Category Archives: Matthew

Matthew 11:1-6 – John’s Messianic Expectations, and Israel’s True Messiah

The first half of chapter 11 is about John the Baptist. Matthew says:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Christ, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

First notice that Matthew doesn’t call Jesus, Jesus, but “the Christ.” The context of what is to come, Jesus’ answer, is that he is Israel’s promised Messiah, and Matthew calls him that. The other thing to notice is John’s doubt about who Jesus is. You would think of all people, John would be the last to doubt the identity of his cousin. All of his life he was aware of his nearly miraculous birth, and his cousin’s most definitely miraculous birth. Then as he began his own ministry we saw him “Prepare the way for the Lord.” Not just anyone, mind you, but Yahweh. John tells us in his gospel that when John saw Jesus coming he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” He knew very well who Jesus was.

So why does he doubt now? Uh, he’s in prison. The Messiah Jews were expecting wasn’t exactly the Messiah Jesus turned out to be. We can’t be sure what was in John’s mind when he called Jesus the Lamb of God, but we can be confident he didn’t think ending up in Herod’s prison and likely to lose his head was part of his vision for Israel’s Messiah. Talk about shattered expectations. But if you think about it, shattered expectations is a common theme of many Old Testament (and New) saints. God rarely lives up to our expectations, as is the way it should be if he is God and we are not!

You have to imagine that John thought that even though his ministry was to take a back seat to Jesus’, he would have some place of prominence in Jesus new kingdom. This is all speculation, but it’s not unreasonable. But Jesus’ answer leaves no doubt as to who he is:

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Jesus is basically reciting these words from Isaiah 35:5-6 for John:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

Jesus is confident that John knows his Scripture, so notice what he is saying to John by the verse prior to these two:

say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Remember back in Matthew 3 when it seemed to me that John was mixing up Jesus’ two comings. He wasn’t so much mixing these up because nobody knew there would be two, but it’s the context of vengeance and retribution that they are confusing. God, they think, is going to take it out on his enemies, not at all realizing that every sinner, i.e. every human being, is God’s enemy by birth. What the Lord is saying through Isaiah, and what Jesus is confirming by his healing ministry, is that he, God in human flesh, has come to save his people through his vengeance and divine retribution. He will do that, taking the punishment of God’s wrath due to us, on a Roman cross. He’s saying to John (and us) that, I’ve got you buddy. There’s something more important than an earthly kingdom. So John losing his head, as terrifying as that was for John, was of minor importance in the grand scheme of things we know as redemptive history.


Matthew 10:29-42 – The Cross: Suffering, Sorrow, and Redemptive Hope

As the chapter continues Jesus gives the Apostles (and us) words of encouragement, that God cares for them (and us) very much, that we don’t have to be fearful because he’s got us covered (in more ways than one):

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

God’s providence, what will and will not happen, what does and does not happen in our lives is absolute. Good, bad, neutral, all of it, we can trust that he’s in control. This might not be all that comforting when things are not going quite like we think they should be, but in those times his providence is actually most valuable to us.

We have God’s promise through Paul in Romans 8 that “all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Paul says we “know” this, we can trust it. As I often joke with my kids, he certainly doesn’t mean all things. He must mean most things, surely. Nope, all. And we notice it’s not all things are good, but work for the good. When life hands us lemons, God is busy at work fashioning those lemons into the most exquisite lemonade, with a focus on eternal refreshment. And speaking of our worth to God, he values us so much he came to earth, became one of us, and died a horrible, ignominious death that we might spend eternity with him! So anytime we are tempted to think God has it out for us, all we need do is look to the cross, at a mangled, naked Savior, and we’ll know he gets it, and he most definitely has us covered. Talk about hope! No other religion, let alone the religion of atheism, comes close.

