Mt 8:5-13 Faith of the Centurion

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

Centurion in town

A centurion comes up to Jesus when he walks into town  – a Roman gentile, emblematic of the hated occupying force… How’s this going to go? Will Jesus respond to his request? What about the politics of this?

There is a simple exchange – “Lord, my servant lies at home paralysed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

This is all about human need and connection. The centurion cares about his servant’s terrible condition and is looking for a solution. Jesus connects and responds with an offer of help. No politics  here.

What follows is an amazing twist. This “outsider” centurion has an incredible insight into how faith is supposed to work. So much so that Jesus says he is in a class of his own in the faith department – take that, religious establishment!

It’s almost as if the centurion has invented some language here. “Come”. “Go”. All simple. This is how it works. Jesus picks up on this language and says “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.”

Subjects of the Kingdom

Let’s unpack a bit more. Jesus says “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven”. He is talking about people coming (there’s that language again) from far away places to take their place in the kingdom. These people are not the traditional or ethnic expected invitees – the Jews. These people are from the nations, I.e. the Gentiles, from outside. Could it be that this what is foreshadowed in verses such as Isa 43:5-8, 59:11 and Ps 107:2-3?

Yet the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, to a place of darkness, sorrow and regret. So who exactly are these subjects of the kingdom and why are they cast out? Kingdom language is common in the Bible. There is a king, a realm, and the subjects. Through the history of the people of Israel, kingdoms were quite fluid. More than once a kingdom was transferred from one king to another (1 Sam 28:17, 2 Sam 3:10, Lam 2:2, Dan 2:39). The Old Testament also speaks of a coming new kingdom (Isa 32:1, Isa 9:6-7) and, spoiler alert, Jesus is the new king.

Weeping and Gnashing

Now, what is this “weeping and gnashing of teeth” all about? In the NIV version of the  New Testament, the word “gnashing” appears seven times , of which six are in Matthew. It’s a favourite phrase of his (Mt 8:12,m13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30). Luke also it (Lk 13:28) and there are many parallels there to this passage:

There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. (Lk 13:28-30).

All of the references associate teeth-gnashing with weeping, and most of them with being outside in the darkness. There is obviously a well-known reference being invoked here. First of all, what exactly is “gnashing”? Gnashing is grinding. You are grinding your teeth out of anger, not out of agony. See Acts 7:54. You’re upset. See also Ps 112 where the faith of the righteous is compared with the vexed teeth-gnashing of the wicked.

In ancient times banquets were usually held at night in well-lit rooms. If you were excluded, you were said to be cast into the “outer darkness of the night”. Orientals didn’t even like to sleep without the light on, so being stuck outside in the dark was a terrifying prospect.

Faith class 

So what is Jesus saying here? He wants to get the attention of his people, the Jews. It’s almost like he is having the gentile Centurion stand up in the front of the classroom.

Class, listen up. See Andronicus here, this is what faith looks like. Pay attention class. If you want to graduate, learn it like he has. The fact that your fathers are old boys of the school doesn’t count. Thank you Andronicus, you can sit down now”.

Listen up, indeed. This kingdom is for people who want to follow the king, not the hereditary land-owners. The rules have changed, faith in the king is the new currency.

Matthew 11:11-15

From The Kingdom series.

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Mt 11:11-15)

John in Jail

We are talking about John the Baptist – Jesus’ cousin and ministry fore-runner, who is now on death row for daring to call out the most powerful guy in the land over his relationship with his brother’s wife Herodias. We know how that ends – head on a platter stuff (Mt 14:1-12).

Now John was getting reports of what Jesus was doing, and it seems they didn’t quite tally with the picture John had of what the Messiah would be doing (Mt 11:2). We are not told exactly what John was concerned about, but we are privy to Jesus’ reply.

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Mt 11:4-6).

Jesus is quoting Isaiah. There are a few candidates:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

(Isaiah 61:1-3)

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
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.

(Isa 35:4-6)

Seeing the Kingdom

Jesus is reminding John of what this coming kingdom was all about. And preaching (proclaiming the good news) and healing (the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, even the dead) are all part of the job! And of course this is what Jesus had been doing (Mt 9:35, Mt 10:1, 11:1). Don’t be mistaken John! This king wants to heal, wants to comfort, wants to free. This is the picture of the kingdom you need to have.

And perhaps Jesus is steadying John’s knees a little bit too. ‘Don’t stumble over this John”. “Don’t let your idea of God’s Kingdom prevent you from seeing and participating in the actual Kingdom” is the idea.

Are you listening?

Jesus had an important message about John for his hearers. Paraphrasing: “He was the return of Elijah you know.” (Mal 4:5-6, Mt 11:13-15). And, “Listen up! – are you really listening people? John was the wild-man prophet calling you to repentance and you didn’t listen to him – you called him a demon. (Mt 11:18). I came singing a different tune, eating with you, drinking with you and you didn’t listen to me either! I got called a glutton and a drunkard. So it’s not about our ministry style, it’s about your willingness to listen, to reflect, to repent. Are you really listening at all? The miracles are to show you what God is really like and to get your attention – don’t miss it.”

Least in the Kingdom

Now verse 11 and 12 are interesting.

 … whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
(Mt 11:11)
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.
(Mt. 11:12)

What is Jesus saying here? Was John not in the kingdom and now you can be? Or, is being the least in the kingdom the right seat to want to sit in, no matter who you are? This is the way of Jesus – the first will be last, and the last will be first. In his Kingdom, the reputation system is upside down. If you have worldly corporate eyes you are not going to get it.


Verse 12 sounds like a negative – violence is never good right? But other translations of the Greek word βιάζω (Biazo) choose  the sense of “forceful” rather than “violence”. Some have preached that as a positive- i.e. the kingdom is forcefully advancing, the idea being to be someone who is strong and  forceful in how you go about that ministry work. This interpretation does not chime at all well with the clear and consistent New Testament teaching about the requirement for gentleness in the character of church leaders and everybody else besides (Mt 11:29, 2 Cor 10:1, Gal 5:23, Eph 4:2, Col 3:12,1 Tim 3:3, 1 Tim 6:11,  Tit 3:2, 1 Pet 3:15). Either way, there is a very strong current flowing here. And what are they doing? ἁρπάζω (harpazo) – laying hold of the kingdom, taking it by force or advancing it? Destroying it or building it?

Context might give us a clue. Jesus is addressing the crowd about John. He is positive about the Baptist – saying that he is in a very small club – he’s an actual prophet. He was one of the greats alright. But now he’s in jail. So how do we view John as a result of that? Has he lost credibility because he is doing time? 

Perhaps Jesus is saying the actual kingdom of God is being subjected to the raids of violent non-kingdom people (like Herod) for their violent non-kingdom purposes? John was not one to dress up and live in a nice palace (like Herod), and now his life is on the line because of his kingdom convictions.

Violent political activity was a feature of the times. The zealots (one of whom became a disciple of Jesus [Mt 10:4] and who never seemed to lose his nickname! [Acts 1:13]), were a group who responded to Roman occupation through the use of military force and covert action. They would be called a terrorist group today, or at the very least dagger-armed assassins. Again, violence is not the way of the kingdom that Jesus is bringing.


