the Septuagint, not the Hebrew text, and its entire context, which is one of repentance, is worth considering here. David himself, to whom this psalm is attributed, had been unfaithful to God through the sins of adultery and murder, but his own unfaithfulness did not eliminate the faithfulness of God. Indeed, with an oath God swore that He would never be false to David (Psalms 89 [88]:35). This divine “oracle” bears witness to the very point that Paul is making—the fidelity of God to His pledged word.

Saturday, February 10

Matthew 11:20-24: Just as the opposition to John the Baptist was total and unreasoning, so is the stand against Jesus. This opposition of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum will lead to the plot against Jesus’ life in 12:14 and the subsequent tensions of that chapter. These verses also introduce the image of the final judgment, which will be the theme of Jesus’ final discourse, Chapters 23-25. The warning invoked against Capernaum here is taken from the cursing of Babylon in Isaiah 14:13-15; in the Book of Revelation Babylon will become, of course, the city symbolic of final unrepentance and eternal loss.

Romans 3:9-20: After the diatribe that begins this chapter (verses 3-8), Paul returns to the theme introduced in chapter two, the alleged moral advantage of the Jew over the Gentile. Even though God’s fidelity to the Jews, in spite of their infidelities to Him, does ironically manifest the privileged position of the Jews in salvation history, from a moral perspective this fact hardly warrants any boasting on the part of the Jews. Indeed, it shows them up rather badly. In short, Paul is arguing, “we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin” (verse 9).

This is, in truth, man’s concrete position under God—he is “under sin” (hyph’ hamartian). Such is Paul’s repeated contention in Romans (verse 23; 5:5:12). Let us note he uses the word “sin” here for the first time in this epistle.

In support of his thesis about man’s subjection to sin, Paul quotes (along with other sources) the Book of Psalms 14 (13):1-3; 53 (52):1-3. These two psalms both begin with the fool’s assertion that “there is no God.” In citing these psalms, therefore, Paul is once again taking up, from chapter one, the denial of God by the “fools” (1:22), whose “foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). The “fools” in these psalms, Paul is suggesting, are not simply Gentiles, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23).

The totality, the completeness, of man’s sinful condition is indicated here by Paul’s scriptural references to the various body parts that contribute to the sin: throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, eyes (verses 13-5). Man is, in short, completely sinful, sinful in all his parts.

What “man” in this context? Well, the Old Testament passages cited by Paul seem to refer to the Jews, after all (verse 19), so the Jew can claim no moral superiority over the Gentile. In verses 19-20 the totality of man’s sinful state is accented by the triple use of the word “all” or “every” (pas).

Sunday, February 1

Matthew 11:25-30: In contrast to those in verses 20-24, who resist the Lord and reject the Gospel, are the “babies” to whom the Father reveals His Son, and the Son His Father. Because of its similarity to the Gospel and Epistles of St. John in the very terms of its expression, this text from Matthew is often referred to as the locus johanneusI. This custom is perhaps unfortunate, for it conveys the impression that these verses in Matthew would fit the Fourth Gospel better than they fit Matthew.

In fact, however, these verses may be taken as the very key to the proper understanding of Matthew as a whole. They are the explanation of the Father’s voice proclaiming His Son in 3:17 and 17:5.

God has hidden such revelation from the “wise and prudent,” such as the citizens of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Matthew’s use of these expressions, babies and little ones, to describe Christians, accentuates his teaching on the humility necessary to receive the divine revelation of the Father.

Hence the invitation to learn of Jesus, for He is meek and humble of heart, modeling the meekness of those who will inherit the earth (5:5). This meekness of the Lord will later be noted when He rides into Jerusalem seated upon an ass (21:5).

Romans 3:21-31: These verses express the very essence of the Gospel, salvation through faith in the God who redeems us in Christ. The “righteousness of God,” which we just saw in Psalms 143 (142), is not a quality of condemnation, of outraged divine justice, but the source, rather, of divine deliverance from sin and corruption. Paul speaks of this four times in these few verses.

