This version of the site is now archived. See the next iteration at
Topic: “Matthew”

Than Many Sparrows

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Note that there are two quite distinct sections to today’s post. Don’t think you’re done just because you got to the first ‘Hallelujah’!

Thinking Through Matthew 10 Again

As I told Jaimie tonight, I have long found Matthew 10:31 to be one of those verses that is simultaneously comforting and a little funny. There is simply something a touch odd about the way it comes through in English:

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (ESV)

Even in translations which generally prioritize a smoother reading (rather than the more literalistic approach favored by e.g. the ESV, NASB, etc.), end up with a phrase that is just, well, a little funny to read:

So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (NIV2011)

As I worked through the surrounding chapter more carefully, though, the verse came home in a way that it never had before (even if I still think, and probably will always think, that it reads a little funny in English).

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out his twelve disciples1 to do the same kinds of work he had been doing: casting out demons, healing people of their diseases, cleansing lepers, and even raising people from the dead. The comments that follow were his commission statements to his disciples. These are, notably, not exactly the cheeriest commissioning statements one might think to offer: they include not only the strong implication that the disciples would be rejected, but the promise of persecution even from within one’s own family and an incredibly heightened sense of the cost of discipleship. Following Jesus and taking his name to the nations is not child’s play, but hard and costly work.

And it is in this context that we find the somewhat amusing quote cited above—specifically, as Jesus warns his disciples not to act out of fear of man. The context makes the sentence much more serious: Jesus has just said that they should not fear men, who can kill only the body, but should instead fear God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell. He follows the statement with the promise that he will acknowledge before the Father those who acknowledge him before men… and deny before the Father those who deny him before men. The word about the sparrows, then—the promise that God cares about even the sparrows, and so much more for his children—is an enormously comforting thought when situated as it is in its context of prophesied persecution and hardship for those who follow Christ.

I am worth more than many sparrows. Hallelujah: I can proclaim Christ without fear of man.

Genealogies Are Fun, Right?

I also read Genesis 10 today. This is one of those lists of names that we generally find boring and pointless. However, if we affirm the divine inspiration of Scripture—that is, if we really believe that the Holy Spirit superintended the composition of these books so that we have everything we need, and we need everything we have—then there is a reason that there are lists of names in the Bible. I can think of several immediately: First, they are important in many cultures, even if not our own, as markers of historicity and authenticity. Second, they serve as markers for the reality that God is and always has been aware of the minutiae of even our genealogies. Third, and perhaps most significantly, they are part of the framework by which God communicates his ongoing work in history, culminating in the lists of names that come early in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel accounts. These are not mere random lists of names; they are part of the way God made sure that everyone could see that he kept his promise.

Tonight, I noticed one more of the tiny little pieces of Scripture that goes along with that. At the end of Genesis 10, Moses makes a neat little literary move that I had never caught before: he introduces the word “nations” into the narrative for the first time. Now, that might be mildly interesting if I didn’t know where things were going—but I do. I know that in just a matter of a few chapters, God will promise explicitly to make a nation that blesses all the families of the earth through Abraham. Just chapters after that, he will use the same word to promise that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s seed. This idea grows ever more prominent throughout the Old Testament: God will use Israel to bless the nations. It flowers into full fruition in the coming of Christ and his commission to his disciples: to preach the gospel to all the nations. Again: God keeps his promises, and even the dry little details like genealogies fit into the big picture of his glorious redemptive work in history, culminating in Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam, the son of God.


  1. The list here has at least one interesting thing in it: it unsurprisingly highlights Peter and Judas, first and last in the list respectively—all the lists of the Twelve do likewise—but it also highlights Matthew. Not just his name, but his role: Matthew the tax-collector. “Yes, I wrote this book; but no, I have no grounds for pride. Jesus called me from abusing my own people for material gain to follow him. Here we are.” 

Hang On, Did You Say “Calmed a Storm”?

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Jesus, upon finishing the Sermon on the Mount, came down from the mountain and immediately continued setting the world on its head. “Do not think that I came to abolish [the Law or the Prophets],” he said; “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The statement seems a bit mysterious at the time, but suddenly it becomes a bit clearer, because the things Jesus does when he comes down from the mountain are, well… surprising, and not always in line with the Law and the Prophets as the people understood them.

