Matthew – Final Thoughts

    Eyes to See

         Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

Matthew finally moved on from tax collector to disciple of Jesus in my new book, Eyes to See.

Mark 2 and Luke 5 both give nearly the same account of the sum total of information we have about Matthew, except they both refer to him as “Levi.” This was perhaps a former name and Matthew became another name. Therefore, in the first part of the book, I refer to him as Levi. In the Gospel of Matthew, however, he is called “Matthew.” So after he does life with Jesus, I refer to him as Matthew.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

This is so cut and dried. There is surely more to the story before this amazing call and response. That’s the story I wanted to tell so that we see the agony of sin in Matthew’s heart and perhaps ways Matthew watched Jesus teach the people by the shore not far from his tax collecting booth. No doubt his heart had been touched by Jesus’ teaching and his miracles. So, when Jesus gave him the invitation, he was ready.

Matthew’s only friends would likely have been other tax collectors and riffraff from the community. Maybe if his friends were to hear Jesus, they might come to believe as well. So Matthew had an idea—invite his friends to dinner and have Jesus there to talk to them.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. Matthew 9:10 

Unfortunately, some Pharisees made their way to the house as well and stood outside looking in with their critical remarks to the disciples who were likely not too happy either about this set up.

The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Matthew 9:11

The disciples did not seem to have an answer so Jesus responded to their question.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. But go and learn what this means; ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” Matthew 9:12-13 

From this point on in my story, I had plenty of action pieces to draw from as Jesus took his disciples on amazing adventures, which included Matthew of course.

Writing conference leaders are always asking authors, “Who is your audience?” I would say, “Those who would like to have a fresh look at Scripture and its meaning and  to see Bible characters come alive so that readers may better identify with them.”

But my great desire is that people who have little to no relationship to God will come to realize that following sinful, self-centered ways drives them from the hope and salvation that can be theirs in our Savior, Jesus Christ.

~ Joyce ~

Matthew – Other Clues

    Eyes to See

   Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

As I continued looking for other clues into the life of Matthew for my, third book, Eyes to See, I looked in his gospel for passages that were unique to him.

In many of our Bibles, you see more than one heading in the chapters that describes what follows. In my Bible, other references are also given if that passage is found in one of the other gospels. If none are given, the information is found only in that gospel.

For instance, in Matthew, chapters 5 – 7, eleven sections were written only by Matthew. He consolidated several teachings of Jesus into these three chapters in what we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount.

In chapter 13, he grouped six parables together. Three are only found in Matthew. In other places, he listed healings in a group. Matthew seemed to be organized, perhaps a list maker. That would fit well with a tax collector who kept tract of numbers.

I see Matthew as a detailed person, attentive to people, perhaps good with selling, a numbers man. So I developed Matthew’s bent toward these things as a child and a young man. Of course we always find an antagonist in a story and logically Matthew had one that effected his turn toward becoming a tax collector.

However, tax collecting would have been the last thing on Matthew’s list of ambitions. Tax collectors worked for the Roman government, and anyone who gave themselves to the brutal, domineering Romans would be despised by his fellow Jews. They were seen as traitors.

When Matthew repented and followed Jesus, leaving his tax collecting behind, the bitter stigma of being a tax man may have lingered in the minds of his fellow disciples. Perhaps Jesus’ reminder to “judge not, lest you be judged” would fit the disciples as well.

Ah, but I can’t give you all the story, can I? You will have to get the book!

One other clue, unique to Matthew, is found in Matthew 27:62-66 where the religious leaders went to Pilate.

“Sir, while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure. Otherwise, his disciples may steal the body and claim he has been raised from the dead. Matthew 27:63-64

Along with that clue (again unique to Matthew’s Gospel) the guards later found the tomb empty. The soldiers were afraid the centurion would have their heads, so they reported this to the religious leaders who made a clandestine arrangement with the soldiers and gave them money, assuring them that they would be protected if they would tell this story:

“You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'” Matthew 28:13

How was Matthew privy to this information? Perhaps he had had a friendship with a Roman soldier during his tax days. You can bet that will be in the story, too!

Some final thoughts next week.

~ Joyce ~

Matthew – Boring Lineages

    Eyes to See

   Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

Okay, my friends, I’m going to share some behind-the-scenes secrets of “Eyes to See”, soon-to-be published book about Matthew.

I wanted us to see Matthew as the real person he was, to get to know him up close. The problem was, we have very little written in the Scriptures specifically about him, or for that matter, most of the other disciples as well.

I wanted to give background in the first part of the book leading up to the big scene where Jesus approaches Matthew’s tax booth and says,

“Follow me.” Matthew 9:9

Unfortunately for me, we have nothing in Scripture about Matthew’s life before that moment.

But fortunately, in the case of Matthew, we have the Gospel written by him—the Book of Matthew.

So, I searched his writing to see if I could understand more of the man. He began his gospel with a typical Jewish tradition by giving the lineage of Jesus. Lineage was important to the Jews. Over and over throughout the Old Testament, we read of this one who was the son of that one who was the son of the next one. etc. If you saw “Schindler’s List” with Liam Neeson, you may remember how they were careful to keep names of their fellow Jews. 

Matthew’s lineage begins with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, then down fourteen generations to David. (Remember how Jesus was often called the son of David?) From David to the exile is a another fourteen generations. After the exile, yet another fourteen generations to—

. . . Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Matthew 1:16

Matthew wants to be sure we know that Jesus is the son of David, as prophesied, and is born with a legal Jewish father, even though Joseph is not the birth father.

All these numbers! And in very strict form. Hmm, fourteens are double sevens, the complete or perfect number. Numbers seemed to be important to Matthew.

I know all those “begats” we used to read in the King James version seemed endless. But if you were a student of the Law, these things were important.

Exactly! That’s why I believe Matthew had much study, perhaps in a yeshiva, a school for boys and young men. He seemed Jewish through and through.

In keeping with our previous study of Jesus where he incorporated women into his teachings, parables, and healings, Matthew seems to have captured this concept of including women even in the lineage. Only Matthew records: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and of course Mary. Some of these women were even outside the Jewish camp. Matthew, like his master, Jesus, lifted up these women from a place of shame or lowliness to a place of honor.

What else can we discover about Matthew in his writings? Tune in next week.

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

Healing – Men and Women

 Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

We continue our search into the way Jesus was fair in his dealings with both men and women—rare indeed in a day when women were basically second class citizens.

Early in his ministry, Jesus began healing people with diseases and maladies of all sorts. One day, as Jesus amazed them with his teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum, a demon-possessed man stood up right in the middle of Jesus’ message. The man cried out at the top of his voice,

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Luke 4:34

Jesus dealt firmly with the situation.

“Be quiet! Come out of him!” Luke 4:35

The evil power of the demon threw the man down and left him. Now the people were amazed, not only with Jesus’ teaching, but also with his power and authority.

In the next verses, Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes to Simon Peter’s house. His mother-in-law is suffering with a high fever. They asked Jesus to help her.

So he bent over her and rebuked the fever and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them. Luke 4:39

Soon, people were lining up to seek healing on into the night. You can bet that included both men and women.

Our second paring comes in chapter seven of Luke. By this time, word of Jesus’ healings had reached many ears, including that of a Roman centurion. The beloved servant of this centurion was sick and about to die, so the centurion sent word to Jesus asking him to heal the man.

When Jesus had walked part way there, the centurion sent a message saying he was not worthy for Jesus to come to his house,

“. . . just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Luke 7:7

. . . Jesus was amazed and said, “I tell you I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Luke 7:9

(Only twice does Scripture record Jesus being “amazed.”) When the men returned to the house they found the servant well.

Immediately after this happening, Luke records that Jesus and his followers went to the town of Nain. They came upon a funeral procession. The young man in the coffin was the only son of  a widowed woman.

When Jesus saw the mother—

. . .  his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” Luke 7:14

A wealthy Roman soldier and a poor widowed mother, a demon-possessed man and a feverish mother-in-law, male or female—the thing Jesus saw was their need.

Do you have a need for healing? Physical healing? A spirit that has gone stale? A mind that is confused? A heart that is breaking?

Perhaps like David, you want to pray,

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who knows the way. Psalm 142:3

~ Joyce ~

 

Biblical Men/Biblical Women

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

As we look through the Scriptures, we see that it was definitely a man’s world. We will see in the next few blogs how Jesus raised women out of their lowly estate to give them value. Coupled with that, we will see how the Mid-Eastern mind works compared to our Western mind.

You will be amazed at how Luke couples a man’s experience and a woman’s experience in many of his accounts. You will likely know these stories, but like me, you may not have seen them as two in one.

It starts even at Jesus’ birth. You may remember in my recent Christmas blogs how the angel Gabriel came to both Zechariah and to Mary.

Gabriel is named only in the Old Testament book of Daniel and here in Luke. To Zechariah he says,

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, . . . Luke 1:19

Then to Mary.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth . . . to a virgin pledged to be married . . . Luke 1:26-27

God sent his great warrior angel to an old faithful priest, but also to a young simple maiden. Both had a major role to play in God becoming man. One would sire the forerunner and the other would bear the Savior.

Move forward forty days after Jesus birth. Mary must go to the Temple to offer sacrifice for her purification. Being poor, her offering would be two pigeons or two doves.

Mary must also present her baby to the Lord, as it is written in the Law—

“Every first born male is to be consecrated to the Lord.” Luke 2:23

Now we meet our next pair, Simeon a priest and Anna a prophetess. Both are older; both have longed to see the Messiah.

It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. On the day Mary and Joseph came to the Temple, Simeon felt compelled to go to the Temple courts. As he lifted up 40-day old Jesus, the Spirit of God fell upon him and he declared,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.” Luke 2:29-30

84 year-old Anna had a seven-year marriage until her husband died. She spent the rest of her years at the Temple worshiping night and day, fasting and praying. She stepped into this scene precisely when Simeon made his declaration.

. . . she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:38

No doubt this gave Mary much more to ponder in those early days.

So from the beginning, we see men and women playing important roles in the life of Jesus.

Male or female, what is God’s role for you this week? It will not likely be as dramatic as these, but He has plans for all of us. Don’t miss your opportunity! 

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Life Verses – A Hope and a Future

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Today’s verse can apply to many stages of life. Most think of it when they are leaving high school or college or launching into a new career. However, this verse, taken from Jeremiah, can encourage us at many stages of life.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Let’s look at Jeremiah’s context for this verse. This is an old passage, all the way back to 597 B.C. The king of Babylon has swept in to overtake Israel and take captive the choice craftsmen, artisans, and the best of the young people including Daniel and his young friends.

It will be a long captivity in this foreign land. Meanwhile, they are to continue to be faithful to God, to remember their need to pray daily and not worship idols, to be strong in their faith in spite of the fact that they will no longer have their Temple and sacrifices, etc.

With that in mind, let’s look again at this much quoted verse.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

God has many plans to reward the faithfulness of Daniel and his friends as they maintain strong bodies by following their food rules. They are protected from harm whether in the lion’s den or the fiery furnace. They all end up with high places of leadership even in captivity—a hope and a future.

God reminds them that they must continually call upon him in prayer and when they keep this practice, He assures them that,

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

So, when did this become a life verse for me? Interestingly enough, not until I was ready to retire.

I had already retired from teaching and had been working for several years as a music assistant  in a church. My husband talked of retiring so I considered retiring as well. I was suffering physically and finally found out that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis, but I loved the kids I worked with in choir and  my precious seniors in the Senior Adult Choir, so I struggled with the decision.

I knew of this verse, but I was reintroduced to it in my daily Bible reading. I saw it in a church bulletin later. A radio preacher mentioned it. God often works in my life in these ways.

I nervously sat in church that Sunday morning before reading my resignation letter. I couldn’t believe it when Jeremiah 29:11 popped up on the screen as the morning verse. What an assurance that he approved this decision and had further plans for me. A few years later, my first book was published—a hope and a future!

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Life Verses – Ears to Hear

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

I’m sorry I left you hanging last week. (See “Life Verses – On Fire“) Like the two on the road to Emmaus, my heart was on fire as the Lord impressed upon me that He wanted me to write. My willing heart had to seek His heart—a long process in bringing me to the fulness of His will.

That year, I was engaged in a Bible study of Matthew with other ladies in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship). As I worked through the study, I found myself thinking of the lesser known characters along the way.

I wanted to stop and imagine what might be the rest of their stories. Wouldn’t it be intriguing to see them as more than just two-verse people? What were their families like? How did they relate to Jesus? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to write about one of these and bring them to life?

Every now and then, I noticed that Matthew recorded this phrase from Jesus,

“He who ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 11:15

A few chapters later, there it came again.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:9 and 43

I stopped each time to ponder those words.

Later in our study of Matthew, we came to the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the flurry of activity with the Temple guards, religious leaders, and disciples, Peter spontaneously started swinging his sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant.

I checked the other three gospels and found a few more facts about this man. Jesus healed the man’s ear. The man’s name was Malchus. 

At some point, everything came together for me. Malchus was a lesser known character. He lost his ear, but Jesus gave him back his hearing. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What happened to this servant? Malchus worked for the high priest who was determined to have Jesus crucified? How did that personal touch, that healing, affect Malchus’ decisions?

That, my friends, was how my first book gave birth. I titled it “Ears to Hear.”

It had been a long, slow process that year, but the Lord seared my mind with the idea of looking at lesser known characters in the Bible, then to apply “ears to hear” to the account of Malchus with Jesus in the garden and his miraculous healing.

It  took seven years to get from research to writing, editing, and seeking a publisher to the final finished product. Many times I cried out to the Lord, “Who am I to think I can do such a thing?” Then He would remind me that indeed I couldn’t, but He could—with my cooperation.

Another seven years later, Nicodemus’ story was published in “A Heart for Truth” which was twice as long.

Now, five years later, the story of Matthew is getting close to ready in “Eyes to See.”

I sing from a favorite hymn, “Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

 

Joshua – Spying Out the Land

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Joshua takes to heart God’s encouraging words. (See “Joshua – Be Strong and Courageous”) 

His first task is to send two spies into Jericho to check things out. (Remember, Joshua himself was a spy years before.) Now this is no easy task. After all, the leaders of Jericho have been made quite aware that thousands of people are camped just across the Jordan River from them.  

Therefore, the first challenge is to even get through the gate of this walled city—unnoticed. Alas, the spies do manage to get in. 

Now very close to the entrance, they find an inn, managed by a woman named Rahab, who quietly takes them in.  She realizes they are Israelites, but doesn’t tell on them. In fact, she protects them and hides them on her roof and covers them with stalks of flax.

      

The king learns of the spies’ presence in Jericho and that they were seen going to Rahab’s, so the king sends soldiers to her house.

“Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.” Joshua 2:3

Rahab covers for the spies and sends the messengers on a wild goose chase out of the city.

 What will Rahab do now? Did I mention that Rahab happens to be a prostitute? Does she plan to use her alluring charms on the spies?

Quite the opposite. You see, with her house being located up in the wall, close to the entrance of the city, she hears the talk of those who come and go just below her house. She also hears the talk from those who use her “services.” What did she hear?

“We have heard how the Lord dried up the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.” Joshua 2:10

Perhaps there are other events that she heard about that aren’t mentioned—enough that she realizes that their one God is far more powerful than the many gods of her people. Rahab says,

“…the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Joshua 2:11b

What are the chances that these two men who know nothing of the city, find their way to a receptive, helpful woman to protect them?

Think also about the fact that she has lived all her life in this pagan city, far removed from the God-fearing Israelites. What are the chances of hearing the stories of these people?

While her people are struck with fear, she wants to protect these men and know more about their God.

We never know when someone is ready to hear a message from the Lord and that He is ready to use us. Perhaps we need to be “spying out the land” as well.

Hmm, let’s ponder this prostitute a bit more next week!

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

 

Joshua – Preparation

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Recently, I wrote a note to my graduating grandson. I was inspired to encourage him to study the book of Joshua with God’s words as a his motto:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

I figured I, too, should familiarize myself with Joshua’s story once again. Who knows, this blog just might be the beginning of a study help for him, so I’ll practice on you. These brave words can apply to our lives as well—be strong!

Joshua’s story actually begins before the book of Joshua. He was a young man during the time when the Red Sea parted, possibly in his twenties. I picture him as being well built, showing signs of leadership, and ready to move forward with aggressive skills. (I’m thinking of my grandson.)

             

We are reminded in Numbers 13:8, that Joshua was one of the twelve spies sent into the land that God had promised Abraham. The spies found the land lush with vegetation, but dominated by large people who made them to feel like grasshoppers in comparison. In other words, they were afraid.

Caleb and Joshua disagreed with the other spies. Caleb and Joshua declared,

“If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord and do not be afraid of the people… the Lord is with us.” Numbers 14:8-9

Unfortunately, it was a 10 to 2 vote. Caleb and Joshua lost. The results? 40 more years, wandering in this desert. Moses told the people that all those above twenty years old would eventually die during those years, but Caleb and Joshua would live. (Numbers 14:26-33)

That gave Joshua plenty of time to prepare for future leadership.

The next time we read of Joshua, the Amalekites were storming toward the Hebrew camp. Moses told Joshua,

“Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” Exodus 17:9

During the battle, Moses held up his staff and as long as the staff was held high, the men were winning the battle, but when his arms grew weary, they began to lose. Aaron and Hur had to help Moses by holding up his arms and eventually, they won the battle. Quite a victory for the people and for Joshua!

Whether we are 18 or 52, we will encounter battles in our lives. To be successful, we too, must lift up our hands to God. When we take our eyes off of Him, we begin to falter. We see only the difficulties ahead. We focus on defeat. We think, “There’s no way I can do this” and we begin to lose the battle. Life lesson? Be strong, but keep your eyes on His power, not your own.

~ Joyce ~

The Unknowns

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

My husband, Jim, and I had an active life being in the spotlight as soloists and church leaders. but when Jim moved to a denominational position, we also moved to a new church. I remember attending that first Sunday and thinking, we’re just one of the people. Nobody knows us. We were used to being known. I  felt like just another person in the pew.

Have you ever felt like that? Just a plain ole person? An unknown?

Getting back to our study of the disciples, we come to three more who are hardly known. Maybe you don’t even know their names.

Let’s give them due honor beginning with James, son of Alphaeus. Now, I want very much to claim him as Matthew’s brother since they are both sons of Alphaeus, But alas, the scholars have no proof of that it’s the same Alphaeus.

James is also referred to as James the less. How would you like to be known as “the lesser?” Perhaps he was small of stature or was younger than James, son of Zebedee. His mother Mary (and another son) is listed among the women who helped Jesus and were there at the cross.

Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome. Mark 15:40 

There is some evidence that James took the gospel to Syria and Persia where he was martyred.

Simon the zealot is the next of these three. He likely had to endure his tag for a while like Matthew the tax collector. These two tags were at the opposite ends of the political spectrum. The zealots were all about undoing anything Roman. What a testimony that these two could overcome their former lives and become brothers in Christ.

Several sources say that Simon took the gospel north to the British Isles. Like the others, he was killed for preaching the gospel.

Finally, we have Judas son of James, also known as Thaddaeus (meaning breast child or heart child.) Perhaps he was tender-hearted. We do have one comment recorded of this Judas. Jesus is in the upper room having his last words to his disciples. Jesus says some things they can’t quite understand until after the crucifixion and resurrection.

“He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

Then Judas (not Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” John 14:21-22

Jesus assures Judas that whoever loves him and obeys his teachings will be loved by Jesus and the Father.

Though little known, though few comments if any are recorded, all of these followers of Jesus, from Peter to Judas son of James, experienced his love and grew in their understanding which prepared them to go into all the world to minister even unto death for their Savior. 

Each disciple contributed much, but the gospel writers made it clear that the most important words and actions must center on Christ alone.

~ Joyce ~