Not What We Signed Up For

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” – Matthew 10:16-25 ESV

Jesus is preparing to send out His disciples as laborers into the harvest. He has instructed them to focus all their attention on the Jews, forbidding them to enter into Gentile or Samaritan communities. They were to proclaim the coming of the kingdom by declaring it as being “at hand.” In other words, it was near or imminent. Jesus, the rightful heir to the throne had arrived, but He had not yet established His kingdom on earth, and would not until the end of the age.

This delay in the establishment of Christ’s kingdom was never grasped by the disciples. Their impression was that Jesus had come to set up His kingdom in their lifetimes and that they would rule and reign alongside Him. While the Old Testament Scriptures clearly taught the suffering and death of the Messiah before His kingdom could be inaugurated, the Jews had missed this critical element to the divine timeline.

So, there must have been excitement among the 12 disciples as they prepared to act as emissaries for Jesus, equipped with power to perform miracles and cast out demons. It would have been natural for them to assume an air of eager anticipation as they considered the reactions they would get from their fellow Jews when they revealed their new-found miracle-working powers in front of them. But Jesus dampened their enthusiasm with a few words of warning.

In verses 12-15, He informed them that they were going to meet with resistance. Not everyone was going to greet them with open arms. But now, He paints an even bleaker and foreboding image of their future assignment. Jesus describes them as innocent sheep being sent to minister among wolves. Not exactly a confidence-building metaphor. Earlier, Jesus had described the Jews as “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 ESV), but now He refers to the disciples as the sheep. And they were going to find themselves entering into dangerous territory, surrounded by ravenous wolves, whose sole intent was their destruction.

Now, stop and imagine the faces of the disciples as Jesus shared this news. They must have been looking at one another in disbelief, wondering what in the world He was talking about. Their excitement about the prospect of being able to perform miracles was suddenly replaced by a fear for their lives. While they had seen Jesus face some mild opposition, He had not encountered anything that was remotely life-threatening. But their apprehension was about to increase because Jesus was not yet finished with His warning.

Jesus encourages them to maintain a balance between innocence and wisdom. They will need to remain free from any semblance of evil while, at the same time, living with a sense of prudence or caution. In other words, they were to stay alert to the dangers around them, while keeping themselves pure and free innocent of any guilt.

But even while doing so, they would find themselves undeservedly attacked. Jesus describes them as ending up in court, being flogged, and even having to appear before governors and kings, all for being His representatives. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that each of these things would eventually happen to Jesus Himself. He too, would end up in the court of the Sanhedrin, be dragged before the civil magistrates, and be mercilessly flogged. But the disciples were unaware of any of those future events. All they could think about was the prospects of the suffering Jesus seemed to be predicting for them.

Yet, in the midst of all the bad news, Jesus provides them with a little glimmer of hope. He tells them, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19 ESV). Yes, they will be dragged before courts, governors, and kings, and they will be expected to bear witness for Christ before them, but they will have help. 

For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. – Matthew 10:20 ESV

This bit of good news probably landed with a thud on the ears of the disciples. They had no way of understanding what this even meant. Up until this point in their relationship with Jesus, they had no personal experience with the power of the Spirit of God. They had no way of knowing what Jesus was describing. And they would not know until years later when they experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. So, this word of encouragement would have brought small comfort to the disciples.

And it didn’t help that Jesus followed up this news with talk about betrayal and death.

“A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And all nations will hate you because you are my followers.” – Matthew 10:21-22 NLT

The longer Jesus talked, the worse it got. Their little adventure was quickly turning into a nightmare. And it didn’t help that Jesus cautioned them to endure even in the face of persecution. And He warns that they are going to have to flee for their lives in order to stay alive and fulfill their commission. Even then, Jesus states that they will never fully complete their assignment before He returns.

I tell you the truth, the Son of Man will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel.” – Matthew 10:23 NLT

This last line must have thoroughly confused them. They were the ones being sent out, so, they would be the ones to return to Jesus, not the other way around. What was He talking about? Where was He going that He would have to return? And why was He sending them out if He knew that things were going to go so poorly?

It is obvious to us who live this side of the cross, that Jesus is predicting future events. As we will see, none of these things happened to the disciples on the short-term assignment given to them by Jesus. And it is likely that they were very much relieved when they returned unscathed and unharmed. But Jesus is speaking prophetically, warning His disciples of a day in the not-so-distant future when the very things He spoke of would take place.

Jesus had come to earth in order to die. That was His God-given mission. But His death would be followed by His resurrection and ascension. And His ascension would result in the coming of the Holy Spirit. That transformational event would be the key to the disciples being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 ESV). The Spirit would be the source behind their words when they spoke before governors and kings. They would have the strength to be His witnesses in the worst of circumstances, because they would have the power of the Spirit within them.

All of this was preparatory and prophetic. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come. The disciples lived with their eyes on the present, but Jesus was preparing them for the future. As far as they were concerned, the King was with them. But little did they know, that He would be leaving them. And when He left, they would be responsible for the continuation of His mission. They would be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). They would carry on His ministry and preach His message of salvation among the Jews and the Gentiles. And they would suffer for their efforts, just as He did.

Which is why Jesus warns them:

“Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names!” – Matthew 10:24-25 NLT

They had chosen to follow Jesus. They were His disciples. And, as such, they were going to learn that their lot was closely and inextricably tied to His. Jesus had come to suffer and so would they. Jesus had come to offer His life as a ransom for many, and they would be expected to sacrifice their lives as well – all for the sake of the kingdom.

None of this made any sense to the disciples. They were probably in a state of shock. They may have been rethinking their commitment to follow Jesus. This was not what they had signed up for. But they were going to discover that Jesus had plans for them that were far greater and significant than anything they could have imagined. And while His description of the future sounded dire and distasteful, they would one day willingly and eagerly embrace His call to be like their Master.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Miracles Versus Messiah

1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” – Matthew 10:1-15 ESV

Jesus had just challenged His disciples to be in prayer: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38 ESV). This statement was likely expressed to the growing number of people who had chosen to follow Jesus. The term “disciple” was often used by Jesus to refer to more than just His 12 hand-picked followers. But immediately after issuing His invitation for all to pray for laborers, Jesus began the process of equipping His 12 disciples for their future role as those laborers.

Matthew provides us with the names of the 12 men whom Jesus had personally called. These were not random individuals who had showed up somewhere along the way, but the men whom Jesus had personally sought out and to whom He had extended the invitation, “Follow me.” This was a rather motley group of men, made up of common fishermen, a tax collector, and an assortment of other nondescript and unimpressive individuals. They did not come from the ranks of the rich and the elite. They were not highly educated or influential. None were members of any of the Jewish religious sects such as the Pharisees and Essenes. They didn’t rub shoulders with the Sadducees, the prominent Jewish political party of their day. Only Simon, designated as “the Zealot,” had any known affiliation with an established group with political aspirations. The Zealots were a grass-roots political movement with strong anti-Roman sentiments.  For the most part, these men were ordinary and unimpressive. But they had each been hand-picked by Jesus.