The pistis Iesou Christou (verses 22,26; Galatians 2:16,20) is literally the “faith of Jesus Christ.” It is not simply an objective genitive, “faith in Jesus.” This expression means, rather, “faith in all matters that concern Jesus Christ,” faith in the entire dispensation of grace through Jesus Christ, including the faith that Jesus modeled for us in the course of accomplishing our redemption (cf. Hebrews 12:2). In context it is perhaps better translated as, “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”

Just as there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in sin, so there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Christ. After all, we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (verse 23). This divine glory (doxsa) of which we fall short (that is, “miss out on”—hysterountai), is conveyed to us as we grow in grace (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6).

Monday, February 12

Matthew 12:1-8: Matthew now picks up again the Markan sequence that he had broken off back in 9:17. He does this with two stories that he has taken from the series of five conflict stories in the second and third chapters of Mark: the stories of the standing grain and of the man with the withered hand.

These two narratives, both of which concern the observance of the Sabbath, appropriately follow the previous sayings about “rest” and the “yoke.”

Matthew’s version of the first of these stories is longer than Mark’s, augmented by the reference to the priests who serve in the Temple on the Sabbath. The Lord’s reasoning here is as follows: If the servants of the Temple may work on the Sabbath, how much more the servants of the One who is greater than the Temple. The argument here is similar to that in 5:17-48; namely, Jesus’ superiority to the Mosaic Law.

Romans 4:1-12: When St. Paul asserted, at the end of the previous chapter, that by the proclamation of the Gospel “we establish the Law,” it is clear that he understood the latter term in the sense of the whole content of the Torah, including the narratives that it contains. He apparently intended even the entire Old Testament under this heading. That is to say, the proclamation of the Gospel provides the proper basis for that entire body of divinely inspired literature that the Christian Church has received from the Jews. The Gospel is the key to the Law; it provides the correct understanding of that literature.

In the present chapter the apostle illustrates and demonstrates that the principle of justification through faith lies at the heart of the Old Testament. He goes to this Gospel principle as illustrated in the lives of Abraham and David.

In the case of David, who had violated at least two articles of the Decalogue, justification came from the forgiveness of his sins. David had not observed the Law, but God had forgiven his lawless deeds and not imputed his sins unto him (verses 7-8).

In this non-imputation of sin, the verb employed is logizesthai, which Paul uses with respect to both David and Abraham. Such imputation is not some sort of legal fiction. This verb, in its normal and literal meaning, comes from the practice of accounting, bookkeeping, and the maintenance of ledgers. In the Greek Bible it is used metaphorically in the sense of a recorded account of man’s moral conduct, as though God and the angels were “keeping tabs” on him (Deuteronomy 24:13; Psalms 106 [105]:31; Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12). This figurative use of the verb in a theological sense seems to be an extension of its figurative use in a legal and forensic sense, such as in court records and similar official archives (cf. Esther 6:1-3).

Our sins are “covered” (verse 7), not in the sense that they still remain in the soul, but in the sense that God has put them out of His mind. They are over and done with. He remembers them no more. The blood of the Lamb has washed them away, and a man never again needs to remember things that God has forgotten.

Tuesday, February 13

Matthew 12:9-14: This story continues the theme of the Lord’s relationship to the Sabbath. Rabbinical theory permitted acts of healing on the Sabbath only in danger of death; otherwise such actions had to be postponed. In this text, and generally throughout the gospels, Jesus ignores this distinction. In the present instance His enemies are completely frustrated, because Jesus does not do anything with which they can accuse Him. He does not touch the afflicted man; He does not speak one word that could be interpreted as an act of healing. He simple tells the man to extend his impaired hand, and immediately the hand is healed! In their frustration the Lord’s enemies take the action to which most of the narrative has been building up to this point — they resolve that Jesus must die. That is to say, they resolve to do what Herod had failed to do in the second chapter of Matthew.

Romans 4:13-25: Independent of the Mosaic Law, Abraham received in faith the promise of God (verse 13), the assurance of a great progeny. It is Paul’s contention that Christians themselves pertain to that progeny if they adhere to the faith by which Moses received the promise of it. It is faith, not the Law, which determines who are the true heirs of Abraham.