The rest of the chapter is about who is going to stand up for Jesus, or not. This section makes me go back to the many skeptics who argue that Jesus doesn’t make claims to divinity in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but when you read what he’s says in the final part of this chapter you can conclude nothing else. A typical human being would not say this:

 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

And not only just before generic “men,” but Jesus tells them that loyalty to him takes precedence even over their families! Most people who don’t know the Bible think it presents to us a meek and mild Jesus—not even close. A can’t-we-all-get-along Jesus. Ha! That kind of Jesus would never say something like:

34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Then quoting the prophet Micah he tells them that their own family members will be their enemies. I don’t think it’s an accident that the very next verse in Micah is:

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

And why he can say to the Apostles (an us) with a straight face:

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Only the LORD (Yahweh) could say such a thing, which is exactly who Jesus is claiming he is. He is God our Savior. Then he says something that portends the way he will die, but that also reflects the life of his followers:

38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

This must have been shocking for his disciples to hear. Wait, Jesus, what about our best life now? He replies, I’m your best life now, and forever! And the way to finding true life in me, he says, is through a life which is exemplified by the horrific symbol of suffering, torture, shame, and death. Do I have any volunteers? Jesus really is a horrible salesman. Which is why these are the actual, accurate, historical words of the real Jesus of Nazareth who walked highways and byways of ancient Israel. If human beings make up a religion, they don’t make up this! We seem to so often forget what Isaiah tells us about the kind of person Jesus was:

He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

I imagine there must have been an ineffable sadness about Jesus at times. Look what’s happened to his creation and his creatures, and what he must endure to fix it. No be happy attitudes for this Jesus, the one we follow, or for us. As much as we can at times experience peace, hope, and joy in the Lord, and what he provides for us in our lives, the gravitational pull of sin always weighs it all down. The dust of death, I’ve called it. It’s okay to be sad and melancholy at times because our Savior was too. Strangely enough, knowing this makes it much easier to deal with our lives when they don’t live up to our hopes and dreams and desires because even for those who think they do, they don’t. Nothing fulfills ultimately but Jesus, and why those who lose their life for his sake will find it, through the cross.

And remember, the cross is also a symbol of our redemption. Taking up the cross isn’t just about suffering, so everything about our lives has a redemptive aspect to it. In other words, we have a powerful hope in God’s transformational purposes in our lives, for our good and his Glory. It’s called the gospel, the good news, the very good news.

Matthew 10:24-28 – What the Hell???

Jesus continues this dense chapter saying his enemies are going to treat the Apostles exactly the way they treat him. He refers to an epithet thrown at him by these enemies, Beelzebul. From what I can gather from the commentaries, this was the name (likely from Baal) given to the most hated idols of Israel’s past, and in effect a name for Satan himself. So if they call Jesus this as “the head of the house . . . how much more the members of his household!” This “job description” for the Apostles just keeps getting better and better. Now they are going to be compared to Satan! Remember that the Pharisees already claimed that Jesus drives out demons by the prince of demons.

Jesus, though, tells them (and us) to not be afraid of theses enemies. Why? Given everything he’s said they are going to endure, how could they not be afraid? First of all, in so many words, the truth will win out in the end. Everything will one day be revealed. So no need to be timid, but proclaim the message from the housetops! This will come true for the Apostles after Pentecost when they boldly proclaim the good news regardless of the cost. Then Jesus tells them (and us) what we should rightly fear:

 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

This is the fourth of seven times Jesus uses the word “hell” in Matthew (the word is used only 13 times in the New Testament—the Acts references are not “hell”—and 11 of those are by Jesus). It seems it’s a place and a concept he wants us to take seriously. What does this tell us about the modern world’s obsession with the body and health? Could it be that we’ve had an inversion of priorities, and those that have eternal, forever consequences?

What of this concept of hell? I have a problem with the idea of an eternal, forever, everlasting punishment for human beings who had no choice in being born. Skeptics like to point out the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. The sin or rebellion is committed in a finite period of time, but the punishment is infinite? That doesn’t make sense, they say, and to me either. They claim it is plainly unjust. And why would God create people he doesn’t want to save from that punishment? Just like he saves his people through nothing they could do on their own. The only honest answer is, we have no idea.

If we will only accept something we can’t possibly comprehend by demanding we must comprehend it, well, that’s kind of irrational, no? Being finite creatures, in knowledge and being (i.e., epistemologically and ontologically), there is much we will never know or understand which we either accept on some trusted authority, or we become an absolute cynic. In fact, I’m not sure there is any other area of life where we insist we must fully comprehend something before we’ll accept it’s legitimacy or veracity. That’s because there are good reasons to trust the source and the information; in the end all knowledge is attained on the same basis. “Religious” knowledge is no different. That’s why I define faith as, trust based on adequate evidence.

