Take Heart | Matthew 9:1-8
It seems far easier to say to a paraplegic “Your sins are forgiven you” than to say “Rise up and walk.” Since we overlook the offenses of other people all the time, it is easy to think that Jesus was just overlooking the offenses of the paralyzed man. And this oversight by Jesus seems to be no great thing. But to answer the question honestly, given the magnitude of the One doing the forgiving and the heinousness of sins before God, everything suddenly changes. “Rise up and walk” is seemingly a far easier task than saying “Your sins are forgiven you” if we are talking about the forgiveness of sins before God. For this kind of forgiveness would have to contain an unearthly power, a power that no one on earth possesses for themselves, let alone for someone else.
It’s no wonder the Pharisees became angry at Jesus. Claiming the power to forgive sins was blasphemy and only God could make the claim to forgive sins. Yet here was an obscure rabbi who had come from a remote, poor village on the outskirts of the country claiming to remove sins. To the religious elite it was an outrage.
To back up his claims, Jesus answered his incisive question with a miracle. The lame man was healed, the witnesses marveled and God displayed his power and grace.
It was probably a spectacular sight to see the paralytic man’s atrophied leg muscles suddenly explode into shape at Jesus’ command. But however the scene unfolded, what unfolded made even Jesus’ accusers suddenly praise God for the miracle. In their astonishment, their accusations were suddenly dropped and everyone was forced to take note of the power that they had just witnessed.
But the greater miracle had taken place well before Jesus healed the man. When Jesus first noticed his faith he told the man to “take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Christ had given the man eternal life on account of his faith. So the use of the man’s legs was a temporal gift, but the forgiveness of sins by the Lord of the Universe is an eternal gift that will never perish or fade. The lame man’s new legs may have allowed him to leap up for joy that day that he was lowered before Jesus, but the greater gift, the forgiveness of his sins, ensured that this man will be leaping forever.
He Came to Call Sinners | Matthew 9:9-13
Jesus’ call of Matthew was a huge offense to the religious elites. Matthew was a tax collector. He was the modern day equivalent of a loan shark – who possibly had hired men at his disposal in order to enforce Roman tax law. But Matthew was also a Jew who aligned himself with the despised Gentile occupiers for the purposes of advancing his greed. Matthew was not only see an extortionist among his people, but an extortionist who was a traitor of the social and religious fabric of his people.
So when Jesus extended the great honor to Matthew to follow him and then had dinner at his house, it was seen as an outrage. It was blasphemy. Eating with a sinner was seen as endorsement of his ways, and to eat with this particular sinner was seen as an endorsement of Rome, her occupation and her oppression of Israel along with taking the money of God’s people and giving it to pagans.
Guilt-by-association has long been a political weapon of ambitious men, and here the religious elites condemned Jesus for having committed the same sins as the sinners Jesus’ was ministering to. They condemned him for welcoming tax collectors and prostitutes, and even associating with them.
Jesus teaches us a valuable lesson through Matthew’s calling. He did not care about his personal reputation. He wasn’t worried about having the religious establishment’s endorsement before bringing the Good News to sinners. Jesus went and served. Specifically, he went to serve those who were most receptive to the Gospel. Even those we presume are the least deserving and least receptive to it.
Jesus turned everything on its head when he said “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” In real terms, Jesus was not endorsing the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. He was making a distinction between those who are righteous in their own eyes and those who were aware of their sin. Jesus was saying that those who acknowledge their sin, who know that they are sinners and in need of a Savior, are the ones he came to seek.
In a reality, Jesus was showing the religious establishment that they were the most lost. He was showing them that it was their hearts that were the hardest. They were the ones who had inoculated themselves from God by believing that righteousness could be obtained without God’s help and without dependence on his power. They were the ones who thought they could make God their debtor who owed them eternal life.
Though Jesus did grant mercy to some of the religious elite, only a few of them came. And his grace only came to those who acknowledged that they were sinners in need of his righteousness.
New Wineskins | Matthew 9:14-17
Jesus’ simultaneously attacked the religious authorities’ misconceptions of Scripture while explaining his disciple’s behavior. Fasting is by no means evil, yet like everything, there is an appropriate time and place for it. With Jesus alive and at work among them, now was not the time for mourning. Now was the time to learn and understand the true meaning of fasting – what it should point to and what it represented. There would plenty of time for the disciples to fast following Jesus’ departure and there would be plenty to mourn.