Suddenly, and as though by parenthesis, Paul asserts that “the law brings about wrath” (verse 15). By adding to man’s moral responsibilities, the Mosaic Law increases the opportunities for transgressions, and these transgressions evoke the divine wrath. That is to say, the Mosaic Law actually makes man’s moral situation worse! Consequently, the Law cannot be the instrument of man’s salvation. Paul barely introduces the idea here; he will elaborate it at some length in chapter seven.

Paul here begins to treat the theme of death, a topic he had introduced in 1:32. From this point on, the arguments of the Epistle to the Romans will be directed at death, expressed in both the noun thanatos (a word found in Romans twenty-two times) and the adjective nekros (found in Romans sixteen times). Paul commences his long argument that man’s justification has to do with Christ’s victory over death. That is to say, man is justified by the power of Christ’s resurrection, unleashed into this world by the Gospel.

Abraham, exemplifying salvific faith, believed in the God who could make fruitful his own “dead” flesh and the “dead” womb of Sarah (verses 17-19; Genesis 17:15-21). He compares this to God’s calling all of Creation out of nothingness. This call is the promise of the Resurrection, as Paul will make clear at the end of the chapter.

Wednesday, February 14

Matthew 6:1-18: At the beginning of Lent, we consult what our Lord had to say about the three disciplines of piety with which this season is most concerned: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

The Church inherited these disciplines of post-exilic Judaism, especially in evidence in the character of Tobit. In the Septuagint book that bears his name,
Tobit is described with attention to the triad of prayer, fasting, and works of mercy, especially almsgiving (Tobit 12:8).

Because prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are authoritatively juxtaposed by the Lord himself in Matthew 6:1–18, it is normal for us to think of them together and as constituting a kind of ascetical standard. In truth, for a very long time Christians have habitually spoken of the three together as a sort of “three-fold cord that is not easily broken.”

Even as Jesus treats of these three practices of piety, however, He continues the spirit of the five contrasts that He elaborated in the previous chapter. Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, He says, are all to be undertaken in a spirit that is contrasted with that of the hypocrites (verses 2,5,16). By now it is clear that this word refers to those same scribes Pharisees; it is shorthand for the Jewish leadership that set itself against Jesus and the Gospel. Matthew’s references to them in these early chapters show a rising hostility on their side, as well as Jesus’ disposition to take them to task.

The sustained exhortation to purity of intention with respect to almsgiving, fasting, and prayer is not to be used (as it often has been used) to justify the neglect of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer. Indeed, done for the glory of God, and with the intention of pleasing the Father who sees in secret, these three things seem to be the content of what is called “treasure in heaven” (verses 20-21). The biblical caution against “works righteousness” must not be interpreted to preclude the reward (misthos) that God’s children may expect from their Father in heaven (verses 4,6,18; cf. 10:41-42).

It should first be noted that Christians are given no discretion on whether or not to fast. It is when you fast, not if you fast, and the early Christian would have been astounded at any notion that fasting was not required of him as a regular discipline of his life. In fact, the Christians of the first century (and long afterwards) fasted two days each week, though on different days from the Jews.

Thursday, February 5

Romans 5:1-11: Paul now moves from the fact of justification to the actual experience of the Christian life. That is to say, he moves from proclamation (kerygma) to theology, from the righteousness of God to the love of God (verses 5,8), from the experience of becoming a Christian to the experience of being a Christian. In these eleven verses Paul introduces in a few words the ideas that he will develop at much greater length in Romans 8:1-39.

It is instructive to observe Paul’s use of verbal tenses in this chapter. He now employs the past tense to speak of reconciliation and justification. This is something that has already happened: “having been justified through faith” (verse 1), “having now been justified by His blood” (verse 9), “we have now received the reconciliation” (verse 11).