Now, He was preparing to send them out. And Matthew clearly conveys that Jesus equipped them for their coming mission by giving “them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matthew 10:1 ESV). There is no indication that these men had possessed this kind of power before. Up until this point in any of the gospel narratives, there are no reports of the disciples having healed anyone from anything. They had been mere spectators, watching Jesus display His God-ordained, Spirit-enabled power and confirming His divine authority on earth.

That Jesus “gave them authority” indicates that it was His to give. He had the right to share this power with them. And Matthew provides us with no insight into what this bestowal of power might have looked like. There is no description of any accompanying physical manifestation. Unlike the day of Jesus’ baptism, there was no sign of a dove descending on the disciples. And unlike the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon all of these men, except Judas, there were no tongues of fire present.

Matthew provides us with a subtle, yet highly significant bit of information. It is an important point of differentiation. He starts out describing these men as “his twelve disciples,” but then, when listing their names, he calls them “the twelve apostles.” This is the first time in the gospel accounts when this designation is used. The word “apostle” simply means “one who is sent.” It conveys the idea of someone carrying a message on behalf of another.

More than three years later, Jesus would tell 11 of these same men that they were about to become His messengers again. And they would have a permanent source of power to enable them in their mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 ESV

But at this point in the gospel story, Jesus was preparing His 12 apostles or messengers to venture out into the world so that they might experience firsthand what their future role would be like. And Mark indicates that Jesus sent these men out in pairs (Mark 6:7), and Luke adds that they were given very specific instructions:

Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” – Luke 9:3-5 ESV

Matthew provides further details regarding Jesus’ instructions, adding that they were to focus their efforts on the Jewish communities, avoiding any Gentile regions or those occupied by the Samaritans. They were to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6 ESV). The restrictive nature of Jesus’ command ties directly back to the statement recorded by Matthew in the preceding verses.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36-37 ESV

Jesus had been teaching in the synagogues, a clear reference to the Jews. He had been visiting their cities and villages, performing miracles and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. But He had been disturbed by what He saw, people who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” So, He sent His 12 Jewish apostles or messengers into the field that was ripe unto harvest. He provided them with authority to display the power of God among the chosen people of God – the Jews.

But while He gave them the power to perform miracles, He also gave them a message to convey to the people of Israel: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7 ESV). That was to be their primary responsibility. This was the very same message that John the Baptist had proclaimed. And it was the message on which Jesus had begun His own earthly ministry.

The miracles were meant to provide proof of their authority to proclaim this message of the kingdom. Each time they healed or cast out a demon, it would display their God-given power to speak on His behalf. And yet, Jesus seems to warn them that the reception to their message was going to be less-than-ideal.

“…if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. – Matthew 10:14 ESV

People would love the miracles they performed, even offering to pay for them, but the disciples were to accept nothing for their efforts. This was to be a God-ordained, God-provisioned initiative, where all their needs were met by Him. Jesus knew that the disciples would be tempted to downplay the message of the kingdom and focus all their attention on their newfound ability to perform miracles. The allure of the spectacular would overshadow the truly life-changing message of the gospel.

It seems that the number of “worthy” individuals they would encounter along the way would be small. For the most part, they would find people enamored with their miracles but turned off by their message. The majority of the Jews with whom they came in contact would long to see the power of God on display, but reject the news that the Son of God had descended. The presence of miracles would take precedence over the appearance of the Messiah.

In a way, Jesus was giving His disciples first-hand experience with the stubborn hearts of their own people. Jesus had come to the Jews. He had been born a Jew, but as the apostle, John stated, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). This was going to be a painful lesson for the disciples and they would not learn it all at once. It would take years for them to grasp that Jesus, though the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews, had come to be the Savior of the world. And, as John further states, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV).

And Jesus must have shocked His disciples when He announced that any town that refused to receive them and their message would find themselves suffering a fate worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” – Matthew 10:15 ESV

Gladly accepting the miracles of God while rejecting the Messiah of God was going to leave these communities and their inhabitants facing the future judgment of God. Their refusal to recognize Jesus as the chosen one of God would result in their judgment at the hand of God. And, as John made clear, the Jews, the chosen people of God, would refuse to accept Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Shepherdless Sheep

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:35-38 ESV

Here, Matthew provides a summary statement that outlines the subsequent activities of Jesus. In essence, Jesus continued to what He had been doing, traveling from village to village, teaching just as He had on the hillside outside Capernaum. A central part of His message was the gospel or good news of the Kingdom’s arrival. Their long-awaited Messiah had come. A new day was dawning in Israel and it was accompanied by miraculous signs and wonders. Every time Jesus exercised His Spirit-enabled power to heal, it provided further proof of His status as God’s chosen one. He had the Spirit of God upon Him, the power of God flowing out of Him, and the will of God guiding and motivating Him.

Jesus was a man on a mission. He had a job to do and nothing was going to deter or distract Him from accomplishing what His Heavenly Father had sent Him to do. But Jesus was far from a heartless, robot-like tool in the hands of God. He was the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity who had willingly chosen to take on human flesh and submit Himself to leaving His rightful place at His Father’s side and taking on the nature of a mere mortal – all so He could provide the only possible solution to man’s sin problem. The apostle Paul explains the full import of Jesus’ decision to endure the incarnation and, ultimately, the crucifixion.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

Jesus came to earth, not for His own benefit, but in order to provide the only means by which sinful mankind could find restoration to a right relationship with a holy God. The law, while holy, righteous, and good, had only revealed the extent of man’s sin. It could expose guilt, but it could not remove the cause of it. Sin’s could be forgiven through the sacrificial system, but the state of sinfulness remained. Neither the law nor the sacrificial system could remove man’s sinful state. The author of Hebrews explains the amazing gift Jesus provided by His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:3-4 NLT

But the gift Jesus came to offer had to be received. He would give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), but not everyone would accept His offer of salvation by faith alone in Him alone. The apostle John sadly states, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Jesus was born a Jew, a descendant of King David, and a member of the tribe of Judah. His coming fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. Yet, His own people refused to acknowledge and accept Him. And Matthew reveals the pain their stubborn refusal brought to the heart of the Savior. But His pain was not based on personal feelings of rejection. He was not expressing self-pity due to the refusal of the Jews to accept Him as their Messiah. His pain was based on their loss. He hurt for them.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36 ESV

Jesus saw the people of Israel as sheep without a shepherd. This was a common metaphor in the Old Testament, used by God to describe the spiritual state of His people due to the failure of the prophets, priests, and kings to care for those placed under their care by God.

When Moses had been informed by God that he would not be leading the people of Israel into the land of promise, he asked God to appoint a new leader.

“Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” – Numbers 27:16-17 ESV

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet records the stinging indictment leveled by God against the leaders of Israel.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

God cared greatly for His chosen ones, and He expected those He had appointed to care for them to do so faithfully. They were His undershepherds. They served on His behalf. But for generations, the political and religious leaders of Israel had failed to do their job. And now, as Jesus walked among the people of Israel, He found them to be in a state of abject spiritual hunger and malnutrition. They were helpless and hopeless. And Jesus had compassion on them.