For a thousand and one apologetics reasons (to “give an answer” in this verse is the Greek word ἀπολογία, or apologia, as to defend in a court of law), I accept the testimony of the Bible as historically accurate. So I have no rational basis to accept what Jesus says 98% of the time, but reject what to me doesn’t seem quite right with the other 2% (or pick your number). Like the idea of hell. It really bothers me and I just don’t want it to be true (except for maybe the real baddies, e.g., Stalin, Hitler, child molesters, etc.), but if Jesus says it is, I am compelled to believe it is. How do I reconcile my ambivalence? When I come to the limits of my knowledge, understanding, and acceptance, I turn to these words of Moses in Deut. 32 just prior to his death and not being allowed by Yahweh to enter the promised land:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.

So whatever we can say or think of hell, we cannot say God sending people there will be unjust because God’s being is the ultimate ground or definition of what is just. It all comes down to whether we trust the character of God. I do, and it is the more satisfying and intellectually honest of the two choices we have, because there are only two choices. Either it is true, speaking of hell, or it is not. And this is the case every time in life we “just don’t get it,” especially when things get really hard: Do we trust in the character, goodness, providence, sovereignty, and love of God, or not. I’ll put my cards on the omni-everything being, and not pathetic, increasingly old, limited me.

I hadn’t planned to spend to much time on hell (go figure), so I’ll continue in the next post where I left off.


Matthew 10:1-23 – Fun Times in Store for Jesus’ Apostles

This is a dense chapter with a lot going on. Jesus sends out “the twelve” disciples, whom Matthew calls apostles for the only time in his gospel . Once he chooses them, and Matthew names them all, including Judas, “who betrayed him,” the rest of the chapter is a recitation of Jesus’ teaching about what they should do and what they will encounter when they go out to the “lost sheep of Israel.” He tells them distinctly not to go to the Gentiles or Samaritans. The gospel will go out to these after the resurrection, but for now Israel is the focus.

The mission of the twelve apostles is clearly unique because Jesus says to them,

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

This is apostolic power to build the foundation of the church, and power we see exercised in the Acts of the Apostles. They are also to go without any provision, and only accept generosity as it is offered. Clearly not a good model for missionary work. Jesus also says he’s not looking for simpletons to preach this message of the kingdom of heaven:

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

We don’t often associate shrewdness with the Apostles (or any ministers of the gospel), but it’s a requirement of preaching a message in a fallen world hostile to it. In fact, he predicts persecution for them, which we see play out in their ministry after Pentecost. We also see the uniqueness of the Apostles in the provision of the Holy Spirit as they are enduring prosecution:

17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

The mention of governors and kings tells us that this movement Jesus started is going to get big. And think how these guy must have felt knowing that flogging and jail was in their future because of Jesus—might be cause for more than a little ambivalence. Prior to the resurrection and Pentecost they would not have been able to endure such treatment, afterword we see they exalt in it. The Apostles are also unique because not every Christian is promised that “the Spirit of your Father” would be speaking through them. We have the New Testament and cannot go beyond it, they made the New Testament. In other words, there are no apostles after the Apostles, which is why I’m not a Catholic, nor Pentecostal or charismatic.

Jesus tells them they will be in for more fun times in that even their family members will betray them to death. Death? Boy, Jesus, this whole Apostle thing is really cool, healing the sick and all, but flogging, jail, and death? How could these guys be processing all this? To us these are words out of human context, but when spoken they must have been terrifying. And if Jesus is really the Messiah, why is he predicting all this opposition? In fact he says to them, “You will be hated by everyone because of me.” Nice sales job, Jesus!

Apologetics point: If you’re making up a story about the beginning of a new religion, would you make the leader of said religion “sell” it this way? Come on guys, follow me, and misery, death, persecution, and hatred will all be yours! I don’t think so. It rings true.

I imagine at the time they didn’t know what in the world to think. Yes, the Lord’s prophets in Israel often experienced persecution, but wasn’t the Messiah supposed to be a conquering hero, to bring Israel back to the glories of the Davidic kingdom? Maybe not. At least not in the way anyone was expecting.

