God Breaks Out of the Box in the Book of Matthew

I won’t complete this Bible school until the end of June of 2014, but the transition we just recently made from studying the Old Testament for six months into now studying the New Testament has already made this school, for me, one of the greatest blessings of my life. Without even realizing it, I had become attached to God’s people as I have literally been walking with them through their history with God as their Father, King, Provider, Protector, Judge,etc. Experiencing the remarkable transition into the time of Jesus is indescribable, and I highly recommend everyone to strongly consider and pray about doing a Chronological School of Biblical Studies with YWAM; it will change your life in beautiful ways.

Studying the Book of Matthew took so much discipline because each chapter was so rich in Jesus’ teaching – more so than any other book I’ve studied so far. I wanted to sit and meditate on every single passage, but the time constraint just doesn’t allow for it. Personally, it has been more important for me to get the big picture of each book, knowing that later, if I can get into the habit of regular study outside of this school, I will have to time to dig deeper having no deadline.

The time between the last recorded prophet in the Bible (Malachi) and the time of Jesus is often called the “Four Hundred Years of Silence,” as there are no biblical book written in this time frame (although the Apocrypha literature accepted by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches do cover some of this time period).

During these years of silence, the Jews were not a sovereign nation like they were in the days of the kings. There were, as a result, vulnerable to the

Enjoying some down time at Venice Beach

Enjoying some down time at Venice Beachconquering kings and cultures, most notably Alexander the Great who conquered the Persian Empire in about 334 BC. The Greek Empire, with great success, “Hellenized” the nations they conquered (meaning they imposed the Greek culture on the peoples the conquered), and the Jews were put in a position to decide which parts of the Greek culture they accepted and which parts they kept separate from as God’s holy people.

In about 167 BC, Antiochus Epiphanies IV, the Syrian king who rose to power at the end of the Seleucid Empire, tried to recoup from a loss he suffered to Rome in the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC.

Antiochus, in attempts to suppress the Jews and extract taxes ordered them to end their Jewish worship and instead worship the Greek god Zeus. This was when a group of Jews led a revolt against Antiochus’ Hellenization policies. As a result of this successful revolution led by Mattathatis Hasmon (later led by Judas Maccabee), national patriotism among the Jews significantly increased and became the dominant mindset among the people. This is also where the Jewish holiday Hanukkah comes from, when Judas Maccabees successfully drove out the Syrians from the temple and rededicated and cleansed the temple in 164 BC.

It was during these four hundred years of silence that the Pharisees rose to influence, as well. Although their history and origin is a bit obscure, it does seem like this sect of Jews (who weren’t priests) arose out of a desire to remain pure from the Greek and Roman influences. When Judas Maccabees cleansed the temple after his victory against Antiochus (who had defiled the temple by entering it), it is likely that he became the High Priest of the nation, despite the law’s command that only a man from the Zadok line could be High Priest. As Judas Maccabees and other leaders started to increase in faithlessness to the law , the Pharisees arose. In their religious zeal, they were determined to oppose those who did not keep the law. They themselves desired to keep themselves separate from outside cultures with a sincere interest in following the law.

I loved learning this history because it gave me a new empathy for the Pharisees. This desire to be a sovereign nation under God, (compounded by the national patriotism that arose after the Maccabean revolt) plus their desire to strictly adhere to the law all contributed to the reason why the Pharisees were so opposed to Jesus. Jesus didn’t make them a sovereign nation, He didn’t get rid of Rome, and His focus seemed to be on the heart rather than the law (although He obviously still upheld the law and fulfilled it).

So Jesus wasn’t the triumphant king the Pharisees were looking for. And Phariseesmany of the prophecies given in the Scriptures would have been hard for the Pharisees in the day to confirm Jesus as Messiah, even though it may be easier for us to see today:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

    who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
    from ancient days.

Micah 5:2 (cf. Matthew 2:6)

 

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
    lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
    she refuses to be comforted for her children,
    because they are no more.

Jeremiah 31:15 (cf. Matthew 2:18)

 

I then said to them, “If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” So they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver.

Zechariah 11:12,13 (cf. Matthew 27:9)

 

You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
    to silence the enemy and the avenger.

Psalm 8:2 (cf. Matthew 21:16)

And yet, despite the confusion the Scriptures might have caused, many others did believe, simply by Jesus’ teaching and miracles:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Matthew 21:31,32

Unfortunately, the Pharisees’ pride in their knowledge became their stumbling block. It was as if the law had become their god instead of Yahweh Himself. Granted, it came for good reason: they wanted to be sure they stayed pure among the pagan cultures. But they had come to trust more in their own understanding than God. Had they humbled themselves, risking the possibility that they might be wrong, then they would have understood that God was after the purity of their hearts rather than their outward obedience to the law. But they didn’t humble themselves, which is why it was foretold in Isaiah:

‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,
    and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and their ears are hard of hearing,
        and they have shut their eyes;
        so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.’

Matthew 13:15 (cf. Isaiah 6:9)

As believers, we too have access to wisdom into really tough questions, but our hearts have to be willing to submit all of our questions and prejudices to God to make sure we don’t miss out on the truth. We have to be okay with being wrong – a lot. Even in “lesser” circumstances, such as assuming another’s heart motives or intentions, these assumptions must be submitted to God, or else you might form incorrect opinions about other people that negatively affect your relationships.

God is so beyond any of our own mental capacities. I believe the Messianic prophecies were obscure for that reason – He’s just a big God that works and

creates and speaks things beyond the boxes we put Him in. He doesn’t want to confuse us though, but rather give insight for those who humbly ask and have faith that He really does respond.

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3 thoughts on “God Breaks Out of the Box in the Book of Matthew”

  1. So good, Mel!! So well-written and chock-full of revelatory goodness! 🙂
    You’re definitely inspiring me to get on it with my own blog now haha. AND you’re making me seriously consider doing a chronological SBS. What are you doing, Mel?! Derailing all the well-laid plans I had for today…I’m actually on Probverbs 3 today and was just meditating on what it means to trust God and not lean on my own understanding, and it dovetailed with what you said about humbling ourselves, accepting that we might be wrong, and seeking God with an open heart to really follow his outside the box plan and will for our lives. You also did an excellent job with incorporating the extrabiblical historical context into these passages, and then applying it in a practical way by empathizing with the “bad guys”. It really brings the two-dimensional words of the page into more developed, “rounder” characters. I really like that. Anyway, didn’t mean to hijack your blog with this response, but I love reading your stuff and it was great talking to you today. Keep it coming!

    1. Thanks so much Ryan for the encouragement! Would love to read any of your blog entries to inspire me in my own walk with God! It would be awesome if you could do a CSBS, it is seriously such a unique experience to any other Bible school!

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