If our reconciliation, our justification, is spoken of in the past tense, however, our salvation still pertains to the future tense: “we shall be saved from wrath” (verse 9), “we shall be saved by His life” (verse 10). As we saw already in chapter one, references to salvation in the Epistle to the Romans tend to be in the future tense (9:27; 10:9,13; 11:11,26; 13:11). Paul always has in mind the return of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies in glory.

The dominant tense in Paul’s description of the Christian life, nonetheless, is the present tense, the “eschatological now.” In the present tense, “we have peace with God” (verse 1), “we stand and rejoice in hope” (verse 2), “we also rejoice” (verse 11). In the present tense, the accent is on hope, because the final salvation of the justified Christian still lies in the future. Like faith, hope is based on the promise and fidelity of God. The grace in which we stand leads to the glory that is to come.

If, during the eschatological now, the Christian life proves to be somewhat tough, “we also glory in tribulations” (verse 3). This is why Paul insists on patience or perseverance, hypomone. “Patience is on account of hope in the future. Now hope is synonymous with the recompense and reward of hope” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 4.22).

Unlike many human hopes, this hope will not be disappointed, because God’s love for us “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (verse 5). The Christian life flows from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts, mind, souls, and bodies of justified Christians. Hope, then, has a double meaning. It refers to the present reality of the Spirit’s assurance and also to the final object of the Spirit’s longing. “Regarding this hope as twofold—what is anticipated and what has already been received—he now teaches the goal to be the reward of hope” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 2.22).

This hope in the Christian heart, however, is sustained, not only by God’s love given us in the Holy Spirit, but by the lively recollection of the price that God’s Son paid for our redemption. And this He did when we ourselves were still helpless and ungodly (verse 6).

Friday, February 16

Matthew 12:22-30: The Lord’s work of driving out of demons is once again (cf. 9:32-34) the object of controversy, as His enemies allege that this power comes from Jesus’ collusion with the dark forces themselves. Among the Synoptic accounts of this controversy (cf. Mark 3:2030; Luke 11:14-23) only Matthew records a healing from blindness in the context. This liberation of a man from satanic darkness is contrasted by the example of those who remain steadfast in their own blindness of heart. Having made up their minds to destroy Jesus, they become ever more inveterate in their sins. Hence, this story leads immediately to the theme of the unforgiven sin, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Romans 5:12-21: Having earlier treated of Abraham and David in regard to justification, Paul now turns to a consideration of Adam, whose sin introduced death into the world. Our mortality is the Fall that we sinners inherit from Adam. If, apart from Christ, sins reigns, “sin reigns in death” (verse 21). By reason of Adam’s Fall, man without Christ is under the reign of death and corruption, because “the reign of death operates only in the corruption of the flesh” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection 47).

In the death and resurrection of Christ, on the other hand, are unleashed the energies of life and incorruption. This is the foundation of Paul’s antithetical comparison of Christ and Adam.

Paul goes to Genesis 3 to explain what he calls “the reign of death” (verses 14,17). In the Bible death is not natural, nor is it merely biological, and certainly it is not neutral. Apart from Christ, death represents man’s final separation from God (verse 21; 6:21,23; 8:2,6,38). The corruption of death is sin incarnate and rendered visible. When this “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:56) has finally been vanquished, then may we most correctly speak of “salvation.” This is why the vocabulary of salvation normally appears in Romans in the future tense.

Because of men’s inheritance of Adam’s Fall, “all sinned.” (Paul is not considering infants here, but this consideration makes no difference to the principle. What has been handed on in Adam’s Fall is not, in the first instance, a sense of personal guilt, but the reign of death. “Sin reigns in death” [verse 21]. Infants, alas, are also the heirs of death, and therefore of Adam’s Fall.)

In what sense did Adam’s sin make all men sinners? By the transmission of death as the human inheritance. “Sin reigns in death” (verse 21). In the Bible, death apart from Christ is man’s final and definitive separation from God, which is the essence of sin. Men are conceived and born as sinners because death reigns in their very being. Death is the essence of Adam’s legacy to the human race. It is from the reign of death that Christ came to set us free. Our salvation will be complete when our bodies themselves have been set free from the tyranny of death.