Several years later, Jesus would stand outside the walls of Jerusalem and express His heart for His people, directing His words at the capital city of Israel: Jerusalem.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” – Matthew 23:37-38 NLT

Jesus wanted His disciples to share His passion and compassion. Sadly, they were busy dreaming about the day when He would set up His kingdom on earth and they would rule and reign alongside Him. Yet Jesus was thinking about the restoration of lives, not the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. He had come to set sin-enslaved people free from the condemnation of death and eternal separation from God. He looked at Jerusalem and saw a city filled with people in need of a Savior. The disciples looked at Jerusalem and saw a city in need of a King. They desired victory over the Romans. But Jesus had come to bring victory over sin and death.

And He knew that the day was coming when He would be required to fulfill His mission by giving His life on the cross. He would give His life as a ransom for many. But unless there were those willing to tell the good news of salvation made possible by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, the people would remain in a state of despair and living under the looming threat of death, the God-ordained penalty for sin.

So, Jesus tried to prepare His disciples for the future. Once He was gone, they were going to have work to do. They would become His undershepherds, carrying on His mission and declaring the good news concerning His offer of salvation to Jerusalem and on to Judea, Samarian, and to the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8). And as we’ll see in the very next chapter. Jesus was going to give the disciples a precursor of what was to come. He was going to send them out as shepherds to the sheep of Israel. They were going to get their first taste of what it would be like to minister on behalf of Jesus. But would they share His passion and compassion? Would they be motivated by care and concern for the spiritual state of the people, or would they be driven by power and prominence?

Jesus had His eyes set on a great harvest to be reaped. He was concerned about souls to be saved. And it would be some time before the disciples shared that concern and recognized the true nature of their calling as disciples.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sight to the Blind

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” – Matthew 9:27-34 ESV

Matthew has been going out of his way to prove the authority of Jesus by weaving together a series of somewhat unrelated events, purposefully taking them out of their chronological order,  and rearranging them to bolster his claim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

Here we have another example of Jesus demonstrating His power and authority through His miraculous healing of two blind men. The prophet Isaiah wrote of a future period of time when the blind would receive their sight.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. – Isaiah 35:5-6 ESV

And Matthew is faithfully providing evidence meant to prove that the long-awaited day had arrived. Even Jesus would later acknowledge that He was the anointed one, the Messiah, for whom the Jews had been eagerly awaiting.  When John the Baptist ended up in prison, having been put there by King Herod, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3 NLT). He was looking for confirmation because things were not working out quite like he had expected. He was receiving reports about all that Jesus was doing, but it must have contradicted his preconceived notions of how the Messiah would go about His business. So, he asked Jesus to clarify whether He really was, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NLT).

And Jesus patiently and graciously responded, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5 NLT). Look at that list. Within the last two chapters, Matthew has covered almost every one of them. We’ve read how Jesus healed the paralyzed man so he could pick up his mat and walk. Jesus reached out and touched the man with leprosy, allowing him to walk away cleansed and whole. And, thanks to Jesus, the daughter of Jairus was literally raised from death back to life.

Later on, while visiting the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus would read the following verses from the 61st chapter of the book of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and the regaining of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Then He would declare to those who had just heard Him read those words: ““Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read” (Luke 4:21 ESV). Those verses from Isaiah were well-known to the Jews and considered a prophetic passage concerning the coming Messiah. Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of those verses. He was the anointed one of God who came to proclaim good news to the poor, provide release to the captives, restore sight to the blind, and set the free the oppressed.

And Matthew gives us two more proofs that support the claims of Jesus. The first involves two blind men who follow Jesus, begging Him to show them mercy, and appealing to His status as the Son of David. They seemed to recognize Jesus as a descendant of King David, perhaps indicating their belief that He truly was the Messiah. They viewed Jesus as a man with authority and power. And it is likely that they had heard all the rumors concerning the other miracles Jesus had performed. So, they begged Jesus to show them mercy. They even followed Him into a nearby house, demonstrating their persistent and unrelenting desire for His help with their problem.

And, Jesus asked them a probing question: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28 ESV). While all they had asked for was mercy, Jesus knew what it was they really desired. They desperately wanted to be healed from their blindness. They longed to be released from the darkness that had become their uninvited and unwelcome companion.

It is likely that Jesus knew the answer before He asked. He had the unique capacity to understand the hearts of men and to ascertain the unspoken thoughts of their minds. So, it seems that He was providing these two men with the opportunity to express their internal faith in an outward way. Which they did by responding, “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28). And Jesus acknowledged the veracity of their faith by declaring that their healing was a direct result of it. They had believed. Therefore, they were healed. Matthew simply states, “And their eyes were opened{ (Matthew 9:30 ESV).

No sooner had these two men walked out the door with their sight restored, another man entered the house, but he was far from alone. He was possessed by a demon whose presence had left the man unable to speak. Obviously, Jesus was well aware of the man’s problem and immediately addressed it by casting out the demon. And with the demon’s departure, the man’s capacity to speak returned. This miracle left the crowds exclaiming, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel” (Matthew 9:33 ESV).

They were blown away it all. They had just witnessed Isaiah 61 being lived out right before their eyes. The blind had just regained their sight, and the oppressed had just been set free. And Jesus had done it all. He had clearly demonstrated His Messiahship in tangible, life-altering ways. But while the people marveled, the religious leaders scoffed, writing off the miracles of Jesus as proof of His alliance with the Devil, not of His divinity. They accused Jesus of being in league with Satan himself, declaring, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons{ (Matthew 9:34 ESV). And this would not be the last time they issued that ridiculous assessment of Jesus’ power.

The two blind men couldn’t help but sing the praises of Jesus, in spite of His warning to keep the news of their healing to themselves. They wanted everyone to know what had happened. They had once been blind, but now they could see. But the Pharisees were singing a different tune, declaring that Jesus was a charlatan, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In their minds, Jesus was in cahoots with the devil, trying to deceive the minds of men by performing seemingly miraculous healings that drew the crowds away from the real purveyors of truth: Themselves.

Yet, Jesus would later refer to the Pharisees as “blind guides leading the blind” (Matthew 15:14 NLT). And rather humorously, Jesus described the foolishness and futility of a blind man taking guidance from another blind man:  “…if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14 NLT).  While Jesus was busy restoring sight to those who couldn’t see, the Pharisees were foolishly trying to provide them with directions when they were blind themselves.

The Savior had come. The restorer of sight had arrived. The deliverer of captives was in their midst. And with every miracle Jesus performed, He provided further, unequivocal proof of who He was and what He had come to do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Preview of Coming Attractions

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district. – Matthew 9:18-26 ESV

This narrative contains a story within a story. In it, Matthew records an episode in which Jesus responds to yet another third-party request for healing. The first one involved a Centurion who had asked Jesus to heal his servant. Now, a man approaches with a request that will surely test the power and authority of Jesus. His daughter is dead and he has sought out Jesus, believing that He can bring her back to life. This young girl is not suffering from a debilitating disease, a fever, or even a life-threatening illness. She is dead. And this man’s request must have left even the disciples stunned and a bit incredulous that this man would put Jesus in such an awkward predicament. After all, no one could raise the dead.

There are some discrepancies between the accounts of this event as provided by the three synoptic gospels. First of all, Mark and Luke indicate that the man was a leader in the local synagogue and even provide us with his name: Jairus. They also give the impression that the man’s daughter was not yet dead when he first approached Jesus.

Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” – Mark 5:22-23 ESV

And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying. – Luke 8:41-42 ESV

The easiest and most plausible explanation for these apparent contradictions is that Matthew simply condensed the story, revealing the fact that, by the time Jesus arrived at the man’s house, the young girl was dead. When asking Jesus to come to his house to help his daughter, who was “at the point of death” and “dying,” this father was unaware that she had already passed away. Whether he realized it or not, he was asking Jesus to do, not just the improbable, but the impossible. And there is no way for us to know at what point in the story the girl’s death took place. Was it because Jesus took the time to talk to the older woman with the issue of blood? We don’t know.

But Matthew, in his ongoing effort to support the divinity of Jesus, and knowing how the story ends, emphasizes the dramatic nature of the father’s request. This had become, not a matter of life or death, but of life from death.

Another possible explanation is that during the intervening miracle took place, when the woman who touched Jesus’ robe was healed, the father received word that his daughter had died and his request shifted from “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live” to “my daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” In the time it took for Jesus to heal the woman with the issue of blood, the daughter’s illness had ended in death.

But Matthew interrupts the story about the synagogue ruler’s daughter in order to describe another “chance” encounter between Jesus and a person in need. From Matthew’s description, this woman suffered from some sort of hemorrhage that had plagued her for 12 years. This chronic “discharge of blood” (Matthew 9:20) would have left this woman weak and also in a perpetual state of uncleanness. According to the Mosaic law, her bleeding would have rendered her impure and anyone she touched would have contracted her impurity.

“If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity. And whoever touches these things shall be unclean…” – Leviticus 16:25-27 ESV

Yet, Matthew describes this unnamed woman as coming up behind Jesus and touching His garment. In doing so, she was passing her uncleanness onto Jesus. But her action was based not on evil intent but on faith.

 …for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” – Matthew 9:21 ESV

She had touched Jesus fully expecting to be made clean. And her faith was rewarded. Jesus turned to her and said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:2 ESV). And Matthew records that she received immediate healing from her illness. Mark adds, “the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 529 ESV). Her physical disability, while invisible to everyone else around her, was very familiar to her, and she knew in an instant that her body had been made whole.

Luke adds an interesting exchange between Jesus and Peter that appears to indicate the sensitivity of Jesus to all those in His surroundings. Luke indicates that the woman received her healing as soon as she touched the robe of Jesus. And Jesus, knowing that something powerful had just taken place, stated, “Who was it that touched me?” (Luke 8:45 ESV). This was not so much an admission of ignorance on the part of Jesus, as it was a desire for the woman to expose the miracle she had just received.

Peter, a bit confused by Jesus’ question, pointed out that there was no way to know who had touched Him. The crowd was large and it could have been anyone.

“Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” – Luke 8:45 ESV

But Jesus knew that faith had been displayed, His power had been released, and a miracle had taken place. And He wanted everyone to know about it.

“Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” – Luke 8:46 ESV

The woman, shyly and somewhat reticently, made her way forward.

And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. – Luke 8:47 ESV

It was at that very moment that Jesus verbally commended the woman for her seeming indiscretion, declaring to everyone in HIs hearing that it was her faith that had made her well. He sent her away, encouraging her to “live in peace” – in the joyful understanding that she had been fully restored to physical health and moral purity.

But just as the woman was walking away, “someone from the ruler’s house came and said, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more’” (Luke 9:22 ESV). So, the delay did result in the daughter’s death. And sensing the disappointment in the messenger’s voice, Jesus replied, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well” (Luke 8:50 ESV). It was most likely at this very moment that the father uttered the words recorded by Matthew: “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live” (Matthew 9:18 ESV).

Jesus, accompanied by the father as well as Peter, James, and John (Luke 8:51), made His way to the man’s house, where He found “people weeping and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:38). It was a scene of despair and sadness. Yet, Jesus spoiled the pity party, sending them away with a somewhat dismissive tone.

“Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” – Matthew 9:24 ESV

This statement brought laughter from the crowd. But Jesus, undeterred by their reaction, took the young girl by the hand and gently commanded her to rise. Once again, Jesus broke protocol. He knowingly and willingly touched a dead body, immediately rendering Himself ceremonially unclean. Yet, the result of this breach of accepted religious practice resulted in the immediate restoration of life to the one who was dead. The little girl was miraculously revived, to the shock and amazement of all who were fortunate enough to witness this incredible scene.

Both Mark and Luke record that Jesus instructed the parents to tell no one of what had just happened. But Matthew flatly states, “the report of this went through all that district” (Matthew 9:26 ESV). There was no way this incredible event was going to remain under wraps. And Jesus fully understood that the word would get out. But it was His desire that the miracles He performed not be the focus of His ministry. He had come to do far greater things than heal diseases or even raise the dead. He came to give sight to the spiritually blind, healing to those crippled by sin, and resurrection to all who were living under the curse of death.

Jesus had come to purify the unclean and revive the dead. And these two miracles, while truly amazing,  were nothing compared with the miracle of new birth that would become available with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Time For Everything

14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” – Matthew 9:14-17 ESV

One of the things I appreciate about the Word of God is that it provides an honest look into the lives of the characters contained within its pages.

They are not sanitized or canonized, making them unrelatable or, better yet, unbelievable. The people presented to us in the Bible are flawed and prone to failure, just as we are. They wrestle with doubts and fears. Their minds constantly struggle with questions about everything, from fairness to God’s faithfulness.

Even the ones who displayed a heart for the things of God found themselves wondering out loud about the seeming incongruities of life. The world in which they lived was not a kind and gentle place, but could be harsh and unforgiving. Even the Jews, the chosen people of God, found their religion, with all its rules and requirements, to be a difficult lifestyle to maintain. This is what prompted Jesus to say, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

Theirs was a religion based on works. Yes, their was faith involved, but essentially, they were required to keep all of God’s commands if they wanted to enjoy His blessing and approval. Rule-keeping was intended to be God-pleasing. So, when some of John the Baptist’s disciples noticed that the men who followed Jesus failed to fast, they were confused and probably a bit shocked.

Both Mark and Luke record this scene a bit differently than Matthew. They indicate that the question regarding fasting came from some anonymous person in the crowd, who asked Jesus:

“John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?” – Luke 5:33 ESV

Mark adds the important detail, “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting” (Mark 2:18 ESV), which leaves the impression that the fasting was taking place at that very moment. If that is so, it is likely that the disciples of John, who were having to go without food, were a bit put out that the disciples of Jesus were free to eat and drink. So, they sent someone to get an answer from Jesus. But their intent was not to seek clarification but to offer a bit of condemnation. This whole scene smells of competition and comparison. As disciples of John, they had viewed the arrival of Jesus and His chosen followers as a kind of turf war. Before Jesus had shown up on the scene, their leader had been the primary show in town. Even Matthew describes the popularity of John.

Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him. – Matthew 3:5 ESV

Yet, with the arrival of Jesus, the popularity of John had faded. His 15-minutes of fame had ended abruptly and now Jesus and His disciples had taken center stage. This probably left John’s followers a bit jealous and feeling as if their decision to follow John had all been in vain. And when they saw that the disciples of Jesus were little more than rule-breakers, that inflamed their sense of fairness and propriety. The wanted answers. They demanded an explanation. And Jesus gave them one.