Jesus piles on by saying their families will hate them, even to the point of family members having other family members put to death. He tops it all off with, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” Well, they can’t say they didn’t know what they were getting into. I’ll end this post with Jesus saying something that nobody is quite sure what it means:

I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man” for himself a lot in the gospels, and by it he refers to himself as the divine Messiah, the Savior of Israel. Maybe he means his death and resurrection when he is fully revealed to them as that Savior. It’s like he’s saying something is going to happen in this coming that is going to change the nature of their ministry. After the resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus tells them they will now go to all nations, not just Israel, or as he puts it in Acts, that they “will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


Matthew 9:27-38 – The Son of David has Come as Lord of His Harvest

Matthew continues chapter 9 with more healing. In the next story, two blind men following Jesus (it doesn’t say how they did this being blind) call out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” The men giving Jesus this title, and Matthew telling the story, is an important piece of Jesus’ self-revelation. He accepts the moniker because, as Matthew tells us prior to the genealogy in the first chapter, that Jesus is indeed the Son of David. As, “in the lineage of” David. All Jews looked back longingly to the glories of the Davidic Kingdom, and that one day a Messiah would come to restore to Israel such a kingdom. The blind men believe Jesus was that Messiah, but they, and everyone else, could not fathom the kind of kingdom Jesus would be ushering in. It is also ironic that it took a couple blind men were the first to “see” that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.

Jesus obliges and touches their eyes, and their site was restored. For some reason Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” Of course everyone who knows them knows they were blind, so they told people and “the news about him spread all over that region.” Then a demon-possessed mute man is brought to Jesus and he heals him as well. And the people’s response is the truth: “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” In all of Israel’s long history, Jesus is completely unique. While Matthew doesn’t say this directly, he is fulfilling prophecies of Isaiah about the one who was to come and save his people. To pick one from Isaiah 35:4-6:

say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

Our God is a God of evidence. Jesus didn’t have to open the eyes of the blind or make the mute speak, but he does it for those who were waiting for the Messiah so they might believe. But like skeptics in our own day, evidence will not convince everybody. The Pharisees, who in due course condemn him to death, say, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” What more does Jesus have to do to prove he is the long awaited Messiah? Because of the darkness of the human heart, no amount of evidence will be good enough for some people. For them, Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden is the reason why: they want to be like God, knowing good and evil. But for those who want to let their Creator be their God, Jesus provides more than enough evidence. So his self-revelation continues:

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

Over 400 years prior, the prophet Malachi ended his little book with this prophecy:

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.

Jesus is telling and showing us that Israel’s long wait is over.

The chapter ends with Jesus having compassion on the crowds “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Which brings to mind David’s declaration in Psalm 23, that the Lord is his shepherd, and because of that he lacks nothing. By contrast the prophets railed against Israel’s leadership because they scattered rather than tended to the people’s true needs. In this exact context in Jeremiah 23 the Lord says “he will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Well, Jesus is that Branch, and Matthew ends the chapter with Jesus telling his disciples:

 “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

What is a harvest? It is the process or period of gathering in crops. Why did Jesus come? To “save his people from their sins,” as we learn from the angel of the Lord when Jesus is named. And notice not only is Jesus the Lord of the harvest, it is “his harvest field.” The workers are gathering in those the Lord came to save.

Matthew 9:14-26 – Jesus is the New Wine, and They Laugh

Next in Matthew 9, Jesus is questioned by John’s disciples about fasting. They want to know why they and the Pharisees fast, but his disciples do not. Again Jesus is upending expectations. Everyone is expecting Jesus as the Messiah to basically be a continuation of Judaism as it has been practiced for over a thousand years, only they’ll get to call the shots now and not the Romans. Jesus, though, says he’s come to bring something completely new.

First Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom, and weddings are not a time for fasting but feasting. When he leaves, they will fast, but in the meantime his presence is hope and joy, not dour religious observance. Then he tells of the metaphor of new wine and old wineskins, and that you don’t pour the former into the latter. I don’t know anything about wineskins, given our win comes in bottles, but Jesus is telling John’s disciples, and us, that what he’s bringing is something the old wineskins will not be able to contain. And it’s so radically different that the Jews will be compelled to kill Jesus thinking they’re doing their people a favor, and ironically they were doing just that. (Although as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, different as in fulfillment, not revolutionary change.)

Then Matthew tells the story of “a ruler” (assuming Jewish) coming and begging Jesus to go with him and heal his daughter. Jesus goes, and on the way “a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years got it in her mind that if she even just touched Jesus’ cloak she could be healed. She did and she was. Jesus realizes this has happened and says, “Take heart, daughter, . . . your faith has healed you.” But it wasn’t the faith itself that healed her. Rather it was the object of her faith, Jesus. Christianity is never about our faith, how much we have of it, how strong it is, how much we feel it. Think of it like our eyeballs. We never think of them, but only what they see. Too many Christian traditions would have us obsess over cornea, pupil, lens, and retina rather than the beautiful sunset.

