Friday, February 14

Matthew 12:9-14: 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 simply 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.

To mark the theological significance of their decision, Matthew now quotes at length an Isaian passage about the Suffering Servant. One will especially observe the text’s references to the calling of the Gentiles, references which look backwards to the Magi and forward to the Great Commission.

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).

Saturday, February 15

Matthew 12:15-21: 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.)

The reign of death was present from Adam to Moses, but because the Law had not yet been given, men were not held invariably held accountable for their transgressions (verse 13; 3:20; 4:15). No matter—they still died! Death reigned (verse 14).

Did the coming of the Mosaic Law improve the situation? Of course not. The Law not only did not take away the reign of death, it made men more consciously aware of their fallen state (verse 20; Galatians 3:13,19). “For as the Law was spiritual, it emphasized sin but did not destroy it” (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3.18.7).

It was by way of antithesis that Adam prefigured Christ, the new Head of humanity, who introduces a life more abundant, more extensive, more powerful than Adam’s Fall (verses 15-21). No matter how much sin abounded, grace and mercy abound the more. That is to say, Christ has more than made up the “shortfall” of Adam. The abundant mercy of God is demonstrated by the fact that the whole blighted history of man’s transgressions culminates, because of Christ, in man’s acquittal.

The reign of death, then, is replaced by the reign of the saints. In contrast to the reign of death, this is a reign “in life” (verse 17), “justification of life” (verse 18, clearly an appositional genitive), even “eternal life” (verse 21).

The contrast between the obedience of Christ and the disobedience of Adam (verse 19) was evidently a theme of early pre-Pauline hymnography (cf. Philippians 2:5-10).

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.

Sunday, 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 6:1-14: By His rising again, likewise, Jesus Christ conquered and brought to an end the reign of death. “Death no longer has dominion over Him” (verse 9). Thus the death (including the shedding of His blood and all the sufferings attendant on that death) and the resurrection (including the ascension into heaven, the entrance into the Holy Place, and the sitting at the right hand of the Father) of Jesus Christ form the single activity of our redemption. No part of that mystery is separable from the other, such is its integrity, its wholeness, its catholicity (kath’ holon=”according to the whole”).

At their baptism in the faith of Christ, Christians are plunged under the water in sacramental imitation of Jesus’ burial, and their emergence from that water symbolizes in mystery Christ’s rising from the tomb. Baptism, therefore, is regarded by Paul as the normative and essential foundation for the life in Christ (verses 4-5,8; Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 2:5-6; 1 Peter 4:1).

It is instructive to observe that Paul expects all Christians to know this, even those who have never met him or heard him preach (verse 3). He presumes this doctrine to pertain to the common deposit of the Christian faith that he himself received from the inherited apostolic teaching. Indeed, such explicit teaching about the significance of baptism was part of the pre-baptismal catechesis, in which new believers learned the meaning of what they were about to do (cf. Hebrews 6:1-2; Acts 19:1-5).

But faith and baptism form only the beginning. The life in Christ involves also a concerted effort and striving in order to bring the believer’s conduct into conformity with the mystery symbolized and effected in baptism-which is to say, death unto sin, life unto God. The new life in Christ aims at the reconfiguration of the human being (verse 4; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Monday, February 17

Matthew 12: 31-37: Strictly speaking there is no “unforgivable” sin, because God’s mercy stands ready to forgive any sin of which repent. The whole business of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is that it is, by definition, the sin of which men do not repent. It is total and inveterate blindness of heart, in which men can no longer discern the difference between light and darkness.

Such appears to be the sin of which the Lord’s enemies are guilty in these texts where we find them plotting His death. For a pastoral perspective it may be said that those Christians who fear they may have committed such a sin should be take courage from the thought that their very fear is strong evidence that they have not done so. Those who are approaching the unforgiven sin are those who no longer even think about repentance and feel no need for it.

