Some Personal Thoughts on Tim Keller’s Exposition of Matthew Chapter 11
My Journey to Timothy Keller
I realized during the waning months of the Covid-19 pandemic lock-downs, that I had lost two significant Bible teachers who in the past had greatly influenced my thinking. Since I missed their teaching and influence very much, I prayed to find someone whose teaching could fill this void in my life. I came across Timothy Keller’s podcasts and they have gone a long way to filling my lack.
Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11
I had not realized before these messages by Keller (the Spotify links are at the end) how detailed and rich is Matthew Chapter 11 in which Jesus describes who he is, and where he calls for people to come to him individually and unreservedly.
Chapter 11 begins with the imprisoned John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus asking:
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”Matthew 11:2-3 (ESV)
But this is the very question (whether Jesus is the promised Messiah, the anointed one) Jesus’ audience was discussing and debating among themselves. However, they believed the Messiah would rescue them from the Romans, so Jesus answered the question, not by saying a misleading “yes” but rather by citing facts and data about his ministry. In essence he was saying “Yes, I am the Messiah, but not in the way you think.”
4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers[a] are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.Matthew 11:4-5 (ESV)
But Jesus is This Curious Mixture of Attractiveness and Offensiveness
What could be more attractive to Galilean culture than someone who could heal diseases, raise the dead, and give good news to the poor? So Jesus’ next statement is unexpected (or at least it was to me). Indeed, in the next whole section Jesus says things that will offend Galilean ears. Jesus warns them what he will say next is offensive, but urges them to listen and to think about what he’s about to say, and not take offense,
6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.Matthew 11:6 (ESV)
As Keller points out, in Galilean society everyone had to work hard to survive, but there were two seminal events in community life: marriages (where celebrations lasted a week) and funerals (where the mourning and wailing lasted a day). So it’s perfectly natural that children would use these very happy and sad occasions in their play. Jesus uses this childish metaphor to underline the complaining and muttering that accompanies the crowd’s adoration for him and John the Baptist.
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
And Now Comes the Offense
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”[a]Matthew 11:18-19
Finally, he says something that would be deeply offensive to the Hebrew mind:
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[a]27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.Matthew 11:25-27
When Jesus says extraordinary things about God the Father such as: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” it seems he’s saying to me:
“Peter, you can’t just make me into a good teacher, an encourager of the poor, or a doctor. I am, of course, all those things too. For us to have a working relationship, a true friendship Peter, you have to remember who’s God in our relationship and its not you. To think of me in any other way, to forget that I am of the triune God, is to make me into a partial or imaginary Jesus.”
Now We come to the Culmination of the Whole Chapter–What Does Jesus Want of His Audience
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I imagine Jesus calls me to himself individually, not as a member of a crowd. I stagger up carrying an impossible burden. He places my load into a cart and the two of us, side-by-side pull it using a yoke. All the time he speaks gently and humbly to me and teaches me how to pull the cart, doing more than his fair share. In that companionship I have his full attention, and he has mine and he teaches me how to walk and work.
Links to Dr. Keller’s Spotify Messages
On Tim Keller’s Essay THE FADING OF FORGIVENESS
Tim Keller, is a writer, speaker, and a minister at a New York city Presbyterian church. He is also very ill. Yet, despite his challenges he wrote a profound essay on forgiveness on Comment.org [https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/].
In the introduction entitled OFFENDED BY FORGIVENESS, Keller cites many examples where the younger generation has moved from forgiveness to retribution. Indeed forgiveness is seen as an enabler of injustice.
“the emphasis on guilt and justice is ever more on the rise and the concept of forgiveness seems, especially to the younger generation, increasingly problematic“Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
Keller then goes on to show, in a segment entitled OUR THERAPEUTIC CULTURE, that even when “forgiveness” is tolerated, it is only tolerated in a therapeutic sense … if forgiveness is of positive benefit to the victim of the injustice.
“forgiveness is either discouraged as imposing a moral burden on the person or, at best, it is offered as a way of helping yourself acquire more peaceful inner feelings, of “healing ourselves of our hate.” “Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
The Amish of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania
As a counterpoint to our culture’s intolerance toward forgiveness, Keller cited the example of the Amish families whose children were shot and killed by a gunman in October, 2006. The gunman then committed suicide. The families of the wounded and dead children immediately reached out to the family of the deceased gunman, as Keller put it, “expressing sympathy for their loss.”
“Within hours members of the Amish community visited both the killer’s immediate family and his parents, each time expressing sympathy for their loss. The Amish uniformly expressed forgiveness of the murderer and his family.”Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
The Bottom Line for Me
The sacrifice of forgiveness is not optional for me. It may not always work right away, or ever, but it is the only route to healing and reconciliation. The primary purpose of forgiveness is not a way to make me feel better or to combat hate I may feel toward those who have wronged me (although it may well do that as a by-product), it is my minor participation in Christ’s reconciling work on the cross. His forgiveness is offered to all–but not all accept it. Yet the sacrifice and offer has been made regardless of the acceptance.
In Keller’s words …
“Christians in community are to never give up on one another, never give up on a relationship, never “write off” another believer and have nothing to do with them. We must never tire of forgiving (and/or repenting!) and seeking to repair our relationships.“Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
I Urge You to Read Keller’s Essay
In my personal reflection on Tim Keller’s essay, I only spoke to the high points that caught my attention. There is much I did not talk about. For example, Keller has very practical actions around forgiveness and unpacks our cancel culture in an incisive and thoughtful analysis. I urge you to read his essay in detail.