But notice how Jesus responded to their request. He picked up on a theme their very own leader had used to describe his relationship with Jesus. John had clearly understood his role and the part he had been called by God to play.

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:29-30 ESV

John understood himself to be little more than a friend of the bridegroom. He was inconsequential when compared to the groom. In fact, he fully realized that he was destined to play a diminishing part in the story surrounding Jesus’ life and ministry.

Using John’s own metaphor of the groom and the wedding, Jesus responds to their request by stating:

“Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” – Matthew 9:15 ESV

Mark and Luke provide a slightly different take on Jesus’ words.

“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” – Mark 2:19 ESV

“Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” – Luke 5:34-35 ESV

Notice that they both put the emphasis on fasting. But Matthew stresses the idea of mourning. The Greek word Matthew used carries the idea of wailing or an outward expression of grief. Fasting was often linked to an individual’s repentance over sin in their lives. It was a physical way of expressing their sorrow by denying themselves such necessities as food and water.

In this case, Jesus reminds the disciples of John that it made no sense for the friends of the groom to mourn while he was still with them. There would be a proper time for them to grieve over the loss of their friend, but right in the middle of his wedding celebration would not be appropriate.

The Book of Ecclesiastes illustrates the need to recognize that there are a proper time and place for everything.

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 ESV

What the disciples of John failed to understand was that denying themselves food or water, while beneficial when done at the proper time and for the right reason, was inappropriate when the Messiah was in their midst.

The Messiah’s arrival should have been a time for feasting and celebration, not fasting and self-denial. By fasting, a man was attempting to restore himself to a right relationship with God. But Jesus had come to take care of that problem by offering Himself on their behalf. And that should have been a cause for joy, not for mourning and asceticism.

Jesus was trying to let them know that a new day had dawned. They were living in a new era when the old ways were being replaced with something far grander and significant. That is why He uses the imagery of a piece of new, unwashed cloth being sewn as a patch onto an old garment. After washing, the new cloth would shrink, causing the old garment to tear and rendering it of no value. The new way of the Kingdom was not compatible with the old way of law-keeping. Gone were the days of trying to earn your way into God’s good graces. Jesus had come to make possible a new means of justification and salvation.

The disciples of John were living under the old system of law-keeping and self-produced righteousness. They were still attempting to keep God happy by doing things that proved their spiritual superiority. It seems that the disciples of John viewed themselves as somehow more godly that the disciples of John, by virtue of their commitment to fasting. But Jesus is accentuating the radical nature of the new covenant He came to bring. He even compares it to new wine. This carries the idea of freshness and future fermentation. As wine aged, it would expand, placing great strain on the vessel in which it was contained. Old wineskins were brittle from age and incapable of accommodating the rapidly fermenting nature of new wine. The pressure would cause them to burst.

Once again, Jesus is accentuating the newness and freshness of what He had come to do. It was not that He had come to abolish or replace the law. He had actually come to fulfill it. But it was going to require something altogether new and different. The apostle Paul describes the radically new and regenerative nature of Christ’s work on the cross.

But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. – Romans 7:6 NLT

Paul goes on to describe the law as “spiritual and good” (Romans 7:14 NLT). Jesus even said He had not come to abolish the law but in order to fulfill it. So, rather than fasting, the disciples of John should have been feasting. They should have been celebrating rather than abstaining. There had always been a time and a place for fasting, but Jesus was letting them know that it was now a time for feasting.  The Messiah was in their midst. The bridegroom was with them. So, let the party begin.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sinners in Need of a Savior

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. – Matthew 9:9-13 ESV

Matthew has pieced together a series of events that provide evidence to support his contention that Jesus was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. And the identity of Jesus was proven by His obvious authority over sickness, disease, demons, and the creative order. Jesus had both the power and authority to command the winds and waves, representing the natural world, as well as demons, who represent the spiritual realm. He was more than a mere man with a talent for oratory and the gift of healing. Every word He spoke carried weight and left all those who heard Him in a state of awe.

…the people were amazed at his teaching, for he spoke with authority.  – Luke 4:32 NLT

“We have never heard anyone speak like this!” – John 7:46 NLT

The disciples had witnessed Jesus calm a storm by speaking the words, “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39 ESV), and that scene had left them amazed and confused as to just who Jesus really was.

…they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” – Mark 4:41 ESV

Now, Matthew chronicles yet another event in the life of Jesus that provides further evidence of His power and authority – this time, over men.

In these verses, Matthew retells the story of his own calling by Jesus, but he does so from the third-person perspective as if he is an outsider recalling a scene he has witnessed. His account, though personal in nature, differs little from those of Luke and Mark. They all describe Jesus coming into contact with Matthew at his place of business, where he served as a tax collector. His “office” was little more than a booth, located on the edge of the city where he collected taxes on trade goods. These taxes, collected on behalf of the Roman government, were a form of sales tax or customs duty, paid by the seller. Matthew would have had a contract with the Romans, most likely purchased at a high cost, that provided him with the authority to collect taxes within a specific geographic region. In order to recoup the cost of his contract, Matthew would have charged fees and commissions on all the taxes he collected, making him a social pariah among his fellow Jews. They would have viewed him as a sell-out to the Romans and a tool of the enemy. And yet, Jesus offered Matthew the same invitation He had extended to Peter, Andrew, James, and John: “Follow me.”

It’s interesting to note that both Mark and Luke record that Jesus “saw” Matthew. This seems to reflect a recognition on the part of Jesus. He saw Matthew and approached him. And yet, there is no dialogue between them. Jesus simply stated, “Follow me.” And all three gospel writers indicate that Matthew accepted the invitation. Luke adds the clarifying note: “leaving everything, he rose and followed him” (Luke 5:28 ESV).

Matthew wasn’t just taking a well-deserved break. Whether he fully realized it or not, he was making a complete break with his past, leaving everything he knew behind. By following Jesus, he was walking away from his booth, his business, and all the benefits and perks that came with his profession.

And both Mark and Luke record that the next thing Matthew did was host Jesus in his own home.

And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. – Luke 5:29 ESV

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. – Mark 2:15 ESV

Matthew threw a party for Jesus, the disciples, and an assortment of other interesting guests. All three gospel writers make it clear that the room contained “tax collectors and sinners.” This term is meant to convey a message. The people with whom Jesus was willingly sharing a meal were considered social outcasts by the Jews. The term “sinners” was not a reference to anyone who had broken God’s laws. It was an expression commonly used by the Pharisees for anyone who broke their man-made rules of conduct. Matthew provides an illustration of these rules later on in his gospel.

Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” – Matthew 15:1-2 NLT

Anyone who refused to live according to their exacting standards was considered a sinner. And Luke records another event in the life of Jesus, where He shared a meal with a Pharisee.

As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table. His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. – Luke 11:37-38 NLT

And Jesus had some harsh words for these religious rule-keepers who burdened people with unnecessary and legalistic standards of righteousness that had nothing to do with God.

“…what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Luke 11:46 NLT

But the Pharisees were just as appalled by Jesus’ behavior. In their eyes, He was nothing more than a sinner, who broke their laws by associating with the defiled and unclean. Which prompted them to ask His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11 ESV). This question came from the scribes, the experts in religious law, whose man-made additions to the Mosaic Law had turned the righteous commands of God into a petty list of impossible tasks designed to make them look good. But, once again, Jesus had some condemning words for these men, describing their form of worship as “a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:9 NLT).