Right off the bat, he not only heals a leper, but does so by touching said leper. Jesus immediately became ceremonially unclean.1 He then instructs the leper to fulfill the rest of the Mosaic Law—after having forfeited his own cleanness for that man’s sake in a way that ran directly contrary to the understanding of his peers about the intent of that Law.

The next narrative section is just as surprising—or it should be, if we were not so inured to it by familiarity. A centurion in the Roman army—the occupiers and oppressors of Israel—comes to him and asks him to heal his servant. Jesus makes the first surprising move simply by acquiescing to the request: “I will come and heal him,” he says (v. 7). And then things become truly surprising. First, the centurion rejects Jesus’ offer to come, arguing that Jesus need only speak and whatever he says will be done—to which Jesus replies that he has not seen any such measure of faith among Israel, and promptly heals the man’s servant. Then he tells everyone that people from all over the world will come sit at God’s table while the “sons of the kingdom” (the biological heirs of the promise to Abraham) will be kicked out.

So now in the span of a few verses, Jesus has touched a leper, proclaimed a Gentile superior in his faith to anyone he had encountered in all Israel, and then announced that the fulfillment of the Messianic promises of the nations coming into Israel would coincide not with Israel’s exaltation but her disgrace. Coming to Matthew after reading the Old Testament, these announcements prompt mingled affirmation and confusion—affirmation, because yes, these are the things God promised; but confusion, because the way they are coming is not exactly what one would expect.

Jesus heals more people of sickness and demons. Then he calms a storm (to which his disciples, traveling with him, can say only, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”—immediately after pleading for him to save them; see Matthew 8:25–27). That one took me aback a little bit, in at least two ways: (1) These men who had been following Jesus around watching him perform miracles, even to the point that they thought he might be able to do something while they were threatened by the weather, were astounded by what he actually did.2 (2) He calmed a storm. Jesus spoke, and the storm calmed and the waves went away. He was God. Not just a powerful prophet, not just a man used of God, but God himself, and it showed. The point comes home again when he casts out yet more demons and sends them into a herd of pigs—he has the authority to do that!

Sometimes slowing down and thinking about the books, especially in their settings in the Bible as a whole, helps me see things more clearly. In this case, it makes it much more obvious why the people found Jesus so confusing: he doesn’t do anything the “right” way, and he was always doing things that took people’s breath away, because he was God and man. More—much more—than they expected in their Messiah. Someone not only to follow to the worship of God in the new age, but God himself, to be worshipped.


  1. It strikes me that this is a major part of what Jesus does for us: he comes to us, and touches us, and becomes unclean that we might be healed of our infirmities. 
  2. It is also striking that he rebukes his closest followers for their little faith immediately after commending a Gentile for his great faith. So often we think, “If I could just walk with Jesus, it would be so much easier to believe.” The Bible bears witness in so many ways that this way of thinking is simply wrong—profoundly wrong. 

You Already Got Your Prize

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Matthew 6 includes one of the more provocative statements and approaches to personal holiness anywhere in the Bible. Coming out of the “You have heard it said… but I say…” section in chapter 5, chapter 6 transitions to a series of statements that include, “…they have their reward. But you…” The whole sequence hammers home the cost of public practice of holiness for the eyes of men. The cost, it turns out, is that one gets exactly what one was seeking–but that turns out not to be much of a prize at all.

The adulation of men, in the final reckoning, is a short-lived thing that satisfies no one. Our hearts were made for something deeper, truer, and richer than the admiration of other people: we were made to be satisfied by God’s delight in us and our delight in him. When we please God, we have grounds for real joy. When we simply earn the admiring looks of other men by performing all our good deeds to be noticed… well, we have our reward. We get the attention we want from people, but miss all the real joy in those good deeds–deeds God intended to proceed from our love for him, and which, when they come instead from a desire to be loved by people, become just one more form of idolatry.