When Jesus gets to the ruler’s house, it’s obviously too late because there’s a big commotion over the girl’s death. But Jesus says she’s just sleeping, and their response is to me strangely comforting:

But they laughed at him.

Of course Jesus gets the last laugh, but even with all the miracles and profound wisdom he spoke, people saw Jesus then much as many people do today: a joke. Sure he’s a sage and prophet, what have you, but he certainly can’t raise any little girls from the dead. They laughed and mocked our Savior, so it should never surprise us when they laugh and mock us. When he goes in the house and “wakes” the girl, the people aren’t laughing anymore, and his fame “spread through all the region.”

I think something else is going on in this story. Jesus said, “The girl is not dead but asleep.” But of course she was “dead” in the sense that her heart and brain waves had stopped. If it wasn’t so obvious that she was clinically dead, the people would never have responded to Jesus with laughter. They knew then as well as we do today what dead looks and feels like. Jesus, though, might also have been telling us something else, that death even though it seems final to us is really more for us like sleeping than the end of our existence. That’s really difficult to buy into when it seems so starkly final, but that’s the promise of the gospel. In John 11, Jesus is speaking to Martha just prior to raising his friend Lazarus from the dead:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus clearly says we die, which is kind of hard to ignore, but that if we believe in him we “will never die.” I am coming to the conclusion that our physical death is just one of the body because we ourselves are not our body; rather our souls or consciousness are who we are. The body is inextricably linked to our souls, but it does not equal it. When I look at Bill, for instance, I know Bill is not his body. There is more to his unique self, which in Christian terms is his soul. I believe that Bill’s soul, his conscious “I,” is what according to Jesus’ promise will never die, i.e., never lose consciousness. In death our body looks like we are sleeping, but our conscious selves, our souls, are with the Lord. Then one day, as Paul tells us, this perishable body will be raised imperishable, and we will be resurrected to everlasting life, body and soul one in Christ!



Matthew 9:9-13 – Jesus Did Not Come for the “Righteous,” But for Sinners

With the healing of the paralytic, we see Jesus begin his self-revelation of who he is and why he’s come to earth. Matthew then expands on this with his own calling by Jesus. Again upsetting expectations, Jesus sees Matthew at his tax collector’s booth, and tells him to follow him; he does, no questions asked. At some point Jesus ends up at Matthew’s house for dinner. Nothing is said in the text, but this was scandalous. The Jews despised tax collectors because they were working for and doing the bidding of the hated Romans. How could Jesus want one of them as his followers, let alone enter his house for a meal. Again, this doesn’t appear to me like a story that a Jew in the first century expecting their Davidic Messiah would make up.

To add insult to injury, “many tax collectors and ‘sinners'” came and ate with him and his disciples,” and the pharisees want to know why. If you’re going to be a Jewish “religious professional” you just don’t do that! But Jesus is expanding his self-revelation: he’s come specifically for “sinners.” As he says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” The Pharisees don’t think they’re sick; they don’t see themselves as sinners, so they don’t need a Savior. Jesus hasn’t come for those kind of people, but for those who know they can’t measure up, who realize they, like Paul says, “fall short of the glory of God.” You would think, though, that they would have known their own Scriptures where it says twice that:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

In fact, Jesus tells them that he did “not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Since there are none righteous, those who won’t admit they are sin sick sinners won’t see their need for a Savior. They will resist going to the doctor because they’re doing okay, they’re not all that bad, they think. Jesus expands on this in Luke’s gospel in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, and addresses it to those “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.”

The religious professionals completely missed the message of the entire Old Testament, that we are powerless to earn God’s acceptance through our own obedience to the law, as if we could attain a righteousness acceptable to God. You wonder if they even ever read it. They obviously missed where Isaiah says that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Or that we need to be saved and delivered, and that we can’t save and deliver ourselves. It’s all over the Old Testament. Did they forget the Exodus, something God encourages them not to do over and over? The Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians as we are slaves to sin, and without a Savior we’ll be forever slaves.

Because of their obtuseness, Jesus gives them a little hint at the answer when he encourages them to go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” a verse from the prophet Hosea. In other words, religious duty isn’t going to get it done. We can’t earn the salvation we so desperately need. I guess the Pharisees thought that the Messiah would come to reward the righteous, and Jesus tells them just the opposite is the truth: “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Talk about completely missing the point!