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January 12: Matthew 12
Genesis 13; Matthew 12; Nehemiah 2; Acts 12
As Matthew watches Jesus heal people and then order them not to make him famous (yet) (15-16), he sees in this the fulfillment of Isaiah 42:1-3.
“A bruised reed he will not break . . .” He is, as we saw yesterday, humble and gentle (Matthew 11:29). God delights in him, because he brings justice to the nations, who do not know God and are cut off from God. Thus he will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street. He’s not about self-promotion. Not that being famous is inherently sinful - after all, Jesus at present is the most famous person ever. But he will not promote himself. Instead he will serve the nations. He will be too busy and too focused on that to be about fame.
And so when he runs across the broken person, or the person who once was like a burning flame but now is barely hanging on, he will not pass them by or be harsh with them. He will not finish the job, but He will heal. He will be gentle, and merciful, and humble, going at their pace, restoring the delicate reed, and nurturing the flame back to life.
And . . . In just 31 short verses, we hear Jesus calling the scribes and Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (34). So which is it: are we to be like the humble and gentle Jesus, or the Jesus that calls people names, like a swarming pod of venomous snakes?
The answer is “yes.” Jesus is both. The question is then, when to be which?
The key is to understand that, with many verbs, the action is not good or bad in itself. Its goodness or badness is established by who or what the action is done to. If your god is popularity, then you will be “humble and gentle” to the cool kids, the “insiders.” And you’ll be cold and harsh to the “outsiders,” the “Gentiles,” “the nations.” Then your humility and gentleness is actually sinful, evil.
This is a besetting sin of modern evangelicalism. We want to sidle up to the cool kids of culture, and so we are harsh with our own, who just returned from the fight, wounded and bleeding.
It still remains that we must not be shrill in our tone. We need to learn to fight like gentlemen, like Jesus. Thus we need to learn to have a sense of humor in the fight, like Jesus.
Yet it also remains for us to understand who is who: who are the broken reeds, and who are the venomous vipers. Tell them apart, and we’ll know better what to do next.