Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Intellectual Converts and Thinking It's Too Hard Even for God - Matthew 13:51-58

51 "Have you understood all these things?"  They said to Him, "Yes."
52 And Jesus said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old."
The "these things" Jesus is referring to are the parables we've studied recently.  Do you remember how we talked about how, if we truly seek (and by that I mean diligently pursue) understanding of God's Word, He will reveal insights to us?  The disciples have been thinking about Jesus's teaching and asking Him questions, and He's been giving them answers, so it would seem to follow that their "yes" is genuine - they *finally* get it! :-)  But the suspicious side of me wonders if they lied when they said they understood to avoid embarrassment.  At least that pessimism on my part brings us to a good life lesson we can glean from here: We can't fake anything with God!  He understands us better than we understand ourselves, so He knows when our motives, our love for Him, and our dedication are pure - or lacking.  Obviously this is enormously challenging to live a more genuine life and be honest with ourselves, but it's also freeing - because there is no pressure to be fake.  God loves us anyway.
So how does the bit about the scribe fit in with that?  Well, remember, the Jewish scribes were the absolute experts on God's (Old Testament) Law, so they had very, very deep understanding of spiritual matters.  When a scribe came to Christ, he would be like the head of the household in the sense that he was influential (could lead many to faith in Christ), and would be able to serve as a leader to these people because of the extent of his spiritual understanding.  So, you see, Jesus's point is that putting deep thought, time, and study into Scripture is critical not only to our own walks, but in leading others to Christ, as well!  He uses the example of the scribe, but His point to the disciples is that all the work they've put into understanding His teachings will definitely yield fruit.  Likewise, it's not like you ever reach the point of knowing all there is to know about Scripture...the scribe keeps bringing out things old and new.  God is infinitely beyond the grasp of the human mind, so the more we seek Him, the more of Himself He will reveal - it's not like He'll ever run out of insights to share.
"Welcome Home!"... Not
53 When Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there.
54 He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?
55 "Is not this the carpenter's son?  Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
56 "And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where then did this man get all these things?"
57 And they took offense at Him.  But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household."
58 And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.

Let's clear up the minor questions before diving in.  First, which "hometown" is this?  Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and his "base of operations" for His ministry was Capernaum, but since these people had clearly seen Him grow up, it is clear He is in Nazareth.  Second, note that even though some of Jesus's brothers listed off (actually His half-brothers; they were Joseph and Mary's children born through natural means) share names with some of His disciples (Simon and Judas), they are not the same men.  It's just that these names were common at the time.
This story demonstrates how it is human nature to assume that God won't (or perhaps can't) work in certain people's lives and do amazing things through them.  Whether it's because they're people we know well, or people of a lower social station, or people who were particularly "rough" before getting saved, this is our first reaction.  But we shouldn't think like that!  Many times, God will chose the young, or the dumb, or whatever other weakness because that conclusively demonstrates that He is the source, not the person's own effort.  So let's not be flabbergasted and offended when we witness this, but rather glorify God.
In this specific case, why were the Jews offended?  Because Jesus was both young, and (especially!) poor.  In their society, they thought that being rich meant you were a better person, so they were offended that a man who they thought of as less holy would dare to tell them what to do.  But we know that God can speak through any of His followers, even the struggling ones.  Just because a rebuke/suggestion/etc. comes from a "less mature" or struggling believer, doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to it.
In this case, we know that it wasn't just Jesus's townsfolk, but even His own family who refused to listen to Him.  Unfortunately, Satan will use those closest to us to discourage us and tempt us to fall.  If Satan is using your friends and/or family as a stumbling block in your faith or ministry, be encouraged that is evidence that God is really working through you and getting ready to do something amazing.  If He weren't, Satan wouldn't waste his time attacking you so.
Finally, we get to verse 58, which I've seen spark a ton of debates.  The question at hand is whether Jesus could not perform miracles there, or did not choose to perform miracles there.  We know for a fact that God is not actually limited by us, so it's not like He needed a certain amount of faith to "power Him up" to perform the miracles.  But, while in the form of a human, Jesus was subject to the Father, so it's possible that Jesus could not because the Father did not.  So, I see this situation as simply: God (in whatever form of the Trinity you think) chose not to perform the miracles because of their unbelief.  Why would He choose that?  We see in 1 Corinthians 14:22 that some supernatural happenings are a sign to prompt faith in unbelievers, and others are a sort of reward to affirm the faith of those who already believe.  But the Jews in Nazareth had just as much reason to believe in Jesus as everyone else in all the other cities He'd visited did, yet they refused to beleive the evidence.  They were just like the Pharisees - they wanted to see more and more proof, and refused to accept on faith the proof they'd already seen.  Why would Jesus waste time by rewarding them with more proof, then?  It's a sobering reminder that perhaps if we're asking God for signs and not getting any, maybe we're ignoring the signs He's already given us.
Questions for You
I think there's a lot more in Jesus's analogy about the scribe than we covered here.  Do you see anything else in it?
We know that God will reward our efforts to understand His Word with understanding.  How much time and effort do you devote to studying God's Word?  Does that reflect belief in this promise of God's?
Anything else you'd like to ask or comment? :-)
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image Number One: A Sofer finishing the final letters of a Torah scroll, by DancingMan.  Wikipedia.  Public domain.  Used by permission.
Image Number Two: Nazarene fountain reputed to be Mary and Jesus's.  Wikipedia.  {{PD-1923}}  Public domain in the United States.


Clare Kolenda said...

I must admit that I'm trying to become more disciplined about consistnetly reading my bible more and more. Francis Chan, an amazing speaker/pastor and author of Crazy Love, once said something like, "People often say that they are so busy they can't afford to take the time to have quiet time. Yet, in reality, if you're that busy, how can you afford NOT to?" That's paraphrased greatly of course, but that's the gist of it. ;-)

This is a little backwards from the originally topic, but there are times when I will fall into the belief that God doesn't want to be bothered with the "ordinary" things going on in my life. Even with my busy schedule, I'm still just going to school and work and studying, and hanging out with friends. But He wants to involved in everything we do. That He loves us that much is amazing and blows me away!

Sapphire said...

Hi Clare,

Thanks for commenting!

I really like the wisdom from Francis Chan you shared! I listen to his sermons online quite a bit, though I have yet to pick up one of his books (keep meaning to).

As for God's interest in our daily lives, that's a lesson I have to relearn over and over, too. There are highs when each day is one long conversation with God, and lows when I slip into thinking that only really big things are worth His time. I guess the only good that comes out of that is that when I suddenly hit a high again, I get "blown away" anew. ;-)