Romans 6:15-23: At the time of baptism a believer submits himself “from the heart” to a “form of doctrine” (typos didaches), a creedal standard, a “rule of faith” (regula fidei), of which “you have taken delivery” (paredothete). Paul refers here to the teaching contained in the Tradition (paradosis) that he himself had received in conjunction with his own baptism (16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). Once again, we observe that Paul presumes that these Roman Christians, who had not been catechized by him or his close associates, nonetheless received the same foundational doctrine, in an established form (typos), that he himself had received.

In the profession of faith associated with the rite of baptism it has long been customary for believers to repudiate Satan just prior to their confession of the lordship of Jesus. Paul’s wording here appears to reflect this custom. The baptized Christian has exchanged one form of service for another.

In contrast to the reign of death, the Christian’s goal is eternal life. Men earn death; it is their “wages.” Eternal life, however, cannot be earned. It is the free gift (charisma) of God, given us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This eternal life also pertains to the Christian’s body, because it begins with the baptism of the body. Accordingly, commenting on these verses, Tertullian wrote: “Thus, throughout this series of meanings (sensuum seriem), withdrawing our members from unrighteousness and sin, and applying them to righteousness and sanctification, and moving them from the wages of death to the free gift of life, [Paul] undoubtedly promises to the flesh the recompense of salvation. Now it would not at all have been consistent that any rule of holiness and righteousness should be explicitly enjoined on the flesh, if the latter were incapable of receiving the reward of that discipline. Nor could baptism be properly ordered for the flesh, if by means of its regeneration a course were not begun unto its restoration” (De Resurrectione Mortuorum 42.8-9).

Tuesday, February 18

Matthew 12:38-42: Both examples given here, the Ninevites and the queen from southern Arabia, are Gentiles, those of whom Matthew has just been speaking in 12:18-21. The figures of Jonah and Solomon should also be understood here as representing the prophetic and sapiential traditions of Holy Scripture.

Jesus is the “greater than Jonah,” whose earlier ministry foreshadowed the Lord’s death and Resurrection and also the conversion of the Gentiles. The Lord’s appeal to Jonah in this text speaks also of Jonah as a type or symbol of the Resurrection. The men of Nineveh, who repented and believed, are contrasted with the unrepentant Jewish leaders who refuse to believe in the Resurrection (cf. 28:13-15). Matthew will return to the sign of Jonah in 16:2. Jesus is also the “greater than Solomon,” who was founder of Israel’s wisdom literature and the builder of the Temple.

The Queen of the South, that Gentile woman who came seeking Solomon’s wisdom, likewise foreshadowed the calling of the Gentiles. She was related to Solomon as the Ninevites were related to Jonah—as Gentiles who met the God of Israel through His manifestation in the personal lives of particular Israelites.

It is a point of consolation to observe that in neither case—whether Solomon or Jonah—were these Israelites free from personal faults!

Romans 7:1-12: When Paul had reflected on the historical function of the Law a few years earlier, his attitude had been more positive (Galatians 3:22-23): “we were kept under guard by the Law.” Now, however, it has become clear here in Romans that Paul’s views of the Law have shifted and deepened (3:20,31; 4:15; 5:13,20). They have shifted in the direction of a dialectic and deepened in the perception of a mystery.

The real problem, Paul will argue here in Romans, was not with the Law in itself; the problem was in man, whose bondage to sin and death rendered him incapable of observing the Law. The Law, remaining external to man, did not alter him within. Grace, he will argue later in this epistle, alters man from within.

To illustrate the Christian’s freedom from the Law, Paul resorts to an analogy prompted by his considerations of death in the previous chapter. He compares the Law to the regulation of marriage, which provides for the dissolution of marriage at the death of one of the partners. Now, as has already been shown, Christians died to sin in their baptism. Since they are dead, therefore, the Law can make no further claim over them (verses 1-6; 6:9,14).

This was the truth at stake in the Judaizers’ conflict in Galatia a few years earlier, when Paul saw the Gospel itself to be at risk. The affirmation that Christians are still bound by the Mosaic Law meant for Paul that they would return to the reign of death. Their union with Christ in baptism and faith would count for nothing.