The question for you, crowd, is this: Who are you going to listen to? Whose message will you be willing to accept? Are you prepared to endure the actions of violent kingdom-raiders in order to bring my kind of kingdom to the world?

You Just Need to Forgive (Part 2)

Read You just need to forgive (Part 1) first. In that post we deconstruct common language gambits used by abusers such as “You just need to forgive”.

So Andrew, you appear to be saying it’s OK not to forgive. If someone sins against you and they haven’t repented you don’t have to forgive them, is that right? But what about Mt 6:12 or Lk 23:34 or especially Mt 18:35?

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

What about those verses indeed? Forgiveness is God’s core business, so let us tread carefully. Let us see if we can find a way to help a person who has suffered abuse at the hands of another navigate this difficult path. Forgiveness is clearly a lot more than simply mouthing the words “I forgive you… I’m sorry I brought it up”. The question is how to get from here to there? How to move from a place of psychological and/or emotional trauma to “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”?

Some people can spend years trying to sort this out, and each person’s experiences, circumstances and journey is their own. Perhaps I can offer a few thoughts to help.

Motion towards forgiveness

Firstly, understand that the motion towards forgiveness is in itself an act of personal agency. Many people may feel that even one step towards forgiveness of a perpetrator is one step too many. But let’s reframe. The decision to begin motion towards forgiveness is something you are doing for yourself; it ultimately benefits you. And, yes, it’s the right thing to do too, but at the beginning helping oneself maybe all that we’ve got to motivate us, right?

Secondly, it is crucial to understand that it is not an additional measure of injustice to forgive a perpetrator. Rather, it can be a turning point in dealing with the hurt. It might feel completely counter-intuitive, but ultimately to forgive those who sin against us is the very best thing we can actually do. It is the wisdom of God, it is the example of Jesus, and it can be the moment that the door of the prison cell flings open. 


Thirdly, Jesus’ way is the way. He said:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light (Matt. 11:28-30, NASB).

This is for all of you weary and heavy-ladened ones. Jesus invites us to learn from him. Learning is a process that can take a while – I mean how long did you go to school for? But when you graduate… you will find rest for your souls.. And don’t we all want that? You have to enrol in this learning process – that’s the taking on of the yoke part, but rest assured, the load is light.

Jesus is the one who is most concerned for your welfare. If you have encountered abuse in a church situation you may be thinking… “Well I don’t know about that… I feel like Jesus got me into this situation in the first place in that church of his”. Churches can certainly be awful places. Not everyone in church exhibits the true mark of discipleship that Jesus talks of:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (Jn 13:34-35).

But if you can accept that Jesus is the one most concerned for your welfare, then he is saying the best thing for you to do is to forgive those who sin against you. “Rest for your souls” sounds pretty appealing. Notice that the actions of the other person are still called “sin” – their sin, or “debts” – their debts. Your forgiveness does not change or minimise that or their culpability. 

That servant

Let’s do a study of the parable of the unmerciful servant in Mt 18:21-35.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

This famous parable teaches masterfully on forgiveness. Peter, maybe having a frustrating day with someone,  asks Jesus how many times he has to forgive this person who is sinning against him. Evidently, Jesus has talked about this before to his disciples, so Peter is doing his best to put this new forgiveness teaching thing into practice, and reaching for the stars says: “As many as seven times?”

Jesus answers: “Not seven Peter. Seventy seven.” Or in some translations, seventy times seven. “You are out by an order of magnitude Peter”. That answer would instantly turn a light on in the mind of anyone familiar with the Torah. Let’s go to Gen. 4:23-24, where Lamech is boasting:

Cain and Lamech

Lamech said to his wives,“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;wives of Lamech, hear my words.

I have killed a man for wounding me,

a young man for injuring me.

If Cain is avenged seven times.

If Cain is avenged seven times,

then Lamech seventy-seven times

Same numbers right? What’s going on here? Well, in Genesis 1 and 2 we had an Edenic garden with no sin, no violence. In Genesis 3 we have the fall. Cain kills his brother Abel in Genesis 4. And now Lamech is totally out of control, wanting to visit vengeance on a disproportionate scale. Things are getting worse very quickly (5 generations), reaching the point that humanity’s thought-life was reaching the point that “that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5), triggering a deluvian reboot.

The avenging of Cain being talked about here is God’s promise to Cain to protect him even in the midst of punishing him for the murder of Abel. God promised he would avenge Cain’s death seven times over to anyone who would think of killing him. God has the right to punish sin, and the seven times multiple is a significant deterrent (see also Lev. 26:21). 

It’s worth remembering that Cain’s sin was not murder alone, but that he stepped away from care of his brother. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a rhetorical question from Cain, but that heart paved the way for self-justification of murder, for which actual justice was required.

Amplified vengeance and amplified forgiveness

So Lamech is twisting what God had said to Cain. Lamech is pursuing a path of amplified vengeance. Back to the parable, and we can now see that Jesus is flipping Lamech’s amplified vengeance into a teaching about amplified forgiveness. Any bystander hearing that story for the first time would have been jaw-droppingly indignant at the actions of the unmerciful servant – freshly forgiven an impossible debt of squillions, but in the next moment strangling his fellow servant for a measly hundred days wages. The fellow servants in the story were outraged also and reported the gross injustice to the master. The unforgiving servant was himself thrown into jail to be tortured until he repaid the original debt, which of course he would never be able to do.

Wrapping up

A few points here: 

  • Ongoing unforgiveness is a prison and is a kind of self-inflicted torture. Don’t lock yourself into one. If you do, you still have the key to get out any time you want.
  • The context in Matthew is about our relationships – in church or otherwise. It is good to remember we are our our brother’s keeper. If one persecuted you (e.g. are abusive), they are clearly way off the mark. However you can still be like Jesus, love them and pray for them as enemies (Mt. 5:44) as he taught.
  • God will take care of the justice part, and there will be justice (Mt. 18:5-6). Vengeance is not our job, it’s God’s job, and He does it perfectly in this life or the next. Jesus promises accountability for things people say to us, but also for what we say:

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt. 12:36-37)

  • Forgiveness is really a letting go of the desire to execute our own vengeance. 
  • In the parable the forgiveness was for a debt. It is possibly helpful to remember that as we move towards forgiveness of another, what we are saying is that that person is a debtor to us. A debtor. They owe us something. They have taken (dignity, freedom, respect etc.) and have not repaid. They might not ever do it. The only thing we can personally control here is our decision to release them from that debt and in so doing free ourselves from the whole wicked contract.

I hope these thoughts are helpful for you in starting motion towards forgiveness. Difficult journey but a freeing one.

Part 3 of this topic is coming soon where we will look at how the Psalmists pour out their incredulous anger and pain to the God who seems far off. We will learn to lament.

Matthew 7:13-23

From The Kingdom series.

Matthew 7:13–23 (HCSB): Enter through the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction,  and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. 