The old paradigm that the religious elites operated under was not based on Scripture but the world. The world follows a work, earn, reward system, but Jesus’ system is to rest, receive and enjoy.
Jesus’ way was a complete shift away from the old traditions and faulty perceptions of salvation through the Law. And with him came clarity and understanding. He revealed that the way of salvation was through him – by faith in his name. And more importantly, Jesus warned these religious hypocrites that their paradigm was holding them hostage, holding them back from truly seeing the goodness and greatness of God.
Old wineskins become hard and brittle with age. Over time, a wineskin becomes warped as the once new wine expands and ferments and causes the skin to stretch. The old wineskins cannot accept new wine anymore than old and hardened hearts can accept Jesus’ new teaching.
Jesus’ teaching threatened everything. It threatened the religious professional’s understanding of old traditions that enabled them to control the people and exert influence over their Roman captors. It threatened their lifelong understandings of Scripture that saw them as the ushers of a new kingdom and leaders of new military superpower. Jesus’ teaching demanded humility and kindness, even before one’s enemies. It commanded love and respect even to Gentiles. It demands that deep seated hatreds not just set aside but removed – no matter the cost or inconvenience.
If we would ever become new wineskins, we will need new hearts to receive Christ’s new perspective. This counter-cultural, other worldly view on life, can not be held with a heart that is conditioned to love the world. In order to have eternal life, we will need the ability to believe the truth of who Jesus really is and what he has done for us. So the warning to us is simple and plain: Our old ways will not earn or bring us salvation because salvation cannot be earned. Only through Jesus can a new, fresh way be embraced, which is to learn from him and to depend on him for everything.
Faith & Power | Matthew 9:18-26
Messianic claims ran rampant during the first-century and reports of healing rabbis were nothing new. Jesus healing the leper, Peter’s mother-in-law’s illness and the Centurion’s feverish servant was considered typical fare with the reports that would circulate about Messianic figures in Palestine.
But with Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, casting out of demons from two infamous, well-known characters and the healing of the paralytic man the bar was raised. Now Jesus’ miracles were becoming unique and news about him was spreading rapidly.
There is simply no scientific explanation for raising someone from the dead and even in Israel, this kind of healing was almost unheard of. In fact, there are only two resurrections recorded in the Old Testament. The first instance was when Elijah raised the widow’s son by praying over the boy, and the second occurred when a man was being buried upon Elisha’s bones suddenly came to life. Now another raising was about come with a young girl whose trembling father was about be shown the depths of Christ’s power.
We are not left any doubt that ruler’s daughter was indeed dead. When Jesus informs the crowd that she’s not dead but merely sleeping they laugh and mock his assessment. The little girl had no pulse. She was not breathing and was unconscious. There was no hope that she could recover now. There was nothing to work with, there was not even a spark of life to gently fan into the flames of life. No rabbi, no matter how powerful, could heal this little girl now. If only Jesus had come sooner when she was still breathing, then he could have done something – then he might have healed her.
Though the crowd misunderstood Jesus’ meaning about her sleeping, they were about to witnesses the results of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles.
Despite the urgency of the ruler’s situation, Matthew recounts for us the healing of the chronically ill woman while Jesus was on his way to his home. For 12 years she had been hemorrhaging blood, and yet this woman is convinced that if she reaches and grabs a bit of Jesus cloak as he passes by all would be well.
Jesus strengthened the ruler’s faith as he tells this woman that her faith had healed her, that her believing and reaching had brought her healing. The sight of that miracle had to give the ruler fresh courage when he faced his faithless family and friends mourning his daughter at his home. It had to bring him encouragement that Jesus would not fail now. Don’t worry, just believe.
The faith of the healed woman and the little girl should remind us that it is by faith alone that true healing can touch our hemorrhaging hearts and raise up our dead souls to everlasting life. It is by faith that we are made well. Even in the face of seemingly hopeless circumstances and after years of suffering, there is no problem difficult for God.
Healing the Blind | Matthew 9:27-34
When critics cannot attack a noble idea or good deed they often resort to attacking the motives of the messenger. Everyone has skeletons in their closet that can be drudged up at an opportune time, and everyone stumbles from time to time or gets caught by their own words. So the most crafty critics are those who lay the burden proof not only their adversary’s idea, but on their character too.
