That was so rude… wasn’t it? – Comments on Matthew 15:21-28

In the gospels, every once-in-a-while Jesus will make a comment… or respond in a way that seems out of character. At first glance, instances like these might seem rather confusing. You might ask, “Why did He say that?” or “That seemed a little rude… didn’t it?” 

As a reader, you can assume that unusual behavior from an otherwise consistent character usually means that there is something else going on that you might be missing. Whenever you read of Jesus acting out of character you can assume there is an important lesson right around the corner. The story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15:21-28 is a good example of this.

This story follows up on the previous section (Matthew 15:1-14) that discusses the topic of “defilement”. That section concludes with Jesus explaining to the disciples that the source of human defilement, from God’s perspective, is not instigated from something outside the body… but originates in a person’s heart.

The woman cries out and begs for the healing of her daughter… but Jesus does not answer her a word. This is one of the behaviors that seems a little strange. Jesus normally responds to people seeking his assistance. In this case, Jesus’ silence gives space for the mouths of the disciples to disclose something about the condition of their hearts.

His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.”

When the disciples said, “Send her away…” what were they really saying? Jesus had just explained to the disciples that the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart. Two of the several examples He gives are “evil thoughts”… and “slander”.

When the disciples ask for this woman to be sent away… they are exposing the defilement of their own hearts. They have evil thoughts and suggest that she is not worthy, because of who she is and where she is from, to receive attention from the Savior. But this is not true. It is slanderous in nature.

Jesus then has a playful discussion with the woman where He says all the things the disciples are thinking. If you don’t understand what He’s doing, this conversation also seems a little out of character. 

It is through this discussion that Jesus gives an opportunity for the woman to expose her faith in front of the disciples and, in turn, let them learn a lesson about their own hearts. 

He says to her that He was sent only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” and that His ministry would be wasted on people like her when there were others more worthy of his time. He even refers to her as a dog! 

But Jesus already knows the condition of her heart. He knows she is a woman of great faith that can teach his disciples an important lesson about their own heart defilements. Through this playful banter the woman is allowed to exposes her great faith and establishes that, because of that faith, she is in fact a “sheep of the house of Israel.”

Even though she does not live in the land of Israel… and is not descended from Israel… through faith, she is a child of God and worthy to be at the table with the Son of David.

This is just one of the items I cover in The Matthew Study video lesson for chapter 15. You can watch the entire lesson below… or preview the other videos in The Matthew Study by visiting: THE MATTHEW STUDY VIDEOS page.

Beyond the Sabbath’s Shadow

I spent most of 2016… and some of 2017… completing the “Major Project” for my Doctor of Ministry degree. I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of the Sabbath. It is found throughout scripture, yet the New Testament church of our day has largely abandoned the concept. Opinions on Sabbath rest are varied and implementation is not consistently prescribed by church leaders. Yet, according to the author of Hebrews (see chapter 4, verse 9), there remains a Sabbath rest for the New Testament believer. Attached is my doctoral work, Beyond the Sabbath’s Shadow: A Biblical Understanding and Application of Godly Rest.

You can download a free PDF copy here: Beyond the Sabbath’s Shadow – Dr. Gregory Hall

I’m also including a link to a sermon I gave outlining a few of the ideas I develop in my work.