“Beware of false prophets  who come to you in sheep’s  clothing  but inwardly are ravaging wolves.  You’ll recognize them by their fruit.  Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

‘“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,  but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons  in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’  Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’   

Broad and Narrow Roads

I am trying to picture these two roads in my mind. I’m seeing something like a castle with doors to go through to enter from the outside, but then there seems to be these long roads which belong on the outside not the inside…. Maybe my mental picture is wrong. Maybe the road is the destination. This would mean that the road is more about how you live life much more than which gate you started off choosing?And what if you wanted to switch roads at some point? How does that work? Let’s pause on this one and look at the next paragraph.

Good and Bad Fruit

There are some false prophets. You are a sheep in a flock. They want to eat you. And they get close enough to you to be able to do that by dressing up as one of you – a sheep. Meek and mild on the outside but a ravenous wolf underneath. They don’t care about your welfare, they just want your production or to have you for breakfast.

The structure of this passage is interesting:

   A. Entering the kingdom through the narrow gate.

B. Watch out for the false prophets.

   A’. Entering the kingdom.

A chiasm perhaps? So maybe the whole passage relates to entering the kingdom? Certainly in the last section (v21-23) there are some surprised folks who are confident they have the right tickets – we prophesied in your name Jesus! We did a lot of things “in your name”. Jesus doesn’t even get drawn into the conversation. “I never knew you. Get out of here – lawbreakers”. How do we process this? Miracle working prophesying exorcists not making it through the door? What hope is there for the rest of us? 

Literary context

It’s helpful at this point to look at some literary context. These verses are situated right at the end of the extended body of Jesus’ teaching known as the sermon on the mount. It would not be unexpected that this might be some kind of summary of what has gone before. We have already discovered (see Mt 5:17-20) how Jesus views the Law. Jesus is all about fulfilling the law (Mt 5:17), not breaking it, so it makes sense that he did not want to be around the law-breakers of Mt. 7:23. And what law have they broken? Jesus summed up the whole law in two commandments – loving God and loving your neighbour (Mt 22:37-40, Rom 13:8-10 ). Paul gets it down to one: 

For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Gal.  5:14).

Do not owe anyone anything,  except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet;  and whatever other commandment—all are summed up by this: Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour. Love, therefore, is the fulfilment of the law. (Rom. 13:8–10)

False Prophets

So who are these false prophets then, and how may they be identified? It is someone who comes singing the right songs and with a good command of the lingo, but totally lacks a love motivation. They are there, yes even in the church, to serve their own appetites, to take and eat, rather than love and nourish. Likely too that they advocate and promote a route along that broad road.  They have not entered by the narrow gate, they are not familiar with the narrow way. No wonder Jesus says to them “I never knew you”. 

Wrapping up

Jesus has laid out his manifesto in Matthew 5-7. Now he is asking the question – are you on board with living like this? Do you want to live like a citizen in this kingdom? It’s all about this way of love – that is actually what the narrow road is.

So, “entering the kingdom” – is it a future thing or a now thing? Jesus appears to be teaching that you have to be living in it now in order to enter it later. And this narrow gate?  It’s your decision to intentionally participate in Jesus’ project for this world in this life by loving your neighbours, based on your whole life trajectory of joining Jesus in his kingdom work.

Matthew 5:17-20

From The Kingdom series.

Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter  or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

(Mt. 5:17–20)

Jesus always confounds people. He came speaking a different kind of language, used different words, and had different priorities to the teachers of his day. So therefore he came to destroy it. Or at least that must have been what people were thinking.

Why else would Jesus say: Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill? (Mt 5:17)Maybe that’s the kind of thing messianic aspirants did back in the day. Jesus is saying to them: “I am the opposite of what you think – I have come to fulfill the Law, fulfill the prophets, not destroy them”. This much is clear, but what does it mean?

Firstly, the Law is just a category name for the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – the Torah. A better word for us today might be “Instruction”. “Law” feels so, well, lawyer-ish at times. And the prophets (Nevi-I’m) is the division of the Hebrew Scriptures that cover what we recognise today as the historical and prophetic books. Here’s a link with the breakdown.

In this passage, Jesus is talking about the relationship between the Kingdom of heaven and the Law, so it’s important we understand what he is and is not saying.


Let’s take a closer look at the word translated as fulfill.  The word is πληρόω (plēroō) which carries the sense of completeness, fill to the top, accomplish, cram a net or carry out. Jesus is saying: “I’m not here to burn it all down, I’m here to show how you can actually live out the Law and Prophets in the fullest sense.” His message to his audience was “Live your life out fully by following the principles laid down in the Torah and emphasised and illustrated  in the Prophets. The way we are going to get there is by me giving you a new way to think about it.”

Passing Away

There is something troubling here for some modern-day Christians and it is the use-by date. Jesus said that “until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter (a jot or a tittle) will pass away until all things are accomplished. (Mt 5:18). It’s troubling because many of us like to think we can put that “law” stuff behind us now because we are in the age of Jesus, faith, grace and all that good stuff.

Heaven and earth passing away does seem to point to a future time in history. Even future for us. How do we deal with this? Well, “heaven and earth” is a key phrase- it reminds us of creation (Gen. 1:1,2:1, 2:4, 14:19, Ex 20:11 etc). Jesus repeats the idea towards the end of his earthly ministry:

Heaven and earth will pass away,  but My words will never pass away. (Mt. 24:35). 

Not one word from the Law or the Prophets will pass away. Not one word of his will pass away… Wait! Is Jesus saying the Law and the Prophets are his words too?

So we must turn to Paul to bolster our growing “it must be faith, not law” panic. Here’s a verse from Romans:

Do we then cancel the law through faith? Absolutely not!  On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Rom. 3:31). 

That was unexpected! Paul is saying he upholds the Law as well…. Let’s keep looking.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness  to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4).

Whew, that’s better. Paul must have been having an off-day when he wrote Romans 3:31.

However, the “end” here is τέλος (telos) which means end-point or culmination. So again, we are not talking about replacement of the Law but rather the perfect fulfilment of it in Christ. Not “no longer relevant” so much as “ultimate purpose”.

And there seems to be a practical implication of this for those who follow Jesus:

Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them—this is the Law and the Prophets. (Mt. 7:12)

And Romans disappoints again:

Do not owe anyone anything,  except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet;  and whatever other commandment—all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:8–10)

Joking of course. This passage makes the point about fulfilling the Law by actually  quoting the Law – the Ten Commandments no less, and “whatever other commandment” there may be. All are fulfilled when we learn to love like Jesus loved. Is there a theme emerging here ?

So back to the heaves and earth passing away thing. 

Dear friends, this is now the second letter  I have written to you; in both letters, I want to develop a genuine  understanding with a reminder, so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles. First, be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days  to scoff, living according to their own desires, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?  Ever since the fathers fell asleep,  all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation.” They willfully ignore this: Long ago the heavens and the earth were brought about from water and through water  by the word of God.  Through these waters the world of that time perished when it was flooded.  But by the same word,  the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment  and destruction of ungodly men. 

Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord does not delay His promise,  as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any  to perish  but all to come to repentance. 

But the Day of the Lord  will come like a thief;   on that day the heavens will pass away  with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved,  and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.  Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming  of the day of God.  The heavens will be on fire and be dissolved because of it, and the elements will melt with the heat. But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth,  where righteousness will dwell. (2 Pet. 3:1–13).