And idolatry, it must be said, is a very great part of what got us all into this mess in the first place. So to the man who embraces his man-pleasing ways, and especially to the man who uses “holiness” and good works as a means to earning the favor of other people, God says, “Okay. You got your prize. But that is all there is for you so long as you are pursuing the affections and attentions of other people over and above me.”

It doesn’t satisfy.

All the more striking is the placement of the “Lord’s prayer” here, right in the middle of this section. Matthew seems intent on hammering home that no part of our spiritua life–prayer included–is excluded from Jesus’ critique. The prayer he offers is simple, to the point, and without the flourishes that too often characterize my own ways of approaching God. More, this prayer is to be offered in private, in the closet, where only God hears. Who else actually needs to hear our prayers? Can anyone else answer them? Can anyone else do anything about them–except find us worthy of admiration?1

This is particularly hard-hitting for me, because I have sometimes wondered, “Did others agree with what I prayed?” when, during times of corporate prayer there was little verbal affirmation of my own prayers. (I have wondered such things the most when there was verbal affirmation of others’ prayers but not of mine. Ever “Amen” suddenly seemed a mark for or against me, depending on who was praying when it came out.) Yet, plainly put, that is simply this same idolatry: wanting my prayer to be affirmed by the people around me. I ought instead strive to please God in the way I pray, and rest confident that he hears and responds.

Conviction. Hallelujah.

  1. This is of course not an argument against corporate prayer. It is, instead, an argument against prayer for attention, which can happen in many ways and many places, including corporate prayer… but one could, in fact, very easily make a big deal out of going in the closet for long periods of prayer, simply to earn the admiration of other believers. You already have your prize. 

Four books, five passages, one Messiah

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

And yes, I missed yesterday’s post. I did that on purpose, because I decided that celebrating my fourth anniversary with my wife was much more important than writing a 500-word blog post. Perhaps because I missed that one, or perhaps because I’m simply in a verbose mood tonight, you’re getting more than the usual 500 words in the main text, and a lot more if you count the footnotes.

One of the interesting things about tackling multiple sections of Scripture at the same time is seeing the ways they shine light on each other. If we affirm – as I do – that Scripture is inspired not only in its individual parts but as a whole book, as a canon, then putting the pieces together can make all of them make more sense.1 Today, for example, I was reading in Genesis 4, Psalms 9 and 10, Proverbs 20, and Matthew 5. One would not necessarily expect these five (counting each of the Psalms as a distinct reading2) disparate texts to particularly overlap in their content.

In a way, that expectation is not far wrong. Genesis 4 highlights Cain’s murder of Abel, his offspring’s worsening sin, and the birth of Seth and his son Enosh. The Psalms both focus on God’s righteousness and sovereign rule over the earth, though from different angles – in the first, David expresses thanksgiving for God’s judgment on evildoers; in the second, he offers a pained plea for God to judge wicked men who seem to get away with their sin. Proverbs, as is typical for The Proverbs of Solomon (chapters 10–24), is a mix without a particular focus. Matthew 5 contains the first part of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, including the beatitudes, his declaration that he has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law,3 and his series of “You have heard it said… but I say…” statements.

Genesis 4 hammers home that sin escalates. It is a matter of mere sentences from the time God removes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to the time their first son murders their second son in a fit of jealousy. It is only a few more sentences before one of Cain’s descendants is boasting about how he will kill a man over trivial offenses. Things start bad and get worse in a hurry. The end of the chapter – and the end of the section that started in chapter 2 – gives a little hope, though: when Adam and Eve have Seth, Eve declares that God has given her an “offspring,” a seed: the very word God used to promise the one who would crush the serpent’s head, and the word that becomes a touchstone throughout the rest of Scripture to point to the coming Messiah. Then people began to call on the name of Yahweh.4

David was the anointed king of Israel. He was the first fulfillment of God’s promise to set the crown in the line of Judah, and that promise in turn was part of God’s Messianic promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In both of these Psalms, though, his focus is on the righteous reign of Yahweh as the hope of the oppressed against the wicked. In both the prayer of thanksgiving (Psalm 9) and the imprecatory prayer (Psalm 10), David ultimately returns to Yahweh’s eternal reign as the hope of the righteous over and against the predations of the wicked. Yet, as the second psalm makes clear, Yahweh does not seem to be reigning at the moment.

