A Prophet’s Reward

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. – Matthew 10:40-11:1 ESV

Jesus is about to wrap up His little pre-mission prep talk to His disciples, but as He nears the end, His words don’t get any less discomfiting. By this time, the disciples’ heads must have been ready to explode. They probably couldn’t make up their minds whether to go on this excursion or simply walk away while they could still do so. The way Jesus had described the outcome of their first unchaperoned missionary journey must have left them with serious reservations.

But it seems that Jesus tried to leave them with some words of assurance, reminding them that He was the one sending them. And it was vital that they remember Jesus had been sent by God. So, ultimately, the mission on which Jesus was sending them had been ordained by God the Father. In fact, in His high priestly prayer, prayed during the last few hours of His life on earth, Jesus asked the Father:

“Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.” – John 17:11-12 NLT

Jesus knew that these men had been given to Him by God, and while under His care, Jesus had protected and guarded them. The only one of them that had been lost was Judas, the disciple who had chosen to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin in return for money. And Judas’ role had been ordained by God and foretold in the Word of God (Psalm 41:9).

The other 11 disciples would remain with Jesus to the bitter end. While they would wrestle with all the talk of trials, suffering, and death, they would not abandon Jesus. At least, not until He had been arrested in the garden and dragged before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. At that moment, they would all scatter, except for Peter,  who would follow Jesus as far as the courtyard of the high priest’s house. Then, fearing for his life, Peter would betray Jesus, denying he ever knew Him.

But that’s another story for another post. At this point in time, the disciples were on board, if a bit reluctantly. And Jesus wants them to know that they have a divine mission to accomplish, and their marching orders were from the throne room of God Almighty. So, while on their mission, if they found anyone receptive to their words, they needed to remember that they were speaking on behalf of Jesus, who was sent as the anointed one of God. Whoever believed them was actually believing the words of God. And, by extension, whoever refused to believe them was resisting the words and the will of God.

These men were still trying to get their heads around just who Jesus was. Even if they believed Him to be the Messiah, their perceptions of that title had been skewed by years of religious teaching that promoted the idea of a warrior king like David. They were expecting a military leader who would deliver the people of Israel from their centuries-long subjugation to foreign powers like the Romans.

In these early days of their relationship with Jesus, they were not yet fully aware of His divinity and His identity as the second person of the Trinity. Yes, at the baptism of Jesus, they had heard God say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV), but even those words from the lips of God did not necessarily register in their minds as a declaration of the deity of Jesus. They most likely took it as a statement of sonship, just as they considered themselves to be sons of God.  And this becomes clear when we read the encounter between Jesus and His disciples some years later. Jesus was letting them know that He was going away, and He told them, “…you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:4 NLT).

To this, Thomas responded, “No, we don’t know, Lord. We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5 NLT).

That’s when Jesus uttered those memorable words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT).

And then, Jesus added a statement that we often overlook. In it, He reveals a reality concerning the disciples’ understanding of His identity.

If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” – John 14:7 NLT

Don’t miss what Jesus is saying. He is telling Thomas that they still don’t know that He is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. They don’t know who His Father is. Jesus is not insinuating that they don’t know God. He is saying they don’t understand the unique relationship He shared with God.

At this point, Philip got involved in the conversation, revealing his cluelessness by requesting of Jesus “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (John 14:8 NLT).

Now, look closely at how Jesus responded to Philip.

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.” – John 14:9-11 NLT

Jesus dropped the bombshell that by seeing Him, they had seen God Almighty. The author of Hebrews supports Jesus’ contention.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. – Hebrews 1:3 ESV

And the apostle Paul adds his own Spirit-inspired confirmation.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation… – Colossians 1:15 NLT

It was essential that these men understand the true identity of Jesus. But it would be three years later and after the death and resurrection of Jesus before they fully grasped that reality. So, as Jesus prepared to send them out, He tried to get them to understand that they were acting as prophets of God. They were taking the truth of God, as revealed to them by Jesus, and sharing it with the people of God, the Israelites. And all those who heard and received their message would be rewarded just as a faithful prophet would be: With the full blessing and acceptance of God.

Once again, Jesus is giving the disciples a glimpse into the future. He is preparing them for His eventual departure and the critical role they will play as the primary purveyors of His message of repentance and salvation. Those who hear their message will be rewarded. Those who reject it will suffer the consequences. And all those who assist the prophets of God, the disciples (or as Jesus refers to them, “these little ones”), will be rewarded as well. Even a cup of cold water, given to aid the messenger of God in his effort to disseminate the gospel, will receive a reward.

Jesus is emphasizing the message and the messenger. Remember, He is about to send them out on their first missionary journey, and it is likely that their primary focus is on the miracles He has told them they will perform. But He wants them to know that the kingdom is not going to be about miracles, but about the message of the gospel. Bringing sight to the physically blind, cleansing to the leper, the ability to walk to the lame, and deliverance to the demon-possessed was not the main point of Jesus’ mission. And it would not be theirs either. Even bringing the dead back to life would pale in comparison to bringing regeneration of new life to those spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins.

All that Jesus has said was intended to be part of an ongoing program designed to prepare His disciples for their future role as His messengers of the good news. Little did they know that they were in an intensive training program that would last three years and entail a series of life-altering lessons and encounters. And it would all end with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and a non-negotiable assignment to take the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 29:19-20 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

The Risk and Reward of Discipleship

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:34-39 ESV

At this point in Jesus’ speech, the disciples must have been wondering whether they had made a huge mistake in accepting the call to follow Him. What began as an exciting announcement that they would be going out, equipped with the power to heal and cast out demons, had turned into a somber lecture on all the dangers they would encounter along the way. Their initial enthusiasm had been dampened by His pronouncements of persecution, rejection, trials, beatings, and even death.

What the disciples didn’t know was that much of what Jesus was saying to them had a prophetic tone to it. He was speaking of future events that would take place after His death, resurrection, and ascension. This entire speech is meant to prepare the disciples for their long-term mission, not just the brief assignment they were about to take on.

One of the things Jesus was trying to do was change the minds of His followers concerning their views of the Messiah and His Kingdom. As Jews, they had been raised on a steady diet of ambitious expectations when it came to the Messiah’s arrival. He would be a conquering king, much like David had been. This anointed one of God would enter the world as a warrior, sent to reestablish Israel as the dominant force in that region of the world. There were countless passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that spoke of the coming of this servant of God, and many of them were found in the writings of Isaiah the prophet.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV

When John the Baptist and Jesus had called the people of Israel to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV), they were expressing the need for a change of mind among the people of Israel. That is what the Greek word for repentance actually means. And a major part of the revised thought process they would have to undergo had to do with their perceptions of the Messiah and the role He would play when He came. They wanted and fully expected a king. They desired to have their status as the whipping boy of the Romans reversed. And, ultimately, as the Isaiah passage appears to promise, they believed the Messiah would bring peace and prosperity to the nation of Israel.

But Jesus drops another bomb on his already shell-shocked disciples when He tells them, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34 ESV). And before they can misunderstand His words as describing warfare with the Romans, Jesus clarifies His meaning by stating that the adversary will be domestic, not foreign. Not only that, the enemy will be made up of family members.

I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”  – Matthew 10:35-36 ESV

Is He describing a state of civil war? That thought must have crossed the muddled minds of the disciples as they tried to process this latest bit of bad news from the lips of their rabbi, teacher, and friend. How were they supposed to receive this disturbing news?

Once again, Jesus is exposing His disciples to key aspects of His coming kingdom to which they were blind. In their minds, the Romans were the enemy. And any salvation they needed would be from their subjugation to the tyrannical rule of this foreign power. But Jesus had come to deliver men from slavery to sin and death, not from the oppression brought on by Caesar and his occupying forces.

What the disciples did not yet understand was that Jesus had come to die for the sins of mankind. He was going to offer His life as a ransom for many. He would give His life as a substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of sinful men and women, satisfying the just demands of a holy God by offering Himself as the unblemished Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

But for anyone to benefit from Christ’s sacrificial death, they would have to acknowledge Him as the Son of God, admit their own sin, and place their faith in Him as their Savior. And that decision was going to end up splitting families right down the middle. Not everyone was going to accept the message of salvation with open arms. The majority of the people of Israel would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, let alone their Savior from slavery to sin. And those who did end up professing Him as their Savior would soon discover their own family members opposing and ostracizing them.