Let’s trace the argument. Long ago, the heavens and earth were brought about from water and through water by God’s word. (3:5). There was a judgment then – the world  perished. (3:6). By this same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for another judgment using fire – the agent of destroying judgment. (3:7) The ungodly will be destroyed at that time. 

Based on God’s promise, (3:13) there will be a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness will dwell and this is God’s ultimate destination – a perfect realm where everyone there is living in right relationship with God and each other – a world where the greatest commandments are lived out by everyone all the time.

So as a result, it is clear the life to live now is one of holy conduct and righteousness  (3:12), fulfilling the Law by loving others.

Greatest and Least

Back to our text. 

  • Practice and teaching are inseparable in Jesus’ view.
  • If you do not have righteousness you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • The least and the great.
  • Scribes and Pharisees – they would have been the religious face of society. 
  • Is Jesus saying the way of the scribes and Pharisees is even more hopeless than someone who is least in the kingdom?
  • We can easily accept the idea that breaking a law and teaching others to do so makes you the least. And that keeping and teaching them is highly valued in the Kingdom. But the idea that the most knowledgeable and prominent exponents aren’t getting into the kingdom would have been mind-blowing to the original audience.
  • We learn that the kingdom is something that must be entered. You are not automatically an insider (5:20).

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses .that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:19-20)

Jesus picks up on this  “entering the kingdom” theme later:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,  but only the one who does the will  of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons  in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’ (Mt. 7:21–23)

More on this in a future post, but Jesus is saying there is a day coming when many will be surprised they are denied entry to the kingdom. And these are the religious people! They prophesied, drove out demons and performed many miracles in Jesus’ name…. Yet somehow didn’t make it in? Jesus response is supposed to be jarring… I  never knew you, go away. You were never actually on my team. I see you as a law breaker.

But hang on, I thought we are talking about the gospel here, not the law. Isn’t everybody a lawbreaker at some point? That’s why we need the gospel after all right? What is your basis Jesus?

Turns out that Jesus does want us to keep his commands after all. And the command is to love. Is love your core project? Am I determined above all else, to act in love in all of my relationships? Do I pursue this as my priority every day? Or am I using some other measure?

Maybe Jesus is using the term “lawbreaker “ ironically. “Here is my reasoning in language you can understand. You wanted to measure your performance legally? Then let’s play that game then… did you love other people yes or no? What was it like for the people in your family? In your marriage? In your dart’s team? In your workplace? in your ministry? If they spoke at your funeral, what would they say about you?…. I rest my case.

Where Jesus wants us to get to spiritually is a place where loving God and people are the very core of our faith and how we live life. Love is what the kingdom is actually all about. And the state of things in the new heaven and earth as well.

This is a very important key to truly “getting” the gospel. It’s not about performing religious deeds, it’s not even about repenting of most of your sins. it’s about acquiring the heart to obey the greatest commands. If you don’t do that you haven’t even heard the gospel. You have to think differently about this – everybody does. And it might take a few years to really get it. Even Jesus’ disciples hadn’t quite graduated after three.

Wrapping up

So, wrapping up. How to be great in the kingdom of heaven? It’s very simple – just keep God’s commands and teach others to do the same. However if you hear that as talking about faultless execution of all 613 Torah commands you will probably just curl up in a spiritual foetal position – not even the best scribes and Pharisees fully achieve that. But if you hear it as Jesus saying you need to let all that measuring go, and acquire this heart of deep love, you can certainly be one of the greats.


  • Does this idea even attract me? Does it wildly attract me?
  • What would it look like in my life to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength? What does this even mean for me?
  • What would it look like in my life to love my neighbour as myself?
  • What does my life, my words, my actions teach others? If I am a “religious” person, would Jesus consider me to be one of the “scribes and Pharisees” based on my life and teaching?

Matthew 4:12-25

From The Kingdom series.

Matthew 4:12–25 (HCSB): When He heard that John had been arrested,  He withdrew into Galilee.  He left Nazareth behind and went to live in Capernaum  by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, along the sea road, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles! The people who live in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the shadowland of death, light has dawned.   

From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven  has come near! 


There is a lot of movement in this passage. Jesus was in Judea where he was baptised by John and been through a time of testing in the wilderness. Things were heating up with John’s arrest, so Jesus returned to Galilee region but moved head-quarters from his home town of Nazareth to Capernaum – a city of maybe 10000 people that boasted a customs office (Mt 9:9) and a centurion (Mt 8:5) presumably with his 100 soldiers or so. It was a strategic location militarily due to its situation on major north-south routes (map)  and contained two Roman-built cities (Sephorrus and Tiberius).


These cities would have been culturally Hellenistic not Jewish. In Jesus’ day Galilee was ruled by the tetrarch Herod Antipas (Lk 3:1) – son of Herod the Great who had been the Herod we read about in the birth accounts of Jesus.  John the Baptist had had a fatal encounter with this Herod (Mt 14:1-11) and although Jesus had come on to Herod’s radar (Lk 9:7-9), Jesus did not suffer the same fate at Herod’s hands (Lk 23:7-12). Herod had been curious about Jesus for some time, however when Jesus refused to play ball, Herod made his point about “who was really king here” through ridicule. 

The southern Galilean region was much more cosmopolitan and mixed-race than Jerusalem and Judea to the south. Perhaps Jesus’ message had more of a chance of getting through to people in Galilee than in the religious centre of Jerusalem. And that message was the same as John’s: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near”.

It’s the kind of message that demands a response. 

The Question

So what does it mean that the kingdom of heaven has come near, why is repentance connected to it, and what does this repentance look like?

Reading on, we can get some clues.

As  He was walking along the Sea of Galilee,  He saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen.  “Follow Me,” He told them, “and I will make you fish for  people!” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 

Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. 

Jesus was going all over Galilee,  teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  Then the news about Him spread throughout Syria.  So they brought to Him all those who were afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics.  And He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. (Mt 4:18-25)

So we can see what Jesus is doing as he preaches this message: He is:

  • Calling some everyday people to follow him as his disciples.
  • Travelling a lot.
  • Teaching in the synagogues.
  • Preaching the good news of the kingdom.
  • Healing many.

He is gaining a large following from a diverse range of people coming from both Jewish and Gentile regions. No doubt, at this early stage, the news of his healing ministry would have accounted for a large part of the interest, but his authoritative speaking style (Mt 7:29) would have played a role as well.

So what is this good news of the kingdom? Are we any closer to finding out?


Well the healing must be part of it. Healing is certainly good news if it’s you or a loved one getting the healing, but is there   a substantive connection between the act and the content of the message? And were we really expecting healing to be part of the messiah package?

The prophets spoke of healing as being a part of future restoration (e.g. Jer. 30:17, 33:6). Ezekiel clarifies the job description of a godly leader as the opposite of: 

Ezekiel 34:4 (HCSB): You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost.  Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. 

Healing and paying attention to the plight of the sick, the injured, the strayed or the lost are very core traits of the kind of leader God is looking for in His kingdom. Jesus goes on later to amplify this further in his later teaching and in his practical ministry.

Peter was right there with Jesus during these early days (Mt 4:18), and he recalls these events a decade or so later when speaking about this business of letting the Gentiles into the kingdom:

Acts 10:34–39 (HCSB): Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism,  but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all.  You know the events  that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him.  We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree.  