The Proverbs of Solomon rarely dive directly into theology proper or what we might call “theological anthropology.” The focus is nearly always on enormously practical observations about life – the sorts of things that really are profitable to make us wise, but which do not directly tell us about the character of God or our relationship to him. They are, instead, focused on wisdom that God has given us to be able to live wisely in this world, broken as it is. In the middle of this set of Proverbs, however, are a pair of statements that caught my attention because they are more theologically elevated, as it were. Verse 9 reads, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” and verse 12 reads, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, Yahweh has made them both.” Between the two the author suddenly and sharply reminds the reader that God made all things, and that no one is capable of making himself righteous or pure in heart – and so all are accountable before God who is creator and judge.

Finally, in Matthew Jesus takes the high bar of the righteousness demanded by the Law and the Prophets, and modeled by the Pharisees, and sets it incredibly higher. The final of his “You have heard it said… but I say” sayings ends thus: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is impossibly higher. The just and righteous God who made all things, who really is reigning and who does judge the wicked even if it does not always seem so, demands that we be perfect. But this same God promised a seed who would set things to right – a promise he was honoring and keeping, Matthew has made clear already, right down through Jesus.

When Jesus says he hasn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them – when he continues by saying they won’t pass away until they are completely fulfilled – and then promptly makes it clear that no one is going to fulfill them but him, Proverbs 20:9 comes back to mind. “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” No one – but Jesus. He made all things; he fulfilled the law; his heart was pure and clean; he is the seed; he is the one on whom people call for salvation; he judges the wicked and was judged for our wickedness; he is the final Davidic king who reigns forever; he is the one who is perfect as our Father is perfect and who has given us his perfection.


  1. This is one reason I’d like to see pastors preach through longer sections of more parts of the Bible much more frequently. But more on that in a non-devotional post, some other day. This post is going to be long even as it is. 
  2. Worth note: the original text doesn’t have any heading between the two chapters, unlike many other breaks. As such, it is possible they should be viewed as connected, at least to some extent: the editor of the Psalms grouped and arranged them in a particular way for a reason. Again: more on that some other day. 
  3. Which is flatly shocking if you actually step back and read the book as a book, rather than importing your assumptions about what Jesus is doing, and especially if you read it in its canonical context. Here we are, plowing into the Messianic narrative Matthew provides as the first book out of the Old Testament, and with absolutely no reason in the book – and certainly no clear reason to expect it from the Old Testament – Jesus suddenly announces that he’s not here to abolish the Law or the Prophets. We’ve become so inured to the changes the New Covenant brought that we rarely stop and consider this at all. “Why in the world,” we should all be asking, “would anyone think – at this point, at least – that he was going to abolish the Law or the Prophets?” And then he promptly goes and even further ups the ante… but more on that back in the non-footnote text. 
  4. I use God’s self-revealed name because I do not see any warrant in Scripture to follow the Jewish custom of not speaking or writing it. When you see Lord in the Old Testament and it’s in small caps (as it is there if you have a decent, modern web browser), that’s “Yahweh.” 

“O God of my righteousness”

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Genesis 2 stands in stark contrast to Psalms 3 and 4, Proverbs 16, and Matthew 2 in an entirely different way. In Genesis 2, Moses describes the creation of humankind in considerable detail, elaborating and expanding on the description he gave in chapter 1. Everything is good. There is a garden in which man is to work; marriage was instituted but unbroken (and man’s desire for someone like him was fulfilled), and the world was as it should be.

And David pleads for the aid of God, and notes that he slept and woke again only because Yahweh kept him from the hand of his murderous enemy – that is, from his son.

Arise, O Yahweh!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked

Salvation belongs to Yahweh;
your blessing be on your people!
—Psalm 3:7–8

And again, in Psalm 4, David pleads for God’s salvation. These are not the words of a man whose life is painless and perfect:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?
—Psalm 4:1–2

Matthew, too, has a tale of woe. Herod deceives the wise men who come seeking the Messiah, and then in his rage murders little children. Mothers and fathers saw their young ones struck down because a wicked man thought he could thwart the plan of God – a plan he misunderstood utterly, though no more than any of his peers.