Beyond the Sabbath’s Shadow Sermon – 6-11-17 – Dr. Gregory Hall


A Literary Look at Luke 9

I’m learning to read the Bible as a piece of divinely inspired literature. It’s been a real paradigm shift from the set of “here’s how to understand the Bible”rules with which I grew up.  The story that Luke 9 shares is pretty amazing when one looks at it in light of the entirety of scripture.
In Luke 9:18, Jesus asks for the latest gossip on who people say that He is. Some of the proposals are, John the Baptist (come back from the dead), Elijah, or maybe one of the OT prophets. Peter then nails it when he says, “You are the Christ.” Good job Peter! It is interesting that directly following the identification by Peter… Jesus says that the Son of Man must suffer, be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Notice he doesn’t mention the manner of death… but in his next statement He says that his followers must deny themselves and take up their crosses daily (Luke 9:23). He then says it’s not worth it if someone gives up his soul in an attempt to gain the whole world… an offer proposed to him by Satan in the wilderness (Luke 4:5-7).
Luke 9:28-36 – The next story in Luke’s gospel is the transfiguration… where Jesus is up on a mountain with Moses (the “prophet of old”), and Elijah. I can just hear Jesus encouraging his disciples to take a picture. See… I’m not Elijah… cause he’s right there. And by the way… I’m also not a prophet from the OT… like maybe Moses… cause he’s right here. They start talking about the “exodus” that Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Moses lead his people out of the slavery of Egypt. Jesus’ exodus was to be accomplished at Jerusalem. It had become a place of spiritual slavery. Then a cloud forms at the top of the mountain and everyone walks into it.
Did I mention that Jesus’ name is really Joshua? Its a confusing set of circumstances that got us to how we translate His name into the English language as “Jesus”… but his name is “Joshua”. That little gem should make this whole transfiguration scene a little more familiar.
In Exodus 24:12-15 Moses is commanded to go up on Mt. Sinai to receive the stone tablets and the law and the commandment that God had written for the instruction of the Israelites. Moses takes Joshua with him (vs. 13). Then a cloud covered the mountain (vs. 15). Then they received the law.
So flip back to the scene at the transfiguration. Moses is up on a mountain with Joshua (Jesus) they are enveloped by a cloud… what should we expect next? If the script follows suit… we should expect to have God give the law. But instead of receiving stone tablets (that was sooooo last covenant), they heard a voice (Luke 9:35) coming out of the cloud saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!”
And there you have it… the new Law. This time it’s not written on stone tablets… but it is the very voice of Jesus. One other time Jesus says, “It’s better that I leave you.” I think he realized some of the limitations of being one man at one place at a time. He continues on with his logic saying, “If I go… I’ll send the Helper… the Holy Spirit.” It’s that very Holy Spirit that circumcises our hearts and speaks to each one of us directly the words and will of Jesus (John 16:7-14).  It’s the NT that tells us that that law is not on stone tablets anymore, but rather written on our hearts through the circumcision of the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:29).
If that wasn’t enough… Luke 9:37-45 presents the mythos of the ministry of Jesus in terms of a man and his demon possessed boy. When they came down from the mountain a man shouts out from the crowd saying, “Come look at my boy… he’s my only begotten son.” Turns out this father’s son has been overcome with a demon that causes him great harm. The other representatives sent by God had given it their best shot, but to no avail. The demon remained.
Then Jesus says something very peculiar. He says, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you?” Jesus is talking to the man… but he seems to refer to him as if he is a representative of that entire generation. Maybe he was just talking “through” the man… there is a large crowd there and I suppose they all got the message.
Jesus rebuked the spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. Then the text says they were all amazed at the greatness of God. In the midst of this glory being cast on Jesus… he turns them directly back to the cross (Luke 9:44) talking about his death. It’s just Jesus’ way of reminding them that the glory is not to precede the suffering… it’s the suffering first… then the glory.
Then we are told that God put a “child-cap” on what Jesus said… and concealed it from them so that they would not perceive it quite yet.
So a quick recap of these verses as Luke has organized them.
Jesus is thought to be a man of God from times past… one of the men sent to try and heal Israel… but He is not one of them… He’s the Christ.
To prove it… he takes a selfie with Moses and Elijah up on a mountain and talks about the “Exodus” that’s now needed to get people out of the slavery of Jerusalem. Then Jesus takes the leading role in the “giving of the law” scene in the remake of The Ten Commandments. They brought Moses back for a cameo as “Best Supporting Actor”. The new law is given. This time the list is a bit shorter. Commandment #1 – listen to Jesus…
The next day Jesus meets a man that we can say represents God the Father… who brings his only son (Israel – Exodus 4:22) to Jesus. All of the other prophets (like Moses and Elijah) couldn’t remove the boy from his spiritual bondage. It’s as if Israel has been bit by the spiritually rabid and is being mauled by the same. There are even times, under the influence of the devil, the boy gets thrown into the fire. In a bold statement about the power of His ministry, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, heals Israel like none before him could do, and gives the boy back to his Father.
Luke 9 is a great reminder of the power and ministry of Jesus.

Did You Want the Long Answer?

I have two sons… and sometimes they have short attention spans. When they ask me a question, they usually want the “short answer”, but a father’s wisdom can’t always be expressed in just a few short words.

There are times when I recognize the elusive “parental teaching” opportunity. In these situations, a question that could have received a relatively short answer… often turns into a hour-long discussion.  By the end of the discussion, we’ve talked so long that no one even remembers the original question.

I don’t think my boys always appreciate it when I do that.

The location of the healing of the man in John 5.

Archeological dig site of the healing in John chapter 5.

In the gospels, Jesus sometimes gives the “long answer”… and I’m not always sure we, as readers, fully appreciate it. Sometimes we get to the end of a red-word response… and we’ve forgotten to whom Jesus is talking.

There’s a great example of this in John 5.

Shortly after healing a man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17), there was a group of people seeking to kill Jesus.