So we learn from Peter that what Jesus was doing was freeing people from the tyranny of the Devil. Jesus was rolling back the territory of the Devil’s rule and increasing the territory of God’s rule every time someone was healed. He was bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. And the direct result of that was major improvements in people’s lives. Peter also speaks of the good news of peace, and here he seems to be referring to an establishment of peace on a relational, cultural and racial level. Somehow this good news of the kingdom has the ability to weld together the unweldable.


Jesus is calling for a response, and that response is summed up in one word – ‘Repent”. The Greek word is μετανοέω (metanoeo) and the verb in this case is present tense, active voice, imperative mood, second person, plural. This is to say “I am calling all of you to repent now – you must repent!” The meaning of the Greek word speaks to a change of mind, or to think differently about something – an after-thought. Usually connected with sin (Lk 15:10, Lk 17:3, Acts 3:19, Acts 8:22), but not always? This after thought strand of meaning leads us to ideas of “sorrow” or “regret”. There is a Hebrew word teshuvah which is translated by this Greek word, and it carries the idea of “a turning to God”. Jesus is not specific about sin in this call to repentance, so perhaps he is looking for a whole-of-life allegiance and purpose level of changed thinking. Jesus is saying: “Following me into this kingdom of God is a completely new ball game, a whole new way of thinking and operating, a whole new set of priorities, attitudes and markers – so different from the way you are living now. We are saying good-bye to religious-act style religion and getting into bringing God’s kingdom and following Jesus style. Reflect on that!”

In fact his whole ministry approach seems to be quite new. Calling fishermen to be disciples? Dealing with the sick? A ministry focussed on people – catching men and working with them. On the road a lot. First century rabbis had their cream-of-the-crop talmidim for sure, but there is something different about this guy.

The euangelion

And then there is this good news of the kingdom (Mt 4:17). Sometimes translated as the gospel or glad tidings, the Greek word is εὐαγγέλιον – euangelion. This word pre-existed Jesus but Jesus is giving it a new twist.

In Jesus’ day, euangelion was a word used in proclamations in the political world. A well-known example is from the so-called Priene calendar inscription, published in 9 BC. It was found in Priene (an Ancient Greek city in the west of Turkey) in 1899. It reads:

“Since Providence which ordains all things in our life, has restored enterprise and love of honor, it has accomplished for [our] life the most perfect thing by producing the August One, whom it has filled with virtue for the welfare of the people; having sent him to us and ours as a Saviour who should stop war and ordain all things. Having appeared, however, the Caesar has fulfilled the hope of prophecies, since he has not only outdone the benefactors who had come before him, but also has not left to future ones the hope of doing better; the birthday of this God has become through him a beginning of the good tidings.

The purpose of the inscription was to announce a realignment of the calendar to begin with the birthday of emperor. Notice the themes going on here : the emperor is a Saviour, he fulfills prophecies, he is God, his birth is extremely significant, and the very coming of this king is good news – the euangelion. 

Sound familiar? The gospel writers portray Jesus as a direct challenger to the gospel of Rome. Jesus brings the true gospel of peace (Eph 6:19), not a Pax Romana enforced by the tip of a spear.

Matthew 5:1-10

From the The Kingdom series.

Matthew 5:1–10 (HCSB)

The Beatitudes

Itinerant preacher goes up mountain, sits down on the ground and starts to teach his followers.

The Beatitudes. The blessings. The makarisms.

When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain,  and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.  Then  He began to teach them, saying: “The poor in spirit are blessed,  for the kingdom of heaven  is theirs.  Those who mourn are blessed,  for they will be comforted.  The gentle are blessed,  for they will inherit the earth.  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed,  for they will be filled.  The merciful are blessed,  for they will be shown mercy.  The pure in heart are blessed,  for they will see God.  The peacemakers are blessed,  for they will be called sons of God.  Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed,  for the kingdom of heaven  is theirs.“ 

So this how God wants us to be then? Find something to mourn about?  If we live out these 8 points  we will get some kind of blessing? Or maybe this is a handy to-do list to get through before you die so you can get into heaven?

That is not the way to read the Beatitudes.

One clue is that there is a phrase that book-ends these verses – v3 an v10 both mention the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps Jesus is talking about the way the kingdom of heaven operates. He is describing what it is like when the kingdom is reigning. It is a complete reversal of everything the world holds dear. This kingdom is starting to look like an upside down world where the loser wins. Right up front in this block of Jesus’ teachings the blueprint is being laid out. The kingdom is near (Mt 4), and this is what it looks like (Mt 5).

Look at it:

  • In V3 poor in spirit gain the kingdom.
  • In V4 mourners are comforted.
  • In V5 the gentle get the inheritance.
  • In V6 the hungry are filled.
  • In V7 the merciful get mercy.
  • In V8 the pure get to see God.
  • In V9 the peacemakers will be in God’s family.
  • In V10 the persecuted get the kingdom.

Normally, the poor in spirit get trampled, the mourners get depressed, the gentle get nothing, the hungry starve, the merciful get taken advantage of, the pure get laughed at, the peacemakers lose territory and the persecuted get locked up.

But now Jesus is saying that his followers will have a different spirit and way of behaving in this life because they want to bring the kingdom of God to this earth. They will no longer operate using the ways of the world. Instead they employ meekness, mercy, and a desire for peace rather than a desire for division. And the world will think they are nuts for doing it. Nice guys finish last right?

But Jesus knows all this and still says that “in My kingdom – this is how we do things. And if you do too, you stand to gain more than you ever could have got through conventional means.’ 

A little word-study

It is easy for us to miss the radicalness of Jesus’ words. His listeners were tired of persecution and oppression. They were ready for a proper fight with their Roman occupiers and likely would have lined up behind any leader who looked like they could mount a decent attack. And now here is Jesus doing his first big stump speech to the expectant crowd telling them that being a merciful peacemaker is the key to their success.

Not only that, but the Greek word used here being translated as blessed, or happy is μακάριος (makarios). This is not your everyday level of happiness. This word describes those who enjoy the absolute best of everything – no mourning or hunger here. Jesus is insulting them now (at least to Greek readers).

The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint or LXX) uses this same word  to translate the Hebrew word אֶשֶׁר(pronounced esher ) which occurs 45 times. For example, Deut 33:29 says:

How happy you are, Israel! 
Who is like you, 
a people saved by the Lord? 
He is the shield that protects you, 
the sword you boast in. 
Your enemies will cringe before you, 
and you will tread on their back

The whole book of Psalms kicks off with this word:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, (Ps 1:1).

And a few more:

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. (Ps 32:1).

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. (Ps 119:1)

Jesus’ audience would have known these Psalms. This type of blessedness comes about from the choices you make about the way you walk. In sync with the Lord, or something else? Your life will go well if you wisely choose to listen to God’s instruction. 

There is also this blessing of having your sins covered (Deut 33:29, Ps 32:1). This has always been part of God’s kingdom plans.

So blessedness seems to be a condition of being in God’s protective realm. Your physical life might not be all that great right now (mourning, hunger), but you still are blessed.

What to do

Do not make economic calculations here, the gain is of far greater value than simple cash – you get to gain the kingdom, receive true comfort, inherit the very earth itself, be filled, receive great mercy, and get to see God, be sons of God, and did I say, receive the kingdom?

So, sit down and listen up! Hearts, ears and minds open. You are in for a radical re-education about what it really means to serve God. 

Matthew 6:33

From The Kingdom series.
We need to read around this verse a bit.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

(Mt 6:33)

Matthew 6:19–24 (HCSB)

“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures  on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven,  where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness—how deep is that darkness! 

“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money. 

Matthew 6:25–34 (HCSB)

“This is why I tell you:  Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?  Can any of you add a single cubit to his height  by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these!  If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you—you of little faith?  So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters  eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God  and His righteousness,  and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own

What do I notice here?

  • Do not worry about your life (eat/drink) or body (clothing).
  • God provides these things.
  • God values you.
  • Little Faith = inability to trust in God’s provision.
  • In fact it is idolatry to seek these (physical) things.
  • Rather, seek the kingdom of God as your priority, and God will take care of the physical needs.
  • Today, tomorrow and worry.

Jesus has made worry a spiritual issue. It goes to being able to trust that God is in the business of providing for needs. This is God’s character, He is a giver, a provider, a blesser.

Food, drink, clothes

In the previous chapter we have been taught to pray “give us this day our daily bread” with the obvious call-back to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness (Ex 16, Num 11, Deut 8). The reflective Deuteronomist says: “ He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut 8:3). This is the verse Jesus uses to fend off Satan’s temptation in the wilderness to make bread out of rocks. So maybe some hunger is not such a bad thing? It can be a teacher for us to rely on God rather than on the physical.

As to what you are to drink (Mt 6:5) – we have the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarepath (1 Ki 17). Elijah runs out of water in one place, asks for a drink in another (1 Ki 17:8) and God comes through magnificently, with a widow and her son sharing the blessings for months.

And clothes? Solomon in all his splendour was not dressed like of these! And one greater than Solomon is here (Mt 12:42).


There is a common underlying theme here of learning to be dependant on God on a daily basis. This is there to train our hearts to not forget about our need for God and also to not fantasise destructively into the future. There is wisdom in the time-boxing interval of a single day. 

It’s starting to feel like Jesus is saying something about cultivating a heart that listens and depends on Him and his words as a daily habit, rather than operating from a default setting of unmetered preoccupation with merely human concerns and worries.
So, maybe this whole passage is really about having an intentional focus on today. Live life out today, and be concerned with bringing God’s kingdom to earth where you are, today. Don’t fall into the trap of dreaming about future prosperity, nice meals or fancy clothes, or going the other way and being anxious about the prospect of there being nothing to eat at all.

Genuine Need

This teaching may seem to be cold comfort to the one who is genuinely in need and has no idea about where even their very next meal is coming from. Or where they will sleep that night. They have clothes for today and they will wear the same again tomorrow, but these clothes rob dignity on both days. Perhaps if you are sharing this passage with such a person, then their immediate problem is solved because it would be impossible for you not to be the on-the-ground deliverer of God’s providence! The Good News for a person in need like this is that the gospel demands compassionate responses from Jesus’ followers to alleviate the suffering of people like them. 


This paragraph has just been preceded by Jesus’ teaching about attitudes to money and possessions. In summary: Be a slave of God, not a slave of money. The two passages are connected. “This is why I tell you don’t worry about your life…” Jesus says. Jesus reveals the truth that worry is connected to where you are placing your affections – we call them concerns or even needs, but the truth is that it is the desires of our hearts that produce worry.  See that your “what shall I eat?” or “what shall I wear?” questions are nothing more than  smoke-screens – palatable-sounding excuses for your idolatrous greed. Well Jesus sees right through it!

If you really are a slave of God as you claim, then these worries would simply wither and die because your heart would be such inhospitable soil for greed to even take root. Such a heart provides no nourishment for these desires, as it so full of the mission of gathering treasures in heaven through bringing the kingdom to earth rather than seeking out treasures there.


Some people do struggle with anxiety as a clinical condition. Such anxiety may not necessarily be connected with what this passage is talking about, but connected with other factors such as trauma and chemical imbalances. God loves too much to be the source of pat answers such as “you need to just trust God more and everything will work out.” He values personal connection and a walking alongside with those in need. “Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the poor” remember? In His kingdom it is the disenfranchised and vulnerable that have the special honour. This may take some time to work out in practice in our world, but this is the direction God has set for his disciples to follow. In the meantime, Php 4:6-10 is wonderfully practical in dealing with anxiety and worry.

Philippians 4:6–9 (HCSB): Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses  every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

Finally brothers, whatever is true,  whatever is honorable,  whatever is just,  whatever is pure,  whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence  and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received  and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. 

The key here is in verse 6: make your request! What is it exactly you would like God to do for you in this anxious situation? Simply being able to identify what would actually help and presenting that in a request to God can be a major step forward for the anxious mind. Maybe even write it down.


So, seek first the kingdom. What does it mean? From the analysis above it’s something about being in step with how God wants to operate in this world. If we partner up with Him, His kingdom advances and we get to be less worried!

Matthew 3:1-3

From The Kingdom series.

Matthew 3:1–3 (HCSB):  In those days John the Baptist came,  preaching in the Wilderness of Judea  and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!”  For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!  

This is the first mention of “kingdom” in Matthew’s gospel. Let’s establish some context. The setting is in the wilderness of Judea – southern Israel, around 30AD give or take. The people of the land were Jewish, but did not enjoy self-rule. The land had been ruled by foreigners for most of the previous six hundred years by the world super-power du jour – first the Babylonians, then the Persians, followed by the Greeks, a hundred years of Jewish Hasmonean rule, and now the Romans. This history parallels the kingdoms in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream (Dan 2:2-45). But for our purposes, one verse of that interpretation really stands out:

In the the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will shatter all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself stand forever. (Dan 2:44).

And that kingdom is the kingdom we are talking about. The Jews were well aware of this idea of a coming king, an anointed one, a messiah. We are told that Joseph of Arimathea who asked Pilate for Jesus’ body was one who was “waiting for the kingdom to come” (Mk 15:43). The people were expecting a Messiah – “Are you the one who is to come?” (Mt 11:3). Mark just comes right out and says it “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). Also worth knowing that during the period before the Romans arrived, the sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots arose (as well as the reclusive Essenes), who Jesus encounters in various ways in his ministry. The Jews wrote and wrote also, leaving us apocalyptic tales of a vanquishing king as well as a body of “tradition” which were interpretive add-ons to the Torah – the Old Testament law, among other inter-testamental works.

From a literary standpoint, we are at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, just after the accounts of Jesus birth. We have already seen an earthly king act out in vicious paranoia to the prospect of a rival “king of the Jews” (Mt 2:1-18). A detailed genealogy (Mt 1:1-17), makes it very clear that Jesus being descended from king David is a very important point. Joseph was spared the angst of coming up with a name for the baby when an angel told him in a dream to call the Christ-child Immanuel – which means God is with us (Mt 1:30-23).

Do you see the set-up here? God is coming into the world to be the king of all kings, but a very different kind of king. Not wielding brutal political or military power, but coming on the scene disarmingly as a baby. God is establishing outposts of his kingdom on earth, for the time in history is now just right to bring the message and the life that would lay the ground work for God’s eternal, long-promised, perfect kingdom.


This is an article I wrote several years ago. It has been available also on Douglas Jacoby’s website.

Perhaps the key differentiator Christianity has in the field of world religions is the unique concept of grace. In a world driven by competitiveness, performance measurement and the relentless march for increased return on investment and corporate profits, God’s grace and everything it affects is not well valued, simply ignored or even despised. Yet it is at the very core of our religion. If we have no other virtue as Christians, we must at the very least explain grace to the world in our actions, our words, and in our very thoughts. Yet we are far from this being the case. It is my contention that we have fostered a culture long on performance benchmarks but short on promulgating grace. In the quest for fast growth in our churches, the message of God’s grace has often been distorted, ignored or even hijacked.

The stage of world history is littered with the corpses of men and women who have been trampled in the quest for world domination of an ideology. Christianity, Islam, Communism, Imperialism, Nazism and so forth have all sought worldwide influence and impact. The leaders of these movements in their respective day were driven by the deep belief of the superiority and excellence of their cause. But of course the excellence or purity of a cause in the minds of its leaders is not a sufficient measure of its excellence overall. The human costs of spreading social, political or religious doctrine has been enormous. A curious paradox has emerged’in the pursuit of something so “high” as the pervasiveness of a guiding ideology, the results have been so “low”. The collateral damage of untold millions of wrecked lives did not appear to enter into the calculations. After all, the world was being won…

The word of God however seeks to protect mankind from all of this. Yes, the stakes are high -eternal salvation, but the central tenet that provides this salvation in the first place must not be betrayed in the achievement of it. Paul expresses it succinctly “If I have the faith to move mountains but have not love, I am nothing(1 Cor 13:1-3). World evangelism at the expense of love for the individual has proved to be a costly error. However apparently noble the mission may be, if it is one without true love and grace, it is in the final analysis and potential effects, no different to the worldwide spread of any other manmade ideology.

Many Christians in our churches today subscribe to a mindset of “burdened-ness”. They have been taught to equate a sense of spiritual acceptability or maturity with a notion of “feeling the burden” sufficiently. One’s burdened-ness can be measured by a blanket evaluation of one’s preparedness to “go anywhere, do anything, give up everything”. Any residual desire to place emphasis on other facets of life could be interpreted as not having an adequate love for the mission or the lost, or even as being ‘worldly’ in outlook. This dynamic is well recognised. The purpose of this article is to provide some Biblical help to embrace what I believe to be a state of heart and mind that God wants his children to have:’a state of being unburdened.

There is a pattern throughout both the Old and New Testaments, about the way God interacts with his people. What we find is a theme of God being all about being a lifter of burdens, not a placer of them.

(Num 11:11-17 NIV) He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? {12} Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? {13} Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ {14} I cannot carry all these people by myself the burden is too heavy for me. {15} If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin.” {16} The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. {17} I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.

Here we get an insight into how Moses was feeling as the leader of an ungrateful nation and people of God. He complains of the heavy burden he feels leading all those people. How does God respond to Moses? Does God admonish him to stop his whining? “Be more faithful Moses!” No! Rather God acts to lift the burden. It was a burden. No wonder Moses was feeling it’he was understaffed by a factor of 70!

Let us now examine a key passage in the New Testament. In Mt 11:1-30. Jesus had send out the twelve, and was now on a preaching and teaching tour of Galilee. John sends his disciples with some questions to Jesus. Jesus talks about John, and goes on to address his audience. There seems to be confusion reigning in this passage: John is confused about Jesus, the people are confused about John, and about the nature of the Kingdom of God. Cities that saw miracles are cursed. Worldly seaports and the byword of Sodom itself are lifted up. Religion has blinded the people, and God wants that turned upside down.

There is a common thread running through these incidents. Jesus is challenging the concepts and ideas people have about their religion. John wasn’t sure about Jesus it seems. Healing the sick, curing the lepers, opening the eyes of the blind was perhaps not what John was anticipating. Jesus corrected that notion with a Scripture. Then Jesus addresses the people. “What were you expecting with John? A weak and insipid religious guy? Or a wealthy tele-evangelist type? You got more than you bargained for didn’t you!’ It’s always easier to complain about the messenger than to embrace the message and change.

Jesus goes on to denounce the Jewish cities of Korazin, Betsaida and Capernaum. The Bible belt of the Holy land perhaps. Sodom would be better off? What was Sodom known for? Sodomy. Imagine the furore in conservative religious circles today if Jesus came preaching this!

Jesus thanks God for hiding the truth from the “wise”, and revealing it to the child-like. Soft hearts are needed for this message, not hardened religiosity.

As the true explanation of God (v27), we are encouraged to listen again to Jesus’ message rather than continue to stumble along blindly with deeply held traditional but off-centre religious beliefs. Grace? Are you really sure that’s what the gospel is all about?…

Then there is the key passage of all:

(Mat 11:28-30 NLT) Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. {29} Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

What are the burdens Jesus is talking about? Many people would quickly apply this passage to difficulties in their own lives: their busy job or difficult relationship perhaps. This might be possible, but the context of the passage as discussed above seems to demand that the application of these verses lies in the realm of one’s faith and relationship with God.

Consider also Psalm 146, referred to by Jesus:

(Psa 146:6-9 NLT) He is the one who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He is the one who keeps every promise forever, {7} who gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The LORD frees the prisoners. {8} The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts the burdens of those bent beneath their loads. The LORD loves the righteous. {9} The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.

Jesus appealed to this Psalm when answering John’s questions. It portrays God as a keeper of promises, a freer of prisoners, and a lifter of burdens.

A true relationship with God is not about heavy burdens. Jesus makes this point clearly in his famous “woe to you Pharisees’ discourse:

(Mat 23:4 NIV) They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

(Mat 23:4 NLT) They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden.

The religious world imposes burdens. Jesus states explicitly that he will lighten the burden.

A doctor working with leprosy sufferers in India wrote of burdens, stress and yokes:

Too much stress on ones body is detrimental. Conversely, too little stress also affects living tissue. Cells need exercise. Without it, they will atrophy’a condition common to anyone who has worn a plaster cast. I once treated an Indian fakir who had held his hand over his head uselessly for twenty years, as a religious act. The muscles had shrunk to nothing, and all the joints had fused together so that his hand was like a stiff paddle. Healthy tissue needs stress, but appropriate stress that is distributed among many cells.

Those principles apply directly to the stress caused by a joke on the neck of an ox. In the hospital carpentry shop in India, I helped fashion such yokes.

If I put a flat, uncarved piece of wood on an ox’s neck and use it to pull a cart, very quickly pressure sores will break out on that animal’s neck, and he will be useless. A good yoke must be formed to the shape of an ox’s neck. It should cover a large area of skin to distribute the stresses widely. It should also be smooth, rounded, and polished with no sharp edges, so that no one point will endure unduly high stress. If I succeed in my workshop, the yoke I make will fit snugly around the ox’s neck and cause him no discomfort. He can haul heavy loads every day for years, and his skin will remain perfectly healthy, with no pressure sores.

And now, I think I understand the strange juxtaposition of phrases in (Matthew 11:28-29). Jesus offers each of us a well-fitted yoke, of custom design. He does not call us to the kind of rest that means inactivity or laziness’that would lead to spiritual atrophy. Instead, he promises a burden designed to fit my frame, my individual needs, strengths, and capabilities. I come to him weary and heavy-laden. He removes those crushing burdens that would destroy any human being, and replaces them with a yoke of appropriate stress designed specifically for me. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” he says, “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

We are to take Jesus’ yoke upon us. The promise is that the burden will be light. This flows from the yoke being one of custom design, tailored to fit the needs and situation of the individual Christian. Managing such an inventory of one-off yokes does not fit with any man-made system, but it is typical of the glorious variability we see throughout God’s creation.

We however have sought to standardize Christianity and have taught or implied that everyone needs to perform to the same single standard in God’s kingdom. This teaching seems to be at odds with what Jesus is saying here. Jesus’ yoke is a snug fit, not an impossible fit.

If we take an area of spiritual activity such as evangelism for example, what we must acknowledge is that different individuals will have different evangelistic impacts throughout their lives. Some will influence many directly to become Christians. Others will influence only a few. Some may influence no one. The constant admonition to bear fruit evangelistically that has been a feature in many of our churches has produced an ill-fitting yoke on the necks of many disciples. Thy feel burdened, unable to measure up to this demand. Such burdens are not of God, they are of man and his programs. No wonder people feel burdened! They are not carrying Jesus’ load, but somebody else’s!

To add to this notion that God is a lifter of burdens, consider the following:

– (Psa 55:22 NLT) Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.

– (Psa 145:14 NLT) The LORD helps the fallen and lifts up those bent beneath their loads.

– (1 John 5:3 NIV) This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

– (1 John 5:3 NLT) Loving God means keeping his commandments, and really, that isn’t difficult.

What then does God expect of his leaders? There are many examples of both good and bad leadership to be found in the Bible. Let us look at two of the good ones: Nehemiah and Paul.

(Neh 5:14-19 NIV) Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year–twelve years–neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. {15} But the earlier governors–those preceding me–placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. {16} Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work we did not acquire any land. {17} Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. {18} Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. {19} Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.

Nehemiah’s actions were in stark contrast to the worldly leaders that preceded him. He willingly forsook certain privileges available to him out of his reverence for God and for the sake of his people. The earlier leaders placed a heavy burden on the people, in the form of taxes. Encouraged no doubt by their superior’s attitudes, the assistants too lorded it over the people. Nehemiah however refused to be like that. Instead, he set a personal example by devoting himself to the work. Instead of dining off the backs of his countrymen, he fed 150 of them every night. He never made use if his rights.

What do we learn from the example of Nehemiah? Great leaders sacrifice for their people. Worldly leaders burden their people.

Let us turn to the example of Paul, perhaps best illustrated in his relationship with the Thessalonian Christians.

(1 Th 2:6-12 NIV) We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, {7} but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. {8} We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. {9} Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. {10} You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. {11} For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, {12} encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

(2 Th 3:8-9 NIV) …nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. {9} We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.

Paul writing to the Thessalonians, asserts that ‘as apostles they could have been a burden to them”. He means, they could have supported him financially while he was with them. But he chose to work night and day so as not to burden this fledgling church. Rather, he was determined to encourage, comfort and urge them as a father does his children. As it turned out, the Macedonian churches did end up supporting Paul financially as we see in 2 Corinthians 11:9.

(2 Cor 11:9 NIV) And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.

Such example teaches powerful lessons. Paul didn’t want to be a burden to those he was preaching to. His example taught The Macedonian churches (of which Thessalonica was one) well. We learn that after Paul had moved on from there, they were spectacularly generous despite their severe poverty (2 Cor 8:1-2). There seems to be a strong link between people’s willingness to give financially and the leaders willingness to not take advantage of it.

Time and time again we see godly leaders determined NOT to burden their people, but to serve them.


Serving and burden-bearing leaders are not sufficient for a healthy church however. What is required is that we all become burden lifters in our relationships with one another. This will be a major cultural shift for some, but a Biblically mandated one.

One of the greatest burdens we routinely face in our spiritual lives can be in dealing with our sin.

(Psa 38:4-5 NLT) My guilt overwhelms me’it is a burden too heavy to bear. {5} My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins.

Paul talks of vulnerable women, burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by many desires (2 Tim 3:6), a spiritual condition not limited to women necessarily.

Sin can be a big deal to people. We are all familiar with the power of sin and guilt. It stops people from coming to church or reading the Bible. This is Satan’s home turf. When people need the succour of spiritual encouragement, they feel more driven to avoid it. It is like saying “I am too sick to go to hospital”.

Sin in our lives is certainly a burden. Some however, are over-burdened with “imagined sin”. Every act or thought is put under the microscope and examined for the slightest trace of sin. ‘You’re not submissive enough, faithful enough, bold enough, humble enough, committed enough. Sin, sin ,sin ,sin, sin, sin!’ This type of thinking has also been a feature of our church culture unfortunately, and needs to be reversed.

As Christians, we need to take sin seriously, but not neurotically. Mark 9:42-45 shows that we must deal decisively with the causes of sin, yet we do not see a continual scrutiny on the sin in people’s lives in the pages of the New Testament.

As an example of this, the apostles had a great opportunity to spell out moral requirements to the Gentile churches when they circulated the letter that bore the landmark outcomes of the Jerusalem Council in the mid first-Century. What we see however is just four sins mentioned!

(Acts 15:28-29 NIV) It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: {29} You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

The focus was not on burdening people, but on freeing them. The name the sins to avoid and then encourage them by saying ‘You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell!’ They didn’t berate the point. The apostles did not want to burden the people turning to God. We shouldn’t either.

Finally, the Bible has some advice for us in our relationships with one another, in dealing with sin in each other’s lives.

(Gal 6:1-2 NIV) Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. {2} Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

The first lesson here is that if you are not spiritual, perhaps don’t get personally involved. But more importantly, we are taught to restore your brother gently. Some of us are more likely to burden people down than to effectively restore. We draw ourselves up to our full height: “Brother, that’s a disgusting sin. How could you. You need to go away and repent. You make me sick.” Such words spring from a false notion of God’s attitude toward the sinner. The ‘go away and don’t come back until you repent’ school of theology is not of God. It does not reflect God’s graciousness and it carves out a deeper foothold for Satan.

We are to restore our brothers gently. Draw him in. Build him up. Point him to God. Carry his burden.

The message of the gospel is good news. It is unburdening news. God is a lifter of burdens, not a placer of burdens. Our teaching and our example need to reflect this strongly. We have some work to do in our churches to reverse an ingrained mindset that is the opposite to this. It starts with our individual relationship with God and view of God as a burden lifter. It requires leaders who are prepared to be burden-bearers and it ultimately devolves to how we interact with one another on an individual level as channels of God’s grace, mercy, love and peace.

(Mat 11:28-30 NIV) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. {29} Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.