Wednesday, February 19

Matthew 12:46-50: (As best we can determine from manuscript evidence, verse 47 should be omitted from this passage. It seems to have come from the hand of a later copyist.) If we compare this story with the account in Mark 3:31-35, several features are found to be particular to Matthew: (1) Matthew omits the view of Jesus’ relatives that He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21); (2) Only Matthew uses the word “disciples” here; this is a text, then, about the “disciplizing” which He will command in the Great Commission; (3) Instead of “God” here, Matthew speaks of “my Father in heaven.”

In short, Matthew portrays our relationship to Jesus as a new set of family relationships, under the Fatherhood of God; these new relationships transcend those relationships established by blood. In due course, however, we do find the fleshly relatives of Jesus within the body of the believers (cf. Acts 1:14).

Romans 7:13-25: A man forced to do what he really doesn’t want to do is properly called a slave (verses 16,23; 6:13,19), and a man without Christ is certainly a slave to sin. This is the reign of death. It abides in man’s very flesh, which Paul calls “this body of death” (verse 24; 6:6; Philippians 3:21). As we have had occasion to remark more than once, “sins reigns in death.” Death is the legacy left us by Adam. It reigns in our very bodies. It was to free us from death that Christ rose from the dead.

Verses 17 and 20 have occasionally been interpreted as excusing man from the responsibility for his sins. If this were the case, of course, man would not need a Savior. The whole of the Bible, however, and Paul especially, contends that the children of Adam are destined for eternal damnation except for the mercy of God poured out in the reconciling blood of Christ. Sin is never excused. Sin is paid for.

Jeremiah 16: was an extremely lonely life. Most of Jerusalem’s citizens, suffering from chronic shallowness and terminal optimism, thought him
something of an oddity and a nuisance, maybe even a public menace. They accused him (37:14), conspired against him (18:18), seized him (26:8), sought his life (11:21), struck him and put him in stocks (20:2), imprisoned him (32:3), kidnapped him (chs. 42—43), threw him in a deep pit where he nearly died from hunger (38:6–9). In short, Jeremiah was obliged to “go it alone.” His was a more than ordinary personal desolation, inasmuch as he embraced a life of consecrated celibacy and asceticism as a prophetic sign of Jerusalem’s approaching devastation (16:1–5).

Thursday, February 20

Matthew 13:1-9: As we now come to the third and central of the five great discourses in Matthew, Jesus once again sits down as teacher (Compare 5:1). Taking up a standard mystic number in Holy Scripture, this discourse will be composed of seven parables: the sown seed, the wheat and tares, the mustard seed, the leaven, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, and the fishing net. Four of these, as we will have occasion to note, are found only in Matthew. Even in wording this first parable is nearly identical with Mark 4:1-9.

In this chapter, a sharp distinction is made between those that understand the parable—the ‘insiders”–and those that don’t—the “outsiders” (verse 11). Thus, when the chapter opens, Jesus is speaking to large crowds (verse 2), but afterwards He speaks only to an inner circle and privately (verse 36). This move indicates a change in the focus of the Lord’s ministry and preaching. This change is not surprising, in light of the bitter controversies that have been mounting in Matthew’s narrative.

Jesus begins this sermon by sitting down (verse 1)—the posture of the teacher—just as when He began the Sermon on the Mount (5:1; cf. 24:3). A close reading of this text discloses a striking parallel with Revelation 7:9-12, where a great multitude stands before God seated on the throne beside the sea (4:6).

This first parable, in which most of the sown seed is lost, summarizes Jesus’ own experience, as narrated in the previous chapter. So little of the Gospel, it seems, has fallen on fertile ground. As directed to the Church, this parable urges a sense of modesty about “success” in fruitful preaching. A great deal of the sown Word will simply be wasted.