The scribes and Pharisees viewed themselves as righteous. They considered themselves to be the true law-keepers, while everyone else was a sinner, including Jesus. And while they looked down their noses at tax collectors and sinners, they did nothing to help them improve their lot in life. Jesus accused them of crushing people with unbearable religious demands, never lifting a finger to ease the burden.

But Jesus answered their question. He explained His presence in the room that day, fully admitting that all those in His midst were indeed sinners. But He added that they were sinners in need of a Savior. And He had come to offer them a way to ease the burden they bore because of their sin. In fact, Jesus would later offer His “great invitation,” imploring sinners just like these to come to Him and find rest.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Jesus was in His element that day. He was surrounded by those He came to save. And He made that point perfectly clear in His answer to the Pharisees and scribes.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. – Matthew 9:12 ESV

Jesus was not inferring that the religious leaders were righteous and in no need of salvation. He was condemning their false sense of confidence in their own righteousness. They only thought they were well and in no need of a physician. Jesus came to minister to those who were willing to recognize their own spiritual infirmity and their need for healing. Just as the leper, the Centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law needed the healing touch of Jesus, so did the tax collectors and sinners in Matthew’s house. But their illness was spiritual in nature, not physical. They were sinners in need of a Savior. And while the Pharisees and scribes saw themselves as perfectly righteous before God, they too were spiritually sick.

The apostle Paul reminds us that every single individual on this planet is a sinner in need of a Savior and that those of us who have found healing in Christ are the beneficiaries of God’s grace and goodness.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. – Ephesians 2:1-5 NLT

Matthew and his dinner guests, as well as the disciples, the Pharisees and scribes, were all in need of a physician. Some recognized it, while others refused to admit their need and chose instead to see themselves as righteous in their own eyes. But Jesus warned them all, telling them, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13 ESV).

Jesus had not come to earth so that He might round up all those who had perfectly obeyed the Mosaic law. Those people did not exist. His reference to mercy and sacrifice is meant to let the Pharisees know that law-keeping would not be the means by which people earn a righteous standing with God. It would be through the unmerited mercy extended to them by God through the sacrificial death of His Son. And the apostle Paul stresses that point in his letter to the Galatians.

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Galatians 3:11 ESV

All the “sacrifices” of the Pharisees would amount to nothing. Even their most righteous deeds were nothing more than filthy rags in the eyes of God. But the Great Physician was offering them healing from the spiritual infirmity by providing His Son as their Savior from sin. But as long as they arrogantly and errantly considered themselves to be righteous, they would never accept the free gift of salvation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Authenticating Authority

1 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. – Matthew 9:1-8 ESV

One thing that becomes readily apparent when reading Matthew’s gospel is that he seems to play fast and loose with the timeline surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus. A cursory comparison between his account and that of Luke and Mark reveals some obvious and, seemingly, glaring discrepancies as to the order in which some of these events took place. The content remains the same, but Matthew has chosen to reorder the narrative for thematic emphasis. He is linking together key events in the life of Jesus so that they complement and reinforce a particular aspect of Jesus’ identity. In this case, Matthew has been stringing together a series of miraculous events that clearly showcase the authority of Jesus as displayed in the supernatural encounters.

Matthew has recorded the following displays of Jesus’ authority and power:

His healing of the leper

His healing of the Centurion’s servant

His healing of Peter’s mother-in-law

His calming of the storm

His healing of the Gadarene demoniacs

His power over demons and their recognition of Him as the Son of God

Now, Matthew adds one more miracle to his evidentiary compilation of miracles supporting Jesus’ divine authority. This one took place in Capernaum, the town on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus had set up His ministry headquarters. On this occasion, Jesus had returned to the house in which he resided, and with the news of His arrival, it was not long before a crowd of friends and followers had filled the small space. And as usual, Jesus’ appearance also attracted those in need of healing. Mark and Luke provide us with details concerning this event that Matthew chose to leave out.

And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. – Mark 2:2-4 ESV

And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,  but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. – Luke 5:18-19 ESV

Luke also lets us know that there were others in the crowd that day who would not have been considered close friends or associates of Jesus.

…as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem – Luke 5:17 ESV

And he adds: “And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.”

Imagine the scene. Jesus is in His home, surrounded by a crowd consisting of friends, family members, followers, and foes. Jesus is teaching. Perhaps He is expounding on the content of the message He had given on the hillside. There are those in the crowd eager to hear what He has to say, while others listen with a degree of incredulity and a growing spirit of animosity. When suddenly, they are all distracted by sounds on the roof and the sudden appearance of a hole in the ceiling above their heads. The falling debris causes those in the room to scatter, creating a space in the center of the room. Then, to their surprise, a small wooden cot is lowered by ropes into the room and comes to rest in the midst of them. On it lies a man whose condition is readily apparent. He is paralyzed and crippled. Perhaps many in the room know him and are familiar with his long-standing condition.

But everyone is shocked by the scene. The Pharisees and scribes are probably put off by the lack of decorum and a bit irritated by the over-the-top display of trust in Jesus. And Matthew makes it clear that trust is exactly the motivation behind the efforts of those holding the other ends of the ropes. He states, “Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2 ESV). In other words, their faith was tangible and visible. It showed up in their effort to get their friend in front of Jesus, no matter the cost. And notice that Jesus recognized their faith and not that of the paralytic. Yet, He addressed His words to their friend lying on the mat.

“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” – Matthew 9:2 ESV

Rather than address the man’s paralysis, Jesus mentions His sins. And it would seem that Jesus did so deliberately, knowing the reaction it would produce in the Pharisees and scribes. Matthew simply states that they accused Jesus of blasphemy. But Luke and Mark provide the thinking behind their conclusion.

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Luke 5:21 ESV

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Mark 2:6-7 ESV

Up to this point in his gospel, there are no other healings that Jesus performed where forgiveness of sin was mentioned. So why did Jesus use such language in this case? Was it because this man had been paralyzed as a result of some sin he had committed? That would have been the normal assumption of everyone in the room. It was a common belief among the Jews that illness was a direct result of sin. This errant understanding of sin and disease came up on another occasion when Jesus and His disciples encountered a blind man. They asked Him, “Rabbi…why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (John 9:2 NLT). And Jesus’ response would have shocked them.

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” – John 9:3 NLT

So, why did Jesus offer the paralytic forgiveness for his sins? Because Jesus knew that the religious leaders would have a problem with Him doing so. And their reaction proved Him right. They accused Him of blasphemy. And notice what they based their reaction on: Who can forgive sins but God alone.

In their minds, Jesus had no right to offer this man forgiveness of sins. That was the sole prerogative of God. Yet, that was exactly the point Jesus was trying to make. Remember that the demoniacs addressed Jesus as the Son of God. They knew who He was, and they knew He had the power to cast them out of the two men whom they had possessed. They also knew that Jesus had the power to torment them.

The Pharisees and scribes saw Jesus as little more than an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth who had been drawing crowds with His radical teaching and supernatural displays of power. But in no way did they every harbor any suspicions that He might be the Messiah.