This whole message Jesus is delivering to His disciples is meant to be revelatory in nature. It contained new and radical information of which they were ignorant. When they had chosen to accept Jesus’ invitation and follow Him, they had no idea how costly their decision was going to be. Discipleship does not come cheap. Following Christ, while life-changing, is not free from challenges. And as the months passed, the disciples would discover the reality that their decision to follow Jesus was growing increasingly more difficult. They would eventually see Him arrested, tried, crucified, and placed in a borrowed tomb. And they would scatter. It would feel as if the whole world had turned against them.

Jesus refuses to sugarcoat the truth. He even alludes to His future crucifixion by stating, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38 ESV). Not only that, This reference would have had no context for the disciples. They most certainly knew what a cross was and would have been very familiar with the Roman method of capital punishment. But they had no idea that Jesus would face this gruesome fate.

So, His call to hate father, mother, son, and daughter, coupled with a demand that they take up their own personal cross, would have sounded like the words of a madman, a raving, radical revolutionary. The only one in the entire group of disciples who might have found this message the least bit attractive was Simon the Zealot. He was a member of a 1st-Century political movement known for their sometimes overzealous hatred for the Romans. The Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that the Zealots “agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord” (Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.6).

But again, Jesus was not announcing a plan to overthrow the Romans. He was informing His disciples about the nature of redemption as made possible through His death, burial, and resurrection. It would be a gift beyond measure but accompanied by great cost, including the price of His own death. But it would also require each person to die to self, sacrificing their autonomy and submitting their lives to the will of God.

But Jesus informs His disciples that the sacrifice will be well worth it.

“If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” – Matthew 10:39 NLT

When each of the disciples had made their decision to follow Jesus, they had done so because they felt they had something to gain. They believed they were joining a winning team and stood to benefit from their relationship with Jesus. But they had no idea what the price for following Him would be. And sometime later in His time with them, Jesus would elaborate on the true cost of discipleship.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? – Mark 8:34-37 NLT

  • Give up to gain.
  • Sacrifice in order to receive.
  • Die in order to live.
  • Lose your life to save it.

Discipleship doesn’t come without a cost, but the return on our investment is priceless.

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19:29 NLT

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 God, Not Man

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 10:26-33 ESV

This extended monologue by Jesus is meant to serve as the preface for the disciples’ first missionary journey. He is attempting to prepare them for what lies ahead. But, as we have seen, His words up to this point have been far from encouraging or inspiring. He has told them to expect persecution and rejection, warned of floggings to come, and informed them that they would be dragged into court for their efforts on His behalf. Not exactly what one would describe as a motivational speech.

And now, Jesus adds a bit of cryptic content that sounds more like He’s speaking in riddles than providing helpful counsel. But knowing that His 12 disciples are filled with confusion and apprehension, He is trying to let them know that their fear of man is misplaced. All His talk of persecution and rejection has left these men fearful for their own physical well-being. Their little excursion to perform miracles and work wonders has turned into what sounds more like a nightmare. And Jesus senses their reticence.

The prospect of being sent out with the same power that Jesus had and being able to heal the sick and cast out demons, must have thrilled these men beyond belief. They were about to become celebrities. But Jesus had also given them an even more important assignment. He had commanded to “proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 10:10 ESV). This was not going to be a miracle-working roadshow, but a mission aimed at the Jewish population of Galilee, designed to inform them that their Messiah had arrived. The miracles were only meant to draw crowds and validate the message of the disciples.

And Jesus wanted these men to proclaim the message of the kingdom boldly, loudly, and fearlessly. This is why He told them, “What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!” (Matthew 10:26 NLT). So much of what Jesus is saying to these men is prophetic in nature. He is speaking of future events and the day when He would no longer be with them. He knew what God had in store for Him. He was well aware of the divine plan that included His own persecution, trials, flogging, and death. But He also knew that His death would be followed by His resurrection and ascension. Then these very same men would be tasked with carrying the good news of salvation to the nations, beginning in Jerusalem and then extending to Judea, Samaria, and to the farthest reaches of the earth.

And in the brief time that Jesus would have with His disciples on this earth, He would continue to tell them truths concerning the kingdom that would escape their understanding. But the day would come when all that He had taught them would be revealed. What was secret would become known. What had been whispered in the dark would be shouted in the light of day.