But Jesus presented a unique problem for the Pharisees. His character was perfect. There was no character flaw to charge him with and there was no public scandal to reach back to in order to discredit him. So the religious professionals doubled down on their evil and reached for the only weapons they could find: slanders and outright lies.
The Pharisees were jealous of all the attention Jesus was receiving. But their spite came right on the heels of Jesus taking every step to conceal his good deeds. He wasn’t spreading the news of his miracles. He wasn’t promoting himself. It was those he healed who were spreading his fame – even those he had even commanded not to share what he had done for them. But the joy that Jesus had given them was simply to great for the blind and mute to keep silent. Eyes long closed were now suddenly opened. Tongues bound up were now loose; and both were freely telling the world who had done such marvelous things for them.
Interestingly enough, Matthew allows Jesus’ critics to have a voice, and not only a voice but an unchallenged accusation. The inspired author even records it without any defense of Jesus whatsoever.
It should encourage us that the Gospel writers are not afraid to report to us some of the most horrific things said about Jesus from his enemies. The testimony of the Gospels shows just how unfounded the Pharisees charges were and how little they stuck with the people. In fact, such charges only lend credibility to Jesus. A righteous rabbi who suddenly heals in secret? A perfect man with extraordinary gifts taking no glory for himself? A celebrity that isn’t demanding honor or praise for himself? A wise teacher who is suddenly doing things that could only come from the finger of God? Jesus looks far bigger than the small and petty men who hatefully bicker about him from afar.
And is this the best Jesus’ critics can do? Trumped up charges that Jesus performs these miracles against Satan by somehow harnessing his power? It’s illogical and absurd. And the very Scriptures these teachers claimed to protect are now rising up to condemn them.
Jesus healed humbly. He did not seek glory for himself, even though he was the only one who could ever take such glory. He did not seek the praise of men, because he knew that he had the praise of his Father. Jesus came to serve his enemies so that some of them might find eternal life in him. He came to open the eyes of dead hearts and the mouths of lifeless souls so that the glory of God might be spread to the ends of the earth.
Christian Unity | Matthew 9:35-38
For some people Christian unity is a theological abstraction. It simply will not do that the Gospel is open and available to those who would come humbly to Jesus by faith. There are rituals to be performed and traditions to be observed. There are rules to follow and truths to be held. But if these rules and truths do not lead anywhere what good are they? If rituals and traditions do not lead to an attractive Gospel, a Gospel that leads to Savior who removes sins and gives us his righteousness.
There is no love to be found in hollow religion, yet some who wrap themselves in the Gospel, all while they keep it at arms distance from their own heart. They will gladly tell you they are loving you while they preside over your salvation, but they do not train, correct and rebuke gently, and they deny others access to the Gospel. They clamor to justify their inability to live a Gospel life, and yet demand that everyone else hold to a standard of perfection that they themselves do not keep.
When the Gospel is stretched by human whims, there is certainly a point where the Gospel ceases to be the Gospel. There are simple truths that every true Christian must believe, but the fragmentation in the church today is extreme and the joyless rivalries in the name of “defending the Word” has simply betrayed the Gospel for the sake of promoting movements that stroke the vanity of unfaithful men. Unrighteous prejudice for the sake of purity is anything but pure.
Jesus had pity on the sinful, ignorant, common masses who were harassed by the religious elites. He had compassion for them and commanded his disciples to pray that the Father would send more workers into the fields.
It is important to note that at the time of Jesus’ command, a wicked man named Saul of Tarsus was on a course to become one of the great beneficiaries of Christ’s grace. There were prostitutes and drunkards who would also later repent of their lives and come to Christ. Sinners of all kinds would soon come too and all because Jesus had compassion and patience that they would come.
Today we do not pray for new workers because we are too busy squabbling. We do not seek the common ground of the cross and what Jesus did on it because we differ about the mechanics of mysteries, or the intricate details about how God saves a soul or about water baptism should be performed or how to take communion. Today we would rather divide over theological scraps than unite around the feast of what Jesus has done. And so we ignore the greater command of our Lord to love each other. We ignore the command to pray for harvest workers.
God forgive us and Lord please send out new workers and send us out as sober, humble workers for the sake of the Gospel.