And Jesus knew their thoughts and their hearts. Before they could even articulate their accusations against Him, Jesus addressed their suspicions by asking them a logical question: “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5 ESV). Jesus had healed before. Everyone had seen it. And He had proven He could do so with just a word from His mouth. Yet, as marvelous as healing might be, forgiveness of sins was greater. And He wanted everyone in that room to understand that He had the power to offer both. 

And He let them know that His power to heal was proof of His authority over not only disease but over sin and death as well.

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” – Matthew 9:6 ESV

By healing the man, Jesus offered proof that He was not a blasphemer and that, in fact, He had power that had been given to Him by God, including the power to forgive sins. He had God-given authority over sin because He was the Son of God.

Yet Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man. This designation was intended to reflect His unique status as the God-Man, God in human form. He was the visible manifestation of the invisible God. He was God incarnate. And He had full rights and access to the power and authority of God. Including the power to forgive sin. Healing as easy for Jesus. But so was the offer of forgiveness of sin. And the Pharisees had been right when they stated, “Who can forgive sins but God alone.”

Jesus was God. He was the Son of God. He was God in the flesh. And while men would marvel at His ability to heal the sick and even raise the dead, His greatest feat would be His sacrificial death that would make possible the forgiveness of sins for all those who placed their faith in Him.

When Jesus had finished, the paralyzed man had received the ability to walk. The Pharisees and scribes had been given ammunition to accuse Jesus of blasphemy. And the people had been given one more display of Jesus’ miraculous power. But notice the point that Matthew makes. He stresses the authority of Jesus, and he makes it clear that even the crowds had begun to understand that the ability of Jesus to perform His miracles was God-given.

When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. – Matthew 9:8 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Sort of Man is This?

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. – Matthew 8:28-34 ESV

The first question we must address is why Matthew included two demon-possessed men in his account of this event, while Mark and Luke mention only one. The simple and honest answer is that we don’t know. It could be that Mark and Luke were describing the more radical and intimidating one of the two men. They both provide detailed descriptions of the man’s demon-possessed state.

no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. – Mark 5:3-4 ESV

For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert. – Luke 8:27, 29 ESV

The fact that Luke and Mark mention only one demoniac does not invalidate or contradict Matthew’s account that there were actually two. Each of these men compiled their gospel accounts with a particular audience in mind, with a singular focus intended, and from their own personal perspectives. So, while there appears to be some discrepancy between their accounts, each of the gospel writers provides a unique take on a shared experience.

It is important to recall the immediate context that accompanies this story. The disciples have just experienced a life-threatening storm at sea and had been eye-witnesses to Jesus’ miraculous calming of the wind and the waves with nothing more than a command. This had left the disciples in a state of joyful relief, but also confused disbelief, as they asked, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27 ESV). With each passing day and every miraculous display of His power, the disciples were receiving more insight into Jesus’ identity, but much of it left them increasingly more confused as to who He was and what He had come to do.

Upon reaching the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, the disciples must have been relieved to be back on dry land. After their harrowing experience in the storm, the beaches and hills of Gadara were a welcome sight. But their relief was to be short-lived because as soon as they disembarked from their boats, they discovered that they had landed in the vicinity of Gentile burial ground. And to make matters worse, from among the tombs appeared two naked, wild-eyed, demon-possessed men.

Gadara, the regional capital of the Decapolis, was located on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. It was a predominantly Gentile region and would not have been a common destination for the Jewish disciples of Jesus. The presence of the graveyard and the arrival of demoniacs made their landing in this particular location that much more uncomfortable and unattractive. This was the last place any of these men wanted to be.

But this encounter, like all the others the disciples of Jesus would experience, was God-ordained. Everything that had taken place over the preceding hours had resulted in this every scene taking place. The storm had driven them southeast, far from their original destination. The disciples would never have intended to land at a place like Gadara. But that was exactly what God had sovereignly ordained. This encounter with the demoniacs was not a case of chance or bad luck but was all part of a divine plan to display the true identity of Jesus. Remember the question the disciples asked immediately after the calming of the storm: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Mark recorded their question this way: “Who then is this…?” (Mark 4:41 ESV). And God was about to give them an answer to their question from a very unexpected and unlikely source.

…two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? – Matthew 8:28-29 ESV

The demons which possessed these men addressed Jesus as the Son of God. They spoke to Him, fully cognizant of His identity and authority. They even ask Him, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29 ESV). These demons were fallen angels, agents of Satan whose sole responsibility was to torment men and women. At one time, they had been part of the heavenly host who worshiped God Almighty, but they had joined in Satan’s attempted coup against God and been cast out of God’s presence. They were now relegated to seeking out refuge in the bodies of helpless humans, tormenting and slowly destroying them.

It’s important to stop and consider how all of this was impacting the disciples of Jesus. Remember, they are Jews, and they have suddenly found themselves on Gentile soil, in close proximity to a graveyard, and accosted by two demon-possessed men. Everything about this scene shouts, “unclean!” They were not to associate with Gentiles. To do so would render them unclean. They were forbidden to come into contact with anything dead. If they did, they would be considered unclean. And to have anything to do with demons was unthinkable. Yet, here they were.

And they were hearing these demons address their rabbi and teacher as the Son of God. If you recall, this is exactly how God addressed Jesus at His baptism.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:17 ESV

God had confirmed the identity of Jesus. But now, He was providing further evidence by allowing the disciples to witness the proof of Jesus’ divine power and authority through the wind and waves, and even the words of demons.

And as if the location and the unexpected company were not bad enough, Matthew is about to reveal that the disciples were in eye-shot of a herd of pigs. This would have been one more proof to these men that they were not where they were meant to be. Pigs were considered unclean to Jews, and they were to have nothing to do with them. Yet, here they were, in a Gentile land, in the company of two demon-possessed Gentiles, in close proximity to a Gentile cemetery, and with a herd of pigs nearby. Could it get any worse?

But all of this was pre-ordained by God. There is nothing about this story that should be viewed as happenstance or coincidence. This was all meant to be. And the overwhelming sense of uncleanness and impurity is intended. Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, is right where He is supposed to be, surrounded by darkness and confronted by the impurity that pervades and permeates the world. John records in His gospel:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

The disciples would have sensed the darkness of their surroundings. They would have longed to enter their boats and sail away, risking another storm at sea rather than spending another moment in that God-forsaken, sin-infested region. But Jesus was right where He was supposed to be. He was the light of God shining amid the darkness. He was the Son of God, confronting sin and casting out the demons of darkness and destruction. And even the demons recognized that they were no match for Jesus. They also knew that their reign of terror on this earth was going to be short-lived because God had a plan in place for their ultimate defeat. That is why they asked Jesus, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?

The Book of Revelation reveals that there is a future judgment for Satan and all of his demonic followers. John describes it in graphic terms.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 ESV

These demons inherently know that they have met their match in Jesus. And all they can do is beg to be cast into a herd of swine. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records the words of Jesus concerning the need for demons to have a host to possess. Their entire existence is based on possession and manipulation.

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.” – Matthew 12:43-45 ESV

These demons knew what Jesus was about to do, so they request that He allow them to possess the herd of pigs. And this request speaks volumes when it comes to Satan’s outlook on humanity. We are little better than swine to Satan and his demons.