 John 5:18 (NASB95)

18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

Jesus’ then responds to those who were trying to kill him. It’s a very long response that Jesus gives. In fact, it’s a 29-verse response! So long that by the end… you might not remember why Jesus started talking in the first place. Continue reading “Did You Want the Long Answer?”

The Noble Believer

In my last two posts, I concluded that the encounters with Nicodemus (John 3) and the woman at the well (John 4) seem to be examples of Jesus using “believing members” of largely “unbelieving populations” to reach different groups in and around Israel. Jesus used some unlikely believers to help spread the word that Messiah had arrived.

The last few verses of John 4 may tell of yet another “unlikely believer” within another population in Israel. The royal official was probably someone that worked for Harod… and was likely not Jewish. A longstanding Roman occupation of the Holy Land, would have brought many people like him to live in and among the Jews.

Common sense says there would have been some, of the occupation, who had come to believe in God through the witness of the Jews.

This nobleman sought out Jesus at a particularly difficult time in his life. Continue reading “The Noble Believer”

You Just Had to Go There…

Jesus and the Samaritan woman. A miniature fro...

from the 12th-century Jruchi Gospels II MSS from Georgia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are lots of places I have to go in any given day. I have to go to work. Sometimes I have to put gas in the truck. There’s always somewhere I need to visit to stock-up on something. It seems, for every place I go… there’s a reason. I’m rarely just out wandering around.

I get the impression that Jesus was like this too. When He started walking, He usually had a reason… and a purpose.

There’s an interesting statement at the beginning of the fourth chapter of John that has always caught my eye. It says that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria”.

I’ve read several theories as to why people think He “had to” travel that road. History tells us that most Jews chose to travel a different route from Jerusalem to Galilee. The Jews and Samaritans had several long-standing theological disagreements that had caused separation… but for some reason Jesus chose to engage instead of ignore.

Jesus met a woman in Samaria. Most readers surmise that the Samaritan woman was terribly lost that day. While she well knew her way to the town’s source of water, it seems clear she had not been able to find all she was looking for in life.

In the end we know this woman, and many in her village, believe Jesus is the Promised Messiah. My question is… what was this woman’s spiritual condition prior to Jesus’ arrival? Was she really an unbelieving soul that Jesus converted that day… or could she have been a “true believer” from the wrong side of the tracks?

I suspect she was not as spiritually lost as many conclude. The fact that she wasn’t a Jew… shouldn’t automatically exclude her from being a believer in God’s promises. Continue reading “You Just Had to Go There…”

Nick… at Night

There’s one question I always ask when I read about someone’s encounter with Jesus in the gospels…

“What’s the spiritual condition of the person talking to Jesus.”

I mean… are they a believer… a seeker… or someone not at all interested in the spiritual side of life?

Most people assume that Jesus spent the majority of His time “evangelizing unbelievers”… so they naturally conclude that we should do the same. Our generation has focused much of its efforts on evangelism… because we believe “that’s WJD”.

Moon over Jerusalem

In this post… we’ll look at an interaction Jesus had with Nicodemus. Most understand this guy to be a “seeker” who is coming to Jesus with questions, but is it possible that he is a believer coming to Jesus to understand more about his Messiah?

Let’s see if we can pull Nicodemus… “out of the shadows”.

What’s Going on Behind the Translation?

There is a lot happening “behind the curtain” of the English translations of John 3:1-21. While I won’t be able to take space to unpack all of it here, I would like to give you some things for further study.

First… John, the author, used one word over and over again in verses 3-5. The Greek word “pneuma“, which can mean a “breathe”, a “blast of air”, or “wind” is normally interpreted as “spirit”. In scripture, this often refers to the Holy Spirit. In John 3:5-8… everywhere the English translation says “wind” and/or “Spirit”… it’s the same word (pneuma) in the Greek language. (For a more complete discussion… please read Zane Hodges’ article).

Second… the Greek phrase that’s often translated, “born again” can also mean “born from above” (meaning Heaven). Jesus was using this linguistic ambiguity to teach a spiritual truth. Nicodemus originally thought Jesus meant “born again” (physical birth) when Jesus really meant “born from above” (spiritual birth). Jesus liked to play with words like that.

Third… there are a bunch of “you” statements in the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus. The Greek language uses two different words to distinguish whether a “you” is singular (directed to one person) or plural (like we would say in the South “you all”). English is not so clear. The English language only has one  “you” that functions as both a singular “you” and a plural “you all”. I believe the English language brings a lack of clarity to Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus.

With that said… let’s take a look at the interaction Jesus had with Nicodemus. Continue reading “Nick… at Night”