For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. – Matthew 10:26 NLT

But what did any of this mean to His confused and frightened disciples? What were they supposed to do with this information? And Jesus’ words of encouragement must have come across as anything but that to the disciples.

“But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. – Matthew 10:26 NLT

Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.” – Matthew 10:28 NLT

The admonition to “fear not,” when the future held the prospect of threats and even death, was not exactly comforting. And, Jesus intensifies the conversation by adding, “Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NLT). 

Again, was this meant to encourage the disciples? Were they supposed to find comfort in these words? It would seem that Jesus has only added to their fear by placing God as a greater threat to their well-being than mere human beings. Men can take your life, but God has control over your eternal destiny. But this was not meant as a threat to the disciples. Jesus was not painting God as some vindictive, trigger-happy deity who would send the disciples to hell if they failed to accomplish their mission.

No, Jesus is attempting to get His disciples to understand that there is an eternal destiny for each and every human being. And while men can threaten and even take life, only God controls the eternal fate of humanity. The message Jesus was giving them was eternal in nature. When He spoke of the kingdom, He was not talking about a temporal, earthly one; but of an eternal kingdom where He would rule forever in righteousness. And citizenship in that kingdom would be based on acceptance of God’s free gift of salvation made possible through the death of His Son.

The disciples were going to need boldness to proclaim the gospel message, even in the face of threats to their lives. Because that message had eternal implications. Yes, men could kill them, but if they allowed fear of death to stifle their message of hope, then thousands of others would face the destruction of “both soul and body in hell.”

The apostle Paul would later explain the importance of faithful messengers, who boldly proclaim the gospel in the face of opposition, rejection, and even persecution.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” – Romans 10:14-15 NLT

The disciples did not yet understand the full import of who Jesus was and what He had come to do. Their comprehension of Jesus and His ministry was incomplete and had been filtered through their lens of expectation concerning the Messiah. At this point, they had no clue that He would eventually suffer and die. And even when the time came, and Jesus began to share that aspect of His mission, they would reject it as unacceptable and illogical. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records an encounter between Jesus and a well-meaning but misinformed Peter.

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:21-22 NLT

So, at this point in their relationship with Jesus, all this talk of suffering, rejection, and threats of death must have sounded strange and extremely unexpected.

But Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that their fears were unwarranted. Why? Because the God of the universe cared for them. And Jesus illustrates God’s compassion and concern for these men by pointing them nature. Sparrows were commonplace in Israel and of very little perceived value. They could be purchased for next to nothing – two for a penny. But in God’s eyes, they had value. In His sovereignty and omniscience, He was fully aware when even one sparrow lost its life. And if God knows and cares about the fate of a common bird, how much more so does He care about the fate of man? And Jesus encourages His disciples to focus on God’s sovereign love for them.

“So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Matthew 10:31 NLT

God was so intimately aware of their fate that He even knew the exact count of the hairs on their heads. There was nothing concerning their lives with which He was not aware and about which He did not care. They could trust Him.

So, rather than fear men, they were to place all their hope and trust in a sovereign God who loved them and held their eternal destiny in His hands. And Jesus called on these men to boldly declare their allegiance to His calling and cause. As long as they lived on this earth, they were expected to proclaim His name and preach His message of salvation to all who would listen. And Jesus assures them that, one day, their faithfulness will be rewarded.

“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 10:32-33 NLT

At this point in His ministry, Jesus has what appears to be a large number of disciples, but few of them are true believers. And in time, many will begin to abandon Him. At His trials, most will turn their backs on Him, replacing their shouts of “Hosannah” with cries of “Crucify him!” And after His death, the vast majority of His followers will simply walk away, returning to their former ways of life.

But there will also be those who claim to be His followers, but whose lives fail to reveal the fruit of true discipleship. Jesus described them in stark terms in His sermon on the mount.

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 NLT

Jesus will deny these people before His Father. Their professions of faith will prove to be false. Their good works will prove to be nothing more than filthy rags. And it’s important to note what these people will have done in Jesus’ name. They will have prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles in His name. All three of these things are what Jesus has just commissioned His 12 disciples to do. But if they did these things without faith in Him and a fear of the One who sent Him, their efforts would be fruitless and futile.

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

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

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