Ps 32:8-9 Choose counsel.

Psalm 32:8–9 (HCSB): I will instruct you and show you the way to go;
with My eye on you, I will give counsel.
9 Do not be like a horse or mule,
without understanding,
that must be controlled with bit and bridle
or else it will not come near you.

Here God is inviting us to choose the path of intentionally seeking his counsel and instruction in how to live. This is so far away from the earth-trapped thinking of the one who sees God’s instruction as a limiting or invasive burden. A kill-joy legal framework that prevents the full and free agency to do whatever it is one wants to do. Such a person forgets however, that despite the intensity of their desire to throw off all shackles they are never-the-less doomed to remain controlled and fettered by their own shortcomings. Change and growth does not come easily to such a one.

We are invited to observe that the alternative to willingly listen to his instruction is to plod along guided simply by the limitations of one’s own instincts. This is how the horse and mule operate. They are not willing listeners and require the discomfort of a bit to turn their head or change direction. They do not possess independent understanding at all in actuality.

Many have learned the benefit of seeking counsel from those who possess expertise and experience in a specific walks of life, be it in mounting a court defence, building a house, or baking a cake. God is now saying, that with his loving eye on you, his eons of experience, and intimate knowledge of best practice for image bearers, he can liberally and freely offer his life-saving counsel.

The choice is ours to make. Seek out and listen to his voice, or be left to experience the chafing of the bridles of our own making.

Matthew 10:5-8 Jesus sends out the disciples

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Phase II

At this point in Jesus’ ministry he had been teaching and healing publicly for some time, and was known by the public at large and was certainly also on the radar of the religious leaders. His disciples had been with him long enough to have learned some things about the way of the kingdom, and now Jesus was inaugurating phase II of his strategy.

In the preceding passage (Mt 9:35-38), we learn that Jesus although working very hard (Mt 9:35) was not able to meet all the needs he would have liked (Mt 9:36). Time for intern assignments for his disciples!

At that point in time they were to proclaim the message of the kingdom to the Jews only. Nothing against Samaritans and Gentiles mind you, (Jesus ministered to them as well), but just at this juncture, the disciples were still new at this, and probably best off sticking with the culture they can most naturally relate to, and perhaps were less likely to be hostile to (Mt Lk 9:51-56) at that point in their spiritual lives. Also, the beachhead among the Jews was still being established. Ministry to the Samaritans and Gentiles would come in time (Acts 1:8).

The Message

And their message? “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Twenty-first century Christians need to pause and engage with that. Note how different it is to the typical evangelical message of “Jesus will save you from your sins”. It’s a completely different approach. Contemplate what the “kingdom of heaven” is all about and investigate that, rather than heading down a sin/salvation rabbit hole on the first day in spiritual kindergarten.

This is the same message that Jesus (and John) had already been preaching. The very first words out of Jesus’ mouth in his public ministry were “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (Mt 4:17).” Not “Repent, so that you don’t go to hell when you die.” See the difference?

Matthew 13:10-17

Then the disciples  came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered them, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know,  but it has not been given to them. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see,  and hearing they do not listen or understand.  Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You will listen and listen, yet never understand; and you will look and look, yet never perceive.

For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing,and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyesand hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn back—and I would cure them

“But your eyes are blessed  because they do see, and your ears because they do hear!  For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them.

Teaching style

“Your teaching style is different, Jesus. You tell these stories. None of the other rabbis do that. Why do you do it?” That’s essentially what his disciples are asking in this passage. “What’s the parable thing all about?”

Jesus explains that he has been crafting his preaching style as a response to the reality of the varying degrees of receptivity to be found in the hearts of men. Quoting Isaiah 6, he describes the phenomenon of the calloused heart. A heart that has reached the point of being impervious to new truth due its long history of rejecting it. By now, the excuses, finely crafted apologetics and other forms of self-talk easily deflect any new claim for attention. “No more new information please. We are closed.” is written on the sign outside the shopfront of these hearts.

Secrets of the kingdom

And so, while giving them his best shot with a memorable and pointed story Jesus does not attempt to ever forcibly pry open such a heart. There are plenty of others around who are willing to hear about “the secrets of the kingdom” and he will invest his time with them.

So, what are these “secrets of the kingdom” then, and just how secret are they? Well, Jesus is clearly in the process of revealing them (Mt 13:11) to all of those who want to listen and learn. The sentry’s challenge question is “Do you really want to come in” and the password is “Yes”. The things of the kingdom are indeed secrets but not inaccessible ones.

Jesus has just taught the parable of the sower. The secret here? Receive the words of Jesus. Allow the seed to grow. Nurture it. Make room for it in your life. We are not talking any next-level super-secret Q-drop stuff here. Other secrets? The first will be last. Blessed are the meek. The greatest among you will be your servant. The Gentiles are going to be part of this…. Hello?… are you still there?… the line’s breaking up… can you still hear me?

Matthew 12:25-28

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Group Dynamics
There is a lesson in the dynamics of group culture to observe here about how people in different groups process and respond in different ways to the same event. The event was a clear, irrefutable and public healing  of a blind and mute man by Jesus. Profoundly life-changing for the man. Amazing and thought-provoking for the people. Deeply threatening for the Pharisees.

The text says that the people, the general local population, Jewish, but non-aligned with any particular religious group were simply “astonished”, and rightly so; it was a miraculous event, outside  experiential norms. It got them thinking, and reaching into their knowledge of Scripture for a possible explanation.

Ezekiel 34:16 speaks of how God will shepherd his sheep with justice: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.” and links this promise of a shepherd to a prince of the line of David (Ezk 34:25). Just prior to this healing Matthew has editorially linked Jesus’ healings with Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of God’s chosen servant (Mt 12:18-21). He is using this whole episode to really underline the point.

And so the wheels are turning in the minds of the people. “Could this be the guy? That’s really cool.”

The gathered Pharisees had a different response. This Jesus fellow was not one of their group. He didn’t do the same things they did, in fact he seemed to deliberately flaunt their long-established traditions. He didn’t look at things the same way they did. He wasn’t one of them. And, now that he is stepping onto their religious lawn, he just has to be stopped. Turning to page one of the playbook, it reads “Discredit”.  And so the talking points that went out that day said to say: “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons”. Subtext: he is not from God (like we are), he is with the opposition (the devil).

Think about it people

Jesus didn’t even have to break a sweat to dismantle their argument, just by asking the “so how would this actually work?” question. He gives them a few options to go forward with, none of them comfortable. Option 1 – your claim defies simple logic (Satan throwing himself out?, oh come on!). Option 2 – Don’t your guys do the same thing? Or is not really about casting out demons but about one of you? Or Option 3 – Jesus credits them with being able to throw out demons, but no one in the group has ever actually  managed to do it.

And the most uncomfortable of all? The truth. “If I am working with the Spirit of God, then the kingdom has come upon you” ie. “You are wrong, and no one is coming to you for your permission”.

Now, if you are used to being one of the ones in charge in a religious group, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. Maybe too bitter for some. This dynamic still plays out today. The “keepers of the truth” have their own mini-kingdoms where they rule with unassailable power. Occasionally, someone steps on their lawn by exhibiting a life of living actual kingdom participation. The ranks must close, and the discrediting must start in a desperate effort to preserve the identity of the group.

Choice

There is a choice still available though and some may take it. Nicodemus was one such as this, he was able to see that God was working through Jesus (Jn 3:2), although he still struggled to fit Jesus’ teaching into his paradigms. The very teacher of Israel needed to be born again.