This first parable also provides the foundation for the other six; it is the fountain out of which they flow. Thus, the second parable (wheat and tares in verses 24-30), is concerned with the wasted seed that falls by the wayside and is eaten by birds. The “enemy” that sowed the tares in verse 24 is identical with the “wicked one” in verse 19. Similarly, the third parable (mustard seed in verses 31-32) and the fourth (leaven in verse 33) deal with the seed that is sown on stony ground. Parables five (hidden treasure in verse 44) and six (pearl in verses 45-46) are concerned with the seed sown among thorns, while the seventh parable (dragnet in verses 47-50) parallels the seed sown on fertile ground and bringing forth much fruit.

The seed sown by the wayside (verse 4) is the Word preached to the unworthy heart, an interpretation introduced by the quotation from Isaiah in verse 15: “Lest they should understand with their hearts.” The key is an understanding heart (verse 23). The failure in this case has to do with the first imperative of the Shema: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart.”

The seed fallen on rocky ground (verses 5-6) is the Word preached to a shallow soul, which is unprepared for the trials that the reception of the Word will bring. The failure in this case pertains to the second imperative of the Shema: to love God with the whole soul.

The seed sown among thorns (verse 7) is the Word preached to the worldly, who are concerned with wealth and the strength that comes with wealth. In this case the failure is related to the Shema’s command to love God with all one’s strength.

The seed fallen on good ground (verse 8) is the Word preached to someone with an understanding heart. Such a man is described in Psalm 1: the man who “brings forth his fruit in its season.” This is the man who fulfills all the imperatives of the Shema.

Friday, February 21

Matthew 13:10-17: In the Gospel dialogue that immediately follows the parable of the sown seed, only Matthew quotes at length the long text from Isaiah found in verses 14-15. This text well fits the pattern of growing obstinacy on the part of Jesus’ enemies, a theme that has been growing steadily since 11:16. The argument the Lord uses in these verses is obscure, for the plain reason that hardness of heart is an obscure and mysterious subject.

If the workings of divine grace are difficult to comprehend, even more difficult to grasp is man’s willful refusal of that grace. Because a choice is both an effect and a cause, there is a tautology in human choice, and like all tautologies it can only be expressed by what seems a circular argument. That is to say, we choose because we choose. This is what is meant by “free” choice.

Mysteriously, then, the refusal to believe is also the punishment for the refusal to believe. These verses are also a sort of explanation of the following section, particularly verses 19 and 23, which contrast the “understanding” and “non-understanding” of God’s Word.

In this respect the disciples of Jesus are distinguished from the others who hear the parables. The “to you” is contrasted with the “to them” (verse 11). The “whoever has” is distinguished from the “whoever has not” (verse 12). There is an antithesis between those that see (verse 16) and those that do not see (verse 13).

Matthew thus introduces the historico-theological themes of grace and rejection. To those who have, more will be given, while from those who have nothing, even that will be taken away (verse 12). Matthew will return to this irony in the Parable of the Talents (25:29). The judgment aspect of this antithesis will be illustrated in the suicide of Judas (273-10).

Inasmuch as these things cannot be understood, they are called “mysteries” (verse 11—contrasted with the “mystery” in Mark 4:11), indicating God’s free and mysterious (and mysterious because free!) interventions in history through grace and rejection. Matthew, in his own lifetime, was watching the fulfillment of these words of Jesus in the very painful relations between the Church and the Jews.

Romans 8:12-17: It is by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of “sonship” (huiothesia—Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5), that we are made the children of God. It is for this reason that the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father,” is supremely the prayer of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we can only pray it in the Holy Spirit. It is only the Holy Spirit who gives us to say, “Abba, Father,” just as it is only the Holy Spirit who gives us to say, “Jesus is Lord.” Only in the Holy Spirit do we know the identity of the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit both makes us the children of God and alters our consciousness so that we know ourselves to be the children of God (verse 16). The Holy Spirit, then, is the new, internal principle by which we are untied to the Father and the Son in knowledge and in love.