So there is a sharp and biting contrast between the world of Genesis 2 and the worlds of the Psalms and Matthew. It is in the continuity that I found joy, though: the God of Genesis 2, who made all things good, who delighted to bring the man a helper suitable for him, is the God who is David’s savior, and who sent angels to protect Joseph and Mary and the God-child. So in a fallen world, David can write not only his pleas for help, but also:

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
—Psalm 4:3

And again:

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put rmore joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
—Psalm 4:6

Grain and wine are good things; their abounding are a legitimate cause for rejoicing. But knowing God is a better joy, and a great cause for rejoicing.

But above all, in the context of these contrasts, this one phrase (in Psalm 4:1) stands out: “Oh God of my righteousness.” David is pleading with the God who is the source of his righteousness. The righteousness that Adam and Eve had is lost – so broken and twisted and distorted until king kills infants and son seeks to take his own father’s life. David has nothing (I have nothing) but the righteousness God gives. And that righteousness was in the form of a man. He was made like us in every respect (see Hebrews 2). That little baby had dirty swaddling clothes that his parents had to change; he went through long nights of teething; he was sometimes inexplicably fussy. All that so that I might, with David, call on the God of our righteousness.

When the first Maker became made

I am starting a new discipline: for the next six weeks, I am seeking to follow a specific, simple reading plan I’ve devised for working through the Scriptures, along with some other personal goals. One of the goals is to write some “devotional” reflections every day. As such, I’ll be sharing thoughts from my morning reading late each day – after it has had time to marinate and stew all day, and when I have strong incentives to keep the word count (and thus, the amount of time I spend on it) to a minimum. You can expect to see roughly 500 words a day; if I occasionally go long or short you’ll simply have to forgive me.

This morning’s reading included Genesis 1 and Matthew 1. I was struck, reading through Matthew 1 immediately after Genesis 1, how incredible the story is. The God who made everything – who spoke the universe into being, who imagined light and darkness, who fashioned the earth with its peaks and its valleys and its vast seas, who filled the land with ferns and flowers and towering trees, who spun the stars through the vast empty span of the heavens, who shaped cetaceans and made mastodons, who capped his creation with feeble, magnificent humanity – this God stepped into the womb of a woman.

I too rarely feel the force of that: God became a man. The one who made us in his image took on everything that it means to be a human. The ancient divines summed it up magnificently: Jesus partakes of everything that it is to be human, and he is at the same time everything that it is to be God. In magnificent, marvelous mystery, he was both a rapidly splitting mass of cells in the body of a young Jewish woman in Palestine, and still upholding the universe by the word of his power.

This is too great a thing for our minds to grasp. That God who made all things has dwelt among us? This is myth, or the greatest of all possible jests. And indeed, it is both: myth come true (and every heart should leap to hear just one of the fairy-story endings come true), and a cause for laughter in the same vein as (but so much grander than) a platypus. There is nothing to top it – save perhaps the doctrine of the Trinity. There is one to make your head spin and your heart leap and set the world on its ear.

The God who made Adam is now also the son of David, the son of Abraham. (As Luke adds: the son of Adam.) Preposterous? Yes. Wonderful? Yes. Too good to be true? No: it is the one of the only things good enough to be true.

God made all things, then became one of the things he made and did not stop being god. Hallelujah.

In Your Face, Satan!

The following paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the constraint that it be between 600 and 625 words.

Matthew 4:1–11

The Meaning of the Text

Jesus faced trials no less profound—indeed, many of them more profound—than any that we encounter, and he overcame them all. Beyond the ordinary trials of a life in ministry, he resisted temptations specific to his position as the God-man and new representative head of humanity. In the selfsame ways that Adam and Israel had failed when tempted, Jesus triumphed. The tempter who seduced Adam and Eve; who caused David, King of Israel, to stumble and bring ruin on God’s people; and who so often and skillfully led Israel after other gods could not turn Jesus from his divine mission. Jesus is indeed the Son of God. Read on, intrepid explorer →