And when Jesus cast the demons into the swine, the entire herd “rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters” (Matthew 8:32 ESV). These soul-less animals proved to be poor hosts for the demons, ending their lives and leaving the demons to pass through waterless places seeking rest, but finding none.

But the reaction of the helpless pigs stands in stark contrast to that of the herdsman. Matthew tells us that they “fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men” (Matthew 8:33 ESV). And Mark provides us with additional insight, describing them returning to find the formerly possessed men in a dramatically altered state.

…the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid… – Mark 5:14-15 ESV

The herdsman returned with their neighbors and friends, but rather than reacting with amazement and wonder at the amazing transformation of these two men who used to terrorize their community, they respond in fear. And Matthew records that “they begged him [Jesus] to leave their region” (Matthew 8:34 ESV). They wanted nothing to do with Jesus.

Consider all the responses recorded in this story. The demons begged to be spared. The pigs plunged to their deaths. The herdsman ran in terror. The townspeople returned in curiosity. But they all begged Jesus to leave. There was no revival in Gadara that day. But the lives of two men were dramatically changed. And Jesus sent them back into their community with a charge to tell what He had done for them.

“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. – Mark 5:19-20 ESV

The only reaction that Matthew fails to record is that of the disciples. We’re left to wonder what they thought about all of this. But just imagine the sheer volume of questions that must have been running through their minds as they considered all that they had just witnessed. This entire scenario must have left them dumbfounded and confused. But God was slowly and methodically answering their question: What sort of man is this?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Fear Versus Faith

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:23-27 ESV

“His disciples followed him.”

Did this group include the two individuals who had approached Jesus, expressing a desire to follow Him? Matthew doesn’t tell us. But it seems likely that they were not on board when the boat sailed – either literally or figuratively. One considered the cost of discipleship far too high. The other allowed the worries of this world to take precedence over his commitment to the cause of Christ.

And it’s interesting to note what happened to those who did step into the boat with Jesus that fateful day. Perhaps Peter, James, John, and the other disciples were a bit full of themselves as the boat left the shore, thinking themselves to be true disciples of Jesus because of their presence in the boat. They had literally followed Him. And they were enjoying the privileged position of being His faithful disciples. And then, suddenly, the storm appeared.

Remember, this little excursion had begun with a simple request from Jesus that they sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee in order to escape the crush of the crowds.

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. – Matthew 8:18 ESV

But long before they made it to the opposite shore, a violent storm arose. Mark describes it as “a great windstorm,” with waves so high that they broke over the sides of the boat, causing it to fill with water (Mark 4:37) These kinds of storms were not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee. This relatively small body of water lies 680 feet below sea level and is surrounded by hills that can reach a height of 2,000 feet. When the cool, dry air from these hills comes into contact with the warm, moist air found at sea level, the results can be dramatic. Extreme temperature and pressure changes can produce severe storms with violent winds, which can whip across the relatively shallow waters of the Sea of Galilee, causing massive waves that can sink a small boat with relative ease.

That is the very situation in which the disciples found themselves. And they were not alone, because Mark records that other boats had accompanied them on this crossing. What had begun as a simple boat ride to the other side had quickly escalated into a life-threatening encounter with Mother Nature. And Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were professional fishermen, found themselves in fear for their lives. They had seen these kinds of storms before and they knew what could happen. They knew their lives were in danger and while they made every attempt to use their knowledge of the sea and their skills as boatmen to save themselves, they eventually turned to Jesus for help.

But first, they had to wake Him up.

While they were busy bailing water and fearing the worst, Jesus was fast asleep in the hold of the ship. The contrast is stark and intentionally so. They were in a panic and Jesus was at peace. They were filled with worry and anxiety, while Jesus enjoyed a well-deserved rest. Their thoughts were on the immediate danger of their circumstances. Jesus was resting in the sovereign authority of His Heavenly Father. He knew He was not going to die in a storm at sea. He was fully confident in God’s plan for His life and His Father’s sovereign control over the affairs of His life.

But the minds of the disciples were focused on the wind, the waves, and what looked like the threat of death. So, in their panic, they awakened Jesus and shouted, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” (Matthew 8:25 ESV). Mark adds a bit of nuance to their words that reveal their doubts about Jesus’ care for them.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” – Mark 4:38 ESV

None of this made sense to them. Their minds were filled with questions.

How did this happen?

What’s going to happen to us?

Why isn’t Jesus doing something about it?

Does He not care about us?

Does He not love us?

Sound familiar? They should. Because they are exactly the kinds of question we raise when we find ourselves in difficulty. When the winds and waves of life suddenly appear and threaten to overwhelm us, we begin to question the goodness and the greatness of God. We see the storms of life as anomalies and unwanted interruptions that seem to indicate God’s disinterest in or dissatisfaction with us. He appears to be asleep at the wheel, and oblivious to what is going on all around us.

But it is at those very moments that God cries out to us just as Jesus did to His disciples as the waves crashed over their boat.

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” – Matthew 8:26 ESV

Before Jesus confronted the waves and the wind, He confronted the fear and faithlessness of His followers. His question was aimed at exposing the real problem they faced, and it was not the storm. They were suffering from a lack of faith, not an over-abundance of rain and boat-rocking wind.

If you recall, when the Centurion had heard that Jesus was willing to come to his home to heal his servant, he had responded, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:8-9 ESV). And Jesus, amazed by the words of this Roman soldier, had said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10 ESV).

This pagan Gentile had believed that Jesus was powerful enough to step into his life circumstance and provide a solution. He somehow knew that Jesus had authority over sickness. He exhibited no doubts as to whether Jesus was capable of doing what He said He would do. He believed, and Jesus rewarded his belief by the healing of his servant and a commendation for his faith.

But as to the rain-drenched, fear-saturated disciples, Jesus questioned their faith. They exhibited no belief in His power or authority. They questioned His seeming lack of concern for their well-being. They had followed Jesus, but as soon as the waves and wind showed up, they were ready to bail – not just water from the boat – but from their commitment to following Him. This was not what they had signed up for.

But rather than reprimand them, Jesus rescued them. Matthew records that he “rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:26 ESV). This verse almost comes across as a play on words. The calming of the storm was accompanied by the calming of the disciples’ fears. As the waves and the winds subsided, so did the anxiety of the disciples. And their fear was replaced by wonder.

“What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:27 ESV

And their question reveals their incomplete understanding of just who Jesus was. They had seen Him heal the leper and had heard Him declare the Centurion’s servant healed. They had even witnessed Him remove the fever from Peter’s mother-in-law. But this was an altogether different kind of miracle. Jesus had spoken to the wind and waves, and they had obeyed His command.

The disciples were wrestling with the identity of Jesus. The more time they spent with Him, the more they wondered just who they had decided to follow. Was He a rabbi, a teacher, a prophet, a miracle worker, their long-awaited Messiah, or something more? The actions of Jesus were out-of-the-ordinary and unexpected. His words were powerful. His miracles were inexplicable. His identity was unclear. But with each passing day and each successive miracle and mind-boggling encounter, they were growing to know Him better and learning to trust Him more.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson