Jesus our shepherd (Matthew 9:35-38)

We have a shepherd, so you have a place to belong.

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Open Matthew 9:35-38.

Matthew 9:36 (my translation)
Seeing the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and thrown down like sheep with no shepherd.

What do we mean when we call Jesus our shepherd? Do you imagine yourself as a fuzzy little lamb being stroked by the shepherd? If so, you’ve missed the powerful metaphor.

For Israel, shepherd was a metaphor for a ruler, a leader of the nation. Occasionally a priest or prophet could be called a shepherd, but it was usually the king. David literally was a shepherd until God chose him to shepherd Israel: “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler” (2 Samuel 5:2).

Sheep without a shepherd is therefore a picture of a nation that’s lost its ruler. As Moses reached the end of his life, he asked God to appoint a successor “so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Numbers 27:17). When the prophet Micaiah saw a vision of Ahab dying in battle, he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd” (1 Kings 22:17).

The last king of Judah was Zedekiah. The Babylonian invaders slaughtered his sons in front of him and then gouged out his eyes. From that moment in 586 BC, Israel had been sheep without a shepherd.

Among the scattered sheep in exile, Ezekiel explained that God had to remove the bad kings; yet he also promised that God would raise up a son of David to rule over them again: Continue reading “Jesus our shepherd (Matthew 9:35-38)”

Do you recognize the king’s authority? (Matthew 9:32-34)

Don’t miss the authority of the servant king.

Open Matthew 9:32-34.

Jesus is doing something unique. He’s demonstrating his kingship before his people even acknowledge him as king. That’s not how it’s usually done.

Politicians work the other way around. “Put us in power,” they say, “and we’ll fix everything.” It’s an ancient technique. 3000 years ago, David’s son Absalom wanted to be king, and this is how he went about it:

2 Samuel 15:3–4 (ESV)
Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.”

Jesus isn’t seeking people’s approval so he can become their king. He sees himself as the divinely appointed king, so he uses his regal authority to remove every form of oppression from his people. Just look at his track record: Continue reading “Do you recognize the king’s authority? (Matthew 9:32-34)”

Personal Saviour or Son of David? (Matthew 9:27-31)

Do you think of Jesus primarily as your personal saviour or our global sovereign?

Open Matthew 9:27-31.

Guide dogs are amazing: a constant companion, willing to take a blind person where they want to go. The dog is trained for you personally, so it’s expensive to train one, and it really does become your own personal guide.

We make a huge mistake when we apply the same language to Jesus — calling him “my personal Saviour.” That’s a term Scripture never uses, because it could suggest that we think Jesus belongs to us, and he will take us where we want to go. That’s a completely corrupt way to understand Jesus, as if he was our personal servant and guide. And yet that attitude is widespread in the church today. We’re proclaiming that selfish arrogance each time we tell people, “Invite Jesus into your life; he’ll make it so much better for you.”

If you ever meet Queen Elizabeth, please do not invite her to be your personal queen. You’d be insulting her, as if she did not have that authority already. Please don’t invite her to sit on the throne of your heart! She already has the throne! What you must do is to acknowledge her authority, bow before her in recognition of her regal status, and follow her commands.

Continue reading “Personal Saviour or Son of David? (Matthew 9:27-31)”

The king understands his people (Matthew 9:18-26)

Jesus knew how to care for people who were socially sensitive and people who didn’t understand the social niceties. Worth following?

Open Matthew 9:18-26.

The Synoptic Gospels intertwine the stories of two very different people. One is an influential ruler who loses his daughter; the other is a woman whose only influence is making everything she touches ritually unclean due to her menorrhagia. Jesus understood the different responses of powerful and powerless people.

Continue reading “The king understands his people (Matthew 9:18-26)”

Managing criticism (Matthew 9:14-17)

How do you cope with criticism from people who don’t understand where you’re leading them? Could we learn from the Master?

Open Matthew 9:14-17.

What do you do when you’re criticized? It’s easy to get angry and sound off, or to cave in and give up. I’m interested in how Jesus, the king of the kingdom, handled criticism.

He copped it from the scribes (9:3). He copped it from the Pharisees (9:11). Now he cops it from friends: John the Baptist’s disciples:

Mathew 9:14 (my translation) Then John’s students came to him saying, “How come we and the Pharisees fast often, but your students don’t fast?” Continue reading “Managing criticism (Matthew 9:14-17)”

Where did Jesus learn mercy? (Matthew 9:13)

Why did Jesus accept people when other leaders of his day wanted to cut them off?

Open Matthew 9:13.

One evening after work, a bunch of disreputable people were laughing and drinking shamelessly over their evening meal. It was exactly the kind of influence Israel didn’t need, so some Pharisees approached to name and shame them. Normally that would have broken up their unholy dinner party and send them slinking off into the darkness, but tonight one of these “disreputables” rises to his feet to defend his friends. It’s Jesus!

Continue reading “Where did Jesus learn mercy? (Matthew 9:13)”

Meditating on mercy (Matthew 9:13)

“I want mercy…” What does that mean?

Open Matthew 9:13 and Hosea 6:1-6.

“Go and learn,” Jesus said.
Perhaps we should:

Matthew 9:13 (my translation)
Go and learn what this is:
“I want mercy, not sacrifice.”
I didn’t come to call those in the right,
but sinners.
Continue reading “Meditating on mercy (Matthew 9:13)”

When did Jesus label people “sinners”?

Christians are far too quick to label people as “sinners.” Do you know how Jesus applied this label?

When we label people as sinners, they feel insulted. We’re calling them a dirty name. Why do we do it? Typically it’s because we want them to feel guilty, so we can offer them forgiveness. Is that good news? Or is it trading in guilt? What did Jesus do?

Let’s find out. There are only 7 or 8 occasions where Jesus used the word sinner. A survey of when and how he used this label is very revealing. Continue reading “When did Jesus label people “sinners”?”

What’s with tax collectors? (Matthew 9:9-12)

Why did the poor old tax collectors get such a bad rap in the New Testament?

Open Matthew 9:9-12.

Remember when you faced that tax bill? How did you feel? It wasn’t like, “Wonderful. Now I can contribute to educating children, providing health services, enabling law enforcement, building roads and infrastructure and a bunch of other things to help our community.” Not likely.

Now imagine taxes are being levied by an occupying force. Your taxes are paying the army that killed some of your family and is crushing your people. How would the Dutch have felt under Nazi occupation during World War II? How do Iraqis feel under American occupation today? How would Jewish people have felt under Roman occupation in Jesus’ time? Continue reading “What’s with tax collectors? (Matthew 9:9-12)”

Jesus’ authority on earth (Matthew 9:2-8)

When Jesus healed and forgave sins, was he showing his deity or his human authority?

Open Matthew 9:2-8.

Matthew 9:2-8 (my translation)
2 Look, they presented him with a paralysed person restricted to a stretcher. Having seen their trust, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Be encouraged, child, your sins are revoked.” 3 Look, some of the Bible scholars said among themselves, “He’s blaspheming!”
4 Seeing how they were thinking, he said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5 What’s easier? To say, ‘Your sins are revoked’ or to say ‘Get up and walk’? 6 So you can know that the son of man has authority on the earth to revoke sins,” he says to the paralysed person, “Get up, pick up your stretcher, and head off home.” 7 Having been raised up, he went off home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were overawed and honoured the God who gave such authority to people.

When Jesus finally mentions someone’s sin in the New Testament, it’s to revoke it. The Bible scholars (scribes) weren’t happy. Jesus revoking sins? They can’t let him do that! They need to drag him down into the morass of human sin too. He’s a sinner, they say, a blasphemer.

Blasphemy isn’t just saying a naughty word against God; it’s demeaning our sovereign’s authority, often by making a claim to that authority. When Assyria attacked Jerusalem in King Hezekiah’s day, the Assyrian general claimed to be more powerful than Israel’s God. He claimed God had given him authority to take Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:25, 35). Isaiah denounced his claim as blasphemy (2 Kings 19:6, 22 NIV). When the scribes label Jesus as a blasphemer, they reject his claim to speak and act on earth on behalf of Israel’s sovereign God. Continue reading “Jesus’ authority on earth (Matthew 9:2-8)”